Weekly Roundup 05: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web
1. Thomas Sowell: Intellectuals are Poseurs -Via Washington Times- Among the many wonders to be expected from an Obama administration, if Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times is to be believed, is ending “the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life.” He cited Adlai Stevenson, the suave and debonair governor of Illinois, who twice ran for president against Eisenhower in the 1950s, as an example of an intellectual in politics. Intellectuals, according to Mr. Kristof, are people who are “interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity,” people who “read the classics.”It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Adlai Stevenson was certainly regarded as an intellectual by intellectuals in the 1950s. But, half a century later, facts paint a very different picture.
2. Paulson’s Faulty Imagination – Via Invisible Heart – Secretary Paulson might be the only person in America who worries that consumers haven’t borrowed enough money. He says the consumer credit market has “ground to a halt.” He wants to get it going again — maybe if we all just buy enough cars and use our credit cards, the economy will come back to life. Paulson is also upset that banks aren’t doing enough. He’s given them all this money and they’re sitting on it. He doesn’t seem to realize that these two phenomena are really one and the same.
3. Gm & The Army: A different perspective on the bailout – Via Economist’s View – Some economists question the wisdom of Washington’s intervening to help the Big Three… But we must act: aiding the American automobile industry is not only an economic imperative, but also a national security imperative. … During the 1950s, advances in aviation, missiles, satellites and electronics made Detroit seem a little old-fashioned in dealing with the threat of the Soviet Union. … But in 1991, the Persian Gulf war demonstrated the awesome utility of American land power, and the Humvee … became a star. …
4. Robert Shiller: On Reviving The Animal Spirits – Via The Guatemala Times- The world’s fundamental economic problem today is a staggering loss of business confidence. Commercial banks, investment banks, and hedge funds all owe their ongoing trouble to its decline, which in turn is jeopardizing the plans of companies and entrepreneurs to launch enterprises and make investments, and of households to consume. Our “animal spirits,” to borrow a phrase made famous by John Maynard Keynes, are weakening. George Akerlof and I have just written a book by the same name, but by the time Animal Spirits appears later this winter, the world economy may be even worse than it is now.
5. New Book: Creative Capitalism – Via Organizations and Markets – The book is coming out in a few weeks, and the blog is back in business. I didn’t follow all the previous discussion but what I read was of high quality and reflected diverse, and interesting, perspectives.
6. The Dance Of Consciousness – Via Edge & Mindhacks – Edge has a fascinating video interview with philosopher Alva Noë who discusses his work on the philosophy of consciousness, arguing that we will be led astray if we think of consciousness solely as a brain process that happens within us without reference to how we act in the world. Noë is primarily arguing for a form of embodied cognition which argues that the mind and brain can only be understood as situated in the world in which we interact. The function of the mind is inherently connected to the sorts of tasks we need to do to survive on a day-to-day basis.
7. Ideology – Via Everyday Sociology – You probably hear the word ideology used a lot, whether it is used in political or economic discussions (or in sociology classes). But what does it really mean? Put plainly, ideology is a way of seeing the world. Ideologies are like lenses through which we view just about everything. They offer pre-packaged solutions to problems much like some fast food restaurants have special deals which plan a meal for you in advance: sandwich, drinks, and chips for one predetermined price.
8. The Architecture Of The Brain– Via Neurophilosophy- The current issue of Nature contains an interesting article about Sir Christopher Wren’s contribution to neuroanatomy, by art historians Martin Kemp and Nathan Flis of Oxford University. The article focuses on the anatomical illustrations produced by Wren for Thomas Willis’s 1664 book Cerebri Anatome (The Anatomy of the Brain). This was a landmark publication in the history of neurology, not least because of Wren’s detailed and accurate figures, which were among the very first modern images of brain anatomy. Even so, this aspect of Wren’s work was overshadowed by his architectural designs, most notably St. Paul’s Cathedral.
9. Why Do We Torture? – Via The Situationist- Torture’s Attraction Is Not Information — It’s Retribution,” How did the United States go from a champion of human rights to a state that condones and practices torture on detainees? The present administration’s first line of defense is one of semantics: The United States has a policy against torture, ergo, actions taken in its name cannot be “torture.” Its second line of defense invokes the utilitarian argument of expediency: It was necessary to obtain mission-critical information from combatants who would only divulge secrets under extreme duress.
10. Positive vs Optimal – Via Overcoming Bias – I’ve been thinking a little lately about the difference between doing something useful, and doing the most useful thing. The latter is a lot harder, yet a lot more productive. I wonder if this is a basic area of human irrationality. I think you can classify a lot of the bad arguments that get made for things like the bailout of banks, or of car companies, as people saying “Here is why this money would help these companies”, and missing out on “But it would help the rest of the world (like, companies that are profitable) even more”.