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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Marijuana: Repeal Prohibition

The US Federal Government should legalise marijuana. The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast and discriminatory; whereas the health problems associated with marijuana are “relatively minor”, especially when compared with those of alcohol and tobacco. National legalisation is necessary, because state-by-state legalisation can still be over-ridden by national enforcement (Metered) (510 words)

The Parent Trap

A conservative confronts the contradictions intrinsic to American public policy which encourages nuclear families; but does not restrain deserting parents; and expects single parents to work, or, at least, not draw benefits; yet puts them in jail if they let children play or roam unsupervised while they are working. “We have to find a way to defend their liberty as parents, instead of arresting them” (Metered) (775 words)

Staring At The Flame

Appreciation of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stars in the film adaptation of Le Carré’s novel A Most Wanted Man. “He made his voice the only authentic one, the lonely one, the odd one out, the one you depended on amid all the others. And every time it left the stage, like the great man himself, you waited for its return with impatience and mounting unease” (Metered paywall) (1,800 words)

Dead Girls As Objects

William Vollmann “puts the ick in lovesick” with his new short-story collection, Last Stories And Other Stories. The book, “a sort of necrophiliac dreamscape”, is “harrowing in the boredom it delivers, except for the bits, mostly toward the end, in which his male characters have slushy sex with rotting female corpses, some of them ghosts or vampires or supernatural beings of some other sort” (Metered paywall) (1,060 words)

For Email Newsletters, A Death Greatly Exaggerated

Email is “the cockroach of the Internet”. It survives all disruptions. Email newsletters are even enjoying something of a boom “because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognisable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos”. MailChimp, a big email newsletter platform, is adding 10,000 users a day (Metered paywall) (1,230 words)

The True Cost Of Hidden Money

Global balance sheets show more liabilities than assets. But the world cannot be in debt to itself. The missing assets are probably hidden in tax havens; and the supposedly deep indebtedness of the West is an exaggeration or an illusion. “If offshore assets were properly measured, Europe would be a net creditor, and American indebtedness would fall from 18 percent of gross domestic product to 9 percent” (Metered) (900 words)

Lack Of Major Wars May Hurt Economic Growth

The claim here is not that fighting wars improves economies; conflict brings destruction. Nor is it a Keynesian argument that preparing for war lifts government spending and puts people to work. It is that the fear of war focuses the attention of governments on getting some basic decisions right — on science and industry, for example. “Such focus ends up improving a nation’s longer-run prospects” (Metered) (1,250 words)

Throw FIFA Out Of The Game

Abolish FIFA. Replace it with two bodies: One to promote soccer, the other to keep the game and the industry clean. Having one body in charge of everything is a recipe for corruption and megalomania. The scandals in Brazil and Qatar expose FIFA as “a battering ram for world leaders who want to use the majesty of the World Cup to push through their development agendas at great human cost” (1,050 words)

The Biology Of Risk

Risk-seeking has a physiological, hormonal component at least as strong as its psychological one; and both push in the same direction. Too much calm encourages excessive risk-taking; too much volatility paralyses markets. “A small amount of uncertainty surrounding short-term interest rates may act much like a vaccine immunising the stock market against bubbles” (Metered) (2,300 words)

President Obama Was Right To Swap

“It doesn’t matter if Bergdahl deserted his post. The debt we owe to fellow Americans is based on citizenship and loyalty to the national community we all share. The prisoners released from Guantánamo Bay seem like terrible men. But their release may have been imminent. And the loss of national fraternity if we start abandoning Americans in the field would be a greater and more lasting harm” (Metered) (930 words)

Putin Blinked

“Putin’s seizure of Crimea has weakened the Russian economy, led to China getting a bargain gas deal, revived NATO, spurred Europe to start ending its addiction to Russian gas and begun a debate across Europe about increasing defense spending. That’s why I say the country Putin threatens most today is Russia. The Russian people will have to sort that out. I wish them well. I don’t want Russia to become a failed state” (880 words)

The Art Of Setting The Senses On Edge

Charming short essay of the uses of dissonance in music and elsewhere, illustrated with embedded videos. Dissonance can obvious and provocative, as in Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. “But the more intriguing, subtle and, for composers, handy kind of dissonance involves intervals — that is, the combination of notes that create an acoustical, harmonic tension demanding resolution” (Metered paywall) (1,700 words)

Cutting Back On Carbon

America’s Environmental Protection Agency plans new carbon-reduction rules to curb global warming. The US Chamber of Commerce and other critics predict “vast costs and economic doom.” Don’t believe them. The chamber’s own data puts the cost at about $200 per household per year. The chamber is speaking for interests of the coal industry, not those of America nor even of American business (900 words)

Judging Spinoza

Should Amsterdam’s Jewish community reverse the 17C excommunication of Spinoza? Probably not; nor, probably, would Spinoza want the ban lifted. He rejected Jewish doctrines and Jewish law. “To want to reintegrate Spinoza into Jewish life by lifting the ban would be to misunderstand what Spinoza stood for, given his strongly negative views on organised religion, and on Judaism in particular” (Metered) (1,780 words)

Medium Charms Writers

Everybody loves Ev Williams’s publishing project, Medium, even if nobody can quite pigeonhole it. It’s somewhere between a blogging platform and an online magazine. Some content is commissioned; but 95% of the 1,200 pieces per day are user-generated. “Mr Williams is putting good tools out into the world and letting the users decide what the product is. That strategy worked out OK for Twitter” (Metered paywall) (1,230 words)

Europe’s Secret Success

Southern Europe is in economic crisis; but Northern European nations, France included, have done far better. French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely to have jobs than their US counterparts. “European-style welfare states have proved more resilient, more successful at job creation, than is allowed for in America’s prevailing economic philosophy” (Metered) (770 words)

A Memorial To Personal Memory

The National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York powerfully evokes grief and loss. It collects and shares thousands of private tragedies. But there it stops. “Ideas and debates don’t interfere with the determined accumulation of sensations and memories”. The museum allows “little room for more elaborate and public considerations; it doesn’t even try to offer a rough first draft of history” (Metered paywall) (1,760 words)

The Big Debate

Less democratic countries — Singapore, China, South Korea — are overtaking America in delivering social goods. American democracy has become “neurotic”. Obsession with politics has smothered attention to policy. “The answer is to use Lee Kuan Yew means to achieve Jeffersonian ends — to become less democratic at the national level in order to become more democratic at the local level” (Metered) (778 words)

Show Us The Drone Memos

As an official in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, David Barron wrote legal memos justifying the execution without trial of American citizens abroad. Now he is being nominated as a federal judge. This feels deeply wrong, or at least premature. The penalty for treason may be death, but US citizens get a trial first. Mr Barron’s memos should be published; he should explain his opinions (Metered) (917 words)

Why Germans Love Russia

Russia has “an authoritarian leader trying to stabilise his regime by pursuing aggression abroad on the grounds of ethnic nationalism”. Which ought to ring warning bells in Germany. Instead, it seems to evoke sympathy. The German Left is “instinctively anti-American” and thus pro-Russian. The populist right “agrees with Russia that Europe has become too gay, too tolerant, too un-Christian” (Metered) (1,000 words)

History’s Stranglehold

Highly entertaining review of David Van Reybrouk’s “magnificent” book, Congo, a history of the Congolese people. The unrecorded history goes back to ancient Egyptian times. The recorded history is short and often tragic: “Whatever Congo had was fed into the maw of the world” — rubber, copper, iron, diamonds, uranium, coltan, slaves. Do read to the end, where we stumble upon the oldest man in the world (Metered paywall) (1,945 words)

What Does Buddhism Require?

Interview with Jay Garfield, philosopher. Interesting throughout. Buddhism is an “atheistic religion” preoccupied with the nature of reality and the impermanence of the self. “The modern emphasis on individuality might not be such a good thing. We might all be better off if we each took ourselves less seriously as selves. That may be one of the most important Buddhist critiques of modernity” (Metered) (2,464 words)

The Pope’s Phone Call

Pope Francis has made his mark on the pastoral side of Catholic life, rather than the doctrinal — leaving the church’s formal teachings unchanged, while accepting that people may have difficulty following them exactly. But the more loosely he interprets Catholic dogma, the more scope for doubt as to whether even the pope himself actually believes in it. A theological crisis may be unavoidable (Metered) (925 words)

Neanderthals Are People, Too

We could probably clone a Neanderthal, more or less, and rediscover a species lost for 30,000 years. But should we? No, says the scientist who has led the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome: “Neanderthals were sentient human beings, after all. In a civilised society, we would never create a human being in order to satisfy scientific curiosity. From an ethical perspective it must be condemned” (Metered) (830 words)

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