Population Bust

Zachary Karabell | Foreign Affairs | 14th August 2019

Most of the world is experiencing sharp and sudden contractions in birthrates or absolute population. The growth paradigm of the past two centuries is about to change. This may count as bad news in economic terms: An ageing, shrinking population will produce and consume less. But it will be good news for the environment. “If humanity can get through the next 20 to 30 years without irreversibly damaging the ecosystem, the second half of the twenty-first century might be considerably brighter” (3,000 words)

Where The Evidence Leads

Abraham Loeb | Scientific American | 14th August 2019

Physics has lost its way. It is looking for things that are not there, and doubling down instead of cutting losses. “When we fail to detect weakly interacting massive particles even well below the natural range for their parameters as dark matter; when we find no evidence for supersymmetry at Large Hadron Collider; when the first reported interstellar comet does not look like what we think it should; when the simplest models of cosmic inflation are ruled out by satellite data, physicists should move on” (1,000 words)

Asset Management

Federico Varese | TLS | 13th August 2019

Elegant, skeptical account of the machinations that made Salvator Mundi the most expensive painting in the world, relying upon a speculative attribution to Leonardo da Vinci. “The restorer of the Salvator Mundi used for guidance in her work a copy of the picture attributed to a painter who himself worked with a follower of Leonardo. We have entered a dizzying hermeneutical circle: the original is made to look like a copy of the copy in order to convince a sceptical audience that it is original” (3,990 words)

Why Did We Wait So Long For The Bicycle?

Jason Crawford | Roots Of Progress | 13th July 2019

If wheelbarrows were commonplace in early medieval Europe, why did nobody think to invent the bicycle until the 19th century? “For centuries, progress was stalled because inventors were all trying to create multi-person four-wheeled carriages, rather than single-person two-wheeled vehicles. It’s unclear why this was; certainly inventors were copying an existing mode of transportation, but why would they draw inspiration only from the horse-and-carriage, and not from the horse-and-rider?” (3,060 words)

The Limits Of Pro-Choice

Chavi Eve Karkowsky | Atlantic | 7th August 2019

American ob-gyn practising in Israel finds her pro-choice convictions tested by Israel’s more liberal abortion laws. Abortion can be offered until delivery if doctors diagnose a 30% chance of a baby’s being born with severe disability. Termination of pregnancy is never off the table. “I am deeply uncomfortable with a termination of pregnancy at 35 weeks, or 32 weeks, or 28 weeks. When I return to the United States, I will take back with me this itchy strangeness of having to figure out where I stand” (3,700 words)

Video: The Wisdom Of Pessimism. Alain de Botton on the case for pessimism. The less you expect, the less likely you are to be disappointed, and the happier you will be (2m 30s)

Audio: Masha Gessen | Conversations With Tyler. Topics include: Mathematics, Russia, friendship, Putin, Garry Kasparov, gay rights, Chernobyl, food (1h 08m 24s)

”If your ark is about to sink, look for the elephants first”
— Vilfredo Pareto

How Digital Advertising Markets Work

Dina Srinivasan | American Prospect | 24th June 2019

The value of data. “Say Michael goes to CNBC’s website each morning to follow the markets, and to the New York Times each evening for book reviews. CNBC knows that Michael follows the markets, and might monetise his view at a $30 CPM. The Times knows that Michael reads books, and might monetise his view at a $10 CPM. If the Times can find out that Michael is reading CNBC in the mornings, then when Michael visits the Times books section in the evening, the Times can monetise him at $30 too” (3,100 words)

Life Is Tough

David Barash | Aeon | 31st July 2019

Humans have evolved to flourish in a very narrow range of environments. If conditions on Earth had been even slightly different, humans as such would not have come into being. Many other life forms are far less sensitive to their environment. You can freeze tardigrades for years on end, or boil them in superheated steam, and they will just shrug it off. All other things being equal, therefore, if life exists anywhere else in the Universe, it will probably be much more like a tardigrade, and much less like a human (2,400 words)

The End Of Beef

Rowan Jacobsen | Outside | 31st July 2019

We are now at the tipping-point where "alt-meat" — made from plants, not animals — starts conquering the world. Alt-beef burgers match regular burgers for taste, with more protein and less fat. Big food chains are serving them. The price is competitive, and will plunge with scale. The only comparative advantage for traditional meat is nostalgia value. "Baby Boomers are going to stick with beef right up to the point where their dentures can’t take it any more. Gen Z will find the stuff as embarrassing as dad jeans" (2,500 words)

The Tyranny Of The Ideal Woman

Jia Tolentino | Guardian | 2nd August 2019

“Today’s ideal woman coexists easily with feminism in its market-friendly and mainstream form. This sort of feminism has organised itself around being as visible and appealing to as many people as possible; it has greatly over-valorised women’s individual success. Feminism has not eradicated the tyranny of the ideal woman but has entrenched it. Most pleasures end up being traps, and every public-facing demand escalates in perpetuity. Satisfaction remains necessarily out of reach.” (4,500 words)

The Great Successor

Anna Fifield | Sinocism | 2nd August 2019

Kim Jong Un’s biographer tells how the new North Korean leader moved quickly, once in power, to purge the old guard loyal to his father. Chief of the General Staff Ri Yong Ho was relieved of his positions “for health reasons”, according to the official account, and never seen again. His face was edited out of photos and his name deleted from documents. Defence minister Hyon Yong Chol was accused of treason after falling asleep while Kim was talking, and blown to a pulp by anti-aircraft guns, in public (3,450 words)

Video: 17 Small Ideas. Delightful visual anthology of illusions and vignettes (2m 52s)

Audio: 1:23:45 | Chernobyl. Craig Mazin tells how he created the acclaimed HBO series Chernobyl, a dramatic reconstruction of the nuclear catastrophe in Soviet-era Ukraine (51m)

”Gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original”
— Judith Butler  

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