Big Beds, China, Leibniz, Guns, Word, Kahneman and Tversky


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A Bed For Fifty People

Brendan White | Paris Review | 15th November 2016

Could Count Hendrik III of Nassau, buyer of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights, possibly have had a bed in his palace big enough for 50 people, as Albrecht Durer claimed after visiting the Count in 1520? Apparently so, and it had a room to itself. According to another visitor: “We gathered that the Count had it made because he liked to hold frequent banquets and to see his guests get drunk, and when they could no longer stand on their feet, he had them thrown on to this bed” (1,250 words)

China’s Great Leap Backwards

James Fallows | Atlantic | 15th November 2016

After 40 years of gradual liberalisation, interrupted by Tiananmen, China is swinging back under Xi Jinping towards censorship, xenophobia, militarism, repression. Xi’s China threatens to become a “much bigger version of today’s Russia”, characterised by “kleptocracy and personalized rule”. Like Russia it risks becoming a country which defines its interests “by leaning toward whatever will be troublesome for the United States — an actual adversary, not just a difficult partner” (5,300 words)

Philosopher Of The Information Age

Dan Falk | Slate | 14th November 2016

All computer code relies upon the binary number system developed in the 17th century by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, whose ideas anticipated much of computer science. “He believed that all kinds of problems could be reduced to the manipulation of symbols and tackled just as though they were mathematical problems. He imagined a kind of alphabet of human thought, whose symbols could be manipulated according to precise, mechanical rules, the work carried out by devices” (930 words)

Confessions Of A Gun Range Worker

Kyle Taylor | Mother Jones | 9th September 2016

“The ranges make a lot of their money from renting guns to people — those are the people you really have to watch out for. Like the time we rented a Ruger handgun to this woman. After I turned my back to her, she put the gun behind her ear and blew a nice, clean, round hole through the center of her head. Different guys handle it differently. Our standard operating procedure when this happens is to call a cease-fire. Then we clear the range so that nobody is in any danger” (2,100 words)

The Shame Of Work

John Danaher | New Rambler | 14th November 2016

Review of David Frayne’s Refusal Of Work, about Britons who choose not to work. “If ever a book was designed to help you question the value of the work ethic and look anew at our modern obsession with productivity and promotion, this is it”. Frayne’s non-workers accept loss of income as the price of pursuing slower and more family-centred lives. The harder problem, they say, is the social stigma. “They live in constant dread of the perennial dinner party question: what do you do?” (5,600 words)

World Turned Upside Down

Michael Lewis | Vanity Fair | 14th November 2016

Portrait of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, pioneers of behavioural economics and modern behavioural psychology. “In the beginning they were kicking around Danny’s proposition that people didn’t depend on probability or statistics. Whatever human beings did when presented with a problem that had a statistically correct answer, it wasn’t statistics. But how did you sell that to an audience of professional social scientists blinded by theory? And how did you test it?” (8,030 words)

Video of the day: The $21,000 First Class Seat

What to expect:

Film-maker Casey Neistat celebrates his upgrade from business to first class on a flight from Dubai to New York (9’02”)

Thought for the day

Politeness is an avowedly false coin, with which it is foolish to be stingy
Arthur Schopenhauer

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