Best of the Moment
J.C. Hewitt | Priceonomics | 25th November 2013
Obstetrical forceps for safer childbirth were invented at the end of the 16C by a family of doctors, called Chamberlen, who kept the invention secret for their own commercial advantage. They "either applied a blindfold to the woman in labor or extracted the infant under a heavy sheet". A Dutch doctor bought the secret three generations later; forceps reached the public domain only in the early 1700s
Thomas Laqueur | London Review Of Books | 26th November 2013
Review of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark, a "breathtakingly good book" which looks set to succeed Barbara Tuchman's Guns Of August as the best recent account of the causes of the First World War. Tuchman cast her history in cold war terms: two great power blocks collided. Clark uses a modern template: the war follows from an act of terrorism in Sarajevo, with Serbia as rogue state
Mike Konczal | New Inquiry | 26th November 2013
Critical discussion of Philip Mirowski’s "Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste", on the ascendancy of neo-liberalism in economics and politics. "In neoliberal society, markets don’t serve the pre-existing needs of subjects; subjects are fabricated to serve the market. The subject’s purpose in life becomes synonymous with the facilitation of economic growth. Entrepreneurship becomes the ethical model of how to live"
Tim Harford | Undercover Economist | 27th November 2013
Switzerland will vote on a providing a "basic income" of about $30,000 a year for all adult citizens. Which sounds on the generous side, but the principle of basic income has a surprising amount of support on the right as well as the left. Milton Friedman saw basic income as "an alternative to the current welfare state". It may also gain plausibility if the advance of robots makes large numbers of people completely unemployable
Derrick Harris | GigaOM | 27th November 2013
Four former Yahoo technology executives talk about why the company has missed opportunities so consistently, and the great things it almost did. "Google brought Yahoo’s business to its knees. The company isn’t dead, but its body has been prematurely autopsied countless times by technology journalists and analysts trying to diagnose what went wrong. Yahoo is the best-known company that people don’t like"
Chris Bell | Telegraph | 25th November 2013
Online mystery-solving game, Cicada 3301, has hackers hooked. Nobody admits to knowing who's behind it, or what it's for, but it's crazily difficult and skews all over the place. "Analysis of a 130Mb file containing thousands of prime numbers led to a Twitter account pumping out random numbers, which in turn produced a an ancient Hebrew code table, but this time based on Anglo-Saxon runes" (Metered paywall)
Thought for the day:
"To explain why a man slipped on a banana peel, we do not need a general theory of slipping" — Sidney Morgenbesser