Coincidence, Chinese Poetry, Auction Theory, Music Moneyball, Hostage Rescue


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Shrinking The World

Joseph Mazur | Slate | 30th May 2016

Resist this opening spiel if you can. “I published a book about coincidences, called Fluke. I’ve since become the beneficiary of a great many stories from readers detailing flukes in their own lives. Some are meaningful flukes that test our belief in chance. Most seem improbable, but when considered mathematically, they are not really so unlikely. Here are four wondrous stories, chosen from the many and ranked by increasing odds against, that shrink the size of the world” (1,250 words)

Is There A Good Way To Translate Chinese Poetry?

Xujun Eberlein | LARB | 20th May 2016

Let’s start off by agreeing that there is a bad way, the Ezra Pound way, which is to translate Chinese poetry without knowing the Chinese language, and make basic mistakes in literal meaning without even being aware of them. The good translator is pulled between fidelity to the form and literal sense of the Chinese original, and the desire to produce an equivalent effect in the target language; which is becoming less and less of a trade-off as Western and Chinese poetry converge (2,530 words)

JW von Goethe, Auction Theorist

Ray Fisman & Tim Sullivan | The Millions | 31st May 2016

Seeking optimal terms from his publisher for a new epic poem in 1797, Goethe proposed a “peculiar” scheme. He would place his minimum selling price in a sealed envelope; the publisher would make an offer. If the offer was lower than Goethe’s price, Goethe would walk away. If the offer was higher, Goethe would get his sealed price only. Two centuries later the markets have caught up. Goethe’s “second price sealed bid auction” drives online commerce from AdWords to eBay (1,300 words)

John Seabrook And The Song Machine

Shane Parrish | Farnham Street | 31st May 2016

A précis of John Seabrook’s book explaining why so much pop music sounds the same. It is the same. Blame natural selection. The more addictive a beat or hook, the more it gets copied. Internet-era pop stars buy their songs from an industry of engineers and data scientists who sample current top-selling beats and chord progressions, add new melodic hooks, and test the results with focus-groups. You can get great songs this way, but you don’t get big surprises (1,630 words)

The Price Of A Life

Sophie McBain | New Statesman | 31st May 2016

At work with the Office of Kidnapped Affairs, a Kurdish government agency rescuing Yazidi slaves and hostages from Islamic State by means of smuggling networks and safe houses. In theory the Kurdish government covers the costs, but the money is never there, so families find $6,500 to $20,000 per captive to pay bribes and ransoms. The Yazidis live mostly in refugee camps since IS almost wiped them out in 2014, and borrow from one another. “We’re dead with our eyes open” (4,900 words)

Video of the day: What Are You?

What to expect:

Are you your body? And, if so, how much of your body can you remove before you stop being you? (6’22”)

Thought for the day

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star
Friedrich Nietzsche

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