Doubt, Cake, Nuns, Age, China

We Cannot Agree What Is True Any More

William Davies | Guardian | 19th September 2019

Public life in the age of social media is like a play in which every member of the audience is a critic. All statements by public figures are picked apart and quickly declared to have some occult purpose. As cynicism becomes generalised, people tend to favour their own experiences and their own beliefs about how the world “really” works. Our crisis of democracy proceeds from this crisis of truth. We reject “official” stories about everything, and demand to witness things for ourselves (4,430 words)


Did You Eat The Whole Cake?

Judith Knott | Deep Baltic | 12th September 2019

How to learn Estonian. You have to grow up in Estonia, pretty much. The complexities of the language have an “almost mythical status” among scholars. Estonian nouns decline through fourteen or more cases, each with a singular and a plural. The essential cases — nominative, genitive, partitive — are also the most irregular, often involving changes in the stem of the noun. Verbs come in 149 varieties, each with five moods. But there are only two basic tenses, past and present. The future has rules of its own (3,380 words)


Germany’s Vanishing Monasteries

Felix Bohr | Spiegel | 19th September 2019

In 1960 Germany had 110,000 monks and nuns. Now it has 17,900, four-fifths of whom are nuns, and most are elderly. Communities are being disbanded, properties sold. Some abbeys have started inviting interested outsiders to sample the monastic life for a few months without commitment, but even this generous offer has found few takers. The Benedictine Abbey at Beuron in south-west Germany has existed for a thousand years; the current abbot thinks it will be gone in thirty more (2,025 words)


American Gerontocracy

Timothy Noah | Politico | 3rd September 2019

When Leonid Brezhnev died in 1982 the average age of the Soviet Politburo was 71. In America today the President is 73, the House Speaker is 79, the Senate majority leader is 77. This tendency should be deeply worrying. On average, mental abilities decline dramatically after the age of 70; the biggest decline comes in the capacity to absorb large amounts of new information and use it to solve unfamiliar problems. Individual septuagenarians may function well, but entire cohorts cannot buck the trend (3,260 words)


China, Quantified Country

M.E. Strickland | SupChina | 19th September 2019

China’s obsession with collecting data to drive policy-making and to engineer society sits uneasily with the fact that China’s existing published statistics are notoriously unreliable. The main problem is a failure to allow for Goodhart’s Law, which holds that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes”. The government may believe it is collecting statistics to improve outcomes, but instead it is creating new outcomes by collecting statistics (2,290 words)


Video: Parce Que. Beguiling fusion of dance and painting, in a French castle, to the piano and voice of Serge Gainsbourg (5m 05s)

Audio: How To Make Meetings Less Terrible | Freakonomics Radio. The options explored here include wild dogs, hacking calendars, switching seats, a cage match — and a magician (41m 43s)

Afterthought:
“A theory should not attempt to explain all the facts, because some of the facts are wrong”
— Francis Crick

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