Facts, Bags, Order, Chaos, IQ

Accentuate The Positive

Anthony Gottlieb | New York Review Of Books | 30th January 2019

Hans Rosling and Steven Pinker contend in their most recent books, Factfulness and Enlightenment Now respectively,  that we underestimate human progress; the world is a better place than ever before, and better than we often imagine it to be. Rosling thinks our error is largely one of ignorance. We are so fixated by horrifying headlines that we overlook incremental improvements. Pinker takes a more polemical approach: We owe our progress to 18C liberalism, from which we deviate at our peril. He is strong on generalisations but weak on particulars. “Pinker is thumping a bible that he rarely opens” (3,690 words)

Security Theatre: How To Perform Better

Brad Templeton | Ideas | 29th January 2019

Heavy-handed screening procedures at American airports are meant to do two things: prevent terrorist attacks and reassure the public. Is it possible to do those things without imposing fundamentally pointless inconvenience on the mass of travellers? Not entirely. But a useful rule of thumb would be to favour measures which create the maximum of public reassurance while imposing the smallest cost in terms of government money and travellers’ time. This could scarcely be a stated policy, since it would leave security as such out of the equation entirely, but it could be used by the TSA as an internal rule (1,820 words)

A Conversation With Noel Johnson And Mark Koyama

Tyler Cowen | Mercatus Centre | 30th January 2019

Topics include the origins of anti-semitism; the economic impact of the Black Death; property rights in the French Revolution; Swiss exceptionalism; volcanic eruptions; Poland; religious tolerance; regionalism and separatism; Britain and the Industrial Revolution. “What gives rise to greater religious freedom? It doesn’t seem to be the personality of rulers. For example, Elizabeth I was quite eclectic and sympathetic to pluralism. But her state was basically a police state, which killed people for being Catholic” (12,900 words)

A Visit With The Taliban

Fritz Schaap | Spiegel | 29th January 2019

It is as though the American-led occupation of Afghanistan never happened. The Taliban controls most of the country, heroin production is booming, perennial warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is running for president, and the outlook is for continued war — proxy war between rival Taliban factions sponsored by Pakistan, Russia and Iran. The Afghan National Army, trained and equipped by the West at titanic expense, is no use to anyone: one third of the soldiers are high on drugs; another third cannot understand their orders; the remaining third are wise enough to stay out of harm’s way (2,950 words)

General Intelligence And Evolutionary History

Razib Khan | Gene Expression | 29th January 2019

If intelligence is such an important heritable trait, why isn’t everyone very smart by now? Why do we see a wide distribution of intelligence levels across the population? The discussion here is interesting throughout, not least where it considers the case of John Von Neumann as an exemplary great mind. “Within intelligence, one could argue that being too deviated from the norm might make socialisation and pair-bonding difficult. Be smart enough. But not so smart that you are weird”  (1,850 words)

Video: Things Used To Be Hidden. Animation. In the wake of a cosmic disaster, people begin to see one another in quite different ways (3m 50s)

Audio: Sitcom Deaths And Disappearances | Mobituaries. Mo Rocca considers the real-life impact of fictional deaths, with some help from Henry Winkler (40m 21s)

“A million years is the shortest time worth messing with for most problems”
— John McPhee

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