France, Optionality, Rum, Cheques, Donna Summer, Qatar

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The Centre Can Hold

Perry Anderson | New Left Review | 7th June 2017

Big analytical account of the recent French presidential election. Victory was handed to Emmanuel Macron by the unknown leaker who gave Le Canard Enchainé a dossier incriminating his centrist rival Francois Fillon. The hard right and hard left — Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon — both polled strongly but cancelled one another out. France is in relative decline; Macron will not be able to change that; but a cyclical economic upturn is getting him off to a good start (7,900 words)

The Trouble With Optionality

Mihir Desai | Harvard Crimson | 25th May 2017

Keeping your options open seems like a good approach to life, but the downside is that you never fully commit to anything. “The Yale undergraduate goes to work at McKinsey for two years, then comes to Harvard Business School, then goes to work at Goldman Sachs, and leaves to work at Blackstone. This individual has acquired safety net upon safety net. These safety nets don’t end up enabling big risk-taking — the individual just becomes a habitual acquirer of safety nets” (920 words)

One Man’s Rum Quest

Wayne Curtis | Wired | 30th May 2017

Los Angeles distiller Bryan Davis claims to have found a way to make six-day-old rum taste like 20-year-old rum, by subjecting it to intense light. “If you increase the light to two or three times the brightness of the sun at noon at the equator, the polymers degrade infinitely faster than in regular sunlight”. Now he wants speed-age Scotch whisky, a trickier task. His pilot whisky “has a flavour profile with no known natural relatives, like a whiskey made by a team of Disney engineers” (4,100 words)

Homage To The Cheque (Or Check)

J.P. Koning | Moneyness | 27th June 2017

Cheques are slow and labour intensive, but their low-tech nature makes them “incredibly robust in the face of disasters and banking system shutdowns”. They are also inclusive: An unbanked recipient can cash a cheque at the issuer’s bank, or endorse it to pay a third party. “This combination of negotiability, robustness, openness, and decentralisation means that, long before bitcoin, we had a system that allowed pretty much everyone to fabricate their own money instruments” (1,600 words)

I Feel Love

Bill Brewster | MixMag | 22nd June 2017

When Brian Eno heard I Feel Love in 1977, he called it “the sound of the future” and said it would “change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years.” If anything, he underestimated the song’s influence. “Hi-NRG stood on its shoulders; the new romantic explosion of electro-pop in the UK came from a similar place; Italo-house, one of the foundation stones in house, was heavily influenced by it; and techno is massively indebted to this strange and beautiful teutonic masterpiece” (4,400 words)

Have The Saudis Over-Reached Themselves?

Alastair Crooke | Conflicts Forum | 7th June 2017

Crisp, brisk analysis of the confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Ever since Britain gave sovereignty to the Emirs of Qatar in 1971 the Saudis have viewed their tiny neighbour as an “upstart”, a “usurper”, a “product of British colonial politics”. They believe Qatar fails to show them “due respect”. Worse still, through Hamas, Qatar favours the Muslim Brotherhood, which vests supreme worldy power in the Umma, the community of Muslim believers, and not the House of Saud (1,900 words)

Video of the day: Can We Combine pi & e?

What to expect:

Explanation of the difference between rational and irrational numbers, from PBS (12’30”)

Thought for the day

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list
Susan Sontag

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