Garry Kasparov, Communism, Language, Modigliani, Telephones, Consumers

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A Conversation With Garry Kasparov

Tyler Cowen | Mercatus Center | 10th May 2017

Interesting throughout. Main topics: Chess, artificial intelligence, Russia. “I understand that people today are concerned about self-driving cars. But there was a time when people were scared stiff of autopilots. Now, if you tell them that autopilot’s not working in the plane, they will not fly. There was a time when people didn’t trust elevators without operators. They thought it would be too dangerous … Compared to the fears that people had about machines in 19th and 20th century, we’re not pioneers” (9,400 words)

Moscow, My Family And Me

Martin Kettle | New Statesman | 9th May 2017

Recollections of growing in a “middle-class Communist family” in 1950s Britain. “The party was a social network. There would be a party doctor, a party electrician, a party car salesman. My parents employed a party gardener who had fought in the International Brigades. You expected to marry within the party. Speaking Russian conveyed a particular mystique. Scotland, the birthplace of many party leaders, was always held in special awe, as much for the scenery and the music as for the militancy” (2,500 words)

How To Predict If A Borrower Will Pay You Back

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz | Science Of Us | 8th May 2017

“Phrases used in loan applications by people most likely to pay back the loans: debt-free, lower interest rate, after-tax, minimum payment, graduate. Phrases used by people least likely to pay them back: God, promise, will pay, thank you, hospital. Generally, if someone tells you he will pay you back, he will not pay you back. The more assertive the promise, the more likely he will break it. Someone who writes ‘I promise I will pay back, so help me God’ is among the least likely to do so” (2,100 words)

Modigliani Forgery Epidemic

Milton Esterow | Vanity Fair | 7th May 2017

When drunk, Modigliani would “walk the streets with his portfolio, trying to sell a drawing for a drink”. His profligacy then poses a nightmare now for scholars trying to authenticate his works. “To say that the catalogue raisonné situation of works by Modigliani is a mess is an understatement.” Forgeries are commonplace; there are even forgeries of forgeries. “Dealers said that if I wrote that I had doubts about the Modiglianis that belonged to them they would kill me” (4,000 words)

Only Connect

Christopher Felix McDonald | Creatures Of Thought | 9th April 2017

Brief history of the automated telephone exchange and its part in transforming the telephone from a local convenience into a global network. The first exchanges used mechanical switching invented by a Kansas City undertaker who built his models out of pins and starched collars. Electrical relay switches followed in 1906, “inspiring the realisation that combinations of switches could be built to represent arbitrary arithmetic and logical operations”, the foundation of computing (5,500 words)

More Is More

Deborah Cohen | New York Review Of Books | 10th May 2017

Entertaining and informative review of Frank Trentmann’s Empire of Things, a history of consumer culture, which argues that spending habits owe more to public policy than private whim. “Much of the world’s waste is a product of habitual practices we think normal: driving a car, yes, but taking a daily shower, too, or heating our homes, or changing our underpants daily (by 1986, 45 percent of German men did so compared to 5 percent in 1966). It has almost nothing to do with individual motives” (3,600 words)

Video of the day: The Spirit Of Liberation

What to expect:

Scenes of Germany in ruins after World War Two. Original colour film. Much misery, some corpses (17’50”)

Thought for the day

Free markets do not create the conditions for free markets
Brandon Emrys

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