Giraffe Edition 46

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

America In Decay

Francis Fukuyama | Foreign Affairs | 19th August 2014

Magisterial essay on the failure of public administration in America. In brief: The American people do not greatly trust their government; so they hamstring its operations with rules and red tape; which leads to poor performance and easy capture; which reinforces public distrust. There is no easy route to reform. The entrenched actors are too powerful. Major change may require an external shock to the whole system (10,300 words)

Saving Horatio Alger

Richard Reeves | Brookings | 20th August 2014

Wide-ranging essay on social mobility and wealth distribution in America. Strong historical perspective. Lots of helpful graphics. Inequality was as great a century ago as it is now; but social mobility was much greater too, which made the inequality more defensible as an incentive to the poor as well as a reward to the rich. "For the first time ever, most parents in the US think their children will be worse off than themselves" (7,000 words)

Theory And Practice Of Jihad

Gary Anderson | Small Wars Journal | 12th August 2014

On the fighting style of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State. "He appears to be a keen student of American tactics as they were passed on to the Iraqi Army, as well as the military practices of his Syrian Baathist opponents. Whether he is a military prodigy or merely a very talented student and practitioner of military art is irrelevant. To date, he has shown himself to be a very effective commander" (3,230 words)

The World’s Weirdest Chef

Wendell Steavenson | Intelligent Life | 20th August 2014

Profile of Hervé This, French pioneer of molecular gastronomy. Having shown how science can transform cookery, now he wants to to synthesise food itself. “What if you could make dishes only using pure chemical compounds? What if you used only the building blocks of proteins and triglycerides and amino acids and starches and polysaccharides and odorant compounds instead of meat and vegetables?” (4,000 words)

Robot Cars With Adjustable Ethics Settings

Patrick Lin | Wired | 19th August 2014

An approach (though not a solution) to the problem of ethics for driverless cars, and potentially quite a useful intermediate step: Allow the user to select from a range of “ethics settings”. One person could instruct the car to value his life over all others; another might prefer the the car to value all lives the same and minimize harm overall; a third might want to minimize legal liability and costs for herself. (1,280 words)

Syria In Revolt

Sadik J. Al-Azm | Boston Review | 18th August 2014

Intelligent, informed, measured account of the Syrian conflict, explaining from the ground up in social and political terms why the revolt happened when it did against a seemingly all-powerful state; and arguing that the closest historical analogy would be the Hungarian anti-communist uprising of 1956: "No one said that the country was in the throes of a civil war because Hungarian was killing Hungarian" (4,880 words)

Video of the day: Orson Welles Does Frozen Peas

What to expect: Audio. The actor records a TV advertisement. It does not go well

Thought for the day

"Errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous"
— John Rawls

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