Infrastructure, War Zones, Perception, Lionel Shriver, Constantinople, Barbed Wire

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If You Build It

Edward Glaeser | City Journal | 12th September 2016

The “progressive romance” with infrastructure spending is based on the mistaken belief that such investment is a sure way of boosting economic growth. For proof to the contrary look at Japan, which has spent more than $6 trillion on public construction projects in the past two decades trying vainly to get its stalled economy moving. Big public projects tend to be conceived as remedies for declining areas, with the result that roads and bridges get built where they are least needed (4,400 words)

The World Is A Thriving Slaughterhouse

Roger Rosenblatt | Atlantic | 12th September 2016

A journalist sifts through 49 boxes of notes and photographs accumulated during forty years of war reporting in Rwanda, Palestine, Mali, Belfast, Cambodia, Beirut. “In a torn manila envelope I have pages I wrote in the early 1980s on the theory and nature of war in the abstract. I wrote that a state of war tests and cultivates basic human virtues — courage, loyalty, stamina, coolheadedness, cunning, stoicism, self-sacrifice and honor. I’m not sure why I wrote all this, since it reads like horseshit” (3,500 words)

Bayes All The Way Up

Scott Alexander | Slate Star Codex | 12th September 2016

Speculative essay about brain chemistry which provides plausible models for autism and paranoia. Part of the brain generates “top-down” expectations about what we are going to see, based on past experience. Part of the brain processes “bottom-up” data about what we are actually seeing at a given moment. The top-down and bottom-up usually coincide, more or less. When they clash we feel surprise. “If it turns out that bottom-up was right and top-down was wrong, learning occurs” (3,500 words)

In Praise Of Cultural Appropriation

Lionel Shriver | Guardian | 13th September 2016

A novelist argues against political correctness. “Ten years ago, I maintained that fiction writers have a vested interest in protecting everyone’s right to offend – because if hurting someone else’s feelings is sufficient justification for muzzling, there will always be someone out there who is miffed by what you say, and freedom of speech is dead. With the rise of identity politics, which privileges a subjective sense of injury as actionable basis for prosecution, we’ve been losing the battle” (4,700 words)

Economic Reflections On The Fall Of Constantinople

Branko Milanovic | Global Inequality | 26th May 2016

Since Ricardo, economists have treated trade as an activity freely undertaken by consenting parties for mutual benefit. That view cannot survive the briefest study of the Eastern Roman Empire, or of colonialism. “Trade, debt and the army always moved together. This is at its most obvious in city-states such as Venice and Genoa. If trade were all about peace, there would be no reason why these city-states had to maintain large naval fleets, fight battles and conquer islands” (1,350 words)

A History Of Barbed Wire

Dick Wittenberg | The Correspondent | 5th February 2016

Five million miles of barbed wire are produced each year, enough to circle the earth 200 times. The invention of barbed wire in 1873, by an Illinois farmer who sharpened hairpins in a coffee grinder, cleared the way for the final settling of the American West. Farmers had been reluctant to move when they had no ready means to fence their land and protect their crops. More settlers moved West in the eight years after barbed wire’s invention than in the fifty years before it (2,400 words)

Video of the day: How To Be A Thought Leader

What to expect:

Satire. The poor production quality is (I think) intentional (2’31”)

Thought for the day

People who think seriously and deeply are on bad terms with the public
J.W. von Goethe

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