Italian Food, Oklahoma, Machine Learning, Infrastructure, Elephants, Manila

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

The Food We Get By War

Victoria Pope | Smithsonian | 23rd January 2017

Food travels the world with armies in conquest and retreat. When ten thousand Arabs from Tunisia and Egypt invaded Sicily in 827 AD for Islam, they also brought the staples of Italian cooking — “hard grain, without which we could not make pasta, and sugarcane. Sugar alone would have already been enough, since it means having a powdered sweetener with which wonderful things could be made”. The Normans two hundred years later were “a bunch of barbarians” — but they did bring salted cod (2,230 words)

Peter’s Choice

Rick Perlstein | Mother Jones | 23rd January 2017

A liberal historian teaching in Oklahoma presses Peter, “one of the brightest students in the class”, to explain why he supports Donald Trump. Peter replies with an essay called Plight of the Redneck: “Imagine being one of those rednecks under the poverty line, living in a camper trailer on your grandpa’s land, eating about one full meal a day, yet being accused by Black Lives Matter that you are benefiting from white privilege and your life is somehow much better than theirs” (2,400 words)

Four Questions To Geoff Hinton

Byron Reese | GigaOM | 16th January 2017

Good, short, non-technical overview of recent progress in artificial intelligence and machine learning. “We are seeing unprecedented progress in solving tough problems that defied our best efforts for half a century. Speech recognition is now very good and rapidly getting better. The ability to recognise objects in images has taken huge strides forward, and I think computers will soon be able to understand what is going on in videos. Neural networks have recently taken over for machine translation” (760 words)

Summers And Glaeser Talk Infrastructure

Anna Malinovskaya & David Wessel | Brookings | 18th January 2017

Notes from a panel discussion. Larry Summers argues for a drastic increase in spending on infrastructure, Edward Glaeser for a more cautious approach. Summers emphasises macroeconomics: Spending on infrastructure is generally good for growth and employment; if you build it, they will come. Glaeser emphasises microeconomics: Prioritise maintenance; build new projects where there are real needs, and where users will pay. And stay flexible: “Bus good, train bad” (1,250 words)

If You Were An Elephant

Charles Foster | Guardian | 19th January 2017

“If you were an elephant, you’d have one two-fingered hand swinging from your face which could smash a wall or pick a cherry. With that hand you’d explore your best friends’ mouths, just for the sake of friendship. You’d hear with your feet, and your femurs would be microphones. As you walked 10 miles for your breakfast you’d chatter with your friends in 10 octaves. Be careful, though. You’d be likely to end up dead because someone wanted a couple of your teeth” (1,500 words)

Murderous Manila

James Fenton | New York Review Of Books | 22nd January 2017

Report from the Philippines, where the president urges police to murder suspected drug dealers. The effect is to give police and criminals alike a free hand to kill anyone they wish. “The targeted killings have their message for the world of the drug users and dealers. The crazy and seemingly haphazard extrajudicial killings, the corpses suffocated with packing tape and dumped at the side of the road with sadistic jokes on cardboard signs have a message for everyone: nobody is safe” (3,500 words)

Video of the day: All Pixar Films Are Connected

What to expect:

Montage of clips arguing that Pixar films share characters and ideas; they take place in the same universe (2’37”)

Thought for the day

Profane music should always be cheerful
J.W. von Goethe

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