Library of Babel, Art in Tehran, Orphans, Incarceration, Automation


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Meet the Library of Babel

Jolene Creighton | From Quarks To Quasars | 29th September 2015

In 1939, Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges wrote of a “Library of Babel” containing “every phrase ... that could ever be written.” Borges' vision has now been realised as an algorithm that "displays all of the pages on which [the] text [you input] would appear if the library were a real, physical thing." It contains "every poem ever written" and even "an ... account of your death," but all buried among "pages of utter nonsense" (1,070 words)

Yasaman Alipour | Brooklyn Rail | 5th October 2015

The visual arts scene in Tehran has grown into an outlet for young, overeducated bohemians deprived of bars and nightclubs. Illustration is one of the few representational art forms allowed in the Republic: Yashar Salahi draws amorphous humans as clothing; the Ab/Anbar gallery brings together eclectic international artworks; and Mehdi Hamedi's mixed-media work blends Islamic architecture with modern advertising (1,730 words)

The Uses Of Orphans

Alison Kinney | New Inquiry | 2nd October 2015

Orphans in life and literature. "In stories," orphans "drive plot... it’s no accident that the Grail-questing knight Parzival is an orphan, or Frodo Baggins, either." But the author explains how, even as a child, she was expected to serve as an (endlessly grateful) "translator, apologist, cheerleader, and double-agent" for adults with an agenda. She was "fortunate in her adoptive family but remains, nonetheless, angry" (2,600 words)

Prison Without Punishment

Maurice Chammah | Marshall Project | 25th September 2015

“In the 1960s, incarceration rates in Europe and the U.S. were broadly comparable,” but over the last half-century U.S. incarceration rates have risen dramatically, with both Democrats and Republicans eager “to promote harsh sentencing laws”. The U.S. now incarcerates 2.2 million people. What caused that trend, and can it be reversed? Argues that the U.S. prison system is based around punishment, not rehabilitation (5,490 words)

Why Our Washing Machines Won’t Go To The Moon

David Autor & Henning Meyer | Social Europe Journal | 2nd October 2015

MIT labour economist David Autor interviewed. We have hit a plateau with automation: machines are now doing most of the basic tasks they're capable of. Any future changes must come from a big jump in AI. Autor is skeptical of the idea of a post-work future, predicting labour income will remain the key driver of growth, due to diminishing returns from technology. Skills, plus redistributive taxation, will remain important (4,730 words)

Video of the day: The Saint of Dry Creek

What to expect: Charming StoryCorps animation about a father in the 1950s (3'30")

Thought for the day

Memorable sentences are memorable on account of some single irradiating word
Alexander Smith

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