Syria, Olympics, Ransomware, Nudging, Machiavelli, Stephen Spender


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Putin In Syria

Ammar Abdulhamid | Lawfare | 27th February 2017

Perceptive account of how Russia is likely to consolidate its gains in Syria, bearing in mind its lessons from Afghanistan. “Assad will always seem to Putin like a weasel with delusions of grandeur, a pitiful and untrustworthy creature that needs to be put on a leash, one that will keep getting tighter and shorter until the moment comes for some final neck-snapping. But until a suitable agreement materializes, Putin will prefer to keep Assad in play, even if Assad continues to misbehave” (1,100 words)

The End Of The Olympics As We Know It

Rodger Sherman | The Ringer | 24th February 2017

The scandalous aftermath of the Rio Olympics — billion-dollar venues are abandoned and decaying after just six months — hammers home the message that hosting the Olympics is for suckers. Cities are wising up: Three of the five bidders for the 2024 Olympics have dropped out. “The IOC is a parasite: It latches onto hosts, leeches out all the money it can, and leaves a trail of rotting velodromes in its wake. The people at the IOC probably think of the Rio games as a fabulous success” (1,900 words)

The Future Of Ransomware

Matthew Green | Cryptography Engineering | 28th February 2017

Ransomware has become a sad fact of Internet life. A virus takes over your computer and locks up your data until you pay money to an online crook. It’s a simple process — which is all the more worrying. “If this strategy is working so well today, the question we should be asking ourselves is: how much worse could it get?” Next-generation ransomware will probably be autonomous, de-activating itself automatically when a Bitcoin ransom is paid, and thus much more scaleable (2,500 words)

Will Democracy Survive Big Data?

Dirk Helbing et al | Scientific American | 25th February 2017

Corporations and governments have the means to steer our courses of action without our even knowing. We are entering an era of “big nudging” — nudge policies informed by big data. This might be good: But it is fundamentally undemocratic, and, more to the point, almost sure to produce perverse results, because the central planning of public opinion and public behaviour will be even more complex than central planning of an economy; and we know how that went (11,200 words)

Machiavelli As Economist

Branko Milanovic | Global Inequality | 28th March 2017

“For Machiavelli, the objective of a ruler is maximisation of power in two dimensions, at any point in time and over time. This is exactly the same as maximisation of income or utility over time. The ruler is a rational homo politicus in the same way that people, according to economists, are rational homo economicuses. Machiavelli’s politician is like a businessman. There are cases when the businessman will gain more by lying and others when he would gain more by telling the truth” (770 words)

Stephen Spender: The Art Of Poetry

Peter A. Stitt | Paris Review | 1st January 1980

Arguably the most entertaining of all the Paris Review interviews. Lots of literary gossip and very little technical discussion. On W.H. Auden: “When we were at Oxford together, he knew almost nothing about form, so the poems he wrote then are really free verse. I remember him once showing me a poem that he said was a sonnet. I asked him why he called it a sonnet, and he said, ‘Because it only has eleven lines’. Then he suddenly began to study form, to the point where he became a virtuoso” (11,800 words)

Video of the day: Diamond Route Japan

What to expect:

Gorgeous travelogue promoting northern Japan as a tourism destination, six years after Fukushima (2’36”)

Thought for the day

Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life
Marcel Proust

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