Economics Society Technology

The Reconn Reader: 14 December, 2018

Each week, I share some of the most interesting articles from the past seven days. Here is this week’s selection. -CA


World & Politics

‘Chaos is complete’: what the European papers say about Brexit

In Spain, El País editorial writer Iñaki Gabilondo said Britain was now “in the quagmire” after a referendum “that has not ceased delivering displeasure since the very moment it was born”. Italy’s Corriere della Serra spoke of May’s “most difficult day … marked by open laughter and screams of mockery”, while Gaia Cesare, writing in Il Giornale, described May’s decision as a “desperate, last-minute move” designed to “save Brexit, the country and herself” that only “adds chaos to chaos”. (The Guardian)

The Yellow Vest Protests and the Tragedy of Emmanuel Macron

The previous three administrations had faltered, he believed, for want of sufficient “verticality”: rather than rule authoritatively from the top down, these presidents had bowed to pressure, retreated in the face of opposition from powerful interests and from the streets, and allowed necessary reforms to be undone or scrapped. He, by contrast, would never retreat. He mistook his ample margin of victory for a mandate, which it certainly was not. The majority of those who voted for him were rejecting Le Pen rather than embracing Macron. He knew this but chose to ignore it, on the theory that the appearance of unwavering self-confidence could compensate for the deficiency of active support. (Foreign Affairs)

How the Migrant Caravan Built Its Own Democracy

More recently, the council, staying at the border with the rest of the migrants, still tries to meet every day. It has been preoccupied with the day-to-day survival of the asylum-seekers and their efforts to persuade official governments to pay attention to their needs. To counter some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric the migrants have encountered daily at the border, the caravan’s assembly voted to set up a task force of cleaning squads to sweep the streets of Tijuana in goodwill, akin to a department of public works. Recently, some women on the Dialogue and Governance Council launched a hunger strike, which others across the caravan later joined in on. (Politico)



Business & Economics

The Rise of Knowledge Economics

What made knowledge sticky? Following the steps of Romer and Jaffe, scholars mapped the co-authorship networks of inventors. This showed that it was an inventor’s professional network, not other aspects of geography(such as the institutional environment or shared culture) that explained the limited diffusion of knowledge. Despite patent fillings and publications, an inventors’ knowledge of their field was limited by the horizon of their own collaboration network. In a couple of decades, we had understood why knowledge was at the center of economic value, but also, why it was a honey that everyone wanted but few had. (Scientific American)


Musk, though, had other concerns. “What’s that smell?” he asked. Everyone went silent. They knew Musk was so sensitive to odors that job candidates were told not to wear cologne or perfume when they met him. They had seen him become upset over small issues like this, had observed him attack executives for their incompetence and inabilities. One person explained that there were vats of liquid silicon nearby. When heated, it sometimes smelled like burning plastic. (WIRED)

Madoff’s Fraud Ushered in Changes to Secretive Hedge Funds

The process of vetting managers was upended in its entirety — investors started giving much greater scrutiny to the auditors, brokers and lawyers funds had hired. More attention was also paid to the procedures funds put in place in the course of carrying out their business, while manager background and other checks accelerated. “Madoff’s fraud showed how some investors didn’t have the necessary procedures in place to detect Madoff,” said Nadel, whose clients include hedge funds. (Bloomberg)



Science & Technology

The universal decay of collective memory and attention

We show that, once we isolate the temporal dimension of the decay, the attention received by cultural products decays following a universal biexponential function. We explain this universality by proposing a mathematical model based on communicative and cultural memory, which fits the data better than previously proposed log-normal and exponential models. (Nature)

Preparing for Discovery With NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

Our Sun’s influence is far-reaching. The solar wind, its outflow of material, fills up the inner part of our solar system, creating a bubble that envelops the planets and extends far past the orbit of Neptune. Embedded in its energized particles and solar material, the solar wind carries with it the Sun’s magnetic field. Additional one-off eruptions of solar material called coronal mass ejections also carry this solar magnetic field — and in both cases, this magnetized material can interact with Earth’s natural magnetic field and cause geomagnetic storms. Such storms can trigger the aurora or even power outages, and other types of solar activity can cause communications problems, disrupt satellite electronics and even endanger astronauts — especially beyond the protective bubble of Earth’s magnetic field. (NASA)

50 years on, we’re living the reality first shown at the “Mother of All Demos”

To open the 90-minute-long presentation, Engelbart posited a question that almost seems trivial to us in the early 21st century: “If in your office, you as an intellectual worker were supplied with a computer display, backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day, and was instantly responsible—responsive—to every action you had, how much value would you derive from that?” Of course at that time, computers were vast behemoths that were light-years away from the pocket-sized devices that have practically become an extension of ourselves. (Ars Tecnica)


Culture & History

“I went down to collect a bone”: how Britain is running out of space to bury its dead

The popularity of burial reuse in the City of London Cemetery can be explained by cost effectiveness—you get more bang for your buck. Neoclassical headstones dignified by the patina of moss are simply turned around when a grave is reused, preserving the history of the original inhabitant whilst also allowing the new occupant to be commemorated with their own inscription. The graves are dug deep. Where mismanagement appears to have reigned at Tottenham Park Cemetery, the City of London thinks it has a long-term solution that involves the public. (Prospect UK)

Death by selfie

The trend is global. Los Angeles County Sheriffs have reported a 38% increase in rescue missions since 2013 as more and more people end up in trouble while trying to capture the perfect photo or video. In 2017 British emergency services were called out to more than 3,000 incidents that had associated field notes which mentioned YouTube, nearly double the number of such calls in 2013. In an extreme case in America in the same year, Pedro Ruiz III, a young YouTuber, died when his girlfriend, Monalisa Perez, shot him at close range under the mistaken belief that a hardback book he was holding could stop a .50 calibre bullet. (1843)

Once that staircase caught fire — it’s impossible to know the order of events with certainty, though one person who escaped reported that some who started down the stairs came back up, yelling “not good” — people wrapped themselves in rugs. The air in the warehouse grew so hot that, one survivor reported, he felt his skin peeling. Harris held the front door open, yelling: “Follow the sound of my voice! This way!” Michela Gregory and Alex Vega embraced, his body on top of hers to shield her from the flames and heat. A final text from the building, according to The East Bay Times, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its Ghost Ship reporting, said: “I love you. I’m going to die, Mom.” (New York Times)


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