The Reconn Reader: 9 February, 2019

Each week, I share some of the most interesting articles I’ve come across in the past seven days. Here is this week’s selection. Inclusion does not mean endorsement. -CA

World & Politics

The Digital Dictators

As protests have increased, however, authoritarian regimes have adapted their survival tactics to focus on mitigating the threat from mass mobilization. Data compiled by Freedom House reveal that since 2000, the number of restrictions on political and civil liberties globally has grown. A large share of this increase has occurred in authoritarian countries, where leaders impose restrictions on political and civil liberties to make it harder for citizens to organize and agitate against the state. (Foreign Affairs)

Celebrating a Nation That Doesn’t Exist

Since Transnistria declared independence 30 years ago, Tiraspol’s population has actually decreased by at least a third, with most residents having left to seek work in Russia due to declining economic prospects following the fall of the USSR. But while life is not easy in this presidential democracy, where wages are even lower than in Moldova (one of Europe’s poorest countries), while exploring the region I learned that many are content with the life here. (BBC)

The German Conservatives’ Faustian Pact With the Far-Right

The CDU and FDP were all too willing to fall into this trap and must now live with the damage they have caused. Another lesson that history has taught us is that when it comes to playing games, those who act in bad faith have an advantage. Take Donald Trump, for instance, against whose unabashed political brutality Republicans don’t stand a chance. (Der Spiegel)

Meet the Bird Medics of New Delhi

A core tenet of Jainism, a small but influential religion in India, is ahimsa, the practice of nonviolence and compassion toward all forms of life. On a wall of the Charity Bird Hospital, located within Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, a Jain temple with tall red spires, is a painting of a Jain king sacrificing his arm, then his foot and eventually his life to save a pigeon. (New York Times)


Business & Economics

How McKinsey Destroyed the Middle Class

Things changed in the 1960s, with McKinsey leading the way. In 1965 and 1966, the firm placed help-wanted ads in The New York Times and Time magazine, with the goal of generating applications that it could then reject, to establish its own eliteness. McKinsey’s competitors followed suit, as when the Boston Consulting Group’s Bruce Henderson took out ads in the Harvard Business School student newspaper seeking to hire “not just the run-of-that-mill but, instead, scholars—Rhodes Scholars, Marshall Scholars, Baker Scholars (the top 5 percent of the class).” (The Atlantic)

Wait, Are Coworkers Still Hooking Up With Each Other, Post-#MeToo?

What *has* changed is the added pressure to keep interoffice relationships on the DL, given all the new rules. “My boyfriend and I were wary of making moves,” says Chloe, 23, who works in a government office. “So we ended up keeping it a secret. We had to hide behind a tree one time because we saw someone from work.” Eventually, her boyfriend decided it was time to break up—with his job, not with her—so they wouldn’t have to deal. (Cosmopolitan)

Where Are All the Women CEOs

“You can have a seat at the table and not be a player,” said Jewelle Bickford, a partner at Evercore Wealth Management and co-chair of Paradigm for Parity, a coalition of business leaders aimed at closing the gender gap at the top of American companies. “The way you become a player, that usually comes with a P&L role.” (WSJ)

Black Economists Recall 50 Years of Struggle

“I don’t have to tell anyone in this room that far more needs to be done,” Bernard Anderson, the first black professor to earn tenure at the University of Pennsylania’s Wharton School, said at the NEA’s anniversary luncheon. He was one of five founding members of the Caucus of Black Economists to speak at the event. Another was Theodore Spratlen, professor emeritus of marketing at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Spratlen said he found out 20 years after the caucus’s founding that the leadership of the American Economic Association had New York City police officers standing by that day in 1969 in case the group became disruptive. “When all we wanted,” he said, “was to be economists.” (Bloomberg)


Science & Technology

This Professor’s ‘Amazing’ Trick Makes Quadratic Equations Easier

Dr. Loh’s method allows people to calculate the answers without remembering the exact formula. (It also provides a more straightforward proof.)

“Math is not about memorizing formulas without meaning, but rather about learning how to reason logically through precise statements,” Dr. Loh said. (New York Times)

Death: can our final moment be euphoric?

But what could cause a euphoric experience during death, other than endorphins? As the body shuts down, the brain is affected. It is possible that the way in which this happens somehow influences the experiences we have at the moment of death. The American neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor has described in a TED talk how she experienced euphoria and even “nirvana” during a near-death experience in which her left brain hemisphere, which is the centre of logic and rational thought, shut down following a stroke. (BBC)

“Unprecedented” Locust Invasion Approaches Full-Blown Crisis

The United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund has already authorized a release of $10 million to help governments contain the infestation. FAO is seeking at least $70 million in additional aid and insist the money is needed immediately. The situation is now the worst they’ve seen in 25 years “and the worst Kenya has seen for 70 years,” CERF administrators added. (Scientific American)

But when Kathryn Kavanagh, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, was sorting through preserved horse embryos recently, she saw something that at first she couldn’t quite believe. In the very early days of gestation, in the area of the foot where the hoof eventually forms, Dr. Kavanagh counted clusters of developing cells representing toes. And there were not three — there were unmistakably five.

The missing toes had in fact never left the horse, Dr. Kavanagh and her collaborators report in a paper published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The finding suggests that certain stages of development cannot be changed, even if, in the adult animal, they leave no visible trace. (The Atlantic)

Culture & History

The “manosphere” is getting more toxic as angry men join the incels

Incels also often use seemingly innocuous language to sidestep Reddit moderators. One term that appeared often was “smv,” which stands for “sexual market value.” And one common trope is “spinning plates,” used by pickup artists who date as many women as possible. To a casual observer, those words might mean nothing. To a wannabe incel, they are a sign he’s come to the right place. (MIT Tech Review)

Is this the first view of God the Father in art?

However, in an important sense, Van Eyck really is the father of oil painting. What he achieved with the medium – the extreme verisimilitude and exactitude of his execution, the fine, three-dimensional modelling, the subtle depiction of light and shadow, and the extreme realism of textures – set him apart from all predecessors. He tirelessly experimented with the medium, altering its chemical balance to achieve faster drying times, and this allowed him to build up layers of translucent paint in order to achieve all those delicate and nuanced effects. (BBC)

A Battle for the Soul of Marfa

Well, if you ask quietly—very quietly—around Marfa, some folks will tell you exactly what more they want. They want their town back from Tim Crowley. They won’t tell you this in public or on the record, because they are afraid of Crowley. He is a rich, big-city litigator in a small town full of residents who were once unfamiliar with the type. “He will make your life miserable” is a refrain among those who either have had firsthand experience with his ire or have gone to great lengths to avoid it.(Texas Monthly)

Speaking of which: on top of being cheaper, staying home is now more fun than it ever was. The explosion of streaming sites means that it is virtually impossible to run out of things to watch to entertain yourself, no matter how picky you are.

Inhaling Russian Doll or Sex Education while lying down on the couch is also more relaxing than going to a crowded bar and paying £7 a pint, all for the privilege of not hearing what people are saying to you because the music is just too loud. (Prospect)

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