Culture Economics Science Society

The Reconn Reader: 22 February, 2020

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

Paris Mayor: It’s Time for a ’15-Minute City’

Barcelona’s much-admired “superblocks,” for example, do more than just remove cars from chunks of the city: They’re designed to encourage people living within car-free multi-block zones to expand their daily social lives out into safer, cleaner streets, and to encourage the growth of retail, entertainment, and other services within easy reach. East London’s pioneering Every One Every Day initiative takes the hyper-local development model in a slightly different direction, one designed to boost social cohesion and economic opportunity. (CityLab)

The week the UK signalled full retreat from the world

Brexit didn’t have to turn in this direction, towards pure definitions of sovereignty. You could, and people did, want to leave the EU because of a feeling that as an entire package it did not provide the UK with sufficient control, while accepting the reality that as our close neighbour it is ridiculous to opt out of every piece of EU-centred regulation, much of which is beneficial not just for trade. That may well be our most likely destination, geography proving more powerful than philosophy. (Prospect UK)

After the CAA bill was signed into law, widespread protests erupted across the country, killing 25 people so far and leaving thousands in police detention. The government has downplayed the NRC, stating that it has no plans of conducting the NRC exercise across the country on religious lines.

That comes despite regular rhetoric from the BJP on supposed infiltrators from Muslim countries. In the state of West Bengal, for instance, BJP chief Dilip Ghosh recently stated that the center was committed to “throwing out” 10 million Bangladeshi Muslim “infiltrators” from the state and that those opposing the move were “anti-Hindu, anti-Bengali and anti-India.” (Foreign Policy)

A Floating Courtroom Brings Justice to the Jungle

Traveling alongside Assis are around 50 staff members of the Amapa court. There are public defenders, criminal prosecutors, court clerks, judicial officers, social workers and police officers. Last year, they came by twice as often, but under President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s judiciary has had to cut costs. The right-wing extremist politician isn’t a big fan of elaborate court proceedings: He would rather fight crime with violence. (Der Spiegel)

Business & Economics

Just how dangerous is economics for management practice?

What, then, should be the role of business schools in society? Two responses can be given here. Firstly, business schools have a role in resisting ideas – including those from economics – that condone (as opposed to necessarily create) bad management. Secondly, business schools should allow for the discussion of alternative ways of managing and organising economic activity. In particular, they should enable – via critical scholarship and teaching – forms of management and organisation that subvert the dominant shareholder value model. (London School of Economics)

How Entrepreneurs Can Find the Right Problem to Solve

With all the options available, there is no excuse for weak validation of problems and target customers early in your product development process. One test, or even a few tests, does not qualify a product as marketable or fundable. The more objective tests you do up front, and iterate on those tests often, the higher the likelihood you’ll land on a great solution that people want to use and buy.  (Harvard Business Review)

How to fix the broken corporate approach to addressing sexual harassment

Given how prevalent harassment is, and how ineffective current training is, what should leaders do? Start with demonstrating that preventing harassment is a real priority. For instance, in the military, which struggles with harassment and assault, a 2014 study found that in units where the commander was perceived to be committed to preventing harassment by conveying a “clear and consistent anti-harassment message,” less harassment was reported in a one-year period. Soldiers, like employees, are perceptive—when they know what their leaders’ actual priorities are, they adjust their behavior accordingly. (Fortune)

The Bundesbank is caught between a doveish ECB and a suspicious public

Being part of a monetary union may have allowed the Bundesbank to become more dogmatic, knowing that the ecb will nevertheless act to avoid crisis. Despite its reputation for being uncompromising before the euro, it was in fact pragmatic from time to time, notes Adam Posen of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. It even briefly conducted asset purchases in the 1970s. Later on, Germany’s export-oriented growth model allowed its economy to outperform others in the euro zone during the sovereign-debt crisis of 2009-15. As Germany fared so well under the status quo, notes Mr Posen, the Bundesbank may have found it easy to oppose monetary loosening. (Foreign Affairs)

Science & Technology

A Coding School Tuition Model Spreads to 4-Year Colleges

These concerns notwithstanding, graduates who’ve started paying off their ISAs say they weigh less heavily than loans. Charlotte Herbert financed her senior year at Purdue with an income share agreement for roughly $27,000; each month, on top of her federal student loan payments, she pays her investors 10 percent of her $38,000 pre-tax salary, and will continue to do so for the next seven years. “Knowing that it’s never going to be more than 10 percent of my income was rather reassuring,” said Herbert, 24, a technical writer of guidebooks and manuals for an engineering firm. “My big concern with my loans is, because of the interest, it’s just going to keep going. I’m constantly looking at how I can squeeze out a little bit more to outpace the interest.” (WIRED Magazine)

Deep learning AI discovers surprising new antibiotics

Comprehensive genomic characterization of tumours became a major goal of cancer researchers as soon as the first human genome had been sequenced in 2001. Since then, advances in sequencing technology and analytical tools have allowed this research field to flourish. In six papers1–6 in this issue of Nature, the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) Consortium presents the most comprehensive and ambitious meta-analysis of cancer genomes so far. Unlike previous efforts that focused largely on protein-coding regions of the cancer genome, PCAWG analyses whole genomes. Each article scrutinizes an important aspect of cancer genetics — together, their findings will be key to understanding the full genetic complexity of cancer. (The Conversation)

Craigslist turns 25 – a reminder that a more democratic version of the internet can still thrive

It isn’t quite right to say that Craigslist hasn’t changed at all. Categories for ads have come and gone, while features like uploading photos and integrating Google Maps have been added. But on the whole, Craigslist has remained profoundly stable, and when I interviewed Craigslist users, I heard over and over a fondness for the website’s bare-bones aesthetic.(The Conversation)

BP Pledges to Go Carbon-Neutral—How Remains an Open Question

“The reality is we are seen by many as a source of the problem, and we’re still an obstacle to solving it. On my first day last week, protesters shut down our headquarters … and they’re not the only ones who believe we’re out of step with society. Some investors do, as well, and some of our staff also — and that’s an uncomfortable place to be,” he said. “I want to be clear that I get it. The world does have a carbon budget, it is finite, it is running out fast, and we need a rapid transition to net zero.” (Scientific American)

History and Culture

From Spinster to Career Woman: Middle-Class Women and Work in Victorian England

Young concludes her book with the question that weighed heavy on the public’s consciousness at the time: what shall we do with our daughters? This presents us with both ‘the sense of patriarchal concern and proprietary claim regarding ‘‘our’’ daughters’ (164), but also the stark reality that women during this time remained ‘caught between professionalism and womanliness’ (157): woman were regarded as ‘either too professional to be feminine or too feminine to be professional’ (157). There was no secure or clear identity for women to adopt. Yet, as Young writes: ‘In 1860, the answer to the question ‘‘what is to be done with our girls?’’ would have been to find her a suitable husband. By the 1890s, the answer was the one that forward thinkers had been insisting on for decades: educate her for employment’ (169). (London School of Economics)

Unreliable comrades: writers and the Cold War

For the African-American novelist Richard Wright, the problem lay in the suspicion, hardening into certainty, that the racial equality preached by the Communist Party concealed shibboleths that would end up restricting his freedom as a writer. Wright began by assuming that “the warning about the Soviet Union’s trouble with intellectuals… simply did not apply to me,” only to be ticked off for liking “bourgeois books” by modernists like TS Eliot and James Joyce. Disillusioned with a Party that considered him a “smuggler of reaction,” he was equally appalled by the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s: “There is more freedom in one square block of Paris than there is in the entire United States of America,” he eventually decided. (Prospect UK)

Ms. Norton painstakingly describes the colonists’ emerging opposition to the imported tea. The opposition took different forms in each of the ports, in some cases forcing the resignations of the merchants consigned to receive the tea, in others compelling the ships carrying the tea to sail back to England with their cargoes intact. Boston was different. The consignees refused to resign, and Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, a stickler for the law that prevented any ship once docked from departing without paying duties, refused to allow the tea ships to sail back to England with their cargoes. On Dec. 16, 1773, the night before the tea was to be unloaded and taxed, a band of men disguised as “Mohawks” threw 342 chests containing more than 46 tons of tea worth more than £9,000 into Boston Harbor. This became the famous “Tea Party.” (The Wall Street Journal)

‘The full measure of the great artist so many suspected had always been there was becoming visible’

By the end of the week, we had come up with five distinct narratives, and sketched out the structure for a larger, overarching project we simply called ‘Stories’. Santu’s individual pictures – previously understood as exceptional scenes plucked from his idiosyncratic peregrinations – had been scored into a more complex composition, substantially deepening the mystery and ambivalence that had long been the hallmark of his work. Santu proudly showed the maquettes we had made to his former mentor David Goldblatt, who shook his head as he paged through them, realising that finally, the full measure of the great artist so many suspected had always been there, latent, was becoming visible. (Apollo)

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