2) The extraordinary life and death of David Burgess — from the summary:
Last October, detectives were called to investigate the death of a woman under a London tube train. But as they traced her final moments, they discovered that she was, in fact, David Burgess, one of the most brilliant immigration lawyers of his generation. Here, Burgess's family and friends tell, for the first time, the complicated story of the loving father, brilliant colleague, sensitive woman and courageous person they knew.
SM is a woman without fear. She doesn’t feel it. She has been held at knifepoint without a tinge of panic. She’ll happily handle live snakes and spiders, even though she claims not to like them. She can sit through reels of upsetting footage without a single start. And all because a pair of almond-shaped structures in her brain – amygdalae – have been destroyed.
4) Economic forecasting delusions — apologies for the self-promotion, but here's an excerpt from a post I wrote for FT Alphaville last week:
We support any effort to remind people that they should be highly skeptical of forecasts, and underlying this discussion is obviously the notion that forecasts aren’t to be taken seriously. But rather than thinking in binary terms about whether forecasts are ever useful or to be avoided entirely, a harder question to answer is whether forecasts are net useful — on balance more valuable than destructive.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a ready answer. Generally we agree with the standard defence that it’s not the forecast part of forecasts that matters, but rather their underlying information and logical coherence. And indeed, sometimes these are extremely helpful regardless of the outcome. ...
Against these arguments are problems rooted in human psychology. If everyone could fully internalise the notion that forecasts are helpful but wholly unreliable, then there wouldn’t be much of a problem — people would simply absorb the useful bits and discard the actual predictions. (Of course, if everyone did that, then probably there wouldn’t be any forecasts.)
But we can’t. ...
5) Haiti, one year later — another marvelous series of photos from The Big Picture:
6) The Afterlife of David Foster Wallace — there's a growing body of academic research about the late writer, most of it coming from younger scholars:
It's fitting, given Wallace's obsession with the role that mass media play in contemporary life, that the Internet would serve as the incubator for much of the robust discussion of his work. In the summer 2010 issue of the online Irish Journal of American Studies, Adam Kelly, then a doctoral candidate at University College Dublin, published "David Foster Wallace: The Death of the Author and the Birth of a Discipline," which he described as "an initial map of the territory of what might be termed 'Wallace Studies,' the network of interest in David Foster Wallace's oeuvre that ranges through but also well beyond the traditional academic channels."
Serious criticism on the writer began "in a more democratic vein" than the study of Pynchon and other precursors, Kelly wrote. He pointed out that in Wallace's case, the kind of close reading of the author's texts, "traditionally the preserve of academic engagement, has in great part been carried out by skillful and committed nonprofessional readers, who publish their findings in the public domain of the Web."
7) Creative Types: Embrace Chaos — Malcolm Gladwell is asked what advice he would give to aspiring writers:
8) You Write 'Bias Journalism' and I Read 'Derp' — Joel Johnson's fantastic rebuke to some of Gizmodo's abusive, pedantic commenters:
I do have anger issues, you dumb, cruel, entitled, tunneled vision shit eaters. My anger issues are with you, because you are so foul, so unable to use the internet as a thoroughfare for human compassion or—Christ—even just a civil conversation. It's so far beyond your comprehension that perhaps you are rude or simply wrong that you'd dredge up something that has absolutely no bearing on—wait for it—arguments about gadgets.
9) The Cognitive Cost of Expertise —Jonah Lehrer on the downside of "chunking", a critical part of developing expertise, or "the ability to rely on learned patterns to compensate for the inherent limitations of information processing in the brain." Here's more:
Expertise might also come with a dark side, as all those learned patterns make it harder for us to integrate wholly new knowledge. Consider a recent paper that investigated the mnemonic performance of London taxi drivers. In the world of neuroscience, London cabbies are best known for their demonstration of structural plasticity in the hippocampus, a brain area devoted (in part) to spatial memory. Because the cabbies are required to memorize the entire urban map of London – it’s the most rigorous driving test in the world – their posterior hippocampi swell and expand, leading to permanent changes in the brain. Knowledge shapes matter.
However, the same researchers that documented the expansion of the hippocampus are now documenting the tradeoffs of all that extra spatial information. The problem with our cognitive chunks is that they’re fully formed – an inflexible pattern we impose on the world – which means they tend to be resistant to sudden changes ...
The larger lesson is that the brain is a deeply constrained thinking machine, full of cognitive tradeoffs and zero-sum constraints. Those chess professionals and London cabbies can perform seemingly superhuman mental feats, as they chunk their world into memorable patterns. However, those same talents make them bad at seeing beyond their chunks, at making sense of games and places they can’t easily understand.
10) Bars Versus Churches — Steven Landsburg looks at data from the General Social Survey to find correlations between a host of variables and the number of adult sexual partners:
The most promiscuous men are those who have paid for sex, been threatened with a gun, support abortion rights and know people with AIDS. The least promiscuous are those who spend time at church and report high satisfaction from family life. The most promiscuous women are those who have been punched, believe homosexuality is not wrong, and spend time in bars. The least promiscuous women are those who are patriotic and spend time in church.
11) Start-Up City — how entrepreneurs have reshaped New York City throughout its history:
Like the rest of America, New York City has been buffeted by the recession that began in December 2007. This past August, the city’s unemployment rate stood at 9.6 percent, just over the national rate of 9.5. But New York’s economy will never recover from the downturn by trying to compete with China’s labor costs or with Houston’s housing costs. Nor can the city continue to rely on finance, which came to dominate it over the last 40 years: as the sad history of Detroit illustrates, one-industry towns rarely succeed in the long run. Rather, New York’s success will depend on its ability to produce a steady stream of new products and ideas.
Indeed, studies have shown that all over the country, entrepreneurship—along with January temperature and education—is one of the three great predictors of urban success. But nowhere is that more the case than in Gotham, whose very history is a tale of entrepreneurship. To survive, New York must continue to bring forth innovators who will reinvent the city—with luck, making it more economically diverse. If they succeed, it will change as much between 2010 and 2050 as it did between 1970 and today.
12) The Art of the Insult — Belle Wong has the roundup. Here's one entry:
“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend…. if you have one.” – George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.”- Winston Churchill, in response.