The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Down With Values

Props to Ezra Klein for coming out swinging:

I have a confession to make: I am not a values voter. I do not want a foreign policy based upon “the idea that is America.” I do not think we should be guided in all things by such glittering concepts as liberty, democracy, equality, justice, tolerance, humility, and faith.

In fact, I’m fed up with values. Entirely. They’ve failed this country. As a lodestar, there is none worse.

His column is keyed to a new foreign policy book by Anne-Marie Slaughter. It’s all about the responsible application of American values to world affairs; but Klein says:

The problem with Slaughter’s vision, which I generally found myself in enthusiastic agreement with, is that the only one I trust to carry it out is, well, Slaughter. And possibly me.


What Klein wants is foreign policy proposals that focus on material outcomes — not moral origins. We’ve had enough of the latter lately.

What timing! I’m going to see Francis Fukuyama speak tonight. He’s going to revisit and re-appraise his argument from The End of History and the Last Man — parts of which formed some of the deepest framework for the neocon misadventure. Expect a full report.


Mutation State University

From the Dept. of Alma Mater Promotion:

In the corner of a laboratory at Michigan State University, one of the longest-running experiments in evolution is quietly unfolding. A dozen flasks of sugary broth swirl on a gently rocking table. Each is home to hundreds of millions of Escherichia coli, the common gut microbe. These 12 lines of bacteria have been reproducing since 1989, when the biologist Richard E. Lenski bred them from a single E. coli. “I originally thought it might go a couple thousand generations, but it’s kept going and stayed interesting,” Dr. Lenski said. He is up to 40,000 generations now, and counting.

In case you glossed over it: “…have been reproducing since 1989.” That is, to be clear, an 18-year-old experiment. And counting!


The Very Definition of America

Albert Einstein, 1935, a letter to a childhood friend:

I have now set up home in this curious new world and am still brooding like an old hen on the same old scientific eggs, even if the bodily warmth which one needs for brooding has rather diminished over the years. What is so nice in this country is that the people don’t sit so much on top of one another and, as a result, feel more comfortable with each other. So I sit here the whole summer in a quiet bay and sail in a little sailing boat as much as I want to.

From a collection of famous people’s letters, soon to be auctioned off. I think Google should buy them and put them online (e.g.). Would be cool, quirky, philanthropic thing to do.

P.S. You know, I’d never realized until just now that “brooding” actually means sitting on eggs or baby birds. Changes my impression of the word somewhat.

One comment

Greenwich Office vs. Palo Alto Garage

Interesting pair of posts here.

In response to a student’s question about the social value of a Wall Street career, economist Greg Mankiw argues replies that yes, investors make a big contribution to society by making the economy more efficient.

The comment thread that follows is insanely good. Very long, and very detailed, but worth a look. I thought this was the gem:

The “invisible hand” works great when it is forcing productive firms to be more efficient.

However, some activities in our complex economy don’t directly produce anything — some portions of litigation, advertising, lobbying, and stock analysis simply shuffle existing production. In these cases, profit maximizing firms aren’t automatically controlled by the invisible hand.

Prof Mankiw’s student is correct in asking whether one more worker in those areas will really help grow the economic pie.

Economists can find positive externalities in any of these activities. Probably the first million hours of stock analysis (or litigation, or …) provides an efficiency gain that justifies the deployment of those talented individuals. But that doesn’t guarantee that the last million is a net positive.

The “deployment of talented individuals” angle is important. Over on his blog, Robert Reich also hits it (I feel like he must have read Mankiw’s post, though he doesn’t mention or link to it, so, uh, maybe not):

America is the greatest entrepreneurial nation in the world. But there are really two kinds of entrepreneurs here

One comment

My Favorite Muppet

Snarkmarket pal Chris Fong saw Gonzo (and, okay, his puppeteer Dave Goelz) speak at the Yerba Buena Center here in SF. He edited together a little video and it is pretty cool.

AND — crucial Muppet-viewing advice — it’s more fun it you drag a window over Goelz (sorry, Dave) so you just see Gonzo sitting there by himself.

Er, itself.

One comment

Brave New Biotech World

I know this has been like The Next Big Thing for a long time, but it’s sort of starting to happen. From Kottke:

A company called Lifeforce has received FDA approval to store white blood cells for people as a “back-up copy of your immune system.” The idea is that those pre-diseased cells could be reproduced in the lab and infused back into your body when needed to fight off infection or deal with the aftermath of chemotherapy.

Soon there are going to be little bits of us stored everywhere. I’m serious! I know! It’s weird!


Street Art

But think Caravaggio, not Banksy. Sort of totally brilliant.


China Readings

  1. Chinese Mirrors by Rick Perlstein in The Nation. Multi-book review (the best kind) with a special focus on James Mann’s new book The China Fantasy. Mann’s last book, The Rise of the Vulcans, about the original Bush/Cheney foreign policy team, was almost unbelievably good, so I am excited to read this one at some point.
  2. China Makes, The World Takes by James Fallows in The Atlantic. I know it’s lame to link to a subscriber-only article, but… I don’t know… email me and I’ll send you a copy or something. It’s reporting in the truest sense: Rather than refer to GDP statistics, or talk to “experts,” Fallows goes to Shenzhen and hangs out in Chinese factories. He describes characters and scenes I’d never have imagined. Any time somebody actually does this, it reminds you how, er, rarely it gets done. Worth noting that Fallows comes away from his investigation with a fairly positive view.

    (I have a special fondness for Fallows, as his pieces in The Atlantic were some of the first “Big Ideas journalism” I ever read, and pretty much cracked my head wide open circa 1998-99.)

  3. My Time as a Hostage, and I’m a Business Reporter by David Barboza in the NYT. The lead:

    AS an American journalist based in China, I knew there was a good chance that at some point I’d be detained for pursuing a story. I just never thought I’d be held hostage by a toy factory.

    Via Dani Rodrik’s excellent blog.


Institutions: They Came from Somewhere!

Think about this:

Institutions such as the school, the family, the joint stock company, the political party, the state and its bureaucracy owe their robustness and proclaimed timelessness to the fact that we cannot tell who ‘invented’ them. In that sense, ‘fatherlessness’ is an asset, as is the myth of parthenogenesis in the case of the founder of Christianity. Similarly, human reason itself, rather than some personal founder, is held to be… the source of the state as an institution.

The corporation (nee joint stock company) has actually not quite achieved that kind of timelessness yet, I don’t think, but it’s getting close. There’s a short, sharp book called The Company by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge that describes its development from the earliest, lamest incarnations to present day multinationals, and when you see it all laid out it seems anything but inevitable. Micklethwait and Wooldridge are Economist writers and unabashed fans of the corporation, but their telling of its tale is fair.

Anyway, I’d love to see comparable books for some of those other institutions: The School, The Family, The Party, etc.

I actually do know one of at least one other, which I’ve plugged here before: Home: A Short History of an Idea, by Witold Rybczynski.

P.S. The link is to the blog I read that somewhere, a new favorite.


School of Games

One of the coolest things I’ve read in a while:

The nonprofit John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced that it has awarded a grant of $1.1 million to assist in the development of a New York City public school aimed at teaching literacy and other skills through game design and game-inspired methods to children in grades 6-12.

The project is being led by the Gamelab Institute of Play. Gamelab is the insanely cool indie game developer in NYC. Loads of reading on their site, but here’s the choice nugget:

All players in the school — teachers, students, parents and administrators — will be empowered to innovate using 21st century literacies that are native to games and design. This means learning to think about the world as a set of in interconnected systems that can be affected or changed through action and choice, the ability to navigate complex information networks, the power to build worlds and tell stories, to see collaboration in competition, and communicate across diverse social spaces.

Okay, that actually manages to make it sound less cool… but seriously, come on, think about it. This is 100% the future.