This is an experiment in occasional linkage to insights that might outlast the daily news cycle. If you find any of it interesting, let us know in the comments.
Five reasons why 2013 was the best year In human history (Think Progress) – Summary: Even in many poor countries we have fewer early deaths, growing life expectancies, declining extreme poverty, rising happiness, fewer wars, less violent crime, big drops in unwarranted discrimination of all sorts. “721 million fewer people lived in extreme poverty ($1.25 a day) in 2010 than in 1981, according to a new World Bank study.”
- Massive review reveals consensus on GMO safety (Real Clear Science) – “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.” From a systematic review of 1,783 research papers, reviews, relevant opinions, and reports published between 2002 and 2012. Opponents of GM food increasingly looks like the left’s version of global warming sceptics.
- The growing Australian medical tourism market (ABC) – Rising numbers of the Southeast Asians middle class coming to Australia for advanced treatments such as robotic surgery, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments and cancer care.
- Apple passes Microsoft (Ben Evans) – Technology analyst Benedict Evans notes that “… in Q4 2013 the number of computers sold by Apple was larger than the number of Windows PC sold globally. If you add Windows Phone to the mix they’re more or less exactly equal.” Just five years ago Apple’s OSs weren’t shipping on a tenth as many devices as Windows. (Actually Evans is probably a couple of quarters early in calling the “passing” point, but whatever.) Of course, Android passed them both sometime in the past two years. And then there’s this company, both weird and relentless …
- Why the Winter Olympics are in Sochi (The Economist) – “Sochi was chosen mainly because it is a favourite playground of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. He spends much time at his Sochi residence and intends the games to be seen as proof of his mastery over nature and a symbol of his international legitimacy. Yet the choice is, ironically, entirely apt in one respect. Since Soviet times Sochi has had a reputation as a brash and seedy resort, a hotspot for holiday sex and a place where black-marketers and underground entrepreneurs from across the Soviet Union spent their not-always-honestly-earned roubles.”
- Yes, you can do experiments to see whether evolution is true (ScienceBlogs) – Researchers at Michigan State University have been watching E. coli evolve the ability to eat citrate, among other things. “After 33,127 generations Lenski and his students noticed something strange in one of the colonies …”
- Paul Hogan’s Oscar speech (Youtube) – Since the Oscars are coming … Hogan never won, but he did give a speech, and it was a beaut. Has there ever been a more easygoing, less anxious and angst-ridden comedian than Hoges in ordinary-bloke mode? And can someone please resurrect his style?
- Felix Salmon reckons news has a great future in a social world (Reuters) –Latest in a fine series. “We’re at an excitingly early stage in working out how to best produce and provide news in a social world. There are lots of business models that might work; there are also editorial models that look like they work until they don’t. But if you look at the news business as a whole, rather than at individual companies, it’s almost impossible not to be incredibly optimistic.” I need to re-read this the next time I’m down to lecture to journalism students.
Alan Greenspan says asset price bubbles are hard to spot (Harvard Business Review) – Read it all for some profound thoughts about finance, including the problems with letting financial firms be corporations. And the mere fact that you don’t like him doesn’t mean he’s wrong:
“You can spot a bubble. They’re obvious in every respect. But it is impossible for the majority of participants in the market to call the date when it blows …
“Every day for most of the period from, let’s say late 1980s, basically, through the end of my term, I would get almost every week people predicting that the world was coming to an end. That the economy was going to crash. ‘There are imbalances. There’s too much debt. There’s too much speculation.’ After a while you begin to say that this stuff is random …
“When [Eugene] Fama and [Robert] Shiller got the Nobel, in the New York Times, they have Fama saying about Shiller’s forecast of a decline in housing prices, ‘Aw yeah, he’s been saying that for years.’ … Even if you believe it, you shouldn’t say that. I mean it’s un-nice in the extreme. But the problem is it’s true.”
Having half-expected every year since 1999 that house prices would start declining – and having been wrong almost every time – I see Greenspan’s point. My first year involved in financial markets was 1987, at the end of which Greenspan and his global colleagues staged a highly effective post-bubble monetary easing. No wonder he thought bubbles were best handled after they burst.
- Life as a video game: the strategy guide (Oliver Emberton) – “Most importantly, successful players put their time into the right things. Later in the game money comes into play, but your top priority should always be mastering where your time goes.”
- The shortlist for the Sony World Photography Awards is out – Just click. It is well known that the world’s three most photogenic non-human creatures are tree frogs, orangutangs and praying mantises, but this year’s shortlist shows wildebeest have their moments too.
- Joshua Gans and Stephen King are re-releasing Finishing the Job for free (Core Economics) – Exploration of Australian policy issues in health, housing, education and transport by two of our finest public policy thinkers. As far as I can recall, the issues discussed are mostly unresolved since the book’s original release, so you’ll get a bargain.
- Alain de Bouton explains The Philosophers’ Mail (The Spectator) – A tabloid website written by philosophers, and far weirder than that description makes it sound. Perhaps not his best idea ever, but certainly, um, different. “If we are going to be interested en masse in the poor international test scores, we need to take our fragilities on board and therefore get serious, very serious, about trying to make important news not just ‘important’, but also beguiling – almost as tempting to hear about as Taylor [Swift]’s legs.” Actual website here.
- Turn away from comparison by turning off Facebook (Daily Dish) – I long ago tired of claims that social media is something unprecedented. Teenage kids used to spend hours on the phone before the Internet came along; Victorian-era diary entries consist in large part of entries shorter than 146 characters. But I do wonder whether Facebook can encourage an unhealthy fixation on measuring ourselves against others. “Facebook … plays into some very unpleasant human social characteristics, foremost the temptation to evaluate one’s own worth based on a comparison with others: what they have, what they do, where they holiday, etc. It is a profoundly unspiritual experience.”
- Photography is fine (xkcd)