Recently perused articles

  • In Democracy Journal, a review of Jared Diamond’s (of Guns, Germs, and Steel fame) new book, The World Until Yesterday. The article explores how we can learn from traditional societies, and preserve cultural diversity and our environment.
  • On Brain Pickings, an article on the grim state of employment satisfaction, citing that “Most surveys in the West reveal that at least half the workforce are unhappy in their jobs.” It explores the idea of satisfying work. This is an interesting issue given that prior to the 20th century there wasn’t a whole lot of choice involved in what jobs people held, as one was more or less born into their line of work correlating with class. Especially since the emphasis on personal growth and leisure time since the West’s cultural revolution in the 1960s and onward, finding happy and fulfilling work is more of a concern — for myself included. Whether even the majority of people can live up to this goal is another matter altogether.

  • The New York TimesStone blog features an article on writer Jorge Luis Borges’ conceptualization of what we think of as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. An excerpt:

In both Zeno’s paradoxes and Kant’s antinomies, an act of observation engenders an apparent contradiction in the very knowledge it produces. As it turns out, it is this very same apparent contradiction that we see at work in the uncertainty principle. While any and all observations contain this inherent paradox, it becomes visible only when pushed to the extreme, either of logic or of the physical world.

In a story published in his 1941 collection “Fictions,” Borges created just such an extreme scenario. His character in that story, Funes, has a memory so perfect that he perceives every moment in time as entirely distinct, unrelated to those coming before or after. Consequently, he is incapable of overlooking minor differences in order to connect the impressions of one moment in time to those of the next. He becomes frustrated at our how language generalizes, at how we use the same word, “dog,” to refer to a four-legged creature facing one direction at 3:14 and facing another direction at 3:15.

  • Here is an N+1 article on the value of college educations and the cementing of an intellectual elite in America. The author asserts that  “Over the last thirty years, the university has replaced the labor union as the most important institution, after the corporation, in American political and economic life,” with the death of manufacturing industries and the increasing dependence on an educated service economy. Also, a scary statistic: From 1980 to 2009, “the financial sector grew from 4 percent of GDP to 8 percent, but it’s shrunk since and may shrink further. The medical sector, on the other hand, grew in the same period from 9 percent to 16 percent — and is expected to account for a full 29 percent of the economy by 2030.”
  • In the wake of the deaths of hundreds of factory workers in Bangladesh, working for meagre wages to make low-cost clothing for Western apparel brands, what is the true cost of these cheap clothes? Der Spiegel examines the issue from a European perspective.
  • Have you seen P.T. Anderson’s movie The Master? I saw it in theaters last fall and enjoyed it, but felt pretty damn confused afterwards. I’m writing a paper on it now and stumbled upon this article of five distinct readings of the film, including the obvious interpretation of it being about cults and personal power relations, as well as being about acting itself.
  • Foreign Affairs has an article on the West’s default solution to the recent financial crisis: austerity. The verdict? Absolute failure. It turns out that ignoring the fact that government spending can indeed lead to economic growth has catastrophic implications during a recession. I agree that government spending should be cut — but during the appropriate time, and when the economy is in a tailspin and an infusion of capital would be beneficial is not such a time. Debt is going to be a huge issue, not least due to the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a significant chunk of the $6 trillion total cost will be from repaying interest on dept. Balancing the budget aside, it looks like austerity’s seductiveness leads to a bitter end.
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