Archive for December 2010

#  Charting Language Changes →

December 17th, 2010 at 19:08 // In Worth Distraction 

Using a tool with a terribly boring name, “Google Books Ngrams Viewer”, Ryan Moulton made some interesting graphs of things you’re probably to stupid or lazy to put into the thing yourself.

(I was going to make the tool itself the title link, but then I remembered that I’d seen it linked at least 10 times and failed to find it that interesting because I had few good inputs. It was Andy Baio linking to Moulton’s post that made me look again.)

#  Thinking Rationally about Incest →

December 15th, 2010 at 18:36 // In Worth Reading 

I love Will(iam) Saletan because he jumps right into difficult subjects, tackles them rationally, and usually comes to a sane and moderate conclusion. It’s amazing and disappointing how rare that is.

In any case, spurred on by the arrest of Princeton professor David Epstein for having what seems to have been consensual sex with his adult daughter, he asks “What’s so bad about incest?” I’ll leave you in suspense about his conclusion, but here’s an unrevealing graf:

At this point, liberals tend to throw up their hands. If both parties are consenting adults and the genetic rationale is bogus, why should the law get involved? Incest may seem icky, but that’s what people said about homosexuality, too. It’s all private conduct. To which conservatives reply: We told you so. We warned you that if laws against homosexuality were struck down, laws against polygamy and incest would follow. And now you’re proving us right.

#  What “Cablegate” Will Mean →

December 13th, 2010 at 19:25 // In Worth Reading 

I’ve yet to see a great summation of the mess that was the Wikileaks “Cablegate” episode, but Clay Shirky’s piece covers the major issue that went  under-discussed:

The key, though, is that democracies have a process for creating such restrictions, and as a citizen it sickens me to see the US trying to take shortcuts. The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”

#  Unique Cloud Formations →

December 11th, 2010 at 9:25 // In Worth Seeing 

Wired has an awesome profile of some of the most interesting cloud formations you’ve probably never seen. Worth a look for the pictures, worth staying around for the science.

(I know this is over a year old; I’m finally trying to tackle my massive Instapaper backlog.)

#  OpenID is Idiotic →

December 9th, 2010 at 16:47 // In Worth Distraction 

This is of  narrow interest, but damn this is a great takedown of a stupid and confusing technology that’s been “the future” for a couple years.

(via Marco)

#  Why We Reason →

December 7th, 2010 at 6:03 // In Worth Considering 

An interesting hypothesis:

What if we evolved the capacity to reason not to get closer to the truth, but to persuade others (and ourselves) of viewpoints, regardless of their relation to truth?

#  Islamic Finance →

December 5th, 2010 at 16:58 // In Worth Knowing 

I’d heard many times the idea that the clash between sharia and Western banking keeps many observant Muslims away, but until I read this piece from Jeremy Harding I had no idea how they did bank. Because of the prohibition against interest, a mortgage looks like this:

A would-be home-owner must put up 40 per cent of the cost price (much less before the credit crunch); the property is registered in a trust (amanah) as a jointly owned asset, with the bank’s majority ownership diminishing over an agreed period, as regular payments are made; the customer promises to buy the bank’s share, and the bank promises to sell it to the client. The property is envisaged as a set of units and the customer’s payments as twofold: one part is rental, for the right to live in it, another is a form of unit-acquisition. The trust keeps a tally of the bank’s diminishing ownership and the growing share to the customer. At term, the trust is dissolved and the home passes to the customer.

(There’s a subscribers-only follow-up you can sample about high finance.)

#  Brooks on Tolstoy →

December 3rd, 2010 at 20:16 // In Worth Reading 

By now, dear reader you probably know I love David Brooks. A recent example of why:

As Tolstoy himself wrote, “The aim of an artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably, but to make people love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.”

What other newspaper columnist would ever use that quote? And God, what a quote! A very interesting theory underlying the whole piece as well.

#  Where are The Four Hoursmen Now? →

December 1st, 2010 at 16:43 // In Worth Distraction 

Time asks “Whatever happened to the old figureheads of internet piracy?” The answer isn’t Earth-shattering, but I enjoyed the read.

(via Daring Fireball)