Month: June 2017
Top 25 of the Century
Lord of the Rings
In the Mood for Love
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Mountains May Depart
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
Memories of Murder
4. “”Now we have weddings where one headliner isn’t enough; they need three or four. Then you hit problems as to what order do you put them on in.” Tell a big name that she’s not the headliner, and she’ll drop out.” Link here, interesting throughout: “I love the look of a corset and I love a waist and I love drama,” she says.
6. Deirdre McCloskey summarizes her views (pdf).
“The amount of high bridge construction in China is just insane,” said Eric Sakowski, an American bridge enthusiast who runs a website on the world’s highest bridges. “China’s opening, say, 50 high bridges a year, and the whole of the rest of the world combined might be opening 10.”
Of the world’s 100 highest bridges, 81 are in China, including some unfinished ones, according to Mr. Sakowski’s data. (The Chishi Bridge ranks 162nd.)
China also has the world’s longest bridge, the 102-mile Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge, a high-speed rail viaduct running parallel to the Yangtze River, and is nearing completion of the world’s longest sea bridge, a 14-mile cable-stay bridge skimming across the Pearl River Delta, part of a 22-mile bridge and tunnel crossing that connects Hong Kong and Macau with mainland China.
The country’s expressway growth has been compared to that of the United States in the 1950s, when the Interstate System of highways got underway, but China is building at a remarkable clip. In 2016 alone, China added 26,100 bridges on roads, including 363 “extra large” ones with an average length of about a mile, government figures show.
1. Sean McMeekin, The Russian Revolution: A New History. Things might have been different, if you believe this book. German support for Lenin was very important, and the author sticks to the main story lines. Hard for me to judge, but at the very least it was interesting and also clearly written.
2. Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13. This novel builds too slowly to fit my reading style in a somewhat busy time of year, but I suspect it would be wonderful read aloud in a monotone, or as an audio book. A young girl disappears in England, and the story records how the town processes the event, and eventually forgets about it, over the course of 13 years. Here is one good review, it is a quality work of some originality.
3. Ken Gormley, editor, The Presidents and the Constitution. An edited volume that is wonderful and deserving of the “best of the year” list. The book considers how each American president in turn faced constitutional issues, and how those were resolved. This is an excellent survey of constitutional law, and a very good refresher on American political history. If you are a non-American, and looking to learn who all those lesser-known American presidents were, and what they did, and why and how so many of them were mediocre or worse, this is also perhaps the best place to start.
4. Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire. As clear and understandable a treatment of this topic as you are likely to find, Wilson himself writes: “A major reason for the Empire’s relative scholarly neglect is that its history is so difficult to tell. The Empire lacked the things giving shape to conventional national history: a stable heartland, a capital city, centralized political institutions and, perhaps most fundamentally, a single ‘nation.’ It was also very large and lasted a long time. A conventional chronological approach would become unfeasibly long, or risk conveying a false sense of linear development and reduce the Empire’s history to a high political narrative. I would like to stress instead the multiple paths, detours and dead ends of the Empire’s development…” Relative to those obstacles this is an amazing book.
5. Enrique Vila-Matas, Bartleby y compañia. I tried this a few years ago in English, but it clicked for me only in Spanish. It is a series of short, interconnected philosophical meditations on those who don’t write, have given up writing, or who cannot help but write. One of the better novels of the new century, though note it does require some basic background knowledge of figures such as Robert Walser, Robert Musil, Arthur Rimbaud, Marcel Duchamp, Herman Melville, and J. D. Salinger.
Not too long from now, I’ll be in Shenyang, formerly known as Mukden, and largest city of Liaoning province. It is also the largest city in China’s Northeast. What should I do there, and what/where should I eat? What else do I need to know? I believe Lang Lang is from this city, and the famous nine-hour documentary Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks is set in Shenyang. Note that “Due to the popularity enjoyed by many Shenyang-based comedians, the city is nationally recognized as a stronghold of Chinese comedy.”
I can hardly believe my good fortune at being able to visit Shenyang.
I thank you in advance for your assistance.
I mean for the West, not for emerging economies. Obviously we need to know future trajectories, and that is hard to do. But try this simple question: since 2000 or so, have the predictions of the optimists or the pessimists come closer to being correct and insightful?
At a dinner party two nights ago, the unanimous opinion, even from the optimists, was that the pessimists had been doing better in the predicting game. Of course, that does not mean the pessimists will be correct going forward. The optimists might try these counters:
1. There isn’t much of a true structure period, so a bunch of correct pessimist predictions doesn’t mean much.
2. The optimists had the better predictions for the 1980s and 1990s. Perhaps the sides simply alternate being correct every now and then.
3. The recent correct predictions of the pessimists are mostly noise. Soon, optimistic predictions are likely to start being correct again.
4. Since 2000, the pessimists didn’t actually predict as well as you might think. They failed to see how quickly the internet would spread, the power and reach of smart phones, and furthermore peace has continued, at least among the advanced economies. GDP still grew.
I don’t see #1 as giving a huge boost to a structurally-rooted optimism. Note that for #2, it is usually cheaper to destroy than to build. They are not the bleakest scenarios either, but still a big comedown for the optimists, I would think.
#3 cannot be ruled out, but it’s not a huge amount of evidence for optimism either. It does allow the optimists, however, to keep their structural models intact.
#4 runs the risk of “if this is what optimism looks like…”
I believe many optimists wish to invoke an inconsistent mix of #1 and #3.
I thank Veronique de Rugy for pushing me on this point in the conversation.
How much should the predictive ability of a group matter anyway? People who are good at predicting may or may not be good at understanding.
1. Qatar is about the size of Yorkshire or Connecticut.
2. The United States and Qatar have been friendly only since the first Gulf War; before then, the relationship was somewhat hostile or at least problematic. But Qatar was keen to invite in American troops, and the country took the lead in condemning Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.
3. The British left only in 1971, so modern Qatar had a relatively short window of time with no foreign/Western troops in the country.
4. Qatar does not charge the U.S. for these bases, and “Qatar has never been able to guarantee its own security by itself.”
5. In the new century, Qatar turned itself into a major provider of hostage negotiator services. That it is Sunni, yet has friendly relationships with Iran, Lebanon, and the United States has made it a useful go-between, and the Qatari leadership has used this as one of many ways to build up Qatari soft power.
6. “Qatar has no history of animosity towards the Shia movement…”
7. Qatar owns 20 percent of the London Stock Exchange and 20 percent of Heathrow airport.
8. The country’s main revenue is a natural gas field it shares with Iran.
9. “Al Jazeera can be seen as one of Qatar’s most significant means of antagonising Saudi Arabia…” One can view the much-vaunted “press freedom” of the outlet as part of a more calculated balancing strategy.
10. The government of Qatar came out early for regime change in both Libya and Syria.
11. “Qatar’s history has long been punctuated by challenges emanating from modern-day Saudi Arabia.”
12. “…Qatar’s policy is worryingly dependent on two or three individuals, giving the state little strategic depth or institutional back-up capability. The personalised nature of politics marginalises the structures in place to inform and support decision-making. This cycle is exacerbated by Qatar’s youth as a country, which means it has only had a meaningful bureaucracy for a generation, while its educational system has been mediocre at best.”
Those are all from David B. Roberts, Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-State, an excellent book, just out, recommended reading for you all.
Church said “almost all” of his visionary ideas and scientific solutions have come while he was either asleep or quasi-asleep, sometimes dreaming, at the beginning or end of a narcoleptic nap. Such as? The breakthrough during graduate school that ushered in “next gen” genome sequencing, a fast and cheap way to “read” DNA. “Writing genomes,” or constructing them from off-the-shelf molecules as a way to improve on what nature came up with. Innovations in editing genomes.
These brainstorms, and more, occurred while he was “either daydreaming or night dreaming or in that period when I’m really refreshed right afterward,” said Church, who will be 63 in August. “It took me until I was 50 or 60 years old” to realize that narcolepsy “is a feature, not a bug.”
1. I had not known that Kishori Amonkar passed away in April.
Jason Kottke reports:
On the website for the book, you can browse the solutions in a ranked list. Here are the 10 best solutions (with the total atmospheric reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions in gigatons in parentheses):
1. Refrigerant Management (89.74)
2. Wind Turbines, Onshore (84.60)
3. Reduced Food Waste (70.53)
4. Plant-Rich Diet (66.11)
5. Tropical Forests (61.23)
6. Educating Girls (59.60)
7. Family Planning (59.60)
8. Solar Farms (36.90)
9. Silvopasture (31.19)
10. Rooftop Solar (24.60)
Refrigerant management is about replacing hydro-fluorocarbon coolants with alternatives because HFCs have “1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide”. As a planet, we should be hitting those top 7 solutions hard, particularly when it comes to food. If you look at the top 30 items on the list, 40% of them are related to food.
Here is the background context:
Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken has edited a book called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming which lists “the 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world”.
I will however order the book.
Here is the article, here is one excerpt:
A new issue of Econ Journal Watch, an online journal, includes a symposium in which prominent economic thinkers are asked to provide their “most regretted statements”. Held regularly, such exercises might take the shame out of changing your mind. Yet the symposium also shows how hard it is for scholars to grapple with intellectual regret. Some contributions are candid; Tyler Cowen’s analysis of how and why he underestimated the risk of financial crisis in 2007 is enlightening. But some disappoint, picking out regrets that cast the writer in a flattering light or using the opportunity to shift blame.
3. A techie makes apps to randomize his life: “Max lived a randomized life for the better part of two years. In fact, he went global. He created an app that chose the places he would live, travel and eat. When he traveled, he continued using the Facebook events app to find random activities.”
5. Do we live in a very large void? Speak for yourself, I say.
Today, an average car has more than 100 million lines of code. Automakers predict it won’t be long before they have 200 million.
That is from Nicole Perlroth at the NYT.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
When we make personal decisions, we usually compare a choice to the best possible alternative, not the worst. Imagine if you suggested to your spouse that you go out to the movies, and your spouse asked why that might be a good idea. It wouldn’t be much of an answer to say that the movie is better than the very worst show on television at home. Rather you should focus on comparing the movie to the next best thing you might do, like watching your favorite TV show or going to a new restaurant you want to try.
The upshot is that we should compare anti-poverty programs to other anti-poverty programs, and favor only the prioritized ones. But just how much of a priority does a program need to be?
One way to proceed is to ask: If we expand some programs, what is the most likely political response? It could be either lower spending in some other program or, in fact, raising taxes on the wealthy. But the evidence on the “fiscal gap” — the space between what the government owes and what it collects — suggests that the opportunity cost of expanding one transfer program is likely some government spending elsewhere, rather than expensive handbags for the wealthy.
Do read the whole thing.