Weekend | 2 March 2013

war and peace
AS WE NEAR THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE IRAQ WAR
James Fallows  |  The Atlantic

This month marks ten years since the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq. In my view this was the biggest strategic error by the United States since at least the end of World War II and perhaps over a much longer period. Vietnam was costlier and more damaging, but also more understandable. As many people have chronicled, the decision to fight in Vietnam was a years-long accretion of step-by-step choices, each of which could be rationalized at the time. Invading Iraq was an unforced, unnecessary decision to risk everything on a “war of choice” whose costs we are still paying.

crime and punishment
JAMES “WHITEY” BULGER AND CATHERINE GREIG’S STORY
Kevin Cullen / Sheila Murphy  |  The Boston Globe

As a new biography reveals, the most remarkable thing about the brutal gangster’s 16 years on the run isn’t that he evaded arrest for so long. It’s that he ended up in what he calls a love story.

politics
WAS MANCUR OLSON WRONG?
Jonathan Rauch  |  The American

In 1965, a young University of Maryland economist named Mancur Olson  formulated a crucial part of the answer in his book The Logic of Collective Action. To organize a group is costly for the organizer in money, time, and energy. Constituencies with narrow, focused interests can surmount that problem more easily than can constituencies with broad, diffuse interests, . . . .  “In short,” wrote Olson, “the larger the group, the less it will further its common interests.”-

Olson’s theory about the asymmetry of incentives, and the “public choice” school of political economy of which it became part, blew a hole in the hull of American political science’s leading postwar theory, pluralism, which saw transactional interest-group politics as basically fair and functional so long as everyone was at the bargaining table. Wrong, said public choice: the table is tilted. Unusually, the public-choice analysis found support from both ends of the political spectrum. Liberals embraced the idea that the system was biased toward the concentrated power of corporations; conservatives embraced the idea that political decision making is inherently unfair. Down went pluralism.

But was it right all along? Or, at least, more right than post-Olson scholarship has reckoned? That is the thesis of Gunnar Trumbull’s new book, Strength in Numbers: The Political Power of Weak Interests. Trumbull, a professor of business administration at Harvard, argues that Olson missed at least half the picture. Diffuse interests can organize, often surprisingly easily, and they in fact do organize all the time.

THE PROBLEM WITH ALAN SIMPSON
Ezra Klein | Wonkblog / The Washington Post

Fifteen years after he retired from the U.S. Senate, Simpson has become a key figure in American politics by picking the right issue, the right enemies, and the right language to describe them. He is like America’s cranky grandpa. A bit unfiltered, sure, but loved for saying what everyone else was already thinking. And it works because most of the people Simpson talks to — particularly the ones in the media — really do think like Alan Simpson.

For reasons I’ve never quite understood, the rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply when it comes to the deficit. On this one issue, reporters are permitted to openly cheer a particular set of highly controversial policy solutions. At Tuesday’s Playbook breakfast, for instance, Mike Allen, as a straightforward and fair a reporter as you’ll find, asked Simpson and Bowles whether they believed Obama would do “the right thing” on entitlements — with “the right thing” clearly meaning “cut entitlements.”

RACHEL MADDOW ON OBSERVING ANTONIN SCALIA WORKING IN PERSON
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Full interview here.

planning / design / architecture
RESEARCHERS CHALLENGE JANE JACOBSIAN NOTION THAT EYES ON THE STREET REDUCE CRIME
Matt Bevilacqua  |  The Next City

Jane Jacobs “had it backwards,” according to a report in this month’s University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

Focusing on more than 200 blocks in eight high-crime Los Angeles neighborhoods, the report found that areas zoned for mixed-use development had lower crime rates than those zoned for commercial uses only. Areas purely made up of residences, however, had lower crime rates than either.

The findings challenge the popular Jane Jacobsian notion that introducing commercial businesses into residential neighborhoods can have public safety benefits — the “eyes on the street” argument that informs a lot of new development in cities today.

art

Choros from Michael Langan on Vimeo.

DEFAMILIARIZATION, AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME
Will Wilkinson  |  Gulf Coast Magazine

Doerr says that “a reader, seeing combinations of words he has seen thousands of times before, glosses over the phrase, rather than seeing a vivid image.” I don’t believe it! Habituation to a combination of words doesn’t suggest that those words will fail evoke a “vivid image.” That gets the logic of habituation wrong. Habituation to a combination of words suggests not that we become unaware, or become aware only hazily, of what the words denote. It just means that we stop noticing the words. We process them easily. They get out of our way. We go fast. If words are atoms, and phrases (some of them clichés) are molecules, then defamiliarization of the world occurs at the compound level. It’s a matter of higher-order combinatorial juju. You can make something pulsing and surpassing strange out of an ingenious combination of shopworn tropes. Conversely, you can state the boring, obvious, and banal in startlingly original terms.

science
NEW SCIENCE SUGGESTS TWO RAT BRAINS CAN BE LINKED
James Gorman  |  The New York Times

For the experiment, recording electrodes were implanted in the primary motor cortex of the encoder rat and stimulating electrodes in the same area in the decoder rat.

Then, as the encoder responded to the light appearing over one lever or the other, its pattern of brain activity was sent to a computer, which simplified the pattern for transmission to the decoder rat. The signal received by the decoder was not the same as the stimulation it had previously received in training, Dr. Nicolelis said.

Seven out of 10 times, the decoder rat pressed the right lever.

food
10 VINTAGE MENUS THAT ARE A FEAST FOR THE EYES
Leah Binkovitz  |  Food and Think / The Smithsonian

The-Scene-Unframed Blackhawk-cover_web

comics

XKCD : Virus Venn Diagram

A SOFTER WORLD :  I think I have fireflies

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