Most Interesting Reads for the Week (November 22, 2014)

Here’s some of the more interesting things I’ve read on the Internet in the last week…

  • Inventing the military/industrial/scientific complex.  “Industrial means of production thus became means of warfare; moreover, thanks to the emergence of the commercial laboratory, industrial research became the means of innovation, directing businesses to respond to the new technological needs of the military. In time, American industry would see the full imprint of Little’s concept of research, so that when the Second World War broke out, the American military and government were able not only to leverage an existing and enormous infrastructure, but also to co-opt the emergence of an entirely new and powerful complex of directed industrial, technological, and increasingly scientific research.”
  • We simply don’t know how to solve our economic problems. No one in the West does. “The problem is structural. Wages have stagnated for decades. Recoveries in employment have been painfully slow in each of the last three recessions. This has been true under united governments of both parties and under divided governments. The most parsimonious conclusion to draw is that the main policymakers in both parties genuinely don’t know how to solve this problem.”
  • Why moral character is the key to individual identity. “Consider the reason we keep track of individuals in the first place. Most animals don’t have an identity detector. Those that share our zeal for individual identification have one thing in common: they live in societies, where they must co‑operate to survive. Evolutionary biologists point out that the ability to keep track of individuals is required for reciprocal altruism and punishment to emerge. If someone breaks the rules, or helps you out of a bind, you need to be able to remember who did this in order return the favour later. Without the ability to distinguish among the members of a group, an organism cannot recognise who has co‑operated and who has defected, who has shared and who has been stingey.”
  • Why is American teaching so bad? “American education schools are often derided as overly theoretical, inscribing an arcane vocabulary about education and few real skills for delivering it. But these institutions actually teach a hollow and decidedly anti-intellectual brand of theory, as many critiques of education schools have concluded. Future teachers receive a warmed-over set of homilies about preparing ‘the whole child’ and ‘student-centered learning’ (with the requisite homage to philosopher and education theorist John Dewey) instead of a serious intellectual initiation into the subjects in which teachers will have to instruct students.”
  • Searching for home. “The Austrian novelist Friedrich Torberg has one of the characters in a novel say: ‘Home is where one was a child.’ When I first read this sentence, it seemed very plausible. After all, the phrase ‘mother-tongue’ is applied to one’s first language for a good reason. But on further reflection one word should be added to the sentence: ‘Home is where one was a happy child.’ Some childhoods are hellish, and those emerging from them may look all their lives for a place where they might feel at home.”
  • What the Islamic State and its use of violence means for the future of Israel and Palestine.Savagery affirms the value of what previous revolutionaries called ‘armed propaganda,’ with the United States as a particular target. Violence that seizes media attention, the book says, attracts new recruits who will be ‘dazzled by the operations …undertaken in opposition to America.’ It also provokes the United States to act directly rather than through proxies in the Islamic world, eventually revealing American weakness. Extreme violence is also described as a means of ‘inflaming opposition’ and polarizing the masses, who will find that there is no safe middle ground, no way to stay out of the fight.”
  • How bourgeois ethics created the last two centuries of economic growth. “Part of the Western bourgeoisie’s fall from esteem may stem from a more complex technical and economic world; where instead of one celebrated inventor a vast team makes the advances; where companies protect patents and reward performance with cash and not kudos; where the division of labour is now so vast that few people understand how anything is made or from whence it comes; where more people work as clerks for multi-nationals than in simple machine-shops where they could tinker, invent and dream.”
  • The Islamic State expands. “‘Islamic State propaganda promises a fight for liberation similar to many Latin American movements in the 1970s,’ says Ahmed Naifar, who teaches religious studies at Zitouna University in Tunis. He believes that frustrated young Tunisians see the trip to Syria as a kind of revolt against corruption, brutality and daily indignities. It is a mood that is prevalent in many countries that experienced Arab Spring revolts.”
  • Charles has the potential to be a very interesting–and possibly very meddlesome–king. “It sometimes seems that Charles is pushing against the limits of his position, testing what is possible for a constitutional monarch in the 21st century. It is an approach that has alarmed many onlookers. ‘The main difference [between Charles and his mother] is that the Queen is frightfully discreet about these things and will mention them in private meetings with the prime minister,’ said a former senior government official. ‘Prince Charles is much more pushy and writes letters about his views which are on the edge of the mainstream. He pushes them hard and takes a risk. He is much more activist.'”
  • I rarely agree with Michael Young, but here, I do. “Most disturbing, successive Israeli governments have found no answer to the numerical challenge posed by a rising Palestinian population whose land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is being gradually reduced by Israeli actions. Before long Israelis will have to determine what to do with a rising Palestinian population in their midst. They cannot expel them, because of the international outcry and because Palestinians could be expected to fight back; they cannot expect the growing Palestinian population to supinely accept being banished to a nominal, fragmented mini-state surrounded by Israel; and they cannot absorb Palestinians, because Israeli Jews do not want to create a demographic time bomb that ultimately transforms them into a minority.”
  • The “invention” of the Bhagavad Gita. “The British (Protestants) knew that any self-respecting religion had to have One Book; so they asked some educated, Anglophone Calcutta Brahmins, What is your One Book? or indeed, What is your Bible? And the answer was, the Gita. In 1785 Wilkins published his full English translation of the Gita, the first work of classical Sanskrit translated directly into English; he made it sound as biblical as possible, using King Jamesian ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s.'”