Interesting Articles: Syria, Free Speech and Privacy Online, Dogs, Fossil Fuels, How to Win at Poker, and More

  • A good article by Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker on Syria. A really complicated situation.

  • An interesting etymology from the recent New Yorker article (paywall) by Rivka Galchen about Elmhurst Hospital:

    The word “pedagogy” comes from the Greek term for the slave who escorted a child to school. (p. 55)

    No comment about whether 21st century University of Michigan undergrads have internalized this etymology when interacting with their Graduate Student Instructors…

  • An article by Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic about the crucial role twenty-somethings in Silicon Valley are now playing in determining free speech regulation. The article itself isn’t so profound, but it’s a good opportunity to think about the importance of Facebook, Twitter, and Google as arbiters of free speech.1 (Question: Have any of you cursed on Facebook? At least in my social circle, that seems rather unusual.)

    Also: Facebook Tells Court ‘Like’ Feature Vital to Free Speech. This is pretty obvious, isn’t it? (The lawyer’s argument that some liking is done just to get a coupon, and therefore liking isn’t protected speech is absurd; most of anyone’s speech is innocuous and non-political, but that has nothing to do with whether speech should be protected for those special cases.) (via Christian Tom)

  • On privacy and LinkedIn. When I’ve used it, I’ve observed how creepily accurate LinkedIn’s recommendations are, for people who shouldn’t be suggested based just on the graph of the social network. I’d always assumed this was mostly based on browsing history. This article offers some explanations. And, importantly, it shows a few hidden privacy settings that you should make sure to adjust. (I hadn’t noticed them, and I tend to be pretty good about such things; I, for example, am one of the few people I know on LinkedIn who has deactivated “People also viewed” from my profile, which reveals an awful lot of information about people’s browsing habits.) Of course, there’s so much to be said about how to balance privacy with the benefits that these algorithms provide; it is useful that LinkedIn is so good at finding people I know.

  • Yes! Farhad Manjoo’s “No, I Do Not Want to Pet Your Dog,” from Slate. I thought his comparison with children was particularly apt. I’m someone who finds little children completely adorable, and my patience for their noise in places—||cafes, libraries, bookstores, airplanes, restaurants—||where I otherwise would get annoyed is pretty high. But there are many people who aren’t so enamored with little children, so it seems appropriate that there are communal norms against little children causing too much disturbance.

    Now change children with dogs. I’m biased, because, unlike with children, I’m no fan of dogs. But certainly the argument against dogs is so much more compelling, for at least the following reasons: (1) dogs cause allergies that affect many people (this is the source of my distaste2); (2) we ought to draw our moral circles somewhere, and as far as I’m concerned, we should focus on loving humans more, so certainly children—even if sometimes annoying in public places—deserve more patience; and (3) if we’re going to be a society that supports women’s rights (and we should be!), we should be supportive of children being brought (within reason) to workplaces.3

    Okay, rant over. But seriously: negative liberties matter. In a world with so much human cruelty, can’t we direct what love we have to other humans, rather than animals?4

  • Are Fossil Fuel Firms Overpriced? An interesting article from the Economist, suggesting that shareholders might be insufficiently weighing the risk that carbon reserves won’t be used because of environmental regulation. Of course, such regulation would be an extremely good thing; pollution by fossil fuels is a negative externality par excellence and should be taxed. This is Pigovian taxation, which is widely endorsed by economists all over the political spectrum.

  • On the topic of obvious problems that happen when economic theory isn’t respected: Venezuela has run out of toilet paper, thanks to price controls. (Do ignore the weird last paragraph.) (via Andrew Sullivan)

  • How to Win at Poker from the Economist. Each time I read an academic article that reveals opportunities in a market that otherwise looks efficient, I wonder whether the academic prestige from publishing the article offsets the potential winnings from keeping the idea quiet and profiting off of it.

  • Your 19th Century Livejournal: apparently, it’s only in the last century that journals and diaries have become mostly private; before then, they were shared as we share blogs today.

  • Right after I got so fed up with Harpers that I unsubscribed, in the last issue I’ll get, I found a charming article by Thomas Frank: Getting to Eureka. Unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall, but if you have a subscription or want to find a copy to peruse in a library (it’s the June issue, just mailed), enjoy it.

  1. This is an interesting phenomenon, not just in journalism, but in literature: the importance of having some length of writing not because of the content itself but instead because reading it makes you think about things, or serves some other purpose. (For example, in literature, sometimes you need to have some length of content just to give the feeling of time passing.) 

  2. Public service announcement: Dog (and cat) dander is very difficult to remove. It’s from skin flakes that enter the air, not hairs, so even if a pet isn’t touching someone, if it’s in the same room, the dander will get there. (It’s been suggested that cat dander is so pervasive because it’s used as a pheromone by cats; that’s why it travels so well in the air.) Studies have shown that after a dog or cat is removed from a house, it takes months for the dander levels to decrease. (Actually, it’s depressing how little research has been done on this. There’s this one study in the 1980s, but very little since then, nor is there much evidence-based research about how best to remove such dander.) So if you’re in an apartment building that doesn’t allow pets, please don’t sneak one in; find a building that allows pets. (The one consolation I take from the disturbing mix of increased allergy rates—|presumably having something to do with the hygiene hypothesis—|and increased pollen from global warming is that perhaps the tide will turn against pet ownership. Is there anyone else out there who spends time googling “cities with low pet ownership rates”? But I don’t want to move to DC!) 
  3. Being an academic, I’m thinking of course of cafes and libraries. This applies to actual offices, too. (Of course, there are limitations. But the point is to be supportive and offer a variety of childcare options.)  
  4. When I give this argument, I like to cite Ivan’s discussion of the cruelty done to children in Brothers Karamazov (in the key chapters right before the Grand Inquisitor: The Brothers Meet and Rebellion). This, of course, conveniently neglects a later scene of cruelty to dogs (not to mention the horse scene in Crime and Punishment, which eerily parallels Nietzsche’s hugging a horse when he went mad). Cruelty to animals is bad, of course. But I don’t think we should consider it as anywhere close to as bad as cruelty to other humans. (And I think it’s best to treat wanton cruelty of animals as problematic largely because it correlates with and possibly increases the likelihood of cruelty to humans.)