1. Archive


Lashing outat change

Writing for Bloomberg View, Francis Wilkinson discusses focus groups conducted with tea partiers, evangelicals and moderate Republicans to explain "Why Republicans Shut Down the Government." Read the essay in full at Here's an excerpt.

It's a tough situation to rectify. A lot of Americans were not ready for a mixed-race president. They weren't ready for gay marriage. They weren't ready for the wave of legal and illegal immigration that redefined American demographics over the past two or three decades, bringing in lots of nonwhites. They weren't ready - who was? - for the brutal effects of globalization on working- and middle-class Americans or the devastating fallout from the financial crisis. Their representatives didn't stop Obamacare. And their side didn't "take back America" in 2012 as Fox News and conservative radio personalities led them to believe they would. They feel the culture is running away from them (and they're mostly right). They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down.

Higgs' particular habits

Peter Higgs, who shared the Nobel Prize in physics for positing the existence of the eponymous particle that explains mass in the universe, was nowhere near the phone when the Royal Swedish Academy tried to call him with the news. That was by design. In the Guardian, Ian Sample explains why. Read "Peter Higgs Proves As Elusive As Higgs Boson After Nobel Success" in full at Here's an excerpt.

Peter Higgs is portrayed as the reclusive genius but that is as flawed as any stereotype. He can be hard to get hold of, but a busy life and an aversion to modern technology are mostly to blame for that. He has no computer, and no email. He answers the phone only when he knows who is calling. To arrange an interview some years back took a written letter to his apartment in Edinburgh's New Town followed by a wait of several months, after which a reply arrived - handwritten in ink - in an envelope sporting a stamp of the Crab Nebula. The traditional mode of communication continued even when larger projects were involved. In the later stages of writing Massive, a book about Higgs and the hunt for his boson, the fact-checking was done by sending every chapter to Higgs - along with a bag of ballpoint pens with which to make corrections. For several months later, at irregular intervals, the chapters came back, each accompanied by an extensive list of comments and amendments. Each package landed heavy on the doormat - thump - and caused a rush of anxiety that would have made Pavlov proud.

Fight poverty with stickers

Writing for the New Republic, Michael Kinsley proposes a way around the minimum wage/living wage debate: Let consumers choose. Read "Walmart Can Solve the Inequality Problem. It Starts With Stickers." in full at Here's an excerpt.

There's no need to force Walmart into raising its wages and prices. Let the market work! These days almost everything you buy carries a label making the claim that in some way it is morally superior. It is "organic." It is "gluten free." It is "cruelty free" - cruelty to animals, that is. Everything from dishwasher detergent to entire office buildings gets certified by how "green" it is. Why not create a label symbol indicating that the product you are about to buy is "poverty-free" - i.e., no American involved in making it or getting it to you makes less than $12.50 an hour? Obviously, this should not be limited to Walmart, but Walmart could lead the way. On some items, they might want to try putting poverty-free and non-poverty-free items side by side on the shelf and see how many people go for each.

Robots and ethics

In the Atlantic, Patrick Lin points out that what is most ethical isn't always legal, and that presents a dilemma programmers of driverless cars: Should they ever be allowed to break the law? Read "The Ethics of Autonomous Cars" in full at Here are two excerpts.

As we all know, ethics and law often diverge, and good judgment could compel us to act illegally. For example, sometimes drivers might legitimately want to, say, go faster than the speed limit in an emergency. Should robot cars never break the law in autonomous mode? If robot cars faithfully follow laws and regulations, then they might refuse to drive in auto-mode if a tire is underinflated or a headlight is broken, even in the daytime when it's not needed.

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There are many examples of car accidents every day that involve difficult choices, and robot cars will encounter at least those. For instance, if an animal darts in front of our moving car, we need to decide: whether it would be prudent to brake; if so, how hard to brake; whether to continue straight or swerve to the left of right; and so on. These decisions are influenced by environmental conditions (e.g., slippery road), obstacles on and off the road (e.g., other cars to the left and trees to the right), size of an obstacle (e.g., hitting a cow diminishes your survivability, compared to hitting a raccoon), second-order effects (e.g., crash with the car behind us, if we brake too hard), lives at risk in and outside the car (e.g., a baby passenger might mean the robot car should give greater weight to protecting its occupants), and so on.