TagEconomist

Disorganised atheism in America

From the good boys over at the Economist:

What accounts for the failure of atheists to organise and wield influence? One problem is that they are hardly a cohesive group. Another issue is simply branding. ‘Atheist’ has an ugly ring in American ears and it merely defines what people are not. ‘Godless’ is worse, its derogatory attachment to ‘communist’ may never be broken. ‘Humanist’ sounds too hippyish. A few have taken to calling themselves ‘Brights’ for no good reason and to widespread mirth. And ‘secular’ isn’t quite the word either; one can be a Christian secularist.

But another failing of the irreligious movement has been its tendency, frequently, to pick the wrong fights. Keeping the Ten Commandments out of an Alabama courthouse is one thing. But attacking a Christmas nativity scene on public property does more harm than good. Such secular crusades allow Christians-after all, the overwhelming majority of the country-to feel under attack, and even to declare that they are on the defensive in a ‘War on Christmas’. When a liberal federal court in California struck the words ‘under God’ from the pledge of allegiance, religious conservatives rallied. Atheists might be tactically wise to accept the overwhelming majority’s comfort with such ‘ceremonial deism’.

Continued.

The Germ Of An Idea

Some people are more prone to infection than others. One answer could be to dose them with the molecules that their immune systems cannot make.

“Researchers are studying how different versions of certain genes could cause some people to succumb to infection whereas others are left relatively unscathed. They thus hope to explain not only why some people can be infested with virulent microbes without contracting a disease (whereas others become ill even though they are less infected) but also why such patterns run in families and in ethnic groups. Laurent Abel and Jean-Laurent Casanova of the Necker Medical School in Paris have found that a different version of a single gene out of the 25,000 or so in the human genome can make all the difference to whether or not a person suffers from many common diseases.”

(via The Economist)

(see also “A Cancer-Proof Mouse” via The Daily Galaxy)

The Pirate’s Code

When Bob Dylan sang, ‘To live outside the law you must be honest,’ he probably wasn’t thinking of seventeenth-century pirate captains. Nonetheless, his dictum seems to apply to them. While pirates were certainly cruel and violent criminals, pirate ships were hardly the floating tyrannies of popular imagination. As a fascinating new paper (pdf) by Peter Leeson, an economist at George Mason University, and ‘The Republic of Pirates,’ a new book by Colin Woodard, make clear, pirate ships limited the power of captains and guaranteed crew members a say in the ship’s affairs. The surprising thing is that, even with this untraditional power structure, pirates were, in Leeson’s words, among ‘the most sophisticated and successful criminal organizations in history.’

Full Story: The New Yorker.

Economies of Design and Other Adventures in Nomad Economics

Economies of Design and Other Adventures in Nomad Economics

I just finished reading Abe Burmeister’s master’s thesis, Economies of Design and Other Adventures in Nomad Economics. It’s available as a free pdf or as a printed book. This is the “public draft.” It’s still pretty rough, but still quite good.

This book is very straight forward and easy to read. I don’t have much of a background in economics, but I found Abe’s writing clear and accessible. Abe’s a designer by trade, not an economist, and this book/paper was written for the Interactive Telecommunications Program, not for an econ program.

Abe seems to be mostly inspired by this quote by Manuel De Landa:

I believe that the main task for today’s left is to create a new political economy (the resources are all there: Max Weber, T.B. Veblen and the old institutionalists, John Kenneth Galbraith, Fernand Braudel, some of the new institutionalists, like Douglass North; redefinitions of the market, like those of Herbert Simon etc) based as you acknowledged before, on a non-equilibrium view of the matter? But how can we do this if we continue to believe that Marxists got it right, that it is just a matter of tinkering with the basic ideas? At any rate, concepts like “mode of production” do not fit a flat ontology of individuals as far as I can tell.

Abe takes this and runs with it. This book lays the ground work. He doesn’t have all the answers yet (he’s mentioned he’s already working on a complete re-write), but this is a great starting point. Abe’s mostly focused on designers, but this book would be a good starting point for anyone interested in the idea of “economic hacking” – activists, artists, and yes, magicians.

More links:

Abe’s research blog.

His main blog.

Bonus: More “edge” economics.

Why worry about neuroscience?

An article in The Economist argues that neuroscience and neurotechnology, from Prozac to electromagnetic stimulation, are more important issues than genetic research. While cloning and stem-cell research has generated extensive debate, neuroscience has been moving ahead unhindered.

The Economist: The future of mind control

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