October 8, 2013
I shall take a holistic approach to the future of Europe. I have developed a conceptual framework, which has guided me in my decisions throughout my adult life. The framework is much broader than the financial markets; it deals with the relationship between thinking and reality. What makes that relationship so complicated is that the thoughts and actions of participants are part of the reality they have to think about. Their thinking serves a dual function: on the one hand they try to understand the world in which they live – that is the cognitive function; on the other, they want to influence the events in which they participate – that is the manipulative function. The two functions interfere with each other – I call the interference reflexivity. The cornerstone of my conceptual framework is the human uncertainty principle, which is based on the twin pillars of fallibility and reflexivity. … The human uncertainty principle has far reaching implications for scientific method. It applies only to social phenomena and thereby it separates the social sciences from the natural sciences.
Japan’s leader is basking in his economic plan’s initial gains but admits tough reforms lie ahead ... There is a confidence, almost a swagger, about Shinzo Abe. After 10 months in office, the good news just keeps coming. ... Since Japan’s prime minister launched his “Abenomics” plan to reflate the economy, inflation is up, the yen is down and share prices are higher by nearly two-thirds. In the first half of this year, Japan grew at a pace of roughly 4 per cent, making it the best performing Group of Seven economy by some way. Business confidence is at a seven-year high and Mr Abe’s popularity rating is above 60 per cent. Victory for his party in July’s Upper House elections means, barring the unexpected, he should be in power until at least 2016 – nothing to sniff at in a country where recent prime ministers have come and gone without trace. ... In an interview with the Financial Times on Friday, Mr Abe appeared to be basking in his new-found success. ... His willingness to gamble on bold – some say reckless – policy action marks a big shift from recent leaders who have appeared paralysed by Japan’s legendary economic problems.
Beyond Meat closes in on the perfect fake chicken, turns heads, tastebuds … Most people consume protein in what vegetarians call "the secondhand form," that is, after it has been digested and converted into meat by chickens, cows, and pigs. This is inefficient, as Winston Churchill noted In "Fifty Years Hence," an essay published in 1931. Churchill wrote: "We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will ... from the outset be practically indistinguishable from natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation." … Then again, predictions are hard -- especially about the future. Food scientists and entrepreneurs have tried to reinvent meat for decades, with little to show for it. … Beyond Meat makes vegan "chicken-free" strips that it says are better for people's health (low-fat, no cholesterol), better for the environment (requiring less land and water), and better for animals (obviously) than real chicken; most important, if all goes according to plan, they will cost less to produce than chicken. … "We are obsessed," Brown says. "We call it OCD. Obsessive Chicken Disorder. It has to be exactly like chicken."
How San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture is changing the country. ... Hwin is twenty-eight, but could be younger. He has a blissed-out grin and an impish dusting of freckles. His hair is buzzed on the sides but topped with choppy bangs, a rocker coif that makes it look as if a wad of hair just landed on his head from a great height. He often wears a miniature harmonica around his neck, over a black T-shirt, to underscore his musical affinities. For several years now, he has been working as a musician, a tech entrepreneur, and an investor in other people’s startups. His two-person band, Cathedrals, just released a début single and is producing an album in the coming months. At the moment, he and a friend are managing investments of up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in private companies. ... The Sub has no doorbell or real street address, and its space had been an auto-repair facility until some plywood walls made it a place where people—certain people, anyway—might spend their days. Hwin, who moved in four years and two business ventures ago, now has space in a structure that he calls “the doll house.”
Computers seem to be replacing humans across many industries, and we're all getting very nervous. ... But if you want some reason for optimism, visit your local supermarket. ... In a recent research paper called "Dancing With Robots," the economists Frank Levy and Richard Murnane point out that computers replace human workers only when machines meet two key conditions. First, the information necessary to carry out the task must be put in a form that computers can understand, and second, the job must be routine enough that it can be expressed in a series of rules. ... Supermarket checkout machines meet the second of these conditions, but they fail on the first. They lack proper information to do the job a human would do. To put it another way: They can't tell shiitakes from Shinola. Instead of identifying your produce, the machine asks you, the customer, to type in a code for every leafy green in your cart. Many times you'll have to look up the code in an on-screen directory. If a human checker asked you to remind him what that bunch of the oblong yellow fruit in your basket was, you'd ask to see his boss. ... This deficiency extends far beyond the checkout lane.
When energy-drink company Red Bull bought Ford’s Formula 1 team Jaguar Racing in 2004, the team was in a shambles. In the five years it was controlled by Ford, its drivers won not a single race. The closest it came to a championship was in 2004 when Jaguar placed seventh in the constructors standings. Out of 11 teams. … Renamed Infiniti Red Bull Racing, the team now dominates Formula 1 racing in much the same way Ferrari did during the glory years of Michael Schumacher in the early 2000s. It has won the double championship—when a team comes first in points both for an individual driver and for the team, or constructor of the car—every year since 2010 and is well on its way to winning its fourth. But advanced engineering accounts only for part of its astonishing success. As important is the way the team uses data.
Meet Abu Omar: Al Qaeda busted him out of Abu Ghraib. Now he has gone to fight in Syria. ... Abu Omar is one of the al Qaeda members who escaped during the Abu Ghraib prison break. He says six of his former cellmates have also made it to Syria. "Many more are on their way," he says in a strong Iraqi Arabic accent. "Everybody wants to go for jihad to Syria." ... Abu Omar sees the Syrian war as much more than a struggle against a brutal dictator. For him, it's a war against unbelievers, and its ultimate aim is the establishment of an Islamic government that transcends the borders of the modern Middle East. "Syria and Iraq are the same struggle to us," he explains. "Both governments in Iraq and Syria are run by unbelievers, so we will fight both. Syria is currently very weak and close to falling into the hands of the mujahideen [jihadists]." ... Abu Omar spent 26 months imprisoned in Abu Ghraib, which gained notoriety in 2004 after shocking pictures were published of American guards torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners. He was imprisoned on terrorism-related charges, but claims he is innocent of any crime. According to him, the experience of being locked up in Abu Ghraib led to his radicalization. "When I was in prison I met a lot of ISIS inmates," he says. "They convinced me of their ideas. Their ideology of creating a caliphate is the best, and I decided to join them in their fight."
Miguel Cabrera looked as if he were wearing pajamas, untucked and mismatched, as he lumbered around the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse in a sweaty gray T-shirt and a pair of Nike shower shoes. Known to his teammates as Miggy, Cabrera wore his hair dense down the middle and bare on the sides — in what he called “a faux-hawk.” In an era in which even baseball players have come to resemble souped-up Eastern bloc Olympians, Miggy packs more of a stonemason physique: he is 6-foot-4 with massive arms and torso, but also a noticeable paunch of fluctuating size and, God bless him, well-articulated man-boobs. Yet he is the reigning American League M.V.P. and quite possibly the best hitter of his generation. (One of the fun parts about writing about baseball is inviting a “best of his generation” debate before the first paragraph is even over.)
Prosopagnosia is a condition that can make it impossible to recognize the faces of others, from friends to movie characters to parents. To varying degrees, it affects about two percent of people. ... In 2007, Glenn Alperin was flying from Atlanta to Boston. “I was reading a newspaper when this man came up to me and shook my hand. He went down the aisle shaking hands with all of the passengers,” Alperin recalls. “I waited until he was at a safe distance and turned to the man sitting next to me and asked him who that was. The guy looked at me, horrified and said, ‘That was Jimmy Carter!’” Dressed in a fishing hat and an oversized green jacket, Alperin has just finished his session at a day treatment center in Cambridge, Massachusetts He makes his way to the subway station, carefully deliberating which train to take to Brookline, where he will tutor his first student of the day. “I don’t look at people until I am spoken to,” says Alperin, who’s had prosopagnosia since infancy. He provides an interesting analogy: “Most people take a picture with their brain and store and develop the film. I take the picture, but throw the film in the trash immediately.”