Worn out tools

[Javert] had lost his bearings. The law was no more than a broken stick in his hand. Victor Hugo – Les Miserables If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: Rudyard…

Compassion: suffering with

I was reminded this morning* of the etymology of “compassion”: com- meaning “with” and pati meaning “to suffer.” It’s the same pati we find in the word passion, and sort-of related to the Greek pathos, as in “sympathy,” “to feel with.”** Compassion, like physical pain, alerts us to the presence of something harmful (in this case in the lives of…

Virginia Postrel on textiles and technology, nature and magic

Here’s a great highlight from a fascinating and very entertaining podcast from a16z: Textiles as Tech, Science, Math, Culture… or Civilization. Recommended. Sonal Chokshi: “We suffer textile amnesia because we enjoy textile abundance.” … Viginia Postrel: “This really has mostly happened in my lifetime – I’m sixty – where textiles have just become so abundant and so cheap that we…

Resource: The Data of Long-lived Institutions from The Long Now Foundation

This is an interesting set of pieces of information about the kinds of institutions that last a really long time, and the strategies that allow them to do so. Transcript here. A couple of extracts below to whet your appetite, and video below them. Which institutions last the longest? …There’s no system in the world that I’ve found that is…

Black History Month: the things we forget and the things we can’t see

Some things about Black History month: It is not a recent product of early-21st-Century political correctness, but has roots going back to the 1920s; It isn’t unproblematic: race is a flawed organising principle for all the reasons that racists are wrong;* It does start conversations, shed light on forgotten or hidden truths, and prick our consciences in a way that…

Privilege: other people’s eyes

In the space between finishing university and starting my first proper job I had a minor revelation. With my bank account running low and a few weeks before my first pay cheque would arrive I walked into Marks and Spencer* and experienced – I think for the first time in my life – the feeling of not being able to…

Thucydides on the prosperity that comes with peace

This is Thucydides writing in 432 BC. Apart from the general description of how stability affects the accumulation of wealth he also gives what is probably the earliest description of the resource curse. … it is evident that the country now called Hellas had in ancient times no settled population; on the contrary, migrations were of frequent occurrence, the several…

Time and money

I’ve been spending quite a few of my mornings running through the centre of Cambridge. A lot of it is beautiful – especially the colleges. And they’re very wealthy: the total endowment of Cambridge’s 31 colleges works out at a little over £4 billion, and their net assets run closer to £7.5 billion. There are many stories to tell about…

UK income inequality by ethnicity: data from the ONS

This article in the Guardian summarises a new set of data from the Office of National Statistics. Here’s the key table on income inequality (based on median hourly income). Main takeaways: Workers of White Irish, Chinese and Indian ethnicity on average earn significantly more than White British. (This gap gets bigger for under 30s – see below). Workers of Pakistani…

Victor Hugo: two faces of political violence

They wanted an end to oppression, an end to tyranny, an end to strife, work for men, education for children, social goodwill towards women, liberty, equality, fraternity, bread for all, an idea for all, a paradise made of this world, progress. And that good, sweet blessed thing, progress, they demanded fearsomely, driven to extremity, to utter distraction, half-naked, with bludgeon…