I've felt for some time that the discipline of Geography is being shifted to the foreground:
Whatever aspect of geography it is that you start with threatens to segue into a discussion on the most polarising topic there is: climate change. Miss Prism would be quick to notice that geography is no longer a polite subject for meal time. Something similar has happened to atlases. They were once placid, unhurried publications with additional information on the colours of national flags. Now atlases are freighted with maps showing cities that are likely to be submerged if the Arctic melts, or projected population growth, or the relative size of countries in terms of CO2 emissions, or areas where water scarcity will be most intense and resource wars most likely to break out. An atlas is beginning to look like a long-term forecast - history before it happens.
Larissa MacFarquhar's New Yorker article on Paul Krugman's journey into lefty politics. There's some good stuff in here about the technical aspects of academic economics, its relationship to justice, and the progression of knowledge in a discipline:
"Keynesian economics, which was coming out of the model-based tradition, even if it was pretty loose-jointed by modern standards, basically said, 'Push this button.' " Push this button - print more money, spend more money - and the button-pushing worked. Push-button economics was not only satisfying to someone of Krugman's intellectual temperament; it was also, he realized later, politically important. Thinking about economic situations as infinitely complex, with any number of causes going back into the distant past, tended to induce a kind of fatalism: if the origins of a crisis were deeply entangled in a country's culture, then maybe the crisis was inevitable, perhaps insoluble - even deserved.
On the necessity of models:
Again, as in his trade theory, it was not so much his idea that was significant as the translation of the idea into mathematical language. "I explained this basic idea" - of economic geography - "to a non-economist friend," Krugman wrote, "who replied in some dismay, 'Isn't that pretty obvious?' And of course it is." Yet, because it had not been well modelled, the idea had been disregarded by economists for years. Krugman began to realize that in the previous few decades economic knowledge that had not been translated into models had been effectively lost, because economists didn't know what to do with it.
On the loss of knowledge, similar to the much longer and completely-worth-reading Scott And Scurvy by Maciej Ceglowski:
Sixteenth-century maps of Africa were misleading in all kinds of ways, but they contained quite a bit of information about the continent's interior - the River Niger, Timbuktu. Two centuries later, mapmaking had become much more accurate, but the interior of Africa had become a blank. As standards for what counted as a mappable fact rose, knowledge that didn't meet those standards - secondhand travellers' reports, guesses hazarded without compasses or sextants - was discarded and lost. Eventually, the higher standards paid off - by the nineteenth century the maps were filled in again - but for a while the sharpening of technique caused loss as well as gain.
Short but sweet and on a line with Thomas P.M. Barnett's idea of a SysAdmin force ("The 'second half' blended force that wages the peace after the Leviathan force has successfully waged war"):
Deploying small groups of soldiers into remote areas, Colonel Schweitzer's paratroopers organized jirgas, or local councils, to resolve tribal disputes that have simmered for decades. Officers shrugged off questions about whether the military was comfortable with what David Kilcullen, an Australian anthropologist and an architect of the new strategy, calls "armed social work." "Who else is going to do it?" asked Lt. Col. David Woods, commander of the Fourth Squadron, 73rd Cavalry. "You have to evolve. Otherwise you're useless."
First they ignore you, etc.:
Open source just isn't a dirty word anymore. Go back to 2000, and there were a surprising number of managers that would literally shy away… there was still that "dirty hippy" aura around open source. But at this point they do surveys of Fortune 500 CEOs about whether they're using open source or have an open source strategy, and the responses have gone from 20 percent positive to 80 percent positive. The snide remark often made in the survey reviews is that the remaining 20 percent are using open source but their staff just hasn't told them. The thing that changes a conservative decision maker's mind isn't a great sales presentation, it's knowing that other conservative decision makers have already made the decision. Once that wave starts rolling, it's very difficult to stop.
Two unrelated articles, except that they are both about the importance of a story arc to the understanding of competition and controversy.
On the Oscars:
A good Oscar narrative makes voters feel that, by writing a name on a ballot, they're completing a satisfying plotline. Only a few of these stories are effective, and every campaign season, movies scramble to own them. The best are reused year after year: for example, The Little Movie That Could, the tale of a low-budget indie, a David among studio Goliaths, that often appeals to voters who hate Hollywood's bigger-is-better aesthetic.
On the news, Jay Rosen:
I was grateful, because up to that moment I had absorbed many hundreds of reports about the "subprime lenders in trouble" but had not understood a single one of them. It wasn't that these reports were uninformative. Rather I was not informable because I lacked the necessary background knowledge to grasp what was being sent to me as news.
Will Davies's reading of Mad Men, mostly interesting because I love the show and I'm pining for the next season:
Then there is the subtle questioning of liberation. The historical constant in Mad Men is libido, which empowers and dominates in equal measure. The shift from one epoch (of sexism, domesticity, formality) to a new one (of equality, self-fulfillment and informality) is not represented as progress in any way whatsoever, but simply what Foucault might call a reconfiguring of the economy of desire. In this respect Mad Men - and this is the genius - is a satire of both conservative and liberal America, showing the choice between the two as arbitrary.
Fred Scharmen (sevensixfive) is a friend and Baltimore architect. He's interested in the way that disciplines relate to one another, and this post is the first time I've seen gizmo defined as "a temporary, easily available, means of organizing an undifferentiated continuum ... to bring many models to bear on the problems we are presented with."
To be honest I have only a glancing understanding of the broader point here but there are a few moments that made this worth noticing:
The landscape is informational, the desert is networked. If it is all constructed, or at least made from parts of constructs, the ground can be mined for patterns. Even the navigational gizmos themselves are little else but temporary constellations within social, material, and informational networks. There is the persistent rumor that the skins of the Powerbook G4 and the Guggenheim Bilbao were only feasible to produce during a global dip in titanium prices, after Russia flooded the market in the late 90s. Tablet computers are nothing if not devices to sort through the tangle of text and publishing outlets available, and bring reading back under some kind of manageable control.
And, on the transferability of technique:
Techniques, when named, abstracted to their simplest form, and packaged up (Sears catalogue style), seem to want to travel. What can we learn about sustainability from the closed-loop space colony ecosystem diagrams of the the 1970s? How can we talk to civil engineers about the emerging trend of micropractices in stormwater management? A collection of gizmo metaheuristics enables a more fluid code-switching, and a more useful exchange of knowledge within and between disciplines.