2. These things take a while: Vali Nasr: the Arab world is still trying to sort out the unfinished business of the Ottoman Empire. (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)
3. Chris Blattman looks at recent Spanish history and uses that as a springboard to talk about the evolution of electoral, democratic political systems:
Most Western democracies doled out the right to vote very slowly. Maybe more correct: middle classes seized the vote where and when they could. Not Spain. The case of Spain looks more like new democracies today, where everyone suddenly (and sometimes unexpectedly) gets the the right to vote.
The tricky part with this: the people who choose the leaders (the masses) aren’t the ones who control the wealth or weapons or other institutions, and they might have little education or civic organization. So the people who are powerful remain powerful, but now have to work through the quasi-democratic system and the masses, who now have a little more power than before. Thus you get patronage and party boss systems, or the rolling back of rights from the least powerful. At least for a time.
Some people use this as an argument for autocracy. I don’t. I’d rather see rights with corruption than no rights at all.
4. Last month, the Iranian-born Stanford Professor Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman to share the Fields Medal. Wired has this profile.
5. Could we be approaching the end of Moore’s law? Writing in Ars Technica, John Timmer looks at whether microprocessors are running up against physical limits.
6. “When She Talks, Banks Shudder”: Binyamin Appelbaum has a profile in the NYT of Stanford finance professor Anat Admati, who thinks that banks should be forced to rely less on borrowed money: “Ms. Admati’s simple message is that the government is overlooking the best way to strengthen the financial system. Regulators, she says, need to worry less about what banks do with their money, and more about where the money comes from. … Ms. Admati says large banks should be required to raise at least 30 percent of their funding in the form of equity, about six times more than the current average for the largest American banks. This would not affect the ability of banks to accept deposits; it would not even affect their borrowing from other sources. Instead, she says, banks should be required to suspend dividend payments, thus increasing their equity by retaining their profits, until they are sufficiently capitalized.” (H/T: Mark Thoma.)
7. A map of the most affluent town in each state, as measured by median income.
8. Chris Attaway on his unorthodox path to rediscovering Jesus: “It was Nietzsche who saved me and who is saving me. He opened my eyes to the dead god and its sepulchers. He challenged me to desire power and to create a new world which sees desire as a good thing. Unintentionally, he dispelled the old myths and reintroduced me to Jesus. And this Jesus subverted man’s attempts at playing favorites by declaring that humanity itself, not just this or that culture or tribe, had value.”
9. I saw Calvary on Friday evening. This dark comedy, set in County Sligo on the northwestern coast of Ireland, follows a week in the life of a Catholic priest, played by Brendan Gleeson. Slate and the Guardian have reviews. It’s a pretty funny movie. Gleeson is excellent in the lead, and there are good performances from Kelly Reilly and Marie-Josée Croze. A number of the other performances seemed like caricatures or cliches, unfortunately — including that of Aiden Gillen (he of Game of Thrones and The Wire), who plays a physician. The cinematography is quite well done; the scenery is often beautiful, and director John Michael McDonagh and his cinematographer, Larry Smith, have a nice way of playing with light. Recommended.
Image Credits: (1) Mount Ben Bulben, County Sligo, Ireland. Photo by John Sullivan, June 2002. Source: Wikimedia Commons. (2) Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors, 1533. Currently hanging in the National Gallery, London. Source: Wikimedia Commons.