Archive for January 30th, 2012
To what extent do the banks own Congress? Paul Blumenthal reports at Huffpo:
When Washington puts policy on the auction block, bankers are consistently the highest bidders. The industry’s most striking victory has been the watering down of post-financial crisis reforms, to the point that banks are now bigger than ever and the bonuses keep flowing. But Wall Street’s campaign spending and lobbying power is so intimidating that banks have repeatedly stuck the public with the tab for their losses and no one in Washington stops them.
Why hasn’t the government done something about outrageous ATM fees? Or credit card interest rates up to 30 percent? Bankers’ clout is such that common-sense pro-consumer legislation is presumptively dead on arrival at Capitol Hill if it threatens banks’ revenue streams.
One of Dan Sperber’s favorite explanations belongs to Eratsthenes (276-195 BCE) who used a few local observations to calculate the circumference of the Earth to within 1% of the modern measurement. Sperber carefully walks us through Eratsthenes’ calculations, then comments:
Was Eratosthenes thinking concretely about the circumference of the earth (in the way he might have been thinking concretely about the distance from the Library to the Palace in Alexandria)? I believe not. He was thinking rather about a challenge posed by the quite different estimates of the circumference of the Earth that had been offered by other scholars at the time. He was thinking about various mathematical principles and tools that could be brought to bear on the issue. He was thinking of the evidential use that could be made of sundry observations and reports. He was aiming at finding a clear and compelling solution, a convincing argument. In other terms, he was thinking about representations—theories, conjectures, reports—, and looking for a novel and insightful way to put them together. In doing so, he was inspired by others, and aiming at others. His intellectual feat only makes sense as a particularly remarkable link in a social-cultural chain of mental and public events. To me, it is a stunning illustration not just of human individual intelligence but also and above all of the powers of socially and culturally extended minds.
Sperber’s article is one of one of 192 this year in response to Edge.com’s annual question: “What is Your Favorite Deep, Elegant, or Beautiful Explanation.”