George HW Bush's inauguration. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

ALL THE VICE-PRESIDENT’S MEN

So while the film Vice is garnering attention both for another Christian Bale De Niro-esque body transformation and its explication of unitary executive theory, Seymour Hersh has argued it was George HW Bush who was the original veep power behind the throne, running much of US foreign policy and Reagan-era covert ops, as well as being up to his ear in Iran-Contra. Possibly Hersh was waiting for Bush to die before leveling his claims.

And speaking of veeps who became presidents, if you’ve read Robert Caro’s books on LBJ, you’ll know he was simultaneously one of the crookedest and one of the most idealistic men to ever occupy the White House. Inexplicably, the now elderly Caro has taken time out to write about how he began digging into Johnson’s corruption — inexplicably because we all want that last volume stat.

And think about Johnson while considering Max Weber’s famous lecture on politics, delivered a century ago this month.

DYSTOPIAS’R’US

Samsung has an unpleasant habit of planting useless apps on its equipment that can’t be removed without considerable technical expertise, if at all. What happens when some of this “bloatware” starts failing so badly it wrecks the device it’s on? Samsung “smart” TV users in the US are discovering right now. If you’re dumb enough to buy internet-enabled home security devices, make sure you change the default password and don’t re-use other passwords. But it’s probably a good idea not to buy them at all since that probably won’t be enough to protect you. Which foresightful smart-alec said that, in the future, everyone would have 15 minutes of anonymity?

ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA

While I’m yelling at tech to get off my lawn, once upon a time I was a prolific tweeter, with a sizeable following, and was even officially an influential voice but I’m now convinced social media is toxic for civic discourse, addictive without even the pleasure of an enjoyable vice, and a general cesspool of stupidity from all ideological directions — so much so that I’m increasingly avoiding even looking at it. Others in the media appear to agree. Some claim it can be modified to be harmless. On the other hand, social media can harm your privacy and help manipulate you even when you’re not on it so…

MORE ON TRUSTS

We looked at the growing debate around trust-busting and monopolies before Christmas, and it continues to pick up steam in the US, where both sides are now talking about trust-busting. Breaking up giant companies is a Republican tradition, argues one conservative commentator, while prominent US tech lawyer and Democrat Tim Wu discusses how late 19th-century trust-busting powers could be used in the US — and how Trump could use them to go after his enemies.

THE MAN ON THE CLAPHAM SELF-DRIVING OMNIBUS

The trolley car problem got its moment in the sun last year as the over-hyped “imminent” arrival of autonomous vehicles sparked discussion about what ethics would inform their algorithms. Revisiting the data reveals some marked cultural differences about who to run over and who to save. But should autonomous cars — or, at least, robots more generally — have rights or legal status? Sounds absurd, until you think it through. And who, or what, is a “reasonable person”? And how do you empirically verify reasonableness? Turns out there could be a way.

MATERNAL MORTALITY

Maternal mortality is thankfully rare in Australia — but not getting any lower, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:

But it is nearly five times higher among Indigenous women:

First trimester and birth and the first week afterward are the most dangerous periods:

 

BIBLIOCENTRISM

As someone who constantly berates himself for not reading what he should be reading, I loved Neve Mahoney on the importance of comfort reads

A new book on Diderot explores his absurdly prodigious output of writing and the modernity of his views (except, unmentioned in the review, he was an anti-Semite along with most of his contemporaries).

There’s a new collection of writings by the most important economist you’ve probably never heard of, Karl Polanyi; this excellent review provides an introduction to his work and crucial links to — and often influences on — more prominent practitioners of the dismal science.

A study of the UK jobs market not merely confirms Britain isn’t a meritocracy — that much we knew — but the extent to which “the class ceiling” operates even within elite occupations, and how the nebulous requirement of “fitting in” dictates employability. How different is it here?

And finally… gym thoughts from across the Tasman

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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