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Backyard windmills, locally owned solar panels and other news and views for Sunday 2 November

November 2nd, 2014


  • A 19th Century Novel Explains Quantitative Easing – “The Way We Live Now, Trollope’s longest and greatest novel, is … a novel about a society corrupted by finance, one in which money holds sway and everyone is fantasizing about getting rich quick. … It’s a novel about a bubble, which is especially relevant today, with the economic news dominated by the Federal Reserve’s announcement that quantitative easing, the post-credit-crunch experiment in loose monetary policy, is now over. The American economy is recovering, and normal service can now be resumed. The money people are hoping that QE hasn’t accidentally created a giant bubble in asset prices. As chance would have it, the speculative bubble in The Way We Live Now is also based on American assets — a railway between Salt Lake City and Veracruz. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well.”
  • The Grapes of Wrath: France’s Great Wines Are Feeling the Heat – “In France, climate change is no longer just an abstract problem. The culinary country’s grand wine culture is threatened by rising global temperatures. Vintners are fighting to save a part of our world culture heritage that spans the last two millennia.”
  • Violence against children in Cambodia: breaking the silence – “Findings from the first-of-its-kind Cambodia’s Violence Against Children Survey, coordinated by UNICEF Cambodia, reveal that many children are subjected to violence at the hands of people they know and should trust in places that should feel safe.”
  • The Secret Life of an ISIS Warlord – “Abu Omar al-Shishani has a fierce, gorgeous Chechen bride. He learned intelligence operations from the U.S. And his older brother may be the real genius of ISIS.”
  • If the Republicans Win Big on Tuesday, So Will the CIA – “The intel community has spent years being bashed by Senate Democrats. Things will be very different if Richard Burr is in charge.”


  • Opera is dead, in one chart – “Opera is officially dead. Or maybe not completely dead, but at best ekeing out a zombie-like existence in a state of undeath. As proof, I submit this fascinating chart of Metropolitan Opera performances, which shows that for decades the Met has rarely performed any operas composed in the preceding 50 years. … Opera, as a genre, is essentially frozen in amber – Raman found that the median year of composition of pieces performed at the Met has always been right around 1870. In other words, the Met is essentially performing the exact same pieces now that it was 100 years ago.”
  • Alcohol calorie content: Labels needed, say doctors
  • Why the Chess Computer Deep Blue Played Like a Human – “When IBM’s Deep Blue beat chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997 in a six-game chess match, Kasparov came to believe he was facing a machine that could experience human intuition. “The machine refused to move to a position that had a decisive short-term advantage,” Kasparov wrote after the match. It was “showing a very human sense of danger.” To Kasparov, Deep Blue seemed to be experiencing the game rather than just crunching numbers. … Deep Blue programmer Feng-Hsiung Hsu writes in his book Behind Deep Blue that during the match, outside analysts were divided over a mysterious move made by the program, thinking it either weak or obliquely strategic. Eventually, the programmers discovered that the move was simply the result of a bug that had caused the computer not to choose what it had actually calculated to be the best move—something that could have appeared as random play. The bug wasn’t fixed until after game four, long after Kasparov’s spirit had been broken.”
  • Peter Cullen gave lobbying a good name, writes Laurie Oakes


  • How often is ‘antifreeze’ added to food and drink? – “Fireball Cinnamon Whisky “tastes like heaven… burns like hell”, its manufacturer, Sazerac Company, claims in marketing materials. According to market research firm Nielsen, the whisky is one of the top 10 bestselling drinks in the US, beating popular brands such as Jose Cuervo tequila. The drink has been removed from shelves in Norway, Sweden and Finland after batches of the whisky made to a recipe acceptable in North America – where 50g of propylene glycol per kilogram of food or drink is acceptable – made their way to Europe, where the limit on the substance is lower, at 3g per kilogram.”

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