Recent Interesting Science Articles (April 2016)

It’s been a pretty slow news for science so there are a couple of articles that might not have made the cut in a more fruitful month show up here:

  • This morbid but fascinating article from the Smithsonian Magazine talks about a rather obvious conclusion, that human sacrificial rituals in many cultures, far from being motivated by religious belief, was a tool to terrorize the masses and ensure continued stratification between the different social classes that comprise their societies. The claim is that statistical methods is used to find out the patterns, a technique that I’m always dubious about, but the effects seem reasonable enough: societies which practice human sacrifice are unlikely to progress to a stage in which everyone was socially equal.
  • The next one is the link to the Harvard paper itself rather than any article covering it. It has been fashionable in recent years to blame the upsurge in crime in the 1980s to exposure of children to lead. This paper takes this further and examines the relationship between homicide rates in American cities between 1921 and 1936 and the construction of water systems using lead pipes. This paper confirms that finding, concluding that cities that had used lead in their pipes had homicide rates that were 24 percent higher than those cities that did not.
  • Then we have an economics paper about how publicly-traded companies have indeed been in decline in the US. Even more worryingly, it found that the decline of publicly-traded companies was not matched by an increase in private firms, suggesting that companies are being successful in stiffing competition and that they are enjoying correspondingly higher profit margins as a result.
  • Finally the most incredibly science news all month is how a homeowner in England accidentally uncovered an elaborate Roman villa in his backyard. Experts examining the find have concluded that it was built between 175 and 220 AD and has not been touched since it collapsed 1,400 years ago. Its excellent state, large size and the high quality of the artifacts found in the villa, makes it probably the most important archaeological discovery of the year.

Three Times (2005)


We’ve watched quite a few films by Hou Hsiao-Hsien so far but this is the first one that is abut romance and pretty much only romance. It’s actually a compilation of three separate short films, though all three star Shu Qi and Chang Chen as the leads, albeit appearing as different characters in different stories. Oddly enough, Wikipedia tells me that each of the short films were supposed to be made by a different director but the producers couldn’t afford it so Hou ended up directing all three.

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Endless Legend


Since I chose to skip over Civilization V and its derivatives, the last proper 4x game I played was probably Colonization back in 2009 (I’m not counting the Paradox games here since I don’t really think of them as 4x games). Wow, that was a long time ago. To tell the truth, I was never really very good at them and as I grow older I feel lazier and lazier about learning the unique mechanics of each of these massive strategy games. I’ve tried to keep up with things however so I was vaguely aware of Amplitude Studios’ Endless series. This one, the fantasy-themed Endless Legend, was named Game of the Year for 2014 by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, which was what convinced me to buy it.

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Bernie (2011)


No, this has nothing to do with Bernie Sanders. It was a film that I added to our list after a regular on Broken Forum commented about what a unique film it is and that it’ll make converts out of anybody who doubts that Jack Black can act. Plus it was directed by Richard Linklater who as my wife noted can be amazingly creative about finding original ways to tell stories. Boyhood and the Before series are the usual examples, but this is also the director who made really bizarre things like Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.

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The Salt of the Earth (2014)


I’ve written about films by director Wim Wenders before in this blog but this one is a documentary. Looking through his filmography, it’s apparent that he has always been making documentaries in parallel with his feature films throughout his career and that they are all, without exception, about fellow creative types: directors, musicians, even a fashion designer. This one is about Sebastião Salgado, a Brazilian photographer of some renown. Salgado’s own son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, is named as a co-director for this documentary.

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About Elly (2009)


This one was added to my list after Tyler Cowen commented it to be even better than A Separation, which is easily one of my favorite films from the past few years. Made by the same director Asghar Farhadi, it actually predates A Separation by a couple of years but was not widely known about. It was the only the massive success of the later film that prompted distributors to release About Elly in the U.S. just last year.

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The Modern World: Global History from 1760 to 1910

This is the first online course I’ve taken on history and it’s a huge one, covering the entire world for the period stated over the course of seven weeks. Roughly speaking, its focus is on the transition between the ancient world and the modern one. Offered by the University of Virginia, it is taught by Philip Zelikow, a fairly prominent diplomat and foreign policy expert in the U.S. government, notably serving as the executive director of the 9/11 Commissioner. He’s probably more of a public policy expert than an academic scholar of history but it still means that he a major heavyweight.

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The unexamined life is a life not worth living