This week on the web

By Josh Cowls

Welcome to this week’s collection of internet must-reads.

1. After a week of ruminations and negotiations over the US’s debt ceiling, James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, explains why the procedure is anachronistic and unnecessary:

The only reason we need to lift the debt ceiling, after all, is to pay for spending that Congress has already authorized. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, we’ll face an absurd scenario in which Congress will have ordered the President to execute two laws that are flatly at odds with each other.

2. Reflecting on the shocking shooting spree in Norway, Timothy Garton Ash argues against a lapse into internet censorship:

Direct incitement to violence should everywhere and always be met with the full rigour of the law. The ideological texts that fed Breivik’s madness did not, so far as I can see, cross that line.

3. After news of the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, Russell Brand penned a heartfelt tribute reflecting on his own personal experience:

Winehouse and I shared an affliction, the disease of addiction. All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them.

4. Writing in the Guardian, the author of the acclaimed The End of Poverty Jeffrey Sachs makes a plea for timely support to the famine-ravaged Horn of Africa:

Unless we confront the challenges of the Horn of Africa at their root causes – the poverty and vulnerability of pastoralist and agro-pastoralist populations – we will face burgeoning violence in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and beyond.

5. In the FT, Luke Johnson warns against budding business entrepreneurs risking everything to imitate the success of Mark Zuckerberg:

I am concerned that Zuckerberg sets an example of meteoric success that virtually no one else will ever be able to repeat. But wannabes are trying to copy him, and consequently squandering their careers on false hopes.

6. Following in the footsteps of Las Vegas and Dubai, the Mongolian capital of Ulaan Bator is rising like a mirage in Asia’s sparse, vast centre:

Today, owing to deposits of 80 different minerals, including immense reserves of coal, copper, gold and uranium, as well as ongoing exploration of oil, this sparsely populated country, twice the size of Texas, is undergoing a dizzying transition.

7. From Slate, a fascinating insight into how online dating site match.com has developed its matchmaking technology:

With the number of paying subscribers using Match approaching 1.8 million, the ­company has had to develop ever more ­sophisticated programs to manage, sort and pair the world’s singles. Central to this effort has been the development, over the past two years, of an improved matchmaking algorithm.

8. Author of Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely chooses the five top books on behavioural economics:

I think of myself as a social hacker. Life has been designed around us in a way that is not necessarily the best way to maximise our health, our well-being or our prosperity. If we understand where things are going wrong, we can also figure out how we can fix them.

9. David Anderson cautions against an overly cosy and positive view of Britain’s former empire:

However benevolent empires aim to be, they are invariably built on political, economic and military domination. Empires are by their very nature exploitative … In all of this, Britain’s empire was no different than any other.

10. And finally, the New Scientist asks the minor, barely significant question – why is the universe just right for our existence?

Many of the essential parameters of nature – the strengths of fundamental forces and the masses of fundamental particles – seem fixed at values that are “just right” for life to emerge. A whisker either way and we would not be here.

Photos of the week: from the Mail, new full colour images of London during the Second World War make the Blitz feel eerily close to home.

Video of the week: contained in the seven series of hit US drama The West Wing is an answer to practically every question you ever had about American politics. This time: the debt ceiling explained in less than a minute.

Graphic of the week: from Information is Beautiful, the Hierarchy of Digital Distractions.

Podcast of the week: for This American Life, an eyeopening behind the scenes look at the use and abuse of the patent system in Silicon Valley.

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