Seven of the week's best reads
Seven articles published elsewhere on the web this week, as selected by Bob Trevelyan, editor of The Browser.
1. Extreme weather
Torrential rain, blistering heatwaves, violent tornadoes. From Brazil to Thailand and all points in between, our world is being shaken by the most severe weather in modern history. What's going on? Are these extreme events signals of a dangerous human-made shift in Earth's climate? Or are we just going through a natural stretch of bad luck? The short answer is probably both. Says climate scientist Jay Gulledge: "When your doctor advises you about how to avoid a heart attack, he doesn't say, 'well, you need to exercise, but it's OK to keep smoking'."
2. The veil of opulence
The veil of opulence offers a test for fairness from the first-person point of view: 'What system would I want if I were so-and-so?'”
More than 40 years ago, the philosopher John Rawls asked his readers to assume, for the sake of argument, that they were ignorant. The point was to investigate fairness and, more specifically, to see what sort of society people would design if they had no knowledge of their own status within it. He called this presumption "the veil of ignorance".
Nowadays, the veil of ignorance is being challenged by what Benjamin Hale calls the veil of opulence. It's an alternative test for fairness, and Hale explains how it's become an important argument in US politics and law.
3. Once Gaddafi left, one Spanish town got a little Smurfier
Or, how a Spanish village saved itself by turning into Smurftown. This is a bizarre story from Spain's economic crisis. First, the Libyans with big wallets and big plans came and went. And then Sony Pictures alighted on the struggling Andalucian village of Juzcar, population 221. The company wanted to paint the village blue as a publicity stunt for its Smurfs film. When it did so, the tourists began descending. So what should Juzcar do when Sony left? Return to whitewashed walls, or stay Smurf blue?
4. Keystone XL
Big report from Fort McMurray, Alberta, the "little Canadian town that might just destroy the world". Huge reserves of tar-sand oil are waiting to be piped to refineries in Texas. But should the United States be feeding or fighting its addiction to foreign oil? The project has become an explosive issue in the US as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stake out their positions for the presidential election. John Richardson argues that Keystone XL - the new pipeline in question - has also become central to a global debate about resources, economic growth and the environment.
5. The inescapable power of architecture
Last Sunday, the Observer published a compelling excerpt from a new book by its architecture critic about the ways buildings shape our lives. Here's a taste of what he had to say: "It is easy to see the absurdity of a belief in the healing power of masonry - it is a superstition, animism - but people fall for it again and again and they are not entirely wrong to do so. For, if it is a mistake to think that a house can mend a family, the opposite is also false. That is, the built background to our lives is not irrelevant, either."
6. Does Copyright Matter?
"Do I, as an author, have the right to prevent people copying my books for free? Should I have it? Does it matter?" asks Parks. Copyright has always been contested and hard to police, suggesting that there has never been much consensus on the issue. For example, what makes intellectual property different from physical property? And how long should copyright last after an author's death? Parks says there's more instinct than logic at work here. He suggests the answer lies not in notions of justice or theories of ownership but in how we see the social function of copyright.
7. Chicken of the trees
Food writer and urban gardener Mike Sula has trouble on his roof. His tomato plants are repeatedly attacked by squirrels. After another explosion of impotent rage, he decides it is time to take his revenge or, as he puts it, close the circle of life. And a surprisingly tasty revenge it is too. Country squirrels, fattened on nuts, make fine stew. And their urban cousins, fattened on dumpster-diving? Turns out, they taste pretty good too. Even the brains: "Slightly creamy, almost like a soft, roasted chestnut."