Victor Mari was walking in Hamburg when he saw a long word on a building:

“Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät”.

My feet were glued to the ground. I just looked up at that big, long word and pondered. “Hmmmm,” I thought to myself. “How would we say that in English?”

“‘Law Faculty’ or ‘Faculty of Law.'”

That made me even more unwilling to move on.

For the next few minutes I just stood there processing in my mind the difference between “Law Faculty” and “Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät”. Of course, one could also say “Juristische Fakultät” or “Recht Fakultät” in German, but here at the University of Hamburg, they chose to say “Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät”. I kept thinking to myself, “What are the epistemological implications of saying it that way? How are they conceiving [of] law when they use such a big, complicated word? And how are we understanding jurisprudence when we use such a tiny word as ‘law’?”

Ben Raue has started The Tally Room podcast to complement his excellent website. Based on the first episode, it seems like it will fill a niche for calm and non-partisan discussion of electoral politics.

Paperbark is a pleasant iOS game about a wombat, and it captures the Australian bush perfectly.

How the Enlightenment ends:

If AI learns exponentially faster than humans, we must expect it to accelerate, also exponentially, the trial-and-error process by which human decisions are generally made: to make mistakes faster and of greater magnitude than humans do. It may be impossible to temper those mistakes, as researchers in AI often suggest, by including in a program caveats requiring “ethical” or “reasonable” outcomes. Entire academic disciplines have arisen out of humanity’s inability to agree upon how to define these terms. Should AI therefore become their arbiter?

Hanzi is an interesting documentary about Chinese typeface design. Beautiful. (Watch it free on Kanopy.)

I’m reading Richard Denniss’s Quarterly Essay on what comes after the failure of neoliberalism, and I thought this was worth sharing:

Change is not just possible, it can be invigorating. Australians aren’t suffering “reform fatigue,” they are suffering “boring reform fatigue.” If they are given interesting political questions to debate, there is no reason to believe they won’t be interested in politics again.

oBike is retreating from Melbourne. I have mixed feelings about this: on the one hand, they were typical of the startup culture that thinks an app gives them licence to ignore regulations and social norms; on the other hand, the way the bikes were trashed does not reflect well on Melbourne.

A map of the places Anthony Bourdain visited on his TV shows.

I can’t get my thoughts in order to write something worthy of the man, so I will leave it to the (newly-unionised) New Yorker to sum up what was best about him:

As “Parts Unknown” has evolved, it has become less preoccupied with food and more concerned with the sociology and geopolitics of the places Bourdain visits. Lydia Tenaglia calls the show an “anthropological enterprise.” Increasingly, Chris Collins told me, the mandate is: “Don’t tell me what you ate. Tell me who you ate with.” Bourdain, in turn, has pushed for less footage of him eating and more “B roll” of daily life in the countries he visits. It has become a mantra for him, Collins said: “More ‘B,’ less me.”

Since visiting Beirut, Bourdain has gone on to Libya, Gaza, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, seeking to capture how people go about their daily lives amid violent conflict. To viewers who complain that the show has become too focussed on politics, Bourdain responds that food is politics: most cuisines reflect an amalgamation of influences and tell a story of migration and conquest, each flavor representing a sedimentary layer of history.

For Bourdain, food was the foot-in-the-door to learn (and teach) about people of all walks of life and in every corner of the world.

This year is the centenary of the NSW Women’s Legal Status Act 1918, and it was commemorated by Justice Virginia Bell in an excellent speech to the Forbes Society for Australian Legal History.

She gives a thorough review of the slow and stuttering move towards formal legal equality for women in the UK and Australia. Despite having a broad brushstrokes understanding of this history, it was nevertheless shocking to be reminded how recently the law enshrined opinions like these:

The provisions of legislation stating that in the Municipal Corporation Acts, “words importing the masculine gender shall include females for all purposes connected with the right to vote at the election of councillors” was held [in 1872] not to confer a right on married women to vote in municipal elections. The Court accepted Mr Farrer Herschell’s (later Lord Chancellor Herschell) economical submission that “[a] married woman is not a person in the eye of the law. She is not sui juris”.

I was pleased to see that her Honour has not, since her rise to the highest bench, abandoned her critical perspective. She notes that formal equality did not immediately create actual equality:

The social and economic pressures which largely kept women in the home were not about to give way in the face of a change to their status at law.

Don’t put excessive faith in the legal system. It is a tool, but only one tool, to organise society for the benefit of the people. Law reform is important only to the extent that it creates social and economic equality in people’s day-to-day lives.

Peter Wells has a new column about podcasts in the Fairfax papers. In the first instalment, he recommends a short, daily ABC current affairs podcast called The Signal. It’s good.