A Two-Miles-per-Hour World: “The following series of maps depicts the speed at which news traveled to Venice, fron 1500 to 1765. The isochronic lines represent one week, and give a broad indication of the time required for letters to reach their destination.”
The Myth of the Ever-More-Fragile College Student: “Over the last two weeks, the news has been dominated by coverage of two very different instances of campus turmoil at Yale and the University of Missouri. In both cases, students are protesting over what they see as administrations that turn a blind eye to the problems faced by marginalized students on their campuses. …For many observers, these incidents only proved what they already knew: College students are getting increasingly fragile and prone to meltdowns. Too emotional and skewed in their thinking, they latch on to petty issues and scream and cry until they get their way. …The true story of college students and mental health has to do with a hollowing out of the United States’ mental-health services, with overtaxed counseling centers, with a fundamental shift in the role that colleges serve, with changes in the composition of the nation’s student body.”
Trump breaks the rules of political lying: “1. Lies about policy are fine; lies about trivial, personal, or easily verifiable claims are not. …2. Lies are fine as long as an “other side” is provided. …3. Nine lies are fine as long as the 10th is retracted. …[Trump] recognizes that capitulating to the mainstream media is far worse for any conservative than clinging to a lie. …They have no power over him at all, and now everyone knows it.”
Cargo cult linguistics: “The transmission of influence [from linguistics to French literary theory] seems to have been something like this: the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was influenced by the linguist Roman Jakobson during WW II in New York, and after the war, Levi-Strauss in turn brought some of the ideas and terminology of semiotics and structuralism back to Paris. This contributed to the intellectual compost in which thinkers like Barthes, Foucault and Derrida germinated. …I think it’s fair to call this “cargo cult linguistics”. Just as some post-war islanders in the South Pacific engaged in ritual imitations of the airstrip activities of foreign armies, in the belief these actions would bring them cargo, so some post-war philosophers in Paris engaged in ritual imitations of the analytic practices of linguists, in the belief that these actions would bring them insight. The islanders carved wooden radio sets and sat mumbling in imitation control towers; the philosophers invented semiotic terminology and sat disputing in Parisian cafes.” That sound you hear is the dropping of the mic.
Labov’s Test: “…how could one prove … that a given statement is hopelessly unclear, and hence bullshit? One proposed test is to add a “not” to the statement and see if that makes any difference to its plausibility. If it doesn’t, that statement is bullshit.”
Everything you need to know about Labour’s rolling crisis: “What is going on? I see it as evidence of two deep cleavages in British and Western politics. The first is the gulf between instrumental and expressive politics. The former involves winning elections in order to wield power and change things. The latter involves seeking fulfilment and personal satisfaction by interacting with symbols, attending events, declaring positions—in short, signalling things about oneself. With the decline of mass classes and monolithic ideologies it has become increasingly hard to combine the two sorts of politics.” This is the divide between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, and part of the reason Bernie Sanders’ campaign irks me so. Sanders supporters are complacent about Democratic control of the presidency (when Republicans dominate nearly every branch of government) and significantly underweight how much GOP control would make them unhappy. It’s also why so many Kentucky voters who got health care access with the Medicaid expansion voted for Matt Bevin (who promised to eliminate it) because they identified with his Christian values.
Yes, Mass Shootings Are Occurring More Often: “Their analysis of the data shows that from 1982 to 2011, mass shootings occurred every 200 days on average. Since late 2011, they found, mass shootings have occurred at triple that rate—every 64 days on average.”
It’s a Trap: Emperor Palpatine’s Poison Pill: “Abstract: In this paper we study the financial repercussions of the destruction of two fully armed and operational moon-sized battle stations (“Death Stars”) in a 4-year period and the dissolution of the galactic government in Star Wars. The emphasis of this work is to calibrate and simulate a model of the banking and financial systems within the galaxy. Along these lines, we measure the level of systemic risk that may have been generated by the death of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the second Death Star. We conclude by finding the economic resources the Rebel Alliance would need to have in reserve in order to prevent a financial crisis from gripping the galaxy through an optimally allocated banking bailout.” A universe that fails to see technological progress for 25 millenia is probably actually a dystopia.
The Anti-Utopian Instinct and the Conservative Revolt: This is the only explanation for the enduring appeal in the GOP campaign of well-known blowhard Donald Trump. “Besides gaining much of their electoral support with vapid rhetoric, [Donald Trump and Ben Carson] are both winners in realms more meritocratic than politics––unlike, say, Jeb Bush––and share at least one substantive quality: Both seem like world-weary pragmatists averse to utopianism, at least in comparison to their rivals. …And an anti-utopian impulse is a not-unreasonable reaction to a bipartisan establishment that gave the United States a series of failed wars of choice, a financial bubble, a Wall Street class that leeches off assets better than it allocates them, a college bubble, and federal costs that have far exceeded revenues for decades. America’s fed-up populists are very light on coherent solutions, in part because common sense unmoored from empiricism can lead one astray. But they’re not wrong that there’s a problem, and some of it is utopian thinking in the ruling class that runs through significant parts of the conservative and progressive movements.”
How to Get Good at Chess, Fast: “To improve quickly you need to play often. …Analysis is by far the most undervalued part of chess training. …Magnus Carlsen is my favorite chess player. In equal positions where many grandmasters would agree to a draw, Carlsen patiently pushes and probes, waiting until his opponent cracks and then grinding out a win. Magnus Carlsen is the world’s best player because he doesn’t give up. …Chess psychology can be distilled to two simple rules: 1. Don’t ever be afraid of your opponent. 2. Fight as hard as you can until the game is over.”
Dumb Cuneiform: Transliterates tweets into Old Persian glyphs and fires them.
Human Echolocation Allows People to See Without Using Their Eyes (2013) (smithsonianmag.com): panglott: “Saw Daniel Kish give a lecture a few months ago, and this amazing ability is a lot more accessible than it sounds. Kish uses both passive and active sonar (based on dental clicks), but the passive sonar is a lot easier to wrap your head around. Even for people with sight, the difference between a large, echo-y room and a small room is immediately apparent. The differences between a voice spoken in front of a hard table and a soft pillow are also very distinct. And if you make an even tone in front of a wall and in front of a corner, the differences are quite apparent as well. Apparently corners are so acoustically distinct that you can hear them from quite a distance away. It’s not a foolproof method; he uses a cane because it’s difficult to hear objects below knee level. But he thinks many more people can learn to “hear the walls” (if we don’t ridicule people for it).”
How to rescue people from deep poverty—and why the best methods work: “In the 1990s it became clear that microfinance, then the most exciting tool in development economics, was not reaching the very poorest people… BRAC came up with a scheme to help the ultra-poor. It gives them a small stipend for food, followed by an asset such as a cow or a few goats, which they are expected to manage. Field workers visit weekly for the next two years, teaching recipients, for example, how to tell when a cow is in heat and how to get it inseminated. The aim is to help women ‘graduate’ from extreme poverty to the normal kind—as Sir Fazle puts it, ‘to help them back into the mainstream of poor people’. …A study published earlier this year in Science showed that similar programmes run by other NGOs boosted consumption in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Pakistan and Peru, with the effects lasting at least a year after they ended. …Such programmes are pricey. In India and Bangladesh they cost more than $1,000 per household at purchasing power parity. Other research explains why. …The poorest women, it turned out, did far more hours of income-generating work…Yet they packed them into fewer days… The reason is that they toil mostly as domestic servants and in the fields—and casual agricultural work is seasonal. During planting and harvest they work extremely hard; the rest of the year they do little. Better-off women usually rear livestock, which is not only steady work but pays about twice as much per hour. When the poorest women are given cows, they quickly fill their idle time…”
The Brightest Spot on Ceres: “Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt with a diameter of about 950 kilometers. Exploring Ceres from orbit since March, the Dawn spacecraft’s camera has revealed about 130 or so mysterious bright spots, mostly associated with impact craters scattered around the small world’s otherwise dark surface. The brightest one is near the center of the 90 kilometer wide Occator Crater, seen in this dramatic false color view combining near-infrared and visible light image data. A study now finds the bright spot’s reflected light properties are probably most consistent with a type of magnesium sulfate called hexahydrite. Of course, magnesium sulfate is also known to Earth dwellers as epsom salt. Haze reported inside Occator also suggests the salty material could be left over as a mix of salt and water-ice sublimates on the surface. Since impacts would have exposed the material, Ceres’ numerous and widely scattered bright spots may indicate the presence of a subsurface shell of ice-salt mix”
Wild animals endure illness, injury, and starvation. We should help.: This is the natural outcome when you start anthropomorphizing animals, and over-liberally bringing animals into the sphere of human ethics. There is nothing unethical about predator-prey relationships, for these are outside human ethics. Shrews paralyze their victims with venom because they have evolved this predation strategy, and intervening in the food web (such as by feeding the wolves and then giving the deer contraceptives) will disrupt it in unpredictable and destructive ways. In short, this is stupid.
What’s the secret of good writing?: “Boice, I learned, was a US psychologist who’d cracked the secret of how to write painlessly and productively. Years ago, he’d recorded this wisdom in a book, now out of print, …How Writers Journey To Comfort And Fluency. …The kernel of Boice’s advice, based on writing workshops conducted with struggling academics, isn’t merely old. It’s the oldest in the world: write, every weekday, in brief scheduled sessions, as short as 10 minutes at first, then getting longer. …Boice’s book—from its title to his step-by-step advice, which you’re meant to implement gradually, over months—is itself an exercise in cultivating patience. It’s slow going because slow is the only way forward. This gets clearer when it comes to one of Boice’s favourite tips: when your daily writing time is up, stop dead, even if you’ve got momentum and could write more.”
Software has diseconomies of scale – not economies of scale: “Software development works best in small batch sizes. … there are a few places where software development does exhibit economies of scale but on most occasions diseconomies of scale are the norm. …As the complexity increases (more changes, more code) our cognitive load increases, we slow down, we make mistakes, we take longer. …However be careful: once the software is developed then economies of scale are rampant. The world switches. Software which has been build probably exhibits more economies of scale than any other product known to man. (In economic terms the marginal cost of producing the first instance are extremely high but the marginal costs of producing an identical copy (production) is so close to zero as to be zero, Ctrl-C Ctrl-V.)”
Goodbye, Miami: “When the water receded after Hurricane Milo of 2030…it was clear to those not fooling themselves that this storm was the beginning of the end. With sea levels more than a foot higher than they’d been at the dawn of the century, South Florida was wet, vulnerable and bankrupt. Attempts had been made to armor the coastline, to build sea walls and elevate buildings, but it was a futile undertaking. The coastline from Miami Beach up to Jupiter had been a little more than a series of rugged limestone crags since the mid-2020s, when the state, unable to lay out $100 million every few years to pump in fresh sand, had given up trying to save South Florida’s world-famous beaches.”
So You Want to Become An Astronaut?: You need a BA in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, and either a PhD. or 3 years of professional responsibility.
In Photos: Prehistoric Temple Uncovered in Ukraine: “A temple dating back about 6,000 years has been discovered within a massive prehistoric settlement in Ukraine. Inside the temple, archaeologists found humanlike figurines, sacrificed animal remains and potter fragments. Here’s a look at the prehistoric finding.” A Trypillian culture site.
A Vaccine for Depression?: Ketamine’s remarkable effect bolsters a new theory of mental illness.: “Depression is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 30 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. But despite half a century of research, ubiquitous advertising, and blockbuster sales, antidepressant drugs just don’t work very well. They treat depression as if it were caused by a chemical imbalance: Pump in more of one key ingredient, or sop up another, and you will have fixed the problem. But the correspondence between these chemicals (like serotonin) and depression is relatively weak. An emerging competitive theory, inspired in part by ketamine’s effectiveness, has it that psychiatric disease is less about chemical imbalance than structural changes in the brain—and that a main cause of these changes is psychological stress.”
Hierarchy is Detrimental for Human Cooperation: Studies of animal behavior consistently demonstrate that the social environment impacts cooperation, yet the effect of social dynamics has been largely excluded from studies of human cooperation. Here, we introduce a novel approach inspired by nonhuman primate research to address how social hierarchies impact human cooperation. Participants competed to earn hierarchy positions and then could cooperate with another individual in the hierarchy by investing in a common effort. Cooperation was achieved if the combined investments exceeded a threshold, and the higher ranked individual distributed the spoils unless control was contested by the partner. Compared to a condition lacking hierarchy, cooperation declined in the presence of a hierarchy due to a decrease in investment by lower ranked individuals. Furthermore, hierarchy was detrimental to cooperation regardless of whether it was earned or arbitrary. These findings mirror results from nonhuman primates and demonstrate that hierarchies are detrimental to cooperation. However, these results deviate from nonhuman primate findings by demonstrating that human behavior is responsive to changing hierarchical structures and suggests partnership dynamics that may improve cooperation. This work introduces a controlled way to investigate the social influences on human behavior, and demonstrates the evolutionary continuity of human behavior with other primate species.
When the KKK Was a Pyramid Scheme: ‘“Rather than a terrorist organization,” they wrote, “the 1920s Klan is best described as a social organization with a wildly successful multi-level marketing structure.” According to Fryer and Levitt, in its heyday, the KKK was a giant, perverse pyramid scheme. Instead of perpetrating a racist agenda, the KKK’s leaders exploited pre-existing, popular racism to make money.’ Though there’s no need to equivocate about the KKK: the hate group was terroristic.
“If they don’t like someone, they just behead him”: why ISIS fighters quit: ‘What I don’t like [is] if someone did something wrong [then] they tried to waterboard him,” a defector who calls himself Abu Shujaa said. “What I don’t like is that if they don’t like someone they just behead him. Or if a woman is not wearing hijab they bring someone to flog her, or if someone doesn’t believe they cut his ear.”‘
The coat hanger abortion is back, and that’s scary for all women: ‘A Tennessee woman was charged with attempted first-degree murder last week for allegedly trying to use a coat hanger to end her pregnancy. …”I never thought I would hear of a coat hanger abortion in my medical life,” writes OB-GYN Jen Gunter. …Tennessee has a “fetal homicide” law. It basically defines an embryo or fetus as a person in order to beef up penalties for crimes against a pregnant woman. But a pregnant woman can’t be prosecuted under these laws for actions against her own fetus, because abortion is legal. …But pro-choice advocates warn that when laws like Tennessee’s define a fetus as a person, prosecutors can and will use the law against pregnant women. This can even happen if the law has an explicit exception for pregnant women. That’s already happened to many women in Texas who have taken drugs while pregnant…’
No brainer.: It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article in Science: Roger Lewin, the author, reports that the patient in question had “virtually no brain”. But that’s not what scared me; hydrocephalus is nothing new, and it takes more to creep out this ex-biologist than a picture of Ventricles Gone Wild. What scared me was the fact that this virtually brain-free patient had an IQ of 126.
I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.: ‘“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. …Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.’