----- 3 stars -----

How to Get Away With Murder in Small-Town India / New York Times
A simple story with surprising depth: "After a while, the constable indicated that he had no more time to discuss the case. As he left, he turned back to me. 'This is the trick that foreign countries like yours are playing,' he said. 'You will write something. People will read what you write, and say, "This country will progress only after 100 years." ' [...] For the next 45 minutes, I asked him the same question in many different ways. As she translated, Suhasini tried to make my questions seem less angry, but this was not easy, since I was sitting three feet away from him, leaning forward and staring into his eyes. If you had asked me at that moment, I would have had difficulty explaining why the truth mattered, since no one I had spoken to seemed interested in reopening the case. But I kept asking him and he kept lying until we were both exhausted. [...] So I found myself back in Jahiruddin’s yard, now armed with a file folder full of evidence that he had broken the law. This was a change in the dynamic of our relationship. I put my phone on the table right in front of him, so he could see that I was recording. At one point, listening to us talk, his son tried to warn him that he was incriminating himself, but Jahiruddin didn’t care at all. He told us he was proud of burying the case. This was not because he believed that Geeta deserved to die or that her husband deserved to escape punishment. It was something more practical."

This Is How Sexism Works in Silicon Valley / New York
By Ellen Pao, whose name may be familiar to you because of her lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins: "In retrospect, there were some early warning signs, like when John [Doerr] declared that he’d specifically requested an Asian woman for my position. He liked the idea of a 'Tiger Mom–raised' woman. He usually had two chiefs of staff at a time, one of each gender, but the male one seemed to focus mostly on investing and the female one did more of the grunt work and traveled with him. 'There are certain things I am just more comfortable asking a woman to do,' John once told me matter-of-factly. Still, my new job felt thrilling. At Kleiner, we focused on the really big ideas: the companies that were trying to transform an industry or revolutionize daily life. And John was king of king­makers. He had some early hits: Genentech, Intuit, Amazon. He was one of the first to invest in the internet, with Netscape, and cemented his online reputation later with Google."

A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof / GQ
Lots of buzz around this piece this week: " 'What are you?' a member of the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston asked at the trial of the white man who killed eight of her fellow black parishioners and their pastor. 'What kind of subhuman miscreant could commit such evil?... What happened to you, Dylann?' Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah spent months in South Carolina searching for an answer to those questions—speaking with Roof’s mother, father, friends, former teachers, and victims’ family members, all in an effort to unlock what went into creating one of the coldest killers of our time."

The Cop Who Became a Robber / Los Angeles Magazine
"This wasn’t the first time Adair had robbed a bank. It wasn’t even the first time he’d robbed this branch. Between March and July of 2015, the septuagenarian pulled off five bank heists, all in broad daylight and with little more than a hat for a disguise. Adair knew to hit branches without bulletproof 'bandit barriers' to protect their employees and avoided the dye packs that tellers sometimes slip into the money they give to robbers. He left few clues. FBI investigators nicknamed Adair the Snowbird Bandit, after the old folk who migrate to warmer climes for the winter. For a time he seemed unstoppable. When Adair was finally arrested near his home on July 22, 2015, the day after his last robbery, the question was not how a 70-year-old retiree could rob a bank but why a decorated detective would."

A theory of jerks / Aeon
A philosopher's take on what it means to be a jerk; starts slow, gets better: "Are you surrounded by fools? Are you the only reasonable person around? Then maybe you’re the one with the jerkitude [...] The moralistic jerk is an animal worth special remark. Charles Dickens was a master painter of the type: his teachers, his preachers, his petty bureaucrats and self-satisfied businessmen, Scrooge condemning the poor as lazy, Mr Bumble shocked that Oliver Twist dares to ask for more, each dismissive of the opinions and desires of their social inferiors, each inflated with a proud self-image and ignorant of how they are rightly seen by those around them, and each rationalising this picture with a web of moralising ‘should’s."

----- 2 stars -----

Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world / The Guardian
"Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics – or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality. [...] Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). [...] Still peering through the lens, you see how, no less than the welfare state, the free market is a human invention."

Most archaeologists think the first Americans arrived by boat. Now, they’re beginning to prove it / Science
"The Cedros Island sites add to a small but growing list that supports a once-heretical view of the peopling of the Americas. Whereas archaeologists once thought that the earliest arrivals wandered into the continent through a gap in the ice age glaciers covering Canada, most researchers today think the first inhabitants came by sea. In this view, maritime explorers voyaged by boat out of Beringia—the ancient land now partially submerged under the waters of the Bering Strait—about 16,000 years ago and quickly moved down the Pacific coast, reaching Chile by at least 14,500 years ago."

Compression Decompressed / Jack Preston
"Compression is everywhere. It's used to more efficiently store data on hard drives, send TV signals, transmit web pages like this one, stream Netflix videos, package up video games for distribution, the list is endless. Almost no significant area of modern computing exists that doesn't make use of compression technologies. So what is it? Whether you've been using desktop compression software for years, or never thought about it at all, this article will try to explain a little of what goes on under the hood when you squash a file or stream a video. We'll look into the answers to the big questions, and probably raise more new ones along the way."

Grenfell Was No Ordinary Accident / CityLab
This rings true to me; I sensed far more outrage and discussion about Grenfell here in London than I did about the terrorist attacks (even though concerned friends in the US only asked about the attacks): "But Grenfell is more than a story of negligence—a tragic coalescence of a dozen discrete moments of hubris and greed. It is also an awful fable of our time. Pundits often describe it as a 'Hurricane Katrina moment,' a catastrophe that exposes a rich country’s contempt for its poor. 'The charred remains of Grenfell Tower have become a shocking symbol of inequality at the heart of the capital itself,' the New York Times declared in a story on London's atomization earlier this week. 'They have changed the national narrative.' Grenfell has become a grisly metaphor for all that is squalid about the British capital, unfettered free-market capitalism, and society at large. For those looking on from abroad, it may not be immediately apparent why the fire became so instantly charged with political import. London, to the outsider, has long appeared a paragon of functioning multiculturalism. However, in order to understand how this impression was shattered by that night in June, it is necessary to understand what Grenfell was, and how it came to be."

How Two Brothers Turned Seven Lines of Code Into a $9.2 Billion Startup / Bloomberg
"The Collison brothers were born in Limerick and moved around as kids before settling in Dromineer, an idyllic village in central Ireland. Their parents had scientific backgrounds—father Denis in electrical engineering, mother Lily in microbiology—then became entrepreneurs. Denis ran a 24-bedroom hotel on the shore of Lough Derg, while Lily operated a corporate training company from the family’s home. 'Entrepreneur is a long, fancy French word, but it didn’t seem like something you aspire to,' Patrick says. 'It seemed normal, because whatever your parents do seems normal.' The boys went to a school with fewer than 20 kids per grade. When bored in class, Patrick read books. 'I would line up the angles so I was hidden from the teacher’s view,' he says, adding that he found out years later that an enlightened principal had instructed teachers to allow it. [...] The Collisons had spent two years testing their service and forming relationships with banks, credit card companies, and regulators so customers wouldn’t have to. With Stripe, all a startup had to do was add seven lines of code to its site to handle payments: What once took weeks was now a cut-and-paste job. Silicon Valley coders spread word of this elegant new architecture."

Nasa's ambitious plan to save Earth from a supervolcano / BBC
"Instead Nasa have conceived a very different plan. They believe the most viable solution could be to drill up to 10km down into the supervolcano, and pump down water at high pressure. The circulating water would return at a temperature of around 350C (662F), thus slowly day by day extracting heat from the volcano. And while such a project would come at an estimated cost of around $3.46bn (£2.69bn), it comes with an enticing catch which could convince politicians to make the investment."

Why Land on the Moon? / The Atlantic
From August 1963: "Six years before the first Apollo mission, two scientists from NASA argued for manned lunar exploration. [...] Congress has been asked to provide $5.7 billion for the programs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during the current fiscal year, roughly 6 cents of every federal tax dollar. This level of expenditure has produced demands for a re-evaluation of the space program. Critics ask whether the exploration of the solar system is a valid enterprise for the United States to undertake at this time; or, granting the ultimate importance of the step, whether it must be carried out at the present pace."

Trying to pry open the black box of heartbreak / TED Ideas
"Maybe you are thinking voles can’t fall in love, but biologically speaking (and, really, according to most definitions), love is the best word for their experience. Part of their scientific significance lies with contrasting their behavior to their close cousins, the meadow voles, who are fairly solitary and promiscuous. Focusing on the two species, scientists have been able to explore the biological distinctions that enable (or inhibit) mammalian attachment. [...] In a very real way, these small rodents appear to become 'addicted' to each other. Young and other researchers who study pair-bonding behavior think it’s the structure of their brains — and not just the chemicals flowing through it — that predisposes some mammals for long-term pair bonding."

Voyager: Inside the world's greatest space mission / BBC
"In 1977, two spacecraft started a mission that has redefined our knowledge of the Solar System – and will soon become our ambassadors on a journey into the unknown. BBC Future looks at their legacy, 40 years after launch."

The Magical Thinking Opposition / Scott Adams Blog
Seems like a good time to point out that I disagree with a large majority of what Scott Adams writes, but I find his perspective interesting from time to time: "My hypothesis is that the political side that is out of power is the one that hallucinates the most – and needs to – in order to keep their worldview intact. For example, when President Obama was in office, I saw all kinds of hallucinations on the right about his intentions to destroy America from the inside because he 'hates' it. That was a mass hysteria. [...] Now that Democrats are out of power, we should expect them to hallucinate like crazy (literally) because the election results of 2016 shattered their expectations. Do we see signs of their hallucinations? I’ll walk you through a few examples."

The Drive for Perfect Children Gets a Little Scary / Bloomberg
"Would a more extroverted human race be desirable, all things considered? I genuinely don’t know, but at the very least I am concerned. The current mix of human personalities and institutions is a delicate balance which, for all of its flaws, has allowed society to survive and progress. I’m not looking to make a big roll of the dice on this one. It’s also not difficult to imagine parents wanting children who are relatively well-behaved. The same research paper found that mothers, after extroversion, preferred the trait of 'agreeableness' in their children, again over both intelligence and conscientiousness. I was struck by a recent Chinese report that some parents are asking for children who are able to drink socially, for business purposes, and thus trying to avoid some genes that make it difficult to process alcohol. Caveat emptor."

‘Essentially Bohemian’ / London Review of Books
"In October 1963, Sir Herbert Stanley Marchant, the outgoing British ambassador to Cuba, sent the Foreign Office a six-page confidential profile of Fidel Castro, now held in the National Archives at Kew. [...] The ambassador couldn’t help but be impressed by Castro’s presence: ‘However much you hear about the Grand Canyon it still turns out to be much bigger than you expected. So it is with Castro – and I do not mean merely his physique. He is in fact a good six feet four inches and he must weigh sixteen stone.’ Whether in ‘small private groups or large public gatherings’, Castro ‘takes the centre of the stage with a natural assurance far beyond that of any other prima donna I have ever met’. He ‘has charm in plenty and is more than usually attractive to women in all spheres of life. I have seen wives and daughters of Western diplomats cluster around him like school girls round their gym mistress.’ [...] Castro’s heart is said to bleed easily, ‘especially of course for victims of Batista corruption and “Yankee Imperialism” ’, but even in his dealings with counter-revolutionaries, Marchant says, he prefers ‘the magnanimous gesture of granting pardon to giving the order to shoot’. Castro assured the ambassador that ‘the policy of his regime was strictly humanitarian and that it prided itself on the fact that not even its worse enemies had been tortured or otherwise treated with brutality in prison.’ Marchant reluctantly acknowledges that this was ‘probably basically true’. He also says that he has seen no signs to justify ‘counter-revolutionary stories of gluttony or drunkenness’. On the contrary, Castro’s lifestyle was ‘essentially bohemian’ with ‘no luxury, no veniality’."

The real driver of regional inequality in America / Vox
"This set of four charts in Ganong and Shoag’s paper tells the fundamental story — in the old days, there was a strong tendency for poor states’ per capita incomes to grow faster than those of rich ones and an equally strong tendency for people to move away from poor states to go live in rich ones. But in recent years, the income convergence trend has slowed and the migration pattern has reversed. [...] This chart shows that until 1990 or so, both skilled and unskilled workers could improve their standard of living, even considering housing costs, by moving to a high-income state. But the net gains for unskilled workers began to diminish sharply, and by 2010 a typical low-skill household was actually worse off in a high-income state due to the even higher housing costs."

China’s Plan for World Domination in AI Isn’t So Crazy After All / Bloomberg
"The nation is betting heavily on AI. Money is pouring in from China’s investors, big internet companies and its government, driven by a belief that the technology can remake entire sectors of the economy, as well as national security. A similar effort is underway in the U.S., but in this new global arms race, China has three advantages: A vast pool of engineers to write the software, a massive base of 751 million internet users to test it on, and most importantly staunch government support that includes handing over gobs of citizens’ data –- something that makes Western officials squirm."

The Jobs Most Segregated by Gender and Race / Bloomberg
"If you are one of those who believe that men are congenitally disposed to prefer working with things and women to prefer working with people, these numbers offer some support for your position. They also seem to offer support for the argument, though, that lots of women have been steered into lower-status jobs with 'assistant,' 'clerk' or such in the title. And I guess they offer support for the notion that men are physically better suited to outdoor jobs that involve lots of heavy lifting."

Are electrons conscious? / Oxford University Press
"Experience can’t possibly emerge from the utterly non-experiential, according to Strawson, so it must be there all along. One difficulty for this argument is that even if we do attribute basic consciousness to the smallest bits of the brain, it’s still not clear how to intelligibly account for the consciousness of the brain as a whole. How do the interactions of trillions of tiny minds produce a big mind? This is the so-called 'combination problem' for panpsychism, and until it is solved it’s not obvious that the panpsychist Russellian monist has an advantage over the non-panpsychist Russellian monist when it comes to explaining the emergence of human and animal consciousness."

----- 1 star -----

Mathematical secrets of ancient tablet unlocked after nearly a century of study / The Guardian
If you manage to ignore the odd insinuation that base-60 mathematics is somehow unknown and "a rare example of the ancient world teaching us something new," this is pretty cool: "At least 1,000 years before the Greek mathematician Pythagoras looked at a right angled triangle and worked out that the square of the longest side is always equal to the sum of the squares of the other two, an unknown Babylonian genius took a clay tablet and a reed pen and marked out not just the same theorem, but a series of trigonometry tables which scientists claim are more accurate than any available today. The 3,700-year-old broken clay tablet survives in the collections of Columbia University, and scientists now believe they have cracked its secrets."

Keeping it in the family: why we pick the partners we do / Aeon
"To an extent, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. But even these differences between people’s preferences are somewhat predictable: a person’s family influences the partner he or she chooses. Several studies have found that, on average, there’s some physical similarity between one’s parent and one’s partner. That is, your girlfriend might well look a little bit like your mother. This physical similarity is apparent whether you ask strangers to compare facial photos of partners and parents, or whether you assess things such as parent and partner height, hair or eye colour, ethnicity, or even body hair."

The best photos and videos of the 2017 solar eclipse / Kottke

Who should be shamed, and who not? / Marginal Revolution
"We seem to mind less when the bad ideas come from another time and space altogether. For instance, hardly anyone seems to mind if a Mexican migrant has incorrect and deeply offensive views on the Oapan-Sam Miguel land disputes. Those beliefs, even if they sanction violence against innocents for the purposes of land grabs, don’t impinge much on current American status competitions. [...] Maybe this utilitarian view is correct, namely that the shaming of an individual should depend on social context and political impact, and not just on the prior behavior of that individual. [...] Do I have the option of just feeling sorry for the neo-Nazis, and at the same time dreading their possible social impact, in the way one might dread and hate a tornado? But not shaming or scolding them? Or should I feel bad about benefiting from the shaming activities of others, and being a kind of free-riding Kantian moral purist? [...] Overall I am not impressed by how most of you are writing and thinking about these issues. I wish to shame you a bit. Everyone wishes to shame someone. For me it’s you — sorry!"

Unpopular ideas about social norms / Julia Galef
"Even though I disagree with many of these ideas, I nevertheless think it’s valuable to practice engaging with ideas that seem weird or bad [...] There’s nothing wrong with relationships with large age gaps. The maturity of the older partner helps the younger one grow and increases the chance that the relationship ends well. [...] Bathrooms and/or locker rooms should be unisex. There’s no principled reason to preserve the same-sex custom — it can’t be because of sexual attraction, because we don’t exclude gay people from same-sex bathrooms or locker rooms. [...] We should de-stigmatize suicide, because some people would in fact be better off ending their lives."

Which are the most and least walkable countries? / Marginal Revolution
"In a recent study by researchers at Stanford University, Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous nation, came in last among 46 countries and territories for the number of walking steps its citizens take, averaging only 3,513 a day."

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