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Book Review: Hoover / Slate Star Codex
Yes, it's a book review, and yes, Scott makes a few typos when copying passages from the book. But I found this utterly fascinating:
You probably remember Herbert Hoover as the guy who bungled the Great Depression. Maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you should remember him as a bold explorer looking for silver in the jungles of Burma. Or as the heroic defender of Tientsin during the Boxer Rebellion. Or as a dashing pirate-philanthropist, gallivanting around the world, saving millions of lives wherever he went. Or as the temporary dictator of Europe. Or as a geologist, or a bank tycoon, or author of the premier 1900s textbook on metallurgy. How did a backwards orphan son of a blacksmith, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Midwest, grow up to be a captain of industry and a US President? How did he become such a towering figure in the history of philanthropy that biographer Kenneth Whyte claims “the number of lives Hoover saved through his various humanitarian campaigns might exceed 100 million, a record of benevolence unlike anything in human history”?
Here are the rules to Discovery’s long-running reality show, Naked and Afraid: Two people, a man and a woman, are naked. They’re deposited into wilderness with just a few tools, often a knife, a fire starter, and a pot. They face predators, parasites, sunburn, cold, hunger, and each other. Their goal is to survive for three weeks, but there’s no prize for completing the challenge, and anyone can tap out at any time. The finished episodes, with their blurred genitals and Edenic concept, are strangely wholesome, family-friendly. It’s a sufferfest for glory, a chance to face nature and win. In April 2018, my husband and I were invited to apply for the show. Apparently, years ago, I had nominated us for a now defunct couples’ survival program—which I don’t remember, though it’s something I would do—and the application made its way to a casting agent. We thought the wilderness challenge seemed like fun. What was the harm in trying out? We sent in some videos, traveled to Los Angeles for interviews, took extensive multiple-choice personality tests, and tried our best to seem charming and competent. After we flew home to Wisconsin, Discovery called to say we’d gotten the gig—but that we’d be separated and sent to different locations. We just had to wait for our placements. From then on, it was all we thought about for months. I thought I’d do pretty well at the challenge. At 30, I had worked in the outdoors professionally for more than a decade. I’d guided and thru-hiked and crossed the Arctic by dogsled, and I’d read a lot of survival stories. In books, it seemed like survivors either shaped the wilderness—made it like home—or went feral, becoming part of it themselves, and I had a pretty good idea how my experience would play out. I’d set up a cozy lean-to on a tropical beach, tip rocks for hermit crabs (four calories each), and weave rugs and baskets by firelight after dusk. I’d recognize my partner as my greatest survival asset, even if he wasn’t someone I’d pick. I even had my sound bites ready. “I don’t see this as a test of toughness,” I’d say, squinting at the setting sun. “I see it as a test of creativity.” Boom. Cut to commercial. That summer, as we got ready, it all felt like a game. Every morning for an hour, I practiced starting fires with a bow drill. I sprayed a stinky liquid called Tuf-Foot on the soles of my feet. I built deadfall traps from logs and made snares with yarn, catching my husband in doorways throughout the house. I quizzed him: Which birds can you eat? Which reptiles? When I walked in the woods, I saw each plant in a new light: the stalks that could structure a thatch roof, the fibrous stems that could twist into rope. I drank milkshakes to gain weight and studied how to tap rubber. I got vaccinations for typhoid fever and Japanese encephalitis. “I’m going to be on Naked and Afraid,” I told my doctor. “What is wrong with you?” he said. Then he called in his nurses to tell them the news.
Meghan and Harry Overplayed Their Hand / The Atlantic
Many of you know I think highly of Caitlin Flanagan's writing, and one reason for that is that she writes engrossing pieces about subjects I wouldn't have expected to care much about (e.g. the Twilight series, and in this case, Megxit...even though I probably should care more, now that I live in the UK). This piece is superb:
In 1940, in the second month of the Blitz, the announcer of a BBC Radio program called Children’s Hour told listeners that they were about to hear the most important episode in the show’s history: Princess Elizabeth was going to address the children of the empire. Fourteen years old, her voice clear and piping, Elizabeth told the evacuated children of England that she, too, was away from her family: “My sister, Margaret Rose, and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those we love most of all.” She reminded England’s children that they were engaged in something noble: “We are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war.” But more important, “we know—everyone of us—that in the end all will be well.” In the final, desperate months of the war came an announcement from Buckingham Palace: “The Princess wishes to throw herself heart and soul into the job,” said a spokesman, and for once you could hear someone’s voice in an official communiqué: Elizabeth, now 18 years old, was about to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she was given a new title, Second Subaltern Windsor, and where she learned to drive and repair ambulances and trucks. Elizabeth’s responsibility during the war years was the same as that of her parents and also of every Englishman, woman, and child: to be unbroken. your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory read one of the famous posters created by the Ministry of Information. Germany had tried to demoralize the English people, but their morale would not be broken. In the fetid Underground stations, they put children to bed in hammocks suspended between the tracks, they passed around cups of tea, and they sang music-hall songs and songs from the Great War: “What’s the point of worrying? It never was worthwhile.” In Buckingham Palace—which was shelled on 16 occasions—the King waited impatiently for the air warden to sound the all clear so that he could go out to the streets to inspect the damage and to console and inspire the people of London. [...] But very quickly, I became mesmerized by Diana. It was because of her beauty, her glass coach, and her endless wardrobe, of course—but it wasn’t only because of those things. It was because she stood so powerfully on the side of emotions, and because she inhabited the world of sentiment that is—or once was—the true home of a teenage girl. And it was because she refused to allow that world to be crushed. Not by her cruel and unloving husband, not by the rigidity of the royal family, not by becoming a woman, and not even by the tabloids, which she loathed and which ultimately killed her. [...] She said she didn’t care that she would never become the Queen of England, because she would be instead “a queen of people’s hearts.” The press mocked her for it. When she became a single woman, they said she was over, a has-been, desperate and irrelevant. But the press is always wrong about these things. A year and a half after she made that pronouncement, she was killed in a car crash in Paris, and all of England rose up to prove her right. [...] Meghan’s openness to the emotional life, so much like Diana’s, was surely attractive to Harry. It also meant that she was equally ill-suited to the relentless attacks of Britain’s tabloid press, which, in addition to its usual, forensic-level campaign to discover every secret thing about a subject’s private life, had a new saw: racism. One of the intentions of those papers—which are historically conservative, entirely mainstream, and widely read—became reminding the public that a woman of mixed race had gained entry to the royal family. The papers considered the effect of her “exotic DNA” on the Windsor bloodline; they informed readers that she is a descendant of “cotton slaves,” that she is almost “straight outta Compton” because her mother now lives in Crenshaw, which is no closer to Compton than it is to Beverly Hills. Her mother—the one family member to whom she seems close—has been described as a “dreadlocked African American lady from the wrong side of the tracks.” No one could blame her for wanting to take her baby and her husband and get the hell out of there. [...] It seemed clear that at the end of that time, something dramatic was going to happen. I assumed it would be an abdication—and who could blame them? The brave little boy who had walked so solemnly behind the casket, wanting only to make his mother proud of him—he should be allowed to live the life he wanted, with his beautiful wife and their baby son in some place far away from the cameras and daily gossip of London. Who would not have wished them well? Instead, it was … Megxit.
Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance / Medium
Thomas Pueyo, whose previous article was read by most of you and 40 million others, is back with another very compelling piece about how we should respond to the current pandemic:
Summary of the article: Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.
The SUV came to an abrupt stop. It was July of 1977. A crew from Neiman Marcus had come to the Andes mountains, near the border of Chile and Argentina, to scout locations for a fur catalog shoot. As the SUV climbed farther and farther up the mountain, snow started to fall, blanketing the road. The passengers, including a young Jerry Hall—sitting in the backseat, draped in a fur coat and fresh off her first runway show in Paris—began to panic. A Neiman Marcus executive peered out the window, trying to get his bearings. Visibility was close to zero when the driver threw the car into reverse, desperately trying to turn around. What he didn't know was that the SUV's rear wheels had stopped just two inches from the edge of the cliff. The SUV now dangled precariously off the side of the mountain. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The Coronavirus Explained & What You Should Do / YouTube (Kurzgesagt)
Another excellent Kurzgesagt video:
In December 2019 the Chinese authorities notified the world that a virus was spreading through their communities. In the following months it spread to other countries, with cases doubling within days. This virus is the “Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus 2”, that causes the disease called COVID19, and that everyone simply calls Coronavirus. What actually happens when it infects a human and what should we all do?
The idea was born in a Starbucks bathroom. Audrey Gelman, then a 28-year-old public-relations savant and New York personality, was tired of dashing between meetings in New York and Washington, charging her phone in hotel lobbies and freshening up in the public restrooms of fast-casual chains. She envisioned a kind of feminine pit stop she would call Refresh — a private club where women could blow their hair out and check their email in comfort and peace. But in time, Gelman’s aspirations widened. She realized, she told The New York Observer in 2016, that carving out space for women was a “subtly radical” idea. Gelman partnered with Lauren Kassan, a 28-year-old director of business development at the fitness start-up ClassPass. They began plotting the club’s first location: a bright penthouse in New York’s Flatiron district along a historic stretch known as the Ladies’ Mile, where, in the late 19th and beginning of the 20th century, upscale women could be seen shopping unchaperoned. They enlisted the historian Alexis Coe to research early American women’s clubs and traced a line between those efforts and their own. When the club opened its doors in October 2016 — under a new name, the Wing — they styled it as “a place for women on their way.” In its final form, Gelman said on the Recode podcast last year, the Wing is intended as a “women’s utopia.” Stepping into a Wing location feels a little like being sealed inside a pop-feminist Biodome. It is pitched as a social experiment: what the world would look like if it were designed by and for women, or at least millennial women with meaningful employment and a cultivated Instagram aesthetic. The Wing looks beautiful and expensive, with curvy pink interiors that recall the womb. The thermostat hovers around 72 degrees, to satisfy women’s higher temperature needs. A color-coded library features books by female authors only. There are well-appointed pump rooms, as well as private phone booths named after Lisa Simpson, Anita Hill and Lady Macbeth. There is an in-house cafe, the Perch, serving wines sourced from female vintners, and an in-house babysitting annex, the Little Wing, where members’ children may be looked after. The vibe is a fusion of sisterly inclusion and exclusive luxury: Private memberships run up to $3,000 per year, and the wait-list is 9,000 names long. But the Wing’s real draw is the women who gather within. Wing members — there are now around 12,000 — call themselves “Wing women” or “sistren” or “Winglets.” Among them are actress and model Hari Nef; the Women’s March co-founder Linda Sarsour; social media influencers; C.E.O.s; best-selling authors. (Multiple employees of The New York Times, including of this magazine, are Wing members.) When Gelman sent an email inviting an intimate crew of women to join the Wing as “founding members” in summer 2016, she announced a new echelon of New York elite. The club’s grand opening was styled as a slumber party, where women who made the cut wore luxe white pajamas, sampled face masks and staged a pillow fight. Gelman is the Wing’s chief executive but also the avatar of its ideal member: a meticulously fashionable, intensely driven woman who has managed to make her mark in the world in a way that strives to uplift other women at the same time. [...] When these women inevitably fail to secure female empowerment through retail offerings and exclusive hospitality experiences, it is suggested that it is perhaps sexist to criticize them. Men get away with so much. And yet this outpouring of sympathy rarely extends beyond the executive suite. When a feminist company falls short of its utopian vision, it is the workers who must toil to maintain the illusion. And they are women, too.
Most people assume that our COVID-19 lockdown will only need to last 2–3 weeks, or maybe a month. Unfortunately, the latest research which informed the Trump Administration’s latest federal recommendations shows that even with 5 months of lockdown and social distancing, the virus will simply rebound as soon as the lockdown is lifted. After all, as soon as people are free to go out and mingle again, they’ll just start spreading the outbreak again. The lockdown will need to last indefinitely until a working vaccine is tested and widely deployed. This is projected to take 12–18 months. This is the logic behind the theory that China can’t really end their lockdown and will simply be hit with a second outbreak. But they can, and it’s because they have changed one key variable: they now have cheap, widespread testing. [...] The lockdown buys you time to ramp up factories to manufacture tests, set up testing checkpoints, and educate your populace on the testing. Before the lockdown, you had no testing. After the lockdown, you have free, widespread testing. That is the key variable you changed: you use the testing to identify the remaining infected people and isolate them. You then keep on testing so that the handful of odd cases that pop up from time to time are identified quickly and isolated, so everyone else can keep on living and working normally. Economic collapse averted.
I Flew To Beijing During The Coronavirus Pandemic (Guest Post) / One Mile at a Time
Interesting look (with pictures!) at how China is handling international arrivals; this level of organisation is impressive:
A short walk from the jetway, a station was set up where each passenger was individually evaluated. We each had to complete a form that outlined our recent travel history along with a declaration of any virus symptoms we have. The form was given to a staff member who asked follow-up questions and took each passenger’s temperature. Immediately following this station, each passenger walked down a long corridor with multiple temperature guns set up, where additional staff members watched monitors to assess individual body temperatures. The airport was very quiet and the flow had been completely reorganized. All staff members, whether medical professionals or cleaning staff, were dressed in full hazmat suits. After proceeding through make-shift passport control booths, we funneled into a room where our bags were lined up and waiting for us since we were nowhere near the traditional baggage claim area. This is when things started getting a bit strange. After grabbing our luggage, we were asked to wait in a line and it was initially unclear what it was for. After about 20 minutes, we boarded shuttle buses without being told where we were going. The first two rows of the shuttle bus were blocked by a mop handle, and the driver, dressed in a hazmat suit, was separated by a layer of plastic. The shuttle was escorted by a police car until we arrived at our destination. The destination was an off-site exhibition hall. Upon entering, there were stations set up for each district in Beijing. There was also a separate area for people transiting to other domestic destinations. After finding our district’s table, we told them where we came from and where we lived, and then registered our passport and personal details. In China, each building or community complex is overseen by staff members who we had already been in contact with regarding our arrival. Since at this time home quarantine was still an option, we were told that we would be allowed to go to our apartment for 14 day quarantine. However, we were not allowed to get there on our own, so we had to wait for a private vehicle to take us directly to our home. [...] Upon arrival at our community, one staff member left the shuttle and escorted us. We were met with management from our community, who were expecting us, to fill out more paperwork and contracts regarding our 14 day home quarantine. We were given a thermometer which we need to use to report our temperature once per day, and were told that someone would stop by daily to check on us and take out our garbage.
As the new coronavirus sweeps across much of the world and cases exceed 160,000, there is one country that seems to have things under control, despite being only 110 miles from China and having experienced its first case on Jan. 21. Taiwan has only 67 cases (as of March 16), which is admirable in itself, especially when compared to its larger East Asian neighbors. Taiwan has been tackling its coronavirus outbreak despite being frozen out of the World Health Organization (WHO) and continual bullying from China. In short, Taiwan has had to rely on itself to fight the coronavirus. And in doing so, Taiwan is making its efforts look easy—though they are anything but. Taiwan’s anti-coronavirus strategy utilizes a combination of early vigilance, proactive measures, and information sharing with the public, as well as applying technology in the form of analyzing big data and online platforms. All this is done with an impressive level of public transparency and engagement, in stark contrast to China’s use of draconian and coercive measures and censorship to handle the coronavirus outbreak. When the first news about a mysterious illness in Wuhan started emerging in December 2019, Taiwan treated the news with utmost urgency. There are many hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese working in China, which means there is a high frequency of flights and travelers between the country and Taiwan. [...] As a major tech powerhouse, it’s no surprise that Taiwan made use of tech tools to fight the outbreak. This includes using big data for analytics and developing platforms to inform people where masks are currently available and where infected people have been. Taiwan’s health insurance and immigration agencies integrated local and foreign residents’ 14-day travel history with their health insurance card data, allowing hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies to access that information when dealing with patients. People undergoing self-quarantine were called frequently by officials and had their phones tracked to make sure they didn’t leave their residence. It also helps that Taiwan has one of the world’s best health systems—thanks to massive reforms in the 1990s—which provides affordable, comprehensive, and convenient services to its entire population, including the elderly and low-income groups. User health data is stored on a centralized system accessible to hospitals and clinics, so doctors can quickly see their patients’ history. [...] In fact, what helped fuel Taiwan’s staunch vigilance and self-reliance during the coronavirus outbreak is the constant bullying from China. Given that Taiwan has faced everything from its giant neighbor—the spreading of fake news, military threats, the withholding of vital medical information during the SARS outbreak in 2003—the country knows it must be on its fullest guard whenever any major problem emerges in China.
The current coronavirus disease, Covid-19, has been called a once-in-a-century pandemic. But it may also be a once-in-a-century evidence fiasco. At a time when everyone needs better information, from disease modelers and governments to people quarantined or just social distancing, we lack reliable evidence on how many people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 or who continue to become infected. Better information is needed to guide decisions and actions of monumental significance and to monitor their impact.
Only an elite minority of the nation’s high school basketball players are given the chance to continue playing in college. An even smaller number are able to say they’ve played basketball professionally. Ryan Gunderson is one of those few. Now, you won’t see Gunderson’s jersey lofted into the rafters of the United Center or his highlights posted to Instagram, but there is no doubt that he made it to a level almost no one else on this planet reaches: getting paid to play basketball in front of giant, international crowds. And bomb. Night after night. Gunderson survived what many might consider the worst job in professional sports: playing for the Washington Generals. He was the team captain and starting point guard for a team whose sole existence is to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters.
Last winter, I was invited to give a speech for an Atlas Obscura event focusing on Philadelphia’s portrayal throughout the history of film. Everyone knows the stereotype of a movie set in New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, or Boston…but what is the Philly equivalent? I chose to examine four classic Philadelphia films. Today, we’ll start off with one of the highest grossing horror movies of all time… There is never a moment in The Sixth Sense when Philadelphia is not front and center at its most gothic. Every building is brick or stone, always ancient; churches and graveyards abound; there’s a perpetual gloom; and existing statuary is used to wonderful effect.
Sometimes, the best solutions to big problems are very simple. Regarding the current outbreak of COVID-19, I propose a solution that—on the surface—might seem preposterous, but if one manages to stay with it and really think through the potential benefits, then it emerges as a much more credible course of action. I propose temporarily stopping time. This means that today’s date, Tuesday, March 17th, 2020, will remain the current date until further notice. This also means that everything that happens in time (e.g. mortgage due dates, payrolls, travel bookings, stock market trading, contractor gigs, concerts, sporting events) will be paused. It also means that all of these events remain on the books, and will continue as planned once time is resumed.