----- 3 stars -----
The Frontier Couple Who Chose Death Over Life Apart / Outside
Solovyov later told me that, when he saw the little boat crammed with art that March day, he should have known. For years, the couple had talked with close friends about their intention to die together when Pam’s time came. She did not wish to see her disease through; Eric did not plan to live without his wife. But it was one thing to talk about this in the abstract. It was another for Solovyov to stand in the harbor and realize that his friend had prepared his last exhibition. “He brought everything with him,” he said. The show went well. Bealer’s work sold briskly, as it always does, and when he motored out of the harbor and headed home, his boat was a great deal lighter. [...] Once they got settled, Eric turned to an important issue. He needed a new press to create his prints, but getting that kind of item delivered to a rural homestead would be a major challenge. Enlisting a friend to put a 60-year-old, 1,149-pound Vandercook #3 on a barge from Seattle was the easy part. The barge, carrying everything from food supplies to construction materials to hay bales, along with one 1939 printing press, arrived as winter loomed. With help from a crane and a forklift at Pelican’s loading dock, Eric was able to wrestle the press into his skiff. He putted home carefully, then, over several strenuous hours, managed to get the press from boat to dock to dry land, and finally into the house. He later described the operation as “a master of orchestration involving me, my wife, a strong neighbor, some slab lumber, four metal rods, and two come-alongs.” The episode was vintage Eric: achieving something others might consider extraordinary through resourcefulness and ingenuity while keeping a sense of humor about it all. [...] Their isolated lifestyle might suggest standoffishness, but Eric was warm and charismatic, with a presence that swept you up in his energy. (“I love your aura!” he would declare to a new friend at Pelican’s pub, Rose’s, before settling down to draw them.) Pam balanced Eric’s hyperactivity with a calm reticence. In his art, Eric often depicted his wife as a bear, cool and dignified, and himself as a squirrel, manic in comparison. “I’d never known a couple more in love,” Kate Landers, a close friend and a year-round Pelican resident, told me. “In love, and a part of each other.” They were “just… fused,” another local said. Sharing goals and dreams, but bringing their own skills and temperament to the life they were building together, they balanced each other perfectly. [...] There were no loose ends. The troopers wrapped up their investigation, and after a court proceeding, the Bealers were legally presumed dead. Still, the people who loved them were left to grapple with their choices. Even those who’d known about their intentions hadn’t expected the Bealers to leave so soon. At least one friend was angry; others were simply sad. Most people were broadly understanding of Pam’s situation but less sure about Eric’s decision. “He should have stayed around,” says one friend, who’d tried to talk Eric out of the idea years earlier. “But then again, I don’t really know what a soul mate is. I don’t have a soul mate.”
My Baba died of a heart attack. My Baba died in a car accident. My Baba died of cancer. What kind? Lung. Heart. Bone. Blood. My Baba died in a car accident, because he had a heart attack. He was also sick with cancer. My Baba died. My Baba was killed. None of that is accurate. Only this is true: I was strong. [...] When we immigrated to the United States from Iran, my mother told me not to tell anyone what had happened to my Baba, to our family, to me. I was nine years old. I’d spent the year before staying quiet and out of the way, not wanting to cause any trouble, not wanting to make things more difficult for her. It was already a bad, sad year. [...] In fourth grade, I didn’t speak English yet, so I could stay silent. In fifth grade, I listened to my classmate Reva tell our class about the Mickey Mouse pancakes her dad made for breakfast and I imagined how happy their mornings were. I hated her for it. In sixth grade, I made him a painting in art class for Father’s Day, just as the other kids did for their alive dads. We were studying Monet. I blotted paint on a piece of paper and said to myself in a whisper, “I think he’ll like this.” In seventh grade, I wrote an essay about my family and had to mention his death; it was unavoidable. So, I wrote it like it was nothing. Just a fact without details. After reading my essay, the teacher came up to me and asked me how he’d died. She asked loud enough for my tablemates to hear. That’s when I said car accident for the first time, though by then I’d been imagining saying it for years. “I’m sorry,” she said. In eighth grade, I got my own phone line and shortly after, Jared, a boy who bullied me, called and yelled into the line, “I know your dad is dead! Your dad is dead!” and hung up. I dialed star-sixty-nine and listened to the automation of his phone number said back to me. I didn’t tell anyone. [...] I hated the way my mother cried. I hated how her face morphed hideously. I hated her pathetic, loud grief and how it was visible to the world through her black clothes (a year of mourning), through her gray hair (a year of worry), through her red eyes (a year of crying). I hated that she always gave me birthday gifts from my Baba. I hated that the ones from him were the ones I wanted most—a fancy doll, a Nintendo set. I hated their useless transcendence of worlds, their stain of death. I hated that I couldn’t talk about him without crying. I hated my own tears, my own grief. [...] I hated him most of all. He could have lived, and yet he chose political conviction over life. He left us. He left me. So, I left him. I didn’t talk about him. Not to my mother, not to my brother, not to my friends. I didn’t talk to him. I didn’t replay my memories of him. I wanted to erase him. If I had to have his death, I didn’t want his life.
It is a well known fact that the gods hate prophets. False prophets they punish only with ridicule. It’s the true prophets who have to watch out. The gods find some way to make their words come true in the most ironic way possible, the one where knowing the future just makes things worse. The Oracle of Delphi told Croesus he would destroy a great empire, but when he rode out to battle, the empire he destroyed was his own. Zechariah predicted the Israelites would rebel against God; they did so by killing His prophet Zechariah. Jocasta heard a prediction that she would marry her infant son Oedipus, so she left him to die on a mountainside – ensuring neither of them recognized each other when he came of age. Unfortunately for him, Oxford philosopher Toby Ord is a true prophet. He spent years writing his magnum opus The Precipice, warning that humankind was unprepared for various global disasters like pandemics and economic collapses. You can guess what happened next. His book came out March 3, 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic and economic collapse. He couldn’t go on tour to promote it, on account of the pandemic. Nobody was buying books anyway, on account of the economic collapse. All the newspapers and journals and so on that would usually cover an exciting new book were busy covering the pandemic and economic collapse instead. The score is still gods one zillion, prophets zero. So Ord’s PR person asked me to help spread the word, and here we are. [...] Stalin’s maxim that “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic” accurately describes how most of us think. I am not sure it describes Toby Ord. I can’t say confidently that Toby Ord feels exactly a million times more intense emotions when he considers a million deaths than when he considers one death, but the scaling factor is definitely up there. When he considers ten billion deaths, or the deaths of the trillions of people who might inhabit our galactic future, he – well, he’s reduced to writing sixty pages of arguments and metaphors trying to cram into our heads exactly how bad this would be. [...] I usually give any statistics I read a large penalty for “or maybe you’re a moron”. For example, lots of smart people said in 2016 that the chance of Trump winning was only 1%, or 0.1%, or 0.00001%, or whatever. But also, they were morons. They were using models, and their models were egregiously wrong. If you hear a person say that their model’s estimate of something is 0.00001%, very likely your estimate of the thing should be much higher than that, because maybe they’re a moron. I explain this in more detail here. Ord is one of a tiny handful of people who doesn’t need this penalty. He explains this entire dynamic to his readers, agrees it is important, and adjusts several of his models appropriately. He is always careful to add a term for unknown unknowns – sometimes he is able to use clever methods to bound this term, other times he just takes his best guess. And he tries to use empirically-based methods that don’t have this problem, list his assumptions explicitly, and justify each assumption, so that you rarely have to rely on arguments shakier than “asteroids will continue to hit our planet at the same rate they did in the past”. I am really impressed with the care he puts into every argument in the book, and happy to accept his statistics at face value. People with no interest in x-risk may enjoy reading this book purely as an example of statistical reasoning done with beautiful lucidity. [...] When you accept very low numbers at face value, it can have strange implications. For example, should we study how to deflect asteroids? Ord isn’t sure. The base rate of asteroid strikes is so low that it’s outweighed by almost any change in the base rate. If we successfully learn how to deflect asteroids, that not only lets good guys deflect asteroids away from Earth, but also lets bad guys deflect asteroids towards Earth. The chance that an dino-killer asteroid approaches Earth and needs to be deflected away is 1/150 million per century, with small error bars. The chance that malicious actors deflect an asteroid towards Earth is much harder to figure out, but it has wide error bars, and there are a lot of numbers higher than 1/150 million. So probably most of our worry about asteroids over the next century should involve somebody using one as a weapon, and studying asteroid deflection probably makes that worse and not better. Ord uses similar arguments again and again. [...] The most interesting thing for me is how low most of the numbers are. It’s a strange sight in a book whose thesis could be summarized as “we need to care more about existential risk”. I think most people paying attention will be delighted to learn there’s a 5 in 6 chance the human race will survive until 2120.
Motor down just one dirt road, and you’ll begin to collect moments that are unique to this part of the South we call the Ozark Hills. Up and down hills and across creeks, maybe stopping in the middle to listen to the water flow and then heading back up, you’ll pass vistas of seemingly endless peaks dotted with cattle pastures. You’ll see wild turkeys dash across the road in front of you on their way to the acorns and hickory nuts in the forest on the other side. If your windows are open, you might hear waterfalls cascading down the drainage ways after a hard rain, or the interior might fill with dust and the smell of oak leaves burning during a dry spell. You might meet a truck coming at you on the narrow road and see how it pulls off near the edge of the woods to let you pass. And if it so happens you decide to put roots down and call these hills home, you might start to develop relationships with certain parts of the creek or different bends in the road. You might start to become familiar with the people nestled in the hills who have been here for generations and those who arrived recently, just like you. You will slowly become part of the cadence of everyday Ozark life. I grew up in the far Chicago suburb of Joliet, Illinois, but always felt drawn to life outside the city limits. Whether it was spending my weekends at the horse barn on the outskirts of town, feeding and watering so I could get to ride for free, cranking up George Jones as I drove my grandparent’s old Buick LeSabre down the subdivision streets, or being the only girl in my high school to click down the halls in cowboy boots, I knew my heart did not belong in the city. I was an introvert who did what I was told, but knew that when graduation came I was leaving to seek my right place in life.
----- 2 stars -----
The Woman Who Lives 200,000 Years in the Past / Outside
There is no easy way to reach Twisp, a blink of a town in north-central Washington’s Methow Valley. You could fly into Spokane and cut northwest for 175 miles. Or you could take a turboprop from Seattle over the mountains to the world’s apple capital, Wenatchee, and then get in a car and follow the Columbia River north for two hours. Or you could drive, as I’m doing, from Seattle through the electric moss of the North Cascades, slowing to a crawl through the ice-menaced range. It’s November 2019, and I’m on my way to meet Lynx Vilden, a 54-year-old British expat who, for most of her adult life, has lived wholly off the grid. The slick roads don’t help my apprehension about what lies ahead: a three-day, one-on-one experience of “living wild.” The details are hazy. I’ve been advised to prepare for bracing climes and arduous excursions. “Wear sturdy shoes,” Lynx told me. “Bring meat.” I’m four months pregnant and prone to sudden bouts of drowsiness, so after a roadside nap turns a one-hour delay into two, I send a text message to Lynx telling her I’ll be late. Only later do I realize how presumptive this is: she doesn’t have cell service or WiFi. Until about ten years ago, Lynx also possessed no credit card, nor fixed address; her previous abodes—a tepee in Arizona, yurts in Montana and New Mexico, a snow shelter on the Lappish tundra—had neither electricity nor running water. This all changed when she received a modest inheritance from her mother’s estate in Britain that allowed her to purchase a remote five-acre plot some 12 miles outside Twisp. Now modernity, in the form of power outlets and a sink, is within easy reach, thanks to solar panels and a well that former occupants had installed on the land. That doesn’t mean Lynx embraces it. When I finally arrive at the property in the early afternoon, she welcomes me to her wooded outpost wearing hand-stitched leathers. She heats her 900-square-foot log cabin—also the handiwork of the prior owners—by tending a wood-burning stove. For illumination she prefers the flicker of a tallow lamp, in much the same way that she favors water collected from the river to that which flows readily from her faucet. There’s a futon on the floor, but it’s mostly used by her 26-year-old daughter, who leaves the urban hustle to visit from time to time. Lynx prefers sleeping on the ground in a shelter she’s built deeper in the woods.
Coronavirus Case Counts Are Meaningless / FiveThirtyEight
An excellent Nate Silver piece:
But if you’re not accounting for testing patterns, it can throw your conclusions entirely out of whack. You don’t just run the risk of being a little bit wrong: Your analysis could be off by an order of magnitude. Or even worse, you might be led in the opposite direction of what is actually happening. A country where the case count is increasing because it’s doing more testing, for instance, might actually be getting its epidemic under control. Alternatively, in a country where the reported number of new cases is declining, the situation could actually be getting worse, either because its system is too overwhelmed to do adequate testing or because it’s ramping down on testing for PR reasons. Failure to account for testing strategies can also render comparisons between states and countries meaningless. According to two recent epidemiological studies, which tried to infer the true number of infected people from the reported number of deaths, there is roughly a 20-fold difference in case detection rates between the countries that are doing the best job of it, such as Norway and the worst job, such as the United Kingdom. (The United States is probably somewhere in the middle of the pack by this standard.) That means, for example, that in one country that reports 1,000 COVID-19 cases, there could actually be 5,000 infected people, and in another country that reports 1,000 cases, there might be 100,000!
A Coronavirus Fix That Passes the Smell Test / Bloomberg
A quick Michael Lewis piece:
Another possibility is that a lot more people than we know — even 80-year-old people — have had the virus but never got sick enough to get themselves tested. That’s what’s so interesting about the simple, one-page letter written last week by two British doctors. Claire Hopkins and Nirmal Kumar, among the country’s most prominent ear, nose and throat specialists, had both noticed the same odd symptom in their coronavirus patients: a loss of the sense of smell. “Anosmia,” it is called, but I suppose they have to call it something. The inability to smell was the first symptom many patients noticed; in some cases, it was the only symptom the patients noticed. “In the past it was once in a blue moon that we saw patients who had lost their sense of smell,” Kumar told me. “Now we are seeing it 10 times as often. It’s one of the things that happens with this virus.” The British doctors compared notes with doctors from other countries and gathered what data they could. They concluded that roughly 80% of the people who lost their sense of smell would test positive for the coronavirus, and that somewhere between 30% and 60% of those who had tested positive for the virus had also lost their sense of smell. Those numbers might turn out to be a bit off — maybe even way off. They are a heroic guess, given how little testing has been done. But it’s precisely the scarcity of tests that makes the observation so intriguing, as it offers the possibility of a crude alternative to a test. Lose your sense of smell and you know to isolate yourself, even if you feel great. It offers two other things as well: a way to glimpse the virus as it moves through various populations, and a tool for managing the risk.
Around the world, in countries afflicted with the coronavirus, stores are sold out of toilet paper. There have been shortages in Hong Kong, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. And we all know who to blame: hoarders and panic-buyers. Well, not so fast. [...] Most outlets agreed that the spike in demand would be short-lived, subsiding as soon as the hoarders were satiated. [...] There’s another, entirely logical explanation for why stores have run out of toilet paper — one that has gone oddly overlooked in the vast majority of media coverage. It has nothing to do with psychology and everything to do with supply chains. It helps to explain why stores are still having trouble keeping it in stock, weeks after they started limiting how many a customer could purchase. In short, the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. [...] Talk to anyone in the industry, and they’ll tell you the toilet paper made for the commercial market is a fundamentally different product from the toilet paper you buy in the store. It comes in huge rolls, too big to fit on most home dispensers. The paper itself is thinner and more utilitarian. It comes individually wrapped and is shipped on huge pallets, rather than in brightly branded packs of six or 12. [...] Because toilet paper is high volume but low value, the industry runs on extreme efficiency, with mills built to work at full capacity around the clock even in normal times. That works only because demand is typically so steady. If toilet paper manufacturers spend a bunch of money now to refocus on the retail channel, they’ll face the same problem in reverse once people head back to work again.
Many simulations have been run in recent weeks using standard epidemiological models and the emerging consensus, as I read it, is that test, trace and isolate can be very effective. Paul Romer’s simulations are here and he notes that a COVID-19 test does not have to be especially accurate for the test, trace and isolate strategy to work. Indeed, you don’t even need to trace, if you test enough people.
Group testing all Americans every day is our surefire secret weapon to save potentially millions of lives and immediately restart the economy. Group testing is a super efficient way of finding out who’s infected and who’s not. Iceland’s doing it. Israel’s doing it. Even Nebraska’s doing it. The President needs to implement this policy immediately with the help of the military. It’s that simple.
One of the scariest things about pandemics is the exponential growth of cases. Here's a useful graph that helps us understand whether or not we've made progress in stopping the disease.
----- 1 star -----
Bong Joon-ho’s Extensive Storyboards for Parasite / Kottke
Brilliant and stunning:
Before he begins filming any of his movies, director Bong Joon-ho draws out storyboards for every single shot of every single scene of the film. [...] For his Oscar-winning Parasite, Bong has collected the storyboards into a 304-page graphic novel due out in mid-May: Parasite: A Graphic Novel in Storyboards. [...] The book has already been released in Korea, and Through the Viewfinder did a 5-minute video comparison of the storyboards with the filmed scenes for the peach fuzz montage scene (and another video of the flood scene).
Bonus -- an excellent analysis of the montage: https://bit.ly/39KuMEM
Bill Gates is funding new factories for 7 potential coronavirus vaccines, even though it will waste billions of dollars / Business Insider
Bill Gates is plugging money into building factories for seven promising coronavirus vaccine candidates, even though it will mean wasting billions of dollars. On Thursday's episode of "The Daily Show," the Microsoft billionaire told the host Trevor Noah that his philanthropic organization, the Gates Foundation, could mobilize faster than governments to fight the coronavirus outbreak. "Because our foundation has such deep expertise in infectious diseases, we've thought about the epidemic, we did fund some things to be more prepared, like a vaccine effort," Gates said. "Our early money can accelerate things." Gates said he was picking the top seven vaccine candidates and building manufacturing capacity for them. "Even though we'll end up picking at most two of them, we're going to fund factories for all seven, just so that we don't waste time in serially saying, 'OK, which vaccine works?' and then building the factory," he said. [...] "It'll be a few billion dollars we'll waste on manufacturing for the constructs that don't get picked because something else is better," Gates said in the clip. "But a few billion in this, the situation we're in, where there's trillions of dollars ... being lost economically, it is worth it."
The stock market wasn’t going to create wealth forever. So what about the FIRE movement?
The girl next door is a romantic comedy trope as old as time. But two Brooklyn, New York, singles are experiencing the real-life love story with some extremely modern twists. Jeremy Cohen, a freelance photographer, noticed a woman dancing on her rooftop. He wanted to ask her out, but New York City residents have been attempting to socially distance to slow the spread of COVID-19, as the city has become an epicenter of the virus in the US. So he got creative, and flew a drone to her roof with his number attached. Spoiler: It worked.
Concatenation is a Rube Goldberg-esque video montage made up of cleverly arranged stock video footage. This is one of those things where I’m like, “ugh this is so good, why didn’t I think of this?”
The KN95 mask is China’s version of the N95 mask. 3M, America’s largest manufacturer of N95 masks, said in January that the masks are equivalent. But the FDA is not allowing KN95s into the country. [...] It’s not just the FDA that is to blame, however. America’s legal system is also to blame: Many hospitals are refusing to accept them, even as free donations, because they fear legal liability should a health care worker get ill while using a nonpermitted device…Although some hospitals flat-out reject KN95 masks at any price on advice of their lawyers, people rounding up masks to give to hospitals have found that individual doctors or nurses will often accept the donations, given the dire need.