----- 4 stars -----

The Confessions of Marcus Hutchins, the Hacker Who Saved the Internet / Wired

At 22, he single-handedly put a stop to the worst cyberattack the world had ever seen. Then he was arrested by the FBI. This is his untold story.

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

The Prophecies of Q / The Atlantic

The power of the internet was understood early on, but the full nature of that power—its ability to shatter any semblance of shared reality, undermining civil society and democratic governance in the process—was not. [...] The warping of shared reality leads a man with an AR-15 rifle to invade a pizza shop. It brings online forums into being where people colorfully imagine the assassination of a former secretary of state. It offers the promise of a Great Awakening, in which the elites will be routed and the truth will be revealed. It causes chat sites to come alive with commentary speculating that the coronavirus pandemic may be the moment QAnon has been waiting for. [...] QAnon is emblematic of modern America’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories, and its enthusiasm for them. But it is also already much more than a loose collection of conspiracy-minded chat-room inhabitants. It is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end. The group harnesses paranoia to fervent hope and a deep sense of belonging. The way it breathes life into an ancient preoccupation with end-times is also radically new. To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion. [...] In its broadest contours, the QAnon belief system looks something like this: Q is an intelligence or military insider with proof that corrupt world leaders are secretly torturing children all over the world; the malefactors are embedded in the deep state; Donald Trump is working tirelessly to thwart them. [...] To believe Q requires rejecting mainstream institutions, ignoring government officials, battling apostates, and despising the press. [...] Trump couldn’t seem to stop talking. “You guys know what this represents?” he asked at one point, tracing an incomplete circle in the air with his right index finger. “Tell us, sir,” one onlooker replied. The president’s response was self-satisfied, bordering on a drawl: “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.” “What’s the storm?” one of the journalists asked. “Could be the calm—the calm before the storm,” Trump said again. His repetition seemed to be for dramatic effect. The whir of camera shutters grew louder. The reporters became insistent: “What storm, Mr. President?” A curt response from Trump: “You’ll find out.” Those 37 seconds of presidential ambiguity made headlines right away—relations with Iran had been tense in recent days—but they would also become foundational lore for eventual followers of Q. The president’s circular hand gesture is of particular interest to them. You may think he was motioning to the semicircle gathered around him, they say, but he was really drawing the letter Q in the air. [...] It’s impossible to know the number of QAnon adherents with any precision, but the ranks are growing. At least 35 current or former congressional candidates have embraced Q, according to an online tally by the progressive nonprofit Media Matters for America. Those candidates have either directly praised QAnon in public or approvingly referenced QAnon slogans. (One Republican candidate for Congress, Matthew Lusk of Florida, includes QAnon under the “issues” section of his campaign website, posing the question: “Who is Q?”) QAnon has by now made its way onto every major social and commercial platform and any number of fringe sites. Tracy Diaz, a QAnon evangelist, known online by the name TracyBeanz, has 185,000 followers on Twitter and more than 100,000 YouTube subscribers. [...] On TikTok, videos with the hashtag #QAnon have garnered millions of views. There are too many QAnon Facebook groups, plenty of them ghost towns, to do a proper count, but the most active ones publish thousands of items each day.

The UFC's Next Big Thing / ESPN

Before Israel Adesanya became a fighter, he was a dancer. But instead of choosing between the two worlds, the MMA champion has merged them onto a single stage. [...] "I need to really say this. New Zealand, we have this Fff-ummm ..." He catches himself before he curses in front of the whole country. "Whoooo, censorship. Where's the swear jar?" In the next instant he changes his mind. "Nah, f--- it, we have this culture ..." The crowd breaks into real laughter this time, ears suddenly up. Now the volta. "Listen, I'm serious. We have this culture of tall poppy syndrome, which is messed up," he says. "Coming up in this country, I've seen it so many times. When you see one of us rising up, you wanna tear them down, because you feel inadequate, and you wanna call it humble." This last word he renders with finger quotes. The audience stirs. "I am extraordinarily humble, believe me," he says. "But you'll never know that because you never get to know me." Further stirring at the uncomfortable tone of admonishment. But Adesanya quickly follows with uplift. "Understand this, if you see one of us shining — whether it be the netball team, the black caps, the sailors," he says, "pump them up! Embrace them! 'Cause if they win, we win. If I win, you win. Understand that!" Thunderous applause and cheers follow. Not that he's quite ready to let them off the hook. "I know some of you may be a little salty. You might clap, but you're a little salty," he says. "Eh, stay salty; the Black Kiwi's gonna fly all day. And shout-out to myself in this mustard-colored jacket. Shout-out to the guy with the mustard-colored face as well. Peace!" It was petty and rousing and brilliant. He asked them to change, to be less provincial. He was telling them he wanted to belong, but only — always — on his own terms.

A Biblical Mystery at Oxford / The Atlantic

A renowned scholar claimed that he discovered a first-century gospel fragment. Now he’s facing allegations of antiquities theft, cover-up, and fraud.

Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, a Regimen for Reëntry / New Yorker
Atul Gawande:

In places around the world, lockdowns are lifting to various degrees—often prematurely. Experts have identified a few indicators that must be met to begin opening nonessential businesses safely: rates of new cases should be low and falling for at least two weeks; hospitals should be able to treat all coronavirus patients in need; and there should be a capacity to test everyone with symptoms. But then what? What are the rules for reëntry? Is there any place that has figured out a way to open and have employees work safely, with each other and with their customers? Well, yes: in health care. The Boston area has been a COVID-19 hotspot. Yet the staff members of my hospital system here, Mass General Brigham, have been at work throughout the pandemic. We have seventy-five thousand employees—more people than in seventy-five per cent of U.S. counties. In April, two-thirds of us were working on site. Yet we’ve had few workplace transmissions. Not zero: we’ve been on a learning curve, to be sure, and we have no way to stop our health-care workers from getting infected in the community. But, in the face of enormous risks, American hospitals have learned how to avoid becoming sites of spread. When the time is right to lighten up on the lockdown and bring people back to work, there are wider lessons to be learned from places that never locked down in the first place. These lessons point toward an approach that we might think of as a combination therapy—like a drug cocktail. Its elements are all familiar: hygiene measures, screening, distancing, and masks. Each has flaws. Skip one, and the treatment won’t work. But, when taken together, and taken seriously, they shut down the virus. We need to understand these elements properly—what their strengths and limitations are—if we’re going to make them work outside health care.

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

Think we have military primacy over China? Think again. / Washington Post

Here’s a fact that ought to startle every American who assumes that because we spend nearly $1 trillion each year on defense, we have primacy over our emerging rival, China. “Over the past decade, in U.S. war games against China, the United States has a nearly perfect record: We have lost almost every single time.” That’s a quote from a new book called “The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare,” the most provocative critique of U.S. defense policy I’ve read in years. It’s written by Christian Brose, former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a close adviser to late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). The book isn’t just a wake-up call, it’s a fire alarm in the night.

Studies on Slack / Slate Star Codex

Imagine a distant planet full of eyeless animals. Evolving eyes is hard: they need to evolve Eye Part 1, then Eye Part 2, then Eye Part 3, in that order. Each of these requires a separate series of rare mutations. Here on Earth, scientists believe each of these mutations must have had its own benefits – in the land of the blind, the man with only Eye Part 1 is king. But on this hypothetical alien planet, there is no such luck. You need all three Eye Parts or they’re useless. Worse, each Eye Part is metabolically costly; the animal needs to eat 1% more food per Eye Part it has. An animal with a full eye would be much more fit than anything else around, but an animal with only one or two Eye Parts will be at a small disadvantage. So these animals will only evolve eyes in conditions of relatively weak evolutionary pressure. In a world of intense and perfect competition, where the fittest animal always survives to reproduce and the least fit always dies, the animal with Eye Part 1 will always die – it’s less fit than its fully-eyeless peers. The weaker the competition, and the more randomness dominates over survival-of-the-fittest, the more likely an animal with Eye Part 1 can survive and reproduce long enough to eventually produce a descendant with Eye Part 2, and so on. [...] Water “flows downhill”, so it’s tempting to say something like “water wants to be at the lowest point possible”. But that’s not quite right. The lowest point possible is the pit, and water won’t go there. It will just sit in the little puddle forever, because it would have to go up the tiny little hillock in order to get to the pit, and water can’t flow uphill. Using normal human logic, we feel tempted to say something like “Come on! The hillock is so tiny, and that pit is so deep, just make a single little exception to your ‘always flow downhill’ policy and you could do so much better for yourself!” But water stubbornly refuses to listen. Under conditions of perfectly intense competition, evolution works the same way. We imagine a multidimensional evolutionary “landscape” where lower ground represents higher fitness. In this perfectly intense competition, organisms can go from lower to higher fitness, but never vice versa. As with water, the tiniest hillock will leave their potential forever unrealized. Under more relaxed competition, evolution only tends probabilistically to flow downhill. Every so often, it will flow uphill; the smaller the hillock, the more likely evolution will surmount it. Given enough time, it’s guaranteed to reach the deepest pit and mostly stay there. Take a moment to be properly amazed by this. It sounds like something out of the Tao Te Ching. An animal with eyes has very high evolutionary fitness. It will win at all its evolutionary competitions. So in order to produce the highest-fitness animal, we need to – select for fitness less hard? In order to produce an animal that wins competitions, we need to stop optimizing for winning competitions? This doesn’t mean that less competition is always good. An evolutionary environment with no competition won’t evolve eyes either; a few individuals might randomly drift into having eyes, but they won’t catch on. In order to optimize the species as much as possible as fast as possible, you need the right balance, somewhere in the middle between total competition and total absence of competition.

Before 'The Last Dance,' Scottie Pippen delivered six words of trash talk that changed NBA history / ESPN

Michael Jordan missed. With 35.8 seconds left in Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz, the greatest player in NBA history actually just bricked what should have been the winning free throw. And now, for roughly 26 seconds, the basketball world is in chaos: Jordan is, for the time being, Err Jordan, a lowercase goat, and the voters who had narrowly selected Utah forward Karl Malone over Michael (986-957) for league MVP seem to have gotten it right. Meanwhile, the Jazz are poised to steal Game 1 along with home-court advantage, and Chicago's fifth title and eventual second three-peat are suddenly in jeopardy. And then, to the rescue steps Scottie Pippen. A future Hall of Famer, at this point Pippen remains something of an introvert, the guy who shrank from this exact kind of late-game spotlight in the 1990 and 1994 playoffs. But with 9.2 seconds left and Malone at the foul line with a chance to seal the win, Pippen conjures and delivers the single greatest line of trash talk in sports history. It's a line loaded with fascinating cultural, statistical and historical subtext. A line so clever it rescues one legacy, rewrites another and destroys a third. And a line that will ultimately set the table for the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls and "The Last Dance," the documentary that 23 years later will keep us all sane during a sports-less pandemic. Six magical words, so influential and controversial they inspired their own oral history.

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

Experts Doubt the Sun Is Actually Burning Coal / Scientific American

Score one for the experts.

Originally published in August 1863

A 17-year-old built one of the most popular coronavirus-tracking websites in the world, with over 30 million visitors a day. He explains why he turned down $8 million to put ads on his site. / Business Insider

While Schiffmann is proud of the work he's done, he doesn't want to become a model for how to make a name for one's self during a pandemic. "In the future, I hope pressure is on the WHO" to make a tool like this, he said, "The responsibility shouldn't be on some random kid, but it's obvious that people want to know the statistics."

How Long Was Venus Habitable? / Eos

Theories abound about what led to Venus’s drastic transformation: A gradually warming Sun may have left the planet hot and desiccated after a short period of habitability, or a very early magma ocean and an atmosphere of carbon dioxide and steam could have given way to the planet’s current state nearly 4 billion years ago. In a new study, though, Way and Del Genio provide evidence that a shallow water ocean and habitable conditions may have persisted on Venus for as long as 3 billion years, until volcanic large igneous provinces (LIPs) emerged simultaneously and ended the planet’s temperate period.

Some reflections on GRE scores / Marginal Revolution

There are many top economists on Twitter, most of them Democrats, who would never ever utter a word about GRE scores in a blog post or on Twitter. Yet when on an admissions committee, they will ruthlessly enforce the strictest standards for math GRE scores without hesitation. Not only in top ten programs, but in top thirty programs and even further down the line in many cases. It is very, very hard to get into a top or even second-tier economics program without an absolutely stellar math GRE score, and yes that is enforced by the same humans who won’t talk about the issue. Just in case you didn’t know that.

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