Even though I'm well left-of-centre by American standards (and, oddly to me, probably slightly right-of-centre here in the UK, where I now live), I've historically tried to keep this newsletter mostly apolitical. There's plenty of interesting writing to share on history or science or other subjects that doesn't have an explicitly political stance. For pieces I do include with a political bent, I'd guess ~75% are (American) left-leaning, but finding and sharing that thought-provoking remaining 25% has been important to me.

Things have changed a bit during Trump's presidency. While I'm sure my own biases play a role, I've actually not read as much from conservative viewpoints that I've found compelling in the last few years (a few lone voices like Cowen or Sullivan or Romney notwithstanding). And trying to stay apolitical when political polarisation is increasingly all-consuming seems like a self-defeating filter.

All of that is prelude to this week's e-mail being one of the most left-leaning that I can remember; it's pretty anti-Trump (which will be just fine to most of you but will also, as usual, trigger a few unsubscribes). It saddens me that amidst America's present collective grief, much of the discourse is still politically polarised -- though, to be fair, that describes the discourse more than it does a reality where most Americans agree on several important issues. But I feel very strongly that much of what I've read on the pro-Trump / Blue Lives Matter side rather badly misses the point, even if some of it has some statistical rigour and is sometimes earnestly argued. So I'm not including it. Instead, many of the following pieces reflect positions that I think we have to adopt to improve as a society.

And yes, there are a ton of links this week. I guess I've responded to everything by reading even more than usual.

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

History Will Judge the Complicit / The Atlantic

Why have Republican leaders abandoned their principles in support of an immoral and dangerous president? [...] Separately, each man’s story makes sense. But when examined together, they require some deeper explanation. Until March 1949, Leonhard’s and Wolf’s biographies were strikingly similar. Both grew up inside the Soviet system. Both were educated in Communist ideology, and both had the same values. Both knew that the party was undermining those values. Both knew that the system, allegedly built to promote equality, was deeply unequal, profoundly unfair, and very cruel. Like their counterparts in so many other times and places, both men could plainly see the gap between propaganda and reality. Yet one remained an enthusiastic collaborator, while the other could not bear the betrayal of his ideals. Why? [...] On his presidential ballot, Romney said, he wrote in his wife. Graham said he voted for the independent candidate Evan McMullin. But Trump did become president, and so the two men’s convictions were put to the test. A glance at their biographies would not have led many to predict what happened next. On paper, Graham would have seemed, in 2016, like the man with deeper ties to the military, to the rule of law, and to an old-fashioned idea of American patriotism and American responsibility in the world. Romney, by contrast, with his shifts between the center and the right, with his multiple careers in business and politics, would have seemed less deeply attached to those same old-fashioned patriotic ideals. [...] But in this case the clichés were wrong. It was Graham who made excuses for Trump’s abuse of power. It was Graham—a JAG Corps lawyer—who downplayed the evidence that the president had attempted to manipulate foreign courts and blackmail a foreign leader into launching a phony investigation into a political rival. It was Graham who abandoned his own stated support for bipartisanship and instead pushed for a hyperpartisan Senate Judiciary Committee investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son. It was Graham who played golf with Trump, who made excuses for him on television, who supported the president even as he slowly destroyed the American alliances—with Europeans, with the Kurds—that Graham had defended all his life. By contrast, it was Romney who, in February, became the only Republican senator to break ranks with his colleagues, voting to impeach the president. “Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office,” he said, is “perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.” One man proved willing to betray ideas and ideals that he had once stood for. The other refused. Why? To the American reader, references to Vichy France, East Germany, fascists, and Communists may seem over-the-top, even ludicrous. But dig a little deeper, and the analogy makes sense. The point is not to compare Trump to Hitler or Stalin; the point is to compare the experiences of high-ranking members of the American Republican Party, especially those who work most closely with the White House, to the experiences of Frenchmen in 1940, or of East Germans in 1945, or of Czesław Miłosz in 1947. These are experiences of people who are forced to accept an alien ideology or a set of values that are in sharp conflict with their own.

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

Building the Perfect Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder / YouTube
If you remember Mark Rober (of package thief glitterbombing fame), he's back with another creative and entertaining (and adorable) video:

Squirrels were stealing my bird seed so I solved the problem with mechanical engineering :)

American Police / NPR THROUGHLINE
This is a podcast, but I'm linking to the transcript so you can read it instead if you'd like:

A few years ago when we were developing what would become THROUGHLINE, one of the first topics we wanted to learn more about was the history of policing. This was a year after Freddie Gray died in the custody of Baltimore police. We were searching for answers. We wanted to know how policing in America started and how the relationship between police and the black community had evolved to be one so bloody and tragic. Our research led us to making an episode on the history of mass incarceration, and we never got back to policing. Yet here we are asking the same questions after another high-profile case of a black person killed by the police. It's an incredibly disturbing repetition, one that's been occurring for a very, very long time. And so we reached out to a historian. [...] In his book, Khalil lays out a historical argument for how black people have been criminalized over the last 400 years in the U.S. And he does that by telling parallel narratives about the history of policing in the north and the South. These stories are very different but share some striking similarities. Most importantly, they share one key feature - the use of brutal force to control black Americans.

Book Review: Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind / Slate Star Codex
This book sounds utterly fascinating, if a bit Eurocentric (or whatever the right term is that includes the Near East but not, say, Far Eastern philosophies with very rich theory-of-mind concepts):

Julian Jaynes’ The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind is a brilliant book, with only two minor flaws. First, that it purports to explains the origin of consciousness. And second, that it posits a breakdown of the bicameral mind. I think it’s possible to route around these flaws while keeping the thesis otherwise intact. So I’m going to start by reviewing a slightly different book, the one Jaynes should have written. Then I’ll talk about the more dubious one he actually wrote. [...] When in human history did theory-of-mind first arise? It couldn’t have been a single invention – more like a gradual process of refinement. “The unconscious” only really entered our theory-of-mind with Freud. Statements like “my abuse gave me a lot of baggage that I’m still working through” involves a theory-of-mind that would have been incomprehensible a few centuries ago. It’s like “I’m clicking on an icon with my mouse” – every individual word would have made sense, but the gestalt would be nonsensical. Still, everyone always assumes that the absolute basics – mind as a metaphorical space containing beliefs and emotions, people having thoughts and making decisions – must go back so far that their origins are lost in the mists of time, attributable only to nameless ape-men. Julian Jaynes doesn’t think that. He thinks it comes from the Bronze Age Near East, c. 1500 – 750 BC. [...] Jaynes (writing in the 1970s) was both a psychology professor at Princeton and an expert in ancient languages, so the perfect person to make this case. He reviews various samples of Bronze Age writing from before and after this period, and shows that the early writings have no references to mental processes, and the later ones do. When early writings do have references to mental processes, they occur in parts agreed by scholars to be later interpolations. If, with no knowledge of the language itself, you tried to figure out which parts of a heavily-redacted ancient text were early vs. late by their level of reference to mental processes, you could do a pretty decent job. [...] I conclude that giving yourself multiple personalities is actually pretty easy under the right circumstances. Those circumstance are a poor theory of mind (I think borderlines are naturally bad at this) and a cultural context in which having a multiple personality is expected. Jaynes says ancient people met both criteria. They had absolutely no theory of mind, less theory of mind than the tiniest child does today. And their cultural context was absolutely certain that gods existed. Just as we teach our children that the voice in their mind is them thinking to theirselves, so the ancients would teach their children that the voice in their head was a god giving them commands. And the voice would dutifully mold itself to fit the expected role. Here Jaynes is at his most brilliant, going through ancient texts one by one, noting the total lack of mental imagery, and highlighting the many everyday examples of conversations with gods. Every ancient culture has near-identical concepts of a god who sits inside of you and tells you what to do. The Greeks have their daemons, the Romans their genii, the Egyptians their ka and ba, and the Mesopotamians their iri. The later you go, the more metaphorically people treat these. The earlier you go, the more literal they become.

How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change / Medium
Barack Obama:

As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of unequal justice, many people have reached out asking how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change. [...] Second, I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands. Moreover, it’s important for us to understand which levels of government have the biggest impact on our criminal justice system and police practices. When we think about politics, a lot of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government. And yes, we should be fighting to make sure that we have a president, a Congress, a U.S. Justice Department, and a federal judiciary that actually recognize the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society and want to do something about it. But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.

James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution / The Atlantic

In an extraordinary condemnation, the former defense secretary backs protesters and says the president is trying to turn Americans against one another. [...] When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside. [...] Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

Why Sleep Deprivation Kills / Quanta

Going without sleep for too long kills animals but scientists haven’t known why. Newly published work suggests that the answer lies in an unexpected part of the body. [...] When Vaccaro dissected flies at various levels of deprivation, their tissues all seemed unharmed, with one very marked exception: Their guts were thick with reactive oxygen species (ROS), molecules with an oxygen atom that bears a spare electron. Some ROS are produced in the normal course of organisms’ respiration, metabolism and immunological defense, sometimes for specific functions and sometimes as byproducts. But if ROS are not swept up by antioxidant enzymes, they become extremely dangerous, because that unbalanced oxygen rips electrons away from DNA, proteins and lipids. Indeed, after ROS appeared a week into the flies’ sleep deprivation, markers of oxidative damage soared — a sign that cells were in crisis. [...] The strangest, most exciting period of the project may have been when the researchers decided that if oxidation from ROS was killing the flies, perhaps they should give the flies antioxidants. It sounded like a zany health food experiment, but Vaccaro searched out antioxidants known to work in flies, then fed them to the insects. To the researchers’ surprise, the lethally sleep-deprived flies reached a normal fly life span. The same thing happened when they raised levels of antioxidant enzymes in the gut (but, tellingly, not when they did it in the nervous system).

‘He represented us’: George Floyd’s lasting impact as a two-sport athlete in Houston / The Undefeated

Floyd’s death last week at the hands of police in Minneapolis, where Floyd had moved several years ago, has hit particularly hard for those with roots in the 3rd Ward. The protests, which began last week in Minneapolis and have now gone global, are indicators of just how horrifying the footage was of the Houston native pleading for his life while three officers sat on him, one with his knee pressed firmly on Floyd’s neck. Like the rest of the nation, Barlow was awakened to the news on May 25. He had been alerted to the video by a friend, who added: “They killed Big Floyd.” “Looking at the video, I was scared to see, but I had to see,” said Barlow, who’s now an assistant basketball coach at Yates. “To watch your friend die, to watch your friend say his last words and scream out for his mother … it leaves you with a wide range of emotions. No human being deserved that. Especially George. George was idolized by young boys living in the projects because he was the first guy that many of us witnessed get an athletic scholarship where we grew up. He was one of my role models. He was one of us. That’s why his death is so hard to take.”

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

What Kind of Country Do We Want? / New York Review of Books
Not the easiest piece to read, but it makes some great points:

All the talk of national wealth, which is presented as the meaning and vindication of America, has been simultaneous with a coercive atmosphere of scarcity. America is the most powerful economy in history and at the same time so threatened by global competition that it must dismantle its own institutions, the educational system, the post office. The national parks are increasingly abandoned to neglect in service to fiscal restraint. We cannot maintain our infrastructure. And, of course, we cannot raise the minimum wage. The belief has been general and urgent that the mass of people and their children can look forward to a future in which they must scramble for employment, a life-engrossing struggle in which success will depend on their making themselves useful to whatever industries emerge, contingent on their being competitive in the global labor market. Polarization is the inevitable consequence of all this. [...] How is it that we can be told, and believe, that we are the richest country in history, and at the same time that we cannot share benefits our grandparents enjoyed? When did we become too poor to welcome immigrants? The psychology of scarcity encourages resentment, a zero-sum notion that all real wealth is private and is diminished by the claims of community. The entire phenomenon is reinforced by the fact that much of the capital that accumulates in these conditions disappears, into Mexico or China or those luridly discreet banks offshore.

The C.D.C. Waited ‘Its Entire Existence for This Moment.’ What Went Wrong? / New York Times

The technology was old, the data poor, the bureaucracy slow, the guidance confusing, the administration not in agreement. The coronavirus shook the world’s premier health agency, creating a loss of confidence and hampering the U.S. response to the crisis. [...] Even as the virus tested the C.D.C.’s capacity to respond, the agency and its director, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, faced unprecedented challenges from President Trump, who repeatedly wished away the pandemic. His efforts to seize the spotlight from the public health agency reflected the broader patterns of his erratic presidency: public condemnations on Twitter, a tendency to dismiss findings from scientists, inconsistent policy or decision-making and a suspicion that the “deep state” inside the government is working to force him out of office. Mr. Trump and his top aides have grown increasingly bitter about perceived leaks from the C.D.C. they say were designed to embarrass the president and to build support for decisions that ignore broader concerns about the country’s vast social and economic dislocation. At the same time, some at the C.D.C. have bristled at what they see as pressure to bend evidence-based recommendations to help Mr. Trump’s political standing. Located in Atlanta, the C.D.C. is encharged with protecting the nation against public health threats — from anthrax to obesity — and serving as the unassailable source of information about fighting them. Given its record and resources, the agency might have become the undisputed leader in the global fight against the virus. Instead, the C.D.C. made missteps that undermined America’s response. “Here is an agency that has been waiting its entire existence for this moment,” said Dr. Peter Lurie, a former associate commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration who for years worked closely with the C.D.C. “And then they flub it. It is very sad. That is what they were set up to do.”

Peter Jackson’s LOTR Was an Improbable Miracle, and We’re Lucky to Have It / Paste

Looking back on director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy in 2020, some 13 years into what we might as well dub the “Marvel Cinematic Universe Era,” it’s all too easy to make the assumption that a valuable IP like the works of J.R.R. Tolkien was always bound to be adapted into a series of blockbuster smash hits. After all, we now live in a time when seemingly any property with minimal recognizability or cultural cachet has been, or is currently in the process of being shaped into a piece of cinematic confectionary, when the opportunities afforded by a “shared universe” of characters and settings has never been more clear. The Lord of the Rings is the basis for almost the entirety of all modern fantasy fiction tropes—how could it not translate into billions at the box office? Signing off on producing that trilogy must have been the easiest of all decisions, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. As we begin to approach the 20-year anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring’s 2001 release, we should recognize just how much hindsight bias is present in how we tend to view Jackson’s trilogy today … not to mention how profoundly different these films would likely have turned out if they began production just a few years later. In fact, as you tally up the factors that were working against Jackson and LOTR at the time, it becomes clear that the eventual faithfulness and smashing success, both critical and commercial, of this trilogy were nothing short of miraculous. Peter Jackson pulled off something nearly impossible, something that would probably never happen today for a bevy of reasons. We should acknowledge just how lucky we are that he made these films exactly when he did.

The Business of Building Utopia / Outside

Nestled in Chattahoochee Hills southwest of Atlanta, the Serenbe community is designed to deliver everybody's favorite buzzword: wellness. You can't argue with the gourmet wine dinners, leafy walking trails, and goat yoga, but be aware that Paradise doesn't come cheap.

De-escalation Keeps Protesters And Police Safer. Departments Respond With Force Anyway. / FiveThirtyEight

Watching a peaceful protest turn into something much less palatable is hard. There has been a lot of hard the past few days, as people in dozens of cities have released pent-up anger against discriminatory police tactics. Cars and buildings have burned. Store windows have been smashed. Protesters and police have been hurt. When protests take a turn like this we naturally wonder … why? Was this preventable? Does anyone know how to stop it from happening? [...] Turns out, we do know some of these answers. Researchers have spent 50 years studying the way crowds of protesters and crowds of police behave — and what happens when the two interact. One thing they will tell you is that when the police respond by escalating force — wearing riot gear from the start, or using tear gas on protesters — it doesn’t work. In fact, disproportionate police force is one of the things that can make a peaceful protest not so peaceful. But if we know that (and have known that for decades), why are police still doing it?

Taking #Obamagate Seriously / The Bulwark

On the surface, Trump’s deranged Mother’s Day tweetstorm and the halfhearted trolling of his predecessor at his Monday press conference seem like just a couple more examples of the mad king feeding his fans a juicy porterhouse—in this case, a theory about President Obama’s supposed crimes that is so stupid that even the president himself can’t answer the most basic question about it. But underneath the palpable jealousy and the desperate attempt to change the subject to something, anything besides the slow-motion pandemic-management disaster that he is overseeing, is a very real effort by President Trump and his enablers to undermine the rule of law, rewrite the history of the 2016 election, and give a hall pass to a hostile foreign power for its interference in our election. Trump’s allies in the conservative media and the Justice Department are taking #Obamagate very seriously. This conspiracy theory is informing our foreign policy, millions in tax dollars are being spent in an effort that is going “full throttle” to prove that it is correct, and countless Americans are being fed a faux history involving a crime that supposedly “makes Watergate look small time.” In that context, “President Fabricates Crimes By His Predecessor” should be front-page news, an unprecedented assault on the office of the president and our system of justice. An action that under any previous president would have sparked a massive backlash from within his own party among institutionalists concerned about both their short-term political interests and the broader historic implications.

‘It opens up a whole new universe’: Revolutionary microscopy technique sees individual atoms for first time / Nature

A game-changing technique for imaging molecules known as cryo-electron microscopy has produced its sharpest pictures yet — and, for the first time, discerned individual atoms in a protein. By achieving atomic resolution using cryogenic-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), researchers will be able to understand, in unprecedented detail, the workings of proteins that cannot easily be examined by other imaging techniques, such as X-ray crystallography.

Why It’s So Rare For Police Officers To Face Legal Consequences / FiveThirtyEight

Why are police prosecutions still so rare? In the last few years, many cities have pledged to reform their police departments, and progressive prosecutors have even won on promises to hold police accountable for misconduct. But Kate Levine, a professor of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law who studies police prosecutions, told us that not all misconduct — including use of excessive or even fatal force — is illegal. “If a civilian is displaying a weapon, it’s very hard to charge [the police officer] with murder for taking action against that civilian,” she said. “And even if a civilian doesn’t have a weapon, it’s hard to charge a police officer if [the officer] can credibly say they feared for their life.” There are other barriers to charging and convicting police, too. Prosecutors work closely with police departments, which means they may be reluctant to jeopardize that relationship by pursuing cases against officers. Police officers’ contracts also often protect them from interrogation techniques that are often used on civilians, according to Levine. And in the cases that make it to trial, judges and juries may be more inclined to believe law enforcement officers when they say their lives were threatened. All of these challenges are so baked into the system that it’s very difficult to make meaningful changes. Altering prosecutors’ relationship with police isn’t a simple or easy reform, for instance — it would be a fundamental shift in the way our criminal justice system works.

How The Police See Issues Of Race And Policing / FiveThirtyEight

One important difference between the protests that have spread across the country for the past nine days and nights and other protest movements is their subject. The demonstrators who have taken to the streets in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers are protesting against police violence and the inequities of the criminal justice system, which as others have pointed out, call into question the role and neutrality of the law enforcement personnel who patrol those streets. The police officers firing tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets — and generally roughing up protesters — have seemed in many ways like counterprotesters more than peacekeepers. In fact, a majority of America’s police officers strongly disagree with the core arguments of the protests. And that’s probably related to the fact that the police and the protesters are much different from each other in terms of politics and demographics. And these underlying differences over identity, politics and policy are creating a toxic and potentially dangerous dynamic as the protests continue. [...] Most police officers think they treat black people fairly.

Behind the greatest Wikipedia hoax ever pulled / The Kernel

Long before the autopsy, London police could guess what killed Yuri Gadyukin. When they pulled his body from the river beneath the Hammersmith Bridge on July 26, 1960, they saw a bullet-sized hole that had ripped apart his skull. Authorities had been searching for the Russian director for weeks. By the time they yanked him from the Thames, they’d surely heard rumors percolating down through country’s film community of catastrophic arguments on the set of his latest film, The Graven Idol, between Gadyukin and the film’s star, Harry Weathers. Others whispered that Gadyukin owed money to a local gangster—cash he’d used to finance the film. Perhaps you’ve heard of Gadyukin? He was a star of early Soviet cinema before fleeing to England. You can read about his life on a fansite and a Facebook group. You can watch him melt down in a British television interview, storming off stage in spittle-spewing rage. For nearly four years, there were Wikipedia and Internet Movie Database articles about him, brimming with citations from authoritative Russian sources. Those entries are now gone. Yuri Gadyukin did not owe money to a gangster. His final film was not swirling out of control. Weathers did not kill him. His body was not found beneath the Hammersmith Bridge. Gadyukin never died, in fact, because he never existed.

Coronavirus Rips Into Regions Previously Spared / New York Times

As the West settles into a grinding battle with the disease, the virus surges across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

Dust in the Light / Stratechery

In fact, that is what is so striking about the demands that Facebook act on this particular post (beyond the extremely problematic prospect of an unaccountable figure like Zuckerberg unilaterally deciding what is and is not acceptable political speech): the preponderance of evidence suggests that these demands have nothing to do with misinformation, but rather reality. The United States really does have a president named Donald Trump who uses extremely problematic terms — in all caps! — for African Americans and quotes segregationist police chiefs, and social media, for better or worse, is ultimately a reflection of humanity. Facebook deleting Trump’s post won’t change that fact, but it will, at least for a moment, turn out the lights, hiding the dust. [...] And yet, look again at this past week: a century of institutionalized racism in Minneapolis was not necessarily overthrown, but certainly overwhelmed in the case of George Floyd, because of a post on Facebook. Both peaceful protests and wanton destruction and looting were likely organized on social media. Video of both were circulated around the world via ubiquitous smartphone cameras on said social networks. The Internet is an amoral force — it can effect both positive and negative outcomes — but what cannot be underestimated is how gargantuan a force it is. To that end, while there is much to fear, there is room for hope as well. I am grateful that I can no longer unsee Madison’s crescent, thanks to a blog post. I am angered by the video of Floyd’s death, and appalled at the dust in the air that yes, I was privileged enough to avoid without a second thought. And no matter what upheaval lies ahead, I am certain that the light that illuminates that dust so brightly can never be put away. There are no more gatekeepers, oftentimes for worse, but also for better.

Why Did Covid-19 Spiral Out of Control? / Naked Capitalism
Excellent new analysis:

So, something was changing spontaneously before the government response was enforced. In my opinion, what was changing was public awareness on the risks of Covid-19. After this, the curves in different countries could diverge in response to the milder or stricter rules imposed. Conclusion 1: Most lockdowns were late and reactive measures that didn’t avoid the worst but only accelerated partial clearance of the epidemic. Alarm felt by the population at large was probably the first force to reduce R0 by ways of self-isolation of symptomatic individuals in countries like Italy, Spain, France the UK and in the State of NY. The “let’s flatten the curve” message was issued very late in such places when the curve had already been flattening spontaneously for some time.

My Secret Life as a Personal Assistant to “America’s Most Eligible Man” / Narratively

He was the former star of an uber-popular reality dating show. I was a feminist lesbian 19-year-old — a.k.a. the least likely person on Earth to become his coach in life and love.

Why Dubai's Man-Made Islands Are Still Empty / YouTube

In 2003, the construction of the multi-billion dollar investment project “The World” was announced. The man-made archipelago shaped like a map of the earth was planned to feature luxurious houses and tourist-resorts located all within just a short boat ride from Dubai. But today, more than 10 years after the completion of these islands, there is hardly anything built on them. What happened here?

Why Printers Add Secret Tracking Dots / BBC

They’re almost invisible but contain a hidden code – and now their presence on a leaked document has sparked speculation about their usefulness to FBI investigators.

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

Run the Jewels’ Killer Mike Delivers an Emotional Plea / Kottke

If you haven’t had a chance to watch this, it’s really worth your time. Rapper and activist Michael Render, aka Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, spoke at a press conference in Atlanta about the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the history of policing in the city, and his outrage, delivering a plea for the city’s residents to not “burn your own house down for anger with an enemy”.

Nothing But Nets / Medium

To date, Democrats have framed the 2020 presidential election as a referendum on President Trump. That’s an iffy proposition on a number of levels. It cedes the power of argument to the president. It leaves Democrats at the mercy of events. And at some level, it ignores the most fundamental concerns of the electorate; a precondition of certain defeat. Perhaps sensing this, the Biden campaign is now in the midst of what political consultants call a “repositioning.” The Washington Post yesterday reported that Biden is no longer promising the politics of “nothing will fundamentally change” and is instead mapping out a “revolutionary agenda.” What that means is this: the Biden campaign is going from one big mistake (the Trump referendum) to another (the revolutionary agenda). The voters who matter are not really interested in either.

‘Did I Miss Anything?’: A Man Emerges From a 75-Day Silent Retreat / New York Times

Daniel Thorson went into a silent retreat in mid-March, meditating through 75 coronavirus news cycles, Boris Johnson’s hospitalization, social distancing and sourdough starter. Now he’s catching up.

Nixon Started the War on Drugs to Target Black People & the Antiwar Left / Kottke

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Henning Rogge: History Based Landscapes / Lenscratch

I first came across this series, titled Bombenkrater (Bomb Craters), some years ago in the New York Times Lens Blog. The images are serene color photographs of wooded areas that each contain a similar round depression in the ground made by bombs in the Second World War. Now, seventy plus years later, these scars from World War II have largely healed, leaving only still ponds for us to reflect on.

The topologist's map of the world - a map showing international borders, and nothing else / Reddit

This map shows the topology of national borders; all information about a country's shape and size is ignored.

Fight the Virus! / Marginal Revolution

I was asked by the LATimes to contribute to a panel on economic and pandemic policy. [...] If an invader rained missiles down on cities across the United States killing thousands of people, we would fight back. Yet despite spending trillions on unemployment insurance and relief to deal with the economic consequences of COVID-19, we have spent comparatively little fighting the virus directly. Testing capacity has slowly increased, but where is the national program to create a dozen labs each running 200,000 tests a day? It’s technologically feasible but months into the crisis, we have only just begun to spend serious money on testing. We haven’t even fixed billing procedures so we can use the testing capacity that already exists. That’s right, labs that could be running tests are idle because of billing procedures. And while some parts of our government are slow, the Food and Drug Administration seems intent on reducing America’s ability to fight the virus by demanding business-as-usual paperwork. [...] My point about not fighting the virus directly was illustrated by many of the other panelists. Joseph Stiglitz, Christina Romer, Alicia Munnell, Jason Furman, James Doti, and Shanthi Nataraj say nothing or next to nothing about viruses.

90 minute public transit commuter zone for London vs San Francisco / Reddit

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