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Tea, Biscuits, and Empire: The Long Con of Britishness
I'm one of those Americans for whom the UK has "a unique hold on their imaginations" -- to the point that I've moved to London. And so I suppose I should disagree with this piece, but I'm also willing to concede that I may well mentally inhabit the magical Britain (helped along by the accents and architecture surrounding me) more than the rather real Britain described here. (Though it's not as if one couldn't write an even more damning portrait of supposed American exceptionalism...)

This is a story about a border war. Specifically, a border war between two nations that happen, at least in theory, to be precisely the same place. One of them is Britain, a small, soggy island whose power on the world stage is declining, where poverty, inequality, and disaster nationalism are rising, where the government has mangled its response to a global pandemic so badly that it’s making some of us nostalgic for the days when all we did was panic about Brexit. The other is “Britain!” — a magical land of round tables and boy wizards and enchanted swords and moral decency, where the sun never sets on an Empire run by gentlemen, where witty people wear frocks and top hats and decide the fate of nations over tea and biscuits. One is a real place. The other is a fascinatingly dishonest, selective statement of fact, rather like describing how beautiful the countryside was in the antebellum American South. A truth so incomplete it’s worse than a lie. Every nation-state is ninety percent fictional; there’s always a gap between the imaginary countries united by cultural coherence and collective destinies where most of us believe we live, and the actual countries where we’re born and eat breakfast and file taxes and die. The U.K. is unique among modern states in that we not only buy our own hype, we also sell it overseas at a markup. “Britain always felt like the land where all the stories came from,” an American writer friend told me when I asked why she so often sets her novels in Britain. Over and over, writers and readers of every background — but particularly Americans — tell me that the U.K. has a unique hold on their imaginations.

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Is There Still Room for Debate? / New York Magazine
The American Soviet Mentality / Tablet
First, Andrew Sullivan:

The new orthodoxy — what the writer Wesley Yang has described as the “successor ideology” to liberalism — seems to be rooted in what journalist Wesley Lowery calls “moral clarity.” He told Times media columnist Ben Smith this week that journalism needs to be rebuilt around that moral clarity, which means ending its attempt to see all sides of a story, when there is only one, and dropping even an attempt at objectivity (however unattainable that ideal might be). And what is the foundational belief of such moral clarity? That America is systemically racist, and a white-supremacist project from the start, that, as Lowery put it in The Atlantic, “the justice system — in fact, the entire American experiment — was from its inception designed to perpetuate racial inequality.” This is an argument that deserves to be aired openly in a liberal society, especially one with such racial terror and darkness in its past and inequality in the present. But it is an argument that equally deserves to be engaged, challenged, questioned, interrogated. There is truth in it, truth that it’s incumbent on us to understand more deeply and empathize with more thoroughly. But there is also an awful amount of truth it ignores or elides or simply denies. It sees America as in its essence not about freedom but oppression. It argues, in fact, that all the ideals about individual liberty, religious freedom, limited government, and the equality of all human beings were always a falsehood to cover for and justify and entrench the enslavement of human beings under the fiction of race. It wasn’t that these values competed with the poison of slavery, and eventually overcame it, in an epic, bloody civil war whose casualties were overwhelmingly white. It’s that the liberal system is itself a form of white supremacy — which is why racial inequality endures and why liberalism’s core values and institutions cannot be reformed and can only be dismantled.

The campaign against Pasternak went on for months. Having played out in the central press, it moved to local outlets and jumped over into nonmedia institutions, with the writer now castigated at obligatory political meetings at factories, research institutes, universities, and collective farms. None of those who joined the chorus of condemnation, naturally, had read the novel—it would not be formally published in the USSR until 30 years later. But that did not stop them from mouthing the made-up charges leveled against the writer. It was during that campaign that the Soviet catchphrase “ne chital, no osuzhdayu”—“didn’t read, but disapprove”—was born: Pasternak’s accusers had coined it to protect themselves against suspicions of having come in contact with the seditious material. Days after accepting the Nobel Prize, Pasternak was forced to decline it. [...] But the practice wasn’t reserved for the greats alone. Factories, universities, schools, and research institutes were all suitable venues for collectively raking over the coals a hapless, ideologically ungrounded colleague who, say, failed to show up for the “voluntary-obligatory,” as a Soviet cliché went, Saturday cleanups at a local park, or a scientist who wanted to emigrate. [...] It was simply part of life. [...] As the mob’s fury kicked into high gear, the language of collective outrage grew increasingly strident, even violent. Goldie Taylor, writer and editor-at-large at The Daily Beast, queried in a since-deleted tweet why Weiss “still got her teeth.” With heads rolling at the Times—James Bennet resigned, and deputy editorial page editor James Dao was reassigned to the newsroom—one member of the staff asked for Weiss to be fired for having bad-mouthed “her younger newsroom colleagues” and insulted “all of our foreign correspondents who have actually reported from civil wars.” (It was unclear how she did that, other than having used the phrase “civil war” as a metaphor.) Mehdi Hasan, a columnist with the Intercept, opined to his 880,000 Twitter followers that it would be strange if Weiss retained her job now that Bennet had been removed. He suggested that her thread had “mocked” her nonwhite colleagues. (It did not.) In a follow-up tweet Hasan went further, suggesting that to defend Weiss would make one a bad anti-racist—a threat based on a deeply manipulated interpretation of Weiss’ post, yet powerful enough to stop his followers from making the mistake. All of us who came out of the Soviet system bear scars of the practice of unanimous condemnation, whether we ourselves had been targets or participants in it or not. It is partly why Soviet immigrants are often so averse to any expressions of collectivism: We have seen its ugliest expressions in our own lives and our friends’ and families’ lives. It is impossible to read the chastising remarks of Soviet writers, for whom Pasternak had been a friend and a mentor, without a sense of deep shame. Shame over the perfidy and lack of decency on display. Shame at the misrepresentations and perversions of truth. Shame at the virtue signaling and the closing of rank. Shame over the momentary and, we now know, fleeting triumph of mediocrity over talent.

‘It’s bullshit’: Inside the weird, get-rich-quick world of dropshipping / Wired

Canggu is a place where people go to feel rich. The clicking of keyboards in the Balinese town’s co-working spaces is drowned out only by the roar of mopeds. Over smoothie bowls and lattes, western immigrants – expats, as they prefer to be known – talk about themselves, loudly. A local woman will massage your body, silently, for the equivalent of a few pounds. Everyone is very good-looking. Everything is very cheap. The town, once a stop-off for backpackers en route to Ubud’s yoga studios and hippy scene, has in recent years become a hub for self-described “digital nomads”. In Canggu’s cafés, barefoot westerners run fledgling companies from MacBook Pros. When not talking Facebook ads or cost-per-click, they socialise exclusively with each other. “The thing is, not many Indonesians are on a level with bule [an Indonesian term for foreigners],” explains one digital nomad over the fart of hot tub jets in Amo, a luxury spa. Around us, statue-like men wander in and out of steam rooms (CrossFit is big here), talking about e-commerce and intermittent fasting. Inside the city’s co-working spaces (Dojo is the oldest in Canggu, Outpost the new challenger), people are building business empires selling products they’ve never handled, from countries they’ve never visited, to consumers they’ve never met. Welcome to the world of dropshipping.

"He's the chosen one to run America": Inside the cult of Trump, his rallies are church and he is the gospel / Vanity Fair

Dave reads the shirts aloud: “Trump’s. Tweets. Matter.” [...] “The tweets?” I ask. “Yes,” says Pastor Dave. “They matter.” “Right,” I say. “They mean things,” he explains. He points. There: a shirt. And there, up in the seats. Another shirt. And there, and there, and there. As if repetition itself is all the proof needed. “It’s not a joke?” I ask Dave. The shirts seem like a rebuke to Black Lives Matter. “No!” Dave isn’t offended. It’s unthinkable that anyone down here, so close to Trump’s podium, could really believe that. “It’s like—” he looks for a word. “Scripture?” I say. “Yes,” he says with a youth pastor’s grin. “Like Scripture.” Every tweet, every misspelling, every typo, every strange capitalization—especially the capitalizations, says Dave—has meaning. “The truth is right there in what the media think are his mistakes. He doesn’t make mistakes.” The message of the shirt to Dave is: Study the layers. “Trump is known as a five-dimension chess player,” Dave says later. And he’s sending us clues. About the Democrats and Ukraine and his plans. “There are major operations going on,” Dave tells me months later, suggesting that Trump is using COVID-19 field hospitals as “a cover” to rescue children from sex trafficking. [...] Nonbelievers roll their eyes over what they see as the gobsmacking hypocrisy of Trump as a tribune of family values, the dopiness of the rubes who consider him a moral man. Nonbelievers, in other words, miss the point. They lack gnosis. Very few believers deny Trump’s sordid past. Some turn to the old Christian ready-made of redemption: Their man was lost, but now he’s found. Others love him precisely because he is a sinner—if a man of such vast, crass, and open appetites can embody the nation (and really, who is more American—vast, crass, and open—than Trump), then you too, student of porn, monster truck lover, ultimate fighter in your dreams and games, can claim an anointing. The gnostics would have especially appreciated the most absurd Trumpian paradox: He sits at the heart of power, even as he proclaims himself an outsider. He is, by virtue of decades of what we might call executive drift—our slow but steady abandonment of checks and balances, our embrace of the “unitary executive”—literally the “greatest,” so long as we detach “great” from its modern conflation with “good.”

How Heelys rolled into millions of dollars — and then crashed in an instant / MEL Magazine

A down-and-out middle-aged man struck gold with those ubiquitous wheeled sneakers. Suddenly, the stock tanked, the company was stripped for parts and the founder vanished. What happened?

On Cultures That Build / The Scholar's Stage

Ending his decade of silence, the voice of Marc Andreessen rises from the dust, trumpeting forth a rousing cri de coeur: "It is time to build." Andreessen's essay has got a lot of play in certain circles, and it generated many responses. The general rule for those galvanized by Andreessen's call to action is to raise it as a banner for their own cause. [...] I was greatly inspired by the essay. But there are a few important ideas that need to be interjected into this conversation that are currently lacking from it. First, the TLDR version: In the 21st century, the main question in American social life is not "how do we make that happen?" but "how do we get management to take our side?" This is a learned response, and a culture which has internalized it will not be a culture that "builds." [...] My baseline assumption is that when intelligent people produce failure, a nest of entrenched interests and perverse incentives lie at the problem's heart. The failures in America's coronavirus response suggests this is the wrong assumption to make. The scale of American errors simply range too wide. At every single level of society we have seen incredible, truly incredible, mistakes. None have done well: not the White House, not the federal government agencies, not the state governments and their agencies, nor even city authorities. Private enterprise was caught as unprepared as everyone else, and has subsequently struggled to produce a tenth of the innovative counter-virus workarounds their Chinese counterparts managed to dream up (and that under much greater time pressure). The media disgraced itself early on in the crisis and has no power to keep people's attention focused and efforts united now; much the same can be said for the largest voluntary associations of American civil society. Of course, each of these examples can be pulled out and explained away as the result of this or that unique set of conflicting interests, onerous regulations, partisan concerns, or terrible incentive trees, but as you zoom out towards the national view these micro-explanations grow less convincing. Before us lies a national catalogue of dysfunction and disaster. A national explanation is needed.

Day Traders Might Have Fun Saving Hertz From Bankruptcy / Bloomberg
“This Is Just F--king Unbelievable!”: Bankrupt Hertz Is a Pandemic Zombie / Vanity Fair

Here’s one of the wildest bankruptcy motions ever: [...] "The recent market prices of and the trading volumes in Hertz’s common stock potentially present a unique opportunity for the Debtors to raise capital on terms that are far superior to any debtor-in-possession financing. If successful, Hertz could potentially offer up to and including an aggregate of $1.0 billion of common stock, the net proceeds of which would be available for general working capital purposes." [...] I mean. Hertz filed for bankruptcy on May 22. It has about 142 million shares outstanding; at its $5.53 post-bankruptcy high, the total market value of its stock was about $785 million. “Hertz’s roughly $3 billion in corporate bonds were trading earlier this week at around 40 cents on the dollar,” suggesting that the value of Hertz’s stock is at best about negative $1.8 billion. Of course stock can’t really have negative value; if Hertz is actually $1.8 billion in the hole to its creditors, it can’t go out and demand that its shareholders come up with the money. But it can … ask them to? It can just say to shareholders—and potential new shareholders!—“hey would you like to kick in a billion dollars to pay back our debts?” Doesn’t hurt to ask! Why would they say yes? Well, it’s fun? I don’t know. [...] We talked about them on Tuesday. “It is … possible,” I wrote, “that many of the thousands of brand-new investors on Robinhood have not carefully analyzed the capital structures to find the fulcrum securities?” They seem to be bidding up Hertz’s stock because it is fun, because it’s trending on Robinhood, because they are gamblers, not because they have a reasoned expectation of recovering anything for their shares in the bankruptcy. They are buying the stock from each other. This does not help Hertz. Hertz needs help. It is tasked with recovering as much money as possible for its creditors. If it could get on the other side of the whee-let’s-buy-Hertz-for-fun trade, that would help. On Monday, Hertz’s biggest post-bankruptcy day, some $2.4 billion worth of Hertz stock changed hands. Why shouldn’t Hertz try to take a piece of that for itself, or rather its creditors?

In a company in the midst of coronavirus-caused bankruptcy, where stockholders are likely to be wiped out, there are weird signs of life—worthless stock ticking up, an equity offering. But betting on an undead company is a very bad idea.

Apple, ARM, and Intel / Stratechery

Mark Gurman at Bloomberg is reporting that Apple will finally announce that the Mac is transitioning to ARM chips at next week’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). [...] I use the word “finally” a bit cheekily: while it feels like this transition has been rumored forever, until a couple of years ago I felt pretty confident it was not going to happen. Oh sure, the logic of Apple using its remarkable iPhone chips in Macs was obvious, even back in 2017 or so. [...] The problem, as I saw it, was why bother? Sure, the A-series was catching up on single-thread, but Intel was still far ahead on multi-core performance, and that was before you got to desktop machines where pure performance didn’t need to be tempered by battery life concerns. More importantly, the cost of switching was significant. [...] The most obvious implication of Apple’s shift — again, assuming the reporting is accurate — is that ARM Macs will have superior performance to Intel Macs on both a per-watt basis and a per-dollar basis. That means that the next version of the MacBook Air, for example, could be cheaper even as it has better battery life and far better performance. [...] What is so disappointing about this excuse is that it runs directly counter to what made Intel great; in 1965, Bob Noyce, then at Fairchild Semiconductor, shocked the semiconductor world by announcing that Fairchild would price its integrated circuit products at $1, despite the fact it cost Fairchild far more than that to produce them. What Noyce understood is that the integrated circuit market was destined to explode, and that by setting a low price Fairchild would not only accelerate that growth, but also drive down its costs far more quickly than it might have otherwise (chips, remember, are effectively zero marginal cost items; the primary costs are the capital costs of setting up manufacturing lines). That is the exact logic that Otellini “couldn’t see”, so blinded he was by the seemingly dominant PC paradigm and Intel’s enviable profit margins. Worse, those volumes went to manufacturers like TSMC instead, providing the capital for research and development and capital investment that has propelled TSMC into the fabrication lead.

Fatness and Thinness in the Middle Ages /

What did medieval people, living in a preindustrial time of food scarcity, think about fatness and thinness? The answer is surprisingly nuanced. As much as we may want to make excess pudginess a “malady of modernity” brought on by an excess of sugar and sedentary lifestyles, there were overweight and, yes, even obese people in the Middle Ages. So, too, was there a difference of opinion on body fat from religious, medical, and aesthetic perspectives. The disagreement is reflected in modern literature on medieval bodies.

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8,000 years ago, 17 women reproduced for every one man / Pacific Standard
The usual caveats on science journalism apply:

Once upon a time, 4,000 to 8,000 years after humanity invented agriculture, something very strange happened to human reproduction. Across the globe, for every 17 women who were reproducing, passing on genes that are still around today—only one man did the same. [...] Another member of the research team, a biological anthropologist, hypothesizes that somehow, only a few men accumulated lots of wealth and power, leaving nothing for others. These men could then pass their wealth on to their sons, perpetuating this pattern of elitist reproductive success. Then, as more thousands of years passed, the numbers of men reproducing, compared to women, rose again. "Maybe more and more people started being successful," Wilson Sayres says. In more recent history, as a global average, about four or five women reproduced for every one man.

John Bolton’s bombshell Trump book: eight of its most stunning claims / The Guardian

Trump pleaded with China to help win the 2020 election [...] Trump praised Xi for China’s internment camps [...] Trump defended Saudi Arabia to distract from a story about Ivanka [...] Trump thought Finland was part of Russia

Twist, Spin, Tuck, Jump / Kottke

In the second video in his Concatenation series, Donato Sansone edited a bunch of footage of Olympic divers, gymnasts, and track & field athletes together to make a single twisting, jumping, tucking, spinning routine that’s both seamless and completely disorienting.

Bloody Well Pay Them / Marginal Revolution

The United States is one of the few countries in the world where plasma donors are paid and it is responsible for 70% of the global supply of plasma. If you add in the other countries that allow donors to be paid, including Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Czechia, the paid-donor countries account for nearly 90% of the total supply. Countries that follow the WHOs guidance to rely exclusively on voluntary, unpaid donors all have shortages of plasma. So what do these countries do? Import plasma from the paid-donor countries. [...] As Nobel prize winner Al Roth puts it, in his gentle way: "I find confusing the position of some countries that compensating domestic plasma donors is immoral, but filling the resulting shortage by purchasing plasma from the US is ok."

Here's Why 'The Mandalorian' Used Virtual LED Sets Over Green Screen For Special Effects / Digg

For decades green and blue screens have been the go to for special effects in movies. However, the use of LED screens is gaining pace because of its cost efficiency and overall ease during the filming process.

Database of 1,100 superspreading events / Marginal Revolution

It is about time someone put this together, here are some summary conclusions: Nearly all SSEs in the database — more than 97% — took place indoors [...] The vast majority took place in settings where people were essentially confined together, indoors, for a prolonged period (for example, nursing homes, prisons, cruise ships, worker housing)

A Notorious DC Prison Is Now a Classy Suburban Development. Here’s What It Looks Like. / Washingtonian

The development off Silverbrook Road offers a lot to anyone looking for somewhere to live in the suburbs that doesn’t feel too remote—a mix of single-family homes and apartments, nice recreational facilities, and, remarkable for a property so close to I-95, plenty of places to walk. There are townhouses and an apartment complex where one-bedrooms start around $1,700 a month. Soon, it will boast a small shopping center and a church in cool reclaimed buildings. Another 50,000 square feet of commercial space has just been okayed, likely to include a shiny new grocery store. It’s only if you look closer that you’ll get a sense that this neighborhood is a mite different. Consider the street names: Reformatory Way. Sallyport Street. Or check out that artfully aged metal sign that greets visitors. That’s not a lighthouse in the logo. It’s a guard tower. It turns out that this swath of suburbia was until recently one of the most violent and overcrowded prisons in the United States: Lorton Reformatory, where DC sent its inmates for 91 years.

Contingent Wage Subsidies / Marginal Revolution

Robertas Zubricka has a clever idea, Contingent Wage Subsidies. Many macroeconomic problems are caused by a coordination failure–you don’t spend because I’m not spending and vice-versa and so the economy becomes trapped in a low-spending, low-employment equilibrium. Zubrickas shows how to solve these coordination problems. The government announces a contingent wage subsidy, a subsidy that is paid only if hiring is low. If a firm hires and others do not they get the subsidy. If a firm hires and others do hire they get the demand. A no-lose proposition. Hence, all firms hire and the subsidy never has to be paid. Instead of a big push, a zero push!

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