----- 4 stars -----
How Prosperity Transformed the Falklands / New Yorker
Until recently, the Falkland Islands were a quasi-feudal colony, in which an arcadian Britain of the past was preserved in microcosm—a population of eighteen hundred, territory a little larger than Jamaica. The islanders, almost all of whom claimed British ancestry, ate British food and planted British gardens, with crowded flower beds and gnomes. They flew Union Jacks from their cars and greenhouses. They were given to displays of patriotism that were rare in the mother country: they celebrated the Queen’s birthday, and sang the national anthem every Sunday in the cathedral. When older islanders talked about Britain—even if they had never been there, and their families had been in the Falklands for five generations—they called it “home.” [...] Until the nineteen-eighties there were no roads in Camp, so most people got around on horses. Some had Land Rovers, but the soil was so wet that they were always getting stuck in bogs. There weren’t many landmarks to steer by, and fog often obscured the few that there were, so people learned to navigate by looking at the ground. No matter how you travelled, it took hours to get anywhere, so when you passed a house you would stop in for a meal or to sleep over. Anyone living outside a settlement was expected always to be able to come up with a meal and a bed for the night. For a long time you rarely knew when someone was coming, because there were no phones in Camp, and the mail came once a month. When the mail boat brought letters for one of the outer islands, someone on the mainland would light fires to let people know where the letters were from: one fire for local, two for England. Later, when mail for an outer island arrived in Stanley, it was sorted into sacks, which were then dropped out the door of a plane onto the island. In 1950, the government set up a radio-telephone service linking forty farms; the drawback and the charm of this system was that people could hear one another’s calls. Each morning at ten, a doctor in Stanley would hold consultations over the radio-telephone, and everyone would stop what he or she was doing and sit down around the radio with a cup of tea to listen to islanders describe their coughs and aches and gynecological problems and irritable bowels. [...] The enormous changes that propelled the Falkland Islands through two centuries of history in twenty years actually began shortly before the war, in the late nineteen-seventies, around the time that Tony Heathman learned how to shear sheep.
'The Cursed Platoon' / Washington Post
Only a few hours had passed since President Trump pardoned 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and the men of 1st Platoon were still trying to make sense of how it was even possible. How could a man they blamed for ruining their lives, an officer the Army convicted of second-degree murder and other charges, be forgiven so easily? How could their president allow him to just walk free? [...] Lorance had been in command of 1st Platoon for only three days in Afghanistan but in that short span of time had averaged a war crime a day, a military jury found. On his last day before he was dismissed, he ordered his troops to open fire on three Afghan men standing by a motorcycle on the side of the road who he said posed a threat. His actions led to a 19-year prison sentence. He had served six years when Trump, spurred to action by relentless Fox News coverage and Lorance's insistence that he had made a split-second decision to protect his men, set him free. The president’s opponents described the pardon as another instance of Trump subverting the rule of law to reward allies and reap political benefits. Military officials worried that the decision to overturn a case that had already been adjudicated in the military courts sent a signal that war crimes were not worthy of severe punishment. For the men of 1st Platoon, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, the costs of the war and the fallout from the case have been profound and sometimes deadly. Traumatized by battle, they have also been brutalized by the politicization of their service and made to feel as if the truth of what they lived in Afghanistan — already a violent and harrowing tour before Lorance assumed command — had been so demeaned that it no longer existed. Since returning home in 2013, five of the platoon’s three dozen soldiers have died. At least four others have been hospitalized following suicide attempts or struggles with drugs or alcohol. [...] By November 2019, Twist, a man the soldiers of 1st Platoon loved, was gone and Lorance was free from prison and headed for New York City, a new life and a star turn on Fox News. This story is based on a transcript of Lorance’s 2013 court-martial at Fort Bragg, N.C., and on-the-record interviews with 15 members of 1st Platoon, as well as family members of the soldiers, including Twist’s father and wife. The soldiers also shared texts and emails they exchanged over the past several years. Twist’s family provided his journal entries from his time in the Army. Lorance declined to be interviewed.
----- 3 stars -----
“Ghislaine, Is That You?”: Inside Ghislaine Maxwell’s Life on the Lam / Vanity Fair
For a year leading up to her arrest, the vanishing act of Jeffrey Epstein’s longtime friend, lover, and alleged accomplice vexed the authorities, the press, and the women who accuse her of luring them into a web of sexual abuse.
----- 2 stars -----
Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Master Auctioneer? / Texas Monthly
We were six days into an eight-day course at America’s Auction Academy, practice-selling everything in sight. Sixteen of us sat on gray banquet chairs in a fluorescent-lit conference room in a Radisson Hotel in Addison, a Dallas suburb. Our instructor, a wildly successful auctioneer named Mike “McGavel” Jones, paced in front of the class. Jones, a bald man dressed in a suit and tie, moved with the posture and efficiency of a drill sergeant who had been drinking strong coffee since dawn, but he spoke with a preacher’s flair. Though many of us had arrived at the Addison Radisson as amateurs, Jones assured us we had come a long way. By now, we could authoritatively deploy lingo like “knock-down price” and “quantity options.” We had learned about things one might find while auctioning off the contents of an abandoned storage unit, both the intriguing (a gun collection!) and the unexpected (a Zamboni!). We were close to grasping a basic “chant,” the hypnotic blur of words and numbers that builds to a crescendo as a sale is finalized. But that evening, Jones expected us to demonstrate our new skills in a live-streamed charity auction. The stakes, he reminded us, were very high: hundreds of people on Facebook would be watching, and thousands of potential dollars to help the very sick children at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children were on the line.
Conscripted Into The Emperor’s Private Orchestra / Narratively
When the rebels stormed Charlie Perrière’s house, he was sure his days were about to come to a swift and bloody end. The night before, 66-year-old Perrière, fearing what was coming, knelt down on the floor of his home in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. He began to pray. “God, I have no weapons, no army, I’m not a fighter. Tomorrow, it seems like the Séléka will enter Bangui,” he whispered, referencing the brutal rebel group that was about to topple the government. “I put all my belongings in your hands … please protect me.” Hiding out in his large house in a leafy part of Bangui, not far from high-walled ambassadorial residences, Perrière feared for his life. When the militants stormed the grounds, brandishing guns and demanding the keys to a neighbor’s car parked in his driveway, there was little he could do. He did not have the keys, he told them. “It was as if I had just poured oil onto the fire,” Perrière tells me when I meet him in the same courtyard three years later. He describes how the group of young men grew furious at his response, even though he had already handed over the keys to his own car. They started shooting in the air and ganging up on the slender man standing alone in his yard. That was until one member of the group — a scrawny street kid brandishing a rusty machete — peered closer at Perrière and, his eyes growing wider, whispered something to the leader. The man turned around to stare at Perrière with a strange expression on his face. Perrière held his breath. “Charlie Perrière, really? Is it really you?” the fighter asked after a few seconds. Suddenly, he was warmly patting the older man on the back. “And then he began apologizing, and telling me, ‘My mom is simply fanatical about your music, my brother!’” says Perrière, smiling at me with amused disbelief as he recalls the moment from a chair in his verdant garden. The leader told the gangsters to give Perrière his car keys back, and told the youths that no one was allowed to return and pillage this particular house.
Roberts Isn’t a Liberal. He’s a Perfectionist Who Wants to Win. / Slate
The headlines on Monday were full of breathless accolades for John Roberts, the institutionalist, whose narrow concurrence in June Medical v. Russo preserved the core holdings of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and also the cardinal principle that nobody but the Supreme Court gets to overrule precedent—not the Louisiana legislature and not the federal appellate courts. [...] The problem for Roberts in June Medical is that the state of Louisiana offered up demonstrably bad reasons for insisting on admitting privileges for abortion providers at local hospitals, and then the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals offered up sloppy reasons for disturbing the findings of the trial court showing that two out of three clinics would close and women would be burdened. As was the case in the census litigation, and the DACA litigation, the outcome here is correct, but one can easily reverse-engineer the chief justice’s opinion to say, “Come back to me with the right road map and I’m all yours,” and in fact, he actually grabs your pencil, flips over the napkin, and sketches the map out at no extra cost. [...] As Mark Joseph Stern and I wrote this time last year, “Lie better next time” could easily be the holding of June Medical, and states seeking to restrict abortion rights can now do precisely that, without running afoul of this ruling, so long as they ground the laws in better pretextual arguments about maternal health and fetal life and women’s need to make better choices. Roberts has turned a substantive constitutional right into a paper-thin debate about regulatory justifications. [...] Roberts is, and has always been, a master of doing small things that look like big things, and of making big things look trivial. Whatever else the media does well, identifying those small moments, in the moment, is not always our strong suit. To be sure, nobody is more grateful than I am that the chief justice has opted, yet again, this week, not to tether himself to a conservative legal project that seeks to return women’s rights to the Paleozoic era. [...] But the drumbeat that fêtes Roberts as a “liberal” or a “moderate” or “evolving” fails to capture what he is. And he is a lifelong conservative, an avowed abortion opponent, and a supporter of capacious religious liberties that will swallow crucial civil liberties who also still cares—mercifully—about appearances, institutions, truth, stability, the appearance of adulthood and competence, and above all, the long game. This decision was a small one, in response to an audacious law that should have been struck down without a hearing. At some point, conservative legal activists, and Justice Department lawyers doing Bill Barr’s crazed bidding, will stop passing audacious new rules that appear to have been written in green crayon on the walls of a playpen. At some point, they will lawyer carefully and effectively again, as John Roberts has been doing since he was a very careful young lawyer himself. When that happens, they will have five votes at the high court, and John Roberts will have shown them how to do the big one.
How a Great Power Falls Apart / Foreign Affairs
To all of this, Amalrik showed up with a bucket of cold water. In the fall of 1970, he managed to smuggle his own short manuscript out of the Soviet Union. It soon appeared in the London-based journal Survey. Global capitalism and Soviet-style communism were not converging, Amalrik argued, but were in fact growing further apart. Even the communist world itself was in danger of splitting up. The Soviet Union and China were increasingly mistrustful of each other and seemed on a clear course toward a cataclysmic war. (A year earlier, in 1969, the two countries had skirmished along their common border, with significant casualties.) But the real problem with Sakharov, Amalrik wrote, was that he failed to recognize that the Soviet state and the Soviet system—both the country and communism as a political and economic order—were headed for self-destruction. To make his point, he titled his essay “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?” [...] Amalrik missed the precise date of his country’s disintegration by seven years. Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to liberalize and democratize the state unleashed a set of forces that caused the Soviet Union to disappear, piecewise, over the course of 1991. At the end of that year, Gorbachev stepped down as president of a country that had faded away beneath him. Still, in the annals of political prognoses of world-historical events, Amalrik’s accuracy probably deserves a prize. He was certainly right about the big picture. In the Soviet case, reform was ultimately incompatible with the continuation of the state itself. [...] All countries end. Every society has its own rock bottom, obscured by darkness until impact is imminent. Already in the sixth century, Amalrik wrote, goats were grazing in the Roman Forum. As a theorist of his own condition, he was in many ways a fatalist. He believed that the Soviet Union lacked the nimbleness to engage in system-shaking reform and still survive, and he was correct. But his broader contribution was to show the citizens of other, differently structured countries how to worry well. He offered a technique for suspending one’s deepest political mythologies and posing questions that might seem, here and now, to lie at the frontier of crankery.
25 years ago, Mariano Rivera made the one great start -- yes, start -- of his Hall of Fame career / ESPN
But the closest we came to missing out on Mariano Rivera's Hall of Fame career might have been the day he had the best outing of his life. It was 25 years ago today, when he was 25 years old. It came out of nowhere and it didn't. It hinted at Rivera's Hall of Fame future and it didn't. It changed Rivera's career and it didn't. Rivera took the mound in Chicago as a starter against the White Sox on July 4, 1995, called up to replace one of the New York Yankees' many injured starters. He had a 10.20 ERA in four career starts in the majors, all earlier in that 1995 season. He had struck out just nine batters in those four starts, walked eight and allowed four homers. But against a strong lineup on Independence Day, he threw eight shutout innings, striking out 11 batters and allowing only two hits. It was arguably the best start by any Yankees starter that year. [...] The reason it matters is that this was the moment Rivera's career path was being decided for him. [...] In all, Rivera seems to have been at risk of being traded at least four times during a nine-month time period. [...] He did start four more times. The next two starts were pretty good. The two after that were pretty bad, and just in time: The Yankees' other starters got healthy. With September call-ups, Rivera stayed in the majors as a reliever, instead of going back to the Columbus rotation. He pitched out of the bullpen six times following his final start, and he wasn't all that good, striking out only one batter while allowing three runs in six innings. His dominant relief career didn't really begin until that year's American League Division Series, when, by fluke and circumstance, he was called upon in the 12th inning of Game 2. He threw 3⅓ scoreless innings, struck out five, and was almost immediately recast as the Yankees' future closer.
How scientists know COVID-19 is way deadlier than the flu / National Geographic
What’s more, scientists today have a better sense of how to measure COVID-19's lethality, and the numbers are alarming. Using a more sophisticated calculation called the infection-fatality rate, paired with the past few months’ worth of data, the latest best estimates show that COVID-19 is around 50 to 100 times more lethal than the seasonal flu, on average. This means that the U.S. and other countries seeing case surges need to brace for a very deadly summer and autumn if tactics don’t change. “You don’t need to do a lot of calculations to know that 128,000 deaths is an extreme number of people who have passed away,” says University of Wollongong epidemiologist and self-described health nerd Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, citing the current death toll in the U.S.
When Police Kill / Marginal Revolution
We used to do the same thing with airplane crashes and medical mistakes–that is, look for pilot or physician error. Safety didn’t improve much until we started to apply systems thinking. We need a systems-thinking approach to police shootings. [...] Police kill more people than people kill police–a ratio of about 15 to 1–and the ratio has been increasing over time. Policing has become safer over the past 40 years with a 75% drop in police killed on the job since 1976–the fall is greater than for crime more generally and is probably due to Kevlar vests. Kevlar vests are an interesting technology because they make police safer without imposing more risk on citizens. We need more win-win technologies. Although policing has become safer over time, the number of police killings has not decreased in proportion which is why the “kill ratio” has increased.
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On Critics and Bullies / Mirror of Justice
There is an astonishing amount of bullying going on right now—in academia and elsewhere—and it is imperative that people stand up to those who seek to intimidate them into either silence or, more appallingly still, the affirmation of beliefs they actually do not hold. At the same time, we need to remember that the spirit of truth-seeking is a self-critical spirit, so we must avoid the temptation to insulate our beliefs from criticism by portraying and dismissing our legitimate critics as “bullies.” To me, the distinction between a critic and a bully is not hard to draw, and actually I’m not personally familiar with many “gray” or “borderline” cases. [...] A critic wants to disabuse you of an error; a bully wants to deprive you of your livelihood—both as a punishment for wrongthink and pour encourager les autres. A critic is willing to be challenged as well as to challenge; a bully regards any questioning of his or her beliefs as a personal assault—for example, a “bigoted” attack on his or her “identity.” A critic recognizes that you are entitled to your opinion, even if, in his or her judgment, it is erroneous; a bully insists that “error has no rights” and that those in error must be “re-educated” (via such things as ideologically inflected “training” in “cultural competency,” or “diversity,” or “unconscious bias awareness") or cancelled. A bully believes that dissent from his or her opinions is evidence of either stupidity (perhaps even mental illness) or malice (“bigotry”). One thing, it seems to me, that cannot be relied on to distinguish bullying from legitimate advocacy (collective or otherwise) is the virtue of the cause. There are certainly good and bad causes. Good causes—even the best of causes—can be, and have been, advanced by people deploying bad means, including bullying.
Can Philosophy Make People Generous? / Marginal Revolution
Schwitzgebel and Rust famously found that professors of ethics are no more ethical than other professors. Peter Singer being perhaps a famous exception to the rule. In follow-up research Schwitzgebel and psychologist Fiery Cushman tried to find philosophical arguments to change people’s willingness to donate to charity. They were unable to find any. But perhaps they just weren’t good at coming up with effective philosophical arguments. Thus, they challenged moral philosophers and psychologists to a contest: "Can you write a philosophical argument that effectively convinces research participants to donate money to charity?" By a philosophical argument they meant an argument and not an appeal to pity or emotion. No pictures of people clubbing baby seals. The contest had 100 entrants which were winnowed down in a series of tests. The test had people read the arguments and then decide how much of a promised payment they would they like to give to charity. An average of $2.58 was contributed to charity (of $10) in the control group (no argument). The best argument increased giving by 54% to $3.98. Not bad. [...] Now here’s the kicker. The winning argument was submitted by Peter Singer and Matthew Lindauer. Singer is clearly screwing with Schwitzgebel’s research! [...] I don’t think it’s an accident that the winning argument was the shortest and also the least purely philosophical. I’m not saying Singer and Lindauer cheated, but compared to the other arguments the Singer-Lindauer argument is concrete and by making people think of their own children, likely to arouse emotion. That too is a lesson.
A Horrifying U.S. Covid Curve Has a Simple Explanation / Bloomberg
A growing gap in case growth between Europe and the U.S. tells the tale: Declaring victory too soon is an excellent way to return to new heights.
Dinnerware Smashing in Slow Motion Accompanied by Bach / Kottke
Optical Arts conceived this video as a “live action musical animation” of cups, plates, and glasses smashing and un-smashing accompanied by the toccata section of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous organ piece, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I thought it was fully CGI at first (as The Morning News reported), but then I found the making of video on the project page and it’s not — they filmed all the glasses and dished smashing at extremely high speeds between 1000 and 5000 frames/second on Phantom cameras.
The Deleted Clause of the Declaration of Independence / Blackpast
When Thomas Jefferson included a passage attacking slavery in his draft of the Declaration of Independence it initiated the most intense debate among the delegates gathered at Philadelphia in the spring and early summer of 1776. Jefferson’s passage on slavery was the most important section removed from the final document. It was replaced with a more ambiguous passage about King George’s incitement of “domestic insurrections among us.” Decades later Jefferson blamed the removal of the passage on delegates from South Carolina and Georgia and Northern delegates who represented merchants who were at the time actively involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Jefferson’s original passage on slavery appears below. "He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."
Pyramids Discovered Under Water Off Coast of Cuba, Might Be Atlantis / Archaeology World
The title is ridiculous, but the find is pretty cool:
The remains of what may be a 6000-year-old city immersed in deep waters off the west coast of Cuba was discovered by a team of Canadian and Cuban researchers. [...] Moreover, an anthropologist affiliated with the Cuban Academy of Sciences has said that still photos were taken from the videotape clearly show “symbols and inscriptions,” Mr. Weinzweig said. It is not yet known in what language the inscriptions are written. The sonar images, he added, bear a remarkable resemblance to the pyramidal design of Mayan and Aztec temples in Mexico.
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