----- 3 stars -----
My Week of Radical Transparency at a Chinese Business Seminar / Wired
On a more intimate level, the class was also an opportunity to get to know a group of Chinese people who weren't related to me by blood. I'm a second-generation Chinese American, and I've always wondered about the other life I might have lived had my parents never emigrated, [...] For all our pretensions of being straight shooters, Americans don't really have the stomach for it. At least at the office. But encountering radical transparency in a Chinese setting seemed even more unlikely. In my reporting work, I'd spoken to many old-school Chinese laobans (bosses), where the communication had been ludicrously circuitous and involved numerous concessions to hierarchy and “face.” My classmates disproved my skepticism. They were chameleons, slipping easily between the opaqueness of traditional China and the unvarnished directness of modern China. [...] There were many moments like this, when my liberal Western sensibilities ran up against candid, Chinese ones. These moments left me confused. The comments often seemed misogynistic or callous; they also seemed to get at something real. [...] When I gave my self-assessment—I considered my education and family to be strengths, and my looks and wealth to be weaknesses—it was the first time in a very long time I'd said something negative about myself and not been told that I just had low self-esteem. No one said anything. There were no immediate protests or reassurances. And while initially the silence triggered something lonely and insecure in me, I also felt relieved. My insecurities weren't just in my head. They were real things that I could change or compensate for. In fact, if I lived in China, they were things that market conditions would force me to change and compensate for. [...] Like many American-born Chinese, I spent my childhood and adolescence holding my Chinese heritage in slight disdain. When I was in elementary and middle school, our trips to see the grandparents in Nanjing and Shanghai meant a number of physical inconveniences—air pollution, mosquitoes, dirty hospitals, squat toilets. Later on, as China developed, we saw its particular combination of gaudy consumerism and political centralization as gauche. My younger sister and I made fun of the fake Louis Vuitton bags, the sun umbrellas, the transactional nature of romantic relationships. We also viewed the government with suspicion. Our schools had taught us that liberal democracy is the only legitimate form of government, that anything else was evil and doomed to fail. We were haughty in our moral superiority. Yet China didn't fail. It thrived. [...] One would think that all these sea turtles, educated or at least exposed to the democratic tradition, would chafe under restrictions to speech, press, and assembly. Yet the impression I got at Zhen Academy, where roughly half of the class had spent some time abroad, and from talking to Chinese friends in the US, was the opposite. Some students, particularly from privileged classes, “come to this country and see how democracy works, and they actually become disenchanted,” says Yuhua Wang, a professor of political science at Harvard. “Part of the reason is that they see the problems, the inefficiencies, the gridlock of democracy. Back in China, everything seems to work very smoothly, because there's a very strong party.” In their eyes, the Chinese government is absolute but not arbitrary, and its decisions, while often harsh, nevertheless have a kind of logic.
Laura Leebrick, a manager at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in southern Oregon, is standing on the end of its landfill watching an avalanche of plastic trash pour out of a semitrailer: containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups. None of this plastic will be turned into new plastic things. All of it is buried. "To me that felt like it was a betrayal of the public trust," she said. "I had been lying to people ... unwittingly." [...] "I remember the first meeting where I actually told a city council that it was costing more to recycle than it was to dispose of the same material as garbage," she says, "and it was like heresy had been spoken in the room: You're lying. This is gold. We take the time to clean it, take the labels off, separate it and put it here. It's gold. This is valuable." But it's not valuable, and it never has been. And what's more, the makers of plastic — the nation's largest oil and gas companies — have known this all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite. NPR and PBS Frontline spent months digging into internal industry documents and interviewing top former officials. We found that the industry sold the public on an idea it knew wouldn't work — that the majority of plastic could be, and would be, recycled — all while making billions of dollars selling the world new plastic. The industry's awareness that recycling wouldn't keep plastic out of landfills and the environment dates to the program's earliest days, we found. "There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis," one industry insider wrote in a 1974 speech. Yet the industry spent millions telling people to recycle, because, as one former top industry insider told NPR, selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn't true.
Between volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and disease, no single place has inflicted anywhere near the same scale of disaster on itself and the rest of the planet. A 2004 earthquake near Sumatra killed some 227,000 people in 14 countries. In 2018, Indonesia was responsible for nearly half of all the world’s disaster-related deaths. But nothing before or since appears to have equaled the ferocity of the supervolcano Toba, which wiped out nearly every human on the planet 75,000 years ago, according to some scientists. The few thousand surviving Homo sapiens had to more or less start over. In the context of such history, you might not expect Indonesians to be easily spooked by word of another disaster, and a slow-moving one at that. But that would be wrong. The country’s latest tribulation has shaken people: Jakarta is sinking into the sea. In 2030, it will be the world’s most populous city, surpassing Tokyo, but just two decades later — in 2050 — it will also probably be largely under water. Already, at least 20% of the city sags below sea level. [...] Around the world, from Miami, New Orleans, and Houston to Bangkok, Dhaka, and Beijing, alarms are ringing about the coming fallout of the already-visible climate change catastrophe, and any of these sinking cities could one day follow Jakarta’s path. For now, though, only Widodo has matched words with such far-reaching action. Covid-19 has delayed his plans by at least a year. But in the mid- to late-2020s, he intends to have created a futuristic city 1,250 miles to the northeast, well removed from natural pestilences in a currently forest- and jungle-choked section of Borneo. It seemed a fairy tale for the apocalypse: the leader with a grand vision to move his people to higher ground, safe from disasters of all origins, natural and otherwise. I flew out to take a look.
Patterns of political unification and fragmentation have crucial implications for comparative economic development. Diamond (1997) famously argued that “fractured land” was responsible for China’s tendency toward political unification and Europe’s protracted political fragmentation. We build a dynamic model with granular geographical information in terms of topographical features and the location of productive agricultural land to quantitatively gauge the effects of “fractured land” on state formation in Eurasia. We find that either topography or productive land alone is sufficient to account for China’s recurring political unification and Europe’s persistent political fragmentation. The existence of a core region of high land productivity in Northern China plays a central role in our simulations. We discuss how our results map into observed historical outcomes and assess how robust our findings are.
Years before Trump’s election the media dramatically increased coverage of racism and embraced new theories of racial consciousness that set the stage for the latest unrest [...] Countless articles have been published in recent weeks, often under the guise of straight news reporting, in which journalists take for granted the legitimacy of novel theories about race and identity. Such articles illustrate a prevailing new political morality on questions of race and justice that has taken power at the Times and Post—a worldview sometimes abbreviated as “wokeness” that combines the sensibilities of highly educated and hyperliberal white professionals with elements of Black nationalism and academic critical race theory. But the media’s embrace of “wokeness” did not begin in response to the death of George Floyd. This racial ideology first began to take hold at leading liberal media institutions years before the arrival of Donald Trump and, in fact, heavily influenced the journalistic response to the protest movements of recent years and their critique of American society.
Earlier this summer, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee set about crunching data on more than 40,000 genes from 17,000 genetic samples in an effort to better understand Covid-19. Summit is the second-fastest computer in the world, but the process — which involved analyzing 2.5 billion genetic combinations — still took more than a week. When Summit was done, researchers analyzed the results. It was, in the words of Dr. Daniel Jacobson, lead researcher and chief scientist for computational systems biology at Oak Ridge, a “eureka moment.” The computer had revealed a new theory about how Covid-19 impacts the body: the bradykinin hypothesis. The hypothesis provides a model that explains many aspects of Covid-19, including some of its most bizarre symptoms. It also suggests 10-plus potential treatments, many of which are already FDA approved.
In this year’s playoffs, we’ve seen a tale of two Raptors: the team with Kyle Lowry and the team without. If you watch every second Lowry has been on the floor, you’ll see a Toronto cakewalk. They have a shot at a title outscoring opponents by eight points per 100 possessions. If, on the other hand, you watch the minutes Lowry has been on the bench, it’s just about a tie, and the Raptors are not elite at all. This might be surprising for a player who—when you mash his box-score stats together into PER, emerges as the 57th best player in the NBA this season. [...] But if he’s a top five or 10 NBA player at winning, while being only OK at those easy-to-measure things … he must be a genius at the other things, which we often mistakenly call little things. [...] An undersized player, without elite athleticism, who had to work hard to become an NBA-grade shooter … is a longshot to make an NBA team. And yet, he was always elite in plus/minus statistics—at Villanova where he often played power forward, for the Memphis Grizzlies where he was the injured third-string point guard averaging as many fouls as buckets, when he was on the bench as a Rocket, and especially once he learned how to shoot 3-pointers. How in the hell did he do that?
There aren’t many books out there these days by revolutionary communists who are into the genetics of intelligence. But then there aren’t many writers like Freddie DeBoer. [...] For DeBoer, that means ending meritocracy — for “what could be crueler than an actual meritocracy, a meritocracy fulfilled?” It means a revolutionary transformation in which there are no social or cultural rewards for higher intelligence, no higher after-tax income for the brainy, and in which education, with looser standards, is provided for everyone on demand — for the sake of nothing but itself. DeBoer believes the smart will do fine under any system, and don’t need to be incentivized — and their disproportionate gains in our increasingly knowledge-based economy can simply be redistributed to everyone else. In fact, the transformation in the economic rewards of intelligence — they keep increasing at an alarming rate as we leave physical labor behind — is not just not a problem, it is, in fact, what will make human happiness finally possible. If early 20th Century Russia was insufficiently developed for communism, in other words, America today is ideal. [...] This genetic case for communism can leave a reader a little disoriented, I have to say, if only for its novelty. But it is more coherent, it seems to me, than a leftism that assumes that genes are irrelevant to humans and society, that the ultimate goal is to be as smart and thereby wealthy as possible, and that we can set up an educational system where everyone, regardless of their genetic inheritance, can succeed or fail by their own efforts. What sounds like a meritocratic dream is, in practice, a brutal and unforgiving formula for most who can’t achieve it — and has obviously failed if its task is to foster equality. In fact, mass education appears to have increased the gulf between rich and poor. As Freddie notes, “education is not a weapon against inequality; it is an engine of inequality.” [...] He is emphatic on this, as well he might be, inveighing against pernicious “race scientists” whose genetic reductionism he says is indistinguishable from racism. But he is almost as withering about those “well-meaning but misguided people who dismiss the importance of genetics out of hand, who associate any discussion of the heritability of behavioral traits with the worst elements of eugenics and colonialism, and who make grandiose claims about a scientific literature they have never read.” He has, in fact, read some of it, and notes that the genetic origins of intelligence are increasingly indisputable. [...] And this is, surely, a moral project as much as a political one. To see intelligence as having some kind of special moral salience, to see it as the ultimate virtue or credential, is bizarre. Yes, we can admire the astonishing ability of, say, a master chess player, or a gifted coder. But we need not see them as somehow better human beings. You can acknowledge the central role of intelligence in helping some achieve their goals, without valorizing it as the ultimate compliment.
How a Massive Bomb Came Together in Beirut’s Port / New York Times
If you can, read this on the NYT website rather than a reader like Pocket; they've done a really nice job conveying information via article scroll:
Fifteen tons of fireworks. Jugs of kerosene and acid. Thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate. A system of corruption and bribes let the perfect bomb sit for years. [...] Late last year, a new security officer at the port of Beirut stumbled upon a broken door and a hole in the wall of a storage hangar. He peered inside and made a frightening discovery. Thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, a compound used in explosives, was spilling from torn bags. In the same hangar were jugs of oil, kerosene and hydrochloric acid; five miles of fuse on wooden spools; and 15 tons of fireworks — in short, every ingredient needed to construct a bomb that could devastate a city. About 100,000 people lived within a mile of the warehouse, which had jury-rigged electricity and not so much as a smoke alarm or sprinkler. Alarmed, the officer, Capt. Joseph Naddaf of the State Security agency, warned his superiors about what appeared to be an urgent security threat. But it turned out that other Lebanese officials already knew. Lots of officials. An investigation by a team of New York Times reporters who conducted dozens of interviews with port, customs and security officials, shipping agents and other maritime trade professionals revealed how a corrupt and dysfunctional system failed to respond to the threat while enriching the country’s political leaders through bribery and smuggling.
Two years back I wrote an article for Foreign Policy with the title "Taiwan Can Win a War With China." In a recent interview with Jordan Schneider (for his podcast ChinaTalk) I stated that I can no longer endorse the declaration in that title. While I discuss my change of heart on the podcast, I think it is best if I fully write out why my assessment has changed. All of that is still true. Even in a worse-case scenario, an invasion is a risky gamble for the Communists. The inherent advantages of the Taiwan's geography and current technology mean that if the Taiwanese willed it, they could make their island an impenetrable fortress. But there is the catch. The Taiwanese must will it. [...] Behind all of that is a more fundamental problem. Taiwan's leaders are afraid to ask their people to make meaningful sacrifice to preserve their freedoms. Deterring away the PLA has costs. It will require taxes. It will require a real conscription. It will require real reservists. It will mean turning Taiwan into something like a garrison state. Inspiring the Taiwanese people to make these sacrifices is the job of President Tsai and the leading members of her party. Thus far she has elected not to do this. Indeed, her administration has focused on almost everything but this. There are sound electoral reasons for this. The details of national defense do not push any Taiwanese identity culture-war buttons. Real preparedness would bring with it real costs. It is far easier to settle for pageantry and symbolism and hope that if there ever is a crisis, the 7th Fleet will come to save you.
Donald Trump is so unlike most people, and so especially unlike anyone raised under a conventional moral framework, that he’s perpetually misdiagnosed. The words we see slapped on him most often, like “fascist” and “authoritarian,” nowhere near describe what he really is, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. It’s been proven across four years that Trump lacks the attention span or ambition required to implement a true dictatorial regime. [...] Those of us with liberal arts educations and professional-class jobs often have trouble processing this sort of thing. If you work in a hospital and someone asks you a patient’s hematocrit level, no one expects you to open with fifteen times the real number. But this is a huge part of Trump’s M.O. By the end of the 2016 race, some of us in media were struggling with what to tell readers about Trump’s intentions, given that he would frequently offer contradictory proposals (with matching impassioned explanations) within minutes of each other, sometimes even within the same sentence. [...] Read what sales books have to say about morality or belief systems and Trump starts to make even more sense. [...] The question, “What is Trump thinking?” is the wrong one. He’s not thinking, he’s selling. What’s he selling? Whatever pops into his head. The beauty of politics from his point of view, compared to every other damn thing he’s sold in his life — steaks, ties, pillows, college degrees, chandeliers, hotels, condominiums, wine, eyeglasses, deodorant, perfume (SUCCESS by Trump!), mattresses, etc. — is that there’s no product. The pitch is the product, and you can give different pitches to different people and they all buy. [...] In this sense the Republican Party’s 2020 platform is genius: there isn’t one, just a commitment to “enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda,” meaning whatever Trump says at any given moment. If one can pull back enough from the fact that this impacts our actual lives, it’s hard not to admire the breathtaking amorality of this, as one might admire a simple malevolent organism like a virus or liver fluke. [...] Ever since Trump jumped into politics, the pattern has been the same. He enters the arena hauling nothing but negatives and character liabilities, but leaves every time armed with winnable issues handed to him by overreacting opponents. His schtick is to provoke rivals to the point where they drop what they’re doing and spend their time screaming at him, which from the jump validates the primary tenet of his worldview, i.e. that everything is about him. Political opponents seem incapable of not handing him free advertising. [...] American politics has become an interminable clash of off-putting pathologies. Call it the hydroxychloroquine effect. Trump one day in a press conference mutters that a drug has “tremendous promise” as a treatment of coronavirus. Within ten seconds a consensus forms that hydroxycholoroquine is snake oil. [...] All of which is insane, but so is rooting for a drug to not work in the middle of a historic pandemic, the clear subtext of nearly every news story on this topic dating back to March. Rule #1 of the Trump era is that everything Trump touches quickly becomes as infamous as he is, maybe not the biggest deal when talking about an obscure anti-malarial drug, but problematic when the subject is America itself. [...] Institutional America is now organized around a Trump-led America. The news media will lose billions with him gone (and will be lost editorially). The Democratic Party has no message — literally none — apart from him.
Last month, the United Nations set off a furor in the climate community when it clumsily tried to raise awareness about the global problem of meat consumption. “The meat industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the world’s biggest oil companies,” it wrote on Twitter. “Meat production contributes to the depletion of water resources & drives deforestation.” The U.N. then implored its 12.7 million followers to “eat less meat” because “every climate action counts.” The tweet triggered meat industry spokespeople, government officials, and a few academics, who pointed to consensus estimates showing that the livestock industry contributes 15 percent of global emissions, while the largest oil companies generate considerably more. Influential climate scientist Michael Mann called the tweet “not true by any defensible accounting.” The U.N.’s social media team might have been referring to a recent report suggesting that the largest meat and dairy companies’ emissions are on track to overtake the largest oil companies’, or more aggressive estimates suggesting meat and dairy make up as much as 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions globally when you take related deforestation into account. But the U.N. didn’t cite its sources and, rather than debate the matter, deleted the tweet. The broader discussion of meat’s environmental toll—the two-thirds of the tweet that was indisputably right—thus disappeared in an uproar over a questionable calculation. You could not find a more perfect illustration of the problem with modern climate discourse. All too frequently, activists, politicians, and scientists reduce the all-consuming crisis of global warming to a question of greenhouse gas emissions: what drives them up, and how best to bring them down. The natural world and its nonhuman inhabitants are reduced to a series of models and equations.
Well, that was some clash of the heavyweights. Astronomers reported on Wednesday that they had detected the loudest, most massive and most violent collision yet between a pair of black holes. Two Goliaths of darkness crashed into each other seven billion years ago, vibrating space-time and producing a loud, sharp chirp — almost a bang, one astronomer said — lasting just a tenth of a second in the antennas of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and the Virgo interferometer observatory. That short signal from a galaxy far, far away has left astrophysicists with new questions about how black holes form and grow.
In early August, Spain's former King Juan Carlos left the country following allegations of financial wrongdoing. But the country's affection for its monarch began to unravel as far back as 2012, following an ill-fated elephant hunt. With the king on that safari was his former lover Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. She talks exclusively to the BBC about a multi-million euro gift from Juan Carlos, her claims of harassment by Spain's secret service - and that elephant.
Here is a question that has fascinates: how to account for the disastrous foreign policy of George W. Bush, when his foreign policy team returned to office in 2001 as the most credentialed and accomplished group of foreign policy professionals Washington had seen in the modern nat-sec era? How did the men and women who won the Cold War, shepherded the reunification of Germany, managed the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union, secured democratic transitions in Eastern Europe, Latin America, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines, and orchestrated two successful wars (in Panama and in the Persian Gulf) under Reagan and Bush I manage to mess up things so badly under Bush II?
A new study published in the Nature Scientific Reports on July 13 suggests that powerful eruptions on the Sun can trigger large earthquakes on Earth. In the paper, the authors analyzed 20 years of proton density and velocity data, as recorded by the SOHO satellite, and the worldwide seismicity in the corresponding period, as reported by the ISC-GEM catalogue. They found a clear correlation between proton density and the occurrence of large earthquakes (M > 5.6), with a time shift of one day.
Devotees of this interactive Off-Broadway play don’t just love the show. Some return hundreds of times, building an obsessive network of friendships along the way. [...] Set in a dreamlike, Hitchcockian (by way of Lynch) “McKittrick Hotel,” “Sleep No More,” located in a sprawling warehouse on 27th Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan, is equal parts “Macbeth” and “Rebecca,” dance show and art installation, theatre piece and extended role-playing game. Masked audience members are free to roam (silently) anywhere in the six-story space, which includes a full-scale mental hospital, a Scottish town high street, a cemetery, a palatial estate, a forest, and the titular hotel itself. They can follow characters, rummage through drawers in search of letters that might illuminate the story, or simply sit in a corner and listen to the eerie, 1930s-style music that weaves its way throughout the building. There is more than twenty-seven hours of material in the show, which, combined with the nightly cast rotations, makes it virtually impossible to see the same show twice, and allows superfans to collect vast catalogs of knowledge about the show in its endless possible permutations. The luckiest audience members, by popular fandom consensus, are those who get the “one on ones” (or “1:1s,” as members of the fandom refer to them on Tumblr). At certain designated moments in “Sleep No More,” characters lock eyes with certain audience members — often those who have followed them most faithfully throughout a “loop” of action. They extend a hand, and Lady Macduff, or one of the Witches, or Hecate herself, might take you into a locked room. They remove your mask. They whisper words into your ear: fragments of Du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” or of “Macbeth” itself, or some hybrid of the two. Sometimes they might even kiss you, or give you a trinket to keep.
Research biologist Adrian Smith, who specializes in insects, recently filmed a number of different types of flying insects taking off and flying away at 3200 frames/sec. Before watching, I figured I’d find this interesting — flying and slow motion together? sign me up! — but this video was straight-up mesmerizing with just the right amount of informative narration from Smith. There’s such an amazing diversity in wing shape and flight styles among even this small group of insects; I had to keep rewinding it to watch for details that I’d missed. Also, don’t miss the fishfly breaking the fourth wall by looking right at the camera while taking off at 6:07. I see you, my dude.
Making films is a creative pursuit which requires money. In cinematography, having a larger budget means having more control over creating images, although that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to make films with little or even close to no resources. I'll analyse 3 films with 3 vastly different budgets to show some techniques you can use to shoot with depending on your budget level.
Writers like the Grimm Brothers and Robert Browning may have shaped the Pied Piper legend into art, but it turns out the story is likely based on an actual historical incident.
Siena, Italy, crams 30,000 people into the amount of space occupied by a five-stack interchange in the Bayou City.
A team of researchers is using new technology to uncover texts that were erased and written over by the monks who lived and worked at the monastery. Many of these original texts were written in languages well known to researchers—Latin, Greek, Arabic—but others were inscribed in long-lost languages that are rarely seen in the historical record.
Current US excess all-cause mortality is running around 10K above trend line on a good week. For these purposes we need neither know nor care if this is do to Covid directly, fear of catching Covid, or the effects of lockdown policies (e.g. increased rates of suicide from business failure). Suppose we vaccinated the entire population. We would have to have a fatality rate of 1/32,000 to match a single week of the excess deaths the CDC is reporting every week. [...] Inaction has one of the highest price tags we have ever seen in modern medicine. I just do not see any evidence that my pre-test priors for a vaccine being that deadly should be remotely high enough to make the math on delay work out.
Bill Edgar has, in his own words, "no respect for the living". Instead, his loyalty is to the newly departed clients who hire Mr Edgar — known as "the coffin confessor" — to carry out their wishes from beyond the grave. Mr Edgar runs a business in which, for $10,000, he is engaged by people "knocking on death's door" to go to their funerals or gravesides and reveal the secrets they want their loved ones to know. [...] Dressed in tailored pants and vest, Mr Edgar said he was very respectful in the way he carried out his job. "I actually blend in with the mourners," he said. "I sit with the family and friends. I sit in the middle with everybody." In the case of his very first client Mr Edgar said he was instructed to interrupt the man's best friend when he was delivering the eulogy. "I was to tell the best mate to sit down and shut up," he said.