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The Election That Could Break America / The Atlantic

If we are lucky, this fraught and dysfunctional election cycle will reach a conventional stopping point in time to meet crucial deadlines in December and January. The contest will be decided with sufficient authority that the losing candidate will be forced to yield. Collectively we will have made our choice—a messy one, no doubt, but clear enough to arm the president-elect with a mandate to govern. As a nation, we have never failed to clear that bar. But in this election year of plague and recession and catastrophized politics, the mechanisms of decision are at meaningful risk of breaking down. Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result. We have no fail-safe against that calamity. Thus the blinking red lights. [...] A lot of people, including Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, have mis­conceived the nature of the threat. They frame it as a concern, unthinkable for presidents past, that Trump might refuse to vacate the Oval Office if he loses. They generally conclude, as Biden has, that in that event the proper authorities “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.” The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power. Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states. Ambiguities in the Constitution and logic bombs in the Electoral Count Act make it possible to extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day, which would bring the nation to a precipice. The Twentieth Amendment is crystal clear that the president’s term in office “shall end” at noon on January 20, but two men could show up to be sworn in. One of them would arrive with all the tools and power of the presidency already in hand. “We are not prepared for this at all,” Julian Zelizer, a Prince­ton professor of history and public affairs, told me. “We talk about it, some worry about it, and we imagine what it would be. But few people have actual answers to what happens if the machinery of democracy is used to prevent a legitimate resolution to the election.”

The Race to Redesign Sugar / The New Yorker

These measures seem to be having an impact. Recent surveys report that seventy per cent of Americans are concerned about the sugar in their diets, and U.K. shoppers rate sugar content as the most important factor in making healthy food choices. As public opinion turns against sugar, food companies have outdone one another in pledges to cut the quantities of it that appear in their products. Pepsi has promised that by 2025 at least two-thirds of its drinks will contain a hundred calories or fewer from added sweeteners. A consortium of candy companies, including Mars Wrigley, Ferrero, and Russell Stover, recently declared that by 2022 half of their single-serving products will contain at most two hundred calories per pack. Nestlé has resolved to use five per cent less added sugar by the end of this year—though, as of January, it still had more than twenty thousand tons of the stuff left to eliminate. The problem is that sugar isn’t easy to replace. Despite scientists’ best efforts in the past century, none of the artificial alternatives that have been developed are quite as irresistible, let alone as versatile in the kitchen. The looming impact of new nutrition standards, combined with regulatory pressure and public sentiment, has led to something of a panic in the industry, and a flurry of innovation. The new race—in which DouxMatok is only one of several competitors—is not to develop a substitute for sugar but to design a better sugar altogether.

‘Dr. Phosphine’ and the Possibility of Life on Venus / Wired

But, of course, as queen of the hill no one could see, Sousa-Silva always kept her eye on phosphine. It seemed like it could make an exceptional biosignature, which was a frequent topic of conversation in her group at MIT. “We established this trifecta,” she says: Life has to produce it in abundance; it has to survive in detectable amounts in a planet’s atmosphere and be distinguishable from other molecules; and it shouldn’t easily trick scientists by popping into existence in nonbiological, hard-to-track ways. The more work the team—which grew beyond MIT to include UK and California collaborators—did on phosphine, the more promising it seemed: On Earth, the molecule only appeared in the presence of living things. Work led by colleague William Bains showed that planetary processes (on rocky planets, rather than gas giants) couldn’t make much of the gas, even on an extreme world, such as those Sousa-Silva jokingly describes as “all volcanoes everywhere all day every day.” But while some phosphine could get mixed up that way, it would be negligible compared to what you’d expect from living beings, allowing the group to distinguish the two routes of production. The group simulated oxygen-starved fictional planets, to see if their biospheres would produce phosphine that would then accumulate in their atmospheres and stick around in a way telescopes could see. It could, and powerful instruments like the planned James Webb Space Telescope would be sensitive enough to detect whiffs of it light-years away. It finally felt to Sousa-Silva like a perfect biosignature to seek. “I changed my twitter handle to @DrPhosphine,” she says. After Greaves saw what looked like phosphine on Venus, the handle seemed even more apt. Along with their colleagues, the two scientists continued to probe the idea. But not too quickly, or without caution: The first thing to do if you think you might have found aliens is determine all the not-alien things it could be instead. You also have to double-check that the signal exists at all, and that it is not a measurement error or some other scientific fake-out.

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Oliver Burkeman's last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life / The Guardian
This was a popular article earlier this month, but I didn't think much of it when I skimmed it. A friend told me to give it a closer read, and he was right; this is worth your time:

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question elicits a deeper, intuitive response. [...] The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower. It’s shocking to realise how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life, merely to avoid easily tolerable levels of unpleasantness. You already know it won’t kill you to endure the mild agitation of getting back to work on an important creative project; initiating a difficult conversation with a colleague; asking someone out; or checking your bank balance – but you can waste years in avoidance nonetheless. (This is how social media platforms flourish: by providing an instantly available, compelling place to go at the first hint of unease.) It’s possible, instead, to make a game of gradually increasing your capacity for discomfort, like weight training at the gym.

The Inside Story of the Mueller Probe’s Mistakes / The Atlantic

Andrew Weissmann was one of Robert Mueller’s top deputies in the special counsel’s investigation of the 2016 election, and he’s about to publish the first insider account, called Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation. The title comes from an adapted quote by the philosopher John Locke that’s inscribed on the façade of the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C.: “Wherever law ends, tyranny begins.” Weissmann offers a damning indictment of a “lawless” president and his knowing accomplices—Attorney General William Barr (portrayed as a cynical liar), congressional Republicans, criminal flunkies, Fox News. Donald Trump, he writes, is “like an animal, clawing at the world with no concept of right and wrong.” But in telling the story of the investigation and its fallout, Weissmann reserves his most painful words for the Special Counsel’s Office itself. Where Law Ends portrays a group of talented, dedicated professionals beset with internal divisions and led by a man whose code of integrity allowed their target to defy them and escape accountability. “There’s no question I was frustrated at the time,” Weissmann told me in a recent interview. “There was more that could be done that we didn’t do.”

2020 Bundles / Stratechery

If the famous Jim Barksdale quote is to be believed — the one about there only being two ways to make money in business, bundling and unbundling — then I am long past due for a follow-up to 2017’s The Great Unbundling. [...] For purposes of this article, though, Netflix is straightforward: Netflix bundles individual shows. Netflix’s business model is selling subscriptions to that bundle. Other bundles are much less straightforward. [...] At first glance, Disney+ seems a lot like Netflix: pay a monthly price, and get access to a bunch of different shows. However differences quickly become apparent: Disney+ only has Disney (and Disney-owned 21st Century) content, whereas Netflix has both its own content and content from other networks. Disney+ is significantly cheaper than Netflix ($6.99 versus $12.99). Disney+ does not necessarily include everything on Disney+; for example, last month Disney released Mulan on Disney+ for an additional $29.99. These differences make sense when you realize that Disney+ is not simply about earning subscription revenue; rather, it is a direct-to-consumer touchpoint for Disney’s entire business. [...] It took me a long time to figure out what exactly Amazon was trying to accomplish with Amazon Prime Video, its now 14 year-old streaming service. The most obvious explanation is that it was a way to acquire customers for Amazon Prime, the then-2-day shipping service with which it was bundled. But then Amazon started offering Prime Video subscriptions on its own — was it a Netflix competitor? Or was Prime Video a loss leader for Amazon Channels, where Amazon made money selling other streaming services? Meanwhile, Amazon Prime keeps adding on more and more disparate services: delivery, video, music, video games, photo storage, a clothing service, books, magazines — the Prime benefits page has 28 different items listed! To some extent, the answer is “all of the above”, but it is notable that many customers only find out about many of these features after they are subscribers; Amazon may tell you about the book benefits when you buy an e-book for example, Amazon Music when you set up an Echo, or remind you about Prime Video when you checkout. The most valuable impact in these cases is giving you yet another reason to not churn.

Is It Strange to Say I Miss the Bodies of Strangers? / New York Times

Just a week before that final trip to the East Village baths, at the end of February, I flew to Istanbul to visit its legendary hammams. Turkey is home to some of the most stunning bathhouses in the world, and I was hoping that visiting these Old World ancestors of the East 10th Street baths might help me understand why I loved their descendants as deeply as I did. Late February was the last moment when it still seemed possible that everything might not change; that for Americans, Covid-19 could remain a problem on the other side of the world. Coronavirus cases had recently peaked in China, and epidemics were blooming elsewhere — South Korea, Italy, Iran. The Istanbul Airport was decorated with now-ominous tourist banners that read “Gateway to Asia,” with immigration officers checking all our passports for stamps from China. Passengers in blue masks kept their distance from one another and warily eyed anyone who coughed or sneezed. But Turkey hadn’t yet been hit by the pandemic, and in the hammams of Istanbul, I spent time in a world where it was still possible — still natural, still untroubled — to get close to the bodies of strangers. In those marble dens scattered across the city — Cemberlitas, Cagaloglu, Kilic Ali Pasa — there was no social distancing, only the humidity of collective exposure, naked skin on marble. Other people weren’t yet seen primarily as potential disease vectors, but as subjects of pleasure, tender animals, hungry for care and touch, all of us lying side by side in the radiant heat.

Magic Leap Tried to Create an Alternate Reality. Its Founder Was Already in One / Bloomberg

Reality finally set in for Rony Abovitz in May. The augmented reality headset that had been under development for nine years inside his company, Magic Leap Inc., had been a colossal flop. In a tearful address over video conference, Abovitz told employees that he would resign. Abovitz, whose infectious optimism helped Magic Leap secure total investments of about $3.5 billion, didn’t stay down long. [...] Magic Leap once burned bright. Many high-profile investors made the pilgrimage to a swampy, downtrodden suburb of Miami, where they became convinced Abovitz was building a kind of Apple Inc. for computers strapped to people’s faces. Private demonstrations of the technology, which made it appear as though digital objects viewed through the headset existed in the physical world, helped procure capital from China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., AT&T Inc., Google and the chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. Magic Leap’s plan was to squeeze the technology down into a consumer device, construct a factory to manufacture it at scale, design an operating system, video games and films and spark the creation of a vast new content industry. [...] “If you look at the best computing products, at the history of them, people that had hardware and software integration and understand the entire consumer experience, they built the best overall products.” He elaborated in a separate interview: “This is like Apple in 1978.” At its peak—a peak that predated any public evidence of an actual product—technologists raved about Magic Leap’s potential. Shortly before he was appointed CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai joined Magic Leap’s board in 2014 and declared the product would “revolutionize the way people communicate, purchase, learn, share and play.” Pichai quietly withdrew from the board in 2018 and installed a Google subordinate in his place. After Magic Leap’s $2,300 headset bombed, the startup narrowed its focus to professional applications, tried unsuccessfully to sell the company and fired more than half of its staff. Investors wrote down their stakes by an average of about 94% over a 12-month period ending in June, a steeper decline than WeWork, according to data collected by Zanbato, a research firm that tracks institutional investors.

Love the Fig / New Yorker

The produce section of the grocery store is a botanical disaster. Most people know that a tomato is technically a fruit, but so is an eggplant, a cucumber, and a spaghetti squash. A banana, which grows from a flower with a single ovary, is actually a berry, while a strawberry, which grows from a flower with several ovaries, isn’t a berry at all but an aggregate fruit. The most confusing classification, though, will start showing up on American shelves this month. Shoppers will find mission figs with the grapes, kiwis, and other fruit, but a clever botanist would sell them at the florist, with the fresh-cut roses. Although many people dismiss figs as a geriatric delicacy or the sticky stuff inside bad cookies, they are, in fact, something awesome: enclosed flowers that bloom modestly inward, unlike the flamboyant showoffs on other plants. Bite a fig in half and you’ll discover a core of tiny blossoms. All kinds of critters, not only humans, frequent fig trees, but the plants owe their existence to what may be evolution’s most intimate partnership between two species. Because a fig is actually a ball of flowers, it requires pollination to reproduce, but, because the flowers are sealed, not just any bug can crawl inside.* That task belongs to a minuscule insect known as the fig wasp, whose life cycle is intertwined with the fig’s. Mother wasps lay their eggs in an unripe fig. After their offspring hatch and mature, the males mate and then chew a tunnel to the surface, dying when their task is complete. The females follow and take flight, riding the winds until they smell another fig tree. (One species of wasp, in Africa, travels ten times farther than any other known pollinator.) When the insects discover the right specimen, they go inside and deposit the pollen from their birthplace. Then the females lay new eggs, and the cycle begins again. For the wasp mother, however, devotion to the fig plant soon turns tragic. A fig’s entranceway is booby-trapped to destroy her wings, so that she can never visit another plant. When you eat a dried fig, you’re probably chewing fig-wasp mummies, too.

Will Democrats Fail the Amy Coney Barrett Test? / The Atlantic
Caitlin Flanagan:

I’m a Catholic, more or less. I can follow along with the Mass in many languages I don’t know, and at Mass I feel connected to generations of women in my family. But People of Praise is foreign to me. If I were in the Senate, I would want to know quite a bit about it, and in particular about what it requires of its members when they operate within the secular world. In other words, what are the ecclesiastical pronouncements of her faith? These are questions that could be asked in a thorough and respectful manner. Given the national mood, I doubt that will happen. Rather, if Barrett is nominated, the confirmation hearings are likely to provide Democratic senators with an opportunity to demonstrate their assumptions of moral rectitude and preening intellectual superiority. They will eagerly display the purifying anger that feeds their insulted and enraged party. In short, they will reify certain conservative assumptions about the left such that once again, Donald Trump may claim both the low road and the upper hand.

Nvidia’s Integration Dreams / Stratechery

Over the weekend Nvidia consummated the biggest chip deal in history when it acquired Arm from Softbank for around $40 billion in stock and cash. [...] Beginning my analysis with stock prices is not normally what I do; I’m generally more concerned with the strategies and business models of which stock price is a result, not a driver. The truth, though, is that once you start digging into the details of Nvidia and ARM, it is rather difficult to see what strategy might be driving this acquisition. [...] By far the best articulation of the upside of this deal came, unsurprisingly, from Huang. What was notable about said articulation, though, was that it came 46 minutes into the investor call about the acquisition, and only then in response to a fairly obvious question: why does Nvidia need to own ARM, instead of simply license it (like Apple, which has a perpetual license to the ARM ISA, and is not affected by this acquisition)? What was so striking about Huang’s answer was not simply its expansiveness — I’ve transcribed the entire answer below — but also the way in which he delivered it; unlike the rest of the call, Huang’s voice was halting and uncertain, as if he were scared of his own ambition.

The eye test makes you blind to the important stuff / Ken Pomeroy
This should really be two or three separate blog posts, and it jumps between topics, but it does have several interesting bits:

College basketball has always been an outlier in the sports world in using opinions to influence who makes its post-season tournament. If subjective opinions are used exclusively, this season will be even worse. In the event of no or very few non-conference games, how does one compare a 10-10 Big East team to an 11-7 Pac-12 team to a 16-0 MAC team using the eye test? It is a bizarre exercise to consider. [...] Whether this is the result of overt racism or subconscious bias is beyond the scope of this piece. But you have to tie yourself into a serious logical knot to believe that African-Americans are qualified to be assistant coaches, but not head coaches. However, people will tie themselves into those knots. Sadly, it appears coaching hires are often made by the eye test. [...] Because as you can see, people (other coaches, no less) either think Black coaches aren’t qualified for such consideration or they have a blind spot. I would invite anyone to try to come up with an objective way to measure in-game coaching performance that produces a list where the top 25 coaches are White. (I’ve tried and found no racial trend.) [...] One might say that it’s unfair to assume a certain conference will be better than another. Under normal circumstances, perhaps. But unusual circumstances require creative solutions. And this works well in practice. The ACC has never been worse than the WCC on average, despite the fact the WCC usually has a team that would be capable of competing for an ACC title. We know that the Big Ten will be better than the AAC, which will be better than the Mountain West, and all of those leagues are always among the top ten conferences. To illustrate how well this works, let’s first look at how my pre-season ratings have fared for both teams and conferences over the past decade.

The Distribution of Vaccines in the 19th Century / Marginal Revolution

In 1803, the [Spanish] king, convinced of the benefits of the vaccine, ordered his personal physician Francis Xavier de Balmis, to deliver it to the Spanish dominions in North and South America. To maintain the vaccine in an available state during the voyage, the physician recruited 22 young boys who had never had cowpox or smallpox before, aged three to nine years, from the orphanages of Spain. During the trip across the Atlantic, de Balmis vaccinated the orphans in a living chain. Two children were vaccinated immediately before departure, and when cowpox pustules had appeared on their arms, material from these lesions was used to vaccinate two more children. [...] In the United States, Thomas Jefferson also wanted to be vaccinated but after several failures to deliver live cowpox from the Harvard Medical School, “Jefferson designed a new container: An inner chamber would hold the fluid lymph, while a surrounding chamber, filled with cool water, insulated the lymph.” [Later] President Thomas Jefferson gave some cow lymph to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to take on their explorations west of the Mississippi River. Antoine Saugrain, the only practicing physician in St. Louis when Louisiana was purchased by the United States from France in 1803, received some cowpox lymph from Lewis and Clark and began to vaccinate individuals free of charge, including Native Americans. Saugrain’s free vaccination program established cowpox in the Mississippi valley roughly a decade after Jenner published his inquiry.

How The Post Office Became A Political Football / FiveThirtyEight

The post office can’t catch a break. Over the summer, operational changes implemented by the U.S. Postal Service’s new postmaster general raised concerns about mail delays. This prompted congressional investigations, lawsuits, a lot of political rhetoric, and even more public worry about whether the disruptions pose a threat to what will likely be the most mail-reliant election in history. But the Postal Service isn’t struggling merely because of one new postmaster general’s changes — decades of events out of its control have positioned the agency to be particularly vulnerable when crisis struck.

How the G.O.P. Might Get to Yes on Replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg / New York Times
Ross Douthat:

Imagine a Republican senator uncertain whether to vote for the Supreme Court nominee that President Trump is poised to put forward. He is part of a select group, our senator; perhaps we can even guess how many children and grandchildren he has, how steeply his hair still rises from his brow, how close he once came to being president himself. Here is how he might consider the problem. On the one hand there is the threat of what keeps being called a “legitimacy crisis” should Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday, be quickly replaced by a conservative jurist. It would be Donald Trump’s third appointment following a presidential election in which Senate Republicans declined to vote on Barack Obama’s final nominee. Trump did not win the popular vote in 2016; his Senate coalition doesn’t represent a popular majority. In replacing Ginsburg he would be altering the balance of the court more decisively than with his previous picks, both of whom took seats from Republican appointees. And he would be doing so in a country that’s already polarized, maddened, suffused with hysteria. [...] That’s the situation as understood on the left and much of the center. But our senator is a Republican senator, mindful of his own coalition’s views. He knows there is more than one way for an institution to lose legitimacy, and that for many conservatives the high court eviscerated its own authority decades ago, when it set itself up as the arbiter of America’s major moral controversies, removing from the democratic process not just debates about sex and marriage and school prayer but life and death itself. Those “many conservatives” include this columnist. Since I became opposed to abortion, sometime in my later teens, I have never regarded the Supreme Court with warmth, admiration or patriotic trust. What my liberal friends felt after Bush v. Gore or after Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation or in imagining some future ruling by Amy Coney Barrett, I have felt for my entire adult life. And our Republican senator knows that this feeling has sustained itself because the conservative effort to change the courts was balked and limited, over and over again, despite many seemingly no-doubt electoral victories and sweeping presidential mandates.

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Cases vs. deaths in the Covid debates / Marginal Revolution

Now, I don’t recall many of those theorists early on making a prediction about a specific number required for the herd immunity threshold to be reached. Nonetheless, when deaths and hospitalizations collapsed in Sweden, London, and New York at about 20 percent seroprevalence, obviously it seemed that might be the critical level for herd immunity to kick in. (Higher measured levels of seroprevalence, such as for the slums of Mumbai might just come from the speed of ripping through a very dense and exposed community.) And a lot of the observed later waves were in fact coming in other parts of these countries or regions, such as Barcelona following Madrid, or Arizona following New York. These herd immunity theorists were correct in predicting an “earlier than the mainstream is telling you” collapse in deaths and hospitalizations in the hard hit regions. And that is very much to their credit. [...] Added all up, those data points are not decisive in rejecting the claims of these herd immunity theorists. But they do make the herd immunity theorists look less correct than they did say three weeks ago. Those “partial second waves,” or whatever they turn out to be, seem more active than one might have expected. [...] In response, many of the herd immunity theorists strike back and ask “where are the deaths“? But that is not the right question for testing herd immunity claims. Those claims were about transmission slowing down, and those claims should be true about Covid-19 cases whether or not more people are surviving in the hospital. (Imagine for instance a perfect antiviral that saved everybody — would that mean herd immunity was true a priori? Nope.) Another claim from some of the less careful herd immunity theorists is that cases are rising again because testing is rising. That doesn’t seem to explain observed patterns in Israel, Spain, or England, where in all instances actual Covid cases are rising above and beyond what is going on with testing policy, and by some considerable margin.

The long history of how Jesus came to resemble a white European / The Conversation

As a European Renaissance art historian, I study the evolving image of Jesus Christ from A.D. 1350 to 1600. Some of the best-known depictions of Christ, from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” to Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel, were produced during this period. [...] The first portraits of Christ, in the sense of authoritative likenesses, were believed to be self-portraits: the miraculous “image not made by human hands,” or acheiropoietos. This belief originated in the seventh century A.D., based on a legend that Christ healed King Abgar of Edessa in modern-day Urfa, Turkey, through a miraculous image of his face, now known as the Mandylion. A similar legend adopted by Western Christianity between the 11th and 14th centuries recounts how, before his death by crucifixion, Christ left an impression of his face on the veil of Saint Veronica, an image known as the volto santo, or “Holy Face.” These two images, along with other similar relics, have formed the basis of iconic traditions about the “true image” of Christ. From the perspective of art history, these artifacts reinforced an already standardized image of a bearded Christ with shoulder-length, dark hair.

The Missing Right-Wing Firms: A Beckerian Puzzle / EconLib

I teach the economics of discrimination every chance I get. Why? Because the analytical framework, launched by the great Gary Becker in 1957, mightily illuminates so many questions that we care so much about. When you see that almost all garbage collectors are male, for example, what should you conclude? Perhaps women and men are equally able and interested in collecting garbage, but employers in the industry dislike women. Perhaps male garbage collectors don’t like working alongside women. Or perhaps customers don’t want women to touch their trashcans. Alternately, perhaps men are better at collecting garbage than women. (Statistically!) Or maybe women dislike this line of work more than men. (Again, statistically!) One of these stories might be the whole truth; all five could have some merit; or anything in between. The analytical framework can’t tell you the breakdown; you need empirics (and good judgment) for that. Yet without Becker’s analytical framework, empirical researchers wouldn’t even know where to start. One of the main insights of this Beckerian framework is that discrimination creates profit opportunities. [...] Moderates and right-wingers feel an even stronger need to keep their political views to themselves. Cutting-edge leftists, in contrast, now feel empowered. When they speak out on the job, employers seem attentive and responsive. This is not what the economics of discrimination would make you expect. After all, the labor market is full of right-wing workers. If left-wing employers don’t want to hire them, you would expect both pragmatic and right-wing employers to pick up the slack.

The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of "jaywalking" / Vox

A hundred years ago, if you were a pedestrian, crossing the street was simple: You walked across it. Today, if there's traffic in the area and you want to follow the law, you need to find a crosswalk. And if there's a traffic light, you need to wait for it to change to green. Fail to do so, and you're committing a crime: jaywalking. In some cities — Los Angeles, for instance — police ticket tens of thousands of pedestrians annually for jaywalking, with fines of up to $250. To most people, this seems part of the basic nature of roads. But it's actually the result of an aggressive, forgotten 1920s campaign led by auto groups and manufacturers that redefined who owned the city streets. "In the early days of the automobile, it was drivers' job to avoid you, not your job to avoid them," says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. "But under the new model, streets became a place for cars — and as a pedestrian, it's your fault if you get hit." One of the keys to this shift was the creation of the crime of jaywalking. Here's a history of how that happened.

European paintings show a rise in trustworthiness / Marginal Revolution

Building on recent advances in social cognition, we design an algorithm to automatically generate trustworthiness evaluations for the facial action units (smile, eye brows, etc.) of European portraits in large historical databases. Our results show that trustworthiness in portraits increased over the period 1500–2000 paralleling the decline of interpersonal violence and the rise of democratic values observed in Western Europe. Further analyses suggest that this rise of trustworthiness displays is associated with increased living standards.

Spain’s second wave of Covid-19 / Marginal Revolution

Did this happen? Were Spain’s hardest hit provinces in the spring spared in the second wave? To get a quick sense of the answers to those questions I plotted the cumulative number of cases per 100,000 population in the Spanish provinces since June 15 against the proportion of the population in the provinces that tested positive for antibodies after the first wave. If herd immunity were playing a large role in suppressing cases in the second wave, we would expect to see a negative relationship between provinces with high levels of antibodies in the population at the end of May and total case counts since that time. Instead of a negative correlation, there is a positive, although weak, correlation between having higher prevalence of antibodies in the population and having a higher case rate in the second wave.

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