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4 stars

A First-time Skydiving Experience, a Fall to Earth and a Terrible Accident | Sports Illustrated

From 2014:

Usually, Dave Hartsock packed his own parachute. He could just about do it with his eyes shut: straighten the lines, roll the canopy, fold in the outside, press out the excess air, then crease it into a package and carefully place the fabric in the deployment bag.

That was for solo jumps, though. Leading tandem sky dives was different. The canopies were so big, and the pressure so great to move one load of customers after another, that instructors rarely packed their own chutes.

And this Saturday afternoon, Aug. 1, 2009, was crazy as always. For the crew at the Skydive Houston drop zone in Waller County, Texas, it was all they could do to get customers up and back down in time to keep up with demand. Dave had made his first jump at 9 a.m. and five more since. Now, at 4 p.m., he was getting ready to clock out for the day when Todd Bell, the drop-zone manager, approached. Do us a solid, he said. Can you take up one more jumper?

Dave was tired and sweating intensely; the Texas air was still above 100º, even late in the afternoon. But he was game. He took a slug from a bottle of Gatorade, grabbed a prepacked parachute off the wall peg and turned to his final jumper of the day, a blonde, grandmotherly type. With his broad shoulders and close-cropped brown hair, Dave could be imposing. Which is why, as always, he deployed his best smile upon meeting the customer.

The smile told her that she could relax. That he had this. That everything was going to be O.K.

Usually, Shirley Dygert avoided risks. She steered clear of any vacation with the word adventure ­attached to it. She didn’t like driving at night. And when her older son Will, now a father to three, had decided to go skydiving on his 30th birthday a year earlier, she’d lobbied against it, without success.

Now here she was, wearing a bulky flight suit and preparing to jump out of an airplane. She wondered, What in the world am I doing?

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2 stars

The Rise of the $10 Million Disc Golf Celebrity | The Ringer

How much can athletes really make in niche sports? A whole lot more than you might think. Disc golfer Paul McBeth set a new standard by signing an eight-figure endorsement contract—and his deal might only be the beginning. […]

WhenWhen Paul McBeth first started playing in professional disc golf tournaments, he’d crisscross California in his father’s 1978 Dodge Ramcharger. His dad had mostly used it to rock-crawl in the desert outskirts of Los Angeles. The top of the SUV was sawed off and the side windows were smashed out. The doors were so dented they looked like topographic maps. The windshield was scarred, and the gas pedal was missing. When storm clouds gathered, Paul kicked a metal bar to the floor as he tried to outrun the rain.

His next few cars weren’t much nicer. When he was 19, he found out a friend was planning to dump an Infiniti I30 in the scrapyard and offered to pay him $500 for it. McBeth drove it from L.A. to Kansas City for the 2009 Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) world championships and almost all the way back. It blew a gasket 30 minutes from his house. Then there was his Ford Thunderbird that overheated every half-hour on the highway, and his camper van that he thought would save him money on hotels but ended up costing him at the gas pump.

Finally, in 2011, after winning $4,000 for taking first place at the Memorial Championship in Scottsdale, Arizona, McBeth had saved enough money to buy a new car. He wanted a Jeep Patriot. The problem was the paperwork. “Under occupation, I put ‘professional athlete,’” McBeth says. “I guess they didn’t believe me because they wouldn’t let me finance it. I ended up having to buy the car with cash.”

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How To Terraform Venus (Quickly) | Kurzgesagt (YouTube)

Leaving earth to find new homes in space is an old dream of humanity and will sooner or later be necessary for our survival. The planet that gets the most attention is Mars, a small, toxic and energy poor planet that just about seems good enough for a colony of depressed humans huddled in underground cities.

But what if we think bigger? What if we take Venus, one of the most hostile and deadly places in the solar system and turn it into a colony? Not by building lofty cloud cities, but by creating a proper second earth? It might be easier than you think.

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Did a Cuttlefish Write This? | New York Times

Octopuses and squid are full of cephalopod character. But more scientists are making the case that cuttlefish hold the key to unlocking evolutionary secrets about intelligence. […]

“He said they have three hearts, green blood and one of the largest brains among invertebrates,” she said. “And they can regenerate their limbs, they can camouflage. Within about 30 seconds, I had basically planned out my entire life. That lunchtime I went to the facility where he was culturing all these animals. My entire scientific career flashed in front of me. I was like, this is it, this is what I’ve been looking for.”

Dr. Montague joined the many scientists who have long studied the remarkable abilities of cuttlefish, from their camouflage to their speed when hunting. In recent years, a string of high-profile papers has reported that they are capable of surprising cognitive feats, including rejecting easy meals while holding out for better food in the future, a version of the famous marshmallow test.

Given the vast evolutionary gulf between cuttlefish and creatures like apes and crows that perform similar calculations, some scientists believe the shimmering little decapods may help us understand why these mental abilities evolve.

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Use Prediction Markets To Fund Investigative Reporting | Astral Codex Ten

Hindenburg Research has a great business model:

1. Investigate companies
2. ...until they find one that is committing fraud
3. Short the fraudulent company
4. Publicly reveal the fraud
5. Company's stock goes down
6. Profit!

I've been thinking about them recently because of the debate around funding investigative reporting. It goes something like: investigative reporting is a public good. Everyone benefits from knowing about Watergate. But it's hard for investigative reporters to capture the value they produce. Very few of the people who cared about Watergate bought subscriptions to the Washington Post. There's no reason to - you can let the Washington Post uncover Watergate at no cost to you, then hear about it for free on the nightly news. The traditional solution is bundled media. Newspapers have their profitable bread-and-butter in the form of easy things like commentary and sports, then do some unprofitable investigative reporting on the side to gain prestige.

This traditional solution is failing, because the Internet unbundles media. If you want commentary, you can get it here on Substack; if you want to know who won the big game, you can go to espn.com or just Google it.

I feel like this is mostly good. It lets customers pay for things they want and not things they don't want. It diversifies media, preventing a few big gatekeepers from spinning everything to fit their political agendas. And it lets journalists capture the full value of their own labor instead of surrendering most of it to big corporations. But obviously gatekeepers and big corporations are sad about it. And the argument they've come up with for why it's bad is that it threatens investigative reporting. This is honestly a pretty compelling argument.

But: if there were good prediction markets, you could fund investigative reporting the same way Hindenburg Research funds its investigative reporting.

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The Story of Songbirds Is a Story of Sugar | The Atlantic

Long ago, songbirds executed an evolutionary power move, rejiggering a sensor for savory tastes to react to sweetness. […]

Australia’s unique forests are the birthplace of birdsong. The plants there are drenched in sunlight and can readily mass-produce sugars through photosynthesis. But with few nutrients in the soil, they struggle to convert those sugars into leaves, seeds, and other tissues. They end up with excess, which they simply give away. Flowers overflow with nectar. Eucalyptus trees exude a sweet substance called manna from their bark. Even insects that suck plant sap are forced to excrete surplus sugars, in the form of liquids known as honeydew or lerp. As the biologist Tim Low once wrote, Australia has “forests that exude energy.”

In his book Where Song Began, Low reasoned that Australia’s birds have benefited from the island’s free-flowing calories, becoming unusually large, aggressive, intelligent, and vocal. They are also extraordinarily successful. Genetic studies show that the largest group of birds—the oscines, or songbirds—originated in Australia before spreading worldwide. That group now contains about 5,000 of the 10,000 known bird species, including robins, cardinals, thrushes, sparrows, finches, jays, and starlings. All of these birds descended from an ancestor whose voice lilted through Australian trees and whose taste buds were tickled by sweet Australian nectar.

But this story has a catch. An animal should obviously be able to sense the food that it eats. And until recently, it didn’t seem as if songbirds could even taste sugar.

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What You Lose When You Gain A Spouse | The Atlantic

In America today, it’s easy to believe that marriage is a social good—that our lives and our communities are better when more people get and stay married. There have, of course, been massive changes to the institution over the past few generations, leading the occasional cultural critic to ask: Is marriage becoming obsolete? But few of these people seem genuinely interested in the answer.

More often the question functions as a kind of rhetorical sleight of hand, a way of stirring up moral panic about changing family values or speculating about whether society has become too cynical for love. In popular culture, the sentiment still prevails that marriage makes us happy and divorce leaves us lonely, and that never getting married at all is a fundamental failure of belonging. […]

As Chekhov put it, “If you’re afraid of loneliness, don’t marry.” He might have been on to something. In a review of two national surveys, the sociologists Natalia Sarkisian of Boston College and Naomi Gerstel of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that marriage actually weakens other social ties. Compared with those who stay single, married folks are less likely to visit or call parents and siblings—and less inclined to offer them emotional support or pragmatic help with things such as chores and transportation. They are also less likely to hang out with friends and neighbors.

Single people, by contrast, are far more connected to the social world around them. On average, they provide more care for their siblings and aging parents. They have more friends. They are more likely to offer help to neighbors and ask for it in return. This is especially true for those who have always been single, shattering the myth of the spinster cat lady entirely. Single women in particular are more politically engaged—attending rallies and fundraising for causes that are important to them—than married women. (These trends persist, but are weaker, for single people who were previously married. Cohabiting couples were underrepresented in the data and excluded from the study.)

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Challenge accepted, asshole | Slow Boring

In May, Matt wrote a column called Seventeen Points About Israel and Palestine. One part grabbed my attention: 

“Israel and Palestine are small nations and not strategically significant these days, so it’s notable that conflicts there attract not just more, but orders of magnitude more coverage than conflicts in, say, Chad, that objectively impact more people. And if human rights observers ding the government of Chad for something, you won’t see a swarm of people who feel Chad has been unfairly maligned swooping in to ‘Stand With Chad.’”

“If we’re honest with ourselves, we are probably all underweight on Chad takes. It would not take too much work to become the most knowledgeable person in your social circle on the subject of Chad. In that role, you’d have a great opportunity to change minds about Chad and educate others. Making a meaningful contribution to the Israel/Palestine discourse is a very difficult undertaking. Why not stick to Chad?”

This seemed like a strong point. And also a challenge... was he encouraging, perhaps even daring someone like me — whose career has mostly been spent writing about aggressively obscure topics on Abstruse “Comedy” Gulag Tonight with John Oliver — to focus on Chad? Was this the Substack-wonk equivalent of removing a glove and slapping me across the face? It sure felt like it.

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The Climate Left is a useful farce | Noahpinion

But this is more of a pro-forma statement than anything else, because everyone knows that the Climate Left is not going to go around blowing up a bunch of oil infrastructure. Malm’s own attack on the modern capitalist system consisted of letting the air out of a few SUVs’ tires, putting his eco-rebellion somewhere between “junior high prank” and “nothing whatsoever”.

Malm’s book, like much of the rhetoric coming from the Climate Left, is simply an increasingly histrionic way of shouting This Is Serious and We Mean Business. Ezra Klein takes it as such, and says that yes, this is very serious, and yes, we should mean business. Which is true.

But the Climate Left does not actually mean business. The way you know this is that absolutely none of the people calling for radical civil disobedience and pipeline destruction etc. are calling for it to be done in China.

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Why Cuba is having an economic crisis | Noahpinion

This brings us to the last major dysfunctional thing about the Cuban economy — the dual-currency system. For most of its history, Cuba had two currencies — one pegged to the dollar that was used for import and export, and one that was only spent domestically, whose value was much lower. As this excellent and well-sourced Twitter thread by @red_dilettante explains, the dual currency allowed Cuba to ration foreign exchange.

(Note: To get good information about the workings of communist economies, it really helps to read leftist writers, because they’re often the only ones who actually pay attention to how those economies work. Lots of people look at these economies and just yell “Communism bad!!”, which is true but also unhelpful; leftists bother to figure out why it’s bad.)

So Cuba is heavily dependent on food imports, and until very recently it used a very weird system to pay for those imports (which further distorted the economy in various ways). Then it scrapped that system, right as a once-in-a-century pandemic and various other disasters struck. Oops.

Anyway we’ll talk about the disasters, but first let’s talk about what isn’t making Cubans go hungry: The U.S. embargo.

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Winston Churchill, futurist | Roots of Progress

Churchill—when he wasn’t busy leading the fight against the Nazis—had many hobbies. He wrote more than a dozen volumes of history, painted over 500 pictures, and completed one novel (“to relax”). He tried his hand at landscaping and bricklaying, and was “a championship caliber polo player.” But did you know he was also a futurist? […]

Churchill also foresees genetic engineering:

Microbes, which at present convert the nitrogen of the air into the proteins by which animals live, will be fostered and made to work under controlled conditions, just as yeast is now. New strains of microbes will be developed and made to do a great deal of our chemistry for us.

Including lab-grown meat:

With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e. the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.

And artificial wombs:

There seems little doubt that it will be possible to carry out in artificial surroundings the entire cycle which now leads to the birth of a child.

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1 star

Magically Turning Into Random Objects | YouTube

This is wonderful.

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Why Do Women Earn Less Than Men? Evidence from Bus and Train Operators | Marginal Revolution

We show that a gender earnings gap can exist even in an environment where work tasks are similar, wages are identical, and tenure dictates promotions. The 11 percent earnings gap in our setting arises from female operators taking fewer overtime hours and more unpaid time off than do male operators. Consequently, we observe that gender neutral policies can have differential effects on the two sexes.

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Why did Portugal decline? | Marginal Revolution

As late as 1750, Portugal had an output per head considerably higher than those of France or Spain. Yet just a century later, Portugal was Western Europe’s poorest country. In this paper we show that the discovery of massive quantities of gold in Brazil over the eighteenth century played a key role for the long-run development of Portugal’s economy. We focus on the economic resource curse: the loss of competitiveness of the tradables sector manifested in the rise of the price of non-traded goods relative to traded imports.

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