Johnson & Johnson and a New War on Consumer Protection | New Yorker
Almost every American, from nursery to deathbed, uses Johnson & Johnson products: baby shampoo, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Rogaine, and O.B. tampons; Tylenol, Imodium, Motrin, and Zyrtec; Listerine mouthwash and Nicorette gum; Aveeno lotion and Neutrogena cleanser; catheters and stents for the heart; balloons for dilating the ear, nose, and throat; hemostats and staples; ankle, hip, shoulder, and knee replacements; breast implants; Acuvue contact lenses. But what few of those consumers grasped until a series of baby-powder cases began to go to trial was that, for decades, the company had known that its powders could contain asbestos, among the world’s deadliest carcinogens. […]
In 2020, after juries awarded some of those plaintiffs damages that collectively exceeded billions of dollars, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would no longer supply the talc-based version of its product to American stores.
And then, quietly, the company embraced a strategy to circumvent juries entirely. Deploying a legal maneuver first used by Koch Industries, Johnson & Johnson, a company valued at nearly half a trillion dollars, with a credit rating higher than that of the United States government, declared bankruptcy. Because of that move, the fate of forty thousand current lawsuits and the possibility of future claims by cancer victims or their survivors now rests with a single bankruptcy judge in the company’s home state, New Jersey. If Johnson & Johnson prevails and, as Berg puts it, “weasels its way out of everything,” the case could usher in a new era in which the government has diminished power to enforce consumer-protection laws, citizens don’t get to make their case before a jury of their peers when those laws fail, and even corporations with long histories of documented harm will get to decide how much, if anything, they owe their victims.
Mike Conner v. The Pain | Esquire
In 2013, a fire-sprinkler engineer fell five stories from the rafters of a church, shattered 108 bones, and almost died. Then began his battle to walk and live again. […]
Mike Conner sits in his truck atop a hill in Boring, Oregon, where he can feel the summer breeze through the window and see the sun at its meridian over the fields and the snowcapped tip of a distant Mount Hood poking into a cloud-dotted sky. He sits here and thinks about cutting off his feet.
His legs are barely his anymore—just fused cadaver bone and metal. Nearly half of six-foot-four, 225-pound Mike is steel and titanium: the majority of his legs from his knees down, his shoulder, his elbow, his wrist, his back, and his spine.
The Pain comes from his feet.
It starts in his soles and his mangled toes, which are missing knuckles. It surges up his ankles, which he can barely flex—they’re just bone on bone, no joints, no cushion—up his atrophied legs, where the bones still have holes in them and where one is shaped like an S. It climbs his rebuilt spinal cord, up past a small stimulator fitted near the vertebrae and designed to reduce pain signals that find his brain. They shoot up his legs and spine and, when the battery gets low, find his brain anyway. The Pain: a five-hundred-pound sack of sand on his back, his feet in a bear trap.
“AGHHH!” He stretches his metal feet beside the gas pedal.
Every day, it’s just Mike and the Pain. When he goes to sleep, when he wakes, when he sits up in bed, when he goes to piss, it’s just the two of them: Mike and the Pain. He keeps slippers by the bed, because walking barefoot is like walking on shards of glass.
“AGHHH!” He arches his half-locked ankle.
He has to keep stretching or everything will get stiff and then nothing will work and then everything will hurt worse. Or he’ll need more surgeries. (His most recent was his thirtieth, because his toes were turning into claws and wrapping beneath his feet.) Or maybe he could stop having surgeries, and possibly stop the Pain altogether, and just cut off his feet. He thinks about it every day. He’s thinking about it right now.
But he doesn’t want to do it. Mike doesn’t want to cut off his feet for the same reason he doesn’t want to kill himself. It’s a long story. And he has a long drive ahead.
The Threat of Nuclear Escalation is Increasing | Richard Hanania’s Newsletter
Like most people at the start of the war, I thought that Russia would militarily crush Ukraine. Less excusably, I still thought Russia would continually advance, or at least hold on to its gains, in mid-March. So although I was correct in thinking the war would happen, my record of forecasting the course of the conflict is not very good, and I should probably refrain from making any more predictions about what’s going to happen on the battlefield. Nonetheless, the main concern that originally motivated my paying close attention to the war was the risk of nuclear Armageddon. And as we have an increasing number of reasons to be optimistic about Ukraine’s battlefield capabilities, we should be becoming more nervous about how all of this will end. […]
The question for those who want to continue on the current path is how they imagine Ukraine winning without Putin using nuclear weapons. Assuming Ukrainian advances on the battlefield continue, does he officially annex new regions and then shrug his shoulders when he loses control of them a few weeks or months later? What if Ukraine seeks to liberate some of the pre-February 24 territories and has some success? Does he let himself go down in history as the Russian leader who launched a war that killed tens of thousands of soldiers and isolated his country from the world, only to lose territory in the end? Or does he convince himself that he has one trump card to play, and he has to try using it, no matter the costs? Would he be crazy to think that, although the West has been steadfast and united in its support for Ukraine, if he decides to start a game of nuclear chicken he might be able to get them to back off?
We Spoke With the Last Person Standing in the Floppy Disk Business | Eye on Design
Tom Persky is the self-proclaimed “last man standing in the floppy disk business.” He is the time-honored founder of floppydisk.com, a US-based company dedicated to the selling and recycling of floppy disks. Other services include disk transfers, a recycling program, and selling used and/or broken floppy disks to artists around the world. All of this makes floppydisk.com a key player in the small yet profitable contemporary floppy scene.
While putting together the manuscript for our new book, Floppy Disk Fever: The Curious Afterlives of a Flexible Medium, we met with Tom to discuss the current state of the floppy disk industry and the perks and challenges of running a business like his in the 2020s. What has changed in this era, and what remains the same?
Inside One of the World’s First Human Composting Facilities | The Verge
Rachel Gerberding has a green thumb. So when her mother died this April, Gerberding decided to compost her. Gerberding, who lives in Washington state in a house surrounded by flowers, had heard about a newly legal method to turn human remains into soil. “I was like, ‘Mom, it would be such a wonderful thing for me — to be able to just walk through [my garden] and be like, ‘Oh, hi, Mom,’” Gerberding, 48, said, recounting their conversation. Sharon Gerberding, who had previously planned on a simple cremation, agreed: “I’m going to be dead,” she told Rachel. “Do whatever you want!”
That’s why Sharon, who died from complications of multiple sclerosis, was laid to rest in an industrial park 30 minutes south of Seattle. On a chilly spring day, her family gathered in a nondescript, hangar-style building tucked between a belt rubber warehouse, recycling facilities, and an air quality testing company. Staff had placed Sharon’s body in a vessel filled with alfalfa, straw, sawdust, and notes written in biodegradable ink. Hymns played over the speaker system, a tribute to Sharon’s membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By early summer, all that would be left of their matriarch was a few hundred pounds of rich, dark soil.
Markets in power | Bits about Money
“Of course, if Russia starts a war during a hot year then there will be a risk of power outages in Tokyo; that’s just science” is perhaps not the most straightforward conclusion to draw, so it’s useful to go into a bit of background into how electricity markets work. This will, I promise, help explain why Softbank wanted me to install a demand response app targeting specifically my 5 to 8 PM air conditioner use. […]
The first thing to understand about the energy markets is that everything written about them is a lie. Or, more to the point, everything is a simplified model, with some discontinuity between the model and behavior in the real world. This is because energy markets are almost as complex as all commerce combined and, unlike counterparties in commerce, physics tolerates infinite detail and doesn’t care about your feelings.
From Nostradamus To Fukuyama | Astral Codex Ten
Francis Fukuyama was a political scientist who wrote a book saying nothing would ever happen.
No! Sorry! Not that! That’s the popular misinterpretation! In 1992 he wrote a book called The End Of History And The Last Man, arguing that liberal democracy was the last form of government we would ever need, everything would get more and more liberal democracy over time, and history - in the sense of a constant progression of paradigms and worldviews and political-economic systems - would settle down and stop, in favor of everything just being liberal democracy all the time.
How has this theory fared since 1992? […]
I would give this prediction maybe a C-.
But I don’t think Fukuyama feels like someone who’s gotten a C-. There is a steady drip of “this proves Fukuyama was more wrong than anyone has been before” takes, which show no sign of running out. […]
I don’t want to re-litigate how right or wrong I was (no, really, I don’t want to do that). I will just say that I was left with a strong desire to never end up in that situation again. And part of that process was figuring out the borders of “that situation”. This post is the result. It’s not about how to make good predictions. It’s about how to make predictions that don’t make you miserable and cost you lots of credibility. […]
First, be careful about predictions that sound like they’re claiming things won’t happen, or won’t be interesting, or won’t change very much. […]
Never say we’ll be seeing declining terrorist attacks, or school shootings, or serial murders. Never say a certain technology won’t advance very much. Never say it will be a quiet year, or quiet month, even in a certain domain (“it’ll be a quiet year for Asian geopolitics”). Never say something has reached a final form and won’t change very much.
Second, be careful about predictions that sound like something or somebody will be good, or go well.
Kwarteng's plan | Present Discontents
To be clear, as a newly-minted Brit annoyed with all of this, I very much disagree, but this is an interesting defence of the tone-deaf Growth Plan being proposed in the UK, and perhaps I hope it is correct:
The consensus view seems to be that the sudden drop in the pound reflected a complete lack of confidence in Truss and Kwarteng’s economic strategy. Their plan is taken to amount to a horribly expensive attempt to do frivolous, unfunded tax cuts for the rich at the worst possible moment — which is to say, while debt-financing an absolutely enormous energy subsidy, during a potential downturn, despite Britain having already used up most of its debt headroom on the pandemic.
So I appreciate this blog will not be popular. But I think this consensus gets it wrong.
It is wrong to suggest that the Growth Plan is to blame for the pound’s fall. And more damagingly, the centre-right press has chosen the utterly wrong moment to lose trust. Far from a disaster, Kwarteng’s plan could be transformative. It just needs to be delivered.
Introducing Whisper | Open AI Blog
We’ve trained and are open-sourcing a neural net called Whisper that approaches human level robustness and accuracy on English speech recognition.
DeepMind AI finds new way to multiply numbers and speed up computers | New Scientist
Matrix multiplication - where two grids of numbers are multiplied together - forms the basis of many computing tasks, and an improved technique discovered by an artificial intelligence could boost computation speeds by up to 20 per cent
Authoritarians are not governing effectively | Noahpinion
Boots are stamping on faces, but the trains are not running on time. […]
Putin’s military, administrative, technological and industrial incompetence stand in stark contrast to the Soviet Union. The USSR lost its share of wars (to Poland in 1918-21, Afghanistan in the 1970s, and arguably Finland in 1939-40), but it’s hard to deny that the Red Army was a far more fearsome force than what Putin is fielding now. The USSR wasn’t very efficient at manufacturing, but it could make its own machine tools. And it’s hard to imagine Putin’s Russia inventing space launch and space travel technology. The old Communist Party far from a model of competence, but compared to Putin’s regime they were a smoothly oiled machine.
Xi Jinping, unlike Putin, took over a country at the apex of its growth and effectiveness. Even if its GDP is somewhat overstated, China under Deng and his hand-picked successors Jiang and Hu achieved one of the world’s great growth stories, turning what had been a dysfunctional backwater into the center of global manufacturing in just two generations. Xi was undeniably expert at taming this system to his will. In fact, he’s expected to be confirmed for a third term during the CCP’s party congress next month, making him the most powerful leader since Mao.
But as soon as Xi got in the driver’s seat, he started screwing up.
How Trustworthy Are Supplements? | Astral Codex Ten
Not as in “do supplements work?”. As in “if you buy a bottle of ginseng from your local store, will it really contain parts of the ginseng plant? Or will it just be sugar and sawdust and maybe meth?”
There are lots of stories going around that 30% or 80% or some other very high percent of supplements are totally fake, with zero of the active ingredient. I think these are misinformation. In the first part of this post, I want to review how this story started and why I no longer believe it. In the second and third, I’ll go over results from lab tests and testimonials from industry insiders. In the fourth, I’ll try to provide rules of thumb for how likely supplements are to be real.
‘Putin Is a Fool’: Intercepted Calls Reveal Russian Army in Disarray | New York Times
In phone calls to friends and relatives at home, Russian soldiers gave damning insider accounts of battlefield failures and civilian executions, excoriating their leaders just weeks into the campaign to take Kyiv.
I come bringing good news about hydrogen | Noahpinion
But in fact, there’s a fourth crucial green energy technology that also appears to be following a learning curve: green hydrogen.
A lot of people roll their eyes when they see the word “hydrogen”, because there’s a popular idea that hydrogen is a failed technology. The reason people think this is that hydrogen cars, which some had predicted would replace gas cars, turned out not to be very viable. But the people who dismiss hydrogen are simply ignorant of all the other things hydrogen can do — and which we need it to do — besides powering cars.
Cambodia scams: Lured and trapped into slavery in South East Asia | BBC
It was an offer he could not resist: an easy job overseas, a sizeable salary, and even a chance to live in a swanky hotel with his own personal trainer.
When Yang Weibin saw the ad for a telesales role in Cambodia, he immediately said yes. The 35-year-old Taiwanese wasn't making much as a masseur, and he needed to support his parents after his dad suffered a stroke.
Weeks later, Weibin hopped on a plane to Phnom Penh. When he reached the Cambodian capital, he was met by several men who drove him to a nondescript building on a deserted road - not quite the luxury hotel shown in pictures sent by the recruitment agent.
His passport was taken from him - to sort out his paperwork, he was told. He was shown to a small bare room - his new home. And one more thing, the men said: you can't leave the compound, ever.
The penny dropped. "I knew then I had come to the wrong place, that this was a very dangerous situation," he told the BBC.
Taxing Mechanical Engineers and Subsidizing Drama Majors | Marginal Revolution
I neither agree nor disagree with the assessment (one can be philosophically in favour of what’s in the title), but it is at least important to understand what’s going on:
In The Student Loan Giveaway is Much Bigger Than You Think I argued that the Biden student loan plan would incentivize students to take on more debt and incentivize schools to raise tuition with most of the increased costs being passed on to taxpayers through generous income based repayment plans. Adam Looney at Brookings takes a deep dive into the IDR plan and concludes that it’s even worse than I thought. […]
Looney does a back of the envelope calculation and estimates that typical graduates in Mechanical Engineering will on average get a 0% subsidy but graduates in Music will get a 96% subsidy, in Drama a 99% subsidy and Masseuses a 100% subsidy on average. This of course is exactly the wrong approach. If we are going to subsidize, we should subsidize degrees with plausible positive spillovers not masseues.
A Columbian Exchange | Astral Codex Ten
Adraste: Happy Indigenous People’s Day!
Beroe: Happy Columbus Day!
Adraste: …okay, surely we can both sketch out the form of the argument we’re about to have. Genocide, political correctness, moral progress, trying to destroy cherished American traditions, etc, etc, would you like to just pretend we hit all of the usual beats, rather than actually doing it?
Beroe: Does “Columbus Day was originally intended as a woke holiday celebrating marginalized groups; President Benjamin Harrison established it in 1892 after an anti-Italian pogrom in order to highlight the positive role of Italians in American history” count as one of the usual beats by this point?
Adraste: I would have to say that it does.
Beroe: What about “Indigenous People’s Day is offensive because indigenous peoples were frequently involved in slavery and genocide”?
Adraste: I’m not sure I’ve heard that particular argument before.
Krembil Brain Institute researchers identify new model of Alzheimer's as an autoimmune disease | UHN
Scientists at the Krembil Brain Institute, part of the University Health Network, have proposed a new mechanistic model (AD2) for Alzheimer's, looking at it not as a brain disease, but as a chronic autoimmune condition that attacks the brain.
ATK - BONOBO | Vimeo
High shutter speeds and fast trains and the world is one big ZOETROPE.
We wanted to create a minimal film embodying ideas of serendipity and perception, allowing the world to reveal itself in unusual ways.
Shot in Portugal
The Invisible Hand Increases Trust, Cooperation, and Universal Moral Action | Marginal Revolution
In a new paper, Gustav Agneman and Esther Chevrot-Bianco test the idea that markets generate more universal behavior. They run their tests in villages in Greenland where some people buy and sell in markets for their primary living while others in the same village still rely for a substantial part of their subsistence on hunting, fishing and personal exchange. They use a dice game in which players report the number of a roll with higher numbers being better for the player. Only the player knows their true roll and there is no way to detect cheaters on an individual basis. In some variants, other people (in-group or out-group) benefit when players report lower numbers. The upshot is that people exposed to market institutions are honest while traditional people cheat.
Kyle Malzhan | Twitter
Look at how amazing this video is.
Here’s Curt Loter’s point of view of jumping out of an airplane and landing on Lambeau Field during halftime of the #Packers game this past weekend versus the #Patriots.
France fact of the day | Marginal Revolution
“Tu”, on the other hand, can signal proximity and belonging. Tellingly, a 2019 study showed that 70 per cent of French men were on “tu” terms with their managers at work, compared with just 49 per cent of women.