Discover more from Links
----- 3 stars -----
The History of the World: Every Year / YouTube
An incredible video showing the rise and fall of civilisations across millennia, plotted year by year on a world map. Fascinating. I wanted to watch it multiple times but didn't want to only send out one link this week...
Congo’s war was bloody. It may be about to start again / Economist
I'm going to borrow what Marginal Revolution said about this; very much worth a read, so go in via Google if you've already hit paywall article limit:
"Kinshasa is the centre of Congolese cultural life and politics. Its glitzy hotels and restaurants are where the money looted from the rest of the country is spent. It boasts grandiose architecture (including an enormous Chinese-built parliament) and some of the best-dressed people in the world (known as sapeurs, or members of the Society for the Advancement of Elegant People). It is also filthy and lawless. The buses are known as 'spirits of death'. The potholes are the size of buses. Traffic is regulated by gun-toting cops who will happily pull a motorist out of his car and beat him up in broad daylight. The city is one of the least connected in the world. The airport on the English channel island of Guernsey, with a population of 63,000, handles more passengers than Kinshasa’s. Perhaps one in 20 Kinois has a formal job. Nonetheless they pay dearly to live in the metropolis. A room in a slum, without dependable electricity or clean water, can go for $100 a month." That is from The Economist, the whole article is superb, one of the best I have read this year, with virtually every paragraph full of interesting points. Don’t forget that the Congo War(s) of 1998-2003 were the bloodiest since the Second World War.
America's Basketball Heaven / ESPN
The tiny hometown of Brandon Ingram and other NBA stars has faced biblical floods, economic devastation, gang violence, even wayward nuclear bombs, yet has become the NBA capital of the world. This is the untold story of its survival.
The Case Against Google / New York Times
Regulators in Missouri, Utah, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere have called for greater scrutiny of Google and others, citing antitrust concerns; some critics have suggested that our courts and legislatures need to go after tech firms in the same way the trustbusters broke up oil and railroad monopolies a century ago. But others say that Google and its cohort are guilty only of delighting customers. If these tech leviathans ever fail to satisfy us, their defenders argue, capitalism will punish them the same way it once brought down Yahoo, AOL and Myspace. At the core of this debate is a question that is more than a century old: When does a megacompany’s behavior become so brazen that it violates the law? [...] Along the way, Microsoft was accused of widespread bullying, coercion and general obnoxiousness. And Microsoft basically said: Whatever. “There’s one guy in charge of licenses,” Bill Gates told reporters after he signed a consent decree with the Department of Justice in 1994. “He’ll read the agreement.” Everyone else, the implication was, would ignore it. Even when a judge ruled in 2000 that Microsoft was violating antitrust law, conventional wisdom held that the victory was largely pyrrhic. Microsoft successfully appealed, and prosecutors eventually threw in the towel, agreeing to abandon their attacks and settle if Microsoft agreed to token reforms, such as making its products more compatible with competitors’ software and giving three independent observers unfettered access to the company’s records, employees and source code. Microsoft’s executives thought that three observers, versus 48,000 employees, sounded like pretty good odds. [...] But then, they also remembered a discussion they had once had with a lawyer named Gary Reback, who told them that everything they’d heard about the Microsoft trials was wrong. Reback is something of a legend in Silicon Valley, both because of his accomplishments as an antitrust provocateur and because of his anxious — some might say paranoid — worldview. [...] Anyone who said that the 1990s prosecution of Microsoft didn’t accomplish anything — that it was companies like Google, rather than government lawyers, that humbled Microsoft — didn’t know what they were talking about, Reback said. In fact, he argued, the opposite was true: The antitrust attacks on Microsoft made all the difference. Condemning Microsoft as a monopoly is why Google exists today, he said.
Technological Unemployment: More Than You Wanted To Know / Slate Star Codex
The whole post is a very detailed look that lands on the following conclusions:
Here are some tentative conclusions: 1. Technological unemployment is not happening right now, at least not more so than previous eras. The official statistics are confusing, but they show no signs of increases in this phenomenon. (70% confidence) 2. On the other hand, there are signs of technological underemployment – robots taking middle-skill jobs and then pushing people into other jobs. Although some people will be “pushed” into higher-skill jobs, many will be pushed into lower-skill jobs. This seems to be what happened to the manufacturing industry recently. (70% confidence) 3. This sort of thing has been happening for centuries and in theory everyone should eventually adjust, but there are some signs that they aren’t. This may have as much to do with changes to the educational, political, and economic system as with the nature of robots per se. (60% confidence) 4. Economists are genuinely divided on how this is going to end up, and whether this will just be a temporary blip while people develop new skills, or the new normal. (~100% confidence) 5. Technology seems poised to disrupt lots of new industries very soon, and could replace humans entirely sometime within the next hundred years. (???) This is a very depressing conclusion. If technology didn’t cause problems, that would be great. If technology made lots of people unemployed, that would be hard to miss, and the government might eventually be willing to subsidize something like a universal basic income. But we won’t get that. We’ll just get people being pushed into worse and worse jobs, in a way that does not inspire widespread sympathy or collective action. The prospect of educational, social, or political intervention remains murky.
A Chinese Casino Has Conquered a Piece of America / Bloomberg Businessweek
At a temporary storefront, the company, Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., was somehow handling more than $2 billion a month in VIP bets. And at the construction site, it was building a gargantuan casino with a crew of hundreds of Chinese, scores of them working illegally on tourist visas. So many laborers were getting hurt that Rohringer’s colleagues began keeping an unofficial spreadsheet, separate from standard hospital records: a grim catalog of broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, dislocated limbs, and eyes penetrated by flying metal. The dead man Rohringer saw was not, of course, a tourist who’d stumbled over a railing—he was a builder named Hu Yuanyou, and he’d plummeted from a scaffold. His colleagues hadn’t called 911; instead, they’d pulled the work clothes off his broken body in a clumsy attempt to obscure his identity. The less that outsiders learned about the casino, the better. Hu died building what’s become, on paper, the most successful gambling operation in history. In the first half of 2017, table for table, Imperial Pacific turned over nearly six times more cash than the fanciest gaming facilities in Macau, which themselves dwarf the activity in Las Vegas. And that was before Imperial Pacific opened its lavish megacasino in July. Given Macau’s status as a hub for industrial-scale money laundering, the Saipan figures have left gaming veterans astonished that they could be generated on U.S. soil, under Washington’s ostensible oversight. Eight casino executives and analysts interviewed for this story, all with extensive experience of the Asian gaming trade, said they saw no way such volumes could be generated legitimately. Asked if there could be a benign explanation for such instantaneous success at a casino more than three hours’ flight from any major city, on a drowsy island where the best hotel is a 1970s-era Hyatt, one of the executives burst out laughing.
Is anyone listening? / Washington Post
She believed her best chance to be heard was through sheer repetition, so Rachel Crooks took her seat at the dining table and prepared to tell the story again. She was used to difficult audiences, to skeptics and Internet trolls who flooded her Facebook page with threats, but this was a generous crowd: a dozen women, all friends of her aunt, gathered for a casual dinner party on a Friday night. The hostess turned off the music, clanked a fork against her wineglass and gestured to Crooks. “Would you mind telling us about the famous incident?” she asked. “Not the sound-bite version, but the real version.” “The real version,” Crooks said, nodding back. She took a sip of water and folded a napkin onto her lap. “It all happened at Trump Tower,” she said. “I had just moved to New York, and I was working as a secretary for another company in the building. That’s where he forced himself on me.” [...] She didn’t think of it as a tragedy. She had gone on to graduate school in Ohio, bought a home close to her family, in the nearby town of Tiffin, and begun a career that allowed to her travel around the world, but she also believed some small part of her had never come back from New York. “It was one of the first real failures or defeats of my life, where the world wasn’t what I hoped it was going to be, and I started to really doubt myself,” she said. For several years she had barely told anybody about Trump, because she assumed nothing would come of her story. Now she had spent 18 months repeating it and proving herself right. “I am not sure I’ve changed one person’s mind,” she said. But what choice did she have, except to let it go silent as if it never happened at all? She didn’t want to retreat anymore from that moment, to cycle back into self-doubt. So she would go on television. She would speak at the news conferences. She would deal with the hate mail. She would run for office. She would repeat her story over and over whenever she was asked, even now, to a few women in Columbus marching alongside her in the snow. “It happened right by the elevators,” she said, beginning the story again, even if she was telling it mostly for herself.
----- 2 stars -----
From imitation to innovation: How China became a tech superpower / Wired
China’s great leap forward in science / The Guardian
For various reasons, I always thought it was naive to think that China could only ever imitate but not innovate. While these two articles probably argue the opposing point of view a bit too strongly (for now), I still expect the old stereotype to be proven wrong soon. First, here's a Wired piece on tech innovation:
There are still some hold-outs here, and many of the lobbies remain under construction, so it’s easy to slip into an older lift, as I did, and find yourself unexpectedly surrounded by beige keyboards and LaserJet printers. But these juxtapositions also remind you of just how quickly China is changing. “Often, I meet people in Silicon Valley who still think all China can do is clone their ideas, but that’s backwards. Now I see more western companies copying China,” says Rui Ma, an early-stage investor who works between China and Silicon Valley.
And here's a former Nature editor writing in The Guardian on China's cutting-edge scientific research in biotech, the quantum internet, and space exploration:
For Xiaogang, it seems that America was no longer the only land of opportunity. These days, Chinese scientists stand at least as good a chance of making a global impact on science from within China itself. The economic rise of China has been accompanied by a waxing of its scientific prowess. In January, the United States National Science Foundation reported that the number of scientific publications from China in 2016 outnumbered those from the US for the first time: 426,000 versus 409,000. Sceptics might say that it’s about quality, not quantity. But the patronising old idea that China, like the rest of east Asia, can imitate but not innovate is certainly false now. In several scientific fields, China is starting to set the pace for others to follow.
The Syria Memory Hole Is Opening Up a Bigger Danger / Bloomberg
Sometimes the biggest events are those that don’t get the most publicity, and the lack of notice itself is part of the story. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes referred to the dog that didn’t bark as a telltale sign that something unusual was going on during a horse theft. The relative lack of attention being paid to the news that U.S.-backed forces killed 200 to 300 Russian mercenary soldiers this month in Syria seems like a non-barking dog to me. In many years, this might have been the most disruptive story, holding the headlines for weeks or maybe months. Circa February 2018, it didn’t command a single major news cycle. [...] Unfortunately, as is so often the case in human affairs, the bad news is very closely tied to the good. If the world is developing a greater robustness with respect to armed conflict and diplomatic slights, perhaps that’s because it needs to. The fundamental underlying determinants of international order may be growing weaker, and the greater tolerance for bad events reflects a broader decline. There is some evidence -- admittedly fragmentary -- that international conflicts are starting to become more violent, and hardly anyone believes that Pax Americana is what it used to be.
The keto diet, explained / Vox
It’s why people are putting grass-fed butter in their coffee, downing ketone drinks, and replacing their cereal and pasta with eggs and avocados. The ketogenic diet has become a Silicon Valley obsession and the diet du jour that supposedly keeps celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Halle Barry trim and strong. Keto devotees believe that if you banish most carbs (including fruit!) and embrace fat, you can lose weight without feeling hungry. [...] Those older keto diets didn’t work for most people hoping to slim down, and there’s no evidence the newly popular keto diet will be any different. Here’s why.
Am I Going Blind? / New York Times
I went to bed believing that I was more or less in control — that the unfinished business, unrealized dreams and other disappointments in my life were essentially failures of industry and imagination, and could probably be redeemed with a fierce enough effort. I woke up to the realization of how ludicrous that was. So I flailed on two fronts. I tried to grow accustomed, day by disorienting day, to reading and typing with a thick, dappled fog across the right half of my field of vision, which was sometimes tilted and off-kilter. I felt drunk without being drunk, dizzy but not exactly dizzy. I also fought not to be angry and afraid, a struggle familiar to anyone with a significant illness or disability. The fear arose less from what I’d already lost than from what I might lose still. Over the next five years, there’s a roughly 20 percent chance that what happened to my right eye could also happen to my left. I could go blind.
Celebrating the Game Boy Camera, one of Nintendo’s weirdest, most ingenious inventions / AV Club
Twenty years ago today, two decades before this ethos birthed Labo, it gave us one of the company’s strangest ever creations, the Game Boy Camera. It’s exactly what it says in the name: a tiny eyeball-shaped lens attached to a game cartridge that turned your chunky handheld into a rudimentary digital camera. Even by 1998 standards, the camera itself was a piece of junk. And the Game Boy—which had to bear the burden of being this device’s technological base—was nearly nine years old, sported a dim black-and-white (or black-and-green) screen, and had no way of connecting to a computer to actually do anything with your pictures. It was the polar opposite of a technological marvel. The genius of this thing was in combining these two lackluster gadgets together, creating something new and, in hindsight, shockingly prescient. Years before everyone started carrying versatile little cameras in their pockets, before selfie culture and Snapchat, Nintendo pretty much predicted it all.
The Special Stew at the Heart of Sumo Wrestling / Atlas Obscura
In sumo, the heavier competitor has an advantage—there are no separate weight classes, and the small ring has gotten no larger to accommodate heftier competitors. Wrestlers, therefore, will eat and eat and eat in a highly regimented fashion to get as large as they can. At the heart of this process is a stew called chanko, sometimes known as chanko-nabe. (‘Nabe’ means pot.) Chanko defines their lives so completely—most wrestlers eat it at almost every meal for years—that it has come to symbolize the sport and dominate their lives even after they retire.
The Case Against Tipping in America / Eater
The data is overwhelming: Tipping encourages racism, sexism, harassment, and exploitation
----- 1 star -----
How All 50 States Got Their Names / Mental Floss
Very interesting; for instance, here's a bit from the history of "Idaho":
When Congress was considering establishing a mining territory in the Rocky Mountains in 1860, Willing and B. D. Williams, a delegate from the region, championed "Idaho." The request for the name came up in the Senate in January 1861 and Senator Joseph Lane of Oregon objected to "Idaho," saying, "I do not believe it is an Indian word. It is a corruption. No Indian tribe in this nation has that word, in my opinion... It is a corruption certainly, a counterfeit, and ought not to be adopted." Lane was roundly ignored, probably because he had the bad luck of having been the vice presidential candidate for the pro-slavery southern wing of the Democratic Party in the previous year's election. After the Senate approved the name, Williams, for some reason, gave into curiosity and looked into Lane's claim. He heard from several sources that Willing or someone in his group of territorial supporters had invented the name "Idaho" and that the word didn't actually mean anything. Williams went back to the Senate and requested that the name be changed. The Senate agreed and used a name that had been on the table before Willing and Williams showed up: "Colorado." A year later, Congress set out to establish another mining territory in the northwest part of the continent. "Idaho" was again a contender as a name. Without Williams there to call shenanigans and with the senators who should have remembered the last naming incident just a little bit preoccupied with the Civil War, "Idaho" went unchallenged and became the name of the territory and the state.
Research team uncovers hidden details in Picasso Blue Period painting / Northwestern
An underlying painting, likely by another Barcelona painter, and major compositional changes are among findings