3 stars

Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters? | New Yorker

Harden understands herself to be waging a two-front campaign. On her left are those inclined to insist that genes don’t really matter; on her right are those who suspect that genes are, in fact, the only things that matter. The history of behavior genetics is the story of each generation’s attempt to chart a middle course. When the discipline first began to coalesce, in the early nineteen-sixties, the memory of Nazi atrocities rendered the eugenics threat distinctly untheoretical. The reigning model of human development, which seemed to accord with postwar liberal principles, was behaviorism, with its hope that environmental manipulation could produce any desired outcome. It did not take much, however, to notice that there is considerable variance in the distribution of human abilities. […]

The largest gwas for educational attainment to date found almost thirteen hundred sites on the genome that are correlated with success in school. Though each might have an infinitesimally small statistical relationship with the outcome, together they can be summed to produce a score that has predictive validity: those in the group with the highest scores were approximately five times more likely to graduate from college than those with the lowest scores—about as accurate a predictor as traditional social-science variables like parental income. Nobody knows quite what to do with these results, but, as one population geneticist put it to me, “the train has left the station—even if researchers don’t fully understand what they’re learning, this is how the genome is used now.” […]

Harden has perceived, in the wake of studies like these, a new willingness to consider the role of genetics: “I get e-mails now from curious social scientists that say, ‘I’ve never thought genetics was useful or relevant for me, in part because I worried there was no way to talk about genes and intelligence, or genes and behavior, without dabbling in Murray-style scientific racism.’ ” […]

She believed that the left’s standard-issue response was unhelpful. “This is a very Christian thing I’m about to say, but it reminds me of the episode where Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert,” she told me, in Bozeman. “There’s just enough truth in Murray that if you say, ‘This is all wrong,’ you paint yourself into a corner where you say intellectually dishonest things. Jesus has to say, ‘This part is true, and this part is false.’ ” She stopped herself. “Don’t write that I’m comparing Murray to Satan,” she said, and then continued, “I know we all want to say it’s not true that ‘intelligence tests predict things,’ but that’s not the lie.” To say that sort of thing ran the risk of furthering the martyrology of Murray, and of lending lustre to the notion that his ideas were indeed “forbidden knowledge.” The scholar and critic Fredrik deBoer, who has drawn heavily on Harden’s work, has been even more pointed in his criticism. In a 2017 essay, he wrote, “Liberals have flattered themselves, since the election, as the party of facts, truth tellers who are laboring against those who have rejected reason itself. And, on certain issues, I suspect they are right. But let’s be clear: the denial of the impact of genetics on human academic outcomes is fake news.”


He Thought He Could Outfox the Gig Economy. He Was Wrong | Wired

Jeffrey Fang, DoorDash delivery guy, knows you judge his parenting skills, and he’ll join in your condemnation in a moment. He’ll explain that bringing his kids along on his Saturday night shift “made sense, until it didn’t,” and that in hindsight, he understands that it really, really didn’t. But right now, on the night of February 6, he’s not thinking clearly, and you’ll have to excuse him as he sprints pell-mell down a promenade of swank homes after the thief who just stole his phone.

He sees the thief dive into the back seat of a silver sedan, and as the car accelerates Fang keeps running alongside and grabs the passenger door handle—less DoorDash Dad than some kind of bespectacled Jason Bourne. The phone, you see, is his “moneymaking tool”; it’s how he feeds his family. But each stride is taking him farther from his unlocked Honda Odyssey minivan, parked illegally, engine humming, in a driveway where he was making a delivery, with precious cargo in the back seat.

His kids.

Earlier that day, Fang’s wife said she needed quiet in the house in order to tutor their 6-year-old son, because their kids are sure as hell not going to be gig workers. Fang couldn’t afford to miss the money on a Saturday night run near San Francisco’s Billionaires’ Row, but in this city a baby­sitter earns nearly what Fang does. His solution was to fasten the younger kids, 4 and nearly 2 years old, into their car seats, ply them with ice cream, and cue Shrek 2 on the videoscreen in the van. He delivers expensive orders in ritzy neighborhoods, the only way this dumpster fire of a job is marginally worth it. He doesn’t expect to need the taser that he stows in his glove box. He figured the kids would be safe.

Now it has all gone sideways. His taser is uselessly back in the van. Yanking open the passenger door of the getaway car, he thrusts in his left leg, which gets battered with punches, and then swoops in to ride shotgun with the thieves. God, farther from my kids! Fang starts yelling, “Give me back my phone!” and pushes the door wide with his right foot in hopes of smacking a parked car. The thieves, apparently deciding that some Huawei Mate 20 X phone isn’t worth all this, hand Fang his cell. He jumps out, panting, and then runs and speed-walks the two blocks back to his parking spot.

The van is gone. […]

Fang has worked in the gig economy full-time for seven years. He signed on first with Lyft, and as the app tweaked fares and incentives and his income declined, he added Uber, then Amazon Flex and Kango. Then came the pandemic. As people locked down, he found work driving for delivery apps like DoorDash, Instacart, and Uber Eats. His phone lured him like a blackjack table. Each offer sliding on the screen was an enticing gamble; it might bring 18 bucks, 24 bucks, or, if he played it extremely well, 100 bucks. He ignored his friends’ and family’s pleas to get out, thinking he could somehow beat the financial odds.

For a long time, he did. He even felt moments of pride. Compatriots speak of Fang as a sort of gigging folk hero. He was one of the top drivers in the ride-hailing industry’s hometown. The guy to emulate. Yet here he is, age 39, in the middle of Jackson Street, screaming and dialing 911. Let your judgments pour out; the online chorus certainly let theirs. It’s nothing Fang hasn’t said in self-loathing ever since: Why in the world did he leave his kids?


When Doug and Ashley Benefield Started a Ballet Company, It Wasn’t Supposed to End in Death | Vanity Fair

On an unseasonably hot day in the fall of 2017, four dozen dancers descended on the small city of Charleston, South Carolina. Seasoned soloists from major companies as well as students fresh out of dance school, they were lucky members of the newly formed American National Ballet. Their new jobs, they believed, represented not only the fulfillment of their own dreams, but a revolution in the field of ballet.

ANB’s husband-and-wife founders, businessman Doug Benefield and Ashley, herself a former dancer, appeared to have deep pockets and a noble mission: to highlight racially diverse and physically unconventional dancers. Their first hire was Sara Michelle Murawski, a stunning five-foot-ten dancer who said she had lost her previous job because of her above-average height. “‘I want dancers who aren’t the cookie-cutter dancers,’” Ashley had told Murawski, who started crying and, when they hung up, thought, This is really what I want to do. At five nine, Ashley said that she had dealt with similar obstacles in her own career. Another recruit was then 20-year-old Hanna Manka, who had the opposite problem, and usually fudged her barely five feet on her résumé. The offer from the Benefields was a lifeline. As Manka recalls, “After working so hard and trying for so long, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, all this work finally has paid off.’” […]

Sara Murawski, ANB’s biggest star, quit in protest. An upcoming collaboration with established contemporary dance troupe Complexions fell through. Within two months, most of the 47 dancers were unemployed in the middle of the season, many of them saddled with high-priced leases in a city with few opportunities for ballet. Perotto was still at home when he logged onto Facebook and saw that the company had fallen apart. “I [had lost] all my other job offers,” he said. “I had nothing and I had to start again.”

Meanwhile, Doug Benefield disappeared just like his wife. “I had absolutely no returned calls, no help, no nothing, and I was stuck here in Charleston,” said choreographer Alexandre Proia. “I’ve never seen so many lies, so many people hurt for something that’s supposed to be celebrating diversity.”

“Was the dream ever real?” asked ANB’s erstwhile artistic director, Rasta Thomas. “Or did I really get hoodwinked?”

These were questions posed when I began reporting what I initially thought was the story of the doomed company, after coming across a piece on the Pointe website. I had no idea that I would be spending the next three years piecing it together, or that it was a story only in the earliest stage of unfolding. Eventually, it would take me from the site of the half-built studio in Charleston, to family court in southern Florida, and, ultimately, to a South Carolina beach where a family scattered their loved one’s ashes.


A Chemical Hunger | Slime Mold Time Mold

The first mystery is the obesity epidemic itself. It’s hard for a modern person to appreciate just how thin we all were for most of human history. A century ago, the average man in the US weighed around 155 lbs. Today, he weighs about 195 lbs. About 1% of the population was obese back then. Now it’s about 36%. […]

Another thing that many people are not aware of is just how abrupt this change was. Between 1890 and 1976, people got a little heavier. The average BMI went from about 23 to about 26. This corresponds with rates of obesity going from about 3% to about 10%. The rate of obesity in most developed countries was steady at around 10% until 1980, when it suddenly began to rise. […]

Today the rate of obesity in Italy, France, and Sweden is around 20%. In 1975, there was no country in the world that had an obesity rate higher than 15%.

This wasn’t a steady, gentle trend as food got better, or diets got worse. People had access to plenty of delicious, high-calorie foods back in 1965. Doritos were invented in 1966, Twinkies in 1930, Oreos in 1912, and Coca-Cola all the way back in 1886. So what changed in 1980?

Common wisdom today tells us that we get heavier as we get older. But historically, this wasn’t true. In the past, most people got slightly leaner as they got older. Those Civil War veterans we mentioned above had an average BMI of 23.2 in their 40s and 22.9 in their 60’s. In their 40’s, 3.7% were obese, compared to 2.9% in their 60s. We see the same pattern in data from 1976-1980: people in their 60s had slightly lower BMIs and were slightly less likely to be obese than people in their 40s (See the table below). It isn’t until the 1980s that we start to see this trend reverse. Something fundamental about the nature of obesity has changed. […]

Of course, variety isn’t everything. You would also expect that people need to eat the right diet. A balanced diet, with the right mix of macronutrients. But again, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Hunter-gatherer societies around the world have incredibly different diets, some of them very extreme, and almost never suffer from obesity.

Historically, different cultures had wildly different diets — some hunter-gatherers ate diets very high in sugar, some very high in fat, some very high in starch, etc. Some had diets that were extremely varied, while others survived largely off of just two or three foods. Yet all of these different groups remained lean. This is strong evidence against the idea that a high-fat, high-sugar, high-starch, low-variety, high-variety, etc. diet could cause obesity. […]

Some people do lose weight on diets. Some of them even lose a lot of weight. But the best research finds that diets just don’t work very well in general, and that no one diet seems to be better than any other. […]

It’s true that people eat more calories today than they did in the 1960s and 70s, but the difference is quite small. Sources have a surprisingly hard time agreeing on just how much more we eat than our grandparents did, but all of them agree that it’s not much. […]

The story with exercise is the same as with overeating — it makes a difference, but not much. One randomized controlled trial assigned overweight men and women to different amounts of exercise. More exercise did lead to more body fat loss, but even in the group exercising the most — equivalent to 20 miles (32.0 km) of jogging every week for eight months — people only lost about 7 lbs.

You might think that hunter-gatherers have a more active lifestyle than we do, but this isn’t always true.


2 stars

Lyubov Sobol’s Hope for Russia | New Yorker

In May, on the eve of Orthodox Easter, when the Russian politician Lyubov Sobol normally would have been at an all-night church service, she was in her four-hundred-square-foot apartment in Moscow talking to me. A court order required Sobol to remain at home every night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.; she was also banned from using the Internet or the telephone. She had received a suspended sentence in one case and was awaiting trial in another, on charges stemming from her work with the opposition leader Alexey Navalny. For now, Sobol is the only one of the half-dozen people who run Navalny’s projects who is neither under arrest nor living in exile. Navalny is in a prison colony a couple of hours east of Moscow, ostensibly for failing to check in with his parole officer after he was poisoned by the state. His real offense, of course, was exposing the crimes and the gaudiest assets of Vladimir Putin’s regime. […]

Sobol has been with Navalny from the start. In 2011, before she finished law school, she took a job with him investigating suspicious government purchases; in 2018, she took charge of Navalny Live. She has attempted to run for office three times, most recently for Russia’s parliament, the Duma. Her electoral campaigns and her popular weekly YouTube show, “What Happened?,” have made her a public face of the opposition movement, second only to Navalny, who has become an almost mythic figure: within the past year, he has survived being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, identified his would-be assassins, and then defied threats and good sense by returning to Russia from Germany, where he spent his recovery. But where Navalny’s public presentation is cocky, droll, and irreverent, Sobol has the deportment of a straight-A student, a tireless nerd. In her videos for Navalny Live, she is measured and methodical while presenting proof of financial corruption and a disregard for human life among the Russian ruling élite. Hers is an anti-charismatic charisma: she offers the mesmerizing comfort of listening to someone who has triple-checked her facts, for whom lying would be unthinkable. A recent video, in which she discussed a tracking device found in her campaign manager’s iPhone, has more than a million and a half views.


The Mom of Bold Action | New Yorker

A short story by George Saunders:

Again she found herself spending her precious morning writing time pacing her lovable sty of a kitchen making no progress at all. Why was she holding a can opener?


That could be something.

“The Trusty Little Opener.” Gerard the Can Opener was a dreamer. He wanted to open big things. bigger things. The biggest things! But all he ever got to open was, uh, beans? Corn? Tuna?

You had to give him something essential to open, to save the day. Medicine? Heart medicine? You did not open heart medicine with a can opener. Tomato paste? Some beloved person in the household really longed for spaghetti? Old Italian gal. Friend to all. On her last legs. The spaghetti brought her back to Florence or whatever? But the modern, high-tech opener, Cliff, was out partying with a wicked colander and a cynical head of lettuce. Gerard saw his chance. Even though he dated back to the nineteen-sixties and didn’t have a fancy rubber handle like Cliff, he could still open stuff. This was it! His chance to help dear sweet Mama Tinti get her final, pre-death bowl of—



Why was Mr. Potts going nuts behind the gate in the mudroom? She’d just given him three of those peanut-butter thingies.

“The Discontented Dog.” The Discontented Dog was never happy. No matter how many peanut-butter thingies he was given. When he was in, he wanted out. When out—

She grabbed another peanut-butter thingie from the box.

“The Peanut-Butter Thingie Who Sacrificed Himself So the Other Peanut-Butter Thingies in the Box Could Live.” Jim the Peanut-Butter Thingie pushed his peanut-shaped body higher and higher, toward the questing human hand. Jake and Polly watched, amazed. Was Jim trying to get eaten? “Go on, live your dreams, you two!” Jim shouted, as a thumb and a finger grasped him around his, uh, slender place. The place that, for Peanut-Butter Thingies, served as a waist.

She moved the gate, gave Mr. Potts the peanut-butter thingie, leaned out the door, called for Derek to come put Mr. Potts on the lead.

No reply.


People are realizing that degrowth is bad | Noahpinion

First, note that the typical argument against degrowth, which I laid out in a Bloomberg post a while back, is that we don’t need it; we can raise human living standards without exhausting the planet. This argument was capably put forward by Andy McAfee, in his excellent book More From Less, which you should buy and read. Essentially, the idea that economic growth requires growth in resource use is false; rich countries have started to grow while using less and less of the planet’s most important resources. […]

Any global degrowth plan that actually reduces resource use is going to entail more pain for China than its GDP numbers would suggest, simply because China is at a more resource-intensive stage of growth.

Do you think China will accept a substantial diminution of its living standards, in order to satisfy the environmental-economic diktats of activists in Northern Europe? If so, you need to rethink a great many things.

Anyway, Piper makes a second crucially important point. So far we’ve been waving our hands and talking about lowering rich-world GDP while raising GDP for poor countries. In fact, economies don’t work like that. […]

Degrowth would thus require deep changes in the entire way that the global economy works. Change happens, but not like that; implementing the kind of reallocation schemes that degrowthers throw around with abandon would require global economic planning that would put Gosplan to shame. Klein points this out, again rather gently:

Degrowth is, as its advocates understand it, a act of global economic planning really without equal anywhere in human history. It is an act of extraordinary central planning.

In other words, it is abject fantasy.

Taken together, these criticisms are utterly devastating to the entire degrowth project. In its current form, it will not advance beyond a media fad. No matter how shrilly degrowthers quote apocalyptic projections, the things they call for simply will not happen.

Luckily, there is a better way to save the planet. And there is a better role for the degrowth movement, if they’re willing to rethink their approach and become more fact-based, reasonable, and humble.


The Shouting Class 2: Last Refuge of Scoundrels | Noahpinion

I’ve been writing a series of posts to try to articulate the ways that I think social media, and Twitter in particular, has harmed political discourse in America. But the first post in the series remains the most well-read — and, I think, the most original. It was called “The Shouting Class”, and it was basically about selection effects — how Twitter selects for and promotes the types of people who are inclined to spread political discord and outrage. […]

In any case, the research results are now rolling in, and we’re starting to get an idea of how important these various factors are. Both provide general support for my theory that it’s the setup of the platforms themselves that amplify the worst people in our discourse. But they point to a more nuanced, complex process than what I initially described.


Modern Financial History Begins in 1998 | The Diff

Over the recent lifetime of the low-inflation, bonds-inverse-to-stocks, paradigm, that big input has been a shift of manufacturing to China. But that shift is reaching its limits, even absent policy changes in China (and those changes are, to put it mildly, not going to prioritize consumer price stability in the developed world over other interests). This doesn't mean inflation is inevitable, but what it does mean is that the long deflation, and its effects on asset price correlation, will peter out over time. So in the future, while real rates will probably be low and stay low for a long time, the inflation component of them will likely be more volatile over the next few decades than before. And that means some of the easy diversification strategies will stop making sense.

In a way, it's a transfer of agency: China's policymakers made the decision to build an export- and investment-driven economy, and took it much further than anyone could have imagined. In the aftermath of the 1997-98 crisis, they doubled down on this strategy, which had the side effect of making inflation low for the rich world. That made it easy for the rest of the world to make fewer choices. But now China's own options are more limited, and the rest of the world has more latitude, and more of an obligation, to decide specifically what the future will look like instead of backtesting and diversifying based on a one-time trend in the past.


1 star

The Unbearable Semiheaviness Of Being | Astral Codex Ten

If heavy water makes you feel worse and eventually kills you, naturally light water should make you feel better and eventually make you immortal. That's how logic works, right?

Maybe! This is actually a real alternative medicine thing. You can buy light water for about $20/liter (though, like Castro, you would have to drink nothing but light water for months before you replaced enough of your body water to matter).

I love this theory. It's so much better than homeopathy. If you tell the homeopaths that their products are just ordinary water, they'll get pissy. If you tell these people, they'll admit right away that it's even more water than regular water is, the only water which you can be really confident is perfectly normal H2O. I love this theory so much.

But I guess we also have to evaluate the arguments they present, which you can find here and here. […]

This probably sounds like faint condemnation. I don't have good responses to all the arguments in favor. The problem is, every alternative medicine fad has evidence approximately this good. Some are better; there are dozens of positive RCTs for homeopathy. This is why the replication crisis sucks so much - just because a few converging lines of evidence support a theory and it has lots of positive studies including an RCT or two, doesn't mean it's any good. Where do you draw the line?

I find myself pretty unconvinced, but I wouldn't mind someone looking through the cancer studies to tell me if I'm missing something. At least a couple of different groups seem interested, and some of the cell line studies seem to show major effects. Not sure what's going on there.

This probably doesn't have enough medical benefits to have been worth my time to research or yours to read. I still find it fascinating. I keep being amazed at how many dimensions things can vary along. You think you know what kind of things medicine has to investigate - how different chemicals interact, the effects of food and smoking and sleep and so on - and unless some weird Hungarians remind you, you would never in a million years remember that there are multiple different isotopes of water and this seems to have some effect on living cells. You would never think to check whether attempts to mine the Martian icecaps for drinkable water will result in dangerous water that could sicken the unfortunate astronauts who drink it (answer: it might! Martian water has five times more deuterium than Earthly water and seems to kill shrimp). You would never think that you could buy something called "deuterium depleted water" on Amazon, or that it would be completely safe to drink. But here we are!


Everything You Didn’t Know About the Trusty Tape Measure | Art of Manliness

You may have noticed that the metal hook at the end of your tape measure slides up and down a bit. No, the hook hasn’t inadvertently come loose. It’s actually made to do this.

The first inch of the tape is short by 1/16 of an inch. Yes, that’s right. The first inch of your tape measure isn’t actually an inch.

The tape’s sliding hook and 1/16-of-an-inch truncation create a simple but ingenious way to ensure you get a “true zero” measurement whether you’re measuring the outside or inside of a surface. […]

You might have noticed that your tape measure’s hook has a small divot, and you might have never thought that the divot was there for a reason. But, dear reader, it is.

That little divot fits perfectly over the head of a nail or screw. Why would you need to place that divot on a nail or screw? […]

You might have noticed that your tape measure has red squares around the numbers every 16″. So you’ll see that 16, 32, 48, 64, 80, etc., all bear this marker.

What’s so special about 16″?

Well, in the United States, framing studs and floor joists are usually spaced with 16-inch-on-center spacing. That means the center of one stud to the center of the next stud over is 16″.

The red squares just allow you to see that 16-inch-on-center spacing quickly.


Maneuvers | Vimeo

"Maneuvers (Manöver)" is an experimental animation combining skiing with stop-motion animation.


New Studies Find Evidence Of 'Superhuman' Immunity To COVID-19 In Some Individuals | NPR

So who is capable of mounting this "superhuman" or "hybrid" immune response?

People who have had a "hybrid" exposure to the virus. Specifically, they were infected with the coronavirus in 2020 and then immunized with mRNA vaccines this year. "Those people have amazing responses to the vaccine," says virologist Theodora Hatziioannou at Rockefeller University, who also helped lead several of the studies. "I think they are in the best position to fight the virus. The antibodies in these people's blood can even neutralize SARS-CoV-1, the first coronavirus, which emerged 20 years ago. That virus is very, very different from SARS-CoV-2."


Singapore Deploys Street Robots To Check Bad Behaviour Of People | Investvine

The robot scans its surroundings also for offenses like Illegal hawking, improperly parked bicycles, assembly of more than five people in line with prevailing Covid-19 safety management measures and e-scooters and motorcycles driving on footpaths.

In case a suspicion arises, the robot takes video footage and sends it to a command and control center which feeds the material into a video analytics system programmed to recognise a person’s posture and other visual indicators of “wrongdoing.”

Then, the robot blares out a pre-recorded message, for example, “Please do not smoke in prohibited areas such as covered walkways.” The message is meant to “educate the public and deter such behaviours,” according to a release by the project team.


Solar System Planets | Reddit

This is basically just a bit of art that I liked; no real need to click through


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