Sorry for missing yet another week. Hopefully things will be less busy soon!
----- 3 stars -----
The Spy Who Came Home / New Yorker
Georgia’s law-enforcement-training program does not teach recruits to memorize license plates backward in mirrors. Like many of Skinner’s abilities, that skill was honed in the C.I.A. He joined the agency during the early days of America’s war on terror, one of the darkest periods in its history, and spent almost a decade running assets in Afghanistan, Jordan, and Iraq. He shook hands with lawmakers, C.I.A. directors, the King of Jordan, the Emir of Qatar, the Prime Minister of Singapore, and Presidents of Afghanistan and the United States. “I became the Forrest Gump of counterterrorism and law enforcement,” he said, stumbling in and out of the margins of history. But over the years he came to believe that counterterrorism was creating more problems than it solved, fuelling illiberalism and hysteria, destroying communities overseas, and diverting attention and resources from essential problems in the United States. Meanwhile, American police forces were adopting some of the militarized tactics that Skinner had seen give rise to insurgencies abroad. “We have to stop treating people like we’re in Fallujah,” he told me. “It doesn’t work. Just look what happened in Fallujah.” In time, he came to believe that the most meaningful application of his training and expertise—the only way to exemplify his beliefs about American security, at home and abroad—was to become a community police officer in Savannah, where he grew up. “We write these strategic white papers, saying things like ‘Get the local Sunni population on our side,’ ” Skinner said. “Cool. Got it. But, then, if I say, ‘Get the people who live at Thirty-eighth and Bulloch on our side,’ you realize, man, that’s fucking hard—and it’s just a city block. It sounds so stupid when you apply the rhetoric over here. Who’s the leader of the white community in Live Oak neighborhood? Or the poor community?” Skinner shook his head. “ ‘Leader of the Iraqi community.’ What the fuck does that mean?” No military force can end terrorism, just as firefighters can’t end fire and cops can’t end crime. But there are ways to build a resilient society. “It can’t be on a government contract that says ‘In six months, show us these results,’ ” Skinner said. “It has to be ‘I live here. This is my job forever.’ ”
----- 2 stars -----
‘Crush Them’: An Oral History of the Lawsuit That Upended Silicon Valley / The Ringer
Nineteen-ninety-eight changed the course of technology, which is to say that it changed the course of history. A nearly bankrupt relic of ’80s tech nostalgia released a gumdrop-shaped PC called the iMac. An innovative search engine originally known as BackRub became a company with an even stranger name. A fast-growing online bookstore hatched a plan to start selling, well, everything. In hindsight, these were tectonic shifts, but they hardly registered as tremors compared to the earthquake emanating from Washington, D.C. On May 18, 1998, the U.S. Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general filed an antitrust suit against the most powerful tech company in America: Microsoft. The then-23-year-old giant, which ruled the personal computer market with a despotic zeal, stood accused of using monopoly power to bully collaborators and squelch competitors. Its most famous victim was Netscape, the pioneering web browser, but everyone from Apple to American Airlines felt threatened by late-’90s Microsoft. The company was big enough to be crowned America’s most valuable firm, bold enough to compare attacks on its domain to Pearl Harbor, and, eventually, bad enough to be portrayed as a (semifictionalized) cadre of hypercapitalist murderers in a major motion picture. The “don’t be evil” optics that colored the rise of today’s tech giants (and have recently lost their efficacy) were a direct response to Microsoft’s tyrannical rule.
‘What Happened to Alan Dershowitz?’ / Politico
How a liberal Harvard professor became Trump’s most distinguished defender on TV, freaked out his friends and got the legal world up in arms. [...] But it’s surely unfair to brand Dershowitz a “racist,” as Rep. Maxine Waters did in the aftermath of the D.C. grand jury controversy, or a “Trump apologist,” as have Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Salon’s Jefferson Morley, among others. Dershowitz proudly voted for Clinton, he opposed the Trump travel ban “as a matter of policy” and he called allegations that Trump had shared classified information with Russia’s foreign minister about ISIS’s plans to use laptops as airplane bombs “the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president.” When I asked him, he flatly told me “collusion should be a crime” and that it “should be illegal to fire a special prosecutor.” At one point during the Village Underground debate, Dershowitz threw up his hands and exclaimed, “Who’s defending anything Trump did?” Calling him names feels reductionist, convenient—as if we’d rather lounge in the comfort of our own echo chambers than deal with the vexing and even annoying challenges that he’s made a career of raising. “Alan Dershowitz is one of the good guys,” Kuby says bluntly. What does it say about us if we cast him out?
Ancient Rome’s Collapse Is Written Into Arctic Ice / The Atlantic
Scientists can finally track the civilization’s economic booms and recessions—thanks to the exhaust of its massive coin-making operation, preserved for centuries in Greenland’s ice sheet.
Queens of Infamy: Anne Boleyn / Longreads
Even if you think Anne Boleyn was a king-seducing homewrecker extraordinaire, it’s impossible not to appreciate the sheer audacity of it all. But who was Anne Boleyn, exactly? The mythology surrounding her improbable rise and sensational fall is pretty well-known, yet most of the information we have access to was either written by haters or produced decades after her death (or both). It’s hard to know much about Anne as a person (as opposed to Anne, Destroyer of Marriages and Churches). We’re not even sure what year she was born — 1501 and 1507 are the two most likely candidates, with arguments hinging on a letter Anne wrote to her father in 1514.
Male Sexlessness is Rising, But Not for the Reasons Incels Claim / Institute for Family Studies
This may be biased since their conclusion happens to support the think tank's mission, but the sources seem credible:
A recent terrorist attack in Toronto, which left 10 people dead, has brought global attention to the “incel” movement, which stands for “involuntarily celibate.” The term refers to a growing number of people, particularly young men, who feel shut out of any possibility for romance, and have formed a community based around mourning their celibacy, supporting each other, and, in some cases, stoking a culture of impotent bitterness and rage at the wider world. In a few cases, this rage has spilled over in the form of terrorist attacks by “incels.” While the incels’ misogyny deserves to be called out and condemned, their ideas are unlikely to just go away. As such, the question must be posed: is the incel account of modern sexual life correct or not? Incel communities tend to believe a few key facts about modern mating practices. First, they tend to believe women have become very sexually promiscuous over time, and indeed that virtually all women are highly promiscuous. The nickname incels use for an attractive, sexually available woman is “Stacy.” Second, they believe a small number of males dominate the market for romance, and that their dominance is growing. They call these alpha-males “Chads.” Finally, they tend to argue that the market for sex is winner-take-all, with a few “Chads” conquering all the “Stacies.” The allegedly handsome and masculine Chads are helped along by social media, Tinder, and an allegedly vacuous and appearance-focused dating scene, such that modern society gives Chads excessive amounts of sex while leaving a growing number of males with no sexual partner at all. These left out men are the incels. This view is basically wrong. But it turns out to be wrong in an interesting and informative way.
The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations / CityLab
When it come to passenger manipulation, what sets the stations of Japan apart from their counterparts is both the ingenuity behind their nudges and the imperceptible manner in which they are implemented. Japan’s nudges reflect a higher order of thinking. The orderliness of society is taken as a given—Japanese commuters know how to queue on an escalator and can easily navigate the confusing, but wide-open, spaces of Tokyo’s rail stations without assistance. This allows rail operators to instead focus on deeper psychological manipulation.
Naomi Osaka Is the Coolest Thing in Tennis / GQ
At Indian Wells, Naomi Osaka looked like she could beat any tennis player in the world. She’d entered the tournament unseeded, having never won a WTA title before. But in the heat of the desert, she proceeded—efficiently and almost cruelly—to dismantle opponent at their own game. First, the 20-year-old stunned former no. 1 player Maria Sharapova in straight sets with her precise and powerful serve. (Sharapova would part ways with her coach after that match.) Later, she took out Karolína Plíšková, another former no. 1, with a unrelenting series of crushing forehands from the baseline. And when defeating former no. 1’s wasn’t enough, she matched up against the current one, Simona Halep, and throttled her so badly that Halep didn’t win a single game in the second set. Her finals match against Daria Kasatkina was nearly as effortless. The victory speech she gave after that? A different kind of effortless. “Hello, hi, I am—okay never mind,” she started, before meandering through a series of thank you’s in a seemingly random order, giggling throughout. After a couple minutes, she closed by saying, “This is probably gonna be the worst acceptance speech of all time.” On the court, Osaka appeared confident and fearless. But as soon as she was off of it, she returned to being a soft-spoken teen with a penchant for nerdy interests. At a press conference after the finals match, Naomi Osaka described the feeling of winning her first title the way any champion would: in reference to a meme. “Towards the end I didn’t know that I won the match point,” she said. “So then I was like Caveman SpongeBob.”
Scientists to grow 'mini-brains' using Neanderthal DNA / The Guardian
Scientists are preparing to create “miniature brains” that have been genetically engineered to contain Neanderthal DNA, in an unprecedented attempt to understand how humans differ from our closest relatives. In the next few months the small blobs of tissue, known as brain organoids, will be grown from human stem cells that have been edited to contain “Neanderthalised” versions of several genes.
----- 1 star -----
When Corporate Innovation Goes Bad — The 116 Biggest Product Failures Of All Time / CBInsights
From the DeLorean and New Coke to the Newton and Google Glass, here's a list of the biggest product flops from corporate giants.
Arthropoda Iconicus / Richard Wilkinson
Pretty cool art:
The first book of the series, working title: “Arthropoda Iconicus Volume I: Insects From A Far Away Galaxy”, is a collection of insects that bear a subtle yet uncanny resemblance to characters and vehicles from the worlds favourite space opera.
How Tesla's Model X Stacks Up Against China's New NIO / Bloomberg
Chinese startup NIO marked its entry last week into the world’s biggest market for electric cars with a sport utility vehicle priced cheaper than Tesla Inc.’s Model X. [...] When it comes to taking on the the might of Elon Musk’s Model X, the NIO’s new ES8 is no shrinking violet. It accelerates from 0-100 Kmph in 4.4 seconds, compared to the Tesla model’s 5.2 seconds. On a speed charge, it also fills the battery with juice in a little over an hour, compared to anywhere between an hour and an hour and 20 minutes for Tesla.
Why you hear “Laurel” or “Yanny” in that viral audio clip, explained / Vox
So what’s going on here? The clip is playing around with frequency — and it depends on the range of frequencies listeners hear.
Cities in Ethiopia, and why is the second largest one so small? / Marginal Revolution
For a country of about 102 million people, this distribution of city sizes is remarkable, noting that the true population of Addis is likely larger yet [...] It seems that most people don’t want to leave their villages. Given that apparent constraint, many of the somewhat larger villages have evolved into mini-cities with very limited infrastructure and density, but lots more consumption.