4 stars

Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang | New Yorker

When Anar Sabit was in her twenties and living in Vancouver, she liked to tell her friends that people could control their own destinies. Her experience, she was sure, was proof enough.

She had come to Canada in 2014, a bright, confident immigrant from Kuytun, a small city west of the Gobi Desert, in a part of China that is tucked between Kazakhstan, Siberia, and Mongolia. […]

Growing up in this remote part of Asia, a child like Sabit, an ethnic Kazakh, could find the legacy of conquest all around her. […]

As a child, Sabit imbibed Communist Party teachings and considered herself a committed Chinese citizen, even as the bingtuan maintained a colonialist attitude toward people like her. Han residents of Kuytun often called Kazakhs and Uyghurs “ethnic persons,” as if their specific culture made no difference. Sabit accepted this as normal. Her parents, a doctor and a chemistry professor, never spoke of their experiences of discrimination; they enrolled her in schools where classes were held in Mandarin, and they taught her to embrace what she learned there. […]

Sabit excelled as a student, and after graduating from high school, in 2004, she moved to Shanghai, to study Russian, hoping that it would open up career opportunities in other parts of the world. She loved Shanghai, which thrummed with the promise of glamorous, fast-paced living. But she was still an “ethnic person.” If she told a new acquaintance where she was from, it usually derailed the conversation. Some people, believing that “barbarians” lived in Xinjiang, expressed surprise that she spoke Mandarin fluently. Just before she completed her degree, the tech company Huawei hosted a job fair, and Sabit and her friends applied. She was the only one not offered an interview—because of her origins, she was sure.

Sabit brushed off this kind of prejudice, and became adept at eliding her background; when circumstances allowed, she fibbed and said that she was from some other region. She found a well-paying job with an investment company. The work was exciting—involving travel to places like Russia, Laos, and Hong Kong—and she liked her boss and her colleagues.

While Sabit was in Shanghai, her parents immigrated to Kazakhstan. They urged her to move there, too, but she resisted their pleas, believing that China was a more powerful country, more forward-leaning. She had spent most of her life striving to be a model citizen, and was convinced that her future lay with China—even as the politics of her homeland grew more fraught.


3 stars

‘She Just Fell Down. And She Died.’ | New York Times

In the swelter of the hot season, U Soe Oo cracked open the coconut with practiced blows of his machete. Small hands reached out for the first slice, cool and slippery.

His daughter — 10 years old, with dreams of being a makeup artist or a nurse or maybe even a princess with long golden hair like the one in “Maleficent,” which she had watched a zillion times, no joke — ran down a path with her sweet prize.

Just as she reached the trees that marked the perimeter of their property, the girl seemed to stumble, landing flat on her stomach, her father recalled. The piece of coconut slipped from her grasp, falling onto the reddish earth of Mawlamyine, a port town perched on a slender archipelago in southeastern Myanmar.

Mr. Soe Oo put his machete down and ran to tell her it was OK, that she could have another chunk of coconut. He scooped her up, limp in his arms, but it still didn’t register where all the blood was coming from, why she wasn’t saying anything at all.

The bullet had hit the left temple of his daughter, Aye Myat Thu, at about 5:30 in the soft glow of the afternoon of March 27. By the time darkness fell less than an hour later, she was dead.

Since staging a Feb. 1 coup and jailing the nation’s civilian leaders, the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, has murdered, assaulted and arrested with impunity. More than 550 people have been killed on the streets and in their homes by soldiers or police officers, according to a monitoring group.


The Revolution in Classic Tetris | New Yorker

It was the final match of the 2016 Classic Tetris World Championship, and Jeff Moore, a thirty-six-year-old from Las Vegas, was playing out of his mind. “Boom!” the announcers yelled with each four-line clearance. “Tetris for Jeff!” Their enthusiasm couldn’t be contained. Jeff’s opponent, a taproom manager in his mid-thirties named Jonas Neubauer, had won the world title five times. Jeff had never even been close. Could he defeat the Michael Jordan of falling blocks? “He’s ready for a Tetris—where is the long bar? Are we going to see it?” the announcers cried, talking over one another, voices stacking in intensity. After a few seconds, the longed-for rectangle arrived. Four lines, cleared. Jeff, who was staring placidly at an outdated television set, was soaring to the pinnacle of piece-piling.

Alas, Jeff could not shake the Tetris hierarchy. Jonas beat him handily, sending him home with a silver T-piece trophy and a five-hundred-dollar prize. Trey Harrison, the tournament’s chief technical officer, helped to upload the match footage to YouTube, mainly for archival purposes. Months later, he noticed something strange. “It was just blowing up,” he said. “I don’t know why. The views just kept climbing and climbing and climbing.” Soon there were spin-offs. Someone compiled every “Boom, Tetris!” from the match into a video that stretched more than two minutes. Another user posted a quick-cut video of the tournament’s especially meme-able moments. “Boom, Tetris for Jeff!” was a sensation.


Kati Kariko Helped Shield the World From the Coronavirus | New York Times

She grew up in Hungary, daughter of a butcher. She decided she wanted to be a scientist, although she had never met one. She moved to the United States in her 20s, but for decades never found a permanent position, instead clinging to the fringes of academia.

Now Katalin Kariko, 66, known to colleagues as Kati, has emerged as one of the heroes of Covid-19 vaccine development. Her work, with her close collaborator, Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania, laid the foundation for the stunningly successful vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

For her entire career, Dr. Kariko has focused on messenger RNA, or mRNA — the genetic script that carries DNA instructions to each cell’s protein-making machinery. She was convinced mRNA could be used to instruct cells to make their own medicines, including vaccines.

But for many years her career at the University of Pennsylvania was fragile. She migrated from lab to lab, relying on one senior scientist after another to take her in. She never made more than $60,000 a year. […]

Dr. Kariko’s struggles to stay afloat in academia have a familiar ring to scientists. She needed grants to pursue ideas that seemed wild and fanciful. She did not get them, even as more mundane research was rewarded.


Decoupling, Digital Currency, and the Consumer of Last Resort | The Diff

It would be accurate but incomplete to think of the global economy in terms of the circulation of goods and services around the world. There's regional variation in what people consume, mostly driven by income differences, and there's regional variation in what they produce, driven by a wider variety of factors that range from historical accidents to entrepreneurs to government policy to natural resource endowments. Another view, that's surprisingly accurate but still limited, is to view the entire global economy in terms of the circulation of savings: there's one dominant producer of reserve assets, the United States, and everyone in the world either directly or indirectly demands them. And there's a third model, which has the same traits. It works like this: China is the best country in the world at adding value to raw materials and intermediate goods; raw materials and components flow into the country, and finished goods flow out. In this model, the function of the global economy is to find end consumers for more of these goods, and the result of that process is demand for certain high-value input goods that can't be made there just yet—M1 chips from Taiwan, memory chips from Korea, storage chips from Japan; oil, iron, copper, and food from around the world.

In a world without widely-trusted fiat currency, the first model would have all the explanatory power we needed. […]

The modern world does not work that way; there are countries that can issue widely-circulated currencies, and thanks to the network effects of money, the most widely-circulated ones are in the highest demand. This leads to a dynamic where the US is the consumer of last resort ($): a financial crisis is often ultimately a shortage of dollars, and America can print those just fine.


On a Wing and a Prayer | Alta

With punk rocker audacity and aerospace bona fides, Dezső Molnár is out to build a street-legal flying car. The materials? Four wings, three wheels, a lipstick-red propeller, and duct tape—lots and lots of duct tape. Oh, and a little Jesus juice, too.


2 stars

Feodor’s Guide: Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky | Village Voice

David Foster Wallace in 1996:

Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground and its narrator are just about impossible really to understand without some knowledge of the intellectual climate of Russia in the 1860s, particularly the frisson of utopian socialism and atheistic utilitarianism then in vogue among the radical Russian intelligentsia, an ideology that Dostoevsky loathed with the sort of passion only Dostoevsky could loathe with.

In 1957, Joseph Frank, as he was wading through some of this particular-context background so that he could give his Princeton comp-lit students a halfway comprehensive reading of Notes, started to get interested in the fiction of Dostoevsky as a kind of bridge between two distinct ways of coming at text, a purely formal aesthetic approach v. a social-dash-ideological criticism that cares only about the thematics and the philosophical assumptions that lie behind them. That interest — plus 40 years of what must have been skull-crunching scholarly la­bor — has yielded the first four volumes of a projected five­-book study of Dostoevsky’s life and times and writing. Proba­bly all serious scholars of Dos­toevsky are waiting bated to see if Frank can hang on long enough to bring his encyclopedic study all the way up to the early 1880s, when Dosto­evsky finished the fourth of his great novels, gave his famous Pushkin speech, and died. Even if the fifth volume doesn’t get written, though, the ap­pearance now of the fourth ensures Frank’s own status as the definitive biographer of one of the best fiction writers ever. […]

The point is that there is real and alienating stuff besides just the death-by­-canonization that stands in the way. But Dostoevsky is worth the work despite his place astride the Western canon. One thing that canonization and course assignments obscure is that Dostoevsky is­n’t just great, he’s fun. His novels almost always have just ripping good plots, lurid and involved and thoroughly dramatic. There are murders and attempted mur­ders and police and dysfunctional-family feuding and spies and tough guys and beautiful fallen women and unctuous con men and inheritances and silky villains and scheming and whores. Of course the fact that Dostoevsky can tell a really good story isn’t alone enough to make him great — if it were, Judith Krantz and John Grisham would be great fiction writers, and as matters stand they’re not even very good. […]

The thing about Dostoevsky’s char­acters is that they live. And by this I don’t mean just that they’re successfully realized and believable and “round.” The best of them live inside us, forever, once we’ve met them.


Archegos Appeared, Then Vanished | Matt Levine (Bloomberg Money Stuff)

Money Stuff was off last week, and the big story of the week was Archegos Capital Management, the family office of former Tiger Asia manager Bill Hwang. The basic story of Archegos is that it extracted as much leverage as possible from a half dozen Wall Street banks to buy a concentrated portfolio of tech and media stocks (apparently partially hedged with short index positions), and those stocks went up a lot, before going down a lot. […]

As is so often — not always! — the case, the market rewarded absolute unsentimental ruthlessness here. A bunch of prime brokers got in a room to give speeches about working together and preserving value and not artificially depressing prices, and the Goldman representative was texting colleagues under the table “SELL EVERYTHING!” Goldman was right.


Prediction Markets: Tales from the Election | Vitalik Buterin

At first, I was inclined to simply watch, and not participate myself: I am not an expert on US electoral politics, so why should I expect my opinion to be more correct than that of everyone else who was already trading? But in my Twitter-sphere, I saw more and more arguments from Very Smart People whom I respected arguing that the markets were in fact being irrational and I should participate and bet against them if I can. Eventually, I was convinced.

I decided to make an experiment on the blockchain that I helped to create: I bought $2,000 worth of NTRUMP (tokens that pay $1 if Trump loses) on Augur. Little did I know then that my position would eventually increase to $308,249, earning me a profit of over $56,803, and that I would make all of these remaining bets, against willing counterparties, after Trump had already lost the election. What would transpire over the next two months would prove to be a fascinating case study in social psychology, expertise, arbitrage, and the limits of market efficiency, with important ramifications to anyone who is deeply interested in the possibilities of economic institution design.


Abiboo envisions cliff-face city as "future capital of Mars" | Dezeen

Architecture studio Abiboo has designed the concept for a self-sufficient city on Mars named Nüwa that could be built in 2054. Its architect explains the project to Dezeen.

Set within a cliff on Mars, Nüwa was designed for non-profit organisation the Mars Society to be the first permanent settlement on Mars.

The vertical settlement, which could eventually house 250,000 people, would be embedded into the side of a cliff and built using materials available on the planet.


A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics | New York Times

Experiments with particles known as muons suggest that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.


The rice of the sea: how a tiny grain could change the way humanity eats | The Guardian

Ángel León made his name serving innovative seafood. But then he discovered something in the seagrass that could transform our understanding of the sea itself – as a vast garden


4D Toys: a box of four-dimensional toys, and how objects bounce and roll in 4D | YouTube

Showing 4D Toys and an explanation of how 4D objects would look like and bounce around from the perspective of a 3D being.


'Lost golden city' found in Egypt reveals lives of ancient pharaohs | BBC

The discovery of a 3,000-year-old city that was lost to the sands of Egypt has been hailed as one of the most important archaeological finds since Tutankhamun's tomb.

Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass announced the discovery of the "lost golden city" near Luxor on Thursday.

He said the find was the largest ancient city, known as Aten, ever uncovered in Egypt.


More Than 4,000 Blood Tests Suggest Our Bodies Age in 3 Distinct Shifts | Science Alert

In terms of biological aging, the body seems to shift gears three times during our lifespans, research from 2019 suggests – with 34 years, 60 years, and 78 years being the key thresholds.

In other words, there's evidence that aging isn't one long, continuous process that moves at the same speed throughout our lives.


1 star

Istanbul: Love of the continents | Vimeo

Some of you might find a bit too much HDR in this, but I thought it was stunning:

Immerse yourself into the authentic atmosphere of the city between East and West.


Experience: I tracked down my impostor | The Guardian

I found a video clip of him at a conference, reading out a chapter I’d written. He was dressed like me. He had even copied my tattoos


Bronze Age slab found in France is oldest 3D map in Europe | BBC

A freshly unearthed Bronze-Age stone may be the oldest three-dimensional map in Europe, researchers say.


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