----- 3 stars -----

The Best Way To Save People From Suicide / Huffington Post

According to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are now more than twice as many suicides in the U.S. (45,000) as homicides; they are the 10th leading cause of death. You have to go all the way back to the dawn of the Great Depression to find a similar increase in the suicide rate. Meanwhile, in many other industrialized Western countries, suicides have been flat or steadily decreasing. [...] It seemed so ridiculous: letters that could pull a person out of an abyss that deep. Not personal messages, but form letters typed out on one of the office’s IBM Selectrics. Motto wanted them to be simple and direct, with no clinical jargon or ass-covering fine print. Most importantly, they had to demand nothing. “No expressions like ‘you really should try to resume therapy’ or ‘would you fill out this depressive scale so we can determine what your status is?’” he said. It ought to convey a genuine sense of kinship—“simply what one might say to a friend.” Motto didn’t take long to write the first letter a patient would receive. He knew what he wanted to say, hitting upon two sentences—37 words—that felt just right: “It has been some time since you were here at the hospital, and we hope things are going well for you. If you wish to drop us a note we would be glad to hear from you.” With each letter they sent out, the research team’s secretaries enclosed a self-addressed envelope. Motto insisted that it not include a stamp. “That’s important,” he later explained, “because some of these persons were so sensitive that putting the stamp on the envelope would be pressure, that they’d feel obligated that we wouldn’t waste our stamp.” The letters were to be mailed on a set schedule: once a month for the first four months; every two months for the next eight months; every three months for the next four years. In all, the correspondence would include 24 letters, sent over the course of five years, that would vary subtly.

Chardon, Ohio / Esquire

The people of this tiny town have had six years to reflect on what a seventeen-year-old boy with a gun did, and how his terrible act has affected them. [...] Some months back, Danny ran into Brandon Lichtinger, his old English teacher from Chardon High School. It had been years since they’d seen each other. Brandon gave Danny a hug and apologized. He wished he’d known back then what he understood now about loss, Brandon said. But he was a young teacher; he didn’t know how to help a kid who’d survived what Danny had. It snuck up on Brandon, the emotional aftermath of what happened. For the first year, he pretended things were normal. It was only later, after his life fell apart, that he realized the trauma belonged not only to the kids but to him, too. He hadn't meant to be in Chardon six years later, living in the same house, teaching at the same school. Some families left afterward. Brandon found he couldn't move. [...] Brandon was in the hall at Chardon High School when he heard it. It sounded like construction, like a nail gun. That's when he glimpsed Jen Sprinzl, the principal’s secretary, standing at the end of the hall, near the cafeteria. She would come to see that moment outside the cafeteria as the one that separated her life into a before and an after. Afterward, Jen often wanted to quit her job. But her husband would say, “Well, what’re you gonna do?” and she knew she had to go back to work and return to her office, where the staff would come in weeping because Jen had always been the school’s mama bear. That protective instinct was why she ran out into the hall in the first place, after she heard shots and kids running. It was why she turned the corner when she did, and came face-to-face with the gun.

Divided We Stand / New York Magazine
Speculative and wishful thinking...and yet still rather interesting:

The country is hopelessly split. So why not make it official and break up? [...] So let’s return to our hypothetical spring of 2019. After Governor Newsom’s successful health-care deal, lobbyists and think tanks promote compacts for all their pet issues, and Congress — which would be unable to find bicameral majorities for any other substantive legislation — obliges. The Public Lands and Environmental Compact Act gives the states huge leeway to set environmental regulations and manage national parks on their lands, and the Labor and Workplace Compact Act permits states to draft new workplace and employment standards. There’s a Housing Compact Act, an Immigration Compact Act, and an Agriculture Compact Act, which allows the states to take all the money that would come to their citizens as farm subsidies and food stamps as block grants with the ability to set their own rules. Trump giddily signs them all. While the states could generate new partnerships for each policy area, they choose to harden their alliances. As they link their safety nets, the Newsom-led states agree to fully synchronize their tax codes so that they could end a race-to-the-bottom competition for residents and companies. Once they do, Nevada pulls out from the compact, unwilling to implement an income tax on its citizens. Washington, on the other hand, quickly amends its state constitution to permit an income tax for the first time. Seeking his own symbol of integration, Abbott unveils the new Free States Open-Carry Permit, along with new laws ensuring the right to bear arms in schools, churches, and government buildings across his alliance. Newsom and Abbott jointly lobby Congress to grant them the right to manage the Social Security funds generated by workers in their regions. Abbott wants to allow citizens to control their retirement portfolio, while Newsom wants to experiment with moving some trust-fund money from the Treasury bonds to new public-investment vehicles that will support climate-friendly technology. To kick off the Federation Era, the two governors meet on the steps of the United States Supreme Court for a photo op. Shaking hands, the men and their attorneys general pledge not to support any legal challenge to the other’s authority for two decades. All sides have an interest in permitting their new experiment to play out for a while without any unnecessary uncertainty from the courts. The states can’t stop others from suing over the constitutionality of their moves, but they want to send a message to a conservative Supreme Court that state officials are channeling the political will of 250 million Americans, all with Congress’s express consent.

American Exorcism / The Atlantic

But far from being confined to a past of Demiurges and evil eyes, belief in demonic possession is widespread in the United States today. Polls conducted in recent decades by Gallup and the data firm YouGov suggest that roughly half of Americans believe demonic possession is real. The percentage who believe in the devil is even higher, and in fact has been growing: Gallup polls show that the number rose from 55 percent in 1990 to 70 percent in 2007. Perhaps as a result, demand for exorcisms—the Catholic Church’s antidote to demonic possession—seems to be growing as well. Though the Church does not keep official statistics, the exorcists I interviewed for this article attest to fielding more pleas for help every year. Father Vincent Lampert, the official exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, told me in early October that he’d received 1,700 phone or email requests for exorcisms in 2018, by far the most he’s ever gotten in one year. Father Gary Thomas—a priest whose training as an exorcist in Rome was documented in The Rite, a book published in 2009 and made into a movie in 2011—said that he gets at least a dozen requests a week. Several other priests reported that without support from church staff and volunteers, their exorcism ministries would quickly swallow up their entire weekly schedules. The Church has been training new exorcists in Chicago, Rome, and Manila. Thomas told me that in 2011 the U.S. had fewer than 15 known Catholic exorcists. Today, he said, there are well over 100. Other exorcists I spoke with put the number between 70 and 100. [...] The inescapable question is: Why? Or rather: Why now? Why, in our modern age, are so many people turning to the Church for help in banishing incorporeal fiends from their body? And what does this resurgent interest tell us about the figurative demons tormenting contemporary society?

----- 2 stars -----

Do You Even Bake, Bro? / Eater
Obnoxious title aside, this is a pretty good piece:

Hallelujah, bread is back. But these new bread beasts are not the bakers of yore, early risers peacefully toiling at their craft, their secrets trapped just beneath the crust of a fresh loaf whose sweet smells are wafting through the streets. No, this bread is engineered. With custom-made bread ovens, temperature-controlled proofing boxes, at-home grain mills, laser thermometers, and a $600, 52-pound cookbook. A sample caption from breadstagram: “Loaf from yesterday’s cut video. 80% bread flour, 20% whole wheat, 80% hydration, 2% salt, Leaven was 100% hydration, whole wheat, young (4 hours), and comprised of 10% of total *dough* weight (60g for a 600g loaf). Hand mixed via Rubaud Method for 10 minutes. Bulk for 3.5 hours, low 80s F, with coil folds at 60 minutes and 120 minutes (around 40% rise in volume).” Bread requires little and it has existed in some form for thousands of years, relatively unchanged, because it’s simple to make and it feeds you. But if you were to scroll through Instagram, or watch recent YouTube tutorials, or read the libraries of blogs and self-published e-books, you might come away thinking that making bread was more challenging than performing brain surgery. That’s because bread-baking in America has, of late, found a friend in the unlikeliest of people: engineers, technologists, and the Silicon Valley-centric and adjacent. The image of a folksy baker laboring from muscle memory over her humble daily loaf, this is not. Bread is back. And it’s being disrupted.

Next Stop, Uberland: The Onrushing Algorithmic Future of Work / New York Magazine
High score, low pay: why the gig economy loves gamification / The Guardian

But wait: Isn’t the whole point of Uber that you can be your own boss? After all, Uber talks of its drivers not as employees but “partners.” In its propaganda, Uber portrays itself not as a taxi company at all but a technology platform that connects drivers directly to riders. “FREEDOM PAYS WEEKLY,” reads one recruitment ad reproduced in Uberland. Next to it, there’s a picture of a breezy millennial with shaggy hair and a five-o’clock shadow, a scarf draped rakishly around his neck. He looks so noncorporate that he might not be wearing any pants. [...] It seems a full-time Uber driver can easily earn a poverty wage. And in Rosenblat’s telling, the rates only go down as Uber becomes more established and more drivers flood the streets, trapping drivers who take out subprime car loans at usurious rates to drive for Uber in a state of near-indentured servitude. One driver that stuck out to me in Uberland was Raul, a New York City Uber driver who had to boost his shifts from 8 to 9 hours to 12 to 14 in the face of falling rates. Rosenblat, who maintains a sometimes-unnerving cool while narrating tales of outrageous exploitation, writes: “The autonomy to choose which fourteen of the twenty-four hours in a day to work doesn’t create the sense of freedom implied by ‘flexibility’ rhetoric” of Uber.

In a certain sense, Kalanick is right. Unlike employees in a spatially fixed worksite (the factory, the office, the distribution centre), rideshare drivers are technically free to choose when they work, where they work and for how long. They are liberated from the constraining rhythms of conventional employment or shift work. But that apparent freedom poses a unique challenge to the platforms’ need to provide reliable, “on demand” service to their riders – and so a driver’s freedom has to be aggressively, if subtly, managed. One of the main ways these companies have sought to do this is through the use of gamification. [...] After weeks of driving like a maniac in order to restore my higher-than-average driver rating, I managed to raise it back up to a 4.93. Although it felt great, it is almost shameful and astonishing to admit that one’s rating, so long as it stays above 4.6, has no actual bearing on anything other than your sense of self-worth. You do not receive a weekly bonus for being a highly rated driver. Your rate of pay does not increase for being a highly rated driver. In fact, I was losing money trying to flatter customers with candy and keep my car scrupulously clean. And yet, I wanted to be a highly rated driver. And this is the thing that is so brilliant and awful about the gamification of Lyft and Uber: it preys on our desire to be of service, to be liked, to be good. On weeks that I am rated highly, I am more motivated to drive. On weeks that I am rated poorly, I am more motivated to drive. It works on me, even though I know better. To date, I have completed more than 2,200 rides.

Visitors From the Ocean’s Twilight Zone / New York Times
Some great photos:

Between the ocean’s bright blue surface and its blackest depths — 660 to 3,300 feet below — is a mysterious, dark span of water. Welcome to the twilight zone. Recent evidence suggests there are more animals here by weight than in all of the world’s fisheries combined. But who lives here, and in what quantities? Since August, a group of scientists has been using new technology to better understand the twilight zone’s strange inhabitants.

3 Reasons Hunting Is Food For a Man’s Soul / Art of Manliness
As someone who's never hunted -- and who frankly inhabits a world quite different from the one this author lives in -- I found this interesting and illuminating:

However, I would argue that every man who is not morally opposed to eating meat should give hunting a try. In primitive times, becoming a hunter was considered essential to becoming a man, as the role symbolically and literally aligned with each of the traditional imperatives of manhood: protect, provide, procreate. [...] Hunting is hard . . . period! It’s possible that through carefully chosen clips of kill shots, viral videos of guys engaging in some pretty unethical “hunting” behavior, or even the movie Bambi, that you’ve been led to believe hunters are maniacal rednecks who possess overwhelming advantages against the game they prey upon, allowing them to easily kill whatever animals they’d like. [...] Real hunting involves early mornings, long hikes through often rugged country, hours sitting behind a pair of binoculars, constantly trying to beat an animal’s keen senses, sneaking into shooting range undetected, and making a good, ethical shot to dispatch the animal quickly (which requires countless hours of practice in the off-season). And if you manage to get through all of that successfully, the real work begins. Now you must field-dress the animal, quarter it up into manageable pack-loads, and then get it out of the woods — often on your own shoulders for what can be miles back to your truck. There is nothing easy about hunting!

----- 1 star -----

Wombat poop: Scientists have finally discovered why it's cubed / CNN

It is thought that the cubed shape of the poop means it is less likely that it will roll away, and is prominent for other individuals to notice and smell, Carver added. But how the wombat produces the cubed shapes is a phenomenon that has puzzled many observers of the furry marsupial.

The long-run impacts of same-race teachers / Marginal Revolution

"Leveraging random student-teacher pairings in the Tennessee STAR class-size experiment, we find that black students randomly assigned to a black teacher in grades K-3 are 5 percentage points (7%) more likely to graduate from high school and 4 percentage points (13%) more likely to enroll in college than their peers in the same school who are not assigned a black teacher." [...] I would describe the strength of this effect as one of the main and most important things economists have taught us over the last five years.

The Moon Is Flipped Upside Down in the Southern Hemisphere / Kottke

How old were you when you learned that the Moon in the Southern Hemisphere is upside down? I was today years old…this is my head exploding —> %@*&!$. Ok, the Moon isn’t upside down (that’s Northern-ist) but its orientation changes depending on if you’re north or south of the equator.

The best results on assortative mating and inequality I have seen / Marginal Revolution

Individuals face a large degree of uncertainty about their permanent wages early in their careers. If they marry early, as most individuals in the late 1960s did, this uncertainty leads to weak marital sorting along permanent wage. But when marriage is delayed, as in the late 1980s, the sorting becomes stronger due to the quick resolution of this uncertainty with work experience. After providing reduced-form evidence on the impact of marriage age, I build and estimate a marriage model with wage uncertainty and show that the increase in marriage age can explain almost 80% of the increase in assortative mating.

The Population Of Every US State From 1900 To 2017, Visualized Like A Horse Race / Digg

The surprising (?) formula for becoming an art star / Marginal Revolution

His findings undermine a popular art-world notion that a prodigy could create in obscurity and get discovered years later. Instead, the research suggests that artists who start out seeking connections with powerful curators, dealers and collectors within the nerve center of the art world are far more likely to hit the big time.

A Doctor Created A Human Anatomy Diagram In The Style Of A Subway Map And It's Friggin' Gorgeous / Digg

On November 26th, a mole will land on Mars / The Oatmeal

Snapshots / Vieler Photography
As delightful as you'd expect:

Dogs catching treats.

Artificial Intelligence is Alien Intelligence / Marginal Revolution

Imagine if an alien came to earth and told us some new scientific fact that no human had ever known. Artificial intelligence is starting to do just that. Computers and AI have long given us solutions to problems that humans could not have worked out for themselves but AI is going beyond optimization to tell us facts about the world that no one suspected. Eric Topol on twitter points us to a paper in Nature that used deep learning to analyze retinal images to predict heart disease–it’s long been known that this can be done which is one reason why ophthalmologists take a close look at your retinas when fitting lenses but not surprisingly the AI can see more than can ophthalmologists. What was surprising, however, was that the AI could also tell gender from retinal images, a fact no one had ever previously considered!

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