Just for fun, I’m going to start putting parts of these excerpts in bold; for clarity, that’s my doing and not in the original.

3 stars

The case against crisis-mongering | Slow Boring

I thought this was excellent:

Last but by no means least, just as I don’t want “Trump isn’t actually a fascist” to be taken as a pro-Trump utterance, I really want to be clear that while climate change is bad, we are to a large extent looking at a negative side effect of basically good trends. […]

The cause of the whole Asian pollution boom — which in turn is the entire source of the problem — is that Asia saw economic growth and rising living standards.

That’s really good! During this post-1990 period, we’ve seen an incredible reduction in the share of people living in extreme global poverty. If Asia had stayed poor, that would have conveniently averted the climate change problem. But it would have been worse all things considered. […]

But we are still fundamentally looking at a world that is better than the world of 1990, not worse. The point isn’t that there isn’t a serious problem here, but that there is no historically unique crisis. Deep poverty in Asia didn’t weigh on the psyches of western intellectuals in 1990 the way climate change does today because of status quo bias and parochialism. But the world has always had very serious problems, and there’s nothing uniquely serious about today’s issues, grave though they may be. […]

But insisting that terrorism wasn’t just a problem (and we did indeed have many problems, from car crashes to ordinary murders to cirrhosis to particulate air pollution and beyond) worth addressing but an actual World Historical Crisis requiring Grand Struggle Against The Forces of Evil really came around to bite us in the ass. All along, people clearly knew that this wasn’t actually a moment of supreme emergency comparable to World War II that would genuinely induce everyone to put other considerations aside in order to work for victory. But the intellectual and political climate came to be that anyone explicitly saying that and calling for a clearer reckoning of costs and benefits or relative risks was heard as an apologist for murderers.

Today we don’t have a comparable externalizing hysteria. We’re instead being torn apart by a hysteria of mutual accusations against each other. It serves to make it difficult to do normal political things like agree to disagree about some stuff while collaborating on some other common problem. Or to horse-trade across issue areas in a way that delivers a win to progressives on something they care about in exchange for a win for conservatives on something they care about. We’re wasting incredible amounts of energy and brainpower on contemplating worst-case scenarios.


The Most Impressive AI Demo I Have Ever Seen | Marginal Revolution

This is from OpenAI, and I’m only labelling it “Marginal Revolution” because I’m stealing Alex Tabarrok’s title and description:

This is jaw-dropping. It starts slow but watch the whole thing. I don’t think I would have been more amazed had I witnessed the first flight of the Wright Brothers.


How the Bobos Broke America | The Atlantic

I’ve really liked David Brooks for over two decades, but I get that not everyone does, partly because his columns can be irritatingly simplistic. But I think he’s a far better longform writer than columnist, so I was pretty excited to see his latest long piece in The Atlantic get a lot of buzz. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I thought it was good, not great. Maybe even a bit obvious? Still very much worth a read:

How could people with high-end powerboats possibly think of themselves as the downtrodden? The truth is, they are not totally crazy. The class structure of Western society has gotten scrambled over the past few decades. It used to be straightforward: You had the rich, who joined country clubs and voted Republican; the working class, who toiled in the factories and voted Democratic; and, in between, the mass suburban middle class. We had a clear idea of what class conflict, when it came, would look like—members of the working classes would align with progressive intellectuals to take on the capitalist elite.

But somehow when the class conflict came, in 2015 and 2016, it didn’t look anything like that. Suddenly, conservative parties across the West—the former champions of the landed aristocracy—portrayed themselves as the warriors for the working class. And left-wing parties—once vehicles for proletarian revolt—were attacked as captives of the super-educated urban elite. These days, your education level and political values are as important in defining your class status as your income is. Because of this, the U.S. has polarized into two separate class hierarchies—one red and one blue. Classes struggle not only up and down, against the richer and poorer groups on their own ladder, but against their partisan opposite across the ideological divide. […]

I looked on them pretty benignly myself. “The educated class is in no danger of becoming a self-contained caste,” I wrote in 2000. “Anybody with the right degree, job, and cultural competencies can join.” That turned out to be one of the most naive sentences I have ever written. […]

The modern meritocracy is a resentment-generating machine. But even leaving that aside, as a sorting device, it is batshit crazy. The ability to perform academic tasks during adolescence is nice to have, but organizing your society around it is absurd. That ability is not as important as the ability to work in teams; to sacrifice for the common good; to be honest, kind, and trustworthy; to be creative and self-motivated. A sensible society would reward such traits by conferring status on them. A sensible society would not celebrate the skills of a corporate consultant while slighting the skills of a home nurse.

Some 60 years after its birth, the meritocracy seems more and more morally vacuous. Does the ability to take tests when you’re young make you a better person than others? Does a society built on that ability become more just and caring?

This situation produces a world in which the populist right can afford to be intellectually bankrupt. Right-leaning parties don’t need to have a policy agenda. They just need to stoke and harvest the resentment toward the creative class.


2 stars

The Highbrow Neanderthal | Grow by Gingko

Long before we arrived on the scene, Neanderthals were making artworks, developing elaborate rituals, and having adventurous sex.


What I learned from an unlikely friendship with an anti-masker | The Guardian

Frank and I met in 2017 when I began pursuing fieldwork, as an anthropologist, in American conservative circles. I’ve been to his town in Michigan, he’s visited me in Baltimore, we’ve exchanged hundreds of texts – both reflective and combative – over the years.

For me, the vaccine promised freedom from worry, a way to avoid endangering myself and everyone I encountered. For Frank, it meant something else: “compliance, control and capitulation”. He singled out the face mask in the photo I sent. “I truly detest pictures with face diapers on. At your age, are you seriously that scared of this?”

He mocked the idea of vaccination (“Why would I get a vaccine for a cold that I’m 99.9% sure to survive?”), and told me about a recent gathering in his town: “Lots and lots of people, hugging, shaking hands, everyone mingling. Almost like a real free America … almost.”

Throughout the pandemic, Frank and I have sent each other glimpses of our respective lives. His cheery videos last year of unmasked people clustered closely indoors looked like nihilism to me. Meanwhile, when looking at pictures of my masked life in Baltimore, he saw a heedless slide into a totalitarian culture.


Israeli data: How can efficacy vs. severe disease be strong when 60% of hospitalized are vaccinated? | Covid-19 Data Science

If you already know the answer to the question in the title, don’t bother reading; this is really just a statistics lesson, albeit one that seems poorly understood by many in the media:

One disturbing result that has been repeated about several locations is that a high proportion of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are vaccinated. For example, we can see from data from the the Israeli government data dashboard that nearly 60% of all patients currently hospitalized for COVID-19 (as of August 15, 2021) are vaccinated (downloaded data set and details are found at the bottom of this post). Out of 515 patients currently hospitalized with severe cases in Israel, 301 (58.4%) of these cases were fully vaccinated, meaning two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

From this type of result in various places, I have seen tweets suggesting vaccines don't work or have lost their efficacy vs. severe disease, and I have seen other articles quote this type of figure as further evidence for the reduction of effectiveness of the vaccines in trying to justify 3rd shot boosters.

However, while these numbers are true, to quote them as evidence for low vaccine efficacy is wrong and misleading. […]

We see quite high efficacy in all age groups, with the 80-89 group having the lowest efficacy (81.1%) and all others between 88.7% and 100%.

We see that the current Israeli data provide strong evidence that the Pfizer vaccine is still strongly protecting vs. severe disease, even for the Delta variant, when analyzed properly to stratify by age.


Why People Who Brush Still Get Cavities | FiveThirtyEight

Our dental health changed with our diets. Ancient humans and their hominin ancestors really didn’t have much of a problem with cavities. In fact, finding an ancient skull with a cavity is such a big deal that you can go and publish a whole paper just to show off the discovery. Unhappy smiles became more common only after the advent of farming led to humans eating a lot more carbs — a shift that went even further following the widespread availability of refined flour and sugar in the 19th century.

But in the past decade or so, scientists sequenced the DNA from ancient dental plaque and figured out that something else in our mouths was changing at the same time as our dental health. Turns out, there are specific strains of bacteria — streptococcus mutans, in particular — that are more common in mouths with cavities. And as human diets changed and cavities became more common, those bacteria started taking over our mouths. Our modern communities of oral bacteria are less diverse than our ancestors’ were, and they’re dominated by these cavity-causing strains.


1 star

Ore Mountains, Germany | Erzgebirge | Little Big World | YouTube

Very good tilt-shift videography:

One of the upsides of this pandemic is that I got to explore and shoot some great places in Germany. I was invited to film an episode of the amazing Ore Mountains by the tourism board Erzgebirge.

The area recently became a UNESCO World Heritage site among other things due to its rich cultual heritage in mining which dates back 700 years.

The Ore Mountains are located in a so called Mittelgebirge, which is a relatively low mountain range or highland area, a typical geographical feature of central Europe.

Enjoy this trip with steam trains passing through fairy tale landscapes, medival castles, mining villages, underground mines and much more.


5 Commonly Used Idioms in the Tech Industry | Gitconnected

Bikeshedding, rubber ducking, dog fooding, bus factors, yak shaving…what the heck are my colleagues even saying?


They Tried to Beat DiMaggio. Like Everyone Else, They Failed. | New York Times

Roberto Aguirre-Hunn Jr., a chef in East Lansing, Mich., was just six picks away from assembling a virtual hitting streak that would have netted him $5.6 million in 2019. But he chose D.J. LeMahieu to extend his streak to 52, and LeMahieu went 0 for 4, leaving Aguirre-Hunn in tears.

In 2008, Bob Paradise, a retired carpenter in Massachusetts, built a streak to 48 games and hoped to extend it with Ichiro Suzuki against Detroit. But in Suzuki’s final plate appearance after going hitless in three at-bats, he took a fastball in his back, and Paradise felt like he took a punch in the gut.

Michael Karatzia, a FedEx operations manager from Red Bank, N.J., crafted a streak of 49 games in 2007, but then he picked Placido Polanco against the Athletics. In a game with 23 combined hits, Polanco couldn’t produce even one, and Karatzia went down with him.

They all have stories like that. Everyone who has played Beat the Streak, a popular niche fantasy game run by Major League Baseball that offers a $5.6 million prize to anyone who can assemble a string of players to beat Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game hitting streak, has eventually lost. It costs nothing to enter, except some aggravation and a sobering lesson in how remarkable DiMaggio’s feat really was back in 1941.

“I was so close,” Aguirre-Hunn recalled of his 51-game streak, “and I couldn’t do anything but cry about it. It just goes to show how hard it is.”

Hard is an understatement. Impossible might be more accurate, considering that since the inception of Beat the Streak in 2001, more than 4.5 million unique players have accounted for over 100 million streaks of various lengths, and no one has caught or passed Joltin’ Joe.


Failing Students for the Future | Inside Higher Ed

Somewhat related to the first and third links today, though the usual caveats about surveys apply:

Only half of self-identified conservative and liberal students we surveyed say that, based on what they have learned in college, they think the world has been getting better over the last 50 years in terms of extreme poverty, life expectancy, hunger and literacy — in other words, as many as half do not think the world is getting better — while more than a third think it’s been getting worse. Yet all these things have improved significantly during this time. For example, extreme poverty has dropped from 43 percent of the world’s population in 1981 to around 9 percent today.


Historical Migration, Vitamin D Deficiency, and Health | Marginal Revolution

In an interesting new paper, Andersen et al. (2021) use the Putterman-Weil historical migration index to show that life-expectancy is lower in countries where a large proportion of that country’s population emigrated from places with more sunlight (UV-R). Ethiopians in Israel, Indians in the UK and blacks in the United States, for example, tend to have Vitamin D deficiency and higher levels of mortality and morbidity from a wide variety of diseases. The effect at the global level is small but significant, about the same order of magnitude as the effect of income, inequality, and schooling.


Felines as labor market outlier? | Marginal Revolution

When given the choice between a free meal and performing a task for a meal, cats would prefer the meal that doesn’t require much effort. While that might not come as a surprise to some cat lovers, it does to cat behaviorists. Most animals prefer to work for their food — a behavior called contrafreeloading.

A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine showed most domestic cats choose not to contrafreeload. The study found that cats would rather eat from a tray of easily available food rather than work out a simple puzzle to get their food.

“There is an entire body of research that shows that most species including birds, rodents, wolves, primates — even giraffes — prefer to work for their food,” said lead author Mikel Delgado, a cat behaviorist and research affiliate at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “What’s surprising is out of all these species cats seem to be the only ones that showed no strong tendency to contrafreeload.”


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