3 stars

San Francisco Giants outfielder Drew Robinson's remarkable second act | ESPN

Drew sat on his living room couch. He poured himself a glass of whiskey and then another. He stopped. He didn't have an alcohol problem and didn't want anyone to surmise otherwise. His thoughts crashed into one another -- about what it would look like and whom it would affect and who would find him. He was alone, alone until the end. At about 8 p.m., in one uninterrupted motion, he leaned to the side, reached out to the coffee table, lifted the gun, pressed it against his right temple and pulled the trigger.

That was supposed to be the end of Drew Robinson's story.

Over the next 20 hours, he would come to realize it was the beginning of another. […]

AT JUST PAST 8 p.m. on April 16, Drew looked around, and he was confused. What happened? Why am I still here?

He saw blood everywhere. He wanted to wipe it up. Get off the couch, he told himself. Maybe someone will want to keep it.

He lay on the hardwood floor. Thirty minutes passed. He held his head, tried to stem the bleeding. He grabbed a dirty towel. It didn't help. He decided to shower. When he stepped in, disorientation hit. He slipped and smacked his head on the handle, square on the entry wound. It still didn't hurt. How? Why?


Mr. Bailey’s Class | Slate

At the start of her eighth grade year, Heather was struggling. She was insecure, and lonely, and she wasn’t getting along with her mom. She worried that she wasn’t popular enough, or attractive enough, and that she’d never have a boyfriend. These insecurities were hard to talk about. The one place she felt comfortable expressing them was in Mr. Bailey’s English class.

By 1998, when Heather entered eighth grade, the 35-year-old Blake Bailey was already a legend at Lusher Extension, a magnet middle school in New Orleans. A published author, he was funny, charismatic, and academically demanding. In his yearbook photo, he looked like an eager preppy, with dark hair parted to the side and a loosely knotted tie. In 2000, he’d be named Louisiana’s Humanities Teacher of the Year.

Mr. Bailey expected his eighth graders to read challenging books, and to think independently. He made his students feel like grown-ups: He cursed in front of them, told off-color jokes, and acknowledged the existence of sex. The teacher also wasn’t above acting like a teenager. In between lessons on Kurt Vonnegut and J.D. Salinger, he sketched Beavis and Butt-Head on the blackboard.

At 14, Heather (not her real name) was eager to get the most she could out of English class. She went beyond the assigned texts, devouring books that Mr. Bailey personally recommended to her and other high achievers. Sometimes, during lunch, she’d head back to Mr. Bailey’s classroom to talk with him about what she’d read, or maybe about something else that was on her mind. Heather’s English teacher understood what she was going through, and not just from their lunchtime conversations. Mr. Bailey had each of his eighth graders keep a journal. The assignment was totally open-ended. They could write about whatever they wanted, he told them, even deeply personal stuff—they just had to write something. And Mr. Bailey would read every word.

Like many students, Heather used her journal as a diary, transcribing her fears, ambitions, and secrets onto its pages. Mr. Bailey jotted reassuring notes in the margins, telling her that she’d grow out of her awkward phase and be beautiful. “He was somebody who listened and made me feel like I wasn’t ridiculous to be feeling the way I was feeling,” she says now. “There weren’t any adults in my life who I had those conversations with.”

Heather stayed in touch with Blake Bailey after she went off to high school. She was happy when she got his letters, and felt reassured that he was interested enough to wonder if she’d gotten past her eighth grade worries. Bailey asked if she’d started dating, and he wanted her to share the details. Of course he wants to know, Heather thought. He cares about me.


‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’: Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid catastrophe | The Guardian

“Can India, population 1.3 billion, be isolated?” the Washington Post asked rhetorically in a recent editorial about India’s unfolding catastrophe and the difficulty of containing new, fast-spreading Covid variants within national borders. “Not easily,” it replied. It’s unlikely this question was posed in quite the same way when the coronavirus was raging through the UK and Europe just a few months ago. But we in India have little right to take offence, given our prime minister’s words at the World Economic Forum in January this year.

Modi spoke at a time when people in Europe and the US were suffering through the peak of the second wave of the pandemic. He had not one word of sympathy to offer, only a long, gloating boast about India’s infrastructure and Covid-preparedness. I downloaded the speech because I fear that when history is rewritten by the Modi regime, as it soon will be, it might disappear, or become hard to find. Here are some priceless snippets:

“Friends, I have brought the message of confidence, positivity and hope from 1.3 billion Indians amid these times of apprehension … It was predicted that India would be the most affected country from corona all over the world. It was said that there would be a tsunami of corona infections in India, somebody said 700-800 million Indians would get infected while others said 2 million Indians would die.”

“Friends, it would not be advisable to judge India’s success with that of another country. In a country which is home to 18% of the world population, that country has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.”

Modi the magician takes a bow for saving humanity by containing the coronavirus effectively. Now that it turns out that he has not contained it, can we complain about being viewed as though we are radioactive? That other countries’ borders are being closed to us and flights are being cancelled? That we’re being sealed in with our virus and our prime minister, along with all the sickness, the anti-science, the hatred and the idiocy that he, his party and its brand of politics represent?


Your Book Review: The Years Of Lyndon Johnson | Astral Codex Ten

This isn’t written by Scott Alexander; it’s a reader-submitted book review. But it’s actually very good, and it’s about Robert Caro’s magnificent LBJ biographies, which I’ve nearly finished. I’d recommend the original Caro, but if you don’t have the time to go through it all, this book review is a nice teaser:

Despite appearances, this is not a biography. It's actually an epic fantasy series that happens to be true. A young man grows up on the edge of civilization, decides to fix his father's mistakes, turns to the dark side for power, wins victories despite the odds, betrays his mentors, and smashes the oppressive status quo. There's even a Bilbo.

(Instead of Bilbo Baggins, it's Senator Bilbo, a white supremacist who says things like "the pure and undefiled Caucasian strain" while he's on the Senate floor.)

1: Memorable characters

Sam Rayburn: Speaker of the House. He had so much integrity that he scared other members of Congress.

Alvin Wirtz: LBJ's evil lawyer. (For non-Americans, Lyndon Baines Johnson was often abbreviated as LBJ.) "Wirtz was the kind of lawyer who would slip into a contract a sentence — a sentence that changed the contract's meaning — in the hope that the opposing lawyer would not notice it." […]

2: LBJ's guide to amassing power

(i) Seduce older men

(Eww, not like that.) LBJ had a gift for becoming a "professional son" to any powerful man. At college, LBJ sat at professors' feet and stared at them as if they were God's gift to the educational system. LBJ constantly ran errands for the college president, Prexy Evans, and wrote glowing editorials about him.

LBJ's fellow students were not amused. One said:

"Words won't come to describe how Lyndon acted toward the faculty — how kowtowing he was, how suck-assing he was, how brown-nosing he was."

But this flattery paid off. Evans put LBJ in charge of the financial aid program. Yes, really. And when other students wrote nasty comments about LBJ in the yearbook (e.g. the time he stole the Student Council elections), Evans ordered professors to cut out those pages with razors.

LBJ would repeat this flattery with President (Franklin) Roosevelt, Speaker Rayburn, and Senator Russell.


2 stars

The macho sperm myth | Aeon

The idea that millions of sperm are on an Olympian race to reach the egg is yet another male fantasy of human reproduction


The Anti-consumption Weirdos of Nomadland | The Atlantic

Caitlin Flanagan:

Nomadland dares you to watch it. Even pressing the Play button on Hulu is a test of strength; do you have the stones to watch this plotless, dreary semi-documentary about elderly people forced to live in vans—and, yes, perform unspeakable bodily functions within them—and search for seasonal work? Or are you going to be a little baby and watch The Bourne Identity for the kabillionth time?

The much-reviled four-quadrant theory of moviemaking holds that a blockbuster appeals to all four sectors of the audience: young men, young women, somewhat older men, and somewhat older women. Nomadland is a movie that appeals to the four quadrants of the show-business apocalypse: menopausal women, people with life-threatening illnesses, people interested in poverty, and anyone with time on her hands who can’t find the remote.

It’s a popcorn picture for the damned—and so it spoke to me. I live my life on the fading dot where these four demographics converge, and I found the movie powerful, informational, boring, generous, and hopeful. I hate message movies, and speechy movies, and movies in which complex and seemingly intractable problems are solved through movie magic. I never want to see people getting out their guitars and inspiring sing-alongs, and like the Miller in The Canterbury Tales, I am a bit squeamish about farts. I can’t believe I’m watching this, I thought, but when the movie ended, I let my money ride and watched it again.


Patents are Not the Problem! | Marginal Revolution

Alex Tabarrok with some righteous anger:

For the last year and a half I have been shouting from the rooftops, “invest in capacity, build more factories, shore up the supply lines, spend billions to save trillions.” Fortunately, some boffins in the Biden administration have found a better way, “the US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic.” Waive IP protections. So simple. Why didn’t I think of that???

Patents are not the problem. […]

Bottom line is that producing more takes real resources not waving magic patent wands.

You may have gathered that I am angry. I am indeed angry that the people in power think they can solve real problems on the cheap and at someone else’s expense. This is not serious. I am also angry that they are sending the wrong message about business, profits and capitalism. So let me end on positive note. Like the Apollo program and Dunkirk, the creation of the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna should be lauded with Nobel prizes and major movies. Churchill called the rescue at Dunkirk a “miracle of deliverance,” well the miracle of Moderna will rescue many more. Not only was a vaccine designed in under a year, an entirely new production process was set up to produce billions of doses to rescue the world. The creation of the mRNA vaccines was a triumph of science, logistics, and management and it was done at a speed that I had thought possible only for past generations.

I am grateful that greatness is still within our civilization’s grasp.


Why Nearsightedness Is on the Rise in Children | New York Times

Decreased exposure to outdoor light appears to be a major factor in rising rates of myopia in young people around the world.


Minuscule drums push the limits of quantum weirdness | Nature

Vibrating aluminium membranes provide the first direct evidence of quantum entanglement in macroscopic objects.


Millions Are Saying No to the Vaccines. What Are They Thinking? | The Atlantic

What are they thinking, these vaccine-hesitant, vaccine-resistant, and COVID-apathetic? I wanted to know. So I posted an invitation on Twitter for anybody who wasn’t planning to get vaccinated to email me and explain why. In the past few days, I spoke or corresponded with more than a dozen such people. I told them that I was staunchly pro-vaccine, but this wouldn’t be a takedown piece. I wanted to produce an ethnography of a position I didn’t really understand. […]

The people I spoke with were all under 50. A few of them self-identified as Republican, and none of them claimed the modern Democratic Party as their political home. Most said they weren’t against all vaccines; they were just a “no” on this vaccine. They were COVID-19 no-vaxxers, not overall anti-vaxxers.

Many people I spoke with said they trusted their immune system to protect them. “Nobody ever looks at it from the perspective of a guy who’s like me,” Bradley Baca, a 39-year-old truck driver in Colorado, told me. “As an essential worker, my life was never going to change in the pandemic, and I knew I was going to get COVID no matter what. Now I think I’ve got the antibodies, so why would I take a risk on the vaccine?”


Republicans’ Pessimistic Views On The Economy Have Little To Do With The Economy | FiveThirtyEight

In 2016, the media extensively covered Trump supporters’ “economic anxiety.” Will this misperception continue in the lead-up to 2024?


1 star

New results on Work from Home | Marginal Revolution

Using personnel and analytics data from over 10,000 skilled professionals at a large Asian IT services company, we compare productivity before and during the work from home [WFH] period of the Covid-19 pandemic. Total hours worked increased by roughly 30%, including a rise of 18% in working after normal business hours. Average output did not significantly change. Therefore, productivity fell by about 20%. Time spent on coordination activities and meetings increased, but uninterrupted work hours shrank considerably. Employees also spent less time networking, and received less coaching and 1:1 meetings with supervisors. These findings suggest that communication and coordination costs increased substantially during WFH, and constituted an important source of the decline in productivity. Employees with children living at home increased hours worked more than those without children at home, and suffered a bigger decline in productivity than those without children.


All These Balls Are the Same Color?! | Kottke

Oh dear, this illusion just totally broke my brain.


All the Reasons Why It Has Never Been Harder to Be an MLB Hitter | Bleacher Report

Hitting, which was already notoriously difficult to begin with, is now basically impossible.

After more than a month's worth of games, hitters are tracking toward yet another strikeout record by whiffing in 24.3 percent of their plate appearances. They're also maintaining a .233 batting average, the lowest mark in the league's 150-year history.

Based on these numbers, there's never been a worse time to be a hitter in Major League Baseball. And while it might be easy to wave them off as small-sample-size weirdness, they begin to look more like an unavoidable fate as specific causes pile up.


How Filippo Brunelleschi, Untrained in Architecture or Engineering, Built the World’s Largest Dome at the Dawn of the Renaissance | Open Culture

Sent back in time 600 years and tasked with building the world’s largest dome, how would most of us fare? Most of us, of course, are not trained architects or engineers, but then, neither was Filippo Brunelleschi. Known at the time as a goldsmith, Brunelleschi ended up winning the commission to build just such a colossal dome atop Florence’s Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which itself had already been under construction for well over a century. The year was 1418, the dawn of the Italian Renaissance, but a break with medieval building styles had already been made, not least in the rejection of the kind of flying buttresses that had held up the stone ceilings of previous cathedrals. Brunelleschi had thus not just to build an unprecedentedly large dome, in accordance with a design drawn up 122 years earlier, but also to come up with the technology required to do so.


Low Poly Landscapes | Kottke

Lovely work here by Elyse Dodge — these look like half-finished renderings by the machine that’s simulating our universe.


About this newsletter