3 stars

The Forgotten UN Intervention to Build Democracy in Cambodia | Palladium

I really wanted to give this four stars; the content deserves it. But as much as I enjoy Tanner Greer, I’d say his writing isn’t quite at that level. Regardless, I strongly recommend this piece:

To most foreigners today, Cambodia is a small and insignificant kingdom, remembered, when remembered at all, as the site of horrific Cold War massacres. Little is asked of the Cambodia that came after the killing fields. There are numerous reasons for this neglect. Cambodia’s markets are underdeveloped and unimportant to international commerce. It has never been a hotbed of terrorist activity. For most of the last three decades, the kingdom stood at far remove from great power geopolitics. 

All of this has allowed us to forget the role Cambodia played in the creation of the post-Cold War world, when it was subject to one of the largest international interventions of our age. The kingdom’s subsequent fate shines a dark mirror on the international order. This is another reason Washington gives so little thought to Cambodia: to think hard about the country is to confront unpleasant truths about the nature of the world the West made. […]

When placed against these examples, what seems most distinctive about the international community’s intervention in Cambodia was a strange intolerance for illiberalism married to a general unwillingness to shoulder the true costs of liberalization. The closest parallel to Cambodia’s post-Cold War development is thus America’s ill-fated attempt to remake Iraq and, especially, Afghanistan. There too, a liberal power sought to transform lands torn by war and state terror into model democracies. There too, we find well-meaning Westerners assuming that historical necessity would do most of the hard work of liberal development. There too, we find outsiders passing off Potemkin reforms as moral victories. There too, we find foreigners unwilling to accept illiberal realities caught in a cycle of delusion.


Life and death with a no-good, grumpy dog | Boulder Beat

A lovely obituary:

The other thing people say when a pet dies is, “She had a good life.” But did she?

I was not a great mom to Sydney. I was in my early 20s when I brought her home, a bartender in a tourist town before the recession. I had money to burn, and I burned it mostly on boozy nights out with friends. 

In my quest to never be lonely, I left her alone far too often, for far too long. 

I hadn’t yet dealt with the trauma of my youth. I was angry, a lot. I yelled too much and pet her too little — particularly after I moved from humid Florida to arid Colorado and developed an allergy to dogs. I couldn’t risk snuggles without hives, red eyes and a runny nose, though I often did. 

I had selected Sydney for two reasons: I wanted an older dog and felt that I should therefore take whatever name it came with. I loved Australia during my time there, so Sydney it was. 

What really sealed it is that I saw myself in her. She showed signs of being mistreated, flinching at sudden movements. The shelter staff told me it was likely she was abused. Her kennel card — which I still have — said the couple who turned her in found her wandering on the street. She was surrendered because she jumped fences, they wrote, but I suspect it was because she did not get along with their other dogs, and they wanted to spare her the almost certain death attached to a label of aggressive or dangerous.

When I went to greet her, Sydney was in the cage with a young, lively pit bull. Every time I extended my hand to touch her, it would jump in the way. After a few attempts, she gave up, took a couple steps back and looked at me from the tops of her eyes, almost rolling them, as if to say, “Do you see what I have to deal with here?”

From that moment, she was mine. 

I was still naïve enough to be looking for symbols, signs from the universe that I would be OK, that I could escape my very-much-present past and become a whole person. I convinced myself we could heal together, Sydney and me. That if she could get better, I could, too.

It took me years to figure out I could not wait on anyone or anything to prove that I could heal. The only thing I could do was try. Sydney was a dog, not an oracle.

I did get better, eventually. Sydney did not, not really, which I will forever believe is my fault. Dogs are intensely in-tune animals, reflecting the personalities of their owners; I can see for myself how my housemate’s pup mirrors his own anxiety. 

So what does it say about me that my dog was, to put it bluntly, kind of a bitch? Never trusting, always on alert, reserving her sweetness for a select few. With another owner, what could she have become? Would they have gotten a proper trainer to overcome her aggression? Would she have stopped cowering at raised hands and voices and started chasing Frisbees in the park? Would she have been that loveable, happy dog that everyone wants, a dog that would have delighted my nephews?

I can’t help but feel that the answer, at least to some extent, is yes. That far from helping her realize her potential, I prevented her from reaching it.

Still, her life wasn’t exactly bad. She got three walks a day and two meals. She once rolled in a maggoty shark on the beach and seemed to enjoy it. She took road trips, ate cheeseburgers and ice cream. She got steak on her birthday, turkey on Thanksgiving and a full stocking on Christmas. She stole all sorts of food from my roommates over the years, most recently an entire buttered English muffin and a plate of roasted grapes in sausage grease, having finally figured out at 14 how to climb onto the dining room table. 

She had a warm bed to sleep in every night, patches of sunlight in which to nap. She climbed mountains. 

For a one-time street dog from Orlando, I suppose it could have been worse.


2 stars

Why We Published More Than 500 Videos Taken by Parler Users of the Capitol Riot | ProPublica

On Sunday, ProPublica published an interactive database that lets users sift through a trove of videos taken during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and uploaded to Parler, the social network popular among supporters of President Donald Trump that was dropped by its web host Amazon earlier this month. We also published an analysis piece about the videos by Alec MacGillis.

Since Parler was terminated by Amazon for its inaction on posts that encouraged and incited violence, we want to explain why we are reviving a subset of this material and why we believe it’s in the public interest for people to see the events of Jan. 6 as documented by, and from the perspective of, Parler users.


The World’s Oldest Story? Astronomers Say Global Myths About ‘Seven Sisters’ Stars May Reach Back 100,000 Years | Singularity Hub

I’m not 100% convinced, but there are so many aspects of this that are really, really cool:

In the northern sky in December is a beautiful cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, or the “seven sisters.” Look carefully and you will probably count six stars. So why do we say there are seven of them? […]

Similar “lost Pleiad” stories are found in European, African, Asian, Indonesian, Native American, and Aboriginal Australian cultures. Many cultures regard the cluster as having seven stars, but acknowledge only six are normally visible, and then have a story to explain why the seventh is invisible. […]

All modern humans are descended from people who lived in Africa before they began their long migrations to the far corners of the globe about 100,000 years ago. Could these stories of the seven sisters be so old? Did all humans carry these stories with them as they traveled to Australia, Europe, and Asia?


Reverse Engineering the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine | Berthub

Welcome! In this post, we’ll be taking a character-by-character look at the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine. […]

Here we encounter our first surprise. The normal RNA characters are A, C, G and U. U is also known as ’T’ in DNA. But here we find a Ψ, what is going on?

This is one of the exceptionally clever bits about the vaccine. Our body runs a powerful antivirus system (“the original one”). For this reason, cells are extremely unenthusiastic about foreign RNA and try very hard to destroy it before it does anything.

This is somewhat of a problem for our vaccine - it needs to sneak past our immune system. Over many years of experimentation, it was found that if the U in RNA is replaced by a slightly modified molecule, our immune system loses interest. For real.

So in the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, every U has been replaced by 1-methyl-3’-pseudouridylyl, denoted by Ψ. The really clever bit is that although this replacement Ψ placates (calms) our immune system, it is accepted as a normal U by relevant parts of the cell.


Intel Problems | Stratechery

One of the first Articles on Stratechery, written on the occasion of Intel appointing a new CEO, was, in retrospect, overly optimistic. Just look at the title: The Intel Opportunity.

The misplaced optimism is twofold: first there is the fact that eight years later Intel has again appointed a new CEO (Pat Gelsinger), not to replace the one I was writing about (Brian Krzanich), but rather his successor (Bob Swan). Clearly the opportunity was not seized. What is more concerning is that the question is no longer about seizing an opportunity but about survival, and it is the United States that has the most to lose.


An eleventh-century Chinese coin in Britain and the evidence for East Asian contacts in the medieval period | Dr Caitlin Green

Another eleventh-century medieval Chinese coin found in England | Dr Caitlin Green

Such a potential thirteenth or fourteenth-century context for the arrival of an eleventh-century Chinese coin in Britain is not only supported by the archaeological evidence, but also by documentary sources. These texts make reference to both the presence of people from Britain and Ireland in East Asia and the presence of people who have, or may have, travelled from these regions in Britain during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. […]

Of particular note is the evidence for unidentified Mongol envoys ('Tartars') actually crossing the Channel to visit England in 1264, much to the apparent disgruntlement of the papal legate Guy Foulques—the future Pope Clement IV—who waiting in Boulogne for his own authorisation to cross! Likewise, in 1287–8 the Turkic/Chinese Christian monk and diplomat Rabban Bar Sauma, originally from Beijing, China, visited Europe as an emissary of the Mongol Ilkhanate that stretched from Iraq to northern Afghanistan and met with King Edward I of England in Gascony. […]

Whether other subjects of the English king undertook similar journeys eastwards to Southeast Asia and China in the later thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is unrecorded, but it is by no means implausible that they did so. Certainly, we know of a number of European merchants who travelled to China at this time, from Marco Polo and Peter of Lucalongo in the late thirteenth century onwards, and there seem to have been communities of Genoese and Venetian merchants living in Yuan China during the fourteenth century, with Latin tombstones moreover known from Yangzhou and Zaiton (Quanzhou) in China. In this light, it is interesting to note that late medieval English coins have apparently been found in Vietnam.


Looking more generally, the fact that we now have two, rather than one, eleventh-century Northern Song dynasty coins from England, both recovered from what seem to be medieval to early modern sites, adds weight to the case for considering them genuinely ancient losses. Interestingly, this find was also made only around 20 miles away from the only confirmed medieval imported Chinese pottery from England, a sherd of blue-and-white porcelain from a small cup or bowl that was found in a late fourteenth-century context at Lower Brook Street, Winchester.


What the Pandemic Has Done for Dating | The Atlantic

Most dating apps report increased usage since March, and noticeable changes in daters’ attitudes. Singles in America surveyed 5,000 Americans and found that 58 percent of people who use dating apps say they have shifted toward more intentional dating since the pandemic. Of those surveyed, 69 percent are being more honest with potential partners and 63 percent are spending more time getting to know them. The dating site OkCupid, where I am a scientific adviser, also noticed a 20 percent decline in users seeking a hookup. These numbers are optimistic news for people looking for a relationship, given that research finds that couples who spend time getting to know each other before having sex have happier relationships later on. Prioritizing emotional connection allows romantic relationships to ignite via a slow simmer, rather than to burn out quickly.


Inside Twitter’s Decision to Cut Off Trump | New York Times

Jack Dorsey, the chief executive, had reservations about locking the president’s account. But the calls for violence that his tweets provoked were too overwhelming.


1 star

Consistency about elasticities | Marginal Revolution

If you think “stimulus” is effective right now, presumably you think supply curves are pretty elastic and thus fairly horizontal. That is, some increase in price/offer will induce a lot more output.

If you think we should hike the minimum wage right now, presumably you think supply curves are pretty inelastic and thus fairly vertical. That is, some increase in price for the inputs will lead not to much of a drop in output and employment, maybe none at all. The supply curve is fairly vertical.

You might somehow think that supply is elastic with respect to output price, but inelastic with respect to input price. Is there a model that can generate that conclusion? It is the net profit on the marginal output units that should matter for decisions.  And did you start with that model, or develop it afterwards to justify your dual intuitions?

Do you right now favor both a lot of stimulus and a big minimum wage hike? What are your assumptions about elasticities? Show your work!


Hyperrealist Paintings by Jeff Bartels | Kottke

Canadian artist Jeff Bartels makes these stunningly hyperrealistic oil paintings of things like cameras, typewriters, and vehicles.


Introducing Maia, a human-like neural network chess engine | lichess

We're happy to announce Maia, a human-like neural network chess engine that was 100% trained on Lichess games. Maia is an engine built in the style of Leela that learns from human games instead of self-play games, with the goal of making human-like moves instead of optimal moves. In a given position, Maia predicts the exact move a human will play up to 53% of the time, whereas versions of Leela and Stockfish match human moves around 43% and 38% of the time respectively. As a result, Maia is the most natural, human-like chess engine to date, and provides a model of human play we will use to build data-driven chess teaching tools.


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