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Mr. Throat and Me / Longreads
I never expected a top link to be about smoking, but it's hard to dislike such a poignant, endearing, and engaging glimpse into a world I know little of:
I have been smoking, on and off, for over twenty years and it has at times reached levels of obsession that even I know are unsustainable. Over and over I vaguely register that the time has come to quit. But it takes a long time for me to actually follow up on this idea and act: smoking takes precedence over stopping smoking. I simply love it too much. [...] It is imperative never to run out, never to be in a position where I have no cigarettes on me or in the house. To this end I always make sure I have two packs about me at all times. One pack is the previous day’s leftovers: the final cigarettes remaining from a pack of twenty begun the preceding day which I use to begin the day’s smoking, and rapidly finish. Then I open a fresh pack which I bought the previous day and start that. Thus for a brief period I have only one pack on me; the imperative takes over now and I make sure as soon as possible to buy pack two. Buying this second pack gives me a sense of security.
How Stalin Hid Ukraine's Famine From the World / The Atlantic
At the height of the crisis, organized teams of policemen and local Party activists, motivated by hunger, fear, and a decade of hateful propaganda, entered peasant households and took everything edible: potatoes, beets, squash, beans, peas, and farm animals. At the same time, a cordon was drawn around the Ukrainian republic to prevent escape. The result was a catastrophe: At least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4 million Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure, but because they had been deliberately deprived of food. Neither the Ukrainian famine nor the broader Soviet famine were ever officially recognized by the USSR. Inside the country the famine was never mentioned. All discussion was actively repressed; statistics were altered to hide it. The terror was so overwhelming that the silence was complete. Outside the country, however, the cover-up required different, subtler tactics. These are beautifully illustrated by the parallel stories of Walter Duranty and Gareth Jones. [...] Everyone knew—yet no one mentioned it. Hence the extraordinary reaction of both the Soviet establishment and the Moscow press corps to the journalistic escapade of Gareth Jones.
The Grandfather Of Alt-Science / FiveThirtyEight
Arthur B. Robinson, renegade chemist, failed politician, grandpa of the climate skeptics — and maybe, just maybe, our nation’s next scientist-in-chief — padded across the carpet of his homemade lab in a pair of white athletic socks. “This room, everything you see here, was built by my own sons with their own hands, including the concrete,” he said. Robinson raised and home-schooled six children in this tawny valley scratched into the hills near the town of Cave Junction, Oregon. Now his wife is dead and one of his daughters has moved away, but the rest of his kids — two veterinarians, a biochemist and a pair of nuclear engineers — remain nearby. They’ve got a lot to do: Feed the animals; maintain the lab; ward off cougars; publish their popular home-school curriculums; manage Robinson’s repeated, unsuccessful congressional campaigns; and, of course, perform high-stakes research into medicine and biochemistry. [...] That is to say, Arthur B. Robinson is not some lonesome crank tinkering in his garage. He’s something more unusual: an extremely well-connected crank, with ample funding and an influential perch at the wild outskirts of both politics and science. If he once seemed destined for a respectable career in academia — 45 years ago, he was a young professor on the tenure track at the University of California, San Diego, working side-by-side with the legendary double-Nobelist Linus Pauling — he’s long since cut all ties to conventional research institutions and remade himself as a cowboy chemist, if not an oracle frontiersman for what might be termed America’s “alt-science” movement.
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The Horizon of Desire / Longreads
I suspect my disagreement with certain parts of this is rooted in not fully understanding them (though perhaps the misunderstanding goes both ways); regardless, there's plenty I do agree with, and it's a worthwhile read:
The first thing you need to understand about consent is that consent is not, strictly speaking, a thing. Not in the same way that teleportation isn’t a thing. Consent is not a thing because it is not an item, nor a possession. Consent is not an object you can hold in your hand. It is not a gift that can be given and then rudely requisitioned. Consent is a state of being. Giving someone your consent — sexually, politically, socially — is a little like giving them your attention. It’s a continuous process. It’s an interaction between two human creatures. I believe that a great many men and boys don’t understand this. I believe that lack of understanding is causing unspeakable trauma for women, men, and everyone else who is sick of how much human sexuality still hurts. We need to talk about what consent really means, and why it matters more, not less, at a time when women’s fundamental rights to bodily autonomy are under attack across the planet, and the Hog-Emperor of Rape Culture is squatting in the White House making your neighborhood pervert look placid. We still get consent all wrong, and we have to try to get it a bit less wrong, for all our sakes. To explain all this, I’m going to have to tell you some stories. They’re true stories, and some of them are rude stories, and I’m telling you now because the rest of this ride might get uncomfortable and I want you to have something to look forward to.
Everyone Knew Houston’s Reservoirs Would Flood — Except for the People Who Bought Homes Inside Them / ProPublica
“This neighborhood was a paradise,” said Boutor, who moved to Houston from Paris two years ago after his employer, a French-based energy company, asked him to relocate. Then, Hurricane Harvey changed everything. As the downpours began and Boutor studied maps flashing on his TV screen, he realized that his home wasn’t at risk of flooding just because of record rainfall; it was also located inside one of two massive reservoirs that had been built west of Houston decades ago to protect the city. Boutor ended up with more than a foot of water in his house and was forced to wade out of his home in knee-deep water with his 10-year-old son clinging to his back. He and his neighbors are now coming to terms with the fact that in big enough rainstorms, their neighborhoods are actually designed to flood. And nobody told them about it. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the two reservoirs known as Addicks and Barker on what was then mostly empty prairie, their chief goal was to protect the center of the city, 20 miles downstream.
Know Thy Futurist / Boston Review
In Favor of Futurism Being About the Future / Slate Star Codex
I rather enjoyed this first piece...
Have you heard? Someday we will live in a perfect society ruled by an omnipotent artificial intelligence, provably and utterly beneficial to mankind. That is, if we don’t all die once the machines gain consciousness, take over, and kill us. Wait, actually, they are going to take some of us with them, and we will transcend to another plane of existence. Or at least clones of us will. Or at least clones of us that are not being perpetually tortured for our current sins. These are all outcomes that futurists of various stripes currently believe. A futurist is a person who spends a serious amount of time—either paid or unpaid—forming theories about society’s future. And although it can be fun to mock them for their silly sounding and overtly religious predictions, we should take futurists seriously. Because at the heart of the futurism movement lies money, influence, political power, and access to the algorithms that increasingly rule our private, political, and professional lives.
...and then I read Scott Alexander's take on it, and I wondered if I should have liked it a lot less. (You'll recall I've decided Scott Alexander is much smarter than I am and a very enjoyable person to read, to boot.)
From Boston Review: Know Thy Futurist. It’s an attempt to classify and analyze various types of futurism, in much the same way that a Jack Chick tract could be described as “an attempt to classify and analyze various types of religion”. I have more disagreements with it than can fit in a blog post, but let’s stick with the top five. First, it purports to explain what we should think about the future, but never makes a real argument for it. It starts by suggesting there are two important axes on which futurists can differ: optimism vs. pessimism, and belief in a singularity. So you can end up with utopian singularitarians, dystopian singularitarians, utopian incrementalists, and dystopian incrementalists. We know the first three groups are wrong, because many of their members are “young or middle-age white men” who “have never been oppressed”. On the other hand, the last group contains “majority women, gay men, and people of color”. Therefore, the last group is right, there will be no singularity, and the future will be bad. You’re going to protest that there has to be something more than that. Read the article. There really isn’t. The author ignores the future almost completely, in favor of having very strong opinions on which futurist movements include the right or wrong sorts of people.
I'm not going to include the question title, since I don't like how it's worded. Basically, this is an explanation for why the solar system, galaxies, etc. exist as flattened discs rather than being spread out in three dimensions. It's intuitive, but I doubt I would have thought of and articulated it so well.
But now take a random cloud of gas or particles. Chances are that it has a small, but nonzero net angular momentum. [...] So the cloud can collapse in the direction perpendicular to the plane of rotation, but cannot collapse in the plane of rotation itself, not without shedding that angular momentum somehow. As a result, the cloud flattens.
No tax cut for the wealthy? Easier said than done / Politico
But there’s a problem with that: Higher earners already shoulder most of the tax burden while average Americans pay a relatively small share of income taxes, making it increasingly difficult to cut taxes, particularly tax rates, without favoring the rich. “It’s basically impossible to have a large tax cut that doesn’t involve most of the benefits going to high-income groups just because that’s who pays taxes now,” said Adam Looney, who was deputy assistant Treasury secretary for tax analysis in the Obama administration. That’s a big political problem for Republicans who want their plans to rewrite the tax code focused on helping the politically all-important middle class. They know voters take a dim view of cutting taxes on the rich, and want to fend off inevitable attacks from Democrats that the GOP’s tax plans amount to a giveaway to millionaires and billionaires.
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Does Online Dating Increase Racial Intermarriages? / Marginal Revolution
Interracial marriage, defined to include those between between White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian or multiracial persons, has been increasing since at least the 1960s but using the graph at right the authors argue that the rate of growth increased with the introduction and popularization of online dating. Note the big increase in interracial marriage shortly after the introduction of Tinder in 2009! (The authors convincingly argue that this not due to a composition effect.)
A thrilling Line Rider track synched to music / Kottke
Remember Line Rider, the drawing/sledding game we were all obsessed with 11 years ago? YouTuber DoodleChaos drew a Line Rider track by hand that is synchronized to Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King (which you will recognize when you hear it). Make sure your sound is on and watch the whole thing…it gets almost poetically thrilling near the end.
Hot water freezes faster than cold - and now we know why. / IFLScience
The stretching in the hydrogen bonds allows the covalent bonds to relax and shrink somewhat, which causes them to give up their energy. The process of covalent bonds giving up their energy is essentially the same as cooling, and so warm water should in theory cool faster than cold. The team’s calculations suggest that the magnitude of the covalent bond relaxation accounts for the experimental differences in the time it takes for hot and cold water to freeze.