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What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane / The Atlantic
From the always-excellent William Langewiesche:
The mystery surrounding MH370 has been a focus of continued investigation and a source of sometimes feverish public speculation. The loss devastated families on four continents. The idea that a sophisticated machine, with its modern instruments and redundant communications, could simply vanish seems beyond the realm of possibility. It is hard to permanently delete an email, and living off the grid is nearly unachievable even when the attempt is deliberate. A Boeing 777 is meant to be electronically accessible at all times. The disappearance of the airplane has provoked a host of theories. Many are preposterous. All are given life by the fact that, in this age, commercial airplanes don’t just vanish. This one did, and more than five years later its precise whereabouts remain unknown. Even so, a great deal about the disappearance of MH370 has come into clearer view, and reconstructing much of what happened that night is possible. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight-data recorder may never be recovered, but what we still need to know is unlikely to come from the black boxes. Instead, it will have to come from Malaysia.
“It’s not true that no one needs you anymore.” These words came from an elderly woman sitting behind me on a late-night flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The plane was dark and quiet. A man I assumed to be her husband murmured almost inaudibly in response, something to the effect of “I wish I was dead.” Again, the woman: “Oh, stop saying that.” I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help it. I listened with morbid fascination, forming an image of the man in my head as they talked. I imagined someone who had worked hard all his life in relative obscurity, someone with unfulfilled dreams—perhaps of the degree he never attained, the career he never pursued, the company he never started. At the end of the flight, as the lights switched on, I finally got a look at the desolate man. I was shocked. I recognized him—he was, and still is, world-famous. Then in his mid‑80s, he was beloved as a hero for his courage, patriotism, and accomplishments many decades ago. As he walked up the aisle of the plane behind me, other passengers greeted him with veneration. Standing at the door of the cockpit, the pilot stopped him and said, “Sir, I have admired you since I was a little boy.” The older man—apparently wishing for death just a few minutes earlier—beamed with pride at the recognition of his past glories. For selfish reasons, I couldn’t get the cognitive dissonance of that scene out of my mind. It was the summer of 2015, shortly after my 51st birthday. I was not world-famous like the man on the plane, but my professional life was going very well. I was the president of a flourishing Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. I had written some best-selling books. People came to my speeches. My columns were published in The New York Times. But I had started to wonder: Can I really keep this going? I work like a maniac. But even if I stayed at it 12 hours a day, seven days a week, at some point my career would slow and stop. And when it did, what then? Would I one day be looking back wistfully and wishing I were dead? Was there anything I could do, starting now, to give myself a shot at avoiding misery—and maybe even achieve happiness—when the music inevitably stops? Though these questions were personal, I decided to approach them as the social scientist I am, treating them as a research project. It felt unnatural—like a surgeon taking out his own appendix. But I plunged ahead, and for the past four years, I have been on a quest to figure out how to turn my eventual professional decline from a matter of dread into an opportunity for progress.
Tens of millions of people have been forced to flee their home country in recent years to escape war, famine, deadly persecution, or natural disaster. These refugees spark political controversy wherever they arrive in large numbers. For that reason, governments in Europe, North America, and Oceania have differed on how many refugees they are willing to resettle. Even Angela Merkel, who helped make Germany the Western country with the biggest population of recent refugees, found that the public’s openness was quickly exhausted. Countless thousands suffer. They drown while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. They die in the Sahara desert. They die trying to cross into Mexico. They are kidnapped and sold into slavery. They die at home because they are too poor to attempt escape. With no foreseeable end to the flow of refugees determined to reach wealthy countries, where voters are growing less rather than more willing to welcome them, more tragedy is assured. And liberal humanitarians concede that their reform efforts are not working. [...] The political scientist Eric Kaufmann argues for a controversial alternative in his recently published book, Whiteshift. [...] Rather than settling refugees in Western countries to live alongside citizens, who will tolerate a population far smaller than the total number of people in danger, he favors building permanent, closed refugee camps on Western soil that accommodate anyone who wants to come. Refugees would have the right to move to another refugee camp or to return to their home country, but would not have the right to enter the host country. Governments would draw a bright line distinguishing refugees from migrants. Some critics liken permanent camps to putting refugees in prison, and find the notion of segregating refugees in such places to be morally noxious. Others point to the dismal conditions in many camps past and present, and doubt that future camps would be any better. [...] Still, the status quo is so horrific that Kaufmann’s alternative merits a hearing.
This is going to be an uncharacteristic departure for me. This story is deeply personal, for our family, and for our oldest son in particular. But it is a story he’s letting me tell, because it is a story he wants people to hear. My son Max was born in Detroit in 1997, he spent the next summer in Hong Kong when I was interning at Fidelity Investments, and moved to London before he was two when I accepted an offer to work for Fido there full-time. He was an amazing child, and became an amazing young man. But he had his demons. And just before he turned 16 years old, those demons arrived with a vengeance. I will spare you the details, but for the next three years, he went through a personal hell. Imagine all the things you don’t want to have happen to your teenager. They happened to him. For three years my wife and I would wait on our front stoop until 5:00 am, in the shadow of the Albert Bridge, hoping that he would come home. On those nights that he didn’t, we would call the hospitals, and call the police. And sometimes the police would call us.
In February, I wrote about the secret lives of Facebook contractors in America. Since 2016, when the company came under heavy criticism for failing to prevent various abuses of its platform, Facebook has expanded its workforce of people working on safety and security around the world to 30,000. About half of those are content moderators, and the vast majority are contractors hired through a handful of large professional services firms. In 2017, Facebook began opening content moderation sites in American cities including Phoenix, Austin, and Tampa. The goal was to improve the accuracy of moderation decisions by entrusting them to people more familiar with American culture and slang. Cognizant received a two-year, $200 million contract from Facebook to do the work, according to a former employee familiar with the matter. But in return for policing the boundaries of free expression on one of the internet’s largest platforms, individual contractors in North America make as little as $28,800 a year. They receive two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch each day, along with nine minutes per day of “wellness” time that they can use when they feel overwhelmed by the emotional toll of the job. After regular exposure to graphic violence and child exploitation, many workers are subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions.
The astonishing Chiune Sugihara raises again the questions: What shapes a moral hero? And how does someone choose to save people that others turn away? Research on those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust shows that many exhibited a streak of independence from an early age. Sugihara was unconventional in a society known for prizing conformity. His father insisted that his son, a top student, become a doctor. But Sugihara wanted to study languages and travel and immerse himself in literature. Forced to sit for the medical exam, he left the entire answer sheet blank. The same willfulness was on display when he entered the diplomatic corps and, as vice minister of the Foreign Affairs Department for Japan in Manchuria in 1934, resigned in protest of the Japanese treatment of the Chinese. [...] In 1939 Sugihara was sent to Lithuania, where he ran the consulate. There he was soon confronted with Jews fleeing from German-occupied Poland. Three times Sugihara cabled his embassy asking for permission to issue visas to the refugees. The cable from K. Tanaka at the foreign ministry read: “Concerning transit visas requested previously stop advise absolutely not to be issued any traveler not holding firm end visa with guaranteed departure ex japan stop no exceptions stop no further inquires expected stop.” [...] Day and night he wrote visas. He issued as many visas in a day as would normally be issued in a month. His wife, Yukiko, massaged his hands at night, aching from the constant effort. When Japan finally closed down the embassy in September 1940, he took the stationery with him and continued to write visas that had no legal standing but worked because of the seal of the government and his name. At least 6,000 visas were issued for people to travel through Japan to other destinations, and in many cases entire families traveled on a single visa. It has been estimated that over 40,000 people are alive today because of this one man. With the consulate closed, Sugihara had to leave. He gave the consulate stamp to a refugee to forge more visas, and he literally threw visas out of the train window to refugees on the platform. After the war, Sugihara was dismissed from the foreign office. He and his wife lost a 7-year-old child and he worked at menial jobs. It was not until 1968 when a survivor, Yehoshua Nishri, found him that his contribution was recognized. [...] Sugihara died in 1986. Nine years earlier he gave an interview and was asked why he did it: “I told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs it was a matter of humanity. I did not care if I lost my job. Anyone else would have done the same thing if they were in my place.” Of course many were in his place — and very few acted like Sugihara.
The backlash against the Sacklers has been furious. In recent months, many leading institutions that once happily accepted the family’s generous donations have announced they will no longer touch what the website Inside Philanthropy calls “blood money.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose Sackler Wing houses the famed Temple of Dendur, said in May that it will reject any gifts from the family. Only days before my meeting with David Sackler, protesters at the Guggenheim took to the museum’s grand spiral walkway to drop white slips of paper, meant to mimic OxyContin prescriptions, and to unfurl a banner with the message “SHAME ON SACKLER.” Even Purdue’s banker, JPMorgan Chase—an institution that has been fined billions of dollars for working with everyone from Bernie Madoff to Syria—has declined to do business with the company. Gossip had it that David and his wife, Joss, a fashion designer, rock climber, and linguist, were being excommunicated from New York society. [...] But David, who runs a family investment office and served on Purdue’s board of directors from 2012 to August 2018, thinks it is time for at least one Sackler to share his version of events with the public. “I’m poking my head over the parapet,” he tells me. When I ask him why he wants to talk, he cites what he calls the “vitriolic hyperbole” and “endless castigation” of his family. “I have three young kids,” he says. “My four-year-old came home from nursery school and asked, ‘Why are my friends telling me that our family’s work is killing people?’ ” Sackler also laments “the way our philanthropy has been turned against us.” The family, he says, has been “giving where our hearts are” for 40 years. “I hope we can have a conversation with our philanthropic partners,” he adds. “I hope they have a change of heart.” As he reviews his family company’s history of developing and marketing opioids, Sackler mostly talks in the dispassionate tone of the financier that he is. But the emotion is obvious on his face—and it sometimes breaks through into his words. At times, he appears almost on the brink of tears. At other times, he struggles to control his obvious anger. In his view, his family is being blamed for something they did not do. Purdue, he insists, did its best to be responsible in the face of changing science about the benefits and risks of opioids.
Thou shalt not steal…unless you're one of the Vegas-loving nuns who allegedly took the Catholic school under their watch for every penny they could. A Southern California community reckons with an altogether new form of churchly hypocrisy.
Lesson #1: People suffering from sudden, unexpected hardship are likely to adopt views they previously thought unthinkable. One of the most fascinating parts of the Great Depressions isn’t just that the economy collapsed, but how quickly and dramatically people’s views changed when it did. Americans voted Herbert Hoover into office in 1928 with one of the biggest landslides in history (444 electoral college votes). They voted him out in 1932 with a landslide in the other direction (59 electoral college votes). Then the big changes began. The gold standard, gone. Gold actually became illegal to own. Public works surged. Attempts to provide taxpayer-funded old-age pension insurance made no progress for decades, with supporters arrested on the Capitol lawn during the most serious push after World War I. The Depression practically flipped a switch: a fringe idea was suddenly embraced. The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 372 to 33 in the House of Representatives, and 77 to 6 in the Senate. On the other side of this was an alleged coup by wealthy businessmen to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt, with a Marine General named Smedley Butler taking his place as dictator, similar to fascist trends sweeping Europe at the time. These are not the kind of things that occur when people are sleeping well and have stable jobs. It’s not until your life is upended, your hopes dashed, your dreams uncertain that people begin taking ideas they’d never consider before seriously. Nowhere was this more powerful than in Germany, where the Great Depression was preceded by a devastating hyperinflation that destroyed all paper wealth. The book What We Knew interviews German civilians after World War II, seeking to understand how one of the most civilized cultures turned so sharp, so quickly, and committed the worst atrocities in history.
Why have so many been so off about China for so long? In part it’s because policy makers and academics alike look for patterns, not exceptions. We are trained to generalize across cases and use history as a guide to the future. But China has always been sui generis—an innovator in the ancient world that became a poverty-stricken nation in the modern one; a nation with a deep and proud imperial history ruled by a post-1949 Communist leadership with an aversion to remembering it; a rural nation with some of the world’s most sophisticated high-tech surveillance. There is also a fundamental disconnect in how American and Chinese leaders see time. For Americans, memories are short, attention is fleeting, and policy lurches from crisis to crisis. In Washington, passing a budget and keeping the lights on seem more and more like heroic acts. In China, by contrast, memories are long, attention is enduring, and the government plans for the long haul. China’s rise in artificial intelligence and other technologies has been in the works for years. Its military modernization started in the 1990s. Back then, a Chinese admiral was asked how long before China would build its own aircraft carrier. He replied, “in the near future”—by which he meant sometime before 2050. These different views of time hang over modern geopolitics. For American leaders, U.S. global leadership is the way of things. For Chinese leaders, it is an aberration: China was a great power until the Opium Wars in the 1840s ushered in a “century of humiliation” by the West. In Beijing, China’s rise isn’t new. It’s a reversion to the way things used to be.
As a basketball analyst for ESPN and ABC, Burke is the smartest, best prepared, most original on-air voice that the game possesses. She is as insightful about the stratagems taking shape on the court as she is about the emotional currents in the locker room. The question, then, is: Why is Burke relegated to being a role player, doing hurried sideline and post-buzzer interviews during the Finals while the announcers Mike Breen, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy are left to dominate the airwaves at courtside? [...] Van Gundy has called Burke “the LeBron James of sportscasters.” A former high-school and college point guard, Burke, who is fifty-three, has been studying the intricacies and evolution of basketball for decades. It was once said of Ginger Rogers that she did everything Fred Astaire did, only backward and in high heels. Ditto for Doris Burke. My favorite video clip of her shows her walking along a waxed N.B.A. court in high heels, carrying papers and a notebook in her left hand while dribbling a basketball with her right. Suddenly, she swings the ball around her back and picks up the dribble with the same right hand. Steph Curry could not have done it much better—and let him try it in heels. James, Durant, Curry—everyone in the league seems to respect Burke and to await her inquiries about the game or the state of their spirits (elated or crushed) with genuine esteem. Real fans do, too. Burke’s interviews are passed around online as treasured memes. [...] Last year, Burke signed a five-year contract with ESPN, but she radiates the sense that her time is not unlimited. “We still have a long way to go,” she told Sports Illustrated last season. “Because the reality is that I’m fifty-two years old. And how many fifty-five to sixty-year-old women do you see in sports broadcasting? How many? I see a lot of sixty-year-old men broadcasting.”
I fell asleep in ’90s New York and woke up in what appeared to be Victorian England, in a high-ceilinged damp room crowded with stretchers and decorated with curlicues of peeling paint in the appropriate shade of aqua seafoam shame. I was clutching my abdomen in pain, and so was everyone around me. The hoo-ha lady vomited into her hands. Again, there were maybe 15 women in that room, wanting help from maybe four nurses, all of whom seemed to not want to be there, all of whose expressions seemed to say: “You should have thought of this before you let someone come inside you, you whore.” [...] I didn’t want to feel that pain. I didn’t want to bleed the blood. Most of all, I didn’t want to spend the time waiting. While you wait, you just have to walk around being pregnant when you know you don’t want to be a mom, and meanwhile you kind of are a mom, and you never notice how much our culture is about moms and motherhood until you’re at a point in your life when you really, really do not want to think about it. But I also didn’t want to have a baby. So I got in the car and got out in front of the clinic, and was confronted with something that shouldn’t have been surprising, but was anyway: protesters. There were two of them, both stern, doughy pale men, one young, one old. A clinic escort met me at my car. “Don’t look; don’t look,” she kept saying. “Don’t say anything to them; don’t look.” I looked. I couldn’t help it.
Put another way, a violinist can always choose to stop playing violin, retrain for a while, and work in a factory instead. Maybe in 1826, when factory owners were earning $1.14/hour and violinists were earning $5/hour, so no violinists would quit and retrain. But by 2010, factory workers were earning $26.44/hour, so if violinists were still only earning $5 they might all quit and retrain. So in 2010, there would be a strong pressure to increase violinists’ wage to at least $26.44 (probably more, since few people have the skills to be violinists). So violinists must be paid 5x more for the same work, which will look like concerts becoming more expensive. This should happen in every industry where increasing technology does not increase productivity. Education and health care both qualify. Although we can imagine innovative online education models, in practice one teacher teaches about twenty to thirty kids per year regardless of our technology level. And although we can imagine innovative AI health care, in practice one doctor can only treat ten or twenty patients per day. Tabarrok and Helland say this is exactly what is happening.
From the emergence of a spiky growth at the back of some people's skulls to the enigmatic finding that our elbows are getting narrower, our bones are changing in surprising ways
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A ‘Disgusting’ Yale Professor Moves On / New York Times
An intellectual rock star, Nicholas Christakis has taught at the University of Chicago, Harvard and, since 2013, Yale. He has done trailblazing work — distilled in a TED talk, of course — on how our social networks shape us. All of the most esteemed academies that validate scholars’ brilliance have validated his. In 2009, Time magazine put him on its list of 100 most influential people. But to many Americans, he is best known not for what he has accomplished but for what he absorbed: taunts and insults from furious Yale students who swarmed him in a campus courtyard one day. “You should not sleep at night!” one of them screeched, as he miraculously kept his cool, a mute punching bag. “You are disgusting!” [...] Christakis’s wife, Erika, who also taught at Yale back then, had circulated a memo in which she questioned a university edict against culturally insensitive Halloween costumes, suggesting that students could police themselves and should have both the freedom to err and the strength to cope with offense. She wrote that her husband concurred. And all hell broke loose. Hundreds of students signed an open letter denouncing her and hundreds demanded that the couple be punished. There were protests. And when, in that courtyard, Christakis apologized for any pain that the memo had caused but refused to disavow its content, he was pilloried. [...] So imagine my surprise when an advance copy of his new book, to be published next week, arrived. Titled “Blueprint,” it’s no lament for the mess that we humans make of things. It’s an argument that we’re transcendently and inherently good — that we’re genetically wired for it, thanks to a process of natural selection that has favored people prone to constructive friendships, to cooperation, to teaching, to love.
Researchers at the University of Washington and Facebook have developed an algorithm that can “wake up” people depicted in still images (photos, drawings, paintings) and create 3D characters than can “walk out” of their images. Check out some examples and their methods here.
Look like you‘re trusting your gut and others will trust you. [...] According to a recent study, people who make instinct-based moral judgments are perceived by their peers to be more moral and more trustworthy than those who rely on reasoning alone. In other words, we want friends who go with their gut when faced with a moral dilemma. The reverse is true as well: We tend to be wary of people who react to moral dilemmas by calculating costs and benefits—it’s a large part of why we’re so reluctant to trust robots.
A new algorithm allows video editors to modify talking head videos as if they were editing text – copying, pasting, or adding and deleting words.
Tobias Friedrich uses a specialized kit to make these great split shots — half underwater and half over — no need for stitching composites together in a digital darkroom.
In 2014, chef Davide Cerretini advertised a special that would forever change his fate: Anyone who left his restaurant a 1-star review on Yelp would get 25% off a pizza. See, his Bay Area-based Italian joint, Botto Bistro, was at a crossroads. Like many small businesses, it was enslaved to the whims of online reviewers, whose public dispatches could make or break its reputation. He’d had enough: It was time to pry the stars from the “cold, grubby hands of Yelpers” and take control of his own destiny. But the move would set Cerretini at the center of a long-standing battle between Yelp and disgruntled business owners — a battle including cries of “extortion,” review manipulation, and predatory advertising tactics.
If you're not a fan of extreme heat or frigid cold (who is?), here are some ideas on where to move when you get tired of your current city. Data scientist Taras Kaduk made this beautiful data viz that shows the 25 cities around the world that have the most "pleasant" days in an average year.
Laying of cable for the transatlantic telegraph is an underrated achievement / Marginal Revolution
No need to click through; this is basically the entire thing (but it's pretty cool):
To provide storage space for the huge coils of wire, three great tanks were carved into the heart of the ship. The drums, sheaves, and dynamometers of the laying mechanism, occupied a large part of the stem decking, and one funnel with its associated boilers had been removed to give additional storage space. When the ship sailed from the Medway on June 24, 1865, she carried seven thousand tons of cable, eight thousand tons of coal, and provisions for five hundred men. Since this was before the days of refrigeration, she also became a seagoing farm. Her passenger list included one cow, a dozen oxen, twenty pigs, one hundred twenty sheep. and a whole poultry-yard of fowl.
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