----- 4 stars -----
Becoming a Steelworker Liberated Her. Then Her Job Moved to Mexico. / New York Times
The man from Mexico followed a manager through the factory floor, past whirring exhaust fans, beeping forklifts, and drilling machines that whined against steel. Workers in safety glasses looked up and stared. Others looked away. Shannon Mulcahy felt her stomach lurch. It was December 2016. The Rexnord Corporation’s factory still churned out bearings as it always had. Trucks still dropped off steel pipes at the loading dock. Bill Stinnett, a die-hard Indiana Pacers fan, still cut them into pieces. The pieces still went to the “turning” department, where they were honed into rings as small as a bracelet or as big as a basketball. Then to “heat treat,” where Shannon — who loves heavy metal music and abandoned dogs — hardened them with fire. Then to “grinding,” where Shannon’s cousin Lorry Mannix smoothed out any imperfections. And then to “assembly,” where Mark Elliott, a former Marine, joined two rings together, one inside the other, with a wheel of spinning rollers in between. The whole contraption was encased in a cast-iron housing machined by John Feltner, a father of three who’d just recovered from bankruptcy. The bearings they made — modern-day equivalents of a gadget designed by Leonardo da Vinci — were packed into crates like enormous Christmas ornaments and shipped around the world. To digging machines that claw the earth. To wheat combines that spin in the fields. To elevators and escalators in the cities. Sometimes a bearing was rumored to have ended up in something notable — the retracting roof of the Dallas Cowboys football stadium or a nuclear submarine — giving the workers a feeling of greatness. But mostly, the bearings were unglamorous. Anonymous. Hidden from view. Like the workers themselves, they were rarely thought of beyond the factory walls.
----- 3 stars -----
'We Need to Develop Political Heroism' / Der Spiegel
Excellent, impressive interview with Emmanuel Macron:
For me, my office isn't first and foremost a political or technical one. Rather, it is symbolic. I am a strong believer that modern political life must rediscover a sense for symbolism. We need to develop a kind of political heroism. I don't mean that I want to play the hero. But we need to be amenable once again to creating grand narratives. If you like, post-modernism was the worst thing that could have happened to our democracy. The idea that you have to deconstruct and destroy all grand narratives is not a good one. Since then, trust has evaporated in everything and everyone. I am sometimes surprised that it is the media that are the first ones to exhibit a lack of trust in grand narratives. They believe that destroying something is part of their journalistic purpose because something grand must inevitably contain an element of evil. Critique is necessary, but where does this hate for the so-called grand narrative come from? [...] Why is a portion of our youth so fascinated by extremes, jihadism for example? Why do modern democracies refuse to allow their citizens to dream? Why can't there be such a thing as democratic heroism? Perhaps exactly that is our task: rediscovering something like that together for the 21st century.
Love in the Time of Robots / Wired
Hiroshi Ishiguro builds androids. Beautiful, realistic, uncannily convincing human replicas. Academically, he is using them to understand the mechanics of person-to-person interaction. But his true quest is to untangle the ineffable nature of connection itself.
When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy / New York Times
As a young social psychologist, she played by the rules and won big: an influential study, a viral TED talk, a prestigious job at Harvard. Then, suddenly, the rules changed. [...] But since 2015, even as she continued to stride onstage and tell the audiences to face down their fears, Cuddy has been fighting her own anxieties, as fellow academics have subjected her research to exceptionally high levels of public scrutiny. She is far from alone in facing challenges to her work: Since 2011, a methodological reform movement has been rattling the field, raising the possibility that vast amounts of research, even entire subfields, might be unreliable. Up-and-coming social psychologists, armed with new statistical sophistication, picked up the cause of replications, openly questioning the work their colleagues conducted under a now-outdated set of assumptions. The culture in the field, once cordial and collaborative, became openly combative, as scientists adjusted to new norms of public critique while still struggling to adjust to new standards of evidence. Cuddy, in particular, has emerged from this upheaval as a unique object of social psychology’s new, enthusiastic spirit of self-flagellation — as if only in punishing one of its most public stars could it fully break from its past. At conferences, in classrooms and on social media, fellow academics (or commenters on their sites) have savaged not just Cuddy’s work but also her career, her income, her ambition, even her intelligence, sometimes with evident malice. Last spring, she quietly left her tenure-track job at Harvard.
This Is What A 21st-Century Police State Really Looks Like / BuzzFeed
This is a city where growing a beard can get you reported to the police. So can inviting too many people to your wedding, or naming your child Muhammad or Medina. Driving or taking a bus to a neighboring town, you’d hit checkpoints where armed police officers might search your phone for banned apps like Facebook or Twitter, and scroll through your text messages to see if you had used any religious language. You would be particularly worried about making phone calls to friends and family abroad. Hours later, you might find police officers knocking at your door and asking questions that make you suspect they were listening in the whole time. For millions of people in China’s remote far west, this dystopian future is already here. China, which has already deployed the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship system, is building a surveillance state in Xinjiang, a four-hour flight from Beijing, that uses both the newest technology and human policing to keep tabs on every aspect of citizens’ daily lives. The region is home to a Muslim ethnic minority called the Uighurs, who China has blamed for forming separatist groups and fueling terrorism. Since this spring, thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have disappeared into so-called political education centers, apparently for offenses from using Western social media apps to studying abroad in Muslim countries, according to relatives of those detained.
Dirty John / Los Angeles Times
A deep look at a troubling story:
It was October 2014. They had found each other on an over-50 dating site, and she thought his profile — Christian, divorced, physician — seemed safe. She had been on three other recent dates, but the men were less handsome than their profile photos, and the talk was dull. John was different. He showed keen interest in the details of her life and business. He didn’t want to talk just about himself, even though his stories were riveting. He told her all about being an anesthesiologist in Iraq, where he’d just spent a year with Doctors Without Borders.
The War To Sell You A Mattress Is An Internet Nightmare / Fast Company
“Casper Sues Sleepopolis with Federal Lawsuit,” read the headline on the page I opened. The post was written by a guy named Derek Hales, the site’s proprietor. Derek’s photo showed a pale, skinny twentysomething with freckles and short red hair. I clicked around on his site. Derek Hales evidently took mattress reviewing seriously, rating the firmness of mattresses on a scale from one to 10, cutting them open to measure the exact thickness of the foam. I returned to the page outlining the lawsuit. “From the very first day Sleepopolis launched I knew I wanted to build something different,” wrote Derek. “Reviews rooted in honesty, transparency, integrity, and clarity, without the marketing speak or fluff. Guided by these principles I feel like Sleepopolis readers have the right to know that Casper Sleep has filed a federal lawsuit in New York, suing both Sleepopolis and me, personally.” So it was true. I scratched my head. Casper was on its way to becoming a 750-million-dollar company. It was the hottest of the bed-in-a-box disruptors, with investments from celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Nas. And it was picking on some skinny blogger from Arizona? I called my editor and confessed that in a moment of weakness I had accepted a free mattress from an online mattress reviewer named Kenny, and that I wanted to write about this bizarre industry and its even more bizarre David-and-Goliath legal battle. I couldn’t know it then, but the outcome of that battle would influence the purchase decisions of many thousands, if not millions, of people seeking a good night’s sleep. It would also reveal just how thoroughly the internet and the businesses that thrived there had blurred the lines between product reviews and advertisements. All I’d wanted was a mattress, but what I got was a look at a little-known and hugely lucrative annex of e-commerce, one where the relationships can often get a little too comfy—until they’re not.
----- 2 stars -----
The Boomtown That Shouldn’t Exist / Politico
Cape Coral, Florida, was built on total lies. One big storm could wipe it off the map. Oh, and it’s also the fastest-growing city in the United States. [...] Gulf American unloaded tens of thousands of low-lying Cape Coral lots on dreamseekers all over the world before the authorities cracked down on its frauds and deceptions. It passed off inaccessible mush as prime real estate, sold the same swampy lots to multiple buyers, and used listening devices to spy on its customers. Its hucksters spun a soggy floodplain between the Caloosahatchee River and the Gulf of Mexico as America’s middle-class boomtown of the future, and suckers bought it. The thing is, the hucksters were right, and so were the suckers. Cape Coral is now the largest city in America’s fastest-growing metropolitan area. Its population has soared from fewer than 200 when the Rasos arrived to 180,000 today. Its low-lying swamps have been drained, thanks to an astonishing 400 miles of canals—the most of any city on earth—that serve not only as the city’s stormwater management system but also its defining real estate amenity. Those ditches were an ecological disaster, ravaging wetlands, estuaries and aquifers. Cape Coral was a planning disaster, too, designed without water or sewer pipes, shops or offices, or almost anything but pre-platted residential lots. But people flocked here anyway. The title of a memoir by a Gulf American secretary captured the essence of Cape Coral: Lies That Came True. It really captured the essence of Florida, a precarious civilization engineered out of a watery wilderness, a bewildering dreamscape forged by greed, flimflam and absurdly grandiose visions that somehow stumbled into heavily populated realities.
Were There Dark Ages / Slate Star Codex
Highlights From The Comments On Dark Ages / Slate Star Codex
But I worry that as usual, this corrective to an overblown narrative of darkness has itself been overblown. People are now talking about how you’re a gullible rube if you still believe in a so-called “Dark Age”, and how all the real intellectuals know that this was a time of flourishing civilization every bit as good as the Romans or the Renaissance. Bulls**t. The period from about 500 to about 1000 in Christian Western Europe was marked by profound economic and intellectual decline and stagnation relative to the periods that came before and after it. This is incompatible with the “no such thing as the Dark Ages” claim except by a bunch of tortured logic, isolated demands for rigor, and historical ignorance.
Thanks to everyone who made interesting comments on yesterday’s post about Dark Ages. [...] I sympathise with those who have brought up Ireland and Scandinavia. My concern is that ‘dark ages’ talk implies too much continuity: there is the grand narrative of Western Civi, in which ‘we’ (those of European descent, white people) flourished in antiquity, flailed in the dark, and then triumphed in modernity. My gripe is that there isn’t a ‘we’ that is the subject of this story: the ancient world was a Mediterranean world, and it is only in the middle ages we see a civilisation that looks like modern Europe. The Mediterranean peoples (olive oil people, as Taleb calls them) who went on to share in later European civilisation go from light to dark, but the northern Europeans, the butter people, are only stepping into the light. Take Britain, which has a dramatic, well-defined dark age that is also a lot shorter than the ordinarily cited 500 year span. The period between the Roman departure and the Saxon conversion is pretty much pitch black by all the relevant measures. After conversion, butter people who call the island home (even if they were rather recent arrivals) enter history on their own terms, as something more than a mere foil to Roman grandeur. Sure, the Saxons look undistinguished compared to the Athens of Pericles, but that’s hardly a fair comparison. They do pretty well considering that they had been tribal illiterates just a few generations earlier. For much of the conventional dark ages, the Saxons enjoy what is, by their standards and those of their northern European neighbours, an age of light.
The AI That Has Nothing to Learn From Humans / The Atlantic
DeepMind’s new self-taught Go-playing program is making moves that other players describe as “alien” and “from an alternate dimension.”
A Catfishing With a Happy Ending / The Atlantic
A bit random, but a good story:
Emma Perrier was deceived by an older man on the internet—a hoax that turned into an unbelievable love story.
Goodbye Gatekeepers / Stratechery
Weinstein was a gatekeeper, presented with virtually unlimited supply while controlling limited distribution: those that wished to reach consumers had to accede to his demands, no matter how criminally perverse they may have been. [...] What made Hollywood’s structure particularly nefarious was the fact that selecting actors is such a subjective process. Movies are art — what appeals to one person may not appeal to another — making people like Weinstein cultural curators. If he were to not select an actor, or purposely damaged their reputation through his extensive contacts with the press, they wouldn’t have a chance in Hollywood. After all, there were many others to choose from, and no other routes to making movies. [...] I can imagine there are many that long for the days when the media — and by extension the parties — could effectively determine presidential nominees. The Weinstein case, though, is a reminder of just how rotten gatekeepers can be. Their very structure is ripe for abuse by those in power, and suppression of those wishing to break through; consumers, meanwhile, are taken for granted. For my part, I’m thankful such structures are increasingly untenable: perhaps the New York Times didn’t spike that 2004 story because of pressure from Weinstein, but there’s no doubt that for decades “All the News That’s Fit to Print” was shamefully deficient in reporting about news and groups that weren’t on the radar of New York newspaper editors. And, selfishly, I wouldn’t have the career I do without the absence of gatekeepers: anyone can set up a website and send an email and instantly compete with the New York Times and everyone else for attention and subscription dollars. Most importantly, though, the end of gatekeepers is inevitable: the Internet provides abundance, not scarcity, and power flows from discovery, not distribution. We can regret the change or relish it, but we cannot halt it: best to get on with making it work for far more people than gatekeepers ever helped — or harassed.
----- 1 star -----
Here’s why we like, really like, repetition in music. / Kottke
Very cool video:
Pop music songs have become increasingly repetitive in recent years — think Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, Beyonce’s 7/11 or Formation, and just about anything by Rihanna — and there’s a good reason for this: we like repetition. When people repeat words, it stops sounding like speaking and starts sounding like singing. Lyrical repetition makes songs sound more musical.
Dogs have pet facial expressions to use on humans, study finds / The Guardian
Showing tongues and puppy eyes, and facial movement in general, was more likely when scientists faced the animals, suggesting conscious communication
What would an object look like rotating in all directions simultaneously? / Quora
Here's a fun fact. Real polynomials of odd degree always have a real root. [...] This fun fact has another fun implication: every rotation of 3D space has an axis.
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