This week, the three-star links are all better than the average three-star link, though I couldn't quite give any of them an extra star. Read them anyway; they're great.

----- 3 stars -----

The Quickening / The Atlantic
Here's a summary from Longreads: "A memoir of giving birth after years with an eating disorder."

When you were the size of a poppy seed, I sat in the bathroom of a Boston hotel room and peed on a stick I’d bought from an elderly man at a drugstore near Fenway Park. I laid the plastic on the cold tiles and waited for it to tell me if you existed. I wanted you to exist so badly. It had been a year of chipper emails from my fertility app, asking if I’d had sex on the right nights, and a year of sunken hearts whenever I spotted blood: at work, at home, in a sandy bathroom on a chilly beach just north of Morro Bay. Each rusty stain took away the narrative I’d spent the past few weeks imagining—that this would be the month I found out I was having a baby. My body kept reminding me that it controlled the story. But then, there you were. [...] When I was a freshman in college, I walked into my dorm-room closet every morning to step on the scale I kept hidden there. It was embarrassing to starve myself, and so for the ritual of weighing I retracted into the dark, out of sight, tucked into the folds of my musty winter coats. Since my growth spurt at 13, it seemed like I’d been looming over everyone. Being tall was supposed to make you confident, but it just made me feel excessive. There was too much of me, always, and I was always so awkward and quiet, failing to earn all the space I took up. In the years since those days of restriction, I have found that usually when I try to articulate this to people—I felt like I wasn’t supposed to take up so much space—they understand it absolutely or not at all. And if a person understands it absolutely, she is probably a woman. [...] People would say: “You don’t look pregnant at all!” They meant it as a compliment. The female body is always praised for staying within its boundaries.

Did Venus Williams Ever Get Her Due? / New York Times

Venus’s body, not in motion, looks strong but languid, weary even, the Statue of Liberty with her arm down to take a rest — right up until 0.1 seconds before she hits the ball, at which point she explodes. At 6 foot 1, with limbs that span time zones, she has self-containment that’s unexpected and beguiling, a stillness that seems to emerge not only from her muscles but also from a calm, unruffled space inside, a clarity about who she is. “I’m tall. I’m black. Everything’s different about me. Just face the facts,” Venus said to reporters at age 17 when, in 1997, preternaturally self-possessed, she would become the first unseeded women’s player in the Open Era to reach the finals of the U.S. Open. Three years later, in 2000, when Venus first won the U.S. Open, President Clinton called to congratulate her. “So what happened?” she asked the president, who had been at the stadium but left before her match started. “Where’d you go?” Venus went on to press Clinton as to why he, in his motorcade, was allowed to zip through the gridlock between Queens and Manhattan while she had to sit in traffic. That Clinton was widely considered the most powerful person in the world didn’t matter. She did not believe the president was superior to her. Every piece of Williams arcana has been studied, repeatedly, to decode how this happened: how these sisters from Compton, Calif., became two of the greatest tennis players of all time and transformed not just the game but our understanding of what’s possible for women in sports, maybe even what’s possible period. It’s easy to stand in the present and get distracted, even a little blinded, by the klieg light of Serena. She’s flashy; she’s extroverted. Her talent is so singular that it feels as if it dropped whole from the heavens, a dense, crystalline meteorite of athletic prowess and drive. Venus, a year older, seems more earthly and understated. If you’re not deliberately looking through Serena’s glare — if you don’t hold up a prism and refract Serena’s achievement into its constituent parts — you’ll lose sight of what a star Venus is.

The Limits of My Conservatism / New York Magazine

But there is a place where conservatives and reactionaries find common cause — and that is when the change occurring is drastic, ideological, imposed by an elite, and without any limiting principle. This is not always easy to distinguish from more organic change — but there is a distinction. On immigration, for example, has the demographic transformation of the U.S. been too swift, too revolutionary, and too indifferent to human nature and history? Or is it simply a new, if challenging, turn in a long, American story of waves of immigrants creating a country that’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope? If you answer “yes” to the first, you’re a reactionary. If “yes” to the second, you’re a liberal. If you say yes to both, you’re a conservative. If you say it’s outrageous and racist even to consider these questions, you’re a card-carrying member of the left. [...] The left is correct that Americans are racist and sexist; but so are all humans. The question is whether, at this point in time, America has adequately managed to contain, ameliorate, and discourage these deeply human traits. I’d say that by any reasonable standards in history or the contemporary world, America is a miracle of multiracial and multicultural harmony. There’s more to do and accomplish, but the standard should be what’s doable within the framework of human nature, not perfection. [...] More to the point, this kind of scolding is almost always counterproductive. Subject young white boys to critical race and gender theory, tell them that women can have penises, that genetics are irrelevant in understanding human behavior, that borders are racist, or that men are inherently toxic, and you will get a bunch of Jordan Peterson fans by their 20s. Actually, scratch that future tense — they’re here and growing in number. Many leftists somehow believe that sustained indoctrination will work in abolishing human nature, and when it doesn’t, because it can’t, they demonize those who have failed the various tests of PC purity as inherently wicked. In the end, the alienated and despised see no reason not to gravitate to ever-more extreme positions.

Queen of Darts / Victory Journal

It is not the most illustrious darts tournament in the world, nor is it the richest, nor the prettiest. The game’s highest earners and biggest names (invariably, pudgy Northern European men) play in the PDC, another league altogether. But this tournament is, by sheer mass, the biggest. This year, 5,857 entrants have paid their 22.50 Euros to take a chance at some kind of glory while thousands more have come to swirl and gawk and cheer. And as I pop out of the tree line, there is that heat. Already, the patio of the Bonte Wever is overrun by the clamor and the smoke of hundreds of dartspersons happily getting beer-drunk before noon. [...] In truth, all these pub-champs hoping to Cinderella their way through the brackets are destined to be felled by the field’s few undeniable killers. In the women’s field, that means two names: England’s Deta Hedman, 59, and Japan’s Mikuru “The Miracle” Suzuki, 37. [...] During a tournament in 1997 at the Isle Of Mann, Hedman did reach a breaking point with the racist vitriol. For the next five years, she lived completely free of darts. She played football and golf, went snorkeling and bungee jumping in Australia, skied in Austria—did all manners of joyous stuff she’d held off on before, always afraid she’d injure her throwing hand. Recalling that time now, she sounds euphoric. “Once I stopped darts, that was it. Literally, it didn’t exist.” Then in 2002, her ex-partner, fellow pro Colin Lloyd, talked her into a comeback. There was a big tournament in the States, the Las Vegas Open. “He said to me, ‘Come on, we’ll go on holiday. And why don’t you have a go?’” In those five years, she hadn’t touched a dart. But on a lark, she entered. “And,” she says, “I only went and won it!” With the prize money, she bought herself a new kitchen. [...] She progressed from soft-tip to steel-tip darts and, over the span of years, from the local Japanese circuit to Europe. Her victory at the World Championship served notice. Afterwards, a Eurosport headline crowed: “Mikuru Suzuki: Japan’s new darts superstar.” She describes her World Championship run as almost an unconscious experience. “I have too much concentration. To be honest, I don’t remember what is a tough match and what isn’t. I get nervous, but not bad nervous—good nervous. Nervous [in order to] concentrate. So I actually can’t remember a highlight of a match. I just throw, just count, just checkout, like that. Every time I play, I think about the next match. That is the motivation. So at first, [at the World Championship finals] I didn’t realize I won. But then, no more matches. So—oh, I won. I won.”

----- 2 stars -----

A Dead Cat, A Lawyer's Call And A 5-Figure Donation: How Media Fell Short On Epstein / NPR

A coterie of intimidating lawyers. A deployment of charm. An aura of invincibility. A five-figure donation to a New York Times reporter's favored nonprofit. A bullet delivering a message. Even, it is alleged, a cat's severed head in the front yard of the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair. Such were the tools the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein is said to have used to try to soften news coverage and at times stave off journalistic scrutiny altogether. Before his death earlier this month, Epstein owned the largest townhouse in Manhattan, little more than a mile from many of the nation's leading news organizations. He counted a former and a future president among his friends. He partied with royalty and supermodels. He was said to advise billionaires. Epstein killed himself, authorities say, in federal prison as he faced criminal charges alleging sex trafficking of underage girls, some as young as 14, in his mansions in New York and Florida. And yet with a few notable exceptions, the national media infrequently covered Epstein's behavior and rarely looked at the associates who helped him evade accountability for his actions — at least, not until the Miami Herald's Julie K. Brown's investigative series late last year.

Why Is Joe Rogan So Popular? / The Atlantic

He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention. [...] Most of Rogan’s critics don’t really grasp the breadth and depth of the community he has built, and they act as though trying is pointless. If they decide they want to write off his podcast as a parade of alt-right idiots and incels (as opposed to a handful of cretins out of about 1,400 guests) they will turn up sufficient evidence. And his podcast is a parade of men. So many men. Talking so (so, so, so) much about the things men talk about in 2019 when they think no one’s listening. [...] “Rather than use the nearly three-hour interview to challenge Musk on anything of substance, Rogan let him use the podcast to burnish the myth of his own implacable brilliance,” one journalist wrote. “If traditional media were pissed about anything relevant to the Musk-Rogan interview, it was the extent to which Rogan got played.” Played! Imagine writing that about one of the most discussed and downloaded podcasts of 2018. Rogan, the one who handed Elon Musk a spliff, on camera, and got him to smoke it, thus earning national headlines for himself and millions of listens for his advertisers, got played. In order to reach such a conclusion, you have to begin with the presumption that interviews must always be a form of combat, with winners and losers. There was also much sneering at the episode’s faux intellectualism—the way Rogan and Musk often sounded like a couple of freshmen ripping bong hits in a college dorm room at 2 a.m. Which would be a fair analogy, if the other person in the dorm room was Elon Musk, and after everyone passed out he went to the engineering lab and built a rocket. The hard truth for some of Rogan’s critics in the media is that he is much better at captivating audiences than most of us, because he has the patience and the generosity to let his interviews be an experience rather than an inquisition.

Eduard Pernkopf: The Nazi book of anatomy still used by surgeons / BBC

When nerve surgeon Dr Susan Mackinnon needed help to finish an operation, she reached, as she often does, for a mid-20th Century book of anatomy. Thanks to the complex hand-drawn illustrations - showing the human body peeled back layer by layer - Dr Mackinnon, from Washington University in St Louis, was able to complete the procedure. The book she had used, the innocuous-sounding Pernkopf Topographic Anatomy of Man, is widely considered to be the best example of anatomical drawings in the world. It is richer in detail and more vivid in colour than any other. Skin, muscle, tendons, nerves, organs and bone are revealed in graphic detail. It's not for the faint-hearted. But the book, often referred to as Pernkopf's Atlas, is no longer in print and a second-hand set - there are several volumes - can sell for thousands of pounds online. Yet despite its hefty asking price, few would proudly display it in their clinic, library or home. That's because the book's findings came from the bodies of hundreds of people killed by the Nazis. It is their bodies - cut up and dissected - that are shown across thousands of pages. Critics say the book is tainted by its dark past and scientists have grappled with the ethics involved in its use.

Maybe your Zoloft stopped working because a liver fluke tried to turn your nth-great-grandmother into a zombie / Slate Star Codex

Or at least this is the theory proposed in Brain Evolution Through The Lens Of Parasite Manipulation by Marco del Giudice. The paper starts with an overview of parasite manipulation of host behavior. These are the stories you hear about toxoplasma-infected rats seeking out cats instead of running away from them, or zombie ants climbing stalks of grass so predators will eat them. The parasite secretes chemicals that alter host neurochemistry in ways that make the host get eaten, helping the parasite transfer itself to a new organism. [...] So if you’re an animal at constant risk of having your behavior hijacked by parasites, what do you do? First, you make your biological signaling cascades more complicated. You have multiple redundant systems controlling every part of behavior, and have them interact in ways too complicated for any attacker to figure out. You have them sometimes do the opposite of what it looks like they should do, just to keep enemies on their toes. This situation should sound very familiar to anyone who’s ever studied biology. [...] Second, you have a bunch of feedback loops and flexibility ready to deploy at any kind of trouble. If something makes dopamine levels go up, you decrease the number of dopamine receptors, so that overall dopaminergic neurotransmission is the same as always. If something is making you calmer than normal, you have some other system ready to react by making you more anxious again. Del Giudice makes the obvious connection to psychopharmacology. [...] It’s an interesting theory. But whether it explains some things, nothing, or everything, it’s too early to say. But I like this paper because it takes the complexity of biology seriously. [...] Del Giudice offers a seductive explanation: the perceived perversity of the human blueprint is absolutely real. Parts of it – the parts most involved in health and disease – were sculpted by evolution to be as hard as possible to understand or affect. This makes me feel better about how often the drugs I prescribe fail in surprising ways.

The WeWork IPO / Stratechery

There is a reason — beyond the fact it is August — that WeWork’s upcoming IPO has driven so much discussion: it is a document defined by audaciousness, both in terms of the company’s vision and also the flagrant disregard for corporate governance norms by its leadership. And, of course, massive losses despite massive amounts of capital raised. I suspect all of these things are related. [...] Frankly, there is a lot to like about the WeWork opportunity. Yes, a $47 billion valuation seems way too high, particularly given the fact the company is on pace to make only about $440 million in gross profit this year (i.e. excluding all buildout and corporate costs), and given the huge recession risk. At the same time, this is a real business that provides real benefits to companies of all sizes, and those benefits are only growing as the nature of work changes to favor more office work generally and more remote work specifically. And, critically, there is no real competition. The problem is that the “unsavoriness” I referred to above is hardly limited to the fact that WeWork can stiff its landlords in an emergency. The tech industry generally speaking is hardly a model for good corporate governance, but WeWork takes the absurdity an entirely different level. [...] I would argue that the WeWork bull case and bear case have more in common than it seems: both are the logical conclusion of effectively unlimited capital. The bull case is that WeWork has seized the opportunity presented by that capital to make a credible play to be the office of choice for companies all over the world, effectively intermediating and commoditizing traditional landlords. It is utterly audacious, and for that reason free of competition. The bear case, meanwhile, is that unlimited capital has resulted in a complete lack of accountability and a predictable litany of abuses, both in terms of corporate risk-taking and personal rent-seeking. [...] In short, there is a case that WeWork is both a symptom of software-eating-the-world, as well as an enabler and driver of the same, which would mean the company would still have access to the capital it needs even in a recession. Investors would just have to accept the fact they will have absolutely no impact on how it is used, and that, beyond the sky-high valuation and the real concerns about a duration mismatch in a recession, is a very good reason to stay away.

How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition / The Atlantic

Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy. Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders. Today’s meritocrats still claim to get ahead through talent and effort, using means open to anyone. In practice, however, meritocracy now excludes everyone outside of a narrow elite. Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale collectively enroll more students from households in the top 1 percent of the income distribution than from households in the bottom 60 percent. Legacy preferences, nepotism, and outright fraud continue to give rich applicants corrupt advantages. But the dominant causes of this skew toward wealth can be traced to meritocracy. [...] But what, exactly, have the rich won? Even meritocracy’s beneficiaries now suffer on account of its demands. It ensnares the rich just as surely as it excludes the rest, as those who manage to claw their way to the top must work with crushing intensity, ruthlessly exploiting their expensive education in order to extract a return. No one should weep for the wealthy. But the harms that meritocracy imposes on them are both real and important. Diagnosing how meritocracy hurts elites kindles hope for a cure. We are accustomed to thinking that reducing inequality requires burdening the rich. But because meritocratic inequality does not in fact serve anyone well, escaping meritocracy’s trap would benefit virtually everyone.

The great university con: how the British degree lost its value / The New Statesman

At a glance, British universities are a national success story. They have increased the number of undergraduate degrees they award fivefold since 1990, while the proportion of Firsts they hand out has quadrupled – from 7 per cent in 1994 to 29 per cent in 2019. For every student who got a First in the early 1990s, nearly 20 do now. Masters’ degrees, meanwhile, are nearly ten times as common as they were. Universities have, it seems, managed to surge in both size and quality. And they have done it all while spending comparatively little on teaching, and despite a wave of sudden changes to how they operate. In no other publicly funded sector has so dramatic an expansion seemingly cost so little and achieved so much. Our universities, we are regularly assured, are “world class”. They are a prime British export; international students flock to study in the UK. This narrative is useful. It allows government ministers to tout the UK’s influence, university management to pay themselves befittingly, and students to appear exceptional. And with each year, it is propped up by record grades. The numbers are remarkable and little understood. The proportion of students getting “good honours” – a First or 2:1 – has leapt from 47 to 79 per cent: at 13 universities, more than 90 per cent of students were given at least a 2:1 last year. And Oxbridge is leading the charge: 96 to 99 per cent of its English, history and languages students get “good honours”. [...] This supposed university miracle can only have happened in one of three ways. The first is that schools have, over the past 30 years, supplied universities with students of a far higher calibre than in the recent past. This would be a notable achievement, as the university students of the past were the select few – in the 1970s and 1980s between 8 and 19 per cent of young British adults went on to higher education, whereas 50 per cent now do. The second is that universities have taken historically indifferent students and turned them into unusually capable graduates. And the third is the reality: the university miracle is a mirage. Never before has Britain had so many qualified graduates. And never before have their qualifications amounted to so little. Each year, far from creating graduates of an unparalleled calibre, Britain is producing waves of sub-prime students – students who are nevertheless almost all being highly rated.

What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot. / New York Times

Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the United States. Drivers there average two hours each week mired in gridlock, hung up at countless spots, from the constantly clogged Georgia 400 to a complicated cluster of overpasses at Tom Moreland Interchange, better known as “Spaghetti Junction.” The Downtown Connector — a 12-to-14-lane megahighway that in theory connects the city’s north to its south — regularly has three-mile-long traffic jams that last four hours or more. Commuters might assume they’re stuck there because some city planner made a mistake, but the heavy congestion actually stems from a great success. In Atlanta, as in dozens of cities across America, daily congestion is a direct consequence of a century-long effort to segregate the races.

Don't fear the simulators / Slate Star Codex
Don't fear the filter / Slate Star Codex

From the New York Times: Are We Living In A Computer Simulation? Let’s Not Find Out. It lists the standard reasons for thinking we might be in a simulation, then brings up some proposals for testing the hypothesis (for example, the cosmic background radiation might look different in simulations and real universes). But it suggests that we not do that, because if we learn we’re in a simulation, that might ruin the simulation and cause the simulators to destroy the universe. But I think a little more thought suggests we don’t have anything to worry about. [...] The Times’ argument requires that simulators are so powerful that they can create entire universes, so on-top-of-things that they will know the moment we figure out their game – but also so incompetent that they can’t react to a warning published several years in advance in America’s largest newspaper. [...] For that matter, this is probably a stage every civilization goes through, including whatever real civilization we are supposed to simulate. What good is a simulation that can replicate every aspect of the real world except its simulation-related philosophy? The simulators probably care a lot about simulation-related philosophy! If they’re going around simulating universes, they have probably thought a lot about whether they themselves are a simulation, and simulation-related philosophy is probably a big part of their culture. They can’t afford to freak out every time one of their simulations starts grappling with simulation-related philosophy. It would be like freaking out when a simulation developed science, or religion, or any other natural part of cultural progress.

The Great Filter is not garden-variety x-risk. A lot of people have seized upon the Great Filter to say that we’re going to destroy ourselves through global warming or nuclear war or destroying the rainforests. This seems wrong to me. Even if human civilization does destroy itself due to global warming – which is a lot further than even very pessimistic environmentalists expect the problem to go – it seems clear we had a chance not to do that. A few politicians voting the other way, we could have passed the Kyoto Protocol. A lot of politicians voting the other way, and we could have come up with a really stable and long-lasting plan to put it off indefinitely. If the gas-powered car had never won out over electric vehicles back in the early 20th century, or nuclear-phobia hadn’t sunk the plan to move away from polluting coal plants, then the problem might never have come up, or at least been much less. And we’re pretty close to being able to colonize Mars right now; if our solar system had a slightly bigger, slightly closer version of Mars, then we could restart human civilization anew there once we destroyed the Earth and maybe go a little easy on the carbon dioxide the next time around. In other words, there’s no way global warming kills 999,999,999 in every billion civilizations. Maybe it kills 100,000,000. Maybe it kills 900,000,000. But occasionally one manages to make it to space before frying their home planet. That means it can’t be the Great Filter, or else we would have run into the aliens who passed their Kyoto Protocols.

----- 1 star -----

These facial reconstructions reveal 40,000 years of English ancestry / National Geographic

Last year, the dark-skinned, blue-eyed facial reconstruction of Cheddar Man, a 10,000-year-old British resident, made international headlines and sparked discussions about “native” identity in a nation grappling with Brexit and issues of migration. Now, a new exhibit is revealing the faces of seven more ancient “locals” from the coast of southern England, and science is confirming that the history of the region is much more complicated than we once thought. [...] Recent genome studies of ancient European populations enable Nilsson to outfit his reconstructions with reasonably accurate estimates of skin, hair, and eye color. The Neolithic population that the 5,600-year-old Whitehawk woman belonged to, for instance, generally had lighter skin and darker eyes than earlier occupants of Britain such as Cheddar Man, but were darker than the exhibit’s Ditchling Road man, who arrived on the island in the first wave of light-skinned, light-eyed Beaker people from continental Europe around 4,400 years ago.

Professional Drone Racer Plunges Drone Straight Down A Set Of Norwegian Waterfalls / Digg
This is dizzying and beautiful:

The level of piloting skills it takes to pull off a feat like this is just extraordinary.

Music Video Shot from the Front of a Toy Lego Train / Kottke

The music video for Anna Meredith’s latest song, Paramour, is a single-take journey of a toy Lego train through a group of musicians playing cellos, drums, and tubas, from the perspective of a camera mounted on the front of the train.

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