Work continues to be busy, so I may not be able get back to a weekly mailing until things calm down a bit -- sorry about that!

On the bright side, being more selective with my reading means that there are several truly excellent pieces in this e-mail.

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Why Do Chinese People Like Their Government? / Sup China
Much more than the oversimplified "it's the economy, stupid" answer that's often proffered. This excerpt from the intro summarises this piece well, but it's much drier than the rest of the essay, so trust me when I say this is well worth reading:

First, I’ll look at the gap in political culture between China and the liberal Western democracies, especially the United States. I’ll argue that there is little appreciation among most WEIRD individuals — that is, Western, Educated people from Industrialized, Rich, and Developed nations — for just how highly contingent political norms they take for granted really are from an historical perspective. I’ll sketch the outlines of the major historical currents that had to converge for these ideas to emerge in the late 18th century. Then, I’ll compare this very exceptional experience with that of China, which only embraced and began to harness those engines of Western wealth and power — science, industrialization, state structures capable of total mobilization of manpower and capital — much later. And late to the game, China suffered for over a century the predations of imperial powers, most notably Japan. Hopefully, I’ll show why it was that liberalism never really took hold, why it was that Chinese intellectuals turned instead to authoritarian politics to address the urgent matters of the day, and why authoritarian habits of mind have lingered on. Next, I’ll argue that a lot of unexamined hubris lies not only behind the belief that all people living under authoritarian political systems should be willing to make monumental sacrifices to create liberal democratic states but also behind the belief that it can work at all, given the decidedly poor record of projects for liberal democratic transformation in recent years, whether American-led or otherwise. It’s important to see what the world of recent years looks like through Beijing’s windows, and to understand the extent to which Beijing’s interpretation of that view is shared by a wide swath of China’s citizenry. Finally, I’ll look at the role of media in shaping perspectives of China in the Western liberal democracies and in other states. A very small number of individuals — reporters for major mainstream media outlets posted to China, plus their editors — wield a tremendous amount of influence over how China is perceived by ordinary Anglophone media consumers. It’s important to know something about the optical properties of the lens through which most of us view China.

An illusion of justice / Washington Post

Over the next few years, six young black men and one black girl would be arrested for crimes associated with Hardy’s murder. Four were charged. Two were tried — one was acquitted; one was convicted and sentenced to die. There was precious little evidence for any of the charges. This is a story about a wrongful conviction. It’s about witnesses who were rewarded for lies and threatened for telling the truth. It’s about overly aggressive law enforcement, a supine judiciary and almost comically ineffective representation, and how all of these things put a man on death row who nearly everyone now agrees is innocent — even the man who prosecuted him now doubts his guilt. It’s a story about the lives ruined along the way. And it’s about the murder of a much-liked deputy that, because of all of this, remains unsolved.

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What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max? / New York Times
From the always-excellent William Langewiesche. While his other pieces have been a consistent fixture in the 4-star section, this one gets docked a star for being just slightly less readable than usual.

Pilots like Suneja who come from the outside typically sign on in the hope of building hours and moving on to a better job. Lion Air gave him some simulator time and a uniform, put him into the co-pilot’s seat of a 737 and then made him a captain sooner than a more conventional airline would have. Nonetheless, by last Oct. 29, Suneja had accumulated 6,028 hours and 45 minutes of flight time, so he was no longer a neophyte. On the coming run, it would be his turn to do the flying. His co-pilot was an Indonesian 10 years his elder who went by the single name Harvino and had nearly the same flight experience. On this leg, he would handle the radio communications. No reference has been made to Harvino’s initial flight training. He had accumulated about 900 hours of flight time when he was hired by Lion Air. Like thousands of new pilots now meeting the demands for crews — especially those in developing countries with rapid airline growth — his experience with flying was scripted, bounded by checklists and cockpit mandates and dependent on autopilots. He had some rote knowledge of cockpit procedures as handed down from the big manufacturers, but he was weak in an essential quality known as airmanship. Sadly, his captain turned out to be weak in it, too. “Airmanship” is an anachronistic word, but it is applied without prejudice to women as well as men. Its full meaning is difficult to convey. It includes a visceral sense of navigation, an operational understanding of weather and weather information, the ability to form mental maps of traffic flows, fluency in the nuance of radio communications and, especially, a deep appreciation for the interplay between energy, inertia and wings. Airplanes are living things. The best pilots do not sit in cockpits so much as strap them on. The United States Navy manages to instill a sense of this in its fledgling fighter pilots by ramming them through rigorous classroom instruction and then requiring them to fly at bank angles without limits, including upside down. The same cannot be expected of airline pilots who never fly solo and whose entire experience consists of catering to passengers who flinch in mild turbulence, refer to “air pockets” in cocktail conversation and think they are near death if bank angles exceed 30 degrees. The problem exists for many American and European pilots, too. Unless they make extraordinary efforts — for instance, going out to fly aerobatics, fly sailplanes or wander among the airstrips of backcountry Idaho — they may never develop true airmanship no matter the length of their careers. The worst of them are intimidated by their airplanes and remain so until they retire or die. It is unfortunate that those who die in cockpits tend to take their passengers with them.

My Terezín Diary / New Yorker

On a freezing day in January, 1944, after my family and I had been confined at Terezín for six months, my mother was arrested by the S.S. and placed in a basement cell in the dreaded prison at their camp headquarters. Not even her lover, who was a member of the Terezín Aeltestenrat, or Council of Elders—the Jewish governing body—could get her released. I was twelve years old, and I was afraid that I would never see her again. But on February 21, 1944, all I wrote in my diary was “Mommy was away from us.” What is most striking to me today about the diary I kept seventy-five years ago is what I left out. I kept the diary from December 8, 1943, until March 4, 1944—the first winter of the two years I was imprisoned with my parents, Viktor Pick and Marie Picková, and my brother, Bobby, in the Czech concentration camp. (The camp was also known as Theresienstadt.) In addition to eight entries, it contains a few drawings, a poem about snow, and a story dealing with Terezín morality. Right after the war, I added a list of my girlfriends, marking the names of those who did not survive with a minus sign. When I first returned to the diary, many years ago, I found it difficult to read. Picking up the small book, three inches by four inches, with its cover of frayed green leather and its entries in tiny writing, I was not ready to be reminded of that terrible first winter in Terezín. I did not have much patience with my childish pronouncements (“Now I see, though, that it is possible to find happiness in work and in other things”) and my determined attempts to look at the bright side (“It will get better with time”). I put the diary away, and then for a long time I could not remember where I had hidden it. It was only a few years ago that I finally discovered it, on a high shelf of my closet, and, to my surprise, I saw it in a new light.

The most unexpected answer to a counting puzzle / YouTube
Even if you don't like maths [sorry, I live in the UK now], I'm guessing you'll like this video:

If this doesn't blow your mind, I don't know what will.

The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History / CityLab

From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

A Bizarre Form of Water May Exist All Over the Universe / Wired

A new experiment confirms the existence of superionic ice, a black and hot form of water that might make up the bulk of giant icy planets.

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The Tragedy on Howse Peak / Outside

In April, alpinists David Lama, Jess Roskelley, and Hansjörg Auer went silent during a harrowing expedition in Canada. The climbing community mobilized, first for a search and then for a memorial. In the wake of the tragedy, writer Nick Heil examines the motives of cutting-edge climbers and wonders: How close should we stand to our own mortality to feel alive?

The grandmaster diet: How to lose weight while barely moving / ESPN
I'm not sure if I fully believe all of this, but it's interesting nonetheless:

It seems absurd. How could two humans -- seated for hours, exerting themselves in no greater manner than intermittently extending their arms a foot at a time -- face physical demands? Still, the evidence overwhelms. The 1984 World Chess Championship was called off after five months and 48 games because defending champion Anatoly Karpov had lost 22 pounds. "He looked like death," grandmaster and commentator Maurice Ashley recalls. In 2004, winner Rustam Kasimdzhanov walked away from the six-game world championship having lost 17 pounds. In October 2018, Polar, a U.S.-based company that tracks heart rates, monitored chess players during a tournament and found that 21-year-old Russian grandmaster Mikhail Antipov had burned 560 calories in two hours of sitting and playing chess -- or roughly what Roger Federer would burn in an hour of singles tennis. Robert Sapolsky, who studies stress in primates at Stanford University, says a chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day while playing in a tournament, three times what an average person consumes in a day. Based on breathing rates (which triple during competition), blood pressure (which elevates) and muscle contractions before, during and after major tournaments, Sapolsky suggests that grandmasters' stress responses to chess are on par with what elite athletes experience. "Grandmasters sustain elevated blood pressure for hours in the range found in competitive marathon runners," Sapolsky says. It all combines to produce an average weight loss of 2 pounds a day, or about 10-12 pounds over the course of a 10-day tournament in which each grandmaster might play five or six times. The effect can be off-putting to the players themselves, even if it's expected. Caruana, whose base weight is 135 pounds, drops to 120 to 125 pounds. "Sometimes I've weighed myself after tournaments and I've seen the scale drop below 120," he says, "and that's when I get mildly scared."

The Brothers Aguayo

The Aguayo brothers, Roberto and Ricky, like to play a game at the end of workouts called IT. It’s basically PIG, only for placekickers. One less letter because placekickers, unlike basketball players, who can shoot all afternoon, have a limited supply of big kicks in their legs. And because when the Aguayo brothers are playing, they never miss. Just like PIG, you take turns calling your shots. “Sideline, hash, on the numbers,” says Ricky. “Wherever you want.” You can put the ball at midfield. You can put at the pylon. You can go all the way into the back corner of end zone and hook it through. “Sometimes you wanna narrow those uprights,” says Roberto. “Focus on your accuracy.” “It’s really cool to watch,” says Ken Burnham, a long snapper at Florida State, where Roberto played college football and where Ricky plays now. “For the first ten minutes. Then you start getting bored.” The games gets tense. Almost silent. Their teammates will watch and talk and flap and crack jokes, and then gradually they’ll notice they’re the only ones talking. “You wouldn’t think that they’re brothers,” says punter Logan Tyler, Ricky’s oldest friend on the team. “It’s fascinating to watch that dynamic flip, because they are extremely close.” [...] It was a special summer for the Aguayo family, Roberto and Ricky kicking together, their parents staggered by their luck, both of their boys playing within a few hours from home, their father, Roberto Sr., who tried three times to cross the border from Mexico, who almost died the time he finally made it for good, millimeters from drowning in the Rio Grande, now with one of his sons about to play in the NFL, and the other replacing him at an elite college program, the Aguayo boys booming, a straight climb through the uprights. It was the summer when Ricky’s dream was just getting started, the summer before Roberto’s started to crumble.

Should we worry about income gaps within or between countries? / Business Maverick

At the beginning of classes every autumn, I tease my students with the following question: Is it better to be poor in a rich country or rich in a poor country? The question typically invites considerable and inconclusive debate. But we can devise a more structured and limited version of the question, for which there is a definitive answer. [...] But in an unpublished paper based on data from the World Inequality Database, Lucas Chancel of the Paris School of Economics estimates that as much as three-quarters of current global inequality may be due to within-country inequality. Historical estimates by two other French economists, François Bourguignon and Christian Morrison, suggest that within-country inequality has not loomed so large since the late nineteenth century. These estimates, if correct, suggest the world economy has crossed an important threshold, requiring us to revisit policy priorities. For a long time, economists like me have been telling the world that the most effective way to reduce global income disparities would be to accelerate economic growth in low-income countries. Cosmopolitans in rich countries – typically the wealthy and skilled professionals – could claim to hold the high moral ground when they downplayed the concerns of those complaining about domestic inequality.

A Week With No Tear Gas / Idle Words
A follow-up to the previous piece on the Hong Kong protests I sent out:

For the next hour or two, we meandered through industrial and residential streets far from the tourist parts of Kowloon. There were no police in sight, but at one point we blundered into a cloud of durian, far more noxious than tear gas, emanating from a nearby fruit stall. When it began to rain, a young man insisted on walking next to me with his umbrella. All I could get out of him in bashful English was that he was 17, a student, and wanted me to be careful. He walked with me for three miles. I wanted him to be careful, too. [...] China has tried in the past to set up an alternative financial center in Shanghai. These days it is trying to promote a concept called the Greater Bay Area that would entangle Hong Kong with nearby cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen. But the global financial system wants what it wants - an autonomous Hong Kong. In a weird way, the high level of corruption in the Chinese ruling class adds another layer of protection. Powerful people in China need somewhere to launder their loot, and that place is Hong Kong. A lot of shady money is either tied up in Hong Kong, or flows through it, and there is no obvious alternative way to turn suitcases full of renminbi into hard currency. You might say that there are both macro- and microeconomic incentives to not wreck the city’s unique role as the Mt. Gox of the Chinese economy, a place where the country’s idiosyncratic currency can be turned into something that one might actually use to buy a Tuscan villa. What no one outside of Xi Jinping’s head can know is how strong a shield this is against direct Chinese intervention.

A Molecular Near Miss! / Isohedral

I’m thrilled to report that I’m a co-author of the article “An ultra-stable gold-coordinated protein cage displaying reversible assembly“, which was recently published in Nature. This work is the result of an exciting collaboration between biochemists, physicists, structural biologists, mathematicians, and others (including yours truly, a computer scientist!), spread over at least five countries on three continents. [...] The original title read “…reversible assembly and paradoxical geometry“. The phrase “paradoxical geometry” refers to near-miss Johnson solids, a topic that I’ve studied for a long time; the “protein cage” referred to in the title is, from my point of view, a near miss realized at molecular scale (a fact that is mentioned only in passing in the News and Views summary). I helped to explain the geometry of the cage, and to some extent measure just how paradoxical it is.

The Death of Alexander the Great: One of History’s Great Unsolved Mysteries / Literary Hub

The trail is long cold. All who recalled the terrible fortnight of his dying had their own reputations to protect and they were not under oath when publishing their memoirs. The secret of Alexander’s end will not be discovered by poring over disputed narratives, but by as­sessing his interaction with others. Who were the men and women he knew, and who his friends and enemies? What did they think of him and he of them? Where lay their loyalties, and where the imperatives of self-interest? In the year 323 BC, Alexander enjoyed an overdue vacation in the deluxe metropolis of Babylon in Mesopotamia. This was one of the great cities of the Persian empire and over the centuries had grown ac­customed to looking after the needs of invaders. Its Hanging Gardens were one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. A few weeks there of uninterrupted leisure and pleasure were just what Alexander and his careworn soldiers needed.

A Rare Universal Pattern in Human Languages / The Atlantic

In the early 1960s, a doctoral student at Cornell University wanted to figure out whether there was any truth behind the “cultural stereotype” that certain foreigners speak faster than Americans. [...] In the new study, the authors calculated the average information density—that is, bits per syllable—of a set of 17 Eurasian languages and compared it with the average speech rate, in syllables per second, of 10 speakers for each language. They found that the rate of information transferred stayed constant—at about 39.15 bits per second, to be exact.

The Birth Certificate in Your Mouth / MIT Press

Dark, accentuated lines that mark our teeth at birth are providing scientists with remarkable insight into the evolution of human development. [...] The neonatal line is quite broad in most individuals, indicating a disruption in tooth formation that lasts longer than one day. Scientists have wondered whether a difficult birth process leads to darker or broader neonatal lines. Current evidence appears to be mixed. One comparison of 147 infants born by three different processes — naturally, via Cesarean section, or with an intervention like forceps or vacuum — showed that the C-section babies’ teeth had the thinnest birth lines, followed by those born naturally. Infants born after an operative intervention due to complications had the thickest neonatal lines.

The Christian Right Is Helping Drive Liberals Away From Religion / FiveThirtyEight

At first, it wasn’t clear why so many Americans were losing their faith — and of the available explanations, politics wasn’t high on the list. After all, there are lots of reasons why any individual person would stop attending church that have nothing to do with politics. A church scandal might spark a crisis of faith. You might begin to view a religion’s hierarchies or rules as antiquated, restrictive or irrelevant to your life. You might not have been that religious to begin with. Social scientists were initially reluctant to entertain the idea that a political backlash was somehow responsible, because it challenged long-standing assumptions about how flexible our religious identities really are. Even now, the idea that partisanship could shape something as personal and profound as our relationship with God might seem radical, or maybe even a little offensive. But when two sociologists, Michael Hout and Claude Fischer, began to look at possible explanations for why so many Americans were suddenly becoming secular, those conventional reasons couldn’t explain why religious affiliation started to fall in the mid-1990s. Demographic and generational shifts also couldn’t fully account for why liberals and moderates were leaving in larger numbers than conservatives. In a paper published in 2002, they offered a new theory: Distaste for the Christian right’s involvement with politics was prompting some left-leaning Americans to walk away from religion. It was a simple but compelling explanation.

Privacy Fundamentalism / Stratechery

This narrow critique of Manjoo’s article — wrongly characterizing multiple resources as “trackers” — gets at a broader philosophical shortcoming: technology can be used for both good things and bad things, but in the haste to highlight the bad, it is easy to be oblivious to the good. Manjoo, for example, works for the New York Times, which makes most of its revenue from subscriptions; given that, I’m going to assume they do not object to my including 3rd-party resources on Stratechery that support my own subscription business? This applies to every part of my stack: because information is so easily spread across the Internet via infrastructure maintained by countless companies for their own positive economic outcome, I can write this Article from my home and you can read it in yours. That this isn’t even surprising is a testament to the degree to which we take the Internet for granted: any site in the world is accessible by anyone from anywhere, because the Internet makes moving data free and easy. Indeed, that is why my critique of Manjoo’s article specifically and the ongoing privacy hysteria broadly is not simply about definitions or philosophy. It’s about fundamental assumptions. The default state of the Internet is the endless propagation and collection of data: you have to do work to not collect data on one hand, or leave a data trail on the other. This is the exact opposite of how things work in the physical world: there data collection is an explicit positive action, and anonymity the default.

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xkcd's Randall Munroe on How to Mail a Package (From Space) / Wired
An excerpt from his new book:

Based on the 2001–2018 average, 1 out of every 1.5 billion humans is in space at any given time, most of them on board the International Space Station. ISS crew members ferry packages down from the station by putting them in the spacecraft carrying crew back to Earth. But if there’s no planned departure for Earth any time soon—or if NASA gets sick of delivering your internet shopping returns—you might have to take matters into your own hands. Getting an object down to Earth from the International Space Station is easy: you can just toss it out the door and wait. Eventually, it will fall to Earth. [...] This shipping method has two big problems: First, your package will burn up in the atmosphere before it ever reaches the ground. And second, if it does survive, you’ll have no way to know where it will land. To deliver your package, you’ll have to solve both these problems. First, let’s look at how to get your package to the ground intact.

48 Hours Living in Wi Spa, Koreatown's Temple of Relaxation / GQ

One writer attempts to unlock nirvana while navigating the drunk nude strangers, indecent proposals, and bulgogi tacos inside L.A.'s premier Korean spa.

The Four Notes of Death / Kottke

When something dark and ominous happens onscreen, there’s a good chance that the action is accompanied by a four-note snippet from the dies irae, a 13th-century Gregorian chant used at funerals. It shows up in The Lion King, The Good Place, Lord of the Rings, and It’s a Wonderful Life. This Vox video explores how this “shorthand for something grim” went from chant to Hollywood.

The Intuitive Monty Hall Problem / Marginal Revolution

Many puzzles are difficult to solve from one perspective but easy from another. A challenge on stackexchange was to find an equivalent version of the Monty Hall problem where the correct solution of switching is obvious.

Young people have a stake in our future. Let them vote. / Vox

House Democrats and Andrew Yang have pushed for a voting age of 16. That doesn’t go far enough. [...] The United States should consider eradicating the voting age entirely and letting every American citizen who can successfully fill out a ballot be counted in our local, state, and national elections (and yes, this goes for felons too). My colleague Matt Yglesias made the case for this four years ago. Since then, it’s only become more apparent that our current system is failing kids — and that they’re competent to fight for a better one. Enfranchising the last 75 million American citizens is the right thing to do, and there’s some evidence suggesting it’ll lead to a more engaged, more informed electorate that can at last do right by some of its most vulnerable constituents.

Astronomy Picture of the Day / NASA

Is it possible to capture the entire plane of our galaxy in a single image? Yes, but not in one exposure -- and it took some planning to do it in two. The top part of the featured image is the night sky above Lebanon, north of the equator, taken in 2017 June. The image was taken at a time when the central band of the Milky Way Galaxy passed directly overhead. The bottom half was similarly captured six months later in latitude-opposite Chile, south of Earth's equator. Each image therefore captured the night sky in exactly the opposite direction of the other, when fully half the Galactic plane was visible. The southern half was then inverted -- car and all -- and digitally appended to the top half to show the entire central band of our Galaxy, as a circle, in a single image. Many stars and nebulas are visible, with the Large Magellanic Cloud being particularly notable inside the lower half of the complete galactic circle.

Unearthly Iceland / Kottke

If you need to convince yourself to go to Iceland, this short film by Vadim Sherbakov should do the trick for you. Just stunningly beautiful landscape masterfully shot.

Lamberts: Mouth Blown Restoration Glass - Cylinder Glass Method / YouTube

Until the early 20th century, all window-glass used to be manufactured by gaffers with blowpipes. Glashütte Lamberts has preserved these production techniques and provides the authentic character of historic window-glasses until today.

This Skateboarding Trick Has Broken Our Brains / Digg

Here’s a trick from skateboarder Evan Mock that, if you were to just see out of the corner of your eye, you might shrug at and move on. But as soon as you focus on it and realize what Mock is doing, you’ll lose your mind, because hoooooly shit, what?

Tattoos and time preferences / Marginal Revolution

Survey and experimental evidence documents discrimination against tattooed individuals in the labor market and in commercial transactions. Thus, individuals’ decision to get tattooed may reflect short-sighted time preferences. We show that, according to numerous measures, those with tattoos, especially visible ones, are more short-sighted and impulsive than the non-tattooed. Almost nothing mitigates these results, neither the motive for the tattoo, the time contemplated before getting tattooed nor the time elapsed since the last tattoo. Even the expressed intention to get a(nother) tattoo predicts increased short-sightedness and helps establish the direction of causality between tattoos and short-sightedness.

Nine Things a Woman Couldn’t Do in 1971 in America / Kottke

Twitter user @WPCelebration recently compiled a list of nine activities and rights denied to women in America in 1971, just 48 years ago. [...] A woman couldn’t get a credit card in her own name. They often needed a man to co-sign for a card. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act put a stop to this discrimination in 1974.

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