3 stars

Prospectus On Próspera | Astral Codex Ten

Who among us hasn't looked out at the great edifice of human civilization in all its complexity, and thought "Yeah okay but I could do it better"? Centuries of utopian communes, micronations, and seasteads have dreamed of rebuilding society from first principles, free from entrenched interests and the debris of the past. If you got all the laws and values just right, maybe you could prevent poverty and corruption from finding their first footholds. Do the "liberty and justice for all" thing, but for real.

And who among us, having had the dream, hasn't entered into multi-year negotiations with the government of Honduras? Taken advantage of a clause in the Honduras-Kuwait Treaty Of Reciprocal Investment guaranteeing them their right to pursue their vision unmolested? Raised millions in venture capital and bought land on a Caribbean island to turn it into a reality? […]

I read all of this and still didn't feel like I quite understood what was going on. Then a fortuitious mistake led me to an email exchange with Trey Goff, Próspera's extremely open and thorough Chief of Staff, who kindly let me grill him on all the stuff I didn't understand.

The result is this post. It's all the information I could collect on Próspera from basically every public source, plus some non-public ones. It's about a private tech city and a prosperity vision and all that. But it's also about - - - well, people talk a lot these days about “systemic change”. But usually that means something like fiddling with tax rates or ending the filibuster. What if you could actually change the system? Say "this system we have, the one that's letting all these people starve and suffer violence and die of preventable diseases - I don't care for it. Let's try something else"? Yes, this is about startup governments and investment opportunities and blah blah blah, but it's also about trying to fight global poverty by radically changing the rules of the game that makes it possible.

Also, it will look like this:


2 stars

The Holy Church of Christ Without Christ | The Pull Request

Not the easiest piece to read, but it’s insightful:

One advantage of a religious education these days is identifying the residue of religious thought in the atavisms of contemporary secular culture. ‘White privilege’, with its inescapable culpability and ritual self-flagellation, is the updated Catholic notion of Original Sin, wherein everyone descended from Adam (or possessing ‘whiteness’) bears an unpardonable burden. 

Burning Man attendees, departing their always-online lives stewarding techno-capitalism, congregate in a remote desert as a form of hipster Hajj. After returning to their routine lives of electric scooters and $3,000-a-month studios, they’ll append ‘burner’ to their identities just as some Muslims append the honorific ‘hajji’ to their names. 

In the case of the Kurzweil-ian Transhumanists, who believe in the imminent union of man with machine and thus into virtualized immortality, switch out the phrase ‘the Singularity’ for ‘the Rapture’ in one of their screeds and you’ve got an evangelical Christian sermon, complete with anxiety around missing the big event1

Paleo, ketogenic, vegan: the diet-conscious fussbudget fretting over what’s in his Asian/Latin fusion pozole pho isn’t much different than any adherent of halal or kashrut. Certainly, the list of acceptable, non-offensive foods for students of the average San Francisco private school is as convoluted as anything in Leviticus2. Almost every item in my overpriced SF grocery comes festooned with multiple dietary labels such as ‘non-GMO’, ‘organic’, and the ‘pareve’ symbol of Judaism: we all mark clean versus unclean foods our various ways.

The COVID scolds who rail at people to wear masks while distanced outdoors or campaign to close down parks and beaches, despite no evidence that such measures impact COVID transmission, are like the Orthodox Jews in Israel who throw rocks at people driving on Shabbat. The jokes comparing the shifting orthodoxy around masks—initially unnecessary, now at least two are required— to Talmudic ruminations on yarmulkes practically write themselves.


Why a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be a catastrophe for China and the world | Doxa

Most coverage of a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan focuses on the area as a potential flashpoint for a US vs. China war, but I haven’t found any detailed coverage of what such an invasion would mean in practical terms beyond generic talk of nuclear escalation risks and widespread damage to the global economy. […]

Given that an invasion of Taiwan would not magically give China leadership in the global semiconductor market, and would in fact set back its timeline for being an advanced semiconductor superpower by probably decades, then if such an invasion does happen then it’s not because they want TSMC. […]

So if the PRC invades Taiwan and seizes TSMC, it will be something like a decapitation strike on the global semiconductor market — a big chunk of the world’s most advanced, powerful chips made on the world’s most advanced manufacturing process will instantly stop being available during whatever invasion and transition period. This alone will upend markets and global supply chains while it plays out.


Mailbag #2 | Wait but Why

I’m never good at stopping once I start on an exploration of size, and doing this answer got me googling all kinds of things.

Like how big all the bacteria in the human body would be if you clumped it all together. I had always heard the famous stat that there are 10 times as many bacteria in your body as human cells. It turns out that that’s been debunked. The real ratio is closer to 1:1, with both kinds of cells in the ballpark of 40 trillion in an adult human body.

Anyway, the NIH estimates that all that bacteria adds up to only 0.3% of a human’s body mass. Zachary is 7, so let’s estimate his mass at 25 kg. That means the bacteria in his body adds up to 75 grams—about the weight of a plum. Assuming the density of Zachary’s bacteria is similar to the density of his body, that would make the bacteria ball about the size of a plum too. […]

What is the best permanent lifestyle change you made in your life? – Elmar S. (Munich, Germany)

I dug an old iPhone 6 out of my drawer (I had tried to trade it in but I botched something with the “activation lock” whatever the hell that is and Apple sent it back to me) and this became my bed phone. No SIM card, not signed into iCloud, no apps except Kindle, iBooks, Downcast (podcasts), NYT Crosswords, YouTube, and some practical ones (alarm, calendar, notes and voice recorder for those morning insights). Then I leave my real phone in a different room, as far away and inconveniently located as possible. This has been pretty groundbreaking for me. I find that I actually look forward to saying bye to my normal phone and transitioning to the bed phone stage of the night. Bed phone still has worlds of fun in it—just the healthy-for-night/morning kinds of fun.


How The Auto Industry Carjacked The American Dream | Climate Town (YouTube)

This was surprisingly engaging / funny / well-produced


I don't get the high-speed rail thing (yet) | Noahpinion

Sort of related:

I love high-speed trains. I’ve ridden on the shinkansen, the TGV, and the Shanghai maglev, and they were all great. It’s super convenient to be able to travel from Tokyo to Osaka — about the same distance as SF to L.A. — in 2.5 hours, then step off the train and be right in the middle of a central subway station. I’m also well aware of the potential climate benefits of high-speed rail relative to airplanes and cars.

But that still leaves me with tons of questions about the recent enthusiasm for a huge new network of high-speed trains in the U.S. Among many young people on Twitter, this zeal has reached an almost ecstatic pitch. Tweets of a famous 2013 proposal for a high-speed rail system by urbanist Alfred Twu (whom you should definitely follow on Twitter, by the way) regularly get thousands or tens of thousands of retweets. […]

I don’t want this to sound like a cranky anti-HSR rant, because I would seriously love to have the kind of train transportation in this country that I enjoy every time I go to other rich nations. It’s just that I have lots of questions about these maps and this whole effort. I wonder whether a big nationwide high-speed train network like this is the right transportation priority for the U.S. right now, and whether it’s even feasible. […]

Building high-speed rail without having a usable network of local trains instinctively feels like putting the cart before the horse. If I had a choice between being able to train around San Francisco conveniently, or quickly get between SF and San Jose, I’d choose either of those over being able to take a shinkansen-style train to L.A. or Seattle. The lack of local trains and fast commuter rail simply limits my travel options much more than the lack of high-speed rail. A local train network without HSR is great; HSR lines without local trains seem like something that’s at best slightly better than what we have now.


America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 16 maps and charts | Vox

In the developed world, these levels of gun violence are a uniquely American problem. Here’s why.


Research Proves It: There’s No Such Thing as Noblesse Oblige | The Atlantic

The game is absurd because it’s rigged heavily in my favor. More than a decade ago, as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of the UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, Piff used a series of rigged Monopoly games to see how people would respond to being placed randomly into a position of privilege. Some 200 student volunteers were pitted against one another. The “rich” player was given twice as much cash as the “poor” player, collected twice as much money when passing Go, and passed Go more often, because he got to roll two dice while the poorer player got only one. (Richie Rich also got the most popular playing piece, the little car, while his opponent received the undesirable boot.)

As the games progressed, rich players became more and more cocksure. They spoke louder, moved their pieces more aggressively, and even consumed more pretzels from bowls that the researchers had put out as part of the experiment. “We had little gradients on the table where you could measure how much space a person is taking up from when they began to when they ended,” Piff told me. “The richer players began to take up more room. They got bigger as they got richer.” […]

The Monopoly experiment wasn’t the most rigorous science ever, and Piff never published the results, although the study was later replicated by others and referenced in Piff’s popular TED Talk, “Does Money Make You Mean?” But his observations were consistent with a large body of social science finding that people of higher socioeconomic status, compared with those lower down the ladder, are more prone to entitlement and narcissistic behavior. Wealthier subjects also tend to be more self-oriented and more willing to behave unethically in their own self-interest (to lie during negotiations, say, or to steal from an employer). In one study, Piff and his colleagues stationed a pedestrian at the edge of a busy crosswalk and watched to see which cars would let the person cross. Suffice it to say that Fords and Subarus were far more likely to stop than Mercedeses and BMWs.

We find such research amusing because it jibes with our stereotypes of rich people. But there’s nothing frivolous about asking how having an abundance of money affects our psychology.


Once hailed as unhackable, blockchains are now getting hacked | MIT Technology Review

More and more security holes are appearing in cryptocurrency and smart contract platforms, and some are fundamental to the way they were built.


1 star

Turns Out, Spock Is Kinda Bad at Logic | Wired

An interview with Julia Galef:

“Spock is held up as this exemplar of logic and reason and rationality, but he’s set up, in my opinion, as almost a weak caricature—a straw man—of reason and rationality, because he keeps making all these dumb mistakes,” Galef says in Episode 462 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “That’s the show’s way of proving that, ‘Aha! Logic and reason and rationality aren’t actually all that great.’ ” […]

“I went through all of the Star Trek episodes and movies—all of the transcripts that I could find—and searched for any instance in which Spock is using the words ‘odds,’ ‘probability,’ ‘chance,’ ‘definitely,’ ‘probably,’ etc.,” she says. “I catalogued all instances in which Spock made a prediction and that prediction either came true or didn’t.”

The results, which appear in Galef’s new book The Scout Mindset, are devastating. Not only does Spock have a terrible track record—events he describes as “impossible” happen 83 percent of the time—but his confidence level is actually anti-correlated with reality. “The more confident he says he is that something will happen—that the ship will crash, or that they will find survivors—the less likely it is to happen, and the less confident he is in something, the more likely it is to happen,” Galef says. […]

“The thought experiment is to imagine an alien just teleported into your body—into your position—and is now finding themselves in your life, faced with these decisions, but without all of the emotional baggage that you have from the fact that you’ve been doing this for years. So the alien is just asking themselves, ‘Here I am. I’m faced with the decision now of two more years of grad school in exchange for this degree, or doing something else. Which seems better to me?’ Imagining how this alien in your position would choose—or how the choice would seem to them—I think can be a good way to strip away all of that baggage and see what seems like the best thing to do in the situation, setting aside the fact that it’s me.”


End Central Planning for Parking | Marginal Revolution

Donald Shoup’s Letter in support of California’s AB 1401 which deregulates parking is a marvel; funny, incisive, economically informed. Brilliant. […]

California has been waiting for AB 1401 for a long time. In 2005, the American Planning Association published The High Cost of Free Parking, an 800-page book in which I argued that minimum parking requirements increase housing costs, subsidize cars, worsen traffic congestion, pollute the air and water, damage the economy, degrade urban design, encourage sprawl, reduce walkability, exclude poor people, and accelerate global warming. To my knowledge, no city planner has argued that minimum parking requirements do not cause these harmful effects. Instead, a flood of recent research has shown that minimum parking requirements do produce all these harmful results. We are poisoning our cities with too much parking.

Minimum parking requirements are almost an established religion in city planning. One shouldn’t criticize anyone else’s religion, of course, but I’m a protestant when it comes to parking requirements. City planning needs a reformation, and AB 1401 can help.


‘Meet Some Of The Last Papyrus Makers In Egypt Keeping A 5,000-Year-Old Craft Alive’ | Kottke

Well, sort of. Still interesting:

In the village of Al-Qaramous, Egypt, local businesses and artisans are carrying on a papyrus-making process that dates back 5000 years, updated with some modern techniques to speed up the process and improve the product.


Parliament Seating Arrangements | Reddit


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