Many truly excellent reads this week. I was tempted to be less stingy with my four-star ratings, but instead I'll just suggest that you also read as many of the three-star links as you can.
----- 4 stars -----
Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi’s India / New Yorker
In 2013, when another reporter asked if he felt sorry about the deaths of so many Muslims, he suggested that he had been a helpless bystander. “If someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind—even then, if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful?” Modi said. “Of course it is.” To many observers, Modi’s success stemmed from his willingness to play on profound resentments, which for decades had been considered offensive to voice in polite society. Even though India’s Muslims were typically poorer than their fellow-citizens, many Hindus felt that they had been unjustly favored by the central government. In private, Hindus sniped that the Muslims had too many children and that they supported terrorism. The Gandhi-Nehru experiment had made Muslims feel unusually secure in India, and partly as a result there has been very little radicalization, outside Kashmir; still, many Hindus considered them a constant threat. “Modi became a hero for all the Hindus of India,” Nirjhari Sinha, a scientist in Gujarat who investigated the riots, told me. “That is what people tell me, at parties, at dinners. People genuinely feel that Muslims are terrorists—and it is because of Modi that Muslims are finally under control.” [...] Modi’s supporters often get their news from Republic TV, which features shouting matches, public shamings, and scathing insults of all but the most slavish Modi partisans; next to it, Fox News resembles the BBC’s “Newshour.” Founded in 2017 with B.J.P. support, Republic TV stars Arnab Goswami, a floppy-haired Oxford graduate who acts as a kind of public scourge for opponents of Modi’s initiatives. In a typical program, from 2017, Goswami mentioned a law mandating that movie theatres play the national anthem, and asked whether people should be required to stand; his guest Waris Pathan, a Muslim assemblyman, argued that it should be a matter of choice. “Why can’t you stand up?” Goswami shouted at Pathan. Before Pathan could get out an answer, he yelled again, “Why can’t you stand up? What’s your problem with it?” Pathan kept trying, but Goswami, his hair flying, shouted over him. “I’ll tell you why, because—I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you why. Can I tell you? Then why don’t you stop, and I’ll tell you why? Don’t be an anti-national! Don’t be an anti-national! Don’t be an anti-national!” The lack of journalistic scrutiny has given Modi immense freedom to control the narrative. [...] As Ayyub and I drove around Kashmir, it seemed unclear how the Indian government intended to proceed. Economic activity had ground to a halt. Schools were closed. Kashmiris were cut off from the outside world and from one another. “We are overwhelmed by cases of depression,” a physician in Srinagar told us. Many Kashmiris warned that an explosion was likely the moment the security measures were lifted. “Modi is doing what he did in Gujarat twenty years ago, when he ran a tractor over the Muslims there,” a woman named Dushdaya said.
The most damaging thing you learned in school wasn't something you learned in any specific class. It was learning to get good grades. When I was in college, a particularly earnest philosophy grad student once told me that he never cared what grade he got in a class, only what he learned in it. This stuck in my mind because it was the only time I ever heard anyone say such a thing. [...] In theory, tests are merely what their name implies: tests of what you've learned in the class. In theory you shouldn't have to prepare for a test in a class any more than you have to prepare for a blood test. In theory you learn from taking the class, from going to the lectures and doing the reading and/or assignments, and the test that comes afterward merely measures how well you learned. In practice, as almost everyone reading this will know, things are so different that hearing this explanation of how classes and tests are meant to work is like hearing the etymology of a word whose meaning has changed completely. In practice, the phrase "studying for a test" was almost redundant, because that was when one really studied. The difference between diligent and slack students was that the former studied hard for tests and the latter didn't. No one was pulling all-nighters two weeks into the semester. Even though I was a diligent student, almost all the work I did in school was aimed at getting a good grade on something. To many people, it would seem strange that the preceding sentence has a "though" in it. Aren't I merely stating a tautology? Isn't that what a diligent student is, a straight-A student? That's how deeply the conflation of learning with grades has infused our culture. Is it so bad if learning is conflated with grades? Yes, it is bad. And it wasn't till decades after college, when I was running Y Combinator, that I realized how bad it is. [...] When I started advising startup founders at Y Combinator, especially young ones, I was puzzled by the way they always seemed to make things overcomplicated. How, they would ask, do you raise money? What's the trick for making venture capitalists want to invest in you? The best way to make VCs want to invest in you, I would explain, is to actually be a good investment. [...] At this point I've told the founders something you'd think would be completely obvious: that they should make a good company by making a good product. [...] Why did founders tie themselves in knots doing the wrong things when the answer was right in front of them? Because that was what they'd been trained to do. Their education had taught them that the way to win was to hack the test. And without even telling them they were being trained to do this. The younger ones, the recent graduates, had never faced a non-artificial test. They thought this was just how the world worked: that the first thing you did, when facing any kind of challenge, was to figure out what the trick was for hacking the test. [...] And some people, either due to ideology or ignorance, claim that this is true of startups too. But it isn't. In fact, one of the most striking things about startups is the degree to which you win by simply doing good work. [...] I had lived as if I realized it, but without knowing why. For example, I had avoided working for big companies. But if you'd asked why, I'd have said it was because they were bogus, or bureaucratic. Or just yuck. I never understood how much of my dislike of big companies was due to the fact that you win by hacking bad tests.
Boris’s Blundering Brilliance / New York Magazine
Boris Johnson Is Showing Western Politicians How to Win / New York Magazine
It’s Boris Johnson’s Britain Now / The Atlantic
I often disagree with Andrew Sullivan (our politics are fairly different), but I find him very insightful. This is true again here; the first two pieces are by Sullivan, profiling Boris Johnson with nuanced admiration. Worth reading whatever your political stance:
It’s hard to take the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, completely seriously. Just look at him: a chubby, permanently disheveled toff with an accent that comes off as a parody of an upper-class twit, topped off by that trademark mop of silver-blond hair he deliberately musses up before venturing into the public eye. Then there are those photo-op moments in his long career that seem designed to make him look supremely silly — stuck dangling in midair on a zip line with little Union Jacks waving in his hands; rugby-tackling a 10-year-old in Japan; playing tug-of-war in a publicity stunt and collapsing, suited, onto the grass; or declaring at one point that he was more likely to be “reincarnated as an olive,” “locked in a disused fridge,” or “decapitated by a flying Frisbee” than to become prime minister. And yet he has. And more than that: This comic figure has somehow managed to find himself at the center of the populist storms sweeping Britain and the West — first by becoming the most senior politician in Britain to back Brexit in 2016, and now by plotting a course that might actually bring the United Kingdom out of the epic, years-long, once-impossible-looking mess he helped make. Just over four months into office as PM, he appears poised to win an election he called and, if the polls are anywhere near correct, score a clear victory and take Britain out of the E.U. by the end of January. Not so long ago, this Brexit scenario seemed inconceivable: What the E.U. demanded and the British Parliament could support seemed irreconcilable, and no single resolution to the Brexit referendum had enough support to budge the country’s politics out of a maddening stall. But here we are, with Boris having budged it.
Here are the big gambles Johnson took to turn what was a nadir in Tory fortunes — plummeting to 22 percent this summer — into a landslide. He realized, unlike his peers, that ordinary people were close to revolt, and backed the cause of those left behind by the global economy, by grasping the Brexit issue. Without Johnson, the referendum would have been won by Remain. If he’d lost that referendum, his political career would have been over. The second big risk was quitting his own government when its Brexit plan seemed too soft, which he did by resigning as foreign secretary in the summer of 2018. And then, as the May deal failed to pass Parliament, he struck again — winning the leadership contest. In office, he rewrote the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which the E.U. had said was nonnegotiable, and got his deal passed by a 30-vote majority. Then the real gamble: Instead of sticking to getting Brexit done in Parliament, he called an early election to give himself a clear mandate for it. By fighting on the genius and simple slogan “Get Brexit Done,” he exposed the deep divides on the left, unified the right, and knocked his opponents for six (if you will forgive a cricket metaphor). But just as important, he moved the party sharply left on austerity, spending on public services, tax cuts for the working poor, and a higher minimum wage. He outflanked the far right on Brexit and shamelessly echoed the left on economic policy. This is Trumpism without Trump. A conservative future without an ineffective and polarizing nutjob at the heart of it. Johnson now has a mandate to enact this new Tory alignment, and he will be far more competent than Trump at it. Unlike Trump, he will stop E.U. mass migration, and pass a new immigration system, based on the Australian model. Unlike Trump, he will focus tax cuts on the working poor, not the decadent rich.
To understand the scale of what has happened, remember that less than four years ago, Johnson was still London’s mayor and undecided about whether to back Leave or Remain in the referendum; Cameron was prime minister, with the first Conservative majority in more than 20 years; and Britain’s economy was among the most dynamic in Europe. A poll carried out the day before Johnson announced that he supported Brexit showed Remain running 15 percentage points ahead of Leave. With the Brexit vote, the United Kingdom entered a period of rolling political drama. Johnson helped precipitate a crisis, benefited from it, and then called yesterday’s election to end it. In his triumph, he has killed off not just Blair’s Britain, but Cameron’s conservatism too. In the six months since Johnson took over from Theresa May, his impact has been revolutionary. He has sheared off the Conservative Party’s most liberal wing, radicalized Britain’s divorce deal with the European Union—and won a thumping mandate from the public to see it through. In doing so, he has eliminated the opposition’s chances of blocking Brexit and set the country on course for a future not only outside the EU, but also one that remakes its regulatory, legal, and economic order.
In February, 2017, I stepped off a plane in Tampa, drunk and dope-sick. I was twenty-four, and for the past eight years I had been shooting up heroin, cocaine, and all manner of pills: Dilaudid, Opana, OxyContin, Desoxyn, Ritalin. Now I was on my way to River Oaks, an addiction-treatment center, where I would spend the next forty-five days. River Oaks was on a gated campus, surrounded by a small forest with trails running through it. I was withdrawing from heroin and benzodiazepines at the time, and mornings were the worst: I woke in the dark at 6 a.m., the pain of withdrawal not yet mediated by the day’s first dose of Suboxone or Librium. I promised anyone who met me that I would die, simply die, of withdrawal; when, on day twenty-three, I had a seizure, I thought, Yes, I am really dying, but then I lived. [...] Soon, many of the facilities that had been sending urine to Cid began to open labs of their own. Sober-home owners quickly followed suit. It was an extraordinarily lucrative business. A patient tested three times a week could generate twenty thousand dollars a month. Between April and July, 2017, Addiction Labs of America, Lab Geeks, and Physicians Group of Boca Raton billed my insurers more than seventy-five thousand dollars. Between 2011 and 2015, prosecutors allege, staff at Good Decisions Sober Living, a sober home in Palm Beach County, filed a hundred and six million dollars in claims for urine drug screens with eighty insurance companies, and insurers paid out $31.1 million. According to an indictment, Kenneth Bailynson, the owner of Good Decisions, had opened his own lab and taken over the sprawling Green Terrace Condominiums, where he housed dozens of recovering addicts; he used the clubhouse by the pool as a collection site for urine. The Palm Beach Post reported that Bailynson turned Green Terrace into “an armed camp, where guards with guns made sure addicts did not leave.” At his detention hearing, Jim Hayes, the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, described Good Decisions as a “piss farm,” in business “only to harvest residents’ urine.” (Bailynson has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer declined to comment.) As the urinalysis business grew, owners of sober-living facilities started competing with one another for patients. They began to lure addicts with incentives: an iPhone, perhaps, or a gift card for groceries every week, or reduced or free rent. Brochures touted properties on the Intracoastal Waterway. The kids who arrived for treatment soon saw that their insurance policies could be used as expense accounts for detox or sober living.
Ben Boyer can still picture the expression on his wife’s face that night six years ago, as they talked over dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant in London. It had been four years since Xenia Trejo had been diagnosed, at the age of 33, with a malignant brain tumor that doctors said would eventually end her life. But as she sat across the table from Ben that evening, Xenia radiated joy. She felt strong, and after numerous rounds of treatment, her doctors had just told them that Xenia’s tumor was stable enough to do something she had long dreamed of: pursue a pregnancy. Now Xenia was asking Ben, What do you think? Should we try? They had always planned to be parents, and the possibility had hovered even since Xenia’s diagnosis, but now it finally felt within reach. “Let’s do it,” Ben told her. By the time they left the restaurant and walked home together, they knew they would try to start a family. In that hopeful moment, the reality of their circumstances felt far away. There are countless parents who don’t live to see their children grow up, but most of those tales involve unforeseen tragedy. The story of Ben and Xenia was different. When they learned of her illness, the future Xenia and Ben had long envisioned for themselves came undone, and an urgent reckoning followed. What would they fight to keep of the life they once imagined? In the face of a certain ending, they chose to create a beginning. [...] Buried in the digital archives of MetaFilter, an online message board that predated Reddit, is a question posed by an anonymous husband in 2010; he explained that his wife had been treated for an aggressive brain tumor, but they desperately wanted to be parents, and he wondered whether having a child was a wise or ethical choice. Hundreds of replies unspooled below his post, passionately voicing every imaginable viewpoint: “You’re in for a world of trouble if you do it. But it may be the thing that you need to do.” “Having lost a mother to cancer ... I do think it is selfish to knowingly bring a child into the world knowing full well that the child will have to watch one of its parents die, and then grow up without them.” “As someone whose father died when I was eight, I think you should do it.”
I did not intend to be single in the rural village where I live. I’d moved there with my fiance after taking a good job at the local university. We’d bought a house with room enough for children. Then the wedding was off and I found myself single in a town where the non-student population is 1,236 people. I briefly considered flirting with the cute local bartender, the cute local mailman – then realised the foolishness of limiting my ability to do things such as get mail or get drunk in a town with only 1,235 other adults. For the first time in my life, I decided to date online. The thing about talking to people on Tinder is that it is boring. [...] That’s when I realised that what I was doing amounted to a kind of Turing test. This seems a good moment to tell you that, for a civilian, I know a lot about robots. Specifically, I know a lot about chatbots and other AI meant to perform their humanity through language. In fact, I was teaching undergrads about robots in science writing and science fiction when I began online dating. In class, we discussed the ways in which a robot, or chatbot, might try to convince you of its humanity. This effort is, in short, called a Turing test; an artificial intelligence that manages, over text, to convince a person that it is actually human can be said to have passed the Turing test. I began seeing similarities between the Turing test and what us Tinder-searchers were doing – whether we were looking for sex or looking for love. A Tinder chat was its own kind of test – one in which we tried to prove to one another that we were real, that we were human, fuckable, or possibly more than that: dateable. Online dating seemed more bearable when I thought of it this way. It was easier to pretend I was a woman conducting a scientific investigation of language and love than it was to admit I was lonely. Easier than admitting that an algorithm someone had made to sell ads to singles was now in charge of my happiness. Easier than admitting that this was a risk I was willing to take.
Personality is multidimensional, which has implications for calculating sex differences in personality. Relatively small differences across multiple traits can add up to substantial differences when considered as a whole profile of traits. Take the human face, for example. If you were to just take a particular feature of the face-- such as mouth width, forehead height, or eye size-- you would have difficult differentiating between a male face and a female face. You simply can't tell a male eyeball from a female eyeball, for instance. However, a look at the combination of facial features produces two very distinct clusters of male vs. female faces. In fact, observers can correctly determine sex from pictures with greater than 95% accuracy. Here's an interesting question: does the same apply to the domain of personality? Interestingly, yes. [...] In other words, their data suggests that the probability that a randomly picked individual will be correctly classified as male or female based on knowledge of their global personality profile is 85% (after correcting for the unreliability of the personality tests). [...] While there was cross-cultural variation in the effect, there was a general trend for more developed, individualistic countries with higher food availability, less pathogen prevalence, and higher gender equality to show the largest sex differences in global personality. [...] These numbers dovetail with a number of studies showing a similar level of classification looking at whole brain data. By applying a multivariate analysis of the whole brain, researchers are now able to classify whether a brain is male or female with 77%-93% accuracy. In fact, some recent studies using the most sophisticated techniques have consistently found greater than 90% accuracy rates looking at whole brain data. While this level of prediction is definitely not perfect -- and by no means do those findings justify individual stereotyping or discrimination -- that's really high accuracy as far science goes. [...] But here's the thing: rarely do we consider the harm that could be caused by ignoring sex differences! One can think of many ways in which pretending something doesn't exist may actually cause greater harm psychologically than accepting the facts of the matter.
Rashaan Salaam, the 1994 winner, a running back from the University of Colorado, did not particularly enjoy attending the annual gala. At these types of events, people tended to ask, What are you up to? How’re you doing? Questions Salaam did not like answering. Salaam did not have as much to talk about as the other Heisman winners. He’d often come across articles calling him one of the greatest Heisman busts of all-time. When he signed autographs with the other winners, he told a friend, “Nobody ever comes through my line.” At the ceremony, he often palled around with Mike Rozier, the 1983 winner from Nebraska. After a few drinks, Salaam would open up. “A couple times he told me, he wished he never won the Heisman,” Rozier says. “It was too much pressure for him.” The Heisman is the highest honor a college football player can receive; it bestows upon the winner great prestige, but also great expectations for their NFL career—and Salaam never lived up to those expectations. In fact, he flamed out of the league rather quickly. Afterward, he told those close to him that he felt like a failure, like he had let them down. He fell into a depression. Then, as he struggled finding his identity after football, the Heisman followed his name everywhere he went, in everything he did. Winning the award turned out to be the best and worst thing to ever happen to him.
The first time he spoke to her, in 1943, by the Auschwitz crematory, David Wisnia realized that Helen Spitzer was no regular inmate. Zippi, as she was known, was clean, always neat. She wore a jacket and smelled good. They were introduced by a fellow inmate, at her request. Her presence was unusual in itself: a woman outside the women’s quarters, speaking with a male prisoner. Before Mr. Wisnia knew it, they were alone, all the prisoners around them gone. This wasn’t a coincidence, he later realized. They made a plan to meet again in a week. On their set date, Mr. Wisnia went as planned to meet at the barracks between crematories 4 and 5. He climbed on top of a makeshift ladder made up of packages of prisoners’ clothing. Ms. Spitzer had arranged it, a space amid hundreds of piles, just large enough to fit the two of them. Mr. Wisnia was 17 years old; she was 25. “I had no knowledge of what, when, where,” Mr. Wisnia recently reminisced at age 93. “She taught me everything.” They were both Jewish inmates in Auschwitz, both privileged prisoners. Mr. Wisnia, initially forced to collect the bodies of prisoners who committed suicide, had been chosen to entertain his Nazi captors when they discovered he was a talented singer. Ms. Spitzer held the more high-powered position: She was the camp’s graphic designer. They became lovers, meeting in their nook at a prescribed time about once a month. After the initial fears of knowing they were putting their lives in danger, they began to look forward to their dates. Mr. Wisnia felt special. “She chose me,” he recalled.
One morning during first period, a male friend of Sam’s mentioned a meme whose suggestive name was an inside joke between the two of them. Sam laughed. A girl at the table overheard their private conversation, misconstrued it as a sexual reference, and reported it as sexual harassment. Sam’s guidance counselor pulled him out of his next class and accused him of “breaking the law.” Before long, he was in the office of a male administrator who informed him that the exchange was “illegal,” hinted that the police were coming, and delivered him into the custody of the school’s resource officer. At the administrator’s instruction, that man ushered Sam into an empty room, handed him a blank sheet of paper, and instructed him to write a “statement of guilt.” No one called me as this unfolded, even though Sam cried for about six hours straight as staff members parked him in vacant offices to keep him away from other students. When he stepped off the bus that afternoon and I asked why his eyes were so swollen, he informed me that he would probably be suspended, but possibly also expelled and arrested. If Kafka were a middle-schooler today, this is the nightmare novel he would have written. [...] Soon Sam stopped trying to convince me to join his brave new world. He was so active on his favorite subreddit that the other group leaders, unaware that he was 13, appointed him a moderator. Among his new online besties, this was a huge honor and a boost to his cratered self-esteem. He loved Reddit and its unceasing conversations about the nuances of memes—he seemed in love with the whole enterprise, as if it were an adolescent crush. But as Sam became a courtier among Reddit royalty, it became clear that meme-world was subject to a hierarchy as rigid and byzantine as England’s class system. If users didn’t follow the rules, they got humiliated publicly. The worst offenders were people who posted “normie” memes—pictures with upper-case slogans across the top and bottom. My husband and I started to hear a lot about normies, “normie culture,” and how normies were ruining the internet and destroying what they (meme insiders?) worked so hard to achieve. Sam and his fellow Redditors used language that was often violently hostile: Not only did normies have no right to dare participate in meme-world; they had no right to live. Literally. I read later in the Daily Beast that normies are “agreeable, mainstream members of society” and that when they try to get in on the joke, “the joke is ruined forever.” Ergo, clueless normies who put their own spin on your brilliant memes deserve to die. Or something like that. It all seemed, to a presumed normie such as me, rather . . . unhinged.
To most of the public, “Do It For State” sounds like a word salad or a patriotic call to duty, but on college campuses around the United States, the four words have become shorthand for a burst of online notoriety. “Do It For State” is the hyperviral tagline associated with the social media company State Snaps, which aggregates and posts debaucherous college-aged behavior on its Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter accounts for the entertainment of millions of adoring, chuckleheaded fans. In these videos, a young person is seen doing something dumb or salacious, surrounded by a crowd enthusiastically egging them on by chanting “do it for State!” Think of it as a call-to-action parallel to “WorldStar!” — the tagline linked to the popular site WorldStarHipHop — but tailored for college kids. Deyo and his brother, Chris, had no official ties to State Snaps, but they knew a business opportunity when they saw one. The brothers, both in their twenties, had purchased DoItForState.com in January 2015, when they first noticed State Snaps going viral. They wanted to capitalize on the State Snaps hype by selling merchandise and working with a friend to brand and promote parties under the tagline. But they certainly were not expecting the war that would follow. (Ethan Deyo did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and Chris Deyo declined to comment.) Now Ethan Deyo had a gun to his head and a note in his hands, its chicken-scratch script barely legible. He didn’t know the identity of the guy holding him up — a hired gunman, most likely. But he did have an idea as to who was behind all of this: the man who owned State Snaps, and Deyo’s nemesis of sorts. His name was Rossi Adams.
Each specimen in this freezer is a fecal sample from an athlete, mostly from marathon runners. The collection process is rather simple. Participants take a tube with a little plastic tip and dip the tip into a piece of used toilet paper, then place it right back into the tube. "It's not invasive, no time commitment, totally done in private," Scheiman says. And -- this is key -- donors don't have to touch any stool. Scheiman went to great pains to obtain the roughly 400 samples in this freezer. Each one started with a somewhat uncomfortable conversation with the athlete -- he approached them noting that he's a scientist and that they'd be helping with an experiment about the microbiome, all before circling around to the request for a fecal sample. He then spent hours every day driving around the greater Boston area to pick up samples from donors' homes. Each of the samples contains millions of bacteria; he put them in the freezer to keep them viable for later study, the way you might store a leftover lasagna.
A 9,500 year old burial in Cyprus represents some of the oldest known evidence of human/cat companionships anywhere in the world. But when did this close relationship between humans and cats start? And how did humans help cats take over the world?
I heard a vaccine skeptic claim that “90% of the decline in infectious disease mortality in the 20th century in the US was due to factors other than vaccines.” I wondered, is that right? My guess is yes—but at the same time, I think this is very misleading. That statistic makes it sounds like vaccines just aren’t very important to health—sort of a sideshow in the fight against infectious disease. But here’s what the stat leaves out, and why vaccines still matter.
Tesla Valve Explained With Fire / YouTube
Apparently a Tesla Valve permits fluids to move in only one direction without having any moving parts; this is a pretty neat demonstration:
In this video I demonstrate the workings of a Tesla Valve using the combustion of propane as a visible medium.
We find that when male employees are assigned to male managers, they are promoted faster in the following years than they would have been if they were assigned to female managers. Female employees, on the contrary, have the same career progression regardless of the manager’s gender. These differences in career progression cannot be explained by differences in effort or output. This male-to-male advantage can explain a third of the gender gap in promotions. Moreover, we provide suggestive evidence that these manager effects are due to socialization between male employees and male managers.
Magnus Carlsen, the world’s best chess player for the last decade, is on the brink of reaching the top in another game – fantasy football. The grandmaster is enjoying his best season ever in the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game and after Sunday’s results he climbed to the sixth position in a table of more than 7 million players worldwide.