----- 4 stars -----

The Fight to Save an Innocent Refugee from Almost Certain Death / New Yorker

Omar Ameen came to the U.S. to escape the violence in Iraq. Now he’s accused of being a member of an ISIS hit squad. [...] Ameen listened intently, elbows on the table, head hunched forward. As he began to understand the charge, he was overcome with relief. “I wasn’t even in Iraq at the time of the murder,” he said. “This will be easy.” [...] "Soon after Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President, he began saying that terrorist groups had infiltrated the flow of refugees into the U.S. “We have no idea where they’re coming from,” he said, in an interview with ABC. “This could be one of the great Trojan horses ever, since the original.” Shortly before the election, he said, in a debate with Hillary Clinton, that Muslim refugees in the U.S. were “definitely, in many cases, ISIS-aligned.” His son Donald, Jr., a senior campaign adviser, posted on Twitter, “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” Security and intelligence officials found the rhetoric absurd: refugees are the most thoroughly vetted category of people entering the U.S. [...] “They were so intent upon linking refugees and terrorism that they were willing to put false examples out to the public,” the former N.S.C. member told me. [...] On March 6, 2017, Sessions announced that “more than three hundred people who came here as refugees are under F.B.I. investigation for potential terrorism-related activities.” Career officials were aghast. “What they left out is that these investigations are based on the vaguest scraps of information”—such as tips about neighbors wearing burqas—“and almost none of them go anywhere,” the military-intelligence official said. [...] Ihsan’s parents were shocked to learn that Ameen had been charged with their son’s death. Neither of them had seen the killers—and, to their knowledge, neither had anyone else. “They were asking, ‘Do you know who said Omar did it?’ ” Humble recalled. “We were, like, ‘Uh, no, that’s something we came to find out from you.’ ” [...] Ameen had been so confused, during his arrest, that he didn’t say goodbye to his wife and kids. “I thought, There must be some mistake, and I’ll be able to come back and explain it to them later,” he told me. “So I just walked out, and I didn’t even say goodbye.”

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

Open House / n+1

The mothers are coming up the stairs. Holding the hands of their adult children. Daughters, mostly, and one hesitant son. Asking questions like, “Is the neighborhood safe?” The real estate agent, in his starched white shirt and slick hair, replies, “The East Village used to have quite a reputation fifteen, twenty years ago, but now it’s totally safe.” Or did he say totally tame? As in domesticated, subjugated, a wild horse broken. I am listening from inside my apartment, ear pressed to the gap where door doesn’t quite meet jamb, looking through the peephole, trying to see who my new neighbors might be, knowing they’ll be the same as all the rest. Young and funded, they belong to a certain type: utterly unblemished, physically fit, exceptionally well dressed, as bland as skim milk and unsalted saltine crackers. “I work on Wall Street,” I hear one of them call to the real-estate agent. “Awesome!” the agent replies. They didn’t used to be here. [...] I came in the early 1990s because it made sense for me to be here. I was a young, queer, transsexual poet, and where else would a young, queer, transsexual poet go but to the East Village? Back then the neighborhood still throbbed with its hundred years of counterculture, a dissident history going back to the early anarchists and feminists, up through the bohemians and Beats, the hippies and punks, the poets, queers, and transsexuals too. I had a pair of combat boots and an elite liberal arts education, thanks to a full ride of grants and work-study programs, but not much money. I hail from generations of peasants, washerwomen, and bricklayers, orphans raised by nuns, 12-year-old factory workers, icemen who sang opera while they slung frozen bricks, soldiers, hucksters, and bookmakers, thick-legged Italians and paper-skinned Irish Catholics, most of whom didn’t get to high school and not one of whom saw the inside of a college classroom. I had ambition but didn’t yet understand entitlement. I was in the process of becoming something else, believed in the mythical bootstraps of meritocracy, but I also knew what I was. I took a job cleaning other people’s apartments, got fired when a woman made the outrageous claim that I’d used a sponge to stick hair to her bathroom ceiling, and then took another job that involved running errands and getting yelled at, two things I knew well how to do. The East Village was full of people who were bruised like I was bruised, people who weren’t quite pulled together but were trying to make something interesting with their lives. I belonged here. In this neighborhood. In this crumbling tenement.

An Unsettling New Theory: There Is No Swing Voter / Politico
I don't entirely buy this, but it's certainly intriguing:

What if everything you think you know about politics is wrong? What if there aren’t really American swing voters—or not enough, anyway, to pick the next president? What if it doesn’t matter much who the Democratic nominee is? What if there is no such thing as “the center,” and the party in power can govern however it wants for two years, because the results of that first midterm are going to be bad regardless? What if the Democrats' big 41-seat midterm victory in 2018 didn’t happen because candidates focused on health care and kitchen-table issues, but simply because they were running against the party in the White House? What if the outcome in 2020 is pretty much foreordained, too? To the political scientist Rachel Bitecofer, all of that is almost certainly true, and that has made her one of the most intriguing new figures in political forecasting this year. Bitecofer, a 42-year-old professor at Christopher Newport University in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, was little known in the extremely online, extremely male-dominated world of political forecasting until November 2018. That’s when she nailed almost to the number the nature and size of the Democrats’ win in the House, even as other forecasters went wobbly in the race’s final days. Not only that, but she put out her forecast back in July, and then stuck by it while polling shifted throughout the summer and fall.

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

An Economist’s Guide to Potty Training / The MIT Press Reader

One issue I should raise right at the start is that this is all partly the fault of the comfortable disposable diaper. In the olden days — say, three decades ago — cloth diapers were the repository of choice. These had the feature that when they were wet, everyone knew it. Parents knew it, but the child also felt the discomfort. As the child grew older, the discomfort grew with them. The causal link between what they were doing, in a bodily function sense, and the discomfort was felt early and often. Thus, not only did parents want their child out of these things quickly, the child was on board too. [...] But for the child, it is comfort that can continue forever. When they are told it is time for the diaper to go, the expression on their face says it all. They appreciate the beauty and functionality of the design. Perhaps they also suspect they will be wearing one again in 70 or so years’ time. Why deny them in the interim? [...] It is a classic situation where the interests of one party (the parents) differ from those of the other (the child). If you want to align those interests, someone is going to have to pay up. The only question is, how much? What reward do you need to offer to get the behavior you want? Enter Child No. 1. Despite my economics background, we decided that, initially, we would bid low and see if we could get away with it. We thought we would appeal to some broad, vague sense that it would be good to grow up and wouldn’t that be ‘‘exciting.’’ Not surprisingly, those claims had about the same impact as calls for whiter, brighter towels or peace on Earth, or what have you. So it wasn’t long before the price started to rise. But how do you engage in shameless bribery with a two-year-old?

The time I sabotaged my editor with ransomware from the dark web / Bloomberg

These days, prospective attackers don’t have to create their own ransomware; they can buy it. If they don’t really know how to use it, they can subscribe to services, complete with customer support, that will help coordinate attacks for them. Software as a service (SaaS in tech vernacular) is a mammoth global industry comprising everything from customer-relationship management software to the Slack workplace messaging platform to Dropbox cloud storage. Search for “ransomware as a service” or “RaaS” in the dark-web chatrooms that function as both forums and bazaars, and you’ll get pages and pages of hits. In the public imagination, hackers are Mephistophelian savants. But they don’t have to be, not with ransomware. “You could be Joe Schmo, just buying this stuff up,” says Christopher Elisan, director of intelligence at the cybersecurity firm Flashpoint, “and you could start a ransomware business out of it.” You could even be a liberal-arts-educated writer with a primitive, cargo-cult understanding of how an iPhone or the internet work, who regularly finds himself at the elbow of his office’s tech-support whiz, asking, again, how to find the shared drive. In other words, you could be me. But could you really? I didn’t start out on this article planning to try my hand at ransomware. A few weeks in, though, it occurred to me that if someone like me could pull off a digital heist, it would function as a sort of hacking Turing test, proof that cybercrime had advanced to the point where software-aided ignorance would be indistinguishable from true skill. As a journalist, I’ve spent years writing about people who do things that I, if called upon, couldn’t do myself. Here was my chance to be the man in the arena.

How Kobe Bryant Achieved Basketball Immortality / The Ringer
There Won’t Be Another Kobe Bryant / FiveThirtyEight

The NBA has never seen a more determined superstar than the late Lakers legend. Through sheer will and incalculable hours on the court, Kobe clawed his way to the top and became one of the greatest forces the league has ever seen. [...] His work ethic shocked even the best players in the NBA. Before the 2008 Olympics, the younger players on Team USA woke up at 8 a.m. for a team breakfast to see Kobe drenched in sweat from a three-hour workout already in the books. He set the tone and made everyone else follow. But he didn’t just work harder than everyone else. He worked smarter than them too. No one is born with a perfectly refined game on both ends of the floor. That comes from making deliberate practice and film study a way of life.

There was always a lot to say about Kobe Bryant. Reams will be written about the basketball legend, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others. So maybe the best approach is just to say it simply: His on-court legacy is staggering. He was an all-time great, the likes of which we may not see again soon — especially with how much the game has changed in recent years. But his off-court legacy is harder to grapple with.

China Sacrifices a Province to Save the World From Coronavirus / Bloomberg

“If the province was not sealed off, some people would have gone all around the country to try to get medical help, and would have turned the whole nation into an epidemic-stricken area,” said Yang Gonghuan, former deputy director general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “The quarantine brought a lot of hardship to Hubei and Wuhan, but it was the right thing to do. It’s like fighting a war -- some things are hard, but must be done.” [...] “We were advised to use masks, gloves and protective clothing in a thrifty manner, and avoid drinking water so we would not have to go to the bathroom, which would require a change of protective clothing,” said one frontline doctor working at the Third People’s Hospital of Hubei Province, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisal. [...] “We sent the supply on Jan. 25, and they arrived at hospitals on Feb. 2.,” he said. “All deliveries from outside to the province were slowed by the strict quarantine procedures.” While China’s government activated eight cargo carriers on Feb. 2 to ship in 58 tons of supplies to Wuhan, and donations are starting to flow in from all over the world, the shortages in those crucial days -- combined with the virus’ rapid spread as the surge in patients saw hospitals turn people away for lack of space -- had devastating consequences. [...] For those seeking help and medical care in Hubei, resignation has set in -- there has been markedly little unrest in the province despite the circumstances. The idea of sacrificing one’s self for a greater, national goal is deeply-embedded in Chinese culture, and is invoked by the country’s leaders in times of hardship.

How McKinsey Destroyed the Middle Class / The Atlantic
Biased as I am, as a former consultant, it's not surprising that I'd find this analysis rather simplistic and misleading -- for instance, flagrantly misusing correlation to imply causation. And yet, the article does highlight several important macro trends that I'd agree aren't very good for society, whether caused (or accelerated) by management consultants or not:

When Pete Buttigieg accepted a position at the management consultancy McKinsey & Company, he already had sterling credentials: high-school valedictorian, a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, a Rhodes Scholarship. He could have taken any number of jobs and, moreover, had no obvious interest in business. Nevertheless, he joined the firm. This move was predictable, not eccentric: The top graduates of elite colleges typically pass through McKinsey or a similar firm before settling into their adult career. But the conventional nature of the career path makes it more, not less, worthy of examination. How did this come to pass? And what consequences has the rise of management consulting had for the organization of American business and the lives of American workers? The answers to these questions put management consultants at the epicenter of economic inequality and the destruction of the American middle class. The answers also explain why the Democratic Party’s left wing is so suspicious of the nice and obviously impressive young man who wishes to be president. Management consultants advise managers on how to run companies; McKinsey alone serves management at 90 of the world’s 100 largest corporations. Managers do not produce goods or deliver services. Instead, they plan what goods and services a company will provide, and they coordinate the production workers who make the output. Because complex goods and services require much planning and coordination, management (even though it is only indirectly productive) adds a great deal of value. And managers as a class capture much of this value as pay. This makes the question of who gets to be a manager extremely consequential.

Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1, Deconstructed / Kottke

The Prelude in G Major to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 is one of the world’s most recognizable pieces of music. You’ve likely heard Yo-Yo Ma play it — he’s been trying to master it for almost 60 years now. In a new episode of Earworm, Estelle Caswell and cellist Alisa Weilerstein break the song down to see what makes it such an effective and interesting piece of music.

Facebook’s Platform Opportunity / Stratechery
The Tragic iPad / Stratechery

The fact of the matter is that Facebook, more than any other tech company, has put its money where its mouth is as far as security is concerned. Zuckerberg said on the company’s Q3 2017 earnings call: "I’ve directed our teams to invest so much in security on top of the other investments we’re making that it will significantly impact our profitability going forward, and I wanted our investors to hear that directly from me. I believe this will make our society stronger, and in doing so will be good for all of us over the long term. But I want to be clear about what our priority is. Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits." [...] If anything this is an argument for founder control: Facebook is spending billions of dollars and taking regular hits in the stock market for something they will almost certainly get no credit for, primarily because Zuckerberg believes it is the right thing to do. That noted, Zuckerberg may not be entirely altruistic.

Jobs look of wonderment says more than his words: "I’m blown away with this stuff. Playing your own instruments, or using the smart instruments, anyone can make music now, in something that is this thick and weights 1.3 pounds. It’s unbelievable…this is no toy. This is something you can use for real work." GarageBand, even more than iWork the year before, was the sort of app that was only possible on an iPad. Sure, it shared a name with its Mac counterpart, but the magic came from the fact that it had little else in common. And then Jobs died, and I’ve never been able to shake the sense that this particular vision of the iPad died with him. [...] Instead, as Apple is so wont to do, it tried to fix the problem itself, by making the iPad into an inferior Mac. Thus the multi-tasking disaster Gruber decries, which not only is hard-to-use for consumers, but also dramatically ups the difficulty for developers, making the chances of earning a positive return-on-investment for an iPad app even more remote. Indeed, the top two developers making in-depth iPad apps are Microsoft and Adobe, in service to their own subscription models; the tragedy of the iPad is that their successors were never given the space to be born, which ultimately has limited the iPad from truly succeeding the Mac. To be fair, would that we all could “fail” like the iPad; it was a $21 billion business last fiscal year, nearly as much as the Mac’s $26 billion. That, though, is why I did not call it a failure: the tragedy of the iPad is not that it flopped, it is that it never did, and likely never will, reach that potential so clearly seen ten years ago.

How Much Football Is Even In A Football Broadcast? / FiveThirtyEight
A version of this had been done years ago (and included in Links), but FiveThirtyEight did it with with their customary high level of rigour and also compared American football to other sports:

Our findings reveal that while different sports produce wildly different broadcast experiences, NFL broadcasts are among the most interrupted and least action-packed broadcasts of any sport. Simply put, there’s not a lot of actual football in a football game. The numbers are startling. An average NFL broadcast lasts well over three hours, yet it delivers a total of only 18 minutes of football action.

Draining the swamp / Roots of Progress

What strikes me about all this is a similar pattern to what I’ve previously written on science & the Industrial Revolution: A naive or cursory look at the history gives a simplistic account: Medicine reduced disease! Science saves lives! A closer look reveals that disease mortality was dropping long before antibiotics or vaccines. So (some hastily conclude) medicine didn’t really matter after all—so much for better living through science! An even closer look shows that actually, the germ theory led to sanitation and hygiene improvements decades before we had specific treatments. So, as with the steam engine, it turns out science was relevant, just not in the obvious first place one might look. Finally, the galaxy-brain take looks not only at direct influences but indirect/cultural ones: The Scientific Revolution led to new ways of experimenting and collecting/analyzing data that led to practical improvements (in waste disposal and insect control) long before we had a fundamental scientific theory.

The Ancient Peruvian Mystery Solved From Space / BBC

In one of the most arid regions in the world a series of carefully constructed, spiralling holes form lines across the landscape. Known as puquios, their origin has been a puzzle – one that could only be solved from space. The holes are from the Nasca region of Peru – an area famous for the Nasca lines, several enormous geometric images carved into the landscape; immaculate archaeological evidence of ceremonial burials; and the rapid decline of this once flourishing society. What adds to the intrigue in the native ancient people of Nasca is how they were able to survive in an area where droughts can last for years at a time. The puquios were a “sophisticated hydraulic system constructed to retrieve water from underground aquifers,” says Rosa Lasaponara of the Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis, in Italy. And they transformed this inhospitable region.

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

Suicide Hotspots of the World / Slate Star Codex

Guyana has the highest national suicide rate in the world, 30 people per year per 100,000. Guyana has poverty and crime and those things, but no more so than neighboring Brazil (suicide rate of 6) or Venezuela (suicide rate of 4). What’s going on? One place to start: Guyana is a multi-ethnic country. Is its sky-high suicide rate focused in one ethnic group? The first answer I found was this article by a social justice warrior telling us it constitutes racial “essentialism” to even ask the question. But in the process of telling us exactly what kind of claims we should avoid, she mentions someone bringing up that “80% of the reported suicides are carried out by Indo-Guyanese”. I feel like one of those classicists who has reconstructed a lost heresy through hostile quotations in Irenaeus. Indo-Guyanese aren’t American Indians; they’re from actual India. Apparently thousands of Indians immigrated to Guyana as indentured laborers in the late 1800s. Most went to Guyana, and somewhat fewer went to neighboring Suriname. Suriname also has a sky-high suicide rate, but slightly less than Guyana’s, to the exact degree that its Indian population is slightly less than Guyana’s. Basically no Indians went anywhere else in South America, and nowhere else in South America has anywhere near the suicide rate of these two countries. The most Indian regions of Guyana also have the highest suicide rate. Hmmm. [...] Greenland is mostly Inuit, and Inuit everywhere have equally high suicide rates. The suicide rate in the mostly-Inuit Canadian province of Nunavit is 71 (for comparison, Canada in general is 10). The suicide rate among Alaskan Inuit is 40 (for comparison, the US in general is 14). This definitely is not just because of the cold and darkness. White Alaskans who live right next to Alaskan natives have a rate of about 20, not much higher than the US average. And suicide in Greenland – like everywhere else – peaks in the spring and summer anyway. Most damning of all, Greenland’s high suicide rates are a recent phenomenon. In 1971, the rate was 4. I didn’t forget a zero there. Fifty years ago, Greenland had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world. But by 1990, it had reached 120 (it’s since come down a little bit). What happened in those twenty years?

New Solar Telescope Shows the Sun’s Surface in Unprecendented High Resolution Images & Video / Kottke

The National Science Foundation has just released the very first images of the Sun taken with the new Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii. They are the highest resolution images ever taken of the Sun’s surface, showing three times more detail than was possible using previous imaging techniques. Those cells you see in the image…they’re each about the size of Texas.

The 17 Designs That Bell Almost Used for the Layout of Telephone Buttons / The Atlantic

Among them: "the ten-pin," "the cross," and "the rainbow"

All modern humans have Neanderthal DNA, new research finds / CNN

However, researchers from Princeton University now believe, based on a new computational method, that Africans do in fact have Neanderthal DNA and that very early human history was more complex than many might think.

Date-palms sprouted from 2,000-year-old seeds / Kottke

A team led by Sarah Sallon, a doctor at Hadassah Medical Center, has been finding millennia old seeds from archeological sites and sprouting some of them into viable date-palm trees.

Landscapes Brilliantly Turned On Their Heads in This Digital Campaign / Moss and Fog

We love the elegance of these cityscapes and landscapes that have been flipped on their heads to create impossible scenery. Originally designed for a United Airlines in Australia campaign, the ads used the tagline ‘Dreamers Welcome’ to announce the service of their 787 Dreamliner plane service. From a surreal look down the Brooklyn Bridge leading to a vertical Central Park, to a paddle board down an impossible Colorado River, the scenes draw the eye in.

This Illustration Of How Field Of View Affects Your Perception Of Speed Will Blow Your Mind / Digg

So, let's say you're on a train — how fast is the world around you moving? When it comes to your perception, the answer is: it depends. As this clip shared by Akiyoshi Kitaoka (a psychology professor at Japan's Ritsumeikan University) demonstrates, your field of view has a massive effect on how you perceive speed.

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