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Programming note of sorts: with how busy life has gotten, I’m going to start sending Links a bit less frequently — my best guess is fortnightly.
Out here in the wider world, though, the Russian invasion is sparking a needed moment of clarity. For the last two decades we’ve been sleepwalking through various dreams of our own creation, willfully blind to the dangers that were gathering out in the real world. It is time for those dreams to end now. The alarm clock is ringing. […]
The series of great-power wars that began with World War 1 in 1914 and ended with the armistice in Korea in 1952 represented a flood of blood unprecedented in human history. But for more than half a century after that nightmare ended, American and Soviet power — and after 1991, just American power — stabilized international borders, legitimized the rights of small countries, and generally suppressed major interstate conflict. That “Long Peace”, as some historians call it, created the space for global trade, investment, and migration to flourish, creating an economic boom that benefitted first the developed nations, and — after 1990 or so — the developing nations as well. […]
The law of the jungle has returned, and the strong will dominate the weak if they see fit.
This will have several ripple effects. First, it will dramatically increase the incentives for nuclear proliferation — recall that Ukraine gave up its nukes in 1994 in return for a (worthless) guarantee of security from the Russian Federation. Countries whose territory is menaced by powerful neighbors — Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and so on — will now be thinking very hard about whether to get nukes of their own. […]
Thus it is very very important to every libertarian that the U.S. not collapse. This means supporting public goods — a strong industrial commons, strong infrastructure, robust investment in science and technology, a functional legal system, and all the rest. […]
Whereas on the Left, major figures like Bernie Sanders are condemning the Russian invasion and being resisted mostly by anonymous online weirdos, on the Right it’s the big guns of Trumpism — Tucker, Bannon, Flynn, etc. — who are backing Putin. Powerful figures in both the Republican party and the right-wing media need to come out and condemn Russian aggression, lest the GOP turn into the anti-American party. […]
Meanwhile, Germany has taken the even crazier step of dismantling its entire nuclear industry in response to activist pressure. This has made it much harder for Germany to fight climate change, prolonging its reliance on fossil fuels. But now, by making Germany dependent on Russian natural gas, the country’s attack on nuclear power is threatening the entire security of Europe.
Germany needs to start taking its national interests — and the interests of Europe as a whole — more seriously. It’s not possible to be the anchor of the EU and the most powerful European country in NATO and to act like a passive, neutral country.
The epidemic was over – but the virus hadn't necessarily taken its last victim.
Enter "immune amnesia", a mysterious phenomenon that's been with us for millennia, though it was only discovered in 2012. Essentially, when you're infected with measles, your immune system abruptly forgets every pathogen it's ever encountered before – every cold, every bout of flu, every exposure to bacteria or viruses in the environment, every vaccination. The loss is near-total and permanent. Once the measles infection is over, current evidence suggests that your body has to re-learn what's good and what's bad almost from scratch.
Do children lower marital satisfaction?
We can see this in a variety of studies that look at the relationship between parenthood and marital satisfaction. These go back to as early as 1970, with a paper showing that between the pre-childbearing period and the period of having school-age children, the share of mothers reporting low marital satisfaction rises gradually from 12% to 30%, with an abrupt jump in the first year of the child’s life. The marriage does not recover until households become grandparents.
Meta-analyses of more recent data show similar things — that parents are less happy with their marriages than non-parents. The changes seem to be most abrupt in the first year, and then there is some recovery, though not complete. As one study helpfully concludes, “In sum, parenthood hastens marital decline.”
It is worth noting that these studies do tend to find that people who are happier before they have kids recover better, and that planned pregnancies are less impactful than unplanned ones. And the effects are not enormously large. Many people are still, on net, happy with their spouse. Just, you know, slightly less.
I don’t mean to suggest that Gates’s TED talk is somehow directly responsible for the lack of global preparedness for Covid. But it embodies a certain story about “the future” that TED talks have been telling for the past two decades — one that has contributed to our unending present crisis.
The story goes like this: there are problems in the world that make the future a scary prospect. Fortunately, though, there are solutions to each of these problems, and the solutions have been formulated by extremely smart, tech-adjacent people. For their ideas to become realities, they merely need to be articulated and spread as widely as possible. And the best way to spread ideas is through stories — hence Gates’s opening anecdote about the barrel. In other words, in the TED episteme, the function of a story isn’t to transform via metaphor or indirection, but to actually manifest a new world. Stories about the future create the future. Or as Chris Anderson, TED’s longtime curator, puts it, “We live in an era where the best way to make a dent on the world… may be simply to stand up and say something.” And yet, TED’s archive is a graveyard of ideas. It is a seemingly endless index of stories about the future — the future of science, the future of the environment, the future of work, the future of love and sex, the future of what it means to be human — that never materialized. By this measure alone, TED, and its attendant ways of thinking, should have been abandoned.
It's a turbulent time for the US economy. The economy largely shut down in March 2020 only to come roaring back a year later with the highest inflation in almost 40 years. No one is sure what's going to happen next.
At Full Stack Economics, we believe that charts are an essential way to understand the complexities of the modern economy. So in recent weeks, I've been looking far and wide for the most surprising and illuminating charts about the US economy. I've compiled 18 of my favorites here. I hope you enjoy it.
Why is SMB banking underwhelming in general?
So a good first-pass model for the behavior of banks is that there are some things they do which are lucrative and some things they do because they are the traditional business of banking. Experiences for the first category of things are often really, really good.
Issuing credit cards to retail users, for example, is an extremely lucrative business. The bank will often pay you to use the product. You can sign up for it at 2 AM in the morning. You can be approved in less than a minute without talking to anyone. The mobile app is (if not a heartbreaking work of staggering genius) reasonably functional. If you have any questions you can call the number on the back of the card and get a responsive answer very, very quickly from a human if necessary.
Banks also bank small businesses, but many do this out of a sense of societal obligation. This is sometimes organic from the culture that is banking. This is sometimes out of a more explicit quid pro quo. Society grants banks an exclusive license to engage in a number of extremely valuable activities, such as making consumer loans and funding loans with deposits. In return for this, society (and, specifically, banking regulators) demands a number of things.
One price of admission: you must have some offering for a customer who comes in and says “I just opened a laundromat… what happens next?”
Every entrepreneur who opens a laundromat is providing a valuable service to their community and should be celebrated. However, from a bank’s perspective… this is not the most exciting client in the world to have.
How did this ancient and enigmatic sculpture of a beautiful Egyptian queen end up as fortune’s hostage in Germany?
It's not just having to commit your ideas to specific words that makes writing so exacting. The real test is reading what you've written. You have to pretend to be a neutral reader who knows nothing of what's in your head, only what you wrote. When he reads what you wrote, does it seem correct? Does it seem complete? If you make an effort, you can read your writing as if you were a complete stranger, and when you do the news is usually bad. It takes me many cycles before I can get an essay past the stranger. But the stranger is rational, so you always can, if you ask him what he needs. If he's not satisfied because you failed to mention x or didn't qualify some sentence sufficiently, then you mention x or add more qualifications. Happy now? It may cost you some nice sentences, but you have to resign yourself to that. You just have to make them as good as you can and still satisfy the stranger. […]
The reason I've spent so long establishing this rather obvious point is that it leads to another that many people will find shocking. If writing down your ideas always makes them more precise and more complete, then no one who hasn't written about a topic has fully formed ideas about it. And someone who never writes has no fully formed ideas about anything nontrivial.
It feels to them as if they do, especially if they're not in the habit of critically examining their own thinking. Ideas can feel complete. It's only when you try to put them into words that you discover they're not. So if you never subject your ideas to that test, you'll not only never have fully formed ideas, but also never realize it.
Putting ideas into words is certainly no guarantee that they'll be right. Far from it. But though it's not a sufficient condition, it is a necessary one.
We always hear one thing about stress: it’s bad. I haven’t checked recently but I think that’s in the Constitution. Fortunately, stress is not that simple.
Researchers asked 30,000 adults how much stress they felt in the past year – and whether or not they thought stress was a negative. Eight years later the scientists circled back. Yup, you guessed it – the high stress people were 43% more likely to have died…
But only if they believed stress was bad for their health. Let that sink in for a second. […]
Study after study shows people – everyone from middle school students to Army Rangers — who have bigger surges of adrenaline and cortisol perform better under pressure. You know what doesn’t help? Staying calm. […]
What the heck? Then why do we always hear that stress is terrible? Well, the whole idea started in 1936 with an endocrinologist names Hans Selye. His initial experiments did show stress was bad. But with more research he changed his tune. Later he would go on to actually recommend good stress as an antidote to bad stress saying, “There is always stress, so the only point is to make sure that it is useful to yourself and useful to others.”
Turns out stress is a lot more nuanced than we’ve been led to believe. Handled properly, it can make you smarter and more successful. It can make life meaningful. It can even make you more compassionate and kind. But the difference between good stress and bad stress lies in our mindset. How we perceive and interpret those physiological changes in our body. With the right mindset, stress is your friend.
They don’t eat the bugs, and they’re definitely applying them to wounds, so some scientists think the primates may be treating one another’s injuries.
Interesting and amusing sketches:
“Is it true,” asked the student, “that the gods only have power because we believe in them?”
“Yes,” said the sage.
“Then why not appear openly? How many more people would believe in the Thunderer if, upon first gaining enough worshipers to cast lightning at all, he struck all of the worst criminals and tyrants?”
“Because,” said the sage, “the gods only gain power through belief, not knowledge. You know there are trees and clouds; are they thereby gods? Just as lightning requires close proximity of positive and negative charge, so divinity requires close proximity of belief and doubt. The closer your probability estimate of a god’s existence is to 50%, the more power they gain from you. Complete atheism and complete piety alike are useless to them.” […]
“Is it true,” asked the student, “that the gods only have power because we believe in them?”
“No,” said the sage. “Just the opposite. The gods only have power when people doubt them.”
“Then why have they revealed themselves to us?”
“They have not. Those gods you know are the losers of wars in heaven. Their victorious enemies spread their cults as widely as possible on earth, to ensure they never rise again.”
This won’t make much sense if you haven’t read 1984, but if you have, it’s fascinating:
So while (what most think of as) the novel proper ends with the triumph of Big Brother, the appendix makes clear the regime has fallen, and strongly implies that this collapse occurred sometime before 2050. Turns out Nineteen Eighty-Four has a happy ending! Sort of.
Actually the implied timeline for the fall of Ingsoc is even shorter than that, on a second look. The Appendix says the Newspeak spoken in 1984 is captured in the 9th & 10th editions of the Newspeak dictionary, and that the 11th edition was the “final” one.
Ever seen a hedgehog being anesthetized? Turns out it’s the cutest thing ever! They are so tiny that vets use this small animal anaesthetic chamber to keep them pain free during medical intervention.
Why are people searching Reddit specifically? The short answer is that Google search results are clearly dying. The long answer is that most of the web has become too inauthentic to trust.
Over the last decade, cruise ships began to visit the city of Stavanger, Norway. Soon, their size and the frequency of their visits began to dwarf the scale of the city’s center. Stavanger resident, filmmaker, and poet Odveig Klyve made this short silent film about these massive visitors.
Scientists can't pinpoint the exact year that an asteroid came out of the sky to wipe out the dinosaurs but they're sure now that the huge space rock struck Earth in the Northern Hemisphere springtime.
A few years ago I reported on how the US repeatedly loses to China in war games […]
Now here is one bit from a post from a retired Army Colonel arguing that The US is not Ready for a Peer to Peer Fight in Europe