How an Ivy League School Turned Against a Student | New Yorker
Mackenzie Fierceton was championed as a former foster youth who had overcome an abusive childhood and won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Then the University of Pennsylvania accused her of lying.
My Friend Goo | The Paris Review
A beautiful essay, about lockdown, cancer, tragedy, and a goose:
One day, I arrived at the landing to see people scattering, grabbing their belongings and backing away frightened. The landing had been taken over by a wild goose, who was stalking around, honking and chasing the children and dogs. He was as tall as a mailbox, and had an enormous wingspan. His feet made loud flapping sounds on the parking-lot pavement. I tried to meditate on the pier, focusing on the water as I normally did, but the goose was a monster. He came up behind me, hissing, and I hurried away.
He was there the next time I went. And the next.
One day I saw him paddling alongside a few people with rods. He was diving and fishing, and people shooed him away.
One day I saw him trying to sit next to a young couple snuggling on a bench. He tried to scramble up onto it beside them. The couple fled, distraught.
One day I saw him standing beside an old man smoking a cigarette. The goose’s long neck stretched straight up, high and peaceful. The two of them looked like old drinking buddies.
What could I do? Slowly I began to befriend the goose. Goo, I called him, after the Sonic Youth song “My Friend Goo,” which meant so much to many of my generation that we will still sometimes chant in greeting, Goo, Goo, Goo, my friend Goo, like code words.
Now when I went to the landing, I no longer focused on the water. As soon as I arrived, I’d look for Goo in the spot he liked to sit, half-hidden in the branches by the water. I’d call to him, “Goo, hey, Goo,” and something in my voice must have calmed him because instead of marching over looking for a fight, he’d come waddling out, softly honking and purring—because he would purr at you, you see, if he liked you, and Goo came to like me.
We’d go on walks together, pacing the grass around the landing. He pecked and squawked at people. We stopped by the water and he’d urge me toward it. When I demurred, he would give a sort of shrug and dive in. We’d continue along, me walking, Goo swimming and diving under the water for fish and moss. We’d go up and down the length of the landing, calling back and forth. At last he’d lead us to his little corner and he’d hop out and do an elaborate grooming dance, purring at me and getting closer and closer until he was only a couple feet away, running his hard beautiful beak along his feathers, twisting his long neck under his wings, and sometimes getting a little stuck, so he had to wiggle his head free.
‘This Whole Thing Has F---ed Me Up’ | Sports Illustrated
When the Raiders’ Henry Ruggs III drove 127 mph into a stranger’s car, a man living in a nearby garage rushed into the fiery chaos. Tony Rodriguez did not, ultimately, save Tina Tintor—and that haunts him to this day. […]
The man walks into a Las Vegas Starbucks and his hands speak first. They are small and rough and soiled, with used-sandpaper skin and nails nubbed down by an uneasy life. You can read so much from a person’s hands, and Tony Rodriguez’s hands tell the story of a troubled journey.
Or, put differently: There is no joy to the 47-year-old sitting here. Not as a medium black coffee is placed before him, not as he talks about shared geography and athletic glory days. Some folks walk the earth with a pep in their step. Others come to believe they are cursed.
Tony Rodriguez does not use that word, cursed. But there are certainly times when he wonders how, exactly, it all came to this: his past life dealing drugs along the Vegas Strip, his three years and counting addicted to heroin and meth, his long nights sleeping inside tunnels and on park benches, his hunger, his anxiousness, his waywardness. […]
When Henry Ruggs III, a 22-year-old wide receiver for the Raiders, allegedly drank too many mai tais and then raced his Corvette Stingray at an estimated 156 mph, his actions did not occur within a vacuum. In the passenger seat sat Kiara Kilgo-Washington, his longtime girlfriend and the mother of his one-year-old daughter. And on the road before them, driving within the speed limit, was 23-year-old Tina Tintor, with her golden retriever, Max, in the passenger seat.
Ruggs had been a first-round pick only a year earlier, a national champion at Alabama who used his athletic gifts to rise from a modest upbringing in Montgomery, Ala., to a $16 million contract.
Tintor, by contrast, lived with her brother and parents, first-generation Croatian immigrants, in a small white home five miles off the Strip. Before leaving to pursue a career in computer programming she’d worked as a clerk at Target.
How Saturn Got Its Rings | The Planets | Earth Lab | BBC [YouTube]
The visualisations are stunning:
There's evidence to suggest Saturn didn't have its rings when the dinosaurs inhabited Earth, so how did they form?
How Putin’s Oligarchs Bought London | New Yorker
The stark implication of “Putin’s People” is not just that the President of Russia may be a silent partner in one of England’s most storied sports franchises but also that England itself has been a silent and handsomely compensated partner in Putin’s kleptocratic designs—that, in the past two decades, Russian oligarchs have infiltrated England’s political, economic, and legal systems. “We must go after the oligarchs,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared after the invasion of Ukraine, doing his best to sound Churchillian. But, as the international community labors to isolate Putin and his cronies, the question is whether England has been too compromised by Russian money to do so. […]
Each time Putin has taken a provocative step in recent years—including the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in Mayfair, in 2006; Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in 2014; and the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, in 2018—British politicians and commentators have acknowledged London’s complicity with his regime and vowed to take steps to address it. But this has largely amounted to lip service. The English political establishment, like everything else in London, appears to be for sale. Boris Johnson, in his tenure as London’s mayor, was a pitchman to foreign buyers, boasting that property in the city had grown so desirable it was “treated effectively as another asset class.” Russian oligarchs have donated millions of pounds to the Conservative Party, and have enlisted British lords to sit on the boards of their companies.
At a fund-raising auction at the Tory summer ball in 2014, a woman named Lubov Chernukhin—who was then married to Vladimir Chernukhin, one of Putin’s former deputy finance ministers—paid a hundred and sixty thousand pounds for the top prize: a tennis match with Johnson and David Cameron, who was Prime Minister at the time. Johnson defended the match, decrying “a miasma of suspicion” toward “all rich Russians in London.” A Russian magnate told Catherine Belton, “In London, money rules everyone. Anyone and anything can be bought.” The Russians came to London, the source said, “to corrupt the U.K. political elite.”
Who Gets Self-Determination? | Astral Codex Ten
An interesting foray through a topic I had not thought much about:
As best I can tell, international law on this question centers around a UN-backed covenant which says that “all peoples have the right to self-determination”. So are Texans/Kurds/Scots/Palestinians a “people”? International law makes no effort to answer this question. Presumably Volodymyr Zelenskyy thinks Ukrainians count as a people, and Vladmir Putin isn’t so sure. […]
Still, I think it’s useful to have an opinion on this. My opinion is that I’m in favor of the right of self-determination for any region big enough that it’s not inherently ridiculous for them to be their own country. I don’t care if they have their own language or ethnicity or glorious history, I will vote ‘yes’ before I even hear about any of those things. That means I don’t have to care about Putin’s argument for why he should get to have Ukraine. […]
But if you believe this, shouldn’t Russia get Crimea? […]
“Maybe Crimea should belong to Russia” is a pretty spicy take to come out of an attempt to argue against Putin’s concept of nationalism. But it’s just the result of applying the same principle consistently.
Debating myself on whether “extra lives lived” are as good as “deaths prevented” | Cold Takes
If we could do something to lower the probability of the human race going extinct, that would be really good. But how good? Is preventing extinction more like “saving 8 billion lives” (the number of people alive today), or “saving 80 billion lives” (the number who will be alive over the next 10 generations) … or "saving 625 quadrillion lives" (an Our World in Data estimate of the number of people who could ever be born) ... or “saving a comically huge number of lives" (Nick Bostrom argues for well over 10^46 as the total number of people, including digital people, who could ever exist)?
More specifically, is “a person getting to live a good life, when they otherwise would have never existed” the kind of thing we should value? Is it as good as “a premature death prevented?”
Among effective altruists, it’s common to answer: “Yes, it is; preventing extinction is somewhere around as good as saving [some crazy number] of lives; so if there’s any way to reduce the odds of extinction by even a tiny amount, that’s where we should focus all the attention and resources we can.”
I feel conflicted about this.
Contra Hoel On Aristocratic Tutoring | Astral Codex Ten
Erik Hoel has an interesting new essay, Why We Stopped Making Einsteins. It argues that an apparent decline in great minds is caused by the replacement of aristocratic tutoring by ordinary education. […]
I agree that this kind of tutoring sounds great. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has a big effect size. But it’s not the reason we have fewer geniuses.
Why not? Suppose that half of past geniuses were tutored this way, and half weren’t. Even if every single genius who was tutored owed his genius entirely to the tutoring, the tutoring could only explain half of geniuses. That means that after the tutoring stopped, we would expect half as many geniuses. But Hoel is making a stronger claim: that there are almost no geniuses today. For aristocratic tutoring to explain that, we would need for almost all past geniuses to be aristocratically tutored. But as far as I can tell, that isn’t true. Probably well below half of them were.
The Pyramid of Leisure | Art of Manliness
There are myriads of books and podcasts and courses about how to manage your work time and be more productive.
But there is comparatively little discussion of what to do with your free time.
This is partly because we like to think of our leisure time as something freeform that should be utilized spontaneously. And certainly, much of the joy of our leisure is that it is ours, with no set rules, structures, or expectations. We figure we’ll simply know how to use our free time as it arises.
When, as it so commonly happens, our evenings and weekends pass by in an indistinct, underutilized, unsatisfying blur, we figure the problem isn’t caused by an untrained instinct, but a lack of time. If we had a little more of the latter, we think, we’d have put our leisure to better use.
Yet the data belies this belief. […]
As work hours have fallen, time spent watching television/videos/movies and playing video games has risen, so that those activities now occupy almost four hours a day (and that doesn’t even account for random phone scrolling/checking), dwarfing the time spent on every other leisure activity, and making up almost 75% of the 5.5 hours of leisure time people have, on average, at their disposal each day.
Thus, while we often imagine ourselves as would-be artists, craftsmen, and hobbyists, who are only thwarted in taking up more meaningful leisure pursuits by a scarcity of time, our societal track record undercuts this kind of self-flattering optimism.
If we’re honest, the more free time we get, the more we tend to struggle with figuring out what to do with ourselves. All humans tend to default to the path of least resistance, and towards lowest-common-denominator activities.
Men Think They’re Brighter Than They Are and Women Underestimate Their IQ. Why? | Neuroscience News
Despite there being no differences in IQ or general intelligence between males and females, men often overestimate their IQs, considering them to be higher than females. Researchers explore why this matters in an educational context and evaluate why females often underestimate their intellectual abilities.
Lovely Precise Watercolor Paintings of Hotel Rooms | Kottke
Architect Kei Endo creates really lovely watercolor paintings of hotel rooms that she’s stayed in — you can find her work on Instagram and her website. The paintings include floor plans of the rooms, exterior and interior views, illustrations of the food, and even precise renderings of the bath products. I love these so much.
Russian Oligarchs Keep Getting Screwed Over by Yacht Selfies | Vice
Three weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, a series of Instagram photos showing a young Russian woman making a duck face into the camera from the back of a luxurious yacht and posing in a bikini next to an emerald-green pool went viral on Twitter.
Within days, Polina Kovaleva, said to be the unofficial stepdaughter of Russia’s foreign minister, was banned from entering the UK and all her property there was frozen.
There’s a lesson here: Partying can be dangerous in the age of Instagram. Ask any oligarch.
Their decades of fancy living at the highest possible level of luxury have turned out to be enormously useful for investigators tracking down the assets of Russia’s sanctioned elite. That’s because, in multiple cases, a few careless Instagram posts have blown up the best defense for their secret empires: Anonymity.
Oligarchs themselves rarely use Instagram to accidentally crack open a window into their high living. Rather, it’s the people partying with them: A stepdaughter, an ex-wife, or in least one infamous case, an escort.
The pictures show attractive young women posing on mega-yachts or decked out for tennis on a bright day in London, or rays of sunshine breaking through clouds over the coast. To the trained eye, they are evidence.
“To be an influencer, you have to show off,” said Alex Finley, a former CIA officer who now lives in Spain and engages in her own public-facing effort to track oligarchs’ yachts.
What Is an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and How Does It Work? | Interesting Engineering
On a very basic level, these missiles work by launching from a ground-based (or submarine-based) launcher, reaching suborbital space-flight at about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), and eventually releasing their payloads to re-enter Earth's atmosphere and plummet towards their target back on Earth.
This is usually achieved by providing the missile with enough energy to fly very high up - usually into space. After this point, what will return to Earth is left to fall under the influence of gravity, although some also have rocket thrusters to help them orient themselves. In fact, this is, to a certain extent, how most ballistic weapons work.
When Superheroes Graced Marvel’s Annual Financial Reports | Kottke
Starting in 1991 and continuing through 1996, Marvel released their quarterly and annual financial reports to shareholders in the form of comic books.
That was then, this is now, Russian political economy edition | Marginal Revolution
Though all four continental great powers were in theory absolute monarchies, no one doubted that the power of The Russian emperor was more complete than that of his French Austrian or even Prussian peers. He could make laws and tax his peoples without their consent, and no laws protected even his most aristocratic subjects against his arbitrary whims. By contrast, especially in France and Austria, aristocratic assemblies and judicial institutions inherited from medieval feudalism inhibited a monarch’s power, as indeed did the ethos of the social elites, including sometimes of the monarchs themselves and their relatives. Other factors also enhanced the power of the Russian autocrat. For examples, in Protestant Europe the previously enormous landholdings of the Catholic church had been confiscated during the Reformation and had mostly fallen into the hands of the aristocracy. In eighteenth-century Catholic Europe most of these lands were still held by the Church. In Russia, however, the monarchy had confiscated the vast wealth of the Orthodox Church by the 1760s and largely held on to it for itself. That was one key reason why by the 1790s more than 40 per cent of the entire serf population “belonged” not to private landlords but to the crown.
Tax Russian Oil | Marginal Revolution
A tax on Russian oil would be paid mostly by Russia and would not greatly raise the price of oil. I often assign a question like this to my Econ 101 students. […]
At the same time, the supply of Russian oil is very inelastic, meaning that large changes in the price to the producer do not induce changes in supply. Here, the numbers are staggering. According to the Russian energy group Rosneft’s financial statements for 2021, the firm’s upstream operating costs are $2.70 per barrel. Likewise, Rystad Energy, a business-intelligence company, estimates the total variable cost of production of Russian oil (excluding taxes and capital costs) at $5.67 per barrel. Put differently, even if the oil price fell to $6 per barrel (it’s above $100 now), it would still be in Rosneft’s interest to keep pumping: Supply is truly inelastic in the short run.