Another busy week, so less reading here than usual…

3 stars

The German Experiment That Placed Foster Children with Pedophiles | New Yorker

With the approval of the government, a renowned sexologist ran a dangerous program. How could this happen? […]

In 2017, a German man who goes by the name Marco came across an article in a Berlin newspaper with a photograph of a professor he recognized from childhood. The first thing he noticed was the man’s lips. They were thin, almost nonexistent, a trait that Marco had always found repellent. He was surprised to read that the professor, Helmut Kentler, had been one of the most influential sexologists in Germany. The article described a new research report that had investigated what was called the “Kentler experiment.” Beginning in the late sixties, Kentler had placed neglected children in foster homes run by pedophiles. The experiment was authorized and financially supported by the Berlin Senate. In a report submitted to the Senate, in 1988, Kentler had described it as a “complete success.”

Marco had grown up in foster care, and his foster father had frequently taken him to Kentler’s home. Now he was thirty-four, with a one-year-old daughter, and her meals and naps structured his days. After he read the article, he said, “I just pushed it aside. I didn’t react emotionally. I did what I do every day: nothing, really. I sat around in front of the computer.”

Marco looks like a movie star—he is tanned, with a firm jaw, thick dark hair, and a long, symmetrical face. As an adult, he has cried only once. “If someone were to die in front of me, I would of course want to help them, but it wouldn’t affect me emotionally,” he told me. “I have a wall, and emotions just hit against it.” He lived with his girlfriend, a hairdresser, but they never discussed his childhood. He was unemployed. Once, he tried to work as a mailman, but after a few days he quit, because whenever a stranger made an expression that reminded him of his foster father, an engineer named Fritz Henkel, he had the sensation that he was not actually alive, that his heart had stopped beating, and that the color had drained from the world. When he tried to speak, it felt as if his voice didn’t belong to him.


2 stars

I’ll Tell You the Secret of Cancer | The Atlantic

Caitlin Flanagan:

Are you someone who enjoys the unsolicited opinions of strangers and acquaintances? If so, I can’t recommend cancer highly enough. You won’t even have the first pathology report in your hands before the advice comes pouring in. Laugh and the world laughs with you; get cancer and the world can’t shut its trap. […]

Much of the advice was bewildering, and all of it was anxiety-producing. In the end, because so many people contradicted one another, I was able to ignore most of them. But there was one warning I heard from a huge number of people, almost every day, and sometimes two or three times a day: I had to stay positive. People who beat cancer have a great positive attitude. It’s what distinguishes the survivors from the dead. […]

But after a terrible diagnosis, a failed surgery, a successful surgery, and the beginning of chemotherapy, I just wasn’t feeling very … up. At the end of another terrible day, my husband would gently ask me to sit in the living room so that I could meditate and think positive thoughts. I was nauseated from the drugs, tired, and terrified that I would leave my little boys without a mother. All I wanted to do was take my Ativan and sleep. But I couldn’t do that. If I didn’t change my attitude, I was going to die. […]

For the first half hour in her office, we just talked about how sick I felt and how frightened I was. Then—nervously—I confessed: I wasn’t doing the work of healing myself. I wasn’t being positive.

“Why do you need to be positive?” she asked in a neutral voice.

I thought it should be obvious, but I explained: Because I didn’t want to die!

Coscarelli remained just as neutral and said, “There isn’t a single bit of evidence that having a positive attitude helps heal cancer.”

What? That couldn’t possibly be right. How did she know that?

“They study it all the time,” she said. “It’s not true.”


American Purpose After the Fall of Kabul | New Yorker

A buddy of mine, the journalist and veteran Jacob Siegel, recently admitted to having an instinctive recoil against men our age who didn’t serve in the military. “It’s unfair, but I feel that,” he said. “Who excused you, you know? Or another way of putting that would be, Why did you think you had a choice? I know it’s a volunteer army but, the volunteer army is a trick question, you know? You’re supposed to say yes if you have any honor.”

More of us veterans feel that than we publicly admit. The voice in our heads whispering, If you had honor, you joined. You went to make the world safe. To plant peace in long-suffering nations, with no selfish ends to serve, desiring no conquest, no dominion. We were told that we were the champions of the rights of mankind.

The next time that feeling comes around, remember what it wrought. 9/11 unified America. It overcame partisan divides, bound us together, and gave us the sense of common purpose so lacking in today’s poisonous politics. And nothing that we have done as a nation since has been so catastrophically destructive as what we did when we were enraptured by the warm glow of victimization and felt like we could do anything, together.


Kids Can Recover From Missing Even Quite A Lot Of School | Astral Codex Ten

Back when the public schools were closed or online, someone I know burned themselves out working overtime to get the money to send their kid to a private school. They figured that all the other parents would do it, their kid would fall hopelessly behind, and then they’d be doomed to whatever sort of horrible fate awaits people who don’t get into the right colleges.

I hear this is happening again now, with more school closures, more frantic parents, and more people asking awful questions like “should I accept the risk of sending my immunocompromised kid to school, or should I accept him falling behind and never amounting to anything?” […]

You can probably predict what side I’m on here. Like everyone else, I took a year of Spanish in middle school; like everyone else who did that, the sum total of what I remember is “no hablo Espanol” - and even there I’m pretty sure I forgot a curly thing over at least one of the letters. Like everyone else, I learned advanced math in high school; like everyone else, I can do up to basic algebra, the specific math I need for my job, and nothing else (my entire memory of Algebra II is that there is a thing called “Gaussian Elimination”, and even there, I’m not sure this wasn’t just the name of a video game). Like everyone else, I once knew the names and dates of many important Civil War battles; like everyone else - okay, fine, I remember all of these, but only because the Civil War is objectively fascinating. […]

So my prediction is that an average student could miss a year or two of school without major long-term effects. Their standardized test score would be lower at the end of the two years they missed than some other student who had been in school the whole time. But after a short period they would equalize again. I don’t think you need to burn yourself out working overtime to send your kid to a private school, I don’t think you need to risk your immunocompromised kid’s health to send her to the classroom, I think you can just chill.

I want to present some of the evidence that makes me think this. […]

In the Benezet experiment, a school district taught no math at all before 6th grade (around age 10-11). Then in sixth grade, they started teaching math, and by the end of the year the students were just as good at math as traditionally-educated children with five years of preceding math education. I interpret this to mean that a lot of education involves cramming things into the heads of very young students who would be able to learn it very quickly anyway when they were older. Certainly it doesn’t seem like a child missing math class in grades 1-5 should have much of a long-term effect.

After Hurricane Katrina, lots of New Orleans students had missed a year or two of school (because their school had been destroyed, or they’d had to evacuate the city and live with relatives, etc). After the hurricane, New Orleans switched to a charter-school-based system and test scores went up, with New Orleans students generally outperforming their peers. There’s a lot of discussion about whether this does or doesn’t mean that charter schools are great, but either way doesn’t seem like missing a year or two of school hurt the New Orleanians very much.


Nike's End of Men | House of Strauss

Not sure how much I agree with this, but it’s interesting:

Yes, I know ads aren’t supposed to be high art. I understand that they are the purest distillation of manipulative greed. And yet, they sometimes are culturally relevant generational touchstones. While Nike was weaving soccer into enduring pop culture abroad, it was having a similar kind of success with basketball and baseball stateside. These ads weren’t just pure ephemera. Michael Jordan’s commercials were so good that, as he nears age 60, his sneaker still outsells any modern athlete’s. “Chicks dig the long ball” is a phrase (a) that can get you sent to the modern HR department and b) whose origins are fondly remembered by most American men over the age of 35.

Modern Nike ads will never be so remembered. It’s not because we’re so inundated with information these days, though we are. And it’s not because today’s overexposed athletes lack the mystique of the 1990s superstars, though they do. It’s because the modern Nike ads are beyond fucking terrible.

They’re bad for many causes, but one in particular is an incongruity at the company’s heart. Nike, like so many major institutions, is suffering from what I’ll call Existence Dissonance. It’s happening in a particular way, for a particular reason and the result is that what Nike is happens to be at cross-purposes from what Nike aspires to be.

From Sara Germano’s excellent Financial Times article on Nike’s civil war: 

“It’s been a tumultuous period for Nike,” says Trevor Edwards, the former brand president of the company who left in 2018. “It is so based on passion for sport, passion for the Nike brand, and that passion is starting to dissipate internally.” The result is one of the most challenging moments in the company’s history. It must contend not only with a radical shift in retail strategies but also the wider cultural reckoning with the intersection of race, gender and power. In interviews with current and former employees, industry executives, consumers and retail partners, divisions emerge over how to tackle such issues while remaining true to the spirit that has set the brand apart from other sportswear manufacturers. One question looms above the rest: is it the end of an era for Nike?

For all the talk of a racial reckoning within major industries, Nike’s main problem is this: It’s a company built on masculinity, most specifically Michael Jordan’s alpha dog brand of it. Now, due to its own ambitions, scandals, and intellectual trends, Nike finds masculinity problematic enough to loudly reject.


1 star

If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Governor Of California? | Astral Codex Ten

Californians love long-shot bets. Actors trying to make it big in LA, tech founders chasing unicorns in San Francisco, cult leaders trying to found religions in Pasadena. In Silicon Valley, VCs turn the long-shot bet into an art: if some new startup has a 5% chance of making a billion, that's $50 million in expectation. Just a whole state full of people looking for weird opportunities.

...which makes it extra funny that the biggest opportunity of all came by a few months ago, and they all missed it.

My claim is that basically anyone with the slightest amount of fame or money - any B-list actor, any second-tier tech CEO, any successful blogger or influencer, maybe me, maybe even you - could have maneuvered themselves into a position where they had a 5-10% chance of becoming Governor of California.


This piece is proving to have legs | Marginal Revolution


We develop a framework to theoretically and empirically analyze the fluctuations of the aggregate stock market. Households allocate capital to institutions, which are fairly constrained, for example operating with a mandate to maintain a fixed equity share or with moderate scope for variation in response to changing market conditions. As a result, the price elasticity of demand of the aggregate stock market is small, and flows in and out of the stock market have large impacts on prices.

Using the recent method of granular instrumental variables, we find that investing $1 in the stock market increases the market’s aggregate value by about $5.


1891 German ''Weltrekord'' Ratchet Screwdriver - Restoration | YouTube

At first I thought this will be a quick straight forward restoration project. It turned out to be a very tricky one. The most difficult part was definitely the disassembly, it took me three full days to get it in pieces.


New species of ancient four-legged whale discovered in Egypt | BBC

Scientists in Egypt have identified a new species of four-legged whale that lived around 43 million years ago.

The fossil of the amphibious Phiomicetus anubis was originally discovered in Egypt's Western Desert.

Its skull resembles that of Anubis, the ancient Egyptian jackal-headed god of the dead after which it was named.

The ancestors of modern whales developed from deer-like mammals that lived on land over the course of 10 million years.


One of Biology’s Strangest Relationships | The Atlantic

Little crustaceans called tongue biters drain the blood from the tongues of fish. Then things get weird.


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