Rowing, Steering, Anchoring, Equity, Mutiny | Cold Takes
This is a great framework, and it’s followed by a bunch of thoughtful (if high-level) commentary:
I think different people have radically different pictures of what it means to "work toward a better world." I think this explains a number of the biggest chasms between people who think of themselves as well-meaning but don't see the other side that way, and I think different pictures of "where the world is heading by default" are key to the disagreements.
Imagine that the world is a ship. Here are five very different ways one might try to do one's part in "working toward a better life for the people on the ship."
Ivermectin: Much More Than You Wanted To Know | Astral Codex Ten
I don’t think I’ve ever recommended that you not read a 4-star link “cover-to-cover,” but in this case…maybe just skim the middle bit where Scott assesses literally every single ivermectin study he could find? (For the record, as with all of my links, I did read it cover-to-cover and was fascinated throughout.) Still, this is a masterpiece. And it reads like a detective story, to the point where I’m resisting the urge to give away the ending:
I know I’m two months late here. Everyone’s already made up their mind and moved on to other things.
But here’s my pitch: this is one of the most carefully-pored-over scientific issues of our time. Dozens of teams published studies saying ivermectin definitely worked. Then most scientists concluded it didn’t. What a great opportunity to exercise our study-analyzing muscles! To learn stuff about how science works which we can then apply to less well-traveled terrain! Sure, you read the articles saying that experts had concluded the studies were wrong. But did you really develop a gears-level understanding of what was going on? That’s what we have a chance to get here!
What if Xi Jinping just isn't that competent? | Noahpinion
I probably should have noticed or thought of some of these things before, but this was eye-opening and did, in fact, somewhat change my mind about Xi Jinping’s competence:
But other than turning a bureaucratic oligarchy into a personalistic dictatorship, what are Xi’s accomplishments, exactly? In my experience, people tend to assume that Xi is hyper-competent because:
There’s a general impression that the Chinese government is hyper-competent, and Xi has made himself synonymous with the Chinese government, and
Under Xi’s watch, China has arguably become the world’s most powerful country.
But this doesn’t mean Xi actually deserves his reputation as a one-man engine of Chinese greatness. Much of his apparent success was actually inherited from his predecessors. He has taken absolute control of the apparatus built by people such as Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao, but I think it’s hard to argue that he has added much to that apparatus.
In fact, I think there are multiple signs that Xi has actually weakened the capabilities of the Chinese juggernaut. So far, China’s power and general effectiveness are so great that these signs seem to have gone largely unnoticed, but I think they’re there. The three big ones are: Slowing growth, an international backlash against China, and missteps related to the Covid pandemic.
It’s time to consider the possibility that for all his self-aggrandizement, Xi Jinping is just not that competent of a leader.
When All The Media Narratives Collapse | The Weekly Dish
A rare ungated issue from Andrew Sullivan:
But when the sources of news keep getting things wrong, and all the errors lie in the exact same direction, and they are reluctant to acknowledge error, we have a problem. If you look back at the last few years, the record of errors, small and large, about major stories, is hard to deny. It’s as if the more Donald Trump accused the MSM of being “fake news” the more assiduously they tried to prove him right.
And these mass deceptions have consequences. We are seeing this now in the Rittenhouse case — a gruesome story of a reckless teen with a rifle in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. The impression many got from much of the media was that a far-right vigilante, in the middle of race riots, had gone looking for trouble far from home and injured one man, and killed two, in a shooting spree. […]
We need facts and objectivity more than ever. Trump showed that. What we got in the MSM was an over-reaction, a reflexive overreach to make the news fit the broader political fight. This is humanly understandable. It is professionally unacceptable. And someone has got to stop it.
Secrets Of The Great Families | Astral Codex Ten
Let's talk impressive families.
Aldous Huxley was an author most famous for Brave New World, though his other stuff is also great and underappreciated. His brother Julian Huxley founded UNESCO and the World Wildlife Fund and coined the terms "ethnic group", "cline", and "transhumanism". Their half-brother Andrew Huxley won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering how nerves work. Their grandfather was Thomas Huxley, one of the first and greatest advocates of evolution, and President of the Royal Society.
Henri Poincare was a great mathematician, credited with pioneering chaos theory and topology. The Poincare Institute, Poincare Prize, and the Poincare Crater on the moon are all named after him. His cousin, Raymond Poincare, was president of France from 1913 to 1920. Raymond's brother, Lucien Poincare, was a distinguished physicist, and head of the University of Paris.
Charles Darwin discovered the theory of evolution. His grandfather Erasmus Darwin also groped towards some kind of proto-evolutionary theory, made contributions in botany and pathology, and founded the influential Lunar Society of scientists. His other grandfather Josiah Wedgwood was a pottery tycoon who "pioneered direct mail, money back guarantees, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues" and became "one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of the 18th century". Charles' cousin Francis Galton invented the modern fields of psychometrics, meteorology, eugenics, and statistics (including standard deviation, correlation, and regression). Charles' son Sir George Darwin, an astronomer, became president of the Royal Astronomical Society and another Royal Society fellow. Charles' other son Leonard Darwin, became a major in the army, a Member of Parliament, President of the Royal Geography Society, and a mentor and patron to Ronald Fisher, another pioneer of modern statistics. Charles' grandson Charles Galton Darwin invented the Darwin-Fowler method in statistics, the Darwin Curve in diffraction physics, Darwin drift in fluid dynamics, and was the director of the UK's National Physical Laboratory (and vaguely involved in the Manhattan Project).
If you enjoyed that, check out this follow-up post: Highlights From The Comments On Great Families.
Microsoft and the Metaverse | Stratechery
This means that the company that is, in my opinion, the most well-placed to capitalize on the Metaverse opportunity is Microsoft. Satya Nadella brought about The End of Windows as the linchpin of Microsoft’s strategy, but that doesn’t mean that Microsoft abandoned the idea of owning the core application around which a workplace is organized; their online-first device-agnostic cloud operating system is Teams.
It is a mistake to think of Teams as simply Microsoft’s rip-off of Slack; while any demo from a Microsoft presentation is obviously an idealized scenario, this snippet from last week’s Microsoft Ignite keynote shows how much more ambitious Microsoft’s vision is.
A Guide to Your 1816 Stagecoach Journey (part one) | About 1816
It is 1816. You are going on a journey by stagecoach. What will it be like?
Firstly, consult your Travellers Oracle guidebook or consult your local paper. All stagecoaches leave early; yours leaves comparatively late — 7am — it is better to be there at 6.50am at the very latest. This will enable you to get a seat, which is taken on a first come-first served basis. Some people may put a coat down to reserve a place, but you can safely ignore it in theory, but you may find it prudent to look around first to make sure the coat does not belong to somebody who might threaten you. This rule may not apply to the seat next to the driver.
You will have booked your ticket in advance; even when the railways arrived and you could buy a ticket on the spot, they were still sold at ‘booking offices’. You will have checked in your luggage. You will have made two lists of the contents, put one in the trunk and kept one on you. If you had to take any valuables on to the stagecoach, they would be hidden. Those gold-rimmed glasses you like so much? best to leave them at home, although the highway robber had more or less been defeated by 1816; but it is still best not to advertise your wealth to the other passengers. You do not know who they are. More of that later.
The Day I Got Old | The Atlantic
I turn 60 today, and I feel vaguely embarrassed about it, like I’ve somehow let myself go, like I’ve been bingeing on decades and wound up in this unappealing condition.
Chances are, most of you haven’t crossed this border station yet, so you’d better listen up. Because if you play your cards right, it’s going to happen to you too.
Here’s what it feels like to turn 60: weird. On the one hand, you’re still going to the gym and to dinner parties. Sixty-year-olds still perform surgery on people who could choose other doctors. There’s no dithering yet—the senescence is almost undetectable.
But on the other hand, you have been on this Earth for a really, really long time. I have a photograph of myself at age 3, standing on the docks of Cork Harbor, about to sail to New York. When I look at the picture of that small child on her sturdy legs in the foggy past, I don’t feel any connection to her. The photograph looks like something I would discover after many days on Ancestry.com. It looks like a snapshot of my own great-aunt.
There’s a reason the photograph looks like it’s from another time. Because it is from another time; it was taken more than half a century ago. How can I be in a photograph from that long ago? The math makes sense, but my own life doesn’t.
When I stood on that dock, “man” hadn’t walked on the moon; Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were all alive. World War II had ended less than 20 years earlier; none of the men who flew planes into the World Trade Center had been born. How can all of the things that happened since that photograph was taken have occurred in one lifetime? How can people walk around holding this much of the past inside them? How do they possibly add in another two or even three decades of experience? I’m topped up! I’m going to have to start erasing the larger files. Maybe I already have and don’t know it.
Learning the ropes: why Germany is building risk into its playgrounds | The Guardian
Lofty climbing towers are part of trend away from total safety and towards teaching children to navigate difficult situations
Sino-American Competition and the Search for Historical Analogies
In the most recent issue of American Affairs, Walter Hudson argues against “the pull of the Cold War analogy.” Cold War analogies for 21st century Sino-American relations are natural yet insufficient. A friend of mine recently complained to me about the thoughtlessness of these analogies. “It is not difficult to rail against lazy Cold War thinking,” I responded. “What is difficult is fleshing out a more illuminating analogy to fill the gap.” Hudson faces this challenge squarely. He argues that the mirror we seek will be found in the eclipse of the British Empire by the United States.
The similarities between that moment and our own are many and intriguing. There are declining hegemons overtaken by upsurging revisionist powers. There are national rivalries fought out not with bullets and battles, but business deals and tech breakthroughs. Both feature a self-consciously liberal economic behemoth whose free trade-based economic order is undermined by a protectionist colossus. Both see cutthroat mercantile maneuvers; both witness controversies surrounding commercial secrets and IP theft. […]
For Hudson, the essence of Sino-American rivalry is the race for technological breakthroughs that might supercharge future economic growth. I anchor my thinking on two other aspects of the competition, each of which shapes the tenor of the entire relationship.
The severe—perhaps existential—ideological threat the United States and its preferred world order pose to the stability of China’s communist regime.
The inherently military nature of the Taiwan question.
The New Face Of France’s Far Right | Persuasion
Zemmour has upended the widely-held assumption that the 2022 presidential race would be a repeat of 2017, when his arch-rival, Marine Le Pen, ran against President Macron in the second round. In July, Zemmour’s ratings in public opinion polls were at about 5 percent. By mid-October, they were hovering around 17 percent, ahead of Le Pen.
And he isn’t even a presidential candidate—not yet. But ever since “Zemmour President” posters mysteriously popped up on billboards in Paris and other French cities early this summer, the 63-year-old former television host has been sucking the oxygen out of the French political debate, with only five months to go until the April election.
Zemmour seems to revel in wielding political lightning rods, targeting groups across society. In a 2013 book, he argued that the arrival of women in the political sphere has “feminized” power for the worse. “Power evaporates when they arrive,” he said in a recent debate, noting in an aside that Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher were exceptions because of their “masculine attributes.”
He has also tried to defend the Second World War collaborationist regime in Vichy, which he claims protected French Jews during the Nazi occupation, while handing over foreign Jews—a point vehemently contested by historians. This attempt to rehabilitate Vichy is particularly painful for France’s Jewish community since Zemmour, whose parents emigrated from Algeria during the French-Algerian War, is himself Jewish.
But Zemmour is mainly preoccupied—some say obsessed—with the threat of immigration, and what he predicts will be a future civil war against Islamist jihadists.
The Covid lab leak theory just got even stronger | Spectator
The discovery of Banal-52 was greeted with relief by champions of the theory that the virus must have jumped into people in a natural spillover event, not an accident inside a laboratory. If Covid’s closest cousins are flitting about in bats in south-east Asia, then that sample in the freezer in Wuhan looks less suspicious. ‘I am more convinced than ever that Sars-CoV-2 has a natural origin,’ said Linfa Wang of Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, a close collaborator of the Wuhan scientists. […]
Then last month a bunch of emails, uncovered by a lawsuit from the so-called White Coat Waste Project, returned the ball right back over the net. They comprised an exchange between the American virus--hunting foundation, the EcoHealth Alliance and its funders in the US government. The scientists discussed collecting viruses from bats in eight countries including Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos between 2016 and 2019. But to avoid the complication of signing up local subcontractors to their grants in those countries, they promised to send the samples to a laboratory they already funded. And where was this lab? Wuhan.
Falling everyday violence, bigger wars and atrocities: how do they net out? | Cold Takes
In my view, the single best indicator for long-run trends in violence is the violent death rate: how many total deaths from violence there were, per person (or per 100,000 people), per year. Deaths tend to be easier to verify and measure than most other relevant indicators, and to the extent that Better Angels discusses very long time frames, it is mostly discussing some measure of violent deaths. […]
In my view, this means there's a "missing piece" of the story of trends in violence: we see that one kind of violent death has become less common over the last several hundred years, but we don't see the trend in all kinds of violent deaths. And I consider this missing piece significant, because my sense is that wars and atrocities account for far more violent deaths than most of the other sources of violence the book discusses.
For example - and this surprised me - the global rate of violent deaths from the 20th century's “big four” atrocities alone (two World Wars, regimes of Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong) – spread out over the entire 20th century – is ~50 violent deaths per 100,000 people per year; that’s comparable to the very worst national homicide rates seen today, whereas the homicide rate for high-income countries such as the U.S. tends to be less than 1/10 as high.
Why steel tariffs are always bad | Noahpinion
A lot of people love steel tariffs. George W. Bush wasn’t much of a protectionist, but even he slapped tariffs on foreign steel in 2002 (only to lift them in 2003). When Trump came into office, his first big tariffs were on steel and aluminum, well before he began the trade war with China. There’s just something about steel — a sense of power and strength. Joseph Stalin named himself after the metal. It also hearkens back to our history as a developing country, when Andrew Carnegie built what would eventually become U.S. Steel into an industrial titan. Steel is an essential input into practically every piece of heavy industry, which is one reason industrializing nations often strive to build up their steelmaking capacity. America was no exception. And there’s a romance about the steel mill — the tough working-class laborer straining in the hellish heat, braving death and injury. Given all this, it’s no wonder America is always trying to shield our steel industry from foreign competition.
The problem is, steel tariffs are just bad policy. It’s not just the bad optics — our import taxes hurt close allies like Canada and Japan, which hampers our ability to build strong and stable international coalitions. More importantly, it’s bad economics. Taxing foreign steel helps protect our own producers, but it hurts other sectors of U.S. manufacturing, especially autos and other heavy industry, ultimately weakening America’s industrial might. If we want to protect our steel industry, there are better ways to do it.
Why movies tilt the camera like this | Vox (on YouTube)
The Dutch angle (also called the Dutch tilt, canted angle, or oblique angle) is a filmmaking technique that involves setting the camera at an angle and tilting the entire scene. You’ll see it everywhere from blockbuster movies to soap commercials. It’s used to emphasize when something is a little off, or just to make a shot look more interesting.
The thing is… it’s not actually Dutch. And it didn’t start with filmmakers. It was pioneered by German directors during World War I, when outside films were blocked from being shown in Germany. Unlike Hollywood, which was serving up largely glamorous, rollicking films, the German film industry took inspiration from the Expressionist movement in art and literature, which was focused on processing the insanity of world war. Its themes touched on betrayal, suicide, psychosis, and terror. And Expressionist films expressed that darkness not just through their plotlines, but their set designs, costumes… and unusual camera shots.