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4 stars

Among the Insurrectionists | New Yorker

Yet another one of those articles that everyone seems to be writing about — that manages to live up to the hype:

“Bullshit! Bullshit!” the crowd chanted. It was a peculiar mixture of emotion that had become familiar at pro-Trump rallies since he lost the election: half mutinous rage, half gleeful excitement at being licensed to act on it. The profanity signalled a final jettisoning of whatever residual deference to political norms had survived the past four years. In front of me, a middle-aged man wearing a Trump flag as a cape told a young man standing beside him, “There’s gonna be a war.” His tone was resigned, as if he were at last embracing a truth that he had long resisted. “I’m ready to fight,” he said. The young man nodded. He had a thin mustache and hugged a life-size mannequin with duct tape over its eyes, “traitor” scrawled on its chest, and a noose around its neck. […]

“After this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you,” Trump told the crowd. The people around me exchanged looks of astonishment and delight. “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them—because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.” […]

The attack on the Capitol was a predictable apotheosis of a months-long ferment. Throughout the pandemic, right-wing protesters had been gathering at statehouses, demanding entry. In April, an armed mob had filled the Michigan state capitol, chanting “Treason!” and “Let us in!” In December, conservatives had broken the glass doors of the Oregon state capitol, overrunning officers and spraying them with chemical agents. The occupation of restricted government sanctums was an affirmation of dominance so emotionally satisfying that it was an end in itself—proof to elected officials, to Biden voters, and also to the occupiers themselves that they were still in charge. After one of the Trump supporters breached the U.S. Capitol, he insisted through a megaphone, “We will not be denied.” There was an unmistakable subtext as the mob, almost entirely white, shouted, “Whose house? Our house!” One man carried a Confederate flag through the building. A Black member of the Capitol Police later told BuzzFeed News that, during the assault, he was called a racial slur fifteen times.

I followed a group that broke off to advance on five policemen guarding a side corridor. “Stand down,” a man in a maga hat commanded. “You’re outnumbered. There’s a fucking million of us out there, and we are listening to Trump—your boss.”

“We can take you out,” a man beside him warned.

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3 stars

Wall Street Visionaries Provide Chilling Views on Next Big Risk | Bloomberg

Almost all U.S. Treasuries do not exist in the form of a paper certificate—over 99.9% of them exist purely in electronic form. And Treasuries are the beating heart of the global financial system. Every country has its inventory of U.S. Treasuries. Treasuries are used as collateral for everything.

And yet, if you ponder that they exist entirely in electronic form, you’ve got to really start worrying about that electronic form. I am actually less worried that [these systems] could be hacked and simply halted. The thing that I think worries me more is, could it systematically be corrupted by a hacker? So instead of having confidence in who is the beneficial owner of every Treasury, [you might wonder] in whose possession is that Treasury at every moment in time? Because that’s the core of the financial system: moving Treasuries around. […]

Social networks like Facebook, people talk about all the problems, but you know one thing that it does is it makes socializing very efficient. So you can have your 100 friends or 500 friends, and you don’t have to waste time calling people up telling them what happened. You go click, click, click, and then everyone knows about your life. It’s the most efficient way to socialize, right? Something doesn’t sound right. You know that. Do you really want these levels of efficiency?

I’m not nearly the first one to say this, but at least at a very high level, GDP is the thing everyone looks at. And, you know, quite frankly, I’m not sure that that matters all that much. Because it’s literally such a crude number. Do you really care about GDP? Is that how you’re gauging the quality of your life? No? OK. We don’t spend very much time thinking about the quality of life more broadly. You could in some sense create an ever-growing GDP but have most people saying this is pretty bad. We could end up with a lot of unhappy people. Maybe we’re there already.

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2 stars

Everything Is Broken | Tablet

David Brooks thinks this will be one of the best longform articles of 2021. I disagree, but it has its moments:

Was everything in America broken? Was education broken? Housing? Farming? Cities? Was religion broken?

Everything is broken.

Let’s say you believe the above to be hyperbolic. You never fell through the cracks of the medical system; as far as you understand it, there are plenty of ways for a resourceful person to buy a home in America these days; you easily met a mate and got married and had as many children as you wanted, at the age you wanted to have them; your child had a terrific time at college, where she experienced nothing at all oppressive or bizarre, got a first-class education that you could easily afford and which landed her a great job after graduation; you actually like the fact that you haven’t encountered one book or movie or piece of art that’s haunted you for months after; you enjoy druggily floating through one millennial pink space after another; it gives you pleasure to interact only with people who agree with you politically, and you feel filled with meaning and purpose after a day spent sending each other hysteria-inducing links; maybe you’ve heard that some kids are cosplaying Communism but that’s only because everyone is radical when they’re young, and Trump voters are just a bunch of racist troglodytes pining for the past, and it’s not at all that neither group can see their way to a future that looks remotely hopeful ... If this is you, congratulations. There’s no need to reach out and tell me any of this, because all you will be doing is revealing how insulated you are from the world inhabited by nearly everyone I know. […]

But, beginning in the 1970s, the economic ground underneath this landscape began to come apart. […]

This was the tinder. The tech revolution was the match—one-upping the ’70s economy by demanding more efficiency and more speed and more boundarylessness, and demanding it everywhere. They introduced not only a host of inhuman wage-suppressing tactics, like replacing full-time employees with benefits with gig workers with lower wages and no benefits, but also a whole new aesthetic that has come to dominate every aspect of our lives—a set of principles that collectively might be thought of as flatness.

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The Catch | BBC

They are strangers, arms outstretched, waiting for the boy to fall. 

Minutes earlier, three of them had tried to wrench open the apartment door. But it was too swollen by the heat of the fire.

So the brothers, three and 10 years old, are trapped. 

They are crying at a window, 15m (49 feet) up, choking on thick black smoke billowing behind them. To their left, flames rage from a carpet draped over a balcony railing.

Their apartment is in La Villeneuve, a French modernist suburb once heralded as a social utopia, but which has since suffered decades of stigma and neglect. 

Hechmi, Walid, and Lucas - the men who tried to force the boys’ door - have run back down the tower block stairs to join four others outside. They are Elyasse, Guelord, Mouhsine and Bilal. 

None of the men knows each other. The suburb in Grenoble, south-eastern France, is home to several thousand people - a town within a town.

A crowd is looking on, panicked by the scene unfolding before them. Mouhsine asks if anyone knows the name of the eldest boy. 

“Sofiane,” someone replies.

The men call up to Sofiane, telling him that he and his brother have to jump. Guelord shouts that the younger boy needs to go first. Sofiane should throw him down. 

The 10-year-old hesitates. He looks at the ground. Behind him the smoke has thickened; the balcony is burning even more fiercely.

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Waiting for the Last Dance | GMO

Jeremy Grantham:

The long, long bull market since 2009 has finally matured into a fully-fledged epic bubble. Featuring extreme overvaluation, explosive price increases, frenzied issuance, and hysterically speculative investor behavior, I believe this event will be recorded as one of the great bubbles of financial history, right along with the South Sea bubble, 1929, and 2000.

These great bubbles are where fortunes are made and lost – and where investors truly prove their mettle. For positioning a portfolio to avoid the worst pain of a major bubble breaking is likely the most difficult part. Every career incentive in the industry and every fault of individual human psychology will work toward sucking investors in.

But this bubble will burst in due time, no matter how hard the Fed tries to support it, with consequent damaging effects on the economy and on portfolios. Make no mistake – for the majority of investors today, this could very well be the most important event of your investing lives. Speaking as an old student and historian of markets, it is intellectually exciting and terrifying at the same time. It is a privilege to ride through a market like this one more time.

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Now It Can Be Told: How Neil Sheehan Got the Pentagon Papers | New York Times

In 2015, however, at a reporter’s request, he agreed to tell his story on the condition that it not be published while he was alive. Beset by scoliosis and Parkinson’s disease, he recounted, in a four-hour interview at his home in Washington, a tale as suspenseful and cinematic as anyone in Hollywood might concoct.

The Pentagon Papers, arguably the greatest journalistic catch of a generation, were a secret history of United States decision-making on Vietnam, commissioned in 1967 by the secretary of defense. Their release revealed for the first time the extent to which successive White House administrations had intensified American involvement in the war while hiding their own doubts about the chances of success.

Recounting the steps that led to his breaking the story, Mr. Sheehan told of aliases scribbled into the guest registers of Massachusetts motels; copy-shop machines crashing under the burden of an all-night, purloined-document load; photocopied pages stashed in a bus-station locker; bundles belted into a seat on a flight from Boston; and telltale initials incinerated in a diplomat’s barbecue set.

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DALL·E: Creating Images from Text | OpenAI

DALL·E is a 12-billion parameter version of GPT-3 trained to generate images from text descriptions, using a dataset of text–image pairs. We’ve found that it has a diverse set of capabilities, including creating anthropomorphized versions of animals and objects, combining unrelated concepts in plausible ways, rendering text, and applying transformations to existing images.

GPT-3 showed that language can be used to instruct a large neural network to perform a variety of text generation tasks. Image GPT showed that the same type of neural network can also be used to generate images with high fidelity. We extend these findings to show that manipulating visual concepts through language is now within reach.

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Internet 3.0 and the Beginning of (Tech) History | Stratechery

This isn’t nearly as clear or concise as Ben’s typical writing, but it has some good ideas:

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man is, particularly relative to its prescience, one of the most misunderstood books of all time. Aris Roussinos explained at UnHerd:

Now that history has returned with the vengeance of the long-dismissed, few analyses of our present moment are complete without a ritual mockery of Fukuyama’s seemingly naive assumptions. The also-rans of the 1990s, Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilisations thesis and Robert D. Kaplan’s The Coming Anarchy, which predicted a paradigm of growing disorder, tribalism and the breakdown of state authority, now seem more immediately prescient than Fukuyama’s offering.

Yet nearly thirty years later, reading what Fukuyama actually wrote as opposed to the dismissive précis of his ideas, we see that he was right all along. Where Huntington and Kaplan predicted the threat to the Western liberal order coming from outside its cultural borders, Fukuyama discerned the weak points from within, predicting, with startling accuracy, our current moment.

[…]

It turns out that when it comes to Information Technology, very little is settled; after decades of developing the Internet and realizing its economic potential, the entire world is waking up to the reality that the Internet is not simply a new medium, but a new maker of reality. […]

Here technology itself will return to the forefront: if the priority for an increasing number of citizens, companies, and countries is to escape centralization, then the answer will not be competing centralized entities, but rather a return to open protocols. This is the only way to match and perhaps surpass the R&D advantages enjoyed by centralized tech companies; open technologies can be worked on collectively, and forked individually, gaining both the benefits of scale and inevitability of sovereignty and self-determination.

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What Makes Patrick Mahomes So Great | FiveThirtyEight

So, Mahomes is great. But you likely knew that already. It’s what makes Mahomes great that’s so revolutionary. He has the hardest job on the field and makes that job’s hardest tasks routine — so routine that he’s one of the most consistent quarterbacks of all time. Good quarterbacks excel at the mundane stuff; Mahomes excels at the seemingly impossible.

The hardest passes in pro football are on third down. If an offense is throwing on third, it typically needs to gain a lot of yards, and third down and long screams: “A pass is coming!” Yet since 2017 Mahomes is second only to Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson in third-down QBR. And while the Ravens’ Jackson does most of his third down damage with his legs, Mahomes dissects teams with his arm, averaging 9.5 yards per pass attempt with 32 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and 27 sacks on 433 dropbacks.

But that kind of success isn’t just limited to third downs. Mahomes is generally excellent in any situation when teams know he’s passing. His success seems inevitable.

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The True Face of Anne Boleyn: No contemporary portraits of this controversial queen survive, and most descriptions are contradictory. What did Anne really look like, and which of the many alleged depictions are really of her? | Reddit [Unresolved Mysteries]

Details are scarce on exactly how he went about it, but soon after Anne’s death, Henry seems to have begun a systematic removal of all known portraits of Anne. Henry’s effectiveness was incredible; at this time, it was common to display portraits of monarchs, and copies were often given to favored courtiers and diplomats, and that none survive of Anne is extraordinary. Those that escaped Henry were likely destroyed to avoid possessing the image of a traitor. Exactly how many portraits were destroyed remains unknown, but no uncontested contemporary portraits survive today. That’s not to say that no depictions of Anne survive, but the problem lies in identification.

The only known contemporary image is considered to be a medal labeled “Moost Happi Anno 1534,” a prototype of a larger medal that was commissioned for the birth of her son. Unfortunately, she miscarried and the medal was hidden away. In addition to its small size, it’s incredibly damaged and shows only the rough contours of Anne’s face. Although a reconstruction was created, its accuracy is questioned.

One other contemporary depiction of Anne may exist, but it’s among the most disputed of her portrayals; Hans Holbein, a German painter, was under Anne’s patronage for several years and was commissioned to create several pieces for her. Among his works are chalk portraits that have been associated with Anne. The first and more likely is inscribed with “Anna Bollein Queen.” The drawing bears a resemblance to some of Anne’s alleged features, but many have pointed to the simple dress—unheard of for royals, especially one as fashionable as Anne—and apparent blonde hair.

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New York Times Says Credit Card Rewards Hurt The Poor. That’s Not True. | View from the Wing

Merchants pay fees to swipe credit cards, but the cost to accept credit cards is lower than other forms of payment. In the fight between businesses and credit card companies over fees, poor people are used as a fig leaf for corporate interests. Cutting interchange rates doesn’t lower prices, and doesn’t improve access to credit for the poor.

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Should Twitter have banned Trump? | Marginal Revolution

As many of you will expect, I am fine with their decision.  Furthermore I think they made it at exactly the right moment.

Questions for those who think that Twitter made the wrong decision:

1. Can you state your margin? That is, what would Trump have to do for you to think that Twitter should suspend his account?

2. Robert Nozick called for an archipelago of polities, each autonomously setting their own rules. Isn’t Twitter’s action quite consistent with this vision? Is the optimal libertarian equilibrium really one that adds centralized government regulation of tech platform speech codes?  If so, does that induce you to reject libertarian doctrines more generally?

3. If you favor regulation to avoid this deplatforming, which many are calling for, is the optimal libertarian equilibrium really one that adds centralized government regulation of tech platform speech codes?  Where else do you think technology companies should be more regulated when it comes to speech issues?

[…]

Questions for those who think that Twitter made the right decision:

5. Why not ban the CCP or Ayatollah Khomenei or many of the other odious and even genocidal characters who populate Twitter today? […]

6. This summer, Slate and many other media organizations condoned violence in explicit terms. Murders are in fact up a great deal this year. Given that incitement to violence is manifestly acceptable to Twitter in many cases, can you articulate the relevant standard in more detail?

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Spider Legs Build Webs without the Brain’s Help | Scientific American

Spider legs seem to have minds of their own. According to findings published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, each leg functions as a semi-independent “computer,” with sensors that read the immediate environment and trigger movements accordingly. This autonomy helps the arachnids quickly spin perfect webs with minimal brain use. The study authors simulated surprisingly simple rules to govern this complex behavior—which could eventually be applied to robotics.

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1 star

Juho Könkkölä

Very impressive portfolio of origami; hard to believe this can be done with no tearing or cutting

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Artist Draws Hyperrealistic Portraits Using Bic Ballpoint Pens | YouTube

Oscar Ukonu is a hyperrealistic artist in Nigeria. He's a self-taught artist who has been creating these pieces with ballpoint pens since 2014. Each piece can take him almost six weeks to create using three basic techniques: hatching, crosshatching, and scribbling. He’ll switch between 10 of the same pens to create the portrait.

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Bali’s thieving monkeys can spot high-value items to ransom | The Guardian

Study finds macaques go for tourists’ electronics and wallets over empty bags and then maximise their profit

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Find Satoshi

Is it possible to locate a man given only his photograph and first name? The answer is YES!

In 2006, UK-based game company Mind Candy tested the theory of six degrees of separation as part of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG). They gave us a photograph of a man, a name, and the Japanese characters that translate to “Find me”.

In 2020, thanks to the power of community, that person has been found!

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Can 4 Seconds of Exercise Make a Difference? | New York Times

Four seconds of intense intervals, repeated until they amount to a minute of total exertion, led to rapid improvements in strength and fitness in middle-aged and older adults.

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The World’s Largest—and America's Priciest—Home Is Ready for Its Close-up | Architectural Digest

Behold The One—a record-breaking Los Angeles estate with 105,000 square feet of living space and, it seems, a nearly $350 million price tag

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What Kicking Trump Off Twitter Can — And Can’t — Do | FiveThirtyEight

Amy Bruckman, a professor and associate chair in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, is currently working on a study that looks at the deplatforming of major controversial figures like far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Though the study has not yet been peer-reviewed and published, Bruckman said it shows similar findings to the Reddit study.

“We found that after they’re kicked off Twitter people talk about them less on Twitter, and people talk about their ideas less on Twitter,” Bruckman said. “Looking at the supporters, we found that the toxicity of their speech went down.”

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Lava Lamps Help Keep The Internet Secure? | Kottke

Web performance and security company Cloudflare uses a wall of lava lamps to generate random numbers to help keep the internet secure. Random numbers generated by computers are often not exactly random, so what Cloudflare does is take photos of the lamps’ activities and uses the uncertainty of the lava blooping up and down to generate truly random numbers.

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Trump Has Been Rebuked Like No Other President — But Really Only By Democrats | FiveThirtyEight

But the power of the rebukes of Trump is somewhat blunted by the fact that they have been largely partisan. No House Republican voted for Trump’s impeachment in 2019 over the pressure he exerted on the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens, and only one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, supported removing Trump from office. In the wake of the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, only one Republican House member, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, supported invoking the 25th Amendment to have Trump removed from office on Tuesday, and today only nine House Republicans joined Kinzinger in supporting impeachment.

This strong Republican loyalty to the president is a very important and historic dynamic.

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GRADATIONs | Vimeo

I’m not really sure how to describe this video. Click if you have two minutes to watch something a bit weird but satisfying.

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