Links For March

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Warning: I haven’t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, so you may want to read this online instead of in an email, to catch the edits. Some of these are from my six-month backlog and may be outdated.

1: From a colonel writing for the US Naval Institute - Unleash The Privateers! “The United States should issue letters of marque to fight Chinese aggression at sea.”

2: Elizabeth (AcesoUnderGlass) on what she learned by studying the recession of 1973. “My best guess is that something was going wrong in the US and world economy well before 1971, but the market was not being allowed to adjust. Breaking Bretton Woods took the finger out of the dyke and everything fluctuated wildly for a few years until the world reached a new equilibrium.”

3: There’s been a lot of anecdotal evidence that hurricanes have gotten stronger in recent years; a new study confirms that the rate at which hurricanes qualify as “major” (winds above 100 knots) goes up by about 8% per decade.

4: Honduras is working on the charter city of Prospera, a "semi-autonomous" "hub for sustainable economic development" on the island of Roatan. See their goals here - eg it takes 17 steps, 32 days, and $12,000 to get a business permit elsewhere in Honduras, but should take only one step, one day, and $200 to get it in Prospera. Some locals seem skeptical and concerned, though the project denies it will use eminent domain.

5: The Ghetto Tarot is an artist’s attempt to replicate Tarot cards in the slums of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. EG:

6: Those of you interested in cost disease might enjoy this in-depth breakdown of Harvard’s budget in 2004 vs. in 2019 when it was 22% more expensive. Not a lot of clear conclusions, but the cost increase is broad-based and does not seem to involve employees getting paid more (sorry, Alex). Possibly something to do with administrative bloat, increased number of researchers, and excessive facilities?

7: In 1995: Roe (the pro-abortion party in Roe vs. Wade) shocked the nation when she announced she had changed her mind and was pro-life now. Now: in a documentary, she appears to admit that she did it to get money from evangelical groups, who showered her with gifts and speaking fees (up to $500,000 total). The pro-life community counterargue that she seemed sincere to them, the gift-giving was normal and unprompted, and maybe she changed her mind later. And here’s a perspective from one of the ministers who worked with and paid her.

8: Seen here: how has the wealth of different generations changed over time? Note that this is not tracking specific individuals, who continue to mostly gain wealth as they get older - it’s tracking how much money an (eg) 25 year old would have made in 1990 vs. 2015:

9: Failed replication alert: conservatives may not really have a stronger fear response than liberals.

10: The German equivalent of sovereign citizens think Germany is still legally a monarchy, so the natural next step was for one of them to claim the vacant throne. Meet King Peter I (warning: Bloomberg article, may be paywalled if you’ve already used up your free stories for the month). “His movement claims 3,100 members, its own currency, a bank, and social security”; his hobbies include black magic, hanging out at the abandoned factory he turned into a cult compound, and (of course) making YouTube videos. Also, taking a page from Martin Luther, he nailed a list of theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, “including ‘save the midwives’ (No. 20), ‘adhere to the cosmic order’ (No. 23), and ‘support free energy machines’ (No. 77)”

11: An interesting in depth-review of my Studies On Slack post: “In one of the populations in the experiment a speciation event was observed. There's one strain of E. coli that has advantage during growth on the substrate and another strain that has advantage during stationary phase, when the substrate runs out”.

12: Does the Ayn Rand Institute think it’s immoral to accept your government stimulus check? (answer: no, “Ayn Rand wrote an article arguing that it is proper to take government money from programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance on the condition that the recipient “regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare-statism.”)

13: CTRL+F “Blackrock” in this Matt Levine column for a discussion of how we accidentally stumbled into true communism for the good of all. The short version: an investing company called Blackrock owns so much of the economy that it’s in their self-interest to have all companies cooperate for the good of the economy as a whole. While they don’t usually push this too hard, the coronavirus pandemic was a big enough threat that “BlackRock is actually calling drug companies and telling them to cooperate to find a cure without worrying about credit or patents or profits”.

14: Related: anticompetitive effects of common ownership in pharmaceutical companies (paywalled). If a big pharma company shares lots of stockholders (eg Blackrock) with a generic company, it will put up less of a fuss when the generic company tries to copy their drug. This particular example is good because people get cheap medication more easily; for reasons why the overall trend might be worrying, see The Problem Of Twelve.

15: Speech synthesis software has reached the point where you can listen to The Notorious B.I.G. rap H.P. Lovecraft’s “Nemesis”, in case for some reason that is a thing you want to do:

16: Via MR, on police reform: "For investigations that were not proceeded by 'viral' incidents of deadly force, investigations on average led to a statistically significant reduction in homicide and total crime. In stark contrast, all investigations that were preceded by “viral” incidents of deadly force have led to a large and statistically significant increase in homicides and total crime." I’m interpreting this to mean that there are effective ways to reform the police, but that the atmosphere created by media saturation and protests produces ineffective counterproductive reform instead.

17: Related: The Montreal Night Of Terror. The Montreal police went on strike for sixteen hours, by the end of which "six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order”. Bonus: it radicalized (or deradicalized, or whatever) Steven Pinker.

18: I always wondered how stupid and trollish a use of the line-item veto executives could get away with. Wisconsin fulfills my wildest dreams with the "digit veto", where, in response to a bill setting a budget of $25 million, a governor successfully vetoed the number "2", leaving the budget with $5 million. In 1975, they followed up with the rare "reverse veto", in a governor vetoed the word "not" from the phrase "not less than 50%". And the Frankenstein veto (Wisconsin, 2005) is...well, it probably makes more sense with a picture (h/t Brendan Nyhan):

It actually gets worse than this! The “Vanna White veto” is where you cross out individual letters until the new letters form the words you want, like transforming “correct a mistake in the times smoking is permitted” to “make me king”. Apparently a governor used this successfully in 1983, but it might have been too much even for Wisconsin and was banned in 2009.

19: From LW - Conceptual Engineering: The Revolution In Philosophy You’ve Never Heard Of. A lot of philosophy involves (or runs through) coming up with the definition or true meaning of a word or concept (like “Truth”). Most of the time this didn’t go very well, to the point where lots of people started wondering whether it was even a meaningful thing to want, or what a more meaningful thing to do might be. This post tries to explain the debate and how it’s going. If you think mainstream philosophy is dumb, this post might help you appreciate some ways it’s getting smarter.

20: The Musical Diversity Of Pop Songs: a project to do lots of statistics to pop songs, see the axes they vary upon, demonstrate them by finding the songs that are the most extreme on each axis, and then draw sweeping conclusions about the trajectory of music and culture. If you ever wondered which two recent pop hits were furthest from each other in some hokey eight-dimensionsal statistical space, this is where you can find out.

21: Study: Personality traits do not drive political beliefs. Even in very large samples, change in personality does not cause any consistent change in politics over ten years, and “the results from our genetic models find that no additional variance is accounted for by the causal pathway from personality traits to political attitudes”.

22:I Was Wrong: The Earth Is Not Flat”: a former flat-earth YouTuber describes how, in the course of some other YouTubers, he realized he was wrong and the Earth was round. I hate watching videos and probably you do too, but I really recommend this one:

The word that comes to mind is “humanize”. This really humanizes flat-earthers and everyone else like them. I think it’s too easy to start thinking that “denialists” and “pseudoscientists” and whatever are some sort of aliens, acting out of hatred or paranoia or something. There’s some truth to it, but it’s truth that gets rammed into your head a little too hard until it becomes hard to see the other perspective - a lot of these people are really good people trying to reason things out as best they can, and getting those things wrong. I am sure I get things wrong and I hope when someone corrects me I can deal with it as gracefully as this guy dealt with Sphere Earth. Except he does say that he’s still completely sure 9-11 was an inside job, which is interesting (you would think learning one conspiracy theory was wrong would cause a general update towards trusting the Outside View) but honestly relatable (I have sometimes been wrong about things without this causing me to enter total Cartesian doubt and default to the Outside View).

23: Chris Said reviews the literature on risks of solar storms and EMPs. The risk of a solar storm causing catastrophic electrical grid collapse is “unlikely but possible”. The risk from EMPs is still under debate, but the government is taking it seriously and starting to put together a response plan.

24: An Austrian concept artist trained rats to predict the market by giving them food if their stocks went up and electric shocks if they went down, then selectively bred for investing ability, then claimed that the resulting offspring beat most human traders. No attempt to prove any of this and it’s almost certainly all lies, by which I mean great concept art, by which I mean likely animal abuse.

25: Wikipedia claims that the phrase “stole my thunder” comes from a specific event where one dramatist stole another dramatist’s fake thunder-making machine.

26: The Mongol In Our Midst was a 1920s pseudoscience book claiming that Down’s Syndrome (sometimes called mongolism because affected babies look kind of Asian if you’re racist and have a vivid imagination) was literally caused by relic Asian genes that Europeans got from Mongol hordes raping their ancestors. Seems to have been taken somewhat seriously at the time and was reviewed in JAMA and Nature, though I can’t access the reviews to see how critical they were.

27: Maybe you’ve heard of the Big Mac Index, where economists use the price of a Big Mac to determine how a country’s currency is doing? And maybe you’ve heard of Goodhart’s Law, where anything that becomes a target gets manipulated? Yeah, Argentina is accused of pressuring McDonalds to underprice Big Macs to get better terms on its debt.

28: How the poplar pollen burns in the park of Cidacos de Calahorra, Spain:

29: Austin Allred of Lambda School discusses how part of what a coding bootcamp needs to do is teach class signaling (see eg his description of how he almost failed to respond to someone because he didn’t know what “ping me” meant). I’m linking this for the insights on class, but it also includes lots of praise for Lambda School; as a counterbalance, consider reading some recent criticism.

30: The class-first left's case for why the Sanders campaign failed: he tried too hard to reinvent himself as a typical liberal to fit in, but people who wanted typical liberals had better choices, and it lost him his outsider energy (see especially the description of his "astoundingly dysfunctional" South Carolina campaign - "not only did basic tasks go unfulfilled, phone-banking and canvassing data were outright fabricated" - the article claims nobody was able to fix it because it was run by social justice activists who interpreted any criticism of them as racist/sexist. Interested to hear if anyone knows of other perspectives on this). Counterpoint: South Carolina was always going to be hostile territory for him, and maybe he didn’t reinvent himself as a typical liberal enough. I cannot find any other source confirming the South Carolina campaign allegations; interested in hearing what people think.

31: Bored of calls for a unicameral legislature? How about calls for a tricameral legislature, where bills can pass with consent from any two houses? Some cute proposals for how to select third-chamber representatives - “by lot” seems like the clear winner.

32: Also from the Slime Mold Time Mold blog: a critique of the research on hypobaric hypoxia causing weight loss. I’d previously cited the research favorably in my post on why obesity negatively correlates with altitude; the SMTM authors have a different theory where it has to do with how many pollutants are in your water (the lower you are, the more runoff has made it into your water supply).

33: Coronavirus can cause loss of smell. A post on Tumblr claims you can track the course of the coronavirus pandemic by measuring average number of stars in Yankee Candle reviews - during peaks in infection, there are lots of bad reviews saying the candles have no scent.

34: Good news! The FDA has decided that slight changes to coronavirus vaccines to respond to new variants won’t need lengthy clinical trials - this was what I called the “best-case scenario” in my recent coronavirus thread. Credit where credit is due.

35: Better news! mRNA vaccine technology has led to what may be the first really effective vaccine for malaria, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives a year. In the long-run, this may be the most important thing to happen in the past few years, not excluding the coronavirus pandemic itself.