A subreddit for somnivexillology, the study of flags that appear in dreams.
In 1962, a pair of con artists claimed to be representatives of the Incan gods and used their charisma to enslave a small Mexican village. Then things got weird. Needing a fake Inca goddess to bedazzle the locals, they hired a nearby prostitute to show herself at the appropriate moment. But the prostitute got too into her role, became convinced she really was the Aztec goddess Coatlicue, took over the cult, took over the village, killed everyone who opposed her leadership, and led a string of grisly human sacrifices until the whole thing was finally broken up by police. The story of Magdalena Solis.
The latest exciting breakthrough drug for PTSD is…an unnecessary patent-protecting modification of cyclobenzaprine – ie it might be that cyclobenzaprine is an effective PTSD-sleep-disturbance drug for people who can’t tolerate prazosin. Link sent to me by a friend who reports unexpected dramatic improvement in PTSD nightmares when taking cyclobenzaprine for a muscle problem.
Some context for last month’s link on rare earths: China Can’t Control The Market In Rare Earth Elements Because They Aren’t All That Rare
In “primitive DNS hijacking” incident, Chicago man files change of address notice at the post office to change UPS corporate headquarters to his apartment, receives all their stuff and money.
Researchers claim that conventional statistics showing the War On Poverty didn’t significantly decrease poverty are calculated wrong, present alternative measurement methods suggesting US anti-poverty programs have been very successful.
New birth order study using Swedish records: “Firstborn children are more likely to be managers and to be in occupations requiring leadership ability, social ability, and Big Five personality traits.” Likely explanation is higher parental investment; not super-compatible with zero role for shared environment.
Volokh Conspiracy on good guys with guns: “Data from the FBI’s Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017 report [shows] legal civilian gun carriers tried to intervene in 6 out of 50 [mass shooting] incidents, and apparently succeeded in 3 or 4 of them.”
Gwern summarizes the idea of commoditizing your complement. This helped a lot of things about business snap into place for me.
Fun rabbit hole: “personality tests” that claim to be able to determine what neurotransmitters are dominant in your system, eg whether you’re a “dopamine type” or a “serotonin type”. See eg the Braverman Test and Brown et al. These show every sign of being about as accurate as their four-humors predecessors, even though in theory something like this ought to work. My guess is that there are so many different neurotransmitters, receptors, and brain regions where they can act that anything this broad is going to be able to explain a fraction of a percent of variance at best.
And while we’re talking crazy out-there psych hypotheses, Dual-gender macrochimeric tissue discordance is predicted to be a significant cause of human homosexuality and transgenderism.
Article on the tendency of places to play classical music to repel the unwanted. The default hypothesis would be that homeless people don’t want to sleep (and groups of ruffians don’t want to hang out and chat) in places with loud music, but the article seems to think (without really giving evidence) that there’s something more specific going on, where classical music’s high-class connotation has a specific anti-welcoming effect on poor people.
This week: Trump calls for elimination of all tariffs, endorses marijuana legalization, says he will talk to kneeling NFL players about pardoning the unjustly imprisoned. Next week: Trump defects from US, becomes President of Mexico, converts to Islam.
This article claims that a quirk of 1970s tax policy killed off smaller fiction genres. But see this comment, which casts doubt on some aspects of the story and clarifies a few things.
Up to 50% of daily marijuana users can end up with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a condition marked by constant vomiting relieved by taking hot showers or baths. Often dangerous insofar as people who have been told marijuana helps with vomiting try to solve their problem by taking more, perpetuating the cycle. If this is so common, how come we don’t hear about it more often?
In Missouri, the beef industry is pushing a bill making it illegal to describe vegetarian meat alternatives like the Impossible Burger as meat. Opponents argue that misleading labeling is already illegal, so this would mostly ban people from using terms like “plant-based meat” that clearly state the nature of the product. Philosophical dispute about whether the category “meat” refers to things that taste a certain way vs. things that were produced by a certain process mirrors other categorization debates.
Kim Jong-un reported to have said that he hopes for “Vietnam-style reforms”.
China is forcing hundreds of thousands of Uighurs into mass internment camps, where they are subjected to brutal re-education. “Hour upon hour, day upon day, Omir Bekali and other detainees in far western China’s new indoctrination camps had to disavow their Islamic beliefs, criticize themselves and their loved ones and give thanks to the ruling Communist Party. When Bekali, a Kazakh Muslim, refused to follow orders each day, he was forced to stand at a wall for five hours at a time. A week later, he was sent to solitary confinement, where he was deprived of food for 24 hours. After 20 days in the heavily guarded camp, he wanted to kill himself.” It’s hard to know what to do about something so terrible and so under-discussed, but ChinaFile suggests that one starting point might be sanctioning Xinjiang officials under the Human Rights Accountability Act.
Somehow I never learned about Abscam, maybe the biggest federal corruption incident since Watergate. The FBI got some con artists to pretend to be Arab sheiks and try to bribe Congressmen to do various things. Most of the Congressmen agreed and took the bribes, and six were convicted and sent to prison – including John Jenrette, who when offered the bribe answered “I’ve got larceny in my blood. I’d take it in a goddamn minute.”
Very competent and well-funded German team tests the seemingly physics-defying EM Drive more precisely than previous experiments. Preliminary results suggest that its thrust comes from some of the electronics interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field, that there are no novel physics involved, and that it would not work in space.
A post on the Effective Altruism forum discusses how funding vs. talent gaps are different for different charitable causes. Helped clear up some of my permanent confusion on what it would mean for causes to “not have funding gaps”.
You can now buy explicit placebo pills on Amazon. Professional-looking, very well branded, kind of convincing-seeming placebo pills, no less.
Popehat on free speech: courts will likely rule in favor of government employee fired for posting anti-Trump messages on Facebook on her own time.
A correction to my basic income post: some states will help financially support you if you are taking care of elderly or disabled relatives.
This week in headlines that would have sounded crazy just a few years ago: marijuana-based cryptocurrency PotCoin sponsors Dennis Rodman’s trip to join the summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Our World In Data shows The Effect Of Life Events On Life Satisfaction over time. Especially interesting since they start their time series a few years before the events. For example, men’s life is terrible the five years before a divorce, but immediately becomes better starting the year the divorce happens. I’ve been showing some of these graphs to my patients to help convince them there’s life on the other side of [personal catastrophe]. Also, the unemployment graph seems to confirm claim that it’s uniquely hard to habituate to in a way that’s not just a function of pre-unemployment problems.
In some traditional Chinese and Korean families, the founder of the family chooses a poem, and the nth generation of his descendants will always have names starting with the nth syllable of the poem.
Some people will like this essay as object-level social commentary, others as a window into the anthropology of weird inter-left disputes, but here’s a very strong take on the disability activists vs. Democratic Socialists of America argument/scandal/clusterf**k.
Washington Post on the truck driver shortage and why few want an $80,000 job. Mostly because it doesn’t actually pay $80,000 unless you get lucky / accept unreasonably awful conditions.
Interested to know what people think of this: Labour vote in England closely matches historic presence of coal mining.
New big paper on intelligence by Gail Davis and co-authors including Ian Deary and Stuart Ritchie, finds more genes for cognitive function, able to predict 4.3% of variance with polygenic score. But the fun part here is the genetic correlations, which note among other things that the genes for higher intelligence also seem correlated with poor eyesight, eg the “smart people wear glasses” effect. This is really interesting because I was under the impression that people had done some really good work showing the glasses-intelligence correlation was mostly due to smart people staying inside reading and not getting enough UV light for their eyes to develop properly. Either I totally screwed up my analysis of that one, or this is an unusually good example of a multifactorial trend. I hope this paragraph was good enough to avoid ending up in Stuart’s Hall of Shame for how this paper has been covered in the media.
DeepMind publishes a paper theorizing that the human prefrontal cortex is involved in “meta-reinforcement learning” and claiming to have created machine learning agents that can duplicate it. I haven’t been able to wrap my head around this yet; grateful to anyone who wants to explain it to me.
Related: Eliezer Yudkowsky asks believers in an upcoming new AI winter what sort of resolveable claims (suitable for bets) their hypothesis would entail.
And Eliezer (vs. David Chapman, sort of) on Toolbox Thinking And Law Thinking.
The latest in the DashCon / FyreFestival / etc genre of “fan conventions collapsing disastrously” is the marginalized-fan-community-centered Universal FanCon. I first read about this on Siderea’s blog and then found my way to this longer article. An interesting detective story / rationality practice to sort through the competing accounts and try to figure out what happened, and how so many seemingly trustworthy and well-intentioned people ended up running something that looks so much like a scam. Also possibly a good test for how paranoid vs. trusting you are, or how willing to resort to bad actor vs. institutions-are-hard explanations. Something like an answer (if you believe it) about what happened here
Giussepe Conte chosen as new Italian PM, ending months of standoff (and settling my prediction about whether a “far-right” party would take power in a major European country). Of interest here – the ruling Five Star Movement has a campaign promise to institute a basic income of 780 euros/month, even though this is even less financially realistic in Italy than it would be elsewhere. Related: populist anti-immigrant party with anti-Semitic links retakes power in Slovenia.
Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem: children given private tutoring will do two sigmas better than average (ie the average tutored student will be in the 98th percentile of nontutored students). But see here for some argument that the real value is lower, maybe more like 0.4 sigma. Some further discussion on the subreddit asks the right question – can we simulate this with some kind of clever computer-guided learning? – and gives the right answer – apparently no. TracingWoodgrains has a great comment. Especially interested in their discussion of Direct Instruction: “One of the few schools to use it as the basis of their program for math and English, a libertarian private school in North Carolina called Thales Academy, is reporting results exactly in line with the two-sigma bar: 98-99th percentile average accomplishment on the IOWA test. Their admissions process requires an interview at the elementary level, but no sorting other than that, so it’s not a case of only selecting the highest-level students.” (though note that IOWA is nationally normed, and Thales is in the well-off Research Triangle area). On the other hand, it costs half of what public schools do, so file this under “cost disease” too.
Study on the political impact of immigration: when more high-skilled immigrants move to an area, the native voters shift more Democratic; when more low-skilled immigrants move to an area, the native voters shift more Republican. Effect is not dependent on immigrants’ country of origin.
England used to have free college tuition. In 1998, they decided it wasn’t working, got rid of it, and their colleges now cost more than the US. A team from the Brookings Institution discusses the English experience and what it can teach Americans, including the surprising role of English progressives in the anti-free-college fight.
A one parameter equation that can exactly fit any scatter plot. Though see the comment thread starting with Slocum on Marginal Revolution for discussion of whether this is as interesting as it sounds. Another commenter correctly brings up Tupper’s self-referential formula.
New study finds that, contra popular myth, people who believe in the genetic determination of human traits are more progressive, more tolerant of vulnerable individuals, and less racist. Likely just because more educated people are more likely to be aware of genetics, but still useful in slapping down a whole class of terrible arguments.
Related: in good news for progressivism and tolerance of vulnerable individuals, new study finds that some trait differences among Asians, Europeans, and Africans have significant genetic contributions. Genetic role was found for height, waist-hip-ratio, and schizophrenia risk; was not found for cholesterol, diabetes, or educational attainment.
Remember the mystery illness afflicting US diplomats in Cuba, possibly caused by some kind of weird infrasonic weapon? Now it’s happening to US diplomats in China too.
You’ve probably seen the graph showing that even as US productivity increases, US worker wages do not. A new study finds that productivity and worker pay continue to be correlated, suggesting it’s not so much that productivity doesn’t help as that some other force is keeping pay down despite the productivity effects. This might be beyond my pay grade, so interested in hearing if anyone has a good interpretation of this.
Zero HP Lovecraft: The Gig Economy