Monthly Archives: September 2013

Links for Octember

The San Francisco Bay Area, where I lived last year, is famous for its history of odd characters, most famously Emperor Norton. I was worried that my current home state of Michigan would seem dull by comparison. I shouldn’t have worried. Here is the story of the 19th century King Strang, Imperial Primate of the Halcyon Order of the Illuminati, who ruled over a polygamist island kingdom of 2600 people just off the Michigan coast.

NAACP, KKK leaders meet to discuss race issues. Meeting goes well, Klan official joins NAACP on the spot. Meanwhile, bloggers with ever so slightly different definitions of ‘privilege’ continue hurling vicious insults at each other through thirty pages of comment threads.

Dr. Brid McGrath was my lab partner in medical school. Now she’s become an advocate for doctors’ rights in Ireland – a more serious issue than you would expect, given that interns and other junior doctors are often asked to work 24-36 hour shifts under terrible conditions suffering constant abuse for minimal pay. Articles she’s written include A Standard Below Basic Human Rights – How Doctors Are Treated In Ireland, and Pain, Shame, and Blame – The Emotional Lives Of Doctors. This is especially timely as Irish junior doctors are preparing to go on strike next week, demanding among other things an end to 100-hour weeks. Go ahead, small group of commenters who continually prophesy doom about government-run healthcare; you’ve earned this one.

A Nested List Of Everything In The Universe. You think I’m joking, but I’m not.

The Fall And Rise Of Gene Therapy. In 1999, an attempt to cure a metabolic disorder through genetic engineering went disastrously wrong, and everyone decided to abandon the field rather than be tainted with the same brush. Now gene therapy is finally starting to make a promising comeback.

Reason # 9245801 that our entire education system is a colossal fraud: students learn better from non-tenure-track than from tenure-track professors.

DialectQuiz – answer some questions about the way you speak (do you call it “soda” or “pop”?) and they will tell you what part of the United States your dialect best matches (probably where you grew up). The website seems very certain that I grew up in New York City, which is interesting because I in fact spent age 0 – 18 in California, but both of my parents grew up in New York City. I now have slightly more skepticism about Judith Rich Harris’ idea that children absorb culture from their friends rather than their parents.

Did you know it’s the law that all mountains on Saturn’s moon Titan must be named after mountains in Tolkien books? Or that all plains on Titan have to be named after planets from Dune? Actually, pretty much all geographical features on Titan are pretty neat.

Reason # 9245802 that our entire education system is a colossal fraud.

gwern on brainwashing: contrary to conventional wisdom, even in optimal conditions it doesn’t actually work.

How To Argue About Research You Don’t Like: A Flowchart. This is meant as mockery, but the scary thing is that following it would be an improvement in 99% of cases.

A Cheat Sheet For Determining Which Old Paintings Are By Which Famous Artists. The last one is the best.

Pregnant women with more morning sickness will go on to have smarter kids. Much smarter kids. One study found that 21% of morning-sickness kids scored above 130 on an IQ test, compared to only 7% of no-morning-sickness kids. Competing theories include a role for related hormones in brain development, or more plausibly morning sickness doing a really good job in its likely evolutionary role of making the mother avoid toxins dangerous to the developing fetus.

The government, including Michelle Obama, is launching a giant health initiative urging Americans to drink more water. But drinking more water won’t help your health, and no one including the people running the campaign has a good reason for why they’re doing it.

Russian man shoots stranger in argument about Kant’s philosophy. Remember, people, deontology kills.

I never stop being amazed at how many absolutely perfect moments in history I had previously missed. For example, Allen Funt, host of Candid Camera, and the entire Candid Camera crew, get on a plane to fly to their next filming location. The plane gets hijacked by terrorists. The passengers see Funt and the camera crew on the plane and refuse to believe that they are really being hijacked, instead assuming it is a Candid Camera stunt. To what I can only assume is the terrorists’ increasing confusion, the passengers start laughing and clapping. This actually happened!

Or: Galileo discovers that Saturn has rings and Venus has phases. He wants to keep his discoveries secret but make sure he can take credit for them if someone else discovers later. Nowadays we would use a hash. Galileo instead released them in the form of anagrams, daring other astronomers to unscramble the puzzle. Kepler comes up with some half-assed guesses at the anagrams – some awful bastardized Latin pseudo-sentences that sort of mean “Mars has two moons” and “Jupiter has a giant red spot on it”. As far as anagrams go, Kepler’s unscramblings were totally 100% laughably wrong. Yet several centuries later, it was discovered that totally unbeknownst to either Galileo or Kepler, Mars has two moons and Jupiter has a giant red spot on it. This actually happened!.

Yeah, so, you know that recession we’re going through? And how the rich are taking a larger and larger share of the pie? Well, disposable income among the poor and middle class is probably at an all-time high. Welfare states are amazing things.

Are Video Games Influencing Our Children To Run Too Many Errands?

Paul Krugman points out that among all the questioning about whether we will ever be able to control spiraling health care costs, Medicaid has no trouble controlling costs at all and they’ve been stable since the start of the century. Suggested takeaway – government technocrats designing health care for the poor are free to get it right; people choosing their own health care will never say “no” and so their costs will double every decade or so with little corresponding increase in quality.

Six Castles That Cost Less Than An Apartment In New York City. You couldn’t pay me to live in New York City. But dibs on castle # 4.

Church Members Mistreat Homeless Man In Church Unaware It Is Their Pastor In Disguise. Pretty funny and pretty impressive, although “mistreat” seems a little strong. I tend to not reply to random scary-looking strangers trying to get my attention either, not because I’m a bad person who looks down on the homeless, but because I find unplanned social situations stressful, or expect to be manipulated into a situation where I have to do something for them or else feel guilty. And giving money to beggars isn’t always such a great idea. I’m not sure to what degree Christian doctrine allows or doesn’t allow these church members to take those sorts of considerations into account.

Yet another article on the amazing therapeutic and nootropic promise of LSD. But this one has a twist – the idea of LSD micro-dosing! Take a tiny fraction of a regular dose – they suggest – and instead of merging with the Universal Fractal Consciousness, you just feel a little better, calmer, more productive, and more “in tune” during your day. A random person on Reddit reports success, and that’s good enough for me. Too bad I’m in a position of responsibility where I have to serve as a Positive Role Model for others and so probably shouldn’t try it.

This is a just another mildly funny satire until you reach the comments, and then it becomes another one of those things that saps your faith in humankind.

Which means it’s about time for something that restores your faith in humankind. Last year Raemon from Less Wrong put on a really nice humanist Winter Solstice ritual which I got to attend. This year he’s planning to go much bigger including a Kickstarter fundraiser and a really nifty website. I probably won’t be able to make it as it’s two days before my big licensing examination, but if you think you can make it to New York and enjoy song, dance, ritual, food, cheer, and friends, give it a try.