Yearly Archives: 2014

Links 12/14: Auld Link Syne

Quaint Argentinian custom: the President of the country officially becomes the godfather of children considered at risk of becoming werewolves.

Nerva – not just one of the better Roman emperors, but an experimental 1970s nuclear rocket engine that could have gotten humans to Mars quickly and efficiently. The most interesting part of this Wikipedia article is the reason given for its cancellation: “Members of Congress in both political parties judged that a manned mission to Mars would be a tacit commitment for the United States to decades more of the expensive Space Race. Manned Mars missions were enabled by nuclear rockets; therefore, if NERVA could be discontinued the Space Race might wind down and the budget would be saved.”

During the sinking of the Titanic, the captain famously declared that women and children would get first priority on the lifeboats, leading to occasional vague grumbling about female privilege for the following hundred years. But this seems to be the exception – a study of gender bias in survival of maritime disasters (REALLY? NOW YOU’RE JUST TROLLING US, GENDER BIAS RESEARCHERS) finds that men are more likely to survive than women, with the pattern only occasionally reversed on the rare occasions when captains make “women first” into a major evacuation priority.

Another day, another cure for Alzheimer’s in mice. But this one activates microglia in the brain, which sounds a lot like what I would expect an actual cure for Alzheimer’s to do.

The United States is one of the world’s most racially tolerant countries. Or at least one of the countries where the most people say they’re racially tolerant when asked directly.

The good news – there’s a treatment for some forms of post-SSRI sexual dysfunction in men. The bad news: it involves doctors shooting lasers at your penis.

The die-in protests against police brutality were mostly left alone and protected, even when they blocked the streets. A conservative radio host decides to hold his own die-in protest to protest the fact that police probably wouldn’t let him block the streets. But sure enough, police let him block the streets. Basically, you can just block the streets for any reason or no reason at all and nobody will stop you.

The weird customs surrounding the porphyrogennetos, or heir to the Byzantine throne.

Why do Venezuelans win so many beauty pageants? Partly because a beauty obsessed culture send their little girls to horrible factories to be trained, mangled, and surgically altered for the purpose.

A while back I mentioned climate change as an example of settled science, and a commenter corrected me, saying that although its existence is settled there are still a lot of extremely controversial questions in climatology. As penance, here is a list of ten open scientific controversies around climate change.

Some impressive California desert architecture. If only I had some reason to want to live in the California desert. Then again, it probably beats Michigan.

A (short) list of who is the reincarnation of whom, according to Jewish tradition. Includes a very strange entry for Isaac Newton.

Lockheed Martin invents new desalinization process vastly better than current leader using graphene. A good time to remember how graphene is a solution looking for a problem. Related: is there a Moore’s law for the price of graphene? It sort of looks like there is, but I find that giant plateau right around the present that will supposedly end any day now kind of suspicious.

Will cheap oil destroy the current revolution in renewable energy?

Two minute delay clamping the umbilical cord leads to better development in first few days of life. Not sure if there are any longer term effects.

I waited too long to post this link and the Kickstarter project for an audiobook version of the Less Wrong Sequences is already fully-funded, but there’s still time to fund it even more and get some of the rewards.

Did you know: aside from inventing the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell was also honorary chief of the Mohawk Indians.

A study of online discussion around conspiracy theories finds that conspiracy theorists usually debate more politely and respectfully than anti-conspiracy theorists. This doesn’t seem surprising to me – people are more willing to be bullies when they feel like popular people with tacit social approval to mock the weirdos.

I’ve mentioned before that people often confuse me with Scott Aaronson because of our similar names. Here’s another thing that’s not going to help: Aaronson writes an extremely moving and passionate comment about what it’s like being a shy male geek in a feminist world. Talk about the melancholy of subculture society – I am now no longer even the most eloquent person named Scott A to worry on a blog about the effect of feminism on nerds.

This is wrong-headed and bad and pointlessly insulting, but I can’t look away: The Kardashians of Science. Basically listing and mocking scientists who have the highest ratio of Twitter followers to published results. Yes, Neil deGrasse Tyson is at the top.

High-level trolling: the European Union, not wanting to honor any country above any other, used for the background of the Euro banknotes pictures of abstract bridges that did not match any real bridge in any European country. So the Dutch went and built those exact bridges in the Netherlands.

The spectacular economic implosion of Russia was partly caused by Western sanctions and partly by the low price of oil, but we shouldn’t forget that the Russian economy is a basket case at the best of times and Putin’s management has been a disaster. But maybe we also shouldn’t forget Jeffrey Sachs’ analysis that the West threw Russia under the bus in 1989 and totally failed to give it the economic aid that could have made it a post-communist success story like Poland.

The United States’ first coin had the motto “Mind Your Business”.

Within an hour of me posting Toxoplasma of Rage, the other Slate ran a very similar article: 2014 Was The Year Of Outrage. Notable for polls of what were the best and worst outrage stories of the year, as well as the observation – which I’ve noticed as well – that part of what’s going on is conservatives adopting liberal tactics, so that instead of liberals getting faux outraged at conservatives and then everyone calling it a day, both sides are getting faux outraged at each other. Part of me thinks this is good, since it means both sides will have incentives to find ways to cooperate and lower the temperature, but obviously until that happens it’s just twice as annoying.

The Gordian solution to coordination problems in urban planning: the Great Boston Fire of 1872 allowed more rational redevelopment – enough so to compensate for the cost of all buildings burned. Probably no political party is going to propose “set every city on fire once every few decades”, but it might be a pretty good plan.

Ben Kuhn on comparative advantage in effective altruism. Thesis: there are a lot of great jobs being advertised working for the effective altruism movement, but everyone who’s qualified for them is too altruistic to take them. Sort of. But if you’re looking for a VP Finance and Operations position, GiveDirectly is hiring.

Delicious and disturbing: when cardiologists are away at meetings, mortality in the hospitals they have temporarily abandoned stays the same or even goes down. Possible responsible explanations – cardiological procedures have high immediate mortality if they fail but buy higher lifespan years down the road if they work. Or maybe when prestigious elderly cardiologists are at their meeting they are covered by new resident/fellow cardiologists who are more up-to-date and harder-working. Possible irresponsible explanation – everything cardiologists do is either useless or net negative. See also: RAND health insurance study.

Is the king of Saudi Arabia torturing his own daughters?

Would a second Christmas improve the economy? The economy certainly picks up a lot around the holiday season. Arguments against – maybe people save up all year for Christmas-related spending, meaning it’s just redistributed from one part of the year to the other. Or maybe it represents people making an uncomfortable tradeoff with people working harder to support all the Christmas activity, and they would prefer not to do that again. Anyway, I wonder if any of those Great Divergence “why was it Europe that entered the industrial era first?” people have considered the compounding effect that celebrating Christmas must have when plugged into exponential growth.

Delhi Commission On Women finds that 53% of rape cases filed there last spring were false accusations. Some discussion of a possible culture of using accusations to settle scores and dowry-related issues, probably aided by the fact that Delhi also has an alarmingly high true rape rate. Very occasional studies have found similar levels in the West, but their methodology tends to get strongly criticized; I’m not sure how the Delhi study compares.

More on “niche dating sites have gone too far” – commie dating site OKComrade has gone from a mostly-joke Facebook page to actually trying to become a thing.

Despite China’s spectacular rise out of poverty in the last thirty or so years, happiness has been going down.

Nick Land’s got a fiction book out this time, and judging from the title it’s going to be pretty weird.

More than five hundred years after Spain expelled its Jews, it has decided their descendants can apply for Spanish citizenship. Which is not a small deal – there are many Sephardic Jews, Spanish citizenship buys the right to reside anywhere in the EU, and it can be leveraged into nice things like free college education. If Poland does the same thing for descendants of its Jews, maybe I’ll sign up and get myself a shiny new passport. (The other side of the family is Russian and Ukrainian; I’m not too anxious to get any offers from them).