Ancient Greek naval combat sometimes involved hurling snakes onto your enemies’ ships to cause panic and confusion. Sounds ilke a pretty good plan! The Samuel L. Jackson Award For Excellence In Vehicular Herpetology goes to Hannibal Barca, who had catapults which hurled entire pots full of venomous snakes onto the enemy deck.
In San Francisco, Uber is about three times as big as the entire taxi market. I’m not sure how much of that is them taking market share from taxis versus them creating new demand for people who use them but would not have used taxis.
You know the famous picture of Washington Crossing The Delaware? Did you know it was censored in schools for years because Washington has a weird little gadget on his crotch vaguely reminiscent of testicles? Sounds stupid, but when you look at the picture you have to admit that was some really awful gadget-placement-work.
Clark from Popehat, Meredith “Maradydd” Patterson, and Alice Maz have joined forces for a new blog on social issues, censorship, and the Internet called Status 451. The pitch: “He’s a conservative Catholic ancap. She’s a bisexual, polyamorous Euronerd anarcho-game-theorist. They write blogs!”. How could you not read that?
We may have already passed peak carbon emissions, depending on what China’s economy does and whether China is even giving accurate numbers. Alas, that’s just the derivative – we’re still emitting a lot more carbon into the atmosphere with each passing year and still have to worry about the whole global warming thing. But at least the trend is moving the right direction!
There are a lot of cool photosets of nature and urban scenes and stuff on imgur, but this one is exceptionally good.
This is a weirdly abstract way of looking at things, but I guess all knowledge is worth having: “In laboratory experiments, groups discriminated against each other in about a third of cases”. But also: “Discrimination varies depending upon the type of group identity being studied: it is stronger when identity is artificially induced in the laboratory than when the subject pool is divided by ethnicity or nationality, and higher still when participants are split into socially or geographically distinct groups. In gender discrimination experiments, there is significant favouritism towards the opposite gender.”
I guess I probably have to link to this blog post of terrible Swifties.
Gwern investigates the cost-benefit analysis of taking Vitamin D and decides that there’s probably a very small but real advantage to taking it which makes it worthwhile given the very low cost of the pills.
Most past anti-bullying interventions haven’t worked too well. Some researchers try a new tactic: get a subgroup of students from a school, appoint them the Designated Anti-Bullying Task Force, and see whether they are able to spread these norms to their fellow students. They find pretty strong evidence that they do, decreasing discipline issues up to 30%, with success linked to how popular the students in the Designated Anti-Bullying Task Force are.
Robin Hanson on how relatively intelligent people have no idea how unintelligent most of the population is, complete with various extraordinarily obvious test questions that >50% (or whatever other number) of the population can’t answer.
A reader’s story of how he tried to explain to his coworkers the SSC post about how segregated we are from each other because 40% of Americans are creationists but nobody actually knows a creationist – only to find out that about 40% of the coworkers he was explaining it to were creationists. I expect work is a lot less well-segregated than the rest of our lives, especially if we work somewhere that cuts across class lines (eg an office with doctors, nurses, receptionists, and janitors).
The latest Bay Area NIMBY gambit – point out that Trump is a real estate developer, so anybody who lets real estate be developed is basically the same person as Donald Trump. Plus Alyssa’s commentary.
Speaking of which, here’s an Atlantic article fingering NIMBYs as the cause of the Bay Area’s rent problem. You probably have heard the arguments before, but be sure to check out the story about a Bay Area childcare center that made the children put on a play about evil tech workers plotting to drive out San Francisco’s vibrant multicultural community, then had the parents (themselves mostly tech workers) come watch and dared them to say anything. This is a pretty perfect metaphor for modern activism: “We can’t actually do anything about this problem, but we will convince your children that you are cartoonishly evil, and you will be too worried about sounding impolite to protest.”
The role of the word “sockdologizing” in the Lincoln assassination has been sadly neglected by modern historians.
Here’s an article I vehemently disagree with: Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness. Okay, but as far as we know Bronze Age laborers, despite living in some of the most coercive societies of all time, also had less mental illness than we do; records suggest antebellum slaves did as well. The “noncoercive societies of the past” vs. “coercive societies of the present” distinction this guy alludes to is almost certainly actually a “western-diet vs. non-western diet” issue, and his examples are the same ones that some historians use to note that various hunter-gatherer groups have vastly less cancer and heart disease than we do. See also my post Depression Is Not A Proxy For Social Dysfunction.
Spandrell with some interesting historical tidbits on calendars (warning: interspersed with political rants). Did you know that Japan switched to the Western calendar to avoid paying as many monthly salaries to government officials? Or that the reason our New Year is in January rather than at the beginning of spring like most other cultures was that it used to be at the beginning of spring, but some Roman consul wanted to start fighting a war despite legal issues saying he had to wait until the next year, so he solved the problem by moving the New Year forward?
Venezuela update: their new economics czar “does not believe inflation exists”, claims prices only rise because greedy corporations want more profit. The entire economic history of Venezuela for the past few years reads like something out of a particularly heavy-handed Ayn Rand book.
Cephalophores are decapitated saints who carry their own heads around. The big cephalophore-related question for medieval artists was: should the halo go above the stump of the neck, or above the decapitated head?
Kevin Drum in Mother Jones is the first liberal I’ve seen who really wants to take a loud public stand that ending the drug war has major costs and might not be a great idea. His argument: moderate liberalization of OxyContin prescribing practices over the past few decades probably contributed to an epidemic of Oxy overdose killing tens of thousands of people, and we would expect full legalization of everything to do even more. Given what I’ve been researching the past week, I’m especially grateful for his pointing out that drug overdoses kill three times more people than gun homicides yearly. [EDIT: This point originally comes from Robert VerBruggen]
SMBC seems to share my position on education.
Yet another testimonial for SSC sponsor Beeminder.
A Reddit AMA with the OpenAI team. Some people bring up my post on the matter, and Eliezer Yudkowsky shows up in the comments. Kind of a wide range on the team’s responses, but at least some of them say that the “open” only applies to harmless discoveries and that if there is anything really dangerous they will think long and hard before deciding whether to release it publicly. This alleviates a lot of my concerns – though I think that different people in the organization have very different views and I just hope the cool heads prevail.
ISIS new guide for jihadis who want to blend in with the West is actually one of the better style guides for men I’ve read, and probably useful for people who want to fit in for reasons other than so nobody suspects they’re planting a bomb.
I vaguely remember hearing some arguments that soda taxes didn’t work? Well, the latest studies suggest the one in Mexico is working as intended.
There’s now a Rationalist Book Club on Reddit – that’s “rationalist (book club)” and not “(rationalist book) club”, as you can tell by their first book for discussion being C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.
GiveWell has a list of interesting (though not necessarily guaranteed maximally effective) charities up. The one that most caught my eye was the Bronx Freedom Fund, which pays bail for poor people arrested for misdemeanors. This has a lot of neat features. First, a lot of the time poor people will plead guilty to crimes just to get out of jail, because they have a child to feed or a job they have to show up to and their only option for avoiding a lengthy detention is just to speed the whole process up by saying they’re guilty; therefore paying for people’s bail can (and has been shown to) prevent unnecessary fines, longer jail sentences, and criminal histories. Second, 97% of BFF’s clientele show up to court (equal to or better than the record for people who pay bail the normal way) so their money gets refunded to the charity and they can use the same small donation to pay bail for more people forever ad infinitum. Third, small amounts can do a lot of good – a lot of crimes have bail of just $500 or less, but poor people can’t afford to pay even that. Under some liberal assumptions, possibly $500 might save five or ten people a month-long jail sentence per year and keep one or two of them from getting a career-ruining criminal history. You can read more about Bronx Freedom Fund here and donate here. Interesting choice for people who are more interested in First World charity or in direct-suffering-alleviation rather than health-improvement. Of course, raises some questions about what the heck the bail system is doing in the first place, but we can worry about that later.
It is traditional to yell at Vox at least once during each links post, so here is their thinkpiece on test prep where New York’s top SAT tutor explains the state of SAT preparation. Only problem – the state of SAT preparation is “No matter how smart your children are, they will probably do terribly unless you buy my $500 online course which will raise their scores 400 points, here is the link”. Meanwhile, studies consistently show that SAT maps pretty consistently to other measures of academic ability, test prep doesn’t work much, and private tutoring raises students’ scores on average by 20 points. So either this guy has a computer program that works 20x as good as everybody else (which could happen! but I want evidence!), or he wrote a really overblown advertisement for his business in the form of a thinkpiece and Vox fell for it. Some points in favor of the latter: he’s written pretty much the same thinkpiece for five or six different news sources before, and also paid money to get it published on a press release PR site. Also, it’s not clear in what sense he’s New York’s best SAT tutor besides having established a long paper trail of calling himself that, including buying the domain name www.newyorksbestsattutor.com. This sort of thing wouldn’t bother me so much except that people like this are the reason everyone always says “Oh, the SAT? I think I heard that just tests what social class you’re from and how many ritzy tutors you can afford” (which is super false), and then inevitably conclude we should just throw it out and judge everyone by how likeable they are in an interview and how much of their childhood they sacrifice on the altar of Bullshytte Extracurriculars.
Manatee populations are up 500% and the species is no longer endangered. Let’s celebrate with a big juicy manatee steak!