British soldier James Brooke was wounded in the Anglo-Burmese War and the military wouldn’t let him continue serving with his injury. He decided to go adventuring, got a ship, one thing led to another, and he ended up as king of the northern third of Borneo, founding a dynasty which lasted a hundred years.
You shall not make an image of the LORD your God. You definitely shall not get a bunch of people to make images of the LORD your God and average them together in order to prove something about how different demographic groups visualize the LORD your God. And yet here we are.
A study on vegetarian activism estimates its effectiveness at one pig saved per $150 devoted to activist charities (=$300/pig-year, since factory-farmed pigs live 6 months). The numbers come out to about $6 or so per chicken (=$50/chicken-year). Effective altruist Peter Hurford comments that this compares poorly to charities that work with humans under a wide range of assumptions about relative human-animal value. But it remains compatible with meat offsets; by my calculations donating $100 to the charity involved could offset eating pork one meal per day for a year.
Studies on fish oil in depression have been very inconsistent. A new meta-analysis claims to have figure it all out: fish oil supplements only help against depression if they have greater than 60% EPA (one of the two main fats in fish oil; different supplements have them at different ratios). Biologically plausible as the two kinds of fats may compete for transporters. Some good comments on r/nootropics, including someone pointing out that actual oily fish do not generally meet this criterion, which seems damning although I can’t really explain why.
In 1899, four reporters from the four major Denver newspapers randomly decided to fake a news story for fun. They wrote that China wanted to tear down the Great Wall and was seeking bids from US demolition companies, and each “swore they would stick to this story as fact as long as any of the others were still alive.” Eventually “the story spread to newspapers all across the country and then into Europe”. The hoax continued for decades, and in the 1940s somehow people got it into their heads that the Great Wall demolition plan had incited the Boxer Rebellion.
Related: The Great Tom Collins Hoax Of 1874 was some sort of weird meme where people would ask “Have you seen Tom Collins?”, and then embellish this with details like that “Tom Collins is looking for you” or “Tom Collins has been talking about you”. Apparently this was what passed for fun in 1874 and went down in history and song and a bunch of newspaper articles were published about it. This may be the source of the name of the Tom Collins cocktail.
A new study confirms my survey’s finding that women in science suffer less sexual harassment than in other fields, with female scientists reporting generally nonsignificantly lower rates of harassment than female non-scientists and engineers, and significantly lower rates than female medical students.
The Royal Game of Ur is the oldest board game in the world, popular throughout the Near East since about 2500 BC, and surviving in isolated communities all the way until the 1950s AD. They seem to have taken it very seriously: “The tablet of Itti-Marduk-balalu provides vague predictions for the players’ futures if they land on certain spaces, such as ‘You will find a friend’, ‘You will become powerful like a lion’ or ‘You will draw fine beer’.” The rules are similar to backgammon, which may be its distant descendant.
The ACLU, the NAACP, the nootropics community, the kratom community, and the anti-drug-war movement are all concerned about the SITSA Act, a bill which gives the Attorney General (Jeff Sessions, in case you forgot) the power to unilaterally decree any chemical that shares a mechanism with a controlled substance to itself be a controlled substance. This is a well-intentioned attempt to deal with the avalanche of fentanyl derivates (ie changing one atom on the fentanyl molecule and then saying “It’s not fentanyl! It’s not illegal! You can’t ban us until you pass a whole new law saying this molecule is illegal!), but as written it gives the government kind of arbitrary and complete drug-war-expanding power. If you’re worried, r/nootropics explains how best to contact your Senator.
From Less Wrong: A review of Elinor Ostrom’s book Governing the Commons, about how societies solve coordination problems in real life.
SCOTUS links: Slate thinks it’s been “ensured” that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. I think my previous 99% certainty that it wouldn’t was inexcusably far too high, but still expect the court to avoid doing it openly. Other fields to watch include affirmative action, criminal punishment, gerrymandering. 538 on how Kennedy was not really a moderate, but rather a conservative who occasionally voted with liberals on a few high-profile issues. And Snopes discusses rumors that Anthony Kennedy’s son is connected to the Russia investigations – mostly true, but I would treat conspiracy theories based on this as yet another example of how easy it is to construct a plausible-sounding-but-false conspiracy theory.
Related: Democrats discuss packing the Supreme Court if they win in 2020. Some would say that arguing that if you ever take power again you should win forever by breaking all rules and abandoning all honor – when your opponents are actually currently in power and can also do this – and making this argument in the national public media which your opponents also read – is at the very least a strategic error, if not more fundamentally erroneous. This is a metaphor for everything about the Democrats right now.
Katja Grace on Meteuphoric: Are ethical asymmetries from property rights?
A “proof” of Trump “dog-whistling” white supremacy recently went viral in the blogosphere and media: a DHS document had a headline reminiscent of a white supremacist slogan. If this sounds kind of weak, the clue-hunters buttressed it with undeniable proof: a statistic in the article said 13 of every 88 immigrants making a “credible fear” claim were accepted in the US. Using 88 as the denominator of a fraction is inexplicable except that 88 is a Known Secret White Supremacist Code Number (88 = HH = Heil Hitler). Somehow we reached the point where only Free Beacon did any investigative reporting; they immediately found that the document used 88 as a reference to another statistic where 88 out of every 100 immigrants made the “credible fear” claim in the first place. Then another tweet went viral noting that the DHS document had fourteen bullet points and fourteen was definitely a Known Secret White Supremacist Code Number; high-powered investigative reporting revealed the document only had thirteen bullet points. The original tweeter then argued that
this was proof the DHS was in league with the Devil an unbulleted paragraph was written in bold, which was sort of like a bullet point. I continue to believe this kind of thing is the modern version of looking for pyramid shapes to prove politicians are part of the Illuminati.
I don’t know if everyone is getting constant ads for ELYSIUM BASIS on Facebook, or if they just have me pegged as an anti-aging supplement kind of guy. But here’s a review of the legal and business irregularities of Elysium and how they’ve failed to fulfill their promise. Most people I read seem to think if you want nicotinamide riboside (Elysium’s star supplement) you should get it directly from the manufacturer under the brand name Niagen instead of taking a branded combination nootropic.
Gwern reviews On The Historicity Of Jesus. Short version: the prose is annoying, but the case that Jesus was completely mythical (as opposed to a real teacher whose deeds were exaggerated) is more plausible than generally supposed. Please read the review before commenting about this topic.
If you’re interested in AI alignment, you should be reading Rohin Shah’s AI Alignment Newsletter; future editions available on Less Wrong.
I wrote a while ago about Luna, a planned dating site that would involve a cryptocurrency-subsidized market in message-reading. There was some debate about whether they would ever make a product, but there is now a sort of use-able poorly advertised beta.
California has banned local communities from instituting soda taxes. The state claims it was driven to this extreme by the soda industry’s threats to start a ballot proposition to ban local communities from instituting any new taxes at all without a two-thirds majority. Experts predicted such a proposition would be pass and devastate local finances, so the state gave into blackmail and banned soda taxes, prompting the soda companies to back down on their ballot initiative. This makes no sense to me for several reasons, most notably that if a proposition to ban local taxes would so obviously pass, then you’d expect someone other than soda companies to propose it eventually. What about Republicans? Isn’t this the sort of thing they’re usually into?
Psychology’s gender problem gets worse: 90% of people entering the field are women, and research on female-specific issues outweighs male-specific issues four-to-one.
Tolkien started working on his fictional world after a semi-mystical experience he had when reading an Anglo-Saxon poem containing the line “Hail Earendel, brightest of angels / sent over Middle-Earth to mankind”
Colombian study finds that, among criminals “on the margin of incarceration” (ie whether or not they get imprisoned depends on whether they get a strict vs. lenient judge), their children do better (as measured in years of education) when they are imprisoned, presumably because they were bad parents who had a negative effect on their children’s lives. This one probably isn’t going to end up in any Chicken Soup For The Soul books.
A neat way of representing city street orientations.
There’s been a shift among some of my YIMBY friends to being more willing to acknowledge that building more housing may not decrease housing costs very quickly, effectively, or at all (short of implausibly massive amounts of new housing). Devon Zuegel presents one of the arguments.
This answers a lot of the questions I had about Piketty and straight-line growth: Steady-State Growth: Some New Evidence About An Old Stylized Fact. Confirms that some countries not only recovered from WWII but seemed to get a permanent boost from it. I want to see more on this theme.
“Campaign spending doesn’t help candidates get elected” is one of the most-replicated and least-believable findings in political science, so I guess it’s nice to have a new list of 49 experiments confirming it.
Ozy on three ways of dealing with sexual harassment and assault. Even though both Ozy and I are somewhat against callout culture, I find Ozy’s criticisms of it weak; I think the reasons it is bad are illegible and hard to communicate rationally. Their third method, which they call “expulsion”, is better described as “centralized authority” and (contra the post) can easily work even without a specific space to expel people from; if the authority is powerful enough, it can implement authority-backed public callouts and ostracization. I am disappointed the communities I’m in haven’t gotten more formal institutions for this.
The FDA mulls making current prescription-only drugs non-prescription. I admit I am really shocked by this development and had no idea it was even in the Overton Window. I am vaguely emotionally in favor of it but don’t know enough about statins to have strong views on that class in particular.
Anisha on Less Wrong offers A Step-By-Step Guide To Finding A Good Therapist.
This is exactly the kind of thing that doesn’t replicate, but it rings true to me: Performing Meaningless Rituals Boost Our Self-Control Through Making Us Feel More Self-Disciplined.
Zvi talks about his troubles hiring a nanny, how incompetent most job-seekers are. Two important lessons I take from this: first, if you hear that a hundred other people have applied for the job you want, this isn’t as much reason for despair as it sounds. Second, if you (like me) have heard the advice “show interest in the job/company you’re applying for”, you don’t necessarily need to agonize about exactly how best to express your enthusiasm – the advice is probably aimed at morons who apply for places without even caring what industry they’re in.
@atroyn on Twitter: Things That Happen In Silicon Valley And Also The Soviet Union. Good fun; less culture-war than it sounds.
Two San Francisco supervisors move to ban free workplace cafeterias, obviously directed at tech firms. They argue free cafeterias are denying business to local restaurants and (as per Supervisor Peskin) “depriving [techies] the pleasure of mingling with the rest of The City”, which is impossible for me to read in anything other than a cloying sarcastic bully voice. @theunitofcaring has a typically thoughtful and compassionate take on this. I am less thoughtful and compassionate and my take is wanting to start a petition to ban San Francisco City Supervisors from having kitchens in their house. It’s literally stealing from the restaurant industry! [EDIT: Commenter “Jeltz” has made the petition].
Did you know: even though phrenology is notorious as an example of a debunked scientific field, nobody had actually bothered formally checking whether or not it was true until this year. Now neurologists armed with modern MRI data have looked into it and – yeah, turns out to be totally debunked.
Your regular reminder that the IRS could easily calculate how much each American owes in taxes and send them the bill without any tax preparation required, but tax preparation companies like Intuit and H&R Block keep successfully lobbying against this to
“stop depriving citizens of the pleasure of mingling with the tax preparation community” preserve their business model.
States consider banning fast food companies from banning employee poaching. No-poach agreements were created to prevent people with trade secrets from disclosing them to competitors, but has expanded to the point where companies use them to prevent McJob workers from going to other McJobs that will pay more. The new government initiative seems to be in the ordoliberal spirit of government regulation that strengthens market principles and makes them work more smoothly.
Blogger who wrote “there is no crisis in the humanities” article in 2013 now writes Mea Culpa: There Is A Crisis In The Humanities. Humanities degrees as percent of college degrees have dropped from 7.5% ten years ago to only 5% today. Time course and major distribution don’t seem to support hypothesis that it’s related to culture-war-type issues; does support a narrative where after the 2008 recession people switched to majors they thought were better for getting jobs. But for some reason the exodus continues even now that the economy is improving.
Marginal Revolution has been especially good this past week. See eg their posts on how household income explains only 7% of variance in educational attainment, changing migration patterns to Europe and a Cowen-Smith immigration debate, non-replicating happiness research, and the history of abortion – which was mostly accepted in the US even in very religious places like Puritan New England until doctors started campaigning against it around the Civil War era.
Related: the “clown vs. chessmaster” debate around Trump still hasn’t died down. “I have just spent a week in Beijing talking to officials and intellectuals, many of whom are awed by his skill as a strategist and tactician.” But consider in the context of the Chinese government having every incentive to flatter him, and to encourage Americans to unite around him especially if he’s a clown.
Glenn Greenwald says Ecuador is planning to hand Julian Assange over to the UK. Proximal cause is
“to stop depriving Assange of the pleasure of mingling with the international law enforcement community” Assange’s protests against Spanish human rights abuses in Catalonia; apparently Ecuador and Spain are pretty close. Whatever you think of Assange, this is a stupid way for him to finally get caught and Ecuador has lost whatever goodwill it might have gained in my mind from holding out this long.
Newest big Head Start study finds significant negative effects from free preschool, which it is unable to easily explain. Hasn’t yet looked into the supposed positive non-academic findings that only surface decades down the line.
no_bear_so_low on how to quantify the economic costs of not redistributing money.
Historians during the Classical Age would sometimes speculate that certain old structures must have been built by gods or giants, so inconceivable was it to them that mere mortals could ever do such a thing. I feel the same way about some Minecraft projects sometimes; it boggles my mind to to imagine them being made by ordinary humans. The latest in this line is ArdaCraft, an attempt to simulate the entirety of Middle-Earth at 1:58 scale. Slightly complicated to make it work, but if you do, make sure not to miss Mithlond or Thorin’s Halls.