Miscellanea: November 2018


‘Good guys’ in superhero films more violent than villains – Science Daily. “The researchers tallied an average of 23 acts of violence per hour associated with the films’ protagonists, compared with 18 violent acts per hour for the antagonists. The researchers also found the films showed male characters in nearly five times as many violent acts (34 per hour, on average), than female characters, who were engaged in an average of 7 violent acts per hour.”

What the New Sokal Hoax Reveals About Academia – Yascha Mounk at The Atlantic

The Dystopian Future of Facebook – Mark Kernan at Counterpunch

May You Live in Epic Times – Venkatesh Rao at Ribbonfarm

Trump is going to escalate his attacks on American democracy post-election, no matter who wins – Evan McMullin at NBC

In China’s Xinjiang, surveillance is all pervasive – Adrian Brown at Al Jazeera. The first personal account I’ve read of life in Xinjiang, from a reporter who tried to dig deeper and was blocked at virtually every avenue.

What if the Placebo Effect Isn’t a Trick? – Gary Greenberg at The New York Times

Strategy Without Politics is No Strategy: A Lesson of World War I for the Trump Era – Kori Schake at Lawfare

Non-Conformist Influence – Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias. See also Hanson on world government.

The Secretive Puppetmaster Behind Trump’s Supreme Court Pick – Jay Michaelson at The Daily Beast. “When President Donald Trump nominates a justice to the Supreme Court on Monday night, he will be carrying out the agenda of a small, secretive network of extremely conservative Catholic activists already responsible for placing three justices (Alito, Roberts, and Gorsuch) on the high court…At the center of the network is Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, the association of legal professionals that has been the pipeline for nearly all of Trump’s judicial nominees…Directly or through surrogates, he has placed dozens of life-tenure judges on the federal bench; effectively controls the Judicial Crisis Network, which led the opposition to President Obama’s high court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland; he heavily influences the Becket Fund law firm that represented Hobby Lobby in its successful challenge of contraception; and now supervises admissions and hires at the George Mason Law School, newly renamed in memory of Justice Antonin Scalia.”

Are Killer Robots the Future of War? Parsing the Facts on Autonomous Weapons – Kelsey D. Atherton at The New York Times

Here Comes ‘The Journal of Controversial Ideas.’ Cue the Outcry. – Tom Bartlett at The Chronicle of Higher Education

How much did the housing shock drive political polarization? – Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution

Fertility fraud: People conceived through errors, misdeeds in the industry are pressing for justice – Ariana Eunjung Cha at The Washington Post

In China, The Communist Party’s Latest, Unlikely Target: Young Marxists – Rob Schmitz at NPR

First analysis of ‘pre-registered’ studies shows sharp rise in null findings – Matthew Warren at Nature

Everything You Know About State Education Rankings Is Wrong – Stan Liebowitz and Matthew L. Kelly at Reason. “…mainstream rankings confirm the biases of many media outlets and the self-serving interests of education functionaries who only gain from higher spending—while also giving short shrift to minority students in predominantly white states. As a result, we suspect that the usual narrative based on those flawed state rankings will continue to predominate.”

Should Evolution Treat Our Microbes as Part of Us? – Andrew Rae at Quanta Magazine

Remember that study saying America is an oligarchy? 3 rebuttals say it’s wrong – Dylan Matthews at Vox. Referring to this study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.”

Why You Shouldn’t Study Psychology – Maple, Maypole. “A great deal of psychology literature is pretty similar to my first job out of university: Totally pointless, but it’s considered bad form to point this out and get everyone in trouble. A huge amount of the research in psychology does not replicate at all, and many of the most popular claims are obviously ridiculous. However, careers depend on us pretending they aren’t ridiculous, so there is a culture of simply pretending that everything works and ignoring inconvenient results. I’ve even met a lot of psychologists that have managed to successfully self-delude themselves even though they know they can’t understand the statistics involved.”

“They Say We’re White Supremacists”: Inside the Strange World of Conservative College Women – Nancy Jo Sales at Vanity Fair. “She didn’t believe Trump was a racist, she said: ‘I think [his racist comments are] a mix of what he actually feels and political theater. Being a businessman, I think, he knows how to sell something, so he’s trying to create this brand, because he knows if he keeps saying these things, people will keep watching and wondering what is he going to do next and that will intrigue some to vote for him.’” Hmm.

The Miseducation of Sheryl Sandberg – Duff McDonald at Vanity Fair



End of Space – Creating a Prison for Humanity – Kurzgesagt at YouTube

How Viral Videos Masked a Louisiana Prep School’s Problems – NYT News at YouTube

Instant Messaging and the Signal Protocol – Computerphile at YouTube

AI in China – Siraj Raval at YouTube

The kg is dead, long live the kg – Veritasium at YouTube

Visualizing turbulence with a home demo – 3Blue1Brown with Physics Girl at YouTube

Who Owns The Statue of Liberty? (New Jersey vs New York) – CGP Grey at YouTube

Special mention goes to The Great War, a standout YouTube channel that, for the last four years, has uploaded a video every week detailing what was going on in the First World War 100 years before, as well as uploading supplementary videos exploring individuals, countries, and topics in greater depth. With the passing of the 100-year anniversary of Armistice Day, the channel is wrapping up its namesake project and moving on to new horizons. Indy Neidell, the entertaining and informative host of the channel, has started his own project exploring World War Two.


Radicals Chasing Utopia, by Jamie Bartlett (3/5): Jamie Bartlett wanders from fringe to fringe, rubbing shoulders with everyone from transhumanist biohackers to right-wing anti-Islam activists. It was interesting enough, and I learned something new with just about every group he embedded himself with, but it felt episodic. Analysis of the common threads between these radical groups—or lack thereof—was hard to come by.

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, by Daniel Ellsberg (5/5): Masterful and terrifying. Nuclear war has taken a backseat to newer threats like AI and bioterrorism in many people’s minds, but in this book, Ellsberg reveals just how precarious the post-nuclear world was when he worked as a high-level planner at the RAND Corporation—and how the Doomsday Machine operates on a more sensitive trigger today than it ever did in the height of the Cold War.

The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, by Niall Ferguson (2/5): A disappointingly thin work from a historian/author who can do better. Normally I’m all in favor of concision, but The Great Degeneration simply doesn’t have enough meat on its bones. Ferguson doesn’t give himself enough ammo to back up his major claims, even where he’s correct, and in my opinion he heavily relies on faulty readings of Francis Fukuyama and Nassim Taleb.


Bing & Ruth – Starwood Choker

Collapse Under the Empire – The Last Reminder

Oh, Sleeper — Oxygen

Slipknot – All Out Life

Two Feet – Love is a Bitch

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