Friday Links

Using two different free protein-predicting AI algorithms, computer scientists were almost able to model Omicron before the coronavirus variant had been physically mapped.

Deceptive review practices cheat consumers, undercut honest businesses, and pollute online commerce," Samuel Levine, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement this week. "Fashion Nova is being held accountable for these practices, and other firms should take note."

[when children "at heightened risk of severe injury or death from COVID-19" are present, holds the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.]

The persistence of the gender wage gap suggests it may have roots extending back into childhood. Using data from a US longitudinal survey, this column examines how gender differences in adult earnings correspond to various childhood behaviours. Results indicate that women (but not men) who exhibited headstrong behaviour as children incurred significant earnings penalties as adults, while men (but not women) who exhibited more dependent behaviour as children were penalised.

"The core fundamental principle of clinical ethics tells us that once a person enters the hospital as a patient, whatever got them there is no longer part of the equation," said Vardit Ravitsky, who teaches bioethics at the Université de Montreal and Harvard Medical School. "The most extreme example I have ever seen was when I lived in Israel and a suicide bomber detonated on a bus, killing and injuring civilians around him. Somehow he was not killed by the explosion and he arrived at the hospital with his victims.

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The British government's PR campaign to destroy popular support for end-to-end encryption on messaging platforms has kicked off, under the handle "No Place To Hide", and it's as broad as any previous attack on the safety-guaranteeing technology.

Reported by us well in advance last year, the £500k campaign aims to destroy public support for end-to-end encryption (E2EE) as part of a wider strategy.

500,000 deaths are not made 500,000 times bigger than one, they are made smaller than a single death.

But more than a critique of the NYT’s front page, this is yet another realization of the limitations of data visualization, of my own craft. This is about the proverbial hammer seeing nails everywhere. What needs to be done may not be a data visualization.Perhaps a full profile of the 500,000th death. If we want to use the data, perhaps a collection of 50 profiles proportional to the distribution of deaths in the population, by age, by race, by level of income, etc. Something that reveals individuals.But not 500,000 dots.

We don’t talk too much about the fear of needles, but it honestly may be the elephant in the room here. What got me thinking about this was this study, appearing in JAMA Network Open that looks at the effects of placebo in randomized trials of vaccination. What struck me most was the startlingly high rates of adverse responses to placebos - often called the “nocebo” effect. Remember – vaccine trials occur in healthy individuals – the placebo adverse event rate should honestly be pretty low.

At the end of the 1960s, the cost of living went up a lot in Ireland. Most employers increased workers’ wages to account for this increase, but the four major Irish banks (the “Big Four”) did not. So the banking staff went on strike… and it was an enormous strike. All unionised banking staff, in all the banks in Ireland, stopped working at the start of May, 1970. They stayed on strike for more than six months.

If your official name is YATES, you can't (and presumably needn't) file a petition to change it to Yates.

The whole woke debate about whether a novelist can ever write through the point of view of someone else threatens to destroy historical fiction entirely.

The existence of good bad literature--the fact that one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one's intellect simply refuses to take seriously--is a reminder that art is not the same thing as cerebration.

Perhaps the supreme example of the "good bad" book is UNCLE TOM'S CABIN. It is an unintentionally ludicrous book, full of preposterous melodramatic incidents; it is also deeply moving and essentially true; it is hard to say which quality outweighs the other.

Be glamorous. “Investors are attracted to stocks that have emotional ‘glitter’” says Alok Kumar. We’re also attracted to people who glitter. We’re apt to trust good-looking ones even if they don’t deserve it – a fact Ms Holmes used on Henry Kissinger.

Of course, Johnson doesn’t have physical attraction on his side. But his schtick of raffish charm, bumbling good humour and optimism appeals to some. You’d rather go for a drink with him than Theresa May, even if you would have to buy it yourself.

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More experience and equipment are required to create a cup of Cometeer coffee than any other halfway plausible cup of coffee, literally ever. (You can tell the MIT, Apple, and Tesla scientists and Princeton-educated coffee-masters did a good job of brewing your coffee with proprietary machinery in Gloucester, Mass., flash-freezing it in liquid nitrogen, packing it in dry ice, and shipping it to your home for you to store in your freezer, because it tastes like you spent five minutes making it yourself using techniques that predate the advent of antibiotics.)

The famous legal phrase caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) entered common law because of a 17th century dispute over a magic bezoar stone.

There’s a lot of creepy consumerism here. Beyond the details that come out in McMillan Cottom’s description, the online tour of the house reveals stylized décor that romanticizes a simpler time when one could easily travel to distant vacation destinations with children. The kids’ room includes a climbing rope so homeowners will be well-prepared to exercise their children the next time public parks close and kids without backyards or indoor climbing equipment are again relegated to streets and sidewalks and parking lots for their outdoor recreation. These houses are clearly marketed to people who have the means (or hope for the means) to get as much of their skin out of the future pandemic game as possible.

It is hard to know who to sympathize less with: the person who claimed to be a certified psychic who could remove an ex-girlfriend curse (among the most powerful curses known to man) for just $5,100, or the person who claims he believed that person and gave her money to uncurse him. Ideally, no one would win this case. Unfortunately (unless it settles), someone probably will.

If such a high rate of resignations were occurring at a time when jobs were plentiful, it might be seen as a sign of a booming economy where workers have their pick of offers. But the same labor report showed that job openings have also declined, suggesting that something else is going on. A new Harris Poll of people with employment found that more than half of workers want to leave their jobs. Many cite uncaring employers and a lack of scheduling flexibility as reasons for wanting to quit. In other words, millions of American workers have simply had enough.

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I’m worried about losing a feature of virtual learning: our ability to turn off our Zoom cameras, our power to shut down the gaze. In 2020, I was anxious about teaching a special topics course on makerspaces virtually -- a class that is centered on shared tools, hands-on building and in-person collaborations. Fast-forward to 2021, and I am trying to imagine what it would look like to turn video off in a face-to-face classroom.

Having a virtual classroom with the ability to turn off our cameras offered a generative, unusual sweet spot for learning. It’s an environment where students were not only together but also alone. It’s an environment where students were supported but also weren’t being observed by their instructor or peers -- one where we could take a collective exhale from the performative demands of the classroom with a simple click of the “stop video” button.

Since the pandemic began, about 1 in 434 rural Americans have died of covid, compared with roughly 1 in 513 urban Americans, the institute’s data shows. And though vaccines have reduced overall covid death rates since the winter peak, rural mortality rates are now more than double urban rates — and accelerating quickly.

But the truth is that Venus Cloacina was probably not the patroness of privies that Swift and his contemporaries imagined. In fact, the famous Roman sewers she patronized were probably not really sewers, at least not in the sense in which we use the term today. The Cloaca Maxima was more of a massive storm drain, used to direct rainwater out of the streets and into the Tiber, and most Roman toilets were probably cesspits, unconnected from the sewer.

In fact, the famous Roman sewers she patronized were probably not really sewers, at least not in the sense in which we use the term today. The Cloaca Maxima was more of a massive storm drain, used to direct rainwater out of the streets and into the Tiber, and most Roman toilets were probably cesspits, unconnected from the sewer.

By withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the administration of President Joe Biden sought to create a sense that the United States’ string of exhausting and counterproductive interventions in the Middle East and South Asia was coming to an end. But the truth is more sobering. For all its commitments to end “forever wars,” the administration has given no sign that it is preparing to pivot away from the use of military force to manage perceived terrorist threats. Its ongoing counterterrorism policy review appears to be focused more on refining the bureaucratic architecture around drone strikes and other forms of what the military refers to as “direct action” than on a hard look at the costs and benefits of continuing to place military force at the center of U.S. counterterrorism policy.

The problem, according to his provocative argument, is not the war’s brutality but its relative humanity. Moyn does not at all advocate a return to brutal methods or so-called total war, but he does suggest that in vilifying torture, reducing casualty counts, and otherwise focusing on how the United States conducts hostilities, lawyers and advocates have stunted public criticism and diverted energy from the peace movements that might otherwise bring it to an end.

Moyn sees precisely this dynamic at work in the war on terror, especially the years that immediately followed the 9/11 attacks. Humane’s account of this period is in many ways the emotional core of the book. There is some irony in this line of argument, in that Bush’s response to the attacks is remembered more for its brutality than for respecting humanitarian protections: the era’s totemic images remain those of shackled detainees in orange jumpsuits at the makeshift U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and of prisoners suffering vicious torture at the hands of U.S. service members at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Nevertheless, Moyn argues, the administration’s abuses need to be viewed alongside the reaction they provoked. Scholars, lawyers, and advocates rallied in protest. They flooded the courts with filings, took their cases to international bodies, and worked passionately to close legal loopholes to make sure such things never happened again.

In so doing, Moyn intimates, they may have missed the forest for the trees. Yes, they secured a combination of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, executive orders, and new statutes that reined in torture. But they did little or nothing to address the underlying conflicts in which the torture took place. Why didn’t the same lawyers who shook with fury in the face of custodial abuse harness the same energy to oppose the wars that created a pretext for it?

Herein lies my problem. If we take only the economic perspective we are guilty of capitalist realism, of failing to imagine an alternative to inequalities. But if we take only the latter perspective, we are guilty of at best wishful thinking and at worst recklessly endangering the livelihoods of the worst off.

In the same way that electricity went from a luxury enjoyed by the American élite to something just about everyone had, so, too, has fame, or at least being known by strangers, gone from a novelty to a core human experience. The Western intellectual tradition spent millennia maintaining a conceptual boundary between public and private — embedding it in law and politics, norms and etiquette, theorizing and reinscribing it.

Even with identical credentials, first-generation graduates have more trouble getting jobs than their better-coached and -connected classmates, according to new research by scholars at Michigan State University and the universities of Iowa and Minnesota.

Throughout his adventures, William Dampier jotted down meticulous observations of the natural world while his shipmates pillaged, plundered, and raided just a few miles away. Caribbean scholar John Ramsaran quotes one scholar, who imagines Dampier “writing up his journal, describing a bunch of flowers, or a rare fish, in the intervals between looting a wine-shop or sacking a village.”

In the pages of his notebook, Dampier expressed a great curiosity about the world—and a great keenness for eating basically any animal he came across. This included shark (which his men ate “very savorily”), wallaby (a “very good Meat,” similar to raccoon), flamingo, and many, many sea turtles.

Overall, about 63 percent of virtual for-profit schools were rated unacceptable by their states in the latest year for which data was available, according to a May report by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center (NEPC).

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone at colleges and universities wear masks indoors, even if they are fully vaccinated, in locales with substantial or high transmission of the coronavirus. Most of the country meets that standard at this point. The CDC also recommends that colleges offer and promote covid vaccines.

A series of influential articles published in the 1970s would argue that for a few decades after the Scopes trial, biology textbooks would become “less scientific.” According to these historians, textbook writers and publishers deleted sections about evolution, removed pictures of Darwin, softened “controversial” discussions by weaving in religious quotations, and moved the topic evolution to the last chapter of the textbooks, where it could easily be cut out (sometimes literally, with scissors).

Scholar Ron Ladouceur refers to this popular narrative as the “myth of Scopes,” which he defines as “the conventional belief that the theory of evolution…was fairly presented in high school textbooks prior to the Scopes trial, but that references to the topic were systematically removed by authors and publishers under pressure from Christian fundamentalists over the next 35 years.”

Orca will likely soon be dwarfed by competing projects in the US and Scotland that are expected to come online in the next two years. But even then, without much more public and private investment, the industry will be far from the 10 million tons per year that the International Energy Agency says are needed by 2030.

Like many pandemic-induced changes to American society, what remains to be seen is whether homeschooling is having a moment, or whether it is establishing itself as a permanent feature among educational options in the US. There are reasons to suspect it could be the latter.

Specifically, the researchers found that for every additional $50,000 of net worth accumulated at midlife, the risk of death later in life dropped by 5%.

Judging from the media coverage of the work from home (WFH) phenomenon, you’d think it’s become near universal. It’s not. In July, only about one in eight workers were teleworking—the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preferred term—and those are heavily concentrated in a few sectors and occupations, and among the highly credentialed.

According to BLS stats, in July 2021, just 13% of workers are doing so remotely because of the pandemic, down from 35% in May 2020, the first month the numbers were collected. (See graph below.) And that initial 35% number was inflated by the fact that so many workers who couldn’t work from home, like those in retail and hospitality, had been laid off. Since that peak, the share has declined in twelve of the subsequent fourteen months.

But most jobs just can’t be done remotely. Those who can work remotely have to be served by the majority of lower-status, lower-paid workers who make things and move them around. If they were paid not to work, money would quickly become worthless because there’d be nothing to buy with it—no food, no electricity, no appliances, no medical equipment, nothing.

We present a set of computing tools and techniques that every researcher can and should consider adopting. These recommendations synthesize inspiration from our own work, from the experiences of the thousands of people who have taken part in Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry workshops over the past 6 years, and from a variety of other guides. Our recommendations are aimed specifically at people who are new to research computing.

We all know of college students who are pre-med one minute and pursuing an architectural degree the next. A lot of those changes will be occurring early on, during the fall semester. We need to ensure that students, especially diverse students, don’t see this as a failure or setback but rather as an opportunity to help them find their way. Hopefully, some will take a path toward professions where their perspective and presence are critically needed.

Friday Links

To complicate matters further, about half of the roughly forty-five known examples were discovered before the emergence of rigorous archaeological standards for documenting objects’ findspots and contexts. This means that we simply have no idea where—or even when—some of the most famous slave collars were originally found, such as the so-called Zoninus collar now in the collection of the Museo Nazionale Romano.

On the other hand, the specimens that were excavated more recently show a range of archaeological contexts so wide that it is almost impossible to make generalizations: some have been found still attached around a skeleton’s neck, indicating that “for some slaves at least, a metal neck collar was permanent,” while others have been found in trash heaps and gutters, perhaps discarded by successful fugitives.j

For all that, it is hard not to think that he would have been a more appealing character, at least aesthetically speaking, if he had lived 200 years earlier. In the 19th century McAfee might have composed "The Revolt of Islam" or a biography of William Tell in between keeping a pet bear in his Oxford rooms or fighting for Greek independence. Instead he both consumed and sold an enormous amount of drugs, wrote computer software, and ran unsuccessfully for the presidential nomination of a minor political party....

That evening's debate was memorable not least of all for McAfee's candor. In response to a question about what works of political philosophy had inspired the candidates, he flatly declared: "I come to you untutored in the great thinkers of libertarianism. The first book I ever read cover to cover was Darwin's Origin of Species at the age of 30. I read that book because I was dealing drugs in Mexico at the time and it was the only English-language book I could find."

In a case of l’esprit de l’escalier, I just worked out the perfect parenthetical addition to this piece that was published in Inside Story, responding to a string of pro-natalist pieces in the New York Times and elsewhere. The central point is that the economic model in which strong young workers support elderly retirees is outdated and will only become more so.

The model underlying the desire for a population pyramid is one in which physical work predominates. Young and strong, needing only on-the-job training, workers leave school at 14 and immediately start contributing to the economy. By 65, they are worn out and ready for retirement. In this model, the more young people, the better.

One of the most entertaining of these rumors was what historian John McMillan has called “the Great Banana Hoax of 1967.” In the spring of that year, publishers of underground papers printed a recipe for smoking banana peels. It involved freezing the peels, blending them into a pulp, baking the residue at 200 degrees, and then smoking it in a cigarette or pipe (The Berkeley Barb, March 17, 1967). This supposedly produced an experience similar to that of smoking marijuana.

It involved freezing the peels, blending them into a pulp, baking the residue at 200 degrees, and then smoking it in a cigarette or pipe (The Berkeley Barb, March 17, 1967). This supposedly produced an experience similar to that of smoking marijuana.

As fun, if not necessarily effective, as banana smoking might have been, it was not without risks. According to The Rag, two people were taken into custody for possession of what turned out to be a banana peel: according to the Los Angeles Free Press, Donald Arthur Snell of Santa Fe Springs, California, was charged with driving while under the influence of drugs—the drug being banana peel (Berkeley Barb, May 26, 1967).

But small gatherings like Doug’s party are a potential important source of transmission, though this has been really hard to measure. At least, unless you get clever, which is what a team led by Anupam Jena did in this article, appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine.

With coronavirus infections falling in the U.S., many people are eager to put the pandemic behind them. But it has inflicted wounds that won’t easily heal. In addition to killing 600,000 in the United States and afflicting an estimated 3.4 million or more with persistent symptoms, the pandemic threatens the health of vulnerable people devastated by the loss of jobs, homes and opportunities for the future. It will, almost certainly, cast a long shadow on American health, leading millions of people to live sicker and die younger due to increasing rates of poverty, hunger and housing insecurity.

It will, almost certainly, cast a long shadow on American health, leading millions of people to live sicker and die younger due to increasing rates of poverty, hunger and housing insecurity.

In particular, it will exacerbate the discrepancies already seen in the country between the wealth and health of Black and Hispanic Americans and those of white Americans. Indeed, new research published Wednesday in the BMJ shows just how wide that gap has grown. Life expectancy across the country plummeted by nearly two years from 2018 to 2020, the largest decline since 1943, when American troops were dying in World War II, according to the study. But while white Americans lost 1.36 years, Black Americans lost 3.25 years and Hispanic Americans lost 3.88 years. Given that life expectancy typically varies only by a month or two from year to year, losses of this magnitude are “pretty catastrophic,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and lead author of the study.

Western powers have reacted with alarm to the ICC’s recent attempts to open investigations outside Africa, heaping pressure on the court and leveling sanctions against it. In so doing, they have revealed the tacit understanding that international criminal law applies to some more than others.

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(Laugh if you will, but archaeology has proven that the ancients who once inhabited the Iberian Peninsula greatly valued the lime-flavored nacho chip for its nutritive value, and they long afforded it primacy among chips.)

Since the U.S. doesn't have a statutory minimum of paid public holidays like most of the rest of the world, it will fall on employers to decide whether or not to actually honor America's Second Independence Day.

Friday Links

Nobody likes paying taxes (well, maybe some oddballs do, but to each their own), but over the last few years, Corporate America has been enjoying the lightest tax burden in history. That needs to change.

Foresters used to remove dead wood because it was once thought of as unsightly. Today, keeping dead wood on the ground has become a priority in forests around the world.

The lockdown in South Africa made it possible to investigate the changes in second‐year students' performance in the Economics department at the University of Pretoria. In particular, we are interested in assessing what factors predict changes in students' performance after transitioning from face‐to‐face (F2F) to online learning. Our main objectives in answering this study question are to establish what study materials the students were able to access (i.e. slides, recordings, or live sessions) and how students got access to these materials (i.e. the infrastructure they used).

The First Amendment of the US Constitution limits the government—not private entities—from restricting free expression. This is why companies like Facebook and Twitter can moderate content—and also why they could suspend then-President Trump’s accounts during his last weeks in office. While many Americans applauded this move as an appropriate response to the violent Capitol insurrection, unexpected critics emerged in corners of the globe where the American version of free speech is considered, well, weird.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the move as “problematic,” saying that lawmakers, rather than social media CEOs, should regulate speech—the exact opposite of what the First Amendment allows....

France’s Finance Minister also said he was “shocked” by the decision, which he framed as “social media oligarchy” regulating speech. Leaders outside of Europe criticized the move as well.

Children are human beings, not economic commodities. Our response to the pandemic should not be guided by the gloomy speculations of misguided economists, but young people and those who know them. 

Of course, money matters; it is what gets workers through the door.  But whilst it is usually necessary to get a job done, it is not sufficient to get it done well, at least where contracts and worker supervision are incomplete.

In several other countries, filing your taxes is a lot easier. The government uses data it already has on your income to fill out your taxes. But in the United States, Intuit has spent millions each year lobbying against these simpler systems which would eliminate the need for their services. Tax industry lobbying was how the IRS’s Free File was initially created, with the IRS agreeing to leave it up to those companies.

“People who are actually ranked toward the bottom of the income distribution tend to think they’re ranked higher than they truly are. And those who are ranked toward the top believe they’re ranked lower than they actually are.”

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By 1941, the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum koksaghyz, supplied 30% of the USSR's rubber. During the Second World War, shortages of Havea rubber prompted other countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, to begin cultivating dandelion rubber. Once the war was over and supplies returned to normal, these countries — including, ultimately, the Soviets — switched back to Hevea tree rubber because it was cheaper.

Giving at scale by the super-wealthy has done little to redistribute wealth from rich to poor, helping perpetuate social inequalities rather than remedying them, while paying considerable dividends to donors in the form of privilege and influence in society and politics, new research shows.

Corporal punishment in state schools in the UK was made illegal in 1986. This is the story about how it was eliminated in one Local Education Authority, Oxfordshire, before that.

My dad became CEO of Oxfordshire in 1978. He was young, and opposed corporal punishment, but knew, as he puts it, that “in a time of cuts, if I went to the politicians and asked them for money for canes they’d ask me how many I wanted, and did I want the luxury versions”. So he didn’t talk to them about corporal punishment.

“The toll of death is simply staggering — worse than I would have predicted,” said Arthur Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine. “Covid has been nothing short of the worst failure of public policy in modern memory.”...

All other causes of death pale in comparison to the coronavirus death toll. So far, the coronavirus has killed roughly three times as many people as accidents, lung ailments, stroke or Alzheimer’s disease did in 2019. And the coronavirus has outpaced the number of deaths from diabetes, kidney disease, pneumonia and suicide by even larger multiples.

Prosecutors who want to hold police accountable should seek the bird in the hand, not the two in the bush. They should select charges in these cases so that conviction is a real possibility and, therefore, a real constraint on future police behavior. One "guilty" verdict on manslaughter will do more to reshape officers' behavioral calculus than an endless stream of "not guilty" decisions on murder.

Bottom line: Many people don’t like needles, and that could further slow vaccination efforts as winter turns to spring when supplies are expected to multiply and efforts to get the hesitant to sign up for a dose will intensify.

“Fear of needles was one of the barriers that was a significant predictor of people saying, ‘I don’t think I will get this vaccine,’” said Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who researches visual communication and conducted a survey of 500 people in July.

Mather had learned about inoculation more than a decade earlier, from an African man named Onesimus, whom he enslaved. When he asked if Onesimus had ever had smallpox, the man showed him a scar on his arm and explained that his community in Africa used infected material from one person to inoculate others against the disease. A few years later, Mather read a report from Turkey describing a similar procedure.

I remember last March, about three days into the shutdown when my Facebook newsfeed was filled with hilarious memes from parents who had been home teaching their children for a few days. The memes praised teachers, joked about suspending their own children, and immediately needing a vacation. As I saw these posts, I laughed along with them but thought to myself “this won’t last long”. And how right I was. People got amnesia and quick.

While all viruses find ways to evade the body’s defenses, a growing field of research suggests that the coronavirus unhinges the immune system more profoundly than previously realized.

A billionth of a century is approximately pi seconds. The diameter of the Earth is roughly half a billion inches. (Incidentally, one millionth of a century is about 52 and a half minutes. This microcentury is apparently the optimal time for a lecture: long enough to get into depth and detail; not so long that people fall asleep.)

In our view, as education researchers who specialize in science education, the learning sciences and educational assessment, we see an abundance of reasons to let states off the hook for testing this year....

Unfortunately, national experts and research findings indicate that high-stakes testing does not live up to its promise. Instead, research has shown serious negative side effects.

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There are 365 days in a year, 366 in a leap year. But if you put 70 people into a room it’s almost certain that two of them will have the same birthday. In fact, if you put just 23 people into a room there’s at least a 50% chance that two of them will have the same birthday.

This is known as the birthday problem, or the birthday paradox. (It’s not an actual paradox, just a surprising and counterintuitive result, like the kidney stone paradox or the false positive paradox.) The math behind it is a little opaque, but one intuitive way of explaining it is that the number of potential combinations of people in these groups is large – 70 people equals 2415 different pairings – and any one of those pairings could be a matching birthday.

In fact, other studies have confirmed that people who are suspicious of climate change often remain stubbornly unmoved by firsthand experience with extreme weather. That may be for two overlapping reasons. First, there’s the myth that any kind of cold weather is incompatible with the overwhelming scientific consensus that current global warming is real and caused by people. The frigid snowstorms gripped Texas and the eastern U.S. about six years to the day after a U.S. senator brought a snowball onto the Senate floor as proof against the reality of global climate change. (Each year since then, the U.S. has suffered at least ten billion-dollar or more climate catastrophes, with a record-setting twenty-two such events in 2020.)

One of the really rampant myths that I deal with on a regular basis is about life expectancy in the medieval period. What gets trotted out, over and over, is the idea that “the average life expectancy in the medieval period was 35, so when you were 32 you were considered an old”. Friends, this is extremely not true, and this myth is also damaging to us now....

To write anyone’s life off as excess or frivolous is, quite frankly, monstrous. Medieval people would not have accepted the death of everyone over a certain age as inevitable or excusable. To say that we should now because of their average life expectancy make no sense, and is nothing short of thinly veiled eugenics. If you feel like relating to life and pandemics this way, then I am afraid you are actually treating people more brutally than they were treated half a millennium ago. Reflect on that and do better.

In 1968, a small group of Black Chicago officers—all relatively new to the department—founded the Afro-American Patrolman’s League. Unlike Black police organizations in other cities, the AAPL wasn’t primarily concerned with the officers’ own working conditions. They saw their mission as fighting racist policing from inside the department....

Not surprisingly, the police department did not take AAPL’s actions well. Its leaders were falsely accused of crimes, suspended, and given humiliating assignments. Fellow cops targeted the family of one league leader, Renault Robinson. They called the elementary school where his six- and seven-year-old boys were enrolled, threatening to murder them. The FBI also surveilled the AAPL, building a dossier of more than 500 pages by the end of 1968.

It was in this climate that Child struggled to get back into mainstream publishing. Her next major work was a collection of her columns from the National Anti-Slavery Standard, written between 1841 and 1843. The original abolitionist columns, however, were “too radical for the uncommitted public.”...

As Karcher notes, government censorship, while not unknown, has been fairly rare in America. But there has long been what she calls “censorship American style.” This is a varying mix of market forces—what the public will buy, or what gatekeepers think the public will buy—and conformist opinion about legitimate topics for discussion. Ostracized by “respectable” opinion and threatened by violent anti-abolitionists, Lydia Maria Child felt she had to censor herself to get her message out to a wider audience.

For several decades in the middle of the 20th century, nuts and its facetious cousin nerts were deemed so inappropriate that they were forbidden—along with, but not limited to, whore, SOB, damn, hell,  fanny, and slut—in the scripts of Hollywood movies.

“In popular mythology, the American West stands as a kind of ultimate free labor landscape,” continues Smith, but the reality of indentured servitude, contract labor, and debt peonage, as well as the persistence of chattel slavery, “fits uneasily within familiar narratives of western history.”

If I were asked to give a succinct description of my work (for that, believe it or not, is what writing four or five days a week is) I would say that I am an entertainer and that journalism is simply a form of mass entertainment, like Hollywood or Major League Baseball, albeit one with somewhat lower average earnings potential....

To repeat a suggestion I made on Twitter, I contend that text-based websites should not exceed in size the major works of Russian literature.

This is a generous yardstick. I could have picked French literature, full of slim little books, but I intentionally went with Russian novels and their reputation for ponderousness.

“Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”, Secretary-General António Guterres said on the report’s findings. 

My home computer in 1998 had a 56K modem connected to our telephone line; we were allowed a maximum of thirty minutes of computer usage a day, because my parents — quite reasonably — did not want to have their telephone shut off for an evening at a time. I remember webpages loading slowly: ten to twenty seconds for a basic news article....

So, with an internet connection faster than I could have thought possible in the late 1990s, what’s the score now? A story at the Hill took over nine seconds to load; at Politico, seventeen seconds; at CNN, over thirty seconds. This is the bullshit web....

An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.

Friday Links

“Yeah, they may be effective 95 percent of the time, but what about the experience of being inoculated against the century’s first pandemic?” he continued. “We’re people, not zombie consumers. Each dose should be personalized and special.”

But as John Warner points out in his new polemic Sustainable. Resilient. Free. The Future of Public Higher Education, no-cost public college is neither utopian nor new. Rather, narratives that say college should be expensive, that you should take out debt to pay for it if you don’t have family funding, that it is a private investment in your future, are the historically recent developments.

Harvard researchers estimate it would take about $79 billion per year to make all public colleges and universities free; by contrast, our present debt-leveraged, tuition-dependent Rube Goldberg machine that “subsidizes college attendance” costs the federal government $91 billion every year.

The study team analyzed the effect of education and birth year on differences in memory and verbal fluency among nearly 16,000 participants born between 1930 and 1955. Women had better memory scores overall, which became more significant in the groups born more recently. But in the older birth cohort, women had poorer fluency scores than men. That difference progressively reversed in the groups born later, reported Mikaela Bloomberg, a Ph.D. candidate from University College London. 

The religious basis of the act was explicit: the act stated its intention was to thwart “ye old deluder, Satan” in his goal “to keepe men from the knowledge of ye Scriptures.” To this end, the law required every town with 50 or more families to hire and maintain a teacher to instruct all children in reading and writing.

The first paper, which garnered widespread media coverage, found little evidence that COVID had spread in 17 schools in rural Wisconsin that opened buildings with strict safety procedures.

The other study, which has drawn less attention, found that across Wisconsin as a whole, 5,700 COVID cases were linked to outbreaks in K-12 schools and childcare facilities last fall.

Epidemiologist Theresa Chapple worries that studies that rely on contact tracing all have the same flaw — the lack of systematic “surveillance” testing that would provide a complete picture of virus cases in a school.

In the mid-nineteenth century, cities often had the power to lock kids up in reform schools, against their own and their parents’ objections, without convicting them of any crime. This fell under the general legal precept that “the welfare of the people is the supreme law.”

Secondary market trading is societally unproductive (more on that shortly) and should be discouraged by increasing transaction costs (this is one of the big reasons to push for a financial transactions tax, not for revenue purposes, although that’s a nice side bennie, but to shrink the financial casinos).

Friday Links

Interestingly, hundreds of plant species in sand dunes have evolved sticky surfaces, suggesting utility in that habitat. Windblown sand coats these sticky surfaces – a phenomenon known as psammophory, which means “sand-carrying” in Greek. While a sandy coating may limit light from reaching plant surfaces, it also likely protects plants from abrasion and reflects light, reducing leaf temperature. It also defends plants from hungry predators.

Why isn’t it considered bad behavior to sit in front of a wall of screens filled with flashing numbers making bets on those numbers? Would it attract the cultural scolds if the people making those bets were drinking tall boys in brown bags, rather than sipping bespoke lattes?

Read the latest reports concerning Covid-19 and academia and it has become clear that the inequalities and representation of women have worsened. Women are submitting fewer preprints, dropping enrolments in university programmes, missing from pandemic-related scientific committees, and experiencing pressure during lockdown periods to take on traditional caregiving and domestic responsibilities. These are not simply temporary setbacks, but a call to reflect on longstanding social schemas. What this suggest is, that it is time for research that considers a wider array of variables.

“The joy of games like Hitman for me is that they’re presented with an incredibly straight face, but allow you to do incredibly silly things,” he told Polygon over email. “I’ve previously killed 553 people using only a fish in the game, so it just seemed like a natural progression for the freezer challenge.”

A website that claims to sell ad space for Covid-19 vaccinations has triggered both laughter and existential dread, with many expressing despair over the possibility that the absurd gimmick could actually be real.

There is a right way and a wrong way to do a diet study.  The wrong way is to send a survey to a few thousand people asking them to recall what they eat and linking those responses to outcomes down the road. That’s how we get studies that tell us that eggs kills you, or keep you healthy, or something. The right way is to do what the good folks at the NIH did in this study appearing in Nature Medicine – lock people in a room for 28 days and measure absolutely everything.’

To answer that requires explaining the concept of short selling, which most civilians find nearly incomprehensible. A short sale is a bet that a stock (or any other speculative asset, like bonds or gold) is going to decline in price. But to make that bet, you have to sell something you don’t already own, which is not normal behavior. To accomplish this, you have to borrow the stock from somebody who does own it. As with any loan, you have to pay interest on the borrowed asset. And you also have to keep some collateral on deposit with your broker as an assurance you’re good for the money. The hope is that the price will fall, and you can buy the shares — cover the short, in the jargon — at a lower price. Your profit would be the difference between the original sale price and the closing purchase price, minus any interest paid on the borrowed asset.

But what if you’re wrong, and the price rises? Then you’re in trouble. When you buy a stock, your risk is that you could lose the entire purchase price — but no more. With short selling, if you’re wrong, there’s no predetermined limit to how much you can lose if the price keeps rising. And if the price keeps rising, your broker will demand more collateral in the form of real money. You have a choice between giving up — covering the short and taking the loss — or keep pouring more collateral into a losing position in the hope that things will finally turn your way.

But the researchers wanted to know whether there was a reason for the cats to go wild, beyond pure pleasure. That is when one of the scientists heard about the insect-repelling properties of nepetalactone, which about 2 decades ago was shown to be as good as the famed mosquito-stopper DEET. The researchers hypothesized that when felines in the wild rub on catnip or silver vine, they’re essentially applying an insect repellant.

If you were an adherent of the ceiling view, you might reasonably say, look, even if the effect of income on happiness is linear in the log of income, that’s basically the same as saying it’s not linear in income, and that above some threshold or ceiling you’d need to increase your income by a lot in order to see any substantial increase in happiness.

So you can see why an advocate of the threshold or ceiling view of income satisfaction might be unconvinced that the log-linearity of happiness in income is much to be concerned about. Sure, it’s still growing, but after the initial steep increase in happiness that comes with getting some money, across most of the range of achievable incomes the increase is negligible.

Enslavement in the northern states is often glossed with a statement about how the practice was ended in such and such a year. The reality is more complicated. Emancipation was piecemeal, gradual, and, when it came to visitors from other states and even nations, often ambiguous.

Friday Links

“A rooster sits on the apex of a barn roof. The roof pitches at an angle of 43 degrees above the horizontal and is made of wood painted red. On the northern side of the roof, there is a large tree which casts a shadow over most of the roof. On the southern side, there is a duck pond. There is a very light rain shower falling, and the wind speed is 20 km/h from the Southwest. It is 10:47am on the 19th of August and the current temperature is 14 degrees celsius. The rooster lays an egg. Which way does it roll?”

The correct answer to this puzzle is usually given as: “Roosters don’t lay eggs.”

I take offense at this for several reasons....

The scores showed only 39% of all students were proficient or advanced in English and that 40% were proficient or advanced in math. Only 20.7% of voucher students were proficient or advanced in English and just 17.8% were proficient or advanced in math.

It’s time for pi! This elusive irrational number has been chased by many mathematicians throughout history, but few were as successful as Zu Chongzhi, an astronomer and mathematician of southern China. Zu Chongzhi, by the way, was one of many inventors to re-create the south-pointing chariot and he also invented the “thousand league boat,” the Chinese foot-powered paddle boat. But his greatest legacy was his calculations for pi.

Three months after Nasrudin married his new wife, she gave birth to a baby girl.

“Now, I’m no expert or anything,” said Nasrudin, “and please don’t take this the wrong way-but tell me this: Doesn’t it take nine months for a woman to go from child conception to childbirth?”

“You men are all alike,” she replied, “so ignorant of womanly matters. Tell me something: how long have I been married to you?”

“Three months,” replied Nasrudin.

“And how long have you been married to me?” she asked.

“Three months,” replied Nasrudin.

“And how long have I been pregnant?” she inquired.

“Three months,” replied Nasrudin.

“So,” she explained, “three plus three plus three equals nine. Are you satisfied now?”

“Yes,” replied Nasrudin, “please forgive me for bringing up the matter.”

Friday Links

Libraries are still just about the only place in America anyone can go and sit and use a computer and the internet without buying anything. All over the country, library closures during the pandemic have highlighted just how many people have no dependable source of internet on their own.  

According to a Pew survey published last year, less than two-thirds of Americans in rural areas have a broadband internet connection at home. Among Americans with household incomes below $30,000, four out of 10 don’t have a computer, and three out of 10 don’t have a smartphone.

As I’ve written in the recent past, I believe that the current political uprising has a chance at being an enormously positive development. I worry though that it will be limited by the power of political Calvinism.

I know I’ve heard the term used before, though I can’t remember from who. By political Calvinism I mean the tendency within the left to see the structural injustices of the world as inherent and immutable, so baked into the cake of the current context, history, the United States of America, etc., that they will always exist. The stain of injustice can never be rubbed out. This is most obvious when discussing racial dynamics. White people are inherently in possession of white privilege, as many will tell you – most insistently white liberals, in my experience. Well, yes, today all white people enjoy white privilege, though the valence of that advantage varies with other factors in their lives. But the degree and intensity and in fact existence of white privilege is mutable; if we had a real racial awakening and all people worked to end white privilege, it would end. And not only do I not think this is a crazy thing to believe, I think believing it is a necessary precondition to being an agent of positive change!

Eternally unprofitable and burning cash because the name of the game is now consolidation or bust, Uber has made an offer to buy rival food delivery company Postmates as the mobility war intensifies.

As it stands, ride-hailing alone isn’t going to cut it, and investors still seem to not be shying away from a company itself it has admitted may never be profitable.

During the four-way race for President in 1860, the six-year-old Republican Party found support from a new generation of voters who helped push Abraham Lincoln to victory. They were known as the “Wide Awakes,” because of their youth, enthusiasm, and torch-lit nighttime marches. “Now the old men are folding their arms and going to sleep,” said William H. Seward while campaigning for Lincoln, “and the young men are Wide Awake.”

The only polling in 1860 was the actual voting. Turnout was 81.2% of those eligible to vote (a cohort that consisted only of white men). That’s the the second highest turnout in our history, after the election of 1876. The highest turnout of the twenty-first century so far has been 58.2%, in 2008.

And, at least until recently, SROs were hugely popular. In a 2018 poll, Starr writes, 80 percent of parents favored posting armed police officers at their child’s school. That made superintendents like him cautious about airing “even the mildest criticism” of SROs,” he writes. “Privately, though, many district leaders will tell you that if they had a choice, they’d rather not have armed officers in the schools at all.”

Friday Links

Transmission of viruses was lower with physical distancing of 1 m or more, compared with a distance of less than 1 m (n=10 736, pooled adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0·18, 95% CI 0·09 to 0·38; risk difference [RD] −10·2%, 95% CI −11·5 to −7·5; moderate certainty); protection was increased as distance was lengthened (change in relative risk [RR] 2·02 per m; pinteraction=0·041; moderate certainty). Face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection (n=2647; aOR 0·15, 95% CI 0·07 to 0·34, RD −14·3%, −15·9 to −10·7; low certainty), with stronger associations with N95 or similar respirators compared with disposable surgical masks or similar (eg, reusable 12–16-layer cotton masks; pinteraction=0·090; posterior probability >95%, low certainty).

There’s a joke: What do you call 1000 good cops and ten bad cops? 1010 bad cops....

It seems paradoxical at first. While people do escape to cheery landscapes, like the farm of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, they also spend their money on games engineered to inspire terror, fear, and anxiety. Doom Eternal, Nioh, and Resident Evil all saw high download numbers in the last few months.

What’s the appeal? In the journal Preternature, authors Robert M. Geraci, Nat Recine, and Samantha Fox make a compelling case that video games like these have a meaningful psychological role, especially today. “Faced with physical and psychological dangers, human beings imagine them as monsters and seek to master them,” they explain.

“The horrific experience of videogames, and hence their cathartic appeal, emerges when a game produces a constant level of anxiety in players while allowing the players to act on it,” the authors explain.

Gloves, masks, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are key to keeping us safe, especially as we began to ease the lockdown rules. Yet, the environmental watchdogs worry that all that PPE will flow into the ocean. ” If they’re thrown on the streets, when it rains the gloves and masks will eventually end up in the sea,” biologist Anastasia Miliou at the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation in Greece told Deutsche Welle.

Heroism by the many or the repeated heroism by occupant after occupant of a given role indicates the failure of the surrounding system. Adequate supplies, for example, or prompt pre-emptive action would have changed the effort required of many health care providers from heroic to merely demanding. In that sense, the accolades, deeply deserved as they are, can serve to divert our attention from the less glamorous, indeed the mundane work of repairing the systems so that heroes need not show up en masse to hold together a wheezing and crippled health care system.

Vavilov hypothesized that farmers never intentionally tried to domesticate the rye plant. Ancient weeding methods were based on visual cues—if something looked like a weed, it was plucked. Farmers spent generations unintentionally selecting for rye plants that looked like useful wheat, not weeds. Eventually, rye mimicked wheat so successfully, the two became almost indistinguishable.

The pants allegedly disappeared in 2005. Whenever the business offered to settle, Pearson moved the goalposts, saying he remained unsatisfied. His demands continued to escalate, and he also offered a ridiculous theory of the damages he sought under the D.C. consumer-protection statute. By April 2007, he was demanding over $65 million to settle a claim for a pair of missing pants. The case went to trial, and he lost. He appealed and lost. He sought en banc review and lost. That was, at least, the end of the litigation against the dry cleaners. But Pearson wasn’t done. After losing his ALJ job—some believed the litigation showed poor judgment, you see—he sued for wrongful termination, still insisting he had been in the right. He lost. He appealed, and lost.

Turns out that if you persist in making the same frivolous arguments for a sufficient number of years, the bar association may take notice. In 2015, the D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed ethics charges against Pearson, which, of course, he furiously contested on the grounds that he had been right all along. He lost. And, of course, he appealed....

About Me

Developer at Brown University Library specializing in instructional design and technology, Python-based data science, and XML-driven web development.

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