Gists VIII

Snippets.

Misc

  • Enocide: “Unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”
  • “Feeling soft and open, I experience a mental quiet I have never known before. I’m able to have one single thought at a time. I luxuriate over each notion like it’s a piece of chocolate melting in my mouth. I am achingly kind to myself in these moments, and I ache to be so kind to myself at all times.” — Ketamine to treat PTSD
  • Chick-fil-A stores are closed Sundays due to the religiously conservative founder. In-N-Out prints bible versed on its cups and wrappers.
  • 90% of US money contains traces of cocaine! Literally, dirty money.
  • “A mistake is something we do without intention. A bad decision was made intentionally. If you’re classifying your bad decisions as mistakes, you’re not accepting responsibility.”
  • “Greed has been celebrated in American for the past two generations. If you have the means, you can hone every edge, from your life expectancy to the amount of taxes you pay. It’s not hard to ensure that the winners keep winning, as long as you don’t get caught.”
  • There is only one gun store in all of Mexico, and it’s on a military base
  • Takanakuy (Quechua for “to hit each other”) is an annual event in Peru (Santo Tomás, Cuzco and Lima) where villagers dress up, dance, and fight each other for sport or to settle disputes. Each fight start and ends with a hug.
  • The US military operates bases in over 70 countries; its Special Operations Forces routinely operate in over 90. A “gigantic physical superstructure” that sustains “perpetual war.”
  • The writer Henry James accepted 107 dinner invitations in London during the 1787–79 season
  • Calling an ANZAC biscuit a cookie is punishable in Australia with $10,200 fine for individuals, $51,000 for companies, or even 12 months in prison! “No person may use the word Anzac, or any word resembling it in connection with any trade, business, calling or profession.” It’s also a protected term internationally.
  • Wombats are the only animal who’s poop is square (due to non-uniform stiffness of the intestines), every mammal takes about 21 seconds to urinate and about 12 seconds to defecate
  • Pringles was ordered to pay $160 million in taxes after losing a court case arguing that they weren’t a potato chip.
  • Tariff engineering (i.e. pay less tax) examples: Cameras that record under 30 minutes, televisions with USB ports, Converse All-Stars (are actually slippers)!
  • The Melbourne Moomba festival is an Aborigonal words that was supposed to mean “a place to gather and have fun” but actually translates to “up your bum” — the organizers were told it meant to
  • Mad Max is the most profitable film of all time by cost/earnings ratio — grossing $100 million on a $200,000 budget!
  • Plasma (stars) is the most common state of matter in the universe!
  • If all the companies founded by Stanford alumni (e.g. HP, Google) were combined it would be the tenth-largest economy
  • Connection is the essence of human experience. Shame — the feeling that some quality prevents us from being worthy of love — impedes connection. Transcending that shame involves vulnerability, but the happiest people are the ones who embrace it.
  • The market, as a default source of solutions, shifts risks and burdens towards those at the bottom

Abortion

“Women will always seek to end unwanted pregnancies, as they have throughout history, and throughout the world, regardless of what the law says.”

  • In the US, nearly 1/4 women will have an abortion before the age of 45 — half of that by women living below the poverty line.
  • It’s estimated a sexually active woman who wants two children and no abortion will need to avoid (i.e. will contraceptives) 29 pregnancies in her lifetime.
  • Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General was tasked with collective evidence of “post-abortion syndrome” but was unable to find any. A UC study found that 5 years out, the vast majority of women said it had been the right choice.

“Regret is a dubious basis for policy. People regret all kinds of decisions, large and small, but we don’t proactively deprive them of their decision-making agency.”

  • Women want, and should be able to exercise, agency over the life-transforming decision to have children.

AI

  • The idea of a neural network dated back to the 1950s
  • In 2012, Geoff Hinton published his paper on the first “deep learning” neural network with new levels of accuracy. Hinton, who has an injured back, has not sat down in years!
  • The team of three offered a $12 million contract by Chinese tech giant, Baidu. Held a multi-day email (Gmail) auction between Baidu, Google, Microsoft, and DeepMind from Harrah room 731. After each bid, the bidders had an hour (later 30 minutes) to raise the buying price by at least a million dollars or the auction was over — with suspension for sleep.
  • Alan Eustace, Google’s head of engineering, flew his own twin-​engine plane into the airport. along with Jeff Dean had dinner with Hinton and his students in the restaurant on the top floor of Harrah’s for his 65th birthday.
  • DeepMind dropped out first; Microsoft dropped off at $22 million; and later the auction was stopped and Google was chosen for $44 million

Work: A Deep History

“For the first 290,000 years of our 300,000-year history, we didn’t work nearly as hard as we do now.”

  • A century ago, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030, our workweek would be only 15 hours long. He believed that human beings are cursed, that we have infinite desires, but there aren’t enough resources to satisfy them.
  • As a result, everything is, by definition, scarce. Today, economists refer to this paradox as the “fundamental economic problem,” and they believe it explains our constant will to work. We make and trade resources as a way to bridge the gap between our infinite desires and our limited means.
  • Hunter-gatherer life wasn’t nearly as bad as everybody thought. One tribe only spent 30 hours a week hunting and chores. They didn’t spend all their time working to satisfy their infinite desires. In fact, their desires weren’t infinite at all; they were limited, and easy to satisfy.
  • Today’s economy of work as a virtue can be traced back to the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago. The practical demands of making a living from the soil upended the existing equation between effort and reward. Hunter-gatherers had immediate rewards, while farmers had “delayed return economies.” Farmers mitigated hardship by working harder — especially during the productive summer months.
  • In ancient civilizations people found community by geography outside the city, and through work in the city
  • Productivity has surged through technology and fossil fuels, sending more food to landfills than is eaten!

“The folly of clinging to ideas about the necessity of work forged at the anvil of scarcity when we live in an era of unprecedented abundance.”

  • But is it doing us any good? Many now question whether their work contributes anything useful to society. What’s more, our productivity-at-all-costs mindset comes with ominous environmental consequences.

Guns, cont.

“As institutions crumble and people lose faith in traditional sources of security, the citizen-protector sees themselves as even more essential to maintaining order. No wonder, then, that Americans responded to a year marked by pandemic, protest, and election uncertainty by buying guns in record numbers.”

  • In 1976, Jeff Cooper founded the American Pistol Institute (later Gunsite) in Arizona to teach tactical firearm skills to civilians
  • Cooper was on the NRA board for years, and has made statements against equality, said “diversity is weakness,” made slurs against Asian and Muslims, and against LGBTQ people
  • In the 1970s, hunting was the main reason for owning a gun. Now it’s protection.
  • In 1999, 2.7 million Americans had a concealed carry permit; today it’s 20 million. Excluding New York and California, which have strict gun laws, nearly 10% of adults have a permit! Nearly 2/3 think having a gun in the house makes them safer.
  • White men are more likely to be killed by guns via suicide than murder; women from current or former partners.

Latter Day Church of Christ

  • Mormon fundamentalist denomination of the Latter Day Saint (LDS) church currently based in Salt Lake City and one of the few religious sects to practice polygamy
  • In 1929, Charles W. Kingston was excommunication from the LDS for preaching polygamy. By 1935, his followers began moving to Bountiful, Utah, to live under a United Order communalist program as defined by Joseph Smith. In 1941, the community founded by Elden Kingston officially declared themselves the Davis County Cooperative Society Inc. In 1977, Elden’s brother Ortell Kingston began to file for legal recognition of the church later organized as The Latter Day Church of Christ.
  • Around 3,500 members organized around a strict male hierarchy of “numbered men” — a ranked power list with Elden as #1 and the current leader as #9.
  • One member, John Kingston, was husband to 14 wives and father to some 120 children!
  • Claims of sexual abuse, incest, child labor and tax fraud. Basis for the reality show Escaping Polygamy.
  • Involved in a $1 billion renewable fuel tax credit fraud scheme! Jacob Kingston admitted to 41 charges including laundering over $100 million.

US Dollar

  • By 1890, the US had overtaken Britain as the largest economy, but most worldwide transactions were still done with pounds tied to the gold standard.
  • Prior to 1913, individual banks issued their own currency. In 1913, Federal Reserve Bank created to unify bank currencies.
  • During WWI, many countries abandoned the gold standard to fund the war effort, with the US the lender of choice in exchange for gold; by the end of the war the US held the majority of the world’s gold! In 1919, Britain abandoned the gold standard.
  • In 1944, delegates from 44 countries signed the Bretton Woods Agreement to use the US dollar as the global reserve currency of central banks, while the US would redeem US dollars for gold on demand. Individual countries could buy or sell their own currency to regulate the money supply.
  • Instead of gold reserves, other countries accumulated reserves of US dollars. Needing a place to store their dollars, countries began buying US Treasury securities. During the Vietnam War, treasuries flooded the market causing countries to worry and start redeeming for gold.
  • The demand for gold was such that President Nixon was forced to intervene and unlink the dollar from gold, which led to floating exchange rates
  • Today over 61% of all foreign bank reserves and 40% of the world’s debt are in US dollars (cash, bonds, treasuries)

North Sentinel Island

  • An Indian territory home to the Sentinelese, an indigenous people in voluntary isolation who have defended, often by force (killing two fishermen who strayed too close in 2006, and an illegal US missionary in 2018), their protected isolation from the outside world.
  • A 1956 Act prohibits anyone from getting within 5 miles
  • In 1771, an Indian merchant ship was wrecked on a reef, where the 106 surviving passengers and crewmen fended off attacks by the Sentinelese until they were eventually found by a Royal Navy rescue party.

Rationality

“Know things. Want things. Use what you know to get what you want.”

  • Rationalists take in new information self-consciously, with an eye to redrawing their mental map.
  • Bayesian reasoning: When new information comes in, don’t replace information wholesale. Instead, modify what you already know to an appropriate degree — based on the value of the new data and the confidence in the preexisting knowledge. Start with the big picture, be cautious integrating new information, and don’t jump to conclusions (alarming/sensational data). Replaces facts with probabilities.
  • Bayesian lingo: “revise your priors” is to alter a deeply-held prior assumption; “on the margin” is an idea or fact that will be taken into account next time new info comes in on a prior; “marginal utility” is how we value things in a series (e.g. first nacho is great, diminishing returns after); “updating” opinions.

“By continually updating probabilities, you inch closer to a more useful account of reality.”

  • Soldier mindset: Defend your position at any cost, whereas rationality is a method for acquiring more accurate views
  • Metacognition: The ability to think about our own thinking
  • Metarational: Willingness to hand over to someone better informed/qualified
  • Illusion of fluency: As tasks become more familiar (e.g. driving), we monitor our performance less. Break this with an “awareness of ignorance.”
  • Studying for a test by reviewing your notes is a bad idea (equivalent to driving a familiar route) — instead practice exam questions and/or write our what you know.
  • To understand reality you must see it firsthand, not just read about it

American Revolution

  • The American Revolution was simply an episode in a larger contest between France and England, with Americans referred to as “insurgents” in France and treated as pawns. French support was ambivalent, and first ships/troops inadequate.
  • Washington grasped the trick to winning was to wait our the invader, which requires sustaining a casualty rate without losing your army. The second tricks is foreign help.
  • Although Americans did the fighting, the French war engine won the battles. French artillery at Saratoga, French fleet at Yorktown, forty ships at Chesapeake.
  • The irony is the American Revolution was essentially a French triumph, which the American imagination turned into a victory. Two centuries later, a similar story with the French liberation made possible by American support. Easy myth essential to the national ideal.

Reign of Terror

  • Jacobins did what radical purists always do: first, they killed their enemies, then their friends, then one another.
  • Non-compliance equated to resistance
  • Deliberate, gloating sadism
  • Stalin, a successor, admired prosecuting enemies of the revolution simply because they existed. Stalin forced a friend, Bukharin, to watch while 16 of his colleagues were murdered, before, at last, he was killed.

Genetics and IQ

“Genetic diversity is mankind’s most precious resource, not a regrettable deviation from an ideal state of monotonous sameness.” — Theodosius Dobzhansky

  • The average IQ of a population increases significantly over time
  • The most important difference between the races is racism
  • Cognitive stimulation (reading books, puzzles, visiting museums, etc.) is a powerful environmental effect linked to children’s academic achievement

On the Internet, We’re Always Famous

Link.

In “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” from 1985, Neil Postman argues that, for its first hundred and fifty years, the U.S. was a culture of readers and writers, and that the print medium — in the form of pamphlets, broadsheets, newspapers, and written speeches and sermons — structured not only public discourse but also modes of thought and the institutions of democracy itself. According to Postman, TV destroyed all that, replacing our written culture with a culture of images that was, in a very literal sense, meaningless. “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other,” he writes. “They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”

That’s not what happened. To oversimplify, here’s where we ended up. The Internet really did bring new voices into a national discourse that, for too long, had been controlled by far too narrow a group. But it did not return our democratic culture and modes of thinking to pre-TV logocentrism. The brief renaissance of long blog arguments was short-lived (and, honestly, it was a bit insufferable while it was happening). The writing got shorter and the images and video more plentiful until the Internet birthed a new form of discourse that was a combination of word and image: meme culture. A meme can be clever, even revelatory, but it is not discourse in the mode that Postman pined for.

In 2007, George Saunders wrote an essay about the bleating idiocy of American mass media in the era after 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq War. Imagine, he says, being at a party, with the normal give and take of conversation between generally genial, informed people. And then “a guy walks in with a megaphone. He’s not the smartest person at the party, or the most experienced, or the most articulate. But he’s got that megaphone.

Well, rather than take that one dumb guy’s megaphone away, we added a bunch of megaphones to the party. Not only that: the people screaming the loudest still get the most attention, partly because they stand out against the backdrop of a pendulating wall of sound that is now the room tone of our collective mental lives. Suffice it to say: the end result was not really a better party, nor the conversation of equals that many of us had hoped for.

It’s possible to get inside the head of just about anyone who has a presence on the social Web, because chances are they are broadcasting their emotional states in real time to the entire world.

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. With the help of a few tech firms, we basically tore it down in about a decade.

A clever TikTok video can end up with forty million views. With the possibility of this level of exposure so proximate, it’s not surprising that poll after poll over the past decade indicates that fame is increasingly a prime objective of people twenty-five and younger. Fame itself, in the older, more enduring sense of the term, is still elusive, but the possibility of a brush with it functions as a kind of pyramid scheme.

Understanding the centrality of the desire for recognition is quite helpful in understanding the power and ubiquity of social media. We have developed a technology that can create a synthetic version of our most fundamental desire. Why do any of us post anything? Because we want other humans to see us, to recognize us.

The Star seeks recognition from the Fan, but the Fan is a stranger, who cannot be known by the Star. Because the Star cannot recognize the Fan, the Fan’s recognition of the Star doesn’t satisfy the core existential desire. There is no way to bridge the inherent asymmetry of the relationship, short of actual friendship and correspondence, but that, of course, cannot be undertaken at the same scale. And so the Star seeks recognition and gets, instead, attention. The Star and the Fan are prototypes, and the Internet allows us to be both in different contexts. In fact this is the core, transformative innovation of social media, the ability to be both at once.

In the Internet age, the psychologically destabilizing experience of fame is coming for everyone. Everyone is losing their minds online because the combination of mass fame and mass surveillance increasingly channels our most basic impulses — toward loving and being loved, caring for and being cared for, getting the people we know to laugh at our jokes — into the project of impressing strangers, a project that cannot, by definition, sate our desires but feels close enough to real human connection that we cannot but pursue it in ever more compulsive ways.

Generations

  • The concept of generations and “youth culture” is periodically redefined. Generations are the pulse of history.
  • In 1910, only 14% of US between the ages of 14 and 17 were in school. By 1940, 73%. By 1955, 84%.
  • Between 1956 and 1969, college rates more than doubled — giving “youth” four more years
  • By 1969, almost half the US population was under 25

Chinese Philosophy

“Learning is a waste if you don’t reflect on the larger meaning and significance of what you learn.” — Confucian Analects

  • This type of fulfilment, they argue, comes not from participating in the ‘right’ activities, attending prestigious schools or having earning power. Rather, it comes from loving and being loved by others within the context of meaningful, lasting relationships; understanding the way in which your own identity is bound up with the lives of those who have gone before you; giving generously of what you have to others; caring for and having a genuine love of nature (spending time outdoors); cultivated virtues such as humaneness and compassion; and finding your true vocation — no matter how humble it might be.
  • Sacred rituals (e.g. meditation, prayer, walks, expressions of gratitude) — when done fully present and intentional — are one of the primary ways in which virtues such as gratitude, kindness, compassion and generosity grow and develop. Rituals shouldn’t be extravagant and not draining (emotionally, physically, financially).
  • Enjoying learning is more important than how much (or how quickly) you learn
  • Daoist philosophers do not deny the reality of the difficulties or the pain, but they believe that profound gifts often accompany — and are sometimes disguised as — misfortune. They also recognised that it is better for us to look for and focus on the good things that come from the challenges and imperfections in ourselves and our lives, than to live in a state of grief, regret and bitterness, wishing things were different.

Web 3.0

Link.

The human condition tends towards recentralization.

  • Web 1.0 was the era of decentralized, open protocols, in which most online activity involved navigating to individual static webpages.
  • Web 2.0 is the era of giant closed-platform centralization (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) using dynamic webpages (AJAX, XHR, sockets, etc.) that provide services in exchange for personal data. Includes the mobile device market.
  • Internet based on the robustness principle: “Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.” Examples include TCP and HTML — both of which allow for variance.
  • Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, in 2006 believed 3.0 would be the semantic web
  • Gavin Wood, co-creator of Ethereum, coined the term Web3 in 2014 as decentralized — describing it as “less trust, more truth.” Innovations include trust-less software, democratized financial services, identity, governance.
  • “Open source software, the internet, and the World Wide Web broke the stranglehold of proprietary software with free software and open protocols, but within a few decades, Google, Amazon, and others had built huge new monopolies founded on big data.”
  • True technology revolution (50–60 year innovation cycles) must be accompanied by the development of substantial new infrastructure: the first industrial revolution (canal and road networks); second (railways, ports, and postal services); third (electrical, water, and distribution networks); oil age (interstate highways, airports, refining and distribution capacity, and hotels and motels); information age (chip fabrication, high-speed internet, ubiquitous telecommunications, data centers, mobile devices).
  • Stages: Foundational investment in a new technology, speculative frenzy (driving the new infrastructure), speculative bubble pops, sustained consolidation and market correction (including regulation), integration into society (“golden age” of adoption). Once sufficiently mature the cycle repeats.
  • The disruption of finance — in the same way that the internet has already disrupted media and commerce — would represent an essential next stage in the current cycle of technological revolution

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