Saturday assorted links

1. AMA with Patrick Collison.

2. If Finland is the world’s happiest country, why does it seem so…?

3. How Amazon determines if a streaming investment was worth the cost.

4. A literal world map.

5. “So it could be that Virginia-style favorites are inadvertently doing their opponents a big favor by slowing the pace down to a crawl, essentially giving away some of their talent advantage by allowing more randomness to seep into the game.”  Do generalize that point!  It’s a bit like the old chess adage suggesting that the best way to play for a draw is to play for a win.


1. "With Stripe, you have the complete freedom to create the payment experience you want." Of course, bullshit has been with us since the first caveman sold bones to a sucker. The internet, however, has taken bullshit to an entirely different level. Glenn W. Turner's problem is that he was too early.

I didn't read too far past the problem of identity, but that was a good bit. Will it be in the long run a competitive advantage or disadvantage that we rely on a relatively weak label (SSN) and diffuse confirmation?

There were 487 scripted shows aired in 2017 and Amazon is funding at best the bottom 20% of that. OF COURSE Amazon's shows are duds. The 6,341st script writer in Hollywood isn't very good.

I liked Sneaky Pete, season one, but season two is overwhelming me with subplots. Still watching though.

Man in the High Castle might be the best TV show I have ever watched.

I was underwhelmed by Man in the High Castle, but may give it another shot. You're not the only one I've heard that sentiment from.

Bosch is excellent though; I prefer it to the books.

Producing shows is, I imagine, tricky. I think the more interesting question is why Amazon actually underperforms Netflix/Hulu when it comes to buying ready-made non-US shows, given the former's deeper pockets.
Of Amazon Prime's purchased content, I liked the creepy-cheesy Fortitude (Sofie Grabol! Dennis Quaid! Stanley Tucci! Michael Gambon!) and Zone Blanche/Black Spot, but most foreign shows I watch are on Netflix/Hulu/iTunes. For example I'm watching Borderliner and (again) Toast of London right now on Netflix; Hulu got Wallander (Swedish version), The Bridge (Swedish/Danish version); iTunes got Borgen. I also liked Temoins/Witnesses, Occupied and The Fall (all Netflix). Some of these might pre-date Amazon's foray into the business, but some are recent.

And how in God's name did nobody at any of these companies think to buy the Danish version of The Killing (Sofie Grabol!)? One has to resort to unconventional measures to watch it in the US. Maybe that was part of the deal with the US remake, i.e. no US rights for the original.

Most of their original content is mediocre (better than network tv IMO) I did enjoy Catastrophe, Fleabag, and Mrs Maisel. Hoping the Jack Ryan series is good!

I recommend on Netflix: “ Fauda” , an Israeli series about undercover Israelis agents in the territories and “ Suburra blood on Rome” an Italian series: gangsters and corruption in the Italian capital.

Regarding the UN happiness study, it should be noted that it completely avoids the usual method of measuring happiness, which is simply to ask people how happy they are, or more frequently now, how satisfied with their lives they are. Instead it looks at what is essentially an expanded version of its own human development index, which looks at things like life expectancy and educational levels and PPP per capita income and some others, all supposedly contributors to happiness, while avoiding listing some like suicide rates, where Finland is quite high, which might be correlated with unhappiness. It is the high suicide rate in Finland that might make some raise eyebrows at the top happiness position for Finland, especially compared to Denmark, which has a much lower suicide rate and has often shown up on the Rotterdam list as the happiest nation, that list based on asking people how happy or satisfied they are.

Of course in asking people how happy or satisfied they are, making cross-country comparisons is highly questionable. There are serious cultural differences involved. Nordic people have a somewhat conformist attitude and widely think that they are supposed to be happy. So will say so even if about to go blow their own brains out the next day. Some other nations consider saying one is happy or satisfied to be unsophisticated and stupide, indeed, uncultured, such as in France and maybe Russia also, both of which come in much lower on the Rotterdam lists, especially Russia, although they would seem to have some more serious reasons for being not so happy.

The most recent curious item on the Rotterdam list and how it differs from this UN one is the high level of happiness reported by not all that high income Central American nations. So, Costa Rica has recently pushed Denmark out of the top spot, but it is much lower on the UN list with its lower income and education levels. But they say they are happy, and who is to tell them that they are not? Angst-ridden French existentialists they are not.

....Denmark was designated the happiest country until Finland suddenly popped up

I'm starting to think these surveys are not 100% accurate and objective... not even 25%

Antiintellectual cherry picking, anti science criticism. Try learning about the subject before making such an uninformed judgement on a scientific subject, Olaf. Positive psychology is a legit field. The fact that there's margin of error in national averages doesn't negate that.

Being skeptical of "happiness studies" is "anti science"? Oh my. Positive psychology is no more "legit" than the 200 other psychology fields. Good grief.

Finland's answer on the happiness question itself was pretty high:


Could not find Finland's answer on this. What you linked to is not the Rotterdam report put together by Ruut Veenhoven, but the UN report, which does not include an actual question about happiness or life satisfaction among its six variables that determine the rankings, even though later chapters do use such questions. The Rotterdam studies so have Finland pretty high up, but not at the top. Do note that Costa Rica and the other Central American nation do not make the top ten in the UN report, although several of them are in Rotterdam's top ten, with even poor and violent Guatemala doing not so badly, if not as well as no-army Costa Rica or relatively well -off Panama.

One might ask why Finlandization never caught on in other countries.

Was it Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama that ranked highly on those reports, or did the super violent countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador rank highly as well? I know that Costa Rica is famed for its devotion to the pura vida, which I think means something roughly like the simple life, so it is not that surprising to me that a nation famed for having a culture focused on being happy with what you have ranks highly on an international happiness survey.

The problem with "happiness surveys" is they're basically "more government + more free stuff -> more happy".

The subtext of such surveys is they're put together by government bureaucrats or those in their employ, so they naturally are constructed to imply that "better living through bureaucracy" is the way to go.

#4 Actually, according to scientists, there is good reason to believe Brazil was founded by Irish settlers. and its name means "descendants (i.e., clan) of Bresail".

You just noticed that? What about the Cato "freedom index" that puts the US at less free than Germany, where the states regulate shopping hours?

Of course there is the flip side too .. we can't notice all these happy people with a bit more social planning .. because that's statist and they cannot possibly really be happy.

It's Scandanavia that's unusually happy compared to the US. Europe in general isnt.

What’s even more, Scandinavian countries tend to have the most libertarian economies in Europe (unless you take libertarianism to simply mean low taxes, which so far as I can tell many people in the US who claim to be libertarians do).

The welfare, health care, and national retirement plans are libertarian?

I mean, I like it, but I am pretty sure libertarians loathed those sttonger Nordic safety nets.

Pretty much every country in Europe has universal healthcare, national pensions, and generous welfare payments. But in Scandinavia businesses are very lightly regulated (reputedly even more lightly regulated than in the US). Whereas in the rest of Europe, the government essentially meddles in the operational decisions of companies.

The top three are Finland, Denmark and Iceland.

Rather than more government, the bigger commonality seems to be cultural homogeneity. These are among the least culturally diverse and immigrant-dependent countries in the world.

You must be joking. As per Wiki, over 13 per cent of residents in Denmark have no Danish parent. Nor is this a new state of affairs without any impact on Danish institutions: There is a live and very respectful debate in Denmark about the correct extent of immigration control, for non-EU immigrants of course, and about tolerance v scepticism of Islam. Instead, like the Netherlands, Muslims and other immigrants integrate quite quickly if they want, and participate in civic life. Finland and Iceland are more remote, and apart from Russians in Finland they are indeed homogenous. Now explain how Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and the USA would be better if as homogenous as Portugal.

No they are not in general put together by governments, foobarista. So many of you are just hopelessly pathetic with your delusions. Really too bad you do not like it that people like having free medical care and higher education..

It's not 'free' though. They do obviously prefer paying higher taxes to cover those things, but let's not call it 'free'.

This is correct.

"The U.S. is in the midst of a complex and worsening public health crisis, involving epidemics of obesity, opioid addiction, and major depressive disorder that are all remarkable by global standards," the report said.

Of course, none of these phenomena are epidemics at all.

It's also notable that, regardless of incidence rates across the population, any given individual can avoid these maladies through their own choices, behaviors, and attitudes. Some may argue that depression is not a choice, but one of the main treatments is therapy, i.e., persuading someone to adopt a non-depressive outlook.

Given the choice between (1) the power to personally avoid bad outcomes even if the incidence of such bad outcomes is higher vs. (2) a lower incidence of bad outcomes but such outcomes the result of bad luck with no way to avoid them through one's own choices, it seems to me that the former is far more preferable to the latter. However, this sentiment is obviously not universal, as it seems to be the root of all of our equal opportunity/rights vs. equal outcomes debates.

Why the juxtaposition between 1 and 2? Can’t Swedes choose to avoid bad outcomes like drug addiction or obesity just as much as Americans?

Suppose soda taxes actually do reduce obesity rates. If one prefers (1), then one might be reluctant to infringe everyone's food freedom, knowing that soda taxes don't actually innoculate anyone from catching obesity. Obesity isn't like the flu. On the other hand, those that prefer (2) might indeed be willing to sacrifice everyone else's freedom to gain the satisfaction of aesthetically pleasing population statistics. They are willing to trade higher incidence of unavoidable bad outcomes --- no one can avoid paying the soda tax and loss of freedom --- to get lower incidence of the already avoidable bad outcome of obesity.

Beyond that, the topic is how to measure happiness and well being. Deco's quote implies that the report's authors believe population statistics regarding avoidable maladies such as obesity are relevant measures. If one overweights avoidable maladies, however, one must necessarily underweight unavoidable maladies such as freedom loss, high taxes, etc. It's quite notable that the authors, when considering the biggest problems facing Americans, cite obesity, opioid addiction, and depression rather than burdensome regulation, mandatory participation in entitlement programs, and the like. The average American pays much more in Social Security taxes over their lifetime than fees for opioid addiction treatment.

Of course, you're wring. The CDC calls the opioid overdoses and obesity epidemics.

Government agency wants more funding, news at 5.

Local blog commenter needs to get some idiocy of his chest. Angry posts at all hours.

Jan, I believe he was pointing out that those things cannot be "epidemics" as they do not meet the definition. No matter what the CDC says. They're not transmittable diseases.

But there is no universally used definition of epidemic that limits it to transmittable diseases. There's not really a better source for determining what constitutes an epidemic than the CDC.

It is not universally recognized is that the CDC is run by corrupt, incompetent thugs endowed with advanced degrees and leftist ideologies.

No, Careless, he was just shooting off his mouth about his ideological prejudice with no justification whatsoever.

"Of course, none of these phenomena are epidemics at all"

"There are more obese US adults than those who are just overweight. According to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), in 2008, the obesity rate among adult Americans was estimated at 32.2% for men and 35.5% for women; these rates were roughly confirmed by the CDC again for 2009–2010 ..."

I'm guessin' you run about 270-280, right Art?

#2 I know a finish girl... their unemployment benefits last for a loooooooong time I have heard...To me Finland seems the "weakest link" of the Nordic countries. Helsinki, is probably the most uninteresting European capital, and yes I have been in eastern Europe. So I'm really surprised at this result, and I don't believe it.

Recommended by a friend's rather morose Finish au pair:

Leningrad Cowboys Go America

It had a weird vibe that I would not say was really happy. Though perhaps my viewing was shaped by the introduction.

Get real! Finland is a really good place to live between like the 3rd-9th deciles, and not shabby at all for those outside that bracket. America is really good in brackets 6-10, but really bad in 1-2, maybe nowadays 1-3. It's certainly not a country that puts its main strengths out for global dilettantes to free-ride on, but I remember when MR rose above mere vaguebooking insinuation.

shorter: If you can't speak Finnish, what know ye of the strengths of Finland really?

Plus one.

Also Finnish stamps were consistently (with the exception of those stamps produced by Slania, a Pole) my favorite Scandinavian stamps in every post-war decade.


Finland is not Scandinavian, a linguistic category involving a subset of Germanic languages, but a Nordic one, a geographical and sociological one. Finnish is not even an Indo-European language, much less a Germanic one. A lot of blazing ignorance in the commentary on this thread.

+ 1 to both comments (5:47 and 5:48)

please don't read the rest of this if you aren't willing to accept that I might be right (to recommence (Latinate) to start again from the beginning (closer to Anglo-saxon): [p]lus one to both comments, except the part at the end of 5:47 about remembering when MR rose above this or that - there are 4 billion literate people in the world and, as much as I respect the collective and thoughtful effort put into this site by the 2 hosts and, up to a point, by he commenters - well, as I much as I respect all that, let us be honest - life is short, and out of those 4 billion literate people not a single one has read enough of these comments to be able to judge in such way on when MR rose above this or that and when it didn't rise above this or that. And both Tyler and Alex seem to be likable people and one certainly hopes (God forbid, as I say in real life, literally) that they, too, have not read enough of these comments to be able to judge in such a way).

Someday I would like to reread, say, the thousand most truthful comments here (people love the truth). Not gonna happen, but if it were to happen, that would be a good day (the posts are more finite than the comments - if you spend a few hours cruising through an old book store you will understand why that is important)

(And yes I could easily translate much of this comment into an almost grammatical version of Finnish but why would I - they are a happy people and do not need my poor scribbling unpaid translator's help. Trust me on that), ... even their (the Finns') postage stamps express happiness, year after year, in a way that even an old guy like me who feels sorry for their sad secular level of Energizer bunny like humble faithless energy can appreciate (Botswana in Africa, USA in North America, and Thailand in Asia are three of my other favorites with respect to stamps that express happiness, over the years - with Vatican City and Ireland (Eire), of all places, being other favorites in Europe, over the years, and the long forgotten by so many stamps of Ryukyu and stamps of the optimistic 50s United Nations being other favorites (and San Marino and El Salvador, of course).

Out of the 4 billion literate people certainly at least one will, some day, explain to future generations the joy of living in a country where people cared about each other, long ago, not that long ago, today, and tomorrow. That person will know who Slania was, will know what happened in Finland after the Stalin-Hitler pact, will know about chess and bridge and basketball, and will, to be blunt, know lots of things.

Courage is more important than hope.

And yet the poor in the U.S. have higher levels of consumption than in Finland, no?

Describe to me what extra they "consume" and we can discuss that. If the answer is more expensive health insurance, more expensive medical exams, more assault weapons and more prison labour, my reply may be "meh"?

Really annoying when politically motivated publishings come out quantifying alleged happiness of a country in a way that is totally contrary to how psychologists actually measure how happy a population is. "Happy planet index" for example along with this. It's really dishonest journalism to report it as being legit.

What the hell do psychologists know about human happiness? Because it long ago rejected any summum bonum, modern science has little interesting to say on the subject, which is the proper province of philosophy and theology.

While you have a point, psychologists who do the actual research are more precise about what they study. So if they are studying “happiness”, they define what is meant by that term and really just study that one definition, which is a totally respectable thing to do. I am not so sure that they do a good job translating their findings to popular audience that isn’t interested in the precision involved in the academic literature.

Really annoying to read yet another completely stupid remark by a commenter here. These are not psychologists. The problem with this UN study is that they model happiness rather than just asking people if they are happy, although these cross-country comparisons of happiness are all seriously limited. Most reliable are studies of individual people over time, panel studies. The rest are weak.

"the best way to play for a draw is to play for a win"

That is simplistic. If you are black and have both the Queen's Gambit Declined and the Modern Benoni in your reportoire, and you need a draw, you are better off playing the QGD, which is a more solid opening.

Some more generalizing:

College basketball is only more interesting from a game theory point of view than professional basketball if one thinks it is good to be easier able to observe, real-time, fundamental mistakes: just as it is more interesting, from a game theory point of view, to read about old befuddled Napoleon than young professional Napoleon. Otherwise, not.

Even more generalizing:

It is more interesting to be a bridge player who is near the top of his or her game than a chess player who is near the top of his or her game: the bridge player near the top gets to observe, like the Homeric deities on Olympus, real time martial fogginess in one's partner,

(which can be recompensed by the good bridge player who reads the cards and the hands and the bids from a world where it all unfolds slowly, with High Renaissance level detail, while all those cards and hands and bids flash across the mind of the less-good player like a flashy night in a foreign city with too many casinos and where the locals are not kind and have no cultural bias towards even a little bit of empathy)

and gets to observe real time genius in the players at or above their level, at their best. Chess players near the top of their game just fight, for the most part. (Out of humility I decline to make remarks about bridge or chess players at the top of their game).

No kidding one of the Americans on the Olympic hockey team last month missed a shot that I would have made more than half of the time.

(To put that in context, and to show I was not bragging, but stating the simple truth - the average American dedicated and talented golfer - there are thousands of them - makes a third of the 20 foot putts that the pros fail to sink, ceteris paribus).

Someone somewhere understood what Isaiah was talking about better than anyone else. Not to mention the rest of that crowd - Ezekiel, Daniel, John, Polycarp, Clement, and so on. --- It wasn't me (I don't have much to say about Isaiah you couldn't have heard before, I don't even read Hebrew well), not even close, but the fact is - it is possible to play a perfect college basketball game. Not gonna happen, but it is possible.

Sorry Tyler I usually wait 12 hours before writing these long comments, and mistook pm for am! Anyway, thanks for the bandwidth.

Walt Frazier should call a few of these college games, then I would watch (if he does call them and nobody told me -well then....) Or Bill Walton. "I SAW FIVE VOLCANOES TODAY" , Walton said earlier this year (on a night where his name hit the top of Twitterverse (the interesting thing is, he actually had seen five volcanoes - Mount Adams being the fifth).

The Kings, the Islanders, and the Coyotes are my preferred teams for listening to the announcers, but hockey is not my favorite sport so I could be wrong (well we all could be wrong, almost always).

But I remember Lindsey Nelson (God, those absurd plaid suits) and Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner, and, for what is worth, that was the way to do it right.

the fragment is the medium of expression among men who have learned that life is lived among fragments

(Don Colacho)

3. Political news must do very well on this metric. The real cost is the set and broadcasting infrastructure. The additional cost to produce a new "episode" is whatever Tucker or Anderson can negotiate to talk about tweets on TV.

3. amazon video ui is awful, just terrible . i will go for any streaming option including illegal before amazon


Patrick said so succinctly the problem most technologists see with blockchain:

"Adding the blockchain hasn't really helped you solve your problems (I think), and it has probably made everything harder."

Rest almost as good.

I'm a Finn and read the discussion regarding Finland's top position with great interest - a few comments if I may.

There appears to be some confusion on the methodology of this survey. Check the FAQ at : it's a poll question which "...asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale."

I understand the seeming paradox between this ranking and Helsinki/Finland giving an impression of being relatively uninteresting, empty, cold and closed/joyless in terms of public social life. However, a great place to spend a short vacation and a great place to live your life may not be the same, and the answers to the poll question may be more related to the latter. For everyday living, Finland offers excellent environment, and efficient and uncorrupted public services. Making contracts (work, rental, real estate purchases,...) is very easy and common-sensical, benefiting from a sound legal framework and culture, and high levels of trust, probably enabled by a small and still fairly homogenous population as was also correctly pointed in some comments. Architecture is boring but infrastucture is top-notch, including fastastic cycling paths. Put simply, compared with many other places, it's easy to live a hassle-free, balanced, worryless and healthy life, focusing on your family, hobbies and friends, if you're lucky enough to have all these (if you don't, Finland can be quite depressing, as may be indicated by the unflattering suicide stats mentioned by Barkley Rosser). And for holidays, one can always travel abroad to more interesting places - I'm writing this from Turin, Italy, indeed a more charming and interesting location for a weekend break!

I agree with Millian that "Finland is a really good place to live between like the 3rd-9th deciles, and not shabby at all for those outside that bracket." For the 3rd-9th deciles your gross salary is pretty decent (indeed high for jobs like a barber, shop salesperson, librarian, primary school teacher), your taxes are about the European average, working hours very reasonable and holidays long, etc. It's only the 10th decile where the gross salaries are not that high, but taxes are higher than the European average. But even the 10th decile gets some comfort from the virtual absence of homelessness and no-go areas. However, many highly educated and ambitious younger Finns have moved elsewhere recently, so the sustainability of the highest tax brackets remains to be seen.

But why not have the best of both worlds? You could live like my barber does: she owns a flat in Italy, enjoys the sunny life there for some three months per year, and finances it by working as a barber in Finland the rest of the year :).

"it’s easy to live a hassle-free, balanced, worryless and healthy life, focusing on your family, hobbies and friends"

That's a pretty good definition of happiness.

Sounds like you could benefit from massive inward migration and state engineered multiculturalism.

So basically, this is the same reason people opt to live in the suburbs rather than cites: good schools, stuff works, etc.

Antti P.,

Your comments on architecture show that Finns have very high standards for architecture, with several of the world's leading architects coming from Finland. As it is, Helsinki and Tapiola and some other places have some very fine architecture, even if in recent years some of Finland's best architects have been peddling their wares elsewhere besides Finland.

Thanks for your kind remarks, Barkley Rosser!

I heard an interview with a SW developer living in Finland (moving there intentionally). It was quite interestingly unintuitive, an 'economist' would like to pursue some points further...

- he moved there because they are very child-friendly (he has 4 children), free kindergarten, good schools etc.
- a supermarket clerk doesn't have that much different wage than he does
- both he and his wife have to work in order to earn a decent living
- if he stayed at Czech republic, he would probably earn such wage, that his wife probably wouldn't have to work and he could still easily afford to pay the kindergarten

It seems to me that people feel unhappy when they have to pay for something and feel much happier when it is free, even though the free option means they are poorer overall.

Economist says: "decent living" in Finland >> "decent living" in Czechia, most obviously, the schools.

I lived in France (birthplace), 6 months in Finland and currently Australia for the past 4 years.
Although the level of safety and honesty in Finland was paramount, i found it very depressing with extremely long night, pretty bad food and difficulty to have social interactions with the locals without alcohol consumption, which is above average in the country.
I do not mean to disrespect Finnish people here who tend to be nice, extremely honest, open minded but very shy as well. It wasn't the cultural fit for me, that's all.
Currently living in Sydney, i find the city amazing for foreigners as it surprisingly manages to have an extremely multicultural population without too much frictions. Really good at attracting foreign talents and keeping them.
That happiness thing depends on many factors any way, where you come from (country/city or countryside), your upbringing, wealth per capita, etc... Very hard to get a clear perspective, but I suspect culture plays a larger role than economics.

#3 I tried watching Transparent and Fleabag after reading many positive reviews. There are some shows in the world that I don't like, but I can understand why some people do. These two? As hard as I've tried, I can't even begin to have empathy for fans of these.

A rule of thumb: If you read reviews of a movie or TV show where many reviewers talk about how "smart" the writing is, there's a very strong chance that it isn't. Instead, it's most likely writers trying too hard to play smart and reviewers trying to convince us that they get it.

To my surprise, I'm really enjoying Amazon's The Tick. And no, it's not smart.

...or maybe The Tick is smart, but from a Straussian angle.

The byline on #3 says it was by Slate's "culture" intern. Slate also does a "culture" podcast that's exclusively about TV and movies. This is the bugman's concept of culture.

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