As always, note that the descriptions are mine and reflect my priorities, as the self-descriptions of the applicants may be broader or slightly different. Here goes:
Michelle Rorich, for her work in economic development and Africa, to be furthered by a bike trip Cairo to Capetown.
Jeffrey C. Huber, to write a book on tech and economic progress from a Christian point of view.
Mayowa Osibodu, building AI programs to preserve endangered languages.
David Forscey, travel grant to look into issues and careers surrounding protection against election fraud.
Jennifer Doleac, Texas A&M, to develop an evidence-based law and economics, crime and punishment podcast.
Fergus McCullough, University of St. Andrews, travel grant to help build a career in law/history/politics/public affairs.
Justin Zheng, a high school student working on biometrics for cryptocurrency.
Kyle Eschen, comedian and magician and entertainer, to work on an initiative for the concept of “steelmanning” arguments.
Here is the first cohort of winners, and here is the second cohort. Here is the underlying philosophy behind Emergent Ventures. Note by the way, if you received an award very recently, you have not been forgotten but rather will show up in the fourth cohort.
The room is the most expensive in America, beating out one at The Mark hotel, which previously held the accolade at $75,000 a night. And Empathy is also one of the world’s most expensive hotel accommodations, according to The Palms. (In fact, it’s potentially the most expensive: The Royal Penthouse Suite at the President Wilson Hotel in Geneva — at about $80,000 a night — was the world’s most expensive suite in 2018, according to Lonely Planet.)
…The room was designed by world-renowned artist Hirst and showcases a number of his well-known original pieces, like the iconic “Winner/Loser,” with two bull sharks suspended in formaldehyde.
Hirst — who is known for controversial pieces — also created a 13-seat curved bar filled with medical waste, and hanging above the bar is Hirst’s “Here for a Good Time, Not a Long Time,” which features a marlin skeleton and taxidermy marlin.
Here is more text and photos, noting that perhaps the high price is in part “advertising” so that major gamblers feel good when the room is comped to them?
What to do and where to eat? I thank you all in advance for your wisdom and counsel.
Yes, the Sam Altman of Y Combinator and Open AI. We even got around to Harry Potter, James Bond (and Q), Spiderman, Antarctica, and Napoleon, what is wrong with San Francisco, in addition to venture capital and the hunt for talent. Here is the transcript and audio. Here is one excerpt:
ALTMAN: I think our greatest differentiator is not how we identify talent, although I will answer that question, but the fact that we treat our own business — we run Y Combinator in the way that we tell our startups to run as a successful startup, which almost no venture capital firm does.
Almost every venture capital firm gives advice they never follow themselves. They don’t build differentiated products. They are not network-affected businesses. They don’t try to build a brand and a community. And they don’t try to make something that gets better the bigger it gets and have the scale effects that anyone would tell you they want in a business.
We at Y Combinator always say we want to get a lot bigger because this is a network effect, this is a network that matters. Most venture capital firms will say out of one side of their mouth, “Oh no, smaller is better,” because they don’t want to work more. Then they’ll tell all their businesses, “The network effect is the only thing that matters.”
Many people are as smart as we are, think about the world in similar ways. But I think we have internalized that we run our firm the same way we tell our startups to operate, and we view the most important thing that we do is to build a network and a network effect.
COWEN: Let me play venture capital skeptic, and you can talk me back into optimism.
ALTMAN: I might not.
COWEN: Let’s say I say, tech has had a stream of big hits: personal computer, internet, cell phone, mobile. You’ve had a lot of rapidly scalable innovations become possible in a short period of time. We’re now in a slight lull. We’re not sure what the next big thing is or when it will come. Without that next big thing, won’t the current equilibrium require a higher rate of picking the right talent than venture capitalists are, in fact, able to do?
ALTMAN: I will talk you out of that one, happily. The most expensive investing mistake in the world to make is to be a pessimist, and it’s a common one. I think that’s actually the most common mistake to make in life. It is true that we are in a lull right now, but it is absolutely, categorically false that — unless the world gets destroyed in a very short term — that we will not have a bigger technological wave then we’ve ever had before.
COWEN: Why can’t I be an optimist but not an optimist about VC? I think new ideas will come through established companies. They’ll be funded by private equity. They’ll happen in China. But the exact formula where you can afford to make so many mistakes because the hits are so big — to what extent does VC rely on that kind of rapid scalability that may not come back?
COWEN: Young Napoleon shows up. What do you think after 5 minutes?
ALTMAN: How young? Like 18-year-old Napoleon or 5-year-old?
COWEN: Before he’s famous, 21-year-old Napoleon.
ALTMAN: From everything I’ve read that would be a definite yes. In fact, the best book I read last year is called The Mind of Napoleon, which is a book of quotes about his views on everything. Just that thick on Napoleon quotes. Obviously deeply flawed human, but man, impressive.
From a reader:
I have really enjoyed your travel posts on various countries, and am currently planning a trip to India for the month of November. However, I have struggled to find much writing of yours on the country. Perhaps a post on tips/places/cities/culture is in order? It would be much appreciated.
I have only a few India tips, but I can recommend them very, very strongly. Here goes:
1. You can’t just walk around all day and deal with the pollution, the bad sidewalks, and dodging the traffic. This ain’t Paris. Plan accordingly.
2. When Alex set off to live in India, I said to him: “Alex, after a few weeks there, I want you to email me “the number.” The number is how many consecutive hours you can circulate in an Indian city without having to stop and resort to a comfortable version of the indoors.” You too will figure out pretty quickly what your number is, and it won’t take you a few weeks.
3. India is one of the very best and most memorable trips you can take. You should go repeatedly.
4. Every single part of India is interesting and worth visiting, as far as I can tell after five trips. That said, I find Bangalore quite over-visited relative to its level of interest.
5. My favorite places in India are Mumbai, Chennai, Rajasthan, and Kolkaata. Still, I could imagine a rational person with interests broadly similar to my own having a quite different list.
6. India has the best food in the world. It is not only permissible but indeed recommended to take all of your meals in fancy hotel restaurants. Do not eat the street food in India (and I eat it virtually everywhere else). It is also permissible to find two or three very good hotel restaurants — or even one — and simply run through their menus. You won’t be disappointed.
7. Invest in a very, very good hotel. It is affordable, and you will need it, and it will be a special memory all its own.
8. Being driven around in the Indian countryside is terrifying (and I have low standards here, I do this all the time in other non-rich countries). If it were safer, I would see many more parts of India. But it isn’t. So I don’t.
9. If you go during monsoon season, your trip will be quite memorable. I cannot say I recommend this (I don’t), but I am myself glad I did it once, in Goa, when monsoon season started early. I got a lot of work done.
10. Do not expect punctuality.
11. Most of the sights in India, including the very famous ones, are overrated. The main sight is India itself, and that is underrated.
12. “In religion, every Indian is a millionaire.”
I thank Yana and Dan Wang and Alex for discussions relevant to this post.
Haiti’s tourism sector is up in arms over recent travel warnings from the U.S., Canada and France that have led to at least one booking company — Expedia — blacklisting the country’s two international airports and hotels as illegal.
People seeking to book flights and hotel rooms on Expedia and subsidiaries Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire and CheapTickets are being blocked from doing so following violent protests that erupted on Feb. 7. Though Haitians were shuttered in for more than a week, with schools and businesses closed, international carriers like American, Spirit and JetBlue kept flying.
But Expedia didn’t seem to care…
The block, said an Expedia spokesperson, is linked to the State Department Level Four travel warning.
“Once governmental advice reaches a certain level of travel concern, we take action to close off destinations on our sites,” said Philip Minardi, director of communications for the Expedia Group. The block will remain in effect until the advisory lifts, he said.
Here is the full story, I find this troubling. On top of everything else, State Department Level warnings are inefficiently sticky.
Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can now call, text or video chat weekly, the First Presidency announced Friday.
This update to guidelines regarding communication between full-time missionaries and their families follows a decades-long tradition of missionaries only calling home twice a year — on Christmas and on Mother’s Day.
Effective immediately, the Church’s 65,000 missionaries are authorized to communicate with their families each week on preparation day by text messages, online messaging, phone calls and video chats, in addition to letters and emails.
UCLA students call about 11,000 Uber and Lyft rides that never leave campus every week, raising concerns about the environmental impact of unnecessary trips.
Here is the article, via Jessica Roberts. I can’t say I am crazy about the framing however — have you tried walking across UCLA campus? You could just as soon write an article criticizing the people who don’t do bulk shopping, thereby creating unnecessary car trips to the store. Students who live on campus hardly seem like the worst environmental offenders or anywhere close to it.
Here is a reprise from my January 17 column:
The real power here is held by government employees, especially those in critical jobs. Let’s say that more TSA screeners decided to walk off the job. It’s already the case that the TSA absentee rate has gone up to 7.6 percent, from 3.2 percent a year ago. It is possible to imagine screeners staying home in much greater numbers, thus crippling the entire nation. That could either force President Donald Trump’s hand or lead to a congressional override of a potential presidential veto.
And the close:
So what does the final equilibrium look like? Some number of extra weeks (months?) of talking about Trump and the wall. Trump over time becoming less popular. Congressional Republicans folding, and Trump lying about both the outcome and the process. Democrats looking better, at least relatively. Federal workers emerging with bruised morale, but mostly intact.
If you think those are implausible outcomes, you haven’t been paying close enough attention to the last two years.
File under Prophets of the Marginal Revolution…
Dozens of air traffic controllers are keeping Austin-Bergstrom International Airport functioning smoothly through the longest government shutdown in US history — and all without a paycheck.
Friday was the first payday since the shutdown began and while hundreds of thousands of federal workers can expect to be paid for the work they put in during the shutdown, they are not receiving paychecks until it ends. Tuesday marks Day 25 of the shutdown.
Austin pilots want to do what they can to help their aviation fellows who are affected by the shutdown.
“Those controllers have always had my back, during the normal flights and the rare times that I’ve had a slight abnormal flight that caused me concern,” Ken VeArd said, a longtime pilot.
VeArd recently posted on social media asking his fellow pilots to help him give back to ABIA’s controllers.
“I just made a post saying this is what I am thinking about doing and before I knew it, it just got out of control,” he said. “Whether you need diapers, milk or eggs, or even if all you need is a six pack of beer,” VeArd hopes it’s the small things that will make a difference.
He’s been buying $20 gift cards from H-E-B for the controllers.
“My biggest concern with this thing is that we try to do something nice for our air traffic control friends and it turns out to be a problem, we don’t want to make problems any worse than it is,” VeArd said. “So we capped it at $20.”
This was a really good one, here is the text and audio. The opening:
TYLER COWEN: I’m here today with the great Larissa MacFarquhar. She is a staff writer for the New Yorker, considered by many to write the very best and most interesting profiles of anyone in the business. She has a very well-known book called Strangers Drowning. The subtitle is Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help. It’s about extreme altruists. And she’s now working on a book on people’s decisions whether or not to leave their hometown.
Here is one excerpt proper:
COWEN: If you’re an extreme altruist, are you too subject to manipulation by others? If you care so much about so many other people, and those people actually can be harmed pretty easily at low cost, does this mean that you, the extreme altruist, you just go through life being manipulated?
MACFARQUHAR It’s funny you say that because one thing that I have noticed about the extreme altruist . . . You know what? I don’t want to call them extreme altruists. I think they’re people with a very strong sense of duty.
The people I met were very, very different from each other, but one thing they had in common is they really, really barely cared about what other people thought. They had to feel that way because almost everyone they met thought they were at best weirdos, and at worst dangerous megalomaniacs. So they were unconventional in their degree of duty but also in many other ways.
COWEN: They didn’t care at all what people thought about anything they did like how they dressed or . . . ?
MACFARQUHAR: Things like that. I don’t mean they didn’t care about anything about what people thought because obviously —
COWEN: In this context they didn’t care.
MACFARQUHAR: Obviously they cared about making other people’s lives better. But yes, in terms of opinions of themselves, they were much less sensitive to that than most of us.
COWEN: Your view on how much you should be lied to if you have dementia — is that the same as what you would propose for a sibling or a child, someone you loved and knew?
MACFARQUHAR: With dementia?
COWEN: Right. Would you be consistent and apply the same standard to them that you would want for yourself?
MACFARQUHAR: Ohhh, I don’t know.
COWEN: I would say don’t lie to me, but, in fact, for others, I would be more willing to lie to them than I would wish to be lied to myself.
Try this part too:
COWEN: If during a profile, when you describe people’s looks, are you worried that you are reinforcing stereotypes?
MACFARQUHAR: No. But I have —
COWEN: But isn’t there a thing, looksism?
MACFARQUHAR: Well, of course.
COWEN: There’s sexism, there’s racism, and looksism — people who look a certain way, you should make certain inferences. Is there any way we can describe people’s looks that doesn’t run that danger?
MACFARQUHAR: Probably not. But I’ll say two things about this.
First is, I think there is far too much emphasis on describing people’s looks. Because the thing about humans is that their faces are unique, so you can describe somebody, but you’re never going to be able to call up an exact picture in a reader’s mind about what the person looks like. So what you’re doing is not really describing what they look like — what you’re doing is evoking something which, I guess, the malign form of that is looksism.
But I’ve started avoiding describing what people look like, not because it results in looksism — though I’m sure that’s true — but because, unconsciously or not, it puts the reader in a position of being outside the person, looking at them.
And also, from me:
COWEN: Could the same person be both, say, a Rwandan killer in the 1990s and an extreme altruist? Or is that a contradiction?
The author is Lee Crawfurd and the subtitle of the paper is “Evidence from quasi-random Mormon mission assignments.” Here is part of the abstract:
…we address this question using a natural experiment–the assignment of Mormon missionaries to two-year missions in different world regions–and test whether the attitudes and activities of returned missionaries differ. I find that assignment to a region in the global South causes returned missionaries to report greater interest in global development and poverty, but no difference in support for government aid or higher immigration, and no difference in personal donations or other involvement.
Maybe Mormons are different in this regard, or maybe missions are different (you feel you have done your bit?), but still an interesting result.
In her conversation with Tyler, Kukla speaks about the impossibility of speaking as a woman, curse words, gender representation and “guru culture” in philosophy departments, what she learned while living in Bogota and Johannesburg, what’s interesting in the works of Hegel, Foucault, and Rousseau, why boxing is good for the mind, how she finds good food, whether polyamory can scale, and much more.
Here is one bit:
KUKLA: What’s interesting in Hegel? Okay. You ask hard questions. This is why you’re good at your job, right?
I think Hegel’s fascinating. I think the main idea in Hegel that is fascinating is that any cultural moment, or set of ideas, or set of practices is always internally contradictory in ways it doesn’t notice, that there are tensions built into it. What happens, over time, is that those tensions bubble up to the surface, and in the course of trying to resolve themselves, they create something newer and better and smarter that incorporates both of the original sides.
That was a much more Hegelian way of putting it than I wanted it to come out, basically — the idea that going out and looking for consistency in the world is hopeless. Instead, what we should do is figure out how the contradictions in the world are themselves productive, and push history forward, and push ideas forward, is what I take to be the key interesting Hegelian idea.
COWEN: Michel Foucault. How well has it held up?
KUKLA: Oh, you’re asking me about people I mostly love.
COWEN: But empirically, a lot of doubt has been cast upon it, right?
KUKLA: On the details of his empirical genealogical stories, you mean?
KUKLA: Yes, but I think that the basic Foucauldian picture, which is — let’s reduce Foucault to just two little bits here. One basic piece of the Foucauldian picture is that power is not a unify-unilateral, top-down thing. Power expresses itself in all of the little micro interactions that go on between people and between people and their environments all the time.
Power isn’t about a big set of rules that’s imposed on people. Power is about all of the little things that we do with one another as we move through the world. All of those add up to structures of power, rather than being imposed top-down. I think that has been, at least for me and for many other people, an incredibly fertile, productive way of starting to think about social phenomenon.
The other bit of the Foucauldian picture that I think is incredibly important is the idea that a lot of this happens at the level of concrete, fleshy bodies and material spaces. Power isn’t sets of abstract rules. Power is the way that we are trained up when we are little kids — to hold our legs in a certain way, or to hold our face in a certain way, or to wear certain kinds of clothing. Power is the way that schools are built with desks in rows that enforces a certain direction of the gaze, and so on.
I could go on and on, but the way that the materiality of our bodies and our habits and our environments is where power gets a hold, and where our social patterns and norms are grounded, rather than in some kinds of high-level principles or laws, is also, I think, very fertile.
That’s independent of the details of his genealogical stories. Because, yeah, he does seem to have played fairly fast and loose with actual historical details in a lot of cases.
Here is another segment:
COWEN: Let me start with a very simple question about feminism. What would be a rhetorical disadvantage that many women are at that even, say, educated or so-called progressive men would be unlikely to see?
KUKLA: A rhetorical disadvantage that we’re at — that’s a fascinating question. I think that there is almost no correct way for a woman to use her voice and hold her body to project the proper kind of expertise and authority in a conversation.
I think that there’s massive — I don’t even want to call it a double bind because it’s a multidimensional bind — where if we sound too feminine, sounding feminine in this culture is coded as frivolous and unserious. If we sound too unfeminine, then we sound like we are violating gender norms or like we are unpleasant or trying to be like a man.
I think that almost any way in which we position ourselves — if we try to be polite and make nice, then we come off as weak. If we don’t make nice, then we’re held to a higher standard for our appropriate behavior than men are. I think there’s almost no way we can position ourselves so that we sound as experts. So oftentimes, the content of our words matters less than our embodied presentation as a woman.
LLapingachos are the way to go: “an Ecuadorian dish of potato patties or thick potato pancakes stuffed with cheese and cooked on a hot griddle until crispy.”
Given the landlocked nature of Quito, the seafood — and I don’t just mean lake fish — is remarkably good. Try the fried corvina at Las Corvinas de Don Jimmy, in the Mercado Central, with a drink and ceviche only $6. Zazu is one of the best restaurants in South America, and many of the dishes are below $15. I recommend La Briciola for Italian food and chocolate ice cream, noting that in Latin America the most boring-sounding pastas, such as the ravioli, are the ones to order.
The 17th century heritage of Quito makes the colonial center feel like central Mexico. Think “built up early, backwater later on, for a long time.” The mix of mestizo and indigenous. The design of the inner city and its churches. The role of crafts. The persistence of particular foodstuffs, in this case potatoes and corn and avocado and palmitos. Popcorn was invented somewhere around here.
The weather is perfect every day.
There is an unusually high percentage of Indian-American tourists (do any of you know why?), that said the absolute number of tourists is quite small. Most people are passing through on their way to the Galapagos, described by one skeptical pro-Trump tourist we met as “$7,000 worth of lizards.”
Following dollarization, it seems that all the Kennedy half dollars and Sacagawea dollar coins have ended up here. .
Cops dress like superheroes to make themselves more approachable by children:
The quechua-speaking guide for Cotopaxi volcano loves YouTube and listens to “adventures, news, music, and much more.” He is still hoping to get a phone with an internet connection, and believes that lack of good education for indigenous children is the country’s biggest problem.
“In 2010, more than 2,600 people were killed in Ecuador, a homicide rate of about 18 per 100,000, almost twice the level the World Health Organization considers an epidemic. This year, the small Andean nation is expected to record 5.6 killed per 100,000, one of Latin America’s lowest rates.” (Excellent piece, WSJ link).
On the “is now the right time to visit Quito?” scale, I give 2019 a 9.5.
An ideal city for a day trip, fly in and back out in the evening. It is much nicer and safer than its longstanding icky reputation, and by this point it is probably safer than pickpocket laden, iPhone-snatching Quito (NB: I strap everything to my inner body). The seafood is first-rate, the city is the future of Ecuador, and I saw more Afro-Ecuadorians than I was expecting to. Guayaquil overrates its own Malecón, but at some point it will all end up looking good. Just not yet. In the meantime, I recommend the Park of the Iguanas.