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Friday assorted links

Thursday assorted links

1. Leela Chess Zero.  And the latest in computer chess.  And podcast with Ken Regan.  And Shelby Lyman passes away (NYT).

2. The culture that is India.

3. Not a mistake, but touch football is now requiring helmets (NYT).

4. Cinematic markets in everything for Canadian service dogs.

5. “Teacher-designed practice was perceived as less relevant to improving performance on the violin than practice alone. Further, amount of teacher-designed practice did not account for more variance in performance than amount of practice alone.”  Link here.

6. Software Engineering Daily podcast with me.

The bullish case for ride-sharing services

In a survey by AARP last year, only 29 percent of those over 50 had used ride-hailing apps. Two-thirds said they weren’t likely to do so in the coming year, citing in part concerns about safety and privacy.

I don’t think today’s young will lose the capacity to use ride-sharing services as they age.  In the meantime, there is this:

So Lyft and Uber and others are contracting with third parties, bypassing the need for older riders to use apps or to have smartphones at all.

They’re joining forces with health care systems, for instance. In the past 18 months, more than 1,000 — including MedStar, in the Washington area, and the Boston Medical Center — have signed on with Uber Health for “nonemergency medical transportation,” the company said.

Case managers and social workers can use Uber or Lyft to ferry patients to or from clinics and offices, reducing missed appointments.

Here is the full NYT story by Paula Span.

What I’ve been reading

1. Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell, Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World.  A good, short “give it to your high school kid” book on why socialism is not an entirely ideal way to arrange society.

2. Ben Lewis, The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting.  I felt I knew this story already, but nonetheless found interesting information and conceptual analysis on virtually every page.  And while the author is agnostic and balanced, the text upped my opinion of the “likely Leonardo weighted expected value” component from about 0.1 to maybe 0.25?  Yet so much fuss about a painting that resurfaced in 1907 — model that…  And don’t forget: “None of the great art historians and connoisseurs who saw it before 1958 identified it as a Leonardo.”  Recommended.

3. Lene Rachel Andersen and Tomas Björkman, The Nordic Secret: A European story of beauty and freedom.  There should be many more books about why the Nordics are special, and this is one of them.  The central notion here is “secular Bildung” as a means of elevating society and cooperative relations.  Uneven in its structure of exposition, but definitely interesting in parts and the importance of the question makes this better than most of the other books you might be likely to read.  Just don’t expect 100% polish.

4. David Cahan, Helmholtz: A Life in Science.  At 768 pp., I only read about half of this one.  Nonetheless I read the better half, and it is one of the more useful treatments of 19th century German science.  I hadn’t realized the strong connections with Siemens and Roentgen, for instance, and one clear lesson is that German science of that time had some pretty healthy institutions outside of the formal university system.

Warsaw notes

I recommend a trip here.  Imagine a European country with (roughly) a four percent growth rate and the streets full of young people.  Dining out here is much better than it was in Milan, and cheaper too (eat in the serious Polish place on the left side of the food hall, Hala Kozyski, and get gelato afterwards).  What seems to be the city’s second best hotel is less than half the price it would be in Western Europe.  For better or worse, e-scooters and bike lanes are everywhere.  The city has a lively concert life, even in August.

There aren’t many traditional tourist sites.  Construction workers will look at you funny if you visit the remnants of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the memorial plaque isn’t exactly prominent.  The city’s much-heralded Jewish Museum is as much a critique of the Jews during medieval times as anything else.  I don’t consider those sites as focal for the Warsaw population as a whole, but the official side of life here has not exactly taken the German tack of ongoing apologies.  It is now against the law to suggest that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust (now only a fine, the threat of imprisonment was removed).

These days the 1953 Stalin building downtown looks quite beautiful.  Cross the river to see more of Warsaw’s residential districts, such as the Praga district, and stop by to see the architecture — both new and old — near the Neon Museum.

“Poland issued more first-time residence permits to non-EU citizens than any other EU nation in 2017, with 86% of them going to Ukrainians, in the latest available European migration statistics. Those Ukrainians accounted for 18.7% of all newcomers to the entire EU.”  (WSJ link here).

Poland is a country where nationalism doesn’t seem to be going away.  In fact, there seems to be a kind of intertemporal substitution into a new nationalism, a secure nationalism, finally safe from the bullying of larger neighbors.  Polish flags are everywhere.  So many Poles, even secular ones, view the Catholic Church as the central institution of Western civilization, and indeed they have a concept of Western civilization as having a central institution (though a minus for gay rights).

The country is not on the verge of becoming a “Western liberal’s dream,” at least not in terms of mood or rhetoric.  Yet actual life here is fairly liberal, and is more prosperous every day.  2019 has been the best year in Polish history, ever, and you feel it palpably.

Do not be surprised if more and more of Western Europe sees Polish nationalism as a model to be copied.

Tuesday assorted links

1. Hong Kong Straussians.

2. Pro-Brexit views are pulling more British voters into conservative views on redistribution.

3. Links on Progress Studies.

4. “Our counterfactual analysis suggests that a persistent increase in average global temperature by 0.04°C per year, in the absence of mitigation policies, reduces world real GDP per capita by 7.22 percent by 2100. On the other hand, abiding by the Paris Agreement, thereby limiting the temperature increase to 0.01°C per annum, reduces the loss substantially to 1.07 percent. These effects vary significantly across countries.”  Link here.

5. “Ironically democracy seems historically to be “in crisis” precisely when it is most proving its superiority to other systems, i.e. when it is managing us through a difficult, messy adjustment.

Do opioids contribute to social bonding?

It seems so (uh-oh):

Close social bonds are critical to immediate and long-term well-being. However, the neurochemical mechanisms by which we remain connected to our closest loved ones are not well understood. Opioids have long been theorized to contribute to social bonding via their actions on the brain. But feelings of social connection toward one’s own close others and direct comparisons of ventral striatum (VS) activity in response to close others and strangers, a neural correlate of social bonding, have not been explored. Therefore, the current clinical trial examined whether opioids causally affect neural and experiential signatures of social bonding. Eighty participants were administered naltrexone (n = 40), an opioid antagonist that blocks natural opioid processing, or placebo (n = 40) before completing a functional MRI scan where they viewed images of their close others and individuals they had not seen before (i.e., strangers). Feelings of social connection to the close others and physical symptoms commonly experienced when taking naltrexone were also collected. In support of hypotheses, naltrexone (vs. placebo) reduced feelings of social connection toward the close others (e.g., family, friends, romantic partners). Furthermore, naltrexone (vs. placebo) reduced left VS activity in response to images of the same close others, but did not alter left VS activity to strangers. Finally, the positive correlation between feelings of connection and VS activity to close others present in the placebo condition was erased by naltrexone. Effects remained after adjusting for physical symptoms. Together, results lend support to theories suggesting that opioids contribute to social bonding, especially with our closest loved ones.

Here is the full article, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Note the top item behind the Lewis link: “We find zero or modestly positive estimated effects of these [Haitian] migrants on the educational outcomes of incumbent students in the year of the earthquake or in the 2 years that follow, regardless of the socioeconomic status, grade level, ethnicity, or birthplace of incumbent students.”

Saturday assorted links

My Conversation with Masha Gessen

Here is the transcript and audio, here is the summary:

Masha joined Tyler in New York City to answer his many questions about Russia: why was Soviet mathematics so good? What was it like meeting with Putin? Why are Russian friendships so intense? Are Russian women as strong as the stereotype suggests — and why do they all have the same few names? Is Russia more hostile to LGBT rights than other autocracies? Why did Garry Kasparov fail to make a dent in Russian politics? What did The Americans get right that Chernobyl missed? And what’s a good place to eat Russian food in Manhattan?

Here is excerpt:

COWEN: Why has Russia basically never been a free country?

GESSEN: Most countries have a history of never having been free countries until they become free countries.

[laughter]

COWEN: But Russia has been next to some semifree countries. It’s a European nation, right? It’s been a part of European intellectual life for many centuries, and yet, with the possible exception of parts of the ’90s, it seems it’s never come very close to being an ongoing democracy with some version of free speech. Why isn’t it like, say, Sweden?

GESSEN: [laughs] Why isn’t Russia like . . . I tend to read Russian history a little bit differently in the sense that I don’t think it’s a continuous history of unfreedom. I think that Russia was like a lot of other countries, a lot of empires, in being a tyranny up until the early 20th century. Then Russia had something that no other country has had, which is the longest totalitarian experiment in history. That’s a 20th-century phenomenon that has a very specific set of conditions.

I don’t read Russian history as this history of Russians always want a strong hand, which is a very traditional way of looking at it. I think that Russia, at breaking points when it could have developed a democracy or a semidemocracy, actually started this totalitarian experiment. And what we’re looking at now is the aftermath of the totalitarian experiment.

And:

GESSEN: …I thought Americans were absurd. They will say hello to you in the street for no reason. Yeah, I found them very unreasonably friendly.

I think that there’s a kind of grumpy and dark culture in Russia. Russians certainly have a lot of discernment in the fine shades of misery. If you ask a Russian how they are, they will not cheerfully respond by saying they’re great. If they’re miserable, they might actually share that with you in some detail.

There’s no shame in being miserable in Russia. There’s, in fact, a lot of validation. Read a Russian novel. You’ll find it all in there. We really are connoisseurs of depression.

Finally there was the segment starting with this:

COWEN: I have so many questions about Russia proper. Let me start with one. Why is it that Russians seem to purge their own friends so often? The standing joke being the Russian word for “friend” is “future enemy.” There’s a sense of loyalty cycles, where you have to reach a certain bar of being loyal or otherwise you’re purged.

Highly recommended.