been listening to
The two CDs I enjoyed the most this year were both sound worlds, and silences, from the distant past:
Brian Eno, Another Green World, and
van Morrison, Astral Weeks, fifty year anniversary for that one, and I hadn’t realized how closely the lyrics were tied to details of Belfast. Next up will be the quieter cuts on Electric Ladyland.
The Beatles’s White Album tapes were a revelation, but it is enough to hear them once or twice. I learned that the album was remarkably well-produced, no less than Sgt. Pepper, to get that under-produced sound. “I Will” came directly from “Blue Moon” (!), and “Blackbird” came from Bach’s Bourree (less surprising). Classic Beatle songs such as “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” and many others were basically written by 1968, making 1966-68 a truly remarkable period in their songwriting output. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was better in its early acoustic version. Some of my best Beatles listening was to track down their most Cage-Stockhausen-influenced passages, such as Paul’s acoustic fade-out at the end of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” or the instrumental close of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Paul’s new album Egypt Station does not have much ear candy, but it does reveal his longstanding status as a very horny dude; listen to his much earlier Temporary Secretary for something unacceptably obscene (and creative). Then go back and re-listen to his early Beatle lyrics through this lens. The best argument for LSD I’ve heard is simply that it got Paul to stop singing about girls for a few years, so it must be pretty powerful.
I got sick of hip-hop this year, so of the new releases I’ve been most intrigued by:
Lush, Snail Mail (at least three excellent songs)
Low, Double Negative
Mitski, Be the Cowboy
But it is too early to judge their staying power. Sitting in the “I still haven’t listened to this yet pile” is:
Aphex Twin, Collapse EP (too many other CDs piled on top of the record player!)
Autechre, NTS Sessions, an 8-CD set.
Self-recommending is Desmond Dekker: Action!/Intensified
What do you all recommend?
This is all Gwern, I won’t add another layer of indentation:
Some questions which are not necessarily important, but do puzzle me or where I find standard answers to be unsatisfying (along the lines of Patrick Collison’s list & Alex Guzey; see also my list of project ideas):
- What is
personal productivityand why does it vary from day to day so strikingly, and yet not correlate with environmental variables like weather or sleep quality nor appear as the usual kind of latent variable in my factor analyses? Is it something much weirder than the usual kind of latent variable, like a set of zero-sum measurements drawing on a generic pool of
- Does listening to music while working serve as a distraction, or motivation?
- What, algorithmicly, are mathematicians doing when they do math which explains how their proofs can usually be wrong but their results usually right?Is it equivalent to a kind of tree search like MCTS or something else? They wouldn’t seem to be doing a literal tree search because then there would almost never be mistakes in the proof (as the built-up tree of theorems only explores valid inferential steps), but if they’re not, then how are they handling
logical uncertainty? Are they doing something like MCTS’s random playouts where lemmas are not proven but simply heuristically given a truth value to shortcut exploration and the heuristic is accurate enough to usually guess correctly and this is why the proofs are wrong but the results are right?
- Why did Jean Calment live so many more years than other centenarians, breaking all records and setting a life expectancy record which decades later has not just not been broken, but not even approached? Which is extraordinary considering that she smoked, medicine has continuously advanced, the global population has increased, life expectancy in general has increased, and the Gompertz curve implies that, with mortality rates approaching 50%, centenarians should die like flies and ever closer in age to each other and not have occasional enormous permanent 3 year gaps between the record setter (Calment) and everyone since then.
- Why do humans, pets, and even lab animals of many species kept in controlled lab conditions on standardized diets appear to be increasingly obese over the 20th century? What could possibly explain all of them simultaneously becoming obese?
- What happened to the famous genome sequencing cost curve after late 2012, which stopped price decreases, damaged genetics, and delayed the advent of whole-genome sequencing by perhaps a decade? Was it really just the Illuminati’s fault?
- Why do humans have such a large mutation load on common genetic variants? Common SNPs make up a large fraction of variance, even for traits which must be fitness-affecting.
Culture or technology slow evolutiondoesn’t wash when human fitness differentials are so large and so many people died young or as infants, and how did the many deleterious variants get pushed up to such high frequencies in the first place?
- Why does the immune system so often surface as a genetic correlation or tissue enrichment in GWASes for many things not generally believed to be infectious? Are we missing an enormous range of infections directly causing bad things (or indirectly through autoimmune mechanisms), or the immune system just sort of like intelligence in being a general health trait?
- Why does catnip response vary so much across countries in domestic cats, and also across feline species, with no apparent phylogenetic or environmental pattern? It is so heritable in domestic cats that a genetic reason is plausible, but if it’s adaptive, what is it doing when catnip doesn’t exist in the ranges of most tested cats, and if it’s neutral why can so many closely-different different animals respond to it in different ways?
Here is the audio and transcript. Here is the summary opener:
Not only is Ben Thompson’s Stratechery frequently mentioned on MR, but such is Tyler’s fandom that the newsletter even made its way onto the reading list for one of his PhD courses. Ben’s based in Taiwan, so when he recently visited DC, Tyler quickly took advantage of the chance for an in-person dialogue.
In this conversation they talk about the business side of tech and more, including whether tech titans are good at PR, whether conglomerate synergies exist, Amazon’s foray into health care, why anyone needs an Apple Watch or an Alexa, growing up in small-town Wisconsin, his pragmatic book-reading style, whether MBAs are overrated, the prospects for the Milwaukee Bucks, NBA rule changes, the future of the tech industries in China and India, and why Taiwanese breakfast is the best breakfast.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Why should I want a tech device in my home at all? Take Alexa — I don’t have one, I’m pretty happy, my life is simple. I don’t want anyone or anything listening to me. What does it do for me? I know I can tell it to play me a song or buy something on Amazon, but that’s one-click shopping anyway, could hardly be simpler. Why do devices in the home have any future at all?
THOMPSON: The reality is — particularly when it comes to consumer products — is that in the long run, convenience always wins. I think people will have them in their homes, and they’ll become more popular because it’s convenient.
You can be doing whatever you want; you can say something like, “Set a timer five minutes,” or “What temperature should I grill my steak to?” And you’ll get an answer with your hands busy, and altogether it’s going to be a more convenient answer than it would’ve been otherwise.
COWEN: How bullish are you on India’s tech sector and software development?
THOMPSON: I’m bullish. You know, India — people want to put it in the same bucket as, “Oh, it’s the next China.” The countries are similar in that they’re both very large, but they’re so different.
Probably the most underrated event — I don’t want to say in human history, but in the last hundred years — is the Cultural Revolution in China. And not just that 60, 70 million people were killed, or starved to death, or what it might be, but it really was like a scorched earth for China as a whole. Everything started from scratch. And from an economic perspective, that’s why you can grow for so long — because you’re starting from nothing basically. But the way it impacts culture, generally, and the way business is done.
Taiwan, I think, struggles from having thousands of years of Chinese bureaucracy behind it. Plus they were occupied by Japan for 50 years, so you’ve got that culture on top. Then you have this sclerotic corporate culture that the boss is always right, stay in the office until he goes home, and that sort of thing. It’s unhealthy.
Whereas China — it’s much more bare-knuckled competition and “Figure out the right answer, figure it out quickly.” The competition there is absolutely brutal. It’s brutal in a way I think is hard for people to really comprehend, from the West. And that makes China, makes these companies really something to deal with.
Whereas India did not have something like that. Yes, it had colonialism, but all that is still there, and the effects of that, and the long-term effects of India’s thousands of years of culture. So it makes it much more difficult to wrap things up, to get things done. And that’s always, I think, going to be the case. The way India develops, generally, because they didn’t have a clear-the-decks event like the Cultural Revolution, is always going to be fundamentally different.
And that is by no means a bad thing. I’m not wishing the Cultural Revolution on anyone. I’m just saying it makes the countries really fundamentally different.
No, I am not there now, but Adam D. emails me and requests this, so here goes:
1. Novel: Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, all about identity and erotic guilt. Next in line would be any number of Isaac Singer novels, I don’t have a favorite offhand. Soon I will try The Family Moskat. Gombrowicz is probably wonderful, but I don’t find that it works for me in translation. Quo Vadis left me cold.
2. Chopin works: The Preludes, there are many fine versions, and then the Ballades. The Etudes excite me the most, the Mazurkas and piano sonatas #2 and #3 are most likely to surprise me at current margins of listening. I find it remarkable how I never tire of Chopin, in spite of his relatively slight output.
3. Painter: This one isn’t as easy as it ought to be.
5. Political thinker: Czesław Miłosz, The Captive Mind, about the capitulations of artists to communism, though subtler than just an anti-state polemic. He once stated: ” I have never been a political writer and I worked hard to destroy this image of myself.” I do not feel I can judge his poetry, though last year’s biography of him was a good book.
8. Movie: Any of the Andrzej Wajda classics would do, maybe start with Kanal or Ashes and Diamonds. More recently I would opt for Ida. I like Kieślowski’s TV more than his films, and prefer Hollywood Polanski to Polish Polanski.
10. Jazz musician: Trumpeter Tomasz Stańko.
11. Economists: There is Kalecki, Hurwicz, the now-underrated Oskar Lange (doesn’t Singaporean health care work fine?), and Victor Zarnowitz. I had thought Mises was born in Poland, but upon checking it turned out to be Ukraine.
Overall the big puzzle is why there isn’t more prominence in painting, given Poland’s centrality in European history.
“Israel should have been a water basket case,” says Siegel, listing its problems: 60% of the land is desert and the rest is arid. Rainfall has fallen to half its 1948 average, apparently thanks to climate change, and as global warming progresses, Israel and the whole Levant are expected to become even drier – and from 1948, Israel’s population has grown 10-fold.
During that time, the country’s economy grew 70-fold. But instead of starting to waste water, as happens when a society becomes wealthier, it used its new affluence to implement what Siegel calls “the Israel model” of water management.
That model includes drip irrigation, the world’s highest rate of water reclamation and recycling, high prices when necessary, massive desalination, fixing leaks early and frequently, discouraging gardening, and mandating water-efficient toilets.
Are you listening California? Here is the article from Ruth Schuster at Haaretz. Here is Wikipedia on water policy in Israel. Here is the miracle of Israeli dairy; Israeli cows are far more productive than most other cows, mostly because of technology.
Too many people think of him as ordinary and earthy, compared to Mozart or Beethoven. Yet he composed amazing amounts of pathbreaking, first-rate music, and it wears remarkably well upon repeated listenings.
My approach to Haydn is pretty simple:
1. Some of the early piano music is boring, but a simple availability metric will point you to the best material. The deepest are the six last sonatas, and most well-known performances are quite good. Ax, McCabe, Kalish, Richter, and Brendel are among the first choices, Jando (Naxos) and Buchbinder are good enough to listen to but not preferred. By the way, piano > pianoforte, there was no great stagnation.
2. Listen to as many of the string quartets as you can, with preference given to Opus 76. On average, the later opus numbers are better, yet Op.9 and Op.20 still are worthwhile.
3. Listen to the London Symphonies. Again and again. All of them, Dorati being one option for conductor.
That’s hardly the only wonderful Haydn, but those are the pieces that work best through recordings. See the choral and vocal music live. Most of the concerti bore me, as do the piano trios. Many of the earlier symphonies are good, including the Paris set and the “Sturm und Drang” period, but unless you have lots and lots of time I say focus on the London ones for now.
As the years or decades pass, you will realize you have been underrating Haydn.
1. Yemen facts of the day, the negative projections seem more or less on track.
3. Japan fact of the day: “…the number of foreign workers, though still relatively small, has nearly doubled over the past eight years, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party is considering policies to speed up arrivals.” Please note the link is noisy.
4. “Professional chefs, who one might think would be an ideal demographic, are not frequent customers. Sven says they have a haughty attitude toward cookbooks.” Link here.
6. What is the most relaxing song of them all? (Frankly, it pissed me off.) And this: “But time and social change have been rough on the Beach Boys. Their best-known hits (say, “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around”) are poems of unenlightened straight-male privilege, white privilege, beach privilege. It is hard to imagine that they helped anyone toward self-determination or achieving their social rights.” I say they’re mostly about melancholy, thank goodness not everything is didactic.
This paper quantifies the effect of global migration on the welfare of non-migrant OECD citizens. We develop an integrated, multi-country model that accounts for the interactions between the labor market, fiscal, and market size effects of migration, as well as for trade relations between countries. The model is calibrated to match the economic and demographic characteristics of the 34 OECD countries and the rest of the world, as well as trade flows between them in the year 2010. We show that recent migration flows have been beneficial for 69 percent of the non-migrant OECD population, and for 83 percent of non-migrant citizens of the 22 richest OECD countries. Winners are mainly residing in traditional immigration countries; their gains are substantial and are essentially due to the entry of immigrants from non OECD countries. Although labor market and fiscal effects are non-negligible in some countries, the greatest source of gain comes from the market size effect, i.e. the change in the variety of goods available to consumers.
She has been my most significant musical discovery of the last year, and these days it is rare when I find something new in music which truly surprises me.
Dave Gelly put it this way:
At the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I found myself listening open-mouthed to a Russian woman playing the piano accordion while making wordless vocal sounds into a microphone. Her name was Evelina Petrova and the sounds varied from whoops and bird-like twitterings to a kind of demented lamentation. God knows what it was all about, but it had me transfixed.
What could sound less appealing than Russian accordion music? I say imagine the devilish imp which sometimes runs around Stravinsky’s borrowings from Russian folk music, hook it up to an accordion, and pinch it repeatedly and irregularly.
Here is a good, descriptive review of her first album. Here is her home page. Here is a YouTube duet with piano, good but I prefer her solo. Try this solo clip for her dirge side. Here is another good (and more lively) solo clip. Her CDs are on Amazon here, buy Living Water if you only get one.
She also has collaborated with Jethro Tull, or so I am told.
Steven Quartz writes:
…our current Gilded Age has been greeted with relative complacency. Despite soaring inequality, worsened by the Great Recession, and recent grumbling about the 1 percent, Americans remain fairly happy. All of the wage gains since the downturn ended in 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1 percent, yet the proportion of Americans who say they are “thriving” has actually increased. So-called happiness inequality — the proportion of Americans who are either especially miserable or especially joyful — hit a 40-year low in 2010 by some measures. Men have historically been less happy than women, but that gap has disappeared. Whites have historically been happier than nonwhites, but that gap has narrowed, too.
In fact, American happiness has not only stayed steady, but converged, since wages began stagnating in the mid-1970s. This is puzzling. It does not conform with economic theories that compare happiness to envy, and emphasize the impact of relative income for happiness — how we compare with the Joneses.
Here is part of the answer, consistent with what I argued in my book What Price Fame?:
…social status, which was once hierarchical and zero-sum, has become more fragmented, pluralistic and subjective. The relationship between relative income and relative status, which used to be straightforward, has gotten much more complex.
…A new generation of ethnographers has discovered an explosion of consumer lifestyles and product diversification in recent decades. From evangelical Christian Harley-Davidson owners, who huddle together around a motorcycle’s radio listening to a service on Sunday mornings, to lifestyles organized around musical tastes, from the solidarity of punk rockers to yoga gatherings, from meditation retreats to book clubs, we use products to create and experience community. These communities often represent a consumer micro-culture, a “brand community,” or tribe, with its own values and norms about status.
Note that the closing bit of this piece is…this: “Money may not buy happiness in the long run, but consumer choice has gone a long way in keeping most Americans reasonably content, even if they shouldn’t be.”
…Most disturbing for Mr Briggs, was when he received a phone call from himself trying to flog payment protection insurance.
Briggs was also the voice of Siri for a while. Here is from another person who has been the voice of Siri:
The 65-year-old confesses she found listening to Siri a bit creepy. It was not that she hated hearing herself — that is an everyday occurrence for the voice recording artist. She is used to hearing her voice over tannoys at airports and stores, as well as telephone on-hold systems. She is her son’s bank’s automated voice and it tickles her to assume that voice and taunt him by saying: “Thank you for calling the bank. You are overdrawn.”
It was interacting with herself that felt so peculiar. “It was very strange having my voice coming back to me from my hand. I said, ‘Hi Siri, what are you doing?’ Siri said, disgustedly: ‘Talking to you.’”
That is from Emma Jacobs at the FT, interesting throughout.
Where to start? As a Scot living in Scotland and very much intending to vote YES I have to take issue on many things stated here. First of all your emphasis on the term “partnership”. There has never been a partnership between England and Scotland, Scotland has always been told what to do and if Scotland doesn’t like it Scotland has to lump it. We are more socially aware of our society with a more caring emphasis on what is good for OUR nation, Scotland, as a whole, not the dog eat dog right wing politics of England which is more of a right wing society. See Tory and ukip voting patterns. As for the currency we will be using? It will be sterling! Sterling does not just belong to England and if we’re in a currency union or not, we will still use sterling just like many other former commonwealth countries did before. The matter of us being in the EU is still debatable. Many EU institutions have intimated that Scotland will be welcome with open arms and even some unionist politicians have said we will have no problems joining. Ask your Westminster government they can get the answers. By the way I don’t think it has escaped your notice that we are already dominated by the EU and Westminster to boot. So what’s new? We can cut out the middle man whose sole interest is to look after London first. We are also getting an in-out referendum on membership of the EU in 2017. Can you tell me if we’ll still be in the EU after that? Tell me Tyler? What is the mechanism for evicting an already member of the EU? I don’t think there is one.
You cite that we have no practical reason to leave. Well how about self determination? How about being able to take decisions for ourselves? How about not going into useless wars? How about not having nuclear weapons, that England won’t have, located on our doorstep? Or how about having our wealth squandered on the South East of England while we are accused of being subsidy junkies? Are they practical reasons?
Alex Salmond has sound economics to back up his claim of Scots receiving more money under Independence. UK government records show that we contribute 9.9% (no doubt massaged down) of the exchequer’s total income, but we receive back only 9.3% back in total spend. Whereas the latest treasury figures were disowned straight away by the professor who they used as a source for their findings. The professor said that they had misrepresented his figures by a factor of 12 times more.
No being British is not good enough. I see day-in-day-out my country being turned into a region, a region of Britain you may say, but when in reality we all know what Britain means to the people down in England, don’t we? Britain simply means England in most people’s eyes in England. If you looked at the latest census carried out in Scotland you would have seen that nearly 75% of the population consider themselves Scottish and not British, only a mere 18% considered themselves Scottish and British. If it’s any consolation to you I can’t understand many English dialects either. Try listening to a Geordie, Scouser, Brommie, Cockney or even someone from Pashtun.
I expect the YES vote to prevail and I just want to point out to you that ignorant articles like this will hasten that vote.
He is an articulate fellow, but he hasn’t changed my mind, quite the contrary.
GB Who are the best speakers in the world today, politically?
JRS Long silence. The reason for which there is a ‘long silence’ is that, with the gradual bureaucratization of politics, we have ended up with – through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s – politicians increasingly reading speeches written for them by somebody else; that is, politicians being made to feel that they were not the real political leaders, but rather – in a sense – heads of a large bureaucracy. The result has been that politicians may think that they have a responsibility to speak in a solid and measured way – with the consequence that they not only became boring and bad speakers, but sound artificial and are not listened to. Modern speech writers started adding in ‘rhetoric,’ which sounded artificial, and led to people listening even less to political speeches. This also came with a rise in populism; that is, we saw the revival of populist speaking – with populist politicians winning power here and there – meaning that the speech writers started putting populist rhetoric in as a gloss on top of the boring managerial material that they had been producing. So what we now have are sensible, elected leaders giving speeches that, at one level, are boring, solid stuff and, at another level, cheap rhetoric.
…Many political leaders think that it is dangerous to speak well. In fact, they are looking to bore people – and we feel that. As a result, when we stand up and say real things, people are quite shocked. And that is because they are always working on this level of measurement. If we take someone like a Trudeau or an FDR, or an LBJ, or a de Gaulle – someone like that – they knew that speeches are not about who will like them and dislike them. Speeches are actually about whether people will respect you because you have spoken to them in a way that they take to be honest – as if they are treated in a way that is intelligent. Trudeau was often boring, but his secret was that, even when he was being insulting, he was talking to you as if you were as smart as he was.
While the industry’s opposing comments were not yet final on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Pisano and others said they were expected to cite a host of potential problems. Those include the risk of market manipulation in the rumor-fueled film world, conflicts of interest among studio employees and myriad contractors who might bet with or against their own films, the possibility that box-office performance would be hurt by short-sellers, difficulty in getting or holding screens for films if trading activity indicated weakness and the need for costly internal monitoring to block insider trades.
Among the potential abuses, the studios contend, is that a speculator might leak an early version of a film to the Internet and then profit from its subsequent poor performance at the box office.
The full story is here. I suspect that once you cut past the rhetoric the most important factor on that list is: "difficulty in getting or holding screens for films if trading activity indicated weakness…"
The recorded music industry has collapsed for a number of reasons, but one is that pre-purchase web listening helps consumers avoid songs and albums they don't really want to buy. There are fewer mistaken music purchases today than in say 1986 but of course that also means fewer music purchases. That's good for consumer welfare, even if it's not always good for the music corporations and artists. If the same trend came to the movie sector, many current business models would prove unsustainable. As it currently stands, previews often try to trick audiences rather than enlighten them; sampling a pre-purchase MP3 file in contrast can only enlighten you.
Counterintuitively, introduction of the betting markets could make movies worse in quality (relative to my tastes at least), by inducing producers to focus on making "the sure thing," especially if betting on the movie starts very early. (Keep in mind that the fixed costs of using theaters may require a minimum level of market interest above some threshold.) I don't so much mind bad movies because I simply walk out of them, so I prefer a higher variance in quality than may be socially optimal.
So much of our cultural industries have been built on consumer mistakes and those days are coming to an end, rapidly.
The failure of foreign aid to lead to economic development has left many cynics in its wake. For this reason, I enjoyed The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline Novogratz's story of moving from aid-idealism to aid-realism without ever passing through the way-station of aid-cynicism. As a naive, aid-idealist Novogratz spent a lot of time on the circuit in Africa; eventually hard lessons wore away the naivety but not the idealism. Of course, Novogratz learned a lot about the corruption, failure to experiment, and lack of accountability of the aid agencies but she also learned to be realistic about the do-gooders:
Philanthropy can appeal to people who want to be loved more than they want to make a difference.
But the hardest lessons were about the poor. In the late 1980s, Novogratz worked with a group of native women to build up a thriving business in Rwanda. Inevitably some of her friends became terrible victims of the 1994 genocide. Perhaps even worse, some of her friends became perpetrators. Hard lessons like these drove Novogratz's evolution.
I've read the following sort of thing many times:
It is so often the people who know the greatest suffering–the poor and most vulnerable–who are the most resilient, the ones able to derive happiness and shared joy from the simplest pleasures.
I've heard it so many times, I tend to dismiss it but Novogratz follows up with this:
That same resilience, however, can manifest itself in passivity, fatalism, a resignation to the difficulties of life that allows injustice and inequity to strengthen and grow…
Which, for me at least, turned a trite observation into an important insight.
Novogratz's experiences eventually developed into the Acumen Fund, a venture capital firm for aid. The idea is to invest patient capital in scalable, for-profit businesses that deliver services to the poor. The fund, for example, has invested in a firm producing drip irrigation systems in Pakistan, a Tanzanian firm that produces mosquito nets and an Indian firm producing internet-telephone kiosks in small villages.
The fact that the businesses have been for-profit has been critical. In selling bed nets for example the Tanzanian firm learned that talking about malaria doesn't sell. What sells, in the words of one of their top salespersons is, "The color is beautiful, and you can hang the nets in your windows so that your neighbors know how much you care about your family." As Novogratz puts it:
Beauty, vanity, status and comfort….The rich hold no monopoly on any of it. But we're a long way from integrating the way people actually make decisions into public policy instead of how we think they should make them.
Patient capital is no panacea–what is?–but by investing in entrepreneurs who must listen to their customers a charitable venture-capital firm can multiply the effectiveness of its philanthropy.
There is a powerful role both for the market and for philanthropy…Philanthropy alone lacks the feedback mechanism of markets, which are the best listening devices we have; and yet markets alone too easily leave the most vulnerable behind.