Links For July 2023
[Remember, I haven’t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, and will highlight important corrections later, but I can’t guarantee I will have caught them all by the time you read this.]
1: Throughout history, men of all lands and eras have asked “what if I name a town after Santa Claus and try to pitch it as a tourist attraction?” Hence the towns of Santa Claus, Arizona, and Santa Claus, Georgia. The origins of Santa Claus, Indiana are murkier, but the town does boast “the world’s first theme park” (Christmas-themed, of course)
2: If you (like me) have a fourth-grader’s sense of humor, you may enjoy @ActualNames1, a Twitter account of the silliest and most profane names on Census-style records.
3: Georges Ruggiu (h/t @iwsfutcmd ) was a middle-aged white Belgian who became interested in Rwanda and eventually moved there. During the 1990s, he became one of the loudest voices supporting the genocide there, "leverag[ing] his Europeanness for credibility” on the popular RTLM radio station. He served eight years in prison for crimes against humanity. See also War Nerd. As far as anyone knows he’s back in Belgium now, just hanging around.
4: Yet another study finds a monotonic relationship between IQ and positive life outcomes, ie there isn’t some point where IQ stops being good (or turns bad). I will keep hammering this in until people stop promoting that one bad Swedish study that found the opposite (see #23 here).
5: Aella discusses her survey results on polyamory (more data here). Key point: both decisively monogamous and decisively polyamorous couples are often happy and stable, but couples who are lukewarm and in the middle do worse than either extreme (maybe because the partners disagree on the right degree of poly, or because they’re switching modes to “save the relationship”). This neatly (maybe too neatly) explains an otherwise confusing pattern: most of the poly relationships I know seem fine, but many monogamous people say most of the poly relationships they know are trashfires. If like groups with like, most of the poly people who mono people know will be only slightly polyamorous, a dangerous place to be.
6: Derek Lowe explains the current consensus that sirtuins don’t work for longevity. This doesn’t directly invalidate all of David Sinclair’s work (which I wrote about in my review of his book Lifespan) but it sure does indirectly undermine it.
7: Italy moves to ban lab-grown meat to “protect food heritage”. I already count on Italy to reflexively ban any new technology, but this particular ban entrenches the current factory farm system, making it a particularly gross and cruel example. Seems like a good time to remind everyone that all good “Italian” food was invented in America, with Italians as clueless late adapters.
8: If it’s bad to romanticize the Nazis, why do people still romanticize Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes? One possible answer: there’s still some tail risk of a Nazi resurgence, but the Mongols have disappeared from history so thoroughly that nobody can imagine them presenting a renewed threat, leaving us free to wax poetic about them as a symbol of savage manliness or whatever. In extremely related news, mainstream intellectuals are now romanticizing libertarians. RIP.
9: Related: How Government Bullying Shapes The Rules Of Social Media: Jawboning Against Speech. I think this is pretty important - people like to talk as if social media censorship is organic and corporate, but in fact the government has lots of techniques for strong-arming companies into getting what they want. As long as this happens quietly and implicitly, they can make a mockery of constitutional protections without anyone being able to call them on it (there needs to be a snappy term for this; this article suggests “jawboning”). I appreciate the What Is To Be Done section. Relevant breaking news: judge issues preliminary injunction banning Biden administration officials from meeting social media site representatives.
10: Also related: The neighbors tried to let the local six-year-old walk two blocks to school on her own, but had to stop when people called the police to report an unattended child. I thought of this when reading Jeff Kaufman’s survey on how old people think children should be before doing things - the median respondent thinks children can start walking to nearby landmarks alone by age 7-8. Of course, it only takes one person calling the police before this becomes logistically difficult! Fine, here’s the link to that one English town map thing.
11: Why did the British and their colonies invent such a high percent of the world’s most popular sports? Even apart from native peoples, what were the other European colonizers doing? Proposed answers include British ”public” schools, prestige, and industrialization-induced leisure.
12: Big thanks to Adam Piovarchy, who included me as a coauthor in his recent article in Philosophical Studies, Epistemic Health, Epistemic Immunity, and Epistemic Inoculation. He said he was inspired by old Slate Star Codex posts including Cowpox of Doubt and wanted to give me shared credit. This is a typical example of the process of turning SSC/ACX posts into journal articles, in that 1) you’re completely welcome to do it and 2) I probably won’t contribute anything to the process beyond my permission, sorry.
13: Sort of distantly related: Roman “bayesyatina” Achisov and a group of Russian ACX fans (don’t you guys have other things to worry about over there?!) have turned my short story Ars Longa, Vita Brevis into a shockingly-professional-feeling short film! Currently only in Russian, sorry, but you can make YouTube awkwardly translate the subtitles by clicking on the gear icon on bottom → Subtitles (CC) → Translate → Auto-Translate → English. If the Translate option doesn’t appear, select Russian subtitles and then try the process again. They say they might have official English subtitles up soon, in which case I’ll link this again, but I’m excited and want to link it now too:
14: Mark Lutter, former head of the Charter Cities Institute and one of the top authorities on charter cities, gets interviewed by Tomas Pueyo. Significant for some very slight teasers about his current stealth-mode project, a potential new city in the Caribbean. Are you interested in this subject and very rich? Mark is looking for 8-9 digit investments and can give a pretty convincing pitch; email him at email@example.com, or email me at my usual address and I’ll tell you more.
15: Interesting moments in Islamic history: In 1924, Ahmed Sharif al-Senussi was reportedly offered the position of Caliph, but declined. Also, from here: “The scholars of the early period of Islam would write books for private use, destroying them before their deaths out of fear that they might fall into others' hands and compete with the Qur'an”. Urwa ibn al-Zubayr burned his books before fighting in an especially deadly-seeming battle, then survived and spent the rest of his life feeling “deep regret”.
16: The Confederate States of America needed a navy, but they didn’t have much of an ironworking or shipbuilding industry. And if all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. Thus was born the cottonclad warship.
17: Several people have said nice things about the Rose Garden Inn, a rationalist events space where we hold Berkeley ACX meetups. Mingyuan, who helped decorate it, now has a Rationalist Interior Decorating Guide with what she’s learned about light color temperature, chairs, rugs, and more.
18: Elo Everything is simple: it gives you two random people/objects/concepts, for example “soap” and “Nelson Mandela”, and you pick which one you prefer. Then they have a leaderboard with everything’s Elo (a way of ranking things based on victory in binary contests). The current #1 entity is oxygen; the bottom (#2260) entity is the KKK.
19: Erik Hoel tries to deflate UFO rumors. Although most of the post is the standard “here’s a time someone thought they saw a UFO but it had a reasonable explanation”, the highlight is the dissection of the credulous 2017 NYT article on UFOs, which based on his story sounds totally inexcusable (yes, the government funded a lot of money into UFO research, but only in the sense that Nevada Senator Harry Reid threw lots of money and government-sponsored prestige at random crazy people in his state, because he was either gullible or corrupt). Nothing here directly addresses the current spate of UFO rumors, but the silliness of the previous batch is indirect evidence of a sort. One thing he didn’t highlight: the Robert Bigelow who owned Skinwalker Ranch is the same guy who founded Bigelow Aerospace, an exciting-sounding private spaceflight company about which I suddenly have many more doubts.
20: Related: the most practical demand I’ve heard from people who take the current UFO rumors seriously is that AARO (the government’s new UFO investigation group) should get Title 50 authority (the right to demand classified information from intelligence services). Read their campaign (maybe sort of supported by some members of Congress) here. Suspicious detail: the colonel saying UFOs are real is named “Karl Nell”.
21: This month in social justice: New Zealand health system implements affirmative action for surgery wait lists; “diverse” patients can jump ahead in the queue compared to other patients who may have waited longer or be sicker. The government says this just “corrects” institutional biases which exist at other stages; I don’t know the New Zealand situation but have found previous claims of this sort flimsy. Here are various articles talking about how anyone who is against this system lacks context on how it won’t work that way, plus also it already works this way so nothing will change, plus it will revolutionize health equity so you’d have to be a monster to object, plus it will make no difference so anyone who protests is just manufacturing fake outrage. I can’t find the algorithm they say they’re using anywhere; here is a FOIA-equivalent request for it which hasn’t been answered yet. This file seems related and suggests Maori should get the highest priority and Asians the lowest priority, but I’m not sure they’re exactly following the science here. I think of this in the context of the US COVID vaccine prioritization effort; not only did it cause hundreds or thousands of unnecessary deaths by giving vaccines to young healthy low-risk members of favored groups before old sick high-risk members of disfavored ones, it also caused scarce vaccine doses to be wasted rather than spent on members of disfavored groups because of implementation details. We should be fighting for less of this, not more.
22: Related: affirmative action Supreme Court ruling links roundup:
Will the ruling really change admissions policies, or will universities find a way around it? Humphrey on DSL works in the field and says he thinks it will produce real change.
Manifold market on changing Harvard demographics, for context the most recent Harvard class is 29.9% Asian (see also % black here):
Instapundit examines the ruling through the legal concept of “deference”
Twitter thread speculating that the next fight will be over colleges and magnet schools that accept “the top X% of every high school” as a way of getting geographic (and so by proxy racial) diversity. "In the first class admitting using [this policy], the offers made to Asian-American students fell by 19 percentage points, from 73% to 54% of all offers."
I feel bad linking this since it’s probably Chinese propaganda to demonstrate their technological superiority, but I think a good compromise would be that Americans are allowed to appreciate their accomplishment, as long as we also get busy finding a way to smuggle in thousands of drones to their next performance that form a giant bald eagle which eats the dragon.
24: Every so often a US city county will go through the motions of “seceding” from the Union to protest some form of mistreatment - the Conch Republic is the most famous, but there are others. When McDonald County, Missouri seceded in 1961 after being unfairly left out of tourism brochures, it caught the attention of some people who considered themselves experts in dealing with secessionists - a local group of Civil War re-enactors. They formed a regiment to defend the Union and marched on McDonald County, leading to the Battle of Noel.
25: The state of Washington came within a few weeks of accidentally decriminalizing all drugs, although the legislature was eventually able to agree on a solution.
26: The state of Wisconsin is infamous for its very literal line-item veto. This week: a bill increased school funding until the 2024 - 2025 academic year, and the governor line-itemed it to 2
024 - 2025 academic year, ie “2425”, thus guaranteeing increased school funding until the year 2425.
27: Did you know: as part of their general program of racial purity, the Nazis banned crossing pure native German bees with impure foreign bees. Nazi beekeeping literature (which is apparently a thing that existed) included slogans like "What use is it if one day a Jewish bastard is a genius, but our ethnic purity is destroyed in the process? It is no different with beekeeping!" In 1940, German bees were devastated by an epidemic, which they had insufficient genetic diversity to resist. The government relented and said never mind, please start using impure foreign bees again. "As a result the Old German Dark bee is now considered an endangered sub-species in Germany"
28: Boris Johnson on semaglutide. Posted not because his opinion is especially good (although honestly it’s better than many people’s), but because he’s a shockingly good writer. I’d long since absorbed that bad people can be good-looking, or charismatic speakers. But I guess I implicitly thought of good writing as some sort of protected sphere only available to people with unusual clarity of thought. Nope, seems like skilled politicians can come across as hyper-likeable in their writing, and it’s one of those things you have to force yourself to ignore or risk getting mind-captured.
29: This month’s AI links:
OpenAI announces Superalignment, a major investment into alignment research which will include co-founder and Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, the current alignment team led by Jan Leike, and “20% of the compute we’ve secured to date”. At least for me, this is strong evidence that they really care about alignment and aren’t just posturing; this is more resources than would be worth spending on a posture. They’re also hiring for various alignment-related positions; see the link above for more details. And LW discussion here.
DeepMind founder Mustafa Suleyman and others announce that their new company, InflectionAI, exists and has raised $1 billion in funding. Still, Manifold classes it as only a minor contender:
Not technically an AI link, but I think of it as being one in spirit:
30: Claim: At the exact right time, when the stars align, a couple traveling NYC → Boston can get better prices with an Uber than an Amtrak. This has never been true when I’ve checked it (as I type this, it’s $650 by Uber vs. $320 by train), and some people report that most Uber drivers refuse to make a 4-hour drive no matter what the app says. Still, it’s funny that it ever works at all.
I wanted to see what planes cost, and flight aggregator kayak.com offered $140. But it also offered the two Amtrak tickets for $62. I’ve double-checked that the same two tickets on Amtrak.com cost $320. I don’t know why this is so different. But buy your train tickets on Kayak, I guess.
31: Freddie deBoer looks back on 15 years of writing. Although I appreciated the personal story, I’m more interested in the claim that Twitter’s algorithm changed sometime in the past few years in a way that prevents stories from “going viral” in the way that they used to; does anyone know more about this?
32: History Supreme, sometimes listed as the world’s most expensive superyacht, probably doesn’t exist. I think this hoax is especially funny if you imagine Sheikh Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who paid $600 million for the actual most expensive superyacht, constantly having to see himself listed as #2.