Remainders: From Rubber Rooms to Reply All
Another week with lots more to read. On the book end of things I finished up Play Bigger, finally got around to reading Fun Home (yes, I’m counting graphic novels against my 30 book goal for 2018) and started my first Vonnegut with God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (more on that in a bit). Didn’t write anything new this week myself, though I’ve got a few things in the hopper. As usual, if you like what you read here you can always subscribe. Okay, onto the links.
Favorite article of the week goes to Evan Osnos’s New Yorker piece on the Trump administration’s approach to “restructuring” the way the government works. Here’s a bit:
Last October, Tillerson’s office announced the launch of a “FOIA Surge,” a campaign to process a backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests, which would require three hundred and fifty State Department staffers. The work was rudimentary (“You could do it with smart interns,” one participant said), but the list of those assigned to it included prominent Ambassadors and specialized civil servants. They quickly discovered something in common: many had worked on issues of priority to the Obama Administration. Lawrence Bartlett had been one of the department’s top advocates for refugees. Ian Moss had worked to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. (Bartlett and Moss declined to comment.) “It seemed designed to demoralize,” one participant said.
But I also think it goes to something deeper than that, when people will make this argument — in a way that really bothers me. It goes to this idea that … as we’re making all of these amazing strides in society, in terms of increasing our social awareness, and making efforts toward ideas like diversity and equality, and just sort of creating this more inclusive world … somehow sports should be an exception. It’s this idea, for some people, that sports should almost be this haven, where it’s O.K. to be closed-minded — like a bubble for all of our worst ignorance. And that as athletes, if we have any problems with the way things are, we should (as the saying goes) “stick to sports.”
Tim Harford is one of my favorite economics thinkers. Here he is with his five favorite economics books.
What does it take to shuffle a card deck effectively?
Here’s a list of “ologies” in case you need it.
I had never run into the voting/weighting machine analogy of markets from Benjamin Graham (who was Warren Buffet’s hero and mentor):
The father of value investing, Benjamin Graham, explained this concept by saying that in the short run, the market is like a voting machine–tallying up which firms are popular and unpopular. But in the long run, the market is like a weighing machine–assessing the substance of a company. The message is clear: What matters in the long run is a company’s actual underlying business performance and not the investing public’s fickle opinion about its prospects in the short run.
Some podcasts I listened to this week:
- Adam Davidson on the Longform Podcast. Adam started Planet Money and is an all-around very smart guy. He’s currently a staff writer at the New Yorker mostly writing about Trump’s shady business dealings. A few weeks ago he wrote a piece that made the rounds about how the Cohen stuff looks like the beginning of the end from Trump. He also came and talked at Percolate’s Transition Conference a few years ago about the history of org charts and it was great.
- Another good podcast from this week is the latest Reply All on the birth of the incel movement. I thought this comment from the host, PJ Vogt, was a particularly interesting insight into why certain communities go toxic: “Alana says the big mistake she made, back when she started a movement in her 20s, was that she overlooked what she now calls the student government problem. You can’t build a movement of people whose whole reason for joining the movement is to leave it. It’s not just that the people who find love then go disappear. It’s that you don’t get to have what every other movement takes for granted — the old guard.”
- I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve really been enjoying Julia Galef’s Rationally Speaking podcast. Check out the episode with developmental psychology Alison Gopnik from a few weeks ago. It’s always full of fascinating ideas. (Gopnik is the author of the recent book The Gardener and the Carpenter, which is on my list to read despite a not-so-great NYTimes review.)
Speaking of Gopnik, she wrote an interesting critique of Steven Pinker’s new book:
The weakness of the book is that it doesn’t seriously consider the second part of the conversation—the human values that the young woman from the small town talks about. Our local, particular connections to just one specific family, community, place, or tradition can seem irrational. Why stay in one town instead of chasing better opportunities? Why feel compelled to sacrifice your own well-being to care for your profoundly disabled child or fragile, dying grandparent, when you would never do the same for a stranger? And yet, psychologically and philosophically, those attachments are as central to human life as the individualist, rationalist, universalist values of classic Enlightenment utilitarianism. If the case for reason, science, humanism, and progress is really going to be convincing—if it’s going to amount to more than preaching to the choir—it will have to speak to a wider spectrum of listeners, a more inclusive conception of flourishing, a broader palette of values.
And speaking of Julia Galef, I really liked this Tweet of hers:
At some point I’m going to write a rebuttal piece on why content isn’t a terrible term.
A few TIL’s:
- There’s a German word – Maeinschein – for “the green-gold sunlight that falls through the young leaves of trees & woods in spring/May.”
- “The U.S. cigarette market is worth a hundred and twenty billion dollars.” (This is from a bigger New Yorker article about vaping that’s definitely worth a read.)
- Seconds are called that because they’re the “second division” of an hour (the first being minutes)
Was reminded of this piece from Kevin Slavin on designing for complexity.
The growth of text messaging in chart form:
How did sports come to be so divisive? Hint: It has a lot to do with September 11th. “What was once ostensibly a unifying moment in the country has helped transform sports, with flags and flyovers, kneeling and protests — into the most divided public spectacle this side of Congress.”
As I mentioned, I’m reading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Vonnegut from 1965. It feels like it’s all about this moment. I’ll try to put together a bigger post of quotes when I’m done, but here’s a little nugget to illustrate the connection:
And Samuel bought newspapers, and preachers, too. He gave them this simple lesson to teach, and they taught it well: Anybody who thought that the United States of America was supposed to be a Utopia was a piggy, lazy, God-damned fool. Samuel thundered that no American factory hand was worth more than eighty cents a day. And yet he could be thankful for the opportunity to pay a hundred thousand dollars or more for a painting by an Italian three centuries dead. And he capped this insult by giving paintings to museums for the spiritual elevation of the poor. The museums were closed on Sundays.
Some “Restaurant Recommendations from Your College Friend“.
What happened to medical spending in the US in 1980?
The 5S’s (not to be confused with the Happiest Baby on the Block approach), is a way to organize workspaces. They are:
- Seiri (Sort)
- Seiton (Straighten, Set)
- Seiso (Shine, Sweep)
- Seiketsu (Standardize)
- Shitsuke (Sustain)
It’s surprisingly cathartic to watch people organize a hospital supply room using the method.
The FT is no longer requiring it’s journalists to always write data as a plural. Hooray!
Song’s issue is that most enterprise-software companies offering blockchain solutions don’t benefit from decentralization. Blockchain technology is supposed to eliminate the need for a trusted third party to verify things like transactions and contracts. But most of the use cases available today still need some sort of third-party involvement, be it a bank, lawyer, or regulatory body.