September 10, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting

Are these still useful? I can’t really tell when I send them out whether anyone is reading them, finds them useful, is offended by them, or is entertained by them. If you want to stop getting them, let me know. Also, if you have any suggestions for improving them, I’m open to new ideas.


HURRICANE HARVEY: A VIEW FROM A RUGGED COMMUNITARIAN – This article takes on the criticism of Houston and Harvey and promotes the city’s response as one of people helping people. The most fun view of this is this video of some rednecks with monster trucks rescuing a National Guard vehicle.


THE PLEASANT PLACES TO LIVE – A map of the US showing which areas have the most “pleasant” days. Those are days where the temperatures are in a reasonable range. It ignores sunshine, rain, and humidity, all of which have a huge impact on pleasantness.


Death of NFL inevitable as middle class abandons the game – According to this article enrollment in high school football is down significantly and this is the beginning of the end for football. I’ll hate to see it go, but if it is as bad for players as some are saying, it seems inevitable. I was excited to see that Texas A&M is testing a more non-contact style of defense.


The Urban Revival Is Over – Urbanization was the big trend for a while. That trend appears to have stalled and possibly reversed. It seems a bit early to say that it is “over”.


‘This is crazy,’ sobs Utah hospital nurse as cop roughs her up, arrests her for doing her job – This is more information about the woman that was arrested for refusing the illegal blood draw request in Utah.


GOOGLE, DON’T BE EVIL. – This site is by someone cut from a think tank after they were critical of Google (one of the think tank’s major donors). Their criticism of Google is that they are a too powerful monopoly abusing their market position. I guess I can see why Google wouldn’t want to fund that message.


A Serf on Google’s Farm – This is an article written about the prior site and adding more context. Many people on the left reflexively hate large corporations (except Apple) and people on the right reflexively hate people on the left. Given that companies like Google and Amazon are owned and run by left leaning people, the ingredients necessary to spur a government led reaction to them are in place. Expect more talk about breaking them up.


Chick-fil-A, Moe’s signs in Mobile make traffic more interesting – This was amusing. A hippy BBQ place and Chick-fil-A started a sign “battle”.


Inside the black market where people pay thousands of dollars for Instagram verification – I had no idea what Instagram (which I’ve never used) verification was. It appears to be common on other sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter as well. It’s a way of verifying that famous people/companies are who they appear to be. That makes getting verified a status symbol, so people are bribing people to get it. I am not verified, nor, quite obviously, are the pictures that I post.


The 100 Year Flood Is Not What You Think It Is (Maybe) – A short video explaining what the 100 year flood plain is. It means that you have a 1% chance of flooding, not that you’ll only flood once every 100 years. I guess Houston has been really unlucky the past few years.


Boston Red Sox Used Apple Watches To Steal Hand Signals From Yankees – What is it about Boston? I understand the old Chicago Black Sox scandal. Chicago is famous for cheating at everything. I guess Boston is vying for the title of the least honest sports city.


Ford: Why, Traffic, Why? – A little video on why we have traffic and what we can do about it. My favorite part is when they tell you to wait and merge at the end when a lane is going away. Yes, people will hate you for it, but traffic engineers all agree that it is more efficient.


The eclipse as a satellite saw it – This is way better than last week’s lame eclipse video. It’s still kind of boring (like the eclipse itself), but it is much better. You can see the shadow of the moon race across the ground from the perspective of a satellite. Yes, it’s only a shadow, but it’s a REALLY BIG SHADOW.


The mystery of the lost Roman herb – There was a Roman herb that was worth its weight in gold. Nobody is really sure whether it even exists anymore. They used it as a spice, a perfume, and a medicine.


Viking Warrior In Famous Grave Was A Woman – DNA evidence confirmed that a warrior found in the 70s in a Viking grave really was a woman and not just a man with wide hips. My favorite comment to the story, clearly from a nerd guy, was “Let’s clone her. I mean, she had swords *and* a gameboard? We can’t let that kind of awesomeness escape from the gene pool.”


Why You Can Claim Islands for the US if They Have Bird Poop – It’s true. The US passed a law a long time ago allowing any citizen to claim islands for the US if they had bird poop because we wanted to use it for fertilizer. That’s how we got all those islands and atolls in the Pacific. So I guess there is an odd relationship between where birds like to poop and where the US tested nuclear bombs.

Health – Physical and Mental

Explaining recent mortality trends among younger and middle-aged White Americans – Conclusion: “We find little empirical support for the pain- and distress-based explanations for rising mortality in the US White population. Instead, recent mortality increases among younger and middle-aged US White men and women have likely been shaped by the US opiate epidemic and an expanding obesogenic environment.” In other words, we’re not living as long on average because we’re doing drugs and getting fat.


Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study – This was a big study that basically showed us that eating a lot of carbs shortens your life but eating a lot of fats does not. More reason to eat bacon.


New Nutrition Study Changes Nothing – This article explains that the new study referenced above won’t get much press relative to really lousy studies that claim to show something novel. People see a lot of stuff written about lousy health studies because crazy ones get news coverage but boring ones don’t. Nobody wants to hear that you should eat a lot of vegetables and exercise.


Letting teens sleep in would save the country roughly $9 billion a year – Teens stay up later and sleep later. It’s normal. Our school system ignores that and starts school quite early, resulting in more traffic accidents and a decrease in learning. I imagine trying to learn something challenging at 10:00 PM when I’m half asleep and then driving home.


Actually, Location Sharing in Relationships Is Bad – It’s easy to share your location with your phone now. Should you share it with your partner/spouse? The author is solidly in the “No” camp. I agree that if someone is obsessively checking up on their spouse, that’s probably a bad sign for the relationship and that person’s emotional health. On the other hand, it’s a handy ability when you are worried about someone that is late or trying to figure out when someone will be home. Our phones are set up so that we can request each other’s location but the requestee will know that their location was requested.


America’s First Addiction Epidemic – The opioid epidemic is far from the first major drug crisis in America. When Native American’s first encountered alcohol, it ravaged several tribes. This tells about how one tribe deal with it.


Why Happy People Cheat – This is a weird story about the reason people cheat in relationships. It tries to take an understanding/non-judging tone, but it just doesn’t work for me. The fact that the “protagonist” in the article cheated as a form of self-actualization doesn’t make it any less loathsome however you try to frame it.

Art and Culture

What Books Could Be Used to Rebuild Civilization?: Lists by Brian Eno, Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly & Other Forward-Thinking Minds – Another list of books to read. Three sets of ten are listed. The only two I’ve read are The Illiad and The Odyssey, both of which I liked but don’t see how they’d be useful for rebuilding civilization. A History of the World in 100 Objects is the only book that appears on two of the three lists.


Rotten Tomatoes, explained – An explanation of how Rotten Tomatoes works and its limitations. In short, the main score is a critic’s score but it also includes a viewer’s score. The problem with the critics score is that it is simply the percent that thought that the movie was good with nothing to differentiate between a critic that thought it was OK and one that thought it was the best movie ever. The article still doesn’t explain how the dreadfully dull Wall-E got a 96% fresh rating. For those of you inclined to defend it, explain why virtually every other Pixar movie still has a following, sequels, spin-offs, and people still watching them but Wall-E has been almost entirely forgotten (except by me because I’m still angry about having to sit through the entire dreadful thing). My theory is that nobody enjoyed it but they all felt that they were supposed to like it so they convinced themselves that it was good but not so good that they ever watched it again.


Why Notoriously Litigious Disney Is Letting Fan Stores Thrive – Disney used to sue companies into oblivion if they wandered too close to Disney’s trademarks. Now they turn a blind eye to obvious violations. This article attempts to explain why. Basically, if it’s fans with a tiny business actually promoting Disney, it’s OK. If someone is making real money, it’s time to bring down the hammer.


The mysterious Voynich manuscript has finally been decoded – In the 15th century, someone put together a manuscript with lots of naked chicks, flowers, and cryptic writing. People have been puzzling over what it is about for many years. Someone just figured out that the writing is more shorthand than code and that it is a medical guide of sorts.


City chipmunks are happier, heavier and healthier than chipmunks in the wild, says researcher – It’s good to see that chipmunks haven’t given up on urbanization yet.


The Greatest Cosmic Puzzle: Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe – We’re pretty sure that the universe is 13.8 billion years old. We also have a good handle on how to tell how old some stars are and some have been measured as being 14.5 billion years old. Something seems off. On this topic, I wonder what the universe’s birthday is. Can you have a birthday if you were born before the earth?


Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it – According to the article, many people have predicted that religion will disappear as science answers more questions about the world. It isn’t happening. I suspect it is because science and faith answer different types of questions. “How did we come to be” is a very different question from “why are we hear”.


Does Loan Officer Race Affect Mortgage Prices? Evidence from the Subprime Mortgage Market – Minorities pay more for loans. This study explored to see if that was true regardless of the race/ethnicity of the loan officer. They judged that by looking at loan officer’s surnames and concluded that having the same or different races/ethnicities between loan officers and borrowers doesn’t appear to have affected loan rates. Their conclusion was that the higher rates are from correlated factors. I wouldn’t completely discount the possibility that stereotypes of so prevalent that they are also shared by minorities themselves.


Two sciences tie the knot – MIT has started a new program combining computer science, data science, and economics. That sounds like fun! Sadly, MIT is in Boston, so we won’t be able to trust what comes out of it.


What machines can tell from your face – Facial recognition is becoming more prevalent and better. Now they are determining things like your health and your mood with facial recognition software. They were even better able to tell people’s sexual orientation via software than humans are, which the author concludes could have troubling implications for people in countries where homosexuality is illegal.


‘Designer babies’ won’t be a fad. It’s too hard to create them. – I thought this article was stupid. It concludes that we are safe from worrying about genetically engineered humans because it’s too hard to make them. Um, won’t that change?

Politics and Policy

To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now – This compares the life of an employee janitor at Kodak many years ago with that of a contractor janitor cleaning Apple’s buildings today, lamenting the loss of career development path and benefits open to people in positions like that. Some of that is, like the article explains, driven by the increasing specialization of firms and the contracting out of non-core services. What I would have liked to have seen mentioned is that the many regulations in place to improve the conditions of employees also make them more expensive for large corporations to employee, so companies are more inclined to contract out those roles.


Why a Canadian city tore down the staircase its residents had always wanted to build – a private citizen built a staircase in a park in Canada for a few hundred dollars. It was immediately roped off and then replaced by local government with one costing tens of thousands of dollars. This article explains that there was no evil intent by the government nor even incompetence. For government to function well and with minimal corruption, it has to follow a lot of rules and that makes things more expensive.


The Real Reason the U.S. Has Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance – Why do US citizens get their health insurance from their employers? Because we had wage controls during WWII but those didn’t cover benefits, so companies competed for workers by offering health benefits.


Transcript: Betsy DeVos’s remarks on campus sexual assault – This was one of the big news items of the week. It’s nice, when a big story like this comes out, to be able to read the original comments. In summary, she said that, while sexual assaults on campus are a terrible thing, we need to undo the measures put in place by the prior administration that stripped the accused of their rights to meaningfully defend themselves against such accusations.


The Uncomfortable Truth About Campus Rape Policy – This article in The Atlantic takes a hard look at why the sexual assault policies had to change. There is a lot in the article that is disturbing, but I was particularly intrigued by the section that talked about a drunk couple fooling around and being reported. Despite the fact that they both agreed that it was consensual, she was assumed to be a victim and he was suspended for a semester and forced to take indoctrination classes. So much for equality between the sexes.


Does Betsy DeVos care more about those accused of rape than its victims? – This article harshly criticizes Betsy Devos on her support for due process claiming that is shows that she cares more about those accused of rape than its victims. During the 1970s, when crime was increasing at a rapid pace, there was growing support for vigilantism and attempts to strip accused criminals of their rights. People on the left were stalwart in their defense of the law and helped protect us from becoming a police state. Sadly, when it comes to sexual assaults on campus, the tables have turned and now many that were appalled by state abuse seem to prefer a system where those accused of rapes are considered guilty until proven innocent.


The Left After Charlottesville – I found this article in the Socialist magazine Jacobin interesting. Surprisingly, I sort of agree with it on general principals. Nazis, Antifa, and confederate statues are fringe issues grabbing lots of attention while the big issues like health care are left unresolved. It’s the political equivalent of yelling “squirrel” and watching everyone go race off onto a tangent.

Economics, Business, and Money

Top 5 Ways to Manage Your Money – A nice little summary of different categories of ways that people manage their money. Which approach do you take?


The World Is Facing a Global Sand Crisis – Seriously? You want me to believe that we’re running out of sand? Once again, if someone says that we are running out of something and they don’t back it up with price data, they are almost certainly telling tales. It seems astonishing that they thought anyone would believe this, but I recall that thirty years ago almost everyone I knew was convinced that we were on the verge of running out of landfill space.


PRO-TRADE VIEWS ON THE RISE, PARTISAN DIVISIONS ON NAFTA WIDEN – Interestingly, support for NAFTA has been increasing. That’s because support among Democrats, primarily reacting to Trumps dislike of it, has increased. I see this as more evidence that most people support whatever their tribe supports rather than thinking through issues on their own. It’s easier that way.


How Wells Fargo Screwed $80 Million Out Of Customers Using Unnecessary Car Insurance – It appears that Wells Fargo bought car insurance for some people with car loans from them despite their already having the car insurance required by their loan terms. I find it odd that Wells Fargo has now repeatedly been shown to have been blatantly ripping of their customers but they seem to still be well-regarded by many people. I’m glad to be done with them. I hope their executives take up football. If they do, I’m sure that they’ll play for the Patriots.


The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do – Equifax was hacked and about 140,000,000 customer records were stolen including incredibly dangerous information like SSNs, driver license numbers, and birth dates. From what we know so far, this looks like the worst data loss in history. This story could be huge during the coming week. I’m not sure what to do yet, but I’m inclined to freeze our credit. That’s a pain when you need to get a loan, but that’s pretty infrequent for us. I’m chapped that I’ll have to pay Equifax $10 to freeze my credit. If anything, they should be paying me. I may also work with the IRS to require a pin before filing my tax return. I’ll probably write up more about this in next week’s letter.