Week of August 12, 2019

Virus

Trumps continued attacks on sitting members of Congress are going to end in someone being killed.

When Donald Trump suggested [on Wednesday] that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) once married her own brother in an immigration fraud scheme, he demonstrated the remarkable degree to which even the most far-off corners of the right-wing internet can launch unproven, anonymous claims into the national political discourse.

Tools

Craig Mod on good software.

It feels — intuitively — that software (beyond core functionality) should aim for speed. Speed as a proxy for efficiency. If a piece of software is becoming taurine-esque, unwieldy, then perhaps it shouldn’t be a single piece of software. Ultimately, to be fast is to be light. And to be light is to lessen the burden on someone or some task. This is the ultimate goal: For our pocket supercomputers to lesson burdens, not increase them. For our mega-powered laptops to enable a kind of fluency — not battle, or struggle — of creation.

🐐

A profile of Hope Solo on life after soccer.

During Solo’s 17 years playing with the national team, she became the most dominant female goalkeeper in the game. Her supporters would argue she remains, today, the best goalkeeper in the world, full stop, the one with the most international appearances (202) and shutouts (102). Her detractors would counter that she is known as much for her off-the-field candor and her legal entanglements as for her on-field excellence. The truism is that everyone has an opinion.

Hacker

I actually found this interview with Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Palestinian-Canadian emergency room physician who founded the Glia Project to provide affordable stethoscopes and other medical equipment to Palestinian people, to be rather optimistic.

The problem in Gaza is not a problem of the place being poor or the people being stupid. The problem is that, quite literally, the Israelis stop us from receiving equipment, from getting training, from doing anything. When I looked around, I realized that what we actually needed wasn’t medical devices. It was independence.

Americans are the most hopeless people on the Israel-Palestine conflict. They’re like, “Oh my God, the occupation has been there for seven million years and it’s going to be there for seven million thousand more years.” No. It’s not. It’s collapsing. What’s really difficult to understand until you spend some time there is that it’s obvious that the occupation’s days are numbered. The occupation is collapsing right now, so if we were to run a project that was aimed solely at disaster relief — which is what some people think we should be running — then what would we do after the disaster of occupation is over and we’re left with the other disaster: capitalism?

Inverted

This article and tweetstorm provide the most simple, honest, and levelheaded overview of our current economic state.

I don't think the Fed gets it, frankly. It overtightened in 2018 and has been slow to unwind. Now, markets are in a panic. The only thing that can save the Fed here are the data. If we get improved economic data, it would alleviate fears of recession, loosening financial conditions. But right now, the combination of weakening growth globally and tightening financial conditions is toxic. It has brought us to the brink of no return. Personally, I am looking at the Treasury curve inversion out to seven years as the sign to throw in the towel. Until then, I have some hope the Fed or the data will change enough to avoid recession and crisis. ... We're not there yet. But the Fed's not helping. Let's hope they see the light...and soon. We’ve got several months before things get really ugly. But, legitimately we have much less time for the Fed to act before recession is baked in the cake.

Pair the above with 👇🏼

Week of July 15, 2019

A few things of note from around the Internet t̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶w̶e̶e̶k̶ the past two months:

A 14-Year-Old Girl

🤦

“Susan, I’ve known your address since last summer,” Soph said, directly addressing YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. “I’ve got a Luger and a mitochondrial disease. I don’t care if I live. Why should I care if you live or your children? I just called an Uber. You’ve got about seven minutes to draft up a will. ... I’m coming for you, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.” A far-right child comedian threatening to murder the executive of the video site that has made her famous, for trying to protect her from pedophiles: the state of YouTube in 2019.

Ultrawomen

I bet this makes some very fragile men very upset.

“Running economy and fatigue resistance are places where women seem to have a bit of an edge,” says Bearden. “And, with those two factors, the longer the distance of the race, the more important those two factors are.”

Indexing, etc.

A conversation with NYU Professor Aswath Damodaran who writes the great Musings on Markets blog.

If I thought more of equity research analysts, I would worry more about indexing. If I really thought equity research analysts actually went out and collected information and did research and unearthed stuff about companies we did not know, then I’d be worried about indexing taking away that research. But unfortunately, that’s not what I see equity research analysts doing. They listen to management spout platitudes about the company, and mostly they take them at face value. They take an adjusted EBITDA, they slap a pricing multiple on it, they call it research. That’s not digging up anything about a company, so nothing is lost by those equity research analysts being pushed out of the business.

😢 Hard

I think there’s something to be said about the truly monumental challenge of moderating all of the content that is uploaded and shared on the Internet every day.

But few could have predicted how Mr. Schroepfer would react to our questions. In two of the interviews, he started with an optimistic message that A.I. could be the solution, before becoming emotional. At one point, he said coming to work had sometimes become a struggle. Each time, he choked up when discussing the scale of the issues that Facebook was confronting and his responsibilities in changing them. “It’s never going to go to zero,” he said of the problematic posts.

Dark

Drew Magary’s brain exploded and he lived to talk about it.

Not only did my wife have to deal with my sudden and terrifying predicament by relocating the entire family to New York for a month, but she also had to assume all the parenting duties (my youngest son, naturally, came down with strep throat immediately) AND she had to serve as my de facto advocate while I was comatose: answering my phone, dealing with employers and doctors and insurers and workers comp boards on my behalf, handling fucking Christmas alone, and planning for all contingencies should I live or die.

I wasn’t awake for any of that. But she was, and she and my family are all that matter.

Mayor Pete

The ebb and flow of who is currently the Democratic darling is fun to watch. Here’s a profile on Mayor Pete:

Sick of old people? He looks like Alex P. Keaton. Scared of young people? He looks like Alex P. Keaton. Religious? He’s a Christian. Atheist? He’s not weird about it. Wary of Washington? He’s from flyover country. Horrified by flyover country? He has degrees from Harvard and Oxford. Make the President Read Again? He learned Norwegian to read Erlend Loe. Traditional? He’s married. Woke? He’s gay. Way behind the rest of the country on that? He’s not too gay. Worried about socialism? He’s a technocratic capitalist. Worried about technocratic capitalists? He’s got a whole theory about how our system of “democratic capitalism” has to be a whole lot more “democratic.” If you squint hard enough to not see color, some people say, you can almost see Obama the inspiring professor. Oh, and he’s the son of an immigrant, a Navy vet, speaks seven foreign languages (in addition to Norwegian, Arabic, Spanish, Maltese, Dari, French, and Italian), owns two rescue dogs, and plays the goddamn piano. He’s actually terrifying. What mother wouldn’t love this guy?

Masculinity

An introspective story about the relationship between a man and his cousin and how it almost cost him his life.

As a teenager, I gravitated toward an archetype embodied by my cousin. I envied the power that he seemed to command and the fear he didn’t possess, but my effort to renounce that persona in my 20s left many others to face. Conventional models of male identity are everywhere around us. They linger in the air we breathe and infuse the culture. As a father and husband, I slipped into the antiquated role of provider, protector, patriarch — assuming the position and entitlements of another male archetype. What I see now is that I haven’t fully escaped from either. The challenge is not to believe that I have. It’s not to imagine that I will. It’s to watch for the dogmas of masculinity taking root in myself each day, to acknowledge whatever virtues they contain and disavow the rest. It is to seek and find, again and again, what does and ought to guide me.

Week of May 6, 2019

A few things of note from around the Internet this week:

Equal

This is a great idea.

Imagine that there was a law that forced every employer to quote both the absolute salary (like $120,000 in SF) and the after-tax PPP-adjusted salary (would transform to probably $50,000 in SF). What would happen?

Future

I’ve long thought that the ideal form of health and exercise monitoring would be a small sensor placed underneath the skin, however, a super-powered hearing aid might work just as well.

Sawalich is fond of saying that Starkey makes a product nobody wants. Almost two-thirds of the people in America who need hearing aids don’t have them, and those who do accept their fate wait an average of seven years from the first symptom before seeking help. “With these, hearing aids are going to evolve,” he says, “so that you don’t have to have hearing loss to want a hearing aid.”

Silent

This is terrifying:

How did this captain know — from 50 feet away — what the father couldn’t recognize from just 10? Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, learned what drowning looks like by watching television.

Cult

A mom’s story of how her teenage son became enamored with and joined the alt-right:

Who was living upstairs in the room with the bunk beds, surrounded by glow-in-the-dark solar-system decals? I couldn’t understand how this had happened. The situation was ludicrously overdetermined, as contrived as a bad movie. My husband and I poured everything we had into nurturing an empathetic, observant child. Until then, it had seemed to be working. Teachers and family friends had always commented on Sam’s kindness and especially his gentleness toward the “underdog.” Then an internet chorus of alt-right sirens sings their song of American History X to my kid and he turns into the evil twin of Alex P. Keaton: merciless, intolerant, unwilling to extend the benefit of the doubt to anyone.

The pendulum had swung. And now it was stuck.

Magic

What a time to be alive, right?

In order to buy Remington, Cerberus, as most private-equity firms would, created a new entity, a holding company. Instead of Cerberus buying a gun company, Cerberus put money into the holding company, and the holding company bought Remington. The entities were related but — and this was crucial — each could borrow money independently. In 2010, Cerberus had the holding company borrow $225 million from an undisclosed group of lenders, most likely hedge funds. Because this loan was risky — the lenders would be paid only if Remington made a lot of money or was sold — the holding company offered a generous interest rate of around 11 percent, much higher than a typical corporate loan. When the interest payments were due, the holding company paid them not in cash but with paid-in-kind notes, that is, with more debt. These are known as PIK notes.

The holding company now had $225 million in borrowed cash. Cerberus, meanwhile, owned most of the shares of the holding company’s stock, basically slips of paper they acquired when they created the holding company. The handoff happened next: The holding company spent most of the $225 million buying back its own stock, effectively transferring all the borrowed cash to Cerberus. Cerberus would keep that money no matter what.

Reverse

It’s amazing how public sentiment can change an entire story.

The irony of the situation is not lost on me; not only that Zuckerberg’s and the twins’ roles as the rebels versus the evil Empire seem to have been reversed, but also that The Accidental Billionaires and the film that followed helped enshrine an image of the twins that is in desperate need of revision. It is now my opinion that Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss didn’t just happen to be standing in the exact right place at the exact right time—twice.

Week of April 29, 2019

A few things of note from around the Internet this week:

Happy

Ben Carlson on our current emotional conundrum:

My strategy for trying to avoid being brought down by the sheer amount of negativity these days looks like this:

  • Avoid 24/7 cable news at all costs. It’s been years since I’ve sat down and watched this stuff on purpose.

  • Avoid Facebook like the plague. Instagram is a much more joyful place (although I guess Twitter is my hedge here).

  • Get the negative people out of my life. Not as easy as it sounds but that is the goal as I age.

Higher Education

Rusty Guinn on the myth of American post-secondary education:

And yes, Virginia, the importance of post-secondary education in America IS a myth – one of our most powerful. No, that doesn’t mean that college and its attendant experience don’t hold intrinsic value. It also doesn’t mean that the credential offered by these institutions isn’t a real currency. It means that the Common Knowledge underlying that currency is far more powerful than whatever the truth about college is. It means that the stories we tell about college are more important in almost every way than the facts. It means that whenever we talk about college in America, we are nearly always talking about the meme of college!

Frontier

Twitter is far and away my most important online social network. I attribute an inordinate amount of entertainment and knowledge to the people I follow and have interacted with over the past 12 years. However, as I read this article it seems like there's a relatively simple, yet impossible solution—Twitter, Facebook, et. al should just go away. To quote the article, "it has grown increasingly clear that allowing young, mostly male technologists to build largely unregulated, proprietary, international networks might have been a large-scale, high-stakes error in judgment."

That Dorsey is now expected to find a solution to unprecedented and unforeseen problems, on a platform designed thirteen years ago for narrow and relatively innocent use cases, seems darkly comical at best—an instance of refusing to learn from our mistakes. “He’s dealing with a scale of a problem that doesn’t have a lot of precedent in human history,” a programmer friend of mine texted. “It’s actually kind of scary that he comes across as so unstudied. I think ‘conversational health’ is a dodge. Twitter, and Jack, want to avoid taking positions on who is doing harm. But they don’t have that luxury at this point, because Twitter is such a megaphone.”

Regulation

Scott Alexander on medicine shortages in the United States:

You get more of what you subsidize and less of what you tax. Unfortunately, the FDA is inadvertently taxing companies for being in the generic drug business. And it’s taxing them more if they’re not a monopolist with economies of scale. That means we get fewer companies in the generics industry, and more monopolists.

So my very tentative guess as to why buspirone is more plagued by shortages than bread or chairs is because number one, the need for FDA approval makes it hard for new companies to enter the buspirone industry, and number two, the FDA’s fee structure favors large-scale monopolies over small-scale competitors.

Catastrophe

Ben Wittes on Bill Barr:

Barr has now acted, and we can now evaluate his actual, rather than his hypothesized, performance. It has been catastrophic. Not in my memory has a sitting attorney general more diminished the credibility of his department on any subject. It is a kind of trope of political opposition in every administration that the attorney general—whoever he or she is—is politicizing the Justice Department and acting as a defense lawyer for the president. In this case it is true.

Week of April 15, 2019

A few things of note from around the Internet this week:

Misguided

From Ben Thompson:

Indeed, the hidden victims of overly broad regulation focused on companies like YouTube and Facebook are all of the infrastructure providers that makes sites like Stratechery possible. Any hosting provider with a brain — or email service or message board or anything that hosts content from users — would be wise to simply block Australia completely. This law is a disaster, and a reminder that tech companies owe it to the Internet to get their houses in order before everything becomes far, far worse.

At a time when human talent is so often the binding constraint, and amid so many calls to improve the educational system, these kinds of ideas deserve further attention.

Disney

It's infeasible but I would give every one a private jet—it's a transformative experience. Abigail Disney on what it’s like to grow up with unimaginable wealth:

Actually, having a jet is a really big deal. If I were queen of the world, I would pass a law against private jets, because they enable you to get around a certain reality. You don’t have to go through an airport terminal, you don’t have to interact, you don’t have to be patient, you don’t have to be uncomfortable. These are the things that remind us we’re human.

Attack

Tim Maughan asks the question: is the Internet really unbreakable?

It’s both an exciting and frightening idea, that activists and protest groups—rather than military, paramilitary, or nation state forces—might be able to cause disruption and chaos via DIY methods of attacking internet infrastructure, but how realistic is it really?

Detail

There is only one copy of the highest resolution scan of the Notre Dame Cathedral which could be integral as it is rebuilt.

Blaer estimated that, despite the high resolution of the scans and panoramic photographs, the files would be roughly a terabyte, small enough to fit on a single hard drive, but unlikely to be stored in the cloud. All those data now exist on a single disk, a tiny portal into the past, which is sitting somewhere on Earth. Blaer thought it might be in the hands of Tallon’s students at Vassar. But Ochsendorf thought the data were most likely with the rest of Tallon’s archive, in the possession of his widow, Marie, who held Andrew in her arms as he died.

Huge

Two tweets about the first image of a black hole ever captured.

Crypto

Deep dive on how Banksy authenticates his (or her) work:

Can an information system be art? Because, like I said, it’s flipping sweet, and all executed in Banksy’s trademark tongue in cheek style. This whole authentication process would easily be my favourite artwork by Banksy.

Perk

I think this is a really great, original (to me) take:

Sometimes I think of Kickstarter as the original sin for modern patronage. Kickstarter, with its fundraising goals, email updates, and reward tiers, inadvertently created a blueprint for every other crowdfunding platform thereafter. But we never stopped to think about whether we repeated these behaviors because they were actually good for creators, or because that’s just how Kickstarter did it.

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