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Link Post – January 2019

Power generation and distribution is used in economics textbooks as the classic example of a natural monopoly. Lebanon proves this doesn’t have to be the case, with a mostly functional (and mostly illegal) parallel power distribution system that many people rely on to supplement the official system. I don’t think this should be used more generally – having a bunch of small generators is definitely more polluting – but it’s interesting to see that markets can work even in cases where people normally expect them to fail.

On the advice of a high school teacher, I once read most of the epic fantasy series “The Malazan Book of the Fallen”. One thing it made clear to me was just how dangerous and difficult it is to be an absolute ruler. Anyone who controls the information flow to you can essentially control you. By this token, it should be worrying that Xi Jinping is centralizing China around himself – leaving the government vulnerable to serious missteps if he’s given inaccurate information.

Speaking of China, here’s a story about two journalists accidentally winning a car chase in Xinjiang. Xinjiang is one of the most surveilled places in the world and up to one million Uighurs are currently held in concentration camps, which explains why the Chinese government is so on edge when journalists poke around.

Jackie Cochran had a life that reads like a novel; she founded the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots in World War II (which handled routine flying tasks, like airplane delivery, so more men could be fighter pilots), was instrumental in convincing Eisenhower to run for president, and served as a test pilot after the war. She was the first woman to break the sound barrier and holds more aviation height and distance records than anyone else who has ever lived. She also ran her own cosmetics company, charmed one of the ten richest men in the world, and helped kill the female astronaut program in the ’60s, probably “out of concern that she would no longer be the most prominent female aviator”. Fittingly, there’s a play about her unbelievable life.

Strangely touching recollections of working on Black Friday.

Tighter pollution laws can make cities much more livable – and be a boon to anyone with respiratory disease. But maybe they’re going too far when they threaten to destroy Montreal’s legendary bagel bakeries.

It’s almost a cliché to talk about how divided America is. This NYMag article takes the cliché to its (il-)logical conclusion and imagines an America divided between two interstate compacts (and a handful of neutrals). I don’t think it’s quite plausible, but there are many ways it seems better than the status quo?

I was surprised to find out that chicken pox is now considered a vaccine preventable disease and outbreaks of it are notable. I vaguely knew there was a vaccine now, but I didn’t realize that there’s now a whole generation of kids who never got chicken pox. Unfortunately, some parents dislike vaccines, so their kids are at risk of outbreaks (as well as shingles later in life).

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Link Post – December 2018

This true crime story ticks a lot of my boxes. The villain is created by the slow entropic decay of corruption and temptation, while the hero chose to prosecute white collar crimes because he wanted to go after crimes of greed, not desperation. I continue to believe that as a society, we’re too lenient on crimes of greed and too harsh on crimes of desperation, so it was easy to cheer the prosecution on.

This post claims that the pharmaceutical industry is soon going to fall apart because returns on R&D aren’t keeping up; all the low hanging fruit is gone and none of the harder to reach stuff is profitable. If anyone can give me a sense of how deeply I should be worried by this, I’ll be deeply appreciative.

If your restaurant is failing, or if you want to maximize your chances of success when you open a new location, you can apparently turn to restaurant consultants. I was especially appreciative of their weird specialized vocabulary.

The first commercial flight to circumnavigate the world did so accidentally, soon after the attack on Pearl Harbour made its return flight over the Pacific too dangerous. This is one of the cases where you want to yell at reality for being too unrealistic with its tropes; it features everything from an accidental passenger to a near miss in a mine field.

When I wrote about scrip stamp currencies, I joked that if they lasted more than a couple years, they’d melt down in some bizarre way. Alberta provides a real life example, where the scrip stamp system broke down within a month.

I’m young enough that I kind of just assumed the food item known as “the wrap” always existed. Turns out this is not the case! This article tracks the rise of wraps and the mania that surrounded them, as well as their inevitable fall and strange afterlife as a bland staple in catered lunches.

In 1994, Paul Krugman wrote the famous “Myth of Asia’s Miracle“, which claimed that Asian countries could not maintain their high growth rates indefinitely, especially because they lacked high productivity growth. 15 years later, another economist revisits this assertion and shows that massive re-investment can more than make up for slow productivity growth and drive strong overall growth. Turns out that in nation-building, quantity can have a quality all of its own.

LASIK side-effects worse, more common than most people realize.

I found a record of important political events from 1890 and I have to say, I’m glad we’ve come so far since the 19th century. Back then, the rest of the world was ganging up on America for taking a sudden protectionist turn, which doesn’t remind me of anything current at all.

I find I really enjoy it when judges are acerb, which makes this paper written by a judge about how annoying lawyers like catnip to me. It contains the line: ‘On mornings when I am scheduled to hear a family case, if someone greets me in the court house hallway with, “Have a good morning, Your Honour,” I typically reply, “Thank you, but I have other plans.” I adhere to the view that a legal system without Family Court is like Christianity without Hell.’, in the introduction, so you can tell right away that it’s going to be good.

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Link Post – November 2018

When a poet writes about his experience of becoming a lawyer after his release from jail, you know it’s going to be a punch in the gut. One thing I noticed: he would have had a much easier time reintegrating to society, finding a job, etc. had he been tried as a juvenile, rather than an adult. Has there been any meaningful study on recidivism rates between these two groups? You could compare 17 year olds and 18 year olds charged with the same crime and look at outcomes fifteen years down the road.

Segway’s patents are now at the core of the new crop of ride-sharing scooters, which may finally bring about the original promise of the Segway. Perhaps one element of Segway’s downfall (beyond how uncool they were) is how proper they were about everything. They worked hard to get laws passed that made it legal to ride Segways on the sidewalk, rather than “innovating on the regulatory side” (read: ignoring the law) like the scooter companies do.

The winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon is a delightfully dedicated oddball.

Housing can’t be both affordable and a good investment. Currently, “good investment” seems to be beating affordable in many cities and its residents’ groups that ostensibly support affordable housing that are fighting to keep it that way with restrictive zoning.

Does Canada even exist? Or is it a made up place Americans use as the homeland when travelling? I must admit, I’ve been convinced almost to the point of Canadagnosticism.

What would happen if you laid out all the contradictory information about rapid transit in Karachi in one place? “Something a bit post-modern and a bit absurd” seems to be the answer.

Dying scientist launches a desperate attempt to prove that his herpes vaccine works. In the movies, he’d be ultimately vindicated. In real life, several people are left with lingering side effects and all of the data he collected is tainted by poor methodology.

The whole “rich kids of Instagram” thing is full of pyramid schemes that advertise risky financial products to impoverished teens.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt once claimed that you must never say “who am I to judge”. A therapist sees dramatic improvements by teaching their clients to be more judgemental, seems to agree.

Whenever I read about bullshit jobs, I feel like economic competition needs to be turned up to 11 so that companies have no slack with which to hire people to do pointless tasks. One thing that progressives might not appreciate: the investor class probably hates bullshit jobs even more than they do; from the perspective of a stockholder, a bullshit job is management stealing their money so that the managers can get off on feeling powerful.