Interesting stuff

  1. Read: Natural gas prices spike due to an “unbalanced energy mix (good analysis).
  2. Listen: An excellent perspective on the CCP’s use of markets to leverage themselves to a socialist (centrally controlled) paradise.
  3. Read: John Carreyou, the reporter who broke the Theranos scam, on Elizabeth Holmes’s trial
  4. Watch: Why city design matters (and I live in Amsterdam)
  5. Read: Insider trading is the norm in US stock markets
  6. Read: It’s time to switch from cloth to N95 masks
  7. Listen: The whistleblower behind the Facebook files explains how the company is putting far too few resources into fighting disinformation, often because it doesn’t want to lose “engagement” (ad revenue). Extremely related, read how Zuckerberg’s empire of 2.9 billion is a “hostile state” to democracy. Related: MIT on FB’s “dangerous algorithms”
  8. Read: The best way to transition from fossil fuels to renewables is to raise the price of fossil fuels. What does the Dutch government do when natural gas prices spike? Rush to spend (taxpayer) money on subsidizing gas prices. This is a total fail. (A partial fail would be to send more INCOME to poorer households, which coild then decide to spend more on gas… or food or clothes…)
  9. Why is US media so negative (and why that poisons public discourse)
  10. Listen: The Sunday Debate: The Battle Over Free Speech: Are Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and No-Platforming Harming Young Minds?

Help improve my book, part 2 (of 3)

Last week, I asked for your comments and suggestions for Part I (Preface plus 3 chapters) of The Little Book of the Commons.

This week, I am back with chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7, which total 13 pages 🙂

As before… If you have time, then please read, comment and suggest ways to improve chapters 4-7 [a pdf on google drive].

My goal is to have a clear, easy-to-read book, so I am trying (often failing) to minimise footnotes and academic quibbles, so please do say if I am too far in the weeds or losing you.

Next Monday, the last 6 chapters!

Interesting stuff

  1. Read: Rebooting one’s career as a teacher at 50 years old
  2. Read: A real generational gap in mental models has emerged: Kids (“these days”) don’t understand files and folders on computers.
  3. Read: Paradise lost: The rise and ruin of
  4. Read: More climate change, more rain, more mosquitoes, more disease
  5. Read: Three tales of “up by your bootstraps-style” American Dreaming: The collapse of the LuLaRoe MLM cultan influencer who’s succeeding by telling it like it is and Gig-workers organise (world wide) for their right… to know what they will earn.
  6. Read: The problem with the internet is not that everyone can talk but that everyone can listen. The resulting cacophony undermines our social relations.
  7. Read: Americans have no idea what the supply chain really is
  8. Read: How medieval monks reduced (non-phone) distractions. Related: Our brains evolved for habits not uncertainty.
  9. Watch: Greta Thunberg is amazingly smart (put her in charge!)
  10. Watch: Want affordable homes? Your best move is to change the zoning laws to allow more density.


Can you help improve my book?

Late last year, I announced that I was writing a new book — The Little Book of the Commons — and that I was looking for people to read, review, comment and improve it.

In February, I got some useful feedback. Then I got distracted (teaching, boats, Covid, you know the drill) and slowed down.

Now I’m back!

I’ve revised Part I (25 pages) and finished a draft of Part II (around 40 pages), and I am looking for your help!

If you have time, then please read, comment and suggest ways to improve this draft of Part I [a pdf on google drive].

My goal is to have a clear, easy-to-read book, so I am trying (often failing) to minimise footnotes and academic quibbles, so please do say if I am too far in the weeds or losing you.

I hope plan promise to have Part II up in the next two weeks, so start soon if you can 🙂

Interesting stuff

  1. Read: So Mailchimp deleted ALL my subscribers for new posts because I didn’t “log in” — that’s a pretty shit move (and widely criticized) when I was using service and had no reason to log in (it was working!) Anyways, I am now using a new service (Mailpoet), and you can sign up with the popup on my blog (please tell me if it doesn’t work!).
  2. Read: Why myths about (racial) superiority endure, in the face of science
  3. Read: South Africa struggles to “get respect” for its COVID policies from richer (but more dangerous) countries.
  4. Read: Private law in Iceland worked between 1000 and 1300 (before the King asserted monopoly authority). Reminds me of the successful “pirate constitutions” of the early 18th c.
  5. Read: How police manufactured and sold “secure” phones to criminals and then used their incriminating messages to arrest hundreds 
  6. Read: Using local residues to track the origins of raw materials in supply chains (and reduce fraud)
  7. Listen: How Xi is using the state to take over the economy (again)
  8. Listen: Some insights on the (good/bad) potential futures of AI
  9. Watch: John Oliver on ransomware
  10. Read: Food is getting more expensive hunting is getting harder in the Arctic as the ice melts and water warms. Related read: Americans living in flood zones are (slowly) facing the real cost of insuring their risks — and they are not happy

H/Ts to MM and TJ

The meaning of life — and suicide

Economists have long attracted criticism for saying “you don’t need anything; you just want things,” and then rejecting the (common) response of “what about air? I need air to live” with the rejoinder “you don’t need to live, you just want to live… Suicides provide proof of that difference.”

This post is not pro-suicide. I am putting suicide into a larger context. If you have suicidal thoughts, then get help from others who have experienced and overcome such thoughts. Here’s more from US, British and Dutch health authorities. 

Indeed, we see copycat suicides by those who admire someone who killed themselves. We see (willing) suicide bombers who kill themselves for their cause. We see soldiers on “suicide missions” who are willing to die for their country or comrades. In less-violent terms, we also see humans and other species where individuals forgo their chance to reproduce to help raise the offspring of others, for a mix of personal and collective reasons.

Indeed, we see many communities and states where “genetic suicide” via a range of (in)actions ranging from withdrawing from mating to running towards certain death has contributed to the group’s survival and prosperity. These are cases in which self-sacrifice strengthens collective outcomes and thus increases “group fitness.”

We (as a group) have not lost our ability to have suicidal thoughts, but you (as an individual) don’t need to let them run your life. What you need is a way of re-framing thoughts of worthlessness or self-sacrifice into a goal of long-run effectiveness that works because you make a difference not once but many times. Killing yourself will not help your tribe or group or cult or club get ahead compared to contributing to collective strength.

(I’ve long wondered what recruiters tell suicide bombers. Besides “72 virgins,” do they promise that that individual’s death will turn the tide to victory? Given that bombers can’t give post-bomb feedback, I’m guessing that recruiters lie a lot.)

Pushing back from individual actions to national outcomes, it’s easy to see how self-sacrifice helps groups. Most nations trace their history to founders who spoke out rather than remaining silent, who sacrificed rather than remain in comfort. In successful states, leaders are lauded for contributing to the greater good. In failed states, selfish leaders cannot united a divided people.

In today’s geo-political reality, most people live in nations defined by past sacrifices, fear the disruption of would-be suicidal “revolutionaries,” and seek leaders against challenges from Man and Nature.

In the pre-Anthropocene world, we consumed natural resources and destroyed environments in our competition with each other and our desire for comfort and ease. Now, those habits are part of the “sustainability challenge” in which climate chaos, collapsing biodiversity and natural resource shortages not only slow and reverse our progress but also pit every nation, tribe and community against the others, in a struggle to one “least worst off” in a world of shrinking possibility.

What we need now is not more suicides but more self-sacrifice — via lower consumption, childlessness, refusing destructive jobs and so on — that is designed to help the group. We need people who feel better when they forgo a flight abroad; we need societies that admire these people more than “jet-setters.”

My one-handed conclusion: We won’t need to live empty lives if we want to live full lives. Find your place and purpose, and you have found life.

Interesting stuff

    1. Read: A good discussion of why “pipelines” are a bad solution to water scarcity
    2. Read: The ‘melancholic joy’ of living in our brutal, beautiful world
    3. Listen: The Facebook files (ep 1). Surprise! FB has prioritised profits and impact over safety and community. (Read Time’s summary of the episodes.) Related read: Why Silicon Valley’s Optimization Mindset Sets Us Up for Failure
    4. Listen: The status game, i.e., how our desire for relative position leads to over-consumption, depression and strife.
    5. Read: Chile is planning to reform its water laws to weaken property rights and strengthen “social control.” I predict these reforms are likely to undermine economic efficiency without helping the “needy” since politicians will pay more attention to the “noisy”
    6. Read: The businesses that (happily) hire ex-cons
    7. Read: “Linear” governance institutions have a hard time dealing with “exponential” technologies and business models.
    8. Watch: Paper coffee cups are not sustainable, but they’re not that bad.
    9. Read: The Great Lakes Region Is Not a ‘Climate Haven
    10. Read: How a ‘fatally, tragically flawed’ paradigm has derailed the science of obesity. Related (listen): Body Mass Indexes are NOT useful for health.

H/T to MM

Comparing (un)known (un)knowns

I am a big fan of figures that show how various ideas relate to each other.

I use the “2×2 of goods” to explain how water should be managed by economic or social/political means.

I have set out how social sciences relate to each other and how underlying “truth” changes as you move from sciences to humanities. I summarised that difference in this post:

The humanities (language, history, philosophy) illustrate the diversity of human existence just as the sciences (biology, physics, etc.) illustrate our similarities. This explains how scientists can collaborate and agree on the “big picture” while failing to see the point of humanities studies that don’t seem to draw any conclusions (and sometimes seem locked in eternal battles over the “right” element drawn from a pile of subjective perspectives)

…and now I am back with a new figure that maps risk and uncertainty into a 2×2 that overlaps with objective (science) and subjective (humanities) views:

The reason for this figure, as with all my figures, is to highlight how “we” are often talking past each other when we make comments based on unstated assumptions.

Thus: “This cake is good” (lower left) is not the same as “this cake is fresh” (upper left), “this cake uses a secret recipe” (upper right) or “I’m not sure if we’re gonna get cake out of the oven” (lower right).

My one-handed suggestion is that every discussions and debate begin by establishing how each participant “sees” the topic at hand (subjective/objective? humanities/social science/science, etc.), as that reduces confusion related to mismatched baselines.

Interesting stuff

  1. Listen: America’s Math Curriculum Doesn’t Add Up. I really identified with a lot of the problems they discuss, especially from my graduate school years.
  2. Listen: A surprisingly insightful discussion of fashion trends, market disruptions and climate change.
  3. Listen: Richard Thayler’s Nudge 2.0 has some corrections. Related read “The death of behavioral economics
  4. Read: California bans non-recyclable packaging that’s labeled as recyclable (how is this not already illegal?!?)
  5. Read: Maybe people need to do less cancelling and more forgiving? Related: Read “More Americans give up on the Common Good
  6. Read: The ways conspiracies actually spread (a series of subjective half-truths that anyone can embellish)
  7. Read: Cycling injuries in NL (based on hospital admissions) are 3x worse than official figures (based on police reports).
  8. Read: Those on the Left embracing cancel culture (and other post-modern concepts of “relativity”) are embracing the “confessional” tactics of religious conservatives (God as arbitrator of truth, channeled by spokesmen/priests) that the Enlightenment fought on its way to promoting liberal, universal values. Related listen to this debate on meritocracy.
  9. Listen: The disaster of subsidized flood insurance in the US.
  10. Read: “Surgical masks are highly protective [against COVID], but cloth masks fall short” — I just bought a bunch of N95s, as there are too many anti-vaxxers for the Netherlands to be safe.

H/Ts to BZ and PB

20 years after 9/11

On September 12 2001, I wrote:

This events yesterday are indeed beyond our imaginations. Although it would be better if it had never happened at all, it seems that the best impact that it might have (as the perpetrators perhaps wanted), is for us (the USA, the Americans), to reconsider our positions and how we “project” power in the world – before we start bombing…  

If the attack was Muslim (not domestic – like last time in Oklahoma), then start by acknowledging that Christians own and control most of the world. The Muslims get screwed quite often (with support from Christian/Western Governments). Perhaps that is fair (the Strong make the rules), but it hardly seems to be either “what Jesus would do” or “love thy Neighbor”. 

[a long list of examples of Muslims being exploited in many countries]

Before we go off and start shooting (or nuking) all the “rag heads” (as Howard Stern’s listeners want), perhaps we should consider where the perpetrators are coming from in terms of their anger at what “America” has done to them. It’s too bad that US citizens are not called upon to make the decisions that the government makes for them, because, if we knew more of what was happening (there is a clear lack of coverage and bias in most of the US press/television – against Muslims), it is likely that the USA wouldn’t be responsible for as many messes as it is. One clear result of constraint would be a lessening of Israel’s current aggression, not possible without the support of the US government (current UN Racism conference in S. Africa, etc.)

Finally, it is interesting to make a note, when looking for those responsible (Bush’s “Evil” ones), of who gain’s from US anguish and anger. A US backlash against Muslims would strengthen Israel. Perhaps Mossad** is responsible?

Just a few thoughts on this so-predictable tragedy. My regrets to those who died for someone else’s opinion.

Reading this 20 years later, I can point at a few developments that (don’t) align with my predictions:

  • Muslims are maybe (not) better governed.
  • The biggest terrorist threat to the US comes from White extremists.
  • The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were complete failures. (I support Biden’s pull out, although the planning sucked.)
  • Americans barely know much more about the world. This has a lot to do with the volunteer army not representing “average” Americans abroad.
  • America has wasted $trillions on war and lost prestige as land of the free, let alone leader of the Free World.
  • Israel has not made any sort of peace with the Palestinians, but former Arab allies have made peace with Israel.
  • Social media and lying Republicans have made it much harder for people to understand what’s happening, to whom and why.

My one-handed conclusion is that Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda “won” 9/11 due to America’s self-harming (and freedom-harming) response, which was naive in the ways that many with experience outside the US could have predicted.

You cannot fight terror and ignorance with terror and ignorance. The only way is to use knowledge, dialogue and cooperation among freedom-loving nations and people’s. I hope the US learns this lesson before too long, but I am not optimistic.