Links for July

I added an ideas page to this website, which can be accessed from the homepage.

I also added a projects page for miscellany that doesn’t fit into a blog post.

What I’ve been reading

George Orwell’s thoughts on the common toad. “Presently [the toad] has swollen to his normal size again, and then he goes through a phase of intense sexiness.” I’m guessing the word ‘sexy’ used to mean “desiring sex” and George Orwell was not attracted to a toad? Otherwise, I will need to rethink the message of Animal Farm…

Simon Beard has a bio of the moral philosopher Derek Parfit on his website. Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of Parfit for the New Yorker remains one of my all-time favourite articles.

Scott Alexander on how effective lockdowns have been. It’s a mixed picture, the between-country comparisons are significantly less informative than the between-state comparisons in the US, due to data-reporting issues and cultural differences.

Mark Lutter released a catalogue of examples of successful social movements. I would add various postcolonial movements to restore a country’s language and culture, like the Gaelic League.

I finally read the Wait Buy Why articles about AI. And Luke Muehlhauser’s response.

Noah Smith argues that the high level of Jewish accomplishment in fields like science actually isn’t surprising, Scott Alexander pushes back, and Noah Smith posts a defence.

An overview on the EA Forum of how well the world’s governments responded to COVID (hint: poorly).

What Cowen, Collison and Hsu learned doing Fast Grants. If you click on just one of these links, have it be this one!

What’s it like to visit Peru during lockdown?

Higher than the Shoulders of Giants A very intriguing argument that the slowdown in growth post-1970 is due to the Controlled Substances Act, and that cultures tend to see periods of artistic and intellectual flourishing after the introduction of new drugs. An excellent post.

The Bomber Mafia A short engaging read about how the US switched from precision to civilian bombing. If you are going to read it, however, you should also read the LA Times review, which is very negative. Gladwell seems to have returned to his roots of cutesy and simplistic narratives. The reviewer takes a moralising perspective that I don’t appreciate: this is a book about white men in the air force – it’s simply not attempting to be comprehensive, or claim to represent the victims.

A Map that Reflects the Territory This is a collection of the best essays of 2018 from the website LessWrong. I very much enjoyed it. The best posts contained within are Varieties of argumentative Experience, A Voting Theory Primer, Is Science Slowing Down? and The Rocket Alignment Problem (an allegory about AI safety research).

What I’ve been watching

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom I can tell this works better as a play, right down the “all taking place in one room” (well, two rooms) trope.

The Miles Davis Quintet live in Milan 1964. 40:50 is where Miles gets pissed off at Herbie Hancock. Also, the Karlsruhe 1967 concert. It’s striking how little exposition or narration there is in old concerts. They don’t even say the names of the songs. Finally, Stockholm ’67.

The Eddy I was very excited to see that Damien Chazelle (director of Whiplash and La La Land) had a Netflix series about jazz. I was a little bit disappointed, however the soundtrack was excellent – I particularly recommend ‘Kiss Me in the Morning’ and the uptempo version of ‘The Eddy’.

A Quiet Place Part II An unnecessary sequel to be sure, although still a worthy way to pass the time. It felt good to go to a real-life cinema!

Jazz by Ken Burns A 12-part series, so this has taken up most of my TV-watching recently. I posted my notes.

A documentary about Monserrat, a Caribbean island that was originally settled by the Irish and has maintained a strong (and often bizarre) cultural connection to it. Many different parts of the island are named after places in Ireland, like Kinsale. It is weird to see black people from the Caribbean being called Seamus Murphy!

What I’ve been listening to

Tom Monyihan on the intellectual history of existential risk.

Richard Prum on birds and bird-watching.

Naval Ravikant posted his podcast with Brett Hall about The Beginning of Infinity.

Leopold Aschenbrenner on being a Valedictorian and German culture. I also recommend his blog.

Charisma – Lee Morgan A phenomenal album, Sweet Honey Bee is the best track.

Keith Jarrett live in Paris 1988 Solo piano, and mostly just the one track.

Clubhouse – Dexter Gordon ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’ is the most famous song on here, but I also like the title song.

Night Dreamer – Wayne Shorter Listen to the title song and to ‘Virgo’.

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