Links for October

What I’ve been reading

Wang Huning: the world’s most influential public intellectual?

Human costs aside, is bombing actually good? More generally, when is it better to destroy something and start over?

Some of you may have read about the recent case in which a famous psychologist was found to be faking data in a very obvious way in one of the most well-known papers in behavioural economics. In that spirit, here’s a critical behavioural economics reading list.

Why Gavin Leech is not a philosopher.

Andrew Sullivan on the gay rights movement and AIDS: parts one and two.   

Outdated, but Rob Wiblin on which supplements a healthy person should take.

Tim Urban talking about what it was like giving his very funny TED talk.

Ted Giola on Frank Sinatra’s arrogance and why his earlier period was better.

Scott Alexander on why we can’t build beautiful buildings anymore

Michael Huemer is a two-boxer in the Newcomb problem. If you have no idea what that sentence means, then definitely click through.

Scott Aaronson on how to use technical methods to bite off and make progress on philosophical problems. “Experience has shown that scientists are terrible judges of which of their ideas will be interesting or important to others. Pick any scientist’s most cited paper, and there’s an excellent chance that the scientist herself, at one point, considered it a “little recreational throwaway project” that was barely worth writing up.”

What if scientists were as good at detecting fraud as the speedrunning community? I discussed the Dream speedrunning controversy in my guide to recreational mathematics on YouTube.

Slime Mold Time Mold has a long series that argues that the recent increase in obesity is entirely due to environmental contaminants (in our water and food) and not diet or exercise. How they can say that it’s entirely this I still don’t understand, but the evidence is fairly compelling that contamination corresponds to a significant proportion of the increase. Start with part one.

Showa: A History of Japan, 1926-1938 and 1939-1944. You had me at “manga about the history of 20th-century Japan”. The books (I’m two volumes in out of four) bombard you with information, but there are at least notes at the end to understand what’s going on and the cultural references (but weirdly they also cover extremely basic stuff like who Hitler was). The art style is phenomenal. I’ve never seen this book on a shelf or in a comic book shop, it deserves to be more widely known.

In Cold Blood I was inspired to read this after watching the film Capote. I wrote out some of my thoughts here. Certainly the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a while.

The Periodic Table This is a book I’ve been reading for two and half years, despite the fact that it’s only 200 pages. I found it surprisingly hard to get into, especially the earlier sections with the details about his family history. If you don’t know of the book, Primo Levi was a famous chemist, and The Periodic Table is a collection of stories about his life in science and in Auschwitz, where each chapter is named after a different element that somehow plays into the story. The flowery language comes through well even in translation: “Prometheus had been foolish to bestow fire on men instead of selling it to them: he would have made money, placated Jove, and avoided all that trouble with the vulture.”

What I’ve been listening to

Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of GiveWell, has come out of his shell and has more of a public presence now. Part of that was his great interview with Ezra Klein about Open Philanthropy Project’s giving strategy.

A good conversation on the podcast Very Bad Wizards about Meditations on Moloch, one of Scott Alexander’s most famous essays.   

The new 80,000 Hours podcast with Carl Shulman is one of the most interesting and in-depth they’ve done in a while.

Paul Bloom on Two Psychologists Four Beers discusses his new book The Sweet Spot. If you like informal discussions about academia, you will enjoy Two Psychologists Four Beers.

The inimitable Tom Lehrer live in Copenhagen 1967. The level of focus on the threat of nuclear war is striking (🎵”Israel’s getting tense / Wants one in self-defence / The lord is our shepherd, says the psalm / But just in case, we better get a bomb”🎵). It was funny when he joked about the Apollo project being a waste of money! You can tell there’s a lot of cultural references his Danish audience aren’t getting. They also have a bizarre degree of spontaneous clapping synchronisation.

Soul: Soundtrack The ability of Pixar to still make great original films is impressive. My only major complaint is with the overuse of famous actors.

Bob Dylan: Desire I’ve been listening to more Dylan since I watched Martin Scorsese’s documentary about the Rolling Thunder Revue. ‘Isis’ and ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ are my favourite tracks here.

What I’ve been watching

Squid Game Like everybody else, I watched Squid Game. Following Parasite, there is somewhat of a trend of Americans misinterpreting Korean media. In interviews, the director doesn’t mention anything about ‘capitalism’. I see it as much more of a morality play about how monetary incentives beget non-monetary ones. By the end, they’re killing each other not because of rational self-interest but because they hate each other! It’s a solid 7/10 series. There are significant flaws: the two twists don’t make sense, game #5 breaks the show’s internal rules, (the Front Man interferes while the game is still ongoing) and all of the American actors are hilariously atrocious.

The Talented Mr Ripley Might this be the best Matt Damon performance?

The Princess Bride Another entry in my mission to watch classic films that I somehow missed in my upbringing. A near-perfect film.

1917 A technical war film, not driven by characters, firmly in the tradition of Dunkirk. I’d like to see an exploration of how video games have influenced film, because a lot of the shots here are reminiscent of third-person shooters. It struck me while watching this how many war films involve a delivery or journey that is theoretically simple but in practice difficult and complicated – Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, etc.

A threepart series on how The Hobbit ended up being so meh, featuring a lengthy diversion into New Zealand labour law. When I eventually show my girlfriend The Hobbit I may use one of the fan edits that cut the series down from three films to one.

A brilliant piece of conceptual analysis: how many Super Mario games are there? And, from the same channel: there are 48 regular polyhedra.

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