Society & Science
Balaji's talk on what to do when your host country is unreformable - what happens when voting no longer has any effect?
A paper with detail on how much it cost 1 individual to run the entire democracy of Peru via bribery during the 90’s. For example, some judges received $2.5k - $10k USD per month, various politicians were paid up to $20k per month to change parties, TV stations were paid up to $9M / year.
“In the eyes of the U.S. government, the Mexican drug industry is very organized, its cartels structured like corporations, perhaps with periodic meetings. But on the ground with the sicario, there is no structure. He kills all over Mexico, he works with various groups, but he never knows how things are linked, he never meets the people in charge, and he never asks any questions.“
"While we should care about discovery and invention because they are necessary precursors, real impact comes from innovation, not invention. An innovation is an invention that is useful and is put to use." Apple’s received some grief in the past for marketing previously “invented” technologies as if Apple itself had created them. While that’s not strictly true, Apple deserves all the credit it gets because its the one who took a new invention and turned it into something actually useful. One example of this is multi-touch, first demoed here for the first time at a Ted talk. You'll notice that even though that talk happened a year before the iPhone was announced, the video was posted a week after the iPhone introduction. They saw Apple getting all the credit for multi-touch and wanted some of the love! But of course if Apple hadn’t made something useful using multi-touch no one would care about TED’s demo video in the first place.
I don’t want to overhype this but this was one of the most moving things I’ve watched in years. With all of the negativity on twitter and in politics and in the news, with people thinking the world is ending, or talking about the cold civil war, or how half of the country is evil… with so many trying to take instead of build, or Europe trying to basically roll back the internet, and others trying to solve things by shouting, or legislating, instead of making things…It was so refreshing to see this. It’s like being reminded of an old dream: oh yes that’s right, we can in fact set a huge goal and then actually go do it. That’s something real human beings do! One imagines what the press would say about the Apollo program if it happened today. And yes there’s some nostalgia happening here. Yes America was at peak Vietnam involvement just the year before. Of course the world also had big problems back then, and inflation was on its way. But guess what: we made a decision to land on the moon and then we did it. This is no great man theory, this is great people, choosing to make something so. I read this quote from Herb Kelleher over the weekend, when he was asked what his plan for his company was: “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” America set out with an ambitious but very specific goal. And then we did it. More of that, please.
“As Midwest cities go, the only remarkable thing about Bloomington is its prosperity. It’s recession-proof. Some of this is due to the county’s land, which is world-class fertile and so expensive you can’t even find out how much it costs. But Bloomington is also the national HQ for State Farm, which is the great dark god of consumer insurance and for all practical purposes owns the town…”
One of the things I've learned in tech and entrepreneurship is that a lot of the societal norms and expectations that are assumed in polite society often hold people back from greatness.
7 part series on a guy who used bitcoin to run his billion dollar, world wide operation. Save this one for the weekend and your couch
This gave me a new lens through which to view social status, why people choose certain jobs, and how the separation of money from prestige has far-reaching consequences.
A nuts and bolts description of a relatively obfuscated industry that we all still interact with on a regular basis.
An amateur bike racer tries to make a documentary about beating the game by cheating with steroids, and ends up discovering a lot of the backend on how Russia ran its Olympics program. Highly recommended.
An American investor in Russia gets put on Putin's list and immediately starts running into serious trouble. Written by the investor himself, Bill Browder
The Internet has changed everything, and we've only barely begun to understood those implications. One of the transitions we're in is that the institutions of the old world - governments, religions, big companies - are heirarchal. But the masses - the public - live in a networked world. This has serious implications for many reasons, one of which is that the masses often (though certaintly not always) have better information than the institutions. This leads to distrust and deteriotion of the institutions - and the cycle gets worse & repeats itself.
How Jacob Fugger became history’s first millionaire in the 16th century.
Knowledge is a positive sum good - you can repeat it infinitely and it doesn't lose value. So, say, why don't more universities let in more students to teach them this wonderful knowledge?
File under "unintended consequences" - a vast trove of mostly untold stories
Charlie Munger on where our judgment all often goes wrong.
Never assume success. Target is known as one of the best retailer operators and brands in the US, and even it failed to rollout into a country that's as similar to its home culture as one can ask for. How does that happen? What went wrong? Sometimes I think the threshhold between failture and success is so small, and a gust of wind one way or the other makes the difference. I think that might have happened here. Unfortunately, when you do fail and it was a close call, the outcome makes it look like it was a disaster start to finish and you never had any business trying in the first place. That's only the narrative though.
We underesetimate the degrees of nuance that existed in social class hundreds of years ago. For example, the family you came from used to matter more than **anything**. The aristocracy wasn’t just the idea that there was a King, but that there were also many mini-Kings (“The Elites”) whose family each had their own dominion over their area. The meta lesson of this book is that old societies were far more different than we regularly imagine because of the culture and customs they embodied. Fun fact: the author is one of the historian’s mentioned in the early bar scene in *Good Will Hunting*.
Scott Alexander (my personal nominee for greatest writer of the 21st century) writes book reviews that are often superior to the book itself (though to be clear I'm not making that claim about this book). Albion's seed is a 900 page tomb that tries to explain today's political tribes and group affiliates by where those they emmigrated from. The review is amazing, and the theory is fascinating. Feels plausible and has enormous consequences that we're probably not ready to deal with. Or as Matt Levine once said: "Does anyone else think about this article every day?"
We all need someting bigger than ourselves to work towards. It can take many forms: starting a company, having kids, volunteering. In the 1960s in America, for many people, it was putting a man on the moon. The takeaway is that the meaning we give our work is often based on the context of the work. The same act done for different reasons can bring different feelings, from excitement and joy to apathy or disgust.
The places you live send you messages. Be a little smarter, or work harder, or be more like the Jones's. The point is - be careful about where you select to live, and who you give your attention to.
The 1900s was a time when people were more similar to each other than probably any time in history. We often assume that will continue, or even increase. But this essay makes the case that this sameness was an exception, not a new rule. I agree - I believe the Internet will only continue to amplify our differences. "Average is over." When Friction is reduced assets are given instantly to their most productive user.
Fantastic book about the team Abraham Lincoln built during the Civil War. One takeaway that was new to me and feels extra relevant today is how divided the North was throughout the war: some wanted peace at any cost (e.g. let the South go & continue slavery) while others were true Abolitionists and viewed the war primarily as a battle against slavery.
Always go deeper in the stack if you can justify it. In this case, genetics researchers wiped out what an entire industry of social scientists had taken for granted. “I love this paper because it is ruthless. The authors know exactly what they are doing, and they are clearly enjoying every second of it.”
How the CIA station chief of Lebanon was abducted and killed. I like this because you only rarely get a glimpse into the inside of how government intelligence units operate - this goes back to 1984. Also is a lesson in storytelling.
Adams had much bigger role in the Declaration of Independence than is commonly understood. He also wrote the Constitution for Massachusetts (currently the oldest active constitution in the world). A favorite part of biographies is seeing the mental weaknesses & worries of people who eventually get statues and buildings with their names. This one doesn’t disappoint.
You don't get points unless you accept the people who you truly find repulsive