Random links

The 2019-nCoV Coronavirus: Are there two routes to infection?
"While a sneeze or a cough by someone infected with a “respiratory disease” can only infect others within a few meters, the virus-laden gaseous plume from an infected person having diarrhea can infect others up to 200 meters. Some experts estimate that 10%-20% of SARS patients had diarrhea, with the possibility that the virus in their intestinal tracts could potentially infect others by this route"
Why Can Some Blind People Process Speech Far Faster Than Sighted Persons?
"When we speak rapidly we are verbalizing at about six syllables per second. That hyperactive radio announcer spewing fine print at the end of a commercial jabbers at 10 syllables per second, the absolute limit of comprehension for sighted people. Blind people, however, can comprehend speech sped up to 25 syllables per second."
Figuring out How to Talk About Female Characters You Don’t Like When You’re Feminist
An almost-sensible article from The Mary Sue for once - "Last night, I was talking to a friend of mine about Star Wars discourse when she suddenly stopped in the street and whispered to me, “Don’t tell anyone, but I just don’t really like Rey, I think she is boring.” I hugged her and whispered back, “I think the Wonder Woman 1984 trailer looks really bad.”"
Presidents, Politics, and Military Strategy: Electoral Constraints during the Iraq War
Using "Recently declassified documents and interviews with senior administration officials and military figures ... Both George W. Bush's surge decision of 2007 and Barack Obama's decision to withdraw troops in 2011 are shown to have been profoundly influenced by concerns related to the domestic political calendar."

Sweet Meteor O'Death in the polls...

Take a look at the following tweet - you should interpret a lot more polls (like, e.g., this one, similar to how you'd interpret this:

Finding freedom in strange places

A tweet by Timur Kuran on a ranking claiming greater critical thinking being taught in Saudi schools than in French, Italian, or Spanish had me thinking back to an earlier incident - where Sam Altman reflected on a trip to China:

Earlier this year, I noticed something in China that really surprised me. I realized I felt more comfortable discussing controversial ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco. I didn’t feel completely comfortable—this was China, after all—just more comfortable than at home.

That showed me just how bad things have become, and how much things have changed since I first got started here in 2005.

It seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every year. Debating a controversial idea, even if you 95% agree with the consensus side, seems ill-advised.

Altman later tried to clarify his views but I think that both this incident and the later ranking of critical thinking skills point to something a little different12. It seems to me important to emphasize that different societies have different taboos. What one can speak about in one society one might not be able to speak about in others and vice-versa.

This post started with one tweet from Timur Kuran and it seems only fitting to end it with another:

  1. It seems also worth noting that some of Altman's treatment might also be due to differential treatment of foreigners - how societies can frequently seem to impose higher penalties on ingroup members who dissent than upon outgroup members who do. Interestingly, and perhaps semi-relatedly, the Saudi government seems to be relaxing restrictions on dress and gender segregation in the tourism sector↩︎

  2. Another interesting oddity is some of the recent research on the Chinese government's approach to censorship as you'll find expressed here. Basically it's an argument that "Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content." One of the things that might stimulate some sort of collective action, of course, being dissemination of details of a certain virus ↩︎

Still more coal power coming online...

I felt reminded of the following tweet again today which I seem to recall having originally popped into my feed alongside some stories on China resuming construction of a fleet of coal powerplants equal to the combined capacity of all those currently existing in the EU:

Guess what Japan's now also busy building - another 22 coal powerplants over the next 5 years. As I'd noted previously re: Japan, disappearing nuclear often seems to be replaced by fossil fuels. You'll see the same sort of thing with retired nuclear plants predominantly replaced by natural gas in the US


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