26 January 2021

Eudaimonia and Co: “Congrats America, You’re Not the Dumbest Country in The World Anymore. Britain Is.”

British people are shocked, suddenly — after voting for Brexit — to discover that ordering stuff from Europe, which used to be as simple as a click, now comes with massive taxes, customs, and suspicious “handling charges”, which they have to pay, or else. Charges that easily add 25% to 50% to the cost of basic things. And while we economists warned Brexit would make Brits poorer, even we underestimated the effect. We thought tariffs would rise, but we didn’t think that trade would come to a sudden stop, which means mass unemployment and shortages and higher prices are all exploding. That’s the worst case scenario, and it’s fast becoming real. What is it called when trade suddenly stops? Sanctions.

Britain is the only country in the world — the only one I can think of in modern history — amazingly, comically, painfully dumb enough to impose sanctions on itself. Almost overnight — it’s been less than a month — you can’t get basic things like European medicine, wine, cheese, beer, clothes, shoes. They’re just…gone. Poof. That might not sound like a big deal, until you consider that Europe supplies many of Britain’s goods, while Britain only supplies Europe with services. Services are easy to relocate — just pick up and hire people in Europe, which is exactly what many British businesses are doing. Goods are not easy to relocate — you have to move a whole factory. So Brits are now poorer forever, in a hard way — not just less money, but less stuff to spend it on, too — they suddenly have vastly less “consumer choice”. Imagine if entire sections of the supermarket — reflecting whole sectors of the economy — simply vanished overnight. You probably can’t, because it’s something that doesn’t tend to happen in the absence of, say, a bully like America sanctioning you, which is something that usually only happens to poor brown people. But nobody sanctions themselves, right? That’s just…idiotic! Well, not until now, anyways.

Umair Haque

The full economic costs of Brexit are just now starting to become apparent, and the reality is harsh: temporarily suspended shipments from the EU, new export rules and regulations where the recommended solution for small businesses is to register inside the EU, massively reduced share trading in London, increased card transaction fees from Mastercard, UK-owned .eu domains suspended, and the list could probably go on much longer.

25 January 2021

Virologist Christian Drosten: “I am Quite Apprehensive about What Might Otherwise Happen in Spring and Summer”

Drosten: Once the elderly and maybe part of the risk groups have been vaccinated, there will be immense economic, social, political and perhaps also legal pressure to end the corona measures. And then, huge numbers of people will become infected within just a short amount of time, more than we can even imagine at the moment. We won’t have 20,000 or 30,000 new cases a day, but up to 100,000 in a worst-case scenario. It will, of course, be primarily younger people who are less likely than older people to have severe symptoms, but when a huge number of younger people get infected, then the intensive care units will fill up anyway and a lot of people will die. Just that it will be younger people. We can cushion this terrible scenario somewhat by pushing the numbers way down now.

Der Spiegel: Can we be confident that case numbers will begin to drop in spring as temperatures rise?

Drosten: I don’t think so. The fact that we had such a relaxed summer in 2020 likely had to do with the fact that our case numbers remained below a critical threshold in the spring. But that’s not the case any longer. I am afraid that it will be more like in Spain, where case numbers climbed rapidly again after the lockdown was lifted, even though it was quite hot. In South Africa, too, where it is currently summer, case numbers are at a high level. (Sinks into thought, saying nothing) I’m sorry, unfortunately I’m extremely tired.

Rafaela von Bredow & Veronika Hackenbroch

A grim prediction, but I’m afraid quite realistic. I have been following the work of lead virologist Christian Drosten since the start of the pandemic and I have appreciated his impartial conclusions and warnings based on scientific data. In this interview, he again raises alarms about viral transmission through children in schools, a source of infection which unfortunately many authorities choose to ignore or downplay for political reasons, and advocates for stricter work from home measures. Anecdotally, I have noticed many of my German colleagues continued working at the office, even during the recent lockdown, despite having back-office tasks that could be easily performed at home.

23 January 2021

The Guardian: “Who killed the prime minister? The unsolved murder that still haunts Sweden”

Although more than 20 witnesses saw the gunman, these facts are still more or less everything that the public knows for certain about the killing of the most controversial leader in Sweden’s modern history.

To his fellow countrymen, Palme was more than a politician. For more than 16 years, he had led Sweden’s leftwing Social Democratic party, which was in power for much of the 20th century. The party was responsible for many of the policies that people typically associate with Sweden, including high taxes and a robust social welfare system. Palme had come to embody not only the party, but these values, too.

Following Palme’s death, the country was cast first into turmoil and then into confusion. Over the past three decades, one chief investigator after another has failed to solve the case, and today the official inquiry remains open. In 2010, Sweden removed the statute of limitations on murders, specifically so that investigators could continue their search for Palme’s killer for as long as it takes. More than 10,000 people have been questioned in the case, whose files now take up more than 250 metres of shelf space in Sweden’s national police headquarters. It is the largest active murder investigation archive in the world.

Imogen West-Knights

Fascinating story: to have a public figure shot to death in plain sight on a busy Friday night, and yet to not be able to identify the murderer for more that 30 years! As with any mystery left unsolved for this long, this one has sparked a number of wild theories.

22 January 2021

Bloomberg: “Who is MrBeast? Meet YouTube’s Top Creator of 2020”

Then, one day, he was struck with an idea for a video that he was sure would work. It was as simple as counting. Donaldson sat down in a chair and, for the the next 40-plus hours, murmured one number after the next, starting from zero and continuing all the way to 100,000. At the end of the exhausting stunt, he looked deliriously at the camera. What am I doing with my life? he said.

It was an oddly mesmerizing performance, the kind of thing every kid in elementary school thinks about but never tries. The resulting video — entitled “I Counted To 100,000!” — was a viral smash. Since its debut on Jan. 8, 2017, it has earned over 21 million views.

Donaldson now generates tens of millions of dollars in advertising sales from his social media feeds, which include his main channel, a gaming channel and pages on other social media sites. He invests almost every dollar back into his business. In recent years, his average cost of making a single video has climbed to $300,000 from $10,000. Money is a vehicle to do bigger videos and make better content, he said.

To date, his priciest video cost $1.2 million. In it, he promised to give $1 million to the contestant who could keep his hand on a stack of cash for the longest period of time. In the end, he felt bad for the three people who didn’t get the $1 million, so he gave them some money too.

Lucas Shaw & Mark Bergen

Interesting insight into the so-called ‘creator economy’, and how much effort is needed to become a YouTube hit and start earning serious money. Granted, this is an extreme example, but will increasing competition, each creator has to invest more and more time and resources to stand out from the rest. A similar dynamic is unfolding on Instagram, where engagement is apparently tied to specific goals and consistent posts across all their formats. For the average creator, these levels of efforts can quickly become unsustainable.

21 January 2021

The Atlantic: “Killer Robots and the New Era of Machine-Driven Warfare”

While Work was at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank, in 2013, he and his colleagues were surprised by the outcome of some classified Pentagon simulations of theoretical conflicts with China or Russia. After the Cold War, these kinds of exercises typically ended with either the U.S. claiming a decisive victory, or a nuclear Armageddon. But the new simulations made it evident the U.S.’s technological edge was starting to evaporate, he and others say. New disruptive technologies had leveled the playing field, causing blue [to get]… its ass handed to it sometimes, in the colorful vernacular last March of an analyst from the RAND Corporation in Washington. The U.S. is dependent on big aircraft carriers to deliver military might to conflict areas, especially in the Pacific, but those carriers, and the expensive fighters and bombers that go with them, could be rendered useless by a hypersonic missile attack, swarms of inexpensive boats, or cyber weapons.

Work, like all the current and former officials who discussed the future of AI in weapons with me, said that he doesn’t know of anyone in the military now trying to remove human beings entirely from lethal decision making. No such offensive system has been put through the specialized review process created by an Obama-era Pentagon directive, although the procedures have gotten a lot of internal attention, according to current and former Defense Department officials.

Work also says that the concept of machines entirely picking their own targets or going horribly awry, like something out of the Terminator movies, is unlikely because the offensive technologies being developed have only narrow applications. They will only attack the things that we said they could, Work said.

Zachary Fryer-Biggs

I was reminded by this article by recent news that the U.S. Air Force flew an AI copilot on a U-2 spy plane – clearly this kind of military research is continuing and accelerating. With the recent tensions between the US and China, and Russia causing mischief at every opportunity, the coming years may see the escalation of a new arms race with cyber and AI weapons, hidden battles fought in digital spaces and remote areas by computer programs and AI-controlled drones. India could also join this arms race, given their recent skirmishes with Chinese forces. And with more participants, the danger of these AI weapons getting out of control increases considerably, despite the limited scope and best intentions expressed in the quotes above…

20 January 2021

The New York Times: “Underselling the Vaccine”

  • If anything, the 95 percent number understates the effectiveness, because it counts anyone who came down with a mild case of Covid-19 as a failure. But turning Covid into a typical flu — as the vaccines evidently did for most of the remaining 5 percent — is actually a success. Of the 32,000 people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in a research trial, do you want to guess how many contracted a severe Covid case? One.

  • Although no rigorous study has yet analyzed whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, it would be surprising if they did. If there is an example of a vaccine in widespread clinical use that has this selective effect — prevents disease but not infection — I can’t think of one! Dr. Paul Sax of Harvard has written in The New England Journal of Medicine. (And, no, exclamation points are not common in medical journals.) On Twitter, Dr. Monica Gandhi of the University of California, San Francisco, argued: Please be assured that YOU ARE SAFE after vaccine from what matters — disease and spreading.

David Leonhardt

There are several examples of vaccines that to not provide “sterilizing immunity” – for example the two polio vaccines confer different types of immunity, OPV sterilizing and IPV non-sterilizing – but nevertheless vaccines can be very effective in substantially reducing disease spread and putting a stop to epidemics. In a vaccinated person, the immune system recognizes the pathogen from the moment it enters the body and starts actively fighting it, so the virus is much less likely to replicate and infect others. The lower the viral load, the lower the chance of forward transmission.

16 January 2021

PetaPixel: “Canon is Letting You Photograph Earth from its Camera Satellite”

As a showcase of its CE-SAT-1 Earth-imaging satellite, Canon is allowing anyone to take their own photos of Earth from space as part of a demonstration for CES.

The Canon CE-SAT-1 is a microsatellite – roughly the size of a wine barrel – that the company launched into space in June of 2017 and is equipped with a modified Canon EOS 5 Mark III camera. From its orbit, the camera is capable of photographing a ground area of around 3.7 miles by 2.5 miles. The satellite is also equipped with a 40cm Canon Cassegrain telescope with a 3720mm focal length and a Canon PowerShot S110 that is used for wide-angle images.

As part of a CES demonstration and showcase, Canon has set up an interactive website that allows you to hover over specific locations on Earth – such as New York, The Bahamas, Dubai, and Japan – from an altitude of about 310 miles. Unfortunately, the demonstration does not allow for free-roaming.

Jaron Schneider

Cool idea! I had no idea Canon launched an actual satellite in space, equipped with one of its dSLR cameras.