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16 Oct 18:36

Stepping off the Golden Gate Bridge

“Just being there for someone for some time: that’s all it is. To know someone is there.” 
-- Kevin Briggs, retired CHP Officer

On March 11, 2005, Kevin Berthia woke up early and drove his ‘96 Buick Regal to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The 22-year-old Oakland native had never really thought about the bridge. He’d never taken a picture of the bridge. He didn’t even know how to get there. But he was certain, on this overcast day in early Spring, that he’d jump to his death from its rusty-orange arches.

Kevin parked at the northern terminal and meandered up the walkway, slowly picking his way through mid-day joggers and camera-toting tourists. Just beyond the north tower, he turned off his cell phone; nobody had answered his final call. In a white t-shirt, basketball shorts, and Nikes, he could’ve just as easily been dressed for practice -- but he was here, on the Golden Gate Bridge, to jump. He stopped, leaned against the metal bars, and scanned the distant waters. There was little time to ruminate: many things had brought him to this point, and it was too late to turn back.

With two steps, he lunged himself over the railing and onto a 6-inch-wide pipe, the only lifeline between him and the swirling bay 245 feet below. Trembling in the stiff wind, he closed his eyes, bent his knees and began to let go.

Then, he heard the voice.

***

The couple who adopted Kevin Berthia in 1983 -- a secretary at the Port of Oakland, and a city arborist -- did they best they could to provide a comfortable life in the rough and tumble city. 

At five, he had to face the reality that he’d never know his biological parents -- that they’d abandoned him at an agency a few days into life. At twelve, his adoptive parents filed for divorce; instantly, his life was split between two worlds. He remembers “feeling depressed [and] having bad thoughts,” but opted to bottle up his pain. Sports became his coping mechanism: “three practices a day, games on the weekends, repeat the cycle come Monday.” He stayed so involved that he didn’t have time to reflect.

As he entered high school two years later, “everything started to change:”

“I was so busy that I didn’t focus on issues; I had all this pain, but I was too tired to think about anything. I knew they existed. I knew that at night, they came crashing in and I felt a certain way -- but I never really identified why I felt a certain way. I always had dark places I was in, or dark times that I was in, but I just tried my best to go to sleep and wake up knowing I had practice in the morning to distract me...

I always told the world I was fine. But secretly, in my own private time, I knew better.”

Soon, sports were no longer light-hearted and fun. Kevin was naturally gifted, but he felt tremendous pressure to succeed. Though he grappled with pain, he kept it to himself. As an African-American male in the macho, competitive world of athletics, he said talking about his feelings was “simply not an option.”

When Kevin graduated high school in 2002, he hadn’t attracted the interest of top college coaches; instead, he elected to attend the City College of San Francisco, just a 30-minute drive from Oakland. With a sparser schedule and only one sport to distract him instead of the six he’d once participated in, he began to falter emotionally. “For the first time in my life, I had this free time,” he tells us. “And in that free time, things started developing. It was time for me to think about my pain.” 

Just a few months into community college, he met a girl in class, fell in love, and dropped out to work a full-time job -- to be, in her words, “a real man.” For the emotionally-reserved athlete, the relationship proved to be taxing: “I never really took care of the issues I had,” he says, “so, this new burden of taking care of someone else was a lot. Her problems became my problems.”

For two years, Kevin worked tirelessly; long, physically demanding days in construction drained him. His grand illusions of athletic stardom crumbled, and he gradually began to consider himself a failure:

“I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself -- i felt like I wasn’t doing anything with my life. I had these high expectations, but I wasn’t playing sports, and I didn’t have any outlet. My job became my coping mechanism: I was over-worked, fatigued, so tired. I just saw myself changing.”

In 2002, after a “very intense” argument with his girlfriend, Kevin had a mental breakdown and pulled a knife on himself. He was hospitalized, went through extensive outpatient program at Kaiser, and, for the first time in his life, began to talk about his feelings -- a process that, in his words, “only made things worse.” He was paraded from therapist to therapist, each time feeling more deflated than before:

“This was my first time ever talking to anybody, and they were telling me I shouldn’t be feeling the way I feel. “None of them attempted to understand how I felt -- they were slamming a door in my face as far as trying to understand where I came from. It just made me feel worse. 

I told myself ‘I’m never going to talk about these things ever again.’ Then I left, and put on a front for the world, like everything was okay.”

He returned to City College, put his head down, and began to excel - both as a student and an athlete. Exercising his remaining eligibility, he was named captain of the basketball team and was honored as player of the year in his conference. He let sports consume him, rid him of his tortured thoughts. Slowly, over the course of two years, he regained high hopes: when his season ended in February 2004, he was extended an offer to play overseas. Things were picking up. His life was steering back on course. 

***

“We’re having a baby.”

The news, delivered from the lips of a new lover, came just days after he’d graduated, each word searing his chest like a hot iron. He’d always imaged his fatherhood in far-off vignettes: encouraging a first step, a first word, tossing a football in a park. And he’d told himself that he’d never leave his child -- he’d always be there. But when his daughter was born in April 2004 -- two-and-a-half months premature and weighing just one pound -- he wasn’t ready.

A fleeting moment of joy was followed by an immense wave of terror, stress, and frustration. Negative mantras tortured him: I can’t do this; I’m not a father; I’ll never achieve my dreams. He declined the overseas offer and made an effort to invest himself in his child, but with years of bottled-up emotions, and now the immense obligation to care for another life, he entered a “downward spiral.”

He felt guilt -- guilt for his daughter’s early birth, guilt for the constant arguments and uneasiness in his relationship, guilt for the way he felt, for his unpreparedness. A recent graduate, he had no job and no health insurance. The couple hadn’t expected a premature birth, and Kevin had banked on more time to find work and “get effects in order.” When the hospital bill came in the mail -- $250,000 for 8 weeks of incubation -- it devastated him.

He retreated.

Sixty miles away, he holed up with a friend and gradually shut off from the world. Ties with his mother disintegrated. Friends and family were shut out. His cell phone service was discontinued. When he eventually returned to Oakland, he was disoriented and disconnected -- “beyond repair,” he says. He spent months trying to “mend” himself, but he was in a dark tunnel that kept getting longer with no sign of light.

On the morning of March 11, 2005, Kevin woke up with nothing left to give. Every issue in his life had converged, crushed him. I can’t fight anymore, he told himself. 

Today, I leave the world.

This is it.

***

On the bridge, the wind comes in five-second gusts, each howling through steel beams like an injured timberwolf. It’s cold, damp, overcast. Tourists, eager to capture the fog-shrouded city, clog the walkways.

Spanning just under two miles from San Francisco to Marin County, the Golden Gate is a grand, towering structure.  On the day it opened to public use in 1937, The Chronicle declared it a “thirty-five million dollar steel harp;” it’s since been deemed “the most beautiful, most photographed structure in the world,” and is a heralded as a marvel of engineering. But the bridge has a dark side not mentioned on its website: it is, by far, the most popular suicide destination in the United States -- and the second most popular in the entire world, trailing only China’s Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge.

Estimates of the number of Golden Gate Bridge suicides widely vary -- mainly because many victims’ bodies drift out to sea and are never recovered -- but in 77 years, over 1,600 have been confirmed. Until 1995, an “official tally” was kept by the media, but as publicity mounted for the 1,000th jump (one local radio host even offered a case of Snapple to the “lucky” victim’s family), the count was disbanded. 

Still, is it well-documented that between 20 and 40 people jump from the bridge every year.

A visualization of suicide locations on the bridge (1937-2005); Kevin was found just south of the Marin tower.

When a person leaps from the platform (220 to 245 feet high, depending on tides), he tumbles through the air for four seconds, before hitting the water at 75-80 miles-per-hour. Roughly 95% of jumpers die from impact trauma -- crushed organs, shattered bones, snapped necks; most of those who don’t find themselves paralyzed and quickly drown, or succumb to hypothermia in the frigid waters.

Incredibly, 34 people have survived the jump, most by way of a fortuitous gust of wind, or a perfect entry (feet-first, at a slight angle). In post-trauma psychological assessments, nearly every survivor relates that the split-second he let go, he immediately wished he hadn’t.

As Kevin Berethia hauled himself over the rail just beyond the Marin tower, he knew none of this. He hadn’t, like hundreds of jumpers before him, driven cross-country to get there, or researched various exit strategies in suicide forums. While his decision was the result of years of self-hatred, isolation, and hopelessness, his method was impulsive. But as he let his fingers slip off the beam, he had no regrets.

***

“What’s your plan for tomorrow?”

The voice was gruff -- that of someone self-assured, someone who’d been there many times before. But the words, bellowed over deafening winds and rumbling semi-trucks, housed a kindness. 

It stopped Kevin, snapped him “back into reality.” He hadn’t eaten for five days, hadn’t slept in a week, and struggled to find the energy to swivel around and clasp the rail. The bar was freezing -- too cold to hold -- so he let his head fall between the bars, and dangled there lifelessly with nothing but a stiff wind holding his 130-pound frame upright. For a moment, there was silence: The voice did not bark instructions, or make false claims -- it waited for a response. It was there to listen.

And then, like an old toy slowly reanimating itself, Kevin began to talk.

“Everything that had always bothered me in life -- from the adoption, to the divorce, to my failures as a father -- everything that I never took the time to deal with was out there. The pain, the sorrow, the neglect. These things were now in front of me; I spoke them into existence.”

“For the first time in my life, I was really speaking,” he adds. “That man stole my heart hardly saying a word.”

He made himself vulnerable, gave himself up -- all the while, not once looking up to see where the voice was coming from. It didn’t matter. Kevin stood on the precipice of death for 92 minutes; for all but three of them, he spoke. It was a one-way conversation -- one that vastly differed from his traumatic experiences with therapists in the past: There was no ‘you shouldn’t feel like this,’ no ‘you need to get over it,’ no judgement. Just listening.

An hour and a half in, the conversation shifted. “You need to be here tomorrow,” said the voice, now closer. “You need to be here for your daughter.” All of Kevin’s negative energy -- the pain, the suffering, the brooding thoughts -- dissipated. “I had a newfound courage,” he recalls, “and felt empowered knowing what it was that bothered me.”

From here, Kevin’s memory goes hazy. He knows that he reached up with quivering arms and was hoisted up and over the rail. He remembers the flash of white lights, the roar of the helicopter overhead, the thickets of reporters and rubberneckers. He can still feel the hard plastic of the police car seat.

Somewhere en route to the unknown, he blacked out.

***

“You’re not leaving until you make progress -- that’s the rule, you know.”

It was a new voice now, much less comforting, that jarred Kevin into consciousness. He was alone in a white room at Fremont Medical Center. All was still, quiet, calm. For seven days, he he’d remain here, recovering.

At first, he was “in denial of what had happened” and refused to talk or eat; wellness coaches came and went -- each attempting to “reform” his depression without taking the time to understand where he came from:

“I didn’t even know what depression was. Where I grew up, we didn’t deal with depression, we didn’t know what depression or mental issues were. These things were never talked about, so it was hard for me to identify that this was my issue.”

After a week, he feigned his emotions, faked his way through therapy, and was released to the outside world.

It was here he saw the picture -- a blaring, half-page shot on the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle -- of himself, on the bridge. “It hurt me so bad to see myself in that white t-shirt up there,” he recalls. “I told myself: ‘I never want to see that picture. I never want to talk about it’... I just wanted to do everything I could to get over it.”

Throughout his experience on the bridge, Kevin had dislocated himself from reality; the image, in its starkness, made it factual. From then on, he did everything in his power to avoid talking about that day. Just like before, he retreated -- and this time it was even worse: He’d endured something tragic and had to return to normal life, as if nothing had ever happened.

With his girlfriend and daughter in tow, he moved to Sacramento and tried to start a new life. He landed a job in construction  and poured his “heart and soul” into the work: In three years’ time he’d ascended “from the bottom, as a will call guy,” to a warehouse supervisor running his own store; the work eventually found him relocated in San Jose -- just an hour’s drive from the bridge.

Despite his professional success, it was a period of extreme lows and dark times. After pouring his heart out to that stranger that one day in March, he slunk back into emotional reclusiveness. He refused to talk, focused on distractions, and dipped in and out of depression medication.

“It was like the weight of world was on my shoulders,” he recalls. “I couldn’t breathe. I was so overwhelmed. I created this intense self-hatred -- I hated myself.”

For eight years, he struggled to stay afloat.

***

After the incident, Kevin’s mother had sent a letter to the man who saved her son. “Nothing will erase the events of march 11,” she wrote, “but you are one of the reasons he is still with us; I truly believe he was crying out for help.”

Eight years later, when the man was invited to speak at an event for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, he invited her to share Kevin’s story. When she told her son the news, he refused to let her go alone: she’d just had a stroke, and it wouldn’t be safe to travel without company. Reluctantly, Kevin boarded the plane with his mother and set off for New York.

As the emcee spoke, Kevin waited anxiously backstage. In mere minutes, he’d walk across the platform and meet the man who saved his life -- the man behind the voice.

***

Retired Sergeant Kevin Briggs has a set of eyes that seem to smile out of their own volition. At once youthful and weary, they’ve witnessed the full gamut of human emotion -- from utter despondency to pure elation. He has the stoic, time-worn demeanor of a man who’s dealt with immense pain. His looks do not deceive.

Fresh out of high school, at 18 years old, Briggs joined the US Army -- “the manly thing to do.” After three years of service, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer; he returned, endured chemotherapy, and beat the disease.

Determined to prove his worth, he became a guard for the California Department of Corrections, where he was assigned to San Quentin and Soledad, two of the state’s most notorious prisons. While there, a friend of his applied to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), and beckoned him to give it a shot too. Despite thinking that he lacked the intellect -- “those guys are smarter than me!” he thought -- he went through training and was signed soon signed on. For four years, he patrolled Hayward, an hour East of San Francisco; in 1994, he was transferred to Marin, which put the Golden Gate Bridge in his district.

He vaguely remembers his first suicide call: Middle aged woman, early 30s, perched precariously over the rail, crying. Years before, he’d gone through officer safety training, but nothing had remotely prepared him for this. “I was terrified,” he admits. “I didn’t know what the hell to do.” In the 1990s, suicides weren’t talked about in the police force -- they weren’t something officers focused on. Briggs had to improvise, and he was successful; his patience, flexibility, and attentiveness coaxed her back over.

Sergeant Kevin Briggs, “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge” (Pivotal Points)

From then on, he was regularly called to the bridge to talk people down. He voraciously researched the psychology of suicidal people, trained in active listening skills, and eventually even had the opportunity to go through the FBI’s Crisis Intervention Training Program -- something “very, very few patrolmen get to do.” Over a 23-year career, he became known as  the “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge,” saving some 200 lives --sometimes, as many as two per month. Only two jumped after he interceded.

Often, conversations lasted late into the night -- one went 7 hours before the man climbed back to safety. They always hinged around one skill: listening. 

“I’m an introvert,” he cedes, “so its always been easier to listen than to talk.”

The day he received the call about Kevin in 2005 was no exception. “[Kevin] was very skittish,” he recalls. “My job was to build up trust with him very quickly. In that moment, I wasn’t an authority figure, I wasn’t a highway patrol officer to a civilian. It was just one joe to another.”

“Sometimes,” he adds, “it’s just easier to talk to damn near a stranger.”

As it turned out, the two strangers had much in common.

Like Kevin Berthia, Kevin Briggs never met his grandfather. “He committed suicide,” he says. “That act robbed me from ever getting to know him...I wonder, what he was like?”

Like Kevin Berthia, Kevin Briggs didn’t feel he could openly discuss his emotions, so he bottled them up. “Army, corrections, CHP -- these were all heavy-end macho jobs,” he says. “Basically you’re not allowed to bring up personal feelings, or talk about yourself if you’re going through a hard time. It’s seen as a weakness.” It’s a mentality that taxes officers heavily: In the police force, suicide death rates double line of duty deaths.

And like Kevin Berthia, Kevin Briggs is no stranger to emotional turmoil. “I understand pain,” says Briggs, with a slightly defensive inflection. “I’ve been through cancer, I have three stints in my heart from heart attacks, went through a heavy duty divorce, had a pretty significant motorcycle crash that resulted in traumatic brain injury -- all these things can lead to a mental illness, and they did.”

Kevin Berthia speaking in New York; via AFSP

Kevin Berthia emerges from behind the curtain to thunderous applause, and walks toward Briggs. He’s emotional and, for the first time in eight years, has no qualms about it: the tears come.

He’s face-to-face with the man now, shaking his hand, exchanging smiles. Briggs’ voice -- the voice that brought Kevin, and many others back -- is calming and assured. When Kevin hears it, it heals him, brings him acceptance and closure.

Behind Kevin, on a huge jumbo screen, the photo from the bridge looms. He turns around, faces it -- the white t-shirt, the basketball shorts, the Nikes -- and before the crowd of 200 survivors, researchers, and heroes, he accepts it. It is no longer a symbol of his weakness, but an emblem of his strength: I dealt with this. I beat this. I’m still here.

***

“I never thought that the worst day of my life could move people and change people like that,” Kevin tells us, over the phone. “I just started living mentally well last year -- it’s like I’m free.”

Today, he is a proud homeowner in Manteca, a small city in Central Valley, California, 76 miles east of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. He’s fathered two more children since the day on the bridge, both sons -- neither of whom would be here today if he's jumped that day. He's steeped in parenthood, eager to raise watch them grow.

He’s also since found gratifying work as a suicide prevention advocate. “I spend all my time learning about mental illnesses, sharing stories, helping people,” he says, with genuine pride. “For the first time in my life, I found something bigger than sports. This is my purpose.” 

Sergeant Briggs, who Kevin is "good friends" with today, has also found new purpose: since retiring last year, he’s launched Pivotal Points, an organization that strives to “promote mental illness awareness, and show folks how much we can get done just by acknowledging each other.” His storied career has made him a ubiquitous figure in the press this year -- TED talks, lectures, magazine shoots -- but he continues to stress that he’s no hero. “When people come back over, I didn’t do it -- they did it,” he insists. “It’s much harder to come back over that rail and continue on knowing that you may not improve. All I do is try to give you that chance.”

Most importantly, the macho-man has learned, like Kevin, that breaking down emotional barriers requires a special strength.

“There was a time I thought the bigger you were as a person, the more respect you would get,” cedes Briggs. “Now I know it’s not the size of you that really gets the respect -- it’s what comes out of your mouth, and how you think. It’s just being there for someone for some time, to know someone is there...”

He pauses. For a moment, the phone static is the only sign he’s still there. We’re both silent.

“It’s listening.”

This post was written by Zachary Crockett; you can follow him on Twitter here.

To get occasional notifications when we write blog posts, please sign up for our email list. Cover photo © John Storey, licensed via Corbis.

21 Oct 09:00

E se o Piauí ficasse na China?

FABIANO MAISONNAVE, EM GUARIBAS (PI)

Ambos países emergentes, Brasil e China vêm adotando, nas últimas décadas, caminhos opostos para o desenvolvimento. Aqui, a prioridade é criar um Estado de bem-estar social. Lá, os asiáticos focam em infraestrutura e em inovação.

Na China, um país nominalmente comunista, não existe atendimento médico gratuito _mesmo em hospitais públicos, paga-se até por um band-aid. “Eles têm um programa de astronautas, o Brasil tem o SUS”, resume Marco Antonio Raupp, então presidente da AEB (Agência Espacial Brasileira), em entrevista concedida a este repórter em Pequim, em 2011.

A comparação de Raupp, que logo depois se tornaria ministro da Ciência (deixou o cargo em março), ilustra bem a diferença entre os dois modelos. No Brasil pós-Constituição de 1988, o Estado de bem-estar social é prioritário, e o crescimento econômico financia a ampliação contínua desses benefícios.

Na China, é o contrário: a rede de proteção _incluindo aí a aposentadoria_ só deve ser criada após certo grau de desenvolvimento econômico. Para ficar ainda mais claro: o que é o ponto de partida está mais para o ponto de chegada lá.

O Orçamento dos dois países torna essa diferença eloquente. No Brasil, os gastos públicos com saúde e com proteção social chegaram respectivamente a 5,79% e a 15% do PIB. Na China, os percentuais para as mesmas rubricas são 1,27% e 5,56%, segundo o Relatório da Proteção Social Mundial 2014/2014, da Organização Internacional do Trabalho, com dados de 2010.

A enorme diferença entre os dois modelos me voltou à cabeça alguns dias atrás, quando conheci Guaribas (648 km de Teresina), no semiárido do Piauí. A pequena e pobre cidade ganhou fama nacional em 2003, no início do governo Lula, por ter sido a primeira a abrigar o programa Fome Zero, logo transformado em Bolsa Família.

Guaribas

Onze anos depois, a cidade está muito melhor do que era, segundo os moradores. A grande maioria é beneficiada pelo Bolsa Família, que paga, em média, R$ 224 por família. Trata-se de uma ajuda vital em uma cidade em que os empregos praticamente se limitam aos da prefeitura e onde a principal atividade, a agricultura, enfrenta quatro anos seguidos de seca.

Nos últimos anos, a cidade de cerca de 6.000 habitantes recebeu ainda outras benfeitorias. Os moradores do centro, que em 2003 tinham de subir uma serra para matar a sede em uma pequena nascente, hoje contam com abastecimento em suas casas. Há unidades do Minha Casa, Minha Vida em construção, e a cidade conta com uma médica cubana do Mais Médicos.

Por outro lado, a cidade ainda espera a obra mais importante para se viabilizar economicamente: o asfaltamento de 54 km de uma estrada precária, obra prometida há 11 anos, em 2003, quando do lançamento do Fome Zero. As obras teriam começado neste ano, mas não tem data para terminar.

Além da rodovia, também seriam necessárias outras obras: um acesso ao distrito de Cajueiro, distante 30 km do centro. Ali, vivem cerca de 1.500 pessoas sem água encanada. Boa parte delas passa o dia em viagens até a fonte, distante até 4 km das casas mais distantes.

Guaribas, no Piauí - Foto de Danilo Verpa/Folhapress

Guaribas, no Piauí – Foto de Danilo Verpa/Folhapress

O isolamento e as quatros safras seguidas prejudicadas pela seca fazem com que o Bolsa Família continue sendo a principal fonte de renda de Guaribas. Quase todas as famílias estão inscritas no programa, já recebendo ou ainda à espera do benefício.

A China, onde fui correspondente por três anos, também tem o seu “Nordeste” no desértico meio-oeste do país. Um dos “Estados é a Região Autônoma de Ningxia, que visitei em 2012.

A primeira impressão é de surpresa com a quantidade de obras em construção ou recém-inauguradas: aeroporto, ferrovias, um enorme centro de convenções estradas e transporte público urbano. Quase todos estavam visivelmente subutilizados, à espera de um desenvolvimento que não se concretizou plenamente.

O esforço de investimento vem dando seus primeiros frutos, notadamente as centenas de empresas privadas voltadas à produção de alimentos halal, produzidos de acordo com o rito muçulmano.

Mas Ningxia tem problemas, principalmente o da desertificação. Anos de uso inadequado de recursos hídricos resultaram na expulsão de dezenas de milhares de agricultores, que agora tentam a sorte em centros urbanos, a maioria subempregados. Se, ainda por cima, não conseguiram o hukou (sistema de registro de moradia) na cidade onde vivem, seus filhos não têm direito sequer à escola pública.

No geral, a vida em Piauí e em Ningxia melhorou nas últimas décadas. Com estratégias diferentes, China e Brasil se orgulham de ter alavancado milhões de seus habitantes da pobreza extrema, embora se envergonhem da enorme desigualdade social.

À primeira vista, a China leva vantagem: neste ano, crescerá 7,4% do PIB, enquanto o Brasil amargará um incremento de 0,3%, segundo projeções recentes do FMI.  Mas não se trata de um simples gráfico. Variáveis como meio ambiente, matriz energética e regime político certamente terão influência para completar o salto da renda média para a alta, proeza que pouquíssimos países conseguem.

Se a vida será melhor no interior do Piauí ou no coração da China em 2030, só o tempo dirá.

Siga o blog Brasil no Twitter (@Folha_Brasil) e no Facebook (www.facebook.com/BlogBrasil)

 

05 Aug 20:09

Photo







26 Sep 07:39

Amazing Showers

by Radhika Seth

The Calientamigos is quite a clever showering system that uses minimum input and delivers maximum output. Allow me to explain, not all can afford the luxury of a warm bath. In essence they don’t have hot running water to heat and pressurize water for bathing, cooking and cleaning. To solve this problem we have here the three modular components: Bomba, a safe, portable electric water heater that heats 5 gallons of water to 110 degrees F in 15 minutes. Corazon, a simple to use foot pump that pressurizes the warm water; and Gota, a multi-purpose faucet head.

The whole system is capable of easily providing a good shower for 2 adults or 3 children.

Designers: Tianyi Sun, Della Tosin and Kevin Chang

-
Yanko Design
Timeless Designs - Explore wonderful concepts from around the world!
Shop CKIE - We are more than just concepts. See what's hot at the CKIE store by Yanko Design!
(Amazing Showers was originally posted on Yanko Design)

Related posts:

  1. Two Showers In One
  2. Landscaped Showers
  3. Interactive Public Showers







19 Oct 16:39

[dappagent]

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Isto me lembra que:

Eu instalei Pou, um desses joguinhos de cuidar de bichinho virtual, no meu celular porque meu filho adora. Agora temos um tablet em casa e já posso remover o joguinho do celular...

...mas não consigo :,(

21 Oct 12:13

Creepy Ad Watch

by Andrew Sullivan

The above ad for BLAH Airlines – Virgin America’s parody of airline travel – is just a glimpse into the nearly 6-hour commercial tracing a flight from Newark to San Francisco. Jessica Plautz calls the full film “more than boring – it’s nearly Dalí-style surrealism”:

It starts out boring, as you would expect on any flight with nothing but the safety manual to entertain you. Shots go back and forth between the back of the seat and our protagonist, a gaping dummy with a bowl cut. A fasten-your-seatbelts announcement 12 minutes in is so familiar it’s uncanny. At 3 hours and 19 minutes, a dummy appears outside the window, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet style. And then it gets even more Twilight Zone. There are weird small talk conversations throughout that must have been a treat to write and produce.

Full video after the jump:


19 Oct 20:30

Falsário inventa vaga de vereador e consegue tomar posse em cidade do Paraná

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Como isso foi sequer possível?!

Andreza Matais - O Estado de S. Paulo

BRASÍLIA – Sem os votos necessários para tomar posse como vereador, um candidato da cidade de Itaperuçu, na região metropolitana de Curitiba, arrumou uma forma ilegal para assumir a vaga. Ele falsificou documentos que levaram a Justiça, o Ministério Público e a Câmara de Vereadores a empossá-lo em fevereiro do ano passado como vereador do município. A fraude só foi descoberta um ano e oito meses depois, o que levou a prisão, na quarta-feira passada, de José Augusto Liberato (PDT).

Zé Augusto, como é conhecido, disputou as eleições municipais de 2012, mas obteve somente 391 votos, o suficiente para fazê-lo apenas primeiro suplente. Ele conseguiu ser empossado vereador sem ter vencido a disputa após apresentar à Justiça Eleitoral cópia da edição de um jornal local que traria uma decisão da Câmara de Vereadores de aumentar o número de cadeiras de nove para 11 vagas. Os vereadores, contudo, nunca aprovaram o aumento de cadeiras em mais duas vagas, tampouco o jornal publicou a decisão. 

Falsário inventa vaga de vereador e consegue tomar posse em cidade do Paraná Liberato fraudou informação que Câmara teria aumentado vagas para vereadores na cidade de Itaperuçu Divulgação

Conforme investigadores, o vereador imprimiu em papel jornal a suposta determinação da Câmara de aumento de vagas e montou uma edição falsa do periódico, obtendo uma decisão judicial favorável. A Polícia Federal considerou a fraude uma “exótica falsificação”.

Além de Liberato mais um vereador foi empossado graças à fraude. Esse outro vereador, entretanto, não participou do esquema, segundo a PF.

A própria Câmara dos Vereadores denunciou o caso à PF um ano e oito meses depois de ter dado posse a Zé Augusto. Até então, a direção do Legislativo local entendia que Liberato tornara-se um colega por decisão judicial.

Mandato.
Uma perícia nos documentos comprovou a fraude nos papéis e levou a PF a prender o “vereador” em sua casa. Ele, contudo, continua com mandato até que sua posse seja anulada. A Justiça deve decidir agora sobre a validade dos projetos aprovados pelo falso parlamentar.

Ao ser preso, Liberato alegou que não havia falsificado o documento que o levou a tomar posse na Câmara. Na casa dele foram recolhidos diversos documentos para análise, que, juntamente com o preso, foram trazidos para a Superintendência da Polícia Federal em Curitiba. O Estado não conseguiu contato com o advogado de Liberato.

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20 Oct 19:00

A Smashed Pumpkin Festival

by Andrew Sullivan
Adam Victor Brandizzi

Keene Pumpkin Festival, o Caldas Country Fest deles.

Police say 14 were arrested following chaotic riots in Keene, N.H. last night: http://t.co/lPro6OwIHi pic.twitter.com/cUNvPEaSaW

— Chris Caesar (@ChrisCaesar) October 19, 2014

How many of the defiant white youth causing mayhem & destruction come from fatherless families? #PumpkinRiot

— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) October 19, 2014

“Why are they tearing up their own community?” #keenepumpkinfest

— Black Girl in Maine (@blackgirlinmain) October 19, 2014

Caroline Bankoff recaps one of the stranger stories from this weekend:

Keene, New Hampshire’s annual Pumpkin Festival – which features a community-wide effort to “set a world record of the largest number of carved and lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place,” according to CBS Boston – saw at least 14 arrests and dozens of injuries this weekend as hordes of Keene State College students and their guests took to the small town’s streets for no apparent reason other than to cause trouble. The Boston Globe reports that hundreds of people were seen “throwing bottles, uprooting street signs, and setting things on fire,” as well as overturning cars and dumpsters. Cops outfitted in SWAT gear responded with “tear gas, tasers, and pepper spray.” The Keene Police Department claims that one group of rioters “threatened to beat up an elderly man” while others threatened the lives of the cops, who had to call for backup from nearby towns.

Will Bunch raises his eyebrows:

[I]f you have a few minutes, read the news accounts of what happened in New Hampshire – the youths who set fires and threw rocks or pumpkins were described as “rowdy” or “boisterous” or participants in “unrest.” Do you remember such genteel language to describe the protesters in [Ferguson] Missouri? Me neither. …

[A]t this point there have been so many “white riots” in the last couple of years – Huntington Beach, Santa Barbara, Penn State (more than once), and just this week, Morgantown, and now, most epic-ally of all-time, the great Pumpkin Festival riots of Keene, N.H. It’s gotten to the point where all of the obvious jokes, about how the white community needs to have a serious conversation about getting our own house in order, or asking where are the (white) fathers, have been made again and again and again.

Ferguson is also on Yesha Callahan’s mind:

While black people are protesting the senseless deaths of unarmed black men, white thugs are ravaging the streets because of pumpkins and football.

Freddie slams some of the snarkier coverage of the riots:

First: police violence and aggression is wrong no matter who it targets. Crazy!

Second: police violence and aggression against people we assume have social capital is a signal that those who we know don’t have social capital will get it far worse. If these cops feel that they have this much license to go wild against that white, largely-affluent crew, what do you think they’ll do when they pull over some working class black guy in a run-down car? Treating this as a barrel of laughs throws away a profound opportunity to include these types of people in a very necessary social movement against police violence, which poor people of color desperately need.

But, as Jamilah Lemieux argues, the riots “don’t even lend themselves to the conversation about overpolicing because the riot police showed up as they were actually rioting.” She adds:

For all the hashtags and the jokes, we won’t see a media assault on the youth who ruined the festival for acting in ways that were not merely inappropriate, illegal and potentially deadly, but bizarre and wrought with the stench of unchecked privilege. These causeless rebels won’t be derided as thugs, nor will people wonder why they don’t just ‘go get a job,’ (something that I heard no less than three times while attending protests in St. Louis, and have seen over and over again from Twitter trolls responding to the Missouri unrest.) Unlike the young people who have mobilized in Ferguson for an actual cause, there will likely be few serious ramifications for those who participated in making Keene, New Hampshire the laughingstock of the country, while putting themselves and others at serious risk for injury or death at a pumpkin festival.

Update from a reader:

Has anyone noted yet that John Oliver, in his recent piece on the over-militarization of local police forces vis-a-vis Ferguson, mentioned with incredulity that that Keene, NH had named their annual Pumpkin Festival as a possible target for terrorism to justify their need for military gear? About 7:30 in …


20 Oct 20:00

slimiest: a CEO walks into his office “any messages?” he asks his assistant “two anons want to know...

slimiest:

a CEO walks into his office “any messages?” he asks his assistant
“two anons want to know who tom petty is and one just says ‘post your ballsack’”
“got it. check my dashboard”
“that skeleton gif you like is back again”
he rubs his chin pensively “mm. reblog that”

01 Oct 01:45

I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup

[Content warning: Politics, religion, social justice, spoilers for "The Secret of Father Brown". This isn't especially original to me and I don't claim anything more than to be explaining and rewording things I have heard from a bunch of other people. Unapologetically America-centric because I'm not informed enough to make it otherwise. Try to keep this off Reddit and other similar sorts of things.]

I.

In Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, a beloved nobleman who murdered his good-for-nothing brother in a duel thirty years ago returns to his hometown wracked by guilt. All the townspeople want to forgive him immediately, and they mock the titular priest for only being willing to give a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection. They lecture the priest on the virtues of charity and compassion.

Later, it comes out that the beloved nobleman did not in fact kill his good-for-nothing brother. The good-for-nothing brother killed the beloved nobleman (and stole his identity). Now the townspeople want to see him lynched or burned alive, and it is only the priest who – consistently – offers a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection.

The priest tells them:

It seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. You forgive a conventional duel just as you forgive a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.

He further notes that this is why the townspeople can self-righteously consider themselves more compassionate and forgiving than he is. Actual forgiveness, the kind the priest needs to cultivate to forgive evildoers, is really really hard. The fake forgiveness the townspeople use to forgive the people they like is really easy, so they get to boast not only of their forgiving nature, but of how much nicer they are than those mean old priests who find forgiveness difficult and want penance along with it.

After some thought I agree with Chesterton’s point. There are a lot of people who say “I forgive you” when they mean “No harm done”, and a lot of people who say “That was unforgiveable” when they mean “That was genuinely really bad”. Whether or not forgiveness is right is a complicated topic I do not want to get in here. But since forgiveness is generally considered a virtue, and one that many want credit for having, I think it’s fair to say you only earn the right to call yourself ‘forgiving’ if you forgive things that genuinely hurt you.

To borrow Chesterton’s example, if you think divorce is a-ok, then you don’t get to “forgive” people their divorces, you merely ignore them. Someone who thinks divorce is abhorrent can “forgive” divorce. You can forgive theft, or murder, or tax evasion, or something you find abhorrent.

I mean, from a utilitarian point of view, you are still doing the correct action of not giving people grief because they’re a divorcee. You can have all the Utility Points you want. All I’m saying is that if you “forgive” something you don’t care about, you don’t earn any Virtue Points.

(by way of illustration: a billionaire who gives $100 to charity gets as many Utility Points as an impoverished pensioner who donates the same amount, but the latter gets a lot more Virtue Points)

Tolerance is definitely considered a virtue, but it suffers the same sort of dimished expectations forgiveness does.

The Emperor summons before him Bodhidharma and asks: “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Tolerance Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”

Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”.

The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why not.

Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?”

The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!”

And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!”

II.

If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.

And today we have an almost unprecedented situation.

We have a lot of people – like the Emperor – boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.

And we have those same people absolutely ripping into their in-groups – straight, white, male, hetero, cis, American, whatever – talking day in and day out to anyone who will listen about how terrible their in-group is, how it is responsible for all evils, how something needs to be done about it, how they’re ashamed to be associated with it at all.

This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuous love their outgroups, the outer the better, and gain status by talking about how terrible their own groups are.

What is going on here?

III.

Let’s start by asking what exactly an outgroup is.

There’s a very boring sense in which, assuming the Emperor’s straight, gays are part of his “outgroup” ie a group that he is not a member of. But if the Emperor has curly hair, are straight-haired people part of his outgroup? If the Emperor’s name starts with the letter ‘A’, are people whose names start with the letter ‘B’ part of his outgroup?

Nah. I would differentiate between multiple different meanings of outgroup, where one is “a group you are not a part of” and the other is…something stronger.

I want to avoid a very easy trap, which is saying that outgroups are about how different you are, or how hostile you are. I don’t think that’s quite right.

Compare the Nazis to the German Jews and to the Japanese. The Nazis were very similar to the German Jews: they looked the same, spoke the same language, came from a similar culture. The Nazis were totally different from the Japanese: different race, different language, vast cultural gap. But although one could imagine certain situations in which the Nazis treated the Japanese as an outgroup, in practice they got along pretty well. Heck, the Nazis were actually moderately friendly with the Chinese, even when they were technically at war. Meanwhile, the conflict between the Nazis and the German Jews – some of whom didn’t even realize they were anything other than German until they checked their grandparents’ birth certificate – is the stuff of history and nightmares. Any theory of outgroupishness that naively assumes the Nazis’ natural outgroup is Japanese or Chinese people will be totally inadequate.

And this isn’t a weird exception. Freud spoke of the narcissism of small differences, saying that “it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other”. Nazis and German Jews. Northern Irish Protestants and Northern Irish Catholics. Hutus and Tutsis. South African whites and South African blacks. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Anyone in the former Yugoslavia and anyone else in the former Yugoslavia.

So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.

What makes an unexpected in-group? The answer with Germans and Japanese is obvious – a strategic alliance. In fact, the World Wars forged a lot of unexpected temporary pseudo-friendships. A recent article from War Nerd points out that the British, after spending centuries subjugating and despising the Irish and Sikhs, suddenly needed Irish and Sikh soldiers for World Wars I and II respectively. “Crush them beneath our boots” quickly changed to fawning songs about how “there never was a coward where the shamrock grows” and endless paeans to Sikh military prowess.

Sure, scratch the paeans even a little bit and you find condescension as strong as ever. But eight hundred years of the British committing genocide against the Irish and considering them literally subhuman turned into smiles and songs about shamrocks once the Irish started looking like useful cannon fodder for a larger fight. And the Sikhs, dark-skinned people with turbans and beards who pretty much exemplify the European stereotype of “scary foreigner”, were lauded by everyone from the news media all the way up to Winston Churchill.

In other words, outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment’s notice when it seems convenient.

IV.

There are certain theories of dark matter where it barely interacts with the regular world at all, such that we could have a dark matter planet exactly co-incident with Earth and never know. Maybe dark matter people are walking all around us and through us, maybe my house is in the Times Square of a great dark matter city, maybe a few meters away from me a dark matter blogger is writing on his dark matter computer about how weird it would be if there was a light matter person he couldn’t see right next to him.

This is sort of how I feel about conservatives.

I don’t mean the sort of light-matter conservatives who go around complaining about Big Government and occasionally voting for Romney. I see those guys all the time. What I mean is – well, take creationists. According to Gallup polls, about 46% of Americans are creationists. Not just in the sense of believing God helped guide evolution. I mean they think evolution is a vile atheist lie and God created humans exactly as they exist right now. That’s half the country.

And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle. It’s not because I’m deliberately avoiding them; I’m pretty live-and-let-live politically, I wouldn’t ostracize someone just for some weird beliefs. And yet, even though I probably know about a hundred fifty people, I am pretty confident that not one of them is creationist. Odds of this happening by chance? 1/2^150 = 1/10^45 = approximately the chance of picking a particular atom if you are randomly selecting among all the atoms on Earth.

About forty percent of Americans want to ban gay marriage. I think if I really stretch it, maybe ten of my top hundred fifty friends might fall into this group. This is less astronomically unlikely; the odds are a mere one to one hundred quintillion against.

People like to talk about social bubbles, but that doesn’t even begin to cover one hundred quintillion. The only metaphor that seems really appropriate is the bizarre dark matter world.

I live in a Republican congressional district in a state with a Republican governor. The conservatives are definitely out there. They drive on the same roads as I do, live in the same neighborhoods. But they might as well be made of dark matter. I never meet them.

To be fair, I spend a lot of my time inside on my computer. I’m browsing sites like Reddit.

Recently, there was a thread on Reddit asking – Redditors Against Gay Marriage, What Is Your Best Supporting Argument? A Reddit user who didn’t understand how anybody could be against gay marriage honestly wanted to know how other people who were against it justified their position. He figured he might as well ask one of the largest sites on the Internet, with an estimated user base in the tens of millions.

It soon became clear that nobody there was actually against gay marriage.

There were a bunch of posts saying “I of course support gay marriage but here are some reasons some other people might be against it,” a bunch of others saying “my argument against gay marriage is the government shouldn’t be involved in the marriage business at all”, and several more saying “why would you even ask this question, there’s no possible good argument and you’re wasting your time”. About halfway through the thread someone started saying homosexuality was unnatural and I thought they were going to be the first one to actually answer the question, but at the end they added “But it’s not my place to decide what is or isn’t natural, I’m still pro-gay marriage.”

In a thread with 10,401 comments, a thread specifically asking for people against gay marriage, I was eventually able to find two people who came out and opposed it, way near the bottom. Their posts started with “I know I’m going to be downvoted to hell for this…”

But I’m not only on Reddit. I also hang out on LW.

On last year’s survey, I found that of American LWers who identify with one of the two major political parties, 80% are Democrat and 20% Republican, which actually sounds pretty balanced compared to some of these other examples.

But it doesn’t last. Pretty much all of those “Republicans” are libertarians who consider the GOP the lesser of two evils. When allowed to choose “libertarian” as an alternative, only 4% of visitors continued to identify as conservative. But that’s still…some. Right?

When I broke the numbers down further, 3 percentage points of those are neoreactionaries, a bizarre local sect that wants to be ruled by a king. Only one percent of LWers were normal everyday God-‘n-guns-but-not-George-III conservatives of the type that seem to make up about half of the United States.

It gets worse. My formative years were spent at a university which, if it was similar to other elite universities, had a faculty and a student body that skewed about 90-10 liberal to conservative – and we can bet that, like LW, even those few token conservatives are Mitt Romney types rather than God-n’-guns types. I get my news from vox.com, an Official Liberal Approved Site. Even when I go out to eat, it turns out my favorite restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, is the most liberal restaurant in the United States.

I inhabit the same geographical area as scores and scores of conservatives. But without meaning to, I have created an outrageously strong bubble, a 10^45 bubble. Conservatives are all around me, yet I am about as likely to have a serious encounter with one as I am a Tibetan lama.

(Less likely, actually. One time a Tibetan lama came to my college and gave a really nice presentation, but if a conservative tried that, people would protest and it would be canceled.)

V.

One day I realized that entirely by accident I was fulfilling all the Jewish stereotypes.

I’m nerdy, over-educated, good with words, good with money, weird sense of humor, don’t get outside much, I like deli sandwiches. And I’m a psychiatrist, which is about the most stereotypically Jewish profession short of maybe stand-up comedian or rabbi.

I’m not very religious. And I don’t go to synagogue. But that’s stereotypically Jewish too!

I bring this up because it would be a mistake to think “Well, a Jewish person is by definition someone who is born of a Jewish mother. Or I guess it sort of also means someone who follows the Mosaic Law and goes to synagogue. But I don’t care about Scott’s mother, and I know he doesn’t go to synagogue, so I can’t gain any useful information from knowing Scott is Jewish.”

The defining factors of Judaism – Torah-reading, synagogue-following, mother-having – are the tip of a giant iceberg. Jews sometimes identify as a “tribe”, and even if you don’t attend synagogue, you’re still a member of that tribe and people can still (in a statistical way) infer things about you by knowing your Jewish identity – like how likely they are to be psychiatrists.

The last section raised a question – if people rarely select their friends and associates and customers explicitly for politics, how do we end up with such intense political segregation?

Well, in the same way “going to synagogue” is merely the iceberg-tip of a Jewish tribe with many distinguishing characteristics, so “voting Republican” or “identifying as conservative” or “believing in creationism” is the iceberg-tip of a conservative tribe with many distinguishing characteristics.

A disproportionate number of my friends are Jewish, because I meet them at psychiatry conferences or something – we self-segregate not based on explicit religion but on implicit tribal characteristics. So in the same way, political tribes self-segregate to an impressive extent – a 1/10^45 extent, I will never tire of hammering in – based on their implicit tribal characteristics.

The people who are actually into this sort of thing sketch out a bunch of speculative tribes and subtribes, but to make it easier, let me stick with two and a half.

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

I think these “tribes” will turn out to be even stronger categories than politics. Harvard might skew 80-20 in terms of Democrats vs. Republicans, 90-10 in terms of liberals vs. conservatives, but maybe 99-1 in terms of Blues vs. Reds.

It’s the many, many differences between these tribes that explain the strength of the filter bubble – which have I mentioned segregates people at a strength of 1/10^45? Even in something as seemingly politically uncharged as going to California Pizza Kitchen or Sushi House for dinner, I’m restricting myself to the set of people who like cute artisanal pizzas or sophsticated foreign foods, which are classically Blue Tribe characteristics.

Are these tribes based on geography? Are they based on race, ethnic origin, religion, IQ, what TV channels you watched as a kid? I don’t know.

Some of it is certainly genetic – estimates of the genetic contribution to political association range from 0.4 to 0.6. Heritability of one’s attitudes toward gay rights range from 0.3 to 0.5, which hilariously is a little more heritable than homosexuality itself.

(for an interesting attempt to break these down into more rigorous concepts like “traditionalism”, “authoritarianism”, and “in-group favoritism” and find the genetic loading for each see here. For an attempt to trace the specific genes involved, which mostly turn out to be NMDA receptors, see here)

But I don’t think it’s just genetics. There’s something else going on too. The word “class” seems like the closest analogue, but only if you use it in the sophisticated Paul Fussell Guide Through the American Status System way instead of the boring “another word for how much money you make” way.

For now we can just accept them as a brute fact – as multiple coexisting societies that might as well be made of dark matter for all of the interaction they have with one another – and move on.

VI.

The worst reaction I’ve ever gotten to a blog post was when I wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden. I’ve written all sorts of stuff about race and gender and politics and whatever, but that was the worst.

I didn’t come out and say I was happy he was dead. But some people interpreted it that way, and there followed a bunch of comments and emails and Facebook messages about how could I possibly be happy about the death of another human being, even if he was a bad person? Everyone, even Osama, is a human being, and we should never rejoice in the death of a fellow man. One commenter came out and said:

I’m surprised at your reaction. As far as people I casually stalk on the internet (ie, LJ and Facebook), you are the first out of the “intelligent, reasoned and thoughtful” group to be uncomplicatedly happy about this development and not to be, say, disgusted at the reactions of the other 90% or so.

This commenter was right. Of the “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people I knew, the overwhelming emotion was conspicuous disgust that other people could be happy about his death. I hastily backtracked and said I wasn’t happy per se, just surprised and relieved that all of this was finally behind us.

And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.

Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”. Another popular response was to link the videos of British people spontaneously throwing parties in the street, with comments like “I wish I was there so I could join in”. From this exact same group of people, not a single expression of disgust or a “c’mon, guys, we’re all human beings here.”

I gently pointed this out at the time, and mostly got a bunch of “yeah, so what?”, combined with links to an article claiming that “the demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous”.

And that was when something clicked for me.

You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.

On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.

I started this essay by pointing out that, despite what geographical and cultural distance would suggest, the Nazis’ outgroup was not the vastly different Japanese, but the almost-identical German Jews.

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

VII.

“But racism and sexism and cissexism and anti-Semitism are these giant all-encompassing social factors that verge upon being human universals! Surely you’re not arguing that mere political differences could ever come close to them!”

One of the ways we know that racism is a giant all-encompassing social factor is the Implicit Association Test. Psychologists ask subjects to quickly identify whether words or photos are members of certain gerrymandered categories, like “either a white person’s face or a positive emotion” or “either a black person’s face and a negative emotion”. Then they compare to a different set of gerrymandered categories, like “either a black person’s face or a positive emotion” or “either a white person’s face or a negative emotion.” If subjects have more trouble (as measured in latency time) connecting white people to negative things than they do white people to positive things, then they probably have subconscious positive associations with white people. You can try it yourself here.

Of course, what the test famously found was that even white people who claimed to have no racist attitudes at all usually had positive associations with white people and negative associations with black people on the test. There are very many claims and counterclaims about the precise meaning of this, but it ended up being a big part of the evidence in favor of the current consensus that all white people are at least a little racist.

Anyway, three months ago, someone finally had the bright idea of doing an Implicit Association Test with political parties, and they found that people’s unconscious partisan biases were half again as strong as their unconscious racial biases (h/t Bloomberg. For example, if you are a white Democrat, your unconscious bias against blacks (as measured by something called a d-score) is 0.16, but your unconscious bias against Republicans will be 0.23. The Cohen’s d for racial bias was 0.61, by the book a “moderate” effect size; for party it was 0.95, a “large” effect size.

Okay, fine, but we know race has real world consequences. Like, there have been several studies where people sent out a bunch of identical resumes except sometimes with a black person’s photo and other times with a white person’s photo, and it was noticed that employers were much more likely to invite the fictional white candidates for interviews. So just some stupid Implicit Association Test results can’t compare to that, right?

Iyengar and Westwood also decided to do the resume test for parties. They asked subjects to decide which of several candidates should get a scholarship (subjects were told this was a genuine decision for the university the researchers were affiliated with). Some resumes had photos of black people, others of white people. And some students listed their experience in Young Democrats of America, others in Young Republicans of America.

Once again, discrimination on the basis of party was much stronger than discrimination on the basis of race. The size of the race effect for white people was only 56-44 (and in the reverse of the expected direction); the size of the party effect was about 80-20 for Democrats and 69-31 for Republicans.

If you want to see their third experiment, which applied yet another classic methodology used to detect racism and once again found partyism to be much stronger, you can read the paper.

I & W did an unusually thorough job, but this sort of thing isn’t new or ground-breaking. People have been studying “belief congruence theory” – the idea that differences in beliefs are more important than demographic factors in forming in-groups and outgroups – for decades. As early as 1967, Smith et al were doing surveys all over the country and finding that people were more likely to accept friendships across racial lines than across beliefs; in the forty years since then, the observation has been replicated scores of times. Insko, Moe, and Nacoste’s 2006 review Belief Congruence And Racial Discrimination concludes that:

. The literature was judged supportive of a weak version of belief congruence theory which states that in those contexts in which social pressure is nonexistent or ineffective, belief is more important than race as a determinant of racial or ethnic discrimination. Evidence for a strong version of belief congruence theory (which states that in those contexts in which social pressure is nonexistent, or ineffective, belief is the only determinant of racial or ethnic discrimination) and was judged much more problematic.

One of the best-known examples of racism is the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” scenario where parents are scandalized about their child marrying someone of a different race. Pew has done some good work on this and found that only 23% of conservatives and 1% (!) of liberals admit they would be upset in this situation. But Pew also asked how parents would feel about their child marrying someone of a different political party. Now 30% of conservatives and 23% of liberals would get upset. Average them out, and you go from 12% upsetness rate for race to 27% upsetness rate for party – more than double. Yeah, people do lie to pollsters, but a picture is starting to come together here.

(Harvard, by the way, is a tossup. There are more black students – 11.5% – than conservative students – 10% – but there are more conservative faculty than black faculty.)

Since people will delight in misinterpreting me here, let me overemphasize what I am not saying. I’m not saying people of either party have it “worse” than black people, or that partyism is more of a problem than racism, or any of a number of stupid things along those lines which I am sure I will nevertheless be accused of believing. Racism is worse than partyism because the two parties are at least kind of balanced in numbers and in resources, whereas the brunt of an entire country’s racism falls on a few underprivileged people. I am saying that the underlying attitudes that produce partyism are stronger than the underlying attitudes that produce racism, with no necessary implications on their social effects.

But if we want to look at people’s psychology and motivations, partyism and the particular variant of tribalism that it represents are going to be fertile ground.

VIII.

Every election cycle like clockwork, conservatives accuse liberals of not being sufficiently pro-America. And every election cycle like clockwork, liberals give extremely unconvincing denials of this.

“It’s not that we’re, like, against America per se. It’s just that…well, did you know Europe has much better health care than we do? And much lower crime rates? I mean, come on, how did they get so awesome? And we’re just sitting here, can’t even get the gay marriage thing sorted out, seriously, what’s wrong with a country that can’t…sorry, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, America. They’re okay. Cesar Chavez was really neat. So were some other people outside the mainstream who became famous precisely by criticizing majority society. That’s sort of like America being great, in that I think the parts of it that point out how bad the rest of it are often make excellent points. Vote for me!”

(sorry, I make fun of you because I love you)

There was a big brouhaha a couple of years ago when, as it first became apparent Obama had a good shot at the Presidency, Michelle Obama said that “for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.”

Republicans pounced on the comment, asking why she hadn’t felt proud before, and she backtracked saying of course she was proud all the time and she loves America with the burning fury of a million suns and she was just saying that the Obama campaign was particularly inspiring.

As unconvincing denials go, this one was pretty far up there. But no one really held it against her. Probably most Obama voters felt vaguely the same way. I was an Obama voter, and I have proud memories of spending my Fourth of Julys as a kid debunking people’s heartfelt emotions of patriotism. Aaron Sorkin:

[What makes America the greatest country in the world?] It’s not the greatest country in the world! We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, No. 4 in labor force, and No. 4 in exports. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the f*** you’re talking about.

(Another good retort is “We’re number one? Sure – number one in incarceration rates, drone strikes, and making new parents go back to work!”)

All of this is true, of course. But it’s weird that it’s such a classic interest of members of the Blue Tribe, and members of the Red Tribe never seem to bring it up.

(“We’re number one? Sure – number one in levels of sexual degeneracy! Well, I guess probably number two, after the Netherlands, but they’re really small and shouldn’t count.”)

My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.

That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.

Here is a popular piece published on a major media site called America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation. Another: America: A Bunch Of Spoiled, Whiny Brats. Americans are ignorant, scientifically illiterate religious fanatics whose “patriotism” is actually just narcissism. You Will Be Shocked At How Ignorant Americans Are, and we should Blame The Childish, Ignorant American People.

Needless to say, every single one of these articles was written by an American and read almost entirely by Americans. Those Americans very likely enjoyed the articles very much and did not feel the least bit insulted.

And look at the sources. HuffPo, Salon, Slate. Might those have anything in common?

On both sides, “American” can be either a normal demonym, or a code word for a member of the Red Tribe.

IX.

The other day, I logged into OKCupid and found someone who looked cool. I was reading over her profile and found the following sentence:

Don’t message me if you’re a sexist white guy

And my first thought was “Wait, so a sexist black person would be okay? Why?”

(The girl in question was white as snow)

Around the time the Ferguson riots were first starting, there were a host of articles with titles like Why White People Don’t Seem To Understand Ferguson, Why It’s So Hard For Whites To Understand Ferguson, and White Folks Listen Up And Let Me Tell You What Ferguson Is All About, this last of which says:

Social media is full of people on both sides making presumptions, and believing what they want to believe. But it’s the white folks that don’t understand what this is all about. Let me put it as simply as I can for you [...]

No matter how wrong you think Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown were, I think we can all agree they didn’t deserve to die over it. I want you white folks to understand that this is where the anger is coming from. You focused on the looting….”

And on a hunch I checked the author photos, and every single one of these articles was written by a white person.

White People Are Ruining America? White. White People Are Still A Disgrace? White. White Guys: We Suck And We’re Sorry? White. Bye Bye, Whiny White Dudes? White. Dear Entitled Straight White Dudes, I’m Evicting You From My Life? White. White Dudes Need To Stop Whitesplaining? White. Reasons Why Americans Suck #1: White People? White.

We’ve all seen articles and comments and articles like this. Some unsavory people try to use them to prove that white people are the real victims or the media is biased against white people or something. Other people who are very nice and optimistic use them to show that some white people have developed some self-awareness and are willing to engage in self-criticism.

But I think the situation with “white” is much the same as the situation with “American” – it can either mean what it says, or be a code word for the Red Tribe.

(except on the blog Stuff White People Like, where it obviously serves as a code word for the Blue tribe. I don’t know, guys. I didn’t do it.)

I realize that’s making a strong claim, but it would hardly be without precedent. When people say things like “gamers are misogynist”, do they mean the 52% of gamers who are women? Do they mean every one of the 59% of Americans from every walk of life who are known to play video or computer games occasionally? No. “Gamer” is a coded reference to the Gray Tribe, the half-branched-off collection of libertarianish tech-savvy nerds, and everyone knows it. As well expect that when people talk about “fedoras”, they mean Indiana Jones. Or when they talk about “urban youth”, they mean freshmen at NYU. Everyone knows exactly who we mean when we say “urban youth”, and them being young people who live in a city has only the most tenuous of relations to the actual concept.

And I’m saying words like “American” and “white” work the same way. Bill Clinton was the “first black President”, but if Herman Cain had won in 2012 he’d have been the 43rd white president. And when an angry white person talks at great length about how much he hates “white dudes”, he is not being humble and self-critical.

X.

Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.

If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.

But the story I’m actually referring to is liberal talk show host / comedian Russell Brand making that same rant against Fox News for supporting war against the Islamic State, adding at the end that “Fox is worse than ISIS”.

That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.

I would go further. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.

But this might be unfair. What would Russell Brand answer, if we asked him to justify his decision to be much angrier at Fox than ISIS?

He might say something like “Obviously Fox News is not literally worse than ISIS. But here I am, talking to my audience, who are mostly white British people and Americans. These people already know that ISIS is bad; they don’t need to be told that any further. In fact, at this point being angry about how bad ISIS is, is less likely to genuinely change someone’s mind about ISIS, and more likely to promote Islamophobia. The sort of people in my audience are at zero risk of becoming ISIS supporters, but at a very real risk of Islamophobia. So ranting against ISIS would be counterproductive and dangerous.

On the other hand, my audience of white British people and Americans is very likely to contain many Fox News viewers and supporters. And Fox, while not quite as evil as ISIS, is still pretty bad. So here’s somewhere I have a genuine chance to reach people at risk and change minds. Therefore, I think my decision to rant against Fox News, and maybe hyperbolically say they were ‘worse than ISIS’ is justified under the circumstances.”

I have a lot of sympathy to hypothetical-Brand, especially to the part about Islamophobia. It does seem really possible to denounce ISIS’ atrocities to a population that already hates them in order to weak-man a couple of already-marginalized Muslims. We need to fight terrorism and atrocities – therefore it’s okay to shout at a poor girl ten thousand miles from home for wearing a headscarf in public. Christians are being executed for their faith in Sudan, therefore let’s picket the people trying to build a mosque next door.

But my sympathy with Brand ends when he acts like his audience is likely to be fans of Fox News.

In a world where a negligible number of Redditors oppose gay marriage and 1% of Less Wrongers identify conservative and I know 0/150 creationists, how many of the people who visit the YouTube channel of a well-known liberal activist with a Che-inspired banner, a channel whose episode names are things like “War: What Is It Good For?” and “Sarah Silverman Talks Feminism” – how many of them do you think are big Fox News fans?

In a way, Russell Brand would have been braver taking a stand against ISIS than against Fox. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE outgroup WHO’S BOSS!”

Brand acts as if there are just these countries called “Britain” and “America” who are receiving his material. Wrong. There are two parallel universes, and he’s only broadcasting to one of them.

The result is exactly what we predicted would happen in the case of Islam. Bombard people with images of a far-off land they already hate and tell them to hate it more, and the result is ramping up the intolerance on the couple of dazed and marginalized representatives of that culture who have ended up stuck on your half of the divide. Sure enough, if industry or culture or community gets Blue enough, Red Tribe members start getting harassed, fired from their jobs (Brendan Eich being the obvious example) or otherwise shown the door.

Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.

If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time and have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.

And if you mix together the open-source tech industry and the parallel universe where you can’t wear a FreeBSD t-shirt without risking someone trying to exorcise you, you can prove that Christians are scary and very powerful people who are persecuting everyone else all the time, and you have a great excuse for kicking one of the few people willing to affiliate with the Red Tribe, a guy who never hurt anyone, out of town.

When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.

“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.

“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?

XI.

We started by asking: millions of people are conspicuously praising every outgroup they can think of, while conspicuously condemning their own in-group. This seems contrary to what we know about social psychology. What’s up?

We noted that outgroups are rarely literally “the group most different from you”, and in fact far more likely to be groups very similar to you sharing almost all your characteristics and living in the same area.

We then noted that although liberals and conservatives live in the same area, they might as well be two totally different countries or universe as far as level of interaction were concerned.

Contra the usual idea of them being marked only by voting behavior, we described them as very different tribes with totally different cultures. You can speak of “American culture” only in the same way you can speak of “Asian culture” – that is, with a lot of interior boundaries being pushed under the rug.

The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.

This is not surprising. Ethnic differences have proven quite tractable in the face of shared strategic aims. Even the Nazis, not known for their ethnic tolerance, were able to get all buddy-buddy with the Japanese when they had a common cause.

Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism. Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue. “There never was a coward where the shamrock grows.”

Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so. We know they are not exaggerating, because one might exaggerate the flaws of an enemy, but that anyone would exaggerate their own flaws fails the criterion of embarrassment.

The Blue Tribe always has an excuse at hand to persecute and crush any Red Tribers unfortunate enough to fall into its light-matter-universe by defining them as all-powerful domineering oppressors. They appeal to the fact that this is definitely the way it works in the Red Tribe’s dark-matter-universe, and that’s in the same country so it has to be the same community for all intents and purposes. As a result, every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.

And so how virtuous, how noble the Blue Tribe! Perfectly tolerant of all of the different groups that just so happen to be allied with them, never intolerant unless it happen to be against intolerance itself. Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that awful Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing their own culture and striving to make it better!

Sorry. But I hope this is at least a little convincing. The weird dynamic of outgroup-philia and ingroup-phobia isn’t anything of the sort. It’s just good old-fashioned in-group-favoritism and outgroup bashing, a little more sophisticated and a little more sneaky.

XII.

This essay is bad and I should feel bad.

I should feel bad because I made exactly the mistake I am trying to warn everyone else about, and it wasn’t until I was almost done that I noticed.

How virtuous, how noble I must be! Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that silly Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing my own tribe and striving to make it better.

Yeah. Once I’ve written a ten thousand word essay savagely attacking the Blue Tribe, either I’m a very special person or they’re my outgroup. And I’m not that special.

Just as you can pull a fast one and look humbly self-critical if you make your audience assume there’s just one American culture, so maybe you can trick people by assuming there’s only one Blue Tribe.

I’m pretty sure I’m not Red, but I did talk about the Grey Tribe above, and I show all the risk factors for being one of them. That means that, although my critique of the Blue Tribe may be right or wrong, in terms of motivation it comes from the same place as a Red Tribe member talking about how much they hate al-Qaeda or a Blue Tribe member talking about how much they hate ignorant bigots. And when I boast of being able to tolerate Christians and Southerners whom the Blue Tribe is mean to, I’m not being tolerant at all, just noticing people so far away from me they wouldn’t make a good outgroup anyway.

My arguments might be correct feces, but they’re still feces.

I had fun writing this article. People do not have fun writing articles savagely criticizing their in-group. People can criticize their in-group, it’s not humanly impossible, but it takes nerves of steel, it makes your blood boil, you should sweat blood. It shouldn’t be fun.

You can bet some white guy on Gawker who week after week churns out “Why White People Are So Terrible” and “Here’s What Dumb White People Don’t Understand” is having fun and not sweating any blood at all. He’s not criticizing his in-group, he’s never even considered criticizing his in-group. I can’t blame him. Criticizing the in-group is a really difficult project I’ve barely begun to build the mental skills necessary to even consider.

I can think of criticisms of my own tribe. Important criticisms, true ones. But the thought of writing them makes my blood boil.

I imagine might I feel like some liberal US Muslim leader, when he goes on the O’Reilly Show, and O’Reilly ambushes him and demands to know why he and other American Muslims haven’t condemned beheadings by ISIS more, demands that he criticize them right there on live TV. And you can see the wheels in the Muslim leader’s head turning, thinking something like “Okay, obviously beheadings are terrible and I hate them as much as anyone. But you don’t care even the slightest bit about the victims of beheadings. You’re just looking for a way to score points against me so you can embarass all Muslims. And I would rather personally behead every single person in the world than give a smug bigot like you a single microgram more stupid self-satisfaction than you’ve already got.”

That is how I feel when asked to criticize my own tribe, even for correct reasons. If you think you’re criticizing your own tribe, and your blood is not at that temperature, consider the possibility that you aren’t.

But if I want Self-Criticism Virtue Points, criticizing the Grey Tribe is the only honest way to get them. And if I want Tolerance Points, my own personal cross to bear right now is tolerating the Blue Tribe. I need to remind myself that when they are bad people, they are merely Osama-level bad people instead of Thatcher-level bad people. And when they are good people, they are powerful and necessary crusaders against the evils of the world.

The worst thing that could happen to this post is to have it be used as convenient feces to fling at the Blue Tribe whenever feces are necessary. Which, given what has happened to my last couple of posts along these lines and the obvious biases of my own subconscious, I already expect it will be.

But the best thing that could happen to this post is that it makes a lot of people, especially myself, figure out how to be more tolerant. Not in the “of course I’m tolerant, why shouldn’t I be?” sense of the Emperor in Part I. But in the sense of “being tolerant makes me see red, makes me sweat blood, but darn it I am going to be tolerant anyway.”

20 Oct 08:52

How Big is Email? — Medium

I think about email a lot because my company makes email software. I was talking with a friend yesterday and it got me thinking, just how much email is there, anyway?

So, I looked. A lot of email, it turns out. Like, a whole lot. In 2013, humanity sent about 150 billion emails each day. That’s 21 messages received per earthling per day, or 79 each if you only count actual email users.

Big Numbers

Big numbers are big. After a point, they become so immense that it’s impossible to have any real, intuitive understanding of what they mean.

This is a common problem in astronomy. For example, the sun is 93 million miles away. How far is that? I know how far a mile is because I know how long it takes to walk one. But a million miles? I’ve never consciously experienced a million of anything. Numbers like that are impossible to truly grasp, but we can try to visualize the distance with a little thought experiment:

At least one unsourced estimate says a person will travel 3,658,753 miles in their lifetime. My own estimates puts it closer to 6 million. Imagine that you lived your whole life moving in one direction, going from home to the office to the nightclub to home to the office, like those old cartoons where a character walks past the same lamp and table over and over again. You meet some cute person (“goin’ my way?”), and fall in love. Around age 30, you have a baby. Your child starts traveling with you, by car, train, and plane, a little closer to the sun each day.

If people reproduce about 1/3 of the way into their lives, it would take somewhere between 50 and 75 generations for your family to arrive at the surface of the sun. If you were born in the time of the Romans, but with a modern life and an average 2014 commute, your descendants would be arriving about now.

So Much Email!

And, so it is with email. 150 billion is an impossibly large number, and that’s each day. If you printed one day of the world’s emails out, the stack of paper would be 10,000 miles high. A month of them would reach to the moon.

The average email is 75k, which means a day of email traffic is about 14 petabytes.

There’s 2.3 billion email users worldwide, and the average mailbox stores 8,024 messages. That puts the world’s total volume of stored email at 1,400 petabytes. Put another way: globally, we store about 100 days of email history. What can we compare this to in order to understand it?

Email vs the Web

The web is pretty big, but since it’s public we all have a sense of its vastness. It’s also hard to define: there’s sites like CNN.com, Wikipedia, or your favorite Taylor Swift forum, but what about your company’s intranet, your calendar app, or the configuration page for your fancy new bathroom scale? Also, with services like Gmail, the web includes most of the world’s email too.

A good definition of the web might be, “the stuff you can find by searching it.” Researchers call this the indexed web. Google says the web contains 30 trillion unique URLs. The average web page contains 96 of those objects, and is 1.6 megabytes in size. That puts the size of the indexed web at around 512 petabytes. So, email is about 3x the size of the web.

But, there’s one more fact, and this one is just a bit disturbing: those emails are 70.7% spam. Here, I made you another chart:

I’m always so impressed with how effective modern spam filtering infrastructure has become.

Bringing this back to the personal level, it’s suddenly no surprise that some days, I spend half my time online reading email. In a sense, that’s okay: the ability to contact exactly the right group of people whenever I want is like a new superpower, and I shouldn’t take it for granted. But, I also think that for something that accounts for half of the Internet, email is pretty janky. We don’t collectively spend nearly enough of our resources making it work better.

I co-founded a company, Threadable, to address exactly this problem. We’ve chosen a small part of this space, the email discussion group, and we’re trying to bring it to the standard of usability, utility, and beauty that the Web has enjoyed for years. Other companies are doing good work in this area too, like SendWithUs, with their responsive templates, Square’s charming email interface for Square Cash, Mailgun’s development and testing workflow, and services like Litmus. Still, more is needed.

Predicting that email is dead, to be supplanted by (choose one of: Facebook, Twitter, Asana, Yammer, Skype) is like saying apps are killing websites. The comparison only makes sense when you compare a creaky old site with a slick new app. Modern email has a lot of advantages over more proprietary solutions, not the least of which is its ubiquity. When I look at the numbers above, it seems like fixing email is a way simpler project than replacing it wholesale.

And really, we’re unlikely to be successful in replacing email. New communication technologies are accretive. The Internet’s been huge for a decade, and we still have telephones. When the phone was introduced, telegrams became largely irrelevant, but they stuck around for another hundred years. Do you remember the last fax you sent? Because I sure do (thanks, Anthem Blue Cross!).

Email isn’t dead. It’s just sleeping. Put the coffee on, because it’s time to wake it up!

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
20 Oct 16:00

Zen em Quadrinhos

06 Oct 00:52

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It: Why Is This Widely Denied? - Substance.com

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Eu não tinha ideia da maior parte dessas coisas :O

The experiences of most young people with addiction are brushed under the carpet. Photo via

The experiences of most young people with addiction are brushed under the carpet. Photo via

When I stopped shooting coke and heroin, I was 23. I had no life outside of my addiction. I was facing serious drug charges and I weighed 85 pounds, after months of injecting, often dozens of times a day.

But although I got treatment, I quit at around the age when, according to large epidemiological studies, most people who have diagnosable addiction problems do so—without treatment. The early to mid-20s is also the period when the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for good judgment and self-restraint—finally reaches maturity.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” However, that’s not what the epidemiology of the disorder suggests. By age 35, half of all people who qualified for active alcoholism or addiction diagnoses during their teens and 20s no longer do, according to a study of over 42,000 Americans in a sample designed to represent the adult population.

The average cocaine addiction lasts four years, the average marijuana addiction lasts six years, and the average alcohol addiction is resolved within 15 years. Heroin addictions tend to last as long as alcoholism, but prescription opioid problems, on average, last five years. In these large samples, which are drawn from the general population, only a quarter of people who recover have ever sought assistance in doing so (including via 12-step programs). This actually makes addictions the psychiatric disorder with the highest odds of recovery.

While some addictions clearly do take a chronic course, this data, which replicates earlier research, suggests that many do not. And this remains true even for people like me, who have used drugs in such high, frequent doses and in such a compulsive fashion that it is hard to argue that we “weren’t really addicted.” I don’t know many non-addicts who shoot up 40 times a day, get suspended from college for dealing and spend several months in a methadone program.

Only a quarter of people who recover have ever sought assistance in doing so (including via 12-step programs). This actually makes addictions the psychiatric disorder with the highest odds of recovery.

Moreover, if addiction were truly a progressive disease, the data should show that the odds of quitting get worse over time. In fact, they remain the same on an annual basis, which means that as people get older, a higher and higher percentage wind up in recovery. If your addiction really is “doing push-ups” while you sit in AA meetings, it should get harder, not easier, to quit over time. (This is not an argument in favor of relapsing; it simply means that your odds of recovery actually get better with age!)

So why do so many people still see addiction as hopeless? One reason is a phenomenon known as “the clinician’s error,” which could also be known as the “journalist’s error” because it is so frequently replicated in reporting on drugs. That is, journalists and rehabs tend to see the extremes: Given the expensive and often harsh nature of treatment, if you can quit on your own you probably will. And it will be hard for journalists or treatment providers to find you.

Similarly, if your only knowledge of alcohol came from working in an ER on Saturday nights, you might start thinking that prohibition is a good idea. All you would see are overdoses, DTs, or car crash, rape or assault victims. You wouldn’t be aware of the patients whose alcohol use wasn’t causing problems. And so, although the overwhelming majority of alcohol users drink responsibly, your “clinical” picture of what the drug does would be distorted by the source of your sample of drinkers.

Treatment providers get a similarly skewed view of addicts: The people who keep coming back aren’t typical—they’re simply the ones who need the most help. Basing your concept of addiction only on people who chronically relapse creates an overly pessimistic picture.

This is one of many reasons why I prefer to see addiction as a learning or developmental disorder, rather than taking the classical disease view. If addiction really were a primary, chronic, progressive disease, natural recovery rates would not be so high and addiction wouldn’t have such a pronounced peak prevalence in young people.

But if addiction is seen as a disorder of development, its association with age makes a great deal more sense. The most common years for full onset of addiction are 19 and 20, which coincides with late adolescence, before cortical development is complete. In early adolescence, when the drug taking that leads to addiction by the 20s typically begins, the emotional systems involved in love and sex are coming online, before the cognitive systems that rein in risk-taking are fully active.

Taking drugs excessively at this time probably interferes with both biological and psychological development. The biological part is due to the impact of the drugs on the developing circuitry itself—but the psychological part is probably at least as important. If as a teen you don’t learn non-drug ways of soothing yourself through the inevitable ups and downs of relationships, you miss out on a critical period for doing so. Alternatively, if you do hone these skills in adolescence, even heavy use later may not be as hard to kick because you already know how to use other options for coping.

The data supports this idea: If you start drinking or taking drugs with peers before age 18, you have a 25% chance of becoming addicted, but if your use starts later, the odds drop to 4%. Very few people without a prior history of addiction get hooked later in life, even if they are exposed to drugs like opioid painkillers.

So why do so many people see addiction as hopeless? One reason is “the clinician’s error,” which could also be known as the “journalist’s error” because it is so frequently replicated in reporting on drugs.

If we see addiction as a developmental disorder, all of this makes much more sense. Many kids “age out” of classical developmental disorders like attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as their brains catch up to those of their peers or they develop workarounds for coping with their different wiring. One study, for example, which followed 367 children with ADHD into adulthood found that 70% no longer had significant symptoms.

That didn’t mean, however, that a significant minority didn’t still need help, of course, or that ADHD isn’t “real.” Like addiction (and actually strongly linked with risk for it), ADHD is a wiring difference and a key period for brain-circuit-building is adolescence. In both cases, maturity can help correct the problem, but doesn’t always do so automatically.

To better understand recovery and how to teach it, then, we need to look to the strengths and tactics of people who quit without treatment—and not merely focus on clinical samples. Common threads in stories of recovery without treatment include finding a new passion (whether in work, hobbies, religion or a person), moving from a less structured environment like college into a more constraining one like 9 to 5 employment, and realizing that heavy use stands in the way of achieving important life goals. People who recover without treatment also tend not to see themselves as addicts, according to the research in this area.

While treatment can often support the principles of natural recovery, too often it does the opposite. For example, many programs interfere with healthy family and romantic relationships by isolating patients. Some threaten employment and education, suggesting or even requiring that people quit jobs or school to “focus on recovery,” when doing so might do more harm than good. Others pay too much attention to getting people to take on an addict identity—rather than on harm related to drug use—when, in fact, looking at other facets of the self may be more helpful.

There are many paths to recovery—and if we want to help people get there, we need to explore all of them. That means recognizing that natural recovery exists—and not dismissing data we don’t like.

Maia Szalavitz is one of the nation’s leading neuroscience and addiction journalists, and a columnist at Substance.com. She has contributed to Timethe New York TimesScientific American Mindthe Washington Post and many other publications. She has also published five books, including Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006), and is currently finishing her sixth, Unbroken Brain, which examines why seeing addiction as a developmental or learning disorder can help us better understand, prevent and treat it. Her last column for Substance.com was about which parts of the 12 Steps she would keep, which she would throw away and why.

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20 Oct 15:03

Como Israel-Palestina ajuda a entender a relação da Turquia-Curdistão

by Gustavo Chacra

Os grupos militares curdos são para a Turquia o que o Hamas é para Israel. Por este motivo, os turcos relutam tanto em ajudar os curdos sírios da cidade de Kobani. Seria como se Israel entrasse na Síria para de ataques do regime de Bashar al Assad os refugiados palestinos em campos controlados pelo Hamas nos arredores de Damasco. E note que este cenário, literalmente, ocorreu e os israelenses não entraram.

Antes de prosseguir, primeiro, temos de entender que os curdos se espalham por quatro países – Turquia, Síria, Iraque e Irã. E o governo turco tem uma relação distinta com cada um deles.

Curdos na Turquia

O governo de Recep Tayyp Erdogan ampliou os direitos dos curdos na Turquia, permitindo que eles possam ter publicações na língua curda e este idioma também passou ser ensinado nas escolas de áreas curdas do país. Mas o PKK, principal organização curda, ainda é visto como um grupo terrorista responsável pela morte de milhares de pessoas e seu líder Abdullah Ocalan está preso em uma ilha no Mar de Marmara

Curdos no Irã

Para a Turquia, este é um problema do Irã, não deles

Curdos do Iraque

A Turquia mantém boas relações com a região autônoma do Curdistão

 Curdos da Síria

A Turquia os vê como adversários. A principal organização dos curdos sírios é PYD, aliado do PKK. Além disso, o governo de Erdogan os acusa de serem aliados de Assad – na verdade, o líder sírio concedeu maior autonomia a eles depois do início da guerra civil

Dá para dizer que os curdos do Iraque seriam, para a Turquia, o equivalente dos palestinos da Cisjordânia para Israel. Os curdos do Irã seriam para a Turquia o equivalente dos palestinos da Jordânia para Israel. Os habitantes civis curdos da Turquia e da Síria não seriam um problema para os turcos, assim como os civis palestinos de Gaza não são um problema para Israel. Aliás, os cidadãos curdos da Turquia seriam o equivalente dos árabes cidadãos de Israel.

Mas o PKK e o PYD são para a Turquia e o que o Hamas e o Jihad Islâmico são para Israel, como escrevi acima – grupos terroristas, embora os curdos não os enxerguem desta forma. Para eles, são organizações que lutam pelos curdos contra a repressão da Turquia. Portanto, como escrevi no passado, os curdos, para a Turquia, são considerados uma ameaça maior do que o ISIS, também conhecido como ISIL, Grupo Estado Islâmico e Daesh.

A afirmação do chanceler turco hoje de que pode facilitar a passagem dos Pesh Merga é uma minúscula concessão às pressões dos EUA. Se a Turquia quisesse, derrotaria o ISIS em poucos dias ou semanas na região de Kobani. Mas optou por não fazer nada.

Não sei como faz para publicar comentários. Portanto pediria que comentem no meu Facebook (Guga Chacra)  e no Twitter (@gugachacra), aberto para seguidores

Guga Chacra, comentarista de política internacional do Estadão e do programa Globo News Em Pauta em Nova York, é mestre em Relações Internacionais pela Universidade Columbia. Já foi correspondente do jornal O Estado de S. Paulo no Oriente Médio e em NY. No passado, trabalhou como correspondente da Folha em Buenos Aires

Comentários islamofóbicos, antissemitas, anticristãos e antiárabes ou que coloquem um povo ou uma religião como superiores não serão publicados. Tampouco são permitidos ataques entre leitores ou contra o blogueiro. Pessoas que insistirem em ataques pessoais não terão mais seus comentários publicados. Não é permitido postar vídeo. Todos os posts devem ter relação com algum dos temas acima. O blog está aberto a discussões educadas e com pontos de vista diferentes. Os comentários dos leitores não refletem a opinião do jornalista

Acompanhe também meus comentários no Globo News Em Pauta, na Rádio Estadão, na TV Estadão, no Estadão Noite no tablet, no Twitter @gugachacra , no Facebook Guga Chacra (me adicionem como seguidor), no Instagram e no Google Plus. Escrevam para mim no gugacha


06 Oct 18:08

The Secret to Quickly Learning a Foreign Language as an Adult

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Algo a tentar.

I've learned several foreign languages as an adult.  I was able to learn French to conversation fluency in 17 days using the following techniques.  Note that I had previously learned Spanish to fluency so this was not my first foreign language. 

In summer of 2005 I stayed with a French friend in a tiny village in the Beaujolais region of France.  No one in the village spoke English and, since my friend knew I had an ambitious learning goal, she refused to speak to me in English as well. 

I set up a routine where I did the same things every day. 

In the mornings, I woke up and wrote out longhand the regular and irregular verb tables for 1.5-2 hours.  I managed to get through an entire pad of paper in two weeks.  I still believe that writing things out by hand is the best way to memorize things.

While I wrote, I would listen to Michel Thomas' language learning mp3s (http://www.michelthomas. com/).  On the CDs you listen as he teaches French to other English speakers.  It's really helpful to hear other students make mistakes that you can learn from, just like a regular classroom environment.  In two weeks I listened to the foundation, advanced and language building courses twice.

I would run for 45-60 minutes in the early afternoon in the French countryside listening to catchy French music.  Music is a great way to learn the intonation of a language and train your facial muscles as you sing along.

I had lunch with my friend and her French friends everyday.  As they refused to slow down when speaking to me in French, it was learn or starve!

In the afternoon, if I wasn't playing darts or Boules with my French friends, I was reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" in French.  Reading the children's books you read as a child is a great hack to learning new languages.  Firstly, the language used is simple and secondly, knowing the story helps you to guess the meaning of new words and avoid using a dictionary.  Surprisingly children's books are more entertaining in a foreign language.

I spent at least an hour writing basic essays about myself which I had my French friend check for errors.  When you meet new people you inevitably get asked the same things:  "Where are you from?", "What do you do?", "Do you like France?".  By learning ready-made answers, you get to practice what you learned and build up your confidence.

Another good tip is to learn the filler words.  These are the words and phrases people say then all the time between sentences (alors, en fait, etc.) but have no real meaning; allowing you to buy time in a conversation and increase your confidence.

After 17 days I left the small town and went to Paris.  I met a girl in a coffee shop and we started talking.  After a few minutes, she asked how long I had lived in France.  When I told her I had been learning French for 17 days, she swore that I had lived in France for at least a year.

Hopefully there are some useful tips you can use in your learning.  Let me know and bonne chance!

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18 Oct 02:15

Iogurte grego do Brasil, só mesmo no Brasil - Economia - Estadão

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Agora entendi o que é o tal iogurte grego - e é decepcionante (embora seja sim mais gostosinho).

Gustavo Santos Ferreira, do Economia & Negócios

18 Fevereiro 2014 | 07h 00

Com características próprias, linha 'grega' nacional tem maior potencial de faturamento do mercado e deve pular de 2,3% para 10% das vendas em 2014

SÃO PAULO - Desde o segundo semestre de 2012, quando o primeiro iogurte grego foi lançado no Brasil, pela Vigor, estabeleceu-se novo filão. Hoje, todas as principais marcas do País - também Nestlé, Batavo, Danone e Itambé - vendem as suas versões. No entanto, não há muita clareza sobre o que transforma um simples iogurte brasileiro em um produto original dos Bálcãs.

A única característica quase consensual do iogurte grego vendido em terras brasileiras é a textura. Ela é cremosa, em nível intermediário entre o iogurte líquido, de garrafa, e o mais rígido, de pote. Fora isso, as inovações são várias. Existe, por exemplo, o iogurte grego sabor goiabada, da Vigor. E, de inovação em inovação, mesmo a cremosidade já começa a se perder. A Batavo acaba de lançar o seu iogurte grego líquido.

Em outros países e em termos nutricionais, novas contrariedades. Na Europa, o iogurte tido como grego tem alto teor de gordura, baixa dose de proteína e fraca participação no mercado. Nos Estados Unidos, é o inverso: menos gordura, mais proteína e domínio de 23% das vendas.

As diferenças se dão pela falta de definição do conceito "iogurte grego". O iogurte grego, mas grego mesmo, feito e consumido em larga escala na Grécia, costumeiramente é caseiro. E como qualquer comida caseira, cada casa tem a sua receita, a depender do gosto pessoal.

Vende pouco, rende muito. A maioria dos iogurtes vendidos como gregos no Brasil, tanto em participação de mercado quanto em valores nutricionais, está mais para o europeu: farto em gordura, pobre em proteína e de curta fatia nas vendas totais de iogurtes: dominou, em média, 2,3% do mercado em 2013, de acordo com a consultoria Nielsen.

Mas, embora a parcela de vendas ainda seja pequena, o grego é campeão em potencial de faturamento. No ano passado, entre todos os filões do mercado, o iogurte grego foi o único cuja participação no faturamento total superou o dobro da participação nas vendas (veja as comparações no gráfico mais abaixo). O iogurte natural, por sua vez, tem participações em vendas e faturamento bem semelhantes. O mesmo serve para o iogurte com polpa de fruta.

Por falar em "dobro", na rede Pão de Açúcar de supermercados, analisando um mesmo fabricante, o dinheiro gasto para comprar um iogurte grego permitiria levar para casa dois iogurtes naturais: o grego custa R$ 1,99 e é vendido em porções de 120 gramas; o tradicional, de R$ 0,99, vem em potinhos de 170 gramas.

'Gourmetização'. De acordo com Ricardo Vasques, vice-presidente de Marketing da Danone, os gregos fazem parte de um mesmo movimento de toda a indústria alimentícia. "Parte do fortalecimento dos gregos no Brasil se explica por uma tendência de 'gourmetização'", diz.   

Apenas em dezembro, os iogurtes gregos chegaram a ocupar 3,2% das vendas totais do mercado nacional. "Já em 2014, as empresas trabalham com a previsão de 10% de participação dos gregos", diz Vasques. Esse número, afirma, não necessariamente será mantido nos próximos anos, pode ser pontual. "O importante é que, com o crescimento dos gregos, que é um produto de maior qualidade, o consumidor cobrará por novos produtos, de qualidade ainda maior", diz o executivo.

'Modismo'. "Chamar o iogurte vendido no Brasil de grego é modismo, pura estratégia de marketing", diz Carlos Oliveira, professor de Tecnologia de Leite e Derivados da Universidade de São Paulo.

Na explicação técnica de Oliveira, seja grego, brasileiro, polonês ou coreano, iogurte é iogurte. E ponto. A grosso modo, nada mais é que um leite rico em ácido lático. Por isso o gostinho azedo, em maior ou menor escala.

Fora do Brasil, por sinal, o iogurte chamado de grego é mais azedo. Aqui, ele é doce. "O consumidor brasileiro tende a preferir coisas mais adocicadas e a indústria segue essa linha para agradar seu paladar", diz Oliveira.

Para ganhar a textura mais cremosa, diz Oliveira, é acrescida à receita do iogurte algum tipo de goma. E, embora as empresas não revelem suas fórmulas, o especialista aponta para algum ingrediente de origem vegetal. "Grego ou não, o importante é consumir iogurte, qualquer um deles traz o mesmo tipo de beneficio nutricional", afirma.

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20 Oct 08:52

Prefeitura de SP anuncia construção do primeiro túnel apenas para ônibus - 18/10/2014 - Cotidiano - Folha de S.Paulo

18/10/2014 02h00

O prefeito de São Paulo, Fernando Haddad (PT), anunciou nesta sexta-feira (17) o primeiro túnel exclusivo para ônibus, que vai ligar a avenida do Estado, na região central, à Radial Leste. A obra faz parte da construção do corredor Radial Leste.

Segundo a prefeitura, o túnel terá 800 metros de extensão, operará nos dois sentidos e custará R$ 150 milhões. A previsão é que as obras comecem na próxima segunda-feira (20) e sejam concluídas em 24 meses.

Umas das entradas da passagem será na altura da estação Dom Pedro 2º do Metrô, após o viaduto Antônio Nakashima. A outra será na avenida Alcântara Machado.

Na estação, um acesso já existente, que foi construído para o metrô e estava sem uso, será usado para ligação de quem vem das plataformas.

"Os ônibus demoram nessa região do centro 30 minutos para chegar ao terminal Parque Dom Pedro 2º. O túnel vai poupar esse tempo", disse o prefeito.

Segundo a SPTrans (empresa responsável pelo transporte público), até o momento não estão previstas interdições do trânsito nem desapropriações para as obras.

O corredor de ônibus Radial Leste terá 12 km, no trecho entre o Terminal Parque Dom Pedro e a estação Vila Matilde do Metrô. Segundo a prefeitura, o corredor deve beneficiar aproximadamente 220 mil pessoas por dia.

Já outro trecho da obra que será ligada à Vila Matilde, chamado de Radial Leste 2, terá 5 km e vai até a estação Artur Alvim. Haverá 21 desapropriações nesse trecho.

Todas as paradas terão integração com as estações da linha 3-vermelha do Metrô que passam na Radial Leste. O valor total da obra é de R$ 455 milhões.

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20 Oct 02:45

Na onda do ódio

by Jose Roberto de Toledo

Campanha negativa, do contra, o lado B. Entre tantos eventos que marcam a eleição presidencial de 2014, os métodos de desconstrução do adversário são os mais eficientes até agora. Podem eleger o próximo presidente, seja quem for. Em vez de engajamento com a política e de criar afinidade entre cidadão e governante, a anticampanha afasta-os. E reforça a sensação típica do segundo turno: eleger não o melhor, mas o menos pior.

Na mais apertada das eleições presidenciais – da curta história da democracia brasileira – já houve tragédias, reviravoltas, traições. Ondas de opinião surgiram como maremotos e quebraram como marolas. Mas nada teve impacto mais definitivo do que as antigas e novas maneiras de fazer o rival parecer despreparado, frágil, desonesto ou simplesmente ridículo.

Os ringues em que se transformaram os debates do segundo turno entre Aécio Neves (PSDB) e Dilma Rousseff (PT) são apenas a parte mais visível da troca de insultos. Ingenuidade achar que a anticampanha acaba nos sopapos verbais na TV. Isso é só o começo, é munição para a artilharia que vem na sequência.

Uma das febres nos comitês subterrâneos de 2014 é o uso eleitoral do WhatsApp. O aplicativo de mensagens em tempo real funciona em qualquer smartphone e poupa o usuário de pagar por mensagens SMS. Transita seu conteúdo através da internet. É também uma rede social popular, onde grupos de usuários transmitem e recebem mensagens entre si. De tanto sucesso, o Facebook pagou US$ 16 bilhões por ele.

Por essa característica híbrida, meio de telefone meio de computador, o WhatsApp caiu em um buraco negro regulatório no Brasil e acabou escapando à vigilância da Justiça eleitoral. É território livre de regras e proibições, um velho oeste onde hackers e candidatos fazem seu bangue-bangue instantâneo.

Uma gafe do adversário em um debate televisivo vira imediatamente um vídeo curto e, de preferência, engraçado. Antes de acabar a transmissão na TV, já está nos celulares de centenas de milhares de eleitores, ou apenas nos de um segmento específico do eleitorado, conforme a estratégia da campanha.

Candidato ao governo de Minas Gerais pelo PSDB, Pimenta da Veiga disse em um debate que construiria hospitais em três municípios do norte do Estado, mas ao nomeá-los, citou dois que ficam em outras regiões. Em pouco tempo os eleitores de Teófilo Otoni e Governador Valadares foram bombardeados com vídeos do personagem “Turista da Veiga” situando erroneamente suas cidades na TV.

O uso da campanha negativa eletrônica não tem monopólio partidário. Dilma passando mal após debate no SBT virou meme e, mais do que isso, “prova” disseminada por partidários de Aécio de que o tucano havia nocauteado a petista, ao ponto de derrubar-lhe a pressão e fazê-la pedir para sentar. Não importa ser ou não verdade. Na anticampanha, parecer já basta.

Ao cumprir seu papel de expor os poderosos e despi-los da imagem cuidadosamente composta pelo marketing, a própria imprensa produz ou reproduz matéria prima que vem e vai pelo lado B da campanha eleitoral. Não é uma novidade desta eleição, porém.

A diferença de 2014 é que desde a ditadura o Brasil nunca esteve tão dividido. Nem 2 milhões de intenções de voto separam Aécio e Dilma. É menos de 1% da população, e diminuindo. A maioria vencedora será absoluta, mas – arrisca-se – por definição apenas. O brasileiro estará cindido em duas metades que a miopia e o ódio eleitorais fazem de tudo para tornar irreconciliáveis.

Sem estabilidade política não há estabilidade econômica. Para alcançá-las, o próximo presidente, não importa quem seja, vai precisar compor-se com o PMDB, com os 17 anões partidários do Congresso, mas não só. Terá que dialogar também com a oposição. A mesma oposição que ele ou ela desconstruiu durante a eleição.

19 Oct 05:00

Dois caminhos

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Samuel Pessôa sumarizou bem minha posição.

O poder no Brasil tem sido disputado por dois partidos sociais-democratas, PT e PSDB. Ambos concordam que o Estado tem que prover as redes básicas de proteção social bem como promover a igualdade de oportunidades.

Assim, o Estado deve oferecer educação básica pública e gratuita e ter forte presença na oferta direta ou no financiamento da educação superior, como são os casos do Prouni e do Fies. Adicionalmente deve ofertar universal e gratuitamente serviços de saúde.

Outras atribuições são os seguros contra a pobreza, como o programa Bolsa Família e os benefícios não contributivos da Previdência Social; contra o desemprego, como o seguro-desemprego; contra a doença, como o auxílio-doença; contra a invalidez permanente, como a aposentadoria por invalidez; e contra a carência habitacional, como o programa Minha Casa, Minha Vida, entre outros.

A forte elevação da carga tributária das últimas duas décadas decorreu da necessidade de construir e manter essa extensa rede de proteção social.

Nenhum dos candidatos competitivos nesta eleição se posicionou por outro modelo. O motivo é que a sociedade, nas diversas vezes em que foi chamada às urnas, tem se pronunciado favoravelmente a esse modelo. O contrato social da redemocratização não está em discussão. Ele é um dado.

Na eleição do próximo domingo, o eleitor será chamado a se pronunciar em relação a dois caminhos diferentes para que continuemos a progredir na direção de uma sociedade com maior nível de renda e mais igualitária.

O caminho do atual governo, conhecido por nova matriz econômica e que venho chamando de ensaio nacional-desenvolvimentista, aposta no fortíssimo intervencionismo estatal na economia.

Para os formuladores do atual regime de política econômica, devemos perseguir um pacote assemelhado ao adotado pelos países de desenvolvimento rápido do Leste da Ásia, como Japão, Coreia do Sul, Taiwan e mais recentemente a China continental.

Políticas como a forte presença de bancos públicos no financiamento do investimento, fechamento da economia para proteger setores, desoneração tributária seletiva, entre tantas outras medidas, foram inspiradas nessas experiências asiáticas.

Para os críticos da nova matriz econômica, como é meu caso, o sucesso das economias asiáticas não está associado ao pacote intervencionista, mas sim ao fato de essas sociedades terem construído sistemas públicos de educação básica de elevadíssima qualidade e de terem negociado um contrato social -em geral de forma não democrática- que produziu no período de rápido desenvolvimento econômico níveis de poupança doméstica sempre acima dos 30% do PIB, com destaque para a elevadíssima taxa de poupança das famílias.

Por exemplo, as famílias na China poupam o equivalente a 22,5% do PIB chinês, o que significa algo próximo a 50% de sua renda disponível.

O motivo é que essas sociedades contrataram -quase sempre de forma não democrática, é bom repisar- que a seguridade social é uma responsabilidade individual. As elevadíssimas taxas de poupança das famílias e as baixíssimas cargas tributárias resultam dessa "escolha".

É por esse motivo que a nova matriz econômica não funcionou e não funcionará e é por esse motivo que o crescimento sob Dilma despencou dos 4% anuais nos oito anos de Lula para o nível atual de 1,6%.

A nova matriz econômica tropicaliza a parcela do modelo asiático que não é a responsável pelo crescimento acelerado vivenciado por essas sociedades.

O caminho alternativo é retornarmos a um modelo de Estado regulador que vigorou nos oito anos do governo FHC e no primeiro mandato de Lula. Esse modelo deu certo e explica a aceleração do crescimento no governo Lula.

A presidente Dilma, o ministro Mantega e os demais formuladores da política econômica atual não perceberam que a nova matriz econômica e o contrato social da redemocratização não cabem no Orçamento do Estado brasileiro. Insistir na nova matriz econômica é dar murro em ponta de faca.

19 Oct 05:00

Todos soltos, todos soltos, até hoje

Nos debates medíocres da TV Bandeirantes e do SBT, em que Dilma Rousseff parecia disputar a Presidência com Fernando Henrique Cardoso e Aécio Neves parecia lutar por um novo mandato em Minas Gerais, houve um momento estimulante. Foram as saraivadas de cinco "todos soltos" desferida pela doutora. Leia mais (10/19/2014 - 02h00)
20 Oct 01:13

10 mitos sobre a crise hídrica

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Texto muito interessante que me ensinou muito.

seca

Gostaria de desmistificar alguns pontos sobre a crise hídrica em SP, assunto que tangencia minhas pesquisas acadêmicas.

1- “Não choveu e por isso está faltando água”. Essa conclusão é cientificamente problemática. Existem períodos chuvosos e de estiagem, descritos estatisticamente. É natural que isso ocorra. A base de dados de São Paulo possibilita análises precisas desde o século XIX e projeções anteriores a partir de cálculos matemáticos. Um sistema de abastecimento eficiente precisa ser projetado seguindo essas previsões (ex: estiagens que ocorram a cada cem anos).

2- “É por causa do aquecimento global”. Existem poucos estudos verdadeiramente confiáveis em São Paulo. De qualquer forma, o problema aqui parece ser de escala de grandeza. A não ser que estejamos realmente vivendo uma catástrofe global repentina (que não parece ser o caso esse ano), a mudança nos padrões de chuva não atingem porcentagens tão grandes capazes de secar vários reservatórios de um ano para o outro. Mais estudadas são as mudanças climáticas locais por causa de ocupação urbana desordenada. Isso é concreto e pode trazer mudanças radicais. Aqui o problema é outro: as represas do sistema Cantareira estão longe demais do núcleo urbano adensado de SP para sentir efeitos como de ilha de calor. A escala do território é muito maior.

3- “Não choveu nas Represas”. Isso é uma simplificação grosseira. O volume do reservatório depende de vários fluxos, incluindo a chuva sobre o espelho d’água das represas. A chuva em regiões de cabeceira, por exemplo, pode recarregar o lençol freático e assim aumentar o volume de água dos rios. O processo é muito mais complexo.

4- “As próximas chuvas farão que o sistema volte ao normal”. Isso já é mais difícil de prever, mas tudo indica que a recuperação pode levar décadas. Como sabemos, quando o fundo do lago fica exposto (e seco), ele se torna permeável. Assim a água que voltar atingir esses lugares percola (infiltra) para o lençol freático, antes de criar uma camada impermeável. Se eu fosse usar minha intuição e conhecimento, diria que São Paulo tem duas opções a curto-médio prazo: (a) usar fontes alternativas de abastecimento antes que possa voltar a contar com as represas; (b) ter uma redução drástica em sua economia para que haja diminuição de consumo (há relação direta entre movimento econômico e consumo de água).

5- “Não existe outras fontes de abastecimento que não as represas atuais”. Essa afirmação é duplamente mentirosa. Primeiro porque sempre se pode construir represas em lugares mais e mais distantes (sobretudo em um país com esse recurso abundante como o Brasil) e transportar a água por bombeamento. O problema parece ser de ordem econômica já como o custo da água bombeada de longe sairia muito caro. Outra mentira é que não podemos usar água subterrânea. Não consigo entender o impedimento técnico disso. O Estado de São Paulo tem ampla reserva de água subterrânea (como o chamado aquífero Guarani), de onde é possível tirar água, sobretudo em momentos de crise. Novamente, o problema é custo de trazer essa água de longe que afetaria os lucros da Sabesp.

6- “O aquífero Guaraní é um reservatório subterrâneo”. A ideia de que o aquífero é um bolsão d’água, como um vazio preenchido pelo líquido, é ridiculamente equivocada. Não existe bolsão, em nenhum lugar no mundo. O aquífero é simplesmente água subterrânea diluída no solo. O aquífero Guaraní, nem é mesmo um só, mas descontínuo. Como uma camada profunda do lençol freático. Em todo caso, países como a Holanda acham o uso dessas águas tão bom que parte da produção superficial (reservatórios etc) é reinserida no solo e retirada novamente (!). Isso porque as propriedades químicas do líquido são, potencialmente, excelentes.

7- “Precisamos economizar água”. Outra simplificação. Os grandes consumidores (indústrias ou grandes estabelecimentos, por exemplo) e a perda de água por falta de manutenção do sistema representam os maiores gastos. Infelizmente os números oficiais parecem camuflados. A seguinte conta nunca fecha: consumo total = esgoto total + perda + água gasta em irrigação. Estima-se que as perdas estejam entre 30% e 40%. Ou seja, essa quantidade vaza na tubulação antes de atingir os consumidores. Água tratada e perdida. Para usar novamente o exemplo Holandês (que estudei), lá essas perdas são virtualmente 0%. Os índices elevados não são normais e são resultados de décadas de maximização de lucros da Sabesp ao custo de uma manutenção precária da rede.

8- “Não há racionamento”. O governo está fazendo a mídia e a população de boba. Em lugares pobres o racionamento já acontece há meses, dia sim, dia não (ou mesmo todo dia). É interessante notar que, historicamente, as populações pobres são as que sempre sentem mais esses efeitos (cito, por exemplo, as constantes interrupções no fornecimento de água no começo do século XX nos bairros operários das várzeas, como o Pari). A história se repete.

9- “É necessário implantar o racionamento”. Essa afirmação é bem perigosa porque coloca vidas em risco. Já como praticamente todas as construções na cidade têm grandes caixas d’água, o racionamento apenas ataca o problema das perdas da rede (vazamentos). É tudo que a Sabesp quer: em momentos de crise fazer racionamento e reduzir as perdas; sem diminuição de consumo, sem aumentar o controle de vazamentos. O custo disso? A saúde pública. A mesma trinca por onde a água vaza, se não houver pressão dentro do cano, se transformará em um ponto de entrada de poluentes do lençol freático nojento da cidade. Estaremos bebendo, sem saber água poluída, porque a poluição entrou pela rede urbana. Por isso que agências de saúde internacionais exigem pressão mínima dentro dos canos de abastecimento.

10- “Precisamos confiar na Sabesp nesse momento”. A Sabesp é gerida para maximizar lucros dos acionistas. Não está preocupada, em essência, em entregar um serviço de qualidade (exemplos são vários: a negligência no saneamento que polui o Rio Tietê, o uso de tecnologia obsoleta de tratamento de água com doses cavalares de cloro e, além, da crise no abastecimento decorrente dos pequenos investimentos no aumento do sistema de captação). A Sabesp é apenas herdeira de um sistema que já teve várias outras concessionárias: Cantareira Águas e Esgotos, RAE, SAEC etc. A empresa tem hoje uma concessão de abastecimento e saneamento. Acredito que é o momento de discutir a cassação dessa outorga, uma vez que as obrigações não foram cumpridas. Além, é claro, de uma nova administração no Governo do Estado, ao menos preocupada em entregar serviços público e não lucros para meia dúzia apenas.

Enfim, se eu pudesse resumir minhas conclusões: a crise no abastecimento não é natural, mas sim resultado de uma gestão voltada para a maximização de lucros da concessionária e de um Governo incompetente. Simples assim, ou talvez, infelizmente, nem tanto.

Gabriel Kogan

Curtir isso:

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20 Oct 07:01

Groups of Animals

by Doug
19 Oct 20:57

Photo





















15 Oct 16:02

Subway, Line 3

by boulet
Adam Victor Brandizzi

Agradeço ao Osiasjota pela graça concedida (de conhecer Bouletcorp). Também agradeço a quem comentou que todos eram bons. Enfim.

18 Oct 19:23

05-09-2014

by Laerte

09 Oct 21:13

How Sweden fights inequality — without soaking the rich

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Interessante isso, mas faz sentido. Na verdade, eu chutaria até que os tais impostos não são "impostos" mas, talvez, serviços públicos pagos na base do consumo.

There seems to be an obvious solution to rising inequality: higher taxes. But there's an inconvenient fact here. The way most advanced, industrial countries have made real gains on inequality is through relatively regressive taxes that fund programs that reduce inequality. In fact, America's tax system is already unusually progressive by international standards. Our ongoing research suggests that this unusual relationship is not a coincidence.

The countries in northern Europe that have made the biggest strides in reducing economic inequality do not fund their governments through soak-the-rich, steeply progressive taxes. Instead, they have broad-based taxes that ask all workers to contribute to a generous welfare state. Countries with highly progressive taxes that disproportionately hit the rich — like the United States — tend to have the stingiest welfare states.

The way a tax system fights inequality isn't just redistribution

The figure below makes this point clearly, showing that the more progressive a country's taxes, the less the country does to reduce inequality.

In this chart, redistributive effort refers to percent reduction in the market Gini coefficient — a useful measure of inequality. Household tax progressivity measures how much more (or less) of the tax burden falls on the wealthiest households, compared to households at the middle and the bottom.  Both measures are from the OECD.

There's a reason governments in nations with highly progressive taxes end up spending less to combat inequality — those taxes raise relatively little revenue for both economic and political reasons. For instance, the highly progressive taxes in the United States have fostered intense backlash from powerful economic elites, pushing high-earning individuals and firms to find loopholes and lobby for top-end cuts.

The reason Northern European countries with more regressive taxes achieve such high levels of labor market equality, despite less progressive tax systems, is that they spend money on increasing the skills and earning power of low-end wage earners. Countries with the lowest levels of inequality have learned that policies to cultivate skills for all workers and to achieve full employment policies can accelerate economic growth while also reducing inequality. Large investments in human capital reduce societal conflicts over the distribution of resources, even while expanding the economic pie.

Relying on the wealthy to fund the public sector will not create enough revenue for large-scale initiatives to reduce inequality

Countries like Denmark and Sweden also redistribute income, but this largely occurs through the funding of egalitarian social benefits — public health care, education — that also contribute to a productive, healthy workforce.  Whereas these countries raise most of their revenue in a relatively more regressive manner, they use this revenue to fund social benefits that improve both the living standards and productive capacities of lower-class residents. In contrast, countries with the most progressive tax systems, like the United States, tend to raise most of their revenue through levies on the wealthy and on capital, and end up investing little in job training and other social benefits that reduce inequality.

The lesson for the United States is that relying on the wealthiest citizens and corporations to fund the public sector will not create the revenue necessary for large-scale initiatives to reduce inequality. Emphasizing redistribution as the central principle for tax policy is needlessly divisive, leads to smaller government revenues overall, and thus misses the positive benefits that having more revenues can offer if invested wisely in promoting success for all. In this, the Democrats, who've pledged to not raise taxes on people making less than $250,000 a year, are little better than the Republicans, with their no-new-taxes-ever pledge.

The way a tax system fights inequality isn't just redistribution. It's by generating enough revenue to fund programs and benefits that help middle class, working class, and poor people participate and succeed in the economy. While talk of taxing top earners may make for good political rhetoric on the left, relying on such taxes cannot pay the bills.

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17 Oct 09:47

Beyond the Bell Curve, a New Universal Law

Imagine an archipelago where each island hosts a single tortoise species and all the islands are connected — say by rafts of flotsam. As the tortoises interact by dipping into one another’s food supplies, their populations fluctuate.

In 1972, the biologist Robert May devised a simple mathematical model that worked much like the archipelago. He wanted to figure out whether a complex ecosystem can ever be stable or whether interactions between species inevitably lead some to wipe out others. By indexing chance interactions between species as random numbers in a matrix, he calculated the critical “interaction strength” — a measure of the number of flotsam rafts, for example — needed to destabilize the ecosystem. Below this critical point, all species maintained steady populations. Above it, the populations shot toward zero or infinity.

Little did May know, the tipping point he discovered was one of the first glimpses of a curiously pervasive statistical law.

Widom and Tracy

Renate Schmid

Harold Widom, left, and Craig Tracy pictured in 2009 at the Oberwolfach Research Institute for Mathematics in Germany.

The law appeared in full form two decades later, when the mathematicians Craig Tracy and Harold Widom proved that the critical point in the kind of model May used was the peak of a statistical distribution. Then, in 1999, Jinho Baik, Percy Deift and Kurt Johansson discovered that the same statistical distribution also describes variations in sequences of shuffled integers — a completely unrelated mathematical abstraction. Soon the distribution appeared in models of the wriggling perimeter of a bacterial colony and other kinds of random growth. Before long, it was showing up all over physics and mathematics.

“The big question was why,” said Satya Majumdar, a statistical physicist at the University of Paris-Sud. “Why does it pop up everywhere?”

Systems of many interacting components — be they species, integers or subatomic particles — kept producing the same statistical curve, which had become known as the Tracy-Widom distribution. This puzzling curve seemed to be the complex cousin of the familiar bell curve, or Gaussian distribution, which represents the natural variation of independent random variables like the heights of students in a classroom or their test scores. Like the Gaussian, the Tracy-Widom distribution exhibits “universality,” a mysterious phenomenon in which diverse microscopic effects give rise to the same collective behavior. “The surprise is it’s as universal as it is,” said Tracy, a professor at the University of California, Davis.

When uncovered, universal laws like the Tracy-Widom distribution enable researchers to accurately model complex systems whose inner workings they know little about, like financial markets, exotic phases of matter or the Internet.

“It’s not obvious that you could have a deep understanding of a very complicated system using a simple model with just a few ingredients,” said Grégory Schehr, a statistical physicist who works with Majumdar at Paris-Sud. “Universality is the reason why theoretical physics is so successful.”

Universality is “an intriguing mystery,” said Terence Tao, a mathematician at the University of California, Los Angeles who won the prestigious Fields Medal in 2006. Why do certain laws seem to emerge from complex systems, he asked, “almost regardless of the underlying mechanisms driving those systems at the microscopic level?”

Now, through the efforts of researchers like Majumdar and Schehr, a surprising explanation for the ubiquitous Tracy-Widom distribution is beginning to emerge.

Lopsided Curve

The Tracy-Widom distribution is an asymmetrical statistical bump, steeper on the left side than the right. Suitably scaled, its summit sits at a telltale value: √2N, the square root of twice the number of variables in the systems that give rise to it and the exact transition point between stability and instability that May calculated for his model ecosystem.

The transition point corresponded to a property of his matrix model called the “largest eigenvalue”: the greatest in a series of numbers calculated from the matrix’s rows and columns. Researchers had already discovered that the N eigenvalues of a “random matrix” — one filled with random numbers — tend to space apart along the real number line according to a distinct pattern, with the largest eigenvalue typically located at or near √2N. Tracy and Widom determined how the largest eigenvalues of random matrices fluctuate around this average value, piling up into the lopsided statistical distribution that bears their names.

Tracy-Widom Distribution vs Gaussian

Olena Shmahalo/Quanta Magazine

Whereas “uncorrelated” random variables such as test scores splay out into the bell-shaped Gaussian distribution, interacting species, financial stocks and other “correlated” variables give rise to a more complicated statistical curve. Steeper on the left than the right, the curve has a shape that depends on N, the number of variables.

When the Tracy-Widom distribution turned up in the integer sequences problem and other contexts that had nothing to do with random matrix theory, researchers began searching for the hidden thread tying all its manifestations together, just as mathematicians in the 18th and 19th centuries sought a theorem that would explain the ubiquity of the bell-shaped Gaussian distribution.

The central limit theorem, which was finally made rigorous about a century ago, certifies that test scores and other “uncorrelated” variables — meaning any of them can change without affecting the rest — will form a bell curve. By contrast, the Tracy-Widom curve appears to arise from variables that are strongly correlated, such as interacting species, stock prices and matrix eigenvalues. The feedback loop of mutual effects between correlated variables makes their collective behavior more complicated than that of uncorrelated variables like test scores. While researchers have rigorously proved certain classes of random matrices in which the Tracy-Widom distribution universally holds, they have a looser handle on its manifestations in counting problems, random-walk problems, growth models and beyond.

“No one really knows what you need in order to get Tracy-Widom,” said Herbert Spohn, a mathematical physicist at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. “The best we can do,” he said, is to gradually uncover the range of its universality by tweaking systems that exhibit the distribution and seeing whether the variants give rise to it too.

So far, researchers have characterized three forms of the Tracy-Widom distribution: rescaled versions of one another that describe strongly correlated systems with different types of inherent randomness. But there could be many more than three, perhaps even an infinite number, of Tracy-Widom universality classes. “The big goal is to find the scope of universality of the Tracy-Widom distribution,” said Baik, a professor of mathematics at the University of Michigan. “How many distributions are there? Which cases give rise to which ones?”

As other researchers identified further examples of the Tracy-Widom peak, Majumdar, Schehr and their collaborators began hunting for clues in the curve’s left and right tails.

Going Through a Phase

Majumdar became interested in the problem in 2006 during a workshop at the University of Cambridge in England. He met a pair of physicists who were using random matrices to model string theory’s abstract space of all possible universes. The string theorists reasoned that stable points in this “landscape” corresponded to the subset of random matrices whose largest eigenvalues were negative — far to the left of the average value of √2N at the peak of the Tracy-Widom curve. They wondered just how rare these stable points — the seeds of viable universes — might be.

To answer the question, Majumdar and David Dean, now of the University of Bordeaux in France, realized that they needed to derive an equation describing the tail to the extreme left of the Tracy-Widom peak, a region of the statistical distribution that had never been studied. Within a year, their derivation of the left “large deviation function” appeared in Physical Review Letters. Using different techniques, they calculated the right large deviation function three years later. On the right, Majumdar and Dean were surprised to find that the distribution dropped off at a rate related to the number of eigenvalues, N; on the left, it tapered off more quickly, as a function of N2.

In 2009, the form of the left and right tails gave Majumdar, Schehr and Peter Forrester of the University of Melbourne in Australia a flash of insight: They realized the universality of the Tracy-Widom distribution could be related to the universality of phase transitions — events such as water freezing into ice, graphite becoming diamond and ordinary metals transforming into strange superconductors.

Because phase transitions are so widespread — all substances change phases when fed or starved of sufficient energy — and take only a handful of mathematical forms, they are for statistical physicists “almost like a religion,” Majumdar said.

Majumdar and Schehr

Courtesy of Grégory Schehr

Satya Majumdar, left, and Grégory Schehr at the University of Paris-Sud.

In the miniscule margins of the Tracy-Widom distribution, Majumdar, Schehr and Forrester recognized familiar mathematical forms: distinct curves describing two different rates of change in the properties of a system, sloping downward from either side of a transitional peak. These were the trappings of a phase transition.

In the thermodynamic equations describing water, the curve that represents the water’s energy as a function of temperature has a kink at 100 degrees Celsius, the point at which the liquid becomes steam. The water’s energy slowly increases up to this point, suddenly jumps to a new level and then slowly increases again along a different curve, in the form of steam. Crucially, where the energy curve has a kink, the “first derivative” of the curve — another curve that shows how quickly the energy changes at each point — has a peak.

Similarly, the physicists realized, the energy curves of certain strongly correlated systems have a kink at √2N. The associated peak for these systems is the Tracy-Widom distribution, which appears in the third derivative of the energy curve — that is, the rate of change of the rate of change of the energy’s rate of change. This makes the Tracy-Widom distribution a “third-order” phase transition.

“The fact that it pops up everywhere is related to the universal character of phase transitions,” Schehr said. “This phase transition is universal in the sense that it does not depend too much on the microscopic details of your system.”

According to the form of the tails, the phase transition separated phases of systems whose energy scaled with N2 on the left and N on the right. But Majumdar and Schehr wondered what characterized this Tracy-Widom universality class; why did third-order phase transitions always seem to occur in systems of correlated variables?

The answer lay buried in a pair of esoteric papers from 1980. A third-order phase transition had shown up before, identified that year in a simplified version of the theory governing atomic nuclei. The theoretical physicists David Gross, Edward Witten and (independently) Spenta Wadia discovered a third-order phase transition separating a “weak coupling” phase, in which matter takes the form of nuclear particles, and a higher-temperature “strong coupling” phase, in which matter melds into plasma. After the Big Bang, the universe probably transitioned from a strong- to a weak-coupling phase as it cooled.

After examining the literature, Schehr said, he and Majumdar “realized there was a deep connection between our probability problem and this third-order phase transition that people had found in a completely different context.”

Weak to Strong

Majumdar and Schehr have since accrued substantial evidence that the Tracy-Widom distribution and its large deviation tails represent a universal phase transition between weak- and strong-coupling phases. In May’s ecosystem model, for example, the critical point at √2N separates a stable phase of weakly coupled species, whose populations can fluctuate individually without affecting the rest, from an unstable phase of strongly coupled species, in which fluctuations cascade through the ecosystem and throw it off balance. In general, Majumdar and Schehr believe, systems in the Tracy-Widom universality class exhibit one phase in which all components act in concert and another phase in which the components act alone.

The asymmetry of the statistical curve reflects the nature of the two phases. Because of mutual interactions between the components, the energy of the system in the strong-coupling phase on the left is proportional to N2. Meanwhile, in the weak-coupling phase on the right, the energy depends only on the number of individual components, N.

“Whenever you have a strongly coupled phase and a weakly coupled phase, Tracy-Widom is the connecting crossover function between the two phases,” Majumdar said.

Majumdar and Schehr’s work is “a very nice contribution,” said Pierre Le Doussal, a physicist at École Normale Supérieure in France who helped prove the presence of the Tracy-Widom distribution in a stochastic growth model called the KPZ equation. Rather than focusing on the peak of the Tracy-Widom distribution, “the phase transition is probably the deeper level” of explanation, Le Doussal said. “It should basically make us think more about trying to classify these third-order transitions.”

Leo Kadanoff, the statistical physicist who introduced the term “universality” and helped classify universal phase transitions in the 1960s, said it has long been clear to him that universality in random matrix theory must somehow be connected to the universality of phase transitions. But while the physical equations describing phase transitions seem to match reality, many of the computational methods used to derive them have never been made mathematically rigorous.

“Physicists will, in a pinch, settle for a comparison with nature,” Kadanoff said, “Mathematicians want proofs — proof that phase-transition theory is correct; more detailed proofs that random matrices fall into the universality class of third-order phase transitions; proof that such a class exists.”

For the physicists involved, a preponderance of evidence will suffice. The task now is to identify and characterize strong- and weak-coupling phases in more of the systems that exhibit the Tracy-Widom distribution, such as growth models, and to predict and study new examples of Tracy-Widom universality throughout nature.

The telltale sign will be the tails of the statistical curves. At a gathering of experts in Kyoto, Japan, in August, Le Doussal encountered Kazumasa Takeuchi, a University of Tokyo physicist who reported in 2010 that the interface between two phases of a liquid crystal material varies according to the Tracy-Widom distribution. Four years ago, Takeuchi had not collected enough data to plot extreme statistical outliers, such as prominent spikes along the interface. But when Le Doussal entreated Takeuchi to plot the data again, the scientists saw the first glimpse of the left and right tails. Le Doussal immediately emailed Majumdar with the news.

“Everybody looks only at the Tracy-Widom peak,” Majumdar said. “They don’t look at the tails because they are very, very tiny things.”

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16 Oct 20:03

Gilt by Association

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Maria Antonieta tímida, caridosa e amada pelo povo.

The Marie Antoinette cliché is easy to not just summon, but accessorize: there is the pouf, the diamond necklace, the dressmaker’s bills, and the toy farm. There is the fat husband, the overbearing mother, and the dashing Swedish count. And then there are the turns of phrase both too flippant and too penitent to really be believed: “let them eat cake,” as she presumably nibbled her own, and “forgive me, sir, I did not mean to do it,” as she stepped on her executioner’s foot. The former is almost certainly apocryphal, the latter is harder to confirm or disprove. The words are vague enough to imagine Marie Antoinette accepting her guilt, no matter the accusation.

Will Marie Antoinette, the subject of so much revolutionary vitriol in her own time, ever enjoy a revolution of her own sordid legacy? Historians familiar with the cliché have finally begun to accept “let them eat cake” as pure invention. “That lethal phrase,” Antonia Fraser writes in her biography of the queen,

had been known for at least a century previously, when it was ascribed to the Spanish princess Marie Thèrése, bride of Louis XIV, in a slightly different form: if there was no bread, let the people eat the crust (croûte) of the pâté. It was known to Rousseau in 1737. It was credited to one of the royal aunts, Madame Sophie, in 1751, when reacting to the news that her brother the Dauphin Louis Ferdinand had been pestered with cries of “Bread, bread” on a visit to Paris. The Comtesse de Boigne, who as a child played at the Versailles of Marie Antoinette, attributed the saying to another aunt, Madame Victoire. …It was, in short, a royal chestnut.

Claiming that Marie Antoinette would have been most likely to utter the phrase in the spring of 1775 during the Flour War, a series of riots triggered by the rising price of grain, Fraser instead marshals Marie Antoinette’s own words in a letter to her mother: “It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.” The contrast—between the apocryphal utterance and the recorded reflection—is striking. The Marie Antoinette we find in recorded history emerges as kind, caring, well-spoken, and impetuously altruistic. She refused to allow the royal procession to roll over the fields of peasants, and she gave to charity the gifts that poured in for her children. During her childless years, she attempted to adopt into the royal household a little peasant boy who once fell in her carriage’s path and captured her affections after he emerged unharmed. The boy’s grandmother and widowed father were in favor of the arrangement; the boy was not. Even after he departed Versailles, however, the queen continued to care for his family’s needs in one of the many acts of charity that, while incapable of having any real impact on the financial quagmire that was France, at least allowed Marie Antoinette to use what agency she did have to make some impact on the well-being of her people.

Why do we have such trouble recalling this Marie Antoinette? For one thing, Marie’s resolution to “work hard for [the people’s] happiness” was far easier said than done. At Versailles it was the accepted custom for the royal mistress to hold sway over the king—Madame du Pompadour under Louis XV, and within Marie Antoinette’s own time, his extravagant lover Madame du Barry. The queen herself, tradition held, should lead a quiet, retiring life of praying, perhaps embroidering a few altar cloths, and, most importantly, producing heirs. Entering the court of Versailles as a foreigner at age fourteen, Marie Antoinette foresaw her role as essential but tangential—any attempt to influence the king’s political decisions, let alone to utilize one’s own royal power in matters of state, would at best be met with laughter and at worst whispers of treason. Without the opportunity to do much of anything, she could only become the most of everything: the most beautiful, the most regal, the most worthy of love. In remembering how utterly this tactic failed during the final years of Marie Antoinette’s life, we forget how spectacularly it served her for much of her reign.

At the coronation of Louis XVI, which took place at the end of the Flour War of 1775, the new King ascended the throne wearing a ruby, emerald, sapphire-, and diamond-encrusted crown at a time when his country suffered under a deficit of twenty-two million livres. The crown itself had cost six thousand livres; at the time, the average annual income for a noble family was thirty thousand livres. A single livre was worth twenty sous, and a laborer could expect to make between thirty and fifty sous a day. At the time of the riot that incited the Flour War, the price of a loaf of bread was sixteen sous—in other words, half a day of taxing labor, or, to perhaps put it in even better perspective, 0.00013 percent of the cost of the king’s coronation crown. Yet for all this the young king was met with adoration, not least of all because of the public’s well-established love for his beautiful young queen.

Upon Marie Antoinette’s arrival from her native Austria five years before, the citizens of France had also rioted, this time not because of starvation, but because of their desperation to glimpse their young dauphine. The resulting crush of bodies had led to a staggering 130 casualties. Following her husband’s coronation, those who posed a threat to Marie Antoinette could be certain of meeting with the citizenry’s hatred. As Caroline Weber notes in her 2006 biography, “crowds rejoicing at the change of régime burned [Madame du Barry supporter] Auiguillon’s despicable colleague Maupeou in effigy, in part because they suspected him of having spread vicious rumors against their lovely new queen.”

Caroline Weber’s book, Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, takes an approach as sympathetic as Antonia Fraser’s, but dwells less on the queen’s woeful lack of agency than on the realm in which she truly reigned: clothes. In this regard, Weber has ample material to work with. It hardly stretches the imagination to suggest that a young woman whose passage from one country to another was symbolized by a change of clothes—she was stripped of her 400,000-livre Austrian trousseau at the border and outfitted with a French one—might come to believe in the transformative power of fashion.

Weber employs what may be her most radical argument in a section devoted to the early years of Marie Antoinette’s life at Versailles, during which time she found herself unable to consummate her marriage, let alone to conceive an heir. The problem laid not with Marie Antoinette, but with her shy and maladroit young husband, who for years was either unable or unwilling to fulfill his marital duty.

As far as royal marriages go, a union with a painfully self-conscious virgin must have seemed an enviable prospect to many of the young queens forced to contend with syphilis, illegitimate heirs, and marital rape, but for Marie Antoinette this era of forced celibacy seemed to have amounted to a kind of psychological torture. She had been brought to France to fulfill one purpose, and through not fault of her own was unable to do so.

It was only after three years of marriage, in the summer of 1773, that Louis XVI was able to consummate the royal marriage—or at least to believe he had. (Marie Antoinette shared in his perceived triumph, gleefully writing of her long-awaited success in a letter to her mother, Empress Maria Theresa.) However, the couple’s relief was short-lived, as gossip of his affliction soon came to focus on Marie Antoinette’s baffling inability to conceive.

One can only imagine how difficult these years might have been for the anxious young queen. For the three years that she remained only “half a dauphine,” a sizable faction of courtiers remained intent on removing her from Versailles. Even after the alleged consummation, her failure to produce an heir allowed her detractors to deny her even the traces of power and credibility her title allowed. Without true friends or even allies at court, Marie Antoinette also would have learned very quickly that there was little use in turning to her mother for comfort: she would only receive more harshly-worded missives enjoining her to fulfill the only duty she had ever been groomed for.

What could make Marie Antoinette a valuable member of the royal family? Her mother seemed to think she knew. “It’s not your beauty, which frankly is not very great,” Maria Theresa wrote to her fifteen-year-old daughter, then a newlywed, “nor your talents nor your brilliance (you know perfectly well you have neither).” It was, Maria Theresa said, her manners, her sweetness, and her charm that would save her. If she could not be a real dauphine she could inspire those around her to love her as much as if she were one. But as Caroline Weber argues, the half-dauphine had other ideas. Finding a way to enchant a hostile and gossip-obsessed court with sheer goodness and charm must have seemed to Marie Antoinette—who was often naive but never stupid—as impossible as any task assigned to a beleaguered young heroine in a fairy tale. Instead, she set about commanding awe and respect through clothes. Like her timid husband, Marie Antoinette was descended from Louis XIV; unlike her timid husband, Marie Antoinette had the Sun King’s ability to use her wardrobe and charisma to project an air of compelling regality. She also, Weber suggests, may have gestured toward the kind of masculinity she could not dare approach in her actual conduct, through “phallic” wigs and scandalously androgynous riding garb. If she could not be a real dauphine, she could at least dress with kingly regalness.

Whether or not one agrees with Weber’s argument, it’s hard not to sympathize with the lonely, vulnerable, and all-too-human figure at its center. Marie Antoinette had lived in the crucible of public scrutiny that was Versailles for eight years—the entirety of her adult life—before she managed to deliver her first child; it would be three more years before she provided France with a male heir. By then she certainly had plenty of time to accept that she could only feel safe or appreciated by inspiring public awe, and could far more easily rely on regal bearing and sartorial splendor than on her intelligence, personality, or kindness.

Perhaps the most persistent question regarding Marie Antoinette’s life is the one that haunted her downfall: was her spending really enough to bankrupt a country? As with Louis XVI’s failure in the bedchamber, the impression of mystery has grown greatly over the years, but the answer is simply no. Marie Antoinette's spending, though significant, was hardly exemplary by the standards of Versailles. Though this spending memorably ended with her reign, it had gone on for decades before her arrival. During the years Marie Antoinette spent within its eleven hundred rooms, Versailles was home to between two and four thousand citizens, each one requiring gifts, appointments, and various indulgences. During her tenure as Louis XV’s mistress—a salaried position paying 150,000 livres a year, not counting gifts from the king himself—Madame du Barry frosted not just herself but her animals with millions of livres worth of jewels, gifting, for example, a diamond- and ruby-encrusted leash and collar to her pet spaniel, Dorine.

Even within her immediate family, Marie Antoinette had ample competition. In 1777 alone, her brothers-in-law the Comte de Provence and the Comte d’Artois accrued a combined gambling debt of thirty-one million livres, while the Comte d’Artois rounded out his expenditures with an order for 365 pairs of shoes, a fresh one for each day. Meanwhile, Louis XVI’s maiden aunts, each of whom withdrew a million livres in annual salary, once spent three million livres on a six-week trip to Vichy. Though Marie Antoinette’s spending may seem monstrous—in 1776, for example, she spent 100,000 livres on accessories—it pales in comparison to the orgy of spending continuously taking place all around her. She also had little alternative. During a period when her Rousseau-influenced taste for “simple” pleasures extended to her wardrobe, sparking a national fad for simple muslin gowns known as galles, her detractors pilloried her for depriving the French silk industry of its lifeblood. If Marie Antoinette regarded her spending as a political statement, it might have been far more astute of her not to cut her spending back, but to consider where she might spend money in order to best satisfy her people.

As the French Revolution progressed, it remained difficult for many French citizens and thinkers to loathe Louis XVI with the vitriol their philosophy seemed to require. Marie Antoinette, decadent, foreign, and venial, could much more easily be pressed into service as a symbol of all that was wrong with the Ancien Régime. Groomed for a passive role, her life, as it descended into nightmare, reached an odd kind of zenith: never had she performed such rich symbolic labor, or done so with such little effort. If we look at her as a silly woman whose spending helped inspire a revolution she herself could not understand, her death seems unjust but not particularly tragic. But though her public image helped bolster leaders of a bloody revolution, her legacy may still inspire change. If we are willing to reexamine our public hunger for women as passive figures—and for all the symbolic freight we feel compelled to lash onto them—we may come to regard Marie Antoinette not as a musty cliche, but as one of the most thought-provoking examples of the damage this hunger can do.Forgive us, madame: we did not mean to do it.

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07 Oct 16:29

The Big Opportunity

Adam Victor Brandizzi

Seria um revival interessante.
* * *
Aliás, interessante também seria o modelo de negócios de expandir o feed. Há um ou dois sites pelo qual que pagaria pelo feed expandido (e olha que uso Y!Pipes adoidado.)

A while back, Talking Points Memo had this small post:

If you read TPM through our RSS feed, you should know that one of the many benefits of Prime membership is full text RSS feeds. No ‘read mores’ or ‘click throughs’. And of course, zero ads. Click here to sign up.

Now that is not the kind of thing that’s going to blow any minds. Nice, but still just a small thing. But TMP knows its core audience of wonky, lefty political junkies wants their fix fast. They know that RSS is the best tool to deliver that fix, and they’re making it a little easier for members to get it.

Lately I’ve been doing some old-fashioned market research, trying to figure out what the growth opportunity is for a reader. Ten years ago, there were dozens of industry analysts tracking the “RSS market.” 

Back then, some estimates pegged RSS usage around 10 or 11 percent of Internet users. Today, there are still millions of users, but probably in the single digits percentage-wise.

But while there aren’t analysts writing annual RSS reports any more, I think the opportunity is more clear than ever. I’m old enough to remember when Apple’s market share was around 3 percent of all computers sold. Nobody needs to hear the Apple story again, but it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t too long ago that the Mac was destined to die. But the company had a better, cleaner UI and it focused on doing the little things well.

Right now, we’re focused on doing the little things that make users happy. (As always, please leave comments about what you want to see.) I don’t think we’re talking about anything radical. 

We’re not in a hurry. We don’t have VC money or investors pushing for a quick return. There is no timetable to cash out. We’re just trying to make an insanely good reader. I don’t know what the “market opportunity” is for RSS and frankly, we don’t concern ourselves with that stuff. It’s just a matter of of doing the small things right. 

16 Oct 23:29

Inching Closer To An Agreement?

by Andrew Sullivan

Iranian officials are reportedly considering a compromise offer by the US that would resolve one of the main sticking points in the slow-going negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program:

At issue is Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which can make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of nuclear arms. Tehran insists the program is only for future energy needs. Iran is refusing U.S. demands that it cut the number of working enriching centrifuges from nearly 10,000 to only a few thousand. That dispute has been the main stumbling block to progress since the talks began early this year.

Ahead of a Nov. 24 deadline to seal a deal, diplomats told the AP last m nth that U.S. had begun floating alternates to reducing centrifuges that would eliminate the disagreement but still accomplish the goal of increasing the time Iran would need to make a nuclear weapon. Among them was an offer to tolerate more centrifuges if Tehran agreed to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which can fuel reactors but is also easily turned into weapons-grade material. Back then, Iran was non-committal. But the two diplomats said Thursday it recently began discussions with Moscow on possibly shipping some of its low-enriched stockpile to Russia for future use as an energy source.

Suggesting some other potential compromises, Reza Marashi hopes that both the Obama and Rouhani administrations can overcome the domestic political challenges that stand in the way of an otherwise feasible and necessary deal:

The reality facing both sides will not change:

There are spoilers in the U.S. and Iran who will try to torpedo a deal, no matter the details. Precisely because it is impossible to satisfy ideologues, they only way to defeat them is to have a deal in hand that both sides believe is a win-win outcome. That will force the ideologues to publicly flesh out the details of their alternative — and the only alternative to a comprehensive deal is war. That is Obama and Rouhani’s trump card, and as November 24 approaches, they must play to win the game.

Matthew McInnis suspects the Iranians are under more pressure now than before:

Perhaps the eagerness we are seeing from some in Tehran reflects a regime realizing it must reach an agreement even if the deal may be a more painful pill to swallow than expected. The recent substantial drop in oil prices may have convinced Rouhani and the senior leadership that their critical domestic economic reforms are in potential serious jeopardy and that sanctions relief must happen soon. That is not to mention the conflict with ISIS is also bleeding valuable resources. Fears of the Israelis starting a covert campaign against their nuclear facilities may have spooked the military.

But Drezner is less optimistic:

Complaining that domestic politics is getting in the way of a nuclear deal is a little like complaining that enriched uranium is getting in the way of a nuclear deal — they are both intrinsic to the negotiations. … It’s also not obvious to me, by the way, that either President Obama or President Hassan Rouhani will be able to make the hard sell on a compromise to their respective legislatures. It’s not like Obama’s national security street-cred is riding terribly high at the moment, and Rouhani has his own hardliners to massage.

So the political scientist in me thinks that a nuclear deal would be good for the United States in the short and long runs. But that same political scientist in me is also increasingly skeptical about arguments that leadership will somehow be able to override hardliners in both countries to get to that deal.