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20 Feb 20:35

A Young Middleton High Team Wins Their 2nd-Straight Wisconsin High School Swimming Title

by Braden Keith

By Braden Keith on SwimSwam

2024 Wisconsin Boys’ High School Swimming & Diving Championships – Division 1

  • February 17, 2024
  • Waukesha South High School Natatorium, Waukesha, Wisconsin
  • Short Course Yards (25 yards), Timed Finals
  • Full Meet Results

The boys from Middleton High School outside of Madison grabbed their second consecutive team title, and third overall, last weekend in Waukesha, scoring 273 points.

This year’s meet was the 100th boys’ high school swimming & diving championship in Wisconsin.

While those are a few less points than they scored last season (288), their 95-point margin over runners-up Madison Memorial is bigger than last season (77).

Team Scores – Top 10

  1. Middleton – 273
  2. Madison Memorial – 178
  3. Arrowhead – 177
  4. Brookfield Central/East Co-op – 138
  5. DC Everest – 136.5
  6. Sun Prairie East – 132
  7. Hudson – 126
  8. Franklin – 120
  9. Madison West – 119
  10. West Bend West/East Co-Op – 99

Wisconsin high school swimming has two divisions. Division 1 is the state’s bigger high schools, plus some smaller schools that have combined into large co-ops.

Middleton roared to a win thanks to one individual event title and two relays, including a statement-making Meet Record in the 200 medley relay to open the festivities.

The relay of Max Carter (back – 23.35), Sam Wolf (breast – 24.16), Caden van Buren (fly – 21.53) and Vitense Cowan (free – 21.57) combined for a 1:30.61. That won the race by a two second margin and broke Madison West’s State Record that was set in 2019.

They had the fastest split on each leg of that relay aside from the anchor leg, where DC Everest senior and South Dakota commit David Mayer split 20.01.

The first three legs of that winning Middleton relay were all sophomores, with only the anchor Cowan graduating, so they should be back for more next year. That includes Sam Wolf, who also won an individual event title for Middleton.

First he won the 200 IM in 1:47.97, more than three seconds ahead of Franklin’s Jack Paull (1:51.32). There was only one senior in the top 12 of that race, again indicative of the generally young nature of this year’s meet. Wolf was 3rd last year in 1:48.22 at a veteran-heavy meet that had six seniors in the top eight.

Wolf was 2nd in the 100 free in 44.80 behind Mayer (44.29). That swim for Mayer is faster than any USD swimmers have been this season, showing the big impact he’ll have when he arrives on campus in the fall.

He also won the individual 50 free in 20.34, a flat-start best for him.

While Wolf had the fastest breaststroke split on the 200 medley relay, he didn’t swim the 100 breaststroke individually. There he would have run into Madison West’s Abram Mueller, the defending champion and State Record holder.

Mueller won that event again this year in 53.77, about half-a-second off his winning time of 53.20 from last season.

He also won the 100 fly in 48.59 to defend that title as well. This swim was a new lifetime best, shaving .12 seconds off the time he did at last year’s State meet.

Mueller, a senior, is committed to swim at Stanford next season.

Wolf finished his meet by swimming the anchor leg of Middleton’s winning 400 free relay. Again with three sophomores, the relay included Jackson Esteves (47.21), Ben Cutler Heiderscheit (46.71), Max Carter (45.93), and Wolf (44.65).

Wolf was one of two 44-second splits on that closing relay along with Hudson senior Andrew Hanson, who led them off in 44.66.

Individually, Hanson won the 200 free in 1:36.93, which crushed his best time by 1.6 seconds.

In spite of his progress there, Hanson was upset later in the meet in the 500 free by Muskego junior Carter Jewell. Hanson entered the meet as the defending champion and Meet Record holder, but finished 2nd behind Jewell in 4:28.54 – about four seconds off his time from last year.

Jewell, meanwhile, won in 4:25.75, which smashed his personal best coming into the meet by six seconds (he was 4:31.88 a week earlier at Sectionals). In total, Jewell dropped 19 seconds in the 20223-2024 season, putting the uncommitted junior on to a lot of recruiting radars.

While Middleton ran away with the state title, for the second-straight season, Arrowhead and Madison Memorial battled down to the wire for the runner-up spot. Last year, Arrowhead took 2nd place, but this year Madison Memorial took those honors – by 1 point.

Even though Arrowhead was 2nd in the closing 400 free relay, one spot ahead of Madison West, but they needed to be two spots better to overtake for 2nd place.

Other Event Winners

  • The Co-op from Brookfield Central and East High Schools won the 200 free relay in 1:25.32 – another winning relay with only one senior. That senior was the leadoff Tom Bergin (21.19). He was followed by Caleb Smith (21.59), Luke Thomas (22.11), and freshman anchor Logan Loppnow. Loppnow may be in his first season of high school swimming, but he didn’t show any nerves in that crucial anchor slot – he split 20.43 to run-down and overcome an eight-tenths deficit to keep Middleton from a relay sweep. Bergin and Loppnow attend Central, while Smith and Thomas attend East.
  • Mayer was again the best split of the field in the 200 free relay, anchoring DC Everest in 20.09 for 3rd place.
  • Franklin senior Mason Bruhn won the boys’ 100 back in 49.08, using a huge back-half swim to overcome Middleton sophomore Carter (49.25). That’s a new lifetime best for the Denver commit Bruhn, who was 49.45 to finish in 3rd place last season.
  • junior Brady Huettl from the Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial co-op won 1-meter diving after finishing 3rd last season. He cracked 500 points, finishing with a score of 501.90.

Read the full story on SwimSwam: A Young Middleton High Team Wins Their 2nd-Straight Wisconsin High School Swimming Title

12 Jan 18:40

How Houthi 'Hornet's Nest' May Sting US

Middle East expert Bilal Saab told Newsweek that Joe Biden was left to choose "the least bad option" in deciding how to react to recent Houthi attacks.
04 Jan 03:01

Niklaus Wirth, Inventor of Pascal, Dies At 89

by BeauHD
New submitter axlash writes: It has been reported on X that Niklaus Wirth, inventor and co-inventor of several languages including Pascal, Euler and Oberon, died on Jan 1, 2024. He was aged 89. "We lost a titan of programming languages, programming methodology, software engineering and hardware design," writes software engineer Bertrand Meyer in a post on X. "Niklaus Wirth passed away on the first of January. We mourn a pioneer, colleague, mentor and friend." Niklaus Wirth, born on February 15, 1934, in Switzerland, is a renowned computer scientist known for his significant contributions to the field of computer science and software engineering. He is best known for developing several programming languages, including ALGOL W, Pascal, and Modula-2, which have had a profound impact on the design and development of modern computer software. Wirth's work emphasized simplicity, clarity, and efficiency in programming languages, which greatly influenced subsequent language design and the development of structured programming techniques. His legacy also includes the development of the Oberon programming language and the design of the Oberon operating system. Wirth's dedication to elegant and efficient software design continues to inspire computer scientists and software engineers worldwide, making him a highly respected figure in the history of computing. You can learn more about Wirth via A.M. Turing Award, Britannica, and the Computer History Museum.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

22 Dec 20:58

Apple Explores A.I. Deals With News Publishers

by Benjamin Mullin and Tripp Mickle
The company has discussed multiyear deals worth at least $50 million to train its generative A.I. systems on publishers’ news articles.
01 Sep 23:42

Give Journalists What They Need To Hold Big Tech Accountable

by Julia Angwin
Ben Wolf

test 123

Why the European Union’s ambitious new rules should be tweaked to allow journalists to access Big Tech data.
15 Jul 02:08

FDA Says Aspartame Is Safe, Disagreeing With WHO's Cancer Link

by BeauHD
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagrees with the World Health Organization's recent assessment that aspartame possibly causes cancer in humans. "Aspartame is one of the most studied food additives in the human food supply. FDA scientists do not have safety concerns when aspartame is used under the approved conditions," an agency spokesperson said. CNBC reports: The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO body, found a possible link between aspartame and a type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma after reviewing three large human studies in the U.S. and Europe. Dr. Mary Schubauer-Berigan, a senior official at IARC, emphasized that the WHO classification of aspartame as a possible carcinogen is based on limited evidence. Schubauer-Berigan acknowledged during a news conference with journalists Wednesday that the studies could contain flaws that skewed the results. She said the classification should be viewed as a call to conduct more research into whether aspartame can cause cancer in humans. "This shouldn't really be taken as a direct statement that indicates that there is a known cancer hazard from consuming aspartame," Schubauer-Berigan said. The FDA spokesperson said the classification of aspartame as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" does not mean the sugar substitute is actually linked to cancer. Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority have also concluded that aspartame is safe at the current permitted levels, the spokesperson said. A separate body of international scientists called the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives said Thursday that the evidence of an association between aspartame and cancer in humans is not convincing. JECFA is an international group made up of scientists from the WHO and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. JECFA makes recommendations about how much of a product people can safely consume. The organization maintained its recommendation that it is safe for a person to consume 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight daily during their lifetime. An adult who weighs 70 kilograms, or 154 pounds, would have to drink more than nine to 14 cans of aspartame-containing soda daily to exceed the limit and potentially face health risks. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department told the WHO in an August 2022 letter that JECFA is better suited to provide public health recommendations about the safety of aspartame in food. This is because JECFA reviews all available data, both public and private proprietary information, whereas the IARC only looks at public data. "Thus, an IARC review of aspartame, by comparison, would be incomplete and its conclusion could be confusing to consumers," Mara Burr, who heads the HHS office of multilateral relations, wrote in the letter. The FDA has a slightly higher recommendation than JECFA and says it is safe for a person to consume 50 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight daily during their lifetime. A person who weighs 132 pounds would have to consume 75 packets of aspartame per day to reach this limit.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

14 Jul 16:06

The Fundraising Stunts Are Getting Out of Control

by David A. Graham
Ben Wolf

testing

You don’t become a billionaire without being clever with money, but Doug Burgum’s latest scheme is a head-scratcher: The North Dakota governor is offering $20 gift cards to people who donate one greenback dollar to his presidential campaign. His fellow candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is offering a 10 percent commission to anyone who brings in donations. A super PAC supporting Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is offering one donor a year of free college tuition.

Critics have long pointed out how big money distorts politics, but these fundraising stunts demonstrate how now even small money has come to warp campaigns. These GOP candidates are trying to reach a Republican National Committee threshold of 40,000 individual donors, including 200 each in 20 states or territories, to qualify for primary debates. The RNC has set a high bar to make sure that candidates have real support—and perhaps to downplay the influence of major donors. But the effect may be the opposite: enticing candidates to try novel tactics to create the illusion of real support, because they know that getting on the debate stage is essential for remaining viable and attracting those big donors. As the old saying goes, it takes money to make money.

[Read: Small donors still aren’t as important as wealthy ones]

These tactics are the product of a new focus in politics on small-dollar donors, which means that they have not been legally tested. “The whole time I was at the FEC I never saw anything like this,” Ann Ravel, a former chair of the Federal Election Commission, told me. Although she called the moves “quite unseemly,” she said she doubted that they clearly broke existing statutes or regulations. But other experts believe that Burgum’s scheme may fall afoul of the law, even if the others are allowed.

An early forerunner of these plans came in 2020, when the Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang announced a plan to give away $120,000—$10,000 a month for one year to 10 families, drawn randomly from people who signed up on his website. The idea was to advertise Yang’s proposal for universal basic income for all Americans. (Ravel, for her part, wrote an op-ed at the time arguing that plan was likely illegal.) This year’s schemes eschew such a connection to policy and, unlike Yang’s, require that citizens contribute money, not just enter their email.

Under Ramaswamy’s plan, anyone can gather donations and take a small cut. In a video, he called it a way to “democratize” the old system and break up the “oligopoly” of traditional fundraising. A better way to describe it would be as Uber, but for campaign finance. Candidates have long paid professional fundraisers to bring in cash. They have also relied on “bundlers,” who persuade friends and acquaintances to give, even though each donor is limited to $3,300 in individual federal donations this cycle. Ramaswamy is basically combining those and applying them to small donations.

Rather than let anyone take a small cut, SOS America PAC is effectively holding a raffle for one big winner. They’re asking people to give to Suarez’s campaign, and they’ll give away a tuition gift to one contributor. You’ll have to shop around if you win, though: With a $15,000 limit, a Floridian could cover a full year at the University of Florida, Florida State, or Florida International (Suarez’s alma mater), but an out-of-state student would be able to cover only part of the cost. (That sum would barely reach a quarter of the cost at the University of Miami.)

Burgum’s approach is the most novel. Campaigns commonly offer swag for donations—write a check, get a bumper sticker—but handing out gift cards goes a step further. It sounds like it ought to somehow be illegal. But is it? Candidates aren’t permitted to buy votes, but giving a dollar doesn’t obligate anyone to actually vote for Burgum. They could just be involved in a neat arbitrage and vote for someone else. Federal law also bans “straw donations”: You can’t give money to your friend or spouse or employee and ask them to donate it. The ban serves two purposes. First, it prevents individuals from circumventing the individual contribution limit; second, it ensures compliance with donor-disclosure laws.

But Burgum isn’t subject to contribution limits, because candidates are allowed to give unlimited amounts to their own campaigns, and the scheme obviously doesn’t violate disclosure requirements. “The statutes and regulations are not clear enough to indicate that there’s any real legal problem with this activity,” Ravel told me.

[Richard L. Hasen: Unlimited contributions to candidates, coming soon?]

Other experts are not so sure. “I do not fault anyone for thinking creatively about lawful ways to raise money,” Paul S. Ryan, a longtime campaign-finance lawyer, told me. Yet he believes that giving the gift cards and accepting the donations violate the plain language of the straw-donor law: “No person shall make a contribution in the name of another person or knowingly permit his name to be used to effect such a contribution, and no person shall knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person.” He worries that if Burgum is allowed to use the scheme, it will set a “horrible precedent,” where a candidate might use the same method to solicit larger donations, or enlist a wealthy friend.

The RNC is arguably also a victim of the arrangement. “Burgum is trying to defraud the RNC,” Ryan said. “These aren’t unique individual donors; these are fake straw donors. If I were at the RNC I would not accept these donors, because they’re illegitimate.”

A Burgum spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did an RNC spokesperson. The FEC doesn’t comment on specific cases, and in any event the body’s structure and partisan makeup mean that it has deadlocked on most important issues over the past few years. Ravel was skeptical that the body would enforce any violations even if they exist in these cases.

The argument for grassroots donors is not as simple as it might appear on the surface. As David Byler of The Washington Post has written, small-dollar contributions have driven polarization. But if the goal of donor requirements is to increase the power of small donors, a $20-for-$1 exchange actually does the opposite, increasing the power of one massively wealthy candidate to game the system.

15 Mar 10:20

Kottke.org Is 25 Years Old Today and Jason Wrote About It

by John Gruber

Jason Kottke:

My love for the web has ebbed and flowed in the years since, but mainly it’s persisted — so much so that as of today, I’ve been writing kottke.org for 25 years. A little context for just how long that is: kottke.org is older than Google. 25 years is more than half of my life , spanning four decades (the 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s) and around 40,000 posts — almost cartoonishly long for a medium optimized for impermanence. What follows is my (relatively brief) attempt to explain where kottke.org came from and why it’s still going.

A thought that occurred to me when Jason was on my podcast this month (you should listen! — it’s one of my favorite episodes ever): at 25, Kottke.org is over one-quarter as old as The New Yorker magazine, which was founded in 1925. I’ve grown up thinking The New Yorker had been around “forever”. That makes Kottke.org ... one-quarter of “forever” old? My mind boggles.

Congratulations, my friend. Here’s to 25 more.

22 Jan 13:18

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on GPT-4 Hype: 'People are Begging to be Disappointed and They Will Be'

by EditorDavid
The Verge writes: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has addressed rumors regarding GPT-4 — the company's as yet unreleased language model and latest in the GPT-series that forms the foundation of AI chatbot ChatGPT — saying that "people are begging to be disappointed and they will be." During an interview with StrictlyVC, Altman was asked if GPT-4 will come out in the first quarter or half of the year, as many expect. He responded by offering no certain timeframe. "It'll come out at some point, when we are confident we can do it safely and responsibly," he said.... When asked about one viral (and factually incorrect) chart that purportedly compares the number of parameters in GPT-3 (175 billion) to GPT-4 (100 trillion), Altman called it "complete bullshit." "The GPT-4 rumor mill is a ridiculous thing. I don't know where it all comes from," said the OpenAI CEO. "People are begging to be disappointed and they will be. The hype is just like... We don't have an actual AGI and that's sort of what's expected of us." Asked about how far we are from developing AGI, Altman replied "The closer we get, the harder time I have answering. Because I think it's going to be much blurrier and much more of a gradual transition than people think." And Altman also addressed predictions that ChatGPT will kill Google. "I think whenever someone talks about a technology being the end of some other giant company, it's usually wrong. I think people forget they get to make a countermove here, and they're like pretty smart, pretty competent. I do think there's a change for search that will probably come at some point — but not as dramatically as people think in the short term."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

03 Jan 04:22

Super Mario Bros Was Designed on Graph Paper

by Jason Kottke

In talking about an upcoming game (more on that in a bit), Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka discuss the process they used in designing the levels for the original Super Mario Bros. Much of the design work happened on graph paper.1

Super Mario Graph

Back in the day, we had to create everything by hand. To design courses, we would actually draw them one at a time on to these sheets of graph paper. We’d then hand our drawings to the programmers, who would code them into a build.

Here’s the full video discussion:

Now, about that game… Super Mario Maker is an upcoming title for Wii U that lets you create your own Super Mario Bros levels with elements from a bunch of different Mario games. So cool…I might actually have to get a Wii U for this.

  1. This is pretty much the same process I used when designing levels for Lode Runner back in the day.

Tags:Nintendo    Shigeru Miyamoto    Super Mario Bros    Takashi Tezuka    video    video games   
30 Nov 04:31

‘Maximum Viable Product’

by John Gruber

Clive Thompson, in a piece from April:

What if more developers developed a sense for the “maximum” number of things a product should do — and stopped there?

What if more software firms decided, “Hey! We’ve reached the absolute perfect set of features. We’re done. This product is awesome. No need to keep on shoving in stuff nobody wants.”

Sure, this would have risks. Standing still risks becoming obsolete, as other competitors swoop in.

But it can also just mean you have confidence in your amazing design.

Indeed, some of my favorite pieces of software feel very much like the “maximum viable product”. They seem like highly mature apps that realize they don’t need to significantly evolve new gills or appendages. For twelve years, for example, I’ve used Scrivener for writing my articles and books. “Word processing” is a super-competitive area, but Scrivener hasn’t had any feature creep I can detect. It stuck to its guns. I’d say the same thing about Logic Pro: I’ve used it for twelve years now for music production, and while it’s added new instruments and effects, it has done so gently — it hasn’t larded its UI with endless features. And it’s facing tons of competition, too, from Pro Tools and Ableton Live and others.

I think this is common for a lot of apps that have proven to have staying power. It’s why they have staying power. One way to think of it is that software should be designed a little more like hardware. A 2022 MacBook doesn’t have any more buttons or ports than one from 20 years ago. (In fact, MacBooks have fewer ports.) It’s mostly software where there’s a temptation to keep expanding in scope endlessly.

25 May 14:34

NBA coach Steve Kerr calls out 50 senators on a bipartisan gun background check law

by Bill Chappell
Head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors looks on Tuesday as his team plays the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the NBA

"When are we gonna do something?!" the Golden State Warriors head coach asked Tuesday night. "I'm tired of the moments of silence. Enough."

(Image credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

28 Apr 11:42

All of the Bases In DNA, RNA Have Now Been Found In Meteorites

by BeauHD
Space rocks that fell to Earth within the last century contain the five bases that store information in DNA and RNA, scientists report April 26 in Nature Communications. Science News reports: These "nucleobases" -- adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine and uracil -- combine with sugars and phosphates to make up the genetic code of all life on Earth. Whether these basic ingredients for life first came from space or instead formed in a warm soup of earthly chemistry is still not known. But the discovery adds to evidence that suggests life's precursors originally came from space, the researchers say. Scientists have detected bits of adenine, guanine and other organic compounds in meteorites since the 1960s. Researchers have also seen hints of uracil, but cytosine and thymine remained elusive, until now.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

24 Apr 14:47

Michael Lewis on why Americans don’t trust experts

by Sean Illing
Getty Images/iStockphoto

How a society that is so good at creating knowledge can be so bad at applying it.

Why don’t Americans trust the experts?

One answer is that experts get a lot of things wrong and often they pay a big price for those mistakes. From the forever wars to the 2008 financial crisis to the botched pandemic response, it seems Americans are constantly careening from one avoidable catastrophe to another.

Another answer is something like Martin Gurri’s thesis in his 2014 book The Revolt of the Public: The digital revolution has transformed the information space in ways that have empowered individuals and undermined the dominant institutions in society — government, media, the academy — and the elites who run them.

Whatever the causes, America has an expert problem and it’s making it harder and harder to solve its societal troubles. Michael Lewis, bestselling author of books like Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, is taking all of this on in the new season of his podcast Against the Rules.

Lewis is as good a storyteller as we have, and he takes a close look at what’s happened to our trust in experts and expertise. The problem, he says, isn’t that we lack experts; in fact, we have lots of experts and some of them have likely saved your life before. The issue is that we don’t value expertise and are therefore really bad at recognizing it when we see it.

I reached out to Lewis for a recent episode of Vox Conversations to talk about how we got here, why it’s an existential problem, and at what point skepticism of authority becomes pathological.

Below is an excerpt, edited for length and clarity. As always, there’s much more in the full podcast, so listen and follow Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


Sean Illing

We live in a society that is very good at creating knowledge and very bad at applying it. Why is that, Michael?

Michael Lewis

It’s a really great question. I think part of it is that we have the luxury of being that way. There are various safety nets for our idiocy.

But why are we so bad at this? If you listen to all the [podcast] episodes this season, although I never quite say it, you might say [the answer could be], “Well, in a lot of spheres of life, there has risen new expertise. It’s very complicated and it’s not easy to understand the expertise, especially for people who are not particularly numerate or statistical or scientific.”

I’ll give you an example: meteorologists. So you’re in Gulfport, Mississippi, right now. There’s a famous old weatherman in Alabama named James Spann. He says he’s the second most famous man in Alabama, behind Nick Saban, the football coach. He’s a wonderful weatherman who’s devoted his life to stopping people from getting killed by the weather in Alabama, which happens often.

And he said 50 years ago when he started, he knew basically nothing. When he got up to predict the weather he’d stick his head out the window and say, “It’s pretty sunny today.” He would give you a very crude understanding of what might happen in the next couple of days. Ten days out, he was useless. It was no better than guessing. He certainly had no idea when and where tornadoes were going to touch down. Not very good at predicting movements of hurricanes. But, he said, he stood up on air and his job was to seem as confident as possible about what he was saying.

Now, flash forward 50 years; he knows a great deal. His 10-day forecast is pretty good. His three-day forecast is three times more accurate than it was 50 years ago. He can tell you with some precision where you’re at real risk of being killed by a tornado and when and how to save yourself from it. Still, his life is a constant stream of grievances from the people who feel he’s misinformed them. If he says there’s a 20 percent chance of rain and it rains, everybody thinks he’s an idiot. They don’t understand the probabilistic nature of forecasting.

You find this in a whole bunch of areas where the expertise is complicated and the understanding is probabilistic. Think about medicine. Doctors knew this before Covid, but now it’s so obvious. Doctors will tell you they know so much more than they did 30 years ago as a profession. They are much more useful to patients. But every day more and more people are walking into the office after reading something on WedMD and they think they know what they’re talking about.

It’s not a full answer, but there’s something about our information environment and our ability to understand people who are making probabilistic judgments that make it difficult to evaluate expertise.

Sean Illing

I’ve said a bunch over the years that I think we’re a society that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, and maybe that’s part of the reason why we don’t recognize expertise when we see it.

Michael Lewis

I think that’s right. Let me tell you a story that dramatizes what you just said. I wrote a book about the federal government called The Fifth Risk, where I just wandered into the federal government and looked at it as a risk-management enterprise and kept meeting these unbelievably impressive, passionate, mission-driven experts who were just trying to save us from ourselves.

After I finished that book, we had our government shutdown in December 2018 and it lasted for over 30 days. [Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed] as inessential workers and sent home without pay. And I thought of those people I’d met. I asked for a list of people who’d been sent home from an organization in Washington that was monitoring the situation, called the Partnership for Public Service. It was not a random sample of federal employees. It was federal employees who’d been nominated for one of the awards they gave out every year by someone who thought they’d done something good.

So I took this list and picked someone at random. It was a guy whose name was on the top of the list: Arthur A. Allen. He won the alphabet contest. So I call him up and asked him if I could come visit him and just see what he’s doing. He had nothing else to do. He was sitting at home with nothing to do.

This is a guy who spent his whole career as the lone oceanographer in the Coast Guard search-and-rescue division, where he’d started in the late ’70s. There was a particular problem he was working on by himself, and the problem was costing a lot of American lives. It was people being lost at sea. The Coast Guard didn’t know how they drifted in the ocean. And Americans have this unbelievable talent for getting lost at sea, which is a whole other thing. On average, every day, the Coast Guard is saving 10 people who are lost in the sea and losing three. So you’re talking about thousands of people who are getting in this situation every year.

The problem is that if you fall off a boat into the ocean, you’re going to drift differently than if you are in a life raft, or if you’re on top of an overturned sailboat, or if you have a life vest on — you get the point. So if the Coast Guard knows where and when you started, as they often do, they should be able to predict where you are in the ocean four hours later, knowing the currents and the wind and your drift. But they didn’t know the drift, until Arthur A. Allen figured it all out. He spent years of his own free time tossing objects into the Long Island Sound, where he lives, measuring the specific drift of like 80 different categories of objects.

That all sounds boring and tedious, I know. But he reduced the drift to mathematical equations and embedded them in the search-and-rescue software program, and instantly they were able to find people they never would’ve found before. Thousands of Americans are alive because of Arthur A. Allen. And thousands of people are alive around the world because of the work he did here. No one knows who he is. No one pays any attention to him. They furloughed him as if he’s useless.

The punchline to all of this, to your point about the way we treat these experts who save our tails over and over again, is that when I went to go see Arthur to talk to him about what he had done with his life, I spent three days with him, interviewing his family, going to see his old office, going to the Long Island Sound to see where he dropped his objects, asking him every which way the story of his career.

After the three days, I’m going back to the airport to head home and he calls me and says, with real wonder in his voice, “Hey, you’re a published author.” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m a published author.” He says, “You’re like a real deal. You’re a real writer.” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Are you going to be writing about me?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s why I spent three days learning how objects drift. Yes. I’m going to be writing about you.” He goes, “Wow. I didn’t expect to get any attention for this.” And I said, “Well, what did you think I was doing for those three days?” He said, “I just thought you were really interested in how objects drift.”

This is the mental world of the government expert. They’re so used to nobody caring about what they do, even when what they do is mission-critical, that they can’t imagine us even taking an interest in them. We so don’t value them that they don’t value themselves.

Sean Illing

You make an offhand comment in one of the early shows about the arbitrariness of social status and how that has a way of obscuring someone’s real value, and I can’t help but think of it now.

Michael Lewis

I really think that we exaggerate status differences and create inequality at our peril. These people we end up shoving into lower-status roles actually know things.

We have these big complicated organizations and agencies and corporations, and when some crisis pops up it usually has a very specific solution, and it’s really unlikely that that specific solution is going to be in the heads of the people who are at the top of the organization. It’s going to be something nitty-gritty and the person is going to be six levels down in the organization. And if you’ve created these barriers between the levels, so that someone who’s six levels down will never be heard by someone at the top, you’re essentially saying, we’re never going to surface the expertise that we need to deal with the problem.

Something like this happened in the pandemic. We had this apparatus for dealing with communicable disease. It was called local public health. That’s who did it, local public health officers. Their status was so low. They were so socially powerless. They still haven’t stepped front and center stage and taken over the thing.

But if I were a television producer booking guests who can explain to America what’s going on with Covid, that’s who I’d book. But you don’t see them because they’re invisible because they’re low-status. You see some fancy-pants person who worked in the White House who doesn’t actually know anything. And this is a broader problem that has been exacerbated by the structure of our society, by these widening chasms, between level one and level two, and level two and level three, and level three and level four, and so on.

Sean Illing

A certain amount of skepticism of expertise and authority is healthy, but at what point do you think that skepticism becomes pathological?

Michael Lewis

That’s an unanswerable question, but I’ll give it a whirl.

It becomes pathological when your unwillingness to take in what the putative authority or expert is saying kills you. It’s pathological when you turn up in the emergency room as a 45-year-old healthy police officer with Covid, as someone in one of our stories does, and he’s circling the drain and refuses to be intubated because, in his view, hospitals are trying to kill people in the ICU — that’s pathological.

It’s pathological when you are running a big Wall Street firm and you’re unable to distinguish between the trader, who’s making a lot of money in your firm, making really dumb bets on the subprime mortgage market, and the person who has actually got a bead on how the subprime mortgage market is working and can explain it to you, but you don’t want to hear it — and so your firm blows up.

You can get away with ignoring a lot of expertise in your life as you move through the world. And I agree that you never want to lose your ability to question the things you’re being told, but it’s also not true that everybody has a right to an opinion about everything. I don’t have a right to an opinion about climate change. Neither does Donald Trump. There are people who study this stuff, their whole lives are devoted to trying to understand it. They are state of the art. It is a scientific consensus. My opinion shouldn’t exist, but people think they have a right to an opinion about it.

Sean Illing

Do you think, on some level, that the world has become so big and so complex that it’s too much for people to make sense of, and the temptation to retreat into conspiracy theory or tribalism is just too irresistible?

Michael Lewis

To default into a narrative that’s fueled by anecdote that happens to come from the small circle of people in your world — I’ve seen this. I’ve been amazed with people I admire and who I think are intelligent who will sit down with me and tell me they’re not getting vaccinated because the vaccine is making people sick.

And they’re not wrong in one way. They know somebody who got sick, but that’s the thing that they pay attention to as opposed to the 1 billion studies that show that you were just so much better off being vaccinated. It’s like you walked into the casino for the first time in your life, looked at all the games, and you saw someone pull a slot machine and they hit the jackpot, and you decide, “Oh, well, the slot machines are the smart game to play here.”

It’s people organizing a complicated world with stories that are basically not true stories. They’re not representative stories. They just happen to be the stories they hear. And if you made me God and said, “Michael, how do you fix this problem?” — if I could do anything, I’d probably start with making everyone take a basic course in statistics. Everybody would have to learn a little bit about data and probabilities, just so they understand the notion of a small sample size, especially a sample size of one.

Sean Illing

Do you have any sense at all of what it would take to rebuild trust in our society?

Michael Lewis

I tend to think of this stuff on such a personal, micro level and not as a broader social thing. Again, if you’re handing me God-like powers, one of the things I’d do is, maybe not create some kind of mandatory national service, but at least strongly incentivize people, when they’re 18 or 19, to spend a year or a year and a half working in some government service where they’re all mixed up with other kinds of people.

Part of the problem is we’re not mixed up enough. It’s much easier to think of “us” and “them” if you’re in Berkeley, California, and you’ve never met anybody from Alabama, or if you’re in Alabama and you’ve never met anybody from Berkeley, California. Or if you are poor and you’ve never met a rich person, or if you’re rich and you’ve never had to do anything with a poor person.

It’s amazing how helpful it is when people have personal experience doing something together, trying to achieve something together with people entirely different from themselves. Then we have a living sense that we’re not all that different. There’s no us and them. We don’t belong in these tribes. It’s not the natural order of things. So mixing up the society more in various ways is one answer I would give.

My own personal answer is what I do with my time. I’ve been trying to write about this in ways that invite people who might be deeply skeptical that anything in the government is good for them to see this in a different light. Like, this thing exists to keep you safe. Think about it that way. This is the thing that storytellers can do to help.

To hear the rest of the conversation, click here, and be sure to subscribe to Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

10 Jan 19:10

Moxie Marlinspike: ‘My First Impressions of Web3’

by John Gruber
Ben Wolf

The full post is very interesting.

Moxie Marlinspike:

Despite considering myself a cryptographer, I have not found myself particularly drawn to “crypto.” I don’t think I’ve ever actually said the words “get off my lawn,” but I’m much more likely to click on Pepperidge Farm Remembers flavored memes about how “crypto” used to mean “cryptography” than I am the latest NFT drop.

Also — cards on the table here — I don’t share the same generational excitement for moving all aspects of life into an instrumented economy.

Even strictly on the technological level, though, I haven’t yet managed to become a believer. So given all of the recent attention into what is now being called web3, I decided to explore some of what has been happening in that space more thoroughly to see what I may be missing.

What does this guy know about cryptography, though?

13 Dec 16:30

The Old Reader RSSurrectionsGiveaway

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you stay angry, manipulated and being sold to the system of algorithms that feed on your every move. You take the red pill - you read great content, unfiltered by algorithms and connect to the things you care about.

Will you be THE ONE?

During the month of December, any user that plugs into their Old Reader account will be eligible to win a $25 gift card to AMC Theatres to see The Matrix Resurrections. “Whoa!” We’ll be doing 10 random drawings throughout the month. Winners will be notified through the email address associated with their account.

09 Dec 02:04

Malicious NPM packages are part of a malware “barrage” hitting repositories

by Dan Goodin
Malicious NPM packages are part of a malware “barrage” hitting repositories

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Researchers have found another 17 malicious packages in an open source repository, as the use of such repositories to spread malware continues to flourish.

This time, the malicious code was found in NPM, where 11 million developers trade more than 1 million packages among each other. Many of the 17 malicious packages appear to have been spread by different threat actors who used varying techniques and amounts of effort to trick developers into downloading malicious wares instead of the benign ones intended.

This latest discovery continues a trend first spotted a few years ago, in which miscreants sneak information stealers, keyloggers, or other types of malware into packages available in NPM, RubyGems, PyPi, or another repository. In many cases, the malicious package has a name that’s a single letter different than a legitimate package. Often, the malicious package includes the same code and functionality as the package being impersonated and adds concealed code that carries out additional nefarious actions.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

23 Nov 19:37

Watch an AI Break Tetris

by Jason Kottke

With nearly instant reaction times, superhuman button tapping frequency, and an inability to fatigue, an AI called StackRabbit can play Tetris better than any human player. But how much better? Well, it can play all the way to the end of the game, which…did you know Tetris ended? I didn’t. But before that happens, it plays flawlessly through hundreds of levels while the game itself is throwing up weirdo color schemes and scores from random places in its memory — the game’s creators didn’t imagine anyone or anything would get anywhere close to these levels. Also, I got surprisingly anxious watching this — it was just so fast with so much constant peril! (via waxy)

Tags: artificial intelligence   Tetris   video   video games
09 Nov 20:43

5-Step Plan for Shorter, More Productive Meetings (1976)

by swissmiss

John Cleese Presents His 5-Step Plan for Shorter, More Productive Meetings (1976)

28 Sep 20:46

1Password Adds Its Own 'Hide My Email' Feature

by msmash
1Password is launching a new feature to let users create unique email aliases for logins, much like Apple's iCloud Plus Hide My Email function. From a report: 1Password is partnering with Fastmail to bring its masked email feature to the password manager, giving all users the option of hiding their email addresses from apps and services. "Your email address is your online identity," explains Bron Gondwana, CEO of Fastmail. "If your credentials are compromised in a data breach, having a randomly generated email address adds a second line of defense because it can't be associated with your primary email address, and therefore, your identity." This new masked email feature will be ideal for registering accounts for temporary purposes, like a free Wi-Fi network. But they can also be used to hide your personal email address from any app or service as the aliases don't expire unless a 1Password user manually deletes them.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

28 Sep 20:40

The Curse of Knowledge

by Jared Turner

Ever played Charades and acted out the perfect mime to ‘James Bond’, only to be met with blank stares? That moment when you wonder “Are my friends fools!?”, that’s the curse of knowledge.

Your friends witness your mime without any additional information and are confused. But you act it out already knowing it’s James Bond. In your head you see a debonair Daniel Craig, tuxedo on and martini in hand. It’s so obvious, you think, why don’t they get it? Shocking, positively shocking.

We are all cursed

The curse of knowledge. Once you know something, it’s hard to remember what it was like to not know it.

This leads to a huge amount of communication frustration. You’ve encountered the curse of knowledge if you’ve ever directed someone to the official documentation to solve their problem, only to have them return scratching their head. They are lacking the extra context that you have built up, possibly over years, that allows you to see the answer in the documentation.

Here, there, and everywhere

The curse of knowledge is pervasive. Once you see it, you will notice it all over:

  • Jargon, idioms and colloquialisms: Telling a colleague with English as their second language that you think their idea is “the bee’s knees!
  • UX: Jump into your new car and try to adjust the air conditioning. There’s always a learning curve while you adapt to the new UI. A month later, shake your head when a friend joins you in the passenger seat and can’t, for the life of them, work out how the air conditioning works.
  • Pairing: Working through a codebase without verbalising your thoughts and actions leaves out a tonne of context and will leave your pairee confused.
  • Code: Encountering working code for which you have no idea what it does. The author certainly knew at the time, but their implementation belies understanding.
  • Note taking: Looking back at a note you wrote from last week and having no clue what you meant. You lack the context you held in your mind at the time the note was jotted down.
  • A special mention for corporate websites that use language that seems so vague as to be meaningless. The C-level team have, over decades, built up a notion of what this extremely vague phrasing means, but to outsiders it is completely useless.

What’s the cure?

While there is no single cure, there are a bunch of techniques we can use to try and avoid the curse of knowledge:

Examples

When we spot a pattern, we reach for abstractions as a way to generalise. When everyone understands these abstractions it allows us to take shortcuts and communicate faster! But if someone doesn’t understand the abstraction they may feel lost.

Perhaps this whole discussion about abstractions is confusing to you? But what if I give a couple of examples?

  • We don’t talk about "bipedal mammals that aren’t apes”, we say “humans”.
  • Teams may talk about ‘Boring solutions’ but this 2-word phrase actually encapsulates an entire ethos about choosing technology that is mature, stable, and not the 'new hot thing’.

Abstractions are great, but giving clear, concise examples helps to get everyone on the same page (to be ‘on the same page’ means to have the same amount of knowledge. Aaaah, when does it end!?).

Tests & feedback loops

If you’re writing a How To guide, ask a few users to go through it. Watch them, take note of where they struggle, improve the guide, test again.

A lot of our best practices around user testing are born from our learnings around avoiding the curse of knowledge. When watching a user test it’s easy to fall into the habit of: “Why don’t they know where to click? It’s so obvious. The problem is definitely the user and not my UI.” But this completely avoids the value of the user test. The user is confused; we have an opportunity to make things better!

How it feels to watch a user test your product for the first time.

Code review is another great example. It can be humbling to push up a PR you’re really proud of only to have a colleague comment saying, “I don’t get this”. Humbling, but rewarding, as it gives you the opportunity to produce even clearer code!

Empathy, audience and context

A lot of this can be encapsulated in the idiom ‘know your audience’. Don’t assume the other person knows what you’re talking about. Consider what they know and what they might not know. When in doubt, over-communicate and over-explain.

Continuously look to improve your communication

When you explain something to someone and they look confused, it’s easy to become frustrated and think, “Why don’t they get this?”. Instead, dig into why they don’t get it and think about how you can explain it to avoid the confusion. This all comes down to ensuring the right level of context. Too much and you’ll end up explaining the English language, too little and you’ll have confused faces.

25 Aug 18:41

Why your hires look like you

by David Essman

diversity, equity and inclusion;We're all about "diversity!" people here wear North Face and Patagonia!

 

There’s a famous line in The Blues Brothers movie when they ask the bartender at the Texas honky-tonk what kind of music they play: “Why we play both kinds; Country AND Western!”

We were reminded of the line when we saw this article, “The Dangers of Hiring for Cultural Fit”.

The dangers are easy enough to guess: If you just hire the people you like the most, you’ll end up like the Facebook algorithm, just churning up the same ol’, turning everything into a hermetically sealed echo chamber. Country AND Western, indeed.

Another idea that we come across a lot is because everyone is working longer hours and work has an ever more important grip on our lives, we’re more and more looking for traits in our colleagues that have more to do with our socializing needs (“Would you want to have a beer with this person”), rather than just getting the actual job done. When you share a foxhole with somebody, you don’t care if you want to share a beer with them, you just care how many enemy soldiers they kill. But the blurring of the lines between one’s work and social life confuses the issue.

A final point: we have learned firsthand that the word, “Culture”, is a loaded one. Like the word, “Love”, it embarrasses the grownups. This is because, like the word, “Love”, “Culture” for some is a platitude, they don’t understand that when designed, it is a management system and that it has the potential to connect the deepest parts of ourselves, to our work, which is a beautiful and highly effective thing.

The post Why your hires look like you appeared first on Gapingvoid.

05 Jun 02:45

Coleman Sweeney, the World’s Biggest Asshole

by John Gruber

Fantastic ad from 2016 I somehow hadn’t seen until this week. Hilarious, and the humor plays directly into the ad’s effectiveness. Trust me, just watch.

(Via Jason Fried.)

28 May 22:10

Doing Nothing Is the Secret to Getting More Out of Life

The science-backed, therapist-approved case for doing way less and ending up better than ever.

22 Jan 18:43

Fran Lebowitz’s One-Star Amazon Reviews

by Mike DiCenzo
Instead of “Welcome,” the doormat should say, “O.K. Fine. You’re here. I’m here. Let’s get this over with.”
21 Jan 18:30

Just Move: Scientist Author Debunks Myths About Exercise And Sleep

by Terry Gross
With the pandemic, many people are turning to at-home workouts and walks in their neighborhoods. That

Paleoanthropologist Daniel Lieberman says the concept of "getting exercise" is relatively new. His new book, Exercised, examines why we run, lift and walk for a workout when our ancestors didn't.

(Image credit: Grace Cary/Getty Images)

29 Oct 16:34

Dwight Schrute Was a Warning

by Megan Garber
Ben Wolf

Brilliant

These are boom times for the lolsob. Watching the news, I sometimes find myself staring at the screen, eyes wide, brain broken, not sure whether to laugh or cry. The farce and tragedy tangle so tightly that it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. How do you make sense, for example, of a leader who, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, muses about the curative powers of bleach? How do you process a president’s attempt to edit a hurricane with a Sharpie? The words, after a while, stop working. The categories collapse. Many true things have been written about what living under this regime feels like; one of the truest I’ve encountered is a 2017 prediction from the writer Hayes Brown: “This is going to be the dumbest dystopia.”

Even the escapism acknowledges the whiplash. As people lolsob and doom-scroll, many are also watching a sitcom that, as one of its executive producers put it, “mixed melancholy and joy in the same space.” The Office is 15 years old and one of the most consistently popular shows of this moment. Its renaissance has many explanations: The show is streaming on Netflix. Its mockumentary style—the directly at the camera playfulness it brings to its tales of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company of Scranton, Pennsylvania—gives it currency in the age of the reaction GIF. The series resonates emotionally with those who might be missing their own workplace. And it resonates politically through Michael Scott, the boss who is convinced that the solution to any problem is to put on a good show. I’m one of the people who have found new solace in old episodes of The Office, but I have a slightly different reason for watching. That reason is Dwight Schrute.

Dwight, Dunder Mifflin’s best-performing paper salesman and its worst-performing person, is a category error in human form. He is a beet farmer in a corporate park, a survivalist selling office products, a 19th-century spirit in a 21st-century timeline. He is arrogant. He is, relatedly, a buffoon. “INCORRECT,” he will say about something that is true. “FACT,” he will say about something that is not. He listens to metal but plays the recorder. He defers to the rules right up until he breaks them. Dwight is Darwinism with a desk job. He is anarchy in the guise of law. He is tragedy and he is comedy, and because of that he is intensely cathartic to watch. Many fictions speak to this moment. Dwight K. Schrute, however, inhabits it.

Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute in The Office (Justin Lubin / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty)

In an extended scene in The Office’s fifth season, Dwight takes it upon himself to give his colleagues a lesson about fire safety. Summoning the show’s roving camera to document the education he is about to impose, Dwight tosses a lit cigarette into a wastebasket he has doused with lighter fluid. “Today,” he says, “smoking is gonna save lives.”

This surprise tutorial goes ... very badly. As soon as they notice the smoke billowing out from under a hallway door, Dwight’s co-workers do exactly what they should during such an emergency—call for help, check for escape routes—only to discover that their phone lines have been cut (by Dwight) and their doors locked (Dwight again). “Okay, we’re trapped! Everyone for himself!” Michael screams. Oscar removes a panel in the ceiling and hoists himself up, vowing to get help. Jim and Andy try to use the office’s copy machine as a battering ram to bust the locked door open. Their fear is building. The smoke is getting worse. Dwight, to heighten the panic, sets off fireworks in the middle of the bullpen. “The fire is shooting at us!” Andy screams. “What in the name of God is going on?” Phyllis wails.

What viewers know—and what the workers of Dunder Mifflin soon find out—is that the answer is Dwight: Dwight is going on. The Office’s writers created the fire-drill scene for an episode that aired after the Super Bowl in 2009. Tasked with writing something that would be legible to football-carryover audiences who weren’t already familiar with the show, they resorted to slapstick. The set piece they wrote is brilliant physical comedy. It is also, however, an object lesson: Here is Dwight’s defining paternalism turned into a source of injury. Here is Dwight revealing the error of a familiar refrain: He’s too incompetent to be dangerous. Dwight’s safety training is so unsafe that it ends up giving Stanley a heart attack.

Sitcoms make certain promises to their audience: reliability, relatability, stakes that are soothingly low. But The Office played with those assurances. Michael may be the character who gives voice to questions about comedy’s boundaries; he’s the one who says things like “I hope to someday live in a world where a person could tell a hilarious AIDS joke. It’s one of my dreams.” But Dwight lives out those tensions. Through him, The Office engages in an ongoing act of reckoning: It tries to figure out where, precisely, the comedy ends and the tragedy begins.

[Read: Are we having too much fun?]

In many early episodes of the show, Dwight’s destructive tendencies are treated as gentle jokes. He brings weapons into the office; Pam laughs about him being a “gun nut.” When he brags about his ability to “physically dominate” other people—or when he remarks offhandedly, “Better a thousand innocent men are locked up than one guilty man roam free”—the message is less that he is a menace than that he is a fool. Dwight comes to work on Halloween dressed variously as the Joker from The Dark Knight, a Sith lord, and the local criminal known as the “Scranton Strangler”; the costumes read primarily as pitiable. The sanitized threats are elements of the sitcom’s promise: No matter what might happen on the show, viewers can safely file it away as Fun. This is also part of the alchemy through which Dwight Schrute—a misogynist in the age of Elliot Rodger, a conspiracist in the age of QAnon, a vigilante in the age of Kyle Rittenhouse—can read, still, as a joke.

Dwight is finely calibrated. One of his jobs in The Office is simply to be odious enough to justify whatever pranks Jim and Pam might play on him. Jim putting Dwight’s stapler in Jell-O, or putting the full contents of Dwight’s desk into the office vending machine? These are proportional responses, The Office suggests. Jim can’t cross the line, because Dwight has, perpetually, already crossed it for him. Dwight regularly insults Pam. He steals a big sale from Jim. When a small amount of marijuana is discovered in the office’s parking lot, Dwight invokes his status as a volunteer sheriff’s deputy to make his colleagues undergo drug testing. “As it turns out,” Jim comments, “Dwight finding drugs is more dangerous than most people using drugs.”

To be in Dwight’s vicinity is to be at risk, always, of becoming collateral damage. The threat is evident even in the way The Office is shot. To realize its mockumentary conceit, the show hired a cinematographer who had just finished filming early episodes of Survivor; its camerawork suggests at once constant surveillance and constant over-proximity—all these people bumping into one another. And Dwight, more than any other character on the show, is inescapable. The casting call for the role noted that Dwight’s “unpleasant personal habits and annoying personality suggest an unsocialized loner, a sort of Caliban or Gollum.” It added: “His lack of social skills render[s] him the butt of office jokes and thus bearable.”

But as The Office moved into later seasons, the calculus of Dwight’s bearability changed its terms: His actions came, more and more regularly, with specific consequences. Dwight, it cannot be stressed enough, gives Stanley a heart attack. He traps Meredith in a trash bag with a bat. Even his love life takes on, for a stretch, a sense of menace: The Dwight-Angela-Andy love triangle ends painfully for all parties, in part because Dwight’s gaudy version of honor does not preclude his cheating with someone else’s fiancée. As the show went on, the comedy around him got darker, too. In Season 4, Dwight speaks fondly about his grandfather, who is 103 and “still puttering down in Argentina”; as he talks, it becomes clear to everyone but Dwight that Grandpa Manheim is a Nazi.

[Read: Americans are living in an alternate history]

To succeed with an American audience, one of The Office’s truisms goes, the U.S. version of the show had to be a little bit kinder—a little bit softer—than the acerbic British original. Dwight, modeled after the U.K. show’s Gareth, is the character who most directly challenges that idea. He is humor that, at times, hints at horror. Jim spends an episode convincing Dwight that (1) the bat they’ve discovered in the office is vampiric, and (2) Jim has been bitten by it. This provides an occasion for Dwight to brag about his experience with werewolves. “I shot one once,” he says. He pauses. “But by the time I got to it, it had turned back into my neighbor’s dog.”

Ooooof. In Andy Greene’s fantastic oral history, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, the show’s writers describe the debates they had about whether to include jokes like that one. Even comedy carries certain inevitabilities; all the latent violence in Dwight had to erupt, eventually. Late in the series, he realizes his professional dream: He becomes the office’s acting manager. He promptly turns the place into a totalitarian regime in miniature (time cards for salaried workers, forced recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, a framed portrait of himself installed in the reception area). And then, walking around the crowded bullpen with a loaded gun, Dwight accidentally fires the weapon.

The bullet hits the floor. But Dwight, having put all of his colleagues into needless mortal danger, is quickly demoted. The injury he has caused, this time around, is one he has inflicted on himself.

Wilson has described the character he played as “someone who does not hate the system, but has a deep and abiding love for it.” (Justin Lubin / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty)

This is what I meant when I was talking about catharsis. Dwight is shameless; The Office finds ways to shame him all the same. That simple procedure of cause and effect feels remarkable to watch right now, because, in America’s lopsided nonfictions, shamelessness often carries no consequences at all. Donald Trump, America’s own regional manager, flouts the law in plain sight. He lies with such impunity that lie itself, as a diagnosis, becomes banal.

Accountability, in that context, might look like someone doing a bad job and therefore losing their job. It might look like someone compensating for the harm they’ve caused. But it might also look like fairness of another sort: like Dwight, a danger to his colleagues, being treated as a threat. Or like Dwight, a fool, openly acknowledged as one. A prank Jim and Pam play on him leads to Dwight getting a job interview from a competing paper company. “Look, I’m all about loyalty,” he tells the shows camera. “In fact, I feel like part of what I’m getting paid for here is my loyalty. But if there were somewhere else that valued that loyalty more highly—I’m going wherever they value loyalty the most.”

[Read: The paranoid style in American entertainment]

The confession has so much specificity. It defines Dwight as exactly what he is: a hypocrite who thinks he’s a hero. Rainn Wilson has described the character he played as “someone who does not hate the system, but has a deep and abiding love for it.” One of The Office’s ongoing jokes, though, is the hollowness of his devotion. “That is the law according to the rules,” Dwight says at one point. He does not stop to consider why “the rules” exist, or whom they serve. Dwight embodies the philosopher Kate Manne’s observations about white male entitlement: When you assume yourself to be naturally entitled to deference or forgiveness or love, the assumption self-rationalizes. Entitlement, too, is tautological.

It is also profoundly consequential. Dwight predicted a world, the writer Sarah Rosenthal observes, that is “defined by anxious men, desperate to feel powerful the way they might have in a bygone era, while insensitive to the humanity of others.” And he anticipated a political condition in which hypocrisy would be so widespread—and so absurdly brazen—as to be atmospheric. Dwight is, in his contours, Mitch McConnell. He is Brian Kemp. He is Donald Trump. He is someone who imposes his will on everyone else and then says, when they object, That is the law according to the rules.

Hypocrisy at this extreme is hard to talk about. American political language is simply not equipped to contend with actors who are so Schrutily immune to shame. Pundits continue to describe speeches that Trump recites without ad-libbed cruelty as evidence of “presidential” behavior. During his “debate” with Joe Biden in late September, Trump lied and yelled and ceaselessly interrupted his opponent. Mike Pence, conversely, in his own event, lied calmly; his performance was categorized as an exercise in civility. Lies are not civil. But this is precisely how hypocrisy can compromise habits of language. Shamelessness changes every equation.

The journalist Masha Gessen has written about the consequences of that breakage—how words can be wrong not just in the up-is-down way of Orwell, but also in the up-or-down-who-can-tell way of Hannah Arendt. Confusion can give over to cynicism. (“It is what it is,” the president said in September, of the staggering number of American deaths from COVID-19.) This might help explain why the age of Trump has also been an age of “chaos.” Press briefings, these days, are chaotic. Entire news cycles are chaotic. I recently found myself describing an omelet I’d made as chaotic. The assessment is useful in part because it channels the frenzy of this moment: the speed, the contradiction, the sense of chronic whiplash. But to describe something as chaotic is also to give up on describing it at all. It is to concede to the mess, whether the thing that is breaking is an egg or a democracy.

[Read: Trump is building a dystopia in real time]

In that environment, even small acts of clarity can be corrective. When the lolsob is a cultural condition—and when lolnothingmatters is a constant threat—there’s power in a show that reckons with comedy’s affordances, and its limits. In America today, Nazis are disguising their hatred through perky memes. A U.S. senator is making not-so-veiled threats against journalists in a campy ad featuring Attila the Hun. The president is lying and then insisting that he was only kidding. Jokes can be shameless, too. So it’s a relief, if only cold comfort, to watch comedy that checks itself.

By the end of The Office’s nine-season run, Dwight Schrute’s contradictions have resolved into a kind of order. He has come to see his colleagues not as his subjects, but as his equals. An “agent of chaos,” his arc has acknowledged, is simply not a sustainable character. The Office was wise in many ways, but its greatest insight might be this: It knew when to stop humoring the guy who, in the name of workplace safety, sets the whole office on fire.

25 Oct 14:27

Amy Coney Barrett’s Judicial Philosophy Doesn’t Hold Up to Scrutiny

by Angus King, Jr.
Ben Wolf

Brilliant

During her confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett argued that the judicial philosophy known as “originalism” should guide judges in their interpretation and application of constitutional principles. Most famously associated with the late Justice Antonin Scalia (for whom Judge Barrett clerked), this idea sounds simple and sensible: In determining what the Constitution permits, a judge must first look to the plain meaning of the text, and if that isn’t clear, then apply what was in the minds of the 55 men who wrote it in 1787. Period. Anything else is “judicial lawmaking.”

In some cases, interpreting the Constitution with an originalist lens is pretty easy; for example, the Constitution says that the president must be at least 35 years old (“35” means, well, 35), that each state has two senators (not three and not one), and that Congress is authorized to establish and support an Army and a Navy. But wait a minute. What about the Air Force? Is it mentioned in the text? Nope. Is there any ambiguity in the text? Again, no. It doesn’t say “armed forces”; it explicitly says “Army” and “Navy.” Did the Framers have in mind the Air Force 115 years before the Wright brothers? Not likely.

So is the Air Force unconstitutional, even though it clearly fails both prongs of the “originalist” test? No, a more reasonable and obvious interpretation is that the Framers intended that the country be protected and that the Air Force is a logical extension of that concept, even though it wasn’t contemplated in 1787. This isn’t judicial lawmaking; it’s judges doing what they’re hired to do.

[Read: What the rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett is really about ]

And these are the easy cases. How about terms like due process? What does due mean? Is a process that locks you up for life without access to a lawyer “due”? How about an “unreasonable” search and seizure? Is wiretapping “unreasonable”? (We wonder what the Framers thought about wiretapping or cyber theft.) Does “freedom of speech” apply to corporations, which didn’t exist in their modern form in 1787?

To put it bluntly, the whole premise of originalism is nonsense in that it pretends to make the work of the Supreme Court look straightforward and mechanical, like “calling balls and strikes,” in Justice John Roberts’s famous phase. But defining equal protection, due process, or unreasonable is not. We need a Supreme Court to interpret the intent and appropriate application of the terms of the Constitution to particular cases (many not dreamed of by the Framers).

Originalism is an intellectual cloak drummed up (somewhat recently) to dignify a profoundly retrogressive view of the Constitution as a straitjacket on the ability of the federal government to act on behalf of the public. Its real purpose is to justify a return to the legal environment of the early 1930s, when the Court routinely struck down essential elements of the New Deal. Business regulation, Social Security, and Medicare? Not so fast. The Affordable Care Act, environmental protections, a woman’s right to choose? Forget it. And this despite the Constitution’s preamble, which states that one of its basic purposes is to “promote the general welfare.”

This does not mean that the Court should be totally unmoored from the text of the Constitution or the intent of the Framers and act as an unchecked super-legislature (with lifetime tenure to boot). Clearly, this would be inconsistent with the underlying democratic idea that the American people should be the ultimate decision makers through regular elections and the actions of their elected representatives. The Court must interpret and apply the terms of the Constitution according to their plain meaning (where there is a plain meaning) and the understanding and intent of the Framers (where there was such a thing). But it also must recognize that our understanding of our principles and values has expanded over time, and it must interpret the law in the context of that growth.

The intellectual dishonesty of many originalists is exposed by their reluctance to follow their own logic regarding certain landmark cases, now widely recognized as milestones in our national progress toward “a more perfect union.” The easiest examples are Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia, the former concerning school integration, the latter, interracial marriage, illegal in Virginia until Loving in 1967. Both decisions explicitly fail the originalist test, yet Judge Barrett asserts they were correctly decided and endorses them as “super-precedents,” a convenient dodge that evades the troubling implications of her supposedly simple theory of constitutional interpretation.

The real problem with the originalist theory is that it allows no room for ethical, moral, or political growth. If the Framers didn’t think it, it’s not allowed.

[Adrian Vermeule: Beyond originalism]

Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and paid close attention to the drafting of the Constitution from his official post in France, understood this danger explicitly: “I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions,” he wrote in an 1816 letter addressing what he perceived to be weaknesses in the new government, “but … laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The fact is that the Framers knew very well that they could not reliably look into the future and anticipate the changes that were to come—whether they be the necessity of an Air Force or the manifest unfairness of segregated schools—and therefore gave us a document that defines the structure of our government, but also accommodates advances in our understanding of the essential elements of human dignity.

The Constitution should be the sturdy vessel of our ideals and aspirations, not a derelict sailing ship locked in the ice of a world far from our own.

18 Sep 04:48

The Surprising Traits of Good Remote Leaders

by BeauHD
New data shows that "the confidence, intelligence and extroversion that have long propelled ambitious workers into the executive suite are not enough online because they simply don't translate into virtual leadership," writes Arianna Cohen via the BBC. "Instead, workers who are organized, dependable and productive take the reins of virtual teams." From the report: The study, published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, tracked 220 US-based teams to see which team members emerged as leaders across in-person, virtual and hybrid groups. The researchers conducted a series of in-lab experiments with 86 four-person teams, and also traced the communications and experiences of 134 teams doing a semester-long project in a university class (students are commonly used as proxy for workers in leadership research). The study was carried out pre-pandemic, focusing on emergent leaders: those perceived as leaders, and whose influence is willingly accepted. As expected, the face-to-face teams chose leaders with the same confident, magnetic, smart-seeming extroverted traits that we often see in organizational leaders. But those chosen as remote leaders were doers, who tended towards planning, connecting teammates with help and resources, keeping an eye on upcoming tasks and, most importantly, getting things done. These leaders were goal-focused, productive, dependable and helpful. In other words, virtually, the emphasis shifts from saying to doing. This discovery is timely, as most of our workplace in-person teams are now all or partially digital operations in the wake of the pandemic.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

20 Aug 19:41

Churchill’s free verse

by Austin Kleon

Winston Churchill’s speech in response to Germany’s invasion of Britain

Today I learned that Winston Churchill had his speeches typed up in what looks like free verse (or “Psalm form,” as his office called it) so that he could plan and rehearse the rhythm and the pauses. (More here.)

NPR:

Churchill wrote every word of his many speeches — he said he spent an hour working on every minute of a speech he made. At the Morgan Library are several drafts of a single speech from February 1941, when England stood alone against the Nazi onslaught and Churchill appealed to President Roosevelt for aid. The first draft looks like a normal typescript; the final draft, says Kiely, “looks like a draft of a poem.”

Here’s a draft of Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech, compared with the final “Psalm form”:

Another thing I learned about Churchill: he took up painting at the age of 40 to battle his depression and wrote a book about it called, Painting as a Pastime:

Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing. Try it if you have not done so – before you die.

God bless the English and their penchant for hobbies!