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Literary Opinions

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If I really focus, I can distinguish between John Steinbeck and John Updike, or between Gore Vidal and Vidal Sassoon, but not both at once.
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wyeager
101 days ago
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Joke not funny. Refund, please.
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MaryEllenCG
100 days ago
I laughed.
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alt_text_bot
102 days ago
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If I really focus, I can distinguish between John Steinbeck and John Updike, or between Gore Vidal and Vidal Sassoon, but not both at once.

Significant Digits For Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018

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You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.


50 percent of new guitarists

According to a study from Fender, the guitar company, 50 percent of all “beginner and aspirational” guitar players are women. When the company found similar results a few years ago, it thought the ratio might a transient result of the “Taylor Swift factor,” the company’s CEO explained, but it seems to have turned into a lasting trend. [Rolling Stone]


0 shootings

New York City, home to more than 8 million people, had exactly zero shootings this past weekend. It was the first time that had happened since at least 1993. [New York Daily News]


$120 billion IPO

Per the proposals of some Wall Street banks, Uber’s IPO could be worth as much as $120 billion, roughly the nominal GDP of Hungary — or more than General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler combined. The IPO could happen next year. [The Wall Street Journal]


1.7 million coffee workers

Thanks to the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, aka “coffee rust,” which drastically reduces coffee bean harvests, some 1.7 million coffee workers in Central America have lost their jobs. Coffee rust has affected 70 percent of the farms there and has, combined with low coffee prices overall, devastated the industry in the region. [NPR]


2.5 billion years’ worth of evolutionary history

According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we humans have hastened the extinction of more than 300 species of mammals, thus depriving them of “2.5 billion years’ worth of unique evolutionary history.” Yikes. Sorry about that. The study’s lead author believes we are living in the middle of a sixth mass extinction. For reference, the fifth mass extinction was the one that killed all the dinosaurs. [Huffington Post]


$100 million raised

President Trump has now raised over $100 million for his re-election campaign and has $47 million in the bank. Former President Barack Obama, at this point in his first term, had $2.3 million cash on hand. Trump’s funds have come in large part from large donors, including the venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who kicked in $250,000. [NBC News]


Love digits? Find even more in FiveThirtyEight’s new book of math and logic puzzles, “The Riddler.” It’s in stores now! I hope you dig it.

If you see a significant digit in the wild, please send it to @ollie.

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wyeager
339 days ago
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How many "accidental discharge of a firearm" in NYC this past weekend were downgraded from what should have been charged as a shooting? #comstat
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Hygrometer

5 Comments and 8 Shares
I'm working on assembling a combination declinometer, sclerometer, viscometer, aleurometer, stalagmometer, and hypsometer. I'm making good progress according to my ometerometer, a device which shows the rate at which I'm acquiring measurement devices.
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wyeager
339 days ago
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My favorite is the albedometer. I don't just want to know that something is shiny. I want to know exactly *how* shiny!
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popular
337 days ago
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Lythimus
338 days ago
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xkcdometer measures the probability any conversation can be summarized with an xkcd comic.
mburch42
339 days ago
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A podcast about this would be an obvious follow-up to “Ologies”.
alt_text_at_your_service
339 days ago
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I'm working on assembling a combination declinometer, sclerometer, viscometer, aleurometer, stalagmometer, and hypsometer. I'm making good progress according to my ometerometer, a device which shows the rate at which I'm acquiring measurement devices.
alt_text_bot
339 days ago
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I'm working on assembling a combination declinometer, sclerometer, viscometer, aleurometer, stalagmometer, and hypsometer. I'm making good progress according to my ometerometer, a device which shows the rate at which I'm acquiring measurement devices.

On the shifting role of racism in American slavery

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In a recent episode of his EconTalk podcast, host Russ Roberts talks with Michael Munger about a paper Munger co-authored about how white Southern attitudes toward slavery shifted from around 1815 to 1835. The episode is interesting throughout,1 but I want to highlight this attitude shift Munger writes about in the paper, something I was previously unaware of.

Sifting through documents from the era between the American Revolution and the Civil War, Munger and his co-author Jeffrey Grynaviski found that Southern whites believed, in the first decade or two of the 19th century, that owning slaves was evil but necessary. There was this system in place and it was bad but we’re gonna go with it because, whaddya gonna do? But in a period of about 20 years, due to a variety of factors, mostly economic, the justification for slavery shifted primarily to a racist one: that black people were inferior and needed to be cared for by whites. Southern whites came to believe, like really believe, that they were doing their slaves a favor by enslaving them and that the slaves were better off than they would be in Africa.

The way we defined it in this paper was that racism became a substitute justification for slavery. And the reason was, the original justification for slavery, which was the Roman one of wasn’t good enough. And so Southerners cast about and found basically an alternative, which was the Greek justification for slavery. And let me just say very briefly what those two are. The one justification for slavery, and it was pretty common in Rome, was that if you lost a battle and were captured, then you might either be killed or kept as a slave. And there is a mutually beneficial exchange, if you will, in the sense that you’ve already lost. So, me saying, ‘I tell you what: I won’t kill you if you will agree to act as my slave for the rest of your life. And I may free you; I may not; but that’s up to me.’ And you say, ‘Killed/be a slave: I’m going to go with the slave thing.’ But, it meant that some slaves were very excellent. And in Roman society some slaves occupied very high positions, positions of respect. It’s just that they made this promise. It was an economic institution. And that was the way that slavery had existed in Africa: if you lost a battle, then you would be captured by the other side. It was almost like indentured servitude: you could work it off.

Well, that didn’t work in the American South because they wanted to maintain slaves, to be able to identify slaves and to have a justification that would allow them to enslave the children — which the old Roman justification would never have allowed. You are not going to be a slave if you are born to a slave, because you didn’t lose in battle: you would have been free.

So, the Southerners needed a different way, so they were looking for the Aristotelian notion of slavery, which is that slaves are people who are either morally inferior or lack the judgment to make independent choices. They are like children or like horses. That means that you actually have a positive-good justification for enslaving them: if I have a thoroughbred horse or a fancy dog, it would be cruel of me to set it loose to let it run around, because it’s not capable of taking care of itself. I have obligations to take care of it. My ownership actually gives me obligations. And what’s interesting and what this paper is about is how Southerners worked that out between about 1815 and 1835, and started to understand the implications for how they had to change the economic institutions of slavery to match this new ideology that they were creating.

Yet another example of how powerful economic self-interest is in shifting moral beliefs.

  1. Although it was uncomfortable at times listening to two privileged pro-market white guys talking about slavery, particularly in the moments where they discuss matters from the slaves’ perspectives. But in fairness, they do a good job in admitting their privilege and the awareness that their economic beliefs may not square with things like human rights and justice forms the basis of a fascinating conversation.

Tags: economics   Michael Munger   podcasts   Russ Roberts   slavery   USA
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wyeager
1096 days ago
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Agreed! Munger and Roberts are about as self aware as one could hope on this topic. I'd like to see the two of them on a stage with Ta-Nehisi Coates (because the more uncomfortable we are with our ugly history, the better).
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Migrating Geese

6 Comments and 14 Shares
"Hey guys! I have a great idea for a migration!" "Dammit, Kevin."
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wyeager
1111 days ago
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Uh oh. XKCD's gettin' in on Your Wild City's territory with this one.
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popular
1109 days ago
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johnknall
1108 days ago
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Poor Kevin. :)
ÜT: 36.066195,-79.654128
pinksquirrel
1108 days ago
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KEVIN!!! :D
MaryEllenCG
1109 days ago
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Dammit, Kevin!
Greater Bostonia
adamcole
1110 days ago
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We Need To Talk About Kevin
Philadelphia, PA, USA
alt_text_bot
1111 days ago
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"Hey guys! I have a great idea for a migration!" "Dammit, Kevin."

Meditations on a “Fresh Paint” Sign

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Some time in the late ’90s or early 2000s, I saw a sign on a recently-painted wall. As I looked at it, I realized it was more than a little odd. As there were several of these signs on the wall, I felt comfortable grabbing one for future amusement. I recently rediscovered the sign, and it seems worth sharing with the wider world. Have a look:

ALT NAME

Some Thoughts on This Sign I Snatched Nearly 20 Years Ago

  • I find it very strange that the sign reads not “Wet Paint”, but “Fresh Paint”.

  • As well, it seems likely that this sign is recursive. The sign itself features its own “Fresh Paint” sign, and given how it’s covered, that sign may include a drawing of a third sign, and so on. It’s “Fresh Paint” signs all the way down.

  • Like the girl pictured (let’s call her “Alice”), I nicked this sign off something which had recently been painted.

  • Alice is very coyly hiding the sign from the boy (who we’ll call “Bobby”).

  • Nevertheless, it seems clear that Bobby knows exactly Alice has done.

  • Even as Bobby plays it cool, he’s hiding his baseball bat from Alice.

  • Bobby seems as though he plans to get a very different type of red on Alice’s dress.

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wyeager
1149 days ago
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Practical joke, threat of violence, wow mab, wow.
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