Monday, February 15, 2021

Washington’s Birthday Links

  • Unless the intermediate host necessary for completing a natural zoonotic jump is identified, the dual‐use gain‐of‐function research practice of viral serial passage should be considered a viable route by which the novel coronavirus arose. The practice of serial passage mimics a natural zoonotic jump, and offers explanations for SARS‐CoV‐2's distinctive spike‐protein region and its unexpectedly high affinity for angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE2), as well as the notable polybasic furin cleavage site within it. [link]
  • We also liked the people driving capital allocation in the energy market. In particular, we liked that experienced and successful investors like Sam Zell and John Fredriksen were moving in, self-made billionaires who’d made their fortunes partly by buying things that no one else wanted over the years. On the other side, the «sellers», were politicians, bureaucrats and other non-economically motivated players (primarily ESG-driven investors). [link]
  • The C19 pandemic and its response in the US convinced me, all the way down, that the US is just not nearly as functional or capable a society as I had imagined.  I had previously held the science agencies of the federal government in rather high regard, but the FDA and CDC have ranged from lousy to disastrously bad.  Despite many decades of counterexamples, I'd imagined that there was some reserve of competence in most levels of government, that would come out in a real crisis.  Nope.  The way everything about C19 became culture-war fodder (so that peoples' opinions of the effectiveness of masks or HQC was determined by their political identity) shouldn't have been as shocking as it was.  I guess, at some level, I previously saw a lot of the dysfunctional bits of US society as being more like a capable guy who lollygags around at work because nobody's pushing him, but he's *capable* of doing more, and will in a pinch.  And instead, we saw that while there are highly competent people in government and media and academia, the systems they work in are pretty much garbage and only occasionally will a little bit of sanity or some minimal image of competence shine through (like the FDA actually approving a couple vaccines without dragging the matter out for another several years). In some fundamental sense I probably can't even express adequately, the consistently botched C19 response has left me accepting, all the way down, that my society has lost the mandate of heaven. [link]
  • The swirly curvilinear streets of the typical suburban subdivision are based on the cemeteries of the late 1800s. Halifax’s Fairview Lawn, final resting place of victims of the Titanic, demonstrates the precursor of every modern cul-de-sac housing development. Streets twist through a parklike landscape of grass and trees insulated from the outside world. It’s peaceful. And it’s a complete break from both military gridiron urban blocks and the chaotic tangle of streets of ancient towns. [Granola Shotgun]
  • In a public health emergency, absolutism is a very tempting response: People should cease all behavior that creates additional risk. That instinct led to calls for gay men to stop having sex during the AIDS crisis. It has also spurred campaigns for teen abstinence, to reduce sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies. And to fight obesity, people have been drawn to fads like the elimination of trans fats or carbohydrates. These days, there is a new absolutist health fad: the discouragement — or even prohibition — of any behavior that seems to increase the risk of coronavirus infection, even minutely. People continue to scream at joggers, walkers and cyclists who are not wearing masks. The University of California, Berkeley, this week banned outdoor exercise by on-campus students, masked or not, saying, “The risk is real.” [NY Times]
  • You can see why elites so much want to have the Biden Administration and the tech monopolists more strongly censor social media: it provides too level of a playing field. In the past, you’d have to deal with one critical Letter to the Editor being published a week after your column. But today, you, a Pulitzer Prize winner, can quickly be logically/empirically/morally humiliated by scores of Internet Randos. That is the crime of lèse-diversité. [Sailer]
  • [T]he Orange Man was, indeed, playing a game of multi-dimensional chess. But for purposes of an outcome very different than “making America great again.” What if the Orange Man’s presidency was intended to weaponize opposition to the Left by making it easy (by making it seem righteous) to characterize anyone who supported or even sympathized with anything the Orange Man did as a “white supremacist” or even an “insurrectionist” – i.e., someone dangerous to “our Democracy” who must be stifled (or worse) using any means necessary? [Eric Peters]
  • The piece describes SSC as “astoundingly verbose.”  A more neutral way to put it would be that Scott has produced a vast quantity of intellectual output.  When I finish a Scott Alexander piece, only in a minority of cases do I feel like he spent more words examining a problem than its complexities really warranted.  Just as often, I’m left wanting more. [Scott Aaronson]
  • If we took the most efficient energy consumption assumptions above (the lower bounds), these seven PoW chains consume 55.1 TW/h per year.  Roughly the footprint of Romania, around 49th place.  But in most cases – such as with Bitcoin itself – the lower bound is not realistic because the necessary amount of efficient hashing equipment (miners) have not been manufactured. In contrast, if we took a less conservative assumption and used the upper bound these same PoW chains consume 180.1 TW/h per year.  Roughly the footprint of Poland or Thailand, around 25th place.  The upper bound scenario is likely unrealistic for coins that have seen their value (measured in USD) decline or stay the same.  For those that have seen rapid appreciation (such as Bitcoin), it is possible that older equipment temporarily comes back online until newer replacements are installed. And yet, in either scenario, these PoW networks are notalso adding the equivalent GDP output of similar sized countries.  Society is in effect, at a net loss. [link]

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