Links round-up

Hi all,

I’m feeling very old today. Not just because my son has developed a brilliant system for keeping me on my toes: letting me get just enough sleep to need more but not so much that I feel rested. No, the realisation that the creep of time has, like the ocean eroding the White Cliffs of Dover, been doing rather more than I ever notice on a day-to-day basis came twice in quick succession this week. First, the news that Diego Maradona turned sixty this week (celebrated in the Guardian with this list of his six greatest goals for Napoli) brought home that the first footballer I ever genuinely idolised now qualifies for a bus pass. I remember watching (on one of those TVs that was about two feet deep and had a 10 inch screen) some of these exact goals on TV. Even worse was the WhatsApp I got from a friend today, informing me that today is the 20th birthday of OutKast’s Stankonia, an album I remember having the force of something genuinely new and exciting. I’ve been nostalgia-binging on the album today and only now realise that Dre was many times more apologetic to Ms. Jackson than I had thought – my own version of millions to trillions today.

  1. Just to rub salt in the wound, Tim Harford points out that these landmarks mean that I’m inching towards peak misery, which is apparently achieved at age 47.2 (don’t worry – I’ve got almost a decade till I start cheering up again). There are, in fact, two effects happening: one is the near inevitable mid-life dip in happiness, which is not just observed across countries but across species (apparently even Chimps have mid-life crises), and the other is specific to humans – the empirical observation that each successive generation is less happy and in more pain than the previous one. We can thank Anne Case, Angus Deaton and Arthur Stone for that cheerful research finding, one Tim summarises thus: “What Case, Deaton and Stone are finding is not a midlife problem but a swelling wave of suffering rolling through the generations.” And lest this entry to the links results in mass depression, click on this please.
  2. Away from the navel gazing, I think there might be some kind of election next week? I’m not sure. It’s not like millions of people have been waiting for this since November 9th 2016. The result on that day was put down, by some, to the influence of social media in generating coverage and support for Donald Trump. Thomas Fujiwara and co-authors try to put numbers on that here, and discover that twitter is, if anything, associated with a negative effect on Trump’s vote share, with more heavily-twittering states less likely to support him, an effect driven not by Trump’s own tweeting, but by the negative backlash it engenders. This finding runs directly counter to my own intuition, that the platform has been a boon to him by keeping him in the news, and providing a way to signal his alignment to specific groups in the country, but this may be down to what precisely their measuring (or, I’m wrong). Also: Andrew Gelman on why betting markets and forecasts have such different views on the 2020 election.
  3. One of the most baffling aspects of American politics to outsiders is the discourse around healthcare – there seems to be a widely held belief that systems based on public provision are death traps, contrary to almost all of the evidence. I’ve always wondered why so many Americans seem to think the UK healthcare system is basically The Running Man in a hospital, with death squads lined up to try and take you out from the moment you cross the threshold. It turns out that a lot of this misinformation stems from a campaign led by private insurers to systematically spread misinformation about systems that are not dominated by private healthcare insurance providers. Planet Money have the story and it’s deeply depressing (transcript). Occupying an enormous place of shame in this whole story is How to Lie with Statistics, the cult book on statistical bad practice whose author went on to work for the tobacco industry to undermine the case against smoking.
  4. I really liked this piece by Martin Ravallion about the idea of ending poverty – its politics and the progress towards it. It reminded me of this regularly updated wall of shame maintained by Owen Barder, a history of people claiming that we are the first generation to have an end to poverty in sight.
  5. Duncan Green summarises research into which countries have been successful in making a real dent in inequality, and how. Related: a summary of research into effects of minimum wages on employment in developing country settings. The tl;dr is that the effects vary quite widely, but the trade off between wages and employment levels seem to be sharpest when minimum wages appear to have the greatest potential to support the poorest.
  6. Pam Jakiela and Owen Ozier have the research that proves I should appreciate my big sister more: children (in developing countries) with an older sister do much better in terms of early childhood development – an outcome that would likely be strengthened with greater investments in these older sisters. I still don’t forgive her for ruining 9/10 movie twists for me, though.
  7. Lastly, it’s Halloween, and if horror is your thing, this is the single most horrifying thing I’ve ever read: a man in New York was waiting for the bus when a sinkhole opened up underneath him, plunging him into a several-foot deep pit filled with a seething swarm of rats. So deep in rats was he, he could not even scream for fear that they would crawl down his throat. It took hours for him to be rescued. I would need several lifetimes of therapy to recover from the trauma. If that’s too grim for you, then try LitHub’s ranking of the top 50 screen Draculas – excellent choices, though the top two should be reversed. I’d forgotten how Gary Oldman’s portrayal was basically Klaus from the Umbrella Academy crossed with a sapeur. And if Halloween just doesn’t do it for you at all, this is brilliant: the creators of some of the best TV shows of the last 20 years suggest what their Coronavirus episode would look like. If only Leslie Knope was leading us…

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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