the gene: an intimate history by siddhartha mukherjee

 

Hindu philosophers have long described the experience of “being” as a web—jaal. Genes form the threads of the web; the detritus that sticks is what transforms every individual web into a being. There is an exquisite precision in that mad scheme. Genes must carry out programmed responses to environments—otherwise, there would be no conserved form. But they must also leave exactly enough room for the vagaries of chance to stick. We call this intersection “fate.” We call our responses to it “choice.” An upright organism with opposable thumbs is thus built from a script, but built to go off script. We call one such unique variant of one such organism a “self.”

 

 
 

our own fixer-in-chief

 
Trump’s remarks from Carrier Plant, taken from Time’s transcript:

And if I have to tell you, you know, doing speeches, I’d say — they say it’s not presidential to call up these massive leaders of business. I think it’s very presidential. And if it’s not presidential, that’s OK. That’s OK. Because I actually like doing it.

 
Trump styles himself, in his rallies and actions, as our own fixer-in-chief, believing it better for citizens to place their hopes not within institutions, but within him. What could possibly go wrong?

dancing about infrastructure

 

Mike Grunwald, writing in Time, in 2014:

But that’s just a bow to political reality. Republicans say nice things about infrastructure but haven’t shown any interest in paying for it. As a result, the nation has failed to take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest more in our overcrowded airports, outdated railways and flimsy bridges.

 

Matt O’Brien, writing in the Washington Post, this week:

“It will be as exciting as the 1930s.”

That is what Donald Trump’s chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon said about the incoming administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan. “With negative interest rates throughout the world,” he argued, “it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything” from “shipyards” to “iron works” and just “throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks.”

corker warns against scrapping iran nuclear deal

 

Dave Flessner, in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, quoting Senator Bob Corker

“I don’t think that (repealing the deal) is a very good place to start,” Corker told reporters during a Chattanooga visit today. “If you tear the agreement up on the front end, it’s almost like cutting your nose off to spite your face because they already have access to all of their dollars.”

silly humans

 

The previous post, about the ease with which fake news spreads, reminded me of two things.

Thing one:

This thing Ben Thompson said once.

…if there is a single phrase that describes the effect of the Internet, it is the elimination of friction.

With the loss of friction, there is necessarily the loss of everything built on friction, including value, privacy, and livelihoods. And that’s only three examples! The Internet is pulling out the foundations of nearly every institution and social more that our society is built upon.

Count me with those who believe the Internet is on par with the industrial revolution, the full impact of which stretched over centuries. And it wasn’t all good. Like today, the industrial revolution included a period of time that saw many lose their jobs and a massive surge in inequality. It also lifted millions of others out of sustenance farming. Then again, it also propagated slavery, particularly in North America. The industrial revolution led to new monetary systems, and it created robber barons. Modern democracies sprouted from the industrial revolution, and so did fascism and communism. The quality of life of millions and millions was unimaginably improved, and millions and millions died in two unimaginably terrible wars.

 

Thing two:

The unfortunate truth about us humans, which the NYT article supports, is that we have a tendency, when our beliefs are challenged by facts, to not believe less, but, in fact, harder in those beliefs.

David McRaney, at You Are Not So Smart

For instance, one article suggested the United States found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The next said the U.S. never found them, which was the truth. Those opposed to the war or who had strong liberal leanings tended to disagree with the original article and accept the second. Those who supported the war and leaned more toward the conservative camp tended to agree with the first article and strongly disagree with the second. These reactions shouldn’t surprise you. What should give you pause though is how conservatives felt about the correction. After reading that there were no WMDs, they reported being even more certain than before there actually were WMDs and their original beliefs were correct.

 

So, we humans have invented the tools, and a platform, on which to spread stories at an unprecedented scale and with unprecedented ease. 

And, we have a habit, when shown that one of these stories might be false, to believe harder, and share further, the original story.

What could possibly go wrong?

how fake news spreads

 

 Sapna Maheshwari, writing about the spread of fake news in NYT.

Here, The New York Times deconstructs how Mr. Tucker’s now-deleted declaration on Twitter the night after the election turned into a fake-news phenomenon. It is an example of how, in an ever-connected world where speed often takes precedence over truth, an observation by a private citizen can quickly become a talking point, even as it is being proved false.

 

The story of how one man, with one tweet, launched a thousand thousand vessels of truthiness.

 

Fantastic and fantastical.