Winnowing XXMMI

by reestheskin on 27/02/2021

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On the right stuff

From one of Paul Graham’s essays:

Princeton professor Robert George recently wrote:

“I sometimes ask students what their position on slavery would have been had they been white and living in the South before abolition. Guess what? They all would have been abolitionists! They all would have bravely spoken out against slavery, and worked tirelessly against it.”

He’s too polite to say so, but of course they wouldn’t.

Quoted by Paul Graham, The Four Quadrants of Conformism.

Smallpox (again): It takes time

The Economist | Broken arrow

Nevertheless smallpox vaccination became near universal. And then in 1977, 177 years after Benjamin Waterhouse, a Harvard professor and correspondent of Jefferson’s, published his pamphlet “A Prospect of Exterminating the Small-pox”, it became obsolete. The disease was wiped out. No other human disease has yet followed it to oblivion, though polio is close. But many death tolls have been slashed.

A man of principle: Nobel got it right

The Economist | Seer of the Anthropocene

Paul Crutzen, the atmospheric scientist, died on January 28.

When in 1995, while running the Max Planck Institute in Mainz, he heard of his Nobel prize, he celebrated with sekt rather than champagne: not because of his modest, Dutch, cycling-to-work frugality, but because of France’s blinkered position on nuclear testing.

Of bacon and eggs, and that wonderful film

Defector Tae Yong-ho: ‘A very small spark could topple Kim Jong Un’ | Financial Times

The former North Korean diplomat on life under the Kims — and how the world should counter the regime.

Pictures of a full English breakfast left Tae mystified. “How could it be possible for just breakfast you have eggs, bacon, milk, butter, cheese, all of these things? We thought it was propaganda.” And after watching Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music he wondered how it was that a country like America, which killed people at random, could also produce such good films. “I started to have other thoughts.”

As for the Sound of Music, at Xmas, I watched it for again for the first time in close to 60 years. Wonderful. Growing up I remember a story in the South Wales Echo about a woman pensioner In Cardiff who saw it every day for well over a year. Eventually, she was given a free pass. But no popcorn or Coca-Cola, I suspect.

Scale, dissent and staying small

How to Think for Yourself

I enjoy Paul Graham’s essays. I don’t always agree with him, but I admire the clarity of his expression. Here, he is talking about the need to promote and protect dissent.

The decrease in independent-mindedness in growing startups is still an open problem, but there may be solutions.

Founders can delay the problem by making a conscious effort only to hire independent-minded people. Which of course also has the ancillary benefit that they have better ideas.

Another possible solution is to create policies that somehow disrupt the force of conformism, much as control rods slow chain reactions, so that the conventional-minded aren’t as dangerous. The physical separation of Lockheed’s Skunk Works may have had this as a side benefit. Recent examples suggest employee forums like Slack may not be an unmitigated good.

And he is bang on the nail with regard to universities.

The most radical solution would be to grow revenues without growing the company. You think hiring that junior PR person will be cheap, compared to a programmer, but what will be the effect on the average level of independent-mindedness in your company? (The growth in staff relative to faculty seems to have had a similar effect on universities.) Perhaps the rule about outsourcing work that’s not your “core competency” should be augmented by one about outsourcing work done by people who’d ruin your culture as employees.

Sickness is just a business opportunity

‘It needs to change its culture’: is McKinsey losing its mystique? | Financial Times

Moreover, it collected millions of dollars designing and implementing marketing campaigns for three other opioid manufacturers — Johnson & Johnson, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Mallinckrodt — the lawsuits found. One presentation released in court showed it suggesting that “high abuse-risk patients” were an “opportunity” for J&J with a patch based on fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Always remember the mantra: if there are not enough sick people about, create some more.