Monthly Shorts 7/22
Now with more writing?
Writing as Writing
A press release from Stripe does a really good job, I feel, of demonstrating how merchants and finance people can add value in the world. It’s often incredibly abstract. How important is liquidity to me as a retail investor? If you put all my transactions on a three-day delay I probably wouldn’t even notice. And of course many people have political incentives to not see. So Stripe has a real use case where financialization options are incredibly valuable.
From Winthrop Beach to Bunker Hill, / From Cambridge to Revere,
The voice of happiness was still, / One heard no note of cheer.
A pallor whitened every face. / All eyes were red and swollen;
A dreadful crime had taken place – / The Codfish had been stolen.
The Fish that symbolized a trade / Which, in the days of old,
The shores of old New England made / A strand of shining gold,
The Fish that millions came to view / With ardent admiration,
The Fish whose fame has echoed to / The corners of the nation.
When first I set my roving feet / Upon Bostonian sod,
I hastened blithely up the street / To view the Sacred Cod,
And in its dull and glassy eyes, / The instant of our meeting,
I fancied that I saw arise / A glance of cordial greeting.
Today there is an end of grief; / No more the skies loom black;
A chastened and repentant thief / Has brought the Codfish back.
No Stygian gloom now broods around, / No heart with woe is freighted;
Bostonian pulses leap and bound – / The Cod is reinstated.
Someone stole the Sacred Cod.
Hobart is reliably good: this article on Jane Street is of interest to anyone who likes good writing about markets and their participants.
Courtesy of Future Perfect, this article from the Smithsonian on American reactions to burning coal is incredibly entertaining if you have an eye for modern parallels.
The interest rate on short-term bonds for the German government is still negative. America is having an inflationary crisis because of the generosity of our COVID response.
Gentrification does not have any relationship with evictions if you actually look at data.
Five Individuals Indicted for Crimes Related to Transnational Repression Scheme to Silence Critics of the People's Republic of China Residing in the United States. I had to explain to someone that this exists earlier this month, so here you all go: it’s not the only plan I’ve seen executed by Chinese intelligence (see also this coordinated harassment of prominent Asian women), and it’s one of the more solid reasons I’m a pessimist about long-term peace between CPC-led China and the United States. Put simply, the CPC seems to be of the view that free speech anywhere is a threat to authoritarianism everywhere, and if that is true there’s a strong lasting conflict.
US Military doctrine on Chinese Tactics. One interesting quote from it is, I think, revealing of something most people in the US aren’t currently talking about:
More recently, it was used regularly—and with good effect—by Communist Chinese forces in both the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War, most famously at the 1946 Battle of Guanzhong and the 1951 Battle of the Soyang River.
If it turns out that Chinese forces fail dramatically, I think a lot of people will talk about a peacetime military and lack of actual combat experience.
Also, from a reddit thread on the topic, it turns out that political officers have started to turn into a chaplain/welfare officer sort of role at the lower levels, which is just fascinating.
Chronotrains tells you how far you can travel in five hours by train in Europe. I think the funniest part of this is seeing how much more central London is to Britain than two locations that are theoretically closer to each other. My favorite is York to London being faster than York to Blackpool:
In Defence of Positive Utilitarianism
AKA I was bored one lunch at a conference
Most utilitarianism is either negative (that is, pain vastly outweighs pleasure in importance) or neutral (pain and pleasure are of equal importance).
But there exists a strong and under-rated case for positive utilitarianism as an axiological stance.
Firstly, there is a common and necessary intuition that differentiation is important for moral weight.
If you imagine a universe of quadrillions upon quadrillions of rats brains on heroin, it seems…lacking, somehow, even if they’re all very happy and having their preference for heroin satisfied. Some of this is that happy rats seem less good than happy humans.
Even at the scale of entire planets, this seems true: I prefer a universe with many different worlds to one with many identical worlds, assuming that every one of those different worlds is morally equivalent, by whatever standard I otherwise use, to the one world that would be copied.
Secondly, Tolstoy was wrong: pleasure is more distinct than pain. If you break a leg, the pain is much like other physical pains. If you are sad and alone, that sadness and loneliness is relatively similar to that of others. But pleasures are much more unique to the person experiencing them: the joy of friendly companionship around a warm fire is very different from holding the hand of a lover, which is in turn very distinct from cracking up at the joke of a childhood friend. Suffering just hurts.
Therefore, pleasure is more important than pain, and we have an ethical argument for weighting it above the prevention of pain.
This fails in the real world, mostly, because preventing pain is much, much cheaper than enabling pleasure, and the cheapest pleasures are similar to one another.