Links for 7th May, 2019

  1. “Cyclone Fani slammed into Odisha on Friday morning with the force of a major hurricane, packing 120 mile per hour winds. Trees were ripped from the ground and many coastal shacks smashed. It could have been catastrophic.

    But as of early Saturday, mass casualties seemed to have been averted. While the full extent of the destruction remained unclear, only a few deaths had been reported, in what appeared to be an early-warning success story.”
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    A short read from the NYT about how Odisha was rather more prepared this time around for Cyclone Fani. Makes for encouraging, happy reading!
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  2. “Perhaps the earth has life because it came from other solar systems, seeded by alien probes, and indeed that is what I would do if I were a very wealthy alien philanthropist. If you end up with 100 successfully seeded solar systems for each very advanced civilization, the resulting odds suggest that we are indeed the result of a seed.That’s partly why, to this observer, the most likely resolution of the Fermi paradox is this: The aliens have indeed arrived, through panspermia — and we are they.”
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    An equally short, equally interesting take on aliens and the Fermi paradox from Tyler Cowen.
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  3. “We Are Pro-Technology, but only as a means, not an end. Technology is only as good as our understanding of it, and an incremental approach will save more lives in the near and long term while mitigating the second order consequences of an all-or-nothing approach.”
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    I was sent this by Aadisht Khanna, and while I do not necessarily agree with all of it, it does raise some fairly interesting points – and the manifesto itself is certainly food for thought.
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  4. “This looks quite tough, and there’s a significant chance the company will be valued at less than the debt itself, even if there was a buyer. After all if a buyer is paying that much money, why doesn’t he just start a new airline (or acquire a significant stake in an existing airline) and take over whatever slots, planes and rights Jet had? That’s likely to be much cheaper.”
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    Deepak Shenoy ponders the question of Jet Airways unusually high share price, and is unable to resolve the paradox.
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  5. “Without going too far down this rabbit hole, the following is worth noting: What sport psychologists, coaches, parents and players are prescribing as a model of mental toughness is equally likely to be the success-producing traits of highly successful and highly functional psychopaths. I have worked with a few psychopaths. I’ve seen the so-called attributes of mental toughness in them, which help deliver results on the field. I have seen how fans, friends and the media adore these people. But I have also seen what it looks like when their mental toughness is unmasked as psychopathic behaviour. They come across as being narcissistic and entirely self-serving, compulsive (and clever) liars, manipulators without any remorse and an inability to take responsibility for their errors. These are not qualities we should encourage as general conditions for performance.”
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    A fascinating article in Cricinfo about mental toughness, and how it doesn’t really exist – at least, not the way you think it does.
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Links for 2nd May, 2019

  1. “I think that most capitalists don’t know how to divide the economic pie well and most socialists don’t know how to grow it well, yet we are now at a juncture in which either a) people of different ideological inclinations will work together to skillfully re-engineer the system so that the pie is both divided and grown well or b) we will have great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt most everyone and will shrink the pie.”
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    Written from an America centric viewpoint, but the article is worth reading for the wealth of data it shares, as also for the viewpoint about the need to reform capitalism.
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  2. “The solution, Wishnatzki believes, is to make a robot that can pick strawberries. He and a business partner, Bob Pitzer, have been developing one for the past six years. With the latest iteration of their invention—known around the farm as Berry 5.1—they are getting close.”
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    Strawberry fields forever. The article is worth reading because it speaks about robots, unemployment, demographics, immigration and the inevitability of agriculture becoming ever more mechanized.
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  3. “He also had a warning to anyone who assumes it will be “business as usual” once America’s Trump fever breaks. The idea that the Trump presidency is some sort of accident, he says, is a fantasy.”
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    An interview with the outgoing French ambassador to America. Worth reading on trade, Israel, Iran and much else besides.
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  4. “The Scrabble career of Nigel Richards went from great to astounding this week, after he won the French-language Scrabble World Championships. A New Zealand native, Richards has won several English-language titles; his new victory follows weeks of studying a French dictionary.”He doesn’t speak French at all, he just learnt the words,” his friend (and former president of the New Zealand Scrabble Association) Liz Fagerlund tells the New Zealand Herald. “He won’t know what they mean, wouldn’t be able to carry out a conversation in French I wouldn’t think.”
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    Oddly depressing, for multiple reasons. Takes the romance out of Scrabble, for one, but also points to the inevitability of automation.
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  5. “What’s woefully underexplored by economists is what the prevalence of caste implies to the Indian economy. A basic premise of the free market model is the absence of entry barriers—not just for firms keen to enter markets for goods and services, but also for people pursuing career options. In theory, companies that are under the pressure of competition to perform would want to hire workers in a way that maximizes the productivity of their workforce; a caste bias would probably stymie the cause of corporate efficiency. None of it may be overtly or even consciously done, but the effects of such a tendency could add up. Caste, thus, would result in an inefficient allocation of human resources across the economy. ”
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    Worth reading if you are starting to learn economics, and aren’t quite sure what competition and barriers to entry mean – but also if you are a student of India today.

Links for 25th April, 2019

  1. “Singapore appreciates the relative strengths and limits of the public and private sectors in health. Often in the United States, we think that one or the other can do it all. That’s not necessarily the case.”
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    It is always a good idea to learn about Singapore’s healthcare system, and this Upshot column from the NYT helps in that regard. Each of the links are also worth reading. If you spend time reading through the article and all the links therein, you might be a while, but it is, I would say, worth it.
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  2. “With Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, he collected evidence on happiness that remains my benchmark for social scientists’ ability to shed light on wellbeing. Prof Kahneman once warned me that expert advice can go only so far. Much happiness and sadness is genetically determined: “We shouldn’t expect a depressive person to suddenly become extroverted and leaping with joy.” Those words are much on my mind this week.”
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    Tim Harford remembers Alan Kreuger, and helps us understand a lot about the man, his work, happiness and much else in the process. Entirely worth reading.
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  3. “The Captain Swing riots are thus one more example, an especially vivid one, that new technologies which cause a lot of people to lose a way of earning income can be highly disruptive. The authors write: “The results suggest that in one of the most dramatic cases of labor unrest in recent history, labor-saving technology played a key role. While the past may not be an accurate guide to future upheavals, evidence from the days of Captain Swing serve as a reminder of how disruptive new, labor-saving technologies can be in economic, social and political terms.”
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    One, because reading something you hadn’t read before is always interesting. Two, because unemployment because of automation isn’t new. Three, makes for very relevant reading today (in multiple ways: automation itself, but also untangling causality.)
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  4. “He says he was inspired by the depth of the nun’s commitment to India’s least fortunate—but he was unwilling to emulate her approach, and not simply because of its material sacrifices. Although Shetty often performed free surgeries for the poorest of the poor, he reasoned that the only way to sustainably serve large numbers of people in need was to make it a business. “What Mother Teresa did was not scalable,” he says—perhaps the first time venture capital jargon has been applied to the work of the Angel of Calcutta.”
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    Interested in healthcare, or economics, or both? A lovely read, in that case. Also a good explainer of the challenges in front of Modicare.
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  5. “The argument in favour of having Tribunals is that they offer a specialised and dedicated forum for settling specific categories of disputes which are otherwise likely to get stuck in the regular judicial channels. But this assumption holds only if the regular judiciary exercises restraint and does not insert itself into the proceedings pending before Tribunals. ”
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    The problem with laws in India isn’t their framing – it is their implementation. Read this to find out more.