Links and Books, September 2021

Posted on 30 Sep 2021 by Steve Markham

Ring the bell, sucka, School’s in Session!


  • Edward Slingerland on Mindscape. Absolutely worth your time, especially if, like me, you aren’t familiar with the distinctions between Confuscianism, Daoism, and other schools of Chinese thought. Useful even if you are, too, I think. One of many interesting bits in the conversation was toward the end. Sean describes the Greek distinction between empiricism (Aristotle) and pure rationality (Plato), and contrasts that with Chinese thought having an entirely different fault line, namely culture, society and striving (Confucius) and nature, instinct, and resisting the urge to strive ever harder (Daoism).
  • Simpson’s paradox as demonstrated by Israeli COVID data. h/t r/SSC.
  • Leidy Klotz on Mindscape discussing subtractive change. I enjoyed the whole thing, but the point that I found most thought-provoking is how adding things increases “tension” in a complex system. I imagine a balloon, and one thing is impinging on it making it non-spherical. You could add a bunch of similar pokey things all around the balloon until it’s spherical again, but that could go wrong in many different ways. If possible, it’s simpler to just remove the one thing (or to remove your desire for a spherical balloon). Tax code, my messy code from my years as a researcher, climate change policy, etc.–there are many areas where we add and add and add and perhaps we’re overlooking the potential for subtractive improvement.
  • Too Good to Check, for introducing me to “the Law Of Rationalist Irony: the smugger you feel about having caught a bias in someone else, the more likely you are falling victim to that bias right now, in whatever way would be most embarrassing.” See this 11 minute video about “horse de-wormer” for COVID for an example of how you can explain why people do unhelpful things without “owning” them, and while still being light-hearted and having a good time.


  • The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. I finished it. The ending was great, so I’m also reading part two.
  • The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson.


  • “He found insanity no excuse, however, for irrational behavior. Some men were blind, others had poor tempers, still other heard voices. It was all the same in the end. A man was defined not by his flaws, but by how he overcame them. And so, Zane ignored the voice.” Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension.
  • “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit” George W Bush (h/t Morning Brew)