The Elites Were Living High. Then Came the Fall [Annalee Newitz/The New York Times]

Modern cities can learn from the fate of collapsed Bronze Age civilizations at Ugarit and Mycenae, thousands of years ago.

… the Bronze Age was also a time of extreme inequality. Cities were ruled by wealthy urban aristocrats who controlled trade, relied on various kinds of forced labor, and placed heavy tax burdens on their client states and agricultural villages. When times got hard, the commoners in Ugarit and Mycenae felt the squeeze….

Given what’s known about these societies … the city’s lower classes may have gotten fed up and burned it all down.

The New Yorker looks at “You’re Wrong About,” one of my favorite podcasts

How We Lie to Ourselves About History [Rachel Syme/The New Yorker]

“You’re Wrong About” debunks the stories of the past. But its real subject isn’t so much facts as the process by which we absorb them.

The “You’re Wrong About” podcast, co-hosted by journalists Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall, digs into stories that made headlines, mainly tabloid stories in the 90s and 2000s, and finds out what really went on. Subjects include the OJ Simpson murders and trial, the lives of Anna Nicole Smith, Jessica Simpson, and Amy Fisher, the Kitty Genovese murder, and multiple serial killers. Public memory of these events is clear-cut, with black-and-white heroes and villains. Hobbes and Marshall discover the reality is nuanced, with even villains being just people who are doing the best they can.

“You’re Wrong About” is often funny, despite the generally dark subject matter, and always smart.

What keeps the show fresh is its outlook. Marshall and Hobbes are endlessly curious about their own blind spots, which they hunt down like truffle pigs set loose in a damp forest. Each brings a unique view and tone to the show; Marshall is more world-weary and sardonic, with a gravelly voice that sounds not unlike the caustic cartoon character Daria Morgendorffer. Hobbes is excitable and buzzing, often so eager to rattle off information that he speaks in full paragraphs. Together, they make up a kind of millennial Statler and Waldorf, heckling the shoddy journalism of the past. But even their response to the media is one of amusement, or droll resignation—they stay far away from the outrage that has become the pattern of public life. (Indignation would imply certainty, and certainty would cut against the core of their project.) In one episode, the hosts discuss the Y2K-bug scare, in which people feared that the year 2000 would cause computer systems—and society at large—to crash. Hobbes tells Marshall that people often use the subject as a bludgeon. “When we’re talking about climate change, people will bring up, like, Oh, we were worried about Y2K, too, and that turned out to be a hoax,” he says. “And somebody else will respond to that by saying, No, Y2K is an example of us coming together and fixing a problem.” After he’s done, Marshall playfully clears her throat. Then she says, “And, since we have now had two years of doing this show, I am able to extrapolate that perhaps the answer is no one is right.”

It’s an apt mission statement for “You’re Wrong About,” which, despite the neatness of its name, is the one history podcast I’ve heard that assumes the audience is capable of complex thought. It doesn’t try to sift out nuance; it’s a podcast for adults, albeit those who have spent most of their lives telling themselves the wrong stories.

“You’re Wrong About” isn’t the only smart, nuanced history podcast out there. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is equally good, while very different. Carlin’s subject matter is generally military history. A friend who was a combat veteran in Vietnam says combat brings out the best and worst in people, and that’s a main theme of Hardcore History. Soldiers and civilian victims see brutality of a kind the rest of us can only imagine—what kind of person does those things? And what kind of person remains noble despite living through them?

Cory Doctorow: The moral hazard of bankruptcy, stories from Black women’s customer service hell, a new way that phones can spy on you, and unauthorized cups.

Pluralistic: 29 Jul 2021: Bankruptcy lets billionaires destroy businesses, jobs, and the economy, and literally kill people, and walk away with billions of dollars, thanks to limited liability corporation, investor impunity, and corrupt judges.

Economists “wring their hands about the ‘moral hazard’ of public health care and housing, they’re oddly sanguine about limited liability.

Also: Stories from Black women’s customer service hell, about the women who answer the phone when you call Disney, Airbnb, Carnival and others.

And a new way your phone is invading your privacy, through the accelerometer:

“The way you move has a sufficiently unique signature that accelerometers can identify you as the person carrying a device. The same techniques can infer your driving style, whether you are intoxicated, and, through dead reckoning, where you are – even without a GPS fix.

“Alarmingly, accelerometers can be repurposed as crude mics, translating sound vibrations into speech and keyword detection.”

Unlike your phone’s camera and microphone, the accelerometer lacks privacy protection

And paper cup manufacturers are putting RFID chips in their products to deny homeless people drinking water.

Mandate vaccinations, not masks

People should be required to be vaccinated, and show proof of vaccination, to use indoor, public spaces: Work outside the home, shop, go to restaurants, etc.

Exemption should be made for people with legitimate medical reasons they can’t be vaccinated. Those people should wear masks, and practice social distancing.

Anti-vaxxers can just stay home and let responsible adults get on with their lives.

Covid Is Now a Crisis for the Unvaccinated, by Aaron E. Carroll, chief health officer for Indiana University, writing at the NY Times:

… to suggest that Covid-19 is an escalating emergency in the United States is not quite right. The truth is that the vaccinated and the unvaccinated are experiencing two very different pandemics right now. If we don’t confront that, the nation can’t address either appropriately.

People in areas with high vaccination rates are doing fine. Unvaccinated areas are still in the worst of the pandemic. Hospitals are filling up again, people are going on ventilators and dying.

Even the Delta variant is not a major threat to everyone in the United States. It is largely a threat to the unvaccinated.

Over 97% of people hospitalized for Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

Even in areas of high vaccination rates, some people can’t be vaccinated, and the vaccine doesn’t work as well for everyone. The best thing we can do for these people is to get everyone around them immunized.

Mandate the vaccine, not masks, by German Lopez at Vox:

A year ago, requiring masks as cases spiked would have been an obviously smart decision. Mask mandates work, and for most of 2020, they were among the best methods we had to stop the spread of Covid-19. But masks were never meant to be the long-term solution; they were a stopgap until the US and the rest of the world could stamp out epidemics through vaccination.

Now those vaccines are here. And the changed circumstances of summer 2021 call for new approaches. Any entity thinking about a mask requirement — from private businesses to local, state, and federal governments — should consider mandating something else first: vaccination.

Vaccine mandates have been shown to work in France—one of the more vaccine-skeptical countries in the West—-and Israel.

(Via Daring Fireball)


David Frum: Vaccinated America Has Had Enough [The Atlantic]

And Ezra Klein is skeptical vaccine mandates will fly, and he says we’ve done pretty much everything we can to convince people to get the vaccine: What if the Unvaccinated Can’t Be Persuaded? [NY Times]