Ju-Jitsu, Russia, Derek Parfit, Luck, George Plimpton


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A Letter From Cambridge

J.D. Daniels | Work In Progress | 12th January 2017

In which the gentle author — “thirty-three years old, five-ten, one-sixty” — learns Brazilian ju-jitsu in a tough gym. “I scored a smashing single-leg takedown but dropped inside his closed guard and fell victim to his guillotine choke: he looped an arm around my giraffey neck and began to uproot my spine the way you pull a weed out of your garden. It was quick and painful, and I tapped out. I had been training for two months. The forearm I wiped under my nose came away slick with blood” (1,850 words)

The Secret Source Of Putin

Peter Savodnik | Vanity Fair | 12th January 2017

Putin is from Dostoyevsky. He doesn’t map directly to any one of Dostoyevsky’s characters, but he lives in Dostoyevsky’s moral world, where the ruination of Russia began with Peter the Great’s opening to the West early in 18th century. The West was the enemy then — just as it is now. “This sounds fantastical to Americans because we’re an ahistorical people. Russia, like most countries, however, is a decidedly historical country, and it appears to be seeking to rectify a 400-year-old wound” (1,700 words)

Obituary: Derek Parfit

Jane O'Grady | Guardian | 12th January 2017

Derek Parfit grew up wanting to be a monk, but was “perturbed by the problem of evil” and lost his faith. He had studied philosophy for just one year when he published a landmark paper in which he proposed treating personal identity not as a fixed state or thing, but as a cluster of states or things that might change over time — thereby eroding the distinction between self-interest and altruism. If one’s future self is to some degree another person, providing for that self is to some degree altruism (1,600 words)

Luck And Video Games

Simon Parkin | Natilus | 12th January 2017

Fairness is “the unspoken promise of most video games”. But fairness does not mean randomness. If a player believe he has a 33 percent chance of winning a particular challence, he feels cheated it he loses four challenges in a row. What players really want is fairness adjusted for cognitive bias, to which the gaming industry responds by engineering for frequency rather than probability. “If your odds of winning a battle are 1 in 3, the game guarantees that you win on the third attempt” (2,800 words)

Plimpton And Papa

Joel Whitney | Guernica | 11th January 2017

How George Plimpton cultivated Ernest Hemingway, and secured Hemingway’s Paris Review interview, a triumph for the CIA’s Cold-War campaign of cultural diplomacy. Plimpton later visited Hemingway in Cuba, where he watched the executions of Batista loyalists. “Hemingway felt that it had been a mistake to ask Ken [Tynan] to an execution since his emotional makeup was just not suited to such things, that he would give the revolution a bad name. But he encouraged Plimpton to go” (5,020 words)

Video of the day: Joanna Newsom – The Sprout and the Bean

What to expect:

Voice and harp music video with Terry Timely’s signature mix of nostalgia and surrealism (4’44”)

Thought for the day

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts
Paul Ehrlich

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