I find that Republican prosecutorial offices sentence defendants to longer incarceration spells as compared to their Democratic and Independent counterparts. This increase in incarceration length is driven by longer sentences for both violent and prop- erty offenses, and translates into a persistent increase in incarceration. These sentencing and incarceration enhancements do not lower crime at the county level, indicating that, in terms of public safety, the marginal return to the tough-on-crime stance may be close to zero.
I had a pretty dreary year in books. I’m not sure if it was me or the books, but there were very few I’d really recommend strongly. Among fiction, my favorites were all trilogies: Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem (outstanding hard SF, especially the first volume); N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth (not sure if it was worth three Hugos, but it was good); and Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians (uneven but entertaining).
However, there was one book so good it dwarfed all the others:
1. Bad Blood, John Carreyrou
Bad Blood is about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, which promised to transform the field of blood testing. I’ve had a chance to mention this book to a few people who have read it, and we all had the same reaction: utter, stunned disbelief. Even if you’ve read all of Carreyrou’s reporting on Theranos for the Wall Street Journal, you still don’t understand a fraction of the story. The whole thing was a long con from the very start, and one that lasted nearly a decade based on literally nothing more than the strength of Holmes’s ability to mesmerize investors, regulators, board members, and even her own employees. You simply have to read it to believe it.
It’s hard to know what conclusion to draw from the Theranos story. In one sense, it’s such an insane outlier that I’m not sure it really says anything about the rest of Silicon Valley culture. On the other hand, the fact that Holmes could do what she did in the midst of the self-proclaimed smartest people in the world sure doesn’t say anything good about Silicon Valley. In the end, I suppose what it really tells us is just how unprepared most of are for a person who’s willing to lie to our faces persistently and persuasively. This is how Donald Trump gets away with lying to his core base and how fraudulent journalists can ply their trade for so long. As cynical and perceptive as we like to think of ourselves, it rarely occurs to us that someone is just flatly making stuff up, if only because these kinds of lies obviously can’t be sustained, so why would anyone be dumb enough to traffic in them?
And yet some people are—or perhaps it’s better to say that they aren’t dumb so much as they combine an eye-watering level of confidence in their ability to BS people on the fly with a fear of being caught out that’s so intense it keeps roping them in further and further. Charles Ponzi had it. Bernie Madoff had it. And Elizabeth Holmes had it.
The fascinating question yet to be answered is: will Silicon Valley eventually forgive Holmes and allow her another chance to start a company? If they do, I think we can conclude that most of them are idiots.
I am tempted to call this long piece on a boring subject the best I have read in 2019, but you know I think that might remain true by the end of the year. Here is an excerpt from the Belgium section:
I was in Brussels recently, taking my son to watch Anderlecht play, when I heard some English people in a café asking the waiter why no one liked the English. They were nice people asking a genuine question, but often it’s the wrong people who ask the right questions. The waiter replied, politely and in perfect English: ‘We can read your newspapers and watch your television; we hear what your politicians and your journalists say about us.’ That summed it up: all this time we Brits thought we were talking to ourselves, and we were, but everyone else was listening in. Belgians are not surprised by Brexit: it’s just the coagulation as policy of what’s been flowing as attitude for decades.
The leftish Information provides the most useful articles. One has a headline in English, though anchored in the land of Elsinore: ‘To Be or Not to Be, That Is Not the Question’. The real ‘question’ doesn’t concern the merits of Leave or Remain, but the complexities of a twin crisis, in both the UK and the EU. Another piece, published shortly after the referendum, describes the division of a nation into Leavers and Remainers as afgrundsdyb. Meaning ‘abyssal’, the term, I am told, hints at the unfathomable as well as the unbridgeable, while evoking something that is certainly dangerous to approach.
I enjoyed this line:
Croatia has more experience than most of entering and exiting alliances.
From the Germany section:
‘Brexit shows that the Brussels bureaucracy, that alleged monster that employs no more civil servants than a central German city administration, has done a great job. The extent of interconnectedness at all levels has to be renegotiated: supply chains, industry standards, food and pharmaceutical standards, security architectures, rural and air transport structures, fishing rights, research collaborations, student exchanges, a vast frictionlessness system is now in jeopardy’ (Gustav Seibt, Süddeutsche Zeitung).
This I had not known:
…in Norway the conservative right is overwhelmingly in favour of joining the EU.
Being a Brit in Sweden can be embarrassing just now. We’re one of the Swedes’ favourite peoples, admired for our history and culture, and loved for Engelskt humor. Shocked they may be; but a diet of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers means that Swedes are not altogether surprised.
The authors are numerous, the whole piece was published in The London Review of Books, definitely recommended. I would note that “what group X really thinks of Y” remains an under-exploited genre in journalism, and elsewhere, and it is one of the best ways of learning about a topic.
"Quantum computing is complex and it's not all it's cracked up to be," writes Slashdot reader nickwinlund77, pointing to this new article from IEEE Spectrum arguing it's "not in our foreseeable future":
Having spent decades conducting research in quantum and condensed-matter physics, I've developed my very pessimistic view. It's based on an understanding of the gargantuan technical challenges that would have to be overcome to ever make quantum computing work.... Experts estimate that the number of qubits needed for a useful quantum computer, one that could compete with your laptop in solving certain kinds of interesting problems, is between 1,000 and 100,000. So the number of continuous parameters describing the state of such a useful quantum computer at any given moment must be at least 2**1,000, which is to say about 10**300. That's a very big number indeed. How big? It is much, much greater than the number of subatomic particles in the observable universe. To repeat: A useful quantum computer needs to process a set of continuous parameters that is larger than the number of subatomic particles in the observable universe. At this point in a description of a possible future technology, a hardheaded engineer loses interest....
[I]t's absolutely unimaginable how to keep errors under control for the 10300 continuous parameters that must be processed by a useful quantum computer. Yet quantum-computing theorists have succeeded in convincing the general public that this is feasible.... Even without considering these impossibly large numbers, it's sobering that no one has yet figured out how to combine many physical qubits into a smaller number of logical qubits that can compute something useful. And it's not like this hasn't long been a key goal.... On the hardware front, advanced research is under way, with a 49-qubit chip (Intel), a 50-qubit chip (IBM), and a 72-qubit chip (Google) having recently been fabricated and studied. The eventual outcome of this activity is not entirely clear, especially because these companies have not revealed the details of their work...
I believe that, appearances to the contrary, the quantum computing fervor is nearing its end. That's because a few decades is the maximum lifetime of any big bubble in technology or science. After a certain period, too many unfulfilled promises have been made, and anyone who has been following the topic starts to get annoyed by further announcements of impending breakthroughs. What's more, by that time all the tenured faculty positions in the field are already occupied. The proponents have grown older and less zealous, while the younger generation seeks something completely new and more likely to succeed.
He advises quantum computing researchers to follow the advice of IBM physicist Rolf Landauer. Decades ago Landauer warned quantum computing's proponents that they needed a disclaimer in all of their publications.
"This scheme, like all other schemes for quantum computation, relies on speculative technology, does not in its current form take into account all possible sources of noise, unreliability and manufacturing error, and probably will not work."
It remains unclear to me whether effective quantum computing -- which I think of as something that can implement algorithms like Grover's and Shor's -- is a mere matter of engineering, or whether it requires one or more scientific breakthroughs. So many companies doing public-facing research in the area act like it's the former, but authors like Mikhail Dyakonov who know much more than me act like it's the latter. The thing about scientific breakthroughs is that it's hard to put timelines on them; the hoped-for breakthrough might never come.
I've not invested the time in any reasonably deep understanding of quantum computing. But my superficial reading of the news suggests that credible detection of quantum-speedup in any setting is still in the future, as it was in 2014. The new fusion energy...
This sort of perspective rests on the presumption that all Hispanics are non-white minorities, even if about half of US Hispanics are white (by the standards applied). What is the transition rate of kids of Hispanics to non-Hispanic status? This paper says that according to some data sources 20% of the grandchildren of Mexican immigrants no longer identify as Hispanic. http://conference.iza.org/conference_files/AMM_2018/trejo_s225.pdf And for more assimilated Hispanics the transition rate out of Hispanic identification could be faster. There's no reason to presume there's a large long-term Hispanic minority (in contrast to what occurs with African Americans). This isn't in the long-term any different than, say, Italians. And yes, there are racial minority groups with in the Hispanic population this might not apply too. But that's not Hispanics overall.