• Josh

March 2021 (Updates, Links, NMR)

Happy (?) 1 Year COVID-aversary to my fellow Westerners! Celebrate by getting a vaccine if you can.


A few days late on the monthly update.

Some new followers joined the site after Will Wilkinson shared my Scott Alexander vs NYT post (see also Part 1 here). If you're new, welcome! I was pleased to have somewhat faithfully reported Will's point of view about the whole thing, particularly since his was a pretty nuanced take. Part 3 is still in progress, and I won't share my own point of view about all this until Part 4.

Since I switched to Wix, my old posts have weird spacing issues and some of the links don't work. I'm trying to fix this by hand, and while I'm at it I'm changing the cover art to the new versions I made myself. On top of that, I'm navigating the Japanese housing system, trying to find my wife and I a reasonable place on a postdoc salary. Fingers crossed we get the one we applied for!


Not as many this week.

  • Israel is seeing the results from its world-leading COVID vaccination campaign already! The best evidence I’ve seen is here. It's hard to see the effect of the vaccine directly in the caseload numbers because all around the world the caseload is dropping (even in places where vaccination rates are poor!). What's the deal?

Happy Anniversary!

The others are certainly not displaying herd immunity, so people chalk this up to some combination of (a) tightening restriction measures in these countries, (b) seasonal effects (COVID maybe gets weaker in warmer weather), and, in the US, (c) Biden's tightening mask requirements (this last one feels weak to me).

  • Japan approved the Pfizer vaccine after some delay, and started vaccinating essential health-care workers in mid-February. From what I've heard, Japan is generally wary of the medical system in Western countries and does its own independent safety testing. At the end they approved it, so that should make everyone feel better about taking the vaccine.

  • New podcast alert: self-proclaimed post-rationalist @eigenrobot hosts a podcast "which actively harms its listeners". Episode with @yashkaf (Jacob Falkovich) is a fun meta-level exploration of the Rationalism movement.

  • PSA on extrapolation vs interpolation.

  • Baby food manufacturers sold products with levels of "toxic metals" (e.g. lead, cadmium, mercury) that were 5-100x higher than food items are allowed to be by the FDA. This is bad in particular for babies, because "Their brain is forming rapidly, and so when they're exposed to metals that can interrupt those natural processes, the impacts range from behavioral problems to aggression to IQ loss and all kinds of cognitive and behavioral deficits that can persist throughout life," and because "Pound for pound, babies get the highest dose of these heavy metals compared to other parts of the population." This all sounds very important and worrysome. (These same "toxic metals" are the ones anti-vaxxers worry about in vaccines, and for this reason they advocate spreading out doses more and vaccinating later on when babies are not so susceptible. I wanted to say "but infant vaccines haven’t typically contained these metals in doses higher than the recommended amount", but this turns out to be false historically, and more complicated than I can accommodate here.)

  • Scott Alexander says Zvi is great, so I'm going over old Zvi posts; this one on the asymmetry of justice stood out (note spoilers for The Good Place).

  • I mostly listen to podcasts about ideas, but this conversation with @Aella_girl really blew me away this month. What a story, what a journey, what an interesting soul.

  • Pairagraph tries to do that Letter tries to do, but with more constraints. Constraints can be good (see: Twitter); these are easier to read and stay on topic better. Here’s a good one to start with.

  • That thing where you over-pronounce words that are not in your native tongue has a name: Hyperforeignism.

  • Jordan Peterson wrote a sequel to his best-seller, 12 Rules For Life; I'm re-listening to the audio of the original before starting on the new one.

New Month Resolution

Last month my resolutions were:

  • Body: I will drink 4 bottles of water per day, and will weigh in under 180 lbs by the end of the month.

Water was a success (full point), weight was nearly so (half). My weight trajectory has been downward-sloping (if you squint you can tell), and my lowest weigh-in was around 180.5 lbs. More generally, I just feel great lately; I have lots of energy and have been going to the gym a few times a week. Big win. 1.5 points for body.

  • Mind: I will not use my phone in the bathroom or shower.

I mostly did this. I found that I was ok with listening to something that was already playing, but not ok with scrolling aimlessly. 1 point for mind.

  • Spirit: I will sit in meditation practice for at least 10 minutes each day, for at least 14/28 days in February.

I hit 7/14 target days, so I guess I get half a point. Meditation on half days of the month seems like a reasonable goal, yet still hard to hit. Next month I'll try 10 days and see if I can get there. 0.5 points for spirit.


In March 2021:

  1. Body: I will abstain from instant coffee (only real coffee beans).

  2. Mind: I will make a to-do list each morning of three important tasks I want to accomplish that day.

  3. Spirit: (a) I will keep my apartment clean (will be judged by my subjective impressions), and (b) I will meditate 10 times this month.

Current tally: Body/Mind/Spirit = 2.5/1.0/0.5 points.

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