'We can't comprehend this much sorrow'

The official tolls are almost certainly an undercount. The morgues are overflowing. Those are the facts. But where is the grief? When we first started getting the news out of Italy, and then Spain, with frightening daily numbers comparable with what is now happening in New York, that news seemed to be delivered with holy awe. In the American papers, I usually have to do some searching to find how many people have died in the past day. The front pages here seem to often carry news of the financial markets or of the political squabbles of the day. But what I want is to be directly confronted with the fact, the enormity, the irreducible sadness of all these deaths.

19 Jun 2020 · Matthew Alampay Davis

Protests in Modi's India; the meat-substitute industry; and fun reviews of bad pop science

Early on, we had two goals that were fully aligned: to be identical to a burger from a cow and to be much better than a burger from a cow. Now they’re somewhat at odds, and we talk about the chocolate-doughnut problem: What if what people really like in a burger is what makes it taste like a chocolate doughnut, so you keep increasing those qualities and suddenly you’re not making a burger at all?

13 Jan 2020 · Matthew Alampay Davis

Female politicians in developing countries; development lessons from the Congolese Ebola response; revisiting Wong Kar-Wai; and Barry Jenkins' signature close-ups

The biggest impediment to containing Ebola in Congo is not its contagiousness, but suspicion of the state and of aid personnel… The international responders aggravated the community’s distrust by interpreting reluctance to follow rules about safe burials and patient isolation as a lack of understanding of public health that required reeducation. In fact, the reluctance reflected an understandable lack of enthusiasm for practices that required total separation from loved ones during their illness, denial of human touch at the point of death, and the abandonment of traditional funeral rites, which are of central importance to social and cultural life.

10 Jan 2020 · Matthew Alampay Davis

Climate change underrepresentations; the 'productive disappointment' of the Obama era; and 'Parasite' (2019)

The choice of the name ‘game theory’ was brilliant as a marketing device. I think it’s a very tempting idea for people, that they can take something simple and apply it to situations that are very complicated, like the economic crisis or nuclear deterrence. But this is an illusion. Now my views, I have to say, are extreme compared to many of my colleagues. I believe that game theory is very interesting, I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking about it. But I don’t respect the claims that it has direct applications… If I could repeat my life, I would probably follow my unfulfilled dream to be a lawyer.

04 Nov 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

HBO’s Chernobyl; the assassination by Patricia Lockwood of the coward John Updike; and stratified randomization

The trafficking of arms from the United States is rarely discussed as a cause of the violence people are fleeing; the drug war, she argues, is also hemispheric: it ‘begins in the Great Lakes of the northern United States and ends in the mountains of Celaque in southern Honduras’. Consumers and producers of prohibited drugs bear responsibility in each country along the route, as do the dysfunctional laws that push the trade into a violent underground. The migrant children, she writes, are more accurately described as refugees of a hemispheric war.

03 Nov 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

The bombing of Nagasaki; Hong Kong as a failed experiment; and 'immigration as reparations'

Fuel was getting dangerously low and the hornets’ nest of defence they had stirred up below was an unacceptable risk for a plane carrying so destructive a weapon. Sweeney conferred by intercom with Beahan and the weaponeer, Lieutenant-Commander Frederick Ashworth. They decided to leave Kokura and head for Nagasaki, 160km to the south. The weather there didn’t look any more promising than Kokura, but the only other approved target, Niigata in northern Honshu, was too far away for their remaining fuel. Sweeney gathered his composure and asked the navigator, ‘Jim, give me the heading for Nagasaki.’

09 Aug 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

The remarkable efficiency of the kidnapping industry; the science of suppressing disease-vector mosquitoes; and the monotony of op-eds

The UN forbids the transfer of money to designated terrorist groups. Private persons and entities cannot legally make concessions to proscribed groups, and if they do, their insurers cannot legally reimburse them, though ransom-payers are rarely if ever prosecuted. But it’s not always clear which category kidnappers fit into. Some terrorists pretend to be part of criminal organizations so that they can legally collect ransoms. Shortland reports that when a Somali told British negotiators that he represented the ‘commercial arm’ of al-Shabaab, the jihadist fundamentalist group, ’they had to explain that this was not sufficiently removed from the parent organization to have a payment authorized.’

09 Aug 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

The opioid crisis; 'the sameness of Cass Sunstein'; and 'Storming the Wall' by Todd Miller

You already know what you’re going to get: a section on the joys and uses of cost-benefit analysis, some dashed-off thoughts about utilitarianism and negative freedoms, three or four chapters on nudges and their importance to the design of seatbelt policy, the primacy of Daniel Kahneman–style ‘slow thinking’ over intuition and moral heuristics, a Learned Hand quote, and a few weak anecdotes about Sunstein’s time as President Obama’s regulator-in-chief, all delivered through a prose that combines the dreariest elements of Anglo-American analytical style with the proto-numerate giddiness of a libertarian undergrad who’s just made first contact with the production possibility frontier.

22 Jul 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

'The Uninhabitable Earth' by David Wallace-Wells and the moral imperative of alarmism

I want you to understand how overwhelming, how insurmountable it must have felt [in the Jim Crow South]. I want you to understand that there was no end in sight. It felt futile for them too. Then, as now, there were calls to slow down. To settle for incremental remedies for an untenable situation. They, too, trembled for every baby born into that world. You don’t fight something like that because you think you will win. You fight it because you have to. Because surrendering dooms so much more than yourself, but everything that comes after you. Acquiescence, in this case, is what James Baldwin called ’the sickness unto death.’ What, now, do you have to lose? What else can you be but brave?

05 Mar 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis

The 'Economists’ Statement on Carbon Dividends', an oil-funded Trojan horse?

Economists espousing a minor carbon dividend plan isn’t surprising. But Janet Yellen, Marty Feldstein, and the oil-backed Climate Leadership Council seem to have purposely misappropriated and misrepresented the thousands of signatories’ support to fabricate a non-existent consensus against complementary climate policy, namely green public works and subsidy programs.

19 Feb 2019 · Matthew Alampay Davis