My Faults My Own

…willing to sacrifice something we don't have

for something we won't have, so somebody will someday.

IN WHICH Ross Rheingans-Yoo, a sometimes-poet and erstwhile student of Computer Science and Math, oc­cas­ion­al­ly writes on things of int­erest.

Reading Feed (last update: June 21)

A collection of things that I was happy I read. Views expressed by linked authors are chosen because I think they're interesting, not because I think they're correct, unless indicated otherwise.


Blog: Marginal Revolution | Which technological advances have improved the working of autocracy? — The big innovation in authoritarian governance has been this: subsequent autocratic leaders, most of all in China, have found ways of both liberalizing and staying in power.

Blog: Schneier on Security | Free Societies are at a Disadvantage in National Cybersecurity — "I do worry that these disadvantages will someday become intolerable. Dan Geer often said that "the price of freedom is the probability of crime." We are willing to pay this price because it isn't that high. As technology makes individual and small-group actors more powerful, this price will


Donations 2017

I don't write about it much on this blog, because it it's slightly awkward to talk about, and I'm a small little mind that isn't used to fighting against hyperbolic discounting. But I remain committed to donating at least 10% of my income to the organizations that I think best make the universe a better place, and to talking about it on this blog. Here are my thoughts for 2017.


These reflect a relatively small amount of thought, reading and discussion with people in the Effective Altruism community, and effectively no independent research. I don't expect that I'm particularly advantaged in evaluating charities, and so my opinion-forming strategy this year has mostly been to seek out the opinions of better-advantaged friends who I believe share my values, ask for their thoughts and reasons, and attempt to understand them.

However, I want to support a culture of sharing and building on each others' opinions, and to that end, I'm sharing my thoughts on my donations for this year, to create


Good-Adjacency (Examples)

content warning: Short descriptions of non-violent sexual situations where consent is unclear. (first block quote only)


Leah Libresco asks: Is "Kindness-Adjacent" a Useful Category?, riffing off their previous post Avoiding Rape-Adjacent Sex. The latter (which came first):

I do believe them that there's plenty of sex happening now, that isn't experienced as rape by either partner, that doesn't meet the affirmative consent standards proposed. That could include sex where both partners kind of just leapt into the act, not checking in with each other, but not hitting any snags. Sex where one or both partners was somewhere past tipsy and within sight of "too impaired to consent" but no one pulled out a breathalyzer and both parties felt ok in the morning (aside from the headache). Sex with coercion/pressure, where one partner didn't back down after an initial "No" or "I'd rather not" but the reluctant party felt more like someone who's been guilted into going to a boring party they would have preferred to skip, rather than


Something About Bernie

warning: speaking from significant socioeconomic privilege.


Scott Alexander, writing at Slate Star Codex, has some words:

So presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has proposed universal free college tuition.

On the one hand, I sympathize with his goals. If you can’t get any job better than 'fast food worker' without a college degree, and poor people can’t afford college degrees, that’s a pretty grim situation, and obviously unfair to the poor.


But, well, when we require doctors to get a college degree before they can go to medical school, we’re throwing out [$5 billion], enough to house all the homeless people in the country... Senator Sanders admits that his plan would cost $70 billion per year. That's... enough to give $2000 every year to every American in poverty.

At what point do we say "Actually, no, let's not do that, and just let people hold basic jobs even if they don't cough up a a hundred thousand dollars from somewhere to get a degree in Medieval History"


Putting money where my mouth is

To be clear: I have a huge problem with the fact that John Paulson convinced my school to deface its name for his own gratification; I don't actually have a huge problem that he gave $400M to Harvard SEAS instead of leaving it in his other sundry investments. (And I don't have a problem with the fact that he earned the money on Wall Street.) This post is a continuation of my thoughts, in something of a stream of consciousness.


Lots of other people do have a problem with the donation, though. Matt Levine, writing at the Bloomberg View with his tongue firmly in-cheek, sums them up without taking much of a side:

It's possible that there's a secret club of billionaires competing to give tons of money to the philanthropies that make people angriest. The Koch Brothers and George Soros could be co-presidents, and John Paulson shot to the top of the league table in 2012 when he gave a $100 million


I'm in the HPR!

I'm in the Harvard Political Review today, with a guest piece responding to Eric Posner's anti-effective-altruism opinion in Slate: convinced that this tendency toward scrupulosity is enough of an issue that we should abandon the concept of effectiveness in altruism entirely. His critique, though, is not a new one—several effective altruists are also concerned about scrupulosity, and many of them have shared stories from their own lives about balancing giving effectively against more personal cares. For me, these stories are important because they demonstrate that caring about effective opportunities to do good is not mutually exclusive with making the world better in other ways you choose. (...)

Much-deserved thank-yous go to Advik Shreekumar, Ben Kuhn, and Leah Libresco for helping with edits. Meanwhile, here's the original version with footnotes (the HPR doesn't do footnotes).

Man, writing for real publications is so stressful. Word limits, even if they're only suggestions, suck.

A few things that didn't make it into the HPR version (besides those glorious, glorious footnotes):



January 16 Links: Technologies, Games, and Play

Yes, the Friday linkwrap is, in fact, going out on Friday. We're living in the future!


The Harvard Political Review reports that a Chicago nonprofit is scraping Twitter to pass on complaints about food poisoning in restaurants to the Chicago Department of Public Health:

Foodborne Chicago depends on human judgment in addition to computerized predictions. First, the algorithm "surfaces tweets that are related to foodborne illnesses." Next, "a human classifier goes through those complaints that the machine classifies, [...determining] what is really about food poisoning and what may be other noise." The Foodborne team then tweets back at the likely cases, providing a link for users to file an official complaint. In short, computers deal with the massive quantity of Twitter data, and humans ensure the quality of the result. According to its website, between its launch on March 23, 2013 and November 10, 2014, the Foodborne algorithm flagged 3,594 tweets as potential food poisoning cases. Of these tweets, human coders have identified 419, roughly 12 percent, as


12/25/14 #2: A Nontrivially Improved Future

One of the problems with being an avowed altruist is that it's hard to talk about it with other people without coming across like you're trying to claim you're better than them.

One of the problems with being an aspiring effective altruist is that it's hard to talk about it with other people without coming across like you're trying to claim you're better than everyone else, including other avowed altruists, and definitely including non-altruistic plebes.

(This, I think, is something of a barrier to effective altruism becoming a more popular thing, and I'd like to see it change.)

But if I can't write about this in the locus of the interval between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I can't write about it at all, and that would be really quite sad for me, so here goes. I really, really don't mean to brag or guilt-shame anyone else

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