In a 2017 analysis of 229,000 FOIA requests, those from journalists accounted for just 8 percent. In 2020, there were nearly 800,000 requests made. At some federal agencies, the vast majority of requests are now from commercial operators who resell or use data for profit. Their turf is where a lot of the battle over the erosion of the freedom of information in America has been fought.

Wired explaining why and how a law can change in practice even when the words stay the same. You’ll also learn that the Israeli government was reselling US military supplies to Iran in the 80s, which is surprising even by the standards of the people behind NSO, which supplies spyware to authoritarian governments but not to Estonians and Ukranians fighting them.

Questions I didn’t even realize I needed an answer to: I finally know where the term “fundamentalist” came from (though readers should beware that the common usage has substantially drifted, and many people today who match this definition would not be considered fundamentalists):

If you guessed at random on the New York Regents exam in Algebra this year, you passed (at least by enough to get an appeal, which is apparently automatically granted). An interesting institutional component here is that they weren’t willing to fail people, and they weren’t willing to cancel the test, so they just administered the test, functionally removed the penalty for failure, and hoped nobody would notice. It seems that they mostly succeeded! I wonder how much time and treasure was wasted on this test?

Being a careful person who tries to deliver you only the finest perspectives, I talked with a NY math teacher I know. They confirmed it all.

Matt’s Thoughts In Between is going on permanent sporadic posting, which marks a reasonable time to read it. #223 was just published, and I started reading what I assume was #65 (#66 is the first in my inbox). Consistently interesting and thoughtful, Matt Clifford focused, for those 222 articles published on the more frequent schedule, on emerging developments and entrepeneurs, covering everything from the political consequences of remote work to who actually shares fake news. Recommended.

From a great Buzzfeed investigation, The World Wide Fund for Nature funds, trains, and equips paramilitaries who commit human rights abuses in exchange for their help against poachers. Gains from trade!

I ran into one of the most tragic congressional exchanges I’ve ever seen. February 15th, 2018.

Mrs. Brooks: Outstanding, and we look forward to working with your staff to make sure that we get it right in the PAHPA reauthorization and also learn whether or not there are any other authorities or things that need to be changed.

You talked about implementation and delivery. That's something I actually want to ask about because we often focus on vaccine development, which can often overshadow vaccine delivery when it comes time, and in a pandemic it's my understanding BARDA said that we could need up to 600 million drug delivery devices over a 6-month period, and our current excess capacity in the marketplace, it can take years to produce different devices.

We certainly learned that during the Ebola crisis. Across the country we did not, for instance, have enough gloves. We did not have enough masks. We did not have enough things like that, but let alone even the devices that would be needed to execute vaccines.

How do we ensure we have enough drug delivery devices to be prepared when we can't rely alone on the excess manufacturing capacity?

Secretary Azar said words that followed this question, and may be interpreted as a response to them:

I think that's an excellent question, and that's one of the reasons why it's helpful, I believe, to have the strategic national stockpile connected directly into the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response, so that we line up that holistic sense of genuine care delivery in an emergency, thinking of--you know, for want of a nail, a kingdom was lost--that we don't lack a vial and have a vaccine or lack a needle but have plenty of vaccines. So I think that holistic sense is absolutely part of our mission and our assessment for procurement purposes.

The Rest

Unfortunately, last month I had not finished reading the end of Jay Daigle’s excellent series on hypothesis testing and its discontents. One. Two. Three.

You’re probably using cough medicine wrong. I did! Thankfully, Sunlight Enthusiast explains that there are actually different kinds of cough medicines, to be taken for different types of coughs.

You are one of today’s lucky 1,000 (even I don’t think that everyone’s heard of them), and get to learn about MSCHF, a NYC-based art collective known for various Art Shenanigans that you can read about. The made a dog collar that turns dog barks into swears! Shoes with blood in them! They bought expensive artwork, cut it up, and sold it! They’re a neat bunch. I hope they’re having a good time.

“The term "fundamentalist" comes from the publication of the Five Fundamentals that were passed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States America (sic) (PCUSA) in 1910. They declared the following absolutely necessary to be considered a Christian:”

  • Biblical inerrancy (the Bible is not "wrong" about anything, as it was divinely inspired)

  • the Virgin Birth of Jesus

  • that Jesus died to atone for sin

  • that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead (I.e. not just "spiritually resurrected" or that he came back as a ghost or something)

  • that Jesus performed actual miracles (as opposed to these being an embellishment of the historical record, or magic tricks of some kind)

Source: Reddit, Presbyterian Historical Society.

The Edinburgh Fringe is Weird!

August is the month of, among other things, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The largest arts festival in the world. And something that I had front-row tickets for, thanks to spending the summer in the city with my partner. The Fringe takes over the city of Edinburgh, a small place that normally hosts 500,000 or so, and seems to swell by 20% during the daytime of Fringe

I saw a total of 45 shows over the month. Some of them were free comedy, with themes ranging from “Estonian comics” to “philosophy”. Most of these were done as variety acts, typically with 3 or 4 nominally 15 minute acts in an hour.

The key thing to understand about the variety acts is that the themes are, at best, optimistic. Free comedy at the Fringe consists heavily of pulling people in on an as-needed basis, so if you go for Estonian comedy you will get an Australian, if you go for philosophy comedy you will not get genuine philosophers even if they promise it in the advertising, and if you go for American apologia you will get Americans but they will not deliver the promised snarking about Brits. Not that I’m bitter in the slightest. Just disappointed. Repeatedly.

I think most descriptions of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival really understate just how weird it is.

Favorite full hour comedy: Lies, Damned Lies, and Buffy. This is very much a treat for people who still have fond memories of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is only recommended if you’ve seen at least three or four seasons of it. Someone made a spreadsheet of every single death in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Every vampire dusted, every demon stabbed, if it happened on the show (and there are some very precise rules about what counts as happening), it is counted, along with what minute it happens at and 24 more columns of precise data. And this generates a fair bit of humor, and some discussion of the deaths that people do take really seriously (Faith killing a man, Joyce’s death).

And then it turns into a more serious reflection on the pandemic, and how we can take an individual seriously in the context of mass death. Yeah, the Fringe is like that.

Favorite 15-minute slot: A sadly unnamed comic we had to dash from to catch our next show, in the basement of a bar, cracking jokes about his mother’s lawsuit plans after being hit by a car and put into hospital and humiliating experiences in the Charles de Gaulle airport security line, while singing the tune from The Lion King.

Favorite magic show: Nightmare Magic, by David Alnwick. Idiot Magicians was technically better (I wasn’t shocked to learn that they won best in the UK a few days after Fringe) and impeccably well-rehearsed, but making a magic show with the implication of a dark magic ritual was beautifully done.

Best Circus: The Pulse was, I think, about the experience of being a circus performer. I walked out of it calling it modern dance without the pretension, which I stand by. Fun stuff, pushing the limits of humanity, and communicating in a very real way. The only singing by the choir was creepy warm-up exercises.

Favorite overall: Mythos: Ragnarok, easily. It’s not just that it’s one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean that it is the closest: it’s easy to just retell a story. M:R manages to tell the Norse mythological cycle, from Ginnungagap to Ragnarok, through the medium of professional wrestling. The challenge in doing a faithful adaptation is immense, when trying to translate something so vast into a very tightly constrained medium, and the skill and care with which it was performed blew me away.

Also, the stuntwork was impeccable. I went with a former competitive martial artist, and they were blown away. Professional wrestlers, I am convinced, must view normal actors’ “we do our own stunts” boasts as akin to a small child telling you that they screwed the lightbulb in all by themselves. It’s cute, but it’s not the same thing as constructing a house. You can hear the slams as people are (in a very carefully controlled way) thrown onto the floor. You can see the bruises on the performers afterwards.

I saw other theatre that I really liked at Fringe: Exodus was a great bit of specifically British political comedy. British feminism has to grapple with Thatcher, which leaves them rather less inclined to say that women are fundamentally pure and good than American feminists, and Exodus was centered on two powerful women who are absolutely horrible people.

What made Mythos: Ragnarok stand out was that it combined the “well this is new” of Temping or In the Interest of Health and Safety Can Patrons Kindly Supervise Their Children at All Times, which were not so much experimental theatre like Every Word was Once an Animal as …well, it might have been theatre? It’s hard to say? Things happened. But it was also incredibly accessible: if you’re someone who normally doesn’t go to theatre performances, you can show up to Mythos: Ragnarok and have a fantastic time. I’ve never seen pro wrestling before in my life, and I showed up and had a fantastic time. A few of the jokes will fly over your head if you’re not familiar with the mythology (I want you to imagine buff twink Loki quickly brushing over how, exactly, he got the walls of Asgard built for free), but it’s incredibly accessible, while also being extremely good.

I saw a lot of other theatre that I really enjoyed. Prometheus Bound: Io’s Version is beautiful and poignant and angry. Police Cops was a hilarious musical comedy about 80s buddy cop films. Trainspotting Live is what every anti-drug PSA desperately wishes it could be, and the transition from rave party at the start through comedy to misery and sadness is powerful in a way I don’t have words to portray. One performer petted my hair, which happens at Fringe. Another petted my face, which normally doesn’t. I mentioned Temping, earlier: it’s one of those demonstrations that “economics” is a fake concept for people who don’t have family money and a dedication to their career that goes beyond all sense. I paid 13.50 to go into a box for an hour and experience a custom performance, just for me, involving a fax machine, emails, and two people controlling and managing the entire experience, all from inside a shipping container.

Probably the weirdest was Eulogy, which consisted of me sitting in a metal frame for 35 minutes, in pitch black, while listening to my headphones and occasionally saying yes or no. But I also liked The Gods The Gods The Gods, which was sort of a concert.

When I say that the Fringe is weird, I mean it. That is a recommendation.

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