The Takeaways: Week 45 of 2021

A periodic review of articles, newsletters, and podcasts that I found interesting, inspiring, or otherwise worth remembering.


Gordon Brander, Subconscious. Subconscious Alpha (November 12, 2021)

Internet money. What does it mean to make money legible to software? What does it look like when markets and Turing-completeness intersect? How might markets be programmed? What would a market look like without humans in the loop? Smart contracts all the way down?

Smooth money, striated citizenship. What does it mean when money and information can pass through borders, but people can’t? Stateless money, stateless people. Two very different meanings. Algorithmic trading and algorithmic surveillance. Exchange and control.

John Cutler, The Beautiful Mess. TBM 46b/52: 7 Lessons for Sustainable Change Agency (November 13, 2021)

What I came to realize, was that it was vitally important to understand how change actually works in your company, right now. The difficulty here is that we often can’t pin down one root cause. We can’t say that “the change happened because of Barbara,” or “decisions follow this exact process.” In fact, the “official channels” are rarely the actual channels. In complex systems, we aren’t able to detangle the parts from the whole. But we can become more attuned to the flow of information, the flow of influence, and the flow of change. It is a skill we can cultivate.

An important side-effect here is that when we persuade ourselves that change is impossible and that our organization is change-adverse, we are writing off our ability to tap into the existing dynamics. We imagine something stagnant when it is actually quite vibrant (but difficult for us to understand). But when we do see that energy -- even if we don’t like it, and even if we want to change how it works -- we can start finding leverage points.

Emily Oster, Parent Data. What do Claudia Goldin and Emily Ratajkowski Have in Common? (November 11, 2021)

[Goldin makes] two central points. The first is that to understand the moment we are in now, we need to see the moments before. Much of the text focuses on how the concept of career and family has evolved over the past 100+ years, as women moved from having either a career or a family, to having them both but at separate times, and finally to (trying) to have them together. The second argument is that part of what constrains equality now is the concept of “greedy work” — the fact that in many professions occupied by college graduates, there is a huge premium put on the ability to work a lot and to be constantly available. When couples have children, it becomes difficult to sustain two jobs with that feature. Something has to give, and for many reasons it is more often a woman in the household who steps back.

Chas Roades and Lisa Bielamowicz, MD, The Weekly Gist. November 5, 2021

But if recessions don't change employer benefits, what could, we asked. We agreed with his prediction that change will come from two forces: governmental and generational. You can already see these impacts. Government policy changes trickle down into the commercial market; as Medicare Advantage becomes the dominant form of coverage for seniors, these types of benefit structures (individual choice, trading narrower networks for lower out-of-pocket costs and other benefits) will become more commonplace for younger individuals. And Millennial and Gen Z workers are looking for something different from their health benefits. They’ve never known anything other than high-deductible healthcare, and they may prioritize benefits like enhanced mental health, telemedicine or wellness, rather than paying top dollar for broad network PPO coverage. We’ll be watching to see how these trends play out, as employers navigate post-pandemic benefit choices.

Olivia Webb, Acute Condition. Are the narrow networks of the 90s trending back? (November 11, 2021)

...there’s some evidence that a narrower network, high-quality option could save money and provide a better patient experience. Walmart, for example, has partnered with the Mayo Clinic and other well-known hospitals to offer a few procedures to Walmart employees for free. Even covering travel and boarding for the employee and a family member, Walmart saves money through its deal with participating hospitals. At the same time, employees are likely getting a higher quality of care; research suggests that hospitals with a high volume of procedures tend to have fewer errors with those procedures.


Candace Jackson, The New York Times. What Does It Take to Build a Disaster-Proof House? (November 12, 2021)

But there’s a downside: Compressed earth block homes are labor-intensive to build and may not be any cheaper than wood-frame houses. The Phinizys’ home will cost a little over $150 a square foot — roughly in line with the estimates they got to build a conventional home.

As Mr. Phinizy put it: “It’s not all dirt cheap, so to speak.”

Suki Kim, The New Republic. The Reluctatnt Memoirist (June 27, 2016)

Reporting? No, her editor said: we will publish it as a memoir.

But when my book was finally published in the fall of 2014, the backlash came not from North Korea, but from a source I had not expected: other reporters. As my publisher began to promote my book, several journalists took to the internet to denounce me. They called me “deeply dishonest” for going undercover. They slammed me as a “selfish person” for using my access at the university to write a “kiss-and-tell memoir.” They accused me, without any evidence, of “putting sources at risk.” In their eyes, it seemed, I was a memoirist treading on journalistic turf, a Korean schoolteacher who sold out her students for a quick buck.

Lauren Panepinto, Muddy Colors. Book Cover Trends through Time (via Dune) (September 10, 2020)

In the years since Game of Thrones really broken down the last barriers the mainstream audience had against reading SFF we’ve been able to get back to more illustration. The audience no longer needs to be lured in by things that look like movie posters, that battle has been won, and solidly in the last 5-6 years the pendulum has swung ever further into illustration and abstraction again. So you’re seeing a lot more illustration and design-forward covers that don’t need to rely on the generics and photo/CGI of the 90s/00s.

The more design-forward versions of these hardcovers reflect both how design-literate a general book-buying public has gotten over time, but also how much the walls between mainstream fiction and genre fiction have lowered. You’ll see a lot more illustrators who were thought to be strictly SFF illustrating more mainstream books and vice versa. Now that the audiences are mixed the art has more freedom.

William Pannapacker, The Chronicle of Higher Education. Tenured, Trapped, and Miserable in the Humanities (November 10, 2021)

When people ask me what I do, I now say, “I used to be an English professor. But now I am trying to be happy.”

Clay Shirky (transcribed by John Manoogian III). Gin, Television, and Social Surplus, or, “Looking for the Mouse” (April 26, 2008)

It's also become my motto, when people ask me what we're doing -- and when I say "we" I mean the larger society trying to figure out how to deploy this cognitive surplus, but I also mean we, especially, the people in this room, the people who are working hammer and tongs at figuring out the next good idea. From now on, that's what I'm going to tell them: We're looking for the mouse. We're going to look at every place that a reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, "If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?" And I'm betting the answer is yes.

Lisa Suennen, Venture Valkyrie. Who’s On First? Attempting to Explain the U.S. Health Insurance Market (November 7, 2021)

Him: So, let me get this straight: insurance companies are “payers” and providers are “providers” in this scheme?

Me: Yes, except when payers are also providers or providers are also payers, which is more and more common, like in Accountable Care Organizations. Many payers acquire provider groups and many providers start health insurance plans.

Him: Then is it likely that every payer will also be a provider?

Me: I don’t know.

Him: So, then what is CVS Health? Is it a payer or a provider?

Me: Yes. And, also a pharmacy.

Him: Does every pharmacy have a payer and provider under the same umbrella?

Me: Not yet.

Him: Then who is just a payer at this point?

Me: I don’t know.

Him: So it’s total chaos?

Me: Naturally.

Bobby Tanzilo, OnMilwaukee. Urban spelunking: What's up with the toilets under Milwaukee boulevard medians (November 9, 2021)

“The toilet is not shown on the sewer plans. Our staff believe that this gardening staff at some point may have modified the underground facility with the toilet so as not to annoy adjacent residents by having to ask them to use their bathrooms during the day.”

Gene Weingarten, The Washington Post. Why are so many people so cruel to their dogs? [November 8, 2021]

It occurs all over the country, the pitiless 24-hour-a-day chaining of dogs to lifelong sentences of misery and madness. The practice is not the province of any race or any age or any nationality or any region of the country, though it is most prevalent, by far, in areas of rural America where resources are limited and opportunities are slender. Many states have enacted laws that attempt to limit how many hours a day it may be done and under what circumstances, but none bans it entirely. Most of these compromise laws are halfhearted half-measures that are difficult to enforce. In the majority of states, there are no laws at all. Some municipalities have banned dog-tethering on their own, but they represent less than 1 percent of all cities, towns and counties in the country.