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Capital accumulation, private property, and inequality in China, 1978-2015

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This column presents the first systematic estimates of the level and structure of China’s national wealth since the beginning of the market reform process
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The inventors of democracy would define the US as an oligarchy run by a tyrant

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Donald Trump in front of American flag

The United States is not a humble country. Despite widespread voter suppression tactics and a criminal justice system that imprisons a higher percentage of black people than South Africa did during apartheid, Americans have a disconcerting tendency to insist that they live in the greatest democracy in the world.

Not only is this claim to be the world’s best highly disputable, but the United States wouldn’t classify as a democracy at all—from the perspective of the ancient Greeks who invented the term.

Josiah Ober, professor of political science and classics at Stanford University and the author of several books on early democracy, argues that the ancient Greek conception of democracy is widely misunderstood today.

“We tend to mistranslate it as majority rule. For the ancient Greeks, the word didn’t mean majority rule, or majority tyranny. Instead it really means people have the capacity to rule themselves,” he says. “That’s the core idea of democracy, the capacity for self-governance, not power of one part of the population over another part of the population.”

Ancient Greeks believed in widespread self-governance, and would likely be disturbed by the ignorance, apathy, and lack of political service today. Ober believes that they would describe the US as a “pseudo-democracy or straight-up oligarchy.”

It is not enough that to have elections to select the officials that then govern the United States; ancient Greeks would still view these disparate levels of power—with one small group of people ruling over the masses—as a form of oligarchy. And Ober says they would be particularly unimpressed with the current president of the United States.

Ancient Greeks had a definite idea of the characteristics of a tyrant: “A Greek tyrant was a megalomaniac, extremely greedy for material possessions, a sexual aggressor, he sought to block out all of his enemies from any role in politics,” says Ober. “I think they would look at our current president and say, ‘How doesn’t this fit the view we have of what a tyrant is?’”

The notion that a democracy could remain a democracy while headed by a tyrant simply doesn’t hold up, according to Ober. “If you have a tyrant, and you accept it and say, ‘Oh, that’s too bad, we have a tyrant,’ then you don’t have a democracy.”

There are further problems that prevent the US political system from meeting ancient Greek democratic ideals. Rather than the relentless contemporary focus on elections, under a true self-governing democracy, ordinary citizens would take turns holding the majority of public offices.

Moreover, Ober says any strong democratic nation must first establish shared interests, such as a mutual desire for a basic level of national security or welfare.

And strong civic education—exploring the values of the nation, and the responsibilities that go with being a citizen—is necessary to a functioning democracy. “I think these skills can be learned. It’s not like magic,” says Ober.

“I think the Ancient Greeks would say the US is a failed democracy,” he says. “They’d say the inability of the wealthy and relatively non-wealthy to come to some kind of a common judgment about things like healthcare and public education and so on is an example of a failure.”

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The bizarre story of a long-lost horror film made entirely in Esperanto, starring William Shatner

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Incubus William Shatner Esperanto film

Tread lightly while reading about the 1966 film Incubus, for evil has befallen many who’ve come in contact with it.

Before he commanded the starship USS Enterprise, William Shatner was the lead actor in Incubus, a low-budget, black-and-white horror film directed by Leslie Stevens (creator of the sci-fi anthology series The Outer Limits). Incubus wasn’t your average art house flick: It was filmed entirely in the constructed language Esperanto, one of only two films in history to do so.

Created in 1887 by Polish ophthalmologist L.L. Zamenhof, Esperanto was meant to ease communication between people who did not share a common language in order to foster peace around the world. Today, it has only a handful of native speakers, but 2 million people across more than 100 countries are believed to be fluent. Popular language-learning app Duolingo offers a free course in it.

Incubus did not employ Esperanto to promote world peace. Rather, the filmmakers thought it sounded creepy and might add an otherworldly element to the film. One reviewer said Incubus was “like a foreign film from a country that never existed.”

The film is set in an imaginary village where travelers come to use a magic well with mysterious healing properties. It’s there where Shatner, playing a wounded soldier, meets and falls in love with a succubus.

Shatner and the film’s other actors were not Esperanto speakers. They learned their lines phonetically in just a few weeks, and filmed them without an Esperanto expert on set. Unsurprisingly, the film was slammed by actual Esperanto speakers when it debuted at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1966. Film critics, unaware that the Esperanto pronunciation was atrocious, tended to enjoy the film.

But then things turned tragic.

Ann Atmar, who played one of the film’s succubi, committed suicide shortly after filming ended.

A few months later, Milos Milos, a Serbian actor who played the titular incubus, murdered Barbara Ann Thomason—the estranged wife of comedian Mickey Rooney—and then killed himself in Rooney’s bed.

Then, in 1968, the daughter of another actress in the film, Eloise Hardt, was kidnapped and murdered. Her killer was never identified, but police believed she may have been murdered by members of the Manson family, who would kill actress Sharon Tate a year later. Tate attended the Incubus premiere with her boyfriend at the time, movie director Roman Polanski.

Others involved with Incubus were beset by yet more unfortunate events: Stevens’s production company went under, the music editor was imprisoned for scalping Super Bowl tickets, and most prints of the film itself were destroyed in a fire. Many believed the film was cursed.

The film struggled to find distributors even though it appeared to be widely admired. The strange language was hard to sell, and some companies didn’t want to be associated with the horrific Milos murder-suicide. So it wound up in France, where it was embraced by the country’s art-house film community but soon lost to history.

In 1993, producer Anthony Taylor wanted to release Incubus on home video but couldn’t find a single print. A few years later, a friend located a damaged copy at Cinémathèque Française, a French film archive. He restored the print himself, and with funding from the American cable network Sci-Fi (now called Syfy), Incubus was finally released on DVD in 2001. You can now buy it on Amazon, if you dare.

Incubus didn’t curse everyone, of course. Shatner would go on to star in Star Trek and become one of Hollywood’s most successful and recognizable actors. Cinematographer Conrad Hall would go on to win three Academy Awards for his work on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American Beauty, and Road to Perdition.

In his 2011 book Shatner Rules, Shatner wrote that while filming Star Trek a few months after he finished filming Incubus, he was threatened by a group of Esperantists who then put a curse on the film. After that, Shatner said he started destroying every copy of the film he could find. But you can still find it in its entirety on YouTube.

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How microdosing psychedelics like LSD could boost your leadership skills

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Paul Austin’s talk about ingesting tiny amounts of psychedelic drugs to enhance performance at this month’s Tech Open Air conference in Berlin was met with enthusiastic applause—perhaps no surprise considering he’s addressing a hall of young techies in one of the world’s most free-wheeling cities.

The practice of taking sub-perceptual amounts (about a tenth of a recreational dose, or between 1 and 10 micrograms) of psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin (magic) mushrooms on a regular basis has been gaining attention for a few years now. It’s a trend mainly linked to Silicon Valley.

“I started microdosing in June 2015 and I did it for seven months, and through that I came up with the idea of the Third Wave” Austin told Quartz. The Third Wave is an online resource aimed at educating people about microdosing, which Austin says “is sitting at a delta of all these things that are going on.”

“A lot of people are becoming disgruntled with pharmaceuticals, especially in the United States, a lot are reevaluating previously illicit substances, like cannabis, and a lot are looking at optimization—‘I wanna be my best self,’” he says.

LSD was first created by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1943, and psychedelics have long been associated with the tune-in-drop-out counter-culture of the 60s, Now Austin is touring conferences in the US and Europe advocating psychedelics as a productivity hack for modern business leaders.

Leaders in the 21st century, he tells his audience, must be able to “form a coherent vision of the future and piece together more accurate models of where the world is going.” Taking tiny amounts of non-addictive and non-toxic drugs, he says, will become an increasingly useful tool for leaders as they help the brain be more present in the moment, more adaptable and creative, and better at unlearning and relearning.

Bosses “must be able to draw on the strengths of team members to create a shared purpose and meaning—especially as the rise of AI will do away with rote tasks in our daily jobs,” he says.

The advocate sees the microdosing trend dovetailing with the evolution of business culture. “We’re recognizing the futility of zero-sum competitive nature business, and more and more businesses are moving towards a collaborative, entrepreneurial model of sharing.” He points to the recent backlash against Uber for its patriarchal, misogynistic work culture as an example that these aspects of “domination” and “coercion” in business culture are starting to crumble.

Silicon Valley’s punishing work culture and the resulting depression and isolation may be one factor fuelling a rise in microdosing. “I think that’s the reason why people are doing this [microdosing],” says Austin. “And what they’re noticing is that it has this antidepressant effect and because of that they’re able to work better, to be more efficient and more effective.” He divides microdosers into two camps: those who use to treat mental illness, and those who want to enhance their wellbeing and enter “flow states,” i.e. be present in the moment.

Silicon Valley’s openness to brain-bending substances is nothing new—Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both experimented with LSD—but Austin says that many who do can’t publicly say so at the moment as psychedelics drugs are illegal.

He notes that in places like the Netherlands, substances like psilocybin can be obtained in smart shops. Also, there’s 1P-LSD, which is an analogue of LSD and legal to buy for research purposes, but a person is breaking the law if they consume it. The dark side, of course, would be going to a drug dealer, and not being sure what you’re really getting.

That illegal drugs are not subject to any manufacturing regulations or dosing supervision means they remain a dangerous gamble. Barbara Sahakian, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Cambridge, notes that: “Those who microdose incorrectly risk having unwanted, full-blown trips or even experience unpleasant trips.”

Austin sees the issue of illegality as the big hurdle to discovering more about microdosing. “As long as these remain illegal and extremely expensive, research is going to be limited,”he says. “At the end of the day, even if you want to do it super-responsibly and very goal-orientated way, there’s still this massive hurdle.”

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An Engineer’s Guide to the Artificial Intelligence Galaxy

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An Engineer’s Guide to the Artificial Intelligence Galaxy Commencement Speech, Engineering School of Columbia University. May 15, 2017 Kai-Fu Lee Commencement Speech, Engineering School of Columbia University May 15, 2017 Class Day By Dr. Kai-Fu Lee Founder & CEO, Sinovation Ventures President, Sinovation Ventures Artificial Intelligence Institute         Thank you, Class of…

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The post An Engineer’s Guide to the Artificial Intelligence Galaxy appeared first on The Big Picture.

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The life-extending power of being neurotic

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Neuroticism won’t make life more enjoyable, but it can help it last longer, according to a four-year study published this month in Psychological Science.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh, University of Southampton, and University College London found that higher neuroticism was associated with a “reduced risk of death from all causes”—but only for one type of neurotic.

All 321,456 participants in the study filled in a questionnaire emphasizing two types of neuroticism. The first kind, “anxious-tense” had a higher affirmative response to such questions as, “Would you call yourself a nervous person?” and “Would you call yourself tense or ‘highly strung’?” Meanwhile, “worried-vulnerable” neurotics were identified by their response to such questions as “Do you worry too long after an embarrassing experience?” and “Are your feelings easily hurt?”

The study, based on data collected by UK Biobank, a health research resource, also examined data on health behavior (e.g. levels of smoking, drinking, and exercise), self-rated health, diagnosed diseases, socioeconomic status, and physical attributes such as BMI. Over the course of four years, from 2006 to 2010, 4,497 of the subjects died.

After factoring in the various other variables, the researchers found that higher scores on the worried-vulnerable questions were “associated with a significantly reduced risk of death from all causes.”

But all is not lost for the anxious-tense neurotic types. The study found that all forms of neuroticism are linked with lower mortality, though only for those who rated their own health as poor or fair. This was true even once other health variables, such as diagnosed disease, health behavior, and physical attributes, were taken into account.

So it seems that if you’re a neurotic type who’s worried about your health, you’re more likely to stave off death. But if you’re an anxious-tense neurotic who thinks your health is just dandy (and perhaps doesn’t pay it much attention), then your negative emotions don’t bring any health benefits at all.

The broad link between neuroticism and reduced risk of death makes sense, according to the authors, as there’s evidence that neurotic people make greater use of health-care services. “This propensity to seek medical help in response to worries about health could plausibly result in earlier identification of cancer,” they write, “and greater likelihood of survival.”

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