5 Things I’m Obsessing Over — and You Should Too — This Week (pt. 3)

7th January 2018 — 14th January 2018

This is a series of 5 of the most interesting things I’ve been obsessing over the past week.

If you want to read last week’s, here’s a link:

1. I Found an Incredible Political Blogger

Timi Olotu(follow him), writes very from a political tone that is similar to mine.

His most recent post:

The one that I particularly enjoyed is this one (might I add widely popular on Medium):

2. Malcolm X’s Autobiography

I have started reading Malcolm X’s autobiography. The beginning is a little bit slow — but that’s probably just because of my expectations. He did however go through more in his early teens than most of me and my acquaintances in our lifetimes. The book is very important.

I am working on a blog post about this book. So do expect that within two weeks time.

3. NY Times Article: ‘Oprah, Don’t Do It’

This is THE best article I’ve read this week. I read it about three times. I shared it twice on Instagram (which you can find me on! @jakubferencik). I really think everyone should give it a quick read. It is very important.

Written by Thomas Chatterton Williams. Read the original article here.

Oprah is looking good, might I say, with this hairstyle and glasses.


Oprah (above) was at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday Night and received the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement.

She delivered a “smart and movingly optimistic speech,” as described by Williams, addressing racial injustice, gender inequality, & the importance of free press in a democracy.

The article is about how in this current climate, celebrities seem to be popular candidates for presidency. Liberals are suggesting Ms. Winfrey to run for president in 2020.

Yet our hope — as is William’s — is for a “deeply serious figure with a strong record of public service behind her.” He says that this is what we should hope for “at the very least” for a post-Trump candidate.

Celebrities do not make excellent heads of state. In other words, “The presidency is not a reality show, or for that matter, a talk show.”

Not that there is anything wrong with that. It is just clear from Trump’s first year of presidency, how important “experience, knowledge, education and political wisdom matter.”

Governing is something else entirely from campaigning. — Thomas Chatterton Williams

That Ms. Winfrey could probably beat those considered likely front-runners — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand — is testament to how demoralized and devoid of fresh political talent the post-Obama party has become.

. . . The Oprah bandwagon betrays the extent to which social causes and identities — and the tribal feelings they inspire — have come to eclipse anything resembling philosophical worldviews.

American politics has become just another team sport, and if suiting up a heavy hitter like Ms. Winfrey is what it takes to get the championship ring, so be it.

Watch what Dave Rubin thinks about this here. People have even written about it on Medium, which you can find here.

4. Gary Vaynerchuk — Last Video to Watch in 2017

I did not originally watch towards the end of last year. I just listened to it yesterday, but since then I’ve put it on at least 3 times.

I plan on writing a recap of the video. Expect that next week or the week after tha. That’s how much I love it. I have written about Gary V in the past: you’ll be able to find links to those posts here and here (my most popular blog post on Medium).

5. 80,000 Hours — The Website

Peter Singer has introduced the idea of “Effective Altruism” to me. Through books like The Most Good You Can Do; Famine, Affluence, & Morality, and Ethics in the Real World he stresses the crucial importance of giving money and giving it well.

He introduced very effective charities such as: 80,000 hours and Give Well. 80,000 hours has a spectacular website, which includes some of the most important articles you will ever read.

Here’s some of my favourite:

We Can Use Science to End Poverty Faster. But How Much do Governments Listen to it?

[In] some countries governments only spend $100 on each citizen a year so they can’t afford to waste a single dollar. . . .

Governments have a lot of restrictions in how they can hire researchers or work with researchers or partner with outside organizations. It can take longer to develop partnerships, but I think we’ve overall been really surprised that there are particular ministries or champions within ministries or mayors who are really excited about using data and evidence that are eager to partner with NGOs or researchers in order to get things done more effectively. . . .

a couple of our affiliate professors are working on the question of whether evidence is a powerful tool in changing policy decisions. . . . There are a couple of experiments ongoing, and I think those will be exciting to see the results of, to see whether evidence of actually something that can change policy-makers’ minds.

One really exciting paper that came out recently was an evaluation of payments for environmental services program in Uganda that paid landowners to refrain from cutting down trees on their land. It was a really cost-effective program that cut the deforestation rate from between 7 and 10% to between 2 and 5%. That’s a model that’s actually been tried by a lot of governments and a lot of NGOs all around the world. This is, to my knowledge, the first randomized control trial of it, so before going out and recommending it broadly, I’d love to see more evidence on this topic from others.

How An Economic PhD might be the best graduate program possible.

Which Skills Make You Most Employable?

[Laurence] Shatkin used the O*NET’s database, which has data on the salaries of hundreds of jobs in the US, as well as which skills are most important in them. He took O*NET’s list of 35 transferable skills, then then correlated the importance of these skills in each job with the average income of that job. A high correlation shows that high earning jobs tend to require these skills, suggesting these skills have high market value.

Interestingly enough “Judgment and Decision Making,” defined as being able to weigh the “relative costs and benefits of a potential action.”

It is then noted that this is not an easily attainable quality.

It’s notable the top ranked skill is “judgement and decision making”. That seems a bit like code for “being smart”. It’s not obvious you can easily improve your “judgement” in general (though of course you can improve your judgement within a specific domain, and there are some evidence-backed ways to improve your decision making, like this one).

I will write a recap of this article in the future. It’s fascinating.

Is Solving Factory Factoring Problems the Absolute Best Use of Your Time?

By the way — AWESOME ARTICLE! Just booming with in depth research and insight on the problem. It is probably the only article you need to read about animal cruelty. It touches on everything and has links to all sorts of studies, blogs, and experts.

What’s the Problem?

50 billion animals are raised and slaughtered in factory farms around the world each year, around 10 billion of these in the USA. Most experience extreme levels of suffering over the course of their lives due to their poor treatment. Relatively small improvements to their treatment could substantially improve their welfare.

Why is it Pressing?

[Suffering.] Animals in factory farms experience real and intense suffering.

[And] The meat industry is also one of the largest contributors to climate change, with 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Arguments Against it Being Pressing?

You might think that the long-run benefits of improving animal welfare are significantly smaller than the long-run benefits of improving the welfare of humans. This is because increasing the well-being of humans lets them contribute more to the economic development of their society, but there is no obvious mechanism by which increasing animal welfare leads to comparable long-run benefits. Read more on this argument.

What Can Be Done About This Problem?

Social advocacy to reduce meat consumption. This can be done by distributing leaflets, TV and online ads, campaigning large institutions (such as school districts or hospitals) to adopt “Meatless Mondays” to reduce meat consumption, and investigations that expose and publicise cruelty to animals in factory farms.

Political advocacy and lobbying for legislation for better conditions in factory farms.

Developing plant-based alternatives to animal-based foods.

Research to determine the most effective social and political advocacy methods for persuading people to reduce their meat consumption and passing legislation to improve conditions in factory farms.

What Can You Do Concretely About This Problem?

Work at the charities recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators.

Take a high-earning job, and donate to the charities recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators.

Work at Animal Charity Evaluators.

Work at companies developing plant-based alternatives to animal-based foods (such as Hampton Creek and Beyond Meat).

If you have a public platform, for example as an academic, journalist or politician, promote and advocate for reduced meat consumption and improvement of conditions of factory farms.

Volunteer for organizations working on the problem. See Animal Charity Evaluators advice on volunteering.

Become vegetarian or vegan, and promote reducing meat consumption to your friends and colleagues.

Many more suggestions.

Health in Poor Countries

Why is It Pressing?

a) Lower educational attainment.

b) Lethargy and reduced ability to think and work.

c) Worse health later in life.

d) Higher birth rates to compensate for infant mortality.

In many cases these diseases or their impacts can be largely eliminated with cheap technologies that are known to work and have existed for decades. For example:

Malaria is prevented by insecticide-treated bednets.

1. TB is almost always cured by sustained treatment with antibiotics (so called DOTS).

2. People with HIV live nearly normal lifespans, and rarely pass on the virus to others, if promptly and consistently treated with anti-retroviral drugs.

3. Diarrhoea can be prevented through better sanitation, and death prevented by oral rehydration therapy.

4. Parasitic diseases can be cured with a pill that costs under $1 a year.

5. A range of other diseases can be prevented through the the basic vaccination program (e.g. diphtheria, whooping cough, etc).

6. While the cost-effectiveness of the above approaches ranges quite widely, they can in most cases generate an extra year of healthy life for under $1,000, in a few cases for less than $100.

7. Over the last 60 years, death rates from several of these diseases have been more than halved using these techniques, suggesting a very clear way to make progress.

A FANTASTIC website that has a lot of work put into it.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s 5 Things I’m Obsessing Over.

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keep reflecting


Author of “Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism & the Global Problems of the 21st Century” on AMAZON | Exploring Ethical Living | IG: jakub.ferencik.official