What I'm Reading (Feb. 3)

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A new take on sin taxes, Wordle and the Internet, who is an expert, and the return of human sacrifices?

“Sin taxes come from wine, beer, and spirits. They generate revenue from sports betting and casino gambling. In addition, they are levied on cigarettes, marijuana, and sugary beverages.

Fundamentally contradictory, they are supposed to raise revenue and constrain consumption. However, more of one objective means less of the other.”

I’ve often written about sin taxes; they are regressive but dampen demand. But here are a few additional facts from Econlife, 6 Facts: Are Sin Taxes a Blessing?

Wordle was just bought by the New York Times.

“Wordle is a newish word game that is web based, non-monetized, and impossible to binge because there is one puzzle a day. It is simple but also feels refreshing and unique. There’s a social element—you can share your results without giving away the answer to the puzzle—but it is perhaps the least offensive, non-problematic viral phenomenon to achieve escape velocity in some time. That inoffensiveness has a lot to do with why a mass of people delight in the game. The stakes are exceedingly low. It can make you feel momentarily clever but not super smart. It can be frustrating but it’s also hard to take Extremely Seriously.

But this is the Internet—a place where any and every reaction to a trend or a piece of information is not only possible but probable. That means that without much searching, you can find a group of people who take Wordle far too seriously. Similarly, you can find people who’ve made being a Wordler an outsize part of their online personality … seemingly overnight! And so it makes sense that there are also people who, rather reflexively, dislike the game and its legion of (sometimes annoying) fans.”

What can Wordle teach us about the factious Internet? Quite a bit. From Galaxy Brain, an Atlantic Newsletter, How to Create Wordle Backlash

“Some leaders will say they are following the "science." But as a scientist, I do not understand what this is supposed to mean. Throughout most of this pandemic, we did not have enough reliable data to make an informed decision. In the absence of reliable data, how does one "follow the science?" Claiming we are "following the science" in the absence of data simply gives science a bad name.

But this essay is not about the history of policy-making during the current pandemic. This essay focuses on one question: Who should we trust to make these enormously important decisions? And what are their qualifications and expertise? If I have heart disease, I seek the advice of a cardiologist. If I have cancer, I seek the guidance of an oncologist or expert in surgical or radiation oncology.

So, in the midst of a pandemic, who is the expert?”

That is a great question! Dr. Billaeur asked it the other day in writing about the decision of the Supreme Court on vaccinations. Here is the medical take from MedPage Today and Dr. Milton Packer, Where Are the Public Health Experts When We Need Them Most?

“Anthropologists define ritual sacrifice as societies’ organized killing of people in order to please supernatural beings and—the unspoken real-world part—to fortify the political and economic power of those societies’ elites. The tradition is right there in the first book of the Bible, when God commands Abraham to prove he loves him by murdering his son, and then only at the last second lets Abraham off the hook. For thousands of years in societies all over the world, small-scale and large-scale human sacrifice was common.

One big difference between then and now is the likelihood of death. In sacrificial spectacles hundreds and thousands of years ago, almost all of those chosen to die died, whether or not they had volunteered, whereas only a fraction of the people now volunteering to die by forgoing vaccinations actually do. It’s the new and improved modern version of mass human sacrifice.”

From the Atlantic, The Anti-Vaccine Right Brought Human Sacrifice To America