Miscellanea: February 2018


(Don’t) Be the Gray Man – Patrick Steadman at Ribbonfarm. “While it’s fun to make fun of the dynamics of virtue signaling on social media, a society where many people have ‘gray’ identities and belief systems is quietly primed for chaos.”

Life Is Hard; Get Drunk on This – Brett McKay at The Art of Manliness

‘Never get high on your own supply’—why social media bosses don’t use social media – Alex Hern at The Guardian

How Skyscrapers Can Save the City – Edward Glaeser at The Atlantic

Heroes are not Replicable – Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution

He Was a Crook – Hunter S. Thompson at The Atlantic. Hunter S. Thompson killed himself 13 years ago this February. The Atlantic published his vicious obituary of Richard Nixon, originally written for Rolling Stone. “He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin. These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern — but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.” Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: Democrats Unveil Worst Campaign Idea Since “Pokemon Go to the Polls” – Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate. Democrats: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory since 1828.

With all of the negative headlines dominating the news these days, it can be difficult to spot signs of progress. What makes you optimistic about the future? – /u/thisisbillgates at /r/AskReddit. In which Bill Gates descended upon the teeming masses of reddit to inspire optimism and change.

How Manafort’s inability to convert a PDF file to Word helped prosecutors – Timothy B. Lee at Ars Technica. Also, Paul Manafort’s Password was “bond007,’ Making Him the Worst Unregistered Foreign Agent Ever. We really are living through Stupid Watergate.

Current Affairs’ “Some Puzzles For Libertarians”, Treated As Writing Prompts For Short Stories – Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex, demolishing an embarrassingly stupid critique of libertarianism.

With Xi’s Power Grab, China Joins New Era of Strongmen – Steven Lee Myers at The New York Times.

Deep Fakes: A Looming Crisis for National Security, Democracy, and Privacy? – Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron at Lawfare. Their colleague Herb Lin offers a more optimistic perspective here.

This Mutant Crayfish Clones Itself, and It’s Taking Over Europe – Carl Zimmer at The New York Times.


Cardinal Conversations – Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel on Technology and Politics – YouTube

LIVE DEBATE – Swipe Left: Dating Apps Have Killed Romance – YouTube

The Incredible Sounds of the Falcon Heavy Launch (BINAURAL AUDIO IMMERSION) – Smarter Every Day 189 – YouTube

The Bayesian Trap – YouTube

Brave New World vs Nineteen Eighty-Four – YouTube. While a huge fan of both works, I continue to find 1984 a more compelling and relevant work, a fact that I’m actually somewhat puzzled by. Even I have to admit that our society more closely resembles that of Brave New World, at least on a superficial level, and it seems like the recent trend among the smart people I follow has been to regard BNW more highly than 1984. Perhaps this will be a good topic for a future essay, after I’ve examined the two works more closely and tried to figure out why I remain so closely attached to Orwell.

Deepmind AlphaZero – Mastering Games Without Human Knowledge – YouTube

Ian Morris | Why the West Rules — For Now – YouTube

Waking Up with Sam Harris #109 – Biology and Culture (with Bret Weinstein) – YouTube


Outer Dark, by Cormac McCarthy (2.5/5): This was the fourth McCarthy book I’ve read, and the earliest one chronologically speaking (the others are Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and The Road). I’ve concluded I’m not as much of a fan of early McCarthy. I think the later you go in McCarthy’s bibliography, the less McCarthy’s style completely dominates the experience. In Outer Dark, the opaque language, static characters, and sparse action that McCarthy is known for are such a chore to get through that I nearly gave it up. It almost read like a McCarthy parody at points. However, his strengths—gorgeous turns of phrase and a thought-provoking ending—were also present.

The Art of Learning, by Josh Waitzkin (4.5/5): This was my third reading of this book, and I got more out of it this time than any of the previous times. I’ll be writing a more thorough analysis of this book in the coming weeks.

Letters from the Earth, by Mark Twain (4/5): A short, clever deconstruction of the Bible written from the perspective of Satan after being put in the time-out corner for excessive cheekiness. I’m amazed it’s not better known among secular activists and the like; Twain puts his sharp eye and devastating wit to good use without being heavy-handed or unfair.


Above and Beyond – Tri-State

Breaking Benjamin – Feed the Wolf

Grabbitz – Follow Me

LRKR – Morning Rain

A Perfect Circle – The Doomed

A Perfect Circle – TalkTalk

Pop Evil – Waking Lions



Black Panther (4/5): I thought it was a bit overhyped (is it really 97-percent-on-Rotten-Tomatoes good?), but still excellent—definitely better than any of the comedies-with-superheroes that Marvel’s been releasing lately.

The Shape of Water (3.5/5): I thought it kind of jumped the shark in the third act (there is such a thing as being too weird), but it was still a sweet, well-made movie.

My Scientology Movie (3.5/5) (Netflix): Less about Scientology itself, and more about the process Louis Theroux went through even trying to make the movie to begin with. Quirky and fun to watch without detracting from the gravity of the subject.

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