Readings: Issue #32

Dec 30 2020

Apparently nice guys don’t really finish last. In Psyche, psychologists Craig Neumann and Scott Barry Kaufman write that people with “dark” personality traits like Machiavellianism have disproportionately poor job performance and heightened risk of violent death, while those with “light” personality traits like empathy report greater happiness and self-esteem. But there’s good news for those of us with a mean streak: Neumann and Kaufman found that “light” traits can be, and often are, learned over time. “Our research, and studies of our closest relatives, nonhuman primates, both show that moral behavior can emerge and change across development—in large part through cooperative social interactions,” they write. “Thus, by embracing and trusting social connections, we can progress toward a light personality trait profile—a pathway that appears to lead to healthy self-actualization and even transcendence.”

In the New York Times, Neal K. Katyal and John Monsky look at one of Trump’s last-gasp hopes for reversing the results of the election: the possibility that Vice President Pence could on Jan. 6 abuse his role as presiding officer at the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.

In the Kausfiles newsletter, Mickey Kaus, gets alarmed by news that covid vaccine distribution may be guided by “social justice” criteria. In this scenario, “essential workers” would—because many of them are people of color—get vaccinated ahead of senior citizens, a whiter demographic. Kaus attributes this proposal to Wokism and argues that Joe Biden could and should put Wokists in their place.

In WiredLily Hay Newman writes about the growing frequency and success of ransomware attacks in 2020 and the chances of this trend continuing in 2021.

In the American Conservative, Blaise Malley argues that Biden’s foreign policy won’t be as far left as his domestic policies and offers a theory as to why: many Democrats reflexively oppose policies championed by Trump, and Trump’s foreign policy instincts often align with those of anti-war progressives. “Even if advocating the reverse of what Trump has done means espousing centrist, liberal interventionist or neo-conservative approaches, many opponents of the outgoing president are likely to do so,” Malley writes. “Biden can revert to a conventional form of foreign policy precisely because he can couch it as the opposite of Trump.

A handful of reporters got famous by battling the Trump Administration. Will they maintain their combative stance after Biden enters office? In the Atlantic, McKay Coppins explores the incentive structure that shapes reporting about presidents. 

Pope Francis took aim at tribalism with his recent encyclical letter “Fratelli Tutti." In Commonweal, William T. Cavanaugh reflects on the subtle radicalism of the document’s emphasis on “fraternal love,” which Francis holds up as a response to divisions sown by cynical leaders and neoliberal economic policies. The kind of love the pope has in mind, writes Cavanaugh, involves interaction and even friendship across lines of racial and economic segregation. “Pope Francis is calling us to create different kinds of spaces—economic, political, and social—where we can encounter one another face to face, where we can regard each other as children of the same God and begin the difficult journey of love.”

In Responsible Statecraft, Annelle Sheline takes a dim view of the recently announced deal that will have Morocco normalize relations with Israel in exchange for US recognition of Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara. Sheline argues that the deal not only flouts international law but threatens global food security. Still, she doubts that Biden will roll back the decision. “Although the Biden administration may be less captured by pro-Israel interests than Trump, Anthony Blinken’s State Department will not wish to re-open the issue and risk undermining a normalization agreement with Israel.” 

The New Yorker dedicates most of its latest issue to "The Plague Year," a sprawling piece by Lawrence Wright that tracks epidemiological, political, social, and personal efforts to combat covid.

Apparently nice guys don’t really finish last. In Psyche, psychologists Craig Neumann and Scott Barry Kaufman write that people with “dark” personality traits like Machiavellianism have disproportionately poor job performance and heightened risk of violent death, while those with “light” personality traits like empathy report greater happiness and self-esteem. But there’s good news for those of us with a mean streak: Neumann and Kaufman found that “light” traits can be, and often are, learned over time. “Our research, and studies of our closest relatives, nonhuman primates, both show that moral behavior can emerge and change across development—in large part through cooperative social interactions,” they write. “Thus, by embracing and trusting social connections, we can progress toward a light personality trait profile—a pathway that appears to lead to healthy self-actualization and even transcendence.”

In the New York Times, Neal K. Katyal and John Monsky look at one of Trump’s last-gasp hopes for reversing the results of the election: the possibility that Vice President Pence could on Jan. 6 abuse his role as presiding officer at the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.

In the Kausfiles newsletter, Mickey Kaus, gets alarmed by news that covid vaccine distribution may be guided by “social justice” criteria. In this scenario, “essential workers” would—because many of them are people of color—get vaccinated ahead of senior citizens, a whiter demographic. Kaus attributes this proposal to Wokism and argues that Joe Biden could and should put Wokists in their place.

In WiredLily Hay Newman writes about the growing frequency and success of ransomware attacks in 2020 and the chances of this trend continuing in 2021.

In the American Conservative, Blaise Malley argues that Biden’s foreign policy won’t be as far left as his domestic policies and offers a theory as to why: many Democrats reflexively oppose policies championed by Trump, and Trump’s foreign policy instincts often align with those of anti-war progressives. “Even if advocating the reverse of what Trump has done means espousing centrist, liberal interventionist or neo-conservative approaches, many opponents of the outgoing president are likely to do so,” Malley writes. “Biden can revert to a conventional form of foreign policy precisely because he can couch it as the opposite of Trump.

A handful of reporters got famous by battling the Trump Administration. Will they maintain their combative stance after Biden enters office? In the Atlantic, McKay Coppins explores the incentive structure that shapes reporting about presidents. 

Pope Francis took aim at tribalism with his recent encyclical letter “Fratelli Tutti." In Commonweal, William T. Cavanaugh reflects on the subtle radicalism of the document’s emphasis on “fraternal love,” which Francis holds up as a response to divisions sown by cynical leaders and neoliberal economic policies. The kind of love the pope has in mind, writes Cavanaugh, involves interaction and even friendship across lines of racial and economic segregation. “Pope Francis is calling us to create different kinds of spaces—economic, political, and social—where we can encounter one another face to face, where we can regard each other as children of the same God and begin the difficult journey of love.”

In Responsible Statecraft, Annelle Sheline takes a dim view of the recently announced deal that will have Morocco normalize relations with Israel in exchange for US recognition of Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara. Sheline argues that the deal not only flouts international law but threatens global food security. Still, she doubts that Biden will roll back the decision. “Although the Biden administration may be less captured by pro-Israel interests than Trump, Anthony Blinken’s State Department will not wish to re-open the issue and risk undermining a normalization agreement with Israel.” 

The New Yorker dedicates most of its latest issue to "The Plague Year," a sprawling piece by Lawrence Wright that tracks epidemiological, political, social, and personal efforts to combat covid.

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