At the conservative never-Trump site The Bulwark, Jonathan V. Last offers four reasons Republican politicians will never abandon Trump. And he means never; even after Trump leaves the White House he can use his Twitter following to punish politicians who defy him. Trump, writes Last, “owns the GOP in a way that is unprecedented in the modern era.”
In the first of a multi-part series, the New York Times vividly shows how vulnerable your cell phone makes you to invasions of privacy. The invaders aren’t telecom companies or the government but rather “location data companies” whose software resides in smart phone apps you’ve authorized to know your location—and who can sell your data to anyone who wants it. Though the software doesn’t know your identity—and most commercial users of the data don’t care about your identity, so long as they can, say, show you an ad for Acme Coffee the moment you walk past an Acme Coffee Shop—your identity can be inferred from your daily patterns of movement.
Tweet of the week comes from @DanMKervick: “We’ve reached a point in world history where a genuinely international political party makes abundant sense. It should focus on peace, disarmament, environmental preservation, and shared global prosperity.” Sign me up.
Turkey, according to a piece in the New Scientist, wins the award for first country to build and deploy drones armed with machine guns. An accompanying promotional video shows the drone in action in a setting that looks authentically warlike—without committing the marketing blunder of showing people on the ground getting killed.
In Tricycle, Sumi Loundon Kim explains how parents can introduce their kids to a nighttime ritual of lovingkindness (metta) meditation. It can be done more formally or less formally—while seated near a Buddhist altar or while snuggled in bed. I suspect this ritual might provide some of the psychological benefits that, as I dimly recall, my nighttime prayer provided when I was a boy.
Humans didn’t invent non-zero-sum games. Natural selection was forging win-win outcomes long before people showed up and articulated the underlying logic. The Hawaiian bobtail squid, for example, houses and feeds bacteria that, in return, camouflage the squid at night by emitting a light that’s similar to the moonlight filtering through the water. As Quanta magazine’s Laura Poppick reports, scientists have now mapped the bobtail squid’s genome and are using that data to flesh out the evolution of this symbiosis. Even if you’re not a genome enthusiast, you should consider checking out the beautiful pictures of bobtail squids.
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In Aeon, the philosopher Nicolas Bommarito sings the praises of modesty and explains why, historically, many philosophers haven’t been big fans of it. Bommarito’s conception of modesty seems in some ways eccentric; he says that truly modest people don’t really care how they stack up against other people. (I’ve always tried to be modest, but if that kind of indifference is a prerequisite, I give up.) But at least one of Bommarito’s claims is unarguable: Modesty, he says, “is something you can’t really brag about.”
This week the Washington Post published and assessed a trove of government documents that are to the Afghanistan War what the Pentagon Papers were to the Vietnam War: a look into government findings and deliberations that reveal much more internal doubt about the prospects for success than was officially acknowledged.
In the Post’s Outlook section, Stephen Wertheim and Samuel Moyn of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft explain how the disregard of both domestic and international law has led war—invasions, occupations, drone strikes, special forces raids, etc.—to become a post–Cold War constant for America.
Elon Musk drew a certain amount of ridicule for this tweet. But I actually found it interesting. I’d never before thought about using one interpretation of quantum physics—that subatomic reality doesn’t assume definite form until it’s observed—to buttress the hypothesis that we’re living in a simulation. (And hey, at least he didn’t call anyone a pedophile.)
Have you ever noticed that different trains' whistles have different pitches? Turns out they’re so different that you could, by creating a video mashup of different trains whistling, play Pachelbel’s Canon.
On the CBC, a psychiatrist at McGill University discusses a drug that apparently can help cure heartbreak. Recalling a “romantic betrayal event” while under its influence, he says, reduces the emotional power of the memory thereafter. Oddly—or maybe not so oddly—the drug is already in wide use as a way of lowering blood pressure.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat makes the case that the famously far-left Bernie Sanders could have broader appeal—both in the Democratic primaries and in a general election—than is generally appreciated. Sanders polls better among non-Bernie-Bro Democratic demographics than you’d expect, says Douthat. And his leftism is so focused on economic issues that he seems less threatening than many Democrats to conservatives who emphasize abortion and other social issues. Sanders could be “the liberal [candidate] most likely to spend all his time trying to tax the rich and leave cultural conservatives alone.”
In a piece in The Cut called “My Wife’s Enemies Are Now My Enemies, Too,” Josh Gondelman offers himself as a case study in the tribalizing potential of marriage.
In Psychology Today, Susan Lanzoni recaps the semantic evolution of the word empathy—which a century ago, when it first appeared in English, meant “nearly the opposite of what it means now.” It meant “projecting one’s own imagined feelings and movements into objects”—seeing sharp, angular contours as ferocious, say, or seeing soft curves as calm. Lanzoni hopes reflecting on the word’s etymology will rekindle this “aesthetic empathy,” which she says can deepen appreciation of “our inherent connection to a world beyond ourselves.” Such reflection could also remind us that when we exercise empathy in the most common modern sense—feel the feelings someone else is feeling—we are, strictly speaking, engaging in an act of projection; we can’t know exactly what it’s like to be someone else, even if it’s often worth trying.
And speaking of empathy: On the Wright Show I talked to psychologist Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy, about when empathy is and isn’t a good guide to moral conduct.
In Foreign Affairs, Fareed Zakaria questions the “new consensus” which holds that “China is now a vital threat to the United States both economically and strategically, that U.S. policy toward China has failed, and that Washington needs a new, much tougher strategy to contain it.”
In Vice, Caroline Haskins, looks at how Amazon has “been quietly building a privatized surveillance network throughout the United States.” She’s not talking about Amazon’s Alexa, but rather about Ring, the security camera that lets people remotely see who’s at the door—or for that matter who’s walking along the sidewalk or what cars are driving by. Neighbors can form sharing networks that give each of them broad surveillance powers, and arrangements with local police can let them in on the action. Needless to say, there are pros and cons.
Forty-three years after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, Liliana Segura and Jordan Smith do several deep dives into The Intercept’s “comprehensive dataset on everyone sentenced to die in active death penalty jurisdictions since 1976.” One conclusion: “Capital punishment remains as ‘arbitrary and capricious’ as ever.”
Countless undergraduates have been taught that America’s exceptionalist zeal—its seeming compulsion to remake other nations in its image, sometimes via war—dates back to the Puritans. The Puritans are said to have injected a sense of divine ordination “into the distinctive cultural DNA of imperially expansive America,” as historian Daniel T. Rodgers puts it. Rodgers puts it that way in a book that questions this standard story by closely analyzing what is taken as the source text of Puritanical American exceptionalism: a sermon in which John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, invoked this biblical passage: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” In the Nation, historian Andrew Delbanco reviews Rodgers’s book, As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon.
In Gzero, Gabrielle Debinski pithily summarizes views on foreign policy expressed by Democratic presidential candidates in this week’s debate—which devoted more time to foreign policy than past debates (which is to say: some time).
In an Aeon piece alluringly titled “What is to be done about the problem of creepy men?” law professor Heidi Matthews actually asks what is to be done with our intuitions about what is and isn’t “creepy,” particularly in the #MeToo era. She recommends not letting those intuitions substitute for careful analysis, since they can be tools of “shunning and social ostracism” and have been used against, for example, the mentally ill and homosexuals. Matthews also notes that the “creepiness” reaction is related to the emotion of disgust—which, as it happens, was the subject of a long 2016 piece in Aeon, by Kathleen McAuliffe, that also offered reasons for caution about letting our feelings serve as moral guides.
In The Federalist, Trump supporter Mollie Hemingway gives her account of “How Republicans won phase one of the impeachment.”
A New York Times Magazine piece by Kevin Roose documents the demise of the free internet and the growth of the paid internet—which offers, for example, a “news therapy” app called Sift that, for $3.33 per month, promises to help you “stay informed about contentious topics while reducing anxiety and stress.” Most surprising stat: the average American spent more than $1,300 on digital media last year.
In the New Republic, Udi Greenberg reviews the new book Reimagining Judeo-Christian America, by K. Healan Gaston of Harvard Divinity School. When the term “Judeo-Christian” came into currency in the 1940s, it served as a vehicle of social inclusion, identifying Jews with an American moral and spiritual heritage long thought of as Christian. But the term can be used for exclusion—as when Steven Bannon champions the struggle of the “Judeo-Christian West” against Islam. Gaston, Greenberg writes, argues that the term has been used that way more often than you might guess—and has sometimes even been used at the expense of Jews, as a way to “legitimize larger claims about Christian supremacy.”
On bloggingheads.tv—and on The Wright Show audio podcast—I argue with my closest Trump-supporting friend, Mickey Kaus, about impeachment and other things, including Trump’s Iran policy.
On CNN’s website, journalist Daniel Dale, who has relentlessly chronicled the president’s untruths during this presidency, lists “45 ways Trump has been dishonest about Ukraine and impeachment.”
The Wall Street Journal this week published the results of its big investigation into how Google has “increasingly re-engineered and interfered with search results to a far greater degree than the company and its executives have acknowledged.” Google “made changes on behalf of a major advertiser, eBay, contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action.” Also, Google “boosts some major websites, such as Amazon.com and Facebook.” (Remember the neediest!) Google also fiddles with the “auto-complete” algorithm to reduce the chances that people will stumble onto such inflammatory subjects as immigration and abortion.
In the Columbia Journalism Review, sociologist Musa al-Gharbi vividly depicts how good Trump is at getting his favorite thing: attention. Al-Gharbi divides the number of mentions each recent president has gotten in the New York Times by the total number of words published by the Times (to correct for the growth in the latter during the online age) and gets this graph:
In Aeon, philosopher Catherine Wilson sings the praises of Epicureanism as a guiding philosophy and argues that it’s well suited to the modern world. As a lifestyle, Epicureanism is less self-indulgent than the current usage of the term might suggest, though less austere than Stoicism, which is now undergoing something of a revival, and on which Wilson throws a bit of shade.
In Dissent, Nicolaus Mills reviews a biography of Gen. George Marshall, architect of the Marshall Plan and Secretary of State under Truman, and suggests that Marshall’s “pragmatic engagement” would be an improvement on America’s foreign policy of recent decades.
The New York Times reports that, with President Evo Morales having been forced out of office by the military amid protests against him, many of Bolivia’s indigenous people worry that gains they enjoyed in recent years are imperiled. Morales, the first indigenous president in the country’s history, was replaced by a woman of European descent who initially appointed an all-European cabinet and has in the past called indigenous religious rituals “satanic.”
On the Israeli website 972, Menachem Klein explains how the unusual dynamics of this week’s conflict in Gaza reflect important changes in the relationship among Israel, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.
In New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore argues that impeachment could be a “calamity” for Democratic presidential candidates who are in the Senate (Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar, Booker, Harris, Bennet). Attending impeachment hearings—which would be in session six days per week—could keep them off the campaign trail for six weeks or more during the critical early phase of the primaries.