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Links and Best of Twitter, 12/30/22 (Unpaywalled)
I’m feeling festive, so the links are free this week. For 2023, I’m going to make the links either every other week or monthly. Having taken Christmas off, I realized that I had more time to make the links and the discussion about them higher quality, and so decided to do fewer of these posts but make them better.
For those who missed it, check out my discussion with Rob Henderson and Marc Andreessen on The Shield (thread with thoughts). This is your reminder to make sure to subscribe to the Narrative Control podcast if you like these kinds of conversations, and if you don’t, you can unsubscribe to them and still get the rest of the newsletter. Here is my discussion with Mike Tracey from last night.
Looking at reactions to the piece on my lessons of 2022, I wanted to clarify that not wanting to talk much about politics anymore doesn’t mean I won’t talk about policy. In the coming year, you’ll be seeing fewer articles on the nature of the culture war, the usefulness of polls, or whether Trump or DeSantis has a better shot at winning the presidency. But I’ll continue to talk about ethics, ideology, and what I think government should do in various areas, as I have with civil rights law.
1. Chinese startup shows off a demo of its $140,000 flying car. It’s meant to mostly drive on land but can go to the air to avoid traffic jams and obstacles, and they say it could go into mass production by 2025. I’m skeptical, but the company is valued at $1.5 billion.
You can watch the demo here.
2. On Russian influence in the Central African Republic. A few thousand Wagner soldiers serve as a kind of Praetorian Guard for the president. It’s apparently much easier than I thought to take control of an Africa country.
3. Emil on how smarter people are able to use drugs responsibly while dumb people can’t. People say I’m obsessed with IQ, but it’s really important! This may explain why social conservatism is associated with lower intelligence. People who can’t handle sex and drugs need an ideology that will stop them from destroying themselves, while those who can think more clearly about the consequences of their actions can afford to enjoy themselves.
4. Yglesias with a very good thread on the nature of what we’re even talking about when it comes to ideology or someone’s political views. And here he is on what the Secret Congress has been doing on clean water. If you want your issue to succeed in Washington, the lesson seems to be don’t let it become a partisan lightning rod. As Yglesias points out, this stuff is undercovered at the expense of the culture war, and this is part of the reason I want to do more policy-relevant work.
5. Inside the US effort to arm Ukraine.
6. The WSJ profiles Kadyrov. I never knew how seriously to take those reports that said he was given the job of assassinating Zelensky, but this article says they were true.
Three weeks before the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Putin called him to Moscow to strategize, according to Ukrainian intelligence officials. He charged the Chechen with taking Kyiv and killing the Ukrainian president, they said.
In the following days, Mr. Kadyrov appeared confident. “Mr. Zelensky, the hour has come when the clown show comes to an end,” he wrote on his Telegram channel on Feb. 14, as his troops were training for the mission in neighboring Belarus.
The alleged hit job on the president, a high-profile and coveted task, was “a kind of bonus they set forward for Kadyrov,” said Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.
I don’t know if this is a new revelation, but it’s the first time I’ve heard it asserted so definitively and with such detail. Of course, the source is Ukrainian intelligence, so who knows. We’ve seen how much Chechens love posting their exploits on social media, so they probably would’ve filmed the whole thing, and one could imagine what the international reaction would have been.
7. Really good two-part series on how Palantir has been aiding Ukraine on the battlefield. Ironically, for all the media’s talk about how billionaires are a threat to democracy, it’s been the startup co-founded by Peter Thiel and Elon Musk’s Starlink that have helped keep Ukraine in the fight.
8. Zero-sum thinking is cancerous in politics and social life, and the phenomenon is understudied. Here’s a paper on the topic that has a lot there, though I think the ancestry stuff is goofy. There’s not enough emphasis put on the point that socialism rests on false beliefs about the way the world works.
The fact that a plurality of Americans agrees with zero-sum thinking in the areas of international trade and income should be treated as a misinformation problem, but it’s not, for obvious reasons.
10. Thread on how the US and Ukraine hope to get around the shortage of ammunition.
11. Emil on the dimensionality of politics. A very good summary. All over the world, people seem to have structure to their economic and social views, but the US norm of support for the free market going with social conservatism seems to be culturally contingent. In some countries, the correlation between economic and social views is non-existent, or the opposite of what it is here. In other words, “conservative” and “liberal” as understood in the American context aren’t universal constructs, but a two-dimensional model based on social and economic views captures a lot of the variation wherever we look. I was familiar with this work already, which is what pushed me away from social conservatism, when I realized that I agreed with them about nothing except LGBT, and the odds were low of me ever leading a “heteronormative but otherwise socially liberal” political movement.
12. Emil: no dysgenic fertility in Japan.
13. Snarky article on the Turning Point USA conference.
14. Speaking of which, these guys are apparently very passionate about sartorial decorum.
15. NYT on the failures of the Russian war effort. Also, impressive report from the NYT on Bucha, in which they found the military unit responsible. I highly recommend watching the video, as it’s extremely well done. Next time you’re committing war crimes in a foreign country, don’t use the cell phones of the civilians you killed to call home.
16. Vox on the rise of right-wing comedy. This article touches on something I’ve always believed, which is that it doesn’t make much sense when people complain about woke comics and say they’re not funny. Samantha Bee may not be funny to you, but she is funny to someone who genuinely believes the country is on the brink of a Christian Nationalist takeover and we all need a way to come together and process the natural anxiety we feel.
I also like this part, on differences between conservative and liberal comedy.
There’s another theory that’s a little more controversial. Dannagal Young, a communications scholar and the author of Irony and Outrage: The Polarized Landscape of Rage, Fear, and Laughter in the United States, argues that there are structural differences between liberal and conservative jokes. Her theory is that those differences arise because of the oppositional psychologies of the people who hold the two ideologies.
According to Young, liberals like jokes based in irony and misdirection that end in a surprise punchline, while conservatives like jokes based on exaggeration and grotesqueries that say what they mean from the beginning and then escalate.
“The general structure of a political [liberal] late-night joke tends to use incongruity,” says Young. “You as the audience are asked to make a series of incongruous ideas fit together.” Doing the work to make those two parts fit together is what makes the joke funny.
By way of illustration, Young points to a groaner that’s made its way around liberal internet spheres a few times: “Why are Trump’s ties so long? Because they go all the way to Russia.” To get the joke, you have to know that Trump has lots of connections to Russia that are likely deeply corrupt, and then you have to apply that knowledge to the pun.
“To make sense of it, that is cognitively taxing,” says Young. “It takes a lot of resources to do that, and that kind of humor is tailor-made for someone who has a high tolerance for ambiguity, a high need for cognition, and really likes riddle solving.”
In contrast, Young argues that conservative humor, including Gutfeld’s, is often built on the model of a “yo mama” joke: You state a premise once, and then you keep repeating it in increasingly absurd ways.
“It doesn’t comport with the incongruity framework that underlies most punchline-oriented humor,” Young says. “What they’re doing is exaggeration-based humor. It’s insult humor. It doesn’t take a lot of unpacking. But for that audience, it scratches an itch.”
“That’s an unoriginal metaphor, Captain Jowls,” Gutfeld said in one monologue addressed to CNN’s Brian Stelter, after Stelter opined that former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace stood out “like a sore thumb” at an increasingly radicalized Fox News. Stelter has been public with his weight loss journey in the past.
“It’s been used more times than your waffle iron,” continued Gutfeld, who previously complained that his late-night comedy peers never offended anyone. “You should have said, ‘Chris Wallace sticks out like my belly when I undo my bathrobe after dinner.’ And Fox is radicalized? If only Weight Watchers could radicalize you, Brian.” By the time the monologue ended, Gutfeld had also called Stelter a “fabricating fart-pillow” and a “corpulent crumb-sucker.” (If this type of humiliation-based humor brings another conservative figure to mind, well, yes, and more on his effect later.)
I think there’s something to this, but I don’t think this is simply a liberal-conservative thing. It’s probably not going to shock anyone that I think this is a division between high and low-IQs. John Oliver has a smarter audience than Gutfeld. There are comedians who indulge in right-wing humor like Ricky Gervais and Chapelle, but they’re not providing prolefeed on Fox News and don’t usually identify with the Right. Even liberals acknowledge the Babylon Bee is sometimes pretty good, which makes sense since they cater to an online audience instead of a TV one. Meanwhile, dumber leftists do seem to engage in simple, insult type comedy, when they make memes of Trump being fat or gay with Putin or whatever. But if you’re just comparing Fox News (Gutfeld) to HBO (Oliver), you have to come to the conclusion that liberals just have higher quality comedy.
Beyond the IQ question, but related to it, this I think fits into my psychological theory of the culture war, where liberals need all of their art and culture to be more complex in order to have a sense of aesthetic and moral superiority. That doesn’t mean they’re being insincere by pretending to enjoy irony more than calling people fat, as they’ve shaped their preferences in that direction. Conservatives can engage in what one can call a more “natural” form of humor, which involves crudely making fun of people, just like they enjoy paintings of sunsets more than postmodern art.
17. Speaking of my culture war piece, two anonymous (I think) authors wrote a response to it. The biggest mistake here is confusing the culture war theory for a theory of how policy is made or power is exercised.
19. The Webb telescope is working better than anyone anticipated. Congress at one point thought it was too expensive and almost cut off funding. The thing only cost $10 billion, spread out over decades. In contrast, the US spends $80 billion a year on food stamps to make the fattest poor people in the world even fatter. I’d be less of a libertarian if more government programs were like this.
20. Profile of Vivek Ramaswamy in The New Yorker. He’s an interesting guy, but I must warn that the journalist doing the profile is insufferable.
21. Scott Alexander on stupid arguments used against prediction markets.
23. A general consensus is emerging in the media that there’s no evidence Russia blew up the Nord Stream pipeline. In fact, it’s starting to pay for repairs, which wouldn’t make sense if they were to blame.
24. Philippe on why he thinks the war in Ukraine will likely continue for a long time.
25. Noah Smith argues that the Twitter experiment of everyone talking to everyone else has failed.
Centralized social media, as Jack Dorsey wrote, was a grand experiment in collective global human consciousness. It was a modern-day Tower of Babel, the Human Instrumentality project from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Yes it was a way to make some people rich, but it was also an experiment in uniting the human race. Perhaps if we could all just get in one room and talk to each other, if we could just get rid of our echo chambers and our filter bubbles, we would eventually reach agreement, and the old world of war and hate and misunderstanding would melt into memory.
That experiment failed. Humanity does not want to be a global hive mind. We are not rational Bayesian updaters who will eventually reach agreement; when we receive the same information, it tends to polarize us rather than unite us. Getting screamed at and insulted by people who disagree with you doesn’t take you out of your filter bubble — it makes you retreat back inside your bubble and reject the ideas of whoever is screaming at you. No one ever changed their mind from being dunked on; instead they all just doubled down and dunked harder. The hatred and toxicity of Twitter at times felt like the dying screams of human individuality, being crushed to death by the hive mind’s constant demands for us to agree with more people than we ever evolved to agree with.
But human individuality would not die. Instead it is centralized social media that is dying. Social media network effects are strong, but not infinitely strong. A recent survey found that only a third of U.S. teens use Facebook at all, down from over 70% just half a decade ago. And even before Musk’s takeover, the fraction of teens on Twitter had declined from 33% to 23%.
I think this is right. I personally don’t want to talk to everyone in the world. Some people, like anti-vaxxers, I’ve realized while on Twitter, just don’t have the intelligence or statistical understanding to have a useful conversation with. Others are simply bad actors, looking for attention or to satisfy some psychological disturbance. I suspect everyone talking to everyone has in most cases made all sides dumber, rather than improved public discourse.
26. On the steps to finally get nuclear fusion, and the context in which we should understand the breakthrough at Livermore lab.
The first point is called the scientific break-even—this is when a fusion reaction produces more energy than was used to create the reaction in the first place. The Dec. 5 experiment at the Livermore lab broke this threshold for the first time. It’s a big deal, but it’s only the first of the three milestones.
The second is the engineering break-even, when the entire fusion reactor produces more energy than it consumes. To be a useful source of power, you need facilities that on net produce, rather than consume, energy. The recent reaction wasn’t close.
To deploy fusion also requires attaining a third milestone, known as the economic, or commercial, break-even, when a fusion power facility is cost-effective to operate compared with other power sources…
Mark Herrmann, the Livermore lab’s program director for weapon physics and design, told reporters that to generate 3.15 megajoules of energy, the lab consumed about 300 megajoules of energy to fire its laser.
You don’t need to be a physicist to realize that this is far from a viable source of power. The Q value for the entire reactor is about 0.01—roughly 1% of break-even.
“The laser wasn’t designed to be efficient,” said Mr. Herrmann. “The laser was designed to give us as much juice as possible to make these incredible conditions happen in the laboratory.”
This means scientists need to improve the technology by a factor of 100, said Jonathan Menard, chief research officer at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
27. Russia promises that going to war will allow you to buy your daughter a new cell phone.
28. First of a series of highly entertaining threads of the top 100 videos of the year from right-wing media and events.
29. The idea that the Irish experienced large IQ gains over the course of the late twentieth century appears to be a myth.
31. Part 2 of Alex Nowrasteh’s critique of Garett Jones’ book on immigration.
32. Douthat: The end of the Trump era will be unsatisfying. Same with everything in politics! It’s never cathartic. A part of me desperately wants people who pushed mask mandates to be punished, but the best we could ever hope for was that they would simply stop enforcing mask mandates. They won’t even lose their jobs, much less get what they truly deserve. The FDA hasn’t even gotten testing right, and continues to bungle new issues as they emerge. This is life.
33. On the founder of 4chan, who is very important in Japan. It’s funny how much of what conservatives call “degeneracy” there is in Japan when every societal indicator except birth rates remains strong, and even in that they’re better than the rest of East Asia. One can say something similar about the Netherlands.
34. Looking at things like the social media accounts of families and local news reports, researchers determine that at least 10,000 Russians have been killed in the war so far.
35. Virginia Postrel on lab-grown meat. As with nuclear fusion, the issue is price.
Selling cultivated meat at a competitive price poses a tougher challenge. Wildtype’s salmon, which initially cost the equivalent of $400,000 a pound, is down to $20-25 for two pieces of nigiri, or about $250 a pound. That’s still pricey—high-quality salmon can run $150 a usable pound—but the trend is in the right direction. Knowing the difficulties, Wildtype deliberately picked an expensive product to compete with. Matching chicken prices will be much harder, which is surely a reason that Upside Foods is starting with high-end restaurants whose customers aren’t too price-sensitive.
Postrel writes a follow-up Substack on the reaction to her article in the WSJ comments, where people accused her of being some kind of woke propagandist for not wanting to torture animals when we can maybe get the exact same product by not doing so.
This is a story about market-driven progress! Abundance is good!! The anti-Promethean backlash is bad! “Cruelty-free” is tendentious and the Center for Food Safety is the bad guy. Those are all right-of-center tells.
Or they used to be. I was naively stuck in the 20th century.
Back then, when I hung out with ideologues more than I do today, people on the American right liked technological innovation and market competition. They celebrated ingenuity and entrepreneurship. They might predict that a given product would fail or choose not to buy it—that’s the system, after all—but they weren’t affronted by the mere existence of for-profit approaches to social or environmental issues. They weren’t insulted by the idea that technology might alter attitudes by changing costs.
Now, everything is personal and I, who write as a meat eater who likes human ingenuity and technological progress, am read as a woke propagandist.
Take the comment was from one Alan Kelman. It’s my favorite because he is so, so deluded about both my household income and my eating habits: “I won’t consider eating this stuff until Ms. Postrel, Bill Gates, John Kerry, and their fellow Davis/WEF dirrrtbags give up their super prime filet mignon, primo lobsters, and free range poultry. Apres vous Alphonse.”
I can relate to this passage. You start out being right-wing because you believe in freedom, markets, and progress. Eventually, you come to the realization that so much of the American Right is actually driven by fear of change and paranoia, and even if they may dislike the libs as much as you do, it’s for the wrong reasons. The case anti-vaxxers make is that the vaccine approval process went too fast, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be criticizing the FDA for! Postrel goes on.
The best argument against the development of cell-grown meat is that technocrats believe that anything good must be mandatory, especially if the good thing claims to help the environment. So if someone invents cell-grown meat, government mandates will soon follow. We therefore shouldn’t encourage alternatives to the status quo lest we be forced to adopt them. It’s the same argument we hear from people who believe that saying cities should allow property owners more flexibility about what they build on their land is tantamount to banning single-family homes. This culture-war form of the precautionary principle is as bad as every other form. It’s a prescription for stasis.
Calling it a “culture-war form of the precautionary principle” really captures what is going on. I’ve seen this in the euthanasia debate online, where some seem to think the Canadian government is on the verge of culling them from the herd, because Canada is I guess known for its strong adherence to Social Darwinist principles.
36. Razib on Indian genetics.
37. Abortion is the dominant issue regarding how people understand the last few years of governance.
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Best of Twitter
1. Thread on the bizarre phenomenon of right-wingers being angry at teenage boys getting lucky.
2. Saddest thing about this is it’s actually true.
3. Sailerisms as forbidden knowledge. In Chicago, somehow 100% of the white people know to avoid certain neighborhoods without peer reviewed studies! If a woke AI chatbot is able to convince them to behave otherwise, it’ll probably be a sign that the singularity has arrived.
4. The bad optics of right-wing nationalists opposing aid to Ukraine.
5. The most important of the Twitter files series.
6. Being an autist scrooge on Christmas Eve.
7. Americans are happy people, which is why they reject angry weirdos on the Right and Left.
8. Scientific breedism.
9. Checking in on South Africa.
10. We’ve finally defeated the tyrant of LA County.
Richard Hanania's Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.