I’m no longer regulalry Tweeting, but I still have a desire to share what I’m reading with the world and comment on it. So I decided I’m going to start doing Friday link roundups, either weekly or biweekly. This one will be free, but I’m going to put future link roundups behind a paywall to provide an incentive for people to become paying subscribers. So please subscribe if you want to see more of these. I’m getting a lot more free readers, but paid subscriptions are flat, so there seems to be a limited number of people who will donate money out of the goodness of their hearts alone. Links will include short commentary on some stories, as per below.
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Feel free to drop links the comments, and maybe they’ll make the list next week.
1. In May, the WSJ reported that the 88th wealthiest man in Ukraine, 49 years old, was on the frontlines of the war. Meanwhile, Russia is recruiting dirt poor ethnic minorities and convicts. One thing I noted during the Afghan War was the extent to which the Taliban was a high IQ movement, at least at the very top.
I haven’t been able to find data on support for the Ukraine war within Russia by education, although anecdotally it seems to be something the lower class is into. It’s interesting how throughout history there have been “high class” and “low class” versions of nationalism. The grand historical trend has been towards the latter. In World War I, the British higher classes were more likely to volunteer for the war effort, and officers were more likely to die.
Meanwhile, John Mueller wrote about how in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, demagogues had to rely on criminals and soccer hooligans as the only ones willing to fight. He took that to mean that only deranged people were still willing to fight in modern times, and his thinking influence me when I predicted a low birth rate was an indication that Ukraine would fold. But apparently, elite nationalism is still possible! Maybe it takes an actual military invasion, while the idea that immigration is akin to an invasion doesn’t play well the smarter and more well-off you are.
Perhaps the major failure of Putinism as an ideology is the same failure as nationalist movements around the world, which is that they disproportionately appeal to the old and low class. This matters because of the strong link between class and IQ. And IQ helps with everything, so if you’re the party of dumb people, it’s probably bad for your prospects in any kind of conflict, whether war or electoral politics. Populists assume that because there are more stupid people, the stupid can win, but this is a mistake.
Anyway, there are of course many reasons that Russia has underperformed in Ukraine. But this seems to be one that has been overlooked.
2. Ryan Evans talks to Michael Kofman on the War on the Rocks podcast about the Ukraine offensive. Kofman, Rob Lee, and Dmitri Alperovitch remain the essential follows on everything having to do with the war. People have asked what my opinion is at this point, and I think you’re better off listening to those guys than me, as I clearly am no expert here. Before the events of the last week, their consensus was that it remained to be seen whether Ukraine could conduct offensive operations, but if they could, the war favors them in the long term. Now that Ukraine has shown it’s capable of doing so, I think Russia is in trouble, and for that reason the odds of nuclear weapon use is higher than many people think. It’s like seeing a guy ride a bike: when you know he can do it once, you can assume he can also go in a different direction.
I think it’ll probably be a stalemate on many or most fronts, but where there is movement it’ll be the Russians who are pulling back. If that’s true though, Putin has escalatory options, and a nightmare scenario is him coming to believe nukes are his only hope. Mass mobilization is the other potential game changer. But I see nothing to indicate that Russian public opinion would support sending conscripts, and the leadership of the country seems to for that reason be extremely hesitant to go down that route.
3. One thing that’s frustrating about reading about the war is that it’s difficult to find good maps connected to stories, especially for the Kherson region, which has a lot of rivulets and tributaries and it’s hard to know what going on. Here’s a story with good maps. Here’s another one from a pro-Russian Substacker, who knows the geography of the Kharkiv region well but was smoking a lot of copium when he wrote this.
4. Freddie de Boer on the role of foreign adventures in the American psyche. I’m too young to remember the original Desert Storm, but I remember the post-9/11 period, and yes, people were insane. The difference back then was in those years it was a mass phenomenon that the elites got swept along with, while Ukraine is more top-down.
5. Stacey Abrams goes after the sportsball vote, attacking Brian Kemp for being opposed to legalized sports betting.
This is interesting, because Republicans are usually the pro-market side. I don’t care about sports betting, but I do care about prediction markets generally, and I have a sense that those who are more likely to support gambling in sports are more likely to support gambling on other things. Of course this might not tell us about anything outside of Georgia, but it’s a reminder that a lot of our politics is mindless tribalism and sometimes liberals can end up on the right side of an issue.
On a related note, it was overwhelmingly Democratic members of Congress who tried to pressure the Trump administration to undertake human challenge trials.
6. Eritrea has been called the African North Korea. Here’s the first substantive article I’ve read on that country of 6 million, which includes a profile of its dictator, Isaias Afewerki. The piece led me to watch this Frontline documentary.
7. Nate Silver finds that Senate candidates who have held office before do better in elections. This makes sense; voters are mysterious and it’s hard to guess what they want, so past success is probably the best predictor of future success. Of course, upon learning this, Republicans in New Hampshire nominated a retired general for Senate running on the idea that 2020 was stolen, over the president of the State Senate who is good at fundraising and had the endorsement of the popular Republican governor.
8. From July 2019 to July 2022, Red States dominate the list of metropolitan areas where U-Hauls are headed.
9. Dwarkesh Patel interviews Charles Mann, author of the books 1491 and 1493. I highly recommend the Lunar Society podcast. Dwarkesh is a rare right-leaning rationalist in the public arena, of which there are too few. During the interview, Mann mentioned that there are still Mayans in Mexico and neighboring countries who speak the Mayan language, apparently 6 million of them. I feel ashamed for not having known that, and this contributed to my guilt about how little I know about Mexico, which is our neighbor and a very fascinating country. I hope to correct this gap in my knowledge in the coming years.
10. Successful NIH grant abstracts are becoming more emotional in their language. Includes a citation to Leif Rasmussen’s report on the Great Awokening in NSF grants for CSPI.
11. Analyst on Russian TV says that the US wants to colonize Ukraine like Australia, distribute land to western warlords who fought in the war. Can’t wait to move to Malcolm Nancistan.
12. In Romania, there is an exam with a cutoff that makes people on the right side of it much more likely to attend college. A study shows that those just above the cutoff are more socially liberal than those just below, indicating that college attendance has a causal influence. There is no effect on economic views.
13. The incoming class at the University of Michigan “is 24 percent LGBTQ+ students and 42 percent people of color; both numbers are the highest in the school’s history.”
That looks like a lot of white faces for “42 percent people of color” to me, but this is all on the honor system so lol whatever.
14. Special election results before and after Dobbs. And special elections tend to predict election results in November.
15. Top ten highest grossing movies in Russia in August 2022. The top four are apparently American films.
Number 6, Shark Bait, is also an American film, one that went straight to DVD. Movies like Top Gun don’t make the list because the major Hollywood studios have already pulled out of the Russian market. This really puts American cultural domination into perspective. At some point, I realized that the Chinese market is dominated by domestic films, and I think this has significance for how it would fare in a conflict with the West.
Are box office results the best clear indicator of American cultural influence? Is there a better measure?
16. Why abortion is a really bad issue for Republicans, despite polls indicating that public opinion is in between the two parties.
17. Robert Wright on the attribution error that makes us so clueless about foreign leaders.
When an enemy or rival does something we consider bad, we tend to attribute the bad behavior to the person’s “disposition” (their basic nature) rather than to “situation” (such factors as peer pressure or political pressure or workplace stress or whatever). But if they do something we consider good, we tend to emphasize situational factors, not dispositional ones.
Our enemies and rivals, in other words, do bad things because that’s the kind of people they are and do good things only when pushed toward them by circumstance; attribution error is, among other things, a mechanism for preserving this unflattering framing of them. (With friends and allies it works the other way around: We tend to attribute good things they do to the kind of people they are and bad things they do to peer pressure or a stressful workplace or whatever.)
This strikes me as completely correct. If Xi Jinping invaded Taiwan tomorrow, the narrative would be that it’s because he’s an evil man bent on world domination. If he declared he wouldn’t do anything if Taiwan declared independence, we’d all be talking about how “peace through strength” worked and deterred an evil man.
18. I talk to Razib about the Salem Center/CSPI forecasting tournament. It’s not too late to sign up. Read the instructions here and join us.
19. “President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Thursday that Moscow understood that China had ‘questions and concerns’ about the war in Ukraine — a notable, if cryptic, admission from Mr. Putin that Beijing may not fully approve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” Seems quite a stretch for the NYT to draw that conclusion based on such thin evidence. It’ll probably take decades for us to have any idea how much help China has provided Russia in this war.
20. Here’s a story that shows the benefits of being off Twitter. I’ve gotten to know Wesley Yang based on his feed, but never picked up his book The Souls of Yellow Folk, a collection of his writing. I finally checked it out a few days ago, and was surprised to realize that he was the author of the famous piece “The Face of Seung-Hui Cho,” which I’d read when it came out in 2008. If you haven’t been lucky enough to read it yet, you should, because it’s rare that an article makes such an impression on me that I can still remember it in vivid detail 14 years later. I look forward to getting into Wesley’s other work, now that his Twitter feed will no longer distract me.
21. In the history of The Bachelor series, “only six couples who met on those shows are currently married. A seventh is expected to wed in May. In this time, there have been 34 televised proposals in 44 seasons combined. Taking into account those who met on other spinoffs, the number of currently married couples jumps from six to 10.” That’s presented as a poor record, but it strikes me as pretty good for reality TV.
22. Xi Jinping this week took off his mask for Putin, but skipped a maskless dinner and did wear a mask when meeting the leaders of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. “The leader of Belarus, who has visited infectious disease wards without a facial covering, was pictured wearing a mask with a Chinese flag, suggesting the Beijing delegation had provided it.”
23. The case that China is doubling down and going to do Zero Covid forever.
24. I talk to Mike Tracey about the pluses and minuses of Twitter and the Ukraine offensive.
25. Can you trust the polls in the midterms? The warning signs are flashing that the problems of 2016 and 2020 might not have been fixed.
Richard Hanania's Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
It's remarkable how widespread the premise is that 'intelligent people won't fight at all', instead of "intelligent people will fight like hell to defend their homes but aren't interested in fighting to take someone else's."
How much of the selection filters for western elites include "willingness to leave your childhood home in pursuit of career opportunities?" Does this explain the continued surprise that intelligent people are perfectly willing to fight for causes that actually make sense?
I write from a basement in southwest Ohio, 10 minutes from where i grew up. I left home because of economic opportunities, and when I was younger, I was much more on board with progressivism and the idea that conservatives were all stupid idiots. As I've grown older older and seen both how authoritarian progressivism is.
I've also how many intelligent people simply _didn't want_ to leave their homes, and how deeply biased the population who did move to places like stanford or harvard are. I see at trading companies, hedge funds, tech startups, VC firms, all located on big costal cities, this idea that stanford and MIT grads were selected primarily for intelligence instead of, say, willingness to relocate for an elite role. I now think much of the failures of the late 20th/ early 21st century come from 'meriotcratic' filters being much more heavily selective against people with strong levels of loyalty and commitment to tradition who didnt' grow up by elite schools.
The offer to fly Zelensky out of Ukraine seems like it typifies the kind of 'leaders' the west has had for decades. We're saying our leaders are selected for competence, but honestly there are far more intelligent people who couldn't work at Google because they didn't want to leave their homes, than there are who couldn't make the technical cut.
I'm applying for online jobs remotely now, and wow, the opportunities are crazy. Living in suburban Ohio in 2022, I have way more options to work remotely for elite businesses than I did in 2019 when Iived in the bay area of California where ostensibly i was paying literally 10x as much for housing, simply so I could have access to high paying jobs.
In my experience there are a lot of right-leaning rationalists in the public arena, it's just that they're typically called Libertarians.