18 January, 2020

Andrew Roberts’s Leadership in War: An Antidote to Cynicism

A reassuring conclusion of Leadership in War is that we don’t — and that, in fact, morally repugnant individuals are inherently less successful war leaders. Roberts’s chapter on Hitler is a tour de force of historical portraiture. Forget the clich├ęs about his bewitching charisma, Hitler was an absurd, boorish, banal, vainglorious, misogynistic “little weirdo,” incapable of normal human interactions, uncomfortable in anything approaching debate or discussion, hooked on juvenile conspiracy theories of all kinds, and whose ideas would not have stood up to 30 minutes of serious television interview. Both his and Stalin’s chronic insecurity, personal cruelty, and cynicism born of their guiding concepts of race and class wars, caused them to make errors and miscalculations at critical decision points in the war. They were all but incapable of taking on others’ ideas; or of operating within an alliance, habitually inclined, as they were to view their partners’ behavior not as goodwill to be reciprocated but as weakness to be exploited.

The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It

While the company was dodging me, it was also monitoring me. At my request, a number of police officers had run my photo through the Clearview app. They soon received phone calls from company representatives asking if they were talking to the media — a sign that Clearview has the ability and, in this case, the appetite to monitor whom law enforcement is searching for.

Facial recognition technology has always been controversial. It makes people nervous about Big Brother. It has a tendency to deliver false matches for certain groups, like people of color. And some facial recognition products used by the police — including Clearview’s — haven’t been vetted by independent experts.

Clearview’s app carries extra risks because law enforcement agencies are uploading sensitive photos to the servers of a company whose ability to protect its data is untested.[...]

“I’ve come to the conclusion that because information constantly increases, there’s never going to be privacy,” Mr. Scalzo said. “Laws have to determine what’s legal, but you can’t ban technology. Sure, that might lead to a dystopian future or something, but you can’t ban it.”

16 January, 2020

Mohammed bin Zayed’s Dark Vision of the Middle East’s Future

Even as he cracked down on the Brotherhood, M.B.Z. was working on a far more ambitious project: building a state that would show up the entire Islamist movement by succeeding where it had failed. Instead of an illiberal democracy — like Turkey’s — he would build its opposite, a socially liberal autocracy, much as Lee Kuan Yew did in Singapore in the 1960s and ’70s. He began with Abu Dhabi’s Civil Service, which was afflicted with many of the same ills as those of other Arab countries: bloat and inefficiency, with connections and family reputation playing a bigger role in hiring than merit. These features were partly a legacy of the Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser, who built a dysfunctional prototype in the 1950s that was copied everywhere.
M.B.Z. deployed a group of young, talented people and authorized them to smash up the bureaucracy. Over the next few years, they fired tens of thousands of employees and reassigned many others, streamlining the state. Between 2005 and 2008, the Abu Dhabi government went from 64,000 people to just 7,000. At the same time, he began harnessing Abu Dhabi’s vast capital reserves to build up a non-oil economy. Using a new sovereign wealth fund called Mubadala, he attracted new industries, creating job opportunities that would help train the local population. He honed his progressive image by including women in his cabinet. Mubadala created an aerospace-and-aviation hub in Al Ain where 86 percent of the workers are women.

15 January, 2020

Rep. Justin Amash: ‘Most Members of Congress Don’t Think Anymore’

Why has Congress gradually abdicated this role in terms of war powers?It’s consistent with rank-and-file members abdicating almost their entire role. On ordinary legislative matters, most members of Congress don’t think anymore. They just follow whatever they’re told by their leadership. This is just a more extreme version of that. There is not a strong incentive — at least not a strong political incentive — to take a position. They prefer to have the president decide these matters and then they can later say, “Yeah, I supported it,” or, “No, I opposed it,” without actually having to take a vote and go on the record. It prevents them from ever having to take responsibility for whatever happens.
I think a lot of members of Congress are used to that lifestyle and they like it. They don’t want responsibility. They want the job, not the responsibility.

The Cilantro-Eater

It’s just that it’s already in some of the foods I like the most, the most fragrant and vivid foods, it’s in everything Thai and Mexican and half the world’s best dishes besides, and to have to scrunch up your face and ask, “Does this come with —? Do you mind if I ask —?” is degrading to the palate and dispiriting to every dining companion, who know it’s not your fault because of your soap-genes, but can’t help but hold it against you regardless. I must have done something to deserve it. Something unadventurous and unwelcoming, something foreboding and oafish is knit into my DNA, and my tongue bears the truth. The tongue is the mirror of the soul, and I can taste Hell.
I’ve already given up so much. Please, just don’t let there be any this time. If there’s not any this time, I’ll be so careful from now on, I promise. Every time, I’ll ask. Every time, I’ll find a way just to quickly and casually ask, or not even ask, just let them know, “I can’t eat cilantro,” and I’ll only apologize once, not compulsively, and the rest of the dinner will roll on into the evening like a lovely, broad stream, with everyone wading into it together.

10 January, 2020

Why Are We So Sick? Reflections on the state of health of my community.

The CDC has said that only 9% of Americans eat enough vegetable
s, that 3% of us eat enough fiber. I’ve read studies that show that ~50% of kids arrive to school dehydrated, which shrinks the brain, diminishes test scores, and inhibits a whole host of metabolic processes (1). We know that we are spending too much time on screens, which is disrupting our circadian rhythms, which undoubtedly is contributing to our collective sleep problems.
This is deserving of a whole post, but just to be clear: I do not believe that consumer choice is the most compelling explanation of this situation. In a world where 91% of us do not eat enough vegetables, “choice” — as my doctor says — “is a fiction.” Much more interesting is this question: How on earth did we create a society where vegetables are Rich People Food?

08 January, 2020


In our week-long drive, security was tight - we often couldn't stay to chat for long. But people told us they have interacted for years with North Koreans across the river.

07 January, 2020

On recent events


There's a famous quote from a French diplomat Tallyrand that I can't get out of my head. Napolean arrested and executed Louis Antoine de Bourbon on flimsy pretenses, a man who stood in his way, a tyrannical act and a crime. Tallyrand noted in the moment. "This is worse than a crime... This is a mistake." It was tyrannical, but worse, it betrayed his intent to the world, and the blunder showed weakness - and others immediately began plotting against him.

Jen Garner is all of us

06 January, 2020

The False Romance of Russia

In his landmark 1981 book, Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, Paul Hollander wrote of the hospitality showered on sympathetic Western visitors to the Communist world: the banquets in Moscow thrown for George Bernard Shaw, the feasts laid out for Mary McCarthy and Susan Sontag in North Vietnam. But his conclusion was that these performances were not the key to explaining why some Western intellectuals became enamored of communism. Far more important was their estrangement and alienation from their own cultures: “Intellectuals critical of their own society proved highly susceptible to the claims put forward by the leaders and spokesmen of the societies they inspected in the course of these travels.”
Hollander was writing about left-wing intellectuals in the 20th century, and many such people are still around, paying court to left-wing dictators in Venezuela or Bolivia who dislike America. There are also, in our society as in most others, quite a few people who are paid to help America’s enemies, or to spread their propaganda. There always have been.

04 January, 2020

Worker Voices: Technology and the Future for Workers

For many workers, the future is already here. Food, retail, and grocery workers have witnessed rapid change in recent years, especially in the front end of their stores. Most feel they lack a voice in these changes and feel pessimistic about the future for humans in their stores. Advancing technological change is not occurring in a vacuum, but rather in a time of increasing economic precarity and inequality; unequal care and domestic burdens; and the rootedness, responsibilities, and stories of workers’ lives. Low pay and economic insecurity sharply limit workers’ ability to prepare for—and access—a better future of work, and women face many barriers. Workers are thinking about, and responding to the possibilities of a technologically enabled and dehumanized future in the context of their current situations. The current educational and workforce systems make career transitions extremely difficult, and workers often have trouble acquiring the skills and credentials they desire. Policymakers will improve the odds of building effective programs by paying attention to the wider human context and by addressing the needs of a greater diversity of workers who will shoulder the greatest burden of the change.

02 January, 2020