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Some links

  1. The Economist has a primer on Breitbart News.
  2. “Stuck”. A Reason magazine writer asks why people don’t leave places in America where there isn’t much opportunity. Highly recommended. It’s a very well researched piece about an important topic. It is long but worth your time as it seeks to understand how such communities became beset with problems.
  3. How Nietzsche supposedly helps to explain Brexit. The piece was interesting but I was surprised that it did not focus more on nihilism as a factor. (Mind you, unlike the scholar who was interviewed, I have only read one of Nietzsche’s books.) We still don’t quite know what sort of relationship Britain will have with the EU after the divorce. Nihilism (understood as the absence of meaning) played a role. Trump’s election was also, to my mind (and I am influenced by the insightful thinking of Martin Gurri) driven, in part by nihilism. The problem with such nihilistic movements is that it is always easier to tear down than to build up. For those who may be interested, here is my earlier post on Thus Spake Zarathustra which read the book as a call for individual self improvement and a willingness to question conventional wisdom.
  4. “Free to Booze”. Yes you are free to drink a dozen, that’s right a dozen, 745ml bottles of beer in a day but I’m not signing up for crate day 2017. The last line is rather witty though.

Some links

  1. The Financial Times is making their paywall, well, pay. “Its total paid circulation, combining print and digital, stands at 843,000, up 75,000 (about 13%) year on year. Three quarters of those are digital-only subscribers.”
  2. Veteran British political journalist Peter Oborne, interviewed for Spiked Review, discusses the disconnect between the political class and ordinary people.
  3. Ian Bremmer says Peru is a rare example of good government at the moment. Tyler Cowen has also written favourably of the Peruvian President.
  4. Nietzsche as director of human resources.

 

Some links

  1. Arnold Kling’s books of the year. I’ve only read Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic from the list of 2016 books but Kling also mentions the 2014 book The Revolt of the Public by Martin Gurri. Both of those are relevant to 2016. The book on Greenspan looks interesting. The Man Who Knew by Sebastian Mallaby won the FT and McKinsey business book of the year award. Here is an interview between a Financial Times reporter and Mallaby.
  2. Reason magazine reviews an interesting looking book on the life and times of those who lived at one of the most prominent American communes during the 1970s. I thought it was a rather sympathetic review and the book sounds an interesting attempt at understanding the motivations behind those who signed up for such an existence. Oh, and Bernie Sanders visited the commune but “his tendency to just sit around talking politics and avoid actual physical labor got him the boot”.
  3. Ten Economic Principles to keep in mind. Features analysis of immigration, globalisation, progress and “the long run”.
  4. How Tyler Cowen would advise Donald Trump if he wanted more illegal immigration: “I would start by recommending an enormous new program of fiscal stimulus and construction. Let’s rebuild our roads, bridges and power grids, and put up some new infrastructure as well, including perhaps an unfinished border wall.”
  5. I stumbled this weekend upon youtube book reviewer Thugnotes. He does amusing reviews of some absolute classic texts. I’ve only watched a couple but both were entertaining and the synopsis and analysis was entirely on point. Worth a cheeky watch when you have some spare time and could do with a light hearted refresher of some classic text. Here he is on George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian classic 1984.

Arrival

Arrival is not your run of the mill alien encounter movie. You know the sort I mean: some Aliens rock up, they start causing a bit of a ruckus, humanity panics, and then, one or two mavericks somehow save the day in violent fashion (yes, I am thinking of Independence Day) . No, “Arrival” is much more interesting that that. The film is not about conflict but communication. (Bad communication, of course, as we are reminded in the film can risk conflict.)

Amy Adams plays Dr Louise Banks, a linguist charged with attempting to translate the language of the “Heptapods”, an alien life form which has landed 12 vessels on earth at different locations, and divine their purpose. Before Dr Banks’ services are procured, the team of officials have made very little progress towards understanding the aliens’ purpose for their visit. Jeremy Renner plays a theoretical physicist named Dr Ian Donnelly. He reflects soon after Dr Banks’ arrival on the scene that one pattern between the 12 cities is that 80s songstress Sheena Easton had a hit in each one. So, really, the authorities have no clue.

Dr Banks sets to her task: she meets the two main Heptapods to have landed their vessel in Montana and starts a process of language exchange. She begins with the collective “human” to describe her and Dr Donnelly then progresses to “Louise” and “Ian”. The aliens reciprocate with symbols produced with inky smoke which Dr Banks and the rest of her team work to interpret. Gradually the humans and the aliens exchange first words and then phrases and Dr Banks starts to glean the patterns of the language. When Dr Banks arrives at the scene, the 12 nations where “heptapods” maintain regular dialogue providing updates on the progress.

This all changes when the Chinese misinterpret a symbol and communication breaks down between the 12 countries. Yet, in spite of growing nervousness on the part of officials, Dr Banks is committed to the pursuit of knowledge. Tension builds to a crescendo.

The film is a real head scratcher at times, in particular the significance of mystic statements made by Dr Banks about time amid a montage of her treating her sick daughter. But overall I found it highly satisfying. It speaks to universal desires to relate through communication. Adams is superb and engaging. The best movie I’ve seen this year. Go and watch it.

PS: Reason’s insightful film reviewer Kurt Loder reviewed the film last week.

PPS: Here’s a link to the trailer.

Some links

  1. Mark Blyth’s piece in Foreign Affairs entitled “Global Trumpism” is worth a read. Everyone has a pet theory about the rise of Trump but, while I am unconvinced by parts of Blyth’s diagnosis, he might be right about the era of “neo-nationalism” and that’s concerning.
  2. Speaking of, here is the Economist on “The New Nationalism”.
  3. “No, Autocrats, the US election does not prove the inferiority of democracy.”
  4. “The end of Identity Liberalism”. My learned friend Nicholas Smith shared the link to that piece which suggests that the fracturing of the American Left into various identity groups has led to an inability to appeal to common values. The problem with identity politics, as I see it, is that while connecting with historical disadvantaged groups is perhaps laudable, when that connection is solely on the basis of their very belonging to that perceived out group and does not view them as autonomous and thinking individuals then it leads to a politics of stagnant and fractured groupings where one is defined not by what they do but what they are.
  5. Glasgow University is offering a class in the philosophy of Homer Simpson. I rather like this.

Some Trump links

  1. Cato’s Trevor Burrus on the constitutional limits of executive branch (presidential) authority under the American system and the call for a new consensus on curbing executive overreach.
  2. Trump’s vote was strongest in places not where unemployment was highest but in places where people’s jobs are at risk due to globalisation and automation.
  3. Bloomberg view commentator Leonid Bershidsky is well worth reading. A Russian journalist who came of age in the years of the Soviet Union’s collapse and who has worked in that country during its awkward transition to something approaching democracy and more recently since Putin rose to power, he has an interesting outsider’s perspective on America where he now plies his trade. In this piece on Trump’s election as US president, Bershidsky suggests America might not be as politically exceptional as American elites think it is. Here’s an extract where he notes parallels between Trump’s success and other campaigns in Eastern Europe: “By winning a presidential election with a distinctly Eastern European recipe, Trump has shown that there’s not that much difference between, say, Americans and Poles or Americans and Georgians. It’s as easy to appeal to their national pride, tying it in with their economic discomfort, and their understanding of official corruption is quite similar.”
  4. The Keynesian bonafides on Donald Trump.
  5. Tyler Cowen on who rises and falls in status as a result of Donald Trump’s election.

Thoughts on Trump

Here are some thoughts about Trump’s election. The Trump campaign fed on their candidate’s supposed bonafides as an “outsider”. Breathless media hysteria in reporting every silly thing Trump said and fomenting faux outrage let the candidate build this narrative. Many in the media were way too eager to simply cast Trump in the role of horrible villain. Visceral dislike seriously impairs the capacity for objective judgement. The Clinton campaign, of course, was eager to encourage this because it drew attention away from the significant flaws of their own candidate (check out for example this report where a State Department senior aide asks whether potential contractors to the Haitian rebuild were “Friends of Bill”) I’ve not seen a smoking gun from the emails may but it certainly built upon a general perception that Clinton was untrustworthy. I think her public private positions are probably not all that unusual for normal politicians but, if you are already suspicious of a candidate’s trustworthiness, then this adds fuel to the fire.

There were also too many casual smears on Trump voters and their motivations. There was Hillary Clinton’s remarkable statement condemning about half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables”. It’s one thing for politicians to sling mud at each other (although this election was worse than others, that is expected politician behaviour) but throwing shade at millions of voters is a different proposition.   I find it hard to believe that the nearly 58 million Americans (which google tells me) have so far been counted as voting for Trump were simply racists and sexists as some folks still believe.

I do not like Trump, his rhetoric or his policies (I broadly like globalisation, open markets and movement of people across borders. Trump, if his proposals to impose high tarrifs on countries importing products to the US and to build that infamous wall are taken at face value, does not.) but it behooves those of us thinking seriously about these things to understand what lay behind this movement. Reading the comments of Trump supporters as reported in publications such as The American Interest (where the reporter in question ventured to places outside the “beltway” such as New Orleans, Nashville, and Mississippi)  and others and taking those people at their word, dislike of foreigners and women do not seem to be determinant motivations (although some discomfort with demographic change plays a role). This was about disdain for that detached establishment and their lack of respect for ordinary people. It suited Trump and spoke to his supporters’ desires, as the campaign concluded, to deploy the slogan “drain the swamp” referring to a bloated and aloof Washington political elite.

In making comment after the fact it can be a bit too easy to fall into the trap of post hoc rationalisation (this is when you squeeze a theory retroactively to suit the facts of a situation) but I think Trump’s political success lends credence to Martin Gurri’s theory of the “Revolt of the Public” as articulated in his 2014 book of that name. In it, he conjectures that the public, gaining information now from a range of sources (obviously carrying varied levels of accuracy) is starting to reject traditional authority. What has started to emerge is the incapacity of authority to deliver on their promises. There was good and bad in the Obama presidency but the vague “hope” and “change” narrative built up expectations that were far too high. Gurri points out in his latest post that trust in the mainstream media, a traditional mediator of information flows and a key component of authority, is at an all time low in the United States.

Although I shy away from making big predictions I will say that the global trend revealed within the Trump movement and earlier by Brexit will not go away.

PS: Martin Gurri’s thoughts on this development should be worth reading. He last posted on his blog on the anti politician Trump and stale insider Clinton back on October 25. His blog is here.