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Jordan Peterson debate on the gender pay gap, campus protests and postmodernism / Channel 4 News (YouTube)
Jordan Peterson: ‘The pursuit of happiness is a pointless goal’ / The Guardian
Something inconsequential happened this week to me that I nevertheless found pretty interesting. I'm curious to hear what you think. For the last two months or so, without realising that he's (in)famous for stirring up controversy, I've become a fan of Jordan B Peterson, a practicing clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto. He studies the psychology of religion and mythology, and up until this week, everything I knew about his research and thinking was from his podcast, which manages to impressively and intelligently cover Sumerian mythology and Nietzsche and neuroscience and Stalin and a wide range of other topics. His diction can be a bit academic and his subject matter a bit arcane, but I find his lectures fascinating; I've now listened to over 40 hours' worth. So imagine my surprise when I found out a few days ago that he's a hero to many in the alt-right, partly due to his views on gender, political correctness, and neo-Marxism. And that the video linked below, which aired this week on the UK's Channel 4, has reinforced the alt-right's hero-worship and has led to a wave of denunciations from left-leaning publications -- publications that I would typically sympathise with. (This is also surprising since Peterson considers himself a "classic British liberal" who has frequently spoken out against the alt-right.) Since I'm fairly sure that a large majority of you are left-of-centre by American standards and unlikely to side with the alt-right, I'd like your opinion on this interview and his positions. I think he acquitted himself well (though to be clear, I don't agree with every point he makes), but obviously I came into it with a very favourable view of the guy.
This piece offers a decent, if occasionally inaccurate, summary of Peterson:
I first came across Peterson not in any political context but as a teacher of story. His online videos contain extensive deconstructions of narratives and myths, both ancient and modern. I watched his videos on the psychological significance of biblical stories. Although I am a lifelong atheist, for the first time the Bible started to make symbolic sense to me. Peterson can take the most difficult ideas and make them entertaining. This may be why his YouTube videos have had 35m views. Even his biblical lectures have been watched 5m times – quite a figure for a theological analysis of the Old Testament. He is fast becoming the closest that academia has to a rock star. Peterson’s worldview is complex, although 12 Rules makes a heroic attempt to simplify it into digestible material. It might be encapsulated thus: “Life is tragic. You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge, complex and overwhelming. Once, we had Christianity as a bulwark against that terrifying reality. But God died. Since then the defence has either been ideology – most notably Marxism or fascism – or nihilism. These lead, and have led in the 20th century, to catastrophe. ‘Happiness’ is a pointless goal. Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life. You conjure your own world, not only metaphorically but also literally and neurologically. These lessons are what the great stories and myths have been telling us since civilisation began.”
Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection / ProPublica
There are two vastly different worlds of garbage in New York City: day and night. By day, 7,200 uniformed municipal workers from the city’s Department of Sanitation go door-to-door, collecting the residential trash. Like postal workers, they tend to follow compact routes. They work eight-hour days with time-and-a-half for overtime and snow removal and double-time for Sundays. With a median base pay of $69,000 plus health care, a pension, almost four weeks of paid vacation and unlimited sick days, the Department of Sanitation workforce is overwhelmingly full time and unionized. It’s also 55 percent white, and 91 percent male. But come nightfall, an army of private garbage trucks from more than 250 sanitation companies zigzag across town in ad hoc fashion, carting away the trash and recycling from every business — every bodega, restaurant and office building in the five boroughs. Those private carters remove more than half of the city’s total waste. [...] My first night following a garbage truck was on a sweltering Thursday in July 2016. After many rejections, I had persuaded a driver to let me follow him for a shift. He was taking a big chance: Workers can get fired in an instant, but he was willing to risk his job to take me into his world. What I saw opened the door to a far more complex investigation than I’d anticipated, one that involved dozens of interviews over 18 months with drivers, helpers, regulators, owners and experts; combing through thousands of pages of civil and criminal records; reviewing hundreds of documents obtained through public-records requests; and building a database of federal truck inspection records.
The Fall of Travis Kalanick Was a Lot Weirder and Darker Than You Thought / Bloomberg
A year ago, before the investor lawsuits and the federal investigations, before the mass resignations, and before the connotation of the word “Uber” shifted from “world’s most valuable startup” to “world’s most dysfunctional,” Uber’s executives sat around a hotel conference room table in San Francisco, trying to convince their chief executive officer, Travis Kalanick, that the company had a major problem: him. The executives were armed that day with something unusual for Uber Technologies Inc.: the results of a survey. Kalanick operated by gut feeling and with a stubborn sense of how people should feel, not how they did. Jeff Jones, Uber’s new president and former chief marketing officer for Target Corp., wanted more substantial insights. Conclusions drawn from the survey were printed and hanging on the walls. About half the respondents had a positive impression of Uber and its convenient ride-hailing app. But if respondents knew anything about Kalanick, an inveterate flouter of both workplace conventions and local transportation laws, they had a decidedly negative view. As usual with Kalanick, the discussion grew contentious. Jones and his deputies argued that Uber’s riders and drivers viewed the company as made up of a bunch of greedy, self-centered jerks. And as usual, Kalanick retorted that the company had a public-relations problem, not a cultural one. Then a top executive excused herself to answer a phone call. A minute later, she reappeared and asked Kalanick to step into the hallway. Another executive joined them. They hunched over a laptop to watch a video that had just been posted online by Bloomberg News: grainy, black-and-white dashcam footage of Kalanick in the back seat of an UberBlack on Super Bowl weekend, heatedly arguing over fares with a driver named Fawzi Kamel. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit!” Kalanick can be heard yelling at Kamel. “They blame everything in their life on somebody else!” As the clip ended, the three stood in stunned silence. Kalanick seemed to understand that his behavior required some form of contrition. According to a person who was there, he literally got down on his hands and knees and began squirming on the floor. “This is bad,” he muttered. “I’m terrible.” Then, contrition period over, he got up, called a board member, demanded a new PR strategy, and embarked on a yearlong starring role as the villain who gets his comeuppance in the most gripping startup drama since the dot-com bubble. It’s a story that, until now, has never been fully told.
The Fabulous Story of North Korea's Fabric Made of Stone / Reuters
For much of the world, it’s a niche product. In North Korea, where winter temperatures are frigid and which cannot produce enough cotton or wool for clothing, the synthetic fibre developed after nylon was glorified as a revolutionary invention. Known outside North Korea as vinylon, it was christened “vinalon” by founder Kim Il Sung. He ordered it be developed to put clothes on people’s backs. It's a story which reveals much about the history of North Korea. The state says the fibre symbolises its self-reliance, but diplomatic records show the project was less successful than Kim hoped - Pyongyang was more dependent on others than it claimed. Today, North Koreans say no one wears vinalon. That hasn’t stopped Kim’s grandson Kim Jong Un calling for more of the fabric to be produced. North Korean defectors say vinalon was once a wonder, but today it shows how people manage despite their government. If they obtain vinalon today, they use it to make fishing nets, mops, ropes and other goods which, like many of the basics they need, they trade privately in unregulated markets.
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The Decline of Anti-Trumpism / New York Times
I so rarely link David Brooks these days, it's a bit nostalgic to do so here:
Let me start with three inconvenient observations, based on dozens of conversations around Washington over the past year: First, people who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by. Second, people who work in the Trump administration have wildly divergent views about their boss. Some think he is a deranged child, as Michael Wolff reported. But some think he is merely a distraction they can work around. Some think he is strange, but not impossible. Some genuinely admire Trump. Many filter out his crazy stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist. My impression is that the Trump administration is an unhappy place to work, because there is a lot of infighting and often no direction from the top. But this is not an administration full of people itching to invoke the 25th Amendment. Third, the White House is getting more professional.
Raising a Social-Media Star / The Atlantic
When then-14-year-old Jonas Bridges ran down the stairs of his Atlanta home shouting, “Dad, I’ve got 1,000 fans!” his father, Rob Bridges, hardly took notice. A few days later Jonas barreled into the living room again, saying, “Dad, I’ve got 3,000 fans now.” Again, his father brushed him off. Several days later, Jonas told his father, “I have 5,000 fans now and if I get to 10,000 I’ll get paid for it.” Finally, Rob Bridges turned to his wife and said, “Denise, what the hell is he talking about?” [...] The vlogger-to-riches story has become so prevalent in teen culture that, according to a 2014 survey by Variety, YouTube stars are more popular and influential than mainstream celebrities in the eyes of U.S. teens. Parenting these young internet stars, however, is not easy. As social platforms rise and fall, moms and dads across the country with zero experience in the entertainment industry are seeing their families’ lives transformed.
Meltdown, Spectre, and the State of Technology / Stratechery
Last week the technology world was shaken by the disclosure of two vulnerabilities in modern processors: Meltdown and Spectre. [...] Meltdown is easier to explain because — Intel’s protestation to the contrary (Meltdown also affects Apple’s processors) — it is due to a design flaw. The processor is responsible for checking if data can be accessed, and to check too slowly, such that the data can be stolen, is a bug. That is also why Meltdown can be worked around in software (basically, there will be an extra step checking permissions before using the data, which is why the patch causes a performance hit). Spectre is something else entirely: this is the processor acting as designed. Computers do basic calculations unfathomably quickly, but take forever to get the data to make those calculations: therefore doing calculations without waiting for bottlenecks, based on best guesses, is the best possible way to leverage this fundamental imbalance. Most of the time you will get results far more quickly, and if you guess wrong you are no slower than you would have been had you done everything in order. This, too, is why Spectre affects all processors: the speed gains from leveraging modern processors’ parallelism and execution speed are so massive that speculative execution is an obvious choice; that the branch predictor might be trained by another user such that cache changes could be tracked simply didn’t occur to anyone until the last year (that we know of).
The Marriott Family’s Civil War / Washingtonian
John Willard Marriott III looks nervous. We’re sitting in the living room of his rented Georgetown rowhouse on a crisp, sunny morning. Nearly ten of these could fit inside the Potomac mansion he used to share with his wife, Angela, and their three daughters—before their marriage fell apart, unleashing, Marriott says, a cascade of events that left him estranged from his parents and his siblings. It’s why he’s invited me here: to detail a life of hidden pain and regret, and explain why he’s going to court against his own family, which happens to control the largest hotel empire in the world.
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word / Mental Floss
When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word. Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.
The boy who stayed awake for 11 days / BBC
They flipped a coin on who would stay awake and much to McAllister’s relief, he won the toss. But their naivety surfaced in how they planned to observe the effects on Randy. “We were idiots, you know young idiots,” he says “and I stayed awake with him to monitor him… and after three night of sleeplessness myself I woke up tipped against the wall writing notes on the wall itself.” The teenagers realised they needed a third person involved so they roped in another friend – Joe Marciano – to help out. Shortly after Marciano came on board, a sleep researcher called William Dement from Stanford University arrived.
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EL AL’s New Safety Video, Featuring A Mentalist / One Mile at a Time
I recently flew EL AL for the first time, and thought they had a really cute safety video, with over-the-top animations of the crew. What I hadn’t realized is that EL AL just introduced a new safety video a few weeks ago, and it’s pretty awesome. The video features mentalist Lior Suchard, who does some cool stuff that kept me interested throughout the video (and yes, he guessed “my” card right). What’s especially interesting is that no special effects or edits were used in the video, which is to say that everything happened exactly as you see it. To me that makes it even more impressive.
The Strange History of One of the Internet's First Viral Videos / Wired
You've seen the video. Everyone on the internet has. A man sits in a cubicle and pounds his keyboard in frustration. A few seconds later, the Angry Man picks up the keyboard and swings it like a baseball bat at his screen—it’s an old PC from the '90s, with a big CRT monitor—whacking it off the desk. A frightened coworker’s head pops up over the cubicle wall, just in time to watch the Angry Man get up and kick the monitor across the floor. Cut to black. The clip began to circulate online, mostly via email, in 1997. Dubbed “badday.mpg,” it’s likely one of the first internet videos ever to go viral. Sometimes GIFs of it still float across Twitter and Facebook feeds. (Most memes barely have a shelf life of 20 minutes, let alone 20 years.) Beyond its impressive resilience, it’s also unexpectedly significant as the prime mover of viral videos.
Up and Above, a gorgeous drone video of Romania / Kottke
On New Year’s Eve, Bogdan Teodorescu uploaded a video of drone footage he shot of different locations around Romania over the course of 2017.
This Is What Will Happen To Your Body If You Eat A Tide Pod / BuzzFeed
The Tide Pod Challenge is a really bad idea, and here's why. [...] If you've been on the internet in the past week, you've probably read that people are eating Tide Pods for fun. [...] According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, centers across the country handled 39 cases of people intentionally ingesting laundry detergent in 2016 among people aged 13 to 19, 53 cases in 2017, and 39 in the first two weeks of 2018 alone.