----- 3 stars -----

What’s So Dangerous About Jordan Peterson? / The Chronicle of Higher Education
Yes, him again. Sorry. But I can't stop listening to his podcasts, his latest book has been #1 on Amazon for over a week (above, amusingly, Fire and Fury and Dog Man and Cat Kid), and David Brooks and Tyler Cowen have just called him the West's most influential intellectual. So it should be at least somewhat interesting to you why he's been so popular of late. Last week, I asked for your thoughts, and it turns out many of you were already fans. However, two things bother me about all this. First, I assumed he became well-known for his research and ideas; I discovered this week that he initially became famous because of his stance against (what its supporters consider) an equal rights law. Whatever you think about the law, it's annoying that his fame stems from controversy, as opposed to his really fascinating academic work. Not surprising, I suppose. Though I wonder how much other fascinating thinking is out there without the benefit of controversy to thrust it into the spotlight. Second, he is popular mostly among men. That's not a problem in itself, of course; there are highly-respected and credible figures like Oprah or Sheryl Sandberg whose audiences are primarily women. But it's a bit puzzling and a bit troubling; Peterson is a clinical psychologist and psychology professor who studies history, narrative, religion, and mythology. In general, these are academic areas where women are overrepresented (nearly 80% of US psychology majors are women). This does make me wonder if I'm underestimating what's unappealing (or perhaps wrong) about his viewpoints. (I have trouble sympathising with his harshest critics, who seem to attack a strawman that does not accord with what Peterson actually says.) Any thoughts? If you're either uninterested in his thinking or disagree with it, I'm curious to hear why.

They’re waiting in the cold for Jordan Peterson, hands shoved in jacket pockets, serious books like The Gulag Archipelago and Modern Man in Search of a Soul tucked under arms. The crowd outside the University of Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre on a Tuesday evening in November is mostly male and mostly in their 20s. [...] They devour the classics he deems must-reads — Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Orwell. When asked to describe him, they reach for superlatives: brilliant, breathtaking, wise. [...] They insist he’s changed their lives. [...] You’d never guess from the reverential atmosphere in the 500-seat theater just how polarizing Peterson has become over the past year. Days before, fliers were tacked up around his neighborhood warning the community about the dangerous scholar in their midst, accusing him of "campaigning against the human rights" of minorities and associating with the alt-right. There have been several calls for his ouster from the University of Toronto — where he’s tenured — including a recent open letter to the dean of the faculty of arts and science signed by hundreds, including many of his fellow professors. Friends refuse to comment on him lest they be associated with his image. Critics hesitate, too, for fear that his supporters will unleash their online wrath. A graduate student at another Canadian university was reprimanded for showing a short video clip of Peterson to a group of undergraduates. One of the professors taking her to task likened Peterson to Hitler. [...] In 1995, Peterson was profiled in The Harvard Crimson, an article that reads like an award introduction. One undergraduate told the newspaper that Peterson was "teaching beyond the level of anyone else," and that even "philosophy students go to him for advice." A graduate student from back then, Shelley Carson, who now teaches at Harvard and writes about creativity, recalled that Peterson had "something akin to a cult following" in his Harvard days. "Taking a course from him was like taking psychedelic drugs without the drugs," Carson says. "I remember students crying on the last day of class because they wouldn’t get to hear him anymore." Eventually, in 1999, Maps of Meaning was published — his magnum opus, the central preoccupation of his life to that point — and no one cared. [...] But when he’s been lumped in with what’s come to be called the alt-right, as happens fairly regularly, Peterson has pushed back, calling it "seriously wrong." The erstwhile socialist considers himself a classic British liberal, and he has castigated the far right for engaging in the "pathology of racial pride." [...] There were female fans, too, though they were clearly outnumbered. One recent Toronto journalism graduate whispered that she had a crush on Peterson. Another woman, Kristen, didn’t want her last name printed because she’s already suffered blowback from online friends over her fondness for him. "I think people misconstrue what he’s about," she says. [...] Even friends and former co-authors turned down requests for interviews or simply didn’t respond. A former student and admirer, who asked to speak on background, has mixed feelings about the version of Peterson now on display. "His core psychological ideas really are that good," he writes in an email. "However, I’m afraid that the more time he spends publicly revealing his ignorance of the history of race- and gender-relations, the less eager I am to be on record saying anything good about him."

Can Planet Earth Feed 10 Billion People? / The Atlantic
The always-interesting Charles C. Mann is back with an essay adapted from his latest book:

Ten billion mouths, I thought. Three billion more middle-class appetites. How can they possibly be satisfied? But that is only part of the question. The full question is: How can we provide for everyone without making the planet uninhabitable? [...] Both men thought of themselves as using new scientific knowledge to face a planetary crisis. But that is where the similarity ends. For Borlaug, human ingenuity was the solution to our problems. One example: By using the advanced methods of the Green Revolution to increase per-acre yields, he argued, farmers would not have to plant as many acres, an idea researchers now call the “Borlaug hypothesis.” Vogt’s views were the opposite: The solution, he said, was to use ecological knowledge to get smaller. Rather than grow more grain to produce more meat, humankind should, as his followers say, “eat lower on the food chain,” to lighten the burden on Earth’s ecosystems. This is where Vogt differed from his predecessor, Robert Malthus, who famously predicted that societies would inevitably run out of food because they would always have too many children. Vogt, shifting the argument, said that we may be able to grow enough food, but at the cost of wrecking the world’s ecosystems. I think of the adherents of these two perspectives as “Wizards” and “Prophets.” Wizards, following Borlaug’s model, unveil technological fixes; Prophets, looking to Vogt, decry the consequences of our heedlessness.

Selling Airborne Opulence to the Upper Upper Upper Class / New York Times

Like most people who make their living in private aviation, Steve Varsano — owner of the Jet Business, whose extravagant retail space in London is the world’s only walk-in storefront jet dealership — sees Trump’s election as a harbinger of great things for his industry. The early 2000s were boom times for aviation, and the crash of 2008, after years of ramped-up production, hit the industry hard, not just economically but politically. Barack Obama, Varsano believed, created an environment hostile to private aviation: The president humiliated the near-bankrupt auto manufacturers after they arrived in Washington hat in hand on their corporate jets, and in a 2011 news conference about the economy, Obama mentioned corporate jets six times. After Trump’s inauguration, when Varsano and I first spoke, he was once again sanguine about the sector’s prospects. He got so many phone calls after Nov. 8, 2016, he said, that he started looking for a new retail space twice the size. “The guy is changing the optics of private aviation,” he told me in March. “He’s the mascot of private jets.” [...] More than one person told me that Varsano probably knew more billionaires personally than anyone alive. He admitted he had never quite gotten used to his current circumstances. Though he had been dealing jets on and off for almost 30 years, for a long time, he said, “I wasn’t really part of this world. I just worked in it.” Varsano was born in Manhattan but raised on the far side of the George Washington Bridge, in the working-class suburbs near Teterboro Airport. Teterboro now hosts the largest share of American private-jet traffic, but back then it was just another local airstrip. He was brought up by a single mother — his father left his family when Varsano was 5 — who always worked at least two jobs, as a waitress and in beauty salons, where Varsano swept the floor. When he was 14, a friend’s older brother took him up in a four-seater Cessna. He would work for a month as a dishwasher to be able to afford an hour of flying lessons and got his pilot’s license when he was 17.

Conflict vs. Mistake / Slate Star Codex

To massively oversimplify: Mistake theorists treat politics as science, engineering, or medicine. The State is diseased. We’re all doctors, standing around arguing over the best diagnosis and cure. Some of us have good ideas, others have bad ideas that wouldn’t help, or that would cause too many side effects. Conflict theorists treat politics as war. Different blocs with different interests are forever fighting to determine whether the State exists to enrich the Elites or to help the People. Mistake theorists view debate as essential. We all bring different forms of expertise to the table, and once we all understand the whole situation, we can use wisdom-of-crowds to converge on the treatment plan that best fits the need of our mutual patient, the State. Who wins on any particular issue is less important creating an environment where truth can generally prevail over the long term. Conflict theorists view debate as having a minor clarifying role at best. You can “debate” with your boss over whether or not you get a raise, but only with the shared understanding that you’re naturally on opposite sides, and the “winner” will be based less on objective moral principles than on how much power each of you has. If your boss appeals too many times to objective moral principles, he’s probably offering you a crappy deal.

The Atlas Of Redistricting / FiveThirtyEight

There’s a lot of complaining about gerrymandering, but what should districts look like? We went back to the drawing board and drew a set of alternative congressional maps for the entire country. Each map has a different goal: One is designed to encourage competitive elections, for example, and another to maximize the number of majority-minority districts. See how changes to district boundaries could radically alter the partisan and racial makeup of the U.S. House — without a single voter moving or switching parties.

----- 2 stars -----

“Harvey’s Concern Was Who Did Him In”: Inside Harvey Weinstein’s Frantic Final Days / Vanity Fair

But as Weinstein saw that his time and his options were running out, he began to scramble. And as revealed here for the first time, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Weinstein and a coterie of loyalists—according to a dozen current and former T.W.C. employees and Weinstein advisers, as well as the initial findings of an internal company investigation—would allegedly spend his last days at the company searching for and trying to delete documents; absconding with others; surveilling ex-employees’ online communications; and seeking to discover who, in the end, had orchestrated his downfall. Today, as the #MeToo movement (amplified by allegations about Weinstein) continues to gain strength, and as an array of investor groups have been circling T.W.C. with bids to raise the company from the ashes, this is a tale of the tawdry battle that was waged from inside the Weinstein bunker last fall as the movie mogul made what may prove to be his last stand.

Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force officers were 'both cops and robbers' at same time, prosecutors say / Baltimore Sun

The video opens with a group of Baltimore police officers prying open a safe, revealing thick stacks of cash held together by two rubber bands each. They call to their sergeant, Wayne Jenkins, who instructs the group not to touch anything and to keep the camera rolling — he wanted this one done by the book. Except, Detective Maurice Ward testified Tuesday, the officers already had pocketed half the $200,000 they found inside the safe before the recording started, after taking a man’s keys during a traffic stop and entering his home without a warrant. It was one of many illegal tactics Ward said the officers used as they chased guns and drugs across the city while skimming proceeds for themselves.

Stop the Progression Already / Outside

Too many of us are beholden to social-media expectations, the subjective scoring of action sports, and a desire to push increasingly out-there limits. Mountain bikers who once explored the woods to simply blow out the lungs now time their descents with Strava. Climbers who used to clip in and coach partners on big walls now free solo for sponsor dollars driven by Instagram. To impress followers, backcountry skiers accustomed to safe low-angle hippie pow followed by hibachi beers now yo-yo laps on the Grand Fucking Teton. Increasingly, what we do outside is less about enjoying the activity itself as an intrinsic good, and more about planning ways to go bigger, faster, and farther, often for our selfie-stick mounted cameras. And so it went that once healthy outdoor pursuits devolved into suicide clubs.

Beware the lessons of growing up Galapagos / Remains of the Day

I'm wary of all conclusions drawn about media in the scarcity age, including the idea that people went to see movies because of movie stars. It's not that Will Smith isn't charismatic. He is. But I suspect Will Smith was in a lot of hits in the age of scarcity in large part because there weren't a lot of other entertainment options vying for people's attention when Independence Day or something of its ilk came out, like clockwork, to launch the summer blockbuster season. [...] Yes, football has been around for decades, but most of those were in an age of entertainment scarcity. During that time the NFL capitalized on being the only game in town on Sundays, capturing an audience that passed on the game and its liturgies to their children. Football resembles a religion or any other cultural social network; humans being a tribal creature, we find products that satisfy that need, and what are professional sports leagues but an alliance of clans who band together for the network effects of ritual tribal warfare? [...] This is the bind for major sports leagues. On the one hand, you can try to keep all your content inside the paywall. On the other hand, doing so probably means you continue hemorrhaging cultural share. This is the eternal dilemma for all media companies in the age of infinite content.

Why Did Two-Thirds of These Weird Antelope Suddenly Drop Dead? / The Atlantic

It took just three weeks for two-thirds of all the world’s saiga to die. It took much longer to work out why. The saiga is an endearing antelope, whose bulbous nose gives it the comedic air of a Dr. Seuss character. It typically wanders over large tracts of Central Asian grassland, but every spring, tens of thousands of them gather in the same place to give birth. These calving aggregations should be joyous events, but the gathering in May 2015 became something far more sinister when 200,000 saiga just dropped dead. They did so without warning, over a matter of days, in gathering sites spread across 65,000 square miles—an area the size of Florida. Whatever killed them was thorough and merciless: Across a vast area, every last saiga perished. Richard Kock, a veterinarian and conservationist from the Royal Veterinary College, saw it all. He and his team were there on a routine monitoring trip to check the health of the population. “Mass mortality events are never nice things and I’ve experienced quite a few,” he says. “But the experience of the saiga was unprecedented, and unworldly. Even after 40 years of work, I just said: I don’t understand.”

Sorry, Kid, I Spent All My Money On Your Existence / BuzzFeed

I've spent thousands of dollars trying to get pregnant, and will spend many thousands more on my surrogate. And there's still no guarantee of a baby. [...] I plan to be transparent and celebratory about my child’s origin story. My kid will know about the many players that helped bring it into existence. The doctors. The womb of another woman. The DNA of another man. The many cheerleaders. What I don’t know is if I’ll reveal how much money it took, how much stress, how much sadness, how much difficulty. I’m not sure how my kid would feel knowing what I went through, and sacrificed, to get it here. As much as money is an enormous component of my path to parenthood, I don’t want to obsess about the finances. And I absolutely do not want it to impact my relationship with a future child. I hope to normalize, as much as I can, this experience. At some point I stopped keeping track of what I’ve spent so far. That reality is overwhelming. I don’t want to know. I’ve wondered, throughout this infertility journey, if there is ever an amount of money to which I’ll say, “No more, I’m out.” When I went in for my first IUI, years ago, if the doctor said, “You’ll eventually get a child but it will cost you $100K. You still want to proceed?” I would have said no. But here I am, deep in, saying, again and again, yes.

The Magnetic Field Is Shifting. The Poles May Flip. This Could Get Bad. / Undark

Today, we know that the poles have changed places hundreds of times, most recently 780,000 years ago. (Sometimes, the poles try to reverse positions but then snap back into place, in what is called an excursion. The last time was about 40,000 years ago.) We also know that when they flip next time, the consequences for the electrical and electronic infrastructure that runs modern civilization will be dire. The question is when that will happen. In the past few decades, geophysicists have tried to answer that question through satellite imagery and math. They have figured out how to peer deep inside the Earth, to the edge of the molten, metallic core where the magnetic field is continually being generated. It turns out that the dipole — the orderly two-pole magnetic field our compasses respond to — is under attack from within. The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio, which began reporting in 2014, show that a battle is raging at the edge of the core. Like factions planning a coup, swirling clusters of molten iron and nickel are gathering strength and draining energy from the dipole. The north magnetic pole is on the run, a sign of enhanced turbulence and unpredictability. A cabal in the Southern Hemisphere has already gained the upper hand over about a fifth of the Earth’s surface. A revolution is shaping up. If these magnetic blocs gain enough strength and weaken the dipole even more, they will force the north and south poles to switch places as they strive to regain supremacy. Scientists can’t say for sure that is happening now — the dipole could beat back the interlopers. But they can say that the phenomenon is intensifying and that they can’t rule out the possibility that a reversal is beginning.

Jake Paul's School for Social Media Stars Will Teach You All the Wrong Lessons / The Verge

Paul is selling a dream tailored to kids who want to escape their average lives in ways that prey on these naive, younger viewers. He wows them with promises of fame and millions of dollars, supported by the backdrop of his own lavish lifestyle, and tells them that all of this can be within their grasp. Even when he’s not namedropping his sports cars or bragging about his checks, the promise lurks unspoken against the background of beautiful resort pools, LA’s skyline, or his luxurious home. All this could be yours, these videos quietly promise, if only you work hard enough, if only you pay money to listen to Jake, if only you get on his radar.

----- 1 star -----

I carve a pencil from a pencil from a pencil (pencil inception) / YouTube
Stick with it through the odd but amusing start; the final result is pretty cool

Candide Thovex skis the world / Kottke
Maybe I should just rename my 1-star section the Kottke section...and yes, I know I'm sending out an ad, but it's a pretty awesome one.

In a video for Audi, Candide Thovex skis in locations around the world without any snow. He skis in the jungle, on water, on volcanic ash, down sand dunes, and across the Great Wall of China. The sand dunes in particular look incredibly fun. I wonder how many pairs of skis he ripped up making this?

“Get Out of Jail Free” Cards / Marginal Revolution

In the movies I’ve seen people who try to get out of a traffic ticket by telling the police officer they made a donation to the policeman’s ball, but those were comedies. I had no idea that not only does this exist there are official cards. In fact, the police in New York are livid that the number of cards is being limited [...] A Christmas gift of institutionalized corruption.

Going Fishing, an amazingly fluid stop motion animated film / Kottke

Animator and sculptor Guldies has combined his passions and made this short stop motion animated film out of 2500 still photos. The result is remarkably fluid, particularly in the scenes with the human hand.

Slowly shredding some pow to classical music / Kottke

Glide along with this snowboarder as he surfs his way through a powdery forest to the strains of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune. I’ve watched this twice now; it’s super relaxing. A fine antidote to the typical extreme sports video.

If you watch closely enough, everything is a speaker / Kottke
This is old, but I hadn't come across it before:

Using high speed cameras, it’s possible to record the vibrations of everyday objects caused by nearby sounds and reverse engineer the sounds…essentially turning anything that vibrates into a speaker. For instance, if you want to know what a person is saying but can’t hear them directly, you can take a video of the house plant next to them and recover the sound from the micro-vibrations of the leaves. In one example, they filmed a pair of Apple earbuds playing a song and the recovered audio was accurate enough for the Shazam app to identify the song.

Tesla’s Elon Musk May Have Boldest Pay Plan in Corporate History / New York Times

The company is planning to announce on Tuesday Mr. Musk’s new compensation plan, and it is perhaps the most radical in corporate history: Mr. Musk will be paid only if he reaches a series of jaw-dropping milestones based on the company’s market value and operations. Otherwise, he will be paid nothing. Tesla has set a dozen targets, each $50 billion more than the next, starting at $100 billion, then $150 billion, then $200 billion and so on, all the way to a market value of $650 billion. In addition, the company has set a dozen revenue and adjusted profit goals. Mr. Musk would receive 1.68 million shares, or about 1 percent of the company, only after he reaches milestones for both.

Tango, an inventive time-looping animated film / Kottke

Tango is an experimental animated film made by Zbigniew Rybczyński in 1980. It takes place entirely in one room with an increasing number of characters cycling through it repeatedly. It’s the kind of thing you can’t stop watching once you start. (It’s also mildly NSFW.) Tango won The Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1983.

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