The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning | Palladium
I worry sometimes that I send too many articles about China. Partly because while I aim impossibly to be an unbiased and dispassionate curator of the best things I read, perhaps you’ll assume (especially if we’ve never met and you know me only by name) that these articles are more interesting to me than to you. And to be fair, while my parents are from Taiwan and not China, there might be some truth to that; my guess is I send more about China than other newsletter writers.
That said, I want you to read this article even if you don’t care much about China. Because there’s something interesting and nuanced about why the Chinese government behaves the way it does (beyond the usual suspects of maintaining power, crushing dissent, and other useful simplifications about the CCP’s immorality). And while I disagree with the CCP’s approach on this and most other things, I think it’s fair to say they’ve looked carefully at America’s ills and are trying to do something different to avoid them. Which is pretty interesting.
Behind this veil of carefully cultivated opacity, it’s unsurprising that so few people in the West know of Wang, let alone know him personally.
Yet Wang Huning is arguably the single most influential “public intellectual” alive today.
A member of the CCP’s seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, he is China’s top ideological theorist, quietly credited as being the “ideas man” behind each of Xi’s signature political concepts, including the “China Dream,” the anti-corruption campaign, the Belt and Road Initiative, a more assertive foreign policy, and even “Xi Jinping Thought.” Scrutinize any photograph of Xi on an important trip or at a key meeting and one is likely to spot Wang there in the background, never far from the leader’s side. […]
But what is singularly remarkable about Wang is that he’s managed to serve in this role of court philosopher to not just one, but all three of China’s previous top leaders, including as the pen behind Jiang Zemin’s signature “Three Represents” policy and Hu Jintao’s “Harmonious Society.”
In the brutally cutthroat world of CCP factional politics, this is an unprecedented feat. […]
Once idealistic about America, at the start of 1989 the young Wang returned to China and, promoted to Dean of Fudan’s International Politics Department, became a leading opponent of liberalization. […]
“He was most concerned with the question of how to manage China,” one former Fudan student recalls. “He was suggesting that a strong, centralized state is necessary to hold this society together. He spent every night in his office and didn’t do anything else.” […]
Wang, having defeated National Taiwan University by arguing that human nature is inherently evil, foreshadowed that, “While Western modern civilization can bring material prosperity, it doesn’t necessarily lead to improvement in character.” […]
Either way, our world is witnessing a grand experiment that’s now underway: China and the West, facing very similar societal problems, have now, thanks to Wang Huning, embarked on radically different approaches to addressing them. And with China increasingly challenging the United States for a position of global geopolitical and ideological leadership, the conclusion of this experiment could very well shape the global future of governance for the century ahead.
My Father, the Hitman | D Magazine
My dad had gotten out of prison, and, for the first time in years, we were sitting down to dinner. It turned out to be the last time I ever saw him alive.
This was 1984. We were at Newport’s, in the West End, drinking Anchor Steam beers, and the mood was one of celebration. A former light heavyweight boxer, my dad was still physically imposing, even at 70 years old, but he was slimmer after his most recent stint inside. His sports coat hung loose on him, and his red-blond hair had thinned. It was a busy Friday night, and cheerful voices bounced off the brick walls of the restaurant. The air was perfumed with the scent of mesquite-grilled swordfish. We raised our glasses to toast my father’s freedom. I can still picture his big grin.
His name was James Dolan, same as mine, but everyone called him Doc. He’d been in and out of my life since I was a boy, but when I was in my early 30s, Doc and I reconnected. His life as a gangster, I’d learn later, brought him into the orbit of criminal organizations around the country, including Jack Ruby’s circle in Dallas. But long before I realized my father’s connection to the JFK assassination, I was just happy to have him back in my life.
I was a struggling 33-year-old psychotherapist trying to get a break in my field. He’d begun to open up a little about his own work, a process he’d begun with dozens of letters he’d written to me during his most recent time with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, first in USP Atlanta and then FCI El Reno, in Oklahoma. I’d always known he was a misanthrope, someone who didn’t have much regard for the law, but now he was getting specific.
The Ship That Became a Bomb | New Yorker
Stranded in Yemen’s war zone, a decaying supertanker has more than a million barrels of oil aboard. If—or when—it explodes or sinks, thousands may die.
Pre-agriculture gender relations seem bad | Cold Takes
There are arguments floating around implying that the hunter-gatherer/pre-agriculture period was a sort of "paradise" in which humans lived in an egalitarian state of nature - and that agriculture was a pernicious technology that brought on more crowded, complex societies, which humans still haven't really "adapted" to. If that's true, it could mean that "progress" has left us worse off over the long run, even if trends over the last few hundred years have been positive.
A future post will comprehensively examine this "pre-agriculture paradise" idea. For now, I just want to focus on one aspect: gender relations. This has been one of the more complex and confusing aspects to learn about. […]
Based on the latter points, it seems that there are people trying hard to make the case for gender equality among hunter-gatherers, but not having much to back up this case. One reason for this might be a fear that if people think gender inequality is "ancient" or "natural," they might conclude that it is also "good" and not to be changed. So for the avoidance of doubt: my general perspective is that the "state of nature" is bad compared to today's world. When I say that pre-agricultural societies probably had disappointingly low levels of gender equality, I'm not saying that this inequality is inevitable or "something we should live with" - just the opposite. […]
In fact, when I started this investigation, I initially thought that gender equality was the consensus view, because both Google searches and Wikipedia content gave this impression. Not only do both emphasize gender equality among foragers/hunter-gatherers, but neither presents this as a two-sided debate.
Below, I'll go through what I found by following citations from (a) the Wikipedia "hunter-gatherer" page; (b) the front page from searching Google for "hunter-gatherer gender relations." I'm not surprised that Google and Wikipedia are imperfect here, but I found it somewhat remarkable how consistently the "initial impression" given was of strong gender equality, and how consistently this impression was unsupported by sources.
Meta | Stratechery
Satya Nadella’s great triumph as CEO of Microsoft was breaking Windows hold over the company, freeing the company to not just emphasize Azure’s general purpose cloud offerings, but to also build a new OS centered on Teams that was Internet-centric, and device agnostic. Indeed, that is why I don’t scoff at Nadella’s invocation of the enterprise metaverse; sure, Microsoft has the HoloLens, but that is just one way to access a work environment that exists somewhere beyond any one device or any one app.
Meta seems like Zuckerberg’s opportunity to make the same break: Facebook benefited from being just an app (until it didn’t), but until today Facebook was also the company, and as long as that was the case the metaverse vision was going to be fundamentally constrained by what already exists. […]
That is the first challenge of virtual reality: it is a destination, both in terms of a place you go virtually, but also, critically, the end result of deliberative actions in the real world. One doesn’t experience virtual reality by accident: it is a choice, and often — like in the case of my PlayStation VR — a rather complicated one.
That is not necessarily a problem: going to see a movie is a choice, as is playing a video game on a console or PC. Both are very legitimate ways to make money: global box office revenue in 2017 was $40.6 billion U.S., and billions more were made on all the other distribution channels in a movie’s typical release window; video games have long since been an even bigger deal, generating $109 billion globally last year.
Still, that is an order of magnitude less than the amount of revenue generated by something like smartphones. Apple, for example, sold $158 billion worth of iPhones over the last year; the entire industry was worth around $478.7 billion in 2017. The disparity should not come as a surprise: unlike movies or video games, smartphones are an accompaniment on your way to a destination, not a destination in and of themselves.
That may seem counterintuitive at first: isn’t it a good thing to be the center of one’s attention? That center, though, can only ever be occupied by one thing, and the addressable market is constrained by time. Assume eight hours for sleep, eight for work, a couple of hours for, you know, actually navigating life, and that leaves at best six hours to fight for. That is why devices intended to augment life, not replace it, have always been more compelling: every moment one is awake is worth addressing.
A Nobel Prize for the Credibility Revolution | Marginal Revolution
The Nobel Prize goes to David Card, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens. If you seek their monuments look around you. Almost all of the empirical work in economics that you read in the popular press (and plenty that doesn’t make the popular press) is due to analyzing natural experiments using techniques such as difference in differences, instrumental variables and regression discontinuity. The techniques are powerful but the ideas behind them are also understandable by the person in the street which has given economists a tremendous advantage when talking with the public. Take, for example, the famous minimum wage study of Card and Krueger (1994) (and here). The study is well known because of its paradoxical finding that New Jersey’s increase in the minimum wage in 1992 didn’t reduce employment at fast food restaurants and may even have increased employment. But what really made the paper great was the clarity of the methods that Card and Krueger used to study the problem.
The obvious way to estimate the effect of the minimum wage is to look at the difference in employment in fast food restaurants before and after the law went into effect. But other things are changing through time so circa 1992 the standard approach was to “control for” other variables by also including in the statistical analysis factors such as the state of the economy. Include enough control variables, so the reasoning went, and you would uncover the true effect of the minimum wage. Card and Krueger did something different, they turned to a control group.
Searching for Coherence in Asian America | New Yorker
Jay Caspian Kang wrote a piece for the New York Times adapted from his book — and a lot of people liked it — but I found it a bit disjointed and preferred this book review:
Kang describes this largely untroubled narrative in a detached, ironic frame because it has the rather embarrassing distinction of being true. The subject of “The Loneliest Americans” is the broad incoherence of Asian American identity, but what Kang writes about most lucidly is the way that upwardly mobile Asians like him—the ones who were raised and educated in the U.S., and are now queasily enjoying the lives that their parents always wanted for them—have made it so.
Alternating between anecdotes from history and Kang’s life, the book makes the argument that such Asians have hijacked the Asian American project, stripping it of material concerns and saddling it with their corny consumer interests and professional neuroses. If one pole of Asian American politics is parochial and conservative, focussed on achieving stability through the American meritocracy, the other seeks a squishier kind of worthiness: cultural prestige, historical significance, and representation in a highly educated, multiracial élite. Kang is a beneficiary of the latter approach, and also believes that it should be discarded. “The Loneliest Americans,” then, is something of a circular project—a book by an Asian writer about how the Asians who write books should cede control of the story—and Kang is its reluctant protagonist. […]
Kang sees a similar turn in his own community, as upwardly mobile Asians, ensconced in cozy neighborhoods and low-stakes cultural debates, “attain the whiteness that matters,” while millions of Asian workers sink further out of sight. “What does it mean to be Asian American,” he writes, “if some of your people are using it as a stopping point on a path toward whiteness, while the poorest and most vulnerable get stuck with the bill?”
For Kang, the solution is to “drop our neuroses about microaggressions” and “fully align ourselves with the forgotten Asian America: the refugees, the undocumented, and the working class.”
Natsec is how America gets things done | Noahpinion
It turns out, therefore, that most of the investment that Biden wants — with the possible exception of passenger rail — can be justified pretty easily on national security grounds. A bit of this can be done through defense budgets, but much of it will benefit simply from the Defense Department and natsec experts loudly making the case for more investment.
Now, there will be some who oppose this, especially on the Left. Congressman Ro Khanna, for instance, has been very vocal in opposing defense spending. And on much of the Left, it’s taken as an article of faith that big military budgets lead to war.
If that were true, that would be a reason to be cautious about embracing increased defense spending — even on R&D. But a look at postwar U.S. history definitely doesn’t show a pattern of defense spending increases leading to wars. […]
Look, folks. I wish we all lived in a country where a sense of social solidarity, economic optimism, and humanitarianism was enough to spur us to make the big government investments that we need in order to prosper. Unfortunately, we do not. America is a deeply divided nation, and will remain so for the foreseeable future; the importance of national security is one of just a few things that a supermajority of us still agree on. We can use that to do what we need to do, and keep the country going, in the hopes that one day we’ll be more united and more rational than we are right now.
The Democrats’ Privileged College-Kid Problem | Politico
On David Shor’s newest ideas:
But what if, hidden below their laptop stickers and campaign totes, these young people represent a real political risk for Democrats? And what if, contrary to conventional Democratic wisdom, the power that these young people wield within the party is actually hurting its chance at the ballot box rather than helping it?
In the eyes of David Shor, one of the Democratic Party’s most coveted and most controversial data gurus, that’s exactly what’s happening. In some respects, Shor understands the power that young, hyper-educated staffers wield in the world of Democratic politics because he once wielded it himself — and to great effect. In 2012, at the age of 20, Shor joined Barack Obama’s re-election campaign to develop and oversee its election forecasting system, a complex statistical modeling system that helped campaign staff decide how and when to spend money to optimize support in specific areas. […]
At its most basic, Shor’s theory goes something like this: Although young people as a whole turn out to vote at a lower rate than the general population, the aforementioned type of young person is actually overrepresented within the core of the Democratic Party’s infrastructure. According to Shor, the problem with this permanent class of young staffers is that they tend to hold views that are both more liberal and more ideologically motivated than the views of the coveted median voter, and yet they yield a significant amount of influence over the party’s messaging and policy decisions. As a result, Democrats end up spending a lot of time talking about issues that matter to college-educated liberals but not to the multiracial bloc of moderate voters that the party needs to win over to secure governing majorities in Washington.
Vikings Were in the Americas Exactly 1,000 Years Ago | New York Times
By studying tree rings and using a dash of astrophysics, researchers have pinned down a precise year that settlers from Europe were on land that would come to be known as Newfoundland.
Time millionaires: meet the people pursuing the pleasure of leisure | The Guardian
In every job he has ever had, Gavin has shirked. When he worked in a call centre, he would mute the phone, rather than answer it. When he worked in a pub, he would sneak out of the building and go to another pub nearby, for a pint. His best-ever job was as a civil servant. He would take an hour for breakfast, and two for lunch. No one ever said anything. All his colleagues were at it, too.
When the pandemic began, Gavin, now working as a software engineer, realised, to his inexhaustible joy, that he could get away with doing less work than he had ever dreamed of, from the comfort of his home. He would start at 8.30am and clock off about 11am. To stop his laptop from going into sleep mode – lest his employers check it for activity – Gavin played a 10-hour YouTube video of a black screen.
One might reasonably describe Gavin (not his real name) as a deadbeat. In economic terms, he is a unit of negative output. In moral terms, he is to be despised; there are antonyms for the word “grafter”, and none of them are good. In religious terms – well, few gods would smile on such indolence. But that is not how Gavin views things. “I work to pay my bills and keep a roof over my head,” he says. “I don’t see any value or purpose in work. Zero. None whatsoever.”
Gavin’s job is an unfortunate expediency that facilitates his enjoyment of the one thing that does matter to him in life: his time. “Life is short,” Gavin tells me. “I want to enjoy the time I have. We are not here for a long time. We are here for a good time.” And for now, Gavin is living the good life. He’s a time millionaire. “I am delighted,” Gavin tells me. “I could not be happier.” He is practically singing.
And his boss? “My boss is happy with the work I’m doing,” he says. “Or more accurately, the work he thinks I’m doing.”
First named by the writer Nilanjana Roy in a 2016 column in the Financial Times, time millionaires measure their worth not in terms of financial capital, but according to the seconds, minutes and hours they claw back from employment for leisure and recreation. “Wealth can bring comfort and security in its wake,” says Roy. “But I wish we were taught to place as high a value on our time as we do on our bank accounts – because how you spend your hours and your days is how you spend your life.”
And the pandemic has created a new cohort of time millionaires.
A Prototype Original iPod | Panic Blog
If you can believe it, the iPod is 20 years old, today. […]
To celebrate, I want to show you something you’ve never seen before.
Now, there are a lot of mysteries in the Panic Archives (it’s a closet) but by far one of the most mysterious is what you’re seeing for the first time today: an original early iPod prototype.
The Sounds from Mars | Kottke
For the last nine months, NASA’s Perseverance rover has been rolling around on Mars taking photos and doing science. It’s also been recording audio of its environment with a pair of microphones and in this video, a pair of NASA scientists share some of those recordings and what we might learn about Mars from them.
Sex Differences in Work Aspirations | Marginal Revolution
We investigated sex differences in 473,260 adolescents’ aspirations to work in things-oriented (e.g., mechanic), people-oriented (e.g., nurse), and STEM (e.g., mathematician) careers across 80 countries and economic regions using the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). We analyzed student career aspirations in combination with student achievement in mathematics, reading, and science, as well as parental occupations and family wealth. In each country and region, more boys than girls aspired to a things-oriented or STEM occupation and more girls than boys to a people-oriented occupation. These sex differences were larger in countries with a higher level of women’s empowerment. We explain this counter-intuitive finding through the indirect effect of wealth. Women’s empowerment is associated with relatively high levels of national wealth and this wealth allows more students to aspire to occupations they are intrinsically interested in. Implications for better understanding the sources of sex differences in career aspirations and associated policy are discussed.
“Potential” and the gender promotion gap | Marginal Revolution
We show that widely-used subjective assessments of employee “potential” contribute to gender gaps in promotion and pay. Using data on 30,000 management-track employees from a large retail chain, we find that women receive substantially lower potential ratings despite receiving higher job performance ratings. Differences in potential ratings account for 30-50% of the gender promotion gap. Women’s lower potential ratings do not appear to be based on accurate forecasts of future performance: women outperform male colleagues with the same potential ratings, both on average and on the margin of promotion. Yet, even when women outperform their previously forecasted potential, their subsequent potential ratings remain low, suggesting that firms persistently underestimate the potential of their female employees.
Jobs that Marry Together the Most | FlowingData
When it comes to marriage, the jobs that each person in a couple has can play a role in whether or not it works out. Maybe it’s similar schedules. Maybe it’s common ground and understanding between two people. Maybe jobs are an indicator for the types of people who match well together.
In the chart below, based on estimates from the American Community Survey, find out which jobs most often pair together among married couples.
Bad Taste: How the Once Popular Fast-Food Sunroom Became Obsolete | Mel Magazine
Funny enough, maximizing the space for comfort was precisely the thinking 40 years ago when sunrooms began to be installed on fast-food joints in the early 1980s. Back in 1985, the New York Times wrote about how fast-food establishments were changing, and they spoke to a guy named Denny Lynch who was then the vice president of communications for Wendy’s. “People who want to eat want to see other people eating,” Lynch explained. “If there’s no one there, the food must be bad. And when you’re eating, you want to look out. It increases the comfort level. You also have the opportunity to hang plants and create an upscale atmosphere.”
Fast-food sunrooms became so popular in the 1980s and 1990s that nearly all fast-food chains had locations with them. Everyone from Arby’s to Dairy Queen sported one, but the chain that became most synonymous with the airy chambers was Wendy’s, which installed sunrooms in most of their restaurants. Despite this, Wendy’s didn’t start the trend. Like most other fast-food innovations, that road leads back to McDonald’s.