(Originally published on Cold Takes, my newsletter — more)
Like seemingly most of the internet (well, some sub-section of the tech-centric internet, at least) I spent yesterday reading this looooong New Yorker piece by Evan Osnos about “Preppers” — people “prepping” for the end of times. While there are a number of fascinating parts, the whole thing is unfortunately wrapped in Silicon Valley bullshit, as I tweeted yesterday.
It just reads like the author wanted to kick things off by talking to some people in Silicon Valley who would spout some batshit crazy nonsense about end-of-the-world prep amongst the tech-savvy wealthy. Undoubtedly there’s some truth to some of this, but it also reads as a ridiculous characterization of the overall mentality of the area. Many people here are crazy — and plenty in a good way, which has some good side effects in terms of creating interesting products and companies. But most people are not as crazy and paranoid as that story would have you believe.
For a more nuanced — not to mention, thankfully shorter — take on the movement, I’d recommend this BuzzFeed post by William Alden. The good news here is that I’m not sure anyone who might be inclined to “rise up” against the insane people of Silicon Valley after reading such a story, actually read The New Yorker.
Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.
Mr. Obama taught himself to write as a young man by keeping a journal and writing short stories when he was a community organizer in Chicago — working on them after he came home from work and drawing upon the stories of the people he met. Many of the tales were about older people, and were informed by a sense of disappointment and loss: “There is not a lot of Jack Kerouac open-road, young kid on the make discovering stuff,” he says. “It’s more melancholy and reflective.”
Mr. Obama entered office as a writer, and he will soon return to a private life as a writer, planning to work on his memoirs, which will draw on journals he’s kept in the White House (“but not with the sort of discipline that I would have hoped for”). He has a writer’s sensibility — an ability to be in the moment while standing apart as an observer, a novelist’s eye and ear for detail, and a precise but elastic voice capable of moving easily between the lyrical and the vernacular and the profound.
Speaking of writers, NYT sat down with Michael Lewis to talk about his new book, The Undoing Project, which I haven’t yet read, but sounds fascinating (more below). Re: Mr. Lewis himself, Alexandra Alter:
Unlike many nonfiction writers, Mr. Lewis declines to take advances, which he calls “corrupting,” even though he could easily earn seven figures. Instead, he splits the profits from the books, as well as the advertising and production costs, with Norton. The setup spurs him to work harder and to make more money if the books are successful, he says.
Never knew that about Lewis. Impressive (but obviously also only doable if you can make such a back-end deal work for you, as Lewis clearly can).
Speaking of Michael Lewis’ new book, here’s the story of the two psychologists who are the focus of it: Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.
Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler:
Tversky was a font of memorable one-liners, and he found much of life funny. He could also be sharp with critics. After a nasty academic battle with some evolutionary psychologists, he proclaimed, “Listen to evolutionary psychologists long enough, and you’ll stop believing in evolution.” When asked about artificial intelligence, Tversky replied, “We study natural stupidity.” (He did not really think that people were stupid, but the line was too good to pass up.) He also tossed off such wisdom as “The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.” Managers who spend most of their lives in meetings should post that thought on their office walls.
All great thoughts.
Good piece by Pankaj Mishra.
Today, Trump’s much-derided, frequently written off and ultimately successful candidacy has exposed the intellectual inadequacies and political perils of mono-journalism. And those complicit in it have no choice but to reformulate their aims and methods.
Lastly, continuing a thematic trend, here’s a crazy look by Scott Shane into Cameron Harris, a recent college graduate who pulled six million people into his bogus story about the discovery of fraudulent ballots for Hillary Clinton.
That was exactly the insight on which Mr. Harris said he built his transient business: that people wanted to be fed evidence, however implausible, to support their beliefs. “At first it kind of shocked me — the response I was getting,” he said. “How easily people would believe it. It was almost like a sociological experiment,” added Mr. Harris, who majored in political science and economics.
Welcome to the internet, Mr. Harris. Now get lost.
On Disney’s insane 2016 at the box office…
(Originally published on Cold Takes, my newsletter.)