Gender and verbs across 100,000 stories: a tidy analysis – Variance Explained( 1 )

I was fascinated by my colleague Julia Silge’s recent blog post on what verbs tend to occur after “he” or “she” in several novels, and what they might imply about gender roles within fictional work. This made me wonder what trends could be found across a larger dataset of stories.

Mark Riedl’s Wikipedia plots dataset that I examined in yesterday’s post offers a great opportunity to analyze this question. The dataset contains over 100,000 descriptions of plots from films, novels, TV shows, and video games. The stories span centuries and come from tens of thousands of authors, but the descriptions are written by a modern audience, which means we can quantify gender roles across a wide variety of genres. Since the dataset contains plot descriptions rather than primary sources, it’s also more about what happens at than how an author describes the work: we’re less likely to see “thinks” or “says”, but more likely to see “shoots” or “escapes”.

From: Gender and verbs across 100,000 stories: a tidy analysis – Variance Explained

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The Wonders Reunite To Perform ‘That Thing You Do!’( 0 )

On Tuesday night, three-fourths of the Oneders-turned-Wonders — heartthrob singer Jimmy Mattingly (Johnathon Schaech), unnamed bass player The Bass Player (Ethan Embry), and drummer Guy “Shades” Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) — reunited at the Roxy in Los Angeles to perform the fastest rising single in the history of the Playtone label, “That Thing You Do!” The gig was a last-minute surprise: Shades teased the unannounced performance on his Twitter with a link to the Goddamn Comedy Jam with Bill Burr. Hopefully no one broke their arm on a parking meter racing to get there.

From: The Wonders Reunite To Perform ‘That Thing You Do!’

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Morning Ed: Gender {2017.04.26.W}( 210 )

Women and men have got different brains, and it may actually be kind of important.

Excuse me, Madame Justice, but I have something to say here… (Related)

You think the gender gap is sexist? Edward Clint says closing it is sexist.

The binders full of women was real.

Brooke Rogers defends the alpha-female and doesn’t buy into the notion that they should change their ways or become old maids.

When women pursue sex, things get confusing.

I’m not uniformly opposed to skipping grades and early college, but this doesn’t strike me as a particularly good rationale to do so.

Freddie on Girls.

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First Things: Anti-Christianity in France( 18 )

The French Revolution does not make sense without the preexisting weight of the new rich in society and their hatred of both the régime and the Church that supported it. Because they were not allowed into the gentry (as was the case in England, for example), wealthy commoners bankrolled free-thinking intellectuals. Those writers produced stories, plays, and pamphlets that spread among the lower classes the notion that poverty and famine are due to the unfair social order guaranteed by the established religion. A mob stormed the Paris convent in which hundreds of priests and monks had been detained as “enemies of the nation” in September 1792, and butchered them all. That mob did not come from nowhere. Neither did the crowds who cheered as harmless nuns were guillotined for no other reason than their religious vows.

Napoleon, who unexpectedly emerged from the revolutionary chaos, bought peace by recognizing Catholicism as “the religion of the majority of the French.” But he also granted official recognition to Protestants and Jews so as better to control them. This made it easy for the secularists who were in power a century later to denounce and revoke the Concordat he had signed with the Holy See. Of course the clergy and their flocks had since the Revolution been remarkably consistent in betting on the wrong political horses. They supported all the successive régimes of the nineteenth century, before turning against them as they proved to be either too authoritarian or too liberal: successively the Napoleonic empire, a restored then a less absolute monarchy, a second republic, a second empire …

After a weakened Napoleon III lost the war into which the Prussians had snared him in 1870, Catholics would have preferred a second restoration, but a third republic based on the ideals of the 1789 Revolution finally prevailed in the popular vote. They failed to accept it (although Pope Leo XIII had advised them to), and the 1905 separation of state and Church was facilitated by two simultaneous crises: Catholics were once more on the wrong side in the Dreyfus affair, which tore the country apart, and the repression of “modernist” exegesis and theology suggested that faith was incompatible with reason and science.

From: Anti-Christianity in France | Jean Duchesne | First Things

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French Hovels, Slave Cabins, and the limits of Thomas Jefferson’s Eyes( 2 )

Jefferson’s powerful eyes constantly dissected and analyzed: especially for scientific reasons, Jefferson spied on people’s lives. He always wanted to see, and to see firsthand. During his famous tour of southern France and northern Italy in the spring of 1787, he saw examples of misery and wretchedness—especially where lower classes were concerned. He had entered the shacks of French peasants incognito. To peep into people’s dwellings was for Jefferson the best method to assess their identity and evaluate their circumstances. “You must ferret the people out of their hovels as I have done,” Jefferson wrote to his friend Lafayette, “look into their kettles, eat their bread, loll on their beds under pretence of resting yourself, but in fact to find if they are soft.”

Most likely, this Jeffersonian method of spying did more than just provide reliable sociological data: it enhanced his empathy. Reading this letter to Lafayette, the reader gets the impression that Jefferson drew himself closer to these hapless human beings, pitying them and caring for their conditions, seeing them for who they actually were. But in other ways, Jefferson’s eyes were blind: did he ever actually see his slaves’ cabins? Did he ever ferret slaves out of their shackles to observe and meditate about their condition?

From: OUP: French Hovels, Slave Cabins, and the Limits of Jefferson’s Eyes

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A Guide to Properly Hating Old Movies( 8 )

There are films you read about your entire life, and then there are films like [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE]. I’m not quite sure how I avoided seeing [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] for so long. Maybe I had always been subconsciously turned off by the film’s negative approach to [SOCIAL ISSUE]; why waste your time on a half-baked attempt at representation when modern movies like [MODERN MOVIE] are better worth our consideration? What I do know, though, is that by the time I finally sat down to watch [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE], I was looking forward to seeing the masterpiece that everyone else described.

Yeah, no. Look, I know that it’s not fair to approach a movie released in [YEAR OF RELEASE] the same as a film released today, but I’ve spent years hearing about how [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] was responsible for bringing [SOCIAL ISSUE] into the twenty-first century. Is it wrong to expect [CLASSIC MOVIE TITLE] to tackle [SOCIAL ISSUE] with a little bit more [CONTEXTLESS READING OF SOCIAL ISSUE]? I’m not saying that [DIRECTOR] had to completely reinvent the wheel, but at the very least, he could have [IMPOSSIBLE FILMMAKING CONCEIT GIVEN HISTORICAL CONTEXT]. Maybe things would have turned around a lot sooner if they’d thought for ten minutes about how they were telling the story.

[NEVER ADD HISTORICAL CONTEXT HERE]

From: A Guide to Properly Hating Old Movies

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Does money affect children’s outcomes?( 4 )

The studies indicated clearly that money makes a difference to children’s outcomes. Less well-off children have worse cognitive, social-behavioural and health outcomes in part because they are poorer, not just because low income is correlated with other household and parental characteristics. Low income affects direct measures of children’s well-being and development, including their cognitive ability, achievement and engagement in school, anxiety levels and behaviour. The evidence on cognitive development and school achievement was the clearest and most common, followed by that on social and behavioural development. Of the 34 studies, only five found no evidence of a money effect on any of the outcomes examined, with methodological reasons for this in at least four cases.

The studies also found effects of low income on outcomes that indirectly affect children, including parenting, the home environment, maternal depression, and smoking during pregnancy. The effect of low income on cognitive and schooling outcomes appears to correlate broadly with the effects of spending corresponding amounts on school or early education programmes. Rough calculations suggest that increases in household income would not eliminate differences in schooling outcomes between low-income children and others, but could contribute to substantially reducing these differences. For example, increasing household income for children in receipt of free school meals (FSM) by £7,000, which would raise them to the average income for the rest of the population, might be expected to eradicate around half the gap in Key Stage 2 outcomes between FSM and non- FSM children.

From: Does money affect children’s outcomes? | JRF

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Tax day: US tax code is fairer than people realize( 26 )

Everyone likes to complain about taxes. But America’s tax system is more fair than people on the right or the left tend to give it credit for — in part because of big changes under President Barack Obama.

When you look at all taxes combined, the breakdown of “who pays what” looks about like a lot of people say it should: Almost everybody pays something, and rich people pay a much higher share of their income than poor people.

The chart below is based on 2017 federal tax estimates from the Tax Policy Center, which employs alumni of Republican and Democratic administrations; and 2015 state and local tax estimates (the most recent available) from the liberal Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy:

From: Tax day: US tax code is fairer than people realize – Business Insider

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Corrupted College( 39 )

Check out this Edsource story on the California State University system’s announcement of its intent to abandon the “strategy” of remedial courses.

At last! I thought. CSU was finally telling low-skilled applicants to attend adult education or community college. Hahahaha. Five years of education policy writing just isn’t enough time to become properly cynical.

CSU is not ending its practice of accepting students who aren’t capable of college work. CSU has ended its practice of remediating students who aren’t capable of college work. It makes such students feel “unwelcome.” Students who aren’t capable of doing college work are getting the impression that they don’t really belong at college.

And so, CSU is going to give students who can’t do college work college credit for the classes they take trying to become ready for college.

Understand that the CSU system has been accepting these students for over 30 years. CSU used to offer unlimited remediation until 1996. After taxpayers protested, CSU passed regulations reducing remediation efforts to one year and vowed to ultimately eliminate all remediation by 2001. But alas, when 2001 came along, ending remediation would dramatically reduce black and Hispanic enrollment, so the deadline was extended to 2007. (Cite ) But 2007 came along and things were even worse. After that, well, California ended its high school exit examination and retroactively awarded diplomas to all the students who hadn’t been able to pass it. Why bother? CSU was accepting students who didn’t have the diploma anyway.

So, CSU decided on a new “strategy”, defining “college readiness” as “student is earning us tuition dollars”. They’re even looking at ending any sort of reliance on California’s version of the Smarter Balanced test, the Early Assessment rating that California has used for years to guide high schools towards getting their students ready for college.

From: Corrupted College | educationrealist

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The Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl( 0 )

It was close to midnight on the coast of Libya, a few miles west of Tripoli. At the water’s edge, armed Libyan smugglers pumped air into thirty-foot rubber dinghies. Some three thousand refugees and migrants, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, silent and barefoot, stood nearby in rows of ten. Oil platforms glowed in the Mediterranean.

The Libyans ordered male migrants to carry the inflated boats into the water, thirty on each side. They waded in and held the boats steady as a smuggler directed other migrants to board, packing them as tightly as possible. People in the center would suffer chemical burns if the fuel leaked and mixed with water. Those straddling the sides could easily fall into the sea. Officially, at least five thousand and ninety-eight migrants died in the Mediterranean last year, but Libya’s coastline is more than a thousand miles long, and nobody knows how many boats sink without ever being seen. Several of the migrants had written phone numbers on their clothes, so that someone could call their families if their bodies washed ashore.

The smugglers knelt in the sand and prayed, then stood up and ordered the migrants to push off. One pointed to the sky. “Look at this star!” he said. “Follow it.” Each boat left with only enough fuel to reach international waters.

In one dinghy, carrying a hundred and fifty people, a Nigerian teen-ager named Blessing started to cry. She had travelled six months to get to this point, and her face was gaunt and her ribs were showing. She wondered if God had visited her mother in dreams and shown her that she was alive. The boat hit swells and people started vomiting. By dawn, Blessing had fainted. The boat was taking on water.

From: The Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl – The New Yorker

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From 1930 to now, Easter bunnies through the years are seriously creepy( 11 )

Bunnies are adorable with their soft fluffy fur and wiggly noses, but humans in bunny suits for Easter? Not so much.
For decades the bunny has been the giver of candy and goodies during Easter egg hunts, but no matter how hard we try to make them look cute, bunny replications and costumes turn out horribly wrong and mostly, quite creepy.

From: From 1930 to now, Easter bunnies through the years are seriously creepy – Houston Chronicle

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New Mexico Outlaws School ‘Lunch Shaming’( 32 )

What is “lunch shaming?” It happens when a child can’t pay a school lunch bill.

In Alabama, a child short on funds was stamped on the arm with “I Need Lunch Money.” In some schools, children are forced to clean cafeteria tables in front of their peers to pay the debt. Other schools require cafeteria workers to take a child’s hot food and throw it in the trash if he doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

In what its supporters say is the first such legislation in the country, New Mexico has outlawed shaming children whose parents are behind on school lunch payments.

On Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, which directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or sign up for federal meal assistance and puts an end to practices meant to embarrass children. It applies to public, private and religious schools that receive federal subsidies for students’ breakfasts and lunches.

The law’s passage is a victory for anti-hunger activists, who have long been critical of lunch-shaming practices that single out children with insufficient funds on their electronic swipe cards or who lack the necessary cash. These practices can include making the child wear a wrist band or requiring the child to perform chores in exchange for a meal.

From: New Mexico Outlaws School ‘Lunch Shaming’ – NYTimes.com

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Making Athens Great Again( 0 )

What happens when a society, once a model for enlightened progress, threatens to backslide into intolerance and irrationality—with the complicity of many of its own citizens? How should that society’s stunned and disoriented members respond? Do they engage in kind, resist, withdraw, even depart? It’s a dilemma as old as democracy itself.

Twenty-four centuries ago, Athens was upended by the outcome of a vote that is worth revisiting today. A war-weary citizenry, raised on democratic exceptionalism but disillusioned by its leaders, wanted to feel great again—a recipe for unease and raw vindictiveness, then as now. The populace had no strongman to turn to, ready with promises that the polis would soon be winning, winning like never before. But hanging around the agora, volubly engaging residents of every rank, was someone to turn on: Socrates, whose provocative questioning of the city-state’s sense of moral superiority no longer seemed as entertaining as it had in more secure times. Athenians were in no mood to have their views shaken up. They had lost patience with the lively, discomfiting debates sparked by the old man. In 399 b.c., accused of impiety and corrupting the young, Socrates stood trial before a jury of his peers—one of the great pillars of Athenian democracy. That spring day, the 501 citizen-jurors did not do the institution proud. More of them voted that Socrates should die than voted him guilty in the first place.

From: Making Athens Great Again – The Atlantic

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BBC: Doctors can withdraw baby’s life support( 112 )

Doctors can withdraw life support from a sick baby with a rare genetic condition against his parents’ wishes, a High Court judge has ruled.

Specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital said eight-month-old Charlie Gard has irreversible brain damage and should be moved to palliative care.
His parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard, from London, had wanted to take him to the US for a treatment trial.

They said they were “devastated” by the decision but intended to appeal.
Their solicitor, Laura Hobey-Hamsher, said they could not understand why Mr Justice Francis had not “at least given Charlie the chance of treatment”.

She said the couple would take further advice on challenging the ruling once their legal team had studied it.

They have three weeks to lodge an appeal.

From: Charlie Gard case: Doctors can withdraw baby’s life support – BBC News

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NPR: Senate Confirms Gorsuch To Supreme Court( 31 )

Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed Friday as the 113th justice to serve on the nation’s highest court. In a largely party-line vote, Gorsuch received the support of 54 senators.

His path to confirmation was relatively short by modern standards — just 65 days. But it was accomplished with a historic vote Thursday to end the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees.

Gorsuch takes the place of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon who died unexpectedly more than a year ago.

The new justice is also a conservative who adheres to many of the same positions that Scalia did. Indeed, some believe that Gorsuch will be more conservative.

From: NPR — Senate Confirms Gorsuch To Supreme Court, by Nina Totenberg.

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WSJ: Why Americans Are More Likely to Work for a Large Employer, in 20 Charts( 20 )

Huge companies dominate American economic life well beyond employment. They ring up a disproportionate share of sales for goods and services, both to consumers and to other businesses.

Scale alone isn’t bad. It can bring substantial efficiencies. National cellular providers can spare customers the complexity and expense of roaming charges. At the same time, scale begets scale as big companies reinforce one another. Big retailers prefer big distributors. Big manufacturers need big suppliers.

Over time, economists say, nimble new companies should form to challenge sprawling incumbents. That isn’t happening as much these days. Young firms often fail or are absorbed by existing giants. The problem now is that business formation has slowed.

From: Why Americans Are More Likely to Work for a Large Employer, in 20 Charts

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OTB: Trump Orders Syria Strikes. So Now What?( 117 )

While Obama made a series of mistakes with regard to Syria—most notably the constant refrain of “Assad must go” and the drawing of the infamous “red line”—he avoided making a catastrophic error. But the result of largely staying out of the civil war (if ultimately not the counter-ISIL fight) has been horrendous: horrific loss of innocent life, unspeakable atrocities, and massive refugee flows.

So, it’s not at all surprising that there has been near-universal proclamation of support for these strikes from our European allies. There had been, as foreign affairs reporter Laura Rozen notes, “a lot of pent-up demand built up against Assad horrors [these] past few years.”

But now what?

From: Trump Orders Syria Strikes. So Now What?

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‘Only in Cambridge’: Homes Daubed with Latin Graffiti( 6 )

Vandals spray-painted the new five-bedroom river-front houses with the words Locus in Domos Loci Populum.

Locals have said the messages, which appear to be a protest against the development, could “only happen” in the university city.

The homes, in Water Street, Chesterton, priced from £1.25m are on the site of an old pub.

Cambridge University Professor of Classics, Mary Beard, said: “This is a bit hard to translate, but I think what they’re trying to say is that a lovely place has been turned into houses.”

From: ‘Only in Cambridge’: Homes daubed with Latin graffiti — BBC

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The Long History of Discrimination in Pain Medicine( 3 )

First it’s railway spine, so you’re immediately injected into this contested illness. She was a woman, which is immediately going to make it less likely that her pain is going to heard or believed. We know that is true today; I think we have very good to reason to think that would have been true at that time as well.

She was fat. We know that, then and now, people who live in fat bodies are at a much higher rate of being stigmatized, of being disbelieved, as being regarded as not credible. (Just so we’re clear, when I use the word “fat,” it’s a political choice. I’m using it the way fat studies scholars and fat activists use it, not the medicalized term “obesity.”)

And she was “unchaste.” In the late Victorian era, all these things would have been killers. In fact, that’s exactly what happened. The court basically said this woman is not credible at all. There’s no way that the amount of damages that was awarded to her could possibly be consistent with the truth of her illness. Therefore, we’re going to reduce the damages.

From: The Long History of Discrimination in Pain Medicine – The Atlantic

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9 More Horrific April Fools’ Day Pranks of the 19th Century( 6 )

The most comical of all the jokes was that played upon a photographer employed by Tobias Luck. Mr. Luck and William Spikes got the joke together. It was in the afternoon. Mr. Spikes came hurrying into Mr. Luck’s studio with the information that a baby had died on upper Main street and its parents wanted it photographed. Would Mr. Luck go and do the work? Mr. Luck could not, so he deputized his employee. The man loaded up with his camera and other necessary devices and trudged north about six blocks. He found the number but no dead baby and it was not till he had returned to the gallery for more detailed information that he remember the date and tumbled.

From: 9 More Horrific April Fools’ Day Pranks of the 19th Century

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Washington Post: The last thing on ‘privilege’ you’ll ever need to read( 85 )

For admission to top U.S universities, “privilege awareness has become an essential competence,” Bovy argues. “An otherwise qualified applicant who demonstrates unchecked privilege is suddenly out of the running.” The trouble is that students who are truly disadvantaged are precisely those less inclined to declare their vulnerability. “Meanwhile, the students socialized to view themselves as deserving of special help tend to be .?.?. privileged.” This is an example of Bovy’s true beef with the privilege critique — that it exacerbates existing inequalities while offering the powerful the means to assuage their guilt. “I’ve never quite sorted out by what mechanism awareness of privilege is meant to inspire a desire to shed oneself of it,” she writes.

From: The last thing on ‘privilege’ you’ll ever need to read – The Washington Post

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Tim Harford: Some things are best left to the technocrats( 57 )

For all its merits, democracy has always had a weakness: on any detailed piece of policy, the typical voter — I include myself here — does not understand what is really at stake and does not care to find out. This is not a slight on voters. It is a recognition of our common sense. Why should we devote hours to studying every policy question that arises? We know the vote of any particular citizen is never decisive. It would be a deluded voter indeed who stayed up all night revising for an election, believing that her vote would be the one to make all the difference.

So voters are not paying close attention to the details. That might seem a fatal flaw in democracy but democracy has coped. The workaround for voter ignorance is to delegate the details to expert technocrats. Technocracy is unfashionable these days; that is a shame.

One advantage of a technocracy is that it constrains politicians who are tempted by narrow or fleeting advantages. Multilateral bodies such as the World Trade Organization and the European Commission have been able to head off popular yet self-harming behaviour, such as handing state protection to which ever business has the best lobbyists.

From: Tim Harford — Article — Some things are best left to the technocrats

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The Hoover Hog: My “Open Letter” Concerning the Amazon Blacklist and Freedom of Speech( 88 )

But you already know this. Since I assume you’re a stakeholder situated somewhere above my marginal niche in the larger world of book culture, I’d wager that your fingerprints are probably on some books that many people – perhaps I? – will find offensive. And when the would-be censors rattle, I’m guessing you know just where you stand. You might write the occasional check to the ACLU, or maybe you attend the annual “Banned Books Week” events at the local library. Or, if you’re of a certain age, you may even have been a signatory when the Association of American Publishers and other groups protested the decision of a once-ubiquitous bookstore chain not to sell copies of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. I thought that was a good move, by the way. A proud moment for the AAP.

And I sincerely believe that those of us who devote our lives to books have had quite a few good moments over the centuries. Whatever our differences, we belong to a tradition that has from the beginning stood for the liberal advancement of knowledge and human understanding. As publishers and as readers, we’re guided by an ethos that runs from the broadsides of Martin Luther to the trials of Henry Miller. If there’s anything to the notion of being on the “right side of history,” publishers have set the odds.

Thus I am addressing this “open letter” to you, my fellow publishers and book mavens. And now that I’ve done my worst to butter you up, I mean to draw your attention to a recent event that has received little above-ground media coverage but that I think should be of profound concern to all publishers, not just naughty pipsqueaks like me.

Specifically, I am referring to the decision of Amazon.com, which is now the world’s largest book retailer, to discontinue the sale of dozens of books that promote, or are said to promote, Holocaust denial. This policy seems to have taken full effect on March 8, 2017, and a bit of Googling convinces me that it was in large part a capitulation to mounting pressure from presumably well-intentioned people who vocally objected to the content – if not the mere the existence – of such literature. In a communication to Castle Hill Publishers, the primary target of the delisting (or ban), Amazon justified its decision with a vague reference to a “content guidelines” violation.

From: The Hoover Hog: My “Open Letter” Concerning the Amazon Blacklist and Freedom of SpeechImage by Lamessen

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Beinart: Donald Trump, Frank Gaffney, and the Looming Threat to American Muslims( 3 )

For years, Washington conservatives ridiculed these arguments and stigmatized Gaffney for making them. In 2003, after Gaffney attacked two Muslim staffers in the Bush White House, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist banned him from his influential “Wednesday meeting” of conservative activists. In 2011, according to sources close to the organization, the American Conservative Union informally barred Gaffney from speaking at CPAC, the ACU’s signature event. In 2013, the Bradley Foundation, which had backed the Center for Security Policy since 1988, cut off funds. That same year, Gaffney lost the Washington Times column he had been writing since the late 1990s. As late as December 2015, The Daily Beast declared that, “Frank Gaffney has been shunned by pretty much everyone in conservative intellectual circles.”

Yet less than 18 months later, America is led by a president, Donald Trump, who has frequently cited the Center for Security Policy when justifying his policies towards Muslims. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has called Gaffney “one of the senior thought leaders and men of action in this whole war against Islamic radical jihad.” Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions—who has said “Sharia law fundamentally conflicts with our magnificent constitutional order”—in 2015 won the Center for Security Policy’s “Keeper of the Flame” Award. Trump’s CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, has appeared on Gaffney’s radio program more than 24 times since 2013. Sebastian Gorka, who runs a kind of parallel National Security Council inside the White House called the Strategic Initiatives Group, has appeared on Gaffney’s radio program 18 times during that period. He’s called Sharia “antithetical to the values of this great nation” and recently refused to say whether he considered Islam a religion.

From: Donald Trump, Frank Gaffney, and the Looming Threat to American Muslims – The Atlantic

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Kuznicki: In Search of a Post-Godwin Politics( 28 )

In my office there’s a framed poster of Godwin’s Law: as the length of a conversation increases, the probability of a Nazi reference rises to one. After that, all rational discussion comes to an end. The author of the meme, internet legend Mike Godwin, autographed it for me, and as the editor of an online debate journal, I refer to it often. Sadly.

When Donald Trump was elected president, I draped my print of Godwin’s Law in black: It was clear that we were going to need some entirely new and more flexible laws in the time to come. How else to even talk about politics, with anyone?

More to the point: in a world dominated by a quite oddly specific political disaster narrative, what happens when the genuinely disastrous occurs – or even just the inexcusably lousy – and when whatever is happening is not entirely in keeping with our script? What do we do when a disaster looms all around us, right at this moment, only it’s not in a form that we’re expecting? What if it’s one that we’re not even trying to care about yet? That’s close to where I think we are today.

From: In Search of a Post-Godwin Politics – Liberal Currents

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Will Dropping the LSAT Requirement Create More Miserable Lawyers?( 96 )

The move might succeed in expanding the pool of applicants. But here’s what it won’t do: increase the number of people in law school who actually want to be lawyers.

See, the LSAT is a speed bump with potential to separate those who truly want to be lawyers — the ones who thrive doing logic games in the same way they’ll relish adding Bluebook-style footnotes to briefs and motions in years to come — from those who just aren’t sure what else to do with their lives.

I practiced at a firm for seven years. Lawyers are notoriously dissatisfied and depressed, but I had an unusually positive experience. Even so, I eventually quit, to pursue the TV writing career I’d always wanted.

But not after spending — some would say wasting — 10 years and six figures to get there.

The LSAT was rough. The logic games that make up its most infamous section are real killers, and my name, which means “logical” in Arabic, failed to give me any sort of edge. Studying was grueling, repetitive and at times mind-numbingly boring, adjectives that happen to have quite a bit of overlap with the way some lawyers would describe their jobs.

From: Will Dropping the LSAT Requirement Create More Miserable Lawyers? – The New York Times

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Noah Smith: The Man Who Made Us See That Trade Isn’t Always Free( 206 )

If empirical studies can lead top mainstream economists to question this once-universal belief, then the profession really is shifting from theory to evidence. With this in mind, I recently contacted Autor to ask him how his research on China has altered his own thinking about the costs and benefits of trade.

Autor told me that he had been astonished by his own findings. Autor, like most top economists, was once an orthodox thinker on the trade issue. He had expected American workers would adjust well to the shock of Chinese imports, finding other jobs for similar wages after a short period of dislocation. That was largely what happened in the 1980s and 1990s in response to Japanese and European competition. Instead, he and his co-authors found that trade with China in the 2000s left huge swathes of the U.S. workforce permanently without good jobs — or, in many cases, jobs at all.

This sort of concentrated economic devastation sounds like it would hurt not just people’s pocketbooks, but the social fabric. In a series of follow-up papers, Autor and his team link Chinese import competition to declining marriage rates and political polarization. Autor told me that these social ills make the need for new thinking about trade policy even more urgent. A large population of angry, unmarried men with deteriorating career prospects is a dangerous thing for any democracy.

From: The Man Who Made Us See That Trade Isn’t Always Free – Bloomberg View

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Meanwhile in another universe: The allure of dystopian alternative histories | The Economist( 38 )

For all their nuance, both “SS-GB” and “The Man in the Castle” are, at root, hero narratives whose protagonists attempt to overthrow a foreign invading force. (The heroine of “The Man in the High Castle”, Juliana Crain, first appears on-screen practicing aikido; by the end of episode two, she’s putting her moves to use on a Nazi bounty hunter.) And yet, for those wishing to draw parallels with today, wouldn’t the Nazis’ rise be a more ripe area for exploration? As Jochem Bittner wrote in the New York Times last May, “Some people today imagine that Hitler sneaked up on Germany, that too few people understood the threat. In fact, many mainstream politicians recognised the danger but they failed to stop him. Some didn’t want to: The conservative parties and the nobility believed the little hothead could serve as their useful idiot…” The parallels many viewers see in today’s Washington are almost too obvious. Meanwhile on British shores, the unravelling mess that is the Labour Party is testimony to the dangers of having a divided and useless opposition.

Certainly, there is precedent for the “homegrown fascism” narrative in the history of alternate-history: CJ Sansom’s 2012 novel “Dominion” takes as its historical point of divergence the appointment of Lord Halifax, rather than Winston Churchill, as prime minister in 1940. Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” takes a similar tack in replacing Roosevelt in the White House with an isolationist president, as does “It Can’t Happen Here”, Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel intended as a wake-up call to American complacency in the face of fascism. (Sales of Lewis’s novel soared after Trump’s election in November.)

From: Meanwhile in another universe: The allure of dystopian alternative histories | The EconomistImage by Smabs Sputzer

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In The Future, Our Attention Will Be Sold( 2 )

There are three common complaints against social media and the internet in general: 1) that it’s making us all narcissistic and shallow,2 2) that it’s crapping on our ability to maintain meaningful relationships and therefore making us lonelier,3 and 3) that it’s interfering with our ability to focus and get quote, unquote “more important shit” done in our lives.4

Interestingly, after quite a bit of research, it turns out that none of these claims are completely accurate. Social media doesn’t necessarily cause people to become more narcissistic, it just gives narcissistic people more opportunities to indulge their narcissism, and to a larger audience.5 It’s not interfering with either the closeness we feel to others or how many people we feel close to, it simply expands our network of casual acquaintances and the quantity of our casual social interactions.6 And while technology does present more opportunities for distraction (which we’ll get to), it also presents easier transmission of information, tools for collaboration and opportunities for organization.7

What I’m saying is that the whole “the internet is ruining us” argument is a big whiff. It’s likely just the anxiety that’s always wrought by new technologies. When TV and radio were invented, people complained that everyone’s brain was going to go to mush. When the printing press was invented, people thought it was going to destroy our ability to speak eloquently. Complaints about the minds of children being ruined by technology are as old as technology itself.8

Modern technology isn’t changing us. It’s changing society. There’s a difference. One is how we are, and one is simply how we react every day to the world around us. The social media age is changing the basic economics of our day-to-day lives. It’s changing them in profound ways, ways that most of us likely don’t notice. And surprisingly, it’s people like Kim Kardashian who are taking advantage of it.

From: In The Future, Our Attention Will Be Sold

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Japan’s suicide statistics don’t tell the real story( 1 )

According to the government’s 2012 “White Paper on Suicide,” in 2011 there were 30,651 cases recorded of people taking their own lives. The motives listed were in the following descending order of problems related to health; daily life; family; and work.

But here’s an odd thing: The reasons for the suicide were only determined in 73 percent of cases — in more than 25 percent of cases they were for reasons unknown. Many of those cases perhaps presented no reason because they weren’t suicides at all.

According to the NPA, since 1998 there have been 45 cases of murder initially ruled by police to have been due to natural causes or suicide. Among those, one was a man from Nagano Prefecture whose murder in 1980 was treated as a suicide until the killer confessed in 2000 — after the statute of limitations had passed.

The NPA has admitted that in Japan only 10 percent of suspicious deaths result in an autopsy. However, when a death initially appears to be due to suicide, only 5 percent are autopsied. The lack of a comprehensive use of autopsies was only brought to the public’s attention after several cases of “missed murders” came to light. The 45 known cases may just be “the edge of the graveyard” as some cops have put it.

From: Japan’s suicide statistics don’t tell the real story | The Japan Times

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Fight Club’s dark fantasies have become an even darker reality( 117 )

If, meanwhile, you followed the Gamergate problems a few years ago, saw those message boards develop into nodes of far-right agitation, or had the misfortune to hear the likes of Milo Yiannopolous, you will find many of Fight Club’s ideas about carving out a niche for men eerily familiar; frighteningly so, given the wider context of the book and the violence at its core.

Rereading the novel in 2016 is chilling. Researching the book online, I found myself falling down a dark wormhole of fascistic websites that quote big chunks of David Fincher’s film adaptation as parts of their credo; even though parts are almost verbatim from the book, alt-right types tend to quote the film – because they either don’t agree with the overall message of Palahniuk’s book or they haven’t bothered to read it.

From: Fight Club’s dark fantasies have become an even darker reality | Books | The Guardian

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Chris Caldwell: American Carnage( 25 )

There have always been drug addicts in need of help, but the scale of the present wave of heroin and opioid abuse is unprecedented. Fifty-two thousand Americans died of overdoses in 2015—about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents. Pawtucket is a small place, and yet 5,400 addicts are members at Anchor. Six hundred visit every day. Rhode Island is a small place, too. It has just over a million people. One Brown University epidemiologist estimates that 20,000 of them are opioid addicts—2 percent of the population.

Salisbury, Massachusetts (pop. 8,000), was founded in 1638, and the opium crisis is the worst thing that has ever happened to it. The town lost one young person in the decade-long Vietnam War. It has lost fifteen to heroin in the last two years. Last summer, Huntington, West Virginia (pop. 49,000), saw twenty-eight overdoses in four hours. Episodes like these played a role in the decline in U.S. life expectancy in 2015. The death toll far eclipses those of all previous drug crises.

And yet, after five decades of alarm over threats that were small by comparison, politicians and the media have offered only a muted response. A willingness at least to talk about opioid deaths (among other taboo subjects) surely helped Donald Trump win last November’s election. In his inaugural address, President Trump referred to the drug epidemic (among other problems) as “carnage.” Those who call the word an irresponsible exaggeration are wrong.

From: American Carnage by Christopher Caldwell | Articles | First Things

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Breaking Down the Father on BBC Being Interrupted by His Children( 10 )

The most important thing to notice about this quite nice home office, particularly for Asia (it’s really big!), is the stack of books on the bed over Kelly’s left shoulder. As should be rather obvious, those books aren’t there by accident! Kelly almost certainly placed them there for this interview; sadly, given the terrible compression applied to Twitter video, I have no idea what books they are, but rest assured they are very befitting Kelly’s position as Professor of Political Science at Pusan National University and BBC expert on South Korea.

The map on the wall is also a nice touch: this is a man who almost certainly knows his way around the globe, but a blank wall just doesn’t play well on TV.

There are two flaws, though, in Kelly’s premeditated presentation: one, the door is ajar. Obviously that will figure prominently. Two, on the left hand side of the screen something is intruding into the picture. I have no idea what it is; it’s just an excuse to explain that these interviews are done using the webcam in computer displays. It’s true! There is no cameraperson there; indeed, often you are looking into the camera and seeing nothing on your own screen. It’s really disorienting and honestly one of the reasons I don’t like doing these kinds of TV hits.

From: Breaking Down the Father on BBC Being Interrupted by His Children – Medium

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GOP Hard-liners’ Obamacare Incoherence( 82 )

Rhetorically, GOP hard-liners such as Paul claim that they are implacably opposed to federal subsidies for health insurance, that they’re taking a brave stand against big government. Operationally, however, they support subsidies for the rich, and only oppose subsidies for the poor and the sick. That comes across not as a principled stand against statism, but as a political stand against Americans whose votes they don’t need.

Real conservative reformers, who have been studying this problem for years, understand that the way to make our health-care system freer and fairer is to rectify that imbalance between how we subsidize health insurance for the wealthy and how we do it for the poor. That would involve reorienting Medicare away from the wealthy and toward the middle class and the poor. It would involve reforming the tax subsidy for, yes, Cadillac health insurance plans. It would involve helping vulnerable and poor Americans buy private coverage and build health savings accounts.

Conservative Health Expert, Avik Roy.

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Daylight saving time is just one way standardized time zones oppress you( 8 )

Standardized clock time is immensely useful. It is no exaggeration to say that the modern world depends on it: Ships once required it to navigate. The GPS systems that guide our cars, planes and farm combines count on standard time to calculate their positions. If you think setting up a phone call between Washington and London is difficult now because of differing time zones, imagine if local time varied by a few minutes between Washington and Pittsburgh, a few degrees of longitude west. In a society dependent on just-in-time supply chains and automated trading that works in microseconds, accurate, precisely calibrated time is as important as electricity.

But standardized time can be, and has been, used against us. Whether you get more out of clock time than it gets out of you is largely a function of your economic security. Almost 90 years after John Maynard Keynes’s prediction that the future would hold 15-hour workweeks and lives of leisure, we feel increasingly time-starved. Sociologist Judy Wajcman, in her book “Pressed for Time,” calls this the “time-pressure paradox”: Standardized time — in which DST is an archaic wrinkle — contributes to a world of labor-saving innovations. But the time they free up is immediately filled by demands for more work, and greater and more varied demands on our attention.From: Daylight saving time is just one way standardized time zones oppress you – The Washington Post

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Greenwald: Democrats Now Demonize the Same Russia Policies that Obama Long Championed( 50 )

In other words, Democrats are now waging war on, and are depicting as treasonous, one of Barack Obama’s central and most steadfastly held foreign policy positions, one that he clung to despite attacks from leading members of both parties as well as the DC National Security Community. That’s not Noam Chomsky drawing that comparison; it’s an Obama appointee.

The destructive bipartisan Foreign Policy Community was furious with Obama for not confronting Russia more, and is now furious with Trump for the same reason (though they certainly loath and fear Trump for other reasons, including the threat they believe he poses to U.S. imperial management through a combination of ineptitude, instability, toxic PR, naked rather than prettified savagery, and ideology; Glasser writes: “‘Everything I’ve worked for for two decades is being destroyed,’ a senior Republican told me”).

From: Democrats Now Demonize the Same Russia Policies that Obama Long Championed

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