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What to Do About Drones: A Symposium

Once known only as military weapons or hobby toys, drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles—UAVs) are predicted to play increasingly visible roles in a broad range of industries.

Obama Presidential Center a Monument to Waste

As the Washington Examiner reports, “the state of Illinois has approved $224 million to pay for street and transportation projects in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood around the Obama Presidential Center site, $199 million of which will fall directly on the shoulders of Illinois taxpayers.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the state’s “$174 million investment…
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Notes From an Academic Paper Mill

One evening last fall, my de facto supervisor e-mailed me an audio file consisting of a three-minute conversation between a college sophomore from Saudi Arabia and his English professor in New York. The student had just surreptitiously recorded this chat using his cell phone; he had approached the professor hoping for specifics on how to improve the first draft of an analysis of Sylvia Plath’s work he’d submitted the previous week. His side of the conversation was notable for how painfully little English he knew despite having ostensibly completed a three-page assignment in that language. From 1,500 miles away, I set to work on a second draft using this new information. I was careful to stick to the grading rubric and minimize grammar errors while still writing in a sufficiently unrefined manner to convincingly imitate a Riyadh native who’d come to the U.S. a year earlier to get a university degree. Within an hour or two, I had e-mailed the new draft—stripped of Microsoft Word metadata to conceal the identity of the document’s real creator—to …

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Harvard Thinks Rich People Are Better Than You

In an expert analysis commissioned to defend Harvard’s admissions practices against a lawsuit, claiming the elite university discriminates against Asian-American applicants, economist David Card explains that the school uses a complicated multivariate analysis that balances applicants’ academic records with a host of other factors. Asian Americans are significantly overrepresented among the highest-scoring college applicants in the United States. And an internal Harvard study from 2013 determined that, if admissions committees only considered academic qualifications, the proportion of Asians among Harvard students would rise from about 19 percent to about 43 percent. However, Harvard admissions officials contend that Asians have lower scores on measures of personality, including items for courage, likability, kindness and being “widely respected.” Card’s analysis shows that while Asians are disproportionately represented among the highest academic achievers, white applicants are more likely to score higher on the personality factors, and more likely to be considered multifaceted applicants. But is Harvard really choosing multifaceted white people with sparkling personalities over one-dimensional Asian academic grinds? Or are scores for “likability” and “kindness” really proxies for …

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The Dangers of Dugin’s Particularism

Followers of US metapolitics were shocked by the appearance of Aleksander Dugin on a recent Youtube video hosted by Lauren Southern. In the video, Southern interviews Dugin, asking him questions about the difficulties millennials may face in the future and where conservatism must go next. Dugin’s responses largely came across as incoherent—his answers are disorganised and encompass transhumanism, the singularity on the horizon, conservatism’s dedication to the defence of “yesterday in front of today,” ‘standpoint feminism,’ and the spiritual patriarchy of the nobles. Hope y’all are ready for this Russia series 😉 pic.twitter.com/l3sFrT1hrK — Lauren Southern (@Lauren_Southern) June 7, 2018 Dugin is a complicated character, and difficult to define. Some observers, even in Russia, have argued that he is a relatively unimportant figure in Russian politics. Others have asserted that he plays a critical role in Russia’s international politics, which included helping to repair Russian-Turkish relations in 2015. In any event, his name and voice are now familiar to many. His 1997 book, The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia, proposed a grand strategy …

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Mounting Debt Isn’t Just Italy’s Problem

The United States has serious debt problems that have not been addressed since the financial crisis shook the world a decade ago — they have actually been compounded.

FDA Moves Closer to Approving Ecstasy

The FDA has granted MDMA breakthrough therapy status to expedite the approval process by making it easier for drugmakers to begin clinical trials.

Zero Tolerance at the Mexican Border

Under a new ‘Zero Tolerance’ US border policy, 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults between 19 April and 31 May in an attempt to deter further illegal crossings. The pitilessness of such a policy was bound to provoke outrage, and widespread expressions of revulsion have only intensified with the circulation of photographs of distraught children. News outlets, public figures, and people all over the world have rushed to condemned the inhumanity of the Trump administration. Is the outrage misplaced or is it justified? By any reasonable account, it’s necessary to have and enforce immigration laws. The cultural, political, legal, and economic stability of nations depend on their ability to define and control their borders. Enacting policies that provide additional border control isn’t a problem in and of itself. Immigration policies are only a problem if and when they go too far. The new policy states that “if someone caught at the border illegally has a valid asylum claim, they could have a federal criminal conviction on their record, even if a judge later decides …

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#130 — Universal Basic Income

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with presidential candidate Andrew Yang about “universal basic income” (UBI). They discuss the state of the economy, the rise of automation and AI, the arguments for and against UBI, and other…

Why Women Don’t Code

Ever since Google fired James Damore for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” those of us working in tech have been trying to figure out what we can and cannot say on the subject of diversity. You might imagine that a university would be more open to discussing his ideas, but my experience suggests otherwise. For the last ten months I have been discussing this issue at the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering where I work. I have tried to understand why Damore’s opinions generated such anger and have struggled to decide what I want to do in response. As a result of my attempts to discuss this, our mailing list known as ‘diversity-allies’ is now a moderated list to prevent “nuanced, and potentially hurtful, discussion.” Instead, I have been encouraged to participate in face-to-face meetings that have often been tense, but which have helped me to understand where others are coming from. I embarked on this journey because I worry that tech companies and universities are increasingly embracing an imposed silence, …

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‘Factfulness’—A Review

A review of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund. Flatiron Books (April 2018) 352 pages.  With environmentalists predicting the end of the world like evangelists of doom, 800 million people languishing in extreme poverty worldwide, and an ever-present threat of nuclear conflict in perpetual limbo, it is perhaps understandable that many people assume that the 21st world is in crisis. Stark disparities of wealth in the US and the UK fuel bitter political polarisation and we appear to be obsessed with our differences at the expense of our commonalities. But is it correct to conclude that everything is therefore terrible and only likely to get worse? This is the world as we understand it through the media and pessimistic perceptions are, in part, a product our own failure to keep up with the times. Journalists naturally seek interesting and sensational stories but these are not representative of the wider picture. Our perspective on the state of the world is …

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Right-to-try Law Signed!

On May 30, President Trump signed a bill into law allowing terminally ill patients access to potentially lifesaving drugs before they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

My Dissertation Disaster

“This is your chance to write in depth about what interests you,” said my lecturers as I prepared to embark upon my History dissertation. I had just finished studying the Russian intelligentsia’s epistolary networks of the nineteenth century, and had enjoyed it so much that I had often found myself deep-diving into the Soviet literature of the twentieth century, too. In my thesis I wanted to marry this newfound twentieth century interest to my longstanding fascination with totalitarianism. Whenever the concept of totalitarianism had come up in classes, it had intrigued me, but during my three years at university I hadn’t had an opportunity to study it in any depth. I was enthralled by what the philosopher Isaiah Berlin called “the long blank page of Russian history” during the 1930s and 1940s, and I wanted to find out more about the institutionalization of literature in the USSR. My dissertation provided me with the chance to do so. But a little over a year later, I found myself turning in a paper entitled: “What Can the Relationship Between Soviet …

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The Birth of the Narcissism Revolution

Editor’s note: the following is an extract of Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us, The Overlook Press; 1 edition (March 27, 2018), 416 pages. In the months leading up to his death, in 1970, the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow began worrying about his legacy. He’d been preparing to write a critique of Esalen ‘and its whole chain’. One of the issues he’d become concerned with was self-esteem. Maslow was famous, most of all, for his hugely influential ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, which said that people are motivated to fulfill certain psychological appetites. At the top of his pyramid was ‘actualization’, which was extremely difficult and had, he thought, only been achieved by a few. But just beneath that was ‘esteem’. It seems that Maslow had been carrying out some tests on high-esteeming people that had been the cause of some concern: ‘High scorers in my test of dominance feeling, or self-esteem, were more apt to come late to appointments with the experimenter, to be less respectful, more casual, more forward, more condescending, …

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The Fight for Freedom Must Continue Post-Janus

Any day now the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the outcome of which will have major implications.

Crime.Gov.Con

Two of CA’s recent criminal reform measures prove to be a waste of taxpayer dollars and utterly callous to victims of violent crime. 

It’s the Spending, Stupid!

Following the release of the U.S. Treasury’s monthly statement for May 2018, the Wall Street Journal has some grim news about the U.S. government’s fiscal situation.

The Enlightenment’s Cynical Critics

Tribalism and slavery are as old a humanity. The very first human records are records of human bondage. Reports estimate that today 60 million people are held as slaves. While each one of these lives represents an unacceptable tragedy, not one occurs with the approval of law. And that is revolutionary. For while slavery is as old as humanity, abolitionism is a relatively recent phenomenon that did not emerge until the ideas and ideals of the Enlightenment nurtured it into existence. In a June 5 article for Slate, Jamelle Bouie writes of the Enlightenment: “At its heart, the movement contained a paradox: Ideas of human freedom and individual rights took root in nations that held other human beings in bondage and were then in the process of exterminating native populations.” In the context of an article largely aimed at undermining a “handful of centrist and conservative writers” who have taken up the Enlightenment’s defence, this appears to be a damning indictment of hypocrisy. That is, of course, unless one considers that, until the Enlightenment, it …

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The Indispensable Study of Inescapable Matters

Philosophy is not merely practical; it is the most practical discipline of all. Indeed, philosophy is so practical that it is indispensable. To know why, it is necessary to know what philosophy is. In the Western tradition, philosophy is subdivided into five branches: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Metaphysics is the starting point of any individual’s entire corpus of knowledge. Metaphysics begins with the axioms at the base of knowledge, and encompasses ideas pertaining to the basic nature of the world. These ideas include existence, consciousness, and their relation; entity, identity, attribute, change, and action; the nature of causality; and the nature and extent of free will. In short, metaphysics develops explicitly the basic concepts that are implicit in the very concept of knowledge. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, that is, the method of knowing. Epistemology addresses how to take the evidence of your senses and form concepts, statements, sequences of statements, and a corpus of knowledge that is organized, non-contradictory, readily applicable to new situations, and conducive to the discovery of new …

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Social Justice is Popular. But the Rule of Law is Sacrosanct

Editor’s note: The text that follows is adapted from the 2018 Rule of Law Lecture, delivered by Canadian Quillette editor Jonathan Kay to the Law Society of British Columbia on June 7 in Vancouver. This is a speech about the interplay of law and social justice. And I can’t think of a better way to start it than by praising a great lawyer who died last month at the age of 104—a black woman by the name of Dovey Johnson Roundtree. In 1965, Ms. Roundtree represented a poor black day laborer named Raymond Crump Jr., who stood falsely accused of killing a glamorous white woman in Washington D.C. Everyone assumed Crump would hang. But in court, Roundtree saved Crump’s life. Even before that, Roundtree, did amazing things. She was one of the first female officers—of any race—in the U.S. military. And in 1952, she helped strike down racial segregation on interstate buses. I start with Ms. Roundtree because she embodies a story that lawyers love telling. It is a story in which law and social …

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NEA Grants for Clown College

Of all the strange things that the U.S. government spends money upon, perhaps one of the strangest is a college for clowns.

FAA Puts “Diversity” Over Safety

According to news reports, during the Obama administration, the Federal Aviation Administration diluted standards for air traffic controllers by screening out applicants competent in science and even those with experience as pilots.

Post-Postmodernism on the Left

Postmodernism has never been as unpopular as it is today, especially on the right of the political spectrum. Often, conservative critics can be heard to blame left-wing ‘postmodern neo-Marxists’ and ‘cultural Marxism’ for the emergence of a vitriolic identity politics that eschews a commitment to truth, reason, and dialogue. Left-wing postmodernists are seen as undermining truth, reason, and dialogue by criticizing these values as ideological ‘myths’ designed to reinforce white male privilege, Western colonialism, and so on. The specter of left-wing postmodernism is also invoked as one of the forces undermining the confidence of the West, leading us to submit to dangerous and illiberal groups around the globe. Some even go so far as to claim that, in allegedly promoting a fundamentally collectivist philosophy qua the Soviet Union, left-wing postmodernists are proto-Totalitarians waiting for their opportunity to quash all dissent. On this reading, the philosophy which guides the utterances of a transsexual rights activist in the United States and a Maoist revolutionary in China, are one and the same and just as dangerous in principle: …

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Censorship and Stereotypes: China’s Hip-Hop Generation

Last year, China was hit by a phenomenon unprecedented in its history. Close to a billion of its citizens tuned in to watch ‘The Rap of China,’ a competition designed to introduce hip-hop to a broader public. It was so successful that several of the show’s participants, many of whom were relative unknowns from the underground, went on to sign lucrative record deals and become mainstream stars. The rising popularity of a genre known for its politically subversive content and heavy use of profanity clearly unnerved some of the more staid, rigid ideologues in the Communist Party who saw the art form’s potential to encourage youngsters to stray from collectivist values. Subsequently two high-profile rappers, GAI and PG One, both competitors in ‘The Rap of China,’ were reprimanded for their misogynistic content. The latter was singled out for particular disapproval by the Communist Youth League for his references to pornography and drug use. A nationwide government crackdown ensued and hip-hop culture was effectively banned from the heavily state-controlled mainstream media on the grounds that it …

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The Historian’s Hubris

Niall Ferguson is a compelling writer, wry and puckish, intellectually curious. He has a knack for converting his deep knowledge of history and finance into narratives the average reader can grasp. There’s a generosity and a sense of excitement to his writing that have helped propel him to stardom in the publishing world and on the small screen. But for all his qualities, Ferguson didn’t know enough to pause before hitting ‘Send.’ Instead, by gleefully attempting to crush a coterie of left-wing Stanford University students who were trying to gain influence within his invited speakers series Cardinal Conversations, he threw gasoline on the blazing free speech wars and turned his own, noble-sounding words into ash. Ferguson has vowed to retreat “to [his] beloved study,” where presumably he will hunker down, reassess his methods and motives, and even, one hopes, re-emerge a better man. One of our era’s most recognizable defenders of free speech, Ferguson co-founded Cardinal Conversations to foster open debate at Stanford. When it was announced that Charles Murray, author of the infamous 1994 monograph, The Bell …

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#129 — An Insider’s View of Medicine

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Dr. Nina Shapiro about the practice of medicine. They discuss the unique resiliency of children, the importance of second opinions, bad doctors, how medical training has changed in recent…

The Tragedy of Australian Education

In April, the Australian government finally published its airy and platitudinous report and review of the country’s schools. Popularly known as ‘Gonski 2.0’ after David Gonski, the businessman who chaired the review panel and who had chaired a previous review of school funding, it provided little evidence to support its proposals, despite evidence being a key requirement in the terms of reference. The report states that Australia must ditch its ‘industrial model’ of school education, the sort of cliché you would expect to hear in the most derivative education conference speech. Instead, each young person must “emerge from schooling as a creative, connected, and engaged learner with a growth mindset” (see here for a double meta-analyses of growth mindset interventions which shows that they have virtually no effect). The details of how to achieve this are vague, but the panel is clear on one key point: rigid, age-based curriculum content must be blown apart in favor of progressing students individually through a set of skills such as literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and self-management. Despite its managerial …

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Giving the Devil His Due: Why Freedom of Inquiry in Science and Politics is Inviolable

In the 1990s I undertook an extensive analysis of the Holocaust and those who deny it that culminated in Denying History, a book I coauthored with Alex Grobman.1 Alex and I are both civil libertarians who believe strongly that the right to speak one’s mind is fundamental to a free society, so we were surprised to discover that Holocaust denial is primarily an American phenomenon for the simple reason that America is one of the few countries where it is legal to doubt the Holocaust. Legal? Where (and Why) on Earth would it be illegal? In Canada, for starters, where there are ‘anti-hate’ statutes and laws against spreading ‘false news’ that have been applied to Holocaust deniers. In Austria it is a crime if a person “denies, grossly trivializes, approves or seeks to justify the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity.” In France it is illegal to challenge the existence of “crimes against humanity” as they were defined by the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg “or in connection with any crime within the …

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The Threat of Authoritarian Liberalism

I am now a member of the Washington elite circles I scorned in my youth. My early hostility did not stem from partisan ideology, but rather from a tacit social understanding that lowly academics from state universities (i.e. not elite Ivies) like me would never be listened to, much less embraced. Both the following story and my burgeoning Beltway comeuppance contain a kernel of wisdom that informs a new way of thinking about the current populist moment. It was May 2015, the third iteration of a course I was teaching on “21st Century Dictatorships” at the University of South Carolina. The course explored the varieties, strengths, and weaknesses of continuous and categorical measures of democracy—such as those employed by Freedom House, Polity, the Geddes typology, and others. It was substantively so full of dark material—repression, violence, assassinations, coups, poverty, and censorship—that I had become fond of making the final class an open conversation about the future. I hoped to end that particular semester with an imaginative spark—my grand theory of ‘authoritarian liberalism.’ This theory—more of an interesting …

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