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This week: when to break the rules, whether we're getting used to terror, how to be famous.
THE HIDDEN RULES OF RULES
This very short post (on Robin Hanson's blog) consists of two extracts, the linking theme of which is that if you're from a socially disadvantaged group and you're trying to make it in an elite environment, then following the rules isn't enough. The first extract is from a book I happen to have read and would very much recommend: it's called Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs, and it's about the subtle ways in which the interview process at top law firms and banks skews against students from less privileged backgrounds. It's not overt discrimination - the people doing the hiring see themselves as champions of diversity. It's because the decision makers look for a personal connection - 'chemistry' - which means they overlook highly talented, dedicated students who don't have the same cultural reference points as them; who haven't been in a rowing club, or gone skiing; who don't have funny stories about deep-sea diving. The extract from Pedigree that Hanson picks is about college itself, and how working class kids are more likely to assume they are there to learn and work hard, rather than - as their more confident peers assume - to socialise. That puts them at a subtle disadvantage. Hanson juxtaposes that with a passage from an article on Asian-Americans, who tend to assume that if your boss gives you a boring task, you do it well and don't complain. Silly them. As the author of that piece says, "in order to succeed, you have to understand which rules you're supposed to break."
Really interesting article on a question I've wondered about: when does terrorism stop being terrifying? ISIS knows that large-scale spectacular acts of terror are very hard to pull off, so it focuses on high frequency, relatively low level acts of violence, like the one in New York last week. Horrible as these incidents are for anyone connected with them, they may be losing their shock value. For better and for worse, humans have an endless ability to adapt and to numb themselves to things they once found unbearable.
BYE BYE JENNA
Jenna Abrams was an American blogger and tweeter with 70k followers. She made funny jokes about Kim Kardashian. She also espoused controversial, right wing views on immigration and American history, and she was a vociferous critic of Hillary Clinton (though she denied being pro-Trump). This blend of jokes and provocations won Abrams acres of coverage online, from Breitbart to the New York Times and the Daily Mail. I'm using the past tense because Jenna is with us no more: the Russian propagandists who created her have killed her off.
Amazon (founded 1994) is now the second biggest employer in the US.
HOW TO BE FAMOUS
The Guardian has a regular feature with a simple but winning format: a well-known musician talks through highlights from his or her back catalogue. This week Jude Rogers interviewed Led Z frontman Robert Plant and the whole thing is a joy, from the opening story about him and Noddy Holder, to how living next door to a Gujarati family introduced him to Indian music, to my favourite revelation, which is that he's a member of a society dedicated to Owain Glyndwr, the last Welsh Prince of Wales: "It's basically me and a load of retired teachers in a coach looking for his grave." In the paragraph before he was talking about meeting Elvis. The arc of Plant's life describes a perfect parabola: he was one of the biggest rock stars there has ever been at a time when being a rock star was the most fun it has ever been. Now he lives in the English countryside, close to old friends, near to where he grew up, a spaceman who found his way home.
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