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Please don't take my man
This week: what emojis are for, why Hillary lost, and why you should be suspicious of yourself.
This is an interesting review of a couple of new books on emojis. I'm not anti-emoji (is being anti-emoji even a thing any more, or did they win?) but I think they're a sign of how inadequate our electronic media are when it comes to conveying the very rich information you get from even the briefest personal encounter. As the reviewer says, emojis are a form of "lossy compression", but much is lost. For me they point to a problem with the way we communicate today: an over-reliance on text, and short texts at that. Text is a very blunt, unfeeling, low-info medium, particularly on screens for some reason (it's why you have to boost the signal on emails by using exclamation marks you'd never use in print or handwriting). Strip out the subtle emotional cues that underpin face-to-face human interaction and the chances of people falling out gets higher. So we now have a global communication infrastructure primed for conflict. Anyway never mind, smiley face.
Julia Galef, one of my favourite online presences/thinkers, gives a terrific talk on the insidious power of "motivated reasoning". I particularly like the way she weaves her argument through a telling of the Dreyfus Affair. Motivated reasoning, the posh phrase for "wishful thinking", is a perceptual blight that gets everywhere. If what you believe is true lines up too neatly with what you want to be true, be suspicious. It's really hard to discount for this bias even when you know about it. I thought I'd done that before the Brexit and Trump votes; I was wrong. Motivated reasoning gives reality more ways to sneak up from behind and slap you in the face.
For me, FiveThirtyEight does the best all-round US politics podcast, and it's a staple of my pod diet. Nate Silver and his gang combine expertise with likeability. You get great, balanced, nerdy discussions of what's going on, plus the convivial pleasure of hanging out with a group of people who make each other laugh. OK I admit it, I basically I think they're my friends now - after a few listens you will too. Last week's episode on Hillary, 2016, and what it means for 2020, was very good. Talking of which, if you're up for a real deep dive into Why Hillary Lost, read this extraordinary, blistering polemic from Stan Greenberg, the legendary Democratic pollster who worked on Bill Clinton's election victories. Though he refrains from criticising HRC herself, he rips into her campaign. He's furious with Robby Mook, her young campaign manager, for not heeding his warnings. Greenberg was worried all along that Clinton sounded too detached from the anger and alienation of large parts of the electorate ("America is already great" was a hollow refrain). I think in retrospect, he was clearly right, and anyone interested in how to win next time should take heed.
Now online: my review, for last week's New Statesman, of a new book by former England cricketer Mike Brearley, about what it means to be "on form" in sport and life. As you can probably tell, I didn't love it. In fact I hated it to an unreasonable degree (though I hope you can't tell that from the way I write about it). I say unreasonable because while it's not great, it's not terrible. OK it is terrible but it's not that terrible. But reviewing can put you in a dysfunctional relationship with a book. In general I'm a believer in giving up on books you're not enjoying (something I explain here, see #10) but of course, if you're reading a book to review it, you have to carry on, with the result that you become resentful of it, until your (well my) resentment builds, page by page, into a screaming howl of rage. Which I then did my best to swallow.
Somebody has taken Jolene by Dolly Parton and slowed it right down and it sounds amazing, quite possibly - dare I? - better than the original.