News 01.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

News 01.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web
News 01.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web
News 01.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

My life divides, evenly enough, into three political eras. I was born in 1980, a year after Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street with the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi on her lips: “Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.” The Conservative-run Britain of the eighties was not harmonious. Life beyond the North London square where my family lived often seemed to be in the grip of one confrontation or another. The news was always showing police on horseback. There were strikes, protests, the I.R.A., and George Michael on the radio. My father, who was a lawyer in the City, travelled to Germany to buy a Mercedes and drove it back, elated. Until Thatcher resigned, when I was ten, her steeply back-combed hair and deep, impossible voice played an outsized role in my imagination—a more interesting, more dangerous version of the Queen.

I was nearly seventeen when the Tories finally lost power, to Tony Blair and “New Labour,” an updated, market-friendly version of the Party. Before he moved to Downing Street, Blair lived in Islington, the gentrifying borough I was from. Boris Johnson, an amusing right-wing columnist, who was getting his start on television, also lived nearby. Our local Member of Parliament was an out-of-touch leftist named Jeremy Corbyn.

New Labour believed in the responsibility of the state to look after its citizens, and in capitalism to make them prosper. Blair was convincing, even when he was wrong. He won three general elections in ten years and walked out of the House of Commons to a standing ovation, undefeated in his eyes. I was turning thirty when Labour eventually ran out of road, undone by the Iraq War, the global financial crisis, and the grim temper of Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor. He was caught in a hot-mike moment describing an ordinary voter, who was complaining about taxes and immigration, as a bigot.

Since then, it’s been the Conservatives again. In 2010, the Party returned to government in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Since 2015, it has held power alone. Last May, the Tories surpassed the thirteen years and nine days that New Labour had held office. But the third political era of my lifetime has been nothing like the previous two. There has been no dominant figure or overt political project, no Thatcherism, no Blairism. Instead, there has been a quickening, lowering churn: five Prime Ministers, three general elections, two financial emergencies, a once-in-a-century constitutional crisis, and an atmosphere of tired, almost constant drama.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

Even after everything I’d learned about Chicken Soup for the Soul, I still ended up ugly-crying in a hotel ballroom alongside 206 other sniffling adults, my mind a mess of guilt and shame, contemplating how I and I alone was to blame for every problem I’ve ever had.

“Everything in your life you created, promoted, or allowed,” the man on stage was saying. “Everything that happens to you is for a reason. It’s a gift.”

Gooey bands of mucus stained my T-shirt. Everything was all my fault, I saw now. Even the drunken driver who’d left me with a brain injury I’d spent the past five years recovering from. It must have been a Lesson From The Universe, an experience I deserved.

I’d come to the John Wayne Airport Hyatt Regency in Newport Beach, California, for a “Breakthrough to Success” weekend last fall with Jack Canfield, the spiritual teacher and mastermind behind the best-selling nonfiction book series of all time: “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Back in the early 1990s, Canfield told us, he meditated for several days to conjure a title for an anthology of short, feel-good tales he hoped would improve readers’ lives by demonstrating how our thoughts create our circumstances. The original collection of 101 stories, interspersed with motivational quotes, poems, proverbs, and cartoons, would go on to sell 11 million copies and become a cultural touchstone, read by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Tony Soprano’s mistress.

What followed was hundreds of sequels and spinoffs, everything from “Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul” to “Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul” to the bestseller I read cover to cover, several times, in sixth grade: “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul.” By 2003, research found that more young readers seeking solace turned to the Chicken Soup series than to the Bible.

Like most self-help books, “Chicken Soup” offers the reassuring message that anyone is capable of anything — that with the right attitude, you can heal yourself, find love, and, as the translated Indonesian title promises, “Become Rich and Happy.” Each book brims with advice that Russ Kamalski, Chicken Soup’s former chief operating officer, told me appealed to “moms that were working and picking up their kids in the carpool line and wanted to read an inspiring story to make their life feel a little bit better.”

But this emphasis on individual agency comes with a dark side. If you are the author of your own fate, you are also to blame for your own suffering — no matter how far beyond your control it may seem. Canfield calls it taking 100% responsibility. “A lot of people get cancer,” he says. “But I always ask them: Did you eat an organic diet? Did you drink filtered water? You’re responsible for maintaining your ignorance. You’re responsible for not making enough money to be able to afford the stuff you need to be able to buy.”

Read the rest of this article at: Business Insider

News 01.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

Black holes are, of course, awesome. But, for scientists, they are more awesome. If a rainbow is marvellous, then understanding how all the colors of the rainbow are present, unified, in ordinary white light—that’s more marvellous. (Though, famously, in his poem “Lamia,” John Keats disagreed, blaming “cold philosophy” for unweaving the rainbow.) In recent years, the amount of data that scientists have discovered about black holes has grown exponentially. In January, astronomers announced that the James Webb Space Telescope had observed the oldest black hole yet—one present when the universe was a mere four hundred million years old. (It’s estimated that it’s now 13.8 billion years old.) Recently, two supermassive black holes, with a combined mass of twenty-eight billion suns, were measured and shown to have been rotating tightly around each other, but not colliding, for the past three billion years. And those are just the examples that are easiest for the public to make some sense of. To me, a supermassive black hole sounds sublime; to a scientist, it can also be a test of wild hypotheses. “Astrophysics is an exercise in incredible experiments not runnable on Earth,” Avery Broderick, a theoretical physicist at the University of Waterloo and at the Perimeter Institute, told me. “And black holes are an ideal laboratory.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 01.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

The prize of Alena Kate Pettitt’s childhood Barbie collection, the item that she still searches for fruitlessly on eBay, was a dining table. Press a button, and—magic!—a turkey dinner swung around from underneath and landed on top. It is a totemic image of homemaking: a hearty home-cooked meal, served by an immaculate, apron-wearing hostess—an actual doll. “It was the best thing ever,” Pettitt said, of Barbie’s turkey, over coffee in her home town of Cheltenham, England. “I wish I still had it.”

Pettitt, who is thirty-eight, is a self-proclaimed “trad wife,” one of the earliest and best known in a burgeoning movement of women who spend their days taking care of their homes and families and documenting their activities on social media. Her fame was assured in 2020, when, on a BBC News video, she discussed her ambition to serve her husband, but her desire long predated that moment. After all, the contours of a traditional marriage, in which the man goes out to work while the woman stays home to cook, care, and clean, were shaped many decades ago. Pettitt, like a lot of the trad wives who fill various social-media platforms with photographs of outdoor clotheslines, has an intense nostalgia for the postwar period. “If you put me in a time machine back to the fifties, I’d have it made,” she told me. “Everyone wouldn’t be asking me when I’m going back to work.” Her point ran a little deeper: that era, she believed, was the last time the housewife was celebrated. She appeared in ads. Her domestic rituals inspired magazines. Whether she was happy was not for Pettitt to say, but “at least she was seen.”

For readers of Betty Friedan or viewers of “Mad Men,” the idea that the interior life of a mid-twentieth-century housewife could be anything but tormented is strange, but the trad wives want to reclaim the role and show it as a source of pride and happiness. Though many trad wives voice suspicions of contemporary feminism, there is no singular model. The current queen is Hannah Neeleman, a homesteading mother of eight, who milks cows, bakes, dances, and takes part in beauty pageants, to the delight and incomprehension of her followers. Some, like the American Estee Williams, a quasi-Marilyn Monroe with white-blond waves and a cinched waist, advocate marital subservience. Others, like the Australian Jasmine Dinis, sell Biblical womanhood affirmations. One, the Canadian Gwen Swinarton, has pivoted from making porn videos for OnlyFans and A.S.M.R. content for YouTube to the trad-wife space. (In a recent TikTok testimony, she credited the transition to God.) Then there are more openly political, like Abby Roth, who splices mothering tips with anti-abortion content.

Pettitt, the O.G., is a rare Brit and a purist. She never had commercial aspirations for her content. Instead, she is more the movement’s house intellectual: she wrote two books with no intention of making money, she told me, but to put something out in the world for girls like her. (The books, which her husband, Carl, helped her to self-publish, “certainly don’t pay the mortgage,” she said, but cover the odd grocery bill.) In the books, she set out her Christian beliefs and principles of womanhood long before the new generation of trad wives began filming themselves saucily kneading sourdough. Pettitt has watched the rise of the younger trad wives with fascination, then alarm. “It’s become an aesthetic, and then it’s become politicized,” she said, of the movement in its new era. “And then it’s become its own monster.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 01.04.24: Five Essential Articles from Around the Web

I’m fond of effective altruists. When you meet one, ask them how many people they’ve killed.

Effective altruism is the philosophy of Sam Bankman-Fried, the crypto wunderkind now sentenced to 25 years in prison for fraud and money laundering. Elon Musk has said that EA is close to what he believes. Facebook mogul Dustin Moskovitz and Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn have spent mega-millions on its causes, and EAs have made major moves to influence American politics. In 2021, EA boasted of $46 billion in funding—comparable to what it’s estimated the Saudis spent over decades to spread Islamic fundamentalism around the world.

Effective altruism pitches itself as a hyperrational method of using any resource for the maximum good of the world. Here in Silicon Valley, EA has become a secular religion of the elites. Effective altruists filled the board of OpenAI, the $80 billion tech company that invented ChatGPT (until the day in November when they nearly crashed the company). EA is also heavily recruiting young people across rich universities like Stanford, where I work. Money is flowing from EA headquarters to entice students at Yale, Columbia, Berkeley, Penn, Swarthmore—if you went to a wealthy school, you’ll find EAs all over your alma mater.

Before the fall of SBF, the philosophers who founded EA glowed in his glory. Then SBF’s crypto empire crumbled, and his EA employees turned witness against him. The philosopher-founders of EA scrambled to frame Bankman-Fried as a sinner who strayed from their faith.

Yet Sam Bankman-Fried is the perfect prophet of EA, the epitome of its moral bankruptcy. The EA saga is not just a modern fable of corruption by money and fame, told in exaflops of computing power. This is a stranger story of how some small-time philosophers captured some big-bet billionaires, who in turn captured the philosophers—and how the two groups spun themselves into an opulent vortex that has sucked up thousands of bright minds worldwide.

The real difference between the philosophers and SBF is that SBF is now facing accountability, which is what EA’s founders have always struggled to escape.

If you’ve ever come across effective altruists, you’re likely fond of them too. They tend to be earnest young people who talk a lot about improving the world. You might have been such a young person once—I confess that I was. A decade before the founding of effective altruism, I too set out to save the world’s poorest people.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired