The Zeitgeist Weekend Edition – 3.24.2019

Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories. On the weekend, we leave finance to cover the last week or so in other shifting parts of the Zeitgeist – namely, politics and culture. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it.

But these are articles that have struck a chord in narrative world. 

How AI Will Rewire Us [The Atlantic]

In a sea of insipid AI takes, I liked this one from Nicholas Christakis a lot. For obvious reasons, most AI takes focus on the machine-to-human nexus. It’s the angle that relates to selling products, for one, and is the one which guides how individual technologies will be developed. To some extent, we have waved our hands at the human-to-machine dimension with clunky ethical discussions, most of which take the inevitable detour into sex. But I think that it is true that the slow encroachment of AI (and even advanced software that falls rather short of AI) into more and more of our lives may have its richest and most perilous influence on our human-to-human interaction. A worthy angle for weekend contemplation.

Teacher pay raises, Hillary Clinton’s Dallas mayoral endorsement, Beto O’Rourke on the trail [Dallas Morning News]

Hard-hitting stuff!

Now, please consider why a Texas-based paper’s home-town puff piece on the Beto campaign was the most highly connected article discussing 2020 elections in the past week. It should be no surprise that sentiment of articles about both him and his campaign remain consistently higher than those of other candidates.

World Video Game Hall of Fame 2019 Finalists Announced [Variety]

I didn’t know this Hall of Fame existed until now, so of course I have very strong opinions about it. To fully form yours, visit the site itself to see what all has been inducted since the 2015 inauguration. What you will discover is that the “Video Game Hall of Fame” is really the “Video Game Console, Arcade and Mobile Hall of Fame.” PCs are sort of an afterthought in this alternate universe. Beyond that, I don’t have any issue with the inclusion of some nominees that are really more pop culture phenomena than quality games. Popular casual games still matter. Still for my money, there are a few pretty big omissions that are way ahead of most of this year’s nominees:

  • Command & Conquer – Yes, Dune 2 came first. Yes, Warcraft ended up having more legs and launched more E-Sports-friendly franchises, but it was really Warcraft II that established that franchise’s influence. And after its initial releases, a post-EA C&C repeatedly misfired with overproduced video cut-scene nonsense. For my money, though, it was C&C that made real-time strategy a thing. Plus it spawned a follow-on game with the best title music of any game ever and maybe the best cheesy cut-scene in video game history.
  • Sim City – Another genre-establishing game – and still completely playable. I agree with taking Civ first, but strategy is still woefully underrepresented in the existing list even after Civ glides past this vote.
  • NHL ’94 – It remains the best, most intuitive, most enjoyable sports game ever made. If you’re even considering NBA 2K before NHL ’94, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Quake – I get going with Doom and saying, “We’ve got to cover more genres and influences before we start going for also-rans.” Except Quake isn’t an also-ran. Doom didn’t really kick off the deathmatch format that has culminated in the weird modern Fortnite obsession. Quake did. I’m OK with getting Half-Life in first, just because its Counter-Strike mod was about as influential as you can get. To that end, any Hall of Fame that inducts Halo before Half-Life…well…
  • Ultima Online – WoW and all of its clones don’t exist without UO. RPGs don’t exist as we know them today without Lord British / Richard Garriott. Honestly, it doesn’t even have to be this one. But how about we get a damn Ultima game in before we start talking seriously about…Candy Crush.
  • Diablo – I’ve no problem with the RPGs they’ve included (although I would have taken Final Fantasy VI (III in the U.S.) over VII, which has a pretty special and iconic cut-scene itself, but there’s a whole genre of isometric, hack-and-slash style RPGs that were spawned by Diablo. It wasn’t the first of its kind, and it has been surpassed, but it was the catalyst for some of the greatest single-player experiences there are.

The secret to better cheese might be hip-hop, scientists say [CNET]

Abstractions everywhere!

Measuring the effects of bass reverberation and average volume on the development and maturation of cheese and calling it the effects of hip-hop vs. classical or rock music is good fun, and we’re all for good fun. We’re also all for getting super pedantic about people pretending that their preferred representation of their preferred abstraction is representative.

Next time don’t put Magic Flute up against the woody thump of A Tribe Called Quest’s iconic, pressing double-bass. Play your cheese some Stravinsky, cowards. Or better yet, play it some Prokofiev and sell it to your customers as Pagan Monster Cheese.

Northern Europe Dominates Happiness Rankings Once Again [Forbes]

Rusty’s First Law of Transmutation of Happiness: Every article about happiness is actually just an article someone wanted to write about how other countries should pursue Scandinavian social policies.

Here’s my proposal: Every time you write an article which seeks to draw conclusions about desirable fiscal or social policy from the experience in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland or Finland, you put a dollar in the jar, and we’ll use that to pay for your favorite Nordic social program. I love each of these countries. I have never met anyone I didn’t like from any! Not a single one. I also know that these countries produce rich data sets. I get it.

But come on.

The top ranking country in this study is Finland. Finland is the size of greater Boston. 90% of its people are of Finnish ancestry. Norway is the size of Greater Phoenix, 86% populated by people of Norwegian ancestry. Iceland is a country with the population of Rockford, Illinois, 2/3 of whom live in one city.

They are beautiful, their people are wonderful, you should definitely visit them, and you should stop using them as case studies unless you really think it’s a topic that isn’t likely to be unduly biased by the unique traits of these countries. If you must pretend that your social science benefits from pseudo-empiricism, at least find some new data sets that deal with the unavoidable complications of big, multi-regional countries diversified by religion, class, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity.

Warren Calls for End of Electoral College and Removal of Confederate Statues [NPR]

I don’t have much more to say about Confederate statues that Ben and I haven’t covered in some depth already. Frankly, I don’t have much to say about Senator Warren’s remarks at all, which probably represent her heart-felt views, and which at any rate were pretty standard campaign trail fare. Anti-confederate monument and anti-electoral college rhetoric don’t bear much risk from a national electoral perspective – Warren would be lucky to pull 40% of Mississippi in a good election year.

But for the New York Times, the line between Analysis and News coverage continues to veer in a perilously gray direction. “Ms. Warren also sought to present new ideas” and “Ms. Warren also used the forum to present herself as a candidate who understands racial inequities” are brutal examples of Fiat News. Question begging, affected language – the whole article, brief as it is, reads like a press release. I am being honest when I tell you that I am not sure whether the Times intended this to be read as analysis of news or news.

As Ben has said about some other great US institutions, I worry that our greatest news publications are “not even pretending any more.”


  1. Centipede and Myst!
    Now that any semblance of mainstream media legitimacy has been quasi-permanently destroyed by Taibbi, Greenwald, et al, I worry that your rather brilliant narrative expose tool will drift from insight to infotainment. Maybe you could offer a way to input a custom set of ‘sources’ and then compile the various indexes?

  2. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little infotainment! Still, working on exactly that. To my shame, my coding skills rate about a 1.5 on a scale of 1 to 10. Slow going. We’ll get there.

  3. If you ever want a free hand in coding…reach out…mine are probably a 5 out of 10 (I am old and rusty…haha…obvious pun intended…obviously :wink: but I will definitely be worth the price (zero) and won’t charge extra for the witticisms. Serious offer.

  4. Love the take on Nordic happiness surveys. Take about looking at baseline assumptions before reaching conclusions. Well said!

  5. Rusty’s is the stronger argument for why the analogy to the Scandinavian countries isn’t powerful, but there’s also this: we’ve had over a hundred years of watching two models be (always) imperfectly employed - sometimes in reasonably lab-like conditions as in East and West Germany or North and South Korea or China and Taiwan - and if the totality of that evidence doesn’t argue for a strong lean toward individual freedom under a capitalist system, then we should stop using history.

    Note, I said “lean,” meaning not a Randian model of arrant capitalism, but a bred-in-the-body-politic’s-bone bias toward greater individual freedom and market-based solutions and always a hesitancy and humility when going in the other direction.

Continue the discussion at the Epsilon Theory Forum


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