Weekend reading: Whither the GOP, after the world gets eaten, and science reading and writing

2 minute read

I’m going to try to post more frequently, and one good way to do that is with link posts. The first of this week’s themes is the future of the Republican party. The following articles represent two competing schools of opinion: “we’re fine, it’s our message that needs work” vs. “we need to rethink our party and its policies.”  As a Democrat I’m biased, but my bet is on Ponnuru and not Rubin:

  • Building a bigger GOP” (Jennifer Rubin). “The enormous presidential electorate isn’t hopeless. Half have managed to retain traditional values and some basic economic and historical knowledge … Before conservatives give up on the rest they should try talking with them, not at them, to explain their ideas and dispel the pervasive liberal tropes about conservatives and conservatism.” (Via BillBissenas)

  • The Party’s Problem” (Ramesh Ponnuru). In contrast to Rubin, Ponnuru notes that “Better ‘communications skills,’ that perennial item on the wish list of losing parties, will achieve little if the party does not have an appealing agenda to communicate.” He concludes, “America is … a country that has strong conservative impulses: skepticism of government, respect for religion, concern for the family. What the country does not have is a center-right party that explains how to act on these impulses to improve the national condition.”

Speaking of the national condition, I’ve previously linked to Race Against the Machine, a book discussing the possibility of advanced computer software taking over many if not most of the work currently performed by white-collar workers. This is an explicit goal of leading technology VCs (see for example Marc Andreessen’s “Why Software is Eating the World”) and a number of people have been thinking of the implications of such a development for the economy and society were it to occur. Here are two more examples:

  • The Lights in the Tunnel” (Brad Feld). A venture capitalist’s brief review of the book of the same name by Martin Ford: “Ford starts by asserting [his underlying] mental model—that in the future 75% unemployment will permanently exist because jobs will have been automated away—and they will not be replaceable. … Ford asks rhetorically ‘Is it possible to have a prosperous economy and a civil society in such a scenario?’ (answer = yes and he’s going to propose a way to do it.)” See also Ford’s response.

  • Beyond a Jobless Recovery” (Paul Fernhout). “[The] link between jobs and income is breaking because of the declining value of most paid human labor relative to capital investments in automation and better design. … It is suggested that we will need to fundamentally reevaluate our economic theories and practices to adjust to these new realities emerging from exponential trends in technology and society.”

Finally, reading about science and writing about the same:

  • The Eighth Day of Creation (Horace Freeland Judson). If James Watson’s book The Double Helix is a blog post—brief, brash, and biased—then this is a New Yorker article: a comprehensive, factually accurate, and gracefully written account of the development of molecular biology from the discovery of the structure of DNA through the cracking of the genetic code that translates DNA into RNA and then into proteins.

  • The Sense of Style: Scientific Communication for the 21st Century” (Steven Pinker). Despite the title, this is of interest to anyone writing for the general public, whether in blogs or formal articles. I don’t normally watch one hour videos online, but this was time very well spent; I’m looking forward to the book. (Via Carl Zimmer)