Happy New Year. I hope you and your families had a fun and healthy holiday season and are enjoying the brief interregnum between making New Year’s resolutions and breaking them, after which begins the Fortnight of Self-Loathing. I want you to know in advance that I still love you even though you are a weak person.
In this newsletter I want to focus on my Christmas holiday to Barcelona. But before that, I need to mention my new book, arriving March 12 at a fine bookstore near you. It’s now available for preorder.
“Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt” is the fruit of my past 10 years of work as a social scientist and president of AEI. It is a handbook for people sick of the toxic politics in America and who want to do something to make it better — and get happier and more successful in the process.
The team at AEI has warned me not to start making promises I can’t keep, but if you preorder it now, when it comes out in March I will come to your house and read it to you.
WHERE I’VE BEEN
I spent my holiday break in Barcelona with Mrs. Brooks’ family, as I mentioned in the last newsletter. We got there in time for Christmas. I lightheartedly mentioned that we would be attending Christmas Mass at “one of Barcelona’s many magnificent, empty churches.” Ha. Ha. I snapped this picture at Christmas Mass.
Standing room only for Christmas Mass in Barcelona. I think half the people there thought they were waiting for the bus.
While in Barcelona we had plenty of quality shouting time with the family. But we also made sure to get away from the city for a day, driving up to the Pyrenees to a little village called Lles de Cerdanya, which is Ester’s family’s ancestral home and one of the places we used to go on vacation as newlyweds. Her last name appears to be shared by half the inhabitants, making me wonder a little bit about genetic diversity up there.
Lles de Cerdanya, where we used to visit back when we were newlyweds and I still had a great deal of hair.
The trip up and back to the mountains was a bit harrowing, in no small part because most Spanish drivers appear to be training for a Paris-to-Dakar rally. The road shoulder? That’s just another lane!
By the way, do you want proof of my once-resplendent locks? Fine. Here is a photo from my wedding reception back in 1991, also in a little town in the Catalan mountains.
Yes, I poured wine directly into my mouth at my own wedding. What’s your point?
Do you like dogs? Barcelona is full of dogs. They are everyplace you look. And children? Not so many. By some estimates, Spain is on track to lose a quarter of its rapidly aging population by 2050. But hey, the dogs are great! Maybe we can train them to run assisted living facilities.
A young couple out for a stroll with the children.
My family in America moved West every generation, one step ahead of the law. In contrast, my in-laws still live on the street the family moved to in 1851 when they came down from Lles de Cerdanya. After we were married, I lived there, too. Want to see what my old place looks like?
A young Spanish hoodlum.
WHAT I’M THINKING ABOUT
Too much info. While the amount of information readily available for our consumption has expanded in the digital age, our capacity for adequately processing that information has not. As a new study has found, the flood of information we face creates an attention bottleneck. Unfortunately, we increasingly only let through information that confirms our biases, amplifies our perception of possible risks, and impairs our ability to make objective assessments.
Bad last names. There are a number of ways in which scholars (known as onomasticians) believe our names affect our lives, from childhood behavior to occupational choices. In a new entry to the onomastics canon, people with last names starting with letters further from the beginning of the alphabet were found to achieve less distinction in high school, attain lower educational levels, and have less attractive first jobs. (If you really loved your children, you would change your last name to Aardvark.)
Getting in the way. As entrepreneurs know, if you want to start a business or simply work in a particular industry, most states require that you first meet specific licensing guidelines. For example, it takes 1,528 hours of training to be a barber in North Carolina. (Seriously, how long does it take to learn how to put a bowl over someone’s head?) This has a big impact on jobs. One team of researchers found that state licensing laws reduce the labor supply by between 17 percent and 27 percent.
WHAT I’M READING
AEI’s books of the year. If you’re in need of some good reading material for the coming year, look no further. More than a dozen of AEI’s scholars have compiled assessments of the best books they read in 2018, ranging from political commentary and histories of free trade to classic works of fiction.
What populists do to democracies. Our political moment has been largely defined by populism. But what exactly is populism, and what are its effects on democratic countries? In this essay, political scientists Yascha Mounk and Jordan Kyle unpack data they analyzed on 46 populist leaders across 33 countries over the past 30 years, finding that populists, whether left wing or right wing, often— though not always — erode democratic norms, worsen corruption, and stay in power longer than most other kinds of leaders.
North Korea in 2019. 2018 was a historic year for US–North Korea relations. What should we expect this relationship — and North Korean activity in general — to look like in the new year? In this article, the amazing Nick Eberstadt offers a clear-eyed analysis about what to expect from the world’s most ruthless dictatorship in 2019.
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO
Being that I’m in a Catalan mood, let’s listen to a bit of the 20th-century Catalan composer Federico Mompou, who died in 1987 at age 94.
This is his little song “Damunt de tu nomes les flors” (“Over you, only flowers”) written in 1948. It is sung here by the great Catalan soprano Montserrat Caballé, who just died in October in Barcelona.
I’m assuming it was written in mourning. But I have to admit the title sounds a little like a mafia threat. As in, “I hear you snitched to the cops. Over you, only flowers!”
One mildly interesting political tidbit: Most of Mompou’s career took place during the Francisco Franco regime, when the majority of artists and composers left the country in self-imposed exile. Not Mompou — he supported the regime.
Until next time,
P.S. AEI is now accepting applications for its 2019 Summer Honors Program, a fully-funded educational program taking place at AEI’s headquarters in Washington, DC. This year’s program is offering 12 intensive, week-long courses on everything from poverty and welfare policy, to macroeconomic theory, to challenges in the Middle East. Know an undergraduate student who might be interested? Direct them to the program homepage at the link above or nominate them for the program using this link.
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