2016 was the best year yet for An Elephant in the Woods, thanks to all of your readership! It has also been a year of changes and innovation at the site. I have changed the layout of the website and created Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages to further share my articles, and these have been incredibly helpful at expanding its audience. I also started my Profiles in Nature and Profiles in History segments that have proven to be immensely popular. I am trying to figure out other segments like that to start in 2017 and am more than open for suggestions! I am also not completely happy with my current website layout so if anyone has tips for that I am more than willing to try new designs out.
DePaul University’s reputation has really sunk this year. It worked to censor both College Republicans and College Socialists. One of the most telling instances occurred when Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak on campus this past spring. 10 minutes into his speech he was interrupted by protesters who refused to leave. Unsurprisingly, Milo then led the group of students who had gathered to hear him speak to the president’s office, only to see that the president was in France at the time. Amusingly, these students were followed immediately by the crowd that had gathered to protest Milo, so it turned into organized chaos as both groups roamed around DePaul’s campus until Milo hopped in an Uber and headed off. DePaul’s Facebook rating promptly plummeted to 2 stars after this, and they ultimately were forced to remove the function altogether.
2016 has seen its fair share of students melting down when speakers they don’t like speak on campus. However, as far as I can tell, professors rarely join, let alone instigate these protests. Immediately after I sent in my final essay for Fall Quarter, one of my friends at Princeton messaged me on Facebook to let me know that Princeton’s Anthropology Chair was leading a protest and walkout of a speech that Charles Murray, the inventor of the bell curve, was giving on campus. When faculty are acting like student protesters, there is clearly a problem.
Shortly after this academic year started, UChicago President Robert Zimmer emailed all students to “to reaffirm our commitment to rigorous discourse and free expression, to enhance the diversity of our faculty, students, and staff, and to foster an inclusive climate on campus.” This email made it very clear that UChicago was not backing down from Dean Ellison’s letter.
Shortly after my Winter Quarter started last year I flew back to Maryland to be a panelist for the Republican primary debate in Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District that had almost as many candidates as the Republican presidential field! This was an incredible experience and gave me a newfound appreciation for how difficult moderating any kind of political forum can be. We had to give all of the candidates equal time even though there were clear tiers in the quality of the campaigns that they were running. This is obviously the opposite of many of the presidential primary debates, where many of the candidates on stage were ignored for much of the debate.
Pokémon Go was one of the summer’s biggest hits. I managed to avoid getting caught up in the obsession over it, but I was able to appreciate how incredible it was that a Pokémon called Clefairy named LOVEISLOVE was placed right across from the Westboro Baptist Church.
Hillary Clinton received a lot of criticism during this election for being inauthentic. 10 years ago, she joined Senator Barack Obama in voting for a bill that required:
Systematic surveillance of the international land and maritime borders of the United States through more effective use of personnel and technology, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras; and physical infrastructure enhancements to prevent unlawful entry by aliens into the United States and facilitate access to the international land and maritime borders by United States Customs and Border Protection, such as additional checkpoints, all weather access roads, and vehicle barriers.
The #NeverTrump movement spent much of the summer looking for a presidential candidate to run under their banner, and they ultimately settled on Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent. While McMullin ultimately failed to win any states, his performance in Utah (where he is from) was the best showing of a third party candidate in decades. I spent weeks trying to follow up with his campaign to speak with someone about his candidacy after writing this article but was never successfully put in contact with anyone. However, a lot of people were interested in finding out who this third party candidate was.
In the runup to the Republican National Convention, Trump kept promising to release the list of speakers. One day Tim Tebow was supposed to be a speaker, and the next day he was announcing that he wouldn’t be, showing that I was far from the only one who was confused about this. Maybe I was just a little impatient, but I was interesting in seeing where this list was, and wrote an article pointing out that his self-imposed deadline had passed time and again.
In the aftermath of Trump’s election, college students across the country had no idea what to do. At UChicago, Students for Life were advertising an upcoming event of theirs by chalking on campus. We have previously seen how “problematic” chalkings can be. After “Trump 2016” was chalked on Emory University’s campus, students were offered “emergency counseling.” At UChicago, chalkings that read “Abortion=Social Injustice” were changed to read “Abortion=Social Justice,” and chalkings reading “Abort Mike Pence” began to appear around campus. These incidents, combined with the almost certainty of a protest, led UChicago Students for Life to cancel their event with Ryan Bomberger, citing the “political climate.”
The selection of Tim Kaine as Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential nominee was such a foregone conclusion that I debated with myself as to whether this article was even worth writing. Now that the Democratic Party is preparing for the “death of Clintonism” the weaknesses of its 2020 bench are there for all to see. Many of the figures on this list are likely to give 2020 a shot, but most will have serious hurdles to overcome.
2016 was the year of the political outsider in many ways. Over the course of the election, I was able to interview two presidential candidates: Robby Wells and Chris Keniston. These outsiders didn’t fare nearly as well as Donald Trump, but my interviews with them were informative nevertheless. I first found out about Keniston when I saw the results of an online poll on a veterans’ website that included (not surprisingly) his Veterans Party of America as an option. I friended him on Facebook and asked if he was free to talk about his candidacy, and a few days later I Skyped him and discussed his view of the political landscape with him.
The story of the Asian arowana reads like a thriller at times. These fish are so valuable in many Asian countries that they are bred in concrete dungeons that are protected by guard dogs, and thieves have been willing to murder to get their hands on them. A wealthy Chinese Communist Party official even spent a reported $300,000 to get his hands on one of them. One of the main sources for their value is their resemblance to dragons, which have always been immensely significant in Chinese history. Another component may be their status as endangered animals. Some researchers have argued that the Asian arowana was doing fairly well until its designation as endangered. Readers of Adam Smith will remember his “water and diamonds paradox,” which is about how people will pay far more for diamonds than water, even though water is necessary for life, in part because diamonds are rare. These beautiful fish are considered fish worth dying for to a not insubstantial number of people.
In researching a final paper I wrote for a class I took last winter quarter called American Revolution, I stumbled across a book that described Robert Morris, the financier of the American Revolution, in terms that were fairly similar to those used to describe Donald Trump. Although there are certainly problems with this historical analogy, I felt that it was at least worthy of some consideration.
One of the most consequential decisions that any presidential campaign can make is its selection of its vice president. I included names from Scott Brown to Sarah Palin on my list of possible vice presidents, but Mike Pence’s name did not appear anywhere on my list because I didn’t think that he would accept it. A few hours before Mike Pence’s selection was announced, I wrote that people should not be “Pence-ive” about his selection, since “Trump’s campaign made it obvious.” How times change. To this day, I am still slightly proud of that pun.
During the Republican primary, I took groups of College Republicans to watch tapings of Greta van Susteren’s on the record in both Chicago with John Kasich and Milwaukee with Donald Trump. Over the summer, I got to be a guest on the show myself to talk about the Ellison letter! This was an awesome experience, and the staff at Fox News helped make sure my TV debut went as smoothly as possible.
This election was one for the history books, and I tried my best to predict how many of its top races would turn out. I of course missed Donald Trump’s win, but many of my other predictions were very accurate, as I wrote about in my assessment here. I underpredicted the Senate outcome by one Republican seat. My predictions for governor’s races were all correct other than West Virginia, where Democrat Jim Justice was able to avoid being swept away by Trump’s performance in the state (I wrote about how Justice was able to do that here). My House predictions were spot on. While I missed how a few seats turned out, the ultimate tally was correct.
The aftermath of Dean Ellison’s letter was felt immediately on campuses across the country. Brown University, which is far from a conservative bastion, jumped on the free speech wagon almost immediately after UChicago sent its letter. One of my friends at Brown received the email sent to all students, and he forwarded it to me. Richard Locke, the Provost of Brown University, emailed all Brown students expressing the importance of listening to speakers. Locke also announced that a series of events that are dedicated to Brown’s mission of “discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry.” Two of the speakers are University of Chicago professors Geoffrey Stone and Martha Nussbaum. The email further stresses the importance of “productive dialogue,” “active engagement through dialogue,” and “empower[ing] all individuals to share their viewpoints, even if it makes some of us, at times, feel uncomfortable.” I remember connecting my laptop to my phone as a hotspot and writing this article in the car ride to North Carolina.
This article was another installation in my coverage of Dean Jay Ellison’s letter and its aftermath. A friend of mine forwarded me an email that he sent to Dean Ellison to thank him for his leadership on this issue, and Ellison responded by saying that, in part, “all other returning students, will receive a modified form of this letter, as well as a copy of Dean Boyer’s short monograph on this subject.” Since I was the first to break this part of the story, the subsequent coverage of this component all linked to my article on it.
Trump constantly brags about how he surrounds himself with the best people. It was therefore amusing that his DC hotel’s menu was full of spelling errors. Several cheese and drinks were misspelled on the final version of its menu. This post was relatively popular at the time I wrote it, but its views surged a few weeks ago when someone linked to it in a comment on Reddit, and I was able to watch its view shoot up in real time, which was an awesome sight to behold.
This was by far this year’s best-performing post. I was “one of the first to break the story about the letter to students,” and several outlets linked to my post and gave me tons of traffic. The story behind this article is a simple one. A few of my friends with siblings in the Class of 2020 told me about this letter their siblings had received. Remarkably, it seems as if students debated the letter for a few days before its existence leaked to the outside world. Fortunately, I was one of the first people to get a copy of it sent to me.
I want to add a quick list of some posts that weren’t in the top 20, but were nevertheless some of my favorites from this past year:
- Profiles in Nature: 20% of the Fish You Eat Is Based on Lies: I was shocked when I saw a report from Oceana that detailed how systematic the mislabelling of fish is across the world. As a vegetarian, I don’t eat fish, but I think that it is incredibly important for people who do to know that there is a 20% chance that they are being lied to when they order “salmon” at a restaurant! This has had serious health consequences for people who order one fish and are served one that they are actually allergic to.
- Stephen Hawking’s Radiation Theory Confirmed By Country He Boycotts: I am far from a scientist, but I thought it was hilarious when an Israeli scientist made significant strides at confirming Hawking’s radiation theory. Hawking joined the pathetic movement to academically boycott Israel a few years ago. I wonder if he will show up at the Technion to discuss the Israeli team’s accomplishments.
- Profiles in Nature: A Fish Named Obama: I love this article mainly because I would love to have a fish named after me and am jealous that Obama received this incredible honor.
- A Win and a Loss: I was elected Ward Committeeman in Chicago the same day that Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign ended. This was truly a bittersweet day for me, but it was great to have been able to celebrate my election with my friends in the midst of Finals Week at UChicago.
- Profiles in History: Anti-Israel Hatred, the Ugly Side of the Olympics: this was an incredibly important piece that delved into much (but by no means all) of the hatred that Israel regularly experiences from some of the worst sportsmen around the world.
- Profiles in History: Bernie Sanders and the Changing Nature of the Political Computer Game: did you know that the Obama campaign purchased billboards in Need for Speed to remind gamers about early voting? This is incredible! I was shocked to learn this and had a lot of fun looking at campaigns that have tried to use the power of video games to their advantage.
Thanks to everyone in over 100 countries for your readership this past year! Let’s make 2017 an even better year!