“Nurses Die, Doctors Fall Sick and Panic Rises on Virus Front Lines”

Nurses Die, Doctors Fall Sick and Panic Rises on Virus Front Lines: The pandemic has begun to sweep through New York City’s medical ranks, and anxiety is growing among normally dispassionate medical professionals” is congruent with what I have been told privately, and if it’s happening in New York (and Seattle) today, it will be happening wherever you are in 10 days. The gap between hospital administrators and doctors seems to be quite wide, with the former not having sufficient skin in the game. Ordering doctors, nurses, and others to work sick is insane, because that’s how medical workers are going to keep spreading the virus to themselves and to their patients.

Medicine has a “work sick” culture that has struck me as insane since I first learned about it. That culture needs to end and now is an excellent time to end it.

Links: Writing pseudonymously, the life of the mind, the life of Mars, chickpeas, and more!

* “Why You Should Write Pseudonymously.” I’m failing at this, obviously.

* “The Bleak Job Landscape of Adjunctopia for Ph.D.s.” Obvious, and not much has changed since 2012, when I offered my contribution to the extensive “grad school is bad” literature.

* Mitch Daniels has frozen Purdue’s tuition—at less than $10,000—for seven straight years. The fundamentals of Baumol’s Cost Disease plus the prestige and status-seeking enterprise means that improvement will be hard.

* Inside Elon Musk’s plan to build one Starship a week—and settle Mars.

* Why the US sucks at building public transit. If we could get better at this, we could slash many households’s transit costs and thus free up more money for anything and everything else.

* “My life with Oliver Sacks: ‘He was the most unusual person I had ever known.’

* More on the novel’s suppose ddecline. As long as people wonder about the human condition, I think there will be a place for the novel. But a lot of current literary culture is overly PC, rarefied, and disconnected from reality and from the human condition.

* “Why Japan is obsessed with paper.” I have complained periodically about American publishers not being obsessed with paper at all, and the crappy paper quality used in most books. The New York Review of Books books are among the notable exceptions.

* “In the Future, Everything Will Be Made of Chickpeas.” One hopes. An Instapot helps.

* “What the ‘meat paradox’ reveals about moral decision making:” Something that I have wondered about.

* On writers block. I don’t know that it’s real, but people say it’s real. More often I worry about “people block,” that is, people who continually try to bombard a writer or would-be writer with text messages, poorly timed chitchat, and that kind of thing.

* “The Accusations Were Lies. But Could We Prove It?” More on Title IX madness. These stories are not so different than the ones implied by Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel. It’s like the people who set up these systems never thought to learn from the centuries of effort expended on setting up existing legal systems that strive to balance rights of the accused with rights of the accusers.

* No SARS-CoV-19/coronavirus talk in this batch, which might seem strange, but from what I have seen you can get all you want of that and more pretty much everywhere, so I’m going to do some of the things not being done elsewhere right now. I don’t have much novel to add: The CDC’s early behavior around testing and testing certification is appalling, as is the response, or non-response, from the Executive Branch. But these reactions are obvious for anyone who has been paying attention. Twitter, oddly, comes out looking good: the Cassandras who are usually wrong with their vaguely conspiratorial statements and insinuations were right, and early.

Links: Supposed UFOs, psychedelics and con men, and lots of history and context

* Inside the Pentagon’s Secret UFO Program. Supposedly.

“Andy Roberts’s provocative new biography of Hollingshead, Divine Rascal, suggests that there is something seriously wrong with this standard history. Roberts uncovers the fact that Hollingshead was not simply a benevolent trickster who turned people on with his beloved mayonnaise jar; he also possessed a dark side — one that does not appear in the various historical accounts of the psychedelic movement. In Divine Rascal, Roberts, an eminent historian of British psychedelic culture (e.g., Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain [2012]), views Hollingshead with sober eyes.”

From “Psychedelic Pioneer and Confidence Man.” It may be that the people drawn to psychedelia are also more likely than average to be overly credulous and gullible, and wherever those people gather, con men follow.

* Machine learning for antibiotics.

* Paul Graham on “How to write usefully.” I like the implication that many of us write uselessly. Plus, Graham’s writing routines.

* The US rental housing market. If NIMBYs can use zoning to get supernormal rates of return on housing, so can large capital pools. I wonder if, or when, voters will notice and respond appropriately.

* Bryan Caplan’s case for open borders. The book looks good but I’m also prejudiced against comic books, graphic nonfiction, or whatever one may wish to call the genre.

* “Why Did the Coronavirus Outbreak Start in China?” On the weaknesses of China’s government.

* “A Bellow from France,” which has a great first line: “‘Fatalism and Fellatio’ is the title the Süddeutsche Zeitung gave last fall to a scathing essay about Michel Houellebecq’s seventh novel, Serotonin.” “Great title” does not necessarily mean “accurate title,” however.

* The perverse panic over plastic. Most recycling efforts are a waste of time but make people feel good. Substantial changes that would be useful are mostly being avoided, like congestion pricing, zoning reform, not flying, or signing up for Climeworks carbon burying. What should we infer about human nature from this?

* The health system we’d have if healthcare economists ran things. It doesn’t look that different from the one we have now: there is no such thing as a free lunch.

* “Thoughts about transparency in college admissions.” It is amusing how many heavily marketed schools squawk about equality, diversity, helping the poorest, and so forth, and how many of them actively practice policies that do the exact opposite.

* History of the distribution of sex-related information and contraception. Familiar to some of you already, no doubt.

* The dating “market” is getting worse? Maybe? Maybe the paradox of choice is real, but the data cited here aren’t totally convincing.

* “Venezuela Is the Eerie Endgame of Modern Politics: Citizens of a once-prosperous nation live amid the havoc created by socialism, illiberal nationalism, and political polarization.” Voters can make awful choices; Chávez was originally fairly democratically elected. In the U.S., voters have put McConnell in the Senate and helped elevate him to Senate Majority Leader. Regarding the executive branch, see this.

* Israel’s Rihanna, Nasrin, Is Arab and Jewish. Maybe pop music and culture unites the world, or can.

* Book Review: The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.

* Nuclear Tests Marked Life on Earth With a Radioactive Spike.

Links: Building into the good life, family structure, Red Scare, encryption, and more!

* “Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build: When California’s housing crisis slammed into a wealthy suburb, one public servant became a convert to a radically simple doctrine.” This is the actual NYT header and sub-head.

* “Was the nuclear family a mistake?” This one appeared in the last links post too, but it’s really good. Also, “What Comes After the Nuclear Family?” I don’t have answers. If the great novels of the 19th and 20th Centuries are about individuals chafing against the confines of communities, will the great novels of this century be about community building, or re-building?

* “Jonathan Haidt, Ezra Klein and the Nature of Wicked Problems.” Arguably we should work on problems that can be solved, like lowering barriers to scientific progress and reforming zoning.

* “Meet the ‘ladies’ of Red Scare, the most gleefully offensive podcast on the internet.” I have listened some and it’s pretty tame; “gleefully offensive” is way too exaggerated.

* Inside Critics’ Circle by Phillipa K Chong review – rickety scaffolding. The review seems much funnier and more useful than the book.

* “The CIA secretly bought a company that sold encryption devices across the world. Then its spies sat back and listened.” A very long story; one lesson may be, “Don’t trust Huawei with telecom infrastructure.”

* Peter Thiel on the new Ross Douthat book: “Back to the Future.”

* The way we read now: another elegy for the novel. I like the first half better than the second. Novels will continue to be written and read as long as things can be said and explored in them that can’t be said or explored in other media.

* A watershed moment for protein structure prediction.

* Mark Zuckerberg’s lost notebooks.

* Could micro-credentials compete with traditional degrees?

* “The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising.” One could alternately ask, “What do we really know about the effectiveness of digital advertising?” The answer seems to be, “Not much.” The idea that many companies throw away tens or hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and in some cases more, seems barely believable.

* Humanity’s Methane Problem Could Be Way Bigger Than Scientists Thought.

* January was the warmest January on record.

Links: Some politics stuff, Chinatown, fame, what’s really real, and more!

* “If Elizabeth Warren really wants to unrig the system, she should focus on the Dream Hoarders.” The big problems are restrictive, exclusionary zoning and restrictive, exclusionary occupational licensure—both things that large swaths of the upper middle class really like and fight to entrench. Warren will not alienate her own base with real change, when there are convenient bogeymen to attack instead. It is always appealing to make someone else the villain and ensure us that we’re the good guys and we just need to get those bad guys over there.

* Forget It, Jake: It’s the Definitive Book on Chinatown.

* Reasons not to become famous, by Tim Ferriss.

* Let’s quit fetishizing the single-family home. The author has had some bad takes that demonstrate a lack of intellectual curiosity, but this one is good.

* “Something Is Happening to Norway” Climate change is here, now, and our collective response is to shrug.

* Over-long piece covering the decline of journalism. I’ve read too many like it, but this is another.

* Ross Douthat’s new book on the age of decadence. Recommended.

* No one seems to have a good theory about why the economy is still relatively strong.

* “‘We’re losing our damn minds’: James Carville unloads on the Democratic Party.” A useful piece and congruent with my thinking.

* “Librem 5 phone hands-on—Open source phone shows the cost of being different.” I like the Librem 5 as an idea but it is still very far from being usable.

* Mozilla’s plan to fix internet privacy.

* Was the nuclear family a mistake? A fascinating essay on loneliness, community, zoning, and many other topics.

* Will Spotify ruin podcasting?

Links: Educated fools, appeals to the center, the social media trap, the enemies of writing, and more!

* I was a ’60s socialist. Today’s progressive’s are in danger of repeating our mistakes.

* “America’s Radioactive Secret: Oil-and-gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste a year. An investigation shows how it could be making workers sick and contaminating communities across America.” And yet the uninformed are wrongly worried about nuclear.

* “Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, but Republicans Don’t.” In short, geography and demography mean that Republicans can appeal to a smaller number of people, especially in terms of senators, and still hold power.

* Carbon Capture and Storage is necessary to keep global warming below 2°C. A good way to participate in this yourself is via Climeworks. That almost no one is participating, tells us important information.

* Bookstores are doing better, and there’s some positive news around reading.

* On the Chinese education system and philosophy. See also me on Bringing Up Bébé.

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* “What polarization data from 9 countries reveals about the US.” Polarization, if this data is correct, isn’t coming purely from the Internet.

* Review of Ross Douthat’s new book. Doesn’t have enough to say about how housing costs are distorting households and politics but is useful overall.

* The social media trap.

* Starlink is a big deal. Most people don’t appreciate or get this.

* Ezra Klein on Why We’re Polarized, among many other topics.

* The Enemies of Writing. See also Wokeademia, about how some enemies of writing have gotten enmeshed in the university system, among other things.

* “Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy.” Donations by rich people are better than not, and criticism is misguided.

* Classics loved and hated by Goodreads users.

* How negativity can ruin relationships.

* The Chinese population crisis: underpopulation is the real problem there, as with most other countries.

* The latest James Wood collection.

* “Educated Fools.” One sample: “it’s unthinkable that the college-educated base of the party would trust a high school graduate without a four-year degree to run for or hold a serious office. We don’t trust them, and would never vote for one of them. Why should they trust or vote for one of us?

It used to be otherwise.”

Bringing Up Bébé – Pamela Druckerman

This is really a book about how to do things, and about how the way we do things says things about who we are. Fiction is often about culture and so is Bringing Up Bébé. Cross-cultural comparisons are (still) underrated and we should do more of them; you can think of Michel Houellebecq’s work as being about the dark side of France and Druckerman’s as being about the light side of France (noting that she’s a transplanted American). Bringing Up Bébé is a parenting book, yes, but also a living book—that is, how to live. I bought it, let it sit around for a while, and only started it when I couldn’t find anything else to read, only to be delighted, and surprised. Let me quote from a section of the book; each new paragraph is a separate section, but put them together and one can see the differences between American-style families and French-style families:

French experts and parents believe that hearing “no” rescues children from the tyranny of their own desires.

As with teaching kids to sleep, French experts view learning to cope with “no” as a crucial step in a child’s evolution. It forces them to understand that there are other people in the world, with needs as powerful as their own.

French parents don’t worry that they’re going to damage their kids by frustrating them. To the contrary, they think their kids will be damaged if they can’t cope with frustration.

Walter Mischel says that capitulating to kids starts a dangerous cycle: “If kids have the experience that when they’re told to wait, that if they scream, Mommy will come and the wait will be over, they will very quickly learn not to wait. Non-waiting and screaming and carrying on and whining are being rewarded.”

“You must teach your child frustration” is a French parenting maxim.

As with sleep, we tend to view whether kids are good at waiting as a matter of temperament. In our view, parents either luck out and get a child who waits well or they don’t.

Since the ’60s, American parents seem to have become less inclined to say no and let kids live with some frustration, and yet we need some frustration and difficulty in order to become whole people. I’m sure many teachers and professors are reading the quotes above and connecting them to their own classroom experiences. The tie into Jean Twenge’s book iGen and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind is almost too obvious to state; Haidt and Twenge’s books concern what smartphones are doing to the state of education, educational discourse, and educational institutions, and, while they cover smartphones and social media, those two technologies aren’t occurring in isolation. Excessive permissiveness appears to create neuroticism, unhappiness, and fragility, and excessive permissiveness seems to start for American parents somewhere between a few weeks and a few months after birth—and it never ends. But most of us don’t recognize it in the absence of an outside observer, the same way we often don’t recognize our psychological challenges in the absence of an outside observer.

In Druckerman’s rendition, French parents are good at establishing boundaries, saying “no” and, with babies, implementing “the pause”—that is, not rushing to to the baby’s aid every time the baby makes some small noise or sound. She writes about how the way many children are “stout,” to use the French euphemism for “fat,” comes from not having established mealtimes but instead of having continuous snacking, in part because parents won’t say “No, you need to wait” to their kids.

Failing to create reasonable boundaries from an early age leads to the failure to develop emotional resilience. “Reasonable” is an important word: it is possible to be strict or to let kids struggle too much, just as it’s possible to do the opposite, and the right mix will likely depend on the kid or the situations.

French parenting culture spills into schools:

When Benoît took a temporary posting at Princeton, he was surprised when students accused him of being a harsh grader. “I learned that you had to say some positive things about even the worst essays,” he recalls. In one incident, he had to justify giving a student a D. Conversely, I hear that an American who taught at a French high school got complaints from parents when she gave grades of 18:20 and 20:20. The parents assumed that the class was too easy and that the grades were “fake.”

The whines I got from students also make sense: in many U.S. schools, there’s not as strong a culture of excellent as there is a culture of “gold stars for everyone.” I understand the latter desire, having felt it myself in many circumstances, but it’s also telling how important a culture of excellence is once the school train tracks end and the less-mapped wilderness of the “real world” (a phrase that is misused at times) begins.

I routinely get feedback that class is too hard, likely because most classes and professors have no incentive to fight grade inflation, and the easiest way to get along is for them to pretend to learn and us to pretend to teach. Real life, however, is rarely an “everybody gets an A” experience, and almost no one treats it that way: most people who eat bad food at a bad restaurant complain about it; most people whose doctor misses a diagnosis complain about the miss (and want excellence, not just kindness); most people prefer the best consumer tech products, like MacBook Airs or Dell XPS laptops, not the “good try” ones. Excellence itself is a key aspect of the real world but is often underemphasized in the current American education system (again, it is possible to over-emphasize it as well).

In my own work as a grant writing consultant, “good job” never occurs if the job is not good, and “you suck” sometimes occurs even if the job is good. Clients demand superior products and most people can’t write effectively, so they can’t do what I do. I’m keen to impart non-commodity skills that will help differentiate students from the untrained and poorly educated masses, but this demands a level of effort and precision beyond what most American schools seem to expect.

Having read Bringing Up Bébé, I’m surprised it’s not become a common read among professors and high school teachers—I think because it’s pitched as more of a parenting book and a popular “two different cultures” book. But it’s much subtler and more sociological than I would have thought, so perhaps I bought into its marketing too. There is also much to be said for how to teach and think about teaching in this book. The French are arguably too strict and too mean to students. Americans are probably not strict enough, not demanding enough, and don’t set adequate standards. The optimal place is likely somewhere between the extremes.

Druckerman is also funny: “I realize how much I’ve changed when, on the metro one morning, I instinctively back away from the man sitting next to the only empty seat, because I have the impression that he’s deranged. On reflection, I realize my only evidence for this is that he’s wearing shorts.” Could shorts not be an indication of derangement? And Druckerman cops to her own neuroticisms, which a whole industry of parenting guides exists to profit from:

What makes “Is It Safe?” so compulsive is that it creates new anxieties (Is it safe to make photocopies? Is it safe to swallow semen?) but then refuses to allay them with a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, expert respondents disagree with one another and equivocate.

Bébé is a useful contrast from the France depicted in Houellebecq novels. Same country, very different vantages. In Druckerman’s France, the early childhood education system works fairly well, not having to have a car is pleasant, food isn’t a battle, and pleasant eroticism seems to fuel most adults’s lives—including parents’s. “Pleasant” is used twice deliberately. In Houellebecq’s France, empty nihilism reigns, most people are isolated by their attachment to machines, and and most actions are or feel futile.

So who’s right? Maybe both writers. But Druckerman may also point to some reasons why France, despite pursuing many bad economic policies at the country level, is still impressively functional and in many ways a good place to live. The country’s education system is functioning well and so is its transit systems—for example, Paris’s Metro is being massively expanded, at a time when the U.S. is choking on traffic and struggling with absurdly high subway costs that prevent us from building out alternatives. New York’s last main trunk subway line was completed before World War II. Small and useful extensions have been completed since, but there is no substitute for opening a dozen or more new stations and 10+ miles at a time. Improved subway access reduces the need for high-cost cars and enables people to live better lives—something France is doing but the U.S. seems unable to achieve. AAA estimates the average total cost of an American car to be $9,282. If French people can cut that to say $3,000 (taxes included) for subways, the French may be able to do a lot more with less.

France’s bad macro policies and overly rigid labor market may be offset by good childcare and transit policies; Bébé could help explain why that is. Druckerman says, “Catering to picky kids is a lot of work” (“cater” appears four times in Bébé). If the French don’t do that, Americans may be spending a lot of hours at work, rather than leisure, that the French aren’t spending—therefore raising the total quality of French life. Mismeasurement is everywhere, and, while I don’t want to praise France too much on the basis of a single work, I can see aspects of French culture that make sense and aspects of American culture that, framed correctly, don’t.

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