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.

Links: The diversity mafia, research blogs, learning, moving, and more!

* “Guy Gavriel Kay: ‘I learned a lot about false starts from JRR Tolkien.’

* “The National Book Foundation Defines Diversity Down.” You may notice (or not notice) that I stopped following book awards a long time ago: most of them are way too political and yet simultaneously intensely boring. Notices of most book awards on book covers put me off. Fiction sales have been falling since 2013 or so—around the time smartphones became ubiquitous. This seems bad to me in various ways, but we also seemed to be locked in a cycle where the bigger publishers focus on a narrower set of reading constituents, so other potential reading constituents don’t read as much, which tells publishers not to focus on them. Or we could just be seeing a secular change in how people deploy time.

* “Why New York Times Readers Love to Hate Bret Stephens: What the columnist writes is not what his detractors read.” Moral pollution and the desire for moral purity makes us disdain ideas we ought to entertain.

* “Why I keep a research blog.”

* How we lost the right to move freely.

* “The Twitter Electorate Isn’t the Real Electorate.” Our cultural and institutional immune systems need to develop antibodies against the tyranny of the minority. So far they haven’t.

* “The hottest new thing in sustainable building is, uh, wood.”

* On Napoleon Chagnon.

* Home ownership is the West’s biggest economic-policy mistake.

* Deceit, Desire, and the Literature Professor: Why Girardians Exist.

* “A ‘radical proposition’: A health care veteran tries to upend the system and bring drug prices down.”

* “Why Twitter May Be Ruinous for the Left: It’s a machine for misunderstanding other people’s ideas and identities. How do you even organize that?”

* “Internet use reduces study skills in university students.”

* Talk about book reviewing and book reviewers. I’ve read too much on the topic, but this is pretty good.

Briefly noted: The Devil’s Candy, Maigret and the Old People, Fantastic Fungi

* I was looking for a book and not finding any to satisfaction, so I grabbed The Devil’s Candy, which is still great, and it’s also refreshingly devoid of PC nonsense. It’s the story of the making of Bonfire of the Vanities, the movie, which details how no single decision is bad, exactly, yet the accretion of good-seeming-at-the-time decisions leads to a bad movie. It’s got lots of droll humor, like a visit to the American Film Institute’s (AFI) annual tribute dinner, where “Occasionally the bold experimenters honored there [by the AFI members] were in the odd position of accepting praise from the very people who had ruined their careers, the studio executives who pretended to admire daring films but didn’t want to finance them.” Today, cameras are digital, but little seems to have changed. Hollywood is supine to China and Netflix exists, but the basic story shape remains.

* The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; this book is almost relentlessly boring, yet I kept reading for some reason. It’s more family saga, blah blah blah, lots of feelings, I guess. The sort of book that explains why murder stories are so popular; one years for darkness, intrigue, a knife in the back, shocking and horrible family secrets (what is the real relationship between Maeve and the narrator?), but all we get is dribs and drabs of things.

* Fantastic Fungi, edited by Paul Stamets: Think of it as a collection of mushroom photography, though it has many short essays too. Speaking of forest ecology and the relationship of mushrooms and mycelium, one contributor says, “Mushrooms are literally ‘the tip of the iceberg.'” That’s not true: mushrooms are figuratively the tip of the iceberg. Stamets writes, “We’re going down a slippery slope. As we deforest the planet and cut down old-growth forests, we accelerate carbon loss…” Forests in the United States are actually growing, and the same is true of Europe. So we’re not universally cutting down forests; that’s a huge problem in Brazil, but the U.S. and Europe are heading in a net positive direction. Another contributor says, “Nature has kept us alive since the beginning of human life.” Sort of: you could also say “nature” has been trying to kill us since the beginning of human life and just hasn’t succeeded yet (nature also gives us uranium, which we can use to kill ourselves en masse). Another writer says, “every decision comes down to the bottom line because the world is run by economists and accountants.” More accurately, the world is run by consumers and voters. Someone cites Bolt Threads’s efforts to create “leather” from mushrooms, but the company seems to have begun putting out press releases in 2016 and no products seem to be on the market today. I could go on. There is too much sleight-of-mind in Fantastic Fungi.

I’ve not seen the film.

* Maigret and the Old People by Georges Simenon: A fine Maigret. As usual, characters claim things like, “I know hardly anything,” and then turn out to know things. Maybe a lot of detective fiction is appealing because everyday people turn out to be essential in a way that is not felt in a lot of everyday life. The old people of the title turn out to be decrepit titled European “nobility,” and one does not have to stretch far to see the book poking at the absurdity of hereditary titles.

Links: Flickr’s fall, focus as competitive advantage, state capacity, reshaping Britain, and more!

* “The rise, fall and resurrection of Flickr.” About other topics too.

* How focus became more valuable than intelligence. Ties well into Cal Newport’s books on this subject.

* “The telling conservative backlash to a Virginia zoning reform proposal, explained.” Reforming land-use controls is the single best way to improve the average person’s life with minimal cost. If someone is talking about “income inequality” and similar topics without discussing how much land-use controls are costing the average person, they are not serious.

* The Swinging 1660s.

* What libertarianism has become and will become – State Capacity Libertarianism. Surprising on many points.

* “America Is Now the Divided Republic the Framers Feared.”

* AI and adaptive learning in education. This could and should be a big deal.

* “Denser Housing Is Gaining Traction on America’s East Coast: Maryland joins Virginia with a new proposal to tackle the affordable housing crisis. And it’s sweeping in its ambition.” Lowering the cost of housing is the easiest and most readily solvable problem in the United States today, because the problems are almost entirely legal and regulatory, rather than technological.

* Dan Wang on science, technology, China, and many other matters of interest.

* What Jordan Peterson Did for Rob Henderson.

* Has J.K. Rowling figured out a way to break our cancel culture? One hopes so. A little bit of “no” and ignoring the fools goes a long way.

* Letting nurse practitioners be independent increases access to health care? See also my most-read essay, “Why you should become a nurse or physicians assistant instead of a doctor: the underrated perils of medical school.”

* “Dominic Cummings’s plan to reshape the state.” Cummings communicates via blog, in complete sentences and complex thoughts. I don’t know of any other politician or high-level government official in any country who does the same.

* “ Concentrate! The challenge of chess – learning how to hold complexity in mind and still make good decisions – is also the challenge of life.”

* Ricky Gervais teaches Hollywood what speaking truth to power really means.

* “The inside story of how scientists produced an Ebola vaccine.” An impressive story with an undercurrent of the question, “Why can’t more vaccines be produced in a process closer to the Ebola vaccine process?”

* “Dating apps need women. Advertisers need diversity. AI companies offer a solution: Fake people.”

* Overly long and complain-y essay about turning books and magazine articles into movies. Or, more often, they get optioned and then disappear. Still useful for people curious about journalism, fiction, and TV shows.

* America’s National Climate Strategy Starts with NEPA. Unglamorous but important.

* If Libertarianism Hollowed Out, Why?

“Education” is not the same as “learning” or “quality”

Millenials are supposedly “Playing Catch-Up in the Game of Life” and approaching “Middle Age in Crisis,” if one is to believe the Wall Street Journal; this stood out most to me: “Even with record levels of education, the troubles of millennials have delayed traditional adult milestones in ways expected to alter the nation’s demographic and economic contours through the end of the century” (emphasis added). But is all “education” created the same? How many people have degree not required for the job they’re working? Has the writer read The Case Against Education, which argues that much if not most of what we call “education” is wasteful?

If education is mostly about signaling, then the more people acquire the signal, the less the signal means anything—which seems to explain a lot of the reason why people moved from not needing high school to needing high school and from not needing college to “needing” college. We’re in an expensive credentialing arms race, which is great for college administrative staff but may not confer real skills and abilities on many of those who have “record levels of education” but whose education may also have record levels of “not meaning anything.”

We’ve also systematically raised the cost of housing in most municipalities, by erecting legal barriers to building more of it. This artificially raises the prices of the assets of people who bought in the ’70s into the ’90s but hurts the rest of us. Millenials spend more money and time in education, while regulatory barriers push up the cost of housing, and yet the reporter in this story doesn’t quite connect these features with each other.

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