Links: Sanctimony literature, the purpose of literature, the new literary bad boys, and more!

* “Sanctimony Literature,” one of the best essays I’ve read on literary fiction in recent memory, and it captures something I’ve noticed but not been able to articulate. Strangely, I’m old enough to remember literary persons trying to affiliate themselves with free speech, free thought, and being bad. Still, I think the essay mostly misses the point on the Sally Rooney books: the characters do sometimes proclaim, “I am a communist,” “marxist,” or “feminist,” but the labels are window-dressing on what the books really cover, which is human relationships and their frailties and pitfalls. No readers outside of a few Manhattan and London precincts care about the socialist labels; everyone else cares about the relationships among the characters. Lots of people proclaim themselves to be lots of things but are more fully revealed in what they do, and who they relate to and how, than in whatever labels they assume. I can’t speak to the Ben Lerner novel, and the Emma Cline novel The Girls I started but quit: it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen to unsupervised teenage girls who get involved with cults, just as the main passion that leads guys to start cults is fairly obvious too. A novel like The Girls is implicitly conservative, with a small “c:” the protagonist’s parents know or should know what’s up, and they should stop her, or try to stop her, from doing the obvious, but they don’t. Maybe the conservative critics of the ’60s and ’70s were more right than the boomer hedonists of those decades, and now the censorious Millennials are swinging round to that point of view. Still, the sanctimonious is boring and there’s plenty of boring sanctimony in modern fiction, which may explain why capital-L Literary culture seems to be, if not altogether dead, then at least to have retreated to the status of poetry in terms of its effects and influence on everyday life. Sanctimony literature may also explain why the most interesting writer today is Michel Houellebecq, who is extremely anti-sanctimony—and many actual readers like Elena Ferrante, who is also European and eager to describe a whole world, even as few people would describe the Solaras as good people. Yet the Solara males often get the girls, or women: perhaps Ferrante gets something the sanctimonious writers don’t.

The two most prominent literary writers of the last decade aren’t American, and maybe it’s worth asking why, and what they’re doing that readers respond to. Look at someone like Gillian Flynn: whatever she’s doing in Gone Girl, it isn’t sanctimony.

* “The new literary bad boys.” Maybe. I’m not sure how much longer conventional or legacy publishing is going to exist. See also the first link, above, as this one is in some ways a continuation of those thoughts.

* James Carville: “‘Wokeness is a problem and we all know it.’ According to Carville, Democrats are in power for now, but they also only narrowly defeated Donald Trump, ‘a world-historical buffoon,’ and they lost congressional seats and failed to pick up state legislatures. The reason is simple: They’ve got a ‘messaging problem.'” Stuff that seems obvious but is apparently not. Carville hits similar notes in a Persuasion interview, too. Not to be repetitive, but his view arguably links to the first two link sets in this post.

* “Advantage, GOP.” On how the structure of elections favors Republicans right now, due in part to gerrymandering and in part to the way the urban/rural split has developed over the last few decades.

* Fungi on Mars?

* “China is a paper dragon:” a different point of view than many of the articles linked in the last year or two, and one that I’m not sure is true, sadly.

* “The Rise And Fall Of Online Culture Wars.”

* “A Prophet at the Barbecue: Larry McMurtry, 1936–2021.” Lonesome Dove is a great book, and a book so great that it justifies and explains a whole career. If you’ve not read it, read it first.

* David Brooks on how “wokeness” ends. Maybe. See also “Social Justice Groupthink;” I’m younger than the author but have observed similar trends. It’s important to emphasize, though, that these trends are affecting a minority of students—a very low minority, but probably fewer than 10% of students even at very expensive schools.

* Founding vs inheriting, by Balaji S. Srinivasan.

* On luxury beliefs and signaling. Sanctimony is often a luxury belief.

* “Can Apple change ads?” Deeper than the title suggests.

Links: Carbon removal, the boomer world, the nature of free speech and thought, and more!

* “Charm Delivers Stripe’s Carbon Removal Purchase Ahead-of-Schedule.” One of these stories that might turn out to be hugely important but that aren’t widely foregrounded.

* How might we react to definitive proof of alien intelligent life? Our reaction might be muted, if it continues to be somewhat plausibly deniable radar and infrared footage, or perhaps some decades-old alien craft material. Most people’s problems are immediate and concrete, and they’re not going to be alleviated by this news.

* “Millennials are stuck in the world boomers built: The conservative case against the baby boomers.” Someone who takes the rise of TV and decline of print literacy seriously: “One thing I did in the research for this book was to go back and read all of the doomsayers at the time of the TV revolution who said that raising a generation glued to their screens was going to scramble their brains and make them stupid. [. . .] I think most of their dire predictions have been vindicated.” “Twilight of the Books” is great, it came out in 2007, and I don’t think I’ve seen it, or some of its main ideas, cited since.

* “The Disintegration of the ACLU,” something that I have, sadly, noticed: I’m not a member any more.

* “The Gatekeeper: Krugman’s Conversion,” a title that doesn’t do justice to this article about many topics of interest in the last 30 years.

* “Why a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be a catastrophe for China and the world.” That said, World Wars I & II were both highly preventable catastrophes that occurred anyway, and China is now ruled by a single dictator who can dictate its invasion policies. There are differences and history doesn’t repeat itself, but the similarities should worry us, as should the intrinsic brittleness of a single, flawed person with so much consolidated power.

* How people get rich now, by Paul Graham.

* “Why has no one made a better Goodreads:” a point annoying for being possibly true.

* “It’s Time To Translate Shakespeare—Into Contemporary English.” Strongly agree.

* Maybe the things that appear to be UFOs, are just drones and blimps. On the other hand, some of the eye-witness reporting by pilots would presumably not be susceptible to such misinterpretation. See also the piece above about how we might react to definitive proof of aliens.

* On Ari Emmanuel, inspiration for Entourage character Ari Gold.

* Why are many institutions and businesses leaning left, even as the population as a whole is fairly balanced? A more interesting-than-typical answer.

* What went wrong in Game of Thrones, and how what went wrong led to the show’s disappearance from the culture.

* “1969 vs. 2021,” some highlights: “it was easy to be pro free speech when it was hard for extremists to get control of a newspaper or a TV station. It turns out that a more democratized media environment has a lot of people longing for central control and suppression” and “I think that in 2020, just as in 1968, the public longed for a lowering of the political temperature.”

* Ross Douthat on “The Two Crises of Conservatism,” which seems accurate to me; that said, one could have written a similar essay in pretty much any of the last five years.

Links: The problems with rent, life in Moab trailer, Larry McMurtry, and more!

* “Fighting Back, At Last: New activist groups are responding to the spread of illiberal tendencies on campus and beyond.”

* “Life Lessons from a Moab Trailer.” Better and more interesting than you think; the real punch is from the last 10%.

* “U.S. rent has increased 175% faster than household income over past 20 years.” And people wonder why the birth rate has cratered.

* On Larry McMurtry.

* “Religious fervor is migrating into politics.” It’s hard to be paying attention and to have missed this shift.

* ‘The Narrative Is, “You Can’t Get Ahead:”’ on the peculiar racism of “anti-racism” efforts; one might be reminded of the idea that, if fascism arises in the United States, it’ll be called anti-fascism.

* “Bear Is About Much More Than Having Sex with a Bear.” An essay about reading and how reading changes over time.

* “The Woke Meritocracy: How telling the right stories about overcoming oppression in the right way became a requirement for entering the elite credentialing system.”

* “A Medical Student Questioned Microaggressions. UVA Branded Him a Threat and Banished Him from Campus: Kieran Bhattacharya’s First Amendment lawsuit can proceed, a court said.” Questioning “microaggressions” yields institutional macroaggression: a darkly funny outcome.

* Dana Gioia on Becoming an Information Billionaire, a favorite Conversation with Tyler.

* “The genius of John von Neumann:” a good candidate for the smartest person in the 20th Century, and maybe ever.

* “The Nixon Seminar with Peter Thiel.” The transcript is rough but Thiel is consistently interesting.

* “A City’s Only Hospital Cut Services. How Locals Fought Back. Apollo-owned LifePoint is embroiled in a dispute in central Wyoming that now stretches to Washington.” Why are the healthcare prices too damn high? This is a field with real monopoly problems.

* This describes me well: “For infovores, text, in contrast to photos or videos or music, is the medium of choice from a velocity standpoint. There is deep satisfaction in quickly decoding the textual information, the scan rate is self-governed on the part of the reader, unlike other mediums which unfold at their own pace (this is especially the case with video, which infovores hate for its low scannability).”

Links: Carbon capture and storage, free writing and writing freely, why is the rent too damn high, and more!

* More on carbon capture and storage: covers familiar ground, but these types of pieces keep popping up.

* Why have blog audiences declined? We can choose to be free: but mostly we choose Facebook.

* On America’s barren suburbs: “Cities are not massive subdivisions divided by multi-lane highways, where life only exists at the strip mall or in empty suburbia. There is actually a diverse urban culture, with nice walkable downtowns. And even if you live in the suburbs, there is something there. You may find train stations, subway stops. A square with stores and restaurants. Parks, playgrounds. Hiking areas etc.” They are “massive subdivisions divided by multi-lane highways” in the United States, sadly.

* “Jacques Barzun and Friend: What did a distinguished historian, and possibly a great man, see in an unkempt young would-be writer?”

* “China threat to invade Taiwan is ‘closer than most think’, says US admiral.”

* “It’s All Just Displacement,” on the problems and incentives facing the media.

* People love the idea of 20-minute neighbourhoods. So why isn’t it top of the agenda?

* “Chinese government officials and state media are increasingly incorporating woke talking points in their attacks on American values.”

* “U.S. rent has increased 175% faster than household income over past 20 years.” The need to build more housing is acute.

* “The psychedelic roots of Christianity.” Maybe.

* “The Era of the Wood Skyscraper Is Arriving.” Now the U.S. just to make it legal to build them.

* “How U.S. media lost the trust of the public.” “How could it not?” might be the more interesting question.

* “The Ambiguous Utopia of Iain M. Banks.” I’ve never been able to get into the Culture novels, but maybe I should try again.

Links: Writers and media, private-school hypocrisies, the fear of ideas, and more!

* “Private Schools Have Become Truly Obscene:” Detailed, hilarious, amazing.

* “Beware of Books! A new moralism is gripping the literary world, treating grownups like children.” I’m surprised more writers don’t decide to market themselves as “the writer they don’t want you to read.” It’s also possible that the most interesting material is being self-published, leaving the big publishers with conformism.

* “Hackers, Mason Jars, and the Psychedelic Science of DIY Shrooms.”

* The Dr. Seuss thing is really about bad and over long copyright, which is probably a better framing than the usual. t

* Moore’s Law for everything, by Sam Altman, a very useful and interesting piece, but, as often happens, I’m struck by the fact that we can’t really get to some of the low-hanging fruit today, like dramatically liberalizing zoning laws. We could have a much less expensive world right now, but we don’t, for purely legal and political reasons. Let me also lay out a slightly pessimistic case: AI continues to do cool things at the margins, yet, like nuclear fusion power plants, it’s always a few years away from transformative effects. We keep getting it almost working right, but not quite getting there, and so the true transformative potential is much further out than appears right now. I’d like Sam’s vision to be the correct one.

* Why Some of the Worst Attacks on Social Science Have Come From Liberals, from 2015 but anticipates the last six years.

* “‘We’re going to lose fast’: U.S. Air Force held a war game that started with a Chinese biological attack.” Notice: “[T]he Pentagon was largely distracted fighting counterterrorism and counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two decades.” Let’s hope the saber rattling remains saber rattling. But, also, “European countries send warships to South China Sea in Beijing pushback.” So who knows? Let’s not find out.

* Bryan Caplan on social desirability bias (SDB) and other matters.

* “Oregon Is Blazing a Psychedelic Trail: A very promising mental health experiment is taking shape in the West.”

* “Measuring Teaching Quality Higher Education.”

* Scenius, or Communal Genius.

* “The Substack controversy’s bigger story.” Also, in separate Substack news: “Writers who can command a paying audience have heretofore been significantly underpaid. That points to the real reason why the media has reason to fear Substack: it’s not that Substack will compete with existing publications for their best writers, but rather that Substack makes it easy for the best writers to discover their actual market value.”

Links: What’s happening with colleges, with China, with class, and with secrets

* Symbolic Gestures Won’t Advance Social Equity: What wealthy colleges could do if they actually cared about helping the poor. In general, the amount of verbiage that is virtue signaling, versus the amount of concrete action, should be noted.

* Apple works with China—but not the FBI.

* “A Modest Proposal For Republicans: Use The Word ‘Class.’” An interesting idea but most vitally an interesting diagnosis.

* “Sex Tapes, Hush Money, and Hollywood’s Economy of Secrets.” Not on precisely the same subject, but “Nude selfies: are they now art?” also appeared, and is primarily interesting for the venue in which it’s published.

* Longfellow and the Decline of American Poetry.

* “The Upzoning Wave Finally Catches Up to California.” Great news that deserves greater attention.

* Well-done review of the new Philip Roth biography, which avoids lots of the typical boring stuff. I still think Roth has lots of excellent sentences but his novels are under-plotted and often dull for that reason. I used to like them better.

* “Howling in Unison: A new book detailing the psychic conflicts in the Soviet Writers’ Union is a cautionary tale as much as a remarkable history.”

* “Is This the End of French Intellectual Life? The country’s culture of argument has come under the sway of a more ideological, more identity-focused model imported from the United States.” Is the United States per se the problem, or is it something about the Internet itself?

* Have universities abandoned their commitment to free thought and the exchange of ideas? See also Academic Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit devoted to free thought and expression.

* “On Being Blacklisted.”

* “What Is Happening to the Republicans?” Detailed and not stupid.

* Everyone Is Beautiful and No One Is Horny.

* “As Mushrooms Grow in Popularity, a Radical Mycology Movement is Emerging: In Search of Mycotopia: Citizen Science, Fungi Fanatics, and the Untapped Potential of Mushrooms explores fungi’s role in nutrition, food security, ecological healing, and medicinal sovereignty.”

* Google’s new certificate programs and the college degree.

Links: Extreme vaccine success, the change in stance towards nuclear power, modern censorship, and more!

* Israeli vaccination data shows the mRNA vaccines perform incredibly well. The end is in sight.

* “I Tracked Down The Girls Who Bullied Me As A Kid. Here’s What They Had To Say.” If I taught high school I’d assign this essay to students.

* “The Activists Who Embrace Nuclear Power,” in the New Yorker, and perhaps the canonical-but-accessible article on this subject for the skeptical. Michael Shellenberger is good on Twitter, too. This is perhaps indicative of modern culture and problems: “Nuclear power was associated with radiation, which, like pesticides, could threaten that web.” The phrase “associated with:” we’re thinking about metaphor, not about data.

* Description of parent pushing back against “critical race theory” (CRT) in their kid’s school.

* On how campus administrators push universities to act like corporations, among other things. Thefire.org has many interesting takes on culture and academia.

* “The cultural ‘myths’ that affect parenting:” not a great title and some flaws, but overall compatible with The Anthropology of Childhood.

* On the peculiarities of modern censorship culture, but also the history of censorship.

* “Story Time With Titania McGrath,” extremely amusing.

* The Guardian‘s middlebrow take on “sending nudes.”

* The Framework laptop: a truly modular and modern laptop, it would seem, although I’d think they should offer it pre-installed with Linux. Maybe their contract with Microsoft forbids that. Still, an admirable effort.

* “Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State.” And yet widespread condemnation of Disney and others remains curiously absent, almost as if parochial concerns suck up much of the cultural air in the U.S.

* “The Republican Party Is Now in Its End Stages:” “one hopes,” I would add, but I’m not sure the argument is true.

Links: What I worked on, living an optimal life, Patricia Highsmith, and more!

* Paul Graham’s life story, under the header “What I worked on.”

* “California State Legislator Introduces Bill to Decriminalize Psychedelics.”

* “How We Did It: Two new books flesh out the history of smut, from Etsy-like handicrafts to the sexy swamp of Tumblr.” On The People’s Porn: A History of Handmade Pornography in America and Ana Valens’ Tumblr Porn. How do they compare to Thy Neighbor’s Wife, one wonders? Or at least I did, but then I read the second one and it feels more like an extended Tumblr riff mixed with an undergrad term paper than a book.

* Cancel the New York Times, on the seeming narrowing of permissible opinion online. Maybe pseudonyms are the way to go online now, in which case I’m making a mistake right now.

* “France Sees an Existential Threat From American Campuses: Prominent politicians and intellectuals say social theories from the United States on race, gender and post-colonialism are undermining their society.” The growth of this from fringe campus nonsense to hitting real workplaces still surprises me, although I wonder also if we’re going to see workplace norms change too.

* On Patricia Highsmith. I read the biography, which seems well done, and Highsmith seems to have led a life of sex, booze, and writing, probably in that order.

* “Why did I leave Google or, why did I stay so long?” Not just the usual, and a statement of work as a paycheck versus work as changing the world.

* John McWhorter: “The Neoracists: A new religion is preached across America. It’s nonsense posing as wisdom.” Persuasion.community is also producing disproportionately good and interesting writing right now. Tablet Mag is also good but won’t let readers read articles unless Javascript is enabled, which is very annoying. NoScript is a great, and educational, extension.

* “Whatever the faults of overconfidence or contrarianism sometimes may be, it seems clear to me that spreading a society-wide message that the solution is to simply trust the existing outputs of society, whether those come in the form of academic institutions, media, governments or markets, is not the solution. All of these institutions can only work precisely because of the presence of individuals who think that they do not work, or who at least think that they can be wrong at least some of the time.” Things may be the way they are for reasons mostly good, but things can also be made better if enough people want them to be made better.

* “I helped build ByteDance’s censorship machine.” ByteDance is the parent company of TikTok.

* The admissions office versus standards?

* Effort. It’s usually underestimated and underappreciated. Relatedly, it’s far easier to “comment” or “critique” than it is to make things. I sometimes like to think of it as the distinction between consuming and producing; many people find the move from school to the real world challenging because that’s also a move from a consumption-based world to a production-based world.

Links: Apple & China, Clubhouse & podcasts, the bad article about Slate Star Codex, and more!

* Detailed article about Apple in the Tim Cook era, with emphasis on Apple’s commitment to manufacturing in China. Apple doesn’t appear worried about China invading or attempting to invade Taiwan; it’s also notable that, as with Disney and China, there’s little public outcry or discussion. What should we draw from that, regarding many social/political controversies in the U.S.? What things should be prominent but aren’t? One comment on the great stagnation and the growth of bureaucracy in the U.S.:

“Jon Rubinstein, a senior vice president for hardware engineering during Jobs’s second tour at Apple, recalls almost having a heart attack in 2005 when he went with Gou to see a new factory in Shenzhen for the iPod Nano—a tiny device 80% smaller than Apple’s original MP3 player—only to find an empty field. Within months, though, a large structure and production line were in place. ‘In the U.S. you couldn’t even get the permits approved in that time frame,’ he says.”

In possibly related, and definitely good, news: “Samsung Foundry: New $17 Billion Fab in the USA by Late 2023.”

* On Clubhouse, the social media app focused on audio, but not a podcast app either.

* “The Mushrooms Will Survive Us,” on the popularity of mushroom cultivation as a hobby.

* Good interview with Zeynep Tüfekçi, who called the pandemic early and has done much on privacy, technology, and human interaction.

* Coinbase founder “Brian Armstrong on the Crypto Economy” and other topics, like the need to focus.

* “Extremely Online: The Novel.” A review I’m happy to have read for a novel I’m fine with not having read.

* “‘It’s Chaos’: Behind the Scenes of Donald McNeil’s New York Times Exit: Senior editors beamed in by video, staffers raged on Slack, and takes flowed on Twitter. Even with all the recent Times drama—Caliphate, Chillsgate—the McNeil mess, said one reporter, is ‘the most explosive scandal I’ve seen at the paper.'” It’s drama on the one hand, yes, but also emblematic of the times (the times of the Times, you might say) on the other.

* Thinking about how we perceive psychiatric conditions, with thoughts about evolution and such as well.

* “California Is Making Liberals Squirm:” the state is ruled almost entirely by democrats, but it’s not a state that anyone would call “well-governed.” Matt Yglesias had a similar essay in November, covering Massachusetts, another state that people are, on the net, leaving—for states that are both warmer and also politically redder.

* The NYT article on Slate Star Codex (SSC) came out and it’s terrible: here is an example of what more accurate quoting from Scott Alexander would look like, and here is a partial list of the ways the NYT attempts to mislead readers. I had some NYT complaints in 2015, and, while I still cite it frequently—I did in this links post—but don’t fully trust it. You can’t. SSC is also, to my mind, a strange choice for such a hit piece, because curious readers can go read SSC instantaneously and see that the author is being disingenuous, at best. There’s an implied threat in the NYT article: if you think for yourself, become popular, and don’t toe the line, you will become a target. The SSC comment on the article has ten times the integrity and thought than the article itself. How do we know what we know? We ought to be working harder to answer such questions.

* Another take about the above, this time on what “middlebrow” means.

Links: Charter schools, how not to cover books, healing divisions, and more!

* Are charter schools being punished for their successes? Too much mood affiliation in the given headline, but of interest nonetheless.

* “‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape,” from the BBC. A horrifying story.

* “A YouTuber Shoots to Literary Fame in France, Ruffling Feathers” is a terrible article because it manages to say nothing at all about the quality of the book in question. Its author seems terrified to take a stance, and so presents the scenario as one of interest groups, rather than of literary or artistic quality. How boring.

* “How to Talk to Millennials About Capitalism: Polls show that young people embrace socialism—but they also distrust government regulation and admire entrepreneurialism and small business.” Not a great title but an interesting article; for most people, “socialism” seems to be a mood or identity affiliation, not a policy preference or set of policy proposals.

* “The reshaped Mac experience,” and “reshaped for the worse” one might add. I’ve noticed some of these things, but they’re aren’t sufficiently irritating to make me leave altogether. Messages and iMessage are also key bits of infrastructure for me.

* “Jonathan Haidt Is Trying to Heal America’s Divisions.” Good, and a good article. We could and should spend more time slowing down, thinking, and recognizing common humanity—and less time on Facebook.

* “Students Punished for ‘Vulgar’ Social Media Posts Are Fighting Back.” Good. The administrative overreach should see a backlash.

* The relentless Jeff Bezos.

* “Luck, foresight and science: How an unheralded team developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time.” A tremendously impressive story.

* “The Terrifying Warning Lurking in the Earth’s Ancient Rock Record.” An adaptation, essentially, of The Ends of the World (a great book worth reading). Few people incorporate the basic points made by such research analyses into their everyday lives: the gap between the “terrifying warning” and the sales of pickup trucks, for example, is vast, and perhaps widening.

* What is the value of restraint?

* “The Journalistic Tattletale and Censorship Industry Suffers Several Well-Deserved Blows.” Not the exact framing I’d prefer but a description of a real issue.

%d bloggers like this: