Links: Math as the great secret, Paul Graham learns from users, the power of ideology, and more!

* Math is the great secret.

* “Academic Administrators Are Strangling Our Universities.” Not the best-argued thing I’ve ever read, but has some perspective.

* Are non-drone combat aircraft now worthless?

* What Paul Graham has learned from users.

* “The Ideological Refusal to Acknowledge Evolved Sex Differences.”

* “Factory Jobs Are Booming Like It’s the 1970s.”

* “And yet the wokies continue to represent students as oppressed truth-tellers and advocates, rather than as entitled consumers who expect to be handed everything in exchange for their crushing loan debt.” For more, see “NYU organic chemistry professor terminated for tough grading.” Although it’s possible that he was, or is, a bad teacher—but, if so, why did, and do, schools tolerate poor instruction over long periods of time? Speaking of length, long-time readers may recall me writing about how nothing incentivizes professors to grade honestly (as with many things I write, “what is true” and “what might be true in an ideal world” differ. You may read here a recent, improbable proposal for reforming universities.

* Interview with Alec Stapp on progress and progress studies.

* “To save downtowns, we need to embrace windowless bedrooms.” Among other things. Segregation of urban uses, apart from heavy industrial uses, was and is mostly a mistake.

Links: The end of a culture, the need for abundance, Inspector Maigret, and more!

* “The Last Member of an Uncontacted Tribe: He lived alone in the forest for twenty-six years before dying last month. What did he experience?” Moving, sad, and beautiful, especially the final paragraph.

* “The Long March of the YIMBYs [“Yes in my backyard”—persons who favor constructing more housing]: Slowly, the tide is starting to turn.”

* “Tech Companies Slowly Shift Production Away From China.” Good, if it’s true.

* “The Case for Abolishing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).” Like the “Patriot Act,” which is not patriotic, NEPA actually harms the environment, rather than helping it. Notice: “If you think a two year, million dollar, 1,000+ page environmental report simply to build new bike lanes in an already developed city seems absurd, you’re not alone.” And, also: “America is absolutely drowning in process, forms, and reviews.”

* “How Europe Stumbled Into an Energy Catastrophe.” “Not building out nuclear power” is the short answer. Notice how many of the plans think about the next months, rather than the next decades. It’s obviously necessary to survive in the short term to get to the long term,

* “The Mysterious Case of Inspector Maigret:” on Georges Simenon and his creation.

* “A Chinese Spy Wanted GE’s Secrets, But the US Got China’s Instead.” On modern spy sagas, which appear to be industrial as much as anything else.

* “I Have Yet to Hear a Satisfactory Answer For Why Adults Care What Young People Think.”

* “The Immorality of ‘The Godfather’.”

* “Transcript: Ezra Klein on the New Supply-Side Economics.” Note: “I come from California, I grew up in Irvine, California. So to watch how liberal, how blue California is and how badly it fails at a lot of the basics of progressive outcomes of making a middle class life affordable for people is to really force yourself to reckon with some things that have gone pretty profoundly wrong in liberal governance.” And also: “Once you begin looking at the paucity of ambition on the supply side, it becomes a little bit hard to stop seeing it.” We’re paying for the scarcity agenda of the last few decades, and we should instead make a lot: in housing, in energy, in education, in subways—and not just in consumer goods.

* “How to Deal with Criticism: 10 Tips for Musicians (and Everyone Else).” Great advice, especially regarding the tension between the need to be able to listen to honest and authentic criticism, while simultaneously ignoring large amounts of bullshit.

* Even at Jacobin mag—not the best venue by any means—they’re figuring out that To Solve the Housing Crisis, We Have to Increase the Housing Supply.”

Links: What it takes to get to genuinely low carbon, the use of cryptocurrencies, and more!

* “The green war on clean energy.” Notice: “But what if nuclear research and plant construction had continued to advance at the pace seen in the 1970s? One Australian researcher concluded: ‘Had the early rates continued, nuclear power could now be around 10% of its current cost.’” And: “Yet it was environmentalists who led the campaign to halt the rollout of the cleanest, and greenest, of all power sources.” Innumeracy makes fools of most of us. Similarly: an article on the need for infrastructure permitting reform. Ignore the given title, which is dumb and clickbait, because the article itself is good. I also recently wrote “Permitting is the big barrier to wind energy right now.”

* On the publishing industry’s brokenness, although I think the truer answer is that the publishing industry, like many glamor industries, has relied on trust funds, rich families, and generalized glamor for decades. A veneer of woke doesn’t change the underlying market dynamics, which is that publishing needs the children of the rich to take low salaries in order to function. Get this: “Though some publishers have raised entry-level salaries to around $45,000 per year…” Per year, in New York City. And “The median salary for those in management in our 2021 survey was $130,000.” $130,000, after a decade plus in the industry, in New York City? Median rent in Manhattan is now above $4,000.

* “Inside the crypto black markets of Argentina.”

* “New malaria vaccine is world-changing, say scientists.”

* “What Schools Are Teaching Your Kids About ‘Gender’.” Maybe.

* “How Reagan Almost Crushed Wokeness.” “Almost” is doing a lot of work in that title, but the review of how civil rights law evolved is useful.

* “Climate Tipping Points May Be Triggered Even If Warming Peaks at 1.5C.”

* The male monkey dance.

* “The Weakness of Xi Jinping.” Ideas rarely, but more commonly now, heard.

* How Mathematics Changed Me. Can be read in tandem with “How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math: the building blocks of understanding are memorization and repetition.”

* On the new Ian McEwan book.

Links: Methane rising, permitting and wind energy, UFOs and the Fermi Paradox, and more!

* “Methane hunters: what explains the surge in the potent greenhouse gas? Levels of the gas are growing at a record rate and natural sources like wetlands are the cause, but scientists don’t know how to curb it.” This is, unfortunately and dangerously, consistent with the Clathrate gun hypothesis.

* Me on how “Permitting is the big barrier to wind energy right now (beyond batteries and fundamental research).” Given what’s happening in Europe, and in parts of the U.S., it would be good to start seriously preparing for problems now. Actually, it’d have been better to start ten or twenty years ago, but now is better than tomorrow; Elon can tweet, seriously, “Order a Tesla Powerwall battery for blackout protection!”, and his advice is good.

* Taking UFOs / Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP:) seriously, as a solution to the Fermi Paradox. “UAP” is the latest Russell Conjugation of “UFO,” since UFO has become too low status, and thus we need an acronym for the same thing with less status baggage.

* “AI Revolution – Transformers and Large Language Models (LLMs).” Don’t be dissuaded by the title: it’s good, thorough, and visionary, particularly at the end.

* “Shruti Rajagopalan talks to Daniel Gross and Tyler about Identifying and Predicting Talent.” Better probably as audio than text, but good as both, and I notice that a podcast I listen to and whose transcript I read get “processed” differently in each medium. I’m not sure what to do with that, but it’s noticeable.

* The rise of liberal hawks, which is deeper and more interesting than it sounds.

* Echopraxia is great and you should read it.

* Profile of Ian McEwan, though I think he’s not willing to admit what seems to be true.

* Consistent with the McEwan profile above: “How Woke Put Paid to Publishing.”

* “The distinctiveness of human aggression,” by interesting man Rob K. Henderson.

* Joyce Carol Oates interview with Philip Roth.

Briefly noted: “Honor Thy Father,” “After the Ivory Tower Falls,” and “2034”

* Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese: The takeaway may still be “the mafia is bad and so is crime.” Rising in the mafia is hard for many reasons, one being that a criminal needs only to screw up once to be convicted, while the police and prosecutors can screw up many times and still in some sense come out ahead. Honor Thy Father was published in 1971, and it covers an even earlier era; by 1971, a sense of elegy and things passing or being better in the old days already pervades the mafia story. The Sopranos comes out in 1999 and hits the same themes. Maybe all mafia stories have to concern a mythic past: few are set in whenever the mafia’s heyday—perhaps the 19th Century—may have been. The mafia reality is too tawdry for anything but the good days to have been in the past.

There’s much talk about inheritance—”among the inheritors [of the old-world, Italian mafia and mafia practices] were such men as Frank Labruzzo and Bill Bonanno, who now, in the mid-1960s, in an age of space and rockets, were fighting in a feudal war.” “A feudal war,” but with pistols and other firearms: the future may have been there, but it wasn’t evenly distributed. One day, will people be fighting feudal wars in space? Little about engineering or engineers appears in Honor Thy Father: the most important work of the 1930 to 1970 period was happening in California, at Intel and similar companies, though this wasn’t universally recognized at the time—which may make us: where is the most-important, least-recognized work happening today?

Other descriptions in Honor Thy Father remind us of cultural and other chanage; Bonanno “conveyed to his children his disapproval of tattletales. If they saw their brothers, sisters, or cousins doing something wrong, he had said, it was improper for them to go talebearing to adults, adding that nobody had respect for a stool pigeon, not even those who gained by such information.” Many modern institutions are obsessed with “talebearing” and encourage stool-pigeoning (if you’ll forgive the verbing of nouns). Many of the crimes aren’t crimes: the numbers racket is now the lotto (“If the lawmakers would legitimize numbers betting it would hurt business because it would deprive customers of that satisfactory sense of having beaten the system”), and loan sharking has been subsumed by the payday loan industry. Prostitution is still formally illegal but has moved online, where it’s sufficiently out of sight and to be out of mind.

Monotony, boredom, loneliness: these words recur. Whatever glamor one might infer in the mob life, it’s absent in Bonanno’s life, apart I guess from the glamor of high stakes: most of us aren’t shot if we do our jobs poorly, which is good for quality of life but bad for dramatic tension. Most of us can recover from most mistakes, and a “cutthroat industry” is a metaphor.

* After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics—and How to Fix It by Will Bunch: If there’s a message to After the Ivory Tower Falls, it’s “conditions change.” What makes sense in one set of conditions, won’t in another: college made sense for most people between 1945 and the 1990s. By the 2000s, growing costs started to change the appeal to the marginal student; Bunch’s tone may also stem from him being a journalist, a field that’s shed about half of its jobs since 2000, and declining fields feel very different from growing ones. I know, because I’ve foolishly pursued work in some declining fields, while other friends work for tech companies.

Much of the “everyone must go to college” mantra comes from slight of hand: college graduates earn more than non-graduates; that means college caused the earnings jump. Stated so bluntly, anyone familiar with how correlation is not causation sees the problem: trying to get everyone to go to college winds up weakening the value of the college-degree signal, and, at the same time, most schools are strongly incentivized by the student-loan program to get as many students in their doors as possible. Prices rise, but schools that sell low-value degrees have no feedback mechanism discouraging them from that behavior—a key point in Paying for the Party (which isn’t cited).

Baumol’s Cost Disease isn’t cited by Bunch either, or Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, which identifies Baumol’s Cost Disease as a main cause of rising costs. So what do we get? A lot of mood affiliation. In Bunch’s telling, nonprofit colleges bear surprisingly little responsibility for their own predatory behavior. Consider this example: “When faith in the American way of college began to wane after years of runaway tuition, Wall Street smelled blood in the water.” Okay, we have a metaphor around “faith” in the first part of the sentence, but then we have a metaphor around a shark attack in the second? Why would waning “faith” lead to the smell of “blood in the water?” The confusing imagery is part of After the Ivory Tower Falls‘ general confusion; it tends to conflate things that should be separate and separate things that should be conflated. The book speaks to the race for entering exclusionary schools, and yet there’s almost nothing about the most expensive cost for the vast majority of households—housing itself. Without looking at the rising cost of housing over the last 50 years, the rising sense of precarity and competitiveness doesn’t make sense. The cost of living feels higher than it used to be because it is higher than it used to be; Bunch’s grandmother could move to California at a time when exclusionary zoning hadn’t made California unaffordable to most people. We used to have abundance; now we have legally-mandated scarcity, and perhaps that should change. The champions of “diversity” in highly exclusionary schools and enclaves are so unintentionally comedic because of how vigorously they speak about diversity while supporting policies that cause and ensure the exact opposite, while never noticing the contradiction. One form of comedy is saying one thing while doing another.

We see data like “Nearly 40 percent of full-time undergraduates who enrolled in the 2011-12 academic year accumulated some debt but did not have a degree after six years, said Mark Huelsman, the director of policy and advocacy at the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University.” While schools like Purdue hold down costs and increase value, many others don’t. College is a huge financial and life danger, in a way that it wasn’t in the middle of the 20th Century, but Bunch doesn’t want to foreground the way colleges have contributed.

Some students do really well: those who major in technical subjects like computer science or engineering, especially at state schools with relatively low tuition. Many others don’t; even in expensive, exclusionary schools, it’s not obvious that the payoff is worthwhile, compared to less-expensive schools, particularly for non-geniuses; if you’re doing math 55 at Harvard, great. If you’re doing sociology, is it great? Those graduates will probably be fine, albeit at high tuition costs.

More could be said, but why bother? There is a better book in After the Ivory Tower Falls, but mood affiliation and too little data stops it from appearing.

* 2034: A Novel of the Next World War: Not terribly well written; on the first page, for example, we follow captain Sarah Hunt, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 21: “On a recent sleepless night, she had studied her logbooks and totaled up all the days she had spent traversing the deep ocean, out of sight of land. It added up to nearly nine years. Her memory darted back and forth across those long years, to her watch-standing days as an ensign…” “[O]ut of sight of land” should be removed—”the deep ocean” implies it—and “those long years” should be removed too, since they’re also implied. Expect more of the same, though the plot is interesting: events in the South China Sea and Strait of Hormuz lead to war between the U.S. and China. Spoilers ahead, but the plot deals with the Chinese magically being able to blind U.S. electronic warfare systems—no plausible mechanism for this capability is proposed, unless I missed it, which is possible—and then the U.S. has to resort to older aircraft and systems that aren’t so electronic. This romantic anachronism is like dreaming of a cavalry charge succeeding in World War I. India is the eventual kingmaker; the word “victor” can’t really apply to anyone in a large war, though if there is one, it’s India. As with Tom Clancy novels, the book celebrates diversity in that anyone on the U.S. side can contribute to fighting the CCP.

2034 would make a promising movie—all those visuals of flight decks and missiles—but China now controls Hollywood, so the book will remain the book, unless Peter Thiel wants to fund it. He’s probably not a Story’s Story reader, although you never know.

Links: Rome and an Industrial Revolution, economies of scale in construction, and more!

* Maybe Rome was pretty far from an Industrial Revolution. Sadly. I’d thought “lack of printing press” a big precondition, too.

* Is America falling behind China in science?

* Podcast interview with a pseudonymous recent Harvard grad; there is a transcript, too. The material in the first 15 minutes is boring.

* “Why are there so few economies of scale in construction?

* “Workplace diversity programmes often fail, or backfire: Many may do more to protect against litigation than to reduce discrimination.” It may be that what we choose to foreground has important consequences.

* “Is “Woke” just PC with faster internet?” A usefully historical take.

* “Nature: Manuscripts that are ideologically impure and ‘harmful’ will be rejected.” In case you’re wondering whether the sciences are immune to ideological fads.

* A guide to writing online.

* “On Joseph Tainter: The Collapse of Complex Societies.”

* Arguments in favor of intellectual freedom and the University of Austin.

Links: Effective altruism things, skill development, new Puritans, and more!

* “The Reluctant Prophet of Effective Altruism: William MacAskill’s movement set out to help the global poor.” Are most of us practicing ineffective altruism, if we’re practicing altruism at all?  I’d say that high U.S. housing and transit costs reduce the amounts of money normal or normal-ish people might be able to donate, or to send internationally. We’re beggaring ourselves through housing scarcity and that’s bad, along a variety of axes.

* “Guru Overload: Moving on from the figureheads of the latest culture war drama.” On the failures of what was sometimes called “The Intellectual Dark Web.”

* “Can the Visa-Mastercard duopoly be broken?” One hopes.

* “Skills Plateau Because Of Decay And Interference?” Does this argue for breadth in skill development and acquisition, over pure “depth?” I’ve wondered about this topic and now see I’m not the only one who has.

* “How Social Justice Became a New Religion: Our society is becoming less religious. Or is it?” I’m not sure the “How” question is answered, let alone the “why” question, but it is of interest.

* Related to the above: “The progressive puritans will fail: They are preaching to a choir in an empty church.” An argument in favor of fun, which has fallen out of official favor.

* “The Suicide of the American Historical Association?”

* Reasons Ted Gioia is publishing his next book on Substack.

* Cracker Barrel leaders realize the utility of ignoring Twitter mobs.

* “Suketu Mehta: ‘As goes India, so goes democracy’.” And a take on democracy falling in India.

* “‘Rings Of Power’ Showrunners Clarify That Any Resemblance To The Works Of Tolkien Is Purely Coincidental.”

Links: Writers, academia, thinking about thinking, and more!

* Similarities between programming and writing.

* “Why William Deresiewicz Left Academia (Since You’re Wondering).” He was pushed out, as he says; the whole essay is highly quotable, but I’ll note that Deresiewicz “went [to grad school], in other words, because I wanted to read books: because I loved books; because I lived my deepest life in books; because art, particularly literary art, meant everything to me.” But he found there that “Loving books is not why people are supposed to become English professors, and it hasn’t been for a long time. Loving books is scoffed at (or would be, if anybody ever copped to it).” This may seem curious, but the way the humanities professoriate has evolved is curious. Deresiewicz says that “what disgusted me the most was not the intellectual corruption. It was the careerism.” The overall essay is consistent with my own writing in “What you should know BEFORE you start grad school / PhD programs in English Literature: The economic, financial, and opportunity costs.”

* The midwit trap, which doesn’t do the essay justice; it concerns the way simple solutions often outperform complex ones, and the challenges of understanding both problem and solution spaces, among other things.

* “Nonprofit boards of directors usually exist to be controlled by the organization’s executive director“—something most people don’t realize but more people should.

* “Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read,” using phonics and direct instruction, which are old, effective, and yet disdained by many people in the education-industrial complex. That we’ve not seen stronger efforts to reform the education of educators seems odd to me.

* Tight versus loose cultures.

* “Why Are American Teenagers So Sad and Anxious?

* Argument for re-building higher education.

* “You can’t afford to be an artist and/or author, let alone be respected.” Not exactly my view, but of interest.

* On Philip K. Dick. I think Dick understood best that many if not most people don’t want to be free.

Links: The writer-obsessive, escape from the ivory tower, and more!

* On the many facets of Danielle Steel.

* A cyclical theory of subcultures.

* Argument that China “can’t” afford to invade Taiwan, which is interesting, apart from the fact that many countries that couldn’t “afford” to invade their neighbors nonetheless did so anyway. Russia can’t afford to invade Ukraine and yet has done so.

* “Why the Chair of the Lancet’s COVID-19 Commission Thinks The US Government Is Preventing a Real Investigation Into the Pandemic.”

* “Escape from the Ivory Tower,” which concerns the inhumanity of many humanities professors and departments. Perhaps one could links it to an article on why it is not effectively possible to write academic satires any more. You may have thought the Sokal Text affair was unfortunate, but compare it to this!

* “MeToo killed Game of Thrones; Nobody wants a sexless prequel.” Maybe: I guess we’ll see, but I think the dreary, incoherent final two seasons were the bigger problem.

* Book about the homogeneity of writing and sensibility from MFA programs.

* Good and humane essay on Philip Larkin, though with a bad title, and I admire this line: “The greatest writers will always be those who have suffered dully all the wrongs of man, and yet remain alive to a greater wisdom and beauty beyond what they could afford themselves.”

* “Hispanic Voters Are Normie Voters.” Sanity is good.

* Colleges engage in extensive price discrimination.

* “Milwaukee Tool Raises the Bar with New USA Factory.”

Links: The need for sunlight, modular homes, batteries, and more!

* “Vantem Global Builds Modular Homes Out of Energy-Efficient Panels.” They look good, and housing construction has been stubbornly resistant to efficiency improvements.

* “The U.S. made a breakthrough battery discovery — then gave the technology to China.” Maybe we shouldn’t do that.

* “Skin exposure to UVB light induces a skin-brain-gonad axis and sexual behavior.” It’s in Cell and thus SFW.

* “Sensitivity Readers Are the New Literary Gatekeepers.” Which can’t be helping fiction sales: we used to make fun of the Soviets for insisting on doctrinaire art. Now, big publishers insist on it, which is particularly odd given the vitality of gatekeeper-free Internet writing.

* Has Technological Progress Stalled?

* A Canceled Cancellation at the University of Michigan: “The University of Michigan Medical School just took a bold stand for academic freedom.” I’ve noted many negative examples but think it useful to also cite some positive ones.

* A plan to tax the very large endowments of some universities.

* The national housing shortage is likely in the four to twenty million range.

* “Inside the War Between Trump and His Generals.” The first paragraphs are consistent with previous actions and yet still horrifying.

* “‘The Literary Mafia’ Review: People of the Book.” Jews, books, and ideas.

* An essay against Puritanism, though that’s not the title the author uses. It’s a rant.

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