Links: Adjuncts, materialism, the cost of parking, Zadie Smith, dictators, Robin Hanson, and more!

* “Travels in [Feminist?] Pornland,” in Granta and by Andrea Stuart.

* Mr. Money Mustache buys an Electric Car.

* “Adjunct vulnerability is at the heart of the safe space debate;” I actually have a different reading, and the title imperfectly reflects the deeper content of the article. The “safe space” debate and political correctness more generally is an overreaction to past ills (and real ills). Too much of an initially good thing can make the thing bad, and yet too few people point this out.

* “Non-materialistic millennials and the Great Stagnation,” or, how the smartphone in particular has replaced a lot of “stuff.” In 2007 Paul Graham wrote “Stuff,” which seems truer today than ever.

* “The High Cost of Residential Parking: Every time a new building includes space for cars, it passes those costs on to tenants.”

* Too many old people may explain stagnant economies and innovation.

* “Reading Jane Jacobs Anew,” an excellent piece and don’t be discouraged by the title.

* “Zadie Smith’s ‘Swing Time’—a successful return to her roots” (and much talk about Smith’s ambivalent relationship to the novel that made her name). I’ve tried White Teeth twice and given up each time.

* “Why People Fall for Charismatic Leaders: A new book explores how fear, uncertainty, and group psychology lead people to believe leaders who say false things.”

* “The Unintended Consequences of Law: How did the entire state of California price itself out of the market for entry-level home buyers?”

* Is Robin Hanson too far ahead of his time?

* “The Government’s Addiction to ‘Secret Law.’

* Parking Lots Are an Incredible Waste of Space. Here’s How to End Them.

* “It Could Happen Here: Democracy is facing setbacks around the world, but there hasn’t been reason to doubt America’s resilience—until now.” That’s part of the reason why this election has been uniquely dangerous.

* “Natural selection in our species during the last two millennia;” evolution has not stopped and modern life may actually accelerate it.

* “Will the United States become a nation of renters?” I find the relentless focus on property ownership bizarre, given all the drawbacks it entails, and indeed most of the people who seem to think it a good idea cannot even articulate the (many) drawbacks.

Links: Material goods, durable goods, housing goods, old people and innovation, publishing, and more!

* “Trying to Solve the L.E.D. Quandary:” How can one build a business selling items that last for decades?

* Mr. Money Moustache: “So I Bought an Electric Car…

* “Non-materialistic millennials and the Great Stagnation,” or, how the smartphone in particular has replaced a lot of “stuff.” In 2007 Paul Graham wrote “Stuff,” which seems even truer today. Oddly, though, average dwelling size in the U.S. keeps increasing.

* “The High Cost of Residential Parking: Every time a new building includes space for cars, it passes those costs on to tenants.” A timely reminder for affordable housing advocates and anyone working in housing justice.

* Too many old people may explain stagnant economies and innovation.

* “Reading Jane Jacobs Anew,” an excellent piece and don’t be discouraged by the title.

* “Comprehensive new data challenges the cultural consensus on public housing. For all their flaws, housing projects can have remarkable positive effects on the children who grow up in them.” Don’t believe the consensus on public housing.

* “ The Publishing Gamble That Changed America: The Late Barney Rosset on Fighting for Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” and the fight against censorship in general (still ongoing in a few quarters).

* How an enormously clever landlord gets rid of rent-controlled tenants in NYC, or, yet another example of rent control’s perverse outcomes. There is a comic novel in here, though.

Briefly noted: All That Is Man — David Szalay

I don’t get the book at all, but James Wood likes it and lays out the reasons why at the link. After about a third I gave up, thinking, “Who cares?” Maybe you’ll know, and get it.

I’m on to re-reading All the King’s Men, which is still essential and beautiful and alternates between sounding like it’s narrated by God and by the greatest political hack ever. An appropriate thing around election time.

Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency — James Andrew Miller

There is a really excellent book lurking inside Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency, but it is condemned to be of niche interest because it’s told as an “oral history,” which means interviews with the various participants are stitched together, often banally. One hopes for something like The Making of the Atomic Bomb or The Power Broker and instead gets interviews mostly devoid of context and insights. The strengths and weaknesses of the format shine through, but one mostly sees weaknesses: there isn’t enough context for many of the decisions; the narrative continuity authors impose is lose; the damn thing is just too long; too many people don’t say the right thing, exactly, so what they say must be used anyway.

powerhouseSo why write about it at all? The book is going to be of great interest to anyone involved in startups, law firms, consulting practices, or changing industries. CAA rode a number of waves and mastered a number of key and unusual businesses practices, and it perceived how to adapt to a changing media and business landscape in a way that most of its competitors did not. In another world this could be a Harvard Business Review case study.

The movie business continually changes, and CAA is founded and then evolves based on those changes. For example, the book’s hero is probably Michael Ovitz, or the pairing between Ovitz and fellow agent Ron Meyer. Ovitz says, “The thesis for CAA that we developed was to be able to play roulette with a chip on every number, odd and even, red and black.” That worked. CAA emerged from the William Morris agency, which “was an incredibly rigid, compartmentalized business. Pay scales were incredibly unfair. There was little entrepreneurialism.”

At CAA, the opposite occurred: Agents were incentivized to cooperate; clients were (relatively) shared; initiative was rewarded. When the first five agents left William Morris, Ovitz says this about their departure:

Sam Weisbord loved Judy and he loved me, but he looked at me and said, ‘You’ve really screwed yourself this time.’ That’s what he said to me. I learned an amazing lesson from that moment. If he’d started that meeting differently, attempted to check his ego at the door, told me he didn’t want to lose me, and then offered me an insane amount of money, there was at least one chance in a thousand I would have stayed. Instead, he did me a favor, because instead of being compassionate or even making me feel guilty, he pissed me off. He attacked me and tried to belittle me. There was no way I was going to stay.


CAA remained cooperative within the organization and competitive outside it—a difficult balancing act, because wildly competitive people often want to compete everywhere, all the time, even in ways that are inefficient.

CAA comes up with clever branding strategies. For example, when the agency started most scripts were sent from studios to agencies, and agencies then further distributed the scripts. CAA stripped the existing covers and replaced those covers with their own. So every script started to look like it came from CAA, rather than the studio. A small point but a clever one, and one that is a synecdoche for the agency as a whole.

They also do one simple thing right: pay:

We always made it a point to take really good care of the agents who worked for us. They were all overpaid. We wanted to reward them and also make sure no one else in town could afford them. We would literally ask each other, ‘How much could this person get somewhere else?’ and we’d give them 30 percent more. There were a good chunk of our agent making over a million dollars in the late ’80s.

We’ve seen the same problem among nonprofit and public agencies: They frequently underpay grant writers, and that’s part of the reason Seliger + Associates exists. You’ve also probably seen the articles going around about how manufacturers can’t find the skilled workers they need (here and here are examples from one second of search).

So the strong material is present in Powerhouse, but there is too much Hollywood gossip and status raising (or, less commonly, lowering). Too many passages like Ridley Scott saying, “Goldie Hawn brought me breakfast, and she was hysterically funny. She made it clear how much she wanted the part.” And, on the same page, “Geena Davis had gotten ahold of the script and I met her for tea at the Four Seasons where she made her case” (shouldn’t there also be a comma?). Passages like these help explain why a book that does a little too little to explain the movies and shows themselves can still be 700 pages. 700 fluffy pages, but in the long middle it’s hard to get excited about long-dead deals that don’t delve deeply into something important beyond the deal itself. There is good detail and excess and too often we get excess.

Vote for Clinton or Johnson for president:

If polls are to be believed the presidential race was much closer than it should have been; they are widening now, but their previous narrowness is a travesty because Trump is unfit to be president. There are longer explanations as to why Trump is such a calamity and so unfit for office, like “SSC Endorses Clinton, Johnson, Or Stein” or many others, but perhaps the best thing I’ve read on Trump is “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer” (it came out before this weekend’s fiasco and I started this post before this weekend’s fiasco—I wish I’d posted this sooner). The “really believes” article is too detailed to be excerpted effectively but here is one key part:

When he utters words, his primary intent is not to say something, to describe a set of facts in the world; his primary intent is to do something, i.e., to position himself in a social hierarchy. This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind.

Most of us are simultaneously trying to say something about the state of the world and trying to raise our place in it (or raise the place of our allies or lower the place of someone else). Particularly fact-based enterprises like science and engineering are notoriously averse to strongly positional-based enterprises like marketing and sales, where belief matters more than truth (or where belief is true, which is not true in engineering: It is not enough to believe that your bridge will remain standing). But Trump takes the basic way virtually all people signal their status to such an extreme that his speech and, it seems, mind are totally devoid of content altogether.

The number of people who would ordinarily be politically silent but who cannot be silent in the face of ineptness combined with cruelty is large. LeBron James endorses Clinton. Mathematician Terry Tao writes, “It ought to be common knowledge that Donald Trump is not fit for the presidency of the United States of America” (he’s right: it ought to be).

I’m not famous but will note that you should vote for Clinton or Johnson. This is not like any presidential election I’ve been alive for. The risks are real and the difference between Clinton and Trump is not one of policy. It is one of basic competence.

The situation is so bad that The Atlantic’s editors have endorsed Clinton—only the third time in the history of the magazine that it has endorsed a candidate for president (the other two were Lincoln and LBJ):

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.

The reviewIn ‘Hitler,’ an Ascent From ‘Dunderhead’ to Demagogue” is only superficially writing about Germany from 1931 – 45. It is really a commentary on Trump, like notes about how “Hitler as a politician … rose to power through demagoguery, showmanship and nativist appeals to the masses.” That’s part of Trump’s appeal. Or it was part of Trump’s appeal. One hopes that appeal is fading. The distressing thing is watching people fall for it (or did until recently), or view Trump as a way to express other grievances.

We collectively must not be willfully blind and the United States is better than Trump.

It is impossible to be even slightly skilled at close reading and not perceive Trump’s many weaknesses as a speaker, thinker, or human. If nothing else this election may be a test of the United States’ education level and the quality of its educational system. In all the other elections I’ve lived through, major politicians have had strengths and weaknesses, but none have been outright demagogues or dangerous to the fabric of democracy itself. This election is different and that’s why I’m writing this. America is better than this.

I hope to never again endorse political candidates, but when the structure and stability of the country itself is at risk it is a mistake not to say something, somewhere, publicly. Writing this post is itself depressing.

Links: Liu Cixin’s SF trilogy, cops, Trump country explanations, Nell Zink, Internet culture, and more

* Robin Hanson on Liu Cixin’s Trilogy; I couldn’t get into the first book and abandoned it at some point.

* “‘Do Not Resist’: A look at the normalization of warrior cops.”

* “Deep Stories: Arlie Russell Hochschild journeys into the heart of Trump Country.”

* “Anti-globalists: Why they’re wrong.”

* I was looking through the archives and came across the entertaining-in-retrospect post “$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline will Change Our Lives for the Better — Christopher Steiner.” Oops. Someone got that one real wrong, at least over relevant time horizons.

* From a comment, Jeff’s thoughts on Nell Zink’s thoughts on the corporatisation of universities (or lack thereof).

* “Prosecutors who withhold or tamper with evidence now face felony charges.” Good. This is a long-overdue change.

* “To end the affordable housing crisis, Washington needs to legalize Main Street.” Local NIMBYs are impeding housing growth and enabling soaring housing prices.

* Likely SFW, as it’s all text: “Has Internet Culture Ruined Love and Sex? Tinder, orgies, alt-porn, and orgasmic meditation.” Likely answer to most “Has Internet ruined x?” stories is “no.”

* “Amazon wants Prime members to read a book,” hat tip Isaac.

* What Chinese corner-cutting reveals about the modern economy, more interesting than the title suggests.

* Sodom, LLC: The Marquis de Sade and the office novel.

Links: Nell Zink, spamming spammers, Tana French, monogamy’s discontents, and more

* “Enigma Variations: Notes toward a theory of Nell Zink.” I like The Wallcreeper and have no idea what to do with it or say about it.

* Two years spamming spammers back, completely hilarious.

* “Sticker shock in Los Angeles Housing:” or, why you should’ve live in California. Granted I am writing this from NYC, which faces similar NIMBY and cost challenges.

* “Without tenure, professors become terrified sheep.” I think it more accurate to say, “Without market power, professors become terrified sheep.” Tenure distorts the academic market, making it hard for professors to get even one job, which in turn makes them terrified of losing it. See more from me on tenure’s discontents here.

* “The evolution of monogamy in response to partner scarcity,” interesting throughout.

* “Coding is not ‘fun’, it’s technically and ethically complex.” Is that incompatible with fun?

* “Tana French’s Intimate Crime Fiction: In her Dublin Murder Squad series, the search for the killer becomes entangled in a search for self.” I love the first paragraph in particular.

* “Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations.” Short answer: Good all around. Other drugs ought to be next.

* Presidential candidate Gary Johnson: “Take a Deep Breath, Voters. There Is a Third Way.”

* “Why an Exotic Dancer Is (Financially) Just Like Your Hairdresser,” or, how strippers get paid (likely SFW).

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