Links: The end of the world, cheap sex, the war on stuff, Nakaya and fountain pens, college is the new high school, and more!

* “The Ends of the World is page-turner about mass extinction.” Note: “The evidence suggests that every single time, mass extinction was the result of runaway alterations in the planet’s atmospheric composition.”

* “‘I’ve done nothing wrong’: Utah nurse’s arrest prompts police apology.” Incredibly vile behavior; one wonders how often such things happened, unrecorded, prior to the advent of police body cameras.

* “‘Cheap sex’ is making men give up on marriage,” which is based on Mark Regnerus’s book Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy.

* The Netherlands has become an agricultural giant by showing what the future of farming could look like.

* The case of Stephen Greenblatt:” “Thus did Greenblatt help initiate the long, slow destruction of the serious study of literature in the American academy.”

* Marie Kondo and the relentless war on stuff. See also Paul Graham’s “Stuff.”

* How Nakaya, a Japanese Pen Maker, Anticipated the Writing-Tool Renaissance. Personally I’ve been a fan of Sailor fountain pens, but more often these days I just use Pigma Micron pens that’re easier to carry around (and lose).

* École 42, a free, teacher-less university in France, is schooling thousands of future-proof programmers. Cool.

* “Republican Party Autopsy Author Goes Off On GOP As Trump’s DACA Decision Nears: ‘Those in Republican leadership who have enabled his behavior by standing silent or making excuses for him deserve the reckoning that will eventually come for the GOP,’ Sally Bradshaw, a longtime adviser to Jeb Bush, told BuzzFeed News.” One hopes, but this does seem awfully optimistic.

* “Undercover in North Korea: ‘All Paths Lead to Catastrophe.'” Maybe the best piece on this topic I’ve seen so far, and not just more of the usual.

* “College is the new High School and that should terrify everyone.” An overstated headline, but still a useful piece. That being said, “college” means such a wide array of institutions, experiences, and instruction that it’s almost meaningless to lump all of them together.

* “Why do entrepreneurs get such a bad rap?” In movies, anyway. I suspect that evil is more interesting than good, which is also why we get so many movies about robbers and gangsters and so few about, say, content, functional families.

‘Maybe in 50 years there won’t be novels’

Claire Messud: ‘Maybe in 50 years there won’t be novels:’ As her fifth novel is published, the American writer warns that shrinking attention spans could prove the death of long fiction” makes an interesting point that is definitely plausible and may also be correct. Still, while average attention spans may be shrinking, elite attention spans may be as long as they ever were—they have to be to do good work. The people who make Twitter, Facebook, and SnapChat need intense concentration to do the work they do (everyone ought to at least attempt a programming class, if for no other reason than to understand the kind of mental effort it entails). If we’re going to keep the lights on, the Internet working at all, and the world running, we need to be able to concentrate long enough to really understand a topic deeply.

As fewer people can do this, the value of doing it rises. My own work as a grant writer depends on concentration; part of the reason we have a business is because most people can’t concentrate long enough to learn to write well and then apply that learning to grant applications. As I wrote in 2012, “Grant writing is long-form, not fragmentary.” Cal Newport makes a similar point, although not about grant writing, in Deep Work.

The contemporary tension between an attention-addled majority and a deep-working minority fuels Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem. It’s not the most readable of novels because the made-up vocabulary of the future is so grating. The idea is a reasonable one (our present vocabulary is different from the past’s vocabulary, so won’t the same be true of the future?), but the novel also shows the technical problems that attempting to implement that idea entail. I wonder if Messud has read Anathem.

Anyway, to return to Messud, I suspect this is true: “That we can’t fathom other people, or ourselves, is the engine of fiction” and as long as it remains true there will be an appetite for novels among at least some people.

By the way, I’ve started a couple of Messud’s books and never cottoned to them. Maybe the flaw is mine.

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