Links: The Model 3 factory, Tolkien and Middle-earth, intra-sex competition, sugar, and more!

* Inside Tesla’s Model 3 factory.

* “Six Forces Disrupting Higher Education.” Seems way overly optimistic to me and doesn’t adequately consider alternate hypotheses.

* Conversations with Tyler: David Brooks on Youth, Morality, and Loneliness. The best line, in my view: “I would say that one of the things that’s noticeable about affluent people — and this has happened to me — is, as soon as people make money, they seem to purchase loneliness.” Not only do we buy loneliness, we then reinforce it through laws. What a bad set of choices! We really ought to stop doing this.

* “Terraforming Ourselves: What sort of world do we want to live in? Science fiction has answered the question in wildly different ways.”

* “How Tolkien created Middle-earth.”

* “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce.” Tom Wolfe on Intel in 1983.

* “Female Intrasexual Competition: From Demons to Better Angels.”

* “Invisible asymptotes,” a discouraging title for a very good and interesting essay, especially about each tech company later on. Start with the header, “Amazon’s invisible asymptote.”

* A Scrappy Makeover for The Times Literary Supplement, a Tweedy Literary Fixture.

* “American toddlers eat more sugar than the amount recommended for adults.” See Gary Taubes, The Case Against Sugar. Chances are that however bad you may think sugar is, it’s worse.

* “How Batteries Went from Primitive Power to Global Domination:” one of these articles that is all upside and no downside.

* Why is that genre of fiction dead? If you guess the answer is “tax law,” you guess better than I do. Will the rise of ebooks and the infinite publishing capacity they offer revive some “dead” genres? Also, “Cold Equations” is about the publishing industry, and while I don’t approve of some of its framing, it is interesting.

* “The Scooter Economy;” scooter sharing is a bigger deal than is commonly understood by most people. The rise of electric scooters is also a battery story.

* “One Woman Who Knew Her Rights Forced Border Patrol Off a Greyhound Bus.”

* “On the Sad State of Macintosh Hardware.” Absolutely true and also quite strange, given how easy the situation is to rectify. Maybe most users don’t care? Related, “Dell XPS 13 (9360) Review from a lifelong Mac user.”

Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America — Emily Dufton

Grass Roots is about marijuana, yes, but it’s also about what it means to live in society and what it means to be:

The battle over the drug has always been about much more than whether individuals have the right to smoke, eat, or vape it for effect. Instead, questions about marijuana have long been tied to ideas about freedom and liberty, safety and security, and the rights of an individual versus the collective good—themes that are at the core of many other historical debates.

Much of the book is new to me: I didn’t know how much decriminalization happened in the ’70s, when 11 states decriminalized weed. I didn’t realize how much anti-drug hysteria occurred in the ’80s. I didn’t know the specific mechanisms that drove drug policy back and forth. Now I do, but I’ll warn that the book is often more detailed than most readers want. There is a lot of organizational discussion (“Given his former affiliation with the NFP, Turner encouraged the first lady to work specifically with that organization. PRIDE and FIA did good work, Turner knew, but the NFP was led by social conservatives…”); be ready to skip parts, unless you are uncommonly engaged by bureaucratic jousting—you may be. You may also read the book in conjunction with Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. And of course the subtitle of Grass Roots is clever.

Evidence and knowledge play small roles in the periods that see relatively legal weed and relatively illegal weed. Dufton notes:

Despite its popularity, Just Say No did little to actually decrease youth drug use. In 1988 … the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” survey found that, although rates of adolescent drug use in the United States had dropped over the past seven years, they were still “the highest in the industrialized world.”

The United States is an outlier in many respects, and this is, or was, apparently one of them. I got “Just Say No” drug education in schools and it seems to have been, at least anecdotally, not productive. It’s also not productive to lump all illegal drugs together, as many “education” programs do: drugs vary considerably in their danger and uses. Michael Pollan’s new book, for example, describes the many ways psychedelics may be therapeutic. And thinking about actual danger is important; I don’t know that there are any documented cases of overdosing on marijuana, but the opioid epidemic is well-known and is killing tens of thousands of people per year. Why do we treat weed, LSD, and morphine and heroin similarly? They’re not.

Other aspects of ignorance drove and still drive drug policy. “A 1917 report from the Treasure Department noted that in Texas, only ‘Mexicans and sometimes Negroes and lower class whites’ smoked marijuana for pleasure and warned that ‘drug-crazed’ minorities could harm or assault upper-class white women.” Then, “films like Reefer Madness, released in 1936, associated marijuana use with murder, miscegenation, and suicide.” Which could only be convincing to someone who has never seen a person high on weed: they are dangerous only to pizza and other snack foods.

Money and sex play major roles in the Grass Roots story. The desire for tax revenue entices some states. And the desire to sell paraphernalia entices entreprenurs. Playboy offers some grants to marijuana-focused organizations; it exists at the nexus of sex and money. And some of the early advocates for marijuana have, uh, personal problems that retard their advocacy:

Two months after moving in with Stroup, Newman and Stroup’s wife took MDA, a powerful psychoactive amphetamine known for enhancing sex, and spent the night together while Stroup was visiting the Playboy Foundation in Chicago to solicit funds.

By 1978, we saw “a flood of additional states passing new marijuana laws and the president decriminalizing the drug at the federal level.” But “the downfall of Peter Bourne and the subsequent downfall of Keith Stroup brought the country’s first experiment with decriminalization to a close.” Sort of like Parnell and Kitty O’Shea in nineteenth-century Ireland. I wonder if anyone has yet written the definitive book on the role of sex scandals in world political history.

Another pro-pot politico working for the Carter administration got in media trouble through sex, or a perceived connection with sex; he was a doctor whose secretary was “struggling emotionally,” and

To help Metsky relax, Bourne wrote her a prescription for fifteen Quaaludes, a mild tranquilizer that, though often used to treat insomnia, was also known socially to enhance sex.

This eventually got to the press. My impression, too, is that, regardless of what is “known socially,” Quaaludes just make people sleepy or lethargic, which would not seem to offer the erotic boost that they apparently did in the popular imagination—another example, maybe, of the small role played by knowledge and evidence in the marijuana saga.

Dufton also writes, “Cannabis was believed to be so safe [in the late 1800s] that the drug was marketed to women through romantic postcard campaigns that showed concerned mothers applying a cannabis salve to soothe the gums of teething babies and relieve children’s colds. As a pain reliever, marijuana worked wonderfully.” Does it work better and more safely than Tylenol (which is extremely dangerous, though not addictive)? I wonder if we know that, today: conducting the research may itself be illegal.

Two things strike me as odd or missing (or I missed them). One is the absence of any discussion of lead in gas in the rise of drug use. This may sound esoteric, but leaded gas has been implicated in “violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.” Leaded gas may also have led to higher drug use in the ’60s and ’70s. The other is the absence of any discussion of age cohorts. In the ’60s and ’70s, baby boomers were teens and young adults—ages at which drug experimentation is common and favoring drugs is common. By the ’80s, many were parents themselves—and parents are much more conservative, especially about their own children (several chapters of Grass Roots focus intelligently on the role of parent movements), than experimental 21-year olds. I don’t think and wouldn’t argue that either factor is dispositive, and both can coexist with Dufton’s other work.

Links: Abusing the university bureaucracy, democracy, driverless cars, don’t be a writer, and more!

* “Title IX Is Too Easy to Abuse.” Seems obvious, but I’ll repeat it anyway.

* “Politics is bad because we use an 18th century voting system.” Similar to American democracy is doomed.

* “How Trump’s Election Shook Obama: ‘What if We Were Wrong?’“, much more interesting than the usual, especially:

But days later, Mr. Obama seemed less sanguine. “I don’t know,” he told aides. “Maybe this is what people want. I’ve got the economy set up well for him. No facts. No consequences. They can just have a cartoon.”

* “As Uber and Tesla struggle with driverless cars, Waymo moves forward.” Things I had not realized.

* “The Diversity Staff at the University of Michigan Is Nearly 100 People.” I wonder how much diversity that amount of money would buy in terms of raw tuition.

* “How much are words worth?” Though I think this underestimates, dramatically, what many are making; consider e.g. Stratechery, which charges for its newsletter / daily access. Or the many for-profit trade pubs out there. Nonetheless, “Don’t let your kids grow up aspiring to be writers” is good advice.

* What if I’m just a minor writer?

* “Evolution’s Worst Mistake? How About External Testicles?” Article better than the title implies.

* One Reform to Save America.” I’d not heard of the four-party, mid-century concept, but it makes sense. And “There are over 6,000 breweries in America, but when it comes to our politics, we get to choose between Soviet Refrigerator Factory A and Soviet Refrigerator Factory B” is a good point. This is the core of the proposal:

The way to do that is through multimember districts and ranked-choice voting. In populous states, the congressional districts would be bigger, with around three to five members per district. Voters would rank the candidates on the ballot. If no candidate had a majority of first-place votes, then the candidate with the fewest first-place votes would be eliminated. Voters who preferred that candidate would have their second-choice vote counted instead. The process would be repeated until you get your winners.

Sounds like an improvement to me. Political scientists can explain why the current U.S. system doesn’t work (see also the link above).

* “Here’s How Higher Education Dies: A futurist says the industry may have nowhere to go but down. What does the slide look like?” I’d call this speculative; I’ve seen so many essays like it, none of which have come to fruition. This line of argument seemed more reasonable from 2009 – 2013 and seems less plausible today.

* “Pedal power: the rise and rise of cargo bikes in Germany.” I wonder if it’s true or a bogus trend story.

* “Equipment for Living: Losing and recovering oneself in drugs and sobriety.” On psychedelics, ritual, and more.

* “Billions in U.S. solar projects shelved after Trump panel tariff.” The phrase “own goal” comes to mind, for both this and the 2016 election more generally.

No one takes the next step

Yesterday’s New York Times has an article, “Thanks for the painful reminder,” that starts, “Six months ago, our teenage son was killed in a car accident. I took a month off from work because I couldn’t get out of bed.” Almost everyone knows someone who was killed, almost killed, or seriously mangled in a car crash, yet no one is thinking or talking about how to reduce reliance on cars. In 2016 34,439 died in car crashes. None or few those parents and spouses start organizations dedicated to reducing car usage. Why not? School shootings keep inspiring survivors and their families to start organizations around guns, but the same doesn’t seem to happen with cars.

The author of the article doesn’t take the next step, either. It’s an omission that almost no one talks about, either. We’ve had the technologies to improve this situation for more than a century.

Links: Police and bikes, Tom Wolfe and endings, and context, context, context

* “Why Did Police Run This Cyclist Off His Bike? Two NYPD officers veered into Heins Rodriguez and threw him from his bike, but he never faced any charges besides ‘resisting arrest.’ Now, he’s suing the department.”

* “Whither the Slut? Mandy Stadtmiller and Karley Sciortino Reveal All.” The New Yorker on Slutever.

* “The Greatest Gym You’ll Never Lift At,” likely congruent with The Temple of Perfection.

* Getting the ending out of Tom Wolfe.

* “2018 has been deadlier for schoolchildren than service members.” Makes you think but will probably not lead to policy changes.

* “Cycling changed my life, and I never want to own a car again.”

* “How Tech Can Turn Doctors Into Clerical Workers.” Much more moving than expected from the title.

* “Postmodernism and the Decline of the Liberal Arts.”

* “How did music become so unimportant?” Interesting throughout.

* Can Things Be Both Popular And Silenced?

* Why are new antibiotics so hard to find?

* That moon colony will be a reality sooner than you think.

* The new passport-poor, on passports, travel, human freedom, Casablanca, and many other topics.

* “The Engineer vs. the Border Patrol: One man’s quest to outlaw Customs and Border Protection’s internal, possibly unconstitutional immigration checkpoints.”

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