Links: The electric scooter, the comfort college, stamina succeeds?, and more

* “The rise of the electric scooter.” Which is awesome and underrated in the media.

* The rise of the comfort college. Depressing and consistent with my classroom experiences. Strangely, the New York Times Book Review just published a letter to the editor on related subjects.

* Does poetry have street cred? Does it just need to focus on being more structured and less boring?

* Are too many people going to college? It’s strange that these ideas aren’t also more common.

* Apple stacked the app store with its own products. If there’s a monopoly problem in tech companies right now, it’s almost certainly with Apple, not with the usual suspects.

* “The One Thing No Israeli Wants to Discuss.” The contemporary discourse around the Middle East is frequently missing precisely this history—it’s as if someone is trying to understand some aspects of contemporary American politics without mentioning 9/11.

* Universities say they want strong academics and diversity, but they really want rich kids. I can only say that I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in this cafe.

* Stamina succeeds?

* Why industry is quietly going green. Amusing and counterintuitive.

* “Malaria breakthrough as scientists find ‘highly effective’ way to kill parasite.” This is likely to be bigger news than anything else you read this month, if it’s true.

* Food innovation news.

* “Why Are American Homes So Big?” A lot of them are too big and located in the wrong places.

* The rush from judgment. Views rarely heard, except sometimes from Bryan Caplan.

Coders — Clive Thompson

Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World is promising, but many sections are too wrapped up in media business rituals for it to be great. That said, if you’ve not read about the mindsets that cognitively demanding enterprises demand, the book provides a good introduction to them. Despite that, it likely underemphasizes and underplays the extreme meritocracy of the tech world, where code works—or doesn’t, and products work—or don’t. The large amount of signaling cruft that has accumulated in many other worlds is (mostly) absent. Coders are arguably the end result of a centuries-long process away from being who you are because of you or your family’s place in the social order and towards being who you are because of what you can do. Maybe that will change over time, but it hasn’t yet, and tech is attractive to outsiders in general because you can’t fake your way in, and, if you do, you’ll likely be found out relatively quickly.

Thompson disagrees, it seems. He writes, “the software industry has long cherished its self-image of a pure meritocracy.” I don’t think many people think a “pure” meritocracy is possible, so this notion has a whiff of the strawman about it because of the word “pure.” A better question might be, is the software business meritocratic compared to many other industries? Sure seems like it, given the way the Internet opens the field to talented but uncredentialed outsiders. Thompson goes on to assert it’s not true, without providing real evidence (though he has some typical media stories). For example, the chapter “10x, rock stars, and the myth of meritocracy” has lots of stories but very little, if any, data, and none that supports the central point. Chapter 7 is worse.

Despite that, there are useful threads; for example, people complained vociferously about Facebook’s News Feed when it was introduced. But “the day after News Feed emerged, Sanghvi and the team found that people were spending twice as much time on Facebook as before.” Revealed preferences, in other words: we could call our era the “revealed preferences” era, because so much of our online lives shows things that we don’t want to say. The aggregate of our desires is often quite different from what we say we want. Still, it might be inhumane to live in a world where shading the truth is a lot harder, and we’re in a world where online denunciations are becoming more common yet our cultural immune system hasn’t adjusted to them yet.

After I read Coders, I read “Robert A. Caro on the Means and Ends of Power,” and it makes me think: Who is going to be the Caro of the coding generation? The writer who is so deep into the technical mind, the mind that has shaped the digital tools almost all of use, that he says it all? Thompson has the potential to get there, but Coders doesn’t arrange the material right. He gets that, to Ruchi Sanghvi, Facebook as a company “was different, it was vibrant, it was alive,” as she says. That’s a powerful force and, as someone who’s worked in and around government and universities for years, I see the appeal of being in a startup where urgency is everywhere. But Thompson also writes things like, “Facebook looked at our lives as a problem of inefficient transmission of information.” Did it? Or was it just an experiment? Maybe an experiment in self-presentation? arguably those two questions are variants on “transmission of information,” but, equally arguably, “transmission of information” is too abstract for what Facebook was, or is. That’s the sort of thing someone like Caro is likely to get right, while many others are likely to get it wrong.

But, despite that, I think this is correct, or, if not correct, interesting:

Back during the Revolutionary America of the late eighteenth century, the key profession was law. The American style of government is composed of nothing but laws, of course.

I wonder if “writer” has ever been the key profession, or if it’s always been the profession of the carpers instead of the doers. Nonetheless, the theme of coding’s rise reappears elsewhere: “Sure, politics, law, and business are powerful, but if you want to really remold the contours of society? Write code.” That, at least, his view of the ’90s and the Internet.

For one coder,

It was like constantly solving puzzles: trying to make an algorithm run faster, trying to debug a gnarly piece of code that wasn’t working right. The mental chess colonized her mind, and she found herself pondering coding problems all day long.

Sounds like many writers on writing, who also find that the top-of-mind project colonizes their minds—if they’re to do it at the highest levels. Both fields are also prone to generating the question, “Where do good ideas come from?”, which has no answer at this stage of technological and human knowledge.

Yet solving puzzles also means managing frustration, because another section declares it writing it well to need “a boundless, nigh masochistic ability to endure brutal, grinding frustration.” Why do some people find some things, like running or coding, as fun, while many if not most others hate them? We are again running into unanswerable psychological questions with large-scale social implications. Yet the work also engenders “a sense of clarity, of proof that his work actually was valid.”

You can no doubt sense my ambivalence about Coders. Thompson needs to give up his media rituals and relentless political correctness henpecking; they’re likely to mark Coders as being too much of its time, rather than for all time. There is a classic in this book, but the book is too of its media moment to be the classic. And that’s a pity, to see someone with a lot of material who misuses the material.

Links: Real-life rules, active learning, Germans and nudity, group novels, and more!

* “Why It’s So Hard for Young People to Date Offline.” Where there is a shortage, there is an opportunity.

* Active learning works, but students don’t like it. Matches my anecdotal experiences in teaching.

* “Camille Paglia: A Feminist Capitalist Professor Under Fire .”

* Literary prizes, sales, and popularity, somewhat quantified.

* “When Did College Turn So Cruel?

* Germans like nudity. Nudism nudity.

* Can you write a novel as a group? I don’t see why not. This is also not related to the group issues in the link immediately above.

* Bicycles can help save the planet and improve our cities.

* “‘Father Is Surgeon,’ ‘1 Mil Pledge’: The Role of Money in USC Admissions: Emails in college admissions cheating scandal show the role donations played in decisions to accept students.” This one has a lot of comeuppance and schadenfreude. One lawyer “in the admissions-cheating scheme has argued that parents donated to USC as part of a standard admissions practice that was actively encouraged by USC.” Seems really plausible to me: the whole thing reads a bit like the mafia being pissed off that amateurs are elbowing into its turf, or a branch of government elbowing into the mafia’s turf. There’s just so much comedy in this story. Remember the link about how did (some parts of) the college system become so cruel? This is part of the story, and it’s a story about the behavior of the schools themselves.

* Walter Mosley on quitting the writers room. Has one of the great all-time lines in it.

* “How ancient poetry can revitalise our erotic imaginations.” Maybe.

* Edward Luttwak from 1994: “Why Fascism is the Wave of the Future.” Had I read this ten years ago I would have found it absurd. No longer.

* Room with a viewer: How TV became president. Most of the blame on Facebook and other Internet platforms seems misguided, relative to the importance of plain old TV.

Links: Satellite internet, epistemology many ways, the penny-book business, Houellebecq, and more!

* Satellite Internet companies could save consumers $30 billion per year. Seems optimistic, as terrestrial companies will have to drop their prices, but competition is always welcomed.

* “The Info War of All Against All.” The re-litigating of epistemology is an interesting effect of the Internet.

* “The Provocations of Camille Paglia,” which is an overview of her work.

* “Secret Memos Show the Government Has Been Lying About Backpage.” You can trust the government.

* A penny for your books. From 2015 and still charming.

* Please add RSS support to your site, if it’s not got it already. There is much bleating online about privacy, platform diversity, etc., and little action towards improvement. This is a concrete action step that can be taken.

* “Michel Houellebecq, France’s Master Of ‘Materialist Horror’.” A better title than it sounds. I’m reading Rene Girard and keep thinking of Houellebecq.

* “How to review a novel.” Some fine points, but over time I’ve come to appreciate the reviews that are intelligent, but also personal and idiosyncratic. Many reviews manage to do the one or the other.

* A history of the “political” novel. Most sad but accurate is the second half of the essay, which discusses how the novel’s loss of centrality to the culture also means politicians (correctly) don’t feel they need to respond to novels. I have been annoying my literary friends by pointing out that decades of Philip Roth’s humanist and often political novels have brought us to McConnell-Trump—although this point would have scanned differently in 2011.

* Why housing is so expensive, from an unusual source.

* “What Happens When You Don’t Pay a Hospital Bill.” It’s astounding to me that we don’t better and further regulate hospital biling practices.

* Flight Shame: The Climate Hazards of Air Travel.

* “‘The Great Scattering’: How Identity Panic Took Root in the Void Once Occupied by Family Life.”

* Progress Studies, Some Initial Thoughts.

* Is Life Worth Living After 75? Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel Doctor Says No.

* The long-forgotten history of how carmakers invented jaywalking, and in the process stole the streets from humans.

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