Links: Information asymmetries, the relationship of relationships, beauty and “privilege,” and more!

* “LA’s PocketList gives renters better information, faster, about which apartments are available in cities.” Seems like a work of genius, if it works.

* Are there useful similarities between employment and romantic relationships?

* “The Greatest Privilege We Never Talk About: Beauty.” Except, of course, here at TSS, where you read essays like, “The inequality that matters II: Why does dating in Seattle get left out?

* “I’ve Seen a Future Without Cars, and It’s Amazing: Why do American cities waste so much space on cars?” An excellent question, and one asked too infrequently.

* “Anne Applebaum: how my old friends paved the way for Trump and Brexit.” I have a soft spot for heretics.

* Is employment persistence like romantic relationship persistence? Why do norms about “rights” to a position differ in one situation versus the other? I don’t necessarily agree with the analogy but it makes me think.

* Potential large-scale CO2 removal via enhanced rock weathering with croplands: a hugely underrated topic.

* How to plan a space mission. Feats of epic engineering are under-covered and under-reported. If you run into stories about them, send me a link.

* Ross Douthat’s ten theses about “cancel culture.”

* “Lessons from the Awkward Life and Death of the Segway: The ‘personal transporter’ promised to change cities back in 2001. It didn’t. But its demise should be a warning for today’s urban mobility disrupters.” It was too expensive, the batteries were bad, and, worst of all, riders feel they look stupid on one. Today, very good electric bikes are, miraculously, under $1,000. Very good electric scooters are $500 – $700. City planning, however, continues to lag behind, and we continue to be caught in unfortunate path dependence.

* COVID was a preventible catastrophe in the United States. This article lays out the details, the precedents, and how a normal administration would react. It could be subtitled, “Your vote counts.” We all, in a sense, chose the bad federal reaction.

* “The lost art of having a chat: what happened when I stopped texting and started talking.”

* The TikTok War. Lots of thought in this one.

* “Does the white upper class feel exhausted and oppressed by meritocracy?” A great piece that looks, as few do, at the dark psychological shadow. Most of the media and social media are in denial about the shadow.

Links: Annie Duke and probability, Joyce Carol Oates being herself, free speech, and more!

* “Annie Duke on Poker, Probabilities, and How We Make Decisions.” Often hilarious.

* The Unruly Genius of Joyce Carol Oates.

* “China Suppression Of Uighur Minorities Meets U.N. Definition Of Genocide, Report Says.” Yet this gets almost no play among the culture-war people. Why not?

* ‘A Preventable Catastrophe’, by James Fallows, and a deeply reported and extremely distressing article about what went wrong with the United States’s COVID response, or lack thereof. This is perhaps the most distressing part:

“China is a very hard target,” a man who recently worked in an intelligence organization told me. “We have to be very deliberate about what we focus on”—which in normal times would be military developments or suspected espionage threats. “The bottom line is that for a place like Wuhan, you really are going to rely on open-source or informal leads.” During the Obama administration, the U.S. had negotiated to have its observers stationed in many cities across China, through a program called Predict. But the Trump administration did not fill those positions, including in Wuhan. This meant that no one was on site to learn about, for instance, the unexplained closure on January 1 of the city’s main downtown Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a so-called wet market where wild animals, live or already killed, were on sale along with fish and domesticated animals. It was at this market that the first animal-to-human transfer of the virus is generally thought to have occurred, probably from a bat. But by that time, as Marisa Taylor of Reuters first reported, the Trump administration had removed dozens of CDC representatives in China.

We had the opportunity to have eyes and ears on the ground, we fumbled it. Long-time readers may remember this. At the time I didn’t specify a pandemic as a or the likely reason why the individual in question was (and is) unfit, but the pandemic response is in keeping with what’s written there. One of the best long-term things the U.S. can do is inflict severe brain drain on China, and yet we’re now doing the exact opposite.

* More China news: “Did a Chinese Hack Kill Canada’s Greatest Tech Company? Nortel was once a world leader in wireless technology. Then came a hack and the rise of Huawei.” On the other hand, from the Hacker News comments: “I interned at Nortel in early 2000’s right before it all went down. I can tell you the engineering culture was rotten within. No-one was doing anything useful for years. Many orgs were built around milking the ancient layer 2 passport switch. The layer 3 router meant to compete with Cisco was 3 years late and only sold a few dozen units. There was accounting fraud going on at the highest level – delivery trucks circles around to pad the books.”

* “Conflict culture is making social unsocial.” Maybe getting off social media will, or can, help?

* Boom’s supersonic jets are ready for rollout, one hopes.

* What the police really believe.

* The movie Starship Troopers is still very good and germane, though it wasn’t understood when it was released. Art endures.

* “A Land of Monopolists: From Portable Toilets to Mixed Martial Arts: Private equity ‘roll-ups’ hit virtually everything in the economy, from mail sorting software to mixed martial arts to portable toilets to dentists.” One of these stories that, if accurate,

* An ugly story, on Twitter, about “cancel culture.”

* “Imagine a future without cars.” NYC could be the leader in this, but many other cities could follow, if they really wanted to.

* Black Death, COVID, and Why We Keep Telling the Myth of a Renaissance Golden Age and Bad Middle Ages.

Links: Cultures that build, culture more generally, love, lifeguards, thinking, and more!

* On Cultures That Build. This blog, Scholars Stage, has been consistently interesting on a range of topics for a long time, and so it’s recommended for your RSS feed.

* Useful: “Ramit Sethi talks about how you can just not reply to stuff. It felt rude at first, but then I realized it was ruder to ignore the people I care about to respond to things I didn’t ask for in the first place. Selective ignoring is the key to productivity, I’m afraid.” Notice the word “selective.” If you ignore everything all the time, that’s probably bad. But if you’re “on top of things” you may not be advancing the more important projects.

* 10% less democracy might improve outcomes. Too little voting is bad but too much voting may also be bad.

* “The University Is Like a CD in the Streaming Age.” Maybe. It’s an intriguing analogy I don’t really buy. Also, what percentage of people go mostly for the social and development aspects, as opposed to the learning-things aspect?

* “Can an Unloved Child Learn to Love?” On the ghastly Romanian orphanages. In “Foster Family Agencies (FFAs) and why political rhetoric rarely focuses on child abuse,” I mention that orphanages could conceivably offer a better system than the current foster-care system, but their PR is terrible, due to articles just like this one.

* Boss of the beach, about NYC lifeguards and, more importantly, the dysfunctions of public-sector unions. Seems mostly hilarious in the first half—more hijinks than outright evil—but allowing people to drown is terrible.

* Another quit-lit piece from an academic, or former academic.

* “Much of today’s intelligentsia cannot think.” I’d say that much of it doesn’t even try and, perhaps more vitally, the dopamine hit of social media and the fast regurgitation of pre-digested but possibly wrong ideas is superficially attractive, like drinking pop and eating fast food. There have always been “intelligentsia” who repeat wrong slogans (look at the apologists for the Soviet Union, for example), but the incentives for them to form mobs is higher than it once was. Twitter is worse than blogs! The link below, “The silence is deafening,” also applies fruitfully to this one. It may be that the most intelligent part of the intelligentsia is not the loudest.

* “Cycling, Art, and Utopian Possibilities.”

* Apple and Facebook, an analysis from Ben Thompson at Stratechery; something about Facebook in particular renders most intelligent writers inane or blinkered, and Thompson is the big exception to that principle. I’m not a big Facebook user or fan but that seems a minority taste on my part.

* Oklo, developer of ‘micro’ nuclear reactor, aims to prove environmentalist doubters wrong. More vitally, they seem to be making real progress.

* “Forget Google, time to end the Visa-MasterCard duopoly.”

* Why does DARPA work? Much more interesting than the title may suggest.

* “Losing the Narrative: The Genre Fiction of the Professional Class.” Overstated, yes, but among the most interesting essays I’ve read in a long time, and I read a lot.

* “The silence is deafening,” on why many defaults in social media don’t work and often produce poor outcomes.

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