Links: Housing challenges, Kubrick’s work, where the money’s going, and more!

* 2020 had the warmest September on record. And still we continue to dither.

* “Prefab was supposed to fix the construction industry’s biggest problems. Why isn’t it everywhere? The Canadian company Bone Structure can produce zero net energy homes months faster than a traditional builder. But its challenges highlight the difficulty of disrupting the entrenched construction industry.”

* “Don’t Pay for 95%,” something we seem almost psychologically incapable of understanding.

* Analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s work.

* “College Enrollment Slid This Fall, With First-Year Populations Down 16%.”

* Speaking of education: “Large variation in earnings returns among postgraduate degrees, with returns of more than 15% for masters in business and law, but negative returns for many arts and humanities courses.”

* Psilocybin is going to be legalized, at least therapeutically, in the near future.

* Cruise is actually going to deploy driverless cars as an Uber-like service in San Francisco?

* American magical realism, with Bruno Maçães, who has written various interesting things.

* The Great Unread: On William Deresiewicz’s The Death of the Artist. Seems like a book for which the reviews suffice.

* Where has San Francisco’s money gone? A useful framing starts the story: “In 2009, San Francisco’s municipal budget totaled $6.5 billion—$8.6 billion in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation and population. San Francisco’s budget for 2019 is an eye-popping $12.2 billion, a 10 percent increase just since 2018.”

* Why is wokeness winning?, Andrew Sullivan asks. I’m not sure that it is, or that the reasons stated are really the correct “why,” as opposed to a post-hoc story.

* Are gas stoves bad?

* Where are all the successful rationalists?

* Labor’s share of national income is falling, but it’s primarily going to increased rents—which are increasing due to laws that prevent the development of new housing.

Vote for Biden for president

In 2016 I did something I’d never done before and hoped I wouldn’t do again: encouraged readers to vote for Clinton or Johnson for president. What I wrote then is still true:

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

We’ve seen the basic failures in governance that the last four years have brought: let’s not repeat that mistake now.

I’d like to return to writing primarily about books and ideas, since there is too much political background noise, but I’ve also asked myself what I would have done if I’d been alive during the 1920s or 1930s, when many were complicit with the rise of totalitarian ideologies. Although there are important differences between then and now, the temptation towards totalitarian ideologies apparently remains.  I hadn’t endorsed a specific candidate before 2016 because I’d not seen prominent national candidates who are threats to democratic governance itself. Now I have, and we have.

Links: SF’s decline, the tyranny of IDs, a meaningful career, mushrooms’s moment, and more!

* FYI, you don’t need an ID to fly on a plane for a domestic trip within the United States: courts have consistently found that such a rule is an unfair limitation on the freedom to travel and on interstate commerce. Just because a government agent tells you something is true, does not mean that it is true.

* “How to waste your career, one comfortable year at a time.” Substack writers are doing a lot of disproportionately interesting work.

* “What a Second Bauhaus Movement Means for Europe:” the potential to build lots of new housing and thus lower the cost of housing—something that seems to elude the United States.

* “More Doctoral Programs [in the humanities and social sciences] Suspend Admissions. That Could Have Lasting Effects on Graduate Education.” Maybe word is finally getting out?

* “As everything else changes, my Dover paperbacks hold up.” I note:

The right paperback encountered at just the right moment — the Fawcett Crest edition of “Good Grief, Charlie Brown!” I got in Florida when I was 7 or 8; the Collier edition of Thomas Helm’s “Shark! Unpredictable Killer of the Sea” my father gave me a few summers later, in 1974 — became an object out of time, a marker that would last forever.

Although the books from my childhood wouldn’t become “a marker that would last forever,” because most were printed on pulp paper that yellows and falls apart with age. this obscure tax case is part of the reason publishers use such crappy paper today. There are exceptions: The New York Review of Books imprint makes really physically good paperbacks, but they mostly specialize in literary oddballs.

One problem with having physical books over the long term is the sheer number of moves many people make today. For that reason I’ve shifted to a lot more Kindle reading, even though the totality of the experience is worse.

* On mushrooms’s moment. A charming story: I hope Smallhold succeeds.

* “Adam Tooze on World Order, Then and Now: Do fiscal constraints matter? How contingent was WWII? Can Nazi Germany teach us anything about the CCP? Did the West Win the Cold War? Plus, Xinjiang and Soviet Gulags.” Unusually substantive.

* On the destruction of America’s best high school. Views rarely heard.

* “The Day Nuclear War Almost Broke Out.” Nuclear war is an issue that should be much closer to the top of various policy agendas, and global fears, than it is.

* “People are leaving San Francisco. After decades of growth, is the city on the decline?” For anyone but a startup founder, SF does seem like an awful place to live.

Links: Characters, reading aloud, love hurts, systems, and more!

* “Everyone Has a Tom Pritchard Story. Only I Have His Bike.” Unexpectedly hilarious.

* How to read aloud. If you’ve not, try reading aloud to your partner/lover. Make it a habit.

* “Love Hurts,” on the new culture of fragility and dubious safetyism.

* “How Work Became an Inescapable Hellhole: Instead of optimizing work, technology has created a nonstop barrage of notifications and interactions. Six months into a pandemic, it’s worse than ever.” Fits my experiences, but I also think few people actively push against this. See Cal Newport’s books for more on it.

* “America’s Exceptional Housing Crisis: How the Rest of the World Tamed Runaway Home Prices.” Short answer: the rest of the world built a lot more housing. America hasn’t.

* Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie on various things; the former’s work has always seemed more interesting than the latter’s. Note: “AMIS: I certainly feel part of a generation that saw a fairly radical change in the way novels are written and in the way novels are read. You can no longer expect the reader to surmise, to infer, to second-guess. As an adaptation, writers will cease to imply, to hint, to tease. Now they have to declare.”

Amis also says, “the novel has had to speed itself up—in answer to an accelerated reality. Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift—long, static, and digressive—spent several months as a bestseller in the 1970s. That audience has more or less disappeared.” I’ve started Humboldt’s Gift a few times and never finished: I’d call it rambling and aimless. A novel need not be overly aimed, in my view, but it felt like a lot of nothing.

* On the movie Stay Woke, and more significantly on the difference between destructive and constructive reformist energy. It’ll be interesting to see what the 2020 and 2022 elections are like. So far, even in very left-wing California, “Police reforms face defeat as California Democrats block George Floyd-inspired bills.” Who do city and state legislators, where most policing policy happens, most worry about? Not protesters, it seems.

* “ How the US Start-Up Industry is Faltering.” One of these important, easily-missed pieces. The really important news is often not in the headlines.

* “Facebook to Curb Internal Debate Over Sensitive Issues Amid Staff Discord: Mark Zuckerberg says employees shouldn’t have to confront social issues in their day-to-day work unless they want to.” Companies appear to be re-learning the “leave politics and religion at home” rule that used to be reasonably common, and may become reasonably common again. Similarly, Coinbase’s CEO, Brian Armstrong, has announced that the company is focusing on its mission.

* “They Don’t Need No Education: Elementary schools deliberately fail to teach knowledge, hurting their most vulnerable students.” I have a theory: to get tenure, most professors need to publish “novel” research. In many fields—like education—there are not many truly novel and useful ideas available. So how does one get tenure? By inventing new paradigms, even if they are maybe not so accurate and not much of an improvement, and then publishing and attempting to propagate them. “New math” seems to be worse than teaching multiplication, division, algebra, and so on. But lots of professors still need tenure, so with a little self-delusion and p-hacking they can come up with something new. And people have to keep re-discovering the value of simply memorizing a lot of stuff.

* “The new intolerance: On the rise of an authoritarian ideology ‘hostile to the rule of reason.’”

* “The housing market is building snowflakes: How an industry of endless one-offs is holding our society back.” Are these characters the solution? I have no idea, but they do identify an important problem.

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