Links: Freedom from and freedom to, and long-term thinking

* “Without freedom to transact, you have no other constitutional rights.” An idea whose time has come, maybe, as we see credit card companies wield their powers against their would-be users for ideological reasons.

* We should inflict brain drain on Russia. The Ukrainian crisis is partially a failure to get ahead of the situation and think long term: to build out nuclear power infrastructure in Europe, to offer paths to citizenship for people living under dictatorship, to get out from the path dependence of legacy car makers and into electric vehicles. Maybe in the future we should think in terms longer than the next election cycle. Maybe the NIMBYs, the naysayers, the “say no to everythings” should get less of a voice, and the silent majority a louder voice.

* “‘A deranged pyroscape’: how fires across the world have grown weirder.” Important, grim.

* New Yorker profile of Christopher Rufo, the guy leading the charge against neo-racism and “critical race theory” from Twitter, of all places. One obsessed man can change things, it seems; is he this generation’s Andrew Sullivan? I thought the profile would be a hit piece, but it seemed pretty fair, if critical.

* Bryan Caplan leaves Econlog to begin a new venture, albeit one without an RSS feed when I last checked.

* The myth of Chinese supremacy? It seems to ignore a lot.

* An interview about academic writing, in which the guy says: “I remember having an inferiority complex in grad school because I felt like no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make my prose unreadable and complicated and weird and forbidding” and “In the past five or six years, the sanctimoniousness has gotten even worse than it used to be.”

* On shitpost diplomacy: where you think the power is, and where it actually is, may differ.

* Misidentifying talent.

* Soybean oil really is that bad?

* Energy use in U.S. residential buildings.

Links: “Sensitivity” readers, miracles, the departing literary world, and more!

* “How sensitivity readers corrupt literature.” If you are wondering why so many contemporary books seem incredibly boring, this should help explain. It’s amusing to wonder what a “sensitivity reader” would have thought when Christianity was the dominant religion, and when publishers often pushed back against the dominant culture.

* Why Covid-19 vaccines are a freaking miracle.”

* “The Nomad:” an interview with Bernard-Henri Lévy, otherwise known as BHL. I can’t tell if the front matter is intended in jest, but it’s consistent with my essay “The Death of literary culture.”

* Most of the media is by and for the rich, a fact rarely foregrounded, perhaps because many persons in the media are in denial about this fact, and want to imagine themselves as other than they are.

* Inside the Institute for Progress. A great effort.

* Google search is dying? What will replace it? I’ve defaulted to DuckDuckGo for a while, but I’m also the sort of person who changes the default search engine, which is extremely unusual.

* The end of online anonymity?

* “Book Review: Sadly, Porn.” This is by Scott Alexander and thus thorough.

* The U.S. may not be ready for a peer-to-peer fight in Europe, contrary to what you’d assume. Note the source. Or, maybe we are.

* Is the 21st Century “the dark century” so far? “[M]ajorities are easily led by ambitious demagogues,” we find, and “What’s been called the Culture of Narcissism took hold, with the view that human beings should be unshackled from restraint.”

* “Diamonds Aren’t Forever (And Neither is Your Love).”

Links: Ideas into words, the system grinding, Billy Collins, and more!

* Paul Graham on putting ideas into words.

* “Democrats’ college degree divide: More educated Democrats are more progressive across the board.” This seems important but also under-emphasized.

* “Pedestrian Deaths Spike in U.S. as Reckless Driving Surges.”

* “Why America Has So Few Doctors: As a matter of basic economics, fewer doctors means less care and more expensive services.” The needlessly, pointlessly arduous process of becoming a doctor makes me and others like me write essays telling people not to do it, and it encourages the growth of pseudo-doctoring in the form of nurses practitioners and physicians assistants. But the current system serves many of the people enmeshed in the current system effectively, and so it persists, even if no one would set it up this way if we were starting over.

* The worst megadrought in 1,200 years is exacerbated by climate change. This is bad, but, despite what you hear, it seems almost no one really cares.

* “Why the Nineties rocked.”

* Billy Collins on the art of poetry. He seems to be extremely charming and interesting in almost all that the does.

* On the political need to build the future, and focus on the future rather than the past. The real value comes not in taking more of the pie, but expanding its size.

* “The data are clear: The boys are not all right.” Surprising to see this in the Washington Post. What could be amiss in schools? That essay is from 2014, and have things improved, or declined, in this respect, since then?

Links: The dangers of media gigs, possible evidence of literature’s death, progress studies, and more!

* The dangers of high status, low wage jobs.

* “Has Fuccboi killed literature?” That “six figures” is enough to result in this level of petty sniping and envy is itself hilarious: what an average 24-year-old computer science makes—and the ones working for the Facebooks and Googles of the world make far more. The last paragraph of the essay is excellent and should in particular be read. It reminds me of the joke, sometimes attributed to Henry Kissinger, about academia: “The competition is so fierce because the stakes are so small.” I do appreciate the direct quotes from the book: I was tempted to order a copy until I came across them. My view is closer to that of “The death of literary culture,” and I see Fuccboi as a symptom more than a cause. In another universe it probably could have been interesting, in a way like Bret Easton Ellis or Jay McInerney was in the ’80s.

* “To make progress, we need to study it: The progress studies movement asks a big question — and warns against taking the future for granted.” Ezra Klein favors looking forward, not backwards. “Stasis” versus “progress” might be a vital feature of American ideologies that’s somehow not getting adequately foregrounded.

* “The American Empire Has Alzheimer’s.”

* “Context is that which is scarce.” As the world complexifies and attention spans seem to shorten, we’ll probably see context remain scarce. Opinions, though, are everywhere. The wrong points are often foregrounded, and even if those are in some sense “true,” they’re often not important.

* “Women’s Tears Win in the Marketplace of Ideas.” Unpalatable ideas that could be true and that only Substack seems to host.

* Is it even worth working on free and open source software anymore?

* “How China ghosted Hollywood.” Depressing but important: virtually every movie and TV show made today is made by people deathly afraid of offending the Chinese government. Notice: “A-listers will lecture the American public on any topic that comes to mind — recall Robert De Niro’s splenetic interventions during the Trump era — except China.”

* No, the woke revolution isn’t over. Sobering, detailed, and plausible.

* Is being online turning us all into cranks?

A tiny sign of the decline in trust and the social contract?

Something happened that’s never happened to me, or more accurately us, before: a client filed a credit card chargeback after we’d fulfilled our obligations to the client. The most interesting part of the chargeback experience isn’t that someone filed a chargeback—after two decades, it was bound to occur sooner or later—but what a manager at the credit card processing company said is surprising: according to her, in the last six months, she’s seen a huge jump in number of merchants receiving their first chargebacks, ever. Many are small businesses, like us, and have never had a chargeback. The manager said she’s been much busier dealing with people like us, who are novices to this problem. She’s with one of the largest credit card processors (known as “merchant processors” in the credit card world) and thus positioned to know what’s happening in the company and, likely, industry as a whole. She volunteered that information during the course of the conversation, too, in the tone of someone who’s had this conversation before.

One hears that the number of people behaving badly on airplanes is rising. One sees the videos of people doing organized smash-and-grabs in California, one sees journalist Andy Ngo beaten by a mob in Portland, and one sees claims about the rise in crime more generally (albeit from low rates, and far below the rates of the ’70s or ’80s), and one has to wonder whether these are fleeting epiphenomenon, or something else. Does the possible rise in chargebacks track the distrust in institutions more generally? I’ve not seen any systematic data on the subject. A few brief searches don’t show any obvious public data following this metric, though if anyone has or knows of such data, please leave a link in the comments.

Links: Funding basic research, and the nature of personality

* “The Karikó problem: Lessons for funding basic research.” Katalin Karikó should, for her own self-preservation, probably have quit the university-industrial science system, but she didn’t. How many people who could’ve had impacts as transformative as hers, have quit, which is the “smart” thing to do from an individual perspective? How many looked at the madness of academia and went into adtech at Facebook or Google instead? How many look at the real estate prices caused by zoning and realized they had to make a lot of money, not university levels of money?

* “A Song of Shapes and Words.” On the “wordcel” and “shape rotator” distinction. Humorous, mostly, and more interesting than most “personality” talk.

* “Natural gas appliances emit much more methane than realized.” Switching to convection stoves is likely important and useful.

* Mergers are bad and are creating anti-competitive, crony-capitalism markets. We should block more of them, particularly but not exclusively among hospitals and hospital systems. The Boeing 737-Max fiasco emerges in part from merger disasters.

* A New Industrialist roundup: on the work towards real-world progress in terms of atoms, not just bits. Things can and should be better.

* The Rule of Midwits: subtler and deeper than you might think.

* “Why Germany Behaves the Way It Does.” Maybe. Hypocrisy is the norm, but even by normal standards Germany’s behavior is

* The iPhone 13 camera, which has impressed me.

Links: The big news, not the small news

* Modern’s HIV vaccine begins human trials. The really, really important news, much more important than whatever Congress is doing this week.

* Pop music can’t escape the 80s?

* “Why is Ukraine such an economic failure?” Something I’ve also wondered about, though don’t expect complete answers here.

* “No, the Revolution Isn’t Over: None of the fundamental drivers of ‘Wokeness’ have relented.” Again, maybe? Scott Alexander thinks it might, too. But it’s also well embedded in law and institutions.

* “An ad plugin was stealing revenue for a year and I didn’t even notice.” An amazing story.

* How the U.S. can improve on its strengths, relative to authoritarian governments. Not everything argued is correct or contextually accurate, and the given title is inflammatory, but the ideas are sound and important.

* Progress is a policy choice. Also: the new industrialist roundup, on what might be changing discourse around building lots of stuff.

* On the University of Austin; “Despite the furor, Mr. Kanelos says that support for UATX has been ‘phenomenal.’ Over 4,000 professors from other institutions have asked to teach at the university, he says, and thousands of students have expressed interest.” It may be that the University of Austin offers an opportunity for preference falsification reversal: many professors are not hard woke and dislike the growth of university bureaucracy, but feel they must go along with both to keep their jobs.

* Thoughts on “Post Liberalism:” a remarkable essay, hard to except, but largely about what happens when we stop doing things for ourselves and start assuming others will do things for us.

* In defense of Michel Foucault: not my view but an interesting and plausible one. I think he’s sufficiently random-seeming, at least in English, that he can be made to seem to mean almost anything.

* “People don’t work as much as you think.” Consistent with my observations.

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