Links: Casanova biography, the case for optimism, where life comes from, and more!

* “The Thoughtful Prick,” an essay on Casanova and the new biography of him.

* The Case for Energy Optimism, and I’m subscribing to the RSS feed on the strength of this essay. He notes, for example, that “Over the last few years cobalt demand estimates have been crushed by developments in cathode chemistry due to cost and performance improvements in simpler chemistries – I am sceptical that this is the last time that today’s ‘unobtainium’ becomes tomorrows chopped liver.” When you hear about fundamental resource limitation, be politely skeptical: usually that means “prices haven’t risen sufficiently to make the investment in more acquisition worthwhile.”

* “Xi Jinping, forever: China has shackled itself to…this one mediocre guy.” The last paragraph is excellent, and the Xi episode a reminder of the strengths of the system mentioned there.

* Maybe those UFO reports aren’t actually UFOs. A shame, as I wanted to believe: but I’ve seen pushback against this, too: even if most UFO reports have terrestrial explanations, some, it seems, don’t.

* Fiction in the age of screens, which is very long, and which says that written fiction is uniquely capable of helping us acquire other perspectives; but I’m not sure that this property is unique to fiction, relative to many forms of narrative nonfiction, and even some non-narrative nonfiction. The end is worth reading, although without the journey it will mean less:

But at least, if the novel falls, it won’t be because of its artistic essence. It won’t be replaced in its effects by equivalent television or video games or any other extrinsic medium. If the novel goes, it will be because we as a culture drifted away from the intrinsic world. Left without the novel our universe will be partitioned up, leaving us stranded within the unbreachable walls of our skulls. And inside, projected on the bone, the flicker of a screen.

* “The irrelevance of test scores is greatly exaggerated.”

* More about John le Carré; I think the essays are more useful than the books.

* How food powers your body, how the Krebs cycle works, and the origins of life, as well as where life might be headed if we can engineer our metabolisms better.

* “The death of god and the decline of the humanities.” This reads like a dispatch from another century; I like the anachronistic usage of “profane literature.”

* Missile defense is obviously better than the alternative and we should do it.

Links: On John le Carré, the future of masks, what remains of literary culture, and more!

* “How Smiley’s people conquered Britain:” not the usual.

* “The Masks We’ll Wear in the Next Pandemic: N95s are good. Some scientists want to do much better.” Or, will they turn out to be like condoms, in that regulation and path dependence will prevent improvement?

* A mark of the death of literary culture. I read the interview in question, which I’d call closer to anodyne than “incendiary.” Have you noticed, as I have, how pallid almost all of the American novels of the last five to seven years have been? I have.

* Why wasn’t the steam engine invented earlier? Part III.

* “ACT scores continue to decline, dropping to lowest levels in 30 years.” I wonder how many high school students read for pleasure. See also “Computers and education: An example of conventional wisdom being wrong,” which is from 2013, but is applicable to pandemic learning losses too. I’m not sure online education works well for most people, and I still think that focus and concentration are the biggest barriers to learning for most people.

* Why was the Lyme disease vaccine tossed away?

* The appeal of Andrew Tate?

* What Alan Moore has been up to; Lost Girls may still be his most interesting and weirdest work.

* “The Environmentalists Undermining Environmentalism,” or how the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) undermines its own stated goals. Stasis is not progress, even though NEPA encourages stasis.

* In favor of the lab-leak hypothesis.

Links: Unblocking abundance, the death of literary culture, on “supplements,” and more!

* “How Americans edit sex out of my writing” is consistent with me in “The death of literary culture.” Vibrant and realistic writing isn’t likely to be found in books by mainstream / legacy American publishers any more: it’s likely to be found online, or nowhere. If you’d like more, albeit on another genre, here is a writer on the way “Formalists will define a poem by its technical elements, such as rhyme, meter, cadence and metaphor, while free-verse poststructuralists might discuss poetic elements of authenticity, voice and self-expression,” and today the latter have won: “When I later became part of the “poetry world,” however, I realized that no one cared about my ideas. Rather, audiences wanted my traumas punctuated by millennial irony and a kind of wink-wink cleverness.” Some formalists are still out there, but they’re hard to find.

* “Failing Introductory Economics: A Davidson professor bemoans the state of his classroom.” Note the comments about performance across time, although I wonder if Davidson is a school that’s suffering in the COVID era.

* “Ten years of YIMBYism have accomplished a lot.” Good. You’ve seen me touch on these topics.

* “How Trustworthy Are Supplements?” “Pretty trustworthy, actually” appears to be the answer, which isn’t what I would’ve guessed.

* “The Weakness of Xi Jinping: How Hubris and Paranoia Threaten China’s Future.”

* New COVID-19 boosters are highly effective and useful.

* “Shein and the Tech Cold War.” Note the dangers of TikTok included in there, too.

* “Unblocking Abundance.” Material that will feel familiar to regular readers, but here is another version of that which should be obvious.

Links: Math as the great secret, Paul Graham learns from users, the power of ideology, and more!

* Math is the great secret.

* “Academic Administrators Are Strangling Our Universities.” Not the best-argued thing I’ve ever read, but has some perspective.

* Are non-drone combat aircraft now worthless?

* What Paul Graham has learned from users.

* “The Ideological Refusal to Acknowledge Evolved Sex Differences.”

* “Factory Jobs Are Booming Like It’s the 1970s.”

* “And yet the wokies continue to represent students as oppressed truth-tellers and advocates, rather than as entitled consumers who expect to be handed everything in exchange for their crushing loan debt.” For more, see “NYU organic chemistry professor terminated for tough grading.” Although it’s possible that he was, or is, a bad teacher—but, if so, why did, and do, schools tolerate poor instruction over long periods of time? Speaking of length, long-time readers may recall me writing about how nothing incentivizes professors to grade honestly (as with many things I write, “what is true” and “what might be true in an ideal world” differ. You may read here a recent, improbable proposal for reforming universities.

* Interview with Alec Stapp on progress and progress studies.

* “To save downtowns, we need to embrace windowless bedrooms.” Among other things. Segregation of urban uses, apart from heavy industrial uses, was and is mostly a mistake.

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