Links: The housing shortage, attempts to delay death, bowdlerizing art, and more!

* The housing shortage affects everything. This really should’ve been noted and foregrounded 10 – 20 years ago, but “late” is better than “never.” Even the people who take their cues from what other people are saying or doing seem to be noticing.

* “Sam Altman invested $180 million into a company trying to delay death.” Cool! It’s strange how few of Silicon Valley’s really rich people seem to pursue massively scaled change.

* Bowdlerizing Roald Dahl and the Ethics of Art.

* “A Novelist’s Reflections on Useful Fictions: Hope Mirrlees and her curious masterpiece.” On the novel Lud-in-the-Mist, which sounds surprisingly appealing.

* “U.S. on Track to Add $19T in New Debt over 10 Years.” It’s interesting how little this makes the news (although inflation has been lowering the true cost of debt).

* How many things that we call “mental illness” are culturally contingent. One has to admire the first paragraph: “Around the wide world, all cultures share a few key features. Anthropologists debate the precise extent, but the basics are always there. Language. Tools. Marriage. Family. Ritual. Music. And penis-stealing witches.” This essay addresses similar topics, and it has a literarily great, but also horrifying, end to its first paragraph:

Laudor was frequently contacted to comment on issues of mental health and became a kind of citizen activist, calling for autonomy and respect for those with mental illness. He was a symbol of success for a whole community of vulnerable people. Then he hacked his pregnant girlfriend to death with a kitchen knife.

* “How to go car-free — or car-light — in Middle America.”

* “Apartment Rents Fall as Crush of New Supply Hits Market.” Supply and demand matter, and homelessness is first and foremost a housing shortage problem.

* “Trapped in the Trenches in Ukraine: Along the country’s seven-hundred-mile front line, constant artillery fire and drone surveillance have made it excruciatingly difficult to maneuver.” Though I’ve been known to complain about the legacy media, this is the kind of in-depth, impressive reporting that legacy media outlets routinely produce, which almost none of the complainers, myself included, do.

* “I’m What’s Wrong With the Humanities.” One possibility, underrated in my view, is that many writers have gotten better and learned from the past, such that many more recent books are in fact better, and better plotted, and better paced. Most older books that I read I’m also mentally editing as I go.

* On availability cascades.

* Ongoing attacks against academic freedom.

Links: Is Google doing poorly?, ideology tests, freedom to build, and more!

* Argument that Google is in internal, cultural decline.

* “DEI Is an Ideological Test: New College is not a weak target, and if Christopher Rufo wants to challenge an entrenched bureaucracy, then he will have a fair fight.” A surprising venue for this.

* “The fall and rise of American religion.”

* “I Thought I Was Saving Trans Kids. Now I’m Blowing the Whistle: There are more than 100 pediatric gender clinics across the U.S. I worked at one. What’s happening to children is morally and medically appalling.” From an unusual source.

* Even NPR notices, however belatedly, that prohibiting anything other than single-family housing units is bad.

* Big Tech at the End of History. How much thymos do you have in your life?

* Low Life and High Style: on the writer Jeffrey Bernard, who “was certainly not a man celebrated for his virtue.” The first half of his life may have been fun but the second half seems mostly to have been sad: “A 1987 episode of Arena devoted to Bernard found him in a rented room on Great Portland Street, adorned with just a few framed photos of his minor achievements and encounters with the famous, an overflowing ashtray, a dial telephone, a couple of rubber plants and not much else.”

* “Monuments to the Unthinkable: America still can’t figure out how to memorialize the sins of our history. What can we learn from Germany?”

* “‘They Didn’t Understand Anything, but Just Spoiled People’s Lives:’ How Russian invaders unleashed violence on small-town residents.” The Russian effort manages not only to be cruel and inhumane, but also counterproductive: if you were Ukrainian, or really anyone in any country near Russia, and you saw what the Russians did with the territory they invaded, would you want to be governed by the Russians, or would you want to fight?

* Apple might want to be move its supply chain out of China.

* “Give Up Seventy Percent Of The Way Through The Hyperstitious Slur Cascade.” But moral entrepreneurs need ways to attempt to make themselves virtuous and the outgroup evil, so expect more hyperstitious cascades.

* The Taliban governs Afghanistan. Note: “The Taliban had won their revolution, and had everything they’d ever wanted. But now they confronted the truth that all successful revolutions face: winning a state is a lot more glorious than managing one. To their new world—a world of responsibility, a world that demanded a different sort of synthesis—they seemed to have little in the way of an answer.”

* Induction stoves are good.

* It’s possible to make really good tofu, albeit at what labor cost?

Links: Boredom, mandated boredom in the legacy book business, and more!

* “Why is everyone so boring?” A question from Robin Hanson, which implies an unusual perspective.

* This is not a good system for publishing books people want to read. Maybe it’s a good system for certain kinds of in-group signaling, but it’s a poor one for actual readers.

* If the above is not too much already about the book business, see “Anatomy of a Book Cancellation.” I appreciate both because it feels like it’s become harder and harder for me to find anything worth reading in newer books, and I’ve been trying to figure out if the fault is mostly mine. Why do I find myself reading and citing so many Substacks and so few books? These two links indicate that the problem is not primarily me but in what used to be called the intellectual world. As Nigel Bigger, the author, writes: “Why are adult senior managers in publishing houses—as in universities—so willing to indulge the illiberal clamoring of their junior colleagues?”

* Actually, vaccines remain a triumph; don’t let the media’s negativity bias convince you otherwise.

* “As a US Navy fighter pilot, I witnessed unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP).” And he says: “Objects demonstrating extreme capabilities routinely fly over our military facilities and training ranges. We don’t know what they are, and we are unable to mitigate their presence.”

* “US Cities Are Falling Out of Love With the Parking Lot: California and many local governments are scrapping requirements that once made cars the center of the urban landscape.” If self-driving cars are almost “here”—and they might be—we won’t need many parking spaces.

* Argument that the nuclear power industry is the problem, not the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Not convinced, but it is an argument. And, also, an unlikely argument that we’re at the dawn of nuclear energy abundance.

* “The Approaching Disintegration of Academia,” according to one writer, who ignores that many of the problems cited go back decades, and yet the system grinds onwards, protected and cosseted by a web of regulations and subsidies.

* Is woke-ism winding down? I prefer the question framing to the statement framing.

* On declining construction productivity.

* Some schools are banning smartphones. Smart.

Links: Wealth through housing supply, getting serious as a culture, and more!

* How Japan ensures its people are rich:

But when property tends to depreciate, it means that houses don’t cost as much to buy in the first place; that lower price frees up household cash that can be put into stocks and bonds.

Basing wealth on productive assets instead of unproductive land is good for the economy — housing scarcity might pump up prices and build individual wealth for homeowners, but at the national level it simply holds back economic growth.

The U.S. should follow suit by liberalizing zoning laws and allowing landowners to build whatever they want.

* “It’s Time to Get Serious: Prevailing wisdom insists that your twenties are for extreme exploration—collecting memories, friends, partners, identities. It’s BS.”

* “You Don’t Want A Purely Biological, Apolitical Taxonomy Of Mental Disorders.” This Astral Codex Ten essay should probably be titled “You can’t get a purely biological, apolitical taxonomy[…] because one doesn’t exist and probably can’t.”

* How we created a self-hating generation, which reads nicely with the link immediately above. I also seem to be getting old enough to find essays in which “building character” feature prominently attractive.

* Books about the U.S.-China technology wars. This is, for many people, probably better than the books.

* ChatGPT accelerates programing skill acquisition. We’re still at the very start of where this is going.

* “A Beautiful Portrait of My Enemy: A Review of the True Believer (Part 1).” I’ve been meaning to read The True Believer, and have a copy of it, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

* “The Taliban Were Afghanistan’s Real Modernizers.” Not what I expected, and yet a compelling argument.

Links: Is the media good?, reading for fun, industry frontiers, and more!

* Why the media is honest and good. A work from an interesting quarter!

* “Among many U.S. children, reading for fun has become less common, federal data shows.” Another bit of data that supports my own essay: “The death of literary culture.”

* But, maybe contra the above: “Novels as models.” Are you making the corpus more complete, or less? Why? The problem, however, remains getting paid for producing those novel / models. Maybe writing them will become an almost purely hobby business. Or maybe people will get subscriptions and release novels slowly again.

* On the benefits of writing a book on Substack, by someone doing it.

* Why The Right Is Losing The Young. In a similar vein: “The GOP Is Just Obnoxious: It’s why they keep losing elections.” There’s a kind of tyranny of the minority going on in the Republican party, with the specific minority being primary voters.

* Closing Industry Frontiers, which compares the closing of the American frontier to the filling out of the Internet software industry over the last ten years.

* “It’s Time to Get Serious:” Extended adolescence is bad. As someone who majored in English and then went to grad school in it (this is a horrible idea), I’ve been contemplating this topic even before I read this particular essay. Whenever most forms of academic grad school last worked effectively—some put it in the mid-1970s—it hasn’t now for decades.

* Why the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Deserves More Funding. Modern vaccine approaches may take out a large number of diseases in the 2020s and that’s great.

* On free speech in academia.

* One “secret” of writing is to write every day.

* In light of this, it’s interesting to recall the number of people who not long ago held up the UK healthcare system as a desirable one to emulate.

Links: Optimism is underrated, non-competes may be jettisoned, and more!

* “I’ve bludgeoned you with statistics in order to make a point: Pessimism about our future is unwarranted.” And, also: “If there is one lesson from the events of the past year, it is that open societies such as ours have an ability to adapt in a way that closed societies simply do not.” We have advantages and it seems that freaking out about what’s happening enables us to course-correct—which is one of those advantages. Did you know there’s an RSV vaccine from Moderna that appears to work—as do several other vaccines? Next winter’s respiratory virus season may be considerably better than this winter’s, and that’s great.

* How Elites Abandoned the Masses.

* “U.S. Moves to Bar Noncompete Agreements in Labor Contracts.” One of these very important policies that, like zoning reform, seems boring but is actually vital. It’s also consistent with the “optimism about the future” point, above.

* “The Truth about Demographic Decline:” most people want more kids than they feel they can afford to have. This is another instance of exclusionary American housing policy creating scarcity in many domains, including this one.

* “Exxon made ‘breathtakingly’ accurate climate predictions in 1970s and 80s: Oil company drove some of the leading science of the era only to publicly dismiss global heating.” We’ve had a pretty good idea that what has happened, would happen, and yet there’s a lot of chaff and dishonesty in the intellectual air.

* Battery-powered appliances sound very good. I have an (expensive) Breville induction stovetop that plugs into a standard 120V socket and it’s amazing. The gas stovetops are now essentially unused. The induction stove is so much faster than a gas stove, and I can’t imagine many people going back to gas, if they don’t have to. The culture-war stuff around these issues is mostly stupid. Focus on cooking, not signaling.

* “The energy crisis and Europe’s astonishing luck.” We’ll know more countries are serious when they break ground on nuclear reactors.

* Epistemological arguments about what “lying” is, among other interesting things.

* “So much of popular culture now offers a quite unexciting vision of what your mind and language might be capable of. I found [John Dunne] a brilliant antidote to that, a bulwark against a kind of anti-intellectualism.”

* “How DEI Is Supplanting Truth as the Mission of American Universities.” Depressing and detailed. Then again, regarding the link immediately above, it says: So much of popular culture now offers a quite unexciting vision of what your mind and language might be capable of.” It seems one could say something similar of universities today, but now people who are interested in what the mind and language might be capable of can find each other online, which wasn’t true not so long ago. Universities used to be among the few places one could find people interested in ideas. Here are some ideas about improving the climate in universities.

* “Man Need Sex and Violence, Not Top-Down ‘Meaning’.” Which is not the sort of thing one hears much of. But it might be true, or somewhat true. The Professor in the Cage is good on this.

Links: Houellebecq, old books (in the physical sense), progress in biology, and more!

* Why China loves some conservative philosophers and political scientists; this is distinct from a certain modern political party, which the article’s original headline doesn’t make clear, but I will. There’s also an interesting discussion between Bret Stephens and David Brooks on “The Party’s Over for Us. Where Do We Go Now?

* We’re drowning in old books. But getting rid of them is heartbreaking. As the article says, children don’t actually want their parents’ old books, or those of other relatives. When someone passes, their books drift away, like dandelion seed in the wind.

* The Economist on Britain’s woes. It strangely omits the cost of housing (this is really, really bad) and the role that Britain’s exclusionary zoning plays in impoverishing Britons. “Plays” is a deliberate choice here: exclusionary zoning is an ongoing drag on Britain. Like many American cities and states, Britain can and should make the highest-cost item in most people’s budgets cheaper. Unlike America, Britain’s high-value economic activity is extremely concentrated in one place, and this creates further problems.

* “Between 2019 and 2020 1,799 historians earned their Ph.D.s, and only 175 of them are now employed as full-time faculty members.” How many, like me, quit before finishing their Ph.D.s when they realized that there is no job market and their notional scholarly work is at best unimportant and at worst a waste of time? The article’s headline is “What Should We Do About Undergrads Who Want to Pursue a Humanities Doctorate?” and the answer is so, so obvious.

* Michel Houellebecq’s sexual apocalypse. Maybe, but I think that 1. Houellebecq had uncommonly bad and narcissistic parents and 2. one reason for low birth rates in the U.S. and Europe is ultra-high housing costs and an utter failure to build enough housing (Japan is better in this regard but likely faces its own challenge).

* “The Media Very Rarely Lies.” Except that the headline is a form of the lack of context that the article discusses. Which is pretty funny, if you think about it. A bunch of people provide here what they think are counter examples, until those counter examples are closely read.

* Pop fiction writers who died in 2022.

* The need for abundance in all things, instead of the legally-enforced scarcity we’ve got.

* Despite all the blah blah blah you read about “clean” energy, world coal use reached a new high in 2022. Solar, wind, and batteries are good, but the first two are intermittent and the last only stores power. There is currently no good alternative to nuclear power; failure to focus on nuclear means we’re going to burn more coal and more methane. How many environmentalists operate on feelings rather than data?

* Why is progress in biology so slow? One of these really important questions, which seldom dominate the news.

* Argument that Emily in Paris is actually a critique of itself, media culture, and social media.

Links: The size of political bodies matters, price transparency, loneliness, and more!

* U.S. school districts are too big, and, according to this writer, a larger number of smaller districts would offer more competition. “A larger number of smaller districts” may not be so different from charter schools.

* Essay about John le Carré and his letters.

* Where do all those college administrators come from and what do they do? I’ve not seen real efforts to enumerate who all these administrators are and what exactly they do.

* Open-source hospital price transparency. Good and useful, albeit an effort I expect to take a while to play out.

* “Conservatism as an Oppositional Culture,” which starts with comparisons to LBJ and moves forward in unexpected ways. Is it right? Maybe not, and its causal inferences seem dubious, but it is very interesting, and unusual.

* Markets go up, but they also go down. Who knew?

* “How the US Military is Responding to China.” Detailed, although maybe too optimistic.

* Perspective on crypto. Long-term perspective, that is. Crypto helps enormously in countries without reliable banks and/or central banks. It helps much less in countries with those things. Will the U.S. ever monetize the debt? If it does, then the U.S. will turn out to be less reliable than it looks now.

* “Jack Selby of Thiel Capital is using a new VC fund to invest in Arizona startups.”

* Illiberal values.

* More on loneliness. Loneliness underlies more problems than is commonly assumed, I think.

Links: The nature of trust, the need to create abundance, and more!

* The Anti-Promethean Backlash, which is, among other things, on the need to create plenty and abundance more than scarcity.

* Books on China.

* “Why Trust In Journalism Has Collapsed.” A lot of journalism ranges from “wrong” to “blinkered” to “bullshit.” And people can figure out the parts that are wrong, blinkered, and bullshit in near-real time. I’m not sure what comes next: distributed truth? Something like Astral Codex Ten? Something else? But trust in journalism may collapse because the feedback loop for noting and speaking up about bullshit is so fast, and actual experts in a given field often have more and more accurate things to say about a given topic than the “experts.” I wrote about this sort of thing back in 2015, and I don’t think things have improved since.

* Using desalination to create water abundance. Abundance is good and scarcity is bad, and yet we’ve legally mandated scarcity in many areas, which is also bad.

* “The U.S. Needs More Housing Than Almost Anyone Can Imagine: For Americans to live a productive, prosperous, happy life, homes need to be truly abundant.” Seems obvious to me, yet isn’t public policy.

* “The end of the culture of narcissism” is the title, but it’s a peculiar melange of ideas, many of them claimed to be causal without any evidence. Correlation is not causation!

* Erik Hoel says goodbye to academia and hello to Substack.

* Woody Allen’s movies.

* On Lucian Freud, who’d today be cancelled.

* “Brilliant Jerks, Crazy Hotties, and Other Artifacts of Range Restriction.” Statistics are hard. Or is it “Statistics is hard?” because “statistics” is singular, despite the “s” at the end?

* In praise of slow cookers. The Instant Pot has a slow-cooker function that works fine.

* Not terribly interesting essay on the case for studying literature and the history of literary academic institutions. It feels a little bit like “the case for studying religion,” in an era when religion is mostly over.

* “The End of Vaccines at ‘Warp Speed:’ Financial and bureaucratic barriers in the United States mean that the next generation of Covid vaccines may well be designed here, but used elsewhere.” Important news that isn’t getting the attention it should.

* “How Monogamy and Incest Taboos Made the West,” which is an eccentric review of Joseph Henrich’s book The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous.

* On Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis, which looks pretty good right now.

Links: Using money better, electing people better, understanding reality better, and more!

* “How the US Can Stop Wasting Billions of Dollars on Each Transit Project.” Speaking of that, San Francisco’s Central Subway opens today, after 13 years of active construction and around $1.6 billion spent to extend the subway 1.7 miles. At those prices and speeds, we’re never going to get substantial, desperately needed infrastructure improvements.

* “The plan to save America by killing the partisan primary.” Good.

* Taiwan prepares to be invaded. And, along the same lines: “Why Japan Is Gearing Up for Possible War With China” (Bloomberg). If we build and acquire warfighting gear using the same principles we use to build subways, we’re going to have real, big problems. There are people working on this problem, but, with the Dept. of Defense being the only major prospective client, much depends on that client.

* “Democrats’ Long Goodbye to the Working Class.” Which seems bad.

* “How Australia became the world’s greatest lithium supplier.” Many people wrongly project lithium shortages by looking at existing, proven lithium reserves, while not attending to the fact that higher lithium prices drive more exploration, and make previously uneconomical lithium sites economical.

* What you hear about “Meta” (the company that used to be called “Facebook”) may not align with reality. The company’s share price is down, but much of what you’ve read is a continuation of the bogus media takes that spun up in November 2016. Notice that my post is from 2018. I personally am not a big user of Facebook products, including Instagram, but the media view on them has been consistently wrong for six years.

* An overview of concrete forming technology.

* Are the twin woke and MAGA fevers breaking? One hopes.

* An essay on Colette. I started a few of her novels and found them boring, and likely to be of chiefly historical interest.

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