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.

Links: The ills facing “creative” writing, medical news, chips and China, and more!

* “Who killed creative writing?” is the title, but also, notice this: “I have known several published authors who, struggling on the midlist in mid-career, have gone back and gotten MFAs for the sole purpose of securing a teaching job. These authors had often published multiple books and been celebrated in their time.” The economic basis for writing books, which has always had its challenges, is perhaps weaker than ever.

* Why don’t doctors study the clitoris? From the NYT.

* Human challenge trials are a good idea.

* “Was Jack Welch the Greatest C.E.O. of His Day—or the Worst?” A story reminiscent of the ones about the guys from McDonnell Douglas who financialized Boeing and destroyed a great company in the process.

* We should have COVID nasal vaccines.

* Actual mental illness is not a meme.

* Chips and China. Also: “How China Lost America,” which is a framing one doesn’t see much, but perhaps should.

* “Nobody Seems to Have an Answer for Propaganda Posing as Local News.” Which is another way of saying: “No one has a way to make local news make money.” And that’s been true for at least a decade, and likely longer.

* Philip Roth and American manhood. Not exactly how I’d frame it, but more interesting than the usual.

* “China’s weapons acquisition cycle 5-6x faster than the United States — ‘We are going to lose’ if we don’t change.” Speed matters.

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.

Links: The end of a culture, the need for abundance, Inspector Maigret, and more!

* “The Last Member of an Uncontacted Tribe: He lived alone in the forest for twenty-six years before dying last month. What did he experience?” Moving, sad, and beautiful, especially the final paragraph.

* “The Long March of the YIMBYs [“Yes in my backyard”—persons who favor constructing more housing]: Slowly, the tide is starting to turn.”

* “Tech Companies Slowly Shift Production Away From China.” Good, if it’s true.

* “The Case for Abolishing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).” Like the “Patriot Act,” which is not patriotic, NEPA actually harms the environment, rather than helping it. Notice: “If you think a two year, million dollar, 1,000+ page environmental report simply to build new bike lanes in an already developed city seems absurd, you’re not alone.” And, also: “America is absolutely drowning in process, forms, and reviews.”

* “How Europe Stumbled Into an Energy Catastrophe.” “Not building out nuclear power” is the short answer. Notice how many of the plans think about the next months, rather than the next decades. It’s obviously necessary to survive in the short term to get to the long term,

* “The Mysterious Case of Inspector Maigret:” on Georges Simenon and his creation.

* “A Chinese Spy Wanted GE’s Secrets, But the US Got China’s Instead.” On modern spy sagas, which appear to be industrial as much as anything else.

* “I Have Yet to Hear a Satisfactory Answer For Why Adults Care What Young People Think.”

* “The Immorality of ‘The Godfather’.”

* “Transcript: Ezra Klein on the New Supply-Side Economics.” Note: “I come from California, I grew up in Irvine, California. So to watch how liberal, how blue California is and how badly it fails at a lot of the basics of progressive outcomes of making a middle class life affordable for people is to really force yourself to reckon with some things that have gone pretty profoundly wrong in liberal governance.” And also: “Once you begin looking at the paucity of ambition on the supply side, it becomes a little bit hard to stop seeing it.” We’re paying for the scarcity agenda of the last few decades, and we should instead make a lot: in housing, in energy, in education, in subways—and not just in consumer goods.

* “How to Deal with Criticism: 10 Tips for Musicians (and Everyone Else).” Great advice, especially regarding the tension between the need to be able to listen to honest and authentic criticism, while simultaneously ignoring large amounts of bullshit.

* Even at Jacobin mag—not the best venue by any means—they’re figuring out that To Solve the Housing Crisis, We Have to Increase the Housing Supply.”

Links: What it takes to get to genuinely low carbon, the use of cryptocurrencies, and more!

* “The green war on clean energy.” Notice: “But what if nuclear research and plant construction had continued to advance at the pace seen in the 1970s? One Australian researcher concluded: ‘Had the early rates continued, nuclear power could now be around 10% of its current cost.’” And: “Yet it was environmentalists who led the campaign to halt the rollout of the cleanest, and greenest, of all power sources.” Innumeracy makes fools of most of us. Similarly: an article on the need for infrastructure permitting reform. Ignore the given title, which is dumb and clickbait, because the article itself is good. I also recently wrote “Permitting is the big barrier to wind energy right now.”

* On the publishing industry’s brokenness, although I think the truer answer is that the publishing industry, like many glamor industries, has relied on trust funds, rich families, and generalized glamor for decades. A veneer of woke doesn’t change the underlying market dynamics, which is that publishing needs the children of the rich to take low salaries in order to function. Get this: “Though some publishers have raised entry-level salaries to around $45,000 per year…” Per year, in New York City. And “The median salary for those in management in our 2021 survey was $130,000.” $130,000, after a decade plus in the industry, in New York City? Median rent in Manhattan is now above $4,000.

* “Inside the crypto black markets of Argentina.”

* “New malaria vaccine is world-changing, say scientists.”

* “What Schools Are Teaching Your Kids About ‘Gender’.” Maybe.

* “How Reagan Almost Crushed Wokeness.” “Almost” is doing a lot of work in that title, but the review of how civil rights law evolved is useful.

* “Climate Tipping Points May Be Triggered Even If Warming Peaks at 1.5C.”

* The male monkey dance.

* “The Weakness of Xi Jinping.” Ideas rarely, but more commonly now, heard.

* How Mathematics Changed Me. Can be read in tandem with “How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math: the building blocks of understanding are memorization and repetition.”

* On the new Ian McEwan book.

Links: Methane rising, permitting and wind energy, UFOs and the Fermi Paradox, and more!

* “Methane hunters: what explains the surge in the potent greenhouse gas? Levels of the gas are growing at a record rate and natural sources like wetlands are the cause, but scientists don’t know how to curb it.” This is, unfortunately and dangerously, consistent with the Clathrate gun hypothesis.

* Me on how “Permitting is the big barrier to wind energy right now (beyond batteries and fundamental research).” Given what’s happening in Europe, and in parts of the U.S., it would be good to start seriously preparing for problems now. Actually, it’d have been better to start ten or twenty years ago, but now is better than tomorrow; Elon can tweet, seriously, “Order a Tesla Powerwall battery for blackout protection!”, and his advice is good.

* Taking UFOs / Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP:) seriously, as a solution to the Fermi Paradox. “UAP” is the latest Russell Conjugation of “UFO,” since UFO has become too low status, and thus we need an acronym for the same thing with less status baggage.

* “AI Revolution – Transformers and Large Language Models (LLMs).” Don’t be dissuaded by the title: it’s good, thorough, and visionary, particularly at the end.

* “Shruti Rajagopalan talks to Daniel Gross and Tyler about Identifying and Predicting Talent.” Better probably as audio than text, but good as both, and I notice that a podcast I listen to and whose transcript I read get “processed” differently in each medium. I’m not sure what to do with that, but it’s noticeable.

* The rise of liberal hawks, which is deeper and more interesting than it sounds.

* Echopraxia is great and you should read it.

* Profile of Ian McEwan, though I think he’s not willing to admit what seems to be true.

* Consistent with the McEwan profile above: “How Woke Put Paid to Publishing.”

* “The distinctiveness of human aggression,” by interesting man Rob K. Henderson.

* Joyce Carol Oates interview with Philip Roth.

Briefly noted: “Honor Thy Father,” “After the Ivory Tower Falls,” and “2034”

* Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese: The takeaway may still be “the mafia is bad and so is crime.” Rising in the mafia is hard for many reasons, one being that a criminal needs only to screw up once to be convicted, while the police and prosecutors can screw up many times and still in some sense come out ahead. Honor Thy Father was published in 1971, and it covers an even earlier era; by 1971, a sense of elegy and things passing or being better in the old days already pervades the mafia story. The Sopranos comes out in 1999 and hits the same themes. Maybe all mafia stories have to concern a mythic past: few are set in whenever the mafia’s heyday—perhaps the 19th Century—may have been. The mafia reality is too tawdry for anything but the good days to have been in the past.

There’s much talk about inheritance—”among the inheritors [of the old-world, Italian mafia and mafia practices] were such men as Frank Labruzzo and Bill Bonanno, who now, in the mid-1960s, in an age of space and rockets, were fighting in a feudal war.” “A feudal war,” but with pistols and other firearms: the future may have been there, but it wasn’t evenly distributed. One day, will people be fighting feudal wars in space? Little about engineering or engineers appears in Honor Thy Father: the most important work of the 1930 to 1970 period was happening in California, at Intel and similar companies, though this wasn’t universally recognized at the time—which may make us: where is the most-important, least-recognized work happening today?

Other descriptions in Honor Thy Father remind us of cultural and other chanage; Bonanno “conveyed to his children his disapproval of tattletales. If they saw their brothers, sisters, or cousins doing something wrong, he had said, it was improper for them to go talebearing to adults, adding that nobody had respect for a stool pigeon, not even those who gained by such information.” Many modern institutions are obsessed with “talebearing” and encourage stool-pigeoning (if you’ll forgive the verbing of nouns). Many of the crimes aren’t crimes: the numbers racket is now the lotto (“If the lawmakers would legitimize numbers betting it would hurt business because it would deprive customers of that satisfactory sense of having beaten the system”), and loan sharking has been subsumed by the payday loan industry. Prostitution is still formally illegal but has moved online, where it’s sufficiently out of sight and to be out of mind.

Monotony, boredom, loneliness: these words recur. Whatever glamor one might infer in the mob life, it’s absent in Bonanno’s life, apart I guess from the glamor of high stakes: most of us aren’t shot if we do our jobs poorly, which is good for quality of life but bad for dramatic tension. Most of us can recover from most mistakes, and a “cutthroat industry” is a metaphor.

* After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics—and How to Fix It by Will Bunch: If there’s a message to After the Ivory Tower Falls, it’s “conditions change.” What makes sense in one set of conditions, won’t in another: college made sense for most people between 1945 and the 1990s. By the 2000s, growing costs started to change the appeal to the marginal student; Bunch’s tone may also stem from him being a journalist, a field that’s shed about half of its jobs since 2000, and declining fields feel very different from growing ones. I know, because I’ve foolishly pursued work in some declining fields, while other friends work for tech companies.

Much of the “everyone must go to college” mantra comes from slight of hand: college graduates earn more than non-graduates; that means college caused the earnings jump. Stated so bluntly, anyone familiar with how correlation is not causation sees the problem: trying to get everyone to go to college winds up weakening the value of the college-degree signal, and, at the same time, most schools are strongly incentivized by the student-loan program to get as many students in their doors as possible. Prices rise, but schools that sell low-value degrees have no feedback mechanism discouraging them from that behavior—a key point in Paying for the Party (which isn’t cited).

Baumol’s Cost Disease isn’t cited by Bunch either, or Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, which identifies Baumol’s Cost Disease as a main cause of rising costs. So what do we get? A lot of mood affiliation. In Bunch’s telling, nonprofit colleges bear surprisingly little responsibility for their own predatory behavior. Consider this example: “When faith in the American way of college began to wane after years of runaway tuition, Wall Street smelled blood in the water.” Okay, we have a metaphor around “faith” in the first part of the sentence, but then we have a metaphor around a shark attack in the second? Why would waning “faith” lead to the smell of “blood in the water?” The confusing imagery is part of After the Ivory Tower Falls‘ general confusion; it tends to conflate things that should be separate and separate things that should be conflated. The book speaks to the race for entering exclusionary schools, and yet there’s almost nothing about the most expensive cost for the vast majority of households—housing itself. Without looking at the rising cost of housing over the last 50 years, the rising sense of precarity and competitiveness doesn’t make sense. The cost of living feels higher than it used to be because it is higher than it used to be; Bunch’s grandmother could move to California at a time when exclusionary zoning hadn’t made California unaffordable to most people. We used to have abundance; now we have legally-mandated scarcity, and perhaps that should change. The champions of “diversity” in highly exclusionary schools and enclaves are so unintentionally comedic because of how vigorously they speak about diversity while supporting policies that cause and ensure the exact opposite, while never noticing the contradiction. One form of comedy is saying one thing while doing another.

We see data like “Nearly 40 percent of full-time undergraduates who enrolled in the 2011-12 academic year accumulated some debt but did not have a degree after six years, said Mark Huelsman, the director of policy and advocacy at the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University.” While schools like Purdue hold down costs and increase value, many others don’t. College is a huge financial and life danger, in a way that it wasn’t in the middle of the 20th Century, but Bunch doesn’t want to foreground the way colleges have contributed.

Some students do really well: those who major in technical subjects like computer science or engineering, especially at state schools with relatively low tuition. Many others don’t; even in expensive, exclusionary schools, it’s not obvious that the payoff is worthwhile, compared to less-expensive schools, particularly for non-geniuses; if you’re doing math 55 at Harvard, great. If you’re doing sociology, is it great? Those graduates will probably be fine, albeit at high tuition costs.

More could be said, but why bother? There is a better book in After the Ivory Tower Falls, but mood affiliation and too little data stops it from appearing.

* 2034: A Novel of the Next World War: Not terribly well written; on the first page, for example, we follow captain Sarah Hunt, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 21: “On a recent sleepless night, she had studied her logbooks and totaled up all the days she had spent traversing the deep ocean, out of sight of land. It added up to nearly nine years. Her memory darted back and forth across those long years, to her watch-standing days as an ensign…” “[O]ut of sight of land” should be removed—”the deep ocean” implies it—and “those long years” should be removed too, since they’re also implied. Expect more of the same, though the plot is interesting: events in the South China Sea and Strait of Hormuz lead to war between the U.S. and China. Spoilers ahead, but the plot deals with the Chinese magically being able to blind U.S. electronic warfare systems—no plausible mechanism for this capability is proposed, unless I missed it, which is possible—and then the U.S. has to resort to older aircraft and systems that aren’t so electronic. This romantic anachronism is like dreaming of a cavalry charge succeeding in World War I. India is the eventual kingmaker; the word “victor” can’t really apply to anyone in a large war, though if there is one, it’s India. As with Tom Clancy novels, the book celebrates diversity in that anyone on the U.S. side can contribute to fighting the CCP.

2034 would make a promising movie—all those visuals of flight decks and missiles—but China now controls Hollywood, so the book will remain the book, unless Peter Thiel wants to fund it. He’s probably not a Story’s Story reader, although you never know.

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