Links: The University of Austin, subcultures, H.G. Wells, complication over simplification, and more!

* “I’m Helping to Start a New College Because Higher Ed Is Broken” by Niall Ferguson. More on the University of Austin.

* Apply for an ACX grant.

* “Inflation Is Up, But the Inflation Truthers Are Still Wrong.” Maybe.

* “The Melancholy of Subculture Society.” Gwern, and thus detailed.

* H.G. Wells, the prophet of the future, among other things. Unfortunately, this: “First, after two World Wars, his belief in perpetual progress came to seem fatuous, and then, in the age of Woolf and Joyce, his Victorian style looked baggy and gassy” matches my reading experience: I’ve at least skimmed The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and a few other of his novels, and wished for a better editor. I don’t think it’s his belief that seems fatuous; I think that, if he had a tighter prose style, he’d still be read.

* “Individuals matter,” by Dan Luu: seems obvious, and yet simultaneously something I never hear.

* “Marriott refused to host Uyghur conference, citing ‘political neutrality.’” Supporting genocide is an interesting definition of “political neutrality.”

* “The importance of complicated sex.”

* “How I got wealthy without working too hard: Specialize, Don’t live in big cities, Go full-remote.” Work in tech, too.

* “College professors have a right to provoke and upset you. It’s a part of learning. Whether from the right or from the left, calls to silence faculty voices on America’s campuses are inconsistent with the values of a university.” Seems obvious to me, though I still think it important to encourage students to think, without telling them what to think. I worry about the propensity towards telling students what to think, especially politically. See also “A drama professor told students they got their feelings hurt too easily. They decided to fight back.” One has to wonder about the student-loan burden and repayment experience of students in that department.

* Guy works impressively hard to upgrade the soldered RAM on his Dell laptop. A great tale but also note the conclusion: “I’ve now got an XPS13 with 16GB of memory. But next time I think I’ll just buy the 16GB variant upfront.”

* Emergent Ventures’ life-changing actions.

Links: How to learn, the University of Austin launch, “simping,” and much more

* “Willingness to look stupid.”

* “Launching the University of Austin; the headline says: “We Can’t Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We’re Starting a New One. I left my post as president of St. John’s College in Annapolis to build a university in Austin dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth.” Maybe it’s slightly related that the WSJ says: USC Pushed a $115,000 Online Degree. Graduates Got Low Salaries, Huge Debts: The prestigious private university hired a for-profit firm to recruit students to its social-work master’s program; ‘You don’t feel like you’re part of an elite school.’” Making the University of Austin announcement on Substack also seems like a sign and harbinger.

* Andrew Sullivan: “The Betrayal Of Our Gay Inheritance.”

* “Simping and the Sexual Marketplace.”

* “How Alan Sokal Won the Battle but Lost the ‘Science Wars.’” It seems that, the richer we are, the more able we are to adopt some maladaptive beliefs.

* “Is College Worth It? A Comprehensive Return on Investment Analysis.” Depends on degree, above all else.

* “The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart: Christians must reclaim Jesus from his church.” Martin Gurri is never mentioned, but this may be another example of the challenge of maintaining institutional coherence in the social media age: “What happened at McLean Bible Church is happening all over the evangelical world.” Splintering and incoherence and attacks on institutions, without trying to build new ones, seem common.

* The diary of Claude Fredericks, who is the model for Julian Morrow in The Secret History; it’s the last bit that makes him interesting, as he seems to have been an indifferently skilled writer, overall.

* “I’m Still Here: the same old materialist civil libertarian Marxist I’ve always been.” The title makes it sound awful, but the emphasis on moral universalism, civil liberties, and the need for true material progress are welcomed; it seems strange that those positions might be associated with something like the Libertarian right today, when not long ago they were more associated with the left. Perhaps there’s a possible left-right synthesis around the need to build stuff. Also from Freddie: “Two Examples of the State Enforcing Social Justice Norms.”

* Tales From the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) bureaucracies. Taken together, they are an argument for not becoming involved in academia.

* “Liberals Read, Conservatives Watch TV,” among many other ideas.

* Is Protonmail worthless?

Links: MacBook Pros, party censorship, the history of scandal, and more!

* New Macbook Pro review 1; another one; others have been trickling out. Consensus is “expensive, but also amazing.”

* “At Yale Law School, a party invitation ignites a firestorm.” Law students are typically age 22 and up, and law school administrators are typically older still. One has to wonder not only what is wrong with these people, but what is wrong with the institution they inhabit, and the institutional incentives of the bureaucrats involved.

* On the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and how it presages modern scandals or pseudo-scandals; notice this: “The next day, Universal wrote a morality clause into its contracts, mandating nonpayment to performers who ‘forfeit the respect of the public,’ and other studios followed. (Morality clauses have made a comeback in recent years.)” That which is old is new again, or, alternately, that which is new has older roots.

* Francis Fukuyama’s Defense of Liberalism.

* Efforts by an Australian mining and minerals baron to go green(er). Detailed.

* “‘I Don’t Know That I Would Even Call It Meth Anymore’: Different chemically than it was a decade ago, the drug is creating a wave of severe mental illness and worsening America’s homelessness problem.” Also detailed, although I can’t tell how much of it may be a scare story. Still, the war on drugs continues to fail, and we continue to collectively fail to try different approaches.

* “Beware shoveling money at overpriced service industries.” A reasonable point, which means that politicians (and by extension the voters electing them) will likely mostly ignore it.

* What to learn. Don’t be dissuaded by the title.

* “How Alan Sokal Won the Battle but Lost the ‘Science Wars:’ A brilliant parody was the harbinger of a dreadful future.” On the other hand, the total number of humanities majors has fallen substantially: a lot of people presumably see through the nonsense and respond accordingly. Sokal may have “won” in some sense.

* “What Could Drive China to War?

Links: California’s housing reform, surprising pleas, some China things, energy, and more!

* “Where the Suburbs End,” regarding California’s efforts to increase the supply of housing. California is moving, albeit with agonizing slowness, on this front.

* “We Are Republicans With a Plea: Elect Democrats in 2022

* “Washington Is Getting China Wrong: A crisis at a property company exposes deep, dangerous, and often unrecognized weaknesses in the Chinese economy.” Part of the answer too may be that no one knows what the future holds, and thus: “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

* “Credit-card firms are becoming reluctant regulators of the web.” This is bad and, also, I’m not sure the word “reluctant” belongs in the title.

* “Please Don’t Give Up On Having Kids Because Of Climate Change,” a more detailed version of what I’d say. The level of innumeracy required for that fundamental belief is striking, and the kinds of people likely to be persuaded by such an argument are also likely the kinds of people who’d have kids who’d make fundamental breakthroughs in energy and chemistry. Note too:

So 20 tons of near-term carbon offset at $500/ton, plus 350 tons of long-term carbon offset at $50/ton = $10000 + $17500. Round up for uncertainty, and my guess is you can offset your child’s lifetime carbon emissions for about $30,000.

This is a lot of money, but most of the people considering not having children for climate reasons are pretty well-off. Most privileged parents are already resigned to having to pay $100,000 – $200,000 to get their kid into the best college; surely they should also be willing to pay $30,000 to let their kid exist at all.

A person sufficiently worried about CO2 emissions right now can do a lot about it, given sufficient money.

* “In Global Energy Crisis, Anti-Nuclear Chickens Come Home to Roost.” The metaphor and imagery may be confused, but the point is well taken.

* “That One Side Would Like to Utterly Destroy the Other Side Seems Significant, To Me: Democratic messaging debates are bizarre because one group has been empowered to terrorize those they disagree with.” Fairly accurate. I like his description of the left’s ecology, including: “There’s an island of misfit toys of left and leftish critics of social justice politics like me.”

* The great feminization of the larger society?

* “The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning.” If you’re like me, you thought: “Huning who?” But the essay turns out to be about China, yes, but also about the rest of the world and the United States. If you want to skip to the U.S.-centric parts, search for the phrase “A Dark Vision,” and read from there, about Wang’s experiences in the United States. Allan Bloom appears as a key influence.

* “A Yale Law Student Sent a Lighthearted Email Inviting Classmates to His ‘Trap House.’ The School Is Now Calling Him To Account.” Yes, it’s an outrage story, and you might’ve read enough of those already, but the article also seems like part of a larger trend, and one consistent with Haidt and Lukianoff’s book The Coddling of the American Mind.

Links: Ghostwriters, the social order in local terms, the seduction of Silicon Valley, and more!

* Jonathan Kay’s life as a ghostwriter, with lots of entertaining bits. The celebrity memoirs and business how-tos that make up much of the publishing industry are mostly written by ghostwriters: you’ve likely interacted with their work, without necessarily realizing it.

* Free parking is killing cities, and driving up the costs of housing.

* “American Gentry: Local Power and the Social Order.”

* “The Economic Mistake Democrats Are Finally Confronting,” an important piece that covers how attempting to increase demand with extra funding won’t work if supply doesn’t concomitantly increase. Housing is the star of this story but education is similarly strangled.

* “Head Start grant writers and early childhood education program staffing woes:” a grant-related post, but one that may be of general interest.

* “China Is a Declining Power—and That’s the Problem: The United States needs to prepare for a major war, not because its rival is rising but because of the opposite.” An alternate theory to the ones you’ve read around here before.

* “So You’re About To Be Cancelled: A group called Counterweight assists people whose bosses and co-workers are forcing them to endorse ‘social-justice’ beliefs.”

* How Miami seduced Silicon Valley.

* “The White Backlash That Wasn’t: Opposition to critical race theory is broad and bipartisan.” Don’t like the overly divisive framing of the headline, but there is some substance within.

* “‘Don’t leave campus’: Parents are now using tracking apps to watch their kids at college.” This seems insane to me, and one has to hope it’s not real, or rarely real.

* “On American campuses, students are biting their tongues: Students of all kinds are self-censoring, especially if they don’t agree with the perceived campus wisdom about race and criminal justice.”

* On the roots of progress and how to achieve greater technological progress now.

* Good New Yorker report on the state and history of nuclear fusion. Proof-of-concept is conceivable by 2025, with actual contributions to the power grid conceivable by 2030.

* Twitter thread from a former marine about what the Taliban knew about us, versus what we knew about them, along with cultural mismatch and many other topics.

* “At the heart of Shor’s frenzied work is the fear that Democrats are sleepwalking into catastrophe.” Not just the usual political bs. Note: “Senate Democrats could win 51 percent of the two-party vote in the next two elections and end up with only 43 seats in the Senate.” About David Shor and many other topics.

The death of literary culture

At The Complete Review, Michael Orthofer writes of John Updike that “Dead authors do tend to fade fast these days — sometimes to be resurrected after a decent interval has passed, sometimes not –, which would seem to me to explain a lot. As to ‘the American literary mainstream’, I have far too little familiarity with it; indeed, I’d be hard pressed to guess what/who qualifies as that.” He’s responding to a critical essay that says: “Much of American literature is now written in the spurious confessional style of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Readers value authenticity over coherence; they don’t value conventional beauty at all.” I’m never really sure what “authenticity” and its cousin “relatability” mean; regarding the former, I find The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves persuasive.

Literary culture itself is mostly dead, and I lived through its final throes—perhaps like someone who, living through the 1950s, saw the end of religious Christianity as a dominant culture, since it was essentially gone by the 1970s—though many claimed its legacy for years after the real thing had passed. What killed literary culture? The Internet is the most obvious, salient answer, and in particular the dominance of social media, which is in effect its own genre—and, frequently, its own genre of fiction. Almost everyone will admit that their own social media profiles mostly showcase a version of their best or ideal selves, and, thinking of just about everyone I know well, or even slightly well, the gap between who they really are and what they are really doing, and what appears on their social media, is so wide as to qualify as fiction. Determining the “real” self is probably impossible, but determining the fake selves is easier, and the fake is everywhere.

Everyone knows this, but admitting it is rarer. Think of all the social media photos of a person ostensibly alone—admiring the beach, reading, sunbathing, whatever—but the photographer is somewhere. A simple example, maybe, but also one without the political baggage of many other possible examples.

Much of what passes for social media discourse makes little or no sense, until one considers that most assertions are assertions of identity, not of factual or true statements, and many social media users are constructing a quasi-fictional universe not unlike the ones novels used to create. “QAnon” might be one easy modern example, albeit one that will probably go stale soon, if it’s not already stale; others will take its place. Many of these fictions are the work of group authors. Numerous assertions around gender and identity might be a left-wing-valenced version of the phenomenon, for readers who want balance, however spurious balance might be. Today, we’ve in some ways moved back to a world like that of the early novel and the early novelists, when “fact” and “fiction” were much more disputed, interwoven territories, and many novels claimed to be “true stories” on their cover pages. Today, the average person has poor epistemic hygiene for most topics not directly tied to income and employment, but the average person has a very keen sense of tribe, belonging, and identity—so views that may be epistemically dubious nonetheless succeed if they promote belonging (consider also The Elephant in the Brain by Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler for a more thorough elaboration on these ideas). Before social media, did most people really belong, or did they silently suffer through the feeling of not belonging? Or was something else at play? I don’t know.

In literary culture terms, the academic and journalistic establishment that once formed the skeletal structure upholding literary culture has collapsed, and today journalists and academics have become modern clerics. The number of jobs in journalism has approximately halved since the year 2000; academic jobs in the humanities cratered in 2009, from an already low starting point, and never recovered; even jobs teaching in high school humanities subjects have a much more ideological, rather than humanistic, cast than they did ten years ago. What’s taken its place, if anything? Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and, above all, Twitter. Twitter, in particular, seems to promote negative feedback and fear loops, in ways that media and other institutions haven’t yet figured out how to resist. The jobs that supported the thinkers, critics, starting-out novelists, and others, aren’t there. Whatever might have replaced them, like Twitter, isn’t equivalent. The Internet doesn’t just push most “content” (songs, books, and so forth) towards zero—it also changes what people do, including the people who used to make up what I’m calling literary culture or book culture.

Today, the most power and vibrancy of and in book culture has shifted towards nonfiction—either narrative nonfiction, like Michael Lewis, or data-driven nonfiction, with too many examples to cite. It still sells (sales aren’t a perfect representation of artistic merit or cultural vibrancy, but they’re not nothing, either). Dead authors go fast today not solely or primarily because of their work, but because the literary culture is going away fast, if it’s not already gone away. When John Updike was in his prime, millions of people read him (or they at last bought Couples and could spit out some light book chat about it on command). The number of writers working today who the educated public, broadly conceived of, might know about is small: maybe Elena Ferrante, Michel Houllebecq, Sally Rooney, and perhaps a few others (none of those three are American, I note). I can’t even think of a figure like Elmore Leonard: someone writing linguistically interesting, highly plotted material. Bulk genre writers are still out there, but none who I’m aware of who have any literary ambition.

I caught the tail end of a humane and human-focused literary culture that’s largely been succeeded by a political and moral-focused culture that I hesitate to call literary, even though it’s taken over what remains of those literary-type institutions. It’s not surprising to me that this change has also coincided with a lessening of interest in those institutions: very few people want to be clerics and scolds—many fewer than wonder about the human condition. Shifting from the one to the other seems like a net loss to me, but also a net loss that I’m mostly unable to arrest or alter. If I had to pick a date range for this death, it’d probably be 2009 – 2015: the Great Recession eliminates many of the institutional jobs and professions that once existed, along with any plausible path into them for all but the luckiest, and by 2015 social media and scold culture had taken over. Culture is define but easy to feel as you exist within and around it. By 2010, Facebook had become truly mainstream, and everyone’s uncle and grandma weren’t just on the Internet for email and search engines, but for other people and their opinions.

Maybe mainstream literary culture has been replaced by some number of smaller micro-cultures, but those microcultures don’t add up to what used to be a macroculture.

Reading back over this I realize it has the tone and quality of a complaint, but it’s meant mostly as a description: I’m trying to look at what’s happening, not whine about it. One could argue this change is for the better. Whining about aggregate behavior and choices has rarely, if ever, changed it. I don’t think literary culture will ever return, any more Latin, epic poetry, classical music, opera, or any number of other once-vital cultural products and systems will. In some ways, we’re moving backwards, towards a cultural fictional universe with less clearly demarcated lines between “fact” and “fiction” (I remember being surprised, when I started teaching, by undergrads who didn’t know a novel or short stories are fiction, or who called nonfiction works “novels”). Every day, each of us is helping whatever comes next, become. The intertwined forces of technology and culture move primarily in a single direction. The desire for story will remain but the manifestation of that desire won’t.

Links: Housing shortages, Hollywood sells out to China, merit and schools, John Updike, and more!

* “The housing theory of everything: Western housing shortages do not just prevent many from ever affording their own home. They also drive inequality, climate change, low productivity growth, obesity, and even falling fertility rates.” Housing shortages are entirely self-imposed, too.

* “How Hollywood Sold Out to China: A culture of acquiescing to Beijing’s censors is now the norm, and there’s little sign of it changing.”

* “As US Schools Prioritize Diversity Over Merit, China Is Becoming the World’s STEM Leader.”

* “The future of weight loss,” which concerns the new drug semaglutide, as well as setpoint theories of weight. I’ve seen claims that sugar consumption, particularly via liquid, explains almost all the weight gain of the last forty years.

* Sports writing is not fun. One could likely generalize this to many if not most forms of journalism.

* Book Review: The Revolt Of The Public. I also read The Revolt of the Public and agree that it’s good, prophetic, and already seemingly close to common wisdom.

* “Can We Have Sex Back?” A bit too culture war, but, also, that first sentence!

* “Starlink and the possible future of a free, uncensored Internet.”

* “John Updike and the Politics of Literary Reputation:” there’s much here, but I have a slightly different theory, having started many if not most of Updike’s novels: they’ve got little or no plot. Many individual sentences are good, but they’re boring. Tedium is, to my eye, is the biggest modern challenge to Updike, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow. Someone like Tom Wolfe holds up well in his top books, Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full, because both are driven by plot.

Links: New cities, healthcare pricing, walking & thinking, and more!

* “The [Very Bad] Two-Decade Delay in Lyme-Disease Vaccines.”

* “Hospitals and Insurers Didn’t Want You to See These Prices. Here’s Why.” One of these very important points that will probably make most people’s attention wander elsewhere, unless they’ve recently had to deal with a mammoth medical bill.

* “On the Link Between Great Thinking and Obsessive Walking.”

* “Is the Conventional Wisdom on Educational Spending All Wrong?” Again, Substack: where the interesting writing is happening.

* “For First Time, Half of Americans Favor Defending Taiwan If China Invades.”

* Kids don’t like school when it’s boring and they have no friends there. This may also explain why online education hasn’t really taken off: for most people, hanging out with other people is, if not the point, then at least a large part of the point. Take away the other people and there goes the interest.

* “The Dream of Carbon Air Capture Edges Toward Reality.” An important update on the CO2 capture efforts. More on Climeworks’ effort. Climeworks also offers CO2 removal subscriptions to persons who’d like to contribute directly.

* “Press Box vs. the Bleachers:” a very culture-war essay, but one that comes at it from an unusual angle, or set of angles.

* The New Puritans, a fine and detailed story that almost entirely concerns schools and journalism/media. Relatedly: “How did American ‘wokeness’ jump from elite schools to everyday life?

* “Want to Solve the Housing Crisis? Build More, and Build Higher.” Familiar points to readers around here.

* “Plans for Telosa, a $400-billion new city in the American desert, unveiled.” I’d move there: Phoenix, but with better urban design and transit. Sounds great! See also another story on the same subject: “The Diapers.com Guy Wants to Build a Utopian Megalopolis.” Is it likely to work? No. But wouldn’t it be great if it did?

Links: Software and productivity, Austin’s influx, some book review things, and more!

* “Climate change: IPCC report is ‘code red for humanity.’” Similarly: “Global Temperature Over My Lifetime,” which is presented in cartoon format: notice that Exxon’s 1982 estimation is extremely close to actual temperature levels in 2020.

* “Why Doesn’t Software Show Up in Productivity?” A deep and subtle post, although the title may not intrigue you.

* “How Austin Has Undergone a Pandemic Influx From Hollywood: ‘Growth on a Turbocharger.’

* The Creativity Vacuum, which is too nakedly culture war in some ways, but it also says: “if you want to understand the culture — which is how you win the culture war — one has to muck around with those in the down and dirty trenches of the seedy side of American life, which is where most ideas that drive the spirit of the country are brewed.”

* “How cancel culture hurts the Left,” which has some optimism embedded in it.

* Why book reviews and reviewing work poorly.

* “Andrew Sullivan on Braving New Intellectual Journeys,” and many other topics.

* “Higher Ed Has a Credibility Problem: Do academics share one worldview? People tend to think so, and you can’t blame them, says Jonathan Rauch.” It could be that “journalists and academics [have] become modern-day clerics.”

* We need to build our way out of this mess, and in particular build housing—lots of housing.

* “Ryan Holiday on America’s missing Statue of Responsibility.” An important idea wildly missing from the discourse. Holiday’s book Trust Me, I’m Lying is excellent.

* “Flying X-Wings into the Death Star: Andreesen on Investing and Tech.”

* “What I Learned While Eavesdropping on the Taliban: I spent 600 hours listening in on the people who now run Afghanistan. It wasn’t until the end of my tour that I understood what they were telling me.” Among the few things I’ve seen on this topic that is worth reading.

Links: The perils of the shouting class, more from Balaji S., tunnels and the transit future, and more!

* “The Shouting Class,” on the errors generated by listening too much to Twitter and its ilk, which favor a certain kind of person and personality.

* “ Law School Loses Luster as Debts Mount and Salaries Stagnate: With high-paying jobs out of reach for most, graduates of the University of Miami and other well-regarded programs routinely carry six-figure student loans for years.” Law school lost its “luster” more than a decade ago—I wrote about Paul Campos’s Don’t Go to Law School (Unless) in 2012, and the main thing that’s changed between now and then is that tuition has gotten even more outrageous—but the numbers reinforce how insane law school is for most people: “Recent graduates of the University of Miami School of Law who used federal loans borrowed a median of $163,000. Two years later, half were earning $59,000 or less.” That student debt can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, and that no mechanism incentivizes predatory schools, keeps the system functioning.

* “If Einstein Had The Internet: An Interview With Balaji Srinivasan.” Balaji may be the most sophisticated and foresighted thinker today.

* “How the Bobos Broke America: The creative class was supposed to foster progressive values and economic growth. Instead we got resentment, alienation, and endless political dysfunction.” Too much good to excerpt, but the mea culpa is rare: “‘The educated class is in no danger of becoming a self-contained caste,’ I wrote in 2000. ‘Anybody with the right degree, job, and cultural competencies can join.’ That turned out to be one of the most naive sentences I have ever written.” And accurate. Like Brooks, I think I underestimated the degree to which people are motivated by status and exclusionary practices; amusingly, it’s the people who are most busily talking about inclusion who are usually the most exclusionary.

* “Tunnels are our Transportation Future.” Many points not commonly made elsewhere.

* The Real Story of “The Central Park Karen.” Note: “To tell this story is to address a different set of problems. Among them: our collective intoxication with public shaming. Our willingness to dispense with due process when we think we ‘know’ the truth in the absence of evidence. The media’s complicity in perpetuating public judgments, even when the facts directly contradict those judgments.”

* “How I joined the literary prostitutes club, writing erotica for cash.” It’s from Aeon and thus presumably safe for work, depending, anyway, on one’s work: it’s text, and no one fears text any more.

* “Climate crisis: Scientists spot warning signs of Gulf Stream collapse.”

* How ‘Heaven’s Gate’ Killed 1970s Hollywood.

* “Chasing Nabokov.”

* “Does America really lose all its wars?” Probably not: but most wars are also not so obvious as WWII—but they are also not as big, which is very good.

* Is Taiwan next?

* “How Austin Has Undergone a Pandemic Influx From Hollywood: ‘Growth on a Turbocharger.’

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