Links: The weaponization of social media, and this blog as an effort to resist it

* New Jonathan Haidt: “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid: It’s not just a phase.” Instead, social media has supercharged a few negative human social tendencies, and we’ve not developed institutional or social antibodies to resist them. You’ll see echoes in it of “Dissent, insiders, and outsiders: Institutions in the age of Twitter.”

* “After Russians’ retreat, scarred Ukrainian village recounts month of terror.” Apart from being evil, a war crime, and so on, inflicting mass terror is likely to be counterproductive, because it means Ukrainians know they must fight to the very end—or face theft, rape, torture, and murder after. And there are more details here.

* “A 4-Year Degree Isn’t Quite the Job Requirement It Used to Be: New research finds companies are starting to rely less on the college filter in hiring.”

* “The New Campaign for a Sex-Free Internet: Sex, money, and the future of online free speech.” From A small number of passionate people can have great effects on a much larger number of less passionate people. Usually a sentence like the preceding one is meant with approval for whatever the thing is, but that need not always be the case.

* Europe is investing heavily in trains and, if we were smart, we’d be doing the same.

* “Democrats Are Facing Doom—And No One Seems To Even Have Any Suggestions.” On the contrary: people do have suggestions, like “highlight popular stances, not unpopular ones.” And “listen to voters, more than the academic/media class.” Jonathan Chait thinks “Political correctness is losing,” but is it?

* “The Punk-Prophet Philosophy of Michel Houellebecq.” The author takes a vaguely, and seemingly unwarranted, superior stance.

* “DALL-E, the Metaverse, and Zero Marginal Content.” You don’t want to be in the content business. Movies and TV seem kind of safe for now, but what happens when TikTok merges with DALL-E’s successor?

* Huge efforts to implement carbon capture and storage on a mass scale, via companies, rather than federal or state governments.

* “Exhibition of Pompeii’s sex scenes aims to decode erotica.” It’s ancient.

Links: The nature of stories and loneliness, and more!

* “You should have kids,” says Richard Hanania, in what may be a contrarian take, at least among intellectuals or “intellectuals.”

* “The Red Pill Prince: How computer programmer Curtis Yarvin became America’s most controversial political theorist.” The article isn’t a takedown, apart from the extent to which Yarvin’s ideas take themselves down. I’ve observed that social media seems to allow people to write or film their own fiction, disguised as “fact,” and he seems to be doing that; apart from the history of individuals ruling countries showing that such a structure works poorly at best over time, the present Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrates neatly the way monarchy doesn’t work. Yarvin has a story, composed partly from facts and partly from fancy, and the story is compelling enough to spread, but “compelling enough to spread” is not the same as “correct.”

* “How Everyone Got So Lonely: The recent decline in rates of sexual activity has been attributed variously to sexism, neoliberalism, and women’s increased economic independence. How fair are those claims—and will we be saved by the advent of the sex robot?” It’s interesting and peculiar to me, the extent to which the school system and parents misallocated emphasis regarding particularly important skills, like the ability to relate to and get along with other people.

* “Hollywood Has No Idea What to Do With the Erotic Thriller: Streamers are struggling to reboot a genre that died too young.” I tried watching Deep Water, and it was incoherent; I’d try to start with basic coherence, plot, and character. It’s also hard to be both woke and transgressive. Pick one!

* “The Horror of Bucha: Russian invaders are now treating the entirety of the Ukrainian population as combatants, as dirt to be cleansed.” We’re paying the cost of failing to build out nuclear energy over the last 20 years: we’ve been funding evil petro states, from Saudi Arabia to Russia.

* “By Any Other Name: The story of my transition and detransition.” Sad, and perhaps common. The writer, “Helena,” says that she wore “Joggers, basketball shorts, and hoodies. Ugh, I cringe just thinking about it. So not my style, but I wanted people to think I was a boy. I believed once the testosterone transformed my body, I could be more creative with my outfits.” The number of men who are interested in being “more creative with [their] outfits” seems not to be large. The degree to which Reddit and Tumblr provide medical and life advice is scary; she seems to have been someone who didn’t know enough to know how little she knew, or how little those around her knew.

* In academia, supply and demand win yet again! I wrote about this dynamic back in 2016.

* “Once Again, Environmentalists Are Sabotaging Climate Progress.”

* Beans are good.

*’s DALL•E 2 art generator is amazing. Is AI really happening?

* “Scott Alexander on Dictator Book Club: Xi Jinping.”

Links: What’s happening in publishing, what’s happening in education, the housing thing, and more!

* “American education’s new dark age” is the official title, but the real question is closer to “What is college for?” If colleges aren’t specifically training reading and writing skills, those skills atrophy, or are never developed in the first place.

* On The Two-Income Trap, a book that sounds excellent on fundamentals—but has it had much impact on policy?

* “As a political biography, it’s odd, yes. But as partisan pornography, it’s undeniably fantastic.” Ignore the title, don’t read the book being reviewed here, and savor instead the review itself, which is art.

* “How American Culture Ate the World: A review of A Righteous Smokescreen” is way too long and blathery; the short answer is that Europe blew itself up not just once, in 1914 – 18, but again, during World War II, thus dooming its early lead. Everyone speaks or attempts to speak English as a consequence of those wars and their political fallout, including the foolish adoption of Communism. While Europe blew itself apart, murdering and expelling millions of its citizens, China and Russia adopted dysfunctional Communist political-economic systems. When everyone else is screwing up, it’s sufficient to not screw up too badly, and the United States was the least-crazy, most-functional country. We see Russia, right now, actively driving out whatever smart, capable, and imaginative people may be left in the country. For just about the entirety of Russia’s existence, the smartest thing most people could do was leave. It still is.

* “The Death of Authority in the American Classroom.” Pretty much. Beer & circus for all.

* Homelessness is a housing problem. The people who say otherwise usually don’t think about how a person got to be living on the street and screaming at strangers; that person’s problems are usually exacerbated by high housing costs and precarious housing.

* Granting funding is broken—something we all know—and this writer has an extremely impractical, non-scaleable way to fix it.

* Description of why “5G” is not just marketing hype, though its promise may take many years to be fulfilled.

* “Why is it so hard to buy things that work well?” Dan Luu is writing one of the most interesting blogs right now, and you should subscribe to his RSS feed.

* Russia is dying out: on the country’s demographic crisis. It’s hard to imagine the Ukraine invasion as doing anything but making this existing problem far worse.

* The many faces of literary censorship.

* Disney’s Institutional Capture.

* Brandon Sanderson on changes in the publishing industry, among other topics. He also finds that half of his sales are in audiobook format.

Links: The glue tools, the nature of information, and more!

* “The Campaign to Shut Down Crucial Documentary Tool youtube-dl Continues – And So Does the Fight to Save It.” I use YouTube-dl routinely, with the “-x” option to grab audio-only.

* “Love Is Love: Workplace Edition.” With a caveat like “Self-referential warning: If this post is true, then it is not safe for work (NSFW). Otherwise, you have nothing to worry about,” how could you not be intrigued?

* Putin and the dictator trap. Information and information quality matter.

* Will China’s growth slow—and will the country never catch the U.S. in per-capita terms? Maybe. If a person predicts enough things, some of them will turn out to be true, and the others will be quietly forgotten.

* “How Intel Financialized and Lost Leadership in Semiconductor Fabrication.” Like Boeing did before them. There is a good essay on the value of in-house expertise that is congruent with this. I did see an Internet commenter observe that Intel lost leadership in semiconductors simply because they tried a bunch of stuff to continue die shrinks and none of them worked, while TSMC mastered extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, and the “financialization” aspects is secondary at best. I don’t know which view is right.

* “Why Are Scholars Such Snitches? The university bureaucracy has been hijacked for political grudge matches and personal vendettas.” Consistent with my anecdotal observations. Matt Yglesias is optimistic about higher education, while noting that the number of 18 year olds is dropping, and that likely explains much of higher ed’s challenge. I’m struck by the difference between what Internet autodidacts think about education versus what providing education to actual, normal 18 year olds feels like. * Sam Altman thinks US college education is nearer to collapse than it appears. Maybe; I’d be curious to see numbers and dates attached to that comment.

* “It’s 70 degrees warmer in Antarctica. Scientists are flabbergasted.” World response: indifference. There are only about 13,000 ClimeWorks subscribers. What should that tell us? In addition, consider “Climate politics for the real world,” which reflects the sort of things I’ve been saying. At the same time surveys and the media claim concern about the climate, everyone is (or rather “was”) buying trucks and SUVs. What should we infer from that?

* Why America can’t build quickly any more.

* “Petty Thieves Plague San Francisco. ‘These Last Two Years Have Been Insane.’” I’d have thought we’d already see a backlash, but not yet, apparently.

Links: Velocity, online moderation, and the fate of the future

* Some reasons to work on productivity and velocity.

* “Confessions of a Pornhub moderator.” More funny than insightful.

* “Scientific Funding Is Broken. Can Silicon Valley Fix It?

* If you dislike the behavior, consider changing the incentives. Note: “This is particularly distressing as a leftist; in 21st century America ‘the left’ has been utterly hollowed out by posturing children brandishing communist history they haven’t read and rapacious professional ‘organizers’ who sell books about poor Black people so that they can get rich enough that they never have to interact with poor Black people again.” Also from Freddie: “Sneer if You’d Like, But Engineered Solutions Are a Lot More Plausible Than Behavioral Change in 2022.” That’s what I perceive too, which is “the world as it is” rather than “the world as I’d like it to be.” Yes, it’d be nice if we quit buying massive quantities of vanity pickup trucks and SUVs, but all indicators in the last decade or more point in the opposite direction, which is why companies like ClimeWorks are so important. ClimeWorks has only 13,000 subscribers right now: what should that tell you about how serious most people who talk about climate change really are? We’re collectively reaching the stage where behavioral change solutions, like building out subways and nuclear power infrastructure, are in the past, and engineered solutions are what we’re left with. There seems to be too much “let’s imagine an ideal world” thinking and too little “with what we have, and who we have, how can we make important changes now?” thinking.

* “Time Is Running Out to Avert a Harrowing Future, Climate Panel Warns.” But hey, we don’t want to build out nuclear power infrastructure because of NIMBYs, and we’ve got pickup trucks that we need to drive to the grocery store and park. See the links immediately above as well.

* “As the Tanks Rolled into Ukraine, So Did Malware. Then Microsoft Entered the War.” Speed counts.

* The New Yorker on ketamine for depression. Nothing new there to anyone who has followed the progression of ketamine as a therapeutic, but the venue is notable.

* “8,000 Years Ago, 17 Women Reproduced for Every One Man: An analysis of modern DNA uncovers a rough dating scene after the advent of agriculture.” How should you update any of your mental models?

* Biology and human behavior is a better title than the one given, which is overly culture war.

* Elon, SpaceX, and Ukraine. Technology changes politics more than vice-versa.

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.

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