Links: Housing challenges, Kubrick’s work, where the money’s going, and more!

* 2020 had the warmest September on record. And still we continue to dither.

* “Prefab was supposed to fix the construction industry’s biggest problems. Why isn’t it everywhere? The Canadian company Bone Structure can produce zero net energy homes months faster than a traditional builder. But its challenges highlight the difficulty of disrupting the entrenched construction industry.”

* “Don’t Pay for 95%,” something we seem almost psychologically incapable of understanding.

* Analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s work.

* “College Enrollment Slid This Fall, With First-Year Populations Down 16%.”

* Speaking of education: “Large variation in earnings returns among postgraduate degrees, with returns of more than 15% for masters in business and law, but negative returns for many arts and humanities courses.”

* Psilocybin is going to be legalized, at least therapeutically, in the near future.

* Cruise is actually going to deploy driverless cars as an Uber-like service in San Francisco?

* American magical realism, with Bruno Maçães, who has written various interesting things.

* The Great Unread: On William Deresiewicz’s The Death of the Artist. Seems like a book for which the reviews suffice.

* Where has San Francisco’s money gone? A useful framing starts the story: “In 2009, San Francisco’s municipal budget totaled $6.5 billion—$8.6 billion in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation and population. San Francisco’s budget for 2019 is an eye-popping $12.2 billion, a 10 percent increase just since 2018.”

* Why is wokeness winning?, Andrew Sullivan asks. I’m not sure that it is, or that the reasons stated are really the correct “why,” as opposed to a post-hoc story.

* Are gas stoves bad?

* Where are all the successful rationalists?

* Labor’s share of national income is falling, but it’s primarily going to increased rents—which are increasing due to laws that prevent the development of new housing.

Links: SF’s decline, the tyranny of IDs, a meaningful career, mushrooms’s moment, and more!

* FYI, you don’t need an ID to fly on a plane for a domestic trip within the United States: courts have consistently found that such a rule is an unfair limitation on the freedom to travel and on interstate commerce. Just because a government agent tells you something is true, does not mean that it is true.

* “How to waste your career, one comfortable year at a time.” Substack writers are doing a lot of disproportionately interesting work.

* “What a Second Bauhaus Movement Means for Europe:” the potential to build lots of new housing and thus lower the cost of housing—something that seems to elude the United States.

* “More Doctoral Programs [in the humanities and social sciences] Suspend Admissions. That Could Have Lasting Effects on Graduate Education.” Maybe word is finally getting out?

* “As everything else changes, my Dover paperbacks hold up.” I note:

The right paperback encountered at just the right moment — the Fawcett Crest edition of “Good Grief, Charlie Brown!” I got in Florida when I was 7 or 8; the Collier edition of Thomas Helm’s “Shark! Unpredictable Killer of the Sea” my father gave me a few summers later, in 1974 — became an object out of time, a marker that would last forever.

Although the books from my childhood wouldn’t become “a marker that would last forever,” because most were printed on pulp paper that yellows and falls apart with age. this obscure tax case is part of the reason publishers use such crappy paper today. There are exceptions: The New York Review of Books imprint makes really physically good paperbacks, but they mostly specialize in literary oddballs.

One problem with having physical books over the long term is the sheer number of moves many people make today. For that reason I’ve shifted to a lot more Kindle reading, even though the totality of the experience is worse.

* On mushrooms’s moment. A charming story: I hope Smallhold succeeds.

* “Adam Tooze on World Order, Then and Now: Do fiscal constraints matter? How contingent was WWII? Can Nazi Germany teach us anything about the CCP? Did the West Win the Cold War? Plus, Xinjiang and Soviet Gulags.” Unusually substantive.

* On the destruction of America’s best high school. Views rarely heard.

* “The Day Nuclear War Almost Broke Out.” Nuclear war is an issue that should be much closer to the top of various policy agendas, and global fears, than it is.

* “People are leaving San Francisco. After decades of growth, is the city on the decline?” For anyone but a startup founder, SF does seem like an awful place to live.

Links: Characters, reading aloud, love hurts, systems, and more!

* “Everyone Has a Tom Pritchard Story. Only I Have His Bike.” Unexpectedly hilarious.

* How to read aloud. If you’ve not, try reading aloud to your partner/lover. Make it a habit.

* “Love Hurts,” on the new culture of fragility and dubious safetyism.

* “How Work Became an Inescapable Hellhole: Instead of optimizing work, technology has created a nonstop barrage of notifications and interactions. Six months into a pandemic, it’s worse than ever.” Fits my experiences, but I also think few people actively push against this. See Cal Newport’s books for more on it.

* “America’s Exceptional Housing Crisis: How the Rest of the World Tamed Runaway Home Prices.” Short answer: the rest of the world built a lot more housing. America hasn’t.

* Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie on various things; the former’s work has always seemed more interesting than the latter’s. Note: “AMIS: I certainly feel part of a generation that saw a fairly radical change in the way novels are written and in the way novels are read. You can no longer expect the reader to surmise, to infer, to second-guess. As an adaptation, writers will cease to imply, to hint, to tease. Now they have to declare.”

Amis also says, “the novel has had to speed itself up—in answer to an accelerated reality. Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift—long, static, and digressive—spent several months as a bestseller in the 1970s. That audience has more or less disappeared.” I’ve started Humboldt’s Gift a few times and never finished: I’d call it rambling and aimless. A novel need not be overly aimed, in my view, but it felt like a lot of nothing.

* On the movie Stay Woke, and more significantly on the difference between destructive and constructive reformist energy. It’ll be interesting to see what the 2020 and 2022 elections are like. So far, even in very left-wing California, “Police reforms face defeat as California Democrats block George Floyd-inspired bills.” Who do city and state legislators, where most policing policy happens, most worry about? Not protesters, it seems.

* “ How the US Start-Up Industry is Faltering.” One of these important, easily-missed pieces. The really important news is often not in the headlines.

* “Facebook to Curb Internal Debate Over Sensitive Issues Amid Staff Discord: Mark Zuckerberg says employees shouldn’t have to confront social issues in their day-to-day work unless they want to.” Companies appear to be re-learning the “leave politics and religion at home” rule that used to be reasonably common, and may become reasonably common again. Similarly, Coinbase’s CEO, Brian Armstrong, has announced that the company is focusing on its mission.

* “They Don’t Need No Education: Elementary schools deliberately fail to teach knowledge, hurting their most vulnerable students.” I have a theory: to get tenure, most professors need to publish “novel” research. In many fields—like education—there are not many truly novel and useful ideas available. So how does one get tenure? By inventing new paradigms, even if they are maybe not so accurate and not much of an improvement, and then publishing and attempting to propagate them. “New math” seems to be worse than teaching multiplication, division, algebra, and so on. But lots of professors still need tenure, so with a little self-delusion and p-hacking they can come up with something new. And people have to keep re-discovering the value of simply memorizing a lot of stuff.

* “The new intolerance: On the rise of an authoritarian ideology ‘hostile to the rule of reason.’”

* “The housing market is building snowflakes: How an industry of endless one-offs is holding our society back.” Are these characters the solution? I have no idea, but they do identify an important problem.

Links: Online culture, distinguishing fantasy and reality (we don’t want to), tolerating the out-group, and more!

* “How Can We Pay for Creativity in the Digital Age?” Not a great title, but the overall question about how artists pay the rent and for food is useful.

* “Matt Yglesias on Why the Population is Too Damn Low,” and many other topics.

* “What Is China’s Strategy in the Senkaku Islands?” Distressing but also important.

* The weirdness of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; Clarke has a new book coming out and in honor of the new one I’m re-reading the previous one, which is still that good.

* “This Republican Party Is Not Worth Saving.” By a former Republican and current conservative.

* Going postal, an extremely clever rant about how bad social media is. Overall, though, social media mostly tells us about how bad we are: use the block and mute buttons adequately on Twitter, follow the more cerebral, and knowledge- and data-driven people, and it can be pretty good. But you also have to restrain your worst impulses—something I don’t always do successfully. It’s possible social media has negative amplification effects.

* Why millennials think they adore socialism. Strangely, he never mentions the U.S.’s surprisingly socialistic land-use policy regime, which drives up the cost of housing and inflicts severe shortages on the non-owner population. Actually, “socialistic” might be less true than something like “crony” or “insider” capitalism; whatever you want to call it, though, the high cost of housing is like a vice around the necks of the young.

* “Loyalty Oaths Compared: An Orwellian Exercise.”

* An online-only charter school in Oklahoma sees huge enrollment growth.

* Arts & Letters Daily feels like a throwback to an earlier time, but it’s still a delight and has an RSS feed (via which I read it). I’ve been asked where all these links come from: some from emails, some from friends, some from link aggregators, and some from AL Daily.

* “How Algorithms Are Changing What We Read Online: The AI of the internet determines what’s relevant. One day, it decided my work wasn’t.” I’ve never heard of this guy and yet his work sounds like just the sort of thing I’d like to read: I’m not interested in most of the standard political and pop culture stuff being endlessly re-written. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have a link list of his recent works anywhere, at least that I can find. His website appears to be pretty generic, and its RSS feed seems to have last been updated in 2015. How are we supposed to find his work and follow him? I’m the kind of person who’d link to his kind of work all the time, but he’s not easily surfaced.

* How Fantasy Triumphed Over Reality in American Politics: probably the best essay on this topic I’ve read in recent memory.

* “[Academic life] used to be more interesting.” The sense of relative freedom and autonomy—from bureaucrats, from bureaucracy, from political correctness, from snitch culture—seems notable here.

* The history of book burning.

* Lessons of the Pinker Affair: The Problem with the Academy is False Beliefs, Not Intolerance?

* Ocean acidification risks deep-sea reef collapse.

* “How Climate Migration Will Reshape America.”

Links: Bad China news, meta political news, books and more books, epistemology, and more!

* “China Secretly Built A Vast New Infrastructure To Imprison Muslims: China rounded up so many Muslims in Xinjiang that there wasn’t enough space to hold them. Then the government started building.” If you’ve wondered what you might have done in the 1930s, you may now have an implicit answer.

* How to win an election: on issue salience, among other things. It’s based on this David Shor interview; he’s the guy who was fired for tweeting that, from what we can tell, empirically,

* The books we don’t understand, by Tim Parks, and much better than the title suggests.

* “The tyranny of chairs.” One partial answer is the sit-stand desk.

* Bezos and the Bell system: regulating “big tech” intelligently.

* “The Case for Adding 672 Million More Americans.” Most notably, “think of how much healthier our politics would be if there were really a debate about how to accomplish great things rather than a food fight over semi-imagined offenses to “real Americans” that serves as a mask for an endless procession of tax cuts for the rich.”

* “How SUVs conquered the world – at the expense of its climate.” A bit obvious but here it is. Relatedly, “Climate change may wreck economy unless we act soon, federal report warns: Fires and floods are expensive and disruptive and we’re not ready, report finds.” It’s almost as if we’ve been ignoring four decades of warnings.

* “Maigret’s room,” an excellent essay.

* Fire in the Sky, on UFOs, epistemology, belief, experts, and other topics.

* “Extreme heat is here, and it’s deadly.”

* “Can Italy Defeat Its Most Powerful Crime Syndicate?” The degree to which the Italian state and society is still enthralled to organized crime is depressing.

* UFOs and epistemology. But the “Where are they?” question remains: nothing we’ve come up with so far has shown us any evidence of non-natural phenomena in the universe, and we don’t seem to have found any alien radio signals.

Links: Elena Ferrante, bookshops, coffee, content and its lack, and more!

* Elena Ferrante’s master class in deceit? Good essay with a weak title.

* The demise of the second-hand bookshop.

* How China’s fishing fleet is depleting the world’s oceans.

* “That time we almost built 8 gigawatt-class floating nuclear power plants.” In other words, we’ve had lots of opportunities to ameliorate climate change, but we’ve consistently turned our backs on the solutions. Also, “Nuclear Reactor Development History.” Detailed, impressive.

* How Nespresso’s coffee revolution got ground down.

* “How you attach to people may explain a lot about your inner life.”

* “Silicon Valley and Wall Street Elites Pour Money Into Psychedelic Research: Donors raise $30 million for psychedelic nonprofit to complete clinical trials around drug-assisted psychotherapy for trauma.”

* “The Party of No Content.” We live in weird political times.

* “The Broken Algorithm That Poisoned American Transportation.” The awful ways we plan and execute cities explains why we get anomie, boredom, strip malls, and subdivisions. As if that weren’t enough, “Why Every City Feels the Same Now:” I too feel the aesthetic oppressions wrought by zoning laws: one could say that cities have been zoned into being low content and parking-centric.

* “Swiss explore renewal of ‘secret deal’ with China.” Wow.

* “A meta-analysis of procedures to change implicit measures” finds that implicit-bias training doesn’t appear to do what it’s supposed to do. Having been through a few rounds of it, I wonder if its foregrounding racial issues is counterproductive, although the meta-analysis doesn’t seem to find evidence for that thesis.

* JB Straubel, One of the Brains Behind Tesla, May Have a New Way to Make Electric Cars Cheaper Through Battery Recycling. Could be behind a paywall but very interesting; I’ve done some grant-writing work adjacent to this field.

* The gist of Cynical Theories: Arnold Kling on the new book by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay. Of interest for those of you who are online too much or interested in universities, and especially for the group at the intersection of those two.

* “The Secrets of Elite College Admissions: In the final ‘shaping’ of an incoming class, academic standards give way to other, more ambiguous factors.”

Links: Ebikes, the mystery novel, literature should make us see complexity, and more!

* The Teenage Tinkerer Behind an E-Bike Revolution, regarding the ebike company RadPower. I have my eye on their $1,000 electric single-speed.

* PD James on mystery novels.

* “This is Not The American Cultural Revolution.” A useful corrective to this analogy. It’s also useful to think about how much of this occurs online and with deference to pre-existing structures: “They are doing the only thing Americans in this century know how to do: creating a ruckus in hope that they can get the management to take their side (and enlarge its own powers in the process).”

* “The China Hawks Got It Mostly Right.” “So far,” I’d add.

* “How literature can mirror our complicated desires: There’s inequality in real-life relationships. Art shouldn’t hide that.” I wish Merkin had finished the novel she’s referencing: I’d read it. It also seems that many people driving the social media discourse should think more deeply about the human condition, rather than serving up endless stories about wicked villains and innocent damsels: there are relatively few of each wandering around.

* “Adam Tooze on the World After COVID-19.”

* “What I Learned From the Worst Novelist in the English Language.” Entertaining but also poignant.

* “Sweatpants Forever: How the Fashion Industry Collapsed.” Losing the worst and most absurd parts of it doesn’t seem so bad.

* Another piece on the higher education “bubble.”

* “TSA considers new system for flyers without ID.” The number of people who actually care about freedom is small.

* “‘I didn’t think I’d survive’: women tell of hidden sexual abuse by Phoenix police.”

* Mercy and “cancel culture.” See also the link above about literature and our complicated desires.

* Feds say Yale discriminates against Asian, white applicants.

Links: Fiction and dominance, conversations and ideas, what’s happening with fragility?, and more!

* “The Fiction of Winners & Losers,” by Tim Parks.

* Conversations and Ideas.

* China has squandered its first great opportunity to be a global leader and cement alliances. Unfortunately, the hostile U.S. posture means we’re ill-equipped to capitalize; we don’t even have TPP in place, which we should have had years ago.

* “Elon Musk, Blasting Off in Domestic Bliss.” Amusing but not especially informative.

* “Colleges Are Deeply Unequal Workplaces: As universities plan to reopen, they continue to overlook the concerns of campus staff.” Almost too obvious to post, but it’s observing given the amount of noise one hears from academics on the subject of “inequality.”

* “Riding an E-Bike Changed My Perspective on How We Get Around.” If you’ve never tried riding one, you should.

* “The Battle to Invent the Automatic Rice Cooker.” The Zojirushi “neurofuzzy” rice cookers are amazing.

* Publish & Perish, on the negative equilibrium academia has, in many respects, inadvertently settled into.

* A useful description of aspects of modern culture:

Schulman describes this episode in a book she wrote some years later, Conflict Is Not Abuse. The book’s central insight is that people experiencing the inevitable discomfort of human misunderstanding often overstate the harm that has been done to them — they describe themselves as victims rather than as participants in a shared situation. And overstating harm itself can cause harm, whether it leads to social shunning or physical violence.

Schulman argues that people rush to see themselves as victims for a variety of reasons: because they’re accustomed to being unopposed, because they’re accustomed to being oppressed, because it’s a quick escape from discomfort — from criticism, disagreement, confusion, and conflict. But when we avoid those uncomfortable feelings, we avoid the possibility of change. Instead, Schulman wants friends to hold each other accountable, ask questions, and intervene to help each other talk through disagreements — not treat “loyalty” as an excuse to bear grudges.

* “Women in Xinjiang shine a light on a campaign of abuse and control by Beijing.” What would you have done in the 1930s?

* The roots of wokeism, from Andrew Sullivan’s new system.

* “Make it now: the rise of the present tense in fiction.”

* Might buildings can 3-d print houses—even the roof.

Links: Information asymmetries, the relationship of relationships, beauty and “privilege,” and more!

* “LA’s PocketList gives renters better information, faster, about which apartments are available in cities.” Seems like a work of genius, if it works.

* Are there useful similarities between employment and romantic relationships?

* “The Greatest Privilege We Never Talk About: Beauty.” Except, of course, here at TSS, where you read essays like, “The inequality that matters II: Why does dating in Seattle get left out?

* “I’ve Seen a Future Without Cars, and It’s Amazing: Why do American cities waste so much space on cars?” An excellent question, and one asked too infrequently.

* “Anne Applebaum: how my old friends paved the way for Trump and Brexit.” I have a soft spot for heretics.

* Is employment persistence like romantic relationship persistence? Why do norms about “rights” to a position differ in one situation versus the other? I don’t necessarily agree with the analogy but it makes me think.

* Potential large-scale CO2 removal via enhanced rock weathering with croplands: a hugely underrated topic.

* How to plan a space mission. Feats of epic engineering are under-covered and under-reported. If you run into stories about them, send me a link.

* Ross Douthat’s ten theses about “cancel culture.”

* “Lessons from the Awkward Life and Death of the Segway: The ‘personal transporter’ promised to change cities back in 2001. It didn’t. But its demise should be a warning for today’s urban mobility disrupters.” It was too expensive, the batteries were bad, and, worst of all, riders feel they look stupid on one. Today, very good electric bikes are, miraculously, under $1,000. Very good electric scooters are $500 – $700. City planning, however, continues to lag behind, and we continue to be caught in unfortunate path dependence.

* COVID was a preventible catastrophe in the United States. This article lays out the details, the precedents, and how a normal administration would react. It could be subtitled, “Your vote counts.” We all, in a sense, chose the bad federal reaction.

* “The lost art of having a chat: what happened when I stopped texting and started talking.”

* The TikTok War. Lots of thought in this one.

* “Does the white upper class feel exhausted and oppressed by meritocracy?” A great piece that looks, as few do, at the dark psychological shadow. Most of the media and social media are in denial about the shadow.

Links: Annie Duke and probability, Joyce Carol Oates being herself, free speech, and more!

* “Annie Duke on Poker, Probabilities, and How We Make Decisions.” Often hilarious.

* The Unruly Genius of Joyce Carol Oates.

* “China Suppression Of Uighur Minorities Meets U.N. Definition Of Genocide, Report Says.” Yet this gets almost no play among the culture-war people. Why not?

* ‘A Preventable Catastrophe’, by James Fallows, and a deeply reported and extremely distressing article about what went wrong with the United States’s COVID response, or lack thereof. This is perhaps the most distressing part:

“China is a very hard target,” a man who recently worked in an intelligence organization told me. “We have to be very deliberate about what we focus on”—which in normal times would be military developments or suspected espionage threats. “The bottom line is that for a place like Wuhan, you really are going to rely on open-source or informal leads.” During the Obama administration, the U.S. had negotiated to have its observers stationed in many cities across China, through a program called Predict. But the Trump administration did not fill those positions, including in Wuhan. This meant that no one was on site to learn about, for instance, the unexplained closure on January 1 of the city’s main downtown Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a so-called wet market where wild animals, live or already killed, were on sale along with fish and domesticated animals. It was at this market that the first animal-to-human transfer of the virus is generally thought to have occurred, probably from a bat. But by that time, as Marisa Taylor of Reuters first reported, the Trump administration had removed dozens of CDC representatives in China.

We had the opportunity to have eyes and ears on the ground, we fumbled it. Long-time readers may remember this. At the time I didn’t specify a pandemic as a or the likely reason why the individual in question was (and is) unfit, but the pandemic response is in keeping with what’s written there. One of the best long-term things the U.S. can do is inflict severe brain drain on China, and yet we’re now doing the exact opposite.

* More China news: “Did a Chinese Hack Kill Canada’s Greatest Tech Company? Nortel was once a world leader in wireless technology. Then came a hack and the rise of Huawei.” On the other hand, from the Hacker News comments: “I interned at Nortel in early 2000’s right before it all went down. I can tell you the engineering culture was rotten within. No-one was doing anything useful for years. Many orgs were built around milking the ancient layer 2 passport switch. The layer 3 router meant to compete with Cisco was 3 years late and only sold a few dozen units. There was accounting fraud going on at the highest level – delivery trucks circles around to pad the books.”

* “Conflict culture is making social unsocial.” Maybe getting off social media will, or can, help?

* Boom’s supersonic jets are ready for rollout, one hopes.

* What the police really believe.

* The movie Starship Troopers is still very good and germane, though it wasn’t understood when it was released. Art endures.

* “A Land of Monopolists: From Portable Toilets to Mixed Martial Arts: Private equity ‘roll-ups’ hit virtually everything in the economy, from mail sorting software to mixed martial arts to portable toilets to dentists.” One of these stories that, if accurate,

* An ugly story, on Twitter, about “cancel culture.”

* “Imagine a future without cars.” NYC could be the leader in this, but many other cities could follow, if they really wanted to.

* Black Death, COVID, and Why We Keep Telling the Myth of a Renaissance Golden Age and Bad Middle Ages.

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