Links: The story around stories, the bored and the lonely, Danielle Steel’s mania, and more!

* “We don’t really know how to tell sociological stories.” Superficially, this is about why the last season of Game of Thrones has been terrible (it is), but it applies to many other stories. Highly recommended.

* “An Interview With A Man Who Eats Leftover Food From Strangers’ Plates In Restaurants.” Pairs well with The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt; you’ll see why when he describes his “moral disgust” questionnaire that doesn’t include any harm but still elicits moral disgust from many participants. Could there be sociological elements to this story, too?

* “Why young South Koreans aren’t interested in dating,” a hugely depressing but also fascinating article. What do people think they are getting educations for? Jobs for? No wonder there are a lot of bored, lonely, isolated, and depressed persons out there. Does no one go one or two steps beyond whatever they’re told by their society to do?

* “Nuclear War Is Still Very Possible and Very Scary: Worry about nuclear weapons has faded, but the threat has not.”

* How the Hell Has Danielle Steel Managed to Write 179 Books? Speed, determination.

* Why books and lectures don’t work, but I’d ask what most people read books for (a common element in many of these links). This podcast with Michael Nielsen is also great, as he discusses spaced-repetition software like Anki and how it can be used to memorize great quantities of information. Raw memorization is presently underrated in the culture and education systems.

* “There’s a high cost to making drugs more affordable for Americans.” Almost no one is talking about this. We can likely force the cost of today’s drugs and treatments lower, at the cost of not having new drugs and treatments tomorrow. This seems like a poor tradeoff to me, but that’s a philosophical point. The interesting thing is that no one advocating for price cramdowns admits the tradeoff.

* Red Pills and Red Hats. See also my earlier comments about how the appeal of “Red Pills” is a failure of socialization, among other things.

* Dr. Ruth, “The Goddess of Good Sex,” probably the most amusing piece in this patch and relevant, at least, to links #2 and #6, above. I’ve never read any of her books.

* “Climate Stasis: German Failure on the Road to a Renewable Future.”

* U.S. 2018 Births Fall to Lowest Level in 32 Years. Kinda depressing.

* Is it possible to make academic philosophy worth a damn? Probably not, I’d guess, but maybe I’m wrong.

* This essentially explains why Apple no longer gives a shit about Macs.

* Memes, Genes, and Sex Differences—An Interview with Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams.

* “Resistance to Noncompete Agreements Is a Win for Workers.” This is an area where the left and right are aligned: the left worries about worker rights, and the right (putatively) worries about free markets.

* Anarchy is [even] worse than socialism.

* “Can ‘Indie’ Social Media Save Us?” No. It’s not addressing the problem as most people experience it; most people want a way to share

* When Boris Yeltsin went grocery shopping in Clear Lake.

* The New Right Is Beating the New Left. Everywhere.

* Impossible Foods’s empire of lab-grown clean meat. I tried Beyond Meat burgers and think they’re pretty good.

Links: Literary freedom, freedom of thinking, gigging, boredom and loneliness, code, and more!

* “The WIRED Guide to Open Source Software.”

* The U.S. Has a Battery Problem in the Race for Electric Car Supremacy.

* “Karl Ove Knausgård on Literary Freedom.”

* “Bret Easton Ellis Nails Contemporary America?” Unconvincing, but one never knows.

* “Down and Out in the Gig Economy: Journalism’s dependence on part-time freelancers has been bad for the industry—not to mention writers like me.” Journalists are taking part of their income in glamor, like actors, musicians, etc. When I graduated from high school, it was obvious that the Internet would fillet the journalism industry. What was obvious then is still obvious now.

* “UFOs Won’t Go Away,” due to radar and pilot sightings.

* “Maybe Europe Can’t Recover From the Financial Crisis.” It’s not just financial.

* “‘The Adjunct Underclass’ Review: Teachable Moments: College teaching has become a pickup job, like driving for Uber, for small stipends and little or no guarantee of permanence.” Or, as I wrote, “Universities treat adjuncts like they do because they can.”

* Bored and lonely? Blame your phone.

* The Coming Obsolescence of Animal Meat?

* A World Run with Code, by Stephen Wolfram of Mathematica fame.

* “What Explains the Resistance to Evolutionary Psychology?” and “The New Evolution Deniers.” Scientific ideas that conflict with deeply held beliefs about human nature or the human experience tend to be attacked.

* “Facebook’s Unintended Consequence,” better than 99% of the material you’ve read on the company.

* “Selective Blank Slatism and Ideologically Motivated Misunderstandings.” I read this piece after writing the tagline to the link two above.

* “‘Deep Sleep’: How an Amateur Porno Set Off A Massive Federal Witch Hunt.” Probably the most entertaining story of this batch.

* “Don’t Let Students Run the University.” Pretty obvious, but here we are.

* “Amazon Prime Pulls Back the Curtain on China’s Propaganda.” Odd that no one talks about this.

* “There’s a high cost to making drugs more affordable for Americans.” No one talks about this, either.

* On Tolkien’s story “Leaf by Niggle.”

* NuScale power’s nuclear plant design.

* They Got Rich Off Uber and Lyft. Then They Moved to Low-Tax States. Makes sense to me; California and New York are increasingly inhumane places to live.

* After Academia. Also, “Quit Lit,” another of those stories about people quitting academia. Somewhat boring by now, but word doesn’t seem to be quite out.

* “Private Colleges Offer Record Discounts as Tuition Costs Rise.” The complexity and secretiveness of the financial aid system is one of the unstated ways superficially progressive schools aren’t so progressive.

Links: UFOs and the military, Twitter is not America, Underland, transit, and more!

* “How angry pilots got the Navy to stop dismissing UFO sightings.” From the WaPo.

* “Twitter Is Not America: A new Pew study finds a gulf between the general population and Twitter users.” Notice, “As the platforms age, their devotees become more and more distinct from the regular person. For more than a decade now, many people in media and technology have been feeding an hour or two of Twitter into our brains every single day.”

* “The End of Being a Duke Professor and What It Means for the Future of Higher Education.”

* “Breathing Dirty Air Affects Children’s Health.” The more you learn, the more designing cities and everyday life around cars seems crazy.

* “The Scruton tapes: an anatomy of a modern hit job: How a character assassination unfolded on Twitter.” See also above, “Twitter Is Not America.”

* “We Don’t Have a Talent Shortage. We Have A Sucker Shortage.” True today, true tomorrow, and probably true for as long as humans are humans.

* “A Voting-Rights Debate Reveals Why Democrats Keep Losing.”

* “The desperate race to cool the ocean before it’s too late.” We’re doing (basically) nothing here.

* What lies beneath: Robert Macfarlane travels ‘Underland.’

* “What I Saw at Middlebury College.”

* “The antibiotics industry is broken—but there’s a fix.”

* “The 2008 financial crisis completely changed what majors students choose.” How could it not?

* “You can’t judge housing affordability without knowing transportation costs.”

* “Lambda, an online school, wants to teach nursing.” Good.

* On Oliver Sacks’ Obsession With Weightlifting.

* What the retiring French ambassador really thinks, another of the pieces that’s much more contentful than the title implies.

* A Quest to Make Gasoline Out of Thin Air: Prometheus.

* Everything I’ve written on Grant Writing Confidential.

Links: Dell and Linux and freedom, chestnuts, inequality and online dating, and more!

* Dell Opens Up About Its Linux Efforts And Project Sputnik. I gotta say, though, Dell’s website and comparison tools are insanely confusing. I feel like there has to be a better way. Like Apple’s way.

* On the greatness of the chestnut.

* The Northeast Is Becoming Apartment Country.

* How Europe learned to fear China. Too late, it seems.

* “Breaking up Big Tech would be a big mistake.” The problem is less with the companies involved than in us, the users.

* The anatomy of online dating has been revealed in unprecedented detail. Much of what’s been found is politically incorrect but simultaneously obvious. Also, “Attraction Inequality and the Dating Economy.” Does this sound familiar? In 2014 I wrote The inequality that matters II: Why does dating in Seattle get left out?“, and it stands up well today.

* “In L.A., Birthplace of Sprawl, Homes on Transit Fetch More.” Why would they not? Driving sucks and parking is expensive (not always in directly monetary terms, either).

* “Michel Houellebecq: Prophet or Troll?” Not the best essay and full of undergraduate errors, but parts resonate.

* “The Need That Democrats Aren’t Addressing: Candidates must challenge the public to give, not just promise the public more of what it gets.” This is consistent with my read. Likewise “How Not to Lose to Donald Trump.” A lot of what I read and hear in the media plays well to California and New York and academia and almost nowhere else, despite the fact that the vast majority of electoral college votes are in those other places.

* Linus Torvalds on social media (majority of the interview covers other topics, but I like his rant):

I absolutely detest modern “social media”—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. It’s a disease. It seems to encourage bad behavior.

I think part of it is something that email shares too, and that I’ve said before: “On the internet, nobody can hear you being subtle”. When you’re not talking to somebody face to face, and you miss all the normal social cues, it’s easy to miss humor and sarcasm, but it’s also very easy to overlook the reaction of the recipient, so you get things like flame wars, etc., that might not happen as easily with face-to-face interaction.

This rant is consistent with Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism. A lot of people seem to be living crappier lives than they otherwise would due to social media.

* “The Corruption of the Republican Party.” I’d like to see a better Republican and Democratic party, as you can probably tell from this batch of links. If you identify too much with one party or the other, you are probably not thinking for yourself enough.

* Philip Pullman on loosening the chains of the imagination. We seem to be tightening those chains.

* A striking, unusual reading of modern British life, although it is not framed that way.

* The new, good decaf, yet it can’t get any respect. Dare I admit I like it?

* Boeing’s lax, fucked-up corporate culture and how it contributes to airline crashes. This is another example.

* The Legend of Keanu Reeves?

* A college president stands up for academic freedom. That this is notable, is depressing.

* Why we stink at tackling climate change. I’ve gotten reader pushback regarding stories about technological ways to ameliorate climate change. While I get the pushback, the current trajectory seems to be, “Let’s not do much of anything,” which has problems of its own.

Is literature dead?

Is Literature Dead? The question can be seen as “more of the same,” and I’ll answer no: plenty of people, myself included, still find most video-based material boring. It’s not sufficiently information-dense and represents human interiority and thought poorly. A reasonable number of people in their teens or 20s who feel the same way, despite growing up in iGen. Fewer, maybe, than in previous generations, but still some and still enough to matter.

Literature has probably always been a minority pursuit, and it has been for as long as I’ve been alive and cognizant. It’ll continue being a minority pursuit—but I don’t think it will go away, in part for aesthetic reasons and in part for practical ones. Reading fiction is still a powerful tool for understanding other people, their drives, their uncertainties, their strengths—all vital components of organizations and organizational structures. TV and movies can replace some fraction of that but not all of it, and it’s notable how often video mediums launch from literary ones, like a parasite consuming its host.

That said, the marginal value of literature may have shrunk because there’s a lot of good written material in non-literature form—more articles, more essays, more easily available and read. All that nonfiction means that literature, while still valuable, has more competition. I’ve also wondered if the returns to reading fiction diminish at some point: after the thousandth novel, does each one after stop being as meaningful? Do you see “enough” of the human drama? If you’ve seen 92%, does getting to 92.5% mean anything? I phrase this as a question, not an answer, deliberately.

The biggest problem in my view is that a lot of literature is just not that good. Competition for time and attention is greater than it was even 20 or 30 years ago. Literature needs to recognize that and strive to be better: better written, better plotted, better thought-out, and too often it does not achieve those things. The fault is not all with Instagram-addled persons. I still find readers in the most unlikely of places. They—we—will likely keep showing up there.

Links: The outrageous medical bills, the great psychedelic debates, the mystery of fertility rates, the rise and fall of nations, and more!

* “We Make Tenure Decisions Unfairly. Here’s a Better Way.” This is really a “why to end tenure and move to long-term contracts” article, though it is not pitched that way.

* How to fight an outrageous medical bill, explained.

* On the Eve of the Great Psychedelic Debate.

* Putin Exodus. Makes sense to me. Russia’s future seems bleak. For almost all of Russian history, the smartest thing a Russian person could do is leave, and today that is still true.

* Why Do Fertility Rates Rise and Fall?

* “Why I remain a Never Trumper, and what it means.” Makes sense to me.

* “The Streets Were Never Free. Congestion Pricing Finally Makes That Plain..” Seems obvious to me.

* Christensen Scorecard: Data visualization of US postsecondary institution closures and mergers.

* What the private school counseling office grind is really like.

* “#NotMe: On Harassment, Empowerment, and Feminine Virtue.” The rare reasonable and cogent essay in this field.

* “What happens after rich kids bribe their way into college? I teach them.” Pretty close to my experience. Look at the incentives!

* “Student activists demand the punishment of a dissenting professor Samuel Abrams: The university’s response signals a worrying tendency in academia.” Remind me why we have tenure again, per link #1?

* “The invigorating strangeness of Friedrich Nietzsche.” He looks like another word game (or word salad) writer, who, when you investigate him deeply enough, you find nothing.

* The Memetic Tribes of Culture War 2.0. Much more interesting than the title implies.

* “The Corporations Devouring American Colleges.” I would frame this as college sellout more than anything else, but it is useful. I’ve been arguing for a while that colleges have incredible marketing, perhaps the best marketing of any industry in the United States.

* Another piece on why rent control fails.

* The symbiotic growth of the automobile industry and law enforcement..

* The age of robot farmers? Not quite yet, but impressive progress is being made.

* Halle Butler’s novel The New Me sounds good (review at the link) but also too depressing for me to read. If you brave it, report back.

Links: Free speech, free persons, smart is not enough, biking is fun, and more!

* “Unpopular Speech in a Cold Climate.” It’s like we have to learn all over again why we have free speech, the right to be represented by an attorney, etc.

* “Gwern’s AI-Generated Poetry.” I wonder how many people would be able to pick out “real” poems compared to AI-generated poems. I’m not sure I always can.

* How to Create Reality: “So a funny thing happened on Twitter this week, which almost changed the world a little bit. Someone sent me a beautiful 3-D mockup of a fictional, car-free city of 50,000 people, set in the scenic nook of land* between Boulder, Colorado and Longmont, where I live.”

* “Science, Small Groups, and Stochasticity.” In short, we are doing the structure of science wrong.

* “Defense Disaster: Russia and China are Crushing the U.S. Military in War Games.” Are we still fighting the last war?

* U.S. Firms Are Helping Build China’s Orwellian State.

* “The Art of Being Single,” a depressing article that is congruent with Lost Connections.

* A Big Little Idea Called Legibility. A great essay.

* “Nihilist in Chief: The banal, evil, all-destructive reign of Mitch McConnell.” He is the truest villain in modern politics, yet no one seems to notice. Also, “How Not to Lose to Donald Trump.” Lessons the left may not have learned.

* “Smart Is Not Enough: What Marc Benioff Taught Me When I Was 15 Years Old.”

* Owning a Car Will Soon Be as Quaint as Owning a Horse? I’m less optimistic, but the analogies are interesting.

* Writing Sex for Money is Hard F*cking Work.

* Funny screed against Bret Easton Ellis’s recent book, although it sounds like the reviewer is doing many of the same things Ellis is doing. Pot, kettle, black, and all that. I’m also not a fan of attacking writers based on demographic categories, though that seems to be on the rise.

* “Vitalik Buterin Is Embracing a New Role: Political Theorist.” There are either details missing in this story or I’m not fully getting it.

* “Write of Passage, a new online course on how to accelerate your career by writing online.”

* US cities need to learn from Copenhagen, stat. Likelihood of this happening? Low.

* “The corporations devouring American colleges.” Based on a decade working in them, I’d observe that colleges are businesses with extremely good PR and marketing arms.

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