Links: The cost of construction, writing really long fiction, computerized farms, and more!

* Why American Costs Are So High.

* “What’s Left of the Center-Left?” Depressing. Also depressing, Clinton-era centrist Democrat Brad DeLong explains why the center-left is dead.

* Charlie Stross: Lessons learned: writing really long fiction.

* “What if All the World’s Economic Woes Are Part of the Same Problem?“, and that problem is demographic: an aging workforce is less innovative, takes fewer risks, and is more sclerotic overall.

* “Leaked Documents Show the U.S. Tracking Journalists Through a Secret Database.” How is this the country we’ve ended up living in?

* “Why Do People Love to Hate Steven Pinker? By proclaiming the gospel of human progress, the Harvard psychologist has made a lot of enemies.” I see a lot of straw-manning Pinker and almost no steel-manning of him.

* “Progressivism and the West;” we are our own worst enemies!

* “This is Roquette Science: How computerized arugula (aka roquette) farms take over the world.”

* But at least one random writer thinks Biden will win, which sounds like a good, electable outcome to me.

* An essay against Taleb’s Antifragile.

* “The Industrial Revolution of Shame.” Does this enhance rewards to shamelessness?

* On the new translation of The Odyssey.

* Attraction Inequality and the Dating Economy.

* “US to build six nuclear power plants in India.” Total comedy given the seeming inability of the US to build nuclear power plants in the US.

Links: Breakthrough technologies, breaking technology habits, the nature of language, and more!

* How one guy ditched his phone and unbroke his brain.

* America’s Professional Elite: Wealthy, Successful and Miserable. Maybe.

* “Better babblers.” This rings true:

After eighteen years of being a professor, I’ve graded many student essays. And while I usually try to teach a deep structure of concepts, what the median student actually learns seems to mostly be a set of low order correlations. They know what words to use, which words tend to go together, which combinations tend to have positive associations, and so on. But if you ask an exam question where the deep structure answer differs from answer you’d guess looking at low order correlations, most students usually give the wrong answer.

* Related to the above, “Humans Who Are Not Concentrating Are Not General Intelligences.” This may argue for more in-depth books and articles and less Twitter.

* Thoughts on pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter Internet culture.

* “University of California system terminates subscriptions with world’s largest scientific publisher in push for open access to publicly funded research.” Unabashedly good news.

* The New ‘Dream Home’ Should Be a Condo. An obvious point to regular readers, but here it is.

* Money Out of Nowhere: How Internet Marketplaces Unlock Economic Wealth.

* “‘Men Are Scum’: Inside Facebook’s War on Hate Speech.” Some of the framing is bad but the overall article is far superior to most of its type.

* “A Radically Moderate Answer to Climate Change.” You may be getting tired of reading about nuclear power, yet we still seem as a culture not to be paying attention to it. See also “Nuclear goes retro — with a much greener outlook.” By the way, Vacant-land mythology impedes serious energy discussions, so renewables are not a panacea.

* “‘Do you ever think about me?’: the children sex tourists leave behind.” Brutal, fascinating.

* “The Era of Limited Government Is Over.” This is bad news even for people who favor greater government control.

* “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff ran $1M slush fund by diverting campaign cash to his own companies.” The greater the purity facade, the more entertaining the fall.

* “Arizona State University: From party school to global brand.” The story is poorly organized but despite that, there are interesting nuggets throughout. The story’s quality and venue may also indicate why people interested in ideas migrated away from most newspapers.

* “Markets Aren’t Buying Denial on Climate Change: Investors who put money at risk behave as if it’s not a hoax.”

* 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2019, curated by Bill Gates.

Links: Email’s evils, nuclear needs, rail reductions, Jordan Peterson talk, and debt, debt, debt

* Is email making professors stupid?

* The trouble in getting to Denmark.

* Why the United States will never have high-speed rail, or, the downsides of federalism and our legal culture.

* Conversation with Tyler, “Jordan Peterson on Mythology, Fame, and Reading People.” Lord of the Rings is mentioned. This one is a favorite and also a rebuttal to the occasional “intellectual lightweight” comments one sees online.

* “The Nuclear Option: As atomic power fades, a new band of supporters argues that it is still our best source of clean, reliable, and—yes—safe electricity.”

* “How Student Debt Dragged A Generation Down — And What We Can Do About It.” The supposed “solutions” are pretty lame and don’t solve moral hazard problems. We have a huge problem in that there is a tension between access and cost control. For example, right now many universities have zero incentive to offer programs that will pay back loans and admit students likely to be able to pay back loans. If you make colleges and universities have some skin in the game, though, they will immediately change access rules. “There is no such thing as a free lunch” is a useful rule here. We also need cultural changes: the idea that a degree guarantees a good job and high income is ridiculous, but we don’t want to confront that reality, either. In short, this writer is like 85% correct, but the other 15% really matters.

* “Postmodern Philosophy is a Debating Strategy,” and not an accurate description of much of anything.

* “Climeworks: The Tiny Swiss Company That Thinks It Can Help Stop Climate Change.” Not just the usual.

* From Literature to Web Development: My first 6 weeks at Lambda School.

* “What Happens When Techno-Utopians Actually Run a Country” is not a good title, as the article concerns Italy’s political scene and what happens when the revolutionaries win the power, but the article itself is interesting and makes me wish Umberto Eco were still alive and writing.

* Betty Ballantine, Who Helped Introduce Paperbacks, Dies at 99.

* “Accused College Students Deserve the Presumption of Innocence: Nineteen attorneys general are lobbying against extending that right in Title IX cases on campus.” The current situation is bizarre—and does not reflect well on universities.

* China Will Likely Corner the 5G Market—and the US Has No Plan.

* The evolution of America’s apartment buildings.” Most of these look good to me; I’d move in.

* The Story of Storytelling.

* The state of culture on the Internet, albeit disguised as a different topic.

* “A tale of two 20003s: high rises or high rents.” Fairly obvious and yet strangely opaque to many people.

* System76 Thelio: A Review.

* “I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain.”

Links: Reading, distraction, Soundcloud rap, Lionel Trilling, bleak Instagram, and more!

* How SoundCloud Rap Took Over Music. I have no idea if any of this is true, but I laughed consistently throughout.

* I prefer the Arts & Letters Daily title, “Lionel Trilling belonged to the last generation of academics who believed that they had something of social importance to communicate.”

* “If San Francisco is so great, why is everyone I love leaving?” This author manages to write a couple thousand words without mentioning “zoning” or “supply” or “demand,” demonstrating that she actually has no idea what’s going on.

* Cal Newport on Why We’ll Look Back at Our Smartphones Like Cigarettes.

* White gold: the rise of alternative milks.

* “‘The Linux of social media’—How LiveJournal pioneered (then lost) blogging.” Interesting that LiveJournal couldn’t turn itself into WordPress or Facebook. In some ways, this is a mismanagement and missed opportunities story. Despite all the Facebook hate in the media, LiveJournal’s story shows how many things Facebook got right—whether you like the company or not, its users sure seem to like it.

* The Oxford Bodleian Library’s ‘secret trove of obscene material.’ In the Times Literary Supplement, so it’s likely SFW. Similarly, “Psst, want to see some dirty books? Try the British Library.”

* The bleak reality of the Instagram experience.

* “Why Have Other Countries Been Dropping Their Wealth Taxes?” Pay attention to reality, not to the slogans.

* The article about Ursula K. le Guin.

* “The Throwback Democrat: Sherrod Brown could help his party win back white working-class voters—but he’s out of sync with the mercilessness of American politics.” Do Democrats want to be Twitter woke, or do they want to win?

* A Sensible Climate Change Solution, Borrowed From Sweden.

* “Public Education’s Dirty Secret.” Matches what I’ve heard. One advantages colleges have, which I rarely see mentioned, is that people actively hostile to the classroom experience leave or are made to leave.

* “Since when is reading James Baldwin out loud in class an academic crime?” Academia parodies itself so effectively that the need for academic novels seems to have dropped.

* “Is the Revolution of 3D-Printed Building Getting Closer?” Let’s hope so, as that would likely substantially decrease construction costs.

* Japanese urbanism and its application to the Anglo-World.

* “Tyler Cowen’s Gospel of Prosperity,” an interview as marvelous as the book that generated it, Stubborn Attachments.

* Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction.

* “The Twitter Takeover of Politics Is Just Getting Started.” Depressing and important. See also The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium.

Teaching demands starting where comprehension ends

How Craig Barton wishes he’d taught maths” is from Timothy Gowers‘s blog, and many sections are not unique to math; they apply to teaching almost anything. Like this:

I’m jumping around a bit here, but a semi-counterintuitive idea that he advocates, which is apparently backed up by serious research, is what he calls pretesting. This means testing people on material that they have not yet been taught. As long as this is done carefully, so that it doesn’t put students off completely, this turns out to be very valuable, because it prepares the brain to be receptive to the idea that will help to solve that pesky problem. And indeed, after a moment of getting used to the idea, I found it not counterintuitive at all.

In English, “pretesting” as such is often not possible, but it’s useful to attempt to gauge students’s knowledge and go back to wherever the student is confused—which may be very simple aspects of language, like parts of speech. I often had debates about this subject in grad school, when other grad students or professors would lament students’s weak grasp of “basics” or “fundamentals” like comma rules. The stern professors had a point, in that university students should know those things, but I would counter that, if students don’t know them, it’s useful to teach them, even in “advanced” classes. Sometimes students seem to have not been taught much of anything in high-school English classes. Many high-school English classes have devolved into discussions of feelings and vague hand-waving about a given book, and students emerge from them with few concrete skills.

To be sure, sometimes the opposite is true. While teaching in grad school, I had a series of students, all good writers, all of whom had been taught by a particular teacher in a particular high school, and she apparently really drilled students in close reading and essay construction, like someone out of “The Writing Revolution.” The results showed. I meant to send her a letter thanking her but never did. I would guess that she did a form of “pretesting,” albeit without multiple-choice questions, to ascertain students’s skill levels and then base each day in class on what students know. I used to do something similar at times, by doing quick yes/no questions based on raised hands, in order to get a sense of where students were. Now, reading “How Craig Barton wishes he’d taught maths,” I think I should have spent more time and energy on assessment.

In most if not all subjects, it’s not possible to teach (or learn) advanced topics without mastering fundamentals, so an instructor should go back to wherever someone lacks mastery and begin building up from there. If that doesn’t happen, students—in the broadest sense, even outside formal school—at most muddle through and at worst waste everyone’s time. It’s nice to see someone as eminent as Timothy Gowers coming to a similar conclusion.

Links: Cheese and olive oil, Greenland is melting, aspirational mate pursuit, OLED computer displays, and more!

* “Greenland’s Melting Ice Nears a ‘Tipping Point.'” I wonder what it is going to take for us to start really doing something, like taxing carbon emissions and building a substantial number of new nuclear power plants.

* Funny book review: “Nice for What? A comic’s look at dating now.” Or, as Arts & Letters Daily puts it, “When did campy misandry become contemporary shorthand for communicating one’s feminist bona fides?” A favorite line: “Having a relationship is a lot like writing: To be good at it, you have to be interested in other people and believe you have something interesting to offer them in return. Many people who pursue either do so poorly because they are actually interested only in themselves.”

* CO2 rises in well-sealed, closed-door bedrooms, so maybe, when possible/feasible, we shouldn’t sleep with the door closed?

* “Aspirational pursuit of mates in online dating markets.”

* “Are we in the Middle of a Programming Bubble?” I have wondered about this, as it seems that programming, or some aspects of it, is paid disproportionately to many peer professions. So why don’t markets adjust? Or are markets adjusting? Is information about just how well programming can pay not propagating to the rest of the market? Or is it really really that hard and most people can’t do it?

* “15-inch, 4K OLED laptops are coming thanks to new displays from Samsung.” OLED displays are amazing, as everyone who has used one knows.

* “[The United Arab Emirates] Held Me as a Spy—And the West Is Complicit.” I don’t get the interest in or fascination with Dubai. The country’s marketing of its liberal values is just marketing.

* “California will sue Huntington Beach over blocked homebuilding.” Good news.

* Colleges and governments have been fleecing Millennials.

* “Another Side of #MeToo: Male Managers Fearful of Mentoring Women.” It’s like no one thinks of second-order consequences.

* How Ideologues Captured the Canadian Publishing Industry.

* Don’t go to law school, but you already know that.

* “Facebook Reports Record Profit.” Keep this story in mind when you read all those hysterical media stories about the company; as you’ve read here, there is no actual Facebook crisis—just a media one. Again, I agree with most of the Facebook criticism, but my verbal agreement is less important than the behavior of users.

* Cal Newport on Why We’ll Look Back at Our Smartphones Like Cigarettes.

* “Why is high school four years?” It could be three or five.

* Why fiction sales are plummeting. Some of the criticism from “Nice for What? A comic’s look at dating now” is likely applicable to fiction too.

* “The Millennial Generation and the Problem of Meaning: Explaining Jordan Peterson’s meteoric rise.”

* Parmigiano-Reggiano is Italy’s practically perfect food? I would have thought olive oil.

Links: The death of the blog, what we can infer from behavior, insect collapse, and more!

* “The Millions Will Live on, But the Indie Book Blog Is Dead.” Shoot. Am I dead?

* “Impeach Donald Trump,” note the source here.

* “Nothing Can Stop Google. DuckDuckGo Is Trying Anyway.” There is much caterwauling in the media about privacy, Google, and Facebook. Using DuckDuckGo is one of the easiest and simplest ways of (marginally) increasing a person’s privacy. Yet almost no one does it (except me). What should we infer from that?

* “I work with kids. Here’s why they’re consumed with anxiety.”

* “The Rise and Demise of RSS.” I still use an RSS reader most days.

* “The Art of the Pan: What’s the Point of a Bad Review in 2019?” To warn readers?

* “Is This Higher Education’s Golden Age?” An interesting read but sort of wrong: higher education does have a curious stranglehold over many people’s lives, and yet its largesse is concentrated among a small number of people.

* Turns out that “Extreme opponents of genetically modified foods know the least but think they know the most.”

* “Insect collapse: ‘We are destroying our life support systems.’” By the way, it also looks like we are living through climate change’s worst-case scenario.

* Interview with poet and culture guy Dana Gioia.

* “Elsevier journal editors resign, start rival open-access journal.” This is good news.

* “‘They Own the System’: Amazon Rewrites Book Industry by Marching Into Publishing.” This is not optimal in many ways, but I also don’t see an alternative. Book publishers and retailers have been complacent forever, and by the time they woke up (have they awoken?), it was too late.

* “China’s Looming Crisis: A Shrinking Population.” Maybe we ought to try harder to make sure we don’t face the same challenge.

* “Why do authors have to be ‘moral’? Because their publishing contracts tell them so. My compulsion to rub strangers up the wrong way in a political sense grows only more enticing.”

* Insurance problems may kill football.

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