Links: The book biz, Emergent Ventures, the cost of cars, and more!

* “French bookshops revolt after prize selects novel self-published on Amazon: Booksellers refuse to ‘jump into the wolf’s mouth’ and order Marco Koskas’ Renaudot-longlisted novel online.” Pretty funny for the usual reasons.

* Tyler Cowen’s *Emergent Ventures*, a new project to help foment enlightenment. Highly recommended. I don’t have a good emergent venture, though I’d love to do something education-related. Do you have such a venture? Do you know someone who might?

* A premature attempt at the 21st Century canon.

* “The Current Sex Panic Harks Back to the Era of Coddling Women,” but you may already know that.

* ‘For me, this is paradise’: life in the Spanish city that banned cars.

* How a Professor Was Punished for an Act of Citizenship. You are probably tired of reading these outrageous stories about universities behaving badly (I am), yet they appear so often that I link to some of them. See also, “The Coddling of the American Mind ‘Is Speeding Up.’

* Canadian marijuana stock soars to $12 billion. The headline is too celebrity-gossip for me, but the content is of interest as a sign of social change.

* “Why Is the Home Building Industry Stuck in the 1940s? Embrace pre-fabricated, adaptable homes!”

* RIP the celebrity profile.

* On Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan.

* Very good podcast with Austin Allred of Lambda School, on education and many other topics. I still think that the perfidious combination of accreditation bodies and the federal student loan system will shunt Lambda School and others to the sidelines, but I hope to see the alternatives grow.

* One small change to New York’s intersections is saving pedestrians’ lives.

* George Mason University’s econ department culture; we all ought to move closer to that, I think.

* “These studies offer a realistic view of postdoc life—and guidance for making career decisions that work for you.” This is really depressing: “Most postdocs earned between $39,000 and $55,000, with 5% reporting earnings below $39,000 and 10% above $55,000.” That’s basically saying, “Don’t go to grad school in science, either, because you won’t make any money, even after five to ten years of additional school.”

* America Is Living James Madison’s Nightmare.

* Putting a dollar value on one of oil’s biggest subsidies: military protection. An underrated point.

Links: Open-access journals, revealed preferences, censorship, transit, and more!

* Data from online dating. Bad headline. The seven bullet points at the end are the most interesting (and un-PC) parts.

* Radical open-access plan could spell end to journal subscriptions. Good.

* Understanding postmodern conservatism, a more interesting piece than you’d think from the title.

* “Why are America’s elite universities censoring themselves on China?” Why do we expect them to? Why do buy into the concept of “elite” in this domain?

* “Study: Cities with more transit use could cut road deaths by 40%.” We’re literally willing to die to drive.

* “How Real News Can Be Worse Than Fake News: Too much information can lead to a cynical population that expects little from its leaders.”

* Clayton Christensen: Half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years. Given cost increases, that would probably be a net improvement.

* “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” A… not expected op-ed.

* But Rich People Live Here, So We Can’t Be Going Broke!

* Uber Was Right: The scooter backlash vindicates Travis Kalanick’s early tactics.

* Electric scooters are getting more and more popular. It’s time for big cities to embrace them.

* On Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook; in The New Yorker and not just the usual.

* The Chekhov Sentence That Contains Almost All of Life. The new Shteyngart novel sounds unbelievably terrible, but the essay is good.

* Fitted tees, scruff, and understated watches: the secrets of a Silicon Valley stylist. Hilarious.

* The Major Urban Revolution of Minor Transportation Means.

* “I doubt me an it be commercial.” On publishing, writing, and many other topics of interest.

* Fundamentals in fiction and the question of obligations.

Links: Dutch cycling culture, the problems in academia, the delightful Claire Lehmann, mushrooms, and more!

* How the Dutch created a casual biking culture. My favorite story in a while.

* The self-defeat of academia. “Own goal” works here too.

* Conversation between Tyler Cowen and Clair Lehmann of Quillette. Appropriately, the link immediately above is to a Quillette essay.

* America’s student debt machine.

* Reflections from Kunming, an unglobalized part of the world.

* “My Affair With the Intellectual Dark Web,” a bad title for a surprisingly humane and interesting piece.

* Why It Can Happen Here: We’re very close to becoming another Poland or Hungary. And almost no one seems worried.

* Teens cutting back on social media? A big “maybe” here.

* What Follows the End of History? Identity Politics.

* “Talk to Your Kids About Porn: Many teens will be exposed to it anyway—often unintentionally—and they need the guidance of their parents to process what they’ve seen.” In the Atlantic. Not a cultural shift I expect to see, but I guess you never know.

* Air pollution causes ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence: study. If true, this is another argument in favor of electric cars, fast.

* “In an efficient market, why would profit-focused companies employ a bunch of people who by their own admission aren’t doing anything valuable?” Link. One possible answer: the market is actually consuming and producing a lot of signaling. Maybe less signaling than profit, but still a lot, except no one wants to admit as much. And signaling is not measurable.

* Livin’ Thing: An Oral History of ‘Boogie Nights.’

* Bending to the law of supply and demand, some colleges are dropping their prices.

* Francis Fukuyama Postpones the End of History: The political scientist argues that the desire of identity groups for recognition is a key threat to liberalism.

* “His $109K Heart Attack Bill Is Now Down To $332 After NPR Told His Story.” Maybe we should be working harder towards price transparency in healthcare?

* Loneliness is pervasive and rising, particularly among the young. Get off your phones.

* Social media mobs. Sounds unpleasant!

* Electric Vehicles’ Day Will Come, and It Might Come Suddenly.

* How the politics of envy (or ‘income inequality’) work in the broadest sense.”

Links: Poetry and career, Palahniuk interviewed, Naipaul, real art, and more

* Reading fiction helps your career, but reading poetry helps more?

* Joe Rogan interviews Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk; usually Rogan is not to my taste, but The same forces Palahniuk describes in publishing are also at work in academia. If you’re wondering why so much of contemporary academia is so boring and sterile, that’s part of it.

* Imagine a world without mandatory college diplomas. Related: “The Student Debt Problem Is Worse Than We Imagined.” Schools have no skin in the game; should we be surprised?

* “Marine scientist predicts ‘a planetary catastrophe.’

* Memories of V. S. Naipaul.

* “Venezuela’s great socialist experiment has brought a country to its knees.” The current vogue for socialism in some quarters, where people ought to know better, is strange.

* “Never Cook at Home: Trust me, I know it’s a drag.” A completely charming article and of course wrong. You should read it!

* Real art is bound to cause offense. I hope so!

* “America Has Fallen Out of Love With the Sedan.” You know all those articles about how bad global warming is getting? This is an article that basically says, “Americans don’t care.”

* “The Nuclear Power Plant of the Future May Be Floating Near Russia.”

* “The Humanities Face a Crisis—of Confidence.” Not the best article on this subject, but it’s okay.

* ‘We Are All Accumulating Mountains of Things.’

* “The Shakespeare Requirement” Is a Sad-Professor Satire That Burns with Moral Anger. I have read too many academic novels to be interested in them anymore, but this one is probably fine.

* Early Work by Andrew Martin Mixes Lust With the Directionless of Youth.

* “GlobalFoundries Stops All 7nm Chip Development.” Non-technical people are likely to skip right past this one, but it has profound implications for the future: GlobalFoundries is one of the largest chip makers in the world, and if it can’t do 7 nanometer, it’s possible that the others can’t, or can’t effectively, either. For the last ~50 years, integrated circuit design has been a huge bright spot in the economic and technological picture—and underappreciated by most people.

* Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson. Much better than you think based on the title.

* People Are Bad at Being Productive in a Limited Time.

* Baylor University used “mole” to aid communications department during sexual assault crisis? This story is crazy enough to be unbelievable in fiction. I read it and think, “Maybe universities should go back to focusing on teaching and research?”

Links: Climate, obesity, Kondo, le Carré, the world, and more!

* How ICE went rogue: Inside America’s unfolding immigration crisis. A horrible story that will require national reckoning.

* Climate Report: Not Good. Maybe we should do something about it?

* Beyond fiction: Scott Aaronson’s arrest.

* “The Toll of America’s Obesity.”

* Electric scooters will work in NYC. This is obvious, but it’s also amazing to see the small-c conservative NYT editorial board figure it out. Also, “The Real E-Scooters Story Is Much More Boring Than Media Coverage Suggests.”

* “The Origin Story of Marie Kondo’s Decluttering Empire.” I would guess Kondo is overrated by her adherents and underrated by most people.

* Rich Absentee Landlords Make a Killing from California’s Prop 13. This is congruent with a Grant Writing Confidential post I wrote, “L.A. digs a hole more slowly than economics fills it back in: The Proposition HHH Facilities Program RFP,” which will be of general interest to many of you.

* “How Bill Browder Became Russia’s Most Wanted Man,” an insane story reminiscent of John le Carré but published in The New Yorker.

* “Yes, Another Science Blog: Dear Academia, I loved you, but I’m leaving you. This relationship is hurting me.” From 2014 but characteristic of the genre.

* Shockingly, a sociology professor and gender studies person is embroiled in controversy. Who would have thought? I know it’s depressing to see all these pieces about why it’s a wise idea to stay out of academia, but people keep going into the meat grinder.

* “The Modern Automobile Must Die: If we want to solve climate change, there’s no other option.” More of the obvious, but here it is.

* Identity politics weaken democracy and we should do a lot less of them. Focus on ideas, not the speaker’s demographics.

* “Can We Talk About Toxic Femininity?” Not my view, but it’s telling how little we hear this phrase.

* Massachusetts gives workers new protections against noncompete clauses. Good. Every state should.

* “What Does Knee Surgery Cost? Few Know, and That’s a Problem.” We need price transparency now.

* “Companies dropping college degree as hiring requirement.” Good news if true, but this could easily be a bogus trend story.

Links: Good keyboard origins, housing as a cost center, vaccines, publishing, and more!

* “Cherry MX History: A German Company With American Roots.” Cherry makes the keyswitches in many, if not most, high-quality keyboards today. I still get emails about my Model M / Unicomp Customizer review, as well as my Kinesis Advantage review. Some have asked why I stopped writing keyboard reviews, and the answer is simple: there are many, many good keyboards out there today. To me, the differences among them are often marginal. When I wrote those pieces, fewer good keyboards were readily available. I’ve tried a couple new ones (e.g. the Ergodox-EZ, which is nice but a little too much like a science fair project for my taste), but the Kinesis works and it’s hard to envision one much better than it. With many tools, it’s best to find “good enough” and then stop. I found “good enough.”

* Renting is not “throwing money away.”

* China Is Trying to Wipe Taiwan Off the Map, and There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About It.

* The erotics of mentorship. Things that are politically incorrect but interesting.

* The Democratic Party Picked an Odd Time to Have an Identity Crisis. Agreed.

* “Home Values Grew Most in Markets with Strictest Land Use Regulations.” Supply and demand continue to explain housing costs.

* The Education Department to require colleges to publish data on graduates’ debt and earnings by major. Good, and long overdue, like that library book the college requires you to pay for prior to receiving your diploma.

* “In upstate New York, an ecstasy-inspired psychedelic temple rises.” Have you read the new Michael Pollan book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence? It’s great.

* Anti-Vaccine Activists Have Taken Vaccine Science Hostage. Outrageous and true.

* Unions’ Fees Take a Hit After Decision From Supreme Court. Good news all around.

* Does Television Kill Your Sex Life? Microeconometric Evidence from 80 Countries. “Under our most conservative estimate, we find that television ownership is associated with approximately a 6% reduction in the likelihood of having had sex in the past week, consistent with a small degree of substitutability between television viewing and sexual activity.”

* The world is losing the war against climate change. Perhaps we ought to do something about that?

* Book publishing is actually a thriving business? Consider the source, though.

* Can American cities make room for the electric moped?” Sure hope so.

* Hollywood Doesn’t Make Movies Like ‘The Fugitive’ Anymore.

* “The New Housing Crisis: Shut Out of the Market.” We’re building less housing per capita than any other previous generation in the last hundred years. That’s why housing is eating the economy.

What motivates charitable giving?

Many of you don’t read Grant Writing Confidential, the other blog I contribute to, but “Philanthropy is not being disrupted by Silicon Valley” has wide applicability and will interest many of you, so I’m linking to it from here. There’s also a subtler, deeper point that I didn’t elaborate there: I think most people don’t understand what motivates charitable giving (I didn’t, for a long time). That may be good—perhaps greater ignorance leads to greater giving—but it seems obvious to me now.

It seems strange that greater ignorance would leave to more giving, but I think about my own experiences, since I’ve worked for nonprofit and public agencies in varying capacities for about 15 years. And I’ve been associated with universities in various capacities for about the same length of time. Before I began working in and around universities, for example, I likely thought that donations to universities are an axiomatically good thing.* Now I know a lot more about them and am also a lot more skeptical: universities use far too much of their money on administrators and amenities—signaling functions, basically (the hate for colleges in some precincts has its origins in excess administration). Now I’m much less pro-university and, if I had a bunch of cash to give away, I’d be very unlikely to dump it on a university. I know there’d be a decent chance that most of that money would fund runaway tuition sticker prices.

To be sure, there are probably good ways to give money to universities. Probably the best is to fund particular science labs at non-elite, non-wealthy schools. Stanford probably doesn’t need more money in its labs, but most University of [State] schools probably do, and funding them is underrated. But to learn which labs at which schools need funding is such an undertaking that knowledge would-be donors might simply not bother. In that respect, ignorance might be good—for me, too.

I also used to be convinced that more transparency is better in the vast majority of human realms. Now I’m not so sure. We seem to have far greater political transparency than we once did, thanks to the Internet and some other features of the modern media, but has that made politics better? If so, I don’t see it: We can’t get infrastructure built, and many lobbies are good at pushing their narratives out.

The truth is not transparent and obvious, as I once thought it was, and virtually all of us are susceptible to advertising, marketing, and sloganeering. That last one is especially apparent on Twitter. We “know” some of the important solutions to improving infrastructure development, but in the same sense we (in the sense of “the human race”) know how quantum mechanics work. But I can’t give you a detailed, technically accurate description of quantum mechanics, and how many humans can? A million, maybe, out of seven billion people? Less? I know more about what needs to be done regarding infrastructure, but to explain it all would take a long time a lot of background reading. Most people won’t bother. What good is transparency if the best answers are difficult enough to comprehend that no one seeks them?

Even this post is less likely to be read and understand than a random sloganeering, virtue signaling Tweet is going to be repeated. Knowledge is hard and feelings are easy. That itself is not a popular thing to say but it is true. And if “Knowledge is hard and feelings are easy” were turned into a viral Tweet, it would only demonstrate its own point! Frustrating, in a way, but perhaps the lesson is “chill out, because it’s really hard to get substantive improvements in the world, and most of those improvements probably don’t happen on the Internet.”

You may have noticed that I’ve wandered a long way from the title of this post. That’s deliberate. What motivates human giving probably shouldn’t be stated, because stating it runs contrary to social desirability bias. I will say that “effectiveness” and “ensuring the greatest efficiency per dollar spent” do not motivate the vast majority of donors—though almost all donors will cite those ideas. If you’re the sort of person who wants to know what motivates giving, and you’re frustrated by the way this essay doesn’t directly answer your question, see “Philanthropy is not being disrupted by Silicon Valley,” which offers some answers and links to better ones. But I don’t think most of us really want to know.


* The word “likely” is important because I don’t fully know my mental state from a long time ago.

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