Links: Authoritarianism, how we got to now, NIMBYs, paper, and more!

* “Can it Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.” In 2015 I would’ve said it’s very unlikely; today, however, I’ve been proven wrong and have to think it’s very possible. One hopes for serious corrections in 2018 and 2020 but there are no guarantees, and assaults on the right to vote are especially worrisome.

* Why everything might have taken so long.

* “Of Course They Hated Her: The Uncomfortable Honesty of Mary McCarthy.” She is still startlingly honest today, and for that reason I think she will never be really popular—but The Group holds up well, while The Groves of Academe is boring and has been superseded by novels like Straight Man or Blue Angel.

* “How ‘Not in My Backyard’ Became ‘Not in My Neighborhood.’” Or, stated differently, why so many cities are now absurdly, disproportionately expensive.

* “American reams: why a ‘paperless world’ still hasn’t happened.” I think the answer is simple: paper solves a set of fundamental and important problems, and many of its drawbacks are also its advantages.

* Is Trump making Bush’s mistake in North Korea? Maybe.

* “Jordan B Peterson, Critical Theory, and the New Bourgeoisie.” If you hear someone say “Critical theory” uncritically, you are likely be slathered in intellectual bullshit.

* “Management and the wealth of nations.” I’ve had only limited experience in this domain but it’s amazingly hard to do well.

* “Let’s Ban Porn.” Not my view but an interesting take and one that one rarely sees.

* “I’m no longer advocating for clean energy; here’s why.” Important though also depressing.

* “American Fertility Is Falling Short of What Women Want.” News rarely heard.

* Students Tweet Mass Shootings Now. Wow. The Onion posts the same story, over and over again: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” By the way, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led efforts to filibuster gun safety legislation.

Links: Jordan B. Peterson, the tyranny of language, what happened to blogs?, distractions, and more!

* “How ‘Cheap Sex’ Is Changing Our Lives – and Our Politics.” But is sex cheap for everyone? I don’t think so, and that is why an essay like “Radicalizing the Romanceless” is so powerful: it describes the people truly forgotten by our society, who aren’t the people PC writers usually claim are forgotten or invisible.

* “What’s so dangerous about Jordan Peterson?” An excellent piece.

* “Tinder and the Tyranny of Language.” Goes well with the first link.

* Joel Spolsky: “Birdcage liners.” Joel is back on his blog! Finally.

* NYC finally orders more subway cars.

* “Babe Turns a Movement Into a Racket.” There are often adults in the room for a reason. Related to the above: “‘MeToo’ and the Taboo Topic of Nature.” I think the taboo topic of nature in certain intellectual precincts will, in the future, be seen as one of the stranger facets of our time.

* The only 7–8 minutes a day you need to master to be truly productive and also “Why the worst distractions are the ones we love.”

* “National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track.” File under, “Things that seem obvious yet get no attention.”

* “Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism,” which I find very funny and a few of you will too.

* Ten years of Instapaper, which I use almost every day.

* The startups attempting to disrupt education. One can hope.

“Pop culture today is obsessed with the battle between good and evil. Traditional folktales never were. What changed?”

The good guy/bad guy myth: Pop culture today is obsessed with the battle between good and evil. Traditional folktales never were. What changed?” is one of the most interesting essays on narrative and fiction I’ve ever read, and while I, like most of you, am familiar with the tendency of good guys and bad guys in fiction, I wasn’t cognizant of the way pure good and pure evil as fundamental characterizations only really proliferated around 1700.

In other words, I didn’t notice the narrative water in which I swim. Yet now I can’t stop thinking about a lot of narrative in the terms described.

A while ago, I read most of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and found it boring, perhaps in part because the characters didn’t seem to stand for anything beyond themselves, and they didn’t seem to want anything greater than themselves in any given moment. Yet for most of human civilization, that kind of story may have been more common than many modern stories.

Still, I wonder if we should be even more skeptical of good versus evil stories than I would’ve thought we should be prior to reading this essay.


Links: Reading books versus “social media,” where things go, honesty, drinking like the Romans, and more!

* “In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books.”

* “Why Japan Wants Your ‘Junk.'” They actually want to set up a recycling superpower. Also: ““Who Killed Mr. Fixit, and How to Bring Him Back: A Q&A with iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens about the demise of the repair industry and a plan to revive it.”

* “Can We Be Honest About Women? Here’s a little secret we have to say out loud: Women love the sexual interplay they experience with men, and they relish men desiring their beauty.” Perhaps most interesting for the organization publishing the story; I’m so old that I remember the days when the left and Democrats were the the standard-bearers for libertinism and the right and Republics were the standard-bearers for censorious schoolmarm-ism—now they’ve switched! (At least in part.)

* “The Case for the Subway: It built the city. Now, no matter the cost — at least $100 billion — the city must rebuild it to survive.”

* Almost all reading used to be aloud.

* “Donald Trump Didn’t Want to Be President: One year ago: the plan to lose, and the administration’s shocked first days.” Makes sense; in a best-case scenario, he declares victory, resigns, and goes home. Also: “Trump Has Created Dangers We Haven’t Even Imagined Yet.” Very bad scenarios: nuclear war, botched bird flu response.

* “Drinking Wine Like the Romans Do: The notion that wine should be consumed out of thin-walled crystal, preferably on a stem, is practically scripture. But one of the hottest new ceramics studios, Mazama Wares, is seeking to change that. Katherine Cole on the unexpected pleasures of drinking wine from terra cotta.” Alas, I looked, and Mazama is charing $42 per cup.

* “We should focus on building ‘unaffordable’ housing.” Over time, it becomes affordable. Much of the bad discussion around this issue is completely, bizarrely ahistorical.

* ““You Can’t Make This S— Up”: My Year Inside Trump’s Insane White House.” Yes, this is the same article everyone else is reading, but it’s actually good.

* “The Novelist’s Complicity.”

* “How Germany Wins at Manufacturing – For Now.” We need more vocational education, as I argue at the link.

* “If It Wasn’t For My Corporate Office Job, I Couldn’t Be a Novelist.” Seems obvious to me.

* 100 influential French women denounce MeToo. Or, for a better source, see here.

* “As Electric Cars’ Prospects Brighten, Japan Fears Being Left Behind.”

* “Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark.” Although this isn’t the article’s framing, I think it paints Uber as an incredibly impressive company; if this were police raiding organizations or individuals who journalists want to see raised in status, we’d see the authors paint the victims sympathetically and police negatively.

* “‘The desire to have a child never goes away’: how the involuntarily childless are forming a new movement.”

* “What Happened to ‘The Most Liberated Woman in America’? Barbara Williamson co-founded one of the most famous radical sex experiments of the 1970s. Then she got wild.” She was made famous by Gay Talese in Thy Neighbor’s Wife.

Links: Victimhood culture, drugs, healthcare prices, legal absurdity, and more!

* Collision with Reality: What Depth Psychology Can Tell Us About Victimhood Culture. See also “The race to the bottom of victimhood and ‘social justice’ culture.” We can and should do better.

* Portugal is “winning” the war on drugs via decriminalization.

* Why Do Intellectuals Support Government Solutions?

* “Why American doctors keep doing expensive procedures that don’t work.”

* “Child porn law goes nuts: 14-year-old girl charged for nude selfie.” Even by American legal standards it’s nuts to have the sole victim of a “crime” be the perpetrator of the crime, and for the victim/perpetrator to feel and argue that no harm has taken place.

* “Legal Weed Isn’t The Boon Small Businesses Thought It Would Be.” Should this surprise? Many businesses reap benefits from economies of scale and the number of small agricultural concerns in general is, well, small. The vast majority of people shop on price and larger organizations get prices lower than smaller organizations can.

* Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz pours funds into high-risk research.

* “Does a lower ‘total cost of ownership’ boost electric car sales?” Somewhat, but apparently not that much. People are bad at math, forward planning, and marginal costs. I think this argues towards “nudging” people towards electric cars that have lower long-term costs.

* “On the Front Lines of the GOP’s Civil War.”

* “Consider the Consequences of #BelieveAllWomen.” Can be read productively with “Collision with Reality: What Depth Psychology Can Tell Us About Victimhood Culture.”

* “The Gambler’s Ruin of Small Cities,” or why small cities are shrinking or disappearing: “Once upon a time, it was obvious what towns and small cities did: they served as central places serving a mainly rural population engaged in agriculture and other natural resource-based activities.” That isn’t very true in most places anymore. Tyler Cowen notes, “Why don’t cities grow without limit?

Links: Bike sharing, moral panics, social isolation, academic writing, Saturnalia, and more!

* Let’s start with the good news: “How bike-sharing conquered the world

* “The Current Sex Panic Harks Back to the Era of Coddling Women.”

* “How social isolation is killing us.” But, also, “Debunking Myths About Estrangement.”

* “People Aren’t Having Babies Because The Rent Is Too Damn High.”

* “Ph.D.s Are Still Writing Poorly.” This is news? And: “‘The Great Shame of Our Profession:’ How the humanities survive on exploitation.” This is news? Still, universities treat adjuncts like they do because they can.

* “Lab-Grown Meat Is on the Way.” I tried Beyond Meat burgers and they were pretty good.

* “Drug and Alcohol Deaths at U.S. Workplaces Soar.” But the real issues get little airing amid culture-war grievances.

* “Bonfire of the academies: Two professors on how leftist intolerance is killing higher education.”

* “More Thoughts on Falling Fertility.” Contrary to what you read, overpopulation is not a problem in developed countries. If anything the opposite is likely to be a problem.

* Research quality in economics tends to decline after tenure. The theoretical case for tenure seems ever weaker. Also: “Academic success is either a crapshoot or a scam.” Article is much more intelligent than the title may immediately suggest.

* Why Christmas is really just a Roman holiday: Saturnalia.

* “What to do about cheerleaders,” originally from 2005 but an evergreen. I read it as comedy.

* Hinkley Point is still an important new nuclear power plant. This distressing sentence ought to be at the forefront of many minds: “If anyone can do it, it is the Chinese, who have established themselves as world leaders in the complex engineering challenges involved in building nuclear power plants. (There were 20 reactors under construction in China at the end of March 2017.)”

* “GeekDesk “Max” sit-stand desk review: Two years with a motorized desk.”

“University presidents: We’ve been blindsided.” Er, no.

University presidents: We’ve been blindsided” is an amazing article—if the narrative it presents is true. It’s amazing because people have been complaining about political correctness and nothing-means-anything postmodernism since at least the early ’90s, yet the problems with reality and identity politics seem to have intensified in the Internet age. University presidents haven’t been blindsided, and some of the problems in universities aren’t directly their fault—but perhaps their biggest failure, with some notable exceptions (like the University of Chicago), is not standing up for free speech.

I don’t see how it’s impossible to see this coming; the right’s attack on academia has its roots in the kind of scorn and disdain I write about in “The right really was coming after college next.” As I say there, I’ve been hearing enormous, overly broad slams against the right for as long as I’ve been involved in higher education. That sort of thing has gone basically unchecked for I-don’t-know how long. It’s surprising not to expect a backlash, eventually, and institutions that don’t police themselves eventually get policed or at least attacked from the outside.

(Since such observations tend to generate calls of “partisanship,” I’ll again note that I’m not on the right and am worried about intellectual honesty.)

There is this:

“It’s not enough anymore to just say, ‘trust us,'” Yale President Peter Salovey said. “There is an attempt to build a narrative of colleges and universities as out of touch and not politically diverse, and I think … we have a responsibility to counter that — both in actions and in how we present ourselves.”

That’s because universities are not politically diverse. At all. Heterodox Academy has been writing about this since it was founded. Political monocultures may in turn encourage freedom of speech restrictions, especially against the other guy, who isn’t even around to make a case. For example, some of you may have been following the Wilifred Laurier University brouhaha (if not, “Why Wilfrid Laurier University’s president apologized to Lindsay Shepherd” is an okay place to start, though the school is in Canada, not the United States). Shepherd’s department wrote a reply, “An open letter from members of the Communication Studies Department, Wilfrid Laurier University” that says, “Public debates about freedom of expression, while valuable, can have a silencing effect on the free speech of other members of the public.” In other words, academics who are supposed to support free speech and disinterested inquiry don’t. And they get to decide what counts as free speech.

If academics don’t support free speech, they’re just another interest group, subject to the same social and political forces that all interest groups are subject to. I don’t think the department that somehow thought this letter to be a good idea realizes as much.

The idea that “trust us” is good enough doesn’t seem to be good enough anymore. In the U.S., the last decade of anti-free-speech and left-wing activism on campus has brought us a Congress that is in some ways more retrograde than any since… I’m not sure when. Maybe the ’90s. Maybe earlier. Yet the response on campus has been to shrug and worry about pronouns.

Rather than “touting their positive impacts on their communities to local civic groups, lawmakers and alumni,” universities need to re-commit to free speech, open and disinterested inquiry, and not prima facie opposing an entire, large political group. Sure, “Some presidents said they blame themselves for failing to communicate the good they do for society — educating young people, finding cures for diseases and often acting as major job creators.” But, again, universities exist to learn what’s true, as best one can, and then explain why it’s true.

Then there’s this:

But there was also an element of defensiveness. Many argue the backlash they’ve faced is part of a larger societal rethinking of major institutions, and that they’re victims of a political cynicism that isn’t necessarily related to their actions. University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, for one, compared public attitudes toward universities with distrust of Congress, the legal system, the voting system and the presidency.

While universities do a lot right, they (or some of their members) also engaging in dangerous epistemic nihilism that’s contrary to their missions. And people are catching onto that. Every time one sees a fracas like the one at Evergreen College, universities as a whole lose a little of their prestige. And the response of many administrators hasn’t been good.

Meanwhile, the incredible Title IX stories don’t help (or see Laura Kipnis’s story). One can argue that these are isolated cases. But are they? With each story, and the inept institutional response to it, universities look worse and so do their presidents. University presidents aren’t reaffirming the principles of free speech and disinterested research, and they’re letting bureaucrats create preposterous and absurd tribunals. Then they’re saying they’ve been blindsided! A better question might be, “How can you not see a reckoning in advance?”

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