Links: Threatened democracies, “Friends” and Western Civ, Robin Hanson, campus zealots, and more!

* Actually, American democracy has faced worse threats than Donald Trump: The golden age of American politics was illiberal, undemocratic, and bloody. Still, success in the past is not a good reason for complacency in the present. There is a good essay collection Tyler Cowen contributed to, Can it happen here?, that I’ll write about at some point.

* How Friends Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization; I think this essay is satire.

* “Jordan Peterson Is Not the Second Coming.” Seemingly everyone now has a Jordan Peterson thinkpiece and this is Reason‘s.

* Excellent NYT reporting on why NYC’s subway is so terrible.

* Scott Aaronson on the Robin Hanson brouhaha that ought not to be a brouhaha. I’m reminded of Paul Graham’s principle that we ought to look “at what people call ideas they disagree with besides untrue.” If someone calls an idea or person something other than “untrue” or “mistaken,” the person or idea labeled is often worth a second look (“often” is not always!).

* “‘It Was Cataclysmic’: Can Snapchat Survive Its Redesign?

* “The Lights Have Gone Out in Caracas.” #socialism.

* How the 50mm lens became normal. Almost anyone who becomes interested in photography buys a cheap-but-good “nifty 50.”

* Is the United States becoming too big to govern? Related to link #1.

* “How my lame joke saw me fall foul of the campus zealots.”

* “College may not be worth it anymore,” a point that I’m amazed it’s taken so long to propagate.

Links: On Chesil Beach, the nature of teaching, the nature of progress, the lack of progress in the humanities, and more!

* “Karley Sciortino: the sex blogger and Slutever presenter redefining sexuality.” My read of the book here.

* “Steven Marcus, Columbia Scholar and Literary Critic, Dies at 89.”

* “Student-Led Classrooms Waste Teacher Skill.” And learning styles seem to be a myth and “direct instruction” is effective.

* “Equality Is a Mediocre Goal. Aim for Progress.” It’s also striking to me how often “inequality” refers to a single metric, when many others also matter.

* “The Redistribution of Sex,” from Ross Douthat, and one of (many) pieces that show the weakness of the Twitter model: there just aren’t enough characters for nuance and development. Which is an old criticism but still true.

* “A Dying Scientist and His Rogue Vaccine Trial.” Cool.

* “The Commodification of Learning and the Decline of the Humanities.” This is congruent with my experience but I also have to ask, awkwardly: Where’s the evidence??

* 50 Pulp Cover Treatments of Classic Books.

* “New York City Street Parking Is Preposterously Corrupt.” Parking in general is crazy: everyone ought to read the high cost of free parking.

* An interesting comment on The Case Against Education.

* The Passion of Jordan Peterson.

* 24,000 Liters of Wine in the Hold: 40 Years of Globalization.”

* The Hyperfragmentation of Retail and Why the Biggest Winners are Digital Ad Platforms. I think of companies like Outlier, which solve specific problems (in this case bike pants) that others don’t or can’t or don’t notice.

* “Sweetgreen Has a Damage-Control Plan for Its New Salads.” Another new (ish?) company that’s underrated.

* “The First Porn President,” which is better than the usual but still about half is incorrect or at least not my view.

* From the NYT, “‘Who Gets to Be Sexy?’ Technology has made it possible for just about anyone to shoot, direct and star in their own porn films. Women are leading the new guard.” Well, it is the NYT, but also the Sunday Styles section.

* Are kids the enemy of writing? Probably not.

* Ian McEwan on On Chesil Beach, the movie version, but most interesting may be this, about his son finding one of McEwan’s books in the school curriculum: “Compelled to read his dad’s book – imagine. Poor guy . . . I confess I did give him a tutorial and told him what he should consider. I didn’t read his essay but it turned out his teacher disagreed fundamentally with what he said. I think he ended up with a C+.”

Links: The Virgin Suicides, UBI isn’t feasible, Alan Jacobs, and more!

* Why The Virgin Suicides Is Still So Resonant Today.

* Universal basic income is not feasible. I think it’s a cool idea and it could one day be feasible but isn’t now.

* Alan Jacobs: a Christian intellectual for the internet age.

* Bill Gates wants to make a universal flu vaccine.

* California and liberalism’s golden dream. Note especially the part about middle-income people fleeing California, which has largely become a state devoted to the very rich and very poor. And the state is busily pursuing land-use policies that reinforce this divide.

* No, teachers are not underpaid.

* In “What happened to the academic novel?” I quoted the original author as saying, “what happens when reality outpaces satire, or at least grows so outlandish that a would-be jester has to sprint just to keep up?” Now, in “State of Conflict,” we get an absurd story that shows how academic reality outruns academic satire. In it, a nineteen-year-old Nebraska student “set up a folding table on a plaza outside the student union and covered it in pamphlets, stickers, and buttons that said ‘Big Government Sucks!'” In return, “Lawton, a 46-year-old graduate student in the English department… left to make a sign: ‘Just say NO! to neo-Fascism.’ She was so agitated that she misspelled ‘fascism’ and had to start over.” If you are a 46-year old grad student, chances are that something is very wrong. The correct response to a sign one doesn’t like is the typical response: “Most people walked by without a second look.” Lawton didn’t do what typical people do and evidently doesn’t know what fascism is, either, apart from a slur.

* “Learn to Ride: E-bikes are great—as long as people know how to ride them. Here’s how to make sure they’re safe.”

* “Pimps Are Preying on Sex Workers Pushed Off the Web Because of FOSTA-SESTA.” Likely SFW.

* “Why doesn’t the federal government protect access to affordable housing the way it does access to TV?” A great point I’d never really thought about.

Links: Outing club is outing no more, electric buses, housing, and more!

* “Medicare will require hospitals to post prices online.” This is really good and important news.

* “Penn State’s 98-Year-Old Outing Club Is No Longer Allowed to Go Outside,” which is congruent with Jean Twenge’s iGen along with everything you’ve read about absurdity in American colleges. In “What happened to the academic novel?” I posited that academia is now too absurd to be satirized. Johann Hari’s excellent book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions has a chapter devoted to how exposure to nature is critical for human well-being—and now Penn State is apparently banning just that (at least in an organized form).

* “Electric Buses Are Hurting the Oil Industry.” It’s always nice to get unalloyed good news.

* “How Much Is a Word Worth? Declining pay for freelance writers hurts more than just the quality of the prose.” Many people have asked why I don’t freelance for magazines or do similar work in narrative nonfiction. This is why.

* “Promiscuous America: Smart, Secular, and Somewhat Less Happy.” But I don’t buy it: this relies on the General Social Survey. I don’t know if it’s conducted via phone or questionnaire response, but we do know that people lie, a lot, about this subject. See for example “Truth and consequences: using the bogus pipeline to examine sex differences in self-reported sexuality,” though there are many other studies in this vein. I’m also not sure what “happy” really means; some argue that it really means being free from anxiety.

* Democrats’ housing problem.

* Why failing to recycle electronics leaves gold mines untapped.

* “The myth of an ending: why even removing Trump from office won’t save American democracy.”

* “Don’t buy the MacBook Pros even on sale, in my opinion.” I returned a 12″ MacBook because of the absurd size of its trackpad. Otherwise a great machine, but maybe I also avoided keyboard issues. It seems to me that 2015-era Macbook Pros are going to become (or have become) golden-era machines.

“Bean freaks: On the hunt for an elusive legume”

Bean freaks: On the hunt for an elusive legume” is among the more charming and hilarious stories I’ve read recently and it’s highly recommended. There are many interesting moments in it, but this tangent caught my attention:

In his late teens, Sando lost weight and found his crowd, learned to improvise on the piano, and discovered, to his great surprise, that he’d become rather good-looking. “What we call a twink now,” he says. Although he never found a true, long-term partner, he married a friend of a friend in his late thirties and had two boys with her, now nineteen and sixteen. “I’d had every lesbian on the planet ask me for sperm,” he says. “But there was a side of me that said, ‘I can’t do this as a passive bystander.’ ” They raised the boys in adjacent houses for a few years, then divorced. “Theres a sitcom waiting to happen,” he says. But he tells the story flatly, without grievance or irony, as if giving a deposition. “The truth is that your sexual identity is just about the least interesting thing about you,” he says. “Do you play an instrument? That would be interesting.”

I think he’s right about the sitcom, and, while I said something like this in a previous post, I’ll say here that I think we’re going to see a lot more gay, bisexual, non-monogamous, etc. characters in movies, TV, and novels not because of a desire to represent those people, or whatever, though that desire may exist, but because of all the new and interesting plotlines and situations those orientations / interests / proclivities open up. Many writers are at their base pragmatists. They (or we) will use whatever material is available and, ideally, hasn’t been done before. As far as I know, a gay man marrying a lesbian and having two kids together, then raising them side-by-side, hasn’t been done and offers lots of material.

Speaking of laughter, this last sentence got me:

Still, admitting that you’re obsessed with beans is a little like saying you collect decorative plates. It marks your taste as untrustworthy. I’ve seen the reaction often enough in my family: the eye roll and stifled cough, the muttered aside as I show yet another guest the wonders of my well-lit and cleverly organized bean closet. As my daughter Evangeline put it one night, a bit melodramatically, when I served beans for the third time in a week, “Lord, why couldn’t it have been bacon or chocolate?”

If the bean club were still open, I’d subscribe. (This will make sense in the context of the article.)

Links: Sci-fi and the future, the future of clothing, the scientific paper, the disappearing doctor, and more!

* How science fiction feeds the fuel solutions of the future.

* The Future of Clothing Isn’t in Tatters. See also the book Junkyard Planet, which is amazingly good.

* “Belief in College Has Become Religious,” though not by me, unless exposure has made me the equivalent of an atheist.

* How the humble bicycle can save our cities. Oddly, it never mentions ebikes. Also, Electric bike purchases pulling people from private cars, finds NITC study. This should be obvious to anyone who’s ever ridden an electric bike. Propella makes a $1,000 ebike that looks pretty good.

* “The scientific paper is obsolete,” a much more thorough and interesting treatment than is implied by the title.

* Politics vs aesthetics: on James Wood. Wood is awesome and not everything has to be political everywhere, all the time. Aesthetics endure much better than politics.

* The Disappearing Doctor: How Mega-Mergers Are Changing the Business of Medical Care

* A New Study Shows How American Polarization Is Driven by a Team Sport Mentality, Not by Disagreement on Issues. Seems pretty obvious to me; just try asking people who are superficially political how the federal budget is divided up. Their answers are likely to be revealing. And, to use a Jonathan Haidt point, why should opinions on, say, abortion, be correlated with opinions on taxes? The two issues seem totally separate.

* “Why ‘The China Hustle’ is a finance documentary all U.S. investors need to see.” I can’t attest to the veracity of this one, but it at least seems plausible.

* Why bother observing inconsistencies?

Links: GMO research, the outrage machine, common fallacies, scientists and movies, and more!

* Why one scientist is quitting GMO research, since he’s exhausted by the relentlessly negative response. Yet it appears that GMOs are a net improvement by many metrics. We are trending towards ten billion people and need to feed them.

* “Why the Outrage?: Cambridge Analytica,” one of the very few intelligent pieces I’ve seen. In response to Internet outrage, I say: Facebook will change when people stop using it. The measurable response to outrage about Facebook since its inception has been near zero: more people use Facebook and use it longer, quarter after quarter. Look for revealed preferences. See also “Facebook is America’s scapegoat du jour.”

* Speaking of scapegoats and falsehoods, “Preventive care doesn’t save money and bankruptcies aren’t widely caused by lack of insurance. Which is not what many of us, including me, intuitively expect, but there you have it. So what is really going on?

* “‘Christianity as default is gone’: the rise of a non-Christian Europe.”

* The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right.

* “Why do so many scientists want to be filmmakers?” Is the inverse true too?

* “Ways To Live A Full Life (And Leave Nothing On The Table) By Age 30;” I’m not convinced by numbers 5, 10, 14, 26, 28, or 29, but that’s not too surprising in any list of 40 life-knowledge things.

* “Universities balk at the tyranny of anonymous feedback: Lecturers feel pilloried by student comments that show bias and can blight careers.” Old news, new wrapper. Still, many university types seem to like anonymous feedback (also known as gossip) in other domains.

* Things Russ Roberts learned from Jordan B. Peterson.

* “Scientists say we’re on the cusp of a carbon dioxide–recycling revolution.” Great news if true.

* “Is This the Hardest Course in the Humanities?” I’m not surprised that most humanities courses are suffering for enrollments.

* “On Harold Bloom’s new book on Shakespeare’s King Lear,” a much more interesting piece than the title may make you think.

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