Links: Supposed UFOs, psychedelics and con men, and lots of history and context

* Inside the Pentagon’s Secret UFO Program. Supposedly.

“Andy Roberts’s provocative new biography of Hollingshead, Divine Rascal, suggests that there is something seriously wrong with this standard history. Roberts uncovers the fact that Hollingshead was not simply a benevolent trickster who turned people on with his beloved mayonnaise jar; he also possessed a dark side — one that does not appear in the various historical accounts of the psychedelic movement. In Divine Rascal, Roberts, an eminent historian of British psychedelic culture (e.g., Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain [2012]), views Hollingshead with sober eyes.”

From “Psychedelic Pioneer and Confidence Man.” It may be that the people drawn to psychedelia are also more likely than average to be overly credulous and gullible, and wherever those people gather, con men follow.

* Machine learning for antibiotics.

* Paul Graham on “How to write usefully.” I like the implication that many of us write uselessly. Plus, Graham’s writing routines.

* The US rental housing market. If NIMBYs can use zoning to get supernormal rates of return on housing, so can large capital pools. I wonder if, or when, voters will notice and respond appropriately.

* Bryan Caplan’s case for open borders. The book looks good but I’m also prejudiced against comic books, graphic nonfiction, or whatever one may wish to call the genre.

* “Why Did the Coronavirus Outbreak Start in China?” On the weaknesses of China’s government.

* “A Bellow from France,” which has a great first line: “‘Fatalism and Fellatio’ is the title the Süddeutsche Zeitung gave last fall to a scathing essay about Michel Houellebecq’s seventh novel, Serotonin.” “Great title” does not necessarily mean “accurate title,” however.

* The perverse panic over plastic. Most recycling efforts are a waste of time but make people feel good. Substantial changes that would be useful are mostly being avoided, like congestion pricing, zoning reform, not flying, or signing up for Climeworks carbon burying. What should we infer about human nature from this?

* The health system we’d have if healthcare economists ran things. It doesn’t look that different from the one we have now: there is no such thing as a free lunch.

* “Thoughts about transparency in college admissions.” It is amusing how many heavily marketed schools squawk about equality, diversity, helping the poorest, and so forth, and how many of them actively practice policies that do the exact opposite.

* History of the distribution of sex-related information and contraception. Familiar to some of you already, no doubt.

* The dating “market” is getting worse? Maybe? Maybe the paradox of choice is real, but the data cited here aren’t totally convincing.

* “Venezuela Is the Eerie Endgame of Modern Politics: Citizens of a once-prosperous nation live amid the havoc created by socialism, illiberal nationalism, and political polarization.” Voters can make awful choices; Chávez was originally fairly democratically elected. In the U.S., voters have put McConnell in the Senate and helped elevate him to Senate Majority Leader. Regarding the executive branch, see this.

* Israel’s Rihanna, Nasrin, Is Arab and Jewish. Maybe pop music and culture unites the world, or can.

* Book Review: The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.

* Nuclear Tests Marked Life on Earth With a Radioactive Spike.

Links: Building into the good life, family structure, Red Scare, encryption, and more!

* “Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build Build: When California’s housing crisis slammed into a wealthy suburb, one public servant became a convert to a radically simple doctrine.” This is the actual NYT header and sub-head.

* “Was the nuclear family a mistake?” This one appeared in the last links post too, but it’s really good. Also, “What Comes After the Nuclear Family?” I don’t have answers. If the great novels of the 19th and 20th Centuries are about individuals chafing against the confines of communities, will the great novels of this century be about community building, or re-building?

* “Jonathan Haidt, Ezra Klein and the Nature of Wicked Problems.” Arguably we should work on problems that can be solved, like lowering barriers to scientific progress and reforming zoning.

* “Meet the ‘ladies’ of Red Scare, the most gleefully offensive podcast on the internet.” I have listened some and it’s pretty tame; “gleefully offensive” is way too exaggerated.

* Inside Critics’ Circle by Phillipa K Chong review – rickety scaffolding. The review seems much funnier and more useful than the book.

* “The CIA secretly bought a company that sold encryption devices across the world. Then its spies sat back and listened.” A very long story; one lesson may be, “Don’t trust Huawei with telecom infrastructure.”

* Peter Thiel on the new Ross Douthat book: “Back to the Future.”

* The way we read now: another elegy for the novel. I like the first half better than the second. Novels will continue to be written and read as long as things can be said and explored in them that can’t be said or explored in other media.

* A watershed moment for protein structure prediction.

* Mark Zuckerberg’s lost notebooks.

* Could micro-credentials compete with traditional degrees?

* “The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising.” One could alternately ask, “What do we really know about the effectiveness of digital advertising?” The answer seems to be, “Not much.” The idea that many companies throw away tens or hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and in some cases more, seems barely believable.

* Humanity’s Methane Problem Could Be Way Bigger Than Scientists Thought.

* January was the warmest January on record.

Links: Some politics stuff, Chinatown, fame, what’s really real, and more!

* “If Elizabeth Warren really wants to unrig the system, she should focus on the Dream Hoarders.” The big problems are restrictive, exclusionary zoning and restrictive, exclusionary occupational licensure—both things that large swaths of the upper middle class really like and fight to entrench. Warren will not alienate her own base with real change, when there are convenient bogeymen to attack instead. It is always appealing to make someone else the villain and ensure us that we’re the good guys and we just need to get those bad guys over there.

* Forget It, Jake: It’s the Definitive Book on Chinatown.

* Reasons not to become famous, by Tim Ferriss.

* Let’s quit fetishizing the single-family home. The author has had some bad takes that demonstrate a lack of intellectual curiosity, but this one is good.

* “Something Is Happening to Norway” Climate change is here, now, and our collective response is to shrug.

* Over-long piece covering the decline of journalism. I’ve read too many like it, but this is another.

* Ross Douthat’s new book on the age of decadence. Recommended.

* No one seems to have a good theory about why the economy is still relatively strong.

* “‘We’re losing our damn minds’: James Carville unloads on the Democratic Party.” A useful piece and congruent with my thinking.

* “Librem 5 phone hands-on—Open source phone shows the cost of being different.” I like the Librem 5 as an idea but it is still very far from being usable.

* Mozilla’s plan to fix internet privacy.

* Was the nuclear family a mistake? A fascinating essay on loneliness, community, zoning, and many other topics.

* Will Spotify ruin podcasting?

Links: Educated fools, appeals to the center, the social media trap, the enemies of writing, and more!

* I was a ’60s socialist. Today’s progressive’s are in danger of repeating our mistakes.

* “America’s Radioactive Secret: Oil-and-gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste a year. An investigation shows how it could be making workers sick and contaminating communities across America.” And yet the uninformed are wrongly worried about nuclear.

* “Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, but Republicans Don’t.” In short, geography and demography mean that Republicans can appeal to a smaller number of people, especially in terms of senators, and still hold power.

* Carbon Capture and Storage is necessary to keep global warming below 2°C. A good way to participate in this yourself is via Climeworks. That almost no one is participating, tells us important information.

* Bookstores are doing better, and there’s some positive news around reading.

* On the Chinese education system and philosophy. See also me on Bringing Up Bébé.


* “What polarization data from 9 countries reveals about the US.” Polarization, if this data is correct, isn’t coming purely from the Internet.

* Review of Ross Douthat’s new book. Doesn’t have enough to say about how housing costs are distorting households and politics but is useful overall.

* The social media trap.

* Starlink is a big deal. Most people don’t appreciate or get this.

* Ezra Klein on Why We’re Polarized, among many other topics.

* The Enemies of Writing. See also Wokeademia, about how some enemies of writing have gotten enmeshed in the university system, among other things.

* “Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy.” Donations by rich people are better than not, and criticism is misguided.

* Classics loved and hated by Goodreads users.

* How negativity can ruin relationships.

* The Chinese population crisis: underpopulation is the real problem there, as with most other countries.

* The latest James Wood collection.

* “Educated Fools.” One sample: “it’s unthinkable that the college-educated base of the party would trust a high school graduate without a four-year degree to run for or hold a serious office. We don’t trust them, and would never vote for one of them. Why should they trust or vote for one of us?

It used to be otherwise.”

Links: The diversity mafia, research blogs, learning, moving, and more!

* “Guy Gavriel Kay: ‘I learned a lot about false starts from JRR Tolkien.’

* “The National Book Foundation Defines Diversity Down.” You may notice (or not notice) that I stopped following book awards a long time ago: most of them are way too political and yet simultaneously intensely boring. Notices of most book awards on book covers put me off. Fiction sales have been falling since 2013 or so—around the time smartphones became ubiquitous. This seems bad to me in various ways, but we also seemed to be locked in a cycle where the bigger publishers focus on a narrower set of reading constituents, so other potential reading constituents don’t read as much, which tells publishers not to focus on them. Or we could just be seeing a secular change in how people deploy time.

* “Why New York Times Readers Love to Hate Bret Stephens: What the columnist writes is not what his detractors read.” Moral pollution and the desire for moral purity makes us disdain ideas we ought to entertain.

* “Why I keep a research blog.”

* How we lost the right to move freely.

* “The Twitter Electorate Isn’t the Real Electorate.” Our cultural and institutional immune systems need to develop antibodies against the tyranny of the minority. So far they haven’t.

* “The hottest new thing in sustainable building is, uh, wood.”

* On Napoleon Chagnon.

* Home ownership is the West’s biggest economic-policy mistake.

* Deceit, Desire, and the Literature Professor: Why Girardians Exist.

* “A ‘radical proposition’: A health care veteran tries to upend the system and bring drug prices down.”

* “Why Twitter May Be Ruinous for the Left: It’s a machine for misunderstanding other people’s ideas and identities. How do you even organize that?”

* “Internet use reduces study skills in university students.”

* Talk about book reviewing and book reviewers. I’ve read too much on the topic, but this is pretty good.

Links: Flickr’s fall, focus as competitive advantage, state capacity, reshaping Britain, and more!

* “The rise, fall and resurrection of Flickr.” About other topics too.

* How focus became more valuable than intelligence. Ties well into Cal Newport’s books on this subject.

* “The telling conservative backlash to a Virginia zoning reform proposal, explained.” Reforming land-use controls is the single best way to improve the average person’s life with minimal cost. If someone is talking about “income inequality” and similar topics without discussing how much land-use controls are costing the average person, they are not serious.

* The Swinging 1660s.

* What libertarianism has become and will become – State Capacity Libertarianism. Surprising on many points.

* “America Is Now the Divided Republic the Framers Feared.”

* AI and adaptive learning in education. This could and should be a big deal.

* “Denser Housing Is Gaining Traction on America’s East Coast: Maryland joins Virginia with a new proposal to tackle the affordable housing crisis. And it’s sweeping in its ambition.” Lowering the cost of housing is the easiest and most readily solvable problem in the United States today, because the problems are almost entirely legal and regulatory, rather than technological.

* Dan Wang on science, technology, China, and many other matters of interest.

* What Jordan Peterson Did for Rob Henderson.

* Has J.K. Rowling figured out a way to break our cancel culture? One hopes so. A little bit of “no” and ignoring the fools goes a long way.

* Letting nurse practitioners be independent increases access to health care? See also my most-read essay, “Why you should become a nurse or physicians assistant instead of a doctor: the underrated perils of medical school.”

* “Dominic Cummings’s plan to reshape the state.” Cummings communicates via blog, in complete sentences and complex thoughts. I don’t know of any other politician or high-level government official in any country who does the same.

* “ Concentrate! The challenge of chess – learning how to hold complexity in mind and still make good decisions – is also the challenge of life.”

* Ricky Gervais teaches Hollywood what speaking truth to power really means.

* “The inside story of how scientists produced an Ebola vaccine.” An impressive story with an undercurrent of the question, “Why can’t more vaccines be produced in a process closer to the Ebola vaccine process?”

* “Dating apps need women. Advertisers need diversity. AI companies offer a solution: Fake people.”

* Overly long and complain-y essay about turning books and magazine articles into movies. Or, more often, they get optioned and then disappear. Still useful for people curious about journalism, fiction, and TV shows.

* America’s National Climate Strategy Starts with NEPA. Unglamorous but important.

* If Libertarianism Hollowed Out, Why?

“Education” is not the same as “learning” or “quality”

Millenials are supposedly “Playing Catch-Up in the Game of Life” and approaching “Middle Age in Crisis,” if one is to believe the Wall Street Journal; this stood out most to me: “Even with record levels of education, the troubles of millennials have delayed traditional adult milestones in ways expected to alter the nation’s demographic and economic contours through the end of the century” (emphasis added). But is all “education” created the same? How many people have degree not required for the job they’re working? Has the writer read The Case Against Education, which argues that much if not most of what we call “education” is wasteful?

If education is mostly about signaling, then the more people acquire the signal, the less the signal means anything—which seems to explain a lot of the reason why people moved from not needing high school to needing high school and from not needing college to “needing” college. We’re in an expensive credentialing arms race, which is great for college administrative staff but may not confer real skills and abilities on many of those who have “record levels of education” but whose education may also have record levels of “not meaning anything.”

We’ve also systematically raised the cost of housing in most municipalities, by erecting legal barriers to building more of it. This artificially raises the prices of the assets of people who bought in the ’70s into the ’90s but hurts the rest of us. Millenials spend more money and time in education, while regulatory barriers push up the cost of housing, and yet the reporter in this story doesn’t quite connect these features with each other.

Links: Psychedelics, “trash” may outlast us, where humans can afford to live, and more!

* The things humans have left and are leaving behind.

* Blight wiped out the American chestnut. Parallel efforts are close to bringing it back. Chestnuts are underrated as food sources. I have read that, in the 19th and early 20th Century, the US was a popular immigration destination because vast chestnut forests meant that it was (relatively) difficult to starve to death in the US: one could eat chestnuts.

* “Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies.” One thing I note: “Under Chavismo, there were genuine attempts to create alternative models of collective ownership and democratic participation in economic life. In particular, the formation of worker cooperatives and various forms of social enterprises was heavily promoted.” There is such a thing as too much organizational hierarchy but there is also such a thing as too little—or as an organization being too democratic. Worker cooperatives consistently get out-competed by more hierarchical and conventional organizations; what should we draw from that fact?

* “California population growth slowest since 1900 as residents leave, immigration decelerates..” There is a simple solution to this: legalize the building of a lot more housing. We have the technology and have had it for a century. This is purely a political and legal problem, which means it’s very solvable.

* “From the Age of Persuasion to the Age of Offense.” Persuasion is better. I am also offensive.

* From Woodstock to Brexit: What happened to the middle class? An interesting take that’s not precisely mine; as with so many analyses it leaves out the corrosive effects of land-use restrictions that artificially and substantially raise the cost of housing. See for example “Britain’s Housing Crisis” and “To End U.K. Housing Shortage, Build More Houses. Duh.” Britain has the same problems the U.S. does and the solution is simple and effective.

* The 2010s were supposed to bring the ebook revolution. It never quite came.

* “The Sound and the Story: Exploring the World of Paradise Lost.” By Philip Pullman.

* “My semester with the snowflakes.” A 52-year-old veteran goes to Yale and has many of his expectations overturned. I’d emphasize that the “snowflake” and “social justice warrior” phenomenon, along with the battles against free speech, come from a small minority of students. The seemingly strange thing is administrator willingness to tolerate attacks on free speech and thought—or willingness to tolerate demands for infantilization. But these things make more sense when one realizes that higher education is now run like a business and administrators are managers responding to consumer complaints. The managerial mindset needs to address every complaint, regardless of validity or contrariness to the organization’s real mission.

* Humans might be maladapted for space, which would either stop us from going to Mars or substantially complicate efforts.

* “‘Garages aren’t even cheap anymore:’ Bay Area exodus drives lowest growth rate in years.” Many cities are destroying themselves via restrictive zoning, as noted above.

* “I asked my students to turn in their cell phones and write about living without them.

* “Government Standards Are Making 5-Year-Olds and Kindergarten Teachers Miserable.” Bureaucracy wins again.

* Magic mushroom compound psilocybin found safe for consumption in largest ever controlled study.

Links: Loneliness in American society, things British and American, gifting books, and more!

* “Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.” Lessons for today.

* And, also, “The Blundering Brilliance of Boris Johnson.” Many interesting ideas and also important lessons for the next elections. Twitter is not the real world.

* “Etiquette of gifting books.” My philosophy is different: give for yourself, not for the person who gets the book, and have zero expectations. Don’t ask about it or ask for it back. Just give it and let it be. Conversations in book form are great; write in your book, give it to your friend, and accept your friends’ annotated books. It’s an all-round win.

* Having Kids, by Paul Graham, so you know it’s going to be interesting. May also connect with the last link, regarding social connection and loneliness.

* Growth is good. Ideas too rarely entertained, even by people who still oppose them in the end.

* California oceans acidifying at alarming rate, study finds.

* “A CT scan costs $1,100 in the US — and $140 in Holland.” You’ve heard it before, but: price transparency now. See also, however, “Doctors Win Again, in Cautionary Tale for Democrats: Surprise billing legislation suddenly stalled. The proposal might have lowered the pay of some physicians.”

* The politics of exhaustion. Maybe.

* “When will the Netherlands disappear?” I’m surprised by the continued in-migration to Florida, Arizona, and Texas: all states that are susceptible to major climate disruptions.

* “Mossberg: Tim Cook’s Apple had a great decade but no new blockbusters.” Would prefer greater focus on computers.

* Sex Differences in Personality are Large and Important. Obvious to almost everyone, except people in certain media and academic precincts.

* The End of Econ Blogging’s Golden Age. In almost all fields the reliance on “peer reviewed journals” is overdone.

* The left is having an identity crisis. Better essay than the title implies.

* Is undersea mining going to happen?

* “Men are banding together in class-action lawsuits against discrimination in Title IX cases.” Once the genie of treating people as primarily members of oppressed groups gets out of the bottle, it’s hard to stuff back in.

* Efforts to bring back to the chestnut tree.

* Alienated, Alone and Angry: What the Digital Revolution Did to Us. Maybe. I think we’re going to have to learn digital hygiene.

* “A Lonely Plea: ‘Anybody Need a Grandma for Christmas?’ A woman from Tulsa, Okla., with no place to go for the holidays became a painful reminder of the isolation felt by many older Americans.” A microcosm for American society’s grim news, perhaps, and compatible with Lost Connections by Johann Hari—an impressive and recommended book.

Links: Lessons to unlearn, carbon capture and storage, status and signaling, and more!

* The Lesson to Unlearn. It is dangerous to have someone like Graham focused on the weaknesses of the education industry, because he’s well positioned to accelerate changes. I believe Lambda School is (or was) funded by Y Combinator.

* Update on carbon capture and storage, which is probably the most important link in this batch. Climeworks offers CO2 storage subscriptions and we can infer from their popularity or lack thereof how many people actually give a damn about global climate change.

* The New Yorker on William Gibson. Haven’t gotten into the last few Gibsons, but I still admire Pattern Recognition.

* Medical billing: where all the frauds are legal. We need price transparency, now.

* Oklo launches Aurora advanced fission clean energy plant in US.

* 2019: the year the revolt went global. From Martin Gurri.

* Women wearing leggings at work. Who cares?

* Why white-collar workers spend all day at the office. It’s a signaling race. Most writers know we have 2 – 4 decent hours in us, for example.

* “The Cynic’s Guide to Reading Business Books.” An excellent meta-read of books more generally.

* “The lonesome Irishman.” On the movie The Irishman; the essay almost makes me want to watch it, but not quite enough, because I feel like I’ve seen enough mob movies. After The Sopranos, Goodfellas, The Godfather, and probably some more, plus reading Diego Gambetta’s Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, I think that universe is pretty played out. Killing people is also bad. Many of the things that thrive in the underworld should be legalized, like gambling has been and marijuana is being. If gambling, prostitution, and most non-opioid drugs are legal, there’s not much left for the mob to do, and it will be starved of revenue, because most activities are best done using conventional means and corporate or legal structures.

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