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.

Briefly noted: The Devil’s Candy, Maigret and the Old People, Fantastic Fungi

* I was looking for a book and not finding any to satisfaction, so I grabbed The Devil’s Candy, which is still great, and it’s also refreshingly devoid of PC nonsense. It’s the story of the making of Bonfire of the Vanities, the movie, which details how no single decision is bad, exactly, yet the accretion of good-seeming-at-the-time decisions leads to a bad movie. It’s got lots of droll humor, like a visit to the American Film Institute’s (AFI) annual tribute dinner, where “Occasionally the bold experimenters honored there [by the AFI members] were in the odd position of accepting praise from the very people who had ruined their careers, the studio executives who pretended to admire daring films but didn’t want to finance them.” Today, cameras are digital, but little seems to have changed. Hollywood is supine to China and Netflix exists, but the basic story shape remains.

* The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; this book is almost relentlessly boring, yet I kept reading for some reason. It’s more family saga, blah blah blah, lots of feelings, I guess. The sort of book that explains why murder stories are so popular; one years for darkness, intrigue, a knife in the back, shocking and horrible family secrets (what is the real relationship between Maeve and the narrator?), but all we get is dribs and drabs of things.

* Fantastic Fungi, edited by Paul Stamets: Think of it as a collection of mushroom photography, though it has many short essays too. Speaking of forest ecology and the relationship of mushrooms and mycelium, one contributor says, “Mushrooms are literally ‘the tip of the iceberg.'” That’s not true: mushrooms are figuratively the tip of the iceberg. Stamets writes, “We’re going down a slippery slope. As we deforest the planet and cut down old-growth forests, we accelerate carbon loss…” Forests in the United States are actually growing, and the same is true of Europe. So we’re not universally cutting down forests; that’s a huge problem in Brazil, but the U.S. and Europe are heading in a net positive direction. Another contributor says, “Nature has kept us alive since the beginning of human life.” Sort of: you could also say “nature” has been trying to kill us since the beginning of human life and just hasn’t succeeded yet (nature also gives us uranium, which we can use to kill ourselves en masse). Another writer says, “every decision comes down to the bottom line because the world is run by economists and accountants.” More accurately, the world is run by consumers and voters. Someone cites Bolt Threads’s efforts to create “leather” from mushrooms, but the company seems to have begun putting out press releases in 2016 and no products seem to be on the market today. I could go on. There is too much sleight-of-mind in Fantastic Fungi.

I’ve not seen the film.

* Maigret and the Old People by Georges Simenon: A fine Maigret. As usual, characters claim things like, “I know hardly anything,” and then turn out to know things. Maybe a lot of detective fiction is appealing because everyday people turn out to be essential in a way that is not felt in a lot of everyday life. The old people of the title turn out to be decrepit titled European “nobility,” and one does not have to stretch far to see the book poking at the absurdity of hereditary titles.

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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