Links: The Internet and mail-order bride markets, cash medicine, educated aliteracy, clean energy, and more!

* “How the Internet Gave Mail-Order Brides the Power,” which is one of these usefully counterintuitive results.

* An antidote for the Affordable Care Act: Cash-only medicine with transparent pricing.”

* “The Rising Tide of Educated Aliteracy.” Probably describes some readers of this blog.

* “Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever: Can billions of dollars’ worth of high-tech research succeed in making death optional?” Fascinating throughout, but “immortality” strikes me as the sort of thing that will become the Cold Fusion of the 21st Century: Always 20 years off.

* Speaking of clean energy, “A Dream of Clean Energy” is the latest update on ITER, which you might remember from the New Yorker’s fantastic “Star in a Bottle.”

* “Tesla Model 3 Ramp Up Aims to Crush BMW and Mercedes.” And it could work.

* “Staying Rich Without Manufacturing Will Be Hard.” Maybe. Getting rich through manufacturing is also very hard; arguably South Korea is the only country that’s really accomplished it (post-war Japan is another candidate).

* “What We Lose When Sex Is All About Danger: Paranoia rules on today’s college campus.” You may remember Laura Kipnis from her other appearances on this blog, including one for her book Men. This is an excerpt from her book Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, which looks excellent though obvious, and in tune with something like Katie Roiphe’s The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism, from 1994 but still relevant today.

* Nuclear power is dying. Can radical innovation save it?” One hopes!

* “The Death of Advertising, and what will rise from its ashes.” More interesting and plausible than it sounds.

* “Humans produce so much stuff that we’re creating a new geological layer.” Which might be kinda cool in some ways.

Free Women, Free Men: Sex – Gender – Feminism — Camille Paglia

New Paglia is always worth reading, and Free Women, Free Men is not an exception. That being said, if you’ve read her other books you’ve already read this one. If you’re tired about hearing about Doris Day and “my 1960s generation” or “my baby boom generation” (as I am), you’ll be tired at many points in this book. I wrote that line before I saw Dwight Garner’s NYT review, in which he says, “The problem, for the reader of ‘Free Women, Free Men,’ is that she repeats the same arguments and anecdotes over and over again. Reading this book is like being stranded in a bar where the jukebox has only two songs, both by Pat Benatar.”

Yes. And many of the pieces date poorly. Does anyone care about Madonna’s BDSM-inflected music video from the ’90s? It may have been a vital moment in pop culture, but almost all pop culture is ephemeral, as pop culture itself likes to imply, or remind us. Or how about Anita Hill? That was a name I needed to back-check: my first inclination was, “Anita who?”

That being said, there is much to like in Free Women, Free Men, starting from the first page:

The premier principles of this book are free thought and free speech—open, mobile, and unconstrained by either liberal or conservative ideology. The liberal versus conservative dichotomy, dating from the split between left and right following the French Revolution, is hopelessly outmoded for our far more complex era of expensive technology and global politics.

It is always useful to call for free thought and speech, especially when both seem weirdly under fire, from left and right (later in the introduction, Paglia writes, “The title of this book exalts freedom as an indispensable condition for the incubation and flourishing of individualism”). Despite how tedious reading yet more about Doris Day and Madonna may be, sometimes we look to past predictions to see how they might be right. This Paglia line, originally from 1997, is particularly prescient: “Too much tolerance too fast can produce a puritanical or fascist backlash” (142). Had I read that in August I would’ve laughed. Now I realize that I was wrong and that is fascist backlash is possible. We don’t really learn from history—not collectively, anyhow—and facts don’t change our minds. In some ways the state of knowledge is better than ever before; we can learn almost anything, immediately, but in other ways the state of knowledge is worse: incorrect memes proliferate, and they enable the fascist backlash, though that backlash may be enabled by people who know not what they do.

That line about tolerance and backlash occurs nearly midway through the book and it’s easy to miss. But it’s also emblematic of the way Paglia spouts ideas like water from a Greek fountain. They are ceaseless, and take the eye away for a moment and new ideas take the place of the ones just experienced. In this way she is, or is close to being, an artist.

She also calls for real equality rather than special privileges or hand-holding; she says, for example,

What was distinctive in those emancipated women—and here loom my later problems with second-wave feminism—was that they never indulged in reflex male-bashing: they accepted and admired the enormity of what men had accomplished and were simply demanding a fair chance to prove that women could match or surpass it. Their inspirational record of unapologetic ambition and plucky, resourceful self-reliance was the foundation for my later philosophy of equal opportunity feminism.

That being said, she can also be fond of nitwitisms like, “The sexes are at war.” Nonsense. It’s nonsense now and has been nonsense as often as it’s been said. In that domain we live in a positive-sum world, not a zero-sum world, and in many ways Paglia gets that. Yet she won’t quite admit it.

While I admire parts of Free Women, Free Men, I wish for another book like Sexual Personae. In her conversation with Tyler Cowen, however, Paglia said that what she considered to be Volume II of Sexual Personae she actually published as individual “articles.” A shame. Nothing she’s published since that, however interesting it may be at times, matches it. I will reiterate that new Paglia is worth reading, but be ready to skip the sections that you have in effect already read.

Links: Police raids on the innocent, meditation and writing, methane and the atmosphere, warfare, and more

* “Marijuana raids are more deadly than the drug itself.” Unsurprisingly.

* “Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens, on how meditation made him a better historian,” more interesting and less trendy than the title makes it sound.

* Jeff’s story about Live Action Role Playing (“LARP”), from the “Work and Video Games” post.

* “7,000 underground gas bubbles poised to ‘explode’ in Arctic.” Those are methane bubbles. If you’ve not heard of the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis, see the link. Also, the NYT published, “What You Can Do About Climate Change.”

* “Americans’ Shift To The Suburbs Sped Up Last Year,” mostly because building there is legal; we are all paying zoning’s steep price.

* “Going Under the Knife, With Eyes and Ears Wide Open.”

* “Why is this little construction crane illegal in New York City? Dan Mooney’s Skypicker crane could save millions in building costs—but not from the Astoria warehouse where it’s been mothballed.” File under “rent seeking,” among other things.

* “Warfare helps explain why American welfare is different: One way of seeing the fight over health care is as a clash between two different Wagner’s laws.” In short, European countries created government-run medical programs to ensure that their populations could fight WWI and WWII, but there is much more of interest.

* “Some Saudi women are secretly deserting their country;” good.

* “In search of excitement,” one of these “state-of-the-novel” articles; the novel seems to have been dying for decades and yet people keep reading and writing them!

Links: Grad school season, Ikea’s bike, inside Nike, global warming, and more!

* We’re getting towards grad school season, so if you know anyone considering that error make sure they read, “What you should know BEFORE you start grad school / PhD programs in English Literature: The economic, financial, and opportunity costs.”

* The residency match encourages doctors to be passive. My essay on “the underrated perils of medical school” is by far the most-read thing I’ve ever written.

* “Can the Ikea bike turn Americans into bike commuters?” One hopes! I ride a Novara Gotham and would be reluctant to ride a city bike without a belt drive if I could avoid doing so. Belt-driven bikes require almost no maintenance and are extremely quiet. If you ride in cities and haven’t ridden one, ride one.

* Inside Nike. Until recently I didn’t appreciate how much effort goes into shoes. Also: “Outlier wants to make your life easier.” I have Outlier Slim Dungarees and they are excellent.

* “Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find,” maybe the most important link in this batch. Also: “ Record-breaking climate change pushes world into ‘uncharted territory.’”

* “How did Donald Trump—a thrice-married, biblically illiterate sexual predator—hijack the religious right?” A question I’ve thought about.

* “Why Americans have come to worship their own ignorance.” I would only question the phrase “come to.”

* The Curious State of Apple Product Pricing.

Briefly noted: The Idiot — Elif Batuman

The Idiot is absorbing for 50 pages, the next 50 pages drag, and the rest is a slog. I read it because Batuman wrote the hilarious The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, which is an essay collection in which most of the essays are… 50 pages. Maybe not coincidentally. Read The Possessed or, even better, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History instead. You will find that in The Idiot

I had never heard of any Ottoman invasion of Hungary. As a child, I had been told that the Turks and Hungarians were related, that the Huns were Turkic, that both peoples had migrated west from the Altai and spoke similar languages.

In some ways the novel is about all the things the narrator, Selin, has never heard of. The novel captures well the feeling of not knowing anything, surrounded by others who don’t, but is that desirable in a novel?

There are implied problems in industrial and human organization, too:

The Constructed Worlds syllabus was a list of Gary’s favorite books and movies, without any due dates or assignments. We were just supposed to read books, watch movies, and discuss them in class. The discussions were never that great, because everyone chose different books and movies.

That seems predictable. Learning thrives off the right balance between order and chaos. Lean too far in either direction and things fall apart.

Much of The Idiot is an extended, awkward flirtationship between Selin and a slightly older guy named Ivan. Watching shy college students flirt for short periods of time is painful; watching it for hundreds of pages may be worse. Sex makes an appearance here and there:

“Sometimes I wonder about the man I’ll eventually lose my virginity too,” Svetlana continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll happen in college.”

Yet for relatively well-off and fit college students, the characters seem to spend strangely little time wanting to get laid, maybe because Ivy Leaguers are too uptight or wrongly focused to do so. Ivy Leaguers have a reputation for being too neurotic, cerebral, and obedient to do it much, but I don’t know if that reputation is deserved or accurate.

Still, Selin is aware of some of her own position:

In the train station, people were drinking coffee and reading newspapers. I felt glad to see that life was going on—actual life, where people were working and staying awake and trying to accomplish things, which was the point of coffee.

About two-thirds through I skipped to the end and began to read backwards, wondering if maybe things would improve. No luck. It is very long for what it is. So much promise. In some ways the novel delivers what its title promises, however, and many of the individual sentences are well done. Still, if you want a college novel try Joe College instead, after you finish The Secret History. If you have recommendations for college novels, leave them in the comments.

Work and video games

I was reading “Escape to Another World” (highly recommended) and this part made me realize something:

How could society ever value time spent at games as it does time spent on “real” pursuits, on holidays with families or working in the back garden, to say nothing of time on the job? Yet it is possible that just as past generations did not simply normalise the ideal of time off but imbued it with virtue – barbecuing in the garden on weekends or piling the family into the car for a holiday – future generations might make hours spent each day on games something of an institution.

I think part of the challenge is that, historically, many of us pursue hobbies and other activities that are also related to craftsmanship. The world of full of people who, in their spare time, rebuild bikes or cars, or sew quilts, or bind books, or write open-source software, or pursue other kinds of hobbies that have virtues beyond the pleasure of the hobby itself (I am thinking of a book like Shop Class as Soul Craft, though if I recall correctly the idea of craftsmanship as a virtue of its own goes back to Plato). A friend of mine, for example, started up pottery classes; while she enjoys the process, she also gets bowls and mugs out of it. Video games seem have few or none of those secondary effects.

To be sure, a lot of playing video games has likely replaced watching TV, and watching TV has none of those salutary effects either. Still, one has to wonder if video games are also usurping more active forms of activity that also build other kinds of skills (as well as useful objects).

I say this as someone who wasted a fantastic amount of time on video games from ages 12 – 15 or so. Those are years I should’ve been building real skills and abilities (or even having real fun), and instead I spent a lot of them slaying imaginary monsters as a way of avoiding the real world. I can’t imagine being an adult and spending all that time on video games. We can never get back the time we waste, and wasted time compounds—as does invested time.

In my own life, the hobby time I’ve spent reading feeds directly into my professional life. The hobby time I spent working on newspapers in high school and college does too. Many people won’t have so direct a connection—but many do, and will.

To be sure, lots of people play recreational video games that don’t interfere with the rest of their lives. Playing video games as a way of consciously wasting time is fine, but when wasting time becomes a primary activity instead of a secondary or tertiary one it becomes a problem over time. It’s possible to waste a single day mucking around or playing a game or whatever—I have and chances are very high that so have you—but the pervasiveness of them seems new, as Avent writes.

It’s probably better to be the person writing the games than playing the games (and writing them can at times take on some game-like qualities). When you’re otherwise stuck, build skills. No one wants skills in video game playing, but lots of people want other skills that aren’t being built by battling digital orcs. The realest worry may be that many people who start the video game spiral won’t be able to get out.

Links: Wi-Fi kinda sucks, alcohol, coffee, and civilization, free speech and free lives, and more!

* “A deep dive into why Wi-Fi kind of sucks.” Ethernet is now oddly underrated, especially given how cheap cables are from Monoprice.

* How Alcohol and Caffeine Helped Create Civilization.

* “Trump has set the US up to botch a global health crisis.” Which should scare you. We dodged the Ebola bullet more narrowly than most people realize.

* “Middlebury’s Statement of Principle: Learning is possible only where free, reasoned and civil speech is respected.” Though lunatics make the news about academia with distressing frequency, most academics are actually reasonable. But “reasonable” is rarely newsworthy.

* Myths about military spending, from an unlikely source.

* Mike Carper on photography and the business in photography.

* “On Political Correctness: Power, class, and the new campus religion.” See also me on related themes: “The race to the bottom of victimhood and ‘social justice’ culture” and “How do you know when you’re being insensitive? How do you know when you’re funny?

* “In the Future, We’ll All Wear Spider Silk.” Very cool if / when it pans out. But I’ve been seeing similar articles for years; maybe spider silk is the cold fusion of fashion.

* Researchers replicate the Milgram Experiment. A timely piece.

* “What If Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?” Sounds stupid but isn’t.

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