Links: Fighting over “fiction,” self esteem, Mike Tyson on medieval history, Instagram socialists, and more!

* “Why We Fight Over Fiction.” We might say we’re very rarely fighting over just fiction. Social ideas with potential status and reproductive consequences get people worked up.

* “Political lying as tribal signaling: It’s like getting a tattoo to prove you’re in a gang.”

* “ How the Self-Esteem Craze Took Over America.” We live still with its legacy. Every complex social issue or ailment has a solution that is simple, easy to understand, and wrong. How the preceding sentence applies to ideas today is left as an exercise to the reader.

* “And this world’s a fickle measure,” on Mike Tyson on medieval history.

* “Ian Fleming Explains How to Write a Thriller.”

* Mushrooming in Ukraine.

* Why New York’s mob mythology endures.

* “The rise and fall of the Oxford School of fantasy literature.” Would fantasy have exploded as it did, and taken more or less the path it has, without Tolkien and Lewis? Were the conditions ripe for fantasy, like a scientific discovery that would have happened in that time frame even without the specific discoverer? Or, without Tolkien and Lewis, would fantasy not really exist as it does, or as it has? I’m inclined a bit more towards the former, given the popularity of magic and supernatural tales throughout human history, but the counterfactual question is by its nature open.

* Applied Divinity Studies is going on hiatus already, sadly. Read the footnotes.

* “Reinventing Racism—A Review.” I remember back when the dream was to judge a person based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

* Related to the immediately above, “Race and Social Panic at Haverford: A Case Study in Educational Dysfunction.” I’m also curious what level of debt the average and median Haverford student graduates with; Haverford’s website lists comprehensive tuition and fees for 2020-21 as $75,966.

* Why Big-City Dominance Creates Some Incentive Problems for Democrats. The best line: “Instagram socialists are highly educated, but not necessarily high-earning, urbanites who shop like capitalists and post like Marxists and frequently do so in adjacent tabs.”

Links: Why clean energy costs too much, the power of memory, where to write, and more!

* “Study identifies reasons for soaring nuclear plant cost overruns in the U.S.

* “A Gentle Introduction on How to Use Anki to Improve Your Memory.”

* “Should America Still Police the World?” Probably, because what’s the alternative? China? America’s mistakes are well known but the overall direction is still positive.

* The “Dying Seas” of the Anthropocene.

* OpenStreetMap (OSM) is Having a Moment, maybe. I’ve tried to use and, I think, other OSM-derived products on a phone, and they have not been nearly as good as the Apple/Google alternatives.

* Unions versus the gig economy, note:

My experiences with unions have not been good. My father was a Shell Oil union member. His union went on strike long ago when my mother was pregnant with my younger brother. After a few months on strike it was growing obvious (according to my father) that it would end soon in failure from the union perspective. The union bosses feared that my father and others would return to work before the union had formally given up. They came to our house and told my pregnant mother that it would be quite unhealthy for her if my father returned to work.

H/t David Henderson.

* Why Taneer Greer is bearish on Substack. Personally, I don’t entirely get why “email newsletters” are desirable from a reader’s perspective, apart maybe from convenience over RSS. The two or three Substack blogs I’ve followed do have RSS feeds, and that’s the important part to me.

* Better late than never, the Atlantic notices Stripe’s carbon capture and storage plans.

* “Democrats No Longer Have a Coalition:” note the source on this one (the Nation), and its congruence with “the margins are narrow; why?”

* The Right-Wing Medievalist Who Refused the Loyalty Oath.

* Apple’s new M1 laptops appear to be amazing. Nearly all reviews, including from places predisposed towards hostility, have been not just positive but ecstatic.

* “Pigma Micron PN Pen.” Agree with the recommendation here.

* Ann Patchett on friendship, among other things.

Links: Greatness and democracy, the nature epistemology, getting things done (or not), and more!

* “Make Blue America Great Again.”

* “Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy.” Me too.

* “Norris Numbers:” probably applies to writing too.

* “Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars.” Compatible with my experiences, unfortunately.

* The new Beowulf translation; if I were teaching high school students Beowulf, I’d use this one.

* From Ross Douthat: “The Case for One More Child.” I’d like to see more emphasis on land-use liberalization, but it seems sound overall.

* “The Denialist Playbook,” on the structure of spurious arguments against vaccines and other medical treatments. Why are chiropractors fonts of false health claims? Some are apparently still risking artery dissections in the neck that occur due to high-velocity movements.

* “Groupthink Has Left the Left Blind” and “Our Political System Is Unfair. Liberals Need to Just Deal With It,” both from the NYT and compatible with me in “The margins are narrow; why?” It’s funny seeing these pleas for intellectual freedom in the NYT, where the Tom Cotton op-ed got James Bennett canned; see James Bennet’s Resignation Proves the Woke Scolds Are Taking Over The New York Times for details about this unhappy event. I thought Tom Cotton wrong but also think ideas need debate.

* Beowulf, but Make It #Relevant (and Bro).

* “The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done,” which is really about the costs of email and the benefits of concentration. Cal Newport is the author, of this and of Deep Work, a favorite and recommended book.

* “Fissures in the Facade,” on China’s internal discontent, and “How One Obscure Word Captures Urban China’s Unhappiness.” If the U.S. were smart, we’d be trying to court the many smart, capable Chinese who wisely don’t want to stay in China. Instead, we’re doing the opposite. Turning people into Americans is one of our superpowers, and we should be using it. In somewhat good (?) news, “How Xi Jinping Blew It describes what appears to be China’s failure to re-make the international order while the U.S. has been leaderless at best and actively destructive at worst.

* Screed about how TV doesn’t demand attention, which is nominally a review of Emily in Paris; I’d say that, even if the prime contention is correct, then TV is returning to its previous form, and the late ’90s and ’00s were the outliers. Still, I can enjoy a solid rant.

* Against Lambda School’s placement rate claims. Doesn’t, however, I believe, deal with Lambda School’s fundamental alignment system.

* Open Street Maps is an important resource. The phone app is still not as usable as Apple or Google maps yet, in my experience, but it’s worth exploring.

* “Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars.” It’s interesting how, in seemingly every generation, new forces opposing free speech and free thought crop up.

* “ Revisiting March 2020: What Were Epidemiologists Thinking about Masks?

* “As internet forums die off, finding community can be harder than ever.” The centralization impulse proceeds.

* “More people with bachelor’s degrees go back to school to learn skilled trades.” This story is consistent with my own experience teaching undergrads. Too many people are doing weak undergrad degrees.

Links: Buried treasure, buried writers, buried education, surface hazards, and more!

* “The Curse of the Buried Treasure: Two metal-detector enthusiasts discovered a Viking hoard. It was worth a fortune—but it became a nightmare.” Extremely entertaining, and I didn’t realize how much treasure is apparently sitting around, near England’s surface. At what point do we exhaust our desire for treasure?

* “The Media Learned Nothing From 2016.” Seems sadly accurate, and Fallows, the author, wrote Breaking The News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy in the ’90s, and I wrote about it in 2009, as you can see at the link, and here we are in 2020, and it still seems germane, if not worse now than it was then. News editors still seem unable to adapt to an environment in which at least one political side has given up on reality and retreated into its own fantasy.

* “‘No One Is Listening to Us:’ More people than ever are hospitalized with COVID-19. Health-care workers can’t go on like this,” and that I wonder if the experiences of front-line healthcare workers helped tip the election to Biden: for many people, COVID seems to be out of sight, out of mind, at least until it gets them or someone in their family, but for front-line healthcare workers, it’s been a grim, daily reality.

* “Is This the End of College as We Know It? For millions of Americans, getting a four-year degree no longer makes sense. Here’s what could replace it.” Granted, like all of these stories, there’s an improbable anecdote about someone who almost certainly spent a lot of time in super expensive private schools: “Rachael Wittern earned straight As in high school, a partial scholarship to college and then a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She is now 33 years old, lives in Tampa, earns $94,000 a year as a psychologist and says her education wasn’t worth the cost. She carries $300,000 in student debt.” $300,000? Where’d she go to undergrad? I agree that schools need more skin in the game, but that’s an absurd amount of money. This is promising: “The number of apprenticeships nearly doubled to more than 700,000 between 2012 and 2019, according to the Labor Department, and they are expanding beyond trades into white-collar industries like banking and insurance. California has plans in place to increase apprenticeships in the state to 500,000 from 75,000 by 2029.” Teaching college students has dramatically boosted my interest in and approval of apprenticeships, and it’s hard to read a book like Paying for the Party without thinking there are serious problems in today’s four-year college system.

* Peter Turchin, the historian who sees the future. For another argument, see “Turchin is wrong: There will be no coming collapse of America.”

* “Charles Koch Says His Partisanship Was a Mistake.” Better late than never and all that, but it is really, really late.

* The United States’s structure is causing or deepening many of the political problems we’ve been seeing over the last 20 years. It’s hard to discuss the content of current political debates without looking at their structure.

* College professors’s views on college; fairly accurate. I like 12, and wish 14 were more true (it’s likely school and student-age dependent: the more draconian the school’s admissions standards, and the further along the student is, the more true it likely is). 25 is extremely accurate and yet I don’t think I’ve heard anyone, ever, talk about teaching reading—and that’s in my own experience teaching freshman comp classes. Close reading seems erratically taught today, and basic comprehension seems too often to be lacking.

* “The Underground Movement Trying to Topple the North Korean Regime: Adrian Hong says he leads a group of “freedom fighters” conducting a revolution. Has the U.S. already betrayed them?”

* Rising Above a Flood-Tide of Writers: similarities between the 18th Century and today. It’s also possible that a century, or centuries, from now, writing will be little studied relative to visual media.

The margins are narrow; why?

The Left Still Doesn’t Understand Trump’s Appeal:” 2020 should have been a “lay-up” election, as I’ve heard it phrased—but it wasn’t, and it would be useful to more carefully ask why it wasn’t. Moreover, “‘The joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the left has always dreamed of,’ says David Shor, a Democratic polling and data expert who developed the Obama 2012 campaign’s internal election-forecasting system.” Democrats seem to have become reliant on a highly educated elite group, who make a lot of noise in the media and academia but who may not be terribly popular more broadly. As norms between those two groups grow, whose preferences are going to be foregrounded?

Matt Yglesias has a new blog, Slow Boring, and in its inaugural post he writes: “The practical rhetorical function of that choice [to make racist statements], however, was the anathematize the idea of trying to cater to their cultural attitudes at all even though whatever you want to say about those attitudes they were compatible with voting twice for a Black president.” He also says, “The truth is Democrats have started burrowing-in on a very particular style of politics that simply has a limited range of appeal.”

The structure of the United States is biased in favor of certain residents of relatively small states and while those biases are bogus, barring some unlikely changes to the Constitution (I favor those changes), they’re here and need to be acknowledged and dealt with by political parties that want to win elections—even elections unfairly stacked against them. Yglesias says, “The reality is that most people, most of the time, mostly don’t care whether the stuff they read about politics is true or if the ideas they advocate for actually work,” and that’s a good way of describing a version of what I’m trying to do here, and learning how something works is key to making it work better—or to working it better.

Megan McArdle writes, “The ‘highly educated elites’ are stuck in a nightmare of their own making.” The word “internet” doesn’t appear in her column, but that’s what it’s really about: the Internet makes talking back to authority (“highly educated elites”) easy, and it makes pointing out hypocrisy both easy and, often, viral. Not all allegations of hypocrisy or bad behavior are true, but some are, and, if you make enough casual claims on Twitter, some of them will likely turn out to contradict each other. The “highly education elites’s” views on race as the most salient feature of “diversity” may also not map onto normal people’s views: it may instead be that “Liberals Envisioned a Multiracial Coalition. Voters of Color Had Other Ideas: Democrats may need to rethink their strategy as the class complexities and competing desires of Latino and Asian-American demographic groups become clear.” The gap between media/academic discourse on this subject and how normal people seem to view it seems very wide, and it seems like a gap that doesn’t get a lot of play in the media or academia—perhaps because we’re all caught in our own little bubbles. To be sure, something is broken in the Republican party, and that brokenness should be acknowledged, liken a broken bone should, but if the left can’t get away from unpopular (and borderline racist) identity politics, that’s going to reinforce the problems on the right.

It would be very nice if the alternate, fact-free world facilitated by parts of cable news and talk radio didn’t have an audience, but for whatever reason they do. If we’re lucky, it turns out that Trump is the biggest problem, and the right will feel itself forced back towards a reality-based universe. If we’re unlucky, Trump really is the symptom, not the problem.

Overall, trying to learn more is good, and elections are also information machines.

Links: The story of Sugarland, Lockwood on Nabokov, carbon news, and more!

* What philosopher Peter Singer has learned in 45 years of advocating for animals.

* “‘Sleeping giant’ Arctic methane deposits starting to release, scientists find.” This might be the most important, evolving story of the year and decade.

* I Have Started for Canaan: The Story of the African American Town of Sugarland.

* Patricia Lockwood on, hilariously, Nabokov.

* Phoenix, the Capital of Sprawl, Gets a Radically Car-Free Neighborhood. The story concerns Culdesac’s development, which sounds incredibly charming. The author, Conor Dougherty, wrote Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America, which is highly recommended.

* Stripe now offers carbon sequestration services with one mouse click. This is one of these seemingly small stories that could turn out to be very important—like the link immediately above, about the efforts to build neighborhoods that are much less carbon intensive than current, car-centric designs. If Stripe’s one-click carbon sequestration services take off, we may see massive investment in the industry and technology. Here is a good podcast interview with two of the Stripers responsible.

* “China Keeps Inching Closer to Taiwan” and that’s bad.

* Secrets about People: A Short and Dangerous Introduction to René Girard.

* Does the Democratic party have a highly educated elite (HEE) problem? It’s notable that Biden, perhaps because he is very old, didn’t attend and absorb the mores of the usual educational-institution subjects. Relatedly, the University of California—Irvine (UCI) appears to have a “Vc [of] Equity and Inclusion” who makes $334,000 a year, including $268,000 in regular pay and the rest in benefits. Nice work if you can get it. One does wonder what a lot of the students, who are struggling to pay tuition, and what a lot of recent grads, who are struggling to pay their student loans, might think.

* “Trump Is Gone. Trumpism Just Arrived.” Better than the usual, if not good overall. Still, one could look at the link immediately above and wonder how it relates to this essay.

* “How To Tell If You’re Being Canceled.” Better definitions than the usual, and an analysis of “cancel culture.”

* “ The need to touch: The language of touch binds our minds and bodies to the broader social world. What happens when touch becomes taboo?” One of the many and rarely acknowledged costs of PC paranoia.

* “How Do You Know When Society Is About to Fall Apart?” On the guy who started collapse studies.

* The chip wars of the 21st century.

Personal epistemology, free speech, and tech companies

The NYT describes “The Problem of Free Speech in an Age of Disinformation, and in response Hacker News commenter throwaway13337 says, in part, “It’s not unchecked free speech. Instead, it’s unchecked curation by media and social media companies with the goal of engagement.” There’s some truth to the idea that social media companies have evolved to seek engagement, rather than truth, but I think the social media companies are reflecting a deeper human tendency. I wrote back to throwaway13337: “Try teaching non-elite undergrads, and particularly assignments that require some sense of epistemology, and you’ll discover that the vast majority of people have pretty poor personal epistemic hygiene—it’s not much required in most people, most of the time, in most jobs.”

From what I can tell, we evolved to form tribes, not to be “right:” Jonathan’s Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion deals with this topic well and at length, and I’ve not seen any substantial rebuttals of it. We don’t naturally take to tracking the question, “How do I know what I know?” Instead, we naturally seem to want to find “facts” or ideas that support our preexisting views. In the HN comment thread, someone asked for specific examples of poor undergrad epistemic hygiene, and while I’d prefer not to get super specific for reasons of privacy, I’ve had many conversations that take the following form: “How do you know article x is accurate?” “Google told me.” “How does Google work?” “I don’t know.” “What does it take to make a claim on the Internet.” “Um. A phone, I guess?” A lot of people—maybe most—will uncritically take as fact whatever happens to be served up by Google (it’s always Google and never Duck Duck Go or Bing), and most undergrads whose work I’ve read will, again uncritically, accept clickbait sites and similar as accurate. Part of the reason for this reasoning is that undergrads’s lives are minimally affected by being wrong or incomplete about some claim done in a short assignment that’s being imposed by some annoying professor toff standing between them and their degree.

The gap between elite information discourse and everyday information discourse, even among college students, who may be more sophisticated than their peer equivalents, is vast—so vast that I don’t think most journalists (who mostly talk to other journalists and to experts) and to other people who work with information, data, and ideas really truly understand it. We’re all living in bubbles. I don’t think I did, either, before I saw the epistemic hygiene most undergrads practice, or don’t practice. This is not a “kids these days” rant, either: many of them have never really been taught to ask themselves, “How do I know what I know?” Many have never really learned anything about the scientific method. It’s not happening much in most non-elite schools, so where are they going to get epistemic hygiene from?

The United States alone has 320 million people in it. Table DP02 in the Census at estimates that 20.3% of the population age 25 and older has a college bachelor’s degree, and 12.8% have a graduate or professional degree. Before someone objects, let me admit that a college degree is far from a perfect proxy for epistemic hygiene or general knowledge, and some high school dropouts perform much better at cognition, meta cognition, statistical reasoning, and so forth, than do some people with graduate degrees. With that said, though, a college degree is probably a decent approximation for baseline abstract reasoning skills and epistemic hygiene.

Almost anyone who wants a megaphone in the form of one of the many social media platforms available now has one. The number of people motivated by questions like “What is really true, and how do I discern what is really true? How do I enable myself to get countervailing data and information into my view, or worldview, or worldviews?” is not zero, again obviously, but it’s not a huge part of the population. And many very “smart” people in an IQ sense use their intelligence to build better rationalizations, rather than to seek truth (and I may be among the rationalizers: I’m not trying to exclude myself from that category).

Until relatively recently, almost everyone with a media megaphone had some kind of training or interest in epistemology, even they didn’t call it “epistemology.” Editors would ask, “How do you know that?” or “Who told you that?” or that sort of thing. Professors have systems that are supposed to encourage greater-than-average epistemic hygiene (these systems were not and are not perfect, and nothing I have written so far implies that they were or are).

Most people don’t care about the question, “How do you know what you know?” are fairly surprised if it’s asked, implicitly or explicitly. Some people are intrigued by it but most aren’t, and view questions about sources and knowledge to be a hindrance. This is less likely to be true of people who aspire to be researchers or work in other knowledge-related professions, but that describes only a small percentage of undergraduates, particularly at non-elite schools. And the “elite schools” thing drives a lot of the media discourse around education. One of the things I like about Professor X’s book In the Basement of the Ivory Tower is how it functions as a corrective to that discourse.

For most people, floating a factually incorrect conspiracy theory online isn’t going to negatively affect their lives. If someone is a nurse and gives a patient a wrong medication or incorrect medication, that person is not going to be a nurse for long. If the nurse states or repeats a factually incorrect political or social idea online, particularly but not exclusively under a pseudonym, that nurse’s life likely won’t be affected. There’s no truth feedback loop. The same is true for someone working in, say, construction, or engineering, or many other fields. The person is free to state things that are factually incorrect, or incomplete, or misleading, and doing so isn’t going to have many negative consequences. Maybe it will have some positive consequences: one way to show that you’re really on team x is to state or repeat falsehoods that show you’re on team x, rather than on team “What is really true?”

I don’t want to get into daily political discourse, since that tends to raise defenses and elicit anger, but the last eight months have demonstrated many people’s problems with epistemology, and in a way that can have immediate, negative personal consequences—but not for everyone.

Pew Research data indicate that a quarter of US adults didn’t read a book in 2018; this is consistent with other data indicating that about half of US adults read zero or one books per year. Again, yes, there are surely many individuals who read other materials and have excellent epistemic hygiene, but this is a reasonable mass proxy, given the demands that reading makes on us.

Many people driving the (relatively) elite discourse don’t realize how many people are not only not like them, but wildly not like them, along numerous metrics. It may also be that we don’t know how to deal with gossip at scale. Interpersonal gossip is all about personal stories, while many problems at scale are best understood through data—but the number of people deeply interested in data and data’s veracity is small. And elite discourse has some of its own possible epistemic falsehoods, or at least uncertainties, embedded within it: some of the populist rhetoric against elites is rooted in truth.

A surprisingly large number of freshmen don’t know the difference between fiction and nonfiction, or that novels are fiction. Not a majority, but I was surprised when I first encountered confusion around these points; I’m not any longer. I don’t think the majority of freshmen confuse fiction and nonfiction, or genres of nonfiction, but enough do for the confusion to be a noticeable pattern (modern distinctions between fiction and nonfiction only really arose, I think, during the Enlightenment and the rise of the novel in the 18th Century, although off the top of my head I don’t have a good citation for this historical point, apart perhaps from Ian Watt’s work on the novel). Maybe online systems like Twitter or Facebook allow average users to revert to an earlier mode of discourse in which the border between fiction and nonfiction is more porous, and the online systems have strong fictional components that some users don’t care to segregate.

We are all caught in our bubble, and the universe of people is almost unimaginably larger than the number of people in our bubble. If you got this far, you’re probably in a nerd bubble: usually, anything involving the word “epistemology” sends people to sleep or, alternately, scurrying for something like “You won’t believe what this celebrity wore/said/did” instead. Almost no one wants to consider epistemology; to do so as a hobby is rare. One person’s disinformation is another person’s teambuilding. If you think the preceding sentence is in favor of disinformation, by the way, it’s not.

Briefly Noted: Of Human Bondage, Three-Ring Circus, and One-Billion Americans

* Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty by Jeff Pearlman: Sports are reality TV for guys, and this book covers the inside drama; maybe guys use sports as a way of developing knowledge of human personalities and foibles that are otherwise available in fiction (noting that fiction may depict obsession and the achievement of technical mastery infrequently). Unfortunately, Three-Ring Circus is full of weird repetitions and language infelicities, despite its impressive reporting. An example: “Jerome Crawford, O’Neal’s King Kong Bundy-esque bodyguard and constant companion,” “When [Shaq] finally was reached, he told the team he expected three members of his personal entourage (including his longtime bodyguard, Jerome Crawford,” “The altercation was finally broken up when Jerome Crawford, O’Neal’s bodyguard,” and “O’Neal writes that he and his bodyguard, Jerome Crawford, arrived at the coach’s house unannounced.” How many times do we need to be reminded of who Jerome Crawford is?

Then there are comments like: “Walker [a Laker player] often returned home at 6 a.m., took a quick nap, forgot to brush his teeth, then darted off for practice with the scent of Budweiser and Bar Hag IV on his breath.” Bar hag? Does he mean a woman at a bar? What separates a woman at a bar and a “Bar Hag?” Where does the line of demarcation occur? If she is a Bar Hag, is Walker the male equivalent? These kinds of jarring comments throw me and should, I think, throw many readers. They’re a shame, because there’s an excellent book in this not-bad book.

* One Billion Americans by Matt Yglesias: I already basically bought the premise of this book before starting, but One Billion Americans goes through a lot of the data showing the immigration is good, the U.S. is not densely populated, and people moving to an effective legal and regulatory regime is good for the people who move here and the ones who are already here. An excerpt summarizing One Billion Americans is here, and I’ve not seen good, data-informed rebuttals of its main point. “Good” and “data-informed” are near-synonyms in the preceding sentence, but most beliefs manage to achieve neither. The two most important policies Yglesias likes, liberalizing zoning codes (the same ones raising the cost of housing across the country) and improving transit, are good whether you want the approximate number of Americans to stay the same or want it to triple. There are some tentative steps in these directions (earlier this week, Austin, Texas finally approved some light rail lines), but they could use some federal heft behind them.

So that’s the technical side of things, but I think the cultural and psychological might be neglected; there are problems in the U.S., like (potentially rising) narcissism and small-minded self-satisfaction, that may impede arguments towards greatness. One way to look at the United States today is as a nation of persons who think, “I’ve got mine, and I don’t give a f- about anyone else.” That’s a fair reading of contemporary zoning laws, and of the federal government’s attitude: about 40% of federal spending goes to straight subsidies of old people, and most of those old people bought housing units decades ago; they’re effectively being subsidized twice. And subsidies to old people aren’t going towards the future. Younger people, meanwhile, are often most focused on themselves and getting laid. Who’s the real constituency for greatness today? When we can gaze endlessly at ourselves in the smartphone’s reflection, why bother changing? That’s not my view, but it’s a view compatible with many local and national voter priorities today. My view is closer to Yglesias’s, but I’m not sure there’s a great way from here to there.

This review is good, as is this one. My other challenge with One Billion Americans is that I’ve read a lot of the same stuff Yglesias has; it’s nice to have so much of it in one convenient place, though.

* Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham: Lots of subtle commentary on human nature, but it’s a windy and often boring novel. Don’t know where to go next with the plot? Introduce the protagonist to another random person. Most of the school years should be cut, and Of Human Bondage was too early to say what really went on in many all-male English boarding schools of the day: some of the masters accepted low pay and social status in return for a horrifying “reward” of sorts.

If it were shorter, it could be great—but lots of individual observations are astute, and the basic struggles of Philip, the protagonist, are modern feeling: the fading power of religion, the struggle to find work, the struggles between the sexes (at one point, Mildred “had taken their measure. They were boys, and she surmised they were students. She had no use for them.”). Mildred is right, but for reasons irrational Philip takes to her, perhaps seeking out rejection. It’s not a great book, but it is sometimes a compelling one, and its most compelling aspects occur in its last quarter: not when Philip is young, but when he is older. Not when he has promise, but when he sees where life has brought him, which is different than what he’d imagined, as it is for most of us. There’s a bit of a cupcake ending, but the struggle is felt throughout.

Philip’s uncle, a vicar, tells Philip to get in line: “You’ve been brought up like a gentleman and a Christian, and I should be false to the trust laid upon me by your dead father and mother if I allowed you to expose yourself to such temptation” and Philip declines: “Well, I know I’m not a Christian and I’m beginning to doubt whether I’m a gentleman.” How one reads their relationship probably depends on the reader’s age: a younger reader sees Philip wanting to be himself, and the older reader may understand the Vicar’s good intentions despite his limitations.

Heady stuff for 1915. I wonder how many people then pretended to be Christians but weren’t in their hearts, and I wonder too what the equivalent of a “gentleman” is today.

Links: Early work, some election talk, some privacy talk, deep thinking, and more!

* Paul Graham on early work: highly relevant to artists, too.

* The psychedelic election.

* Moxie Marlinspike and Signal. The number of people who care about privacy seems very small, but not zero, and Signal seems to convenience.

* “America Is Having a Moral Convulsion: Levels of trust in this country—in our institutions, in our politics, and in one another—are in precipitous decline. And when social trust collapses, nations fail. Can we get it back before it’s too late?” An important essay that I think under-emphasizes two important trends: legally-imposed housing scarcity and the student-loan racket. The former is important because it raises the cost of almost every household’s largest expense. The latter distorts incentives and ensures that colleges and universities get paid regardless of the quality of the product or the outcome of the customer. Yet both can be changed, if enough voters want them changed: we look for the villain, thrashing about angrily in the search, until we find a mirror, and see that the villain is us. Remember that the voter turnout rate 18 – 29 is about half that of people 60+, a consistent trend that ought to be further emphasized.

* Is geothermal energy happening? My impression is, or was, that only particular geologies are suited to geothermal energy, which limits its appeal. The fall in gas prices is interesting, though: I’ve worked on grant projects related to oil and gas companies deploying fracking and related technologies to geothermal power. If gas prices stay low, the temptation to shift towards geothermal, or least balance portfolios, will rise.

* Tyrants hate a plague.

* “Reopen the American Mind: In the midst of an existential crisis for higher education, is it even reasonable to expect the humanities to survive?” I’m surprised to see this argument in this venue, and The Closing of the American Mind is weird and dated in some ways (the jeremiad against rock music, for example), but, as the writers note, it’s prescient in others.

* “What to Do About Xinjiang:” an unusually substantive essay.

* “Is Deep Thinking Incompatible With an Academic Career?” On

* “I am an Uighur who faced China’s concentration camps.” See above regarding Xinjiang. Are you paying attention to the genocide?

* Seriously considering going back to desktop computers, for reasons of privacy, fairness, and security. Granted, I’m writing this on an iMac, which is not as open or secure as many other choices, like the cited System76 boxes. What’s the state of Linux desktop search, I wonder?

Links: Housing challenges, Kubrick’s work, where the money’s going, and more!

* 2020 had the warmest September on record. And still we continue to dither.

* “Prefab was supposed to fix the construction industry’s biggest problems. Why isn’t it everywhere? The Canadian company Bone Structure can produce zero net energy homes months faster than a traditional builder. But its challenges highlight the difficulty of disrupting the entrenched construction industry.”

* “Don’t Pay for 95%,” something we seem almost psychologically incapable of understanding.

* Analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s work.

* “College Enrollment Slid This Fall, With First-Year Populations Down 16%.”

* Speaking of education: “Large variation in earnings returns among postgraduate degrees, with returns of more than 15% for masters in business and law, but negative returns for many arts and humanities courses.”

* Psilocybin is going to be legalized, at least therapeutically, in the near future.

* Cruise is actually going to deploy driverless cars as an Uber-like service in San Francisco?

* American magical realism, with Bruno Maçães, who has written various interesting things.

* The Great Unread: On William Deresiewicz’s The Death of the Artist. Seems like a book for which the reviews suffice.

* Where has San Francisco’s money gone? A useful framing starts the story: “In 2009, San Francisco’s municipal budget totaled $6.5 billion—$8.6 billion in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation and population. San Francisco’s budget for 2019 is an eye-popping $12.2 billion, a 10 percent increase just since 2018.”

* Why is wokeness winning?, Andrew Sullivan asks. I’m not sure that it is, or that the reasons stated are really the correct “why,” as opposed to a post-hoc story.

* Are gas stoves bad?

* Where are all the successful rationalists?

* Labor’s share of national income is falling, but it’s primarily going to increased rents—which are increasing due to laws that prevent the development of new housing.

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