Links: Optimism is underrated, non-competes may be jettisoned, and more!

* “I’ve bludgeoned you with statistics in order to make a point: Pessimism about our future is unwarranted.” And, also: “If there is one lesson from the events of the past year, it is that open societies such as ours have an ability to adapt in a way that closed societies simply do not.” We have advantages and it seems that freaking out about what’s happening enables us to course-correct—which is one of those advantages. Did you know there’s an RSV vaccine from Moderna that appears to work—as do several other vaccines? Next winter’s respiratory virus season may be considerably better than this winter’s, and that’s great.

* How Elites Abandoned the Masses.

* “U.S. Moves to Bar Noncompete Agreements in Labor Contracts.” One of these very important policies that, like zoning reform, seems boring but is actually vital. It’s also consistent with the “optimism about the future” point, above.

* “The Truth about Demographic Decline:” most people want more kids than they feel they can afford to have. This is another instance of exclusionary American housing policy creating scarcity in many domains, including this one.

* “Exxon made ‘breathtakingly’ accurate climate predictions in 1970s and 80s: Oil company drove some of the leading science of the era only to publicly dismiss global heating.” We’ve had a pretty good idea that what has happened, would happen, and yet there’s a lot of chaff and dishonesty in the intellectual air.

* Battery-powered appliances sound very good. I have an (expensive) Breville induction stovetop that plugs into a standard 120V socket and it’s amazing. The gas stovetops are now essentially unused. The induction stove is so much faster than a gas stove, and I can’t imagine many people going back to gas, if they don’t have to. The culture-war stuff around these issues is mostly stupid. Focus on cooking, not signaling.

* “The energy crisis and Europe’s astonishing luck.” We’ll know more countries are serious when they break ground on nuclear reactors.

* Epistemological arguments about what “lying” is, among other interesting things.

* “So much of popular culture now offers a quite unexciting vision of what your mind and language might be capable of. I found [John Dunne] a brilliant antidote to that, a bulwark against a kind of anti-intellectualism.”

* “How DEI Is Supplanting Truth as the Mission of American Universities.” Depressing and detailed. Then again, regarding the link immediately above, it says: So much of popular culture now offers a quite unexciting vision of what your mind and language might be capable of.” It seems one could say something similar of universities today, but now people who are interested in what the mind and language might be capable of can find each other online, which wasn’t true not so long ago. Universities used to be among the few places one could find people interested in ideas. Here are some ideas about improving the climate in universities.

* “Man Need Sex and Violence, Not Top-Down ‘Meaning’.” Which is not the sort of thing one hears much of. But it might be true, or somewhat true. The Professor in the Cage is good on this.

Links: Houellebecq, old books (in the physical sense), progress in biology, and more!

* Why China loves some conservative philosophers and political scientists; this is distinct from a certain modern political party, which the article’s original headline doesn’t make clear, but I will. There’s also an interesting discussion between Bret Stephens and David Brooks on “The Party’s Over for Us. Where Do We Go Now?

* We’re drowning in old books. But getting rid of them is heartbreaking. As the article says, children don’t actually want their parents’ old books, or those of other relatives. When someone passes, their books drift away, like dandelion seed in the wind.

* The Economist on Britain’s woes. It strangely omits the cost of housing (this is really, really bad) and the role that Britain’s exclusionary zoning plays in impoverishing Britons. “Plays” is a deliberate choice here: exclusionary zoning is an ongoing drag on Britain. Like many American cities and states, Britain can and should make the highest-cost item in most people’s budgets cheaper. Unlike America, Britain’s high-value economic activity is extremely concentrated in one place, and this creates further problems.

* “Between 2019 and 2020 1,799 historians earned their Ph.D.s, and only 175 of them are now employed as full-time faculty members.” How many, like me, quit before finishing their Ph.D.s when they realized that there is no job market and their notional scholarly work is at best unimportant and at worst a waste of time? The article’s headline is “What Should We Do About Undergrads Who Want to Pursue a Humanities Doctorate?” and the answer is so, so obvious.

* Michel Houellebecq’s sexual apocalypse. Maybe, but I think that 1. Houellebecq had uncommonly bad and narcissistic parents and 2. one reason for low birth rates in the U.S. and Europe is ultra-high housing costs and an utter failure to build enough housing (Japan is better in this regard but likely faces its own challenge).

* “The Media Very Rarely Lies.” Except that the headline is a form of the lack of context that the article discusses. Which is pretty funny, if you think about it. A bunch of people provide here what they think are counter examples, until those counter examples are closely read.

* Pop fiction writers who died in 2022.

* The need for abundance in all things, instead of the legally-enforced scarcity we’ve got.

* Despite all the blah blah blah you read about “clean” energy, world coal use reached a new high in 2022. Solar, wind, and batteries are good, but the first two are intermittent and the last only stores power. There is currently no good alternative to nuclear power; failure to focus on nuclear means we’re going to burn more coal and more methane. How many environmentalists operate on feelings rather than data?

* Why is progress in biology so slow? One of these really important questions, which seldom dominate the news.

* Argument that Emily in Paris is actually a critique of itself, media culture, and social media.

Links: The size of political bodies matters, price transparency, loneliness, and more!

* U.S. school districts are too big, and, according to this writer, a larger number of smaller districts would offer more competition. “A larger number of smaller districts” may not be so different from charter schools.

* Essay about John le Carré and his letters.

* Where do all those college administrators come from and what do they do? I’ve not seen real efforts to enumerate who all these administrators are and what exactly they do.

* Open-source hospital price transparency. Good and useful, albeit an effort I expect to take a while to play out.

* “Conservatism as an Oppositional Culture,” which starts with comparisons to LBJ and moves forward in unexpected ways. Is it right? Maybe not, and its causal inferences seem dubious, but it is very interesting, and unusual.

* Markets go up, but they also go down. Who knew?

* “How the US Military is Responding to China.” Detailed, although maybe too optimistic.

* Perspective on crypto. Long-term perspective, that is. Crypto helps enormously in countries without reliable banks and/or central banks. It helps much less in countries with those things. Will the U.S. ever monetize the debt? If it does, then the U.S. will turn out to be less reliable than it looks now.

* “Jack Selby of Thiel Capital is using a new VC fund to invest in Arizona startups.”

* Illiberal values.

* More on loneliness. Loneliness underlies more problems than is commonly assumed, I think.

Links: The nature of trust, the need to create abundance, and more!

* The Anti-Promethean Backlash, which is, among other things, on the need to create plenty and abundance more than scarcity.

* Books on China.

* “Why Trust In Journalism Has Collapsed.” A lot of journalism ranges from “wrong” to “blinkered” to “bullshit.” And people can figure out the parts that are wrong, blinkered, and bullshit in near-real time. I’m not sure what comes next: distributed truth? Something like Astral Codex Ten? Something else? But trust in journalism may collapse because the feedback loop for noting and speaking up about bullshit is so fast, and actual experts in a given field often have more and more accurate things to say about a given topic than the “experts.” I wrote about this sort of thing back in 2015, and I don’t think things have improved since.

* Using desalination to create water abundance. Abundance is good and scarcity is bad, and yet we’ve legally mandated scarcity in many areas, which is also bad.

* “The U.S. Needs More Housing Than Almost Anyone Can Imagine: For Americans to live a productive, prosperous, happy life, homes need to be truly abundant.” Seems obvious to me, yet isn’t public policy.

* “The end of the culture of narcissism” is the title, but it’s a peculiar melange of ideas, many of them claimed to be causal without any evidence. Correlation is not causation!

* Erik Hoel says goodbye to academia and hello to Substack.

* Woody Allen’s movies.

* On Lucian Freud, who’d today be cancelled.

* “Brilliant Jerks, Crazy Hotties, and Other Artifacts of Range Restriction.” Statistics are hard. Or is it “Statistics is hard?” because “statistics” is singular, despite the “s” at the end?

* In praise of slow cookers. The Instant Pot has a slow-cooker function that works fine.

* Not terribly interesting essay on the case for studying literature and the history of literary academic institutions. It feels a little bit like “the case for studying religion,” in an era when religion is mostly over.

* “The End of Vaccines at ‘Warp Speed:’ Financial and bureaucratic barriers in the United States mean that the next generation of Covid vaccines may well be designed here, but used elsewhere.” Important news that isn’t getting the attention it should.

* “How Monogamy and Incest Taboos Made the West,” which is an eccentric review of Joseph Henrich’s book The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous.

* On Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis, which looks pretty good right now.

Links: Using money better, electing people better, understanding reality better, and more!

* “How the US Can Stop Wasting Billions of Dollars on Each Transit Project.” Speaking of that, San Francisco’s Central Subway opens today, after 13 years of active construction and around $1.6 billion spent to extend the subway 1.7 miles. At those prices and speeds, we’re never going to get substantial, desperately needed infrastructure improvements.

* “The plan to save America by killing the partisan primary.” Good.

* Taiwan prepares to be invaded. And, along the same lines: “Why Japan Is Gearing Up for Possible War With China” (Bloomberg). If we build and acquire warfighting gear using the same principles we use to build subways, we’re going to have real, big problems. There are people working on this problem, but, with the Dept. of Defense being the only major prospective client, much depends on that client.

* “Democrats’ Long Goodbye to the Working Class.” Which seems bad.

* “How Australia became the world’s greatest lithium supplier.” Many people wrongly project lithium shortages by looking at existing, proven lithium reserves, while not attending to the fact that higher lithium prices drive more exploration, and make previously uneconomical lithium sites economical.

* What you hear about “Meta” (the company that used to be called “Facebook”) may not align with reality. The company’s share price is down, but much of what you’ve read is a continuation of the bogus media takes that spun up in November 2016. Notice that my post is from 2018. I personally am not a big user of Facebook products, including Instagram, but the media view on them has been consistently wrong for six years.

* An overview of concrete forming technology.

* Are the twin woke and MAGA fevers breaking? One hopes.

* An essay on Colette. I started a few of her novels and found them boring, and likely to be of chiefly historical interest.

Links: The ills facing “creative” writing, medical news, chips and China, and more!

* “Who killed creative writing?” is the title, but also, notice this: “I have known several published authors who, struggling on the midlist in mid-career, have gone back and gotten MFAs for the sole purpose of securing a teaching job. These authors had often published multiple books and been celebrated in their time.” The economic basis for writing books, which has always had its challenges, is perhaps weaker than ever.

* Why don’t doctors study the clitoris? From the NYT.

* Human challenge trials are a good idea.

* “Was Jack Welch the Greatest C.E.O. of His Day—or the Worst?” A story reminiscent of the ones about the guys from McDonnell Douglas who financialized Boeing and destroyed a great company in the process.

* We should have COVID nasal vaccines.

* Actual mental illness is not a meme.

* Chips and China. Also: “How China Lost America,” which is a framing one doesn’t see much, but perhaps should.

* “Nobody Seems to Have an Answer for Propaganda Posing as Local News.” Which is another way of saying: “No one has a way to make local news make money.” And that’s been true for at least a decade, and likely longer.

* Philip Roth and American manhood. Not exactly how I’d frame it, but more interesting than the usual.

* “China’s weapons acquisition cycle 5-6x faster than the United States — ‘We are going to lose’ if we don’t change.” Speed matters.

Links: Casanova biography, the case for optimism, where life comes from, and more!

* “The Thoughtful Prick,” an essay on Casanova and the new biography of him.

* The Case for Energy Optimism, and I’m subscribing to the RSS feed on the strength of this essay. He notes, for example, that “Over the last few years cobalt demand estimates have been crushed by developments in cathode chemistry due to cost and performance improvements in simpler chemistries – I am sceptical that this is the last time that today’s ‘unobtainium’ becomes tomorrows chopped liver.” When you hear about fundamental resource limitation, be politely skeptical: usually that means “prices haven’t risen sufficiently to make the investment in more acquisition worthwhile.”

* “Xi Jinping, forever: China has shackled itself to…this one mediocre guy.” The last paragraph is excellent, and the Xi episode a reminder of the strengths of the system mentioned there.

* Maybe those UFO reports aren’t actually UFOs. A shame, as I wanted to believe: but I’ve seen pushback against this, too: even if most UFO reports have terrestrial explanations, some, it seems, don’t.

* Fiction in the age of screens, which is very long, and which says that written fiction is uniquely capable of helping us acquire other perspectives; but I’m not sure that this property is unique to fiction, relative to many forms of narrative nonfiction, and even some non-narrative nonfiction. The end is worth reading, although without the journey it will mean less:

But at least, if the novel falls, it won’t be because of its artistic essence. It won’t be replaced in its effects by equivalent television or video games or any other extrinsic medium. If the novel goes, it will be because we as a culture drifted away from the intrinsic world. Left without the novel our universe will be partitioned up, leaving us stranded within the unbreachable walls of our skulls. And inside, projected on the bone, the flicker of a screen.

* “The irrelevance of test scores is greatly exaggerated.”

* More about John le Carré; I think the essays are more useful than the books.

* How food powers your body, how the Krebs cycle works, and the origins of life, as well as where life might be headed if we can engineer our metabolisms better.

* “The death of god and the decline of the humanities.” This reads like a dispatch from another century; I like the anachronistic usage of “profane literature.”

* Missile defense is obviously better than the alternative and we should do it.

Links: On John le Carré, the future of masks, what remains of literary culture, and more!

* “How Smiley’s people conquered Britain:” not the usual.

* “The Masks We’ll Wear in the Next Pandemic: N95s are good. Some scientists want to do much better.” Or, will they turn out to be like condoms, in that regulation and path dependence will prevent improvement?

* A mark of the death of literary culture. I read the interview in question, which I’d call closer to anodyne than “incendiary.” Have you noticed, as I have, how pallid almost all of the American novels of the last five to seven years have been? I have.

* Why wasn’t the steam engine invented earlier? Part III.

* “ACT scores continue to decline, dropping to lowest levels in 30 years.” I wonder how many high school students read for pleasure. See also “Computers and education: An example of conventional wisdom being wrong,” which is from 2013, but is applicable to pandemic learning losses too. I’m not sure online education works well for most people, and I still think that focus and concentration are the biggest barriers to learning for most people.

* Why was the Lyme disease vaccine tossed away?

* The appeal of Andrew Tate?

* What Alan Moore has been up to; Lost Girls may still be his most interesting and weirdest work.

* “The Environmentalists Undermining Environmentalism,” or how the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) undermines its own stated goals. Stasis is not progress, even though NEPA encourages stasis.

* In favor of the lab-leak hypothesis.

Links: Unblocking abundance, the death of literary culture, on “supplements,” and more!

* “How Americans edit sex out of my writing” is consistent with me in “The death of literary culture.” Vibrant and realistic writing isn’t likely to be found in books by mainstream / legacy American publishers any more: it’s likely to be found online, or nowhere. If you’d like more, albeit on another genre, here is a writer on the way “Formalists will define a poem by its technical elements, such as rhyme, meter, cadence and metaphor, while free-verse poststructuralists might discuss poetic elements of authenticity, voice and self-expression,” and today the latter have won: “When I later became part of the “poetry world,” however, I realized that no one cared about my ideas. Rather, audiences wanted my traumas punctuated by millennial irony and a kind of wink-wink cleverness.” Some formalists are still out there, but they’re hard to find.

* “Failing Introductory Economics: A Davidson professor bemoans the state of his classroom.” Note the comments about performance across time, although I wonder if Davidson is a school that’s suffering in the COVID era.

* “Ten years of YIMBYism have accomplished a lot.” Good. You’ve seen me touch on these topics.

* “How Trustworthy Are Supplements?” “Pretty trustworthy, actually” appears to be the answer, which isn’t what I would’ve guessed.

* “The Weakness of Xi Jinping: How Hubris and Paranoia Threaten China’s Future.”

* New COVID-19 boosters are highly effective and useful.

* “Shein and the Tech Cold War.” Note the dangers of TikTok included in there, too.

* “Unblocking Abundance.” Material that will feel familiar to regular readers, but here is another version of that which should be obvious.

Links: Math as the great secret, Paul Graham learns from users, the power of ideology, and more!

* Math is the great secret.

* “Academic Administrators Are Strangling Our Universities.” Not the best-argued thing I’ve ever read, but has some perspective.

* Are non-drone combat aircraft now worthless?

* What Paul Graham has learned from users.

* “The Ideological Refusal to Acknowledge Evolved Sex Differences.”

* “Factory Jobs Are Booming Like It’s the 1970s.”

* “And yet the wokies continue to represent students as oppressed truth-tellers and advocates, rather than as entitled consumers who expect to be handed everything in exchange for their crushing loan debt.” For more, see “NYU organic chemistry professor terminated for tough grading.” Although it’s possible that he was, or is, a bad teacher—but, if so, why did, and do, schools tolerate poor instruction over long periods of time? Speaking of length, long-time readers may recall me writing about how nothing incentivizes professors to grade honestly (as with many things I write, “what is true” and “what might be true in an ideal world” differ. You may read here a recent, improbable proposal for reforming universities.

* Interview with Alec Stapp on progress and progress studies.

* “To save downtowns, we need to embrace windowless bedrooms.” Among other things. Segregation of urban uses, apart from heavy industrial uses, was and is mostly a mistake.

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