Links: The microchip war, enlightened centrism, Joseph Wambaugh, and more!

* Towards an enlightened centrism. This is pretty close to what I aspire to hit. Epistemology matters, and knowledge matters, and picking a side (besides accuracy) is undesirable. These basic notions seem not to be widely shared, however.

* “The Double Life of John le Carré.”

* Why women rebel against pro-life.

* Joseph Wambaugh, the Man Who Invented the Modern Cop Novel. I wonder who today might be inventing the modern cop Substack, or maybe Substack novel.

* The great electrician shortage.

* Why Do Women Online Blow Relationship Issues Out Of Proportion?

* Are Iranians tired of being ruled by insane old men?

* “On the unexpected joys of Denglisch, Berlinglish & global Englisch.”

* Reading on screens appears worse for comprehension than reading on paper, which matches my anecdotal experiences and impressions.

* Make Parking Impossible. Note: “We drive them incessantly, and hardly ever in the mountain roads of BMW commercials, but rather in the chockablock midday traffic of endless overpasses and interchanges that have made our landscapes into a wasteland of nonporous asphalt. Our addiction to quick and free parking has turned our cities into vast expanses of garages and tarmac that are unsightly and dangerous to walk across.” We should aspire to do better, and to be more imaginative.

* “Why I’m not worried about AI causing mass unemployment.” Marc Andreessen has been saying in podcasts that the healthcare, education, and government sectors are so highly regulated that AI won’t be able to improve productivity in them.

* “Derek Parfit: the perfectionist at All Souls.” I wish I found reading Parfit’s books as interesting as I find reading about Parfit.

* “Nudity and Nonconsensual Viewing: The question of whether an artwork is offensive is now determined by the least generous interpretation of the most sensitive viewer.” We’ve made the most neurotic, least reasonable people, and loudest people the arbiters of art and much else. Maybe that’s a mistake: “[D]espite most people’s tolerant self-image, moral censorship of the visual arts remains a problem.”

* “Amazon’s quiet open source revolution.” That’s good!

* The curious side effects of medical transparency.

* “China Could Soon Be the Dominant Military Power in Asia.” And we seem to be sleepwalking into this.

* China’s New Strategy for Waging the Microchip Tech War. Related to the one immediately above.

Links: Writing before money, education and AI, the long game, and more!

* “Out to lunch,” a report on what being a write was like before anyone had any money: “Big money entered the British book world some years later, an American intrusion that upended the business – indeed turned it from the break-even passion of tweedy, literature-loving, mostly older men [. . .] into an enterprise dominated by accountants. Until then book writing was, with a few exceptions, small-scale and poorly paid. Publishing was not the corporate scheme Americans eventually made it, but still the cottage industry it had always been.” Maybe book publishing is going back to that. Maybe book publishing is already back to a version of that.

* “The future of education in a world of AI.”

* Are colleges finally re-discovering the virtues of free speech?

* “The Left, TikTok, and the World’s Biggest Police State.” I don’t think I’ve seen any good arguments, anywhere, for letting TikTok continue to operate in the U.S. under its current model. In addition, TikTok has major network effects but its core mechanics can be trivially copied (and already seem to have been, in the form of YouTube Shorts, Instagram’s Reels, and so forth).

* “US could soon approve MDMA therapy — opening an era of psychedelic medicine.” Better late than never. Banning MDMA by making it a Schedule I drug was a mistake when it happened and continues to be a mistake, and one that makes millions of people pay the price of our collective folly.

* “I personally named my house and business after Silmarillion references – I would have named my car after one, but I learned my friend had named her car after it first, and that Steven Colbert had also named his car after it, and it would be weird to have all these cars named ‘Vingilótë’ driving around. At this point I backed off.” Would it be weird, or too weird? From “Contra Kriss On Nerds And Hipsters.”

* Why aren’t we taking every Chinese refugee we can? Questions that should be more often asked.

* CATL claims mass production breakthrough of cells with 500 Wh/kg. I’d put a “maybe” on this one, but CATL is a real company, not a random research lab or a tiny company that’s big on press releases. If this turns out to be true, and the price reasonable, and there aren’t other gotchas, it’s a hugely important breakthrough.

* Rice cookers are great, underrated kitchen gadgets. I use mine all the time.

* “The Forgotten Drug Trips of the Nineteenth Century: Long before the hippies, a group of thinkers used substances like cocaine, hashish, and nitrous oxide to uncover the secrets of the mind.” The human fondness for intoxicating substances seems nearly infinite. I’ve been reading the book and it is perhaps too detailed, especially regarding Freud (material about him may simply be available), but it’s also good, interesting, and forgotten.

* Data > anecdote

Links: What a good life means, the excess of parking, the real world, and more!

* “Preparing to die has a lot to do with having had a good life.” And other existential thoughts occasioned by aging and witnessing people become no longer people.

* “Becky is depressed.” A speculative essay on life purpose and meaning. Maybe it’s too often addressing strawmen, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

* The U.S. has way too much parking, and some municipalities are finally doing something about it. Parking lots are antithetical to living the good life, and hasten death. I was listening to an interview with Kelly Starrett, the guy who wrote Become a Supple Leopard, and he emphasize the importance of walking.

* You’d be happier living closer to your friends. Why don’t you? Parochial U.S. zoning. Excess parking requirements. We should allow missing middle housing. Let freedom reign!

* Building A New American Arsenal.

* The Democratic Senator Who Says Liberals Have Lost Their Way on Housing.

* “The Unbearable Costs of Becoming a Writer: After years of hard work and low pay, the risks I took to work in publishing are finally paying off. But now, I wonder about the price my family paid, and whether it was too steep.” See also me in “The death of literary culture.” Plus, the tools for writing and disseminating writing are now so cheap that making money as a writer is somewhere between “harder than ever” and at least “different from before.” A few writers make it work via Substack, for example, but most don’t. The pre-2009 paths to being a “writer” are mostly closed, or dead, and many of the more important “writers” today are people who do other things but also write.

* Before politics, there is the world.

* The golden age of aerospace.

* How to be an intellectual.

* The ‘real’ reasons the English department died.

* “Less Cars, More Money: My Visit to the City of the Future.”

* “Lessons from the 19th Century:” “Americans were a people with an extraordinary sense of agency. This is one of the central reasons they transformed the material, cultural, institutional, and political framework of not only the North American continent, but the entire world. That people is gone.” The word “were” is key in the first sentence, and it sets up the last sentence. Can we recover a sense of agency and action, or are we going to be permanently stuck mired in complacency? Maybe we need a new frontier, consisting of O’Neill Habitats, or similar, to re-open the frontier.

* Are teachers actually natural conservatives?

Links: The evolution of work, the effectiveness of the drug war, and more!

* “What hunter-gatherers demonstrate about work and satisfaction.”

* “Global Supply of Cocaine Hits Record Level, U.N. Says: Coca cultivation rose 35% from 2020 to 2021, new report says.” At what point does one declare defeat, legalize, and move on? Like the war in Afghanistan, when do we admit stalemate?

* Looks like RSV vaccines will be available by next winter, which is great!

* Orwell, Camus, and the truth. “Both of these writers took the view that truthfulness was more important than ideological allegiance and metaphysics, that the facts should be derived from the real world, rather than the world of ideas. They were similar stylistically too: both wrote candidly, clearly and prolifically.”

* “Education Commentary is Dominated by Optimism Bias.” The title makes it sound more sedate than it is.

* “Living the writing life means living with failure.” Though this underestimates the extent to which the writing world has changed in the last two decades.

* “The Great Feminization of the American University.”

* On Sebastian Berry; a promising-sounding writer if you’d like more Irish history.

* “Surprise Computer Science Proof Stuns Mathematicians: For decades, mathematicians have been inching forward on a problem about which sets contain evenly spaced patterns of three numbers. Last month, two computer scientists blew past all of those results.”

* The subway is for transportation: it seems like this ought to be obvious, but here we are. Ezra Klein dubbed the tendency not to focus “everything-bagel liberalism.”

* “Progressives need to embrace progress.” Also seems obvious, but I’ve not seen it argued this way before.

* The Uncomfortable Truth About Why Buying Furniture Is So Miserable.

* Nuclear power’s economic stack.

* “America is fighting the wrong university wars.” The bigger problem, in this writer’s view, is the non-elite, non-exclusionary public schools that act as “student warehouses,” and that don’t accomplish much.

* Argument that China is unlikely to invade Taiwan.

* On Brandon Sanderson, who appears to be a bad writer at the sentence level but is popular nonetheless.

* How to Build a Kitchen (and Why).

* On Henry Green, a most unusual writer.

Links: The face of God at TSMC, the technological sublime, and more!

* “I Saw the Face of God in a Semiconductor Factory.” On TSMC, among many other topics.

* If you’d like to see the government-mandated shortage of housing in action.

* “Professional Sedation: Tenure is allowing humanities scholars to write and teach our profession into well-earned irrelevance.”

* Conservatives win all the time. These are some political examples, but it’s not clear that there are deeper, more cultural wins: the feel of how people behave may not show the types of win. That’s kind of what Douthat is discussing in “How the Right Turned Radical and the Left Became Depressed.”

* Melatonin’s apparent virtues. The right substances at the right doses augment the human mind and increase well-being, it seems.

* How loneliness reshapes the brain.

* “The age of average.” Don’t be dissuaded by the boring title, as it’s a deeply considered and interesting essay, and one that’s compatible with “Meditations on Moloch.”

* Bicycle. Really impressive, and non-standard, illustrations here.

* “Aviators Make Biden an All-American Badass.” Maybe?

* “The Build-Nothing Country.” Which is bad.

* “Americans Are Losing Faith in College Education, WSJ-NORC Poll Finds.” How could they not, would be another form of the question. Or, alternately: “Why did it take this long?” Back in 2017 I wrote a post about the (apparent) rise of apprenticeships, which seemed like a good thing: years of teaching college students shows that a lot of people who are in college shouldn’t be there—if for no other reason than they don’t like sitting in desks doing abstract symbol manipulation.

* “Many wealthy people are considering leaving China.” Can you blame them? Wouldn’t you?

Links: What’s happening around the world, albeit via many lenses

* Machines of mastery and the power of deliberate practice—which is becoming more available over time.

* On the book Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning by Nigel Biggar. I’ve not read the book but am interested in plausible, counter-narrative arguments.

* “How The Netherlands Built a Biking Utopia: In the 60s and 70s the Dutch government was building car-centered cities. Here’s how and why they pivoted.” We get the behaviors and practices we build for. If we build for cars, we get cars. If we build for other things, we get other things. Choices matter.

* “Russia’s population nightmare is going to get even worse.” The level of long-term, strategic thinking being displayed in Russia is, to put it mildly, not high. One theory is that democracies win over dictatorships because the quality of the information and decision-making degrades terribly in the latter over time.

* Related to the above: “Jeff Sonnenfeld’s Bombshell About the Russian Economy.”

* The genius of mathematician James Glimm.

* Do nonprofits drive social change?

* Reasons Heterodox Academy is failing? I’m not sure it is, and it’s hard to define “success” well.

* “The Age of American Naval Dominance Is Over: The United States has ceded the oceans to its enemies. We can no longer take freedom of the seas for granted.” Things we seem not to be paying attention to.

* On Ernst Jünger.

* Humorous review of Bronze Age Mindset, by Bronze Age Pervert (BAP).

* Dan Wang’s 2022 letter on China.

Links: The housing shortage, attempts to delay death, bowdlerizing art, and more!

* The housing shortage affects everything. This really should’ve been noted and foregrounded 10 – 20 years ago, but “late” is better than “never.” Even the people who take their cues from what other people are saying or doing seem to be noticing.

* “Sam Altman invested $180 million into a company trying to delay death.” Cool! It’s strange how few of Silicon Valley’s really rich people seem to pursue massively scaled change.

* Bowdlerizing Roald Dahl and the Ethics of Art.

* “A Novelist’s Reflections on Useful Fictions: Hope Mirrlees and her curious masterpiece.” On the novel Lud-in-the-Mist, which sounds surprisingly appealing.

* “U.S. on Track to Add $19T in New Debt over 10 Years.” It’s interesting how little this makes the news (although inflation has been lowering the true cost of debt).

* How many things that we call “mental illness” are culturally contingent. One has to admire the first paragraph: “Around the wide world, all cultures share a few key features. Anthropologists debate the precise extent, but the basics are always there. Language. Tools. Marriage. Family. Ritual. Music. And penis-stealing witches.” This essay addresses similar topics, and it has a literarily great, but also horrifying, end to its first paragraph:

Laudor was frequently contacted to comment on issues of mental health and became a kind of citizen activist, calling for autonomy and respect for those with mental illness. He was a symbol of success for a whole community of vulnerable people. Then he hacked his pregnant girlfriend to death with a kitchen knife.

* “How to go car-free — or car-light — in Middle America.”

* “Apartment Rents Fall as Crush of New Supply Hits Market.” Supply and demand matter, and homelessness is first and foremost a housing shortage problem.

* “Trapped in the Trenches in Ukraine: Along the country’s seven-hundred-mile front line, constant artillery fire and drone surveillance have made it excruciatingly difficult to maneuver.” Though I’ve been known to complain about the legacy media, this is the kind of in-depth, impressive reporting that legacy media outlets routinely produce, which almost none of the complainers, myself included, do.

* “I’m What’s Wrong With the Humanities.” One possibility, underrated in my view, is that many writers have gotten better and learned from the past, such that many more recent books are in fact better, and better plotted, and better paced. Most older books that I read I’m also mentally editing as I go.

* On availability cascades.

* Ongoing attacks against academic freedom.

Links: Is Google doing poorly?, ideology tests, freedom to build, and more!

* Argument that Google is in internal, cultural decline.

* “DEI Is an Ideological Test: New College is not a weak target, and if Christopher Rufo wants to challenge an entrenched bureaucracy, then he will have a fair fight.” A surprising venue for this.

* “The fall and rise of American religion.”

* “I Thought I Was Saving Trans Kids. Now I’m Blowing the Whistle: There are more than 100 pediatric gender clinics across the U.S. I worked at one. What’s happening to children is morally and medically appalling.” From an unusual source.

* Even NPR notices, however belatedly, that prohibiting anything other than single-family housing units is bad.

* Big Tech at the End of History. How much thymos do you have in your life?

* Low Life and High Style: on the writer Jeffrey Bernard, who “was certainly not a man celebrated for his virtue.” The first half of his life may have been fun but the second half seems mostly to have been sad: “A 1987 episode of Arena devoted to Bernard found him in a rented room on Great Portland Street, adorned with just a few framed photos of his minor achievements and encounters with the famous, an overflowing ashtray, a dial telephone, a couple of rubber plants and not much else.”

* “Monuments to the Unthinkable: America still can’t figure out how to memorialize the sins of our history. What can we learn from Germany?”

* “‘They Didn’t Understand Anything, but Just Spoiled People’s Lives:’ How Russian invaders unleashed violence on small-town residents.” The Russian effort manages not only to be cruel and inhumane, but also counterproductive: if you were Ukrainian, or really anyone in any country near Russia, and you saw what the Russians did with the territory they invaded, would you want to be governed by the Russians, or would you want to fight?

* Apple might want to be move its supply chain out of China.

* “Give Up Seventy Percent Of The Way Through The Hyperstitious Slur Cascade.” But moral entrepreneurs need ways to attempt to make themselves virtuous and the outgroup evil, so expect more hyperstitious cascades.

* The Taliban governs Afghanistan. Note: “The Taliban had won their revolution, and had everything they’d ever wanted. But now they confronted the truth that all successful revolutions face: winning a state is a lot more glorious than managing one. To their new world—a world of responsibility, a world that demanded a different sort of synthesis—they seemed to have little in the way of an answer.”

* Induction stoves are good.

* It’s possible to make really good tofu, albeit at what labor cost?

Links: Boredom, mandated boredom in the legacy book business, and more!

* “Why is everyone so boring?” A question from Robin Hanson, which implies an unusual perspective.

* This is not a good system for publishing books people want to read. Maybe it’s a good system for certain kinds of in-group signaling, but it’s a poor one for actual readers.

* If the above is not too much already about the book business, see “Anatomy of a Book Cancellation.” I appreciate both because it feels like it’s become harder and harder for me to find anything worth reading in newer books, and I’ve been trying to figure out if the fault is mostly mine. Why do I find myself reading and citing so many Substacks and so few books? These two links indicate that the problem is not primarily me but in what used to be called the intellectual world. As Nigel Bigger, the author, writes: “Why are adult senior managers in publishing houses—as in universities—so willing to indulge the illiberal clamoring of their junior colleagues?”

* Actually, vaccines remain a triumph; don’t let the media’s negativity bias convince you otherwise.

* “As a US Navy fighter pilot, I witnessed unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP).” And he says: “Objects demonstrating extreme capabilities routinely fly over our military facilities and training ranges. We don’t know what they are, and we are unable to mitigate their presence.”

* “US Cities Are Falling Out of Love With the Parking Lot: California and many local governments are scrapping requirements that once made cars the center of the urban landscape.” If self-driving cars are almost “here”—and they might be—we won’t need many parking spaces.

* Argument that the nuclear power industry is the problem, not the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Not convinced, but it is an argument. And, also, an unlikely argument that we’re at the dawn of nuclear energy abundance.

* “The Approaching Disintegration of Academia,” according to one writer, who ignores that many of the problems cited go back decades, and yet the system grinds onwards, protected and cosseted by a web of regulations and subsidies.

* Is woke-ism winding down? I prefer the question framing to the statement framing.

* On declining construction productivity.

* Some schools are banning smartphones. Smart.

Links: Wealth through housing supply, getting serious as a culture, and more!

* How Japan ensures its people are rich:

But when property tends to depreciate, it means that houses don’t cost as much to buy in the first place; that lower price frees up household cash that can be put into stocks and bonds.

Basing wealth on productive assets instead of unproductive land is good for the economy — housing scarcity might pump up prices and build individual wealth for homeowners, but at the national level it simply holds back economic growth.

The U.S. should follow suit by liberalizing zoning laws and allowing landowners to build whatever they want.

* “It’s Time to Get Serious: Prevailing wisdom insists that your twenties are for extreme exploration—collecting memories, friends, partners, identities. It’s BS.”

* “You Don’t Want A Purely Biological, Apolitical Taxonomy Of Mental Disorders.” This Astral Codex Ten essay should probably be titled “You can’t get a purely biological, apolitical taxonomy[…] because one doesn’t exist and probably can’t.”

* How we created a self-hating generation, which reads nicely with the link immediately above. I also seem to be getting old enough to find essays in which “building character” feature prominently attractive.

* Books about the U.S.-China technology wars. This is, for many people, probably better than the books.

* ChatGPT accelerates programing skill acquisition. We’re still at the very start of where this is going.

* “A Beautiful Portrait of My Enemy: A Review of the True Believer (Part 1).” I’ve been meaning to read The True Believer, and have a copy of it, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

* “The Taliban Were Afghanistan’s Real Modernizers.” Not what I expected, and yet a compelling argument.

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