Links: Identity politics, the weird love of “old” housing units, tools for thought, and more!

* “Hollywood’s New Rules: The old boys club is dead. But a new one—with its own litmus tests and landmines—is rapidly replacing it. ‘This is all going to end in a giant class-action lawsuit.'” One wonders how this intersects with what seems to be Hollywood’s creative desert, and Hollywood’s obsession with sequels.

* “Stop Fetishizing Old Homes: New construction is better on nearly every conceivable measure.” Seems obvious, and prices reflect these preferences.

* It appears that international relations people have expected war over Ukraine for decades. I had no idea. Apparently no one in Europe did, either, or they, and Germany in particular, would have built out nuclear energy infrastructure, rather than relying on Russian gas.

* Julian Barnes on Penelope Fitzgerald.

* The Last Psychiatrist writes his book that’s nominally about porn. The book itself is a mess, unfortunately, to my eye and it seems to many others’ eyes.

* “America’s Top “Environmental” Groups Have Lost the Plot on Climate Change.” Seems obvious: we could have dramatically improved our emissions profile 40 years ago with nuclear, but we didn’t, and at the time the Sierra Club and many other “environmental” groups opposed nuclear power and opposed building denser housing—leading us to where we are today. The ability of organizations to fail to pursue effective strategy for their stated ends is notable.

* Against Identity Politics.

* “ ‘It’s ugly out there’: Rail thefts leave tracks littered with pilfered packages.” It seems L.A. and perhaps other cities are having to re-learn why we have basic law enforcement.

* “China looks to the Western classics.” Does interest in classics demonstrate a country or culture on the upswing? Does disinterest show the opposite? Or is neither correct?

* “How can we develop transformative tools for thought?

Links Building dynamism and abundance, and avoiding stagnation

* Building American Dynamism, which is the most important in this batch—but also an idea that’s linked to in the next link.

* On the need for abundance. The “abundance agenda” has been needed for at least 20 years, and it’s great to see someone pitching it. A later link in this set speaks to youth conformity culture, and part of the conformity may be driven by material scarcity:

That the young would always be against authority once seemed a truism, but things have changed. In Western democracies, the political economy has become unrecognisable. For three decades after 1945, unemployment in advanced European economies remained low. Odd jobs for the young were plentiful, and the knowledge economy barely existed. If you worked for a few hours in a shop or warehouse, who cared what you did at night or what your opinions were? Today, by contrast, a worker in the knowledge economy – a consultant or a media executive – is hired and rewarded for certain habits and dispositions that are effectively indistinguishable from political opinions. Imagine a recommendation letter that started: “John has an excellent command of Marxist dialectics and what is more he embodies it in praxis and feeling…”

Your opinions may also be too easily found online: perhaps you should speak of them under your real name, particularly if you feel the tare of heresy.

* “The Dirty Work of Cleaning Online Reputations.” Lots of interesting game theory here.

* “Naturally Selective: Female Orgasm and Female Sexual Selection.” Textual and from Quillette.

* Why the nuclear industry is stagnant. One of these important things that’s somehow not “news,” while random political wrangling is.

* “Youth culture was once rebellious. But in today’s digital world, conformity rules.” Consistent with my own anecdotal sense.

* “The Gender Gap Is Taking Us to Unexpected Places.” Surprising to see something this heretical, given the venue.

* “If Einstein Had The Internet: An Interview With Balaji Srinivasan.”

* “Buy things, not experiences.” This one had me at “Baumol’s Cost Disease” in particular.

* Replace waiters with QR codes.

* “The Reactionary Trap: It’s not just a right-wing phenomenon. Thinkers on the left, beware.” Consistent with my reading; I also followed James Lindsay for a while, and then stopped, for the same reasons the writer cites (“Looking through Lindsay’s Twitter history is like watching a train coming off its tracks”). Unfortunately, measured and reasoned essays rarely seem to be widely cited, Tweeted, and linked to, while unhinged lunacy gets the opposite—although I have to wonder: is there such a thing as “hinged” lunacy?

Links: MagnaCut steel, the sociology of art, the history of art, UFOs, and more!

* Long review of MagnaCut, a stainless steel that appears to have very desirable properties for knives. I cook a lot and thus quality knives are of high interest to me.

* “Against shock,” and I’ve noticed this: “And then—this is my contention—somewhere towards the 1960s the culture simply ran out of ways to shock.” In the ’90s and ’00s, I think that, in some circles, it was still cool to be denounced by Christians or Christian groups; today, that’s faded, a new racial piety has settled over the world that once celebrated offending people—but only the right people. In “Disenchantment and Dogma,” William Deresiewicz writes that “we pour our unsatisfied religious longings into an ever-shifting array of crypto-religious enthusiasms: movements, cults, conspiracy theories, New Age quackery, fandom—now, disastrously, politics” and that “into that vacuum, has lately stepped the ideology of ‘social justice,’ with all the certainties and all the furies of a new religion on the march.” Maybe the religious impulse will always be with us. In terms of art and shock, it may be also that the culture of narcissism that artists used to specialize in, became the general culture: “So, in other words, a dead-end—artists simply repeating passed-down wisdom about their expected social role as risqué exhibitionists.” If much of the culture is composed of risqué exhibitionists, that’s not a way for artists to stand apart. So what is?

* “Where’s today’s Beethoven?” An attempt at comparing past and present art and achievement, among many other things. I subscribe to the idea that many art forms have a “big bang” of achievement in which relatively early practitioners get 80% of the way “there,” barring technological achievements. That caveat is important: to most people, movies before the time period they grew up are unwatachable due to poor sound and image quality, for example. You, reader, may not be most people.

* UFOs above the Channel Islands. Also mentions Kelly Johnson, the Skunkworks pioneer, and his encounter with UFOs.

* On Sinclair Lewis, proclaimed by the headline as “The Novelist Who Saw Middle America as It Really Was.” I don’t find his novels readable today, apart from historical interest, and prefer this essay to them.

* “Dangerous humid heat extremes occurring decades before expected.”

* Moxie’s first impressions of web3. Subtle, surprising.

Links: On free software, on ClimeWorks, on tools for thinking, and more!

* “Moral lessons from free software and GNU Emacs.”

* More on ClimeWorks, a firm attempting to scale carbon capture and storage; they accept subscriptions. The small number of subscribers relative to the large number of people saying we should “do something” about climate change is a notable datum to me.

* On Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell, among other things. I’m not convinced his life is to be admired, and somehow Mrs. Bridge seems easy for me to skip.

* Preferring to be popular is better than not, particularly when elections are involved.

* “Street crime has distorted our politics before. If we don’t get it under control, it will do so again.” Thinking historically: underrated, still. It seems that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg will stop seeking prison sentences in slew of criminal cases, including armed robbery. So Manhattan will apparently treat a guy entering a store, pointing a gun at the clerk, and leaving as a misdemeanor.

* “A year ago, I still believed very much that the best use of my energy was to try to work to shore up the old institutions from the inside. I was wrong.” Among other topics. Consistent with my essay on “Dissent, insiders, and outsiders: Institutions in the age of Twitter.”

* “ Hospitals Still Not Fully Complying With Federal Price-Disclosure Rules: Some healthcare systems post incomplete pricing data or nothing at all.”

* On the death of the media industry, including: “Also, I’m afraid reading may have declined in general. I have no data on this. But the digital war of attrition on reading has gotten so bad that the kind of people who once didn’t have the attention span to read novels now don’t have the attention span to get through an entire text message.”

* Dan Wang’s 2021 letter.

* The sad demise of Scientific American. Or, another piece, on the same subject.

* Great interview with Marc Andreessen.

Links: Values, nuclear fusion, hospital prices, psychology, and more!

* After years of doubts, hopes grow that nuclear fusion is finally for real.

* [Scott Aaronson’s] values, howled into the wind: an essay I identify with.

* “Three Miles and $400 Apart: Hospital Prices Vary Wildly Even in the Same City.” Frustrating, given how hard it still is to extract honest pricing from hospitals, even though pricing is, or should be, as easy as an SQL lookup.

* “Burn the Universities and Salt the Earth.” An overstated rant, but not wholly inaccurate, either. This is overstated: “Liberal arts programs in major universities issued hobby degrees to women who would be taken care of economically by their newly found husbands, or hobby degrees to men who would inherit the family business. Outside of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants, nothing of economic value was taught, but university attendance was still mandatory to stay rich, because the university was not merely a place of knowledge, it was the 20th century equivalent of a networking and dating site for rich people,” but then many polemics can be directionally right while getting some specifics wrong, or overly simplified.

* “Covid Panic is a Site of Inter-Elite Competition.” The back end, especially, is not about Covid, but about people. Freddie is missing any statements about hospitals or hospital capacity, however. None of us exist in isolation, and it seems to me that most Americans still expect to be able to go to a hospital, be evaluated relatively quickly, and be seen relatively quickly, even though those conditions have become substantially worse in the last two weeks. We’re getting some press coverage of this, but not, in my view, what we should be getting.

* “This is what peak culture looks like:” a reading of culture progressing more like technology than some critics might want to admit. I remember occasionally pitching ideas like this in grad school, where “old” is somehow automatically considered better than “recent.”

* “Review | In ‘Old Poets,’ Donald Hall dished on Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot and more.”

* “Innovation Liability Nightmare.” Important, though you may not immediately think so.

* Why the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) matters. Better than the usual and yet still needs to slip in a bit of woke garbage, about 80% into the article.

Links: On college teaching, the audio revolution, Mel Brooks, and more!

* “The Quiet Scandal of College Teaching.” This one, at least, has the good sense to situate itself historically: people have been complaining about teaching quality for just about as long as there’ve been things like schools (Martin Amis and Philip Larkin have some funny bits, I think in letters, complaining about JRR Tolkien, who was a soft-spoken mumbler as in instructor). Amusingly: “In a study in 2010 at the Air Force Academy, where a mandatory curriculum allows for convenient natural experiments, professors who gave higher grades received higher student evaluations — but their students did worse in subsequent classes. Professors who graded more strictly got lower evaluations, but their students performed better later on. In short, student evaluations do not protect against poor teaching [. . . .] If anything, they make it even worse.” I wrote “What incentivizes professors to grade honestly? Nothing” a few years ago. How much has changed?

* “The Audio Revolution,” which may be part of the reason selling print books doesn’t work any more, among many other things.

* “Mel Brooks on losing the loves of his life: ‘People know how good Carl Reiner was, but not how great.'” Among other topics.

* “18 steps to a democratic breakdown.” Which we may be heading towards. Which is bad. The article is also written by someone who studies coups, as opposed to someone who’s taken their views from Twitter and TV.

* “The Second Great Age of Political Correctness: The P.C. culture of the ’80s and ’90s didn’t decline and fall. It just went underground. Now it’s back.” I’ve speculated that journalists and academics may have become modern-day clerics, a thought echoed in Andrey Mir’s book Postjournalism.

* “What’s So Great About Great-Books Courses?” The essay cites historical precedent, which is good, but also neglects cost of school today, versus historically, which is less good. And the attacks against the Great Books have taken on a different tenor in the last decade. A different writer argues that “The Left Should Defend Classical Education,” an unusual point today; that it is unusual may be sad.

* The Arc Institute is “for curiosity-driven biomedical science and technology” and it’s got “open positions for Technology Center group leaders, research scientists, and operational staff” right now. It’s designed to be on people more than particular projects.

* “Digg’s v4 launch: an optimism born of necessity.” A beautiful and hideous story containing my favorite line: “but the optimism it entailed was tinged with madness.”

* “U.S. foreign policy is a big, dumb machine?”

Links: The feeling of feelings, the nature of modern institutions, the individual versus the group

* “A drama professor told students they got their feelings hurt too easily. They decided to fight back.” Another of these stories on “What’s amiss in higher education. ”

* “How to build stronger institutions in an age of wokeness” is a better title than the one given. It’s congruent with my “Dissent, insiders, and outsiders: Institutions in the age of Twitter.”

* “New mothers, not married: Technology shock, the demise of shotgun marriage, and the increase in out-of-wedlock births.” Not the usual, but possible and maybe even persuasive.

* “The global pandemic has deepened an epidemic of loneliness in America.” See also Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression by Johann Hari, which still seems like a great book to me.

* The cost of Ohio State’s diversity bureaucrats.

* “Perhaps You Should Not Spend All Day Ridiculing Others From Afar.” Seems highly reasonable.

* “Facing Hostile Chinese Authorities, Apple CEO Signed $275 Billion Deal With Them.” The article is stashed behind a paywall, but it’s useful and revealing to note Apple’s attitude towards U.S. operations and government, versus its attitude to China operations and government.

* “How the University of Austin Can Change the History Profession.” That would, it would seem, be good.

* “ Why Washington Won’t Fix Student Debt Plans That Overload Families: Lawmakers know federal Plus loans burden millions of parents and graduate-degree earners with balances they can’t afford, yet Congress repeatedly punts on changing the programs. Here are five reasons.” There are the usual insane examples, like “Rhiannon and Michael Funke, both 43, owe a combined $778,000 in federal student loans for multiple graduate and undergraduate programs. Dr. Funke is in law school. Ms. Funke says she earns less than $100,000 annually as an attorney and that ‘We feel like we are shackled.’” How many colleges and universities, deeply concerned about the poor and underrepresented minorities, have foregone student-loan funding models?

* “Democrats Are Losing the Culture Wars: Echoing the New Democrats of the Clinton era, some liberal critics are begging Democrats to change course.” Obvious.

Links: On Bitcoin, medical fears, order and disorder, and more!

* “Bitcoin and Electricity.”

* “Doctors Warn New Medical School Guidance Would Lead to Unqualified Physicians and Unscientific Medicine.”

* “The Culture of the Single Millennial.” The sort of thing that reminds us of why Substack is useful.

* Attempts to create a universal flu vaccine.

* “San Diego Hasn’t Surrendered to Disorder:” one reading of events.

* “The Overwhelming Underwhelmingness of Academia: Three Reasons to Leave:” on the epistemological crisis in the social “sciences.”

* Is academia becoming less masculine? And further comment. Matches my anecdotal impressions.

* “A Multigenerational Home in Amsterdam Can Be Reconfigured for Changing Demands.” This is the sort of thing that overly restrictive mandatory single-family zoning in the United States prevents. Much of the U.S. tech and entrepreneurial sectors are creative, fast-paced, and adaptive, while anything related to land use and housing is slow, sclerotic, and ossified. We can and should do better.

* Why Michael Bloomberg is backing charter schools.

* “Alumni Withhold Donations, Demand Colleges Enforce Free Speech.” Possibly a bogus trend story.

* “When the Crime Wave Hits Your Family: Our nanny’s living room in Oakland was sprayed with bullets. It didn’t even make the local news.” It’s hard not to foresee a political backlash in California and elsewhere.

Links: The University of Austin, subcultures, H.G. Wells, complication over simplification, and more!

* “I’m Helping to Start a New College Because Higher Ed Is Broken” by Niall Ferguson. More on the University of Austin.

* Apply for an ACX grant.

* “Inflation Is Up, But the Inflation Truthers Are Still Wrong.” Maybe.

* “The Melancholy of Subculture Society.” Gwern, and thus detailed.

* H.G. Wells, the prophet of the future, among other things. Unfortunately, this: “First, after two World Wars, his belief in perpetual progress came to seem fatuous, and then, in the age of Woolf and Joyce, his Victorian style looked baggy and gassy” matches my reading experience: I’ve at least skimmed The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and a few other of his novels, and wished for a better editor. I don’t think it’s his belief that seems fatuous; I think that, if he had a tighter prose style, he’d still be read.

* “Individuals matter,” by Dan Luu: seems obvious, and yet simultaneously something I never hear.

* “Marriott refused to host Uyghur conference, citing ‘political neutrality.’” Supporting genocide is an interesting definition of “political neutrality.”

* “The importance of complicated sex.”

* “How I got wealthy without working too hard: Specialize, Don’t live in big cities, Go full-remote.” Work in tech, too.

* “College professors have a right to provoke and upset you. It’s a part of learning. Whether from the right or from the left, calls to silence faculty voices on America’s campuses are inconsistent with the values of a university.” Seems obvious to me, though I still think it important to encourage students to think, without telling them what to think. I worry about the propensity towards telling students what to think, especially politically. See also “A drama professor told students they got their feelings hurt too easily. They decided to fight back.” One has to wonder about the student-loan burden and repayment experience of students in that department.

* Guy works impressively hard to upgrade the soldered RAM on his Dell laptop. A great tale but also note the conclusion: “I’ve now got an XPS13 with 16GB of memory. But next time I think I’ll just buy the 16GB variant upfront.”

* Emergent Ventures’ life-changing actions.

Links: How to learn, the University of Austin launch, “simping,” and much more

* “Willingness to look stupid.”

* “Launching the University of Austin; the headline says: “We Can’t Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We’re Starting a New One. I left my post as president of St. John’s College in Annapolis to build a university in Austin dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth.” Maybe it’s slightly related that the WSJ says: USC Pushed a $115,000 Online Degree. Graduates Got Low Salaries, Huge Debts: The prestigious private university hired a for-profit firm to recruit students to its social-work master’s program; ‘You don’t feel like you’re part of an elite school.’” Making the University of Austin announcement on Substack also seems like a sign and harbinger.

* Andrew Sullivan: “The Betrayal Of Our Gay Inheritance.”

* “Simping and the Sexual Marketplace.”

* “How Alan Sokal Won the Battle but Lost the ‘Science Wars.’” It seems that, the richer we are, the more able we are to adopt some maladaptive beliefs.

* “Is College Worth It? A Comprehensive Return on Investment Analysis.” Depends on degree, above all else.

* “The Evangelical Church Is Breaking Apart: Christians must reclaim Jesus from his church.” Martin Gurri is never mentioned, but this may be another example of the challenge of maintaining institutional coherence in the social media age: “What happened at McLean Bible Church is happening all over the evangelical world.” Splintering and incoherence and attacks on institutions, without trying to build new ones, seem common.

* The diary of Claude Fredericks, who is the model for Julian Morrow in The Secret History; it’s the last bit that makes him interesting, as he seems to have been an indifferently skilled writer, overall.

* “I’m Still Here: the same old materialist civil libertarian Marxist I’ve always been.” The title makes it sound awful, but the emphasis on moral universalism, civil liberties, and the need for true material progress are welcomed; it seems strange that those positions might be associated with something like the Libertarian right today, when not long ago they were more associated with the left. Perhaps there’s a possible left-right synthesis around the need to build stuff. Also from Freddie: “Two Examples of the State Enforcing Social Justice Norms.”

* Tales From the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) bureaucracies. Taken together, they are an argument for not becoming involved in academia.

* “Liberals Read, Conservatives Watch TV,” among many other ideas.

* Is Protonmail worthless?

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