Links: Charter schools, how not to cover books, healing divisions, and more!

* Are charter schools being punished for their successes? Too much mood affiliation in the given headline, but of interest nonetheless.

* “‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape,” from the BBC. A horrifying story.

* “A YouTuber Shoots to Literary Fame in France, Ruffling Feathers” is a terrible article because it manages to say nothing at all about the quality of the book in question. Its author seems terrified to take a stance, and so presents the scenario as one of interest groups, rather than of literary or artistic quality. How boring.

* “How to Talk to Millennials About Capitalism: Polls show that young people embrace socialism—but they also distrust government regulation and admire entrepreneurialism and small business.” Not a great title but an interesting article; for most people, “socialism” seems to be a mood or identity affiliation, not a policy preference or set of policy proposals.

* “The reshaped Mac experience,” and “reshaped for the worse” one might add. I’ve noticed some of these things, but they’re aren’t sufficiently irritating to make me leave altogether. Messages and iMessage are also key bits of infrastructure for me.

* “Jonathan Haidt Is Trying to Heal America’s Divisions.” Good, and a good article. We could and should spend more time slowing down, thinking, and recognizing common humanity—and less time on Facebook.

* “Students Punished for ‘Vulgar’ Social Media Posts Are Fighting Back.” Good. The administrative overreach should see a backlash.

* The relentless Jeff Bezos.

* “Luck, foresight and science: How an unheralded team developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time.” A tremendously impressive story.

* “The Terrifying Warning Lurking in the Earth’s Ancient Rock Record.” An adaptation, essentially, of The Ends of the World (a great book worth reading). Few people incorporate the basic points made by such research analyses into their everyday lives: the gap between the “terrifying warning” and the sales of pickup trucks, for example, is vast, and perhaps widening.

* What is the value of restraint?

* “The Journalistic Tattletale and Censorship Industry Suffers Several Well-Deserved Blows.” Not the exact framing I’d prefer but a description of a real issue.

Links: Patricia Highsmith the person, free speech, know your amphetamines, and more!

* A poisonous person, Patricia Highsmith was an enduring writer. Highsmith “abjured monogamy herself, believing it undermined her creativity.” That is a theory, I suppose.

* “China seized my sister. Biden must fight for her and all enslaved Uighurs.” A few of you have said that you’re tired of the China-related links, which is understandable, but, simultaneously, we have a massive genocidal regime that’s massively imprisoning, sterilizing, and sometimes murdering ethnic minorities within its own borders, while simultaneously threatening to invade democratic neighbors, and those things are really bad.

* “The Office of Free Speech: A Not-So-Modest Proposal for Academia.” Consistent with me in “Have journalists and academics become modern-day clerics?

* “The Climate Crisis Is Worse Than You Can Imagine. Here’s What Happens If You Try. A climate scientist spent years trying to get people to pay attention to the disaster ahead. His wife is exhausted. His older son thinks there’s no future. And nobody but him will use the outdoor toilet he built to shrink his carbon footprint.”

* Know your amphetamines, from the new Slate Star Codex, now called Astral Codex Ten, because why not?

* “The New Censors: Journalists celebrate the destruction of freedoms on which their profession depends.” A strange development, to my eye, but maybe the gatekeepers don’t like no longer being gatekeepers.

* “The US failure to authorize the AstraZeneca vaccine in the midst of a pandemic when thousands are dying daily and a factory in Baltimore is warmed up and ready to run is a tragedy and dereliction of duty of epic proportions.”

* “The ‘induced demand’ case against YIMBYism is wrong.” Fairly obvious, but one keeps seeing the point reappear.

* “Why Facebook and Apple are going to war over privacy.” There is an element here of “two giant monsters clashing.”

* “Bryan Fogel on Why Netflix and Streamers Were Scared of Releasing ‘The Dissident.’” Hollywood loves stories about plucky dissidents overcoming powerful empires, but in reality Hollywood is chasing the money.

* Beating Back Cancel Culture: A Case Study from the Field of Artificial Intelligence.

Links: Some books, some culture, some incentives

* Book review of Louie Simmons’ Iron Samurai. Not at all like most of the books discussed around here.

* “David Fincher’s Impossible Eye,” on obsession and excellence.

* It would be useful for liberal states to showcase excellence, in order for national liberals to follow their example. Instead, attempts to move towards single-payer basically failed in Massachusetts and Vermont; those attempts have proven far too expensive in California; more people are leaving California and New York than moving to them, due to self-inflicted high housing costs; and obscene infrastructure costs prevent the development or expansion of real transit systems. Where are the local examples?

* Jimmy Wales on Systems and Incentives, a conversation with Tyler.

* Hilariously imperious essay on Agatha Christie.

* Are Americans reluctant to express themselves honestly? What is social media callout culture doing to the discourse?

* The return of Slate Star Codex, with some unflattering and possibly true things about the New York Times along the way.

* “Slouching Toward Post-Journalism: The New York Times and other elite media outlets have openly embraced advocacy over reporting.” By Martin Gurri.

* “Facebook Disabled My Account After I Criticized Them.” Get a blog. Get on the open web. No one does, though, and what should we infer from that?

* The Devilish Life and Art of Lucian Freud, in Full Detail, an admirable review that’s neither overly skeptical nor fawning.

* “The People the Suburbs Were Built for Are Gone:” on efforts to build places that are good for humans to live.

* “Is This Law Professor Really a Homicidal Threat? The punitive overreactions of university administrators grow ever more demented.”

* “In China’s New Age Communes, Burned-Out Millennials Go Back to Nature.” Probably not a good sign for Chinese society, as the same tendencies are probably not good signs for American societies.

* Why iPhone is today’s Kodak Brownie Camera. A networked Brownie.

* “As birth rates fall, animals prowl in our abandoned ‘ghost villages.’” Urbanization is environmentalism; San Francisco is full of faux environmentalist, who prevent the building of urban housing and thus force people to the periphery of the city, or to the hot Sunbelt cities. In other words, consider the third link in this list, too, because these links are linked.

Links: To house or not to house, Dostoevsky in Love, everything is not broken, and more!

* Should I buy a house? Maybe not: most people don’t consider that the alternative to a housing unit is investing in the stock market, which may produce superior returns—and has, over the last century. Almost no one thinks on the margin.

* “Dostoevsky in Love by Alex Christofi review – unpredictable, dangerous and thrilling: His marriages were disastrous but his words were so rousing they made strangers embrace … a superb study of the Russian novelist.” Pre-ordered.

* “Atomic Heat in Small Packages Gives Big Industry a Climate Option.” On fission small modular reactors (SMRs).

* Stop reading books like a critic. I’m not sure most people do, but I agree, in part, though I find reading like a critic pleasurable.

* Companies working on direct air capture (DAC) of CO2. The article’s framing is poor—what’s the alternative to working on this problem? The status quo?—but the basic idea is good, and progress is good. You, reader, can also sign up for a Climeworks CO2 removal subscription. Relatedly, humans aren’t going to restrict temperature rise to 1.5 celsius, so now what? The article attempts to answer the “now what?” question, and carbon capture and storage are a big part of “now what.”

* “A Cupertino elementary school forces third-graders to deconstruct their racial identities, then rank themselves according to their ‘power and privilege.'” One hopes this is an isolated example; there are around 3.5 million teachers in the U.S., so on any given day something outrageous is probably happening somewhere, and that given thing shouldn’t be given too much prominence. So is this a trend, or a one-off?

* Ross Douthat on “The Case for One More Child: Why Large Families Will Save Humanity.” Maybe.

* “Was novel born [in,] and died with[,] the bourgeois society?” Plausible, but also ignores the desire for storytelling in other formats: radio, then film, then TV, and now on the smartphone.

* Beating up baby boomers, which is mostly fine with me.

* Everything is Broken, a journalistic screed—journalism has seen something like half of its jobs and revenue disappear over twenty years, which may contribute to the tone of a lot of journalism. Some of the essay advances the myth of the golden age (when was it, exactly?). It also doesn’t mention housing or zoning policies, or the growth of the medical insurance industry (which destroyed price signals). Lots of blame for Silicon Valley, but not nearly enough for housing restrictions. Blaming Silicon Valley is easy, but there’s very little looking in the mirror. The author and her husband are journalists; if most people demanded rigorously reported and important stories, they’d be produced. But most don’t. There are dubious causal claims, like, “Most consumers don’t know that by using internet-based (or -generated) platforms—by buying from Amazon, by staying in an Airbnb, by ordering on Grubhub, by friending people on Facebook—that they are subscribing to a life of flatness, one that can lead directly into certain politics.” Ordering from Grubhub doesn’t causally create “flatness,” whatever that means, and “flatness” doesn’t causally lead “into certain politics.” Not everything is political; sometimes you just want some pad thai.

Despite everything “being broken,” we’ve seen the fastest vaccination project, ever, succeed in a quarter of the time of the next-fastest example. That alone is a sign of resilience, isn’t it, despite the political process preventing new housing and transit construction? “CorNeat Vision’s First Patient Regains Sight Following Artificial Cornea Implantation at Rabin Medical Center, Ending a Decade of Blindness.” Is everything broken? Maybe national politics, journalism as a profession, and fair housing markets are broken—but some things aren’t.

Links: Where fantasy ends, public domain day, bicycle booming, and more!

* The Roleplaying Coup, on the way online life endorses and encourages the construction of fantasy worlds.

* “Party Like It’s 1925 On Public Domain Day (Gatsby And Dalloway Are In).” Copyright should really be limited to 50-year terms. Still, it’s nice to know that schools will collectively save millions of dollars a year buying The Great Gatsby.

* What happened in the insurrectionist riot.

* “The great bicycle boom of 2020.” The bikes are there; now the city infrastructure is needed.

* “The Undoing of China’s Economic Miracle:” maybe. How much does the prioritization of politics over competition matter?

* Time for consequences, for Trump—and his enablers. Better late than never, I guess, if there are real consequences. In 2016 I wrote “Vote for Clinton or Johnson for president” based on the many obvious reasons—and based on the history of the 1920s and -30s. Many of us who know something about that era have probably asked ourselves, “What would we have done, if we’d been alive then?” We don’t have a perfect answer and can’t, but the last four years have provided a partial answer. Did you enable? Were you silent? Did you resist, such as you can?

* “How American Individualism Fuels Family Estrangement.” Not sure the purported cause is correct.

* “The military has a hate group problem. But it doesn’t know how bad it’s gotten: The rise of extremism in the ranks is seen as a ‘crisis issue’ but the military’s efforts to weed out radicals are ‘haphazard’ at best.” Uh-oh.

* “The paradox of information abundance:” some are better informed than ever, while others consume junk, in the same way that great nutrition is easier than ever, but so is terrible nutrition.

* “Why aren’t we wearing better masks?” A vital question. Real n95s and kn95s are available here, but how is an average person supposed to know that? The site looks little different than many knockoff sites.

* “‘Our souls are dead’: how I survived a Chinese ‘re-education’ camp for Uighurs: After 10 years living in France, I returned to China to sign some papers and I was locked up. For the next two years, I was systematically dehumanised, humiliated and brainwashed.” It is still notable to me that this topic isn’t a primary focus on social media.

* Moderna co-founder and board chairman on the permission to leap, among many other topics of great interest. The first link in this batch concerns fantasy; the last, reality.

Links: Many deep dives

* Dan Wang’s 2020 letter, which is mostly but not exclusively about his life in and observations about China. He writes, “This year made me believe that China is the country with the most can-do spirit in the world. Every segment of society mobilized to contain the pandemic. One manufacturer expressed astonishment to me at how slowly western counterparts moved. US companies had to ask whether making masks aligned with the company’s core competence.” See also “On cultures that build;” for some reason, American culture has de-emphasized building and making things, to our collective detriment. We have lots of veto players and too few doers.

* “How Biden Can Rebuild a Divided and Distrustful Nation: Americans Must Get to Know One Another Again.” From it: “The United States’ two political parties are sorting into distinctive groups based on who they are rather than on their policy preferences” and “Because partisan sorting is no longer primarily about one’s policy views but instead about one’s deepest values or identity, the ‘other party’ is no longer just the opposition but the enemy; and politics is no longer about finding compromises that can address common problems but about winning a war for one’s own side.” It may turn out that having religion be about one’s deepest values or identity, or family, is a much better belief system than having politics in their place. It is strange, though, to see one party attack the fundamentals of democracy itself, since democracy is supposed to be the foundation of American politics.

* “America Can’t Even Produce the Things It Invented: The United States can bring manufacturing back — which will bring back good jobs and protect national interests.”

* “Worse Than Treason: No amount of rationalizing can change the fact that the majority of the Republican Party is advocating for the overthrow of an American election.” Anyone remember a few years ago when the Republican Party thought democracy so important that it was worth invading another country for? No?

* The factories in the Xinjiang camps: China’s slave labor force?

* “Experts on how to fight America’s disinformation crisis.” I’m not convinced this can be “fixed” per se, because most people are not interested in epistemology, and (relatively) free speech and zero-cost distribution means that people can develop fantasy worlds easily. When a small percentage of the population does this, it doesn’t matter much, but we’re trying to figure out what happens when a much larger percentage of the population does this.

* “Charter schools deliver extraordinary results, but their political support among Democrats has collapsed.” I notice this: “They instill schoolwide cultures of respect for learning and orderly environments, so that one or two disruptive students can’t bring classes to a standstill,” which is something many of my friends who are teachers talk about: one student can often veto 30 other students’s experiences. This also tells us something important about the gap between rhetoric and reality regarding race: “Polls show that the backlash against charters has been mainly confined to white liberals, while Black and Latino Democrats — whose children are disproportionately enrolled in those schools — remain supportive.”

As with the links above (and posted over the last several years) regarding our inability to build, I suspect we’re suffering from “good enough” syndrome in schools. “Good enough” and “I’ve got mine” breeds complacency, which manifests itself in a variety of ways. Will we find that complacency breaks down eventually? Or that it is already breaking down now?

* “WhatsApp gives users an ultimatum: Share data with Facebook or stop using the app.” Time to switch to Signal?

* “Making policy for a low-trust world” is a boring title for an essay that ties lots of policy, social, and other ideas together; it’s hard to pick one as being most important, but the example of the extremely slow coronavirus vaccine rollout is useful. We should prioritize doing things fast, and we don’t, and that has many negative consequences.

* “CO2 already emitted will warm Earth beyond climate targets, study finds: ‘Committed warming’ is 2.3 C, higher than previous estimates; but it can be delayed.” Time for that Climeworks subscription.

Links The evils of the non-compete clause, how COVID-19 spread, the nature of the future, and more!

* Texas needs to ban non-competes: one of these little, seemingly inconsequential things that may have big impacts over time.

* “Pandemic Leads Dozens of Universities to Pause Ph.D. Admissions: More than 140 humanities and social sciences programs at top schools have suspended admitting students for fall 2021.” Good.

* The NYT on novelist Walter Tevis.

* “25 Days That Changed the World: How Covid-19 Slipped China’s Grasp,” an important and well-reported article.

* “John Collison: ‘It is entirely plausible that you could set up Stripe in Dublin now:’ Stripe co-founder on how his billion-dollar company continues to evolve.”

* “An Economist’s Guide to Potty Training,” which is more entertaining than it sounds, and fundamentally about incentives. Incentives matter and they’re hard.

* Curious and sometimes offensive interview with Anna Khachiyan, of the Red Scare podcast.

* How Perfectionism Has Made the Pandemic Worse.

* “The End of the World as We Know It?,” due to population decline? Bryan Caplan’s book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is one take.

* The disruption of Intel, and many other points about the history and state of computing.

* “My two weeks with John le Carré: What I learned about writing, fame and grace when I showed him around Miami in 1991.” Extremely charming but also deep.

* “Peer-reviewed papers are getting increasingly boring:” see: “We need to challenge the conventional peer-reviewed research paper, by which I refer to a publication was reviewed by 2 to 5 peers before getting published. . . . Research used to be more more like ‘blogging’. You would write up your ideas and share them. People could read them and criticize them.” There are too many veto players, and an excess of veto players tends to ossify a field and create excessively tedious papers and books. Here is one simple, partial solution to some of these problems.

Links: Learning from podcasts, carbon capture and storage, Apple and China, and more!

* Things Ryan Holiday has learned from a decade of podcasts, note: “An essential piece of advice I got from the author Steven Pressfield: There are professional habits and amateur ones. Which are you practicing? Is this a pro or an amateur move? Ask yourself that. Constantly.” One downside of school is that it almost always inculcates and encourages amateur habits—without telling students what’s going on. Separately, after quitting or finishing a podcast (the former being vastly more common than the latter), I try to keep a log of what I’ve listened to and what I noticed in it, or remember from it. Then I re-read the log occasionally, which only takes a few minutes; this helps move podcasts from a “listen and forget” activity to a “change your ideas” activity.

* The Substack Discourse and the Self-Referentiality of Everything. A bad title for a good essay, on what happens when the institutional academic and journalist discourse gets poisoned. See also me, “Have journalists and academics become modern-day clerics?

* Elon Musk moves from California to Texas: Prop 13 and NIMBYism claim more victims. Elon also “decries ‘M.B.A.-ization’ of America.”

* Oracle is also moving its headquarters to Texas. Texas’s real question is still whether it will ban non-competes, since that ban is California’s vital secret sauce.

* “Cambridge University votes to safeguard free speech.” Heartening news that one wishes could be described as “normal” not “heartening.”

* Jesse Singal’s book The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills is coming out soon.

* “Nick Kristof and the Holy War on Pornhub: Having declared victory in its war on Backpage and sex work, the liberal-conservative coalition has pivoted to porn.”

* “Researchers identify a new personality construct that describes the tendency to see oneself as a victim.” This explains some of what’s happening online and in schools. See also Haidt and Lukianoff’s The Coddling of the American Mind.

* “China launches ‘gray-zone’ warfare to subdue Taiwan.” Simultaneously, Apple wants to sell us out to China: in that respect, maybe it has much in common with the rest of Hollywood.

* “Earnestness,” by Paul Graham.

* “She Stalked Her Daughter’s Killers Across Mexico, One by One.” An incredible story one hopes to see made into a book, given the number of vague points in this relatively short article.

* More on carbon capture and storage, most of it familiar. I’ve been annoying my friends who posture as environmentalists by asking if they have a Climeworks subscription.

Links: Novels of work, the spy novel in the age of surveillance, and more about surveillance, and more in general

* On Chinese work novels.

* “Hit by Covid-19, Colleges Do the Unthinkable and Cut Tenure: Schools facing steep drops in revenue scale back the age-old role of faculty in governance.” Note: “This year, the pandemic accelerated financial problems as well as tensions between administrators and faculty. Fall enrollment for freshman and international students fell 16% and 43%, respectively, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and a survey of 700 schools conducted by 10 higher education associations.”

* “‘Shattered’: Inside the secret battle to save America’s undercover spies in the digital age.” Everyone else is having the same problems. Scarily, totalitarianism enabled by technology may be much more possible than totalitarianism used to be.

* “The Zürich Interviews – Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry: Unrepentant Baguette Merchant: Boring us with tales of the superiority of the French. Why having a Mommy GF makes Macron powerful. Islamism in France. Jerry Lewis as the funniest man in history.” The sort of thing one wishes to see more of in the larger media; thankfully, we now have Substack and podcasts. “Interesting” does not mean “correct.”

* “The Great Walter Williams, Radical Troublemaker,” amusing throughout; the real radicals are thinkers, and they’re not necessarily picking a political side: “Williams: I am not a part of a movement. I have never been part of a movement, I just do my own thing.” And: “Walter was never politically correct. He once demanded that our Dean do something about the lack of representation of Asian-Americans on the GMU basketball team. He enjoyed his iconoclasm but his provocations were designed to get people to stop and think not to offend.”

* “Leaders Who Act Like Outsiders Invite Trouble.” Institutions are defining what the modern world is going to look like, and many of them are going to need to learn how to say “no” and how to ignore Twitter anger. See also me, recently: “Dissent, insiders, and outsiders: Institutions in the age of Twitter.”

* “White Evangelicals Made a Deal With the Devil. Now What?” I’ve wondered about this too. I also wonder, though, if the number of white evangelicals is actually declining, or if the author is cherrypicking numbers that support the story.

* Billionaires Build, by Paul Graham.

* “What Are the Humanities? Why Are They Worth Saving?” A rant, yes, overstated, yes, and yet compelling, too? And an essay that speaks to the growing utility of Substack.

* Helen Dale, who wrote Kingdom of the Wicked (Book I is a favorite), on “Jordan Peterson and the only balanced review of 12 Rules for Life.” Amy Alkon’s book Unf***ology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence appears too. Echoes of “Harry Potter and the Childish Adult:” “Derivative narrative clichés work with children because they are comfortingly recognizable and immediately available to the child’s own power of fantasizing.”

* “The Super-Scary Theory of the 21st Century:” essentially, that social media leads many political units to tear themselves apart, but authoritarian regimes are better at holding themselves together. It seems unlikely but not impossible. A big 21st Century question is, to my mind, what happens if, or rather when, China experiences its first big economic downtown since it began to liberalize in the 80s. Can they repress their way out?

* Gas stoves are bad for air quality, and much worse than we realized, it seems.

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.”

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