Saturday, May 14th, 2022
Venkatesh invites us to join him in exploring the hive mind (very meta). What a candy-maker, this one.
Thursday, May 12th, 2022
At 1:03, this transcendent moment of moviemaking, John William’s theme counterpointing Alec Guinness’s delivery of George Lucas’s creation. “It surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.”
Thursday, April 14th, 2022
Jonathan Haidt is wise enough to note that it is mainly America, not necessary the rest of the world, that has gone particularly mental the past decade. Haidt blames social media. But the word “marriage” does not occur even once in the article, despite the decade having seen same-sex marriage transformed from oxymoronic absurdity to self-evident cudgel. If a human institution so deep — deeper than the nationstate, than monotheism, even than history itself — can be so decidedly upended, then what chance has anything else of standing, the collective subconscious must wonder.
Friday, February 11th, 2022
Radical Protestantism leads the pilgrim from the “howling wilderness” and the “enchanted ground” of the Old World and leads him to the Canaan of the spirit. The question is addressed to, and answered by, the individual pilgrim. The Jew is born into the people of Israel; the Christian seeks adoption into the Israel of the Spirit. American Christianity retains the radical individualism of its Protestant forebears, who chose as individuals to become Americans. We have become Americans by adoption, and we have adopted the history of Israel as our national common memory. A profound parallelism is involved. The biblical Election of Israel was not a prize that God awarded to an unlikely nation of shepherds, but rather the outcome of Israel’s free choice to accept the Torah and the responsibility of election. It is our free choice to become Americans that is the cornerstone of our culture.
Tuesday, February 8th, 2022
eVTOL Innovation YouTube channel extols the Lilium as the most promising of the upcoming ways we will fly.
Monday, January 31st, 2022
One main worry exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic is erosion in faith in science. While some of our denizens have pursued wantonly contrarian beliefs, others got busy blithely eroding core tenets. The Royal Society is warning that all this is dangerous. Its first prescription: “investing in lifelong information literacy programmes”.
The solutions are deep because the problems are; we live in an information glut yet there has been no parallel explosion in education — indeed rigor has likely lessened alongside national priorities skewered due to intemperate new orthodoxies which are due in turn to I know not what.
Yet some heartening news, as related in “Inside Operation Warp Speed: A New Model for Industrial Policy”, which happened under Trump. If we can optimistically harness the former President as a metaphor for Western civilization, perhaps the outlandish demeanor belies sound and enterprising deeds.
At any rate, this is the big shit.
Friday, January 14th, 2022
Where Is My Flying Car?
J. Storrs Hall
Where is My Flying Car, what author and nanotechnologist J. Storrs Hall refers to as his intellectual memoir, is the first book I can remember hoping that everyone would read. Graceful, witty, we cut through the blather to the chase of social good: technology, always and forever, and where and how we got off this crystal ship, and how we can get back on it. Consider this the truer, more resonant, more actionable big brother of Tyler Cowen’s Great Stagnation. A random excerpt from 40% in:
Gyros of perfectly usable specs are being built now. This is mostly in Europe, because the EU has an approved rotorcraft classification that is similar to the light-sport fixed-wings you can buy here, but the US does not. That means that in Europe, you can buy a gyro built in a factory, but if you want one here you have to build it yourself. A typical gyro goes for about a third the price of a helicopter and can use a 200-foot runway. The Dutch company PAL-V is in the process of launching a new design roadable autogyro. It has the same advantages as the Pitcairn designs of the 1930s, but updated with modern materials and technology. It also has to face a lot more regulatory hurdles, as a car as well as an aircraft, than there were in the 30s. As a result its roadable configuration is three-wheeled so that it comes under motorcycle regulations instead of car ones. The rotor, tail, and propeller retract and/or fold up and it becomes an enclosed trike-style motorcycle on the road. It’s listed at better than 100mph both on the road and in the air.
This is fascinating and exciting — especially today when one can simply search the the company name (PAL-V) and instantly see the company’s news and promotional materials. But the book is not just a catalog, it’s a manifesto. And it’s not just a manifesto, it’s a history. I’m not doing it justice. I’ll come back and write more and differently on it.
[Update 2022 Jan 27: The book has been out a couple of years, so it’s suprising that just a month ago we have The Wall Street Journal’s review by Philip Dewlves Broughton.
Wednesday, January 12th, 2022
In the very-nicely-titled online review Crooked Marquee, Jason Bailey does justice to Wes Anderson’s fabulous new The French Dispatch:
Charmingly, this film that loves writers is also one of Anderson’s most lavishly directed – which is, I know, saying something … Anderson’s films have also become a welcome opportunity for serious actors to let their hair down – Tilda Swinton is clearly having a blast.
Yes indeed, The French Dispatch is a box of supercandy for grownups. Modern works seem to take it as part of their mission to be the supreme work; even if doomed to fail, there’s an understanding that a serious attempt elevates everything. (Or, as Frank Lloyd Wright said, “I don’t design a house without reimagining the social order.”) The French Dispatch is a contender for one thing it is an ode to other mediums: typography, cooking, France, the written word. All that and the title triggers “The French Mistake”…).
And looking around again at reviews, actually again it’s David Brody who treats it most appropriately, so bloody enthusiastic that he retells parts of it, which seems rather a faux pas for his critical stature. Brody reminds us at the end that yes, it is a screenplay that flows with noble emotion, exquisitely portrayed. And in the end he compares Anderson with Hemingway. See, what did I tell you…
Nice to see David Goldman finally with a simple plan to save the world. I mean, I’ve been thinking this for years, and Matt Yglasias got a book out of it, One Billion Americans. So here’s Goldman the Wise in one sentence on the USA in “Import Americans”:
Our capacity to integrate human capital is our only natural advantage and it may prove to be our decisive strength.
I’m not sure about only natural advantage — the USA has probably the most natural advantages among all the world’s nation-states, but still.
If religious faith is the most important determinant of fertility, public policy can have only a modest impact on birth rates.
David P. Goldman, “Import Americans”
Thursday, December 23rd, 2021
Israel Hayom reports that Israel has paused offshore gas exploration with Energy Minister Karine Elharrar intoning: “2022 will be the year of renewable energy.”
Israel should keep in mind that her modern Achilles’ Heel is not disunity but overconfidence; and, previous Trojan War reference notwithstanding, should not be looking the gift horse of natural gas in the mouth. Because a prudent energy policy demands a short-, mid- and long-term strategy.
Sunday, December 5th, 2021
Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End
The invaluable Atul Gawande crafts a sensible, anecdote-rich picture of the current state of elder care.
He begins by telling the somewhat idyllic-sounding tale of how his own grandfather lived into old age back in India, contrasting this with the increasingly institutionalized way that aging is handled in more modern society. Surprisingly, he points out that anyone who can abandon this multi-generational way of living does so — it’s no paradise.
Gawande is always a deft, humane companion, one of our great medical writers, and if nothing else, the various ways he recounts people’s health failing and ultimately dying brings to the fore what we should keep in mind.
He wants people to be more mindful, prepared and aware of the limits of medicine, which he believes will make them less likely to make the mistake of over-treating, noting a number of times that relatives remain depressed and traumatized by a loved-one’s death much longer when they have chosen to keep them alive using invasive treatments.
He also notes his new understanding of hospice treatment, not that is no treatment, but that the goal of life duration stops being the be-all-and-end-all.
I don’t particularly want to revisit this well-structured book, but it’s a necessary ordeal.
Thursday, December 2nd, 2021
My Israel, Our Generation
Never have I come across a book quite like Einat Wilf’s 2007 My Israel, Our Generation in that I think it could only be produced by an Israeli.
She speaks to the fellow citizens of her generation presumptuously and familiarly like we are sitting around a living room; and she has her finger firmly on their — our, as I am one of the cohort — strengths and weaknesses, articulating the dynamic between the personal and the national at a particular moment in history. I hope writers in other nations might be inspired to produce something similar for their national generation.
No need for me to reiterate here Wilf’s intellectual pedigree — it’s always in her bio. I was led to this book after I watched her give a remote talk recently as she wrapped up a year at Georgetown and was just bowled over both by her positions and by her cogency, how she spoke answering questions in just the same manner as she gave her presentation, with the same steady unhesitating pace and fulsome complete sentences. Not to mention that I am in utter agreement with her every point on every matter. In fact I went and reread my recent Arab Insanity Eroding to see how she stated similar conclusions better.
But foreign policy is not the subject of this book, rather, it’s an exploration of the mindset of the 3rd generation of Israelis, where they feel lost and abandoned by their predecessors the 1st and 2nd generations, the builders and the fighters. I think by the end of the book she has subtly provided a role for we the 3rd: critique, with a view to ideational battle-tested consolidation (interestingly, I don’t think for a moment she looks to the Biblical patriarchs to see the respective roles of the first, second and third generations in founding a nation).
Since this outing she has not written much of book length, and I think my next read will be what appears to pick up where she left off: Mike Prashker’s A Place for Us All, written a decade later, which seems to explore the consolidating part.
Sunday, November 14th, 2021
In The Telegraph, columnist Janet Daly hopes for a wake for Woke in The Telegraph:
Maybe it is the secret that explains why British life is not torn asunder by culture wars in the way that the United States so often is. Instead of taking up arms against the advancing guard of combatants who threaten to dismantle your social values, and fighting to the death (often literally) in the streets as Americans are inclined to do, the British take a softly-softly, appeasing tone — giving a bit here, offering a bit there to the angry mob, without ever losing their sense of irony. Until — almost without warning — the onslaught grows so overblown and overconfident that it becomes patently, stupidly, undeniably crazy, self-contradictory and, most important, risible.
Friday, November 5th, 2021
If Evans-Pritchard is right, the Glasgow Cop26 conference has already set in play wonderful things.
Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021
The proper dosage of hierarchy is just barely enough to vitalize a very large collective.
Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable
Tuesday, October 26th, 2021
Hijinks for the practicing intellectualoid: Mansfield on Machiavelli, acknowledging the Florentin’s modernity paternity.
Saturday, October 16th, 2021
David P. Goldman blames the Web technocracy for the end of the American era, comparing it to how Britain lost dominance through the corruption of empire: by eschewing the true wealth creation of manufacturing.
Britain’s best and brightest left Eton and Harrow and went into colonial service, and made fortunes on the sale of British textiles to India, Indian opium to China, and Chinese tea and silks to the West. Britain’s country houses were built on the quick money to be earned from empire, and the British upper class eschewed the dirty work of manufacturing in favor of the faux-aristocracy of the nouveau riche masquerading as landed gentry.
The estimable Goldman is somewhat wrong here I think; web software is much more about conjuring up something from nothing, albeit an intangible digitized something, than it is just shunting stuff around at gunpoint, as he says late-Empire Britain did.
Wednesday, October 13th, 2021
I think that if we were told 40 years ago that Bill Shatner would actually go into space at age 90, we’d think things turned out pretty well.
Friday, October 8th, 2021
I had to read this snooty bit of exhibitionism at Gawker (must the devil have all the good web design?) slowly to keep track of what and whom the reader is supposed to consider virtuous versus vile. One through-line that helped was, like in a Hollywood movie, the bad guys have British accents.
Regarding the author’s complaint of British transphobia, one possible cause: due to cultural proximity and thirst, the Great Leap Forward emanating from the USA arrives first at Britain’s more grounded doorstep, with the resulting crockery-dropping rejection most clearly heard when ricocheting back across the pond.
Thursday, October 7th, 2021
From the bubbling, dexterous mind of Venkatesh Rao we have two rich essays posted within two days: “Storytelling — Cringe and the Banality of Shadows” and “Remystifying Supply Chains: Supply chains are TV for matter”.
The supply chain crisis is in some ways more unprecedented than Covid itself, given that containerized supply chains, and the world of distributed, networked, computationally coordinated production they enabled, are only a few decades old.
This is the first crisis of this magnitude to hit them.
To find a comparable crisis in history you have to go back to World War 2, with U boats sinking transatlantic shipping. And that was in an era when global trade was less than a third of today’s levels if I’m not mistaken (as a fraction of GDP) and still in the ancient mode of breakbulk shipping.
Thursday, September 30th, 2021
Sometimes you come across an essay you intended to write and somebody’s more or less done it for you, in this case an attempt to philosophize on the concept of work by Jonathan Malesic in the University of Virginia’s Hedgehog Review.
A few nights ago I considered for the first time the direct semantic connection between the troublesome English term “happy” and the less fraught “happening”; happily, there seems to be a connection between them that’s not mere happenstance. And here this essay begins to explicate that thought:
The Crow [a Native American tribe who live on the northern plains] built their culture around hunting buffalo and “counting coups”—an activity that encompasses both feats of bravery in war and recitations of stories about those feats. Once white settlers killed off the buffalo and placed the Crow under the US government’s jurisdiction in the 1880s, the basis for Crow culture was gone. “After this nothing happened,” the Crow chief Plenty Coups told a white historian decades later.
Friday, August 20th, 2021
Rather nice if you have some moments: “Art Deco jewellery: a revolution in form and function” at Christie’s, each pagescroll another exquisite or at least colorful thing.
Sunday, August 1st, 2021
A great topic, covered well: in Wired, Clive Thompson surveys the problem with productivity software:
To-do lists are, in the American imagination, a curiously moral type of software. Nobody opens Google Docs or PowerPoint thinking “This will make me a better person.” But with to-do apps, that ambition is front and center.
Tuesday, July 27th, 2021
Saturday, July 17th, 2021
A mandate for President Isaac Herzog. It soars to this:
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, I found myself thinking: How can we set a new Guinness World Record and bring the largest number of Jews together for a show of solidarity and support on Zoom? My conclusion was that only the president – regardless of who that is – can gather the different backgrounds and denominations to the same “room.”
Friday, July 9th, 2021
Michael Pollan writes just wonderfully of his coffee withdrawal.
In this new normal, the world seemed duller to me. I seemed duller, too. Mornings were the worst. I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep. That reconsolidation of self took much longer than usual, and never quite felt complete.
So much more to quote here; he takes a little meander into intellectual history before returning, now a bit further along in time, to his own predilection. Then on to the science.
Monday, June 14th, 2021
Mary Catherine Bateson, conversations at Edge [via Hacker News, again].
Saturday, June 5th, 2021
We are so used to saying “The internet changed everything” that we have forgotten it changed everything.
Peggy Noonan, What Drives Conspiracism
Friday, May 28th, 2021
Federico Viticci of MacStories tours Apple’s new store on Via del Corso in Rome, saying it’s one of Apple’s most ambitious restoration projects to date.
Wednesday, May 12th, 2021
Every scientific or technological revolution tears down yet another anthropocentric conceit.
Venkatesh Rao, Superhistory, Not Superintelligence
Thursday, April 15th, 2021
If you want to feel like Western society is convulsing, there’s an app for that.
Ross Douthat, The Decadent Society
Saturday, March 6th, 2021
Cal Newport takes on GTD in the run-up to his new book against email as the world’s abysmal task management system.
The piece does start like a Tad Friend-esque hatchet job on Merlin Mann but that’s just a way to appeal to your squalid New Yorker reader.
Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021
Monday, February 15th, 2021
Tuesday, January 26th, 2021
Ra’anana-based Vertical Field signed with Emirates Smart Solutions & Technologies (ESST) to build a pilot of its vertical farms in the United Arab Emirates. Major cool.
Friday, January 1st, 2021
2020, the good news, by Doron Peskin at Israel’s Calcalist
Wednesday, December 16th, 2020
The first lab-grown chicken meat will be served at a Singapore restaurant this weekend!
Tuesday, December 15th, 2020
Ross Douthat in his typical perfect way essays on American childbearing in the really nice magazine Plough.
Thursday, October 29th, 2020
Live by the CoC, die by the CoC; pardon my schadenfreude over posts like this where people who eagerly support the marauding bull get tangled in it themselves and even then continue to grovel their ongoing support for it.
Thursday, August 20th, 2020
The iPhone matters more than anything … it is the foundation of modern life.
Ben Johnson, “Apple, Epic, and the App Store”
Saturday, August 15th, 2020
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
Jordan Peterson has huge charisma, period, and his recent travails serve to render him even more human. His efforts to ground our current unmoored times (the chaos referred to in the title) in the fertile garden of our intellectual and spiritual heritage (the curative order) are the work of the angels.
The first of his 12 Rules for Life is Nietzschian, an evolutionary biological backgrounder for the maxim to fake it till you make it. The second is Rousseauian: we must love ourselves with amour de soi rather than amour-propre. But the whole thing — and particularly this second rule — is peppered with discussion of founts fundamental to me — Genesis, Taoism, Jung — so that the book feels like it fell out of my own mind, albeit a more disciplined, erudite, deeper version.
Either because of this over-familiarity or because the book is in fact junk food, I cannot remember anything of it as I revisit a few weeks later to write this. Is Peterson merely an Alain de Botton of the Right, a popularizer / informal codifier of what every self-respecting Westerner already knows? Either I need to pick up the book and start again, or perhaps stop reading everything else and get back to the Bible, Plato and Aristotle.
Sunday, July 26th, 2020
Saturday, July 25th, 2020
Paul Graham is on the case and thank goodness. As an uber-geek he reduces the current cultural moment into a clear and bracing 2×2.
Tuesday, July 21st, 2020
In an artificial world, only extremists live naturally.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
The essence of programming is to build new things.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
Wednesday, July 15th, 2020
“There is no linguistic justice without racial justice,” as quoted in The Linguistic Society of America’s open letter to call to remove Steven Pinker.
What a fakakta — China must be licking its chops as we stand around pissing on each other’s piss.
Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
Amalgamated from a dialog in the comments at a Marginal Revolution post “How to Live in a World Gone Mad?”:
The mob is saying silence is violence. Funnily enough, the mob also says speech is violence. They also say violence is not violence.
Fun, fun, fun!
Thursday, June 18th, 2020
Monday, June 15th, 2020