What I’ve been reading

1. Ben Cohen, The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks.  An intelligent popular social science book covering everything from Stephen Curry to Shakespeare to The Princess Bride, David Booth, Eugene Fama, and more.  I am not sure the book is actually about “the hot hand” as a unified phenomenon, as opposed to mere talent persistence, but still I will take intelligence over the alternative.

2. Richard J. Lazarus, The Rule of Five: Making Climate History at the Supreme Court.  A genuinely interesting and well-presented history of how climate change became a partisan issue in the United States, somewhat broader than its title may indicate.

3. Ryan H. Murphy, Markets Against Modernity: Ecological Irrationality, Public and Private.  The book has blurbs from Bryan Caplan and Scott Sumner, and I think of it as an ecological, historically reconstructed account of the demand for irrationality as it relates to the environment, interest in “do-it-yourself,” and the love for small scale enterprise.  Interesting, but overpriced.

4. Juan Du, The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City.  An actual history, as opposed to the usual blah-blah-blah you find in so many China books.  The author has a background in architecture and urban planning, and stresses the import of the Pearl River Delta before Deng’s reforms (Shenzhen wasn’t just a run-down fishing village), decentralization in Chinese reforms, and fits and starts in the city’s post-reform history.  Anyone who reads books on China should consider this one.

Gordon Teskey, Spenserian Moments, The Master is finally receiving his poetic due.

Toby Ord’s forthcoming The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity is a comprehensive look at existential risk, written by an Oxford philosopher and student of Derek Parfit.


#1: Alas, upon first reading of the list I thought this was about the Science of Steaks!

Ah me too! That's a shame. We need a thread on the best method to cook a steak. A quick sear on a hot cast iron pan and finishing in the oven to cook to desired wellness always turns out best for me.

That cast iron pan works great for fish and scallops. For meat, I use a thermometer to gauge doneness.

I use a thermometer too once it is in the oven. The sear is quick and hot and not intended to cook the meat. Then the cast iron skillet goes in the oven and the thermometer goes in.

I use a grate 2" above hot charcoal, then off to the side to finish. Same idea as cast iron and oven.

I'll sous vide from frozen if I'm lazy or busy. Total time 2hrs but you don't have to defrost.

If you want a good steak go to a good restaurant in France or Italy. Second hand information extends that advice to Argentina.

I've tried steak in many parts of the Anglosphere and none of it has been comparable to the best. Heavens, the first steaks I ever ate in the US hadn't even been hung.

Maybe it wasn't guilty.

I second the Argentina recommendation.

Make sure you are hungry.

Cook it on embers. Google: “Dirty steak”

4/ Can America replicate a Shenzhen? It is an unfortunate state to not have a domestic electronics manufacturing industry since Japan first claimed the title from the US decades ago.

That kind of manufacturing is an ecological nightmare.

And this way we don't have to apply our minds to the issue.

The Amazon blurb on Ord's book contained this whopper:"If we do not act fast to reach a place of safety, it will soon be too late." The book may be good, but with that kind of garbage in the promotional material, I doubt it is anything other than hand wringing, hand waving, and wolf crying.

Ord discussed his book on youtube: "Fireside Chat with Toby Ord (2018)" where he said he thinks there is a 1 in 6 chance humanity will go extinct by 2100 and most likely because of A.I. (10%) or bio-terrorism (5%).

Ord's other candidates are runaway global warming that almost no climate scientist thinks is possible, and nuclear winter where Ord's information is outdated: Nature magazine has a summary of how nuclear winter scenarios have become much milder over time.

Ord also says there's a possibility that humanity could live in a totalitarian world for tens of thousands of years or longer.

@Todd K - seems Ord is pretty rational then, since 1 in 6 means 83% change his predictions fail; AI and bio-terrorism are not independent events, runaway global warming is pretty mainstream if you assume Siberian permafrost or methane hydrates get active, and nuclear winter is pretty mainstream as well (Mt. Tambora). The only beef I have with Ord would be that, possibly like that other UK philosopher/scientist (Nick Bostrom) predicting extinction (Google also UK's Antinatalist party) his views are too mainstream and written for people weak in math (if he doesn't mention a meteoroid strike or super-volcano, or discuss cumulative probabilities, he's too mainstream for me)

Runaway global warming is mainstream among James Hanson, Greenpeace and New Yorker writers. Bostrom has no science background and the Tyler asteroid that could wipe out humanity isn't possible to materialize over the next million years. Super volcanoes ending humanity? OK, boomer...

Other than asteroids and comets lurking in our heliosphere, our home galaxy offers other risks to our existence.

Now that astronomers have determined that planets in our galaxy outnumber stars, they've also "begun" to discover just how many "rogue planets" (planets ejected from their heliospheres for any of a number of cosmic reasons) are roving and loose in the galaxy. (No reliable census figures yet, but "millions" may provide a sound initial estimate.)

No astronomer, I've no idea on their distributions (I suspect they reside mainly in galactic spiral arms, but with rogue planets roving through interstellar space, no telling where they wind up), but were Earth to encounter one or vice versa, quite likely it would be detected with no temporal window permitting any kind of response except "what is-- . . .?" or "hmmmm?" or some four-letter variant.

Rouge planets are certainly interesting, but suggesting they will strike earth is a near statistical impossibility.
Imagine a soccer field with 1 pea constantly rolling around randomly on it. Now try to roll a second pea to hit the first one while it's moving. Oh, and do it from the other end of the field, blindfolded.
Space is big. Planets are tiny.

Equally, at least until further notice: life itself is a near statistical impossibility, but once life emerges in our cuddly baryonic realm, death inevitably results, by whatever process. (I'm not expecting a rogue planet to strike Earth or Moon--but who ever expects the Spanish Inquisition?)

“no science background”? The man has six—6—degrees in scientific subjects including maths. Perhaps check his CV before making a false claim about him?

@Neurotic - your comment presupposes a higher "Truth" which is impossible to find. Truth is, at this point global warming is real, and probably manmade, while the consequences may or may not be catastrophic but that's the experiment that will be found out in the next fifty years.

Matt Frost published a piece at NewAtlantis a few weeks ago called "After Climate Depair"
We've been preaching that people must radically change their life, use less energy, stop driving their cars, etc... for 30+ years. The human living standards are highly correlated with per-capita energy consumption, and the top 3 cheapest and most reliable energy sources on earth is carbon based. so we're basically asking people to impoverish themselves. That's a hard sell. Might be why it hasn't worked.
Matt suggests a different path. It's worth a read.

As someone who has driven a Camaro Z28 for years, and a Prius for years, I didn't feel particularly impoverished with the later. We had a lot of fun trips!

But I'm cyclical about "the peoples" now, because for 95% of us, sensible hybrid driving was a bridge too far.

(I have a Cybertruck on order. 90% because it's hilarious, and only 10% because I think consumer patterns will change in time.)

Matt's piece in TheNewAtlantis was weak for me. No mention of deep sea carbon sequestering, only a passing mention of geoengineering, no mention that China since 2010 surpasses the West in carbon creation, no mention of tariffs for carbon mitigation, no disaster scenarios mentioned, and so on.

Bonus trivia: a supertanker or three stores about as much energy as imported and consumed in a day into most countries like Spain, and, the world roughly consumes an Olympic sized pool of oil every 15 seconds. You can't Google facts like these, only somebody like 1% me knows this stuff off the top of their head.

Global warming is just an example of a broader human problem. "If there is a thing which if true would require unpleasant action on my part, I will resist believing it is true."

True in science, and current affairs.

Cowen's reading list asks who are the Luddites? In his column today, Ross Douthat asks the same question in the context of religion: are believing Christians Luddites or are the secularists Luddites? Not surprisingly, Douthat believes it's the secularists. As do economists of a certain ideological persuasion. [Douthat credits the Church with modernity, which may strike even people of faith as a head slapper, what with its history of inquisitions and roasting of heretics. Those economists I reference blame environmental do-gooders for the environmental catastrophe that is looming. You see, what one believes to be true is false and what one believes to be false is true. Got that?]

Hanukkah, which begins this evening, is a lesson to secularists who take their secularism too far.

It's a question of how religion (or ethics) centered you want your society to be, and which religions (or ethics) you mean.

There are public intellectuals who tell us that Mormonism is good, and that legal prostitution is good. I say it's kind of important to choose one or the other.

I haven't read Douthat's collumn (gave up my NYT's subscription with the 1619 project -- any newspaper that so freely distorts history will distort current events beyond all recognition.)
Economically, the monasteries of the 12th and 13th century were instrumental in developing banking (they needed to, rich nobles hoping for a heavenly E-ticket kept leaving them fortunes.) Prior to this, interest bearing notes were heretical.
Politically, secularism's claim on the Enlightenment is simply false. It's very hard how to arrive at "all men are created equal" if you don't start from "man made in the image of God". Why is the former true if the latter is not? Steven Pinker has murdered entire forests to decouple liberal ethics from Judeo-Christianity largely without success. Liberalism is a child of Christian theology. Today it has turned its back on its parents and is down under the bridge smoking crack and turning tricks, but it's still a child of the faith.

The 1619 project didn't invent anything new. It just offered an alternative perspective, sort of like an IDW project, to the public.

Herodotus said history was about attempting to find out what really happened. The 1619 project does not even attempt this. It presupposes a narrative, and uses selective history (and outright falsehoods) to support it. All historians are blinded by their own biases, but good ones at least attempt to correct for their biases instead of embracing them.
Denying the holocaust is also a different perspective, but I doubt anyone would suggest the NYT give that 10 pages.

It's a rare historical event that happens for only one reason. Agreed histories can be told from different perspectives, capturing more of those reasons.

Somerset v Stewart really happened, for instance, and its impact in North America is noted at Wikipedia. Maybe it wasn't taught in my k-12 education, but then lots of perspectives were not.

The NYtimes has been trying to refill the coffers of the bank of while guilt because a lot very large checks are being written against it. But there are only so many times you can mention Emmett Till before people stop listening.

"Juan Du, The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City. An actual history, as opposed to the usual blah-blah-blah you find in so many China books. The author has a background in architecture and urban planning, and stresses the import of the Pearl River Delta before Deng’s reforms (Shenzhen wasn’t just a run-down fishing village), decentralization in Chinese reforms, and fits and starts in the city’s post-reform history. Anyone who reads books on China should consider this one."

Maybe if previous Administrations hadn't been so naïve, the Chinese totalitarian regime would not have been able to destroy America's manufacturing base and steal American manufacturing jobs.

I looked up the Spencer book on Amazon. Here is its blurb: "From the distinguished literary scholar Gordon Teskey comes an essay collection that restores Spenser to his rightful prominence in Renaissance studies, opening up the epic of The Faerie Queene as a grand, improvisatory project on human nature, and arguing―controversially―that it is Spenser, not Milton, who is the more important and relevant poet for the modern world."

I find this blurb odd. Was Milton ever regarded as a relevant poet for the modern world? If so, by whom? I like Milton. But his religious views were puritanical and hard line. I don't see how he ever spoke with much relevance to an increasingly secular world.

Anyway, the Spencer book looks interesting. I haven't read Spencer in a very long time.

Basically, the riff in that blurb was targeted to the sort of people who know that T.S. Eliot's most famous essay on poetry was full of adumbrations of the fact that Milton was the first true modern poet, for better or worse, mostly worse, because he had, apparently, lost track of the way life was lived, and ideas were expressed, in the days when rhetoric was not distanced from the words of the previous generations, that is, in pre-rhetorical distanced days, the days whose last days were inaugurated with a great big blast of a modern artificial several-degrees-of-separation-from-the-fount-of-vigorous-native-born-feeling faux-classical horn by Milton. All the big shots in comparative lit since than have probably had something to say on this essay of Eliot's ....

Look, I was never a grad student, much less an undergrad English major, so I could be wrong ----- but I live in this world, which contains not only the Mutabilitie Cantos but also the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers - it seems to me like the Spenser v. Milton distinction is not Three Stooges v. Marx Brothers (naturally funny people - Spenser, in this analogy, versus highly rhetorical and linguistically practiced people (Milton in this analogy), who once heard that such a thing as humor exists and who for many long years sought it out,

but rather the Three Stooges (Spenser) and sly Peter Sellers (Milton) and his arrogant ilk (not that most of the Pink Panther movies were not very very funny, just that ..... well, CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW FUNNY PETER SELLERS WOULD HAVE BEEN IF HE WERE AS FUNNY AS, NOT EVEN CURLIE, but Larry or Moe? -

If you really are interested in reading Spenser again, I would suggest reading Book One straight through, then read the Mutabilitie Cantos, then read Book Two, then reread Book One, and the Mutabilitie Cantos, then read 3 through 6.

there are several billion people in the world, and I can say, with all humility, that in that several billion there are a few thousand who are capable of giving worthwhile advice on the best order in which to read the cantos of our neo-Platonist friend Spenser and maybe I am one of them, well maybe not too, who cares.

One likes to be helpful when the opportunity to do so arises.

The best line in Milton described that compassionate moment when, invoking the fall of rain on the place that used to be the garden of Eden as the analogy for how our prayers might look if they travelled in the unexpected direction ... or maybe that line was in Spenser, or somewhere else.

Thanks for the response. And the reading advice. Much appreciated!

Ord's "Precipice." Sounds all but identical to Bill McKibben's Falter.

+1 for (3), Murphy's book. It is excellent.

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