Week of April 29, 2019

A few things of note from around the Internet this week:

Happy

Ben Carlson on our current emotional conundrum:

My strategy for trying to avoid being brought down by the sheer amount of negativity these days looks like this:

  • Avoid 24/7 cable news at all costs. It’s been years since I’ve sat down and watched this stuff on purpose.

  • Avoid Facebook like the plague. Instagram is a much more joyful place (although I guess Twitter is my hedge here).

  • Get the negative people out of my life. Not as easy as it sounds but that is the goal as I age.

Higher Education

Rusty Guinn on the myth of American post-secondary education:

And yes, Virginia, the importance of post-secondary education in America IS a myth – one of our most powerful. No, that doesn’t mean that college and its attendant experience don’t hold intrinsic value. It also doesn’t mean that the credential offered by these institutions isn’t a real currency. It means that the Common Knowledge underlying that currency is far more powerful than whatever the truth about college is. It means that the stories we tell about college are more important in almost every way than the facts. It means that whenever we talk about college in America, we are nearly always talking about the meme of college!

Frontier

Twitter is far and away my most important online social network. I attribute an inordinate amount of entertainment and knowledge to the people I follow and have interacted with over the past 12 years. However, as I read this article it seems like there's a relatively simple, yet impossible solution—Twitter, Facebook, et. al should just go away. To quote the article, "it has grown increasingly clear that allowing young, mostly male technologists to build largely unregulated, proprietary, international networks might have been a large-scale, high-stakes error in judgment."

That Dorsey is now expected to find a solution to unprecedented and unforeseen problems, on a platform designed thirteen years ago for narrow and relatively innocent use cases, seems darkly comical at best—an instance of refusing to learn from our mistakes. “He’s dealing with a scale of a problem that doesn’t have a lot of precedent in human history,” a programmer friend of mine texted. “It’s actually kind of scary that he comes across as so unstudied. I think ‘conversational health’ is a dodge. Twitter, and Jack, want to avoid taking positions on who is doing harm. But they don’t have that luxury at this point, because Twitter is such a megaphone.”

Regulation

Scott Alexander on medicine shortages in the United States:

You get more of what you subsidize and less of what you tax. Unfortunately, the FDA is inadvertently taxing companies for being in the generic drug business. And it’s taxing them more if they’re not a monopolist with economies of scale. That means we get fewer companies in the generics industry, and more monopolists.

So my very tentative guess as to why buspirone is more plagued by shortages than bread or chairs is because number one, the need for FDA approval makes it hard for new companies to enter the buspirone industry, and number two, the FDA’s fee structure favors large-scale monopolies over small-scale competitors.

Catastrophe

Ben Wittes on Bill Barr:

Barr has now acted, and we can now evaluate his actual, rather than his hypothesized, performance. It has been catastrophic. Not in my memory has a sitting attorney general more diminished the credibility of his department on any subject. It is a kind of trope of political opposition in every administration that the attorney general—whoever he or she is—is politicizing the Justice Department and acting as a defense lawyer for the president. In this case it is true.