This podcast is brought to you by the Albany public library mainbranch the generosity of listeners like you? What is a podcast? God daddy, these people talk as much as you do! Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning
Hey, everybody. This is Razib Khan with the unsupervised learning podcast and I am here today with my friend Megan McArdle. Megan, could you introduce yourself?
Yes, I am a columnist for the Washington Post. I am also the author of a book, "The Upside of Down: why failing well as the key to success" which I highly recommend for gifts, you know, personal light reading any table legs, you may need propping up. It's a good size for that. It's just an all around useful.
Yeah. Well, I mean, and I'm assuming it's on Kindle version, because there are some supply chain issues with physical goods.
It is on Kindle. It was it was it's a few years old now. But we were - it was it was recent enough to have taken advantage of the electronic revolution.
Well, so I mean, it's kind of a good segue, because speaking of failure, we have been talking on and off. I mean, we've known each other for a while. But over the last, I don't want to say nightmare, but kind of a little bit of a nightmare of the pandemic years in the United States. And you know, I have little kids, so I can tell you, this is a substantial proportion of their, you know, I have I have a four year old as some listeners know, you can actually hear his voice at the beginning of the end of this podcast. And you know, he is just starting to deal with the idea of a world without the pandemic, because he doesn't really remember it before. Yeah, so I were just explaining to him that, you know, the real story crowds - there, okay. It's not abnormal for multiple people gathering large numbers. People who are not our family members coming into the house. You know, people do that Sometimes it's okay. playgrounds, there are other children from other families on playgrounds. So it's a learning experience. I think he's getting into it. You know, he's he's met some other kids finally. And so you know, that's happening. But I mean, you know, you're talking about failing and what we can learn from it. It's been a while COVID happened, multiple waves. multiple things have happened. I feel like the next decade, there is going to be a mountain of scholarship on COVID in virology, and evolutionary genetics, in economics, in sociology , in cultural commentary, in history, pretty much everything. And like, I mean, what is your biggest takeaway about how the United States handled this pandemic over the last year and a half?
I think better than Democrats believe and worse than Republicans do. In many ways, so let, let me actually say... go back before the pandemic and think about how I certainly assumed that we would handle the pandemic. And this is sad, because I'm a libertarian, and I should have known better. But I think I have the same mental model that most people did, you know, the CDC would swoop in, and they would have their crack teams of experts going around, it would be just like the movie Contagion, except in real life. And that's not what happened, weirdly, the closest thing to an actual solution. being like contagion is the thing that when I saw the movie, I was like, That's ridiculous. You don't develop a vaccine in like two minutes. Apparently, you do now. On the other hand, I was astonished by the kind of breadth of institutional failure and you know, I am second to none and my loathing of Donald Trump. I've been very open about that. Since he began running in 2015. I was extremely critical of the way he handled the pandemic, I think, very justifiably so. That said, Donald Trump did not sneak into the CDC lab at night and mess with the reagents on the tests that was on them. I was shocked at the failures at the state public health level, I was shocked at the failures at the FDA, which is weird, because I've been criticizing the FDA for more than a decade now. And yet, and the way that those that those failures are kind of, you know, the the synergies between the failures and various institutions, so the CDC messes up the tests, and then the... and then the FDA won't let anyone else use any other tests and says, No, you have to use these CDC tests that don't work, right. I think the magnitude of those failures is enormous. I think we should have done way better than Europe, given that we had warning, and that one of the major reasons we didn't is the CDC screwed up the test. So we didn't even though it was here. But I think that, and I think that I would have thought that Americans would pull together more, which is a sad, forlorn hope that I no longer cherish. Instead, it drove us further apart and an exacerbated other, you know, existing political divisions. So on that scale, I think we did pretty badly. On the other hand, the biomedical field behaved so much better than in my wildest dreams I could have imagined. And it's not just the vaccines, although the vaccines are obviously amazing. It was the way. I mean, you saw the scientific community, the global scientific community just responding this unprecedented surge of information of the preprints going out, and people sharing them in these informal networks that spring up on everywhere, from Twitter, to backchannel email, and slacks. And all over the world. This is happening with people collaborating with people that they've never heard of 30 days before. And that was amazing. So in that way, we handled it better than I thought. But in terms of the Institutional Responses, we were way, way worse than I would have expected even from Donald Trump. I mean, I was shocked at the level of Donald Trump just kind of thinking he could deny his way out of the pandemic. And I mean, in some sense, politically, it would have worked for him if he could have gotten the rest of the country to go along. But the idea that he could get the rest of the country to go along was so delusional, and also I think really hurt us. I mean, it's just at every level, from Democrats, Republicans, the - the failures were enormous. And I think they'll be better next time and the way that I think Asia did better in some ways, just because they'd had SARS. And they didn't go through this period of like, pandemics are a thing that don't happen. Yes, that happens, like far off people and dirty places that aren't like our sparkling clean. I don't know, New York subway stations? I'm not really actually what it was we thought was special about us. Yeah, but I think we'll be better prepared in that sense. But I don't know. On the other hand, I think you've got the problem of now we've got a large part of our population is pretty invested in like, pandemics aren't a big deal. Just ignore it. It'll go away.
Yeah. So one thing that I say, and I think, you know, just listening to you, I think this is like, just obviously true. Or maybe it's just a banal statement. But we obviously have the biotechnology, we have the of technology. But we don't have the social technology, we don't have the institutional technology. So we had this massive turnaround, a miracle, all these vaccines. I mean, it's a miracle. I mean, ultimately, like, I mean, what we have the Maderna vaccine in two weeks, actually, we just have to go through the trials and all that stuff, right. So I mean, we have the technology, but in terms of coming together as a culture, and you know, all that stuff. There's just so many fails and so many levels. I feel in some ways, I've... I don't know people always say this, but I feel like I've basically stayed the same since about February 10th. And so I was, you know, I was a sino-phobe on February 10th. And then, you know, there was a short period where I was ahead of the curve, but then, or at least now, after the vaccination, I think, I don't want to say that I'm less scared of COVID. But I, I'm really like tired of all the symbolic stuff where I don't think it's really effective. And you're just doing it because you want something to do. And it doesn't seem to be quote unquote, evidence based. There's a lot of, you know, political jockeying, like mood, affiliation, and all these other things. There's just like, incredibly disappointing and dispiriting that this country cannot get it together that way. And, you know, you know, my own group of people that I probably politically more aligned with. Now, they're going full anti Vax, and they're making the most specious arguments to go anti Vax. And that's just embarrassing and difficult for me to handle. You know, like, I have had multiple people, though, do who did tell me the privately, they did get vaccinated because, you know, they trusted that I wouldn't lie to them, because they don't trust anybody in the media or the public health authorities to not lie to them. So that's where we are.
Yeah. And look, I think the media and the public health authorities did some, you know, they earned it in a lot of ways. I think the incredible disastrous decision to tell people not to go out except if they were going to the George Floyd protests, in which case they were striking a bold blow for public health. I get how that happened. It was a disaster. And I - look, I think there were other things going on there. I watched I watched in real time, conservative people I know, doing a 180 on masks. And I watched how it happened. I watched those people in February were really mad at the CDC about masks, denying that they worked. It didn't make any sense, right? Yeah. And then Donald Trump didn't want to wear a mask because he thought it made him look unmanly. Like thats your biggest problem Donald Trump. Um, and so they had to justify that. And how do you justify it? Well, obviously masks can't work. Right. The reason to backwards from their political need to own the libs. Rather than forwards from how does physics work? Now, look, can we argue about how effective masks are? absolutely right. I think that, you know, I think that the left then way overweighted them I'm just, you know, and there was a long phase because I to feel as if I was basically in the same place. I mean, I think you and I were emailing very early on in the pandemic, or Twitter DM or..
Yeah, early March,
I remember where I was like, I feel like I'm staring at this at a roomful of crazy people going, what's wrong with you? Why are you crazy? And they're looking at me going like, are you crazy? And I had all these interactions where I finally just said to my office, like, look from an abundance of caution. My father's in rehab, I might need to go up, cardiac rehab to be clear, not drug rehab. I might need to go up and you know, help him out when he comes home. I'm just out of an abundance of caution. I'm just going to be staying home.
I have to explain it. Because because they clearly thought I was crazy. And every my husband thought I was crazy. Everyone thought I was crazy. Except I had this group, this small group of people, and you were one of them. Who didn't think I was crazy. And I really actually was wondering, I was like, Are we the crazy people? But
no, no, no.
Right? It just seemed like, you know, China did not lock down a city of 10 million people or nothing.
Yeah, exactly. That they gave us an honest signal. That's the fundamental issue. They shut down their economy and their country.
And you were looking at the death rates in Italy and saying this looks bad. Yeah, and how fast it was moving. And I think a lot of it is just that most people fundamentally- there's there were two problems. Fundamentally, most people don't grasp how exponents were. Yes. Right. And I mean, one of my, I think my most famous column of the pandemic was one of the first ones I wrote, not the first one. But where I was like, and I use that old lily pad example. Except the funny thing is, I'm good with exponents. And I'm really bad with physical spaces. I think I made a lake that was like, yeah, the size of the Pacific Ocean or something. Anyway, it says old lily pad example where, you know, if you have a lily pad, it reproduces once a day. So the first day you have one, and it splits and you have two how long if it takes 48 days to cover the lake? How long at what day is, you know, a quarter of the lake covered? And the answer is it takes that's day 46. Right. And then on day 44, you'll have almost no idea there are any lily pads. And that was you know, I think that was really really drove it home to people in a way that suddenly they understood why the fact that they didn't see that many cases wasn't necessarily all that good assign. But the second thing is the most people decide whether something safe or not by looking at the people around them. And because most of the people around them also didn't understand how exponents work. Right? You, You got - they just didn't have an intuitive grasp of how exponential growth looks. You got this thing of like everyone's looking at each other going well, no one else seems that concern. So probably, and that's actually normally a very reliable signal. Yeah, But when there is in a completely novel thing and I'm just not like I'm priding myself on being Miss math, here I am. I'm good at math for a journalist, which is not saying very much. But I think most people just didn't have that instinctive. Like, oh, if cases are doubling every five days, that's really bad. That's not like, oh, well, it's only 2000. Now, you know, goes to a million real quick. And and so there was that that early phase where... And then I think I stayed pretty much steady. I was very, very concerned about COVID for the year, right for a year, and then the vaccines came. And then I got dramatically less concerned, right, because it really the risk of serious, you know, hospitalization or death just falls so dramatically, even with Delta. Yep. But people around me and I live in a very blue city - are still much more, a lot of them are much more concerned than me for reasons I don't entirely understand. But even you know, like, in the summer, last summer, when people were masking outside, and like I would pull up my mask when people came close, because I'm not a sociopath. And it was clear they were terrified of me. But by by August of last summer, it was pretty clear, right? If outdoor transmission were a huge deal, the George Floyd protests would have, you know, seeded an enormous wave all across the United States and it didn't. Yep. And that pretty much told you unmask being unmasked outside is just not a big risk factor maybe now is for Delta but at the time, and yet, everyone I saw people double masking outside. It's like like it's not like my neighborhood that dance either. It's not like you're jostling cheek and jowl it's a row house neighborhood. So I think yeah, I've stayed pretty steady about where I am. And now I'm like, why are we canceling school? For a few cases? Everyone's vaccinated for colleges, right? Why are we Yes, I understand it's growing exponentially. But no one's going to the hospital. They're all like 25. Yep. At max. And yes, they have old professors, but their professors should now have boosters, right. At some point, you do actually have to have something like a normal life. We can all live in hovels forever, you know, like, in our little holes forever. And so the world keeps moving around me. And I feel like I've had a pretty consistent view on this since about March. I mean, I was more scared in March because we didn't know how bad right back then it was actually, we didn't know what the mortality would be, If it had all been like Italy it would have really dreadful - you know, over 1% mortality.
Well, Italy had hospital. They, yeah, they actually swamped the hospitals. And so other stuff started happening.
Yeah, yeah. But but somehow people keep moving back and forth. And I'm not really clear. I don't understand how they make their decisions. I know how to I make my decisions.
Well, so let me let me let me like, like my quick stories, which like, now, in hindsight, I can laugh about it. But I think at the time, I wasn't even part of me did think like, Am I crazy. But also, you know, my wife had been tracking the Wuhan thing on Instagram in January. And she knows some Chinese and my kids know some Chinese. So that's one of the reasons, you know, follow China watchers and stuff. And so I got woke on that we did the Costco run in early February. But um, so there's two incidents where I think that I definitely did get did get eyes like okay, Razib is losing his marbles. I had a play date, you know, with an older dad older than me, February 20. And apparently, I spent the whole playdate talking about the coming apocalypse. Which I don't really remember I thought I was trying to be quite measured, but he's an older guy. And so I was like, I was like, oh, no, it's already here. Yeah, it's just gonna be I mean, you see what happened in China's, it's gotta be like that. It's already here. Apparently, as the kids were playing, and then on March 8, I think it was March 8, or March 3rd or the last thing we really did, we went to a party. And I told the parents of my friend's daughter, I was like this the last time we get to see me for a while the kids already out of school. And like, okay, there, I definitely saw like, eyes where it was reflecting back to me Razib is crazy. And this is like the first week of March. And that, yeah,
I have a brief one. Here's the most disturbing story I have, like that is my dad - right in thebegining, like March 1, he had congestive heart failure, he goes into a cardiac rehab facility to get better after his discharge from the hospital. And so I call them to talk about this. And I said to them, don't worry, my sister and I are already isolating. So if we have to come up and take care of him, we're prepared. We don't want to give him COVID. As it turned out, he caught COVID in the rehab facility. So this was an entirely unnecessary conversation. But that's another story. He's fine, by the way, like never even ran a fever. Dad's immune system. God bless him, you know. But so I'm telling them this. And on the other than the line, there's this extremely awkward silence. As if I'd said don't worry, I stockpiled healing crystals.
Like the sky is falling.
I've got I've got all of the like herbal supplements. And they're like, Finally, someone was like, that's, that's great. Right, like, you clearly think I'm totally crazy. Like you guys are nursing home. What is wrong with you?
Yeah, yeah, well, so I know what the February 20 thing because I'd forgotten about it. And I got like a text like, a month and a half later. And they were just like, thanking me because they did think I was crazy. But they were basically like, on the off chance he's right. They stockpiled some stuff early and all that stuff. And they said, you know, and I'm not saying I'm a prophet - it was pretty straightforward to a lot of people was gonna happen exponential growth. They said like, as they were watching TV, they just kept thinking, like the dude kept thinking, this is exactly what he said. Like we all like ... People knew he was a little annoyed because he's like, people do like, if Razib, could just like randomly Tell me this.
I gave a lot of my friends permission to hoard. Yeah, and like and I would write emails like, kind of thinking about that. I was like, not trying to scare people just like giving them permission to do what I was. I was on the campaign trail. So I'm calling my husband from the campaign trail - like, honey, I just ordered like, a whole bunch of toilet paper you need to find somewhere to put it sorry.
I listened to the" Reason podcast" and you know, Peters on there sometimes. And, you know, he kind of was early on he was quite sure chagrined that he was, you know, he was like, you know, I don't make these decisions. We're terrified. Nick, you can be chill. You know, we're gonna we're gonna hoard because like, you know, I'm married. I don't make these, you know, it was obviously like, he was kind of apologizing for you, but he's like, you know, we're family. We're doing this and later on, they were obviously like, Okay, you're right, you know, but at the beginning, they're like, you know, whatever, like, just things will happen. And so, and now we're in this situation where like, a bunch of neurotic people are like, the world needs to be shut down forever, because some kid somewhere could die of Coronavirus.
Yeah, it's really weird to like, listen to the things the public health experts say. Because at this point, the risk, it wasn't flu. It was never flu until we had a vaccine, and then it starts looking more flu like and did all of these public health experts just actually not go to indoor restaurants during flu season before this. Yeah, yeah. No, there's there's that I think, I think part of it is just that, you know, you... There's inertia, right, is that you get set in one mode. I mean, I have the thing of like, my marriage was like, my husband wanted to be more out than we were. And so partly, it, maybe it is, I guess that I didn't have that option, right. Like I knew there was an amount of strain I could put on my marriage. And I used all of it because my mom is we were podded with my mom, and she has COPD. And she's 76. And, you know, I was just like, we can't, we can't we can't take risks that we can entertain outside all you want. And we did we fireproofed everything. We had electric blankets and a propane heater and a fire pit and all the rest of it. But we can't be indoors with people. And that was like, That was a hard... hard out for me. But then when the vaccine happened, I was I'd promised and I kept that promise, but I don't think I don't think I would have been very different. You know, like, but maybe I would have I don't know, maybe?Matbe my inner neuroses would have taken over.
Yeah, like one thing that, you know, I obviously conclude from this. And we always knew this, like, nobody really knows math, nobody knows quantities. You know, like, you know, - So for example, you know, there are anti Vax people on the right now that are like, look, Singapore has 2000 People that are infected. vaccines don't work. I'm like, none of them are dying. It's in a city of millions. I mean, what does that have to do with vaccines not working? Do you think if they were unvaccinated, they would have only 2000 infections and no one dying? I mean, I feel like ludicrous even saying this. But this is where we are. And it's a little dispiriting. So speaking of dispiriting, I want to talk about crime. Because I, because we are we are, we are the same generation, Generation X, we still remember the crime wave. I used to go to New York City as a kid in the 80s. And let's just say that was an adventure. There are certain precautions we have to take certain areas to avoid. And everything changed. You know, I was in New York, like visiting friends all the time during the Bloomberg era of the 2000s. Wow, it was so different. And I'm not saying that it's definitely not like that. As bad as the 80s I think but there's a lot of similarities to what's what people are experiencing in certain areas. And now we have quantitative confirmation of a particular murder spike. And I feel some I'm feeling my age. Because for millennials, and definitely Zoomers, the 70s and 80s. Crime spike and into the early 90s. It's basically like, okay, that's something in the film Joker or whatever.
It's like World War Two for us.
Yeah, yeah. It's just like, we remember
You know, people who lived through it, but
so it's not a real to you
It's not real. And I, you know, like, and I'm gonna like, toot my own horn. So it's like, I started, you know, I mentioned offhand to my wife about the murder spike. And she's like, What are you talking about? And, you know, people are like, you know, people say, well, the New York Times reported on it three times in like six months. And I'm just like, Yeah, well, how many times did they report on like, some cop killing somebody, like literally every single day? And so I you know, wrote a substack piece about that. And then, like, I got a bunch of messages that people were like, Wow, you're really brave to say that. And I'm like, why am I brave to say that the murders are increasing, they're literally increasing, you know? And so it's just like, the intellectual climate in America today is like really crazy. In my opinion,
as I say that that can be overblown, though, because I have also written that from my perch in the mainstream media I have written the column the murders, murders are bad column many times since last summer. You can write this the media, do we pay enough attention to it? Maybe not. But I think that we you know, there's this I think there's a perception from a lot of people because we maybe don't cover it as much as we should. That like we're, you know that there's some we can't that there's some penalty for doing it, but no, I've written about it. I've written you know, murder is bad. We need to take this seriously. We need to nip this in the bud. And, you know, no one is threatened to fire me no one. So we do cover it. But I agree that it seems the coverage.... It's weird. There's a subset of the population that's really aware of it. And I think a subset that it's just totally missed, even though it is definitely happening. It's now in year two, the second derivative is improving. Oh, yeah, to go back to math. So it is still growing, but is growing slower than it was last year, which is good. But I will say so I grew up in New York City. And I remember the bad years. I remember I mean, it's funny, just like all of this stuff, I wasn't allowed to ride the subway after 7pm. We were not allowed to go north of 96th Street. And while I said this to someone, and they were like, that's such a like, white privilege thing to do, which indeed, look, I'm a middle class white kid from New York, I did not, you know, come up on the hard streets. But I actually went to a public school that had a lot of kids from housing - the housing projects that were right next to the school in it, those kids weren't allowed to go north of 96th Street either. It was it was like some weird thing of like, somehow the people on that side, they're scarier and crazier than we are here. Right? I don't know whether this is actually true, right? I was eight. But I also remember all the things that you were told, you know, you always had to have $20 in your shoe. You had enough you always had to carry enough money to give a mugger because you didn't want the mugger to get mad because you don't have anything to give him. But you didn't want to be given all your money either. So you cared enough outside, but you always had $20 to get home. If something terrible if you were beaten up and left bleeding in the street so that you could get a cab, such a weird New York thing - thinking about how you're gonna get a cab after you've been assaulted. And you know how to handle muggers. There's all this lore that went around you you if you were walking home, you might go half an hour out of your way to only walk on lighted avenues and down the cross streets that had a lot of doorman on on those like Saterday nights. I was on the Upper West Side. So 79th Street, 86th Street and so forth. You were told to stay after dark to stay off of the unlighted streets all of these things it was just kind of the fabric of my childhood. And it all disappeared in the in the 90s in the 2000s. And it's I just had the experience of - I went up to New York for an awards dinner. First of all, I met someone who had been brutally assaulted in Washington Square Park, his leg had been shattered and had been broken in three places. He was for the first time in months actually standing up. It was ,He was at a bar where I was with some people. He had all his teeth knocked out or all the front teeth all gone. I couldn't tell they were - he had very nice dentures, I guess. But also people were like, I I'd let my the my phone die. And so it's like, I mean, I have to walk back to my hotel, which is I was at like 42nd Street. It was in the financial district. It's like a you know, it's a hike. But I was wearing reasonable shoes and... fine, right? They're like - No, no, you can't do that. You absolutely cannot walk and I was like, oh, we'll take the subway. But no, you cannot get on the subway. Now admittedly, it was like a conservative award dinner. These people may have been more crime sensitive than maybe I am. Yeah. That said, you know, the people I was I was with actually insisted on walking out to get a cab and when I couldn't get a cab. They called me an Uber on their phone. And that's behavior that I haven't seen in New York in 20 years. Yeah, whether or not the crime is so serious as to merit the kind of it just defines everything you do after dark sensitivity that I'm starting to see is not the only thing I have. We someone we knew came here. My husband was at a dinner with her. And she asked my husband and other gentlemen to walk back to our hotel, which was not that far from where they were. And again, this is just behavior that I haven't seen in 20 years.
New Yorkers are extremely sensitive about the crime that's going on there. And I think part of that is just that when the streets are deserted, someone who is mentally ill and agitated and say violently pounding the subway car with his fists seems scarier because you're one of five people on the subway. But it's also that I think people people are starting to get hurt. They're starting to know people. It's my cousin. It's my brother. Yeah. And when you add that to the known spike, huge spike in murders, I think it's starting. It's not just the the actual impact of the crime, but that people are starting to adapt their lives around crime, which is a bad way to live. And we shouldn't be you know, we should be trying to stop that.
Yeah, I mean, it's obviously not just by the numbers, it's not as bad as it... So there's a couple of things that I like to point out. It's not as bad as it was in the 90s. Obviously, like we're back into the mid 90s, maybe max, in terms of murder. But I think another thing to consider though, is look at the average age of men 1970, and 1990, and now, you know, in 2021, like we're considerably older - so on a per capita basis, like, you know, I mean, whatever, what we really care about is victims. But still, it's actually not that great when you standardize it by age, like,
Your listeners are probably aware, but we should probably stop and say that crime varies wildly by age - It's all most it's almost all men, violent crime is almost all men and they almost all age out. Yeah. By the age of 40.
Yeah, and there's a there's a representation problem in in criminals. I mean, it's basically just 20 year old, you know, guys between 15 and 35, right, maybe 15 to 25. Really, you know, so, so we have this heterogeneity and demographic, but another thing is heterogeneity in the crime. So I am hearing from people in urban areas, like I have friends in New York, I have friends in San Francisco, here in Austin, it's not that bad yet, although we're having, you know, there's some issues with police and violent crimes or non violent crimes and all that. But, you know, friends in San Francisco that are dealing with like break ins, robberies, they're not going out after dark, you know, just kind of like the streets are being taken over by vagrants. But you know, a lot of my friends that live in smaller towns, smaller cities, other parts of the country, nothing has really changed. And so there's this massive heterogeneity going on, where people have very, very different experiences. And the one thing that I would say to listeners, especially, we're more liberal, to be frank, those of us that are worried about crime, like someone like me, I don't need to live where I live, I can go live in an exurb, I can go live in a small town, I have, you know, relatives that live in small towns, you know, the 80s. Like, I mean, maybe you live in New York City, it was different. I mean, I lived in upstate New York, and crime was more of a background condition of like, "going to the city" quote unquote and that's something
that you should remember. So actually, my understanding is the murders up everywhere. Murder went up everywhere, even like, you know, obviously, it's harder to see in a very small county where you're just running into, you know, small number of problems, but it's up all over. But the difference is, right, if it's a percentage increase from if the level is always higher in cities, because stranger killings are right? And so, you know, it may have gone up in your tiny city, your tiny town of 50,000 people, but if you had two murders before, and you have a third, right, it doesn't register, even though that's a that's a big increase, right? That's a 50% increase in your murder rate. It doesn't register the same way as as the larger numbers that you see in cities.
Yeah. And and so you know, with with these, with what's happening to cities, you know, this new urbanism, and these YIMBY ideas, all of this stuff, that's predicated on like, a certain level of violence, and, you know, or lack of violence. And, you know, people I think our age are just like, okay, like, we need to take this seriously, because we've, we've seen what can happen, like white flight, Urban Decay, you know, that the street scenes in the 1970s, Superman movies like they're just, it's a whole different feeling out there.
This is something that I've been trying to communicate to the younger people who don't remember this, right, because I was living in one of the few cities that even survived the exodus of people there was driven look, was white flight, a real thing? Absolutely. Where people you know, was blockbusting and people just being like, I don't want black neighbors is that part of the story of why people left? Absolutely. Another part of the story why people left is for frankly, that people just like living in suburbs, they like detached family homes with big lawns, they still do. Right? This is still a thing that Americans leg. But a third piece of that was that crime begins to soar in the early 60s. And it just gets worse and worse and worse. And by the 70s, people are just saying, I can't it's too frightening to be here. People who have you know, kids have families, they move the kids out because they're afraid for their kids. You know, if they're if they're working class or lower middle class, they're afraid their kids will get caught up in the in the culture. And if they are affluent, they're afraid their kids will get hurt by the cul... by the violence that's on the streets. Whatever it is, people are moving their families out because they're terrified and New York actually kept the taxpayers but a lot of a lot of cities of that era. Were just completely hollowed out in much the way that say Detroit still is because it's so fundamentally an auto city even before you know mass automobile ownership. And that is if you're concerned, for example, about climate change, and you want people to densify and you want them to be getting into those tightly packed urban walkable neighborhoods. Crime Control is a climate control status strategy. You have to make it it has to be safe if people are not safe. If they have the option, they will move and they you know, we can argue about whether they shouldn't I'm not defending, you know, or indicting it. It's just a fact that you have to deal with is that people who have choices about where to live will not live somewhere where they are afraid. And they have to do things like oh, well, it's after seven. Now I need to have an elaborate bodyguard before I can walk anywhere, they won't do it. So if we're thinking and for me, I I'm an urbanist. I believe in cities, I believe in global warming, I believe in dense walkable neighborhoods, and all of those ways of living that help us live it actual low, lower carbon lifestyle. But I My thing is that one of the, like, absolute first things for urban health, is crime control. And that doesn't mean just indiscriminately stop and frisk or whatever does mean that this has to be something you don't deny is happening. And you don't kind of say, well, what if we just tried social workers that was tried for decades in the face of the first crime spike, and it did not work? It can be a piece of the puzzle, it is not the whole thing. Police are hugely valuable in keeping crime down. And that means we need to think about - I mean, I think we need to think about more police but better paid police better trained police, right? The average police officer in Europe, often these these guys are being trained for like three years before they go out on the street, we trained for nine months, we should be paying people more to get a higher class of applicant, we should be training them better. And then we should be holding them accountable. And if they if they are harassing people, if they're abusing the power, we've given them, fire them, get them off the street. But depolicing is not the answer to this better policing is the answer of policing that integrates with communities, enforces community values, gets buy in from the community, and does a good enough job that people trust that when they go to the cops, something's going to happen. Sorry, that was my my impassioned, exhortation. So fundamentally, this is such a hard message to sell to people. Yeah, I don't remember what it was like, Yeah, who don't remember what it's like to walk down the street, and just be physically afraid that someone is going to leap on you because it has happened to a bunch of people you knew not something you read about not something the media made you afraid of, but something that, you know, five or six people who have been seriously hurt in street attacks. And you don't want that to happen to you. And so you're you start taking these elaborate precautions to make sure it won't. That's a That's a serious thing. And people should first of all people just shouldn't have to live that way.
Yeah. And they won't they won't
Second of all, they won't live that way. Exactly. Yeah.
I mean, that's the fundamental issue. It's like, I so I feel like this is, you know, okay, so I was talking to a friend about this, you know, people are, like I say, like, you know, a similar similar things to you. And like, you know, some be like, well, you're racist. And I'm just like, well, you know, the people that are going to be helped by this or not, people like me, or people like you, and we are going to be helped. But for us, it's discretionary. We can relocate and move and isolate ourselves from this. There are people who cannot leave their neighborhood, they don't have the economic resources, they don't have the social network. They're stuck there. And yet, there are activists who are telling people like me and you that we are oppressing these people.
And this is reflected in the polling look, if you like, do people want better policing? Yes. And they should they deserve better policing. This is America, these are Americans, we do not randomly harass people, because they happen to look like some other people who committed a crime somewhere. Right. So I believe in that, I believe that this is, you know, I've had arguments with some of the some of the advocates of certain policing strategies like that. I fundamentally disagree. I understand that, you know, they may work in some statistical sense, but I think that they, they are just corrosive on a number of levels. And they make it really harder, because what you know, what you're seeing with a lot of these cases of of the the reaction following murderers, right, something like Michael Brown, where it does seem like he may actually have reached for the officer's gun. But what it's a reaction to is not the killings, because those are really rare. It is a reaction to the killings, but it's ultimately about the fact that people in these communities feel just constantly harassed and disrespected by their police force. And that's wrong, the police force is there for them. Right. So we need to we do need real police reform that takes into account that like the people in those communities are actually the people they are most there to protect, because they're the most at risk of crime. But the people, that's also if you look at polls, they know that they don't want to abolish the police. Right. I mean, that is a really tiny, I mean, any fraction of the population wants to abolish the police-
In New York, they elected a police officer.
Yeah, what most people want is better policing, and we should give them that we should be looking for ways But that probably means spending more, not less on the cops, you get what you pay for in public service, right? Yes, it can go wrong in lots of ways the unions can capture value without delivering value. But ultimately, if you're paying your cops $32,000 a year, you're gonna get $32,000 a yearr cops. And if you're training them for nine months, you're going to cop who's been trained for nine months, right? You have to put the money in, to have beat on the street, who are integrated in the community, who are known to the community and who the community talks to, because that's the guy who came when their cat was up the tree, who stopped talking to them and you know, figured out how to get the cat down, right? That's a lot. That's the stuff that cops should do. They should be a part of the fabric of the community, not not people in a car who roll up when something's already gone wrong, right? I mean, we really do need to rethink how we do policing. But we cannot do that. If the opening is cops are terrible, never call the police on anyone, etc, etc. And like, I get it. But at the same time, you know, if someone's murdered, call the police. You want the police there? What do you it's like it was the funny thing was January 6, right? All of a sudden for like two minutes the left loved cops. Yeah, yeah. You know what? The problem with the people who were there on January 6 was not that they didn't have enough social workers in their community. The problem was that they you know, they had some legitimate grievances as almost everybody does, but the ultimate problem was that they decided to address those grievances by storming Capitol Hill. And at least in some number of them, maybe hanging Vice President Pence. That's not okay. Yeah. And if you and when that happens, cops have to stop them. And no, the we don't think about defunding the Capitol Police in order to put social workers in communities. We need people sometimes people do wrong things and you have to -We need people who will stop the people doing wrong things from doing the wrong things.
Yeah, I mean, so, you know, you're talking about spending more money on cops and these sorts of things. So I you know, the next thing I want to talk to you about, you know, your your, uh, you are, you originally achieve some fame and infamy as Jane Galt, which, for the listeners out there, that's a reference to John Galt, Galt's gulch, Ayn Rand. You know, Atlas Shrugged and all that stuff. And so you know, you come out of, you know, libertarianism you probably still - Yeah, and you still probably say you're a libertarian. You're, you're married to a libertarian. I don't know, you know, I was just say, like,
I do say, I'm a libertarian, but I'm frequently excommunicated from the movement, although since there is no movement, they can't, I can't really be excommunicated. But, you know, I do identify as libertarian, I am fundamentally suspicious, I fundamentally think the government just fails at a lot of things in predictable ways that are extremely hard to fix. And I look, I think, in some ways, it's gonna fail at policing because the government fails at doing things. But policing is one of those things that we have to have the government do, because it's a real public good. Yeah, it's what's it's what's known as non rival and non excludable. So, you know, if I police my borders, you get the benefit, too. And I can't keep you from getting the benefit, right? If I'm in Maine, and I'm making sure that the Canadians don't come down with their ice guns to storm. Right?And you live in Texas? Well, I've protected you from the the government's ice gun from the Canadian government's ice guns. And so that's a real public good policing is another one of those real public goods, which is not something we think the government should do, but something that the government has to do, because the market will never provide it. Yeah. Um, and so I think I believe in those sorts of things. I think over the years, I have become more of what Tyler Cowen is now calling a state capacity libertarian, which is I think there's a bunch of stuff that government shouldn't do. But I think that this stuff the government does do, it should do a lot better than it is. And I think that there there's been philosophy on the right, of just shrinking the government small enough to drown it in a bathtub. And I think that's a bad approach. Right? I actually think the DMV, for example, you know, there's going to be public roads, I always thought there would be I always thought there would be public health, if there's going to be those things I want the DMV to function well, I want the CDC to function well, and conservatives have paid almost no attention to the problem of making government function well, and I think that's a problem in two ways. One of which is that actually it just should you should care about that because it is a good thing to care about. The second reason is your now as conservatism is now shifting towards this national conservatism. I you know, I want the government to get in there and regulate Facebook or whatever. I don't agree with this goal. I don't think the government should be doing this but let's say you want to I asked someone who - it was anoff the record dinner. So I can't record this person's response or tell you who it was. But I asked someone who's involved in this movement, I said, doesn't this kind of imply like a giant government bureaucracy? And if so, what is your plan to put find conservative bureaucrats of which they're to a first approximation or none. And staff this bureaucracy you have, you know, conservatives have put no effort, even into just getting people into the civil service, getting their people into the civil service, much less thinking how the civil service should work. Yep. So how are you having all of these ambitious plans, when you know, it's going to be administered by people who fundamentally disagree with you about everything?
Yeah, yeah, no. So I have this conversation fairly frequently, actually, with a lot of people on the right, and you know, a lot of the things you're saying, I'm hearing other people say, you know, one thing that they that I would say is, for a lot of us, like, I myself, you know, like I went, you know, like, I like people at Cato, I went to a Cato dinner in 2003. I'm friends with David Boaz. You know, like, I like these guys. I like them. And I want things to be as libertarian as possible. I like freedom. I like liberty. But 2008 fundamentally did change my views. Because I just basically, it seemed like the corporate establishment just captured the state capture the society. And I understand there's a rationale for the bailouts. But I feel like, you know, our cultural society was scarred. I mean, a lot of millennials were. I mean, it was really difficult time for a lot of millennials that time in your life to have such an economic contraction. And yet, you know, a lot of the elites did fine. And I think that, you know, this idea that we have a real free market, where, you know, losses aren't socialized, it seemed like a farce. And I listened to a lot of like, you know, people to heritage AEI, you know, quote, free marketeers. And the things they said in the wake, and it didn't seem like they had a really good solution, or a good answer for what was going on. They wanted to act like it was the 1980s forever. And I think that's a fundamental problem that I see with not like, not like really hardcore libertarians who think about this in detail, but say, the Libertarian inflected conservative movement, which seems to, in my opinion, be stuck in the 20th century? Yeah,
um, so I think that look, I mean, first of all, I think that libertarianism had its big moment in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. When we could be the people who said, I don't want the government to teach creationism in your school, or mandate, you know, what drugs you can take. But also, I don't want the government to be the person who, you know, the or I should say, the entity that sends you a zillion dollars, you know, takes all of your money and to send it to someone else. And that was a good message for the time. And then I think 2008 happened. And first of all, 2008 made me revise things that I had thought, although weirdly, not the libertarian things, I had been a believer become a believer, actually, in this theory called the Great Moderation, which was that central banks had gotten so good at their jobs that recessions were, you know, major recessions were basically impossible. Oops. Although I think some version of that remains true, which is we didn't have a Great Depression. Our central bankers are in fact better at our jobs at their jobs than the central bankers of the 1930s. Because things didn't get nearly as bad. And I had always thought that things like the FDIC, which ensures bank accounts and make sure that depositors can't lose things I've always believed in things like that I've written about it was this I think this is a good idea before, you know, in the early 2000s, because it is a good idea. It solves the problem. It introduces some other problems with moral hazard. But frankly, I don't think they're that big. Because I don't know about you, I don't know many people who are like depositors in Citibank, who are qualified to read city banks balance sheets, and make sure that they're okay. Right. So the idea that depositors wherever the little depositors who are covered by FDIC, wherever meaningfully involved in bank oversight, I think is specious. And I also think if you look at what happened in the 30s You know, actually, there's a great book called diary, the Great Depression, and it's by just, it was a lawyer who just kept a diary. And his grandson published it, highly recommend it to people, because one of the things you see in this book is that, you know, the banks that failed, this is in Youngstown, Ohio and the banks that failed. They, they were all owned by locals, who knew the local businesses. These weren't people who'd gone out on a wild limb, you know, giving money to people who shouldn't have it money to invest in forbearing trout farms or whatever. But uh, you know, banks failed in Austria and that rippled through the United States financial system, and then it eventually reached Youngstown. And that's not something that those local elites could have predicted. So I just think that the the idea that people can exert this kind of discipline is, tends to be overblown. But I think that leaves us with a real problem because the this regulation is really hard to do. And so I've had I changed my mind about stuff in 2008. I wanted them to let Lehman fail, I wanted them to let Bear Stearns fail. And now I think that was a mistake. I actually think I erred too far on the on the non libertarian on the libertarian side is saying, like, just burn it all down. And that's something that I still see is I think that there's this burn it all down caucus. On the right, that's just bad. I like I love you all, to death. And it's not that I dislike you personally. But I just think you're like, really, really mistaken about the utility of burning it all down. Yeah. I think it's a bad, you know, things are bad. But they could be way worse. And people tend to really underestimate that. They're like, they look at all the stuff that's terrible. And they're completely right. And they forget that, you know, like the fall of Rome, there was a lot wrong with the Roman Empire. It's just that when it fell, it turned out there was even more wrong with not having the Roman Empire. Yep.
Yeah. Yeah, I, I have to say like, one thing that I sometimes think about is some of the nihilistic aspects on the right, you know, you know, I'm susceptible to it as well, this accelerationism type stuff, it reminds me of some of the left wing activists who are just like, you know, abolish prisons, abolish cops, and they're just like, You're crazy, you know.
Or the people who are saying I don't want to have kids because of climate change? Right. Yeah. And I think that this apocalyptic strain is actually it's kind of a cope, right? It's a way of not having to do anything, because all you need to do is sit and wait for the apocalypse, actually, you know what, living with other people's just hard, and so was going to be hard. And it was whatever period in the past do you think was perfect, or whatever utopian vision you have for the future, guess what, it's still gonna be really hard, and the society is gonna be full of people who do crazy stuff that you radically disagree with, many of them will have power, you will be very upset about that, that's not going away. And your job is to figure out how to make things as good as possible, within the parameters of like, there's a lot of other human beings who disagree with you about the what the good life looks like, and how we should reach it. And, and the Apocalypticism is just a way of not addressing that. Right? It's a way of not having to do anything except sit around, and fantasize about the post apocalyptic future when we get to rebuild out of the ashes. And in fact, if we're at the point of rebuilding from the ashes, you know, you're gonna be rebuilding is like a subsistence farm. Yeah. And how do you feel about spending the rest of your life staring at the back end of a mule? That's how you should be thinking about it not about the little artisanal crafts that you're making. It's like, how do you think about being cold and hungry, and not having most of the creature comforts that you have now, and spending your entire life basically just trying to scrape some living out of the soil? That is what the post apocalyptic future looks like, so stop fantasizing about it.
Yeah, so this is not
This another... this is another rant
This is not on the list. This is not on the list of questions, no this what we're here for. But this is not on the list of questions. But, you know, I've known you know, we've both been like writing on the internet, I think both of us kind of accidentally, actually, for the past 20 years now. And, you know, in the early 2000s, you know, I, you know, I come from a science background, you know, genetics and biochemistry and stuff. And I had these fantasies about what we were going to do in 10 years and 20 years. And, you know, we're starting to actually do some genetic engineering of Mendelian diseases. Now, the things that things that I would talk about, we didn't have a CRISPR, then but we just imagined, perhaps we'll be able to do genetic engineering, and now we can do it. I've had my whole genome sequenced. I've had like much of my pedigree, whole genome sequence. When I started writing, when I started blogging, we had one genome sequence, that was like the consensus sequence, it was $3 billion. So a lot of stuff has changed, and then other stuff for... in a positive way, like, you know, the mRNA virus, vaccines, this sort of thing. But then other things have changed. Like, we're way more polarized. I mean, I don't know, I know that the Bush administration, in the wake of 911 there was some stuff you know, there was some let's just say there's some stuff right? Where it's like, you know, certain people like Dixie Chicks. There was, you know, like, it was hard to be a peacenik, but they were there, they were marching, they were protesting. I feel like you know, now Bush is, and I wrote this in unhurt, I think like now Bush is kind of like, Oh, he's the he's the guy who paints and he wants the immigrants to come and he's kind of been like, you know, resurrected, or like rehabilitated with strange due respect, and all this and I kind of look at the 2000s I'm like, you know, that wasn't I mean, it was bad abroad. Like you In terms of the foreign interventions, and you know, the consequences that rot, but in the United States before 2008, in particular, I don't think we were as polarized as we are, even though there was some stuff about Bush being Putin. I think Trump was more hated. From what I can tell then Bush was Yeah, you know, and so it's like,
I was in New York City where I was literally like, I was passing as a liberal Democrat. Yeah, because it was just too hard otherwise, and I got really good at it. I got really good. never, I never lied about it. Yeah, I just got really good at like discussing policy in a way that suggested that I agreed with the Democrats rather than was merely like, making a kind of, you know, a positive rather than a normative judgment on on where things stood politically.
And, you know, it was just I think part of it was 2008. I think part of it is just educational sorting. Yeah.
And educated people just have politics as like, much more core to their identity than most normal people do. Even though, you know, my grandfather was the chairman of his Republican county party for a while. And he was in politics and ran for aldermen, and so forth. And I didn't even know that he was a Republican. I used to say, I didn't know any Republicans. And I finally figured out when I was in my 20s, that my grandparents were Republicans, my mother says, We didn't try to hide it from you.
It just wasn't important. Just wasn't important.
It just wasn't, but like he never mentioned it. And, and he was pretty active in politics and in his little town in western New York. And I don't think that would be true now. I don't think a kid would grow up not knowing what party grambo
Will because you know, your grandparents, your grandparents watched Fox News or MSNBC. Yeah. I mean, there's just so many, there's so many signalers. So it's like, you know, it's like when I was like, I allways joke when I get emails, and they say, liberty, I know, it's right wing and want to see justice. I know it's left wing, and I'm just like, Okay, who's against Liberty? Who's against justice? Why are they coded that way? You know, but but but like left left,
Or why is it? Yeah. Why? Why is America Why isn't American flag coded? Conservative? Yeah. Yeah, right. Like, why is Why is like being kind of ostentatiously patriotic. Why is that coded? Conservative? That seems crazy to me. I mean, that has just as much of a stake in this country. And in fact, they're very American. And they find that out when they move to Europe. The realize they're really, American Yeah. But somehow this thing that just should not be coded politically is?
Yeah, so you know, I guess my point was, so 20 years on, we have the technology, we have tri quarters, you know, they're called iPhones and you know, Apple Watches, we can sequence anybody at any time, Bin Ladin was sequenced, I believe, after he was killed, just so that they knew that it was him. We can we can do magic, basically, compared to 20 years ago. You know, we're watching, you know, Netflix streaming, all of this stuff, everything has changed. We have the sharing economy, where there's all these like task rabbits delivering things for us, you know, on the other hand, our culture is just so polarized and toxic. And it's just really strange that we have like this, these technological miracles, and just the social angst and alienation. And I feel it too. And it's, I don't know where it's coming from, and why we're like this, like, is this just a natural cycle or progression? I don't know.
Well, I think if you look at the politics of the late 19th century, or I mean, for that matter, the mid 19th century, they're pretty polarized. And that in some ways, our lack of polarization was a weird anomaly. That I think is born out of some of the same factors as the fact that like every city had one newspaper except for New York, and Chicago. That those things just that there was this kind of convergence, the parties kind of efficiently converged. I think a lot of that's really technological. It's about the fact that there are three television stations and everyone watches the same television stations, which is another thing that you and I remember. Although I think you're younger than me, so you probably remember it less well, and is just like inconceivable. to young people. The idea that you know, there was there were three stations and what and if you were in a big urban area, you might have a fourth and a fifth. Yep. I actually I had five television stations because I was in New York. But they all the the lesser ones just showed reruns, they didn't show in the first line broadcasting and then there would be the PBS station. Yeah. Which would if you loved Masterpiece Theater, you can watch to your heart's content. But that just brought a kind of cultural consolidation. But but also weirdly, there was it brought a divergence right, is that physically, what you saw was limited by how far waves of light could travel from the transmitter to your television, or from the transmitter to your radio was what you heard, what you read was, how far could a delivery truck cost efficiently deliver a newspaper, I a day. Yeah, yeah. Right. And because those were the determinants people got local news that was pitched to the local area. What's happened now is that all the news is nationalized. Yep. Even though there still are local stations, you know, they're more and more of the content is just fed to them from national. And so what people are now getting is what we've managed to recreate is in, you know, white Republican Christians who are the majority of where they live, the nonetheless get to enjoy the feeling of being constantly micro aggressed is the culture, they're consuming the news, they're consuming , right, or they and the only way to get away from it, is to turn to Fox News, where you know, which is selected for the people who want to spend all day hearing about how on the other networks, they're not watching, they're being micro agressed, right? It's, it's, it's a toxic dynamic. And then of course, the left is doing the same thing. Let's all just gawk at what some random person in Alabama that you've never heard of. It's like a third tier Republican county chair, you will never encounter this person in real life, he will have no impact on anyone. But let's all spend like four days getting super outraged about something that this dude said, that is now the dynamic that we're locked in. And it's terrible. I don't know how to get out of it.
Meghan, you all about diagnosis. But like,
Well if I had solutions, I would not be a journalist. I'd be riding my golden chariotpulled by lions on a world tour. Right? You know, I mean, I guess not. Now there's COVID. But yeah,
yeah, it's, this is where we are. I mean, like we're old enough to, to remember the past when it was better, and it was worse, you know. So
And that's the thing is, like, he we also have to focus on the miracles. Yeah, dude, we have pandemic killed somewhere in between that would have left unhindered killed somewhere between, you know, a third of a percent up to a percent of the entire population. Yep. And instead of that happening, we got a miracle vaccine in under a year. I mean, we we have all of these are still coming out with new treatments. Oh, we just dropped the we got two in the last week. Oh, well, we just dropped the the mortality rate of COVID. If you get it in half. Yeah, we're there's there's an Astrozenica monoclonal antibody. There's a drug that I'm not even going to try to pronounce. It's an anti viral from Merck. We live in an era of miracles. But we also live in an era. You know, the thing that we forget is, most people are actually super decent. And I always think of this story. When I was reading my book, "Lo these many years ago", I'm in Oh, God, it was like a Comfort Inn or some is really a lot. Oh, sorry. It was a La Quinta. And it was in Nashville where I was Memphis sorry, where it was reporting on the bankruptcy courts. And of course, I was on book leave. We had no money coming in from my half my husband was still working. But you know, putting any amount of money out that I did not have to in order to do reporting was not happening. So I stayed in the cheapest hotel I could find. And it turned out it was in not very good part of town. And they had like a locked gate. And in that you could park behind and I asked do I have to park in there. They're like, we don't have to do you want your car to be there tomorrow. So I parked in there. Anyway, I had to go to court real early, so I get up. And as you can imagine everyone else staying in the hotel is in roughly the same economic straits, which is if they had any money at all, they would be staying somewhere else. And it's dark, and I pull out and I hear a crunch because I'd pulled out too fast because it's a rental car and had a really, really like you put a little pressure on the accelerator. It's like jumped. And I am freaking out now. So I get out it's dark. All I can see is like this bumper is now hanging half off. And I am and there I will say there was an unlovely moment where I was like, you know, there's no camera on this thing. I could just drive away. I did not, I dutifully take out a paper and I wrote my number and I was like, I'm really sorry, back in your car was dark. You can I'll pay for the damage just like call me. Here's my Number, so all dynamic court. I'm interviewing bankruptcy judges, I'm watching cases and so forth. And I'm waiting for this person to call me and I'm mentally calculating, like how much how little we're going to have left in our bank account after I have paid out what is obviously pretty serious damage to the car. So I guess he doesn't call and go back that night. The car has moved, so I know this person, and the note is gone. So I know this person saw the note what I couldn't see in the dark. And what I could see when I got back that evening, when it was light, was that there was duct tape all over the bumper, it had been hanging like that for a while this car was a beater. I know nothing about the person, except that there was a uniform in the back. So I assumed they were in the military, or had just gotten out. I know that they were driving, you know, long trip, and that they didn't have any money either. That person could have gotten a new like, they could have asked me for like 1500 bucks, I would pay that rather than claiming on my insurance. Yeah. And they didn't. And you know what, that's not even that surprising. Because that's actually like, that's what America is. I'm not saying like we're special. And like people aren't good in other places, although there are other places where it would be much more likely that that person would have taken advantage of me. Yeah, there are lower trust societies where they would have Yeah, that you know what, like, we actually are, I doubt that person votes the same way I do. And I doubt that, but you know, they still did the decent thing, just because it was right. They got nothing out of it, except doing the right thing and not getting a stranger to pay to have their car repaired, which it desperately needed. And that's, I think about that a lot. Every time I am tempted to think like what is wrong with those people over there. I think you know what, like, we all hate each other. We spend a lot of time screaming at each other. But we are still Americans and we are still decent to each other. When we are one to one and face to face. We are decent to each other almost all the time. And the thing that is really dividing us is that we're never face to face anymore. And that is one of the reasons that we got to end this damn pandemic. Yeah, get vaccinated, get out there, take the masks off and start acting like human beings to each other again
yeah. No, that's, I totally agree with that. And you're right. You know, it's, there's a bias and, you know, we tend to like accentuate the negative because you know, your people smart when they're insulted or attacked. But, you know, day to day, like, there's a lot of there's a lot of good in people and in your own life, you know, and it's sometimes it is a little hard to appreciate. I guess, the last question I want to ask you live in DC, you grew up in New York, you're obviously an urban person, very different than me. I grew up in Eastern Oregon. I am an urban person now. But I haven't been my whole life. And so what is it about DC, that you would like the rest of us who do not live in? Like I think of New York, New York and DC as really the two Imperial capitals, one of culture and one of politics. Because I don't think DC really, you know, in New York is just too big. It looms too large. But what would you what would you tell people in the rest of the country about like living in these cities? Like what does it do to you? How do you view the world? I feel like you try to make a proactive effort, obviously, just from discussing and talking people will know that about the rest of the country. But mean, what is it from the Imperial capitals perspective that you guys think about the rest of the country?
Um, I don't think we're nearly nice enough to the rest of the country. But that's my, you know, my stock and trade. I don't think anyone's nice enough to each other. It's all to be nicer, because we're fundamentally nice people. If you if you had dinner with us, you would like us. I would say this, that the thing I like about cities, look, I don't know if I could live in the country, I might love it. I've just never done I've lived in a suburb for six months. And it was harrowing. But it was I was in like the walkable downtown of a not very nice suburb of Washington. Just not my favorite place. And it was not for me, it may be for many other people. And God bless you all. And I'm sure it's lovely. And I'm sure you have lots of reasons. It's great. And it probably is, but it's not for me. For me, I am used to having a lot of people around me. It's funny, because my husband's from the Florida Panhandle. And when we were first moving in together, he was like, I don't understand why you like.. you know, I was like, what don't you like about apartments because I had an apartment. He had an apartment, but he wanted to move to a house that wasn't against moving to a house, but he really wanted to move to a rural house. And I said, what, what don't you... what bothers you about it so much. And he said, there's all these people around, there's people on the left, there's people on the right, there's people above, there's people below and I was like, I know it's so cozy! Which is not how he thinks of it at all. And I think now actually I'm more like we've owned a row house for 11 years actually. And now I think I would find it hard to go back to an apartment, especially because like, we're dog people, it's so much easier to let a dog out in the middle of the night st your house than to take them downstairs and wait when you're in an apartment, but anyway, I think that, you know, the energy and being able to walk to things and having all your friends just walkably close to you. I love that. I love that, like everyone who I hang out with within the borders of the District of Columbia, I could walk to the house if I wanted to. And that's really nice. I mean like some of thoseI probably wouldn't - it's kind of a hike, but I could if I was, you know, feeling like I wanted a little nice five mile constitutional that's about as far as anyone lives for me. And I like the I like city streets. I like walking around city streets. I like looking at, you know, I grew up on this, this is feels like home to me. And there's lots of great things about cities, it's, you know, you meet new people, and lots of them are interesting, and you have these just little magical moments. And you know, they're ephemeral. And I think that's kind of what bothers country, people about them, right is like, you're gonna meet this person never gonna meet them again. And I think that you have to not think of it. You know, city people can be very superior about this. I think there's wonderful things about living in the country that you don't get in a city. You know, my mom's from a little town in western New York. A lot of my family are still there. And there are things - I understand the pole of it. I understand. And I have to say when my grandmother died, I suddenly realized that I had always had this place. My family has been there, since they built the Erie Canal in 1825. And so I always had this place that my family had this hugely deep roots, right? Like there's a mountain named after my grandmother's people, right? Actually, my great grandmother's people, Gannett mountain, where Frank Guenette, who founded Guenette Papers don't know why he changed his name, the pronunciation of his name, but it was like a distant cousin anyway, he grew up there. You know, there's, there's all this stuff. And that feeling of being physically routed to a place and knowing all of the other people in a deep way that I never will my grandfather died surrounded by everyone he had ever loved. Like, that's not a possibility for me, and it was for him. And there's wonderful things about that. There are other wonderful things about a city. And then you know, when you compare New York and DC, they're just so different. DC is little, it's like physically little, it's 10 Mile Square. And it's little in other ways, right? I just I'm constantly running into people. I know, if I go, you know, if I'm out somewhere, I'm like, apt to run into someone I've met just on the street. That has happened to me in New York, but it's very rare. New York is just huge, and it's overwhelming. And even I find it overwhelming when I go back now. DC is so manageable. And for me, the real estate prices are cheaper, which is funny, because everyone comes here and they're like, oh my god, this is outrageous. Whereas when we were looking at houses, my husband I the first time and we I should say we only dated for four months before we moved in together.
yeah. Yeah. 11 years. We was 11 years last June. So it's somewhat rash. But yeah, and we were engaged within nine months after that. We were like, we knew. But we're looking - I just broken my lease. We're looking at places I'm going to move into his place temporarily.
Anyways, so we're at this house, and it was like $2,600 a month and it was like an 800 square feet. And I was like, oh my god, it's got a yard. This is fantastic. And I'm waxing lyrical about this teeny, teeny, tiny little house. And Peter pulls me out onto the porch is Megan, can I talk to you for a minute? I was like sure. We got it just looks at me. He says we're not doing this. And I was like, You're breaking up with me. Like I just broke my lease dude. Like, what do you mean? And he's like, You're crazy. New York ideas about real estate prices? No. Just no. o for me 800 square feet was an enormous deal at $2,600 a month for him come from the Florida Panhandle. Yeah. Are you kidding me? Yeah. Um, so you know, the nice thing about DC is that everyone who's here, in the - in the social circles, I travel in everyone who was here is here because they care about some idea passionately. They really, really care about it. And so they're they're all idea people, and you go out to dinner, and you just talk about ideas. And it's, I did not experience that New York. New York's very different New York's about kind of fashion and importance and you know, people are funny or whatever. But it's not you don't have those same conversations unless you're really in the orbit of like Columbia or NYU. Yeah. And in DC is this constant. And everyone understands how the government works, and they have ideas about fixing things, and most of those ideas are bad and won't work. But that's okay. It's a really interesting place to be. And there's a phenomenally phenomenal number of interesting people here. Really surprisingly high number, because there's so many different things that draw people in, right? You've got like the medical research, you've got NIH or whatever. You've got people doing stuff on green energy or whatever the government love them or hate. Um, there's a lot of actually really smart kind of scientific people working here too. Yeah. And you meet them. And that's neat. The downside of DC is that it's a company town and everyone here actually knows what, like a GS 14 gets paid. It's really, that's where you everyone when you talk about some, you know, government thing everyone knows, whereas in New York or was in the I was in New York during the debates for I guess, 2012. I was like, oh, I'll just find a bar and watch the debates. Like what's wrong with you? No, you can't watch the debates at a bar. Because in DC , you walk into a bar during that sees, yeah, right. There's no sports games. There's there's debates. And so it's just it's a, it's a very different culture. It can get tiresome, because it's such a monoculture. Yeah, but it's also it's, it's a funk - The other thing that I'll say is that it's like a sheltered workshop for nerds. I mean, I used to joke that like, when people in the future when people get an Asperger's diagnosis, they would just be like, you know, Mrs. Smith, it's okay, now we have a place where your son can go, he can be with his own kind. He'll fit right in. He won't even know he's different and it's called Washington, DC. Yeah. And it's true. It's great. It's a great place for nerds to meet and marry. This is I met and you know, the first weekend I went out with my husband. We traded comic books.
Yeah, I didn't know you were that nerdy. I know. He's that I know. He is that nerdy.
I am. Not a comic nerd. I'm not actually a comic nerd. But I did have a very small collection of Sandman comics. Okay. He was excited to borrow them, so I lent them to him. Oh, he gave me his Watchmen. Anyway, it's just yeah, it's a nerd town. Like I have a I have a bi weekly role playing game. My husband is in a different one. He's in a Dungeons and Dragons game. I play Call of Cthulhu.
I.... Uhh.... Are you sure you don't want this part edited out? Yeah.
Well, I'm not ashamed of it. Okay, I'm out and proud. Okay. No, it's It's a nerd town. And if you are a nerd, which I am. Yeah. You know, I had a large collection of science fiction novels way before that was cool. Like, now everyone's like, Oh, yeah, I love science fiction series. No, I was I was reading Robert Highland juveniles when that was to do that was basically just to, like, sign yourself up for social death. And so it's, uh, you know, my people are here. It's a great, it's a great city for us.
Are you gonna Are you going to watch the new Dune in theaters are at home.
So this is hard for me. My husband is among his many roles. So my husband, writes, a cocktail newsletter. He writes, he is a full time editor, Reason Magazine, the Libertarian magazine. And he is also a movie critic. And so the thing they don't tell you about dating a movie critic, one of our first dates was I went to see the Dark Knight with him. Because I was a blogger, and I could just take off in the afternoon and go do it. I just had to fill my inches at some point during the day. Yeah. So I got to go see the Dark Knight. But then you get married. And he's like, I'm gonna go to a screening at 2pm on a Monday. And I'm like, guess I'm not seeing that movie in the theater. Yeah, I would like to see a Dune... so he, he just came home from it. I will not share his findings, except to say that I would like to see Dune in the theater. Because it's embargoed until I guess Thursday night or Friday. I don't know how these things work. Anyway, I can't say anything about it. I can say I want to go see it in the theater. But my spouse has already seen it. And so who am I going to the theater with? so I may end up seeing at home I'm dying to see Dune even though every the novel Dune which I just reread this year and having not read it for 30 years. Yeah. It held up. It's actually quite good. However, all of its sequels are terrible. Yeah. They're gonna film the sequels to0
Yeah, well, I mean, maybe maybe with enough Sappho juice, that they can do something good out of it. You know.
I'm also excited for Have you watched. I don't you've got to be a nerd. Razib. You're a scientist
Yes., I am a nerd. Yes, I have watched the Foundation.
What do you think so I've only watched one episode.
So what I think is, it's kind of like, the Foundation TV series on Apple TV is kind of like to the Foundation, the books, which I actually did read in, I mean, okay, I'm gonna be honest here. I probably read them in 1992 in 1993. So I mean, the ones written by Asimov, I mean, yeah, there were some sequels, not Azimov. So that was a long time ago, but I think that their relationship to the books is like the relationship of Taco Bell to Mexican food. So Taco Bell is Mexican themed food. These are Foundation themed. This is the Foundation themed television series, and there's some Foundation related stuff. But I think it's just going to be more action packed, it's gonna be more character driven because of the foundation, like, as the listeners know, it just goes over like hundreds and 1000s of years, I believe. And, you know, the characters like, come and go, and you're not usually attached to like one individual, at least to the original serials that he wrote in the 19, late 40s. The 50s He had some sequels that were
Yeah, Azimov didn't really do kind of deep characters. That wasn't where
it made sense that he wrote novels about robots. Okay. Yeah. I mean, that way, it was like, Oh, well, you know, the robots on Android, so it's all good. I will say I'm not like a movie critic or anything. But uh, so they changed a lot of the stuff to quote unquote, became more woke I think is was the was the idea. But this is actually a Classic these in the Foundation, in my opinion. It's a classic case of just superficial changes, because it's totally irrelevant. That Gaal Dornick is now a young, attractive, you know, black, you know, she's obviously mixed race. But woman is that's irrelevant. Actually. She just happens to be that. Yeah, but it almost doesn't come up at all. And Salvor Hardin is now also like a slightly older black, not super old, but you know, a little older than Gall Dornick a black woman again, it is totally irrelevant that she's now black and a woman. And so I think that's interesting because sometimes, you know, these woking, identity, politics, things like it has a new twist. And they're just like, No, we're just gonna change the race and the gender of the character. And like act like it doesn't matter at all, which I'm actually fine with
I think if you're gonna push it into the far future, you have to righ? Do you really do you really assume that kind of like the ridiculous racial caste system that's a legacy of American slavery is going to persist to I certainly hope not.
So this is a genetics question and so of course not, although in in the the sequels that Asimov himself wrote, there, were on Trantor there are three races and they're called Westerners, Southerners and Easterners, and they don't know why they're called that. But those are exact;y what you would imagine they look like I didn't
I didn't get that far. And the the original or I don't remember what I think I got to like the fourth book.
Yeah, so it's in the prequels in the 1990s. And basically, it's like an Asian looking dude. And they're just like, mentioned offhand, the people who are Asian looking , they don't know what Asia is, but they say they're easterners. And people on Trantor are like, Why are you guys even easterners? And why are we Westerners? And why are they Southerners? Like they don't really, they don't remember the origins of any of this, but it's obviously from Old Earth. And I mean, that's not realistic. So...
yeah, that's really silly. Yes. This is like, I'm all in favor of mixing up gender and race of the main characters. I am vaguely annoyed that they have made her they've added this thing that was not in the book because I just reread the books in anticipation of, of making her from a world with a religious cult on it, which was not at all... It's totally gratuitous, it's
it's very, it's very non Azimovian. And actually, in terms of like he had, Azimov was basically a mid 20th century secular humanist, you know, kind of he was, he was a bit I mean, I think he and Gene Roddenberry were actually friendly. I think they were friends. And he had like, a bit of the same outlook, we imagined like a future that was not necessarily communist, but it was like, okay, like, everyone's basically an atheist and their secular humanist and all this stuff. There's not that much religion from what I remember in the Foundation books. And so yeah, they definitely had to add that I think not....
There's a period during which the in the foundation books they - turn sorry for spoiling it spoiler alert,-
It getting a little nerdy, but yeah, let's go, let's go.
There was a period where so the foundation manages to exert hegemony over nearby worlds, basically, by providing them with nuclear technology, but they do it in the form of like, we've trained a priesthood that doesn't really understand how any of this stuff works. And they just operate it for you. And they use that as a, you know, thier.. . And then that ends because of course, there's all these different ages where you have to do different things at different times in order to make the second empire come about. But there is a period where, but it's clearly spurious. Right. It's and in that way, right? He was not good at dealing with religion is kind of a live force in people's live No, I mean, that's was not what he thought the world would be like.
He was, he was president in America. He was the honorary president, I think of the American Humanist Association for a while. I mean, that's just, you know, that was his vision. He had a particular like, 20th century century sensibility, you know, 20th century liberal post - One, you know, the reason that the foundation worlds of the universe did not have any aliens was because John W. Campbell, his editor at Analog, did not would not allow aliens to be superior to humans, because Campbell was Just kind of a human chauvinist. Azimov was like, fine No, no aliens then just humans. You know,
I'm I'm actually in sympathy with with John Campbell. I'm also I'm a species chauvinist. I'm absolutely like, I prefer humans to any other species. I'm not shy about saying so.
Well, you know what, I hope that doesn't get you cancelled.
I don't think I think that it's still okay. to favor your species. Now, this is not saying like, I think we should try to not make endangered species go away because other species are cool, and I'm glad we have them. And you know, diversity is actually a good thing to have in an ecosystem. But it comes to us in the aliens. If it's if it's one or the other. Like I pick us.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. All right. Um, okay, so this was like, not on the docket, but I think it's fine. You know, like, I have exposed myself to be even nerdier than I think the listeners know. But I will ...
I think surely they must have guessed.
Yeah, they probably guess i In the future, like I will try to prevent like, I will try to not make references to Sappho Juice, or the Butlerian jihad. You know, what I really hate about when nerdy things get popular when people don't like, like, say it correctly, or they distort something. And then like, I have to, like prevent myself from just flipping out. Because I'm just like, you know, that actually....
So I dated a medievalist in college who I have a somewhat pointy face, like a fairly long pointy face, and I will say my ears kind of stick out like sails and others out of my head. And so I dated this guy who was a medievalist, and who spent a lot of time reading Icelandic sagas. And he started calling me elf. And I said, I am six foot two, I'm not very elf like, and he looked at me with such contempt. And he said, he said, real elves are tall.
So you're bring that up because like you're bringing that up, because I said that too. Oh, really? Yeah, cuz I get into arguments with people because people are like, they think elves are like Keebler elves. And I'm like, have you read The Silmarillion? I mean, like real elves are tall, okay? The Ñoldor are a little bit like stockier, but the Vanyar and you know, Tulari elves are like, quite tall and willowy. And so anyway, and then people are just like, wait, you have three kids? Are you sure? Like you're not a virgin? Because I mean, like what's happening? You know, so it's like, I have to keep myself under control. Because like, I am like a stickler for like imaginary world detail. And I know that that's very abnormal.
My husband calls it my obsession is not so much with imaginary world detail. Other there's some of that. It's that it really bothers me. When television shows do things that are just too outside possibilities. My husband calls this my horse physics obsession, in honor of the Battle of the Bastards episode of Game of Thrones, when there are these huge piles of horses? Yeah, horse corpses and human corpses all tangled together. Yeah. And I'm sitting there and I'm like, horses will not. They don't like walking on uneven surfaces. Yep. So like, they're not gonna climb up on a pile of corpses. That's not you'd never get a horse to do that. Well, he was like, he was like, this is your problem. What just happened.
Yeah, yeah. Well, I do. So you know, and it's not it's not just like fantasy stuff. Like I saw a mural with with Charles Darwin. And I think like it the eye color was wrong. And I pointed it out. And like, this was like at a university and they were just like, what do you expect us to do?
Change the eye color obviously -
Yeah we're not going to redo that. Right. Like I like literally, like reported to, and like, my friends were just like, Razibe you just need to get over yourself. Like, you know, like, just just just leave it be so. But anyway. Okay. Well, it was great talking to you. Good talking to you, too. Yeah. So, you know, everyone should check out your book, The Washington Post, I'll put the links in there. I'll put a link to actually Peters because I Peters, the one who's got the substack because your substack
My substocks, pretty much dormant. But my husband does have the Premier Home cocktail enthusiast newsletter.
All right, well, I'll put it I'll put that in there. And I hope you guys can socialize and have cocktails how people over now, right?
We are. we have people. You know, I told him like when we're vaccinated, we can have people over and we do we've not been socializing as much in the last month because there's been some travel but yeah, we're we're I will say I did learn during COVID that I like socializing outdoors, outdoors in the fall. So I think we're gonna be doing some of that as it gets cooler. Nice. But yeah, we're we're we're trying as much as we can to live our normal lives.