Alan

The ever-hilarious Oatmeal writes an actually important analysis of self-driving cars, which also happens to be funny: “I’m ready for our army of Skynet Marshmallow Bumper Bots.”

In the Northwest, or at least in Washington, white people are whiter—and so are black people, according to a big new genetic study of African, European, and Native American ancestry. South Carolina, though? The homeland of truculent racists like Strom Thurmond is the place where self-identified white people have the most African ancestry. All in all, the study shows, whatever we may think about our race, most of us are beautiful mixtures.

“Outside there is a storm and inside there are mice”… plus other mock-inspirational quotes from Werner Herzog.

Artist Dan Miller of Portland (a childhood friend of mine) built one of the first modern tiny houses in Cascadia, and he built it by hand for less than $4,000. It’s mostly clay and dirt from the backyard where it stands. The beautiful little structure will be open for a tour on January 10—Dan’s last showing of the home before he moves on to life’s next adventure. (Description, photos, and how to RSVP here.)

One must always read Rebecca Solnit: “If I’m exhilarated this year that I’ve read more rape trial transcripts, victims’ testimonies, accounts of murders, beatings and threats and rape tweets and misogynist comments than in probably all my other years put together, it’s because violence against women is now a public issue. At last.”

Eric sent me this informative link about vaccines and autism. A friend sent me this even better one. But my sister-in-law the pediatrician sent me the best one: HowDoVaccinesCauseAutism.com.

I missed this piece when it ran in Esquire in October, but it’s first-class reporting on just how broken Congress is. The problem, the article makes clear, is not with the personnel. It’s not the members. It’s a structural problem: gerrymandered safe seats, low-turnout primary elections dominated by extremist voters, conflict media, Citizens United, dialing for dollars, well-funded advocacy groups that punish compromise. What’s different and compelling about the piece, to me, is not the diagnosis. It’s that the entire thing is based on interviews with 90 members of Congress: it’s in the members’ own words. Here’s Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland:

When you look at the cost of a House seat now—which is about $1.6 million or something—you’ve got to raise that money…  And particularly for our… candidates who are in these really tough districts… they’ve got to raise double or triple that… every two years. It’s a never-ending hustle. You get elected to this august body to fix problems, and for the privilege, you find yourself on the phone in a cubicle, dialing for dollars.

Here’s Cascadia’s own, Representative Derek Kilmer of Washington:

Just after we got here, a group of us, Democrats and Republicans, were at a burger joint talking, and after about forty-five minutes, I said, “We have to be able to get our act together and figure some of these things out.” And across the table, one of my colleagues said, “Derek, I like you, but you have to understand that I won my seat by defeating a Republican incumbent in my primary, and I campaigned against him for not being conservative enough…. I like you, but I have zero interest in compromising with you or anybody else. My constituents didn’t send me here to work with you; they sent me here to stop you.”

Here’s Rhode Island’s Senator Sheldon Whitehouse:

There’s a phalanx of extremists on the Republican side who, in a better world, would be a rump group who sensible people ignored as we went about the business of governing… And you’d be able to forge bipartisan coalitions on major issues, and the extremists would be relegated to hopping up and down in the back benches…. But here, those extremists control or represent a great deal of money, an enormous amount of political threat that can be brought to bear.

Kristin

I wrote two articles on Medium about how the interlocking problems of racism, guns, and excessive police force lead to police killing black men, and how a basic income could help us finally achieve MLK’s dream.

  • Have you heard about the U-curve? Happiness is high when you are young (20s), dips in middle age (40s), then goes steadily up in the 50s, 60s, 70s—a pattern seen across cultures and even in primates! Apparently life satisfaction is is all about the delta between expectations and reality (as Calvin wisely told us, and Gen Y Yuppies need to learn). Most lives go like this:

    • In your 20s, you have high expectations for the future. Your life is going to get better every year: you’re going to get that dream job, meet that dream guy/girl, maybe even win a Pulitzer! Maybe become the President!
    • In your 40s, you are disappointed that your present reality is worse than you expected, AND you have low expectations for the future (double-whammy). You are likely not going to win a Pulitzer, certainly not going to be President; turns out your dream guy/girl is a flawed and sometimes annoying human being; and your body is aging, you are passing your prime, things are only going downhill. Sigh.
    • In your 50s, you have settled into your lower expectations, but it turns out the realty of life after 50 is better than you thought! You have stopped moping about the Pultizer and the Presidency and started enjoying spending time with friends and family.

    If only knowing this could help me preemptively lower my expectations and spare myself some disappointment in the coming decade.

    This article about the “apocalyptic libertarians of Silicon Valley” made me feel a little uncomfortable about how I resonate with these guys. It also got me thinking again about polyphasic sleep, leading me to fantasize that if I could somehow make it work with my child and work schedule, maybe I could have midnight creativity sessions like this Aeon author.

    Finally, on the heels of Serial, I liked this accounting of how our criminal justice system is often at odds with science. And by “like” I mean “felt appalled.”

    Eric

    For the first time in a century, China’s coal use is falling. Greenpeace has the details.

    Anna

    Thanks to Nancy Pearl (celebrity librarian) for recommending “Knowledge is Beautiful,” by David McCandless. It’s a tome of beautiful, hand-crafted, mind-expanding infographics on subjects from science, power, money, health, space, art, thought…and dogs.

    With a few states raising their minimum wage this week, Pew looks at just who is making minimum wage in the US.

    Here’s a frightening piece in Mother Jones on how every part of American life is becoming a police matter.

    And the Center for Public Integrity shares its top stories from 2014 on money in state politics.

    Serena

    We were grateful to host journalist Matt Taibbi last year as part of our 20th anniversary celebration. Well, heads up! He’ll be at Town Hall Seattle again next week discussing his new book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.