Margaret

There is nothing that will make you care about something as much as a little personal investment. I recently came across this amazing list titled 101 small ways you can improve your city. Reading through it, it’s more like 101 ways you can love your city. My goals: set up a little free library and install a homemade bench near my bus stop. Next year I am building a chandelier tree funded by a parking meter.

Eric

Pamela Paul makes the case that we should actively seek out and read books that we hate. In a time when information is siloed and politics are tribal, it’s especially important to wrestle with long-form arguments we disagree with.

Perhaps not unrelated, there’s more (and stronger) research-based evidence that the more you use Facebook, the worse you feel.

Drawing on lessons from anti-vaccines campaigns in Australia, Vox had a great piece about how to fight fake news, misinformation, and distortions of science—and how to do so effectively.

Finally, an argument for why flirting is pro-social behavior, and that doing it well can make the world just a little better.

Alan

Some reflections on the revolution(ary election) in France (with apologies to Edmund Burke):

In France’s presidential elections earlier this week, we saw the latest evidence of the new populism that has grown influential on two continents. Neither of the two French frontrunners, who will advance to a May 7 runoff, comes from a conventional left or right party. Both are deeply heterodox in their policy platforms. As the New York Times reported on April 24:

It is not that the left-right divide no longer matters — after all, voters gave roughly 40 percent of the vote to various versions of the traditional left and right — but that it is now complicated by the crosscutting politics of globalization versus anti-globalization.

What distinguishes Marine Le Pen as “far right,” in most media coverage, for example, is not the National Front’s orthodox conservatism on the conventional issues of the welfare state, because her party is not conservative on those issues at all. To the contrary, her positions are to the left of many mainstream liberal parties including not only the French Socialists but also the Democratic Party in the United States. Here’s a quick summary of her platform, from John Judis’s lively and wide-ranging new book The Populist Explosion (which I recommend for those who want to think more deeply about the political currents sweeping the globe). Le Pen’s platform:

called for a ‘strategic plan for reindustrialization,’ tariffs and quotas to protect against ‘unfair competition,’ the separation of commercial from investment banking, a transaction tax on stock purchases, and the nationalization of banks facing difficulties, a ‘cap’ on credit card charges, opposition to cuts in social spending and to the privatization of public services, equal quality health care access regardless of income or location, and rejection of the European Union’s attempts to impose austerity.

What distinguishes Le Pen is not her economic or welfare-state ideology. It is her view of who should qualify as rightfully benefiting from French policy. It is a politics about who is in and who is out. In its bluntest statement, it’s about immigration. In fact, Judis’s book argues persuasively that immigration may be the definitive national political issue in most of the industrial democracies at present.

In times of uncertainty and stress, the better angels of our natures—tolerance, welcoming attitudes, and compassion—can be overcome by fear and in group/out group scapegoating. Plus, rapid immigration can suppress or slow the rise of wages for native-born workers, even while it speeds economic growth and makes life easier for the well-to-do.

The lightning rod issue of immigration is why conservative populism is on the rise: the definition of conservative populism, says Judis, is a three-group dynamic. Conservative populism rallies a middle constituency against both an elite (economic, cultural, or political) and an out-group (often racial, ethnic, or national). Examples: Marine Le Pen, George Wallace, Donald Trump. Progressive populism, á la Bernie Sanders or Occupy Wall Street, has only two parts in its narrative, its political pitch: the people and the elites. So far, the conservative brand of populism has been more successful at winning followers than the progressive one. Judis’s book is a valuable primer on all these movements and trends.

Serena

I spent a good chunk of last weekend devouring American War, after hearing this NPR interview with the author and quickly scooping it up from my local bookstore. The debut novel from journalist Omar El Akkad draws on his war reporting experience to paint a chilling dystopian vision of America’s future. Set 60-80 years in the future, El Akkad immerses the reader in a climate change-devastated and divided US, following the slow radicalization of a young woman who spends much of her childhood in a refugee camp. International power dynamics have reversed, with America’s “Free Southern State” receiving aid from China and a new Middle East empire, and elites from these places puppeteering the region’s politics and civil war developments. El Akkad masterfully builds the awareness of this new world order through the eyes of the main character, and I think the sensation of that dehumanizing and disempowering dynamic is what might stick with me longest from this novel.

I also read this profile of civil rights and women’s movement hero Pauli Murray, who appears to have lived ten lives in one. Her accomplishments were massive and seemingly endless, even as she navigated many intersectional identities over the course of her life.

And Sheryl Sandberg (love her or not) is at it again—book-publishing and organization-founding, that is. This time, she takes on the phenomenon of grief, building from her experience of the sudden death of her partner in May 2015 and how her community treated her afterward, for better and for worse. With Option B, she hopes to help readers develop more productive practices and conversations around grief, and her pithy style, in combination with insight from co-author and psychologist Adam Grant, should prove a similarly popular guide as her 2013 Lean In hit. (To be clear, I haven’t read the book yet, just the article linked above.)

Anna

For anyone who thought at all about the role that gender played in Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, here’s a fascinating experiment: A new play reenacts campaign debates—word-for-word and gesture-for-gesture—but with the candidates’ genders reversed. The show’s creators want the gender swap to help us explore double standards and invite viewers to question their own biases. Interestingly, the female Trump character—bold, unscripted, aggressive, and with a business background and a few reality TV shows under her belt—is more appealing to audiences than the male version of Clinton who comes across as an overly polished, over-rehearsed politician and not necessarily someone who is speaking from the heart.

And whenever you hear of something really clever and cool and sustainable and all around good for people and community, the next thing you find out is that it’s Swedish. Yep. Here’s the world’s first all-recycled shopping mall, giving new life to old stuff, keeping junk out of landfills, and creating retail and repair jobs.

  • A study finds that if we are distracted and don’t pay attention to something our brain’s response is to catalogue that thing as less important. I’m looking at my smart phone and thinking: does a constant state of distraction factor into us not giving a hoot—or giving fewer hoots—about the really important stuff?

    Kristin

    Which countries have more women in their national legislatures than the United States?

    1. Rwanda
    2. Mexico
    3. Afghanistan
    4. United Arab Emirates
    5. All of the above

    Yes, all of the above. Plus 96 others, since the US is number 100 out of 190 countries.

    Sadly, even forward-looking merit-obsessed Silicon Valley isn’t doing so hot on recognizing women as equals:

    Studies show that women who work in tech are interrupted in meetings more often than men. They are evaluated on their personality in a way that men are not. They are less likely to get funding from venture capitalists, who, studies also show, find pitches delivered by men—especially handsome men—more persuasive. And in a particularly cruel irony, women’s contributions to open-source software are accepted more often than men’s are, but only if their gender is unknown.

    Interestingly, unfairly rewarding men and punishing women in tech may be exacerbated, not mitigated, by tech’s fervent belief in meritocracy—when people in tech are reminded that their organization rewards people based on merit, they are more likely to give higher bonuses to men.

    Supposedly data-driven techies are also hampered by an irrational belief in natural genius. The extent to which practitioners in a certain field believe that success in that field is driven by inborn brilliance (genius, giftedness, aptitude), rather than by work, skills, training, and experience, is a strong predictor of a lack of women and African-Americans in that field. In other words, women and African-Americans can work hard and gain skills and become competent lawyers or even surgeons, but physicists and mathematicians believe you need to be born brilliant, and, apparently, that means you were also born a white man.

    Could 6-hour workdays lead to big healthcare savings? A two-year plot project proves that, at a minimum, shorter workdays lead to employees taking fewer sick days and less unexpected time off.

    Former Portland Commissioner Steve Novick has some great ideas about how to make Portland a city that works better.

    Make Athens Great Again draws interesting parallels with the current period, and how a people who thought they were great can fall apart when it turns out maybe they’re not. (Interesting tidbit: I knew a jury voted to execute Socrates, but I didn’t realize that more of them voted he should die than voted he was guilty. At least they were clear about how well their justice system worked.)

    Lee Drutman published a masterful piece about how proportional representation would reduce the United States’ crippling party polarization and make every vote actually count. Our single-member, winner-take-all approach to electing representatives leads to each party trying to thwart the other arty at all costs, instead of all representatives trying to solve problems. By electing three, four, or five federal congressional representatives at a time from a multi-member districts, we could make voters matter and make Congress work.