Meaghan

Why readers, scientifically, are the best people to fall in love with.

Serena

The Gaza-Israel situation is beyond words. InFocus had a stunning set of photos of the conflict’s impact (warning to the weak of stomach: some are graphic) last week.

“Corrupt, f*****, and broken.” That, essentially, is what Millennials think of their political system. Alternatively (worse?), we are just completely confused. Argument #1,436 for why we need better civic education in this country.

Okay, we actually just need a better public education system and evaluation criteria in general. Here’s a fascinating story of what one Georgia school was reduced to in order to attempt to meet its test score goals.

And now for your Friday cry:

My daughter recently passed away after a long battle in the children’s hospital. Since she was in the hospital her whole life we never were able to get a photo without all her tubes. Can someone remove the tubes from this photo?

That was one Reddit user’s request—and the response was, well…

An interesting addition to the working moms conversation. Though I don’t have kids myself, I remember a number of long babysitting jobs—I know, I know, seriously not comparable to motherhood—that drove energetic, teenage me to a state of exhausted, speechless stupor:

Moms who worked full time reported significantly better physical and mental health than moms who worked part time, research involving more than 2,500 mothers found. And mothers who worked part time reported better health than moms who didn’t work at all.

In related news, Jamie & Jeff’s birth plan.

Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and undocumented US resident, just became the most visible “poster adult” for the American child migrant issue when he was unexpectedly detained while flying through a Texas border town this week.

I’m one of the many millions of Americans who detest Comcast, but I’ve never had a service experience just quite this—oh, it’s so many things at once: painful, desperate… and impossible to stop listening to. In an audio recording that went viral this week, this rep spent over eight minutes trying to convince a customer not to cancel his service. Comcast has since apologized, saying it is “embarrassed” by the incident. The customer himself then responded that the employee should not be fired, recognizing that the call was merely a symptom of systemic problems in how Comcast operates its call centers and customer service in general. Word. Related: confessions of a Comcast repair agent.

Anna

A 20-year-old American guy posted his medical bill online, and the world community went berserk. He had appendicitis. Before insurance, the total for his routine procedure came to over $50,000. He wound up on the line for $11K.

The US remains the only nation in the developed world that fails to provide universal healthcare for its citizens, and most international reddit users could simply not believe what this young man was being charged for treatment they would receive without any bill at all.

As elected officials stall progress and dirty fuel companies put up roadblocks to protect their profitable status quo (i.e., polluting our air for free), many of us are trying to process the emotional impacts of climate change—on people and the places we love. The question Anna North is asking is whether we need to grieve in order to act to fix things. Many experts in psychology believe that if we let climate change “flood our hearts” we can move on to something more productive than depression and paralysis—and/or guilt and shame, or whatever holds us up—and be more motivated to get going on solutions.

North’s piece led me to this powerful essay by Zadie Smith which ponders many of the same questions. She asks: What will I tell my seven year-old granddaughter? How will we explain our inability to change?

Check out this cool BirdNote video of David Allen Sibley sketching a Townsend’s warbler. This isn’t just eye candy for the hardcore birders out there. It’s an intriguing look at how an artist works as well as a peek into the world of bird identification (and books for that purpose—Sibley is an ornithologist and author and illustrator of The Sibley Guide to Birds, considered by many to be the most comprehensive guide for North American field identification) that should please just about any crowd. (Full disclosure: I’m on BirdNote’s board of directors. And I’m a bird nerd.)

Eric

The headline writers at Wonkette are obviously geniuses. They managed to perfectly capture the latest insult to sane parenting and independent children: “a nice jailing should teach this terrible mom to let her nine-year-old daughter go to the park by herself.” According to the logic deployed by the authorities in the case, every parent who raised kids during the 1970s and the preceding centuries should have been charged with criminal abuse and had their children raised as wards of the state.

At Reason, Lenore Skenazy, who pioneered the “free-range kids” movement, breaks down the events. As you might expect, the details are a bit more complex, but the outcome—jail for mom, forced state custody for the girl—is completely insane and patently immoral. At the end of the day, a single mom was sent to jail (probably losing her job) and had her kid taken away even though no actual crime was ever committed or planned. The government intervened solely out of a perception of risk. And this at a time when America is safer than it’s been in 40 years.

Toward that end, Conor Freidersdorf at The Atlantic had a particularly good perspective on the events, explaining that the very minimal risks the girl was exposed to were almost certainly dwarfed by any number of other commonly acceptable risks, like riding in a car or eating fast food. I thought this bit was spot on:

Honestly, it seems a bit young to me, but I don’t know the kid or the neighborhood, it doesn’t sound as though the mother had any great option, and as I didn’t give birth to the kid, support her, and raise her for 9 years, it isn’t my call.

But what none of the accounts focused on may be the story’s most important feature: the mother is poor and black, and she lives in South Carolina. I’m dubious that the state would intervene in the same way with a middle-class white family.

At Blue Oregon, Michael O’Leary makes the case that permitting agencies should do considerably more to respect the interests of the Yakama and other tribes in opposing coal exports on the Columbia River.

  • At The Columbian, reporter Aaron Corvin has an excellent examination of Grays Harbor’s growing opposition to large-scale oil shipping schemes, with a special focus on the fishing and crabbing industries.

    At the NYT, some intriguing hints that trying (and failing) to learn a new language may act as a sort of cognitive fountain of youth for aging adults.

    Jerrell

    Dhaka is the capital city of Bangladesh, with a metro population of over 7 million people. Yet there are only 60 traffic lights for 650 major intersections. This photo essay details the slow grind of some of the world’s worst—and most costly—traffic jams.

    Typical second term doldrums or merely an intellectual escape for President Obama? Whatever the case, the President has been a frequent dinner guest as of late.

    Over in Helsinki, Finland, the local government has announced a bold transportation venture that every Sightline employee can cheer. By 2025, the government aims to integrate shared and public transit into a single network, and the end goal would be to make car-ownership wholly unnecessary.

    Clark

    Over at the Human Transit blog, Jarrett Walker offers an interesting take on traffic forecasting:

    Something really important happened in the US around 2004, which experts call the “VMT Inflection.”  Vehicle Miles Traveled in the US — the total volume driving — departed from a linear growth path that it had followed for decades, and went flat.  Here’s the same curve looking further back.  Around 2003, you could be forgiven for thinking that this steady slope was something we could count on…

    So reality changed, but the Federal projections didn’t.  Even as late as 2008, when the new horizontal path had been going for four years, Federal projections claimed that the growth in driving would immediately return to the previous fast-rising slope. 

    Walker explains the failure to recognize that trends had changed as a form of “denial” — suggesting that forecasting failed because of a quirk of human psychology. But it strikes me that the psychology of denial is only part of the explanation.

    First, transportation forecasts are only as good as the tools used to make them—and for decades, crude forecasting tools yielded reasonably good results, lulling people into believing that they were actually good, rather than just lucky. They didn’t seem broken, so there was no reason to fix them! But then, when the old forecasting methods started to fail, there was simply no body of robust forecasting methods to fall back on. That’s as much a technical failure as it is a psychological one.

    Second, there’s also a matter of incentives: the transportation agencies making traffic forecasts had clear financial motivations to predict rapid traffic growth! More traffic meant more funding. Less traffic would mean less funding. So an accurate forecast of flat or declining traffic woudl be unwelcome news. Again, that’s less about personal psychology than about institutional politics.

    Still, it’s great to see more attention to the many failures of the traffic forecasting industry!