Over dinner the other night, one of my friends proclaimed, “I’m currently at war with my cell phone.” I immediately laughed this off as another one of his hyperboles and took the light rail home, watching nearly all my fellow passengers frown into the blue-light of their screens. Soon after, I ran across this PBS interview with Tristan Harris, a former Google “product philosopher.” Tristan’s main point is that product developers are not too concerned with whether or not their tools impact your life in a positive way–instead, it’s all about maximizing the amount of time you spend on your device. Here is a particularly haunting quote from the aforementioned interview: “Never before in history have 50 mostly male, 20-35 year old designers in California, working at three tech companies, influenced how a billion people spend their time.”
This wasn’t an earth-shattering revelation for me, but nevertheless I decided to join my friend in the war against cell phones and have now started to incorporate the Amazing Hour into my daily schedule. The result? I’m sleeping better, waking up earlier, and I’m happier.
Love Poems in the Time of Climate Change will make you smile, but it may be too real for that smile to turn into a full-blown laugh.
Vox reported this week that “advanced energy” (business sectors that reduce energy consumption and fossil fuel emissions) brought in $1.4 trillion in global revenue last year. That’s twice the global revenue of the airline industry. In the United States, the advanced energy industry brought in as much revenue as the pharmaceutical industry in 2016—$200 billion. According to a report by trade association Advanced Energy Economy, the clean energy industry is growing twice as fast as the world economy (7 percent vs 3.1 percent). Though not all the categories in the report are things I would label “clean energy,” Vox’s summary of the report is worth a look.
On Thursday, small business owners in Greenwood marked the one year anniversary of the methane gas pipeline explosion that destroyed several of their businesses and severely damaged others. I attended the press conference and was disheartened to learn that many Greenwood business owners are still struggling to get back on their feet and be made whole for their losses. Puget Sound Energy is facing a $3.2 million fine for improperly abandoning the gas pipeline that caused the blast. On the anniversary of the explosion, they canvassed the Greenwood commercial center to educate the public about natural gas safety. Wouldn’t a more relevant step on their part be figuring out where their other abandoned pipelines are (seriously, they say they don’t know) and fixing them before this happens again?
I’ve noticed two Cascadians in the new US Cabinet. The Seattle Times profiled Defense Secretary Doug Jim Mattis of Washington’s Tri-Cities, and the New York Times did a portrait of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is from Whitefish, Montana. (Sightline wrote about him too.) Are there others? Let us know in comments.
A thoughtful reflection on the meaning of sanctuary—the parallels between inclusion and exclusion in immigration policy and land-use policy––from a local officials in a suburb of Boston.
I’m continuing my reading marathon on race and incarceration in the United States. This week, I read Brown University economist Glenn Loury’s 2002 book The Anatomy of Racial Inequality. The book brings together economics, game theory, moral and political philosophy to factor out phenomena like racial discrimination and prejudice, which it argues are overbroad terms, into a nuanced and rigorous anatomy of concepts. With these concepts, it becomes much easier to differentiate and discuss both race relations and discourse about race relations. Reading it took me back to my undergraduate days reading philosophers such as John Rawls, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a strenuously academic way. But I feel better equipped for having read it. Here’s one of the concluding paragraphs to give a taste:
The unfair treatment of persons based on race in formal economic transactions is no longer the most significant barrier to the full participation of blacks in American life. More important is the fact that too many African Americans cannot gain access on anything approaching equal terms to social resources that are essential for human flourishing, but that are made available to individuals primarily through informal, culturally mediated, race-influenced social intercourse. It follows that achieving racial justice at this point in American history requires more than reforming procedures so as to ensure fair treatment for blacks in the economic and bureaucratic undertakings of private and state actors.
And this New York Times column by Eduardo Porter does a good job of exposing the class resentments that make anti-poverty social programs hard to sustain. A better political approach than means-tested social programs is universal social insurance programs and other universal benefits. Social Security and Medicare are sacrosanct in the United States, while the range of welfare programs keep getting cut. Social Security has cut senior poverty more than poverty among any other age cohort in the United States. Dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund carry no stigma and enjoy widespread popular support. Universal insurance programs and benefits—perhaps someday including guaranteed basic income—have political staying power that the more economically cost-effective means-tested programs will never have. They also tend to be much more generous and therefore better at reducing poverty and dampening inequality.
New America’s Lee Drutman makes the case that a too-strong presidency and a too-weak congress (paralyzed by partisanship) are ruining America. Maine voters are pointing the way to a solution by approving ranked-choice voting, and we could also try proportional representation.
An oldie-but-goodie: Civil rights hero Lani Guinier makes the case that multi-winner districts with cumulative voting are a better civil rights solution than race-conscious districting.
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If your language has a word for a specific emotion, does that make it easier for people in the culture to feel that way? Couldn’t we all do with feeling a bit more mbuki-mvuki (Bantu) – the irresistible urge to “shuck off your clothes as you dance”? Or Shinrin-yoku (Japanese) – the relaxation gained from bathing in the forest. And certainly we could use more Dadirri (Australian aboriginal) – a deep, spiritual act of reflective and respectful listening.
Check out this Yale University map of climate change public opinion in the US with data down to the county level. It’s fascinating. And also perplexing, as when one finds counties where substantially more people believe that global warming is happening than who believe that scientists believe global warming is happening. On balance, I can’t decide whether the portrayal is encouraging or disheartening.
(Side-note: I can’t stand it when displays of information are improperly color coded like this one it. The low end of the range is shaded dark blue while the high end of the range is shaded purple, which makes the two extremes look similar to one another and dissimilar from the muted tones of the middle ground. That’s a graphic design party foul.)
To follow up on our article about the proposed Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska, I found a couple of articles musing on the project’s future. A US House Committee Chair urged the EPA to reconsider its earlier decision against the mine. OTOH, a recent New Yorker article described how economic and other practical obstacles to the mine remain. An earlier article by the same writer gives some more background on the project.
Democracy Now!, still my favorite news show, devoted much of this Wednesday’s show to International Women’s Day and related issues.
Yes! Magazine, devoted its Spring 2017 to science, explaining why scientists need to speak truth to power, and describing how “citizen science,” has advanced knowledge and aided communities at the same time. On a similar topic, Grist reported that a key organizer in the March for Science is a professional climate researcher at the University of Washington. The March is now planned for Earth Day, April 22. You can find the project’s mission statement and a march near you on the website.
John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts.