Lots of good clean energy news this week: The fastest selling used cars in the US are now electric vehicles, according to automotive research company iSeeCars.com. Meanwhile over in the UK, the National Grid set a new record for renewables, which made up over 50 percent of the power supplied to customers over this past summer, compared to just 35 percent in 2013. The carbon intensity of the grid—measured in grams of C02 emitted per KWh of power generated—was also less than half of what it was over the same period four years ago. And this was all before the giant new subsidy-free solar farm and battery storage facility opened to much acclaim last week. Speaking of solar farms, they probably can’t really be considered a win for sustainability if they are competing with food crops for land space—so thankfully some enterprising farmers have figured out exactly which crops can co-exist, and even benefit from co-existing with the large panel arrays.
Also some good news on plastic pollution this week: Scientists have figured out how to make a durable yet biodegradable plastic film out of shrimp shells. This is actually good news on two fronts, as it also provides a productive use for the tons of waste generated by the seafood industry every year.
This is not good news, but very important-to-know news: Glen Greenwald documents the FBI’s recent attempts to intimidate and deter activists.
At The Stranger, Sean Nelson has valuable back-to-school advice that applies pretty well to the rest of life too: “Guess what? You are not actually smarter than your professors.” I liked this passage best:
It follows that this advice is just as useful when offered to a 30-, 40-, and 50-year-old, but it also tends to be less necessary. One of the most conspicuous (and least publicized) benefits of getting older is that you can’t help but realize how wrong you have always been about everything.
The older you get, the larger the world becomes, and the clearer one can see that most of the real work of learning consists of shutting the fuck up for five minutes. So do yourself a favor and shut the fuck up for five minutes, will you please? Because we need you more than we ever have.
Students who can afford a college education are on a weirdly auspicious pedestal at the moment. Social media has both distorted and usurped human discourse. The government and its constituents appear to be deadlocked in a tit-for-tat stalemate. The only language anyone can muster by way of solution is mired in irrelevant anachronisms. Everyone thinks they’re right about every goddamn thing.
Someone is going to have to come up with a better framework.
And at the New York Times, Bret Stephens writes on a parallel track about the dying art of disagreement. He frames some of his argument around Allan Bloom’s classic polemic, “The Closing of the American Mind,” which should be required reading for liberals and progressives precisely because it is considered anathema. I haven’t read it in 20 years, but it sticks with me as frighteningly prophetic of the shallow Facebookian tribalism of today’s discourse. Here’s one section that resonated for me:
Socrates quarrels with Homer. Aristotle quarrels with Plato. Locke quarrels with Hobbes and Rousseau quarrels with them both. Nietzsche quarrels with everyone. Wittgenstein quarrels with himself.
These quarrels are never personal. Nor are they particularly political, at least in the ordinary sense of politics. Sometimes they take place over the distance of decades, even centuries.
Most importantly, they are never based on a misunderstanding. On the contrary, the disagreements arise from perfect comprehension; from having chewed over the ideas of your intellectual opponent so thoroughly that you can properly spit them out.
In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate emphatically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.
Finally, everyone with even a passing interest in criminal justice should devote 17 minutes to John Oliver filleting the weak science behind crime forensics. A friend of mine who’s spent a career working in public defense and at Innocence Projects assures me that the content is so strong they actually use it as teaching material for young lawyers.
This (long) article seems to be largely a collection of interviews with people in Ohio asking them: Is health care a right? It suggests conservatives don’t object to Medicare because “we all pay in for that,” whereas Medicaid galls them because “I know so many folks on Medicaid that just don’t work. They’re lazy.” People on Medicare deserve healthcare, people on Medicaid don’t.
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The passage below resonated—when you feel you are in a zero-sum game, it makes sense to exclude others because more for them means less for you. Excluding them on the grounds that you work and they don’t makes sense. But if we are all in it together, if we are all healthier if we are all healthier, then we don’t have to exclude, we don’t have to decide who is worthy of a piece of the limited pie.
Our political debates seem to focus on what the rules should be for our place in line. Should the most highly educated get to move up to the front? The most talented? Does seniority matter? What about people whose ancestors were cheated and mistreated? The mistake is accepting the line, and its dismal conception of life as a zero-sum proposition. It gives up on the more encompassing possibilities of shared belonging, mutual loyalty, and collective gains. America’s founders believed these possibilities to be fundamental. They held life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to be “unalienable rights” possessed equally by all members of their new nation. The terms of membership have had to be rewritten a few times since, sometimes in blood. But the aspiration has endured, even as what we need to fulfill it has changed.
A new Pew survey shows people are very worried about robots and computers taking their jobs and want the government to protect them: 85% think machines should only be allowed to do dangerous or unhealthy jobs and 58% want the government to limit the number of jobs businesses can use machines to do, even when machines can do the jobs better and cheaper than humans. Which suggests an interesting paradox—many Americans think it is important to work to show you are contributing your fair share, taking care of yourself, not being a “slacker” or a “taker.” But what are you contributing if your work makes things worse and more expensive than if you didn’t work? You are now a net “taker,” but still telling yourself you are contributing because you are “working.” People are trapped in this attitude because our cultural story is that you are only worthwhile, only deserving of food and shelter and healthcare, if you have a job. If you don’t work, you must be lazy and shouldn’t be allowed to have healthcare (see above).
But what if there is no job for you, or no job that it makes sense for you to do (because a machine can do it better and cheaper)? Then, 61% of Americans would support a guaranteed income to meet basic needs. But, while most think it quite likely that robots and computers will do many jobs, 70% think their own job or profession is safe. Meaning, perhaps, they won’t be ready to shift their mindset about work, jobs, contribution, and basic needs until they personally can’t find a job.
I just finished Jeff Chang’s book We Gon’ Be Alright, a short but mighty collection of essays on race in America that covers timely issues, such as Ferguson, racial housing discrimination and gentrification, #BlackLivesMatter, race and the Oscars, student protests, affirmative action, microaggressions, the in-betweeness of being Asian American, and the exploitation of “diversity.” Chang notes that when it comes to racial equity, America goes through a hapless cycle of crisis, reaction, backlash, complacency, and then again to crisis. He believes that we are back at a crisis—those in power have invoked fear in the status quo, interest in action subsides into denial and complacency, and another crisis arises. I’ve highlighted a few parts below to give you a sneak peek:
- Diversity has been commodified at the expense of equity. Chang asks, “who is equity for?” and points out how the University of Wisconsin photo-shopped a Black student in a crowd of white students on the cover of an admissions booklet to appear diverse to applicants. Chang explains how non-whiteness is a valued commodity in a society preoccupied with diversity. A picture of diversity was simply substituted for the push for true equity.
- Racism kills. The death rate of Blacks is over 50 percent high than that of Whites. Most of the reasons have to do with policies that make quality food, stable housing, and regular preventative health care largely inaccessible to communities of color.
- Federal policies racially segregated communities through redlining, racial covenants, and “urban renewal.” Chang describes how Ferguson—a segregated black community—is run by white people to extract money to finance city services through over-policing, fines, and assessments. Blacks experience stops, searches, and arrests at much higher rates than whites. Michael Brown’s jaywalking stop (that ultimately lead to the loss of his life) was not unusual in Ferguson.
Here’s the list: 48 US environmental rules on the chopping block under the Trump administration.
In case you needed evidence (ha!) that Americans are more politically polarized than ever, here are data from Pew that confirm it. We know this. We see it. But the numbers are still shocking when spelled out:
[I]n 1994 there was substantially more overlap between the two partisan groups than there is today: Just 64% of Republicans were to the right of the median Democrat, while 70% of Democrats were to the left of the median Republican. Put differently, in 1994 23% of Republicans were more liberal than the median Democrat; while 17% of Democrats were more conservative than the median Republican. Today, those numbers are just 1% and 3%, respectively.
As Ed Kilgore in NYMag points out, more people are finding their partisan “home” in one of the two major parties. But even as the data show that we are indeed going further left and further right, with a big chasm in the middle where we used to agree on at least some of the basics, one wonders: What if there were more than two viable choices? As my colleague Kristin has pointed out, different voting methods would allow the two parties to sort themselves from within, drawing the far right apart from the middle right, for example, rather than forcing all GOP voters to go along with an increasingly radical base.
Finally, this interview with writer, teacher, and thinker Clint Smith on why James Baldwin’s speech “A Talk to Teachers” is acutely relevant today—more than 50 years after he delivered it. Inspired by Baldwin, Smith explores ways that teachers can foster critical consciousness in their classrooms without endoctrinating children with their own views. He focuses on race and racism and the history of institutionalized wealth and opportunity hoarding (see: New Deal, GI Bill, etc.), but also touches on climate change and other topics that can be tricky to discuss, especially with small children.
And there was a moment where I was teaching about sentence structure and syntax. And Trayvon Martin had just been killed…And I think I fell victim to the fear of wanting to create an apolitical space in the classroom and revisiting ‘A Talk to Teachers’ served as a really important reminder that the very decision to not discuss certain things in your classroom, is in and of itself, a political decision. Because my students’ lives are impacted by political decisions every single day, and I think it’s important for teachers to think about ways to try to facilitate and create a space where they can engage in those conversations in a meaningful way.
When I was a teacher I never had professional development conversations around the history of the neighborhood where I taught or what it meant to put my students’ academic experiences in conversation with mass incarceration, and housing segregation, and immigration, and food insecurity. Because we so often operate under the false pretense that our classrooms are these somehow sanctuaries that are not affected by the rest of the world, but our students leave our classrooms and go out into a world in which they are deeply affected by the sociopolitical phenomena that they experience every day.
(You better believe I started following Clint Smith after this.)