On the side of my desk, I’m compiling evidence about the effects of social media on our emotional states, our cognitive faculties, and our communities. The summary version, so far, is that there is very little evidence that it does anything good for us, and a growing body that it’s bad. Perhaps very bad. (BTW, if you’ve got useful material, please send it to me!) In this week’s installment I’ll point to Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic who spells out what Facebook did to American democracy. It’s a thorough, and by my lights pretty damning, account of its deeply corrosive power over civil institutions. (In a somewhat related piece, Vanity Fair explores some of Facebook’s early employees and their feelings of regret about what they built.)
For a crisp explanation of why social media is likely more toxic than previous technological developments, I quite liked Tristan Harris’ 12-minute account at NPR’s TED Radio Hour. (The rest of the hour-long segment is really good too.)
I finished master historian Adam Hochschild’s “Spain in Our Hearts,” his look at the American personalities who were involved in the Spanish Civil War. Bleak, maybe, but I think necessary. It is in part a story about the failure of idealists, the willful blindness of the powerful, and the mechanisms that let the fascist power turn Spain into a testing ground for World War II.
At City Lab, Laura Bliss makes the case that public spending on urban streetcars may actually be the enemy of the good: they move few people, they rob funding from less glamorous (but more needed) transit, and they don’t even seem to be effective agents of economic development.
Reporter Curtis Tate zeroes in on a seriously overlooked problem with hauling fuel by rail: ethanol trains are likely every bit as dangerous as oil trains.
Some bad news this week for the Bring Back Coal crowd—according to Reuters, the solar industry is booming in Trump country, mainly due to the sharp decline in costs in recent years. In fact, 8 of the 10 fastest growing markets for solar power are in states that voted for Trump. The industry also employs roughly six times the number of people who work in the coal industry, and has the support of a number of Republican legislators, including North Carolina Senator Richard Burr. Contradicting EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, who recently laid out his plans to scrap subsidies for renewable energy, Burr stated that “the expansion of solar and other clean technologies has created thousands of jobs and reduced emissions. Once these technologies have reached a competitive position in the energy market, a gradual reduction in incentives is an appropriate way to approach their sustained growth.” On top of the market trends in solar, a recent survey by Reuters of 32 utilities who operate in conservative states found that “they overwhelmingly rejected making new investments in coal-fired power despite Trump’s pro-coal agenda—citing falling costs of renewable energy as a factor.”
To make things even more awkward for the science deniers in charge, Round Two of negotiations for the Paris Agreement are set for next month in Bonn, Germany. American representatives attending the talks will have a very thin line to walk—negotiating the terms of a deal that they are supposedly rejecting and all.
For those who are worried about the disconnect between countries’ emission reduction goals and the warming benchmarks set by the Paris Agreement, an international study just released found that better management of forests, soils, and wetlands has the potential to account for 37% of all actions needed by the year 2030. This is equivalent to China’s current CO2 emissions from all fossil fuel sources—roughly 11 billion tons per year. If this doesn’t convince you to plant more trees, eat better food, and conserve more water, maybe this will.
And finally, some good news for both olive oil lovers and circular economy proponents (double points if you’re both).
Here are seven smart suggestions about how to stand up against sexual harassment. Fun snippet: at a party, “accidentally” spilling your beer on a harasser’s shirt might be more effective than direct intervention.
While it is easy to condemn Harvey Weinstein as a horrible individual, we also need to examine the systems we have set up that lend themselves to abuses of power. You know that old saying “power corrupts”? Researchers confirm that “feeling powerful can change how ordinary citizens behave.” They develop empathy deficits and behave impulsively. Men put in positions of power abusing that power is completely predictable. The lasting solution is to change the social systems—I agree with the article’s suggestion to put more women and people of color in positions of power, but I would add that we should strive to reduce huge power imbalances wherever they exist. Why should one director be so ensconced in power that he can truly do almost anything and face almost no consequences? Of course he will abuse that power, especially when other members of society are vulnerable because a single mis-step could tumble them into poverty and homelessness. Just like a well-designed cap-and-trade program, I think our society should have a hard floor and a soft ceiling. Hard floor = everyone has at least a roof over their head, food to eat, access to quality education and health care. Soft ceiling = the richer you get, the harder it gets to keep climbing into the clouds of wealth, and you never get so high that you can’t tumble back down if you screw up. Young people starting out in their career wouldn’t have to be quite so terrified of the Weinsteins, and the Weinsteins wouldn’t feel so all-powerful that they can harass people without fear of real repercussions.
I just came across this November 2016 polling about American attitudes towards the government. You will not be surprised to hear that people are not happy, but I was surprised at just how pervasively that is true. 83 percent of all voters are angry or dissatisfied with how the federal government works. 92 percent believe the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, vs. just 7 percent who believe it is run for the benefit of all people. And there’s more. Yowzsers!
Why were so many US public school children “taught sex ed” by a man who uses the word “slut?” Youth radio podcast, Radioactive, hosts Aliyah Musaliar and Isabella Ortiz look into that disturbing question and more on how kids learn about the birds and the bees in school these days.
Did you know that the National Rifle Association was founded by a New York Times reporter? (It was right after the Civil War.) Another great podcast by Radiolab’s “More Perfect”looks at the evolution of the NRA into an industry lobbying group (with stops at the Black Panthers and an NRA member coup along the way) and examines the way they altered Americans’ interpretation of the second Amendment.
Given the stormy weather lately, this seems appropriate to appropriate (or pirate…?): My friend asked the social media hive mind for best songs about rain. Here’s just a smattering. (ha!) What’s your favorite?
Eric Clapton, Let It Rain
Cowboy Junkies, Southern Rain
Amanda Marshall, Let It Rain
Violent Femmes, I hear the Rain
Prince, Purple Rain
Peter Gabriel, Red Rain
Garbage, Only Happy When It Rains
Guns n’ Roses, November Rain
Bob Dylan, Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
Eurythmics, Here Comes the Rain Again
Temptations, I Wish It Would Rain
Phil Collins, I Wish It Would Rain
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Ann Peebles, I Can’t Stand the Rain
Bruce Hornsby & the Rain, Mandolin Rain
Travis, Why Does it Always Rain on Me
Duran Duran, Hold Back the Rain
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Have You Ever Seen the Rain
Led Zeppelin, Rain Song
Van Morrison, And It Stoned Me
Brandi Carlisle, Downpour Lyrics
Johnny Cash, How High’s the Water Momma
Lovin’ Spoonful, Rain on the Roof