The LA Times reports on a new study showing that the United States has become “the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into.” But it’s not a new trend: death rates among young Americans began to exceed peer nations way back in the 1960s. And while US mortality rates have fallen dramatically over the last 60 years, they fell even faster in the rest of the developed world. If America boasted the low death rates found in the rest of the developed world, more than 622,000 lives would have been spared. The top two killers among US teens between 15 and 19? Cars and guns. Firearm deaths among the young were an astonishing 82 times higher in the US than in comparable nations.
Among climate change’s horrible effects are many things you might never imagine: this week’s heartbreaking example is the near elimination of males from recent generations of green sea turtles hatched at the north end of the Great Barrier Reef. Craig Welch told the story in National Geographic.
538 just wrapped up an amazing podcast tour of gerrymandering in the United States, covering the Wisconsin gerrymandering that led to a Supreme Court case, the racial gerrymandering due to the VRA in North Carolina, supposedly independent redistricting in Arizona, and independent redistricting in California. It shows you can have competitiveness or fair racial representation, or compact districts, or fair partisan representation, but, with single-winner districts you may have to pick just one. They spend just a couple minutes on proportional representation at the very end, but apparently they got a lot of comments about it, so maybe they will do a full series about proportional representation!
The American workplace is set up for full time employees—health benefits, retirement benefits, minimum wages and overtime all depend on having a job with an employer. Yet, employers are shifting millions of American workers into “independent contractor” status, stripping them of all those benefits. They are working, but they are no longer part of the social compact that if you work you can get health care, retirement, etc. It’s time to update the social contract, yet Congress (sigh) hasn’t even started trying to wrap its mind around what a 21st century social contract looks like, much less hammer out the details and enact one. Nick Hanauer and David Rolf have proposed portable benefits here.
Easily the best piece of storytelling I came across this week was from former NBA player Quentin Richardson who wrote a letter to his twelve-year-old self. Wow.
It came in for all the predictable criticism from progressives, but I thought David Brooks made some very good points in his NYT column this week:
…the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us…
The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him… So they get most of their information about Trumpism from others who also detest Trumpism, which is always a recipe for epistemic closure.
I’ve been beating up on social media in my last several installments of weekend reading (see are here, here, here, here, here, and here), but it turns out that one of the great things about working at a think tank is that if you ask for evidence-based research to complicate your hypothesis, there’s a good change that one of your colleagues will show up with it. So credit to Anna Fahey for the following:
- An analysis of Black Lives Matter as it played out on Twitter;
- An argument that social media has enabled more diverse organizing, as evidenced by the Occupy movement;
- A study that, after controlling for multiple factors, finds that seeking information on social media is a predictor of higher social capital and political involvement;
- An argument that social media can play an important role in support civil society.
There’s more research like that available, though I’m not sure exactly what it adds up to. In the meantime I’ll head back to my regularly-scheduled programming (or ongoing confirmation bias?) with a few more pieces of evidence that social media may be harmful.
Vanity Fair wonders whether the social media backlash is more Nancy Reagan-style posturing than sincere contrition, but also notes that:
In the last year, practical concerns about privacy and abuse have turned to questions of mental health: whether Facebook is increasing partisanship or Instagram is making us sad; whether Twitter is giving voice to neo-Nazis or if Google, which knows us more intimately than our closest friends, is actually making us more alone.
The Globe and Mail wonders whether your smartphone is making you stupid.
The New Yorker has less-than-rosy depiction of China’s selfie obsession:
…using the BeautyPlus app, she showed me how to select a “beauty level” from 1 to 7—a progressive scale of paleness and freckle deletion. Then we could smooth out, tone, slim, and contour our faces, whiten our teeth, resize our irises, cinch our waists, and add a few inches in height. We could apply a filter—“celestial,” “voodoo,” “edge,” and “vibes” are some of the options. A recently added filter called “personality” attempts to counteract a foreseeable consequence of the technology: the more that people doctor their selfies, the more everyone ends up looking the same.
This is the stuff that makes me afraid for my kid’s generation.
Here’s a pretty excellent conversation with New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio on why his city is suing five big oil companies for climate change damages—and why NYC is divesting its city pensions from fossil fuel investments.
I didn’t know this: “Chain Migration” was a 1960s “compromise” that moved away from the practice—deemed discriminatory at the time—to give preference by national origin to predominantly white countries to another system intended to favor immigration of mostly white families. The history casts a different light on why we’re seeing a push to get rid of it today. Why does Trump say it’s so horrible? NPR’s Tom Gjelten, who wrote a book about immigration called Nation Of Nations, explains:
What no one realized is that the demand to move to the United States had changed, and it was no longer coming from Europe. It was coming from Asia, Africa, the Middle East. And as long as you had one person coming here on a student visa or an employment visa, they could bring their family members with them, and it opened the door to a huge surge of immigration from those regions. Immigrants of color—it was exactly the outcome that it was originally intended to preclude.
And here’s how lack of affordable homes affects teachers—and obviously, importantly, public school children too. High turnover, even mid-year, because teachers simply cannot afford to live near work disrupts children’s learning experience and sets everyone back. The story follows a housing project in Indianapolis specifically for teachers—a “teachers village.” (And, yes, I listen to too much NPR.)
You might have heard about Oprah’s Golden Globes speech at this point. Regardless of how you felt about it, there’s no question it resonated. I enjoyed this piece from the National Speakers Bureau explaining why it was so effective, and what we can learn from it to be better communicators. (And on the off chance you haven’t seen the speech, there’s a video clip embedded at the end of the piece.)
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, there was plenty written about how Democrats lost because they didn’t cater enough to the middle of the country and focused too much attention and time on the coasts. This National Review article puts the shoe on the other foot by asking why Republicans have abandoned the coasts. The argument is regardless of how the GOP feels about Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the rest of it, it’s bad politics to write off such a critical mass of people. It will become a losing strategy in time, the writer predicts.
Digiday explored this week how content publishers like the Washington Post and New York Times have found success with Facebook groups (instead of Facebook pages). Facebook groups have helped them really focus on what type of news coverage they can provide their audiences.
For all the bad things that happened in 2017, it was a record-breaking year in the renewable energy sector, for lots of reasons, many of which I’ve shared here. If you’re looking for a good summary of all the remarkable breakthroughs that happened last year, look no further.
This one isn’t in the aforementioned article, but it’s pretty remarkable nonetheless. Engineers from Columbia University have developed “the first practical floating solar hydrogen-generating device to perform water electrolysis without pumps or membranes, [which] could lead to low-cost, sustainable hydrogen production.” Could be a game changer.
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California is jumping on the zero-emission vehicle bandwagon, having introduced legislation to ban the sale of new cars and trucks powered by fossil fuels after the year 2040.
And finally, while this article is ostensibly for those in the philanthropy world, the points the author makes are broadly applicable and relevant to anyone who is concerned with the losing battle against inequality.
In Pacific NW magazine, John Talton describes how Seattle has changed since the Great Recession of 2008, with a current boom that has brought steeper housing prices. As someone recently outbid on condos in two different buildings, I can relate. But Talton also warns that things can change, and ends with this thought: “Think about asking most people in 2007 whether they imagined the period to come. Few could have predicted the good and bad and amazing that were headed our way.”
Timothy Egan, Seattle resident, Pulitzer Prize winner, and syndicated columnist, advises the US Justice Department to target opioids, not marijuana. Among his revelations: “Big Pharma, the one drug dealer the Justice Department should be [targeting], has been trying to limit marijuana legalization efforts. It doesn’t want the competition from a natural palliative that is infinitely safer than the drugs sold from your neighborhood CVS, or alcohol for that matter.”
Grist magazine reports that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in a 5-0 vote (four of whom were appointed by Donald Trump) rejected a proposal from Trump’s Secretary of Energy Rick Perry that would subsidize an unholy energy trio of renewable hydropower, plus coal and nuclear, two “dirty” sources facing financial troubles.
Speaking of coal, Grist also warned that with climate change, extreme weather events such as the January 2018 “bomb cyclone” on the US east coast could become part of a “new normal.” The article reports, “At one point, the National Weather Service in Boston warned people not to ride the icebergs that were floating in on the high tide. That’s … unusual”
Lastly, the New Yorker reports on a new documentary covering the plight of wild horses in US Western states.
John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts.