I find Facebook very valuable as a socially curated news feed of interesting and important topics, and the things I re-share are often some of the most insightful articles I run across anywhere. It occurred to me that going back over 2013 and picking some of the highlights would be time well spent.
So here it is: The Best Of The Web 2013, Via Rob’s Facebook.
I’ve tried to do some rough categorization, but some of these are hard to bucket (economics and politics are almost inseparable, for instance…).
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The major tech companies banded together to demand a stop to government spying on the Internet. Sadly Obama has yet to indicate he supports this at all, but when the technorati start fighting back in earnest, at least the battle for privacy has a chance to be a more even match.
The governmental shutdown this fall? That was the Constitution’s fault. Our executive system of government has some fundamental weaknesses in the face of a polarized electorate, and the prognosis is not great. A powerful president may not be a very good idea at all, and unfortunately there is almost no way to fix this at this point. Workarounds may be the best we can do, and we’d better get busy figuring them out.
Drug addiction is not the problem most Americans think it is. Specifically, it is a health issue, not a criminal issue. What is — or should be — criminal is how drugs have become a hammer used to beat underprivileged communities even further into poverty and social dysfunction.
The capture of American government by the super-rich is one of the biggest threats to our national security. What’s good for the richest is not, at all, what’s good for America — but as long as our goverment is effectively controlled by them, we won’t be able to tell the difference.
Optimistic visions of the future make people seek more change in the present. This is why we need utopian dreams: they motivate positive action here and now.
Is America one nation? No, it’s eleven. There are many ways to categorize Americans politically, but this article is one of the more thought-provoking views I ran across this year. It’s no wonder we are so divided, considering how many places we have come from. Understanding this has helped me put our political crises in perspective, which in turn has helped me be less stressed and more proactive in my political activism.
The best pope ever? Pope Francis finally started focusing the attention of the Catholic church on the poor, rather than on gays, single moms, and others traditionally ostracized by Catholic doctrine. He has much further to go in fighting the abuse problem, and he has yet to shift the party line on contraception in developing nations, but what he has done so far is a large improvement and I pray (yes, pray) that he goes far further in the decades to come.
David Simon, writer of The Wire, wrote a fantastic article on how capitalism has lost its moral compass. This guy should get together with Pope Francis; they are very much on the same page, and I’m right there with them.
Switzerland proposes to pay all citizens a basic income. It is immensely clear to me that ultimately this — a universal basic income guaranteed to all — is the only way to fairly distribute the immense technological wealth that is increasingly produced by a smaller and smaller proportion of the total population. Kudos to Switzerland for innovation here; I dearly hope they succeed and their experience shapes the rest of the world.
The 1% should pay taxes at 80%. They can, after all, easily afford it; and all evidence shows that beyond a modest level (around $100K of annual family income), more money does not increase personal happiness. Accruing billions of personal dollars can serve no purpose other than greed, and the trickle-down theory has been comprehensively shown to be wrong in all respects, thereby delegitimizing the entire economic plan of the GOP.
Being poor changes your brain and makes it hard to make long-term decisions about anything whatsoever. The pervasive panic that comes from being continually close to homelessness or hunger has serious psychic consequences, that in turn make it even harder to improve your situation. Here again, a basic income would potentially change this fact for millions or billions of people.
The Fukushima disaster is not nearly as bad as the panic-blogs of the web would have you believe. Still, it has certainly torpedoed Big Nuclear worldwide; it was already very hard to find funding for large nuke plants, and the particular fear of radiation is going to have a further chilling effect. I hope that more research into smaller, safer, less investment-heavy nuclear plants starts bearing powerful fruit in the next few years; very large nuke plants require such large investment that it creates bureaucratic pressure to minimize risks and dangers, which in turn makes for vulnerable situations like Fukushima.
Pathogens worldwide are becoming more resistant to antibiotics, but nanotechnology offers a new tactic: protect against the toxins produced by the deadly bacteria, rather than the bacteria themselves. An ingenious strategy, and if this really works against antibiotic-resistant staph (aka the “flesh-eating bacterium”), it will open up a new and very hopeful front for human defense.
Google is buying up robotics companies like mad. They are clearly working on a Next Big Thing which will probably be every bit as significant as their self-driving car research. Unfortunately they’ve shown no sign of wanting to become politically active in ways which would improve the lives of the people who will become unemployed as a result of their creations… technological innovation in the 21st century needs to be tempered with intensive activism to improve the lives of the poor and underemployed, a fact of which the technorati mostly seem dismally unaware.
And while we’re talking about self-driving cars, here’s their biggest potential roadblock: the ‘autopilot problem’ where the vehicle gets into more and more trouble until suddenly it can’t cope, and tries to hand off control to the even more unprepared human driver/pilot. Solving this is going to require making self-driving cars into much more effective communicators, thereby pushing effective artificial intelligence forward even further.
Individualized education? An end to the “herd mentality” which keeps all kids in a class marching forward even as some are left behind? Technology has so much potential to revitalize education, if used in an enlighted way that lets students learn at their own pace, with excellent support from knowledgeable teachers who now support rather than command. This very well-produced article helps point the way forward.
Flipped classrooms, in which students watch lectures at home and do work in supported groups during class time, are increasingly showing their effectiveness. Massive online courses by themselves are dismal failures, unless supported by class time in which students have expert assistance in working on their own projects.
A seventy-five year study on male happiness bears fruit. The most important thing in life is love. It’s now a known scientific fact.
Is gluten really going to be the doom of us all? I have many friends with gluten sensitivity and have wondered what to think about it all — we are eating more protein and veggies for sure, and it’s doing well by us. But this excellent article puts the whole situation in context. There are few absolutes in medicine, or in diet.
Being too comfortable can make for big problems eventually, and being uncomfortable is the only way to grow. Growth, whether emotional or physical, is not easy. And that’s a good thing! Working hard is the way to change — to change yourself, and eventually, the world.
Fifty Shades of Grey made kinky sex into quite the household topic this year, but a psychological study from the Netherlands shows that kink practitioners are actually more psychologically healthy than most folks. This is because they have greater self-confidence, communication ability, and sexual satisfaction. Who would have thought? I will tactfully not answer that rhetorical question ;-)
Massachusets comes up with a brilliant way to fight domestic homicide: target the men most likely to kill their partners, and cover them with intensive surveillance. An excellent strategy with proven results. Spread the word.
Long-term relationships often suffer a decline in sexual attraction, especially for women. Is there a pill cure? Fascinating examination of sexual response in women, looking at what we do and don’t know about how it works and what can boost or banish it. Pills are always a problematic answer to any problem, but the research that goes into them is incredibly illuminating in itself.