January 11, 2018 in 4,749 words

A Radical New Scheme to Engineer the World’s Glaciers

A Princeton glaciologist says a set of mega-engineering projects may be able to avert cataclysmic sea-level rise.

Geo-engineering, its most enthusiastic advocates will tell you, isn’t only possible. It’s already happening.

We know, they say, because we’re doing it—we just call it global warming. As humanity dumps billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year, we’ve engineered a different climate system: one that is hotter, wetter, and more unwieldy than what people have lived in since the dawn of agriculture.

So far, the most promising—and least expensive—forms of reverse-engineering this change have taken a similarly whole-world approach. Researchers speculate that planes could periodically spray a clear gas into the high atmosphere that would prevent some sunlight from reaching Earth’s surface, cooling the globe in turn. There’s a lot of buzz about this idea, which is dubbed solar geo-engineering: More than 100 scientists discussed it at an off-the-record gathering in August; Harvard University has opened a $7.5-million center to study it.

But any downsides of this technology would be unpredictable. It might create winners and losers, cooling some regions while kicking off droughts in others. What if there was a more focused approach? What if scientists could prevent one catastrophic symptom of climate change—a rapid rise in global sea level, for instance—without messing again with the weather?

California in revolt: how the progressive state plans to foil the Trump agenda

From immigration to the environment and recreational cannabis, state leaders and activists are finding paths to circumvent the administration. Will it work?

A farm worker in Carlsbad. California has the country’s most expansive ‘sanctuary’ law, restricting police from questioning people about their citizenship status.

California prides itself on being first with progressive laws on climate change, labor rights and marijuana. In 2018, the Golden State’s “firsts” are defensive – bold proposals and legal maneuvers to protect citizens from Donald Trump.

State leaders have pushed legislation and lawsuits to circumvent and undo Trump’s agenda on immigration, the environment, internet freedom and other liberal causes. One of the most consequential victories came Tuesday when a judge in San Francisco blocked the Trump administration’s plan to end a program that allows 800,000 undocumented people to study and work in the US.

At the same time, activists have also launched grassroots campaigns to shield residents from the White House’s attacks – and to pressure local Democrats to do more to mobilize the largest state against the president.

The Voters Abandoning Donald Trump

According to previously unpublished findings, the blue-collar whites at the core of his coalition have lost faith over his first year in office.

A massive new source of public-opinion research offers fresh insights into the fault lines emerging in Donald Trump’s foundation of support.

Previously unpublished results from the nonpartisan online-polling firm SurveyMonkey show Trump losing ground over his tumultuous first year not only with the younger voters and white-collar whites who have always been skeptical of him, but also with the blue-collar whites central to his coalition.

Trump retains important pillars of support. Given that he started in such a strong position with those blue-collar whites, even after that decline he still holds a formidable level of loyalty among them—particularly men and those over 50 years old. What’s more, he has established a modest but durable beachhead among African American and Hispanic men, even while confronting overwhelming opposition from women in those demographic groups.

Together, the results crystallize the bet Trump is making for his own reelection in 2020, and for his party’s chances in November’s election: that he can mobilize enough support among older and blue-collar (as well as rural and evangelical) whites to offset the intense resistance he’s provoked from groups that are all growing in the electorate: Millennials, minorities, and college-educated whites—particularly the women among them.

New York City just declared war on the oil industry

The home of Wall Street announced on Wednesday that it will be divesting its massive pension fund from fossil fuels. That hits fossil fuel giants where it hurts.

‘The battle to save the planet shifted from largely political to largely financial.’

Over the years, the capital of the fight against climate change has been Kyoto, or Paris – that’s where the symbolic political agreements to try and curb the earth’s greenhouse gas emissions have been negotiated and signed. But now, New York City vaulted to leadership in the battle.

On Wednesday, its leaders, at a press conference in a neighborhood damaged over five years ago by Hurricane Sandy, announced that the city was divesting its massive pension fund from fossil fuels, and added for good measure that they were suing the five biggest oil companies for damages. Our planet’s most important city was now at war with its richest industry. And overnight, the battle to save the planet shifted from largely political to largely financial.

That shift had been under way for a long time, of course. The divestment campaign, which my organization 350.org helped launch, has become the largest of its kind in history, with now more than $6tn in endowments and portfolios divesting in part or in whole from coal, oil and gas.

Smart money has been pouring into renewables; dumb money has stuck with fossil fuel, even as it underperformed markets for the last half-decade. Just two months ago Norway’s vast sovereign wealth fund began to divest, which was a pretty good signal: if even an oil industry stalwart thought the game was up, they were probably right.

But New York is different, and that’s why its decision signals the start of a real rout.

What Twitter Still Doesn’t Understand About Its Responsibility

The company’s design decisions make it more likely that heads of state will wreak havoc with their words.

Twitter is designed to elicit frequent, unprompted, spontaneous, and unfiltered thoughts from its users, who come into conflict with one another as in no other medium, sometimes tweeting things they quickly regret.

Those qualities make Twitter a lively, diverting forum for daily conversation—and render it particularly ill-suited to world leaders, as I recently argued. The unparalleled power that the words of world leaders carry make it singularly fraught for them to broadcast unprompted, spontaneous, unfiltered thoughts. And the stakes for minimizing needless conflict among them could not be higher.

Thus, I urged, Twitter ought to just ban world leaders. There are so few of them. And the risk that one will abuse the platform in a way that irrevocably harms millions isn’t worth the tiny benefit humanity gains from following their tweets, given the myriad ways all world leaders can convey information to the public.

Twitter now explicitly disagrees.

On Friday, the company published a new statement on elected world leaders. “Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation,” it began. “Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society. Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”

Supply, Not Despair, Caused the Opioid Epidemic

New data from both the U.S. and Europe suggest how the opioid epidemic might be stopped.

Start by controlling the supply.

Perhaps the most important question in deciding how to respond to the U.S. opioid epidemic is whether it’s primarily caused by social and economic factors, as some allege, or simply by an increased availability of drugs. Some recent U.S. research, as well as European data, shows that the latter is more likely — that people use dangerous drugs because they can rather than because they’re victims of economic ills.

In an influential 2017 paper, Princeton University’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton described drug overdose deaths — but also deaths from suicide and alcohol — as “deaths of despair,” arguing they “come from a long-standing process of cumulative disadvantage for those with less than a college degree.” Doctors’ willingness to prescribe opioids for pain only “added fuel to the flames.” This interpretation of America’s drug problem as primarily a social one, associated with the decline of the white working class as a result of globalization, is intuitive, and media reports from states like West Virginia, with its well-known post-coal problems, reinforce it. Under the “deaths of despair” hypothesis, it’s difficult to fix the opioid problem with direct policy responses: It’s too deeply rooted for that.

Yet University of Virginia’s Christopher Ruhm shows in a new paper that while U.S. counties that experienced economic decline since the beginning of this century have been the hardest hit by the drug epidemic, the correlation between economic factors and opioid abuse is likely spurious. Ruhm’s painstaking regression analysis shows a greater likelihood that the epidemic has been driven more by “changes in the drug environment” — that is, drug availability — than by despair.

Trump and Wharton: A complicated relationship

You don’t hear Ted Cruz talk much about his Princeton degree. Hillary Clinton doesn’t often mention Yale. But Donald Trump can’t stop trumpeting his Ivy League pedigree.

“I went to the Wharton School of Finance, the toughest place to get into. I was a great student,” he has said. He’s called Wharton “super genius stuff.” Accused of making a vulgar comment, he responded: “Who would say that? I went to the Wharton School of Finance!”

But Trump’s relationship with his alma mater is complicated.

Trump loves to put his name on hotels and skyscrapers, but no buildings bear his name at the University of Pennsylvania, where Wharton is located. School officials don’t like to talk about him, though he’s one of their most famous alumni. A pro-Trump student group has shut itself down, and student Republicans say he’s an embarrassment. Even the Penn bookstore, where tables are piled high with works by alumni, had just one copy of Trump’s best-seller from the 1980s, “The Art of the Deal,” on a shelf in the back.

Trump sent two of his children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, to Wharton, and his daughter Tiffany graduates in May from Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences. Yet in “The Art of the Deal,” Trump said fancy diplomas don’t matter: “Perhaps the most important thing I learned at Wharton was not to be overly impressed by academic credentials … That degree doesn’t prove very much.”

And if you assumed his degree was an MBA, you’d be wrong. Trump holds a bachelor of science degree in economics from Wharton, earned after transferring in as a junior from Fordham University. Several early Trump profiles, including a 1973 New York Times piece, stated that he graduated first in his class at Wharton, but that has since been disputed. A 1968 commencement program does not list his name among students who graduated with honors.

The Completely Selfish Reason You Should Help People

Remember Boston Strong (the bombing), Houston Strong (the hurricane), Florida Strong (the other hurricane), Puerto Rico Strong/Fuerte (the other other hurricane), Vegas Strong (the shooting), and who knows how many others? By the time this column is published, every inch of the world will likely need its own Strong campaign (and some places more than one).

Can I, as one astonishingly normal human being, make a dent in all of that? Every positive action feels like trying to stop a forest fire with a water balloon. Not only is it ineffective, but neighbors are now laughing and recording with their phones. How do you keep plugging along in the face of a terrifying wall of encroaching hellfire?

I think I know a way.

#5. Let’s Admit That Some Good Deeds Just Make You Look Like A Douche

In modern America, the only thing worse than a dick is a self-righteous dick. These are the people whose every good deed is done loudly, in public, and only for the applause. They are the bane of charities everywhere. Soup kitchens have to beg people to not just show up at Thanksgiving and quickly leave after taking some selfies dipping food for the homeless. One shelter Cracked talked to made volunteers work a minimum seven-hour shift to prevent that kind of “showed up just long enough to prove I’m great” tourism (parents particularly love dumping their kids off for an hour during the holidays so they can boast to other parents about the important lesson they taught them).

And remember when Donald Trump did a photo op in Puerto Rico after the hurricane, tossing a roll of paper towels into the crowd so everyone would give him credit for doing his part?

“Give me back what’s left of the roll when you’re finished.”

People like that are the worst, right? They’re the reason real problems don’t get solved. They’re all about getting the credit instead of actually fixing what’s wrong. But there is something to be learned from them — something that might save us all.

The way we talk about sexting is failing our teenage girls

Culture Change

Keep it IRL.

There’s something wrong with the way we talk to teenagers about sexting.

A lot of parents and schools warn teens to avoid sending nude photos, lest they fall into the wrong hands or be used against them if a relationship goes south. In practice, this often translates to asking girls not to send pictures to boys, since research shows that boys are four times more likely to pressure girls to send sexts than vice versa. We’re far less likely to talk about why it’s wrong to request nude photos in the first place, according to Lisa Damour, a psychologist and author who works with teens. This is clearly a flawed approach if we want to protect kids—not to mention sexist.

“That our focus has been so preponderantly on the sending, not requesting, of sexts underscores the exact problem we need to address,” Damour writes in the New York Times. “We accept and perpetuate the boys-play-offense and girls-play-defense framework because it is so atmospheric as to be almost invisible.”

A key victory of the #MeToo movement has been to shine a bright and unforgiving light on the rampant sexual abuse and harassment that women face. But to effectively change a culture where men set the rules and women are expected to comply, we have to start in adolescence—when love and sex are new and exciting, but also unfamiliar and uncomfortable. We need to teach teenage girls to place more value on their own desires and expectations, while teaching teenage boys to see love and sex not as just as milestones of a masculinity, but as a way of connecting with another human being.



Music doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

These days, making music hardly makes artists any money. That’s why even those who achieve household-name status have to fiercely defend their work against copycats: Every creative rip-off can amount to a sizable loss in income.

But this week, when the British rock band Radiohead sued pop star Lana Del Rey for copyright infringement, the thorny ambiguity of plagiarism claims in the music world came into view. Radiohead, according to anonymous reports that were later confirmed by Del Rey herself, wants 100% of the publishing royalties to the singer’s 2017 song “Get Free” because the band believes the track bears too close a resemblance to its 1993 hit “Creep.” Del Rey said she offered up to 40%, but Radiohead will only accept 100% and its “lawyers have been relentless.” Radiohead, as of Tuesday, said it is “negotiating.”

Upon first listen, it sounds like the band may have a solid case: The two tracks do sound a bit similar. But things get more complicated when you consider that Radiohead was once itself sued for lifting chord progressions for “Creep” from another song already in existence,“The Air That I Breathe,” made famous by The Hollies in 1974—and the band confessed to it. (Mike Hazlewood and Albert Hammond, the writers of that other song, ended up getting credited in Radiohead’s liner notes.)

It’s for that reason that lawyers and music industry experts are divided as to whether Del Rey owes Radiohead anything. Some point to the fact that “subconscious copying,” or copying a song not out of intentional plagiarism but because it’s loosely in one’s memory, can be enough to establish infringement. Others say the popularity of the chord progression should be enough to clear Del Rey of the charge, especially if it can be traced back to before “Creep” was published.

The other Fire and Fury: decade-old book becomes unexpected bestseller

A tome about allied bombing of Germany during the second world war that has the same title as Michael Wolff’s Trump exposé has received a bump in sales.

The other Fire and Fury.

When it was released 10 years ago, Randall Hansen’s book performed as expected, racking up strong sales that gradually tapered off. But this week the Canadian professor’s 2008 book unexpectedly leapt back on to bestseller lists.

The reason lies in the book’s name – Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945 – just a subtitle away from the Michael Wolff’s explosive exposé of the Trump White House.

“I haven’t seen this level of interest since the book first came out,” said Hansen, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

He was in Washington on Friday when Wolff’s book was released and had joked with his colleagues about the book he had written long ago with the same title.

After dinner on Friday, Hansen logged on to Amazon and found that his book – which explores civilian perspectives on the Allied bombing of Germany during the second world war – had edged back on to three of the site’s bestseller categories. “It amused me. Part of me thought: can people really be that dumb to be confusing these books?”


A Florida university is teaching a course called “White Racism”—with police protection

Up In Arms

Conservative protesters rally to hear Milo Yiannopoulos speak at the University of California-Berkeley.

Racism in the Donald Trump era can be a delicate subject—particularly if it calls out a specific demographic as the perpetrator. Put that subject into an academic setting, in a politically tempestuous US state, and you have a potential powder keg.

Ted Thornhill, a sociology professor at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, is teaching a course this spring called “White Racism,” which, according to its catalog description, examines “the racist ideologies, laws, policies, and practices that have operated for hundreds of years to maintain white racial domination over those racialized as non-white” and aims to “interrogate the concept of race” at large. But the 50-student undergraduate class is now being watched over by campus police officers—because, according to Thornhill—thousands of “unspeakable” comments have flooded in via social media, emails, and voicemails.

Thornhill, who is black, told local news outlets that “the course needs to be taught, and so that’s what’s going to happen,” despite the personally targeted comments, threats, and racial slurs he has received. (He sent police 46 pages of such comments.) A university spokesperson said the school’s deployment of officers to watch over the class—the first has held yesterday (Jan. 9)—means it is prepared for “any possible distractions.”

Such “distractions” are not out of the question; in fact, given recent violence at schools across the country around politically controversial speakers, they are almost likely.

Switzerland rules lobsters must be stunned before boiling

Government bans the practice of plunging live lobsters into boiling water amid fears the animals can feel pain.

Animal rights advocates and some scientists argue that lobsters and other crustaceans have sophisticated nervous systems.

The Swiss government has ordered an end to the common culinary practice of throwing lobsters into boiling water while they are still alive, ruling that they must be knocked out before they are killed.

As part of a wider overhaul of Swiss animal protection laws, Bern said that as of 1 March, “the practice of plunging live lobsters into boiling water, which is common in restaurants, is no longer permitted”.

Lobsters “will now have to be stunned before they are put to death,” the government order read.

According to Swiss public broadcaster RTS, only electric shock or the “mechanical destruction” of the lobster’s brain will be accepted methods of stunning the animals once the new rule takes affect.

Animal rights advocates and some scientists argue that lobsters and other crustaceans have sophisticated nervous systems and likely feel significant pain when boiled alive.

Twitter Regrets to Inform You That Waluigi Is a Bigot

Earlier this afternoon, the crumbling hate circus we call Twitter rolled out some much-needed changes to its abuse report feedback system. This was, and is, welcome news. But contained in Twitter Safety’s example image was a subtle clue that undermines the whimsical Mario-verse.

It seems Waluigi, dear readers, is a bigot.

These safety changes give aggrieved users of Twitter updates on how abuse reports are being processed, including a more transparent glimpse into the site’s response and what specific policies may have been broken by a reported user.

In the case of “Example User 1″—identified only by an image of the lanky Nintendo villain—Waluigi has apparently been using Twitter to post abusive information on his profile and tweet out hateful imagery. For reference, Twitter defines “hateful imagery” as:

logos, symbols, or images whose purpose is to promote hostility and malice against others based on their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.

In the greater Nintendo canon, Waluigi is clearly defined as an antagonist and a poor sport. But (given the opportunity, and the unfortunate incursion of social media into the Mushroom Kingdom) would Luigi’s nemesis really stoop to tweet gas chamber pepes and swastikas?


Doohickeys, perhaps?

A commonly held folk etymology for “doohickey” is that it derives from the mark left on a leaf after dew has evaporated, with said mark essentially being akin to a the skin-blemish definition of the word “hickey.” Thus, lacking a commonly known word for such, people referred to this dew mark as a “dew hickey,” with this later evolving to “doohickey” and eventually expanded to be used to refer to anything that was a “thing” one couldn’t come up with the name of. This origin story, however, has no documented evidence to support it and the evidence at hand seems to easily disprove it given that “hickey,” meaning “a skin blemish,” didn’t pop up until a couple decades after its inclusion in the word “doohickey.”

So where did the word “doohickey” actually come from? As with most words, it’s difficult to say when exactly people started using the term, but as for documented instances, it first appeared in the November 12, 1914 edition of Our Navy magazine, where it states, “We were compelled to christen articles beyond our ken with such names as ‘do-hickeys’, ‘gadgets’ and ‘gilguys’.”

(Incidentally, “gilguy” seems to be a much older term than placeholder names like doodad and doohickey, with the first documented instance appearing in Spunyarn & Spindrift– A Sailor Boy’s Log by Robert Brown in 1886, where Brown also notes one of the first known instances of “gadget”- “Then the names of all the other things on board a ship! I don’t know half of them yet; even the sailors forget at times, and if the exact name of anything they want happens to slip from their memory, they call it a chicken⁓fixing, or a gadjet, or a gill-guy, or a timmey-noggy, or a wim-wom—just pro tem., you know.”)

In any event, doohickey soon spread to being used by airman as well, with it noted in Edward Fraser & John Gibbons’ 1925 Soldier & Sailor Words that “doo hickey” was “an airman’s term for small, detachable fittings.” Within a couple decades of this, the word was being used widely throughout America as a placeholder name for anything one couldn’t remember the name of.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

The Armadillos, a small search and rescue group, journey to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona up to two times a month, hoping to help curb the hundreds of migrant deaths that occur every year near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S.-Mexico border has the fourth highest migrant fatalities in the world, according to the International Organization for Migration. In 2017, 376 people died crossing to America, almost a third of them in the Sonoran desert of Arizona.

The group of roughly 15 volunteers, many of them with day jobs in construction and labor, hold fundraisers to pay for food, water gas, and the other supplies needed to survive walking through the harshest environment in North America — sometimes for up to 12 hours in up to 120 degree heat.

VICE News went with them on one of their missions to the desert.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

Ethan Brooks’s short documentary, “Ghost Bike,” is the story of Brooklyn resident Mirza Molberg, who began volunteering with his local ghost bike project in 2011. In 2016, his girlfriend, Lauren Davis, was fatally struck by a car on her bicycle en route to work. Hours after the accident, Molberg stopped at the site of Davis’s death. “There was no evidence [of the accident],” he said. “I created Lauren’s ghost bike the following week.” Much like the spectral bikes themselves, the film renders a personal tragedy universal.

This film is part of The Atlantic Selects, a showcase of short documentaries from independent creators curated by The Atlantic.

While President Trump discusses DACA and his border wall with congressional leaders, his administration ends temporary protected status for El Salvadorian refugees.

Speak now or forever hold your freedom of speech.

When it comes to the Dreamers Act, the President is going back and forth between two states of mind. (And not ‘stable’ and ‘genius.’)

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

While a shiny new book captured America’s attention, Trump continued his path of destruction.

America is passionate about saving babies, just not once they grow up and have babies of their own.

Young, accomplished, black, female: Stacey Abrams is the Shonda Rhimes character the DNC is looking for. Ashley Nicole Black gets the scoop for #FullFrontalMidterms. Produced by Miles Kahn with Adam Howard. Edited by Jesse Coane.

THANKS to TBS and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee for making this program available on YouTube.

Universities try an unorthodox approach to free up admissions spots.

THANKS to The Comedy Network and The Beaverton for making this program available on YouTube.

A mash up of short Max clips.

You will hear Max say “Hi, hello, Max, How you doin’ and love you.”


Want faster data and a cleaner planet? Start mining asteroids

Mining asteroids might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but there are companies and a few governments already working hard to make it real. This should not be surprising: compared with the breathtaking bridges that engineers build on Earth, asteroid-mining is a simple, small-scale operation requiring only modest technological advances. If anything is lacking, it is the imagination to see how plausible it has become. I am afraid only that it might not arrive soon enough to address the urgent resource challenges that the world is facing right now.

As an academic researcher, I work with several asteroid-mining companies to address that urgency. I depend on their funding, so there are trade secrets I cannot share. However, I can reveal the core reasons why I am optimistic about the business case for asteroid-mining, and what it will mean for our future.

Many people are skeptical of asteroid-mining because they imagine that the goal is to bring platinum back for sale in Earth’s metals market. Reporters repeatedly cite an irresistible statistic that the platinum in an asteroid can be worth trillions of US dollars, but anyone with an understanding of economics realises that bringing home a huge stash of precious metal would crash the market, reducing the valuation of the asteroid.

On the other hand, if the plan is to dole out platinum in small quantities to keep the valuation high (as it is done in the diamond industry), then how could asteroid companies compete with terrestrial mining companies that benefit from a mature, low-cost terrestrial supply chain and transportation network?

This is exactly why platinum is not the objective of asteroid-mining. Instead, the first product from asteroids will be something much less obviously precious: water.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?