Thursday, January 11th, 2018


Batteries Not Included

"When BMW AG revealed it was designing electric versions of its X3 SUV and Mini, the going rate for 21 kilograms of cobalt—the amount of the metal needed to power typical car batteries—was under $600. Only 16 months later, the price tag is approaching $1,700 and climbing by the day." Electric cars need batteries. Those batteries need cobalt. Much of that limited supply of cobalt comes from mines in the "Democratic Republic of the Congo, where corruption is entrenched in everyday business practices ... a fifth of [the cobalt] is drawn out by artisanal miners who work with their hands — some of whom are children." From Bloomberg: Hype Meets Reality as Electric Car Dreams Run Into Metal Crunch.

+ "An estimated 100,000 cobalt miners in Congo use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet underground with little oversight and few safety measures … And the mining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects, health officials say." WaPo on the Cobalt Pipeline: Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers' phones and laptops.


Measure for Measure

"What they're selling is metrics. It's no longer enough to imagine our way to a better state of body or mind. We must now chart our progress, count our steps, log our sleep rhythms, tweak our diets, record our negative thoughts—then analyze the data, recalibrate, and repeat." The New Yorker's Alexandra Schwartz on what the self-help gurus and their critics reveal about our times: Improving Ourselves to Death. (My self-esteem has improved dramatically since I attached my FitBit to my dog's leg.)


Moving On Up

In his most famous routine, comedian Sam Kinison used to promote his solution for world hunger ("move to where the food is"). NPR has an interesting report on a Yale researcher who's testing a similar theory: Move to where the jobs are. Want To Help Someone In A Poor Village? Give Them A Bus Ticket Out.


The Lyin King

From the NYT: "The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to extend the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program for six years with minimal changes, rejecting a yearslong effort by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to impose significant new privacy limits when it sweeps up Americans' emails and other personal communications." The extension of the law wasn't particularly surprising. What was surprising was President Trump's early morning tweet (made after watching a segment on Fox News) in which he "blew up the administration's position for almost two hours."

+ Here's the big deal about Trump's tweet against his administration's policy: while such tweets are covered heavily in the media and obsessed over on Twitter, they are being largely ignored by policymakers. And Barry Ritholtz found a related trend when it comes to the president's social media attacks on companies. The companies the president disparaged have done much better than those he favored.

+ Last June, President Trump said he would "100%" be questioned under oath if Bob Mueller has questions. This week, he said he doubts he'll be asked and if he is, "I'll see what happens." Since it's quite likely he'll be asked and equally likely the request will lead to a conflict, it's worth looking back at this WaPo article about the time Trump was questioned under oath. Trump: A True Story.

+ Jimmy Kimmel made a mini-documentary to mark the president's pretty amazing milestone. Trump's 2000 Lies.


List Price

"This solidarity was thrilling, but the stories were devastating. I realized that the behavior of a few men I had wanted women to be warned about was far more common that I had ever imagined. This is what shocked me about the spreadsheet: the realization of how badly it was needed, how much more common the experience of sexual harassment or assault is than the opportunity to speak about it. I am still trying to grapple with this realization." Moira Donegan: I Started the Media Men List.


Robottom of the Barrel

"Robo-calling itself was not new; a robo-call is just another word for a prerecorded phone message. Public schools have been using them forever to announce snow days and two-hour delays. But now, the technology — far more efficient than traditional telemarketing, in that a live human is needed only once a customer decides to engage — was being marshaled for profit and fraud." WaPo: How robo-callers outwitted the government and completely wrecked the Do Not Call list.


Branded a Fool

"What Ganon does is pick suppliers he'll never know to ship products he'll never touch. All his effort goes into creating ads to capture prospective customers, and then optimizing a digital environment that encourages them to buy whatever piece of crap he's put in front of them." Alexis C Madrigal on a new breed of online retailer doesn't make or even touch products: The Strange Brands in Your Instagram Feed.


Interviewing the Interviewer

"People are always projecting things. They're hearing things that weren't said or projecting meaning that was not intended and, perhaps, not even implied. I've gotten both insults and compliments for interviews I've never done. What can you do? There's no way of controlling what people think. I do have a bullshit detector and it's something I'll use, but I do think I try and be empathetic to everyone I interview " In conversation with Terry Gross.


C’es La Vie

"But does anyone really want the details of their most private bodily functions to be saved to the cloud?" From a connected toilet to a headset that melts fat by sending signals to your brain, here are some of the weirdest and worst items of CES this year. And FastCo picks some of their favorite ideas from CES.

+ These Sneakers Are Your Free Transit Pass.


Bottom of the News

"A guy on Twitter tells me that I'm a vile man-hater. His feed contains a photo of my very-alive husband wearing a feminist t-shirt. Underneath he's written the message 'RIP.' I sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon over the top." (Bad recipe, really good writing.) Geraldine DeRuiter: I Made the Pizza Cinnamon Rolls from Mario Batali's Sexual Misconduct Apology Letter.

+ I've never seen a Sri Lankan rusty spotted cat, but I want one now.

+ Tomorrow is Feel Good Friday. Send me some uplifting, good news stories from your neck of the woods.