Monday, November 29th, 2021


That’s Just What I Was Thinking

I know what you're thinking. At least I will soon. From fiction to faux reality, we've long encountered those who claim to be able to read minds. But between fMRI technology, artificial intelligence, and math, we're getting closer to turning what's always been science fiction into a reality. James Somers in The New Yorker: The Science of Mind Reading. Researchers are pursuing age-old questions about the nature of thoughts—and learning how to read them. "For centuries, scientists had dreamed of locating thought inside the head but had run up against the vexing question of what it means for thoughts to exist in physical space. When Erasistratus, an ancient Greek anatomist, dissected the brain, he suspected that its many folds were the key to intelligence, but he could not say how thoughts were packed into the convoluted mass. In the seventeenth century, Descartes suggested that mental life arose in the pineal gland, but he didn't have a good theory of what might be found there. Our mental worlds contain everything from the taste of bad wine to the idea of bad taste. How can so many thoughts nestle within a few pounds of tissue?" (Or, in some cases, so few.)


The Energizer Money

"Batteries containing cobalt reduce overheating in electric cars and extend their range, but the metal has become known as 'the blood diamond of batteries' because of its high price and the perilous conditions in Congo, the largest producer of cobalt in the world." NYT (Gift Article): Hunt for the ‘Blood Diamond of Batteries' Impedes Green Energy Push.


What’s Up, Omi?

"The best protection against this new variant or any of the various out there, the ones we've been dealing with already, is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot ... To their credit, the scientific community in South Africa quickly notified the world of the emergence of this new variant. This kind of transparency, to be encouraged and applauded because it increases our ability to respond quickly to any new threats." So said Joe Biden as America and the world braces for Omicron, a Frankenstein-like variant about which we still have much to learn. One thing we know is that it spreads quickly and it's coming to a host near you. Another thing we know is that if we don't get vaccines throughout the world, we'll be dealing with Greek letters for a long time. It sure seems like we should free the vaccines and let other countries have the recipe and make it on location, for our sake as well as theirs. Here's the latest on Omicron from WaPo (Free Article).

+ Science: Why we won't know for weeks how dangerous Omicron is. (While you're waiting, get boosted.)

+ Merriam-Webster chooses vaccine as the 2021 word of the year.


You’re Not Batman

"Here's some breaking news: you're not in the news business. It's nice that you want to be well informed, but does a protest in Belarus really need to drag your attention away from your kid's soccer game? Empathy is a good thing, but do you really need to be distracted from a quiet, introspective moment to be made aware of a mudslide, flood, or another natural disaster a world away? You're not a first responder. The only thing you're responding to is the bait being dangled by news organizations trying to convince you that you need to know something now when you probably don't need to know it at all. Breaking news? The only thing that's breaking is you. El Chapo wished he had a customer base this addicted." From me in FastCompany: I write about news for a living. This is why you need to turn off news notifications.

+ And if you missed it last week, I got a ton of reactions to this one: Every day I go out into the swirling cesspool of bad news about bad people doing bad things. So I might seem like an odd messenger to deliver this missive: People aren't all that bad. Check out my article in the Boston Globe: I read more news than anyone. Trust me, people are better than we're led to think.


Local Anaesthesia

From vaccine hesitancy to the Big Lie, so much of today's bad information festers in the vacuum left where local news used to exist. Can the government help? NYT (Gift Article): Local News Outlets Could Reap $1.7 Billion in Build Back Better Aid. "For The Storm Lake Times, a family-run paper in northwestern Iowa, it could mean $200,000 in federal subsidies the first year and nearly $500,000 over the four years after that. For EO Media, which publishes more than a dozen community newspapers in the Pacific Northwest, it could amount to $1.2 million the first year and $2.9 million over the next four. And Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country, could receive $37.5 million the first year and tens of millions after that." (Part of the goal of journalism is to provide a check on government. It's an indication of how desperate local news is that we all seem to think it's a pretty good idea for government to fund the effort.)


Twitter Character Reaches Limit

"I love Twitter." That was Jack Dorsey's parting tweet as he and his beard ended their long run as co-CEO. He'll continue to be the CEO of Square. Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal is the new CEO. We'll see if his facial hair is up to the task.


The Rejig Lie

"A year after local and state election officials came under immense pressure from Trump to subvert the results of the 2020 White House race, he and his supporters are pushing an ambitious plan to place Trump loyalists in key positions across the administration of U.S. elections." WaPo (Gift Article): Trump allies work to place supporters in key election posts across the country, spurring fears about future vote challenges. (We're well beyond spurring fears and well into confirming fears.)

+ Republicans are quietly rigging election maps to ensure permanent rule. (They're actually doing it pretty loudly. It's the Dems that are quietly watching it happen.)


Send in the Sounds

"His work melded words and music in a way that enhanced them both. From his earliest successes in the late 1950s, when he wrote the lyrics for "West Side Story" and "Gypsy," through the 1990s, when he wrote the music and lyrics for two audacious musicals, "Assassins," giving voice to the men and women who killed or tried to kill American presidents, and "Passion," an operatic probe into the nature of true love, he was a relentlessly innovative theatrical force." NYT: Stephen Sondheim, Titan of the American Musical, Is Dead at 91.

+ 10 Stephen Sondheim songs we'll never stop listening to.

+ A video: Sondheim teaches Send In The Clowns.


The Measure of a Man

"As world leaders gathered across the globe this month to discuss a climate crisis that is rapidly heating the Earth, Billy Barr, 71, paused outside his mountainside cabin to measure snow. His tools were simple, the same he'd used since the 1970s. A wooden ruler plunged into white flakes accumulating on his snow board — an old freezer door affixed to legs of plastic piping and wood — showed two inches." WaPo: He spent almost 50 years alone at 10,000 feet. His hobby helped shape climate research in the Rockies.


Bottom of the News

"On November 1st, when detectives with the Sheriff's Office of Lawrence County, Tennessee arrived at an Amish farm to serve a search warrant, they were stunned at their discovery: 25 pounds of pot, along with 13 weapons and a pile of cash." Growhouses, Pot Fields and Biker Gangs: The Secret Lives and Crimes of Amish Drug Dealers. (No matter how different we seem, we can always find common ground.)

+ "It just so happened that the person they inadvertently messaged this week was Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, and their mix-up would lead to a FaceTime call with some of the biggest stars in the Bucs' locker room." How Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers landed on a call with a Michigan high school basketball team. (1-800-Call-Goat?)