The Most Fascinating News of 2014

I went through all of the NextDraft number 1 stories of year and picked out the ones that were especially fascinating, touched on topics that will be at the forefront in 2015, or just had some decent lines. If you’re not a subscriber, get the NextDraft newsletter or iOS app here.


We Lost the War

Peter Shumlin, the governor of Vermont, dedicated his entire state of state address to one topic: Drug addiction. Like many states, Vermont has seen a significant rise in the number of drug overdoses in recent years, and Shumlin thinks the time has come to take a more realistic approach to the problem. “We have lost the war on drugs. The notion that we can arrest our way out of this problem is yesterday’s theory.”

+ The strange economics of legal weed.

You Have a Dirty Mind

We’re learning more about why sleep is so important. According to an interesting set of recent studies, sleep provides your brain with the opportunity to essentially clean itself. One researcher compares your brain to an aquarium: “Think about a fish tank. If you have a tank and no filter, the fish will eventually die. So, how do the brain cells get rid of their waste? Where is their filter?” I’m an insomniac with seventy-five open browser tabs. My aquarium is a swamp.

+ “We are at the same place that the impact of smoking was on health 50 years ago when finally there was enough evidence that the surgeon general issued a report indicating that smoking was hazardous to people’s health.” That’s Harvard Med School’s Charles Czeisler who calls sleep the third pillar of health, along with exercise and eating well.

Don’t Even Think About It

“Plenty of aspects of criminal cases involve at least some discussion of how much of a danger the accused poses to society: Judges issue warrants and set bail and sentences all based on some element of prognostication. But what made the case against Valle unique, according to his lawyers, was that absolutely everything the government was using as evidence that he was dangerous was based on his thoughts.” It’s worth reading about the trial of the former police officer known as the Cannibal Cop. His story provides a glimpse into the world of the dark web (disturbing, but worth being aware of), and a look at how technology increases the possibility that we’ll be putting people on trial for what’s going on in their heads.

Dude, Where’s My Laptop?

Over the weekend, my five year-old daughter confiscated and hid my laptop. She was tired of competing for attention with the screen, and no amount of daddy trying to convince her he was building his personal brand was going to change her mind. Similar scenes are all too common in this era when, thanks to always-on digital devices, the line between work and home life has been largely obliterated. So it comes as a welcome surprise that some firms on Wall Street — where overwork is viewed as a badge of honor — are urging their employees to take a little time off. Why? Because it’s better for business. Here’s The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki on the cult of overwork and the costs of working too much.

+ “In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough.” From Sam Polk in the NYT: For the Love of Money.

+ According to a recent study, money is addictive.

+ “The world’s richest 85 people control about $1.7 trillion in wealth, equivalent to the bottom half of the world’s population.”

Throwing the Bus Under the Bus

After several protests and a contentious city hall gathering, Google has agreed to pay a dollar each time its corporate shuttle uses a San Francisco bus stop (the city really should have held out for equity). This will not end the controversy over the buses from Google and other companies that transport tech workers to their Silicon Valley offices. But wait, don’t the buses reduce the traffic and emissions associated with additional cars on the road? And if some SF residents who take one kind of bus are protesting against other SF residents who take another kind of bus, don’t the people who take limos win? As Kevin Roose explains, the bus wars have never really been about Google buses: “For concerned locals, the shuttles symbolize their collective fears about the rise of the tech sector — that rents are spiking, that long-time residents are being pushed out by coddled 22-year-olds with Stanford BAs and venture funding, that a great American city with a rich countercultural history is turning into a staid bedroom community for Silicon Valley.”

+ There are also reports that protestors showed up at the doorstep of the Berkeley home of Google’s Anthony Levandowski who helped develop Street View and Google’s self-driving car.

+ So what exactly happens when gentrification comes to town? The longtime residents of changing neighborhoods are squeezed out, right? Maybe not. According to NPR, a series of new studies suggest “that gentrifying neighborhoods may be a boon to longtime residents as well — and that those residents may not be moving out after all.”

+ Full disclosure: I invest in Internet startups, including one that provides bus services for commuters from several Bay Area companies. That said, I only take public transportation when my drone is in the shop.

This is 30

“There were no tech blogs, no Facebook, no Twitter, and certainly no Mac rumor websites. There were no websites at all. So Jobs had to generate his own campaign to tell the world about the computer that he would announce on January 24, 1984, 30 years ago today.” Happy Birthday to my old friend. From Steven Levy in Wired: The Macintosh is 30, and I was there for its birth.

+ When I told her it was time to talk about converting, she thought I was talking about religion. A NextDraft Original: I Made This on a Mac.

+ Here’s a look back at Steve Jobs introducing the original Mac, along with some of the comments made by early reviewers.

+ While we’re on the topic of early computing leaders, it’s probably worth noting that Microsoft is still pulling in some pretty impressive revenues.


The Gateway Drug

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has turned more attention towards America’s growing heroin problem, where the gateway drug is often a prescription painkiller. From PBS Newshour: “Why more Americans are getting high — and overdosing — on heroin.”

Says Who?

After years of babbling into an age of oversharing and personal branding, are we finally ready to hit the brakes and return to one of the Internet’s oldest ideas? Buzzfeed’s John Herrman looks at the return of the anonymous Internet. This is a major digital behavior trend that is worth watching (but you didn’t hear that from me).

+ The startup world is a place where one’s self-worth is often measured in Likes and Retweets. But even among early adopters and Internet insiders, there seems to be a need to vent anonymously.

Your Prescription is Ready

As participants from around world gather to face off in various events, one competition is already over. When it comes to the ability to remove a childproof cap from a bottle and then swallow down a handful of pills, there is simply no country that can compete with the United States. Americans spend about a grand per person per year on pharmaceuticals. We take more. And we spend more. PBS Newshour takes a look at why Americans spend so much on pharmaceuticals.

+ Are doctors and shrinks too quick to write a ‘script? From Newsweek’s John Ericson: A Pill for Every Ill.

+ The editors at Scientific American argue that it’s time to end the ban on psychoactive drug research and find out if drugs like LSD, marijuana and ecstasy can ease psychiatric disorders.

Let’s Just Flip the Switch

There is a machine. Thirty-five countries have invested billions of dollars to make it work. When completed, it will weigh twenty-three thousand tons. If its switch is ever finally flipped, the goal will be the creation of a new form of energy that could save the planet: “Beams of uncharged particles — the energy in them so great it could vaporize a car in seconds — will pour into the chamber, adding tremendous heat. In this way, the circulating hydrogen will become ionized, and achieve temperatures exceeding two hundred million degrees Celsius — more than ten times as hot as the sun at its blazing core.” (And I thought I was doing my part by driving a hybrid.) The New Yorker’s Raffi Khatchadourian shares the story of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a star in a bottle.

What’s Your Major?

Tuition has increased. The job market has tightened. Student debt is going through the roof. So is it still worth it to go to college. According to the latest research from Pew, Millennials answer that question with a resounding yes. There is an increasingly large income gap between those who attend college and those who don’t. And college grads are more likely to be satisfied with their job and less likely to be living with their parents.

+ What’s your major? If your answer isn’t science or engineering, there’s a decent chance you wish you could make a different choice and that your career is unrelated to your field of study. Here are six key findings about going to college.

+ The Atlantic: Indisputable Evidence That Millennials Have It Worse Than Any Generation in 50 Years … at least, when it comes to unemployment.

A Loud and Clear Message

It’s unusual when a company as young as Facebook drops $19 billion on an acquisition, especially when its on a company some folks hadn’t even heard of. But the messaging juggernaut called WhatsApp is huge (in terms of users and messages) and dangerous (in terms of the threat they posed to Facebook) and totally mobile (which is where Facebook needs to be). Here’s Buzzfeed on why Facebook had to have WhatsApp.

+ WSJ: What is WhatsApp? One highly addicted user explains.

+ Kara Swisher: “We have now established a price floor for what it costs not to have a mobile operating system in a world in which having a mobile operating system counts for an awful lot these days.”

+ Aside from the race towards mobile and the acquisition of a ton of active users, I think there are a couple interesting aspects to this deal. First, WhatsApp is really about sending messages to individuals or small groups. These messages are usually more private than Facebook posts. Private is the new public. Second, WhatsApp prides itself on not collecting data about its users and then selling that information to highest-bidding advertiser. The app has no ads at all. Facebook has derived much of its value from the data collection and advertising model. In other words, the value of your personal data helped pay for a company that doesn’t collect any of it.

You Want a Piece of Me?

Along with the worldwide adoption of mobile devices, the biggest threat to Facebook has always been your regretful decision to accept a friend request from that weirdo you knew in junior high. Mat Honan sums it up nicely: “The problem is that people don’t want a web-style social network on their mobile devices. They want a simpler, faster, less public, and more intimate way to share with only close friends, the ones they care about the most. They want to swap pictures. They want to say, ‘I’m here.’ They want pieces of Facebook, but not the entire package at once.” You used to want to share with everyone. But not anymore. And that’s why things on the Internet are getting crazy. From Wired: Inside the high-stakes battle to control how you talk to friends.

+ Quartz: More people around the world have cell phones than ever had land-lines.

+ On a per user basis, that WhatsApp acquisition was sort of a bargain.

+ Remember Facebook Mail? Probably not. That’s why they just shelved it.

You’re Hip (but now you’re not)

You’ve got the beard, the stylish glasses, the skinny jeans, the vintage t-shirt, and the latest tablet, covered with stickers, slid neatly into a faux-messenger bag. But to a teenager, you just look like another old dude. It’s tough to stay hip. That’s true for people. And that’s true for tech services. That’s one of the reasons why Facebook had to shell out $19 billion on a messaging app. And it’s also a reason why that purchase provides no guarantee that they’ll seem cool to the fickle millions looking for the new, new thing. The New Yorker’s Joshua Hunt provides a look at some amazing stats from the day Whatsapp went down for a few hours: “In the day after WhatsApp’s server outage, its biggest competitors, Telegram and Line, gained five million and two million new users, respectively.”

+ “For Linio, think Amazon for Mexicans. For Zalora, think Zappos for Malaysians. For Easy Taxi, think Uber for Nigerians.” Forget innovation. You want to succeed in tech? Just copy someone else.


Resistance is Futile

“At a certain point in the process we’re looking at each other going, ‘I can’t believe they’re letting us do this,’ so pretty much the whole thing — we definitely couldn’t believe it. We kept expecting resistance, but there wasn’t any.” That’s the director of Between Two Ferns talking about the day the president was on the set. Maybe he shouldn’t have expected all that much resistance. The Internet has blurred the lines between real and hoax, between funny and serious, between international news and personality quizzes. We are interested in all of it, and none of it is ever more than a browser-tab away. The NYT can try to be funny, The New Yorker can hire Andy Borowitz, and Buzzfeed can try to publish serious journalism. We were entertained by the appearance of a sitting president on an Internet show like Between Two Ferns, but we weren’t necessarily shocked by it. It’s just too bad Obama is a dog person. Otherwise, he could have also shared some really viral cat photos.

You Snooze, You Win

Is there one policy change that would help teens to improve their performance in school, in cars, and maybe in life? According to many experts, we just need to let them sleep in. A recent study out of the University of Minnesota “found that the later a school’s start time, the better off the students were on many measures, including mental health, car crash rates, attendance and, in some schools, grades and standardized test scores.”

+ And here’s another reason to sleep in. Scientists have debunked the notion that 10,000 hours makes you an expert. (But they only spent 9000 hours on the study, so who knows.)

Prosper and Live Long

Fairfax County and McDowell County are about 350 miles apart. But the distance is much greater in life expectancy than it is miles. Men living in Fairfax can expect to live 18 years longer than those in McDowell County. Michael Reisch, a professor of social justice at the University of Maryland, explains: “Poverty is a thief. Poverty not only diminishes a person’s life chances, it steals years from one’s life.” From the NYT’s Annie Lowrey: Income Gap, Meet Longevity Gap.

+ In Detroit, a million bucks will by you about 83,333 square feet of real estate. The amount of square footage you can score for the same dough in San Francisco is considerably less. From Slate: Here’s how much real estate $1 million buys you in every major U.S. city.

You Have a Secret Admirer

If you work in technology, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of (and have probably used) an app called Secret. As the NYT’s Jenna Wortham explains, Secret “is testing the limits of just how much sharing Silicon Valley thinks is a good thing. That’s because the sharing is done anonymously. And, as it turns out, much of the chatter is about Silicon Valley itself — offering a rare, unvarnished look at the ambitions, disappointments, rivalries, jealousies and obsessions of the engineers and entrepreneurs who live and work there.” (Because apparently, the tech industry’s navel-gazing isn’t already unvarnished enough…) Even when people put their names to posts and Tweets, the Internet can be used as a tool to spread lowbrow, false, and often malicious information. Will anonymity make things worse?

+ Either way, it’s worth noting that many of today’s hottest apps enable private or anonymous messaging. Private is the new public. And if an app called Cloak is any indication, antisocial is the new social. Cloak uses check-ins and geolocation to help you avoid the people you’d rather not see.

These Kids Today

“Like most parents my age, I have memories of childhood so different from the way my children are growing up that sometimes I think I might be making them up, or at least exaggerating them.” That’s The Atlantic’s Hanna Rosin on the modern parent’s preoccupation with safety that ultimately robs kids of the benefits gained from independence and risk taking. I feel the same way when I compare my childhood to the experiences of my kids and their friends who are constantly being over-watched by neurotic parents worried about everything from their physical safety to their media consumption. But what exactly has changed? Is childhood inherently more dangerous today, or are we just spending too much time with our kids? (Maybe we just want to make sure they give us some equity in their tech startups.) There’s definitely no doubt that this is the age of the overprotected kid.

+ In NYC, in the dark of night, a teen snuck by several layers of security and made it to the spire of the WTC. And Tweeted. (See what happens when you don’t keep your eye on these kids!)

The Task Masters

If you are talking on a cellphone, your driving is impaired. If you are trying to finish a project for work, its quality won’t be nearly as good if you allow yourself to be distracted by incoming tweets and Facebook status updates. Allowing your mind to shift back and forth between tasks means that each individual task will suffer. You can’t multitask. Unless you can. Researchers have found that a small percentage of us can actually be effective while doing several things at once. And that’s in part because of a “unique blend of attention, memory, and resistance to distractions.” Meet the Supertaskers.

+ The rest of us ordinary-taskers are busy with our tasks; one of which is telling people how busy we are. (That’s my favorite multitask: doing something and complaining about it at the same time.)

The Only Race That Matters?

We’re not doing a very good job when it comes to slowing down the pace of climate change. So as seas rise, air becomes less breathable, and weather patterns become more volatile, some scientists find themselves asking a new question. From FiveThirtyEight’s Sarah Laskow: Can human evolution outrace climate change? Had I known we would be racing, I probably wouldn’t have bought a hybrid sedan.

+ If we’re looking to outrace the bad stuff we’re doing to the planet, we better hurry. According to a recent study by the World Heath Organization, seven million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution.

+ Here’s a look at California’s historic drought in photos.

Meet the Other You

Pia Farrenkopf died in 2009 in her home in Pontiac, Michigan. But no one knew about it until about a month ago. How could this be? In part, it was because she had set up her bank account to pay her bills automatically. This was a unique case, but it points to a broader trend. There is the you that’s made of flesh and bone. And the you that’s been created via your digital activities. Carmen Maria Machado provides an interesting take in her New Yorker piece: The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf. “Farrenkopf had a kind of institutional doppelgänger, as do we all: a presence that forms as we post on social media, shop online, send e-mails, and use the Internet for paying bills, banking, and dozens of other financial and technological transactions. Some of us have more than one. The institutional doppelgänger is hard to see because it shadows our everyday lives so closely. Every so often, though, the curtain twitches, reminding us of its existence.”

+ Your online self might be a lot more popular than your physical self, especially among data brokers who are panning for gold in the digital age.

Forecast Calls For Worse

The oceans are rising and becoming more acidic. The ice caps are melting. Heat waves are getting hotter. Rains are intensifying. Coral reefs are dying. Creatures are going extinct. And according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this is your forecast: The worst is yet to come. From the panel’s Chairman: “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” (This seems like the right time to start building an ark out of disregarded climate change reports.)

+ MoJo with eight reasons you should be worried.


This is Your Brain on Internet

Your brain was not designed to read this sentence. Our brains adapted to become good at reading. And now, our clicking, swiping, and scrolling is training our brain to consume content in a new way. But will there be a cost? Researchers are finding that serious reading has taken a hit from online scanning and skimming. (This article would work better as a list of charts.)

+ Ever feel aggressive after playing a video game? That aggression might have more to do with gameplay mechanics than violent content. That explains why playing Flappy Bird always makes me want to beat the hell out of someone.

Stuck in the Middle

America is still the world’s richest large country. But that’s only when you average out the earnings across all income levels. For the first time in decades, the American middle class is no longer the world’s richest (blame Canada). Here’s Harvards’s Lawrence Katz: “In 1960, we were massively richer than anyone else. In 1980, we were richer. In the 1990s, we were still richer. That is no longer the case.”

+ Your money or your life? It turns out the two are deeply connected. The richer you are, the older you’ll get.

+ MoJo: 10 poverty myths, busted.

+ If you want a good, longterm investment, then why are you buying a house? (Because it’s almost impossible to host a brunch in a mutual fund?)

Don’t Touch My Junk

At the outset, the Internet looked like a panacea for misanthropic germaphobes. We could interact with the world without actually having to physically engage with its messy parts. But then the sharing economy emerged and everything changed. We went from happily hiding behind our screens to being expected to join in a new age of sharing in the physical world. Wired’s Jason Tanz describes the cultural shift: “We are hopping into strangers’ cars (Lyft, Sidecar, Uber), welcoming them into our spare rooms (Airbnb), dropping our dogs off at their houses (DogVacay, Rover), and eating food in their dining rooms (Feastly). We are letting them rent our cars (RelayRides, Getaround), our boats (Boatbound), our houses (HomeAway), and our power tools (Zilok). We are entrusting complete strangers with our most valuable possessions, our personal experiences, and our very lives. In the process, we are entering a new era of Internet-enabled intimacy.” Yeah. Gross.

Don is Gone

New NBA commissioner Adam Silver called the ultimate technical foul on LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling and has announced a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine (the maximum allowable). “Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices. He may not be present at any Clippers facility. He may not participate in any business or player personnel decisions.” (There was a time when being banned from Clippers games was considered a prize.) Silver handed down the penalty after the release of audiotapes in which Sterling made a series of racist remarks.

+ Silver also said he and the other NBA owners would compel Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers. He bought the team back 1981 for $12.5 million. So this could be the most profitable penalty ever.

+ Here’s Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (before the ruling): “In this country, people are allowed to be morons … But regardless of your background, regardless of the history they have, if we’re taking something somebody said in their home and we’re trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that’s not the United States of America. I don’t want to be part of that.” (Sterling is a piece of garbage, but this ruling was handed down as a result of a conversation he had on his home telephone. What if someone recorded your worst ever personal phone call with a significant other and put it on the Internet?)

+ Here are some takes on Sterling from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:

+ And from McSweeney’s, I Don’t See Race: “In the grand scheme of things, what matters most in life is not the color of your skin, but the color of your hair and the shape of your eyes. But it actually does help if you’re white.”

Walk and Roll

Want to be more creative today? Strap on some comfortable shoes and take a walk. A new study from Stanford researchers found that a person’s creative output can increase by as much as 60% when walking. According to the study’s authors: “Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward discovering why.” (Walking is fine, but I bet they came up with that line in the shower.)

+ “The president is among a growing number of executives who’d rather walk than sit in a conference room when they want to mull and make important decisions. While certainly not brand new … walking has become a full-fledged fad among executives.”


Will It Blend?

“I feel like the six million dollar man. My physique has noticeably improved, my skin is clearer, my teeth whiter, my hair thicker and my dandruff gone … I haven’t eaten a bite of food in thirty days, and it’s changed my life.” The lifehackers of Silicon Valley have come for your cars, your social interactions, your extra bedroom, your credit card, your love life, and your attention span. And now they are going to eat your lunch. But not until they reduce it to liquid form. In an extremely interesting piece, The New Yorker’s Lizzie Widdicombe visits Rob Rhinehart and shares a few bottles of Soylent, a product some true believers think will replace food.

Oh Grow Up

During the American revolution, the eventual winners enjoyed a two-inch height advantage over their red-coated foes. By the middle of the 19th century, Americans were about two and a half inches taller than Europeans. But things have changed in recent decades as Europeans have shot past Americans on the height chart. And it could have something to do with nutrition. Consider this: “Studies of North Koreans found that those born after the country was divided in two were about two inches shorter than their counterparts in the South.” From The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan: How We Get Tall.

+ MoJo: I went to the nutritionists’ annual confab. It was catered by McDonald’s.

The Mod Squad

The debate over the labeling of genetically modified foods affects a lot of people, and a lot of food — about 60-70 percent of processed foods contain GMOs. People on one side of the debate want labels on foods and argue that they have a right to information. People (and corporations) on the other side argue that their position is supported by science, and that labels would imply that people should be worried when there’s no cause for concern. As Molly Ball explains in her very interesting piece in The Atlantic: “Both of these lines may be true as far as it goes; what the debate comes down to is politics.” Want to Know If Your Food Is Genetically Modified?

+ Thirteen people just got arrested in Italy, where food ingredients are taken seriously. It turns out the buffalo mozzarella was being made with cow’s milk.

Keep ‘Em Separated

This weekend marks the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, a decision in which the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” So have we come together? Not exactly. For many minorities, schools are more segregated today than they have been in decades. From Slate’s Jamelle Bouie: Why American schools are becoming segregated once again.

+ The Daily Beast: How charter schools and testing regimes have helped re-segregate our schools.

+ TNR: Even well-integrated schools treat black students differently.

+ NYT Magazine: Rich students complete their college degrees; working-class students usually don’t. Who gets to graduate?

+ Has the Internet made us any less segregated? I was sure it would when I first starting using the web. I’m a lot less sure now. Here’s something I wrote about my experiences as a teacher in Brooklyn and what I thought would change. Whiter Shade of Pale: Race and Diversity on the Web.

Aloha, Mr. Hand

High school students often ask their math teachers: “When am I ever gonna use this in real life?” Well, it turns out that your high school numbers could haunt you for the rest of your life. A new study found a strong correlation between your high school GPA and your future earnings. To paraphrase Jeff Spicoli: All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, an Internet startup, and I’m fine.

+ Vox: Master’s degrees are as common now as bachelor’s degrees were in the ’60s. And some of the fastest growing areas of study might surprise you. (Looking back, I wish I had majored in animated GIFs.)

Soap on the Ropes

Prior to his post-college Peace Corps experience, my friend Erik wanted to train his body to need fewer showers. So he stopped bathing. After a rough patch (for everyone around him), Erik really didn’t smell all that bad. Today, many researchers are studying whether we should be adding bacteria to our bodies instead of constantly scrubbing it away. NYT Magazine’s Julia Scott visited with a team looking to put an end to daily showers — which they replace with a few pumps of mist containing billions of cultivated Nitrosomonas eutropha (you may have met them before, in dirt and untreated water). The team’s MIT-trained engineer hasn’t showered for the past 12 years. Welcome to: My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment. (I’m pretty my 7 year-old son has been running the same test.)

This Doesn’t Reflect My Views

It’s been a long week for Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel. A collection of his “cringeworthy” college emails to fellow frat members were leaked and Spiegel quickly responded with a statement: “I’m obviously mortified and embarrassed that my idiotic emails during my fraternity days were made public. I have no excuse. I’m sorry I wrote them at the time and I was jerk to have written them. They in no way reflect who I am today or my views towards women.” There are a few reasons why these leaked emails are big news. Spiegel’s college days were recent. His company is massive (people send more than 700 million snaps a day). And it confirms the belief among some that Spiegel “is kind of an ass.” But there is a broader cultural trend to consider here. Increasingly, much of what we say or write — including the stuff that would mortify and embarrass us — is being recorded. Are we all ready to be judged by our “private” conversations? (Just in case, I’d like to preemptively state that certain comments I made following a keg stand in 1989 detoured significantly from my actual views.)


The Handwriting on the Wall

Immune to my insistence that my poor penmanship would never matter, Mrs. Mitchell, my third grade teacher, used to make me spend my afternoons in her classroom where I was required to raise my level of legibility. When the world went digital and writing shifted to keyboards and touchscreens, I felt I had the last laugh. But is there a chance that handwriting — the act, if not the quality — actually does matter? As Maria Konnikova writes in the NYT: “New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.”

Searching For Sugar, Man

“You find me the person who can blame obesity or diabetes on an excess of carrots or apples, and I will give up my day job and become a hula dancer!” That’s Dr. David Katz, director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center, responding to the growing attacks on everything that contains sugar. Sugar is the new fat. We’re being spoon-fed a daily dose of warnings, many of them coming from UCSF’s Robert Lustig, who refers to sugar as “the Darth Vader of this sordid tale, beckoning you to the dark side.” (In the end, he admits he’s your father and takes you out for ice cream.) How bad is sugar? And how good are its replacements. James Hamblin sweetens the pot with his piece: Being Happy with Sugar.

Put Up Your Dukes

There has been a long-held theory that our strong jaws and facial bone structure evolved as a result of our diet. Now, scientists are pointing out “that vital facial features — the flattening of the face, the widening of the cheek bones — occurred at the same time our ancestors evolved hands that could make a fist.” In other words, we likely evolved to be better equipped to take a punch in the face (while social media and web comments prove that most of us are still deserving of one).

You’ve Got a Golden Ticket

Oompa Loompa doo-pa-dee dee, if you are wise you’ll listen to me. Whenever an Amazon package arrives at my doorstep, I imagine Jeff Bezos as Willy Wonka guiding a handful of visitors through his most advanced warehouse; a modern day candy factory. Well, courtesy of Wired’s Marcus Wohlsen, you’ve got a golden ticket good for one rare peek inside Amazon’s massive wish-fulfilling machine. “The Amazon warehouse is a uniquely 21st-century creation — a vast, networked, intelligent engine for sating consumer desire.” (Note: The gobstopper is only everlasting for Amazon Prime members.)

+ WSJ: “Google just bought a company that could have a bigger impact on its bottom line and on the world than any other recent acquisition by the search giant or its tech brethren … And here’s what Skybox could allow Google to accomplish: Within a couple of years, when you want to know whether you left your porch light on or if your teenager borrowed the car you forbade her to drive, you might check Google Maps.”

No Scalpers Allowed

We came uninvited. We stole your land. We spread deadly diseases among your populations. We dehumanized your culture and history. And we killed you in large numbers ahead of a long era of treating you as second class citizens. But before you judge us, it should be known that we draw the line at mascots that could be considered derogatory. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just canceled six of the Washington Redskins’ trademarks after determining that the name is disparaging of Native Americans.

+ This is not the first time the patent office has issued such a ruling. So what exactly does this mean?

+ The times (and public opinions) have changed since those earlier rulings. The NYT’s Upshot wonders whether this is finally the beginning of the end of the Redskins’ team name. In the meantime, they point out that using the now “free” trademark presents a Catch-22: “It’s legal to use the name because a government commission found it disparages Native Americans, but you would then own a [business] whose name disparages a minority group.”

+ Esquire: Yes, a ‘Redskin’ does, in fact, mean the scalped head of a Native American, sold, like a pelt, for cash.

+ And for some history, here’s Michael Tomasky in the New York Review of Books: The Racist Redskins.

Game Junkies

“The drug addicts and alcoholics have a certain comfort with being in the world, you know. They’re street smart. They’ve had to figure out how to go get their drugs and they’ve done their drugs socially and been sexually active. It kind of gives them a comfort in the world that a lot of our guys completely lack.” Jagger Gravning takes us along for a day at the first video game rehab clinic in the U.S. After reading this, I’m pretty sure I need news rehab.

+ People were obsessed with games long before they went digital. “Before Risk, before Dungeons & Dragons, before Magic: The Gathering, there was Diplomacy.” In Grantland, David Hill enters an international competition to play The Board Game of the Alpha Nerds.


Your Money or Your Life?

The growing inequality between the rich and poor has become one of the key stories of this era. But while the focus is on money, it’s really about something much more basic than that: Life. Americans who are affluent already live about twelve years longer than their poor and working class counterparts. And with new technologies on the way, that gap could widen dramatically. The story of the haves and the have-nots could quickly become a story of the haves and the dead. Aeon’s Linda Marsa on The Longevity Gap.

Dependence Day

“The migrants are standing at this particular point — away from an official port of entry but close to Border Patrol’s regularly patrolled routes — because they want to get caught.” Why would large groups of underaged migrants, down to their last mile of a brutal journey, stop just across the river from the border? Because the smugglers who got them to this point have convinced them that getting caught is a lot better than the life they’ve left behind. The Daily Beast’s Caitlin Dickson explains why there might be a lot of truth in that.

+ Steve Lopez in the LA Times: “Juxtaposed against the simplistic and ugly ‘go back home’ rhetoric spouted in the streets of Murrieta this week are the horrific realities of some of the human beings – women and children, no less — aboard those buses.”

The Solution to Your Problem

Trust me, I know how you feel. You’re reading this on a device of some sort. You do everything on a device these days. Your attention is frayed. Your focus is distracted. You’re life is being sucked whole into the never-ending glow of a nearly unbroken wall of screens. Well, I’ve got the solution. It’s so simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it. You need need another screen. According to Wired’s Clive Thompson, working on multiple screens can help you focus. “A profusion of devices can help focus one’s attention rather than fracture it. A pile of browser tabs on your laptop becomes mentally confusing; tasks get hidden and maybe forgotten. But when screens are physically separate, the problem evaporates.”

+ This could be true, but it’s part of a larger trend I’ve written about: Solving the problems caused by technology with more technology. It’s like trying to use heroin to kick your methadone habit.

+ Then again, using a separate device for writing (even one that’s running MS-DOS) seems to work for George R.R. Martin.

There Goes the Neighborhood

You can think of it as a new form of segregation. Except in this case, we’re not just segregating by streets or neighborhoods. Huge swaths of the population are being priced out of the market across entire cities. The wage differential between those with college degrees and those without them is increasing. As WaPo’s Emily Badger explains: “This effectively means that college graduates in America aren’t simply gaining access to higher wages. They’re gaining access to high-cost cities like New York or San Francisco that offer so much more than good jobs: more restaurants, better schools, less crime, even cleaner air.”

+ “Last December, my partner Rebecca and I bought a rowhouse with another couple. Our wedding was this May. Next month, we’re expecting a baby — the other couple’s baby.” In The Atlantic, Ari Weisbard why he and his partner — faced with the increasing cost of city living — decided to buy a house with their friends, share their space and their lives, and all make a family together. (That sounds like the opening of a horror movie.)

+ “Property costs have dropped to the point that barriers to ownership — to a sort of mogulhood, even — are absurdly low.” Has Detroit hit rock bottom? Many investors think it has. Can this once great American city make a comeback? Welcome to the post-post-apocalyptic Detroit.

+ And welcome to the the post-post-apocalyptic Cleveland. LeBron James has clicked his high tops together three times and decided that there really is no place like home. “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”

+ And no story on Cleveland would be complete without these two video clips: How do you feel about Cleveland, from Tootsie, and Hello Cleveland from This is Spinal Tap.

Use Your Brain

“It is estimated most human beings only use 10 percent of the brain’s capacity. Imagine if we could access 100 percent. Interesting things begin to happen.” That’s one of Morgan Freeman’s lines in an upcoming movie called Lucy. This whole 10 percent of the brain thing is a commonly held belief (more commonly held than evolution). But it turns out to be entirely false. As The Atlantic’s Sam McDougle reports, humans already use way more than 10 percent of their brains. (It just seems like they don’t.)

+ Pacific Standard: What if a drug could make it possible to learn any new skill as if we were children? (From what I can tell from my kids, that means learning a new skill by constantly complaining and screaming “I know, I know.”)

Happy Trails

Fame. Money. Multiple partners. Sounds good right? Abd Al-Rahman III was an absolute ruler in 10th century Spain, where he had all that and more. And yet, according to his own writings, he wasn’t all that happy: “I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: They amount to 14.” The NYT’s Arthur C. Brooks looks at a series of studies and finds that the things many of us want don’t necessarily lead to happiness. I’d like to sign up to be a participant in one of these studies.

+ The Atlantic argues that polyamorous people handle certain relationship struggles better than monogamous people do. “Bill says watching his wife have sex with another man induces compersion — basking in the joy of a partner’s success.” (I’m pretty happy when my wife gets retweeted.)

Ivy Fatigue

In the New Republic William Deresiewicz, author and former Yale professor, argues against sending your kids to Ivy League schools. “Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.” I don’t know. I think most of these kids know they’re doing it for the IPO.

Read This Later

It’s not pleasant. It leads to more stress. It worsens your health. “Why, then, is procrastination such a common phenomenon? If we don’t particularly want to procrastinate, and it causes us discomfort to do so, why do we persist in doing it?” The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova tries to answer that question and help you along the road to getting over procrastination. But be forewarned. As one expert explains: “The ironic thing is that procrastinators put off dealing with their procrastination.” So even if you conquer the procrastination, you’ll still need someone to help you get over the irony.

+ Part of procrastination might have to do with a desire to control our use of time. From the WSJ: Why power in the workplace makes people feel they control time.

What’s Inside the Vault?

I know. You don’t read TMZ and you don’t care about some cheap celebrity gossip rag. But you probably heard something about Mel Gibson’s lethal love life, or Tiger Woods’ bunker busting social schedule, or Donald Sterling’s audition tapes for a Civil War-era version of The Bachelor. TMZ breaks the stories, and then mainstream media runs with them — sometimes with attribution, almost never with a link. There is the “unique and controversial mix of scandal mongering and investigative journalism.” And then there is the vault. That’s where Harvey Levin hides the stories that haven’t been published. “The vault isn’t a secret at TMZ — even the lowest on the staff ladder have heard whispers of its existence. As to what goes up on the site and what stays vaulted, that’s a finer, more esoteric calculus — and one in which celebrities and their publicists have come to live in fear.” Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen on the down and dirty history of TMZ. (I know. You don’t read Buzzfeed either.)

Just Look at Yourself

Work, email, social media, a never-ending to-do list, too many commitments, too much on the schedule — you’re crazy busy. But are you this busy because it’s just the nature of life in our increasingly digital, device-driven society? Or is it — as a series of recent studies suggest — because you’ll do just about anything to avoid introspection? “In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.” (Can an Introspection App be far behind?) Louis C.K. often touches upon this need to be busy: “Sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching anything and you’re in your car and you start going, oh no, here it comes, that I’m alone, and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness. And that’s why we text and drive. People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.”


Now Has Arrived

For those of us around during the first Internet boom, few corporate deaths were more painful than Kozmo; a service that deployed a swarm of speedy bike messengers to deliver food, movies, and other goodies to your doorstep. But the time wasn’t right. Kozmo never had enough customers or technological efficiencies to survive. All that has changed. The instant gratification economy is booming: There are lots of investors, lots of customers, lots of mobile technologies, and lots of people who may never leave the house again. ReCode begins a series on the instant economy with this aptly-titled overview from Liz Gannes: I want it, and I want it now.

+ As per usual, The Onion is on top of the gratification trend: Millions of Americans demanded a new form of media “to bridge the entertainment gap they endure while turning their heads from their laptops to their cell phones.”

The Revolution Will Not Be Buffered

“More than an hour before the doors open at the Anaheim Convention Center, there’s already a line that stretches from the entrance, past a nearby Hilton, around a water fountain, through a palm-tree lined promenade, and all the way to the driveway’s entrance.” Most of the people in line are young. So you might guess they were waiting to see a movie star, the latest boy band, or the cast of a hit TV show. But they were there to take selfies with a different kind of celebrity; one that’s famous, in part, because they are not famous in the traditional sense of the word. They are stars of the small screen. Fast Company’s Sarah Kessler takes you inside YouTube’s fame factory. Back in my day, that would have amounted to little more than a couple cute cats wearing funny sunglasses.

+ And don’t think this trend is limited to a few thousand tweens that line up at these events. According to a recent survey in Variety: “U.S. teenagers are more enamored with YouTube stars than they are the biggest celebrities in film, TV and music.”

+ The trend seems to hold for the younger demographic as well. My son and his entire crew of fellow 8 year-olds are all about the new British Invasion; a high-pitched, fast-speaking young man with a British accent and a crazy laugh” who describes his adventures in Minecraft. Meet Mr. Stampy Cat.

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

Can you name your neighbors? More than half of Americans say they can’t. And we’re not alone. Between the Internet, the over-scheduling of kids, and parents who spend longer hours at work, suburban neighborhoods have undergone a dramatic shift in recent years; to the point that a third of Britons said “they couldn’t pick their near neighbors out of a police lineup.” McClean’s Brian Bethune on the end of neighbors.

+ And then there are those with no neighbors at all. Wired shares some shots of people living off the grid. (If I see an HD movie start to buffer, I panic.)

Shedding Some Light on the Darkness

“And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today.” Fox News anchor Shepard Smith has apologized for making those remarks. But they probably (and sadly) reflect a widely held opinion. The truth is that depression has nothing to do with bravery or courage. It is a monster that strips those traits away before it even gets warmed up. If anything, Robin Williams’ suicide is another reminder that all the talent and humor in the world is no match for the power and darkness of depression. The way I see it, if you can fight off depression for 63 years and make others laugh and feel good, you are one courageous dude.

+ The Guardian: “Dismissing the concerns of a genuine depression sufferer on the grounds that you’ve been miserable and got over it is like dismissing the issues faced by someone who’s had to have their arm amputated because you once had a paper cut.”

+ “In Paris on a chilly evening late in October of 1985 I first became fully aware that the struggle with the disorder in my mind — a struggle which had engaged me for many months — might have a fatal outcome.” From one of the best pieces of writing on the topic of depression. William Styron’s Darkness Visible.

+ On Comedians and depression: Comedy clubs are “hardly the sort of venues where one goes to hear banter suited to a therapy session. And yet, for the past three years, the Laugh Factory has provided both: Once they’re done with a set, comedians can see an in-house psychologist.”

+ We should be talking about this topic. More Americans die of suicide than in car accidents.

Awaiting Your Edits

The Ferguson story is big in part because it touches upon so many topics central to American discourse: Race, poverty, freedom of the press, law and order, the right of assembly, the militarization of police departments, leadership, justice, etc. But it’s also big because of what I call media momentum; the way social and mainstream media can feed off one another to make a story explode into our collective consciousness. Consider this stat: There were more than a million tweets about Ferguson before CNN gave the topic primetime coverage. From that point, the story dominated headlines. I like to think of myself as the Internet’s managing editor. But in truth, that title belongs to all of us. This story started small. People decided it was big. And the combined attention from the mainstream press and the Internet-enabled general public made it even bigger. From Pew, here’s a closer look at how the story grew and how we’ve become the new editors. Let’s just hope we’re the right people for the job.

+ What happens when a newsworthy story becomes a media spectacle? Here’s one journalist explaining why he left Ferguson.

+ And Matt Pearce, who has been covering the story for the LA Times and on Twitter takes us inside what has become a strange headquarters for news dissemination: “Amid the clouds of tear gas and hurtling bottle rockets that have turned this stretch of strip malls into a scene of mayhem through much of the past week, the one image rising above the turbulence has been the golden arches of the McDonald’s.”

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Ten billion. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. Providing nourishment to that many people could be a requirement by the end of the century. As The New Yorker’s Michael Specter explains, “sustaining that many people will require farmers to grow more food in the next seventy-five years than has been produced in all of human history … [and] nearly every arable patch of ground has been cultivated, and irrigation for agriculture already consumes seventy per cent of the Earth’s freshwater.” Those factors could turn the ongoing battle over genetically modified foods into an existential debate. Specter digs deep into the issue with a look at an activist’s controversial crusade against genetically modified crops: Seeds of Doubt.

+ Modern Farmer: Scientists try to build a tomato that grows 24 hours a day.

+ And for some lighter fare, McSweeney’s brings you the story of Hirl: “We provide meals that are completely unaffordable and unappealing to people who actually live in this neighborhood.”

Let’s Just Wing It

My kids are much more amazed by snail mail than email. When I was kid, my friend Mordy used to live next to an old Pony Express stop, and we’d talk about the time and effort that must have gone in to delivering a package by horseback. There’s always been something magical about the process of getting an item from point A to point B. And it keeps getting faster; from next month, to next week, to next day. And now we want to get transit time even closer to now. The notion of receiving a package via a small aircraft seems almost ludicrous. But many big companies are totally serious about dropping a delivery at your doorstep via small, autonomous flying machines. (Now we just need a team of robots to get it from the front door to the couch.) The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal takes you inside google’s secret drone-delivery program.

+ WaPo shares some of the philosophy of Google’s Project Wing: “Think of the mom stuck at home with two sick kids, the hiker who’s met a poisonous snake, or the farmer out in the field with a sick animal. It could also open up new models for sharing goods rather than owning them — who needs a power drill for more than eight minutes a year?” For my sake, I hope these drones are strong enough to carry a power drill and someone who knows how to use a power drill.


Good News and Bad News

You want the good news or the bad news? Don’t bother answering. I already know, deep down, you want the bad news. It’s how you’re wired. In Aeon, Jacob Burak explains: “Hundreds of scientific studies from around the world confirm our negativity bias: while a good day has no lasting effect on the following day, a bad day carries over. We process negative data faster and more thoroughly than positive data, and they affect us longer. Socially, we invest more in avoiding a bad reputation than in building a good one. Emotionally, we go to greater lengths to avoid a bad mood than to experience a good one.” Is this negativity bias useful or something to overcome? I’m guessing it’s here to stay. After all, we all know we die in the end. (Sorry, I should have prefaced that with spoiler alert.)

Video or It Didn’t Happen

A few months ago, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught by casino security cameras as he dragged his then fiancee, unconscious, from an elevator. He was suspended for two games. Today, the other part of the video was leaked to TMZ. This time we have visual evidence of what we essentially knew happened behind those elevators doors. For Rice, what we see determined what he got. The Ravens immediately fired Rice. What a difference a video can make.

+ Current and former NFL players wanted Rice banned the moment the video was released.

+ This incident is about domestic violence and one of America’s most prominent brands. But it’s also about the power of video to focus our attention on a story and to drive that story’s outcome. The importance of video as a medium has only been enhanced by the Internet, and it will play an even greater role in what we cover, what we discuss, and what outrages us as an increasing portion of our lives is lived on camera. From Vox: The people who have the footage have the power.

Word, Up

Wearable devices. Futuristic watches. Snippets of content streaming from every corner of the Internet. It’s got to be hard for Millennials to decide where to place their scattered attention as they’re deluged by a never-ending data tsunami. So it might surprise you that the floating buoy many young people reach for is the familiar, quiet solitude of longform, episodic, non-disappearing written material bound together into a single textual volume. Yes, books are still big. And according to the latest numbers, Millennials read more of them than the over-30 crowd. The more advanced technology becomes, the more we seek out long, quality content. Who would have predicted that?

+ That stat not surprising enough for you? Well try this one: “The number of independent bookstores in the US rose by more than 20% between 2009 and 2014.”

The Worst Case Scenario

When you’re faced with a challenging and stressful situation, some social scientists believe there’s a better strategy than thinking positively. Defensive Pessimism challenges you to imagine worst-case scenarios in order to manage your anxiety. The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan describes the upside of pessimism: “When people are being defensively pessimistic, they set low expectations, but then they take the next step which is to think through in concrete and vivid ways what exactly might go wrong. What we’ve seen in the research is if they do this in a specific, vivid way, it helps them plan to avoid the disaster. They end up performing better than if they didn’t use the strategy. It helps them direct their anxiety toward productive activity.” (I actually doubt my ability to be appropriately pessimistic. That helps me sink to the occasion.)

Not Going Anywhere for A While?

What exactly makes us live longer? That’s hard to say. “Except with regard to infectious diseases, medical cause and effect is notoriously hard to pin down. Coffee, salt, butter: good, bad, or neither?” What we do know is that our lives are extending. And if some mice being worked on at the Buck Institute and other aging research centers are any indicator, humans are about to live a lot longer. “The number of Americans 65 or older could reach 108 million in 2050. That’s like adding three more Floridas, inhabited entirely by seniors.” In The Atlantic, Gregg Easterbrook provides some very interesting answers to the question: What Happens When We All Live to 100?

+ Ezekiel J. Emanuel: Why I Hope to Die at 75. (If only he knew what we plan to give him for his 76th birthday.)

Running Down a Dream

You see the men in dark suits and sunglasses listening to secret messages through their their earpieces, and you wonder at the near-magical tools being deployed to protect the Commander in Chief. It’s like a forcefield; a layer of security that is beyond your understanding, so advanced that no modern tactic could pierce through its multiple layers of techno-complexity. The most talented people in the most powerful nation are protecting the country’s most valuable person. But then some guy with a knife jumps a fence and runs across the lawn and makes it deep into the White House before being tackled, and your science fiction movie sense of security morphs into something that looks more like a scene from Home Alone. From WaPo: The White House fence-jumper made it far deeper into building than previously known.

+ Vox: How a man was able to run through the front door of the White House with a knife.

+ ABC: 6 Secret Service safeguards breached by White House intruder.

+ And the intruder “could have gotten even farther had it not been for an off-duty Secret Service agent who was coincidentally in the house and leaving for the night.” (Let’s make sure that guy gets paid time-and-a-half…)


The Culture War

At the risk of infringing on anyone’s trademark, let me ask you a question: How? Before you answer, you should know that this single word can suck you into a legally-charged vortex where you’ll find a story that encompasses the three building blocks of modern society: Frivolous lawsuits, the cult-like adoration of overrated business management philosophies, and Greek yogurt. On one side of this era-defining lawsuit, you’ve got management guru Dov Seidman, author of How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything. On the other side you’ve got Chobani, the makers of the wildly popular Greek yogurt and proud owners of a new tagline: How Matters. As the NYT’s Jonathan Mahler explains, “there have been trademark lawsuits over plenty of common words — ‘pure’ or ‘bliss,’ for instance — but perhaps never one as generic as how.” HTF is the new WTF.

You Think You Know

Hate speech. Bomb threats. Rape threats. Death threats. Those are just a few of the reactions the Internet has had to Anita Sarkeesian’s video series, Feminist Frequency, in which she comments on the portrayal of women in videogames and the media. Her evenhanded views have been met by a barrage of attacks that have sadly turned her into something of an expert when it comes to Internet hate and rage. I’m a pretty public person on the Internet. I’ve had a fair share of unseemly commentary spewed in my direction. I thought I knew about the Internet’s underbelly. But I had no idea. Anita Sarkeesian shared her experiences in a very interesting and enlightening talk at the recent XOXO Conference in Portland. It’s well worth your time to listen to her story and better understand the tactics used to attempt to discredit her — and many other women — online.

+ “It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change. That’s why these Web sites are responsible. Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it. It’s so beyond me. I just can’t imagine being that detached from humanity.” Jennifer Lawrence talks to Vanity Fair about the celebrity photo hacking ordeal.

+ He scoured her cellphone to find images that he could use to create a fake Facebook page where he communicated with suspected criminals. And he was a federal agent. And the Justice Department thinks it was OK. Our laws are way behind our technology.

World’s Most Expensive Couch

Grow up wealthy. Don’t focus on your education. Don’t work hard. Those are not exactly the characteristics you’ll find listed in the Horatio Alger guidebook on making it in America. But according to the hard numbers, poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.

+ And WaPo’s Chico Harlan explains how people who are broke can end up paying three times more for a couch.

The Horror, The Horror

When confronted by the lowest forms of Internet communication, even the most grizzled and cynical Internet veterans are regularly surprised on the downside. And most of us only see an infinitesimal fraction of the bile spewed during a never-ending horror show. Imagine being one of the thousands of moderators tasked with finding, viewing, and blocking the content that would otherwise render social networks uninhabitable. According to one of them, “Everybody hits the wall, generally between three and five months. You just think, ‘Holy shit, what am I spending my day doing? This is awful.'” From Wired’s Adrian Chen: The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed.

+ Charity workers posed as a virtual ten year-old girl named Sweetie to lure potential online predators. “More than 20,000 users from 71 countries approached Sweetie with requests for obscene performances.”

+ Buzzfeed: What kind of creep sells a celebrity’s naked photos on the internet?

+ The NYT’s Nick Bilton: Of Facebook’s 7,185 employees, Arturo Bejar may have the most difficult job … teaching the site’s 1.3 billion users … how to be nice and respectful to one another.”

Say Anything?

Berkeley is no stranger to protests. But it might surprise you to learn that the latest protest to emerge from the birthplace of the free speech movement is aimed at getting someone not to speak. Following his recent controversial statements about Muslims, more than 1,400 students have signed a petition urging the university to drop Bill Maher from the school’s mid-year commencement proceedings. I doubt I’d pick Maher as my graduation speaker (and let’s be honest, I’m not sure giving a mid-year commencement address is exactly a great gig for him), but I worry about the broader trend — at universities, and on the Internet — of forcing those with an opposing or even offensive opinion to keep it to themselves. The Internet promised an era of say anything; but instead we seem to be in the age of STFU.


How many teen pregnancies are there in your country? Nope, wrong. What percentage of people are immigrants? Sorry, that’s incorrect. How many Muslims live where you live? Whoa, way off. Let’s spell it out Jeopardy-style. Hint: This person is wrong. Answer: Who is you? A recent study of public perception in 14 countries came to this basic conclusion: Everything you think you know about the news is probably wrong.

+ The Guardian: Mistaken perceptions can shape political opinion.


There Will Be Blood

Family run businesses have their own unique set of challenges (hashtag Fredo). But some of the biggest businesses in the world are still run by members of what Warren Buffett likes to call, The Lucky Sperm Club. “Management experts expected the hereditary principle to fade fast, because of the greater ability of professionally-run public firms to raise capital and attract top talent,” but family firms have held their ground. (Time will tell which of my children can come up with decent puns in the face of 118 open browser tabs.) Matthew Bishop in The Economist: Business in the blood.

+ “To lead the beer giant, he tapped his sons, who, unlike their decorous father, were known largely for their fast-talking, party-boy gloss: Daren, 31, who bought an $18 million mansion from Hugh Hefner, and Evan, 33, who a decade ago told a New York Times reporter, ‘I’ve been with more chicks than any fat guy you know, except Pavarotti.'” From WaPo, meet the Twinkie-saving, beer-selling billionaire who has changed the way you eat (with a little help from his sons).

+ “Bun Tek Ngoy touched down at Camp Pendleton on a military plane in May of 1975 with his wife and three young children. He had no home and no money, and his country had been overrun by a gang of pitiless thugs.” That, it turns out, was the opening chapter in the story of the California doughnut king. The final chapter will feature a battle against America’s biggest doughnut chain. They say sugar is toxic, gluten is terrible, and fried foods will kill you. But there’s still gold in them thar doughnuts. From Greg Nichols in California Magazine: Dunkin’ and the Doughnut King.

Do Not Pick Up

The Internet is weird. And the weirdness is usually pretty fun. Like when we all tried to figure out the mystery behind the wildly photogenic Alex from Target. Sometimes the weirdness is not fun. “For every randomly beloved Alex, there is someone who wakes up one day, without warning, on the pitchfork end of an internet mob.” Warhol promised us all fifteen minutes of fame. And that might be about as much as we can take. Maureen O’Connor in NY Mag: Alex from Target and the Mess of Uncontrollable Fame.

+ Sometimes the motives of the mob are clear. Sometimes, they’re not. So Brock Wilbur is left with a question: Who The Hell Keeps Calling Me?

+ Even people who spend their careers building web businesses and deep-thinking about technology often find it impossible to understand what makes something or someone go viral. From Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick: Meet the network of guys making thousands of dollars tweeting as ‘common white girls.’

Something Strange in the Neighborhood

There’s an order to things when a neighborhood gentrifies. A scrappy company moves into some cheap office space. A dive bar gets hip. Exposed brick becomes a feature, not a bug. Facades improve. Rents go up. Graffiti becomes street art. People get dogs they can carry. Milk is replaced by soy which is replaced by almond. Parking gets tough. Facial hair turns ironic. Long-johns evolve into yoga pants. GMO-free wet cat food becomes a thing. A new Whole Foods breaks ground. The family next door gets chickens. And someone in a Tesla who’s drinking artisanal kombucha gives you a dirty look for inadequate composting. But what if things went out of order? What if the Whole Foods opened first? We’re about to find out because Whole Foods is moving into one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. From WaPo’s Emily Badger: “This store, though, is no act of philanthropy. Nor is it a bet, by Whole Foods, on neighborhood change. The arrival of its gleaming stores in a neighborhood often signals the influx of wealthier residents. But that is not likely to happen in Englewood, at least not any time soon. Whole Foods is planning to sell olive oil and snap peas to the people who live here now.”

Just Walk Away

In an era where everyone is striving for likes, retweets, and a few seconds of viral fame, it’s rare to find a person who achieves it and then walks away. That alone makes Dave Chappelle contrarian enough to be interesting. But what really sticks out in his interview in GQ is his take on Donald Sterling, the former LA Clippers owner: “Ultimately, I don’t think he should have lost his team. I don’t like the idea that someone could record a secret conversation and that a person could lose their assets from that, even though I think what he said was awful. When you think about the intimacy of a situation, like, can a man just chill with his mistress in peace? I just don’t like when things like that happen, because if they take shit away for things that people say that are objectionable, I may not have anything in a few years.” This gets at a really important part of the Donald Sterling saga. A guy (yes, a bad guy) had his team taken away because of comments made in a private (and rather desperate) conversation, but the Internet has turned us into such pitchfork-wielding transparency-zealots that we barely noticed that part of the story. And that’s exactly why we need comedians; to remind us of these things once in a while.

Justice Just Ain’t

There are two types of people. Those who can be surprised about a jury decision. And those who have served on the jury. But in the case of the Ferguson non-indictment, the grand jury decision was actually more predictable than most. Yes, it’s true that “U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.” But it’s also true that there’s an exception: Cases involving police shootings.

+ And while this story has, for various reasons, grabbed our attention, it is anything but rare. “Since 2004, St. Louis County police officers have killed people in at least 14 cases. Few faced grand juries, and none was charged.”

+ Slate: Why Darren Wilson was never going to be indicted for killing Michael Brown.

+ Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker: “What transpired in Ferguson last night was entirely predictable, widely anticipated, and, yet, seemingly inevitable.” Chronicle of a Riot Foretold.

+ This is not a local problem. From The Salt Lake Tribune: Killings by Utah police outpacing gang, drug, child-abuse homicides.

+ And, for a counter opinion, here’s Doug Wylie, the editor of a site called PoliceOne, explaining why Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted. My take is that we shouldn’t just get bogged down in the details of this particular case. The big theme is that too many black kids get killed and no one gets punished.


One Ring That Binds Them

If you are a regular follower of the media, you will likely be quite surprised at what you see lounging at the other end of the couch: Your spouse. A common journalistic refrain suggests that the divorce rate is above 50% and on the rise. But those numbers are dated. If you’re a college educated person who got married in the 2000s, it’s highly likely that you and the person you married are still coupled (consciously or otherwise). From Claire Cain Miller in the NYT: “Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.”

+ Maybe breaking up is just too complicated in the social media era. From NY Mag: Winning the breakup in the age of Instagram.

Eyes on the Guise

Cameras are everywhere. That invades our space. But it also makes it a lot harder to get away with anything. Unless it doesn’t. For many people, the lesson of the non-indictment in the Eric Garner chokehold case is that cameras don’t make a difference. Seeing is not believing. From WaPo: With Eric Garner, Obama’s body camera argument just took a big hit.

+ The New Republic: Police cameras won’t cure our national disease.

+ In NY Mag, Jesse Singal argues that, yes, body cameras are probably worth it. It’s about knowing you’re on camera. In Rialto, CA, “after cameras were introduced in February 2012, public complaints against officers plunged 88% compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60%.”

+ The Marshall Project: What you need to know about body cameras.

Your Cat is Screwed

There’s a good reason your cat looks so depressed. The days of her antics dominating YouTube are long gone. As the New Yorker’s Tad Friend explains, in addition to cats “YouTube was adults with camcorders shooting kids being adorably themselves. It was amateur hour.” Since then, YouTube has gone pro. Jeffrey Katzenberg predicts that “within five years, YouTube will be the biggest media platform of any, by far, in the entire world.” It’s where your kids are. It’s where the new stars are. And it’s where your cat isn’t. Welcome to the new Hollywood and Vine.

+ As other video services angle to get a piece of the action, Google looks to lock up its stars with big bonuses.

+ The news, as well as its impact, is also changing dramatically. From NY Mag: Is livestreaming the future of media or the future of activism?

This is a Test

On 9/11, we knew immediately that our resolve would be tested. And so would our determination to maintain an allegiance to the rule of law and an evolved perspective on human rights. Did we pass those tests? Part of the answer to that question comes with the release of today’s much-anticipated Senate report on the CIA’s torture tactics. The report has some disturbing details about the tactics used (secret prison “dungeons,” widespread waterboarding, medically unnecessary rectal feeding and hydration intended to establish “total control over the detainee”), some serious questions about who was in charge (President Bush and Congress were apparently kept in the dark), and some hard truths about what we got in return for our trip down the river towards morality’s heart of darkness (apparently, not much). Here’s the NYT: Senate torture report condemns C.I.A. interrogation program. There will be a lot of political yelling over the next few days. Anyone who presents this as a simple issue should be dismissed as a fool or a liar. Was the torture horrible? Yes, it was. In the weeks and months following the attacks, would most of us have agreed to do anything to prevent another 9/11? Yes. Those are the ethical complexities presented by war. And the answers are much more obvious now than they were then. Today, the details of our actions have been pulled out of the the dungeons and into the light of day, and so we face another test. Can we have a reasoned debate?

+ Here’s the whole 528-page report.

+ The Daily Beast: The most gruesome moments in the CIA torture report.

+ Teachers don’t make much money. Unless they are teaching torture techniques. NBC News: CIA paid torture teachers more than $80 million.

+ The torture report by the numbers (The most disturbing one is 26. That’s how many detainees were being “wrongfully” held by the CIA).

Lift Us Up Where We Belong

When individual cases of Ebola hit large American cities, entire metropolitan areas were riveted with concern. In the places where Ebola hit hard, there was a state of completely reasonable terror. But still, some folks rushed in. And in doing so, they saved countless lives. We always marvel at those first responders who have the guts to run into a burning building when everyone else is running out. And this was a fire like no other. During a moment when we’re hung up on a handful of police officers, CIA agents, and other public servants who many feel let us down, it makes sense to celebrate the doctors, nurses, scientists, and researchers who lifted us up. Time’s Person of the Year: The Ebola Fighters.

In Bed with Kim Jung-un

If you publish information uncovered and leaked by way of the massive Sony hack, then are you in cahoots with the (possibly North Korean) hackers? If you view and share personal photos stolen from a celebrity’s phone, are you positioning yourself on the same moral patch of turf occupied by those who stole the images? Those answers might seem obvious to some and complex to others. And to some, the answers might not matter. Someone will publish leaked information. And others will consume and share it. Here’s Anne Helen Peterson in Buzzfeed: “When it comes to future handling of such information, the gray area in which they reside — between public and private, between prurient and illuminating — might not be the exception, but the new normal. The stance that journalists and academics take on these documents has the potential to guide our nation’s understanding of how we treat the compromise of the 21st century’s most valuable commodity, for both individuals and corporations: privacy.”

+ As far as I can tell, the conclusion being drawn by most editors is reflected in this headline from Variety: Why publishing stolen Sony data is problematic but necessary. That headline also provides an explanation as to why stealing private data will continue to be a growth market.

Stop the Presses!

Stop the presses. While you’re at it, stop the blog posts, the tweets, the status updates, and everything else. Following the hack heard ’round the world, Sony Pictures Entertainment has been warning news outlets to refrain from publishing the fruits of the hackers’ theft: “If you do not comply with this request, and the stolen information is used or disseminated by you in any manner, Sony Pictures Entertainment will have no choice but to hold you responsible for any damage or loss arising from such use or dissemination by you.” (In layman’s terms that means, “Pretty please…”)

+ Meanwhile, Aaron Sorkin wrote an op-ed arguing that the media shouldn’t be helping the hackers: “If you close your eyes you can imagine the hackers sitting in a room, combing through the documents to find the ones that will draw the most blood. And in a room next door are American journalists doing the same thing.” If you close your eyes, you can also imagine a world before hacks, leaks, recorded conversations, and captured videos swept through the global villlage at Internet speed. But those days are gone. Many of 2014’s most explosive stories started as leaks — we saw (a Staten Island chokehold), heard (an NBA owner’s racist rant), and read (the NSA’s methods and mandates) material that no one expected to be shared. When it comes to personal ethics, I actually agree with a lot of what Sorkin has to say. But the issue is moot. The future will not be embargoed.

Software and Hard Knocks

Mobile devices and software advances have helped to create a burgeoning on-demand economy that — in some places — makes it possible to live your life without leaving your house (and if you do decide to leave, it’s easy to order a car). But that’s only part of the story. In Quartz, Leo Mirani explains how he experienced the on-demand economy long before tech revolution: “These luxuries are not new. I took advantage of them long before Uber became a verb, before the world saw the first iPhone in 2007, even before the first submarine fibre-optic cable landed on our shores in 1997. In my hometown of Mumbai, we have had many of these conveniences for at least as long as we have had landlines — and some even earlier than that. It did not take technology to spur the on-demand economy. It took masses of poor people.”

+ “Economists long argued that, just as buggy-makers gave way to car factories, technology would create as many jobs as it destroyed. Now many are not so sure.” From the NYT: As robots grow smarter, American workers struggle to keep up.

Guess Who’s Coming Home For Christmas

While the stress, anxiety, and passive-aggressive exchanges associated with getting together with the family remain constant, the make-up of those families has changed dramatically over the past few decades. In 1960, 73% of American kids under the age of 18 were living at home with two heterosexual parents in their first marriage. Today, less than half of all kids live in such a household. Pew on the shifts in the structure of the American family.

+ The rise of single motherhood in America over the last 50 years.

+ WaPo: Americans aren’t getting married, and researchers think porn is part of the problem. (I’d put more blame on the Real Housewives franchise.)

I Won’t Post This

The history of the Internet has been marked by our sharing, oversharing, and sharing some more. But in 2014, we were reminded of the many risks associated with that behavior. We were also reminded that we might not be able to turn off the hose. We’re sharing even when we don’t know we’re sharing. Are the perils associated with tweeting, updating, posting, emailing, and picking up the phone more dramatic than we imagined? Here’s a new post from me. I Will Not Post This: The Coming Age of Self Censorship.

+ Sony is threatening to sue Twitter unless it removes tweets containing hacked emails. But once it’s out, it’s out.

+ The “abundance of people proffering rumors, and of journalists ready to publish them, has helped North Korea become the beating heart of a burgeoning rumor economy … This year was perhaps the best ever for the North Korean rumor economy, which is to say, the worst.” A Digg Original from Craig Silverman: Did You Hear The One About North Korea?

+ And in an interesting twist, Sony has announced that The Interview will indeed be screened at select venues on Christmas Day. The Interview will be in theaters. The Dow broke 18,000. My nearest Chinese restaurant is open on Christmas. You can’t keep America down.

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