Here is a sampling of the best content I consumed this past month. Enjoy scratching your brain’s curiosity itch! Also published on my website:

Jan 7 · 56 min read

  • Books
  • Audio books
  • Top 15 Articles/Essays
  • Podcasts
  • TED Talks
  • Videos
  • Lectures/Debates
  • Documentaries
  • “For the Road”
  • “Best of the Rest” Articles/Essay

Top 15 Articles/Essays

by Angus Hervey

“For the last 12 months, the global media has been focused on a lot of bad news. But there were other things happening out there too: conservation successes, huge wins for global health, more peace and tolerance, less war and violence, rising living standards, some big clean energy milestones, and a quiet turning of the tide in the fight against plastic. Stories of human progress, that didn’t make it into the evening broadcasts, or onto your social media feeds.

We have known for the past 20 years that the Universe is expanding at an ever accelerating rate. The explanation is the “dark energy” that permeates it throughout, pushing it to expand. Understanding the nature of this dark energy is one of the paramount enigmas of fundamental physics.

It has long been hoped that string theory will provide the answer. According to string theory, all matter consists of tiny, vibrating “stringlike” entities. The theory also requires there to be more spatial dimensions than the three that are already part of everyday knowledge. For 15 years, there have been models in string theory that have been thought to give rise to dark energy. However, these have come in for increasingly harsh criticism, and several researchers are now asserting that none of the models proposed to date are workable.

In their article, the scientists propose a new model with dark energy and our Universe riding on an expanding bubble in an extra dimension. The whole Universe is accommodated on the edge of this expanding bubble. All existing matter in the Universe corresponds to the ends of strings that extend out into the extra dimension. The researchers also show that expanding bubbles of this kind can come into existence within the framework of string theory. It is conceivable that there are more bubbles than ours, corresponding to other universes.

Artificial synapses

Anti-aging medicines

Electric planes with no moving parts

DNA computing for programmable pills

Group brain-to-brain communication

Seeing through walls using Wi-Fi

Secure quantum communications via satellite

Phones that shoot a million frames per second

Edible electronics

Electricity-generating boots

“We have about 12 years left. That’s the clear message from a monumental study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To avoid some of the most devastating impacts of climate change, the world must slash carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, and completely decarbonize by 2050 (while, in the meantime, emissions are still rising).

The IPCC looked at the difference between the world “only” warming two degrees Celsius (3.8°F) — the agreed upon goal at global climate summits in Copenhagen and Paris — or holding warming to just 1.5 degrees. Even the latter, they say, will require a monumental effort “unprecedented in terms of scale.” We face serious problems either way, but every half degree matters a great deal in human, planetary, and economic losses.

“Many focused their optimistic remarks on health care and the many possible applications of AI in diagnosing and treating patients or helping senior citizens live fuller and healthier lives. They were also enthusiastic about AI’s role in contributing to broad public-health programs built around massive amounts of data that may be captured in the coming years about everything from personal genomes to nutrition. Additionally, a number of these experts predicted that AI would abet long-anticipated changes in formal and informal education systems.

Yet, most experts, regardless of whether they are optimistic or not, expressed concerns about the long-term impact of these new tools on the essential elements of being human. All respondents in this non-scientific canvassing were asked to elaborate on why they felt AI would leave people better off or not. Many shared deep worries, and many also suggested pathways toward solutions. The main themes they sounded about threats and remedies are outlined in the accompanying table.

In order for decisions to be critically evaluated, their supporting values and assumptions must also be scrutinized. This is especially vital when it comes to political decision-making. Data or “data-based” policy is increasingly seen as a panacea when it comes to political decision-making. On this view, we now have an opportunity to replace the messiness of politics with the rational order of data. But the attention on data often only obscures the underlying values and assumptions — and the importance of exposing and subjecting them to critical scrutiny only grows. When values, preferences, and interests clash, politics is not only inevitable but essential. No algorithm can determine which decision is best; any such conclusion merely raises the question: By whose values is it the “best”?

According to technocratic fantasies, politics will be made irrelevant by mountains of incontrovertible data. Those who refuse to accept “what the data is telling us” must be either malevolent or stupid. The only apparently rational option for ordinary citizens is to assent to “the data” and the decisions of technocratic elites. Under such an ideology, it should come as no surprise if the citizenry becomes disengaged, suspicious of data-talk to the point that the very idea of data is discredited.

“In a different arrangement of society, I would be comfortable, or even excited, about tracking and storing data about my health at this (so the world tells me) critical biological juncture. If I could be confident that the sins of the mother would not and could not be visited upon the child, then perhaps. If my possible missteps today meant extra care and regard for future generations, then gladly. In a world where children were not tracked into future careers from toddlerhood, where disability was not seen as an individual failing and blamed on the poor choices of mothers, where social benefits flowed freely to those who needed them, and where the slightest deviance from bodily or social norms did not result in swift and harsh financial retribution from employers, criminal justice systems, and public agencies, then the questions I find myself asking in this essay would be entirely moot. I wish I lived in that world. But for now, this earthbound cyborg’s wrist remains conspicuously bare.

“Nevertheless, I think it is a highly instructive experience to try to see how many Big Five services you can cut from your life, even if it’s just for a few days. Not only will you learn a lot about how servers, personal computers, and mobile phones work, but you might find some open source replacements better than what you were using before.

The important thing is to realize that none of these services are necessary. We may have come to develop a deep reliance on them, but that’s not the same thing. Being an “Apple person” or a “Windows person” is a marketing gimmick, not a personality trait. Amazon is just a version of Walmart that collaborates with cops. Your community existed before Facebook. Google wasn’t always a verb. We have the ability to change these companies by the way we interact with them — but only if we want to.

Estonia sees its approach as a prototype for modern democracy — a counterpoint to authoritarian countries intent on using digitization to control their citizens. Ilves, who travels around the world talking about the project, tells other countries that increased efficiency builds trust — and improves governance.

“Estonians hate their politicians just as much as everyone else,” he said. “But at least since the administration of the state works extremely well and efficiently, people trust the system.””

Ultimately, as the left thinks about what nations ought and ought not be, it seems most sensible to consider them primarily as practical administrative devices for resource allocation. This is not a glamorous definition, of course: It is not the sort of thing it would be exciting to go to war for. But when we attempt to map political structures onto cultural identities, we get into very fishy territory. When a large nation attempts to create a distinctive “identity” for itself, this tends to mean the sublimation of many constituent cultures and identities. But, by the same token, there is a tyranny inherent in small, homogeneous, self-governing communities, where the only choice for individuals is to conform or get out. The great problem of nations is always what to do with the people who don’t belong. What’s to be done with people who have been rejected by their families, starved out of their cities, hounded to every corner of the nation where they were born? Where will they go? The fact is, they must go to other nations and other cities, and that will mean that the character of these places changes as they absorb new inhabitants. Similarly, new generations often fail to share the tastes and affinities of their forebears. Nationalist projects are often about trying to prevent these natural human developments, and trying to keep alive — or reconstruct — some vision of the past that a critical mass of living humans are no longer very attached to.

The sad reality is that, with the progression of time, many worthy feats of human ingenuity and many unique ways of life are lost. We often regret, after the fact, that we failed to appreciate and preserve the things we once had. And many people, who are scared to die, and who see the world they once knew changing before their eyes, are primarily animated by the desire to preserve the things that matter to them. This is understandable. But as humans, we must keep faith with the idea that each generation will have the ingenuity to produce things that seem good and beautiful to them, and that humans will choose to affiliate with other humans in ways that give their lives value and meaning. The mannerisms of newly-formed communities will, perhaps, look very different from what we are used to, and it may confuse us to see the way things change in our lifetime. But it’s worth remembering that most of the traditions and ways of life that seem pure and solid to us now are in fact the syncretic hybrids of many cultures, some of which have been entirely lost to time.

The separation of moral and aesthetic considerations seems key here. We need political structures for moral reasons, because otherwise, the resources of the world have no hope of being fairly distributed, and the environment we all depend upon would be destroyed. (Of course, we have yet to hit upon governmental structures that adequately ensure either of these things, but it’s a worthwhile goal to keep working towards.) But it’s not the business of political structures to tell individuals whom to associate with, and what to take pleasure in, and to the extent that a nation instead conceives its goal as keeping cultural forms static or homogeneous, it is not fulfilling any very useful purpose. The idea that people need a government to tell them what they ought to value is inherently patronizing. That said, a government can play a useful role in ensuring that no small, well-resourced minority (such as real estate developers, and other rich assholes) is able to impose its aesthetic preferences on others, and that no vulnerable minority is forced to give up its culture against its will. Our ideal future envisions communities of choice, not communities of birthright, where every human being has the goods they need for a decent and fulfilling life.

“As the once-unimaginable step of ending the war on drugs shimmers into view, it’s time to shift the conversation from why to how. To realize benefits from ending drug prohibition will take more than simply declaring that drugs are legal. The risks are tremendous. Deaths from heroin overdose in the United States rose 500 percent from 2001 to 2014, a staggering increase, and deaths from prescription drugs — which are already legal and regulated — shot up almost 300 percent, proving that where opioids are concerned, we seem to be inept not only when we prohibit but also when we regulate. A sharp increase in drug dependence or overdoses that followed the legalization of drugs would be a public-health disaster, and it could very well knock the world back into the same counterproductive prohibitionist mind-set from which we appear finally to be emerging. To minimize harm and maximize order, we’ll have to design better systems than we have now for licensing, standardizing, inspecting, distributing, and taxing dangerous drugs. A million choices will arise, and we probably won’t make any good decisions on the first try. Some things will get better; some things will get worse. But we do have experience on which to draw — from the end of Prohibition, in the 1930s, and from our recent history. Ending drug prohibition is a matter of imagination and management, two things on which Americans justifiably pride themselves. We can do this.

“The rules of the game are now clear.

Research like MacLean’s provides hope that toxic ideas like Buchanan’s may finally begin to face public scrutiny. Yet at this very moment, the Kochs’ State Policy Network and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that connects corporate agents to conservative lawmakers to produce legislation, are involved in projects that the Trump-obsessed media hardly notices, like pumping money into state judicial races. Their aim is to stack the legal deck against Americans in ways that MacLean argues may have even bigger effects than Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling which unleashed unlimited corporate spending on American politics. The goal is to create a judiciary that will interpret the Constitution in favor of corporations and the wealthy in ways that Buchanan would have heartily approved.

“The United States is now at one of those historic forks in the road whose outcome will prove as fateful as those of the 1860s, the 1930s, and the 1960s,” writes MacLean. “To value liberty for the wealthy minority above all else and enshrine it in the nation’s governing rules, as Calhoun and Buchanan both called for and the Koch network is achieving, play by play, is to consent to an oligarchy in all but the outer husk of representative form.

Nobody can say we weren’t warned.

by Tim Wu

“We live in a time of both extreme politics and extreme economics. The political side is familiar, but the economic side may be less so. It is represented by new concentrations of personal wealth and unprecedented levels of industrial concentration, both in the United States and globally. That means that an increasing number of industries are dominated by oligopolies and monopolies, with repercussions felt in terms of higher prices, poor treatment of consumers, barriers for entrepreneurs, and suppressed wages for employees.

In the United States, the classic antidote to such excessive concentration has been the antitrust law, enacted during the first Gilded Age to fight the monopolization of the American economy by the trusts. Yet it is a law whose enforcement has weakened over the last 40 years, prompting many to ask if the law has failed in its prime directive. These are the questions asked in my new book, The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.

“Shanahan takes charge of the Pentagon — for how long we do not know — as an unfamiliar name for the vast majority of Americans, as well as for many in Washington. His main claim to fame in the deputy post was his ardent advocacy for Trump’s “space force” scheme. CNN noted in a headline reviewing the president’s decision that “Trump’s acting secretary of defense will step into the role with no foreign policy, military experience

As the president was announcing the Shanahan nomination, the White House was also announcing a budget blueprint with $13.5 billion in funding proposed for procuring new military aircraft, including $4 billion for Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jets.

The Washington Post noted that Shanahan’s time with Boeing “might highlight Trump’s propensity to lean on the revolving door of the defense industry and the U.S. military” in making appointments to Pentagon posts.

Well, yes, that it might.

Failures by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and school district cost children their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

A gunman with an AR-15 fired the bullets, but a series of blunders, bad policies, sketchy training and poor leadership helped him succeed. Information reported over 10 months by the South Florida Sun Sentinel reveals 58 minutes of chaos on campus marked by no one taking charge, deputies dawdling, false information spreading, communications paralyzed and children stranded with nowhere to hide.

To be sure, a number of teachers and police officers performed heroically. But an examination of the day’s events reveals that the Sheriff’s Office and school district were unprepared for the crisis.

Here’s a minute-by-minute look at those critical moments on Feb. 14, 2018.”

“Best of the Rest” Articles/Essays at the bottom of the post:

A.I., Amazon, America, Art, Blockchain, Books, California Wildfires, China, Climate Change, Corporations, Cryptocurrency, Economics, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Facebook, Food, Health, Healthcare, History, Humans are incredible, Humans are incredible pieces of shit, Immigration, the Internetz, Journalism, Julian Assange, Law Enforcement, Lobbying should be illegal, best of Medium, Military & Murder Affairs Department, Music, Philosophy, Politics, Prisons, Psychology, Racism, Science, Sociology, Space, Sports, Tech Dystopia, Tech Utopia, Wisconsin is in the trenches of Democracy right now, Women are awesome, Work, World


Videos —

2018 in Review

Not 2018 in review

“Best of the Rest” Articles/Essay —





by Andrew Leonard



Climate Change




by Jared M. Spool




by Fast Company




by Jeff Jarvis








Humans are incredible

Humans are incredible pieces of shit

the Internetz



Law Enforcement

Lobbying is legalized bribery


best of Medium

by Scott Galloway

by Joe Toscano⚡️

by Futures Team

by Niklas Göke

by Jesse Weaver

by Douglas Rushkoff

by Caitlin Johnstone


Mueller Probe












Surveillance State

Tech Dystopia

Tech Utopia

USA Imperialism Foreign Policy





Eclectic Spacewalk

Your guide to thinking about the future with wisdom from the past, so you can navigate the present.


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We live in the greatest time Humanity has ever experienced. Let’s start acting like it!

Eclectic Spacewalk

Your guide to thinking about the future with wisdom from the past, so you can navigate the present.

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