Weekend Briefing No. 315
Welcome to the weekend.
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578 – The oldest company in the world was founded in 578 AD. It’s a construction firm called Kongo Gumi that has specialized in building temples for 14 centuries. This map is fun look at the world’s oldest companies.
40 – Man-made fossil fuel emissions may be 25 percent to 40 percent higher than originally anticipated, meaning that reducing fossil fuel use may have a greater impact on mitigating the effects of warming than previously imagined.
Bezos on Climate
Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man unveiled a fund to help climate scientists and activists, an escalation of his philanthropic efforts. “Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” Bezos wrote. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share.” In September, Mr. Bezos unveiled the Climate Pledge, in which he said Amazon would meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years ahead of schedule and would be carbon-neutral by 2040. As part of the pledge, he said Amazon was ordering 100,000 electric delivery trucks from Rivian, a Michigan-based company that Amazon has invested in. New York Times (6 minutes)
Facebook & Regulation
Online content should be regulated with a system somewhere between the existing rules used for the telecoms and media industries, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told global leaders and security chiefs on Saturday. “Right now there are two frameworks that I think people have for existing industries - there’s like newspapers and existing media, and then there’s the telco-type model, which is ‘the data just flows through you’, but you’re not going to hold a telco responsible if someone says something harmful on a phone line. I actually think where we should be is somewhere in between,” he said. Reuters (6 minutes)
This week Alphabet announced that it is calling it quits on its efforts to build and monetize its Makani wind energy kites. Makani, which was founded in 2006, came into Google/Alphabet seven years ago as a Google X project. Last year, the company spun it out of X and made it a standalone Alphabet unit. Now, Makani’s time at Alphabet as an “Other Bet” is at an end. The company is still hoping to work with Shell, one of its earliest partners, to see how the technology can be used in another way, though. “After considering many factors, I believe that the road to commercial viability is a much longer and riskier road than we’d hoped and that it no longer makes sense for Makani to be an Alphabet company,” says Astro Teller, captain of Moonshots at X and xhairman of the Makani board, in a statement. “While it’s tempting to say that all climate-related ideas deserve investment, remaining clear-eyed and directing resources to the opportunities where we think we can have the greatest impact isn’t just good business; it’s essential when it comes to a problem as urgent as the climate crisis,” Teller added. My perspective is that if a company is going to try to take moonshots, they have to have accept that a lot of them – by very nature of being moonshots – are going to fail. I applaud Alphabet for making the attempt and for being honest that it’s not working. TechCrunch (6 minutes)
Employees at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter voted on Tuesday to unionize, the first well-known technology company to take the step toward being represented by organized labor. The pro-union vote is significant for the technology industry, where workers have become increasingly activist in recent years over issues as varied as sexual harassment and climate change. Behemoth companies such as Google and Amazon have struggled to get a handle on their employees, who have staged walkouts and demanded that their companies not work with government entities and others. New York Times (7 minutes)
Today direct-to-consumer retailer Brandless becomes the first SoftBank Vision Fund-backed startup to close down, as it stops taking orders and halts all business operations. The company will be laying off 70 people, or nearly 90% of its staff, according to a company spokesperson. The last 10 employees will stay to finish the remaining customer orders and evaluate any acquisition offers. "I'm proud of what we created at Brandless and the hard work and dedication of everyone on the team," said Brandless' CEO (former CFO) Evan Price in an email to Protocol. "Brandless set a new standard in the wellness and sustainable products industry, and while we weren't able to compete competitively in today's DTC market, I'm confident the next great brands of tomorrow will be built from this experience." Maybe that next brand is my favorite Public Goods. Who knows? Protocol (6 minutes)
Conservatives on Campus
A new survey of 1,000 University of North Carolina students provides evidence that conservatives face a hostile campus. Among students who self-identify as liberals, some 10 percent said they hear “disrespectful, inappropriate, or offensive comments” about foreign students at least several times a semester, 14 percent said they hear disparaging comments about Muslims, 20 percent said they hear such comments about African Americans, 20 percent said they hear such comments about Christians, 21 percent said they hear such comments about LGBTQ individuals, and 57 percent said they hear such comments about conservatives. Among moderates, 68 percent said that they hear “disrespectful, inappropriate, or offensive comments” about conservatives at least several times a semester. Roughly 92 percent of conservatives said they would be friends with a liberal, and just 3 percent said that they would not have a liberal friend. Among liberals, however, almost a quarter said they would not have a conservative friend. The Atlantic (10 minutes)
According to Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, in two hundred years, I can pretty much assure you that there will not be any more Israelis, and no Homo sapiens—there will be something else. Some cyborg like merging of AI and human – transhuman. I tend to agree. Is this a good or bad thing. So, what do we do about it? Harari doesn’t believe he is the person to answer that question (even though policy makers and Silicon Valley CEOs constantly ask him). Instead he notes that Freedom depends to a large extent on how much you know yourself, and you need to know yourself better than, say, the government or the corporations that try to manipulate you. In this context, to think clearly—to snorkel in the pool, back and forth—is a form of social action. This longform profile is an interesting peak into Yuval’s life. New Yorker (66 minutes)
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Jonathan Franzen's third novel, The Corrections, is a great work of art and a grandly entertaining overture to our new century: a bold, comic, tragic, deeply moving family drama that stretches from the Midwest at mid-century to Wall Street and Eastern Europe in the age of greed and globalism. Franzen brings an old-time America of freight trains and civic duty, of Cub Scouts and Christmas cookies and sexual inhibitions, into brilliant collision with the modern absurdities of brain science, home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental healthcare, and the anti-gravity New Economy. With The Corrections, Franzen emerges as one of our premier interpreters of American society and the American soul. Amazon
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Humans are extremely good in acquiring new power, but they are not very good in translating this power into greater happiness, which is why we are far more powerful than ever before but we don't seem to be much happier. -Yuval HarariDid your intelligent and savvy friend forward this to you? Subscribe here.