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Weekend Briefing No. 389
Welcome to the weekend. I met with a bunch of Weekend Briefing community members in the Bay Area this week. It was great to meet in person. I continue to be impressed the amazing work you’re doing.
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80—The average price paid by a consumer in June for a new car was $39,948, and the average price paid by a consumer that month for a one-year-old used car was $39,868, an $80 difference. Normally, that price gap is typically around $5,000 or more, but used cars are in a supply crunch.
10—The beauty industry produces 120 billion units of plastic packaging waste per year around the world. In the United States alone, 552 million plastic shampoo bottles are sold annually, and less than 10 percent of the plastic is recycled.
7—Teenage basketball sensation Zhang Ziyu is a 14-year-old girl from Shandong province who’s 7 feet, 5 inches tall. She’s being called the next Yao Ming.
A.I. and Faith
Amid increasing scrutiny of technology’s role in everything from policing to politics, “ethics” has become an industry safe word, but the problem is no one seems to agree on what those “ethics” are. Silicon Valley is rife with its own doctrines; there are the rationalists, the techno-utopians and the militant atheists. You can be openly polyamorous, and people here will call you brave. You can put microdoses of LSD in your cereal, and people will call you a pioneer. But the one thing you cannot be is a Christian. Many technologists regard traditional religions as sources of subjugation rather than enrichment, as atavisms rather than sources of meaning and morality. A new organization called A.I. and Faith is looking to change that. They are working to use their religious traditions toward advancing social justice and combating the worst impulses of capitalism. They share an admirable humility about what they do not and cannot know about the world; it is a humility that the technology industry—and its political and legal offshoots—sorely lacks. If we are to make real progress on the question of ethics in technology, perhaps we must revisit the religions and spiritualities that make up our oldest kinds of knowledge. Whether we agree with them or not, they are our shared inheritance, part of the past, present and future of humankind. New York Times (19 minutes)
Climate and Wine
In Napa Valley, the lush heartland of America’s high-end wine industry, climate change is spelling calamity. Not outwardly: On the main road running through the small town of St. Helena, tourists still stream into wineries with exquisitely appointed tasting rooms. At the Goose & Gander, where the lamb chops are $63, the line for a table still tumbles out onto the sidewalk. But drive off the main road, and the vineyards that made this valley famous—where the mix of soil, temperature patterns and rainfall used to be just right—are now surrounded by burned-out landscapes, dwindling water supplies and increasingly nervous winemakers, bracing for things to get worse. Desperation has pushed some growers to spray sunscreen on grapes, to try to prevent roasting, while others are irrigating with treated wastewater from toilets and sinks because reservoirs are dry. Climate change is leaving much of wine country scorched, parched and now uninsurable. New York Times (8 minutes)
That’s how much contemporary art prices have outpaced S&P returns between 1995 and 2020, according to Citi Private Bank. The rest of the stats on the art world are pretty incredible. (1) The asset class had virtually no correlation to the stock market, meaning if stocks went down, art wouldn’t necessarily move in lockstep. (3) 86% of wealth managers recommend art and collectibles as part of a wealth management offering. (4) More than half of ultra-wealthy investors are estimated to allocate at least 10% of their portfolio into art. But unless you have $20 million lying around to buy a Picasso yourself, you’ve been locked out of this exclusive asset class. That’s why I love Masterworks. They allow anyone to add contemporary art to their portfolio with top-tier artists like Basquiat and Banksy. I've teamed up with Masterworks to let Weekend Briefing subscribers get priority access and join their 185,000 users with my exclusive link. (Important disclosures apply) (Sponsored)
Americans are slowly coming out of the pandemic, but as they reemerge, there’s still a lot of trauma to process. It’s not just our families, our communities and our jobs that have changed; our brains have changed too. We’re not the same people we were 18 months ago. During the winter of 2020, more than 40% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, double the rate of the previous year. That number dropped to 30% in June 2021 as vaccinations rose and COVID-19 cases fell, but that still leaves nearly one in three Americans struggling with their mental health. In addition to diagnosable symptoms, plenty of people reported experiencing pandemic brain fog, including forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating and general fuzziness. Now the question is, can our brains change back? And how can we help them do that? Read the full story to find out, including a list of things you can do to help your brain bounce back. MIT Technology Review (12 minutes)
Fresh off their shareholder activist victory at Exxon, Engine No. 1 LLC has created a $100 M ETF (stock ticker VOTE), that plans to change impact investing. It allows passive investors to purchase the ETF, which holds the largest 500 companies in the U.S., weighted by market cap. Then the team at Engine No. 1 will look for opportunities to create an impact with shareholder votes. This video interview with Yasmin Dahya Bilger, the head of ETFs at Engine No. 1 on Yahoo Finance, gives more details. Yahoo Finance (5 minutes)
Most of us are optimists, which might make us better company at the dinner table, but it means we are lousy at predicting the future. We underestimate the amount of time a project will require. If it’s a project that has a budget, we underestimate the expense as well. This is known as the planning fallacy. The most famous example of this failing is probably the Sydney Opera House, which was commissioned in 1957 with an expected completion date of 1963 and a budget of $7 million in Australian currency. The building wasn’t finished until 1973, and only after the most ambitious versions of the plan had been scaled back for a final cost of $102 million. The planning fallacy is the tendency to seize upon the most optimistic timetable for completing a project and ignoring inconvenient information that might make you revise that prediction. The problem with our predictions is that we treat each task like it’s a novel problem. We construct a story about how we will complete our work but ignore evidence from similar projects we or other people have done in the past. The solution? Look to your past performance when you are creating your schedule or budget. When it comes time for you to build your own Sydney Opera House, ignore what you wish were true. Use the past to build your schedule. Keep your eye on the calendar—and then watch the plan fall into place. TIME (5 minutes)
On the eve of his third album release, the Grammy-winning artist Leon Bridges talks with unparalleled candor to Casey Gerald about the toll of stardom—and how his best friends saved his life. I gotta say, I love Leon and I love Casey. They both do amazing work. I hope you enjoy this long-form article as much as I did. Texas Monthly (26 minutes)
New Found Land: The Long Haul by Neal Stephenson, Austin Grossman and Sean Stewart. Imagine two worlds at war. In one, citizens with jetpacks and ray guns have colonized Venus. In the other, magic reigns supreme, and history turns on swords and spells. Now imagine they have just discovered a third world. Our world. Our timeline of rideshare apps and strip malls is about to become the newest battlefield in the long war between science fiction and fantasy. In Florida, assassins are hunting down optical scientist Felicia Scurry. Her only chance of survival lies with long-haul trucker Bucephalus Troy, who has stumbled into a world he calls Bamalot, a swords and sorcery version of today where magic works and science never happened. In Seattle, YouTube blogger Charity Kong is on the trail of a jetpack-wearing secret agent who broke her heart. And in a sinister secret college deep under Oxford, a failed comic book artist just might have started a Three Worlds War. Legendary science fiction writer Neal Stephenson teams up with World Fantasy Award-winning author Sean Stewart (Galveston; Cathy’s Book) and Austin Grossman (Soon I Will Be Invincible) to present New Found Land: The Long Haul, a thrilling, hilarious and mind-bending audio drama in the tradition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Fast-paced, funny and deeply weird, The Long Haul is a warm-hearted, rollicking adventure about ordinary people rising to an extraordinary moment. Amazon
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Tinder for Cofounders. Y Combinator has launched a co-founder matching platform.
$1.7 trillion. Deloitte reports that the overall art market is expected to grow from its current $1.7 trillion by an additional $900 billion in just five years. Founded by serial tech entrepreneurs and top-100 art collectors, one little-known fintech startup has become the premiere platform for art investing.
Hospitality. In this podcast, celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer discusses the intersection between hospitality and humanity, and why we’re all invested in the hospitality business.
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It is the fate of operating systems to become free. –Neal Stephenson
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