Weekend Briefing No. 469
A Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society.
Welcome to the weekend.
My February playlist is mellow and mostly love songs by singer-songwriters. Enjoy!
Did your brilliant friend forward this to you?
2,000,000—Six states—Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming—have outlined a plan to the Interior Department that would reduce water usage by more than 2 million acre-feet.
50—“Schoolhouse Rock" debuted 50 years ago this month. Take a look back at the three-minute musical episodes that taught children about math, grammar, science and more.
8.8—During the pandemic, used car prices posted their largest annual increase on record—up 45% in the 12 months ending in June 2021, before swinging to a 12-month drop of 8.8% in the most recent reading for December. That was the biggest 12-month plunge in prices for used cars since June 2009.
The 2023 Edleman Trust Barometer was recently released. Some key takeaways are: 1) Economic optimism has collapsed. Forty percent of global respondents say they and their families will be better off in five years—a 10-point decline from 2022. 2) Ideology becomes identity. Few people say they would help, live near or work with someone who strongly disagrees with their point of view on an issue they feel strongly about. 3) Business is having an interesting moment. Business has increased its ethics score for the third straight year, rising 20 points since 2020. It is the only institution viewed as both competent and ethical. Yet, people say business should do more, not less, to address issues such as climate change, economic inequality and workforce reskilling. Edleman (12 minutes)
What about you? Do you trust business? Do you think companies should be creating more or less social / environmental impact?
In 2016, a mysterious, debilitating illness began to afflict American diplomats and spies working abroad—first in Cuba and then around the world. Victims report crippling neurological symptoms. Some describe the feeling of being hit by an invisible, directed pressure while they were stationed on government property, standing in their own homes or hotel rooms, and even on White House grounds. Is this bizarre illness the result of a weapon? Is it mass psychosis? Or something else entirely? Award-winning journalists Jon Lee Anderson and Adam Entous take listeners to the heart of this saga in this podcast series. I’ve been binging the series this week. It’s intriguing and a bit frightening. VICE (320 minutes)
How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ll believe it when I see it”? In a world in short supply of hope and an oversupply of problems, it’s too easy to default to cynicism. And too often what we see only reinforces the structural inequity that constrains so many. But then, someone comes along who shows us that actually the first step in change is not what you see, but what you believe can be. Ruth J. Simmons is that person. She grew up in abject poverty, surrounded by things that for too many only reinforce the hopelessness in the world and that—left to the status quo—was destined to constrain her life. In education, Ruth saw her ticket to freedom and for the first time believed that what she saw did not have to be. She learned quickly that education could be transformational—for everyone. Among her many achievements, she was the first African-American woman President at Smith College and at Brown University. She has been awarded more honorary degrees and awards than any other university president. Hear firsthand from this remarkable leader about her life, her lessons, her success and her mistakes along the way in a new series entitled Perspectives, where the DRK Foundation highlights incredible leaders making a real difference in the lives of others. DRK Foundation (Sponsored)
CRISPR and Pests
The glassy-winged sharpshooter is an invasive insect, which carries bacteria wreaking havoc on California’s grapes. Researchers are now looking to use cutting-edge technology to ensure that it can no longer spread the bacterium. Such a solution is possible thanks to CRISPR gene-editing technology, which has made modifying the genes of any organism increasingly simple. Now a growing number of researchers are applying it to agricultural pests, aiming to control a range of insects that together destroy about 40% of global crop production each year. If successful, these efforts could reduce reliance on insecticides and provide an alternative to genetic modifications to crops. The use of gene-edited organisms remains controversial, and edited agricultural pests haven’t been approved for widespread release in the US yet. A potentially lengthy and still-evolving regulatory process awaits. But scientists say CRISPR has ushered in a critical moment for the use of gene edits in insects that impact agriculture, with more discoveries on the horizon. MIT Technology Review (6 minutes)
Happy 40th Lisa
Forty years ago, the Apple Lisa was launched. There was fierce competition inside Apple between the Lisa team and the Macintosh team. Mac obviously won out. But Lisa had a profound impact on Apple’s products. Despite Lisa’s failure in the marketplace, it holds a place in the history of computing as the first graphical user interface (GUI)-based computer to be released by a personal computer company. Perhaps more importantly, without the Lisa and its incorporation of GUI, the Macintosh itself would not have been based on the GUI. Both computers shared key technologies, such as the mouse and the QuickDraw graphics library. The Lisa was a key steppingstone to the Macintosh, and an important milestone in the history of graphical user interfaces and personal computers more generally. IEEE Spectrum (8 minutes)
The Mountaineer Influencer
Over the past four years, Nepali-born Nims Purja, the former Nepalese special forces soldier, has electrified the climbing world and the wider culture beyond. He became mega-famous in 2019 by scaling all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in just six months and six days. After that inventive feat, his notoriety was multiplied by the releases of his book, Beyond Possible, and Netflix movie, 14 Peaks, both of which helped confer a level of power on Nims that climbers seldom achieve. Now he’s deciding how to wield that influence, both for himself and his Sherpa compatriots. He’s aimed at nothing less than remaking the Himalayan guiding industry in his image—and along the way is raising questions about what it means to be a mountaineer in the age of the influencer. GQ (42 minutes)
Friendship and Health
People with strong friendships tend to have better mental health, and studies suggest they’re in better physical health. Researchers have found large social networks lower our risk of premature death more than exercise or dieting alone. A six-year study of 736 middle-aged Swedish men found having a life partner didn’t affect the risk of heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease—but having friends did. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a lot of friends were 22% less likely to die during the study period than those with few friends. Notably, having a social network of children and relatives did not affect survival rates. We need an entire community to feel whole. Being around different people brings out different sides of our own identity. Washington Post (6 minutes)
Should We Work Together?
Hi! I’m Kyle. This newsletter is my passion project. When I’m not writing, I run a law firm that helps startups move fast without breaking things. Most founders want a trusted legal partner, but they hate surprise legal bills. At Westaway, we take care of your startup’s legal needs for a flat, monthly fee so you can control your costs and focus on scaling your business. If you’re interested, let’s jump on a call to see if you’re a good fit for the firm. Click here to schedule a one-on-one call with me.
I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. – Isaac Newton