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Weekend Briefing No. 476
A Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society.
Welcome to the weekend.
I’m a dad of two young kids, and recently I’ve been having a conversation with my friends about how to clearly articulate the purpose we’re aiming for as parents. I thought it would be interesting to get your perspective. If you’re a parent and want to share, click here. I may (anonymously) share good feedback next week. I’m looking forward to learning from you.
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43,000—An estimated 43K people died last year in Somalia amid the country's longest drought on record.
1,000—A team of scientists put over 1K Oreos to the test in an attempt to twist it in a manner where there’s still some of the cream filling left on both wafers. Because, ya know, science. The analysis found that the filling sticks to only one of the wafers about 80% of the time.
99—Researchers developed a water treatment approach that eliminates 99% of all PFAS molecules—commonly known as forever chemicals—in drinking supplies.
This is a simple post about 10 charts that each tell a powerful story. All 10 are worth checking out. But here are some of my favorites: 1) The happiest age is not what you think. You might intuitively think that happiness peaks as a kid or maybe in your 20s. You’d be wrong. Apparently, it peaks in your 80s. 2) The American dream is getting harder to achieve. In 1940, 90% of children out-earned their parents. That number is now below 50%. 3) Why have prices risen so much in health care and college? The short answer is a huge increase in administrators in both fields. Perspectives (8 minutes)
Which chart resonated with you the most? Why?
Former President George W. Bush’s legacy is mostly dominated by his invasion of Iraq 20 years ago this week. But what if there’s something Bush did that was even more consequential than the invasion of Iraq? And what if it was something astonishingly good? This may be awkward for liberals to acknowledge, but Bush deserves credit for the single best policy of any president in my lifetime. It’s called PEPFAR. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s part of the problem. New York Times opinion section made this video essay about an initiative that Bush created 20 years ago that saved 25 million lives. It turns out the most important humanitarian program of modern times wasn’t started by a progressive, but by a conservative evangelical whose policies many of us may disagree with or even deplore. New York Times (6 minutes)
All-In-One Property Management
So you’ve finally made the leap and purchased your first investment property. You’re ready to make some passive income. After all, buying the property is supposed to be the hard part. Right? But the dishwasher breaks, tenants leave and now we’re in the midst of the chaos known as tax season. Owning a single-family rental property can quickly turn into a full-time job. However, with the help of Mynd, it doesn’t have to be. Mynd’s full-service property management takes care of everything so investors don’t have to. The result? All of the benefits of owning rental properties with none of the day-to-day work. Join the 5,500+ investors who trust Mynd with their single-family rentals. Mynd (Sponsored)
Roots of Cancel Culture
Jonathan Haidt has a really interesting post about why the mental health of liberal girls sank the first and fastest. The whole article is worth a read, but this section on Tumblr and 4Chan is particularly fascinating. There was a culture that was encouraged on Tumblr, which was to be able to describe your unique non-normative self. That’s to some extent a feature of modern society anyway. But it was taken to such an extreme that people began to describe this as the “snowflake” (referring to the idea that each snowflake is unique), the person who constructs a totally kind of boutique identity for themselves; then guards that identity in a very, very sensitive way; and reacts in an enraged way when anyone does not respect the uniqueness of their identity. On the other side of the political spectrum, there was the most insensitive culture imaginable: 4chan. The communities involved in gender activism on Tumblr were mostly young progressive women while 4Chan was mostly used by right-leaning young men, so there was an increasingly gendered nature to the online conflict. The two communities supercharged each other with their mutual hatred, as often happens in a culture war. The young identity activists on Tumblr embraced their new notions of identity, fragility and trauma all the more tightly, increasingly saying that words are a form of violence. Meanwhile, the young men on 4Chan moved in the opposite direction; hey brandished a rough and rude masculinity in which status was gained by using words more insensitively than the next guy. It was out of this reciprocal dynamic that today’s Cancel Culture was born in the early 2010s. Then, in 2013, it escaped from Tumblr into the much larger Twitterverse. Once on Twitter, it went national and even global (at least within the English-speaking countries), producing the mess we all live with today. After Babel (22 minutes)
Technology is Good
Tech can certainly have a negative impact on society. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. The technology sector and startups have merit and value that may be getting lost in the criticism. The anger is understandable. In the past six years, we’ve seen the ways software—accidentally or otherwise—can make more problems than it solves. But there are a few reasons to continue to believe in technology. Startups screw up sometimes, but they also drive progress. It comes down to this: 1) A startup is a permissionless way to improve society. 2) Startups make things cheaper, which is a moral good. For instance, if you wanted to fix the issues that led to Silicon Valley Bank, you would need to band Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and SF Socialists together into some sort of loose coalition of policy reform. Or, you could just go build a better, cheaper bank that requires buy-in from only one party: customers. You are selling to willing buyers at the current fair market price, and that’s it. Do regulations and community co-ops matter? Of course. They serve a role that is crucial, important and irreplaceable in society. However, new science and technology companies capable of deploying that science to the market at scale are what can save us. The sectors receiving more funding lately (space, AI, robotics, climate tech, biotechnology) will make a material difference in the world. We should still experiment with how startups are funded and who deploys that capital. We should still experiment with how research labs are structured. In the meantime, we should build. What else can we do? Napkin Math (11 minutes)
Fire and Humans
How did fire make us human? It allowed us to cook our food. Cooked meats are easier to chew and digest; as a result, our bodies can extract more nutrients from the same amount of meat. Similarly, cooking vegetables increases levels of healthy stuff like antioxidants. That’s because the cooking process breaks down the plants’ cell walls and, like meat, makes them easier to digest and process. (Though, it is a tradeoff. Some veggies are healthier raw, and it depends on how you cook them.) Thus, the ability to create cooked foods shaped the brains and bodies of our ancestors. Since our ancestors spent less energy digesting foods and could draw out additional nutrients, they had more nutrients to spend, and evolution spent those dividends on maintaining larger brains—not to mention smaller teeth and jaws. Larger brains allowed us to process more information, create more dynamic social groups and adjust to unfamiliar habitats. All of which benefited us evolutionarily and ultimately made us homo sapiens. Big Think (7 minutes)
Bono and The Edge from U2 do an acoustic set at NPR’s “Tiny Desk.” Not much else to say. Enjoy! NPR (21 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.
Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. -George Bernard Shaw