How the Benzene Tree Polluted the World – The Atlantic

Source: How the Benzene Tree Polluted the World – The Atlantic

The organic compounds that enabled industrialization are having unintended consequences for the planet’s life.

The deep now archives nearly a century of chemical innovation, and documents the rise and fall of chemical classes, which industry develops and retracts in waves without seeming to absorb the larger lesson.

Different Worlds | Slate Star Codex

Source: Different Worlds | Slate Star Codex

A pretty girl laughs a little too long at a man’s joke; is she trying to flirt with him, or just friendly? A boss calls her subordinate’s work “okay” – did she mean to compliment him, or imply it was mediocre? A friend breaks off two appointments in a row, each time saying that something has come up – did something come up, or is he getting tired of the friendship? These are the sorts of questions everyone navigates all the time, usually with enough success that when autistic people screw them up, the rest of society nods sagely and says they need to learn to understand how to read context.

But “context” means “priors”, and priors can differ from person to person. There’s a lot of room for variation here before we get to the point where somebody will be so off-base that they end up excluded from society. Just as there’s a spectrum from smart to dumb, or from introverted to extraverted, so there’s a spectrum in people’s tendencies to interpret ambiguous situations in a positive or negative way.

People self-select into bubbles along all sorts of axes. Some of these bubbles are obvious and easy to explain, like rich people mostly meeting other rich people at the country club. Others are more mysterious, … Even for two people living in the same country, city, and neighborhood, they can have a “society” made up of very different types of people.

The old question goes: are people basically good or basically evil? Different philosophers give different answers. But so do different random people I know who aren’t thinking philosophically at all.

I think both groups are right. Some people experience worlds of basically-good people who treat them nicely. Other people experience worlds of awful hypocritical backstabbers. This can be true even if they live in the same area as each other, work the same job as each other, et cetera.

And it’s not just a basic good-evil axis.

To return to a common theme: nothing makes sense except in light of inter-individual variation. Variation in people’s internal experience. Variation in people’s basic beliefs and assumptions. Variation in level of abstract thought. And to all of this I would add a variation in our experience of other people.

Notice this distinction, this way in which geographic neighbors can live in different worlds, and other people’s thoughts and behaviors get a little more comprehensible.

How the Elderly Lose Their Rights | The New Yorker

Source: How the Elderly Lose Their Rights | The New Yorker

Guardians can sell the assets and control the lives of senior citizens without their consent—and reap a profit from it.

The Clark County guardianship commissioner, a lawyer named Jon Norheim, has presided over nearly all the guardianship cases in the county since 2005. He works under the supervision of a judge, but his orders have the weight of a formal ruling. Norheim awarded a guardianship to Parks, on average, nearly once a week. She had up to a hundred wards at a time. … [Norheim] often dismissed the objections of relatives, telling them that his only concern was the best interest of the wards, which he seemed to view in a social vacuum. When siblings fought over who would be guardian, Norheim typically ordered a neutral professional to assume control, even when this isolated the wards from their families.

As Belshe spoke to more wards and their families, she began to realize that Lakeview Terrace was not the only place where wards were lodged, and that Parks was not the only guardian removing people from their homes for what appeared to be superficial reasons.

Capitalism in America has been on a suicide mission for forty years — Quartz

Source: Capitalism in America has been on a suicide mission for forty years — Quartz
RE: Peter Georgescu’s new book, Capitalists Arise! End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation

Young & Rubicam Chairman Emeritus Peter Georgescu on ending the era of shareholder primacy.

Georgescu is convinced he knows how to beat this cancer, and he’s pitching it to corporate leaders across the country. “The cure can be found in the post–World War II economic expansion. From 1945 until the 1970s, the US economy was booming and America’s middle class was the largest market in the world,” he says.

“In those days, American capitalism said, ‘We’ll take care of five stakeholders,’” he continues. “Then and now, the most important stakeholder is the customer. The second most important is the employee. If you don’t have happy employees, you’re not going to have happy customers. The third critical stakeholder is the company itself — it needs to be fed. Fourth come the communities in which you do business. Corporations were envisioned as good citizens—that’s why they got an enormous number of legal protections and tax breaks in the first place.”

In Georgescu’s schema, shareholders are the last of the five stakeholders, not the first. “If you serve all the other stakeholders well, the shareholders do fine,” he says. “If you take good care of your customers, pay your people well, invest in your own business, and you’re a good citizen, the shareholder does better. We need to get back to that today. Every company has got to do that.”

Google and Facebook Have Failed Us – The Atlantic

Source: Google and Facebook Have Failed Us – The Atlantic

It’s no longer good enough to shrug off the problems in the system simply because it has computers in the decision loop.

As news consumers, we can say this: It does not have to be like this. Imagine a newspaper posting unverified rumors about a shooter from a bunch of readers who had been known to perpetuate hoaxes. There would be hell to pay—and for good reason.

How digital devices challenge the nature of ownership and threaten property rights in the digital age

Source: How digital devices challenge the nature of ownership and threaten property rights in the digital age

OWNERSHIP used to be about as straightforward as writing a cheque. If you bought something, you owned it. If it broke, you fixed it. If you no longer wanted it, you sold it or chucked it away. … In the digital age ownership has become more slippery. … consumers have been forced to accept that they do not control the software in their devices; they are only licensed to use it. … Buyers should be aware that some of their most basic property rights are under threat.

Ownership is not about to go away, but its meaning is changing. This requires careful scrutiny. Gadgets, by and large, are sold on the basis that they empower people to do what they want. To the extent they are controlled by somebody else, that freedom is compromised.

Also: A “right to repair” movement tools up

Quick One: Stop Calling it ‘Identity Theft’ – SecurityBytes

Source: Quick One: Stop Calling it ‘Identity Theft’ – SecurityBytes

A bank might let you take out a credit card in my name. But hey, if it wasn’t me, that’s just Credit Card Fraud, right?

A pay-day lender might give you a 7000% APR loan in my name, I guess. Credit Fraud.

The government might let you claim benefits in my name. Benefit Fraud.

You might apply for a mortgage in my name. Mortgage Fraud.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

In none of the above theoretical cases was I involved; I wasn’t the perpetrator and I wasn’t the victim.

And yet, by recasting (some) of these activities as ‘Identity Fraud’ I somehow become the one responsible for it having happened and the one who is the victim. The only way I get to be victim is if one of these organisations is duped and then they can’t or won’t address their mistakes or shortfalls and therefore they choose to pass the buck to me.

The Coming Software Apocalypse – The Atlantic

Source: The Coming Software Apocalypse – The Atlantic

The simultaneous failure of so many software systems smelled at first of a coordinated cyberattack. Almost more frightening was the realization, late in the day, that it was just a coincidence.

software doesn’t break. Intrado’s faulty threshold is not like the faulty rivet that leads to the crash of an airliner. The software did exactly what it was told to do. In fact it did it perfectly. The reason it failed is that it was told to do the wrong thing. Software failures are failures of understanding, and of imagination.

“The problem,” Leveson wrote in a book, “is that we are attempting to build systems that are beyond our ability to intellectually manage.” … This is the trouble with making things out of code, as opposed to something physical. “The complexity,” as Leveson puts it, “is invisible to the eye.” … Software has enabled us to make the most intricate machines that have ever existed. And yet we have hardly noticed, because all of that complexity is packed into tiny silicon chips as millions and millions of lines of code. But just because we can’t see the complexity doesn’t mean that it has gone away. … Gerard Berry said in his talk. “When your tires are flat, you look at your tires, they are flat. When your software is broken, you look at your software, you see nothing. So that’s a big problem.”

software becomes unruly because the media for describing what software should do—conversations, prose descriptions, drawings on a sheet of paper—are too different from the media describing what software does do, namely, code itself. Too much is lost going from one to the other. The idea behind model-based design is to close the gap. The very same model is used both by system designers to express what they want and by the computer to automatically generate code.

“In the 15th century, people used to build cathedrals without knowing calculus, and nowadays I don’t think you’d allow anyone to build a cathedral without knowing calculus. And I would hope that after some suitably long period of time, people won’t be allowed to write programs if they don’t understand these simple things.” — Leslie Lamport

How Do We Get Out of This Mess? – George Monbiot

Source: How Do We Get Out of This Mess? – George Monbiot

it is not strong leaders or parties that dominate politics as much as powerful political narratives … the reason why, despite its multiple and manifest failures, we appear to be stuck with neoliberalism is that we have failed to produce a new narrative with which to replace it.

Those who want a kinder politics know we have, in theory at least, the numbers on our side. Most people are socially-minded, empathetic and altruistic. Most people would prefer to live in a world in which everyone is treated with respect and decency, and in which we do not squander either our own lives or the natural gifts on which we and the rest of the living world depend.

Can American soil be brought back to life?

Source: Can American soil be brought back to life?

A new idea: If we revive the tiny creatures that make dirt healthy, we can bring back the great American topsoil. But farming culture — and government — aren’t making it easy.

A clump of soil from a heavily tilled and cropped field was dropped into a wire mesh basket at the top of a glass cylinder filled with water. At the same time, a clump of soil from a pasture that grew a variety of plants and grasses and hadn’t been disturbed for years was dropped into another wire mesh basket in an identical glass cylinder. The tilled soil–similar to the dry, brown soil on Cobb’s farm—dissolved in water like dust. The soil from the pasture stayed together in a clump, keeping its structure and soaking up the water like a sponge. Cobb realized he wasn’t just seeing an agricultural scientist show off a chunk of soil: He was seeing a potential new philosophy of farming.

Promoting soil health comes down to three basic practices: Make sure the soil is covered with plants at all times, diversify what it grows and don’t disrupt it.