Selective Hearing–Last August, one of the country’s most successful podcasts was accused of multiple incidents of plagiarism. Called Crime Junkie, the weekly show has used what seems to be an irresistible formula to rocket to number-one status in numerous rankings: In each episode, cohosts Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat give an intrigue-laced account of a serial killing, kidnapping, or other unresolved crime story. Exploring forensics, motives, and police reports, they develop new theories about what actually happened. For all their obsession with evidence, however, it turned out that Flowers and Prawat had at times been remarkably lax in explaining where their own information had come from. harpers.org
America Unraveled–Christopher Caldwell’s new book, The Age of Entitlement, offers a striking revision of recent American history that has the advantage of being readily summarized. The polarization of political opinion and the dissolution of the American fabric, he argues, has its roots in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which represented a sharp break with the past. “The changes of the 1960s, with civil rights at their core,” he explains, “were not just a major new element in the Constitution. They were a rival constitution, with which the original one was frequently incompatible.” www.city-journal.org
Why 435?–No one would have imagined that the racist, anti-urban, arbitrary number of 435 would last, unchanged, for 108 years. Certainly not the Framers of the Constitution, who believed that the House should grow with each decennial Census. The “bargain” of 1929 that fixed the House at 435 members has allowed the average size of a congressional district to grow from 230,000 people to approximately 780,000 in 2020. Communication with constituents today is more and more electronic than personal. Some members still do in-person town halls, though social media makes organizing to disrupt them easy. As the districts grow in size, the likelihood of having personal contact with House members diminishes. democracyjournal.org
No More School Districts!–The whole of American education works this way. Our nation has been chopped to pieces by tens of thousands of borders that citizens are forbidden to cross under threat of incarceration—parents who enroll their children in nearby districts face fines and even jail. The walls have been there for so long that people largely just accept them as an unalterable part of the landscape, like cliffs and rivers that can be built around and occasionally bridged at great expense, but never truly changed. democracyjournal.org
The Philosophy of Anger–First, the academic debate. In one corner, we have those who think that we would have a morally better world if we could eradicate anger entirely. This tradition has its roots in ancient Stoicism and Buddhism. The first-century Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca wrote that anger is a form of madness; he authored a whole treatise—De Ira, the title of this volume—about how to manage its ill effects. The eighth-century Indian philosopher and monk Śāntideva enjoined those wishing to travel the road of enlightenment to eliminate even the smallest seeds of anger, on the grounds that the full-blown emotion can only cause harm. bostonreview.net
‘Collapsologie’: Constructing an Idea of How Things Fall Apart–Collapsologie—or, as Servigne and Stevens define it, the “applied and transdisciplinary science of collapse”—proposes to free environmentalist thought from the linear or progressive understanding of history implicit in such faiths as “sustainable development,” “green growth,” or the energy “transition.” The story of human societies, which Servigne and Stevens suggest is ultimately the story of their interactions with their natural environments, is circular. The pendulum of human history swings between moments of our being harmoniously embedded within natural processes and periods of population concentration, political centralization, and an urge to transcend the earth’s resource constraints. We develop economies of scale, agglomerate extractive industry on a grand scale, but ultimately overexploit our natural foundations. www.nybooks.com
The alphabets at risk of extinction–Along with the spoken words, something else is also at risk: each language’s individual script. When we talk about “endangered languages”, most of us think of the spoken versions first. But our alphabets can tell us huge amounts about the cultures they came from. Just as impressive is the length people will go to save their scripts – or invent whole new alphabets and spread them to the world. www.bbc.com
The Apps on My Phone Are Stalking Me–There is much about the future that keeps me up at night — A.I. weaponry, undetectable viral deepfakes, indefatigable and infinitely wise robotic op-ed columnists — but in the last few years, one technological threat has blipped my fear radar much faster than others.
That fear? Ubiquitous surveillance.
I am no longer sure that human civilization can undo or evade living under constant, extravagantly detailed physical and even psychic surveillance; as a species, we are not doing nearly enough to avoid always being watched or otherwise digitally recorded. www.nytimes.com