Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.
|It’s back to school season, and parents are nervous about their kids. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3,649 children between March 2020 and late August 2021 have been hospitalized from Covid-19. Around 400 have died. These are astoundingly low numbers, especially given that for most other viruses, young children and the elderly are usually the most at risk of bad outcomes. What’s so special about Covid? Probably nothing. Researchers are exploring whether something innate in children’s immune systems protects them—not from getting infected, but from getting seriously ill.|
Don’t let your head be turned around by the news that with Delta, a higher proportion of kids are now being infected and hospitalized. The key word there is proportion. We don’t know for sure, but it’s likely because of high vaccination rates among adults.
In the meantime, many of us are understandably antsy about a kid-friendly Covid vaccine. What’s taking so long? Lots of complicated logistics, plus federal insistence that more children than usual be enrolled in the trials—which is frustrating, but something to remember when the inevitable safety discussion gets brought up again. Let’s take a moment to thank those parents who have signed their children up to be part of the trials. You guys rock.
We’re giving a warm welcome to India’s new DNA vaccine, the world’s first, which has been approved for emergency use. Pros of DNA vaccines include easy manufacturing, transportation, and storage—since they don’t require ultra-cold temperatures—and needle-free delivery. Oh, and they may be the future of vaccinology. Who knows? Cons for this particular vaccine include three doses and the fact that late-stage trial data has not yet been published. Other DNA vaccines are in various stages of trial in the US, South Korea, Japan, Canada, and other countries.
Two last pandemic-related pieces. Have you been asking for a large-scale, randomized controlled trial on the efficacy of mask wearing? Here you go, with love from Bangladesh. And if “ivermectin” means anything to you, you might appreciate this post from West Coast doctor and writer Scott Alexander’s Substack, “Too Good to Check: A Play in Three Acts,” which pulls together thoughts on bias, polarization, the media, and of course, ivermectin, the antiparisitic drug that some have taken to self-treat Covid. The takeaways: one, slow your roll when you read media coverage, especially when the story backs up any of your preconceived notions. Two, US hospitals are not overcrowded due to ivermectin poisoning cases; those, as Alexander says, are “real but minor,” numbers-wise.
Some international news we have our eye on: the US government might not have gotten the memo yet that severe income inequality can mess with societal flourishing, but China’s sure has. Their “common prosperity” plan aims to create an “olive-shaped” society with a wide middle class. The Netherlands is experimenting with banning property investors from buying homes in neighborhoods where regular buyers are being priced out. Spain’s last remaining coal mine will close in December, the result of a compromise made three years ago, when the government, trade unions, and energy companies agreed “to shut down the entire coal industry in return for early retirement and investment in replacement industries.” Speaking of coal, China is seeing some success clearing their once-polluted skies. And while tomfoolery goes down in Texas, Mexico’s Supreme Court just decriminalized abortion.
We’re giving two thumbs up to this Twitter-thread-turned-Reason-article on all the ways things have gotten better in the last 20 years. Entries include better entertainment to violent crime dropping like a rock to new weed laws to improved attitudes toward LGBTQ people. (And one that combined the first and the last: begone, casual homophobia on TV.)
Before we go, remember when last month we called the The New York Times’ coverage of breakthrough infections true but misleading? They, too, have now decided the same. But seeing so many people reaching serious levels of pandemic burnout lately, we’ll take the turnaround happily. The Times lightly suggests putting the pandemic anxiety, as much as it makes sense, aside.
On the heels of Hurricane Ida, a new report from the World Meteorological Organization tells us something we already know and something we bet you didn’t. Climate change and improved reporting means that the number of weather-related disasters in the last 50 years has increased fivefold. But the number of resultant deaths has decreased almost threefold, thanks to improved early warnings and disaster management.
Below in the links section, fish just became a little less endangered, breakthrough infections are far less likely to lead to long Covid, some countries are giving fossil fuels the cold shoulder, and more.
From us: Ah, the Internet: humanity’s greatest hope or our great undoing? We search for answers in our latest episode of What Could Go Right?, Building a Better Internet. In this episode, we’re joined by Danielle Citron, a leading expert on information privacy, free speech, and civil rights, and Eli Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy and the author of The Filter Bubble, who now leads the New_ Public project. Together they share their views on the Internet’s current trajectory and how we might course correct. Listen to it here.
Other good stuff in the news
- Texas’ near-total ban on abortion “leaves enforcement up to individual citizens,” but the Justice Department said it will protect abortion clinics that come under attack | Reuters
- Albuquerque’s Tiny Home Village is offering a path out of homelessness to some in New Mexico | The Christian Science Monitor
- One year on, the Great American Outdoors Act is making a difference | Roll Call
- Some police are using Zoom calls to deal with mental health crises | AP
- How Philadelphia housing repairs drove down crime | Bloomberg
- Visualizing how fast the pandemic is getting better or worse, state by state | STAT
- Researchers have developed a room that could wirelessly charge all your devices | Scientific American
- Two popular tuna species are no longer endangered | National Geographic
- Breakthrough infections are ~50% less likely to lead to long Covid, a study suggests | The New York Times
- Denmark and Costa Rica want to make a no fossil fuels allowed club | Gizmodo
- How Sweden delivered the world’s first fossil fuel-free steel | Forbes
- A tiny fish once at the center of an Endangered Species Act controversy has been saved from extinction | The Washington Post
TPN Member Originals
- The college rankings racket: How to measure better things | James Fallows
- You can’t train away bad jobs: Why job quality is the new frontier of good business | Good Jobs Institute
- The secret to happiness at work | Arthur Brooks
- Why do corporations pay a lot less in taxes than they used to? | Scott Galloway
- Be your own boss: More co-op businesses are returning workers’ power | Alissa Quart
- How major urban areas will bounce back from the pandemic | Fareed Zakaria & Richard Florida
- MOVE: The Forces Uprooting Us | Parag Khanna | September 13
- Diversity in Office, Equity in Campaigns | Anne-Marie Slaughter | September 23
- Unfinished Live | Eli Pariser, Andrew McLaughlin, Anne-Marie Slaughter | September 23
- Great Conversations: What’s the Role of a Citizen in 2021? | Theodore R. Johnson | September 28
- Seeing Around Corners: Five Tips to Navigate Inflection Points and Build Resistance | Rita Gunther McGrath | September 28
- The Raging 2020s with Hillary Rodham Clinton | Alec Ross | September 29
- The AI Awakening: What It Means For Productivity And Business Performance | Erik Brynjolfsson | October 7
- Labor Organizing Today, Promises and Pitfalls | Roy Bahat | October 8
- Freer Future Fest | Faisal Saeed Al Mutar | October 9
- Why Mobility Is Destiny | Parag Khanna | October 13
Building a Better Internet
This is an excerpt from our latest podcast episode, Building a Better Internet, with TPN Members Danielle Citron and Eli Pariser.
Eli Pariser: When you look through the history of communications technologies, frequently there have been resets where countries and regimes have decided to shape their communication mediums to suit their national needs. Some of those have been problematic, but others have been the creation of public media, or the decision to build out a journalistic sector that is not just the yellow press. There’s all these moments in history where there was an intention to structure things in a certain way. Right now, the online spaces that we have fail to pass the laugh test, in terms of what we would actually think would work as a global connected medium, in two ways, or maybe three.
One is the idea that you can make an algorithm that works for 3 billion people and 190 countries. Why would we think that was even slightly possible? That sounds implausible because it is implausible. And what we know is that it doesn’t work that way. There are all sorts of countries, especially if you’re in the global south, where you have to deal with a version of Facebook or Twitter that’s actively not working for the way that your society is structured. We live in the United States, in the best version of Facebook. This is as good as it gets. Because that’s where all the engineers are, and that’s where a lot of the political capital is. So everyone else is living in a less attended-to, more wild west, less moderated, less adjudicated version.
So one piece is scale. I don’t actually believe that you can do it at scale. Another piece is structure. A lot of our work in New_ Public is trying to think through what can we learn from offline spaces that can inform better online spaces. In terms of structure, offline, we have private businesses, which play an important role. But we also have all of these social institutions that do a lot of the really critical work of inviting people in, binding them together, helping make sure that everybody has their basic needs met. We don’t have any kind of commensurate social sector online. We’re trying to solve every problem through the lens of a venture-backed, for-profit company. I think there’s a role for that, but it’s not the only way to solve problems, nor does it scan that we’d want to solve a bunch of thorny public problems inside of that structure.
The third piece is about power and governance. The other thing we know about what makes functional societies and communities and democracies work is that you have federated layers where people are able to have a say in who gets to say what and how things work. And that’s a really critical part not only of building spaces that work for people, but also building faith in the whole enterprise of public space. We’re living in a very technocratic autocracy online. You cannot, as a user, say, “I want Facebook to change the way it’s doing X.”
So governance is wrong. Structure is wrong. Scale is wrong. The good news is there’s a whole bunch of people who are starting to pivot toward what folks are calling Web 3.0 or decentralized web. That’s where the pendulum is swinging. There are a lot of big questions about how you deal with things like child porn or other things that you don’t want in these structures. But I do think that’s where we’re going to see the next wave of innovation and better spaces, because that’s what has always worked in human society and community. Finding local, situated solutions to these problems generally beats out the one-size-fits-all, top-down version.
Until Next Time
Until next Thursday, remember that Johnathon has seen it all and is still going strong.