Things I’m Verbing: Bad news, shitty robots and not the Bay Area startup you expected

Sometimes I’m torn about which kinds of stories to share here. Surely the Most Important Stories are the ones that also shred us to pieces from the inside, right? The Most Substantial News is the kind that drives us to drink, surely, and there’s no shortage of it, from the hideous wrongs Black Lives Matter calls out to the staggering cynicism of Brexit to, as it turns out, the corruption of the very directive to take care of ourselves, apparently. Not even the unifying joy of Pokémon Go is safe. These kinds of news cycles, which are less trending topic and more zeitgeist at this point, make me want more than anything else to find the stories that prove the world is still beautiful and we can still be happy about something. But it feels hard; it feels like good news can’t possibly be substantial, and if it isn’t substantial, it probably isn’t good for us.

This morning I woke up and read a piece in the Guardian called “How Technology Disrupted the Truth.” It articulates so many of my frustrations and fears about journalism that I have wanted my non-journalist friends and family to understand, how the bullshit clickbait we all hate (to read and to write) is a desperate grab for survival in an engagement-driven, pageviews-dictated, ad-supported world, and how it’s really harming personal and political society. I urge everyone to read it and share it. I don’t know the answer; I just know the kinds of stories I want to be telling, and that I want them to do good in the world.

  • Speaking of media criticism, Jezebel published a strong, blunt audience analysis in the wake of Vanity Fair’s ridiculous recent Margot Robbie feature. “Who Are These Vanity Fair Cover Stories For?” questions the system of rewarding the same dehumanizing, sex-object frame story when trying to highlight famous women.
  • With convention season edging closer than ever, Politifact posted a graphic round-up of all its national candidate fact-checks. The numbers… will probably not surprise you.
  • The New York Times shared this story at the end of June, and I can’t get it out of my head: “Escape Tunnel, Dug by Hand, Is Found at Holocaust Massacre Site.” All four of my mother’s grandparents were Lithuanian Jews, which may be why this story hit me so hard. It’s a staggering look at low odds and how history can be erased simply through denial.
  • I wish I found more happy stories to share, but I can bring at least two, after all that. First up: the amazing shitty robots of Simone Giertz. These are viral videos used not just for good, but for awesome — a vanishingly rare species, to be sure, but worth celebrating.
  • Which segues nicely into this breath of fresh air from Vox: “How one man repopulated a rare butterfly species in his backyard.” Conservation success stories seem so rare, and this one has gorgeous pictures and a truly nice protagonist at its heart.

Take care of yourselves, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: Due diligence, master classes and why we bottleneck

I’m delighted to start today’s link post with one of my own: my CityLab debut, Why Do Passengers Insist on Crowding Around Subway Doors? This was legitimately a classic “This thing really gets my goat, I wonder if I can write about it?” And I learned a lot about the psychology of manspreading, sidewalk rage, game theory at crosswalks and the effects of carpool lanes on congestion, none of which made it into the final article — but I’m pleased to be able to talk about environmental psychology on public transit, with some help from Dr. Richard Wener of NYU’s Sustainable Urban Environments program. Want to be part of the solution, or just learn the secret to a more comfortable commute? Read on!

  • Terry Gross is a master class in interviewing all on her own. I only just started listening to Fresh Air after a podcast subscription binge (thanks, Sampler!), but I was riveted by her conversation with Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the two Columbine mass shooters. Both women discuss the most difficult, unimaginable topics with grace, honesty and compassion.
  • Pacific Standard recently highlighted one underreported problem within environmental conservation movements — its advocates keep being murdered.
  • With the Zika virus and microcephaly making headlines, conspiracy theories about its origins are sure to follow. On the Media took 10 minutes and some good science reporting to dispel the notion that eternal bogeyman Monsanto is behind this particular outbreak.
  • The new vacancy on the Supreme Court has inspired immensely bad behavior from many leaders in the Republican party, leading to some very dark responses. The Atlantic posits this showdown may finally provoke the correction against extremism the GOP as a party and the nation as a whole desperately needs.
  • Fast Company looks at how to build a nuclear bomb — with a Rolodex.