Nuggets of the Week

Everybody was talking about …

The Wisconsin recall election, of course, but I’ve already written about that today.

Remembering Ray Bradbury. In 2012, we take for granted that you can find really good writing in genre fiction. Salman Rushdie writes childrens’ books, SciFi has Neal Stephenson, fantasy China Mieville, and so on.

Thank Ray Bradbury for that. Most pre-Bradbury scifi writers didn’t mess with sissy techniques like metaphor, while “serious” authors stayed far away from time travel or outer space. Ray started breaking down that wall, and the rest is history.

Obits were everywhere. The NYT’s was as good as anybody’s.

The transit of Venus. Venus passed between the Earth and the Sun Tuesday, making a black dot on the Sun if you had the right eyewear. Don’t worry if you missed it; you can catch it again in 2117.

Time-lapse photo of actual transit

A transit-of-Venus pizza

… but a lot of other stuff was also worth your attention:

Here’s what it looks like when an oil pipeline breaks. This one is in Alberta and was discovered Thursday night.

A popular right-wing meme is “How can we expect the government to do X when it can’t even run the Post Office?” AlterNet explains why the Post Office would be doing fine if not for “phantom accounting”.

Nate Silver presented his state-by-state prediction model for the presidential election. Current prediction: Obama wins 291.8 electoral votes to Romney’s 246.2. (Decimals appear because Nate weights his averages by the confidence of his prediction. So his 63.4% confidence that Obama wins Virginia’s 13 electoral votes adds 8.2 EVs to Obama’s column and 4.8 to Romney’s.) He followed up with a summary of how different organizations’ electoral forecasts disagree.

This anti-rape video from Scotland is both clever and effective.

Secret space plane? How cool is that? Next they’re going to tell us that Hal Jordan has test-flown it.

If you didn’t like the commencement speech at your graduation, why not overwrite that memory with a better one? Here’s the speech Atul Gawande gave at Williams. Atlantic links you to video of speeches by Neil Gaiman, Jane Lynch, President Obama, Steve Carell, Aaron Sorkin, and Fareed Zakaria.

After the LinkedIn password disaster, you may be looking to create new passwords that are easy to remember and hard to crack. Salon’s Farhad Manjoo explains a good technique, though he is misinformed about how recent it is.

Two articles that capture how different things look in Germany: Der Spiegel explains how crazy our American fear of national health care looks to Germans. Yes! magazine describes Germany’s plan to invest $270 billion in replacing all of its nuclear power with renewable energy.

To see how Germany views labor unions and public property, check out Thomas Geoghagan’s Were You Born on the Wrong Continent, which I reviewed in September, 2010.

Looking for transit-of-Venus photos led me to the Facebook page of Milky Way Scientists, who have a great photo collection.

The Nation gives Chris Hayes space to preview the argument of his new book The Twilight of the Elites. I think I’m going to have to read this.

Summary: A genuine meritocracy would have a lot of inequality (as talented people move to the top), but also a lot of mobility (as talented children rise from the lower classes). But what would happen after the elites gained enough power to keep inequality while shutting down mobility?

Such a ruling class would have all the competitive ferocity inculcated by the ceaseless jockeying within the institutions that produce meritocratic elites, but face no actual sanctions for failing at their duties or succumbing to the temptations of corruption. It would reflexively protect its worst members; it would operate with a wide gulf between performance and reward; and it would be shot through with corruption, rule-breaking and self-dealing, as those on top pursued the outsized rewards promised for superstars.

Sound familiar?

Nobel-Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is also thinking about the elite in his Vanity Fair article, also based on a recent book:

Put sentiment aside. There are good reasons why plutocrats should care about inequality anyway—even if they’re thinking only about themselves. The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position.

Like me, you probably didn’t make to Providence for the Netroots Nation conference. Wasn’t it good of them to put so many of the videos online?

Steve Almond raised an interesting question in the NYT’s Sunday magazine: What if liberals doggedly pursued our own agenda, and stopped letting clowns like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin distract us?

This is something I wrestle with in the Sift: When do you need to know what the other side is saying, and when does a story just titillate your rage to no constructive purpose? (Comments welcome. Feel free to take today’s Girls Scouts article as an example.)

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  • Julien Phillips  On June 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    The length of Weekly Sift’s text line always exceeds the width of my e-mail window. I don’t have that problem with messages from any other source. Any chance that you need to size your messages differently, or is it just my problem?

    • weeklysift  On June 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      I subscribe to the Sift through gmail just to see what it looks like. My line lengths come out fine, so I can’t diagnose where the problem is yet.

      I don’t remember resetting the defaults, but I’m not exactly a master of WordPress.

      Is this happening to anybody else?

  • Kim Cooper  On June 15, 2012 at 2:54 am

    FYI — I do not have that problem with the Weekly Sift, but do occasionally have it with other emails I receive.

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