Weekend Reading – March 24, 2018

1. Jeff Bezos’ third annual Mars conference could be mistaken for a sci-fi convention if they only let people of Comic Book Guy-level genius in: an incredible confluence of robotics, AI experts, and futurists.

What’s truly amazing to me is how much extra-governmental activity is going on around the world by titans of industry and the ultra-rich: while much of the research / Mars’ participants come from the world of academia, it seems like a lot of the big-picture thinking, and the heavy investment, is being done by private citizens keen to use their net worth to for benefit of humanity (or to massively enrich themselves further).

2. Along these lines, the NY Mag’s incredible piece “13 Reasons to Believe Aliens are Real presents a comprehensive look at the current state of the search for extraterrestrial life, from the captivating and plausible (a survey of habitable planets, ongoing outreach attempts, etc.) to the more imaginative and unlikely (alien abduction meet-ups, broad speculation by seemingly crackpot former civil servants)

Somewhere in between these are the accounts of a cadre of logic-based speculation, credible observation, and unexplained (and videotaped) phenomena that provoke one’s imagination, and lend credence to the truth being “out there.”

3. In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Ella Saltmarshe makes the case for systemic storytelling, one of the oldest modes of mass communication and cooperation (as recounted by Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens, an inspiration for this article), in fomenting change and changing widely held opinions.

“While […] highly personal stories are often compelling, they don’t encourage people to think systemically about public solutions”

The author surveys efforts taking place around the world to use systemic storytelling to tackle some of the world’s hairiest issues, oftentimes those most removed from immediate action, such as climate change, sustainability and representation in media. The article is a great reminder of the power of a story as a simple, elegant delivery vehicle to make the world a better place.

4. I enjoyed reading Caity Weaver’s incredibly entertaining and surprisingly convincing profile of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for GQ, which was shared by the NYTimes team in advance of her joining the Styles section.

5. Simon Kuper pours cold water on the allure of international espionage in his weekly Financial Times essay: “The world of espionage is not so much a treasure chest, more a junk shop whose proprietor has lost track of his stock.”

He argues that Russia’s current and former spies, rather than serving any sort of information-gathering, subterfuge, or sabotage purpose, Russian spies are a “brand of public relations,” “meant to be seen.”

6. The NYTimes profiles US soccer star Landon Donovan and his late-career decision to sign with the Mexican club León. Donovan recounts his experience transitioning to life in an industrial, football-crazed Mexican town, and his evolving feelings towards the country that has long seen him as the principal villain in the longstanding US – Mexican rivalry. A heartwarming story that demonstrates the acceptance, passion, and hardworking character of the Mexican people – something that we could stand to emulate north of the border.

7. The NYTimes covers Brazilian President Michel Temer’s decision to run for reelection in the upcoming October Presidential elections, a shrewd move that will likely stand to provide him a platform to preserve his legacy, given his extreme unpopularity and lame-duck status as the unelected successor to Dilma.

The Brazilians I’ve surveyed (including a woman I saw with seemingly handmade FORA TEMER gold earrings) seem to see Temer’s decision to run as a lighthearted joke, rather than something to take seriously. The polling numbers seem to agree: per the NYTimes, pollster Ibope found in December that only 6 percent of Brazilians think Temer is doing a good or great job, while 74 percent see him as bad or terrible.

Signifying the lack of established candidates in the run up to October, Temer’s well-regarded Finance Minster, Henrique Merelles, has also signaled that he may vie for the Presidency, and has until April 7th to formally resign his post in advance of the early campaign season.

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