Friday, April 05, 2013 11:18 AM
With an increasingly small fraction of wealthy Americans
buying and selling elections, power has never been more unequal in Washington, says Lawrence Lessig in a new TED Talk. And the problem goes way beyond the 1 percent.
Everybody seems to agree that there’s too much money in
politics. According to a Demos poll during the last election cycle, more
than 80 percent of Americans agree that “corporate political spending
drowns out voices of average Americans,” and more than half would support a ban
on all corporate donations. What’s more, opposition to laws like the Citizens United decision is equally
strong among those on the left and the right.
But knowing that the system is rigged is different than
understanding exactly what’s behind it. With Super PACs and “independent
expenditures” veiled from public knowledge by Citizens United and other laws, how do we know what’s really going
For activist and academic Lawrence Lessig, it all comes down
to the Lesters. That is, the 144,000 or so Americans that are rigging the game
for the rest of us—roughly the same small number of Americans who are named Lester. These
are the guys making big donations to Super PACs and hiring high-powered
lobbies. They’re also the guys members of Congress are trying very hard to impress—as
Lessig adds, federal politicians spend somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of
their time just trying to raise even more money from the Lesters.
But wait, it gets worse. The Lesters may have more political
influence than most of us can fathom, but they’re no match for the real movers
and shakers. The ones who are really in charge are the .000042 percent—that’s
exactly 132 Americans—who made 60 percent of Super PAC contributions in 2012. I’m
gonna let that sink in a little…
But don’t worry, there is hope. There are plenty of
proposals for fairer elections already on the table, and no shortage of public
support. The key, says Lessig, is to remember that the barriers to real change
are not insurmountable—just political.
To learn more, check out his TED Talk below:
Image by Kevin Dooley,
licensed under Creative
Thursday, April 05, 2012 10:56 AM
they may be, mushrooms have been making headlines as of late. It turns out the
fungi kingdom is capable of fixing some of our species’ biggest environmental
gaffes, and boosting the economy while it's at it. Paired with a little human
ingenuity, mushrooms could be our ticket to a viable
waste sites “so steeped in oil, dioxins, and other chemicals that hardly
anything can grow on them,” fungi have become part of a plan for accelerated clean-up, reports Michael J. Coren for Fast Company. Under the guidance of Mohamed Hijri, a biologist and
professor at the University of Montreal, a few of nature’s heavy-hitters
will be introduced to such sites to work their magic. First, willow trees will
be planted densely to absorb heavy metals. The trees will then be burned, their
ashes used as food for fungi and bacteria able to metabolize petrochemical
waste. Fungi selection is still underway, but has a big payoff. A process that
might have taken hundreds of years (or longer) can be accomplished in just a
are also linking young entrepreneurs to a green living, writes Sarah Stankorb inGOOD.
Inspired by a class in business ethics, would-be consultants and investment
bankers Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez instead opted to invest in closing the
food-to-soil loop. During their final semester, the young men began growing
mushrooms in a bucket of used coffee grounds. With a little legwork and a $5,000
grant from UC Berkeley, they soon had a deal to collect grounds from a west
coast chain, Peet’s Coffee, in which they would grow mushrooms for northern
California Whole Foods stores. Soon their company, Back to the Roots, was making money for both grounds collection and mushroom sales. As
if that weren’t enough, they’re giving away the used grounds (complete with
mushroom substrate) to local gardeners for compost.
of the beneficial uses of mushrooms is not entirely new. Mycologist Paul Stamets
has been working to bring awareness to the possibilities for decades. He made
major breakthroughs in 2008 with his TED talk, "Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world" and
acknowledgement from Utne Reader,
which named him one the 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World. Looks like his
ideas have spread, taking shape in inspiring new
Image: Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) mycelium growing in a petri dish on coffee grounds. By Tobi Kellner, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 24, 2011 12:59 PM
Generations of American school kids were exposed to cooking, checkbook balancing and the odd sewing project through home economics. In recent years, such programs have been among the first to go when budget shortfalls have struck public schools—to the point that “home ec” sounds anachronistic or even foreign to many young ears. As the programs disappear, so does a publicly funded avenue for teaching kids how to prepare food, let alone wholesome food.
Jamie Oliver, the English chef-turned-television-star, began his Food Revolution initiative to close that knowledge gap, and teach schoolchildren how to cook—and cafeteria workers how to prepare school lunches using minimally processed ingredients—as a means of fighting obesity. Receiving the TED prize at the speaker series’ flagship conference in Long Beach, California, last year, Oliver said he hoped to bring the initiative to underserved schools across the United States, but he lacked the means to move his message.
“Jamie was talking about Food Revolution being embodied by a kind of food truck,” says David Rockwell, the principal designer at Rockwell Group, who was in the audience for Oliver’s acceptance speech. “In a moment of euphoria from being at TED and being inspired by Jamie, I met him after the talk and told him I’d be happy to design it.”
Rockwell Group’s 18-wheel response to Oliver’s request debuted at TED earlier this month. The customized tractor trailer will travel to schools, parks and other gathering spots this year, where it will provide a platform for Oliver’s back-to-basics food-prep philosophy. School kids and other community members will learn to cook, or improve their cooking, by getting their hands dirty.
Read more about the design and functionality of the trucks and see more images at
Source: Change Observer
Image courtesy Rockwell Group. Designed by David Rockwell, the customized tractor-trailer will deliver Oliver's gospel of healthy eating throughout the U.S.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 4:57 PM
In February, Barack Obama signed a memorandum to establish a
Task Force on Childhood Obesity
, including the launch of
Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign
to address childhood obesity and nutrition. One day earlier, British chef Jamie Oliver won a
2010 TED award
, which will help him to launch a cross-industry initiative to fight obesity by educating families about food. This week we will be looking at childhood nutrition by highlighting books and articles that have passed through our library of late
. –The Editors
Get ready to learn how to cook from scratch. British chef Jamie Oliver, already influential with policymakers and grassroots activists in the UK, is launching Jamie’s Food Revolution USA with the $100,000 he won as a TED prize recipient.
Central to Oliver's mission is childhood nutrition at home. Even Mrs. Obama acknowledges that government must follow the leadership of parents who educate their kids about nutrition in their own homes. Jamie Oliver's stateside food revolution actually began in fall 2009 at a community cooking center he opened in Huntington, West Virginia. He modeled the center on his growing Ministries of Food network in towns throughout the UK. Oliver’s cross-industry mission for the TED-backed food revolution solicits the support of everyone from realtors and truck drivers to writers and nutritionists.
Here is Oliver talking about what he has seen and what he will do...
Read all of the
Cafeteria Chronicles posts
Friday, September 18, 2009 11:42 AM
Working for a successful company isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Self-employed workers in the United States are more satisfied with their jobs than other people, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. They’re also more likely to work for intrinsic reasons, like improving society or “because they want to,” rather than for money.
Working for yourself has plenty of benefits, but money isn’t one of them. The same satisfied workers also reported feeling more financial stressed, possibly due to the lack of health care and pension plans provided by self-employment.
If governments change the health care structure, and provide more benefits for self-employed people, we could experience a self-sufficiency revival, according to Phillip Longman in Foreign Policy. In the current financial crisis, people are increasingly working for themselves, growing vegetables for local consumption or developing open-sourced software in their basements. This has the potential to restructure the entire economy for the better.
Working for reasons other than money can make people more productive, too. In a speech to TED, Dan Pink proposes a radical “rethinking how we run our businesses,” based on aspects other than money. In creative work, according to Pink, motivating people with money can actually lead to worse performance. Pink proposes a system where people are motivated more by intrinsic qualities, like “mastery,” “autonomy,” and “purpose,” rather than money. If the Pew Center survey is any indication, people will be a lot more satisfied, too.
You can watch a video of Pink’s talk below:
Source: Pew Research, TED, Foreign Policy
, licensed under
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 10:30 AM
Reports coming out of Iran from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and various blogs are giving foreigners an unprecedented view into the ongoing political crisis in the country. The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, blogging from “a pier in Cape Cod,” has emerged as one of the major arbiters of information on the Iranian protests. Twitter and Facebook users are turning their profiles green in support of the protesters. The same technologies are giving idealists around the world the chance to engage in the crisis, both symbolically and actively. But just because people can engage, doesn’t mean they always should.
The raw, unedited nature of much of the information coming out of Iran could give every the impression that they know what’s really going on inside the country. The abject failure of cable news networks to cover the events reinforces that idea. Editor and Publisher recently admitted, “Web reports from Iranians, including Twitter feeds, have outflanked much of print and certainly cable TV.” With foreign reporters getting kicked out of the country, the reliance on social media for news will likely continue to grow.
As influential as social networking tools are in publicizing Iran’s conflict, much of that information has been unreliable. It was widely reported that opposition leader Mousavi was placed under house arrest, which was just one of many rumors that circulated and later turned out to be untrue. The best reporting, according to Kevin Drum writing for Mother Jones, may be coming from the BBC and the New York Times, and other mainstream, traditional outlets.
News from Iran has also made people “desperate to do something to show solidarity,” according to tech guru Clay Shirky in an interview with TED. Shirky said, “Reading personal messages from individuals on the ground prompts a whole other sense of involvement.” This has led people to help out the protesters, according to Shirky, by offering secure web proxies to help them mask their online identities. That sense of involvement, however, has the potential to lead people astray.
Some foreigners have been moved to launch web-based attacks against the Iranian state-run media, overwhelm the state’s servers with a constant stream of requests. Tech-President advocated this “bit of cyber aggression aimed at the Iranian government” as a way to channel the considerable energies of observers outside Iran. The process is so easy that I accidentally helped launch one of these attacks by clicking on an errant link while researching this blog post.
The motivation behind the web-attacks is understandable, but they may end up doing more harm than good. Evgeny Morozov, writing for Foreign Policy, points out that these attacks from other countries actually strengthen the Iranian government’s argument that “foreign intervention” is the driving force behind the protests. And if the attacks get bad enough, there’s a chance that the government could simply pull the plug on the highly centralized internet throughout the country, cutting off the Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube videos that feed the foreign knowledge of the protests.
Sources: The Atlantic, Editor and Publisher, Mother Jones, TED, Tech-President, Foreign Policy
, licensed under
Monday, June 15, 2009 3:49 PM
When we get old, our eyesight and hearing start to diminish, muscles quit working, and our bodies generally deteriorate. Why can’t humans be more like redwood trees that live for hundreds of years, seemingly immune to the adverse effects of aging? If we stuck around longer, we could presumably impart wisdom on younger generations, thereby benefiting the whole species. But it's not going to happen.
One theory on why humans age, proposed by University of Arizona, is that it protects against epidemics. The greater the population density, the more vulnerable that population is to a disease wiping out much of the species. The blog Ouroboros explains the theory this way:
If I (an organism) am more susceptible than average to a given disease, and that susceptibility has a genetic component, then my closest relatives (who share most of my genes) are likelier than the general population to be susceptible as well. Therefore, my continued existence poses a risk for my progeny, because I represent one more potential host for a pathogen that might infect them – potentially killing us all and ending the line altogether.
The general human tendency, however, is to fight aging at all costs. Talking with RadioLab, geneticist George Church said that advancing technology could make the state of “totally dead” obsolete. Church believes that technology could, hypothetically, reverse engineer people to the point where they could put anyone back together at any time. Then, presumably, people could live forever.
Not pursuing technology that would allow humans to live forever would be “immoral,” according to Cambridge researcher Aubrey de Grey, speaking at TED. According to de Grey, aging is a disease that should be cured for the sake of future generations.
The problem with trying to live forever is not that it would be “crushingly boring” or that “dictators would rule forever” or the other straw man arguments that de Grey throws out. Instead, the problem is the hubris inherent in the quest. People age for a reason, whether or not we understand that reason just yet.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 12:50 PM
The vast array of sex science available since the 1950s has demystified sex. Many Americans can now talk about it with their doctors and Bob Dole can speak freely about “erectile dysfunction” on television. Researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson “helped clear away much of the shame and myth that had perpetuated a communal ignorance about human sexuality,” Drake Bennett wrote for the Boston Globe. Today, that research has lost touch with its humanity, according to many researchers, promoting the "medicalization" of sex.
At its worst, they warn, [sex science] is pushing us into a sort of sexual arms race as people engage in sex acts that hold little interest for them, partake of a growing pharmacopeia of sex drugs, even get formerly unheard-of cosmetic surgeries to measure up to a fictional sexual ideal.
Researchers often reduce sex down to its most basic, physical elements, viewing intercourse in terms of function and dysfunction, rather than idiosyncratic preferences. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the marketing of Viagra. Many people swear by the drug’s regenerative properties, but Bennett writes, “the benefits of Viagra and similar pills have to be balanced against the fact that they have made our sex lives seem like something that can - and should - be fixed with a drug.”
The media hype surrounding Viagra promotes the all-too-common view that “sex is a zero-sum game, a win-lose athletic performance, measured entirely by the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of the arousal-intercourse-orgasm sequence,” Michael Metz and Barry McCarthy wrote in the Jan-Feb issue of Utne Reader. A more healthy view of sex is one that changes depending on the couple. “The challenge,” Metz and McCarthy write, “is to stop clinging to the ‘perfect intercourse’ model and replace it with positive, realistic expectations of oneself, one’s partner, and one’s relationship.”
The overly medicalized science isn’t just misguided, it also prevents helpful work from being done. Bennett quotes Amy Allina, program director at National Women's Health Network, saying, “We don't really know - and this is a timely one - how unemployment affects a couple's sex life.”
Scientists are now proposing a new, more “humanistic” model of sex, according to Bennett, that respects the idiosyncrasies of people and their relationships. Looking beyond the physiological, sex science could promote a more healthy view of sex as it functions inside of relationships.
The sex science so far may be promote a sterile, medicalized view of sex, but “it sure is entertaining,” according to Mary Roach, the author of Bonk. In a talk to TED, Roach explains some of the most interesting observation in the history of sex science, including this one by Alfred Kinsey:
Cheese crumbs spread before a pair of copulating rats will distract the female, but not the male.
You can watch that video below:
Source: Boston Globe, Utne Reader, TED
Thursday, March 19, 2009 10:06 AM
Imposing a distance on wealth, by calling money “stocks” or “derivatives” or “mortgage-backed securities” makes it easier for people to cheat, behavioral economist Dan Ariely told the TED conference. Ariely’s research has also found a social factor in cheating, where people feel more comfortable lying when they know that others in their social group are lying, too. The distance factor and the social factor have converged in the stock market, and in places like Enron, where money doesn’t seem like real money and cheating runs rampant. You can watch the whole talk below:
Thursday, July 03, 2008 4:15 PM
More important than long division and the Great Gatsby, an education is meant to teach children how to think. Unfortunately, teachers today are “educating people out of their creativity,” according to Sir Ken Robinson, speaking at the TED conference (video available below). Rather than teaching children how to think, feel, and move, students are taught, “progressively from the waist up,” neglecting dance, arts, and other subjects that encourage creativity.
That loss of creativity threatens to undermine the current generation of young people in America. In an article reprinted from the Rake in the latest issue of Utne Reader, Jeannine Ouellette wrote that “it’s questionable whether tomorrow adults are learning to use the tools they’ll need to succeed.” Over-booking children’s schedules without leaving room for unstructured play time is threatening American innovation, and—possibly most importantly—it’s just no fun.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 11:52 AM
Within 30 years, humans could be immune to disease, unaffected by the ravages of aging, and able live to 150 or perhaps 1,000 years old. We could be, Bryan Appleyard writes for Cosmos Magazine, “medically immortal.”
Medicine and biotechnology may soon begin advancing more quickly than nature can find ways to kill us. “Ultimately,” Appleyard writes, “the forward movement of technology will outstrip our own forward movement through time, and death, the old enemy, will have been vanquished.”
There is safety in arguing that people will soon become immortal. Most people predicting immortality will be dead by the time they can be proven wrong. If they are still alive, they will have been proven right. It’s a win-win bet. And anyone arguing against them is called “fatalistic” and in favor of people dying.
Of course, the shift toward immortality is controversial. For one thing, immortality confronts many of “the traditions of religion and philosophy” Appleyard reports. Since most religions are, in some sense, ways to cope with death, the elimination of death could have drastic consequences on the human psyche.
Although the hubristic undertones of wanting to live forever are self-evident, the religious argument against immortality not a given. “All the scriptures are pretty clear," said biogerontologist and chairman of the Methuselah Foundation Aubrey de Grey, "hastening death is deprecated and, if something is killing people, we are more or less instructed to do something about it.” In a talk for the Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference in 2005 (available below), de Grey says that arguments against immortality are “completely crazy.” While people should be thinking about the potential problems of immortality (overpopulation, scant resources, etc.), no one today has the right to hold up this research and impose their "fatalistic" judgments on future generations.
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