Weekend Briefing No. 293

Welcome to the weekend. Hello from Brooklyn. I’m happy to be back home after a number of weeks in Europe. (I always love hitting those cobble stone streets of Dumbo.)

I’ll be heading back across the pond to London on the week of October 21. Apparently, there is a sizeable Weekend Briefing audience in London. I’d love to meet you. Additionally, I’m always up for meeting folks in the startup / social enterprise scene (entrepreneurs and investors). If you are interested in meeting up, click here.

Prime Numbers

73 73% of Americans believe that the gap between rich and poor will grow over the next 30 years.

60 60% of Americans believe that the US will be less important in the world in 30 years than it is today.

46 46% of whites believe a majority non-white country in 30 years will weaken American culture.

1619: The Birth of American Music

As the story goes, T.D. Rice, a white man, this anonymous nobody actor trying to make ends meet, happened upon an old black man cleaning a horse in a stable. The man was doing his job on property owned by a white man named Crow. Whatever Rice hears coming out of this man’s mouth is captivating to him. And what he sees is an opportunity. And he takes that opportunity and runs all the way to the theater. And then he paints his face black. He goes out on stage, but instead of doing his regular act, he’s got this horse groomer’s tune. Except now, he’s given the tune lyrics. And the lyrics give the horse groomer a name. And the name is Jim Crow. So the crowd goes crazy. They go so bananas, the man gets 20 encores. This is the first time a paying audience is basically electrified by a white man with a black face. This is the night that Jim Crow was allegedly introduced to America, this mascot of American racism. And this is what America really wanted, which was its own original art form that is not an Italian opera, and isn’t some British guy coming over and thespianing all over them. And here is Thomas Dartmouth Rice giving it to them. This is the night that American popular culture was born. 1619 (36 minutes)

Amazon Climate Pledge

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a sweeping new plan on Thursday to tackle climate change, committing the retail giant to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years ahead of schedule. In what he is calling the “Climate Pledge,” Bezos also promised to measure and report the company’s emissions on a regular basis, implement decarbonization strategies and alter its business strategies to offset remaining emissions. Bezos expects 80% of Amazon’s energy use to come from renewable sources by 2024, up from a current rate of 40%, before transitioning to zero emissions by 2030. CNBC (3 minutes)

Non-profit Starvation Cycle

The presidents and staffs of five leading U.S. foundations have recognized a menu of approaches to address chronic underfunding of nonprofits’ indirect costs. These include capabilities essential to achieve impact, such as executive leadership, information technology, strategic planning, and knowledge management. The menu signifies a shift from talk to action in the long-running debate over nonprofit underfunding. While the hard work of implementing the presidents’ proposed solutions to chronic nonprofit underfunding is just beginning, one thing is clear: Solving this systemic problem won’t happen unless many foundations and supporting intermediaries work together to build stronger, more durable, and more effective organizations. The Chronicle of Philanthropy (11 minutes)

The Tragedy of the Commons

Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968) has been incredibly influential generally and within economics, and it remains important despite some historical and conceptual flaws. Hardin focused on the stress population growth inevitably placed on environmental resources. Unconstrained consumption of a shared resource—a pasture, a highway, a server—by individuals acting in rational pursuit of their self-interest can lead to congestion and worse, rapid depreciation, depletion, and even destruction of the resources. Our societies face similar problems, not only with respect to environmental resources but also with infrastructures, knowledge, and many other shared resources. In a retrospective paper, the authors examine how the tragedy of the commons has fared within the economics literature and its relevance for economic and public policies today. They revisit the original piece to explain Hardin’s purpose and conceptual approach, and expose two conceptual mistakes he made, (1) that of conflating resource with governance and (2) conflating open access with commons. This critical discussion leads them to the work of Elinor Ostrom, the recent Nobel Prize in Economics Laureate, who spent her life working on commons. Finally, they discuss a few modern examples of commons governance of shared resources. SSRN (22 minutes)

Fire on the Mountain

For more than 100 years, the U.S. Forest Service has been posting men and women atop mountains and trees, and in other hard-to-reach places, to wait and watch for smoke. Why pay a person to sit on top of a mountain when you can plop down a 360-degree camera? Why try to discern a fire’s heat and intensity from the color of its smoke when you can get an infrared image? Why pay someone like Philip Connors to plot a fire’s location with a faded map, a line of string and a pair of binoculars, when you can get a precise location from drone Unmanned 201? Connors says, “Humans throughout our culture are going to be replaced by various forms of automation going forward. It’s happening now and it’s going to accelerate,” he says. “But I think we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t at least stop and ask for half a second: What will we lose in that move towards automation? Here I think we lose some deeper wisdom and connection with the landscape.” NPR (6 minutes)

Frankenbees

Another, more controversial, response to the slump in bee populations is in the works. This is the plan to create a more resilient strain of honeybee – a genetically modified superbee. The technology for creating GM honeybees is in its infancy, and still confined to the laboratory. But, if successful, it could lead to a hardier species, one that is resistant to natural and manmade hazards: viruses, varroa mites, pesticides and so on. If we can’t change modern farming practices, the thinking goes, maybe we should change the bees. The prospect horrifies many bee people – from commercial beekeepers to passionate amateurs – who see a lab-made, CRISPR-modified superbee as a direct threat to the smaller, struggling bee species. Traditional beekeepers have a name for them that expresses their fear and suspicion: Frankenbees. The Guardian (19 minutes)

Multi-Hyphenate

When people ask me (Kyle) what I do, my typical answer has been, “I write, teach and run a law firm.” The most common response I get is, “So when do you sleep?” (I love sleep and rarely get less than 7 hours… I just don’t flex on this… I also don’t have children.) I sometimes feel a little embarrassed or self-important describing myself that way. But the truth is, I love my work and feel so lucky to do a few things I love. I’ve always struggled to articulate to people why doing a few things is actually better for me, but this article in praise of being multi-hyphenate encapsulates my thinking… We miss out on wisdom if we’re too narrow. Specialists become so narrow that they actually start developing worse judgment about the world as they accumulate knowledge. Breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer. Transfer is your ability to take knowledge and skills and apply them to a problem or situation you have not seen before. And your ability to do that is predicted by the variety of situations you’ve faced. So, as you get more variety, you’re forced to form these broader conceptual models (in the classroom setting called “making connections” knowledge), which you can then wield flexibly in new situations. Wisdom is fungible. The more you have of it — regardless of where you got it — the more places you can apply it. Human Parts (7 minutes)

Bookshelf

Lincoln by Gore Vidal. Lincoln is the cornerstone of Gore Vidal’s fictional American chronicle. It opens early on a frozen winter morning in 1861, when President-elect Abraham Lincoln slips into Washington, flanked by two bodyguards. The future president is in disguise, for there is talk of a plot to murder him. During the next four years there will be numerous plots to murder this man who has sworn to unite a disintegrating nation. Isolated in a ramshackle White House in the center of a proslavery city, Lincoln presides over a fragmenting government as Lee’s armies beat at the gates. In this profoundly moving novel, a work of epic proportions and intense human sympathy, Lincoln is observed by his loved ones and his rivals. The cast of characters is almost Dickensian: politicians, generals, White House aides, newspapermen, Northern and Southern conspirators, amiably evil bankers, and a wife slowly going mad. Vidal’s portrait of the president is at once intimate and monumental, stark and complex, drawn with the wit, grace, and authority of one of the great historical novelists. Amazon

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by Duffy Brook.

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Weekend Wisdom

Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be.Abraham Lincoln