3 Stories You Should Read 4/3/2019: Climate Change, Algorithms, Trump and His Lies
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In the category of: Please, someone needs to explain this sh*t.
Why does he do it? Because facts have always been a fungible thing to Trump. He has, throughout his life, bent them to fit the narrative he is telling about himself. For most people, getting something factually wrong — especially in a public setting — is disconcerting and embarrassing. Trump doesn’t have that gene. Facts are whatever he wants them to be. And they can change, depending on his own circumstances. He tells himself a story of his life in which he is always the hero, always the winner, and then repeats that story over and over again. He doesn’t care if objective facts get in the way.
That is troubling, but not terribly hard to understand. What is more difficult to wrap your head around is why Trump’s towering record of distortions and falsehoods seem to have zero effect on either a) his willingness to keep lying or b) how people perceive him. Those two ideas are intertwined, of course — he lies because he feels he can do so without penalty — and I have a few theories about the seeming total lack of concern among many people for a President who has said more than 9,000 false or misleading things in his first 802 days in office.
In the category of: Who’s paying attention?
McDonald’s announced recently that it purchased Dynamic Yield, an AI company it will use to analyze customer habits to try and sell them more food. When a hamburger shack is using algorithms to stoke sales, it’s clear we have entered a new era. But the ubiquity of algorithms is not merely an evolution of technology. Rather, it represents the emergence of a whole new set of questions around ethics, bias, and equity with which we must grapple. Up until now, algorithms have been deployed with relatively little oversight. It may be time for that to change.
Algorithms — complex equations that are used to make decisions — are becoming fundamental to the functioning of modern society. But they also bring with them a heap of problems. For example, a revealing Bloombergpiece recently described how YouTube has a long history of suppressing employee concerns about false or bigoted content on the platform in favor of the AI-based content sorting system that determines which videos the site recommends to users. That’s a problem!
In the category of: It’s all connected.
In the western highlands of Guatemala, the question is no longer whether someone will leave but when.
The western highlands, which extend from Antigua to the Mexican border, cover roughly twenty percent of Guatemala and contain a large share of the country’s three hundred microclimates, ranging from dank, tropical locales near the Pacific Coast to the arid, alpine reaches of the department of Huehuetenango. The population in the highlands is mostly indigenous, and people’s livelihoods are almost exclusively agrarian. The malnutrition rate, which hovers around sixty-five percent, is among the highest in the Western Hemisphere. In 2014, a group of agronomists and scientists, working on an initiative called Climate, Nature, and Communities of Guatemala, produced a report that cautioned lawmakers about the region’s susceptibility to a new threat. The highlands, they wrote, “was the most vulnerable area in the country to climate change.”
In the years before the report was published, three hurricanes had caused damage that cost more than the previous four decades’ worth of public and private investment in the national economy. Extreme-weather events were just the most obvious climate-related calamities. There were increasingly wide fluctuations in temperature—unexpected surges in heat followed by morning frosts—and unpredictable rainfall.
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