Weekend Reading 3/22/13

Forget "the greater good," a shrinking household gender gap, and more.
This post is 99 in the series: Weekend Reading

Alan

The incomparable Richard Manning, one of Cascadia’s great environmental reporters, has a superb article in the March Harper’s about the fracking of North Dakota for oil. Here’s a taste to encourage you to look it up. (Unfortunately, a subscription is required.)

Asked to rank American oil-producing states in order of productivity, most of us would begin Texas and Alaska. Some might think to add California. Until very recently, that was correct. But North Dakota surpassed California in December 2011 and Alaska the following March. Production in the state has quadrupled in less than a decade.

Fracking and directional drilling have turned western North Dakota into an oil patch, and Manning documents with heartbreaking clarity the costs: polluted streams, drug abuse, prostitution, and overrun communities.

Tyromancy is “divining by the coagulation of cheese.” Jirble is “to pour out (a liquid) with an unsteady hand: as, he jirbles out a dram.” But what are snoutfair, zafty, and resistentialism? 18 English words that deserve resuscitation.

Anna

Want to know how to turn a state from right wing to progressive? Look to Colorado. As David Sirota writes, if it’s true that the way Colorado goes is the way the nation as a whole goes, then America better get ready for some extremely large changes:

Part of Colorado’s story of change comes from the statehouse where Democrats control both the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. But as much of the story comes from outside the Capitol, where organic grass-roots uprisings are obliterating old political assumptions.

For decades, this was a state whose electoral topography was reliable Republican and whose politics was dominated by an unholy coalition of cultural conservatives and oil and gas interests. In the 1980s and 1990s, it became the national conservative movement in a microcosmic petri dish, passing socially conservative constitutional amendments and a so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights aimed at pulverizing the public sector.

Now, though, everything is shifting. In just a few years, Colorado is pioneering a Western version of pragmatic progressivism, one built on a much different political coalition than the one that made Colorado the conservative movement’s grand experiment.

Sirota identifies at least nine ways the state has changed so quickly—from serious gun control and funding for education and health care, to anti-fracking rules and a backlash against corporate money in politics—and wonders what this Colorado Miracle portends for America is worth a read.

Mother Jones gives us the 10 craziest gun laws proposed since Newtown. (Spoiler: this includes kindergarten teachers packing heat, allowing guns in bars, requiring everyone to carry, and felony charges for introducing gun legislation!)

Are you leaning in? The president-elect of my undergrad alma mater—Smith College—has a thoughtful piece on workplace equality. Kathleen McCartney reflects on the mom-centric coverage of Yahoo’s changed telecommuting rules and concludes that we won’t get anywhere unless we acknowledge the stubbornly gendered cultural biases surrounding parenthood. When it comes to “having it all” or even simply finding a healthy life-work balance, “our implicit biases, she writes, “limit the aspirations of men and women alike.”

And, I knew that my Facebook activity could tip just about anybody off about my political leanings (yes, I’m kinda out there with that). But predicting whether I’m gay or straight? My race? Guessing my IQ correctly? That’s just weird. Weird but true: New research analyzing the “likes” of nearly 60,000 Facebook users found that a person’s race, gender, political views, religion, and even sexual orientation and ballpark IQ could be identified with an uncannily high degree of accuracy. The good news for folks like me who spew a lot of social media: The more Facebook activity, the more difficult it is to sort all the “noise” from your true colors.

Can Americans embrace individual freedom at the same time we believe in working for the common good? Can we keep on living in the Land of the Free and take responsibility for each other too? Sadly, the answer may be ‘no,’ at least not at the same time. And “the greater good” idea may actually backfire when we’re talking about policy solutions! Uh oh. NPR’s Shankar Vedantam’s quick take on the social science is worth a listen.

Add to that research recent neurological studies that show that the brains of conservatives and liberals actually function differently—but it may not be because they were made that way. It’s a chicken and egg question. Our thinking (and worldview) might shape our brains over time and, in turn, the shape of our brains dictates how we think.

Finally, two gems via Treehugger:

“It’s shocking, how much time and fuel is wasted so that people can sit in their rolling living/dining rooms, just getting to work. Everything else we do just pales in comparison.” Here an interactive map showing average commute times in the US.

The defining graph about climate change has been the hockey stick. But with global temps higher now than for most of past 11,300 years, it should be a scythe.

Clark

Observers in the Twin Cities notice Peak VMT—and raise some good questions about whether local governments ought to be projecting traffic growth.  (They don’t seem to be particularly good at it.)  In the same vein, Charles Marohn at Strong Towns suggests that we flat-out stop using traffic forecasts to plan new roads: “infrastructure spending should never be in anticipation of growth, but only in support of places that have been successful.”

Eric

Leslie Helm has a new book, Yokohama Yankee, that promises a fascinating story. There’s a discussion event at Seattle’s Town Hall in a couple of weeks.

Many people commented on new research showing the gender gap in household roles is persistent but narrowing. The really interesting thing though, is that parents are doing a lot more childcare than we used to. It would be fascinating to see how much family size and median ages (for both children and parents) has changed between 1965 and 2011.

This week I had two reasons to wonder if I’m becoming a conservative. First, I read about  Discovery Institute’s Bruce Chapman great idea for democratizing art holdings. Then, I learned that Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier and I agree, at least in theory, about state tax loopholes.

If you’re following the big debate over the coal export terminal proposed for Cherry Point, Floyd McKay’s three-part series is mandatory reading: here, here, and here.

In other fossil fuel news, I highly recommend Edwin Dobb’s National Geographic article on the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. (There’s a Northwest connection here because oil from the Bakken formation is now making its way to Washington refineries in tanker railcars.) The article well illustrates the way that persistent economic insecurity drives people into an unsustainable industry that is dangerous not only for workers, but ultimately for the global climate. It makes a great companion piece to the Richard Manning article that Alan mentioned above.

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