Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Will Social Media Kill Theresa May?

The Spectator asks a question that is haunting Britain’s ruling Tories, as well as any demographically challenged political party: Does social media activity among progressive voters give them a structural advantage in elections?  

The crude stats are humiliating for Theresa May. Her Twitter and Facebook accounts have 411,000 and 540,000 followers respectively, compared with 1.6 million and 1.4 million for Jeremy Corbyn. His online films and tweets are seen by millions — many times the number who hang on the Prime Minister’s digital words. This social media deficit will be a serious problem for whoever leads the Conservative party into the next general election because that is where the marginal voters who determine the outcomes of elections and plebiscites are recruited or alienated. David Cameron’s lame jibe from 2009 that ‘too many tweets make a twat’ is redolent of another era, laying him open to the twin charge of casual sexism and techno-politics Luddism.

2. It’s the New ‘Vette!

What do you see when you get behind the wheel of the 2018 Corvette? According to Car and Driver, the view is nothing less than "Luke Skywalker’s as he zooms down the trench toward the Death Star’s exhaust port.” Amid the all heavy-breathing over “the ultimate track Corvette,”this magnificent review pauses to consider the subtle differences between the ways that European and US regulators assess engine design:

In Europe, the head of anybody who steps in front of a moving car is entitled to smash through a minimum amount of (relatively) soft material and space before contacting hard engine parts such as intake manifolds, superchargers, or intercooler bricks. Here in the U.S.A., we have thicker skulls—perhaps related to an above-global-average dairy intake—and our regulators will let you bonk your noggin on an engine that sticks up through the hood.

3. How Mark Halperin Poisoned Politics

A searing, long overdue takedown of now-exposed sexual harassment veteran and former ABC political director, Mark Halperin. Buzzfeed author Eve Fairbanks goes beyond Halperin’s shameless office behavior, focusing instead on the “deeper, subtler, more insidious effect Mark Halperin had on our politics.” Here’s Fairbanks on Halperin’s online daily, The Note:

The Note purported to reveal Washington’s secrets. In fact, its purpose was the exact opposite: to make the city, and US politics, appear impossible to understand. It replaced normal words with jargon. It coined the phrase "Gang of 500," the clubby network of lobbyists, aides, pols, and hangers-on who supposedly, like the Vatican's cardinals, secretly ran DC. That wasn't true — power is so diffuse. But Halperin claimed he knew so much more than we did, and we began to believe it.

4. The Greatest Scene in the Greatest Movie

75 years after the release of Casablanca, David Youngblood offers a shot-by-shot breakdown of the film’s greatest scene: the moment when Victor Laszlo leads the band at Rick’s Café in singing La Marseillaise:

I truly believe this remains the greatest scene ever filmed. It’s filled with such raw power and emotion, showing a beacon of light in the midst of some of humanity’s darkest days. It tells so much of a story in such a brief moment, distilling numerous characters down to their cores and giving them developments and arcs through the merest of glances. It’s the turning point that pushes the plot and its characters to the point of no return, where a final and deadly confrontation will become necessary.

5. Why Cities Die

Granola Shotgun has published a powerful photo-essay on the consequences of modern regulation. The author begins by describing the hurdles one family faced when trying to rehabilitate an abandoned fire station into a bakery and brewery:

Mandatory parking requirements, sidewalks, curb cuts, fire lanes, on site stormwater management, handicapped accessibility, draught tolerant native plantings…It’s a very long list that totaled $340,000 worth of work. They only paid $245,000 for the entire property. And that’s before they even started bringing the building itself up to code for their intended use. Guess what? They decided not to open the bakery or brewery.

This is no simple libertarian screed, but an earnest attempt by a non-specialist journalist to understand why cities are caught between “permanent stagnation or massive redevelopment.”

6. People May Know You

While laments about Facebook and privacy are nothing new, Kashmir Hill’s new essay in Gizmodo shocks. In investigating the “People You May Know” (PYMK) algorithm, Hill has collected a stash of “more than a hundred bewildering anecdotes,” including:

A man who years ago donated sperm to a couple, secretly, so they could have a child—only to have Facebook recommend the child as a person he should know. 

A social worker whose client called her by her nickname on their second visit, because she’d shown up in his People You May Know, despite their not having exchanged contact information.

A woman whose father left her family when she was six years old—and saw his then-mistress suggested to her as a Facebook friend 40 years later.

An attorney who wrote: “I deleted Facebook after it recommended as PYMK a man who was defense counsel on one of my cases. We had only communicated through my work email, which is not connected to my Facebook.”

Because these “shadow-profile” connections happen inside Facebook’s algorithmic black box, Hill writes, “people can’t see how deep the data-mining of their lives truly is.”

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