#1: Welcome to "Important, Not Important": your weekly collection of the news vital to the survival of our species

Let me preface today's first edition by saying this is the longest the intro will ever be. Ever.

I said I wasn't going to do this, but then I decided to, anyways. Because fuck it, right? In the end, these fancy newsletters aren't too much trouble to put together, and it's definitely less annoying than me emailing family and friends every-single-goddamn-time I read something I feel should be shared. Disclosure: my wife has a custom smart inbox of emails from me, and the unread count is...substantial. Hundreds. Maybe thousands. Disconcerting. What's in there?

Anyways. I don't blame her.

Here's the gist: it's less that I think I have important things to say, and more that the world's at a critical juncture and it's easy to miss what's actually important amidst the endless, relentless noise. God, the fucking noise. Why's there so much goddamn noise?

Here's part of the reason:

Most websites/online publishers are monetized by and therefore constructed around display ads, or pre-roll video ads, or other ads, and they need to drive clicks, first to their website, and then to the ads, and these usually convert at less than 2%, and when they do the margins are incredibly small because the marketplace competition for eyeballs is insane and all of it is handled by computers, instantaneously, behind the scenes, so even the best of them are barely eeking out an existence. Or they just straight up die. All while your favorite webpage takes 11 seconds to load in 2016. 

And so only real way they can actually survive is by serving up click-bait bullshit like "This Adorable Puppy Drowned and Then You'll Never Guess What Amazing Thing His Neighbor Did Next". This clusterfuck situation will only be thrown more into flux by the emergence of Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, and then of course there's Google's complete inability to monetize anything but their advertising business. Yes, yes: if you've subscribed already and are (still) reading this, then it's likely your favorite websites are semi-respectable (don't get me wrong -- we've all got our dirt) and probably have some hardworking bastards pumping out quality reporting/analysis/opinions. But, they're buried, and again -- noise.

And then there's bandwidth. We've each got such a tiny availability of bandwidth. Not enough time or headspace in the day. I get it. I'm with you. And smartphones and accompanying apps (but mostly games) are specifically designed to fill any empty possible space you have. So you're distracted by the most useful and powerful piece of personal technology we've ever developed, have all of the world's information at your fingertips, and don't have time or energy or focus to cut through the bullshit. So you don't even go to the actual websites, and exclusively click on the headlines you see on Facebook, or on Twitter, and those are, surprise surprise, usually the clickbait.

I'm not saying your aunt doesn't share items with strategic national importance, it's just...you get it. Look. It's not your fault. It's the way the system's designed, and you can't create more hours in the day, and believe me, publishers would nuke the whole thing if they could. This is why you should celebrate that paywalls and Buzzfeed exist. Two totally different systems, but at least it's semi-honest money-making. Actual reporting costs money, and they have to pay for it somehow. 

But back to me.

The plan is to share items I feel will accomplish one or more of the following:

a) Educate you on a very bad thing that's happening
b) Educate you on a very good thing that's trying to happen
c) Break you out of your bubble
d) Help you feel smart(er) during dinner conversations


The format is very much subject to change, but is planned to be a collection of items I've read in the week prior. I'll have curated them from the significantly larger collection of reading I do on a weekly basis. I read a lot every day and every week, mostly because my J-O-B is creating stories, often about the future, or the past, and, if I'm actually doing it right, how we as a species are dealing with some new tech, or aliens, etc (Hint: it's usually not well). But the best stories are relatable, whatever the time period or context, and so I try to keep a broad eye on most important things, and a deep dive on a select few. 

Last note on content, and this one is more specific. Something you care deeply about will get left off the radar, over and over again. You'll be annoyed, or just unsubscribe. I will do my best to keep it varied.

However, perspective: without being a total alarmist -- I sincerely believe that the progression of climate change is so very much worse than we could ever imagine, and that drastic changes are inevitable and well beyond our ability to limit them, much less reverse them. I've got three very young kids. In my view, the end of the habitable planet kind of makes everything else pale in comparison.

Anyways. Like I said, future intros will be CONSIDERABLY shorter. I'll let the pieces speak for themselves.

Finally, because this is Issue #1, the items below represent the "best of" from the past month or so.

On to the news!

1. Inequality is about so much more than income - The Atlantic

"Total Inequality is not merely income inequality (although it matters) nor merely wealth inequality (although that matters, too). Total Inequality would refer to the sum of the financial, psychological, and cultural disadvantages that come with poverty. Researchers cannot easily count up these disadvantages, and journalists cannot easily graph them. But they might be the most important stories about why poverty persists across time and generations."

2. Where decades of nutrition research went wrong: sugar was always enemy #1 - The Guardian

"For at least the last three decades, the dietary arch-villain has been saturated fat. When Yudkin was conducting his research into the effects of sugar, in the 1960s, a new nutritional orthodoxy was in the process of asserting itself. Its central tenet was that a healthy diet is a low-fat diet. Yudkin led a diminishing band of dissenters who believed that sugar, not fat, was the more likely cause of maladies such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. But by the time he wrote his book, the commanding heights of the field had been seized by proponents of the fat hypothesis. Yudkin found himself fighting a rearguard action, and he was defeated."

3. How close are we to the 2 degree climate change "red line"? Close. - FiveThirtyEight

"Henson and other scientists I interviewed for this article all struck a similar theme: When we’ve really hit 2 degrees — averaged over an entire decade — the impacts on ecosystems and extreme weather will be substantially worse than what’s happening this year.

Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, was less sanguine. He told The Sydney Morning Herald that temperatures “are clearly more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. … We are in a kind of climate emergency now."

4. A programming language anyone can learn and use -- but this time, for bacteria - Phys.org

"It is literally a programming language for bacteria," says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. "You use a text-based language, just like you're programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell…Future applications for this kind of programming include designing bacterial cells that can produce a cancer drug when they detect a tumor…”

5. I wonder how many politicians own second homes in coastal cities? - ThinkProgress

"So now we know that when you model the kind of dynamic disintegration of Antarctica that has happened in the past and that is clearly happening now, you get a contribution from Antarctica that is vastly higher than the experts thought just four years ago. If you add that to the expert assessment for Greenland along with the other more easy-to-calculate contributions (such as thermal expansion of the oceans as the planet warms), then you get a sea level rise double what the IPCC had said. And you get pretty much exactly what a simpler historically accurate model had found seven years ago.

To be clear, though, the five to six feet of sea level rise is not the worst-case scenario."

6. Electric cars -- and trucks and buses -- may be the norm by 2025 - CleanTechnica

"Stanford University’s Tony Seba’s…message is not one that sits comfortably with incumbent industries, the auto and oil sectors in particular. He thinks that new internal combustion engine cars will not be on sale by 2025. Anywhere in the world. And there may not be many internal combustion engine buses, trucks, and tractors either."

7. The fight against cancer will take many more efforts like these. - Fortune

"The Parker Institute wants to accelerate research into these areas as well as new tumor antigen targets to ultimately turn cancer into a manageable and even curable disease. It plans to do that by coordinating research across the field’s top laboratories and pushing those findings quickly into clinical trials. The Parker Institute will not only provide comprehensive funding, clinical resources, and technology to each location, it will also create a central repository for intellectual property. This will allow researchers across the six cancer centers to quickly access a broad swath of core discoveries, further speeding other research avenues."

8. Shouldn't be a surprise that the world's biggest need is the biggest business opportunity - Aeon

"‘Infrastructure’ is a most unglamorous term, the type of word that would have vanished from our lexicon long ago if it didn’t point to something of immense social importance. Remarkably, in 2015 ‘infrastructure’ came to the fore of conversations in many walks of American life. In the wake of a fatal Amtrak crash near Philadelphia, President Obama wrestled with Congress to pass an infrastructure bill that Republicans had been blocking, but finally approved in December 2015. ‘Infrastructure’ also became the focus of scholarly communities in history and anthropology, even appearing 78 times on the programme of the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Artists, journalists, and even comedians joined the fray, most memorably with John Oliver’s hilarious sketch starring Edward Norton and Steve Buscemi in a trailer for an imaginary blockbuster on the dullest of subjects."

9. Mass torture and killings in Syria. Documented. - The New Yorker

"In the past four years, people working for the organization have smuggled more than six hundred thousand government documents out of Syria, many of them from top-secret intelligence facilities. The documents are brought to the group’s headquarters, in a nondescript office building in Western Europe, sometimes under diplomatic cover. There, each page is scanned, assigned a bar code and a number, and stored underground. A dehumidifier hums inside the evidence room; just outside, a small box dispenses rat poison."

10. And last, some provocative shit: why cryonics might just be a great idea. - WaitButWhy

"'Cryonics is the morbid process of freezing rich, dead people who can’t accept the concept of death, in the hopes that people from the future will be able to bring them back to life, and the community of hard-core cryonics people might also be a Scientology-like cult.'

We’ll address these three words by going through how cryonics works, starting at the beginning."