The Art of Perseverance — #107
Do the work, see results.
Welcome to October.
This week, I've tried to keep sane by looking at art and eating cheese in Amsterdam. It worked so-so.
Sweden is facing an escalating wave of drug-related violence. Boys in their early teens are killed in a war between gangs, and innocent people are murdered by accident — human lives become collateral damage.
In addition, the Swedish government are, in parallel, working on several anti-democratic moves, and when I think about them all at once, my head wants to explode.
I'm all for political differences, but I'm pretty passionate about democracy. For example, things like a free press and non-political government institutions. They also slashed the government budget for innovation when every other country moves in the opposite direction.
At the same time, I feel like the company I'm building and the work I'm trying to do is becoming more relevant than ever. And I have a fair share of people who read what I write. That's a start.
Silver linings and anger, people. The two main elements of change.
Five Small Things
BOOK — Astra Taylor's new book The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart.
PODCAST — In Maintenance Phase, Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon debunk the junk science behind health and wellness fads.
TOOL — Last week, I recommended the book Writing for Busy Readers. This week, the team behind the book launched their AI tool, helping you rewrite your emails according to their simplicity guidelines. Pretty neat.
ART — At a time when AI can make magnificent art from short written instruction, I can recommend going to an art museum to watch some actual paintings. Gives you perspective on effort.
INTERACTIVE — Only 8% of Barcelona's streets are named after women. This interactive tool lets you explore how it compares to streets named after Animals, Plants and Places.
The News Section
Russia Offers Cubans Citizenship and Money to Fight in Ukraine
Geopolitics, Human Rights
According to a Reuters report, Russia recruits Cubans to fight in Ukraine (using WhatsApp) by offering them fast-tracked citizenship and considerable monetary compensation.
Russia's offer includes a signing bonus of just over $2,000 a month and an annual salary nearing $25,000 — substantial amounts, given the average wage in Cuba is under $200 a month.
Consequently, many Cubans have accepted the offer to fight in Ukraine. One individual interviewed said he knew of more than 100 people who had been recruited.
Russia has lost tens of thousands of soldiers since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin expanded the draft, which led tens of thousands of Russian men to leave the country. In an attempt to increase its forces, Russia has sought foreign fighters, including Cubans.
Some Cubans interviewed felt misled, thinking they were signing up for civilian jobs but ending up in combat zones. However, most of the interviewees said they were aware of what they were signing up for.
The Cuban government, typically a close ally of Russia, has labelled the recruitment of its citizens as a form of "human trafficking".
Self-Publishing Meets Artificial Intelligence: Surge in AI-Generated Books on Amazon
With tools like ChatGPT providing a convenient generation of long-form text, AI-written books are starting to appear on Amazon. While you might hope it will write you a bestseller novel, generative AI is especially suitable for non-fiction books, like biographies.
Further, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system allows authors to self-publish ebooks and printed books, making it possible to publish a book at no cost and with minimal effort.
The Guardian has investigated the phenomenon and found that the author "Steven Walryn" is a name that has published over 30 books, with 15 posted on the same day in May. Many of these books are repetitive and make no sense.
However, a bookstore filled with poorly written books provides very little value to human readers, jeopardising Amazon's business and reputation. The company recently introduced new guidelines for KDP, where publishers must declare if their content includes AI-generated material and are limited to publishing three books daily.
The Society of Authors wants Amazon to label AI-generated products clearly. Similarly, musicians are challenged on Spotify when competing for royalties with AI-generated noise.
Swiss Voters In Mass Protests as Glaciers Melt at Alarming Rate
Switzerland's glaciers have decreased by 10% in two years. The past September was the hottest on record for the country, and Switzerland is warming at more than twice the global rate.
At the same time, Switzerland's climate policies are considered "insufficient" by the research consortium Climate Action Tracker.
With less than a month before the national election, over 60,000 protesters gathered in the Swiss capital, Bern, yesterday, demanding tougher policies to combat climate change. Large protests like this are uncommon in Switzerland.
There's growing public frustration in Switzerland regarding the pace of policy-making to combat global warming. Swiss voters approved a draft climate law in June, aiming to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050. The law provides financial incentives for companies and consumers to transition to renewable energy sources, but the Swiss government stated that it will not be implemented until 2025.
Spotify Debuts Voice Translation for Podcasts Powered By OpenAI's Technology
This week, Spotify launched a pilot of a feature called Voice Translation for podcasts, which uses AI to translate podcasts into different languages using the original podcaster's voice. The tool, developed by Spotify, incorporates OpenAI's voice generation technology, among other innovations, to maintain the original speaker's style.
Spotify aims for the translated podcasts to sound more authentic and natural than traditionally dubbed content. Ziad Sultan, Spotify's VP of Personalization, remarked that the Voice Translation feature would allow listeners to connect with podcasters more genuinely.
Podcasters Dax Shepard, Monica Padman, Lex Fridman, Bill Simmons, and Steven Bartlett are part of the pilot, with AI-powered voice translations in Spanish, French, and German for selected episodes. Spotify intends to expand this feature to include more creators and languages.
The Insights Section
Book Bans in US Schools Surge by 33% in One Year, Over 1500 Titles Banned
Book bans in United States public schools increased by 33% over the last school year, according to a report by Pen America. Between July 2022 and June 2023, there were 3,362 book bans in public school classrooms and libraries.
1 557 different titles were affected by the bans. The frequently targeted authors were female, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ individuals. 30% of banned books had characters of colour and themes of race and racism, 30% represented LGBTQ+ characters or themes, and 6% included a transgender character.
Books banned in more than 20 districts include The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
Over 40% of all ban cases occurred in Florida, surpassing Texas as the state with the most bans. Missouri, Utah, and Pennsylvania also saw high levels of book-banning cases. The primary reasons behind book bans in schools are pressure from advocacy groups and new state legislation.
However, students are increasingly protesting against book bans, speaking out at school board meetings, and forming organisations defending access to books in schools.
Companies Would Lose Nearly 44% of Their Profits If They Were Expected To Pay For Their Climate Pollution
The world's corporations would face potential climate change-related damages equal to about 44% of their profits if they had to pay for the climate-change pollution they produce. This is calculated in a new study examining nearly 15,000 public companies globally.
These "corporate carbon damages" are estimated to be in the trillions of dollars globally, based on the cost of carbon dioxide pollution proposed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency: $190 per ton for carbon dioxide emissions. Damages were expressed as a percentage of profit and revenues, not in specific dollar amounts.
Approximately 90% of the calculated damage comes from four industries: energy, utilities, transportation, and manufacturing materials like steel.
The utility industry averaged damages more than twice its profits, while materials manufacturing, energy, and transportation sectors had average damages that exceeded their profits. This can be compared to the banking and insurance industries, which averaged climate damages less than 1% of their profits.
Russia and Indonesia had the highest corporate climate damages among countries, while the United Kingdom and the United States had the lowest.
The study's calculations did not consider downstream emissions, meaning the total costs are still not captured in these large amounts. Also, while it is good to highlight how corporations' profits are making huge profits at the expense of a livable world, addressing carbon emissions should focus on shifting to zero carbon fuel rather than punishing measures against specific companies.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies at $13 Million Per Minute in 2022
In 2022, subsidies for oil, coal, and natural gas reached a record high of $7 trillion, according to a report from the International Monetary Fund, which works out to $13 million every minute. That's nearly double what the world spends on education, equaling roughly 7% of global economic output.
Subsidies often come as tax breaks to keep people's gas prices and energy bills low. But they come with huge costs, slowing the shift to a clean economy.
Drowning In Notifications, 58% of US Teens Skip Real-World Socialising for Phone Time
If you have a teen in your life, you're probably already aware that their phones never stop buzzing. According to a small study by Common Sense Media, US tweens and teens between 11 and 17 receive 237 notifications daily, with some teens receiving up to 5,000 notifications daily. 25% of these notifications happen during school hours, and 5% during sleeping hours.
Most notifications are messages and memes from friends on social media. TikTok and YouTube are the dominant apps; more than 38% of daily app usage mapped in the study came from TikTok, and just over 18% from YouTube. Snapchat and Instagram usage among the study participants was 3.6% and 5.9% respectively.
The study found that 58% of teens sometimes or often avoid in-person socialising to spend more time on phones. Two-thirds of teens claim their phone usage affects their sleep: 49% say it sometimes affects their sleep, and 18% often lose sleep because of their phone.
Teens often check their phones because of "quick hits" of feel-good brain chemicals. 39% of the teens said they use their phones to escape reality. 30% say they often use their phones to avoid confronting their feelings.
60+ Age Group Controls 25% of Consumer Spending, But Are Only Represented in 4% of Ads
While the demographic over 60 controls 25% of consumer spending, they are only represented in 4% of ads. CreativeX assessed over 126,000 ads globally (supported by $124 million in ad spend) and found that just 4% of the people cast were over 60.
And, in the 4% of cases where older adults were shown in ads, 65% were in family and domestic settings. Less than 1% of the people over 60 in ads were portrayed in professional or leadership environments.
Additionally, only 3% of digital media budgets are spent on ads featuring the over-60s audience, even though the 60+ audience makes up a quarter of consumer spending.
That was all for today. See you soon! 🔮