Weekend reads for September 9-10

Especially for subscribers, here's a few longer reads on economic, political and social issues for the weekend.

Google, which has a full time lobbyist in Wellington, is rapidly losing the sympathy of people across the political spectrum in America, Arstechnica's Timothy B Lee reports.

This week the New America Foundation, a think tank that's heavily funded by Google, fired the head of its Open Markets project. For the last eight years, the Open Markets team has been methodically building the intellectual case for more aggressive enforcement of antitrust laws—a project that could easily result in more regulatory scrutiny of Google. On the right, many fear its ability to censor free speech, Lee reports.

"There's been a really big breakthrough," says Barry Lynn, who led New America's Open Markets team before New America fired him. "It's not just the left. Interest in dealing with concentration of power, the fear of concentration of power is across the spectrum."

Google is about become more pervasive and powerful, thanks to new way of doing Google Street view with cameras that allow machine learning to record a lot more detail about what the street view cameras see. This piece in Wired has the detail.

"Those algorithms can pore over millions of signs and storefronts without getting tired. By hoovering up vast amounts of information visible on the world’s streets—signs, business names, perhaps even opening hours posted in the window of your corner deli—Google hopes to improve its already formidable digital mapping database. The company, built on the back of algorithms that indexed the web, is using the same strategy on the real world, Tom Simonite reports.

Apart from Donald Trump, one of the biggest stories in America at the moment is the opioid crisis. Mother Jones' Julia Lurie reports about 64,000 Americans died from heroin or fentanyl (a synthetic opiod) in 2016. That's up 22 percent and over 50 percent more than were killed by guns or car crashes.

"The epidemic is straining the capacity of morgues, emergency services, hospitals, and foster care systems. Largely because of prevalent drug use and overdose, the number of children in foster care nationwide increased by 30,000 between 2012 and 2015," Lurie reports.

Further to the great debate about city design (should we sprawl out or go up?), this piece in Bloomberg about how Houston's sprawly approach was not helpful during Hurricane Harvey is well worth a read.

"No city could have withstood Harvey without serious harm, but Houston made itself more vulnerable than necessary. Paving over the saw-grass prairie reduced the ground’s capacity to absorb rainfall. Flood-control reservoirs were too small. Building codes were inadequate. Roads became rivers, so while hospitals were open, it was almost impossible to reach them by car," Esther Perel writes.

I found this piece in The Atlantic about the clash of two cultures fascinating. It details what happened when one of the early founders of Facebook, Chris Hughes, took over the left-leaning magazine, The New Republic. HT Shane Cowlishaw for this link.

"Chris wasn’t just a savior; he was a face of the zeitgeist. At Harvard, he had roomed with Mark Zuckerberg, and he had gone on to become one of the co-founders of Facebook. Chris gave our fusty old magazine a Millennial imprimatur, a bigger budget, and an insider’s knowledge of social media. We felt as if we carried the hopes of journalism, which was yearning for a dignified solution to all that ailed it. The effort was so grand as to be intoxicating. We blithely dismissed anyone who warned of how our little experiment might collapse onto itself—how instead of providing a model of a technologist rescuing journalism, we could become an object lesson in the dangers of journalism’s ever greater reliance on Silicon Valley," Franklin Foer writes.

That'll do for now. Sort of thrilled I didn't include a single link about Trump or our election.

Have a great weekend and please do send me your best long reads (just hit reply on the email) for our fellow subscribers to enjoy next weekend.