As voracious a reader as I am, there are usually more great pieces of writing each week than I have time to read. As I discover things that look interesting, I toss them into a folder on my desktop called “Reading List” in hopes that I’ll return to them. That folder has continued to grow and grow and grow; one of my resolutions this year has been to work through it and get to some overdue pieces. Expect that over the coming weeks there will be a handful of pretty old articles as I finally “discover” some great things that caught my attention last year. First up:
The Brookings Institution crafted an essay on Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. As enigmatic as ISIS is on the whole (a clear thread in all the articles I’ve read is that no one really gets it in the West), its leader is even more so. He’s only appeared in public once, and other than he was once in a US-run Iraqi prison, no other article I’d read really spoke to how he became who he is today. This essay is a great primer not just on the history and rise of ISIS, but why its leader drives it forward the way he does.
How the Facebook news feed works
Facebook’s news feed algorithm is one of the most annoying things in my life. Our clients generally do not understand anything about it, and trying to explain its constantly shifting rules, impact on social reach, and ability to generate engagement is maddening. Here’s a little insight into how and why Facebook builds the feed as it does, and why it makes all those difficult changes.
Rob Bilott vs. DuPont
Filed under: horrifying. The New York Sunday Times last week featured this long piece about a Minneapolis environmental lawyer who has uncovered a level of malfeasance at DuPont that ought to be criminal. The article is borderline unbelievable — the claims are so extreme that if it appeared somewhere like Mother Jones I would actually dismiss it as exaggeration. DuPont’s behavior reminds me of some of the way corporations acted leading up the financial crisis of 2008. Executives generally deserve the benefit of protection given by a corporation, but we ought to be better about prosecuting them personally in instances where their negligence or malice is so blatant. Financial penalties to the corporation are not enough to dissuade behavior, so the repercussions need to be personal.
College sports are incredibly racist
Donald Yee, a sports agent (who obviously can do no wrong because he represents Tom Brady) has a crushing piece in The Washington Post asserting that, beyond the questions of not paying college athletes, that its race balance represents a troubling moral question. The vast majority of students in NCAA revenue-producing programs are of color. They play for white coaches and white administrators. They attend under the pretense of an education many are denied and do not even complete. It’s hard to read this and not come away with the troubling belief that the NCAA is perpetuating an approach that is, at best, racially unbalanced, and at worst, outright exploitation of young people of color.
The Sunni-Shia war is not ancient
Saudi Arabia has made a point of dramatically escalating the Shia-Sunni conflict in the Middle East with itself on one side, and Iran on the other. Most news sources (in a dismissive way that is unbelievably racist) claim this is an millennia-old conflict that is beyond our control or solution. In fact, this conflict really only dates back to the Cold War, and did not become as hot as it is today until the invasion of Iraq. Among the many things we have not considered in our Middle East policy (via the invasion of Iraq, rapprochement with Iran, support of the Arab Spring or ignorance of Syria) is how it destabilizes the balance that exists in the region. Saudi Arabia sees that balance changing and is not fanning sectarian conflict because of some irrational tribal hated, but because of current political calculations that it is making to ensure its own power.