What I'm Reading (Oct. 21)

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The logistics of returns, Disney, and nuclear power – “Our Friend, the Atom,” and the fine immunologic line that is pregnancy.

It all began with Zappos and a policy of free returns. Returning unwanted clothing and other products has become second nature, just like ordering them to be sent to our homes. But just because we don’t give returns much thought doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.

This explosive growth in online sales has also magnified one of e-commerce’s biggest problems: returns. When people can’t touch things before buying them—and when they don’t have to stand in front of another human and insist that a pair of high heels they clearly wore actually never left their living room—they send a lot of stuff back. The average brick-and-mortar store has a return rate in the single digits, but online, the average rate is somewhere between 15 and 30 percent. For clothing, it can be even higher, thanks in part to bracketing—the common practice of ordering a size up and a size down from the size you think you need. Some retailers actively encourage the practice in order to help customers feel confident in their purchases. At the very least, many retailers now offer free shipping, free returns, and frequent discount codes, all of which promote more buying—and more returns. Last year, U.S. retailers took back more than $100 billion in merchandise sold online.”

From The Atlantic, The Nasty Logistics of Returning Your Too-Small Pants

I can remember my first book on science, Our Friend, the Atom, published by Walt Disney. And as a young boy, I was thrilled to ride the submarine ride at Disneyland that was suppose to remind us of the USS Nautilus, America’s first nuclear submarine.

“There was no better friend to the atom, however, than cartoonist and film producer Walt Disney, who agreed to promote the peaceful atom with a new film to be aired on television. Disney producers later explained to the FBI that it took about a year and a half to prepare for it and to film it. “This type of film is usually not profitable for the company; however, Mr. Disney likes to do films of this type occasionally as a public service.” Disney was already a household name for inventing Mickey Mouse in 1928 and making the 1937 blockbuster Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In early 1954, when “Atoms for Peace” needed some publicity, Disney was coming off the success of Peter Pan (1953) and was in the process of planning an ambitious theme park, to be built in Anaheim, California. He also had partnered with the American Broadcasting Company to produce a series of television programs for children. All of this put him in an important position to influence young families’ attitudes about all manner of things, including atomic energy. The FBI’s 1954 assessment of Disney was that he was reliable, cooperative, and “extremely prominent in the motion picture industry,” and that year he became an approved FBI contact for the bureau’s “Special Agent in Charge” in Los Angeles.”

The politics of science go back much further than the ‘50s, but this story had particular resonance for me. From Nautil.us, The Disneyfication of Atomic Power

Our immune systems are trained somehow to know us from others and to treat others with “extreme prejudice.” But what if the other is your baby, growing to the point of being born. How does the immune system manage not to see the baby, half of which is clearly foreign, as something to be dealt with?

“Pregnancy is an immunological tightrope. At the most basic level, a maternal immune system’s job is to welcome a foreign organism that is consuming considerable resources, and allow it to grow unmolested for months. This doesn’t come naturally.”

From The Conversation, Vaccination against COVID-19 supports a healthy pregnancy by protecting both mother and child – an immunologist explains the maternal immune response