What I’m Reading (Mar. 17)

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A contrarian view of microplastic in our oceans, upcoming elections seem to be settled at primaries, not the general, and China clamps down on algorithms. Will that become our law too?

“The problem with cleaning up the open ocean starts with a pervasive misconception — that there are enormous blobs of trash floating out at sea just waiting to be scooped up. News stories in the 2000s popularized this idea by referring to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as an “island” of trash. Even today, a Google search of the “patch” reveals images of large expanses of floating waste.

The so-called patch isn’t so much an island as it is a soup, however, in which broken-down bits of plastic are like pepper flakes. Much of the waste is pea-sized or smaller and floats below the surface. That explains why, when you’re there, “it just looks like ocean,” said Melanie Bergmann, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, who last visited the region in 2019.”

Here is a bit of a contrarian piece on plastics in the ocean. From Vox, Oops, cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was probably a bad idea

“Party primaries are now the most consequential elections in American politics. For many years they have been the ugly stepchild of American politics; ignored by journalists and snubbed by political scientists. All that is changing. In the 1970s, 33% of all House districts were classified as competitive. By the 2010s that number had dropped to 14% and the number of safe districts had increased from 30% to 60%. And the trend towards more and more safe seats appears to be continuing as states finish drawing their maps after the 2020 census. With more and more states and congressional districts becoming dominated by one party or the other, the only real choices for voters come in party primaries.”

With elections just months away, it is fascinating to look at where, evidently, the real action lies, the primaries. Here is an interesting piece on the influence of the polar wings of both parties on which candidates make it through the primaries. Spoiler alert – it pays to be an incumbent. From Brookings, Lessons from the Texas Primary and why primaries are the most important races in America

“The regulations, known as the Internet Information Service Algorithmic Recommendation Management Provisions, were drafted by the Cyberspace Administration of China, a powerful body that enforces cybersecurity, internet censorship, and e-commerce rules. Among other things, they prohibit fake accounts, manipulating traffic numbers, and promoting addictive content. They also provide protections for delivery workers, ride-hail drivers, and other gig workers.

Some provisions aim to address complaints about online services. Under the rules, for instance, companies will be prohibited from using personal characteristics to offer users different prices for a product; they also will be required to notify users, and allow them to opt out, when algorithms are used to make recommendations.”

Our world is increasingly interconnected. EU laws on privacy have been adopted largely in the US because of social media’s international reach. That is why we should pay particular attention to the rules governing AI being promulgated in China where, to borrow a phrase, they are willing to “move fast, break things, and apologize later,” if at all. From Wired, China Is About to Regulate AI—and the World Is Watching