Face mask use is a social contract. My mask protects you; your mask protects me. But face masks are not perfect and they need to be used in conjunction with other measures to lower risk of infection such as physical distancing and hand washing. There is ample evidence to suggest that widespread use of masks results in significant reductions in the transmission of respiratory viruses. Mask use is grounded in biology and can have a real world and meaningful effect on slowing the spread of infection, protecting your coworkers, and those vulnerable members in your community.

From What’s the deal with Masks? by Erin Bromage

The notion that any significant percent of the carbon humanity spews can be sucked up by planted trees is a pipe dream. But it got rocket boosters in July, when Zurich’s Crowther Lab published a paper, in Science, proclaiming that planting a trillion trees could store “25 percent of the current atmospheric carbon pool.” That assertion is ridiculous, because planting a trillion trees, one-third of all trees currently on earth, is impossible. Even a start would require the destruction of grasslands (prairies, rangelands, and savannas) that reflect rather than absorb solar heat and that, with current climate conditions, are better carbon sinks than natural forests, let alone plantations. Also, unlike trees, grasslands store most of their carbon underground, so it’s not released when they burn.

From Planting Trees Won’t Stop Climate Change by Ted Williams (via MetaFilter)

With all the attention given to urban applications of machine vision — from facial recognition systems to autonomous vehicles — it’s easy to forget about machines that listen to the city. Google scientist Dan Ellis has called machine listening a “poor second” to machine vision; there’s not as much research dedicated to machine listening, and it’s frequently reduced to speech recognition. 7 Yet we can learn a lot about urban processes and epistemologies by studying how machines listen to cities; or, rather, how humans use machines to listen to cities. Through a history of instrumented listening, we can access the city’s “algorhythms,” a term coined by Shintaro Miyazaki to describe the “lively, rhythmical, performative, tactile and physical” aspects of digital culture, where symbolic and physical structures are combined. The algorhythm, Miyazaki says, oscillates “between codes and real world processes of matter.” 8 The mechanical operations of a transit system, the social life of a public library, the overload of hospital emergency rooms: all can be intoned through algorhythmic analysis.

From Urban Auscultation; or, Perceiving the Action of the Heart by Shannon Mattern (via Andrew Small)

Handshakes are not valued equally among all the social and cultural groups that practice them. According to Yuta Katsumi, a cognitive neuroscientist who currently researches memory but has conducted several studies on people’s evaluation of handshakes, everyone he studied appreciated a handshake. They were taken as a sign of goodwill and trustworthiness and business competence. However, Katsumi saw one group’s brains light up more than all the others when they witnessed a good, firm handshake: men, and white men in particular. “There’s a good amount of evidence that handshakes are a male activity,” Katsumi says. “If you do an observational study, male-male interactions involve a handshake much more frequently than female-female or mixed-gender interactions.” A quick Google search will reveal articles cataloging multiple strains of gendered handshake angst. There are worries about grip strength, chronicles of boardroom handshake snubs, advice columns urging women to engage in flesh pressing and for men to tone down the macho bone-crusher routine when dealing with their colleagues.

From The End of Handshakes—for Humans and for Robots by Emma Grey Ellis

This level of overt segregation no longer exists, of course, but its legacy lives on through the discomfort many people of color feel trying to navigate these foreign landscapes where people of color have never felt welcome. After all, people of color are concentrated in urban areas where they’re largely kept out of green spaces by default. Parks are often too far from their homes for them to enjoy, and those parks that are nearby may be riddled with toxic pollutants from local industrial facilities or gang violence, its own form of environmental hazard.

From ‘We Belong Here’: Racist Central Park Video Shows Why We Need Diversity Outdoors by Yessenia Funes

Those kinds of observations must be tempered by the day-to-day realities of those who don’t have the cheat codes of whiteness to help them avoid racial harassment, especially from police. The Jane Jacobian idea of “eyes on the street” very easily becomes “eyes on the black people” — which is why some African Americans disengage from public spaces like parks altogether. These peaceful green spaces just as easily induce anxiety and trauma for black and brown people, especially when they know the cops can be unleashed at any moment.

From The Toxic Intersection of Racism and Public Space by Brentin Mock

Because neither the news media nor the nation’s larger political culture has reckoned with the GOP’s authoritarian evolution, the habitual response is to mislabel GOP authoritarianism as hypocrisy. Calling out hypocrisy is a pointless shaming mechanism for a party that has broken free of shame. Worse, it camouflages a war on democracy as democratic politics as usual.

From American Politics Is Now Democrats Versus Authoritarians by Francis Wilkinson (via John Stoehr)

And while findings from past epidemics can give researchers like him a good place to start, they’re not exact parallels. In general, studies specifically on the long-term, society-wide impacts of pandemics are limited, according to Taylor. It was only in the last 20 years that academics began looking at the psychological aftermath of the 1918 Spanish Flu — one of the deadliest pandemics in modern history and one that often gets compared to the current crisis — and even then, he says, its similar timing to World War I complicates the findings.

From What Our Post-Pandemic Behavior Might Look Like by Linda Poon

A huge number of people will need to receive a vaccine in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus and establish herd immunity — the point at which most of the population is protected against an infectious disease. To achieve herd immunity against Covid-19, experts estimate that around 70% or more of the population may need to be immune. And, since no vaccine is 100% effective, the more people who are vaccinated, the better. Getting a vaccine to all the people who need one will take a massive effort, both in the United States and around the world. There has never been a global immunization campaign on the scale that will be needed to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine.

From Developing a Vaccine Is Only the First Step by Emily Mullin

This is to say that the kind of shame suffered most sharply by proud people has been put to use to sustain this ugly economic and social configuration, too opportunistic and unstable to be called a system. It offers no vision beyond its effects. Obviously the depletions of public life, the decay of infrastructure, the erosions of standards affecting general health are not intended to make America great again. They are, in the experience of the vast majority of Americans, dispossessions, a cheapening of life.

From What Kind of Country Do We Want? by Marilynne Robinson (via MetaFilter)

But when appealing to a highly educated, mobile, upper-middle class resident or employer, uniqueness gives way to a candied sameness. While publicly funded arts and cultural planning efforts can serve to materially improve the lives of residents, top-down, developer-centric efforts can result in a homogenous banality. The effect is an algorithmic kind of beauty: sleek and modern, while also gorily Frankenstein-esque. Popped color palettes, parklets, and glass-walled buildings make cities indistinguishable from each other. It’s the architectural equivalent of “Instagram face,” designed with the robotic pragmatism of a targeted ad. In coding design elements towards wealth and the professional class, cities and developers also necessarily code aesthetics toward the sensibilities of white urban transplants, given the makeup of this class.

From Slicker Cities by Saritha Ramakrishna (via Paris Marx)

Feelings of numbness, powerlessness, and hopelessness are now so common as to verge on being considered normal. But what we are seeing is far less likely an actual increase in a disease of the brain than a series of circumstances that is drawing out a similar neurochemical mix. This poses a diagnostic conundrum. Millions of people exhibiting signs of depression now have to discern ennui from temporary grieving from a medical condition. Those at home Googling symptoms need to know when to seek medical care, and when it’s safe to simply try baking more bread. Clinicians, meanwhile, need to decide how best to treat people with new or worsening symptoms: to diagnose millions of people with depression, or to more aggressively treat the social circumstances at the core of so much suffering.

From Is Everyone Depressed? by James Hamblin

Then I got into small Twitter feud with Timothy B. Lee, a writer at Ars Technica, about those stupid sidewalk delivery robots. He used one, waited 90 minutes for his order to be delivered, acknowledged “this generation of the technology is only going to be viable in fairly high-density areas,” but refused to accept they were yet another bullshit tech solution that could be more easily solved with e-bike couriers in the limited areas where robot delivery would make sense distance-wise. He kept arguing that scale would bring down cost, while refusing to recognize that the very same scale will mean crowded, inaccessible sidewalks, which people will not accept — the same way they hated dockless scooters intruding on sidewalks.

From Enough with the autonomous crap by Paris Marx

This dramatic cover does more than mark a stark number. It rejects the toxic individualism embraced by a certain portion of Trump’s base. These people refuse to isolate or wear masks either because they believe the virus isn’t actually dangerous or because they insist that public health rules infringe on their liberty or because, so far, the people most likely to die have been elderly or people of color and they are not in those categories.

From May 23, 2020 by Heather Cox Richardson

Still, on this particular evening, I grabbed my photo ID and my credit card, just in case. But my ID still had my permanent address in Richmond, Virginia, and I’m in Fredericksburg. That wouldn’t help me. I grabbed the water bill to prove that I live in this neighborhood. I headed back towards the door, only to catch a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror. I probably didn’t look like I lived in this neighborhood. Back upstairs I went. Almost by muscle memory, I threw on a University of Virginia hoodie and a U.Va. hat. Even racists love U.Va., or its home of Charlottesville at least. I contemplated throwing on my U.Va. Law hoodie but feared it may have been too much. Would someone feel intimidated and use that as provocation? My anger began rising.

From When a Walk Is No Longer Just a Walk by Archie L. Alston II (via Sarah Holder)