Good Reads: Mexico City cleans up, avoiding 'truth,' and a rare visit to North Korea(Read article summary)
This week's good reads include Mexico City's bike-sharing and walkways, the gap between information and understanding, outsourcing personal chores, and a young American's insights on the 'hermit kingdom.'
Mexico City has long had a dark cloud hovering over it â both literally and figuratively â when it comes to traffic woes and vehicle emissions. As recently as 2011, residents of Mexicoâs vibrant capital city reported âenduring the most painful commute,â according to a report in National Geographic. âBased on factors such as roadway traffic, stress levels, and commute times, the city scored worse than 19 cities, including Beijing, China, and Nairobi, Kenya.â
So it might come as a surprise that this megacity, home to 20 million people and more than 4 million vehicles, was recently selected to receive the Institute for Transportation and Development Policyâs Sustainable Transport Award.
National Geographic describes Mexico Cityâs progress, noting that over the past two years the city has taken great strides to become more pedestrian-friendly with car-free walkways and plazas, new bus lines, a bike-sharing program, and a system of parking meters.
Sure, traffic still exists and air quality isnât perfect, but anyone who has been to the bustling metropolis knows the hurdles the city has had to confront and what great progress must have been made to entitle it to an award of this sort.
Avoiding the truth
âIn the three or four decades after 1490, the human experience on planet Earth arguably changed more than it had since the Year One,â writes Todd S. Purdum in Vanity Fair. And the life-altering changes that took place â from international exploration connecting the Eastern and Western Hemispheres for the first time to the creation of movable type â may have been the most revolutionary years civilization has seen. Until now.
â[W]e know almost everythingâ today, Mr. Purdum notes. Thatâs thanks in part to a second round of radical change that started a few short decades ago and continues in full force. Changes such as the âricochetsâ of money and people around the world, and the simplification of information sharing via the Internet. But our newfound knowledge and interconnectivity doesnât necessarily mean we understand our environment or âThe Truthsâ that confront us.
Unlike our forefathers â who may not have had enough information to understand that the âsweating sicknessâ (malaria) that suddenly plagued coastal England was linked to the slave trade, or who couldnât foresee that the printing press might also launch freethinking and religious wars â we arenât in the dark. We have overwhelming amounts of information that wash over us daily that we canât seem to process.
Consider the lasting debate over global warming, despite the volumes of real-time proof.
âFixed cameras can capture the melting of glaciers through time-lapse photography, but they canât quell the doubts of climate-change deniers,â Purdum offers as one example.
The chore of no more chores
Have you ever dreamed of coming home from work and having that pile of dirty laundry miraculously washed and folded? Or of having that book thatâs been taunting you from your bedside table read in time for your next book club meeting? You, dear reader, are not alone.
âOh, to be rich and powerful,â Patricia Marx writes in the opening of her New Yorker article âOutsource yourself: The online way to delegate your chores.â Ms. Marx takes her readers through a humorous journey of âtest drivingâ the world of online services. There, âTask Rabbitsâ (errand runners) and âvirtual personal assistantsâ can be hired to do everything from writing a brief history of outsourcing in the US for an article (hers) or even to read Proust and come up with insightful musings to impress book club friends (hers again).
There are numerous websites and Internet communities dedicated to outsourced work. But, as you might imagine, Marxâs adventures reveal that after spending time soliciting errand runners for simple tasks and then sifting through bids on these chores, it might just be quicker to do them yourself.
Turn up the heat, North Korea
Sophie Schmidt, daughter of Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, tagged along in January when her father took part in a nine-person US delegation to North Korea, organized by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Ms. Schmidt, a grad school student, made a number of enlightening observations about the âhermit kingdomâ on her blog, Sophie in North Korea.
In a post titled âIt might not get weirder than this,â Schmidt writes, âOur trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.â She notes under âTop Level Take-awaysâ that âNothing Iâd read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.â It was also extremely cold and none of the sites they toured â schools, malls, and government buildings â were heated, despite frigid temperatures.Â
âIt is quite extraordinary to have the Honored Guest Experience in such conditions: theyâre proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath. A clue to how much is really in their control.â