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Complexity

Complexity of human life is increasing, perhaps more rapidly than any increase in human ability to cope with complexity. For instance, the simple act of buttering one's bread, once a mindless matter of spreading butter, now involves a complicated choice: Is it better to use butter, or to select one of several ersatz alternatives?

Butter is high in cholesterol and saturated fat, which are linked to heart disease. Margarine contains unsaturated fat, but some varieties contain trans fats, which are also dangerous. Nutritionists suggest closely inspecting the label of your brand.

“Your goal is to limit intake of saturated fats and to avoid trans fats altogether,” according to Harvard Medical School.

“Look for a spread that doesn’t have trans fats and has the least amount of saturated fat,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
- DANIEL VICTOR, Butter or Margarine? In Dunkin’ Donuts Lawsuit, Man Accepts No Substitutes, NYT, APRIL 4, 2017



I believe the accelerations set loose by Silicon Valley in technology and digital globalization have created a world where every decent job demands more skill and, now, lifelong learning. More people can’t keep up.... ...
When you get that much processing power, putting out that much data exhaust with ever-improving software, you create a world where we can analyze, prophesize and optimize with a precision unknown in human history. We can see trends we never saw, predict when engine parts will break and replace them before they do, with great savings, and we can optimize everything.... ...
The notion that we can go to college for four years and then spend that knowledge for the next 30 is over. If you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner.
And that means: More is now on you. And that means self-motivation to learn and keep learning becomes the most important life skill. ...
So the tough news is that more will be on you. The good news is that systems — like Khan-College Board — are emerging everywhere to enable anyone to accelerate learning for the age of acceleration.
- Thomas L. Friedman, Owning Your Own Future, NYT, MAY 10, 2017


The cyberattack was able to spread so quickly in part because of its high level of sophistication. The malware, experts said, was based on a method that the N.S.A. is believed to have developed as part of its arsenal of cyberweapons. Last summer, a group calling itself the “Shadow Brokers” posted online digital tools that it had stolen from the United States government’s stockpile of hacking weapons. ...

Industry officials said law enforcement officials would find it difficult to catch the ringleaders, mostly because such cyberattacks are borderless crimes in which the attackers hide behind complex technologies that mask their identities. And national legal systems were not created to handle such global crimes.
- MARK SCOTT and NICK WINGFIELD, Hacking Attack Has Security Experts Scrambling to Contain Fallout, NYT, MAY 13, 2017


The rejection of the complexity of modern politics — as well as modern business and modern life in general — lies at the core of populism’s appeal. The first American president with no record of political or military service, Donald Trump ran on a platform of denigrating expertise. His message was that anyone with experience in politics was a corrupt insider and, indeed, that a lack of experience was the best qualification.
- Masha Gessen, Trump’s Incompetence Won’t Save Our Democracy, NYT, JUNE 2, 2017


In the long months since the election, I have been doing some deep thinking about America, trump-supporters, and the future. I have come to believe that it is not low income and education which are the defining characteristics of the trump-supporter, rather it is fear of / inability to handle complexity. The modern world frightens them; the future frightens them. They fear the adaptability, the flexibility needed to survive and thrive. They don't have it and they don't want it. They want a stable, secure, predictable world to live in and Trump promised them that world. He can't deliver, anymore than he can bring back all the manufacturing jobs lost to technology.
- sjs from bridgeport, ct, comment on America in Retreat by THE EDITORIAL BOARD, NYT, JUNE 3, 2017


For a car owner — and certainly renters who might not know what they are getting into — the best way to prevent an unpleasant middle-of-the-night surprise is to check for a spare and be sure that it holds air. If there’s a sealant kit instead, read the owner’s manual (which may be on a DVD or available on the car’s display screen) and learn how to use it.
- NORMAN MAYERSOHN, Cars Lose the Spare Tire for a Leaner Ride, but It Could Cost You Wheels, NYT, NOV. 9, 2017


In May, Mr. Swanljung handed his Medicare prescription card to the pharmacist at his local Walgreens and was told that he owed $83.94 for a three-month supply.

Alarmed at that price, Mr. Swanljung went online and found Blink Health, a start-up, offering the same drug — generic Crestor — for $45.89.

It had struck a better deal than did his insurer, UnitedHealthcare. “It’s completely ridiculous,” said Mr. Swanljung, 72, who lives in Anacortes, Wash. ...
The system has become so complex that “there’s no chance that a consumer can figure it out without help,” said the expert, Michael Rea, chief executive of Rx Savings Solutions, whose company is paid by employers to help them lower workers’ drug costs. ...
Consumers also may face penalties if they don’t use their insurance and pay cash to save money. In many cases, insurers won’t let them apply those purchases to a deductible or out-of-pocket spending maximum. ...
Several independent pharmacists said there might be safety issues if consumers buy drugs at different pharmacies. If those prescriptions are filled without an insurance card, pharmacy systems may not catch dangerous drug interactions. “That, to me, is a recipe for disaster,” said Craig Seither, who owns Fort Thomas Drug Center in Fort Thomas, Ky.

- CHARLES ORNSTEIN and KATIE THOMAS, Prescription Drugs May Cost More With Insurance Than Without It, NYT, DEC. 9, 2017


In late 2008, at a meeting with academics at the London School of Economics, Queen Elizabeth II asked why no one seemed to have anticipated the world’s worst financial crisis in the postwar period. The so-called Great Recession, which had begun in late 2008 and would run until mid-2009, was set off by the sudden collapse of sky-high prices for housing and other assets — something that is obvious in retrospect but that, nevertheless, no one seemed to see coming.

Are we about to make the same mistake? All too likely, yes. Certainly, the American economy is doing well, and emerging economies are picking up steam. But global asset prices are once again rising rapidly above their underlying value — in other words, they are in a bubble.
- DESMOND LACHMAN, The Global Economy Is Partying Like It’s 2008, NYT, DEC. 13, 2017


Facebook recently announced that it would offer users 50 different possibilities and permutations of gender identification. In the gender category under “Basic Information,” the drop-down box now includes such “custom” choices as non-binary, intersex, neutrois, androgyne, agender, gender questioning, gender fluid, gender variant, genderqueer and neither.
- AIMEE LEE BALL, Who Are You on Facebook Now?: Facebook Customizes Gender With 50 Different Choices, NYT, APRIL 4, 2014


Mr. Rothenberg’s organization has long pushed for stronger standards for online advertising. In a speech last year, he implored the industry to “take civic responsibility for our effect on the world.” But he conceded the business was growing and changing too quickly for many to comprehend its excesses and externalities — let alone to fix them.

“Technology has largely been outpacing the ability of individual companies to understand what is actually going on,” he said.
- Farhad Manjoo, Tackling the Internet’s Central Villain: The Advertising Business, NYT, JAN. 31, 2018



Modern hormonal treatment allows male humans who wish to do so to grow breasts. Soon men may also be able to breast-feed their children. Wouldn't it be fairest for men to do an equal share of infant feeding, along with changing diapers and helping with housework?

Within a month, according to the journal Transgender Health, the woman, 30, who was born male, was producing droplets of milk. Within three months — two weeks before the baby’s due date — she had increased her production to eight ounces of milk a day.

In the end, the study showed, “she was able to achieve sufficient breast milk volume to be the sole source of nourishment for her child for six weeks,” according to the journal. ...
The transgender woman in the experiment... approached the medical professionals for hormonal medications in 2011 as part of transgender treatment. She had been receiving it for several years before she began breast-feeding, according to the study. She had not had gender-reassignment surgery nor breast augmentation.
She took on the responsibility of breast-feeding because her partner, who was five months pregnant when they approached the hospital, did not want to.
- CEYLAN YEGINSU, Transgender Woman Breast-Feeds Baby After Hospital Induces Lactation, NYT, FEB. 15, 2018


Still, there is potential for decluttering, which leaves us with a pressing question: Just what records should we be keeping and for how long, and what can we safely shred or delete?

Turns out that you still need to keep more than you might think. ...
Keep copies of all major insurance policies, and a home inventory of things you’ll want to replace if they are damaged or stolen. And hang onto the agreements for all major loans, from student to mortgage, and any letters confirming payoff. Keep child support, alimony and other payment records forever too, along with the divorce documentation.... ...
Estate planning documents can also be a source of contention, so hold onto the originals of any will, trust and related documents, plus beneficiary designations from insurance policies or investment accounts. If you’ve received an inheritance or a gift, you’ll need to document the event and the value as well, perhaps through a formal appraisal. Vanguard notes the need to keep the relevant I.R.S. forms — 706, 709 and 8971 — indefinitely.
- RON LIEBER, The (Long) List of Financial Documents You Should Keep, NYT, FEB. 23, 2018


But each company has filed patent applications, many of them still under consideration, that outline an array of possibilities for how devices like these could monitor more of what users say and do. That information could then be used to identify a person’s desires or interests, which could be mined for ads and product recommendations.

In one set of patent applications, Amazon describes how a “voice sniffer algorithm” could be used on an array of devices, like tablets and e-book readers, to analyze audio almost in real time when it hears words like “love,” bought” or “dislike.” A diagram included with the application illustrated how a phone call between two friends could result in one receiving an offer for the San Diego Zoo and the other seeing an ad for a Wine of the Month Club membership. ...
Sam Lester, the center’s consumer privacy fellow, said he believed that the abilities of new smart home devices highlighted the need for United States regulators to get more involved with how consumer data was collected and used.

“A lot of these technological innovations can be very good for consumers,” he said. “But it’s not the responsibility of consumers to protect themselves from these products any more than it’s their responsibility to protect themselves from the safety risks in food and drugs. It’s why we established a Food and Drug Administration years ago.”

- SAPNA MAHESHWARI, Hey, Alexa, What Can You Hear? And What Will You Do With It?, NYT, MARCH 31, 2018


And notices in fine print are often ignored or misunderstood. Several people who used the app told The Times that they were not aware that it had harvested their data. Studies and surveys have shown that most people click agree to terms and conditions without actually reading them.

- Sheera Frenkel and Linda Qiu, Fact Check: What Mark Zuckerberg Said About Facebook, Privacy and Russia, NYT, April 10, 2018


“I will tell you what has carried me to the position I have reached,” Hitler had said. “Our political problems appeared complicated. The German people could make nothing of them. ... I, on the other hand ... reduced them to the simplest terms. The masses realized this and followed me.”

She leaned forward, a look of concern in her eyes. “How do you attract voters and public support compared with the flashiness of exciting, chaotic, fact-ignoring populism?” she asked. “The reason Hitler won was because all of the other politicians were giving complicated and difficult explanations about difficult things. Hitler just told people simple things that they wanted to hear.”
- Guy Lawson, First Canada Tried to Charm Trump. Now It’s Fighting Back., NYT, June 9, 2018


People don’t have time, let alone the cognitive focus, to shop for treatments while having a heart attack, or during any other emergency.

But not all care we need is related to an emergency. Some care is elective, and so potentially “shoppable.” Scholars have estimated that as much as 30 or 40 percent of care falls into this category. It includes things like elective joint replacements and routine checkups.

And yet very few people shop for this type of care, even when they’re on the hook for the bill. Maybe it’s just too complex.
- Austin Frakt, Shopping for Health Care Simply Doesn’t Work. So What Might?, NYT, July 30, 2018


"It has been said that I owe my success to the fact that I have created a mystique ... or more simply that I have been lucky. Well, I will tell you what has carried me to the position I have reached. Our political problems appeared complicated. The German people could make nothing of them. In these circumstances they preferred to leave it to the professional politicians to get them out of this confused mess. I, on the other hand, simplified the problems and reduced them to the simplest terms. The masses realized this and followed me."
- Adolf Hitler, quoted in Bullock A., Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, New York: Harper & Row, 1962, p. 381





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