Five Best Tuesday Columns

The Atlantic

Bill McKibben in USA Today on the Keystone XL pipeline President Obama tabled the Keystone XL pipeline project last year, putting off a decision about whether or not to tap a direct line into Canada's vast tar sands. In the meantime, Middlebury College professor and founder of climate change campaign 350.org Bill McKibben says that Mother Nature put forward a number of convincing arguments — from Superstorm Sandy to the hottest temperatures recorded in American history — for nixing the Keystone XL. "Should President Obama reject the pipeline, he'd be the first world leader to block a big infrastructure project because of the damage to the climate," McKibben writes. "That's a legacy — the only one people will care about in the decades ahead."

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David Brooks in The New York Times on the shortcomings of big data Judging from how businesses like Facebook and Google profit from knowing so much about our online browsing habits, it seems like companies will be mining Big Data for profit more and more in the future. "But there are many things big data does poorly," David Brooks notes, pointing to the subtleties of social interaction, the importance of context, and the intricacy of values as things this unwieldy bulk of data has problems capturing. "This is not to argue that big data isn’t a great tool. It’s just that, like any tool, it’s good at some things and not at others. As the Yale professor Edward Tufte has said, 'The world is much more interesting than any one discipline.'"

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William Pesek in Bloomberg View on China's North Korean neighbors As North Korea's latest nuclear test so poignantly demonstrated, there's little the U.S. can do at this point to deter the rogue state from building its weapons program. But there is something China's new leader Xi Jinping can do, argues William Pesek. "Xi should end China’s unconditional support for North Korea’s tantrums and the shameful way it treats its 24 million people," he writes. "China’s claims that it can’t rein in Pyongyang’s officials lack credibility. There is nothing to stop China from cutting Kim’s allowance. You want food and fuel? Then here are a few things you need to do in return for continued Chinese support."

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Scott Winship in Forbes on the robot economy Brookings Institution fellow and Social Genome Project director Scott Winship, for one, welcomes our future robot overlords. Automation will certainly have a big affect on the economy, he argues, but it won't impoverish scores of workers as some rise-of-the-robots doomsayers have predicted. "Technological development will surely eliminate some specific jobs," Winship admits. "But there is little reason to think that the future will look any different from the past in this regard. Productivity gains in manufacturing and other sectors will lower the cost of goods and produce more discretionary income, which people will use to pay other people to do things for them, creating new jobs."

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Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times on liberal Hollywood Sure, Hollywood leans left — but Jonah Goldberg doesn't think it would do much to boost the appeal of conservatism if right-wingers built their own political-entertainment complex. Because even if the actors, directors, and producers in the movie industry tend to be liberal, most movies don't, due to the simple fact that the films have to appeal to as many people as possible. "No doubt many Hollywood liberals would like to push the ideological envelope more, but audiences get a vote. And that vote isn't cast purely on ideological grounds," Goldberg writes. "The conservative desire to create a right-wing movie industry is an attempt to mimic a caricature of Hollywood. Any such effort would be a waste of money that would make the Romney campaign seem like a great investment."

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