Gods and Celebrities: Do Both Obsessions Stem from the Same Impulse?
Although we know better intellectually, we treats celebrities as if they exist in a different realm. Is there an element of misplaced religion at work?
Tim Wu is an author, policy advocate, professor at Columbia Law School, and director of the Poliak Center for the Study of First Amendment Issues at Columbia Journalism School. Wu's best known work is the development of Net Neutrality theory, but he also writes about private power, free speech, copyright, and antitrust.
In 2014, he ran as the progressive Democrat candidate for lieutenant governor of New York. His book The Master Switch (2010) has won wide recognition and various awards. Wu is a contributing writer at The New Yorker and a former contributing editor at The New Republic. He formerly wrote for Slate, where he won the Lowell Thomas Gold medal for Travel Journalism. Wu worked at the Federal Trade Commission during the first term of the Obama administration, and has also worked as Chair of the media reform group Free Press, as a fellow at Google, and worked for Riverstone Networks in the telecommunications industry. In 2015, he was appointed to the Executive Staff of the Office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a senior enforcement counsel and special advisor.
Tim Wu: You know celebrity is a really mysterious thing that I don’t think anyone fully understands. Why are we so interested in these people who are just people but somehow have come to embody some greater idea. It’s not even that they’re great. I mean you don’t worship them necessarily because they’re more virtuous than we are or lofty or something. If they’re like gods they’re more like the Greek gods, you know. They’re prone to embarrassing drunken incidents. The say outlandish things but somehow people just can’t seem to look away from celebrities and it’s not something new. Although what is new is the effort to commercialize that fact to an extent never seen before. New I mean since the 1970’s or so. The effort to build entire platforms, magazines on nothing but celebrity by itself is a development of the twentieth and twenty-first century. We’ve gotten to a point it’s sort of unusual where if you want to get attention to almost anything you need to start with the celebrity. If you’re interested in the problems of Africa you don’t really get people interested.
You have Madonna adopt an orphan. Now we’re talking, you know. It just has become the sine qua non for getting attention as having some kind of celebrity associated with it. When I was running for office for instance, you know, we’d have an important proposal about corruption or something. But when we brought out Mark Ruffalo to endorse our candidacy oh now we’re talking. Suddenly everybody was there. And it is strange that this has become the way we organize this incredible important part of our lives, the products, whatever it is. But it’s kind of the way it is.
I’ve read a lot of the literature on why people are so interested in celebrities. I think they don’t really understand. The most compelling to me are the ideas that compare it to this sort of instinct that is also inherent in religion or sort of looking for transcendence of the normal that we sort of believe these people operate on a different plane. If you somehow end up running into Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks and you may not even care for them as actors, may be indifferent. But somehow I think there’s this effect. Tom Brady – I’ve now named three Toms. You’ll be like oh my goodness, there they are. And maybe your heart will start to beat, there’s a biological reaction. It’s really quite strange even if you hate the Patriots you might still have a reaction. And, you know, why that happens no one really quite understands. I think the people who compare it to this religious impulse that there’s these sort of gods walking on earth, not necessarily beneficent gods but that they exist in a slightly different realm than we do. There’s something to those theories because I just can’t really understand it otherwise.
Our society reveres celebrities like gods, but if they are gods, jokes Columbia law professor Tim Wu, then they’re more like the Greek gods, who were hopelessly and petulantly flawed. Nobody as yet fully understands our culture’s obsession with the famous elites among us, but for Wu, the most compelling ideas so far are those that compare celebrity worship to our inherent instinct to look for things that transcend the normal, that hints at life on a different plane. Does going into a two-hour scroll saga through an actor or sport star’s Instagram reflect a religious, seeking impulse within us? "There’s something to those theories," Wu says, "because I just can’t really understand it otherwise." Tim Wu’s most recent book is The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.
Tim Wu’s most recent book is The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.
But most city dwellers weren't seeing the science — they were seeing something out of Blade Runner.
On Sept. 9, many West Coast residents looked out their windows and witnessed a post-apocalyptic landscape: silhouetted cars, buildings and people bathed in an overpowering orange light that looked like a jacked-up sunset.
India finishes last of 60 countries in environment and sustainability, as ranked by the expats who work there.
- How 'green' is life in your work country?
- That's the question InterNations asked its network of expats.
- The United States ended 30th out of 60 countries.
Nordics on top<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2NjgyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTczNzkyOX0.VgfqyjAa9avw6gFOE0qlgSgKuBN7DJmzOc5lzFGLm8g/img.jpg?width=980" id="1f0dc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b27458cf472d26cf1f87cb91623a0621" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Evo Hiking Area, H\u00e4meenlinna, Finland." />
Evo Hiking Area in Hämeenlinna, Finland. Great nature, clean air, clean water? Check, check and check.
Credit: Kanta-Hämeen kuvapankki on Flickr/ Public Domain.<p><br><strong>1. Finland</strong></p><p>The Nordic country scores at or near the top in all categories surveyed, including the quality of the natural environment (say 96 percent of expats in Finland), water and sanitation (96 percent) and air (95 percent). <br></p><p><strong>2. Sweden</strong></p><p>Swedes lead the world in environmental awareness (84 percent versus just 48 percent globally). Perhaps not surprising, for the homeland of <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/greta-effect" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg</a>. This is reflected by government policy. Sweden currently gets more than 50 percent of its power from renewable sources and wants to go 100% renewable before 2040. "I've been here for over 20 years and I clearly see the benefits of my taxes paid coming back to me and the rest of society," says one American expat.<br></p><p><strong>3. Norway</strong></p><p>"The beautiful nature, the clean air and tap water, and the focus on the environment," are what one Ukrainian expat enjoys most about Norway. With 76 percent of expats happy with the availability of green goods and services, Norway's 'weakest' category is still 13 percentage points above the global average. <br></p><p><strong>4. Austria</strong></p><p>The first non-Nordic in the global ranking, Austria places in the Top 10 for each category and comes in first for the availability of green goods and services (90 percent). <br></p><p><strong>5. Switzerland</strong></p><p>Swiss nature is the most appreciated in the world (98 percent versus 83 percent on average). Switzerland also gets stellar results for air and water quality and the availability of green energy and green goods and services. </p><p><strong>6. Denmark</strong></p><p>Danes are very much into green causes, as is their government, say 83 percent resp. 84 percent of expats. "Organic food is readily available, and they are good with recycling," observes a South African expat. And they love cycling: 9 out of 10 Danes own a bike.</p><p><strong>7. New Zealand</strong></p><p>85 percent of expats agree that the New Zealand government takes green issues seriously. In fact, New Zealand plans to use 90 percent electricity from renewables by 2025. The country also scores high on the quality of its natural environment and all other categories – albeit slightly less on the quality of its water and sanitation.</p><p><strong>8. Germany</strong></p><p>"I enjoy the rising awareness about environmental issues and the alternatives the government and society are developing," says one Colombian expat. Indeed, 80 percent of expats agree the German government is pro-environment (versus 55 percent globally). <br></p><p><strong>9. Canada</strong></p><p>The only North American destination in the Top 10, thanks especially to expat appreciation of Canada's natural environment (96 percent), but also the quality of its water and sanitation (90 percet) and the availability of green goods and services (80 percent). <br></p><p><strong>10. Luxembourg</strong></p><p>"Access to nature for hiking and bicycling" is a definite boon for one American expat. In fact, the country's natural environment, although ranking 13th out of 60, is its lowest-rated subcategory. Luxembourg does even better when it comes to green energy, waste management, and the quality of its air and water.</p>
Taiwan, most sustainable destination in Asia<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2Njg1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NzkxMDAxNH0.Roy7h_Od1cmaqBmamk-DP4rKMpLjTM-qIajG96alZAg/img.jpg?width=980" id="00799" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dab52370e1edb5da5ebb0f5631027b1c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bEternal Spring Shrine in the Taroko Gorge, Hualien County, Taiwan." />
Eternal Spring Shrine in the Taroko Gorge, Hualien County. Outside of Taipei, Taiwan can be surprisingly green and beautiful.
Credit: Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0<p><strong>11. Taiwan</strong></p><p>The highest-scoring expat destination in Asia, Taiwan boasts 92 percent approval of its waste management and recycling, and 80 percent of the availability of green goods and services. But "the air pollution (in Taipei) is getting worse because it is too crowded," one expat complains.</p><p><strong>12. Netherlands</strong></p><p>Green goods and services are widely available, agree 82 percen of expats, as is green energy. However, 13 percent rate the Dutch environment negatively, 4 percet above the global average. <br></p><p><strong>13. Portugal</strong></p><p>Well ahead of its neighbor Spain (#20), the country scores high for air quality (91 percent) and natural environment (95 percent). "I like the opportunity for gardening and growing our own food," says one expat. <br></p><p><strong>14. Estonia</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Estonia scores in the Top 20 for every category and gets its highest marks for its natural environment. "A beautiful country with excellent air quality and open spaces," praises an Indian expat.<br></p><p><strong>15. Costa Rica</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Both the government and the people are very supportive of green policies, find 82 percent, resp. 67 percent of expats. "It's easy to live a healthy lifestyle with regard to the food, climate, clean air and water," says one. Costa Rica won the 2019 UN Champion of the Earth award and has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050.<br></p><p><strong>16. Czechia</strong></p><p><strong></strong>"The beauty of the environment" is one of the best things about living in Czechia, says a Russian expat. No less than 97 percent of expats agree.<br></p><p><strong>17. France</strong></p><p><strong></strong>77 percent of expats are happy about the availability of green goods and services in France, which is 14 percentage points above average. The country also scores well for waste management and recycling. In short, France has a "good, green and clean environment," one Iranian expat finds. <strong><br></strong></p><p><strong>18. Australia</strong></p><p><strong></strong>While ranking high on the quality of its nature, water and air, Australia scores low when it comes to government support for green issues (51 percent). Fortunately, expats see more interest among the general population (68 percent). </p><p><strong>19. Singapore</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Expats rate the government's interest in green issues higher than globally average (77 percent versus 55 percent), but the Singaporean public's engagement for the same less than average (40 percent versus 48 percent). Of course, in a small, crowded place like Singapore, "(nature) spots are limited."<br></p><p><strong>20. Spain</strong></p><p>Spain's "scenery, diversity of places to visit and healthier environment" are what rate highly with one British expat. Its weak point is governmental and public support for green issues – but still slightly above the global average. <br></p>
London is "polluted and noisy"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2Njg4Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDg3NjkyOH0.3ySSD7jFBfAWA07u-EN-oL9x9cq9FZn06iz5aV0hEOw/img.jpg?width=980" id="f5630" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80c9fa119e7ff3acc91e027b7529bfed" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bEven at 2:30pm, London gets clogged." />
Afternoon traffic jam in London.
World map for the 'sustainable expat'<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2Njg5MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzAyNjQ2MH0.hjRiMDmOSnn9EvKJtx_tlzql3Gf7ph8lt8bL6dPCft4/img.png?width=980" id="def5d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="149be2f5a19cc625cb555d8078f62ce2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="The best & worst destiations for the sustainable expat" />
Sixty expat destinations ranked for sustainability, from best (orange) to worst (light blue). In between: fairly okay (brown), middling (grey) and not that great (dark blue).
South Korea's "rather horrible" air<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2NjkxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MTY1MjIwNn0.2e6eBIc38sAZLFQGKw4UL3-SY3hA9NthX0Uj9L4ibZA/img.jpg?width=980" id="c10db" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cba918e6e5455c2e5ff4f9d5caf54775" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bSmoggy Seoul" />
Seoul's air quality is so bad you can picture it. Only India's air is perceived as worse than South Korea's, according to the expat survey.
Bad, worse, India<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2Njk0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTcyMTczMH0.Pt2bGDrpSKSwVjimMK_iK0Jejpu8ILn77VEzHTdzQQ4/img.jpg?width=980" id="28411" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8b8b602261a168a46b05c53e09ab1b02" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="man standing surrounded by garbage" />
India scores worst in all three categories, but to be fair – some of its problems were imported from more developed countries.
Famous physicists like Richard Feynman think 137 holds the answers to the Universe.
- The fine structure constant has mystified scientists since the 1800s.
- The number 1/137 might hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory.
- Relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics are unified by the number.
A study finds 1.8 billion trees and shrubs in the Sahara desert.
- AI analysis of satellite images sees trees and shrubs where human eyes can't.
- At the western edge of the Sahara is more significant vegetation than previously suspected.
- Machine learning trained to recognize trees completed the detailed study in hours.
Why this matters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTkyODg5NX0.O3S2DRTyAxh-JZqxGKj9KkC6ndZAloEh4hKhpcyeFDQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="3770d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3c27b79d4c0600fb6ebb82e650cabec0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Area in which trees were located
Credit: University of Copenhagen<p>As important as trees are in fighting climate change, scientists need to know what trees there are, and where, and the study's finding represents a significant addition to the global tree inventory.</p><p>The vegetation Brandt and his colleagues have identified is in the Western Sahara, a region of about 1.3 million square kilometers that includes the desert, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahel" target="_blank">the Sahel</a>, and the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/subhumid-zones" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sub-humid zones</a> of West Africa.</p><p>These trees and shrubs have been left out of previous tabulations of carbon-processing worldwide forests. Says Brandt, "Trees outside of forested areas are usually not included in climate models, and we know very little about their carbon stocks. They are basically a white spot on maps and an unknown component in the global carbon cycle."</p><p>In addition to being valuable climate-change information, the research can help facilitate strategic development of the region in which the vegetation grows due to a greater understanding of local ecosystems.</p>
Trained for trees<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTk5NTI3NH0.fR-n1I2DHBIRPLvXv4g0PVM8ciZwSLWorBUUw2wc-Vk/img.jpg?width=980" id="e02c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79955b13661dca8b6e19007935129af1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Martin Brandt/University of Copenhagen<p>There's been an assumption that there's hardly enough vegetation outside of forested areas to be worth counting in areas such as this one. As a result the study represents the first time a significant number of trees — likely in the hundreds of millions when shrubs are subtracted from the overall figure — have been catalogued in the drylands region.</p><p>Members of the university's Department of Computer Science trained a machine-learning module to recognize trees by feeding it thousands of pictures of them. This training left the AI be capable of spotting trees in the tiny details of satellite images supplied by NASA. The task took the AI just hours — it would take a human years to perform an equivalent analysis.</p><p>"This technology has enormous potential when it comes to documenting changes on a global scale and ultimately, in contributing towards global climate goals," says co-author Christian Igel. "It is a motivation for us to develop this type of beneficial artificial intelligence."</p><p>"Indeed," says Brandt says, "I think it marks the beginning of a new scientific era."</p>