• Seal with a Pen

The Upbeat: Plants from Space and Mayors that Rap

Good afternoon!


This week has brought us some fascinating events, and some victories with broad partisan appeal, that I'm very excited to share with you today. This includes everything from helping Americans succeed in the Internet Age, to the rather odd (and hilarious) case of a rapper becoming the mayor of a large city, to ensuring that voters, not partisan politicians, decide the outcomes of elections. I hope that you enjoy today's read and have a wonderful weekend ahead.


Over the past two months, I have attempted to write articles that emphasize issues that matter to people across the political spectrum, not just the left or the right. There are, of course, plenty of events that I think are interesting, funny, insightful, or otherwise uplifting that don't make the cut. I seek to focus on the positive with every event, but that doesn't mean there aren't downsides. I don't necessarily endorse everything that I post; I just want you, the reader, to know that things are happening and that even those policies we disapprove of have upsides. There are plenty of politicians I think could easily be replaced with someone better fitted to the job, but at the same time I seek to focus on the good that these people do, and not on the bad. There are a million other websites for you to visit if you want to read something that confirms your suspicions about the bad. In fact, I encourage you to read them as well to have a more balanced understanding of the news.


There is plenty of good in the world, however. A famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. is: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I wholeheartedly believe that justice will, in the end, reign supreme. There is some good in all people and all things, if we only have the desire to look for it. Enjoy your weekend.


-- Seal with a Pen


Another gerrymandered map struck down. Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of reporting that New York's congressional map, heavily gerrymandered to benefit Democrats, was struck down, and this week I have the pleasure of reporting that Florida's congressional map, heavily gerrymandered to benefit Republicans, was also struck down. This is particularly interesting because the gerrymandered map was drawn by the governor, not the state legislature, and was simply passed by the legislature in rubber-stamp fashion. And yet, a state judge -- appointed by the very Republican governor who drew the map! -- struck down the new map on the basis that it violated anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state constitution. Either way, the blockage of maps in New York and Florida means that both major parties have notched major losses, to the benefit of the people. It is expected that the state of Florida will appeal the ruling to a higher court, which allows them to keep the gerrymandered map until a final ruling is decided. Read more: https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/11/florida-judge-block-new-congressional-map-00031775 (POLITICO), https://www.foxnews.com/politics/florida-judge-block-gov-desantis-redistricting-map-midterms (FOX News)


Government provides internet access for low-income families. Internet access is increasingly essential to do all sorts of things, from banking to communications to shopping, and the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced this importance for many Americans as their kids were required to attend classes online. Even when attending in-person classes, however, internet access is still essential for kids nowadays to keep in touch, do research for homework, and access tutoring and other instructional material that can help the kids that have internet learn more, more easily, more quickly than those kids who don't have internet. Part of the bipartisan infrastructure law last year, however, allocated money to solving this problem, and this week the government announced the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides basic internet plans for low-income Americans for a maximum of $30/month, significantly less than most commercial internet options. The government won't be providing the internet themselves, but has set up agreements with a wide range of internet companies (both national and regional) to provide service at low cost. The new program may benefit rural areas more than urban, as fewer rural Americans have access to internet. Read more: https://www.npr.org/2022/05/09/1097535349/biden-administration-internet-wifi-low-income-medicaid-snap-verizon-comcast (NPR), https://www.cnet.com/home/internet/how-to-apply-for-the-affordable-connectivity-program/ (CNET)


Nepal elects a rapper to rule over their capital. In an amazing turn of events, the city of Kathmandu -- both the largest city and capital of Nepal -- has decided to elect a youthful rapper as their next mayor, at least if exit polls are to be believed. The poll leader, one Balen Shah, ran as an independent without any party support against a former mayor and the wife of a prominent national leader, among others. Shah is both a rapper and a structural engineer and has targeted young people as his political base; if elected, he plans to use his engineering expertise to assist in infrastructure development in Kathmandu, and promises a "hassle-free Kathmandu Metropolitan City." Even if the projections turn out to be wrong (Shah certainly thinks he will win), it's certainly a major feat for a young person without the backing of a party organization to even come close to winning in a major city. Thank you to the nice people on Twitter for making me aware of this. Read more: https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2022/05/04/five-candidates-for-kathmandu-mayor-position-to-watch (Kathmandu Post, pre-elections)


"Space Plants," courtesy of NASA (Credit: NASA, UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones)


University researchers grow plants in moon soil. Over fifty years ago, American astronauts planted the U.S. flag on the moon, and in exchange brought some of its soil back home with them. You may have seen it at a NASA facility, or perhaps in a documentary: moon rocks are exciting stuff! It's cool stuff, but harsh on surfaces and heavily irradiated: not exactly an ideal home for life. NASA's kept most of it locked away, however, until recently, and now a NASA- (read: taxpayer-) funded study has, for the first time ever, grown plants in extraterrestrial soil. The Arabidopsis plants -- a relative of mustard greens -- did grow successfully, though not well per se; the longer the soil had been exposed to radiation, too, the harder it was for the plants to grow: but they did grow! In addition to being the dream of every kid, these "lunar plants" will pave the way to learning how we can use moon rock in lunar colonization, and perhaps teach us something about Mars rock as well, which is similarly exposed to radiation. Read more: https://apnews.com/article/space-exploration-science-technology-florida-46313ab85b13f33ff6767f75b98e9c47 (Associated Press), https://www.nasa.gov/feature/biological-physical/scientists-grow-plants-in-soil-from-the-moon (NASA article)


Weekly Congress activity includes military aid, cyberattack preparation, and building names. Believe it or not, Congress has been working to pass some bills and polish up others this week, and this particularly week has seen a flurry of bill passages. This activity does show the disconnect between the House of Representatives and Senate, however: through yesterday, the House passed thirty different bills while the Senate passed just one. (And yes, ten of those bills rename post offices.) Seven different bills managed to clear all of the hurdles between the House, Senate, and the President however, including the four I've listed below. More bills may be passed today as well, so we'll see what happens.

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