January 4th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

About That Resolution…

There’s a decent chance you’ve blown your New Year’s resolution by now. So let’s ease into things with Paul F. Campos’ NY Times piece on a new meta-analysis of the relationship between body weight and mortality risk. “The results ought to stun anyone who assumes the definition of ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ weight used by our public health authorities is actually supported by the medical literature.” In short, if you want to live longer, you may need to gain some weight: Our Absurd Fear of Fat.

+ Speaking of resolutions, Mark Zuckerberg posted that his goal for 2016 is to “build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work. You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man.”


Arm to Table

“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers. When in reality these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.” A group of armed militia members led by Ammon Bundy have taken up residence on federal land in Oregon raising fears of a potentially violent stand-off with law enforcement. (Meanwhile, there’s a battle on social media to determine the best nickname for the group: Y’All Qaeda, or the clearly superior, Vanilla ISIS.)

+ Vox explains: Who are these guys and what do they want? (I’m guessing the locals will force these guys out once they realize that their ammunition is not artisanal.)


Saudi Wince

The new year is off to a decidedly ominous start in an increasingly ominous region as Saudi Arabia’s execution of a popular Shiite cleric caused an uproar in Iran. The two countries have severed diplomatic ties as other leaders in the region begin to choose sides. From WaPo: “The rupture sets the region’s two biggest powerhouses on a collision course at a critical time for U.S.-led diplomacy in the Middle East, and it raised the specter of worsening violence in the countries where they back rival factions, such as Iraq, Yemen and Syria.”

+ BBC: Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are at their worst for nearly 30 years.

+ WSJ: Who was Shiite cleric Nemer al-Nemer?

+ NYT: How Do Sunni and Shia Islam Differ?


Puncher’s Chance

“Colin threw the first punch, and didn’t let up. Mario joined in, neighbors looking on. Then Taurus waded in and landed one blow. Jacques crumpled, and never got up.” And that one punch thrown by a 16 year-old Taurus Buchanan resulted in a life-sentence. From The Marshall Project: This Boy’s Life. There is finally support for prison reform on both sides of the aisle. Look for this to be a key topic of 2016.


Say Hello to My Little Trend

“He’s proud of the audacity and perseverance it took to bring down the cartel, and he knows he helped prevent murders and kidnappings. But when he looks back, he doesn’t see the clear-cut triumph portrayed in press releases. Instead, he and other agents who worked the case say the experience left them disillusioned.” In the war on drugs, even victories can feel like defeats. Pro Publica and The Atlantic with a familiar (if often untold) tale. A major drug bust that may have led to something worse: Devils, Deals and the DEA.

+ LA Times: “Gisela Mota was sworn into office as mayor of the small city of Temixco in the state of Morelos on New Year’s Day, after promising to help free the small town from the grip of organized crime. Less than 24 hours later, the 33-year-old politician was dead.”

+ If you’re interested in this topic, I just read an excellent novel that traces the human cost of the never-ending war: The Cartel, by Don Winslow.


They’re Playing Our Wrong

Researchers programmed a computer to analyze the speech patterns of couples in marriage counseling. And it turned out that the computer was “able to predict marital improvement or deterioration about as reliably as ratings provided by trained humans — in fact, even a little better.” (This was especially true when one of the participants picked up the computer and tossed it in the direction the other.)

+ “No one outside Facebook knows for sure how it does this, and no one inside the company will tell you. And yet the results of this automated ranking process shape the social lives and reading habits of more than 1 billion daily active users — one-fifth of the world’s adult population.” Will Oremus heads to Menlo Park to find out who controls your Facebook feed.


I’d Like to Teach the World to Shop

The Chinese stock market put a global damper on the first trading day of 2016. But the Chinese consumer market is the key to growth for some U.S. companies. And Alibaba wants to open up that market like never before. In Fortune, the excellent Leena Rao explains why Alibaba wants Chinese shoppers to buy American. (What’s interesting is that the products are “American” but they are made in China and the companies don’t even necessarily have to have Chinese office.)

+ The size of opportunity is so large it will be measured in trillions, not billions — trillions of dollars, that is, not rupees.” That’s why Amazon is making a big push into India.


The White House, In Color

Pete Souza is the White House photographer, and each year he shares a collection of favorite shots. They provide an amazingly humanizing look at life in and out of the Oval Office. Behind the Lens: 2015 Year in Photographs.


A CD Part of Town

Those in my demographic will remember the relentless marketing for Columbia House, the service that promised Eight CDs for one penny, and then locked you into a relationship that would have been eternal if not for the company’s bankruptcy filing. Well, they’re planning a comeback as a vinyl subscription service.

+ Meet the guy who ruined music forever: The Inventor of Autotune.


Bottom of the News

Don’t trust any list of 2016 predictions that doesn’t feature cardboard. That’s one of the key lessons in my 7 Predictions for 2016.

+ The Guardian: WD-40 and microwaved tampons: the secrets of food photography revealed.

+ Ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium and ununoctium. Meet the four new elements that complete the periodic table’s seventh row.

+ Laurie Anderson is giving a concert in NYC so experimental that only dogs can hear it. This marks the first time I’ve ever been as disinterested as my cats.

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