July 31st – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

The book banners are back, Anthony Screws the Mooch, and Sam Shepard dies at 73.

Florida just passed a new law that empowers residents to challenge the use of school textbooks that they find lacking in any number of ways. At issue is the way the textbooks cover such (sadly controversial) topics such as climate change and evolution. Members of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance that pushed the bill cited their review of more than 60 textbooks: “We found them to be full of political indoctrination, religious indoctrination, revisionist history and distorting our founding values and principles, even a significant quantity of pornography.” The examples of pornography included Angela’s Ashes and works by Toni Morrison. This kind of wrongheaded book-banning has been around for a long time. But it’s been a while since the movement away from science, reason, and truth has had this much momentum.

+ “Traditionally the attitude has been that science is above politics, and therefore scientists shouldn’t get involved in politics, and what that ignores is the fact that politicians are unashamed to meddle in science.” More scientists are deciding to run for office. (Now we just need some humanities majors to help them hone their tweets.)


Anthony Screwed the Mooch

At this point, the White House has more turnover than the average AirBNB rental. After only a few (truly remarkable) days on the job, Anthony Scaramucci is already out as White House Communications Chief. The statement confirming the departure read: “Mr. Scaramucci felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team. We wish him all the best.” (In other words, Kelly forced him out.) With both Priebus and and Scaramucci fired, Americans can look forward to the most contentious season of Dancing with the Stars ever.

+ Calling his work as Homeland Security secretary “nothing short of miraculous,” President Trump predicted his new chief of staff John Kelly “will do a spectacular job.”

+ As chaotic as the past week has been, the conflicts inside the White House are a lot easier to solve than several growing international crises. As tensions build with China (and to a certain extent, Russia), the threats brewing in North Korea grow more urgent.


Hack Job

“If the sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress last week sent any message to Moscow, it was that Mr. Trump’s hands are now tied in dealing with Moscow, probably for years to come.” In the NYT, David Sanger makes the (quite interesting, somewhat debatable) case that Putin’s bet on a Trump presidency has backfired spectacularly.”

+ In retaliation for sanctions, Putin is cutting the number of US diplomats allowed to work in Russia. The New Yorker on what that move might mean.

+ When it comes to what Putin sees as a success and as a failure, remember, it’s not about politics. It’s about money. From Fortune: Vladimir Putin is reportedly richer than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos combined. (And he’s never even given a second thought to providing free shipping…)

+ And a reminder: To understand Putin and the sanctions, you have to understand the Magnitsky Act.


Frodo Lives

“Palantir does not just provide the Pentagon with a machine for global surveillance and the data-efficient fighting of war, it runs Wall Street, too. Palantir is exactly what it says it is: a giant digital eye like Saruman’s seeing stone in The Lord of the Rings.” The CIA and Pentagon have relied on Palantir’s big data-driven predictive technology; and now the Minority Report-esque technology is coming to a neighborhood near you. From The Guardian: Palantir: the special ops tech giant that wields as much real-world power as Google.



“Three separate media organizations were interested but got cold feet at the last minute, DeRogatis said. Each one, after investing months of work, backed away from the story that used named sources and documents to describe how women near Atlanta and Chicago were held as if in a cult, according to what parents and others had told police.” Why did several publications decide not to publish that R. Kelly “cult” story. Its author explains: “Gawker came up in a lot of those conversations.” From WaPo: That R. Kelly ‘cult’ story almost never ran. Thank Hulk Hogan for that.

+ Reminder: For an excellent overview of the Hogan/Gawker case, and what it means for a free press, don’t miss Nobody Speak on Netflix.


Running with the Devil

“The Tarahumara of northern Mexico became famous for their ability to run incredibly long distances. In recent years, cartels have exploited their talents by forcing them to ferry drugs into the U.S. Now, with their land ravaged by violence, they’re running for their lives.” Ryan Goldberg in Texas Monthly: The Drug Runners.


This Time It’s Personal

“Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people. By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.” As Venezuela’s constitutional crisis grows, the White House sanctions Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, personally.


Netflix and Bill

“The global streaming giant today boasts some impressive stats: 104 million subscribers worldwide, up 25% from last year and almost quadruple from five years ago. Its series and movies account for more than a third of all prime-time download Internet traffic in North America. Its more than 50 original shows garnered 91 Emmy Award nominations this year, second only to premium cable service HBO.” Netflix is huge. But that size has come at a cost. The company and its investors are betting that building up a lot of debt is fair price to pay for an early lead in the streaming the wars. So far that debt is up around $20 billion. Can Netflix borrow its way to success? (Stranger Things have happened.)

+ EW: HBO hacked: Upcoming episodes, Game of Thrones data leaked online.


You’re Damn Right It Is

“Because we don’t exactly live in a Renaissance era, it is difficult for us to imagine what it’s like to have Renaissance people in our midst. By these, we mean artists who achieve prominence, or even command, in more than one field. So how to explain someone like Sam Shepard, who was both a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and an Oscar-nominated actor — not to mention a novelist and short story writer — in an age unaccustomed to such masterly jack-of-all-tradesmanship?” CNN: Sam Shepard (who died at 73) could do everything.

+ “When you write a play, you work out like a musician on a piece of music, you find all the rhythms and the melody and the harmonies and take them as they come.” The New Yorker: Sam Shepard and the struggles of American manhood.

+ “The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning. That’s genius.”

+ “When you hit a wall — of your own imagined limitations — just kick it in.”

+ And the final scene from The Right Stuff: “Sir, over there, is that a man? … “You’re damn right it is.”


Bottom of the News

“We hope this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter of the story that has perpetuated throughout our quest to win a long-awaited World Series. While no gesture can fully lift the public burden he has endured for more than a decade, we felt it was important Steve knows he has been and continues to be fully embraced by this organization. After all he has sacrificed, we are proud to recognize Steve Bartman with this gift today.” In an absolutely great move, the Chicago Cubs just issued a World Series ring to Steve Bartman. (And if you don’t know who Steve Bartman is, good, he probably prefers it that way.)

+ What really happens when you don’t turn off your cell phone on a plane? (Aside from you realizing that you’re addicted to your phone.)

+ The Atlantic: How Scared Should I Be of Macaroni and Cheese?

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