Monday, January 29th, 2018


Fake it Til You Make It

It turns out that if you move more and more of your experiences to the virtual world, your interactions, bit by bit, become a little less real. That's at least one of the messages one can glean from the NYT report on the company that has been selling fake followers (and likes and retweets) to celebrities and politicians: The Follower Factory: "These accounts are counterfeit coins in the booming economy of online influence, reaching into virtually any industry where a mass audience — or the illusion of it — can be monetized. Fake accounts, deployed by governments, criminals and entrepreneurs, now infest social media networks." (I only bought the fake Twitter followers and newsletter subscribers so my kids would stop making fun of me.)

+ NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office will open an investigation into the company that sells the fake followers. (He made the announcement on Twitter...)

+ Fake followers are just the beginning. Reddit users have been mapping celebrity faces onto other people's bodies in movies. That might seem like harmless fun, but it's really a harbinger of the future of fake news.


The Glee Spot

"There were no comment cards, customer surveys, focus groups, or reports from incognito 'mystery shoppers.' There was just crude data collected by customer-operated devices that looked almost like Fisher-Price toys: freestanding battery-powered terminals with four big push buttons—dark green and smiley, light green and less smiley, light red and sort of frowny, dark red and very frowny." The New Yorker's David Owen on a company that's gained a ton of traction measuring customer satisfaction in a really simple way. Emoji are complicated compared to this.


Sweet Revenge

A recent study "found that people with high blood sugar had a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar—whether or not their blood-sugar level technically made them diabetic. In other words, the higher the blood sugar, the faster the cognitive decline." The Atlantic on The Startling Link Between Sugar and Alzheimer's.

+ NYT: Scientists Discover a Bone-Deep Risk for Heart Disease. "Why is it that most people who have heart attacks or strokes have few or no conventional risk factors?" Researchers may have found an unconventional one...


The Plot(s) Against America

"Having spent so much time in the company of oligarchs, Manafort decided to become one himself." Franklin Foer wrote an in-depth profile of Paul Manafort and his work abroad, and in doing so, he wrote an in-depth profile of the seedier side of lobbying and DC's shady deals. The Plot Against America.

+ AP: "FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of President Donald Trump's criticism who led the bureau for months last year following the firing of James Comey, is leaving his position ahead of a previously planned retirement this spring." Former Attorney General Eric Holder is concerned: "FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is, and has been, a dedicated public servant who has served this country well. Bogus attacks on the FBI and DOJ to distract attention from a legitimate criminal inquiry does long term, unnecessary damage to these foundations of our government."

+ Reviewing some of Trump's attacks against McCabe. "The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser."

+ Speaking of attacks on the FBI and DOJ, a secret memo hints that Rod Rosenstein might become the next target. (Worrisome.)


Ritzy Business

(If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing at the Ritz?) Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (a very active investor in some of your favorite tech companies) sounds almost happy about his imprisonment during Mohammed bin Salman's round-up of more than 200 Saudi officials. Yes, he was imprisoned at the Ritz, but this sounds like one of those TripAdvisor reviews you assume were written by the hotel manager. "'I've been always all the time here at this hotel and everything's been fine. I exercise, I stretch, I swim, I walk. I have my diet food ... I call my family every day and it's like my office here. I‘m in touch with my office every day: my private office, my Kingdom [Holding] office, my philanthropic entities. Everything's functioning. All these rumors really upset me, because they went so far.' (He later added that his favorite barber had visited him, and that he'd gone vegan, a choice made by only the happiest of people.)"


Life Guard

"With the help of a ventilator, she was breathing, but her pupils did not react to light, she did not have a gag reflex, and her eyes remained still when ice water was dripped in each ear. She was briefly disconnected from the ventilator, as a test, but her lungs filled with carbon dioxide. On an EEG test, no brain-wave activity could be seen." But was she dead? Rachel Aviv: What Does It Mean to Die? The story begins with a child getting her tonsils removed.


Them’s Fighting Words

"There are two Trump presidencies. One of them is the official presidency of Donald Trump, leader of the Republican Party, driver of the legislative agenda, head of the executive branch. A year in, that presidency looks surprisingly normal ... But there is another Trump presidency ... for which the measures of achievement aren't bills passed or jobs created but headlines grabbed and mindshare held. This is the presidency that, for all its collateral damage, is succeeding beyond Trump's wildest dreams. This is the presidency that few have figured out how to resist." Ezra Klein: Trump is winning. "Trump is making us a little more like him, and politics a little more like the tribal clash he says it is."



There's a decent chance you didn't watch the Grammy's last night. The ratings were down, a lot. Those who tuned in saw Kendrick Lamar open the show with a powerful set that included Bono, the Edge, and Dave Chappelle interjecting with comments like this: "I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America."

+ One of the reasons why the ratings might be going down is that we all know we can watch the performances later. Vox has a list of the 9 best.

+ The show was all about politics, from immigrants to the Me Too movement. A lot of the winners were pretty safe picks.

+ Line of night went to Cardi B on the red carpet. When asked, "How are you?" She responded that she had butterflies in her stomach and her vagina. (I know the feeling...)

+ The Grammy's had some good performances. But the one given by Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson on SNL still managed to stand out over the weekend.


Roger Gets Even Federererer

"When Roger Federer won back his Australian Open title a year ago, five years after his previous Grand Slam title, it felt like an impossible gift from the past, one final reminder of what had once been at a time when all assumed it had gone forever. The man was 35. He had been out for six months after knee surgery and back problems, 17th seed for a reason. You were astonished by the comeback and you were thankful to have witnessed one glorious final heist." Well, it turns out that the comeback would be marked by more than just one more Grand Slam win. And over the weekend, Federer won his 20th. Ridiculous.


Bottom of the News

SNL may have come up with its latest iconic character. Meet Heidi Gardner as YouTuber and film critic Bailey Gismert. I watched this with a teen in the room, and even she was laughing... Also on the mark: The Dinner Discussion.

+ Chinese construction workers built a new railway station in nine hours.

+ That's a big wave and a comparatively little surfer.

+ I've often wondered if my kids would listen to me more if I were a star quarterback in the NFL. I am so relieved to learn that the answer to that question is a resounding no.

+ Japanese farmers created a new kind of banana with an edible peel.