March 21st – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

The Austin bomber bombs himself, ALL CAPs can't save us, and the flight of the Zuckerberg.

There’s much relief in Austin as the “suspect in the wave of bombings that terrorized Austin, killed himself early Wednesday in what police described as an explosion inside his car.” Officials are warning people to remain vigilant because there could still be more packages. So far, there’s been no clear motive identified. Here’s more from the Austin American Stateman.

+ FedEx Post Facto: Getting recorded by a surveillance camera at an Austin FedEx, ordering “exotic” batteries online, and turning on his cellphone: those were all breaks that helped authorities to quickly identify and track the suspect. These factors are a reminder, especially in light of the Facebook scandal, that our lives are increasingly under various forms of surveillance. Sometimes that leads to anger and resentment. Sometimes that leads to relief. And those reactions are probably being tracked too.


The Label Fable

Countries like Mexico and Chile have been aggressive when it comes to forcing food manufacturers to label junk food with clear warnings about health-related factors such as high sugar content. The goal of the labels is to fight obesity in countries where people are consuming a lot of sugar (“Mexicans drink on average more than 44 gallons of soda a year per person.”). According to the NYT, one of the key US administration goals in the Nafta negotiations is to limit the use of such labels. From Camila Corvalán, a nutritionist at the University of Chile who helped develop the labels: “The fact that the industry is freaking out is reassuring, but at the same time it’s worrisome that the U.S. government is trying to defend the position of the food industry.”


There’s a Cap for That

WaPo with a story of a Potus going his own way and a White House that continues to leak just about everything: “President Trump did not follow specific warnings from his national security advisers Tuesday when he congratulated Russian President Vladi­mir Putin on his reelection — including a section in his briefing materials in all-capital letters stating ‘DO NOT CONGRATULATE,’ according to officials familiar with the call.” (I suppose it shouldn’t rank that high on my list of worries, but the Trump administration has normalized all caps…)

+ Trump took to Twitter to defend his gentle tone with Putin: “They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race. Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the ‘smarts.’ Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!” (If you can’t count on Putin to help solve the problems in Syria and Ukraine, who can you count on?) It’s traditional for former presidents to avoid stepping on the toes of the current office holder. But since Trump is attacking his predecessors from the Oval Office, is it time for them to speak up?

+ Look, Russia is already helping us “solve” problems in Venezuela.

+ So a playmate, a porn star, a reality show contestant walk into a bar exam….


That Deft, Dumb, and Maligned Kid

Facebook is constantly urging you to share your thoughts and reactions to every life event. We were a couple days into the company’s biggest challenge before Facebook’s creator shared some of his thoughts on the matter. There’s probably a lesson in that. But of course, this isn’t just about Facebook. It’s about the whole internet. Paul Ford: Silicon Valley Has Failed to Protect Our Data. Here’s How to Fix It. “What’s been unfolding for a while now is a rolling catastrophe so obvious we forget it’s happening.”

+ Franklin Foer: It’s Time to Regulate the Internet.

+ My take: This is The Only Privacy Policy That Matters.

+ Think Facebook can manipulate you? Look out for virtual reality. (Just the fact that it can manipulate you into wearing those crazy-looking goggles should be warning sign…)

+ Quartz: If Cambridge Analytica is so smart, why isn’t Ted Cruz president? (Related question: If Facebook is so good at manipulating our thoughts, why are we all so pissed at Facebook?)


Facial Repression

“Dystopia starts with 23.6 inches of toilet paper. That’s how much the dispensers at the entrance of the public restrooms at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven dole out in a program involving facial-recognition scanners—part of the president’s ‘Toilet Revolution,’ which seeks to modernize public toilets. Want more? Forget it. If you go back to the scanner before nine minutes are up, it will recognize you and issue this terse refusal: ‘Please try again later.'” The Atlantic’s Rene Chun on facial-recognition and China’s New Frontiers in Dystopian Tech.

+ The Verge: China will ban people with poor social credit from planes and trains.

+ Motherboard: This hat can fool a face recognition system into thinking you’re Moby. (My hairline can probably do that already…)


Early and Often

“Currently, individuals are typically diagnosed in the dementia stage, rather than when they have developed only mild cognitive impairment [MCI]. Identifying the disease early can allow it to be better managed, in part with existing drugs that treat its symptoms.” It’s a reminder of both our aging population and the widespread impact of the disease that spotting Alzheimer’s early could save America $7.9 trillion.


Salt and Prepper

“The drought-stricken landscape that cloaks this region doesn’t exactly inspire visions of lush agriculture – but then, Paton sees things differently: ‘The world isn’t short of water, it’s just in the wrong place, and too salty.'” WiredUK on the decades-long quest to end drought (and feed millions) by taking the salt out of seawater.


Deputy Dogfight

“Proponents of increased school security immediately embraced Gaskill as a real-world example of what a well-trained ‘good guy with a gun’ can do when a school is under fire.” From WaPo: “Deputy Blaine Gaskill rushed toward the sound of gunshots in a Maryland high school Tuesday, putting himself not only in the line of fire but also at the center of the white-hot national debate on school safety.”


Where Do I Plug This Thing In?

“If you have direct access to the reward system and can turn the feeling of euphoria up or down, who decides what the level should be? The doctors or the person whose brain is on the line?” The Atlantic: Can Electrically Stimulating Your Brain Make You Too Happy?


Bottom of the News

“Blockbusters might seem like a quaint reminder of days past, but some locations have remained important in remote areas, where high-speed Internet isn’t widespread.” Well, the number of those locations is down to 5 following the closure of its North Pole outlet.

+ Great shots from the Sony world photography awards 2018.

+ RBG’s scrunchie collection.

+ Last year, for the first time, the French purchased more hamburgers than ham-and-butter baguettes. MAGA.

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