August 30th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

How being right in a debate can be the wrong strategy, taking "enemy of the people" seriously, and the administration's sex position.

Let’s change things up a bit today and start with some non-news. This week, President Trump has been attacking Google (and by extension, all of big tech) for being biased against him and the other “victims” who support him. As Kara Swisher rightfully explains in the NYT, “the idea that Google and Twitter are rigging their platforms against him is patently false.” In The Atlantic, Alexis Madgridal adds, “There is a reason that Microsoft’s Bing News or Apple News have nearly the same mix of news sources as Google News: By reasonable, measurable standards, those organizations are the ones reporting the state of the world best.” Madrigal and Swisher are two of our best tech reporters and they clearly explain why the president’s attacks are dead wrong. Here’s the problem with this situation: The point of Trump’s attacks on Google are not intended to ‘prove’ bias at tech companies. Like all the manufactured controversies before it, this one is intended to get Americans to argue the issue, which gives validity to the debate, and ultimately leaves the masses wondering if anyone or anything can be trusted. It’s not about definitive proof or objective truth. It’s about broad confusion and general mistrust.


Enemy Minefield

“A California man is facing federal charges for threatening to shoot Boston Globe employees, whom he called ‘the enemy of the people,’ after the Globe launched a national newspaper campaign in support of the free press and the First Amendment.”

+ Does this story suggest that Trump’s attacks on the media will turn all of his staunchest supporters into gunmen in an army against journalists? No. This guy is an outlier; a side-effect of a much broader strategy. Here’s one of the real goals of the scorched-earth attacks on the media: Trump Has Changed How Teens View the News. “Young people can see the president’s tweets as jokes, but they still often share his negative feelings about the press.”


Assad But True

“Shiyar says his hands were tied to a ceiling while interrogators flogged him and extinguished cigarettes on his back. Prison guards also used a torture technique on him known as ‘the flying carpet’: a prisoner is strapped to a foldable board which, if bent far enough, can snap the person’s spine.” CNN: Syria reveals fate of people thrown into ‘slaughterhouse’ jails. The murderers try to make the world forget. An artist is determined not to let that happen.


Sex Positions

Sexual assaults on campus are a problem that has finally been addressed in the past few years. But, according to a new set of policies, the awareness of the problem has led to another issue. From the NYT: “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is preparing new policies on campus sexual misconduct that would bolster the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape, [and] reduce liability for institutions of higher education.” (In other words, the actual campus crisis is that we’re being too hard on the perpetrators of sexual violence.)

+ “The Harvard case, which was brought by an anti-affirmative-action group called Students for Fair Admissions, is seen as a test of whether a decades-long effort by conservative politicians and advocates to roll back affirmative action policies will ultimately succeed.” NYT: Asian-American Students Suing Harvard Over Affirmative Action Win Justice Dept. Support.


Birth Control

“His official American birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard. But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.” Birtherism worked on one person. Maybe it can work on an entire population. WaPo: U.S. is denying passports to Americans along the border.

+ At times, the Trump administration seems disjointed and chaotic. But its immigration policies have been clear and consistent. To understand why, you have to understand Stephen Miller. Politico: Inside Stephen Miller’s hostile takeover of immigration policy.


Game Over

“A Brazilian editor once told me that you could tell his country was in political crisis because everyone was talking about politics all the time. In a normal country, nobody cares about politics. And I think that most of all, the political journalism of that crisis is no longer a special genre of journalism, but instead the core of the profession: getting to the truth, explaining the world, and often telling stories with a clear right and wrong.” Ben Smith on the ways we cover politics like sports, and why that has to end. I Helped Create Insider Political Journalism. Now It’s Time For It To Go Away.

+ I touched on this issue in: Genitals, Sports, and Politics. An Explainer.


Ash Backwards

“Their departures had demanded an impossible balancing of pragmatism and emotion. And in nearly every case, they led, eventually, to regret—over a host of unmet needs, yes, but more so over lost heirlooms and mementos, the objects that help give life to human memory and a sense of who we are as people. What happens, these conversations seemed to ask of the endless lists of forgotten belongings, when we lose them?” Alisssa Greenberg in Pacific Standard: The Things They Lost In The Fire. (Something worth thinking about before a disaster strikes: What do you grab before you go? I’m good as long as my wife and I grab my kids, my pets, and my MacBook Air. Not necessarily in that order…)


The Nestle Plunge

“In Japan, some 100,000 users of the ‘Nestle Wellness Ambassador’ program send pictures of their food via the popular Line app that then recommends lifestyle changes and specially formulated supplements. The program can cost $600 a year for capsules that make nutrient-rich teas, smoothies and other products such as vitamin-fortified snacks. A home kit to provide samples for blood and DNA testing helps identify susceptibility to common ailments like high cholesterol or diabetes.” Welcome to the future of food and health. Bloomberg: Nestle Wants Your DNA.


Mercury in Retro

“Forget everything you know about normal body temperature and fever, starting with 98.6. That’s an antiquated number based on a flawed study from 1868 (yes, 150 years ago). The facts about fever are a lot more complicated.” Wired: 98.6 Degrees Is A Normal Body Temperature, Right? Not Quite.


Bottom of the News

“His experiment was motivated by this belief that people have underestimated the “cognitive ability of livestock — cows, sheep and pigs and goats. We assume they’re not particularly clever or perceptive,” he says.” NPR: Goats Might Prefer A Smile To A Frown.

+ FastCo: This app lets seniors book “grandkids on demand.” (For seniors who want to ignore their grandkids, there’s every other app…)

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