January 2nd – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

Taking the dis out of discourse, Netflix edited by the Saudis, and people are taking real and metaphorical dumps all over national parks.

Discourse among Americans with differing views has improved dramatically thanks to the internet. I know, I know. In an age where it’s increasingly clear that the internet’s most notable traits are greasing the wheels of cognitive bias and amplifying hate speech, that’s an unlikely lede. But I wanted to start off the new year with a positive. To do so, I had to visit a small corner of the internet where users are taking the dis out of civil discourse. Oddly, it’s on Reddit. “What might be more startling than the forum’s general tone of calm, reasonable disagreement is the fact that so many of its contributors seem to change their minds, even on flash-point subjects such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and gun control. (There are also lighthearted posts: A recent debate took on the intractable question of whether a hot dog counts as a sandwich.)” It’s hard to believe even that even a conversation about sandwiches could be lighthearted. Half the people I know are opposed to bread…

+ Before you allow yourself to get too angry at that troll on social media, you should know there’s a good chance that they’re fake. In fact, as Max Read explains in NY Mag, there’s a good chance anything you encounter on the internet is fake, including the metrics, the people, the content, and the businesses.


Netflix and Chilling

“Human rights group Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia’s censorship of Netflix is ‘further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression.’ Netflix said it was simply complying with a local law.” Netflix is taking heat for pulling an episode in Saudi Arabia of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act. Minhaj criticized the Saudi regime over the war in Yemen and the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. (There’s a thin line between selling your wares and selling your values.)


The Shit Hits the Plan

The new era of divided rule doesn’t seem to be altering President Trump’s negotiating style. “He wrote that Mexico would be paying for the wall along the U.S. border under the parameters of a trade deal he has tentatively inked with Mexico and Canada. This is not true.” From WaPo: Trump falsely claims Mexico is paying for wall, demands taxpayer money for wall ahead of meeting with Democrats.

+ Overflowing toilets at US national parks are serving as an apt metaphor for the ongoing government shutdown. National Parks Service spokesman Andrew Munoz puts the nicest possible spin on the reality that park visitors are shitting in the streets: “With restrooms closed, some visitors are opting to deposit their waste in natural areas adjacent to high traffic areas.”


Bigness Writ Large

“Monopolies penetrate almost every sector of the U.S. economy, airlines to pharmaceuticals, candy to coffins, often leading to unfair prices, lower wages, or both. Facebook and Google have so much power in the advertising market—they control 66 percent of online ad revenue—that they are undermining newspapers. Two companies make 64 percent of American diapers, one company builds 52 percent of America’s mobile homes, two companies produce 78 percent of its corn seeds, and one company assembles 61 percent of syringes.” The New Republic: The One Issue the Left and Right Can Agree On. Expect this to be a major issue in 2019. To brush up on the topic, check out Tim Wu’s book, The Curse of Bigness.


Hand Stand

“Five million women are estimated to have joined hands and formed the 385-mile-long chain.” Buzzfeed: Millions Of Women Formed A 385-Mile-Long ‘Women’s Wall’ To Protest Gender Inequality.

+ Counter protests broke out after two women broke a centuries-old ban and entered a temple. “The women, Bindu and Kanaka Durga, who are in their 40s, left after offering prayers to the deity Lord Ayyappa, who is celibate. It is this celibacy that is cited by Hindu traditionalists as the reason women under 50 should not enter the temple. The fear is that the women could ‘tempt’ the deity.”


Adventures in Babysitting

“The man who is now the president’s principal adviser on the nation’s defense, tasked with leading the largest employer in the world and managing the fallout from Trump’s military retrenchment, has less experience in government (a year and a half) or the military (none) than any defense secretary since an oil magnate served as the acting head of the Pentagon for several weeks during Watergate 45 years ago.” America, Meet Your (Acting) Secretary of Defense. It’s hard to overstate how a big of a deal it is that James Mattis is out as SecDef. It’s equally hard to overstate how difficult it will be to fill that role with someone whose views “are better aligned” with the president (and who is still qualified).


Action Movies

How do you ensure that actors performing in sex scenes feel safe on set in the era of Me Too? From the LA Times: Five intimacy coordinators explain their craft.


Survivor DC

“I don’t think any of us could have known what this would become … But Donald would not be President had it not been for that show.” Patrick Radden Keefe in The New Yorker: How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success. (Or how The Apprentice went from being a weekly, hourlong show to three 24 hour cable news networks…)


A Very Cable Genius

“I can tell you the details, sure. That I smeared Vicks on my lip to try to cover the stench of rugs and walls and upholstery soaked in cat piss. That I wore booties, not to protect the carpets from the mud on my boots but to keep the cat piss off my soles. I can tell you the problem with her cable service was that her cats chewed through the wiring. That I had to move a mummified cat behind the television to replace the jumper.” Lauren Hough: I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America.

+ I Used to Write for Sports Illustrated. Now I Deliver Packages for Amazon. “There’s a certain novelty, after decades at a legacy media company, in playing for the team that’s winning big.”


Bottom of the News

“How much can Big Data actually tell you about your relationship? Can it predict, say, when you’re about to break up? And if you start to see pop-ups for ice cream, Kleenex, and dating sites, should you be concerned?” Vox: Can Alexa and Facebook predict the end of your relationship? (Related question: With Facebook and Alexa, who needs relationships?)

+ I’d ask you what you did over the holidays, but I already know. Netflix says over 45 million accounts watched Bird Box.

+ NYT: Our Favorite Facts of 2018. (I’m just glad someone still believes in facts…)

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