Monday, May 20th, 2019


The Red Shredding

In some ways the gesture by Robert F. Smith is an indication of the systemic problems in higher education. It costs too much. It often leaves its graduates in deep debt. And it exists in a world of such dramatic income inequality that it's possible for one person to wipe away the debts of 400 graduates with less effort than it would take any of those individuals to even begin to claw out of their personal sea of red. All that said, let's just pause on a busy Monday morning to appreciate the grand gesture of a philanthropist who surprised Morehouse College graduates at commencement by announcing he would pay off their student loans. While the financial aspect of the moment was memorable, the most shocking part of the afternoon was that someone turned a college graduation ceremony into something other than a ferocious bore.

+ Here's some video from the moment Smith surprised the graduates (and everyone else) with his announcement.

+ WaPo: Who is this Robert Smith? (Who is he? Well, for one thing, he's now the most sought after graduation speaker of all time...)


Valyrian Steal

"These business practices generated huge profits for bankers, brokers, lawyers, investors, fleet owners and debt collectors. The leaders of nonprofit credit unions became multimillionaires. Medallion brokers grew rich enough to buy yachts and waterfront properties. One of the most successful bankers hired the rap star Nicki Minaj to perform at a family party." When you look at the wreckage of debt-ridden NYC taxi drivers, it's easy to blame the rise of Uber and Lyft. But there's more to the story. Much more. The NYT with a two-part series: ‘They Were Conned': How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers. "The practices were strikingly similar to those behind the housing market crash that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown."


Winter Isn’t Coming

"If China and the United States have begun a technological Cold War, then the Huawei order can best be seen as the beginnings of a digital Iron Curtain. In this potential vision of the future of technology, China will continue to keep out much of the world. The United States and many other countries, goes this thinking, will in turn block Chinese technology." NYT: As Huawei Loses Google, the U.S.-China Tech Cold War Gets Its Iron Curtain.

+ "Huawei, China's most prolific smartphone vendor, had started 2019 with explosive double-digit growth and was on a path to eclipse Samsung as the world's number one phone maker by the year's end. Without Google's Android support, however, that's simply not going to happen — not in 2019 or 2020 or any other date in the future." The Verge: Huawei's phone business would be decimated without Google's Android.

+ There are a lot of dominoes that can topple in America's blockade of Huawei, including the earnings of many top US tech companies. Bloomberg: Top U.S. Tech Companies Begin to Cut Off Vital Huawei Supplies.

+ Who has the edge in the new cold war? Well, for China, Winter isn't coming. The Game of Thrones' finale was blocked in China because of Trump's trade war.


Stark Reality

"All these tensions are the culmination of Trump's decision a year ago to pull the U.S. out of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. While both Washington and Tehran say they don't seek war, many worry any miscalculation could spiral out of control." AP: Iran has quadrupled its production of enriched uranium amid tensions with the U.S. over Tehran's unraveling nuclear accord."


White Walking Away

"As Mullen walked to the station, he tried feverishly to send a text, but the screen on his iPhone was too wet. Eventually, he found cover and typed the message: 'Ring me ASAP.' The recipient was Matthew Collins, the head of intelligence at HOPE Not Hate, an anti-fascist organization. For nearly three months, Mullen had been working as an informant inside National Action. Collins, who was on vacation in Portugal, called Mullen early the next morning. 'Jack Renshaw's going to kill an M.P.,' Mullen told him." A young Englishman got mixed up in a white-supremacist movement. Then he tried to get out. The New Yorker: The Undercover Fascist.

+ Kristina Davis in San Diego Union-Tribune: Former skinheads recall what turned them around. "Extremists leave their groups for a variety of reasons. But it's not usually because they've suddenly realized that what they are involved in is morally reprehensible. The impetus is usually more mundane — dissatisfaction with the direction of the group, infighting, personal drama or even parenthood."


The Hand of the King (Or, Littlefinger)

"The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump's now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes." NYT: Deutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner Accounts. Both the bank and its customers in question vehemently denied the report.


Factchecking the Raven

"Finland has faced down Kremlin-backed propaganda campaigns ever since it declared independence from Russia 101 years ago. But in 2014, after Moscow annexed Crimea and backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, it became obvious that the battlefield had shifted: information warfare was moving online." CNN: Finland is winning the war on fake news. What it's learned may be crucial to Western democracy.


A Song of Vanilla Ice and Fire

"The soaring price of vanilla has been accompanied by an opportunistic crime wave: raiders rip out whole vines to transplant them elsewhere and armed robbers hold up warehouses. Estimates vary but upwards of 15% of the crop is stolen each year. Like vanilla farmers all over Madagascar, Raminisoa's father and brothers now patrol their fields at night. They band together with neighbours and hired guards, and brandish machetes. Bush justice can be brutal. There are stories of beatings, even decapitations." The Economist: Vanilla Fever: How did hunger for the humble vanilla pod lead to greed, crime and riches?

+ Video: Why is Vanilla So Expensive?


Gram of Thrones

"For more than a century, the kilogram had a very simple definition: It was the mass of a hunk of platinum-iridium alloy that's been housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France since 1889 ... The problem is that Big K is a manmade object, and therefore, it is imperfect. If Big K changes, everything else has to adjust. And this has happened. Big K is not constant. It has lost around 50 micrograms (about the mass of an eyelash) since it was created. But, frustratingly, when Big K loses mass, it's still exactly one kilogram, per the old definition." Vox: The new kilogram debuts today. It's a massive achievement.


Bottom of the News

"'Oh, my goodness, it's so wonderful to meet you. I think you're brilliant.' I just couldn't handle it! I was on the verge of tears. I could see myself reflected in her eyes. I could see her go, ‘Oh, no. I misjudged this. This girl is crazy and I'm not going to have a real conversation with another celebrity. I'm having a conversation with a crazed fan who's looking at me like a rabbit in the headlights.' Which is exactly what I was. I said, 'I've seen you live in concert and I think you're amazing and wonderful! Wonderful!' And all I wanted to scream was ‘Please, please still like me even though my character turns into a mass-killing dictator.'" Emilia Clarke on the final episode of Game of Thrones, meeting Beyoncé, and the fate of Daenerys Targaryen.

+ The show is over. The analysis is still in full effect. Digg: The Best Takes On The 'Game Of Thrones' Finale. And all the takes from The Ringer.

+ And if you ask me, the person who really took over the iron throne this weekend was SNL's Leslie Jones, who had some thoughts about Alabama's abortion law. "This looks like a casting call for a Lipitor commercial. This looks like the mugshot of everyone arrested at a massage parlor."