Tuesday, August 27th, 2019


Banana Standoff

Geoffrey A. Fowler bought one banana with a credit card, and then began to peel back the layers on all the companies that were able to track his data based on this single purchase. "You might think my 29-cent swipe at Target would be just between me and my bank. Heavens, no. My banana generated data that's probably worth more than the banana itself. It ended up with marketers, Target, Amazon, Google and hedge funds, to name a few. Oh, the places a banana will go in the sprawling card-data economy." WaPo: The spy in your wallet: Credit cards have a privacy problem. (Orange you glad you paid cash?)


When the Split Hits the Fan

"One important factor, they mainly agree, was the opening up of China, Eastern Europe, and other less advanced regions to world trade; another was the liberalization of capital markets. Rising import competition hurt employment in domestic manufacturing and held down wages. Most economists also agree that changes in technology have put unskilled workers at a stark disadvantage. What they disagree about is the role of government policy." The New Yorker's Liaquat Ahamed on America's inequality roller coaster: The Rich Can't Get Richer Forever, Can They?


Jair Conditioning

The Amazon fires have turned into a flame war. "Brazil has bristled over what it views as neo-colonial interference by Europe on matters of sovereignty and economic development. The acrimony appears to be undercutting hopes of united action to protect the Amazon's rainforests, a major absorber of carbon dioxide that is described as a critical defense against climate change." AP: Spurning Amazon aid, Brazil brings up Notre Dame fire. "Jair Bolsonaro said the French president had called him a liar and he accused Macron of questioning Brazil's sovereignty amid tensions over the fires. Macron has to retract those comments 'and then we can speak,' Bolsonaro said." (The future of the existence of the world is coming down to a childish spat. We can't say we didn't see that coming...)


Blinded By Science (and Money)

"He robbed me of my dreams, of my chance to pursue a career I adored. The fact I will never have a chance to face my predator in court eats away at me. They let this man kill himself and kill the chance for justice for so many others." AP: One by one, Epstein accusers poured out their anger in court.

+ The media let them down. The legal system let them down. So did academia. Buzzfeed: Jeffrey Epstein's Links To Scientists Are Even More Extensive Than We Thought.

+ "Before and after his year in prison, in 2008, Epstein lavished money and attention on scientists—biologist Stephen Jay Gould, biochemist George Church, evolutionary scientist Martin Nowak, linguist Steven Pinker, physicist Murray Gell-Mann, physicist Stephen Hawking, and AI researcher Marvin Minsky, among many others." Wired: Jeffrey Epstein and the Power of Networks.


Ag Reflex

"'What do you call two farmers in a basement?' Mr. Perdue asked near the end of a testy hourlong town-hall-style event. 'A whine cellar.' A cascade of boos ricocheted around the room." It turns out that American farmers have lost their sense of humor when it comes to the trade war and the acres of broken promises. These numbers help explain why Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's one-liner went over like a pile of manure: "Total American agricultural exports to China were $24 billion in 2014 and fell to $9.1 billion last year." NYT: Farmers' Frustration With Trump Grows as U.S. Escalates China Fight.

+ An area of common ground between the US and China: We both love Costco. Here are the crazy scenes from Costco's opening day in China.


Hindsight at the OK Corral

"The decision, from Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman, is the first time that a trial court has held a drugmaker accountable for the nation's opioid epidemic, which has contributed to the more than 700,000 drug overdose deaths in the US since 1999." Vox: Judge orders Johnson & Johnson to pay $570 million for role in Oklahoma's opioid epidemic.

+ While we're finally beginning to litigate the earliest days of the opiate crisis, the fentanyl-fueled phase has taken the problem to a whole new level. And it's arriving in your mailbox. WaPo: The flow of fentanyl: In the mail, over the border.


Press Charge

"The press has a vital, even unparalleled role in truth-telling and democratic governance. It is the only profession protected by name in the Bill of Rights. But we need to stop relying on journalism to serve as a rough proxy for the justice system. It is bad for journalism and bad for justice. It is why we live in the era of cancel culture. Trial-by-outrage doesn't attempt to do the other work of judicial proceedings or ethics hearings—the work of meting out proportionate punishment, and crafting mechanisms for restitution and rehabilitation." Dahlia Lithwick with a thought-provoking look at investigative reporting, trial by outrage, and a social media environment where every offense hits Defcon 1. Journalism Won't Get Us Out of This.


Plant Manager

"Dr. Gagliano knows that these claims, based on subjective experiences and not scientific evidence, can easily be read as delusional. She also knows that this could damage her scientific career — plant scientists in particular really hate this sort of thing ... Regardless, last year Dr. Gagliano published a heady and meandering memoir about the conversations with plants that inspired her peer-reviewed work, titled 'Thus Spoke the Plant.' She believes, like many scientists and environmentalists do, that in order to save the planet we have to understand ourselves as part of the natural world. It's just that she also believes the plants themselves can speak to this point." NYT: Do Plants Have Something to Say? (If the internet era has taught us anything, it's that everyone has something to say.)


Hold My Cheer

"Giving up a commitment to cheerfulness would mean risking judgment for being ordinary, human, mortal. If, however, we could learn to share in the misery of others without trying to cheer them up and send them packing, and if they could do the same for us, then we'd have a shot at true fraternity, the kind that Aristotle prescribed when he said we should live with our friends." Aeon: Against Cheerfulness. (That headline could be my Twitter bio...)


Bottom of the News

"Nobody dies in the Norwegian World Championships of Death Diving, but they might wish they were dead after landing some of these belly flops." (This is how I imagined the highlights of the G-7 conference...)

+ MTV still exists. So do the VMAs. So here are the 6 best performances from the 2019 VMAs.

+ Beer Pong is getting a sustainability makeover with new aluminum cup. (I knew we'd innovate our way out of the climate threat!)