Tuesday, January 7th, 2020


Tractor Trailers

"There's an affinity factor if you grew up around these tractors, but it goes way beyond that. These things, they're basically bulletproof. You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it." Adam Belz in the Star Tribune on the hottest commodity in the commodity business. Old tractors. Without software. That just work. For tech-weary Midwest farmers, 40-year-old tractors now a hot commodity. Sometimes the plow factor beats the wow factor.


Pain and Buffering

"Remarkably, Cameron didn't realize that she was any different from other people until she was sixty-five. 'Lots of people have high pain thresholds,' she said. 'I didn't think people were silly for crying. I could tell people were upset or hurt and stuff. I went through life and I just thought, I haven't hurt myself as much as they have.'" The New Yorker's Ariel Levy on a woman who only experiences suffering in an abstract way. A World Without Pain. "When something bad happens, Cameron's brain immediately searches for a way to ameliorate the situation, but it does not dwell on unhappiness." (She should be a news curator.)


Letter Head Scratcher

"For over an hour, military officials in Washington and Baghdad were unable to offer a definitive answer about the letter's veracity or whether it indicated that US troops were, in fact, about to be moved out of Iraq, and the lack of clarity fueled significant confusion about its meaning. In the end, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, was able to provide some clarity, telling reporters that the letter itself was a draft and its release was an 'honest mistake.'" The Pentagon insists that the US is not withdrawing from Iraq (despite a delivered letter that indicated we were). According to Iran state media, a stampede at Soleimani's funeral resulted in dozens of deaths. And Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended the airstrike. "This is no innocent man. This is a terrorist leader of a terrorist organization and his time was due." (There's little debate suggesting Soleimani was a good guy. The issue is the timing of, and strategy behind, the assassination. If Soleimani presented an imminent threat, why was Trump given several retaliatory options that didn't include Soleimani? If there was an imminent threat, how would killing the top general end that threat? And is there any chance we'll get a straight answer on anything from this president?) Here's the latest from CNN.

+ NYT: "Mr. Esper acknowledged that striking cultural sites with no military value would be a war crime, putting him at odds with the president, who insisted such places would be legitimate targets."


Born and Bread

The Atlantic on The High Cost of Having a Baby in America. "For women in many developed countries, having the baby—not paying for it—is the hard part. Giving birth in Finland, for example, will set you back a little less than $60. But in the U.S., the average new mother with insurance will pay more than $4,500 for her labor and delivery." (Luckily, raising them is free from then on...)


Bull Market

"In a recent experiment, the Harvard senior Max Weiss used a text-generation program to create 1,000 comments in response to a government call on a Medicaid issue. These comments were all unique, and sounded like real people advocating for a specific policy position. They fooled the Medicaid.gov administrators, who accepted them as genuine concerns from actual human beings. This being research, Weiss subsequently identified the comments and asked for them to be removed, so that no actual policy debate would be unfairly biased. The next group to try this won't be so honorable." The Atlantic: Bots Are Destroying Political Discourse As We Know It.

+ Tired of manufacturing and disseminating your own propaganda? Don't worry, there's help on the way. Buzzfeed: How A New Breed Of PR Firms Is Selling Lies Online.

+ Sometimes you need a little more influence to spread the falsehoods. Luckily, there are people to serve that need as well. CBS: GOP congressman tweets fake photo of Obama with Iran's president.


Outback Burner

"As many as 25 people have lost their lives. Last week it was reported that nearly half a billion animals are feared dead in the blaze. On Monday, HuffPost reported that number has climbed to a billion." 1 Billion Animals Have Reportedly Died in Australia's Wildfires.

+ Reuters: "Australia's government is sticking firmly to a position that there is no direct link between climate change and the country's devastating bushfires, despite public anger, the anguish of victims and warnings from scientists." (Maybe they should let koalas vote...)


Harvey Callbanger

"Mr. Weinstein, I strongly urge you to exercise your right to remain silent at this point; that is, don't say anything ... But is this really the way you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life, in violation of a 'do not text in court' rule?" Harvey Weinstein did not get off to a good start in court. An Angry Judge Threatened To Jail Harvey Weinstein For Using Two Phones In Court. "Court staff informed the judge that Weinstein had surrendered two phones and that he had pulled out two more." (Apparently the judge didn't feel too sorry for Harvey even as he hobbled into the courtroom. Weinstein probably needs the walker because he's not used to wearing anything heavier than a robe...)


Going Viral

"The reality was that, for years, scientists who studied Ebola, which belongs to a family of viruses called filoviruses, had poured their hearts into work to develop vaccines and drugs to combat these deadly scourges. And for years, they had seen promising work smash up against unscaleable walls. There was no potential for drug makers to recoup development costs; and, with outbreaks only sporadic, there was little opportunity to subject experimental vaccines to rigorous tests." Stat News: The inside story of how scientists across three continents produced an Ebola vaccine.


Grandmas and Pause

"There's a rare human trait that doesn't often make it into debates about what makes our species unique: menopause. Humans are among just a handful of species where females stop reproducing decades before the end of their lifespan. In evolutionary terms, menopause is intriguing: how could it be advantageous for reproductive ability to end before an individual's life is over? One possible answer: the power of the grandma's guidance and aid to her grandchildren." Why killer whales—and humans—evolved menopause.


Bottom of the News

"Companies have unleashed hundreds of CBD pet health products accompanied by glowing customer testimonials claiming the cannabis derivative produced calmer, quieter and pain-free dogs and cats. But some of these products are all bark and no bite." AP: Some pet products touted as CBD don't have any. (I have two dogs and three cats. Trust me. You don't need CBD. You need THC.)

+ From The Telegraph: The 10 best new technologies coming out of CES 2020, including robots and wearable devices and the weirdest gadgets from CES.