Monday, January 27th, 2020


Did You Hear About Kobe?

Big news like this travels faster than ever. You first hear it when you're getting out of the shower and your wife pulls her phone away from her ear and asks, "Did Kobe Bryant really die?" You flip open your laptop to find out what happened and maybe get an idea about how you're supposed to respond. Your son comes upstairs and asks if you heard about Kobe? He got the news via an in-game chat on his PS-4. It's everywhere. Then the iPhone news notifications start; buzz, buzz, buzz, because the intersection of sports and celebrity cuts across every chasm, every publication, every post, every tweet. And you start to think about the role of sport in our society and wonder how exactly you're supposed to mourn when someone extremely famous—but who you don't actually know—suffers a tragedy. Then you take your kid to his basketball game, where the gym, like every other court in the world right now, is consumed by a quiet, weighted shadow. One of the dads in the next row, who has a dog named after Kobe, leans back and says, did you hear Gigi was on the helicopter too? And now it's not about sport and celebrity anymore. It's you imagining that moment when something terrible, beyond terrible, is happening and you know you can't protect your kid. The split second you realize you could be dying but that barely registers because it means your child could be dying too. It's you imagining his wife and her mom with the other kids back home. Now it's not news, it's human, and so you start to think about the other parents and kids on the helicopter, and their friends and family who find themselves surrounded by the buzz, buzz, buzz of a world of mourners, none of whom is mourning their loss: the loss of the "others on board" who were part of a crash that had no survivors. And that's when you realize you're lucky to be in the news absorption and regurgitation business because you don't have time to get emotional about stories. Your job is to make other people feel the appropriate emotion. You get to professionalize the story while the less fortunate have to feel it.

+ From someone for whom it's more personal; LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke: "I'm screaming right now, cursing into the sky, crying into my keyboard, and I don't care who knows it."

+ "The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans come up to me, and she'll be standing next to me and they'll be like: ‘You've got to have a boy ... someone to carry on the tradition, the legacy.' And she's like, ‘Oh, I got this.'" WaPo: Kobe Bryant had left basketball behind. His daughter Gigi brought him back.

+ "'Kobe' became the flawed human being, trying to cope with his personal problems; Black Mamba was his alter ego on court, a serpent who channelled his rage and darkness into devastating power." The New Yorker: Kobe Bryant Was Basketball's Great Storyteller.

+ NYT: Kobe Bryant's Brilliant and Complicated Legacy.

+ The 24 stats that explain Kobe Bryant's staggering legacy.


Me and My RC

"Surveillance capitalists exploit the widening inequity of knowledge for the sake of profits. They manipulate the economy, our society and even our lives with impunity, endangering not just individual privacy but democracy itself. Distracted by our delusions, we failed to notice this bloodless coup from above." Shoshana Zuboff wrote the book on surveillance capitalism. So believe her when she explains in the NYT that, You Are Now Remotely Controlled. (Hopefully, it's an AppleTV remote so there's at least a chance that our overlords will lose it between couch cushions...)


Bug Out

"His blood was pumped through an artificial lung, then he went into septic shock and his vital organs shut down. He slipped away on Jan. 9. This was no ordinary death. His passing was publicly flagged in an official statement posted by Wuhan's city government and marked the first known fatality from a viral outbreak that has alarmed infectious disease experts worldwide since news of the illness surfaced in late December." Bloomberg: Behind the Global Race to Contain China's Killer Bug.

+ Vox: Did China downplay the coronavirus outbreak early on? Plus, from Wired: An AI Epidemiologist Sent the First Warnings of the Wuhan Virus.

+ More than 80 people have died, thousands are ill, worldwide markets have stumbled, travel has been curtailed, and one of the biggest quarantine efforts ever is underway. Here's the latest on Coronavirus from the NYT and CNN.


Bolton Throws the Book at ‘Em

The impeachment trial is back underway, but most observers (and some of the participants) are still focused on the weekend's blockbuster from the NYT: "President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton." This is known, in the business, as the quid pro quo I told you so. While this bombshell is the biggest to land yet, it follows a familiar (manu)script. From witnesses, to documents, to tape recordings, to plain common sense, every bit of evidence points in the same direction. The truth was already obvious, now it might be inescapable.

+ 5 takeaways on Trump and Ukraine from John Bolton's book.

+ Surprise! Trump is denying the claims in Bolton's book. In the end, he'll be saying, "Everyone in the world except for me is lying" even though he lies every time he speaks. GOP Senators should think long and hard about whether they want be the last person forever soiling their reputations to be part of a human shield built to defend America's most prolific con artist. Mitt Romney told reporters Monday that "he thinks it is 'increasingly likely' that more Republican senators will support hearing testimony from Bolton." Meanwhile, after today's trial lunchbreak, GOP Senator Kevin Cramer explained, "The Bolton thing is just a new wrinkle, but not really overly concerning to anyone." In another era, there'd be a group of Republican Senators on the way to the Oval Office to help the president pack up his belongings. Here's the latest from WaPo and CNN.

+ "By what possible metric can the U.S. Senate flatter itself that it remains the world's greatest deliberative body? Certainly not by the quality of the deliberation that takes place there. Any grade-school class that meets as a group during circle time to decide what the students want for a snack does more genuine deliberation than does the Senate." The Atlantic: The Utter Ridiculousness of the U.S. Senate.



"The trouble, Croce explained, is that political problems are not external forces beyond our control; they are forces within our control. 'We need solely to make up our own minds and to act.' Don't ask whether you need an umbrella. Go outside and stop the rain.
Here are some of the sorts of people who went out and stopped the rain in the nineteen-thirties: schoolteachers, city councillors, librarians, poets, union organizers, artists, precinct workers, soldiers, civil-rights activists, and investigative reporters." The New Yorker's Jill Lepore: The Last Time Democracy Almost Died: Learning from the upheaval of the nineteen-thirties.


Billie Club

I've been studying the subject for years, but I'm still not sure of the difference among some of the Grammy's top awards. But Billie Eilish won pretty much all of them on Sunday night. Bille and her brother Finneas collected so many trophies that their final acceptance speech was reduced to two words: "Thank you." Here's a list of all the winners. The shows performances were less consistent than the winner's list, ranging from a disappointingly messy Aerosmith-Run DMC reunion to the emotional return of Demi Lovato to the rip-roaring excellence of Gary Clarke Jr to the simple perfection of Bonnie Raitt. Here's a look at many of the performances.

+ The last artist to win all four of the top general Grammy Awards: Christopher Cross.


Tax Racket

"Today, the men stand accused of participating in what Le Monde has called 'the robbery of the century,' and what one academic declared 'the biggest tax theft in the history of Europe.' From 2006 to 2011, these two and hundreds of bankers, lawyers and investors made off with a staggering $60 billion, all of it siphoned from the state coffers of European countries." David Segal in the NYT: It May Be the Biggest Tax Heist Ever. And Europe Wants Justice.


Skid Row

"I had overshot the campground. Now we're boondocking in a cattle pasture on private property in the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills, at least 15 lonely miles from the nearest lonely town of Seneca, population 33. We're tired. Sunburned. Hungry. Cell service is a cute hypothetical, and despite our utter remoteness, I feel exposed, as if someone or something is stalking us from the hills above: a mountain lion reclaiming its ancient territory, or worse, the landowner." Carson Vaughan in Outside: An Anniversary Canoe Trip Down Divorce River. (Ever since I watched Deliverance, I don't river...)


Canon Fodder

You may love them. You may hate them. But there's a good chance your English teacher made you read them. Only later could you share your true feelings on book review sites. Dan Frank looks at the most loved and hated classic novels according to Goodreads users.


Bottom of the News

"But one has to wonder: How does an industry that encourages its customers to maximize consumption stay in business?" The Hustle on the economics of all-you-can-eat buffets. Is it possible to out-eat the price you pay for a buffet? (Short answer: Oh hell yes. I'm pretty sure my name is on a Sizzler watch list.)

+ Mental Floss: 50 Surprising Facts About Bubble Wrap.