Thursday, July 23rd, 2020


The Software Cold War

When they come for us, they'll be performing short, comedic, lip-synched, dance videos. Under a new Senate bill, Tik Tok would be banned on government devices. This is just the latest salvo in America's cold war with the social media app owned by China's Byte Dance. While the battle against Tik Tok may seem frivolous, there are several interesting layers to consider; from who can access your personal information to who will win and lose in the US social media landscape, heretofore dominated by Silicon Valley. "Experts in cybersecurity and Chinese tech make it clear that the issue is not black and white, and that serious concerns about national security are likely rooted not in xenophobia but in the fact that the Communist Party of China (CCP) under President Xi Jinping has a track record of surveillance, censorship, and data theft. There are also those who warn that the US banning TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps could set a dangerous precedent for a less free and open internet — ironically, the sort of internet modeled after that of China." Rebecca Jennings in Vox. The case for and against banning TikTok. (If the federal government wants to pry Tik Tok from my eleven year-old daughter's hands, it's gonna take a lot more than camouflage, tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray. I know because I've already tried all that...)

+ Buzzfeed: Facebook's Employees Reckon With the Social Network They've Built. "Come November, a portion of Facebook users will not trust the outcome of the election because they have been bombarded with messages on Facebook preparing them to not trust it." (Debates about and within social networks make them seem more and more like the new nation states. This is where we live now.)


When You Gotta Go

"As their land fails them, hundreds of millions of people from Central America to Sudan to the Mekong Delta will be forced to choose between flight or death. The result will almost certainly be the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen." ProPublica and the NYT Mag with a look at climate change and mass migration. Where Will Everyone Go? It's already starting, and "by 2070, the kind of extremely hot zones, like in the Sahara, that now cover less than 1% of the earth's land surface could cover nearly a fifth of the land, potentially placing 1 of every 3 people alive outside the climate niche where humans have thrived for thousands of years."


The Show Must Not Go On

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was jeered by protesters and then tear-gassed by federal agents on Wednesday night. It's not an easy time to be a politician. But the gassing of a group that included the mayor is further evidence that these actions are more performative than protective. The Atlantic's Anne Applebaum: The president is deploying the kind of performative authoritarianism that Vladimir Putin pioneered. (You can camouflage federal agents, you can't camouflage that...) Sadly, the administration is determined to take this show in the road.


Shopify Beta Kappa

"Only Amazon takes in more money online, dollar-wise, than Shopify's sites, which in aggregate brought in more than $60 billion in 2019, $20 billion more than the year before." And that was before the pandemic, when the Canadian company (and its stock price) really soared. Shopify Saved Main Street. Next Stop: Taking On Amazon. (Full disclosure: I've been long on Shopify for a long time. Actually, that's less of a disclosure and more of a brag.)


Custodial Care

"Long before this crisis, many airlines outsourced their custodial jobs and minimized between-flight cleanings. The longer airplanes sit on the ground, the fewer flights made and tickets sold. So for decades, the job has usually been done by contract cleaners who dash onboard, dispose of trash, tackle obvious messes and disappear, aviation workers and union officials said. Now, most airlines are relying on those workers to prevent contagion." Jodi Kantor in the NYT on the low paid essential workers who are now essential to your health. No Bleach and Dirty Rags: How Some Janitors Are Asked to Keep You Virus-Free.


Should I Stay or Should I Go?

""A more powerful authoritarian would never let himself get into this situation in the first place; he would have already so corrupted the process that his chance of losing would have been effectively eliminated.' By the standards of entrenched autocracies, Trump's grip on power is as weak as his grip on reality. Still, the system of government that he has hijacked is not designed to protect itself against his kind of attack. 'Our Constitution does not secure the peaceful transition of power, but rather presupposes it' [Lawrence] Douglas writes. Worse, the peculiar institution of the Electoral College, which separates the outcome of the election from the popular vote, practically invites abuse." Masha Gessen in The New Yorker: What Could Happen If Donald Trump Rejects Electoral Defeat? (It's a fair question since Trump keeps telling us that he might...)


My Cardboard Cutout Must Be in the Front Row

"Reminders of the pandemic will be everywhere in the games. Masks and social distancing. Personal resin bags. No fans in the ballpark, no exchange of lineup cards, no throwing the ball around the horn after an out, no high fives, no fraternizing, no fetching a teammate's hat and glove if he is on base when an inning ends, no spitting and no chewing tobacco." Tom Verducci: Cherishing Baseball's Return. "The return of baseball heals nothing. It is not that important. But its worth in these foreboding times actually is in its frivolity. The comfort of routine. The language of a box score. A ballgame on the car radio. The orderliness of runs, hits and errors–day after day." (I doubted baseball would actually return. I really hope they can pull this off without serious illnesses. And I can't wait until tonight's first pitch between the Giants and the Dodgers—mostly because it could be the last time the Giants are tied for first place...)

+ "All 30 teams will be piping recorded sounds of fans into the ballparks, which means you'll hear those crowd sounds in broadcasts of the games, too. MLB is also launching an interactive website feature called 'Cheer at the Ballpark' that will allow fans to cheer, clap or boo virtually, from home." (All we need now is the drunk, slurring, idiot sitting behind you who keeps yelling wrong takes about the game until you eventually get into a confrontation in which you yell, "That's not what irony means!" Ok, this is getting too personal. Play ball!)


Skin Graphs

"Whether a rash, a bruise, blue lips or other common physical reactions, 'it was clear to me that certain symptoms would not present the same on my own skin,' said Mukwende, who was born in Zimbabwe and now lives in London. 'I knew that this would be a problem for patients of a similar skin tone to mine, or of a darker skin tone in general.'" WaPo: A medical student couldn't find how symptoms look on darker skin. He decided to publish a book about it.


I’m a White Collar Criminal…

"This era would come to be known as The Age of the Buddy Action Comedy. If you weren't old enough to experience this cycle first hand, I'll just say this: It was a glorious period. You should have been there. But if you missed it (or just decided to sit it out) and want to belatedly dive in and experience that glory, then allow me to make a possibly controversial suggestion: The place to begin is at the top with what I'm convinced is the Greatest Buddy Action Comedy in an era of Great Buddy Action Comedies, Midnight Run." (Endorse.)


Bottom of the News

Unilever "said ice cream sales leapt 26% in the three months to June, but demand for shampoo and deodorant fell." Ice cream in, personal hygiene out in lockdown. (At least one norm survived 2020...)

+ Crazed fans in Poland have rented 21 cranes to abide by social-distancing rules to watch their team race at the local speedway. (I cherry-picked this story...)

+ Watching How They Get The Cream Filling Inside a Hostess Twinkie Is Oddly Satisfying. (Without getting too graphic, could this satisfaction be any less odd?)