Friday, August 7th, 2020


Tik Tok and Awe

It's a headline that could never really exist outside of 2020. President Trump signed an executive order banning Tik Tok in 45 days (or about 259200 Tik Toks). "Under the order, in 45 days, the US would bar anyone 'subject to the jurisdiction of the United States' from carrying out transactions with ByteDance, TikTok's Chinese-owned parent company. A connected order also bans in the same timeframe transactions with WeChat, a Chinese social networking app, and Tencent, its parent company." Do these Chinese apps represent a potential danger to US customers? Yeah. Do American social media companies present a more immediate threat? Maybe. Does the timing of this ban have anything to do with the election and the desire to position China as the root of all evils, including Covid-19 and America's bottomless pit of failure? Sure. Is the move connected to a potential acquisition of Tik Tok by Microsoft. Yup. Is all of this tied to a much broader and increasingly chilly cold war between the U.S. and China? Hell yes. (Also today: Trump Administration Penalizes Chinese Officials for Hong Kong Crackdown.) Are we sure the ban is legal, and was it written in a way that was clear? Come on, is that one a serious question? Right now I wish my 11 year-old daughter would do a 15 second explainer Tik Tok on this whole thing for us, but it's not noon yet, so she's not awake. (I'll let her mother tell her about the ban.)

+ Axios with a good overview: There's little consensus on TikTok's specific national security threat.

+ "TikTok might be pleasant, or joyful, or even subversive. But it is also an app on your phone, on the internet, connected to data centers and driving both corporate amalgamation and transnational entrenchment. It's a bummer, but nothing is ever just an app anymore. Maybe Microsoft will save TikTok, or maybe not. Either way, there aren't better and worse options here, so much as worse and even worse ones." Ian Bogost in The Atlantic: For Whom the Tok Tiks.

+ The Verge: Trump's WeChat ban could touch everything from Spotify to League of Legends. But it probably won't. It's just that the administration didn't consider that before signing the order. Confused? Don't worry. This issue will pass and be replaced by a new story soon. During 2020, every story gets its 15 seconds of fame.


Foreign Interference on a Social Network

Now, onto more pressing social network issues: "Facebook employees collected evidence showing the company is giving right-wing pages preferential treatment when it comes to misinformation. And they're worried about how the company will handle the president's falsehoods in an election year."

+ Facebook removes troll farm posing as African-American support for Donald Trump.


Weekend Whats

What to Book: While I'm skimming the mind-numbing onslaught of news, my wife is reading mind-expanding novels and putting together her best of breed reading lists. Here's The What's Best Fiction of 2020 So Far.

+ What to Read: "Within a year, a violent consumer uprising would be under way, with riots and grenade attacks leaving dozens injured and five dead. It was perhaps the deadliest marketing disaster in history—and remains one of the business world's great cautionary tales. 'I don't think that, from the onset, people would look at this and say people could actually die.'" Jeff Maysh in Bloomberg: Number Fever: The Pepsi Contest That Became a Deadly Fiasco.

+ What to Headphone: Sony didn't change much in their latest upgrade to the most well-reviewed wireless headphones on the market. They didn't need to. Don't take my word for it. Sony WH-1000XM4 review: The best just got better ... Sony has yet again set the high-water mark for wireless noise-canceling headphones ... The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones Get Better. Sound, noise-canceling, battery life, all important. But the most important headphone feature is comfort, and these have that too.


New York Stakes

For weeks, New York was the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, it will be one of the few big cities to take a step towards normalcy with the reopening of schools. Cuomo made it official on Friday when he cleared New York schools statewide to open, carefully.


Armed Robbery

NYT: New York Attorney General Sues N.R.A. and Seeks Its Closure. "The lawsuit accuses the N.R.A. and the executives of 'violating numerous state and federal laws' by enriching themselves, as well as their friends, families and allies, and taking improper actions that cost the organization $64 million over three years. Ms. James is also seeking to oust Mr. LaPierre and Mr. Frazer, and to bar all four men from serving on nonprofit boards in New York again." (You gotta admit that it takes guts to rip off your organization when you know that every one of its members is well armed.)


Meat Grinder

"Among the sick JBS employees was Bienvenue Chengangu, 34, a refugee from Congo. He fears he brought the virus home to his mother, causing her death. 'The decision to keep the company open was a bad decision, and it means the government is also contributing to the damage that's been done,' Chengangu, who cut brisket for the plant until the outbreak, told The Washington Post through an interpreter. "They knew how hard it was for people to work safe, yet we continued.'" WaPo: He fled Congo to work in a U.S. meat plant. Then he — and hundreds of his co-workers — got the coronavirus.

+ "The first known COVID-19 death of a prisoner was in Georgia when Anthony Cheek died on March 26. Cheek, who was 49 years old, had been held in Lee State Prison near Albany, a hotspot for the disease. Since then, at least 804 other prisoners have died of coronavirus-related causes. By Aug. 4, the total number of deaths had risen by 5 percent in a week." The Marshall Project with a State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons. "By Aug. 4, at least 86,639 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 10 percent increase from the week before."


Hedge Issue

"The Louisiana's Supreme Court has denied a request to review the case of a Black man who received a life sentence following an attempted burglary conviction, a punishment one dissenting judge called 'cruel and unusual' given the object he allegedly stole was a set of hedge clippers."


Covid is a Warm Up

"The upheaval that has been caused by Covid-19 is also very much a harbinger of global warming. Because humans have fundamentally altered the physical workings of planet Earth, this is going to be a century of crises, many of them more dangerous than what we're living through now. The main question is whether we'll be able to hold the rise in temperature to a point where we can, at great expense and suffering, deal with those crises coherently, or whether they will overwhelm the coping abilities of our civilization." The New York Review of Books: 130 Degrees.


Turning Point?

"By 2030 the global headcount of smart cars, trucks, and buses could creep into the tens of millions. They'll share the road with some two billion human-driven cars and trucks (give or take a few hundred million). Even then, it seems, AVs will be but a rounding error in the global population of automobiles. But the revolution will strike with surprise, surgical precision, and overwhelming force. As cyberpunk novelist William Gibson once famously said, 'The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.'" Anthony Townsend in OneZero with an interesting look at The 100-Year History of Self-Driving Cars.


Feel Good Friday

"That was a time when the ICU was really spiraling. Patients weren't doing well. And so for Ebony to pull off a miracle, it was incredible for all of us. We were so elated for the family." Caitlin Gibson in WaPo: A pregnant woman with covid-19 was dying. With one decision, her doctors saved three lives.

+ These two guys reacting to hearing In the Air Tonight for the first time is top notch.

+ A Georgia student who shared a photo of her crowded school hallway has been unsuspended.

+ 'I've realised my dream': Italy's oldest graduate top of the class at 96.

+ Miami Teen Surprises Frontline Workers With a New Apartment After They Lost Home, Dog In Fire.

+ Girl, 7, uses sewing skills to help other schoolchildren.

+ A nudist in Berlin got too close to nature for comfort when a wild boar snatched his plastic bag - which had his laptop inside. (Hey, we've all been there.)