Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020


The Why 2K Bug

Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, and all the rest to you and yours.

It's almost absurd to call any plot twist unexpected after four years of plot lines, plotted crimes, alleged plots, subplots, comic plots, and tragic plots that seemed to bounce around as much as the average news consumer's blood pressure. After months working out the details and finally agreeing on a stimulus plan that was largely negotiated while the president was holed up with the craziest of the dead-enders plotting ways to overthrow the election, Trump threw a last minute wrench into the ready to be signed deal as he complained about the waste in the package and insisted that instead of $600 in direct payments, qualified Americans should be getting $2000. How is this plot twist not like the others? "Some of President Donald Trump's least favorite people in the world—including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—have thrown their support behind his unexpected demand for $2,000 stimulus checks." For now, the plotz thickens.

+ Axios provides an overview of why the president might be making this move. (Hint: We're talking about Trump again.)

+ "The items jammed into the bill are varied and at times bewildering. The bill would make it a felony to offer illegal streaming services. One provision requires the C.I.A. to report back to Congress on the activities of Eastern European oligarchs tied to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. The federal government would be required to set up a program aimed at eradicating the murder hornet and to crack down on online sales of e-cigarettes to minors." The NYT on the weird stuff and unrelated giveaways buried in the pandemic aid bill.


Dowdy Pardoner

"President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned 15 people, including a pair of congressional Republicans who were strong and early supporters, a 2016 campaign official ensnared in the Russia probe and former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad." Trump pardons 15, commutes 5 sentences, including GOP allies. (And he's just getting warmed up, folks.)

+ "If you lie to cover up for the President, you get a pardon. If you are a corrupt politician who endorsed Trump, you get a pardon. If you murder civilians while at war, you get a pardon." Adam Schiff sums it up pretty well. WaPo: Trump grants clemency to 20 people, including three former GOP members of Congress and two men convicted in the Russia probe. The most controversial of this batch of pardons are the ones involving the Blackwater security contractors involved in a deadly Iraq shooting. In short, Trump doesn't like soldiers who were captured, but he does like contractors who commit war crimes.


A Lump of Covid in Your Stocking

The state could be facing a once-unthinkable scenario of nearly 100,000 hospitalizations within a month." California records half a million Covid cases in two weeks. Meanwhile, in Taiwan, the country has imposed new regulations after its first Covid case since April.

+ "The contrast between demonstrations like this and the scenes inside intensive-care units couldn't be starker. As the protest unfolded, area hospitals careened toward disaster. By the end of the next day, I.C.U. capacity in San Joaquin County hit zero per cent—meaning that the demand for beds at the county's seven hospitals exceeded availability." The New Yorker: In the San Joaquin Valley, medical professionals fear that many in the public still fail to grasp the dangers of COVID-19. (People have been dying for ten months.)

+ Dr Deborah Birx: White House virus expert will quit over holiday travel. (Her travel was actually pretty safe and probably extremely safe if you consider her access to tests. When you yell at everyone for everything, then none of it means anything.)

+ AP: US holiday travel surges despite outbreak. "'My mom's worth it. She needs my help,' said 34-year-old Jennifer Brownlee, a fisherman from Bayou La Batre, Alabama, who was waiting at the Tampa airport to fly to Oregon to see her mother, who just lost a leg. 'I know that God's got me. He's not going to let me get sick.'" (Maybe, with 323,000 deaths, God is trying to send you a sign?)


Dose of Reality

"The Justice Department alleges Walmart violated federal law by selling thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances that its pharmacists 'knew were invalid,' said Jeffrey Clark, the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's civil division." Feds sue Walmart over role in opioid crisis. I've always felt that the impact of the opioid crisis, and the federal failure to act, was one of the under appreciated factors in the 2016 election and the way Americans feel about each other. A lot more Americans have died from opioid overdoses than Covid-19. But there was never even a hint of the same urgency about the problem.

+ Consider this: Overdose deaths far outpace COVID-19 deaths in San Francisco.


We Did a Bang Up Job in 2020

"Many of the same Black and Latino neighborhoods in cities across the nation have been disproportionately affected by both epidemics." America's other epidemic, gun violence, killed 41,000 people this year.


App Wrap

"While 2020 has been brutal on the whole, it's been an unusually fruitful year for apps. In part, that's because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended the ways we live and work for the foreseeable future. We've seen a glut of new and upgraded tools for working from home, of course, along with more apps to help us preserve our mental well-being." FastCo with a pretty good list of the 26 best new apps of 2020. If you Zoom, and who doesn't, definitely try out Mmhmm. Quite fun and useful.


We Can Always Hope

"This has been a year like no other, and moments of joy were difficult to come by. The few happy events that took place did so despite harrowing circumstances—or, in many cases, as a response to overwhelming adversity. Health-care workers took on enormous burdens, saved countless lives, and earned the gratitude and admiration of millions. Celebrations and public events were modified for safety, but many still took place. And new vaccines against COVID-19 are starting to roll out." Alan Taylor with his annual collection of Hopeful Images.



"She maintains she's no MAGA die-hard — just a journalist motivated by a search for truth. Her take on Trump: 'Here is this guy who comes from Queens, New York, doesn't care what he says and who he says it to, goes into Washington to drain the swamp. . . . And I think his presence threatened some people's viability.'" WaPo: What happened to Maria Bartiromo? (We could ask the same question about a few thousand other people...)


Me, Myself and AI

"And the formula appears to be working. According to Xiaoice's creators, the bot has reached over 600 million users. Her fans tend to be from a very specific background: mostly Chinese, mostly male, and often from lower-income backgrounds. They're also hyper-engaged. More than half the interactions with AI software that have taken place worldwide have been with Xiaoice, the company claims. The longest continuous conversation between a human user and Xiaoice lasted over 29 hours and included more than 7,000 interactions." The AI Girlfriend Seducing China's Lonely Men.


Bottom of the News

"Maybe I'm projecting because I hate them, but I also can't believe that anyone else wants to be there. Not you, not your spouse, and definitely not your coworkers and probably not even your boss. In fact, 90% of workers would rather skip it." The silver lining of this remote holiday season. No office parties.

+ KFC has created a console that's more powerful than the PS5 and has a built-in 'chicken chamber' to keep your meal warm.

+ The Beatles: Get Back - A Sneak Peek from Peter Jackson.