Tuesday, August 31st, 2021


The Scarlet (News)letter

I could start with a joke. I could offer a pithy aside. I could at least mutter something under my breath. But even that seems too dangerous these days, when one offending comment, one decade-old tweet, or one line-crossing joke can leave a person forever tarred and feathered in the online public square. These days, it's not enough to watch your mouth. You're apparently supposed to watch everyone else's too. Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic: "The modern online public sphere, a place of rapid conclusions, rigid ideological prisms, and arguments of 280 characters, favors neither nuance nor ambiguity. Yet the values of that online sphere have come to dominate many American cultural institutions: universities, newspapers, foundations, museums. Heeding public demands for rapid retribution, they sometimes impose the equivalent of lifetime scarlet letters on people who have not been accused of anything remotely resembling a crime." The New Puritans. "This is a story of moral panic, of cultural institutions policing or purifying themselves in the face of disapproving crowds. The crowds are no longer literal, as they once were in Salem, but rather online mobs, organized via Twitter, Facebook, or sometimes internal company Slack channel." (By linking to this, am I saying Anne Applebaum is right? Am I suggesting we've gone too far toward a pious, punishing culture? Actually, I'm not saying that at all. I'm not saying anything. What, am I crazy?)


The Machine Sucks

Can drinking bubbly water save the planet? No, but there is an odd connection in this video piece that looks at machines designed to suck carbon from the atmosphere. Coca-Cola's and Microsoft's Latest Gamble: A Giant CO2 Vacuum Cleaner.


Gone, But (Hopefully) Not Forgotten

"For months, refugee organizations and military officials had urged the Administration to begin evacuating Afghans who had backed the U.S. effort. The White House demurred, worried that such a move would signal a lack of faith in the Afghan government. As a result, the operation, crammed into the span of a few weeks, was unnecessarily rushed and poorly planned." David Rohde in The New Yorker: Biden's Chaotic Withdrawal from Afghanistan Is Complete.

+ "Many Americans are now fond of saying, knowingly, that the war was unwinnable because it's Afghanistan—graveyard of empires, a rugged land filled with proud people who are happy to fight to the death. But that kind of breezy dismissal just allows us to avoid the embarrassing conversation about what actually went wrong ... If there could be a sure thing in warfare, this was it—and we blew it." Sebastian Junger in Vanity Fair: How the US Corrupted Afghanistan.

+ The last American troops are out of Kabul. Here's the latest from BBC.


The Fires…

"Before, it was, ‘No worries ... it's not going to crest. It's not gonna come down the hill. There's 3,500 firefighters, all those bulldozers and all the air support.' Until this morning, I didn't think there was a chance it could come into this area. Now, it's very real." Many editions of this newsletter have been delivered from a Tahoe cabin or a cafe in Truckee. Today, the report is about those places as wildfire evacuees flood Lake Tahoe roads in rush to flee.

+ The Caldor fire has burned more than 191,600 acres. Thousands of firefighters are making a last stand, on a particularly windy day, to keep it from reaching Tahoe. The SF Chronicle with photos from the scene.

+ NPR: Every National Forest In California Is Closing Because Of Wildfire Risk.


…. And the Floods

CNN sums things up with the lede: The levees held. The power grid did not. Millions of those in Ida's path are out of power and could be out of luck for days, if not weeks. "Officials say electricity might not be restored to some areas for a month."

+ "As of early Monday, 216 substations, 207 transmission lines and more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines were out of service." Hit by Ida, New Orleans faces weeks without power.

+ Ida Leveled The Karnofsky Shop, Louis Armstrong's Second Home.

+ Man attacked by alligator in flooded Louisiana waters after Hurricane Ida.


Wait For It…

"Conventional wisdom had it that the trouble was largely the result of a surplus of orders reflecting extraordinary shifts in demand. Consumers in the United States and other wealthy countries had taken pandemic lockdowns as the impetus to add gaming consoles and exercise bikes to their homes, swamping the shipping industry with cargo, and exhausting the supplies of many components. After a few months, many assumed, factories would catch up with demand, and ships would work through the backlog." NYT (gift article for ND readers): The World Is Still Short of Everything. Get Used to It.

+ A record-breaking 44 container ships are stuck off the coast of California. (The norm? Zero.)


The Way We Roll

"The United States' view of sports is very masculine driven. I think that you see some of the struggles for the W.N.B.A. and most of the female sports. And I think oftentimes disabled and adaptive sports are kind of put in that same category." NYT (gift article for ND readers): The United States may be the birthplace of basketball, but to make a career out of playing wheelchair hoops, athletes have had to move overseas.


Business is Going Looney Tunes

"More recently, however, as international appetite for anime grew, mainstream behemoths like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have entered the licensing fray, gobbling up exclusive titles like Beastars, Kakegurui, and Made in Abyss. Anime has ballooned into the third-most in-demand TV subgenre globally." Wired: Welcome to the Era of Big Anime.


Just Rub Some Dirt On It

"Five seconds after the bolt hits the ground, everybody looks around. The eight Indians position players are OK, but their newest teammate is not. Caldwell is on his back, arms spread wide, out cold on the mound. The lightning strike had hit him directly." The incredible story of Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game.


Bottom of the News

This is borderline Feel Good Friday, but it's a rough news day. New Japanese business cards beat pandemic masking with beaming smiles.

+ An 80-pound cougar was removed from a New York City apartment where she was being kept illegally as a pet.

+ Georgia woman charged with masturbating on public beach. "While she was being booked, Revels-Glick ... told officers 'she was sorry for what she did' and was under the impression nobody had witnessed her getting into it 'because it only took her 20 seconds to orgasm.'" (Same.)

+ Please Scream Inside Your Heart: The Best Book Landing Page of All Time.