Monday, January 31st, 2022


In Pod We Trust

The pressure on Spotify to address Covid misinformation increased over the weekend when Joni Mitchell, an icon with huge influence among artists including Brandi Carlile and Taylor Swift, joined Neil Young's boycott. Trying to stop the exodus from gaining momentum, Spotify announced that it would add advisories to podcasts discussing COVID-19. This move does nothing to stop the spread of misinformation. In fact, by attaching them to all podcasts that discuss Covid, the advisories actually elevate false information to the same level as accurate information. The bullshit gets the same label as the truth, so you can do your own research. Joe Rogan responded to the controversy with a ten-minute video in which he explained, "If there's anything that I've done that I could do better, it's having more experts with differing opinions right after I have the controversial ones. I would most certainly be open to doing that. And I would like to talk to some people who have differing opinions on the podcasts in the future." While Rogan is searching for the truth and Spotify is honing in on its Covid content labels, thousands upon thousands of Americans are needlessly dying because of false information that tens of millions of them can't get enough of.

This story is bigger than Joe Rogan, Spotify, and Neil Young. The real issue we need to address is why so many people place a higher value on hogwash spread by non-experts (to put it kindly) than the latest science offered by scientists—even when the latter group's views are repeatedly validated in the harshest possible way.

First, false information can be honed to satisfy recipients. Hannah Arendt wrote: "Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear." Second, fake messages travel much faster than the real news. In 2018, MIT's Sinan Aral, Soroush Vosoughi, and Deb Roy crunched the tweets and delivered research that "found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude." Third, sharing fake news is more gratifying, as explained in this NYT Gift Article from Stuart A Thompson and Charlie Warzel, that was written a year ago but that sadly remains as timely as ever. They Used to Post Selfies. Now They're Trying to Reverse the Election. "A journey through their feeds offers a glimpse of how Facebook rewards exaggerations and lies." Much of the above is drawn from my book, Please Scream Inside Your Heart, where I summarize that fake news is cheaper than real news. Fake news spreads faster than real news. Sharing fake news is more immediately gratifying than sharing real news. And fake news is more satisfying to those who receive it. People are not only attracted to false information, they're willing to bet their life on it. That's a reality that can't just be de-platformed or solved with content advisories.

+ Bonus: At one point during his video statement, Joe Rogan said, "I love Joni Mitchell," and then sung a brief line from a song ... by Ricki Lee Jones. (Going with Joni's "A Case of You" was such an obvious pick!) Spotify better put a content advisory on Rogan's song knowledge, too. After all, they used to be a music service.


Inflate Gate

Let's talk about inflation for a second. This headline from the NYT caught my eye. McDonald's, now with higher prices, topped $23 billion in revenue in 2021. OK, but that's just revenue. I'm sure their margins were squeezed like a ketchup packet. Oh, wait. Mickey D's profit soared 59 percent from a year earlier (when we weren't talking about inflation), to $7.5 billion. Hmm. Must be an isolated case. Oh, wait. Chevron Corp. had its most profitable year since 2014.

+ Related: "The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in many parts of life, and housing is no different. Homeowners benefited from rock-bottom interest rates and surging home prices, while renters have faced surging costs with little reprieve. And unlike markups in other categories - such as food or gas, where prices can waver in both directions - economists say annual leases and long-term mortgages make it unlikely that housing costs will come back down quickly once they rise." Rents are up 40% in some cities, forcing millions to find another place to live.


Billionaire Resistance

"He knew what people imagined when they thought of a billionaire. He'd read the stories of excess and extravagance and witnessed some of it firsthand, but that wasn't him. He didn't spend $238 million on a New York penthouse like hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; or vacation at his own private island in Belize like Bill Gates; or throw himself $10 million birthday parties featuring camels and acrobats like investor Stephen Schwarzman; or drop $70,000 a year on hair care like Donald Trump; or buy a preserved 14-foot shark for an estimated $8 million like Steven Cohen; or spend more than $1 billion on art like media mogul David Geffen; or budget $23 million for personal security like Facebook did for Mark Zuckerberg.He didn't have his own spaceships like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos; or a 600-foot flying airship like Sergey Brin; or a decommissioned Soviet fighter jet like Larry Ellison; or a $215 million yacht with a helipad and a pool like Steve Wynn; or a private train with three staterooms like John Paul DeJoria; or a $5 million luxury car collection like Kylie Jenner. What Cooperman had for transportation was a 25-year-old Schwinn bicycle he liked to ride around the neighborhood and a Hyundai he used for running errands a few times each week." Leon Cooperman gives away a lot of money. He's willing to pay more taxes. He grew up broke and achieved the American dream. So why is everyone so pissed off at him? The great Eli Saslow in WaPo (Gift Article): The moral calculations of a billionaire.


Gone Wrong

"The end was always going to be messy. But through its failures, the administration dramatically compressed the evacuation in both time and space. It created a panic to squeeze perishable human beings through the dangerous openings of a fortress before they closed forever. It left the burdens to a 20-year-old infantryman trying not to make eye contact with a mother standing in sewage; to an Afghan woman choosing which sister to save; to an Army captain alone in her faraway house ... Mike Breen, of Human Rights First, told me that the administration 'took the life-and-death decisions that should have been at the highest level of the government and sent them down to the lowest level, which is a pretty good metaphor for the whole war. It ended as it was fought. Same old story.'" The Atlantic's George Packer on how America's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan added moral injury to military failure. The Betrayal.


Extra, Extra

I've Had a Few (Too Many): "Regret is not dangerous or abnormal. It is healthy and universal, an integral part of being human. Equally important, regret is valuable. It clarifies. It instructs. Done right, it needn't drag us down; it can lift us up." Daniel Pink with an adapted piece from his new (excellent) book: ‘No Regrets' Is No Way to Live.

+ Crime and Nonpunishment: Over the weekend, Donald Trump re-hit the rally circuit where he said Mike Pence should have overturned the election, called for protests in DC, NYC, Atlanta, and other cities if he's prosecuted for crimes, and offered potential pardons for Jan 6 insurrectionists. Put it all together and he's basically calling for more violence. Don't take my word for it. Georgia DA investigating Trump asks FBI for security help.

+ In the Shadows: "Purity, Lucy, and their peers have been hit by a shadow epidemic ripping through developing countries—pushing girls out of school, decreasing their earning potential, putting them at greater risk of violence, and potentially shortening their lives and those of their children." Jill Filipovic with an interesting piece in Bloomberg: The Lost Girls of Covid.

+ Downing Cheat: "Johnson can ignore opposition criticism, because the Conservatives have a large majority in Parliament. His fate rests on how Conservative lawmakers respond to his apology." Boris Johnson says sorry after report slams lockdown parties.

+ OCD Day: Nice guys finish last. I guess that's why Rafa Nadal has won the last point of 21 majors. And yes, ok, the the Rams beat my 49ers and will meet the Bengals in the Super Bowl. I've already recovered. The key to sports fandom is to be able to quickly shift focus from the miserable end to your team's season back to the misery of your day to day life.


Bottom of the News

Someone correctly predicted the final scores of both the AFC and NFC Championship games. Their 20 dollar bet resulted in a $579,020 win.

+ And just some polar bears chilling in an abandoned Arctic weather station.