Thursday, September 1st, 2022


Divided Some Fall

Over the course of a few weeks in 2020, schools closed across the country and the world. According to the UN, schools had shut down in-person learning for 90 percent of the world's students. I'm a board member of a San Francisco nonprofit called 826 Valencia. Like many nonprofit organizations, 826 had to pivot in 2020. In our case, it was from providing writing instruction, tutoring, and general inspiration via in- and after-school programs to being an organization that helped get kids set up for extra help over the internet. What the staff learned right away was that our students, mostly economically challenged Latino and Black kids, almost instantly fell behind, many of them having to share laptops or connectivity with friends or neighbors. These stories were a stark contrast to my own kids' experience in a house with high-speed broadband and enough laptops that we could use old ones as doorstops. My daughter's school actually required kids to use the school-issued Chromebooks. It was a metaphor for the whole education system. One district had so many laptops that they could decide which ones should be used by students, while another district had no laptops and often no high-speed connectivity. The broadband divide was something that should have brought people together. If people without decent access in rural America got together with the people without decent access in urban areas, you'd have a political force that could demand change.

But that's not how things played out. It shouldn't surprise you that national academic test scores just fell to lowest levels in decades. It should surprise you even less that the kids who were hardest hit were the ones with no computers and/or lousy connectivity. These test results will be turned into a political sideshow with one side arguing it's a story about our reckless closing of schools (conveniently ignoring that over a million Americans have died from Covid). But, like so many American stories, this one is about inequality.

+ Here's an article from May of 2020 that really hammers this story home. Taking an AP test outside McD's: The low-income student's predicament.

+ Today's first paragraph is pulled from my book Please Scream Inside Your Heart. If you want to understand today's America, from the Trump cases to our relationship with media, you have to understand 2020. Get it: Amazon | Bookshop | Audible (Audiobook featuring Peter Coyote)


The Year of the G.O.A.T.

It's almost impossible for the greatest player in tennis history to surprise us by winning. But Serena is Serena. And she just knocked off the second seed at the US Open while playing infinitely better than she was just playing a few weeks ago. "Now fans wonder if Williams could make an unimaginable run and capture her 24th Grand Slam title. While she holds the record for most Grand Slams in the Open Era, Margaret Court holds the all-time record at 24. This could be Williams's chance to tie the record." Yesterday, I would have said that was crazy talk. But who knows.

+ Meanwhile, here are the numbers behind Venus and Serena Williams' remarkable careers as they team up for doubles.


Fast and Incurious

"The line swelled throughout the morning, folding in on itself before unfurling through the food court, past the bubble tea stand and Mediterranean grill. Anyone arriving after 12:30 p.m. was advised to go home — denied the chance to buy, in person, things like $1 daisy earrings, $4 bucket hats, $12 cable-knit crop tops, $13 faux leather baguette bags and $29 neon PVC mule sandals." You'd think prices like those, and a wedding dress that goes for 15 bucks, would give people pause when it comes to Chinese fast fashion. But no one is pausing. NYT (Gift Article): The People's Republic of Shein. Shein continues its rise with American shoppers, who don't mind the controversies.

+ UN cites possible crimes vs. humanity in China's Xinjiang.


Throttle Your Enthusiasm

"Bikes have always worn many helmets: cycling as exercise, cycling as leisure, cycling as sport, cycling as transit. These roles often conflict with one another. The commuter sneers at the spinner, who pedals pointlessly to nowhere. The leisure-rider spurs the Lycra-racer, who endangers pedestrians and inspires drivers to hate cyclists. E-bikes continue, and worsen, that disorder by jumbling up aspects of bicycles and motorcycles. Strapping a motor to a bike turns out to alter more than just speed and exertion. It produces a chameleon that takes on, under various conditions, both the best and worst features of a variety of transportation technologies. The result is less an evolution of a two-wheeled machine than a pastiche of the many things such a device represents. It's a monster made from bicycles and motorbikes." Ian Bogost in The Atlantic: The E-bike Is a Monstrosity.


Extra, Extra

Find My Phone: "Police have used 'Fog Reveal' to search hundreds of billions of records from 250 million mobile devices, and harnessed the data to create location analyses known among law enforcement as 'patterns of life,' according to thousands of pages of records about the company." Tech tool offers police ‘mass surveillance on a budget.'

+ Que Sarah, Sarah: "Peltola ran as an advocate for preserving abortion rights, as well as protecting the environment and leaning into local issues, like addressing a salmon shortage in Western Alaska. The Democrat was outspent 4-to-1 by Palin." Democrat Peltola beats Sarah Palin in Alaska special election upset. Meanwhile, after Sarah Palin's election loss, Sen. Tom Cotton calls ranked-choice voting 'a scam.' Translation: Ranked-choice voting is great.

+ Muddy Waters: The latest weird climate change related thing we're seeing in Northern California is a mud colored bay and an unbelievable number of dead fish. Experts, concerned about the algae bloom that is turning the water to brown muck, say the die-off is ‘like losing giant redwoods'.

+ Window Cleaning: "At least six other Russian businessmen, most with ties to the energy industry, have died suddenly in unclear circumstances in the past few months." Top Russian oil official "falls" to death from hospital window.

+ Fortune Favors the Brave: "Cryptocurrency trading platform accidentally transferred $10.5m to an Australian woman when processing a $100 refund, and failed to notice the error for seven months."

+ Sign Language: Texas schools are required to display signs that say 'In God We Trust.' What about signs that say the same thing, but in Arabic? School District: "No thanks. We have enough signs."

+ Waste Even More of Your Life: "Twitter is now testing its highly requested Edit Tweet feature. After years of memes and jokes, editable tweets will be available to some Twitter Blue subscribers later this month. The feature is currently undergoing "internal testing" and appears to mimic Facebook in its edit style, with a linked edit history for tweets that we saw in leaks earlier this year." (No one edits Dave Pell. Not even Dave Pell.)


Bottom of the News

A Southwest Airlines pilot warned passengers on a flight on to Cabo, Mexico that he'd turn the plane around if people didn't stop AirDropping nudes. (I swear I was just trying to put my tray table up...)