Friday, October 21st, 2022


Burning the Midnights Oil

Last night I texted my teenage daughter, "did u know taylor swift has a new album and videos coming out in a couple hours?" She responded, "ofc i do dad i have a count down." I knew she knew, but dads try to find conversation topics with teen daughters any place we can and no place is more of a sure thing these days than in the world of Taylor Swift. She is beloved by her fans and perceived as harmless by others. About the only people with anything to fear from Taylor Swift are her exes who can end up in extended songs, remakes, and remixes long after the break up. Like many big stars, Taylor Swift is not just her art. She's a brand spitting out a whole world of content, real and imagined. The Atlantic: Weirdly, Taylor Swift Is Extremely Close to Creating a True Metaverse. "Swift has left puzzles and secret messages for fans for more than 15 years, embedding them in her album liner notes, music videos, and social-media posts, and even (if the theories are right) in the clothing she wears. The result is a near-year-round ecosystem that's pretty much constantly bubbling away online. Fans gather in the tens of millions to obsessively dissect every move she makes. Last night, they seem to have crashed Spotify. A mass of people are gathering to participate in a large virtual world with direct ties to the real one. Talk about it enough, and it kind of starts to sound like another much-discussed concept: a metaverse. This may seem like a leap, but a metaverse—a futuristic virtual-reality world—is essentially a shared online experience, which is not all that different from the online fanscape that Swifties inhabit." Swift's latest album, Midnights, showed up last night and more songs dropped at 3am this morning. Today was the first time in years that my daughter has gotten up in time for school on her own. We called the breakthrough, Alarm Clock: Taylor's Version.


Flour Power

American politicians try to pretend inflation is a national issue when it's clearly tied to international trends. And as bad as it feels here, it's a whole lot worse as you get closer to the person Americans should really be blaming: Putin. "When the price of bread rises, people feel it right away. The squeeze has been sharpest in countries nearest to the conflict zone, especially Hungary, where the cost of a basic loaf surged in September by 77 percent from a year ago, according to Eurostat. In Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia, bread prices are up over 30 percent." And surprise, Hunter Biden's laptop is not responsible for inflation. NYT (Gift Article): Bread Prices Skyrocket as Inflation Grips Europe. This wasn't how we wanted to cut carbs.

+ "'I reconnected a little bit with President Putin,' Mr. Berlusconi could be heard saying on the audio published on the website of La Presse on Tuesday, in which he addresses a meeting of loyal Forza Italia party members, and some apparently not-so-loyal leakers. In the audio, he added that Mr. Putin had sent him 20 bottles of vodka 'and a very kind letter' for his 86th birthday last month. Mr. Berlusconi said he responded by sending bottles of Lambrusco wine and "an equally sweet letter.'" NYT: Berlusconi, Caught on Tape Gushing Over Putin, Heightens Anxiety About Italy. (This is a big story. Strongmen love strongmen and they are unifying across the globe. Russia, Middle East. Europe, and hell yes, America.)

+ Iran sent troops to Crimea to help Russia use Iranian-made drones.


Kindly RSVP

"The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol issued a subpoena Friday to Donald Trump, exercising its subpoena power against the former president who lawmakers say 'personally orchestrated' a multi-part effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election ... It is unclear how Trump and his legal team will respond to the subpoena. He could comply or negotiate with the committee, announce he will defy the subpoena or ignore it altogether. He could also go to court and try to stop it."

+ Not everyone can view subpoenas as optional. Steve Bannon sentenced to 4 months in prison for flouting House Jan. 6 panel. 4 months for contempt after a lifetime of being contemptible...

+ WaPo: Mar-a-Lago classified papers held U.S. secrets about Iran and China.


Weekend Whats

What to Pod: These days everyone has a podcast. But not everyone who launches a new show is a Norcal and public radio legend and one of the most respected interviewers around. Like Tom Brady, Michael Krasny couldn't stay retired from doing what he does best and that's good news for people who like thoughtful discussions on interesting topics. Subscribe to Grey Matter with Michael Krasny.

+ What to Book: In Solito, Javier Zamora takes readers along as he relives the three-thousand mile journey he made from El Salvador to San Rafael, California (the town where I grew up) when he was only nine years old. This is a migrant's journey and child's story that takes all the politics out and leaves all the humanity in.

+ What to Read: "The West has been wrong about China. It was long assumed that capitalism, the emergence of a middle class and the internet would cause China to eventually adopt Western political ideas. But these ideas cannot even begin to take root because the Communist Party has never allowed the intellectual soil needed for them to germinate. And it never will. Chinese minds have in fact never truly been free." Ai Weiwei in the NYT (Gift Article): No, Capitalism and the Internet Will Not Free China's People.


Extra, Extra

Johnson Rising Again? "When you juxtapose the events of the past 44 days in Westminster with the past six years in Washington, it's clear that America's democratic dysfunction is far worse. Paradoxically, Truss's downfall shows that British democracy is still working. Polarization is so toxic in the U.S. that Trump never dipped below about 35 percent approval, no matter what he did. Truss, who was incompetent but far less dangerous, saw her approval ratings flirt with single digits before she was forced out. Her political party and political base turned on her." Brian Klaas in The Atlantic: What Happened to Liz Truss Can't Happen Here. That said, some weird things can happen there. Could Boris Johnson really make a comeback? As Liz Truss knows, six weeks is a lifetime in politics.

+ The Show Me State: "A Miami judge on Friday dismissed one of the 19 voter fraud prosecutions loudly trumpeted by Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, a significant development that comes as the cases draw scrutiny." These arrests have nothing to do with the law. It's a show.

+ Pawn Stars: "A 19-year-old chess grandmaster is seeking $100 million in a federal lawsuit alleging a rival chess player and others destroyed his career with false accusations of cheating, elevating a controversy that has roiled the chess world since September."

+ Pickle Down Economics: "Many hop on a trend, and many trends take off in a big way, but few find themselves saying the word dink in front of titans of the film and television industry. How did he get here? 'Marriott points and a dream,' as he put it." Hollywood's Favorite Pickleball Coach Breaks Out. We're ridiculous!


Feel Good Friday

"'There's a comfort in knowing,' says Suzy Elghanayan, a mother whose young son died earlier this year of a seizure, 'that we're all in the same place that we never wanted to be.'" The reason that brings them together is the opposite of feel good, but it's worth reading about how they help one another. AP: Arizona farm gives refuge from pain, for man and beast alike.

+ U.S. military suicides drop as leaders push mental health programs.

+ 'A joy for him': Boy with cerebral palsy can now walk and play using this exoskeleton.

+ The world's energy situation is not as terrible as you might expect.

+ Actor Anna May Wong to be first Asian American on U.S. currency.

+ Archer Sets New World Record For Most Consecutive Arrows Shot Through A Keyhole.

+ Tired of laundry folding? AI breaks the robot folding speed record. Even luddites are like, "Hmm, let me take a look at this..."