Wednesday, December 14th, 2022


Tok Bottom

"If I've said it once, I've said it 2020 times: when they come for us, they'll be performing short, comedic, lip-synched dance videos." That's how I described the 2020 Trump-led movement toward banning TikTok in my book Please Scream Inside Your Heart. Well, the effort is back as Congress introduces bill to ban TikTok. Years ago, two friends of mine, one at the CIA, one at the Pentagon, advised me to delete the app. So I don't want to position the concerns about TikTok as an extreme position. Having a Chinese-owned social media app embedding itself into our lives is not without risk. But it's worth noting that the things we fear from Chinese software companies—privacy invasions, data selling, democracy disruptions—are things that American social media companies have been doing with our full cooperation. It's also worth noting that American social media companies have a particular interest in reducing competition from global players, and they've never faced this kind of a domestic business threat from a China-based company. In other words, the pressure to ban this outside app could be coming from inside players. All that said, I've been trying to pry TikTok from my daughter's hands for years. If Congress, the CIA, and the Pentagon want get in on the struggle, I can use the help. Even working together, we don't stand a chance.

+ In Canada, parents are leaning on the courts to deal with their kids' screen habits. Parents who say their kids won't eat or shower because they're addicted to Fortnite slam Epic Games with lawsuit. (I assume my kids eat and shower, but since they became teens, I honestly haven't had the guts to go downstairs to find out.)


Mood Ringmaster

"John is one of five people who have volunteered to have their brains probed as part of a clinical trial. At the start of 2020, he had a total of 14 electrodes implanted across his brain. For nine days, he stayed in a hospital with protruding cables wrapped around his head, while neuroscientists monitored how his brain activity correlated with his mood. The researchers behind the trial say they have developed a 'mood decoder'—a way of being able to work out how someone is feeling just by looking at brain activity. Using the decoder, the scientists hope to be able to measure how severe a person's depression is, and target more precisely where the electrodes are placed to optimize the effect on the patient's mood." MIT Tech Review: Neuroscientists have created a mood decoder that can measure depression.


Cream Without the Crop

"The evidence trickled in. The first time agents purchased a large load of meth from Rubio, they said, it arrived in a five-pound tub of sour cream called La Crema Mexicana. The agents wondered whether there was a connection between the extended family's restaurant and Rubio's drug trade. The tub solved one of Wilson's problems — what to call the investigation: Operation Sour Cream." It's a new era of synthetic drugs and international sellers are setting up shop in a lot more places. WaPo (Gift Article): A DEA agent tracked the source of fentanyl in Mormon country — a Mexican cartel.

+ This is part of an excellent series from WaPo (Gift Article). Cartel Rx: From Mexican labs to U.S. streets, a lethal pipeline. "Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, and its compactness makes it far easier to smuggle. The synthetic opioid is so powerful that a year's supply of pure fentanyl powder for the U.S. market would fit in the beds of two pickup trucks." (Don't forget where the the fentanyl crisis was created. Right here at home. Before there was Cartel Rx there was Sackler Rx. Actually, maybe those phrases are interchangeable.)


Pitch Imperfect

"To attend the World Cup was to witness a work of theatre operating on multiple levels. Finding the spaces between the spectacle and something closer to reality was a task that fell to Max Pinckers, a Belgian photographer, who delights in documentary photography and in undermining its conventions at the same time." The New Yorker: Finding documentary photography's blind spots at the world's biggest sporting event. (It's incredible how little we're seeing beyond the stadiums during America's TV coverage of the event.)

+ NYT (free video): What Happens to the Migrant Workers Who Built the World Cup?


Extra, Extra

Guilt By Association: On the tenth anniversary of Sandy Hook, President Biden said America should feel a sense of "societal guilt" for how little we've done stop stop gun killings. (True, however, this guilt should not be evenly distributed.) TNR on what's changed (aside from the body count) in the decade since our tragedy of tragedies. Nothing Has Changed Since Sandy Hook? That's Simply Not True. (Just not nearly enough.)

+ A First Rougher Draft of History: "The organization blamed emboldened authoritarian governments for the rise in detentions and harsh sentences, and said an increase in deaths was caused by the war in Ukraine, protests in Iran, and the end of global lockdowns due to COVID-19 and the return to reporting in person." Journalists are being jailed and killed in record numbers.

+ Women and Children Worst: "That war is being carried out, in part, upon the bodies of women and children. Thousands of women and girls have been kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by Boko Haram and its Islamic State offshoot. The Nigerian military has responded to insurgents' brutality with brutal tactics of its own." A Reuters special report on Nigeria's 13-year war which has, in many ways, been A War on Women.

+ Zero Sum Game: "Empty streets, deserted shopping centers, and residents staying away from one another are the new normal in Beijing – but not because the city, like many Chinese ones before it, is under a 'zero-Covid' lockdown. This time, it's because Beijing has been hit with a significant, and spreading, outbreak."

+ Ring Leader: "The road to this moment has been long, but those who believe in equality and justice – you never gave up." So said Joe Biden as he signed the Respect for Marriage Act, reflecting his and the country's evolution. (For those who believe in evolution...)

+ Disappearing Acts: It's easy to understand why platforms like HBO would cancel shows. But why would they remove the existing episodes, too? To avoid paying residuals.


Bottom of the News

"Traditional anti-fog sprays work by coating surfaces with molecules that attract water to make an even, see-through surface. This new coating actually prevents condensation forming, by warming the surface of the glass ." This coating could prevent fogging up on everything from eyeglasses to windshields. The key ingredient: Gold.

+ "I'm the guy behind 'Pizza Rat.' The 7-year-old viral video still makes me money, got me my current job, and may even pay for my future home."

+ Snaking news: Snakes have a clitoris. (I knew it!)