Tuesday, January 17th, 2023


A Doctor He Can’t Refuse

Don't get Denaro confused with Deniro. Viewers have long been obsessed by mafia movies and shows. But while we quote lines from The Godfather or The Sopranos, it's worth noting that real mafia stories are rarely as entertaining as the ones on the screen. They're usually just chronicles of pathetic, murderous monsters who get caught through painstaking, often boring, police work. And so it was with the capture of Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy's most-wanted mob boss, who was finally caught after 30 years on the run—although he was basically running in place as he was arrested in Palermo. He wasn't going to the mattresses. He was going to the doctor. Investigators finally caught Messina Denaro when he was being treated for cancer. "The homes of Messina Denaro's relatives were wiretapped.They must have been aware that their conversations were being listened to, and so only talked about 'people with cancer' and 'cancer surgeries' in generic terms. Yet that was enough to tip investigators off - especially due to longstanding rumours that Messina Denaro was sick. These intercepts, combined with monitoring of internet searches on Crohn's disease and liver cancer by Messina Denaro's associates, led the Carabinieri to assume the Mafia boss was seeking treatment. They then gathered the details of all male cancer patients born in 1962 near Trapani, in western Sicily. Investigators zoomed into their lives, narrowing down the search to 10 suspects, then five." BBC: How Mafia boss was caught on a visit to a clinic.


Honey, I Shrunk the Superpower

Experts have long suggested that China's biggest challenge in upcoming years would be a declining population. "The last time China is believed to have experienced a population decline was during the Great Leap Forward, a disastrous drive for collective farming and industrialization launched by then-leader Mao Zedong at the end of the 1950s that produced a massive famine that killed tens of millions of people." Well, the challenge has arrived sooner than anyone predicted. AP: China records 1st population fall in decades as births drop. Only in the bizarre world of geopolitical economics can having a billion and a half citizens mean you're too small.


The Mother Load

Modern truckers were supposed to be the last of a dying breed, as their industry was quickly changed by self-driving vehicles and AI. Yet, as Andrew Kay writes in Wired, "recent years have hardly borne out that doomy prophecy: The self-driving industry has been humbled by fatal crashes, scandals, a federal investigation, a pedestrian death, negligent homicide charges, and stillborn business promises. Meanwhile the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our supply chains and made us more dependent on truckers than ever—more beholden to an industry that, for all its hugeness, still can't keep pace with our needs ... What we have, ironically, is a nationwide shortage of the very workers alleged to face obsolescence. What's behind that shortage? And how exactly is technology altering life inside the cab? I want to know why 90 percent of the people who enter this profession quit within the first year." About three-quarters of goods shipped in the US are moved on a truck. It's worth removing the experiences of millions of truckers from our collective blindspot. Life as a 21st-Century Trucker.


The Blue Book Blues

"What's happening in class is no longer going to be, ‘Here are some questions — let's talk about it between us human beings,'" he said, but instead "it's like, ‘What also does this alien robot think?'" The change is coming faster than I can type about (and maybe faster than ChatGTP can type about it). NYT (Gift Article): Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach.

+ Nick Cave has some thoughts about ChatGTP songs in the style of Nick Cave: "I understand that ChatGPT is in its infancy but perhaps that is the emerging horror of AI – that it will forever be in its infancy, as it will always have further to go, and the direction is always forward, always faster. It can never be rolled back, or slowed down, as it moves us toward a utopian future, maybe, or our total destruction. Who can possibly say which? Judging by this song ‘in the style of Nick Cave' though, it doesn't look good, Mark. The apocalypse is well on its way. This song sucks."

+ Getty Images is suing the creators of AI art tool Stable Diffusion for scraping its content, and a lawsuit has been filed by artists who say the AI image makers have ripped off their source material.


Extra, Extra

Manage Expectations: "The goal is to lighten the mental load, to calm down. We're kind of forced to mix our professional and personal lives nowadays – our brains don't automatically forget what's going on at work just because it's 9PM and we're home." That's the reason behind the endless list of to-do, project management, and note-taking apps. But, Is Micromanaging Your Life With an App Really a Good Idea? I once wrote an article on the abundance of choice in every category that opened with the line, "Looking back on it now, the first time I truly felt the need for a note-taking app was when I started researching note-taking apps." And that was 2011, when there were hardly any choices by comparison.

+ Tank Tops: "This is not a run of the mill rotation ... This is one of those moments in time where if you want to make a difference, this is it." Top US general visits training site for Ukrainian soldiers.

+ Buzz Kill: "After decades of confusing and sometimes contradictory research (too much alcohol is bad for you but a little bit is good; some types of alcohol are better for you than others; just kidding, it's all bad), the picture is becoming clearer: Even small amounts of alcohol can have health consequences." NYT (Gift Article): Even a Little Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. (This will be one of the big stories of 2023. A lot of people, and a lot of beverage sellers, have decided drinking is bad. Expect shelves of new products and an oncoming culture war.)

+ The Glass is Quarter Full: What's a bigger story than drinking alcohol? Drinking water. "The survival — or at least the basic sustenance — of hundreds in a desert community amid the horse ranches and golf courses outside Phoenix now rests on a 54-year-old man with a plastic bucket of quarters." WaPo: Arizona city cuts off a neighborhood's water supply amid drought.

+ Hoodlums: "Initially, the Taliban wanted the mannequins to be outright beheaded." Instead, they settled for just keeping them hooded and masked. It's just unreal that these crazy monsters are running a country.

+ Core Values: "If 'free speech' was his mandate for ­Twitter the platform, it has been the opposite for Twitter the workplace. Dissenting opinion or criticism has led to swift dismissals. Musk replaced Twitter's old culture with one of his own, but it's unclear, with so few workers and plummeting revenues, if this new version will survive. As one employee said in December, 'Place is done for.'" The Verge and NY Mag go deep on Elon's Twitter tenure. Extremely Hardcore. As terrible a financial deal as buying Twitter was, it's critical to remember that we live in an information economy. Every word Elon tweets or speaks is parsed in a gagillion think pieces. For the malignant narcissist, buying Twitter was the bargain of the century.


Bottom of the News

"Every year, cities and states must decide how to budget for random winter weather events. When they aren't sufficiently prepared, the costs accumulate. Where do those billions of dollars go? And how do cities plan for unpredictable weather events?" The Hustle: Why snow costs America a fortune every year.

+ The winners of the 2022 Dog Photography awards.