February 27th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

Reaction Economy, Pickleball in Prison

I’ve long argued that the five most endangered words of the internet era are: Let me think about that. Taking the time to think has been replaced by a dopamine-laced drive to react immediately. William Davies explains what it felt like to go cold turkey on instant reactions when he quit using Twitter: “I was left feeling bereft, as any addict is when their drug is taken away. How was I supposed to react to the news now? And if I had no way of reacting to the news, what did I want from the news? Am I even interested in the news, if I have no opportunity to react to it? Being in the digital public sphere without any means to react is a bit like being trapped in a shopping mall without any money.” In the London Review of Books, Davies’ provides a very interesting look at what he calls, The Reaction Economy, in which “each of us (celebrities included) becomes a junction box in a vast, complex network, receiving, processing and emitting information in a semi-automatic fashion, and in real time.” (If you have thoughts on this article, please keep them to yourself.)


Number Numbness

“A friend, nearing 60, recently told me that whenever he looks in the mirror, he’s not so much unhappy with his appearance as startled by it—as if there’s been some sort of error’ were his exact words. (High-school reunions can have this same confusing effect. You look around at your lined and thickened classmates, wondering how they could have so violently capitulated to age; then you see photographs of yourself from that same event and realize: Oh.) The gulf between how old we are and how old we believe ourselves to be can often be measured in light-years—or at least a goodly number of old-fashioned Earth ones.” The Atlantic’s Jennifer Senior on The Puzzling Gap Between How Old You Are and How Old You Think You Are. (I’m one of the few people who thinks I’m about three decades older than I am, and I have the lab work to prove it.)

+ A few years ago, my wife, Gina Pell wrote about something related to this sensation in an article that went globally viral. Meet the Perennials.


Hero Sum Game

“In my heart, I want to know the thing that even police seemingly do not. Who killed Coach Nell? What happened on that rainy evening? How did a man who spent a lifetime building immunity to gun violence fall victim to this most American contagion? As much as anything else, I want to know why.” USA Today’s Suzette Hackney spent a couple years following Richard Donnell Hamilton and the kids he coached and cared for. “He was the kind of neighborhood hero that you will find in every city in America, if you are willing to see. The kind of person who reaches beyond himself, beyond his family. Who reaches above the expectations the world has for someone like him.” Now she’s covering his murder. This football coach spent years saving his city’s kids from gun violence. Then someone shot him.


Time Served

“Roger BelAir told them about a night five years ago when he and his wife were watching an episode of 60 Minutes that featured a segment on Tom Dart, the sheriff of Cook County, Ill., who oversees one of the largest jails in the country. BelAir was struck by footage of inmates standing idle and had an idea. ‘I said to my wife, ‘They ought to be playing pickleball,’ BelAir recalled. ‘They’d get exercise, learn life lessons — sportsmanship, learning from mistakes — so I tell my wife:
‘I’m going to write him a letter. And I’ll go out there, and I’ll teach them all pickleball.’ ‘My wife, of course, gave me the ol’ eye-roll.'” It turns out that Tom Dart didn’t give the eye-roll when he got BelAir’s letter. For one thing, he was offering a service for free. So once the sheriff did some research “and made sure the equipment wasn’t likely to be used as a weapon, [he] opened the jail doors to BelAir.” How popular is the hottest sport in America? This hot. WaPo (Gift Article): Pickleball’s latest court? The prison yard.


Extra, Extra

Called to Account: “About 2,000 secret recordings of intercepted conversations between Russian soldiers in Ukraine and their loved ones back home offer a harrowing new perspective on Vladimir Putin’s year-old war. There is a human mystery at the heart of these conversations heard in intercepted phone calls: How do people raised with a sense of right and wrong end up accepting and perpetrating terrible acts of violence?” From AP and the Center for Investigative Reporting: ‘Never saw such hell’: Russian soldiers in Ukraine call home. And the companion podcast from Reveal: Listening in on Russia’s War in Ukraine.

+ Chopped Dilbert: “Dilbert creator Scott Adams continued to see his reach shrink Monday as dozens of newspapers and a major comic strip platform said they would no longer publish his long-running office workplace comic strip over his recent racist remarks.” We might be too quick to cancel people these days, but this in case, Adams’ statements were so wildly over the line, it’s not even close to being a close call. (Of course, Elon Musk came to his defense and argued that the media is racist against whites.)

+ Labora-story: “Some officials briefed on the intelligence said that it was relatively weak and that the Energy Department’s conclusion was made with ‘low confidence,’ suggesting its level of certainty was not high. While the department shared the information with other agencies, none of them changed their conclusions.” In many ways, it’s the mystery of our era. Lab Leak Most Likely Caused Pandemic, Energy Department Says.

+ Obrador Stop: “Tens of thousands of people filled Mexico City’s vast main plaza Sunday to protest President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s electoral law changes they say threaten democracy.” Anyone else sensing a global trend?

+ Maternity Leave: “The closure in Toppenish mirrors national trends as financially strained hospitals come to a harsh conclusion: Childbirth doesn’t pay, at least not in low-income communities. From 2015 to 2019, there were at least 89 obstetric unit closures in rural hospitals across the country. By 2020, about half of rural community hospitals did not provide obstetrics care.” NYT (Gift Article): Rural Hospitals Are Shuttering Their Maternity Units. And from the Texas Observer: Pregnant Texans Now Travel 10 Times Farther for an Abortion. (So you have to have the baby, but there’s nowhere to give birth.)

+ Father and Law: “A judge concluded the children were victims of ‘parental alienation,’ which continues to influence family courts despite being rejected by mainstream scientific groups, and authorized police to use ‘reasonable force’ to remove them from their mother.” ProPublica: Barricaded Siblings Turn to TikTok While Defying Court Order to Return to Father They Say Abused Them.

+ Nun Chucks: “Mornings inside the nunnery are filled with the thuds of heavy footsteps and the clanking of swords as the nuns train under Ms. Lhamo’s tutelage. Amid a soft rustle of their loose uniforms, they cartwheel, punch and kick one another.” NYT (Gift Article): Kung Fu Nuns of Nepal Smash Convention.


Bottom of the News

“Are you drifting between careers, unsure of your next move? Perhaps you should become the pope. Leader of the Holy Roman Catholic Church is a prestigious position that offers excellent perks, including international travel, job security, frequent media appearances, and elaborate hats. You can name your own hours, hire your friends for any position you’d like, and supervise a small-but-wealthy city state. If you’re into job titles, how does ‘Successor of the Prince of the Apostles’ grab you?” In case you’re in the market for a new gig, here’s Lifehacker’s guide to How to Become the Pope.

+ Boeing Engineers Set a New Record for Paper Plane Flight Distance.

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