March 7th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

The Unlikely Underdog, Monks Gone Viral

Thanks to Amazon, Barnes & Noble went from being the bully on the block to an underdog struggling to survive, and the pandemic left the one-time behemoth struggling to survive. But then the plot changed. “The ghost of Barnes & Noble past meets the spirit of Barnes & Noble future in a single shopping center in a suburb of Baltimore. The new store in Pikesville, Md., separated by half a parking lot from its shuttered predecessor, is part of an unlikely plot twist: Barnes & Noble is staging its largest expansion in over a decade.” NPR: How Barnes & Noble turned a page, expanding for the first time in years. One of the company’s biggest shifts was to drop the algorithms and the pay-for-placement and just let the local store managers decide what to feature.

+ Barnes & Noble borrowed a lot of ideas from indie bookstores. Why? NYT from July: Some Surprising Good News: Bookstores Are Booming and Becoming More Diverse. And they’re not cooking the books…

+ But don’t worry about Amazon. The company sold close to $40bn of advertising last year – bigger than Prime, bigger than the entire global newspaper industry.


Wrecks and Balances

“The unrest within the military is the latest flare-up of opposition to the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary after protests brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets of cities like Tel Aviv. Prominent American Jews have also criticized the plans … But for many Israelis, anger within the military is perhaps the most worrying and significant reaction to the plans.” NYT (Gift Article): Protests Over Netanyahu’s Judiciary Overhaul Spread to Israel’s Military.

+ The Israeli military isn’t just worried about Netanyahu’s judicial takeover. “For the pilots, even more than the legal concerns that they specified in their letter, the crisis centered on Huwara, the Palestinian town where settler vigilantes rampaged last week, torching homes and cars and wounding dozens of residents.”

+ This is a very big story beyond Israel for a couple reasons. First, it’s indicative of the spreading of the authoritarian virus in democracies. Second, Netanyahu is trying to take over the judiciary in part because the courts are trying to hold him accountable for his crimes. If this tactic sounds familiar, maybe you’ve been following the news in Georgia, where a bill is advancing that would give politicians the power to remove prosecutors they don’t like. And the timing is no coincidence. With Trump in legal trouble, Georgia GOP targets prosecutors.


Cartel Crossfire

“A road trip to Mexico for cosmetic surgery ended with two Americans dead — and two others found alive in a rural area near the Gulf coast — after a violent shootout and abduction that was captured on video, officials said Tuesday.” 2 Americans dead, 2 rescued after violent Mexico kidnapping. “Shortly after entering Mexico, the four were caught amid fighting between rival cartel groups.” Because Americans were killed, this story is making headline news. But it’s reflective of the relentless cartel-related violence that plagues Mexicans.

+ “Kidnapped Americans got lost while trying to find their way to the doctor’s office.” Here’s the latest from CNN.


Hey, Hey, We’re the Monks

“Cambodia’s monks are banned from drawing attention to themselves, according to the Theravada monastic code. That hasn’t stopped them from using TikTok to preach, with some amassing more than half a million followers. It’s causing friction within the faith: Adapt with the times, or stay true to the most essential version of Buddhism?” TikTok’s viral monks are clashing with Buddhist authorities. (My culture unabashedly celebrates empty fame, and I still can’t figure out how to go viral.)


Extra, Extra

Razing Arizona: “In part as a result of [Kari Lake’s] vilification campaign, Gates is stalked on social media, in his inbox and on voicemail, and in public meetings of the board of supervisors. Based on what law enforcement regarded as a credible death threat, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone removed Gates and his wife from their home in Phoenix on Election Night and dispatched them to a secure location under guard. They knew the drill. ‘I’ve done it so many times,’ Gates recalled. ‘It’s like, ‘Here we go again.'” Barton Gellman in The Atlantic: A Troubling Sign for 2024. “The midterms were a welcome reprieve for democracy. But the story of Bill Gates, an Arizona election official, suggests that we might not be so lucky in next year’s presidential election.” (When Barton Gellman worries, I worry.)

+ Texas Hexes: “Five women who were denied abortions under Texas law while facing medical crises are suing the state, asking a judge to clarify exceptions to the laws. ‘[The women] have been denied necessary and potentially life-saving obstetrical care because medical professionals throughout the state fear liability under Texas’s abortion bans,” says the lawsuit, filed in state court by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the five women and two doctors.” (Disclosure/Brag: My wife is on the board of the Center for Reproductive Rights.) Meanwhile, “last week, Walgreens said it will not distribute abortion pills in states where Republican officials have threatened legal action.” This week, California announced plans to cut ties with Walgreens.

+ Gang Signs: “The report identifies at ‘least a half dozen’ active gangs and cliques — and names them: the Executioners, the Banditos, the Regulators, the Spartans, the Gladiators, the Cowboys, and the Reapers.” Gang Members Hold Positions at ‘Highest Levels’ of LA Sheriff’s Department.

+ Sweet Talk: “Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes sweeten foods without extra calories. But studies show the ingredients can affect gut and heart health.” WaPo: How fake sugars sneak into foods and disrupt metabolic health. This stuff is confusing, even more so because of the lobbying of key players.

+ From Counting Points to Counting Money: WeightWatchers shares are soaring today. Why? Because they’re getting into the weight loss prescription drug business.

+ Juul in Denial: “Days after exiting its stake in troubled electronic cigarette maker Juul, Altria announced a $2.75 billion investment in rival electronic cigarette startup NJOY.” (You gotta admire their tenacity when it comes to wanting to cause death.)


Bottom of the News

“The Hershey Co. said Tuesday that Reese’s Plant Based Peanut Butter Cups, which go on sale this month, will be its first vegan chocolates sold nationally. A second plant-based offering, Hershey’s Plant Based Extra Creamy with Almonds and Sea Salt, will follow in April. The chocolates are made with oats instead of milk.” Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are getting the vegan treatment. (I sense a culture war battle coming.)

+ Girls Scouts’ newest cookie Raspberry Rally reselling for huge markup.

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