Wednesday, January 17th, 2024

1

An Inside Job

From China to Iran to Russia and beyond, a unifying goal is to upend the current geopolitical playing field and replace it with a new world order that has a country other than America—and a system of government other than Western democracy—at the top. Leaders in these countries revel in a distracted America with its influence spread thin across many international crises from the Red Sea to Ukraine. But ask any expert about the vulnerability of America's superpowerdom and they'll tell you unequivocally that the greatest threat comes from within. Or as one European ambassador put it: "The U.S. is a 'fat buffalo trying to take a nap' as hungry wolves approach ... 'I can hear those Champagne bottle corks popping in Moscow — like it's Christmas every f-cking day.'" Nahal Toosi in Politico Magazine: Why the World Is Betting Against American Democracy.

2

Hold the Phone!

"Instead [of allowing smart phones], the school gave everyone on campus – including staff – a Light Phone, that is, a 'dumb' phone with limited functionality. The devices can make calls, send texts (slowly) and can't load modern applications; instead coming with deliberately cumbersome versions of music and mapping apps. They are about the size of a deck of cards, with black and white screens. As one student put it: 'It's like the demon baby of an iPad and a Kindle.'" Our phones have turned all of us into demon babies. And replacing one kind of phone with another kind of phone is a sad indicator of how seemingly powerless we are to reverse or even slow the great device takeover. Here's a story about phones and one school (and maybe one of our last stands). What happens when a school bans smartphones? A complete transformation.

3

In Fact It’s a Gas

"As Teslas and other electric vehicles dazzled car buyers with futuristic technology and dreams of a gasoline-free future, hybrid cars began to seem like yesterday's news. Sales of the Toyota Prius, the standard-bearer for hybrids, fell 85 percent over a decade. Now, a slowdown in the growth of electric car sales has led General Motors, Ford Motor and Volkswagen to walk back ambitious targets for those vehicles. And sales of hybrids are robust, underscoring what may be the enduring reality check of 2023: Many Americans are hugely receptive to electrification, but they're not ready for a fully electric car." NYT (Gift Article): Hybrid Cars Enjoy a Renaissance as All-Electric Sales Slow. I wonder if consumers are not ready for fully electric cars or that fully electric cars (specifically, their range) are not ready for consumers. I have (and love) one electric car. I also have one plug-in hybrid that has one-pedal driving and gets 36 miles of electric only range (but no range anxiety after that). I've owned that car for a month and I've never taken it to a gas station.

4

The I-Pod

"As Covid-19's remote-work surge fades, some workplaces are quieter and odder than ever. Employees have returned only to park themselves in deserted conference rooms or sound-muffling chambers. Colleagues grumble about booth-hogging co-workers, and some companies have started enforcing time limits on them. The pods, some resembling old-school telephone booths, have emerged as one of the hottest segments in the $24 billion North American office-furniture industry." WSJ (Gift Article): The Reason the Office Isn't Fun Anymore. (I wonder if one can purchase one of these pods for home use.)

5

Extra, Extra

You Be Fronting: Robin Wright in The New Yorker: How Ten Middle East Conflicts Are Converging Into One Big War. Related: "The U.S has designated the Houthi rebel group as a terrorist organization, a move that comes after the Yemen-based militants launched scores of drone and missile attacks on U.S. military ships and commercial vessels operating in the Red Sea."

+ At Least They're Enjoying the Ride: "Trump's party is signing up for the ride, knowing exactly what the ride is. Pro-Ukraine senators are working to elect a president who will cut off Ukraine, knowing that he will cut off Ukraine. Pro-NATO senators are working to elect a president who will wreck NATO, knowing that he will wreck NATO." David Frum in The Atlantic (Gift Article): The Ruin That a Trump Presidency Would Mean. (The enablers know how bad this all will be. And they support him anyway.) Meanwhile, Trump is back in court where he almost got kicked out. Agitated Trump says 'I would love it' after judge threatens to boot him from E. Jean Carroll defamation trial.

+ Heavenly Bodies: ‘Sexual pleasure a gift from God' but avoid porn, Pope Francis advises. (I'm Jewish, but I suddenly feel compelled to confess...)

+ Character Traits: WaPo (Gift Article): Forget 10,000 steps. 7 surprising tips for step counters. "The notion to take 10,000 daily steps stems from a marketing ploy: As the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics approached, a Japanese researcher decided to nudge his nation to be more active by offering pedometers with a name that loosely translated as '10,000-step meter.' (The Japanese character for the number 10,000 looks a little like a person walking.)" If only the Japanese character for 10,000 looked like a guy sitting on his couch...

6

Bottom of the News

"If the last 20 years have taught us anything, it's that humans act in mysterious ways when they find themselves in front of a camera. Whether it's duck-facing or dabbing, internet eras have come to be defined by (often gendered) gestures or expressions. But while women have no shortage of poses and techniques to use in pictures and videos, men tend to move in a monolith, dedicating years to a common pose before finally moving on to the next. We are currently witnessing one such shift. If the 2010s were about soy facing in YouTube thumbnails—posing with an open-mouthed expression of joyful surprise for clicky videos teasers—the 2020s are about chad facing in TikToks." GQ: Men Won't Stop ‘Chad Facing' Online. (This is why I use an ageless, iconic avatar.)