Lock, Like, & Load | Profiting on Pain | Get Dirty and Healthy by Following the 5 Second Rule

MARCH 14, 2019  /   SUBSCRIBE



“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” – Maya Angelou




Lock, Like, & Load: India is social media’s biggest potential customer base. It’s also the likeliest place for social media to be abused to manipulate voters in the upcoming election starting April 11. In 2014’s election the country had around 250 million internet users. Today more than 560 million Indians are online, and with 900 million eligible to vote, the sheer scale of the election presents a huge challenge for social media companies trying to prevent their platforms from becoming weaponized.

Since 2014 several fact-checking websites have launched to deal with the rising tide of false information on social media. Facebook is labeling political advertisements and partnering with Indian fact-checkers. Its messaging platform, WhatsApp, is using artificial intelligence to detect and ban accounts that spread “problematic content.” WhatsApp has more than 200 million users in India. Last year it was at the center of the issue when false accusations of child abductions went viral, resulting in more than a dozen lynchings.

Twitter announced similar initiatives to crack down on “bad-faith actors.” It’s working with political parties and election authorities to ensure its platform isn’t compromised during the polls. It’s an uphill battle. Indian politics is often fought along social and religious lines, and recent years have seen violence against minority groups increase under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. The concern is that social media could be used to deepen those divisions and trigger violence. A political science professor at India’s Ashoka University said social media has become “a constant megaphone” for political parties to amplify their messages. He added: “When those tools are used as weapons, not so much for smear campaigns or political satire but when it’s used as an instrument of social polarization … the damage goes beyond the framework of the election.”




An Inconvenient Now: On Wednesday the UN released its sixth Global Environmental Outlook report. The 740 page report has a straightforward message, which many will ignore to their own peril: Human action is degrading the Earth and its ecosystems, and conditions will worsen if people do not take “unprecedented action” to try and reverse the situation. Let’s repeat: what the report is saying is that “unsustainable human activities globally have degraded the Earth’s ecosystems, endangering the ecological foundations of society.” Environmental considerations need to be “mainstreamed” into all social and economic decisions; in other words, the environment mustn’t be viewed as its own single issue, but as something that’s central to all policymaking at all governmental levels. Here’s the report’s warning once again: If drastic action is not taken now, by 2050, among other things, millions will be dying prematurely from air pollution and deadly infectious diseases from water pollution. (WaPo $)

A Modern Day Plague And We’re The Rats: The modern anti-vaxxer movement is growing, despite all evidence to the contrary. 47 of the 50 US states allow vaccination exemptions for non-medical reasons (including religious), but 17 of those states allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children “just because.” Ongoing measles transmission was declared eliminated in 2000; now as cases surge worldwide, it’s back with a vengeance. Almost 100 countries reported major surges in measles cases last year, compared to 2017. Complacency among parents and unwarranted concerns about vaccines were two of the key factors that contributed to the rise. In a few countries anti-vaxxers have received support from top leaders. Italy’s Five Star Movement has railed against vaccines and even suggested the introduction of a law against them. (WaPo $)

Nigerian Building Collapse: At least one person was killed and dozens of children were trapped after a four-storey building containing a primary school collapsed in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, on Wednesday. Residents said around 100 children had attended the school, which was on the top levels of the building. Lagos Governor Akinwuni Ambode visited the site, offering condolences to bereaved families. Ambode said the school had been set up illegally, and that buildings in the area had been undergoing structural testing prior to the accident. (Reuters)




Profiting on Pain: People’s lives depend on accurate, transparent information. For decades tobacco companies secreted internal information showing their products killed people. They were aided by highly paid attorneys who demanded confidentiality from victims in exchange for settlements. It wasn’t until an avalanche of lawsuits and trials in the 1990s that the general public began learning about widespread corporate wrongdoing. Today, the opioid crisis and its cascading litigation means America’s big drug makers and pharmacy chains are about to learn what the tobacco industry found out the hard way: the tradeoff is over.

In past opioid settlements, companies paid fines but insisted on gag orders. Settlement agreements typically required either the records be quickly destroyed, or returned to the drug company. In 2007 when the Justice Department ended a criminal case against Purdue Pharma, and later when the state of Kentucky settled a civil case with the company, thousands of pages of documents were destroyed. Consequently, few people in the wider public knew how serious the allegations were. But there’s a difference between tobacco companies and drug companies and their researchers—most people view the latter as healers and innovators, part of a trusted health care system.

Drug companies’ internal documents are now coming to light, and it’s sparking fury. In a February hearing a Democratic senator blasted industry executives, saying: “Companies like … Purdue Pharma fueled this epidemic, employing deceptive and truly unconscionable marketing tactics despite the known risk…[just to] sell more drugs to maximize your profits.” Massachusetts is among dozens of states suing Purdue Pharma. Its Attorney General Maura Healey fought successfully to make all the documents her office had uncovered public, without redactions. “What Purdue’s own documents show is the extent of deception and deceit. What’s important to me is that the facts come to light, and we get justice and accountability,” Healey said.




The People & Their Data Vs Techopolies: For years congressional oversight of the tech industry has been less than stringent; what oversight there was largely focused on whether there was political bias on various platforms. Things have changed. The new Democratic majority in the House, along with a younger and more tech-savvy membership in both parties, is holding oversight hearings. Lawmakers are also proposing new regulations in a crackdown on how big tech companies use and resell their customers’ personal information. One representative noted that the constant stream of reports about how data is being used by companies like Facebook and Google shows that self-regulation hasn’t worked. “And I think what consumers really want is transparency. They want to know what’s actually being collected. They want some control and then they want some accountability,” she said. There aren’t many issues in Congress with bipartisan support these days, but the need to set some limits on what big tech companies can do with personal data is one. (NPR)




Get Dirty: Ever wonder how our ancestors made it out of the caves alive, with no antibacterial soap or hand sanitizers or antibiotics? Dr. Meg Lemon is a dermatologist in Denver who treats people with allergies and autoimmune disorders. She says: “I tell people, when they drop food on the floor, please pick it up and eat it.” (Duh, that’s what the 5 second rule is for.) “Our immune system needs a job,” Lemon said. “We evolved over millions of years to have our immune systems under constant assault. Now they don’t have anything to do.” What she means is immune systems can become disrupted if they don’t have regular interactions with the natural world. She’s not alone. Leading physicians and immunologists are reconsidering the antiseptic ways we interact with our environment. Immune systems must be “trained” to deal with natural world around them.

This is really not a new idea. British scientists suggested a link between increased hygiene and allergic conditions a century ago. Summing up: the cleaner the environment, the less prepared is the immune system. That’s the Hygiene Hypothesis in a nutshell. Dr. Lemon has the last word: “Get rid of the antibacterial soap. Immunize! If a new vaccine comes out, run and get it. I immunized the living hell out of my children. And it’s OK if they eat dirt.” (NYT)




“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Please consider making a donation to Daily Pnut, an independently operated and bootstrapped publication. Many thanks to everyone who already supports us!

Yes, I want to sound marginally more intelligent: