March 17, 2020
(Daily Pnut’s Tim): I worry about coronavirus. I worry about everything that everyone else does. When I’m not anchored by the daily routines of life, then I occasionally swim to the surface and reflect on this ocean we call life. My experiences with misfortune (suffering) are no different than many others who have been at war: witnessing or learning about death, injuries, and suicides that have occurred to friends, classmates, and fellow soldiers.
I’ve come to realize that there’s no rhyme or reason as to who suffers or who doesn’t (on the opposite end of the spectrum, yesterday’s Daily Pnut concluded the edition noting that perhaps extreme fortune could all be explained by sheer luck). Despite all of this, we still try to avoid suffering and we still jump on the rat wheel to spin endlessly so we can compete in the rat race.
Literature has helped me to better contextualize misfortune. It’s been 20 years since graduating from (Leon) high school and I’m starting to realize how important it is to have a very well rounded education. In January I reflected about my biology class. More recently I’ve been thinking about how my English-Literature teachers helped flame my love for reading. And the past couple weeks I’ve been thinking about Albert Camus’s The Plague (check it out from your library if the library is still open).
It’s a book that feels appropriate for present day society’s battle with coronavirus. A couple personal anecdotes stand out as I reflect on the book’s themes, Camus’s philosophy (“The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence. He then promotes life rich in wilful experience.” and “In absurdist philosophy, the Absurd arises out of the fundamental disharmony between the individual’s search for meaning and the meaninglessness of the universe”), my personal journey, and how we as a society react to coronavirus, misfortune, and suffering.
First is that I discovered Camus via The Stranger because it was assigned reading for either my older sister or brother. And then because I found The Stranger so interesting, I then checked out from the library and read The Plague. (Note to self as a parent: it’s important to let your kids indulge and scratch their interests and intellectual curiosities — this perhaps is the time to let one’s kids or oneself to pursue intellectual pursuits) And the teacher who let me love books was actually my sixth grade literature teacher (Mrs. Corder or perhaps Korder) and the debt I owe her is unpayable. She encouraged my reading and let me borrow as many books from her class as I wanted.
Secondly, Camus, The Stranger, and The Plague, and exploring literature before West Point (at West Point I had to focus more on making the grade than actual learning and exploring because status in the “real world and the real Army” is about GPA and class rank over actual exploration and learning) has vaccinated me against being overwhelmed when I think of any misfortune and suffering that we as humanity experience. (perhaps in the end suffering is not misfortune at all). My readings and my reflections on misfortune have grounded me by helping me not just survive but also properly assign real value to what matters most to me: family, friends, health, setting low expectations, persistence, service, and sleeping in my own bed.
“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” ― Oscar Wilde
“Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a weapon.” ― Bertolt Brecht
A novel coronavirus wasn’t around when Singapore’s lawmakers passed the 2019 Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act. The ‘fake news’ legislation has been used over a dozen times since its passage; now the pandemic is new impetuous spurring ministers to use their sweeping powers in determining what constitutes a violation.
Last month Singapore authorities ordered Facebook to disable local access to a page the city-state’s government claimed contained false statements about its response to the Covid-19 crisis. Executives felt they had little choice legally: comply or face being fined up to $14,400 a day. The social media giant blocked local access to the page, States Times Review. But the company also issued an atypically strong statement, saying it was “deeply concerned” about the “precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore.”
Disinformation about Covid-19 is flooding the internet — from bogus cures to a conspiracy theory that the virus was cooked up in a lab by Chinese scientists — and governments are grappling with how to keep up. New York’s attorney general issued radio host Alex Jones a cease and desist letter, compelling him to stop peddling a fake cure that turns skin blue, while Britain is paying social media influencers to disseminate accurate information. Some 13 people were arrested in Thailand for spreading misinformation about the outbreak, while Indonesia has arrested at least six for coronavirus hoaxes. Nigerian lawmakers are debating legislation inspired by Singapore’s.
There’s little argument about the need to curtail the spread of online falsehoods. But critics worry that laws criminalizing fake news, with their hefty fines and jail sentences, could be used by authoritarian regimes to target enemies and threaten technology companies.
Joe Raedle via Getty Images
Don’t Poop Where You Peace
- Beginning in 2010, Haiti started experiencing a health crisis it hadn’t known before. What happened next offers an object lesson for dealing with a public health crisis. Marie Millande Tulmé, the head nurse for Haiti’s Central Plateau region, began investigating the origins of a strange sickness that had begun spreading rapidly. She traced the early cases to the banks of a tributary of the Artibonite River.
- When Tulmé went there in October 2010, residents on the eastern bank pointed to a drainage pipe across the way that delivered waste from a UN peacekeepers’ bathroom straight into the river. “The farmers … told me there’s a place where Minustah [the UN stabilization mission in Haiti] is throwing poop. It was not far from the river.”
- When Tulmé knocked on the peacekeepers’ front gate, she was told no one on the base had diarrhea. But bacteria spread with the water and within weeks cholera was reported in all 10 regions of Haiti. Fearing contamination, people were throwing bodies into open-pit mass graves. Huge numbers of deaths went unreported.
- The UN continued denying culpability despite scientific studies and media reports of observable waste flowing into the river. It wasn’t until six years later that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon finally admitted the UN’s responsibility, and apologized. Back in 2010, Minustah had failed to test peacekeepers from Nepal, where the disease is endemic, for cholera. When the Nepalis got sick, waste from the bathroom they used flowed directly into the river. Additional waste was trucked off by a private company and deposited just about a mile away, where it contaminated water there, too.
- Cholera “took everyone by surprise,” said the coordinator for Haiti’s Water and Sanitation Authority. “[It] wasn’t a disease the health system here had experienced. It was a learning curve that took months, years to get a handle on.” (Guardian)
- The Man Who Saw the Pandemic Coming (Nautilus)
- In the Battle Against Coronavirus, Humanity Lacks Leadership (Time)
- The Man With 17,700 Bottles of Hand Sanitizer Just Donated Them (NYT)
- Coronavirus Showed That America Wasn’t Up to the Task (Atlantic, $)
- Prepare for the coronavirus global recession (Guardian)
- When will a coronavirus vaccine be ready? (Guardian)
- Perspective | I ran the White House pandemic office. Trump closed it. (WaPo, $)
- Coronavirus: Big Economic Shock Can Be Contained and Reversed (Bloomberg, $)
- Coronavirus Testing: Why Rich People Get Tested (Atlantic, $)
- The Week in Business: It’ll Get Worse Before It Gets Better (NYT)
- How to Protect Older People From the Coronavirus (NYT)
- A Trick to Stop Touching Your Face (Atlantic, $)
- At Daily Pnut and our parent company, Media Mobilize, we are constantly building new tools and processes that require using technology. As a result we struggle with finding technical talent to help us thoughtfully grow.
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Samuel Corum via Getty Images
Let’s Find Our Binders Full of Men
- Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been reaching out to sitting Republican-nominated federal judges who are eligible to retire, urging them to step aside this year so they can be replaced while the party still holds the Senate and the White House.
- McConnell (R-Kentucky) has used his position over the past three years to build a judicial confirmation juggernaut for President Trump. Currently more than 90 judges nominated by previous Republican presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush are either eligible now or will become eligible this year to take what’s known as senior status, a form of semi-retirement that enables their slot to be filled even though they can still hear cases, hire clerks and receive full pay.
- Trump has already confirmed more than 50 appeals court judges, more than a quarter of the overall appellate bench. Only one appellate seat is currently open. Republicans are reminding sitting judges that it could be another eight years before they could retire under a Republican president, a not-so-veiled admission that Trump could lose the presidency, or Republicans could lose the Senate, depriving him of his partner on judicial confirmations, even if he won reelection. (NYT)
Additional USA News
- The Impending American Housing Crisis (Vanity Fair)
- As The War On Terror Winds Down, The Pentagon Cuts Social Science (NPR)
- ‘Anchor babies’: the ‘ludicrous’ immigration myth that treats people as pawns (Guardian)
- ‘The dream was empty’: Green energy scams target celebrities, seniors and do-gooders (NBC)
- Donald Trump ‘strongly considering full pardon’ for Michael Flynn (Guardian)
- What Do We Really Know About the Politics of People Behind Bars? (The Marshall Project)
- How Your Body Knows What Time It Is (Nautilus)
- Emotional Intelligence Needs a Rewrite (Nautilus)
- Why claiming ‘job turf’ could help improve your pay (BBC)
- Think Cheating in Baseball Is Bad? Try Chess (NYT, $)
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