When Humans Are Away | COVID Bots | Cyclone Hits India
May 22, 2020
There will be no Daily Pnut on Monday, 5/25/20 in remembrance of Memorial Day.
“I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” ― George McGovern
“Well, I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”
So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.
So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise: “Mary,” I said, “I don’t think this book of mine will ever be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.
“I tell you what,” I said, “I’ll call it ‘The Children’s Crusade.’”
She was my friend after that.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Leon Neal via Getty Images
Reuters reported last March that Russian media had deployed an extensive disinformation campaign against the West — to create panic and distrust and worsen the impact of a new coronavirus spreading around the globe.
Kathleen Carley, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has been conducting a study into bot-generated coronavirus activity on Twitter. Her research team culled through more than 200 million tweets discussing the virus since January, and found that some 45 percent were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans.
The researchers have identified over 100 false narratives about COVID-19 circulating on Twitter by bot-controlled accounts. On Wednesday Carley said: “We’re seeing up to two times as much bot activity as we’d predicted….” Carley declines to say conclusively who’s behind the bot accounts, but confirms: “We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks.”
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the University’s findings, but the company says it’s removed thousands of tweets containing misleading or potentially harmful information about Covid-19. It’s also crafted new labels to accompany disputed, misleading or unverified tweets about the disease.
Carley warns countering bot activity on Twitter isn’t easy. Blocked accounts can resurface, and disinformation networks are sophisticated and difficult to completely root out. She advises Twitter users to look out for subtle typos, for tweets being sent out very quickly, or profile images and usernames that seem suspicious. “Even if someone appears to be from your community, if you don’t know them personally, take a closer look, and always go to authoritative or trusted sources for information. Just be very vigilant.”
Flood Em While They’re Down
- Deadly Cyclone Amphan slammed into India’s eastern coast on Wednesday, wiping out thousands of homes in India and Bangladesh, flooding low-lying areas, and leaving at least 80 dead in its aftermath. The worst damage was reported in the Indian state of West Bengal, with its capital Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and its many small, coastal villages where people live in huts made of mud and sticks.
- All Tuesday and Wednesday, with Amphan barreling up the Bay of Bengal, authorities urged people to leave their homes and go to evacuation shelters. About three million did, but many refused to leave, apparently fearful that cramming into shelters with thousands of others would expose them to Covid-19. India is struggling to contain the virus; officials have reported 100,000 infections, but many believe the number is woefully low due to limited testing.
- On Thursday authorities said it was still too early to know the full extent of damage or the final death count. Many areas remained inaccessible, with split-open trees and live electrical wires sprawled across roads. (NYT)
- Drop in pollution may bring hotter weather and heavier monsoons (Guardian)
Anthony Kwan via Getty Images
“The City Doth Protest Too Much”- Beijing
- Pro-democracy protests that began last June plunged Hong Kong into its deepest turmoil since returning to Chinese rule in 1997. Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution established under the terms of the former British colony’s handover to Chinese control, says the city must enact national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition [and] subversion” against the Chinese government.
- But the clause was never implemented due to deeply held public fears it would curtail Hong Kong’s cherished rights, like freedom of expression. Beijing made clear it wanted security legislation passed, but Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, hadn’t made that happen, and couldn’t quell the protests.
- Now the Chinese government intends to push through sweeping national security laws for Hong Kong on its own, at the National People’s Congress (NPC), the annual meeting of parliament that begins Friday. By passing a law in the NPC, Chinese authorities can effectively bypass local opposition.
- Critics described the legislation as a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy,” and said it would end the one country, two systems status. “This is the end of Hong Kong,” said a pro-democracy legislator. “Beijing…has completely breached its promise to the Hong Kong people…They are completely walking back on their obligations.” (Guardian)
- China abandons GDP target for first time in decades amid ‘great uncertainty’ of virus (Guardian)
- Hong Kong plunges more than 5% as Beijing plans to impose new security laws (CNBC)
- U.S.-China tensions are flaring on a new front: the financial markets (CNBC)
Additional World News
- Modi’s plan to rebuild India’s parliament draws fierce criticism (Guardian)
- Abbas, Cornered by Israeli Annexation, Opts for ‘Judgment Day’ Scenario (NYT, $)
- In China’s Crisis, Xi Sees a Crucible to Strengthen His Rule (NYT, $)
- A New Viral Outbreak Is Killing Rabbits (NYT, $)
- How Stealing and Selling Children Became a Business in South Sudan (Vice)
- The Twilight of the Iranian Revolution (New Yorker)
- Longer overlap for modern humans and Neanderthals (BBC)
- Trump says he won’t close the country if second wave of coronavirus hits (CNBC)
- ‘We’ve been muzzled’: CDC sources say White House putting politics ahead of science (CNN)
- The survivors: They Beat the Virus. Now They Feel Like Outcasts. (NYT) & Coronavirus Patient Shares Shocking Before-And-After Photos (BuzzFeed News)
- Covid-19 Virus Mutation?: China’s New Cluster Raises Concern (Bloomberg, $)
- Sweden is still nowhere near ‘herd immunity,’ even though it didn’t go into lockdown (CNN)
- Opinion | The Worst Is Yet to Come (NYT, $)
Up In The Sky! It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s An Illegal Reconnaissance Droid That Is No Longer Allowed In This Airspace
- 1992’s Open Skies Treaty permits each nation to conduct short-notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. (Satellites are not affected by the treaty.)
- On Friday President Trump will inform Russia that he is pulling the US out of the almost thirty-year-old treaty. It’s the commander-in-chief’s third withdrawal from major arms control agreements. American officials have long complained that Moscow was violating the Open Skies accord by not permitting flights over a city where it’s believed Russia was deploying nuclear weapons that could reach Europe. It’s also forbidden flights over major Russian military exercises.
- Additionally, it’s said Trump was angered by a Russian flight directly over his Bedminster, NJ golf estate in 2017. And America intelligence agencies believe Russians are using flights over the US to map out critical infrastructure that could be hit by conventional weapons or cyberattacks.
- Only one major arms treaty with Russia remains: New START. That pact, which expires in February 2021, limits the US and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles each. Trump insists that China must join in what is now a US-Russia limit on nuclear arsenals. Since the Chinese have shown no interest in limitations on their own nuclear arsenal, critics of the administration’s approach say the insistence on Beijing’s participation is really just a means to scuttle the entire treaty. (NYT)
When The Humans Are Away, The Animal Will… Have An All Around Better Time
- For the first time in recent memory, pronghorn antelope have ventured into the sun-scorched lowlands of Death Valley National Park. “This is something we haven’t seen in our lifetimes,” said a spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We’ve known they’re in some of the higher elevation areas … [but] they’ve never been documented this low in the park, near park headquarters.”
- The return of pronghorns to Death Valley is just one of many stories of wildlife thriving on public lands since the coronavirus closures went into effect a month and a half ago. In Yosemite National Park, closed since mid-March, wildlife have flocked in large numbers to a virtually abandoned Yosemite Valley. Deer, bobcats and black bears have congregated around buildings, along roadways and other parts of the park typically teeming with visitors.
- Park staff photographed a coyote lounging in an empty parking lot under a rushing Yosemite Falls; it seemed to best capture the momentary state of repose. A handful of workers who’ve remained in Yosemite during the closures describe an abundance of wildlife not seen in the last century. “The bear population has quadrupled,” one said. The human-free respite is rapidly coming to an end, however, as the park service ramps up its phased reopening. (Guardian)
- How staying indoors effects your immune system (BBC)
- 8 ways to go out and stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic (Vox)
- Keeping a Distance, From Everything but Nature (NYT)
- Rays, sharks, and dolphins enjoy new freedom as humans retreat from the oceans (CNN)
- Locals Tell Us What Top Tourist Spots Feel Like Now (NYT, $)
Additional USA News
- Trump And Biden Wage An Uneven Virtual Campaign (NPR)
- Lori Loughlin and her husband to plead guilty in college admissions scandal (Guardian)
- With just one ICU bed available, Montgomery, Alabama, is sending sick patients to Birmingham (CNN)
- ‘All the psychoses of US history’: how America is victim-blaming the coronavirus dead (Guardian)
- Trump’s Vaccine Czar Has Vast Ties to Drug Industry, Posing Possible Conflicts (NYT, $)
- Pompeo’s elite taxpayer-funded dinners raise new concerns (NBC)
- Trump administration declassifies full Susan Rice email sent on Inauguration Day (Politico)
- We Live in a Patchwork Pandemic Now (Atlantic)
Man’s Best Frenemy
- People who think cats are unfriendly just don’t know how to read their signs. Dogs seem almost biologically incapable of hiding their inner moods — shuffling, snuffling, tail-wagging clues to contentment, nervousness or sheer, unadorned joy. Despite what the famous painting might be trying to say, dogs would be terrible poker players.
- Cats have more sophisticated body language — their moods are signaled through a twitch of the tail, a ruffling of fur, the positioning of ears and whiskers. A purr can signal friendliness and contentment, or not.
- While we can be reasonably sure of a dog’s bond with us, cats still suffer something of a bad PR image. The independence that many see as a bonus is seen by others as aloofness or selfishness. Their detractors claim they only really show affection when a food bowl is empty. Cat lovers say that’s nonsense.
- “Mostly, it’s just human misunderstanding of the species,” says Karen Hiestand, a vet and trustee of International Cat Care. Even though the domestication of cats goes back thousands of years, it was still a much more gradual process than with dogs. And our taming of cats has only partly removed them from the wild. The African wildcat we domesticated our housecats from, Felis lybica, tends to lead a solitary life.
- “Dogs and humans are very similar and have lived together a long time. In a way it has been co-evolution…. Cats are the only asocial animal that’s been domesticated. [They] come from a solitary ancestor that isn’t a social species.” Regardless, the image of the “independent” cat has done it little harm in terms of popularity as a pet. Cat lovers will tell you they have just as much of a bond with their furry friend as any dog lover. It’s just a matter of interpreting their language. (BBC)
- As big cats go hungry, Indonesia zoo considers ‘worst-case’ deer cull (Reuters) Certain cats just aren’t meant to be domesticated.
- This weekend we plan to finally see what all the hubbub is about with Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (trailer) Do tigers make their owners crazy or vice versa?
- Foodie Culture as We Know It Is Over (Atlantic)
- Opinion | Twitter Could End the Office as We Know It (NYT, $)
- The Office Is Dead (Marker)
- Many Jobs May Vanish Forever as Layoffs Mount (NYT, $)
The rich (are the restless) and the rest of us
- The pandemic will put billionaires’ commitment to journalism to the test: Is it a charity or a business? (Recode) We can tell you from firsthand experience, that it’s a tough business. This is why there’s a lot of truth to the advice of pursuing your passion.
- American billionaires got $434 billion richer during the pandemic And we wonder why inequality is perhaps the most important issue globally right now.
- The Richest Neighborhoods Emptied Out Most as Coronavirus Hit New York City (NYT)
- Is Capitalism Racist? (New Yorker)
- Opinion | Native Americans Paid for America’s Land-Grant Universities (NYT, $)
- How long it could take before a second stimulus check is in your hands (CNBC)
Trying to use a setback (COVID-19) to live a better life
- Why suffering setbacks could make you more successful (BBC)
- Exercising, Eating Right Won’t Prevent Burnout (Bloomberg, $)
- Want to eat less meat? Take a page from these cultures that already do (CNN)
- Why time seems to be going faster while we are in lockdown (BBC)
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