The Illusion Of Collusion
October 8, 2020
The Good News
- In a pandemic-driven world, trust in science is rising (Ars Technica)
- ‘Superhabitable’ planets could be better for life than Earth (CNN)
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
The Illusion Of Collusion
(Saul Loeb via Getty Images)
President Trump’s unexpected visit to the hospital this weekend proved a number of things. It proved that COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate on the basis of power or prestige, it proved that the President of the United States has access to the best healthcare in the world, and proved that the White House is now a viral hotspot with at least 27 positive cases coming from the inner circle of the executive branch.
But outside of the obvious, the presidential health predicament proved that conspiracy theories run across party lines. While far-right theories like Qanon dominate headlines, the liberal response to Trump’s contraction of COVID-19 revealed just how susceptible the left can be to baseless speculation and “alternative facts.” This reality was revealed through a casual scroll of social media feeds over the weekend, where users on Twitter and Facebook were more than likely met with unverified claims that the president was faking his illness to garner sympathy or distract from the release of his tax returns. Some diehard keyboard warriors even suspected that Trump secretly died and was replaced by a body double or received a top-secret vaccine from Russia. Obviously, this is unfounded conjecture at best and unbridled disinformation at worst. But that’s the point — this weekend revealed that conspiracy theories aren’t just a Republican problem, they’re an American problem.
As #TrumpCovidHoax began to trend on Twitter, experts on the tantalizing mistruths of conspiracy sought to explain how the American people have become so engulfed with the idea of political cover-ups. Many attribute the trend to the lack of trust in traditional truth-telling institutions.
“Conspiracy theorists love a vacuum,” said Kathryn Olmsted, a professor of history at the University of California, Davis, who focuses on the history of conspiracy theories. “If they’re not getting answers, they’re going to come up with their own.”
With a president who constantly cries wolf in the form of “fake news,” Americans have watched the common ground for discourse erode over the last four years. This allows extreme conspiracy theories to grow in its place, fertilized by social media algorithms that favor the engaging and salacious over the dull and responsible.
On Tuesday, Facebook was forced to hit the override button on its own platform, banning all Qanon-related content and labeling it as a “militarized social movement.” But Qanon is merely the symptom of an underlying illness. The internet has so fundamentally altered our consumption of information that traditional structures of authority have been placed on a level playing field with any Average Joe with a computer. This sentiment is shared by Martin Gurri, a media theorist and former CIA analyst who argues that the new “vital communities” created on social media have replaced traditional media gatekeepers.
“Dissemination is validation,” he said. “If you can concoct something that travels on the web, then you’re on the same plane as any expert in the world. “This is not Trump. This is structural, and even if Trump loses in November, it’s going to continue.”
- Conspiracy theories surge around Trump’s COVID diagnosis (Axios)
- QAnon’s Creator Made the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory (Foreign Policy)
- How the truth was murdered (MIT Technology Review)
The Great Fall of China
- It’s no secret that the United States has suffered from a bit of an image problem in the wake of COVID-19. Previous Pnuts have covered this precipitous drop in global standing — but new data from the Pew Research Center suggests that another world power is struggling to maintain pre-pandemic popularity levels.
- China has not been immune to the COVID-19 polling slump. Pew reports that over two-thirds of people in 14 major countries express zero confidence in Xi Jinping to make the right decision in regards to world affairs. Similarly, three out of five respondents on average believed that China had mismanaged the COVID-19 crisis — with the most negative views coming from neighboring Japan, South Korea, and Australia.
- These are still better figures than those that have come out about President Trump and the United States, where Pew polling shows that global respondents have less faith in Trump than they do in both Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. However, being relatively better than the United States is nothing for China to hang their hat on, as Xi Jinping has seen his favorability ratings take a nosedive in important foreign markets like Australia and the United Kingdom.
- COVID-19 represents one aspect of this global image issue, but human rights abuses have compounded the bad press for the world’s most populous language. Coverage of dystopian Muslim reduction camps in Xinjiang has punctured China’s global standing as a trustworthy world power.
- “We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the recent developments in Hong Kong,” Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said in the statement on behalf of the 39 countries. “We call on China to respect human rights, particularly the rights of persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet.”
- But China has a message for any American who feels as if they hold the moral high ground when it comes to human rights. “Blaming others won’t solve your problems, nor hide your failures. I would like to say to the U.S. that blaming China cannot cover up your poor human rights records,” China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. “Before accusing others, you’d better take a good look in the mirror at yourself. In fact: It is the U.S. that should protect the basic rights of its people.” (Foreign Policy)
Mine Over What Matters
- As the Amazon rainforest burns at an unprecedented rate — so much so that scientists predict it will soon be best classified as a savannah — another ecological menace threatens to devour one of most biologically diverse locations on earth. A recent report from the World Resources Institute found that illegal goldmining on indigenous reserves has increased significantly during Brazillian president Jair Bolsanaro’s tenure.
- “The extent of mining concessions and illegal mining areas that overlap indigenous areas in the Amazon is much more significant than many people thought,” said Peter Veit, an author of the report and director of the WRI’s Land and Resource Rights Initiative. The Amazon is experiencing a modern gold rush as rising prices lure more garimpeiros – or wildcat miners — onto lands granted to indigenous peoples who help preserve this global carbon sink.
- “Gold prices had been rising for years but the threat to economies from the novel coronavirus led to a surge in prices – up about 35% this year – as investors sought the perceived safety of gold. As prices rise, so does demand and mining,” the report said. The Brazilian government has struggled to regulate this gold rush, and President Bolsonaro is seeking to open up the rainforest to more mining. Brazilian gold exports have risen 35% from January to August, and Bolsonaro has sent a bill to Congress seeking to formally legalize mining on indigenous lands.
- While unearthing gold in the Amazon may lead to a temporary economic boon, it will leave a scar on the region that won’t heal anytime soon. Studies have shown that mining pits and quarries remain barren long after they are abandoned by wildcat miners. A large scale excavation of the Amazon will only serve to exacerbate the deforestation crisis caused by widespread fires and the lumber industry. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- What Kind of Superpower Will China Be? (Atlantic, $)
- Pain in Japan: Japan’s Shut-Ins, Hikikomori, Are Living With Their Parents and Have No Jobs & The Pressure to Be Perfect Turns Deadly for Celebrities in Japan (Bloomberg, NYT)
- He’s not Russian to conclusions: Putin sends a mixed message on US election, hedging his bets (AP)
- Golden Dawn guilty verdict rebukes fascist party that went mainstream in Greece (WaPo, $)
- Venice Flood Barrier Passes First Major Test (EcoWatch)
- Hair apparent: What Donald Trump Can Learn From Boris Johnson (NYT, $)
- 2 Men Found Guilty Of Aiding 2013 Westgate Terror Attack In Kenya (NPR)
- Venezuela, Once an Oil Giant, Reaches the End of an Era (NYT, $). Oil, foiled.
- A ‘herd mentality’ can’t stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither can a weak vaccine. (NatGeo)
- The White House Bet on Abbott’s Rapid Tests. It Didn’t Work Out. (NYT)
- Covid-19: How do pandemics end? (BBC)
- Excel: Why using Microsoft’s tool caused Covid-19 results to be lost (BBC)
- Covid nurse who shared patient’s tragic last words shocked by US inaction (Guardian)
- CDC updates webpage on how covid-19 is spread after Website error last month (WaPo)
- India’s new paper Covid-19 test could be a ‘game changer’ (BBC)
- ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ May Not Work in a Time of Pandemic (NYT)
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A Vice Change of Pace
(Robyn Beck via Getty Images)
- Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate was a welcome return to civility. Want proof? The most memorable moment involved a fly on Mike Pence’s head. In a stark departure from last week’s glorified shouting match, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris gave voters a more sincere foray into the policy differences that will define this election.
- The night began with Kamala Harris tearing into the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19, accusing Pence of overseeing the “greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country” and proclaiming that “this administration has forfeited their right to reelection.” Pence — who was separated from his opponent by a plexiglass wall — contended that “from the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first” and continued to promise that millions of doses of a yet-to-be-announced COVID-19 treatment would be available by the end of the year.
- Harris made headlines when she announced she would not personally take a Trump-back vaccine without the support of medical professionals, and then continued to lambast Pence for his administration’s handling of racial issues. The Democratic vice presidential nominee called for justice to be served to the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, while her Republican opponent instead chose to focus on the “rioting and looting that followed.”
- All in all, Wednesday night likely did little to move the needle for America’s undecided voters. Both Pence and Harris displayed a fresh breath of competency when it came to laying out a presidential vision — but the actual presidential candidates will have to prove that they themselves are capable of doing so next week.
Additional VP Debate Reads
- Key moments from Harris and Pence’s primetime showdown (Politico)
- Fact check: Pence echoes Trump’s false claims (CNN)
- Mike Pence, Kamala Harris Clash on Combating Coronavirus at Vice Presidential Debate (WSJ, $)
Additional USA News
- The ultimate trust fall: Collapsing Levels of Trust Are Devastating America & How Hatred Came To Dominate American Politics (Atlantic, FiveThirtyEight)
- The man who told the truth about Donald Trump … and no one listened (Salon)
- Inside the Lincoln Project’s War Against Trump (New Yorker)
- The 10 Bellwether Counties That Show How Trump Is in Serious Trouble (NYT, $). No county for the old man.
- “Don Jr. Thinks Trump Is Acting Crazy”: The President’s COVID Joyride Has the Family Divided (Vanity Fair)
- Trump’s Shakespearean Fall (Atlantic, $)
- Oh, Canada: How the US election could change NATO’s future and Canada’s defence strategy (CBC)
- President Pelosi? Pence prepares to risk it all for Trump (Politico)
- Numbers vs. Neo Nazis: The data scientist exposing US white supremacists: ‘This is how you fight Nazis’ (Guardian)
- Rebels within: the Facebook staff openly challenging Zuckerberg (Guardian)
- We binge-watched 15 hours of Amy Coney Barrett’s speeches. Here’s what we learned about her judicial philosophy. (USA Today)
Rolling The Dice
- There’s a good chance that the dice sitting in your favorite board game is rigged. No, seriously. Most dice you’ve ever encountered have been weighted dice. The reason for this inherent inequality is so obvious that it’s been hidden in plain sight this whole time.
- Traditional dice indicate their value with black dots. Yet each black dot on a die is hollow, so sides with more dots weigh slightly less. This means that the sides with higher numbers weigh less, and lower numbers are more likely to land face down. By a slight margin, you will always be more likely to roll a six than a one. Perhaps our talisman of fate is not as impartial as we once believed.
- That’s where Linda Sohm and Midwest Game Supply Company come in. Their dice — they promise — are the only ones that can be classified as “certified perfects.” Rather than hollowing out each side to include the black dots, Sohm ensures that each side of her dice is flat. 21 standard holes are drilled and painted to give the allusion of indented dots, but then all holes are filled with clear epoxy to make sure all sides are even.
- By eliminating any chance of unfair weight distribution, the “certified perfects” are claimed to be the only non-weighted dice on the market. Feel free to use this as an excuse the next time you end up in Monopoly jail. (PopSci)
- Why Life Can’t Be Simpler (FS)
- Why (and How) I Plan to Die With an Empty Bank Account (Bloomberg). Going broke before you choke.
- My Obsession with Buying ‘Stuff’ Landed Me £7,000 in Debt (Vice)
- Humans Are All More Closely Related Than We Commonly Think (Scientific American)
- Zeus, renewed: From the Rubble of Atlases, a Colossus Will Rise (NYT, $)
- How Aaswath Raman and SkyCool are modifying an ancient practice to create carbon-free cooling systems on Earth (WaPo, $)
- Apple sues recycling partner for reselling more than 100,000 iPhones, iPads, and Watches it was hired to dismantle (The Verge). The Apple doesn’t fall far from the recycling plant.
- Which milk is healthiest for you: oat, dairy, almond, soy, rice, coconut? (Inverse)
- ‘2067’ review: The best time travel movie since ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (Inverse)
- I built a lay-down desk (Paul Luap)
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