We Held These Truths To Be Self-Evident
October 12, 2020
The Good News
- When the vibes go viral: TikTok Sensation: Meet The Idaho Potato Worker Who Sent Fleetwood Mac Sales Soaring (NPR)
- Feeding the needy: Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to World Food Program (NYT, $)
“To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous.” — Socrates
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” — Zora Neale Hurston
We Held These Truths To Be Self-Evident
(Joseph Prezioso via Getty Images)
If one was to write a fitting slogan for this past year, we think it would sound something like this. 2020: uncertainty abounds. Choose an aspect of public life, and it is most certainly shrouded in an air of inescapable unpredictability. The virus. The election. The protests. The internet. The isolation. 2020 has thrown our lives into a collective state of disarray — and our response to this uncertainty has undermined our trust in our most authoritative truth-telling institutions.
And perhaps it is easy to blame COVID-19 for this erosion of certainty, but a foray into human nature reveals just how much our lack of societal consensus can be attributed to a broken information system. J.M. Berger, an expert on extremism and social media, explains the current predicament as such: “When people don’t know what’s real, they turn to others for reassurance. But in a world overrun by social media, that process results in a smorgasbord of confusing and conflicting inputs, a problem deepened by the Trump administration’s relentless three-and-a-half-year assault on the very notion of truth.”
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter — which for many has become a primary source of information — are designed to amplify content regardless of its truthfulness. The name of the game is not accuracy, it’s engagement. Now, when uncertainty abounds and humans instinctively turn to one another for validation — social media steps in to manufacture consensus in the form of likes and retweets. However, the digital construction of consensus is in fact wildly different depending on which corner of the internet you live on. The novel information ecosystem is in fact a series of online echo chambers, where an uncertain population can go to be funneled by algorithms into a certain community of consensus.
This is all very nebulous in theory, but presents legitimate danger when applied in practice. This erosion of communal consensus has allowed for extremism and conspiracy to blossom in 2020, as unsure citizens grasp onto whatever narrative offers them the most perceived stability. For some, that has come in the form of Qanon. Despite Facebook’s effort to snuff out the salacious conspiracy involving Trump as a lone warrior taking on the pedophiliac, Democratic deep state — new reporting reveals that Q has gone global. Right-wing right nationalists in Germany have latched onto the misinformation campaign, proving the once-fringe internet subculture has gone mainstream at an international level. Goaded on by platforms that blindly and sometimes immorally prioritize clicks, the international community faces a crisis of consensus unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The solution? It’s certainly too complex to be distilled into one sentence, or 140 characters. But perhaps J.M. Berger puts it best: “Donald Trump may or may not leave office in January 2021, but Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey will almost certainly remain. They helped bring us to the precipice. The best thing they can do now is step aside and let a new generation of leaders walk us back.”
Rocket Man Strikes Again
(Chung Sung-Jun via Getty Images)
- Parading through the streets of Pyongyang with a new and improved arsenal of tanks and missiles, Saturday night marked Kim Jong Un’s official return to the world of military one-upmanship. While such demonstrations are not new from the hermetic dictator, one weapon unveiled over the weekend presents an unprecedented threat when one considers North Korea’s already-formidable nuclear armament.
- That weapon — lovingly dubbed the “monster” intercontinental ballistic missile — demonstrates just how advanced Kim Jong Un’s nuclear systems have become, despite President Trump’s claims that he has “largely solved” the North Korean nuclear crisis. Estimated to be 82 to 85 feet and almost 10 feet in diameter, military analysts say this unidentified nuclear behemoth would be the largest road-mobile ICBM in the world.
- Given the fact that North Korea already boasts an ICBM capable of striking most targets in the continental United States, some weapons experts speculate the mega-missile was designed to carry multiple warheads. Increasing the number of enemy warheads per missile could end up costing the US military — who must now ramp up their production of nuclear interceptors to combat the threat. “If each new North Korean ICBM can carry 3-4 warheads, we would need about 12-16 interceptors for each missile,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “The last time the U.S. bought 14 interceptors, it cost $1 billion.”
- This fear-mongering event gave the world a grim reminder that North Korea has real power to drive international diplomacy with its sheer military might. Many see Pyongyang’s weapon-flaunting as an attempt to pressure the US back onto the negotiating table for a further easing of sanctions while not going so far as to provoke retaliation from Trump or China. When giving his remarks during the event, he strayed away from his usual violent rhetoric towards international superpowers.
- “Kim Jong Un’s speech was not threatening to the United States, instead labeling North Korea’s nuclear forces as self-defensive,” said retired CIA North Korea analyst Bruce Klingner. “The clear message was that, counter to U.S. claims, the North Korean nuclear threat has not been solved.” (Reuters)
Columbus Crossed The Atlantic, But His Historical Reckoning Hasn’t
- In recent years, the narrative surrounding October 12th has changed in the United States. It has long been recognized as Christopher Columbus Day, in celebration of the Italian explorer’s arrival to the Americas in 1492. However, as statues of Columbus are toppled in cities across the United States, it has become clear that attitudes towards the once-mythicized figure have changed. The second Monday in September is now dually recognized as Indigenous People’s day, a gesture that acknowledges the violent history of Western colonization and the historical sanitation of Columbus’ legacy.
- But unlike Columbus, these progressive movements have failed to cross the Atlantic. While Americans wrestle with the complex and often violent history of colonialism, Italian culture still holds the controversial navigator in high regard. To many overseas, he still represents the ideal qualities of an Italian hero: courageous, resilient, and pioneering.
- Scholars attribute this historical disconnect to a national reticence when it comes to addressing the reality of their colonial past. “Some vague awareness of his colonialist brutality has only in the last few years made it into classrooms,” said retired Italian high school teacher Marina Nezi. “But [Italy has] a very long history, and school years are often not enough to tell the whole of it.”
- A 2019 school textbook in Italy quickly glosses over Columbus’s interactions with Native Americans, saying that: “Columbus exhibited unquestionable skills as a navigator, but wasn’t able to govern the new territories. Thus began the decline of his mythos and of his authority.” Modern-day historians, however, sing a much different tune.
- “Italian school textbooks still present a clear divide between Columbus the discoverer and the subsequent arrival of Cortez the [Spanish] conqueror. In reality, the two processes are intimately intertwined,” said Giuseppe Marcocci, a professor in Iberian history at the University of Oxford. “What is clear is that the colonial society under Columbus is violent from the get-go, and people can conceive of abusing, caging, torturing, and mutilating the local population.” (WaPo)
Additional World News
- Prophecies from a second term: Trump vs. World, Round 2 (Politico)
- Iran-backed militias announce ‘conditional’ cease-fire against U.S. in Iraq (WaPo, $)
- ‘I Don’t Want This Fate For My Children’: Lebanese Leave Amid Growing Crisis (NPR)
- Refugees Faced Hardship Before the Pandemic. Now Seeking Asylum Is Nearly Impossible. (Foreign Policy). Thinking big for those left behind.
- With Elections Ahead, Some African Presidents Try Engineering Results (NYT, $)
- China reportedly orders halt to imports of Australian coal (Guardian)
- China’s Insistence That Taiwan Isn’t a Country Starts Backfiring (Bloomberg). China’s democratic little brother hits back.
- Paris police station targeted by ‘violent attack’ (CNN)
- Drug-runner: André do Rap: Brazil crime boss goes on the run after release from prison (BBC)
- Continual lockdowns are not the answer to bringing Covid under control (Guardian)
- ‘Brain fog’: the people struggling to think clearly months after Covid (Guardian)
- Offering few details, the White House doctor says Trump is no longer contagious. (NYT, $)
- Inside the Trump White House After His COVID-19 Diagnosis (NY Mag)
- The False Idea That Masks Make You Sicker (Atlantic, $)
Taking Advantage of Trump While They Can
- For anyone wondering how America’s wealthiest are reacting to the prospect of a Trump loss in November: follow the money. Advisers of the nation’s super-rich are instructing their clients to transfer their fortunes to their children now — so as to avoid Joe Biden’s proposed estate tax. Under Trump’s cushy tax plan, rich families are able to pass on up to $11.58 million to their children without paying the mandatory 40% levy on large estates. If Biden wins, he has promised to close these loopholes and increase taxes for those making over $400,000.
- “We’ve been telling people: ‘Use it or lose it,’” said estate planning strategist Jere Doyle. “It’s the golden age of estate planning for a lot of people. We may not see anything like it again.” Wealthy Americans have skated through tax loopholes by employing savvy strategists during the Trump-era, and now estate planners and attorneys are telling their clients to move fast in preparation of a Democratic sweep of the White House and the Senate.
- “If there is a blue wave, people are going to be hard-pressed to even find lawyers who will meet with them,” said Edward Renn, a partner at Withers law firm. “That’s why we’re saying to people, ‘Come in now. We have time for you now.’”
- Biden has yet to release a comprehensive tax plan, but sees the closing of loopholes on the 1% as the best way to raise revenue to cover the cost of health care, infrastructure, and climate policies. A recent report from Moody’s Analytics estimated that Biden’s proposed tax hikes would raise $4.1 trillion over 10 years. (Bloomberg)
Additional USA News
- A Contested 2020 Election Would Be Way Worse Than Bush v. Gore (FiveThirtyEight). How could this go wrong? Let me count the ways.
- The Republican who could help defeat Trump (CNN)
- A senior warning sign for Trump: ‘Go Biden’ cry at Villages (AP)
- Here’s Why Trump Has Lost So Much Support in the Active Duty Military (Time). Luckily the “general” election isn’t taken literally.
- Turning Power of State Against Rivals, Trump Seeks Power of Authoritarians (NYT, $)
- Waxed by his taxes: The Press Found Two More Trump Financial Crimes Today (NY Mag)
- “A nightmare scenario”: Barr tells Republicans Durham report won’t be ready by election (Axios)
- Democrats, Facing Critical Supreme Court Battle, Worry Feinstein Is Not Up to the Task (NYT, $)
- ‘It instilled such problems’: ex-member of Amy Coney Barrett’s faith group speaks out (Guardian)
Are We Being Finessed By Frequent-Flier Programs?
- When it seems like Congress can’t seem to agree on anything stimulus-related, it turns out they agree on one thing. Airlines need saving. As talks for a comprehensive package flounder on the Senate floor, it does seem likely that massive corporations like United and Delta will be receiving a second round of government aid before the rest of us see another $1200 check. But as airline giants plead their case to Congress, securities filings reveal that they have also appealed to major banks for financial relief.
- Their pitch? Frequent-flier programs are such cash cows for big airlines that banks like Goldman Sachs would be stupid not to help them survive the pandemic. Delta claims they can “manage costs by modifying inventory levels and value” by exploiting the everyday customer’s “fundamental aspiration of earning a free flight.” In layman’s terms: airlines can change the price of flights with relative impunity because we are so attached to their frequent-flier programs?
- Security filings from United paint a similarly suspicious picture. In their own words, customer’s fervent desire for free air travel allows them to “nimbly” manipulate mile redemption costs on “peak days.” Because of this, they estimate that their MileagePlus program to be valued at $21.9 billion. To put that in perspective, United’s stock market capitalization is only about half of that figure.
- How can so-called free miles be so profitable for airlines? And are you letting the system win if you hoard miles religiously? Do the math for yourself, because that’s what the airlines don’t want you to do. Make sure the free miles you’re earning outweigh the possibility of other cashback plans on different cards. And if you really want to learn how to master the system, we recommend reading Joe Brancatelli’s Contrarian’s Guide to Frequent-Travel Plans. (NYT)
- What’s Green, Soggy and Fights Climate Change? (NYT, $)
- Why the hidden world of fungi is essential to life on Earth (Guardian). They’re more than just fun guys.
- The Gap: Where Machine Learning Education Falls Short (The Gradient)
- What’s your type? Down the ergonomic keyboard rabbit hole (Scott Logic)
- Robinhood Users Says There’s No One To Call When Accounts Are Hacked (Bloomberg)
- A Famed Horror Director Mines Japan’s Real-Life Atrocities & Sayaka Murata: ‘I acted how I thought a cute woman should act – it was horrible’ (NYT, Guardian)
- Eddie Van Halen endured a ‘horrifying racist environment’ before becoming a rock legend (NBC)
- The racial gulf in Silicon Valley: Coinbase’s response to BLM reveals Silicon Valley’s reactionary streak (WaPo, $)
- Now More Than Ever, You Need to Put Down Your Phone (Lifehacker)
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