Monthly Archives: August 2018

The week that was (08-31-2018)

Scientists found evidence for universes beyond our own. Other scientists discovered a giant deep-sea coral reef deep off the coast of South Carolina.

Senators Jeff Flake and the late John McCain (in one of his last acts before his passing) requested the Pentagon “prohibit the use of funds for the development of beerbots or other robot bartenders.” 

A 69-year-old man was pulled over on suspicion of theft of agricultural products. Inside the trunk of his car, police discovered 800 lbs of stolen lemons.

A sexually frustrated bottle nose dolphin has prompted a French coastal town to issue a swimming ban. At first the dolphin delighted visitors because of its eagerness to interact but the last straw appeared to come last week when the dolphin tossed a young woman bather in the air with its nose.

Animal rights group PETA asked the Maine Department of Transportation for permission to erect a 5-foot tombstone to mark the site of a truck crash that poured over 7,000 lbs of lobsters onto a road. The site will memorialize the “countless sensitive crustaceans” killed in the crash with a gravestone that will read “In memory of the lobsters who suffered and died at this spot August 2018, Try Vegan.”

Thieves in Paraguay replaced working police rifles with toy replicas.

Anthony Scaramucci, the gone-before-you-knew-him White House Communications Director,  is promoting a new, off-Broadway, cabaret-themed show featuring singing performers lampooning Trump’s children, wife, and ex-wives.

A large mural, commissioned by Chicago’s Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, was destroyed just days after the it was completed because it was mistaken as graffiti by the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation.

Coffee is now banned in South Korean schools, even for teachers.

Photo credit: MrRogersGhost on Reddit

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Serena Williams

Nike debuted a video of Richard Williams coaching his then 9-year-old daughter Serena Williams. The commercial juxtaposes the images of Richard crouched next to a tiny Serena as he says, “This is you in the U.S. Open.” – The Root

Then there is this clip from an interview when she was 14-years-old when her father stepped in to defend his daughter and her dreams.

Celebrating athletes and the parents who supported their future dreams, gambatte Serena!

The week that was (08-24-2018)

It costs 2.6 billion bolivars to buy one roll of toilet paper in Venezuela where inflation is 82,700%.

Researchers, faced with a large collection of uncategorized medical images, worked with the developers of the online game, EVE Online, to reward gamers for helping them classify images. “The players are very fast,” they noted.

The Russian maker of the AK-47 announced it’s getting into the electric car business.

Two runaway goats delayed subway service in NYC. The transit authority tweeted out a photo, calling them “very baaaaad boys.”

Chanel announced that it is launching its first line of makeup products for men. The “Boy” line will be available in South Korea starting September 1st.

Michelle Terry, the new head of the historic Globe Theater in London, has said she wants a fifty-fifty male-female ratio in casting from now on. The theater’s new production of Hamlet casts her as Hamlet.

A Pittsburgh production of Romeo and Juliet has been adopted for an all-female cast.

1st Lt. Misa Matsushima became Japan’s first female fighter pilot. She was inspired after watching the movie, Top Gun.

The Danish shipping company, Maersk, announced that Arctic ice has opened up enough to send a container ship over the northern coast of Russia. They join China’s COSCO that has been plying this route for the past three years.

After 110 years, Nabisco’s Animal Crackers have been freed from their cage and now roam free, no longer behind bars.

Photo credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins for Reuters


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Turn of the Screw

August 21st felt like a turning point. With the simultaneous trials of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort popping out new bits of information about how Donald Trump ran his campaign, we learned that our President may be an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a crime. That’s an especially loaded term commonly associated with Nixon and Watergate (Wikipedia has already updated itself to include Trump) that indicates we may be headed into impeachment territory depending on the outcome of our midterm elections.

Joe Kahn, Managing Editor at the New York Times gave a very measured summary of the events of the day on The Daily podcast, part of what I’ve transcribed below.

This was the day that a series of possible charges turned into something that really is a direct legal and direct political threat to Trump’s longevity in office. It is quite likely that this will become a central issue in the midterm elections and force voters to decide whether or not they want to put Democrats back into majority in the house precisely because impeachment proceedings are the constitutional way to adjudicate a accusation of criminal activity by the President United States.

Up until now, even Democrats, had been reluctant to waive the impeachment flag as part of their campaign in the midterm elections. But you now have the President effectively being an unindicted co-conspirator in a crime. It seems highly likely that that then becomes a serious political if not a direct legal threat to the President. So this is a historic shift in the nature of the threat that we’ve been hearing about, writing about, talking about for so many months.

Impeachment is an unavoidable topic. It doesn’t mean he will be impeached. It doesn’t mean that if he is impeached he will be convicted but it is unavoidable topic when the president is an unindicted co-conspirator in a crime. That is the constitutional mechanism for adjudicating a credible accusation of illegal activity by the President of the United States.

Joe Kahn, Managing Editor, The New York Times

The following morning, here is the President’s response.

The week that was (08-17-2018)

The massive Carr Fire in Northern California was traced to sparks from a wheel rim of a trailer with a flat tire. When one individual in Redding reached out to forgive the elderly owners of that trailer for what was clearly a tragic mistake, many other followed suit. “I would think, no matter what race, what color, people are kind. . . deep down I think that compassion and community are at the core of human beings.” said Rachel Pilli, the catalyst of good.

Reebok launched a line of shoes made from corn.

Japan launched, in Hiroshima, the nation’s first pizza vending machine.

The Who’s Roger Daltrey said in an interview that hip-hop music has not really evolved and Kanye West’s music is “kind of meaningless.”

A nun from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Missouri was caught at Sydney Airport smuggling over a kilogram of cocaine inside a pair of high-heeled shoes. It appears she was an innocent victim and was duped into thinking she was doing someone a favor.

Ikea opened in India with local modifications such as solar-powered delivery rickshaws and samosas and biriyani in the cafeteria instead of the traditional Swedish meatballs.

The “tinny sounds of a cellphone ringtone” cut into the hushed silence of the gallery just as Tiger Woods drew back his club at the PGA Championship causing him to flub an important drive on the 5th hole. “I thought I might see a riot,” wrote one fan.

Mathematicians finally solved the age-old problem of how to break a spaghetti stick into two. (thx Dav)

Berry-growers in the Pacific Northwest have discovered a new way to keep birds from feasting on their crop. Lasers.

6-year-old Caitlin was left alone with her mom’s computer to order herself a new Barbie. She got a little carried away with the one-click Amazon Prime purchase account and racked up $350 in additional toys. She’s lost her internet privileges for a month.

Photo credit: Reddit user ConyCony

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Civil Eyes

I’m not great with words so I’ve been looking for someone else to quote that best expressed my views on the recent moves by social media companies to curate the discussions taking place on their platforms. I did not feel comfortable with the knee jerk reaction to simply get rid of the “bad stuff” as such blanket bans could too easily be misapplied and cause collateral damage. But,  like others, I was impatient with @jack’s intellectual distancing.

The light bulb finally went off when I read Jeff Jarvis’ piece in The Atlantic, Platforms Are Not Publishers. Jarvis points out that we view the internet through the lens we have for print – a medium where words are published for consumption. Print is broadcast. The internet is, by definition, bi-directional. The internet is not about content, it is about conversations. Conversations are iterative, messy, hard to curate, let alone control. An editorial board is not the solution.

The banning of Infowars from most major platforms is a sign of that process beginning to work. Civilization is winning, at last. Alex Jones went too far and the public, empowered by the same tools of social media he exploited, told the platforms that his behavior is unacceptable in a civilized society. The platforms—like media and like regulators—might prefer to start with a set of rules that can be enforced by government, by social-media managers, or by algorithms. But that’s not how we negotiate our standards. The breach makes the rule. We know pornography, propaganda, trolling, and spamming when we see it, and then write the rules to prevent it. That progress always seems to take too long, but it is prudent that we ban what we see rather than everything we might fear.

– Platforms Are Not Publishers

The norms of acceptable conduct are still being refined. With each new transgression or outrage such as the Infowars example, we collectively define the line between a provocative debate of a contrarian viewpoint and an attention-grabbing, deceitful and malicious commercial enterprise.

Political discussions used to be along a familiar Liberal – Conservative spectrum in which both sides used agreed upon tools (facts, scientific method) to argue their case. Think of the Federalist Papers or, more recently, the Buckley/Vidal debates during the early days of television.

Today, agreed upon facts have been discarded and shared decorum has gone out the window, replaced by intimidation and violence. Democracy’s unconditional support of free speech has been weaponized and used to justify the distribution and amplification of the outrageous and untrue. The folks at Pod Save America took to their blog to describe how we got to where we are today.

The company’s lip-service defense of free speech is in practice a choice to collapse the distinction between disinformation and news-analysis. The right-wing narrative of social-media censorship is dishonest, but it has also been incredibly effective in pressuring platforms into accepting lies as opinion.

– Facebook Is The World’s Biggest Right-Wing Media Company

We must return to Jarvis’ framework for the internet as a conversation to better understand how to manage our way forward. “Twitter is not The New York Times. It is Times Square,” says Jarvis. In a public space, no one would tolerate someone screaming and threatening another individual or group with half-baked ideas. To curate a debate that improves our understanding of the world today, we should favor voices that respectfully lay out an argument that is well-researched and moves the debate forward. We have too many hair-raising threats to our existence just over the horizon to waste our time on anything less.

My 7th grade school bus driver was this amazing woman who managed to keep the 50-odd kids on her bus in line during our 30-minute ride through rural Connecticut to John Winthrop Junior High. She had this enormous, panoramic mirror so she could keep an eye on things. Whenever things started to get out of hand, she’d peer up into the mirror and stared into your soul while bellowing, “KNOCK IT OFF BACK THERE!” Justice was meted out equally, without bias or favor.

The social networks need to start acting more like that school bus driver, keeping us kids in line, with a modicum of civility and mutual respect, so no one gets hurt and we can move the conversation forward.

The week that was (08-10-2018)

Two elderly men escaped a nursing home in Germany to go to a heavy metal festival. They were discovered at 3am and were “reluctant to leave” the four-day festival which included bands such as Judas Priest, Hatebreed, In Flames, Running Wild, Arch Enemy, and Eskimo Callboy.

A teenager who really wanted to go to a concert in the next state was arrested for trying to steal a twin-engine jet plane. When asked, the 18-year old said, “he didn’t believe there was much more to the task than pushing buttons and pulling levers.”

A New Zealand man is recovering from injuries sustained while defending a jogger from a herd of hostile cows.

A 9-year-old’s lemonade stand was held up by another boy brandishing a BB gun pistol. He made his getaway on a bicycle. The suspect was later arrested and the local Lowe’s gave the victim a lawn mower for which he had been saving up to buy.

A McDonald’s in the UK refused to serve a woman because she went to its drive-thru window on horseback.  “I can’t serve you, you are not a car” said the worker, citing their drive-thru lane policy.

15-year old Kevin Dimaculangan was crowned the new Microsoft Excel champion. He has his sights set on Word or Powerpoint next.

City government workers in Alaska had to resort to using typewriters and hand-written receipts when dormant ransomware kicked into gear and encrypted nearly all the workstations and most of their servers.

Employees at the National Weather Service were confused when a message in Chinese that translated roughly as, “You have a package from Amazon at the Chinese Embassy, press 1 for more details” boomed over the entire building’s intercom system.

Hackers descended on Las Vegas for the annual DEF CON conference and within hours had already hacked the hotel room thermostats, elevators, and slot machines.

Airbus announced that it has successfully flown an unmanned, solar-powered drone for a record 25 days straight.

A new law in Tennessee will require the national motto, “In God We Trust,” be prominently displayed in all public schools.

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