July 3, 2018 in 2,766 words

‘Nothing to worry about. The water is fine’: how Flint poisoned its people

When the people of Flint, Michigan, complained that their tap water smelled bad and made children sick, it took officials 18 months to accept there was a problem.

On a hot day in the summer of 2014, in the Civic Park neighbourhood where Pastor R Sherman McCathern preached in Flint, Michigan, water rushed out of a couple of fire hydrants. Puddles formed on the dry grass and splashed the skin of the delighted kids who ran through it. But the spray looked strange. “The water was coming out dark as coffee for hours,” McCathern remembered. The shock of it caught in his throat. “Something is wrong here.”

Something had been wrong for months. That spring, Flint, under direction from state officials, turned off the drinking water it had relied upon for nearly 50 years. The city planned to join a new regional system, and while it waited for it to be built, it began bringing in its water from the Flint River. McCathern didn’t pay much attention to the politicking around all this; he had enough to worry about at his busy parish.

But after the switch, many of his neighbours grew alarmed at the water that flowed from their kitchen taps and showerheads. They packed public meetings, wrote questioning letters, and protested at city hall. They filled plastic bottles to show how the water looked brown, or orange, and sometimes had particulates floating in it. Showering seemed to be connected with skin rashes and hair loss. The water smelled foul. A sip of it put the taste of a cold metal coin on your tongue.

But the authorities “said everything was all right and you could drink it, so people did,” McCathern said later. Residents were advised to leave the taps on for a few minutes before using the water, to get a clean flow. As the months went by, the city plant tinkered with treatment and issued a few boil-water advisories. State environmental officials said again and again that there was nothing to worry about. The water was fine.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

Is Facebook a publisher? In public it says no, but in court it says yes

In its defense against a former app startup, Facebook is contradicting its long-held claim to be simply a neutral platform.

A lawsuit is claiming Mark Zuckerberg developed a ‘fraudulent scheme’ to exploit users’ personal data.

Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company.

But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment.

The contradictory claim is Facebook’s latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities.

The suit, filed by an app startup, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit users’ personal data and force rival companies out of business. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that its decisions about “what not to publish” should be protected because it is a “publisher”.

Why Amazon’s Push Into Prescription Drugs Isn’t a Guaranteed Success

Amazon has transformed the way Americans buy products as different as books and diapers, but with drugs, it will need to work with powerful entrenched players.

PillPack, which is being bought by Amazon, distributes pills in easy-to-use packages designed for consumers with chronic conditions and multiple prescriptions.

When Amazon announced last week that it was buying the online pharmacy PillPack, it sent stocks of drugstore companies like Walgreens and Rite Aid tumbling, as investors worried that the retail behemoth would soon upend the pharmacy market.

But even though Amazon has transformed the way Americans buy products as different as books and diapers, it may not have such an easy time with prescription drugs. That’s because to succeed, it will have to do business with powerful entrenched companies who are not necessarily wishing Amazon well.

As a relatively small pharmacy with about $100 million in annual revenues, PillPack most likely didn’t attract much attention from the pharmacy industry’s giants, said Eric Percher, an equity research analyst at Nephron Research.

“I think they have absolutely been able to fly under the radar,” he said. But now that a household name like Amazon is buying the company, “the entities that have enabled PillPack’s success — whether they knew it or not — have a decision to make,” he said.

Cities need to stop selling out to big tech companies. There’s a better way

Fostering local hi-tech success doesn’t have to mean offering huge subsidies to companies like Apple and Amazon. Here are some alternative strategies.

Selling the attractions of a city or a state to tech firms based on huge tax incentives means putting taxpayers at great risk.

Every mayor and governor wants to attract hi-tech jobs. And why not? Depending on the nature of the facility, such jobs can be well-paid and strengthen a region’s economy.

But too few elected officials have taken the time to learn how hi-tech companies start up, how they thrive, and how government can best assist them – without overspending on a few big deals.

Getting policy right is critical for high-tech success. It’s more complicated and volatile than the “old economy”: hi-tech firms are more susceptible to disruption. Product life cycles are typically much shorter. Skill sets are more specialised. Some facilities create very few permanent jobs, and some generate a lot of toxins.

For all those reasons and more, using “old economy” incentives for “new economy” firms can be costly and counterproductive. The “lots of eggs in one basket” strategy is especially ill-suited. But many public leaders haven’t switched gears yet, often putting taxpayers at great risk, especially because some tech companies have become very aggressive about demanding big tax breaks. Companies with famous names are even more irresistible to politicians who want to look active on jobs.

Trump’s Ancestral Village Abounds With His Relatives. Few Admit a Link.


Ursula Trump in front of her bakery.

Herbert Trump did not want to talk about it. Neither did Ilse Trump. Ursula Trump, who runs the Trump bakery in the next village, eventually relented, palms upturned, and sighed: “You can’t choose your relatives, can you?”

The relative in question is Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, multimillionaire, the most powerful man on the planet and a seventh cousin of Ursula Trump’s husband — though in Kallstadt, a sleepy village nestled in the rolling hills of Germany’s southwestern wine country, he is simply “Donald.”

That is not least to avoid confusion with the other Trumps (or “Droomps,” as the name is pronounced in Palatinate dialect) listed in a phone book for the area: Beate Trump, a podiatrist in another nearby village, for example, or Justin Trump, a teenager whose friends say he sometimes gets teased for his coif of orange-blond hair.

But the Weisenborns and the Geissels and the Benders and the Freunds in Kallstadt are related to Mr. Trump, too. “Practically half the village is,” chuckled Kallstadt’s mayor, Thomas Jaworek, before quickly adding: “I’m not.”

Kallstadt is in the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany.

Both of Mr. Trump’s paternal grandparents, Friedrich and Elisabeth Trump, were born in Kallstadt, home now to 1,200 inhabitants. Growing up directly opposite each other, they were baptized in the village church and married a few miles down the road before emigrating to the United States.

5 Childish Tantrums By The World’s Worst Dictators

They say that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s definitely the case for dictators, who use their unfathomable power to commit terrible crimes on a national scale. But perhaps the phrase could use a little tweaking. Something like “Absolute power corrupts absolutely … and also causes you to be a total wang about even the pettiest stuff.” Maybe it’s not as catchy, but it’s the truth. Just look at how …

5. Pierre Nkurunziza Arrested Two People For Beating Him At Soccer

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza is violent, corrupt, and an utter egomaniac. That’s probably why he’s currently serving his third presidential term in a two-term country. (He decided that his first term didn’t count. You can do that when you’re an asshole.) But we’re here to talk about his love for soccer.

Nkurunziza is called “East Africa’s Footballing President” (probably the only nickname he has without the word “butcher” in it), and he even has his own team, Haleluya FC, with whom he practices three times a week.

It’s all fun and games … unless you’re playing against him. Nobody wants to piss off a murderous dictator just to score a few goals, so Burundi’s soccer players know to go easy on him.

But in 2018, Haleluya FC finally met their match. They went up against a team comprised of the one kind of player Pierre couldn’t beat: people who didn’t know who he was. HFC played a team from the town of Kiremba which consisted mostly of Congolese refugees, who didn’t know they were squaring off against the guy who decided on their visa status.

Your company’s culture is not unique, psychologist Adam Grant says

Also: Stop hiring for “culture fit.” You’re just hurting your business in the long run, Grant says.

Psychologist and author Adam Grant

Psychologist and management expert Adam Grant has been invited to visit and advise a lot of companies over his career — and over time, he’s noticed a pretty clear theme.

“Almost every company I’ve gone into, what I hear is, ‘Our culture is unique!’” Grant said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “And then I ask, ‘How is it unique?’ and the answers are all the same.”

“I hear, ‘People really believe in our values and they think that we’re a cause, so we’re so passionate about the mission!’” he added. “Great. So is pretty much every other company. I hear, ‘We give employees unusual flexibility,’ ‘We have all sorts of benefits that no other company offers,’ and ‘We live with integrity in ways that no other company does.’ It’s just the same platitudes over and over.”

The potential for companies to remain ignorant of how much they are like their competitors is funny — but it’s also a serious problem, Grant said. When leaders think they are uniquely talented at forging company culture, that belief “closes the door to learning.”

Astronomers captured the first image of a baby planet

It’s also confirmed some theories about planetary formation.

Thanks to European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope, a group of astronomers have taken the first photograph of a planet being formed around a young dwarf star called PDS 70. The planet has been named PDS 70b. You can clearly see the newly forming planet, which is the bright spot to the right of the black dot in the middle of the picture. The black area is the star, which has been blotted out with a coronagraph. This allows astronomers to see details that would otherwise be overwhelmed by the light of PDS 70b.

The distance between the newly forming planet and its host star is about 3 billion km (somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.8 billion miles). That’s about the distance between Uranus and our Sun. PDS 70b appears to be a gas giant, with a larger mass than Jupiter. The surface temperature is currently a steamy 1000 degrees Celsius (1832 degrees F).

Astronomers have seen these discs of planet-forming materials surrounding young stars before, but the young planets have always just been a part of the disc. This is the first time they’ve actually been able to detect a separate baby planet.


Jeremy B. asks: Is it true that pot is legal in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe- a city famous for its canals, its museums, its history and, well, it’s weed. Except, it turns out the common idea that marijuana is legal in the Netherlands isn’t accurate at all. This is despite the fact that an estimated 25-30% of all tourists to the country visit one of its famous “coffeeshops”. And for a little clarity here, when we talk about “coffeeshops” in Amsterdam, we don’t mean places that you go to because you want coffee…

In the Netherlands, if you want coffee, you go to a cafe or a coffee house. If you want pot, you got to a coffeeshop, which are called this primarily as these establishments are not allowed to explicitly advertise their wares. Thus, one of the first such “coffeeshops”, Mellow Yellow, was publicly a tea house. Other similar establishments soon popped up in the 1970s, generally publicly advertising themselves as coffeeshops, which soon became the accepted way to advertise an establishment that sold pot.

Now, as stated earlier, despite what you might think, and the smell on the street near these establishments, pot is not legal in the Netherlands. So how did these shops have the audacity to open in the first place? That’s thanks to gedoogbeleid, which literally translates to “policy of tolerance”.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Nimia Morales had spent more than a decade trying to get a job as a teacher, and her husband Julio Cesar’s job as a tailor was barely enough to cover food and rent, so they decided to take their four children to the United States, where many of their friends and family had already settled.

They devised a plan; Nimia and two of her daughters would go first, her husband and the other children would follow. But then Nimia was caught at the border, just as the Trump administration was rolling out its new policy of separating families, and everything began to unravel.

“That’s when they told me: this is when you cry, because you’re not going to see them again,” Nimia said, recalling the day she was separated from her 6 and 12 year old daughters.

A month later, Nimia was deported without her two daughters.

VICE News traveled to Honduras, where Nimia and her husband are still struggling to comprehend what has happened to their family.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

Darnell L. Moore talks about his memoir “No Ashes in the Fire,” growing up black and gay in America, and the horrors wrought by toxic masculinity.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Here’s me critical analysis of the brawl in basketball between Australia and Philippines. I reckon we can still be friends!

When birds decide to club you with their toy.


There’s only one way to truly understand another person’s mind


Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes won’t improve the accuracy of your insights.

It’s often said that we should put ourselves in another person’s shoes in order to better understand their point of view. But psychological research suggests this directive leaves something to be desired: When we imagine the inner lives of others, we don’t necessarily gain real insight into other people’s minds.

Instead of imagining ourselves in another person’s position, we need to actually get their perspective, according to a recent study (pdf) in the Journal of Personality and Psychology. Researchers from the University of Chicago and Northeastern University in the US and Ben Gurion University in Israel conducted 25 different experiments with strangers, friends, couples, and spouses to assess the accuracy of insights onto other’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and mental states.

Their conclusion, as psychologist Tal Eyal tells Quartz: “We assume that another person thinks or feels about things as we do, when in fact they often do not. So we often use our own perspective to understand other people, but our perspective is often very different from the other person’s perspective.” This “egocentric bias” leads to inaccurate predictions about other people’s feelings and preferences. When we imagine how a friend feels after getting fired, or how they’ll react to an off-color joke or political position, we’re really just thinking of how we would feel in their situation, according to the study.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?