September 1, 2018 in 2,695 words

Alan Rusbridger: who broke the news?

The former editor-in-chief of the Guardian looks back on two decades that changed journalism for ever.


By early 2017 the world had woken up to a problem that, with a mixture of impotence, incomprehension and dread, journalists had seen coming for some time. News, the thing that helped people understand their world, that oiled the wheels of society, that pollinated communities, that kept the powerful honest – news was broken.

The problem had many different names and diagnoses. Some thought we were drowning in too much news; others feared we were in danger of becoming newsless. Some believed we had too much free news; others, that paid-for news was leaving behind it a long caravan of ignorance.

On this most people could agree: we were now up to our necks in a seething, ever churning ocean of information, some of it true, much of it wrong. There was too much false news, not enough reliable news. There might soon be entire communities without news, or without news they could trust.

How did we get here? And how could we get back to where we once belonged?

For 20 years I edited a newspaper in the throes of this tumultuous revolution. The paper I took over in 1995 was composed of words printed on newsprint involving technologies that had changed little since Victorian times. It was, in many ways, a vertically arranged world. We – the organs of information – owned printing presses and, with them, the exclusive power to hand down the news we had gathered. The readers handed up the money – and so did advertisers, who had few other ways of reaching our audience. But today advertisers can often reach consumers much more effectively through other channels. People are much more reluctant to part with money for news. And, however you measure it, there is widespread scepticism, confusion and mistrust about mainstream journalism.

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


‘Man-Killing Jobs’ and Environmental Racism

“Six people out of 12 of us have gotten cancer,” says Tony Buba, a long-time resident of Braddock, Pennsylvania, in a new short documentary from Topic. When Buba’s father made the connection between the high incidence of cancer and the family’s history of employment at the local steel mill, he put a notice in the mill employment office instructing the hiring managers not to hire Buba. “He didn’t want me working down there,” Buba says.

The steel from the mill in Braddock, located in Allegheny County, is said to have built the Brooklyn Bridge and other iconic American infrastructure. It also ranks in the top 2% of counties in the U.S. for cancer from air pollution. Rosie Haber’s film—part of a four-episode series—examines the town’s history of redlining, which has resulted in a public health crisis that has gone largely unaddressed.

“Most of the African-American population lives in an area called The Bottom, which is down by the mill,” says Buba in the film. He goes on to explain that Braddock’s black residents have historically held the lowest-paying jobs with the worst working conditions at the mill.

“A lot of cancer, a lot of lung disease,” says Buba. “They called them ‘man-killing jobs.’ They were basically doing the work that they would not dare send a human being in to do because you were breathing in things that would kill you later on.”


The Water Crises Aren’t Coming—They’re Here

For eons, the earth has had the same amount of water—no more, no less. What the ancient Romans used for crops and Nefertiti drank? It’s the same stuff we bathe with. Yet with more than seven billion people on the planet, experts now worry we’re running out of usable water. The symptoms are here: multiyear droughts, large-scale crop failures, a major city—Cape Town—on the verge of going dry, increasing outbreaks of violence, fears of full-scale water wars. The big question: How do we keep the H2O flowing?

I. All the Water There Is

Here’s a concept: paper water. Paper water is water the government grants certain farmers who are drawing water from a river or a watershed in, say, California. The phrase describes the water the farmer, under premium conditions, is entitled to. Practically, however, paper water is mostly notional water, conceptual water, wish water, since over the years California has awarded many times as much paper water as there is actual water—which, to distinguish it, is quasi-legally called wet water. Some paper water might be made real during years of exceptional abundance, but most of it will forever be speculative and essentially useless, since it can’t realistically be traded, having no value. Paper water thus amounts to a type of hypothetical currency, backed by the Bank of Nowhere, Representing Nothing since 1960 (or thereabouts), when modern water troubles arrived in America and especially in California, where the wildly expanding citizenry required new state and federally managed water systems run by Watercrats.

Paper water is also a signifier of a domestic and global concern called peak water, a term proposed in 2010 by the hydrologist Peter Gleick in a paper he wrote with Meena Palaniappan that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Gleick meant the phrase to be applied to worldwide circumstances, such as those that currently prevail in Cape Town, South Africa, where, as a result of a ferocious three-year drought, the taps might before long run dry, possibly in 2019—Day Zero, it’s been called.


The Colorado Rover Delta, in Northern Mexico, photographed in 2018. Most years, nearly all the river’s water is diverted long before it reaches the delta.

The U. S. is also afflicted. In fact, Gleick regards California, with its relentless, outsized, and wildly conflicting demands on water, as a “laboratory for all of peak water’s concerns.” Peak water derives conceptually from peak oil, a phrase first used by a geophysicist named M. King Hubbert in 1956. Peak oil means that the planet has only so much oil, and that eventually it will grow sufficiently scarce that what remains will be too expensive to collect. Hubbert predicted that U. S. oil production would reach maximum output between 1965 and 1975, and in 1970 it did, but it has risen lately because of new means of recovering oil, such as fracking. Some people still believe in peak oil, and others think there will always be plenty of oil, because there is more we haven’t found yet.

That water was in a position similar to oil occurred to Gleick when people would ask if he thought that the world, with its population growing alarmingly and climate change causing certain places to become disastrously water-soaked (South Asia, Texas) while others (Cape Town, California) are water-starved, would ever use up its water. “My first reaction was ‘We never run out of water,’ ” Gleick says. “But there’s groundwater in China and India and the Middle East and in America in the Midwest and California that we really are using up just like oil.”Water cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be damaged. When Gleick says we’ll never run out, he means that at some point, millions of years ago, there was all the water there is, a result of the law of the conservation of matter. Having evaporated from lakes and rivers and oceans and returned as snow and rain, the water we consume has been through innumerable uses. Dinosaurs drank it. The Caesars did, too. It’s been places, and consorted with things, that you might not care to think about. In theory, there’s enough freshwater in the world for everyone, but like oil or diamonds or any other valuable resource, it is not dispersed democratically.


6 Present-Day Locations That Look Like The 30th Century

This is the future. We should be living in funky, surrealist cities by now. Yet here we are, still surrounded by the same old boring chunks of concrete. But not everywhere! While we were distracted complaining about our near-total lack of robot maids, some places are getting off of their collective asses and making the future happen today. Like in …

6. Bolivia’s Real-Life Comic Book Buildings


El Alto is Bolivia’s second-largest city, and the world’s highest major metropolis. The thin air must be doing something awesome to their brains, because look at this:

Those buildings look like something a Marvel Comics artist drew up in ’60s, but they’re actually the work of self-taught architect Freddy Mamani. Even the interiors are a futuristic mix of pinball machine and the inside of a pimp’s Cadillac. A native Aymara, Mamani began his architectural career as a bricklaying assistant and worked his way up the civil engineering ranks, until he was inventing a new type of architecture, with wild splashes from the Andean palette and traditional cultural designs from an alternate, way cooler reality.

Even though he’s erected more than 60 Neo-Andean mini-mansions since 2005, the stodgier architectural firms still label his work as “not very serious,” and “flamboyant spaceships for the nouveaux riches” (kickass title for a prog rock album right there).


Three theories about Trump’s plan to build an entire village in rural Scotland

WELCOME TO MACTRUMPTOWN


Trump played on one of his money-losing courses on a recent visit to Britain.

Last month, the Trump Organization announced something strange: a plan to build an entire town in rural Scotland, with a kitsch design that blends American suburbia with Scottish oil country. The price was $200 million, but where the Trumps will get that cash is a mystery.

It’s the latest in a string of Scottish investments which appear to make little business sense. The Trump Organization has already shelled out hundreds of millions on two golf courses in the country in the last 12 years, and both have performed terribly. The new project would see the US president’s company build 500 houses, plus swaths of commercial and leisure buildings, on the same estate that houses his Aberdeen golf course.

Trump Aberdeen was Trump’s first big investment in his mother’s homeland. Since he bought the piece of land in 2006 for $12.6 million in cash, according to the Washington Post (paywall), it has performed terribly: His company says it invested £100 million in building a golf course and club house there—the Post estimates a sum closer to $50 million (£38 million at current rates)—and the course has lost money every year since opening in 2012, racking up total losses of £7.1 million, according to its filings.

That didn’t stop Trump making an even more disastrous investment on the Scotland’s West coast: Trump Turnberry golf course, which he bought in 2014 for a reported £37.5 million in cash. Turnberry has lost nearly £30 million ($39 million) under Trump’s ownership. Trump claims he has spent £200 million fixing up the place; his project manager says it’s more like £140 million (paywall). Turnberry’s financial filings say Trump has loaned the course £112 million.

There seems to be little chance of turning around the courses’ fortunes; golf’s popularity in Scotland has been plummeting for a decade.


Inside The Trump Administration’s Secret War On Weed

The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee wants to counteract positive marijuana messages and identify problems with state legalization initiatives, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The White House has secretly amassed a committee of federal agencies from across the government to combat public support for marijuana and cast state legalization measures in a negative light, while attempting to portray the drug as a national threat, according to interviews with agency staff and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, as it’s named in White House memos and emails, instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration this month to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” about marijuana and the “threats” it poses to the country.

In an ironic twist, the committee complained in one memo that the narrative around marijuana is unfairly biased in favor of the drug. But rather than seek objective information, the committee’s records show it is asking officials only to portray marijuana in a negative light, regardless of what the data show.

“The prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate,” says a summary of a July 27 meeting of the White House and nine departments. In a follow-up memo, which provided guidance for responses from federal agencies, White House officials told department officials, “Departments should provide … the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends.”

As several states have approved laws allowing adults to use and purchase cannabis, critics have contended lax attitudes will promote drug abuse, particularly among youth, and they have pressed for a federal crackdown. The White House at one point said more pot enforcement would be forthcoming, though President Donald Trump has never said he was onboard with that agenda and he announced in June that he “really” supports new bipartisan legislation in Congress that would let state marijuana legalization thrive.

However, the committee’s hardline agenda and deep bench suggest an extraordinarily far-reaching effort to reverse public attitudes and scrutinize those states. Its reports are to be used in a briefing for Trump “on marijuana threats.”


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Michael D’Antonio, author of The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence sits down with Thom Hartmann to discuss efforts by the vice president and his allies to make Mike Pence the 46th President of the Unite States. Do you think Vice President Mike Pence is going to make a presidential run?


China imports more recyclable goods than any other country in the world. But earlier this year, China stopped accepting a long list of imported plastic and paper waste, and implemented much stricter guidelines for what it’s willing to take in.

The dramatic policy change is part of a national campaign to reduce the country’s carbon footprint, but China’s decision to no longer be the trash collector for the rest of the world is causing major problems for U.S. waste processing operations.

Across the U.S., recyclers had been accustomed to sending major portions of their paper and plastic to China, but now they’re scrambling to find other takers.

Already, more than a dozen states have started to giving companies waivers to throw out recyclables, including Massachusetts, where more than 4,000 tons of single-stream recyclables and more than 10,000 tons of glass have been sent to landfills.

VICE News traveled to Massachusetts to visit a processor that used to have an average of a few dozen one-ton cubes of recyclables sitting around and now has thousands.

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


The Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe explains why Vladimir Putin may regret Russia’s interference to help Trump get elected and talks about how average Russians view the meddling.

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 commentary on the KSI vs Logan Paul boxing match that took place on YouTube last weekend.


洗濯ネットで遊んでいたらそのまま徘徊するまる。Maru put the washing net on and loiters around.


FINALLY . . .

Google and Mastercard Cut a Secret Ad Deal to Track Retail Sales

Google found the perfect way to link online ads to store purchases: credit card data

For the past year, select Google advertisers have had access to a potent new tool to track whether the ads they ran online led to a sale at a physical store in the U.S. That insight came thanks in part to a stockpile of Mastercard transactions that Google paid for.

But most of the two billion Mastercard holders aren’t aware of this behind-the-scenes tracking. That’s because the companies never told the public about the arrangement.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Mastercard Inc. brokered a business partnership during about four years of negotiations, according to four people with knowledge of the deal, three of whom worked on it directly. The alliance gave Google an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending, part of the search giant’s strategy to fortify its primary business against onslaughts from Amazon.com Inc. and others.

But the deal, which has not been previously reported, could raise broader privacy concerns about how much consumer data technology companies like Google quietly absorb.


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