January 3, 2019 in 3,077 words

Fragmenting nuclear arms controls leave world in a more dangerous place

US could withdraw from a second treaty while Vladimir Putin’s Russia promises a new generation of nuclear weapons

Above: A 1971 French nuclear test explosion on Mururoa atoll in the southern Pacific Ocean.


The decision on whether or not to destroy the world came down to a humble Soviet duty officer early one morning in 1983. Stanislav Petrov was told by his computer that the United States had launched at least five intercontinental ballistic missiles at the Soviet Union, and that they would strike in just 25 minutes.

Rather than send the alarm up the chain of command, the lieutenant colonel did nothing and averted a nuclear clash over what turned out to be a systems malfunction. For his troubles, Petrov was reprimanded for failing to keep careful notes during the incident and left the service the following year.

He died at 77 just last year, on the cusp of the collapse of the architecture that has governed nuclear arms control for the last two generations. Potential nuclear clashes may seem the stuff of Cold War lore, but the framework to prevent them is recent and increasingly endangered.

Led by National Security Advisor John Bolton, the United States in 2018 said it would leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the 1987 nuclear arms control treaty largely credited with keeping nuclear weapons out of Europe. That came after years of complaints about Russia testing a ground-based cruise missile that violated the treaty.


Der Spiegel‘s Cracked Mirror

A reporter with the German magazine fabricated information in more than a dozen articles—most of which were meant to reveal America’s brutality.

The word spiegel means “mirror” in German, and since its postwar founding, Der Spiegel has proudly held a mirror up to the world. When the magazine published top-secret information about the dire state of West Germany’s armed forces in 1962, the government accused it of treason, raided its offices, and arrested its editors. The resulting “Spiegel affair” led to mass demonstrations against police-state tactics and established an important precedent for press freedom in the young democracy. Throughout its history, the newsweekly has helped set the national agenda, like Time in its heyday.

Over the past weeks, however, the name of the magazine has assumed a new relevance. Der Spiegel has cracked, and revealed ugliness within the publication as well as German society more broadly.

On December 19, the magazine announced that the star reporter Claas Relotius had fabricated information “on a grand scale” in more than a dozen articles. Relotius has been portrayed as a sort of Teutonic Stephen Glass, the 1990s New Republic fabulist. “I’m sick and I need to get help,” Relotius told his editor. While that may very well be the case, his downfall is about more than just one writer with a mental-health problem.

A motif of Relotius’s work is America’s supposed brutality. In one story, he told the macabre tale of a woman who travels across the country volunteering to witness executions. In another, he related the tragic experience of a Yemeni man wrongly imprisoned by the United States military at Guantánamo Bay, where he was held in solitary confinement and tortured for 14 years. (The song that American soldiers turned on full blast and pumped into the poor soul’s cell? Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”) Both stories were complete fabrications.


Could AI counselling be the future of therapy?

Charities are considering switching to so-called ‘woebots’ to meet the growing demand for mental health treatment


The Woebot app can teach the basics of cognitive behavioural therapy.

Name: Woebots.

Age: 52 years.

Appearance: Nonjudgmental.

I’m glad to hear it. In a few words, tell me how you’re feeling today.

Me? Oh, a bit low, I suppose. I understand that you are feeling “a bit low”. Tell me more about this.

Well I’m always a bit sad at the beginning of January when Christmas is over and I have to get back to work. I am sorry to hear about “the beginning of January”. When did this happen?

Eh? What are you talking about? You feel “a bit low” because of “the beginning of January”. Is that right?

Not any more. Now I feel annoyed that you’re talking to me like a robot in a call centre. Sorry. I thought it would be a fun way to discuss woebots.

Woe … what? Woebots are artificially intelligent software applications that ask people questions to help them with their emotional problems.

You always do this. I tell you I’m upset and you just ignore my feelings and start talking about some pointless novelty in the news. Actually the first counselling software, called Eliza, was developed as early as 1966. But it’s true: that some new applications, such as one called Tess and another just called Woebot, offer fresh promise.

Ed. I’m imagining the brain-washing that can be programmed into a Woebot algorithm…


5 (More) Reasons Facebook Is Even Worse Then We Thought

Facebook is a useful birthday reminder service that keeps doing evil shit faster than we can write about it. No, seriously. We were touching up this article when they copped to letting Netflix, Spotify, and other companies read your private messages. Geez, give us a break, guys. Anyway, here’s another installment in this series which, the way things are going, we’ll be adding to until the end of days.

Facebook’s Fake Video Stats Might’ve Crashed The Online Media Economy


As you’re probably aware, the internet economy is an absolute shambles at the moment. Or you might not be aware. A lot of news websites have closed down, after all.

One of the big reasons for this was the ill-fated “pivot to video,” whereby online outlets started focusing less on written content and more on the kind that starts with “What’s up, YouTube?” Why? Mainly because they could see through Facebook’s tools that videos shared over social media got way bigger numbers than written articles. “We’re entering this new golden age of video,” Mark Zuckerberg proselytized in a 2016 interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you fast-forward five years and most of the content that people … are sharing on a day-to-day basis is video.” Naturally, everyone wanted in on that action.

Fast-forward a few years and … whoopsie-doodles, it turns out Facebook was lying their asses off.

The video metrics that Facebook reported to publishers — such as total number of views, average viewing time, etc. — were inflated by as much as “60 to 80 percent,” a little glitch they reportedly discovered in early 2015 but didn’t (quietly) cop to until September 2016. They knew this looked bad, because it was bad, so they rolled out the fixes veeeeery slowly and without telling anyone, specifically so that “advertisers … won’t notice significant changes.” It’s like if a restaurant found out they’d been accidentally seasoning food with rat poison, then took two years to replace it because they didn’t want to change the taste.

Meanwhile, the media-wide pivot to video was marching onward, as publishers laid off writers and editorial staff in order to “ramp up video production” (said Vice) or “shift resources into short-form video content” (said MTV) or “focus on our fans’ growing appetite for premium video” (said Fox Sports) or … well, you get the picture. And of course, once publishers failed to see the gains Facebook’s geniuses had promised them, they began laying off the same video staff they’d invested so much money in. It’s a heartbreaking situation for many of your favorite websites, and you can find out more information about it in the video version of this article on You- oh, right.


How to Lose Tens of Thousands of Dollars on Amazon

A growing number of self-proclaimed experts promise they can teach anyone how to make a passive income selling cheap Chinese goods in the internet’s largest store. Not everyone’s getting rich quick.

It was only after they’d sunk $40,000 and nine months of precious nights and weekends that Jordan McDowell and William Bjork realized how hard it is to make a passive income selling things on Amazon.

The couple had hoped to strike it rich—or at least quit their day jobs—buying goods from China and reselling them on the e-commerce site. Instead, they lost their savings. For that, they blame Matt Behdjou and Mike Gazzola.

In late 2016, McDowell and Bjork stumbled across a podcast hosted by Behdjou and Gazzola, normal guys who claimed they were making thousands of dollars working less than two hours a day on Amazon. The pair promised that anyone could do the same—all they needed to do was pay $3,999 for three months of coaching that would teach them everything they needed to know about the business. They’d learn how to source and ship a product from China, how to list it for an attractive markup on Amazon’s third-party marketplace, how to advertise it to consumers, and how to get them to leave good reviews. Amazon would take care of the logistics of storing and shipping, for a fee, through its Fulfillment by Amazon program. Behdjou and Gazzola even provided class participants with a manufacturing contact in China, and organized paid tours of Chinese merchandise markets.

At the time, the couple was living in a tiny New York apartment, struggling to make rent. McDowell was working a job she hated. Behdjou and Gazzola were offering a way out, and they seemed credible. They even posted screenshots showing the money they had made from selling supplements on Amazon. Bjork emailed a few people who had taken the class, all of whom said they were happy with their experience.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; these errant ramblings barely uninteresting at all things are meant to be a time-suck.


Why exercise alone won’t save us

Sedentary lifestyles are killing us – we need to build activity into our everyday lives, not just leave it for the gym.

This is the time of year when trainers are mined from under beds and gym kits are disinterred from the bottom drawer. Google searches relating to physical fitness peak in January. Many people even trawl the web to find out about “desk exercises” and “workouts on the go” in case they are too busy to use their new gym memberships.

Our relationship with exercise is complicated. Reports from the UK and the US show it is something we persistently struggle with. As the new year rolls around, we anticipate having the drive to behave differently and become regular exercisers, even in the knowledge that we will probably fail to do so. Why do we want to exercise? What do we expect it to do for us? We all know we are supposed to be exercising, but hundreds of millions of us can’t face actually doing it. It is just possible the problem lies at the heart of the idea of exercise itself.

Exercise is movement of the muscles and limbs for a specific outcome, usually to enhance physical fitness. As such, for most of us, it is an optional addition to the working day – yet another item on a long list of responsibilities alongside the fulfilment of parental duties or earning money to put food on the table. But because the principal beneficiary of exercise is ourselves, it is one of the easiest chores to shirk. At the end of the working day, millions of us prefer to indulge in sedentary leisure activities instead of what we all think is good for us: a workout.

Fitness crazes are like diets: if any of them worked, there wouldn’t be so many. CrossFit, the intensely physical, communal workout incorporating free weights, squats, pull-ups and so forth, is still less than 20 years old. Spin classes – vigorous group workouts on stationary bikes – have only been around for about 30. Aerobics was a craze about a decade before that, although many of its high-energy routines had already been around for a while. (The pastel horror of 1970s Jazzercise is probably best forgotten.) Before that, there was the jogging revolution, which began in the US in the early 1960s. The Joggers Manual, published in 1963 by the Oregon Heart Foundation, was a leaflet of about 200 words that sought to address the postwar panic about sedentary lifestyles by encouraging an accessible form of physical activity, explaining that “jogging is a bit more than a walk”. The jogging boom took a few years to get traction, hitting its stride in the mid- to late-80s, but it remains one of the most popular forms of exercise, now also in groups.

The exercise craze that dominated the 1950s was, oddly, not even an exercise. The vibrating exercise belt promised users could achieve effortless weight loss by having their midriffs violently jiggled. It didn’t work, but you can still find similar machines available for purchase today.

These fads even came with their own particular fashions – legwarmers, leotards, Lycra. So is our obsession with fitness doomed to be the stuff of embarrassing passing “phases”? Is exercise itself a fad?

PREPARE TO SPEND A WHILE: It’s The Long Read.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Without science fiction, you might not be reading this. You also might not be doing your holiday shopping on Amazon while streaming a John Legend’s new Christmas Album on Spotify and looking for a “cuffing season” buddy on Hinge. In short, if not for sci-fi, you might not be taking part in any of the modern wonders the Internet has bestowed upon us.

This is because Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, may never have conceived of the idea if not for Arthur C. Clark’s “Dial F For Frankenstein,” a short science fiction story that first appeared in Playboy and helped inspired the young inventor. It’s just one example of the symbiotic relationship science and science fiction have had throughout modern history.

VICE News recently spoke with noted science fiction authors and scholars, including The Martian author Andy Weir and The Expanse co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, for a series exploring the often inspiring, occasionally terrifying, and always thought-provoking ways science and sci-fi have overlapped and shape the world around us.

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


Without science fiction, you might not be reading this. You also might not be doing your holiday shopping on Amazon while streaming a John Legend’s new Christmas Album on Spotify and looking for a “cuffing season” buddy on Hinge. In short, if not for sci-fi, you might not be taking part in any of the modern wonders the Internet has bestowed upon us.

This is because Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, may never have conceived of the idea if not for Arthur C. Clark’s “Dial F For Frankenstein,” a short science fiction story that first appeared in Playboy and helped inspired the young inventor. It’s just one example of the symbiotic relationship science and science fiction have had throughout modern history.

VICE News recently spoke with noted science fiction authors and scholars, including The Martian author Andy Weir and The Expanse co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, for a series exploring the often inspiring, occasionally terrifying, and always thought-provoking ways science and sci-fi have overlapped and shape the world around us.


VICE News recently spoke with noted science fiction authors and scholars, including The Martian author Andy Weir and The Expanse co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, for a series exploring the often inspiring, occasionally terrifying, and always thought-provoking ways science and sci-fi have overlapped and shape the world around us.


VICE News recently spoke with noted science fiction authors and scholars, including The Martian author Andy Weir and The Expanse co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, for a series exploring the often inspiring, occasionally terrifying, and always thought-provoking ways science and sci-fi have overlapped and shape the world around us.


VICE News recently spoke with noted science fiction authors and scholars, including The Martian author Andy Weir and The Expanse co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, for a series exploring the often inspiring, occasionally terrifying, and always thought-provoking ways science and sci-fi have overlapped and shape the world around us.


VICE News recently spoke with noted science fiction authors and scholars, including The Martian author Andy Weir and The Expanse co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, for a series exploring the often inspiring, occasionally terrifying, and always thought-provoking ways science and sci-fi have overlapped and shape the world around us.


VICE News recently spoke with noted science fiction authors and scholars, including The Martian author Andy Weir and The Expanse co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, for a series exploring the often inspiring, occasionally terrifying, and always thought-provoking ways science and sci-fi have overlapped and shape the world around us.


獅子舞を被るまる。Maru puts on the lion dance.


FINALLY . . .

THE SECRET TO LONGEVITY MAY BE LYING ABOUT YOUR AGE

LONG IN THE TRUTH


How old are we *really?*

We can look to the life of Jeanne Louise Calment—the Frenchwoman famous for surviving some 122 years until she passed away in 1997—for French-y lifestyle tips about enduring to a ripe old age: Ride a bicycle until you’re 100; marry someone who will pay your bills; eat two pounds of chocolate per week; rub olive oil onto your skin; indulge in the occasional glass of Port. But now, a new paper poses that Calment may have had another old-fashioned method for reaching an impressive age: just lie about it!

Nikolay Zak, a researcher at the Moscow Center For Continuous Mathematical Education, posted an appropriately titled paper, “Jeanne Calment: the secret of longevity,” to ResearchGate, a social networking site for researchers, positing that the Calment who died in 1997 was not Jeanne at all, but rather was her daughter, Yvonne, who would have been a mere 99 years old. (The paper has not yet been peer reviewed, and the fact that it’s available on ResearchGate doesn’t indicate that it’s been accepted for publication anywhere.)

According to the New York Times, Yvonne died of pneumonia in 1934, leaving behind her husband and daughter. Zak theorizes that it was actually Jeanne who died in 1934, and that Yvonne, her daughter, assumed the identity of Jeanne in order to avoid paying inheritance taxes.


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