February 17, 2019 in 2,658 words

to set a mood • • •

The White House asked Japan’s prime minister to nominate Trump for a Nobel prize

Thanks for that.

Donald Trump’s rambling press conference Feb. 15 to announce a “national emergency” on the US’s southern border touched on everything from the stock market to his relationship with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator.

One of the most surprising claims Trump made, however, was that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize:

In fact, I think I can say this: Prime Minister Abe of Japan gave me the most beautiful copy of a letter that he sent to the people who give out a thing called the Nobel Prize. He said, “I have nominated you…” or “Respectfully, on behalf of Japan, I am asking them to give you the Nobel Peace Prize.” I said, “Thank you.” Many other people feel that way too. I’ll probably never get it, but that’s okay.

They gave it to Obama. He didn’t even know what he got it for. He was there for about 15 seconds and he got the Nobel Prize. He said, “Oh, what did I get it for?” With me, I probably will never get it.

Abe did indeed nominate Trump, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports, but there was a twist: The Japanese leader did it at the request of the White House. “The U.S. government ‘informally’ asked Tokyo to nominate Trump after he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June,” the paper reported, citing unnamed Japanese government sources. Abe was “acceding to a request from Washington” when he made the nomination last autumn, the paper said.

It’s almost impossible to function without the big five tech giants

As a US journalist discovered to her cost, trying to live without Google, Amazon and their ilk is a monumental problem.

Digital detox: journalist Kashmir Hill spent six frustrating weeks trying to live without Amazon et al.

“Quitting smoking is easy,” said Mark Twain. “I’ve done it hundreds of times.” Much the same goes for smartphones. As increasing numbers of people begin to realise that they have a smartphone habit they begin to wonder if they should do something about the addiction. A few (a very few, in my experience) make the attempt, switching their phones off after work, say, and not rebooting them until the following morning. But almost invariably the dash for freedom fails and the chastened fugitive returns to the connected world.

The technophobic tendency to attribute this failure to lack of moral fibre should be resisted. It’s not easy to cut yourself off from a system that links you to friends, family and employer, all of whom expect you to be contactable and sometimes get upset when you’re not. There are powerful network effects in play here against which the individual addict is helpless. And while “just say no” may be a viable strategy in relation to some services (for example, Facebook), it is now a futile one in relation to the networked world generally. We’re long past the point of no return in our connected lives.

Most people don’t realise this. They imagine that if they decide to stop using Gmail or Microsoft Outlook or never buy another book from Amazon then they have liberated themselves from the tentacles of these giants. If that is indeed what they believe, then Kashmir Hill has news for them. She’s an American tech journalist who writes for Gizmodo and who recently conducted a fascinating six-week experiment that you might describe as “digital veganism”. She set out to answer the question of whether it was possible to live a normal life without using the services of Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple. So, over five weeks, she blocked her access to each one in turn and then, in the final week, cut herself off from all of them. And she reportedwhat she learned as she went.

Lots of people have tried various kinds of digital detox, by dropping Google or Facebook for a week, say, but Ms Hill did it really thoroughly. She had a geek collaborator, Dhruv Mehrotra, who created a special virtual private network (VPN) for her through which all of the approximately 2m data packets she would send in a normal day had to pass before heading out on to the net. The special thing about the VPN was that it would stop every packet addressed to any domain or server operated by the particular tech giant that Ms Hill was seeking to avoid that week. And it was this comprehensive blocking technology that really revealed the ubiquity of the tech giants’ grip on our networked world.

Ed. Seems so long ago.

Roger McNamee: ‘It’s bigger than Facebook. This is a problem with the entire industry

Mark Zuckerberg’s mentor and an early investor in Facebook on why his book Zucked urges people to turn away from big tech’s toxic business model.

Roger McNamee: ‘The internet is how it is because Google and Facebook made it that way.’

Roger McNamee is an American fund manager and venture capitalist who has made investments in, among others, Electronic Arts, Sybase, Palm Inc and Facebook. In 2004, along with Bono and others, he co-founded Elevation Partners, a private equity firm. He has recently published Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.

What is your history with Facebook?
I’ve been a technology investor since 1982, and a tech optimist until very recently. I first met Mark Zuckerberg in 2006, when he was 22 years old and I was 50. Even at that time it was already obvious to me that Facebook would be as successful eventually as Google was at that time, which was to say spectacularly successful. He had broken the code on the two things that historically had undermined all network-based companies: he had required authenticated identity, and he had provided genuine control of privacy.

I thought that represented a staggering success. So I met him, and before he said anything I told him that I was afraid somebody was going to try to buy the company, they were going to pay a billion dollars and everybody was going to tell him to take the money. And I said, look, if you believe in your dream, I hope you’ll tell them no.

It turned out that the reason he was coming to see me was that a company had offered a billion dollars for Facebook and everyone had told him to accept it.

He wanted a chief operating officer and I suggested Sheryl Sandberg, and persuaded her to meet with Mark. He sold her on the company and they became a team.

How A Petty Scam Ended In Bloody Human Sacrifice

Have you ever told a lie that just got way out of control? Like you had to keep upping the ante until the whole thing just blew up in your face? OK, now imagine your lie kept escalating to the point where people were literally committing human sacrifices and drinking blood.

That absolutely occurred when a couple of crooks in the 1960s hatched a stupid plan that ended in the most nightmarish shit you’ll read about all year. At the end of this brief story, you’ll have learned quite a bit about humanity that you’d probably have preferred not to know.

The Big-Time Lies Of Two Small-Time Crooks

The small town of Yerba Buena was silent and peaceful and chill as fuck until the Hernandez brothers rolled in. These guys were like Home Alone‘s Marv and Harry, petty criminals who had gone from town to town with one scam or another. Except, instead of Marv and Harry’s noble pursuit of ripping off an ultra-wealthy suburb and being repeatedly foiled by Macaulay Culkin, these guys were more concerned with taking from people who really didn’t have much to give. So a little further up on the scale of assholes.

This was 1962, and Yerba Buena was poor and mostly illiterate, with a population of around 50. The lobby before a Fortnite match is more crowded. The Hernandez brothers, Santos and Cayetano, knew that these people were desperate, so they told the townsfolk that they were the prophets of exiled Incan gods, and that if the villagers gave them worship and devotion, they’d be rewarded with wealth and treasures in return. This is a hard opportunity to pass up if you don’t know any better or have literally negative amounts of money.

Unfortunately, a big part of the “devotion” was heading to a grotto to be sex slaves and generally being at the mercy of the pair. And this kept going for a while, too. The brothers would organize orgies and ceremonies, bathing in the “love” of their new followers. But eventually people got sick of this, because they weren’t seeing much of that promised treasure. Also, orgies are a lot like cotton candy: If you have it for breakfast and lunch, you’ll be sick of it by dinner. They demanded proof of either treasure or the duo’s link to Incan deities, so the Hernandez Brothers called in a pinch hitter.

A Visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships

A unique collection focused on what happens after love dies.

ONE OF THE MOST UNUSUAL museums in Croatia is the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. The collection traces its origins to a real-life breakup, between that of its co-founders, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, in 2006. Unsure what to do with a special wind-up toy they’d acquired as a couple, the two searched for somewhere to store what they considered to be a symbol of their time together. When they realized that no such place existed, the Museum of Broken Relationships was born.

Today the museum accepts items from around the world. Since every artifact is crowdsourced, Dražen says they are often surprised by what shows up at their door. Among the collection are typical items—mobile phones, records, clothing—but they’ve also received dreadlocks, a toaster, a prosthetic, even a parachute rig. Each is accompanied with a description of the object and its meaning.

“Love and breaking up—it’s such an important part of our lives but you don’t know anything about it, you’re just left on your own to experience it,” says Dražen. The Museum of Broken Relationships aims to offer a space for individuals to share and treasure their sentimental artifacts of love lost. In the video above, Atlas Obscura takes a tour of some of the objects and stories inside the museum.

The US government has redefined “pink slime” as ground beef


The story is in the trimmings.

Everybody seems to be trying to make a comeback these days, deserved or not. Even “pink slime.”

The term became a dirty word back in 2012 after ABC News ran a segment on beef slaughterhouses, coining the term and setting off a public debate about what’s going into the meat products that we eat in the US. Beef Products Inc., a company that makes pink slime, sued the television network for defamation after its sales plummeted, and two entities settled for a reported $177 million in 2017.

Now the US Department of Agriculture this week reclassified the product, saying it can officially be called “ground beef.”

The term “pink slime” is actually a derogatory one for all the little cuttings and “trim” that appear when cattle carcasses are being sliced up into steaks. At the end of that process, a slaughterhouse essentially packs up all those trimmings and ships them off to be processed into ground beef. Ground beef has a limit to the amount of fat it can contain—no more than 30%—and to control that, processing facilities run those trimmings through a special system.

POINT OF INFORMATION: Don’t read on if you don’t want to know how it’s made.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

If older generations aren’t going to help in the fight against climate change, Jaboukie Young-White thinks they should at least have to pay young people for their trouble.

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

While it might seem like a radical idea, it’s actually based on an economic theory that tries to make everyone as well-off as possible.

How can we make all citizens as well-off as possible? That’s the simple question behind something call “optimal tax theory.” It starts from this idea that, to a rich person, one dollar is worth almost nothing. Take away the dollar and he’ll be just as well off as he was before. But that dollar is worth a lot to poor people. So, if the government wants to optimize the well-being of its citizens, it should tax that money from the rich and give it to the poor. But at a certain point, we can’t keep taxing the rich more. To find out why, watch this video.

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

Ok it might be hyperbole, but Gabby was still pretty quick ay. This is me commentary on a dog smashing an agility course.

こたつで遊んでいます。 Maru plays with a kotatsu.


America’s Pistachio Industry Came From a Single Seed

A “plant explorer” helped establish the crop in California.

William E. Whitehouse, surrounded by images of pistachios.

IN 1979, A GROUP OF Iranian college students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran, where they took dozens of hostages. The resulting crisis dominated relations between the two countries, influencing politics for generations. But the tensions proved a boon for American pistachio production. When the American government slapped a retaliatory embargo on Iranian pistachios, California’s nascent pistachio industry exploded, to the point that Iran and the U.S. now are neck and neck for the accolade of the world’s top producer.

From a botanical perspective, this was a remarkable turnaround. Because only half a century earlier, a “plant explorer” named William E. Whitehouse had seeded the entire industry. In what is now considered “the single most successful plant introduction to the United States in the 20th century,” he traveled to Iran and brought back one very important seed.

While areas in Syria, Turkey, and Sicily have long produced pistachios, Iran’s climate is uniquely suited to the finicky crop. That’s because pistachio trees like extreme conditions—many varieties have deep roots and thick leaves that allow them to grow in hot, drought-prone areas, but they simultaneously require cold winters to fruit. According to Louise Ferguson, a pomologist and pistachio expert at UC Davis, the trees can survive in saline soils that other fruit trees would find insupportable.

While pistachios aren’t nuts, they’re often eaten as a crunchy snack.

The Iranian town of Rafsanjan, in the province of Kerman, is a pistachio-producing powerhouse. It’s desert-like climate and high, chill-inducing altitude make it ideal for pistachios. Most Iranian pistachio farmers hail from Rafsanjan, says Leili Afsah Hejri, a food scientist who specializes in pistachio machinery at the University of Merced. She herself is the fifth generation of a pistachio-producing family from the town.

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