Chinese livestreamer sells $2 billion in products in a single day

SHANGHAI, CHINA - AUGUST 06: Beauty livestreamer Austin Li Jiaqi attends Louis Vuitton S/S21 Men's Collection event at Shanghai Tank Art Park on August 6, 2020 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

who earned his nickname by trying on various makeup products on his show, pre-sold 12 billion yuan in products ranging from Shiseido Co. lotions to Apple AirPods, according to preliminary data compiled by e-commerce data specialist

Li’s sales are a record for any show livestreamed on Alibaba’s Taobao online marketplace, according to data. He has also survived a recent regulatory crackdown on androgynous pop idols and others who don’t conform to the country’s gender norms or express a more feminine style.

Source: China’s ‘Lipstick Brother’ Livestream Has Record $2 Billion Day – BNN Bloomberg

The Facebook Papers and media strategy

Note: This was originally published as the daily newsletter at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I am the chief digital writer

In September, the Wall Street Journal published a series of critical stories about Facebook that the newspaper said were based on a trove of hundreds of internal documents from an unnamed former employee of the company. Three weeks ago, that whistleblower revealed herself on 60 Minutes as Frances Haugen, a former product manager who said she became concerned about the harm being done by Facebook’s products, and the fact that the company allegedly ignored its own research. Haugen subsequently appeared before a Congressional subcommittee investigating Instagram’s impact on the mental health of young women. Then, beginning on October 24, Haugen launched what Ben Smith, the New York Times media writer, called “the journalistic equivalent of an outlet store,” by offering access to the complete trove of internal documents to a hand-picked group of news outlets.

The coverage of Facebook’s alleged transgressions is obviously a story about how a huge tech company deals with its responsibilities to its users, and to society. But, like any large-scale investigation—especially one that involves a consortium and a broken embargo—it’s also a media story. How the documents were released, and who was given access to them and why, has undoubtedly affected the coverage of the issues at hand, for better or worse. The use of an embargo, for example (one which was quickly broken, with the usual rationalizations) and the selection of a few media organizations as gatekeepers of the information seems almost deliberately designed to create a feeding frenzy among news outlets. This in turn has arguably resulted in massive duplication of effort and repetition of information.

Some believe the firehose of reporting risks overwhelming the public with information, and journalists have pointed out that much of what is being reported is already well known, and the new information isn’t terribly compelling. Not everyone agrees with that line of argument, however: Paul Kedrosky, a venture investor, called this “a very interesting rhetorical approach, the idea that if something heinous isn’t more heinous than we previously thought, that it’s fine.” Some might even argue that repeating stories about such complex topics is sometimes necessary, since many normal people (i.e., non-journalists) could have missed previous reports.

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Robert Liston and the surgery with a 300% mortality rate

Robert Liston was a British surgeon in the 19th century who was noted for his speed and skill in an era prior to anaesthetics, when speed made a difference in terms of pain and survival. In his most famous case, he amputated a leg in under 2.5 minutes, but the patient died afterwards from gangrene (not uncommon in those days). As a result of his desire for speed, Liston also amputated two fingers of his young assistant (who also later died from gangrene). And he slashed through the coattails of a distinguished surgical spectator, who was so terrified — thinking that the knife had pierced his vitals — that he fainted from fright, and was later discovered to have died from shock.

British MP’s death intensifies calls for end to online anonymity

Note: This was originally published as the online newsletter for the Columbia Journalism Review, where I am the chief digital writer

Last Friday, David Amess, a 69-year-old British member of parliament, was stabbed to death while hosting an open house for his constituents at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, a town in southeastern England. A 25-year-old man was later arrested and charged with his murder. In the aftermath of the incident, a British politician asked for an amendment to the country’s Online Safety Bill—a proposed law that has been making its way through the British legislative process for several years—that he called “David’s Law,” which would bring an end to online anonymity by forcing users of social platforms and other services to reveal their real identities. These calls were surprising to some, since Amess’s death doesn’t appear to have anything to do with online anonymity, or even the internet (at least not yet). The man arrested, Ali Harbi Ali, is the London-born son of an advisor to the former prime minister of Somali and appears to have links to Islamic terrorism, according to a report from British police.

The fact that Amess’s murder has inflamed the debate about digital anonymity despite having no apparent connection to it is evidence of how charged the discussion about online safety has become in the UK, observers say. Mark Francois, a former defense minister and a close friend of the deceased MP, said he wanted to name an amendment to the Online Safety Bill after Amess because his former colleague had become “increasingly concerned” about what he called the “toxic environment” online, and the amount of abuse directed at British politicians, especially women. “If the social media companies don’t want to help us drain the Twitter swamp, then let’s compel them to do it by law,” Francois said on Monday, during a triibute to Amess in the House of Commons. “Let’s put, if I may be so presumptuous, David’s Law onto the statute book.” Francois said the chief executives of Facebook and Twitter should be called to appear before Britain’s parliament “if necessary kicking and screaming.”

Francois’s call for an end to anonymity seemed to get some traction with at least one of the main architects of the Online Safety Bill. Damian Collins, a British MP and chairman of a parliamentary committee looking at the law, said he believes there is a “strong case” for requiring Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to record the real identities of users, so that those who engage in abuse online could be identified. “People would then understand that if they post abusive material, they could be traced back, even if they posted under an assumed name,” he told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. Calls for action around online civility and harassment gained traction earlier this year in the wake of racist abuse on Twitter and Instagram directed at several Black members of the British soccer team because of their performance during the Euro 2020 final.

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I sing of Olaf, glad and big

A classic e.e. cummings poem that seems strangely appropriate in these times of rabid nationalism and terrible deeds done in the name of patriotism — originally written by cummings in 1931, based on a prisoner of conscience he met:

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but–though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments–
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
“I will not kiss your fucking flag”

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John von Neumann was a real-life Doctor Strangelove

“More than anyone else, John von Neumann created the future. He was an unparalleled genius, one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, and he helped invent the world as we now know it. He came up with a blueprint of the modern computer and sparked the beginnings of artificial intelligence. He worked on the atom bomb and led the team that produced the first computerised weather forecast. In the mid-1950s, he proposed the idea that the Earth was warming as a consequence of humans burning coal and oil, and warned that ‘extensive human intervention’ could wreak havoc with the world’s climate. Colleagues who knew both von Neumann and his colleague Albert Einstein said that von Neumann had by far the sharper mind.” via The Spectator

Barcelona’s “Block of Discord”

The Illa de la Discòrdia or Mansana de la Discòrdia — which translates as “Block of Discord” — is a city block in the Eixample district of Barcelona, in Spain. The block is famous for having buildings designed by four of the city’s most important modern architects: Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Enric Sagnier, right next door to each other. As the four architects’ styles were very different, the buildings clash with each other and the neighboring buildings.

European civilization is built on ham and cheese, including books

This Twitter thread is a persuasive argument that most — if not all — of the important parts of European civilization are built on ham and cheese, and that includes books, which were originally printed on vellum, a material made from the skin of young male sheep and cows (females being too valuable for breeding). Hardback books were invented because vellum tended to buckle and ripple, so boards were sewn into the cover to keep them straight. Furthermore, books also were built on snails.

These blinking tubes are the most important device in the universe

If you’ve ever heard of “the Whilhelm Scream” — an audio file of a man screaming, which has been used in literally thousands of movies and TV shows — this prop, with its blinking neon light tubes, could be the physical equivalent. It has appeared in dozens of science-fiction TV shows and terrible movies, and has become such a ubiquitous player in various versions of Star Trek that it should have its own trailer by now. According to a comment on this YouTube clip — which is part one of a three-part series — Modern Props owner John Zabrucky designed it, and it dates to about 1977 or so, but was updated several times.

It’s decorative gourd season, motherfuckers

One great thing about fall is it’s a chance to post this timeless classic from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency — “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers”

“I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands on some fucking gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table. That shit is going to look so seasonal. I’m about to head up to the attic right now to find that wicker fucker, dust it off, and jam it with an insanely ornate assortment of shellacked vegetables. When my guests come over it’s gonna be like, BLAMMO! Check out my shellacked decorative vegetables, assholes. Guess what season it is — fucking fall. There’s a nip in the air and my house is full of mutant fucking squash.”