“I think what I have come to realize from the past few months of Twitter’s rapid decay, and my dalliances with its competitors is that most people want two different things from social media, and they are essentially irreconcilably in conflict. On the one hand, I want as vast a reach as possible – I am very glad to have had Twitter over the past decade to promote things I make, ask questions of the crowd, interact directly with people who are much too famous or obscure for me to have met any other way. I have made close friends and met musical and journalistic collaborators on Twitter.
The downside of everyone being is one place is that everyone has as much access to you as you do to them. Every crank and weirdo on the internet can make a twitter account and start a fight with you for any innocuous post. Which is, of course, how we get twitter discourse, main characters, and so on, but it doesn’t actually feel all that fun. Posting on twitter right now is the social media equivalent of counting the seconds between lightning and thunder. You post, and then you can only hold your breath before some drive by dipshit comes by to pick a fight with you.”
Alex Goldman writes: “For years, there has been a popular conspiracy theory that goes like this: in 2016 the folks in charge at Disney, much like large swaths of the country, believed Hillary Clinton would win, and even before she was elected were hard at work on a Hillary animatronic for the Walt Disney World Hall of Presidents attraction. When they were surprised by a Donald Trump victory, they were forced to hastily repurpose the Hillary animatronic as a Donald Trump one, to comedically grotesque effect. When I tweeted about it, I ended my tweet with an ask that any imagineers with information on the veracity of this theory to reach out. Imagine my delight when one did.”
Editor’s note: My apologies for missing yesterday’s newsletter – my granddaughter, who just turned one, was visiting us and so I got distracted and forgot to send the newsletter 🙂
In the early 2000’s, the Earth shifted on its axis, and scientists finally figured out why
Raymond Zhong writes for the New York Times: “Around the turn of the millennium, Earth’s spin started going off-kilter, and nobody could quite say why. For decades, scientists had been watching the average position of our planet’s rotational axis, the imaginary rod around which it turns, gently wander south, away from the geographic North Pole and toward Canada. Suddenly, though, it made a sharp turn and started heading east. In time, researchers realized melting of the polar ice sheets had changed the way mass was distributed around the planet. And now they’ve identified another factor: colossal quantities of water pumped out of the ground for crops and households.”
“For all the issues with tech and tech media, it’s just a minor sub-segment of this broader shift in how media works and in how public discourse works in public opinion formation and public debate happens. That media landscape I would argue has been changing for a very long time, it’s certainly been going through a high rate of change, I would argue even pre the Internet with the arrival of talk radio and then cable television. But certainly the Internet has accelerated that change so I think the whole landscape is changing.
There’s this endless tension on the media side: if you ask journalists what their mission in life is, they’ll basically usually tell you two things, which is to objectively report the truth number one, and then number two, speak truth to power. Or they sometimes say, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” There’s an inherent tension between those two poles because are you trying to equally represent all sides or are you trying to specifically take a stand, presumably on behalf of the people against power? I would characterize it as the entire media broadly is trying to navigate its way through that question of goals and then trying to navigate its way through what have been profound changes in technology in the media landscape.
A lot of those changes have been caused by tech. Like I say, we in many ways are the dog that caught the bus in this industry, which is we did cause some of these changes to happen. So those changes, the system has to work through those changes. Does the system ever stabilize ever again in the same way that it had in the 1950s or 1960s? I think probably not and so as a consequence, I think the whole landscape probably will stay unsettled for a very long time. I don’t know what it’ll look like in a decade, but I think people like me are going to have to adapt just like everybody else.”
From Allison Meier at JSTOR Daily: “In the fall of 1886, New Yorkers were transported to the Battle of Gettysburg. That is to say, they flocked to a circular structure in downtown Brooklyn. The inside walls of the curious room were covered with a 360-degree painting, on which soldiers charged and cannons fired. As Scientific American described at the time, the floorboards were covered with sod and “real trees, evergreens and others, with shrubbery, portions of fences, and the like are set about, and tufts of grass, wheat, and similar things, lend their aid to fill up the scene.” Skylights illuminated the canvas and props while leaving the spectator area dark, and mannequins were posed alongside the painted scene. So convincing were these dummies that the police got called one evening to stop a robbery and apprehended two fake soldiers.”
What medieval manuscripts reveal about the hidden history of whales
From Nina Goldman for the Smithsonian magazine: “The creature was enormous. Sailors said it “looked more like an island than a fish.” When feeding, according to a 13th-century Old Norse manuscript, the beast, known as the hafgufa, would rest with its mouth open wide, luring in unsuspecting fish, then snap its jaws shut to capture them. Hair-raising accounts of a similar sea monster were recorded by Alexandrian scribes as early as the second century A.D.; these accounts spread through Europe and Asia in Arabic, Coptic, Latin and Old English translations. Now researchers argue the mighty hafgufa, and similar sea monsters described by the ancients, were not mythical creatures but rather whales engaged in a behavior that was only recently documented: “trap feeding.”
Noh Hyun-soo writes for The Guardian: “I’d been to Seoul’s Leeum Museum of Art years ago, but last Aprilwas my first visit to see the artwork Comedian by Maurizio Cattelan, which is a banana duct-taped to a wall. It’s a work of conceptual art and comes with a certificate of authenticity giving precise diagrams and instructions for its correct display. It was famously sold for $120,000 at Art Basel Miami in 2019. The banana is changed every few days. There were a lot of visitors, and about 10 people were standing around Comedian. The atmosphere inside the museum was calm. Interestingly, when I got close to another artwork to see it more clearly an alarm sounded and the guards stopped me. But when I approached Comedian, there was no alarm. So there was nothing stopping me when I pulled off the tape to remove the banana from the wall and peeled it.”
How I helped create the “Dark Side of the Rainbow” Internet meme
From Charlie Savage for the New York Times: “The phenomenon of watching ‘The Wizard of Oz’ while listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is sometimes called ‘The Dark Side of the Rainbow’: If you start the album at just the right time, the music and lyrics uncannily align with the movie’s visuals. Some coincidences are lyrical, as when Dorothy runs away from home at the line ‘No one told you when to run.’ Some are tonal, as when the tornado sequence seems practically choreographed to Clare Torry’s wordless vocals in ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ — rising to a frenzy as the twister rolls in and then shifting to dreaminess just as Dorothy is knocked unconscious.”
From Rick Reilly for the Washington Post: “His name is Tom Stuker, and he’s the biggest mistake United Airlines ever made. In 1990,United offered a lifetime pass for $290,000. Stuker jumped on it and has pretty much lived in seat 1B — his favorite — ever since. He once went 12 straight days without sleeping in a bed. Just kept jetting from Newark to San Francisco to Bangkok to Dubai and back again, the equivalent of four trips around the world, leaving the sky only for the airport lounge. Why? Duh. For the miles. Once you get them, you can sell them, trade them, win auctions with them. Stuker has lived like a sultan on United miles ever since — lavish hotel suites all over the world, weeks-long Crystal cruises, gourmet meals from Perth to Paris.”
A little-known local surfer beat out the world’s biggest surfing superstars
From Gabriella Paiella for GQ Sports: “How did a North Shore local named Luke Shepardson win the most prestigious big-wave competition on the planet, beating some of surfing’s brightest stars? Even on an ordinary day, surfing is imbued with the mystical, every wave hinging on chance and elemental collision—a storm in Japan will create a swell thousands of miles away in Hawaii. But the waves produced during the Eddie are perhaps the most sacred on earth. To be invited to ride them means being one of the 40 most-esteemed surfers in the world, as chosen by a committee of your peers. On the beach and along the cliffs that line Waimea Bay, some 50,000 spectators would soon squeeze together for a chance to see greatness, to witness ineffable bravery, and to take part in the grand human tradition of watching some guys (and a few women) do truly crazy shit.”
Dan Barry writes for the New York Times: “The Picasso fell off the proverbial truck. It vanished from a loading dock at Logan International Airport in Boston and wound up where it didn’t belong, in the modest home of one Merrill Rummel, also known as Bill. In fairness, this forklift operator had no idea that the crate he tossed into his car trunk contained a Picasso until he opened its casing. In fairness, he didn’t care much for it; he preferred realism. But now things had turned all too real. F.B.I. agents were hot on the trail of a hot Picasso unavailable for public viewing, as it was hidden in Rummel’s hallway closet. He and his fiancée, Sam, began to panic. “How do we get rid of it?” she recalled thinking. “We couldn’t just give it back. It was a pain in our butt.” Fortunately, Rummel knew a guy.”
TikToker arrives at his own funeral in helicopter after faking his death
From Mary Walrath-Holdridge for USA Today: “TikToker David Baertan, 45, pulled what he called a prank on his friends and family members earlier this month, faking his own death with the help of his wife and kids. Baertan and his family arranged a funeral near Liege, Belgium after his daughter created a post on Facebook mourning her father’s apparent loss, telling him to rest in peace and notifying people of his death. Videos of the funeral show a small crowd gathering as a helicopter hovers for a landing over a grassy field. Confused bystanders look on as the helicopter lands, rushing out onto the grass as they realize that Baertan is the one stepping out of it.”
From Mark O’Connell for The Guardian: “Among Irish people old enough to remember the summer of 1982, Malcolm Macarthur is as close to a household name as it is possible for a murderer to be. He grew up in County Meath in the east of Ireland, on a grand estate with a housekeeper, a gardener and a governess. In his 20s, he received a large inheritance, and lived well on its bounty. But on the brink of middle age, he found he was going broke. At the time, the IRA was conducting a campaign of bank heists to fund their struggle. Macarthur was a clever and capable man, he reasoned, and so why should he not be able to pull off something along those lines? But he did not bring off the heist; in the effort to attain a gun and a getaway car, he murdered two complete strangers.”
Why those who are dying often experience a sudden burst of lucidity
Jordan Kinard writes for Scientific American: “For decades, researchers, hospice caregivers and stunned family members have watched as people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia suddenly regain their memories and personalities just before death. To their family members it might seem like a second lease on life, but for experienced medical workers, it can be a sign the end is near. Christopher Kerr, chief executive officer and chief medical officer at the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Buffalo, N.Y., has studied the lucid visions of several hundred terminally ill people. He says these events “usually occur in the last few days of life.” Such ‘terminal lucidity’ is defined as the unexpected return of cognitive faculties such as speech and ‘connectedness’ with other people.”
Franks Mayancha and Francesca Mezzenzana write at Slate: “The story of four children’s 40-day survival after a plane crash, in a remote stretch of the Amazon rainforest in Colombia, has gripped the world’s imagination since their rescue on June 9. Traumatized by the loss of their mother a few days after the crash, the siblings were stranded, left to fend for themselves, with no immediate access to water, at continuous risk of encountering predators, venomous snakes, and poisonous plants. Conjuring images of hope and resilience in such a remote place, this story has left many in a state of admiration and surprise. But we feel that a crucial aspect of the story has been overlooked.”
What life is like inside North Korea
From the BBC: “On 27 January 2020, North Korea slammed shut its border in response to the pandemic, stopping not just people, but food and goods, from entering the country. Its citizens, who were already banned from leaving, have been confined to their towns. Aid workers and diplomats have packed up and left. Guards are under order to shoot anyone even approaching the border. The world’s most isolated country has become an information black hole. Under the tyrannical rule of Kim Jong Un, North Koreans are forbidden from making contact with the outside world. With the help of the organisation Daily NK, which operates a network of sources inside the country, the BBC has been able to communicate with three ordinary people.”
From Patrick Whittle for AP: “Roger Payne, the scientist who spurred a worldwide environmental conservation movement with his discovery that whales could sing, has died. He was 88. Payne made the discovery in 1967 during a research trip to Bermuda in which a Navy engineer provided him with a recording of curious underwater sounds documented while listening for Russian submarines. Payne identified the haunting tones as songs whales sing to one another. He saw the discovery of whale song as a chance to spur interest in saving the giant animals, who were disappearing from the planet. Payne would produce the album “Songs of the Humpback Whale” in 1970. A surprise hit, the record galvanized a global movement to end whale hunting.”
If AI software creates a new episode of Seinfeld, is it copyright infringement?
Aharon Schreiber writes: “On December 14, 2022, a new season of Seinfeld debuted on the streaming site Twitch, airing continuously, 24 hours a day, every day for a few months. Ok, not really. The AI generated Seinfeld parody “Nothing, Forever,” did run 24 hours a day until February 6, 2023, but the show was completely procedurally generated via artificial intelligence. While the show was pretty well received, with even the official Seinfeld twitter account linking to the Twitch channel, “Nothing, Forever” opens up a series of new questions regarding the intersection of copyright law and artificial intelligence. Most importantly, does Seinfeld, Jerry, the actors, NBC, or any other person or entity with rights to Seinfeld the show have a copyright claim against “Nothing, Forever?”