Discover more from Links
----- 4 stars -----
Baking Bread in Lyon / New Yorker
For most of my adult life, I had secretly wanted to find myself in France: in a French kitchen, somehow holding my own, having been “French-trained” (the enduring magic of that phrase). I thought of Lyon, rather than Paris or Provence, because it was said to be the most Frenchly authentic and was known historically as the world’s gastronomic capital. [...] The boulangerie was where the boys discovered the word goûter (from goût, meaning “flavor,” and probably the single most important word in the entire language). A goûter is an afternoon snack—eaten universally at 4 p.m., when children get out of school—and an exception to two of the city’s implicit rules about food: you do not eat standing up, and you never eat between meals. A goûter is devoured instantly. The boys discovered Bob’s pain au chocolat and didn’t understand why they should eat anything else. They also discovered Bob’s baguettes, which Frederick developed a practice of assaulting each morning before eating: breaking one open with his hands, sticking his nose inside, inhaling, and then smiling. On Wednesdays, when Bob was closed and we bought baguettes elsewhere, Frederick subjected them to his test and, without fail, found them inedible. (Bob was thrilled by Frederick’s findings.) Bob’s bread had aromatic complexity and was long in flavor in ways that we’d never known before. We were at his boulangerie every day. Some days, we went three times, which concerned him: “You’ve had enough bread today. Go home!” [...] Bob knew why I was in Lyon. He also knew that I hadn’t found a kitchen to work in. So, when I made my proposal, straight out—“Bob, I’ve decided, on reflection, that I should start with you, in your boulangerie”—he knew that he was my backup: that, in effect, I was lying. “No,” he said. “No?” I pressed. “Bob, you make the best bread in the city. I want to learn why.” His gaze drifted above my head. He seemed to be imagining what it might be like for me to work there. Bob was forty-four. He was jowly and wide of girth and, when unshaven, looked something like a genetic intermarriage of Fred Flintstone and Jackie Gleason. His hair was brownish and shaggy and usually matted with flour. There was flour in his beard and on his clogs, his sweater, and his trousers. (He wore an apron, but it didn’t help.) Bathing was not a priority. He slept when he could, and seemed to live by an internal clock set to an alarm that was always going off—yeast, dough-making, the unforgiving speed of a hot oven. He knew that his bread was exceptionally good, but he did not see himself as a genius. In a city of food fanatics, he was just a baker. He was, in fact, just Bob. And he wasn’t even that. His real name was Yves. (No one knew why he went by Bob. I once asked him, and he was vague: “Somebody, a long time ago . . .”) “Yes,” he said slowly: Oui-i-i-i. He actually seemed to be getting excited. I could see excitement in his fingers. They were drumming a counter. “Come. Work here. You will be welcome.” “I will see you tomorrow.” I thanked him. We shook hands. I made to leave. “You live across the street, right? You can stop by anytime. If you can’t sleep, come over. At three in the morning, I’ll be here.” I thought, If I can’t sleep at three in the morning, I don’t go for walks. But I understood the message. Bob was making himself available. I’ll be your friend, he was saying.
----- 3 stars -----
Inside the Early Days of China’s Coronavirus Coverup / Wired
Seasoned journalists in China often say “Cover China as if you were covering Snapchat”—in other words, screenshot everything, under the assumption that any given story could be deleted soon. For the past two and half months, I’ve been trying to screenshot every news article, social media post, and blog post that seems relevant to the coronavirus. In total, I’ve collected nearly 100 censored online posts: 40 published by major news organizations, and close to 60 by ordinary social media users like Yue. In total, the number of Weibo posts censored and WeChat accounts suspended would be virtually uncountable. Taken together, these deleted posts offer a submerged account of the early days of a global pandemic, and they indicate the contours of what Beijing didn’t want Chinese people to hear or see. [...] But the real war between China’s censors and its social media users began on February 7. That day, a Wuhan doctor named Li Wenliang—a whistleblower who had raised alarms about the virus in late December, only to be reprimanded for “spreading rumors”—died of Covid-19. Within hours, his death sparked a spectacular outpouring of collective grief on Chinese social media—an outpouring that was promptly snuffed out, post by post, minute by minute. With that, grief turned to wrath, and posts demanding freedom of speech erupted across China’s social media platforms as the night went on. A number of posts directly challenged the party’s handling of Li’s whistleblowing and the government’s relentless suppression of the freedom of speech in China. Some Chinese social media users started to post references to the 2019 Hong Kong protests, uploading clips of “Do You Hear People Sing” from Les Miserables, which became a protest anthem during last year’s mass demonstrations. Even more daringly, some posted photos from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest and massacre, one of the most taboo subjects in China. One image that surfaced from Tiananmen was an image of a banner from the 1989 protest that reads: “We shall not let those murderers stand tall so they will block our wind of freedom from blowing.” The censors frantically kept pace. In the span of a quarter hour from 23:16 to around 23:30, over 20 million searches for information on the death of Li Wenliang were winnowed down to fewer than 2 million, according to a Hong Kong-based outlet The Initium. The #DrLiWenLiangDied topic was dragged from number 3 on the trending topics list to number 7 within roughly the same time period. The #WeWantFreedomofSpeech and #IWantFreedomofSpeech hashtags were deleted as soon as they gained momentum. As the night dragged on, the deletions became more vigorous and even ridiculous: Excerpts from the Chinese Constitution that supposedly guarantee its citizens’ right to freedom of speech were censored; even China’s national anthem fell under the censors’ radar because it begins with the words “Rise Up, People Who Do Not Want To Be Slaves.” “I hope Sina blows up all of our Weibo accounts today, so we can use this debris to build Dr. Li a gravestone,” wrote Li Jingrui, a Chinese reporter. Since the night of February 7, whole publications have fallen to the scythe. On January 27, an opinion blog called Dajia published an article titled “50 Days into the Outbreak, The Entire Nation is Bearing the Consequence of the Death of the Media.” By February 19, the entire site was shut down, never to resurface.
The good thing about having Stage IV cancer is that nobody thinks you’re bellyaching when you complain about it. It’s a field day for the discontented. You get to wander around muttering to yourself, “Stage IV cancer! Could it get any worse?” Rilke taught us not to seek the answers but to love the questions. Good advice. Now I’m stuck in my house muttering, “Stage IV cancer during a pandemic! Could it get any—oh, never mind.” I’m one of the people all of this social distancing is helping to stay alive, so far. I belong to the group of people—the infirm, the weak—who certain conservatives have said should offer themselves up to the coronavirus. I’m part of the “cure” that mustn’t be worse than “the problem,” according to Donald Trump. Glenn Beck seems to think we should show our patriotism by volunteering to be killed by the virus rather than “kill the country.” I’ve come close to dying a few times, and I’m not afraid anymore, just sad. I’m like a war correspondent or an assassin—all I need is the call, and I’ll be gone in the night. I wish I had something helpful to say, now, about fear; for a long time, I was so terrified that I could hardly breathe. Somehow, you get used to it. But if I die from the coronavirus, it will be one more unnecessary American death. [...] I still feel sad when I look at it. There I am, so happy and—as far as I knew—healthy. And there’s my little boy on the very last day of his childhood before he had to understand frightening ideas and words. Joan Didion wrote, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” But in this case, the end of things was very clear: Our life changed—and stayed changed—the day after that field trip. Since then I have counted my life in graduations. I sat in the back row of the preschool graduation trying not to cry, which meant stopping myself from saying the words This could be the only graduation I go to. Everyone else was so happy and bustling, but I was in a far place and couldn’t get back. [...] The day my husband and I drove to the appointment where Hurvitz would tell us the results of the scan was an experience of anxiety and fear I can’t convey. The fear you feel when you’re waiting to hear the results of a cancer scan is different from when you’re in physical danger. You have the same adrenaline overload but you can’t go into fight-or-flight. You can’t even freeze. You have to keep putting one foot after the other: out of the parking garage, into the lobby, into the elevator. You have to have a nurse check your vitals and you have to sit on the table with the white paper.
You might feel blindsided by the coronavirus, but warnings about a looming pandemic have been there for decades. Government briefings, science journals and even popular fiction projected the spread of a novel virus and the economic impacts it would bring, complete often with details about the specific challenges the U.S. is now facing. It makes you wonder: What else are we missing? What other catastrophes are coming that we aren’t planning for, but that could disrupt our lives, homes, jobs or our broader society in the next few years or decades? It’s the government’s job to think about this: Every year, the intelligence community releases the Worldwide Threat Assessment—a distillation of worrisome global trends, risks, problem spots and emerging perils. But this year, the public hearing on the assessment, usually held in January or February, was canceled, evidently because intelligence leaders, who usually testify in a rare open hearing together, were worried their comments would aggravate President Donald Trump. And the government has not yet publicly released a 2020 threat report. What would it say? Since there’s been no public version, we’ve compiled our own here, reviewing numerous government and academic reports and speaking with more than a dozen thought leaders, including scientists, researchers and current and former national security and intelligence officials.
I started reporting on Tara Reade’s story a year ago. Here’s what I found, and where I’m stuck. [...] In April 2019, a woman named Tara Reade reached out to me with a clear, consistent story to tell about her experience as a staffer in Joe Biden’s Senate office in 1993. I spent hours on the phone with her, and many more tracking down possible witnesses and documents, trying to confirm her account. [...] I wanted to break this story. Badly. About half a dozen women had stepped forward around the time I spoke with Reade to say they were bothered by how Biden had touched them at events. I wrote a column praising them for staring down the political media that had given him a pass for all those years. Reade’s story took these complaints further — showing how even lower-grade inappropriate conduct can have real consequences for a woman’s career, an important subject that we still don’t talk about nearly enough. [...] If Reade had told a consistent story and shared all of her corroborating sources with reporters, if those sources had told a consistent story, if the Union piece had shaken loose other cases like hers, or if there were “smoking gun” evidence in Biden’s papers, her account might have been reported on differently in mainstream media a year ago. It is not fair to an individual survivor that their claims require an extraordinary level of confirmation, but it’s what reporters have found is necessary for their stories to hold up to public scrutiny and successfully hold powerful men accountable. So we are here. [...] All of this leaves me where no reporter wants to be: mired in the miasma of uncertainty. I wanted to believe Reade when she first came to me, and I worked hard to find the evidence to make certain others would believe her, too. I couldn’t find it. None of that means Reade is lying, but it leaves us in the limbo of Me Too: a story that may be true but that we can’t prove.
Being an offensive lineman doesn’t just require athletes to be muscular; it mandates that they are bigger than their bodies want to be. To maintain the size and weight required by the position, prospects and veterans alike are driven to adopt extreme eating habits. But once their careers are over, it’s not always easy to return to a healthy lifestyle. [...] Part of what made Bartch so compelling was the fact that during his college career he transitioned from a 230-pound freshman playing tight end to an offensive lineman trying to make it in the NFL at well north of 300 pounds. That kind of metamorphosis alone could have been worthy of some gawking coverage, but it was the method Bartch employed to gain some of that weight that really thrust him into the spotlight. Bartch is a big guy, 6-foot-6 with a flowing mane of auburn-colored locks, but by his admission he was “never a tubby kid” growing up. Packing on that much weight to pursue his dream job was an arduous process; his days were full of rigorous workouts and endless eating sessions, so Bartch devised a hack. The summer after his sophomore year, he streamlined his breakfast. Instead of eating a giant meal with a host of individual items, Bartch combined them into a smoothie consisting of seven scrambled eggs, a tub of cottage cheese, grits, peanut butter, a banana, and Gatorade. He drank that four days a week, and it helped him grow from 250 pounds to 276 by the time school started again. The way he saw it, it was just a way to cut down on all that chewing. When this year’s combine rolled around, it had been years since he’d consumed the shake, and he hadn’t thought much about it. But when the media found out about his old concoction, well, some things are too good to resist—even if the consistency and taste in his smoothie might suggest otherwise. When Bartch mixed up a batch of his miracle weight-gain elixir on camera for NFL Network at Lucas Oil Stadium, the video exploded. At last check, it has been viewed more than 1.8 million times.
I first read Lord of the Flies as a teenager. I remember feeling disillusioned afterwards, but not for a second did I think to doubt Golding’s view of human nature. That didn’t happen until years later when I began delving into the author’s life. I learned what an unhappy individual he had been: an alcoholic, prone to depression; a man who beat his kids. “I have always understood the Nazis,” Golding confessed, “because I am of that sort by nature.” And it was “partly out of that sad self-knowledge” that he wrote Lord of the Flies. I began to wonder: had anyone ever studied what real children would do if they found themselves alone on a deserted island? I wrote an article on the subject, in which I compared Lord of the Flies to modern scientific insights and concluded that, in all probability, kids would act very differently. Readers responded sceptically. All my examples concerned kids at home, at school, or at summer camp. Thus began my quest for a real-life Lord of the Flies. After trawling the web for a while, I came across an obscure blog that told an arresting story: “One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip ... Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe? They made a pact never to quarrel.” The article did not provide any sources. But sometimes all it takes is a stroke of luck.
You could be forgiven for wondering how a disease as fast-moving and deadly as COVID-19 could just appear naturally, out of nowhere, seemingly overnight. President Trump expressed doubt, saying that “a lot of people” were looking at the possibility that a Chinese lab was responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier that week, Fox News ran a story in which unnamed sources suggested that the COVID-19 outbreak originated in a Wuhan laboratory — the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which studies coronaviruses with a number of international collaborators. The New York Times reported that spy agencies are being pressured to find evidence blaming the lab, and at the end of April, the National Institutes of Health withdrew funding from a research consortium that had collaborated with the lab. As recently as this weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, despite saying there was no reason to disbelieve the intelligence community’s assessment that the virus was neither manmade nor genetically modified, claimed there was “enormous evidence” connecting the virus to the WIV. But the truth is almost certainly not that salacious. Robert Garry, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Tulane University School of Medicine, said this dynamic is familiar. “Every time there’s an outbreak, people say, oh, there’s a lab close by.” He should know: In 2014, during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, conspiracy theorists alleged his team’s lab in Sierra Leone, not far from the origin of the outbreak, was a George Soros-funded bioweapons site. According to a growing body of research, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is almost certainly a naturally occurring virus that initially circulated in bats then spilled into humans.
It’s time to take UFOs seriously. Seriously. / Vox
Not that my opinion matters much, but I think that extraterrestrial intelligent life likely exists but that the Navy UFO videos almost certainly don't show aliens. Still, this makes for interesting reading, even if I don't agree with some of the logic:
Alexander Wendt is one of the most influential political scientists alive. Here’s his case for taking UFOs seriously. [...] The Pentagon recently released three videos of UFOs recorded by the Navy — one taken in 2004 and the other two in 2015. The videos, which first leaked a couple of years ago, show … well, it’s not exactly clear. There are various objects — two of which look like aircraft — spinning through the sky and moving in ways that defy easy explanation. As the images bop across the screen, you can hear the pilots’ excitement and confusion in real time as they track whatever it is they’re seeing. I’m not what you would call a UFO enthusiast, but the videos are the most compelling I’ve ever seen. They seem to confirm, at the very least, that UFOs are real — not that aliens exist, but that there are unidentified objects buzzing around the sky. [...] So in an attempt to force a UFO conversation into the public discourse, I contacted Alexander Wendt, a professor of international relations at Ohio State University. Wendt is a giant in his field of IR theory, but in the past 15 years or so, he’s become an amateur ufologist. He wrote an academic article about the political implications of UFOs in 2008, and, more recently, he gave a TEDx talk calling out the “taboo” against studying UFOs. Wendt is about the closest thing you’ll find to a UFO expert in a world in which ufology isn’t a real science. Like other enthusiasts, he’s spent a lot of time looking at the evidence, thinking about the stakes, and theorizing about why extraterrestrials would visit Earth in the first place. In this conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity, we discuss why scientists refuse to take UFOs seriously, why he thinks there’s a good chance ETs are behind the aircraft in those videos, and why he believes the discovery of extraterrestrial life would be the most significant event in human history.
Like other schools, performing arts conservatory The Juilliard School is closed due to the pandemic. But constraints drive creativity, and a group of dance, drama, and music students at the school (along with some alumni like Yo-Yo Ma, Laura Linney, Patti LuPone, and Itzhak Perlman) have created this wonderful performance of Ravel’s Bolero, each performing from their own home. This is one of the best and most creative grid music videos I’ve seen.
----- 1 star -----
Copy & Paste Your Surroundings into Photoshop with a Magical AR App / Kottke
The technology behind this doesn't seem that complex, but it's definitely a cool effect:
Designer Cyril Diagne has developed a prototype of an augmented reality app that can copy objects from the real world and paste them into a Photoshop document. Here’s how it works: you point your phone at a book sitting on your desk, the software produces an image of just the book on your phone screen, you point the phone at your computer, and the book image gets pasted into the Photoshop document. It looks like straight-up magic.
From MJ and Kobe's budding relationship to the trash-talking of the Dream Team, the longtime broadcaster shares the best memories from his time with the 1990s Bulls.
Since the "Last Dance" season, the game has turned inside out. You can see evidence of that on every cap sheet around the league. Teams used to save their biggest checks and their highest draft picks for bigs, but those days are fading quickly. The five highest-paid players in the league are now point guards, and only two or three power forwards fall in the top 20, depending on how you identify Tobias Harris. [...] On the list of highest-paid players, you don't get to a center until No. 22 ... and that's Kevin Love, who none of us even called a 5 until recently. Folks, there's nothing central about Love's offensive game. The dude averages more 3-point tries per 36 minutes than Reggie Miller or Ray Allen ever did. When the 2019-20 NBA season was suspended, Love was hoisting up 7.9 3s per 36 minutes (down from 8.8 in 2018-19). Miller never eclipsed 6.5, and Allen never tried more than 7.8.
I was skeptical about this going in — I thought it was going to be like watching one of those impossible-to-follow “my life in one-second increments” videos — but the consistent presence of the path tied all the disparate moments into a cohesive journey.
So I apologize in advance if this piece comes across as a little nostalgic for the 1980s. That was my golden era. Was baseball really better in the '80s? No. I mean, Astroturf sucked, although it did help fuel a style of play that added excitement to the game. Today's ballparks are vastly superior, with better sightlines, more comfortable seats and a cornucopia of tastier food and beverage options. We now have access to every game and every highlight -- in real time, on our phones. And, yes, today's athletes are stronger, are better conditioned, throw harder and are privy to all the data that can help them improve. On the other hand, there are things players did in the 1980s that nobody does today. It was a game with a wide diversity of play: speed and power, power pitchers and finesse artists, contact magicians and swing-for-the-fences sluggers. I've selected eight seasons that help define the decade -- not the eight best, but eight remarkable seasons that couldn't exist in 2020. Eight seasons that make the 1980s a golden era.
Engineers have demonstrated a practical way to use magnetism to transmit electricity wirelessly to recharge electric cars, robots or even drones. The technology could be scaled up to power electric cars as they drive over highways, robots on factory floors and drones hovering over rooftops.
No, I am not referring to the preventive measures taken in California, Washington state, and parts of the Tri-state area. Those made good sense to me at the time and in retrospect all the more. I mean when the whole country started to shut down, including the South, Midwest, and other parts of the West. And yes I know the legal lockdowns were not always the biggest factors, arguably it was when governments started scaring people. Let’s say you have a simple model of political sustainability where Americans will tolerate [???] months of lockdown — shall we say two? — but not much more. (Maybe three months if we had Merkel as president.) Then, if you scare/lock down in parts of the country where the virus is not yet evident, you create economic misery but not many public health gains. Who after all thinks that Seattle should have been locked down last September? Right? Many parts of America now hate the lockdown, as they see the economic devastation, are not witnessing overloaded hospital systems, and just don’t quite “get it.”