----- 3 stars -----

City of Solitude / California Sunday Magazine

For 76 days, 9 million people in Wuhan slept, ate, and waited inside the largest quarantine in human history. Four people reveal what they saw and what happened after the lockdown ended. [...] BAI, 40, NOODLE SHOP OWNER I’ve run my noodle shop for over two years. Guozao — eating breakfast — is a very Wuhan thing, and the atmosphere in our shop was good. Many regulars came every morning to eat our dry spicy noodles for breakfast. The old ladies would leave their own cups in our shop so they could use them the next time they came, and sometimes they’d bring little bottles of wine. They’d eat noodles, drink, and chat about this and that. Across from our restaurant is a hospital, Pu’Ai No. 4, and in the mornings, patients would come. Many were too sick to eat and could only drink rice soup, so when we made porridge, we’d keep the liquid left over for them. The nurses and doctors at the hospital were also frequent customers. Their regular orders, the flavors they liked — we’d remember it all clearly. We closed shop for the Lunar New Year. Wuhan’s outbreak was getting bad — the doctors and nurses who came into our shop had urged us to wear masks, saying that the pneumonia was serious. I returned to my hometown of Huangshi, outside of Wuhan, and the day after, they began to seal off the city. Our restaurant is 70 square meters with ten employees, and after wages, rent, and utilities, we earn, at most, 3 or 4,000 yuan ($420 to $560) a month. The pandemic wiped it all out. While in Huangshi, I heard on the news that when Wuhan reopens, business owners could negotiate with landlords to reduce rent. We thought if the landlord could give us some relief, or postpone payment, maybe we can survive. [...] Before I returned to Wuhan, I called each of my employees to tell them we were closing. It was hard to say the words; we’d become a small family. They treated this noodle shop as their own, and they handled their work with more care and expertise than I did. There was one person I was especially reluctant to let go. She was a waitress in her 40s. She was older than me but called me Older Sister. She made people laugh — I bet many customers came just for her. When I told her, she said that she didn’t know what to do next, because she’s divorced, and I don’t think her son looks after her, so she depends on herself for her livelihood.

How Four Americans Robbed the Bank of England / Longreads

In Victorian London, a gang of U.S. hustlers attempts a ten-million-dollar heist on the safest bank in the world. Can the detective who inspired Sherlock Holmes catch them? [...] On April 18, 1872, Austin Bidwell walked into Green & Son tailors on London’s renowned Savile Row and ordered eight bespoke suits, two topcoats, and a luxurious dressing gown. Bidwell was 26 years old, 6ft tall, and handsomely groomed with a waxed mustache and bushy side-whiskers. If the accent didn’t give it away, his eye-catching western hat marked him out as an American — a rich American. London tradesmen called Americans with bulges of money in their pockets “Silver Kings,” and they were most welcome in upmarket establishments like Green & Son, which charged as much for the strength of their reputations as for the quality of their goods. As master tailor Edward Green busied himself around his store, young Austin, lips clamped around a cigar, explained he was a businessman who had crossed the Atlantic to introduce Pullman railroad cars to England. Austin was setting up a factory to manufacture the cars and he expected to spend a lot of time in London. He would likely need to expand his wardrobe. The obliging tailor, with dollar signs in his eyes, recorded the order and asked Austin to sign the ledger. Austin Biron Bidwell took a pen, dipped the nib into an ink reservoir, and signed his name as “F. A. Warren.” For Frederick Albert Warren, the ten-million-dollar con was on.

The American Press Is Destroying Itself / Matt Taibbi
Longtime readers will know that I have grudging respect for Taibbi but that I often find him too strident and sensationalist. I suppose that's true here as well, but he makes many important points:

But police violence, and Trump’s daily assaults on the presidential competence standard, are only part of the disaster. On the other side of the political aisle, among self-described liberals, we’re watching an intellectual revolution. It feels liberating to say after years of tiptoeing around the fact, but the American left has lost its mind. It’s become a cowardly mob of upper-class social media addicts, Twitter Robespierres who move from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness. The leaders of this new movement are replacing traditional liberal beliefs about tolerance, free inquiry, and even racial harmony with ideas so toxic and unattractive that they eschew debate, moving straight to shaming, threats, and intimidation. They are counting on the guilt-ridden, self-flagellating nature of traditional American progressives, who will not stand up for themselves, and will walk to the Razor voluntarily. They’ve conned organization after organization into empowering panels to search out thoughtcrime, and it’s established now that anything can be an offense, from a UCLA professor placed under investigation for reading Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” out loud to a data scientist fired* from a research firm for — get this — retweeting an academic study suggesting nonviolent protests may be more politically effective than violent ones! Now, this madness is coming for journalism. Beginning on Friday, June 5th, a series of controversies rocked the media. By my count, at least eight news organizations dealt with internal uprisings (it was likely more). Most involved groups of reporters and staffers demanding the firing or reprimand of colleagues who’d made politically “problematic” editorial or social media decisions. [...] Probably the most disturbing story involved Intercept writer Lee Fang, one of a fast-shrinking number of young reporters actually skilled in investigative journalism. Fang’s work in the area of campaign finance especially has led to concrete impact, including a record fine to a conservative Super PAC: few young reporters have done more to combat corruption. Yet Fang found himself denounced online as a racist, then hauled before H.R. His crime? During protests, he tweeted this interview with an African-American man named Maximum Fr, who described having two cousins murdered in the East Oakland neighborhood where he grew up. Saying his aunt is still not over those killings, Max asked: "I always question, why does a Black life matter only when a white man takes it?... Like, if a white man takes my life tonight, it’s going to be national news, but if a Black man takes my life, it might not even be spoken of… It’s stuff just like that that I just want in the mix." Shortly after, a co-worker of Fang’s, Akela Lacy, wrote, “Tired of being made to deal continually with my co-worker @lhfang continuing to push black on black crime narratives after being repeatedly asked not to. This isn’t about me and him, it’s about institutional racism and using free speech to couch anti-blackness. I am so fucking tired.” She followed with, “Stop being racist Lee.”

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop / Medium
An open letter to a protester from a Baltimore County police officer / Baltimore Sun

I was a police officer for nearly ten years and I was a bastard. We all were. This essay has been kicking around in my head for years now and I’ve never felt confident enough to write it. It’s a time in my life I’m ashamed of. It’s a time that I hurt people and, through inaction, allowed others to be hurt. It’s a time that I acted as a violent agent of capitalism and white supremacy. Under the guise of public safety, I personally ruined people’s lives but in so doing, made the public no safer… so did the family members and close friends of mine who also bore the badge alongside me. But enough is enough. The reforms aren’t working. Incrementalism isn’t happening. Unarmed Black, indigenous, and people of color are being killed by cops in the streets and the police are savagely attacking the people protesting these murders. American policing is a thick blue tumor strangling the life from our communities and if you don’t believe it when the poor and the marginalized say it, if you don’t believe it when you see cops across the country shooting journalists with less-lethal bullets and caustic chemicals, maybe you’ll believe it when you hear it straight from the pig’s mouth. [...] That’s how I learned that even police leadership hates rats. That’s why no one is “changing things from the inside.” They can’t, the structure won’t allow it. And that’s the point of what I’m telling you. Whether you were my sergeant, legally harassing an old woman, me, legally harassing our residents, my fellow trainees bullying the rest of us, or “the bad apples” illegally harassing “shitbags”, we were all in it together. I knew cops that pulled women over to flirt with them. I knew cops who would pepper spray sleeping bags so that homeless people would have to throw them away. I knew cops that intentionally provoked anger in suspects so they could claim they were assaulted. I was particularly good at winding people up verbally until they lashed out so I could fight them. Nobody spoke out. Nobody stood up. Nobody betrayed the code. None of us protected the people (you) from bad cops. This is why “All cops are bastards.” Even your uncle, even your cousin, even your mom, even your brother, even your best friend, even your spouse, even me. Because even if they wouldn’t Do The Thing themselves, they will almost never rat out another officer who Does The Thing, much less stop it from happening.

An open letter to a protester. We might sit down over coffee, and I would start by telling you that I have done a lot of good things in my short 5-year career. I was the first officer on the scene for a call at a college campus where a delusional person was wandering the halls of a dormitory with a gun. In that incident, we found the person responsible just as he was about to commit a sexual assault. A few months ago, I went to a call for shots fired, ran after an armed person in the dark, and caught him with the help of my partners. A few weeks ago, I was part of a group of officers that caught an “armed and dangerous” murderer after a high-speed pursuit. In all of these incidents, no one was hurt. And none of them were on the news. My interest is not to criticize the media, but simply to point out that for every negative news story involving the police, there are thousands of positive stories that proceed normally, without incident, and without recognition. I would tell you my stories of doing good deeds. I have saved one life directly, and many others indirectly. I have given out many, many warnings when I could have given out citations. I have let people go home when I could have taken them to jail. Every year, I spend hundreds of dollars of my own money buying food for the hungry, transportation for the stranded and shelter for the homeless. [...] I would offer to take you on a ride-along and show you that my job is incredibly difficult. I have to record every single thing I do on camera, thereby subjecting myself to criticism from anyone and everyone, including myself. I have to be everywhere, all the time, and I have to be everything to everyone, immediately and perfectly. I would tell you these things not to garner sympathy, but to provide you with insight into that which you might not see. I would do this to illustrate that most police officers are good people like me. I would explain how part of me cringes at the comment that I’m “one of the good ones,” as if I’m the exception to the rule. Because the truth is, I represent the norm.

Reflections From a Token Black Friend / Medium

I am a token black friend. The black one in the group of white people. This title is not at all a comment on the depth of my relationships; I certainly am blessed to have the friends that I do. But by all definitions of the term, I am in many ways its poster child. [...] So many of my experiences growing up speak to implicit biases against black people. I think of how quickly others in school assumed I had a single mother, simply because my father, much like many of theirs, didn’t visit school often. Or the number of times I’ve heard “you are so articulate” in a conversation where all I’ve shared is my name and other small personal details. Standing alone, each instance may seem insignificant or merely a compliment to my upbringing and education. However, the frequency with which I’ve received that comment tells otherwise. It reveals how a black kid speaking properly is surprising, and further, how it makes me appear worthy of sharing the person’s company. [...] I started carrying a knife during my junior year of high school. It quickly became a running joke among my core group of friends — whenever someone would say something out of pocket or stupid, we’d say, “Get the knife,” and I’d comedically lay it on the table. What those friends definitely didn’t know is that I carried the knife because I was afraid I might get jumped making my daily walk from the train station to my house late most evenings. How could my white friends from suburbia ever understand that? [...] In the wake of the past week’s events, I’ve reflected on my interactions with the police. These interactions lifted the veil of black privilege I thought existed, though it was likely only afforded to me because of my military affiliation. [...] I think back to when my friends never understood why I wasn’t allowed to play with water guns — or any toy guns, for that matter — when I was a boy. I’d be so excited to visit a friend’s house and use their airsoft gun in the backyard. I used to get so frustrated when my mom told us it was “too dangerous” for black boys to do that and that someone would mistake it for a real gun. When I was 16, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed while playing with a replica toy airsoft gun. I realized my mom was right. [...] This attitude from my white friends didn’t end in high school, either. This past year, I was at a bar in Narragansett, Rhode Island, where I’d quickly befriended one of the guys my friend had brought with him. At one point, I expressed my interest in a girl who had just entered the bar. He asked me to point her out, so I did, also noting that she was black. He responded, “Yeah bro, she’s cute, but you could have one of the white girls here!” I questioned his statement, and he realized it didn’t fly with me. We eventually moved on and continued the night, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. He truly didn’t think anything of it when he said it. And he assumed that I would agree with him. To him, the preference for white women was undisputed, so he suggested it unapologetically. It was especially hard for me because, outside of that statement, there was nothing to suggest he was racist. He had treated me with nothing but love and admiration and accepted me into his crew. It was simply ignorance, which had probably been reinforced countless times. That was difficult to wrestle with.

----- 2 stars -----

Book Review: “Will He Go?” / Shtetl-Optimized

Will He Go?, by legal scholar Lawrence Douglas, is, at 120 pages, a slim volume focused on a single question: what happens if the 2020 US election delivers a narrow or disputed result favoring Biden, and Trump refuses to concede? This question will, of course, either be answered or rendered irrelevant in half a year. And yet, in my estimation, there’s at least a 15% probability that Will He Go? will enter the ranks of the most important and prescient books ever written. You should read it right now (or at least read this Vox interview), if you want to think through the contours of a civilizational Singularity that seems at least as plausible to me as the AI Singularity, but whose fixed date of November 3, 2020 we’re now hurtling toward. In one of the defining memes of the past few years, a sign in a bookstore reads “Dear customers: post-apocalyptic fiction has been moved to the Current Affairs section.” I was reminded of that as Douglas dryly lays out his horror scenario: imagine, hypothetically, that a President of the United States gets elected on a platform of racism and lies, with welcomed assistance from a foreign adversary. Suppose that his every outrage only endears him further to his millions of followers. Suppose that, as this president’s deepest (and perhaps only) principle, he never backs down, never apologizes, never acknowledges any inconvenient fact, and never accepts the legitimacy of any contest that he loses—and this is perfectly rational for him, as he’s been richly rewarded for this strategy his entire life. Suppose that, during the final presidential debate, he pointedly refuses to promise to respect the election outcome if he loses—a first in American history. And suppose that, after eking out a narrow win in the Electoral College, he then turns around and disputes the election anyway (!)—claiming, ludicrously, that he would’ve won the popular vote too, if not for millions of fraudulent voters. Suppose that, for their own sordid reasons, Republican majorities in the Senate and Supreme Court enable this president’s chaotic rule, block his impeachment, and acquiesce to his daily cruelties and lies. Then what happens in the next election? [...] Crucially, right now all three of those states have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures … and there’s no clear law about which of the two (the governor or the legislature) gets to certify election results and send them to Congress! [...] The final authority over election results rests with Congress. The trouble is, the Senate is currently under Republican control and the House under Democratic control—and once again, the Constitution and federal law provide no clear guidance on how to resolve a deadlock between the two on presidential succession (!!). [...] So again: imagine if mail-in ballots overturn what looked like a Trump win on election night. The 2000 Florida recount battle was tea and cookies by comparison.

J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues / JK Rowling
How J.K. Rowling Betrayed the World She Created / Literary Hub

This isn’t an easy piece to write, for reasons that will shortly become clear, but I know it’s time to explain myself on an issue surrounded by toxicity. I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity. [...] I mention all this only to explain that I knew perfectly well what was going to happen when I supported Maya. I must have been on my fourth or fifth cancellation by then. I expected the threats of violence, to be told I was literally killing trans people with my hate, to be called cunt and bitch and, of course, for my books to be burned, although one particularly abusive man told me he’d composted them. [...] So why am I doing this? Why speak up? Why not quietly do my research and keep my head down? Well, I’ve got five reasons for being worried about the new trans activism, and deciding I need to speak up. [...] Which brings me to the fifth reason I’m deeply concerned about the consequences of the current trans activism. I’ve been in the public eye now for over twenty years and have never talked publicly about being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor. This isn’t because I’m ashamed those things happened to me, but because they’re traumatic to revisit and remember. [...] I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men. So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe.

The latest in this saga comes from J.K. Rowling, an author I once revered. Earlier this month, she mocked an article that referred to “people who menstruate”—a choice of wording meant to reflect the reality that not all cisgender women menstruate, while some transgender men do. Rather than reflecting on the simple inclusivity of the phrase, Rowling erupted at it, arguing that it amounted to a denial of the reality of biological sex—and implied that to do that is to invalidate the legitimacy of same-sex relationships. “[E]rasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives,” she tweeted. “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.” Trans people, she argued, were not merely erasing women and marriage equality alike; we were also, as an article she posted suggested, “terrorizing” cisgender lesbians by entering women’s spaces, when we should, instead, stop deluding ourselves about being women at all. [...] This is a mainstream anti-trans view, arguing that people like me are dangerous and unfit to be in certain spaces, even though I would be in far more danger if I went, presenting as female, into a male changing room. I may occasionally be nervous in women’s changing rooms because I am always nervous, but that is where I know I belong, and when I am there, no one gives me a second look, because I “pass” and it is where I look like I should—and do—belong. [...] In the wake of her December tweet, some conservatives gleefully declared that liberals had “canceled” Rowling by attacking her. The truth is bleaker, though. It was her transgender fans, like me, who had actually been “canceled,” because the author we had looked up to for so long had shown, finally, that she was no fan of us.

La Belle’s Mysterious Bones / Hakai

New genetic research unveils an unexpected origin for bones found trapped in a 17th-century shipwreck.

Why Republicans Still Can’t Quit Trump / The Atlantic

“It is entirely feasible, looking forward, that Trump loses by 10 points and Republicans lose six seats in the Senate,” says Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center who has been critical of Trump personally, but sympathetic to aspects of his agenda and vision for the party. “That’s a scenario … that will change the narrative and embolden the revolt against modified Trumpism. But it’s not going to change the dynamics of the party.” From the other pole of the GOP, Mike Madrid, a former political director for the California Republican Party, largely agrees. “I don’t believe Trumpism is going away,” says Madrid, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans working to defeat Trump. “There will be a much more sizable voice for a different direction. The problem is, it’s not likely to be big enough, because the base is still his base—it’s still 75 percent of folks” in the party. No GOP leader discussed as a possible 2024 contender has openly criticized or broken from Trump. The two who seem to be auditioning most directly to take up Trump’s mantle are Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Cotton’s New York Times op-ed urging the deployment of troops to America’s cities was widely seen among Republicans as more evidence that he wants to run in 2024 as the most unwavering defender, and extender, of Trump’s revolution inside the party. He has also unreservedly rejected the idea that racism in policing is a systemic problem (without ruling out support for some reforms), and he’s moved to the forefront of Republican opposition to immigration. [...] The paradox facing Republicans who fear that Trump may be leading the GOP into an electoral dead end is that the changes to the party’s coalition that he’s precipitated tend to be self-reinforcing. If the voters most resistant to Trump’s tone and messaging leave the party, those who remain necessarily tilt even more toward him. Win or lose, the general election is likely to accelerate this dynamic.

Scientists Have Discovered Vast Unidentified Structures Deep Inside the Earth / Vice

Scientists combed through nearly 30 years of earthquake data to probe huge and mysterious objects near the Earth's core.

The Two Autopsies Of George Floyd Aren’t As Different As They Seem / FiveThirtyEight

Do the autopsies of George Floyd agree, or not? News reports from last week suggest the report produced by the Hennepin County medical examiner and the one produced by an examiner hired by Floyd’s family disagreed on his cause of death. The county ruled the cause to be “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” It also cited heart disease and drug use as factors that could have contributed to the death. The secondary autopsy, by contrast, specifically said Floyd died from asphyxia. So who is right? Well, both of them, experts who weren’t affiliated with the case said. In fact, according to forensic pathologists and medical experts, the two autopsy reports aren’t actually all that different in their conclusions.

----- 1 star -----

Heat map of new confirmed cases by country, ordered by peak / Reddit
Check IrishDataViz's post history for more excellent charts. The pandemic is far from over...

Source: ECDC, daily confirmed cases. 7-day trailing average used to smooth data. Tool: Excel

Sports bettors may be a driving force behind the stock market surge / Axios

Professional investors have largely abandoned the stock market amid the coronavirus pandemic, but sports bettors and bored millennials have jumped into the retail stock trading market with both feet. Why it matters: They may be a driving force pushing U.S. stocks to their recent highs — and potentially driving them further.

Permanent Assumptions / Collaborative Fund

How do you analyze the world when everything feels broken? And how do you even begin to make sense of the future when things change so fast? Humbly, is the answer. But humility doesn’t mean clueless. Some things are always changing and can’t be known. There can also be a handful of things you have unshakable faith in – your permanent assumptions. [...] Amazon is successful because it predicted how the world would change. But it’s been really successful because it bet heavily on what wouldn’t change – a permanent assumption. Jeff Bezos said: "You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, 'Jeff I love Amazon, I just wish the prices were a little higher.' Or, 'I love Amazon, I just wish you’d deliver a little slower.' Impossible. So we know the energy we put into these things today will still be paying off dividends 10 years from now. When you have something you know is true, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it." [...] I have no idea what’s going to happen next in the economy or society. But I have a handful of permanent assumptions I’ve put a lot of energy and faith into that guide almost everything I think about business and investing. Here are nine.

Michael Jordan's HISTORIC Bulls Mixtape | The Jordan Vault / YouTube (NBA)
I'm sure many of you are sick of my Michael Jordan and Last Dance links. But here's another one I described earlier to a friend: "Just for fun, if you have 17 minutes, the NBA released a Michael Jordan highlights reel a few weeks ago. Of course, there are a million of these already on YouTube (and I may have watched all million of them), but I thought this one was very well done -- great editing / pace with, of course, a lot of amazing highlights."

This is done perfectly / Reddit
A short, satisfying video (and despite what the header says, the post has been delisted but not removed)

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