Okay, got kind of a busy day/week ahead, and a lot of time sucked out of it already that involve things that do not actually equate to me completing my work, so this’ll have to be fast. Here we go.

5 Things to Read Today

Okay, that’s it. Go read good stuff!

I have three days to do a week’s worth of work and I already used up one of those days, so this’ll have to be quick.

🚀 First up, a new Oatmeal comic: On November 26th, a Mole Will Land on Mars. This is super neat and I just found out about it.

📚 Here’s a brand new free short story from John Scalzi: Automated Customer Service.

🍔 From Thrillist, “I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It.,” the story of how a restaurant review killed an awesome burger place in Portland, Oregon.

📰 NiemanLab has an article on how journalists are being trained to detect “deepfakes,” or fake videos.

🤬 So, nationwide, cops are marking rape cases solved without actually arresting the perpetrator. Like, the rapist walks free, and the cops mark the case solved. Read it and get your rage on.

🚓 The New York Times has a longread about how cops failed to see the threat of white nationalism and now aren’t prepared to deal with it: “U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It.

💩 Bad news, guys. A significant percentage of the conversations you’re having online about current events are BS driven by bot accounts and bad actors. Read it in Wired.

⚠️ The Southern Poverty Law Center says “The Alt-Right is Killing People.” And yes. Yes they are.

🚨 Speaking of the “alt-right” and all that fascist, nazi bullshit, here’s a great article from Robert Evans at Bellingcat about how people get sucked into extremism.

📓 An oldie-but-goodie: Here’s an article in Strange Horizons, from 2005, about the Lovecraft influence in Stephen King’s writing.

To wrap things up, the Arrowverse crossover is coming up Dec. 9, and we’re up to four 30-second teaser trailers. Here they are:

Holy crap, I cannot wait for a full trailer to drop. These crossovers are the highlight of my TV year.

Lots to do and not much time to do it in today, so here we go:

  1. io9: There’s No Doctor Who Christmas Special This Year—It’s a New Year’s Day Episode, Instead
  2. Willamette Week: Jeff Merkley Seeks Oregon Law Change to Clear the Way For 2020 Presidential Bid
  3. Vox: Jim Acosta vs. the Trump White House, explained
  4. Washington Post: The Daily 202: Hate crimes are a much bigger problem than even the new FBI statistics show
  5. Arrowverse Crossover Teasers: Barry Allen | Oliver Queen. Betcha we get one for Supergirl on Sunday. Or maybe she’ll get the full trailer?

Last week was a busy week, news-wise, but the Kavanaugh debacle swallowed everything else up. Here’s a quick handful of important stories you might have missed or forgotten about.

💰 Donald Trump’s Businesses Are Basically a Criminal Endeavor

This is one of those stories where you’re like “Well, yeah, duh, obviously,” but seriously, pay more attention to this. The Trump Organization is pretty much a giant cesspool of crimes and frauds.

⛈️ Climate Change Is Worse Than We Thought and We’re on a Ten-Year Time Clock

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a new report on climate change and the news is all bad. The report says that in order to avoid catastrophic changes to our climate, the kind of changes that will pretty much kill us all and make us miserable the whole time it’s doing it, we need to enact painfully drastic changes right now. Since the odds of that happening are slim to none… I mean, I guess we’re screwed.

  • Washington Post: The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say – This is the Post’s article summarizing the IPCC’s report.
  • Washington Post: What climate change is actually expected to do – Does what it says on the tin. It’s tricky to predict what’ll happen exactly with climate change since our climate is a hugely complicated system, but here’s the experts’ best theories. Remember that in science terminology, “theory” doesn’t mean “guess,” it means “this is an idea that we have a lot of evidence for.”
  • Washington Post: Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100 – The Trump administration’s own report predicts a 7-degree rise on global temperatures in less than 100 years. Such an increase would be… is there a word for something worse than “catastrophic”? I mean, that basically turns us into Venus, right? The Trump admin’s report concludes that we’re screwed so there’s no point in trying to fix anything and we might as well go full steam ahead.

The thing is that it’s already too late to completely correct the effects of climate change. But if we act right now, we could avoid the worst effects of climate change. That’s the ten year time clock. We have ten years to make it so we can still exist in some level of comfort on our own planet.

⚖️ The Department of Justice is Going After Anti-Trump Protesters

💻 Bloomberg’s Big China Hacking Story

When it comes to computers I’m not a hardware girl, but I follow a lot of hardware people on Twitter, and they all think there’s something hinky about this story. The general gist of their opinion seems to be that Bloomberg got close to a story, but what they reported isn’t actually accurate.

Both Apple and Amazon strenuously deny Bloomberg’s reporting, and folks in tech security and the government are all, “We have no idea what Bloomberg’s going on about.”

Apparently there were rumors of this sort of thing going around months back, but no one could confirm it. Bloomberg went ahead and reported it, so they seem to think they have it confirmed, but no one with any expertise in the arena agrees with them.

The upshot being, something’s not right with this story. @SwiftOnSecurity, a Twitter account that seems at first glance like a joke but that is run by someone with plenty of knowhow and expertise, has a long Twitter thread full of expert thoughts and resources on the story: Twitter thread.

Featured Image: Newspapers, by JonS on Flickr. Source and licensing.

The Capital Gazette, one of the first newspapers to print the Declaration of Independence, was attacked by a lone shooter who was mad at the paper for their coverage of him stalking and harassing a woman. Five people died and more were injured.

WBAL.com: 5 Dead, Others ‘Gravely Injured’ In Mass Shooting At Capital Gazette; Suspect Named
“Police say a man took a shotgun and smoke grenades into the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis Thursday afternoon, where he allegedly killed five and wounded three.”

Media Matters for America: Sean Hannity blames Maxine Waters for shooting at Maryland newsroom
“I’ve been saying now for days that something horrible was going to happen because of the rhetoric. Really [Rep.] Maxine [Waters]? You want people to create — ‘call your friends, get in their faces,’ and Obama said that too. ‘Get in their faces, call them out, call your friends, get protesters, follow them into restaurants and shopping malls,’ and wherever else she said.”

The recent spurt of anti-vaping articles are part of a moral panic. Vaping is an excellent harm reduction option for current smokers. If you smoke, switch to vaping. If you vape, don’t go back to smoking. If you don’t do either, don’t start. This isn’t rocket science, people.

🚬 NPR: He Started Vaping As A Teen And Now Says Habit Is ‘Impossible To Let Go’

In one of the most restrictive measures nationwide, San Francisco voters this week upheld by what looks to be a large majority — nearly 70 percent in a preliminary tally — a ban on the sale of flavored vaping products, as well as conventional menthol cigarettes.

This is a moral panic, like D&D and Satanism back in the 70s and 80s, particularly in relation to flavored ejuice. Cake-flavored vodka is a thing, y’all. I don’t want to hear your BS about vaping flavors until after you get rid of all the candy-flavored alcohols out there.

The head of Colorado’s health department, Dr. Larry Wolk, finds it hard to believe industry claims that it isn’t marketing to kids.

“I have to call BS on that,” he says, “because the flavors are cotton candy, Frutti Tutti and they have cartoon characters on their labels and you can mix flavors and strengths. It’s really appealing to kids, whether or not they are intentionally marketing to kids.”

Cake. Flavored. Vodka. Smirnoff also has several fruit flavors, a bunch of “confection” flavors like whipped cream, caramel, and root beer float, along with ice cream flavors and tropical flavors. And that’s not even mentioning things like Apple Pucker and other fruit and baking flavored alcohols. You wanna talk about marketing to kids?

“Believe it,” says 21-year-old Julien Lavandier. “It’s a habit for me, you know — all the time when I set down my schoolwork to do homework, take a rip of the Juul. When I get in my car, take a rip of the Juul.”

[…]

“It’s impossible to let go once you started using,” Lavandier says. “I’ll tell you — after even an hour and a half or two, I am chomping at the bit to find my Juul.”

“Vaping” is (mostly) using nicotine, just like smoking is using nicotine. Nicotine is very addictive, and it’s brutally difficult to quit. So if you’re vaping, you’re becoming addicted to nicotine, just like if you were smoking. So yeah, it’s frickin’ hard to quit doing and you’re going to want to do it all the time. It works that way with cigarettes, too.

One of the benefits of e-cigarettes, according to the industry, is that the devices can help people quit their use of tobacco products. When it comes to that habit, the advice from Ray Story, the founder and CEO of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association is “don’t start at all.”

“But if you’re going to smoke or do e-cigarettes, then certainly take an e-cigarette because it’s vastly less harmful,” Story says,”if you consider both of them contain nicotine, and both of them are addictive. It’s vastly less harmful than conventional tobacco.”

The thing is, vaping is safer than smoking. Vaping nicotine juice from an ecigarette is much less harmful than smoking cigarettes. So if you’re gonna do one, definitely vape. (I have no idea about those Juul things – they use nicotine salts, not ejuice. That might be different.)

Look, this is simple. If you aren’t already addicted to nicotine, IE, a smoker or vaper, don’t become one. Smoking is definitely terrible for you. Vaping probably ain’t great (although it’s most likely better than smoking a cigarette).

If you are already addicted to nicotine, and you can’t quit, definitely switch to vaping if you’re using tobacco. Smoking, chewing, all that stuff, is 100% scientifically terrible and going to kill you. Science is pretty sure vaping is safer.

“So my biggest concern,” he says, “is, you know, right now I’m puffing, puffing, happy, worry-free, and then in 20 years I’ll have to explain to my kids why I’ve developed popcorn lung — or some new form of lung cancer,” Lavandier says. “Because I didn’t know what the risks were of e-cigarettes. It terrifies me.”

Emphasis mine.

One last thing: Vaping does not cause popcorn lung. There’s a BS scare about that going around and it’s been repeatedly debunked. Also, US companies don’t use diacetyl in their juices anymore. Buy good juice from good companies.

People talk about “the news” like it used to be better than it is now. That’s not the case. “The news” has always been at least semi-unreliable.

It’s Always Been Bad News

Sheets of news have existed just about since we invented writing crap down. Proto-newspapers were popping up in ancient Rome as government-issued bulletins. In the 1500s governments were circulating one-sheet news notices, and in the 1600s business people started putting these sheets of news together using the printing press.

The first newspaper in France, the Gazette de France, was established in 1632 by the king’s physician Theophrastus Renaudot (1586-1653), with the patronage of Louis XIII. All newspapers were subject to pre-publication censorship, and served as instruments of propaganda for the monarchy. [Wikipedia]

Propaganda has existed for even longer, and circulating the news and propaganda go hand-in-hand. As soon as human beings starting writing crap down and handing it out to their friends, they were lying about what they were writing down to influence their friends. That’s just how people work.

Here’s some sources from Wikipedia: History of Propaganda | Newspaper | History of Journalism. Yeah, I know, Wikipedia is like the gold medal winner of lazy sourcing when it comes to things like this, but it’s what I have to hand and it all looks pretty accurate, so work with me here.

The term “yellow journalism” was coined all the way back in the 1890s. Yellow journalism is “a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. [Wikipedia]” Sound familiar? It might not, because we mostly call it “clickbait” these days, folks. Shoot, we were even doing listicles, those icky little list articles everyone hates so much, way back in the day.

And that’s not even mentioning the Spanish-American War, probably one of the more egregious examples of bad journalism I have to hand. The Spanish-American War was basically started by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, and if those names sound familiar it’s because they’re now synonymous with good journalism. Those guys? Invented yellow journalism as we know it. Then they used it to start a war.

So “the news” has always been garbage. The Internet didn’t make it bad, it hasn’t gotten particularly worse, people haven’t gotten dumber – it’s always been this way. This is just how people work. Guys, people thought A Modest Proposal, which was written in 1729 and was about poor Irish people eating their own babies to solve the problem of poverty, was serious. We’ve been falling for Onion articles since almost 260 years before The Onion was even founded.

That Doesn’t Mean There Isn’t Any Good News

Good journalists do amazing work all the time, and have been for decades. Probably centuries.

The Times invented sending out war correspondents during the Crimean War (1853-1856), and the reporting done by those correspondents led to major reforms in battlefield medical care [Wikipedia].

William Thomas Stead pioneered investigative journalism (and tabloid journalism, the two kind of went hand-in-hand) in the late 1800s, and used it to break the Eliza Armstrong case, a sensational story about child prostitution in England that revealed the selling of children into prostitution and the blind eye that officials were turning to the practice, and resulted in the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. (He actually ended up in jail for his part in the story.)

In 1887, Nellie Bly wrote 10 Days in a Mad House for the New York World and broke the story of the horrific treatment endured by the patients of Bellevue Hospital, a New York insane asylum.

In the 70s, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post broke the Watergate scandal.

On December 16, 2015, ProPublica and the Marshall Project published An Unbelievable Story of Rape, some of the best damned journalism I’ve ever read.

Good journalism happens constantly. It isn’t even hard to find. The tricky part is that it’s often mixed in with bad journalism.

The News Is Actually Your Responsibility

I often hear people decry the state of the news, as though it’s fallen so far from its former, lofty origins, and this is bullshit. The news has always been heavily mixed with bias, agendas, propaganda and frequently, flat lies. That’s been the case practically since the inception of the newspaper, and that’s the case today.

Finding the “truth” is hard. It takes effort and practice, and even then, you’re probably not going to get the actual unvarnished objective truth. But if you work at it, you can often get the gist of things.

You have to read a lot of news. You have to read good journalism and bad journalism. You have to read right-leaning sources and left-leaning sources. You have to read liars and paragons of virtue. And then you average all that together and come up with something in the middle, that’s probably about as close to the truth as anyone who wasn’t actually there to see it happen is likely to get.

It takes time. A fair chunk of my day is taken up with scanning various stories. It takes effort. I have a whole process set up for gathering news that involves probably a hundred different sources of information or more, all fetched by various social media platforms, websites and RSS readers. And it takes practice. When I first started out it took me hours to suss out the gist of a given story. Now I can do it in 15 minutes or so, because I know which sources to read and where to find them and who will be updating live in a trustworthy fashion and who checks their sources and who doesn’t and which sources will lie and sensationalize and which ones won’t.

And it’s on you to do all that. If you want to be informed, if you want good journalism, it’s on you to go find it, support it, and show it to people.