The Daily DeX: News, Notes, And Quotes For 04/27/2019

The Daily DeX curates the most compelling news, opinion, narratives, data, polls, arguments, and dot-connecting we can find. It’s ammunition for weaponizing your sense-making networks. Load up.

Today on The Daily DeX: Richard Holbrooke, America’s defeat in Syria, history of the influencer, Haspel’s spy skills, running YouTube is like herding cats that themselves have to herd cats, Bauhaus century, the prosperity god’s spell, what’s really real on reality tv, could podcasts be killing music?, and how to think about Julian Assange.

+“The Longest Wars” | Foreign Affairs

“By 1967, Holbrooke had entered the fourth and final stage of doubt. He began to question the American commitment in Vietnam. He had returned home and taken a position as a senior aide to Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach. Nine thousand miles away from Vietnam, he could see that the true threat was on the home front, that the war was tearing his country apart. He was coming to the conclusion that the United States could never win, at least not on terms that Americans would accept. But for the few doves in government, that didn’t mean, “Let’s get the hell out of Vietnam.” It meant, “What the hell do we do now?” That was about as far as skepticism could take someone while he was still inside. The process of disenchantment was excruciatingly slow. Later on, people would backdate their moment of truth, their long-deferred encounter with the glaringly obvious. This was often inadvertent—they honestly couldn’t believe that they were so wrong for so many years. And when they finally did begin to lose faith, they kept it to themselves and a few sympathetic friends.”

–>At the end of 2019 many will look back on this as one of the year’s best articles. Reading it is worth the time and patience.

+“Reporter Sharmine Narwani on the secret history of America’s defeat in Syria” | Salon

“Having witnessed the Syrian war from start to finish, she now casts it in a usefully broad context. “The Syrian conflict constitutes the main battlefield in a kind of World War III,” she said during our lengthy exchange. “The world wars were, in essence, great-power wars, after which the global order reshuffled a bit and new global institutions were established.” This, in outline, is what Narwani sees out in front of us, now that the Western powers’ latest “regime change” operation has failed.”

–>What if a world war happened and we hardly noticed because we knew we wouldn’t win it?

+“A History of the Influencer, from Shakespeare to Instagram” | The New Yorker

“The elusive quality of influence—the difficulty we encounter when we try to identify its sources or measure its effects—is equally destabilizing. Influence works best when it’s wielded obscurely, in the shadows and behind the scenes, and this has clear social consequences for a society engaged in building a digital-influence economy. Based on the available evidence, it seems that we can’t construct an influence economy without stoking a culture of skepticism and paranoia. The fear of being influenced affects our sense of reality and our ability to trust our own judgments about what is true. Election hackers and commercial influencers have wildly different aims, but both contribute to the unreal, distrustful tenor of our times, in which a language of fakery, deception, and inauthenticity has become fundamental to how we interpret the world.”

–>I suspect there’s a correlation between the rise of influencers and the decline of institutions.

+“Gina Haspel Relies on Spy Skills to Connect With Trump. He Doesn’t Always Listen.” | The New York Times

“As she approaches her first full year on the job, Ms. Haspel has proved an adept tactician, charming the president with small gestures and talking to him with a blend of a hardheaded realism and appeals to emotion. A career case officer trained to handle informants, she has relied on the skills of a spy — good listening, empathy and an ability to connect — to make sure her voice is heard at the White House. But her voice is not always heeded. For all of Ms. Haspel’s ability to stay in Mr. Trump’s good graces, there is little evidence she has changed his mind on major issues, underscoring the limits of her approach. Mr. Trump’s word choices on a range of issues — Russian interference in elections, Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea’s leadership and, most important, the culpability and reliability of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince — remain at odds with the C.I.A.’s assessment of the facts.”

+“The Most Measured Person in Tech Is Running the Most Chaotic Place on the Internet” | The New York Times

“On April 2, Bloomberg News published an article that painted a damning portrait of her and other YouTube brass — so focused on maximizing usage statistics that they looked the other way when employees raised concerns about the company’s recommendation system. Ms. Wojcicki seemed taken aback. In an April 7 interview, she said YouTube has not ignored its problem with hosting extreme and conspiracy-minded content. She said it was a large and complex issue and the company was starting to make a dent. She wasn’t defensive, but defiant and — most surprising for someone usually so measured — a little angry. “It’s not like there is one lever we can pull and say, ‘Hey, let’s make all these changes,’ and everything would be solved,” Ms. Wojcicki said. “That’s not how it works.””

–>Here’s a weird idea: what if YouTube is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do?

+“Bauhaus at 100” | The New York Times

“Modern architecture was seen as “degenerate art” in Germany in the 1930s. Jewish architects in Palestine (now Israel), whether they had been to the Bauhaus or not, were working in a similar style, “taking what the Nazis said is bad and making it good,” said Mr. Efrat. Kibbutz dining halls are the best examples of this new architecture in Israel, not only because of the design, but also the communal values they represent. Members would meet there to eat, celebrate and vote on how the kibbutz should be run … Krakauer’s dining hall was seen as such an important piece of architecture that it appeared on a set of commemorative stamps celebrating great Israeli buildings. But despite that architectural worth, today it’s empty. Kibbutz members eat at home, said Orit Zur, of the kibbutz’s archives department.”

+“Let He Who Is Without Yeezys Cast the First Stone” | The New York Times

“Carl Lentz, the pastor who baptized Justin Bieber in a professional basketball player’s bath tub, appeared wearing a pair of Nike Air Fear of God sneakers that were selling online for about $500. Then John Gray, a pastor from South Carolina, was shown in blood-red Air Yeezy 2s, the sneakers made in collaboration with Kanye West, that were going for upward of $5,000. And in another photo, Chad Veach, who preaches in Los Angeles, had a $1,900 Gucci bag and wore $795 pants. The pastors were among those included on an Instagram account that recently popped up called “PreachersNSneakers,” where men and women of God are shown wearing footwear that could cost more than a month’s rent for many of their followers. Before long, each post was clogged with hundreds of comments. “Pass the collection plate,” one person wrote, “daddy needs a new pair of shoes.””

–>God may want you to be rich, but I suspect he’d also want you to have some taste, as well.

+“Five myths about reality television” | The Washington Post

“On-camera physical altercations are extraordinarily rare. A 2010 analysis by psychologists at Brigham Young University found that while reality television shows contained higher levels of relational aggression, they depicted “almost no physical violence.” While producers encourage participants to express themselves openly and candidly, mining for conflict, most shows, from “Big Brother” to “Top Chef,” have very strict no-violence policies, and they eject cast members as soon as they display threatening behavior or take inappropriate action against castmates.”

+“Are podcasts killing music or just wasting our time?” | The Washington Post

“I’m anxious about music ceding all of that time and turf to the rise of “big podcast,” but I think I understand why it’s happening. While radio continues to blast out across the world, podcasts deliver warm human voices through our little AirPods, creating a highly intimate listening experience in which “together” feels more like “alone.” We often engage with recorded music the very same way. Plus, that intimacy runs parallel to the astonishing variety of subjects addressed in today’s podcasts, suggesting that there might actually be something for everyone on this overcrowded planet.”

–>Podcasts aren’t killing music. Music is doing a pretty good job of killing itself.

+“Uncle Tom’s Empire” | Consent Factory

“I don’t normally do this kind of thing, but, given the arrest of Julian Assange last week, and the awkward and cowardly responses thereto, I felt it necessary to abandon my customary literary standards and spew out a spineless, hypocritical “hot take” professing my concern about the dangerous precedent the U.S. government may be setting by extraditing and prosecuting a publisher for exposing American war crimes and such, while at the same time making it abundantly clear how much I personally loathe Assange, and consider him an enemy of America, and freedom, and want the authorities to crush him like a cockroach.”

–>It’s not necessary to defend Assange by portraying him as a journalist and his arrest as an assault on free speech. He can be a “publisher” who exposed essential facts and the uncomfortable truths they implied. But he’s not a journalist. That’s OK. I don’t need him to be either. Because of the levels of government and corporate surveillance we’ve experienced and accepted since 9/11, it should be OK for citizens in a free society to need criminals (and, frankly, assholes) like Assange to expose what very few of us would ever learn without someone out there breaking the law. Still, that’s a completely different thing from perpetuating the Seth Rich conspiracy theory–one of many things that makes Assange an asshole. (Also, Bob Garfield really did go off on Assange in a manner I’d say was out of character.)

@ProjectDeX

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