• The right-wing outrage over the Hunter Biden nothingburger is a tried-and-true propaganda tactic

    Over at Media Matters, my friend and former colleague Parker Molloy has an excellently succinct piece summing up the meta-story around last week's unverified leak of a bunch of documents by the New York Post that basically just reiterated that Hunter Biden struggles with addiction, and that Joe Biden is a pretty good dad — a smear piece so bad that even Fox News refused to publish it.

    There's currently plenty of punditry you can read anywhere about the decision to publish embarrassingly unverified claims, or the over-corrective response by Facebook and Twitter to suppress the link and thus ignite the Streisand Effect. What makes Molloy's piece stand out is that she contextualizes the whole non-troversy well within the history of right-wing propaganda schemes in the United States:

    1. Right-wingers shout loudly about bogus story.
    2. Fox News picks up bogus story, reports on it incessantly.
    3. Right-wingers and Fox News start complaining that "liberal media" are ignoring bogus story.
    4. Other outlets are shamed into covering bogus story, mini-frenzy ensues.
    5. Pundits credit Fox News for "being ahead of the curve."
    6. Responsible media outlets determine bogus story is bogus long after damage is done.
    7. Repeat.

    A decade later, little has changed about how the right launders information through mainstream outlets by complaining. Back then it was right-wing hectoring about community activist group ACORN, "Climategate," and Bill Ayers. More recently, we see this play out in topics like Uranium One, "unmasking," and Benghazi. Conservatives have asked why mainstream media outlets won't devote what Fox News deems a sufficient amount of coverage to a deceptively edited 2012 video of President Barack Obama saying "You didn't build that." And why won't mainstream news outlets report on terrorist attacks (that they had actually reported on quite extensively)? And why weren't Trump's coronavirus press briefings getting wall-to-wall coverage?

    The success of right-wing media as a propaganda apparatus is often reliant on buy-in from mainstream news organizations. Conservative claims can be buoyed by mainstream coverage. "Even The New York Times …" is a common line trumpeted by the right whenever they're able to get one of their preferred narratives into traditional news outlets.

    She also has an excellent Twitter thread accompanying the piece, that goes into detail about what, exactly, would have constituted as good journalism in this case:

    Of course, there are some pundits who would rather wag their fingers about the awful dangers of tech companies exercising their First Amendment rights by exercising editorial control over the content on their platforms. Emma Best also has a great short Twitter thread shutting them down:

    (The meta-irony in these case is that the pundits often point to the unverified Steele Dossier as a counter example, even though, by their own logic, it was irresponsible to publish those documents in the first place, and so they likely would have welcomed a suppression of such scandalous content.)

    As the New York Post's Hunter Biden story flops, right-wing media rage at mainstream outlets that won't take the bait [Parker Molloy / Media Matters]

    Image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • Apple launches 24-hour streaming "music television" network that's definitely not the same as MTV

    Variety reports:

    Apple has launched Apple Music TV, a free 24-hour curated livestream of popular music videos that will also include "exclusive new music videos and premiers, special curated music video blocks, and live shows and events as well as chart countdowns and guests," according to the announcement.

    Apple Music TV will be available to U.S. residents only on the Apple Music app and the Apple TV app. It can be found at apple.co/AppleMusicTV and in the browse tab in the Apple Music and Apple TV app. 

    So it's MTV. Apple just invented MTV, nearly 40 years to date after MTV first aired. Further evidence that most "tech innovation" is just repackaging a thing that already exists and making it seem like a cool new thing for smartphones.

    Apple MTV launched on Monday, October 19, 2020, starting with a countdown of the Top 100 Most-Streamed Songs on Apple Music.

    Also? If you look up Apple MTV on your Apple Device, it gives you the even-more-painfully ironic tagline of "The music will be televised."

    Apple Music TV

    Apple Launches 'Apple Music TV,' a 24-Hour Music Video Livestream [Variety]

  • In 1967, American businessman Jim Thompson disappeared from a cottage in Malaysia

    In 1967, Jim Thompson left his silk business in Thailand for a Malaysian holiday with three friends. On the last day, he disappeared from the cottage in which they were staying. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the many theories behind Thompson's disappearance, which has never been explained.

    We'll also borrow John Barrymore's corpse and puzzle over a teddy bear's significance.

    Show notes

    Please support us on Patreon!

  • Miley Cyrus is recording an album of Metallica covers

    At the 2019 Glastonbury Festival, Miley Cyrus covered a bunch of songs. Her setlist included a version of her godmother Dolly Parton's "Jolene," NIN's "Head Like a Hole," and Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" (listen to it below). Now she's just shared that she's been recording a Metallica cover album during the pandemic.

    Consequence of Sound:

    "We've been working on a Metallica cover album and I'm here working on that," Cyrus revealed to fashion designer Rick Owens in a new feature for Interview magazine. While the pandemic initially had Cyrus in a bit of a creative rut, this forthcoming heavy metal project now has her feeling reinvigorated.

    "We're so lucky to be able to continue to work on our art during all of this," she added. "At first, it felt uninspiring and now I've been totally ignited."

    The 27-year-old didn't offer any other details regarding the new album, but it's likely her rendition of "Nothing Else Matters" will have a place on the tracklist. Either way, fans can expect Cyrus to bring quite a lot of bite and brawn to these Metallica covers. The former Disney star has been regularly tackling rock and alternative rock songs as of late — and effortlessly so.

    Interview: Rick Owens and Miley Cyrus on Rock Stars, Recklessness, and Life on the Road


    screengrab via Miley's Vault/Glastonbury Festival 2019

  • Trump gets approval to build another Scottish golf course, despite promise of no new foreign deals in office

    Before taking oath as the President of the United States, Donald Trump insisted that, while he would remain in charge of his companies, they would not be taking any new foreign deals. As recently as 2019, the Trump children claimed this was still true — that they were not profiting from foreign deals.

    On Friday, October 16, 2020, the Aberdeenshire council planning service in Scotland gave the go-ahead for Trump to start building another golf course there. From Golfweek:

    The Aberdeen council on Friday gave Trump the go-ahead for a new 18-hole layout, according to the Associated Press. It will be constructed right next to the original Trump International Scotland course on his Menie Estate, north of Aberdeen, which opened in 2012.

    It will be dubbed MacLeod after Trump's mother, Mary Anne MacLeod.

    The Guardian reports that environmentalists in particular are outraged at the news, because they think Trump will ultimately destroy the coastal ecosystem in Aberdeenshire just like he did his Irish golf course (and once again blame the whole thing on climate change despite not believing in climate change).

    This news is particularly notable because the recent New York Times investigation into Trump's taxes revealed that Trump's existing Aberdeenshire golf course isn't doing so well:

    His three courses in Europe — two in Scotland and one in Ireland — have reported a combined $63.6 million in losses.

    Over all, since 2000, Mr. Trump has reported losses of $315.6 million at the golf courses that are his prized possessions.

    Maybe that's how the Trump organization justifies it: they're not making any profit on new foreign deals, because they're fudging the numbers to make sure everything is a loss, therefore, they are still technically upholding the promise they made back in January 2017.

    Trump wins approval to add second course at Trump International Scotland [Todd Kelly / Golfweek]

    New Trump golf course provokes fury in Scotland [Robin McKie / The Guardian]

    Trump is already building a wall in Ireland, and the story behind it is ridiculous. [Thom Dunn / Upworthy]

    Image: Public Domain via White House

  • NASA spacecraft touches asteroid surface to grab rubble

    PHOTO [NASA]: The asteroid Bennu as seen from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. After nearly two years circling the asteroid, OSIRIS-REx will try to descend to the boulder-spiked surface to grab up some rubble on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

    From the Associated Press:

    A NASA spacecraft descended to an asteroid Tuesday and, dodging boulders the size of buildings, momentarily touched the surface to collect a handful of cosmic rubble for return to Earth.

    It was a first for the United States — only Japan has scored asteroid samples.

    "Touchdown declared," a flight controller announced to cheers and applause. "Sampling is in progress."

    Confirmation came from the Osiris-Rex spacecraft as it made contact with the surface of the asteroid Bennu more than 200 million miles away. But it could be a week before scientists know how much, if much of anything, was grabbed and whether another try will be needed. If successful, Osiris-Rex will return the samples in 2023.

  • Trump: 'Nobody wants me'

    First honest thing Donald Trump has said at a campaign rally all month: "Nobody wants me."

    Impeached U.S. President Donald Trump, October 20, 2020: "China doesn't want me. Iran doesn't want me. Nobody wants me."

  • Sex assault convict Bill Cosby, 83, grins in new prison mug shot

    This newly released prison mug of Bill Cosby shows the sexual assault convict with a disposable mask hanging off his grinning face.

    From the Associated Press:

    The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections recently updated Cosby's mug shot, something routinely done to document changes to inmates' appearance as they age. Cosby's new photo was taken Sept. 4. (…)

    Cosby, 83, was convicted of felony sex assault and is serving a three- to 10-year prison term. An appeals court had upheld his conviction, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed this year to review two key issues in the case. The appeal is scheduled to be heard Dec. 1

  • Trump tax records reveal secret Chinese bank account, and he paid more taxes to China than U.S. some years

    • Donald Trump's secret China bank account did not show up on public financial disclosures, where the President must list personal assets, because they are held under corporate names

    • "Tax records show [Trump] paid $188,561 in taxes in China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015"

    The New York Times published a major story tonight on President Donald Trump's tax shenanigins: Trump Records Shed New Light on Chinese Business Pursuits.

    As he campaigns for re-election and questions Biden's standing with China, "Trump's taxes reveal details about his own activities there, including a previously unknown bank account," report Susanne Craig, Mike McIntire, and Russ Buettner at the Times:

    And it turns out that China is one of only three foreign nations — the others are Britain and Ireland — where Mr. Trump maintains a bank account, according to an analysis of the president's tax records, which were obtained by The New York Times. The foreign accounts do not show up on Mr. Trump's public financial disclosures, where he must list personal assets, because they are held under corporate names. The identities of the financial institutions are not clear.

    The Chinese account is controlled by Trump International Hotels Management L.L.C., which the tax records show paid $188,561 in taxes in China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015.

    The tax records do not include details on how much money may have passed through the overseas accounts, though the Internal Revenue Service does require filers to report the portion of their income derived from other countries. The British and Irish accounts are held by companies that operate Mr. Trump's golf courses in Scotland and Ireland, which regularly report millions of dollars in revenue from those countries. Trump International Hotels Management reported just a few thousand dollars from China.

    Read more: Trump Records Shed New Light on Chinese Business Pursuits [NYT]

  • Waneella's fantasy Tokyo street scenes

    As soon as I saw samples of Waneella's animated pixel art depicting Tokyo street scenes, I became a Patreon subscriber.

    Waneella (aka Valeriya Sanchillo) was born in 1993 and lives in Moscow. On her Patreon page, she has timelapse videos that show her process. She draws basic shapes, then adds details, making many changes along the way.

    Waneella's work brings back the magical feeling Carla and I got on our first night in Tokyo when we walked down a lantern-lit alleyway of bars and restaurants in Ikebukuro. I couldn't believe such a dreamlike place existed. It was quiet and energetic, clean and gritty, modern and ancient, and the attention to detail was evident at every scale. I think Waneella must feel the same way about Tokyo that I do.

    To see more of Waneella's work, visit her TumblrTwitter, and YouTube accounts.

    This is from the latest issue of my newsletter, The Magnet. Here's this week's subscriber-only issue, which looks at the incredible SHA-256 hash algorithm, solving problems by walking, an 1857 quote that has never appeared online before, and an updated recipe for better almond bread.