Start Up No.1460: what the Trump ban means, the madness of the radicalised, why vaccination doesn’t prevent onward infection, and more


Mornings (without Trump on Twitter) are arriving more quickly than before. CC-licensed photo by Ivan on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Amazon is suspending Parler from Amazon Web Services • Buzzfeed News

John Paczkowski and Ryan Mac:

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Amazon notified Parler that it would be cutting off the social network favored by conservatives and extremists from its cloud hosting service Amazon Web Services, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News. The suspension, which will go into effect on Sunday just before midnight, means that Parler will be unable to operate and will go offline unless it can find another hosting service.

People on Parler used the social network to stoke fear, spread hate, and coordinate the insurrection at the Capitol building on Wednesday. The app has recently been overrun with death threats, celebrations of violence, and posts encouraging “Patriots” to march on Washington, DC, with weapons on Jan. 19, the day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

In an email obtained by BuzzFeed News, an AWS Trust and Safety team told Parler Chief Policy Officer Amy Peikoff that the calls for violence propagating across the social network violated its terms of service. Amazon said it was unconvinced that the service’s plan to use volunteers to moderate calls for violence and hate speech would be effective.

“Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms,” the email reads. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.”

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Well, there’s a lot to round up here. Of course Trump got permanently booted off Twitter. Here’s a list of where he’s banned. And here’s a list explaining how people are misinterpreting the words “free speech” about the ban. (Plenty of other politicians have been ejected, just not American presidents.) The funniest one is “this is communism!!” where it’s actually capitalism red in tooth and claw. Also, and possibly not on the list, Stripe on Sunday said it would stop processing payments on Trump’s website.

And, since we’re here, here’s a long thread on how AWS got started: because it shifted from Sun servers to much cheaper Linux ones.
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The American abyss • New York Times

Timothy Snyder is a historian of fascism:

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Like historical fascist leaders, Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth. His use of the term “fake news” echoed the Nazi smear Lügenpresse (“lying press”); like the Nazis, he referred to reporters as “enemies of the people.” Like Adolf Hitler, he came to power at a moment when the conventional press had taken a beating; the financial crisis of 2008 did to American newspapers what the Great Depression did to German ones. The Nazis thought that they could use radio to replace the old pluralism of the newspaper; Trump tried to do the same with Twitter.

Thanks to technological capacity and personal talent, Donald Trump lied at a pace perhaps unmatched by any other leader in history. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative. To believe in all of them was to accept the authority of a single man, because to believe in all of them was to disbelieve everything else. Once such personal authority was established, the president could treat everyone else as the liars; he even had the power to turn someone from a trusted adviser into a dishonest scoundrel with a single tweet. Yet so long as he was unable to enforce some truly big lie, some fantasy that created an alternative reality where people could live and die, his pre-fascism fell short of the thing itself.

…In November 2020, reaching millions of lonely minds through social media, Trump told a lie that was dangerously ambitious: that he had won an election that in fact he had lost. This lie was big in every pertinent respect: not as big as “Jews run the world,” but big enough. The significance of the matter at hand was great: the right to rule the most powerful country in the world and the efficacy and trustworthiness of its succession procedures.

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A terrific essay with the sweep both of history and the present. Though it’s chilling too how close America came, once more, to fascism. (The last time was before the Second World War, when “America First” initially raised its ugly head. Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” – the book, not the TV series – shows the boiling-frog way it would have happened then.)
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A truth reckoning: why we’re holding those who lied for Trump accountable • Forbes

Randall Lane is editor of Forbes Magazine and its chief content officer:

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Trump’s lawyers lie gleefully to the press and public, but those lies, magically, almost never made it into briefs and arguments – contempt, perjury and disbarment keep the professional standards high.

So what’s the parallel in the dark arts of communication? Simple: Don’t let the chronic liars cash in on their dishonesty. Press secretaries like Joe Lockhart, Ari Fleischer and Jay Carney, who left the White House with their reputations in various stages of intact, made millions taking their skills — and credibility — to corporate America. Trump’s liars don’t merit that same golden parachute. Let it be known to the business world: Hire any of Trump’s fellow fabulists above, and Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie. We’re going to scrutinize, double-check, investigate with the same skepticism we’d approach a Trump tweet. Want to ensure the world’s biggest business media brand approaches you as a potential funnel of disinformation? Then hire away.

[It’s not political.] …It’s just a realization that, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, in a thriving democracy, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Our national reset starts there.

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Good. Though I would point out that the reputation of Fleischer (George W Bush’s press secretary) is hardly solid gold. Carney (ditto for Obama) is accused of lies too, though since many of the accusations revolve around (sigh) Benghazi, on which the GOP hasn’t had a good-faith argument literally ever, that’s harder to judge. To be a presidential press secretary is to bend the truth in some peoples’ view. But the Trump team absolutely lied, and deserve to be shunned. They reaped, and now they can sow.
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The silence of the damned • NY Mag

Olivia Nuzzi:

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During his early days on Twitter, in 2011, Trump relied on an aide to tweet for him. Justin McConney, a former Trump Organization employee, once told me how he’d print out Trump’s mentions to show him in analog what was happening online, and Trump would manually select what to respond to. But by 2012, when he replaced the flip phone with an Android, Trump began tweeting himself.

Even the tweets that seemed like they had to have been sent in a fit of rage with no forethought whatsoever sometimes were actually the result of careful planning and workshopping with advisers. For instance, when Trump accused Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough of murdering his constituent services director while serving in Congress, a senior member of the White House staff told me they were upset with the president not over what he said, but that he’d fucked up the delivery. The version of the tweet he’d worked on with staff had been much funnier, according to the staffer.

Upon Twitter’s decision to permanently ban Trump’s account, and other social-media platforms doing the same, I’ve seen a lot of commentary about the new uselessness of his phone. “cannot even imagine how mad he is rn [right now],” joked the New York Times’ Mike Isaac, “my mans phone is a paperweight.”

And it’s kind of true. He might use it to call into Fox & Friends, or to otherwise contact the outside world from within the bunker of the White House, sure…

…When his daughter Ivanka posted a selfie with him last week, on the way to the Georgia rally where he campaigned for two Republican candidates who then lost, she smiled and looked at the camera. Trump, in the background, stared down at his phone, his face set aglow from the screen.

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The idea that Trump and staff workshopped a tweet insinuating that Scarborough murdered someone is just debased. Nobody thought to say “is this really appropriate to this office?” Both petty and scummy. A companion piece: “How @realDonaldTrump changed politics – and America” at Politico.
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What Happened? • kieranhealy.org

Kieran Healy with his idea about what people planned, and didn’t plan, that day last week:

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In summary, the theory is that these are not the brightest guys, and things got out of hand. Trump and the White House et al knew there were genuinely dangerous people in their MAGA/Q mob. The MAGA people they were in communication with (as per Acosta’s tweet) were likely more on the leading edge of the rank and file, rather than the true loons. They thought things would go as protests outside the Capitol usually go, and as their rallies usually go. The crowd would serve as a loud prop. The really dangerous people would be diluted by the rank and file and kept out by the Capitol Police in any case. There would be a great deal of immediate drama and a great deal immediately at stake. Trump loves his crowd, but he has no tolerance at all for the individuals who make it up. As soon as they got inside the building and resolved once more into identifiable individuals, Trump was reportedly and unsurprisingly grossed out by all the “low class” stuff he was seeing. What he envisioned, I think, was a mass of adoring supporters at the very gates of the Capitol, expressing their love and loyalty for him, and together, they would make Congress capitulate to their will.

This is all just speculation on my part. There are many other plausible scenarios. People who know much more about American history than me have argued that some subset of people in the Administration and the GOP really did want protestors to get inside the Senate chamber and gum up the works such that an 1877-style “compromise” would be the wise way for cooler heads to prevail. There’s a lot to be said for this view.

…After the fact, the White House very quickly found itself in a supercharged version of the situation that Cruz and Hawley are also in. They presumed they could cynically ride this movement for their own ends. They gleefully lit match after match, and eventually to their horror they managed to set themselves on fire along with everyone else. They clearly incited these events.

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The journey of Ashli Babbitt • bellingcat

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Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, was shot and killed by Capitol Police while attempting to enter the Speaker’s Lobby on the second floor of the US Capitol in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021. Babbitt was part of a thousands-strong mob that stormed the building after the conclusion of the #StopTheSteal rally at the Washington Monument earlier in the day.

At that event, President Donald Trump had encouraged rally goers to head to the Capitol to protest the certification of the 2020 presidential election. His comments came after weeks of false and inflammatory statements to the effect that he had won the election, and that his enemies had rigged it against him.

Babbitt’s shooting was captured on several videos that were recorded and shared by people in the crowd. Her own social media history also reveals her movements on the morning and afternoon of January 6. But looking back further shows an ideological journey that saw her travel from stating she had backed President Barack Obama to engaging in damaging right-wing conspiracy theories.

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Babbitt’s Twitter account was only set up in October 2016, ie just before the previous election. I’m guessing bellingcat couldn’t get access to her Facebook account. But her Twitter account is a mess of conspiracist nonsense. Mental health is an insufficiently discussed topic in the US.
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The Earth has been spinning faster lately • Phys.org

Bob Yirka:

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Several decades ago, the development of atomic clocks began allowing scientists to record the passage of time in incredibly small increments, in turn, allowing for measuring the length of a given day down to the millisecond. And that has led to the discovery that the spin of the planet is actually far more variable than once thought. Since such measurements began, scientists have also found that the Earth was slowing its spin very gradually (compensated by the insertion of a leap second now and then)—until this past year, when it began spinning faster—so much so that some in the field have begun to wonder if a negative leap negative second might be needed this year, an unprecedented suggestion. Scientists also noted that this past summer, on July 19, the shortest day ever was recorded—it was 1.4602 milliseconds shorter than the standard.

Planetary scientists are not concerned about the new finding; they have learned that there are many factors that have an impact on planetary spin—including the moon’s pull, snowfall levels and mountain erosion. They also have begun wondering if global warming might push the Earth to spin faster as the snow caps and high-altitude snows begin disappearing. Computer scientists, on the other hand, are somewhat concerned about the shifting spin speed—so much of modern technology is based on what they describe as “true time.” Adding a negative leap second could lead to problems, so some have suggested shifting the world’s clocks from solar time to atomic time.

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Probably explains why the news cycle has speeded up, right?
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Coronavirus: few vaccines prevent infection – here’s why that’s not a problem • The Conversation

Sarah Caddy is a clinical research fellow in Viral Immunology at the University of Cambridge:

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not all vaccines provide the same level of protection. Some vaccines stop you getting symptomatic disease, but others stop you getting infected too. The latter is known as “sterilising immunity”. With sterilising immunity, the virus can’t even gain a toehold in the body because the immune system stops the virus entering cells and replicating.

There is a subtle yet important difference between preventing disease and preventing infection. A vaccine that “just” prevents disease might not stop you from transmitting the disease to others – even if you feel fine. But a vaccine that provides sterilising immunity stops the virus in its tracks.

In an ideal world, all vaccines would induce sterilising immunity. In reality, it is actually extremely difficult to produce vaccines that stop virus infection altogether. Most vaccines that are in routine use today do not achieve this…

…The first SARS-CoV-2 vaccines to be licensed have been shown to be highly effective at reducing disease. Despite this, we don’t yet know whether these vaccines can induce sterilising immunity. It is expected that data addressing this question will be available from the ongoing vaccine clinical trials soon. Although even if sterilising immunity is induced initially, this may change over time as immune responses wane and viral evolution occurs.

…It is generally understood that a particular type of antibody known as a “neutralising antibody” is needed for sterilising immunity. These antibodies block virus entry into cells and prevent all replication. However, the infecting virus may have to be identical to the vaccine virus in order to induce the perfect antibody.

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This answers a question I’ve been asking for ages: if someone’s been immunised, how could they pose any risk of passing Covid on? What’s the biological mechanism? Now you (or I) know.
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Quibi’s $1.75bn experiment ends with Roku acquisition for “less than $100m” • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:

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Quibi, the curious “TV on your phone” service that lasted for roughly six months last year, will soon live on—as a free-with-ads channel on Roku.

After rumors began circulating earlier this week, Quibi and Roku confirmed on Friday that the two companies had reached terms for an acquisition, putting most of Quibi’s hours of original programming into Roku’s hands. Most of the Quibi service involved scripted series, along with documentary and reality-TV content, and Roku will host these series on a dedicated Roku “channel” later this year, while Quibi’s previous “daily” news episodes will not be part of the deal.

Surprisingly, it’s not just a deal for last year’s content. Whatever had been previously cranking as part of the Quibi portfolio of talent and producers appears to be back on the table, with Roku telling users to expect “more than a dozen new programs” that hadn’t previously debuted on the Quibi app in 2020. Roku didn’t use today’s announcements to clarify what the programming is, but Variety pegs many of the shows as documentary miniseries, along with a horror series written by Steven Spielberg that would have originally only been available for streaming during nighttime hours.

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Like the sub-headline on this one: “Roku has yet to tell viewers whether they’ll need to turn their TVs sideways.” Though there was always a landscape option, so Roku can go with that. Anyway, at least this terrible drought of streaming services is at an end.
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The tiny satellites that will connect cows, cars and shipping containers to the internet • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

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The smartphone industry has miniaturized all electronics, benefiting everything from cars to drones. Then there are falling launch costs, due to companies like SpaceX, active national space programs like India’s, and an array of new launch technologies, from reusable boosters to 3-D-printed engines.

Just as important, there’s the rollout and adoption of new long-distance, low-power wireless communication standards that can work just as well in outer space as they do on the ground.

Like so many innovations in their early days, from the internet to the smartphone, no one is quite sure what low-cost, low-power data relays from space will enable—or whether there will be enough demand to sustain the many companies jostling to provide it. In the next year, hundreds of satellites from more than a dozen companies are set to launch.

These startups aren’t going head-to-head with more expensive and ambitious efforts from the likes of Amazon and SpaceX, which aim to deliver high-speed internet to households and businesses. Those “megaconstellations” of hundreds or even thousands of relatively large satellites cost billions of dollars; networks of up to 100 nanosats can cost in the tens of millions, say their operators.

The truly global “Internet of Things” these tiny satellites can enable would have been much more difficult to achieve even 24 months ago, says Alasdair Davies, director of the Arribada Initiative, which designs and builds satellite tracking and connectivity systems for researchers, including the penguin-watching ones.

For the penguin project, Mr. Davies created low-cost cameras that can withstand the harsh Antarctic conditions. While the images they grab are stored on SD cards and must be physically collected once a year, the cameras can report their status—low battery, covered in ice, tipped over, etc.—to their keepers in London via tiny satellites.

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You’re probably wondering if they won’t just turn into space junk, but they can be propelled to fall to Earth when their time is up.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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