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tuesday report #5 // lab leak: an about face on covid's origin, still looking for apologies, the fight over section 230 heats up, a ton of AI links, and more
Welcome back to the Tuesday Report, a Pirate Wires weekly digest. Here, every week, I break down a lead story. Then my team and I share a digest of the most important links in technology, politics, and culture. I’m getting this one out a little early on account of the Covid lab leak story is happening now, and I’ve found myself inspired.
But first — for years my dream has been to build the kind of media company I want to read myself, something informative, exciting, and above all things honest, especially concerning its own bias. Over the last few months, I’ve finally begun the real work of building this company, and the digest feels like the first small step. Most of you are here because you’re looking for a similar kind of media company, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What do you most want from your daily news? What topics are you interested in? How often do you want to hear from us? What do you want more of?
As ever, thanks for your support. And if you haven’t yet: subscribe, or die.
Sneaky leaky. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Energy now believes a lab leak the most likely explanation for the Covid-19 pandemic, surprising approximately no one. There are allegedly multiple government organizations still in disagreement on Covid’s origin, but the DOE manages labs around the country and world, and is reportedly sitting on new evidence. Following the Journal’s report, commentary has been a mix of 1) angry hand waving from people maligned for their interest in this topic over the last few years, 2) silence from the “disinformation experts” who attempted to mainstream censorship on the matter, and 3) suspicion from conspiracy theorists now convinced the lab leak no longer matters, and the DOE’s real intention is to drive us all to war with China (the way these people just can’t take a win — amazing).
It’s been a long road.
Back in spring of 2020, only a few weeks into the lockdown, I — like many of us — began to publicly speculate Covid-19 might have leaked from a lab. Initially, I was captivated by some early coverage of the Wuhan Institute of Virology that went quiet right as the pandemic heated up. On the ground floor there, I didn’t understand why mainstream reporting would end precisely the moment it seemed most relevant. But beyond that, it was just the obvious nature of it all, and that we weren’t supposed to talk about it (an evergreen subject of interest):
Backlash was significant. The lab leak theory, which always seemed the most common sense explanation for the pandemic, was a forbidden topic back then, not only attracting the ire of “disinformation researchers” and reporters well into 2021, but actual censorship from Facebook. Commenters like the New York Times’ Kevin Roose declared the theory a dangerously distorted belief akin to QAnon conspiracy, before suggesting the nation (Democratic Party) appoint a federal censorship panel to manage “misinformation” of this kind.
Over the weekend, Liv Boeree provided a list of links from the “science” journal Nature, in which the outlet attempted to muddy conversation on the topic, and Aaron Ginn produced a long thread of media takes characterizing the lab leak theory as everything from crazy to racist. This morning, Reason’s Robby Soave wrote about the Global Disinformation Index, a State Department-funded “wrongthink” media hitlist which equated the lab leak to “Jews control the world” conspiracy theorizing in infographics, and put Reason, a mainstream libertarian journal, on their list of ‘dangerous reads.’ I’m still waiting for Pirate Wires’ invitation to the secret meetings.
But in early 2021, after New York Magazine legalized discussion of Covid’s origin among the ~ coastal elite ~ in a great, late 12,000 word piece on the matter, culture began to shift. By October 2021, the FBI became the first government agency publicly reported as suspicious of a lab leak, and by December 2021 over 70% of Americans believed Covid came from a lab.
Discussion of the One Party’s failure on the topic of the lab leak is popular. This is because the failure is seen as proof of a broader trend toward distortion and arrogance among the very class of people charged with keeping us informed and safe. The lying, the gaslighting, and the after-the-fact memory-holing — all done ostensibly on our behalf — constitute a kind of behavior we saw throughout the pandemic, which led to disastrous (and occasionally outright evil) public health policy on every topic from schooling our children to forced vaccination. Still, grisly as it all was, if we’re going to survive as a country, we’ve got to get over this stuff, right? We have to forgive. We maybe have to forget.
Or do we?
I think Kat’s right here, as is Polimath (both great follows btw). In a nod back to Emily Oster’s thoughtful Atlantic piece on Covid amnesty, I do agree this country needs to forgive itself if it’s ever going to move forward. But first we need to see some semblance of accountability. We need apologies. It would be nice if a few people lost their jobs — or if there were any consequences whatsoever for lying, for enacting disastrous public health policy, for enforcing the unnecessary viciousness of keeping us from our loved ones as they lay in bed dying. Like, how did we ever let that happen?
There can be no Covid amnesty before we see evidence of humility from public policy makers and the press, because without evidence of humility we can only assume this will all happen again. And this can never happen again.
BROAD TECH LINKS
Another day, another Chinese industrial espionage allegation. An ex-ASML employee accused of data theft is being probed for ties to China (Bloomberg)
Eleven anonymous TSMC employees have doubts about Arizona plant. These doubts include American expansion distracting from the company’s R&D focus, perhaps via culture clashes. For instance, “Americans are difficult to manage,” whereas “Taiwanese workers unquestioningly do what they are told to do.” In all seriousness, the fate of American chip manufacturing is bound up in this project, and Taiwanese geopolitical relevance along with it. Perhaps this is the real source of tension (NYT)
Competition for federal funding. The chip makers are at each other’s throats for government cheese (NYT)
Confused applause. Soon, Tesla drivers will be able to turn their charging stops into full-fledged picnics, catered by Subway. First, they brought you the five dollar footlong. Now? Electric utopia (Axios)
Back to Cali. Elon chooses California for the Tesla global engineering HQ. Was tech’s long soul-searching on the road a zero interest rate phenomenon? (WSJ)
Everybody out here charging you for blue checks now. Zuckerberg has followed Elon, and the press has mostly just accepted it (other than the Washington Post, which compared the move to literal mob crime). Verification? Pay me (WSJ)
European Commission bans TikTok from staff phones. (Washington Post)
DOJ seeks to block Adobe’s $20 bn Figma acquisition. (Bloomberg)
AOC posts pro-nuclear messaging. Finally, proof that a person can’t possibly be wrong about literally everything. Welcome to the club, Karla Marx (Twitter)
A major, ongoing tech story pits search and social giants against a growing, bi-partisan interest in content moderation. From the right, there continues to be the question of why technology companies should be left immune to consequences for illegal content posted to their “platforms” if they’re also, in a sense, publishing, and therefore not acting as a neutral platform (230, in a nutshell). The argument is something like: algorithmic amplification of content, and draconian, obviously partisan political censorship are not neutral. Then, from the (further) left, there now seems to be the question of how we can do more censorship — federally, even.
Google Faces Supreme Court Hearing that Could Decide the Future of Section 230: The family of a woman killed in a 2015 ISIS attack in Paris is suing Google. They are asking the Supreme Court to rewrite Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act which prevents platforms from being sued for hosting harmful user posts. Opening arguments were heard Tuesday, February 21. (NY Post)
Coverage from Matt Stoller:
Ketanji Brown vs. speech. What began as saber rattling from the right, and a kind of implicit empty threat — give us speech or we are going to nuke your entire world — has given way to what appears to be real interest on the far left in altering 230. Separate from the substance of the code, it’s worth noting Ketanji Brown, one of the most obviously partisan justices on the bench, seems open to censorship in general. (Reason) Are we paving the way to hate speech laws, and 1A exceptions for “misinformation” as defined by New York Times columnists only? Yes. Like, definitely yes. Hello, please wake up.
Section 230 does not protect generative AI. During Gonzalez v. Google opening arguments, Justice Gorsuch suggested chatbots and other AI platforms are not shielded from liability by section 230. (Washington Examiner)
We’re in the middle of a massive grand theft auto crime wave, with teens across the country stealing cars, and boasting about it online. While most coverage of the trend has focused on TikTok and car manufacturers, Nick asks the seemingly obvious question: why don't Kia Boys fear legal consequences?
Many of the most viral GPT and Bing screenshots were probably faked. Either that, or OpenAI's own AI detection tool doesn't work. It's one or the other in this PW long read, featuring interviews with Jon Stokes and @gfodor. Brandon breaks it down.
Why are bisexuals reporting long-covid symptoms in dramatically disproportionate numbers? Further disparities in gender and mental health. Is the virus really to blame? River dives in.
Federal mandate: the AI must be woke as hell. Biden signed an executive order calling for AI to advance “equity” (code word for discrimination) and prohibit discrimination (Lol ok). It was promptly slammed by the American right as a “woke AI” dog whistle. A Stanford Law professor told the Washington Post, “this is going to be the content moderation wars on steroids.” (WaPo)
JP Morgan shuts down ChatGPT. Employees are no longer allowed to use the AI for email drafting. No specific word on why, on the case that spurred the decision (and you know it’s something juicy), or the thinking here in general. Existential dread maybe, who knows. (WSJ)
FYI: they’re joining CitiGroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Deutsche Bank. (Bloomberg)
Science fiction magazines bombarded by AI generated submissions. The editor at one magazine, Clarkesworld, estimated he’d received about 500 AI generated submissions this month. He described the writing as “bad, in spectacular ways.” (NYT)
People are publishing AI written books on Amazon. Including a novella called “Galactic Pimps,” and a children's book about a grindset squirrel named Sammy. (Reuters)
Rabbi Uses ChatGPT to write sermon. (Business Insider)
Everyone should learn to… prompt? The jury’s out on AI’s net workforce impact, but it’s already fueling the rise of the so-called “prompt engineer.” (Axios)
OpenAI planning for AGI. Earnest declaration, or are they just triggering effective altruists for the fun of it at this point? (OpenAI)
German man cured of HIV through HIV resistant bone marrow transplant (Washington Post)
Doctors targeting the gut in effort to cure multiple sclerosis (Medical News)
AR memories. Capture the video on your phone, and experience the memory again using AR or VR. Wistlabs AR memories app is currently in beta. (Twitter)
Inhalable powder confers protection from COVID. Researchers have developed a powder of tiny gelatin and polymer particles that shield the lungs from viral infections. An internal mask, so to speak. Question: can we vape it though? (Freethink)
Did the Big Bang really even happen? The discovery of six massive galaxies may have just changed what we know about the universe, forever. These galaxies are too huge — and old — to be so close to the ‘dawn of the universe’. Astronomer involved in the discovery: “We’ve been informally calling these objects ‘universe breakers’ — and they have been living up to their name so far.” (Penn State)
Sensitivity readers have rewritten Matilda (Telegraph)
Sensitivity readers are rewriting James Bond (NYP)
Citing racism, socialist magazine proposes nationalizing Yale and changing its name (Jacobin)
“Visionary” retelling of Anne Frank story connecting holocaust to present-day American racism ratio’d into outer space (Twitter)
Rep. George Santos co-sponsors bill to make the AR-15 America’s “National Gun” (Gothamist)
Marianne Williamson confirms she will challenge Biden for 2024 Democratic nomination (The Hill)
Alex Jones claims DOJ wants to take away his cat (Twitter)
Okay, I think that’s enough to get you started for the week. God bless and godspeed. And tell your friends to subscribe. And tell me I’m clever in the comments.
And have a nice, lovely day.
And remember, above all things: Covid probably came from a Chinese lab.
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