Behrouz Boochani Just Wants to Be Free

Arriving in Manus, Boochani found himself among tents and rough buildings of lime and dirt that shed white powder onto the ground, sticking to everyone’s feet. Drain pipes poked from bathrooms and the kitchen, dripping “a potion of rotting excrement, the perfect fertilizer for the tropical plants.” The generator whose failures paralyzed the cooling fans was a never-seen, godlike presence, “a mind made of machinery and wires … that takes pleasure in throwing the prison into disarray.” The harsh sun was “in cahoots with the prison to intensify the misery,” but when the sun set, the darkness was worse: “We are all transformed into dark shadows scavenging for scraps of light,” he wrote.

Megan K. Stack

How the Pandemic Defeated America

No one should be shocked that a liar who has made almost 20,000 false or misleading claims during his presidency would lie about whether the U.S. had the pandemic under control; that a racist who gave birth to birtherism would do little to stop a virus that was disproportionately killing Black people; that a xenophobe who presided over the creation of new immigrant-detention centers would order meatpacking plants with a substantial immigrant workforce to remain open; that a cruel man devoid of empathy would fail to calm fearful citizens; that a narcissist who cannot stand to be upstaged would refuse to tap the deep well of experts at his disposal; that a scion of nepotism would hand control of a shadow coronavirus task force to his unqualified son-in-law; that an armchair polymath would claim to have a ‘natural ability’ at medicine and display it by wondering out loud about the curative potential of injecting disinfectant; that an egotist incapable of admitting failure would try to distract from his greatest one by blaming China, defunding the WHO, and promoting miracle drugs; or that a president who has been shielded by his party from any shred of accountability would say, when asked about the lack of testing, “I don’t take any responsibility at all.”

Ed Yong

In Plain Sight – The search for Syrian war criminals in Europe

Once the team locates a possible suspect or receives a tip from a victim, they dig through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other public sites to corroborate the account. They also rely on intel from defectors, leaked documents, and informants who are still working in official positions in Syria. That afternoon, their search led them to an alleged member of the Assad regime who had recently been photographed posing in front of a popular European landmark. “They are here right now,” one said, pulling up the picture. The team planned to archive the photo and conduct an investigation.

Annie Hylton

Is the Saudi Government Plotting Against Another U.S.-Based Critic?

The threats against Khashoggi, Soufan, and Abdulaziz bear striking similarities. The phrases “the beginning of the end,” “make yourself dead,” and “your end is in a garbage dumpster” appear in tweets about all three. These sorts of phrases are not uncommon in Twitter exchanges in the Arab world, nor are Khashoggi, Soufan, and Abdulaziz the only targets of pro-Saudi trolls. Still, Soufan is concerned that the over-all pattern suggests that he is a target. “Jamal was murdered by Saudi operatives,” he said. “The threat against Omar is confirmed by Canadian authorities to be directly linked to Saudi Arabia. It seems highly unlikely that the threat against me would not be connected as well.”

Dexter Filkins

How Can the Press Best Serve a Democratic Society?

Lippman lamented the tendency of the press to act as “a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision.” He believed that the searchlight needed to pause long enough to illuminate issues of vital importance to the public. The Hutchins Commission had similar concerns: “Too much of the regular output of the press consists of a miscellaneous succession of stories and images which have no relation to the typical lives of real people anywhere. Too often the result is meaninglessness, flatness, distortion, and the perpetuation of misunderstanding among widely scattered groups whose only contact is through these media.” Today, in the age of digital journalism, the pressures of velocity and volume are even more powerful, particularly for media organizations which depend on advertising; even subscription-oriented businesses are not immune, since they must attract new readers and optimize their editorial content for search engines and social-media sharing. Democracy may well depend on finding a sustainable business model for a slower, more deliberative form of news. If “objectivity” has lost its usefulness as a shorthand for journalism’s aspirations, and if the meaning of “moral clarity” is unclear, then perhaps quality, rigor, and depth could be worthy ideals.

Michael Luo

YouTube’s Psychic Wounds

A recent analysis of YouTube’s recommendation engine (“A Longitudinal Analysis of YouTube’s Promotion of Conspiracy Videos”), from the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Information, concludes that the filter-bubble effect declined somewhat following the algorithmic adjustments of 2019 but that now, a year later, “the proportion of conspiratorial recommendations has steadily rebounded.” The authors are troubled by “the ever-growing weaponization of YouTube to spread disinformation and partisan content around the world.” Remember: unlike most news outlets, YouTube is free and open to all contributors—free to watch as much as you want, and free to load up with hours of homegrown creepy content. Anyone with a computer and a quiet space in which to harangue followers can become a David Icke protégé, broadcasting fanaticisms about pedophile reptilian international bankers.

Nicholson Baker

Michaela the Destroyer

How a young talent from East London went from open-mic nights to making the most sublimely unsettling show of the year.

“It’s a very small feeling,” she says. “I finished, and the sadness of finishing and the enjoyment of having done it sit side by side. My version of this is life. I feel as though I am so sad to die and leave, because I had such a great time living. I’m like, ‘Oh, it was so fun!’ ” She gasps, her eyes bright and brimming with tears. “Look at all the things that I learned! Oh my God! And those painful bits! Wow! Fun! Now I’m at the end and” — she gasps again, breathless — “it’s sad to go. Because it’s amazing.”

E. Alex Jung

For the forgotten men of 1st Platoon, Trump’s pardon of an officer they helped convict of murder is a crushing betrayal

Lorance had been in command of 1st Platoon for only three days in Afghanistan but in that short span of time had averaged a war crime a day, a military jury found. On his last day before he was dismissed, he ordered his troops to open fire on three Afghan men standing by a motorcycle on the side of the road who he said posed a threat. His actions led to a 19-year prison sentence.

Greg Jaffe