Please note that from today we're taking a bit of a break for the holiday season. We'll be back to our usual Mon/Wed/Fri schedule in the New Year but until then, content will be sporadic. Merry Christmas!
1—Gaslighting for the CCP
China's turn to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 has finally arrived, and it looks set to be a particularly rough winter given its immune-naïve population and relatively low elderly vaccination rates. According to TheZvi, who is still providing weekly pandemic updates:
"I do think that in the long run, letting this happen is a better option than continuing to not let it happen. The timing of doing this is December, exactly when weather conditions might be at their worst, seems not great, and I'd have tried to do it either earlier or later. That is an additional sign that this was not planned, rather circumstances forced Xi's hand."
In other words, some combination of the recent protests, a partial easing of restrictions, and the huge cost of slowing the spread of the Omicron strain had undermined 'dynamic zero-COVID' to the point that it forced a further easing of restrictions. Waiting any longer would have risked accusations of complete failure.
TheZvi then moved on to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which decided the time was right "to spout obvious nonsense and gaslight us on behalf of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party]", by claiming that "the control measures in themselves were not stopping the disease":
"What is fair is that China's Zero Covid policy was slowly failing to work, although this too was due to a loosening of those restrictions. Things would have eventually spiralled out of control, one way or another, the necessary level of restrictions was unsustainable.
Still, the fundamental story of the last few weeks is that China dramatically changed its Covid policies and the result of this is a lot more Covid. The WHO suddenly transforming to 'no the giant additional number of Covid cases has nothing to do with suddenly doing much less to prevent Covid,' after spending years desperately telling everyone to destroy their economies in the name of preventing Covid, is… well, exactly what I would expect from them. Yet somehow also remarkable."
The WHO's credibility has been one of the biggest losers from the pandemic. You can read the full weekly update from TheZvi here (~12 minute read).
Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter has been anything but smooth, with the latest headline-grabber coming courtesy of a top European Union official, who warned about "red lines" and "sanctions" after Twitter suspended multiple journalists for supposedly 'doxing' (revealing info about) Musk.
But Musk's centralised approach to moderation isn't new; Twitter's moderation has always been that way. While Musk's arrival shifted the decision-making needle from left-leaning to right-leaning, it remains to be seen whether that:
"...will be enough to cause an exodus of the generally left-leaning journalists who give Twitter its reputation as the mainstream media's 'assignment desk', or cause advertisers to abandon the platform, or result in a more general move to alternative sites. If core users in general do decide to leave, expect the platform to decline pretty abruptly.
But what's interesting is that even the people who do expect this sort of exodus don't seem to believe that there will be another single, unified platform that just replaces Twitter. The look and functionality of the original is simple to replicate, but no one seems to think that everyone will just move to New Twitter; everyone seems to expect that if and when Twitter does decline, the future is fragmented.
Because maybe, just maybe, we've learned our lesson. Maybe we've realized that the internet simply works better as a fragmented thing."
That's from Noah Smith (~10 minute read), who believes that centralised social media is dying and people will increasingly move to platforms that use an "old internet" model – one of community moderation, where people are separated "based on who they want to talk to and what they want to be exposed to".
3—What a difference a year makes
In March 2021, China's President Xi Jinping "took a post-pandemic victory lap":
"[P]roclaiming that his country had been the first to tame COVID-19, the first to resume work, and the first to regain positive economic growth. It was the result, he argued, of 'self-confidence in our path, self-confidence in our theories, self-confidence in our system, self-confidence in our culture'."
The New York Times was glowing in its review of China's response:
"In the year since the coronavirus began its march around the world, China has done what many other countries would not or could not do. With equal measures of coercion and persuasion, it has mobilised its vast Communist Party apparatus to reach deep into the private sector and the broader population, in what the country's leader, Xi Jinping, has called a 'people's war' against the pandemic — and won."
But did China merely delay the inevitable, at huge cost? It's certainly looking that way:
"Bloomberg Intelligence estimates China could see up to 700,000 deaths after abandoning Covid Zero. Researchers in Hong Kong are even more gloomy, predicting almost 1 million people in China may die. That could prove to be troublesome for Xi Jinping's government, which had long defended its policy as morally superior to the West, saying the latter's policies led to the deaths of many elderly people. Chinese state media is now cranking up its propaganda to defend Xi's decision."
We may never know how many people are getting sick – "China decided to stop releasing comprehensive data" – but rising cases and deaths will likely "offset some of the positive impact of the easing [of restrictions] in the near term".
You can read the full update from Bloomberg here (~6 minute read).
💸 He's right but also recently took on $13 billion in high-interest debt to buy Twitter. Elon Musk: "At risk of stating obvious, beware of debt in turbulent macroeconomic conditions, especially when Fed keeps raising rates."
🚀 Japan "will double its military spending in the next five years [to 2% of GDP], citing threats posed by China and North Korea. It will also acquire the ability to strike enemy bases".
🐀 After spending a few days in a rat-infested Bahamas prison, Sam Bankman-Fried is expected "to reverse his decision to contest extradition to the United States".
🤝 At the Reserve Bank of Australia, "the staff recommendation and the Board decision have been the same in 110 of the past 110 meetings! This is a culture where people do not express disagreement. Bad decisions result."
⚔️ "Russian troops have turned to Wikipedia to find instructions on handling weapons and used 1960s-era maps in the country's invasion of Ukraine."