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What Happened Today: April 15, 2022
China’s property seizures; U.S. life expectancy trending down; mushroom kibitzing
The Big Story
Nearing its third week of lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities across the nation, the Chinese government is intensifying its effort to tamp down on COVID-19 cases, evacuating residents from their homes and turning apartment buildings into quarantine facilities. In one livestream video that appeared today on the WeChat platform, a woman is heard crying while dozens of workers in white hazmat suits labeled with the word police force people away from an apartment complex. The video was abruptly cut from the platform, which is monitored by Chinese state authorities, with a warning to the 10,000 viewers who’d tuned into the livestream that it was “dangerous content.”
The ongoing zero-COVID program is China’s attempt to contain the more than 300,000 cases of infection recorded since March in Shanghai alone, which makes it the largest outbreak in China since the beginning of the pandemic. Some 400 million people across 45 cities in China are affected by the lockdowns, many of whom are required to stay in their homes. Facing arrest if they leave, residents must rely on overwhelmed delivery services for food and supplies and report regular COVID-19 tests to authorities; those who test positive are taken to the sprawling network of quarantine centers. While other nations have enacted more modest measures to deal with recent case surges as they learn to live alongside the virus, China has aggressively gone in the other direction, with severe ramifications to its economy that will only exacerbate the ongoing supply chain issues roiling the globe. Citing the lockdowns and their effect on China’s production facilities, dozens of companies across retail, manufacturing, and industrial sectors have forecasted delays in delivering their wares. While traveling in the southern province of Hainan today, President Xi Jinping said the lockdowns must go on. “The global pandemic is still severe, so we cannot relax the controls now.”
In The Back Pages: Your Weekend Read
→ While peer nations have seen their life expectancy recover since the start of the pandemic, the United States life expectancy declined in 2021, largely because of an increase in deaths among white Americans, according to a new study awaiting a peer review. Before vaccinations were widely available in 2020, high-income nations like the United States suffered a significant drop in life expectancy because of the pandemic death toll. Then, as vaccinations rolled out in 2021, most nations saw their life expectancies recover—all except the United States. The already-existing gap between life expectancy in the United States and that of similar countries widened to more than five years, the researchers reported. The continual decline of U.S. life expectancy—which was 76.6 years in 2021, down from 78.86 two years prior—is attributed to several causes, including widespread obesity across the population, which increases life-threatening medical conditions, and a mismanaged response to the pandemic by local and federal actors.
→ To keep his life expectancy up, Mark Zuckerberg spent $26.8 million on the security detail for him and his family last year, according to new regulatory filings. Zuckerberg’s number two in command, Sheryl Sandberg, dropped $9 million plus another $2.3 million on private plane travel, a significant cost premium compared to top executives like Jeff Bezos, who spent $1.6 million on his protection, and Sundar Pichai, the head of Google, who spent $4.3 million for his detail. The high price tag for Meta’s leaders comes along with increased scrutiny and mounting pressure on the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and because Zuckerberg is “synonymous” with the brand, the company reported in its regulatory filing, “negative sentiment regarding our company is directly associated with, and often transferred to, Mr. Zuckerberg.”
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→ Kyiv was rocked by loud explosions today as Russia escalates its attack on Ukraine after Ukrainian forces said their attack on the Russian missile cruiser Moskva caused the vessel to sink yesterday. Longer than 600 feet, Moskva is the largest warship by tonnage to have been sunk in battle since World War II, though Russia has said the vessel, which is the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, went down because of an onboard fire unrelated to an attack. The conflict on the water follows Ukraine’s strikes this week on facilities near the Russian border, including a helicopter shot down in Russian territory. “In response to acts of sabotage by Ukrainian forces on Russian territory, the number and scale of missile attacks on objects in Kyiv will increase,” the Russian ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said today. The amplified aggression in Kyiv come as Russia directs its forces to the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, where military analysts say the two sides will wage battle on the ground.
→ Do mushrooms talk to one another? It’s possible, says new research published in the Royal Society Open Source, which looked at the patterns of electrical signals sent between four species of fungi and found clusters of activity that mimicked human vocabularies as large as 50 words. Led by University of the West of England’s Professor Andrew Adamatzky, the study of these “spiking events” could indicate that the mushrooms “are saying nothing,” he said, but the frequency of the electrical signals did not appear to be random, and the research builds on past findings that fungi electrical activity increases when the mushrooms encounter wooden food sources to alert more distant sections of the fungi network that nutrients are near.
→ Next week, a committee within the California State Assembly will vote on a new bill proposal that would make the workweek for companies with more than 500 employees a four-day week, shortening the 40-hour span to 32 hours. Though still early days for the bill, which, if passed, would then move for debate among California legislators, it comes on the heels of an increasingly popular argument for a shorter workweek and longer weekend, at least among workers and even some employers. Kickstarter and Unilever are both testing out the abbreviated week, though critics of the idea, which has been bubbling below the surface of the American conversation for decades, suggest that it could simply be too difficult for businesses to implement, as workers would struggle to do the job they do now in a shorter time span. Supporters, though, say that’s the point—more time should go to leisure, a belief that 37% of participants in a recent survey by Qualtrics said they’d trade in exchange for a 5% cut in salary.
→ The latest issue of The Tab, Tablet Magazine’s printable weekly digest, is out now. Get your copy of this week’s Passover Edition here: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/the-tab-printable-weekly
→ Programming note: The Scroll will be delivered early and in an abbreviated form today and next Thursday, and there will be no edition next Friday due to the Passover holiday. Chag Sameach to those who celebrate.
Your Weekend Read
The Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine seems to have a deeper view into the internal workings of Elon Musk’s psyche than most writers on the beat, and though he didn’t think Musk would have tried to make a hostile takeover bid of Twitter after Musk’s initial 9% purchase, he does offer here a probable set of scenarios for what’s to come now that Musk has in fact made his bid. For Twitter’s board of directors, who so far seem reluctant to sell, the next steps aren’t great. One option is to deploy a poison pill to block Musk’s takeover attempt, but given Musk’s trolling tendencies, that will likely open up its own new can of worms:
“You’ll definitely get sued.
He’ll run a proxy fight to try to vote you out, and an army of retail investors will buy the stock and vote with him.
He will tweet so many mean things about you, and those mean tweets will get lots of engagement.
Your defense will be like “No, we know what we are doing, we are excellent at maximizing long-term value for our shareholders, and we have a viable plan to make Twitter vastly more valuable in the future,” which is somewhat empirically doubtful.
If you prevail and Musk’s offer goes away, he’ll probably quit Twitter in a huff, you’ll lose your noisiest user, the stock will drop, and you’ll get sued some more.
It’s just very, very unpleasant, you know?”
In some ways, though, this is on Twitter, and Musk is just entertaining himself as he uses his wealth and levers of influence to turn the global platform into his own personal sandbox. As Levine points out, the Twitter internal monologue goes something like this: “We created the most powerful tool for trolling that the world has ever seen, and we cheered when Elon Musk used it to troll people, but we were not expecting him to use it to troll us.”