Stories That Have Been Overshadowed by the Pandemic

Stories That Have Been Overshadowed by the Pandemic

       With the world in turmoil over the coronavirus, the news has been dominated by COVID-19 – and rightly so. But if the coronavirus weren’t a thing, what would we all be talking about? Well, obviously, the democratic primary would be leading the headlines, so let’s just forego that. With that said, there’s been a lot of newsworthy items lately. The last story will absolutely blow your mind; let’s dig in!

     

Do you know what the smallest dinosaur is? If so, props to you, because it was just reported in March of this year! Science News reported that researchers discovered a tiny bird preserved in amber – about the same size as the Bee Hummingbird.

     The tiny, toothed dinosaur’s skull was found in northern Myanmar. It’s estimated that it was merely 2 inches long and only weighed 2 grams. Having roughly 100 teeth suggests that the bird was a predator. Likely feasting on insects, this bird provides more than just a cool trivia answer. Exactly how it is so small is certainly intriguing.

     Researcher Jingmai O’Connor – senior professor of vertebrate paleontology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences – speculates that it may have actually evolved to be that small, a process of miniaturization. The bird was dated back to the Cretaceous period and at that time, Myanmar was possibly part of a chain of islands. One possible theory, according to O’Connor, is island dwarfism. This dinosaur’s discovery could potentially lend a hand into learning more about the phenomenon of dwarfism.

    HIV/AIDSNow you know what would be really great right now? Some good news on the infectious disease front! Well guess what, there is! There have now been 2 people successfully cured of HIV. Adam Castillejo of London was cured by a stem cell treatment, but it wasn’t specifically for HIV. It was a treatment he was receiving for cancer.

     Prof Ravindra Kumar Gupta – lead researcher at the University of Cambridge – stated “Our findings show that the success of stem-cell transplantation as a cure for HIV, first reported nine years ago in the Berlin Patient, can be replicated.” The way this works is that when stem-cells are transplanted, it apparently stops the virus from being able to replicate.

      There is, unfortunately, a downside. The stem-cell therapy is considered rather high-risk and therefore only deemed necessary to treat haematological malignancies as a last resort. But of course, this could lead to further advancements into finding a cure (possibly via CRISPR).

     Do you remember back in when some of the internet’s largest sites protested two sets of legislation – SOPA and PIPA? Well unfortunately, the next iteration of internet censorship is here. Dubbed the ‘EARN IT Act’, (sponsored by Lindsey Graham) and this piece of legislation aims to put a backdoor into end to end encryption under the guise of stopping child predators.

     As WIRED reports, the bill “poses the most serious threat in years to strong end-to-end encryption.” While the bill itself does not specifically mention encryption, US attorney general states that child predators “communicate using virtually unbreakable encryption.” and “The department for one is prioritizing combating child sexual exploitation and abuse in our prosecution efforts. And we are also addressing child exploitation in our efforts on retaining lawful access and in analyzing the impact of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act on incentives for platforms to address these crimes.”

     For reference, Section 230 gives companies minimal liability with how people use their platforms. Under the EARN IT act, these companies would have to follow the recommendations for combating child sexual exploitation put forward by a 16-person commission. This essentially will make the companies decide between breaking their encryption or having to assume legal liability for their users.

     The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is arguing that the EARN IT Act actually violates the constitution. By stating that companies will have to comply with the commissions “best practices”, it’s possible that it could violate the first and fourth amendments.

     While attempting to fight child predators, that might eventually be the bill’s downfall. As stated the sole purpose of the bill is to “prevent, reduce, and respond to the online sexual exploitation of children.” The issue here is that it effects more than just that. Using the EARN IT Act, the government could feasibly regulate how companies run and manage their platforms altogether. For example, media and journalists cannot be told to present news a specific way by lawmakers.

     The bill also states that the goal of the bill is to “prevent” online sexual exploitation. This has the potential to lead to a scenario where proactive monitoring is occurring at the company level to prevent themselves from being in violation. This in turn essentially makes the company act on behalf of the government. The result would be a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.

     The bill is currently in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee and likely won’t be going anywhere soon with the pandemic going on. But it is definitely something to keep a lookout for. It could have major implications in more ways than intended.

     Growing up, my friends and I always used to joke around about kids in Taiwan or China working in sweatshops making shoes (we were horrible, I know). I never really put much thought into it because I literally could not comprehend a world in which that would happen back then. I often miss that feeling of naivety.

     Early last month, reports that Nike, Adidas, Apple, and other major corporations linked to just that, slave labor. Forbes reports that 83 multinational companies have been linked in forced labor in factories across China. Currently, it is not known whether the companies are involved or even aware. Representatives from Adidas, Bosch, and Panasonic told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (who reported these findings) that they had “no direct contractual relationships with the suppliers”, but also that a link further down could not be ruled out.

     It has been known for some time that the Chinese government has persecuting Uighurs (an ethnic minority in China), but until now there have been no direct links to forced labor. Between 2017 and 2019, it’s estimated that more than 80,000 Uighurs were forced to work in factories across China. The ASPI also found companies that advertised being able to supply up to 1,000 Uighur workers aged 16 to 18. This is on top of the Chinese government offering factory bosses cash compensation for each Uighur worker they employ.

     While Chinese media states that these workers are being compensated, it sure doesn’t sound like it accounts for much. They are still being forced to “live in segregated dormitories, are unable to go home, and they undergo Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours”.

     Honestly, I wish I had never come upon this story. It’s truly devastating to think about. It’s estimated that more than 1.5 million ethnic minorities are being held in Xinjiang by the Chinese government. In an age where we as a human race have so much to offer everyone, stories like this just sicken me.

 

     Now for the final story. Surely, you’ve heard all the crazy shenanigans of Florida Man, right? Well I present to you, Florida Cow. The Pembroke Pines Police department tweeted “For several months a loose cow has been seen wandering in the area of Sheridan & I-75. It has evaded capture by both our officers & assisting cow herders since January.” The was described as “faster than it looks”.

 

     

It’s important to remember that the world hasn’t stopped because of the virus. It’s still important to pay attention to what’s happening around us. Also, it’s nice being able to take a bit of a break from the bleakness that is COVID-19. Well, that’s it for today. Let me know what you think of these stories. I’m personally pretty excited about the dinosaur discovery. I haven’t told my son about it yet, but I’m sure he’s going to love it.

 

One last thing, if you find yourself with some extra time while social distancing, I have a couple book recommendations:

  • Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas
    • Anand’s book explores exactly why and how the corporate elites carry so much power in the world and what can be done to level the playing field. This review by Mark Kramer of Standford Social Innovation Review perfectly sums up Winners Take All: “Important . . . [An] empathic tone gives the book its persuasive power to touch the hearts of even those readers, like myself, who are the targets of its criticism.”
  • The Populist’s Guide to 2020: A New Right and New Left are Rising by Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti
    • The hosts of Hill TVs Rising, Krystal and Saagar use their own stories from 2019 to show how the working class is being ignored. Krystal, a progressive, and Saagar, a conservative, make the perfect duo to point out the corruption and hypocrisy of our leaders in politics and media.

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