Afghanistan Fell with the Help of...Facebook?, USWNT & The Tendency to (Literally) Kneel Before Toxic Leaders, People with MS Banned from NYC Restaurants? (The Five for 08/20/21)

Hey, welcome to The Five.

I’m thankful for the format of The Five (Tuesdays: hard news, Fridays: Culture & Commentary) because my emotions are pushing me to drop 2,000 words of pure rage over the American citizens and Afghan combat vets, translators and allies who’s blood soaks the streets of Kabul.

Unless you’re brand new to The Five (and/or me, personally), you likely know that part of my extended family, and many of my friends and relatives growing up, are refugees from Laos who fled the Communist genocide that swept Southeast Asia.

I was loved and formed from an early age by a group of people who suffered greatly due to botched foreign policy, but escaped and then were welcomed into the American dream. I’m unable to see young men, women and children shot in the streets of Kabul and falling from planes without mentally pasting the faces of my own relatives onto the dead.

My emotional state is not one that lends itself to clear headed news coverage, so thankfully Friday is the culture edition. Perhaps I’ll be a bit more centered by Tuesday to cover the issues in this sickening news cycle.

Let’s dive in.

[one]


The situation is developing, but at this point the evidence is strong that the Taliban took over Afghanistan with ample digital help from Silicon Valley.

New York IP/tech lawyer Preston Bryne writes:

The Taliban are thus free, and have been free for a number of years, to take their fight not to American soldiers (where they always lose) but directly to the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, all using free-to-use American internet infrastructure like Facebook and Twitter (where they have now won). 

WhatsApp is an American product. It can be switched off by its parent, Facebook, Inc, at any time and for any reason. The fact that the Taliban were able to use it at all, quite apart from the fact that they continue to use it to coordinate their activities even now as American citizens’ lives are imperiled by the Taliban advance which is being coordinated on that app, suggests that U.S. military intelligence never bothered to monitor Taliban numbers and never bothered to ask Facebook to ban them.

They probably still haven’t even asked Facebook to do this, judging from the fact that the Taliban continues to use the app with impunity.

This might explain why Afghanistan collapsed as quickly as it did.

of this writing, Facebook has issues a blanket ban on Taliban accounts (too little, too late), but I can't find anything on their Whatsapp policy.

Meanwhile, Twitter is more than happy to keep the Taliban tweeting.

Twitter, whose spokesperson couldn’t be reached to comment for this story, has allowed different Taliban accounts on its site in the past and continues to let the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, tweet regularly to his 293,400 followers. Back in 2011, Sen. Joe Lieberman, then head of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Twitter complaining about two active Taliban accounts, which were eventually taken down. In 2021, Mujahid has been issuing updates throughout the latest conflict in Afghanistan, including one missive sent Monday that said, simply: “The situation in Kabul is under control.”

I won’t even wager a guess as to what can be done legally about this situation, but we’re truly in dystopian territory when an American company is broadcasting the messages of terrorists who are currently hunting American citizens stuck in Afghanistan.

[two]

Fact checking/conspiracy debunking site Snopes is facing a major backlash after the news broke that a cofounder (and 50% owner of the company) had plagiarized articles in major publications.

Buzzfeed reports:

David Mikkelson, the co-founder of the fact- website Snopes, has long presented himself as the arbiter of truth online, a bulwark in the fight against rumors and fake news. But he has been lying to the site's tens of millions of readers: A BuzzFeed News investigation has found that between 2015 and 2019, Mikkelson wrote and published dozens of articles containing material plagiarized from news outlets such as the Guardian and the LA Times.

After inquiries from BuzzFeed News, Snopes conducted an internal review and confirmed that under a pseudonym, the Snopes byline, and his own name, Mikkelson wrote and published 54 articles with plagiarized material. The articles include such topics as same-sex marriage licenses and the death of musician David Bowie.

Snopes VP of Editorial and Managing Editor Doreen Marchionni suspended Mikkelson from editorial duties pending “a comprehensive internal investigation.” He remains an officer and a 50% shareholder of the company.

To repeat the “dystopian territory” phrase from story #1, I now have more trust in the journalism of Buzzfeed, which started as a garbage clickbait listicle site, than in CNN.

This week, the cable news network claimed the Taliban led with a “welcoming spirit” and “are chanting ‘death to America’ but seem friendly at the same time.”

Somehow, garbage websites are figuring out credible journalism as legacy newsrooms are forgetting…

[three]

Megan Rapinoe (left) and Hope Solo (right).

USWNT team goalie Hope Solo accused her teammate Megan Rapinoe of bullying the team into kneeling for the National Anthem.

Media-ite reports:

“Right now what I’ve seen is there’s been so much debate about the kneeling, about the not kneeling. I know most people stand against discrimination,” Solo added. “And I live in the south, I live in a very conservative area here in North Carolina in the south. Obviously I have friends on both sides of the aisle, but I think the kneeling thing can be very divisive.”

“It’s tough,” Solo told Goal. “I’ve seen Megan Rapinoe almost bully players into kneeling because she really wants to stand up for something in her particular way. But it’s our right as Americans to do it whatever way we’re comfortable with and I think that’s really hard being on the main stage right now with so many political issues for athletes. There’s a lot of pressure and ultimately at the end of the day our number one focus should and has always been to win first.”

I’m covering this story, not because the USWNT drama is particularly interesting (pick any high stakes situation in any sport/league and you’ll find a long-form think piece on personalities clashing) but because the tensions on this soccer team are an excellent microcosm of what’s happening in offices, churches, schools and clubs in 2021.

Like LeBron James, Megan Rapinoe is an extremely talented, highly opinionated athlete that draws many in as “superfans” and repels the general public.

This doesn’t mean that James and Rapinoe are terrible people (James is one of the most charitable athletes of all time and has changed the lives of tens of thousands of at-risk students in his home state of Ohio).

However, both do appear (from an observer’s point of view) to fit the classic definition of a toxic leader.

From the Ivey Business Journal:

First, strong yearnings for toxic leaders percolate up from our unconscious, where psychological needs send us in search of authority figures who can offer us comfort and promise to satisfy some of our deepest longings.

Many of these psychological needs that feed our hunger for toxic leaders are related to Abraham Maslow’s (1971) well-known hierarchy of deficiency and growth needs. (Originally, Maslow outlined a five-level hierarchy, ranging from physiological needs, like food and shelter, to needs for safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.

In 1971, Maslow revised his concept of growth needs in two important ways. Below self-actualization, he identified cognitive and aesthetic needs. Maslow also described a level beyond self-actualization that is particularly relevant to our yearning for toxic leaders: transcendence

In other words, leaders like James and Rapinoe make their team feel safety and a sense of purpose by pointing out a clear vision that makes a chaotic world seem manageable.

Later, when the toxic leader’s demands cross the line into the uncomfortable and the inappropriate, the group is more likely to go along with decisions that go against personal values…to hold onto that sense of safety, and to avoid uncomfortable conflict.

One of the most comical examples of this happened last year when Nancy Pelosi and a gaggle of predominantly geriatric, Caucasian Democrats “took a knee” in Congress while donning scarves with traditional African prints.

The whole fiasco could easily be considered appropriation of the culture of Ghana, considering Louis Vitton came under fire for using Kente cloth in their 2021 line, despite the fact that Creative Director Virgil Abloh is of Ghanan descent (via his grandmother).

The event happened as a result of George Floyd’s death, and the Dem knee bend went by with little more than a chuckle and some zingers from the political right.

A year later, this begs the question…why? The move made no sense (kneeling in sports, during the anthem has precedent and context…but kneeling in Congress? Why not just kneel in line at Subway?), and old, white people in business attire, draped in kente cloth just look ridiculous.

The congressional kneeling moment likely happened for the same reason the USWNT team all assumed the kneeling position during the National Anthem, even though many players didn’t want to—because it’s easier to feel uncomfortable than unsafe, especially when a toxic leader has risen to power.

[four]

With a third COVID shot on the near horizon, ethical questions continue to swirl around the effectiveness (the Pfizer shot is only 42% effective against variants) and long term safety of the world’s firs MRNA vaccine.

One place I didn’t expect to hear criticism and questions of the vaccine was on the Vance Crowe podcast, where my friend (and former Monsanto Director of Millennial Engagement) interviewed and Eric Ward (now leading biotech startup AgBiome, who’s company produced “the big purple tomato.”)

Based on their respective backgrounds, I would have assumed Crowe and Ward would declare the vaccine safe and issue free.

However, Ward pointed out that people volunteered for human trials, and the U.S. government rejected such a notion…and instead just started injecting the public. “If you want to trust science, then do science,” Ward commented.

Vance responded:

Somebody made a very interesting point to me this weekend. You go to get the vaccine, you sign a bunch of things that say that Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Phizer, aren’t responsible for this. YOU are responsible for this.

If something goes wrong on this, and it’s all on me, then I choose no. I’m not going to do this.

Then they’re being told ‘you’re a part of a death cult, and you are embracing death to die for your savior.’

You can’t say ‘the individual is 100% responsible for what’s happening here, and simultaneously say ‘you have no authority and autonomy on this decision’…these two ends will never be squared, and it’s only going to cause more conflict.

I haven’t written previously about it (and I only am now because I recently switched jobs), but I was vaccinated with my whole (former) company, despite my concerns with early cases of anaphylaxis (severe swelling of the throat from allergic reactions, which leads to death if not quickly treated) after a nurse in Alaska nearly died from an anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine in December, 2020. I brought this up to my then-employer (who were otherwise wonderful in every way), and was pretty much told to suck it up and roll the dice. I asked if the company would cover my medical bills if a reaction caused hospitalization, and was never given a clear answer. In other words, both my corporation in particular and society in general were more than happy for me to assume personal risk for their collective feeling of safety.

I was vaccinated, not because I feared for my health…but because I feared for my career. As a family that relies on one salaried income, I buckled to pressure (just like in story #3) and got the shot, which resulted in a mild anaphylactic reaction, which was stopped with Benadryl, and did not require hospitalization.

For the second shot, I was absolutely terrified…but again, was again facing heavy employer pressure. Turns out most allergic reactions happened on the first shot, not the second, and I was able to tolerate the final dose without illness.

This week, NYC’s “vaccine passport” regulations went into effect, YouTuber Tim Pool researched to find out whether or not restaurants in the city would allow a person with Multiple Sclerosis (a diagnosis which makes the COVID vaccine unsafe), and found only one would.

I’m no legal expert, but from a casual observer’s perspective this appears to be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Even as I’m faced with the possibility that society might declare me “unclean” for not receiving a booster shot, there’s no assurance that a third dose wouldn’t cause another anaphylactic reaction, and possibly leave me with thousands of dollars of medical bills (that I could never sue the vaccine manufacturer for), unplanned time off work from a new job and unable to care for my family.

At this point, I’m (mostly) vaccinated, and a third injection isn’t worth the risk given my age and health.

Which will likely cause some problems in my life, just like it’s causing problems in the lives of the disabled in NYC.

But make no mistake, we’re far beyond the bounds of science here. Science has never demanded that every single person, with no exceptions for pre-existing conditions, receive a vaccine.

No, that mandate comes from the mob hysteria around the COVID shot…which is rapidly adopting cult like tendencies.

I bent the knee once, purely due to peer pressure. (And the fear of financial consequences).

I will not risk my health again.

[five]

As always, let’s head into the weekend with a pop-culture roundup.

  • The new series from Big Little Lies creator Liane Moriarty kicked off on Hulu this week. Nine Perfect Strangers sets itself up as an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery, with nine strangers attending a new age feeling wellness retreat. Nicole Kidman (Cold Mountain, The Hours) Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, The Heat), Regina Hall (Law Abiding Citizen, Girls Trip), Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Boardwalk Empire) and Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train, the Fast & Furious series) lead the cast. Big Little Lies was a cultural phenomenon, so we’ll see if another Kidman-led-murder-mystery series based on a story from the same novelist can create another hit show. See the trailer.

  • Yellowstone finally returns for season 4 on November 7th.

  • As someone who’s fairly lukewarm on Marvel, I have to say the new Eternals trailer…wow. Will be catching this one in the theater.

  • The Walking Dead starts back up on Sunday night for it’s 11th and final season, which will run in three parts, ending in 2022. Also, a show about the apocalypse has an “official whiskey” this year. Yeah, makes total sense.

  • Last week’s real-life matchup between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox at the Field of Dreams movie set in Iowa on the was not only the most watched regular season baseball game since 2005, it also spawned a new IP based on the 1989 Oscar-nominated film. NBC streaming arm Peacock picked up a straight-to-series order for the Field of Dreams TV show. No details yet, but The Good Place creator and Parks & Rec and The Office showrunner Michael Schur is leading the project. The filming schedule will have to share the space with the real life MLB, as the Cubs and Reds are set to square off in the Iowa corn field in 2022.

  • I don’t often cover video games news (or find much time to play), but a 10th anniversary remake of Skyrim is a pretty big deal. Coming to XBOX One X and PS5 November 11th.

  • It’s been long enough since we’ve had a Shakespeare movie that Hollywood is ready to see how much more water can be drawn from that well. Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, About a Boy) was announced as a cast member of Rosaline, based on a novel that focuses on a modern retelling of the Romeo+Juliet tale. The film adaptation is being penned by the (500 Days of Summer) writing team, so my interest is piqued.

  • I was an early advocate for the indie film Dear White People back in 2014 (my review for Relevant Magazine here). The first two seasons of the Netflix spinoff show were great, followed by a terrible season 3. Now, creator Justin Simeon returns to Netflix one more time before taking the help of an upcoming Star Wars project. The final season of the show will focus on the main cast members (all college seniors at this point) writing a “90’s musical,” so this will either be groundbreaking and brilliant…or so painful you can’t stand to watch. One of those. First trailer here.

  • The Rolling Stone list of 50 Best Action Movies contains some hidden gems I’ve added to my watchlist, worth checking out if your weekend viewing often involves combat, guns and gore.

MY MUSIC PICK Although it may be a bit premature to issue a strong endorsement of an album that’s barely twelve hours old, but the debut from Sam Williams is stunning at first listen. The grandson of the Hank Williams, the tragic early country star who died in a car wreck at the age of 27, Sam’s debut incorporates a bit of pedal steel and vocal inflections from his famous ancestor, while heading in a more modern, indie pop sound. The songwriting, which on the excess, vapidness and heartache of growing up rich and in a famous family, is as sharp as any debut artist I’ve heard in years. In my opinion, Glasshouse Children is a must-listen.

NEW MUSIC: Country music contrarian Sturgill Simpson releases The Ballad of Dood & Juanita, a concept album set in Kentucky’s frontier days. Gen Z pop sensation (and industry plant) Lorde returns with Solar Power, a more analog affair than her blockbuster debut. North Carolina alt-country mainstays American Aquarium release Daytrotter Sessions. Long running surf rockers Switchfoot drop interrobang, their 12th studio project. Country/soul solo vocalist Anderson East’s May We Never Die is out today. Gen Z rap star Trippie Red keeps the momentum going with Trip at Knight. Texas songwriting legend James McMurtry’s highly anticipated The Horses and the Hounds is out now.*

That’s a lot of great new music. The days may be dark, but new songs often bring hope. Pick something, dive in and take a listen!

[epilogue]

The Afghanistan women’s soccer team.

The first-ever Afghanistan women’s soccer team began training in 2016 for the World Cup (now delayed until 2023).

The team, coached by former American pro Kelly Lindsey, practiced all over the Middle East. Due to the war in Afghanistan (and the team being coached by an American woman), the team met up in other Middle Eastern countries to train.

Lindsey, who was unpaid, took the job to “give hope to women in the face of war and sexism.”

That dream ended this weekend. Team captain Khalida Popal told members of the (now defunct) squad to burn their uniforms, delete social media, and hide from the Taliban.

Over the weekend, the dream of an Afghan women’s soccer team died.

In the coming days, it may be the players themselves who are among the victims of the Taliban.

Until the next one,

-sth