Conspiracy Theories and Other Stories

February 20, 2020

I’m beginning to fear my family’s Whatsapp chat. My Chinese Singaporean parents are in their late 60s and aren’t very good with technology, but sadly they’ve learned how to share videos and memes on the platform. Despite the Singapore Government’s crackdown on fake news, quite a few things they’ve shared won’t exactly meet any sort of journalistic standard, let’s put it at that. I’ve no idea how to fix this, and I’m not alone–several of my friends bemoan the “auntie-uncle conspiracy theory network”, as we call our parents and older relatives’ group chats on Whatsapp, Facebook, and other more accessible social media networks. It puzzles me that this is even a problem. Our parents are often highly educated, business-savvy people who have seen a lot of life and of the world. Why is it then that I had to wake up on the weekend to my dad, a retired robotics engineer, sharing a screenshot of an article claiming that India has few coronavirus cases because they eat a lot of curry, which contains turmeric, which conveys some sort of magic protection against the virus? In 2015, there was a H1N1 pandemic in India that tragically killed 2,035 people. 2015 wasn’t that long ago, and besides, India has 3 COVID-19 cases.

The spread of conspiracy theories haven’t been limited to the older people social media network groups, though. Some of the spread of fake news can be sourced to government officials who really should know better. A “COV-19 is a bioweapon!” BS theory could be traced to Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on Faux News, who had to take to Twitter to clarify that he didn’t say it was true, only that it was possible. No, it’s not — it’s a fringe conspiracy theory that’s been debunked. Political fake news conspiracies by American Senators who lack empathy aside, fear has always been an easy way of making people completely lose their sh*t. Armed gangs in Hong Kong recently stole toilet paper rolls as panic buying hit the city. Via BBC:

Knife wielding men robbed a delivery man outside a supermarket in the Mong Kok district, police said.

Police have arrested two men and recovered some of the stolen loo rolls, local media reports said.

The armed robbery took place in Mong Kok, a district of Hong Kong with a history of “triad” crime gangs, early on Monday.

According to local reports, the robbers had threatened a delivery worker who had unloaded rolls of toilet paper outside Wellcome Supermarket.

An Apple Daily report said that 600 toilet paper rolls, valued at around HKD1,695 ($218; £167), had been stolen.

Toilet paper robberies? Is this how the end begins? Outbreak, World War Z, and the Andromeda Strain never prepared us for this. Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres in games, books, and film: it’s fun trekking through the sun-blasted irradiated wastelands of Fallout, listening to old jazz songs. Of all the hundreds of ways I’ve read about the world ending, though I didn’t expect stupidity to be one of them, but two months into 2020, I’m beginning to think that it’s the most likely end-of-days scenario.

The Virus of Fear

Recently, one of the most popular restaurants in Melbourne’s Chinatown closed. Sharks Fin House has been kicking around since 1989. It was already a staple on Chinatown when I first came to Melbourne in 2002, and back then, you couldn’t order much at yum cha unless you could speak Cantonese. Because of Sharks Fin House, I memorised Cantonese words for my fav yum cha dishes. I went there on Chinese New Year weekend with a friend, and it looked busy. I guess you never know. The closures have been hitting Sydney’s Chinatown hard as well. Via Goodfood:

Struggling restaurant owners in Sydney’s Chinatown say they have lost as much as 85 per cent of their business due to the coronavirus outbreak blocking Chinese tourists and students from coming to Sydney.

On Thursday the federal government extended the travel ban for all non-Australians travelling from China for at least another week as the death toll from the virus continues to surge.

The effect of that travel ban is plain to see in Haymarket where foot traffic is well below the usual bustling level. The Sun Herald and Good Food visited multiple restaurants in Chinatown this week and each of them reported vast falls in patronage and revenue.

Australia only has 15 cases, and they’re all contained. There’s no reason to just stop eating an entire region’s cuisine out of fear, but here we are. The problem isn’t limited to Australia. Chinatowns across America are also experiencing economic crises. Via Eater:

The Times reports that NYC’s three main Chinatowns — in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn — have seen business drop from 50 to 70 percent in the last two weeks. The owners of restaurants like historic Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan describe their environs as a “ghost town,” telling Grub Street that business had reached a five-year slowdown last Monday.

Steve Ip, owner of Yin Ji Chang Fen, tells the Times that he’s been expecting crowds of international students visiting New York-based family during the Lunar New Year: They haven’t materialized, and business at Yin Ji Chang Fen is down by half.

The phenomenon is widespread. Restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown are suffering, too: At a time when businesses like New Golden Gate Seafood Restaurant are normally bustling, that establishment and others are practically empty, Boston radio station WBUR reports. Business leaders in Houston’s Chinatown are seeing the same situation. The owner of Houston’s Shabu house, Debbie Chen, tells Houston TV station KPRC2 news that she’s worried about being able to pay her staff. Internationally, Chinatowns in London and Sydney observe declining business as well.

It isn’t just food places that will be feeling the sting. With much of the world shutting out a major economy and manufacturing hub out of flights, some even restricting cargo imports, the impact on the global economy is going to hit hard. UBS has estimated that coronavirus could cost Australia $1billion in services exports. Via ABC:

While they say it is far too early to know the total cost, just the group travel ban by the Chinese Government, which will stop many tourists leaving the country during the peak Lunar New Year holiday period, could directly cost Australia at least $1 billion in services exports.

“However, if travel disruptions are extended, or expand to cover independent travellers, the cost could be much greater,” the report warned. Global share markets have fallen only modestly since the coronavirus outbreak intensified, but some sectors such as travel and leisure have been hit much harder than others.

“Due to the virus, currently we expect only mild downgrades to global economic growth and corporate profits,” Nikko Asset Management’s chief global strategist John Vail wrote in a note.

“China will be affected the most but, as it is such an important country for supply chains and its demand for goods and services (especially its large tourist contribution), other countries will feel some pain too, at least temporarily.

Given the panic, you’d think COVID-19 is more fatal than it really is. 80% of the people infected have mild symptoms. Over a thousand people have already recovered. In the 2019-2020 flu season, 26 million people got the common cold, of which 14,000 people died. So why are we freaking out over COVID-19?

That was a rhetorical question.

Fighting Conspiracy Theories… With Your Stomach

My fears are perhaps a little self-serving. If the ban extends to Singapore and other Asian countries, the visits of family and friends will be curtailed, my own freedom of movement will be restricted, and the “No Chinese People Allowed” ban at certain businesses around the world might envelop the rest of us: the most populous ethnicity in the world. Melbourne, I hope, will be continue to be pretty good about this. There’s a benefit to living in extremely hipster cities. I’m not afraid to clear my throat on public transport–at least, not yet.

In the meantime, support your local Asian business. They’d probably need it — especially the restaurants. Sharks Fin House might be gone for good, but here’s a few I can think of offhand still kicking around Melbourne CBD that’d be good for a delicious feed:

  • Dainty Sichuan, Various
  • Din Tai Fung: Emporium, 4 Emporium, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Golf Leaf: District Docklands, 10-11 Star Cres, Docklands VIC 3008
  • Hawker Chan: 157 Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • HuTong: 14-16 Market Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Lee Ho Fook: 11-15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Panda Hot Pot: 100 Victoria St, Carlton VIC 3053
  • Secret Kitchen: 222 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Shandong Mama: Mid City, 7/200 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
  • Supper Inn: Level 1/15 Celestial Ave, Melbourne VIC 3000

There are also great restaurants over at Box Hill and beyond. Most of all, don’t freak out. And for the love of God, don’t rob people for toilet paper.

Just Mercy

February 20, 2020

What we’re watching: Michael B Jordan’s Just Mercy, a true story civil rights film about a lawyer defending a black man unjustly accused of murder. Via the Guardian:

“You don’t know what you’re into down here in Alabama,” he warns. “Here you’re guilty from the moment you’re born.”

That phrase could stand as a catchphrase for the ingrained racial injustice that Bryan Stevenson, the rookie lawyer played in the film by Michael B Jordan, has devoted his adult life to fighting.

From his first meeting with McMillian in 1988 to his star billing today as one of America’s most incisive commentators on race and inequity – and now as a fully fledged Hollywood icon – Stevenson has never taken his eyes off the prize.

His epic six-year struggle to prove McMillian an innocent man provides the narrative arc of Just Mercy. It is based on the 2014 memoir of the same name in which Stevenson, 60, relates how he came to find himself representing some of the most godforsaken prisoners in the country.

Magic Hour for Harley Davidson

February 19, 2020

Magic Hour is Droga5’s new campaign for Harley Davidson, an artistic, surreal ad that tries to capture the feeling of riding on a Harley.

Hogwarts Coronavirus

February 18, 2020

Coronavirus hits Hogwarts

Ravenclaw students are facing the biggest threat to Hogwarts since You-Know-Who: Racism.

Posted by The Feed SBS on Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Not even Hogwarts is exempt from Coronavirus, racism in general, or Sinophobia, as this hilarious skit from SBS’ The Feed shows.

Sea of Shadows

February 17, 2020

Sea of Shadows is a National Geographic documentary featuring Sea Shepherd’s fight to save the highly endangered vaquitas. Via National Geographic:

A looming disaster in one of the most spectacular environments on Earth sparks a rescue mission unlike any other in SEA OF SHADOWS, a riveting new documentary with the intensity of a Hollywood thriller from National Geographic Documentary Films and winner of the Sundance audience award. When Mexican drug cartels and Chinese traffickers join forces to poach the rare totoaba fish in the Sea of Cortez, their deadly methods threaten to destroy virtually all marine life in the region, including the most elusive and endangered whale species on Earth, the vaquita porpoise.

SEA OF SHADOWS follows a team of dedicated scientists, high-tech conservationists, investigative journalists and courageous undercover agents as well as the Mexican Navy as they put their lives on the line to save the last remaining vaquitas and bring the vicious international crime syndicate to justice.

Chasing the Thunder

February 14, 2020

Chasing the Thunder is Sea Shepherd’s latest upcoming film, about the longest chase in modern maritime history, of the chase of an illegal poacher. This story was last seen as a great long-form article in the New York Times, which we recommend reading if you haven’t:

Industrial-scale violators of fishing bans and protected areas are a main reason more than half of the world’s major fishing grounds have been depleted and by some estimates over 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish have vanished. Interpol had issued a Purple Notice on the Thunder (the equivalent of adding it to a Most Wanted List, a status reserved for only four other ships in the world), but no government had been willing to dedicate the personnel and millions of dollars needed to go after it.

So Sea Shepherd did instead, stalking the fugitive 202-foot steel-sided ship from a desolate patch of ocean at the bottom of the Earth, deep in Antarctic waters, to any ports it neared, where its crews could alert the authorities. “The poachers thrive by staying in the shadows,” Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Barker, said while trying to level his ship through battering waves. “Our plan was to put a spotlight on them that they couldn’t escape.”

Google’s Loretta

February 13, 2020

Google’s Loretta ad for the Superbowl is an incredibly moving, tear-jerker of an ad about an elderly man trying to remember his wife. According to Google’s chief marketing officer, it’s based on a true story:

Ten years ago Google aired its first-ever commercial, during the 2010 Super Bowl. We’ve run several more Super Bowl ads in the years since. And on Sunday, viewers of this year’s game will see “Loretta,” which tells the story of a man who uses the Google Assistant to keep the memory of his love alive.

The ad reflects our goal to build products that help people in their daily lives, in both big and small ways. Sometimes that’s finding a location, sometimes it’s playing a favorite movie, and sometimes it’s using the Google Assistant to remember meaningful details.

“Loretta” has a few other things in common with our “Parisian Love” commercial from 10 years ago. Both are simple love stories told through the lens of our products. Both were inspired by real people—in fact, the voice you hear throughout “Loretta” is the grandfather of a Googler, whose story we drew from to create the ad. At 85, to an audience of millions, he’ll be making his film debut. We couldn’t be happier for him.

McDonalds Famous Orders

February 12, 2020

McDonalds’ Superbowl ad this year was Famous Orders by Wieden+Kennedy, inspired by a Kim Kardashian interview about chicken nuggets. It’s a simple, beautifully executed ad which shows that you don’t have to be super flash to have a great ad (though of course we can’t be sure how much McDs paid the celebrities mentioned in the ad for their orders). We’re a little worried about Keith Urban.

Rick and Morty for Pringles?

February 11, 2020

Rick and Morty were in a Superbowl ad for Pringles? Wha? It’s a hilarious, very self-referential ad… much like the cartoon itself, and yes, there’s going to be an actual physical Pringle collaboration. Via CNN:

It’s a pickle — or, rather, a pickle-inspired chip.
For the third year in a row, Pringles is going all-in for its Super Bowl ad, and this time the crunch connoisseurs are giving a strange nod to the Adult Swim show “Rick and Morty” with a “Pickle Rick” chip and animated commercial.
Who is Pickle Rick, you may ask? He’s the vegetable reincarnation of “Rick and Morty”‘s wacky scientist Rick Sanchez, who turns himself into a talking pickle to avoid going to family therapy in Episode 3 of Season 3.
To honor the show’s intensely enthusiastic fan base, Adult Swim will create a “humorous, mind-bending animated spot” to air during the second quarter of the big game, says Pringles parent company, Kellogg.
And starting in early February, you’ll be able to pick up Pickle Rick chips in grocery stores nationwide.
Until then, the taste profile of the special-edition chip will remain a mystery, and we are left puzzling over what, exactly, Pickle Rick tastes like.

Porsche Superbowl 2020

February 10, 2020

The Porsche Superbowl 2020 ad looks like a trailer for a Fast and the Furious film… in a good way. Silly ending, but a fun watch that introduces its new electric car in a cool way. Watching the start of the ad, we were all “There’s no way you can steal a Porsche like that, it’d be too loud!” Curious about the cars involved? Motortrend has you covered:

Porsche’s first Super Bowl commercial in more than two decades is an epic ode to the brand’s past, present, and future. With its opening scene taking place within the halls of the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, the ad is chock full of great Porsches—including one unreleased model that was included as an Easter egg.

Yet, the 60-second spot, which previews a longer, 151-second online ad, ultimately puts the spotlight on 10 specific Porsches, each of which represents an important moment in the brand’s history. Read through to find out what makes these vehicles so special to the German automaker.

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