The Sunday Post for December 11, 2016

‘They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals’

It’s been a week of interesting and deliberate visual storytelling: this Time Magazine cover, for example, and this selection from the National Geographic 2016 photography contest winners.

But the week’s must-see is a breathtaking photo essay by Daniel Berehulak documenting the antidrug campaign launched by Philippine president President Rodrigo Dutert in June. In just over a month, Berehulak photographed 57 men and women killed by the police and by vigilantes for real or supposed drug crimes.

The New York Times deserves credit for creating an immersive and haunting digital experience, one that draws additional power by linking to Google’s “street view” of the sites where many of the images were taken. This really happened. It happened here.

Fair warning: the piece includes photographs that are hard to look at and very difficult to forget.

I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone, a place gripped by fear and death. What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness: police officers' summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to “slaughter them all.”

He said in October, “You can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more.”

Inside Quebec's great, multi-million-dollar maple-syrup heist

Real maple syrup: more expensive than oil and the coveted (though sticky) jewel at the heart of a Canadian cartel, a black market, and the most unlikely theft conceivable. A holiday story from Rich Cohen transforms our view of North America’s favorite pancake-topper.

Once a year, FPAQ [the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers] takes an inventory of the barrels. Gauvreau was near the top of the stack when one of the barrels teetered, then nearly gave way. “He almost fell,” Cyr said, pausing to let the picture form. A small man, astride a tower of syrup, realizing, suddenly, there’s nothing beneath his feet. Normally, weighing more than 600 pounds when filled, the barrels are sturdy, so something was clearly amiss. When Gauvreau knocked on the barrel, it tolled like a gong. When he unscrewed the cap, he discovered it empty. At first, it seemed like this might have been a glitch, a mistake, but soon more punk barrels were found—many more.

Patton Oswalt’s Year of Magical Parenting

Inspiration and heart from Patton Oswalt, best known for comedy, now learning to be a single dad as well.

You will never be prepared for anything you do, ever. Not the first time. Training and practice are out the window the second they meet experience. But you'll get better. I have subjective yet ironclad knowledge of this.

This is my first time being a single father. I've missed forms for school. I've forgotten to stock the fridge with food she likes. I've run out of socks for her. I've run out of socks for me. It sucked and it was a hassle every time, but the world kept turning. I said, “Whoops, my bad,” and fixed it and kept stumbling forward. Now I know where to buy the socks she likes. I asked two parents at her school to help me with forms and scheduling. I'm getting good at sniffing out weekend activities and scheduling playdates and navigating time and the city to get her and myself where we need to go every day. I work a creative job, but I live a practical life. If I can persuade a comedy club full of indifferent drunks to like me, I can have my daughter ready for soccer on a Saturday morning.

Google, democracy and the truth about internet search

We’re closing this week with two articles on the Internet and how it influences us — not in the spirit of alarm, but in the spirit of recognizing just what kind of water it is that we’re all breathing … and what we can do about it.

Reading Google’s predictive search can be a dreamy, funny, near-poetic experience. Plug in “why” and the engine suggests “why him,” “why is the sky blue,” “why not both,” “why are flags at half mast.” Try “why did”: Why did I get married? Why did the chicken cross the road? Why did Rome fall? Should I cut my hair? Text him? Upgrade to Sierra?

Less dreamy — and more terrifyingly influential — are the predictions for “are Jews,” “are women,” and “are Muslims,” as Carole Cadwalladr discoveres. She traces how the strategies used by content marketers across every industry may be supporting a shadow network of right-wing influence and information.

Our complicity, our credulity, being consumers not concerned citizens, is an essential part of that process. And what happens next is down to us. “I would say that everybody has been really naive and we need to reset ourselves to a much more cynical place and proceed on that basis,” is Rebecca MacKinnon’s advice. “There is no doubt that where we are now is a very bad place. But it’s we as a society who have jointly created this problem. And if we want to get to a better place, when it comes to having an information ecosystem that serves human rights and democracy instead of destroying it, we have to share responsibility for that.”

What GitHub did to kill its trolls

In the context of this and this, Kristen V. Brown offers hope: A free Internet doesn’t have to harbor bullies. Github is one of the world’s most ardently open open-source communities, with a culture of unfettered action and speech. But in 2014, they decided not to accept sexism and harassment as just the “dangers and pitfalls of online life” — in part because they realized that a culture of discrimation could never be truly open.

Trolls have become the scourge of the internet era. The sad fact of the matter is that the internet is chock full of a**holes; something really ought to be done about it.

But how do you rid the online world of violent verbiage and hatred when violence and hatred so thoroughly permeate the world itself?

Brown’s piece makes it clear that reducing online abuse is far more complicated than flipping a switch down at Twitter HQ. Now imagine that complexity magnified through the power of the presidential office. But creating healthy online communities is a choice, and it’s one we have an obligation to make.