2021年1月29日 星期五

The Daily: Who is Aleksei Navalny?

How we told the story of the Russian opposition leader on one of the most important weeks of his life. Plus, what to listen to this weekend.

By Lauren Jackson

Hi everyone, Happy Friday. It was a week filled, again, with politics and the pandemic. But in between making the show, our team was watching interviews about failure, filmmaking and skateboarding and a documentary about the mayor of Ramallah, in the West Bank. We'd love to know what you've been watching or listening to lately. And if you missed any of our shows from this week, here's a recap — along with some of the stories from behind the scenes.

Have a great weekend, everyone (and see ya never January!)

Aleksei Navalny and the future of Russia

Demonstrators in Moscow clashed with the police on Saturday.Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Before this week, most of our team knew the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny for his near-death experience — a cinematic story that included a suspected state-sanctioned poisoning, a diverted plane and an airlift to a German hospital. From following the news, we also knew about his dissidence, including criticism of the Kremlin. But we didn't know who he was beyond these headlines.

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So earlier this month, when Mr. Navalny voluntarily returned to Russia, where he was promptly imprisoned, an editor on our team asked: Who is Aleksei Navalny?

"We were interested in diving into this character to understand how he got to be a powerful figure internationally," said Rachelle Bonja, a fellow on The New York Times's audio team. But when the team called our Moscow correspondent, Anton Troianovski, they learned the story they were trying to tell was incomplete — and that the show they planned to air last Friday would have to wait.

"What Anton told us was that the defining moment in Navalny's life had yet to happen, and that it would happen on Saturday," producer Luke Vander Ploeg said. Mr. Navalny's supporters had called for anyone who disagreed with his imprisonment for challenging Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, to take to the streets. "The protests on Saturday were going to tell us a lot about how Navalny's legacy endured," Rachelle added.

The episode hinged on these key questions: "The protests that he called for, would they happen or wouldn't they? And what would be the repercussions?" Luke said.

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So the team decided to record most of the episode last Friday — and then wait and watch to see what happened in Russia over the weekend before they finished the show. Below, Rachelle describes her experience waiting, and watching, for news from Russia:

After recording most of the episode on Friday, we were left with a cliffhanger, not knowing how the episode would end. On Saturday, via our Slack channel, we all watched as news of the protests started coming in, city by city, showing large crowds on streets. Many people gathered in the snow and subzero temperatures. The end of the episode became clearer as tens of thousands of Russians across the country turned out to voice their dissent against the government. On Sunday, the producers Lynsea Garrison and Rachel Quester taped the end of the episode, asking Anton to explain the significance of the protests and finishing up the episode to publish on Monday. Writers are often asked, "Do you need to know the ending of a book when you start writing it?" This was an instance when we started writing and didn't know the ending, but it revealed itself to us alongside the news.

Great listens for your weekend

By Mahima Chablani and Desiree Ibekwe

Irene Rinaldi

We get it — it has been a long year and it's only January. If you're yearning for something to binge other than the news, here's what a couple of our team members have been listening to lately:

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A rom-com for your ears:

"I love a rom-com and I love a podcast, so I was thrilled at the launch of 'RomComPods.' The two seasons out so far are quarantine comfort food for your ears. The first season is about a woman who takes her honeymoon to Italy solo after her fiancé leaves her, only to meet a dashing tour guide. The second season features a missed connection romance between the rock star son of a presidential candidate and a campaign staffer. They're super bingeable and sheer delights, and I can't wait for the third season (the creators say it will center on a cooking competition TV show)." — Erica Futterman, deputy director of audience and operations

An audio gift from a British national treasure:

"Awkward, self-effacing and painfully polite, the documentarian Louis Theroux is a British national treasure. Earlier in the pandemic, he started 'Grounded,' a podcast from the BBC. The show is something of a change of pace for Louis, who has in the past covered the Church of Scientology, America's mega-jails and drug addiction. Here, the premise is simple: He's using his downtime during the pandemic lockdown to chat with celebrities he's always wanted to call. Have a listen to the episode featuring the actress and writer Michaela Coel." — Desiree Ibekwe, a news assistant who helps make this newsletter from London

On The Daily this week

Monday: A look at the life and potential legacy of Aleksei A. Navalny.

Tuesday: A candid conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci about what it was really like to work for former President Donald Trump.

Wednesday: With cases falling and the threat of new variants of the coronavirus looming in the United States, we get an update on the pandemic.

Thursday: The mechanics, history and debate over the U.S. Senate's filibuster rule.

Friday: The inauguration of Joe Biden has shattered the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory. What happens to its followers now?

That's it for The Daily newsletter. See you next week.

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On Tech: Billionaires bicker over space toys

They should instead focus on the big question: Can satellites bring internet access to billions?

Billionaires bicker over space toys

James Kerr/Scorpion Dagger

Small satellites could help bring internet access to more of the world's citizens. That's cool.

You know what's uncool? Rich dudes fighting over whose space toys are better.

Let me tell you about the satellite spat between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, the technology they're working on and the risks of over relying on tech to tackle complex problems.

Here goes: Musk's SpaceX rocket company, Amazon and other rich companies are working on networks of relatively small satellites that beam internet access to the ground. These networks orbit at lower levels than conventional satellites and are cheaper to make and launch.

Proponents say that these networks can expand internet service, particularly in remote areas, to ships at sea and in other hard-to-reach spots. Similar small satellites are being used for other projects such as monitoring wildfires. There are drawbacks, but we should be excited about the possibilities.

This week's tiff started because SpaceX wants permission from the U.S. government to move some of its satellites to lower orbits. Amazon said that would interfere with its satellites. Musk got angry. Amazon said that SpaceX was trying to "smother competition in the cradle." (Side note: America's dominant online retailer probably shouldn't accuse others of smothering competition.)

Usually I love to watch rich people squabble. The Kardashians! But this time … ugh.

I understand why SpaceX and Amazon want to persuade a U.S. agency. But I hope that the trash talking doesn't distract them from important questions: Is this satellite technology the best approach to help get billions of more people online? Or is this another potentially misdirected effort to throw complicated technology at a complex human problem?

Put more simply: Is this a good idea?

We should be excited by ambitious technology but not blinded by it. Compared with even thousands of satellites, the best existing internet pipes can carry far more web traffic. Satellite internet still typically requires specialized equipment on the ground, which isn't easy to build or pay for. These emerging internet projects might be a very helpful complement rather than a substitute for established internet infrastructure. That's one reality.

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The other reality is that if you want technology to change the lives of billions of people, you also must think about … what's that word? Ah yes: people.

Even in a rich country like the United States, people don't lack internet access solely because the technology isn't up to snuff. There are also misguided government policies, structural inequalities, the need by many to spend money on more immediate essentials and more.

That means bringing more people online in the United States — not to mention the rest of the world — cannot be done by technology alone. We also need to think holistically about the barriers to internet access among individuals and society.

Look, billionaires can snipe at each other, obsess over rocket protocols, and think about government policies and human motivations. But even billionaires must prioritize. If they and the rest of us fixate on winning a "space race," they risk failing to put people first. (Or they may be motivated by making money rather than bringing the world online. They can do both, I think.)

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The satellite back-and-forth made me reflect on this interview with Tracy Chou, who developed software to help filter out harassing online posts. She said that some companies want to believe smarter technology can solve everything. It can't.

I'm sure Bezos, Musk and everyone else involved in satellite internet projects know that. They just have to act like it.

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Robinhood's wild ride

Everyone from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the right-wing personality Ben Shapiro declared the stock trading app Robinhood a villain on Thursday. Robinhood likes to say that it enables anyone to enter cloistered financial markets. Its critics said the company messed with the free markets to squash the little guy.

But this week's tale may have been simpler: A bumbling company was bad at money.

What happened: Hordes inspired by a Reddit group have been helping to drive up the stock prices of GameStop and other companies. Robinhood and some other stock brokerages this week then limited customers' transactions in the gyrating stocks. People got mad and said that Robinhood was trying to protect rich investors from losing to minnow online traders.

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But maybe Robinhood didn't have money? Stockbrokers like Robinhood are legally required to have enough cash to pay customers, cover losses and have a cushion if things go wrong. This week seemed to strain Robinhood's ability to do that, and my colleagues reported that the trading platform needed to raise $1 billion in emergency cash.

What's the lesson here? My colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin asked an important question: Is there something wrong with Robinhood that it didn't have enough cash without emergency funding or cutting off customers? My DealBook colleagues asked: Is Robinhood's business model broken?

Also, maybe everyone should tweet less and ask financial regulators more questions.

Pay attention to how Robinhood makes money: It's a good moment to reread my colleague Nathaniel Popper's article on the people hurt by rapid-fire stock trading and how Robinhood draws young Americans into risky financial transactions.

And these no-fee stock trading apps may be less democratic than you think. Robinhood and its competitors get paid by Wall Street firms who do the actual stock trades, and try to squeeze a few pennies from the transactions over what Robinhood customers pay. This is a longstanding industry practice and not inherently bad. But getting paid by Wall Street giants doesn't match Robinhood's image of empowering the masses to beat the rich.

Before we go …

  • The Twitter mob for a corporate agenda: My colleague Adam Satariano examines how one company harnessed the techniques of social media manipulation typically used by authoritarian governments to promote its policy goals.
  • The mystery of Google's deleted paragraph: A human rights group criticized Google for opening computer centers in Saudi Arabia. The company then altered a blog post about its Saudi project. Protocol explained what happened.
  • Warm weather, a Bitcoin-friendly mayor and (purely coincidentally) lower taxes: Please enjoy my colleague Nellie Bowles writing about the kite-surfing clubs and other cultural changes as titans from technology decamp to Miami. One relocation company is calling it "Mass Techxodus."

Hugs to this

A beautiful snowy owl was spotted in New York's Central Park this week for the first time in more than a century. Look at this owl staring down crows! (Alas, the owl seems to have left the park.)

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