The Most Interesting Stories From December, told through Text Messages

We rounded up the most important, fascinating, mind-blowing news stories of 2015 that were texted to Purple users.

If you want to get fascinating updates and content like this sent directly to your phone instead of reading about it on Medium a month later, text PURPLE to 267–578–7753.

The Debates

The Gist: Accidentally revealing state secrets on national TV, chaos candidates, what we should do about ISIS, talk about “closing down that internet” in some places, what even is the nuclear triad, and punching the Russians in the nose. And that’s just in ONE debate!

Check out the Purple summaries here for the 5th Republican debate and the 2nd Democratic Debate.

User’s favorite quotes:

“Margaret Thatcher once said if you want something talked about ask a man, if you want something done ask a woman.” — Carly Fiorina
The CEOs of large multinationals may like Hillary. They ain’t going to like me.” — Bernie Sanders

The Month of Rap and Politics

Rappers T.I., Big Boi and Killer Mike submitted a brief to the Supreme Court because free speech yo. The brief argued on behalf of a Mississippi high school student who got in trouble for posting a rap song her wrote online. He rapped about the complaints of several female students that two male coaches made sexual comments to them and touched them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. He was suspended and sent to a different school.

The rap artists wrote in the brief that rap music is a political and artistic expression that deserves attention and First Amendment protection.

“The government punished a young man for his art — and, more disturbing, for the musical genre by which he chose to express himself.” — The Brief written by T.I., Big Boi, and Killer Mike

Speaking of Killer Mike, he interviewed President candidate Bernie Sanders for a few hours, and the interview is FASCINATING. Watch part 1 here:

Deep Dive: Long-ass read but so worth it on Killer Mike and the return of the politically engaged rapper.

Backwards Drug Rankings

One of the most-asked questions texted to Purple: Why is weed, according to the government, more dangerous than heroin?

If you are a Millennial, chances are you think it’s ridiculous that alcohol, a substance that kills 29,000 people each year due to liver disease and alcohol poisoning, is completely legal for adults, but weed, a substance that kills exactly zero people each year, is classified as a drug as dangerous as Heroin and LSD, and more dangerous than cocaine and meth. That’s right, more dangerous than meth.

If that describes you, than scientists are starting to agree with you in thinking that the way government ranks drugs from least to most dangerous might be extremely flawed.

A 2010 study in the Lancet (highly touted UK medical journal) says that drugs should be ranked totally differently, by looking at two things:

  • The risk to an individual
  • The damage to society as a whole.

The authors of the study ranked alcohol as the most dangerous drug in the UK, surpassing heroin, crack, and weed.

Insane Hotel Fire in Dubai… Wait Where Even IS Dubai?

A fire, started by fireworks during a NYE celebration, climbed up a hotel in Dubai near the tallest building in the world. The video is insane:

Ok but in addition to the horrific fire, Dubai is an important city to the U.S. Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a strategic country for America. The UAE is a majority Sunni Muslim country and is needed by the U.S. to join America’s coalition to fight ISIS for 2 reasons.

  • Isis is Sunni, and the more Sunni nations that join the fight against them the stronger the fight is and the fewer Sunni Muslims will be attracted to joining the Islamic State.
  • The UAE has a powerful air force that would really help air strikes against ISIS.

Interesting Note: More Purple users texted asking about why Dubai is important to American foreign policy rather than opting to watch the video.

Shit is Going Down in Yemen

So P.S. there has been a civil war going on in Yemen that has killed 5,884 people since March that the U.S. is totally involved in. Both sides met for peace talks to try to come to an agreement to end the fighting, but they have been temporarily suspended. The parties are scheduled to come back to the negotiating table on January 14.

The Background:

It all started with a rebel uprising in Yemen’s north. There is this rebel group called the Houthis that has been around since the 90s and has been fighting with Yemen’s gov since 2004. As usual, it all comes down to religion.

The Houthis are Saydi, an offshoot of Shia Islam, and are pissed because they think Yemen’s government has repressed them. After the Arab Spring, Yemenis got rid of their dictator, an uprising the Houthis supported. After that, Yemen set up a new government but Houthis felt they were totally left out and unrepresented. So they continued fighting the government, and that is where we are today.

Then, things escalated. A bunch of other countries in the region, plus the U.S., decided to get involved. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other states in the region joined the fight against the Houthis. Why do these countries give a shit? One word: Iran.

Iran is backing the Houthis because they’re Shiite and because Iran wants more power in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is launching air strikes against the Houthis to prevent them from taking over because the Saudis want to make sure Yemen is ruled by a Sunni.

Weirdly, against ISIS Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the U.S. are all on the same side. I know, it’s complicated.

Why Gas Prices Have Dropped So Much

One of the most-texted questions from Purple users in December: Why is gas so cheap now?

Gas prices have now fallen to an average of $2, it’s the deepest downturn of the oil industry since the 90s. What is behind the drop? It boils down to supply and demand. The U.S.’ own production of oil has doubled in the last 6 years, meaning we don’t need to import as much oil anymore. Saudi, Nigerian and Algerian oil that used to be sold in the U.S. is suddenly competing for Asian markets, so they are forced to drop their prices. In Europe and developing countries, economies are weaker and people can’t buy cars or as much gas, plus cars are becoming more energy efficient.

To sum up: Demand for fuel is lagging.

I bet at some point in your life you have wondered: What the hell is OPEC?

OPEC, a group of large oil producing countries, has seen the price of its crude oil decline because it HAS refused to chill out with oil production in 2014 (aka OPEC is producing more oil than there is demand for making it cheaper). Saudi Arabia, a member of OPEC, is nervous that if they cut production and prices go up they will lose market share and help out their competitors

Back in the day, when you thought of oil you thought Middle East, but today the oil and gas boom is global. When oil supply outstrips demand, oil prices fall. That’s badass for consumers but it’s tough for companies in the oil business. And a really sharp dip in oil prices can unsettle global markets, they can move and shake the world economy.

Donald Called Hillary Disgusting and Said She Got “Schlonged”

So this language might be more than Trump just being bombastic for publicity.

A growing mass of academic research has shown that conservatives have a particular revulsion to “disgusting” images. In this line of thinking, Trump’s decision to describe Clinton as a “disgusting” figure would have been an especially powerful way to rile up his supporters.

The research, still debated, suggests that psychological and even biological traits divide people politically, both in the U.S. and abroad. These are attributes that may help explain why Trump has been so popular among a segment of the electorate. Check out the study here.

SpaceX is Crushing Life

This was our personal fav update in December because Purple ❤’s Space!

Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has made history by successfully launching a cargo of satellites into orbit and returning the rocket booster to a vertical landing on earth. The rocket literally did a flip in space… badass.

This will have a major impact on the economics of space flight because the ability to reuse rockets could cut tens of millions. This makes putting around 700 satellites in low earth orbit, providing internet connections on the ground, actually feasible financially.

There is one fly in the ointment. There is something called Kessler Syndrome, or collisional cascading, and it is a nightmare scenario for space activity. It is a theory that says that launching too many space vehicles and satellites could cause enough debris to be ejected into orbit that it starts shattering satellites, causing a chain reaction that basically renders access to low earth orbit far too hazardous (remember the movie Gravity?).

Right now, there are around 300,000 pieces of debris already in orbit, and a satellite every year is destroyed by impact. Even a fleck of shed paint a tenth of a millimeter across carries as much kinetic energy as a rifle bullet when it’s traveling at orbital velocity.

The 2nd Largest Environmental Disaster in American History

Purple user favs: If you are a Star Wars fan, click here for the Star Wars-themed explainer.

Methane gas has been leaking in the LA neighborhood of Porter Ranch since October 23rd in what is arguably the worst environmental disaster since the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in 2010, and it is likely to continue for months. An enormous amount of harmful methane gas is currently spewing out of an energy facility in Aliso Canyon, California, at 110,000 pounds per hour #insane. Methane is invisible, but this infrared video shows the plume of methane escaping:

The gas has led to the evacuation 1,700 homes so far, and the Environmental Defense Fund assesses the climate impact of the leak over the next 20 years as driving 7 million cars a day.

Efforts to plug the leak haven’t been working as Melissa Cronin explains for Vice. Earlier this month the Southern California Gas Company said plugging the leak could take at least 3 months. They tried to stop the leak by pumping fluids directly down the well have not yet been successful, so they have shifted focus to stopping the leak through a relief well which will be completed by late Feb/March.

Here is the best read on why they can’t stop the leak.

How Likely is it that Trump Will Win the Nomination?

This was by far the most-texted question to Purple in December.

According to polling experts its unlikely Trump will win the nomination, in fact they put it at a 2% chance. Here’s why:

The level of public interest in the primary campaign right now is less than 1/10 as high as it will be later in the election cycle. Right now, Trump has received more network news coverage than Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio combined, so if a polling company calls voters and asks which candidate they like, people are more likely to say Trump. Thats partly why his numbers are so high.

Historically, polls at this point are not very accurate, mostly because voter turnout in the primaries is hard to predict.

There are some awesome reads on all of this:

And now for the best part…

Purple’s Most Popular Recommended Reads in December

  1. Behind the Black Flag: The Recruitment of an ISIS Killer

2. A new approach to curing Hep C in Egypt could become the blueprint for providing cutting edge medicines to the poor

3. Opinion Piece: The World of Threats to the U.S. is an Illusion

4. Awesome interviews with Elon Musk by GQ and Wait But Why

5. This medical device maker kept U.S. hospitals in the dark about deadly infections.

6. Is regime change good or bad for the U.S.? One of the biggest debates in the election.

7. Great piece on the 108 Americans (not in the military) who have traveled to Iraq to fight ISIS

8. Must-watch: Amazing poets tackle social issues

9. This is the psychology behind why we all feel the need to figure out what ISIS wants.

10. The 1st sex scandal in U.S. politics: it was in 1797, Alexander Hamilton had an affair that he confessed in something known as the Reynolds Pamphlet

11. The science behind why you should spend your 💰on experiences not things

12. Sick infographic from Bloomberg that shows how much CO2 is in the atmosphere at any given time:

13. An explainer on why generic drugs account for 88% of all prescriptions in the U.S. but only 28% of the cost

14. Awesome explainer on how bonds work and how the movie The Big Short teaches you about finance (See it ASAP if you haven’t already!)

15. There is a Chrome extension that wipes Trump from the web

16. Muslims are trolling ISIS on Twitter and their tweets are hilarious

17. Everyone on earth is actually your cousin

18. The Year in Money from Bloomberg. It is the best, easy to understand, roundup of the past year in economic/finance news

19. Inside Putin’s mind and the world according to Russia

20. If you haven’t seen Trump with a British accent yet, you’re welcome:

21. In Ferguson, 16,000 people had arrest warrants last year. The town’s population is 21,000.

22. The terrible beauty of brain surgery

Our favorite podcasts, movies, documentaries, and books

  1. Surprisingly Awesome: You know how we try to take subjects that are hard to understand and typically boring and make them super interesting and easy to digest? That’s exactly what Surprisingly Awesome does in podcast form. It’s amazing, we are huge fans.
  2. The Big Short: Coincidentally, the director of the Big Short is Adam McKay, one of the hosts of Surprisingly Awesome. This movie does the best job of anything we’ve ever seen at explaining the financial crisis in the most entertaining way.

3. Making a Murderer: Binge watch this on Netflix ASAP. It is like the documentaries series version of Serial except better, and it will definitely make you angry at the American justice system.

4. Ghost Wars, the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to 9/11: This book gives you more than enough context to fully understand the American war in Afghanistan, and it’s a super interesting read.

Have a great January! If you want the most interesting content and news updates sent directly to your phone text PURPLE to 267–578–7753.