paper trail

A new biography of Fernando Pessoa; Facebook’s disinformation problem

Fernando Pessoa.

For the New York Times, Benjamin Moser reviews Richard Zenith’s new biography of the enigmatic Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. Best known for The Book of Disquiet, a fictional diary of fragmentary observation that was discovered and published after his death, Pessoa was an office worker who wrote under a range of names. As Moser observes, “He was a whole galaxy of writers—heteronyms, as he called them, with entirely different personalities and different, often radically conflicting, views on poetry, style, nature, politics and the antique.”

In the London Review of Books, Gary Younge reviews We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption in an American City, which tells the story of the Gun Trace Task Force in Baltimore. This special squad, headed by Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, engaged in what Younge calls “flamboyant malpractice” for a decade beginning in 2007: “Jenkins and his officers didn’t just take drugs and money from the criminals they caught: they planted drugs and guns on people who weren’t criminals (or who weren’t doing anything criminal); they broke into the homes of people they had apprehended and burgled them; and chased people who had done nothing, and then arrested them for running away—in one case this caused a fatal car crash. They routinely installed GPS trackers on the cars of people they planned to rob, conspired to falsify accounts and documents to cover their tracks, and repeatedly perjured themselves on the witness stand.”

Mathew Ingram, writing in Columbia Journalism Review, writes about the problems Facebook has in combating disinformation on the platform. Reporter Ben Collins details the coded language used by anti-vaccination groups on social media to evade detection. (For example, a person who won’t get vaccinated is said to not “go dancing.”) Collins writes that in addition to getting past content moderation, the codes help solidify a group identity: “Part of the identity of antivaxxers is beating the system. . . . Many in the movement are anti-government. After all, they think the country’s being poisoned by it. The evasion, the codenames, the hiding is part of the fun.”

In The Nation, Kim Stanley Robinson discusses the difficulty of writing utopian novels and how they offer tools to think through social and political issues. Many such novels take place “after a break in history that allows their societies to start from scratch. . . . But in this world, we are never going to get the chance to start over.” Utopias, Robinson continues, “are thought experiments” for how things might change, and today must be used to plot out how to “dodge a mass extinction event” due to climate catastrophe.