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Here's what I read in August


How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell. A profoundly intelligent, intersectional analysis of addictive surveillance capitalism; ultimately a call for radical noticing and the intentional dismantling of harmful structures. Far meatier and more rewarding than the title might imply. It's becoming clear that the books which have really spoken to me this year are ones that discuss moving beyond the templates and enforced demographics of modern capitalism and finding happiness on our own terms. This book certainly joins them.

Air: Flying Machine, by G Willow Wilson and MK Perker. A riveting adventure story wrapped around a deepening exploration of how the symbols we use affect our culture and the way we experience reality. I couldn't wait to read volume 3.

Air: Pureland, by G Willow Wilson and MK Perker. Literally and figuratively beautiful, this volume disappeared into the symbology of our own past and the stories we tell about ourselves, and of religion itself. And was also ludicrously fun - exactly what I needed during a stressful time.

Once again, I hit a stressful month: my mother was admitted into hospital several times, and I also found myself looking for a new job. I find it hard to focus during these periods, so I didn't quite hit my reading goals - but I'm very glad for having at least read these.

Notable Articles

Meet ‘Bob Smith,’ The Fake Facebook Profile Memphis Police Allegedly Used To Spy On Black Activists. This is disappointing but not surprising: police spying on progressive activists is nothing new, and famously the Nixon administration's war on drugs was motivated by a fear of black and anti-war activists. This story is confirmation, alongside others like it, that this kind of targeting continues to this day.

Why Stripping U.S. Citizens of Their Passports Is a Precursor to Genocide. "Denying people their citizenship is a clear way to indicate that they should no longer expect to receive the rights of citizens. The right to a fair trial? They shouldn’t expect that. Not being investigated without just cause? Forget about it." This administration's cruelty continues at a rapid pace. I don't see this as "Trump Derangement Syndrome": it's real concern about policies with harmful effects that will be felt for generations.

Gigantic, mysterious radiation leak traced to facility in Russia. The timing was weird: it's almost like an HBO Chernobyl tie-in. But nuclear experiments are continuing, and the effects continue to be covered up. Here in the US, my father was forced to watch nuclear explosions while in the army; it wouldn't surprise me if we were still performing these kinds of experiments, too.

Three mass shootings this year began with a hateful screed on 8chan. Its founder calls it a terrorist refuge in plain sight. "Joan Donovan, the director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, said posting to 8chan before a mass shooting has become a “tactical” way for attackers to gain attention and amplify their message." And Jim Watkins, a pig farmer who currently owns the site, is unrepentant.

Staring at Giant Pieces of Sulphur. The oral history of Look Around You, one of the greatest comedies ever made. Thanks, ants. Thants.

Being basic as a virtue. "Being basic is part of the same family as being mediocre or degenerate, but I think the latter two still require some degree of self-awareness. Mediocrity is about making an active choice to say “screw it, good enough”: the decision to keep moving forward instead of trying to get that last 10%. Degeneracy carries a flavor of bird-flipping showmanship: you know what other people would think, and that’s exactly why it’s fun."

No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear. The late Toni Morrison on finding beauty and meaning in the face of chaos. "No! This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal." Amen.

Portland’s Antifascists Punch White Supremacists. Are They Also Helping Trump? I take issue with the headline, but this is an important portrait of a half dozen antifa activists, which dives into why they do what they do. It's worth saying that since this piece, Andy Ngo, the "journalist" who is referenced in it, has been revealed to be a collaborator with Patriot Prayer, a far right group.

Elizabeth Warren’s Classroom Strategy. A deep dive into my favorite Presidential candidate's pedagogy - she was an award-winning teacher - and how it ties into her life and her rhetoric on the road.

Schoolchildren in China work overnight to produce Amazon Alexa devices. Are we really building the future if we're letting children build our devices? The tech industry must contend with this kind of rampant exploitation - and put an end to it.

The Long and Surprising History of Roller Derby. A lot of my friends play roller derby; it's frenetic and fun to watch. But it has a long history even before its (awesome) feminist resurrection in Austin that I was completely unaware of.

When Open Source Software Comes With a Few Catches. "Smaller open source developers are fighting back against tech giants like Amazon using their code in commercial services." About time. While this goes against the principles of free software as we know them, I love the idea of building social contracts into open software licensing. It feels like an idea whose time has come.

How YouTube Radicalized Brazil. "Members of the nation’s newly empowered far right — from grass-roots organizers to federal lawmakers — say their movement would not have risen so far, so fast, without YouTube’s recommendation engine." The code we write - particularly for giant, global services like YouTube - can have profound implications for the entire world. It's not just about algorithms anymore. Maybe our teams should reflect this?

How a 'NULL' License Plate Landed One Hacker in Ticket Hell. Little Bobby Tables strikes again.

The end times are here, and I am at Target. "We’re just trying to get through the next day or week as we suffer through the early throes of our collective demise, hoping that we might be wrong about the whole thing." Nothing less than the American experience in 2019.

As summer camps turn on facial recognition, parents demand: More smiles, please. Call it surveillance parenting?

Venture capital funds led by people of color face more bias the better they perform, Stanford researchers find. "When a black-led venture capital firm has an impressive track record, it encounters more bias from professional investors, according to new research by Stanford scholars." The piece also notes that "fewer than 1.3 percent of the $69.1 trillion in global assets under the four major asset classes – mutual funds, hedge funds, real estate and private equity – are managed by women and people of color".

Actually, Gender-Neutral Pronouns Can Change a Culture. A hopeful story: Sweden's introduction of hen, a nongendered pronoun, has made a real impact on the country's culture. While it turns out that the singular they is widely assumed to be masculine in English, maybe we can do the same?

WeWork IPO Shows It’s the Most Magical Unicorn. WeWork's IPO filing reads like a work of satire. And it's complicated: "This is a company whose intricate relationships with its chief executive requires 10 pages of disclosures." Yikes.

Art Spiegelman: golden age superheroes were shaped by the rise of fascism. The Maus author's essay was removed from a Marvel Comics collection after its publisher, Ike Perlmutter, a friend of Trump, tried to remove a reference to the "Orange Skull": "when asked to kill a relatively anodyne reference to an Orange Skull I realised that perhaps it had been irresponsible to be playful about the dire existential threat we now live with, and I withdrew my introduction."

The Moochers of Middle America. "So if you really believe that Americans with higher incomes shouldn’t pay for benefits provided to those with lower incomes, you should be calling on “donor” states like New Jersey and New York to cut off places like Kentucky and let their economies collapse. And if that’s what you mean, you should let Mitch McConnell’s constituents know about it."

Beyond First Amendment Lochnerism: A Political Process Approach. "Today, however, the First Amendment’s role in the American political process has changed decisively. It can longer be described as a law that protects unpopular speakers or other politically weak actors in the Carolene Products sense. If the First Amendment could once be described as a remedy for defects in the political process, it has now as often become the cause of such defects. For today’s First Amendment is regularly deployed not to promote or facilitate political debate but to end it."

To Learn About the Far Right, Start With the ‘Manosphere’. "The idea that feminism is decadent, and is destroying Western civilization; the idea that women’s natural role is to have children, and to be subservient to men; the idea that strong men are needed to save the world through violence—all of these arguments are found across extremist websites, and in the words of shooters themselves. Anti-feminist rhetoric is a powerful gateway to violent white nationalism, and it is calculated to appeal to the demographic overwhelmingly responsible for mass shootings: young white men."

The New American Homeless. Housing insecurity is a crisis, and official statistics far underreport the extent. "Outrageous rents would be less alarming if wages were increasing at a comparable rate. But the opposite is true. Nationwide, the hourly earnings of high-wage workers rose 41 percent between 1979 and 2013; those of middle-wage workers grew only 6 percent. The pay for low-wage workers, meanwhile, decreased by 5 percent. Contrast these figures to the 138 percent annual wage growth among the top 1 percent of earners." And a disproportionate 40% of the resulting homeless are African Americans.

A new poll shows what really interests 'pro-lifers': controlling women. Are you shocked?

Jeffrey Epstein, My Very, Very Sick Pal. Probably the strangest interview you'll read this year. "I know it’s very interesting, but I’m just realizing something. I have just gotten myself into terrible trouble and everyone who knows is going to be mad at me—why the hell did I pick up the phone?"

Megan Greenwell, Like The Oakland A's Every Year, Makes An Early Exit. The editor of G/O Media's Deadspin sports blog abruptly left; this is a series of goodbyes from her current and former colleagues. Together, they paint a strong picture of a scrappy newsroom, and of the private equity firm that purchased it.

NASA Astronaut Anne McClain Accused by Spouse of Crime in Space. Potentially the first crime to have been committed in space! And weirdly, it's identity theft.

Let’s Meet Again in Five Years. "They thought college was too soon for lifelong love, so they scheduled their next date for a little later — 60 months." Beautiful, and more than a little bit Before Sunrise.

The solitary life and death of a homeless man and his dog near the 520 bridge. He lived with his dog in a tarped rowboat under a bridge. It took eight months before they found his body.

New Protest Tactics in Hong Kong. How protesters are using technology to evade the authorities and organize. Movements closer to home could learn a lot from them - and it's interesting to see them gathered in one place.

My Time at Google and After. "David was (and is) a powerful executive. His “personal life” (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his “personal life” it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child." David Drummond was Google's general counsel at the time, which explains a lot about its apparent attitudes towards the treatment of women.

The Misogyny of Climate Deniers. "In 2014, Jonas Anshelm and Martin Hultman of Chalmers published a paper analyzing the language of a focus group of climate skeptics. The common themes in the group, they said, were striking: “for climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity.”" As a man, I want to make clear that I want nothing to do with this form of masculinity, and that women like Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are the future.

'Where do I go?' EU citizens face legal limbo after decades in Britain. This would have been me, had I stayed. The idea that I can't easily ever move back still smarts.

The Plan to Use Fitbit Data to Stop Mass Shootings Is One of the Scariest Proposals Yet. To say that surveillance and Minority Report style machine learning predications are not the answer is an understatement. It's appalling enough coming from the Republicans; it's shocking to see it coming from the mouths of some Democrats.

A Week With No Tear Gas. "I can’t bear to stay and watch the fight. We came so close to a conflict-free weekend, but now it looks like it will end in violence, and be exploited by the authorities as proof that the protesters are out of control. People on Twitter have been counting down to midnight, incredulous at the idea of a weekend with no tear gas, the first since the protests started." A first-hand account of the protests in Hong Kong.


Here's what I read in July, June, May, April, March, February, and January.