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Reading, watching, playing, using: June 2020

Here's the media I consumed and found interesting in June.

Apps

Linear. A super-powerful bug tracker designed to speed teams up. I'm using it for personal projects right now, but I might expand that. I particularly like how it connects to GitHub issues, and how it inherits just the right things from Jira's classic design, while discarding the rest.

Streaming

13th. I saw this for the first time in June - and regret being super-late to the party. The entire movie is up on YouTube. If you haven't yet, educate yourself.

Dark Season 3. If you haven't checked out Dark yet, you're missing something. Watch it in its original German with English subtitles. And maybe keep notes: its human-centered science fiction story is densely plotted to say the least. Season 3 adds a whole new dimension, literally.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. I needed this. It's a giant ad for the song contest, really. Which is fine, because I happen to love the song contest. One of those objectively terrible movies that brought me a lot of joy.

Books

Blood Dazzler, by Patricia Smith. The story of Hurricane Katrina told through poetry. Blood Dazzler is heart-wrenching work. Patricia Smith is - as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, among other things - a four-time National Poetry Slam champion, and the spoken-word rhythm underlying her work is impossible to ignore.

Notable Articles

Black Lives Matter

How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change. "So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform." Barack Obama on Black Lives Matter.

Black Journalists and Covering the Storm That Never Passes. "I can’t tell you how many times I, or someone on my team, has cried into their laptops over the injustices inflicted daily on black people, who have gone to bed with anxiety over what looms in the morning, in the aftermath of another violent act against our humanity."

Why So Many Police Are Handling the Protests Wrong. "Researchers have spent 50 years studying the way crowds of protesters and crowds of police behave—and what happens when the two interact. One thing they will tell you is that when the police respond by escalating force—wearing riot gear from the start, or using tear gas on protesters—it doesn’t work. In fact, disproportionate police force is one of the things that can make a peaceful protest not so peaceful. But if we know that (and have known that for decades), why are police still doing it?"

The American Nightmare. "But only the lies of racist Americans are great. Their American dream—that this is a land of equal opportunity, committed to freedom and equality, where police officers protect and serve—is a lie. Their American dream—that they have more because they are more, that when black people have more, they were given more—is a lie. Their American dream—that they have the civil right to kill black Americans with impunity and that black Americans do not have the human right to live—is a lie." Ibram X. Kendi is the author of How to Be an Antiracist.

Stop focusing on looting in Minneapolis. Be outraged that police keep killing black men. A good opinion from the LA Times editorial board. The constant commentary from people who believe property is more imporant than the murder of a community is sickening.

This Is Fascism. "The message of this federal government is unambiguous. It has been conveyed in part by Customs and Border Protection, the largest law enforcement agency in the U.S.—a force shot through with racism and tyranny, now charged with carrying out Trump’s most knee-jerk nativist impulses—which announced Sunday that it was mobilizing officers to augment police forces “confronting the lawless actions of rioters.”"

Thousands of Americans across the US are peacefully marching against police violence. A beautiful photo record of the protests.

'We Just Want to Live.' Photographers Share What They Experienced While Covering Protests Across America. More vital photo record.

How Did BlackOutTuesday Go So Wrong So Fast? I believe this was deliberately co-opted. he net result was that black voices were silenced on social media for days.

Don’t Fall for the ‘Chaos’ Theory of the Protests. "Why were peaceful protesters being tear-gassed, on national TV? Because Trump and his aides—nearly all of them men and every one of them white—had decided to punctuate his speech with a walk across Lafayette Square to a church where Trump posed, clutching a Bible. What became even clearer, though, was that the Bible-posing was not the photo op the Trump administration was aiming for; the clearing of Lafayette Square was. The video that played out on CNN’s split screen was a document of state power in action: the president, his will made manifest; the protesters, their eyes reddened from tear gas, forced to make way for the leader."

The Police Take the Side of White Vigilantes. "Who are the cops for? Over the last week, all across the country, in ways large and small, they’ve shown us." The slave catchers are living up to their legacy.

We Crunched the Numbers: Police — Not Protesters — Are Overwhelmingly Responsible for Attacking Journalists. "Police are responsible for the vast majority of assaults on journalists: over 80 percent." From the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

The '3.5% rule': How a small minority can change the world. "Once around 3.5% of the whole population has begun to participate actively, success appears to be inevitable." Fingers crossed.

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop. "American policing is a thick blue tumor strangling the life from our communities and if you don’t believe it when the poor and the marginalized say it, if you don’t believe it when you see cops across the country shooting journalists with less-lethal bullets and caustic chemicals, maybe you’ll believe it when you hear it straight from the pig’s mouth."

The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years. I Know Because I’m One of Them. And if you're not familiar with COINTELPRO, it's worth reading up on that, too.

‘To see this, I am honored’: Brother of man killed by Seattle police reflects on time in CHAZ. "If John were here, he would be honored. All my heart and soul show this will work. The government is listening, that we have had enough. I’m proud of this."

Recall That Ice Cream Truck Song? We Have Unpleasant News For You. ""N***** Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!" merits the distinction of the most racist song title in America. Released in March 1916 by Columbia Records, it was written by actor Harry C. Browne and played on the familiar depiction of black people as mindless beasts of burden greedily devouring slices of watermelon."

Elsewhere in American fascism

Dozens Of Immigrant Families Who Were Separated At The Border Likely Shouldn't Have Been, An Internal Report Found. "The inspector general's report found that 40 children were separated from their parents for at least four weeks, although one didn't see their family for more than a year."

Political Symbols at Demonstrations. "Researchers at the Tow Center and Columbia’s Journalism and Engineering schools have developed a tool that can help reporters decipher the symbols and acronyms used by political groups which may be helpful as they report on political actions now and during the election season." The far right is out in force.

A letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Pentagon policy official James Miller's resignation letter. "You have made life-and-death decisions in combat overseas; soon you may be asked to make life-and-death decisions about using the military on American streets and against Americans. Where will you draw the line, and when will you draw it?"

James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution. "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us [...] We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children."

The Real Apprentice. "At this time, most native New Yorkers saw Trump as a bit of a joke: a fame-thirsty, tasteless rake with a history of high-end failure. He made disastrous deals, like the Plaza Hotel. His airline failed almost as soon as it began. He even found a way to go bankrupt on casinos. But on television, through careful editing—turning three hours into thirty seconds—Mark Burnett made Trump seem decisive, funny, and likeable."

How The Antifa Fantasy Spread In Small Towns Across The US. "Rumors of roving bands of Antifa have followed small protests all over the United States. Why are people so ready to believe them?" There's a lot of value in keeping people scared - particularly of a bogeyman that seeks to undermine your ideology.

No, Trump probably can’t list antifa as a ‘terrorist group.’ Here’s what he’s really doing. "The Trump administration is unlikely to designate antifa a terrorist group in counterterrorism law. If it did, that designation would be difficult to enforce, since antifa is not really an organization. Nor is it clear how much antifa supporters have committed actual terrorism. But Trump’s announcement could suggest that U.S. counterterrorism agencies are shifting their priorities. This is worth watching."

The U.S. Military Has a Boogaloo Problem. "Some of the largest private Facebook groups catering to the [neo-confederate] boogaloo movement have scores of members who identify as active-duty military."

‘State-sanctioned violence’: US police fail to meet basic human rights standards. "Police in America’s biggest cities are failing to meet even the most basic international human rights standards governing the use of lethal force, a new study from the University of Chicago has found."

America’s wholesome square dancing tradition is a tool of white supremacy. It turns out this information is still not widely known.

And finally, two pieces of good news from the Supreme Court: Civil Rights Law Protects Gay and Transgender Workers, Supreme Court Rules; California’s ‘sanctuary’ cities rules stay in place after Supreme Court rejects Trump’s challenge.

Technology

A New iOS Shortcut Blurs Faces and Wipes Metadata for Protest Images. Neat!

IBM will no longer offer, develop, or research facial recognition technology. I was very pleasantly surprised by this ethical stance. "In his letter, [IBM CEO] Krishna also advocated for police reform, arguing that more police misconduct cases should be put under the purview of federal court and that Congress should make changes to qualified immunity doctrine, among other measures."

The Racial Bias Built Into Photography. "Photography is not just a system of calibrating light, but a technology of subjective decisions. Light skin became the chemical baseline for film technology, fulfilling the needs of its target dominant market."

Black tech founders say venture capital needs to move past ‘diversity theater’. "There’s a dearth of black investors in venture capital’s upper echelons and little investment in start-ups with black founders".

This startup is working to bring full anonymity to the internet. Kudos to Harry Halpin and his team.

Pinwheel is the API platform for income verification that every fintech and neobank needs. Meanwhile, a quiet fintech revolution is taking place. As always, in a gold rush, you make money providing spades (building infrastructure that others can build on).

Colin Kaepernick to Join Medium Board of Directors. Kudos to Ev and everyone at Medium.

Facebook Pitched New Tool Allowing Employers to Suppress Words Like “Unionize” in Workplace Chat Product. "One Facebook employee who spoke to The Intercept on condition of anonymity said he saw the blacklisting feature, with a suggested use case around unionization, as a clear effort to give employers the ability to exert control over employees." It would be illegal for an employer to use this, right? Right?

Facebook Groups Are Destroying America. "Dynamics in groups often mirror those of peer-to-peer messaging apps: People share, spread, and receive information directly to and from their closest contacts, whom they typically see as reliable sources. To make things easier for those looking to stoke political division, groups provide a menu of potential targets organized by issue and even location; bad actors can create fake profiles or personas tailored to the interests of the audiences they intend to infiltrate. This allows them to seed their own content in a group and also to repurpose its content for use on other platforms." I'm a little skeptical of this, but it's worth reading.

The Ghost in the Machine. "We could expect a Black programmer, immersed as she is in the same systems of racial meaning and economic expediency as the rest of her co-workers, to code software in a way that perpetuates racial stereotypes. Or, even if she is aware and desires to intervene, will she be able to exercise the power to do so?" A good exploration of the ideas in Dr Ruha Benjamin's excellent Race After Technology.

He Removed Labels That Said “Medical Use Prohibited,” Then Tried to Sell Thousands of Masks to Officials Who Distribute to Hospitals. "Using TaskRabbit and Venmo, a Silicon Valley investor and his business partner had workers repackage non-medical KN95 masks so he could sell them to Texas emergency workers." This is overt, life-threatening fraud.

How to Know You’re Not Insane (And how a Cards Against Humanity Staff Writer was fired.) My copy - acquired at XOXO in the early days - is finally finding its way into the recycling bin.

And finally

The Seven Billion Habits of Highly Effective Robots. A cute science fiction short.