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Reading, watching, playing, using: May 2020

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

I'm scared for the world and sick to my stomach about the injustices faced by black communities. The pressure cooker exploded in May, and it looks like June will continue this trend. I hope we can find our way to a more equal, more compassionate world where everyone can live a good life. It certainly feels like we're a long way from it now.

Apps

Stardew Valley. I'm late to the party but hopelessly addicted. It's like a cross between The Sims and The Secret of Monkey Island, with all of the humor and weirdness of the latter. Every time I think I've got a handle on it, it adds a new angle.

MSCHF. Part art project, part commercial enterprise, MSCHF releases a new drop twice a month. They're the people who brought us The Office on Slack, Jesus Shoes, and the cut up Damien Hirst painting.

Streaming

Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children. A timely, pointed documentary on the 30+ African American children and young adults who disappeared or were found murdered between 1979-81. The implications are devastating and highly relevant to what's happening on our streets today.

The Invisible Man. Tense from the first minute, this is a strongly feminist movie about gaslighting that is viscerally terrifying tonally and conceptually. Elisabeth Moss is excellent.

The Valhalla Murders. A taut Icelandic murder mystery that, again, has implications beyond its premise. It sounds like there's going to be a second season; I can't wait.

The Half of It. I expect this to continue to be the most beautiful film I've seen this year. I'm inspired by director Alice Wu, who was a computer scientist working at Microsoft before she changed directions and moved into filmmaking.

Notable Articles

The Pandemic

Flattening the Truth on Coronavirus. Dave Eggers on the convoluted, contradictory advice we're being offered.

“Political Connections and Cronyism”: In Blistering Whistleblower Complaint, Rick Bright Blasts Team Trump’s Pandemic Response. "Two weeks after being pushed out of his post, the former head of a $1.5 billion federal health agency formally accuses top officials of pressuring him to approve unproven chloroquine drugs and award pricey contracts to friends of the administration."

I'm Immunocompromised and Freaking Out About the World Reopening. I'm not immunocompromised, but I have loved ones who are, and this sums up how I feel, too.

 The Curious Case of the People Who Want to “Reopen” America—But Not Wear Masks. "The lesson here is that these stories aren’t really about vaccines or bioweapons or population control. Instead, they’re meta-parables about how the people telling them see themselves and feel about their place in the world."

Life on a Screen. My friend Oliver Mahony on his life working remotely.

‘How Could the CDC Make That Mistake?’ "The government’s disease-fighting agency is conflating viral and antibody tests, compromising a few crucial metrics that governors depend on to reopen their economies. Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, and other states are doing the same."

An Incalculable Loss. A remarkable, human New York Times piece on the 100,000+ lives lost to Covid-19.

Black Lives Matter

Proportionate Response. "When destroying a police precinct is a reasonable reaction."

The Only Thing, Historically, That's Curbed Inequality: Catastrophe. "Plagues, revolutions, massive wars, collapsed states—these are what reliably reduce economic disparities."

How Western media would cover Minneapolis if it happened in another country. "In recent years, the international community has sounded the alarm on the deteriorating political and human rights situation in the United States under the regime of Donald Trump. Now, as the country marks 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, the former British colony finds itself in a downward spiral of ethnic violence. The fatigue and paralysis of the international community are evident in its silence, America experts say."

The Pandemic Is the Right Time to Defund the Police. "The coronavirus has slowed much American police work, but the rate of police killings has remained relatively unchanged."

Black Journalists Are Exhausted. "As we’ve heard again and again, these are extraordinary times. However, it’s an especially peculiar time to be a black journalist. The pandemic has laid bare many of the same racial inequities that generations of black journalists have been covering since 1827 when the Freedom’s Journal birthed the black press. While this pandemic is unique, the waves of trauma crashing down on my community are not."

George Floyd’s brother says Trump ‘kept pushing me off’ during phone call. "Philonise Floyd says president dismissed him during a phone conversation – he ‘didn’t give me a chance to even speak’."

Politics

The Unbelievable Story Of The Plot Against George Soros. "How two Jewish American political consultants helped create the world’s largest anti-Semitic conspiracy theory."

Trump Is a Superspreader—of Distraction. "An added benefit of trolling, from the President’s perspective, is that it is also diverting the attention of the nation’s many Trump-haters, for whom his prolific stupidities and public feuds offer an endless supply of new outrage."

What Trump doesn't get about his new executive order: it'd backfire. "Trump seems oblivious to the fact that his new executive order, if it were implemented, would almost certainly backfire on him personally."

Culture & Society

The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months. It's far more uplifting than the book would have you believe.

The End of Meat Is Here. "If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals."

David Foster Wallace, "This Is Water". "In 2005 author David Foster Wallace delivered the commencement address at Kenyon College. This thoughtful and moving talk inspires in me feelings of grief and anger and terror and hope, a response no doubt influenced by my awareness of Wallace's suicide some 40 months later in September 2008."

Brick Lane’s Beigel Bake reveals recipe for iconic bagels for stay-at-home bakers. Oh hell yes. I miss the Beigel Bake a great deal.

A Window Onto an American Nightmare. "Homelessness afflicts nearly one in five hundred Americans. As a crisis, it’s insidious, because its victims rarely plunge toward the abyss; they slide. Maybe you’ve been couch surfing in between jobs and you overstay your welcome. Maybe you’ve been in Airbnbs while apartment hunting and the search is harder than expected. Maybe, like Hickson, you lived on the momentum of a private dream until you had a reason to put down roots."

The Overlooked Black History of Memorial Day. "Researchers have traced the earliest annual commemoration to women who laid flowers on soldiers’ graves in the Civil War hospital town of Columbus, Miss., in April 1866. But historians like the Pulitzer Prize winner David Blight have tried to raise awareness of freed slaves who decorated soldiers’ graves a year earlier, to make sure their story gets told too."

Masculinity As Radical Selfishness: Rebecca Solnit on the Maskless Men of the Pandemic. "Why is doing what literally billions of women do day after day framed as some terrible ordeal? Where is the headline “Local Man Cannot Parent Own Child”?"

The Vintage Beauty Of Soviet Control Rooms. Pretty.

Journalism

U.S. drops to 45 in ranking of countries based on freedom of the press. "The report calls out Trump as a ‘media-bashing enthusiast’." I mean, to say the least.

Like it or not, Google and Facebook are becoming the leading patrons of the news industry. To be clear: I don't like it at all.

How Civil Didn’t Save Journalism. "Civil indeed helped launch a handful of publications, but it fell short on its promise to solve the media industry’s problems by finding a viable, alternative funding model. This might be because Civil’s mission was always more about investigating the viability of cryptocurrency."

CNN crew released from police custody after they were arrested live on air in Minneapolis. These are dark times.

Technology

Psychicpaper. Fascinating, technical details about a serious bug in iOS. "I dubbed it “psychic paper” because, just like the item by that name that Doctor Who likes to carry, it allows you get past security checks and make others believe you have a wide range of credentials that you shouldn’t have."

Amazon VP Resigns, Calls Company ‘Chickenshit’ for Firing Protesting Workers. Thank you, Tim Bray. The post on his blog is here.

Deno 1.0. An interesting alternative to Node that disposes of centralized package managers.

The Next Social Era is Here: Why Now Is the Time for Social Products Again. "Now is the best time in eight years to be a Founder of social/communications products, and we believe it will kick off a second wave of product-first Founders who are true artists of their craft."

The power of Open Source in the fight against COVID-19. "In every crisis, Open Source has empowered organizations to do more with less. It's great to see this play out again. Open Source teams have rallied to help and come up with some pretty incredible solutions when times are tough."

Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage. "If someone could pay Doordash $16 a pizza, and Doordash would pay his restaurant $24 a pizza, then he should clearly just order pizzas himself via Doordash, all day long. You'd net a clean $8 profit per pizza [insert nerdy economics joke about there is such a thing as a free lunch]." Kind of a fun story. But these food delivery startups have extremely screwy economics.

New York Times phasing out all 3rd-party advertising data. They're big enough that they can - but others will follow.

Automattic pumps $4.6M into New Vector to help grow Matrix, an open, decentralized comms ecosystem. I met the Matrix team earlier in their journey, when I was still working on Known. I tried to invest in them at Matter, because I knew this would be big, but no dice. I'm excited for their continued success.

The open podcast ecosystem is dying — here’s how to save it. Podcasting is one of the last bastions of popular openness. It is successful and vibrant because it is open. Let's keep that going.

Remote-team managers can learn a lot from open-source communities. "Instead of trying to reinvent management from first principles, we can turn to other areas with experience navigating distributed teams with individuals managing competing commitments. Open-source software communities—which also are remote communities connected by the internet—have long included the role of community managers. These are the people who tend to the health of the community, by maintaining communication, motivation, efficiency, and engagement. It’s a well-honed practice that remote managers can learn a lot from."