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Reading, watching, playing, using: August, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for August, 2021. Once again, this is a lighter list: I spent a lot of my month with family, helping to organize my mother’s memorial. Apart from that, it's been a time for reflection rather than consumption.

Books

100 Boyfriends, by Brontez Purnell . Raw in a way that transcends honesty, these confessional short stories are full of uncomfortable life. The writing is incredible. I’m not sure what I took away, exactly, but I think it’s time for a shower.

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, by bell hooks. Although it’s written for teachers, there are lessons here that transcend that field to be insightful for anyone in a hypothetical position of authority. Today, the topics and even its writing style are still cutting edge. When it was written a quarter century ago, it must have been incredibly radical. I wish every teacher and manager in my life had read it.

Notable Articles

Business

One Medical Employees Accuse Concierge Care Provider Of Less Focus On Patients. “Dozens of One Medical employees are trying to unionize as a response to what they say has been mismanagement of the organization’s COVID-19 response, poor working conditions for staff and, they allege, a declining focus on patients.” I’m a long-term One Medical customer and have definitely (but anecdotally) noticed this in the quality of care I’ve received over time.

Inclusive icebreakers. “To ‘break the ice’ is a metaphor for dissipating tension in a group of people who don’t know each other very well. Word Histories gives a bit of background behind the phrase, which seems to be hundreds of years old. However, there are still some common activities being used that have the opposite effect for some people – making them feel even more disconnected from the rest from the group.” An important point with some great suggestions.

VCs are financing a servant economy. “But this is more than just the most recent unicorn-bubble fad. It’s bringing us one step closer to living in a servant economy. The world’s most powerful VC investors are funding an economy where technology allows a ‘ruling class’ to command an ‘underclass’ of servants with the swipe of an app.”

Court rules California gig worker initiative is unconstitutional, a setback to Uber and Lyft. “A California judge on Friday ruled that a 2020 ballot measure exempting rideshare and food delivery drivers from a state labor law is unconstitutional because it infringes on the Legislature’s power to set workplace standards.” Great news!

The Secret Bias Hidden in Mortgage-Approval Algorithms. “We found that lenders gave fewer loans to Black applicants than White applicants even when their incomes were high—$100,000 a year or more—and had the same debt ratios. In fact, high-earning Black applicants with less debt were rejected more often than high-earning White applicants who have more debt.” Alternative credit scores are vital - Classic FICO disproportionately harms people of color.

What If People Don’t Want A Career? “In May I ended up on Burnout TikTok, where every 5th video offered withering commentary on the futility and frustration of toiling away for long hours at a job they didn’t particularly like. I can’t find the video anymore but the one that sticks in my head was a TikToker venting about how the idealized career is — when you think about it — a raw deal. It went something like this: You devote the bulk of every day for 30-40 years in the prime of your life to various companies to make them and their shareholders money and then you get ten years near the end of your life to do what you please. Sounds like a bad arrangement.”

Crypto

Remarks Before the Aspen Security Forum by SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “Right now, large parts of the field of crypto are sitting astride of — not operating within — regulatory frameworks that protect investors and consumers, guard against illicit activity, ensure for financial stability, and yes, protect national security.”

Chelsea Manning Is Back, And Hacking Again, Only This Time For A Bitcoin-Based Privacy Startup. “Halpin asked Manning to look for security weaknesses in his new privacy project, which eventually became Nym, a Neuchâtel, Switzerland-based crypto startup. Halprin founded Nym in 2018 to send data anonymously around the Internet using the same blockchain technology underlying Bitcoin. To date, Nym has raised some $8.5 million from a group of crypto investors including Binance, Polychain Capital and NGC Ventures. The firm now employs 10 people and is using its latest round of capital to double its team size.” I’ve known Harry for a long time, and was privileged to meet Chelsea when she was an advisor to his previous startup (which we invested in at Matter). I’m excited to see this collaboration.

Culture

What Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings looked like as two Weinstein movies. “My script review became the second part of a carefully coordinated one-two punch. At that point, Ain’t It Cool was a useful platform for filmmakers who were trying to convince studio heads that there was an audience out there for serious-minded genre fare produced with all of the resources required, and it was not always an easy sell. I was happy to make the case: The scripts were great enough that Jackson deserved the chance to see them through.”

‘Bloody’ overtaken as the UK’s most popular swear word, study suggests. I’ve been self-censoring since I got to the US - people swear much less often here - but I’m being less diligent over time.

My dead dad’s journal: How I finally met a man I knew for my entire life. “It was a window into the mind of a loving father. It was a look into the fraught thought process of a deeply analytical man. A religious man who knew he was sinning. An addict who was self-aware, and still couldn’t pull himself out from the abyss. It was Jekyll talking to Hyde. Bruce Banner talking to the Hulk. And, in honor of my dad I feel I must also include: It’s Data talking to Lore.”

Feels Good Man! Pepe, copyright, and NFTs. “And then NFT craze hits, and Pepe becomes a star in the non-fungible token markets. I’ve spent countless hours in NFT platforms in the last months, every time I open a new page, there’s usually an animated Pepe waiting for me. Many NFT artists are part of the meme generation that grew up on Pepe and other memes, so these tend to feature heavily on their output (probably only beaten by Doge). Instead of fighting the trend, Furie joined the NFT revolution, and started making lots of money off Pepe “originals”, and allowing most other NFTs of Pepes to continue.”

Politics

Afghanistan Meant Nothing. A Veteran Reflects on 20 Wasted Years. “And so I sit here, reading these sad fucking articles and these horrified social media posts about the suffering in Afghanistan and the horror of the encroaching Taliban and how awful it is that this is happening but I can’t stop feeling this grim happiness, like, finally, you fuckers, finally you have to face the thing Afghanistan has always been. You can’t keep lying to yourself about what you sent us into.”

Science

Atlantic Ocean currents weaken, signalling big weather changes. “The Atlantic Ocean’s current system, an engine of the Northern Hemsiphere’s climate, could be weakening to such an extent that it could soon bring big changes to the world’s weather.”

A Major Report Warns Climate Change Is Accelerating And Humans Must Cut Emissions Now. “Global climate change is accelerating and human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases are the overwhelming cause, according to a landmark report released Monday by the United Nations. There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming this century, but only if countries around the world stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible, the authors warn.”

Rain falls at Greenland ice summit for first time on record. “That meltwater is streaming into the ocean, causing sea levels to rise. Already, melting from Greenland’s ice sheet --the world’s second-largest after Antarctica’s -- has caused around 25% of global sea level rise seen over the last few decades, scientists estimate. That share is expected to grow, as global temperatures increase.” We’re increasingly screwed.

Evolution is now accepted by a majority of Americans. “The level of public acceptance of evolution in the United States is now solidly above the halfway mark, according to a new study based on a series of national public opinion surveys conducted over the last 35 years.” That number is 54%, which is absolutely pathetic.

Society

Nearly half of American workers don’t earn enough to afford a one-bedroom rental. “Rents in the US continued to increase through the pandemic, and a worker now needs to earn about $20.40 an hour to afford a modest one-bedroom rental. The median wage in the US is about $21 an hour.” Some absolutely dire statistics here.

2020 Census data: The United States is more diverse and more multiracial than ever. “While the under-18 population decreased during the last decade, it is rapidly diversifying. Non-White US residents younger than 18 now make up 53% of the population among minors, up from 47% in 2010.” (NB: I don’t like the “non-white” framing; white is not the default.)

Disability Advocates Fight Ruling Allowing Electric Shock Treatment Back In Mass. Residential School. “students wear backpacks equipped with electrical stimulation devices around the clock. Workers at the residential school employ the shocks using a remote control device when the students display a range of unwanted behaviors.” WTF?

‘It’s not hard work for me’: At 101 years old, this Maine lobsterwoman still works the water. “Virginia Oliver is the oldest licensed lobsterer in Maine and possibly on the planet. But in her eyes, it’s simply what she does. Her world has changed in once-unimaginable ways since 1920, but in other ways it’s hardly changed at all.” Come for the story, stay for the amazing photo.

Afghanistan's all-girls robotics team frantically trying to flee Taliban. “Members of the team, who range in age from 12 to 18, have overcome war and other hardships to pursue their love of engineering and robotics and strike a blow for national pride. They’ve made global headlines as a symbol of a more progressive Afghanistan.”

Op-Ed: As a doctor in a COVID unit, I’m running out of compassion for the unvaccinated. Get the shot. “I can pretty much guarantee we would have never met had you gotten vaccinated because you would have never been hospitalized. All of our COVID units are full and every single patient in them is unvaccinated. Numbers don’t lie. The vaccines work.”

Feds Deliberately Targeted Black Lives Matter Protesters, A Report Says. “Movement leaders and experts said the prosecution of protesters over the past year continues a century-long practice by the federal government, rooted in structural racism, to suppress Black social movements via the use of surveillance tactics and other mechanisms.”

What I Learned While Eavesdropping on the Taliban. “When people ask me what I did in Afghanistan, I tell them that I hung out in planes and listened to the Taliban. My job was to provide “threat warning” to allied forces, and so I spent most of my time trying to discern the Taliban’s plans. Before I started, I was cautioned that I would hear terrible things, and I most certainly did. But when you listen to people for hundreds of hours — even people who are trying to kill your friends — you hear ordinary things as well.”

Parents Are Not Okay. “School is only just starting and already kids are being quarantined in mind-boggling numbers: 20,000 across the state of Mississippi, 10,000 in a single district in Tampa, Florida. They’re getting sick too, with hospitalizations of kids under 17 across the country up at least 22 percent in the past month, by the CDC’s count, and each new week sets pediatric hospitalization records for the entire pandemic.”

Technology

Electric cars have much lower life cycle emissions, new study confirms. “But Bieker’s analysis says that there is no future for internal combustion engine vehicles if we are to actually decarbonize. HEVs only reduce lifecycle emissions by about 20 percent, and PHEVs are little better in Europe (25–27 percent lower than gasoline), a little worse in China (6–12 percent lower than gasoline), and adequate in the US (42–46 percent lower than gasoline). But compared to BEVs, a PHEV will have much greater lifetime emissions in all three areas. (India has almost no PHEVs, apparently.) And the advantage of BEVs over HEVs and PHEVs only grows as the grid decarbonizes more.”

Why Silicon Valley’s Asian Americans Still Feel Like a Minority. “On her way out she asked her likely successor, a White man, if he needed help navigating the company. She says he told her, “I don’t really need to prepare that hard—the manager has my back.” [Bo] Ren was floored. She’d spent more than 100 hours preparing for the same interviews so she could prove she deserved the spot. Being White, she says, is “like having a skip pass at Disney World. I realized there is a bamboo ceiling, and I’d have to work 100 times harder.””

The voices of women in tech are still being erased. “When we look at the impact of women’s voices in tech today, we can see both that they have led calls for accountability and also that they have been literally and figuratively undervalued. From doing voiceover work that becomes the basis for voice tools that millions use, without being paid or acknowledged accordingly, or doing work on the foundational concepts of AI, women are often present in tech without being listened to.”

Global organizations urge Apple to drop child safety features. “More than 90 civil liberties organizations around the world sent a letter to Apple’s Tim Cook Thursday, urging the CEO to walk back its plans to use machine learning to automatically detect child sexual abuse material on users’ devices.” Although everybody wants to protect children, the implications are unfortunately enormous.

On TikTok, misogyny and white supremacy slip through ‘enforcement gap’. “News investigations have nevertheless revealed that TikTok is used by Islamic State militants and to promote neo-Nazism. While the platform has started releasing transparency reports with details about the content it has removed for violating its guidelines, it is not yet part of a consortium of tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube involved in an industry anti-terrorism effort to collaboratively track and review content from white supremacists and far-right militia groups.”

Why are hyperlinks blue? “As a user experience designer who has created websites since 2001, I’ve always made my links blue. I have advocated for the specific shade of blue, and for the consistent application of blue, yes, but I’ve never stopped and wondered, why are links blue? It was just a fact of life. Grass is green and hyperlinks are blue. Culturally, we associate links with the color blue so much that in 2016, when Google changed its links to black, it created quite a disruption. But now, I find myself all consumed by the question, WHY are links blue? WHO decided to make them blue? WHEN was this decision made, and HOW has this decision made such a lasting impact?”

The future needs files. “I want all OSs, including mobile ones, to properly support real files as they are amazing, inspiring, and possibly the future of how we build our digital future.”