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Reading, watching, playing, using: June 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for June, 2021.

This month, I started posting notable links to my site as I saved them. You can follow my bookmarks here (and subscribe via RSS).

Books

A Queer History of the United States, by Michael Bronski. Flawed but fascinating. Given that he encompassed such a wide range, I sometimes wished the author had slowed down and gone into more detail. Episodes that demand nuance were often not given enough, and bisexuality was barely mentioned. Still, it was an eye-opening, mind-expanding read.

Notes on Grief, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “How is it that the world keeps going, breathing in and out unchanged, while in my soul there is a permanent scattering?” A pertinent read for me right now. Every word, heavy with loss and love and the rage of disbelief, resonates.

How to Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh. “In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one.” Simple, affirming, and inspirational from beginning to end.

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. A sort of melancholy science fiction fairy tale about loss, love, loneliness, religious belief, and what it means to be human. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first; by the end I felt acceptance. An example of what I hope for from speculative fiction.

Streaming

Collective. I wish I’d gotten around to seeing this remarkable documentary sooner. Gripping and frustrating in equal measure, the true-life story of how a team of hero journalists uncovered massive governmental corruption in Romania demands close attention. Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year.

Bo Burnham: Inside. It wants to be something as impactful as Hannah Gadsby’s incredible Nanette, but never quite gets there. Still, I found this effective as a piece of theater more than a comedy special: a portrait of a comedian’s self-questioning and increasingly unraveling mental state during the pandemic. Burnham’s critiques and parodies of internet culture in this context are particularly spot on (perhaps excluding a piece about white women’s Instagram feeds). And honestly, the songs are great.

Harvard Justice. In 2009, Harvard televised one of its most popular courses, on political philosophy and ethics. I’ve been watching it this month on YouTube and loving it. Accessible but thought-provoking; the lecturer, Michael Sandel, is brilliant.

Notable Articles

Business

Y Combinator Entrepreneurs Say Accelerator Expelled Them Over Critiques. “Two entrepreneurs claimed Friday the startup accelerator Y Combinator kicked them out of its program for speaking publicly about misogyny and members’ efforts to circumvent COVID-19 vaccine eligibility requirements.”

The Work-From-Home Future Is Destroying Bosses' Brains. “The reason that remote work is so threatening to a lot of corporate thinkers is that it largely devalues the middle management layer that corporate society is built on. When you’re in person, a middle manager can walk the floors, “keep an eye on people” and, in meetings, “speak for the group.” While this can happen over Zoom and Slack, it becomes significantly more apparent who actually did the work, because you can digitally evaluate where the work is coming from.”

Forget Going Back to the Office—People Are Just Quitting Instead. “As the pandemic clouds lift, the percentage of Americans leaving employers for new opportunities is at its highest level in more than two decades.”

The document culture of Amazon. “Reading documents is so ingrained in our culture and process that our scheduling tools have check boxes to automatically create a document. If I’m catching up on a new service or feature launch, I will find the document rather than emailing or calling the product manager.” I really love this.

Do Chance Meetings at the Office Boost Innovation? There’s No Evidence of It. “Remote work, though, can enable ideas to bubble up from people with different backgrounds. Online, people who are not comfortable speaking up in an in-person meeting may feel more able to weigh in. Brainstorming sessions using apps like Slack can surface many more perspectives by including people who wouldn’t have been invited to a meeting, like interns or employees in other departments.”

Office and Company Culture Are Bullshit. “The big push back to the office - and the many, many, many people I’ve had contact me saying they don’t want to go back - is only about control. Company culture is industrial guilt - it’s “just what we do here” - and without an office, it becomes significantly harder to wield, because there isn’t an easy way to wield power over a distributed group of people. It’s hard to feel like you’re a fancy King that people fear the wrath of when you don’t have an office to trot around, with middle-management Lords that also get off on the authority of power and draw little satisfaction from actual work that rewards you with money.”

Lord of the Roths: How Tech Mogul Peter Thiel Turned a Retirement Account for the Middle Class Into a $5 Billion Tax-Free Piggy Bank. “Over the last 20 years, Thiel has quietly turned his Roth IRA — a humdrum retirement vehicle intended to spur Americans to save for their golden years — into a gargantuan tax-exempt piggy bank, confidential Internal Revenue Service data shows. Using stock deals unavailable to most people, Thiel has taken a retirement account worth less than $2,000 in 1999 and spun it into a $5 billion windfall.”

What Salaries Did Startup CEOs Earn in 2020? “Interestingly, Female CEOs were more likely to take a pay cut during the pandemic. When comparing male and female CEOs, female leaders took a 30% reduction in salary at the peak of the pandemic ($101,000 compared to $138,000 in 2019) while their male counterparts saw an increase ($146,000 compared to $143,000 in 2019).”

Crypto

Beyond Resale Royalties. So Why Is DADA Ditching Royalties? “Fast forward three years since we tried to devise a royalty standard, and now it is art and not collectibles that is bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into the NFT ecosystem. Yet OpenSea is now too busy to put resources into guaranteeing resale royalties on their platform. Today, if an artwork is sold on a crypto art marketplace and resold on OpenSea, the artist does not get royalties.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee Is Selling The Original Source Code For The World Wide Web as an NFT. “The work includes the original archive of dated and time-stamped files from 1990 and 1991, containing 9,555 lines of source code and original HTML documents that taught the earliest web users how to use the application. The auction item also includes an animated 30-minute video of the code being written and a digital signature from Berners-Lee himself, as well as a letter written by him over 30 years later in which he reflects on the process of creating the code and the impact it has made.”

Culture

Roxane Gay Starts Publishing Imprint With Grove Atlantic. “Roxane Gay Books will focus on underrepresented fiction, nonfiction and memoir writers, with or without agents.”

How Memes Become Money. “It’s appropriate to give credit to people for their creativity and compensate them for their labor. It’s empowering to siphon value from the social-media companies that have been making billions off our personal lives. But it’s also a kind of giving up.”

In Argentina, cheap government-issued netbooks sparked a musical renaissance. “More than four million students received a computer between 2011 and 2015. These were exactly the years that saw the rise of a budding generation of rappers, trappers, and freestylers. The overlap is no coincidence to Sebastián Benítez Larghi, director of the sociology department at the La Plata National University. “The working classes have always had a tradition of cultural creation — urban rhythms are just more proof of that.””

Media

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Mega-Donor, and the Future of Journalism. “Emails obtained by The Assembly show that UNC-Chapel Hill’s largest journalism-school donor warned against Nikole Hannah-Jones’ hiring. Their divergent views represent a new front in the debate over objectivity and the future of the field.”

An open letter on U.S. media coverage of Palestine. “Yet for decades, our news industry has abandoned those values in coverage of Israel and Palestine. We have failed our audiences with a narrative that obscures the most fundamental aspects of the story: Israel’s military occupation and its system of apartheid.”

Pulitzer Prizes 2021: Darnella Frazier wins special citation from Pulitzer Prize board. “The board said Frazier was honored “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.””

‘We’re Going to Publish’: An Oral History of the Pentagon Papers. “So Ellsberg and I made this agreement: If I could get The Times to agree to publish the whole thing, they’d do their best to protect him. He’d give us the whole thing. He wouldn’t be publicly announced as a source.” One of the most important acts of whistleblowing and journalism of the 20th century.

Andreessen Horowitz’s ‘Future’ is a media machine. ″“We have a business to run, and we’re in the business of investing in the future and providing returns for LPs,” Wennmachers said. “So as much as I can help advance the future and the narrative of the pro case for the future … that’s what I’m trying to do. That is the goal.”″ So in other words, it’s the VC equivalent of an inflight magazine.

Newsrooms Need To Treat Coordinated Online Attacks On Reporters Like Propaganda - And Act Like They're At War. “And yes, this is a war, and it is a war being fought by the New York Post, by Fox News, and by many solo writers that have found a successful career in joining these campaigns, because outrage breeds clicks.”

Why the AP is no longer naming suspects in minor crime stories. “These minor stories, which only cover an arrest, have long lives on the internet. AP’s broad distribution network can make it difficult for the suspects named in such items to later gain employment or just move on in their lives.”

Lifting the mask. Edward Snowden launches his Substack: “Though my relationship to time fluctuates, the gravamen of my disclosures remains constant. In the past eight years, the depredations of surveillance have merely become more entrenched, with the capabilities that used to be the province of governments now in the hands of private companies, too, which employ them to track and tether us and attenuate our freedoms. This enduring danger, this compounding danger, is one of the reasons I’ve decided to lift my voice again — adding a new page to my “permanent record”...one to which I hope you subscribe.”

Linda Amster gets due recognition for work on Pentagon Papers. ″“I asked him why my name wasn’t included, and he said, ‘Well, we knew that we all might have to go to prison, and you are a woman, and we don’t want you to have to go to prison,’” Amster recalled.”

Fears for future of American journalism as hedge funds flex power. “According to a recent analysis, hedge funds or private equity firms now control half of US daily newspapers, including some of the largest newspaper groups in the country: Tribune, McClatchy and MediaNews Group.”

I am Palestinian. Here’s how Israel silences us on social media. “In 2015, Israel arrested 27-year-old Nader Halahleh and imprisoned him for seven months over seven posts on Facebook. That same year, 17-year-old Kathem Sbeih was also arrested over a Facebook post and placed in administrative detention — a policy from the British Mandate in which Israel imprisons Palestinians without charge or trial — for three months, despite being a child. By 2017, more than 300 Palestinians were detained under the pretext of incitement. For some Palestinians, just being able to post on social media under their real names is a risk too dangerous to take.”

Politics

Statement of Concern. “We [the undersigned] urge members of Congress to do whatever is necessary—including suspending the filibuster—in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want. Our democracy is fundamentally at stake. History will judge what we do at this moment.”

Donald Trump Belief That “Reinstatement” to Office Coming: Delusional. “I can attest, from speaking to an array of different sources, that Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he — along with former senators David Perdue and Martha McSally — will be “reinstated” to office this summer after “audits” of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed. I can attest, too, that Trump is trying hard to recruit journalists, politicians, and other influential figures to promulgate this belief — not as a fundraising tool or an infantile bit of trolling or a trial balloon, but as a fact.”

Revealed: rightwing firm posed as leftist group on Facebook to divide Democrats. “In an apparent attempt to split the Democratic vote in a number of close races, the ads purported to come from an organization called America Progress Now (APN) and used socialist memes and rhetoric to urge leftwing voters to support Green party candidates.”

Former NSA contractor Reality Winner, jailed for leaking secrets about Russian hacking, released early from prison. “Winner, 29, was sentenced to more than five years in prison in 2018 after she leaked classified information to The Intercept news outlet about Russia’s attempts to hack the 2016 presidential election. She pleaded guilty to leaking a classified report that detailed the Russian government’s efforts to penetrate a Florida-based voting software supplier. At the time, the sentence was the longest ever for a federal crime involving leaks to the media.” Thank you for your service.

’Nightmare Scenario’ fresh details on chaos, conflicts inside Trump’s pandemic response. “In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as White House officials debated whether to bring infected Americans home for care, President Donald Trump suggested his own plan for where to send them, eager to suppress the numbers on U.S. soil. “Don’t we have an island that we own?” the president reportedly asked those assembled in the Situation Room in February 2020, before the U.S. outbreak would explode. “What about Guantánamo?””

Records Show Nearly 900 Secret Service Employees Got COVID. “The records show that of the 881 positive test results recorded between March 1, 2021 and March 9, 2021, the majority, 477, came from employees working as special agents, and 249 were from members of the uniformed division.”

Science

Telomerase Regulation. If we’d figured this out, my mother would have lived a normal, healthy life. It’s also an issue associated with 90% of human cancers. I strongly suspect we’ll crack it in my lifetime.

Scientists shocked as particle transforms between matter and antimatter for the first time. “The charm meson has a light and heavy version that helps distinguish between its matter and antimatter states.”

Coronavirus infections dropping where people are vaccinated, rising where they are not. In other news: Popes Catholic, bears defecating in woodland.

Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong. “Which brings us to one of the largest gaps between science and practice in our own time. Years from now, we will look back in horror at the counterproductive ways we addressed the obesity epidemic and the barbaric ways we treated fat people—long after we knew there was a better path.”

Are advertisers coming for your dreams? “Now, brands from Xbox to Coors to Burger King are teaming up with some scientists to attempt something similar: “Engineer” advertisements into willing consumers’ dreams, via video and audio clips. This week, a group of 40 dream researchers has pushed back in an online letter, calling for the regulation of commercial dream manipulation.”

What Happened to the Lyme Disease Vaccine? “No human vaccines for Lyme exist. But that wasn’t always the case. Before Lyme disease shots went to the dogs, people had a safe and effective vaccine, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998. But anti-vaccine forces claimed it was dangerous, tanked its popularity and sued it out of existence after just a few years on the market.” Meanwhile, the Lyme epidemic continues to grow.

When an Eel Climbs a Ramp to Eat Squid From a Clamp, That’s a Moray. “Moray eels can hunt on land, and footage from a recent study highlights how they accomplish this feat with a sneaky second set of jaws.” Also: perfect headline, well done.

What’s the Difference Between a ‘Borb’ and a ‘Floof’? “Let us now apply this logic. Borbs as a category heavily intersect with birbs, defined as both are by roundness. But just as every bird is not a birb, every birb is not a borb. Some birds naturally have deep chests and short necks, easily securing their borbness: chickadees, European Robins, and Bearded Tits, the last of which seems to be the poster child for the type. Other clear borbs include pigeons, thrushes, warblers, game birds, small parrots, most owls, and penguins.”

Why Is the Intellectual Dark Web Suddenly Hyping an Unproven COVID Treatment? ”While Big Tech continues to issue a confused, belated, and at times contradictory response to the problem of people using its platforms to promote health quackery, Weinstein, Heying, Taibbi, and Weiss have positioned themselves as the vanguards of intellectual freedom by, in their ways, buttressing these claims. In fact, and without, perhaps, even realizing it, they’ve acted as foot soldiers for something entirely commonplace: a politicized and pseudoscientific response to a deadly disease.”

Blood test that finds 50 types of cancer is accurate enough to be rolled out. “A simple blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer before any clinical signs or symptoms of the disease emerge in a person is accurate enough to be rolled out as a screening test, according to scientists.”

Society

Why We Are Publishing the Tax Secrets of the .001%. “Today, ProPublica is launching the first in a series of stories based on the private tax data of some of our nation’s richest citizens. We obtained the information from an anonymous source who provided us with large amounts of information on the ultrawealthy, everything from the taxes they paid to the income they reported to the profits from their stock trades.”

‘A career change saved my life’: the people who built better lives after burnout. “Among her clients, burnout is common. “We’re at a tipping point, I think, where the old world is not fit for purpose any more,” she says. “There’s this narrative in society which is that in order to be successful, you’ve got to sacrifice your health or your relationships, or things that are important to you. You’ve got to hustle. And I really don’t agree with that.””

I said I couldn’t stand Indian food. Then a Twitter friend took me to dinner. ““This is the guy,” Preet said to the owner and some friends, meaning “the guy who slagged the cuisine of our ancestors whose mind we just might change.” I smiled gamely and said I was willing to make amends. There was laughter and a lot of smiles and knowing looks. It turns out they’d been expecting me. I was not going to get away with my usual only-child behavior of a quick taste here and there. This was going to be a marathon.”

What Do Conservatives Fear About Critical Race Theory? “Increasingly, conservatism after Donald Trump has been defined by a fear that American society is on the verge of being displaced by a progressive reimagining, with woke politics and aggressive redistribution. Progressivism is defined by an equally urgent hope that it can, in fact, displace old patterns of ecological destruction and discrimination. It is interesting—and slightly ironic—that critical race theory, with its invocations of structural racism, should be so central to the policy debate right now: part of its teaching is that the patterns of American society can’t be easily dislodged by a change in manners, and that if you are snapping your fingers to make the past disappear you are only doing so in tandem with the rhythms of the past.”

She got hurt working for Amazon. Here's why she doesn't want to quit. “Amazon’s high injury rates were reported last week in a study by the Strategic Organizing Center, a labor advocacy group that used data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to analyze the rates of serious injury in fulfillment and delivery roles. The SOC is using the data to push for changes to Amazon’s notoriously long hours, strict and limited break schedules, and repetitive-motion work that can cause chronic pain. The group found that Amazon’s serious injury rate was more than double Walmart (its closest competitor) last year, and that Amazon employees take an average of one to two weeks longer to recover from these injuries than the average injured warehouse employee.”

Why We Shouldn't Be Surprised People Don't Read. “It’s more than sucking the joy out of learning - we have changed on a societal level what it means to be educated. Education has become so pragmatism-focused that it’s unsurprising that we have people that learn basically everything outside of school through a web browser - we have educated generations of kids to consciously or otherwise view knowledge as something one acquires as quickly as possible, and usually for a task.”

What the Rich Don’t Want to Admit About the Poor. “For the most part, America finds the money to pay for the things it values. In recent decades, and despite deep gridlock in Washington, we have spent trillions of dollars on wars in the Middle East and tax cuts for the wealthy. We have also spent trillions of dollars on health insurance subsidies and coronavirus relief. It is in our power to wipe out poverty. It simply isn’t among our priorities.”

Grenfell FC: "This club is bigger than any one individual". ″“You felt the loss everywhere in those weeks,” says Rupert. “Then one day, there was a young man who came in who I felt was struggling with his mental health. He’d lost both his parents a few years prior, three months apart. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. And he’d lived in the tower. It felt like history was repeating itself. I asked him what had helped him get through the death of his parents. He said football. So we formed a football team. Right there, like that.””

The Electrification of Everything: What You Need to Know. Short answer: we’d better upgrade the grid.

How You Start is How You Finish? The Slave Patrol and Jim Crow Origins of Policing. “Policing in southern slave-holding states followed a different trajectory—one that has roots in slave patrols of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and police enforcement of Jim Crow laws in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. As per Professor Michael Robinson (2017) of the University of Georgia, the first deaths in America of Black men at the hands of law enforcement “can be traced back as early as 1619 when the first slave ship, a Dutch Man-of-War vessel landed in Point Comfort, Virginia.””

Kids Need Freedom, Too. “The problem with a society devoted to zero risk is that kids grow up overprotected and under-socialized. They miss out on the thrilling experience of fending for themselves, crucial in forging confidence. They miss out on learning to assess risk and dealing with minimal danger without constantly deferring to an authority.” I’m excited that free-range parenting will be back in style by the time I’m a parent. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Conservatives now use the label ‘critical race theory’ to describe any conversation about race that makes them uncomfortable. “On its face, the opprobrium misunderstands the point: CRT is less about blaming white people than interrogating systems of power and privilege. But that’s the very thing that frightens conservatives: If children recognize the culpability of systems, as opposed to individuals, they’ll also recognize societal problems require collective solutions. The myth of rugged individualism will vanish.”

'I was completely inside': Lobster diver swallowed by humpback whale off Provincetown. ″“All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” Packard recalled Friday afternoon following his release from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.” Call me shaken.

Oregon Has Legalized Human Composting. I really wish California did this.

Abigail Disney: Why the Rich Protect Dynastic Wealth. “If your comfort requires that society be structured so that a decent percentage of your fellow citizens live in a constant state of terror about whether they’ll get health care in an emergency, or whether they can keep a roof over their family’s heads, or whether they will simply have enough to eat, perhaps the problem does not rest with those people, but with you and what you think of as necessary, proper, and acceptable.”

Fighting the pressure for pandemic personal growth. “But there’s a larger norm at work behind questions like this, and behind the greater expectation that people could use lockdown to boost their coronapreneurial profiles. An obsessive focus on productivity is “part of late-stage American capitalism,” Blustein said. “This productivity ethos has gotten transported into our hobbies, it’s gotten transported into our relationships, into our physical and mental health.””

5 pads for 2 cellmates: Menstrual products still scarce in prison. “Unable to get more than an allotted number of pads, Bozelko began reusing them. The prison’s pads were thin, she said, thinner than the pads typically sold outside, and the adhesive barely stuck to her clothes. She once saw another woman’s pad fall to the ground because the glue was so weak, so Bozelko stepped on it, hiding the pad beneath her boot to save her from humiliation. She and her cellmate received five of these pads to share among themselves every week, and asking a guard for another pad often led to a rejected request and ridicule.” Why are we so cruel?

Technology

Mass scale manipulation of Twitter Trends discovered. “We found that 47% of local trends in Turkey and 20% of global trends are fake, created from scratch by bots. Between June 2015 and September 2019, we uncovered 108,000 bot accounts involved, the biggest bot dataset reported in a single paper. Our research is the first to uncover the manipulation of Twitter Trends at this scale.”

Passport. A neat solution for independent subscription media businesses. I kind of want to use it.

1997: The Year of DHTML. A nice history of DHTML and the DOM, for people (like me) who are interested in that sort of thing.

I saw millions compromise their Facebook accounts to fuel fake engagement. “During my time at Facebook, I saw compromised accounts functioning in droves in Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere. Most of these accounts were commandeered through autolikers: online programs which promise users automatic likes and other engagement for their posts. Signing up for the autoliker, however, requires the user to hand over account access. Then, these accounts join a bot farm, where their likes and comments are delivered to other autoliker users, or sold en masse, even while the original user maintains ownership of the account. Although motivated by money rather than politics — and far less sophisticated than government-run human troll farms — the sheer quantity of these autoliker programs can be dangerous.”

Introducing Astro: Ship Less JavaScript. Neat!

Colorado is now the 3rd US state with modern privacy legislation, with a twist. “In other words, Do Not Track – or something very much like it – is back in Colorado, and ignoring the setting, like companies did widely when Do Not Track was created, is not an option any more. The technical details will need to be figured out between now and when this provision goes into effect, which two and a half years away. So plenty of time to get this right.”

Day One at Automattic. “Day One not only nails the experience of a local blog (or journal as they call it) in an app, but also has (built) a great technical infrastructure — it works fantastic (when) offline and has a fully encrypted sync mechanism, so the data that’s in the cloud is secured in a way that even someone with access to their database couldn’t decode your entries, it’s only decrypted on your local device. Combining encryption and sync in a truly secure way is tricky, but they’ve done it.”

Apple’s emoji keyboard is reinforcing Western stereotypes. “The feature associates “Africa” with the hut emoji and “China” with the dog emoji.”

China’s tech workers pushed to their limits by surveillance software. “A Chinese subsidiary of Japanese camera maker Canon, Canon Information Technology, last year unveiled a new workspace management system that only allows smiling employees to enter the office and book conference rooms. Using so-called “smile recognition” technology, Canon said the system was intended to bring more cheerfulness to the office in the post-pandemic era.”