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What I read and watched in February 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the media I consumed and found interesting. Here's my list for February, 2021.

Books

We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice, by adrienne maree brown. The centerpiece of this short book is an argument for compassionate transformative justice that doesn’t erase the experiences of survivors, and recognizes the desire of infiltrators to derail movements. It’s an important read, although I wish the book was longer, and that there were more concrete takeaways. Still, I found it thought-provoking, and more than that, it’s solid emotional backup for anyone called towards radical transformative justice. I’m deeply glad adrienne maree brown exists in the world.

Girlchild, by Tupelo Hassman. A searing portrait of a young girl’s life in an America that is rarely described. At once impressionistic and precise in its naturalistic detail, Tupelo Hassman’s writing walks a tightrope between heartbreaking and darkly comic. Or maybe it’s not a tightrope at all: throughout the bleakness of their trailer park context, her characters find ways to live with brightness and energy, never more than when they’re trying to break free.

A History of My Brief Body, by Billy-Ray Belcourt. “They hate our freedom, so only freedom matters.” Uncompromising in its honesty, this deep dive into the author’s lived experience at the intersection of queerness, NDN heritage, and white Canadian racism is beautifully written and unforgettably frank in its heartfelt call for joy, art, and poetry as acts of resistance. This patchwork collection of essays name-checks like-minded artists and lays intimacies bare in order to paint a portrait of life under oppression that rings with uncomfortable truth.

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead. Fiction rooted in appalling historical tragedy. In some ways the plot proceeds in a straightforward way, but in doing so, it reveals truths about America that land harder for the author’s unsensational approach. These places existed. These things happened. These boys, though perhaps not with these exact names and these exact lives, really existed. And there are still real people who would prefer these stories remain untold.

Streaming

Judas and the Black Messiah. An absolute must-see. Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, and Dominique Fishback all put in standout performances. This is a story that needs to be understood widely, told with vision, clarity, and deep humanity.

Notable Articles

Business

The Best-Case Outcomes Are Statistical Outliers. “Knowing that the future is probably not going to be all sunshine and roses allows you to prepare for a variety of more likely outcomes, including some of the bad ones. Sometimes, too, when the worst-case scenario happens, it’s actually a huge relief. We realize it’s not all bad, we didn’t die, and we can manage if it happens again. Preparation and knowing you can handle a wide spectrum of possible challenges is how you get the peace of mind to be unsurprised by anything in between the worst and the best.”

Finally, a private stock exchange. There are half as many public companies as there were twenty years ago. Efforts like this make sense to me - and they also help level the playing field between public companies like Google, which give public stock grants to their employees, and smaller firms that haven’t gone public yet.

How to be an angel investor in early stage startups when you don’t have any money. “Because angel investing has done so much for me and people often ask me how to get started, I wrote this guide on how to put time and energy into the startup scene to make the benefits of angel investing more accessible. Putting money into ETFs is super outdated advice because you don’t learn shit, it doesn’t do anything for your career and you’re not going to make enough money to catapult you across class boundaries. Meanwhile angel investing can help you learn new things, develop skills, build a reputation, have fun, and (potentially) create long-term returns.”

The Great Unbundling. This is a really thought provoking presentation about the state of the internet in 2021. Worth your time.

Social media sentiment ETF to launch in wake of Reddit rebellion. “The Buzz index aggregates investment-related content from social media sites such as Twitter and StockTwits, blogs and news articles.” Absolutely yikes, but also I bet it’ll make a ton of money.

Twitter Mulls Subscription Product, Tipping For Generating Revenue. This is FANTASTIC. More subscription business models, fewer targeted advertising models, please.

Labor & Delivery: Birthing the New Economy. “Like childbirth, there’s no one right way to build a business. We need more guides — doulas — to help us along the path that feels right for each of us.” A new Zebra manifesto - and its perfect.

Amazon’s Great Labor Awakening. “In San Bernardino, roughly 20 miles from the InTech campus, a group of students from Cajon High School recently took classes in the Amazon Logistics and Business Management Pathway, one of eight career tracks offered at the public high school, alongside medicine, human services and building trades. The school’s teenagers are mostly from low- and middle-income families. Many can name friends, family members or neighbors who are or have been employed by Amazon.” Dystopian.

Banking-as-a-service made fintech explode. But as a bigger market awaits, so do new problems. “"A lot of banking-as-a-service providers might end up having the traditional problem middlemen have in highly-fragmented markets," Falvey said. "The structure limits the ability for these providers to increase their margins over time."”

Culture

Blade Runner Director's Cut Was A Historic Film History Mistake. The Director's Cut was so much better than the original theatrical version. It's amazing to me that it was only released because of a simple mistake.

From 'Doctor Who' to 'Outlander': How Fans Craft Reverse Engineer Knits. What a lovely piece of internet culture: fans who love something so much that they reverse engineer it and figure out how to make it themselves. I, for one, would love a hand-knitted Doctor Who scarf.

Silence of the Lambs 30th Anniversary Review: Jodie Foster & Misogyny. "But Clarice is a woman. And The Silence of the Lambs, which is about a serial killer who targets women so that he can craft a suit out of their skin, is very careful to establish that Clarice exists in a world where men—all men, not just the ones who happen to be maniacs—unequivocally have the upper hand."

Dramatic discovery links Stonehenge to its original site – in Wales. Pretty amazing stuff: Stonehenge stood in Wales for some 400 years before being uprooted and brought to England.

movie night. “If you like the kind of movie where the filmmaker states the film’s thesis by having one of the characters recite an Auden poem out loud while nothing else happens ...” I loved this essay about movies, and love, and memory.

Remembering Octavia Butler: Black Sci-Fi Writer Shares Cautionary Tales in Unearthed 2005 Interview. Octavia Butler was a visionary and a genius. I loved this interview.

HE, by Kyle Ross. “He told his parents he was a boy. They told him he couldn’t be.” I enjoyed this flash fiction piece.

Media

Thanks to the Internet Archive, the history of American newspapers is more searchable than ever. "A stroll through the archives of Editor & Publisher shows an industry with moments of glory and shame — and evidence that not all of today’s problems are new." As with all of the Internet Archive's work, this is superb.

Consider the Source. “But the most startling admission in Sheehan’s interview is that he deliberately and repeatedly deceived his source. Ellsberg was reluctant to give Sheehan copies of the Papers. Instead, he let Sheehan review the material and take copious notes, but wouldn’t let him photocopy the documents until he was satisfied the Times was going to do something with them. Sheehan says he agreed to those conditions, but it’s not clear he ever intended to uphold them.”

How To Not Mess Up Online (and How To Apologize If You Do). This is a pretty good guide! I’m bad at following all the rules.

Two ‘Reply All’ Hosts Step Down Amid ‘Test Kitchen’ Fallout. Really disappointing behavior.

What makes for robust local news provision? Looking at the structural correlates of local news coverage for an entire U.S. state, and mapping local news using a new method. Richer areas have more news. A free market is not the model that will get us to a well-informed electorate.

New Cue the music: former Q editors join newsletter publishing boom. Q is one of the magazines of my childhood (or at least, my teenage self). Fascinating that it’s showing up again as a Substack.

PBS' streaming future: online donations, free 24/7 channels. “That's why PBS introduced one-click donations on Amazon's Fire TV platform last fall. Fire TV users can now donate to their local station right from within the PBS app, using the credit card details that Amazon already has on file, and even join to become a sustaining member. The simplicity of this approach seems to be a hit with consumers, with Rubenstein pointing out that it has had a higher conversion rate than any other donation page for local PBS stations. "There's a very strong future for this," he said. "My vision is that we expand that one click to every platform."”

Politics

Off the rails: Inside the craziest meeting of the Trump presidency. An incredible read. What a clown show.

Movie at the Ellipse: A Study in Fascist Propaganda. "The message of the video is clear. America’s glory has been betrayed by treachery and division sown by politicians seeking to undermine and destroy the nation. To save the nation, one must restore Trump’s rule." We need to already bolster ourselves against the risk of a second Trump term - or of a different, more competent fascist.

Donald Trump’s Business Sought A Stake In Parler Before He Would Join. "Talks between members of Trump’s campaign and Parler about Trump’s potential involvement began last summer, and were revisited in November by the Trump Organization after Trump lost the 2020 election to the Democratic nominee and current president, Joe Biden. Documents seen by BuzzFeed News show that Parler offered the Trump Organization a 40% stake in the company. It is unclear as to what extent the former president was involved with the discussions." This seems like it should be incredibly illegal?

The Queen has more power over British law than we ever thought. "The documents uncovered by the Guardian provide remarkable evidence that this process accords the Queen’s advisers a genuine opportunity to negotiate with the government over changes in proposed laws, that they do sometimes secure such changes before giving consent, and that they are even prepared to threaten to withhold consent to secure their policy preferences." That doesn't seem very democratic at all.

Critical Thinking isn't Just a Process. “And perhaps a key point here is that the difference between lies of omission—misleading by skipping relevant information—and lies of commission—outright lying—is not just that the latter is weak, it’s also that it’s harder for the person doing the misleading. It deprives them of their self-respect. And in countries like the United States, it’s not easy for a medical doctor at a respectable institution to be outright lying.” Interesting piece on the Kremlinology of determining how sick Trump actually was.

Science

Fecal transplant turns cancer immunotherapy non-responders into responders. "Researchers at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) demonstrate that changing the gut microbiome can transform patients with advanced melanoma who never responded to immunotherapy--which has a failure rate of 40% for this type of cancer--into patients who do."

Bernese researchers create sophisticated lung-on-chip. “Next to pharmaceutical applications, organs-on-chip are seen as having the potential to be used in precision medicine to test the patient's own cells in order to tailor the best therapy. Furthermore, such systems have the significant potential to reduce animal testing in medical and life-science research.” Super-cool.

California's coronavirus strain looks increasingly dangerous. Really terrible news.

Four causes for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and their solutions. Honestly, I’ll try anything - but these seem like good ideas.

Society

He made sure the bodies of the Muslim dead faced Mecca. COVID-19 claimed his life. “For over 30 years, Alshilleh helped to bury a generation of Southern Californian Muslims. The Riverside resident washed and shrouded the corpses of men per Islamic customs and drove the bodies of men and women to cemeteries from Rosamond to Victorville, San Diego to Orange County.” All for free.

A Journal of the Plague Week 46. "What do you do when you look out the window and see your neighbors being rounded up and taken away? Perhaps you look on impassively, or even with approval, telling yourself that they must have done something to deserve it, or maybe that it’s just easier for everyone if they’re out of the picture. Perhaps you lean out of your window and watch it happen, then close the window and go about your day. Perhaps you want to intervene, even knowing that it’s futile, that your neighbors will be deported anyway while you’ll be arrested, or worse. Perhaps you’re compelled to send some signal of solidarity to the people outside, knowing that this is equally dangerous and futile. Perhaps you look on with pity or sympathy, but then turn away and get on with your life, because what else can you do?" Heartbreaking thoughts about a remarkable photograph.

20,000 honey bees took over a tech office during Covid-19. Bzzzness.

There’s a Reason You Feel Numb Right Now. It’s been ten years since I moved to California for very stressful reasons. Those reasons have not let up. So this piece might as well be a user’s manual for me.

Employer-Tied Health Care Is Also a Tech Accountability Issue. “When individuals expose themselves to retaliation, doxing, and harassment from the legal teams of big tech companies in order to share information that benefits all of us, we must make sure that access to their therapist and primary care doctor is not one more thing they have to give up.” I continue to fail to see any upside to private healthcare as a system.

‘I Miss My Mom’: Children Of QAnon Believers Are Desperately Trying To Deradicalize Their Own Parents. “Elaina, a 28-year-old graphic designer from Missouri, has struggled to watch as her mom’s obsession with QAnon damages her life in potentially irreparable ways. She’s sinking deeper and deeper into debt, convinced that it will all soon be forgiven under a new financial system called NESARA — a bogus theory, revived by QAnon, that stems from a set of economic reforms that were proposed in the 1990s but never introduced before Congress. After Elaina and her husband bought a house last year, her mother told them to skip their mortgage payments.” These stories are heartbreaking.

The Best Time I Pretended I Hadn’t Heard of Slavoj Žižek. “Find someone who is crazy about Morrissey, and pretend you have no idea who that is. It drives people nuts. I don’t know why, but it does. Just kidding, I know exactly why, because I myself have been on the receiving end of the Žižek Maneuver. This girl I had a bit of a crush on told me she had never watched “Twin Peaks,” and it damn near killed me. The reason I had a crush on her in the first place is because we liked so many of the same books, and movies, and music. How could she have never watched “Twin Peaks?” Was she messing with me? How? It did not for a second occur to me that she just hadn’t got round to it. My immediate response was to believe that she had deliberately not watched it in order to get on my nerves. When she told me later that of course she had watched “Twin Peaks,” my eye started twitching.”

Malcolm X's family releases letter alleging FBI, police role in his death. It would be nice to have the truth come out.

Concierge Care Provider One Medical Gave COVID-19 Vaccine To Ineligible People. Not great. That said, I can’t wait until we all can get the vaccine.

Comparative suffering, judgment, and more. “How do you both cut people some slack as so many people are low-functioning right now, and also see that people’s true colors come out in times of crisis?”

Technology

Breaking Tech Open: Why Social Platforms Should Work More Like Email. “What would it look like if social platforms were required to integrate with an interoperable social infrastructure, or even used email itself as this standard? We could imagine new interfaces that mix and match social messages, ride-hailing, room rentals, or classifieds. The wealth of all of our social interactions would be multiplied and combined across platforms, resulting in a better experience for everyone.” It’s so refreshing to see this discourse hit the mainstream. Let’s do this.

Golems, smart objects, and the file metaphor. “The file made sense for desktop computers and bytes stored on disk. What could the file be now, in the era of the cloud and smart devices?” This is a lovely exploration of what turns out to be a complicated, nuanced idea.

“We need to do something to stop these conversations from happening.” Facebook’s data scientists warned that extremists were gathering in its Groups. “The re­searchers told ex­ec­u­tives that “en­thu­si­as­tic calls for vi­o­lence every day” filled one 58,000-mem­ber Group, ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­nal pre­sen­ta­tion. An­other top Group claimed it was set up by fans of Don­ald Trump but it was ac­tu­ally run by “fi­nan­cially mo­ti­vated Al­ba­ni­ans” di­rect­ing a mil­lion views daily to fake news sto­ries and other provoca­tive con­tent.”

Parler CEO Is Fired After 'Constant Resistance' Inside The Conservative-Friendly Site. “In an interview with NPR, Matze claimed that there was a dispute with Mercer over just how far Parler would take its openness to free speech. He said that if the company wanted to succeed, Parler would have crack down on domestic terrorists and any groups that incite violence, including the Trump-supporting conspiracy theory QAnon.” The board is committed to not doing that.

This is the Democrats’ plan to limit Section 230. For better or worse, these changes will be a major accelerant for decentralization. Protocols don't host.

Facebook and the Surveillance Society: The Other Coup. "To understand the economics of epistemic chaos, it’s important to know that surveillance capitalism’s operations have no formal interest in facts. All data is welcomed as equivalent, though not all of it is equal. Extraction operations proceed with the discipline of the Cyclops, voraciously consuming everything it can see and radically indifferent to meaning, facts and truth."

Signal ignores proxy censorship vulnerability, bans researchers. I’m a big proponent of Signal and, honestly, this seems very bad.

In Myanmar, one blackout ends, another begins. Governments arbitrarily turning the internet off and on to suit their needs - as they did in Myanmar - will just become more common. If we’re serious about decentralization, we need to also reduce our dependence on the internet backbone itself.

Medium Workers Union (MWU). I’m so proud of my friends and former colleagues at Medium. Solidarity.

Zuckerberg told staff: 'We need to inflict pain' on Apple. Quite the opposite.

Designing Inclusive Content Models. “If we’re building worlds, we should build worlds that let in as many people as possible. To do this, our discussions of content modeling need to include an expanded range of metaphors that go beyond just mirroring what we find in the world. We should also, when needed, filter out structures that are harmful or exclusionary.”

The New API for Wikipedia. Neat!

How Koo became India’s Hindu nationalist–approved Twitter alternative. “Radhakrishna and his platform are in a curious position. The founder insists he’s apolitical — he’s appeared in both left-leaning and right-wing outlets in the days since Koo has found the limelight — but is happily embracing the sudden rush to his app: Koo crossed 3 million users this month, fueled in large part by Modi’s party.”

Fintech companies must balance the pursuit of profit against ethical data usage. “While Big Tech collects consumer data to support their advertising revenue, banks can win the hearts of consumers by collecting data to drive personalization and superior UXs. This is especially true for local community banks and credit unions, as their high-touch approach to services has always been their core differentiator. By delivering personalized interactions while ensuring the data collection is secure and transparent, banks can regain market share and win the hearts of customers again.” Yes please.

Open source projects should run office hours. Really smart. I do this internally at my company, but I haven’t done it for open source projects I continue to maintain (like Known). I’m in.

The road to electric is filled with tiny cars. Absolutely fascinating.

Mailchimp employees have complained about inequality for years — is anyone listening?. Absolutely outrageous stories. Any company that acts like this does not deserve to have employees. I have friends at MailChimp, and who used to be there, including Kelly Ellis, who is quoted in the story. I moved my mailing list away after learning about her experience.

The Future of Web Software Is HTML-over-WebSockets. Interesting. I’m not sure I buy it yet - but I love the idea.

Amazon rainforest plots sold via Facebook Marketplace ads. File under, “are you serious?”

The problem of CryptoArt. “It turns out my release of 6 CryptoArt works consumed in 10 seconds more electricity than the entire studio over the past 2 years.”