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Reading, watching, playing, using: August, 2022

Happy Labor Day to everyone who celebrates the organized labor movement today in the US. This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for August, 2022.

A note: it’s taken me a while to hit publish on this post because our son was born on September 2nd. We instantly fell in love. More on that soon. For now, please understand if my posting frequency plummets for a little while.

Books

Fiction

The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan. A ton of ideas about parenting, society, and the present moment, crammed into an emotional near-future science fiction story. I wish the protagonist had been more sympathetic - but the future it paints is alarmingly plausible.

Notable Articles

Business

Workplace Productivity: Are You Being Tracked? “Two years ago, her employer started requiring chaplains to accrue more of what it called “productivity points.” A visit to the dying: as little as one point. Participating in a funeral: one and three-quarters points. A phone call to grieving relatives: one-quarter point.”

The organized labor movement has a new ally: venture capitalists. “White’s solution is to plan an “exit to community.” Once the company starts earning income, it plans to buy out its investors and give their equity to the unions it helped organize, effectively transitioning corporate control to the customer base.”

American Express' platinum-level duplicity. “American Express’ decision to begin donating to Republican objectors reflects the desire of some in the business community to put the events of January 6, 2021, behind them. That, according to an open letter recently signed by former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault and other prominent business leaders, is a big mistake.”

Varo layoffs are a sign of neobanks’ struggle to break even. ““Most American neobanks cater to lower-income customers, who previously may have incurred overdraft, [non-sufficient fund fees] and maintenance fees at big establishment banks,” Mikula told Protocol. “But these consumers also tend to be higher credit risk, making it challenging to lend to them. No U.S. neobank has built a meaningful lending business.””

Climate

California to Ban the Sale of New Gasoline Cars. “The rule, issued by the California Air Resources Board, will require that all new cars sold in the state by 2035 be free of greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide. The rule also sets interim targets, requiring that 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold by 2026 produce zero emissions. That requirement climbs to 68 percent by 2030.”

The temperature threshold the human body can't survive. “When the wet bulb temperature gets above 95 degrees F, our bodies lose their ability to cool down, and the consequences can be deadly. Until recently, scientists didn’t think we’d cross that threshold outside of doomsday climate change scenarios. But a 2020 study looking at detailed weather records around the world found we’ve already crossed the threshold at least 14 times in the last 40 years.”

Women are working to make the clean energy transition more equitable. “Women are disproportionately facing the impacts of the climate crisis: They are more likely to be displaced by climate disasters, and due to lower-paid jobs, caregiving responsibilities and the wage gap, they have less economic means to recover and adapt to a changing climate.”

Crypto

More Than Half Of All Bitcoin Trades Are Fake. “More than half of all reported trading volume is likely to be fake or non-economic. Forbes estimates the global daily bitcoin volume for the industry was $128 billion on June 14. That is 51% less than the $262 billion one would get by taking the sum of self-reported volume from multiple sources.”

Insider Trading in Cryptocurrency Markets. “We find evidence of systematic insider trading in cryptocurrency markets, where individuals use private information to buy coins prior to exchange listing announcements. Our analysis shows significant price run-ups before official listing announcements, similar to prosecuted cases of insider trading in stock markets.”

Feds Blacklist Tornado Cash, Ban Ethereum Mixing Tool in US. “In a Monday announcement, the body added the Tornado Cash website and a long list of Ethereum addresses to its Specially Designated Nationals list, banning American citizens from using the tool or transacting with these addresses.”

Pearson Sees NFT, Blockchain Helping Making Money From E-Books Sales. “The chief executive officer of Pearson Plc, one of the world’s largest textbook publishers, said he hopes technology like non-fungible tokens and the blockchain could help the company take a cut from secondhand sales of its materials as more books go online.”

Culture

Queer YA books are selling in record numbers despite bans targeting them. “Of the close to 5 million units of LGBTQ+ books sold in 2021, the biggest absolute gains in this market came from LGBTQ+ YA books, which saw an increase in sales of 1.3 million units from the previous year. Queer YA is more popular than ever — no longer a niche category, but redefining what is mainstream for teen readers.”

As list of banned books in schools grows, ‘soft’ censorship is spreading. “Free speech advocates say these practices are as troubling as bans — particularly when the books singled out overwhelmingly have themes related to race, gender and sexuality and are written by authors who are women, LGBTQ+ and/or people of color.”

Billy Bragg on the difference between the backlash to Salman Rushdie and Jerry Sadowitz. “Over the past decade or so, Rushdie has sought to return to some sort of a normal life, despite the threat hanging over him. The fact that he continued to take the stage at literary events is a tribute to his belief in freedom of expression and he has been rightly commended for his bravery.”

Doctor Who casting director: "We’re casting more disabled actors". “It’s more interesting. Also, if you can’t cast diversely on Doctor Who, what show can you do it on? It goes everywhere, on this planet and others, and you don’t want to see the same kind of people all the time. You don’t want it to be exclusively middle-class white people speaking with RP accents.”

on leading a purposeless life. “Maybe it is okay to not pursue potential and just be okay with being. Why must there be a reason for everything?” Beautiful.

Author Salman Rushdie attacked on lecture stage in New York. “He has said he is proud of his fight for freedom of expression, saying in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.”

Interview: Jake Novak on His Infamous SNL TikTok Video. “Honestly, as horrible as the internet has been to me in the past six weeks, I have really enjoyed this hiatus. I’m getting to see my friends more and just have more meaningful experiences in real life.”

Democracy

Why I Changed My Mind on Student Debt Forgiveness. “It is simply impossible for students to work their way through college in the way previous generations could. And at the same time, states have reduced funding to their public colleges that historically allowed schools to charge low tuition prices.”

We reject the free speech-trampling rules set by J.D. Vance and Ron DeSantis for covering their rally. “Think about what they were doing here. They were staging an event to rally people to vote for Vance while instituting the kinds of policies you’d see in a fascist regime.”

John Mackey: Whole Foods CEO says ‘socialists are taking over’ schools and gun control debate. ““My concern is that I feel like socialists are taking over,” the multi-millionaire organic grocery magnate said. “They’re marching through the institutions. They’re… taking over education. It looks like they’ve taken over a lot of the corporations. It looks like they’ve taken over the military. And it’s just continuing.””

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff leans in to being a voice for gender equity. “Emhoff is the first second gentleman to the first woman vice president, and for him, tackling gender inequality in ways big and small felt like a natural, and critical, component of creating this role. He is actively attempting to model for others what it means to be an ally in actions, not just words.”

It's Manly Man Summer at the Claremont Institute. “In a piece titled “Men and the Future of America,” Klingenstein praises senator Josh Hawley for a speech trumpeting the “masculine virtues.” And what are those? They are, according to Klingenstein, “stoicism, competitiveness, conquest, achievement and aggression.” These are qualities to be managed, not repressed, because repressing them turns them toxic, into “dysfunctional behaviors—crime, drugs, pornography, and the like.”” I find this ideology so repulsive, so baffling.

How the Claremont Institute, home to Trump lawyer John Eastman, rose and fell. “Lewis said he agreed with Claremont leaders that the country is locked in a cold civil war. “Our country is upside down,” he said. “It’s unrecognizable.” He praised the program and its focus on “the myth of systemic police racism.” […] “They’re trying to train people to take a kind of extreme populist right-wing ideology back with them to Washington.”“

After slow response, Biden administration ramps up abortion access protections. “Helen Silverstein, head of the government and law department at Lafayette College, said that the administration’s actions this week were notable because they sent a clear — if delayed — signal to the Democratic base that the executive branch is taking access to reproductive health care seriously.”

Orbán gets warm CPAC reception after 'mixed race' speech blowback. “The reaction to Orbán’s “mixed-race” remarks was “a little bit overblown,” Ede Vessey said, maintaining that the prime minister was referring to a stark clash of cultures that has taken place in some Western European countries that have accepted refugees from predominantly Muslim countries.”

Senate Judiciary holds hearing on threats to election workers. “Election officials from both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as nonpartisan officials, testified at the hearing on election workers, a workforce that has received more attention after former President Donald Trump lied about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. As Trump considers another run for office in 2024, he has repeated unfounded claims about election security that election administrators say has made their work more difficult.”

Justice Department sues Idaho over abortion ban, citing ‘medical emergency’ violation. ““The law thus places medical professionals in an impossible situation,” Gupta said. “They must either withhold stabilizing treatment required by EMTALA or risk felony prosecution and license revocation. In so doing, the law will chill providers’ willingness to perform abortions in emergency situations and will hurt patients.””

ShotSpotter Asks Court To Hold It In Contempt Rather Than Turn Over Information To Defense Lawyer. “It’s tough to say what a judge will find admissible, but ShotSpotter’s past history suggests it is willing in some cases to alter reports to justify arrests that have already occurred. If the PD contacted ShotSpotter post-arrest to get a report altered, it may show officers had no reasonable suspicion to stop the arrestee — a stop that resulted in his arrest.”

Sen. Tiara Mack says twerking video response has led to harassment, threats. ““It’s been a whirlwind. Anywhere from misogynistic comments, racist comments, classist comments,” she said. “I’ve received death threats. I’ve received emails and phone calls of people calling me the n-word. I’ve received fatphobic comments. Just everything under the sun.””

Republican candidates are changing how they handle abortion after Roe v. Wade. “Multiple Republican midterm candidates have removed from their campaign sites references to particularly strict anti-abortion stances, a shift from primary campaigning to the approaching general election and an indication of growing concern in the Republican Party over how to handle abortion policy post-Roe v. Wade.”

Health

U.S. life expectancy drops sharply, the second consecutive decline. “American Indian and Alaskan Native people have experienced a particularly precipitous drop in life expectancy since 2019, going from 71.8 to 65.2 years. This kind of loss is similar to the plunge seen for all Americans after the Spanish Flu.”

Kids Born Near Fracking Sites More Likely to Have Leukemia, Study Says. “Children who are born near fracking sites are as much as three times more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia later on, according to new Yale research.”

For years, Black trans women have been told their life expectancy is 35 years. That’s false. “Willis says the statistic once communicated an urgency in the community. Today, she thinks trans people need more complicated stories.”

Experts debunk monkeypox myths as misinformation spreads. “Can monkeypox spread on the subway? Can it kill like COVID-19? Experts respond to monkeypox myths and misconceptions.”

Just because some people can pretend COVID is over, doesn’t mean it actually is. “People are still dying of COVID and even more people are getting long COVID (which we’re seeing develop into myalgic encephalomyelitis for many long haulers, and trust me, you don’t want it). The CDC and Food and Drug Administration have mostly abdicated their responsibility to prevent infections, focusing only on serious illness and death, while ignoring long COVID and the impact of the virus on disabled people.”

Media

Person-Centered Terms Encourage Stigmatized Groups’ Trust in News. “Participants trusted articles that used person-centered terms for their group more than articles that used stigmatizing terms.” Understandably.

People of color at 'New York Times' get lower ratings in job reviews, union says. “While there were some fluctuation — on average, the performance of Black employees rose over the intervening years, while it declined for Latinos at the organization — white workers were consistently assessed as outperforming their peers.”

Healing Polarized Communities. “We cannot begin bridging communities beyond our newsrooms without building — and supporting — more diverse communities within our newsrooms.” So proud to work here.

Choose Your Own Literary Adventure. “The colorful recommendation chart, one of many that have rippled through the Twitter and Instagram feeds of book lovers, came from a small bookstore in Madison, Wis., called A Room of One’s Own. […] The charts seem to speak the internet’s language, one that meets people where they are by acknowledging that literature can be overwhelming, and people often don’t know where to start.”

A luxury magazine photo hid relics Cambodia says could be stolen. For me the lede here is: Architectural Digest appears to have deliberately run a photo altered to hide the fact that an article’s subject owns stolen Cambodian artifacts.

After Roe v. Wade Reversal, Readers Flock to Publications Aimed at Women. “Alexandra Smith, the audience director of The 19th, which was founded in 2020, said growth in traffic had been “exponential.” She said an increase in search traffic had continued well after the June 24 court decision, with readers now looking for information on how the decision could impact access to Plan B and IUDs. They were also looking to read about the impacts on other civil rights, such as marriage equality.” Hey, I get to work there!

Alex Jones must pay $50m for Sandy Hook hoax claim. “Despite retracting his claims about Sandy Hook, Jones has continued to use his media platform to argue the case was rigged against him and claimed that members of the jury pool “don’t know what planet they’re on”. His Infowars website depicted the judge being consumed by flames.”

Science

How a theory about transgender contagion went viral. “The problem: Overwhelming evidence shows that your child almost certainly hasn’t been duped. Although some people do reconsider or reverse their transition, once a person starts identifying as trans, it’s quite unlikely they’ll change their mind. No matter how strongly you believe that the internet, social contagion, and positive representations of transgender people turned your child trans, chances are your child disagrees.”

French Scientist's Photo of ‘Distant Star’ Was Actually Chorizo. “But a few days later, Klein revealed that the photo he tweeted was not the work of the world’s most powerful space telescope, as he had in fact tweeted a slice of chorizo sausage.”

Society

Capitalism Gives Me the Freedom to Pursue as Many Side Gigs as I Want to Pay Off My Increasing Bills And Loans. “I like to think of myself as an independent contractor who threw out his nine-to-five job for about five to nine different jobs over the course of a year, a contractor with significantly less of the legal protections established in the past hundred years or so by Congress and the Supreme Court.”

Ask Damon: I want to redistribute my slave-owning ancestor's wealth. “Anyway, if you’re sincere in your desire to attempt to right your family’s wrongs, find those descendants, show them the money and then hand it to them.”

Happiness Is Two Scales. “Instead, happiness and unhappiness are two separate, independent scales. A good life requires tackling each one separately.”

Period poverty: Scotland first in world to make period products free. “It will be for the country’s 32 councils to decide what practical arrangements are put in place, but they must give “anyone who needs them” access to different types of period products “reasonably easily” and with “reasonable dignity”.”

Why a Life-Threatening Pregnancy Complication Is on the Rise. “For African American women, simply the stress of living in America increases the risk of preeclampsia.”

Lionsgate Will Mandate Abortion Safety Protocols, CEO Says in Memo. “Thank you, Lionsgate, for being the only studio who treated this issue with the respect and urgency it deserves. There’s still work to be done, but this is a step in the right direction.”

Races are finally making room for nonbinary runners. “More races across the United States are creating divisions for nonbinary runners to compete, and in some cases, to win awards. The New York City Marathon introduced a nonbinary category last year. The Chicago Marathon also quietly added a nonbinary registration category this year, one runner said. The Boston Marathon will include a nonbinary category in 2023, though athletes say the race needs to flesh out its policy before nonbinary runners can be fully included.”

NJ police used baby DNA to investigate crimes, lawsuit claims. “The blood samples are not directly shared with law enforcement agencies. But if police are able to reliably obtain the samples through subpoena, then effectively, the disease screening process is entering all babies born in the state into a DNA database with no ability to opt out.”

Economic consequences of major tax cuts for the rich. “We find tax cuts for the rich lead to higher income inequality in both the short- and medium-term. In contrast, such reforms do not have any significant effect on economic growth or unemployment.”

The Dangerous Ideas of “Longtermism” and “Existential Risk”. “By reducing morality to an abstract numbers game, and by declaring that what’s most important is fulfilling “our potential” by becoming simulated posthumans among the stars, longtermists not only trivialize past atrocities like WWII (and the Holocaust) but give themselves a “moral excuse” to dismiss or minimize comparable atrocities in the future. This is one reason that I’ve come to see longtermism as an immensely dangerous ideology. It is, indeed, akin to a secular religion built around the worship of “future value,” complete with its own “secularised doctrine of salvation.””

Facial recognition smartwatches to be used to monitor foreign offenders in UK. “Through their opaque technologies and algorithms, they facilitate government discrimination and human rights abuses without any accountability. No other country in Europe has deployed this dehumanising and invasive technology against migrants.”

Federal Judge Places County Jail Into Receivership After County Fails To Comply With Consent Decree. Mind-blowing: “A-Pod is one of four “pods” the prison is divided into. […] Because the inmates have free run of the pod, they can access the roof and escape. For whatever reason, they rarely actually escape. Instead, they leave the prison and return with contraband. No one is assigned to work A-pod because it cannot be controlled in its current state.”

Vast New Study Shows a Key to Reducing Poverty: More Friendships Between Rich and Poor. “The findings show the limitations of many attempts to increase diversity — like school busing, multifamily zoning and affirmative action. Bringing people together is not enough on its own to increase opportunity, the study suggests. Whether they form relationships matters just as much.”

Technology

Opening the Pandora's Box of AI Art. “I’ve never felt so conflicted using an emerging technology as DALL-E 2, which feels like borderline magic in what it’s capable of conjuring, but raises so many ethical questions, it’s hard to keep track of them all.”

Listen up: Podcasts are coming to Twitter. What’s Odeo is new again.

Bay Area tech startup Sanas wants people to sound whiter. “Experts who spoke to SFGATE were troubled by Sanas’ emphasis on people in the Global South making themselves understood to Americans, as opposed to Americans accepting other accented voices.” Indeed.

Whistleblower: Twitter misled investors, FTC and underplayed spam issues. “Twitter is grossly negligent in several areas of information security. If these problems are not corrected, regulators, media and users of the platform will be shocked when they inevitably learn about Twitter’s severe lack of security basics.”

Class action against Oracle's worldwide surveillance machine. “Oracle’s dossiers about people include names, home addresses, emails, purchases online and in the real world, physical movements in the real world, income, interests and political views, and a detailed account of online activity.”

A Dad Took Photos of His Naked Toddler for the Doctor. Google Flagged Him as a Criminal. ““This is precisely the nightmare that we are all concerned about,” Mr. Callas said. “They’re going to scan my family album, and then I’m going to get into trouble.””

Mozilla Foundation - In Post Roe v. Wade Era, Mozilla Labels 18 of 25 Popular Period and Pregnancy Tracking Tech With *Privacy Not Included Warning. “Eighteen out of 25 reproductive health apps and wearable devices that Mozilla investigated for privacy and security practices received a *Privacy Not Included warning label. These findings raise concerns in the post-Roe landscape that data could be used by authorities to determine if users are pregnant, seeking abortion information or services, or crossing state lines to obtain an abortion.”

A new jailbreak for John Deere tractors rides the right-to-repair wave. “Farmers around the world have turned to tractor hacking so they can bypass the digital locks that manufacturers impose on their vehicles. Like insulin pump “looping” and iPhone jailbreaking, this allows farmers to modify and repair the expensive equipment that’s vital to their work, the way they could with analog tractors.”

This Is the Data Facebook Gave Police to Prosecute a Teenager for Abortion. “Facebook gave police a teenager’s private chats about her abortion. Cops then used those chats to seize her phone and computer.”

OnlyFans Accused of Paying Bribes to Put Enemies on Terrorist Watchlist. “According to the suit filed earlier this year by Evans and fellow porn content creator Kelly Pierce, OnlyFans reportedly bribed Facebook employees to wrongfully place the actresses — who used OnlyFans competitor sites to sell their content — on a terrorism watchlist run by a consortium of internet companies, resulting in them being “shadowbanned” on Instagram and other social networks integral to the promotion of their content.”

Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022. “The share of teens using Facebook has declined sharply in the past decade. Today, 32% of teens report ever using Facebook, down 39 points since 2014-15, when 71% said they ever used the platform.”

Who could write protocol fiction for speculative infrastructure? “But we don’t need just design fictions. We need business model fictions, engineering feasibility study fictions, interop protocol specification fictions, investment return fictions.”

Gmail is now officially allowed to spam-proof politicians’ emails. “It’s sad that instead of simply stopping sending spam emails, Republicans engaged in a bad-faith pressure campaign — and it’s even more unfortunate that Google bought it.”

iOS Privacy: Instagram and Facebook can track anything you do on any website in their in-app browser. “With 1 Billion active Instagram users, the amount of data Instagram can collect by injecting the tracking code into every third party website opened from the Instagram & Facebook app is a staggering amount.”

Ex-Twitter employee found guilty of spying on Saudi dissidents. “Abouammo was found to have used his position at Twitter to find personal details identifying critics of the Saudi monarchy who had been posting under anonymous Twitter handles, and then supplying the information to Prince Mohammed’s aide Bader al-Asaker.”

Silicon Valley engineers are quitting for climate change. “Big Tech is no longer the young upstart, and there’s a new kid in town luring away smart people looking for purpose and willing to take a chance on something new: climate tech.”

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting. ““We are not trying to make human beings. That is not what we are trying to do.” says Hanna. “To call a day-40 embryo a mini-me is just not true.””

The Metaverse Is Not a Place. “But what if, instead of thinking of the metaverse as a set of interconnected virtual places, we think of it as a communications medium? Using this metaphor, we see the metaverse as a continuation of a line that passes through messaging and email to “rendezvous”-type social apps like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and, for wide broadcast, Twitch + Discord. […] The interactions are not place based but happening in the ether between two or more connected people. The occasion is more the point than the place.”

Joel Kaplan’s Policy Team Sways Big Facebook Decisions Like Alex Jones Ban. “The company could have acted much earlier, one Facebook researcher wrote on the internal message board when they quit in August. The note came with a warning: “Integrity teams are facing increasing barriers to building safeguards.” They wrote of how proposed platform improvements that were backed by strong research and data had been “prematurely stifled or severely constrained … often based on fears of public and policy stakeholder responses.””

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