This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for January, 2022.
This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. A treatise on love and conflict wrapped up in beautiful, occasionally wryly hilarious prose and a science fiction conceit. It took me a little while for this to hook me, but when it did, I found myself wanting a lot more. It stops just as the story becomes really interesting; an appetizer rather than a full meal.
The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World, by Vincent Bevins. If every American - and every citizen of a first world nation - could read and understand this, it would make the world a better place. An illuminating, aggravating portrait of how the US used murder to further its interests around the world, and how that has affected modern culture everywhere. It should be required reading. Please get yourself a copy.
Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman's Fight to End Ableism, by Elsa Sjunneson. A frank, and often wryly funny, account of life as a Deafblind woman. Some of her experiences were familiar to me, at least second-hand; the account of hearing aids squealing at the wrong moment made me think of someone very dear to me who happens to be Deaf. The author is a self-described activist, and the passages discussing ableism and capitalist healthcare were as searing, pointed, and brilliant as the passages describing her experiences were human. I loved every moment of getting to know her.
A Hero. A nuanced morality play. Occasionally the protagonist’s poor decisions stretch credulity, but there’s a lot to think about here; nobody is out to cause harm, but the plot spirals nonetheless. The writing, direction, and cinematography are masterful but never anything less than subtle. Beautifully done.
VCs with Ignorant Views on Race Have No Place in Venture Capital. No founder or investor should work with anyone like this. But please note: he’s not just a VC, he’s the founder of Palantir. Which assumptions do Palantir’s products and services - famously sold to law enforcement and more - have baked into them?
The touchy-feely groups where CEOs learn to emote. A lot of my work style is indirectly inspired by the Stanford “Touchy Feely” class - it was what led to a lot of Matter’s culture, which I’ve found enormously helpful. This might sound like ridiculous stuff on the face of it, but it really works, and it’s a way to get to a kinder business culture.
Hybrid Tanked Work-Life Balance. Here’s How Microsoft Is Trying to Fix It. “While initially this seemed like the best way for teams to stay connected, we’ve since realized that these non-stop video calls, emails, and chats have turned into digital overload, and we see the well-being impacts in our Microsoft employee surveys. Between April and November 2020, employees’ satisfaction with work-life balance dropped by 13 percentage points.”
How to quit like a boss. “The goal of this post is to summarise some patterns and anti-patterns, so that in the future you or I can leave our roles in the most professional and positive way possible. The content is applicable to people in a wide range of companies, at different levels of seniority, but is probably most directed at mid-career types.”
The 5 Stages of Burnout. This, unfortunately, all sounds familiar to me.
YC’s $500,000 Standard Deal. Wowzers. It’s going to be hard for other accelerators to compete with this. (Matter invested one tenth of this amount.)
Building American Dynamism. I do not subscribe to the future this a16z piece paints. The future is for and by the public, not locked up in private businesses.
Three words popping up in LinkedIn job listings. “LinkedIn has been watching how different keywords correlate to engagement on company posts, and which words have been appearing more often in job listings on the site. The terms “flexibility,” “well-being” and “culture” all appear in LinkedIn posts more often than they did in 2019, LinkedIn revealed Tuesday in its 2022 Global Talent Trends Report. Company posts that use those terms also attract more engagement, LinkedIn found.” Shocking nobody but important to highlight.
Backlash as US billionaire dismisses Uyghur abuse. “Billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya is under fire for saying that he - and most Americans - “don’t care” about abuses against the Uyghur minority in China. [...] Boston Celtics Forward Enes Kanter, who has been outspoken about human rights issues and campaigned on behalf of the forced labour law, was among those condemning the comments. “When genocides happen, it is people like this that let it happen,” he wrote.”
When Microsoft Office Went Enterprise. “Practically, any time someone tries to take on two conflicting perspectives in one product, the product comes across as a compromise. It is neither one nor the other, but a displeasing mess. The hope I had at the start was that by deprioritizing our traditional retail-customer focus on personal productivity at the start of the release, we avoided the messy middle. We succeeded at that, but I was struggling with how unsatisfying this felt.”
Let’s stop saying these two things. “When I hear “drinking the Kool-Aid”, I think about Leo Ryan, Jackie Speier, and 900+ dead followers of Jim Jones. [...] If your white grandfather was eligible to vote prior to the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, you were eligible to vote. When you talk about being grandfathered in, that’s what you’re referring to.”
Your Startup’s Management Training Probably Sucks — Here’s How to Make it Better. “When you’re a really small startup, co-founder drama is the likely company-killer. But as your org gets larger, the thing that often tanks the company is waiting too long to bring on competent management.”
Utah tech company founder claims COVID vaccine part of extermination plot by 'the Jews'. “The founder and chair of Entrata, a Silcon Slopes tech firm, sent an email to a number of tech CEOs and Utah business and political leaders, claiming the COVID-19 vaccine is part of a plot by “the Jews” to exterminate people.” I wonder how many other people quietly hold similar views?
What older people and caregivers need to know about omicron. “The 19th spoke with a wide range of experts about what older people and family caregivers should know about the risk omicron poses to seniors, as well as best practices to keep loved ones safe.”
‘Menace to public health’: 270 doctors criticize Spotify over Joe Rogan’s podcast. “The letter was first reported by Rolling Stone, which quoted Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago school of public health, calling Rogan “a menace to public health” for airing anti-vaccine ideology.”
A paperwork hurdle for trans people: COVID-19 vaccine cards. “Mahoney is one of several trans and nonbinary people who told The 19th they feel like they are being put in stressful situations where they are required to out themselves, or use their deadname. Some also feel like they are being left out of data collection on COVID-19 vaccination entirely — that transgender people are an afterthought.”
Neil Young demands Spotify remove his music over Joe Rogan vaccine misinformation. “In an open letter to his manager and record label that was posted to his website and later taken down, Young wrote: “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines – potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them. Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.””
Overworked Pharmacy Employees Are the Covid Pandemic’s Invisible Victims. “Bloomberg spoke with a dozen current and former Walgreens and CVS pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, most of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation. More responded to Bloomberg’s reporting request via email and text messages, detailing crushing workloads in sparsely staffed stores.”
My first impressions of web3. “This was surprising to me. So much work, energy, and time has gone into creating a trustless distributed consensus mechanism, but virtually all clients that wish to access it do so by simply trusting the outputs from these two companies without any further verification.” Moxie Marlinspike, creator of Signal, dives into web3.
Andy Warhol, Clay Christensen, and Vitalik Buterin walk into a bar. “Bill Gates once said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” That doesn’t mean to rush out and buy the latest meme stock, meme coin, or overpriced NFT. But it does mean that it’s important to engage with the social, legal, and economic implications of crypto. The world advances one bubble at a time. What matters is that what’s left behind when the bubble pops makes the world richer in possibilities for the next generation to build on.”
The NFT Art World Wouldn't Be the Same Without This Woman's Nightmares. “While she’s not able to discuss financial specifics, her compensation, she says, “was definitely not ideal.” However, she insists, she’s grateful for the experience and the entryway to a realm she can no longer imaging living without.”
Why Bored Ape Yacht Club is Racist and Started by Neo Nazis. “Knowing the history of alt-right/4chan types in crypto I started looking into it. I found what I believe to be definitive evidence that the group behind the creation of these images are neo-nazis. Here is how I have arrived at this conclusion.”
Pet Door Show’s Up-and-Coming Artists You Should Know in 2022. My sister’s epic list of new, independent artists that are worth a listen. Amazing as always.
Bambi: cute, lovable, vulnerable ... or a dark parable of antisemitic terror? “Far from being a children’s story, Bambi was actually a parable about the inhumane treatment and dangerous precariousness of Jews and other minorities in what was then an increasingly fascist world, the new translation will show. In 1935, the book was banned by the Nazis, who saw it as a political allegory on the treatment of Jews in Europe and burned it as Jewish propaganda.”
Superheroes create cultural acceptance for popular oligarchy. “What does the current popularity of comic book superheroes, in culture, do? It reinforces the idea of a hierarchy of human, with the ubermensch as its apex. The superhero makes things alright without being asked. It looks after us, it protects, it cleans up the streets. It’s a parental role. [...] It says that the superhero is someone other – it ain’t us. And that’s a good thing, it says.”
Vegan Babybel Cheese Is Here at Last. “Instead of the classic red wax featured in the dairy version, the mini vegan cheese wheels are wrapped in peelable green wax. The cheese snack is made from a blend of coconut oil and starch and contains calcium as well as vegan-friendly vitamin B12.” Honestly, this seems kind of great?
Caffs Not Cafes finds the magic in London’s old school joints. “The page functions as a hub of London’s best local eateries and their delicious dishes, celebrating these spots in all their day-to-day glory. Many of them have distinct shopfronts, too, which 30-year-old Rangaswami never fails to point out, often via poetic captions about the history of hot dogs, old school cash registers or musings over what a chip shop might say if it could talk.” Quite lovely.
Breaking the mold. “Merch is so often seen as the death knell of a media property, the maggots hatching in the corpse of art - but a lot of the time, the exact opposite is true. Some of the most beloved media properties of Millennial childhoods were, in one way or another, made by toys.” A great breakdown of franchise toys and their cultural impact.
If American democracy is going to survive, the media must make this crucial shift. “Much of this work has been impressive. And yet, something crucial is missing. For the most part, news organizations are not making democracy-under-siege a central focus of the work they present to the public.”
BBC licence fee to be abolished in 2027 and funding frozen. “The culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, is expected to confirm that the cost of an annual licence, required to watch live television and access iPlayer services, will remain at £159 until 2024 before rising slightly for the following three years. She said this would be the end of the current licence fee funding model for the BBC, raising doubts about the long-term financial future and editorial independence of the public service broadcaster under a Conservative government.” This is big news - while the license fee is a regressive tax, the BBC’s status as a public broadcaster has been important. It’s, broadly speaking, a force for good. What happens now?
Joe Rogan and the problem of false balance. “To illustrate this, I want to talk briefly about Joe Rogan, because a Facebook post about him is what inspired this article. Full disclosure, I am, to say the least, not a fan of Rogan. In my opinion he is (to quote a friend of mine), “a dumb person’s idea of a smart person” (which to be clear, does not automatically mean that anyone who likes him is dumb). He frequently makes claims that are nonsense, and he uses his podcast to give a voice to all manner of quacks and conspiracy theorists.”
Capitol rioters called Nancy Pelosi's office looking for a 'lost and found' for items they left behind on January 6, according to Rep. Jamie Raskin. “And when they were told that they were trespassing and invading the Capitol, they said the president invited them to be there. They didn’t have any kind of subtle understanding of the separation of powers. They just thought that the number one person in the US government had invited them to be there, and therefore they had a right.”
Biden has nominated 8 Black women to become appellate judges. “As of Wednesday, with the selection of Arianna J. Freeman for the 3rd Circuit, the president has nominated eight Black women to the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals. Five have been confirmed, most recently on Thursday, when Judge Holly A. Thomas cleared Senate approval to join the 9th Circuit. If the remaining three are confirmed, Biden would have doubled the total number of Black women to ever serve on federal appeals courts from eight to 16.”
Kamala Harris drove within several yards of pipe bomb at DNC headquarters during Capitol riot. “Then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris drove within several yards of a pipe bomb lying next to a bench outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters on January 6, 2021, and remained inside the DNC for nearly two hours before the bomb was discovered, according to multiple law enforcement officials familiar with the situation.”
Scientists Train Goldfish To Drive On Land In Tiny Cars. “Not only were the fish able to reach the targets, but they could overcome obstacles, dead ends and wrong turns, and weren’t fooled by false targets laid out by the researchers. Their FOV Formula One demonstrates that the navigational skills of fish aren’t dependent on a watery environment, and that something more universal may be at play in deciding how we find our way.”
How bad are gas stoves? I ran some experiments to find out. “Every year more damning evidence piled up. In 2013 another meta-analysis confirmed the results of the 1993 meta-analysis. But this time, researchers were more specific and pointed to gas stoves in particular as the likely cause of respiratory illness. They concluded, “Children living in a home with gas cooking have a 42% increased risk of having current asthma.”” I love cooking with gas, but it may be time to change.
What the Discovery of an Extra Artery Means for Human Evolution. ““The study demonstrates that humans are evolving at a faster rate than at any point in the past 250 years,” said Teghan Lucas, lead author of the study and an archaeologist at Flinders University, in a press release. In fact, Lucas predicts that the median artery will continue to be a common occurrence in the human forearm far into the future.”
The Last Time the Suez Canal Was Blocked a Utopian Communist Micronation Was Formed at Sea. “The last time ships got stuck in the Suez Canal, they were there for eight years. From 1967 to 1975, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, 14 ships were stranded in the Great Bitter Lake, a salt lake connected to the canal. Unable to leave, the crews, dubbed the “Yellow Fleet” because of the desert sand that eventually covered them, developed their own society at sea. This society developed its own postal service and stamps, and held a version of the Olympics in 1968.”
Rampant caste-based harassment means Dalits like me are silenced on social media. “Even today, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in India are dominated by dominant castes. In fact, I quit Instagram last year because I could not relate to the elite, high-resolution world of the dominant castes. Given the lack of diverse voices, caste slurs are rampant on social media in India. Many caste names are casually used as curse words.”
Notes From the End of a Very Long Life by New York's Oldest. “At the end of each year, I asked the elders if they were glad to have lived it. Did the year have value to them? Always the answer was the same, even from those, including Ruth, who had said during the year that they were ready to go, that they wished for an end sooner rather than later. Yes, they said, yes, it was worth living.”
Oh, 2022! SF author Charlie Stross’s stock take of where we are this year. Come for the cogent commentary on covid - stay for the link to the absolutely batshit community about quantum Bible changes. Insightful as always.
Who owned slaves in Congress? A list of 1,700 enslavers in Senate, House history. “More than 1,700 people who served in the U.S. Congress in the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries owned human beings at some point in their lives, according to a Washington Post investigation of censuses and other historical records.” Amazing work; a vital database. An important and troubling part of America’s history. Slavery is core to what it is.
Look around you. The way we live explains why we are increasingly polarized. “Whether it comes to the climate emergency or systemic racism, the migrant crisis or the ongoing pandemic, so much turns on whether we can acknowledge and accept the intertwining of our separate lives. But it’s not just our homes that are styled now like defensive fortresses.” A superb portrait of modern American society.
Black mothers in MLK Jr.'s neighborhood will receive monthly cash payments. “The program, which will launch early this year in King’s neighborhood, will send monthly payments of $850 to 650 Black women over two years, making it one of the largest guaranteed income programs to date. Guaranteed income — the concept of sending people cash payments with no strings attached — was featured in King’s 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” in which he argued that sometimes the simplest idea could be the most effective in ending poverty.”
How a Married Undercover Cop Having Sex With Activists Killed a Climate Movement. “In 2003, Kennedy had been sent undercover by an elite unit in London’s Metropolitan Police Service to gather intelligence on activists like Wilson. He spent seven years living a double life: He was a fearless organizer who had a shadowy backstory as a cocaine runner, but he was also a cop with a family in Ireland.” I suspect this is more common than we realize. Activists are often targeted for intelligence gathering, and this is a good way to do it over time. It’s morally repugnant, of course.
Patriot Front Fascist Leak Exposes Nationwide Racist Campaigns. “The detailed inner workings and patterns of operation of fascists in the neo-Nazi organization Patriot Front have come to light after a massive leak from their chat servers. The exposed communications show coordination with their leader Thomas Rousseau to deface murals and monuments to Black lives across the United States, and intimate struggles to bolster morale through group activities like hiking and camping.”
San Francisco Police Illegally Spying on Protesters. “It’s feels like a pretty easy case. There’s a law, and the SF police didn’t follow it.”
The Revenge of the Hot Water Bottle. “A hot water bottle is a sealable container filled with hot water, often enclosed in a textile cover, which is directly placed against a part of the body for thermal comfort. The hot water bottle is still a common household item in some places – such as the UK and Japan – but it is largely forgotten or disregarded in most of the industrialised world. If people know of it, they usually associate it with pain relief rather than thermal comfort, or they consider its use an outdated practice for the poor and the elderly.” I loved this piece about the history of hot water bottles. (They’re great!)
Faster internet speeds linked to lower civic engagement in UK. “Volunteering in social care fell by more than 10% when people lived closer to local telecoms exchange hubs and so enjoyed faster web access. Involvement in political parties fell by 19% with every 1.8km increase in proximity to a hub. By contrast, the arrival of fast internet had no significant impact on interactions with family and friends.” This feels solvable to me.
On pronouns and shades of pink. “An accusation of virtue signalling often feels, to me, the same kind of denial of solidarity as the old “if you think people should pay more tax, write a cheque to the Treasury yourself”. Individualising the social must be something the left resists the right in doing, for the left to have any real meaning.”
My heart bursts with pain. “These extracts are from letters written by victims of the Holocaust during their final days. Needless to say, their messages are desperately sad. But they should never be forgotten.”
Full-time transgender workers among lowest paid LGBTQ+ people in US. “The HRC found that trans men and nonbinary or gender-nonconforming people earn 70 cents for every dollar the typical worker earns, while trans women earn 60 cents to that dollar, based on responses from roughly 6,800 LGBTQ+ workers last spring.”
2021: A Year of Resilience in Tech. “2021 was another big year for tech workers organizing for a greater say at their workplaces. This year, more workers took action to build lasting, enforceable structures to protect their rights. Across multiple industries, it was a record year for unionizing, and tech was no exception.”
Wordle Is a Love Story. “But since Wordle was built originally for just Mr. Wardle and Ms. Shah, the initial design ignored a lot of the growth-hacking features that are virtually expected of games in the current era. While other games send notifications to your phone hoping you’ll come back throughout the day, Wordle doesn’t want an intense relationship.” Just really lovely.
The anti-muslim Bulli Bai app is just the latest in GitHub’s list of moderation failures in India. “While GitHub quickly took down the app, following massive social media backlash, this is the second time in seven months that the platform has been used to target Muslim women in India. In mid-2021, a similar web application called “Sulli Deals” was hosted on Github to trade Muslim women without their consent. The app was online for weeks before it was taken down.”
Jan. 6 launched a wave of anti-content moderation bills in America. “Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies took an unprecedented step last year when they banned a sitting U.S. president from their platforms in the wake of the attack on the Capitol. Since that day, Republican legislators in more than half the country have introduced their own unprecedented wave of bills that aim to prevent tech platforms from taking that very kind of action.”
Happy 10th Birthday, Bridgy! Wow. Time flies. Bridgy is such an important part of the indieweb ecosystem. Thank you to Ryan and everyone who’s worked on it.
Google Had Secret Project to ‘Convince’ Employees ‘That Unions Suck’. “A National Labor Relations Board ruling sheds light on a highly secret anti-union campaign at Google, that a top executive explicitly described as an initiative to “convince [employees] that unions suck.”” Gross.
Using Foreign Nationals to Bypass US Surveillance Restrictions. “What’s most interesting to me about this new information is how the US used the Australians to get around domestic spying laws.” The US and GCHQ have a similar arrangement, I think?
Google's Alleged Scheme to Corner the Online Ad Market. “The document provides unprecedented insight into how Google allegedly misled advertisers and publishers for years by manipulating auctions in its own favor using inside information. As one employee put it in a newly revealed internal document, Google’s public claim about second-price auctions were “untruthful.””
Why companies are hiring sci-fi writers to imagine the future. OK, how do I get to do this for a living?!
Over 40 small tech companies just stood up to Apple and Google. “The Act, introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chuck Grassley, would keep large platforms like Apple and Google from excluding competitor products. Specifically, it prohibits businesses from using a companies’ data to compete against it, biasing search results against competitors, or requiring other companies to buy their own services for preferential placement. It also keeps companies from preventing interoperability.”
Welcome to the Link-in-Bio Economy. “By and large, these linking tools are making money through a swirl of paid-subscription programs and commissions on the transactions that happen inside the link-in-bio. Whether that is enough to sustain a profitable business isn’t clear, but it’s easy to envision a future in which link-in-bios become even more ubiquitous, something like the new personal website in the TikTok age. When you stumble across an influencer and want to know what their deal is, your first stop will be their link-in-bio.”
Searching for Susy Thunder. “There were ways to use the rules to break the rules. The older she got, the more she saw the polygraph as a lesson, revealing, to her, the hidden truth of the world: that everything is a system, and every system can be cracked.” A genuinely amazing, beautifully-written portrait of an important hacker and so much more.
The IRS Should Stop Using Facial Recognition. “Though [ID.me] asserts that “significant benefits” come from the use of one-to-one facial recognition, the company fails to adequately address its known harms or deeply engage with specific findings that indicate substantial racial bias.”
The New York Times Purchases Wordle. “Wordle was acquired for an undisclosed price in the low seven figures.” BRB, getting to work on building a viral word game ...
Google Fonts lands website privacy fine by German court. “The unauthorized disclosure of the plaintiff’s dynamic IP address by the defendant to Google constitutes a violation of the general right of personality in the form of the right to informational self-determination according to § 823 Para. 1 BGB.” Embedding Google resources like fonts as a GDPR violation: wow.