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Newsletter housekeeping

If you’re subscribing via email, heads up that I’m thinking about changing my newsletter engine, possibly to Buttondown. You shouldn’t see anything particularly different - and if you’re subscribing via RSS, nothing will change at all. But, to be honest, I’ll be paying a lot less money for a lot more power.

As always, I really appreciate it when people share around my posts, or let me know if they’ve disagreed with something I’ve written. Your time and attention are limited; thanks for sticking around.

 

Performative productivity and building a culture that matters

I recently heard a story about a company that, when determining who would be laid off in a downsizing event, asked team leads to rank their teams based on who would be most likely to work on the weekend.

Mind-blowingly, while it’s obviously (or hopefully obviously) immoral, this practice appears to be legal in the US, which has at-will employment in every state. This is one of the many contrasts between European and US employment law, which were the biggest culture shock for me when I moved to the US eleven years ago. In Europe, employers must ensure that employees don’t work more than 48 hours during a week and the minimum vacation allocation beyond statutory holidays is four weeks. In America, it’s often seen as a badge of honor to work 70 hour weeks, and it’s one of the few countries in the world with 0 mandatory vacation days.

Perhaps my concerns around compassionate employment are irredeemably European, but as I’ve written before, long hours with little rest are counter-productive. Environments that want you to work weekends and evenings in addition to standard office hours tend to value performative productivity over actual results, or adhere to a kind of religious belief around work ethic. If these employers paid attention to the research and data, they wouldn’t do it.

This is perhaps even more of a problem in flexible and work from home settings. In my previous piece, I quoted a French member of Parliament:

“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash — like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails — they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

I heard recently about another company where the CEO regularly shouts at their team, and if a team lead suggests that a goal can’t be reached, retorts that they’ll find a team who can achieve it instead. These companies share a common trait: a fundamental lack of respect for the expertise and the lives of the people they’ve hired. It’s as if there’s some inherent value to this kind of work, and that the exchange of time for money obviates the need for human care.

It’s cultural. “I don’t think you should work while you have covid,” I told someone recently, mindful of the research about recovery times and long covid. “Maybe I learned the wrong lessons from my Dad,” he replied.

As well as being health and quality issues, these kinds of attitudes compound inclusion problems: only certain kinds of people can work all hours. Carers and parents, and particularly people from lower-income backgrounds, are more likely to have other commitments.

All aspects of a company’s culture are really hard to change when it’s already been set in motion. Either you care about creating a place that cares for its employees or you don’t, and these values affect the choices that are made by founders from the very first day. It’s impossible to do it bespoke, too: every aspect of a company has to pull together with the same cultural underpinnings. The entirety of a community has to pull together or resentments and friction build.

The same cultural change problem doesn’t apply in the same way across the country. While this is a uniquely American problem, not every American company behaves this way: to be frank, most of the successful ones don’t. One of the most promising aspects of the organization I’m at, The 19th, is its excellent, intentionally inclusive culture; it’s among the best, but not the first time I’ve felt valued at work. And it doesn’t take a people ops superhero to understand that people who feel valued do better work overall.

While I think these problems are best solved through legislation and unionization, competitive forces can be a useful fallback. Not everyone has the luxury of being discerning about their employer, but each of the companies I’ve mentioned is in the tech sector: a world where knowledge workers often do have the privilege of choice. Again, it doesn’t take an empath to understand that, given the choice between two otherwise similar firms, employees are more likely to choose to work at the one with a more supportive culture. It goes without saying that yelling doesn’t make for a productive workplace, but if you want to hire the best people, you’ve got to be the best place for them to work, and understand that, past a point, people are motivated by meaning, not money.

From a prospective employee standpoint, if you’re looking for a job, it helps to understand that you have every right to ask for and expect a better, more supportive culture. Having strong standards here makes the employment experience better for everyone, and helps even the worst employers understand that they need to change if they want to be successful.

But make no mistake: the onus is not on employees here. Employers - and the legislators that govern them in the United States - need to drag themselves into the twenty-first century and learn that a strong culture of support in turn makes for strong companies, and strong countries.

 

The corpus bride

I got my beta invitation to DALL-E 2, which creates art based on text prompts. You’ve probably seen them floating around the internet by now: surrealist, AI-drawn illustrations in a variety of styles.

Another tool, Craiyon (formerly DALL-E Mini), had been doing the rounds as a freely-available toy. It’s fun too, but DALL-E’s fidelity is impressive enough to be almost indistinguishable from magic.

I can’t claim to fully understand its algorithm, but DALL-E is ultimately based on a huge corpus of information: OpenAI created a variation of GPT-3 that follows human-language instructions well enough to sift through collected data and create new works based on what it’s learned. OpenAI claims to have guarded against hateful or infringing use cases, but it can never be perfect at this, and will only ever be as sensitive to these issues as the team that builds it.

These images are attention-grabbing, but the technology has lots of different applications. Some are benign: the team found that AI-generated critiques helped human writers find flaws in their work, for example. GitHub uses OpenAI’s libraries to help engineers write code, using a feature called Copilot. There’s a Figma plugin that will mock up a website based on a text description. But it’s obvious that there are military and intelligence applications for this technology, too.

If I was a science fiction writer - and at night, I am! - I would ask myself what I could create if the corpus was everything. If an AI algorithm was fed with every decision made by every person in the world - our movements via our cellphones, our intentions via our searches, our actions via our purchases and interactions - what might it be able to say about us? Could it predict what we would do next? Could it determine how to influence us to take certain actions?

Yes - but “yes” wouldn’t make for a particularly compelling story in itself. Instead, I’d want to drill a level deeper and remind myself that any technology is a reflection of the people who built it. So even if all those datapoints were loaded into the system, a person who fell outside of the parameters the designers thought to measure or look for might not be as predictable in the system. The designer’s answer, in turn, might be to incentivize people to act within the frameworks they’d built: to make them conform to the data model. (Modern marketing already doesn’t stray too far from this idea.) The people who are not compliant, who resist those incentives, are the only ones who can bring down the system. In the end, only the non-conformists, in this story and in life, are truly free, and are the flag-bearers of freedom for everyone else.

The corpus of images used to power DALL-E 2 is scraped from the internet; the corpus of code for GitHub Copilot is scraped from open source software. There are usage implications here, of course: I did not grant permission for my code, my drawings, or my photographs to form the basis of someone else’s work. But a human artist also draws on everything they’ve encountered, and we tend not to worry about that (unless the re-use becomes undeniably obviously centered on one work in particular). An engineer relies on “best practices” and “patterns” that were developed by others, and we actively encourage that (unless, again, it turns the corner and becomes plagiarism of a single source). Where should we draw the line, legally and conceptually?

I think there is a line, and it’s in part because OpenAI is building a commercial, proprietary platform. The corpus of work translates into profit for them; if OpenAI’s software does wind up powering military applications, or if my mini science fiction story partially becomes true, it could also translate into real harm. The ethical considerations there can’t be brushed away.

What I’m not worried about: I don’t think AI is coming for the jobs of creative people. The corpus requires new art. I do think we will see AI-produced news stories, which are a natural evolution of the content aggregator and cheap reblogging sites we see today, but there will always be a need for deeply-reported journalism. I don’t think we’ll see AI-produced novels and other similar content, although I can imagine writers using them to help with their first drafts before they revise. Mostly, for creatives, this will be a tool rather than a replacement. At least, for another generation or so.

In the meantime, here’s a raccoon in a cowboy hat singing karaoke:

 

Comments are hard

Building a comments system is really hard. I tried to build one for Known, which powers my website, but found that spammers circumvented it surprisingly easily. You can flag spam using Akismet (which was built for WordPress but works across platforms), but this process tends to require you to pre-screen comments and make them public after the fact. That’s a fair amount of work and a fair amount of unnecessary friction for building community.

If you have a blog - you do have a blog, don’t you? - you can post a response to one of my posts and send a webmention. But not everybody has their own website, and the barrier to entry for sending webmentions is pretty high.

So I’ve been looking for something else.

Fred Wilson gave up on comments and asks people to discuss on Twitter. That works pretty well, but I’m not really into forcing people to use a particular service. That’s also why I’m not particularly into using Disqus embeds, which also unnecessarily track you across sites. Finally, I was using Cactus Comments, which is based on the decentralized Matrix network for a while, but it occasionally seemed to break in ways that were disconcerting for site visitors. (It’s still a very cool project.)

I love comments, and I guess that means I’m writing my own system again. To do so means getting into an arms race with spammers, which I’m not very excited about, but I don’t see an alternative that I’m completely happy about.

Do you run a blog with comments? How do you deal with these issues? I’d love to learn from you.

 

Do we really need private schools?

One of my most controversial opinions is that private schools should not be allowed. Quite how controversial is always a surprise to me: from my perspective it feels very straightforward.

In a nutshell, my argument comes down to the following complementary ideas:

  1. Every child deserves to have an equal start in life.
  2. As a society, we are better off if people from different backgrounds mix, interact, and get to know each other as early as possible.
  3. Every system of inequality is built around disenfranchisement and blocking access to resources. Giving everyone access to the same education and the connections that inevitably develop while attending an institution helps dismantle these systems.
  4. If the rich are forced to use the same system as the poor, the overall standard of education will rise for everyone.
  5. Education is a human right.

Does this fly in the face of American individualism? Sure, probably. Will it result in a society that is both culturally and financially richer? I think so.

As far as I can tell, the arguments for private education come down to the perceived right to perpetuate inequality by gating a special education system for people with wealth, a defense of American individualism at the expense of community, and sometimes the adjoining right to perpetuate exclusionary values systems. I’m not particularly interested in protecting any of those things.

It’s certainly true that public education needs more funding, more resources, and stronger frameworks around (for example) special needs education. I don’t think the answer to these problems is private alternatives: instead, I think we solve them by providing stronger support for public infrastructure. And one of the ways we guarantee this support is by forcing people with wealth and resources to use the same infrastructure as everybody else.

 

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

 

Rethinking notable links

I’m thinking about splitting off my notable links into a new newsletter.

For the record, you can always follow them from this page on my site (which also has an RSS feed); I’ve also started to post them consistently to my Twitter feed. But I might move the collated bookmarks to a weekly post (or even daily!), and that might be a bit much for regular subscribers of my non-link posts.

I’d love to hear what you think.

 

Building an inclusive, independent, open newsroom

I didn’t make a big announcement about it, but for the last few months I’ve been working as the CTO at The 19th, a nonprofit newsroom that reports on stories at the intersection of gender, politics, and policy.

It was a necessary move for me: I needed stronger work/life balance for my own health, and I also wanted to feel like I was helping in the midst of a very tumultuous social and political climate. It was also a move back into the core ideas my career has been built on.

The 19th was launched in January 2020 by veterans of the Texas Tribune and ProPublica who understood the need to report stories from a more diverse perspective than is normally offered by an industry still dominated by white men. I’ve been following it from the beginning as a prominent subscription in my RSS reader, and was deeply impressed by the detailed, empathetic, unsensational reporting.

The 19th’s technical platform is largely based on self-hosted WordPress, with some interesting theme modifications that allow for visualizations and in-page interactivity. (Did I immediately add simple microformats support to articles as soon as I arrived? Yes, I did.) Importantly for me, the team cares about the same privacy issues I do: particularly in an environment where abortion-related surveillance is becoming a safety issue, dealing with audience data intentionally is crucial.

Openness is core to what The 19th is. Its financial backers are published in full, so you know exactly whose is bankrolling the non-profit. Since the beginning, the newsroom has also made its content available via a Creative Commons license that allows anyone else to republish it for free. Those partners have included the Guardian, USA Today, Teen Vogue, PBS NewsHour, Ms. Magazine, RawStory, and many more. It could be you, too, if you wanted to: you can find the full HTML source to republish on every article page. Because The 19th’s newsroom is more diverse, every republished article furthers its mission of improving representation in the news media overall.

It’s an obvious extension to this strategy to make our technology available as well, via a permissive open source license. That’s my ambition: to package up some of our supporting tools and make them available in a way that other newsrooms can take advantage of. If they have the technical capability to collaborate on building them, great; if not, they can still pick up the technology and use them. Open source itself has a giant diversity problem, and if we can apply an equity lens to building our technical community in the same way we build our journalistic ecosystem, perhaps we can be a part of the solution there, too.

I’ve long been a member of the indieweb community, which encourages everyone to own and control their own website and domain. Both technically and ideologically, the overlaps with news are obvious: every newsroom must own its relationship with its audience in order to build trust, understand their needs, and above all to build community. Trends on the web have been in the opposite direction for most of the last decade: social media platforms like Facebook seek to intermediate and monetize that relationship, stripping newsrooms of resources and undermining the ability of voters to receive information in the process. Building an independent website for representative news content and community, and then helping others to do the same, is an important mission.

Right now it’s a very small team: Abby Blachman and me. I’m looking for a third member of the technology team to help with everything I’ve discussed.

And so far, it’s been joyful. Abby is amazing; everyone is. I’ve never been part of an organization - least of all a remote team - that understands the need for a supportive culture so clearly. As an organization, it continues to listen and evolve. The people team - led by Jayo Miko Macasaquit - has put procedures and benefits in place that I haven’t seen in organizations ten times the size. To build representative, empathetic news, you first need to build a representative, empathetic organization, and that’s what’s happening here. I hope they do more to tell their story and share what they’re doing, because it’s genuinely phenomenal.

I can’t believe my luck; it’s a real privilege to be on this team. I want to be a good ambassador: although I knew about the journalism, which should always be front and center, I wasn’t as familiar with the organization’s ecosystem and openness chops before I joined. It was the nicest of surprises, and I want to tell you more about it. We don’t have an internal blog right now, so from time to time I’ll discuss what we’ve been working on over here.

I’m also working on building some tools of my own to support my management process; the first is all about building a consistent culture of transparent feedback. More on that when I’m ready.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, I’d love to answer them. And if you happen to be interested in our technology position, you should definitely apply.

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: July, 2022

This is my monthly roundup of the articles I found interesting. Here's my list for July, 2022.

Notable Articles

Business

Bank of America Memo: “We Hope” Worker Power Worsens. “A Bank of America executive stated that “we hope” working Americans will lose leverage in the labor market in a recent private memo obtained by The Intercept. Making predictions for clients about the U.S. economy over the next several years, the memo also noted that changes in the percentage of Americans seeking jobs “should help push up the unemployment rate.””

Amazon to Acquire One Medical Clinics in Latest Push Into Health Care. “One Medical, which is based in San Francisco, operates a network of primary care providers that offer in-office and virtual medical services, and is one of the leading competitors to a similar but smaller service Amazon had started to offer.” Exercise for the reader: should end-user healthcare provision be a place where you can make a lot of profit?

Climate

Is accepting the end of humanity the key to climate action? This scholar thinks so. “Accepting that human civilization is finite, he says, will challenge us to change our priorities, from worshiping extraction and growth to uplifting the most marginalized in society.”

Wildfires Are Setting Off 100-Year-Old Bombs on WWI Battlefields. “The area where the fire rages was the site of 12 battles during World War I. More than 200,000 people died and untold numbers of explosives were used. It’s a major problem across Europe that lingers to this day. The Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe during World War II alone. Seventy years later, those bombs are still killing people.”

NOAA introduces heat.gov as climate change worsens.Heat.gov is geared toward a wide range of decision makers, from companies to local governments to individuals, Spinrad told Protocol, “whether it’s a mom trying to decide whether it’s safe for kids to play outside, or a construction foreman trying to decide if it’s OK for their workers to be out on the job, or a public works manager trying to figure out when road repairs can be undertaken.””

Carbon removal trade group launches with ‘Hippocratic oath’ for the industry. “The statement is brief, just 15 sentences, and commits signatories to abstract ideals like acting with humility and honesty, being guided by science, and recognizing the value of “including voices from all backgrounds in conversations” about carbon removal.”

North Carolina Republicans Push Bill Forcing Towns To Destroy Electric Car Chargers. “In North Carolina, Trump GOP lawmaker Ben Moss has pushed forward a ridiculous bill (HB 1049) that would require towns and cities use up to $50,000 in taxpayer funds to destroy free electric vehicle stations on public land, if local authorities don’t build free gas and diesel pumps alongside them. There’s, of course, no provision included in the bill that works in the opposite direction.”

Covid

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. “While there is insufficient evidence to define upstream events, and exact circumstances remain obscure, our analyses indicate that the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 occurred via the live wildlife trade in China, and show that the Huanan market was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

COVID cases and deaths are spiking in nursing homes, AARP data shows. “One in 35 nursing home residents tested positive for COVID-19 in June, a 27 percent increase from the previous month. The death rate from COVID between May and June of this year nearly doubled, from 0.04 deaths per hundred residents to 0.07 deaths per hundred residents.”

Crypto

Web3: The hope for protocols over platforms. “Let’s experiment in ways that let us slowly deconstruct platforms, by replacing some of the core primitives that they own with open protocols that are collectively owned and governed by their own communities.”

The Consequences of Silence. On the Celsius freeze: “My entire business is secured and backed by these funds. If they are not returned, my business would go bankrupt, my 15 employees would be let go, and 14 years of my life’s work lost and at the age of 49 years old, I would have to start over with nothing.” “Having my funds frozen has been devastating to me and my family both financially, mentally, and physically. I cannot sleep most nights and am over-whelmed with worry and dread for my family’s future. I have two small children. A 3-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. I am the sole bread winner for my family, and I pride myself on making smart financial and parental decisions for them to provide a better life and a bright/positive future.”

How Crypto Is Evolving the Future of Books and Publishing. ““Imagine when all of an author’s readers can suddenly make money as well,” says Margarita Guerrero, head of partner and publishing relations at the publishing startup Readl. “How much more would they be engaged?”” Seems like a complete misunderstanding of why people like books to me.

Lost at OpenSea. “Like social audio, NFTs were a pandemic fad. This fad, however, was aimed at allowing kids who were too young to buy bitcoin when it first launched to pretend to be savvy investors. The results, when the market crashes further, will be catastrophic.”

The sinking of Voyager. “I have no problem with a hedge fund lending only to seven counterparties, if it is lending its own funds or those of professional investors who understand the risks they are taking. But Voyager marketed high-risk investments to retail depositors with promises of safety and (non-existent) insurance. To my mind, this isn’t just bad, it is criminal. But crypto is an unregulated, borderless space. Even if Voyager has lied to its customers and embezzled their funds, it is unclear what if any power national authorities have to hold it to account. And even though there will undoubtedly be a forest of lawsuits, the money is gone.”

Crypto collapse reverberates widely among black American investors. “A quarter of black American investors owned cryptocurrencies at the start of the year, compared with only 15 per cent of white investors, according to a survey by Ariel Investments and Charles Schwab. Black Americans were more than twice as likely to purchase cryptocurrency as their first investment. The value of those investments has imploded. The total market capitalisation of cryptocurrencies has plunged below $1tn from more than $3.2tn last year. The fall in digital assets comes alongside a bear market in US stocks.”

Culture

Aboard the World's First Hot-Air Balloon Restaurant. “During the flight, Schmeinck serves wine and gives more information about her dishes. Standing-room only encourages interactions between the chef, pilot, and other diners as the balloon sails above the countryside, taking in the view from a cruising altitude that ranges 500 to 2,500 feet. “Sometimes when the clouds are low, we can go right through them,” says Schmeinck. “It’s a little bit misty. Then we’re above the clouds and see the sun shining. That moment is unforgettable. It’s amazing for me, after all these years.”” Bucket list.

For Centuries, English Bakers' Biggest Customers Were Horses. “But in pre-industrial England, horse bread carried the taste of shame. The dark bran bread sat at the bottom of a hierarchy that gave brown bread to farmers and servants and reserved white bread for the elite. Indeed, Englishpeople turned to horse bread during times of strife, and the abject poor likely ate it year round. And since horse bread was fed to laboring animals, humans who ate it were looked upon with disdain.”

After 37 Years, the Sunny World of ‘Neighbours’ Comes to an End. “At that time, the world of “Neighbours” offered an antidote to the contentious impact of conservative, Thatcherite legislation in Britain, Carr said, which supported “do it yourself” economic policies that its opponents said widened inequality. “Neighbours” offered “a different, wildly positive vision of what a community could be,” Carr said. “Everyone tends to work together rather than be adversarial.”” As a kid, I loved it.

Announcing the Shortlist for the Inaugural Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction. “The nine shortlisted books will be considered by a panel of five jurors—adrienne maree brown, Becky Chambers, Molly Gloss, David Mitchell, and Luis Alberto Urrea. The winner will be announced later this year on October 21st, 2022, Ursula K. Le Guin’s birthday.”

Erotica Author Chuck Tingle Has Some of the Best Writing Advice. “Having spent the last few days with Tingle’s voice in my head, the only way I can describe the experience is that it feels like the sun has come out after days of rain. To have a voice that is relentlessly upbeat and positive, telling me I can do anything I try to, and that my best efforts will be enough? It’s like my brain was just, I don’t know, pressure washed?”

All [White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy] is Local. Words of warning from Librarian Shipwreck: “What about books banned for depicting people of color and queers in a positive light, providing accurate information about health and sexuality, or for acknowledging the truth about American history? Bills (that thankfully didn’t pass) to fine and jail librarians for “obscene” (read: queer, comprehensive sex education, anatomy) books? Or librarians being told they can’t help patrons find information about abortion, or even say the word?”

James Beard Awards 2022: Cristina Martinez brings the best Mid-Atlantic chef prize to Philadelphia. “Chef Cristina Martinez, an advocate for immigrants’ rights and an undocumented immigrant herself, was named the best chef for the Mid-Atlantic region Monday by the James Beard Foundation, in its first black-tie ceremony since 2019.” I just ate at South Philly Barbacoa and it was fantastic.

representation matters. Winnie Lim’s blog is one of the best things I read. This is a great example of why.

Netflix criticised for shooting Stranger Things in Nazi prison and marketing it as hotel. “Internet streaming giant Netflix and hit show Stranger Things are facing criticism for shooting part of its new season in an infamous Lithuanian concentration camp and making plans to convert the site into a hotel in collaboration with Airbnb.” Combined with it resharing photos of serial number tattoos fans are getting on their wrists, it’s not a great look, to say the least.

Unknown Number by Azure. A beautifully-written story told through text messages and published as a Twitter thread. Now nominated for a Hugo.

Hell Yeah, Tom Cruise. “So, 45 seconds in, I realized what Top Gun really was: propaganda. Never again tell me you can’t make a conservative movie in Hollywood. After its release there was a 500 percent increase in applications to the Navy’s flight program.”

Democracy

San Francisco Mayor Wants PD To Be Able To Commandeer Cameras Owned By Residents Because Reasons. “Having dumped its “progressive” District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, the city of San Francisco has decided it’s going to be far more Dirty Harry in the future. The alleged justification is (perhaps temporary and anomalous) increases in crime. It’s time to run roughshod over constitutional rights again.”

A radical attack on the First Amendment. “Prohibited topics include endorsing the concepts of white privilege or male privilege. Specifically, employers cannot conduct trainings that state an individual can be “privileged” or “oppressed” due to their “race, color, sex, or national origin.” Further, trainings cannot suggest that anyone should “feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.””

The billionaires buying the midterm elections. “The largest donor to the main Republican super PACs is billionaire Ken Griffin, owner of Citadel, a hedge fund. Griffin donated $28.5 million to the SLF and CLF through the end of March. In a 2012 interview, Griffin was asked if “the ultrawealthy have an inordinate or inappropriate amount of influence on the political process.” “I think they actually have an insufficient influence,” he replied.”

‘There are a lot of people who don’t want to know the truth’: Why an Arizona election official is leaving her job. “The impact of lies about America’s most secure election is still taking shape around the country but has included harassment and threats of violence aimed at a women-led workforce. A survey of election workers conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice earlier this year showed 30 percent of poll respondents said they knew of one or more elec­tion work­ers who had left their jobs at least in part because of fear for their safety, increased threats or intim­id­a­tion. Twenty percent said they planned to leave before the 2024 elec­tion.”

Correction director: Arizona cities would collapse without prison labor. “There are services that this department provides to city, county, local jurisdictions, that simply can’t be quantified at a rate that most jurisdictions could ever afford. If you were to remove these folks from that equation, things would collapse in many of your counties, for your constituents.” The 13th Amendment abolished slavery except for people convicted of crimes. And here we are.

The City Where Investigations of Police Take So Long, Officers Kill Again Before Reviews Are Done. “Now, Open Vallejo and ProPublica have looked at what happens inside the department after those killings occur, examining more than 15,000 pages of police, forensic, and court files related to the city’s 17 fatal police shootings since 2011. Based on records that emerged after dozens of public records requests and two lawsuits filed by Open Vallejo, the news organizations found a pattern of delayed and incomplete investigations, with dire consequences.” Remarkable reporting.

Indiana doctor performed abortion for a 10-year-old girl, document shows. “For the past two weeks, the veracity of a story of a 10-year-old girl who was raped and got an abortion has been debated in the media. But a document reviewed by The 19th shows that the Indiana physician who performed the abortion submitted record of it to the Indiana Department of Health and the Department of Child Services.”

Pharmacies can’t deny prescription birth control or emergency contraception, HHS says. “Pharmacists cannot deny people prescribed medication — including hormonal birth control or emergency contraception — because those people are pregnant or might become pregnant, per new guidance from the Biden administration.”

Republican-backed measure to restrict filming of police officers passes Senate committee. ““We believe that this bill stacks the deck against the public check on officer misconduct,” Timothy Sparling, a lawyer and legislative advocate for Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.”

Biden Team Rejected Emergency Declaration Over Roe Decision. “The Biden administration considered declaring a public health emergency to preserve broad access to abortion services following the US Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn Roe v. Wade, but officials ultimately decided against the move, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Biden to sign executive order on abortion access, legal backing, privacy. “The executive order will direct the White House counsel and the U.S. attorney general to coordinate volunteer lawyers who will defend patients and medical providers facing state-based charges for “lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country.” Those lawyers could, the White House suggested, defend people who are prosecuted for traveling from a state that has banned abortion to one where it remains legal.”

‘They are preparing for war’: An expert on civil wars discusses where political extremists are taking this country. “That’s when I started to follow the data. And then, watching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy. That’s a losing strategy in a democracy. So why would they do that? Okay, it’s worked for them since the ’60s and ’70s, but you can’t turn back demographics. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries. And, as an American citizen I’m like, These two factors are emerging here, and people don’t know.”

Supreme Court Justices 'Prayed With' Anti-Roe Activist Before Ruling. “At an evangelical victory party in front of the Supreme Court to celebrate the downfall of Roe v. Wade last week, a prominent Capitol Hill religious leader was caught on a hot mic making a bombshell claim: that she prays with sitting justices inside the high court. “We’re the only people who do that,” Peggy Nienaber said. […] In other words: Sitting Supreme Court justices have prayed together with evangelical leaders whose bosses were bringing cases and arguments before the high court.”

Christian Nationalists Are Excited About What Comes Next. “It is also a mistake to imagine that Christian nationalism is a social movement arising from the grassroots and aiming to satisfy the real needs of its base. It isn’t. This is a leader-driven movement. The leaders set the agenda, and their main goals are power and access to public money. They aren’t serving the interests of their base; they are exploiting their base as a means of exploiting the rest of us.”

DeSantis signs bill requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with state. “Public universities in Florida will be required to survey both faculty and students on their political beliefs and viewpoints, with the institutions at risk of losing their funding if the responses are not satisfactory to the state’s Republican-led legislature. […] Based on the bill’s language, survey responses will not necessarily be anonymous — sparking worries among many professors and other university staff that they may be targeted, held back in their careers or even fired for their beliefs.”

Mitt Romney: America Is In Denial. “I hope for a president who can rise above the din to unite us behind the truth. Several contenders with experience and smarts stand in the wings.” I wonder who he means.

Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill isn't the only anti-LGBTQ+ bill taking effect today. “Collectively, the bills build toward an atmosphere of silence around LGBTQ+ people and restrict how LGBTQ+ youth can learn about themselves and participate at school, advocates say.”

‘It’s Scary’: Students Fear Going to College in Red States After Roe. “After the overturning of Roe, millions of college students found themselves attending institutions where they would no longer have access to certain types of reproductive healthcare. Now, students who had committed to attending colleges or universities in majority conservative states are rethinking their decisions. Meanwhile, rising high school seniors say they now have something new to consider when compiling their lists of prospective schools: the access and right to an abortion.”

Media

Meta officially cuts funding for U.S. news publishers. “As the company moves forward with sweeping changes to the Facebook experience, news has become less of a priority.”

How Florence Nightingale Changed Data Visualization Forever. “Recognizing that few people actually read statistical tables, Nightingale and her team designed graphics to attract attention and engage readers in ways that other media could not. Their diagram designs evolved over two batches of publications, giving them opportunities to react to the efforts of other parties also jockeying for influence. […] The reforms Nightingale fought for […] would be driving forces—along with the development of vaccines that conferred immunity to diseases and artificial fertilizer that boosted crop yields—in doubling the average human life span during the following century.”

Edinburgh is the Best City in the World in 2022, According to Time Out Index. “The Scottish capital scored high across the board, and performed exceptionally high for walkability (93 percent) and being ‘easy to express who you are’ (88 percent) – better than basically everywhere else in the world. It also scored 95 percent for being beautiful – and with an ancient castle slap-bang in the city centre and loads of green space, it’s hard to argue with that.” I miss it!

Influencers take to TikTok for abortion-related paid partnerships. “The company decided to use its entire influencer marketing budget for May 15 to July 15 on sponsored content on TikTok, asking influencers and micro-influencers on the platform to talk about what overturning Roe could mean for people’s access to health care. Favor declined to share the total dollar amount spent on influencer marketing during this period.”

The Knight Foundation is Betraying its Mission. “By sponsoring a journalism event featuring Tucker Carlson, the philanthropy is mistaking openness for strengthening democracy.”

Wisconsin School District Bans Book on Japanese-American WWII Internment. “Ann Zielke, a parent of a student in the district, told NBC News that School Board Vice President Terri Boyer claimed the book offered an “unbalanced” account of historical events. “What she said to me was that we actually need an ‘American’ perspective,’” Zielke said, adding that the people in the internment camps were Americans.”

When truth is another casualty: Why Ukraine is losing ground in the war by not telling the whole story. “John Mair, co-editor of the book, says we should not confuse the proximity of this war with ease of access to information, saying: “The challenge for British journalists… is not just safety but keeping the right side of the so far invisible Ukrainian censorship machine.””

Science

Two decades of Alzheimer's research may be based on deliberate fraud that has cost millions of lives. “[…] it looks like the original paper that established the amyloid plaque model as the foundation of Alzheimer’s research over the last 16 years might not just be wrong, but a deliberate fraud.”

Habitual use of GPS negatively impacts spatial memory during self-guided navigation . “Although the longitudinal sample was small, we observed an important effect of GPS use over time, whereby greater GPS use since initial testing was associated with a steeper decline in hippocampal-dependent spatial memory.” Using GPS regularly makes you worse at finding your own way to places shocker.

Society

Vice President Kamala Harris was criticized for using visual descriptors. Why? “The ongoing dustup over Vice President Kamala Harris describing herself during a meeting with disability rights leaders this week is much ado about an increasingly common practice and a distraction from the substance of the gathering, advocates say.”

Should class snobbery be banned under the Equality Act? “One experiment cited in the report found teachers “give grades according to class”, explained Rickett. “When the pieces of work were identical, they’d give lower marks to children perceived to be working class.””

Hyundai subsidiary has used child labor at Alabama factory. “A subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co has used child labor at a plant that supplies parts for the Korean carmaker’s assembly line in nearby Montgomery, Alabama, according to area police, the family of three underage workers, and eight former and current employees of the factory.”

Dr. Caitlin Bernard Was Meant to Write This With Me Before She Was Attacked for Doing Her Job. “On Wednesday night, our state’s attorney general said his office would be investigating Dr. Bernard. So I’m writing this essay myself, not only to bring attention to the chilling effect on medicine we’re seeing at this moment — but also because I’m terrified that I or any one of our colleagues could soon face what Dr. Bernard is going through after delivering care to our patients.”

Philadelphia created American obstetrics. Black women were exploited from the start. “America’s maternal mortality crisis traces back to Philadelphia, home to the nation’s first delivery wards. From the start, Black people received unequal treatment and were exploited for science.”

Pet Rent Is the Newest Tool of Housing Discrimination. “To no one’s surprise, the burden falls heaviest on those least able to bear it. In a recent paper, “Pet Friendly For Whom?” Jennifer W. Applebaum, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Florida and data researcher Kevin Horecka, Ph.D., reported the results of their survey of pet friendly housing across Texas. The conclusion was stark: “Low-income communities and communities of color were more likely than higher income and predominantly white communities to pay disproportionately higher fees to keep pets in their homes.””

Security director: Suspect in July 4 Highland Park shooting was ‘sizing up’ synagogue. “Authorities have not yet attributed a motive to the shooting that killed seven and injured dozens at a Fourth of July parade. Highland Park has a significant Jewish population and is home to several other synagogues and Jewish institutions.”

Abuse, discrimination, exclusion: Transgender men explain domino effect of losing reproductive care post-Roe. “The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey found that nonbinary people and trans men report being sexually assaulted at a higher rate than other LGBTQ+ people. Fifty-one percent of trans men and 55 percent of nonbinary people out of over 27,000 respondents said they had been assaulted in their lifetime. […] “It’s just become a pure rape culture out there for trans men in particular. This law will be horrific.””

Akron Police Officers Placed on Leave After Fatal Shooting of Jayland Walker. “A lawyer for the family of Mr. Walker said the footage shows that he was running away, unarmed, when police officers fired at him more than 90 times. The lawyer, Bobby DiCello, reviewed footage of the shooting on Thursday. His legal team also visited the medical examiner’s office on Friday and reviewed the autopsy, which has not been finalized. Mr. DiCello said it showed that Mr. Walker had been struck at least 60 times.”

California late start law aims to make school less of a yawn. “Beginning this fall high schools in the nation’s most populous state can’t start before 8:30 a.m. and middle schools can’t start before 8 a.m. under a 2019 first-in-the-nation law forbidding earlier start times. Similar proposals are before lawmakers in New Jersey and Massachusetts.” This is a big deal. I can’t believe they were making teenagers go to school before 8am.

Technology

Who Is Collecting Data from Your Car? “The Markup has identified 37 companies that are part of the rapidly growing connected vehicle data industry that seeks to monetize such data in an environment with few regulations governing its sale or use.”

Abortion rights supporters are trying to reduce barriers to access through search keywords. “Anti-abortion activists have long dominated the online search strategy game, driving traffic to crisis pregnancy centers. Post-Roe, that’s starting to change.”

Open-Source Security: How Digital Infrastructure Is Built on a House of Cards. “As is characteristic of public goods, market participants lack incentives to correct this inefficiency. Companies can profit from open source without expending any resources to improve it. Psychologists call this the bystander effect. When multiple parties have the capacity to solve a problem, each individual party feels less responsibility to take action. Although securing this public good is in every company’s self-interest, very few companies want to be the ones to take on that burden. There is little reason to think the market will correct itself without intervention.”

Facebook's TikTok-like redesign marks sunset of social networking era. “The leadership of Meta and Facebook now views the entire machine of Facebook’s social network as a legacy operation. They aim to keep cranking it to generate the cash they need to subsidize their decade-long plan to build the metaverse — where, maybe, social networking will be reborn in a 3D interface.”

The entire world is about to get a lesson in Revlon. “I claim no insight into the personal feelings of the board members, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, but their legal obligation here is to maximize stockholder wealth, and though they could, consistent with those duties, decide that in the long term Twitter is more valuable as a standalone company than the $44 billion Musk agreed to pay right now, that seems … unlikely … and so their legal obligation is to pursue that $44 billion. And if investors can win in a courtroom, there is absolutely a benefit to fighting with Musk about it. The $1 billion dollar break fee won’t begin to compensate the company for the damage Musk has done, but more importantly, $1 billion is less than $44 billion.”

Today I learned Amazon has a form so police can get my data without permission or a warrant. “Here is something I didn’t know when I purchased Amazon Ring cameras and Amazon Echo Dots: there is a webpage where law enforcement can fill out a form, say there’s a life-threatening emergency, and get access to your data without your consent, a court order, or any kind of warrant. There’s nothing in the Terms of Service about this, and the company has maintained for years that it helps police get consent first, but it’s happening anyhow.”

“We’re just fucking illegal”: Uber Files reveal a pattern of shady behavior around the world. “The documents lay out how the company’s deep pockets during this era — Uber’s lobbying and PR budget was $90 million in 2016 alone — was used to secretly influence politicians, oligarchs, and regulators around the world, and even sometimes break local laws. Dozens of stories about the contents of the leak have been published since the documents surfaced. Rest of World compiled the most glaring findings from the leak concerning Uber’s operations in non-Western countries, including South Africa, India, Nigeria, and Russia.”

Microsoft Mapped Broadband Affordability Gaps Because The U.S. Government Couldn’t Be Bothered To. “The FCC’s maps historically also haven’t been willing to map broadband prices and affordability. To that end, the NTIA has been doing some good work trying to illustrate broadband affordability gaps, again caused by regional monopolization. As has Microsoft, which, last week, offered an updated look at digital equity, a measurement that heavily integrates broadband availability and affordability.” Click through to the dashboard, which is illuminating.

The week the open web won. “I want to address a few suggestions that have been made to me implying that my recent blogging had been the final shove which yeeted this Bill over the edge. […] I’m just…well, me. A random and rapidly ageing Scottish woman with a vegetable garden, albeit a woman who has been Extremely Online since 1994 and Extremely Perturbed by this Bill since 2019, blogging in a personal capacity, in my spare time, 400 miles away from the centre of power.”

A New Attack Can Unmask Anonymous Users on Any Major Browser. “When you visit a website, the page can capture your IP address, but this doesn’t necessarily give the site owner enough information to individually identify you. Instead, the hack analyzes subtle features of a potential target’s browser activity to determine whether they are logged into an account for an array of services, from YouTube and Dropbox to Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and more. Plus the attacks work against every major browser, including the anonymity-focused Tor Browser.”

Europe faces Facebook blackout. “The Irish Data Protection Commission on Thursday informed its counterparts in Europe that it will block Facebook-owner Meta from sending user data from Europe to the U.S.”

How China uses search engines to spread propaganda. “[…] as authoritarian states like China increasingly use online platforms to disseminate narratives aimed at weakening their democratic competitors, these search engines represent a crucial battleground in their information war with rivals. For Beijing, search engines represent a key—and underappreciated vector—to spread propaganda to audiences around the world.”

Vast Cache of Chinese Police Files Offered for Sale in Alleged Hack. “A vast trove of data on Chinese citizens allegedly siphoned from a police database, some of which checks out as legitimate, is being offered for sale by an anonymous hacker or hacking group. If confirmed, it would mark one of history’s largest leaks of personal data.”

Facebook Asks Judge to 'Crack the Whip' in Attempt to Silence a Black Whistleblower. “He was fired by Facebook’s outsourcing partner, Sama, in 2019 after he led more than 100 of his colleagues in a unionization effort for better pay and working conditions. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his work, and is now suing both Meta and Sama in a Nairobi court, alleging that he and his former colleagues are victims of forced labor, human trafficking and union-busting.”

Google will start auto-deleting health clinic location data. “Jen Fitzpatrick, SVP of Core Systems at Google, wrote in a blog post that the company will start deleting visit data from facilities like abortion clinics, fertility centers, counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, addiction treatment facilities and weight loss clinics “soon after” the visits take place when its system identifies that a visit has taken place.”

Social Media Can Be Reimagined for the Good of Society. “Yet what well-meaning regulatory proposals lack is a vision of social media that could be good for society. At best, these regulatory approaches seek to make existing social media less awful. But an emerging movement that we might call “the Good Web” envisions the possibility of social media that has a salutary role in a public sphere. What’s less clear is which of several dueling visions of the Good Web might lead us to a healthy social media environment.”

 

Inputs

I’ve started to host my feed subscriptions on GitHub. If you have an RSS reader, you can import the OPML file at that link to take a look at the sources I start my day with.

I’m thinking about building a simple headline reader on my site that will take posts from feeds I subscribe to and display them in reverse-chronological order. I think it’s a good way to stay transparent about the kinds of things I’m interested in - in addition to the links I highlight on my blog and end-of-month roundups.

Unlike most OPML files, this one contains links to the newsletters I subscribe to, too. It’s probably best used with NewsBlur, but OPML is an open standard that should work everywhere.

How about you? What are you subscribed to? I’d love to discover more blogs in particular.

 

Building a mobile subscription button

Last week, I built a small floating subscription button for The 19th. It’s pretty simple, and the design had been floating around since long before I got there:

The button only displays on mobile browsers. There were a few nuances to getting it working in mobile Safari in particular.

My first attempt, where the button’s position was based on browser height percentage, had the button jumping around the page when the URL bar appeared and disappeared. Distracting and gross!

It turns out that Safari alters the height of the page when you refer to it in percentage terms, but doesn’t alter the height of the viewport. So as soon as I specified the height using vh increments, the problem went away.

Then I was left with a new problem. Although the button was happily static, it was partially obscured by the URL bar (by design) until the bar went away. That’s fine - but it was taking a long time to repaint, so you’d see half a button for a couple of seconds before the browser caught up.

The solution to this is to apply a CSS transformation that does nothing visible at all:

transform: translateZ(0);

The effect of this hack is to tell the browser to use hardware acceleration for this layer. With this in place, it takes no time at all to repaint, and my weird visual glitch was gone.

The code for the button took less than a day, but as always in web development, there are nuances to look out for. (I won’t get into tracking Google Analytics event clicks on a fully SVG button, which is also harder than it should be.)

The result should be more mobile clickthroughs to subscribe to the daily newsletter, giving more people the opportunity to connect to our community. It’s the kind of small feature that can have an outsize impact - and, hopefully, make the audience team happy. Which, in turn, makes me happy too.

 

By the way, we’re hiring! Our web applications engineer position is open for applications.

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