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Working at the intersection of technology, media, and democracy. He / him.

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Here's what I read in April

Books

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler. It's tempting to try and read Butler's entire bibliography this year. Her work is amazing. In turns profoundly affecting and utterly terrifying, this novel feels like a glimpse of the near future rather than far-flung speculation. Visceral and poignant. I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Journey to Armenia by Osip Mandelstam, translated into English by Sidney Monas (my grandfather). A beautiful portrait of a specific time and place; the writing is breathtaking, even if the observations are firmly set in an imperialist era. I lost my grandfather last month, and I could hear his voice in the writing, too.

The Curse of Bigness, by Tim Wu. I should have read this months ago; it was recommended to me last year as part of a project I wish life hadn't gotten in the way of. A concise and powerful argument for antitrust reform as a path to a more equitable democracy. It cemented my opinion that it’s one of the most important things we can do.

Notable Articles

The Attention Economy to the Addiction Economy. "Short term optimization and focusing on attention will hurt the internet over the long term." I couldn't agree more, and I'm glad Mozilla is fighting the good fight.

The Day the Dinosaurs Died. "“We have the whole KT event preserved in these sediments,” DePalma said. “With this deposit, we can chart what happened the day the Cretaceous died.”" Absolutely amazing.

“The Big Error Was That She Was Caught”: The Untold Story Behind the Mysterious Disappearance of Fan Bingbing, the World’s Biggest Movie Star. A fascinating account of a story I've been peripherally aware of.

Bussed out: How America moves its homeless. "Each year, US cities give thousands of homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town. An 18-month nationwide investigation by the Guardian reveals, for the first time, what really happens at journey’s end." This should be a national tragedy. Beautifully reported, and best read on desktop.

The Hidden Air Pollution in Our Homes. Outside air pollution is regulated; indoor air quality is not. But the particles in our homes can have a severe impact on our hearts and lungs. I've become more and more aware of lung health in particular.

How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World. An impressively-told account of the Murdoch empire, the impact it's undeniably had, and its future.

Facebook Wants a Faux Regulator for Internet Speech. It Won’t Happen. The kicker is in the final paragraph. "In the future, American speech — at least online — may be governed by Europe." I agree. GDPR has already forced a rearchitecture of popular services all over the world, despite only having European jurisdiction. And that's a great thing for everybody.

Privileged. Utah Jazz basketball player on white privilege and his racial awakening. The conclusions he comes to should be conclusions for a lot of us.

We Need a More Ethical Web. I trust Daniel Applequist's opinions on many things, and he's right on here. "It’s time for web platform makers to enlarge this ethical framework to include human rights, dignity and personal agency. We need to put human rights at the core of the web platform. And we need to promote ethical thinking across the web industry to reinforce this approach." Damn straight.

The Death of the Hippies. Joe Samberg - Andy's dad - photographed the decline of the hippie scene on Berkeley's Telegraph Ave, just a few miles away from where I write this now. Drugs were a way to discredit both the anti-war movement and the black power movement, a deliberate and cynical government strategy, and unfortunately, they worked.

How PragerU Is Winning The Right-Wing Culture War Without Donald Trump. "It took two months for Prager University, one of the biggest, most influential and yet least understood forces in online media, to mold a conservative." I've come across PragerU's videos, often reshared by conservative family members on Facebook. They're easily debunked, but I'm not a receptive audience. There's no equivalent on the left.

Bret Easton Ellis Thinks You’re Overreacting to Donald Trump. I'm not shocked that he's as vapid and superficial as his work.

Climate Chaos Is Coming — and the Pinkertons Are Ready. If you're not familiar with the Pinkertons, they were Abraham Lincoln's private security during the Civil War, and were later hired to infiltrate unions and break up labor protests. They expect business to boom during the climate crisis.

15 Months of Fresh Hell Inside Facebook. As always, an excellent example of a company that could benefit from antitrust reform.

Capitalism in crisis: U.S. billionaires worry about the survival of the system that made them rich. "“So, what should we do?” her colleague asked. “Is he saying we shouldn’t go into banking or consulting?”"

‘Liz Was a Diehard Conservative’. It's early days, but Elizabeth Warren is my preferred choice for Democratic nominee (and the only candidate I'm donating to regularly, although I've also given to Bernie Sanders). This profile only deepens my respect.

The Black Feminists Who Saw the Alt-Right Threat Coming. An underreported story about a group of black women who discovered a disinformation campaign that was arguably the precursor of both GamerGate and the tactics used in the 2016 election.

I Used to Work for Google. I Am a Conscientious Objector. "Direct action from tech workers has been undeniably effective. Human rights organizations must therefore continue to advocate the legal protection of whistle-blowers and conscientious objectors, including protecting the organizing required for an effective collective action. Further, the broader civil society could increase the frequency of whistle-blowing by creating a dedicated legal defense fund."

Why Won’t Twitter Treat White Supremacy Like ISIS? Because It Would Mean Banning Some Republican Politicians Too. This is a telling story on so many levels: one reason Twitter can't ban white supremacists is that the dragnet would also ban prominent Republicans.

Here’s what happened inside The Markup. An evolving account of what happened to a publication that should have shined a data-driven investigative journalism spotlight on the societal impact of the tech industry.

The Narrative Experiment That Is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I still haven't seen Endgame, but I unashamedly love these movies. It's never been done before: 22 movies all building on the same story. Even James Bond (which I like a lot less because of its jingoism and sexism, but technically has more titles, at 26) hasn't attempted this kind of interwoven narrative.

Jack Dorsey’s TED Interview and the End of an Era. "The struggle to maintain Twitter is a double referendum: first, on the sustainability of scale; second, on the pervasive belief in Silicon Valley that technology can be neutral and should be treated as such. This idea, that systems will find their own equilibrium, echoes the libertarian spirit that has long animated the Valley and fails to account for actual power imbalances that exist in the real world. In 2019, it also suggests a certain lack of vision or imagination about what social technologies can, or should, be."

Tony Slattery: ‘I had a very happy time until I went slightly barmy’. I used to love Whose Line Is It Anyway, and Slattery was omnipresent there and across the pantheon of British comedy panel shows. Even as a teenager, I could tell he was drunk. This is a sad story, but also one of survival.

The largest study involving transgender people is providing long-sought insights about their health. "The research could also reveal some of the basic biology underlying differences among sexes. Tantalizing hints are already beginning to emerge about the respective roles of hormones and genetics in gender identity. And findings are beginning to clarify the medical and psychological impacts of transitioning."

A Terrorist Tried to Kill Me Because I Am a Jew. I Will Never Back Down. "I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; a reminder that I am part of a people that has survived the worst destruction and will always endure; a reminder that my ancestors gave their lives so that I can live in freedom in America; and a reminder, most of all, to never, ever, not ever be afraid to be Jewish."

The Case for Doing Nothing. "More practically, the idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. The less-enlightened might call such activities “lazy” or “wasteful.” Again: nonsense." I'm very pro-niksen.

Previously

Here's what I read in March, February, and January.