The notable list: April, 2023
This is my monthly roundup of the links, books, and media I found interesting. Do you have suggestions? Let me know!
Apps + Websites
Antilibraries – Catalogues and catacombs of books unread. “In short: an antilibrary is that collection of books you know a bit about, but have not read, and the latent potential of all the wonders they may hold. We can extend the same idea to other media, too — essays, films, websites, and so on — anything you might learn from.”
Anti-Racist Starter Pack. A list of anti-racist books, articles, documentaries, podcasts, and interviews.
Podcast Standards Project. “The Podcast Standards Project is a grassroots industry coalition dedicated to creating standards and practices that improve the open podcasting ecosystem for both listeners and creators.”
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. A beautiful novel about work, friendship, love, and identity. I suppose it’s about video games too, but not really; it could just as easily be about any creative act. I loved Zevin’s writing, the melancholy story, and even the characters (although they’ve been maligned elsewhere). For me, the work is only diminished by the knowledge that she used concepts from some real-world games (e.g., Train) without credit. It would have been so easy to fix.
The Mimicking of Known Successes, by Malka Older. A delight from beginning to end: a cozy murder mystery set on rings around Jupiter, where humanity lives on great platforms linked by trains, centering on two women who rekindle an old romance as they get to the bottom of the crime. If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what to tell you.
How I used GPT-4 to code an idea into to a working prototype. “I used GPT-4 to code a command line tool that summarizes any web page. It felt wonderful to collaborate with AI like this.” I wonder if I could use this with my RSS feeds?
Noam Chomsky: The False Promise of ChatGPT. “Note, for all the seemingly sophisticated thought and language, the moral indifference born of unintelligence. Here, ChatGPT exhibits something like the banality of evil: plagiarism and apathy and obviation. It summarizes the standard arguments in the literature by a kind of super-autocomplete, refuses to take a stand on anything, pleads not merely ignorance but lack of intelligence and ultimately offers a “just following orders” defense, shifting responsibility to its creators.”
The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank hit women- and minority-owned start-ups the hardest. “Silicon Valley Bank was one of the few that would give venture-backed start-ups led by women, people of color and LGBTQ+ people a line of credit. After the bank’s collapse, they are now being hit the hardest.”
Rising groundwater threatens clean air and water across the US. “As Earth warms, groundwater — long seen as an immutable resource — is in flux. Most often, climate change is associated with a decrease in groundwater, fueled by worsening drought and evaporative demand. But in some areas, this water is actually creeping higher, thanks to rising sea levels and more intense rainfall, bringing a surge of problems for which few communities are prepared.”
EU countries approve 2035 phaseout of CO2-emitting cars. “The EU law will require all new cars sold to have zero CO2 emissions from 2035, and 55% lower CO2 emissions from 2030, versus 2021 levels. The targets are designed to drive the rapid decarbonisation of new car fleets in Europe.”
A spill outside Philadelphia adds to the growing list of chemical accidents this year. “Only three months into the year, there have already been 50 incidents resulting in chemical spills or fires around the United States, according to the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters. Such incidents occur roughly once every two days, the Guardian estimated in a recent analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data spanning several years.” This one directly affected me; I did buy water.
Scientists deliver ‘final warning’ on climate crisis: act now or it’s too late. “The comprehensive review of human knowledge of the climate crisis took hundreds of scientists eight years to compile and runs to thousands of pages, but boiled down to one message: act now, or it will be too late.”
Your reading should be messy. “After years of treating my books as if they ought to be preserved in a museum, I now believe that you should honor the books by breaking them. Read them all so messily! Fold them, bend them, tear them! Throw them into your backpack or leave them open in Jenga-like towers by the side of your bed. Don’t fret about stains or torn edges or covers left dangling off the spine after years of reading.”
Judge Decides Against Internet Archive. “What fair use does not allow, however, is the mass reproduction and distribution of complete copyrighted works in a way that does not transform those works and that creates directly competing substitutes for the originals. Because that is what IA has done with respect to the Works in Suit, its defense of fair use fails as a matter of law.”
To All the Novels I Never Published. “William Faulkner wrote two failed novels (his words) before he famously gave up writing for other people and began to write just for himself. The books he wrote after that volta are the ones that students still read for classes around the world.”
Press conference statement: Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive. “The Internet is failing us. The Internet Archive has tried, along with hundreds of other libraries, to do something about it. A ruling in this case ironically can help all libraries, or it can hurt.”
THE EDITORIAL PROCESS! “At one of these gatherings, we were having celebration cake in the room, but first, said my Los Angeles agent, we should light a candle of gratitude. She did so and it set off the fire alarm system. This too is part of The Editorial Process.”
Daniel Ellsberg, the Man Who Leaked the Pentagon Papers, Is Scared. “The media as a whole has never really investigated the secrecy system and what it’s for and what its effects are. For example, the best people on declassification outside the media, the National Security Archive, month after month, year after year, put out newly disclosed classified information that they have worked sometimes three or four years, 10 years, 20 years to make public. Very little of that was justified to be kept from the public that long, if at all.”
The Uniquely American Future of US Authoritarianism. “Nearly half of Republicans say they would prefer “strong, unelected leaders” over “weak elected ones,” according to a September Axios-Ipsos poll, and around 55 percent of Republicans say defending the “traditional” way of life by force may soon become necessary. About 61 percent of Republicans don’t believe the results of the 2020 presidential election.”
Iraqi journalist who threw shoes at George W. Bush says his only regret is he "only had two shoes". “Al-Zaidi says he didn’t throw his shoes in a moment of uncontrolled anger, but that he had actually been waiting for just such an opportunity since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion. He said Bush had suggested that the Iraqi people would welcome U.S. forces with flowers, which left him looking for an adequate reply.”
How Loneliness Reshapes the Brain. “The problem with loneliness seems to be that it biases our thinking. In behavioral studies, lonely people picked up on negative social signals, such as images of rejection, within 120 milliseconds — twice as quickly as people with satisfying relationships and in less than half the time it takes to blink. Lonely people also preferred to stand farther away from strangers, trusted others less and disliked physical touch.”
Here’s the full analysis of newly uncovered genetic data on COVID’s origins. “The full analysis provides additional compelling evidence that the pandemic coronavirus made its leap to humans through a natural spillover, with a wild animal at the market acting as an intermediate host between the virus’s natural reservoir in horseshoe bats and humans.”
Non-Disparagement Clauses Are Retroactively Voided, NLRB’s Top Cop Clarifies. “The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued a clarifying memo on Wednesday regarding the “scope” of a February ruling by the federal agency’s board that said employers cannot include blanket non-disparagement clauses in their severance packages, nor demand laid-off employees keep secret the terms of their exit agreements.”
Bandcamp Employees Unionize for Fairer Conditions. ““Many of us work at Bandcamp because we agree with the values the company upholds for artists: fair pay, transparent policies, and using the company’s social power to uplift marginalized communities,” says Cami Ramirez-Arau, who has worked as a Support Specialist at Bandcamp for two years. “We have organized a union to ensure that Bandcamp treats their workers with these same values.””
The death of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act – but might other new legislation emerge?“Such simple devices as robots.txt, “noindex,” and password protection could wall off any news media web page from search engines. But no media companies were doing that, because they WANT the traffic delivered by search engines. So it has always been clear that the media recognized the value of being seen by search engines.”
Newsrooms Ponder Whether To Pay For Twitter Blue Checks. “As a company, we do not think it’s a wise use of resources to pay for individuals to retain a blue checkmark that is no different from anyone else’s — an amateur medical expert, Elon stan, or otherwise — who is simply willing to pay the fee for a blue check.”
Guardian owner apologises for founders’ links to transatlantic slavery. “The Scott Trust is deeply sorry for the role John Edward Taylor and his backers played in the cotton trade. We recognise that apologising and sharing these facts transparently is only the first step in addressing the Guardian’s historical links to slavery. In response to the findings, the Scott Trust is committing to fund a restorative justice programme over the next decade, which will be designed and carried out in consultation with local and national communities in the US, Jamaica, the UK and elsewhere, centred on long-term initiatives and meaningful impact.”
The Iraq War Began 20 Years Ago Today. Phil Donahue's MSNBC Show Was One Of The First Casualties.“The story I heard was that Welch had called to complain after he had been playing golf with some buddies and they began asking why MSNBC had some “anti-war kooks” on the air. I was never able to officially confirm the story, but the fact MSNBC employees believed it is an indication of the pressure they felt to conform to the national narrative.” Conforming to a “national narrative” is exactly what journalism should not be doing.
Why L.A. podcast firm Maximum Fun is going employee-owned. “On Monday, Thorn — who has co-owned Maximum Fun with his wife since it was incorporated 2011 — announced his company would become a workers cooperative, a novel business model in the podcast industry, but one that has been tried by many small businesses including bakeries and pizza places. The ownership will be shared equally by at least 16 people, including Thorn, the company said.”
Why the Press Failed on Iraq. “As the Bush administration began making its case for invading Iraq, too many Washington journalists, caught up in the patriotic fervor after 9/11, let the government’s story go unchallenged.”
Negativity drives online news consumption. “The tendency for individuals to attend to negative news reflects something foundational about human cognition—that humans preferentially attend to negative stimuli across many domains.”
No, my Japanese American parents were not 'interned' during WWII. They were incarcerated. “In a historic decision aimed at accuracy and reconciliation, the Los Angeles Times announced Thursday that it would drop the use of “internment” in most cases to describe the mass incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.” Let’s call them what they were: concentration camps.
The Messenger, a Media Start-Up, Aims to Build a Newsroom Fast. ““I remember an era where you’d sit by the TV, when I was a kid with my family, and we’d all watch ‘60 Minutes’ together,” said Mr. Finkelstein, who comes from a wealthy New York publishing family. “Or we all couldn’t wait to get the next issue of Vanity Fair or whatever other magazine you were interested in. Those days are over, and the fact is, I want to help bring those days back.”” Narrator: those days are not coming back.
Here’s how The Washington Post verified its journalists on Mastodon. “A small cross-disciplinary team of engineers worked together to add a feature so journalists at The Washington Post could link their Mastodon profiles from The Post’s website and verify themselves on the social network.”
Trans students meet with education leaders to discuss fight against anti-LGBTQ+ bills. ““I don’t really feel safe anymore. I used to feel safe,” said Maya, a 12-year-old trans girl who traveled to Washington D.C., from Texas with her mom for the meeting.”
Early Remote Work Impacts on Family Formation. “In absence of time-consuming commutes, remote workers—particularly those living with children—are spending more time on childcare and housework. This increased flexibility and time helped boost birth rates over the pandemic, specifically for wealthier or more educated women.”
Nashville Shooting Fuels the Right’s Engine of Anti-Trans Hate. “The stakes felt especially high for me to get this story right, because right now, we are working in a media and political environment that is saturated with misinformation and extremist rhetoric about transgender people. I feel very supported by my editor and my colleagues at The 19th News, but I know that most transgender people working in the media either do not have any support or are simply not given full-time employment.”
Nashville shooting suspect’s gender sets attack apart from most mass shootings. “Amid the confusion, several conservative and far-right media personalities have used the reported identity of the shooter as an opportunity to shift the conversation away from gun control and onto restricting gender-affirming care for transgender people, or simply to focus on anti-trans rhetoric.”
Women are less likely to buy electric vehicles than men. Here's why. “Given the current legislative and judicial situation in our country and my home state of Texas, as a LGBT woman it could be important for me to drive hundreds of miles without even stopping for gasoline, much less a charging station that might not be available.”
MY FIFTY YEARS WITH DAN ELLSBERG. “I think it best that I begin with the end. On March 1, I and dozens of Dan’s friends and fellow activists received a two-page notice that he had been diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer and was refusing chemotherapy because the prognosis, even with chemo, was dire. He will be ninety-two in April.”
Texas denied abortions to these women when their lives were in danger. Now they’re suing the state.“Zurawski, along with the other three plaintiffs who spoke in Austin, told The 19th that she had long supported abortion rights. But none of these women ever expected to become the public representatives of what it means to lose access to this procedure.”
Remembering Judy Heumann, mother of the disability rights movement. “I believe more and more that our movement can’t be isolated. That we need to be part of a changing world. We have to look at issues like global warming and the environment. I think you have to be in a position where you’re ahead of the game and not trying to catch up to a game that keeps changing.”
SOMATIC DATA. “I remember the first time I felt a statistic with my body. I don’t remember a single other thing: how I learned it, where I was or my age at the time. I remember seeing 2.6 percent of the United States identified as multiracial and my whole body reacted.”
Back to Plimouth Plantation. “When the museum changed its name, rather quietly, in June 2020, Wampanoag observers noted that while this name change purportedly signaled a renewed commitment to the representation of Wampanoag history, it also resulted in the removal of the word “Wampanoag” from much of the museum’s literature.”
The Three-Legged Stool: A Manifesto for a Smaller, Denser Internet. “We believe this moment, when people are so dissatisfied with the platforms that have dominated for the past decade-and-a-half, presents a unique opportunity to build a digital public sphere where people and communities with different preferences and purposes can participate accordingly.”
The TikTok ban is a betrayal of the open internet. “Banning TikTok is not, as lawmakers claimed in the hearing, a sign that we’re about to get real tech reform. It will almost certainly be a PR move that lets some of the same politicians who profess outrage at TikTok get back to letting everyone from Comcast to the DMV sell your personal information, looking the other way while cops buy records of your movements or arrest you using faulty facial recognition.”
Antisemitic tweets soared on Twitter after Musk took over, study finds. ““We’re seeing a sustained volume of antisemitic hate speech on the platform following the takeover,” said Jacob Davey, who leads research and policy on the far-right and hate movements at ISD.”
Decentralized Social Media Rises as Twitter Melts Down. ““You basically lose your entire social graph to go [to another social network], which is a super high wall,” says Tim Chambers, Principal and Co-Founder of Dewey Digital and administrator of the Mastodon server indieweb.social. “However, when things become sufficiently chaotic on platforms as Twitter is seeing now, that is a force strong enough to incite such migrations.””
Believe it or not, the Amish are loving electric bikes. “It’s a lot quicker to jump on your bike and go into town than it is to bring your horse into the barn, harness it to the buggy, and go. It’s a lot quicker and you travel faster too.”
Best printer 2023: just buy this Brother laser printer everyone has, it’s fine. “Here’s the best printer in 2023: the Brother laser printer that everyone has. Stop thinking about it and just buy one. It will be fine!”
Silicon Valley Bank bailout implies tech startups are too big to fail. “Here we have a sector full of self-styled free thinkers — brought to its knees by groupthink. Risk-takers who valorize failure — as long as someone else is footing the bill. Meritocrats who couldn’t hack it on their own. Mavericks who scoff at the political establishment until they desperately need it.”
Annoying password rules like frequent mandatory changes actually make us less secure, and should be abolished. “The scheduled-replacement policy is one of a number of poor or ineffective password practices that make logging into sites, apps and services more complicated and annoying than ever.”
Protocol-Based Social Media Is Having A Moment As Meta, Medium, Flipboard, And Mozilla All Get On Board. “All that said, this much activity in the last few weeks shows that protocol-based social media is having a moment. I’m not saying that it’s the moment that inevitably leads to a bigger shift in how we view the internet, because it could still all come crashing down. But, something’s happening, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Meta is building a decentralized, text-based social network. “Building a decentralized social network could let Meta experiment with an app that pushes back on standard criticisms of Facebook and Instagram. Individual servers would let different groups set their own community standards, though likely with a “floor” of rules set by Meta, in a fashion similar to how Reddit’s individual communities work.”
Elon Musk's Compelling Case for Worst Human of 2023. “In a turn of events that must have come as a surprise to absolutely no one, it turns out that the employee Elon was abusing for his amusement was an actual human being. His name is Haraldur Thorleifsson, and he has a fascinating backstory, a very real disability, and a fairly wicked sense of humor.”
Signal is for everyone, and everyone is different. “In addition to the structural, material variances across devices and infrastructure, there are also significant differences in how people prefer to communicate. There is no one global norm for how people talk to each other.”
Medium wants you to pay $5 a month to join its Mastodon server. “Additional perks include access to hand-picked account recommendations for users to follow, and the “professionally-operated” stability of the me.dm instance. TechCrunch reports that Medium has its own Trust and Safety team directly handling moderation, and is running the instance on its own infrastructure.” This is super-cool.
It's time to take back control of what we read on the internet. “These developments underscore a stark reality: As long as we rely on social-media sites to curate what we read, we allow them to control what we read, and their interests are not our interests. Fortunately, there already exists a long-standing alternative that provides users with what social media does not deliver: RSS.”
Police Are Getting Help From Social Media Sites to Prosecute People for Abortion. “All the angst directed social media services for being a pawn in law enforcement’s game seems misdirected to me. Social media is in fact a pawn in that game.”
Twitter insiders: We can't protect users from trolling under Musk. “Current and former employees of the company tell BBC Panorama that features intended to protect Twitter users from trolling and harassment are proving difficult to maintain, amid what they describe as a chaotic working environment in which Mr Musk is shadowed by bodyguards at all times. I’ve spoken to dozens, with several going on the record for the first time.”
The Fediverse is Already Dead. ““The Fediverse” needs to end, and I don’t think anything should replace it. Speak instead about communities, and prioritize the strength of those communities. Speak about the way those communities interact, and don’t; the way they form strands and islands and gulfs. I’ve taken to calling this the Social Archipelago.”
Biden's national cybersecurity strategy advocates tech regulation, software liability reform. “The strategy calls for critical infrastructure owners and operators to meet minimum security standards, to expose software companies to liability for flaws in their products and for the U.S. to use all elements of its national power to prevent cyberattacks before they happen.”
ChatGPT Is Nothing Like a Human, Says Linguist Emily Bender. “One fired Google employee told me succeeding in tech depends on “keeping your mouth shut to everything that’s disturbing.” Otherwise, you’re a problem. “Almost every senior woman in computer science has that rep. Now when I hear, ‘Oh, she’s a problem,’ I’m like, Oh, so you’re saying she’s a senior woman?””
Photo by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash