- The Risks of Using Auction Prices as Artworks’ Fair Market Value (Artsy) I am aware that the high-end art market is a weird financial scam run by rich people, but this article gives some great examples of how that actually works. Secret agreements, price fixing, show auctions– what a trip!
- The Value of Childhood Crushes (The New York Times) It’s rare enough to see children respected as whole people that each instance is a treat. What a sweet and caring little article about a sweet and lovely topic, crushes.
One option, of course, is to do nothing at all about a crush except to savor it. “That is so safe,” Mr. Smallidge said. “That’s such a delicious feeling. One of the messages that would be nice for kids to hear is that they don’t have to do anything about crushes. A crush has its own value because it opens us up and it’s exciting. And most of them, I would say, end there.”
- Delete Your Account Now: A Conversation with Jaron Lanier (Los Angeles Review of Books) I had my usual Jaron Lanier response to this, which is to really enjoy reading a critical perspective on Silicon Valley by someone who knows a lot of insider lore, while simultaneously dreading the condensed version of this I will be hearing from oppressively anti-tech/pro-human-connection west coast hippies for the next few years. Also, being filled with desire for Lanier to cut off his weird white man dreadlocks. I had forgotten about this SEC decision:
One thing that’s really interesting is that Facebook is not a normal company, in the sense that its valuation when it went public wasn’t based on how much money it made, which is what would normally happen with a business. It actually somehow talked the SEC into creating this other category, where it would be valued based simply on how much it was used, just on user engagement. And I think that was one of the most dreadful decisions in the history of financial governance, because, unfortunately, it set the pattern for other companies that went public later, like Twitter. So it’s almost like a government mandate that, instead of actually making money and serving customers, a company will become an addiction and behavior modification empire.
- Can New Energy Technologies Save the Planet? Ask the Sperm Whale (The Tyee) Andrew Nikiforuk points out that most of the whales that were killed for oil were killed after the invention of refined fossil fuels made that oil unnecessary, because that invention also made boats a lot better at chasing whales. Capitalism can’t be used to conserve anything; its whole thing is to run the planet into the ground.
- Leashes, licences for cats promoted as way to protect birds (Times Colonist) Do it, Saanich! This is my #2 favourite minor political goal behind getting rid of daylight savings time.
- Island Voices: Seeing the forest for the trees in urban planning (Times Colonist) An informed, coherent letter to the editor is a joy.
- How to Write a Thank You Note (The Morning News) This is a gem from the old internet by Leslie Harpold, and is the only advice you will ever need on this subject. It is a perfect, actionable formula for sincerely expressing gratitude with grace. Given that only my friends read this blog (and only a few of them), if you are reading this you are probably about to receive a thank you note in the mail and you can check how well I executed this technique 😉
- Here’s How A Registered Dietitian Meal Preps For Her Whole Family For a Week (Self Magazine) OK what? I followed a link from the host of a Health At Every Size podcast and ended up at… Self Magazine? It turns out this glossy magazine that I only know from grocery store checkout lines has multiple regular contributors who are anti-diet dietitians writing about intuitive eating and intersections of food with race, religion, gender, and poverty. This weekly meal prep advice starts from the extremely feminist premise that you probably have better things to do than cook all day, and from the extremely healthy premise that food should be delicious. See also, “I’m a Registered Dietitian and These Are the Only 3 Healthy Eating ‘Rules’ I Live By“.
- Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong (Huffington Post) Speaking of anti-diet, evidence-based food politics, this was everywhere in my feeds in the last couple of weeks and it deserved it. The discussion of the challenges around collective organizing for fat liberation in particular has stuck in my thoughts.
I was, on the one hand, deeply occupied with splitting my body into two people and then getting to know the second person. On the other hand, I had a lot of time to read while awake in the middle of the night holding that person.
A longer list with less commentary than usual:
- The Useless French Language and Why We Learn It (LA Review of Books). Come for the poking fun at France, stay for the insights about different kinds of languages and how they are responding to English taking over the world.
- Is Oatmeal Healthy? Here’s What the Experts Say (Time). An algorithm suggested this for me to read, which made me feel seen. But also, this is such a failure at being clickbait that is both hilarious and a work of art. Time Magazine, for some reason, is trying to drum up controversy about oatmeal but every expert they talk to immediately resolves it. Good old oatmeal, squashing any attempt to make a fuss.
- Epic Pooh, by Michael Moorcock (Revolution SF). A funny and satisfying old rant that I had never read, about the infantile prose style of a lot of epic fantasy.
- Magic Mike XXL is Basically Just “The Odyssey” But With Butts (Electric Lit). A vision of a non-misogynist hero’s journey.
- The Personal Business of Being Laid Off (Hazlitt). Mainly for articulating this idea that now comes up for me all the time in daily life under capitalism:
On my most recent watch [of the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail], though, I found myself emotional over one particular exchange. Joe visits Kathleen in a bid to win her over romantically and begins telling her that destroying her business wasn’t personal. In response, she tells him, “I am so sick of that. All it means is that it’s not personal to you, but it’s personal to me.”
- Physicists Are Misled By Outdated Notions of Beauty (Motherboard). A philosopher describes what qualities of a theory count as beautiful in physics, how they got that way, and why they need to change. I love a critique of beauty standards, and this one was in an unexpected place.
- Seattle Researcher Documents Necrophilia Among Crows (Slog). Of course!
The first argument that made me feel at all warmly about warrantless genetic surveillance
The journal Science published a response to the Golden State Killer investigation, where a suspect was arrested after a relative was identified by comparing genetic evidence from crime scenes to a 23andMe-style commercial genealogy database.
Expanding law enforcement investigations to encompass genealogical databases may help to remedy the racial and ethnic disparities that plague traditional forensic searches. In accordance with state laws, official forensic databases are typically limited to individuals arrested or convicted of certain crimes. Racial and ethnic disparities throughout the criminal justice system are therefore reproduced in the racial and ethnic makeup of these forensic databases. Genealogical databases, by contrast, are biased toward different demographics. The 23andMe database, for instance, consists disproportionately of individuals of European descent. Including genealogical databases in forensic searches might thus begin to redress, in at least one respect, disparities in the criminal justice system.
A fun, counter-intuitive baby name trend
Baby name news covers a lot more ground than I would have expected. This post starts with a surprising baby name trend and ends with a fairly detailed analysis of the impact of maternal age on social and political issues.
A few years back, I started a project to track down the red-blue divide in name terms. Did blue (liberal) and red (conservative) America actually name their children differently? Yes, they surely did. But how they did was a stunner. The “bluest” names were traditional, Christian, and single-sex; the “reddest” were newly invented, non-religious and androgynous. (Try it on the NameMapper: select 2004 and type in Henry, then Rylee.) In other words, our choices of names — one of the most candid, heartfelt expressions of our values and dreams — ran precisely opposite to our supposed values divide.
An endearing, bumbling discussions of plant intelligence
I love the edges where people in one discipline need ideas from another discipline. This survey of some current thinking about whether plants are intelligent involves philosophers trying to apply botany and ecology, while biologists and ecologists try to apply philosophy.
[Plant biologist Devang] Mehta believes that plants deserve respect. He just thinks confusing their qualities and abilities with those of humans is unnecessary anthropomorphizing. Venturing into the territory of philosophers, he argues that in order to qualify as “conscious,” a thing must be aware of its self-awareness, or meta-aware….
[Philosopher Michael] Marder admits that we can’t know if plants are self-conscious, because we define both the self and consciousness based on our human selves and limitations. “Before dismissing the existence of this higher-level faculty in them outright, we should consider what a plant self might be,” he says.
Marder points out that plant cuttings can survive and grow independently. That suggests that if plants do have a self, it is likely dispersed and unconfined, unlike the human sense of self.
On space and science fiction in the Arab world
This is an ok article about a topic I found very interesting– how has science fiction influenced science and space projects in the Arab world? It left me curious to know much more about the impact of having your local landscapes used as filming locations for so much sci-fi, both as distant planets and as places where archeologists dig up monsters.
A great many decision-makers, extending into the numerous members of the royal families across the Gulf, have bought into this desire to revive the Islamic scientific heritage as well as building the infrastructure that will drive it; development is, after all, meaningless without ‘sustainable’ development. And science fiction is part of the futurist vision they have of themselves: “Michael Winterbottom shot his 2003 film Code 46 partly in Dubai… parts of The Force Awakens were shot in Abu Dhabi,” as Determann’s book notes. Note the transition eastwards, since the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars is actually the desert town of the same name in Tunisia, where much of the filming was done. The UAE has, of late, provided financial incentives for Western movie producers, itself part of its wider diversification away from oil strategy too. The same goes for their Mission to Mars.
As one project manager explains, the mission, according to Omran Sharaf, speaking in Determann’s book, “is not about reaching Mars but about inspiring a whole new generation and transforming the way youth think within the region… The goal here is hope, for humanity, for the region, for youth in countries with lots of conflict.”
Some things I read that I loved.
Noticing different public treatment of parents of trans kids vs parents of “theybies”
The fact that reporting on trans children like Nicole has been far more sympathetic than reporting on Kathy Witterick and David Stocker’s decision not to gender their child Storm is itself very telling. While it may be confusing and shocking for the general public to imagine raising a transgendered child, the story of trans children becomes relatable by making transgenderism analogous to medical disability. It’s less than ideal, but no one can help it, and thankfully there is a course of treatment to be pursued. But the idea that parents like Kathy and David would willfully choose to offer gender self-determination to their child is apparently an outrage. Kathy and David’s parenting has been subject to pathologizing and hateful commentary from expert psychologists concerned about Storm’s development. While Nicole’s parents are portrayed as compassionate and reasonable, Kathy and David have been depicted as selfish, deceitful, impulsive, and manipulative radicals using their child to enact a damaging social experiment.
This post is from 2011, but I still see this split in 2018. The comparison to how disabilities are framed stuck out to me– somewhere I’m sure there is a parallel disability justice article that critiques pathologizing disabled kids rather than working to undermine narratives about which bodies are considered normal.
Great kids books about disability
We are about to start collecting kids books at my house, and I have been deeply appreciating the detailed reviews and lists at Books for Littles. This entire four-part series about kids books dealing with disability is fantastic. It starts with a primer on disability justice and the social model of disability, and includes some handy lists of problematic tropes in kids books as well as better features to look for. After that, big lists of recommended books! There are similar posts dealing with race, gender, fatness, single parenting, emotions, and many other common areas of failure in kids books.
Delusions of Mommy Brain
Of course, parents who do not go through pregnancy — including fathers, adoptive parents and L.G.B.T.Q. parents whose partners give birth — also experience psychological and physiological attachment, which some researchers have studied. But “daddy brain” is rarely discussed in a cultural or scientific context in association with cognitive decline.
Meanwhile, the cultural belief in “mommy brain” is so powerful that some studies have shown that pregnant women who walked into an experiment describing themselves as cognitively fuzzy were found in the lab to perform at a much higher level than what they reported. Were the cognitive changes just in their heads, or are our medical formulations missing something? In addition to the unscientific myths about hormonal women being best suited for the home and hearth, what else has propelled this broader misinterpretation about what “mommy brain” is and isn’t?
Argh, this article hits all the usual points that come up when discussing brains and biological sex. It pains me that it took the NYT to alert me that birth-induced dementia was a sexist myth.
Buses > ride shares
One of my favourite recurring themes is that Silicon Valley is not as smart as it thinks it is, it just picks easy problems. It is easy to provide luxury transit for a few rich people using a subsidy from venture capital, especially if you can temporarily get away with ignoring labour laws. It is much harder to provide economically sustainable transit for a lot of people, while following labour laws. When Uber and Lyft start trying to accomplish that much harder goal, it turns out they start to look like regular old public transit buses.
It’s telling that, even while transit agencies are being told to be more like Uber and Lyft, Uber and Lyft are increasingly mimicking buses. Both companies now have “shuttle” or “line” services that operate along preset routes with preset stops during peak commuter hours, just like a bus. It’s existential to the future of these start-ups that they stop subsidizing high-end solo rides and instead cram in the maximum number of riders per vehicle—in order words, that they reproduce a bus. The basic model—a big moving container of people on a fixed route—has never stopped working.
Have they always been displacegrounds?
Here in Victoria, playgrounds and their associated bylaws get used to displace homeless people. This article is about something else, but I snagged on this aside about the invention of playgrounds as a way to displace children from the public streets where they used to play.
The last great obstacle for those wanting to secure streetspace for cars were the angry mothers of America who saw their children killed or maimed by cars in the streets. Enter: the playground. That little zoological garden into which we still place our kids was an invention of the automobile industry as a way to appease mothers and get the little rascals out of the way.
Some favourite things I pinned over the past few weeks.
On the communication value of ums and uhs
Counter to what Toastmasters would have you believe, we seem to use more “disfluencies” like um when we know what we’re talking about, and saying “um” helps listeners understand us better. I am used to watching for and celebrating the ways that real life is messier than idealized definitions when it comes to things like body diversity, relationships, even economics. I am delighted that spoken language is messy too!
Deafness on film
Beware the spoiler for A Quiet Place, but I learned a lot from this article about historical and contemporary representation of deafness and Deaf culture in movies. It includes some thoughtful criticisms of The Shape of Water, and introduced me to the term Deaf gain as a positive counter to the concept of hearing loss.
The Volcano is back!
So exciting to see The Volcano back in action! They even have a podcast up. I read several great articles over there this month, and bookmarked some more for later. Here is one that stuck out to me, for seeing through the healthcare rhetoric around government responses to the overdose crisis in BC.
What if Black Panther had been created by an African?
This reads like an undergraduate assignment, but I enjoyed this comparison of Black Panther to Kwezi, a more recent superhero created by black South African visual artist Loyiso Mkize. The rest of the site is worth exploring too, if you are interested in African speculative fiction.
Long profile of what is scary about Palantir
Even Google has noticed that I “show interest” in aspiring vampire Peter Thiel and his company Palantir. Palantir somehow keeps a lower profile than other giant tech companies and I haven’t seen them mentioned in much reporting about the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story, despite being involved on both sides of the data breach.
This profile provides rare descriptions of what Palantir’s surveillance software actually looks like and what it does, as well as who their clients are (dictators, cops, and maybe your boss) and how real communities have been affected.
Fun excerpt from Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric
Making the case that fashion-haters are the ones who are really obsessed with superficial appearances.
I have a pair of spiked wedge shoes that are always a conversation piece when I wear them out. They are my favorite thing, and I would be totally depressed if I lost them somehow. Whenever people see them in my room they always ask to try them on. Everyone does this—male, female, heterosexual, gay. They try them on for the fun of it and they love the feeling the shoes give them. But then they say: “I could never wear those,” a phrase we have all used to describe an item of clothing that makes us uncomfortable or that we don’t see ourselves in because it goes against the image we have already constructed for ourselves. But who actually says we can’t wear it?
The power of appearance, that’s “who.”
Fashion naysayers are often people who are “uncomfortable with taking full responsibility for their own looks,” Anne Hollander tells us, “who either fear the purely visual demands of social life—‘appearance’ or ‘appearances’—or don’t trust the operation of their own taste,” which means in the end that they “feel threatened and manipulated by fashion.” Negative theories of appearance emerge out of a nervousness and anxiety about one’s own way of looking, which coincidentally works to reinforce the power of appearance.
Mushrooms make their own weather
Because of course they do. Never bet against a fungus!
Since the demise of del.icio.us I’ve been pinning my bookmarks on a side blog. Given how much I enjoy it when my friends write roundup posts like Bharat’s Pocket Scraps and Meghan’s Allsorts Club, I thought I’d see what happens when I post my recent favourite bookmarks here.
This week I’ve been reading about tech dystopias, apparently.
Charles Mudede on the Two Amazons
I follow the entire Stranger newspaper from Seattle because I can’t find an RSS feed for Charles Mudede alone. In this short gem, he asserts that one mechanism of inequality is that the economy of the rich exists in a different time dimension from the regular economy of workers. Debt and finance operate in the future, while the rest of us live and act in the present. I’m a big fan of shitty versions of sci-fi technologies, and this is the shittiest working version of time travel I have encountered.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s experiments in the global south
Josh Marshall points out the “colonial laboratory” aspects of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal.
One of the most telling and interesting threads of the Cambridge Analytica story is something that gets mentioned in most of the big pieces but is seldom a focus of attention. Most of the algorithms, techniques and strategies the company eventually deployed against the UK and the US were first used for elections operations in developing countries, what we once called the Third World. The reason is key: these countries had far less legal and technical infrastructure to defend themselves against these kinds of attacks. It was basically anything goes. And if someone got upset it didn’t matter all that much since these countries are off the main arteries of global news flows and have little capacity to uncover or hold to account a shadowy British company which is actually a subsidiary of a company wedded to the British defense establishment.
His follow-up questions are speculative but worth asking. What else has Facebook been learning in the global south that they could could decide to reuse?
More ominously, Facebook also appears to be involved in some businesses abroad that it knows will never fly in the US. In this case, Facebook’s partnership with Cambridge Analytica appears merely to be an example of a larger dynamic. As I’ve noted, the UN has already chastised Facebook for the platform’s role in the on-going ethnic cleansing and mass expulsion in Myanmar. I’ve assumed that this was merely because the platform is poorly policed. I’m now more curious whether that is the full extent of it.
Dan Geer on the danger of computer-only systems
This is a wordy cybersecurity article with politics I don’t trust (Dan Geer works for the venture capital arm of the CIA), but I appreciated the risk analysis. Key points for me:
Because single points of failure require militarization wherever they underlie gross societal dependencies, frank minimization of the number of such single points of failure is a national security obligation. Because cascade failure ignited by random faults is quenched by redundancy, whereas cascade failure ignited by sentient opponents is exacerbated by redundancy, (preservation of) uncorrelated operational mechanisms is likewise a national security obligation.
Or, more simply:
The best, and perhaps only, way to not give algorithms a monopoly on the use of force is to retain society’s ability to tolerate that which is not managed by the algorithms.
It is so rare to read tech perspectives that value something other than the latest and greatest. This amounts to a long defense of DIY, analog options, non-mass media, doing things the hard way, and preserving the “doing it wrong” workarounds like replying to tweets with a phone call. I would read defenses of that all day.