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  • feedwordpress 13:29:55 on 2020/09/11 Permalink  

    Nineteen is When They Forgot 

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    The slogan, for people who weren’t in Manhattan that day, is “Never Forget”. The people who were not here, who were never here, call it “9/11”. But the people I still check in with, the friends who trudged home covered in ash, never call it that. It’s always euphemism or elision or metonymy. “That Tuesday morning”, or “when I was downtown” or, maybe, “after the second plane”.

    I want to remember the truth of those actually here, and those actually lost, because now we have proof that all those who claimed We Are All New Yorkers have definitively forgotten us, less than two decades after they promised exactly the opposite.

    We’ve had a tragedy now that’s worse than that day, tenfold. Inflicted on us by a virus, yes, but by contemptuous and contemptible leaders at every level, too. By the fundamental unwillingness to show the same spirit of connection, camaraderie, neighborliness, and yes, love that defines New York City.

    Instead of a show of support from afar, my neighbors, my community, pulled each other through it this time. There was no other choice. It was the same openhearted expression of compassion for strangers that I first learned existed 19 years ago. This spring, every night at seven o’clock when our neighborhood rang out in a clamor to celebrate those sacrificing to save our fellow New Yorkers, it felt like a crowd at one of our ballparks, celebrating the capability of people to love and help complete strangers. You couldn’t help but be inspired.

    And as the unimaginable, searing grief added up day after day, as it continues to right now in a quieter form, all we asked during this tragedy was the exact same thing we asked during that last epochal tragedy. Listen to those who lost so much, listen quietly to our community’s grief, and honor this senseless, needless loss by taking care of each other, dammit. Show the love for each other that the bravest of New Yorkers have used to pull each other through.

    But this time it was immediately obvious that much of this country, far too many of its people, have nothing but contempt for New York and the way the best of this city is resilient and loving and unfathomably self-sacrificing. They have already forgotten us this time, without even the pretense of briefly standing with us. To be fair, some of the reason for the lack of solidarity is that they’re suffering at the hands of a tragedy we desperately wanted to warn them to avoid.

    Seeing Echoes

    It’s clear now that America doesn’t see New Yorkers’ deaths or pain as real. That realization is too deep a failure of humanity for me to reflect on for too long. But I find hope, and more than a little redemption of my belief in people, from what I have seen in this past few months in my beloved city.

    Just as I despaired so deeply 19 years ago, but was able to rise back up due to the inspiration of my neighbors and my city, New York can show us something greater than we imagined. Where then, people stood by the mosque in my neighborhood to show support for those who might be victimized, today I see loving handwritten signs decrying the potential for racist ranting about the origins of this pandemic. The same eerie calm of a city where the skies were cleared if any jets overhead was echoed in the silence of our streets in a spring where there were no taxis screeching by. The “I Love New York” signs with a blemished red heart reflecting a city scarred hung in every storefront where now they have a streetscape marked by people reclaiming the block for food and drink and conversation and life. The workers who wore face masks then to fend off the risks of asbestos and anthrax are every bit as careful to protect themselves and others today. Those who marches in the streets to fight the rush to war then march in the streets now to fight systematic injustice.

    For all that’s changed, this is still the city I love. I thought that my adulthood would only be marked by one devastating tragedy that bound me to this city, but unfathomably, I was naive to hope so. I’m not a Pollyanna about the resiliency of this city; our metaphorical immune system was already compromised before this latest egregious insult. It will take an act of extraordinary collective will for New York to recover as much as we are able.

    But I do have the experience of having seen this city bounce back from unimaginable pain before. I have seen us respond to attacks on our public life by rebuilding and reimagining public space. I have seen us grieve our losses and rally behind those who cared for those injured, and preserve space in our cultural memory for their pain and sacrifice. By no means have we done enough for all those lost, but it is absolutely true that we can rebuild. We’ve done it before.

    Each year I write a reminiscence or an observation of where I am on this day, and how I'm seeing a moment that's moved from visceral personal experience to faded cultural memory. Here's what I've written in years past.

    Last year, Eighteen is History

    There are ritualized remembrances, largely led by those who weren't  there, those who mostly hate the values that New York City embodies. The  sharpest memories are of the goals of those who masterminded the  attacks. It's easy enough to remember what they wanted, since they  accomplished all their objectives and we live in the world they sought  to create. The empire has been permanently diminished. Never Forget.

    Two years ago, Seventeen is (Almost) Just Another Day

    I spent so many years thinking “I can’t go there” that it caught me completely off guard to realize that going there is now routine. Maybe the most charitable way to look at it is resiliency, or that I’m seeing things through the eyes of my child who’s never known any reality but the present one. I'd spent a lot of time wishing that we hadn't been so overwhelmed with response to that day, so much that I hadn''t considered what it would be like when the day passed for so many people with barely a notice at all.

    Three years ago, Sixteen is Letting Go Again

    So, like ten years ago, I’m letting go. Trying not to project my feelings onto this anniversary, just quietly remembering that morning and how it felt. My son asked me a couple of months ago, “I heard there was another World Trade Center before this one?” and I had to find a version of the story that I could share with him. In this telling, losing those towers was unimaginably sad and showed that there are incredibly hurtful people in the world, but there are still so many good people, and they can make wonderful things together.

    Four years ago, Fifteen is the Past:

    I don’t dismiss or deny that so much has gone so wrong in the response and the reaction that our culture has had since the attacks, but I will not forget or diminish the pure openheartedness I witnessed that day. And I will not let the cynicism or paranoia of others draw me in to join them.

    What I’ve realized, simply, is that 9/11 is in the past now.

    In 2015, Fourteen is Remembering:

    For the first time, I clearly felt like I had put the attacks firmly in the past. They have loosened their grip on me. I don’t avoid going downtown, or take circuitous routes to avoid seeing where the towers once stood. I can even imagine deliberately visiting the area to see the new train station.

    In 2014, Thirteen is Understanding:

    There’s no part of that day that one should ever have to explain to a child, but I realized for the first time this year that, when the time comes, I’ll be ready. Enough time has passed that I could recite the facts, without simply dissolving into a puddle of my own unresolved questions. I look back at past years, at my own observances of this anniversary, and see how I veered from crushingly sad to fiercely angry to tentatively optimistic, and in each of those moments I was living in one part of what I felt. Maybe I’m ready to see this thing in a bigger picture, or at least from a perspective outside of just myself.

    From 2013, Twelve is Trying:

    I thought in 2001 that some beautiful things could come out of that worst of days, and sure enough, that optimism has often been rewarded. There are boundless examples of kindness and generosity in the worst of circumstances that justify the hope I had for people’s basic decency back then, even if initially my hope was based only on faith and not fact.

    But there is also fatigue. The inevitable fading of outrage and emotional devastation into an overworked rhetorical reference point leaves me exhausted. The decay of a brief, profound moment of unity and reflection into a cheap device to be used to prop up arguments about the ordinary, the everyday and the mundane makes me weary. I’m tired from the effort to protect the fragile memory of something horrific and hopeful that taught me about people at their very best and at their very, very worst.

    In 2012, Eleven is What We Make:

    These are the gifts our children, or all children, give us every day in a million different ways. But they’re also the gifts we give ourselves when we make something meaningful and beautiful. The new World Trade Center buildings are beautiful, in a way that the old ones never were, and in a way that’ll make our fretting over their exorbitant cost seem short-sighted in the decades to come. More importantly, they exist. We made them, together. We raised them in the past eleven years just as surely as we’ve raised our children, with squabbles and mistakes and false starts and slow, inexorable progress toward something beautiful.

    In 2011 for the 10th anniversary, Ten is Love and Everything After:

    I don’t have any profound insights or political commentary to offer that others haven’t already articulated first and better. All that I have is my experience of knowing what it mean to be in New York City then. And from that experience, the biggest lesson I have taken is that I have the obligation to be a kinder man, a more thoughtful man, and someone who lives with as much passion and sincerity as possible. Those are the lessons that I’ll tell my son some day in the distant future, and they’re the ones I want to remember now.

    In 2010, Nine is New New York:

    [T]his is, in many ways, a golden era in the entire history of New York City.
    Over the four hundred years it’s taken for this city to evolve into its current form, there’s never been a better time to walk down the street. Crime is low, without us having sacrificed our personality or passion to get there. We’ve invested in making our sidewalks more walkable, our streets more accommodating of the bikes and buses and taxis that convey us around our town. There’s never been a more vibrant scene in the arts, music or fashion here. And in less than half a decade, the public park where I got married went from a place where I often felt uncomfortable at noontime to one that I wanted to bring together my closest friends and family on the best day of my life. We still struggle with radical inequality, but more people interact with people from broadly different social classes and cultures every day in New York than any other place in America, and possibly than in any other city in the world.

    And all of this happened, by choice, in the years since the attacks.

    In 2009, Eight Is Starting Over:

    [T]his year, I am much more at peace. It may be that, finally, we’ve been called on by our leadership to mark this day by being of service to our communities, our country, and our fellow humans. I’ve been trying of late to do exactly that. And I’ve had a bit of a realization about how my own life was changed by that day.

    Speaking to my mother last week, I offhandedly mentioned how almost all of my friends and acquaintances, my entire career and my accomplishments, my ambitions and hopes have all been born since September 11, 2001. If you’ll pardon the geeky reference, it’s as if my life was rebooted that day and in the short period afterwards. While I have a handful of lifelong friends with whom I’ve stayed in touch, most of the people I’m closest to are those who were with me on the day of the attacks or shortly thereafter, and the goals I have for myself are those which I formed in the next days and weeks. i don’t think it’s coincidence that I was introduced to my wife while the wreckage at the site of the towers was still smoldering, or that I resolved to have my life’s work amount to something meaningful while my beloved city was still papered with signs mourning the missing.

    In 2008, Seven Is Angry:

    Finally getting angry myself, I realize that nobody has more right to claim authority over the legacy of the attacks than the people of New York. And yet, I don’t see survivors of the attacks downtown claiming the exclusive right to represent the noble ambition of Never Forgetting. I’m not saying that people never mention the attacks here in New York, but there’s a genuine awareness that, if you use the attacks as justification for your position, the person you’re addressing may well have lost more than you that day. As I write this, I know that parked out front is the car of a woman who works in my neighborhood. Her car has a simple but striking memorial on it, listing her mother’s name, date of birth, and the date 9/11/2001.

    In 2007, Six Is Letting Go:

    On the afternoon of September 11th, 2001, and especially on September 12th, I wasn’t only sad. I was also hopeful. I wanted to believe that we wouldn’t just Never Forget that we would also Always Remember. People were already insisting that we’d put aside our differences and come together, and maybe the part that I’m most bittersweet and wistful about was that I really believed it. I’d turned 26 years old just a few days before the attacks, and I realize in retrospect that maybe that moment, as I eased from my mid-twenties to my late twenties, was the last time I’d be unabashedly optimistic about something, even amidst all the sorrow.

    In 2006, After Five Years, Failure:

    [O]ne of the strongest feelings I came away with on the day of the attacks was a feeling of some kind of hope. Being in New York that day really showed me the best that people can be. As much as it’s become cliché now, there’s simply no other way to describe a display that profound. It was truly a case of people showing their very best nature.

    We seem to have let the hope of that day go, though.

    In 2005, Four Years:

    I saw people who hated New York City, or at least didn’t care very much about it, trying to act as if they were extremely invested in recovering from the attacks, or opining about the causes or effects of the attacks. And to me, my memory of the attacks and, especially, the days afterward had nothing to do with the geopolitics of the situation. They were about a real human tragedy, and about the people who were there and affected, and about everything but placing blame and pointing fingers. It felt thoughtless for everyone to offer their response in a framework that didn’t honor the people who were actually going through the event.

    In 2004, Thinking Of You:

    I don’t know if it’s distance, or just the passing of time, but I notice how muted the sorrow is. There’s a passivity, a lack of passion to the observances. I knew it would come, in the same way that a friend told me quite presciently that day back in 2001 that “this is all going to be political debates someday” and, well, someday’s already here.

    In 2003, Two Years:

    I spent a lot of time, too much time, resenting people who were visiting our city, and especially the site of the attacks, these past two years. I’ve been so protective, I didn’t want them to come and get their picture taken like it was Cinderella’s Castle or something. I’m trying really hard not to be so angry about that these days. I found that being angry kept me from doing the productive and important things that really mattered, and kept me from living a life that I know I’m lucky to have.

    In 2002, I wrote On Being An American:

    [I]n those first weeks, I thought a lot about what it is to be American. That a lot of people outside of New York City might not even recognize their own country if they came to visit. The America that was attacked a year ago was an America where people are as likely to have been born outside the borders of the U.S. as not. Where most of the residents speak another language in addition to English. Where the soundtrack is, yes, jazz and blues and rock and roll, but also hip hop and salsa and merengue. New York has always been where the first fine threads of new cultures work their way into the fabric of America, and the city the bore the brunt of those attacks last September reflected that ideal to its fullest.

    In 2001, Thank You:

    I am physically fine, as are all my family members and immediate friends. I’ve been watching the footage all morning, I can’t believe I watched the World Trade Center collapse…

    I’ve been sitting here this whole morning, choking back tears… this is just too much, too big. I can see the smoke and ash from the street here. I have friends of friends who work there, I was just there myself the day before yesterday. I can’t process this all. I don’t want to.
  • feedwordpress 15:29:46 on 2020/08/25 Permalink  

    What Windows 95 Changed 

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    What Windows 95 Changed

    Twenty five years ago today, Microsoft released Windows 95. It was undoubtedly a technical leap forward, but its biggest, most lasting impacts are about how it changed popular culture's relationship to technology.

    For context, when Windows 95 was released in August of 1995, only about 30% of American homes had any computer at all. Less than 10% had any form of internet access — and virtually none had broadband. There were no smartphones, of course.

    But more broadly, computers and software were basically not yet something one talked about in polite company. You might have had a friend who “worked in computers” (we didn’t say “work in tech” yet) or call IT for support for your printer at work. But software was not part of culture, and the term "apps" wouldn't come into wide usage for more than another decade. In those days, most job listings didn’t even yet ask for “familiarity with MS Office” (ask your parents what that meant) and the PlayStation hadn’t been released yet in the U.S. or Europe.

    The broader business world had started paying a lot more attention to tech just a few weeks before Windows 95 arrived, when Netscape's milestone IPO in early August of 1995 shocked everyone with its extraordinary debut, and kicked off the dot com boom to come. But consumer marketing of PC technology was in its infancy; Intel had just named the Pentium not long before — before that, its chips were just referred to by their model numbers, which read like the license plate on a car, not a brand name. And even the Pentium name really only became famous when a bug was found in the early chips. Jokes about that were as far as pop culture really engaged with tech.

    Into that world, Microsoft did a mass consumer launch of… an operating system. A computer's operating system is software that lets other software do interesting things. It's perhaps most abstract product possible. And Microsoft famously put some real money into it — they did a big launch event in Redmond and got Jay Leno to host it, and even licensed the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” as a theme song, tied to the operating system's signature Start button feature. A lot of retrospective views of Windows 95 tend to focus on the kitsch value of Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry doing a VHS training video about the product, but the truth is, Friends was not a huge hit yet at the time (let alone a cultural phenomenon) and the video was a fairly obscure release at the time.

    But splashy, big-budget ads for Windows 95 were ubiquitous in primetime TV in that era when everyone was still watching TV with ads. And as Brad Silverberg (then the SVP in charge of the Windows 95 launch) notes, "The Stones tv ad was so great because it was a kickass song, completely on message (Start), and showed everyday people around the world doing everyday things with the Win95 PCs."

    Wildly, Microsoft's effort worked. For the first time ever, lots of consumer enthusiasts lined up to buy software at stores as it released at midnight. Before that point, that kind of widespread consumer enthusiasm had been limited to album releases and movie opening. Now, technology was part of the new world of fan culture. That fan enthusiasm had been slowly building for almost 2 years by the time of launch. Trade magazines had been writing about “Chicago”, the codename for the product, and geeks tried out the early public betas of the operating system — helping popularize the idea of a “beta” as a pre-final version of something in common usage.

    There were even the early hints of toxic fandom that we're wildly familiar with now. Windows enthusiasts were sometimes oddly exuberant advocates for their preferred operating system, diehard fans of Apple (which was then a small player in a very precarious position) felt the new operating system ripped off their favorite OS, and partisans of IBM's offering called OS/2 Warp were the bane of every tech writer of the time, complaining about their favorite software being overlooked with all the fervor and indignation of today's most angry online comic book movie fans.

    Despite that noise in the market, Windows 95 was inarguably a hit. And it changed how the rest of the tech industry worked. Modern tech culture and tech trade press still basically follow the conventions that developed back then. Reporters breathlessly cover new codenames and rumors and beta releases, and late night TV hosts don’t just joke about apps, they deliver their shows through them. When Apple talks about new version of its operating system as part of its annual events, they have all the production values of a high-end TV show.

    And as a product, Windows 95 itself was fine. The user interface and design were certainly a leap forward over previous generations. There were decided user benefits in making it easier to configure computers, and it set the stage for later innovations where a normal person could plug in a mouse or keyboard into their computer and it would probably work. But the most lasting impact is how it changed the broader cultural perception of technology.

    In the 80s, there had been a movie series “Revenge of the Nerds”; its last sequel came out only a year before Windows 95 did. The public perception of Microsoft founder and figurehead Bill Gates was as a caricature almost perfectly defined by the nerds seen in movie and on TV, only missing the tape on his broken glasses. Tech was seen as for those people — nerds who were walking punchlines.

    But after Windows 95 arrived, tech quickly became a standard part of people’s lives. The Internet became mainstream, homes got connected, and software became something everyone uses. Eventually, smartphones put a computer in everyone's pocket, not just in their homes, and software became "apps" — and became part of our lives.

    Operating systems went from a product that we buy to a fundamental capability that's bundled with the entire tech ecosystems where we live our lives. We don't pay for operating systems directly anymore by purchasing them, but instead we pay with surveillance of our data or by being sold connected cloud services or by the cost being bundled into our devices. Operating systems are both ubiquitous and invisible, and there are now people for whom their allegiance to the operating system of their phone or video game console or even personal computer is part of their identity.

    And the Start button is still pretty cool.

  • feedwordpress 04:26:41 on 2020/08/21 Permalink  

    I’m Asking My Friends on the Left to Vote for Joe Biden 

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    I’m Asking My Friends on the Left to Vote for Joe Biden

    With authoritarianism at our door, the policies that progressives are driving for will be dependent on whether the fundamental institutions of democracy are protected at all.

    I believe every vote needs to be earned, and every candidate needs to be worthy of that vote on the strength of their policies. So, no surprise, I know a lot of people who are progressives or leftists who are skeptical or completely unconvinced about voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Hell, I've been clear that he was one of my least favorite of the many other excellent Democratic candidates during this year's primaries.

    I can rattle off the policies to which you all object, but it’s a familiar list, because I probably share most of the same objections. Whether it’s carceral approaches to justice or militarism or centrist or neoliberal fiscal policies on every issue from education to healthcare, I understand (and agree with a lot of) the concerns. I promise you, my argument is not at all like one you'd hear from his campaign.

    I also know about the fatigue. After struggling with school debt and no jobs and brutal policing, to hear a bunch of boomers telling you to vote in a tone that too often sounds like you’re being scolded about some obligation to them is just… too much.

    My argument is simpler. And it’s predicted on two simple things: The risk is about having the systems and infrastructure to push for justice, and you don’t have to concede power to participate.

    What we got wrong

    I grew up in the Reagan 80s. For far too many years, I didn’t know how brainwashed we were, how much we were fed lies about compromise and bipartisanship and ended up giving away far too many fundamental needs. So I am thankful to have been taught by so many of today’s activists and organizers, especially young ones, that principles and policies come first.

    Looking back, I see how we were inculcated to reward personalities and performativity over substance, and while I still think being an inspiring and passionate leader matters, I know why there's such skepticism or contempt for Democratic voters who seem too willing to focus only on the superficial.

    But what I want to argue for here is not respectability politics or why you should be moved by soaring rhetroic. It's simple: There is a fundamental system at risk, and we need your support (and yes, your vote) to protect it. It’s as fundamental as healthcare, education, a living wage, or anything else.

    It’s no secret there’s been a massive global rise in authoritarianism in recent years. We see fascists on the street around the world. So many of you have marched to stand up against it, especially in its virulent white supremacist form. But I can’t overstate how fragile democracy is in America right now. We know about voter suppression. We know about misinformation. But the very mechanics that enable the possibility of just laws and fairer systems in the future are in danger.

    Counterintuitively, it is with that risk that the more conservative tendencies of a Biden administration have one essential positive trait: they will reinforce the possibility of American democracy in the short term. For all their faults, the people of a Biden administration do believe in a functional American government and are not trying to install a dictator for life.

    The comfortable boomers do not understand that this threat to democracy is an actual risk. The #resistance folks with pink hats are too busy getting hyped up in all the ways that make you cringe. Honestly, none of them really get that authoritarianism is at our door.

    Interestingly, in this year's Democratic convention, Bernie said it straight out. (Notably, so did Obama.) We're at risk of an unabashedly authoritarian government in America. They’re right. And the bulwark is you, and your energy and organizing and engagement.

    It's only a first step

    I'm  not under any illusion that authoritarianism can be stopped solely with a ballot. It certainly is not enough. But if we want to have the space and stability to fight that threat, we need to slow the stampede to fascism.

    I do understand that for many of you, there are principles you feel you cannot compromise. You can never vote for a person who has Biden (or Harris’) view on the issues you care about most. But I want you to have the chance to elect that candidate who will support you on those issues. There’s a very real threat that you won’t have that option if we aren't able to hold things together this year.

    Some folks will say I’m being alarmist, but they're folks who don't have as much to lose. I’m old enough to know, we genuinely have not seen things be this bad, or this fragile, before. The economic crisis on top of the health crisis on top of the climate crisis will only exacerbate the threat. The folks who think this concern is overblown are also the ones who are not going to see what happens when the seas rise.

    And finally, I’ll tell you why I’m asking you to vote for Biden even though I’ve never been a Democrat, and never will be. I decided not to sign up for that party when I was 18, because they were wrong being against the (then-new) idea of marriage equality. I still held that policy failure against them as late as when I did vote for Obama, but I took a leap and pulled the lever. I wondered if I’d gotten cynical and too conciliatory as I got older, that maybe I'd gotten too willing to compromise or too swayed by such a charismatic candidate.

    But interestingly, a few years later it was Joe Biden who actually helped amplify and strengthen the work of all the activists over the years who’d fought for marriage equality. He had heard them, and gave voice to the simple moral clarity of those activists' demands, before it was party policy. The entire administration's (and then the country's) position was forced to evolve because he had simply found it impossible not to say the compassionate thing when he'd heard the plain arguments activists had been making. I do think that's still a real avenue for activists to drive the change we need.

    It doesn’t happen often enough. It doesn’t happen fast enough. But it does happen and you can make it happen just as you’ve made the unimaginable happen around defunding the police and fighting for a $15 wage and so many other vital issues. I want  that to happen for you for Medicare for All and for student loan forgiveness, and for so many other things where Biden's position needs to be pushed to what's right instead of what's a good compromise for centrist swing voters.

    If I’m being honest, I don't really even feel like the boomers deserve you saving their asses. They didn’t save the planet for you. But you do deserve a functional democratic infrastructure with which to build a new better, America. My motivation in asking for your vote is based on wanting you to have the chance to get what you want and deserve, and seeing that the only path there is a counterintuitive one.

    Things like the Green New Deal or large scale defunding or divestment can only happen if we have our underlying democratic institutions intact. The egregious biases and flaws and injustices of those institutions can only be addressed if they exist.

    We’re in that much danger. I don’t say it lightly when I ask you to make a leap of trust you may not be willing to make. And I will always support you being fiercely critical of Biden if he gets into office, with all of the access and voice I can lend in support.

    But I’m asking you to vote Joe Biden in. The progress we need to make in the future really will depend on it.

  • feedwordpress 15:51:01 on 2020/07/21 Permalink  

    A Federal Blue Checkmark, and Not Learning Lessons 

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    A Federal Blue Checkmark, and Not Learning Lessons

    People are wrong on the Internet every day; generally I don’t try to fuss about that too much. But when Sam Lessin, a former VP of Product Management at Facebook, publishes a wildly wrong recommendation about online identity in a credible media outlet, it’s worth correcting because others may take these ideas as credible and cause actual harm. I was frankly surprised by how absolutely broken this suggestion was because I've read other things from Sam that show him to be a smart person who understands a lot about product and out industry.

    I was hoping this piece today is in the “Modest Proposals” category on The Information’s site because it’s some sort of Swiftian satire, but it appears that this article is meant sincerely. That's dismaying, because even as far back as when I wrote The Immortal Myths About Online Abuse, the insights of experienced experts from vulnerable communities had already explained the problems with these kinds of approaches many years prior. I hadn't imagined that people considered experts in this area were still so far behind what is common knowledge for vulnerable people on these platforms.

    But, since this has popped up again, let's explain the problems.

    I believe the federal government should mandate that all social networks  of any size adopt a national version of the coveted blue “validated”  check mark confirming an authentic identity that is popular among minor celebrities on services like Twitter and Facebook. That would make clear who has validated their status as a real citizen and who has not.

    Phew! There are so, so many problems here. Let's see if we can find 10 fatal flaws in just this one paragraph:

    1. We currently have a fascist government that is regularly inflicting violence on people for exercising their free speech rights. This would centralize and simplify their access to tracking vulnerable people's speech.
    2. This system would by design limit promoted speech to citizens, explicitly disempowering non-citizens, and making even more incentives for the current administation to make citizenship contingent, harkening back to the past efforts that retroactively stripped citizenship from people in America.
    3. By applying this burden to networks of any size, massively-funded companies would see a trivial increase in the regulatory costs of maintaining their networks, but small independent networks would see a huge relative increase in their cost of compliance, putting a burden on the most at-risk communities online.
    4. What is "authentic" identity? Is that a government name? What about people whose true identities aren't described by their government names? What is the plan for important public speech that should necessarily not be tied to a individual person's legal identity, like whistleblowers or those reporting abuse?
    5. Given the repeated, effective, well-funded, deeply damaging efforts at spreading systematic misinformation on all the major social networks, who would trust the current administration to hire, fund, support and secure talent capable of creating and maintaining a verified identity network that would withstand constant, nonstop attempts to undermine its validity and reliability?
    6. What incentive does the current administration have to make a system that would increase the spread of accurate information? They have consistently worked to undermine all such existing systems, so why would we put the seat of trust in the hands of those who seek to destroy the concept of a shared public truth?
    7. How would such a proposal be funded? Passport control is currently under the Department of State. Which State programs would be defunded to support the creation of a Federal Blue Check Registry? Who would be accountable for auditing and oversight of such a registry? Who would pay for vulnerable people to be able to get access to a passport registry online?
    8. Have you ever seen any past issues arise when a single centralized government registry database was created by a violent, white supremacist fascist government?
    9. How would you address the fact that verified accounts on every major social network already regularly spread deliberate misinformation, intentional hate speech, and purposeful targeted harassment of vulnerable people? Society treats blue checkmarks as validating the content being shared, not the identity of the person sharing them.
    10. Can a government verification be rescinded? Who decides if it is? Do networks have to abide by it? Would the government be the only source of validation that a network could show?

    By the time I got to the article mentioning the idea of "a national archive of speech from trusted Americans", I figured this had to be satire. But I fear it's not. So let's go over the facts again.

    People using their "real" names does not solve abuse or misinformation.

    There are people who are really white supremacists who want to cause others harm. There are people who will knowingly tell dangerous lies under their government names. Here, I already wrote it, let me just quote myself:

    One of the most common reflexive solutions to abuse is to call for the use of “real names”. This is usually from people with little experience in managing large-scale online communities. Those who do run such systems can attest that an enormous amount of abuse is caused by people who are acting under their legal names; this is possible because many abusive behaviors can be extremely destructive without actually being illegal. (See #7.) For dedicated trolls, it’s also usually not very hard to create a name that seems “real”, which they can use for their attacks. For vulnerable people, using one’s legal name can make them targets for stalkers or others they are trying to avoid, or can force people to retain an identity that is no longer theirs. Worse, even if a user does want to use their legal name on a service, it can be almost impossible to capture someone’s real name in most common social apps. While persistent identities (pseudonyms) can be a useful tool for making a more accountable community when appropriate, legal names do very little to reduce abuse in large scale communities.

    Just as importantly: The platforms using these verified accounts would have to want to stop abuse. And for the most part, they don't.

    Take Facebook, where Sam used to work. When they found out that their WhatsApp platform was being used to spread misinformation that was used to incite a genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar, they could have shut down the platform there, just as Twitter did for some accounts when they found out their service was hacked recently. But Facebook chose not to do that. When extremist American leaders call for military attacks on innocent people in our country, as Tom Cotton did recently, the inclination of major media platforms was to amplify him and give him more reach for his call for violence; we should expect that Facebook would do the same.

    The systemic problems exposed here

    Worse than even the proposal laid out here is the larger systemic problems revealed by the mere existence of this proposal. Imagine the reaction if a proposal were made to solve security issues in software by "creating a federal code security review program, maybe run by the Department of Interior?" Having such a breathtaking lack of fluency in the decades of research into online identity would be striking for anyone proposing such a grandiose solution; seeing it from someone who was in a position of significant authority at the largest social networking platform that's ever existed is terrifying.

    Worse, seeing a bald trust in the benevolence of a government and administration that has already abused surveillance technology to cause real harm to the most vulnerable is astonishing, especially in a moment where we're literally seeing the largest civil rights demonstrations in the history of our country.

    Then there's the casual handwaving around deeply complex and important systems that reveals a privilege that verges on "let them eat cake" levels. An offhand mention of a government ID page for every person who was registered in this system?! And this as a precondition for "legitimacy" on networks? We already have a blue check system on Twitter, and for years, many have outlined the Network Inequality that results in skewed amplification and distortion of messages. Twitter alone likely sends out 100 million emails a week offering free promotion to Trump's racist and sexist messages — now a government infrastructure controlled by him would get to skew which other people could be similarly amplified.

    We know the dynamics of how abuse happens online. We know the patterns of how social networks are manipulated to amplify misinformation. It's telling that this piece doesn't even identify the harm it's trying to solve. What does "fix online speech" mean? In the introduction, it's described as "the same safeguards of accountability and reputation" as in the offline world. Who has the safeguard of reputation? Is it those who can get a platform to propose ideas without being fluent in the domain they're speaking to? How could such a dangerous and flawed proposal be presented as "broadly unobjectionable" unless there's a truly extreme bubble of cultural isolation amongst the most powerful in Silicon Valley?

    I believe strongly in regulation-based solutions to keeping social networks and tech giants accountable. I believe deeply in the power of well-functioning government to serve the needs of its citizens. But I also believe deeply in protecting our civil rights and freedoms, and recognize the grave danger of thoughtlessly "solving" vaguely-defined social problems by overburdening fragile systems like the Passport office, already struggling to serve vulnerable immigrants and travelers, with the challenge of addressing an issue that's being shirked by the wealthiest companies that have ever existed.

    A stated goal of this effort is to "create an incentive for voices who want to be trusted online to prove their identity as American citizens". It's telling that one of the first, and most effective, public profiles of Mark Zuckerberg that dared to be deeply critical of Facebook's shortcomings was this 2010 New Yorker piece. It is trusted. It is credible. It was written by Jose Antonio Vargas, a deeply talented journalist who is, among many other things, not a citizen and undocumented, and thus ineligible for having a passport and greatly at risk under this administration.

    The core of the criticisms leveled in that piece, written 10 years ago just before Sam joined Facebook to run the Identity Product Group, was about the risks that Facebook's extremist view of identity could pose to the most vulnerable.

  • feedwordpress 21:26:00 on 2020/07/11 Permalink  

    The American Death Cult 

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    The American Death Cult

    A significant percentage of conservative culture in America defines “freedom” as death. This is causing a lot more problems right now than even its usual horrible effects.

    Some explanation, for those who may not have context. Why do we need to have guns? To protect our freedoms! Well, what about the fact that those guns radically increase the odds of a member of our family shooting themselves or others, either accidentally or intentionally? That’s freedom. Why do we have to build our cities, suburbs, and infrastructure around cars? To protect our freedom! Well, what about the fact that cars kill us either quickly through crashes, or slowly through climate change? That’s freedom.

    Why do we still have vaccinations as an optional choice in many circumstances? To protect our freedom! Well, what about the fact that this hurts herd immunity and causes more deaths? That’s freedom.

    Why have we carved out reproductive healthcare for non-men as an area where we consistently prevent people from getting access to necessary medical services? To protect our freedom! What about the fact that this kills people regularly? That’s freedom.

    Why can’t we provide universal healthcare? Why can’t we reduce pollution and undo environmental racism? Why can’t we prevent police from murdering people? Because, for a small minority of Americans who disproportionately control policy and culture, the only meaningful freedoms they’ll protect are the ones that can cause death, especially for the vulnerable or marginalized, but if it’s the death of their own family members or even themselves, that’s okay too.

    I get a lot of criticism when I call this death cult a death cult. I understand why; it seems thoughtless or cruel. Many times we want to ascribe this pathology to a lack of education on people’s part, or a lack of access to critical services or support that might convince them otherwise. I’m generally sympathetic to that point of view, but it’s hard to reconcile that as a fundamental cause when these beliefs are also held by many of the most powerful, wealthy and (conventionally) educated people in the country.

    But it's worth noting, even those raised in these cultures call it a cult themselves.

    One aspect I may not have much of a grasp on is how people’s faith affects their views on these things. White evangelical Christians have a view on death that is, frankly, impossible for me to understand from outside. They regularly talk about welcoming death, and see things like eagerly encouraging the deadly final reckoning of everyone in the world as a positive that they want to accelerate. This leads to oddities like supporting Zionism because they’re in a hurry to have Jews die in an apocalyptic final battle, which they think is being nice to them? I will readily admit that I can't coherently explain this position; it is hard for me to understand death cults.

    The thing is, despite these absurdities, it's really important that we start to call the thing what it is. Because many people aligned along the spectrum of liberals to progressives to leftists are still operating as if we can rationally argue with these viewpoints, and attempting to use logic to persuade people not to participate in the cult.

    For example much of the framing for the battles around responding to the COVID pandemic is based on presenting the logical, rational, scientific argument around certain risks, generally culminating in a plaintive declaration, "If we don't do this, more people will die!"

    The broken part of this tactic is that it presumes that those being reasoned with are against people dying. Thoughtful, well-intentioned people really struggle with anticipating a response of "So what?" when presented with the incontrovertible risk of innocent people dying. So, we have to fit our views to the facts, rather than to the values that our heart hopes all people would agree upon. Once we actually see the counterargument for what it is, their responses are predictable.

    When a gunman shoots a room full of kindergarteners, we attempt an argument saying, "if we don't make these changes, another room full of kindergarteners could die!" And they say, "So what?" We argue that healthcare must be universal, or else people will regularly die simply for not being wealthy. And they say, "So what?"

    There is no rational, logical reason for not responding with all of our hearts and minds to save lives in this pandemic. But the small, extremist death cult that controls what's politically possible in this country sees those lives about to be lost, and says, "So what?" And the rest of the rational world looks on aghast, attempting to use whatever persuasion they can to bring these people around, desperately trying to cling to civility and an appeal to decency.

    It's not going to work. We have to do the right thing despite the nihilistic desires of the death cult. They're going to get mad about it, and they're going to call us nasty names and accuse us of terrible things for trying to save lives. So what?

  • feedwordpress 15:40:28 on 2020/06/24 Permalink  

    Beyond the Frontier 

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    Beyond the Frontier

    I almost can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of the work the Electronic Frontier Foundation was doing on behalf of all of us who care about the impact technology has on society and culture. They describe their work as protecting digital privacy, free speech, and innovation, but I always saw EFF as an organization that existed because our laws, policies, and cultural practices were all created from a set of assumptions that were radically changed by the ubiquity of computing technology. They’re accelerating the rate at which our institutions adapt to the modern world while protecting our rights.

    So I’m really honored today to get the chance to join the board of the EFF, and I hope I can be of service to the organization, its members, its workers, and its mission. And I thought the best way to celebrate the spirit of how EFF protects free expression would be by talking about how one of their most famous efforts was incredibly fraught and contentious for me and the communities I’m part of.

    Naturally, this had to do with Prince.

    Let’s Go Crazy

    Back in 2007, Stephanie Lenz posted a short clip of her toddler dancing while Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” played in the background. Not long before, Prince had begun pushing for Universal (which then represented Prince’s interests for the copyright of his song) to remove any use of his music in social media platforms, and so they issued a takedown request to YouTube. Hijinks ensued, and by a decade later, it had become a Supreme Court case.

    Now legally, the case seems pretty straightforward to me as a lay person; it’s clearly fair use to have a couple seconds of a song in the background of a video of your kid. But the conversation rapidly shifted into the context of when corporations can send takedown notices to each other and what constitutes legitimate action there.

    But truthfully? I don’t care about companies sending each other requests. I care about individual creators making culture and expressing themselves. I want Stephanie Lenz to be able to share a video of her kid.

    Just as importantly, as I watched Prince fight for ownership and control over his work for decades, I learned from him and so many others about the history of exploitation of artists, especially Black artists. It seems eminently reasonable that he should have had a mechanism for saying “I don’t want to do business with YouTube and Google in a manner where they can exploit my work unless o have a say in the terms.” Any relationship where a trillion dollar company can use a person’s creation without them having any ability to negotiate payment or decline to participate isn’t protecting expression either.

    That’s how we’ve ended up in a situation where copyright trolling seemed like the most effective way to shift the balance of power toward a creator who wanted control over their own work. And it’s a perfect example of how our intellectual property framework still needs to evolve much more.

    Thinking Bigger

    Debates over a song in a home video are small potatoes compared to what’s at stake today, though. Digital surveillance and data exploitation follow the same pattern as these behaviors in the physical world: they victimize the most vulnerable more profoundly. The very institutions of civil society and fundamental human rights are being threatened, in the United States and around the world. Though the stakes are much, much higher, the the reasons are similar to why we end up with absurd copyright cases: our systems aren’t designed toward accountability for institutions and empowerment for individuals. Our laws and regulations aren’t centered in the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable people.

    Few organizations have a long track record of fighting for these fundamental rights. And as I’ve made clear here, that hasn’t always meant I’ve agreed with EFF on every issue. But over decades of work, they’ve been a force for good, standing up when so few institutions do. Just yesterday, an effort they spearheaded made a tool we all use every day default to more secure, more trustworthy communications for everyone, by default.

    These are the efforts what will make our technology platforms accountable to the people they serve. These are the efforts that will rein in the worst abuses our governments try to inflict upon the vulnerable by exploiting technology. I’m excited to, in my own small way, help in that effort. And I hope you’ll join EFF as a member and help with this work, too.

  • feedwordpress 23:57:00 on 2020/05/13 Permalink  

    The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund Livestream 

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    The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund Livestream

    Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to watch the most definitive record of Prince and the Revolution at their commercial peak, on one of the biggest musical tours ever mounted to that point.

    It's to raise funds for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO — and you can donate right here!

    The Syracuse concert was near the end of the tour, the 94th show of a run that had been scheduled for 99 shows, and that had already been sold 1.6 million tickets in 27 cities, and would go on to gross $72 million in today’s dollars — not counting merchandise or, you know, the twenty million movie tickets that had been sold for the Purple Rain film over the prior year, or the actual Purple Rain album, which had already sold over 9 million copies just in the United States on its way to eventually selling over 25 million around the world.

    The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund Livestream

    (Image by Thomas de Bruin from

    There are so many more huge numbers associated with the Purple Rain tour: There were 40,000 people in the crowd in Syracuse! The crew consisted of 105 people who traveled on twelve buses! But at its heart, this was a Prince show, and so ultimately it was still all about the music.

    The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund Livestream

    Prince's handwritten greeting from the Purple Rain tour book.

    Let’s Go Crazy

    The show starts as the album starts as the movie starts: With the inimitable organ chords that kick of Prince's sermon to open "Let's Go Crazy". As those chords begin, we see writing scrawled across the screen:

    The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund Livestream

    It's Prince's handwriting. Though we've seen that his script was as elegant, loopy and sensuous as the man himself, Prince would occasionally drop into his messier printed handwriting when he was going for a fun and casual vibe, as on his hand-scrawled cover art for the surprise club single of "Gett Off" that he released on his birthday in 1991.

    The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund Livestream

    But the music! This time, Prince starts "Let's Go Crazy" with, "Hello, Syracuse and the world. My name is Prince, and I have come 2 play with u." Prince gives a shout to "...and the world" here because this concert was broadcast all across the world, including a live simulcast in Germany — reflecting how he was now becoming a global superstar.

    The band rips through "Let's Go Crazy" in record time here, and we can see what a well-oiled machine the Revolution are by this point in the tour. Note how every single note and move includes full choreography for the entire band. This was a technique Prince had drilled into all his bands, including side projects like The Time. It's almost impossible to overstate the difficulty of pulling off complex choreography while singing and playing instruments at a level worthy of Prince's famous perfectionism.

    Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin summarized it in Rolling Stone's oral history of the Purple Rain tour:

    I had boots on, tons of jewelry, and my instrument and I had to sing and  do choreography. It was literally the Olympics. We were like  synchronized swimmers. If someone screwed up that thing, there’s not  even a bronze medal. You’re just off the team. This was high stakes.
    The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund Livestream

    Finally, we come to Prince's scorching final guitar coda to "Let's Go Crazy" where he brings out his entire palette of Guitar Face expressions, from playful smirk to full Mustachioed Telecaster Orgasm. That final look may have been one of the inspirations for the creepy faces that Billy Crystal made in his impersonation of Prince that aired as the cold open for Saturday Night Live the same night as this concert. Riffing on Prince's decision to decline participating in the recording of "We Are The World" (then the number one song in the country), Crystal donned blackface, a not-infrequent trope in his career, and inflicted a cringe-inducing Prince parody on the world, complete with Julia-Louis Dreyfuss as The Revolution's Lisa Coleman. But I digress.


    The fiery finale to "Let's Go Crazy" leads with almost no break straight into "Delirious'. Though it gets overlooked in many later overviews of Prince's career, "Delirious" was a huge early hit for Prince during the 1999 era, bolstered by the fact that it was released as a single on the exact same day that Eddie Murphy's "Delirious" special debuted on HBO. Two of the biggest, and most culturally defining, artists of the 80s found a perfect synchronicity in their work despite there being, to my knowledge, no coordination between the two on the releases even though they were fans of each other's work.

    As we start the song, Prince tears his shirt open wide and unapologetically swivels his hips, instantly upgrading the world from using Elvis as the reference for how to drive a crowd into a sexual frenzy based on a classic rockabilly groove. The somewhat odd early-80s resurgence of rockabilly was a repeated inspiration for Prince in this era, as on 1981's "Jack U Off" (off of Controversy), and "Horny Toad", which was the b-side to the "Delirious" single.

    This arrangement of "Delirious" also shows how "Let's Go Crazy" had sections that evolved from earlier jams on "Delirious", including a surprising dissonant middle section that would eventually see release on the 12" extended version of "Let's Crazy", but that fits seamlessly into either song in a live context.

    Isolated drum machine, vocals and piano of "Let's Go Crazy" extended breakdown

    When Prince calls out "somebody call me a doctor!" as the song becomes a jam, it's a reference to keyboardist Matt Fink's stage name of "Dr. Fink", and here Fink ably takes over keyboard duties on the standout piano riff for the jazzy musical breakdown in the song.

    Prince's theatrics in the middle of the song feature a gag he'd use often on televised performances, speaking off-mic to the crowd (often with messages that were a little too risqué to say on broadcast), which increased the intimacy of the show for those present, and helped reinforce to the audience at home that no recording or simulcast could ever compare to an actual live Prince show.


    The single most iconic keyboard line of Prince's career brings a roar from the crowd: It's 1999! Donning a newly-shiny version of his signature purple trenchcoat, a fixture of the then-culturally-dominant MTV, Prince begins by sliding down a fireman's pole and the Revolution rips through a largely-faithful rendition of the hit. The Revolution's choreography here is even more athletic than the version they'd used on the 1999 tour just two years earlier.

    As the song breaks down into its jam section, take a moment to look back at Bobby Z (born Robert Rivkin) on the drums — he's often on his feet. Prince's intense focus on wanting to put on an extremely dynamic stage show had his drummer playing standing up so that he could do more dancing. (This was taking advantage of the fact that many foundational rhythms were played by the then-new technology of the drum machine in order to keep the rhythm going.)

    The breakdown section of 1999 here includes a bit of "Reveille" played on a synthesizer that sounds like a tinny trumpet. It's an odd refrain and perhaps something of a nod to the weirdly Americana-focused tropes that Prince played with at the time (most notably in "America" off of Around The World In A Day, released a short time later in 1985). But "Reveille" itself reappeared in Prince's work several times over the years, almost always played with that same weird synthesized trumpet, as on "Chaos and Disorder", the title track from one of his 1996 releases, and "Man In a Uniform", from 1998's The Truth. It's probaby one of the least likely (and most obscure) repeated motifs in Prince's music over the years.

    Little Red Corvette

    A little fist pumping and guitar wankery, and we're on to Little Red Corvette, following "1999" in sequence just as it does on the album of the same name. It's hard to overstate what a sonic and cultural breakthrough this song had been for Prince, and worth remembering how fresh that would have been in everyone's mind during this show, just two years after the song had come out as a single.

    The staging here again almost exactly mirrors the familiar music video, from lighting to the band's positions on the stage to even many of the smallest steps of Prince's choreography. Though the performance is undeniably charismatic (Prince's cute little breakdance move elicits screams as if it were his own moonwalk), it's easy to see why Prince would later characterize this tour as a bit too locked-down in format, not leaving much room for improvisation. This is an artist, after all, who would later do entire tours where he never played the same setlist twice, and even lengthy runs of shows where no individual songs were repeated.

    Take Me With U

    The Revolution has often said that "Take Me With U" was one of their favorite songs to play live on this tour, because it was a chance to turn up the house lights on the crowd and start a singalong, as the band does here. But almost as quickly as a groove gets going, Prince shows off his control of the band with an indulgent faux-nap in the middle of the song. It's a playful bit, but also seems to indicate just how much Prince had begun to focus on having fun with his role as a bandleader as opposed to the instrumental virtuosity he'd show off on other tours.

    Fortunately, the Revolution came to groove on the song, and they funk it up in a way that the album version's string-laden romance had never even hinted at. Prince hypes up the crowd and coaxes as much of a funky roar as one can get out of central new York. This version of "Take Me With U" is fun, and the crowd work is terrific, but the best live recording of the song from this tour was turned into its actual music video.

    As I'd said in Every Single Video Prince Ever Made,

    Another scorching live performance, Take Me With U finds Prince and  the Revolution at the height of their fame, during the Purple Rain tour,  when they broke records selling out every seat in The Summit in Houston  5 times in one week.
    In lieu of Apollonia's duet vocals as on the recorded song, the song  becomes a rocking jam session with Prince's searing guitar solo  rocketing into another gear with an interpolation of his own  "Controversy" at the 3-minute mark. Add in some weird but fun special  effects that make you feel like you're flying through the air while  Prince shreds on his guitar, and it's hard not to love this one.

    After this, it's finally time to slow things down a bit. And it's worth remembering — at this point we're more than 23 minutes into the show and every single song played has been a Top 10 pop hit. The sheer depth of Prince's catalog of hits is really overwhelming in a concert context.


    Prince brings back his weird nods to Americana with a synth-driven version of "Yankee Doodle", featuring synth textures that deeply evoke the sound of the Around The World in a Day album which would be released just a few weeks later. All this crypto-jingoism acts as something of a reminder that this is a tour which began the same week that Ronald Reagan was re-elected.

    We also see Prince and Wendy moving offstage to watch a laser light show, a move which seems to presage the central conceit of his 1987 Sign O' The Times tour, in which Prince and dancer Cat Glover repeatedly focus on watching a "crystal ball" (the plasma globe lights which were popular in the 80s). In retrospect, there's an odd aspect of straightwashing to Prince and Wendy's interactions here, but the digression passses quickly enough.

    Prince's monologue here would later become more obvious as a way of testing out lyrics and song concepts in front of a live crowd, and many were ideas that when fully fleshed-out on record were pretty exciting. But as spoken dialogue in front of a crowd of tens of thousands, the effect wasn't as compelling as Prince's stage shows would become in the years to follow.

    Do Me, Baby

    As we begin the first ballad of the show, we also hear the first non-single and the first track dating back to before Prince's pop breakout with 1999. Basically, this is a nod to fans who knew Prince before he crossed over to white audiences. The performance is srtong, but notably short, especially in comparison to how he'd stretch out with this song (and his other seduction ballads that followed) in concert.

    Irresistible Bitch

    At this point, we're fully into the part of the setlist that's clearly about Prince's tastes. This was the b-side to Let's Pretend We're Married, the least successful single off of 1999, and even the a-side was barely played on any radio stations. It's funky as hell, and the Revolution is in great form here, especially with Wendy Melvoin's work on rhythm guitar, but fully 39,000 people in this crowd had to have just been waiting for Prince to shake his ass at them.

    Which, fortunately, he does.


    This is a pure band workout. Prince is fully asking the Revolution to fill in as his erstwhile JBs while he does his best James Brown. Running through perfect "stop on the one!" vamps gives Prince the chance to do his splits, mic stand tricks, and every other move he's got. After 90+ shows on the tour, Prince was also relishing his ability to give the subtlest of cues to the band and get an incredible response.

    As Bobby Z says in that Rolling Stone history of the tour,

    At our Syracuse show, he called out “sway from side to side,” and the  entire Revolution moved like a piston in an engine back and forth.

    We also see our first real appearance of Eddie M., who had been Sheila E's saxophonist in her opening act set earlier in the evening, but is now playing the part of Maceo Parker to Prince's James Brown.

    And then to finish the song off with a bang, Prince cues the Revolution to play 25 hits — and they nail the count perfectly.

    How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore

    This is another song that would have been an incredible challenge for the audience at the time. Though it's a stone-cold classic now, it's worth remembering that this song was the b-side to 1999, meaning fans would have had to have bought the single of the song on a 45 or cassette in order to even know it. But it's no surprise why the song has become one of Prince's best-loved songs, it's an extraordinary bit of songcraft, and Prince alone on the piano onstage shows us why.

    If you've ever heard the song before, do yourself a favor and take a moment to hear this alternate take of the song, released for the first time recently as part of the Deluxe Edition re-release of 1999.

    Even though much of the crowd may not have known the song, Prince's performance is spellbinding, especially as he becomes the first male pop star to ever ask a crowd of tens of thousands to appreciate his lace-clad ass while cooing at them in a piercing falsetto.

    The length with which Prince extends some of these vignettes onstage (along with his earlier spoken asides) seems in retrospect to indicate that he was using these unstructured parts of the concert to express himself as the rest of the setlist and performances became bound by much more rote choreography. No surprise, then, that the song ends with Prince talking about "Temptation" — a standout track from the Around the World In a Day album that would be released just a few weeks later, and which clearly had already captured Prince's attention.

    Let's Pretend We're Married

    International Lover


    Computer Blue

    Darling Nikki

    The Beautiful Ones

    When Doves Cry

    I Would Die 4 U

    Baby I'm A Star

    Purple Rain

  • feedwordpress 03:34:42 on 2020/05/07 Permalink  

    When Every App Crashes 

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    When Every App Crashes

    Today, for about half an hour in the afternoon, pretty much every app that you might try on your iPhone would likely have crashed upon opening it. It's probably worth understanding why, but more importantly, worth understanding what that reality means. And here, I'm addressing people who aren't coders, aren't engineers, aren't programmers — just regular users of apps.

    The flagship mobile apps from Google, Spotify, Apple, NYT, Venmo, Walmart and many other huge companies all broke for about 30 minutes. A simple explanation of the cause is pretty brief: they all use code from Facebook, so when that broke, they all started crashing.

    But let's take a deeper look. First, a little context: one surprising thing about programmers is they all regularly, routinely make use of code written by strangers on the internet, often even code written by people who work at competitors. This is the magic of “open source” and it’s kind of amazing. But there’s also a way that companies try to use open source to extend their influence or dominance in the market. In this case, Facebook absolutely wants every app on the internet to use Facebook for login, since that will make both the other companies & their users dependent on Facebook.

    For apps, or more specifically for the companies that create popular apps, using Facebook login is appealing — users already have an account. Easy! And Facebook made it even easier to take advantage of their billions of logged-in users by writing the code for you if you’re a programmer who wants that feature. You can just go get it for free, and plug it into your app pretty quickly and simply. The tricky part, though is that now your app is dependent on that code from Facebook. You have to trust that it works the way they say it will, or you have to read all the code and fully understand it. (That’s almost as much work as just writing the code yourself.)

    So, understandably, everybody just plugs in the Facebook code (often called a “library” or more formally, a Software Development Kit, “SDK”) and focuses on the more important features of their app. But while lots of open source code libraries that you might use just perform a certain function in your app, like displaying a picture or formatting some data, this Facebook code also relies on a service on Facebook’s site running properly, too.

    Today, that service got broken.

    The result of Facebook's breakdown today is kinda wild: a minor configuration change on a Facebook server that isn’t even visible to regular users made dozens of high-profile apps from some of the biggest companies in the world all start crashing when you open them — even if you weren’t using Facebook at all.

    Status: It's Complicated

    Done right, open source is magic. It gives coders super powers to build things they could never do alone. But it can also be a strategy that makes huge parts of our online experience dependent on a few companies, and vulnerable to their choices. The failure that millions of people experience today was just (“just”) some apps crashing for a little while. A few weeks ago, it was Zoom using a Facebook library that sent data in ways they didn’t disclose. We don’t have a cultural fluency in how to talk about the interconnectedness of all the tech around us.

    These issues matter a lot. Our kids are now spending all day connected to apps that use this code. We’ll need to have trusted apps for COVID tracing that don’t have these issues — but even if they are done right, many won’t trust them because they’ve learned to be skeptical.

    Simply put, we have to demand of our technology what we have of our food, clothing, medicine and other essential needs: visibility into how they’re supplied & sourced, understanding the workers & working conditions that shape them, and accountability when the system has failures. When the supply chain for Tylenol was vulnerable, the manufacturer addressed the issue directly. When consumers wanted to know their tuna was dolphin-safe, companies responded.

    That raises a few key questions: Who makes your apps? Where are they sourced? Which apps do you use that were made by people you trust?

    Needless to say, we think about this a lot at Glitch. Every one of the millions of apps on Glitch was made by a real, regular person. The overwhelming majority have their code clearly visible, and all can be traced to the source project they were remixed from. You can even inspect the history of what was added to the code by remixing an app yourself. And of course the creators are visible right where you see the app — you know everyone who helped make it.

    This is an architecture of accountability. It's just one part of a broader ecosystem where millions of creative people around the world are making a more person, more human internet. (In a tech context, we'd call it a "Yes Code" approach.) While I'm understandably proud of Glitch's role in this kind of work, it's going to take everyone making steps toward a world of accountable tech for us to really see wins here. I hope we can teach enough people about these ideas in order to make this a movement that becomes as inevitable as the similar pushes for accountability in other parts of our daily lives.

    virtual exhibition 004 by Naoto Hieda

  • feedwordpress 02:42:00 on 2020/04/22 Permalink  

    Questlove’s Prince Tribute 

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    Questlove's Prince Tribute

    There could be no more fitting remembrance of Prince than Questlove going deep into his catalog and spinning some of Prince's greatest works into a multi-hour DJ set. Unless Quest did that five nights in a row. Which he did! It was an absolutely monumental marathon of nightly live streams for the better part of a week, often ending in the wee hours of the morning.

    So, Miss TLC and I felt obligated to do justice to that herculean effort by documenting the sets as they happened, adding live liner notes covering everything from the song titles (responding to the incessant queries of "what song is this?" in the Instagram comments) to never-before-known bits of trivia shared by some of Prince's collaborators who dropped in to witness these already-legendary sets.

    I hope you'll take a moment to read our notes, to listen to Quest's sets as you're able, and to remember one of the bravest and most inspiring artists we've ever gotten to enjoy. And if the spirit moves you to explore Prince's catalog for yourself, here are a few great places to start, along with every single video Prince ever made.

    Oh, and if you're a geek? I wrote up a whole article on how I made the app to do all these live liner notes — in the 20 minutes before Quest started his set. Please do give it a look!

  • feedwordpress 09:59:00 on 2020/03/11 Permalink  

    My thinking on Covid-19 

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    (Warning: this will be upsetting; you will not want to read this if you are already stressed.)

    First, a disclaimer — I'm far from an expert, have no special knowledge, and only know the same things as everyone else reading the news. But I have to plan ahead and am decent at extrapolating from human nature, and try to anticipate problems. So this is the situation I am trying to plan for, in the U.S.

    It will be like 500 9/11s.

    This thing will be far worse than most people think. A few examples of what that means:

    • Over a million dead in the U.S. by July 4.
    • Every American will know someone who dies in the next three months, with the death rate rising to double baseline mortality by May, and possibly higher.
    • Entire swaths of the economy — hospitality, restaurants, education — will change as profoundly as air travel did post-9/11.
    • The most likely historical antecedents point to martial law in many places, and the possible complete suspension of the election and partial or total inoperation of major civil society institutions.
    • Every single person will be in a state of PTSD or trauma, except a few people who didn’t lose anyone, and the omnipresent friction of these states will leave everyone on edge.
    • Those who are ill from other causes will be deprioritized, leaving lingering or even chronic and life-threatening conditions for millions.
    • Those pushed into extreme duress by the denial of healthcare services to their loved ones or themselves will increasingly resort to violence.
    • Part of what will drive desperation will be the way that those who lose a loved one will have to witness it; they will be denied healthcare that is available but being triaged to others in front of them.
    • Misinformation and rumors will accelerate as institutions are weakened, and violence, bias and exclusion will ramp up greatly. Existing social schisms will deepen even as people forge survivor bonds across conventional social barriers.
    • We have no cure and no vaccine and do not know when or if we will, and do not know if we can be reinfected by the virus, especially as it already has at least two strains.
    • Our models of risk management are based on things like natural disasters, where even those displaced or those forced to be refugees can usually eventually reach a state of disengagement from the immediate threat. There will not be a place to disengage from this threat. The hopelessness of knowing there is no respite will overwhelm many.
    • While this is going on, we will still have ordinary natural disasters and climate change impacts that continue and demand lifesaving resources that will have been depleted.
    • Healthcare workers will be beyond exhausted and traumatized, and there is no way to know how long they’ll be needed to perform at unsustainable levels.

    Even ordinary, healthy, resilient people will struggle with this combination. Anyone who is more vulnerable in any way will be pushed to their breaking point.

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