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Links: May 2016

A Final Visit With Prince: Rolling Stone’s Lost Cover Story

“All of us need to be able to reach out and just fix stuff. There’s nothing that’s unforgivable.”

The Contributions of Others: A Session with Jeremy Keith

“I’ve found that on the web, it’s best to assume nothing. That might sound like a scary prospect, but it’s actually quite liberating. Giving up on “pixel-perfect” control doesn’t mean giving up on quality. Quite the opposite: it means treating the web for what it is, not what we wish it were.”

How a Son Survived Being Injected with HIV by His Father

He also insists that GQ publish “the related scientific facts by experts at both the Perth Group and” The former is an Australian organization that believes the existence of HIV to be unproven. The latter is a website that “raises questions about the accuracy of HIV tests.” It was founded by AIDS denialist Christine Maggiore, who died in 2008 of an AIDS-related illness, and whose daughter died at age 3, also of complications from AIDS.

Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump And Clinton Is Record-Breaking

This isn’t about partisan polarization, but it does seem to reflect our growing tendency toward knee-jerk opinions.

Apple’s actual role in podcasting: be careful what you wish for

What these podcasters are asking for is the same tool web publishers have used and abused to death over the last decade to systematically ruin web content nearly everywhere:

“More data.”

The Ted Cruz Who Flamed Out as a Presidential Candidate Was the Ted Cruz I Debated in College

I miss the old Ted Cruz. The one who argued cases I may have hated, but did so civilly and brilliantly in the only setting commensurate with his particular set of skills. It wasn’t on the presidential debate stage. And it wasn’t in the final rounds of college debate tournaments. It was in the stagey, highly scripted national theater of the U.S. Supreme Court, where politeness and humility are still the coins of the realm; where you can’t win by answering questions that weren’t asked; and where facts matter, even if you want to pretend them away.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Learn about the misinformation hives known as “crisis pregnancy centers” with Samantha Bee and Patton Oswalt.

HTML Elements Index, CSS Properties Index

If you make websites, Jens Oliver Meiert’s indices of HTML elements and CSS properties are super handy.

Three Years in San Francisco

Lots of great takeaways from Mike Davidson’s ruminations on his time leading design at Twitter.

The tendency to falsely correlate how much you like and respect someone with how effective they actually are at their job. Unless someone points me to what this is called, I will just coin it “Affective-Effective Bias”. Over the years, I have realized that I am 1000% guilty of this. Life is too short to work with assholes, and if you are an asshole, my brain will concoct all sorts of reasons you are probably not the best person for the job. Conversely, if you are kind-hearted and emotionally intelligent, I will go out of my way to help you succeed in almost any situation. This is a weird bias in that I recognize its potentially negative effects, but my world-view is aligned with it so that’s how I roll.

In other words, most of the best ideas sounded stupid at one time, and if a good idea doesn’t sound stupid, many companies are probably already working on it. This diagram is why you probably find almost every startup idea you hear about to sound ridiculous.

I like criticizing ideas on the internet as much as the next person, but the next time you hear yourself doing this, ask yourself if you are just expressing conventional wisdom. If you are, congratulations, you are probably going to end up being “right”. But you are also not really saying anything the average human being isn’t already thinking. The Bay Area is a great place to work in that it’s a collection of people who don’t mind looking silly for awhile in pursuit of something insanely great. Most end up failing, but that is both predictable and perfectly ok. What’s less encouraging is the over-investment in “solution in search of a problem” services or things that make rich people’s lives even easier — like this fucking $700 juicer, for instance — but that’s another story.

In my mind, there are five stages towards understanding diversity, inclusion, and privilege: ignorance, denial, acceptance, caring, and action. I encountered people all along this spectrum, and in fact, when I got to Twitter, I would probably put myself at the first stage. The first time someone referred to me as “privileged”, I felt a bit defensive, as although I grew up an upper middle class white male, I never asked for any sort of leg-up. I think this is an important detail when we talk about how to level the playing field in the workplace: it’s not about scolding people for privilege. It’s about teaching them the compounding effects of it, and getting them to want to actively change the way the world works. In other words, until we know otherwise, we should assume ignorance and shape our approach accordingly.

The Four Signature Moments of the Prince–Michael Jackson Rivalry

If ’80s pop can be likened to high school, Michael Jackson was the prom king who matures into a disappointing adult, whereas Prince was the quirky outcast who blossoms into an impossibly cool grown-up.

In retrospect, backing out of recording “We Are the World,” a maudlin exercise in instantly dated limousine liberalism, seems like a wise decision.

How Typography Can Save Your Life

The latest from Lena Groeger’s excellent Visual Evidence column explains typography’s importance beyond aesthetics.

I believe Dylan Farrow

So, Woody Allen has gone, in my mind, from “One of the great American filmmakers” to “One of the great American filmmakers, and probably a child molester.”

It’s a different lens through which to view a director’s work, that’s for sure.

But I didn’t do that to Woody Allen. He did it to himself.

I adopted a cool-headed (I hope) view of Norman Mailer. I did it with Mike Tyson, one of the great American boxers and also a convicted rapist and serial batterer and one-time mugger. I could do it with Paul Gauguin and Tupac Shakur and many other great artists whose private lives were filled with events and choices that would make us not want to be around them if they weren’t great artists—if they were just people who happened to live on our block.

I’ll find a way to do this with Woody Allen’s work, too.

Glenn Danzig Reunites With the Misfits

I’ve often wondered if I’d bite if this ever happened. Now I have my answer. See you soon, Chicago.

White Lung: I Beg You

Starting to think White Lung’s Kenneth William is his generation’s Johnny Marr. Such an inventive guitarist.

Rembert Explains the ’80s: The 1985 American Music Awards

1985, home of the American Music Award for “Favorite Black Single,” announced by the whitest folks they could find.

Social Network Algorithms Are Distorting Reality By Boosting Conspiracy Theories

Interesting read on how the design of social media platforms is inadvertently proliferating the lunatic fringe.

You might ask: Isn’t this simply an artifact of reality, reflected online? Maybe all of us simply weren’t exposed to this “other” world and are simply coming into contact with it thanks to the Internet?

That is one possibility. But the Internet doesn’t just reflect reality anymore; it shapes it. The mere fact of these theories being online and discoverable helps create this phenomenon.

The problem is that social-web activity is notorious for an asymmetry of passion. On many issues, the most active social media voices are the conspiracist fringe.

There are plenty of explanations about why conspiracy theories exist. These range from a decreasing amount of trust in leaders and institutions to proportionality bias (a belief that big events must have big causes) to projection and more. The most predominant factor—confirmation bias, the tendency to use information to confirm what you already believe—is in many ways made worse, not better, in a world where more, not less, information is available, thanks to Google and the Internet.

Their product design is having a dramatic impact on public policy, and the effects are only going to get stronger. What responsibility do the designers of those products have to civil discourse?

The primary concern is that turning companies into arbiters of truth is a slippery slope, particularly where politically rooted conspiracies are concerned.

How Air Jordan Became Crying Jordan

Of his fierce competitiveness, Jordan told Thompson, “It’s consumed me so much. … I’m my own worst enemy. I drove myself so much that I’m still living with some of those drives.” This Jordan was almost a tragic figure, and it helps explain the Crying Jordan meme: if you can’t win anymore, you can only lose.

“I think eventually people are going to recognize the crying Jordan face more than his actual legacy,” a real twenty-four-year-old person told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. Please, put a Crying Jordan face on that millennial. And then put one on me, and on everyone else.

This Is What a Republican Attack on Bernie Sanders Would Look Like

The most salient point about Sanders’s electability: his vulnerability to attack is still untested.

A source close to the Clinton campaign tells me that because Sanders has high favorability numbers with Democrats, Clinton would have damaged herself by attacking him, especially since she didn’t have to in order to win. The source points to the New York primary as confirmation of this view, arguing that Sanders hurt himself by going negative on his opponent.

The right, meanwhile, had no incentive to rough up Sanders, a candidate who, by all accounts, Republicans would love to run against in the fall. And the mainstream media often failed to treat Sanders as a plausible contender, which would have entailed a much greater degree of scrutiny than he received. As a result, issues that, fairly or not, would be obsessively scrutinized in a general election have gone almost entirely unexamined.

America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny

A must-read.

Part of American democracy’s stability is owed to the fact that the Founding Fathers had read their Plato. To guard our democracy from the tyranny of the majority and the passions of the mob, they constructed large, hefty barriers between the popular will and the exercise of power. Voting rights were tightly circumscribed. The president and vice-president were not to be popularly elected but selected by an Electoral College, whose representatives were selected by the various states, often through state legislatures. The Senate’s structure (with two members from every state) was designed to temper the power of the more populous states, and its term of office (six years, compared with two for the House) was designed to cool and restrain temporary populist passions. The Supreme Court, picked by the president and confirmed by the Senate, was the final bulwark against any democratic furies that might percolate up from the House and threaten the Constitution. This separation of powers was designed precisely to create sturdy firewalls against democratic wildfires.

But the past few presidential elections have demonstrated that, in fact, money from the ultrarich has been mostly a dud. Barack Obama, whose 2008 campaign was propelled by small donors and empowered by the internet, blazed the trail of the modern-day insurrectionist, defeating the prohibitive favorite in the Democratic primary and later his Republican opponent (both pillars of their parties’ Establishments and backed by moneyed elites). In 2012, the fund-raising power behind Mitt Romney — avatar of the one percent — failed to dislodge Obama from office. And in this presidential cycle, the breakout candidates of both parties have soared without financial support from the elites. Sanders, who is sustaining his campaign all the way to California on the backs of small donors and large crowds, is, to put it bluntly, a walking refutation of his own argument. Trump, of course, is a largely self-funding billionaire — but like Willkie, he argues that his wealth uniquely enables him to resist the influence of the rich and their lobbyists. Those despairing over the influence of Big Money in American politics must also explain the swift, humiliating demise of Jeb Bush and the struggling Establishment campaign of Hillary Clinton. The evidence suggests that direct democracy, far from being throttled, is actually intensifying its grip on American politics.

And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic.

In 2008, Sarah Palin emerged as proof that an ardent Republican, branded as an outsider, tailor-made for reality TV, proud of her own ignorance about the world, and reaching an audience directly through online media, could also triumph in this new era. She was, it turned out, a John the Baptist for the true messiah of conservative populism, waiting patiently and strategically for his time to come.

And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain — and has actually helped exacerbate.

For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.

To call this fascism doesn’t do justice to fascism. Fascism had, in some measure, an ideology and occasional coherence that Trump utterly lacks.

Just as the English Civil War ended with a dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell, and the French Revolution gave us Napoleon Bonaparte, and the unstable chaos of Russian democracy yielded to Vladimir Putin, and the most recent burst of Egyptian democracy set the conditions for General el-Sisi’s coup, so our paralyzed, emotional hyperdemocracy leads the stumbling, frustrated, angry voter toward the chimerical panacea of Trump.

Once again, Plato had his temperament down: A tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning,” a man who “throughout his entire life … is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains.”

And if Trump’s policies are checked by other branches of government, how might he react? Just look at his response to the rules of the GOP nomination process. He’s not interested in rules.

The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.

It seems shocking to argue that we need elites in this democratic age — especially with vast inequalities of wealth and elite failures all around us. But we need them precisely to protect this precious democracy from its own destabilizing excesses.

In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.

The science of fear: Why do I like being scared?

“To really enjoy a scary situation, we have to know we’re in a safe environment,” Kerr told The Atlantic. “It’s all about triggering the amazing fight-or-flight response to experience the flood of adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine, but in a completely safe space.” Kerr sees this all the time when she works with haunted houses. Folks leap into the air in shock and fear at a well-timed scare but then burst into laughter at their own reaction. They know for certain that the monsters they’re facing aren’t real, so they can enjoy the rush. That jolt of fear that happens before the conscious brain catches up is real as can be, but then we can put it aside right away — we get the best of both worlds.

So why doesn’t everyone enjoy a good scare? According to a study led by Vanderbilt University’s David H. Zald, my desire to poke at my childhood fears could come down to a slight difference in the way my brain works. In addition to adrenaline, fear releases a hormone called dopamine that’s also associated with pleasure. Dopamine is a neurological “reward’ that’s important in conditioning responses to certain stimuli, so it may be what helps us produce consistent fight-or-flight responses to things we “know” we should be afraid of. It tells us that we need to sit up and pay attention to something. And it’s kind of addicting.

Behold, the Space-Age Stiletto

Heels are both a claim of femininity and a test of it. They are the bindings of the willfully bound.

Heels have emerged from roughly the same impulse that led to cathedrals and skyscrapers and, yes, rockets: our desire to be taller, and grander, and generally more than we once were.

The Heel Advice Industrial Complex—a collective composed mostly of women generously helping each other, but more broadly of people trying to make a side-door profit from the large and steadily expanding U.S. shoe industry—owes its size, and its longevity, to the fact that none of its tips have thus far succeeded in keeping their own promise: that heels can function, effectively, as footwear.

Women wear heels, in part, to reap the benefits of their ability to lengthen the leg and firm the calves and protrude the pelvis and affect the walk in Darwinianly dutiful ways.

It gets tricky with shoes, especially flats, which for many women are a casual Friday mainstay. I’ve interviewed countless women CEOs, founders, and top-level execs over the years—not a single one in flats, which exude a kind of demure good-girl quality that rarely telegraphs power. If you’re ambitious, with your eyes steadily fixed on a corner office, you’d do well to save them for weekends and stick with pumps or kitten heels.

high heels’ professional paradox: the fact that the default footwear of corporate conformity is so stridently suggestive of sex.

That tension—women, dressed down for the crime of dressing up—is on the one hand simply another aspect of the broader catch-22 that any members of a media-driven society must navigate every day: Look good, but don’t you dare be caught trying too hard to look good.

Heels’ current desirability is the result of various cultural tautologies: They are attractive, basically, because we have told ourselves that they are. They are professional, basically, because we have decided that they are. They are what they are because of what we, all of us, are.

It’s a moment that is unsure, basically, whether feminine footwear that evokes the swollen butts of baboons celebrates, in the end, empowerment or submission.

Christian Louboutin, the moment’s reigning heel-maker, recently declared, without any apparent irony: “The core of my work is dedicated not to pleasing women but to pleasing men.”

Here was Cinderella’s glass slipper, tiny and magical and impossible, rendered as sartorial expectation. Here was a design that was decently well suited for wear upon the carpets and linoleums and constraints of the home; here was a design that, tellingly, was not well suited for navigating the world beyond.

How We Built the New ProPublica Mobile Apps

Should Women Be Able to Abort a Fetus Just Because It’s Female?

Should women be able to vote? Should women be able to speak? Should women be able to breathe? Conundrums.

Machine Bias

Lest we forget, algorithms reflect human biases. This one wrongly predicts higher recidivism risk for black people.

Men Are Sabotaging The Online Reviews Of TV Shows Aimed At Women

When you rely on the wisdom of the crowd on the internet, you risk relying on the opinion of mostly men.

These Americans are preparing for battle…against their own government

Soper kept typing, warning that the government had lost “common sense.”

Killing Dylann Roof

If the families of Roof’s victims can find the grace of forgiveness within themselves; if the president can praise them for it; if the public can be awed by it—then why can’t the Department of Justice act in the spirit of that grace and resist the impulse to kill?

Moreover, killing Roof does absolutely nothing to ameliorate the conditions that brought him into being in the first place. The hammer of criminal justice is the preferred tool of a society that has run out of ideas.