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Links: October 2017

Hello, dear reader!

October is gone, but its links remain.

For my part, I wrote a bit about my first ten years on Twitter, dusted off the ol’ dream journal, and published the full calendar for Robtober, my annual horror movie binge. I also wrote a bit about each of the 31 movies included in Robtober this year. They’ll all be collected on my site later, but for now they’re available on Letterboxd.

With Robtober keeping me pretty busy, I expected to have less to share than usual this month, but apparently my appetite for lengthy analyses of our nation’s disintegration was undiminished. As always, if you want to keep up with these links in real time, follow me on Twitter.

Why Trump Humiliated His Own Secretary of State

For Trump, being president is less about enacting policies than staging scenes. And his favorite scene involves an inhuman villain, a feckless wimp, and an old-fashioned tough guy who saves the day. Characters one and two change depending on the subject. Character number three is always him.

RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War

“The Russians aren’t just pumping up the right wing in America,” Kelly said. “They’re also pumping up left-wing stuff — they’re basically trying to pump up the fringe at the expense of the middle.”

Evolving the Dropbox Brand

This is some handsome work. Congrats to all involved!

Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech

There are lots of opportunities for tech to do more good and less harm, and Sara Wachter-Boettcher is on the case.

Look Out, America: The Jesus Lizard Is Back

Prrreeeeeetty excited about this.

In Denmark, Lego House Is the New Kid on the Block

I want to go to there.

I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.

Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.

We save lives by focusing on a range of tactics to protect the different kinds of potential victims and reforming potential killers, not from sweeping bans focused on the guns themselves.

One Last Away Message

Email clients and other digital products have come and gone, but I used AIM daily for nearly 20 years. That’s a hell of a thing.

Here’s How Breitbart And Milo Smuggled Nazi and White Nationalist Ideas Into The Mainstream

“Protip on handling the endless tide of 1488 scum,” Curtis Yarvin, the neoreactionary thinker, wrote to Yiannopoulos in November 2015. (“1488” is a ubiquitous white supremacist slogan; “88” stands for “Heil Hitler.”) “Deal with them the way some perfectly tailored high-communist NYT reporter handles a herd of greasy anarchist hippies. Patronizing contempt. Your heart is in the right place, young lady, now get a shower and shave those pits. The liberal doesn’t purge the communist because he hates communism, he purges the communist because the communist is a public embarrassment to him. … It’s not that he sees enemies to the left, just that he sees losers to the left, and losers rub off.”

“Thanks re 1488,” Yiannopoulos responded. “I have been struggling with this. I need to stay, if not clean, then clean enough.”

He had help staying clean. It came in the form of a media relations apparatus that issued immediate and vehement threats of legal action against outlets that described Yiannopoulos as a racist or a white nationalist.

Any successful media executive produces content to expand audience size. The Breitbart alt-right machine, embodied by Milo Yiannopoulos, may read most clearly in this context. It was a brilliant audience expansion machine, financed by billionaires, designed to draw in people disgusted by some combination of identity politics, Muslim and Hispanic immigration, and the idea of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the White House. And if expanding that audience meant involving white nationalists and neo-Nazis, their participation could always be laundered to hide their contributions.

The Media Needs To Stop Rationalizing President Trump’s Behavior

But at many other times, journalists come up with overly convoluted explanations for Trump’s behavior (“This seemingly self-destructive emotional outburst is actually a clever political strategy!”) when simpler ones will suffice (“This is a self-destructive emotional outburst.”). In doing so, they violate both Ockham’s razor and Hanlon’s razor — the latter of which can be stated as “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Thanks for Making – Episode 5

I can now confirm that getting a nod from Thanks for Making is a really great way to start your day. Thanks, Cameron!

Emma Thompson: Harvey Weinstein ‘top of harassment ladder’

“What we need to start talking about is the crisis in masculinity.”

Pornhub, the World’s Biggest Adult Site, Gives Blind Users an Upgrade

Pornhub embracing accessibility matters more than you might think, and not just because of the titillating content. According to analytics service Alexa, Pornhub is the 38th largest site on the internet. More people visit it on a daily basis than do Ebay, or Imgur, or Wordpress. When web properties of that size act, it has an immediate, tangible impact for millions of people.

Death at a Penn State Fraternity

And with each new death, the various stakeholders perform in ways that are so ritualized, it’s almost as though they are completing the second half of the same hazing rite that killed the boy.

Another piece of ongoing Penn State litigation involves a student at the Altoona campus named Marquise Braham, who pledged Phi Sigma Kappa as a freshman in 2013. His parents’ civil suit describes what he experienced:

Among other things, being forced to consume gross amounts of alcohol, chug bottles of Listerine, swallow live fish, fight fellow pledges; being burned with candle wax, deprived of sleep for 89 hours, locked in a room with other pledges, alcohol, and a trashcan to catch their vomit; having a gun held to his head; and being forced to kill, gut, and skin animals.

The Greek system has powerful allies at Penn State. After Tim Piazza’s death, several prominent trustees of the university vouched for fraternities, which they felt should be reformed but not hobbled. Their logic was sometimes tortured. William Oldsey told The Philadelphia Inquirer in May that the story of Tim Piazza—whose parents he pitied mightily—offered not an indictment but an endorsement of Greek life: “This is a good-enough system that it attracted a kid of the high caliber and character of Tim Piazza.”

So let us now imagine all the forces arrayed against 19-year-old Tim Piazza as he gets dressed in his jacket and tie, preparing to go to his new chapter house and accept the bid the brothers have offered him.

He is up against a university that has allowed hazing to go on for decades; a fraternity chapter that has hazed pledge classes at least twice in the previous 12 months; a set of rules that so harshly punishes hazing that the brothers will think it better to take a chance with his life than to face the consequences of having made him get drunk; and a “checking system” provided by a security firm that is, in many regards, a sham. He thinks he is going to join a club that his college endorses, and that is true. But it is also true that he is setting off to get jumped by a gang, and he won’t survive.

Birth of a White Supremacist

A few people around town had already heard the news, mostly through Facebook, and some of them were talking about Mike E. as if he had been abducted by a cult, or tied down and injected with a serum of pure hatred. Other people assumed that there must be some key biographical fact—a chemical imbalance, a history of abuse—that would neatly unlock the mystery. But Mike E.’s conversion was more quotidian than that, and therefore more unsettling; somehow, over time, he had fallen into a particularly dark rabbit hole, where some of the most disturbing and discredited ideas in modern history were repackaged as the solution to twenty-first-century malaise.

compared with terrestrial radio or network TV, the Internet offers fewer direct boundaries to push against; there are no station managers to thumb your nose at. If “Stuck in an Oven with Jews” was shocking before social media, the race to the bottom has since accelerated into free fall.

The idea of racial hierarchy seemed to hold enormous explanatory power. As a liberal, he had dealt with troubling facts—the achievement gap between black students and white students, say—by invoking the history of racial oppression, or by explaining why the data didn’t show what they appeared to show. As a Marxist, he had attributed unpleasant facts to capitalist exploitation; as a libertarian, he had blamed the state. But all those explanations were abstract at best, muddled at worst, and they required levels of context that were impossible to convey in a Facebook post. Now he was free to revert to a far simpler explanation: maybe white people had more wealth and power because white people were superior. After arguing himself out of every previous position, he had finally found the perfect ideology for an inveterate contrarian—one that presented such a basic affront to the underlying tenets of modern democracy that he would never run out of enemies.

Critics of the Mainstream Media Would Tear Down What They Can’t Replace

Take Sean Hannity, who works at the Fox News, which didn’t break the story, and beneath Rupert Murdoch, who owns all sorts of media properties that didn’t break the story. “Everybody in Hollywood knew. This wasn’t a secret,” Hannity declared. “Everybody knew apparently in the news media too, and everybody in the political world.”

Did Brit Hume know? Did Bret Baier? Did Chris Wallace?

A similar dearth of self-awareness played out at Breitbart. Its namesake founder, Andrew Breitbart, created a “Big Hollywood” vertical way back in 2009 with the explicit mission of taking down an industry he regarded as deeply corrupt and filled with bad people. It is hard to imagine a scoop that would’ve been more beloved to the Los Angeles-based company than taking down a huge producer and major Democratic donor.

Yet the publication didn’t have a clue as to the truth about Harvey Weinstein. (Its focus was … elsewhere.)

“We envision a day when CNN is no longer in business,” Boyle declared. “We envision a day when The New York Times closes its doors. I think that day is possible.”

If Matthew Boyle had gotten his way last year, Harvey Weinstein would still be a powerful Hollywood producer able to summon aspiring teen actresses to his hotel suites.

If he ever gets his way, the beneficiaries will be corrupt, powerful actors in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., Silicon Valley, and elsewhere—corrupt actors on the left and on the right—because like a petulant child throwing a tantrum with lit matches in a dry forrest, Boyle and his ilk will have destroyed that which they lack the talent to recreate.

Don’t fall for the antifa trap

You should be wary of how you’re reacting to a biased sample. News cameras are always looking for the worst, most radical people who decide to show up to a protest. But those outliers don’t offer you meaningful information about who most protesters are, what they’re protesting about, or whether they’re right.

The Danger of President Pence

Trump has recently described Pence’s record as a template for the White House’s tax plan, saying, “Indiana is a tremendous example of the prosperity that is unleashed when we cut taxes.” But, in the view of Andrew Downs, the Indiana political scientist, “the tax cuts were fairly meaningless.” Residents earning fifty thousand dollars a year received a tax cut of about $3.50 per month. Pence claimed that the cut stimulated the economy, but John Zody, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, told me, “Our per-capita income is thirty-eighth in the nation, and not climbing.” The state recently had to increase its gas tax by ten cents per gallon, to repair its crumbling infrastructure.

Tully concluded that Pence had a “fatal flaw”—he was “too political and ideological” to be a good governor. “His focus was on the next step up, not the job at hand,” Tully wrote.

In a place like Scott County, Clere said, “typically you’d have no cases, or maybe one a year.” Now they were getting up to twenty a week. The area was poor, and woefully unprepared for a health crisis. (Pence’s campaign against Planned Parenthood had contributed to the closure of five clinics in the region; none had performed abortions, but all had offered H.I.V. testing.) That same year, the state health commissioner called Indiana’s H.I.V. outbreak a public-health emergency.

“Donald Trump ran against the establishment, but there was a vacuum,” a member of the earlier transition team said. “Movement conservatives jumped in. There was strong think-tank participation from Heritage and others who saw the opportunity.”

Trump began to appoint an extraordinary number of officials with ties to the Kochs and to Pence, especially in positions that affected Koch Industries financially, such as those dealing with regulatory, environmental, and fiscal policy.

“One by one, all the things that Trump campaigned on that annoyed the Koch brothers are being thrown overboard. And one by one the Koch brothers’ priorities are moving up the list.” Trump’s populist, nationalist agenda has largely been replaced by the agenda of the corporate right.

Why Is the E.P.A. Soft on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Gets Her Way

A great case study in industry-backed deregulation and the flimsiness of the Trump administration’s ethics rules.

When she was hired by the Trump administration, she was granted the status of “administratively determined” position. It is an unusual classification that means she was not hired based on a competitive process — as civil servants are — and she was also not identified as a political appointee. There are only about a dozen such posts at the E.P.A., among the 15,800 agency employees, and the jobs are typically reserved for technical experts, not managers with the authority to give orders.

Crucially, the special status meant that Dr. Beck did not have to abide by the ethics agreement Mr. Trump adopted in January, which bars political appointees in his administration from participating for two years “in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”

Her written offer of employment, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, also made it clear that Dr. Beck’s appointment was junior enough not to require Senate confirmation, which would have almost certainly delayed her arrival at the agency and prevented her from making changes to the rules ahead of the June deadline.

Mr. Pruitt has selected a replacement for Ms. Hamnett: Michael L. Dourson, a toxicologist who has spent the last two decades as a consultant helping businesses fight E.P.A. restrictions on the use of potentially toxic compounds. He is already at work at the agency in a temporary post while he awaits Senate confirmation.

The American Chemistry Council, and its members, are among the top private-sector sponsors of Mr. Dourson’s research. Last year, he collaborated on a paper that was funded by the trade group. His fellow author was Dr. Beck.

The asterisk that accompanies the gains in the stock market: A third of the shares are owned by foreigners

There’s just one problem. The benefits of that market surge are not only not felt by all Americans, but more than a third of the likely benefit has gone to people who aren’t American at all.

In terms of the value of those stocks, the top 10 percent of Americans hold four times as much as the bottom 90 percent. The top 1 percent alone holds twice as much value as the bottom 90 percent. That’s where most of the benefit to an increase in stock values goes.

On Safari in Trump’s America

When she heard views that challenged her sense of empathy—Muslims were bad, welfare recipients were leeches, women should not have careers outside the home—Hale reminded herself that she was there to listen, not to judge. “People have said stuff I was surprised to hear them say out loud,” Hale told me. “But we have to learn from that, too. Whatever they believe is true, because it’s true for them.”


The report surprised me when I read it. Despite the great variety of views the researchers and I had heard on our tour, the report had somehow reached the conclusion that Wisconsinites wanted consensus, moderation, and pragmatism—just like Third Way. We had heard people blame each other for their own difficulties, take refuge in tribalism, and appeal to extremes. But the report mentioned little of that. Instead it described the prevailing attitude as “an intense work ethic that binds the community together and helps it adapt to change.”

The researchers had somehow found their premise perfectly illustrated. Their journey to Trump’s America had done nothing to unsettle their preconceptions.

In Wisconsin, I had seen and heard everything the Third Way researchers did—and eaten at the same restaurants, and slept at the same Hampton Inn in Eau Claire, and watched the same landscape roll by the windows of the same SUV. I heard all the optimism they did, but I also heard its opposite: that one side was right and that the other was the enemy; that other Americans, not just the government, were to blame for the country’s problems. There’s plenty of fellow-feeling in the heartland for those who want to see it, but there’s plenty of division, too. And not every problem can be solved in a way that splits the difference.

If the aim of such tours is to find new ways to bring the country together, or new political messages for a changed electorate, the chances of success seem remote as long as even the sharpest researchers are only capable of seeing what they want to see.

High-five at 40: Winnipeggers celebrate anniversary of joyful gesture

Today I learned that the high five was created in 1977 by the first openly gay athlete in Major League Baseball.

We Asked Men and Women to Wear Sensors at Work. They Act the Same but Are Treated Very Differently

Bias, as we define it, occurs when two groups of people act identically but are treated differently. Our data implies that gender differences may lie not in how women act but in how people perceive their actions.

How Congress plays by different rules on sexual harassment and misconduct

Under a law in place since 1995, accusers may file lawsuits only if they first agree to go through months of counseling and mediation. A special congressional office is charged with trying to resolve the cases out of court.

When settlements do occur, members do not pay them from their own office funds, a requirement in other federal agencies. Instead, the confidential payments come out of a special U.S. Treasury fund.

“What 40-something man is taking a 16-year-old woman out to lunch?” she said.

This last bit is where things get tricky. Can we condemn mentorship of this sort as inappropriately motivated and condemn Mike Pence’s unwillingness to be alone with women other than his wife? Both operate on the fatalistic assumption that men are simply incapable of treating women with professional respect (“boys will be boys”), and both are unfair obstacles for women.

Misfits Movies

It is Halloween, so here is a Letterboxd list of movies referenced by The Misfits.