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Links: January 2018

Hello, dear reader!

January is gone, but its links remain.

In my little corner of the internet, I posted a roundup of my favorite stuff from 2017 (including a look ahead at plans for 2018). As a subscriber, you may be especially interested in the stats I compiled about the 299 links I shared last year.

I released my first open source software project, Column Setter, a Sass tool for building custom responsive grids that work in older browsers. While I had that momentum, I also shared a Sass function I cooked up to enable frame-based CSS animation.

And finally, for fans of my air guitar alter-ego Windhammer, he apparently was on the teevee during the Grammys, briefly appearing about halfway through this ad for the Hospital for Special Surgery.

This month’s links are a little lighter on the politics than usual, but if that’s your bag, there is an extensively-reported profile of Paul Manafort at the bottom that’s sure to turn your stomach. As always, if you want to keep up with these links in real time, follow me on Twitter.

How Star Wars was saved in the edit

Every step of post-production on Star Wars reflected a revolutionary commitment to the craft. Every frame, every sound effect, every piece of dialogue, was given an intense level of consideration.

Why So Many Men Hate the Last Jedi But Can’t Agree on Why

I’ve seen dozens of contradictory opinions, and at least half of them are stated like this:

“I’m fine with female-driven films, but I just hate this particular one for reasons.”

The Last Jedi has become the Hillary Clinton of filmmaking.

This is a film about discretion being the better part of valor. It doesn’t take much analytical skill to see why some men are so upset by that

We Have A New Prime Number, And It’s 23 Million Digits Long

This short report on a newly-discovered prime number is an interesting window into the world of pure mathematics.

Stairstep Chocolates Designed by Universal Favourite Stack into Cubes of Complementary Flavors

Everyone please continue making colorful geometric confections and I will continue admiring them.

How America’s infatuation with World War II has eroded our conscience

We are miseducating the young to believe military heroism is the noblest form of heroism.

How Oprah Winfrey Helped Create Our Irrational, Pseudoscientific American Fantasyland

If Ronald Reagan became the first king of his magical-thinking realm in the 1980s, Oprah Winfrey became the first queen of hers in the following decade. Like Reagan, I believe she’s both sincere and a brilliant Barnumesque promoter of a dream world.

Web Trend Map 2018

The Web has lost its spirit. The Web is no longer a distributed Web. It is, ironically, a couple of big tubes that belong to a handful of companies. Mainly Google (search), Facebook (social) and Amazon (e-commerce). There is an impressive Chinese line and there are some local players in Russia, Japan, here and there. Overall it has become monotonous and dull. What can we do?

Slate: Redesigning the Way We Work

Looks like I’ll be spending a good chunk of the day digging through all the goodies on the fantastic new Slate redesign.

Modern Layouts: Getting Out of Our Ruts

I’m catching up on conference talks. I’ve long been a Jen Simmons fan but somehow never saw her speak. She’s so great!

The Chosen: Who Trump Is Putting in Power

One year into the Trump Administration, we’ve updated our Cabinet Cards to see who’s still standing.

Def Motherfucking Leppard

Def Leppard’s full catalog is streaming for the first time! Here’s a Spotify playlist of some of my faves from the first four albums.

PBS NewsHour

Apparently PBS NewsHour redesigned recently, and it looks pretty great.

How a TV Works in Slow Motion

An excellent visual explanation of how scan lines and color work on analog and digital video screens.

No, You Go

I’m not a podcast guy, but I make an exception for Jenn Lukas, Katel LeDû, and Sara Wachter-Boettcher, the smartypantses behind this new show.

Lady Bird will likely get a lot of Oscar love… but how about in the editing category?

One of my favorite things about Lady Bird is its quick pace. Character development via tons of tiny moments.

Decade of Cards: 1980s Deck

How great is this 1980s “decade of cards” from Second Marriage Studio? Weird Al and Flavor Flav are the jokers!

Why do work without a practical purpose?

Have you ever had a friend send you an image and they say “This is incredible!”? You look at it. It has nice lighting I guess? What’s the big deal? “No, no. It’s not a photo. It’s a 12-foot oil painting.” In a small, special moment you aren’t sure if your eyes are playing tricks on you. “Whaaat?”

I love that feeling. Where someone’s work makes you question your reality. It begs you to dig deeper into how they did it. You want to, or in the best cases, must look closer. Imagine creating something that causes a tiny explosion in someone’s brain. When people view my work, I hope they might say “I didn’t know this was possible.”

While not intentionally so, this is a great rebuttal to a post I wrote awhile back called “Art and Artifice.”

I pay close attention when someone critiques art by saying the artist “must have a lot of time on their hands.” Almost always, it’s in response to work that’s made of unconventional material. Detailed portraits on Starbucks cardboard sleeves or styrofoam cups, landscapes constructed with thousands of matchsticks, drawings made with a single div and CSS. Very rarely does anyone say this about photography, oil painting, or stone sculpture.

What about a medium makes us value the time spent with it?

The medium we choose to work in is part of the work and contributes to its meaning.

Internet Explorer exists. Use CSS Grid?

If you’re a web designer and/or dev, Mozilla’s Layout Land channel on YouTube with Jen Simmons is a wonderful gift.

Negative Space: A Short Film That Explores a Father-Son Relationship Through the Art of Packing

This was my favorite film of 2017, which is now nominated for the Best Animated Short Film. Check out the trailer and behind-the-scenes.

How You Move is Why We’re Here

Apparently my air guitar alter-ego Windhammer was on the teevee during the Grammys, briefly appearing about halfway through this ad for the Hospital for Special Surgery.

The Plot Against America

You’ll want to make some time for a long shower after reading Franklin Foer’s in-depth profile of Paul Manafort.

Shortly before the announcement of his job inside Trump’s campaign, Manafort touched base with former colleagues to let them know of his professional return. He exuded his characteristic confidence, but they surprised him with doubts and worries. […] Manafort simply couldn’t accept the wisdom of his friends, advice that he surely would have dispensed to anyone with a history like his own—the imperative to shy away from unnecessary attention. […] In 2016, his friends might not have known the specifics of his Cyprus accounts, all the alleged off-the-books payments to him captured in Cyrillic ledgers in Kiev. But they knew enough to believe that he could never sustain the exposure that comes with running a presidential campaign in the age of opposition research and aggressive media.

The linkage of lobbying to political consulting—the creation of what’s now known as a double-breasted operation—was the real breakthrough. Manafort’s was the first lobbying firm to also house political consultants. (Legally, the two practices were divided into different companies, but they shared the same founding partners and the same office space.) One venture would run campaigns; the other would turn around and lobby the politicians whom their colleagues had helped elect. The consulting side hired the hard-edged operative Lee Atwater, notorious for pioneering race-baiting tactics on behalf of Strom Thurmond. “We’re getting into servicing what we sell,” Atwater told his friends. Just as imagined, the firm’s political clients (Jesse Helms, Phil Gramm, Arlen Specter) became reliable warhorses when the firm needed them to promote the agendas of its corporate clients. With this evolution of the profession, the effectiveness and influence of lobbying grew in tandem.

The firm’s most successful right-wing makeover was of the Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi, a Maoist turned anti-communist insurgent, whose army committed atrocities against children and conscripted women into sexual slavery. […] According to The Washington Post, “He was meticulously coached on everything from how to answer his critics to how to compliment his patrons.” Savimbi emerged from his tour as a much-championed “freedom fighter.” […] This was a racket—Savimbi paid the firm $600,000 in 1985 alone—that Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly did its best to keep alive; the firm’s own business was tied to Savimbi’s continued rebellion against Angola’s leftist regime. […] Former Senator Bill Bradley wrote in his memoir, “When Gorbachev pulled the plug on Soviet aid to the Angolan government, we had absolutely no reason to persist in aiding Savimbi. But by then he had hired an effective Washington lobbying firm.” The war continued for more than a decade, killing hundreds of thousands of Angolans.

Manafort understood how highly Deripaska valued his symbiotic relationship with the Kremlin. According to the Associated Press, he pitched a contract in 2005, proposing that Deripaska finance an effort to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet Republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government.” (Deripaska says he never took Manafort up on this proposal.)

Manafort often justified his work in Ukraine by arguing that he hoped to guide the country toward Europe and the West. But his polling data suggested that Yanukovych should accentuate cultural divisions in the country, playing to the sense of victimization felt by Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. And sure enough, his clients railed against nato expansion. When a U.S. diplomat discovered a rabidly anti-American speech on the Party of Regions’ website, Manafort told him, “But it isn’t on the English version.”

From both the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, vast disclosures illuminating previously hidden offshore accounts of the rich and powerful worldwide, we can see the full extent to which corruption has become the master narrative of our times. We live in a world of smash-and-grab fortunes, amassed through political connections and outright theft. Paul Manafort, over the course of his career, was a great normalizer of corruption. The firm he created in the 1980s obliterated traditional concerns about conflicts of interest. It imported the ethos of the permanent campaign into lobbying and, therefore, into the construction of public policy.

And while Manafort is alleged to have laundered cash for his own benefit, his long history of laundering reputations is what truly sets him apart. He helped persuade the American political elite to look past the atrocities and heists of kleptocrats and goons. He took figures who should have never been permitted influence in Washington and softened their image just enough to guide them past the moral barriers to entry. He weakened the capital’s ethical immune system.

Helping elect Donald Trump, in so many ways, represents the culmination of Paul Manafort’s work.