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Links: September 2018

Hello, dear reader!

September is gone, but its links remain.

It was a big month for me, as I finally finished the project I was preoccupied with for most of the summer: Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited, inspired by Sol LeWitt. I also wrote about why and how I did it.

This month’s newsletter is a few days late because I wanted to include Robtober 2018, my annual deep dive into horror films which always takes me longer to put together than I think it will. Follow along at home or join me for a screening!

The links below run the gamut from horrifying to delightful. As always, you can keep up with most of these links in real time by following me on Twitter.

We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage

Then in Bennington, Vermont, he deposed two siblings, a brother and sister, former residents of St. Joseph’s who were serving as witnesses for the defense.

She said, I remember what that nun did to me. The sister, a slight woman in her forties, spoke positively about her time in the orphanage. At some point, Widman told me, he mentioned the name of the nun who had sewn with the girls, and who was said to have sexually assaulted more than one of them.

All of a sudden the woman became immobile, mute. It was like she was having a seizure.

Are you okay? Widman asked her.

She said, Oh my god.

He asked her again if she was okay, and she said, I remember.

Everyone froze.

She said, I remember what that nun did to me.

For one beat, no one moved. Then, Widman recalled, pandemonium broke out. The defense attorneys started yelling and screaming. What had Widman done? Had he given her money? Widman himself was frantic. What are you talking about? he asked her.

The woman said that she remembered what the nun had done to everyone, and that she had done it to her too.

Right there, in the middle of her deposition, one of the defense’s witnesses had recovered a memory of her own abuse at St. Joseph’s. She continued to serve as a witness — but for the plaintiffs.

There in the files was Father Foster, the priest who delivered that spontaneous lecture on the moral purity of the St. Joseph’s nuns. For all his eagerness to educate the lawyers, Foster had neglected to disclose one crucial fact: He had recently been sent to the St. Luke Institute in Maryland, where many priests accused of sexual abuse spent time. In a report, the institute said Foster had “severe sexual issues” and decades of behavior “unbecoming to a priest.” By the time of the deposition, St. Luke had advised that Foster should have no unsupervised contact with minors. Bishop Angell, who testified that it was “unthinkable” in his day that a priest might assault a child, was the one who oversaw Foster’s case.

Everywhere there were orphanages, everywhere children were institutionalized, there seem to be stories in living memory of dead and missing and even murdered children. Most government inquiries into the institutional abuse of children, including Australia’s various inquiries and Ireland’s Ryan Report, which dealt with abuse at the Artane residential school, have avoided investigating the deaths. Instead they have focused largely on survivors of sexual abuse, with some acknowledgment of physical abuse. But even though the investigations have been focused on the living, some of the 20th century’s missing children have begun to return anyway.

The remains of more than 150 people were discovered at an Irish laundry where unmarried pregnant teens were sent to work. As many as 400 babies and children were found in unmarked graves at Smyllum Park, a Scottish orphanage, with no records to say who they were. The unmarked graves of 25 children were found at the site of an old boarding school in the Blackfeet Nation, Montana. What has been described as a significant amount of remains — it’s unclear just how many bodies — of babies and even children as old as 3 were found in the sewer system at the site of a mother and baby home in Tuam, Galway, in Ireland. The remains of dozens of boys were unearthed at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. Some of these incidents prompted official inquiries; just last week, Scottish police arrested a dozen people, mostly nuns, for abuse at the Smyllum Park orphanage. But in the United States, at least, nothing has prompted an investigation into the orphanage system as a whole. What happened to the millions of children who survived it — and to the unknowable numbers who did not — remains a secret and a shame.

Today’s Masculinity Is Stifling

To embrace anything feminine, if you’re not biologically female, causes discomfort and confusion, because throughout most of history and in most parts of the world, being a woman has been a disadvantage.

While society is chipping away at giving girls broader access to life’s possibilities, it isn’t presenting boys with a full continuum of how they can be in the world.

It’s important to note that there are children who do feel they’ve been born in the wrong body, who long for different anatomy, a different pronoun. Trans kids need to be supported and accepted. And, at the same time, not every boy who puts on a dress is communicating a wish to be a girl. Too often gender dysphoria is conflated with the simple possibility that kids, when not steered toward one toy or color, will just like what they like, traditional gender expectations notwithstanding.

There’s a word for what’s happening here: misogyny. When school officials and parents send a message to children that “boyish” girls are badass but “girlish” boys are embarrassing, they are telling kids that society values and rewards masculinity, but not femininity. They are not just keeping individual boys from free self-expression, but they are keeping women down too.

What I want for him, and for all boys, is for the process of becoming men to be expansive, not reductive.

The mystery of Tucker Carlson

In a tweet, Jon Lovett of Crooked Media and Pod Save America, noted, “Tucker Carlson’s transition from conservative serious-ish writer to blustery CNN guy to Daily Caller troll to race-baiting Fox News host is like ice core data on what led to this moment in our politics.”

I think about the power imbalance. This man. Who has money. Status. 2.7 million viewers. He holds the attention of the president. And me? I might be “the liberal elite,” but I buy groceries at Wal-Mart, live in Iowa, and after 12 years of working as a writer, I still can’t get many outlets to even respond to my pitches.

Carlson’s PR person was concerned about silencing, too. She demanded that Carlson be able to respond to every criticism in this piece. And then, if the people who made those criticisms had a response, that Carlson be able to respond to that.

“You want him to have the last word?” I asked.

“Yes!” she shouted. She was shouting at me, too.

What happened to make a rich white man the vox populi? How did I, a mom in the Midwest who can’t afford health care, become the humorless, censoring, liberal elite? How are the winners still insisting they are losers?

YouTube, Netflix Videos Found to Be Slowed by Wireless Carriers

ISPs are inventing fun new terminology to use in place of “selective throttling.” See? Killing net neutrality has spurred innovation!

“We do not automatically throttle any customers,” said Rich Young, a Verizon spokesman. “To manage traffic on our network, we implement network management, which is significantly different than blanket throttling.”

John Donovan, head of AT&T’s satellite, phone and internet operations, said “unequivocally we are not selectively throttling by what property it is. We don’t look at any traffic differently than any other traffic.”

He compared AT&T throttling to an electricity grid where some customers sign up for rolling blackouts in return for cheaper service.

“As we saw with Verizon throttling the Santa Clara County Fire Department, ISPs are happy to use words like ‘unlimited’ and ‘no throttling’ in their public statements, but then give themselves the right to throttle certain traffic by burying some esoteric language in the fine print,” Jeremy Gillula, tech policy director at Electronic Frontier Foundation, said.

Google AMP Can Go To Hell

Google has built their entire empire on the backs of other people’s effort. People use Google to find content on the web. Google is just a doorman, not the destination. Yet the search engine has epic delusions of grandeur and has started to believe they are the destination, that they are the gatekeepers of the web, that they should dictate how the web evolves.

Take your dirty paws off our web, Google. It’s not your plaything, it belongs to everyone.

Paisley Park, Prince’s Lonely Palace

There’s something profound about how Paisley Park insists on maintaining Prince’s privacy. It does not need to modernize him (which feels unnecessary), or even to humanize him (which feels impossible). In 2016, the most common response to Prince’s death was disbelief. His self-presentation was so carefully controlled that he never once betrayed his own mortality. He’d done nothing to make us think he was like us. During parties, Prince sometimes stood in a dark corner of the balcony and watched other people dance. Visiting Paisley Park now evokes a similar sensation—of being near Prince, but never quite with him.

Pat Conroy Talks About Sex (and Love)

I am a nonbeliever in converts to Catholicism, because if you weren’t there in the trenches with an Irish nun giving you brain damage for not turning in your homework, I’m sorry, you’re not Catholic. These converts will Aquinas you to death, St. Augustine you to death, Thomas More you to death. It drives me crazy. There is nothing I believe in less than a Catholic conversion.

When To Trust A Story That Uses Unnamed Sources

It’s a good month to brush up on media literacy. Here’s a handy guide to approaching journalism with unnamed sources. See also this great ProPublica Illinois piece on verifying anonymous sources.

Sarah Davachi: Let Night Come On Bells End The Day

Somehow missed this when it came out a few months ago. It is speaking my language.

Google Wants to Kill the URL

PSA: URLs aren’t broken. Shitty implementations of them are, junked up with database gobbledygook, UTM codes, etc. Design URLS for users.

The Surprising Inspiration Behind Monument Valley’s Most Beautiful Levels

I love love love this peek at some of the visual inspiration for Us Two’s stunning Monument Valley games.

America’s electoral system gives the Republicans advantages over Democrats

Today the 13 most densely populated states have 121 Democratic House members and 73 Republican ones; the remainder have 163 Republicans and 72 Democrats. According to data compiled by Jonathan Rodden of Stanford, nearly half the variance in the county-level vote shares in the presidential election of 2016 could be explained solely by their number of voters per square kilometre. Now that the rural has a party, a constitution that favours the rural favours that party.

The constitution’s tipping of the scales towards small states was not limited to those with small populations in absolute terms. It also applied to those with a small number of voters compared with the size of their population: that is, states in which much of the population was enslaved. These states argued that their slave populations should count towards their allocation of seats in the House and the weight given to their preferences when choosing a president; the other states resisted. A compromise was struck whereby, when it came to the assignment of political power, a slave counted for three-fifths of a free man or woman.

This odious arithmetic required the creation of an electoral college for the presidency, since it divorced the power of a state’s votes from the number of people actually casting them. And the founders required an absolute majority in the college to elect a president—if no candidate received over 50% of electoral votes, the choice fell to the House. This created an incentive for the formation of nationwide parties whose candidates could win the necessary majority, thus encouraging the development of a two-party system.

The constitution does not specify how states must allocate their electors—conceivably, states could have split their votes according to the proportion of the vote cast in that state for each candidate. But in order to maximise their influence over the final result, all but two of the states wound up casting their electoral votes on a winner-takes-all basis. As a result smaller parties could not amass any electoral votes at all, which locked in the two-party model.

More people live in cities than have ever done so before, and they want, and believe in, different things from those who don’t. Adapting policies to appeal to an ever-shrinking share of the population—just 19% of Americans lived in rural areas in 2016, down from 25% in 1990 and 36% in 1950—against the wishes of the party’s urban base cannot be a stable long-term strategy. Nor is it a recipe for a healthy democracy.

There is a reason why, when choosing their own constitutions, no other country has for long survived with a replica of the American model—and why when guiding the design of constitutions for others, as they did in post-war Germany and Japan, Americans have always suggested solutions quite unlike the one under which they live.

A Year After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico Finally Knows How Many People Died

What the GW report confirms is that, in terms of the number of Americans dead, Maria was a disaster on the scale of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Those attacks triggered changes to many American systems, from how people board planes to how they can open bank accounts. As Representative Nydia Velázquez—the sponsor of a proposed “9/11-style” commission to investigate federal and local failures during Maria—has emphasized, the scale of those attacks changed the entire character of the country. Will news of the most devastating natural disaster in decades change anything in Puerto Rico?

Low: Double Negative

There is a new Low record. Therefore, I will be listening to the new Low record.

How This Guy Folds and Flies World Record Paper Airplanes

I want to be as good at—and articulate about—something as this guy is at and about paper airplanes.

Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited

My new project explores the extended potential of Sol LeWitt’s Incomplete Open Cubes. Here’s why I did it. Here’s how.

The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s glowing words about Mr. Putin and Russia have created a new affinity for Russia — in particular its social conservatism and toughness on terrorism — among Mr. Trump’s most devoted supporters.

During a period of myriad accounts about Russia’s attempts to disrupt the last election, the percentage of Republicans who view Mr. Putin favorably has more than doubled (from 11 percent to 25 percent), according to a poll by the Pew Research Center. Democrats are now far more likely than Republicans to see Russia as a threat. An October 2017 poll showed that 63 percent of Democrats and just 38 percent of Republicans said they saw “Russia’s power and influence” as a significant threat to the United States.

Once again, Mr. Trump has flipped the script in the party of Reagan: A country that was once seen as a geopolitical foe is now embraced by many Republicans as a bastion of Christianity and traditional values.

The Art Assignment

My new favorite YouTube channel makes seemingly arcane artistic concepts accessible. A good one to start with is “Art Is Pretentious.”

The Fear Driving Conservative Support for Kavanaugh

I suspect this is why the new charges are making many conservatives more devoted to Kavanaugh, not less. Every new allegation illustrates the lengths to which the liberal media and Democratic politicians will go. Every new allegation shows just how vulnerable America’s shifting gender norms make Republicans: The party far more dominated by men. And thus every new allegation convinces conservatives that they might as well defend Kavanaugh now rather than fight the next cultural battle after having ceded precious ground.

Liberals fear that if they lose the Kavanaugh fight, minorities, women and the poor will lose basic rights. Conservatives, by contrast, fear a kind of cultural delegitimization—a liberal rewriting of America’s moral code so that conservatives are forever deemed too sexist or racist to hold jobs like associate justice of the Supreme Court.

The Feigned Victimhood of Bill Cosby, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas

On the day Cosby was designated a “sexually violent predator” by Judge Steven T. O’Neill, the President of the United States said that a second woman to make allegations of misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanaugh “has nothing,” and pointed to her level of inebriation when the incident took place.

Therein lies the source of Cosby’s indignation. […] The indignation on Tuesday stemmed from his presumption that, in America, equality means equal impunity. This peculiar definition was not formed yesterday. In language that was inflammatory in the moment and only became more outrageous with the passage of time, the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas referred to the 1991 Senate inquiry into his own history of sexual harassment as a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” Here was a profane inversion of history—the memory of black men and black women whose bodies were mutilated for the sake of macabre white entertainment and the shoring up of Jim Crow deployed on behalf of men angered by the consequences of their own transgressions. This is the rhetoric of men whose definition of victimhood is the inability to victimize others. But the greatest profanity is the fact that it worked and that, as a consequence, Thomas remains seated on the Supreme Court.

Your Body Text Is Too Small

Since there are so many different characteristics between typefaces, one size for a particular design will have a perceptually different scale to a different typeface at the same size.

This is why we should just let our eyes decide, and not base it on a numerical value that sounds good or worked well for a different typeface or on a different project. Each time a typeface is changed it needs to be re-optically adjusted accordingly.

The perceived size of a typeface can also vary depending on the color of the foreground and background, so it’s also better to optically select a font size according to near-finalized colors, or in different color scenarios if necessary.

No, I Will Not Debate You

Steve Bannon, like the howling monster from the id he ushered into the White House, exploits the values of the liberal establishment by offering an impossible choice: betray their stated principles (free, open debate) or dignify fascism and white supremacy. This weaponizes tolerance to legitimize intolerance.

The idea of the public sphere has always been elitist in practice, if not in principle. The people most likely to lose out are some of the least likely to have been trained in the art of public speaking or to have spent the past decade building a career in the media. They were too busy holding down four jobs, or trying to escape a civil war, or practicing medicine in a different language in a country they fled to with their family, or raising and then mourning their children. These are the people whose voices are truly being silenced, whose place in the lofty theatre of formal political debate is not subject to public discussion because they were never invited in the first place.