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Links: October 2018

Hello, dear reader!

October is gone, but its links remain.

I was mired in personal matters throughout October, so there wasn’t any activity on my site apart from the horror extravaganza that is Robtober, which was thankfully not disrupted. I finally finished a project that had been in the works for a few months: a custom-designed story with ProPublica Illinois about a family’s heartbreaking experience with an ill-conceived psychiatric clinical trial.

This round of links has lots of politics in the run-up to today’s midterm elections (if you’re in the US, please vote!), but if you’ve had your fill of that lately, there are also some good sprinklings of music, film, and design. As always, much of what I share here can also be gotten by following me on Twitter.

Electronic Items

My new favorite Tumblr is full of colorful animations of vintage electronics.

Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father

The most overt fraud was All County Building Supply & Maintenance, a company formed by the Trump family in 1992. All County’s ostensible purpose was to be the purchasing agent for Fred Trump’s buildings, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. It did no such thing, records and interviews show. Instead All County siphoned millions of dollars from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin. Fred Trump then used the padded All County receipts to justify bigger rent increases for thousands of tenants.

In the chauffeured Cadillac, Donald Trump took The Times’s reporter on a tour of what he called his “jobs.” He told her about the Manhattan hotel he planned to convert into a Grand Hyatt (his father guaranteed the construction loan), and the Hudson River railroad yards he planned to develop (the rights were purchased by his father’s company). He showed her “our philanthropic endeavor,” the high-rise for the elderly in East Orange (bankrolled by his father), and an apartment complex on Staten Island (owned by his father), and their “flagship,” Trump Village, in Brooklyn (owned by his father), and finally Beach Haven Apartments (owned by his father). Even the Cadillac was leased by his father.

The junk science that undermined Ford’s testimony and helped save Kavanaugh

“There’s a total consensus in the field of memory … If anything, fear and trauma enhances the encoding of the memory at a molecular level.”

As he and several other researchers told The Washington Post, being attacked floods the brain with chemicals, including norepinephrine, which helps people remember whatever they are focused on. (Ford, a psychologist herself, even mentioned it in her testimony.)

It’s essentially the same phenomenon that makes people forever remember what they were doing when planes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11, or when they learned John F. Kennedy was shot. It’s such a basic tenet of psychology and cognitive science that some researchers watched the mistaken-identity theory spread through the Senate this month with a sense of stunned dismay.

Civility Has Its Limits

“I am not afraid of the word ‘tension,’” King explained. “We must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

Even as Bull Connor’s men savagely beat black protesters in the streets, King recognized that Birmingham was not hitting “rock bottom.” It was rising from an almost century-long nadir in which white supremacy—no matter how murderous—was barely even a subject of political controversy, in which black powerlessness was the foundation on which comity between two of America’s white-dominated political parties rested.

The problem that the Kavanaugh struggle laid bare is not “unvarnished tribalism.” The problem is that women who allege abuse by men still often face male-dominated institutions that do not thoroughly and honestly investigate their claims. That problem is not new; it is very old. What is new is that this injustice now sparks bitter partisan conflict and upends long-standing courtesies. Rape survivors yell at politicians in the Senate halls. The varnish—the attractive, glossy coating that protected male oppression of women—is coming off. Brooks, Collins, and Flake may decry the “tension” this exposes. But, as King understood, the “dark depths of prejudice” can’t be overcome any other way.

How to build a working Lego Combination Safe

This kid and his functional Lego combination safe are making me think that just maybe everything will be okay.

You’re Hired! You’re Fired! Yes, the Turnover at the Top of the Trump Administration Is … “Unprecedented.”

Turnover in the Trump administration compared to the previous three administrations.

Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture

According to the report, 25 percent of Americans are traditional or devoted conservatives, and their views are far outside the American mainstream. Some 8 percent of Americans are progressive activists, and their views are even less typical. By contrast, the two-thirds of Americans who don’t belong to either extreme constitute an “exhausted majority.” Their members “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.”

It turns out that while progressive activists tend to think that only hate speech is a problem, and devoted conservatives tend to think that only political correctness is a problem, a clear majority of all Americans holds a more nuanced point of view: They abhor racism. But they don’t think that the way we now practice political correctness represents a promising way to overcome racial injustice.

Should Art Be a Battleground for Social Justice?

My tablemate insisted that who and what the show represents are more important than whether the show works for me. We couldn’t have that argument because that argument was a luxury. My wish for entertainment was an affront to the show’s right to exist; its being morally good superseded any imperative for it to be creatively better.

The goal is to protect and condemn work, not for its quality, per se, but for its values. Is this art or artist, this character, this joke bad for women, gays, trans people, nonwhites? Are the casts diverse enough? Is this museum show inclusive of enough different kinds of artists? Does the race of the curators correspond with the subject of the show or collection? Increasingly, these questions stand in for a discussion of the art itself.

A lot of this zealous police work makes sense. Groups who have been previously marginalized can now see that they don’t have to remain marginal. Spending time with work that insults or alienates them has never felt acceptable. Now they can do something about it. They’ve demanded to be taken seriously, and now that they kind of are, they can’t not act. This territory was so hard won that it must be defended at all times, at any cost. Wrongs have to be righted. They can’t affect social policy — not directly. They can, however, amend the culture. But as urgent as these correctives, cancellations, pre-emptions and proscriptions may be, they do start to take a toll. It can be hard to tell when we’re consuming art and when we’re conducting H.R.

It’s Time to Become a Time Realist

Always end every day by planning tomorrow, plus two more days

When Abortion Is Illegal, Women Rarely Die. But They Still Suffer.

Oberman noticed that federal prosecutors in El Salvador visited hospitals and encouraged doctors to report to authorities any women who were suspected of self-inducing their abortions. When the reports rolled in, however, Oberman found that they were all from public hospitals. Doctors in public hospitals, which treat poor women, were younger, less experienced, and eager to please the hospital’s hierarchy. “They were attentive to the government’s request, and they willingly made the reports,” she told me. “Meanwhile, there was not a single report from a private hospital.” In other words, poor women were much more likely to be reported for their illegal abortions than rich women were.

Oberman predicts the American market for abortion drugs will boom. Yet it will also grow more difficult to penalize “abortion doctors” for illegal abortions, since with abortion pills, there is no doctor, only the woman. In that case, she says, “everything I saw there will happen here”: The hospital reports, the prosecutions, the jail sentences.

Many states have already prosecuted women for doing drugs while pregnant or for otherwise allegedly harming their fetuses. Overwhelmingly, those punished tend to be poor women and women of color. If abortion is secretive and illegal, “who is going to be left out?” Oberman said. “The poorest women who have trouble accessing information.”

The History of Brickfilms: 1990s

I’m honored to be mentioned (at 15:03) in Seán Willis’s impressively researched look at 1990s Lego animation.

How Newt Gingrich Destroyed American Politics

This is some depressing shit. Hubris and cynicism are a nasty mix.

The great irony of Gingrich’s rise and reign is that, in the end, he did fundamentally transform America—just not in the ways he’d hoped. He thought he was enshrining a new era of conservative government. In fact, he was enshrining an attitude—angry, combative, tribal—that would infect politics for decades to come.

In the years since he left the House, Gingrich has only doubled down. When GOP leaders huddled at a Capitol Hill steak house on the night of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Gingrich was there to advocate a strategy of complete obstruction. And when Senator Ted Cruz led a mob of Tea Party torchbearers in shutting down the government over Obamacare, Gingrich was there to argue that shutdowns are “a normal part of the constitutional process.”

Mickey Edwards, the Oklahoma Republican, who served in the House for 16 years, told me he believes Gingrich is responsible for turning Congress into a place where partisan allegiance is prized above all else. He noted that during Watergate, President Richard Nixon was forced to resign only because leaders of his own party broke ranks to hold him accountable—a dynamic Edwards views as impossible in the post-Gingrich era. “He created a situation where you now stand with your party at all costs and at all times, no matter what,” Edwards said. “Our whole system in America is based on the Madisonian idea of power checking power. Newt has been a big part of eroding that.”

Political scientists who study our era of extreme polarization will tell you that the driving force behind American politics today is not actually partisanship, but negative partisanship—that is, hatred of the other team more than loyalty to one’s own. Gingrich’s speakership was both a symptom and an accelerant of that phenomenon.

Elizabeth Warren Falls for Trump’s Trap—and Promotes Insidious Ideas About Race and DNA

The woman who is hoping to become the most progressive Democratic nominee in generations is not merely letting herself get jerked around by a Trumpian taunt. She is also reinforcing one of the most insidious ways in which Americans talk about race: as though it were a measurable biological category, one that, in some cases, can be determined by a single drop of blood. Genetic-test evidence is circular: if everyone who claims to be X has a particular genetic marker, then everyone with the marker is likely to be X. This would be flawed reasoning in any area, but what makes it bad science is that it reinforces the belief in the existence of X—in this case, race as a biological category.

Paul Allen Shows It’s Hard to Give Away $10 Billion

The average pretax income of the top 0.001 percent of Americans has risen sevenfold since 1980, while the average pretax income of the bottom half of Americans has stayed the same. And the fortunes of the world’s billionaires grow at more than double the rate of everyone else’s.

It is surprisingly difficult to give away $10 billion. Most nonprofits wouldn’t know what to do with such a large gift, which would likely require growing staff and space exponentially, nearly overnight. The scrutiny around high-profile donations has also made philanthropists skittish: Mark Zuckerberg famously gave $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey, public-school system, only to be criticized for not consulting the local community. The Red Cross reportedly squandered the half a billion dollars it received in donations after the Haiti earthquake.

Why White Supremacists Are Chugging Milk (and Why Geneticists Are Alarmed)

There is no evidence, scientists stress, that environmental and cultural differences will not turn out to be the primary driver of behavioral differences between population groups.

The widespread uncertainty among Americans over what scientists know about genetic differences between racial groups, experts say, has left many flummoxed in the face of white supremacist claims that invoke genetics.

“I was surfing my favorite dumb picture site and I came across a post trying to prove racism with science,” a community college student in Florida wrote to Jun Z. Li, a University of Michigan geneticist whose work has been invoked to buttress racist claims of white intellectual superiority. “I read through the paper myself but I do not have the education or experience to understand and make sure I have a coherent counter argument.”

The new Halloween isn’t just a pale imitation of the original—it’s an inferior H20

We’re watching an umpteenth cover, and like all the rest, it knows the words but not the music.

Neither right- nor left-wing, First Man plants its flag in a troubling ambivalence

First Man, to be clear, shouldn’t be immune to political readings. The space race was political, and so, too, are any choices made about how to depict a key moment of national history, even if the work in question is attempting an apolitical approach. But to position the film firmly on either side of the cultural divide is to actively ignore its ambivalence—a key philosophical tenet of Chazelle’s work, which tends to see both beauty and disturbing folly in the reckless, at-all-costs pursuit of a goal, be it mastering a drum kit, following your impossible showbiz dreams, or blasting off into the cosmos.

The Books That Shaped How We Learn About the Web

Reminder: the earliest influential web design teachers were women, specifically greats Jennifer Robbins and Lynda Weinman.

“We will keep on fighting for him.”

New work from yours truly: a mother’s annotated journal of what turned out to be a troubling psychiatric clinical trial.

Trumpism Is Bent on Creating a Police State

Per usual, he suggested that the victims would have averted disaster by arming themselves. “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better,” Trump said. With that, he expressed a position common in his responses to violence over the past two years: that the only way to combat terror is to yield to it.

The purpose of political violence and terrorism is not necessarily to eliminate or even always to create body counts, but to disempower people, to spread the contagion of fear, to splinter communities into self-preserving bunkers, and to invalidate the very idea that a common destiny is even possible. Mandates to arm people accelerate this process. They inherently promote the idea that society cannot reduce the global level of harm, and promote the authoritarian impulses of people seeking order. Historically, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism have been the three prongs of political violence that have destroyed democracies and brought along authoritarianism the quickest. Historically, police societies have been their companions, as opposed to their antagonists.

Exploring The Surrealistic Hellscapes Of Industrial Noise Impresario Puce Mary

“I use these ‘accidents’ as an extension of the subconscious,” Hoffmeier explains. “I wouldn’t make music if I was able to explain it completely or knew exactly what I was doing.”

As she explores transformation in personal and psychological realms, Hoffmeier is also pushing power electronics and industrial music into new spaces—though she is probing the boundaries of the genres carefully. “I’m trying to share an idea through a certain vocabulary,” she says. “It is a struggle to maximize what you can do with the vocabulary, the structure of that musical style, without subverting what is making that structure functional and that vocabulary powerful in the first place.”

Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds

Humans are an invasive species.