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Links: April 2019 v3

If Rumsey Taylor is not on your radar, this is an excellent opportunity to rectify that error.

Hindsight 2070: We asked 15 experts, “What do we do now that will be considered unthinkable in 50 years?” Here’s what they told us.

Most of these are more aspirations than likely outcomes, and one is included in a rather transparent attempt at ideological diversity (see if you can guess which one!), but an interesting collection nonetheless.

A C.E.O. Who’s Scared for America

Things began to change after the 1970s. Stakeholder capitalism — which, Georgescu says, optimized the well-being of customers, employees, shareholders and the nation — gave way to short-term shareholder-only capitalism. Profits have soared at the expense of worker pay. The wealth of the median family today is lower than two decades ago. Life expectancy has actually fallen in the last few years. Not since 2004 has a majority of Americans said they were satisfied with the country’s direction.


As I read stories like Brenda’s, and about new developments in using (I can’t believe I’m typing this) prison labor to produce training data, this is the thing I keep coming back to: our industry’s excelled at creating new classes of work, and then deciding those workers are effectively invisible. And then we often decide that work, those workers, matter less than the automated solutions they’ve helped create—and perhaps, in time, we decide they’re ideal candidates for automation themselves.

Workism Is Making Americans Miserable

One of the benefits of being an observant Christian, Muslim, or Zoroastrian is that these God-fearing worshippers put their faith in an intangible and unfalsifiable force of goodness. But work is tangible, and success is often falsified. To make either the centerpiece of one’s life is to place one’s esteem in the mercurial hands of the market. To be a workist is to worship a god with firing power.

There is something slyly dystopian about an economic system that has convinced the most indebted generation in American history to put purpose over paycheck.

Anti-Semitism Is Back, From the Left, Right and Islamist Extremes. Why?

Far-right political figures like Mr. Orban have drawn close to Israel, while leftist anti-Semites revile it. But both do so for the same reason: They perceive Israel as a country that has done its best to preserve its ethnic and religious character at the expense of a Muslim minority.

The main difference is that Mr. Orban, the prime minister of another small country fighting to preserve its ethnic identity, sees this as a virtue, whereas leftist critics of Israel, such as the supporters of the British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, largely do not.

Both left and right “have the same image of Israel,” said David Hirsh, a sociologist at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and a critic of Mr. Corbyn who campaigns against the academic boycott of Israel.

“Corbyn says that Israel is a uniquely belligerent human-rights-abusing state that defends its purity at all costs against Muslims,” he said. “And I suspect that people on the far right have exactly the same picture of Israel — that it is a belligerent country that defends itself against Muslims.”

Donald Trump Made Golf Gross Again

He drives his golf cart on greens. He drives it on tee boxes. He never, ever walks, even on the courses he owns that have banned carts (Trump Turnberry.)

He always hits first, never mind who won the last hole, and then jumps in his Super Mario Kart with his caddy and peels off before you’ve even hit, the better to be 150 yards ahead of you so the two of them can foozle, fudge, and foot-wedge in private.

Donald Trump does not represent the world of golf; he repels it. Most American golfers (about 90 percent) play on public courses, not country clubs, according to the National Golf Foundation. Every golfer I know plays by the rules (aside from a first-tee mulligan), except him. Every golfer I know finishes his round and—even before his beer—immediately posts his score in the GHIN computer, so everybody knows a bet with him will be fair, except him. In 2018, Trump played an estimated 60-plus times. He posted one score.

Conspiracy Without the Theory

“Rigged!” is easy to communicate, and “just asking questions” is easy to disown. Conspiracy without the theory is elastic. There is nowhere these conspiracists can’t go. If they are leading us somewhere—and we believe they are—it is toward disorientation and delegitimation. They disorient because they directly attack shared modes of understanding the political world. They insult common sense. And they betray a destructive impulse: to delegitimate foundational democratic institutions.

The End of Satire

Over the past few years I have been made to see, in sum, that the nature and extent of satire is not nearly as simple a question as I had previously imagined. I am now prepared to agree that some varieties of expression that may have some claim to being satire should indeed be prohibited. I note this not with a plan or proposal for where or how such a prohibition might be enforced, but to acknowledge something I did not fully understand until I experienced it first hand — that even the most cherished and firmly-held values or ideals can change when the world in which those values were first formed changes.

I hate to have to say this, and I feel that while it is an admission necessitated by the changing times, it also could not come at a worse time.

“The Satanic Verses,” I tell myself, is literature, where free play of the imagination is the rule of the game and the inalienable right of the creator. Twitter is, well, something else.

But the truth is I am not at all sure of this distinction. The truth is that the nature and proper scope of satire remain an enormous problem, one that is not going to get any easier to resolve in the political and technological future we can all, by now, see coming.

Some Unsolicited Blogging Advice

If you have any idea at all, start a draft.

You Don’t Have to Like Julian Assange to Defend Him

The combination of an ideologically (rather than financially) motivated whistle-blower with firsthand knowledge of the material alongside the editorial judgment of major outlets forms the bedrock of public-interest journalism. Any attempt to swing the needle against that, or to criminalize it by tying it to hacking on a technicality, threatens quality journalism and threatens the free media. More simply than that, while Julian Assange might deserve punishment for other things he is accused of having done in his life, he does not deserve to be punished for what he published in 2010. Barring some new and major revelation, neither extradition nor prosecution over his work with WikiLeaks is merited.

Julian Assange Got What He Deserved

He has put innocent people’s lives in danger; he has defamed and tormented a poor family whose son was murdered; he has seemingly colluded with foreign regimes not simply to out American crimes but to help them carry off their own; and he otherwise made that honorable word transparency in as much of a need of delousing as he is.

Yet none of these vices has landed him in the dock. If he is innocent of hacking U.S. government systems—or can offer a valid public-interest defense for the hacking—then let him have his day in court, first in Britain and then in America. But don’t continue to fall for his phony pleas for sympathy, his megalomania, and his promiscuity with the facts. Julian Assange got what he deserved.

Against Chill: Apathetic Music to Make Spreadsheets To

Although I recognize the utility of listening to non-distracting study music, I nonetheless find it disheartening to see art being reconfigured, over and over again, as a tool for productivity—and then, when the work is finally done, as a tool for coming down from the work. It’s especially disconcerting to see the practice of active listening (which can be a creative act as well as a wildly pleasurable one) denigrated, dismissed, or ignored. Background music is hardly a new development, but, previously, these sorts of experiences were mostly relegated to elevators and waiting rooms; now the groundless consumption of music has become omnipresent.

In March, Warner Music Group’s Arts Division signed a twenty-album distribution deal with the German app Endel. The app’s proprietary algorithm “creates personalized soundscapes to give your mind and body what it needs to achieve total immersion in any task.” The company reports that its technology “is backed by science and uses personal inputs such as time of day, location, heart rate, weather to create custom sound frequencies to enhance one’s mood towards sleep, relaxation and focus.” Though I appreciate Endel’s creators not calling the app’s output “music,” I am nonetheless agog that my fellow-humans are comfortable with a late-capitalist robot voice telling them, “It’s 3:30 P.M. It’s a great time to get some work done,” and then generating electronic sounds designed to propel them deeper into their to-do lists.

How to Resist Validating President Trump’s View of Sanctuary Cities

Pelosi’s spokeswoman Ashley Etienne issued a standard statement: “The extent of this administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated. Using human beings—including little children—as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable.” Like the media, Pelosi, whose district covers the sanctuary city of San Francisco, didn’t directly challenge the unspoken but clear premise that something terrible would happen to these cities if immigrants came to them.

Such is the framing of the issue by the White House, and the framing of the story by the media, that no one had the one right response to this idea: “But this is the very point of a sanctuary city! Immigrants, regardless of status, are safe in them. Bring them here! They are welcome.”


I’ve described a number of dichotomies here:

  • Materials vs. tools,
  • Front of the front end vs. back of the front end,
  • User experience vs. developer experience,
  • Client-side rendering vs. server-side rendering,
  • Declarative languages vs. imperative languages.

But the split that worries the most is this:

  • The people who make the web vs. the people who are excluded from making the web.

All you need to know about hyphenation in CSS

The CSS Text Module Level 4 has introduced the same kind of hyphenation controls provided in layout software (eg. InDesign) and some word processors (including Word). These controls provide different ways to define how much hyphenation occurs through your text.

These features currently only have IE/Edge support, which effectively vanishes when Edge moves to Blink. Hope more support comes soon.

Typography in Design Systems

Seeing where this kind of system becomes difficult has taught me a few things:

  1. Linear systems work well when we can accurately predict how they’ll scale, and we humans suck at predicting how others will use the systems we create. If you call a 12px text size “small” and a 16px text size “medium,” you better be dang sure no one will ever need a 14px text size, or you can kiss your system goodbye.
  2. Abstracting styles are difficult but worthwhile. Calling it a “caption style” means it’ll likely never get used in the utility navigation, even if it’s the right style. This leads to a lot of duplication in CSS.
  3. In a system designed to be used frequently, intuitiveness may be over-valued. It might be just fine to ask people to learn a system that has a slight learning curve. Habit may very well be the solution to the difficulty that is creating an intuitive system.

God, Guns, and Country: The Evangelical Fight Over Firearms

The next morning, before leaving on their trip, Claiborne and Martin kneeled on the sidewalk in Kensington next to their mobile forge, among a pile of guns that they’d collected from neighbors or found in abandoned homes. Martin was sawing an AK-47 in half, and preparing to turn it into a mattock—an old-fashioned hoe with prongs on one side, which is used for breaking up clods of earth. He had grown up in a conservative evangelical church in Colorado. “It was very much God, guns, and country,” he said. But in college he’d decided to return to his family’s Mennonite roots—a tradition that emphasizes nonviolence. With the help of a metalworker in Colorado, he had taught himself the rudiments of blacksmithing. Martin picked up the barrel of the AK-47 with a pair of long steel tongs and placed it into the forge until it softened and glowed a molten red.

Fading out siblings on hover in CSS

This is rad. But I wish the example used the photo from Back to the Future. 🙃

How Banning Abortion in the Early Weeks of Pregnancy Suddenly Became Mainstream

“Judicial philosophy has been the dominant issue for appellate nominations in Republican administrations for the last 30 years in a way that it has not been for Democrats,” said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University.

That unwavering focus has helped to turn the tide on abortion in a broad swath of the country’s middle and the south: Six states are down to one abortion clinic. In Ohio, there were 16 abortion clinics in the early 2000s. Today there are 7.

Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the N.R.A.

Even as the association has reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, it has substantially increased its spending on messaging. The N.R.A. is now mainly a media company, promoting a life style built around loving guns and hating anyone who might take them away.

He estimated that “at least eighty per cent” of his colleagues brought in less money than they were paid. “I just thought, If the typical N.R.A. member knew that this is how the organization really works, then there’s no way they would give money.” But Davis felt that the culture of the organization discouraged complaints. “If you’re in a war and your commanders are doing something you disagree with, you don’t just go up and question them,” he said.