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Links and Notes for October 29th, 2021

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for the week ending on the date in the title, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.

Table of Contents

COVID-19

US and international media demand China end “zero-COVID” strategy by Peter Symonds (WSWS)

“The New York Times article was entitled, “Why China Is the World’s Last ‘Zero Covid’ Holdout?” Citing so-called experts, it warned that “the approach is unsustainable. China may find itself increasingly isolated, diplomatically and economically, at a time when global public opinion is hardening against it.””

The U.S.—as any bully—has never tolerated examples that belie its ideology. That was the whole idea behind its “domino theory”, with which it justified the wholesale destruction of southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). The media is, as ever, doing its duty to promulgate this view and inculcate the populace.

The citation above is cyclic reasoning: the NYT has been on a jihad against China—having obtained (perhaps implicitly, perhaps explicitly) its marching orders from Washington—for years now (even when its arch-enemy Trump was leading the charge). This is like a threat from the Mafia: if China doesn’t stop making the U.S. look bad for its policy on COVID-19, then the U.S. will treat China even worse than it already has.

“If COVID-19 had torn through China as it was allowed to do in the US, China’s people would have experienced more than 180 million cases and nearly 3 million deaths.
“In fact, grumbling in China about the government’s policy has been largely confined to an upper-middle class layer. There has been widespread support for the policy. As the Times grudgingly conceded: “At least for now, the elimination strategy appears to enjoy public support. While residents in locked-down areas have complained about seemingly arbitrary or overly harsh restrictions on social media, travel is relatively unconstrained in areas without cases.””

And, places without cases are, to remind ourselves, nearly everywhere.

“Economics is also a powerful factor in the campaign to pressure China into reopening. The disruption of global supply chains has been a growing feature in the global business media, which has pushed for South East Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, to end their public health restrictions so as to facilitate supplies of everything from semi-conductor chips to palm oil.”

Economy & Finance

Dan Loeb Wants a Clean Shell and a Dirty Shell by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

““We’re gonna drill for oil for 10 years, sell it at $85 a barrel, make a lot of money for our investors, and then close up shop when the world moves off oil” is a perfectly reasonable business plan.”

No. It fucking isn’t. It’s fucking annoying that this is still a thing because, as long as it is, the merry-go-round never stops.

““public-market investors require, or at least allow, corporate executives to do a big song and dance about investing for the long run and pivoting to some sustainable business model, so they won’t let a dying business just pay out its cash to shareholders and die with dignity, but will instead demand that it squander that cash on doomed efforts to survive.””
“[…] another part of the appeal — and the part that big asset managers emphasize in their public statements — is that ESG investing is supposed to get higher returns in the long run, because good-ESG businesses are more sustainable than bad-ESG businesses. If you pollute, you might make a lot of money now, but eventually you’ll get in trouble; better to invest in businesses that don’t pollute and that can continue making money forever.
“So the trick is to buy it when it’s low and sell it when it’s high. I mean, that’s always the trick, isn’t it, but by pumping a defunct penny stock your Twitter friend has created a new instance of this game. That stock was not doing anything, there was no way to buy it low and sell it high, and now it is doing something and you can take your chances. It’s a pure zero-sum game; the people who get in and out at the right time will make money and they will make that money from the people who get in and out at the wrong time; nobody is investing in a business or whatever. But maybe you find the game fun? People seem to.
“Like, the rise of indexing created some vast residue of unsatisfied yearning for excitement, and that yearning was satisfied by buying Bitcoin. Now I think a reasonable story might be “as crypto has attracted billions of dollars of investor capital because it is fun and exciting, the traditional financial system is falling all over itself to be fun and exciting to compete.” If you are launching an index fund in 2021 it had better be a meme-stock index fund, or a crypto index fund. Nobody wants boring stability anymore.

Everything works if the markets never fall. A whole generation is coming into the markets thinking that this is like a bank account. You put money in one end and take it out a month later twice as big. No need to learn laws of logic or finance or physics or nature. Don’t ask. It just works. Just give us your money and you’ll see. Also, the inflation bogeyman is coming. You have to buy a house or invest in the casino or you’ll look stupid.


Elon Musk Had a Good Day by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Today Bloomberg’s billionaire list tells me that Musk is the richest person in the world, with a net worth of $288.6 billion, consisting mostly of Tesla stock. Jeff Bezos is in second place with $192.6 billion of mostly Amazon.com Inc. stock. Musk was well behind Bezos last year, but he’s up $118.9 billion year-to-date, because Tesla’s stock has been on a tear. No public stock, no tear, no “richest person on Earth.”
“If you were wondering which junk-rated company would be the first to reach a trillion-dollar market capitalization, your wait is over. It’s Tesla Inc.”
If this is more “bridging a temporary liquidity problem” than it is “throwing money into the ocean of a catastrophic default,” maybe his personal fortune will help. But even if it doesn’t help and Evergrande does default, it is probably wise for him, personally and politically, not to end up with too much money.”
I assume that the world will eventually reach an equilibrium in which (1) every single company, government, person, etc., can certify that they have net zero carbon emissions, but (2) the world keeps emitting carbon. (For instance, every tree on earth will be sold multiple times to carbon emitters to offset their carbon, etc.) “Must be aliens,” people will say.”
“It’s the single-largest purchase ever for electric vehicles, or EVs, and represents about $4.2 billion of revenue for Tesla, according to people familiar with the matter who declined to be identified because the information is private. While car-rental companies typically demand big discounts from automakers, the size of the order implies that Hertz is paying close to list prices. Hertz’s stock was up about 7.5% as of noon today. It’ll go up more if they announce you can pay for your Tesla rental in Dogecoin.
“Tesla definitely gets its own boost from someone announcing that they’re buying 100,000 Teslas all at once. Tesla was up about 7.4% as of noon today.

It doesn’t matter that it’s a bankrupt rental-car company “buying” them. The market doesn’t care.

“See Musk owns this Shiba Inu-themed cryptocurrency, not that Shiba Inu-themed cryptocurrency. Somebody somewhere had on a relative-value pairs trade between Shiba Inu-themed cryptocurrencis that got absolutely wrecked by Elon Musk tweeting “None.” You cannot imagine how much I have suffered typing this paragraph.

Because it is all stupid froth, a luxury that we think we can afford, while we fritter away our remaining resources, fiddling madly on the deck of the Titanic.

““Love in The Time of Web3” got a lot of attention following Musk’s tweet. That night, Beylin listed it as an NFT, or nonfungible token, on marketplace Zora, and two days later, it sold for five wrapped ether, which is about $19,800 at current pricing, to an anonymous buyer.
“Okay super. If you bought the NFT you definitely don’t own the image — Beylin doesn’t own it either — but you have paid $19,800 for a thing that was … maybe … indirectly … thought about by Elon Musk? Or something? I don’t know. “The ultimate prize of memeology is for the ultimate meme lord to use your meme,” said Beylin to CNBC, and that ultimate prize comes with some cash I guess. I hate this a lot.

I am picturing Zoolander the whole time (Mugatu would fit right in).


Rogers Chairman Fires Board for Firing Him for Firing CEO by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“I cannot tell you how excited I am to read this prospectus. I have read some good comedy SEC filings in my time, but my comedic expectations for this one are absolutely sky-high.”
“The stock was up 357% on Thursday and another 107% on Friday, ending the week at $94.20, roughly 9 times the value of the cash in DWAC’s trust. It opened today at $120.31; at noon it was trading at around $98. Trump and Orlando were not marketing this deal to their hedge-fund shareholders because they absolutely do not care at all. There’s plenty of money to replace Saba and D.E. Shaw.”
Trump doesn’t ever need to launch a working social media service to get his $293 million from DWAC, but he will need to file a prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission describing the business and the capital structure and including historical financial statements. Also the prospectus will include a “Background of the Transaction” section explaining how TMTG was founded and how it came to do a merger with DWAC. I cannot tell you how excited I am to read this prospectus. I have read some good comedy SEC filings in my time, but my comedic expectations for this one are absolutely sky-high.”
“Also, I have to say, if I’m Donald Trump right now, I’m thinking about retrading. He sold something like 21% of his company for $293 million. That 21% is now worth something like $3.4 billion. None of that extra value is going to Donald Trump, though of course if he owns the other 79% (who knows?) that’s now worth something like $12 billion.

Talk about a long con. In retrospect, you could almost imagine that he became president to increase his fan base in order to do something like this. That man’s charisma is absolutely legendary.

“To be clear, that value is based on nothing, literally nothing at all; Trump Media & Technology Group’s assets appear to consist of a website and some plagiarized code that isn’t supposed to be live yet. Still Trump seems to have sold $3.4 billion of stock for $293 million and that’s gotta sting.”

I honestly wouldn’t count him out. I don’t want him to be a billionaire or to make more billions, but I’m just saying that he’s prevailed against longer odds.


Billionaires Are Partying in Space While Planet Earth Burns by Dean Baker (Jacobin)

“[…] there is the third possibility that we are just seeing another case of irrational exuberance. The possibility that there is no rational basis for stock prices should not seem strange to anyone who saw the collapse of the stock bubble at the end of the 1990s and the collapse of the housing bubble from 2007 to 2009. Investors are often ignorant of economic fundamentals, so it is certainly possible that there was no economic basis for the run-up in stock prices over the last twenty months.
This will mean pulling many workers away from areas where they could be doing more productive work, like designing better solar and wind energy systems, better batteries for storing energy, and better ways to produce vaccines and drugs. This will be a real cost to the economy. The frivolous use of large amounts of resources by the very rich is a problem for the economy and society. This is distinct from their wealth as a bookkeeping entry. For example, Warren Buffet is one of the richest people in the world, but by all accounts, he lives a very modest lifestyle. If his wealth doubled it is hard to see why it would create any major economic issues. On the other hand, if the billionaire gang manage to make space travel a major form of recreation for the very rich, this is a real problem.”


Why is finance so complex? (Interfluidity)

“Finance has always been complex. More precisely it has always been opaque, and complexity is a means of rationalizing opacity in societies that pretend to transparency. Opacity is absolutely essential to modern finance. It is a feature not a bug until we radically change the way we mobilize economic risk-bearing. The core purpose of status quo finance is to coax people into accepting risks that they would not, if fully informed, consent to bear.
“[…] there would have been no Amazon losing a nickel on every sale and making it up on volume.”

I hate that this myth is so widespread. First of all, that’s a joke, right? I mean, it must be a joke. Second of all, how they really made their money is that they skipped paying VAT for a long, long time. Amazon defeated its competition by not paying taxes that they all had to pay. The state thought it was great because they provided a service that the state thought was useful. Now Amazon owns most of the country. Congratulations.

“One purpose of a financial system is to ensure that we are, in general, in a high-investment dynamic rather than a low-investment stasis. In the context of an investment boom, individuals can be persuaded to take direct stakes in transparently risky projects.

This ignores the fact that the market does not accurately price resources (human or otherwise). This is deliberate. The market rewards companies that can get away with cheating or not paying for things because they can. Trying a thousand times to win once is grotesquely inefficient. We can’t continue to afford such attempts because of physical reality. Look at what’s happening with unregulated private satellites. Isn’t there a better middle ground between unfettered capitalism and a control economy that doesn’t end up giving everything to just five people? How is that freedom? How the fuck are libertarians happy with that?

“A banking system is a superposition of fraud and genius that interposes itself between investors and entrepreneurs.”

How long did the author work on that sentence? What it is now is a system run for the benefit of the rich with two goals: extracting rent for little or no value (fraud, if possible) and self-perpetuation.

“Banks guarantee all investors a return better than hoarding, and they offer this return unconditionally, with certainty, without regard to whether other investors buy in or not.”

This has been untrue for several years now and no-one cares because no-one important is affected. Instead, everyone accepts that this is how it is now and gleefully throws their money into the casino of the stock market, where the same banks profit even more massively.

“First and foremost, they offer an ironclad, moneyback guarantee.”

No, they don’t. The government, as lender of last resort, does this.

“You can have opacity and an industrial economy, or you can have transparency and herd goats.”

Oh fuck off.

“A lamentable side effect of opacity, of course, is that it enables a great deal of theft by those placed at the center of the shell game. But surely that is a small price to pay for civilization itself. No?”

See previous comment.

“I have presented an overly flattering case for the status quo here. The (real!) benefits to opacity that I’ve described must be weighed against the profound, even apocalyptic social costs that obtain when the placebo fails, especially given the likelihood that placebo peddlars will continue their con long after good opportunities for investment at scale have been exhausted.”

Which is what always happens. The system incentivizes criminality and concentrates wealth and power into the hands of the worst people. What the first 90% of the essay describes is a stupid pipe-dream that only ever benefits those running the scam. It doesn’t even make any sense to pretend that there is utility in such a system because the downsides are so disastrous for nearly everyone else.


Why Not a Financial Transactions Tax? by Jack Rasmus (CounterPunch)

“The problem with this proposal is it taxes the level of wealth attained in stocks and bonds by the billionaires when the prices of those stocks and bonds rise. However, it leaves open the prospect of massive tax cuts on billionaires wealth when prices of stocks and bonds decline. Better is to tax the transactions that lead [sic] to that wealth accumulation instead of the level of the wealth.
“Wealthy investors’ buying of stocks and bonds is essentially no different than average folks buying food, clothing or other real ‘goods and services’. Why shouldn’t investors pay a sales tax on financial securities purchases? In the US, average households pay a sales tax of 5% to 10% for retail purchases of goods and many services. So why shouldn’t wealthy investors pay a similar sales tax rate for their retail financial securities’ purchases?


What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about Innovation by Dan Breznitz (Boston Review)

“Those who profit by selling the Silicon Valley dream to local policymakers around the world either do not know, or do not mention, that high-tech start-ups backed by venture capital (VC), and aiming at financial exit, now tend to widen rather than close the gulf between rich and poor. A city can waste a lot of resources trying to improve its economic health by courting and investing in tech companies only to find that they made their founders and funders rich but left everyone else worse off.

That is literally the model. They think only in zero-sum terms. They think that if someone else benefits, that it is somehow money left on the table for value that they themselves created. So they take as much as they can for themselves, regardless of how little effort is required from them or how their ability to do so is contingent on their having a massive head-start financially over their collaborators. They think that, if you bring money, rather than effort, to the table, somehow that entitles you to a larger piece of the pie.

“[…] it is the less fleshy but much more important continuous innovation—making things better, more reliable and cheap enough so every human have access to them, from medicine and transportation to information and communication technology—that is the unsung hero of economic growth and improved welfare.
“Tech teens are at the blind spot of private markets, public policies, and media reporting. The focus is usually on the hot new thing (the latest app company, say) or the very big firms (yet another Amazon, Cisco, or Huawei facility), but tech teens are the backbone of every local technology industry. Deeply embedded in the community, they do not leave as soon as they secure more investment; they aim at sustained growth, not financial exit; they hire local people for all functions of the firm (not just R&D); they pay taxes (in contrast to the gigantic tax breaks and incentives offered to large corporations); and they are often active citizens of the community by being the leaders of the local industry associations or funders of local community activities.”
“This focus on stage three innovation boosted Taiwan’s economy while keeping inequality low at the same time that the United States was narrowly focusing on stage one innovation, leading to ever growing levels of inequality.

The get-rich-quick phase, without the grind of creating real and lasting value. Unsurprising that the U.S. leapt at that phase.

Public Policy & Politics

US flies B-1 bomber over Persian Gulf: “All options on the table” against Iran by Bill Van Auken (WSWS)

“[…] the US Air Force’s Central Command, responsible for American military operations in the Middle East, said that the flight of the B-1B Lancer Bomber over the strategic Strait of Hormuz Saturday sent “a clear message of reassurance” to Washington’s allies in the region.

“The bomber was accompanied by fighter jets dispatched by regimes of the US-led anti-Iran axis, including Israel, the reactionary monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the Egyptian military dictatorship of Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. This air squadron also flew over the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and its strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait.”


In Russia, Communists Are Standing Up Against Putin’s Fraud by Yaroslav Listov & Vladimir Kharchenko (Jacobin)

“While the flagship pro-Putin party United Russia fell slightly below 50 percent support, losing nineteen legislators in the Duma (parliament), it still took 324 out of 450 seats. The main advance was for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), which took 19 percent of the total vote — its strongest score since 2011 — and elected fifty-seven deputies (up fifteen). Among other parties, the social-democratic “A Just Russia” took 7.5 percent, the centrist “New People” 5 percent, and the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia its worst showing in recent history, with 7.5 percent backing.”


Noam Chomsky: “It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way” by Stan Cox (Jacobin)

“The initiators of the Paris Agreement intended to have a binding treaty, not voluntary agreements, but there was an impediment. It’s called the Republican Party. It was clear that the Republican Party would never accept any binding commitments. The Republican organization, which has lost any pretense of being a normal political party, is almost solely dedicated to the welfare of the superrich and the corporate sector, and cares absolutely nothing about the population or the future of the world.
We have no right to gamble with the lives of the people in South Asia, in Africa, or people in vulnerable communities in the United States. You want to do analyses like that in your academic seminar? OK, go ahead. But don’t dare translate it into policy. Don’t dare to do that. There’s a striking difference between physicists and economists. Physicists don’t say, Hey, let’s try an experiment that might destroy the world, because it would be interesting to see what would happen. But economists do that.”
“Their motto has been “Government is the problem.” That doesn’t mean you eliminate decisions; it just means you transfer them. Decisions still have to be made. If they’re not made by government, which is, in a limited way, under popular influence, they will be made by concentrations of private power, which have no accountability to the public. And, following the Friedman instructions, have no responsibility to the society that gave them the gift of incorporation. They have only the imperative of self-enrichment.
“Most people have to face the ravages of the market. And, of course, the rich don’t. Corporations count on a powerful state to bail them out every time there’s some trouble. The rich have to have the powerful state — as well as its police powers — to be sure nobody gets in their way.”
“Greta Thunberg recently stood up at the Davos meeting of the great and powerful and gave them a sober talk on what they’re doing. “How dare you,” she said. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
“We now have a struggle. It can be won, but the longer it’s delayed, the more difficult it’ll be. If we’d come to terms with this ten years ago, the cost would have been much less. If the United States hadn’t been the only country to refuse the Kyoto Protocol, it would have been much easier. Well, the longer we wait, the more we’ll betray our children and our grandchildren.


Journalism & Media

The “Let’s Go, Brandon!” Freakout Goes Next-Level by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“I don’t exactly have standing to get moral about F-bombing any politician, but if mainstream mouthpieces can’t see how this looks to middle America — people getting seriously compared to terrorists for ironic G-rated versions of the same rant that had pundits lining up to send Jim Gaffigan to Oslo — they’re dumber than I thought.”

This is how the Biden administration prepares to renew negotiations with Iran, a country that’s already very reluctant because the U.S. has already reneged on the original agreement and then killed Iran’s highest-ranking general.

“The Iranian government sees little to negotiate. It has stated its willingness to return to full compliance with the restrictions imposed under the JCPOA once the US ends its boycott of the agreement and lifts sanctions.

““We have already had enough of empty words,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at a press conference Monday. “We have been waiting for an action that has been delayed for months.””

So, Iran is ready to resume the original agreement, but the Biden administration is dragging its feet because it wants more concessions in different areas. The show of military force is like having a car full of gangsters drive by a rival’s store.

I think the Symonds is correct in pointing out that the real reason for the U.S.‘s behavior is that,

“Beijing and Tehran signed an agreement earlier this year that provides for $400 billion in Chinese investment in Iran under the Belt and Road initiative in exchange for the guarantee of discounted oil exports to China for the next 25 years. It is estimated that Iranian oil exports to China could reach 600,000 barrels a day next year, effectively breaching the US blockade.”

China getting its oil directly from Iran, evading the U.S. embargo? That’s a no-go for the U.S. For God’s sake, COP-26 is going on right now, but the U.S. is getting ready to start a world war for economic advantage in an area that will continue to heat the planet. Sounds about right.


The Awesome Hypocrisy of the “Facebook Papers” Moral Panic by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

Commercial news outlets, not Facebook, have been the chief architects of the panic era. They’ve spent six years now coaching Trump-era audiences to act like roulette addicts endlessly trying to win back a loss, begging them to stay at the table and just move their chips from one “existential threat” or “apocalypse” to the next. From Russiagate to Treason in Helsinki to kids in cages to Bountygate to the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 to the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” and the “biggest threat against democracy since the Civil War,” audiences have fallen into a freakout and stayed there. They wake up knowing nothing, but by noon demand the biggest available policy weapon be fired in the shortest possible time frame, at problems they only just heard about, with the zero-to-defund trajectory of the George Floyd story typifying the pattern. Just as quickly, the same people forget and move on, trying on new terrors like shoes.”


The Most Important Battle for Press Freedom in Our Time by Chris Hedges (ScheerPost)

“A society that prohibits the capacity to speak in truth extinguishes the capacity to live in justice. The battle for Assange’s liberty has always been much more than the persecution of a publisher. It is the most important battle for press freedom of our era. And if we lose this battle, it will be devastating, not only for Assange and his family, but for us. There is no legal basis to hold Assange in prison. There is no legal basis to try him, an Australian citizen, under the US Espionage Act.”
“He exposed the truth. He exposed it over and over and over until there was no question of the endemic illegality, corruption and mendacity that defines the global ruling elite. And for these truths alone he is guilty.


We were the unpaid janitors of a bloated tech monopoly by Ryan Broderick (Garbage Day)

“I hadn’t had the time to really sit down and go through these accounts until recently and I really can’t overstate how surreal the whole thing is. The Sydney character just completed a storyline on her account and to see it progress over dozens of short videos is really mind-bending.”

Why is this mind-bending? it’s a TV show. A reality show. The medium is different. The reality internet is long dead. It was only real for a few years, near the beginning, before the corporations and the profit motive got involved.

“Part of experiencing the story — which was slowly revealed to be based on the Slenderman creepypasta — was a feeling that what you were watching could be real. There was a similar metatextual element to the Blair Witch Project when it first premiered. In both instances, when they were revealed to be works of fiction, some of the magic was lost. But, decades later, users don’t really have the same hangups about what is real and fake. Instead, they’re interacting with these characters the same way they would their favorite streamer or influencer.

I’m fascinated to read that the author thinks that there is a difference. What is an influence but a corporate puppet? Did you think they were really self-elected and -promoted? It’s all fake, a show; it has been for a long time.

“What if, instead of influencers becoming movie stars, scripted entertainment was supposed to morph into formats that fit parasocial online relationships?”

Did you miss most of traditional entertainment moving to “reality” shows a decade ago? I’m really surprised to see that this self-elected reporter of the state of the internet can’t see the through-line running through all of these forms of entertainment. People have been consuming this kind of content for a long time. Maybe they just know it’s all fake, but they don’t care. It’s entertaining and they like it more when they can suspend their disbelief and think of it as real.

“Li Jiaqi is a beauty influencer in China who is called “Lipstick Brother” on social media. But to call him just a beauty influencer doesn’t really convey how big this guy is. On a livestream he once sold over 10,000 lipsticks in five minutes. Earlier this month, he broke a record, selling over $2 billion worth of beauty products on a 12-hour livestream.

Why should I believe those numbers? If everything else is fake, then why assume that the machinery of counting likes and retweets and sales is real? Do those people you compete against in Duolingo actually exist? Does it matter? What makes you think that these companies that manipulate everything else—and that have no legal obligation to do otherwise—wouldn’t just manipulate the gamification that increases engagement and makes them more money? Is it because they’d be defrauding the advertising networks? They’re not, though.

“In many ways, it feels like the logical endpoint for the current landscape of internet platforms is just a weird home shopping network where the hosts act like they’re friends with you.

It always has been. When you get old enough, you get to watch new generations rediscover everything as if it were a revelation, because they can’t be bothered to read anything, least of all history. Santayana said it better.

“Hozier has a very strange fandom online. There are a lot of users on platforms like Tumblr, TikTok, and Pinerest — many of which are queer American women — who like to write fan fiction about Hozier being some kind of mythical forest deity. idk man, look, I just try my best to explain this sort of stuff.
“[…] for a lot of younger internet users on apps like TikTok, Hozier’s music is all about being cozy in a small cabin in some kind of bog or swamp. But, unfortunately for them, Hozier is Irish, which means he’s European, which means he was going to put out an EDM song eventually. All of this means that Hozier’s new collab with Meduza, premiering on TikTok, is causing a lot of drama. My thoughts are with the “Hozier is a cryptid” community during this incredibly stressful period.

There is almost certainly porn of all of this, as well.


The Methods of Moral Panic Journalism by Michael Hobbes (Confirm My Choices)

“Civil cases were actually falling throughout the 1990s. Seven-digit payouts attracted headlines, but they were vanishingly rare — just 3% of plaintiffs got punitive damages at all; the median award was $38,000 — and nearly always got overturned on appeal. The central premise of the “frivolous lawsuits” panic — it is too easy for citizens to sue corporations — was an obvious lie, a blinking, howling whopper that would have been laughed off of front pages if it weren’t for all the overblown anecdotes making it seem plausible.”

“We live in an era of unprecedented access to information. Fifty years ago, if you had a controversial view you couldn’t express at work, you could, I dunno, write it on a piece of paper and put it on a lamp-post? Send it to the editor of the local newspaper?

Today you have dozens of free, instantaneous, low-effort ways of disseminating your idea. Write a Medium post and try to make it go viral. Find a message board of like-minded people. Set up an anonymous account and tweet your take at Elon Musk. I truly cannot fathom looking around in 2021 and not concluding that on the whole, speech is freer than it’s ever been.

You can speak all you want, but there is control over who listens. You can’t make anyone be listening. You’re free, but your reach isn’t necessarily farther than “put[ting] it on a lamp-post”.

Science & Nature

A once-quiet battle to replace the space station suddenly is red hot by Eric Berger (Ars Technica)

“The political forces that drove the formation of the space station partnership, principally the desire of the United States and Russia to work together after the Soviet breakup, have given way to a zealous anti-Americanism in Moscow and suspicions in Washington, DC.

LMAO. This is such a typical characterization by this Berger (this is the most jingoistic author on this site).

Art & Literature

Firelight by Ursula K. Le Guin (The Paris Review)

“So he had given his life, there in the unreal land. And yet he was here. His life was here, back near its beginning, rooted in this earth. They had left the dark ravine where west is east and there is no sea, going the way they had to go, through black pain and shame. But not on his own legs or by his own strength at last. Carried by his young king, carried by the old dragon. Borne helpless into another life, the other life that had always been there near him, mute, obedient, waiting for him. The shadow, was it, or the reality?
“Oh the joy, the pride of knowing the name of the wind! The pure delight of power, to know he had the power! He had run out, clear over to the High Fall, to be alone there, rejoicing in the wind that blew strong, westward, from far across the Kargish sea, and he knew its name, he commanded the wind . . .”
“There, even there in their greatest temple, the Old Powers of the earth were feared, wrongly worshipped, offered the cruel deaths and mutilations of slaves, the stunted lives of girls and women imprisoned there. He and Arha had committed no sacrilege. They had released the long hunger and anger of the earth itself to break forth, bring down the domes and caverns, throw open the prison doors.
“She sat down on the stool again and took his hands. Hers were warm and firm. She bowed her head down to their clasped hands and sat that way a long time. He loosened one hand and stroked her hair. A piece of wood in the fire snapped. An owl hunting out in the pastures in the last of the twilight gave its deep, soft double call.
“It was silent in the house, the silence of the great slope of mountainside all round the house and the twilight above the sea. The stars would be coming out.”
Fierce, with the forge smell of hot iron, the smoke plume trailing on the wind of its flight, the mailed head and flanks bright in the new light, the vast beat of the wings, it came at him like a hawk at a field mouse, swift, unappeasable. It swept down on the little boat that leapt and rocked wildly under the sweep of the wing, and as it passed, in its hissing, ringing voice, in the true speech, it cried to him, There is nothing to fear.”

Philosophy & Sociology

Do Names Have Souls? by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“So it seems at least somewhat strange that, even as we rush to present ourselves in front of our students as respectable materialists when we teach Cartesian dualism as a warm-up exercise before passing on to the “real” philosophical problems, we nonetheless accept at face value and without further consideration Descartes’s own presumption that if souls or soul-like principles are to exist anywhere at all, then they exist only as the loci of personal identity of a particular species of animal — to wit, human beings.
“We have vestiges of such a system in our own society (I am called “Monsieur Smith” by some people, “Professor Smith” by others, “Justin” by others, and secret names I will not reveal to you by others still), but for the most part it is taken for granted that there is one name behind all the contextual variants, a “real” name, established in “legal” documents, that this name is not at all taboo but in fact highly orthophemistic and correct, and that this name “rigidly designates” an individual person throughout their life, no matter what nicknames or professional designations they might take on.”
“It all depends, and to think that you know what “the” moral status of “plants” is just because you have consulted a certain class of experts in a single culture is really only to betray your ignorance about the tremendous range of possible ways of carving the world up, of attributing value, and of making sense of things. Philosophy in this vein remains a kind of guide to bourgeois manners, rather than a sounding of the depths of human existence.”

Technology

Securing your digital life, part one: The basics by Sean Gallagher (Ars Technica)

“The safest way to back up data if you’re concerned about privacy is an encrypted backup to your personal computer; however, most iOS device owners can back up their data to iCloud with confidence that it is end-to-end encrypted (as long as they have iOS 13 or later).
Consider turning off Wi-Fi when you’re away from home. Your device may otherwise be constantly polling for the network SSIDs in its history to reconnect automatically or to connect to anything that looks like a carrier’s Wi-Fi network.”
When an update is pending, stop what you’re doing and install it immediately. Yes, this can often be inconvenient. Welcome to the modern world of malware. Suck it up and install your updates or risk compromise. (This applies to your web browser, too—stop putting off that Chrome update prompt and do it right now.)”
“Wi-Fi access points and routers that support firmware or software updates add another layer to the security of your devices while web browsing. If you have an older Wi-Fi access point that you can’t update, toss it. Consider using access points that have built-in threat detection and tracker blocking.”
“[…] weaknesses in the way SMS messages are routed have been used in the past to send them to places they shouldn’t go. Until earlier this year, some services could hijack text messages, and all that was required was the destination phone number and $16. And there are still flaws in Signaling System 7 (SS7), a key telephone network protocol, that can result in text message rerouting if abused.”
“SIM cloning—where an attacker convinces a mobile provider to send a new SIM card for an existing phone number and uses the new SIM to hijack the number.”


Can AI’s Voracious Appetite Be Tamed? by John McQuaid (Undark)

““There’s this race to have bigger datasets with more and more parameters,” said Daniel Leufer, a Brussels-based policy analyst at the digital rights organization Access Now. “So there’s this constant one-upmanship. That’s hugely problematic because it encourages the cheapest, laziest possible gathering of data.””
““It really goes to the core of what supervised machine learning thinks it’s doing when it takes vast amounts of data — say, for example, discrete images — and then uses it to build a worldview as though that is a straightforward, uncomplicated and somehow objective task,” she said. “It is none of these things. It is intensely complicated and highly political.””
““If the incentive is to get a big dataset as cheaply as possible,” said Bender, “then you don’t have resources being allocated to careful construction and curation of that dataset.””
““It seems to me that the big internet companies are very reluctant to even talk about this because it threatens their core business,” said Walter Scheirer, a computer scientist at the University of Notre Dame. “They really are trying to collect as much data from users as possible so they can build products with that as the source material, and if you start limiting that, it really constrains what they can do — or at least what they think they can do.””
“In January 2020, for instance, ImageNet administrators published a paper in which they acknowledged the dataset’s label problems. Of its 2,832 “people” categories, 1,593 — 56 percent — “are potentially offensive labels that should not be used in the context of an image recognition dataset,” the authors wrote. Of the remaining categories, only 158 were purely visual, according to the paper, “with the remaining categories simply demonstrating annotators’ bias.” Those were also removed. Ultimately, only 6 percent of ImageNet’s original categories for people remain.
“In April 2021, Facebook released a dataset called Casual Conversations consisting of such data from 3,100 people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, taken with permission. The richness of this kind of data — images from many angles and in varied lighting — obviates the need for a huge number of subjects, said Cristian Cantor Ferrer, the Facebook research manager who oversaw the dataset’s construction. But producing it required more money — subjects were paid — time, and work hours than mass data collection, he noted. Subjects can also opt out at any time, which the team must track.”


HTTP/3: Performance Improvements (Part 2) by Robin Marx (Smashing Magazine)

“QUIC is still bound by the laws of physics and the need to be nice to other senders on the Internet. This means that it will not magically download your website resources much more quickly than TCP. However, QUIC’s flexibility means that experimenting with new congestion-control algorithms will become easier, which should improve things in the future for both TCP and QUIC.
“[…] we can use the initial encrypted connection to bootstrap a second connection in the future. Simply put, sometime during its lifetime, the first connection is used to safely communicate new cryptographic parameters between the client and server. These parameters can then be used to encrypt the second connection from the very start, without having to wait for the full TLS handshake to complete. This approach is called “session resumption”.
QUIC has a maximum “amplification factor” of three, which was determined to be an acceptable trade-off between performance usefulness and security risk (especially compared to some incidents that had an amplification factor of over 51,000 times). Because the client typically first sends just one to two packets, the QUIC server’s 0-RTT reply will be capped at just 4 to 6 KB (including other QUIC and TLS overhead!), which is somewhat less than impressive.”
“[…] having many concurrent active streams is typically not optimal for web performance, because it can delay some critical (render-blocking) resources, even without packet loss! We’d rather have just one or two active at the same time, using a sequential multiplexer. However, this reduces the impact of QUIC’s HoL blocking removal.”

“For example, Netflix has indicated that it probably won’t move to QUIC anytime soon, having heavily invested in custom FreeBSD set-ups to stream its videos over TCP + TLS.

Similarly, Facebook has said that QUIC will probably mainly be used between end users and the CDN’s edge, but not between data centers or between edge nodes and origin servers, due to its larger overhead. In general, very high-bandwidth scenarios will probably continue to favour TCP + TLS, especially in the next few years.”

“QUIC version 1 is just the start. Many advanced performance-oriented features that Google had earlier experimented with did not make it into this first iteration. However, the goal is to quickly evolve the protocol, introducing new extensions and features at a high frequency. As such, over time, QUIC (and HTTP/3) should become clearly faster and more flexible than TCP (and HTTP/2).


HTTP/3: Practical Deployment Options (Part 3) by Robin Marx (Smashing Magazine)

“[…] we’ve seen that QUIC’s use of UDP doesn’t mean that it can suddenly use more bandwidth than TCP, nor does it mean that it can download your resources more quickly. The often-lauded 0-RTT feature is really a micro-optimization that saves you one round trip, in which you can send about 5 KB (in the worst case). HoL blocking removal doesn’t work well if there is bursty packet loss or when you’re loading render-blocking resources. Connection migration is highly situational, and HTTP/3 doesn’t have any major new features that could make it faster than HTTP/2.

“This was originally interpreted as, “We no longer need to bundle or inline our resources for HTTP/2”. This approach was touted to be better for fine-grained caching because each subresource could be cached individually and the full bundle didn’t need to be redownloaded if one of them changed. This is true, but only to a relatively limited extent.

“For example, you could reduce compression efficiency, because that works better with more data. Additionally, each extra request or file has an inherent overhead because it needs to be handled by the browser and server. These costs can add up for, say, hundreds of small files compared to a few large ones. In our own early tests, I found seriously diminishing returns at about 40 files. Though those numbers are probably a bit higher now, file requests are still not as cheap in HTTP/2 as originally predicted.”

“[…] many servers depend on third-party TLS libraries such as OpenSSL. This is, again, because TLS is very complex and has to be secure, so it’s best to reuse existing, verified work. However, while QUIC integrates with TLS 1.3, it uses it in ways much different from how TLS and TCP interact. This means that TLS libraries have to provide QUIC-specific APIs, which their developers have long been reluctant or slow to do. The issue here especially is OpenSSL, which has postponed QUIC support, but it is also used by many servers. This problem got so bad that Akamai decided to start a QUIC-specific fork of OpenSSL, called quictls. While other options and workarounds exist, TLS 1.3 support for QUIC is still a blocker for many servers, and it is expected to remain so for some time.”
“As we saw in part 1, this is exactly one of the reasons why TCP is no longer practically evolvable. However, due to QUIC’s encryption, firewalls can do much less of this connection-level tracking logic, and the few bits they can inspect are relatively complex. As such, many firewall vendors currently recommend blocking QUIC until they can update their software. Even after that, though, many companies might not want to allow it, because firewall QUIC support will always be much less than the TCP features they’re used to.”
“HTTP/3 and QUIC are complex protocols that rely on a lot of internal machinery. Not all of that is ready for prime time just yet, although you already have some options to deploy the new protocols on your back ends. It will probably take a few months to even years for the most prominent servers and underlying libraries (such as OpenSSL) to get updated, however.
“Even if a server supports HTTP/3, however, clients (and website owners!) need to deal with the fact that intermediate networks might block UDP and/or QUIC traffic. As such, HTTP/3 will never completely replace HTTP/2. In practice, keeping a well-tuned HTTP/2 set-up will remain necessary both for first-time visitors and visitors on non-permissive networks. Luckily, as we discussed, there shouldn’t be many page-level changes between HTTP/2 and HTTP/3, so this shouldn’t be a major headache.”
Even for those tool vendors announcing HTTP/3 support in the coming months, I would be a bit skeptical and would validate that they’re actually doing it correctly. For some tools, things are probably even worse, though; for example, Google’s PageSpeed Insights only got HTTP/2 support this year, so I wouldn’t wait for HTTP/3 arriving anytime soon.”

Programming

How Remix makes CSS clashes predictable by Kent C. Dodds

“Wouldn’t it be better if we just… like… don’t have the CSS on any page other than the /about page? And I’m not talking about just lazy-loading the CSS or anything. That’s not enough. We need the CSS to not only arrive in the browser when the user gets to the /about page but also make sure it’s removed from the page when the user navigates away from the /about page.

This is what happens when people forget that not everything has to be an SPA. The browser knows how to handle this. Just go to a different page. Caches work.

“What this route module does is tell Remix: “When this route is active on the page, here are the link tags I need on the page.” And Remix ensures that those link tags are on the page and also that they’re removed from the page when that route is not active.”

Remix is reinventing the web and browser technology inside the browser, for unknown reasons. I guess it’s nice that this works for SPAs, but I’m not sure we should be so excited about it—because that excitement suggests that we think we’ve actually achieved something new, rather than just extended the hackiness of using an SPA for what is, essentially an MPA.