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Links and Notes for December 25th, 2020

Published 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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.

COVID-19

The World’s Greatest by Anna DeForest (The Paris Review)

“In makeshift ICUs, patients were dying of unwitnessed self-extubation, dying when their IV bags of blood-pressure bolsters ran out faster than the nurse could change them, the nurse who could safely staff two or three patients but was caring for closer to ten.
“Somehow, despite all we learned in spring, and the global demonstration of the simple effectiveness of strapping paper to your face, here in December I am running a consult service where a third of our patients are positive: COVID-19 encephalitis, COVID-19 strokes, COVID-19 and won’t wake up.”
I cannot tell if I am struggling more than my fellow physicians or just struggling more openly. My failure to do well by patients in this setting gives me a deep and unsubtle sense of absolute worthlessness, even if I am doing the best I can. Perhaps I am just quicker to name the limit of what I can bear, as if naming that limit, again and again, can push it out far enough to contain all this.”
“That man would get #MeToo-ed to death today, if he mattered enough for anyone to bother. He was a warning flare from the sinking ship of toxic masculinity, horribly afraid of irrelevance and death. The bravest act you could commit as an artist, he told us, was to confess (with manly pride, in the gleeful cadence of poetry) the worst things you ever did to anyone. How dumb, how dull, how simple that looks now. How easy to be awful and privileged, and to gloat. What is hard, of course, is to keep showing up, to work without hope as part of a hopeless whole, do work which is unrewarded and bodily and takes time.”
“Soon, at the hospital, they will line us up for our vaccines, and then we will work, immune, through the long COVID-19 winter. Me first, I’m guessing, and my husband just after. We will find, in time, some way to sort the wreckage, but I don’t believe we will ever recover, those of us who watched this senselessness unfolding, those of us who lost someone we love. There isn’t so far left to go before we both survive this. And I will try to hold on, although the road is dark and I am already so tired. This is my message to anyone who isn’t already in the hospital, in the bed or standing beside it: Just hold on.”


In the Wealthiest Country in History, Americans Are Desperately Struggling With Hunger by Luke Savage (Jacobin)

“Amid talk of massive public spending, enhanced support for the unemployed, and even the conscription of private industry under the Defense Production Act, it momentarily appeared that the pandemic might at least put a dent in decades of bipartisan aversion to social democracy and activist government.”
“Enhanced unemployment benefits, which saved countless people from careering over a financial cliff, were quickly scaled back as senior Democrats and Republicans alike mused that they might make it harder for employers to hire.


The Pain of Pandemic-Induced Unemployment in America Is Brutal and Unceasing by Hadas Thier (Jacobin)

For thirty-seven weeks straight, the num­ber of new US job­less claims has been higher than any oth­er time since the Depart­ment of Labor start­ed keep­ing track in 1967. Though the number of new weekly claims has come down from the spring peak, it has plateaued at a level that is still higher than the pre­vi­ous record (665,000 dur­ing the Great Reces­sion).”
“More than twelve million people collecting unemployment benefits will lose their benefits the day after Christmas, just in time to face COVID spikes, more shuttered businesses, and a cold winter.”
“Roughly twelve million workers will lose their benefits as a result of these programs expiring, and another four million will have already exhausted their CARES Act benefits before this cutoff, for a total of more than sixteen million workers losing their benefits by year’s end. At the same time, the federal evictions moratorium and student loan forbearance are also expiring.”
“It’s just very frustrating. I’m a real person and I am scared. I am physically and emotionally hurt constantly. And I was almost out. Now I have no money, no savings, past bills, a much lower credit score. This is affecting my life today and my future tomorrow. When I save up money to leave, how bad will my credit have gotten? Will I ever be able to leave?”
Nicole
“Every once in a while I just have these moments where I’m like, “What the fuck am I doing? I have a college degree. I worked for ten years. What is happening right now?””
Julia
“The next five to ten years of my life have been totally derailed.”
Julia
“Aggressive measures are needed. Direct cash assistance to individuals, renewed supplemental federal unemployment benefits, the extension of PUA and PEUC benefits, aid to faltering state budgets should be the minimum. But rental supports, eviction moratoriums, debt relief, and childcare supports are also important.”
“They were elected into a public office to represent the people of the country and they have to work nights and weekends. And holidays and skip Christmas. Remember when they went on recess in August for four weeks? You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to just fly to your second home in Florida and take a week off. That’s what kills me the most. This is a nine-to-five issue for them. This is my whole world. I’m just sitting here every day waiting for them to come up with a solution. And they’re clocking out.”
Brock
“The virus is a huge problem. But that’s not the core of why we are where we are right now. I think it all comes down to a lack of interest in genuinely trying to help people. Leadership on both sides of the aisle are all about maintaining power. And I guess my hope would be to look past your own professional careers in Congress, actually re-engage with your constituents. Otherwise, you’re really closing your eyes to an oncoming revolution.”
Ben

Public Policy & Politics

Justin Amash Introduces Bill To End Civil Asset Forfeiture Nationwide by Billy Binion (Reason)

“Law enforcement on the local, state, and federal levels can seize assets if they were thought to be used in connection with illegal activity. That’s often based solely on suspicion, though. Many people never receive their items back, even if they were acquitted or never charged in the first place. Since 2000, state and local governments have robbed people of more than $68 billion.”
“By ending it, my bill helps fulfill Congress’s obligation to stop rights violations at both the state and federal level, and it ends a practice that contributes to the frayed relationship between law enforcement and the public.“”


Donald Trump Puts Israel First by Nicky Reid (CounterPunch)

“I wanted to believe that that bronzer slicked bastard would at long last have enough common sense to realize that the only way he could leave the Oval Office as anything but a sobbing loser was to actually put America first for once and bring the troops home. I’m not incredibly shocked that such a consistently foul creature went the other way with things, but I am disappointed none the same. Even revolutionaries want to believe in miracles at Christmas.
The American Empire has always operated like a mafia protection racket, bombing the shit out of defenseless weaklings like Grenada and Serbia, then suggesting to their neighbors that it would be a shame if something similar happened to their pretty nation if they weren’t protected by the same thugs. Like most of his policies, Trump has simply taken all the magic out of our already fascistic policies by ripping the curtain down and charging the highest bidder to see how the sausage is made.
“Consider for a moment the bizarre fact that Israel is given the microphone by every cable news outlet from Fox to MSNBC so it can wax philosophic about the immorality of a totally fictional Iranian nuclear weapons project while they pack over one hundred illegal bombs themselves without so much as an IAEA membership after stealing the formula form Washington,”
“The number one lesson to take away from America’s nuclear peace deal isn’t how easy it is to restart, but how easy it was to throw away. Under these circumstances, should Iran even take us back? They may not have a choice. Meanwhile, the West Bank continues to burn with a single starving neighbor to put the fire out.


MindGeek: The secretive owner of Pornhub and RedTube by Patricia Nilsson (Ars Technica)

“The legacy of Thylmann’s deal with lenders is one potential explanation for the modest profits, with MindGeek’s accounts showing it has for years paid an annual 20.4 percent interest rate on outstanding debt that in 2018 reached $370 million.

So big banks like Goldman Sachs are invested in the porn market with usurious loans. That sounds about right.

“MindGeek owes one of these subsidiaries $200 million in debt issued when Bergemar entered the business, which is paid in monthly installments that range from $1.5 million to $1.8 million, some years eclipsing declared profits.”
“While Google-owned YouTube has been dragged in front of politicians for failing to spot and remove copyrighted videos or outright illegal content of people getting harmed, criticism of MindGeek and other tube sites has been muted.”

Cmon. Youtube eclipses all porn combined.


Death and Offense by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“A woman had been pistol-whipped, dragged into an alleyway behind what was then St. Agnes Hospital in South Philadelphia, and raped — until the rapist was startled and fled the scene. Hicks heard her screams and rushed to help. But, seconds later, police officers arrived, took him for the rapist and shot him three times. Hicks survived, but was charged with the rape and sentenced to 12½ to 25 years in prison. On Wednesday, after 19 years’ incarceration, Hicks, 45, was, at last, exonerated.
“By doing this, you encourage, if not empower, those delicate flowers who fell below the reasonable person standard that law putatively honored for centuries in order to not make the most easily offended person the bar by which society would be judged.”
Did someone say “master,” as in potter or bater, and it made you cry? If so, you’re mentally unstable, but more likely it did no such thing and you’re lying for the cause, to prove your goodness and virtue. Imagine, a generation of liars to prove virtue?”
“But for Larry Krasner exonerating him, Mr. Hicks would have died in prison. If you’ve never had to spend a day in prison as an innocent person, then shut up and stop whining.


Instagram is Using False “Fact-Checking” to Protect Joe Biden’s Crime Record From Criticisms by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“The Washington Post’s designated fact-checker Glenn Kessler assigned two Pinocchios to Biden’s insistence that his crime bill “did not generate mass incarceration,” noting that “the bill encouraged states to build more prisons — with more money coming to them if they increased penalties.” Kessler cited a Brennan Center report that “the 1994 Crime Bill is justly criticized for encouraging states to build and fill new prisons.”
“This episode demonstrates two crucial facts. The first is that what is so often passed off as quasi-scientific, opinion-free “fact-checking” are instead extremely tendentious, subjective and highly debatable opinions. That’s how Instagram can cherry-pick the conclusions of USA Today and treat it as if it is Gospel even though numerous other outlets, mainstream politicians in Biden’s own party, and criminal justice experts reached a radically different conclusion. “Fact-checking” in theory has journalistic value, but it is often nothing more than a branding tactic for media outlets to disguise their highly subjective pronouncements as unchallengeable Truth.
“[…] the assumption that tech giants are acting with the best of intentions is completely unwarranted. Like every faction, these companies are awash with bias, partisanship, ideological dogma and self-interest. They overwhelmingly donated to the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign. Their executives are residing in virtually every sector of the Biden/Harris transition. Currying favor with the Biden administration — by, say, soft-censoring or discrediting harmful critiques of the President-elect — serves their corporate interests in multiple ways. And their overwhelmingly establishment-liberal employees are increasingly insistent that views they dislike should be censored off their platforms.”


It’s Just A Matter of Trust by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

The passionate are owed rulings with which they agree, and refuse to accept that any outcome with which they disagree could [have been] rendered in good faith.”
“It’s long been my belief that Trump was our warning and punishment for the failures of governance preceding him. Congressional paralysis and executive overreach produce corrosive cynicism and blind outrage rather than healthy skepticism and good faith disagreement. America gave up on competence, knowledge and civility. In its place, we got Trump.
“Trump has taught his opponents not to believe a word he says, his followers not to believe a word anyone else says, and much of the rest of the country to believe nobody and nothing at all.”
“The claims of Trump’s “rigged” elections are, to any rational and somewhat knowledgeable person, examples of how deeply people believe, and how little they care, about facts. The same is true of those who contend that everything in our society is racist, sexist, awful and existential. No doubt the comments that will follow this post will argue why one side’s claims are true, while the other’s are not. Or that these aren’t comparable, for even if their tribe’s fantasies are false, they’re not as evil as the other tribes, rendering any comparison false.”

They’re really all the same: Russiagaters and Countthevoters.

You can’t trust our system only when you get the outcome you prefer, but undermine trust when you don’t. This produces two things. The first is a president like Donald Trump, our warning and our punishment for being so cynical. After that, the only option is blood in the streets, as there is no institution left to resolve our disagreements in which we trust. Is that really where we want to end up?”


Even the Opposition Believes Venezuela’s Election Was Legitimate by Vijay Prashad (CounterPunch)

“Just hours after the election, both the U.S. government and the European Union—as well as their allies in Latin America—announced, predictably, that the elections had been fraudulent. They did not need evidence; they did not need anything except the reiteration of the simple line that an election in a country whose government challenges U.S. authority cannot be legitimate in any way.


Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics by Eric Draitser (CounterPunch)

“So, if Trump represented an upsurge in poor and working class political power, that was news to the tens of millions of affluent, employed, financially stable white people who voted for him. In fact, according to the data, the more financially secure the county, and the higher its average credit score and median income, the more likely it was to vote for Trump.

Nobody I know who voted for Trump is for white power. They may not disagree were it proposed, but it’s not at all high on their agenda. Many would be deeply offended at the suggestion.

Their primary concern is government waste, which is the lie sold by Republicans. They distrust the Democrats for the wrong reasons, but don’t really care about whiteness. They hate mooching and freeloading and have bought the myth that the poor do it more. They abhor the poorness of other races more, possibly, but they’ve been taught to by everyone. Hillary called them predators when Trump did.

“Gallup’s Jonathan Rothwell conducted an in-depth analysis which revealed something profound: Trump’s supporters are richer, not poorer, than average. Moreover, he concluded that the overriding factor determining support for Trump was not economics (NAFTA, Chinese competition, etc.) but rather segregation. Specifically, Rothwell found that the core of Trump’s support came from people living in communities mostly or entirely unaffected by immigration.”

As outlined above, anecdotally, I would disagree. But they have the numbers, I guess. I would be very hesitant to use these numbers without reading the study and seeing the methodology. It’s possible that the Trump voters that I know are more of a bubble (they’re in New York State, not in the southern states).

Philosophy

Should There Be Limits on Persuasive Technologies? by Bruce Schneier

“A modern day Bernays no longer needs to ferret out the social causes that might inspire you or entice you­ — you’ve likely already shared that by your online behavior.
Some music streaming platforms encourage users to disclose their current moods, which helps advertisers target subscribers based on their emotional states.”
“This always-on digital experience enables marketers to know what we are doing­ — and when, where, and how we might be feeling at that moment.
“The technology already exists to help predict moods of some target audiences, pinpoint their location at any given time, and deliver fairly tailored and timely messaging. How far does that ability need to go before it erodes the autonomy of those targeted to make decisions of their own free will?
“Another example: Instead of just advertising to you when they detect that you are vulnerable, what if advertisers craft advertisements that deliberately manipulate your mood?”

Dude, that’s already like every commercial. You’ve just described modern advertising.

“[…] emotional thinking threatens to undermine the very legitimacy of the system, as voters are essentially provoked to move in whatever direction someone with power and money wants.”

That’s not how they get you. They get you by making you blow your financial security on frivolity, so you have no political power.

“The unsuspecting target is grossly disadvantaged. Is it acceptable for the same services to both mediate our digital experience and to target us? Is there ever such thing as too much targeting?”


What Attacks on Science Get Wrong by Andrew Jewett (The Chronicle)

“The resulting images of science as an ethically impotent, culturally threatening force inflected the revolts of the 1960s, which powerfully reinforced the association of science with a technocratic form of liberalism. Although the contours of such images have shifted since then, they help to explain why many Americans see modern science as an alien cultural presence, despite its equally strong associations with technological progress and economic growth.
“Poststructural attacks on the universal values proposed by the postwar generation broadened into a critique of the whole idea of universals. Claims to universality were held merely to represent exertions of power.
“[…] poststructural theorists have often tied common-sense arguments about the character and limits of scientific knowledge to sweeping, reductive portraits of its hegemonic influence in the modern world.
“In the United States, science does serve important public functions. Biologists and physicists wield forms of authority in courtrooms that religious leaders and literary critics do not possess.
“Most practices and institutions in the modern West seem pointless or even harmful to those who assume that a deity determines our worldly fortunes, that our earthly actions matter primarily in relation to our otherworldly fate, or both. The typical patterns of exertion in modern societies fit much better with the view that one’s earthly well-being largely reflects one’s earthly actions, and that these actions matter primarily for that reason.
“This cycle must be broken if we are to recognize science for what it truly is: a thoroughly human practice like any other, yet one that produces remarkable outcomes. Rather than arguing that science’s validity depends on the personal neutrality of individual researchers, we could instead learn to value scientific findings for their reliability.

This is the main point you should take from the this article.

Programming

DRY is a Trade-Off by Moshe Zadka (Orbifolds and Other Games)

“As with all engineering decisions, following DRY is a trade-off. DRY leads to the following issues: Loss of locality Overgeneralized code Coordination issues Ownership issues”
“The alternative to copy-pasting [sic] the code is usually to put it in a function (or procedure, or a subroutine, depending on the language), and call it. This means that when reading through the original caller [sic], it is less clear what the code does.”

That is nearly absolutely not true. Think of the await fetch in a browser. How much code does it hide? how much more legible is the code now?

“[…] you are doing “print debugging”, this means finding the original source for the function and adding relevant print statements there.”

Ah, a JS programmer. But the problem of not being able to quickly change ANY offending line is a real problem.

“When you move this code to a function as a part of a straightforward DRY refactoring, this means that now a function is mutating its parameters.”

Shudder. No, it doesn’t.

“If the “copy-pasta” was more extensive, it might lead to extensive over-generalization: each place needs a slightly different variation of the functionality.”

But there are patterns to address this, as well. Bad engineers don’t know them, though.

“For example, if the repetition was across different repositories, now updates means updating library versions. The person making the change might not even be aware of all the callers.”

That is legitimately a tough problem with no clear answer that applies in all cases. Professionally run frameworks opt for semantic versioning coupled with extensive release notes and issue-tracking.

“Especially in case with reactive DRY refactoring, there is little effort given to specifying the expected semantics of the common code. There might be some tests, but the behavior that is not captured by tests might still vary.”

At this, you have framework code, which you must specify, test, and treat like its own project, with its own stakeholders. It’s better to delay DRY until the components to share have stable requirements and clearly delineated overlap.

“It is better to acknowledge the duplication, perhaps track it via a ticket, and let the actual “DRY” application take place later. This allows gathering more examples, thinking carefully about API design, and make sure that ownership and backwards compatibility issues have been thought of.”