April 9, 2018 in 4,444 words

The Report on Race That Shook America

It came out in 1968—yet little has changed since the Kerner Commission denounced “white racism”

In July 1967, when President Lyndon B. Johnson formed a commission to analyze the riots then engulfing several major American cities, the radical wing of the civil-rights movement eyed his appointees with grave skepticism. Not only did the 11-person commission abound with the most conventional of politicians—including its chairman, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner—but a mere two of them were black. Racial militants might have tolerated that paltry number of seats had they been occupied by firebrands such as Stokely Carmichael, who popularized the term black power, or H. Rap Brown, who routinely railed against “the honkies.” These brazen embodiments of the new generation of civil-rights activism would have reliably conveyed the concerns and frustrations of black youth—a presumably vital task for the commission, given that most rioters ranged from 15 to 24 years old.

Instead of black insurgents, however, Johnson tapped the longtime NAACP doyen Roy Wilkins and Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, two men broadly regarded as more acquainted with executive suites than with edgy streets. Detractors viewed Wilkins as so fearful of bucking the Johnson administration that they branded him “Roy Weak-knees.” Although Brooke had recently become the first black person popularly elected to the Senate, national media observed that his time as state attorney general and his personal attributes hardly endeared him to black radicals, who stopped just shy of labeling him an Uncle Tom. “Because of his pale skin, his Episcopalian faith, his reserved New England manner,” Time magazine noted, Brooke “is looked upon as what might be described as a ‘NASP’—the Negro equivalent of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.” Both Wilkins and Brooke, moreover, had sharply repudiated the nascent black-power movement, going so far as to equate it with white supremacy. Whereas Brooke called Carmichael and the arch-segregationist Lester Maddox “extremists of black power and white power,” Wilkins termed Carmichael’s ethos “a reverse Mississippi, a reverse Hitler, a reverse Ku Klux Klan.”

With these pillars of the establishment speaking on behalf of African Americans, black-power advocates were convinced that the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders—as the body was officially named—would sanitize America’s ugly racial realities. A few months before the commission’s findings appeared in a document typically called the Kerner Report, the journalist Elizabeth Drew confirmed in these pages that “the word has gone out among the militant Negroes that the commission is a fink operation … and is not to be cooperated with.” She added: “No one here is betting … that the commission’s product will differ radically from one that [LBJ] wants.”

How Trump Channels the 1970s

The one consistent message coming out of the White House was born in the 1970s: Don’t trust any institution.

Donald Trump was building his career in real estate in the 1970s. He’s pictured here in New York in 1976.

President Trump has brought the spirit of the 1970s into the Oval Office. If there is one consistent message that has come out of this White House, it is a message born out of the turbulent decade: Don’t trust any institution.

Every president carries with them the zeitgeist of a period that shaped their values and vision. In recent decades, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush embodied the patriotism and national bravado of the early Cold War in the 1950s—an unyielding belief in American Exceptionalism. To the consternation of Representative Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton emerged as the voice of the 1960s counter-culture even though his domestic policies were often at odds with the legacy of FDR and LBJ. President George W. Bush championed the conservative ethos of Reagan’s America in the 1980s, with its zealous belief in free markets, deregulation, and tax cuts. President Barack Obama promoted the hard-headed, data-loving, problem-solving pragmatic attitude of the 1990s when the end of the Cold War suggested that almost any challenge could be met.

For President Trump, it’s all about the 1970s. That bleak decade saw the nation turn against most of the institutions that had been central since World War II. The quagmire in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon’s resignation turned many Americans, on the left and the right, against the federal government. The post-Nixonian presidency came to be viewed as an office whose holders should not be trusted. When President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon in September 1974 for any crimes that he might have committed, all hope of healing the nation went right out the window. Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976 revolved around the basic promise that voters could trust him. Though Congress looked good at the height of the Watergate investigation in 1973, polls showed public confidence in the legislative branch falling thereafter. The number of Americans who trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time declined from almost 80 percent in 1964 to 25 percent when Reagan took office in 1981.

‘Take that down!’: Watch Fox host Howard Kurtz panic after graphic shows Fox News is least trusted network

In what was undoubtedly a painful moment on Fox News this morning, media analyst Howard Kurtz frantically implored his producer to take down a graphic that showed Fox is the least trusted of the big three cable networks.

Speaking with pollster Frank Luntz about Donald Trump’s Twitter habits, with Luntz calling the president’s use of “fake news” detrimental to his cause, Kurtz brought up a recent poll from Monmouth University on the trustworthiness of news outlets compared to Donald Trump.

That is when things took a hilarious turn.

“Speaking of fake news, there is a new poll out from Monmouth University. ‘Do the media report fake news regularly or occasionally?’ 77 percent say yes,” Kurtz exclaimed before noticing the graphic instead showed “Who do you trust more?” with CNN at 48 percent, MSNBC at 45 percent and Fox News bring up the rear at 30 percent.


Mark Zuckerberg Says He’s Not Resigning

In an interview, the Facebook CEO tells The Atlantic he’s not walking away from the company, but he is looking for outside expertise.

Mark Zuckerberg’s story doesn’t quite line up.

For months, the Facebook chief executive has described the 2016 election as a turning point both for him and for the company over which he holds enormous power.

The cavalcade of scandals that followed that November—disputes over user data, fake news, and Russia’s manipulation of the platform—has led to a “very basic shift in how we view our responsibility,” he said in an interview with The Atlantic on Friday. Now, Zuckerberg is transforming the company, opening it up to public scrutiny in unprecedented ways. “A big theme” going forward, he said, will be getting “independent expertise and assessment of the work that we’re doing.”

Yet Zuckerberg—who is not only Facebook’s CEO, but also the chairman of its board and its majority voting shareholder—struggled to describe when his personal thinking about the company and its philosophy shifted. He could not articulate what changed his mind or drove him to adopt the new approach.

“Well, I certainly feel very bad, and I’m sorry that we did not do a better job of of finding the Russian interference during the 2016 election,” Zuckerberg told me. “I mean, that was a huge miss.”

Almost unique among American companies, Facebook is the outgrowth of one man’s sensibility. As that firm now changes its approach to the public, that man hasn’t articulated why. In the days after I spoke to the famously private Zuckerberg, I have wondered whether it matters. Though he runs a company that constantly exhorts people to share how they feel, Zuckerberg himself seems uncomfortable with reflection. He has not ever, in my memory, appeared vulnerable in public. He has ignored the CEO playbook for a company that faces a crisis of public trust: He does not grovel, he does not evince embarrassment at the size of the lapse. He does not tell users: I feel your pain.

Facebook suspends Cubeyou over harvesting data claims

Case of New York company’s alleged information collection under guise of academic research echoes Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Cubeyou was using Facebook quizzes to collect data on users.

Facebook has suspended a company from its site while it investigates claims it harvested user information under the guise of academic research, in a case with echoes of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Cubeyou, a New York-based data analytics firm that offers “fast, easy and accurate consumer insights” to customers, gathered some of its user data with Facebook quizzes developed in conjunction with the University of Cambridge. The quizzes carrying the disclaimer that information gathered would be used “for non-profit academic research”.

According to CNBC, which first reported Cubeyou’s data harvesting techniques, the company used an app called You Are What You Like – a “one-click personality test” – to harvest data from users and build up a psychometric profile of them. Users were told the app was “developed by University of Cambridge Psychometrics Centre, in collaboration with Cubeyou”.

The discovery suggests that collecting data for marketing purposes under the guise of academic research may have been a common practice, and not simply isolated to Cambridge Analytica.

Aleksandr Kogan, the University of Cambridge academic who was contracted to gather data from millions of Facebook users, has long maintained that his work was standard practice. “Honestly we thought we were acting perfectly appropriately,” he had told the Guardian. “We thought we were doing something that was really normal.”

Don’t just blame Facebook for taking your data – most online publishers are at it too

Online surveillance is rife but there are plenty of tools available to help preserve your privacy.

Recent opinion polls have cast doubt over the level of trust people have in Facebook over privacy.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a good metaphor must be worth a million. In an insightful blog post published on 23 March, Doc Searls, one of the elder statesman of the web, managed to get both for the price of one. His post was headed by one of those illustrations of an iceberg showing that only the tip is the visible part, while the great bulk of the object lies underwater. In this case, the tip was adorned with the Facebook logo while the submerged mass represented “Every other website making money from tracking-based advertising”. The moral: “Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing.”

The proximate cause of Searls’s essay was encountering a New York Times op-ed piece entitled Facebook’s Surveillance Machine by Zeynep Tufekci. It wasn’t the (unexceptional) content of the article that interested Searls, however, but what his ad-blocking software told him about the Times page in which the essay appeared. The software had detected no fewer than 13 hidden trackers on the page. (I’ve just checked and my Ghostery plug-in has detected 19.)

And the point of this? The NYT is just doing what every other publication that lives off “adtech” does: tracker-based advertising. These publications, Searls wrote, “don’t just open the kimonos of their readers. They bring readers’ bare digital necks to vampires ravenous for the blood of personal data, all for the purpose of aiming ‘interest-based’ advertising at those same readers.”

This is what security guru Bruce Schneier meant when he observed that “surveillance is the business model of the internet”. (Pedantic columnists – like this one – might object that he meant the web rather than the internet, but since many people cannot distinguish between the two, we’ll let that pass.) The fundamental truth highlighted by Schneier’s aphorism is that the vast majority of internet users have entered into a Faustian bargain in which they exchange control of their personal data in return for “free” services (such as social networking and search) and/or easy access to the websites of online publications, YouTube and the like.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: “In our current online world, only the paranoid thrive.”

The dots do matter: how to scam a Gmail user

I recently received an email from Netflix which nearly caused me to add my card details to someone else’s Netflix account. Here I show that this is a new kind of phishing scam which is enabled by an obscure feature of Gmail called “the dots don’t matter”. I then argue that the dots do matter, and that this Gmail feature is in fact a misfeature. Finally I’ll suggest some ways the Gmail team can combat such scams in future. But first, I’ll show you the email:

“Odd,” I thought, “but OK, I’ll check.” The email is genuinely from netflix.com, so I clicked the authenticated link to an “Update your credit or debit card” page, which is genuinely hosted on netflix.com. No phishing here. But hang on, the “Update” page showed my declined card as **** 2745. A card number I don’t recognize. Checking my records, I’ve never seen this card number. What’s going on?

I finally realized that this email is to james.hfisher@gmail.com. I normally use jameshfisher@gmail.com, with no dots. You might think this email should have bounced, but instead it reached my inbox, because “dots don’t matter in Gmail addresses”:

If someone accidentally adds dots to your address when emailing you, you’ll still get that email. For example, if your email is johnsmith@gmail.com, you own all dotted versions of your address:

• john.smith@gmail.com
• jo.hn.sm.ith@gmail.com
• j.o.h.n.s.m.i.t.h@gmail.com

Netflix does not know about this Gmail “feature”. Externally, jameshfisher@gmail.com and james.hfisher@gmail.com are different identities, and should have their own Netflix accounts.

5 Cities That Changed Unrecognizably In Only A Few Decades

The ways cities change over the ages never cease to amaze people. We love to think about the times our home megalopolises were nothing but tiny little specks of civilization, back when everyone knew each other’s names and wore monocles, and dinosaurs flew biplanes. But we also think that these cities stay basically the same, simply slowly swapping wood for stone, gaslight for electricity, and quite tall buildings for really tall buildings. It takes ages for a city to truly change. But that’s not necessarily true. There are cities that, due to war, societal upheaval, or other extraordinary circumstances, completely transformed in the span of a few seasons of The Bachelor. For example …

5. Pre-Revolution Tehran Was One Of The Hippest Cities In The World

Since the late 1970s, the popular perception of life in Iran is that of fatwa-issuing ayatollahs, rabid flag-burning crowds chanting “Death to America,” and women getting harangued for having the audacity to let too much hair poke out from underneath their headscarves.

But before the Iranian Revolution, the capital city of Tehran had the opposite reputation of religious extremism: being cool as hell. For decades, Iran was at the cutting edge of culture and civic progress. In ’50s Iran, you could visit the kind of rock and jazz clubs that could easily be in Hamburg. This was when the Beatles were still calling themselves the Quarrymen.

Back when “rocking out” couldn’t be confused with “death by stoning.”

But the greatest symbol of how progressive Iran was had to be its very chill attitude concerning women. During the ’60s and ’70s, downtown Tehran was as into big hair, short dresses, and freedom of expression as any secular Western country.

These Americans are trapped in their jobs: they need to pay $10,000 to quit

Why would dozens of news anchors recite a Sinclair Broadcast group script? Because their contracts entrap them.

Sinclair contracts contain a requirement that employees must pay their employers if they leave their jobs before their contract terms end.

Dozens of news anchors robotically intoned “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy,” after reciting what turned out to be a script by Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner and operator of 193 local TV stations. Dan Rather called it Orwellian, and many have asked in amazement: why would local journalists across the nation allow themselves to be used in such a demeaning way?

The answer is clear to me, as a lawyer with decades handling cases involving low-wage workers: people need jobs. But the anchors may have an even more specific concern: an employment contract that doesn’t just bind but entraps them.

Among other things, Sinclair contracts contain a requirement that employees must pay their employers if they leave their jobs before their contract terms end. For example, an employee making $50,000 annually might have to pay in the ballpark of $10,000 if she wanted to leave after one year of a two-year term.

While it’s plainly illegal to impose a penalty on employees for leaving a job, the contract describes this requirement as “liquidated damages”. But such damages are allowed only in very limited situations, such as when an employee leaves a job shortly after receiving, at the employer’s expense, costly, specific, and transportable training. This is hardly the situation for Sinclair employees.

There are now gold-backed cryptocurrencies for Muslims that conform with Sharia


Putting your money where you can see it.

Cryptocurrency is not great for your blood pressure. With prices soaring and plummeting on a weekly basis, there is a fast buck to be made, but also a lot to lose—and quickly.

That doesn’t go down so well with Muslim nations. In the Islamic faith, it’s believed that economic activity should be based on real, physical assets, not speculation; observant Muslims also do not invest in banking products that offer returns via interest payments. Therefore, many people in the Gulf states and beyond don’t consider bitcoin, ethereum, and other cryptos to be compliant with Sharia law.

Cryptocurrencies writ large have not yet been officially banned in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but these governments have issued warnings about their citizens purchasing bitcoin. Because of this, Muslim markets have been slower to trade in digital currencies. And there is a lot of money to be made in Islamic finance: Muslim countries contribute about 1% of global GDP.

To serve these wealthy Islamic populations, a new type of Sharia-approved crypto is cropping up.

Should Chimpanzees Be Considered ‘Persons’?

You might be aware that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in a mirror, communicate through sign language, pursue goals creatively and form long-lasting friendships. You might also think that these are the kinds of things that a person can do. However, you might not think of chimpanzees as persons.

The Nonhuman Rights Project does. Since 2013, the group has been working on behalf of two chimpanzees, Kiko and Tommy, currently being held in cages by their “owners” without the company of other chimpanzees. It is asking the courts to rule that Kiko and Tommy have the right to bodily liberty and to order their immediate release into a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their lives with other chimpanzees.

The problem is that under current United States law, one is either a “person” or a “thing.” There is no third option. If you are a person, you have the capacity for rights, including the right to habeas corpus relief, which protects you from unlawful confinement. If you are a thing, you do not have the capacity for rights. And unfortunately, even though they are sensitive, intelligent, social beings, Kiko and Tommy are considered things under the law.

In response, the Nonhuman Rights Project is taking a bold position: It is arguing that if every being must be either a person or a thing, then Kiko and Tommy are persons, not things. I agree, and many other philosophers do, too.

What the US post office really gets from Amazon


The last mile is the longest.

In the past few weeks, Donald Trump America’s Shithole has tweeted multiple times about whether the US Postal Service is “Amazon’s delivery boy.”

In an effort to establish the facts, UBS hosted a call with the former postmaster general, Patrick Donahoe, who described how the USPS thinks about Amazon’s business. In the call, he stressed that raising prices on Amazon’s volume risks Amazon accelerating its own creation of the infrastructure around the so-called “last mile”—meaning putting things directly into the hands of customers—that the post office has had in place for the past century.

Amazon already handles the logistics and fulfilment further up the delivery funnel so that 75% of what goes through the USPS from Amazon is all “last mile.” Raising prices might also prompt a shift to alternative private providers, such as Fedex and UPS.

How to give feedback that actually works, without hurting anyone more than you have to


Dish it out wisely.

Management moguls are obsessed with telling you to give more feedback. It will save your startup. Make you a great manager. Earn you millions. Hell, they promise, it’ll resuscitate your marriage and your sex life, too. But will it?

Feedback fanatics aren’t crazy. A lack of frequent, helpful feedback is among the top reasons people quit their jobs. Studies show that more communicative, honest cultures drive increased productivity, innovation, and employee satisfaction.

Feedback helps us see our inevitable blind spots, and optimize our performance. As Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, famously stated, “You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know.”

Poorly delivered feedback, however, can wreak havoc. At its best, it stirs confusion. At its worst, it breeds fear, resentment, and revenge. As a result, we’re conditioned to viewing the delivery of any feedback as a risk.

But anyone can master the art of giving feedback. Here’s how

Can you solve it? The hipster bicycle race

Five moustache-twiddling riddles

Hipster Lego figures.

Hi guzzlers,

Today, a spring selection of bite-sized brain food.

1) Two hipsters, Atticus and Abe, were arguing about whose electronic bicycle was the slowest. They decided to race them along a 100m track. They agreed that the bike reaching the finish line last would be the winner. The guys got on their bikes on the start line. But, predictably, they just stood there, since no one wanted to start first and risk being the first to finish. They had been immobile for hours when their pal Daisy showed up. She asked if anything was the matter, so they put down their bikes and walked over to her to explain. She said a few words, at which point they ran back, jumped on the bikes and sped to the finish line as fast as possible. What was her advice?

2) Why would a Parisian hairdresser prefer to give a haircut to two Belgians rather than one Briton?

3) Three sisters receive the following gift: 7 crates of wine, 7 half-empty crates of wine and 7 empty crates. How do they divide the gift in such a way that each sister gets the same amount of wine and the same number of crates, without transferring wine from any crate to any other crate?

4) Which English word is pronounced the same when four of its five letters are removed?

5) What stays the same however many letters you take from it?

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Crisis pregnancy centers deceptively steer woman away from abortion. They can be started way too easily by religious groups like, for instance, a late night talk show’s megachurch.

THANKS to HBO and Last Week Tonight for making this program available on YouTube.

The mall was America’s third place — for better or for worse.

Our lives are lived in 1 of 3 places, the home, the workplace and the “third place,” which is anywhere outside of those two.

Toward the end of the 20th century, the regional shopping mall had become that third place, the hang-out spot in suburban America. This was largely by design — an immigrant architect created the first mall in the vision that it would be a community gathering place.

The plan didn’t work out as he intended. While malls did take off, they more often than not couldn’t quite catch on as ideal “third places.” But with an estimated 25% of shopping malls expected to close in the next five years, there’s an opportunity to re-examine where Americans spend their time and what could be the next iteration of the third place.

A Rube Goldberg machine uses cause and effect to do a simple task in a very complicated way. Kinetic artist Joseph Herscher is an expert in these machines. He’s built contraptions like a stamp licker and a machine to turn the pages of a newspaper, and here, he shares his tips for creating your very own Rube Goldberg creation.

You can watch Joseph’s latest video of his cake server machine: https://youtu.be/auIlGqEyTm8

Ed. The above-linked video is cool.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Max playing with his honeycomb ball.


Something fishy’s going on at Valmont Reservoir

Why didn’t anyone test for toxins in fish relocated to public waters from polluted Valmont Reservoir?

Hudson, a 1,500-person pit-stop town about 30 miles east of Boulder, has a small community fishing pond. On a recent Saturday morning, about two dozen fishermen picked spots around the lake to drop their lines. The fish were biting. Ted Collins said everyone was catching trout. He said he’s been taking home one more than he should the last few weeks because the stock seemed so ample.

I asked if he was catching any largemouth bass. Why, he asked. I said because the state just relocated a bunch of them to this fishing pond from Valmont Reservoir, which is owned by Xcel Energy and has been used to settle harmful water contaminants from the company’s coal production for decades, and has a longer history of arsenic and lead contamination from the site’s former neighbor, Allied Chemical. Oh, and it was nearly a Superfund site.

You’re kidding, he said.

Neither the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) nor Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) tested the fish for contaminants before the latter group relocated 1,600 of them from Valmont Reservoir to Hudson and catch-and-release waters in Boulder County. Fish raised in similar circumstances — that is, in bodies of water on or near coal-fired plants — have been found to contain levels of selenium, mercury, lead and other contaminants toxic to animals up and down the aquatic food chain, and which would likely be harmful to humans who consume them. One, like Ted Collins, might think fish from these waters would be tested before relocation.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?