May 7, 2018 in 3,382 words

We are living through a golden age of protest

We are seeing a level of organizing with little precedent – but it’s time for stronger forms of demonstration, such as sit-ins and street blockades.

Pictured above: Demonstrators attend a March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control.

We are in an extraordinary era of protest. Over the course of the first 15 months of the 45th presidency, more people have joined demonstrations than at any other time in American history. Take a minute and digest that: never before have as many Americans taken to the streets for political causes as are marching and rallying now.

Protest numbers are always difficult to pin down, but thanks to researchers from the Crowd Counting Consortium and CountLove, we have very solid data on demonstrations since Donald Trump took office, and the numbers are huge.

The overall turnout for marches, rallies, vigils and other protests since the 2017 presidential inauguration falls somewhere between 10 and 15 million. (Not all of these events have been anti-Trump, but almost 90% have.) That is certainly more people in absolute terms than have ever protested before in the US. Even when you adjust for population growth, it’s probably a higher percentage than took to the streets during the height of the Vietnam anti-war movement in 1969 and 1970, the previous high-water mark for dissent in America, though the data for that era is much less comprehensive.

What’s even more significant than the scale of these contemporary protests is their ubiquity. A few individual demonstrations under Trump have been very large, rivaling the biggest protests in American history, but the overall numbers are so high because protests have been happening everywhere: in all fifty states, and in many places where marches and rallies have rarely been seen before.

Can Protest Art Get Its Mojo Back?

Since the 2016 election, pop music and TV shows have emphasized liberal impotence more than anger. Is that about to change?

In the days after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Brooklyn punk rocker Jeff Rosenstock retreated to the Catskill Mountains to do what liberals everywhere were doing—mourn—and what many artists were doing, create work about what had just happened. The resulting songs, released on New Year’s Day 2018, bore titles such as “Powerlessness,” “All This Useless Energy,” “Beating My Head Against a Wall,” and “Yr Throat” (as in, “What’s the point of having a voice / when it gets stuck inside your throat?”). In jittery, epic-scale shout-alongs, he described his neighbors taking shots and moaning, “There’s nothing left we can do right now.” He told of joining a demonstration that shut down an interstate, and then realizing that “after a couple of days / the fire that I thought would burn it down was gone.” He reported withdrawing from regular life to channel his discontent into action, but finding it impossible to do so.

He sang, in other words, about impotence. About complicity. About his inability to effectively rage against the machine.

Rosenstock’s Post-, one of the best-reviewed albums of this year, embodies a prominent strain in recent pop culture. No one could argue that American musicians and other artists have been indifferent to Trump. On the contrary, the entertainment world is undergoing, as a recent piece in New York magazine put it, “the Great Awokening.” Even public figures known for their detachment have become walking Daily Kos comments sections, and when hundreds of thousands of women and other voters marched in protest after Trump’s inauguration, celebrities added oomph with speeches and songs. “Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House,” Madonna confessed to the crowd in Washington, D.C.

Yet while the self-proclaimed Resistance debuted with vibrant-pink mass action, the most-distinctive cultural creations that have accompanied it so far—at least in the rapid-response popular mediums of music and TV—haven’t been so fired up. Nor have they been, to use the clichéd dismissals that plenty of political art readily invites, shrill or didactic. Instead, the general drift has been in the spirit of Rosenstock’s album: self-questioning, tentative, conciliatory, emotional. It is, for better or worse, the art not of a revolution but of a failed revolution.

Cambridge Analytica kept Facebook data models through US election

Exclusive: Social network failed to make firm delete valuable models derived from data until campaign was over.

Correspondence between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica conflicts with what Mark Zuckerberg told US politicians.

Facebook’s failure to compel Cambridge Analytica to delete all traces of data from its servers – including any “derivatives” – enabled the company to retain predictive models derived from millions of social media profiles throughout the US presidential election, the Guardian can reveal.

Leaked emails reveal that when Cambridge Analytica told Facebook almost a year before the election that it had deleted data harvested from tens of millions of Facebook users, it stopped short of agreeing to also erase derivatives of the data.

The correspondence, obtained by the Guardian, also raises questions about the accuracy of the testimony that Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, gave to the US Congress last month.

Derivatives of data, which can include predictive models, or clusters of populations in psychological groupings, can be highly valuable to companies involved in micro-targeting advertisements to voters. Data scientists say such models and analysis are often more valuable than underlying raw data.

It was derived formulas that Cambridge Analytica is understood to have kept, despite a request from Facebook for them to be deleted in December 2015.

The US is talking about “great power competition.” What does that mean?


An F/A-18F Super Hornet jet flies over the USS Gerald R. Ford as the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier tests its EMALS magnetic launching system, which replaces the steam catapult, and new AAG arrested landing system in the Atlantic Ocean July 28, 2017.

The US is creating a new naval command and redeploying the Second Fleet in the Atlantic, the department of defense announced yesterday (May 4), putting teeth behind a new national security strategy announced in January.

“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security,” secretary of defense Jim Mattis announced. Specifically, the US will prioritize curbing the aggressions of China and Russia.

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. It’s an echo of language that’s been part of geopolitics for two centuries.

In 1814, towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, five Great Powers emerged in Europe: the UK, France, Russia, Austria, and Prussia (which later became Germany). Those powers jockeyed for control of Europe—and through their colonial empires, the rest of the globe—and their rivalry eventually tipped into World War I.

In the 20th century, new powers emerged, notably the US and the Soviet Union, and their Cold War defined global affairs from the end of World War II to the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Censored images of 1930s America to go on show in London

Prints made from negatives reveal reality faced by farming communities during Great Depression.

Each of the photographs includes a black spot, made when the negatives were censored by being clipped with a metal punch.

Beautiful but mutilated images of rural America by some of the most famous photographers of the 20th century will soon go on display for the first time at the Whitechapel gallery in London.

Each of the photographs, printed for the first time, including works by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Russell Lee, bears an eerie black spot. The black circles – obliterating the entire face of a farmer in North Dakota, the right eye of a woman in Arkansas, or resembling an eclipsed sun hanging in the sky over labourers in Maryland – were created when the negatives were censored in the 1930s by clipping them with a metal punch.

Many of the 175,000 photographs in the Farm Security Association archive became defining images of the Great Depression, including Evans’s gaunt sharecropper families, Lange’s portraits of farm women with nothing left except willpower, and Arthur Rothstein’s Fleeing a Dust Storm, a surreal scene of a family fighting to keep their feet in the wind that has already ripped their farm buildings to shreds.

An untitled Arthur Rothstein photograph.

However, thousands more images were censored, judged not to meet the strict criteria the photographers had been given for the type of images sought – a tricky brief to show the scale of the problem the association was trying to tackle, but without obliterating all hope.

The negatives were mutilated – occasionally several holes were punched to prevent the image being used even in cropped form – but not completely destroyed. The censored and approved images all ended up archived in the Library of Congress, where they have recently been digitised.

This Here Might Be The Stupidest Legal Argument Ever

Love stories have a plethora of villainous archetypes standing in the way of their heroines’ happiness. There are strict Victorian parents, evil scheming love rivals, DJ Khaled — the list goes on. But it seems that a 21st-century nemesis is now laying siege to the bodice-ripping world of romance literature: real-life trademark trolls.

A hard and firm rule in the romance literary industry is to hungrily force as many sex-related puns into your work as can possibly fit onto your velvety pages. A stolen glance at the Amazon romance bestseller list will reveal many titles with “hard,” “hot,” “dirty,” or “quiver” in them, to name a few. Currently, one of the double entendres du jour is the word “cocky,” both a reference to the often brash and rakish nature of male love interests and romance buffs’ favorite dog breed, the cocker spaniel.

Let him conquer you with his throbbing self-confidence.

One lover of being cocky is Faleena Hopkins, a romance author best known for her ongoing series The Cocker Brothers Of Atlanta — though not going with The Cocker Brothers Of Cockermouth, UK seems like a real missed opportunity. Each work in the series of course has “cocky” in its title, and since she’s already at novella number 17 after only two years, Hopkins now believes she should straight up own the word “cocky,” which has so many layers of irony to it that you could chip a pickax.

A real departure from the saga, “Cocky Senator” is just about one politician taking on the gun lobby.

However, when news spread of Hopkins’ very dubious trademark, the literary world immediately called her out for what she was really doing: trademark trolling.

‘It’s part of being human’: the Canadian project to destigmatise loneliness

A Toronto designer’s online platform showcases experiences of people all over the world, aiming to destigmatise the topic.

‘We’ve really stigmatised loneliness, to a degree that makes it really hard to talk about,’ says Marissa Korda, the designer behind the Loneliness Project.

The screen shows a cluster of apartment buildings, some of them empty, some with the figure of a person silhouetted against the window. Click on an apartment and a story pops up on screen.

“I spent two hours alone, wandering around an Ikea, because I was too nervous to ask people to come with me,” it reads. “I ate two hotdogs and bought nothing.”

The confession is part of The Lonliness Project, an online platform dedicated to showcasing stories of social isolation from around the globe. The result – delving into a universal emotion often hidden from view – is a sort of digital antidote to the often highly curated world of social media, said Marissa Korda, the Toronto-based graphics designer behind the initiative.

“Facebook is a happiness project. Instagram is a happiness beauty project,” said the 26-year-old. “We need more projects that talk about how life is happy, and it’s also lonely and it’s sad.”

She launched the project in October with a call for anonymous stories. More than 1,400 stories soon came pouring in from some 60 countries around the world, ranging from Cuba to Syria to Taiwan.

For those experiencing chronic loneliness – a debilitating condition that differs from the ebb and flow of transitional loneliness addressed through the project – the site offers resources to find help.

NASA is going back to Mars, and it’s going deep


Mars InSight engineers check on the lander’s solar panels ahead of launch.

A mission more than eight years in the making, NASA has launched the Mars InSight lander today. The expedition will give scientists a new understanding of the geology and history of Mars—and perhaps the Earth as well.

Launched on an Atlas V rocket from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base shortly after 4:00 am PT (7 am ET), the spacecraft will endure a 6.5-month flight to the fourth planet. There, it is expected to touchdown on Nov. 26, using a combination of heat shields, parachutes and thrusters to slow from 13,200 miles per hour to 5.5 mph in seven minutes, according to Stu Spath, the Lockheed Martin manager who led the team that built the space probe.

After InSight touches down, a robotic arm designed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab will deploy two key instruments: A seismometer developed by the French space agency, which will be covered with a dome to protect it from winds and vibration, and a probe built by the German space agency that will burrow five meters underneath the martian soil. There, it will measure the temperature of the planet.

Data from these sensors will enable planetary scientists to understand how Mars evolved over time and develop a picture of the planet’s internal structure, which is expected to shed light on the evolution of earth and the other rocky planets that occupy the interior of the solar system.

Your Body Acquires Trillions of New Mutations Every Day

And it’s somehow fine?

Cells derived from a cervical tumor.

As you read this article, the cells in your body are dividing and the DNA in them is being copied, letter by letter. So long is the human genome—more than 3 billion letters—that even an astonishingly low error rate of one in many million letters could amount to 10 new mutations every time a cell divides.

Oh, perhaps you’re also catching some sun (ultraviolet rays) while you read this, or enjoying a beer (alcohol), or have recently been high in the atmosphere on an airplane (cosmic rays). Congratulations, you’ve given yourself even more mutations. In a typical day, scientists estimate, the 37 trillion cells in your body will accumulate trillions of new mutations.

Are you horrified yet? Good, me too.

But somehow we are not all walking bags of cancer. Somehow we accumulate bajillions of mutations and are, mostly, okay. How?

“It sounds very scary,” acknowledges Cristian Tomasetti, a cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins. “Fortunately for us,” he says, “the great majority of places where these mutations may hit don’t have important consequences.”

Why Wednesday is the best day to work from home


On Wednesdays, we work from wherever.

Businesses of all sizes have embraced “work from home” (WFH) by instituting flexible policies or giving employees a set number of days to log in remotely. For our business, however, Wednesday has been the key. That’s the day we’ve found is the best day to work remotely. In fact, we think it’s so good that we have our entire company stay home on Wednesdays, and we close our main office.

It started rather serendipitously. Eight years ago, I taught at my kids’ preschool one morning each week—Wednesdays—while simultaneously serving as co-founder of what was then a small startup. Working at home allowed me to fulfill both commitments. Eventually, working from home on Wednesdays evolved into a company policy. And even now, when we have 280 employees, that policy has turned out to be a happily productive accident.

There are two reasons that scheduling our WFH day in the middle of the week has turned out so well. The first is that it breaks up the week nicely: two days in the office, one day working remote, and then two more days back in the office. This leads to a consistent workflow that balances a number of planning meetings early in the week, a productive Wednesday working from home, and two equally productive and collaborative days on the tail end of the week.

NO. 9

Today in History: May 7, 1824

The result of years of work and representing the absolute pinnacle of Beethoven’s skill as both a composer and musician, Symphony No. 9 is widely considered one of the single finest pieces of music ever created- a fact made all the more impressive when you consider Beethoven himself was completely deaf when he finished composing it in 1824, with its debut performance occurring at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna on May 7, 1824.

Wanting to go out with a bang, Beethoven saw to it that the orchestra performing his masterwork was one of the largest ever seen by the city. As an idea of just how large the group Beethoven assembled was, it’s noted that not only did Beethoven require the entire Kärntnertor house orchestra, but also needed to recruit amateur musicians from the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Friends of Music in Vienna) as well as various others to fill out the parts. On top of that, the chorus alone is known to have numbered nearly 100 singers.

Although Beethoven was, as noted, completely deaf by this point in his career, he made it known to the powers that be that a condition of him premiering the Ninth Symphony in Vienna was that he be allowed to conduct the orchestra…

A decision that understandably unnerved some, in particular the theatre’s Kapellmeister Michael Umlauf who’d personally seen Beethoven previously nearly ruin the dress rehearsal of Beethoven’s 1814 opera, Fidelio, because he couldn’t properly keep time owing to his hearing. In the end, Umlauf was selected to assist Beethoven in conducting Fidelio to ensure it went well.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Jeff VanderMeer, the author of ‘Annihilation,’ discusses how writing fiction about environmental crises may jolt readers out of complacency in this animated interview with The Atlantic.

Rudy Giuliani is new to Trump’s legal team, but not to public controversy. John Oliver examines his turbulent record as a lawyer, a politician, and an enemy to ferrets.

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

As the 2018 primary elections approach, both Republican and Democratic candidates go out of their way to win over the most ideologically extreme voters.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

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

Me commentary on a classic theatre show. I reckon it’s a romantic comedy. OI LISTEN UP. FOLLOW ME WEEKLY PODCAST OVER ON TWITCH:

Max enjoying his window play time.


Death Is Weirder Than You Think

Why do some genes get more active when life ends?

Researchers assumed that cells shut down like lights blinking off one by one. Then they looked closer.

Before we become ourselves, before we even have a brain, our cells are active: cleaving, dividing, differentiating, making the building blocks that will eventually add up to a conscious, cognizant organism.

Our cells precede us—but they also outlive us. Long after it’s lights-out for you, individual cells don’t give up the ghost. In fact, some cells can survive for days and others for weeks in a dead body.

What exactly is going on in those cells that rage against the dying of the light? Until recently, no one bothered to look very closely. But now an evocative line of research is blowing apart some assumptions about what death is.

Not only do cells survive for a while after an organism dies, they may actually fight to live. The activity of some genes increases after death, as cells apparently sense that something has gone horribly wrong. It’s like an astronaut in deep space who suddenly gets silence on the radio and frantically beams signals home to Earth, unaware that a nuclear holocaust has wiped out everything she holds dear.

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