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How Do You Feel About the American Flag?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2019

In Flag Code, Karen Good Marable shares her experience of the American flag growing up and in the wake of the 2016 election. This paragraph in particular resonated with me unexpectedly:

Perhaps it was in this moment I happened upon the house, unremarkable but for a small American flag jutting out of its frame like a rhinoceros horn. I hesitated at the sight of the banner so close to my home and was suddenly wary. Weary. I saw the flag and without thinking thought it code: Patriot. MAGA. Make everything white again. Even with all I know about the history of Black people in this country, I’ve never been afraid of the flag. On this day, however, I felt how I feel when I see the Confederate flag: Unsafe. My breath shallowed. When did this happen? When did the sight of an American flag flying from a private residence become something that gave me pause? Perhaps it was the untrusted whiteness of my new neighborhood. Perhaps my reaction was a kind of PTSD, a result of that summer’s back-to-back televised police killings of unarmed Black men or the murders at Mother Emanuel the year before. Perhaps it was the ridiculous victory of Trump. I saw the flag and remembered what I had been warned time and again about “progressive” Atlanta: Drive thirty minutes outside of the perimeter in any direction and it’s a whole different story.

While I share little of Marable’s life experience, I realized while reading her piece that I’ve developed a similar unsafe feeling about the flag. It’s not a voluntary thing — it’s something that has built up over two+ years of seeing American flags in photos of MAGA rallies & white nationalist marches but not so much at Black Lives Matter marches or pro-choice rallies. I’m sure you’ve also noticed the correlation between seeing an American flag emoji in someone’s Twitter bio next to the MAGA hashtag and the tendency of that person to act like a misogynist asshole. While it’s hardly a new thing, the aggressive, intolerant, nationalistic right has been particularly effective in visibly wrapping themselves in the flag lately. It’s great branding for them, but it’s not doing the flag any favors.

Curved Cityscape Panoramas

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

Lestnica

Lestnica

As a long-time fan of BERG’s Here & There projection map of Manhattan (and Inception), these bendy photos of European cityscapes by Lestnica are right up my alley (which is now above my head har har). See also Aydın Büyüktaş’s Flatland photos. (via colossal)

Frida Kahlo Speaks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

The National Sound Library of Mexico says they have found the only known audio recording of Frida Kahlo’s voice. Take a listen:

The library have unearthed what they believe could be the first known voice recording of Kahlo, taken from a pilot episode of 1955 radio show El Bachiller, which aired after her death in 1954.

The episode featured a profile of Kahlo’s artist husband Diego Rivera. In it, she reads from her essay Portrait of Diego, which was taken from the catalogue of a 1949 exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts, celebrating 50 years of Rivera’s work.

“He is a gigantic, immense child, with a friendly face and a sad gaze,” she says, as translated by Agence France-Presse. (A different English translation of the text can be found on Google Arts & Culture.)

Film footage of Kahlo is difficult to come by as well; I could only find these two clips:

The first video is in color and shows Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera in her house in Mexico City. The second shows Kahlo painting, drawing, and socializing with the likes of Leon Trotsky. At ~0:56, she walks quickly and confidently down the stairs of a ship, which is a bit surprising given what I’ve read about her health problems.

Stone Alphabets

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

This is one of several alphabets assembled by Belgian type designer Clotilde Olyff from stones collected at the beach.

Clotilde Olyff

Here are a few more examples, some of which were featured in this book called 3D Typography:

Clotilde Olyff

Well, I guess I have a new beachcombing activity for when I get tired of skipping rocks.

Deepfakes: Imagine All the People

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

Here is a video of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Kim Jong Un, and other world leaders lip-syncing along to John Lennon’s Imagine:

Of course this isn’t real. The video was done by a company called Canny AI, which offers services like “replace the dialogue in any footage” and “lip-sync your dubbed content in any language”. That’s cool and all — picture episodes of Game of Thrones or Fleabag where the actors automagically lip-sync along to dubbed French or Chinese — but this technique can also be used to easily create what are referred to as deepfakes, videos made using AI techniques in which people convincingly say and do things they actually did not do or say. Like this video of Mark Zuckerberg finally telling the truth about Facebook. Or this seriously weird Steve Buscemi / Jennifer Lawrence mashup:

Or Bill Hader’s face morphing into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face every time he impersonates him:

What should we do about these kinds of videos? Social media sites have been removing some videos intended to mislead or confuse people, but notably Facebook has refused to take the Zuckerberg video down (as well as a slowed-down video of Nancy Pelosi in which she appears drunk). Congress is moving ahead with a hearing on deepfakes and the introduction of a related bill:

The draft bill, a product of several months of discussion with computer scientists, disinformation experts, and human rights advocates, will include three provisions. The first would require companies and researchers who create tools that can be used to make deepfakes to automatically add watermarks to forged creations.

The second would require social-media companies to build better manipulation detection directly into their platforms. Finally, the third provision would create sanctions, like fines or even jail time, to punish offenders for creating malicious deepfakes that harm individuals or threaten national security. In particular, it would attempt to introduce a new mechanism for legal recourse if people’s reputations are damaged by synthetic media.

I’m hopeful this bill will crack down on the malicious use of deepfakes and other manipulated videos but leave ample room for delightful art and culture hacking like the Hader/Schwarzenegger thing or one of my all-time favorite videos, a slowed-down Jeff Goldblum extolling the virtues of the internet in an Apple ad:

“Internet? I’d say internet!”

Keanu Reeves Keeps His Hands to Himself

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

When I saw this photo of Dolly Parton & Keanu Reeves after it went viral earlier this year, I noticed something interesting about it. Can you see it?

Dolly Keanu

Reeves has his arm around Parton but his hand is open and he is not grabbing or holding her body in any way. He is being warm but respectful. I’ve been thinking about that gesture ever since and was happy to run across this Twitter post by Madsthetic that shows Reeves using the same open-hand gesture with other women. For example:

Keanu Open Hand

Reeves’ move is referred to as “manner hands” in South Korea:

In the West, people are generally mocked online for doing awkward hover hands, but the Korean press seems to applaud the “manner hand” as it’s seen as respectful. Women, it seems, appreciate the “nice guy” gesture, while men probably don’t give it much thought.

Compare with, for instance, the way current Presidential candidate Joe Biden touches women.

See also Keanu Reeves Is Too Good for This World and Keanu Reeves Is a Really Nice Guy. (I had a conversation with a former Hollywood personal assistant once and she told me that there were only two nice men in Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Keanu Reeves.)

Help This Guy Name His Cheerios

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

Cheerio Names

Brian McMullen is giving names to all of the 3,501 Cheerios in his cereal box and is taking name suggestions on Twitter. (via sam potts)

Jon Stewart’s Defense of 9/11 First Responders

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

If you didn’t have the opportunity yesterday to watch Jon Stewart’s scathing and powerful opening statement before a House subcommittee about providing health benefits for surviving 9/11 first responders, you really should; it’s quite something:

As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting healthcare and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to. Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me a nearly empty Congress.

Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country and it is a stain on this institution. You should be ashamed of yourselves, for those that aren’t here, but you won’t be. Because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.

On Twitter, archivist Jason Scott shared a cache of over 2300 photos taken by a worker at Ground Zero during the cleanup process in September & October 2001. These photos provide a unique and documentary view of the work being done there, work on behalf of Americans everywhere that this worker, and many others, paid for with his life. Scott:

So, it would probably be useful to interview the worker who took all these photos, who walked around the grounds, who captured these unique images of Ground Zero from all over the space, showing the effort being done to clear the wreckage.

Except we can’t.

He’s dead.

Ground Zero Photos

Ground Zero Photos

The parallels of all this to HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries is left as an exercise to the reader.

Update: The House subcommittee approved extending the compensation fund for 9/11 first responders until 2090. The bill is expected to pass a full House vote but the Senate is anyone (but Mitch McConnell’s) guess.

Update: For his efforts, one of the first responders gifted Stewart a firefighter’s jacket that belonged to a good friend of his, now deceased:

Big News Orgs Get New Public Editors (Against Their Wishes)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

This fits into the burgeoning category of “this is cool but I wish it weren’t necessary”: the Columbia Journalism Review has appointed public editors for a group of four news organizations because they won’t do it themselves.

Public editors and ombudsmen have historically stood as critical advocates for consumers of news, identifying blind spots the outlets can’t see themselves and operating as collectors of critical opinion when decisions go awry. The flameout of public editors in the US, which reached a point of despair in 2017, when The New York Times sent its last public editor packing, is the most visible sign of the growing distance between news organizations and the people they serve. As attacks on the media have increased under the presidency of Donald Trump, the response of newsrooms has, more often than not, been to form a defensive huddle.

That stance is particularly dangerous now, as the nation braces for another presidential election, one that is almost certain to be more partisan, more vicious, and more focused on the perceived failings of the press than any other in the history of the country. It’s a bad time for newsrooms to retreat from their readers.

And what great choices for editors: Gabriel Snyder (NY Times), Ana Marie Cox (Washington Post), Maria Bustillos (MSNBC), and Emily Tamkin (CNN). Here’s CJR editor-in-chief Kyle Pope answering some questions about the project. And here’s Tamkin’s first piece, on CNN’s practice of regularly interviewing people without expertise or responsibility.

Guilfoyle has not worked as an economist. She has not crafted foreign or immigration policy. She is not an expert on Central America. What possible value, I wondered, were CNN’s viewers getting from watching Guilfoyle speak about this subject? If Cuomo wanted Trump talking points, couldn’t he have just played a clip of Trump himself? If Cuomo wanted someone behind Trump’s immigration policy to explain it, shouldn’t he have brought in a member of the administration?

But again, it’s a bummer that a small organization like CJR has to foot the bill for this on behalf of these media organizations’ readers and, you know, democracy.

Space Robot Roll Call

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society filed a report on humanity’s current roster of spacecraft currently exploring the solar system (and beyond).

Probe Report 2019

Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 are now past their prime mission and are in their extended mission phases. Their companion SmallSat, Longjiang-2, will crash into the Moon on 31 July to bring its mission to an intentional end. Parker Solar Probe is near aphelion as of 1 July and will reach its third death-defying solar perihelion on 1 September. BepiColombo completed its near-Earth commissioning phase on 5 April and is now settling into its long-cruise phase. Earlier this year, the ESA-JAXA Mercury mission was racing ahead of Earth on an inside track, but its elliptical orbit has now taken it farther from the Sun than Earth, allowing Earth to catch up. It will return to Earth’s neighborhood in April 2020 for a flyby.

I counted roughly 30 different probes and rovers in operation, most of them gathered around the Moon and Mars. Sure, where’s my jetpack and flying car and all that, but the fact that humanity has more than two dozen robots currently exploring the solar system seems pretty futuristic to me.

Wikipedia also has a page listing currently active probes and of course there’s the lovely & informative spaceprob.es as well.

The Uber Delusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

Hubert Horan’s broadside of Uber for American Affairs starts out like this and doesn’t let up:

Since it began operations in 2010, Uber has grown to the point where it now collects over $45 billion in gross passenger revenue, and it has seized a major share of the urban car service market. But the widespread belief that it is a highly innovative and successful company has no basis in economic reality.

An examination of Uber’s economics suggests that it has no hope of ever earning sustainable urban car service profits in competitive markets. Its costs are simply much higher than the market is willing to pay, as its nine years of massive losses indicate. Uber not only lacks powerful competitive advantages, but it is actually less efficient than the competitors it has been driving out of business.

This is one of those articles where I want to excerpt the entire thing; it’s just so jammed packed with goodies about a company that represents everything I hate about “tech” and Silicon Valley.

In reality, Uber’s platform does not include any technological breakthroughs, and Uber has done nothing to “disrupt” the economics of providing urban car services. What Uber has disrupted is the idea that competitive consumer and capital markets will maximize overall economic welfare by rewarding companies with superior efficiency. Its multibillion dollar subsidies completely distorted marketplace price and service signals, leading to a massive misallocation of resources. Uber’s most important innovation has been to produce staggering levels of private wealth without creating any sustainable benefits for consumers, workers, the cities they serve, or anyone else.

A later section is titled “Uber’s Narratives Directly Copied Libertarian Propaganda”.

In the early 1990s, a coordinated campaign advocating taxi deregulation was conducted by a variety of pro-corporate/libertarian think tanks that all received funding from Charles and David Koch. This campaign pursued the same deregulation that Uber’s investors needed, and used classic political propaganda techniques. It emphasized emotive themes designed to engage tribal loyalties and convert complex issues into black-and-white moral battles where compromise was impossible. There was an emphasis on simple, attractive conclusions designed to obscure the actual objectives of the campaigners, and their lack of sound supporting evidence.

This campaign’s narratives, repeated across dozens of publications, included framing taxi deregulation as a heroic battle for progress, innovation, and economic freedom. Its main claims were that thousands of struggling entrepreneurial drivers had been blocked from job opportunities by the “cab cartel” and the corrupt regulators beholden to them, and that consumers would enjoy the same benefits that airline deregulation had produced. In a word, consumers were promised a free lunch. Taxi deregulation would lead to lower fares, solve the problems of long waits, provide much greater service (especially in neighborhoods where service was poor), and increase jobs and wages for drivers. Of course, no data or analysis of actual taxi economics showing how these wondrous benefits could be produced was included.

Horan reserves a healthy chunk of his criticism for the media, whose unwillingness to critically cover the company — “the press refuses to reconsider its narra­tive valorizing Uber as a heroic innovator that has created huge benefits for consumers and cities” — has provided a playbook for future investors to exploit for years to come. Blech. What a shitshow.

Gorgeous Overwater/Underwater Shots by Tobias Friedrich

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Tobias Friedrich uses a specialized kit to make these great split shots — half underwater and half over — no need for stitching composites together in a digital darkroom.

Tobias Friedrich

Tobias Friedrich

Here’s some more info on split photography and the gear you’d need for giving it a shot. (via tmn)

Volkswagen’s Turning Lemons into Lemonade

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

This is an ad for Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz, a concept car that is slated to enter production in 2022 as the long-awaited new version of the VW Microbus:

VW I.D. Buzz

This ad references a couple of different things. First, VW is being very aggressive in pushing their electric vehicles in the wake of their 2015 emissions scandal, in which the company intentionally programmed their diesel cars to run clean in test mode in order to meet US emissions standards. The second reference is to their iconic ad from the 60s:

VW Lemon

Whether or not the company will be successful in rehabilitating their reputation is one thing, but that ad is super clever.

VW has a history of referencing bad news about their brand in their advertising: How VW Turned Beastie Boys-Inspired Theft of Car Parts into a Clever 80s Ad.

How It Feels to Almost Die (and Come Back to Life)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Many years ago, Christen O’Brien had a massive pulmonary embolism and it almost killed her. In a Medium post from January, she shared her personal experience about what it felt like to almost die.

Realizing that I was dying was like being pushed into a pool. You have no thought but to hold your breath and start swimming. It was the most out of control I’d ever been in my life, yet the only option was to succumb peacefully. I could hear the percussion of my heart beating wildly, recklessly. My breath only reached my trachea now, its pathway closing in rapidly. My palms spread open to the sky, just as my dog moved to stand over me. I am here with you, I am here to protect you.

She is an angel, I thought with that same clear certainty.

She moved her body next to me, and I looked up to the sky in what I thought would be my final moments.

The clouds.

The clouds.

The clouds.

Recently, she wrote a follow-up called How It Felt to Come Back to Life.

Coming back from death showed me that the journey of life is not what we often believe. On the surface, it appears as a journey outward — toward things, people, organizations, achievements. But in truth, it is a journey inward — toward the soul. Toward becoming who you actually are, no matter how far outward you may have to travel in order to discover that all the answers are within you, where you belong.

It would be easy to misread this post as a celebration of near-death, but that’s not O’Brien’s intent. Don’t get it twisted: almost dying is not a stable way of experiencing bliss or contentment or soul-closeness (and YMMV anyway). Her point is more that in this modern world we do not know ourselves well enough to live fully and completely. But as she says, “coming back to life is not something that requires a close brush with death” — it’s something we can all do.

Rather Than Pay Ransom, Radiohead Puts Stolen Music Up for Sale

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

OK Minidisc

According to Jonny Greenwood, someone stole Thom Yorke’s “minidisk archive” recorded around the time of OK Computer, the album that propelled Radiohead into the stratosphere. The thieves demanded a ransom of $150K, the band didn’t pay up, and the audio leaked onto the web. Instead of fighting the pirates and leakers, the band put all 18 hours of the archive up for sale on Bandcamp with the proceeds going to Extinction Rebellion.

as it’s out there
it may as well be out there
until we all get bored
and move on

Here is a detailed FAQ and timestamps for all the songs & snippets in the archive — “holy grail” tracks are marked with a star. On Bandcamp, Tanner Gallella describes the release:

Rarely is the artist’s process presented in such an unfiltered, uncompromising way — especially at this strata of musicianship. Polished mixes are juxtaposed against takes recorded in bathrooms; landmark tracks against distorted noise. A unique and delightful insight into a band in the middle of writing their masterwork.

My Radiohead fandom stops just short of listening to 18 hours of Thom Yorke recording music in bathrooms, but this is certainly a trove for superfans and those interested in the musical process of one of the world’s biggest bands.