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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Intersectionality is conservative

It's striking that conservatives dismiss intersectionality as "any claim of oppression excuses any misbehavior", when it actually very much argues the opposite -- that patterns of oppression exist within each oppressed group, and not just without.

It's actually a very conservative philosophical critique -- that progressive claims to redress by feminists, people of color, LGBTQ folks, religious minorities, and people with disabilities should not be taken as a license by anyone to ignore the duty to be decent and just.

It's an appeal to timeless values, in the face of the tendency for them to be obscured as artificial social hierarchies and poisonous ideologies are brought down.

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Daily life problems no one has a solution to

Daily life problems no one has a solution to:
  1. I have computers/suits/graphic novels/items I’d love to sell and don’t care about the money, just feels wasteful to throw away something that could sell for a few hundred bucks. How can I do that?
    • Want easy way to dispose of items: someone picks them up, they sell or distribute them, give share of money to you or to charity
  2. I want to share my wifi, but set a limit on it.
    • Current solutions are very complicated. Want wifi router that lets you set up separate networks, open and/or closed, and rate limit
  3. At a cafe, I order, then go sit down far away and focus on something else. Turns out someone has been shouting my name for 10 minutes.
    • Buzzers are impersonal and expensive but work.
  4. I want to buy premade food in the morning, without having to reroute myself or wait for everyone else to deal with payment and choice.
    • Want a $5 breakfast burrito to be waiting for me at subway exit — that I can take or leave.
  5. I want to access data from my apps like weather, movie times, NBA playoff wins, etc.
    • Want a central API service that I can ask for different data, and have them source it and deliver it to me at a reasonable rate, with the same key. Pricing could work like Heroku — free for delayed and infrequent use, expensive for frequent access and updating.
  6. I want to hire a French tutor to come tutor my daughter. Um, how on earth do I do that?
    • Seriously, it's crazy this question doesn't have a better answer yet
  7. I want to sign up my kids for summer camps. Which ones are free, when, and which of their friends are signed up? It's a mess and every site takes a long time to register.
    • Single site that camps and afterschool programs list on, which handles registration and connects to social media
  8. I want to be able to filter the internet's nonsense by preferring to see information posted by people with a social or financial track record of decent behavior and credibility
    • Opt-in internet-wide reputation. What could go wrong?


Blogger Tyler on Sun Apr 21, 12:56:00 PM:
#1: That’s sort of the role that pawn shops and consignment shops sort of fill, no? I suppose the question is: why haven’t those sorts of businesses consolidated/focused online/modernized/offered an end-to-end time saving no-hassle solution? There’s clearly demand for this service, so is the supply side not being met because it isn’t very profitable? I’m not sure, but I want this too.

#2: I know that small-business level solutions have that sort of functionality built-in (UniFi, Meraki, etc), but I suppose that I don’t have first hand knowledge about setup complexity/difficulty. Have you looked in to those?

#3: Part of me wants to push back on engineering a tech solution to this one in favor of preserving the messy human and analog aspect of this, but you’re right that yelling isn’t exactly pleasant either!

#4: Mmm breakfast burrito. Are the key features the pre-made aspect and the “on my travel path” aspect? In Toronto we have a software startup called Ritual which solves part of the problem. You order/pay for an order at normal take-out places on your phone and then just grab it off of their shelf (if the restaurant is trusting enough), or just quickly ask the person at the front to grab the prepared order from behind the counter.

#5: Ooh, this one is fun. I need to wrap my head around it. Doesn’t exist because: something something data ownership, silos, resale, probably(?). An interesting question to ask is if/why this is/isn’t on Google’s roadmap. Their mission is to organize the world’s information and they probably have the widest/deepest database and they have the scale/infrastructure. All (!) they’d need to do is unify some APIs and monetize?

#6: Surprising that this is so hard. Clearly a business opportunity. I always just assume that the “Uber/AirBnB for…” Silicon Valley startup space throws money at and conquers all these types of problems immediately! :)

#8: Now we’re getting ambitious. Love it!

Keep it coming. I like these “needs a solution” threads. Meta-idea: where’s the curated/crowdsourced list of life’s unsolved problems? A shared todo list for the world!
Blogger Ben on Thu Aug 29, 09:28:00 AM:
1. I think pawn shops tend to focus on a narrow range of items that are physically small for their value (and thus easy to store), do not degrade (contra, say, comics), and are resaleable (because people come to shop for jewelry in general). The type of business I'm describing would be much more logistically complicated, but would save money by not having to rent retail space. Is it possible to make money in that business? I'm not sure. Not easily, at least.

2. I've used a UniFi router for 8 years or so; it allows separate open and closed networks, with traffic limits. But the traffic limits are only per-connection, not per-network, so many simultaneous freeriders could render my wifi unusably slow to me.

3. I'm not complaining about yelling! In fact, I wish cafe workers were much more creative and/or aggressive about getting me my coffee. They seem to be very tepid about it! I'm just surprised it's not more of a solved problem.

4. That sounds great! Chipotle does this too, and that would basically be the solution if they were open in the morning and had a morning menu. However, I want to go beyond having to affirmatively order the meal; ideally I could just swing by the location on a whim, and it would know me and charge me.

5. This isn't in Google's DNA, but it is in Amazon's. I'm curious if there's a project along those lines -- a two-sided marketplace that makes it easy to provide data and make money from it, and easy to spend variable amounts of money to consume it.

6. Yeah, there are many ok answers, but no central, reliable one

7. This is actually the one I think about most often!

8. Ambitious, but risks reinforcing existing power dynamics, and incentivizing trivial hacks, as demonstrated in the Bryce Dallas Howard Black Mirror episode!

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Journalistic authority and the informed identity

Reading this Franklin Foer piece applauding the Mueller report, I'm stuck again by the bizarre way that journalists are summarizing Mueller's (apparently) not recommending charges against Trump for criminal conspiracy.

Foer writes that "In the case of Trump, the corruption doesn’t seem to have transgressed any laws." That is a remarkable statement to present as fact, and I think the implication about the Mueller report is misleading, given what we currently know about it.

This is the same feeling I had with Rosenstein's letter about James Comey, when the mainstream media seemed to spontaneously mount the collective delusion that Rosenstein had recommended Comey be fired, which he did not--and, in fact, seemed to have carefully avoided doing.

Assuming we can trust Barr's direct quotes from the report, it appears that Mueller's team did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that Trump or his campaign "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian effort to intervene in the election. It also appears to conclude that the evidence available to Mueller does not establish that Trump committed any crime.

That's significant, and it shouldn't be downplayed. But it's very, very different from concluding that there exists no evidence that Trump or his campaign coordinated with Russia, or committed crimes doing so. Significantly, Trump did not give live testimony to Mueller's team. Whether that was because Mueller did not want to politicize the inquiry, or didn't want to risk a constitutional crisis from Trump's refusal, or what, I'm not sure.

The president and the campaign also appear to have actively hidden or obfuscated at least some information, probably criminally -- judging from Mueller's various criminal charges. Did Mueller find and resolve all instances of this? It's possible, but almost certainly not.

Anyone who has spent any time observing the criminal justice system knows that the conclusion of a criminal case results in, at best, the prosecutors' best attempt at finding the truth. But most of the time -- perhaps nearly all of the time -- the result is only an approximation.

The whole point of the presumption of innocence in criminal cases is that the burden is NOT on a suspect or defendant to prove innocence. But the corollary is that a suspect or defendant not charged or found guilty cannot claim to have been determined to be innocent.

This is almost laughably obvious and commonly understood, which is why it's so strange the NY Times, The Atlantic and other places have run misleading summaries of it in the case of the Mueller report -- suggesting that Trump has been found to be innocent by the facts.

I wonder if there is a journalistic bias at play here, where journalists prefer presenting themselves as knowing the facts and digesting them for readers, rather than being as much in the dark about the facts as we, and they, actually are.

Which of these headlines do you think the Times prefers its readers to see: "Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy", or "Mueller Gives Up on Determining Trump-Russia Conspiracy"? One is true per what the Times knows, the other false. But more importantly, one appears strong and informative, whole the other appears weak and uninformative, at a glance.

If everyone else is repeating the takeaway that the report exonerates Trump, and the NY Times is more cautious -- even allowing that we trust Barr's summary, the NYT isn't playing the part of the confident, ahead-of-the-story fount of up to date information that readers want.

And ask yourself, if you saw both headlines side by side in two different papers, which would you reach for?

The point is that these moments give us insight into the nature of the news business, which is to serve readers an ongoing story about the publication and about themselves. Each headline, each story must ultimately conform to the story that the NYT makes me an informed person.

The gap between that core focus of the newsroom, and the supposed focus on reporting the most important stories accurately, is usually mostly hidden from us. We don't know all the stories we don't see, which is why most avid readers if the Times couldn't tell you (in one of my favorite examples) that all available evidence suggests that two of Trump's wives have been illegal immigrants, including the First Lady. It's why family separation wasn't a public issue under Obama, though the NYT clearly could have made it one.

When you read the news, remember that you are being sold a story by an organization which holds its own importance and power as more important than the accuracy or relevance of its reporting.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Honest questions about pronouns for trans friends

I wrote to a friend, who posted about their gender nonbinary identity:
I remember a time when we were young, when you spoke up about your gender identity, that struck me for its bravery and for my own realization that I wasn't able to inspect mine.

Can I ask a question, with the hope that my curiosity will come across? How do you feel when people who know and love you use male pronouns in reference to you? I struggle a lot with using nonbinary pronouns to refer to the nonbinary people in my life. I'm trying to use them with openness and with the knowledge that they mean a lot to them, *and*, I find that it feels impersonal and artificial. But I know that strict gender roles can be plenty impersonal and artificial!

I want to inspect and take apart my brain pathways that see someone AMAB and automatically use "he", and it's being a long road; and vice versa for people AFAB. Maybe that's because I'm not taking them seriously enough. But in practice, I find I often just clam up instead of talking about them like anyone else in my life.

I know it's not your job to coach me into awareness, but this is something I experience while trying to grow and undo my miseducation and prejudices, that's hard, and which I don't know how to talk about.

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