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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Online courseware feature wish list

I'm teaching a (non-online) course in a few months, and I figure that as long as I'm preparing it, this is a good chance to try creating an online version.

Some features I'd like to have:

  1. Interface for students to formally submit deliverables (as opposed to just another forum)
  2. Forum where students can post questions and join discussion
  3. Ability to differentiate between students taking the class statically (can start whenever, no feedback) vs on a schedule (with others, with instructor feedback)
  4. Ability to livestream sessions
  5. Ability for students to comment on live sessions using text chat
  6. Ability for students to speak questions in live sessions using microphone
  7. Ability for students to screenshare to the group in a live session
  8. Ability for instructor to direct the audio and video that the group is seeing during live session
  9. Ability for instructor to control mouse and keyboard of a student temporarily, or to work in a shared environment during session
  10. Automatic transcription of recorded and live sessions (ideally human edited, but voice recognition alone is ok)
  11. Ability to form discussion sections by grouping students into subsets, in an organic way
  12. Ability to capture emails of students to be in touch with them independently of the courseware

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dragon NaturallySpeaking success

Words that Dragon NaturallySpeaking understands when I speak them, with no prior training:
  1. Boris Nemtsov (Soviet dissident)
  2. myofascial release
  3. Brechtian
  4. flibbertigibbet

Words that it does not have in its dictionary:

  1. compendium
  2. papal

Dragon sometimes uses context well, sometimes not so well:

He was the scion of a wealthy family [good]

As well as red green blue, another prominent color scheme is magenta, yellow, black, cyan [good]

She rejected cobalt and chose Psion instead for the sky [um, what?!]

But where it all falls apart is its understanding of single syllable words that stand apart from context. Trying to get it to apply caps can give me "Cast hello", "Caps hello", "HELLO", "H ello"...

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Silicon Valley doesn't understand what's actually hindering medicine

Pam Belluck has a piece in the NYTimes, First Digital Pill Approved to Worries About Biomedical ‘Big Brother'.

I was just thinking today about how much I don't buy this whole "non-compliance costs so much" analysis of medicine. 

I've seen a ton of doctors in the last 10 years, and I only wish medicine were at the point where it was being dispensed sagely and the main problem was patients not following recommendations. 

The types of things that get in the way are much more low-hanging fruit: doctors not paying attention, doctors who do the same exact thing no matter who walks in the door or what they say, doctors who see a patient for a less than 2 minutes, doctors not actually examining patients who report complex and specific symptoms, doctors failing to record any notes, doctors prescribing X-rays and more expensive scans and being vague or scribbly about which body part is supposed to be scanned and technicians getting it wrong, technicians casually asking patients questions at the last minute that determine thousands of dollars of scans or other care and which the patients aren't equipped to answer, doctors unknowingly prescribing medicines that the patient has already tried because the doctor never bothered to ask about them, doctors writing impossible to read instructions that make their staff shrug and guess, etc. Oh, and doctors lying about their own analysis, so casually that I don't think they realize they're lying. 

All of these have specifically happened to me. And I'm not seeing an especially bad assortment of doctors; that's just the state of our race-to-the-bottom medicine. I suspect this is how many or most doctor's visits work in the real world, at least in NYC/New England.

I've been prescribed tons of different things over the years, none of which, to my knowledge, helped me (ok, I do appreciate the pain relievers I had after surgery). Monitoring my compliance with these drugs would not have added any value. On the other hand, challenging doctors to have coherent reasons for their medical decisions, and challenging them to be up on medical literature and which medications are helping people with which symptoms, would have.

I'm not saying I'm a typical patient, and I know there's plenty of Dotty old folks who must drive doctors crazy with their refusal to reliably take life-saving drugs. But when I read this sort of technocratic, Silicon Valley take on medicine, I feel like it bears no resemblance to the actual medicinal practice I see.

A friend responds:
I agree that medicine as it is is still way more imprecise than we tend to believe.

It's definitely in line to be destroyed by big data/machine learning soon, it will happen in no time in fields like radiology.

Sorry but that's exactly the attitude I think is wrong!

The idea that machine learning can revolutionize medicine assumes that it's a problem like voice recognition or driving -- a matter of taking a narrow task and incrementally improving until you surpass human performance. There are tricky questions about whether AI in those domains can get from 95% of the quality of a sophisticated human performer to 100%+, but presumably they'll get there fairly soon, because 99.9% of the information they need to make the correct decisions is available to them within discrete parameters, and able to be fully backtested.

Instead, I think medicine is more like op/ed writing: you can be extremely knowledgeable and still produce worthless work, by failing to understand the nature of the problem. What's the set of information you need to provide to a piece of software for it to write an intellectually curious opinion piece on a particular topic? I really don't even begin to know.

If you take a fairly narrow domain like discerning the potential of a tumor to be malignant, I grant that machine learning *assistance* is very likely to be capable of helping inform better human judgment. But even there, the constraints of the technology may occlude as much as they illuminate. To even choose to use a given piece of software is to accept, however provisionally, that its preexisting discrete domain is relevant. I think that is very likely to guide away from correct analysis in many cases.

Just look at all of the studies that find bias in doctors' diagnoses: if having competing doctors in your specialty nearby can make you prescribe more expensive procedures, or if being taken on a junket can make you prescribe the sponsor's medication more, or if you're a researcher and your lab is able to transcend a double-blind to produce results that make a splash but can't be replicated, just think what it will do to quality of care to have a set of domain specific diagnosis bots at your disposal. You may even be ordered by insurance companies or your hospital to use them and to abide by their judgment.

The x-ray technicians who began to take an x-ray of my ribs were operating perfectly correctly given their input: they were told by their front desk that my doctor had ordered an x-ray of my ribs, when he had ordered an x-ray of my *wrist*. Put aside the obvious fact that this particular problem is not the kind of problem it's likely for a computer to make; my point is that they were wrong to trust their input, and should have been following procedures to ensure quality in ways that question their input itself. That's completely routine for a well-functioning, intelligent human. But it's a total mess for fragile performers like doctors and AI.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Last week Alice and I saw The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the latest film by Yorgos Lanthimos, writer/director of Dogtooth and The Lobster.

It's very difficult to recommend this movie because it was one of the most uncomfortable movies to watch I've ever seen. And it didn't have the playful aspects of The Lobster (although there were some moments when I laughed out loud). It's much more similar to Dogtooth in theme and tone, and also to several of Michael Haneke's films, particularly the great Funny Games and Caché. I thought it was brilliant, and I think Alice did too.

Spoilers ahead.

Discussing it afterwards, we talked about its magical aspects. I recently saw The Witch, which was disappointing. The magic in The Killing of a Sacred Deer felt so much more organic; it was as though one character's pain was so intense that it tore a hole in the rules that normally govern our world. The scenario was absurd, but as in absurdist theater like Ionesco's "Jeux de Massacre", it was absurd in the manner of being somehow truer than true.

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Grim Fandango tips

Grim Fandango, often included on lists of the best videogames of all time, was recently remastered and rereleased for multiple platforms including the Mac. It's a classic of the "point-and-click adventure" genre, with a very well done Day of the Dead theme.

I loved the game, and I got stuck a lot of times in ways that I felt were really rewarding to figure out, but a dozen or so of the places I got stuck ultimately felt like the solution was a little bit too obscure to be fun. That's always true of this genre; the frustration can be rewarding, but sometimes the puzzles aren't quite calibrated right.

So as I played and figured everything out, I kept a running list of things I wish I had been told before I played. They're sort of hints, but designed not to interfere with the fun of figuring things out. I was careful not to spoil anything.

  1. Some doors have a separate deadbolt lock and wheel to open them.
  2. You can put multiple things in the same container, dish or bowl.
  3. When you have no idea where to go, a sign really helps.
  4. If there's someone you've spoken to already who could help you in a new way, go back and ask them.
  5. Keep talking to your friends from time to time.
  6. There are a few elaborate devices/situations/places that seem they must play a core role, but don't.
  7. The forklift is annoyingly precise; right is better than left.
  8. It sounds stupid, but open doors can be very distracting to people who are trying to concentrate.
  9. Metal detectors can sense metal in odd places, no matter how it got in there.
  10. Things that rattle suspiciously should be reported to the proper authorities.
  11. If you can’t get someone’s attention, maybe you need to be closer at the moment you talk to them.
  12. Dwell at important places and make sure to investigate every area you can touch. Crucial points, like fulcrums and joints, are especially sensitive.
  13. Notice little clues the game gives you; don’t assume it’s just being cute.
  14. If a character is present, remember the type of function they play.
  15. When stuck in a room, make sure you’ve identified everything touchable there. Sometimes your eyes need to do the detective work.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Review of the Google Pixel 2

First week with my Pixel 2.

Not impressed with the appearance -- the glossy plastic at the top of the back looks cheap, and in general there's nothing distinguishing about its appearance. In particular, I'm surprised how much of the front is NOT screen-- a good 1.5" or so vertically, and 0.25" horizontally. The iPhone X is going to make it look years behind.

No real problems so far, except that the headphone adapter USB C connector is a bit wobbly and loose (partially because USB-C never seems to have any grip... I much prefer lightning's physical design). It gets a little staticy in my pocket here and there.

Also, weirdly, on some calls I've been able to hear my own headphone microphone, which is weird. That could be a Google Fi issue. (I'm still a big fan of Fi, I'm guessing it's interior quality to Verizon but it's much, much better than T-Mobile for connection reliability for me in NYC, and absurdly cheap)

Also not crazy about the battery. It's fine, it just seems to use about 5% per hour just sitting in my pocket, and I was hoping the hardware and OS would do better than that.

Android 8.0 seems to have shifted enough of the API to destabilize a few apps I use quite a bit (Instapaper, TrueCaller, Advanced Task Manager Pro [for monitoring what's chewing up CPU in the background]) and I'm hoping that settles down.

It's certainly fast, and I especially appreciate how quick the camera access is.

It pushes Google Now (you can squeeze the sides to pull up the assistant, which is kind of satisfying) but I still find Google Now pretty useless. I tried getting it to add something to my calendar a few times today and gave up. Part of the problem is that it fails to parse the whole command to figure out which part is the event name, what time range I'm describing, etc. The other part is that even when I repeat the name, the voice recognition just isn't that good.

(I just tried creating a random event, "Meet Bruno for pizza" and it heard "MIT pronoun for pizza"... disappointing. It has hundreds of samples of my voice! And Google Now already knew I was creating an event! "Meet" has to be one of the most common first words used in events... Have some context, guys!)

So, it's solid, but I'd be thinking about reselling it and just holding onto my still decent Nexus 5x if the Nexus's headphone jack wasn't so janky.

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Monday, October 09, 2017

Is the NY Times a good product?

It's interesting to see the NYT Magazine's recent "Fractured Lands" mega-feature through lens of magazine trying to find its unique niche.

The NYT mag for many years has been a bit of a mess, considering how clear and good a product the broader paper is. (The real ad money is in the Times's "T" fashion magazine, if you can believe it.)

New York Magazine, meanwhile, has become the greatest local magazine in the world. And the "potpurri of random semi-newsy stuff that wouldn't belong in a newspaper" role has been decisively taken over by the internet. In contrast, "Fractured Lands" seems like a perfect example of work that the NYT Mag is uniquely equipped to do. I have plenty of my own criticisms of the NY Times. I subscribe to Noam Chomsky's criticism in Manufacturing Consent that mainstream media companies tend to approach truth through the lens of the powerful and through the lens of existing reader worldview, which are mutually reinforcing.

The Awl's terrific parody, “The Most Emailed ‘New York Times’ Article Ever”, nails that point perfectly.

I've also observed that the more I've known about a story in real life, the more wildly wrong I've seen mainstream publications, including the Times get it. Around 2010, Chuck Schumer's office decided to vilify an obscure, fairly inconsequential, and totally voluntary form of stock market trading called "flash trades", and decry high-frequency trading companies for taking advantage of them. I won't get into why I think this was 100% performance art and 0% consumer protection; my point is that not only did the Times run these stories on the front page multiple times using precisely the line of attack that Schumer was advancing, the pieces made little effort to explain the aspects of flash trades that brought them into existence, and little effort to identify anybody who was ever hurt by them. The coverage was a revelation to me in its combination of ignorance and cravenness.

On the other hand, the coverage of the former Soviet Union was pretty great, and I'm a huge fan of one of their longtime foreign correspondents. The more rarefied New York Review of Books, in contrast, has been pathologically dovish on Russia since the Cold War.

Despite the Times's not being quite the paper I wish it would be, the quality of reporting and writing is generally high, the coverage is reasonably comprehensive, and the output is fast. That execution--150 articles a day or something, many of which are the best reporting in the world on their topic--is incredible.

NB: Twitter and FB also fall short of being what I wish they were, but like the Times, they do a great job of being the product that they are.

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MailChimp frustrations

I've been using MailChimp for a while now, and I'm totally mystified as to the basic units of logic at my command in deciding who gets sent what, when.

Obviously I understand how to create an email (sorry, a "campaign") and send it to an entire list.

But how do I send that same email only to people who never got it in the first place? Or, send an email only to those who got previous email X but not previous email Y?

I see that I can create a new field for everyone on the list, which might be useful for manually keeping track of what's true for each user a completely individual basis. But how do I set the value of a field for everyone I'm sending email Z? Or set this for everyone who got email W, but has field V false?

It seems like there are all of these sequential workflows that presume very specific stories about what I want to do. I suppose there are people out there who already know exactly what sequence of messages they wish to send, when. But I'm trying to just get to the point of understanding such sequences well enough to start designing them in my imagination.

That power is crucial to my being able to actually use MailChimp in real life. Without that understanding, my imagination is misspent and not applicable to reality. If I'm imagining scenario A, does that mean I basically have to go through all of their different specific messaging scenarios and try to find one that I can shoehorn A into? I'm really hoping that instead, I can find logical building blocks and units of information that I can use as I see fit. That way I can start to imagine in MailChimp, rather than have no idea if MailChimp can do the things I want to do until I hit that particular wall.

Can I send a particular email to people who haven't gotten that email before? Why on earth am I unsure if that's possible were impossible with MailChimp?

What I would also like to do is be able to select a subset of my list based on some search type logic (the "signed up through magazine ad" field is true AND they've received my promotional email X) and set some field value (make the "considered promotion combo Y" field true)

I can't even figure out how to find out whether these things are possible, because MailChimp's communication and knowledge base is so clogged with buzzwords and references to many-step workflows, rather than to explaining the core units of functionality, and core limitations.

This problem is in no way unique to MailChimp. And I understand that part of the issue is that I'm not really the customer: the customer is an enterprise which knows what such a service can and can't do, and is ready to spend money or time to hire knowledgeable consultants or train up employees. I also know that MailChimp is doing just fine without my advice. Still, it's flabbergasting to me that basic information about what the heck your product does and doesn't do is so obscured--and it's an industrywide problem, particularly bad in the customer relations management space.

Note: MailChimp support let me know this is impossible to do within MailChimp, but that if I export my list to a competitor's contact management system or spreadsheet and at the proper field there, I can then re-import the list back into MailChimp.

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All the incidental irrelevancies that make up oppression

Reading some of the outrage generated by Rachel Aviv's infuriating New Yorker piece, "How the elderly lose their rights", I've come across some a wide spread of responses.

Some assert their absolute refusal ever to be victimized this way; for instance writing in the Hacker News thread:

I'm shocked at how docile and accepting those old folks were! I mean if someone comes to my house and tries to kidnap me and my family against our will, they better come armed.

That comment prompted this excellent reply by HN user JohnicBoom:

I am reading The Gulag Archipelago, and in it, Solzhenitsyn says about the mindset of one who is facing unjust arrest by the authorities:

"...But as for you, you are obviously innocent! You still believe that the Organs [of state security] are humanely logical institutions: they will set things straight and let you out.

Why, then, should you run away? And how can you resist right then? After all, you'll only make your situation worse; you'll make it more difficult for them to sort out the mistake. And it isn't just that you don't put up any resistance; you even walk down the stairs on tiptoe, as you are ordered to do, so your neighbors won't hear. At what exact point, then, should one resist? When one's belt is taken away? When one is ordered to face into a corner? When one crosses the threshold of one's home? An arrest consists of a series of incidental irrelevancies, of a multitude of things that do not matter, and there seems no point in arguing about any one of them individually - especially at a time when the thoughts of the person arrested are wrapped tightly around the big question: 'What for?' - and yet all these incidental irrelevancies taken together implacably constitute the arrest."

I think same kind of thoughts go through peoples' heads in all manner of less serious circumstances. They might know it doesn't feel right or that it's wrong, but they feel that surely someone will help them correct the mistake. And if they just go along for now, they'll be in better standing when they finally find the right time to raise their objection.

Monday, October 02, 2017

mother! is a masterpiece

Spoilers aplenty!

First of all, it was one of the most visceral moviegoing experiences I've ever had, right up there with Mad Max Fury Road, Children of Men, and Natural Born Killers. I thought the personal level and the metaphorical level were intertwined very effectively. Obviously at a certain point the metaphorical level takes the driver's seat completely, and that disengaged me a bit, but the personal level felt real and central all the way up to the last few minutes of the movie for me.

I think it's crucial to the movie's effectiveness that it works entirely on the personal level, and doesn't require the viewer to spot the various metaphorical references for it to be meaningful. I can see somebody finding these references somewhat pat, but I felt again and again that the take on them was being constructed naturally from a basis in human experience rather than clunkily imposed by the author's hand. A huge part of that, for sure, was the excellent cast, including a ton of perfectly delivered bit parts.

So crucial was that the four main parts were so expertly acted. Watching Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem is a joy, and they both managed to be deeply sympathetic and bewilderingly opaque.

The movie felt to me even more about gender and human power than about ecology or religion. my wife Kate and I talk and think a lot about the wildly different expectations of mothers and fathers (see this hilarious McSweeney's piece), and the dynamic between the two principals brought up a ton of feelings and memories about my own parents. I've never seen such a great exploration of the patterns of the stereotypical male focus on being important to strangers, versus the stereotypical female focus on interpersonal relationship. It was breathtaking to see writ large patterns I know privately, like the way self-aggrandizement exists in symbiotic binary with feelings of powerlessness. The relationship between JLaw's mother and JBard's father's writing was fascinating.

There were a few moments that didn't click for me: I took it that the argument between the sons was designed to be stagey and mannered; it echoed the simulated feel of their parents' characters, in a sort of Hal Hartley or David Lynch way. But where the parents' surface artificialness felt compelling to me, the sons did not, and I didn't feel interested when they were on screen. Also, I was thrilled when Kristen Wiig appeared, but it didn't feel like her character had a clear reason for being there (unlike, for example, that first disciple-type guy who kept appearing).

As I told my frield Josh on the way out, I'm not sure there's another director alive who could have pulled that movie off. Maybe Cuaron or Inaritu. It was a phenomenal demonstration of all of the tools and experience Aronofsky has assembled in the 19 years since I saw Pi in the same Manhattan neighborhood. (And it's a reminder of how disappointing it is that other brilliant filmmakers, like Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese and the Wachowskis, haven't continued to grow their craft.)

Can't wait to see it again!

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Analytics are often the opposite of understanding

I got a kick out of this Wired piece on Seoul mayor Park Won-soon's giant digital dashboard for monitoring citywide analytics.

But count me a skeptic. It is totally cool, and, I wonder if the ability to look at numbers devoid of context gives you a false sense of how comprehensive a vision a reality you're getting.

For example, over the past 5 years there have been case after case in the NYPD of officers blowing the whistle on arrest quotas and pressure from superiors not to report violent crimes and instead to downgrade them to theft or lost property. It's not just that the progress towards reducing crime is gamed, it's that we're continually shifting resources away from fighting crime in favor of appearing to fight crime, and building up the compounded interest of broken lives and further cycles of suffering.

I would feel more excited and encouraged if the mayor hired a team of completely independent investigative reporters whose job it was to uncover patterns of injustice, waste or inefficiency that the city isn't aware of or isn't doing anything about.

The Campbell effect is a pattern observed when efforts are data-driven that holds that you may indeed increase the metrics you measure, but overtime more and more of the Delta will come from people finding ways that make a difference to the reported numbers but not a difference to the quality of the thing you are trying to measure.

For instance, pretty much every state has recorded significant standardized test gains among their student population since the No Child Left Behind Act required them to test its and me various milestones. But independent measurements of student education quality have not shown significant gains in most of these states.

When Bill de Blasio was the public advocate, I tried to report a problem with the police to his office. But their mailbox was full and they never seemed to pick up the phone. This is someone who I'm sure I thinks he runs a tight ship. I don't know what metrics he's seeing, but the one that mattered most was a common-sense measure that just required picking up the phone and trying to reach his own office.

Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Why I'm bearish on holding cryptocurrencies

I think almost no one understands what the underlying value of cryptocurrencies is. If every cryptocurrency you can buy today turns out to have no value in 5 years, very few people would be legitimately surprised. But, that was my reason for not buying Bitcoin 6 years ago, which would have been very lucrative!

I've been arguing for years that "coins" in general (that is, the general currency version of them, not a "color coins" version linked to a contract or external asset) should not be considered to have significant intrinsic value because the function of one cryptocurrency is pretty easy to replicate.

In a way, that's happening now, where Bitcoin's share of the cryptocurrency market cap has fallen by 50% in the face of many new competitors. Of course, the overall value may grow faster than competitors can proliferate, but there is little reason any functional use of one currency can't be expanded to handle another.

Would someone in 2050 rather have 1 million Bitcoin or $1000 USD? I would bet on the latter, because Bitcoin will just be one cryptocurrency among many, many with the same usefulness--or much more.

I could be wrong, and what will happen in the short term is anyone's guess. But if I'm the least informed player at the table, I think it's very unlikely that I'll come out ahead. Maybe that's just my cautious philosophy, which sometimes is a great asset, but might sometimes keep me from seizing an ambiguous opportunity.

It's worth noting that the industry still hasn't come up with a good, popular, secure way to even maintain an account of these "coins". I've had friends get theirs hacked and stolen, and others be unable to get the companies who provide their "wallets" to let them transfer their coins out. It's the wild West over there.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Podcast features I wish existed

What I subscribe to--which is a lot--is a very limited window into what I would ideally like to listen to. first of all, the resulting feed is biased towards frequent posting, because I'll see those episodes more. it's also very much biased towards recency, which doesn't matter at all for many podcasts.

What I really want is a smart feed that's powered by collaborative filtering: what I've listened to to completion in the past is associated with what other people have listen to to completion, and I can just hit play next and start hearing a new episode, maybe from a podcast I didn't even know existed.

Ideally, there would eventually be sophisticated aspects of this like knowing when episodes are linked in a series and grouping them, so you wouldn't play episode five of Alexis Madrigal's "Containers" until you played episodes one through four, UNLESS episode five is being listened to way more than the others.

This could be monetized by allowing podcasts to pay to be inserted in the feed; maybe there would be a free boost given to new podcasts that appear to be being produced consistently.

Another thing I would love would be a social layer to podcast listening. If two of my friends listens to a particular episode, I want to see that, because not only does it mean I'm likely to like the episode, I know I can talk to them about it and even just feel like I'm experiencing the same thing they experience.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Impunity for police abuse by the NYPD

I'm reading Shaun King's harrowing series about unpunished police abuse in the 42nd precinct of the Bronx, and in the NYPD in general.

It's hard for words to do justice to how wrong this is.

Obviously, King's piece can't be quite as accurate as if an investigator journalist gave these stories each several months of focus. King is an activist first and a journalist second. But with that said, he has a good record of accuracy, and he chooses not to write about a lot of cases that come his way because the evidence and details are too vague or unsubstantiated. I've been reading them for years and he is a very careful, thorough and thoughtful writer and thinker. I trust that all of the firsthand accounts he gives are completely accurate, and that his summaries of others' accounts are accurate. I imagine that in some of these cases, the defendants were not as impeccable as the impression you get from King's writing -- not that what he's writing isn't true, but he's selecting the most outrageous details.

I know a veteran cop pretty well who has wide experience in multiple areas of the city, and who is politically somewhat conservative--she's a big supporter of Giuliani--but when I bring stuff like this up she agrees that it's completely true and common. She herself is stopped and harassed by cops frequently. She says she estimates that she would trust about one third of the officers in the NYPD to handle a friend or relative's case in a professional manner.

I think the biggest questions readers should ask after reading this series are about what to do about these quotas and the impunity for abuse. I don't really think there are attentive observers at this point who don't think quotas and impunity for abuse are the norm in the NYPD. The police union's resistance to penalties for even the most egregious abuse really speaks to the degree to which no amount of unprofessionalism is beyond the pale in the culture of the NYPD.

Compare the punishment that police face if they repeatedly arrest people for no good reason, and repeatedly beat people up. Compare this to the punishment one officer got just for going home at the end of his shift (which had already gone overtime, IIRC), according to schedule, on a night that police wanted all hands on deck because an officer had been killed. When group loyalty is in question even a shred, the officers of the NYPD and their union have no problem severing ties with an officer.

Would a story like this matter more if white New Yorkers' children were being serially abused and knowingly wrongfully arrested--essentially, kidnapped--by their government? I think it undoubtedly would. (And that attention would be absolutely appropriate and necessary--and the NYPD must treat white families better, as well.)

That's why the cry of Black Lives Matter is so crucially needed, and why charges that it is dangerous and divisive are at least preposterously misguided, and really racist horseshit. When the NYPD consistently treats black lives, and Latino lives, with the same care that they would give to a white family in Park Slope or the Upper East Side, then Black Lives Matter won't need to make its case. Until then, morality and humanism demand that we cry it out.

Black lives matter!

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The bundling potential of Disney's streaming service

When Bob Iger of Disney recently announced Disney's intention to create a streaming service and to pull Disney branded content from Netflix, one of the tricky questions he wasn't sure about was whether they would also pull Disney-owned properties like Star Wars and Marvel films.

It's certainly a tricky question, given the wide appeal of these properties. On the one hand, putting them behind a Disney subscription wall would be a huge encouragement to subscribe. On the other hand, you can imagine that there are lots of people who like these films but wouldn't feel like a Disney streaming package is for them, and would just turn to lots of the other good content out there.

The wide release Star Wars/Lucas and Marvel movies are designed to be seen by everyone -- which means their PG-13 take is too infantile for some, and too mature for young kids (IMHO, though I do see 7 year olds at violent films like The Dark Knight). In other words, their content, production budget, advertising budget, and distribution method are all linked.

But those pieces are all linked for original streaming content as well, which is how you can get something mature like Jessica Jones to be effective and valuable on Netflix.

So rather than choose between putting every Marvel property they can in wide distribution vs. putting every marble property they can behind their own subscription wall, what if Disney developed new Marvel series and films that connected more to Disney's family-friendly brand? There is a whole new young generation of X-Men characters who are kids and teenagers, and the dynamic of hiding mutant powers and feeling out of place because of them translates perfectly to the idea of a series centered around child mutants who live at home and go to school.

Marvel had long time imprints called First Comics and Epic Comics which were allowed to arrange more widely from the mainstream Marvel Universe; First was particularly targeted towards younger readers. There's a ton of audience-tested characters and storylines that can be mined.

Similarly with Star Wars, there's plenty of room to build programming in the Clone Wars vein that has a somewhat different audience than the wide release movies.

As for ESPN, I think the appeal of ESPN as a bundle could be enhanced by similarly focusing on content that appeals especially to ESPN viewers. For instance, where can I go right now to watch all the Fast and Furious movies? I have Netflix and Amazon prime and Sling TV, but I have no idea… I assume I could pay to rent them on Amazon. What if ESPN licensed this kind of content long-term?

The crazy thing is that I don't think it would even need to be an exclusive license. One of the downsides to the sprawling complexity of offerings by Netflix and Amazon is that it's so hard to know where to go to watch a particular film. If ESPN expanded their brand to be "all the action and sports movies you ever want to watch", the bundle economics might make sense of outbidding Netflix and Amazon on these properties.

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