Last Person to Receive a Civil War Pension Dies 

Jason Kottke:

This is a great example of the Great Span, the link across large periods of history by individual humans. But it’s also a reminder that, as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Until this week, US taxpayers were literally and directly paying for the Civil War, a conflict whose origins stretch back to the earliest days of the American colonies and continues today on the streets of our cities and towns.

Buffalo Cops Suspended for Shoving 75-Year-Old Man to Ground 

Ryan W. Miller and Jordan Culver, reporting for USA Today:

In its initial statement on the incident, the Buffalo Police Department said a person “was injured when he tripped & fell,” WIVB-TV reported. A later statement posted on the department’s Facebook page said two officers had been suspended without pay and an internal affairs investigation was underway.

“Tripped and fell” is a preposterous lie when you watch the video. And why are the officers not named? I just spent 15 minutes searching news stories and none of them name the officers. If a protestor had pushed a Buffalo cop to the ground, sending them to the hospital in serious condition, I’m pretty sure they’d be named. Not releasing the names of these two cops is protecting them — a prime example of the insular nature of U.S. policing that these protests are about. You can argue that their names should be withheld to protect them and their families from retribution, but then that should apply to all criminal suspects, not just criminal suspects wearing badges.

Donald Trump’s Praise for the Tiananmen Square Massacre: ‘When the Students Poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese Government Almost Blew It’ 

From a 1990 interview with Playboy:

When the now-Republican presidential frontrunner was asked his impression of the Soviet Union, the then-43-year-old replied:

“I was very unimpressed… Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.”

He was asked whether he meant a “firm hand as in China?”, to which Trump replied:

“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak… as being spit on by the rest of the world.”

Asked in 2016 about these comments, he called the Tiananmen Square protest a “riot”:

Trump, however, denied that his statements meant he agreed with the acts. “That doesn’t mean I was endorsing that… I said, that is a strong powerful government that put it down,” he said. “They kept down the riot, it was a horrible thing,” he added.

Trump’s true self has been in front of us all along. The best time to open your eyes to it was four years ago. The next best time is today.

Marques Brownlee: ‘Reflecting on the Color of My Skin’ 

Marques Brownlee, moving the needle:

Just know that this whole social media thing can make it feel like a very now thing … a 2020 thing. Maybe that’s because of the short attention span of the internet. But this is an ongoing thing. This has been a thing, and this will continue to be a thing. We have to spread the message, we have to be responsible, and use our voices. And we have to move the needle.

Greg Doucette’s Massive Thread Documenting Nationwide Police Brutality Against Protestors 

260 grotesque incidents of police violence and counting, from across the nation. And these are just the scenes caught on video, collected and shared by one man. Watch and share.

On Tiananmen Anniversary, Hong Kong Makes Mocking China’s Anthem a Crime 

Austin Ramzy, Tiffany May, and Javier C. Hernández, reporting for the NYT:

Hong Kong made mocking China’s national anthem a crime on Thursday, passing a contentious law on the anniversary of the Chinese military’s bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.

No better proof that mockery works — they wouldn’t ban it if it weren’t effective.

But alas, the larger point is that Hong Kong’s fall into Chinese rule is instructive: freedom is fragile, and can fall at the hands of authoritarians backed by armed forces. “The rule of law” is our guiding mantra here in the U.S., but when one side holds the law and the other side holds tanks, guns, and tear gas, it’s hard to rule by law. This is what it means not to have freedom of speech.

Hong Kong’s legislature, which is dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers, passed a separate piece of legislation on Thursday that would criminalize disrespect for China’s national anthem and make it punishable by up to three years in prison. On Thursday, several opposition lawmakers disrupted the debate by throwing stink bombs inside the legislative chamber and yelling: “A murderous regime stinks for 10,000 years.”

“What we did today is to remind the world that we should never forgive the Chinese Communist Party for killing its own people 31 years ago,” Mr. Chu, one of the opposition lawmakers who protested the law, told reporters later.

Meanwhile, when Hong Kong most needs allies in the name of freedom and opposition to oppression, this is the infuriating scene in Walnut Creek, CA. Our own protestors are facing down tinpot cops in their big-boy toy tanks across the U.S.

Tim Cook: ‘Speaking Up on Racism’ 

Tim Cook, in a message on Apple’s website:

This is a moment when many people may want nothing more than a return to normalcy, or to a status quo that is only comfortable if we avert our gaze from injustice. As difficult as it may be to admit, that desire is itself a sign of privilege. George Floyd’s death is shocking and tragic proof that we must aim far higher than a “normal” future, and build one that lives up to the highest ideals of equality and justice.

In the words of Martin Luther King, “Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

Philadelphia Removed the Rizzo Statue 

Some good local news, and a legitimate finally. The Philadelphia Inquirer:

On Wednesday morning, Philadelphia woke up to a profound change in the landscape of Center City. Overnight, workers had removed the statue of Frank Rizzo, the former police commissioner, then mayor, whose law-and-order tactics had come for many to symbolize racist and brutal policing in the city.

“The statue represented bigotry, hatred, and oppression for too many people, for too long,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in an early-morning tweet. “It is finally gone.”

That statue was Philly’s shameful equivalent of a Confederate Civil War monument. You look at Rizzo’s record and it’s hard to believe it was true, let alone that we had a statue dedicated to him until last night:

A careful look at his legacy, however, shows that federal officials, civil rights attorneys, community residents and politicians all voiced consistently similar concern in the 1960s and 1970s that Rizzo had allowed the police department to operate with little accountability, leading to an environment where police shot civilians at a rate of one per week between 1970 and 1978.

He was like a proto-Trump, including a tendency to simultaneously brag and whine in the third-person:

“All Frank Rizzo has done all his life is protect people from criminals at great personal risk and discomfort,” Rizzo once said, slipping into the third person.

He rose through the ranks, to deputy commissioner in 1963, and police commissioner in 1967. Rizzo summed up his philosophy in blunt terms. “The way to treat criminals is spacco il capo,” he said as top cop, using the Italian for “break their heads.” He boasted he had “the toughest cops in the world,” and that his Police Department was strong enough to invade Cuba.

1975:

During his bid for re-election, Rizzo proclaimed he would “make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.” He was re-elected by a margin of 182,730 votes over independent Charles W. Bowser and Republican Thomas M. Foglietta.

In 1980, after Rizzo was out of office, came this encounter in which he tried to get a TV news crew to fight him, one day after he broke a camera from the same crew, on camera, while Philly cops stood behind him and laughed. Just watch.

The fact that this man was Philadelphia’s police chief and two-term mayor is emblematic of the racism pervading our nation, particularly in policing.

The removal of this statue is proof that protesting works.

James Mattis Denounces Trump as Threat to Constitution, Equates His Tactics to Those of Nazi Germany 

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis:

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us … was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis — confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children. […]

We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Who’s next? Or perhaps the better question: Who will be the last?

‘Increasingly Rightwing’ Police Unions Have Made Policing More Dangerous in America 

Good roundup of links from Jason Kottke, culminating in this eye-opening thread from Minneapolis City Councilman Steve Fletcher, pointing out that police unions aren’t like other labor unions, and operate like protection rackets:

Why hasn’t it been fixed? Because the crisis we’re in this week has been an implied threat hanging over the city during union negotiations, discipline proceedings, and budget hearings for years.

Politicians who cross the MPD find slowdowns in their wards. After the first time I cut money from the proposed police budget, I had an uptick in calls taking forever to get a response, and MPD officers telling business owners to call their councilman about why it took so long.

We pay dearly for public safety: $195 million a year plus extensive, expensive legal settlements. That should buy us more than a protection racket that’ll take it out on our constituents if we try to create accountability.

Federal laws that define and mandate nationwide police accountability could do for police reform what the Voting Rights Act did for election reform. But we’ve fallen so far under right-wing political dominance in the U.S. that even the Voting Rights Act needs to be un-gutted. Our work is cut out for us.

Also worth pointing out: Police unions are a bastion of rightwing political clout in otherwise left-leaning liberal cities. It doesn’t make sense, really. Protection racket extremism might be the only way they can hold onto that clout. Ultimately, breaking their stranglehold on accountability is the entire purpose of these nationwide protests.

The ‘Well, Actually, Smoke Isn’t Even a “Gas”’ Defense 

The Trump kakistocracy — including the president himself — is going all-in on the argument that federal police did not use “tear gas” against peaceful protesters to clear the way for Trump’s bible-holding photo-op Monday. Abigail Hauslohner, reporting for The Washington Post:

The U.S. Park Police had earlier released a statement defending that effort, saying that their use of chemical agents against the crowd came in response to violence from protesters, and that it involved “pepper balls” and “smoke canisters.” The statement went on to assert that “no tear gas was used” in the Lafayette Square incident. […]

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Riot control agents (sometimes referred to as “tear gas”) are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.” And, according to the CDC, “several different compounds” fall under this definition, and are employed by security forces, including military and police, in riot control situations.

Among others, they include chloroacetophenone (CN), more commonly referred to as “mace,” or pepper sprays — in other words, the compound that was deployed in Lafayette Square — and chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS), “one of the most commonly used tear gases in the world,” according to an article in the British Medical Journal. These compounds are all typically referred to as “tear gas” because their most prominent effect is to bring on tears.

So the Trump defense is effectively, “Sure, we gassed peaceful demonstrators and news media from around the world with chemical agents that irritated their eyes, throat, lungs, and skin, but it wasn’t the high-test Tear Gas™ brand stuff that will really fuck you up so how dare you call it ‘tear gas’.

Good luck with that argument.

Mike Mullen: ‘I Cannot Remain Silent’ 

Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, writing at The Atlantic:

It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel — including members of the National Guard — forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church. I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent.

Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.

Barry Schnitt: ‘Dear Facebook Employees’ 

Barry Schnitt, who worked at Facebook in policy communications from 2008-2012:

Unfortunately, I do not think it is a coincidence that the choices Facebook makes are the ones that allow the most content — the fuel for the Facebook engine — to remain in the system. I do not think it is a coincidence that Facebook’s choices align with the least resources required, outsourcing important aspects to third parties. I do not think it is a coincidence that Facebook’s choices appease those in power who have made misinformation, blatant racism and inciting violence part of their platform. Facebook says, and may even believe, that it is on the side of free speech. In fact, it has put itself on the side of profit and cowardice.

You don’t have to be, though. Facebook has seemingly limitless resources at its disposal. You’ve got some of the smartest people in the world who work at Facebook. I know, I’ve worked with them. You’ve developed some of the most advanced technology in history and have mountains of capital. As one example, the company has said it may spend as much as ~$34 billion for stock buybacks since just 2017. The main ingredient that you lack is the will.

To me, the question for Facebook is less what they should do at the macro level (the president’s inflammatory, misleading posts) and more about the micro level: the thousands of relatively small, mostly private groups where hatred, violence, and dangerous disinformation foment. But that macro level matters, too. It sends a signal when it appears there is no line that the president can cross that Facebook is not OK with.

George Will: ‘There Is No Such Thing as Rock Bottom for Trump. Assume the Worst Is Yet to Come.’ 

Conservative stalwart George Will, calling for an electoral rout of Republicans in November:

Those who think our unhinged president’s recent mania about a murder two decades ago that never happened represents his moral nadir have missed the lesson of his life: There is no such thing as rock bottom. So, assume that the worst is yet to come. Which implicates national security: Abroad, anti-Americanism sleeps lightly when it sleeps at all, and it is wide-awake as decent people judge our nation’s health by the character of those to whom power is entrusted.

This was published yesterday. Trump proved Will’s prediction within mere hours.

Anonymous Outrage Holds No Water 

Jonathan Swan, reporting for Axios:

But a senior White House official told Axios that when they saw the tear gas clearing the crowd for Trump to walk to the church with his entourage: “I’ve never been more ashamed. I’m really honestly disgusted. I’m sick to my stomach. And they’re all celebrating it. They’re very very proud of themselves.”

Washington Post reporter Tony Romm:

Some people don’t deserve background sourcing. There’s a reason we describe the “why” every time we use it. Standards are important.

This is no little thing. Think about the unwritten “why” for this “senior White House official” being granted anonymity for this quote. Well, they’d be fired immediately if they put their name on it. But why protect your job if you’re “ashamed”, “honestly disgusted”, and “sick to your stomach” over what the administration you work for is doing? Swan and Axios effectively couldn’t put the “why” there because the “why” is indefensible. Either this source did not mean what they said — and Axios printed a pandering lie — or they did mean it and this source is too cowardly to do the right thing and go on the record.

Profiles in Courage 

MSNBC reporter Kasie Hunt asks Republican senators for comment on Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church last night — powerful journalism in the form of a simple tweet thread.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on the president’s photo op at St. John’s last night: “Didn’t really see it.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “I didn’t watch it closely enough to know.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio: “I’m late for lunch.”

It goes on. And on.

It’s a Bad Orchard 

Seth Meyers, last night on Late Night:

Stop saying the problem is just a few bad apples. It’s not an apple problem — it’s an orchard problem. If you went apple picking and the guy who ran the orchard said, “There are a few bad apples out there,” and you said, “How bad?” and they said, “Kill you bad,” you’d say, “This is a bad orchard.”

Sarah Cooper, Trump Satirist Extraordinaire 

James Poniewozik, writing last week for The New York Times:

From Ms. Cooper’s lips, the president’s sentences become plywood bridges he’s trying to nail together, one shaky plank at a time, over a vertiginous Looney Tunes canyon.

Beyond capturing the moment, Ms. Cooper’s Trump says something about what makes a good political impression. Too often, people judge it by the Rich Little standard — how much you manage to look and sound like the subject.

Mimicry is a neat trick, but it’s not satire unless there’s an idea of the person, which can hit closer to the core than a pitch-perfect imitation. What Ms. Cooper and company are developing is comedy not as writing, but as a kind of live-action political cartooning.

TPM: ‘Cops Break Up Peaceful Protest With Tear Gas So Trump Can Have a Church Photo-Op’ 

This raises an interesting theological question: How much tear gas would Jesus use on protesters to clear a path for a photo of him in front of a church, holding a bible in a way that, sure, normal people hold bibles?

This photo from Doug Mills of the NYT captures the moment more honestly.

Researcher Reports Zero-Day in Sign In With Apple, Gets Paid $100,000 Bounty 

Bhavuk Jain:

In the month of April, I found a zero-day in Sign in with Apple that affected third-party applications which were using it and didn’t implement their own additional security measures. This bug could have resulted in a full account takeover of user accounts on that third party application irrespective of a victim having a valid Apple ID or not.

For this vulnerability, I was paid $100,000 by Apple under their Apple Security Bounty program. […]

Apple also did an investigation of their logs and determined there was no misuse or account compromise due to this vulnerability.

Nice write-up of the technical details too.

Amazon No Longer Puts What You Ordered in Email Confirmations, Presumably to Thwart Data Harvesters 

I’ve noticed this too, but hadn’t really thought about it until I saw this post from Michael Tsai (based on tweets from Paul Rosania and Andrew Chen): Amazon no longer puts a list of items in order confirmation and shipment notice emails. Almost certainly they’re doing this to thwart email-scraping data harvesters from obtaining information about Amazon sales. All sorts of companies harvest this info, and people volunteer to let them do it (including Edison Mail, the iOS mail client whose recent egregious bug granted full access to email accounts to random other users — at least they’re up front about it in their “how we use data” statement). Edison is far from alone in this — there’s an entire cottage industry of email clients and “tools” whose entire business model is based on scraping their users’ email for e-commerce trends.

So, from the Department of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Amazon has responded by removing product information from its emails. One reason this change was merely a low-grade annoyance for me, personally, is that I allow the Amazon iPhone app to send me notifications, and these notifications include shipping updates and delivery confirmation. If you’re notification-permission-averse — and who isn’t these days? — I recommend making an exception for the Amazon app. I can’t promise Amazon will never use these notifications to send you an ad, but in my experience they only send me notifications regarding things I’ve ordered from them — their notifications serve me, not them. And Amazon’s website and app continue to have a nicely searchable archive of your entire order history — mine goes back to the Clinton administration, which feels like another epoch. But it was nice having your own searchable archive of purchased items right in your email.

The Magic Puzzle Company 

My thanks to The Magic Puzzle Company for sponsoring DF last week. They’re debuting with a set of three new 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles with original art and a magical surprise at the end. These are not typical jigsaw puzzles:

  • They commissioned incredible, original art from independent artists, designed from the very beginning to be used in a jigsaw puzzle.
  • They designed surprise endings using techniques from optical illusions and magic that add an extra experience to the end of the puzzle.
  • Each puzzle has over 50 easter eggs to find as you solve (and they come with a guide to help).

Series One is a Kickstarter campaign that, just hours ago, crossed the $3 million mark. I can see why — all three puzzles are gorgeous. They sent me a prototype and it’s exquisite. I mean come on — the company commissioned Susan Kare to make their logo (and, of course, the logo is perfect).

iOS 13.5.1 Is Out With Security Fixes, Presumably to Patch Last Week’s ‘Unc0ver’ Jailbreak 

There’s a MacOS 10.15 Catalina update out today too.

Facebook Employees Begin to Revolt 

Sheera Frenkel, Mike Isaac, and Cecilia Kang, reporting for The New York Times:

Mr. Zuckerberg’s post last week explaining his decision on Mr. Trump’s tweets frustrated many inside the company. More than a dozen Facebook employees tweeted that they disagreed with Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision, including the head of design of Facebook’s portal product, Andrew Crow.

An engineer for the platform, Lauren Tan, posted about the situation on Friday. “Facebook’s inaction in taking down Trump’s post inciting violence makes me ashamed to work here,” Ms. Tan wrote in a tweet. “Silence is complicity.”

Two senior Facebook employees told The New York Times that they had informed their managers that they would resign if Mr. Zuckerberg did not reverse his decision. Another person, who was supposed to start work at the company next month, told Facebook they were no longer willing to accept a position at the company because of Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision.

I don’t know why the Times linked to Tan’s tweet but not Crow’s:

Censoring information that might help people see the complete picture is wrong. But giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless who you are or if it’s newsworthy. I disagree with Mark’s position and will work to make change happen.

I’ve seen some people making hay over this Times story, based on the framing of it as a “virtual walkout”. Forget about the “walkout”. What’s important here are Facebook employees speaking out, unequivocally. Interesting too that they’re using Twitter to express their dissent.

Facebook’s real risk here, as I see it, is getting branded as the social network for racists. Talent retention is the top challenge for every tech company. We’re going through history, right now, and Facebook is on the wrong side of it. No one wants that on their resume.

Barack Obama: ‘How to Make This Moment the Turning Point for Real Change’ 

Barack Obama:

I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.

Let’s get to work.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: ‘People Pushed to the Edge’ 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, writing at the LA Times:

Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

The Verge: ‘Caught on Camera, Police Explode in Rage and Violence Across the U.S.’ 

T.C. Sottek, The Verge:

Over the past 72 hours, people across the US have captured what may be the most comprehensive live picture of police brutality ever. Any one of the videos we’ve seen could have sparked a national discussion, with people picking apart their elements, searching for context to argue about, and digging through the pasts of everyone involved. But it’s not just one act of violence. It’s everywhere.

Here is just a short list of scenes from the past few days.

Responding to protests of police brutality with police brutality.

SpaceX Successfully Launched Its Crew Dragon Mission To Orbit 

Loren Grush, The Verge:

After nearly two decades of effort, Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, successfully launched its first two people into orbit, ushering in a new age of human spaceflight in the United States. The flight marked the first time astronauts have launched into orbit from American soil in nearly a decade, and SpaceX is now the first company to send passengers to orbit on a privately made vehicle.

The two astronauts — veteran NASA fliers Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — rode into space inside SpaceX’s new automated spacecraft called the Crew Dragon, a capsule designed to take people to and from the International Space Station. Strapped inside the sleek, gumdrop-shaped capsule, the duo lifted off on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22PM ET on Saturday. The rocket dropped the Crew Dragon off in orbit about 12 minutes later. Now, the pair will spend roughly the next day in orbit before attempting to dock with the International Space Station on Sunday morning.

Successful space launches are always fun, but it feels particularly good to see a triumph for science right now.

A Gentle Reminder That You Should Subscribe to Dithering 

Today’s episode of Dithering — my and Ben Thompson’s new thrice-weekly 15-minutes-per-episode podcast — is probably my favorite yet. We talk about Trump-vs.-Twitter but it kicks off with the Tarantino-esque demise of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. That’s Dithering.

$5 per month — cheap! — and it’s really easy to sign up for and subscribe to in your favorite podcast player. And if you don’t like it, it’s really easy to cancel. But you’ll like it, trust me — it’s good and it’s fun.

Zuckerberg Sticks With Trump 

Mike Isaac and Cecilia Kang, reporting for The New York Times:

Twitter’s face-off escalated Friday morning, when the company attached an addendum to one of Mr. Trump’s tweets. The company said the tweet had the potential to incite violence amid protests in Minneapolis. Facebook didn’t do anything when the same post was added to its service.

Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter, took to his site not long after to say Twitter would not back down, presenting a stark contrast to Mr. Zuckerberg, who, in an interview a day earlier with Fox News, said Facebook wasn’t going to judge Mr. Trump’s posts.

“We’ve been pretty clear on our policy that we think that it wouldn’t be right for us to do fact checks for politicians,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “I think in general, private companies probably shouldn’t be — or especially these platform companies — shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Zuckerberg, testifying before Congress back in October, said otherwise when answering a question from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

“If anyone, including a politician, is saying things that can cause, that is calling for violence or could risk imminent physical harm — or voter or census suppression, when we roll out the census suppression policy — we will take that content down.”

When it was in the abstract, he said Facebook would do the right thing. When the rubber hit the road and Trump started posting voter suppression propaganda (re: mail-in balloting) and a clear incitement to violence, Facebook got in line behind Trump.

Even if you think Zuckerberg’s doing the right thing by not touching Trump’s posts — which I see the argument for — you’re admitting that he lied while answering Ocasio-Cortez’s question.

Trump Declared Twitter Should Be Shut Down 

“If it were legal, if it were able to be legally shut down, I would do it.”

That’s the president of the United States yesterday, describing, I think honestly, what he’d like to do to an American company that no one — no one — is alleging to have broken a single law. Their transgression is that they simply displease him. It’s worth watching him say it on video, just to absorb how casual he is about something so profound.

It has been the historical norm for all presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, to speak of the U.S. Constitution with reverence, as a set of righteous ideals that guide our nation, a codification of our collective sense of what is right and just — not as a set of constraints that shackle the president from doing what he’d really like to do.

Minnesota Police Arrest CNN Reporter Omar Jimenez Live on the Air 

CNN:

CNN’s Josh Campbell, who also was in the area but not standing with the on-air crew, said he, too, was approached by police, but was allowed to remain.

“I identified myself … they said, ‘OK, you’re permitted to be in the area,’” recounted Campbell, who is white. “I was treated much differently than (Jimenez) was.”

Jimenez is black and Latino. Kirkos is white, and Mendez is Hispanic.

I know there’s a lot going on today. I’m overwhelmed too. But the footage of Jimenez’s arrest is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen.

New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik:

The incident, which unfolded over several tense minutes, was brazen and appalling. But at least it served a clarifying purpose. After days of hot air expended insisting on a politician’s “right” to use a private platform without correction, America got to see what an actual offense against the First Amendment looks like.

It’s Hard to Believe But Maybe Trump Neither Understands the Law Nor Has Thought This Twitter Thing Through, Not Even Sort of a Little 

Peter Baker and Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for The New York Times:

But the logic of Mr. Trump’s order is intriguing because it attacks the very legal provision that has allowed him such latitude to publish with impunity a whole host of inflammatory, harassing and factually distorted messages that a media provider might feel compelled to take down if it were forced into the role of a publisher that faced the risk of legal liability rather than a distributor that does not.

“Intriguing” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.


Translation From VC-Backed PR Jargon to English of Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz’s Statement That He’s ‘Stepping Down’

From a company-wide memo sent by Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz Thursday:

As we’ve shared over the last several weeks, in order to set Magic Leap on a course for success, we have pivoted to focus on delivering a spatial computing platform for enterprise.

As nearly everyone has finally realized, our actual technology is nothing at all like what we promised, lied about for years, and sold gullible deep-pocketed investors on. Our con is falling apart at the seams, so we’ll milk the last few dollars out of the only investors dumb enough to give us even more money, by repeating the word “enterprise” and doing that thing with our fingers like Obi-Wan Kenobi.

We have closed significant new funding and have very positive momentum towards closing key strategic enterprise partnerships.

You’re not going to believe this but we somehow raised another $350 million. I know, right?

As the board and I planned the changes we made and what Magic Leap needs for this next focused phase, it became clear to us that a change in my role was a natural next step.

Everyone agrees the jig is up.

I discussed this with the board and we have agreed that now is the time to bring in a new CEO who can help us to commercialize our focused plan for spatial computing in enterprise. We have been actively recruiting candidates for this role and I look forward to sharing more soon.

Our Craigslist ad: “Florida company seeks Bernie Madoff type.”

I have been leading Magic Leap since 2011 (starting in my garage). We have created a new field. A new medium. And together we have defined the future of computing.

No one will remember us or anything we’ve done — unless Netflix makes one of those documentaries like the Fyre Festival one. I love that movie. Which makes me think maybe we should change our Craigslist ad to “Billy McFarland type”. Actually, when does he get out of prison?

I am amazed at everything we have built and look forward to everything Magic Leap will create in the decades to come.

I am amazed that we raised $2.4 billion and have managed to stretch this con out for 7 years and counting. We even convinced Google to invest. Google! Those guys are smart!

I will remain our CEO through the transition and am in discussions with the board with regards to how I will continue to provide strategy and vision from a board level. I remain super excited about Magic Leap’s future and believe deeply in our team and all of their incredible talent and capabilities.

I guess I should be ashamed of myself but I’m not. 


‘The Unicorns Fell Into a Ditch’ 

Matt Levine, in his excellent Money Stuff column for Bloomberg:

If restaurants and drivers complained about DoorDash but DoorDash was raking in juicy profits, you could be like “what do you want, innovate or die, the market has spoken.” But in fact restaurants and drivers complain about DoorDash, and it lost $450 million in 2019 on about $1 billion of revenue. Arguably the market has spoken and said “stop it, come on, this is dumb.”

In the old economy of price signals, you tried to build a product that people would want, and the way you knew it worked is that people would pay you more than it cost. You were adding value to the world, and you could tell because you made money. In the new economy of user growth, you don’t have to worry about making a product that people want because you can just pay them to use it, so you might end up with companies losing money to give people things that they don’t want and driving out the things they do want.

That sounds like a joke but it’s not even an exaggeration.

Bonus burn on counterfeit capitalism poster child MoviePass:

Meanwhile MoviePass itself is up for auction in its Chapter 7 bankruptcy, with bids due next month. Naively I would think that a pandemic would be good for MoviePass: If your business is buying movie tickets for $14 and selling them for $10 a month, months when all the movie theaters are shut down should be relatively profitable.

DoorDash and Pizza Arbitrage 

This piece by Ranjan Roy for his Margins newsletter is such a perfect example of counterfeit capitalism. Roy has a friend who owns a few pizzerias. They were getting complaints from customers whose deliveries were cold. What made that really odd is that his pizzerias weren’t offering delivery service. What happened is that DoorDash, with no permission, registered a phone number with Google under his restaurant’s name. The fun part of the story:

DoorDash was causing him real problems. The most common was, DoorDash delivery drivers didn’t have the proper bags for pizza so it inevitably would arrive cold. It led to his employees wasting time responding to complaints and even some bad Yelp reviews.

But he brought up another problem - the prices were off. He was frustrated that customers were seeing incorrectly low prices. A pizza that he charged $24 for was listed as $16 by DoorDash.

My first thought: I wondered if DoorDash is artificially lowering prices for customer acquisition purposes.

My second thought: I knew DoorDash scraped restaurant websites. After we discussed it more, it was clear that the way his menu was set up on his website, DoorDash had mistakenly taken the price for a plain cheese pizza and applied it to a ‘specialty’ pizza with a bunch of toppings.

My third thought: Cue the Wall Street trader in me… ARBITRAGE!

The arbitrage is good fun, but ultimately the whole thing shows how predatory these VC-backed delivery services are:

You have insanely large pools of capital creating an incredibly inefficient money-losing business model. It’s used to subsidize an untenable customer expectation. You leverage a broken workforce to minimize your genuine labor expenses. The companies unload their capital cannons on customer acquisition, while this week’s Uber-Grubhub news reminds us, the only viable endgame is a promise of monopoly concentration and increased prices. But is that even viable?

More News From Earlier This Month, Lost in the Quarantine Shuffle: ‘Uber Cuts 3,000 More Jobs, Shuts 45 Offices in Coronavirus Crunch’ 

Preetika Rana, reporting for The Wall Street Journal back on May 19 (Apple News+):

Uber Technologies Inc. is cutting several thousand additional jobs, closing more than three dozen offices and re-evaluating big bets in areas ranging from freight to self-driving technology as Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi attempts to steer the ride-hailing giant through the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Khosrowshahi announced the plans in an email to staff Monday, less than two weeks after the company said it would eliminate about 3,700 jobs and planned to save more than $1 billion in fixed costs. Monday’s decision to close 45 offices and lay off some 3,000 more people means Uber is shedding roughly a quarter of its workforce in under a month’s time. Drivers aren’t classified as employees, so they aren’t included.

Why does Uber even have 45 offices to close, and so many employees to lay off? What exactly were the ~7,000 people they’ve laid off so far doing? Last I heard, Uber had 400 iOS engineers. Just iOS. I get it that some of that work isn’t visible just by looking at the Uber app on your iPhone, because there’s a lot of unseen work that goes into making an app like Uber work worldwide. I don’t know what the right number of iOS engineers at Uber is, but I do know that 400 is bananas. Too many cooks spoil the stew; 400 cooks don’t even fit in a kitchen.

It’s like trying to build a better engineering team by buying 1,000 copies of Fred Brooks’s The Mythical Man-Month and never once reading it.

The basic idea behind Uber is both sound and genius: smartphones made possible a revolution in ride hailing. But ride hailing is inherently a low-margin business. Companies like Uber and Lyft can make ride hailing better for everyone — drivers and passengers alike — but there’s nothing they can do to change the fact that it’s by definition a low-margin business and always will be.

The best treatise I’ve read on this whole aspect of our society is Matt Stoller’s “counterfeit capitalism”, which I linked to back in September.* Just read that, or read it again. It succinctly captures something very important.

* Yes, the same Matt Stoller with whom I disagreed vociferously regarding his argument that Apple and Google are “exercising sovereign power” with their refusal to allow local health agencies to automatically collect privacy-invasive data from our phones. Stoller is a great writer and thinker, and it’s the sign of an adult mind that you can civilly disagree with someone whom you usually agree with. (And vice versa: a rational adult can agree with someone they usually disagree with.)

Coffee Shops in the Social Distancing Era 

Michael Klein, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Coffee shops and cafes, largely shut down for walk-in business since mid-March, are beginning to reopen as restrictions on takeout food ease.

La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee giant, is taking pages out of the airport and pharmacy handbooks in retrofitting 30 of its cafes in six cities for safety. The first location to reopen this week is at 130 S. 19th St., just north of Rittenhouse Square, where the company began 26 years ago. Others will follow in coming weeks, including the flagship store in Fishtown. The four airport locations will have to wait.

A bunch of photos and a time-lapse video showing the perspective of a customer going through the queue. La Colombe is my favorite coffee shop in Philly — great coffee and a wonderful staff — so I’m glad to see it reopen at all. But this is not normal. (La Colombe was featured quite a bit last year at WWDC in Apple Pay presentations.)

Space Invaders 

Splendid retrospective from Game Maker’s Toolkit on Taito’s 1978 coin-op classic. What a great game.

The Pac-Man video in the same series is also excellent, and fully explains the AI behind the ghosts in a way I’ve never seen before. Four simple heuristics for the ghosts which, when combined, create the compelling illusion of intelligent coordination.

It’s also fascinating to me that, though only two years apart, Space Invaders and Pac-Mac feel like they’re from two different eras of arcade games. Space Invaders is monochrome (the machines faked color with a translucent overlay at the bottom of the screen) and (generally) slow; Pac-Man is fantastically colorful and frantically fast.

‘Will President Trump Stand With Hong Kong?’ 

The New York Times:

The resistance has compelled China and its handpicked administrators in Hong Kong, led by the embattled Carrie Lam, to make tactical retreats at times, but never for long. At her weekly news conference, Ms. Lam dutifully argued that the proposed legislation would not curtail the rights of Hong Kongers, which under the 1997 agreement with Britain were to be unchanged for 50 years, but rather was a “responsible” move to protect the law-abiding majority.

Nobody believes that. Least of all, evidently, those behind the new measures. A Chinese representative in Hong Kong declared that freedom of the press would not be limited, and then warned against using that freedom as a “pretext” to undermine security. Ms. Lam [was] equally Orwellian: “We are a very free society, so for the time being, people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say.”

Strong editorial, but I can’t see why they posed the headline as a question.

What a historical debacle that 50-year agreement was. We’re only 23 years in and Hong Kong freedom is already teetering. The assumption in 1997 was that if we opened trade relations, China would inevitably bend to the ways of the West, and that 50 years was plenty of time. It turns out the way of the West is capitalism, China is a huge market, and we’re bending to China, not the other way around.

Hong Kong iPhones still don’t have the Taiwanese flag emoji, right? But Apple Stores do make good spots to round up dozens of pro-democracy protestors for arrest.

Apple Engineer Jordyn Castor on ‘Mission Unstoppable’ 

Speaking of Apple and its generally outstanding accessibility, check out this five-minute feature on Apple engineer Jordyn Castor. Castor is blind since birth, and she’s working on Swift Playgrounds to help visually impaired students learn to program. Just so cool.


‘What Time Is It in London?’

Nilay Patel asked this of Siri on his Apple Watch. After too long of a wait, he got the correct answer — for London Canada. I tried on my iPhone and got the same result. Stupid and slow is heck of a combination.

You can argue that giving the time in London Ontario isn’t wrong per se, but that’s nonsense. The right answer is the common sense answer. If you had a human assistant and asked them “What’s the time in London?” and they honestly thought the best way to answer that question was to give you the time for the nearest London, which happened to be in Ontario or Kentucky, you’d fire that assistant. You wouldn’t fire them for getting that one answer wrong, you’d fire them because that one wrong answer is emblematic of a serious cognitive deficiency that permeates everything they try to do. You’d never have hired them in the first place, really, because there’s no way a person this lacking in common sense would get through a job interview. You don’t have to be particularly smart or knowledgeable to assume that “London” means “London England”, you just have to not be stupid.

Worse, I tried on my HomePod and Siri gave me the correct answer: the time in London England. I say this is worse because it exemplifies how inconsistent Siri is. Why in the world would you get a completely different answer to a very simple question based solely on which device answers your question? At least when most computer systems are wrong they’re consistently wrong.

I tried the same question on every other system I know where it should work: “What time is it in London?”

So every other service that tries to answer “What time is it in London?” gets it right. Only Siri gets it wrong. 


No Mask, No Dice

Josh Marshall, writing at Talking Points Memo, “Unpacking the Mask Debate”:

Here’s an article that is very current among mask skeptics. It’s a review by two bona-fide experts, Dr. Lisa M. Brosseau and Dr Margaret Sietsema, writing back on April 1st, a veritable lifetime ago in COVID19 terms. It was published by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at The University of Minnesota.

The gist is that there’s little to no scientific evidence that masks are effective for the population at large and that what protection there might be is minimal at best. Additionally, they argue that mask-wearing may create a false sense of security that leads people to relax more effect mitigation strategies like distancing and hand washing. So the net effect of mask-wearing may actually be more infections rather than fewer.

If you read the report closely however a few points emerge.

First, it’s not evidence that masks are not effective — few studies really show this or demonstrate it in any clear way — but a lack of evidence for their efficacy. Second, they focus heavily on health care workers, both for available studies about what works and doesn’t and for the standards we should apply for efficacy. Finally, they take a very binary approach to efficacy. They work or they don’t.

As a vocal face mask proponent, I’ve heard something like the above counterargument from a small number of mask skeptics. Basically, the pro-mask argument is that there seems to be a lot of upside to widespread mask-wearing, and effectively no downside whatsoever beyond the initial “this feels weird” social awkwardness and mild physical discomfort. (Pro tip: Keep a tin of Altoids next to your masks.)

We’re waiting for peer-reviewed studies. In the meantime, early studies and anecdotal evidence from countries with established mask-wearing social norms suggest quite strongly that mask wearing is effective. And so if there are no downsides, there really is no argument against universal face mask wearing in public, especially indoors.

One segment of anti-mask crusaders are those who insist that the whole pandemic has been so profoundly overblown that it’s effectively a hoax. This is lunacy — there’s no point arguing with them. No surprise, some of them are flat-earthers too. But there are more than lunatics who are opposed to face masks.

The in-touch-with-reality anti-mask skeptics seem to have latched onto the idea that maybe there are downsides, that wearing a mask might somehow make it more likely that you’ll get infected — the “false sense of security” argument proposed in the article Marshall cites. That’s a plausible hypothesis, and the world is full of counterintuitive truths. E.g. the fact that one typically stays drier walking, rather than running, to shelter in a rainstorm — even though running decreases your exposure time to the rain, it so greatly increases the number of droplets that hit you that you wind up wetter. Maybe wearing a face mask in a pandemic is like running in the rain, the thinking goes, counterintuitively making things worse.

The problem for masks skeptics is there’s no data that suggests this might be the case. A plausible hypothesis is only the start of the scientific method. There is longstanding evidence in Asian countries with mask-wearing norms that, at the very least, face-mask-wearing causes no harm. As Marshall notes, if anything, as evidence comes in, masking-wearing appears to be even more effective than even proponents thought.


I’m old enough to recall when wearing seat belts became mandatory. Roughly speaking, these laws spread quickly from state to state, starting with New York in 1984 and becoming the rule rather than the exception within a decade. (“Live free or die” New Hampshire is the only remaining state that doesn’t require adults to wear a seat belt.)

I recall a similar sort of opposition to these laws as we see now with mandatory face masks. Opposition to compulsory seat belt laws always seemed crazy to me, because the evidence was so overwhelming that seat belts save lives and greatly reduce injuries that it was clearly worth making an exception to the principle, widely held in America, that the government generally shouldn’t tell people what to do. But crazy or not, opposition there was. “Fuck you, I don’t want to wear one, it’s a free country.” Word for word, the same sentiment then about seat belts as now about face masks.

One of the arguments against compulsory seat-belt-wearing was that sometimes wearing a seat belt makes things worse. “What if I’m in an accident and my seat belt gets jammed, trapping me in a burning car?” “I read about a guy who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and he walked away from a terrible accident because he was thrown out of the car before it was totaled.

I don’t agree with it, but to some degree I get it: What right does a government that sells you lottery tickets have to tell you that your odds are better if you’re wearing a seat belt?

But there’s a fundamental difference between wearing a seat belt in a car and wearing a face mask in a store. A seat belt really only protects the wearer. There are tangential arguments that society as a whole benefits from fewer car crash deaths and injuries, but the primary reason we have laws requiring you to wear a seat belt is to protect you from harm. Face mask requirements aren’t like that. They’re more like laws banning smoking in restaurants and making drunk driving a serious crime — they protect us all from harm.

From earlier in my childhood, I recall ubiquitous signs at the entrances of stores and restaurants: “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” There were variants, but that exact phrasing was common. I always considered those signs so strange, as I couldn’t imagine why anyone would even want to go into a store or restaurant without a shirt or shoes, let alone need a sign telling them that doing so was not permitted, but I figured it must have been a problem with hippies or something. (There were a lot of old people complaining a