Scoop?

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Politics

‘At the circus’

Kevin Williamson in the conservative National Review articulates the side of Republicanism that Joe Biden was trying to channel in his prime time speech tonight:

“But we want a Republican majority!” Okay, sure — why? To give a bigger megaphone and a better-placed monkey wrench to Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lindsey Graham? So that Lauren Boebert can have a better position on the House Budget Committee?

Count me less-than-enthusiastic about that.

Mitch McConnell and others have expressed concern at the calibre of candidates being put out there by the “MAGA Republicans” that have taken over politics in the US. Commentators like Williamson feel it too:

How many clowns do you have to see getting out of the clown car before you realize you’re at the circus?

Jeff Bezos is being ‘harassed’ by US regulators, says Amazon

Amazon has accused the US Federal Trade Commission of harassing its top executives, including founder Jeff Bezos and chief executive Andy Jassy, as part of a probe into the ecommerce group’s Prime membership scheme.

Since March 2021, the regulator has been investigating whether Amazon uses deceptive techniques to lure customers into signing up for Prime, the subscription service that offers free delivery and other benefits at a cost of $139 a year.

The FTC is also examining whether Amazon unfairly complicates the process for customers who want to cancel their membership.

‘A violent peace’

Everywhere I went in the short time I was in Kabul, people told me of their fear, their loss, their disgust, their desperation. Most have no jobs, no money, no hope for their future or the future of their children. What I found was a violent peace. People are arbitrarily detained, disappeared, interrogated, beaten, killed. It could be for any reason or no reason they will ever know. The Taliban are pitting neighbor against neighbor, encouraging people to spy on and report each other. Fear is digging in, and it’s here for the long haul. 

— Foreign Policy’s Lynne O’Donnell returns to Afghanistan, almost a year after the US exit.

10-year-old patient

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Hours after the Supreme Court action, the Buckeye state had outlawed any abortion after six weeks. Now this doctor had a 10-year-old patient in the office who was six weeks and three days pregnant.

The story goes on to say that clinics in neighbouring states are seeing in excess of 20 cases a day of people travelling to receive treatment. Stories like this underline the need for strong local journalism. Broad, national stories in the New York Times and others will cloak the cruelty happening on peoples’ doorsteps. Only dogged local reporting will tell this story fully.

To be an American woman

I hesitate to share the paragraphs below, as they are the essay’s pay off, and writers deserve to own that moment. But, nothing I’ve read today articulates as well the sheer devastation of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Read the whole piece.

Anti-abortion rhetoric only works if you are never poor, never a victim, never without health insurance, have never found yourself bleeding in a dorm room, unsure how to name what happened to you but afraid you’ll be pregnant and lose everything you’ve fought so hard for, that thing women so rarely get — freedom.

Anti-abortion rhetoric only works if you don’t know that your sister has a medical condition that could mean death if she gets pregnant. Anti-abortion rhetoric only works if you’ve never seen your friend recover from a violent beating at the hands of her boyfriend. Never worked at a women’s shelter and seen the wives of pastors come in sobbing, secretly on birth control, because they cannot afford to have another child.

So, how did I, the indoctrinated daughter of the American conservative right, grow up to champion the very cause I had been told was evil? Simple: I lived life as an American woman.

Meanwhile, my colleague John Burn-Murdoch put together this comparison chart:

Carrying on

“This week, to mark her platinum jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II gave a tell-all TV interview. No, of course she didn’t — she’s the Queen, and she hasn’t sailed to her 70th anniversary on the throne by adopting the tactics of mere politicians and celebrities. Already Britain’s longest reigning monarch, she is one of the very few people who make the news simply by carrying on.”

Henry Mance in this weekend’s FT

‘Union drip’ shows how the American labour movement is changing

In which I become the first (probably) and last (possibly) person to use the phrase “dripped out” in the Financial Times:

Back in the sixties, a prescient essay from the British historian Eric Hobsbawm stated that “explosive” spikes in union support could only occur after what he termed “qualitative innovations in the movement”.

Bad conditions alone weren’t enough of a driving force to galvanise workers into unionising, he argued, unions had to also move with the times: introducing modernised ways of thinking, new demands, and fresh leadership.

In 2022, it could be said that this reinvention quite literally hangs off the shoulders of Chris Smalls, the leader of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), and an aficionado of what has come to be known as “union drip”. 

Read more @ FT.com >>

Engineering problems vs human problems

The harshest thing about the Silicon Valley “bro” trope, I think, is that the people who create technology products don’t realise, or aren’t compassionate about, the problems that arise when those platforms are unleashed on the public.

For the most part, they do care. But in the same way not all of us are good at math, or writing, or singing, or the long jump… different humans possess different skillsets, some of which necessarily contradict each other. By and large, the hierarchies in the tech industry reward engineers first and foremost, people who — through no fault of their own — are often characteristically not as well-equipped to deal with challenges that fall outside the binary decisions laid before them in code. When extraordinary brains that build products and solve problems based on IF/THEN/OR come face-to-face with a however or maybe–the results can be less than optimal.

I’m minded of this as Elon Musk uses “simple” tweets to lay out how he plans to fix Twitter. Here’s one:

He’s pinned that to his profile, perhaps signaling it as a mini-manifesto of sorts. This is his view on free speech and its parameters. Ok. But those familiar with the content moderation space consider it naive to the point of parody, as though a moderation algorithm is as straightforward as: IF very against law THEN delete tweet.

It’s a classic case of “engineer’s brain” in action. But you can hardly blame Musk for that. After all, he has engineered his way to being the world’s richest man by solving almost exclusively engineering problems: how to securely send money over the internet (PayPal); how to create a high-performance EV and then make it affordable (Tesla); and how to reuse a rocket (SpaceX). None of these are problems in which the great complicator, the human condition with its whims and inconsistencies, are a factor. Nothing on Musk’s CV comes remotely close to the credentials required to know what’s best for Twitter.

In reporting out this story, I spent some time on the anonymous workplace messaging app Blind, where employees — verified using work email accounts — can sound off. It’s been lively on the Twitter board since the Musk news broke, and it’s by no means an entirely anti-Musk environment. But this comment details what Musk is up against — it is an angry response to another Blind user saying Musk’s idea of sharing “the algorithm” is a good one:

Let me clue you in on a little secret, “the algorithm” (which is not a giant if else statement but a neural net) is retrained regularly. And tweets come in all the time. To figure out how something will perform you need almost the entire backend of Twitter. And then YOU are going to try to determine if it is fair? I’ll tell you right now that you can pick a measure and a slice for which it won’t be, not because the algo is evil (ML is morals neutral) but because it is an extremely complex problem. I am sure we don’t have political leaning as one of the thousands of features we train on. But it doesn’t mean that it will be unfair in 3 days or even 1 day after retraining. What does having the algorithm help you with? Moderation policies should be open, I agree 100%, but there really cannot be a world without moderation. I agree that sometimes Twitter probably overenforces and sometimes we underenforce. We probably do both on both sides of political spectrum. Not because we hate one side but because it is a hard problem and we don’t always do it right. One side is more vocal in complaining. And I know you will pull all the incidents they cite because you are completely ignorant of what happened on the other side. Remember when we were going to get level 4 self driving Tesla every year for the past 8 years? Expect a Tweet from Elon in 5 years or so admitting that the social media that allows healthy open conversation is much harder problem than he thought. Jack was a free speech absolutist too. Anyway, I appreciate small minds debating problems they know nothing about, but you have no idea what you are talking about, neither does Elon.