Why We’re Freaking Out About Substack

Ben Smith at the New York Times:

Danny Lavery had just agreed to a two-year, $430,000 contract with the newsletter platform Substack when I met him for coffee last week in Brooklyn, and he was deciding what to do with the money.

Good overview of the state of indy publishing on the Internet, of which Substack is a part. But only a part.

Blogging is back, under a new name and with a newsletter-first philosophy.

I’m pleased. I loved blogs and was saddened by their apparent demise in the 2010s.

I regret, a little bit, relaunching my blog here as mitchwagner.blog in 2019 or so. The word “blog” is old-fashioned. I did the domain change for reasons of convenience, to solve a technology problem with minimum hassle, rather than for branding purposes.

As with the blogging boom of the 2000s, there is much talk of journalists being able to go over publishers’ heads and go directly to readers. This time it’s more realistic, with a recognition that only some journalists will have the clout, skills, and temperament to go indy.

Virginia police officer fired after Black Army lieutenant is pepper-sprayed and handcuffed during traffic stop

Sophie Lewis at CBS News:

Police officers in Virginia held an Army officer at gunpoint, handcuffed him and doused him with pepper spray — all during an illegal traffic stop. Officials said Sunday that one of the officers has been fired.

It’s a start. These rogue cops need to do serious prison time.

And the Town of Windsor’s statement is terrible. It makes it sound like they have a PR problem rather than out-of-control police.

How Elizabeth Loftus Changed the Meaning of Memory

Rachel Aviv at The New Yorker:

Elizabeth Loftus was in Argentina, giving talks about the malleability of memory, in October, 2018, when she learned that Harvey Weinstein, who had recently been indicted for rape and sexual assault, wanted to speak with her. She couldn’t figure out how to receive international calls in her hotel room, so she asked if they could talk in three days, once she was home, in California. In response, she got a series of frantic e-mails saying that the conversation couldn’t wait. But, when Weinstein finally got through, she said, “basically he just wanted to ask, ‘How can something that seems so consensual be turned into something so wrong?’ ”

Loftus, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, is the most influential female psychologist of the twentieth century, according to a list ­compiled by the Review of General Psychology. Her work helped usher in a paradigm shift, rendering obsolete the archival model of memory—the idea, dominant for much of the twentieth century, that our memories exist in some sort of mental library, as literal representations of past events. According to Loftus, who has published twenty-four books and more than six hundred papers, memories are reconstructed, not replayed. “Our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality,” she has written. “It is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoeba-­like creature.”

Loftus is a pioneering psychologist who changed our understanding of memory. Loftus showed memory isn’t fixed, like a recording. It can be changed – her word is is that memory is “malleable” – by our own imaginations, and external circumstances.

Loftus’s research into memory put her in much demand by defense lawyers.

Defense lawyers began calling on her to testify about the ways that memories are distorted by leading questions, sloppy police lineups, and cross-racial identification of faces (The chance of misidentification is greatest when the witness is white and the defendant is Black.)

She testified on behalf of Harvey Weinstein in his recent rape prosecution, which made her unpopular to a lot of people.

She also argues against the validity of “repressed memories.” Memories of child sexual abuse do not remain dormant, virtually forgotten, and then spring to life when we are adults, she says. She’s been called on to defend men who were accused of abuse by their adult children.

Some people view her as a feminist icon, an early pioneer in a man’s field. Others think of her as an apologist for the patriarchy.

She wrote about the case of Nicole, a prominent advocate for domestic abuse survivors who said she was sexually abused by her mother. Loftus investigated the incident, and concluded that Nicole‘s memory was false. Nicole now has his doubts herself.

Loftus‘s research questions the fundamental nature of reality and our relationship to it. It may be that our memories of events fundamentally shaping our natures — the most important events of our lives — are inaccurate, or just didn’t happen. It’s like we’re living in a Philip K Dick story.

And Loftus herself may be carrying around a false memory of a fundamental event in her own childhood.

I’ve been thinking about this essay a lot in the days since I read it. It seems to me that our memories do not live in isolation in our own heads, but rather are shared by our family and friends. These memories are passed on largely by oral tradition, as they have been for thousands of years. Indeed, I think this kind of memory may be why language evolved; not just for personal memory, but also for skills and information about nature that would provide a huge survival edge. Language is a kind of cyberspace that is tens of thousands of years old.

Likewise, on the scale of societies, we have history. Written by the winners.

The past is unknowable, we can only approximate it. Time machines don’t exist; the past doesn’t either.

After Going ‘Free of L.G.B.T.,’ a Polish Town Pays a Price

Andrew Higgins at The New York Times::

KRASNIK, Poland — When local councilors adopted a resolution two years ago declaring their small town in southeastern Poland “free of L.G.B.T.,” the mayor didn’t see much harm in what appeared to be a symbolic and legally pointless gesture.

Today, he’s scrambling to contain the damage.

What initially seemed a cost-free sop to conservatives in the rural and religiously devout Polish borderlands next to Ukraine, the May 2019 decision has become a costly embarrassment for the town of Krasnik. It has jeopardized millions of dollars in foreign funding and, Mayor Wojciech Wilk said, turned “our town into a synonym for homophobia,” which he insisted was not accurate.

My paternal grandparents fled Poland more than 100 years ago. I know Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans who visited the ancestral country and had a wonderful time. Not me — no desire to go to Poland and be subjected to bigotry.

Before homophobia, Poland led the world in anti-Semitism.

While my paternal grandparents were exiting Poland, my maternal grandparents left Lithuania. But I don’t think of us as being from Poland or Lithuania. We’re from New York.

To be clear, I am delighted this village is suffering for its bigotry, and look forward to reports of it suffering even more.

Yes, experts will lie to you sometimes

Noah Smith: Experts lie to the American public – about free trade being good for everyone, and about mask-wearing early in the pandemic – and that’s how you get Donald Trump and Qanon. The experts mean well, they just think the public can’t handle the truth.

Economists say free trade will benefit everyone, but in reality there are winners and losers. Some people, like American factory workers, are hurt very badly, and never recover. Economists believe the overall benefit far outweighs the harm, but they don’t talk about that in public.

Experts “aren’t experts on the topic of when to lie.”

Elon Musk startup shows monkey with brain chip implants playing video game

The Guardian:

The billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s brain-chip startup released footage on Friday appearing to show a monkey playing a simple video game after getting implants of the new technology.

Elon Musk has definitely demonstrated the maturity, social responsibility, and care for others that makes me trust him to put electronic implants directly into my brain. <— this is my sarcastic face