US Approves Google Plan To Let Political Emails Bypass Gmail Spam Filter

“The US Federal Election Commission approved a Google plan on Thursday to let campaign emails bypass Gmail spam filters. The FEC’s advisory opinion adopted in a 4-1 vote said Gmail’s pilot program is permissible under the Federal Election Campaign Act and FEC regulations “and would not result in the making of a prohibited in-kind contribution.”

The FEC said Google’s approved plan is for “a pilot program to test new Gmail design features at no cost on a nonpartisan basis to authorized candidate committees, political party committees, and leadership PACs.” On July 1, Google asked the FEC for the green light to implement the pilot after Republicans accused the company of giving Democrats an advantage in its algorithms.

-Jon Brodkin, “US approves Google plan to let political emails bypass Gmail spam filter.” ArsTechnica. August 12, 2022

Who does this serve? Does it serve the person using Gmail or does it serve someone else?

My suggestion: Don’t use Gmail. Protonmail is probably the easiest alternative to set-up and use.

Our Technology Sickness—and How to Heal It

“Because of the digital revolution, our lives are being transformed by three grand bargains. The intellectual bargain: we have more knowledge but less capacity to concentrate and focus. The social bargain: we are much more available but much less attentive. And most importantly, the emotional bargain: we are much more connected, but much less empathetic. When we trade away skills for power, attention for availability, empathy for connectivity, and quality for quantity of relationships, we sign up to a Faustian pact that we do not even know exists—one that gives us more control over the outside world, but less control over our inner world.

What then is to be done? What shifts in thinking and behavior will help us reverse course?

1. A philosophical shift: Less choice, more freedom…[essentially, a variation of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory. The longer you travel down a path and narrow your scope, the more interesting the path. More options means you are in a space more people travel.]

2. A cultural shift: Attention over availability…Our humanity should not be measured by how much attention we attract but by how much attention we devote to what matters. [Or, as has been said elsewhere, “Focus on nourishment rather than poison.”]

3. Remedial technologies [and behaviors. The idea is to train an incompatible behavior. It is possible to turn Airplane Mode on your phone, a remedial technical solution. But, turning your phone off and reading a book accomplishes the same thing and removes technology from the equation. The Amish might be a good reference point.]

4. A Talmudic shift…Jews are expected to be conversant with all sides of a controversy, but in their lived behavior they are expected to follow one position among many. Such a culture ensures that one’s intellectual world is much more expansive than the world of one’s lived practice. [Or, don’t let your politics define the ideas you are allowed to engage with.]

—Micah Goodman, “Our Technology Sickness—and How to Heal It.” Sources. Spring 2022

Excellent essay, all the way around. Recommended.

Those That Leave Arizona

“Arizona Department of Corrections Director David Shinn said Arizona communities would “collapse” without cheap prison labor, during testimony before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Thursday.”

-Jimmy Jenkins, “Arizona communities would ‘collapse’ without cheap prison labor, Corrections director says.” July 14, 2022

Reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Let’s assume that what David Shinn is saying is true, and not saying it for some other reason, say, to keep his Department’s funding at a certain level.

What is the moral responsibility of people living in Arizona communities that rely on prison labor? How does this responsibility intersect with other societal problems, such as racism? How does this feed into other problems? For example the existence of unsustainable communities might act as a further draw on other limited resources, such as water, that make other communities unsustainable in a vicious cycle.

How is this different from slave labor? How is it different from other exploitive labor, whether that is rice imported from Indian farmers exploiting village, cotton farmed in concentration camps in China, electronic devices that can only be economically produced using similar systems of exploitation?

Let’s assume you feel the need to do something about these problems. Is it enough to be an incrementalist, to be slightly less exploitative than you were yesterday? Or, is there some kind of deontological threshold of purity, where – given the environment – lives based on a lower level of exploitation is enough?

The correct answer is probably that we need to radically we think our lives and adopt a much lower standard of living that eliminates this kind of exploitation. Easy to say, but it is both difficult to know how to do that and probably even more difficult to want to do it.

Doubting Uncle

““The dead don’t stay where they are buried. . . . You may meet the dead anywhere.” …

…Treated (as some adults do treat children) as if he is older than his years…

Here is a grievous portrait, grievous most of all in its unforgetting attention; grievous most of all in its kindness. This is what a formative influence is, after all: to be influenced. To be formed.”

-Elaine Castillo, “Ways of Seeing.” July 25, 2022

I was strangely effected by this little piece. I have nieces and a nephew how I treat, essentially, no differently than I would an adult, even though they are all less than 10 years old. I do it because I feel that children are a permanent underclass. They are not regarded as full persons because of their lack of experience and development. But, from my perspective, that’s what’s interesting about children. They have fewer preconceptions. In many ways, their views are just as important, and on occasion more important, than their elders.

But, this piece makes me wonder, who will they meet, when I’m dead and gone, and someone reminds them of their uncle? Or, is that a conceit? Will they remember me at all? To be remembered, or to not be remembered, is of no consequence to me. We all, inevitably, have our traces removed by time. But, I do try to be a positive influence, to be who I am and bring a unique perspective into their lives. Does it have any value? Will it, on net, be good for them? One can only hope.

The Maintenance Race by Stewart Brand

“‘My rule is, a new boat every day’. His years at sea had taught him that if you don’t fix something when you first see it beginning to fail, it is very likely to finish failing just when it is the most dangerous and the hardest to deal with, such as in the midst of a storm.

He loved doing routine maintenance. He wrote:

‘I work calmly at the odd jobs that make up my universe, without haste: I glue the sextant leg back on with epoxy, adjust the mirrors, replace five worn slide lashings on the mainsail and three on the mizzen, splice the staysail and mizzen halyards to freshen the nip on the sheaves.’

His reward for a boat functioning like new every day was this: ‘I spend my time reading, sleeping, eating. The good, quiet life, with nothing to do.’  That was in fair weather. Storms were as arduous for him as ever, but he was unafflicted with worry that his gear might fail.

-Stewart Brand, “The Maintenance Race.” July 2022.

Bernard Moitessier’s book, “The Long Way,” has quite a few gems in it. A few examples:

“Each of us has the boat he likes best, the one that lets him live aboard as he sees fit.”

He’s talking about the competitors in the race, but it is true of life too.

“Yet it is a hard card to play, this need I feel to reassure family and friends, to give them news, pictures, life–to bestow that infinitely precious thing, the little invisible plant called hope. Logic shouts at me to play the game alone, without burdening myself with the others. Logic would have me run SE, far from land, far from ships, back to the realm of the westerlies where everything s simple if not easy, leaving well to the north the dangerous area of convergence.

But for many days another voice has been insisting ‘You are alone, yet not alone.’ The others need you, and you need them. Without them you would not get anywhere, and nothing would be true.”

I think what I like about this passage is that he knows just sailing into the Roaring 40s, away from Cape Horn, is safer, but he chances the dangerous area around Cape Horn to send a message, to let people know he is alright. Then, there’s this bit.

“So one forgets oneself, one forgets everything, seeing only the play of the boat and the sea, the play of the sea around the boat, leaving aside everything not essential to that game in the immediate present. One has to be careful though, not to go further than necessary to the depths of the game. And that is the hard part…not going too far.”

So, he eventually goes too far, abandons the race and keeps going, taking his boat further.

It’s such a great story. It’s such a great thing for someone to have done.

Abortion Pill Demand Is Driving an Underground Network

To Aiken, the international abortion pill market feels resilient because it is beyond the purview of any one country’s authorities. “If someone’s based outside of the country, it is unclear how to exactly force them to comply with the law in another jurisdiction,” she says. “It’s not clear what folks who are very motivated to outlaw abortion can do in response to that.”

Plan C’s Wells also believes these supply chains are robust. “We do worry that routes of access could get cut off. But we are in the 21st century, in a global economy. And there are so many routes of entry into this country for products that we feel that it’s fairly unstoppable,” she says. “If one of these companies were to get shut down, another would pop up.”

-Morgan Meaker, “Abortion Pill Demand Is Driving an Underground Network.” Wired. July 18, 2022.

In other news, prohibition simply creates a market. That’s Econ 101 and an predictable outcome of overturning Roe vs. Wade. You’ll see a Jane 2.0, and any woman with even the remote chance of becoming pregnant will have some of these pills in case of emergency. Now, ask yourself, did the number of abortions increase, or decrease?

How to Admit You’re Wrong

Related to yesterday’s post, where the ideas are of a piece:

“Kathryn Schulz loosely defines being wrong “as a deviation from external reality, or an internal upheaval in what we believe” — with the caveat that wrongness is too vast to fit neatly into either category….

…“We’re highly motivated to reduce that uncertainty,” Fetterman says. “Oftentimes, the most common way that people get rid of it is by rejecting the new information or creating a new cognition that basically gets rid of it. Not too often do we actually change our thoughts or behaviors in order to align with the new information.” This can look like only taking in information that confirms already held beliefs, justifying the belief, or denying anything that contradicts their beliefs. “The motivation to reduce that dissonance leads us to even double down or to come back even stronger with our beliefs,” Fetterman says…

…“Over time, fact after fact after fact will start to erode people’s beliefs away.”

To come to these realizations, Brown says we have to be open to the fact that we’re capable of making errors and setting our ego aside to accept we live in a world where we’ve faltered or have changed our minds in some way. In fact, Fetterman says, just accepting our own mistakes can allow us to be more open to being wrong.

It’s natural to get defensive or provide excuses for why you were wrong, but “these strategies for deflecting responsibility for our errors stand in the way of a better, more productive relationship to wrongness,” Schulz writes. To admit erroneousness without excuse — to simply state, “I was wrong” — is a skill, Brown says. “It probably is going to come out more as an explanation of why they were doing what they were doing,” Brown says. But with time and practice, we can come to recognize our mistakes without explaining them. The key is to consistently own up to our mistakes as soon as we realize we’re wrong.”

Allie Volpe, “How to admit you’re wrong.” July 13, 2022.

In the context of “the free energy principle”, you can eliminate “surprise” by not acknowledging it. But, the irony is that you set yourself up to be “surprised” time and time again until you recognize the surprise. Being wrong works they same way and is related. Acknowledging where we are wrong and where our worldview is off and leads to surprise helps us to correct our mental model of the world into a better form. But, if we are deceiving ourselves in the interest of protecting our ego, we set ourselves up for more surprise and more wrongness.

The Quietus Albums of the Year, Mid-Year 2022

“There is a running joke that gets posted in the comments on Facebooks or our mentions on Twitter whenever we post our albums of the year and half-year charts – or in my case as a Quietus editorial staff member, said directly to my face at family gatherings by snarky relatives – that we’re making up half of the acts that are included. I tend to take that as a compliment; the reason our lists contain some of the names that are not included in other publications, is that those names are rarely written about at all by other publications… yet many of the same publications will be writing extensively about these names in years to come. We hope that in the 100 records below you find something new that you love as much as we do, and that you continue to lend us your crucial support.”

-Patrick Clarke, “The Quietus Albums Of The Year So Far Chart 2022.” Quietus. July 4, 2022.

A list of mostly new music.

The World Needs Uncles, Too

I’m never having children. It’s a decision I made at a very young age and have never wavered from. There are a number of things I can point to in my childhood that led me to this decision. The town I lived in when I was young had the highest teenage pregnancy rate per capita in the entire state, which means I grew up doing my damndest to avoid procreating. My own parents were married when they had me, just to different people, meaning that my mere existence definitely complicated things for both of them. The list goes on. The end result is that I’m not having kids, no matter how many people tell me—as they did when I was a teenager, in my early twenties, late twenties, thirties, and still now, as I approach 40—”Oh, you just wait. You’ll be a father soon.” Simply stated, for a plethora of reasons, from emotional to financial, raising another human being full-time is not for me…

…To be fair, in certain ways, not having a child is a very selfish act on my part: it allows me great financial freedom, the ability to travel more and focus on my own life, instead of doing my damnedest to raise a healthy little one. But the non-selfish part of not having children for me is that I can literally show up for people who need the help, especially in this country where healthcare and finances don’t make it easy to raise a child. That’s absolutely a problem in this country, but a problem I alone will not be able to solve.

Come read your kid Fox In Socks for the hundredth time while you take a work call, though? That I can do.”

-Isaac Fitzgerald, “The World Needs Uncles, Too.” Esquire. July 7, 2022

Suggesting Zoltar as a baby name probably verges on a disqualification for parenthood. But, I found much here I was sympathetic with. True of aunts, grandparents, et al, too.

The Ryder Review: Independent Legal Review of the Governance of Biometric Data in England and Wales

“First, strong law and regulation is sometimes characterised as hindering advancements in the practical use of biometric data. This should not be the case. In practice a clear regulatory framework enables those who work with biometric data to be confident of the ethical and legal lines within which they must operate. They are freed from the unhelpful burden of self-regulation that arises from unclear guidelines and overly flexible boundaries. This confidence liberates innovation and encourages effective working practices. Lawmakers and regulators are not always helping those who want to act responsibly by taking a light touch.

Second, the importance of transparency and public consultation was emphasised by all stakeholders, but the practical effect of such emphasis was not always positive. On the one hand, obtaining active and informed public understanding through a structured process – such as a ‘citizens’ jury’ – could provide valuable information on which to base policy. But too often public and private authorities were relying on the public’s partially understood purported consent; an ill-defined assessment of public opinion; or the mere fact of an election victory, as a broad mandate for intrusive collection and use of the public’s biometric data.

The protection of our fundamental rights in relation to biometric data is a complex area which lawmakers and regulators must not delegate to others, or allow public or private authorities to avoid merely by relying on purported public consent. Now more than ever, they have a responsibility to step up to protect the public from the harms and risks that the public themselves may not fully appreciate or even be aware of.”

-Matthew Ryder, “The Ryder Review: Independent legal review of the governance of biometric data in England and Wales.” Ada Lovelace Institute. June 2022

What I found interesting about this report is that there is a common perspective in the United States that, somehow, law and government regulation stifle innovation. This points to an obvious fact. Well-written law actually is a catalyst for innovation because it lays down the rules of the game. Transparency and consulting with all stakeholders actually brings in many perspectives that allow for good solutions to problems and establishes important rights.

This is true of biometric data, but it is also true of much else. If you are part of an emerging industry, regulation can be useful. The trick is to find a way to write it so that it doesn’t only create de facto monopolies for the biggest players to do whatever they want without and create artificial moats that prevent competition from entering the space.