A collection, with occasional commentary.

From The literary life of Octavia E. Butler: How local libraries shaped a sci-fi legend

From Are respectable white people scared enough by fascism yet? –

Indeed, at some future point, we might look back at the 2020s the way we look back at the 1980s to see two eras reacting politically to respective previous eras, setting the tone for a generation each. The 1980s, under Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, were a reaction to Black freedom and power. The 2020s, under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris might be, in the end, a reaction to radical right-wing collectivism. For now, we can only hope that’s the case.

What must we do to make this true?


From What American History Tells Us About the Crises of the Trump Era

These crises of democracy did not occur randomly. Rather, they developed in the presence of one or more of four specific threats: political polarization, conflict over who belongs in the political community, high and growing economic inequality, and excessive executive power. When those conditions are absent, democracy tends to flourish. When one or more of them are present, democracy is prone to decay.

Today, for the first time in its history, the United States faces all four threats at the same time. It is this unprecedented confluence—more than the rise to power of any particular leader—that lies behind the contemporary crisis of American democracy. The threats have grown deeply entrenched, and they will likely persist and wreak havoc for some time to come.


The situation is dire. To protect the republic, Americans must make strengthening democracy their top political priority, using it to guide the leaders they select, the agendas they support, and the activities they pursue.

Our top priority.

#democracy #UnitedStates

Cover of On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

I am four years late to read On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder. I was prompted by his recent interview, focusing on the Events At Our Nation's Capitol, on MSNBC.

And it is a very quick, readable, and sobering book. It pairs well with my (relatively) recent reading of Hitler's American Model and the report published by the Transition Integrity Project. Where “pairing well” means they reflected on each other in ways that helped me get at my own thinking,

And it's tempting to think with Biden's election the moment for tyranny in the U.S. has passed. This is not true. We may have a small pause where we can put in place more resilience — which ultimately is a practice — to help us respond to future outbreaks.

What does this mean in practice? I don't pretend to know but this little book and it's to do list approach did make me begin a list of my own:

  1. Provide more on ramps for civil society. This isn't just the tradition of donations or volunteerism. Nor the kind of professional capacity building I do daily. It is about prioritizing more ability to help a wide variety of actors and to create meaningful collaborations between the traditional NGO world and other groups.
  2. Think about the ethics of civil society. I don't know that this has been written about much. And so often we seem more concerned with the behavior that preserves our status. Anticipatory obedience. Very different from accountability to the concepts of free association and democracy.
  3. Be increasingly generous with our platform and build for that. I have a very direct influence over that at work. And as a user of platforms. The trick will be to create as a value. As an image that we aspire towards.

In the book, Snyder derides — it feels to me that he derides — the internet. But really I think it is what we have optimized the internet for — monetization and consumerism — that is the issue. How we can we start to optimize for resiliency and collaboration? What's required for that? That to me is very connected to the items above because civil society helps provide the space for civic discourse.

The book also left me with a list of Eastern Europeans to read.

This post contains affiliate links.

#reading #TimothySnyder #nonfiction

Audiobook cover of Range by David Epstein

I just finished the audiobook of Range by David Epstein.

I listen to audiobooks at 1.5 speed and while I'm walking or cooking dinner. It makes talking notes, looking up references hard. Mostly, that doesn't matter. With this book it does because I want to dive in deeper.

The general idea that a broad array of knowledge feels like, well, of course. Both for and individual and a team — where the benefits of a diverse team have been well documented. This book provides more detail on this benefits and goes well beyond a sort of “and this is why you should take your general education classes seriously” type of advice. It also provides support for how we might make up teams and establish commu ovation channels around projects. How we might hire. And how we might bring people together to look for solutions.

As someone who works with communities to make change, I'm particularly interested in how to build things like analog and lateral thinking in to the mix. How to make games out of the concept of withered technology. But I need to know more first. Which means a copy of the physical book is on its way to me.

This post contains affiliate links; though not the ones you might expect.

#reading #DavidEpstein #nonfiction

From January 7, 2021 – Letters from an American

The weak response of the Capitol Police to the insurrectionists yesterday highlighted the difference in police responses to Black Lives Matter protesters last summer, when officers under the control of the Executive Branch used tear gas and flash bangs to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square so Trump could walk across it for a photo op, and to the right-wing rioters who invaded the Capitol. Although they were different law enforcement branches, and although then-Attorney General William Barr, who ordered the summer’s attack, is now gone, no one could miss that Black protesters could never in a million years have broken in the windows of the Capitol, invade, and wander around taking selfies before leaving without arrest.

#democracy #current

From Aussie AI: Researchers use AI-enabled drones to protect the iconic koala – TechRepublic

To enable an algorithm to differentiate a thermal image of a koala from, say, an idle pickup truck, the model needs a quality dataset of images. Unfortunately, this niche slice of photography had not produced a large pool of helpful data for the team to use.

“There’s a billion images of cats on the internet, so if you wanted to train a machine learning algorithm and find cats, you’d be fine. There are not many thermal images of koalas taken from a drone,” Hamilton said.

What if these error-filled and spurious lawsuits are not a result of incompetence? What if they are the plan?

Team Trump excels in using the media to share and amplify a message to their base. So the storyline they get? They — judges, elites — won’t even hear us out!

That storyline brings agitation, violence, voters — often impoverished, rural, white — who have felt outside the system for years.

It is giving them a way in.

They won’t even hear us!

Judges all over the country won’t even listen. And that — repeated over and over by every media outlet no matter it’s ideological leanings — becomes a call to action. With a gravitational center that pulls GOPers who want to stay in power and fringe activists who want to be the star in a heroic patriot play.

I worry we are underestimating again.

From The Strategies Are Foreign, but the Corruption Is American | Foreign Affairs

Strategic corruption, in other words, is hardly new. Perhaps what is new is that it is now being used so effectively against some of its original authors. ... Corruption is a constant in complex, organized societies. But outbreaks of networked, systemic, transnational corruption come in waves. The last time the world saw one as dangerous as today’s was in the period between approximately 1870 and 1935—the Gilded Age and its aftermath, broadly speaking. During that time, rich and powerful countries deployed strategic corruption against weaker, poorer ones, even as widespread corruption took hold at home. Graft and bribery scandals plagued wealthy industrialized countries, including the United States, as interwoven networks of business magnates and public officials twisted political and economic systems to serve their own aims. Among the results were child labor and inhumane working conditions in mines, factories, and sweatshops; the relegation of hundreds of thousands of small farmers to peonage; the genocide of Native Americans; the near extinction of wolves and buffalo; and what amounted to the reenslavement of many Black Americans. ... But the disease has lodged itself more deeply in the body politic than this picture suggests. It is not just consultants, bankers, lawyers, real estate agents, and other service providers who are to blame. Rather, top corporate executives allied with or serving as top government officials have helped change rules, enforcement practices, and personnel in an effort to channel wealth into their own coffers and remove obstacles to its continuing flow. Leading Americans seeking to enrich themselves pushed to legalize the kinds of shell companies, “dark money” campaign contributions, and self-dealing contracts that foreign kleptocrats have exploited.

Corruption requires participation and a system in which it can grow and thrive. Any systems that allows large scale ownership will have that possibility. That requires a diligence to make the system as transparent as possible to expose and block off those avenues.

The article quoted above is a response to How States Weaponize Graft.

#democracy #systems #capitalism

From Putting America’s Civic Infrastructure on the Biden-Harris Agenda | RAND

America’s civic infrastructure—the practices and policies that enable a nation to solve its communal problems—has been allowed to crumble.

Well then.