Thanksgiving debunked

I asked my friend who hates Thanksgiving why he hates it and he said because it is a holiday based on gluttony. But every culture has a harvest festival, I said, every culture has feasts. Since time immemorial. Thanksgiving is just the latest version. The problem with it, by my thinking, I continued, is that feasting doesn’t make sense any more. It made sense during times of scarcity and hunger, but in an era of overabundance and overconsumption it seems excessive. Which is not to say we have eliminated hunger, but we live in a strange world where you can be both obese and starving at the same time. For lack of nutrition.

Lots of other holidays that have a less component, candy, mostly, like Halloween and Valentine’s Day. And of course there are birthday cakes. But sugar isn’t a special treat any more. It is something we have too much of and should probably avoid. But to my friend’s objection: I said, That’s just the food part! I said. I like the gathering of friends and family part, and the gratitude.

Here’s a NY Times article that debunks many of the Thanksgiving myths we grew up with in school, its possible origins in genocide or enslavement, and the myth of the Pilgrim. The Pilgrim! I didn’t know this, for example:

It’s been taught that the Pilgrims came because they were seeking religious freedom, but that’s not entirely true, Mr. Loewen said.

The Pilgrims had religious freedom in Holland, where they first arrived in the early 17th century. Like those who settled Jamestown, Va., in 1607, the Pilgrims came to North America to make money, Mr. Loewen said.

“They were also coming here in order to establish a religious theocracy, which they did,” he said. “That’s not exactly the same as coming here for religious freedom. It’s kind of coming here against religious freedom.”Also, the Pilgrims never called themselves Pilgrims. They were separatists, Mr. Loewen said. The term Pilgrims didn’t surface until around 1880.

There is a constant unearthing of truths obscured by myths. Bogus histories and bullshit. Thus, the National Day of Mourning.

There is nothing wrong with gratitude and gathering, and even occasional feasting, which also have a long history. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Twitter Advertiser Exodus

A $750,000 a month advertiser has left Twitter. One of hundreds. But in her post she explained the bases for the decision vis-a-vis her advertising investment in a neutral, non-ideological way. People picked up this post because it so powerfully predicts the demise of Twitter’s advertising business, already in freefall and now perhaps beyond recovery.

I’ve spent a lot of my career railing against the marriage of advertising and social media. It was once called “online community” or “social software”. an advertising business model almost inevitably leads to so many of the social ills we know so well. The implosion of Twitter allows us see this happening in real time. Given that Elon Musk explained that it was his intention in acquiring Twitter to make it the “free speech” platform, it was with supreme schadenfreude and satisfaction that I read the Techdirt post by Mike Masnick, Hey Elon: Let Me Help You Speed Run The Content Moderation Learning Curve, which those of us who have run user generated content sites have all been through.

The Advertiser Exodus is real. An alternate business model will be required. But the User Exodus is just as real. As @mulegirl on Twitter points out, it will require 93,750 paid users paying $8 per month to replace just this single $750,000 a month advertiser.

Which, in my opinion, is good and correct. I have always thought that the social media platforms should be much less profitable than they are, and that it is only despoiling the civic commons that they have made their billions. They have done this by exploiting their users in three ways: first by taking their users content and displaying advertising against it; second by making them pay to make their content more visible to the communities they themselves have brought or built; and third by harvesting and selling their data to anyone willing to pay, without providing any–or enough!–of the trust and safety, advertising, moderation or curatorial services that would justify it. These platforms have always been unscrupulous and corrupt. A violation of the social contract. So much good that was, is and could be. So little civility, courage and humanity on the part of the founders, CEOs, investors and leaders, cowardice hiding behind the figleaves of The First Amendment, Section 230 and a self-serving technolibertarianism. A real and terrible abdication of leadership in a place that requires it. Subordinating the good to the pursuit of power and money. I could go on, and, well, already have.

A lot of the posts I’ve read about companies leaving Twitter talk about trust and safety issues, and some about ideology, some ideological leavers fleeing after the reinstatement of Trump. But from a purely practical standpoint, this post is a pretty damning:

I’ve seen a lot of technical and ideological takes on Elon Twitter but wanted to share the marketing perspective. For background I’m a director at a medium sized b2b tech company (not in finserv anymore) running a team that deploys about $80M in ad spend/year. Twitter was 8-10% of our media mix and we have run cost per engagement (ie download a white paper, register for an event) campaigns successfully since 2016.

I had my team keep our campaigns live for 2 weeks post-takeover on the bet that efficiency would improve with fewer advertisers and the risks were managed and probably overblown. I was wrong and I think the things we saw in these last 2 weeks means many more advertisers will bail on the platform in the coming weeks (for non-ideological or virtue signaling reasons):

  • Performance fell significantly. CPMs didn’t drop but our engagement went way down. Maybe it’s a shift in users on the platform, maybe it’s ad serving related.
  • Serious brand safety issues. Our organic social and CS teams got dozens of screenshots of our ads next to awful content. Replies to our posts with hardcore antisemitism and adult spam remained up for days even when flagged.
  • Our entire account team turned over multiple times in 2 weeks. We had multiple people (AE, AM, analyst, creative specialist) supporting our account and they all vanished without so much as an email. We finally got an email with a name for an AM last week but they quit and we don’t have a new one yet.
  • Ads UI is very buggy and login with SSO and 2FA broken. One of my campaign managers logged in last week and found all our paused creatives from the past 6 years had been reactivated. Campaign changes don’t save. These things cost us real money.

From an anonymous Financial Services exec posting on Team Blind

For me, the best thing that has come from the Twitter dumpster fire is that I have been posting here instead. Let’s hope for a revival of the independent web, the platforms for which people pay, the Substacks and Word Presses and the like. The better internet we all deserve.

A List of Non-Crazy Conservative Journalists and Commentators

It seems like a good time to post this list of non-crazy conservative journalists and commentators to follow online, given to me by my friend Jason Hirschhorn. I haven’t fully vetted these, and I welcome any comments on where these writers lie on the nuts/not nuts continuum, their general merits and/or shortcomings, whether or not they are actually conservative, which ones you read, and who is missing from this list. Many of these writers write for many publications, so if you find someone’s work interesting there’s likely more out there on different sites.

Yes, that is an Elephant Nutcracker.

The List:

George Will writes for the Washington Post

Nick Gillespie writes for Reason

SE Cupp appears on CNN

Matt Lewis writes for The Daily Beast

David Frum writers for the Atlantic

Ross Douthat writes for the NY Times.

Michael Gerson wrote for the Washington Post, but died just this week.

Peggy Noonan writes for the Wall Street Journal

Yural Levin writes for the National Review

  • An image from Dragon’s Delusion by Kongkee, which I saw this weekend at the Asian Art Museum.
  • Amazing Tagalog singers doing karaoke at Via Mare in Daly City on Friday night too, along side enormous portions of sinigang and chicken adobo. We tried all the delivery options for Filipino food in San Francisco, but none were anywhere near as good as Via Mare. But I didn’t know they also had live entertainment!
  • I found this article by Paul Krugman to be edifying on how Democrats can work with and around a Republican party that is more interested in investigating Hunter Biden than in governing, and who lack any kind of mandate other than thwarting Democrats, preventing the rich from paying too many taxes, and eliminating aid to people in need.
  • Yes, the imminent demise of Twitter, the departure of nearly all responsible parties, the readmission of Trump and the general malaise striking all the other social media platforms at the same are inspiring me to write my blog again. Hooray for Independent Online Media! Delighted.

Complex Personhood

Because I am teaching a course on dystopian literature I am re-reading 1984 and Brave New World, while also rewatching Avery Gordon’s talk on The Utopian Margins, and re-reading the parts of Ghostly Matters that deal with Complex Personhood. Here’s an excerpt:

“It has always baffled me why those most interested in understanding and changing the barbaric domination that characterizes our modernity often–not always–withhold from the very people they are most concerned with the right to complex personhood. Complex personhood is the second dimension of the theoretical statement that life is complicated. Complex personhood means that all people (albeit in specific forms whose specificity is sometimes everything) remember and forget, are beset by contradiction, and recognize and misrecognize themselves and others. Complex personhood means that people suffer graciously and selfishly too, get stuck in the symptoms of their troubles, and also transform themselves. Complex personhood means that those called ‘Other’ are never never that. Complex personhood means that the stories people tell about themselves, about their troubles, about their social worlds, and about their society’s problems are entangled and weave between what is immediately available as a story and what their imaginations are reaching toward. Complex personhood means that people get tired and some are just plain lazy. Complex personhood means that groups of people will act together, that they will vehemently disagree with and sometimes harm each other, and that they will do both at the same time and expect the rest of us to figure it out for ourselves, intervening and withdrawing as the situation requires. Complex personhood means that even those who haunt our dominant institutions and their systems of value are haunted too by things they sometimes have names for and sometimes do not. At the very least, complex personhood is about conferring the respect on others that comes from presuming that life and people’s lives are simultaneously straightforward and full of enormously subtle meaning.”

Complex personhood might be the thing that Big Brother, your enemies, totalitarian regimes, institutions might be most afraid of, and which they are working tirelessly to suppress. To accept and make space for another person’s complex personhood can be challenging as an individual, and in systems, be they software, constitutions, laws, governments, etc. it can be even more challenging, since there will almost always be someone who doesn’t have a neat space in the grid, and everyone is an exception to someone or something somewhere.

How Russians think, and why they do what they do

Jyri sent me this 2018 lecture in Finnish (subtitled in English), given by Martti Kari, a former Colonel working in military intelligence, with expertise in Russian “strategic culture”, and who is now at the university. Here he is explaining why Russians think and behave so differently from us in the West, which gives us some ways of guessing what they might do in the future. This has, for me, shed much light on the motivation behind the Ukrainian invasion and so much else that Russia has done.

Finland, of course, borders Russia, and at various points in history has been part of Russia, fought with Russia, and invaded by Russia. They held off the Russians in the brutal 1939 Winter War, when they invented the Molotov Cocktail, and have, of course, deep knowledge of their bellicose neighbor.

It is an hour-long lecture, and I learned a lot from it. My timestamps are iffy at best, and I took a lot of liberty with my summations and paraphrases. But it’s worth watching in its entirety. Here are my summary notes if you need to get back to the demands of work, doomscrolling or the exigencies of CNN.

NOTES

3:09 Russia has many layers, which he will enumerate. The foundation of Russian society is Slavic culture. The Slavic people are seen as one, Russians are the most numerous and greatest of the Slavic people, and Slavic unity must be defended.

3:52 With the fall of Constantinople, Eastern Roman traditions came to Moscow, and with this came Religion, Conservatism and Authority and the belief that supremacy cannot be challenged as authority is given by God and is therefore infallible and cannot be challenged.

4:28 In 1240 The Mongols conquered Russia and held it for 150 years. It was a time of cruelty, as evidenced by the Russian words for torture, taxation and corruption, words which have Mongol roots. Total domination is granted to the sole leader, the Khan, and cruelty and corruption are part of his privilege. Under Mongol rule survival meant lying, crime and violence.

5:34 At the end of their reign, the Mongols did not depart, but merged into the ruling culture of Russia. A period of chaos followed the Mongol rule, and the Poles who conquered them did not have a strong leader. The chaos and confusion finally ended when the Romanovs were installed and the Russians saw that A strong leader eliminates chaos, and has, of course, the mandate of God.

It is important to note core Russian beliefs that Democracy is equal to Chaos, and Autocracy is superior to Chaos and Mayhem. Russia has consistently been under authoritarian rule since the Mongols.

6:48 The era of European Russia began, and Russian expansion from 1815-1914. Russia was reified through its culture, its writers, etc. (This was happening in Finland too, with the codification of their national mythology in the Kalevala)

8:44 Then came the Soviet Era and WWII taught them that it was better to fight outside their country. This is because of their fundamental geographical weakness. They have 11 time zones, and are difficult to defend. The Urals are easily attacked and have been throughout history (Napoleon, Hitler). They have no mountains or rivers or place to shelter, and are easy to conquer.

9:07 Russians believe strongly in Russianness, which is made up of ORTHODOXY + AUTOCRACY + NARODNOST. The Russian Orthodox church gives them the infallibility and righteousness of God, and Autocracy is what they have lived under since 1240. Narodnost is “the people” but really “the role the people play”.

Narodnost means submission, sacrifice and passivity: the Tsar cannot make mistakes. He is Just. Around him are Princes who will rise to become Tsar one day. But when mistakes are made they are made by a class of people under the Princes in the hierarchy, the Boyars. The Boyars are the ones who make mistakes and are blamed. These are those supperrich oligarchs and governors in league with Putin who frequently go missing, have boating accidents, or hang themselves in their garages.

The Boyars were once landowners and governors of their land. They owned territories and property. But in recent years they no longer own their lands, but have tenure, and with their tenure comes the understanding that they can control the territories and their slaves so long as they behave.

Once a Boyar reaches a certain level, he is entitled to a certain amount of corruption. High ranking Boyars get to steal, but there are rules. You can’t steal from certain people, and you can’t steal too much. Business oligarchs are Boyars too.

And Narodnost. The Infallible Tsar knows better than the people what they need. And Russians can endure an incredible amount of suffering. In Russia suffering is a virtue. It is honorable to suffer. And the role of the people is to sacrifice themselves for the Tsar.

18:13 Russians live in two realities: the reality of the outside world, and the kitchen table reality. That is, they have conversations around the kitchen table about how things are, but when they leave, they enter a separate reality. This is normal.

21:02 Nikolai I said Russia’s sacred mission is to be “messenger of a higher civilization.” and, a relevant quote “A little warfare in the border regions is needed to maintain a patriotic spirit.”

80% of Russians get their new on Putin-controlled television, comprised of “different facts”. The relevant story on those channels is that NATO is constantly attacking Russia, which is perpetually under siege. Russia sees itself as being at constant war with NATO.

The task of the state leadership is to stay in power. They are not interested in the lives of ordinary Russians. As George F Kennan, American diplomat and US Ambassador to Russia, and architect of the containment policies of the Cold War, said in 1946 “The Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is based on their traditional and instinctive insecurity.”

He also says:

“Russia is deaf to the logic of reason, but very sensitive to the logic of power.”

American imperialism is based on some want or need. Say, oil. Russian imperialism is based on fear.

28:20 Information Geopolitics works by misdirection promulgated by spokesmen. Lenin originated the idea of Useful Idiots, like Trump, who believe they are being given power, but are actually pawns in a game they don’t know they’re playing. (this is my own embroidery; Martti Kari didn’t say this exactly)

30:28 Russians have savior complex: They saved Europe from Napoleon and from Hitler and believe they are saving Europe, even if they have not been asked

33:11 The Bronze Horseman by Pushkin is one of the first poems every Russian child reads. (Which, Wikipedia notes “…symbolizes “Tsar Peter, the city of St Petersburg, and the uncanny reach of autocracy over the lives of ordinary people.”)

36:29 In spite of what may be otherwise believed, Russians are not innovators or technologists. They copied the microchip and nuclear weapons. The current priority under Putin is AI.

38:00 Russian has two words for truth and three words for a lie. Significantly “pravda” means the truth, but not the absolute truth. It’s a “truth” told to get out of an awkward or bad situation, a tactical truth. “Istina” is a truth that is the opposite of a lie. “Vranjo” is a noble lie or a strategic lie. A lie that can be told to people outside your community. Russians are skillful practitioners of Doublethink.

40:27. Everyone understands when someone says something different at the kitchen table than out in public. “We had nothing to do with the shooting down of the Malaysian plane”, for example. Or Putin saying “We did not meddle in the 2016 US Elections. Read my lips.” Russians know, we did, but we didn’t get caught. They will revise the truth when they have been caught. He goes on to give numerous examples, each more egregious than the last. And of course someone’s Grandmother is disappeared for showing her grandson receiving a medal from Putin for a crime he ostensibly did not commit.

44:57 So what would destabilize Russia? He eliminates several possibilities such as “the global recession is not really a problem since they are always in a recession” He homes in on:

The Russians fear turmoil, chaos, as in the time before the Romanovs. the Post Soviet 1990s were a time of turmoil. They equate chaos with having a weak leader.

46:27 Then he shows Putin’s friends from his 70s era Judo club, back in the day, including Zolotov, a lathe operator by trade, but who, though laughably under-credentialed for the job, has been elevated to Boyar by Putin, a three star general in charge of the National Guard–since Putin cannot entirely trust the armed forces

47:38 The National Guard is in charge of suppressing internal unrest, with a mandate to use violence. Except against pregnant women.

Navalny called out Zolotov on his ill-gotten gains, because Zolotov is high ranking and entitled to a high level of corruption. He challenged him to appear in a conversation with him on TV. Zolotov responded by threatening to make “minced meat” of Navalny in a physical fight. Judo, maybe. Business as usual in Russia.

50:14 During the time of turmoil, Power was decentralized, more power went to the various regions, corruption continued. Russia embraced, incredibly, free speech, the West was no longer a threat, and also incredibly, Russia considered joining NATO. But the era of democracy turned the word Democracy into a curse word.

50:48 But fortunately, in the eyes of the Russians, a strong leader emerged in 2000. Putin. And all the familiar things returned:

  • Authoritarian system of leadership
  • Corruption and cronyism
  • Persecution of the opposition
  • The West portrayed as a threat
  • A mock democracy
  • The Messianic Mission
  • Imperial expansion
  • Make Russia Great Again

53:13 Unlike with the Nazis vs. the Jews, who belonged to different tribes, there were executions and victims in every family and every home in Russia. Both the killer and the victim could be from the same family.

Russians celebrate Stalin and wish to go back to their (fictitious) heroic past. They see their actions as correcting historical injustices. Other nations leave their histories in the past, but to Russia all wounds are fresh wounds.

55:15 So what will happen in Russia? Some possibilities. (remember this was from 2018)

1 Stagnation and status quo until Putin is out in 2024
2 Stalin 2.0: oppression stepped up, more purges
3 Collapse of state due to external shock 👀
4 Democratic uprising (unlikely)
5 East vs. West again. Escalation between pro-West “Zapadniki” and anti-West “Slavophiles”

Who are the Princes, the Tsars-in-Training? They will need to guarantee a peaceful end of reign for the retiring Tsar, as Putin did for Yeltsin. Medvedev is too soft. And the prince needs to be a hero. He presents two:

Aleksey Dyumin
-previously Putin’s chief security guard
-As Spetsnaz chief, oversaw the annexation of Crimea (and extracted Yanukovich from Kyiv from the “fascists” in power ) in 2014
-Hero of the Russian Federation
-Plays goalie on Putin’s hockey team, and is a pretty good goalkeeper, unless Putin is shooting on goal.
-“on standby” as Governor of Tula Oblast until Putin retires in 2024, where hopefully nothing goes wrong before 2024 so he can stay clean

Yevgeny Zinichev
-KGB/FSB/FSO background
-Minister of Emergency Situations
…Except he was killed in 2021 (he fell off a cliff) he was made a Hero of the Russian Federation posthumously

58:40 Putin’s reputation and popularity is in decline (Fall 2018) People are saying Putin is responsible for Russia’s problems. That the people’s well being is important, not the military. 20 million people live in poverty.

Olga Koltsova, a protester: “Either those in power are aware of the mood and listening to the people, or some kind of social explosion will happen. When the lid of the boiler is too tight it will fly into the air.” (Nov 2018)

As in 1917, and the November Revolution.

59:49 Last he shows a protester, a child, being arrested. The kid probably doesn’t get his information from Putin’s TV, but from the internet.

Nothing Talk

Bubble, empty bubble, empty speech, empty speech bubble, no comment, speech,  speech bubble icon - Download on

Mark Zuckerberg’s speeches are masterclasses in how to talk but say nothing. His speeches are notable for being affectless, dissociative, circular and noncommittal. I think he does this because it is no longer possible for him to say anything for fear or reprisal or cancellation. The stock price is sensitive to his speech. He know what he is doing is wrong, but won’t say so. Because he is being forced to speak when he wants to stay silent. And because politicians and business people–like all of us, now– instantly know the nature of the response. We get likes or retweets. We get sentiment analyses, feedback, commentary. It is almost too costly to speak to a general public any more. Silence is more golden than ever before.

What should you do when confronted with Nothing Talk? Ignore the speaker and stop listening to them. Look only at their actions, divorced from their speech. Pay attention to other people who are actually speaking. Learn to disagree better. Stop cancelling people. Do like Rumi does: Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing, and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett.

Hardcover The Dutch House Book

The story is told from the viewpoint of the children, who were thrown out of their home by their stepmother, whose story is not told. A beloved older sister and a dutiful younger brother are left to fend for themselves. People loved this book. I only liked it. It was not Housekeeping, a book said to be the favorite of the sister and her mother, and a masterpiece. I often wonder about this: what is the difference between a good book and a great book? The Dutch House could have been a great book, but it wasn’t, and why not? I will return to this question when I have drawn some conclusions.