Duke University Libraries Drop Basecamp

I was glad to see Duke University Libraries in-depth explanation of why they’re dropping Basecamp for managing projects. It reminded me of previous blog posts of my own from 2017 regarding the ideology and worldview that seemed prevalent at that time in tech, and a post from last year that drew a line from James Damore, through Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, to Elon Musk.

The Libraries took the time to revisit their discussion of 2021 to continue using Basecamp and updated themselves regarding the posts and rhetoric of Hansson regarding DEI, and his public glee in the mass layoffs of tech workers last year (which have by no means abated in 2023). They also did not shy away from talking about their own shortcomings as an organization when it comes their own workplace:

We also know the harms that our own workplace practices and culture have caused over the years. We know about it because we listen to each other, both informally and formally, via climate surveys, workshops, and other practices: 

The point is not that we’re perfect, or a model to emulate. The point is that we are not naive. We have seen (and done) some stuff.

Duke University Libraries Blog, November 30, 2023

The Libraries set a thoughtful, public example of consciously choosing temporary inconvenience over continuing to reward the mendacity and cruelty of the leader of a third-party vendor. I salute them.

Peter Gabriel Is Why I Love Stop-Motion Animation

Back in October, I was reminded exactly when I became a fan of stop-motion animation. A friend in one of my Slack groups shared this Jason Kottke post. The second video on the page (Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer) was my first introduction to him. The song came out in 1986, the video won 9 MTV Video Music Awards the following year. The company who did the animation for the video, Aardman Animations, would later go on to create Wallace and Gromit (an inventor and his pet dog) who’ve starred in a number of short films (The Wrong Trousers) and feature-length films (The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) that I found hilarious. Chicken Run was an Aardman co-production with Dreamworks that I also enjoyed.

While researching this post, I learned that another one of my stop-motion favorites–The Nightmare Before Christmas–actually came out the same year as The Wrong Trousers (1993). Nightmare was very much in keeping with the dark and scary sensibilities of Tim Burton (the man behind Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, among many other films), but to make it a musical as well was just hilarious and delightful. Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox are two more stop-motion animated features I’ve enjoyed. One of my guiltier pleasures when it comes to stop-motion animation was definitely Celebrity Deathmatch. Stop-motion animated wrestling matches between clay versions of celebrities was way more fun than it had any right to be.

While not actually stop-motion animation, The Lego Movie (and its sequel) succeed at hewing very closely to the same style, with the obvious exceptions of the live action scenes. While there are much older examples of stop-motion animation (the original King Kong from 1933, the character Gumby from the 1950s, and anything by Ray Harryhausen), the Sledgehammer video is where that particular fandom of mine began.

Recent Grenadian History Revisited

Going deeper down the Grenada rabbit hole I fell into just a week ago, I recently learned of a limited series podcast titled The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop. I’m only two episodes in (episode 5 released on November 15) and I am completely absorbed. The title of the podcast isn’t clickbait–it’s literally the truth. Forty years after he and members of his cabinet were lined up against a wall and machine gunned to death the whereabouts of their remains is still unknown.

It has been fascinating to revisit the early 1980s as this podcast does and hear just how often Ronald Reagan talked about this little island in speeches, as well as animosity at least one leader of Grenada’s revolution had for Reagan. The episodes I’ve listened to so far went into some depth regarding Eric Bishop’s predecessor as prime minister, Sir Eric Gairy. His iron-fisted rule of Grenada, which stretched back before it achieved independence from Great Britain, was enforced by the Mongoose Gang. The descriptions of this group of thugs with police powers reminded me of the Tonton Macoutes of Haiti under Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Listening to episode 2 in particular, it was sad to see how quickly Bishop adopted the rhetoric of Gairy, even if he didn’t go as far as forming a secret police. Bishop’s rule in Grenada ultimately ends in gunfire either as a result of unwillingness to share power, not being extreme enough in his embrace of Cuba and the Soviet Union, rivalry and jealous within the New Jewel Movement, or some combination of all of the above. I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series and what else I can learn from it.

The Muscle Memory of Surrender: A Brief History of the Modern GOP

All of these smart Republicans who frankly did not understand how thoroughly corrupted their party had become, or the fact that if you cave in over and over again, you develop a muscle memory of surrender, and it’s hard to get back.

Charlie Sykes, The Bulwark Podcast, November 9, 2023

The quote above effectively summarizes the modern history of the GOP. Given his pre-Bulwark history in Wisconsin, perhaps he should have explicitly included himself in that collection of smart Republicans. Syke’s interview with McKay Coppins just one week earlier on his new book Romney: A Reckoning served as a speed run of recent GOP history of how far and how quickly the party moved away from those so-called smart Republicans many years before they actually realized it. Syke’s interview with Coppins actually jogs his own memory around 17 minutes into the interview that he actually had Donald Trump on his radio show at the time back in 2004.

When I listened to the interview, Romney’s book sounded like an extended attack of conscience regarding his own role in paving the way for the GOP to move even further to the right. To me, Mitt’s father George looks much better than his son by comparison because at every possible point, Mitt looked at the choices his father made (and the negative political consequences of those choices) and decided not to follow his father’s example. George Romney turned around a struggling automaker in Detroit in the 1950s. George Romney supported the civil rights movement, even trying and failing to prevent the GOP from surrendering to the likes of Barry Goldwater and his ultimately successful efforts to push black voters out of the GOP. George Romney served the Nixon administration as HUD secretary, trying to increase the supply of housing available to the poor and to desegregate the suburbs, but was deliberately undermined by Nixon in many cases.

His son Mitt by contrast wrote a New York Time op-ed titled Let Detroit Go Bankrupt in 2008. In his 2012 run for president, he famously told a private audience of wealthy campaign donors that “Obama backers will vote for the president ‘no matter what.’ Romney said that they account for ’47 percent’ of voters and he does not ‘worry about those people.'” Also during that campaign, Romney actively solicited the endorsement of Donald Trump–who was still actively fueling the birther conspiracy about Barack Obama at the time. Coppins cites numerous earlier examples of choices he consciously made in the interest of political expediency. A couple that stand out (though not as baldly and badly as seeking Trump’s endorsement):

  • taking a pro-choice position to win the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts despite his personal opposition to abortion
  • talking about “repealing the death tax” as an applause line to an audience filled with people who would never have to pay it

The interview goes on to talk about Romney bowing the knee to Trump in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to be appointed Secretary of State (effectively because he didn’t bow the knee far enough and publicly repudiate all the negative things he had said about Trump).

Perhaps the clearest indicators of the lack of understanding of the so-called smart Republicans that Sykes would criticize the following week can actually be found in the part of his interview with Coppins when they talk about who wins the GOP nomination in 2012 and 2008. Coppins expresses the belief (and Sykes seems to agree) that the turn of the GOP was a sudden one when in fact it was not. Here’s what Sykes says per the transcript:

You know, it occurs to me that his nomination in 2012 in many ways was a false indicator because, the party had already begun to change dramatically, but we were able to tell ourselves as conservatives that the center would hold that this was still the party that would nominate George Bush and John McCain and Mitt Romney. So it’s not the party of Pat Buchanan. It’s not the party of Don[ald] Trump. I mean, they’re there, but there’s a reason why, you know, people like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich don’t ultimately win. Yes.

Charlie Sykes, The Bulwark Podcast, November 2, 2023

Sykes is at minimum 4 years too late in identifying the “false indicator” election for the GOP nomination. The John McCain who won the GOP nomination in 2008 was a far cry from the man who ran in 2000. The John McCain of 2000 who specifically (and correctly) named Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as agents of intolerance on the political right was replaced in 8 years by a version who made peace with them, and cemented their support by choosing Sarah Palin as his vice president. What I was not aware of at the time, was that Palin was known commodity among the ardently pro-life in the GOP. Mitt Romney placed a distant third in pledged delegates in the 2008 GOP primary, behind Mike Huckabee. In 2012, Romney would follow McCain’s playbook in staking out hard right positions (for political expediency) to beat his contenders for the GOP presidential nomination only to be defeated when voters didn’t buy his attempts to move back to the center for the general election. As Romney (and others in the GOP) would demonstrate again and again in subsequent years (through the Trump presidency to the present day), having power was more important than having integrity.

Now, even one of those in the GOP who briefly showed sufficient spine to vote in favor of impeaching Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection has begun to develop his muscle memory for surrender. Peter Meijer, one of 10 House Republicans who did so (and was ultimately defeated for re-election as a result), has pledged to support the Republican nominee for president in his current run for the Senate–going even further to say that Joe Biden had done more to disgrace the office of the presidency than the man he voted to impeach just a couple of years ago.

Meijer is no worse than the current pretenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Nearly all remaining contenders pledged to support Trump even if he is convicted on one (or many) of the 91 different felonies he has been charged with. One angry social media outburst from Trump and the House speaker candidacy of Tom Emmer (notable for his relative lack of surrender to Trumpist priorities) went down in flames. His replacement–Mike Johnson–is unknown and inexperienced as a legislator, but was one of the key advocates of the Big Lie regarding the 2020 election and still to this day refuses to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election. Even as Trump-backed candidates and priorities continue to cost them victory after victory in ballot initiatives (like the one in Ohio that put the right to abortion into the state constitution) and in elections (like the ones in Virginia that saw Democrats retake full control of the General Assembly and the Kentucky gubernatorial election that kept the Democrat Andy Beshear in power and rejected the Republican state attorney general Daniel Cameron), the GOP’s muscle memory for surrender to its most extreme elements is too strong for them to break.

Grenada: Nobody’s Backyard

I learned a lot from this episode of Throughline about an invasion that happened when I was just 9 years old. It provides a ton of context and backstory of what was happening on the island in the decades leading up to the invasion. What I didn’t realize until I looked it up was how close in time the invasion was to the Marine Corps barracks bombing in Beirut (just 2 days earlier). In the clips of Ronald Reagan speeches played during the episode, it was interesting to hear anti-communist rhetoric as the rationale for invading Grenada just a few years before the scandal we call Iran-Contra would be brought into the light.

Other Caribbean nations (Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Jamaica actually played a role in the invasion as well. Jamaica sent 150 troops via an Air Jamaica 727 who served in a peacekeeping role well after U.S. troops arrived. All six nations also voted against the U.N. resolution condemning the invasion. A UPI piece I found lists Barbados and Antigua as also providing soldiers for the invasion while St. Lucia, Dominica, and St. Vincent sent police officers. The same UPI piece does a good job of putting the U.S. invasion of Grenada in historical context, noting that Haiti and the Dominican Republic were invaded and occupied for multiple years on 3 separate occasions during the 20th century.

Rhymes with 9/11

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes

Mark Twain

I could not have anticipated that what I wrote on the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks regarding how this country really treated its Muslim population (residents and citizens alike) would be relevant again so soon. I won’t claim any special insight into the Middle East, or the latest war between Hamas and Israel–but the response of the U.S. government, U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle, U.S.-based mainstream media, and everyday citizens looks more and more familiar with each passing day.

Balbir Singh Sodhi (a Sikh, not even a Muslim) was murdered 4 days after 9/11. His killer proceeded from there on a non-fatal shooting spree against a gas station clerk (a Lebanese-American) and at his former home (previously purchased by an Afghan family local to Mesa, Arizona). Little more than a week after Hamas’ attacks on Israel, a Chicago landlord stabbed two of his Muslim tenants repeatedly, killing 6-year-old Wade Al-Fayoume.

As recounted in Spencer Ackerman’s Return to Little Pakistan, Muslims in Brooklyn began receiving business cards from agents of the FBI and INS, and NYPD officers asking to be called as soon as possible to answer questions. We would later learn that the NYPD would illegal surveil Muslims both inside and outside New York City for over a decade after 9/11, not generating a single lead that exposed any terrorists or prevented any attacks in all that time. The LAPD tried and failed to follow New York’s lead in 2007. Just one day after the Biden administration announced plans for the DOJ and DHS to partner with campus police to track hate-related threats, Ackerman reports that the ADL is urging college and university administrators to investigate campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine for “potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.”–without providing any evidence of such support from any chapter of this organization. The same organization whose Center on Extremism claims to “strategically monitor, expose and disrupt extremist threats” removed the notorious Libs of TikTok account (and Chaya Raichik, the woman behind it) from their extremism list after she threatened a lawsuit. This isn’t even the first retreat of October 2023 for the ADL, having resumed advertising on Twitter after Elon Musk threatened to sue them for defamation the month before.

To oppose the open-ended Authorization for Use of Military Force that would enable military operations in no less than 22 countries (including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and war in Iraq, and detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) was a lonely endeavor that came with death threats, insults, and hate mail. While there is almost certainly more (and growing) opposition to the IDF bombing campaign in Gaza than there was to the US invading Iraq, any sympathy at all for unarmed Palestinian civilians unaffiliated with Hamas (or any other militant group) has come with consequences like firing from jobs, revocation of job offers, threats of deportation from Donald Trump, and a Senate resolution condemning specific campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (per Ackerman’s reporting).

Our country treated the 9/11 attacks as an existential threat–a thing that could cause the U.S. to cease to exist. That mindset regarding the threat of terrorism rationalized not only the bipartisan sacrifice of civil liberties named the Patriot Act within our borders, but “a worldwide policy of detention and interrogation”, ultimately resulting in the death of innocents as explored in documentaries like Taxi to the Dark Side. As of May 2023, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay still holds 30 detainees–some still await trial, some being held indefinitely facing no charges and without recommendation for release.

The threat to Jews both worldwide and within Israel itself is very real. Anti-semitism–whether here in the U.S. or abroad–is never far beneath the surface. Not much time has passed since the former president defended neo-Nazis and others protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue as “very fine people”, or since the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11 and wounded 6 worshippers–including Holocaust survivors. As with the U.S. and the countries we attacked with military force in response to 9/11 however, the difference in military power between Israel and those who threaten it is substantial. Depending on which reports you read, between 5000 and 10,000 Palestinians have died in airstrikes from Israel’s military–the vast majority of those women and children. This death toll–the vast majority of them civilians–will only grow. The civilian death toll during the so-called Global War on Terror is orders of magnitude larger. Prior to the latest attacks by Hamas, Israel was holding over 1200 people in detention (virtually all Palestinians) without charges or trial. Per AP’s reporting, Israel’s military justice system is what Palestinians are subject to, not unlike the military tribunals used at the Guantanamo Bay prison to try terrorism suspects.

Unlike the U.S. military, Israel can’t leave where it is. It can change its policies and its leaders, but not its neighbors. I have no idea what the answer is to whether or not Israel and the Palestinians will ever be able to co-exist in a status other than “cold” war or hot war. But the ways Israel’s response to October 7 rhymes with the US response to September 11 probably mean we’ll be asking that question for a long time.

What I’m Reading and Listening to About Palestine

A friend of mine asked what I’ve been reading about the war between Israel and Gaza to help him understand what was going on. So I’m writing this post to share with him and others to provide a sense of what I’m seeing and hearing as inputs to my perspective.

I found this piece by Kali Robinson very informative: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/what-is-hamas-what-to-know-about-its-origins-leaders-and-funding. It’s well worth reading in full, because you’ll learn not just about Hamas’ origins, but about how Egypt and Turkey factor into the conflict (against and for Hamas respectively), the civil war between Hamas and Fatah militias in 2006, and how Palestinians view Hamas, among other context.

Another valuable read is the book Palestine, by Joe Sacco. It’s a non-fiction graphic novel covering the journalist’s 2 months in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from December 1991-January 1992. In it you will find a perspective and complexity too often lacking from what is typically available in journalism covering the region even 3 decades later. As an aside, I bought my copy of Palestine from Big Planet Comics a number of years ago,

Fareed Zakaria’s interview of Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is also worth watching. Barghouti is a Palestinian physician and co-founder of a group supporting non-violent resistance to Israel’s occupation (of the West Bank and Gaza). The points where the interview would have been helped by Zakaria pushing back (such as Barghouti’s assertion that Hamas would release its prisoners if Israel released Palestinian prisoners who are currently jailed) will likely be obvious to viewers.

This morning, I just finished listening to the latest episode of a podcast called The Bulletin. Including a podcast aimed at Christians (like myself) may seem puzzling at first. But it’s necessary because trying to understand the region includes being aware of how American Christianity’s understanding (some might more bluntly say misunderstanding) of our own faith distorts our perspectives and our policy in that region. American evangelicals have been, and continue to be huge supporters of the state of Israel. This is where one of the distortions comes in: John Hagee’s group (Christians United for Israel) lobbies senators and congressmen regarding our country’s policies toward Israel. One of the key reasons for that support is a self-interested one however–a belief that a state of Israel is necessary for the second coming of Jesus Christ and that Jews will either convert to Christianity or die. John Hagee is just one of a number of evangelical preachers that have disturbing views about the reasons for the Holocaust as well as what will happen to Jews in the future as he interprets the Bible. A paper by Thomas Ice of Liberty University goes into more specific details regarding this belief.

The Daily podcast from the New York Times is the most consistently high-quality news product the organization produces. These three episodes about Hamas’ attack and Israel’s response have been very helpful for greater understanding:

The one link from social media regarding the latest iteration of war in Palestine that I will share is from a lawyer named Sheryl Weikal on Bluesky. She is a self-described “white Ashkenazi Jew” but pulls no punches in calling her co-religionists to task for their bloodlust and desire for revenge. In addition to calling out the immorality of bloodlust, she discusses some of the non-violent resistance to occupation Palestinians have engaged in (and the response of US states to it) as well as the deaths of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli settlers. If you aren’t already on Bluesky, it might be worth it to join if only to read this. Twitter is predictably flooded with disinformation regarding what is happening in Gaza so I don’t look there for useful context and details.

Contrary to what we are seeing and hearing in much of the media today, what is happening in Palestine will continue to defy easy explanations and narratives. I hope there will be more journalism and reporting that seeks to add light rather than heat, and believe the links I’ve shared largely succeed in that mission.

Ahsoka Fell Victim to the Marvelization of Star Wars

via GIPHY

I hate to say this about my oldest fandom, but Ahsoka wasn’t good. I’m not here to set Dave Filoni’s entire filmography on fire. Contrary to some, I think The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels were better than the prequel movies. Ahsoka is a key character in both The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, which is why so much of the fandom (myself included) was excited to see her in live action in The Mandalorian. Grand Admiral Thrawn wasn’t just a key antagonist in the last couple of seasons of Star Wars: Rebels, he’s one of the best villains in Star Wars–and notably one who George Lucas did not create. Timothy Zahn is the author behind Thrawn (and each of the 13 novels that feature him), including a trilogy set after the events of Return of the Jedi that would have made for a much better sequel trilogy than the one which ultimately made it to theaters.

In retrospect, this interview where Dave Filoni essentially agrees with the perspective that Ahsoka could be seen as season 5 of Rebels was a warning. This confirmed that viewers would basically have had to do the homework of watching most everything with Ahsoka in it to grasp everything going on in the show. Enough time has passed since I watched Rebels in full that there were multiple points in the show where I didn’t get what was going on. And that’s before you get to the now infamous “space cartwheel”.

Even viewers who did the homework must contend with the addition of a master-padawan relationship between Ahsoka Tano and Sabine Wren that wasn’t in any of the shows. This was far from the only opportunity missed to use flashbacks to add missing context and flesh out characters so they actually mattered to the audience (whether they’d “done the homework” or not). I’ve said on social media that Dave Filoni did better character development with The Bad Batch than he did in Ahsoka. The same is true of Jon Favreau and The Mandalorian. With this show, Filoni leaned far too hard on “unearned, MCU-level ‘remember this?’ tropes that rely more on good memories than actual character development.”

Beyond the “homework” problem and lack of character development in the show itself, Ahsoka was stuffed with too many competing storylines to do any of them justice. For me, there wasn’t enough in the show to explain the loyalty of the Night Sisters of Dathomir to Thrawn’s cause, or Hera Syndulla’s fear of his return. As I write this, I have yet to see any confirmation of Ahsoka being renewed for another season. Assuming it doesn’t get cancelled, I’m pessimistic that a second season would improve on the shortcomings of the first.

Why I Pay for Email (and Domains)

In a world where you can get free email accounts seemingly anywhere, I recently decided to pay for an email service. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still have Gmail, Microsoft/Hotmail, iCloud, and Yahoo accounts–but it’s another step back toward paying for products and service instead of being the product. I chose Fastmail on the recommendation of a friend who has used them for many years.

Fastmail’s value proposition and advertising revolves primarily around security, privacy, no ads, no tracking–all of which are good. But the features I’ve found the most valuable so far are actually their search and mail rules. I have a fairly common first and last name. And unfortunately for me, this has meant receiving a lot of email in my Gmail account over the years that is intended for someone else. The email contents range from the merely annoying (emails from various GOP candidates for political office) to documents with PII and other content that is supposed to be confidential. But Fastmail’s mail rules setup allows me to delete that stuff from my inbox without ever having to see it.

Another feature Fastmail offers is Masked Email. You can use it to create a unique email address everywhere you log in on the web, and block addresses if you start receiving spam from them. What I do instead is use two domains that I own to create unique email addresses on-the-fly. What the setup with Fastmail lets me do is make up an email address on the spot with one of those domains and know that I’ll receive any email sent to it. For example: I go to Walgreens the other day, and made up an email to give to the person at the register for the myWalgreens program so I can get the associated benefits without giving them my real email. The mail rules let me filter these emails (and others like it) out of my inbox.

The email that’s actually intended for me I can label, filter, and receive notifications for if they’re really important. Fastmail also lets you create a rule based on a single message to control how future messages are handled (a capability that can also be applied to blocking senders). Whether I’m using the web application on my MacBook Pro, on the mobile apps on my iPhone or iPad mini, I get the same experience of email actually being useful again–including not missing important ones. It might be nice to have an actual desktop client, so I may try the FMail client someone developed and see if I like that better.

Fastmail makes it easy to onboard with a 30-day free trial where you can use it as the interface to whatever free email account you currently use the most. For me, that’s still Gmail. The import process (which had years of emails to pull over) worked perfectly. Because Fastmail can receive and send Gmail, I’ve had no need to use the Gmail web client or its mobile apps directly for weeks. I’ve even deleted Gmail from my phone and tablet.

I still have plenty of work ahead when it comes to unsubscribing my Gmail email address from so many things! Email lists, newsletters, stores, and all manner of other online services in the nearly 20 years since I first signed up for it. But as I do (and re-subscribe to just the things that matter most), Fastmail is helping make email a useful tool again.