• Baked Alaska arrested

    Tim "Baked Alaska" Gionet, a far-right activist and general Trump-era figure of fun, was arrested today by the FBI over his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

    Gionet posted video that showed Trump supporters in "Make America Great Again" and "God Bless Trump" hats milling around and taking selfies with officers in the Capitol who calmly asked them to leave the premises. The Trump supporters talked among themselves, laughed, and told the officers and each other: "This is only the beginning."

  • Why free-speech platforms all end up moderating content

    Alex Kantrowitz wrote a great article about how new platforms (such as Substack) plan to maintain their free-speech promises now that established platforms (such as Twitter) are abandoning them in favor of cleaning house. What happens if Nazis decide that Substack is their new roost? What happens to its current stars if Substack becomes a Nazi bar and panics?

    Some have criticized [established] platforms for leaving up too much objectionable content. Others have called the platforms censors, arguing they take down too much …

    Substack would do well to have some infrastructure built for the eventuality of a content moderation crisis. Currently, the company has no policy team, and its founders run its content moderation efforts, according to Best. It shows. In light of recent events at the Capitol, I emailed Best to ask how he felt about a top-performing Substack newsletter that questioned the election results. Rather than engage, Best fell back on a corporatism. "As a rule we don't comment on moderation decisions," he said.

    It is impossible for private platforms to guarantee users' free speech. This is because corporations have shallow priorities and deep vulnerabilities.

    Substack will do better at keeping its promise, perhaps, because it can benefit from the experiences of other companies, and has already shown itself capable of more consistency and transparency. Like Spotify, it might invest so much in a specific risk that managing that investment overwhelms other concerns. But in the long run, the game is rigged. Everone has to abridge free-speech policies in the face of pressures they cannot resist: legal, financial, public-relational, and political.

    This isn't a criticism of Substack (or anyone else's) intentions. It's just a recognition of the inevitable. Substack has excellent management and a principled operational philosophy that frees it from the advertising media model, but it's still a cash-burning startup funded by venture capitalists who are in it for the money. It is raised by wolves, will likely end up sold to a media conglomerate or to the public, and cannot escape its own ecology. Free speech is an attractive product feature, but the market has other interests and shareholders have other priorities.

    Consider the enemies the new platforms haven't faced, yet, such as well-funded lawfare and the kind of tabloid-driven obscenity scandals that helped kill Reddit's original free-speech aspirations. Anyone remember when ViolentAcrez was "The Biggest Troll on the Web"?

    The thing most-rarely recognized in the discourse of moderation is that policy faces outwards from the get-go.

    When a platform is small—such as a specialist forum or a blogger's comments—moderation is easy, so the incentive is to enforce strong positions one way or another and honor them in song.

    When a platform is growing, moderation becomes hard, so the incentive is to adopt and rhapsodize the virtues of free speech.

    When a business matures, moderation is a predictable expense whose cost fluctuates relative to all the unpredictable expenses. At this point, the incentives become turbulent and what is said and done about speech becomes reactive, arbitrary and incoherent.

    Another way of putting this is that everything said about speech by corporations is flotsam bobbing on the unseen riptides of private reality. At the end, even Parler boasted about censoring its worst users in an effort to save its hide. Ethical consumption under capitalism is always on sale.

  • Report: no touchbar for redesigned 2021 MacBook Pro

    After launching low-end models with decidedly high-flying benchmarks, Apple's transition to its own ARM-based CPUs has users eager to see what the forthcoming high-end models will be like. One change, according to supply-chain watchers: a new design with no more touchbar.

    The new MacBook Pro is said to have squared-off sides like the iPad Pro and the iPhone 12 … Kuo believes the new Pro laptops will backtrack on some of the controversial changes Apple made with the current generation. The OLED Touch Bar, for example, is said to have been replaced altogether by physical function keys. Kuo also says that there'll be a wider range of ports reducing the need for dongles, though he doesn't get specific. And a MagSafe magnetic charging connector is also set to return.

  • Where did the Gremlins go?

    Last fall, Nick Lutsko posted this amusing song wondering why there hasn't been a revival of Gremlins, the 1984 Joe Dante horror-comedy classic. Everything else from the era, from Ghostbusters to Battlestar Galactica, got the reboot treatment, after all!

    ♫ We could have had Gremlins 6 and Gremlins 7
    Instead we got Covid and 9/11 ♫

    ♫ So tell me where did Gremlins go?
    It's been so long with nothing to show.♫

    Great song. Watch Gremlins again! Not just a clip on YouTube. It'll be obvious why it got left in the 1980s. Just about everything in it can be read as a joke about racism. It's fair to credit it for lampooning white fear, white flight, racial demonization, the cosy bullshit of a too-white Christmas, etc. But it's still a solid hour of white folks screaming at blatant racial stereotypes, and even Hollywood can sense that this sort of thing is trouble now.

    Lutsko's song knows the answer. To quote Matthew Goff: "This man just pitched a Gremlins 3 that deconstructs how liberal democracies are complicit in enabling and enacting fascist regimes."

    As it happens, though, an animated Gremlins show is in production at HBO.

    With that, it's over to Jordan Peele:

  • Google and YouTube ban all political advertising for at least one week

    CNN's Brian Fung reports that Google is banning all political advertising until Joe Biden's inauguration at the earliest. The company cites the riot at the U.S. Capitol and outgoing president Donald Trump's imminent impeachment.

    Google told advertisers in a letter obtained by CNN that it won't allow ads about "candidates, the election, its outcome, the upcoming presidential inauguration, the ongoing presidential impeachment process, violence at the US Capitol, or future planned protests on these topics."

  • Paean to the WRT54G, the hackable router of the 2000s

    Ernie Smith recounts the legend of the Linksys WRT54G, a low-end consumer router that ended up a worldwide favorite among consumers and enthusiasts. Why? Because its firmware was derived from open-source software, thereby compelling Linksys (by then a division of Cisco) to open the WRT54G up to user customization.

    A 2016 Ars Technica piece revealed the router, at the time, was still making millions of dollars a year for Linksys, which by that time had been sold to Belkin. Despite being nowhere near as powerful as more expensive options, the WRT54GL—yes, specifically the one with Linux—retained an audience well into its second decade because it was perceived as being extremely reliable and easy to use.

    "We'll keep building it because people keep buying it," Linksys Global Product Manager Vince La Duca said at the time, stating that the factor that kept the router on sale was that the parts for it continued to be manufactured.

  • 2020 web game

    2020game.io is a simple side-scrolling platform game, free of charge on the web, that offers a cartoon tour through the horrors of 2020. I'd almost forgotten that Australia burned to a crisp before the Covid pandemic hit!

  • YouTube locks Donald Trump's channel

    Following widespread demands and similar actions by other platforms, YouTube this evening locked down Donald Trump's channel. The suspension prevents new videos being published, but does not remove those already posted, and will last one week.

    Donald J. Trump's YouTube account has 2.77 million subscribers and it typically posts several videos a day from himself and from right-wing media stations. The company has a three-strike rule before becoming permanently banned.

  • Facebook advises employees to not wear Facebook-branded apparel

    Work at Facebook? Best you keep that to yourself. The company is advising staff to avoid wearing things that identify themselves as employees of the hatred-stoking social media company.

    The Facebook management's internal memo to employees about the issue, which was reviewed by The Information, reflects concerns that the company's actions following the deadly rally at the U.S. Capitol last week could put its staff at risk.

  • Florida man sets self on fire while trying to burn down own home

    A man in Tampa Bay, Florida, reportedly suffered burns while trying to set fire to his own home and was arrested at a nearby hospital.

    Scott Anthony Massa, 51, allegedly took a bucket of accelerant and attempted to torch his Tampa Bay home at about 5:40 a.m. Sunday, police told Fox 13. But while trying to toss the bucket through a broken window, Massa caught fire. … It was not clear why the man wanted to set his own house on fire.

  • Chad Wolf, named Homeland Security Secretary by Trump, quits post

    Chad Wolf, named Homeland Security Secretary by President Trump but never confirmed in the role, resigned last night. He cited a court ruling that said his appointment was illegal, but it also allows him to avoid ongoing pressure on Trump's cabinet to remove him from office following last week's violence at the U.S. Capitol. Five died in the chaos, prompted when Trump told his supporters to march on Congress.

  • Washington Monument closed until after Biden inauguration after "credible threats" from Trump supporters

    The National Parks Service announced today that the Washington Monument will be closed to visitors until Jan. 24. The service cites "credible threats to visitors" from the same groups that were "involved in the Jan. 6, 2021 riots at the US Capitol"; its press release is embedded above.

    Groups involved in the January 6, 2021 riots at the US Capitol continue to threaten to disrupt the 59th presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021. This includes the set up and execution of inaugural events, which occur in several park areas. In response, the National Park Service will suspend tours of the Washington Monument beginning January 11, 2021 through January 24, 2021 and may institute temporary closures of public access to roadways, parking areas and restrooms within the National Mall and Memorial Parks if conditions warrant, to protect public safety and park resources. These temporary closures may be extended if the conditions persist. The National Park Service will reopen areas as it determines that the conditions of concern are no longer present.