Online Privacy, Comey’s Apparent Lack Thereof, Sampha’s ‘Process’ Film: Recommended Reading (and Viewing)


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing excellent content, but also keeping an eye on other great writing from around the web. This may be a predominantly arts/culture-centric website, but given the immediate gravity of U.S. politics, we’ve been focusing this outward-looking post on indispensable political writing, as well as the occasional culture piece.

Moze Halperin: Greta Gerwig interviewed playwright Annie Baker (whose latest play in her Signature Theatre residency, The Antipodes, opens in April) for Interview. Baker speaks to one fundamental element of playwriting that she claims stylistically liberated her:

I feel like the reason I ended up becoming a playwright is because I never choose the right word. As a kid, my fantasy profession was to be a novelist. But the thing about writing prose—and maybe great prose writers don’t feel this way—but I always felt it was about choosing words. I was always like, “I have to choose the perfect word.” And then it would kill me, and I would choose the wrong word or I would choose too many perfect words—I wrote really purple prose. I ended up becoming a playwright because you can be grammatically incorrect: people speaking in bad poetry or people attempting to speak well and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. The whole imperfection of it suddenly felt freeing to me.

Tom Hawking: It’s hard to know what’s simultaneously scarier and more hilarious: that FBI head James Comey apparently maintained “secret” Twitter and Instagram accounts, or that Gawker Gizmodo’s Ashley Feinberg managed to find what appears to be both of them in a matter of hours. It turns out that the people running the FBI are more Austin Powers than they are James Bond; I mean, really, why the fuck is a man stupid enough to allegedly both maintain private social media accounts, and brag about them in public, in charge of the goddamn FBI?

Digital security and its discontents—from Hillary Clinton’s emails to ransomware to Tor hacks—is in many ways one of the chief concerns of the contemporary FBI. So it makes sense that the bureau’s director, James Comey, would dip his toe into the digital torrent with a Twitter account. It also makes sense, given Comey’s high profile, that he would want that Twitter account to be a secret from the world, lest his follows and favs be scrubbed for clues about what the feds are up to. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that it only took me about four hours of sleuthing to find Comey’s account, which is not protected.


MH: Science/environmental politics New Republic writer Emily Atkin discusses the humanitarian crisis inherent in the environmental crisis, and critiques how environmental activism often neglects to mention the groups made most vulnerable by the threats climate change poses. She writes:

Largely missing from [attacks of Donald Trump’s executive order reversing Obama-era climate policies last week] were fears about how Trump’s executive order could disproportionately hurt people living in low-income, minority, and indigenous communities. Environmental justice advocates say they’re used to this issue being overlooked … Trump intends to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era policy that requires coal plants to reduce carbon emissions. This, in turn, reduces more directly harmful emissions like benzene and particulate matter, because those co-pollutants are also released when carbon emissions pour out of power plants. Relatedly, non-white children face the biggest health risks from pollution, for reasons that are not totally understood. According to the EPA, the asthma rate among black children is nearly double that of white children. Black children are also twice as likely as white children to be hospitalized from asthma, and four times as likely to die from it.

MH: And ever since another bit of legislation was voted on (this time not by Trump, but by our good GOP buds in the House of Representatives), people have been scrambling to find the best ways to secure their information from…their very own Internet Service Providers, who now have the right to sell your browsing data! Wired takes a look at the website Internet Noise, which “acts like a browser extension but is really just a website that auto-opens tabs based on random Google searches.” They spoke to the site’s creator, programmer Dan Shultz, who coded it immediately after the unsettling decision was made in the House:

Schultz wants to make it impossible for ISPs or anyone they’ve sold your data to accurately profile you. The vote yesterday implicitly legalized such tracking by explicitly rescinding rules against it. By muddying your online identity, advertisers can’t accurately target you, and authorities can’t accurately surveil you. To create noise that blocks your signal, Schultz googled “Top 4,000 nouns” and folded the list into his code. When you hit the “Make some noise” button on his site, it harnesses Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button to search those phrases, then opens five tabs based on the results. Every ten seconds it does another search and opens up five more. Within minutes, my entire browser history was a jumble.

Given that this thing is so nascent, it has limitations, and potentially even some risks — particularly if instead of advertisers, the concern is spies, and the site randomly opens tabs that might in some way lead to suspicion.

And speaking of all this, the Verge has made a handy list of all of the Representatives who voted in favor of impinging on your (already very tenuous) privacy, and the amount of donations they recently got from telecom companies. Take note the next time you vote.

TH: Semi-related: there’s been a lot of talk this week — and rightfully so — about the decision Moze talks about above. Understandably, people are worried about how to protect their privacy in such an environment, and there were lots of articles flying around about how to set up VPNs, whether VPNs were actually any use, etc etc. This piece, by Quartz’s Quincy Larson, was the best of them, giving a good overview of what the decision means, the best ways to mitigate its impact, and why it happened in the first place:

You might be wondering: Who benefits from repealing these rules? Other than those four monopoly ISPs that control America’s “last mile” of internet cables and cell towers? No one. No one else benefits in any way. Our privacy (and our nation’s security) have been diminished so a few mega-corporations can make a little extra cash. In other words, these politicians — who have received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the ISPs for decades — have sold us out.

TH: The Verge asks a topical question for the weekend: “Everyone hates April Fools’ Day — so why does it endure?” Why, indeed? The answer, inevitably, is “capitalism”:

Brands started to figure out that a good April Fools’ Day prank guaranteed free publicity — either from a member of the media falling for the hoax, or by an entertained journalist writing about the prank… And so, accordingly, we already know Google will have a “joke” product to announce; reporters are bracing themselves against press releases that originate somewhere other than the actual company they pertain to; and of course some sites are plotting their own April Fools’ hoaxes, though, of course, the specter of fake news really ought to put a damper on that. That’s how we wound up here, with adults essentially racking their brains over a holiday for children.

This next item is recommended viewing/listening rather than reading, but words shmurds, as all respectable writers say. Sampha — whose stunningly vital debut album about both loss and familial indelibility, Process, came out last month — has now released a 36-minute film (by Khalil Joseph, one of the Lemonade directors) of the same name. Watch it on Apple Music.

One last thing: our friends at the Quietus are putting out a call for donations; in an era when advertising revenues are declining and readers are as reluctant to pay for content as ever, it’s getting harder and harder to maintain a site that’s both a viable business and a source of quality criticism of reporting. (Believe us, we know!) If you enjoy the excellent music journalism that the Quietus provides, why not send some cash their way, and buy a couple less Friday night drinks?