Five Things: May 23, 2024

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A GOP Texas school board member campaigned against schools indoctrinating kids. Then she read the curriculum. | Jeremy Schwartz

The former teacher and mother of four was influenced by such politics when she decided to run for office. She was motivated to seek a school board seat after a steady stream of reports from the right-wing media she consumed and her social media feeds pointed to what she saw as inappropriate teachings in public schools. She, too, had been outraged by school mask mandates and vaccine requirements during the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Gore said she feels that she was unwittingly part of a statewide effort to weaken local support of public schools and lay the groundwork for a voucher system.

It’s an open secret that the wave of book banning attempts over the past few years are a political tactic to create another front in the so-called “culture wars,” which is partly rooted in long-standing efforts to undermine public services, particularly public education. That’s why it’s not just a “red state issue,” and you’ll occasionally find otherwise seemingly reasonable people caught up in it, mostly via misinformation being spread on social media and lazy “both sides” reporting from “credible” news outlets.

It’s rare that you see someone publicly change their mind on a controversial issue like this, and while it’s easy to dismiss a single local school board member as a minor outlier, that’s the wrong instinct. These hyper-local roles are purposefully being targeted for the powerful influence they wield, and because their elections typically fly under the radar. Just like librarians across the country are being smeared as “groomers” or worse for simply doing their jobs, Gore took a huge risk in speaking out because, as she put it, “I feel like if I don’t speak out, then I’m complicit. I refuse to be complicit in something that’s going to hurt children.”

We’re on the verge of yet another fraught national election where the “lesser of two evils” and “let it burn” narratives are once again taking hold, and it’s highly possible that a twice-impeached, insurrectionist sex criminal could be re-elected, so local stories like this one that connect so many dots are important for context. I fear it may be too little, too late, though.


Every person their book | Jessamyn West

Reading can be for relaxing and escapism just as it can be for getting informed and staying on top of issues. And yet, as the stories people have told on the mailing list, a lot of times you get more of the serious-type books, the ones with a message or a statement, as required reading in schools.

The past four years at the day job have been fascinating as I’ve seen the subtle differences between public and school librarians play out, and how increasingly relevant my favorite Ta-Nehisi Coates quote has become: “I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.” I have the first sentence tattooed on my right forearm and sometimes people mistake it for a simple declaration of my love for libraries, but the full quote is really about the “idea” of libraries to me — one that’s much closer to public libraries than those found in schools, and one that probably wouldn’t gain any traction today if public libraries didn’t already exist.

In 2024, there are still people (including some librarians) who believe comics aren’t real reading, or reading that isn’t tied to a specific educational outcome (usually via a standardized test or VC-funded data grab) is less important than reading for fun, which leads to incredulous handwringing about the “decline by nine” and complaints that kids don’t read the books you think they should be reading.

Fortunately, most librarians, including those in schools, support the idea of connecting readers to the books they might find interesting, even if those books are comics or manga, or not technically books at all (yet), like webtoons. “Books are for use. Every person their book. Every book its reader.” Amen!


Comics Journalism Is Social Media | Sean Kleefeld

The same holds true for my daily blogging today. Part of it is an exercise in writing regularly as a form of practice, but part of it is to keep my name out there. I make a point of trying to write posts in advance of every day that I know I won’t be at a computer and able to blog, precisely so that the stream of information coming from this location is continual. (I’m not always successful, admittedly, but I do try.) I’m deliberately trying to build cultural capital within the comics community by standing up every day to say, “Here I am.”

This is a really thoughtful read from Kleefeld, most of which I agree with, but something about his conclusion — “Comics journalism isn’t just a handful of websites; it’s everywhere.” — has rubbed me wrong since I first read it, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. It’s primarily about how one defines journalism, and how that definition has evolved over the past 20+ years, mainly thanks to digital advertising.

I’ve written about my issues with comics journalism many times, but I don’t think much has changed since I wrote this back in 2005: “a) I don’t think there’s a significant audience for it, and b) I don’t think the industry has the kind of depth necessary to justify such coverage on a regular basis.”

For me, journalism is, first and foremost, researching and reporting the facts about a thing. It’s not opinion; it’s as objective as possible, with any subjectivity clearly noted; and it’s neither “fair” nor “balanced” if that means giving equal weight to facts and opinions. I’m personally a fan of Service Journalism above all forms, especially in trade media: reporting the facts with context and clear takeaways to do something with that information. Unfortunately, the shift to search and social optimization, and the rise of intermediaries stripping all context from online content in the service of delivering maximum ad impressions at the lowest cost meant good journalism became less valuable, especially in industries like comics where fans are the primary audience and access keeps the lights on.

Kleefeld’s underlying premise is 100% Cluetrain, though, and that’s what I really connected with. I occasionally miss the old comics blogiverse and the dedicated sites and forums (RIP PCS), where you could find distinct voices you vibed with; share recommendations, have real conversations in the comments sections, or write full blog posts linking back and forth. That’s arguably evolved to social networks (most of which are just micro-blogs that actively discourage external links) and still exists in the hashtags and subreddits of various walled gardens, but it seems much harder to find individual voices who control their own spaces these days.

Much like it knee-capped good journalism, search and social optimization also changed Cluetrain‘s “powerful global conversation” into the obligatory, “Here I am.” There are still some distinct voices and a few good websites doing their best to engage in conversations and represent comics, but actual journalism is a rarity.


On self-driving, Waymo is playing chess while Tesla plays checkers | Timothy B. Lee

So Tesla hasn’t found a different, better way to bring driverless technology to market. Waymo is just so far ahead that it’s dealing with challenges Tesla hasn’t even started thinking about. Waymo is playing chess while Tesla is still playing checkers.

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for Elon Musk and the lack of credulous media coverage of his shenanigans at Tesla, in particular, so this was an enlightening read about one of its biggest smoke and mirrors claims: Full Self Driving and their plan for driverless taxis. I frequently forget Waymo exists because, unlike Tesla, they are apparently prioritizing safe testing and slow iteration rather than PR hype and stock manipulation. (I also frequently forget they’re owned by Alphabet/Google; the “lesser of two evils” isn’t just a political issue.)

I try to avoid wishing for the outright death of any company because, in most cases, the majority of people who’d be harmed by it aren’t doing anything wrong, but Tesla comes pretty close. We’ve already seen that US automakers are “too big to fail,” though, and none are built on a bigger foundation of subsidized sand than Tesla, so the most likely scenario is the company eventually gets bailed out of the hole Musk has dug them into, a lot of good people lose their jobs, and he gets to stay in charge, declaring himself as its savior.


The problem with your sneakers? They’re built to last too long. | Daliah Singer

Nearly 24 billion pairs of shoes were produced in 2022. Each contains myriad plastics and synthetic, petroleum-based rubber. Of the 500,000 tons of microplastics that seep into the world’s oceans each year, up to 35 percent come from synthetic textiles, including footwear, according to one estimate, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Footwear alone accounts for 1.4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, not that far below the airline industry, which is responsible for around 2 percent.

I’m skeptical about most “individual impact” scenarios related to climate change, so the idea that an activity as popular and healthy as running might be as bad the entire airline industry blows my mind. It also seems counter-intuitive that quality running shoes that last could be a bad thing in light of all the negatives associated with fast fashion. We really can’t have nice things?!?!

That said, the idea behind Solum — whose soles deposit biologically derived nutrients back into the soil as they naturally wear down over time — is absolutely fascinating and I’m going to keep an eye on them.

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3 thoughts on “Five Things: May 23, 2024

  1. Thank you for these five things.

    (I wish I could like your blogposts/newsletter but for some reason chrome won’t show me the button for it, so in lieu: ::like:: )

    1. Yeah, I think it’s a Jetpack conflict with my theme because it doesn’t work in Edge, either. It’s on my to-do list as it’s been a few years since I updated my theme, might be a summer project. Have to decide if I’m sticking with Jetpack first. (Liking works in the Jetpack app, but it’s not a great app.)

    2. Jetpack really isn’t great (of course, mine comes with the ‘free’ wordpress blog, so it’s particularly not great)

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