First installment! A mix of books, articles, and videos on a variety of topics. I’ll aim for posting these on Saturdays or Sundays. Why am I doing this at all? Read this.

Recent Books in Progress

Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher

Just a single chapter in this week so I don’t have much to say. Fisher’s ‘Exiting the Vampire Castle’ crystallized a few things for me, so when I came across a promotion to buy a bunch of books from Zero Books, I dropped this in the cart for a rainy day.

What am I hoping for, though? Maybe some more insight into the core of the conflict between the social justice left and the … materialist? socialist? class? left.

American War by Omar El Akkad

Woof. Set in a late 21st century American South ravaged by civil war over fossil fuels. I read this years ago, but didn’t feel like I gave it the attention I needed, so I started a re-read. Its protagonist is a young girl living through social upheaval, so I’m reminded of Jack Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence, which I loved.

Woke Racism by John McWhorter

This is more of a tract than a book. It took a few hours to get through on a camping weekend.

McWhorter’s take on the social justice left as a middle class black scholar is cranky and resentful. He considers the social justice left condescending, illiberal, and dangerous. His ire toward Robin “White Fragility' DiAngelo and Ibram “How to Be an Antiracist' Kendi is palpable, and I suspect the title itself is a bit of tail-twisting over Kendi’s definition of “racism.”

McWhorter argues that America has formed a new civil religion. Rather than calling it “political correctness” or “wokeism,” he prefers to call it “Electism.” I’m not here to write a review of this book. That’s out of scope for this project.

A few things I’ll call out:

McWhorter believes the concept of structural racism is non-falsifiable (and hence an ideal part of the Elect creed). I don’t find this compelling, but I think it stirs his ire because he believes it is used to patronize black people by making up a force that deprives them of agency.

I’m also not fond of the idea that “Electism” is actually quite racist (which turns up in one of the links below, as well), but I think that’s an abuse of the term “racism,” which is a word that perhaps deserves a timeout while we all figure whether it is personal or not. From McWhorter’s perspective, it’s appropriate because he finds Elect politics to be patronizing and harmful:

“Here is how Elect ideology does not genuinely care about the welfare of black people.
“You are to turn a blind eye to black kids getting jumped by other ones in school.
“You are to turn a blind eye to black undergraduates cast into schools where they are in over their heads, and into law schools incapable of adjusting to their level of preparation in a way that will allow them to pass the bar exam.
“You are to turn a blind eye to the willful dimness of condemning dead people for moral lapses normal in their time, as if the were still alive.
“You are to turn a blind eye to the folly in the idea of black ‘identity’ as all about what whites think rather than about what black people themselves think.
“You are to turn a blind eye to lapses in black intellectuals’ work, because black people lack white privilege.
“You are to turn a blind eye to the fact that social history is complex, and instead pretend that those who tell you that all racial discrepancies are a result of racism are evidencing brilliance.
“You are to turn a blind eye to innocent children taught to think in these ways practically before they can hold a pencil.”

McWhorter finds a lot of social justice texts to be self-contradicting and paradoxical. I agree. And I’m reminded of a conversation I once had about the phrase “servant leadership,” which was very much in vogue among a certain kind of man in tech a few years ago.

The person I was chatting with suggested that using phrases like “servant leadership” and similar, which traffic in part on the frisson of seemingly paradoxical ideas, is a very exclusionary thing to do:

Great for people who are comfortable with the language and feel like they belong in the conversation, confusing and intimidating to people who don’t. So perhaps, ventured my friend, bandying about phrases like “servant leadership” is a way to render yourself inaccessible and incontestable. “Humble” by assuming the role of “servant,” but subtly buttressing and guaranteeing your ongoing leadership.

Similarly, some social justice/antiracist texts pose a set of contradictory ideas that render discernment of right action fraught if not impossible. Indeed, trying to figure out right action is itself posed as “solutionism,” and a sign that you are doing it wrong. You should both do nothing, but also “do the work.” You should sit silently — your belief that you should say something is an example of your privileged presumption — but also be aware that your silence is damning.

That’s a simplistic take. There is nuance and context to consider. It is not a new idea that sometimes it is best to listen instead of speak. I consider it a bedrock value. Similarly, we all know a quiet or angry sulk — emotional withdrawal or disengagement — when we see it. McWhorter and others would like to pose some of these contradictory directives as hopeless paradoxes, and I don’t think it’s quite that severe. But I also think these ideas, like all ideas must eventually, have escaped the context of their source texts, and that there are people who are content to use them as an excuse for violent and abusive language.

When McWhorter talks about this stuff, is he engaging in the Internet-accelerated practice of “nutpicking”? Maybe some? It’s the kind of thing you can see on Twitter, or “Electism”-dominated fora. Metafilter is rife with it, so if you’re inclined to go looking for it, you can find it.

Another area where I share some of McWhorter’s discomfort is simply with the essentialism of what he would call “third-wave antiracism.”

Modern antiracist texts speak about assorted identities in a broad and essentializing way that is pretty much the opposite of the way people of a certain generation were taught.

I think the “I don’t see color” worry over appearing “prejudiced” or “bigoted” was damaging to the way we talk about race in this country. As I mentioned in my kickoff essay, for a period I did a lot of reading about American racist groups. One thing I learned about their rhetoric was that it played very directly with something white Americans were studiously applying themselves to in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which was denying that there were any differences at all between “races.”

Now, look, “race” is a construct, yes. But it is a construct with immense power that people definitely subscribe to even if they aren’t super sophisticated about what “race” is. If you believe that there’s such a thing as “black culture,” you are subscribing to the idea that there is race, and that you can ascribe cultural attributes to it.

I read a book years ago that helped me make a lot of sense of my own journey on race: Black and White: Styles in Conflict. An ethnographic work, a key takeaway of the book is that white people view a lot of black cultural expression as deviant and probably ought to knock it off. White supremacists (of the racialist bent) play in that space all the time, and they’re very good at it: Because much of the ‘70s and ‘80s was spent teaching kids a sort of cultural denialism (out of a very reasonable desire to stamp out prejudice), white supremacists like David Duke were able to claim that non-racialist thinking was a sort of gaslighting. On the one hand, they argued, good white children were being taught “we’re all the same,” but there were these cultural differences anyone could see if they cared to admit it.

Reading about peoples’ descent into racialist ideologies, an early part of their experience involved a sort of “red-pilled” realization that there were very definitely different cultural behaviors. Where the racialist ideologues led them astray was in conflating “race” and “culture,” leading them to generalize from observed cultural differences that there must be profound “racial” differences.

Conversely, some of the healthiest “race” experiences I had were in, of all places, the Army. Black and white soldiers were a lot more raw and real with each other about their cultural differences, spoke about them much more frankly, and admitted much more readily when they found certain behaviors irritating. There was less cognitive dissonance.

So “colorblind” teaching and behavior, from my perspective and experience, helps make Nazis. It can generate a kind of cognitive dissonance that makes people susceptible to radical upendings of their world view.

So … if I’m all about more frank language around cultural differences, what’s my problem with essentializing language in third-wave antiracism?

Maybe it’s as simple as seeing a lot of daylight between “race” and “culture,” and thinking some antiracist texts don’t make that distinction, and so buttonhole us into a less useful way of thinking about how to interact with people.

I’m looking at the word count for this entry and realizing I am closing in on 6,000 words. I am also realizing I got far afield. I want to stick a pin in this topic, so please don’t consider my thoughts fully formed.

Finally, I suppose I should point out that McWhorter also has an interesting set of things he thinks we should be doing to address anti-black patterns in society:

The first is to end the war on drugs:

“Its eclipse would create a black American community in which even men dealt a bad hand would likely work legally, spells in prison would be rare, and thus growing up fatherless would be occasional rather than the norm. Antiracism should focus strongly on ending the war on drugs, and there is no need for legions of whites to be instructed in how privileged they are for this to happen.”

I don’t take any issue with this on its face. I know some people will bristle at the bit about “growing up fatherless.”

The second is to “teach reading properly” (i.e. use phonics):

“Since the 1960s, phonics has been unanimously demonstrated to be more effective at teaching poor kids to read. Middle-class kids from book-lined homes often manage to guess their way into learning how to read via something like the whole word method. A ‘light just goes on,’ as parents of such kids describe it. However, that light does not often turn on for kids from homes without many books, where language is mostly oral. Kids like this need to be, well, taught to read.”

And finally, he says, “get past the idea that everybody must go to college”:

We must revise the notion that attending a four-year college is the mark of being a legitimate American, and return to truly valuing working-class jobs. Attending four years of college is a tough, expensive, and even unappealing proposition for many poor people (as well as middle-class and rich ones). Yet the left endlessly baits applause with calls for college to be made more widely available and less expensive, with the idea that anyone who does not get a four-year college degree has been mired without ‘opportunity.’

“Yet people can, with up to two years’ training at a vocational institution, make a solid living as electricians, plumbers, hospital technicians, cable television installers, body shop mechanics, and many other jobs. Across America, we must instill a sense that vocational school—not ‘college’ in the traditional sense—is a valued option for people who want to get beyond what they grew up in.”

Whew. I bristle a little when I read a middle class person downplaying the value of a four-year degree. It reads a little like the ladder being pulled up into the treehouse.

I wasn’t interested in college in high school. I had an IQ of 150, read at a college junior level in sixth grade, and my vocabulary was consistently tested at the 99th percentile. But I had no interest in college. I was your basic small-town autodidact: If an idea came across my line of sight, I read about it voraciously. I couldn’t imagine needing more than my own brain and a library card.

I feel fortunate that my dad took it upon himself to fill out applications and student aid forms, and cosign my student loans. He informed me that he was going to be driving me to college, and did so. My first semester was mediocre and my second semester was a disaster. But something sparked. I realized college was putting things in front of me I wouldn’t have found on my own working in an RV factory in Goshen, Indiana.

Everything I have and am today is a result of that four years. Without saying anything bad at all about people who would’ve just taken the factory job, I am glad I didn’t.

But I can also appreciate that college can entail debt, and can represent a misdirection of resources and time. I’m sympathetic to the idea that you should be able to live a comfortable, materially secure life without a four-year degree.

Of the three planks in his platform, provoking a societal reappraisal of the value and meaning of four-year degrees just feels the least likely — this is a country run by its professional managerial class, which worships credentials — and the most personally worrisome. A liberal arts education provides an opportunity beyond job certification. I think a greased-chute, two-year intensive certification program represents a lost opportunity.

So, given the format of this project and given the feeling I have that there’s a certain tightrope precarity to being a wide reader, I ought to offer some summarizing word on the book — whether it was “good” or “right” or whatever. Did I like it and why.

Yes, I liked it. It’s angry throughout, and melodramatic in places (he literally says the Elect “are coming for your kids.”) But it’s also an articulation of (small-l) liberal politics at odds with the social justice left. McWhorter might be a good neoliberal, but he’s not a “conservative” or “right-winger,” and I think a lot of people on the social justice left forget that there are other kinds of “left” thought with different priorities and different perspectives.

Do I agree with McWhorter? On some points, sure. Politically, overall? No … I’m way to his left, and I tend to find the worst excesses of the social justice left to be coming from a place of good intentions but impoverished analysis. Down further in this post I link to an essay from Freddie de Boer that asks “what parts of this political school are worth saving, and what it’s time to leave behind." It sums up my reservations, and they are less adversarial than McWhorter’s.

The book, by the way, was the subject of a thin, disappointing NPR interview with McWhorter. I don’t think Steve Inskeep knew exactly what to do with him, but the idea that there might be an anti-anti-racist black scholar was plainly catnip to NPR’s bookers, so we got five minutes of Inskeep gumming the material.

I guess that leads us to the links for the week, where “wokeness” figures prominently:

Articles, Posts, etc.

“Wokeness” and “Critical Race Theory”

So, there were some elections last week, and a Republican won the governorship in Virginia after campaigning on the idea that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is being taught in schools. The literal truth is that it is not, but … I’ll just let the links handle it (and slide in some commentary of my own as I go:

Democrats can win the debate over critical race theory. Here’s how. (Washington Post)

I don’t know if Democrats generally will want to take advice from Max Boot, but I’m tossing this in because it’s the first thing I remembered to bookmark this week that pointed out what we should probably learn to live with, which is that “CRT' is the new “political correctness:'

“CRT might have started off as an esoteric academic theory about structural racism. But it has now become a generic term for widely publicized excesses in diversity education, such as disparaging ‘individualism’ and ‘objectivity’ as examples of ‘white supremacy culture’ or teaching first-graders about microaggressions and structural racism.'

It’s a grab-bag term that will mutate to suit whatever triggers a collection of audiences.

To the extent I can imagine having to have a conversation with someone worked up about “CRT,' I think the most productive thing I could lead with would probably be “what, exactly, do you think CRT even is?' The answer you get will probably help dial in how much hope you have of getting anywhere productive:

If they think “CRT' is stuff like “acknowledging that slavery happened and that there is a lot of racism in America’s past,' and they’re bothered by the thought of teaching that, well, good luck having a useful conversation.

If they’re fine with teaching about racism in America, but more bothered by what Boot calls “excesses' — and Boot is pretty much listing stuff from Tema Okun’s White Supremacy Culture when he lists “excesses' — then there’s probably room to work.

The Intelligencer picks up that point, and then names Okun to provide an example of “the most dogmatic strands of anti-racist pedagogy”:

When Keeping It ‘Woke’ Gets Racist, Liberals Should Say So (Intelligencer/New York Magazine)

“If this multiplicity of meanings renders ‘CRT’ unintelligible as a concept, such ambiguity serves it well as a campaign prop. Reactionary Virginians could interpret Youngkin’s proposed CRT ban as a reassertion of white cultural dominance (and/or, a crusade against a totalitarian plot to indoctrinate their children), even as respectable centrists could interpret it as a mere prohibition on the most dogmatic strands of anti-racist pedagogy. Indeed, the GOP candidate encouraged this interpretation. On the stump, Youngkin affirmed that American history has ‘dark and abhorrent chapters,’ and that ‘we must teach them,’ while insisting that Virginia nonetheless cannot ‘teach our children to view everything through a lens of race.'”


“The Smithsonian’s graphic took inspiration from the work of Tema Okun, a co-leader of the Teaching for Equity Fellows Program at Duke University, and a popular consultant in progressive circles. In Okun’s account, ‘objectivity,’ ‘a sense of urgency,’ and thinking in binaries like ‘good or bad’ and ‘right or wrong’ are defining characteristics of ‘white supremacy culture.’ She therefore advises progressive organizations to rid themselves of those ‘damaging’ tendencies.

“The notion that there is something inherently white supremacist about believing in a binary between ‘right and wrong’ reads like a parody of progressive doctrine. And encouraging left-wing organizations to foster internal cultures that stigmatize a ‘sense of urgency’ or ‘objectivity’ sounds like a job for the CIA. Indeed, Okun herself acknowledges that her pamphlet on ‘The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture’ has routinely sown dysfunction within progressive groups by inviting their members to see any assertion of objective fact, authority, or deadlines as a manifestation of racism. As one ‘skilled facilitator’ told Okun, ‘I could not possibly tally the number of hours I have spent over the last three years dislodging people from the reductive stance they construct based on the tool … I worked in one situation where the communications function had come to a grinding halt because a segment of the staff had decided that editing was white supremacist.”

Okun’s work shows up in virtually every enumeration of what people find irritating about “CRT,” but almost never in its source form or home context (go read her site if you want that). It always turns up in its reductionist PowerPoint form, or in its misapplication from well intentioned people who saw it excerpted in a DEI training. In its PowerPoint form, or its poorly trained form, “White Supremacy Culture" can be pretty alienating, even to devoted antiracists.

I have been involved in conversations where Okun’s work has been misapplied by well-meaning people, drifting from “we should be careful because here are some behaviors that marginalize people or make for a less inclusive environment” to “I went to a training where they said it’s racist to take notes in a meeting, so we should consider just recording.”

Having a reductionist reading of Okun is not, to my mind, “accidental racism,” and I don’t think Okun herself is racist (accidentally or otherwise). We should just be able to disagree with her ideas, or people who misapply them, without having to resort to such a charged word.

I suppose this is also a good example of the unsettledness of the word “racism” at all. Antiracist folks use it in a very institutional sense, others stick to its older meaning, with stronger connotations of personal bigotry or bias.

Personally, I was pretty on board with the shift to a meaning with more connotations of institutional power but I use it advisedly: That usage isn’t a settled matter with a lot of people who read it as a personal insult instead of an academic observation. I wish more people were mindful of that.

Further, on “woke” and its uses/abuses:

**The War on Wokeness ** (Charles Blow, New York Times)

“‘Woke’ is now almost exclusively used by those who seek to deride it, those who chafe at the activism from which it sprang. No wonder young people are abandoning the word. Opponents to the idea are seeking to render it toxic. They use it to stand in for change itself, for evolution, for an accurate assessment of history and society that makes them uncomfortable and deflates their hagiographic view of American history. The opponents of wokeness are fighting over an abandoned word, like an army bombarding a fort that has been vacated: They don’t appear fierce, but foolish.”

“Woke” is in use in its negative sense in a few kinds of left circles that are not social justice left circles, but I agree that abandoning it is probably a good idea: I certainly don’t use it in polite company. At this point it isn’t going to help me be better understood by anyone I’d use it with, and it’s not my word to reclaim.

Speaking of left circles, I’ve read and re-read this one a few times:

Some Principles & Observations About Social Justice Politics (Freddie de Boer)

“The social justice world is seemingly incapable of making intelligent and strategic decisions about where and how and why to politicize any given issue. The discursive and social practices of that world seem almost designed to make those politics strange and alienating to most people, of any gender or race. It operates as though the world has an infinite supply of outrage and that regular people will respond the right way, when you ring the bell, again and again. And its myopic emphasis on the gender semiotics of Dr. Who, or whatever the fuck, over the day-to-day realities of actual human inequality robs it of both moral clarity and the ability to focus on what actually matters. The problems with this school of politics are abundant, overflowing, and many people who espouse them every day do so purely out of fear of social censure. They can do great damage. But they cannot win.

“Perhaps the time has come for people to be brave enough to define what parts of this political school are worth saving, and what it’s time to leave behind.”

And speaking of CRT:

Capitol riot suspects say they’re ‘force fed critical race theory’ and ‘anti-white messaging’ in jail (NBC News)

“According to the motion, ‘the jail also prevents him from having reasonable access to reading materials while simultaneously streaming anti-white messages and critical race theory propaganda across his tablet. This is psychologically damaging.'”

Modern Solzhenitsyns, all.

Portland’s Crime Rate Isn’t Impacted By Size of Police Force, Data Finds (Portland Mercury)

“… the belief that crime decreases when a city has more officers isn’t supported by PPB’s own numbers. According to data collected and crunched by a Portland group of independent researchers, there is no recent correlation between the city’s crime rate and the number of police officers employed by PPB.

“Using data acquired through public records requests to PPB and PPB online data dashboard, the researchers found that ‘additional officers do not correlate with a decrease in crimes.’

“Instead, as their graphed data illustrates below, the monthly number of officers employed by PPB over the past five years has had an insignificant impact on the city’s monthly crime rate. The graph shows that, at times, Portland’s crime rate has both skyrocketed and plummeted regardless of the size of its police force. In all, the data shows that, as the police force grows, crime appears to slightly drop at a near-immeasurable rate.’

Also on crime:

The truth about shoplifting in San Francisco  (Popular Information)

Is there an epidemic of shoplifting by ‘organized gangs’ in San Francisco? And does it prove that the state’s efforts at criminal justice reform have failed?

Walgreens, one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, claims that retail theft in the city is proliferating. ‘Organized retail crime continues to be a challenge facing retailers across San Francisco, and we are not immune to that,’ Walgreens said in October, announcing the closure of five stores in the city. The company told the New York Times in May that ‘thefts at its stores in San Francisco were four times the chain’s national average, and… the scale of thefts had made business untenable.’

" These claims, however, are not reflected in the citywide crime data. In 2020, shoplifting in San Francisco reached its lowest level since statistics began being collected 45 years ago.”

Well, well, well:

The false narrative of out-of-control crime in San Francisco, and California as a whole, is being pushed relentlessly by a far-right website run by a former Republican consultant who received a pardon from Trump.

I think some of its staff writers may hang out on /r/portland, where you could be excused for believing we’re at some point on the Mad Max timeline just after the original movie and a few years before The Road Warrior.

Joe Rogan, Parody of the Open Mind

I have a level of affection for Joe Rogan as a color commentator for the UFC. I’ve learned a lot about MMA from him over the years, appreciate his affection for the sport, and think he’s pretty good at that particular job. I think I can sign this, though:

“When I think of Joe Rogan and his podcast I think of a reasonably entertaining interviewer who asks some incisive questions, has some dopey opinions, and is really remarkable only in his huge audience and cultural impact. But of course our media hates him, passionately and performatively, which speaks to just how singular and important he’s become despite his fundamental ordinary-guy nature; his chronic unfussiness has led to a permanent state of fuss. And that’s what I also think about, when I think of Joe Rogan: as culture war’s greatest beneficiary, one of cancel culture’s biggest winners and the unintended but utterly predictable consequence of the absurd mores of contemporary liberals. Ridicule broad swaths of diverse people under a political pretext and they will rally to that which you ridicule, and then they will elect champions to represent them. In standing up for the unpretentious and frequently-thoughtless mainstream Rogan has become the antithesis of media liberals, their negation, and they are thus the source of his considerable fortune. They can also be blamed for giving him a reputation he doesn’t quite deserve.’

I listen to Rogan’s podcast when he interviews people who interest me, and until whatever he is drinking or smoking has kicked in and he begins to stumble around. His interviews with martial artists, other comedians, and some kinds of contrarians are pretty good for a few minutes, at least. His interview with Jonathan Haidt was pretty absorbing, thanks to Haidt’s patience with him. Rogan wanted PC thought police horror stories and confused a metaphor involving peanut allergies as an invitation to indulge his sweet tooth for health contrarianism, so he eventually got bored.

The “Joe and Ivermectin” thing:

“Take the fiasco related to Rogan’s use of Ivermectin. The entire news media linking arms to mock as ‘horse dewormer’ a drug that absolutely should not be taken to treat Covid-19 but which absolutely is not accurately referred to as ‘horse dewormer’ is a perfect illustration of the mutually-parasitic equilibrium between the liberal media and its antagonists. The term became a clever meme for three days for the former and permanent proof of the the media’s duplicity for the latter. Progressives won the Twitter trending topics sidebar, while their critics won the ability to reference one of the most embarrassing displays in media conformity and thoughtlessness I can imagine.”

I posted a horse dewormer meme on Facebook, collected some yuks, and considered my work done. Then I started noticing actual journalists referring to Ivermectin solely as a horse dewormer (including in reporting around Rogan getting Covid and then saying he used Ivermectin to treat it). It was sobering to see journalists biasing in favor of the lulz, too. I’m not okay with it.

What Happened to Matt Taibbi? (Intelligencer)

Speaking of people who have fallen out of favor with the liberal media:

One lament, though, among those who believe Taibbi has lost his way, is that the game he chases today might not be worth it. Instead of throwing hedge-funders up against a wall, Taibbi is excoriating the media for failing to report on the fact that, despite the FDA and NIH advising against treating COVID patients with Ivermectin, some doctors are prescribing the drug off-label. Taibbi’s argument — that the news media can report health-care authorities are warning against Ivermectin as a treatment while acknowledging the drug is out there and being distributed — isn’t wrong. It’s more a matter of how one of the most talented reporters of his generation should wield his formidable powers in this uncertain age.

Taibbi believes the American media needs another Mencken, but there are enough heterodox thinkers that operate, in the realm of Substack at least, to flay whatever the predominant and misguided groupthink might be. Takedowns of NPR and the Democratic Party are not especially scarce. What is far more of an endangered species is the bold investigative reporter with enough time and money to produce the kinds of stories that terrify politicians and shift the Zeitgeist — the reporter that Taibbi used to be.

I listen to and read a few people who are drifting into what I hear referred to as “the heterodox left” and the thing that bugs me most is usually not their politics, exactly, but their growing reactivity. When I think about Matt Taibbi, I think about Christopher Hitchens. I didn’t ever read Hitchens when he was more reliably left: I started noticing him after 9/11.

I do remember Taibbi from his earlier reporting, so I feel a little more sensitive to where he’s going now. Useful Idiots is still a semi-regular listen when the topics are interesting.

How to Save as PDF from iPhone or iPad with a Gesture (OS X Daily)

Seems like a small thing, but it saved me buying an app. I wish iOS would just let you print to PDF, same as MacOS, though.

Research: Cameras On or Off? (HBR)

“Our results — recently published in Journal of Applied Psychology — were quite clear: Using the camera was positively correlated to daily feelings of fatigue; the number of hours that employees spent in virtual meetings were not. This indicates that keeping the camera consistently on during meetings is at the heart of the fatigue problem.

“Even more interesting to us was our finding that fatigue reduced how engaged employees felt, as well as reducing their voice in meetings. Turning cameras on is often encouraged because it is popularly seen to help with both of these challenges—engagement and having everyone be heard — so it was notable that our findings indicated that feeling fatigued due to camera use may be actually undermining these goals in some situations.

“To further complicate matters, when we examined our results along with the demographics of the employees, it also turned out that being on camera was more fatiguing for certain groups — specifically, women and employees newer to the organization.”

I do find meetings where someone is keeping their camera off a little jarring because a de facto “cameras on” culture exists at work (even if we tell people they can choose otherwise, which is the right thing to do).

I think it’s jarring because it thwarts my instinct to read the expressions of the speaker. But I also remember voice-only conference calls from long ago with some fondness: It was easier to stand up and walk around, give the phone the finger when vexed, and otherwise do something besides sit smiling and nodding unctuously or frowning judiciously. So if everyone were cameras off, I think I’d prefer it over mixed.

Prescribed burns are key to reducing wildfire risk, but federal agencies are lagging (LA Times)

The idea of prescribed burns got a lot of play this season. It’s great that people are coming around. It’s terrible that acceptance of the idea/practice has to wind its way through so many agencies and obstacles, and it’s sobering to read that the context is increasingly grim:

“And even if federal authorities were able to perform these treatments on the scale that is needed, the increasingly extreme conditions under which fires are burning still means they wouldn’t always be sufficient to protect forests and communities from damage. In a development that surprised researchers on the Goosenest study, one of the units treated by thinning and prescribed fire that burned during a four-hour high wind event appears to have been fairly heavily damaged despite the low surface and crown fuel loads, Knapp said. ‘To me, this illustrates there may be some limits to what treatments can do under severe fire conditions,’ he said. ‘Maybe when we’re up against the worst conditions, you just can’t really do much to prevent that.'”