Dispatches from the Empire


The Transqueers Take the Mask Off

In the postmodern world where we invent reality hour by hour, depending on how we feel, being gay now includes heterosexual sex — and by far the biggest group in the “LGBTQIA+” umbrella are bisexual women in relationships with straight men. At some point, gay men will wake up and realize that they have abolished their own identity — indeed merged it into its opposite. But they have another tea dance to get to and another Instagram vacation pic to post. Most are pathetically uninformed, or programmed by tribal insecurity to follow the queering herd.

Andrew Sullivan, yet again.

The madness of being called “LGBTQ” still makes my head spin (how can I be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender?), but stranger still is how prevalent it is among fellow gay men. Many seem to have internalized this language — this ideology — part and parcel.

And good luck saying as much out loud. I’ve been chastised, yelled at, lectured, ignored. The groupthink on this runs deep.

‘Very few have balls’: How American news lost its nerve

This is so goddamn true.

I myself am afraid to pursue my dream career — independent freelance journalist — for fear of libel lawsuits. A mere threat of a lawsuit can bankrupt a small news venture, let alone a single journalist.

How can you speak truth to power if you fear losing everything?

The Expanding Dark Forest and Generative AI

How Evangelicals Use Digital Surveillance to Target the Unconverted

The Mapping Center for Evangelism and Church Growth’s founder and president Chris Cooper suggests using the app to conduct neighborly activities such as putting on a barbecue for potential converts, but scattered throughout the app’s training and promotional videos are suggestions to undertake the controversial practice of “prayerwalking.” An idea becoming increasingly popular among Christian supremacist groups, prayerwalking involves believers flooding so-called “un-Christian” territories in order to combat “demonic strongholds.” In practice, it varies from blessing new neighbors to gathering groups to pray in front of everything from mosques to drag bars in service of “spiritual warfare.”

I don’t want to think less of these people, but they don’t make it easy.

Vision Pro is an over-engineered “devkit” // Hardware bleeds genius & audacity but software story is disheartening // What we got wrong at Oculus that Apple got right // Why Meta could finally have its Android moment

The Vision Pro launch has more or less done exactly what I had always hoped for, which is to build a huge wave of awareness and curiosity that elevates the spatial computing ecosystem and could ultimately lead to mass-market consumer demand and a lot more developer interest that VR has ever had. Now it’s up to the industry to create enough user value and demonstrate whether this is in fact the future of computing.

Apple’s relentless and uncompromising hardware insanity is largely what made it possible for such a high-res display to exist in a VR headset, and it’s clear that this product couldn’t possibly have launched much sooner than 2024 for one simple limiting factor — the maturity of micro-OLED displays plus the existence of power-efficient chipsets that can deliver the heavy compute required to drive this kind of display (i.e. the M2).

Micro-OLED displays differ from any other previous consumer display technology because they are manufactured on top of a silicon substrate (similar to how semiconductor chips are made). To put the insanity of micro-OLED displays in perspective, the Vision Pro panel has a 7.4x higher pixel density than the latest iPhone and nearly 3x the Quest 3.

The bottom line for me is that we can see a relatively near future where carrying a MacBook Air and a Vision Pro in your backpack could give you a reasonably good workstation, one that delivers enough benefits in the form of productivity gains that you might be willing to wear a headset for a few hours in a café, on an airplane, or even on your couch at home. (This perspective is of course made in complete absence of value-for-money considerations).

Family Dollar to close almost 1,000 stores

The parent company of Family Dollar said it would close approximately 1,000 stores, citing market conditions, store performance and other factors.

Dollar Tree, which has owned Family Dollar since 2015, said Wednesday that 600 Family Dollar stores would close in the first half of 2024, with another 370 locations closing over the next several years.

The husks of these stores will become a new hallmark of rural America.

The New Science on What Ultra-Processed Food Does to Your Brain

Scientists were surprised to find that people who had been eating the high-fat, high-sugar snack also had changes in how their brains learned.

While participants were having their brains scanned, the researchers had them do a basic learning task, requiring them to push a button associated with a picture when they heard certain tones. When people who had been eating the high-fat, high-sugar snack didn’t get the picture they expected, their brains showed greater activity in parts involved in evaluating situations. 

This high-sugar, high-fat diet “is changing something really basic about how we learn,” DiFeliceantonio said. 

In a different study, four days of having a breakfast high in saturated fat and added sugar was linked to reductions in performance on some learning and memory tests, according to researchers in Australia. People who had a healthier breakfast didn’t have the performance changes.

Trump Gives CNBC a Rambling Answer on Why He Backtracked on TikTok Ban

“Frankly, there are a lot of people on TikTok that love it,” Mr. Trump said. “There are a lot of young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it.”

“There’s a lot of good and there’s a lot of bad with TikTok,” he added, “but the thing I don’t like is that without TikTok, you can make Facebook bigger, and I consider Facebook to be an enemy of the people, along with a lot of the media.”

Mr. Trump tried to ban TikTok while in office, pushing its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to sell the platform to a new owner or face being blocked from American app stores. A House committee advanced legislation last week that would similarly force TikTok to cut ties with ByteDance.

This says everything you need to know about Trump. He’ll say anything that serves him in the right now. He has no impulse control, he has no ability to think strategically, he has no long-term plan.

Banning TikTok (i.e. forcing ByteDance, a Chinese company, to sell off TikTok) is the right thing to do. It’s a parasite destroying the ability of people to think critically and deeply. It has decimated the attention spans of our young people, who don’t know a world without social media. TikTok is a cancer.

And so is Facebook. Merely forcing the sale of TikTok to an American company won’t fix the problem. Letting our corporations mine the attention of our young people is better than letting China do it, but not by much.

Start treating all social media like what it is: addictive advertising.

How Apple’s Advanced Data Protection Works, and How to Enable It on Your iPhone

Automakers Are Sharing Consumers’ Driving Behavior With Insurance Companies

Modern cars are internet-enabled, allowing access to services like navigation, roadside assistance and car apps that drivers can connect to their vehicles to locate them or unlock them remotely. In recent years, automakers, including G.M., Honda, Kia and Hyundai, have started offering optional features in their connected-car apps that rate people’s driving. Some drivers may not realize that, if they turn on these features, the car companies then give information about how they drive to data brokers like LexisNexis.

Automakers and data brokers that have partnered to collect detailed driving data from millions of Americans say they have drivers’ permission to do so. But the existence of these partnerships is nearly invisible to drivers, whose consent is obtained in fine print and murky privacy policies that few read.

Especially troubling is that some drivers with vehicles made by G.M. say they were tracked even when they did not turn on the feature — called OnStar Smart Driver — and that their insurance rates went up as a result.

The narcissism of wedding photographers

The problem is that photographs don’t just record reality — they change it. Quantum physicists talk of the observer effect: the very act of observing reality causes a disturbance within it, and thus changes it. Something similar is true of wedding photography. We pose for photographs. We behave differently when we are being captured on film. We may feel awkward or self-conscious; we may pout or posture. In extreme cases, reality is bent around the presence of the photographic: lighting is enhanced, people are asked to stand in different places and look in different ways. Reality becomes a stage set.

A guide to train travel in the USA 2024

The internet at its best.

David Foster Wallace interview on German TV

This interview only becomes more prescient.

A model of life…in which I have a right to be entertained all the time seems not to be a promising one.

Chlorpyrifos: pesticide tied to brain damage in children

Population based case-control study found that, “Prenatal or infant exposure to a priori selected pesticides—including glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and permethrin—were associated with increased odds of developing autism spectrum disorder.”

Better Living Through Chemistry™

TikTok is urging users to call Congress about a looming ban

“Meth dealer is urging users to call police about a looming meth ban.”

Stop eating sugar

Listen to what your body says after you eat something. That cheesecake probably feels like a good idea before rather than after eating it. Whereas, a good steak in your stomach (avocado or nuts for vegetarians?) gives you a healthy feeling of satisfaction that lasts.

Nerdy internals of an Apple text editor

There's an incredible amount of design behind all software.

The Prophets | Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan anticipated that the electronic age would be one of constant change, such that nobody could adapt quickly enough. As a result, people would be plunged into nostalgia, and yearn for their old, solid identities.

For Democrats Pining for an Alternative, Biden Team Has a Message: Get Over It

Members of Mr. Biden’s team insist they feel little sense of concern. The president’s closest aides push back in exasperation against those questioning his decision to run again and dismiss polls as meaningless this far before the vote. They argue that doubters constantly underestimate Mr. Biden and that Democrats have won or outperformed expectations in 2018, 2020, 2022, 2023 and even a special House election this year.

Fools.

Arrogant fools.

If we lose our republic, it’s because the Democrats became as power-hungry as the Republicans.

Yasiin Bey on Drake

A Zen Buddhist priest voices the deep matters he usually ponders in silence

What It’s Like to Be a Sociopath

I think my sociopathy is entirely beneficial to me. I see my friends struggling with guilt. On an almost daily basis I think, I’m glad I don’t have that. The psychological characteristics of sociopathy are not inherently bad. Lack of remorse and shame and guilt has been misappropriated to mean this horrible thing, but again, just because I don’t care about you doesn’t mean I want to cause you more pain. I like that I don’t have guilt because I’m making my decisions based on logic, based on truth, as opposed to ought or should. Now, there is a flip side. I don’t have those natural emotional connections to other people, but I’ve never had those. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Just because I love differently doesn’t mean my love doesn’t count.

This, strangely, describes a tension I feel within.

I am at times consumed by guilt and remorse. I am also fiercely logical, and when I let logic guide my decisions, I feel far more at peace, yet far more isolated from others.

Because this is the internet, I feel I have to disclaim: I don’t think I’m a sociopath, nor do I have sociopathic tendencies.

But I know a few people who are, and they are each intelligent, kind, relatable people. There is an ease with which they move about the world that I envy, and often live lives that are far more interesting that most.

What I find as I age is that empathy is exhausting. It has become draining. I have a hunch this has something to do with our culture. Perhaps the Internet has twisted our ability to relate to one another, because there are precious few interactions I have other people that don’t involve projection.

Many of us are desperate to be understood. Myself more than most, and now more than ever as I embrace middle-age as an only child and most of the people I love and relate to have begun the slow process of dying.

This profound-yet-unsated desire to be understood has become fuel for my anxiety, my anger, my disappointment.

A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men

A mother in Alabama said parents couldn’t ignore the reality of this new economy.

“Social media is the way of our future, and I feel like they’ll be behind if they don’t know what’s going on,” the mother said. “You can’t do anything without it now.”

One 12-year-old girl in Maryland, who spoke with The Times alongside her mother, described the thrill of seeing other girls she knows wear a brand she represents in Instagram posts.

“People are actually being influenced by me,” she said.