Things are very dire. The world is aflame. Our political will is in tatters. But despite all this, there are leverage points, where a small intervention can have gigantic consequences.

One of these is an obscure political race in Texas.

1/
It's been 26 years since a Democrat was elected to the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state oil and gas industry, whose practices are lethally dirty, even by the industry's own homicidal standards.

capitalandmain.com/race-obscure-t…

2/
Particularly egregious is Texas's world-killing flaring process - burning off usable gas and creating massive amounts of CO2 for no useful purpose, merely because it is inconvenient to capture it - in 2018, West Texas flared enough gas to power the whole state for the year.

3/
For the first time in a generation, one of the three seats on the board that oversaw a transition from responsible capture to toxic, reckless flaring might go to a Dem.

4/
The Democratic candidate is @LawChrysta, the superlawyer who got T Boone Pickens $145m from the partners who ripped him off.

Her GOP opponent is bizarre: Jim Wright, who primaried the GOP incumbent. Wright's company paid a $181k fine for violating commission rules.

5/
Wright - who, recall, is running for a seat on the commission - owns DeWitt Recyclable Products, a company that "toxic waste to pile up and leak into the soil."

It's also been repeatedly sued by oilfield operators for fraud.

6/
Wright is a staunch proponent of flaring, insisting in print that "If you do away with flaring today with no other technology, that would shut our oil business down." (This is not true)

7/
The Railroad Commission is a century-old, extremely powerful bulwark against pollution, and it can only grant licenses to flare if all three commissioners agree. A single commissioner COULD END ALL TEXAS FLARING.

8/
Castañeda is a long-time opponent of flaring. Her work led to ex-commissioner Ryan Sitton publishing a report that called out the worst flarers, and the oil industry promptly raised a war-chest to mount a primary challenge against him, creating this competitive race.

9/
"Wright, who won the primary with barely $12k on hand compared with Sitton’s $2m, now has more than $400k in his campaign bank, much of it from employees of the sectors he intends to regulate. (Castañeda has slightly more than $120k)" -@judlew/@capitalandmain

10/
Here's Castañeda's campaign site. I just made a donation - these leverage points are few and far between, and we can't waste 'em.

chrystafortexas.com/meet/

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creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa…

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More from @doctorow

18 Sep
Google Brain researcher @SaraHook's new paper "The Hardware Lottery," proposes that there is a secret, relentless force that bends the course of machine learning: processor architecture.

arxiv.org/abs/2009.06489

1/ Image
Hooker observes that computer scientists are curiously indifferent to the constraints and capabilities of processors, and proceed in a vacuum of information about these, designing machine learning algorithms that are sometimes stymied by bottlenecks in processor designs.

2/
While other machine learning techniques thrive and grow to dominate, not merely because they do something useful, but because they do something useful that can be readily accomplished with the hardware that we can currently access.

3/
Read 12 tweets
18 Sep
Writing for @WIRED, @pomeranian99 gets a first-of-its-kind behind-the-scenes look at Youtube's algorithm development team, in order to document the company's attempt to reduce the service's role in spreading and reinforcing conspiracy theories.

wired.com/story/youtube-…

1/
Thompson traces the origin of the crisis to the company's drive for more "engagement" that led them to tune their recommendation system to identify and propose more specialized, esoteric versions of the video you'd just watched.

2/
The idea was to lead you down a rabbit hole of ever-more-specific versions of your interests, helping you discover niches you never knew existed.

3/
Read 22 tweets
18 Sep
Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova were Russian spies who operated in the USA for 20 years (this is the basis for "The Americans"); they were caught in 2010. "Compromised," is the new memoir by Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who had their case.

hmhbooks.com/shop/books/Com…

1/ Image
As @mattblaze writes, a throwaway detail in the book resolves a longstanding cryptographic mystery: that of a Cuban "numbers station" that operated for years, including a decade where it behaved very erratically (by numbers station standards).

mattblaze.org/blog/neinnines/

2/
Some background. Numbers stations - ratio stations in which people (or synthesized voices) read out strings of random numbers - are a means of messages for use with "one-time pads," a cryptographic tool that is, in theory, unbreakable.

3/
Read 13 tweets
17 Sep
Private equity sounds like just another source of investment capital, like venture capital or hedge funds, but while these can be incredibly destructive and toxic, private equity has perfected destroying the real economy, ruining lives and making rich people richer.

1/ Image
PE is fundamentally about destroying real value and converting it to wealth for already-rich people.

Here's the core play: buy a company, load it up with debt, fire employees, cut wages and squeeze suppliers.

pluralistic.net/2020/07/24/sof…

2/
Value is transferred from productive businesses and workers to partners, bankers and lawyers in coastal cities. New monies flow in through lobbying, litigation, price-hikes and pension fund looting, paid out as dividends and consulting fees.

3/
Read 11 tweets
16 Sep
It's hard to find Canadians who dislike @mec, the venerable, beloved co-operative outdoor store modeled on REI. Millions of us have paid $5 to join the co-op and make it our first port of all for outdoor gear.

It's being sold to a rapacious American Private Equity fund.

1/
No. Really.

It's a sordid and disgusting tale.

About a decade ago, the board started to favour members who had operational experience over traditional board members - drawn from the co-ops rank and file.

citynews1130.com/2020/05/20/mec…

2/
They rammed through by-law changes in '13 that let them:

a) Disqualify potential board candidates from nomination; and

b) Recommend slates of candidates to the membership

This kicked off a spiral of ever-more-rigged elections that changed the co-op's fundamental character.

3/
Read 11 tweets
14 Sep
.@exxonmobil knew.

They knew, 50 years ago, that they were going to murder the planet and our species with their oil.

And they acted.

Oh, how they acted!

They created a campaign of lies to distort the public perception of climate change.

exxonknew.org

1/
Exxon knew.

They knew in '73, when their researchers told them: plastics would never be recycled. There would not be a cost effective way to recycle plastic.

And they acted.

They created a disinfo campaign to convince us plastic COULD be recycled.

npr.org/2020/09/11/897…

2/
That campaign - the little recycling logos on our plastics, the upbeat videos about a future where plastic was part of a circular economy of use and recycling - convinced us to buy, wash, and sort plastic.

90% of that plastic was never recycled. It never will be.

3/
Read 12 tweets

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