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Weekend Reads (Feb 5): Joe Rogan, Substack Comics, Wordle, NFTs, Old School Hackers
Recommended weekend reading material for February 5, 2022.
Before we get to this week’s newsletter, I’m currently offering a 50% discount on new subscriptions for the month of February in celebration of Opus’ 25th anniversary. (That’s $2.50/month or $25/year for the first year of your subscription.)
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
Joe Rogan posted a video response to the kerfuffle surrounding artists (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) leaving Spotify in response to his popular (and controversial) podcast. In his video, Rogan criticized the use of the term “misinformation,” welcomed Spotify’s decision to add disclaimers to episodes featuring more controversial guests, pledged to bring on more guests to balance things out, and affirmed his status as a Neil Young fan. (For some, however, the fact that he got the Joni Mitchell song wrong and misspelled both Rickie Lee Jones’ name and the song title are no doubt indicative of his fast n’ loose approach to the truth.)
Between his everyman persona and his willingness to host contrarian or non-mainstream opinions, Rogan’s appeal and success are quite obvious. He has a massive and influential platform, and has obviously become a champion for many who are dissatisfied with traditional or mainstream media channels, so it’s heartening to see him own up to the responsibility that entails. But whether that brings about any long-term changes to his podcast remains to be seen.
In a related move, Spotify made their platform rules public. These rules specify what Spotify considers to be dangerous, deceptive, or illegal content. They also outline the consequences for those who break the rules (content removal, account suspensions). It’s not immediately clear if the recently-pulled Joe Rogan episodes were pulled because they violated Spotify’s rules or not.
Interestingly, Neil Young announced a special deal with Amazon Music, offering four months free to new subscribers: “Amazon has been leading the pack in bringing Hi-Res audio to the masses, and it’s a great place to enjoy my entire catalog in the highest quality available.” (Young’s other beef with Spotify is that they reduced the audio quality of his music.)
Last August, Substack announced that they were investing in comic creators. Earlier this week, they announced new titles from Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughan, and Tom King (to name a few). You can read Substack’s official announcement here.
Morrison has a slew of acclaimed and influential comics to their name, including All-Star Superman, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and The Invisibles. Vaughn is the writer behind Y: The Last Man, Paper Girls, and Saga (which just returned after a years-long hiatus). Finally, King helped revitalize The Vision and Mister Miracle, and has written some of the best Batman comics of the last decade.
Entertainment Weekly has more information on the three comic artists and their new Substack-hosted projects.
Concerning Spotify and Substack, Nick Heer weighs in on both the Joe Rogan situation as well as concerns over Substack’s policies and the anti-vaxxers and white supremacists using their platform.
It is real easy to get stuck in the details of stuff like this. A Rogan interview can run for hours and guests can make dozens of individual claims. If he were responsible, Rogan would not be publishing these interviews in their entirety. And if Spotify were being a studious broadcaster, they would catch these things too. But neither party wants to take responsibility for the outlandish and often easily-disproved claims guests make: Rogan says that he is just having conversations, and Spotify wants to pretend that this is similar to Facebook’s moderation problems.
Substack’s position is somewhat different, since it is a platform where anyone can publish. It does not have the editorial responsibility that ought to be carried by Spotify in the distribution of its own media. But Substack has been made aware of the cranks using its platform, and it has every right to act against them if it wants to.
I’ve often wondered how I would approach such situations if I ran some sort of platform where others could publish their thoughts.
I appreciate the sort of free speech absolutism that Substack espouses. But I also believe platforms bear some moral and ethical (if not legal) responsibility for the ways in which they’re used, and what they promote or allow to pass through their systems. I also believe that privately owned platforms should have the right to refuse service to whoever they want for whatever reasons they want (so long as those reasons are legal, well-defined, and consistently applied).
Of course, balancing all of those things… that’s the tricky part. Which is why I’m glad I currently don’t run any sort of platform.
Back in January, Microsoft shook up the video game world when they announced they were purchasing Activision Blizzard. Now Sony has announced that they’re acquiring game studio Bungie for $3.6 billion.
Sony’s purchase of Bungie is surprising, given where the studio started. Bungie is the original home of the Halo franchise, and it was part of the Microsoft family from 2000 to 2007. Halo was (and is) a pivotal series for Xbox consoles, and Bungie was its arbiter for nearly a decade under Microsoft. The studios split in 2007 and Bungie went private, and in 2010 it signed a publishing agreement with Activision for the Destiny franchise. That deal lasted through 2019, when Bungie moved its publishing process in-house.
In addition to their ongoing support for Destiny 2, Bungie is currently working on a new original property that will be released in 2025.
Wordle will “initially remain free to new and existing players” once it moves over to the Times’ site, and Wardle says that he’s working with The New York Times to preserve players’ existing wins and streak data once the game heads to its new home. That said, The New York Times’ announcement leaves plenty of room for the company to decide to put Wordle behind its paywall in the future.
I’ve never played Wordle, but from what I’ve gathered, much of its charm stems from how non-corporate it felt. Time will tell if the Times’ acquisition ensures Wordle’s continued existence (Kottke thinks it will), or if it robs the game of what made it so magical and popular in the first place.
The 2022 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. They include Beck, Kate Bush, Duran Duran, Dolly Parton, and Rage Against the Machine. The final list of inductees will likely be announced in May.
It feels so weird to think that Beck or Rage Against the Machine are old enough to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Seems like only yesterday that I heard “Loser” on the radio for the first time.
HitPiece claimed to sell unique NFTs of various artists’ music. There was just one catch: they actually didn’t have permission from the artists to sell anything.
It isn’t even clear exactly what HitPiece is purportedly selling, as they certainly aren’t the original master recordings. The website claimed that “HitPiece NFT’s [sic] are one-of-ones and are the only NFTs for that unique recording in HitPiece,” indicating they might only be unique in the context of HitPiece’s platform — a sort of artificial scarcity in an artificial ecosystem.
There may be legitimate actors in the NFT/crypto scene, but it currently contains so many crooks and grifters that what’s the point? And don’t even get me started on the whole notion of “artificial scarcity.”
Related: Casey Newton considers the different reactions to NFTs from gaming and music fandoms.
Susy Thunder was once one of the best hackers around, able to break into any system with clever social engineering. Decades later, Claire L. Evans spent months tracking Thunder down to learn more about one of the greatest hackers we’ve never heard of.
In the early ’80s, Susan and her friends pulled increasingly elaborate phone scams until they nearly shut down phone service for the entire city. As two of her friends, Kevin Mitnick and Lewis DePayne, were being convicted for cybercrime, she made an appearance on 20/20, demonstrating their tradecraft to Geraldo Rivera. Riding her celebrity, she went briefly legit, testifying before the US Senate and making appearances at security conventions, spouting technobabble in cowboy boots and tie-dye. Then, without a trace, she left the world behind.
I went looking for the great lost female hacker of the 1980s. I should have known that she didn’t want to be found.
I’m a real sucker for stories like this. Throughout the ‘80s and even into the ‘90s, computers seemed so magical to me, like gateways to another world, so it’s interesting to read about the real (flawed) humans who sat at their keyboards.
James Martin, a Jesuit priest, argues against taking any joy or pleasure in the deaths of anti-vaxxers.
The problem is that even a mild case of schadenfreude is the opposite of a “Christian value.” Jesus asked us to pray for our enemies, not celebrate their misfortunes. He wanted us to care for the sick, not laugh at them. When Jesus was crucified alongside two thieves, he says to one of them, according to Luke’s Gospel, not “That’s what you get,” but “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Schadenfreude is not a Christian value. It’s not even a loosely moral value.
This should be obvious. But schadenfreude and self-righteousness, as they say, can be a helluva drug.
Finally, an eight-year-old in Idaho wrote and illustrated an 81-page Christmas story and snuck it on to the shelves of his local library — and now it’s officially part of the library’s collection.
The staff librarians who read Dillon’s book agreed that as informal and unconventional as it was, the book met the selection criteria for the collection in that it was a high-quality story that was fun to read. So, Hartman asked Helbig for permission to tack a bar code onto the book and formally add it to the library’s collection.
Dillon’s parents enthusiastically said yes, and the book is now part of the graphic-novels section for kids, teens and adults. The library even gave Dillon its first Whoodini Award for Best Young Novelist, a category the library created for him, named after the library’s owl mascot.
The book, titled The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis, is in high demand, with a 55-person-long waitlist.
From the Blog
The new album from Ronnie Martin — which has the wonderful title From the Womb of the Morning, the Dew of Your Youth Will Be Yours — isn’t just his first album in years; it’s one of the best things he’s ever recorded, period.
There’s a level of mastery on display in the album’s seven songs — at 31 minutes, it’s the very model of efficiency — that makes From the Womb… more than a welcome return, though. Rather, it feels like a rediscovery of everything that made me fall in love with Ronnie Martin’s music in the first place, going back to the earliest Joy Electric albums, and even Dance House Children before that.
It’s always great when artists can still surprise and delight you, years or even decades after you discovered them.
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