Sunday Morning Reading

Some complex, challenging, and excellent writing to share with you today covering everything from big picture politics to the small, media meanderings and meltdowns, and some interesting tech analysis heading into Apple’s big mixed reality headset announcement at its WorldWide Developer Conference tomorrow. Hope you find the suggestions fascinating. I do. 

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Chilling read. Ryan Busse, a former gun executive talks to ProPublica’s Corey G. Johnson about the danger of increasing radicalization in the industry

The subhead for this piece, “The view from nowhere came from somewhere” should have been the title instead of The Invention of Objectivity. Regardless Darrell Hartman lays out a good read about how “objectivity” came to the New York Times. Subjectively speaking pretending that journalism can be unbiased is not a bias I subscribe to. 

David Todd McCarthy walks along The Edge of Defeat in today’s political battles between progressives and establishment loyalists. Note: McCarthy is also setting up a new publication focusing on his political writings and musings called Rome Magazine. Also worth your time while the world burns. 

Peter Turchin in The Atlantic adapts some of his book End Times (a good read) into an article called America is Headed Toward Collapse. He argues that history can show us how to muck our way through our present day “discord” as we have done twice before. I’m not sure history is going to be so kind this time around. 

Anyone paying attention to the goings on at CNN leading up to and following the recent “town hall” featuring the conman known as the former president will find this behind the scenes feature by Tim Alberta in the Atlantic a fascinating read. The title certainly points to where it’s going: Inside the Meltdown at CNN

Big pictures are complex. Neil Theise’s book Notes on Complexity: A Scientific Theory of Connection, Concsicousness, and Being tackles some of that complexity. In this article he lays out five key insights from his book. 

Smart People are Falling for Stupid Lies by Kathryn Joyce in Vanity Fair is another article that racks the big picture political focus down to the view inside local battles in a specific county. These type of articles are enormously helpful in shedding light on the fact that the problems we face aren’t just top down but also bottom up, and how both feed the frenzy. Here’s another one from February in Politico about Ottawa Country, Michigan.

Om Malik tosses a bit of reality into the hype fire surrounding Apple’s headest to be unveiled tomorrow.

One more piece on Apple’s upcoming headset. David Pierce at the Verge says If Apple Wants Its Headset To Win, It Needs to Reinvent the App.I don’t agree with some of the things David lays out, but his central thesis is spot on.

If you’re interseted in just what the heck Sunday Morning Reading is all about you can read more about the origins of Sunday Morning Reading here

Why Do We Love Shows About Bad People Like Succession and The Great?

Two nasty viewing pleasures came to an end this spring. Succession and The Great. Why do I call them “nasty?” Well, because they are both populated with nasty people doing nasty things to each other and everyone else with nary a glimpse of anything resembling a redeeming character that survives more than a few seconds in each.

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Both shows mix a milieu that features characters so above it all they can get away with all sorts of mischief including murder. Both shows slather on salaciousness to the point of impotence. Both stories feature folks who despise and disdain the masses so openly that it would embarrass Marie Antoinette.

And yet, both shows are deliciously and deliriously fun to watch and quite popular. Why is that? Do we just enjoy watching bad people behaving badly? Are we transferring our fantasies on to these characters? Are we deep down that sick, twisted, greedy and gluttonous? Is that the reflection we want to see in the mirror held up to our own nature?

The short answer is yes. Apparently.

I’m sure there are plenty of folks who don’t see the attraction in these characters and their shows. Even so there is something deep inside of many of us (enough of us?) that makes the villainy attractive and entertaining. Richard III is one of the greatest villains to ever parade around a stage. And he’s certainly entertaining. But like the Duke of Gloucester, villains usually get their comeuppance. Sometimes searching for a horse. Or in the case of Catherine, well…

Villains meet their end. Unless they’re primed for a series of sequels. And in the age of streaming series, I don’t think we want our villains to meet their end whether it be on a show or in real life.

Historically, there has always been a catharsis that purges our alliance and dalliance with the dark side when the house lights come up. We know that going in. There will be an end. The bad guys won’t win. In ancient entertainment the gods saw to that. These days, the show runners not so much. Our current moment is not serving comeuppance in the same way anymore.

The folks in Succession and The Great may have reached the end of their series, but there’s no real hint of their circumstances or the gods bringing them to heel. For the survivors there’s no suggestion of a change in their characters. The Roys are still richer than Croesus and Catherine is still empress of Russia. They and their respective courts will still bounce around behaving badly. They may all be living with the sting of regret from their choices and losses, but hey, nursing your wounds in palaces and island retreats sure beats having your head chopped off. Euripides would not be pleased. There’s no Butch and Sundance ending for these folks. The gluttony goes on.

And apparently we like our villainy viewing that way.

Oh sure, we love our heroes too. They may wear brightly colored costumes, but we underdress heroes in shades of gray tinted with flaws. So many (too many?) align with our real world heroes and villains because of their flaws not despite them. The more flawed they appear the greater the attraction. Substitute the word “human” for the word “flawed” in that last sentence and you can hold up that old mirror cliché and feel seen. Warts and all. It’s a fun house both on the screen and in real life. It makes me wonder why there’s such an interest in Alternate or Virtual Reality. We’ve already created it, and most of us actually have legs.

When it comes to the villains, the absence of consequences for those with money and power mocks anyone looking for the bad guys to get theirs in the end. It’s almost like you need to be a stupid villain to end up hoisted on your own petard. Currently we’ve cornered the market on celebrating stupid villains, misplacing craft and cunning with stupid and bumbling.

The lust for guile, guilt, and gluttony used to exist within some sort of security blanket wrapping us in that comforting myth that things would turn out in the end. Those bad guys weren’t like us. We couldn’t be that stupid or evil. Could we? Maybe we just wish we could.

Sunday Morning Reading

Some Sunday Morning Reading to share. If you’re new to this now regular feature on Wicked Stage, you can read more about the origins of Sunday Morning Reading here. As always, it’s a varied collection of links. Some I find fun. Some informative. Some just weird. Regardless they caught my attention and I hope they catch yours. 

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The Debt Limit is Just One of American’s Six Worst Traditions. Lots of talk about the US Debt Limit debate at the moment. Here’s a look from John Schwarz and others at The Debt Limit and five other silly/stupid/bad political traditions in the US. Bet you’ll learn something from this one.

The Story Behind the Chicago Newspaper That Bought a Bar. Great read about a newspaper’s investigative unit and the lengths they went to exposing some Chicago backroom political shenanigans. By Andy Wright.

Why The Supreme Court is Blind to Corruption. By Randall Eliason in the NY Times. 

And while we’re talking about the Supreme Court. How about an article from Gillian Brockell discussing the only impeachment of a Supreme Court Justice in an article called: Can a Supreme Court Justice Be Impeached? Meet ‘Old Bacon Face.’

The Battle of Beach Rowdies, B-Girls, and Disorderly Women. An excerpt from Robert Loerzel’s series on The Coolest Spot in Chicago: A History of Green Mill Gardens and the Beginnings of Uptown. (You can find much more on his site by following his links. Well worth your time.)

Rudy Giuliani, Timothy McVeigh, and Sexual Abuse. Teri Canfield weaves a few threads together, that should remind us all just how tangled this twisted mess we’re dealing with today really is.  

The Song That Spawned the Four Chords of Pop by Tim Coffman. Fun stuff. 

This Little-known Rule Shapes Parking in America. Cities Are Reversing It. By Nathaniel Myerson. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…”

Apple announced some very interesting new accessibility features coming later this year. John Vorhees of MacStories did an interview with David Niemeijer of AssistiveWare, a company that makes augmentative and alternative communication apps for the iPhone and the iPad about how these kind of features can beneift real-world users. 

Book Banning is all the rage. Not for the first time. Check out Book Bans Soared in the 70’s, too. The Supreme Court Stepped In. By Anthony Aycock. 

Have a good week. 

Sunday Morning Reading

Sunday Morning Reading was a regular feature back in my previous blogging days. I thought I’d continue it here. The idea originally came about because I used to love to read multiple newspapers on Sunday mornings. Some of you might remember those days when Sunday morning newspapers were chock-a-block with stories of all kinds, featuring information (we now call it content) on a variety of topics. Newspapers used to save up their best stuff for the Sunday edition.

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Well, the Internet has replaced all of that. But I still do my Sunday morning reading. So this feature is nothing more, nothing less than a series of links to items and writers (with occasional commentary) I find interesting, informative, and indicative of things we are or should be thinking of in this moment. Typically I’ve discovered this in the week prior. Sometimes I actually do on Sunday mornings. For better or worse, the Internet has turned me into a prolific sharer of things I find interesting and here we are.

Note, I read a lot of different sources. Some with opinions I agree with. Some with opinions I disagree with. So you’ll find a bit of both here. I happen to believe in and enjoy exploring writers, opinions, and subjects that I disagree with. I think you should too. In fact I encourage it.

So on with this first Act 3 edition of Sunday morning reading.

Ben Franklin Would Have Loved Bluesky. Annalee Newitz’s take on the moment in social media. The headline skewers what the article is actually about. Worth a read if social media is your thing.

The Epic Battle No One Wanted, Or Asked For by David Todd McCarty. McCarty is a writer I’ve gotten to know since signing up on Mastodon. Glad I did. His stuff is always thought provoking and often fun. Like this piece on The Magic And Mystery of Pommes Frites.

The Hedonic Treadmill – Are We Forever Chasing Rainbows by Seph Fontane Pennock A bit academic, but it’s about the temporary joys of happiness.

A Guilty Ex-President. Lots of folks don’t like David French and also don’t like that he’s writing for the NY Times. I don’t agree with a lot of his thinking, but when I want my thinking challenged I’m typically glad he’s writing about a subject I’ve been thinking on. His takes on religion and the law go far beneath the surface spewing we so much of these days.

The Billion-Dollar Ponzi Scheme That Hooked Warren Buffett And The U.S. Treasury by Ariel Sabar.  A great story in and of itself, but viewed with a wider lens says so much about where we are.

Deskilling On The Job from zephoria. If the age of AI an interesting look at the future of work.

The Last Gamble of Tokyo Joe A Chicago mob story in Chicago Magazine by Dan O’Sullivan

Students’ Understanding Of History and Civics Is Worsening by Donna St. Geroge in the Washington Post. Well, given that this has been the plan for a generation or so, I guess it’s a good thing we’re discovering that the plan is working to our detriment.

And since this is a Mother’s Day edition of Sunday Morning Reading here’s a link to an origin story about Mother’s Day from Olivia B. Waxman in Time 

Damn Those Kids and Those 10 Commandments

I’m all in when it comes to establishment clause of the US Constitution. I think it was put in as a response to more topical and pressing reasons that were very much alive in the minds and memories of the founders. Intriguingly, those reasons are proving just as important today even though we have accumulated vastly more knowledge to build our reasoning on. That said, I find it curiously entertaining about the recent news from Texas requiring schools to display the 10 Commandments in classrooms. 

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Curious because, if you’re going to insist on paying attention to the mighty 10, I wonder how much attention is going to be paid to the latter half of the list. You know the ones about bearing false witness (lying), stealing, killing, commtting adultery, and coveting. 

Entertained because, hey this is just another ring in the circus run by clowns searching for a ringmaster. Remember, this is coming out of the same brain dumps that think ignoring and not teaching history is a good idea and that teachers shouldn’t be able to talk about our flaws and differences as individuals and a society.

So, tell me. How’s a teacher going to respond when some youngster asks about the lying, cheating, stealing, killing, adultering and coveting that these modern day clown crusaders practice and praise so openly?

Remember kids say the darndest things. 

And five will get you ten that the last half of the 10 Commandments will eventually get edited out of the picture. 

50 Cognitive Biases In the Modern World

I find this compilation of cogntive biases fascinating. But then I’m biased towards things I find fascinating. (Don’t think I see that on the list.)

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The graphic here is a small screen grab of the entire thing but you can check out the full list at Visual Capitalist. You’ll find all of your favorites and I’m guessing at least a few new ones. (I hadn’t heard of the IKEA Effect before.)

Hat Tip to Cess Grotes on Mastodon for sharing this.

Rules are for Suckers

In the beginning there was one rule. Don’t eat the damn apple.

We’ve been adding rules, regulations, laws, by-laws, and constitutions ever since. Rules may be meant to be broken so I guess we like to break things because we keep making more and more of them. We also like to make rules for others and not ourselves in the same way we think other folks’ rules don’t apply to us. Heck, even those who don’t like rules and regulations as a thing into and of themselves, love making up rules and regulations to try and circumvent the rules and regulations that get in their way. We’re a wacky bunch we humans.


I once leased from and later worked for a theatre manager who had an ever expanding lease. Each time a tenant would do something he deemed inappropriate he would add a new clause to the lease to try and prevent that behavior in the future. He also, at lease signing, had the practice of reading out loud each and every clause in the lease and telling new tenants exactly who was responsible for the addition of each clause. It was always quite a show. Too bad he didn’t sell tickets to watch it.

We don’t like to reigned in. It’s where this whole freedom thing comes from. We want to be free to do what we want. We just don’t want those we disagree with to be free to do what they want. So we make up rules. If we have enough power we make up rules to take away rules from others. Those are the rules.

When someone gets angry and wants to get rid of red tape, they typically have to use “the rule of law” to do so.

That old comfort blanket, “the rule of law,” has seen better days. It may actually just be hanging around like that quilt your grandma made as a reminder of what’s lost. Memories of things long gone. Or perhaps were never really there in the first place.


  • The stripping of child labor protections. Who knew folks in Arkansas read so much Dickens?
  • The battle over abortion.
  • Voting restrictions.
  • Guns.
  • Sheriffs who choose not to enforce laws they don’t like.
  • Banning books and libraries.
  • Anything happening in Florida, Arkansas, or pick a red-state.

That list could go on. (And does.)

“The rule of law” only works as a rule when everybody plays by the same rules. Or more importantly pretends to. Sad fact. At no time in history has everyone played by the same rules. We’ve done a lot of pretending though.

Ignoring all the rules when they get in the way seems like the latest trend. Take Clarence Thomas. Take Neil Gorsuch. Please. Take most of the Supreme Court thinking a bit too supreme for most people’s liking. And not caring that they are essentially undermining whatever they aren’t hiding behind those robes.

Take any number of politicians. Throw a dart and you’ll score a bullseye. But I don’t think it’s a new trend.

Are we living in some sort of new age where those of us offended (easily or no) by rule-making rule-breakers really have no where to turn?

No. It’s always been this way. Throughout the history of mankind. Pretending takes too much effort. There’s just no longer any incentive to hide the game, much less the rules. The illusion has been shattered from the top to the bottom. When a huge chunk of the populace can push hard to nominate and elect an indicted decaying orange turd for president, given all that we know, but the system can’t seem or want to find a way to hold him accountable, there’s no system or collection of rules to have faith in any longer. When the chief justice of the Surpeme Court can simply decline to answer questions about the intergrity of his institution what’s the point of that instituion even existing any longer.

Some of those suffering are going through the same kind of awakening that most children do when they discover their parents are human and have faults. Many doing the yelling and screaming about this supposed rule breaking are just pissed that they weren’t shameless or gutless enough to do it first.

The shysters no longer give a damn about things like shame. The suckers and the suckups keep contributing, whether they be small donors or large and it’s better to focus their energy on hoovering up the loose change than  the masquerade.

The rules haven’t changed. The games haven’t changed. The game players just realize they don’t have to work so hard on their act to bilk the bumpkins.

Are We Giving Up On Facts?

Artificial Intelligence remains and will remain all the rage. Whether it be text in Large Language Models or Digital Art creation there’s a rush, gold and otherwise, into this new world fueled by impressive technology. Impressive as it may be, at its core it remains a regurgitation of creations by humans. Which we all know at times have been impressive and at other times less so. (See Today.) Even once it reaches the point when new AI creations are redigesting its own regurgitations, its core will still be based on what has come before.

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Set aside the sometimes laughable mistakes (two different models have declared me dead) and the “who owns this stuff” issues over the text and images these engines are trained on. Set aside the labor issues. (I’m waiting to see the sex-worker protests over AI generated porn spring up.) Those are fundamentally no different than the advent of any new disruptive technology business springing up. See Uber. See the explosion of rented scooters. See food delivery services. Ship it and sort out the problems later. The rush of the immediate craze always meets reality at some point and slows down before settling in, and in some cases fading from the scene.

But this rush feels different. Not the gold rush part. There’s nothing new under the sun there. But the rush to adopt. Which now that I think of it is essentially the same thing.

It feels different because I think it means we’re giving up on facts. Yes, sure these models are being trained on facts. But they are also being trained on a ton of bullshit. Because hey, again, they are being trained on all the stuff we’ve spewed out and is indexable on the Internet.

I may be wrong but I can’t find any reading that suggests that there are any attempts to weed out the wheat from the chaff. We can’t solve that problem in the real world, so I don’t have much hope that anyone even desires to in the artificial one either. On the on hand why do that? Aren’t these just tools for humans to use? And humans do human things like make mistakes, make stuff up, and make trouble. Often while trying to make money.

On the other hand, I’m not sure there will be another hand. If this new technology phase achieves the aims its creators are using to sell it, the next phase will be new tools that promise to do that wheat/chaff separating. Which, in turn, will get fed back into the same machine in an infinite loop that eventually churns out bread that all tastes the same. I can’t wait to read all of the AI generated articles that feature headlines reading “Everything You Need to Know About AI” a decade or so down the road.

There’s no great conclusion here. There’s merely questions. Or maybe just more fodder for the AI bots to suck up. But as I ponder this I am reminded of this quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune:

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”

Essential Reading: The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War by Jeff Sharlet

Read this book. Highly recommended. 

That’s the summary and the sum. 

I’m a big admirer of Jeff Sharlet. Have been for awhile. That admiration deepened with his latest book The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War. (That’s not an affiliate link if you’re wondering.) 


Sharlet likes to get right into the middle and the depths of the topics he’s exploring. He certainly does here as he walks the walk and talks the talk with a number of folks in the MAGA world seeking to understand just how close the embers of their smoldering hatred is to igniting. 

Here’s a quote from the blurb that comes close to doing this book justice:

Exploring a geography of grief and uncertainty in the midst of plague and rising fascism, The Undertow is a necessary reckoning with our precarious present that brings to light a decade of American failures as well as a vision for American possibility.

Make no mistake. While Sharlet’s style makes for more than engaging reading the subject matter is not easy to swallow. But it’s a medicine that I think we all need to take if we want to understand what’s afflicting our national psyche in this era beyond the media moments both social and otherwise.

As someone who thinks we’re already in the early stages of this country’s next Civil War I would argue the word “slow” in the title might have more aptly applied 7-10 years ago. That said, the stories and moments Sharlet relates leave no doubt that the divisions we face are so deep that the chances to bridge them are few and far between and perhaps already out of reach.

Again, I highly recommend the book as I do the rest of Sharlet’s work. If you haven’t seen The Family on Netflix. I’d encourage you to check that out as well as Sharlet’s other work.