Recommentunde - MIT and a House in Australia - Week of Sep 8 2019

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The Recommentunde Newsletter

For the week that began September 8 2019

Hello fellow humans and learning machines,

This newsletter is arriving late, and I'm going to say it's because tomorrow is my birthday!

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the situation at the MIT Media Lab where the director Joi Ito just resigned after slowly acknowledging an ongoing funding relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. I was a director’s fellow at the Lab, invited by Joi to join in the program’s first year in 2013. I gained and gave a lot in my interactions with the Lab, and I met stellar humans like Shaka Senghor and Pashon Murray and many others.

Two weeks ago, many of us felt Joi should stay and try to fix the mess he helped create. I even briefly signed a letter encouraging him to stay and be accountable because I believe in restorative justice approaches to harm. But within a few hours, I withdrew my name after some intense conversations showed me I didn’t know the full set of facts. Since then I’ve been reading and listening and thinking.

I took in Ethan Zuckerman’s resignation letter, Arwa Mboya’s call for Joi to resign and Kate Darling’s opposite call for him to stay. I read with horror about the unsolicited comments from Nicholas “Hold My Beer” Negroponte who destroyed what was apparently an emotional and contrition-filled Media Lab meeting. I read with greater horror still the Ronan Farrow piece in which former staffers at the Lab revealed their experience of Epstein’s visit to the Lab.

Overwhelmingly, I feel sad. For Epstein’s victims who for so long were not heard and when they were heard, were ignored; for people connected to the Media Lab who never suspected they would be connected to such ugliness; or all survivors of trauma because this world makes it so easy to abuse and so hard to heal.

This situation has had me feeling used, thinking that my own association with the Lab was tainted by the Lab’s association with Epstein. And I’ve also felt naive for thinking any of this could really be that surprising. Can such a thing as “clean” money exist at the level of MIT fundraising or “clean” affiliations when they come attached to so much power? I live in the U.S., as a man, in the 21st century. Of course I’ve benefited from the pain of others and the corruption of institutions and the abuse of power. There’s not some unjust system “over there” that I’m apart from and fighting against. I’m inside it, intertwined with it, even dependent on it.

In this moment, however, I feel recommitted to doing what I can where I have control to do right. To listen to my own TED talk and find the power in a situation and try to use mine to lift up those without, to write a better reality for us all to inhabit. And to not expect perfection from myself or others or any institution but to at minimum demand honesty, reflection, an attempt at improvement, and the pursuit of justice.

As always, I welcome your own reflections on these themes. Hit that reply button and let me know how you’re processing this if you are.

And now, your regular dose of recommended content.

Unless you have a disability, you probably don’t think about living in a world designed without you in mind. Please read about what may be the world’s “most accessible” museum and find lessons in it for inclusive design in whatever part of the world you operate.

There’s an affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard over its admissions policies. I used to think of this as “white man uses Asian-Americans to hurt black people,” but I think you'll find this piece far more nuanced and illuminating as it seeks to answer the question, Where Does Affirmative Action Leave Asian-Americans?

While your mind is on Harvard, two of my classmates have been on TED stages this year. Zachary Norris runs the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and tells us how restorative justice can help us overcome fear and fascism. Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff runs the Center for Policing Equity and shows us how we can turn racism into a solvable problem -- and improve policing.

Intermission! I want to briefly thank my supporters on Patreon, and all of you should as well. Because of them, I got more focused and figured out what this email newsletter really should be. Last week, my Patrons got an exclusive look at two television pilots I made two years ago. If you like the things I make, and want to help them get made, consider joining up.

Switching things up, you decide to look at this real estate listing for a home in Australia because you heard it's one giant apocalypse bunker. Just do this for yourself: Browse. All. The. Photos.

The Terminator documentary series is one of your favorites, so you learn with joy how Linda Hamilton, John Connor’s mother, is back.

In a podcast-popping frenzy, you listen to three different episodes: a) how most of American pop music and culture derives from slavery; b) the injustice of hurricane recovery based on geography; c) Vox climate writer David Roberts who watched seven hours of CNN climate debate so you don’t have to. To make it easier, you listen on my special Recommentunde podcast playlist and subscribe to my Recommentunde YouTube playlist as well.

To close, you check out these short Twitter videos. The first gives you hope that the US democratic presidential candidates will work together for the common good because they made a pretty good collaborative ad. The second comes with no spoilers. Just watch it, and feel happy about being human.

Peace and Love to you.