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Beyoncé's Number One in Country

Beyoncé very explicitly announced her latest album to be a country album, calling it "Cowboy Carter", and her single "Texas Hold 'Em" made her the first Black woman to top Billboard's Hot Country Songs charts.

It is good that Beyoncé made it so glaringly obvious that her song is a country song. The number of Black artists to have topped the Hot Country Song charts is surprisingly small: Charley Pride in the 70s, Ray Charles in a duet with Willie Nelson for one week in 1984, and then Darius Rucker and Kane Brown in the last decade or two.

Maybe one reason to understand why it is so hard to chart for Black artists in this particular genre: "Old Town Road", the debut single by Lil Nas X, first was listed on the Hot Country Song chart, but then Billboard decided that this was a mistake and instead recategorized the song, taking it off the Country charts in March 2019 before it would have become the Number One hit on April 6, 2019 were it not removed.

Billboard released a long explanation explaining that this decision had nothing to do with racism.

Cowboy Carter was released exactly in the same week five years after Old Town Road would have hit Number One.

I guess Beyoncé really wanted to make sure that everyone knows that her album and single are country.

War in the shadows

A few years ago I learned with shock and surprise that in the 1960s and 1970s Croatians have been assassinated by the Yugoslav secret service in other countries, such as Germany, and that the German government back then chose to mostly look away. That upset me. In the last few weeks I listened to a number of podcasts that were going into more details about these events, and it turned out that some of those murdered Croatians were entangled with the WW2 fascist Croatian Ustasha regime -- either by being Ustasha themselves, or by actively working towards recreating the Ustasha regime in Croatia.

Some of the people involved were actively pursing terrorist acts - killing diplomats and trying to kill politicians, hijacking and possibly downing airplanes, bombing cinemas, and even trying an actual armed uprising.

There was a failed attempt of planting seventeen bombs along the Croatian Adria, on tourist beaches, during the early tourist season, and to detonate them all simultaneously, in order to starve off income from tourism for Yugoslavia.

Germany struggled with these events themselves: their own secret service was tasked with protecting the German state, and it was initially even unclear how to deal with organizations whose goal is to destabilize a foreign government. Laws and rules were changed in order to deal with the Croatian extremists, rules that were later applied to the PLO, IRA, Hamas, etc.

Knowing a bit more of the background, where it seems that a communist regime was assassinating fascists and terrorists, does not excuse these acts, nor the German inactivity. It is a political assassination without due process. But it makes it a bit better understandable why the German post-Nazi administration, that was at that time busy with its own wave of terror by the Rote Armee Fraktion RAF, was not giving more attention to these events. And Germany received some of its due when Yugoslavia captured some of the kidnappers and murderers of Hanns Martin Schleyer, and did not extradite them to Germany, but let them go, because Germany did not agree to hand over Croatian separatists in return.

Croatians had a very different reputation in the 1970s than the have today.

I still feel like I have a very incomplete picture of all of these events, but so many things happened that I had no idea about.

Source podcasts in German

Daniel Dennett

R.I.P. Daniel Dennett.

An influential modern voice on the question of Philosophy and AI, especially with the idea of the intentional stance.

Katherine Maher on The Truth

Wikipedia is about verifiable facts from reliable sources. For Wikipedia, arguing with "The Truth" is often not effective. Wikipedians don't argue "because it's true" but "because that's what's in this source".

It is painful and upsetting to see Katherine Maher so viciously and widely attacked on Twitter. Especially for a quote repeated out-of-context which restates one of the foundations of Wikipedia.

I have worked with Katherine. We were lucky to have her at Wikipedia, and NPR is lucky to have her now.

The quote - again, as said, taken out of the context that it stems from the way Wikipedia editors collaborate is: "Our reverence for the truth might be a distraction that's getting in the way of finding common ground and getting things done."

It is taken from this TED Talk by Katherine, which provides sufficient context for the quote.

Partial copyright for an AI generated work

Interesting development in US cases around copyright and AI: author Elisa Shupe asked for copyright registration on a book that was created with the help of generative AI. Shupe stated that not giving her registration would be disabilities discrimination, since she would not have been able to create her work otherwise. On appeal, her work was partially granted protection for the “selection, coordination, and arrangement of text generated by artificial intelligence”, without referral to the disability argument.

Northern Arizona

Last week we had a wonderful trip through Northern Arizona.

Itinerary: starting in Phoenix going Northeast through Tonto National Forest towards Winslow. In Tonto, we met our first surprise, which would become a recurring pattern: whereas we expected Arizona in April to be hot, and we were prepared for hot, it had some really cold spells, and we were not prepared for cold. We started in the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by cacti and sun, but one and a half hours later in Tonto, we were driving through a veritable snow storm, but fortunately, just as it was getting worrisome, we crossed the ridge and started descending towards Winslow to the North.

The Colorado Plateau on the other side of the ridge was then pleasant and warm, and the next days we traveled through and visited the Petrified Forest, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and more.

After that we headed for the Grand Canyon, but temperatures dropped so low, and we didn't have the right outfit for that, we stayed less than a day there, most of it huddled in the hotel room. Still, the views we got were just amazing, and throwing snowballs was an unexpected fun exercise.

Our last stop took us to Sedona, where we were again welcomed with amazing views. The rocks and formations all had in common that they dramatically changed with the movement of the sun, or with us moving around, and the views were always fresh.

Numbers: Our trip took us about 950 miles / 1500 kilometeres of driving, and I was happy that it was a good Jeep for this trip. The difference in altitude went from 1000 feet / 330 meters in Phoenix up to 8000 feet / 2400 meters driving through Coconino. Temperatures ranged from 86° F / 30° C to 20° F / -7° C.

What I learned again is how big this country is. And how beautiful.

Surprises: One thing that surprised me was how hidden the Canyons can be. Well, you can't hide Grand Canyon, but it is easy to pass by Antelope Canyon and not realizing it is there. Because it is just a cut in the plateau.

I also was surprised about how flat and wide the land is. I have mostly lived in areas where you had mountains or at least hills nearby, but the Colorado Plateau has large wide swaths of flat land. "Once the land was as plane as a pancake".

I mentioned the biggest surprise already, which was how cold it got.

Towns: it was astonishing to see the difference between, on the one side, a town such as Page or Sedona and on the other side Winslow. All three have a similar population, but Page and Sedona felt vigorous, lively, clean, whereas Winslow felt as if it was on the decline, deserted, struggling.

The hotel we stayed in in Winslow, La Posada, was a beautiful, weird, unique jewel that I hesitate to flat-out recommend, it is too unusual for that, but that I still enjoyed experiencing. It is clearly very different from any other hotel I ever stayed in, full of history, and embracing themes of both suicide and hope, respectfully trying to grow with the native population, and aiming to revive the city's old town, and it is difficult to really capture the vibe it was sending out.

For pictures, I am afraid I am pointing to my Facebook posts, which should be visible without login:

Crossing eight time zone borders in three hours

Hopi Nation is an enclave within Navajo Nation. Navajo Nation is located across three US states, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

Arizona does not observe daylight saving time. Navajo Nation observes daylight saving time. Hopi Nation does not observe daylight saving time. You can drive three hours in that area and cross timezones eight times.

All of the individual decisions make totally sense:

Arizona does not adhere to daylight saving time because any measure that makes sure Arizona residents get more sunshine is worse than bringing coals to Newcastle, as the saying goes. They are smart to not use daylight saving time.

Navajo Nation uses daylight saving time because they want to have the same timezone for their whole area, and they are also in two other states, Utah and New Mexico, which both have daylight saving time, so they decided to do so too, which makes totally sense.

And Hopi Nation, even though it is enclosed by the Navajo Nation, lies entirely within the state of Arizona, so it makes sense for them to follow *that* state.

All the individual decisions make sense, but the outcome must be rather inconvenient and potentially confusing for the people living there.

(Bonus:the solution for these seem obvious to me. Utah and New Mexico and many other southern US states should just get rid of daylight saving time, just as Arizona did, and Navajo Nation should follow suit. But that's just my opinion.)

New home in Emeryville

Our new (temporary home) is the City of Emeryville. Emeryville has a population of almost 13,000 people. The apartment complex we live in has about 400 units, and I estimate that they have about 2 people on average in each. Assuming that about 90% of the apartments are occupied, this single apartment complex would constitute between 5 and 10% of the population of the whole city.

A conspiracy to kill a browser

Great story about how YouTube helped with moving away from IE6.

"Our most renegade web developer, an otherwise soft-spoken Croatian guy, insisted on checking in the code under his name, as a badge of personal honor, and the rest of us leveraged our OldTuber status to approve the code review."

I swear that wasn't me. Although I would have loved to do it.

(first published on Facebook March 12, 2024)

35th birthday of the Web

Celebrating the 35th birthday of the World Wide Web, a letter by its founder, Tim Berners-Lee.

Discussing some of the issues of the Web of today: too much centralization, too much exploitation, too much disinformation, all made even more dire by the development of AI.

What to do? Some of the solution the letter mentions are Mastodon, a decentralized social network, and Solid, a Web-standards-based data governance solution, but it recognizes that more is needed, "to back the morally courageous leadership that is rising, collectivise their solutions, and to overturn the online world being dictated by profit to one that is dictated by the needs of humanity." I agree with that, but find it a bit vague.

I first was terribly annoyed that the letter was published on Medium, as this is a symptom of the centralization of the Web. I say, completely conscious that I am discussing it on Facebook. Obviously, both of this should be happening on our own domains, and it also does: I link not to Medium, but to the Web Foundation site, and I also have this posted on my own site and on my Mastodon account. So, it is there, on the real Web, not just on the closed walled gardens of Facebook and on one of the megasites such as Medium. But there is no indication of engagement on the Web Foundation's post, whereas the Medium article records more than 10,000 reactions, and my Facebook post will also show more reactions than my Website (but the Mastodon page could be competitive with Facebook for me).

I want to believe that Solid is the next important step, but Leigh Dodds's recent post on Solid, and particularly the discussion in the post, didn't inspire hope.