Indy Digest: May 1, 2023
Over the weekend, I got a message from Newspack, the company that helps handle the websites for the Independent and our sister paper. The email was letting me know that as of today, we’d no longer be able to automatically post stories to Twitter upon publication.
Under (Elon) Musk, Twitter has shut down its free API offerings to developers looking to build Twitter-based apps or integrations. In its place, the company announced exorbitantly-priced paid Enterprise subscription tiers, which start at $42,000 per month, earlier this year.
According to a statement released by WordPress, the platform is removing Twitter from JetPack, an official plugin run by WordPress and its parent company, Automattic. Among its many security and marketing offerings, JetPack Social provides users with the ability to automatically share content directly to an array of social media platforms from their WordPress sites. …
“Twitter decided, on short notice, to dramatically change the terms and pricing of the Twitter API,” said Automattic in a statement. “We have attempted to work with Twitter in good faith to negotiate new terms, but we have not been able to reach an agreement. As a result, the Twitter connection on Jetpack Social will cease to work, and your blog posts will no longer be auto-shared to Twitter.”
As a result, the Independent may not be publishing much on Twitter anymore. Yeah, we could still have someone manually go to Twitter (via a web browser or the app), and paste in a story link, and we might on occasion make that effort—but to be frank, we get very little actual referral traffic from Twitter.
The dilemma over whether or not the Independent and other newspapers post stories on Twitter, while important, is not the real reason why Twitter’s move is deeply concerning. Twitter is mediocre at getting people to click on links—but it’s a wonderful platform for sharing direct information.
This move by Twitter to make companies and organizations start paying big bucks to use its API (application programming interface—basically, the way in which other software interacts with Twitter) is forcing these users to eliminate ways in which they use Twitter to share direct information. Take, as one example, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The Associated Press says:
Shortly after midnight Thursday, several New York City subway trains slowed to a crawl as emergency crews tended to a person discovered on the tracks in Manhattan.
The delays were flagged for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s rail control center, where a customer service agent typed up a straightforward warning for early-morning riders to consider alternate routes.
But while the message was quickly posted to the MTA’s website and app, the alert never made it to the subway system’s Twitter account, with its 1 million followers. The agency’s access to the platform’s back-end, officials soon learned, had been suspended by Twitter without warning.
It was the second such breakdown in two weeks and the reaction inside the MTA was swift. By Thursday afternoon, senior executives agreed to cease publishing service alerts to the platform altogether.
The decision put the country’s largest transportation network among a growing number of accounts, from National Public Radio to Elton John, who have reduced their Twitter presence or left the platform since its takeover by Elon Musk.
I find myself using Twitter less and less, because Elon Musk’s changes have made the platform buggier and more unstable; opened the door for more bigotry and hate, and made it harder for good information to get to people who need it. This API change may be the thing that makes me decide not to use Twitter at all.
Department of Corrections
As several readers kindly (and one rather rudely) pointed out, I made a mistake in Thursday’s Indy Digest when I referred to “Salinas County.” Of course, Salinas is the largest city in, and county seat of, Monterey County, a place where there’s a zombie Gannett paper with zero reporters, which is appalling.
Apologies for the mistake.
From the Independent
Civic Solutions: Residents of Three Valley Cities Don’t Have to Pay for Ambulance Services; Could the Other Cities Set Up Similar Programs?
By Maria Sestito
April 28th, 2023
In the Coachella Valley, a ride to the hospital via ambulance starts at about $1,200—and that’s before additional costs and surcharges are added in. But in Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and Indian Wells, residents don’t have to worry about these costs.
Incredible Ensemble: The Bent’s Production of ‘The Boys in the Band’ Is a Magnificently Cast Marvel
By Valerie-Jean (VJ) Hume
May 1st, 2023
Even if you saw the movie The Boys in the Band, The Bent’s production of the play is very different—so don’t miss this amazing production because you think you “already saw it.”
Pre-Teen Tribulations: Judy Blume’s Classic Book ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ Is Now a Classic Film
By Bob Grimm
May 1st, 2023
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret perfectly encapsulates both its time and the challenges of pre-teen life that Judy Blume so eloquently captured in some of her best works.
May Astronomy: Venus Rules the Evening Sky, While Saturn Offers Great Views Via Telescope in the Mornings
By Robert Victor
April 30th, 2023
A preview of the sky’s offerings in May 2023.
Anxiety Amplified: ‘Beau Is Afraid’ Is a Challenging Puzzler of a Film—in a Very Good Way
By Bob Grimm
May 1st, 2023
Joaquin Phoenix stars as the title character, an anxiety-ridden New York City resident whose world is hindered by meds gone very wrong.
The Indy Endorsement: The Caramelized Onion Tart at Bar Cecil
By Jimmy Boegle
April 30th, 2023
Bar Cecil’s caramelized onion tart is like the best French onion soup you’ve ever had—converted into a sharable, gorgeous appetizer.
• Another bank failed today. Three economics professors, writing for The Conversation, say the reasons for the failure of financial institutions always have a common thread: “The collapse of (Silicon Valley Bank) and now First Republic underscores how the impact of risky decisions at one bank can quickly spread into the broader financial system. It should also provide the impetus for policymakers and regulators to address a systemic problem that has plagued the banking industry from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s to the financial crisis of 2008 to the recent turmoil following SVB’s demise: incentive structures that encourage excessive risk-taking.”
• ProPublica shines a light on yet another case in which paid expert testimony came from someone who was not the expert they claimed to be. The “expert” in this case is Florida-based pharmacist Daniel Buffington, who has been paid at least $354,541 by seven states since 2015 for testifying that their death-penalty execution methods are not painful (something about which other medical professionals and execution eyewitnesses disagree): “Similar scenes have played out in courtrooms across the country: Facing constitutional challenges to their lethal injection protocols, states have tapped Buffington to vouch for the ways they execute prisoners, and judges are persuaded, in part by his testimony, even as the controversy over midazolam and other lethal injection drugs has grown. But an investigation by ProPublica and Type Investigations scrutinized the assertions Buffington has made under oath and found that, for years, as he crisscrossed the country to argue that midazolam ensured a humane death, he seemed to be exaggerating or misrepresenting the scope of what he could legally do as a licensed pharmacist. Notably, on multiple occasions Buffington has testified that he has prescribed midazolam, which legal experts said could boost his credibility with judges. But both Florida and Georgia, the states where Buffington is licensed, do not permit pharmacists to prescribe controlled substances, which include midazolam.”
• The California Legislature is considering a bill that would sanction cities that do not have enough shelter space for unhoused individuals. Our partners at Calmatters report: “More than 69,000 homeless residents live in Los Angeles County, for instance, but that county has just over 21,000 beds in shelters and temporary housing programs. It’s a similar story in Sacramento County, which counted nearly 9,300 unhoused residents in its last census, but has just over 3,000 shelter and temporary housing beds. Those massive gaps—which ensure thousands of people remain homeless—are visible in cities throughout California. But despite constant reassurances from Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers that getting people off the street is a top priority, there’s no state requirement for cities and counties to make sure they have enough shelters or housing for homeless residents. A bill working its way through the Legislature could change that, and potentially lead to sanctions against local governments that fail to plan for the needs of homeless Californians. Senate Bill 7 would—for the first time — require cities and counties to plan enough beds for everyone living without a place to call home. It would go beyond just temporary shelter, also including permanent housing placements.”
• Now this is horrifying. CNN reports that there seems to be a spike in brain infections among kids in Southern Nevada—and beyond: “Disease detectives with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating a cluster of rare and serious brain abscesses in kids in and around Las Vegas, Nevada, and doctors from other parts of the country say they may be seeing a rise in cases, too. In 2022, the number of brain abscesses in kids tripled in Nevada, rising from an average of four to five a year to 18. ‘In my 20 years’ experience, I’ve never seen anything like it,’ said Dr. Taryn Bragg, an associate professor at the University of Utah who treated the cases. Pediatric neurosurgeons like Bragg are rare. She is the only one for the entire state of Nevada, and because she treated all the cases, she was the first to notice the pattern and to alert local public health officials. ‘After March of 2022, there was just a huge increase,’ in brain abscesses, Bragg said. ‘I was seeing large numbers of cases and that’s unusual. And the similarities in terms of the presentation of cases was striking.”
• Solvang, a small city northwest of Santa Barbara that describes itself as the “Danish Capital of America,” has been reprimanded by the mayor of Copenhagen, in the real Denmark, for being homophobic. Yes, really. The Los Angeles Times reports: “Earlier this year, husbands Kiel and Matthew Cavalli came before the City Council with a proposal to display LGBTQ+ pride-themed banners downtown and paint some crosswalks rainbow colors for the month of June. They figured it would be no big deal. The City Council last year officially declared June to be Pride Month in Solvang, and the town, just a few years ago, had a gay mayor. But in February, the City Council rejected the Cavallis’ banners by a 3-2 vote. ‘I’m going to get called a bigot tomorrow. I’ve been called a bigot before. I don’t care,’ said (City Councilman Robert) Clarke, who voted no. … Members of Santa Ynez Valley Pride were in communication with organizers for Copenhagen Pride—who eventually reached out to the mayor when things took a dark turn in Solvang. Denmark is ‘one of the most progressive countries in the world,’ Lord Mayor Sophie Hæstorp Andersen wrote in an open letter to Solvang’s mayor. Solvang’s ‘opposition to Pride does not reflect the genuine warmth and acceptance of Pride that can be seen across Denmark and especially in Copenhagen,’ she said.“
• And finally … the headline in the Los Angeles Times says: “A ‘full body orgasm’ at the L.A. Phil? Witnesses offer conflicting accounts.” Go on, you say? Here’s a tidbit: “Molly Grant was enjoying the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony on Friday at the Walt Disney Concert Hall when she heard what she described as a ‘scream/moan’ erupt from the balcony. ‘Everyone kind of turned to see what was happening,’ Grant, who was seated near the person who allegedly made the noise, told The Times on Sunday in a phone interview. ‘I saw the girl after it had happened, and I assume that she … had an orgasm because she was heavily breathing, and her partner was smiling and looking at her — like in an effort to not shame her,’ said Grant, who works for a jewelry company and lives in Los Feliz. ‘It was quite beautiful.’” Um, OK then! Anyway, the Times did some serious investigating to find out what really happened; you read, and you decide.
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