This kind of cluttered onslaught of homogenous e-commerce options is what recently prompted Dmitri Brereton, a twenty-six-year-old engineer at a recruiting-software company in San Francisco, to publish a blog post titled “Google Search Is Dying.” When it comes to product reviews or recipes, Brereton argued, results from Google’s search engine “have gone to shit.” Rather than settling for the default, those who want to know what a “genuine real-life human being” thinks of a certain product have learned work-arounds, such as adding “Reddit” to their searches to bring up relevant threads on that platform. On Reddit’s “Buy It for Life” forum, for instance, they’ll find users showing off a Soviet-era toaster, a restored vintage Sunbeam, and other toasters to “grow old with,” as one put it. Brereton’s post–which ended “Google is dead. Long live Google + ‘site:reddit.com’ ”—became the No. 10 most upvoted link ever on the tech-industry discussion board Hacker News. No. 11 is a complaint about Google’s search results looking too similar to its ads, while No. 12 is a link to an alternative, indie search engine. Clearly, others share Brereton’s sense of search-engine discontentment.

  • Golly gee, sportswashing? Why does this sound so familiar? It’s almost like autocratic governments like Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, China, UAE, and others do this with art or something. No, can’t be, right?

Sportswashing is the practice of laundering one’s reputation through sports; whether that be through team ownership, hosting a major tournament, or sponsorship. A country or politician gets involved with the hope that some of the sport’s popularity will improve their image.

As the world’s most popular sport, soccer is an effective vehicle for sportswashing. Saudi Arabia recently purchased English Premier League team Newcastle United. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was trying to sell London’s Chelsea F.C. before the British government sanctioned him.

When the British entered the Benin Oba (King’s) palace, they found “several hundred unique bronze plaques, suggestive of almost Egyptian design, but of really superb casting,” according to Reginald Bacon, an intelligence officer with the expedition. Soldiers walked out with the plaques, along with other art, ivory, brass, jewelry and garments. Thousands of pieces were taken.

They were “not just loot, they were blood art,” Australian journalist Marc Fennell explained on the podcast “Stuff the British Stole.” Indeed, word was sent back to Britain that selling off Benin’s objects could help offset the cost of the war.

In New York City, the police commissioner can and often does choose to ignore the results of CCRB-brought disciplinary trials. The commissioner can ignore guilty pleas and can even decide there should be no trial at all, as appears to be happening in this case. Last year, the police commissioner followed through on the CCRB’s discipline recommendations in serious cases just 27% of the time.

I sent the NYPD a series of questions, asking both about its power to ignore the CCRB and about how that power has been wielded in this case. I got a one-sentence response: “The disciplinary process is ongoing.”

We do know something about what’s happened to the officers, and about their records. Thanks to legislation that New York state passed in the summer of 2020, police records are no longer secret. The CCRB’s report names the officers involved.

  • I’m really fascinated by this recent survey by YouGov that asks Americans about their perceptions regarding the size of certain groups in the country, including Muslims, Jews, New Yorkers, atheists, transgender individuals, and more. The results are fascinating (and a little mind-boggling, including the fact that people think 27% of the US is Muslim, 21% of the population is transgender, and 20% of the US has a household income over $1 million). Check out this part of the data:
  • Parker Richards has published a thoughtful article in the New Republic about the United States and how we need to see it more realistically:

Trump’s rise largely coincided with a push and pull over American exceptionalism that has now outlasted his presidency. Sides are not clean, are not divided by party or political orientation. The debate concerns not just what the United States is and can be, but in fact what this or any country can represent to its citizens and to the world. On the one hand are the exceptionalists—those who hold faith in an America that is unique in the world and destined for greatness. Opposing the exceptionalists are a motley crew spread across right, left, and center who argue that America is, even beyond Trump’s relatively amoral formulation, a force for ill. Let’s call this inchoate ideology counter-exceptionalism. It’s not anti-exceptionalist—that is, it is not simply an argument against American exceptionalism. Rather, it is an argument affirming exceptionalism’s inverse: an ideology that argues that America either has always been, or has become, a unique force for ill in the world.

Counter-exceptionalism has crept into our public spaces en masse—and it is a force that threatens the political and cultural integrity both of the country as a whole and, in the more immediate term, of the ideological battles of those engaged in an earnest debate about how to better it. A left that cannot conceive of an America that has even the potential to be a force for good now struggles to make a positive argument for that good and concedes the grounds of hope and reconciliation to the exceptionalist right. The counter-exceptionalist right, meanwhile, has grown convinced of American decadence and decline—it believes that the United States has become a sort of Sodom, and in that conviction has become increasingly hostile to democracy and amenable to violence as a legitimate political mechanism.

  • I can’t believe I’m posting an article about The Bachelor TV series, but this last episode feels like a true disaster. Reading about it is pure delicious. Emily Yahr of the Washington Post has the summary:

In the first part of the finale on Monday, Clayton second-guessed everything and broke down in tears as he mourned Susie’s departure. For some reason, this inspired him to be “transparent” with Rachel and Gabby, who were waiting for him at the rose ceremony, since he was supposed to be narrowing the final three down to the final two. In what host Jesse Palmer excitedly called the “rose ceremony from hell,” Clayton informed Rachel and Gabby that Susie left, and it had “shattered” him: “I was in love with her. … I am in love with both of you. And I also was intimate with both of you.” He admitted he had no idea whom to choose, and soon, the only sounds that could be heard were those of both Rachel and Gabby sobbing as they ran off in separate directions.

Somehow (a producer’s encouragement?), Clayton was able to cajole Rachel and Gabby to stick around and even meet his family, who had traveled to Iceland to meet his final two. Everyone pretended not to be miserable, especially Clayton, though afterward he did the worst thing: After putting everyone through that forced happiness, he realized the person he really loved was Susie.

During one recent news bulletin on BBC Radio 4, the correspondent referred to “Putin’s baseless claim that the Ukrainian state supports Nazis”. This is, itself, disinformation: it is an observable fact, which the BBC itself has previously reported on accurately and well, that the Ukrainian state has, since 2014, provided funding, weapons and other forms of support to extreme Right-wing militias, including neo-Nazi ones. This is not a new or controversial observation. Back in 2019, I spent time in Ukraine interviewing senior figures in the constellation of state-backed extreme Right-wing groups for Harper’s magazine; they were all quite open about their ideology and plans for the future. 

Indeed, some of the best coverage of Ukraine’s extreme Right-wing groups has come from the open-source intelligence outlet Bellingcat, which is not known for a favourable attitude towards Russian propaganda. Bellingcat’s excellent reporting of this under-discussed topic over the past few years has largely focused on the Azov movement, Ukraine’s most powerful extreme Right-wing group, and the one most favoured by the state’s largesse. 

A New Zealand couple who believed they had dug up the world’s largest potato in the garden of their small farm near Hamilton have had their dreams turned to mash after Guinness wrote to say that scientific testing had found it wasn’t, in fact, a potato after all.

Colin Craig-Brown, who first hit the tuber with a hoe last August when gardening with his wife, Donna, said it sure looked and tasted like a potato. Mind you, he added, he’s never tasted a gourd tuber.

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.