Sarah mixtapes: November 2021 to April 2022

Every month, I make Sarah a playlist of songs she might particularly want to hear. Sadly, I’m very behind! Here are the latest five.

November 2021: Just a pile of good songs

  • Friday I’m in Love by The Cure
  • Being No One, Going Nowhere by STRFKR
  • Jesus, Etc. by Bill Fay
  • Can’t Stand The Midwest by Dow Jones And The Industrials
  • Hunnybee by Unknown Mortal Orchestra
  • Game Shows Touch Our Lives by The Mountain Goats
  • Velha Infância – 2004 Digital Remaster by Tribalistas
  • Believe by K’s Choice
  • Peacock Tail by Boards of Canada
  • Grass by Animal Collective
  • Shark Smile – Edit by Big Thief
  • Underwater Dream by Eluvium
  • PPP by Beach House
  • Wake Up by Äl Jawala
  • Eili, Eili by Nathan Salsburg
  • In Between Days – 2006 Remaster by The Cure
  • Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales by Car Seat Headrest

December 2021 — These are good songs

  • No One’s Gonna Love You by Band of Horses
  • First Breath After Coma by Explosions In The Sky
  • 7/4 (Shoreline) by Broken Social Scene
  • Land Locked Blues by Bright Eyes
  • Autumn Town Leaves by Iron & Wine
  • Suffer For Fashion by of Montreal
  • Taro by alt-J
  • Rave On by Buddy Holly; The Crickets
  • Dance Yrself Clean by LCD Soundsystem
  • Do You Realize?? by The Flaming Lips
  • King Without a Crown by Matisyahu
  • No Children by The Mountain Goats
  • The Vowels, Pt. 2 by WHY?
  • Kids Will Be Skeletons by Mogwai
  • The District Sleeps Alone by The Postal ServiceTonight – Remastered
  • West Coast by Coconut Records
  • The Funeral by Band of Horses

January 2022: Some delightful songs

  • Time Escaping by Big Thief
  • Undigested Parts by Elf Power
  • Summit by Ryan Roth; Halina Heron
  • Annan Kitaran Laulaa Vaan by Dave Lindholm
  • Månnge’ Hao by Micah Manaitai
  • Emmylou by First Aid Kit
  • Bleecker Street by Simon & Garfunkel
  • Gyöngyhajú lány by Omega
  • Southwood Plantation Road by The Mountain Goats
  • Psycho Killer – 2005 Remaster by Talking Heads
  • The Only Moment We Were Alone by Explosions In The Sky
  • Amreik by Eluvium
  • The Start Of Something by Voxtrot
  • Change by Big Thief

February 2022: Basic / normie songs that I still like

  • Lotus Flower by Radiohead
  • Fat Lip by Sum 41
  • Le Freak by CHIC
  • The Lovecats by The Cure
  • Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads
  • Cemetry Gates – 2011 Remaster by The Smiths
  • Old Soul Song (for the New World Order) – by Bright EyesCompanion Version
  • When I B On Tha Mic by Rakim
  • The Adults Are Talking by The Strokes
  • Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix
  • Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd
  • Supermassive Black Hole by Muse
  • Burn the Witch by Radiohead

March 2022: Indie standards of the late 00s

  • Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire
  • Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend
  • Crystalised by The xx
  • Morning Mr Magpie by Radiohead
  • Such Great Heights – Remastered by The Postal Service
  • I Feel It All by Feist
  • Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • Heartbeats by The Knife
  • Back in Your Head by Tegan and Sara
  • Ambling Alp by Yeasayer
  • Rill Rill by Sleigh Bells
  • Lights Out by Santigold
  • Amsterdam by Peter Bjorn and John
  • Animal by Miike Snow
  • Sea of Love by Cat Power
  • White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes
  • Ready, Able by Grizzly Bear
  • Gobbledigook by Sigur Rós
  • Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second by STRFKR
  • Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games by of Montreal
  • Mouthful of Diamonds by Phantogram
  • I Was A Lover by TV On The Radio
  • Skinny Love by Bon Iver
  • Us by Regina Spektor
  • Boy From School by Hot Chip
  • Electric Feel by MGMT
  • Celebration Guns by Stars
  • (Antichrist Television Blues) by Arcade Fire

April 2022: eclectic songs that are good but don’t really fit a theme

  • Training Montage by The Mountain Goats
  • Going To A Town by Rufus Wainwright
  • It’s All Right – Single Version by The Impressions
  • Wagner at the Opera by Chumbawamba
  • The Fear by Röyksopp
  • In Our Bedroom After The War by Stars
  • 24-25 by Kings of Convenience
  • Aaftaab by Jawid Sharif; Madina Aknazarova
  • Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean by Explosions In The Sky
  • Untitled #3 – 2022 Remaster by Sigur Rós
  • Fatalist Palmistry by WHY?
  • First Few Desperate Hours by The Mountain Goats

(I try to match the photos and months. For instance, April 2022 was the month we got engaged, and the album cover is from that night!)

As always, thanks to to for making exporting playlists to text easily.


Cited in Wired: T&S as a service

Vittoria Elliott at Wired has a new article. I’m in it!

It’s called: Big Tech Ditched Trust and Safety. Now Startups Are Selling It Back As a Service

Here’s the link:

I’m quoted as saying:

Sahar Massachi, a former member of Meta’s civic integrity team and cofounder and executive director of the Integrity Institute think tank, worries that by outsourcing key functions, platforms may be undermining their ability to improve products. Trust and safety issues can sometimes be more about product design than active moderation—should a user be able to reshare content? How much weight should different metrics be given within a recommendation algorithm? “The vendors could be great, but they won’t be able to have insight into that because of the ways that companies work,” Massachi says.

If you think of the work as “take in a stream of content, tag it, and then emit that altered stream of content” — then you’ve already lost. That’s a component of the work, maybe, but not the core of it. The core of it includes looking at behavior over time. It involves looking at data from a variety of different sources in the product. It involves changing the product, the metrics workers are held to, and company decisions. T&S vendors do good work, and I’m glad that many of them are run by (or hired) my friends. But they’re at best a large component of a bigger strategy — hiring them cannot be the strategy, if you want to do things right.

And to put it maybe a bit more succinctly:

The most important levers to doing integrity work right — design, ranking changes, setting the right metrics — are explicitly out of the control of vendors. If they handle whack a mole while product teams do the rest — that’s great. If they’re the only line of defense? Bad news.


The McDonald’s gambit

A long while ago I read about a concept the author called “the McDonald’s gambit”. Some web sleuthing couldn’t find it, and I use this idea all the time. So this is me recording it for future citation.

Imagine you’re with a group of people. Maybe friendly aquaintances, or coworkers. Maybe just you and your girlfriend. You’re trying to figure out where to go eat.

No one suggests an idea. There’s just silence. Probably because no one wants to impose their views on others — but in respecting people’s preferences they aren’t respecting their time or ability to speak up for themselves.

You need to break this logjam. You don’t need to propose an actually good idea. That’s kind of unhelpful, really. The point isn’t to impose your favorite restaurant on the group. The point is to start discussion. The tactic is to provoke them by making an outlandishly bad suggestion.

Say this — “how about we get McDonald’s?”

“McDonald’s!?” someone will cry out. “I mean we might as well go to Thai Thanic, that’s better than McDonald’s. Eww”.

Then someone will say “Oh, I don’t like Thai Thanic, let’s try Kumquat Kitchen”.

And presto! You’ve successfully jolted real preferences to be expressed. All through the power of the McDonalds Gambit.

(And of course, pro-tip, it doesn’t have to be just about food.)

Cross-posting to my substack


Sounds of Sephardic Yom Kippur

I’m currently obsessed with this playlist.

Growing up in a sephardic shul, this was the kind of liturgy/music I was surrounded with. Though not quite — imagine no musical instruments, and about twenty old men refugees from Iran, Syria, Iraq, etc chanting instead.

Even back as a kid who was in an itchy suit, generally bored, and unhappy about being there, these songs (and I experienced them as songs) were really powerful. There was a sort of dusty, strained, longing in the voices of these men around me. Recreating, for just a few days a year, the accents, the music, the feeling of the countries they fled for their lives, in their youth.

When I was young, I heard a fair amount about my parents’ story — or rather my mother’s family. My dad was always closed-lipped about it. I know about how my grandparents fled Iran on the last ever commercial flight from Tehran to Tel Aviv. (Story here). But it was a personal story, not a larger historical-political one. What I missed was an understanding that everyone in that synagogue had a similar experience to my parents.

There was only one Sephardic shul in town. I say “Sephardic” and “Shul” kind of loosely — everyone not Ashkenazi [including persian, sephardic, mizrahi jews] was there. While “shul” generally refers to orthodox places of prayer, (“synagogue is for conservatives, temple for reform jews”), we covered everyone. Especially since for non-Ashkenazi jews, the whole “orthodox” “reform” “conservative” split is kind of alien.

I think a lot about jewish refugees from arab countries. Their old lives are gone. Very few jews are left in places like Afghanistan. The people in vibrant towns and enclaves were pogrom’d, harassed, and kicked out. And for those that ended up in places like Rochester, NY — they didn’t really fit the mold of what “jewish” tends to be assumed to mean in the US.

Anyway. This music takes me back. It makes emotional. I think you’d like it.

Start with #2: Et Sha’areh Ratson.

Thanks to The Kitchen for making this available on Soundcloud. Specifically Asher Shasho Levy


My update to the Berkman Community

Hey! I’m a Berkman/RSM fellow this year, and also still an affiliate. They asked for a mid-year check in email to the community. It took a while. I figure, why not share it here? This is a verbatim copy of what I wrote, modolus some formatting differences.

Hey friends! My, how time flies.

As a reminder — I’m Sahar. This is my life story. This is what I’m up to now (in a more personal way). Mainly I run Integrity Institute. I was a fellow in 20-21, an affiliate since, and now I’m also an RSM fellow.

🧱 Work projects and success
  • I’m running Integrity Institute.
    • We are a think tank on how to fix the social internet, powered by our members: tech professionals who have experience on teams like: integrity, trust and safety, anti abuse, responsible design, content or behavior moderation, and so on.
  • We’ve moved from 2 co-founders and 1 staff to 2 co-founders and 5 full-time staff.
  • The recent chatter around “tech exodus” and “how do we integrate these people into civil society” is a thing we pretty much called 2 years ago. Now a big challenge is finding the funders who be delighted to realize we exist and that we are already doing the work they wish was happening. (Do you have advice on that?)
  • People tell me that we’re the luckiest nonprofit in the world and we’re doing great! I guess I have high standards for what we could be doing. It’s an important moment.
  • I like finding ways we can partner. We have in abundance: actual workers who fix social media for a living. First-hand knowledge. We also have in abundance: organizations, governments, journalists trying to talk to us. We do not have in abundance: staff time, general operating support, a moment to breathe.
👋 Personal projects:
  • I’m getting married! 
  • I still run this blog, and I still make mixtapes. I’m behind on mixtapes, I would love your suggestions of great music to put on mixtapes to send to my boo
  • For fun, I still matchmake people in a romance, housing, or jobs way. Feel free to follow along or join.
  • I moved to Brooklyn! I’m in Crown Heights and would like to be part of more local (and niche) communities
🐫 Specific work examples in case you like that sort of thing
💬 Thinking projects

I’m trying to spend time writing and thinking out loud again. Things I’m trying to find the time to finally write:

  • The case for hiring integrity workers (to do integrity work or “normal” product work)
  • This work is not (or should not be) a cost center. (It’s about long-term retention and product quality!)
  • The macroeconomics of social platforms: thinking about supply, demand, and distribution for content
  • Using “integrity thinking” (incentives, supply/demand, etc) to diagnose governance failures in social media
  • More about how the answer is design and behavior moderation. “Content moderation” is a bad metaphor
  • The retweet/share/forward button is bad.
  • How to think about ranking and recommendation systems (“algorithms”). The answer is: 1. this is actually simple. 2. here’s a fun metaphor involving crazed chef robots. 3. Just look at a/b test results
  • Social media companies are actually weak and easily bullied. Even as the platforms they own are powerful and important. This is a bad thing.

It could be fun to take my ideas/bullets that could be blog posts or op-eds, and work with others to turn them into more fleshed out papers or something. Let’s think and write together. I also know that Zahra Stardust and I need to finish cowriting our thing together.

🥰 Hooray for BKC people

I want to shout out the staff and community members of BKC. It’s been delightful spending time with you, including over the last semester.

This includes pretty much all staff at RSM, my fellow fellows at RSM, and the staff at BKC. Mentioning everyone would be a fool’s errand, but some recent connections and shout-outs:

  • I had a lovely time getting to know Biella Coleman at Bruce Schneier’s party a few weeks ago
  • Tom Zick and I met as BKC fellows, stayed friends in Boston, and now I just invited her to my wedding!
  • Rebecca Rinkevitch and Sue Hendrickson and I keep running into each other at conferences! Including one where Micaela Mantegna was there
  • I met, separately, Marissa Gerchick and Joe Bak-Coleman for 1-1 hanging out time in Brooklyn lately, and I hope soon the 3 of us plus Nate Lubin can hang out altogether.
  • Kathryn Hymes met Marissa and I for the best cocktails in brooklyn the other day.
  • Susan Benesch and I had a few deep conversations. And Elodie advised my staff on how to understand the conference landscape.
  • Joanne Cheung and I had a lovely long conversation in an oddly cavernous and loud restaurant at Union Square Manhattan.

If you’ve gotten all the way this far down the email, wow! Hooray. Please accept this cookie. 🍪


Media for the sick

Someone I’m friendly with is undergoing a long convalescence.

They asked for recommendations for media, books, podcasts, etc. I figured I might as well post them here. This is by no means a comprehensive list of what I like. But it is stuff I think you can enjoy without paying extreme amounts of attention.


Remember college humor? They turned into “a netflix”. A streaming service full of their own shows. Great shows! Their DND shows are the flagship (Dimension 20 — start with Fantasy High). The shows draw from the same cast of comedians. Really good stuff.

But Gamechanger is also great.

A game show that changes its format every episode

Worth paying the $5/month

But also a lot of it is on youtube. Fantasy High for example.

Old standards

Adventure time!

Steven Universe!

The Good Place

Parks and Rec

30 Rock

Video Games

Slay the Spire is great. A wonderful way to spend a lot of time. If you get it on a computer (rather than iPad) you can install Downfall, which is a mod that makes the game more than 100% better

There also are iPad games that are board games ported to the iPad. Delightful ones.

  • Ascension
  • Mystic Vale
  • Lords of Waterdeep
  • Mysterium
  • Transistor
  • Paperback
  • Mystic Valley
  • Old standards I don’t love: Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan

Hades is fantastic


Teamster Rebellion is a nonfiction account of the general strike in Minneapolis. Reads like a thriller

The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett is great. His work can be split into early, mid, and late. All periods are good, but each is different. 

Also within that series are many mini series, each following a different protagonist.

More on how to follow the reading list.

Going Postal is a great place to start.


Revolutions podcast is beautiful. Each season is a different revolution. Spoken as a history. Fun!


The boss and the layoffs

Back in mid-2019, I had decided I was going to move to Boston and live with Sarah. Facebook didn’t like this idea. There was an office in Boston, but that wasn’t good enough. They said I couldn’t stay on the civic team, and had to shop around to the teams that were physically located in Boston. Also, all those teams were looking for criteria that I didn’t meet.

Long story short, I found a team that I liked and would take me. (Presto!) But I still was pretty upset. I loved my team at Civic. I didn’t want to leave. And I was being forced to, in essence, break up with a ton of work friends. Dozens of people that I liked, was already dreading moving physically away from — now I was being told that I wasn’t allowed to work on projects with them any more. Our friendships would be abruptly severed, or else badly wounded.

They threw me a going away party. That was sweet. I gave a little impromptu speech. I forgot everything I said there, but I do remember three points I made:

  • It is fundamentally unfair that the boss can decide that you’re not allowed to hang out with your friends any more.
  • The work we do is important, and could easily be bent towards evil ends. Be aware.
  • Take care of each other.

While I don’t really remember what I said, I do remember feeling fiery, and I do remember the look on people’s faces as I was giving that speech. I think it made an impression.

That brings me to the news of the last few weeks and months. Layoffs at Meta. Layoffs at Twitter. Layoffs everywhere. And now, layoffs at Google, the last bastion of old school big tech.

I wrote a little thing to our members about it. Here’s the link. I felt the old anger in me as I wrote it. Most layoffs are in fact unfair. (And it brought me to the lovely story of Saturo Iwata)

I’ve also pasted it below. Here it is:

Today was another bad day for the industry. There have a been more than a few bad days recently, huh? Layoffs and fear and uncertainty. All within companies that (with a few exceptions) remain profitable, well-resourced, and with a highly compensated executive suite.

To everyone who lost their job recently, fears for their continued employment, or is just plain sad or angry — this sucks, and I’m with you. It’s not fair that a boss can quickly sever your ties with your work friends, or put your livelihood in doubt, or just plain cause so much anxiety over a thing that wasn’t your fault. It’s not fair to move from arguing “let integrity workers like me do our jobs” to “let integrity workers like me be still employed”

If you’re an ex-Googler, ex-something-else or just generally want to talk; let me know. I imagine all of us on staff would be open to talking things out; I’ll just speak for myself and let them chime in in the comments.

If you’re still at a company, feeling perhaps shellshocked, overcommitted, survivor’s guilt, or anything else; we see you and we’re here for you too. This is a bad situation for everyone. Let us know how we can help.

Lastly, you might need time to process and aren’t ready to talk right now and that’s ok too. We’re here when you are ready — whether that’s next week, next month or anytime.

Knowing precisely what to say in moments like this is hard. We’re all scattered in different places, with different reactions to all this. But I hope this helps:

  • We are a community for the long haul. A community is a thing that you stay part of, even when your job changes. (If you leave a thing when you change jobs, it’s not a community, it’s an industry). Once a member, always a member.
  • We’re still encouraging people to swap job leads in #classifieds and are actively soliciting opportunities from partners, trying to set up paid fellowships for y’all in partnership with other organizations, and generally seeing what we can do. Thanks to the members who already have been proactively sharing leads.
  • A small thing that came across my desk today: Travis, the guy who runs Tech Congress, specifically wants to recruit you. They have fellowships for tech professionals (like us!) to embed as congressional staffers for a year. Different levels of fellowship for different amounts of experience. If you want to affect policy and understand how legislation works, this is a good option. (It’s paid, not amazingly) [link to more info in Slack’]
    • If you want a personal introduction to him, or are in any way interested, let me know.

Thanks for all that you do. And remember — we’re in this together.


Things I forgot to mention lately

I’ve been pretty busy lately and a lot has happened. I should update you! Normally, each of these might be fleshed out in a post of their own, but since I haven’t found the time, let’s do some bullets:

Big overview thing: Integrity Institute hit our 1-year anniversary. We did a long tweet thread of our last year. It’s pretty amazing to see it in one place.

Example items:

Some stuff that wasn’t listed there (that is still work stuff):

Not-work stuff:

  • Sarah and I got engaged! I think I mentioned that
  • We just booked a wedding venue today
  • We moved to Brooklyn
  • I bought a gaming PC
  • I bought a copy of Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 — a game from 20 years ago that I have dreamed about playing for ages. So glad I did that
  • I’m a Berkman Rebooting Social Media fellow
  • I’m on … mastodon now?
  • My non-work life is pretty boring tbh

Did I miss anything?

Honestly I’d love suggestions on what to do with my life non-workwise. I have gotten seriously out of whack. I’m so tired all the time, and I know I should go do things but I never seem to find the energy, and I never seem to stop working until 9 or 10 pm.


Integrity Institute at 1

It’s the one-year anniversary since we went public.

To celebrate, we made a tweet thread just listing the bigger/more public stuff we’ve done over the last year. It’s a big list. Kind of crazy to see it all in one place.

Check it out here:


Oh hey I got engaged

Sarah proposed! This happened back in April. Oops! I forgot to tell you.

Here’s the livestream video of how it went down. But maybe you’d like more context! If so, read on.

How we got together in the first place:

  • Sarah and I have known each other since the 3rd grade.
  • I think I’ve had a crush on her since the 3rd grade, but I’m not sure. Definitely in high school though.
  • Frustratingly for me, she just kept stubbornly dating someone who wasn’t me.
  • We kept in touch in college. It was nice.
  • Post-college, we went on an epic road trip with some forever friends. Despite some encouraging signs, this was a false start.
  • We kept in touch post-college. It was nice.
  • I lived in Rochester for a bit, and we ended up circling each other romantically for a few weeks. Despite these encouraging signs, it was another false start.
  • We kept in touch. I moved to San Francisco. It was nice.
  • One day, during our regular every-few-months phone calls, I told Sarah something like: “hey, if we’re ever in the same city again, I think we should date”. She said: “absolutely not.”
  • We spent 2 hours going over why she thought us dating wasn’t a great idea. I took many notes. At the end, even though I guess I was rejected, I felt great! This person was calling me out on my bullshit! She knew me so well. I felt close to her and happy.
  • Six months later, we were both visiting our parents in Rochester for our 10-year high school reunion. During that reunion, I was wearing hot leather pants, the bullies and bullied were happily chatting, the lions were laying with the lambs, and it was clear that we had all changed a lot since high school. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that helped change her mind. :-)

Background to the proposal:

  • Sarah and I were still circling each other. We were “seeing” each other, but on different coasts.
  • She visited in February. This was a big deal!
  • We went from “idk are we dating idk” to “we love each other and are in a committed relationship” in the span of five days.
  • A few days later, we went to a really, really, elaborate proposal. I’m talking “hired a friend to project manage it for six months”. I’m talking “70 friends show up out of nowhere to celebrate”. I’m talking “secretly make arrangements with your beloved’s boss to take her on a 3-week tour of the world”.
  • After witnessing all that, Sarah turned to me and said: “never do that for me”.
  • I replied: “absolutely do that for me.”
  • She said: “okay, I guess I’m proposing, then”.
  • Reader, I held her to it.
  • I even would poke her about it years later: “don’t forget the proposal must be extravagant! I want friends there! I want pomp. I want elephants!”

How the proposal actually went down:

There were elephants. Specifically, little cute stuffed ones. But I get ahead of myself. Here’s what happened:

Sarah and I grew up together, so our families both lived in the same town. We were visiting both for Pesach. On the second night, her family hosted. As we started the hunt for the Afikoman, Sarah suggested that I look for it.

I looked around and found … elephants! Everywhere.

But also, after them, I found the Afikoman, next to a book. The book was full of well-wishes from friends and family. And also — Sarah proposed! The book was a replacement for a ring.

Loved it. Here are some photos.


Questions about “Web3” and “Content Moderation”

I moderated a panel at Unfinished Live a couple weeks ago. The panel was not recorded. The day’s topic was “Web3”, and the panel topic was chosen for me: Content Moderation.

Now, I really don’t like the framing of content moderation. (Or Trust and Safety). Oh well.

Here are the questions I led the session description with:

How might the traditional process of moderating content and behavior online look in a truly decentralized Web3 world? A shared protocol might be harder to edit than a central codebase; distributed data might be harder to change. However, new capabilities (like smart contracts) might improve aspects of moderation work. How might the theory and practice of integrity in Web3 compare to the systems we are accustomed to today?

And here are the (hopefully challenging) advanced questions I tried to ask:

  • One argument is that content moderation is really one manifestation of larger questions: how should platforms or protocols be designed? What are the terms of service, and how are they enforced? In short, these are questions of governance. Do you agree? Do you think narrow questions of enforcing terms of service can be separated from these larger questions?
  • As I see it, when it comes to writing and enforcing terms of service, there are two proposed alternatives to platform *dictatorship*: democratization, and decentralization. On the surface, decentralization and democratization seem opposed: a world where “the users vote to ban nazi content” conflicts with a world where “you can choose to see or not see nazi content as you like”. Must they be opposed? How are they complements vs two opposing visions?
  • One thing I keep coming back to in this work is a chart that Mark Zuckerberg (or his ghostwriter) of all people, put out, back in 2018. It’s a pretty simple chart, and it’s an abstract one: as content gets closer to “policy violating”, engagement goes up. That is, people have a natural tendency to gravitate towards bad things — where bad: could be hateful, misinformation, calls to violence, what have you. Colloquially, you can think about this as during the web1 era of forums: flame wars would get a ton of engagement, almost by definition. The corollary to this insight is that the _design_ of the experience matters a ton. You want care put into creating a system where good behavior is incentivized and bad behavior is not. If we’re focused on a model of either decentralized or democratized content moderation, aren’t we distracted from the real power: the design of the protocol or platform?
  • In thinking through governance, it seems like there’s a question of where legitimacy and values might be “anchored”, as it were. On one hand, it seems like we generally want to respect the laws and judgement of democratic countries. On the other, we want to design platforms that are resistant to surveillance, censorship, and control of unfriendly authoritarian countries. It seems like an impossible design question: make something resilient to bad governments, but accountable to good ones. Is this in fact impossible? Is the answer to somehow categorize laws or countries that are “to be respected” vs those “to be resisted?” To only operate in a few countries? To err more fully on the side of “cyber independence by design” or on the side of “we follow all laws in every country”?

In the end, it was a pretty fun panel. I think we drifted away from “content moderation” straight towards governance (which was supposedly a different panel). Governance being “who decides community standards?”. I think that’s because we all agreed that any work enforcing community standards is downstream of the rules as written, and the resourcing to actually do your job. So that was nice.

Made some friends (I hope!) too.


Updated Now page

Did a little housekeeping. I updated my shamefully dormant /now page.

For future reference, here’s what it says (after I updated it):

In 2020, I had quit my job at Facebook and moved into Somerville. I dove into my neighborhood, started a bunch of projects, and tried to heal from burnout. I wasn’t done with that, but had to put that all on hold to participate in the 2020 election. I also become a fellow at Berkman-Klein.

2021 was the year of founding The Integrity Institute. It’s great! Check it out. (Here’s a lovely piece laying out our launch).

I also focused on just a few other projects. Matchmaking (of many kinds), making mix tapes for Sarah, and thinking big thoughts with Berkman people. I helped kick ICE out of Massachusetts, but that honestly didn’t involve much work for me.

2022 has flown by. Lots of calls, lots of time making Integrity Institute more real. I haven’t left the house too often, and I also spent a lot of energy supporting Sarah as she finished her dissertation and prepared for a new job.

Now, the Institute is still my big main passion. I can’t believe time has flown by so far. I recently moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, with Sarah. She’s a law professor at Brooklyn Law now. Fancy!

Oh — and Sarah proposed!

We’re doing all the things that you do when you move in — find a doctor, redecorate, figure out who your friends will be and what your favorite coffeeshop is. It’s hard because we’re so busy and stressed: she’s starting life as a professor, teaching classes for the first time, etc. I’m trying to get this nonprofit further off the ground. (We recently raised One Million Dollars, which is nice).

One day soon I hope to revive Yenta as well. The FB posts are still happening, but the substack is a bit dormant.

It’s hard to have One Big Project for almost two years: at some point you need to start being less focused and more human. I think I need to live life more. Go outside, spend more time with friends, be more spontaneous. I miss hanging out with people, and generally relaxing. I miss being relaxed.

This is a “now” page, as opposed to a “then” page or “about” page. You can also read about my current projects, my pre-2021 life, or just go to my latest update.


Some books I recommend

When I meet someone out in the world who mentions they have kids around ages 10+, I get excited. I start maneuvering the conversation towards the subject of books. If all works well, we’ll soon be talking about some of my favorite series of books: mostly young adult coming of age fantasy novels, but also some books that are Just Plain Good.

It’s not just kids, though. Some series are my comfort food. I read them over and over again in my life: often as I sleep, as a way to relax. Sometimes I’ll start re-reading a series from the start, and be lost to the world for a week as I just voraciously tear through them.

I’ve hyped them up in person, and via text. You’ll see these recommendations scattered in emails, facebook comments, chat threads.

Now, I’ll try to post them here, so that there’s one more central place.

These are by no means all the “Sahar Massachi loved these as a teen” canon. But it’s a start.

Read the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett

This series by Terry Pratchett is probably my favorite series in all of fiction. TP was the most popular (fantasy? fiction?) author in all of the UK — until he was displaced by JK Rowling.

Discworld is a set of books of social satire pretending to be fantasy pretending to be humor. They have little mini-series and in-jokes between books.

The series went on for so long that the style changed over time. So “early”, “middle”, and “late” books have enough of a different feel that if you only mildly liked a book from one period, you might think another from a different period was great. (Skip the first four, they’re quite different than the rest)

I think that wisdom is pretty hard to find these days. I find these books to be wise — but not in a self-help kind of way at all. Instead, they’re adventure books! Full of memorable characters, fun situations, and so on. The wisdom comes from asides, little sentences or five that go into the author’s theory of humanity.

It never stops being really fun and funny. But there’s also lots of veiled cultural references, meditations on certain themes, and page-turning action.

There’s a book on the nature of belief, religion, the iron law of institutions, and philosophy. It’s also about a god who turned into a turtle and found the one follower who actually still believed in him.

There’s a book on startups, VCs, the power of marketing, .the internet, and corporate power. It’s also about a con man who was sentenced to revitalizing the city post office for his crimes.

There are books on witches (psychology, the power of narrative), policemen (what does it mean to be human, the rule of law, democracy, neo-noir), death, incompetent wizards, etc.

Again, these books are fun and funny without the sort of cheap laughs you’d get from a “humor” book. Kind of like the difference between I don’t know, Parks and Rec vs “Dude Where’s My Car”.

Wholeheartedly recommend them to everyone.

(And if you go deep into the rabbithole, there is a game you can play set in that universe that has been continually developed by volunteers for dozens of years. Plus BBC mini series, old computer games, etc)

Read the Tortall Books by Tamora Pierce

(Tamora Pierce writes novels in two different worlds. The Circle of Magic books and the Tortall Books. Circle of Magic is clearly inferior, in my opinion.)

TP was a pioneering writer of feminist coming of age teen fantasy novels. Not that I knew that when I started reading them. They were just — really fun!

I think it’s best to illustrate just by giving a quick gloss on the series (in order of their writing).

  • Alanna books: a girl wants to be the first female knight in hundreds of years. She pretends to be a boy, becomes a page/squire/knight, etc. Goes on adventures.
  • Wild Magic books: two dozen years later, a girl has a weird kind of magic — not the normal energy flows etc. Instead, she can talk to animals. This turns out to be really important. Also, the land is under invasion from mythic creatures (giants, dragons, griffons, centaurs, and less intelligent and nice beings). Why? What’s going on? Can animals, humans, and magical beings coexist?
  • Protector of the Small — a little while later, a girl wants to be the first openly female person training to be a knight. It’s very hard. She deals with sexism, stands up to bullying, classism and conservativism, etc. Bullying being one expression of many of these bad isms. Great stuff.
  • Tricksters — the daughter of the hero of the first books gets captured by pirates, sold into slavery in the fantasy carribean, and becomes the spymaster for a multicultural revolt against colonial autocracy.
  • Beka Cooper — 500 years ago, a girl is a cop. But her friends are all thieves. And the cops are very corrupt. How do you be a good cop in a corrupt system? Can you change the system? In this adventure series, you can, at least a bit.

While the first series reads a little young, as you go through the books chronologically, the implied age level of the reader increases as well. I recommend starting with the Tricksters series. Only two books, both of them full of intrigue and spying and so on. Plus a revolution!

Tamora Pierce is clearly just a kind person with a passion for justice. I think she helped me become who I am today. Big fan, and the books are just so fun and easy to read.

Read the Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey is the sort of person who writes 2-3 books a year, and has for decades.

She has a few larger worlds/series, but I’ll focus on the books set in the land of Valdemar.

The books generally come out as trilogies. So you follow one main character through three books that are similarly titled (e.g. “Storm Warning”, “Storm Rising”, “Storm Breaking”). Then the main character from that book might be a supporting or minor character in the next. So you have a sense of a cinematic universe in which all these books happen.

ML also clearly saw herself as a feminist author writing a new kind of book (starting in the … 80s?). Lots of female protagonists. Lots of examples of, interestingly, different *types* of feminism.

Magic’s Pawn, which I read quite young, was pivotal to me. I don’t want to give away all the twists, but I think it’s safe to say that it features a gay male protagonist, it is a compelling book, and it got me on the gay rights train early. I cried reading it, and I reread it every few years.

All the books have well-developed magic systems (important!). Adventure! Ethics! Often — spying and sneaking and so on.

If a country could be a main character of a book, Valdemar would be it. It’s a kingdom where the knights are all chosen by (basically) unicorns-with-horns. Those knights (called Heralds) are commandos, judges, fighters, etc. And they generally have to be good people because otherwise they’ll be disowned by their not-unicorns.

It’s a great setup for lots of adventures. Plus, as time has gone on, the books move geographically far afield and away from that convention.

They’re just … really good! Some sample series:

  • Valdemar doesn’t have “real” magic. This is a problem. Some People have a Destiny planned for the heir to the throne — go learn how to do it. She throws it off, and goes off to do what’s best for the kingdom in a surprising way — living with the fantasy native americans and confronting a world-destroying evil that is gaining strength in the hinterlands.
  • It’s thousands of years ago. There are two super strong wizards duking it out — the evil one and the good one. The main character is a griffon (gryphon) commando who has a lot to learn about love. Plus his best friend, a human therapist-healer-bodyworker-hearthealer (it’s hard to explain).
  • The cataclysm is going to happen soon. The giant empire to the east is invading. The religious fundamentalists to the east are in the midst of a reformation. Can a bunch of unlikely allies avert the apocalypse? Can the commander of the invading army successfully go native and defy the empire?
  • The long origin story of a genius mercenary, and how she ended up using every trick in the book to stop an evil king who mind-controlled his own people to turn them into an unstoppable horde.

These are a comfort food for me. I reread them all the time (along with Tamora Pierce’s books and Discworld books)

Read Sabriel and the sequels

Sabriel is a fun, unique book. Unique, except that the sequels exist (and honestly, Lirael, the sequel, is even better).

In this book — it’s roughly the 1910’s. Hadrian’s wall exists, and it is the border between [basically england], and a land of magic.

Sabriel is from magicland, but she lives at boarding school south of the wall. One day, her dad sends her a message, and she thinks she needs to go north and rescue him. Also, her dad is a reverse necromancer — he puts the dead to rest. She goes north into magicland, and realizes that the zombies and other undead are taking over.

Why? What about her dad? Will she rescue her dad? Will she rescue the kingdom? Who is the mysterious enemy behind all this?

Plus, in this book: lawful magic is cast with runes, chaos magic with words, and necromancy is done with bells. Love it.

Hard to put into words, but I really like this one.

Other books that teenagers might love

If I write a part 2 to this post, I might flesh this out. But here’s a little teaser:

  • Ender’s Game: Of all my favorite books, clearly the most conservative. Adults can’t be trusted. Children are terrible to each other. Overcoming adversity. This is a good book for every child to read, but if it’s the final book they read you’re in trouble. Hard to explain, but it’s fantastic and I highly recommend it. Bonus — Ender’s Shadow is a sort of sequel. Most of the same events, but from the perspective of a minor character in the first book. Really recontextualizes a lot. Read both. Wow.
  • The Westing Game and The View From Saturday and From the Mixed Up Files of Ms Basil E. Frankwiler are for younger kids (5th grade, maybe? 3rd?). Excellent, fun, thought provoking.
  • Redwall is great is you’re 7-9 years old.
  • The “Drizzt Books” and many other books by R.A. Salvatore are fun and worth reading once. There are lot of them. I recommend reading The Crystal Shard, and then Homeland, Exile, Sojourn. They’re good! The Crystal Shard and its sequels are fine, standard fantasy. But Homeland/Exile/Sojourn (especially the first two) stand out to me. Imagine an evil, theocratic, society of beings who could live till 1000 years old, easily. What would it look like? You need some order — it’s a hierarchical society run by a priesthood, not a chaostown. But also it’s not like they frown on murder, for example, per se. The books do a great job exploring that, as well as what it might feel like to be trapped in a society with values very different than yours.

Elon Musk and the giant pile of money

First off, I hate thinking about Elon Musk. I don’t have a position on Tom Cruise, on Beyonce, whomever is the new Justin Bieber these days (Zendaya?). Why should I be obligated to know anything about this other celebrity? I spent years blissfully ignoring his blatant propaganda to nerds I respected, and just letting my friend’s thoughts about Tesla just roll off my back.

And then now this set of stunts around buying twitter. I represent social media workers, including those who would be his employees. All of a sudden, I had to care.

Long story short, a bunch of members got together, wrote an open letter, it was covered in the Washington Post, and then CNN.

That was cool.

But there’s more. It got me riled up enough to write up something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the years — the power of a giant pile of money. I tweeted it out, and posted on fb, and here it is for posterity:

Everything below this line is a copy-paste from this FB post (which is slightly reworked from this twitter thread)

Wrote a little thing about Elon Musk and twitter — it shows us the power of a Giant Pile of Money.

Big piles of money have so much power you don’t even have to *spend* the money to wield it.

Imagine if EM successfully walks away. He’s gotten many twitter employees to quit. Thrashed product roadmaps. Pushed out executives. Wasted (my guess) at least six months.

All this destruction of a company — without even spending any money! The big pile of money is still there, waiting to be used for the next deal.

This is not unusual. Sufficient money has a power of its own, just being sitting there.

An advertiser on a platform, spending money on ads, can *threaten* to pull them if they don’t get their way. They might get exemptions from the terms of service, or water down enforcement.

They get the win — WITHOUT changing how they move their money.

Even better, the *fact* that they are a big advertiser means that they get special favors and consideration: without asking for it, without even knowing about it. The power of a pile of money.

(I know advertisers *spend* money to make more, so the example isn’t perfect. But remember the money they spend gets them even more money back. I think it works)

Or, think about the realm of politics. A billionaire doesn’t like a congressman. He threatens to unleash 15 million dollars of ads if the congressman doesn’t change their stance on issue X.

The congressman folds. The billionaire wins — WITHOUT spending any money.

As a secondary point: From my understanding of the terms of the deal, he’s trying to do something illegal, or at least non-contractual. (I defer to Matt Levine on this)

And yet, here we are, having this conversation.

A white collar person is trying to evade accountability and use tricks to get out of following the law. And we think he might get away with it.

This is not rare. We face an epidemic of white collar crime in this country.

The giant pile of money has power. It sucks in and distorts reality around it. It doesn’t need to be spent, only to be referenced.

The giant pile of money buys silence (“do I _really_ want to piss off this guy?”) for free without effort. The pile of money dominates.

And grows.


More Sarah Mixtapes — August, September, October 2021

Every month, I make Sarah a playlist of songs she might particularly want to hear. Sadly, I’m a little behind! Here are the latest three.

August 2021: Disco will never die, if we keep it in our hearts.

  • נעימת ערש by Matti Caspi
  • Cannonball by The Breeders
  • Shut Out by The Buttertones
  • I Want Your Love by CHIC
  • Fresh by Kool & The Gang
  • Bad Girls by Donna Summer
  • Green Onions by Booker T. & the M.G.’s
  • I Put A Spell On You by Nina Simone
  • Get out of My Life Woman by Lee Dorsey
  • Coffee by Sylvan Esso
  • Swaying leaves and scattering breath by envy
  • Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ by The Velvet Underground
  • This Love Won’t Break Your Heart by Annalise Emerick
  • איך זה שכוכב by Matti Caspi

September 2021: New Wave music is possibly the highest form of art there is

  • Love Is A Stranger by Eurythmics
  • Two of Hearts by Stacey Q
  • Rio by Duran Duran
  • Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat
  • Der Kommisar by Suzy Andrews
  • Totally Wired by The Fall
  • Never Say Never by Romeo Void
  • West End Girls by Pet Shop Boys
  • Rapture by Blondie
  • Cccan’t You See by Vicious Pink
  • Blue Monday by New Order
  • Girls on Film by Duran Duran
  • Pale Shelter by Tears For Fears
  • The Politics of Dancing by Re-Flex

October 2021: Songs I really liked in 2012

  • Shoplifters of the World Unite by The Smiths
  • Kisses Sweeter Than Wine by Pete Seeger
  • You Must Be out of Your Mind by The Magnetic Fields
  • Somebody That I Used To Know by Elliott Smith
  • All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix
  • God’s Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash
  • My Spit by Calamity Jane
  • Die For The Government by Anti-Flag
  • Rise Above by Black Flag
  • Black Flags feat. Boots Riley by Atari Teenage Riot
  • Fuck Police Brutality by Anti-Flag
  • Player’s Ball by Outkast
  • Verses from the Abstract by A Tribe Called Quest
  • How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths

As always, thanks to to for making exporting playlists to text easily.