Category Archives: FastCompany Labs


Chris Hughes Got Lucky With Facebook, Now He Wants Everyone To Have A Shot

When Facebook had its IPO in 2012 and raised $104 billion, Chris Hughes walked away with $500 million. As Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate, and Facebook’s second ever member, he managed to turn a few years work into a vast fortune. He didn’t even have to code. Hughes’s role in the early years was as Zuck’s “empath”–the one person in the geek team who could communicate and relate to the outside world.

[Photo: courtesy Chris Hughes]

Hughes, who left Facebook in 2007, recounts this in Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn, his new book arguing for a basic income. His point isn’t to downplay his achievements. He says he worked hard to mold the early brand. He didn’t come from wealth: his beginnings in North Carolina were modest. He got financial aid to go to prep school (Andover) and then Harvard. He earned his opportunities. But Hughes does think $500 million is a ridiculous reward for what he did. When, years later, he was feted at college commencements (and in Fast Company), he didn’t recognize the hero presented. His success wasn’t old-fashioned American Dream-type success–not the hard-won sort of his parents and grandparents.

Winning The Lottery

“I knew what it felt like to achieve great things after working hard for them, and Facebook was indeed an incredible success story. But it was a starkly different kind of success than any of my ancestors had lived. . . . What we’d experienced at Facebook felt more like winning the lottery,” Hughes writes.

Of course, Facebook is an extreme case of extreme wealth. But Hughes links his experience to the modern economy at large. He argues that the same forces that allowed Facebook to control 80% of the world’s social media traffic are not dissimilar with those that allow 160,000 American families to control as much wealth as the bottom 90% of the income scale. Technology, globalization and the pre-eminence of financial capital propelled Facebook to what it became. And they also propelled inequality, instability, and wage stagnation among a large number of people in the lower and middle classes. We’ve created an economy that creates the most winningest of winners–people like Hughes and Zuckerberg—while it does little for millions of others.

“The problem is not that our new economy has fueled the rise of Facebook and mega-winners. It’s that the growth of the ultra-wealthy has come at the expense of everyday Americans,” Hughes writes. “Rapid technological advances, globalization, and financialization are pulling the rug out from under the middle class and lower-income Americans.”

[Image: courtesy Chris Hughes]

Time For A Basic Income

Basic income is a stipend governments can pay to people to cover their fundamental needs. And it has a lot of fans these days, notably in Silicon Valley. Zuckerberg has said it’s worth studying. Elon Musk, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and guru Tim O’Reilly have also spoken favorably of it. Normally, their support is framed as a response to the technology the Valley is itself creating. They argue that we’ll need to find some future way of embellishing people’s incomes if automation makes work either scarce or non-existent.

Hughes isn’t really in that camp. He’s less concerned with 2030 or 2050 and more concerned with now. He says a lot of economists think the “end of work” thesis is ahistorical hokum anyway. And, even if they are wrong this time, he says basic income makes sense in our current circumstances. The working poor are already finding it hard to live on what they earn at Walmart and McDonald’s. And the middle class is doing worse than income levels might suggest (the median income is about $59,000 a year). Though food and many consumer goods (big screen TVs!) are cheaper than ever, the big stuff like college, healthcare and housing, keep costing more. The stuff that families need to be more financially stable and socially mobile are the most out of reach. Between 1995 and 2015, the cost of living, including these key items, rose by 30%, according to an analysis by NPR Marketplace.

Hughes proposes giving everyone earning less than $50,000 a year an extra $500 a month, provided they are working in some way. That includes not only people with jobs in the classic sense, but also freelancers and contractors on less stable incomes. It also includes people bringing up kids or looking after “dependents,” who are often excluded from poverty-reduction discussions, but who arguably do as much work as anyone. A family of four on $38,000 a year would, therefore, see their income bumped up to $50,000. About 90 million Americans in total would benefit.

“The guaranteed income would create a floor below which people could not fall, a reliable foundation for people to build on,” Hughes writes. “It wouldn’t be enough money on its own for anyone to live on. It would be supplement income from other sources like formal labor, a job in the gig economy, informal work, or other government benefits.”

Hughes’s version of guaranteed income (his preferred phrase) isn’t as ambitious as some other proposals. Some purists would like a benefit paid to everyone, even the rich, as this might be an easier sell politically (nobody can complain about preferential treatment) and easier to administer (no need to check out what people are earning). Hughes prefers to set the threshold at $50,000 because, well, poorer people need it more. The money would come from an additional tax on people earning more than $250,000 a year. He’s not in favor of collapsing other social assistance programs to pay for a unified basic income scheme, as some advocates, particularly on the right, have suggested.

We already have a workable way of paying for a basic income, Hughes says: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The program, which sends $70 billion in tax refund checks to 26 million families and individuals a year, is a proven success story. It lifts more people out of poverty than food stamps, unemployment insurance, and housing vouchers combined and it helps people into employment. It also has supporters on the left and the right. Hughes suggests simply expanding the EITC to include more people and making the program more visible and dependable. Currently, EITC amounts depend on earnings and annual checks arrive unpredictably. Hughes would make the EITC payments monthly, by direct deposits, for the guaranteed amount.

Hughes says there needs to be more “movement building” before basic income becomes a reality. He’s trying to achieve that through his Economic Security Project nonprofit, which brings together academics, activists and technologists, and funds research, including a basic income trial in Stockton, California.  Democrats may get behind basic income in the 2020 election cycle if they’re looking for bold, non-traditional economic ideas, he says.

Hughes is certain, though, that we can’t wait too long. Maybe there will be plenty of jobs in the future, maybe there won’t be any jobs. But, in a sense, the future is already here: the jobs that are available tend to be less secure, pay less well, and come with fewer benefits, than in the past. We already need new ways of supporting people other than simply saying “get a job.”

“People find it hard to find financial stability even in the jobs they already have,” Hughes tells Fast Company. “We have near-record unemployment and record high stock prices, and yet median wages have barely budged [in recent years] and jobs are unreliable. We keep talking about 2050 and self-driving cars. But if we’re talking about starting today, we need something that’s affordable and doable and that has a real power to help people who need it the most.”


What Matters In The Mueller Indictment

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office brought an indictment Friday charging the alleged Russian propaganda outfit called the Internet Research Agency, two affiliated groups, and 13 Russian nationals with an elaborate plot to interfere with the 2016 election through metric-driven social media campaigns, using the same techniques as sophisticated, legitimate digital advertising efforts.

Here are some of the key details:

The Russians allegedly spent millions of dollars on U.S.-targeted propaganda efforts aimed at sowing discord in the country’s political system, buying social media ads and creating high-profile Facebook and Instagram groups targeted at different affinity groups, with names like Blacktivist, Secured Borders, United Muslims of America, and Army of Jesus. They didn’t comply with Federal Election Commission rules on political ads or registration requirements for foreign agents, prosecutors say.

The cost of these efforts reached as much as $1.25 million in one month, as of September 2016—as much as some presidential campaigns were spending during the primaries. Last fall, Facebook and other social media companies eventually acknowledged these disinformation campaigns following examinations by lawmakers, researchers, and reporters. As Fast Company reported, for instance, Instagram saw far more propaganda activity than Facebook and others widely acknowledged.

The St. Petersburg-based organization allegedly used these groups to boost Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, while attacking other candidates, including Hillary Clinton. “It is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton,” one operative was allegedly told.

They allegedly encouraged “minority groups” not to vote, or to vote third-party, in the election, presumably to reduce support for Clinton. “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein,” one post to the Blacktivist Instagram post said, endorsing the Green Party candidate. “Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”

Two of the Russian nationals allegedly got U.S. visas, and toured parts of the country in 2014, then “exchanged an intelligence report regarding the trip.”

The Russians allegedly used stolen identities to open PayPal accounts and pay for social media ads, and used U.S.-based VPN servers to hide their digital ties to Russia.

One of the Facebook ads allegedly used to promote a rally organized by the Internet Research Agency

The Russians allegedly staged real world pro-Trump and anti-Clinton rallies in the U.S., and at least one pro-Clinton rally seemingly designed to link Clinton to Islam. The Russians also promoted these events on social media and recruited U.S. people to participate in and promote them. At a rally in Florida, for example, they allegedly paid an actor to portray Clinton in a prison uniform. The week after the election, the Russians also organized a rally in New York to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump” and another rally called “Trump is NOT my President.”

The Russians coordinated with people described as “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign” and pro-Trump activists, posing as U.S. activists, discussing possible sites and plans for rallies; in some cases, they wired money to those people. They also received advice about how to wage their campaigns from a person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots political organization, including “focus on purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.” The Russians also kept a list of over 100 of their U.S. contacts. There’s no indication that those people—who are not identified by name in the indictment—realized they were dealing with Russian nationals, not legitimate activists.

The Internet Research Agency was allegedly funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg businessman known as “Putin’s chef” because his restaurants and catering businesses once hosted the Russian president’s dinners with visiting dignitaries. The company was also funded by companies Prigozhin controlled, the indictment said.

Some Trump supporters and others have said the references to “unwitting” members of the Trump campaign should dispel claims that the campaign intentionally coordinated with Russia. But there’s no indication that the indictment is the final word from the special counsel’s office, one way or another.

Unanswered Questions

The indictment doesn’t address the persistent rumors of intentional coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, including claims that Russian officials offered information regarding Hillary Clinton to campaign officials. (In 2016, Donald Trump, Jr. was informed in an email from the publicist Rob Goldstone about potentially damaging information on Clinton that the Russian government was waging a wider effort to help the Trump campaign.)

The indictment also does not touch on allegations of Russian hacking, nor other ways Russians may have helped the Trump campaign. And it does link the Russian nationals to anyone previously indicted during the investigation, including Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, or Richard Gates. Bloomberg reported Friday that the indictments are only part of a larger investigation that is still examining whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.

It’s also unclear whether any of the indicted people or organizations will actually face trial in the United States. In prior cases involving digital crimes allegedly committed by government-sponsored groups abroad, including cases of alleged Russian and Chinese hackers, actually extraditing the suspects to the United States has proven difficult.

Read more: Russia’s election propaganda weaponized these mainstream news outlets

Read the indictment below:

Internet Research Agency Indictment by Gersh Kuntzman on Scribd

Team Jamaica’s Coach Took Their Bobsled When She Quit, So Red Stripe Bought Another One

When the men’s bobsled team from Jamaica failed to qualify for the Winter Olympics, the country found renewed hope in its first-ever women’s team making it to Pyeongchang. However, those hopes were briefly dashed when team coach Sandra Kiriasis suddenly quit, claiming that her job role changed from driving coach to track analyst, which, in turn, wouldn’t give her access to the athletes.

But it’s not just team spirit Kiriasis was walking away with–she also laid claim to the women’s bobsled. Upon hearing that the Jamaican team was without their main piece of equipment, other country’s offered to help but a donor closer to home swooped in.

Jamaican beer company Red Stripe tweeted their support, saying the team could put a bobsled on their tab–and it turns out they did. According to Adweek, Red Stripe confirmed they wired the money and the bobsled has been purchased.

Talk about goodwill branding.

This is how regulation affects Airbnb in San Francisco, report says

A wave of regulations has forced home-sharing sites to eject certain types of rentals across all platforms. Now a new report from the San Francisco Chronicle shows that when San Francisco cracked down on short-term rentals, FlipKey and Expedia-owned HomeAway took the biggest hits.

Using data from HostingCompliance, the Chronicle found that Airbnb’s listings in San Francisco dropped from 8,740 in August, right before the new rules kicked in, to 4,191 in January. Over the same time frame, FlipKey’s listings fell to 78 from 401, while HomeAway’s listings more than halved to 509. The purge included homes that had never been booked and hosts that didn’t want to go through the process of renting their homes.

Both HomeAway and FlipKey were more affected by the new laws because they primarily host second homes and vacation rentals. In order to rent on alternative accommodation platforms, residents must register to be a host with the city, according to the Office of Short Term Rentals. San Francisco only allows people who actually live in their home to rent out rooms short-term. Whole home rentals are restricted to 90 nights per year. Second home owners can only rent out their homes for a month or more at a time–making their properties available to the wider rental market.

Labor Review Board lawyer says fired Googler James Damore has no case

Google did not violate the law when it fired engineer James Damore for circulating a controversial memo inside the company, according to the National Labor Review Board’s general counsel, Jayme L Sophir.

Last year, Damore shared a document that questioned Google’s effort to create a diverse culture while also asserting that women earned less than their male counterparts and were less likely to ascending to executive levels because of inherent biological differences. Specifically, he said women on average are more neurotic and less able to handle stress, and have IQs that are more middling than those of men.

After being fired, Damore filed a complaint with the National Labor Review Board. Last month, the Board’s general counsel said this about Damore’s case, in a letter which came to light yesterday:

Statements about immutable traits linked to sex—such as women’s heightened neuroticism and men’s prevalence at the top of the IQ distribution—were discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding effort to cloak comments with “scientific” references and analysis, and notwithstanding “not all women” disclaimers. Moreover, those statements were likely to cause serious dissension and disruption in the workplace,” the NLRB concluded. “Where an employee’s conduct significantly disrupts work processes, creates a hostile work environment, or constitutes racial or sexual discrimination or harassment, the Board has found it unprotected even if it involves concerted activities regarding working conditions.

Damore pulled his complaint with the NLRB and the case has since been closed. He is, however, still pursuing a class action lawsuit against Google in which he seeks to prove the company discriminates against white, conservative men.

Emotionally Intelligent Ways To Express These 5 Feelings At Work

You’ve heard by now that you need to be “transparent” and “authentic” and to “bring your whole self” to work. More often than not, these phrases are shorthand for expressing your feelings. But while it’s true that you need an emotionally intelligent approach both to build a great work culture and to advance your own career, there’s more to it than just wearing your feelings on your sleeve.

Showing emotional savvy isn’t only about candor, though that’s certainly part of it. Properly channeling your emotions in the workplace is a powerful leadership skill. With that in mind, here’s how to calibrate and convey five of the most common emotions you’re likely to experience at work.

Related: Why Emotionally Intelligent People are More Successful

1. Vulnerability

In his 2012 book The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni argues that good leaders show their vulnerability by using expressions like “I screwed up,” “I need help,” and “Your idea is better than mine.” He’s right that humility and vulnerability matter. But there’s a fine line between sharing your insecurities and undercutting yourself as a leader.

For example, if you tell your coworker you’re accepted a speaking gig because you want to work on your speaking skills–public speaking has never come easily to you–that’s sharing a vulnerability in a way that supports, rather than undermines, your leadership; your colleague will probably admire your courage and feel touched by your honesty. But if you get up in public to give a speech and tell the audience you’re not comfortable with public speaking, that undercuts your ability and lowers their expectations.

Related: This Is The Emotionally Intelligent Way To Handle Stage Fright

2. Empathy

Showing empathy brings you closer to everyone you come into contact with, but it’s possible to go overboard. There are times when conveying empathy in certain ways can actually weaken your ability to lead.

Suppose a team member is having a crisis in his personal life and has been seen in the bar around the corner drinking heavily after work with his staff. The best form of empathy is to help your team member work through the problem without enabling his behavior. Speak with him privately and offer to connect him with any counseling and support offered by your company’s HR department. Make yourself available for one-on-one conversation. But if the destructive habits persist, you may need to discipline or fire the individual.

It’s one thing to empathize with difficulties your team members may be having, but it’s another to let that compromise your leadership or tacitly encourage a toxic work culture. It takes emotional intelligence to try and understand someone’s point of view without adopting it yourself.

Related: 5 Ways The Most Effective Leaders Manage Their Emotions

3. Joy

Many companies try to create happy work environments through free food, games, and fun rituals means to blow off steam. But some of those experiences can create a giddy kind of joy, which can sometimes lead to an atmosphere dominated by extroverts who aren’t focusing enough on their work. Too much loud, exuberant activity can distract and alienate people who are trying to get things done.

A better way to cultivate and express joy at work is simply to share your excitement about the work you’re doing with your team. Emphasize the fun of collaborating. This joy is contagious, and because it instills a sense of purpose, dedication, and fulfillment in others, it won’t tilt into a constant party atmosphere.

Related: These Emotionally Intelligent Habits Can Make You A Better Listener

4. Anger

Anger emerges from frustration, anxiety, and conflict, but yelling and screaming is never the right response. The first step toward channelling your anger in an emotionally intelligent way is simply to step back and ask yourself whether the situation warrants such negative feelings. If on closer consideration it doesn’t, then try to let it go.

This usually means removing yourself temporarily from the source of your frustration so you can get a little clarity. After you’ve done that, find words that let you express your concerns to whoever’s responsible in an assertive but not aggressive way. Avoid accusatory language, and focus on the solution rather than the problem. It’s actually okay to get angry at work every now and then, but venting never helps.

5. Fear

Fear is another inevitable emotion you’ll encounter at work–usually due to awkward interpersonal situations. Maybe you’re afraid to ask your boss for a promotion or to press for a client to finally tell you if you’ve got a deal. So you hem and haw, get tongue-tied, or decide not to broach the uncomfortable subject at all.

The better approach is to acknowledge your anxiety and recognize that you’re going to feel uncomfortable, but that there are other things about the situation worth paying attention to as well: the desired outcome, for example, or facts on your side. When your fear stems from confronting a higher-up, remember that title and rank don’t define leadership. The more you speak up and show confidence in the face of authority, the more leadership you’ll be able to project despite your underlying nervousness.

Emotional intelligence involves dealing with our emotions so that they serve–rather than undermine–your leadership. Don’t try to “manage” or suppress them, but if you can pause long enough to consider how to communicate your feelings, you and your coworkers will always be better off.


Positive Self-Esteem Is Overrated, Here’s What You Need Instead

In a 2007 study, researchers asked people to come into a lab, sit down in front of a camera, and tell a made-up fairy tale or some other kind of children’s story as it recorded them. There was just one rule: It had to start with the sentence, “Once upon a time, there was a little bear . . . ”

After subjects told their stories, the researchers played them a recording–either their own, or that of a different participant in the study, and asked them to evaluate the bear story.

The researchers found that those who didn’t have much so-called “self-clarity” hated their own recordings. Psychologists define self-clarity as the understanding of who we are. It reflects how well we know our own strengths and weaknesses, as well as our ability to accept them. Self-esteem, on the other hand, is the degree of self-worth we attach to those strengths and weaknesses. The difference is crucial, and as the researchers found in the “little bear story” study, it helps explain why some people cringe at their own appearances on FaceTime–and many other experiences we tend to find inexplicably embarrassing.

Related: Why Embarrassment Can Be A Good Thing (And 3 Ways To Deal) 

Hacking Your Way To Self-Clarity

The study participants with low self-clarity were more likely to call their own made-up stories “very bad” or at least “somewhat bad”; they also tended to describe their personal demeanor in the recordings as awkward or foolish. They were embarrassed, irritable, and nervous as they were made to watch themselves tell their stories about the little bear, and on average they rated their own performances lower than others did. People high in self-clarity, in contrast, weren’t as bothered by watching themselves on video. And they tended to rate their own recordings just as other people rated them.

Studies on self-esteem and performance evaluation usually find, unsurprisingly, that people with a lot of self-esteem really love themselves and their performance on a given task, and they tend to rate their own performance and personalities much more favorably than others do. That’s because high self-esteem inflates your ego, which can make the reality of how others see you harder to bear. With high self-clarity, though, you can see and accept yourself much more easily–even your flaws. But this form of self-acceptance doesn’t leave you there, gaping at your imperfections.

If self-clarity doesn’t come naturally to you, there are ways to learn it. You can try this right now, if you want: Think about some awkward moment from high school or college, something that really made you feel bad about yourself. Think the moment carefully through: What happened right before? Who was there? How did you feel at the time?

Related: This Emotional Intelligence Test Was So Accurate It Was Creepy

It’s true that focusing on the unemotional aspects of one of these memories can help lessen its impact, but there’s also a case to spend a little time doing the opposite: Let the feelings in. That’s what this exercise is meant to do. Once you let that awkwardness back in, you can put the memory in its place with these three questions.

Cringeworthy: A Theory Of Awkwardness by Melissa Dahl

First, how many times have other people experienced the same thing or something similar? Or, to get more specific about it: How many times have other people, say, exited a public restroom with their skirt stuffed into their tights? A lot! Sure, this is an extremely embarrassing moment, but it’s one that many people have experienced.

Second, If a friend came to you and told you about this memory, how would you respond to her? In this situation, I think I’d say that if she told it right, it could be a really funny story; beyond that, I’d probably tell her it’s endearing.

Third, can you try thinking about the moment from someone else’s point of view? For instance, now that I’m older, I know how out of place interns sometimes seem in an office environment. Sometimes, to those of us who are used to being in an office environment, watching interns try to get the hang of things is really amusing, even if we feel like jerks laughing about it.

Seeing Yourself, And Seeing Beyond Yourself

The researchers in that same storytelling study found that asking these three questions when we’re thinking about a negative memory works much better than many other common responses to crippling embarrassment, like compartmentalization or just stewing in shame.

Here’s what doesn’t work: Convincing yourself it was someone else’s fault. Distracting yourself by focusing on your positive characteristics. Telling yourself that the memory “does not really indicate anything about the kind of person I am.”

Related: The Unexpected Drawbacks To Positive Thinking

Deliberately practicing self-clarity in uncomfortable moments like these allows you to acknowledge that you are the “kind of person” who makes mistakes–while also putting those mistakes in perspective. You definitely tucked your skirt into your tights that one time, and people definitely saw. You’re kind of a screw-up sometimes. But so is everyone else! As psychologist Kristin Neff wrote in her 2011 book Self-Compassion, achieving real self­ awareness means that “when we fail, it’s not ‘poor me,’ it’s, ‘Well, everyone fails.’ Everyone struggles. This is what it means to be human.”

It helps to see yourself–on camera and off. More importantly, it also helps to see beyond yourself.

This article is adapted from Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness. It is reprinted with permission from Portfolio/Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC 

Disney World finally gets around to opening Toy Story Land

Toy Story first came into our lives in 1995, delivering a heartwarming glimpse inside the secret lives of toys. The adventures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear have continued for more than two decades with Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010). It’s clearly been a long time coming, but Disney has finally announced that Toy Story Land is set to open at Walt Disney World Resorts.

Toy Story Land will make guests feel as though they’ve shrunk to the size of a toy and are exploring Andy’s backyard, with a Slinky Dog Dash coaster and Alien Swirling Saucers to ride.

Toy Story Land will open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on June 30th. While fans who have been waiting since 1995 to explore Andy’s universe may feel like Disney was expecting them to grow up and go away (just like Andy *sob*), the park’s opening is tied to the film’s long-awaited fourth installment, Toy Story 4, which is slated to be released in June 2019.


Chris Rock’s Netflix Special Is The Standup Comeback You’ve Been Waiting For

Netflix’s approach to cornering the standup comedy market has been, shall we say, aggressive. The monolithic streaming platform has commissioned hours from just about every comic who’s moved beyond open mic status and it has doled out seven-figure sums for the heavyweights. Along with picking up specials from the likes of Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, and a pre-disgrace Louis CK, Netflix also secured the long-awaited returns from some of the all-time greats: Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Ellen DeGeneres.

While Chappelle’s specials have been bogged down by controversy and overabundance (there are FOUR of them), and Seinfeld’s sank like a stone, Tamborine–the just-released special from Rock–finally delivers on the expectations of a comedy Jedi Master dropping his first special in a decade.

Chris Rock [Photo: Kirill Bichutsky/Netflix]

Tamborine’s predecessor, Kill the Messenger from 2008, was kind of a comedown from Rock’s late-90’s heyday, when Bring the Pain begat Bigger and Blacker, a perhaps unrivaled one-two punch of standup comedy. He still looked the same. He still sounded the same. But something was missing in the material. Perhaps it was a muse.

In the years since Messenger, Rock made a well-reviewed film (2014’s Top Five) in which he interrogated his own fame, appeared in some Adam Sandler movies, and put his producer’s clout behind TV shows like Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, and The Rundown with Robin Thede. He also got divorced. After teasing a return to standup for several years, he embarked on a successful tour in 2017, and then surprise-dropped Tamborine this week on Netflix, with only a slightly longer lag between announcement and availability than the instantaneous new Cloverfield movie on February 4.

Of course, the novelty of surprise can’t prop up a lack of quality. (As we saw with The Cloverfield Paradox. Woof.) When a mega-famous comedian does a surprise set at a comedy club, he or she gets 5-10 minutes of guaranteed laughs, because the audience can’t believe its good fortune. After that point, though, the material has to stand on its own. In the case of Chris Rock, there is no leaning on goodwill at the top of his first special in 10 years. He storms the stage and immediately takes some big swings. He doesn’t miss.

Tamborine doesn’t linger for long on standup lightning rod Donald Trump and instead mostly explores two issues: race and Rock’s recent divorce. The race material comes first, and finds Rock in peak form. He throws out a Fox News-baiting line like “We need more dead white kids” while addressing police brutality, and then makes it seem like the most rational idea in the world. When he moves on to explain his outlandish (hopefully fictitious) approach to preparing his kids to move through the world as people of color, it’s at once hilarious and poignant. He probably didn’t actually take the extreme measures he describes to teach his kids to be wary of whiteness, but the bit betrays that he–and most nonwhite parents–did have a conversation with them about the dangers too many white people aren’t even aware of.

Chris Rock [Photo: courtesy of Netflix]

Even while talking about heavy issues, there’s a spark in Rock’s eyes, a lilt in his voice, palpable joy at performing his craft, and the confidence of knowing he’s still great at it. The world has changed spectacularly since his last special. Barack Obama wasn’t even president yet! But unlike Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld, who’ve both publicly griped about so-called PC culture, Rock’s return finds him not chafing against the strictures of what he can and can’t say anymore. For better and worse.

Anyone looking for signs of Rock not being woke enough will find it. His brags about keeping his daughter “off the pole” are stuck in old stereotypes about sex workers. Describing the compromises of marriage as “your success is her success and her success is your success” reveals a perhaps limited, heteronormative worldview. There are antiquated notions about money defining men’s status while looks define women’s. In fact, a feminist reading of the second half of this special will likely earn Rock some online pitchfork mobs–and those mobs will definitely have a point. However, Rock’s unenlightened opinions, which reflect the culture he came up in, are balanced out by the refreshingly self-deprecating and vulnerable moments in the material about his divorce, which takes up the entire second half of Tamborine (and inspired its title.)

Chris Rock [Photo: courtesy of Netflix]

Although it’s not the funniest material of the special, it’s the most personal he’s ever been. This is Chris Rock’s 4:44, an deeply revealing examination of his marital failures and what he’s learned from them. Imagine the man who glided through Bigger and Blacker in a chrome leather suit talking in earnest about his porn addiction and cheating on his wife, or admitting that he is currently on Tinder under his real name and that Rihanna brushed off his advances at a party. It is something to behold.

Rock walks us through his divorce like a tour guide from the Museum of Broken Relationships. He talks about what he did wrong, sparing his ex wife any fault in the matter. (Any good-guy points from this tactful approach, though, are squandered later in a retrograde bit about housewives.) He talks about the entire process of getting divorced, highlighting elements many viewers may not have considered–like having to prove to a court of law that he’s a good parent. It’s more illuminating than funny, mostly. But it’s still funny.

Overall, Tamborine adds an exciting new notch to Rock’s legacy and bodes well for what’s next when he has more to say. It may not be the best special he’s ever done, but it’s exactly what he needed to do at this moment in his career and his life.

So why are the Hungarians drafting a Stop Soros law?

The Hungarian government really doesn’t like George Soros. So much so that the nationalist, anti-immigration government has introduced legislation colloquially known as a “Stop Soros” law. So what did the Hungarian-American billionaire hedge fund manager do to tick off the homeland?

Soros has devoted much of his time and money promoting open-border values in eastern Europe. He has been a long-time donor to organizations that support democratic reform in the US and throughout the world, and been an open supporter for migrants and refugees, and for criminal-justice reform for years. As a well-known promoter of liberal causes, he has become “the right’s favorite boogeyman” and the target of Hungary’s new bill.

According to Reuters, the bill, which was introduced in Parliament on Tuesday night, is part of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s anti-immigration campaign and it may ensure him a third term in office. The so-called Stop Soros bill would impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to NGOs that back migration in Hungary (that means Soros), on the grounds that it stokes illegal immigration. The bill further penalizes NGOs by requiring them to register and receive a government permit for activities like advocating or campaigning for immigrant rights, recruiting volunteers to the cause, or even releasing booklets, and permission could be denied if the government saw a “national security risk.”

For his part, Soros has rejected the campaign against him as “distortions and lies.” Last month, Soros’s Open Society Foundation said that the proposed regulations would undermine democracy by attempting to “criminalize” civil society and muzzle independent voices. The rule would also put Hungary at odds with the European Union, which has raised alarms over the rise of nationalism in both Hungary and Poland.