What I've been reading, featuring the imperialism of data analytics in the NBA, academic gatekeeping, and Bill Hader's "Barry"

Finally returning to writing up some of what I’ve been reading after a more-than-four-month hiatus. Was tied up with commitments to my thesis and preliminary exams and then I had an extended post-exam period of absolute indolence, which included watching that new Netflix show about competitive glass-blowing (recommended!). In that time, I’ve accumulated a large stack of unread publication subscriptions I’ve neglected and over a hundred browser tabs of links I’ve saved to sift through. A first run-through:

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What I've been reading, featuring climate change, here and now; and identity politics, everywhere and always

With the government shutdown over, NOAA and NASA finally affirm 2018 was the fourth-warmest year in recorded history: “The five warmest years in recorded history have been the last five... 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001”

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What I've been reading, featuring how we write about other cultures, how we write about racism, how we write about climate change, and how we write about the Animorphs

When I first watched “Roma”, I wrote here: “reading the responses… revealed a homogeneity in the backgrounds of the cultural intelligentsia. In the face of an obviously intimate film in a very specific setting and depicting a complex familial dynamic, they seem to use technical observations as a crutch for their unfamiliarity—I don’t think that’s good enough.” I then linked to this collection of Latino critical responses.

But this review stands apart and is a prime example of why diversity matters. It’s not enough to make note of the hierarchy or power dynamics of the society depicted. A movie this compassionate calls for more: “Cuarón is not interested in portraying Cleo anthropologically: he wants to show us what she was to him, and to tell the story of Mexico City and what happened to Cleo the year that his own family shattered.” With the attention bestowed upon it by a Best Picture nomination, this film is too rare, important, and (above all) good to not be talked about with the specificity and insight Guillermoprieto provides.

I once interviewed a couple of dozen domestic servants about their work. It was hard to get young empleadas to talk to me, particularly if they were from the countryside… But the older women had plenty to say. A surprising number stated that they were happy with their families… But what I heard most frequently was the rage they felt at previous employers who had fired them with no warning or thought for their feelings. What about the children? they would ask. They fire us, we have to abandon them, and then you have to learn to love a new set of children, and you’re always afraid you’re going to be fired all over again and lose them. One woman cried as she explained this. “They never think about the fact that we love the children,” she said.

…That the women I interviewed could love the children they cared for—and love them, in fact, to the point of heartbreak—was to me nothing short of miraculous."

…So much happens in “Roma”. It is so bursting with life, Mexican life!… When I saw the movie in New York, the entire audience sat in silence as the credits rolled over a long, meditative shot of the staircase and the sky, until the screen blacked out over the title, and they sighed, and moved on.

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What I've been reading, featuring carbon dividends, Robert Caro's research process, and a breakthrough in non-line-of-sight imaging

"The last four people to lead the Federal Reserve, 15 former leaders of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and 27 Nobel laureates signed a letter endorsing a gradually rising carbon tax whose proceeds would be distributed to consumers as ‘carbon dividends.’"

  • With an emphasis on bipartisanship, WSJ has the statement. If paywalled, see this Bloomberg link.

  • The consensus endorsement of a rising carbon tax is not new, but to me and at least one climate economist, the dividends part was a surprise (Tyler Cowen, for one, is skeptical). He also told me he and other prominent economists had intended to also endorse the letter, but the form would not allow anyone without an American postcode to co-sign.

  • Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R): “This is a turning point in Republican climate policy, where the GOP economic brain trust unites behind the Baker-Shultz carbon dividends plan.”

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What I've been reading, featuring my vote in the 2016 election and the mediocrity of “Vice”

There was a special futility in my mailing my overseas ballot against Duterte in 2016 when I lived three minutes from Facebook’s East Palo Alto–gentrifying campus. Like even though I could well have been the only voter in the Philippine elections living in this historically disenfranchised American city still suffering from its legacy of redlining, racial segregation, crime, violence, and public neglect, the net contribution of my small neighborhood to my home country 7000 miles away was nothing less than the corrosion of its democracy.

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What I've been reading, featuring the cruelty of the US-Mexico border and Viktor Orbán’s constitutional coup

…Standing at an altar assembled from remnants of wooden refugee boats, Pope Francis looked out over the port of Lampedusa and asked his audience, “Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept?”

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What I've been reading, featuring les gilets jaunes, notes on trap music, and the revelation that was "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"

  • Notes on trap music by a Harvard professor of English and African-American Studies. I’m not convinced of all points, but don’t know enough to disagree. Quick selling point: it pairs quotes from WEB Du Bois with 21 Savage, Young Thug with bell hooks. It compares “Mask Off” to “A Raisin in the Sun”, Migos to Napoleon. Archive of the author’s cultural writing here (h/t Junho)

“Trap is a form of soft power that takes the resources of the black underclass (raw talent, charisma, endurance, persistence, improvisation, dexterity, adaptability, beauty) and uses them to change the attitudes, behaviors, and preferences of others, usually by making them admit they desire and admire those same things and will pay good money to share vicariously in even a collateral showering from below. This allows the trap artist to transition from an environment where raw hard power dominates and life is nasty, brutal, and short to the world of celebrity, the Valhalla of excess, lucre, influence, fame — the only transparently and sincerely valued site of belonging in our culture. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that insofar as you’re interested in having a good time, there’s probably never been a sound so perfectly suited to having every kind of fun disallowed in conservative America.”

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What I've been reading, featuring refugees illustrated, “Roma”, and neural prosthetics

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What I've been reading, featuring NK Jemisin inventing and changing worlds

Who did get into Oxford back then? A small group whose upholding of the old traditions of Englishness can no longer prepare a British Isles – made up of all its various peoples – for the forces of modernity. For our real place in the world, for the consequences of Empire.

This is the shrinking Kingdom of the English, who subjugated Wales and Scotland and Ireland. The biggest problem of elite cliques is myopia. The country is far more brittle and divided than they can see. They are the believers who still, somewhere, think that the map of the world is pink. But they forget their Classics lessons; what happens when an empire falls? With no one else to dominate, the establishment turns on its own people. We become subjects, not of the British Empire, but of the last dregs of the English upper classes. A report into undergraduate admissions earlier this year found that in 2017 Oxford admitted more pupils from Westminster School than black students, a glaring piece of evidence about how the knot is being tightened even more firmly around the bag of family silver.

I wonder now about all the other kids like me, the ones at odd angles, the queer and working class and black, or even just Northern, or Welsh, or provincial. This is not a place for them, however loudly they might be knocking on the door.

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