What I've been reading, featuring vicarious patriotism about the NHS, re-visiting Avril Lavigne's debut, and post-9/11 pop culture

 
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  • A response to a troubling passage in Michelle Obama’s new memoir: “Jeremiah Wright knew what America was becoming. The Obamas can’t see what it is.”

  • “This is Going to Hurt” by Adam Kay (h/t Helena)

    • Immersive and powerful read that contains a common-sense appeal to protect socialized healthcare made all the more convincing by its brevity (a few pages).

    • It weirdly made me feel patriotic about and protective of the NHS even though I’m Filipino and grew up up in Indonesia and Vietnam. I was moved to talk to my dad today about healthcare, which hasn’t really factored into our lives largely due to good fortune health-wise but also coming from not having a national health program to speak of and living in areas with sketchy quality of service. I’ve lived in the West for the past almost-eight years and have only seen a doctor once and even then only under the insistence of my supervisor. Most of my European friends, who aren’t to my knowledge any less healthy than me, all seem to make a habit of going multiple times a year. To me, this speaks to a cultural adjustment that, against my own interests, I still have not learned to make. From my perspective, the American philosophical resistance to universal coverage comes across as a shocking squandering of opportunity and morally criminal neglect of their most vulnerable. If affordable, insuring against illness and injury is a top-three reason to even have a government.

    • Side note: I generally dislike books that pack punchlines this densely, but this was fun to read. I still found myself impatiently yearning for the earnest bits so maybe too many anecdotes and footnotes for my personal taste, which is admittedly weird. Must be something about the book as a medium for comedy because dumb tweets like this or this or this can make me cry.

  • Pitchfork revisits Avril Lavigne’s debut album “Let Go”. Contains this description of “Sk8er Boi”: “It sounds like Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ as if written by a normal teenager instead of a precocious musical cyborg.”

Let Go is the foundation of her surprisingly considerable legacy. Her feelings about it might be, well, complicated: She’d grown up enough by its release to know it wasn’t the album she wanted to make, and she never quite escaped its shadow. But you can imagine her listening to Let Go like she’s flipping through a yearbook or watching some long-forgotten DVD from a high-school talent show. It feels like a true dispatch from the frontlines of a teenager’s brain: unsure of itself, inelegant and occasionally inane, crackling with nervous energy.

My dad moved to Iowa from China in the ’90s. He felt that Barkley and him had similar experiences.

"So, to me, as an Asian in the U.S., I felt as long as I do a good job, people will respect me," my dad said.

Barkley and my dad both worked hard — so hard, they believed, that the color of their skin didn’t matter. In Chinese, we’d say that dad sometimes would 胡说八道(hú shuō bā dào) — that meant that sometimes he was known for spewing rubbish. I know that basketball fans might say Barkley often does the same.

  • A sensitive and earnest yet humorous two-part series on how pop culture has depicted 9/11 (both parts also embeded below). Summary: “Awkwardly, for the most part.” Terrifically researched, edited, and narrated. The channel is full of high-effort material and is sponsored by a Patreon.

 

Part 1

Part 2

 

A request for raw data from the corresponding authors of 771 animal biotelemetry-focused manuscripts, published between 1995 and 2015, highlighted a difference in data sharing practices across researcher career levels. Responses were positive in only 11% of requests made to corresponding authors that were senior researchers, while 72% of responses were positive when CAs were early career researchers.

  • McKinsey & Co. respond to the New York Times article linked to in my last post.

    • A good thread critical of the hand-waviness of some parts of the Times piece but also relating the validity of the controversy to the firm’s public image and idealistic recruitment strategy. (h/t Marginal Revolution, though I did not find much value in Tyler Cowen’s Bloomberg column on the topic, which read mostly as a proxy defense of the thesis of his new book)

    • Management consulting firms employ around 10% of the Ivy League’s graduating classes, usually by appealing to young people’s idealism. More so for business undergrads like the one I did my bachelor’s in.

  • Final note (will try to have a stand-alone post on the topic at some point soon for posterity):

 
 

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

“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.”

  • Esquire rebukes the New York Times bubble and their inadvertently self-incriminating headline “The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism and How We Missed It” (which has since been changed slightly). Some choice tweets taking exception:

 
 
  • Not really a thing I "read” (I should change the name of this blog series), but I watched “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” this week. It turned out to be one of the best movies I’ve watched from this year and easily the most fun. I can’t remember the last time a movie positively defied my expectations this much; I was expecting it to be a direct-to-TV production based on its title and its featuring a talking-pig character, plus this is the studio (Sony) that bungled the live-action Spider-Man franchise and last year gave us the “Emoji Movie”. This blew me away, so much so that I’ll bullet-point some superlatives below:

    • It might be the funniest movie to come out this year. The only other contender to me would be “Date Night”, another movie that defied genre expectations. I found the humor in “The Death of Stalin” to be far beneath Armando Iannucci’s other work. Keep in mind I have not seen “Vice”, “Sorry to Bother You”, “Girls Trip”, “Eighth Grade”, or “mid90s".

    • It’s the best superhero movie since “The Dark Knight” (2008) if you don’t count the recent “Planet of the Apes” trilogy (which I would; it’s the topic of a heated debate I’ve had with several friends which I’ll spare you but essentially I will not back down from my claim that Caesar is the greatest superhero ever put to screen) and maybe the freshest Hollywood take on the genre since “Chronicle” (2012).

    • It’s the best animated movie since either “Rango” (2011), “Kung Fu Panda 2” (2011), or “Toy Story 3” (2010). I loved “Zootopia” (2016) and “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016), but this year’s “Spider-Man” is just better and visually more creative. For all the praise Pixar gets for its increasingly realistic animation, “Spider-Man” (and to a lesser extent, the “Kung Fu Panda” series) makes a compelling counter-argument for animation that doesn’t pretend not to be animation.

More soon, but this post was long enough.

What I've been reading, featuring Mitski, Milkman, and the Mekong Review

  • Be the Cowboy by Mitski is the best album of 2018, according to Consequence of Sound, Vulture, and The Line of Best Fit. It ranks #2 for the New York Times and NPR. (Update: also #1 for Pitchfork)

    • I was at the same London show as the Best Fit writer. I would venture a guess that at least a third of the crowd were LGBTQ couples, which was surprising because Mitski’s music neither lyrically nor sonically make for an obvious union of indie and queer subcultures. Even within the broad indie rock genre, hers is a less accessible sound, her last album Puberty 2 pretty much defined by its distorted guitar (the Guardian recently called her work “the emotional Tough Mudder of indie rock.”) But it did move me to try to re-read her lyrics while there and with her manic choreography, it made for a fun crowd; a pair of brothers in front of me hugged and high-fived in excitement between songs and fist pumped during choruses.

    • I find myself liking a lot of Mitski-adjacent musicians but neither Puberty 2 nor this album have quite hit the spot for me. That said, I do recommend “Geyser” and “Two Slow Dancers” off this album and “Your Best American Girl” off Puberty 2 was one of my favorite songs of 2016. There’s a great episode of the Song Exploder podcast about the last one

    • Mitski on the Daily Show in September: "The cowboy myth is so appealing to me especially because I'm an Asian woman. That idea of not having to apologize is so American: riding into town, wrecking shit, and then walking out like he's the hero."

  • “Milkman” by Anna Burns (h/t Helena for this month’s book club selection)

    • I found it a chore to get through and what little action takes place is usually accompanied by the narrator’s lengthy and purposely anti-climactic tangents that remove the reader from the action for several unindented pages at a time

    • My reading of the depicted setting divided characters into “shinies”—those made to be outcasts by often harmless idiosyncrasies—and characters who personify the oppressive and violent setting of the time speaking and acting like video-game NPCs, working collectively as a shame-weaponizing ecosystem to combat the shinies in a manner I think I will be the first to compare to the Shimmer in Annihilation. The novel eschews names for its characters and the defining events, parties, and even countries and cities of its 1970s Troubles setting, which to me contributed to a compellingly sinister and hyper-simplified, almost science-fictionalized version of a specific place in history. Most in my book club saw it as far more realistically grounded than I did, but I really prefer the Cary Fukunaga/Hiro Murai-inspired television adaptation that played in my head while reading. It’s sinister and disturbing at times—it is a book about a predatory and violent society—and yet almost delightfully weird at other points.

    • Overall, I would hesitate to recommend because of the effort required to read it even though the writing is bleakly funny in several places. I’ve already told a friend to deprioritize it on his reading list, but at the same time, its selection has improved my opinion of the Man Booker committee.

  • Australian news channel ABC interviewed Minh Bui Jones, editor of the remarkable Mekong Review (audio). At just over three years old, the Southeast Asia-focused literary quarterly is thriving.

    • New York Times profile from last year:

      Minh Bui Jones… saw the magazine as a vehicle for cross-border connections in a region that lacks a sense of a shared historical narrative.

      According to Mr. Bui Jones, it also aims to be for Southeast Asia what he said The New York Review of Books and The London Review of Books had been since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: “brave, trenchant critics of their respective governments.”

      Mekong Review is a long shot on many levels, not least because it covers a region where English literacy is patchy, postal systems are unreliable and newspapers that are not controlled by governments tend to struggle against censorship and chronic financial constraints.

      …Then he must arrange delivery of the magazine’s 2,000-copy print run to Southeast Asian cities that are hundreds of miles apart. Mr. Bui Jones said he has an ad hoc distribution system that relies on friends who “mule” copies by plane, bus, tuk tuk and motorbike, and that he also moonlights as a deliveryman when he visits the region.

  • Twitter and caste-based discrimination

  • John D. Dingell, the longest-running member of Congress in American history, calls for publicly funded campaigns and the abolition of the Senate

  • Doc Rivers reflects on 20 years as a head coach in the NBA, a league notorious for its trigger-happiness in firing coaches and—despite its relative progressiveness—the dearth of black coaches for a league where most coaches are former players and 80% of players are black:

“We have a lot of black players without fathers. And to me that’s a story that needs to be talked about, because it’s difficult for the black coach sometimes. The black male figures in a lot of these guys’ lives have burned them. So, being coached by us, some people think it’s easier when actually it’s harder.”

  • Time lapse of the 32 days of filming required to shoot the sushi scene in Wes Anderson’s stop-motion Isle of Dogs (2018):

 
 

And the final product, one of my favorite scenes of the year: