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

  • A former Border Patrol guard reflects on life at the American-Mexican border, which he calls a “permanent zone of exception” with a man-made “disregard for human life”:

The borderlands have slowly become a place where citizens are subject to distinct standards for search and detention, and where due process for noncitizens is often unrecognizable by normal American standards. It is a place where migrants are regularly sentenced at mass hearings in which the fates of as many as seventy-five individuals can be adjudicated one after another in a matter of minutes, after which they are funneled into a burgeoning immigration incarceration complex. It is a landscape often written off as a “wasteland” that is inherently “hostile”—without recognition that it has, in fact, been made to be hostile. Violence does not grow organically in our deserts or at our borders. It has arrived there through policy.

…[the former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service]’s damning admission—that the loss of hundreds of lives on America’s doorstep each year was not enough to cause the government to reevaluate its policy—reveals the extent to which the desert has been weaponized against migrants, and lays bare the fact that the hundreds who continue to die there every year are losing their lives by design. Deterrence-based enforcement has steered the immigration politics of every administration since that of President Clinton, and has resulted in an official tally of more than six thousand migrant deaths along the southern border between 2000 and 2016. This figure, it should be said, does not account for the thousands more who have been reported as missing and never found, not to mention those whose disappearances are never reported in the first place.

…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?”

So not to get political, but don’t be this guy:

 

“They do everything by law—there will never be an illegal action. Any one law didn’t look that bad, but if you stack them together it creates this web. That’s why the EU is unable to cope. They look at one thing at a time, but Orbán is a systemic thinker… it’s absolutely ingenious.”

Central European University rector Michael Ignatieff on CEU’s forced relocation to Vienna:

“In Hungary, the law is a tool of power. It looks like a law, sounds like a law, walks and talks like a law, but it’s just a piece of arbitrary discretion.”

Also:

“Around ninety per cent of Hungarian media is now owned or controlled by people with personal connections to Orbán or his party, and eighty per cent of Hungarians who listen to the radio or watch television hear only news that comes from the government.”

  • A selection of the New York Times’ visualizations and multimedia stories from 2018

  • Sally Rooney profiled by The New Yorker. The article mentions how well technology is integrated into her work, which I alluded to in my last post discussing her second novel “Normal People”. I had considered elements like texting and social media to be too clunky and distractingly of-this-era to incorporate well into a book or even a movie, but I’m realizing maybe it’s just that older people and Jonathan Franzen are bad at it in the same way fan fiction botches sex scenes. The article gives this sentence as an example of Rooney doing it well: “I didn't feel like watching the film on my own so I switched it off and just read the Internet instead."

An older novelist might have written “surfed the Internet” or “looked at the Internet,” but “read the Internet” has the ring of native digital literacy. There’s also something current about the flatness of Rooney’s tone; like “breaking the Internet,” “reading the Internet” makes a little joke of the juxtaposition of a puny active verb and the vastness of the thing upon which it is acting.

Trailer for “Searching” (2018), 92% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie “Searching”, whose gimmick is that all footage is set on a computer or phone screen, also incorporates modern technology extremely well and convincingly. Recommended!

  • Rolling Stone: 20 years on, “How Britney Spears Changed Pop With ‘Baby One More Time’”. I found it to be a poorly written article that doesn’t do much to answer its title question, but I appreciated the prompt to reflect on Spears’ debut album. In retrospect, its opening with “…Baby One More Time”, “(You Drive Me) Crazy”, and “Sometimes” back-to-back-to-back is a hell of a self-introduction.

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):