What I've been reading, featuring the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event and the infuriating etymology of narwhals

I became very angry upon learning that narwhals are “named rather ungallantly for the Old Norse word nar, meaning ‘corpse’, and hvalr, ‘whale’, after their mottled grey markings.” How soulless must the scientist have been to discover a species of literal water unicorns and decides to name them after their skin blemishes? This would garner a failing grade in Taxonomy 101.

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What I've been reading, featuring "Reporter" by Seymour Hersh, "Normal People" by Sally Rooney, and literary hot takes

“Reporter” by Seymour Hersh

Very apt one-word title; Hersh despite or because of his hard-headedness comes across as the living embodiment of the profession. Highly recommend to anyone with any interest in or respect for investigative journalism. Hersh is now one of my few heroes.

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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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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 Mitski, Milkman, and the Mekong Review

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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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What I've been reading, featuring cardiac and social network problems

  • A brief history of artificial hearts, which I learned are not nearly as well-developed as I had thought; they are described as “[challenging] the binary characterization of therapeutics as either successes or failures.” It reads like some of the middle chapters of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s excellent history of cancer, “The Emperor of All Maladies”, in that it has a practitioner framing the egos and recklessnesses of researchers as driving medical advancement:

“In the old days of medicine… that’s the way these guys did things. It was, ‘Well, I have an idea, and I’m the one that knows best, and by golly, I’m going to do it.’ And did that advance the field? Maybe. Is it the right thing to do? Absolutely not.”

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What I've been reading, featuring problematic art and Jonathan Franzen's "Purity"

“The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died. He had been shot by one of the state hit squads and I did not care about the shooting of this man. Others did care though, and some were those who, in the parlance, ‘knew me to see but not to speak to’ and I was being talked about because there was a rumour started by them, or more likely by first brother-in-law, that I had been having an affair with this milkman and that I was 18 and that he was 41… It had been my fault too, it seemed, this affair with the milkman. But I had not been having an affair witht he milkman. I did not like the milkman and had been frightened and confused by his pursuing and attempting an affair with me.”

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What I've been reading, featuring the elements of time-keeping and a TERF war

NYU PhD student Andrea Long Chu’s famous n+1 article taking on “trans-exclusionary radical feminism”:

It must be underscored how unpopular it is on the left today to countenance the notion that transition expresses not the truth of an identity but the force of a desire… I doubt that any of us transition simply because we want to “be” women, in some abstract, academic way. I certainly didn’t. I transitioned for gossip and compliments, lipstick and mascara, for crying at the movies, for being someone’s girlfriend, for letting her pay the check or carry my bags, for the benevolent chauvinism of bank tellers and cable guys, for the telephonic intimacy of long-distance female friendship, for fixing my makeup in the bathroom flanked like Christ by a sinner on each side, for sex toys, for feeling hot, for getting hit on by butches, for that secret knowledge of which dykes to watch out for, for Daisy Dukes, bikini tops, and all the dresses, and, my god, for the breasts.

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