Monthly Recommendations (June 2021)

This month’s theme is disorder, dishonesty and dysfunction. In that spirit, this month’s list includes the story of a missionary dabbling in things that she should probably have stayed far away from, the profile of a Trump administration operative who was an exceptionally bad manager and irritated nearly everyone whom he worked with, a list of the winners of the recent absurdity in the US stock markets and how it has helped those who got in early reap huge benefits by selling what basically amounts to snake-oil, and, a contemporary historical study of how hot-button topics on the Internet have evolved over the past 2 decades.

  1. A Son’s Story (Zapana)

    New Yorker (archived), 13th April, 2020

    There is a terrible desensitization in the way that the newscasters switch from the number of people who died yesterday to how a team won a sporting match without missing a beat or giving the audience any time to recover from the previous story. A common argument for this is that people can’t be bogged down by every bad story that they hear on the news because then they will be unable to function; lest they be overwhelmed by the amount of bad things that are going on simultaneously around the world, the audience must be protected through this desensitization, some argue. This essay runs against the grain and tells the heart wrenching story of a death in the family.

  2. How Stephen Miller Manipulates Trump to Further His Immigration Obsession (Blitzer)

    New Yorker (archived), 2nd March, 2020

    The former President of America, Donald Trump, had a “crazy clown posse” of henchmen and assistants. Some of these people were people like John Bolton who had an agenda and were working with Trump only because he was a tool to get that agenda done. Stephen Miller, on the other hand, was a new animal who could exist only in the world where his boss was someone who did not read briefings and allowed meetings to turn into shouting matches. The part about Miller wanting things to be done incredibly quickly, even if they were not done properly enough (legislatively) to withstand future legal challenges and to last long, was an interesting real-world example of why “move fast, break things” is a bad idea. His constant berating of the people that he met with seems like a managerial tactic to avoid.

  3. The SPAC King Is Doing Just Fine Even as the Bubble Starts to Burst (Faux)

    Bloomberg Businessweek (archived), 17th May, 2021

    US stock markets have been crazy in the past few months. One of the other weird bubbles that has come up during that time has been the “Special Purpose Acquisition Company”, or “SPAC”, bubble. Levine explains what they are and how they work. This article is about the SPAC king “Chamath”, a megalomaniac, Elon Musk-type character who started appearing on everyone’s YouTube feeds and gained a lot of popularity in early 2021 when he started saying things like “Venture capitalists are conning everyone” and “Warren Buffet is not relevant, I am the new Buffet” and became a folk hero to the stonks traders. I am not sure how he got all this attention in a short period of time. He was one of the first few people to turn the SPAC concept into a bubble which would mint money for anyone who “got in early”. This article is about how he has come out on top, despite making deals with companies that have questionable viability and that almost everyone else is losing money on.

  4. The Mission (Levy)

    New Yorker (archived), 6th April, 2020

    A fascinating recounting of the story of a woman who goes to Uganda and works as a missionary there. She works in the health sector and begins treating people. But then, children suffering from malnutrition start dying. Questions are asked about what she is doing and how she is so closely connected to so many deaths. Her intentions appear to be good and it is impossible to parse out what was really going on from this article. It is a good portrayal of the cutthroat nature of communities of do-gooders in lower-income economics that seem to have personal enmity and ego clashes in abundance.

    • Date added to this list: <2021-05-30 Sun 11:27>
    • Source: Newyorker 2020-04-13
    • Author: Levy
    • Note: Woman in Uganda who was accused of being negligent which lead to the death of several children in that country.
  5. Online Culture Wars (Alexander)

    Astral Codex Ten (archived), 11th May, 2020

    The concept of a “culture war” has seeped into the mainstream now. There has been some discussion about how the conservative pundit leans on culture wars to generalize a single event and taint how a religious or ethnic group is seen by the majority. There has also been talk about how liberals wage culture wars against people by focusing on a wide variety of past oppression and inter-sectional identities, ensuring that everyone is uncertain about whether they are the oppressor or the oppressed in a given situation, and consequently, much to the liberals’ delight, everyone is walking on eggshells. Neither of those positions is completely true or completely false. It helps to look at the culture wars that have been waged on the Internet. Using some word frequency plots and his general knowledge of the Internet blogosphere’s history, Alexander shows that the extremely popular topics of a few years ago have been relegated to lame and uninteresting (the “I am so rich I dress in leisurewear when I go to a high-end restaurant” attitude).