Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

The story of Max, the library cat

The Washington Post as the low-down on “Max, the cat who lost the library but won the Internet:”

Max spent time on the streets as a young cat, so he learned to roam early on. About a year ago, he was adopted at a shelter by Connie Lipton, who lives across a small street from Macalester, where Lipton’s husband teaches religious studies. Max made very clear that he wanted to continue roaming, Lipton said in an interview Wednesday, so they let him. And roam he did, making friends across campus. Last summer, Max hung out at a reunion event that featured live music and a large tent. He enjoyed spending time on a vast green where students play Frisbee. He frequented student housing down the street, entered the science building more than once, and stopped by the Spanish and Portuguese department….

But when Max began entering the library, zipping by students whose arms were loaded with books, “he started getting in trouble,” Lipton said.

“I recommend never taking off one’s pants at work, for any reason whatsoever”

Daniel Drezner, riffing on a hilarious article in which Sebastian Gorka explains why he never leaves the house without two guns, a one-handed tourniquet, and a pocket Constitution, describes a real public intellectual’s everyday carry. At the top of the list?

Pants. This being 2017, I feel it is important to point out how useful a nice pair of pants are to my everyday life. There is nothing like a functional, aesthetically appropriate set of trousers that are kept on for the entire work day. The great thing about men’s pants is that they have pockets that can carry almost all of my EDC. I recommend never taking off one’s pants at work, for any reason whatsoever. I highly recommend keeping those trousers on whenever one has to invite a colleague into one’s office.

For more on the Gorka article, check out this critique in Task and Purpose. (When I read the article it sounded like he only carried one gun, and toggled between his two favorites. Though it was hard to tell.)

“one of the key markers of the class divide is confidence”

Rebecca Nicholson writes in The Guardian about social mobility in the UK:

I was born into a working-class family in north Lincolnshire…. I was the first in my family to get A-levels, and then the first to go to university…. [At Oxford] I learned that one of the key markers of the class divide is confidence – if you’re born into an advantaged background, confidence practically comes home with you from the hospital; otherwise, you have to learn it as carefully as you would a musical instrument.

I’ve been interested in the question of why lots of history’s greatest social reformers, saints, and other religious and social leaders come from backgrounds that were somewhere between privileged and princely; and I think that this kind of confidence is one of the keys. Nicholson puts her finger on the way privilege makes confidence– confidence in one’s self, in the fairness or easiness of the world, and in a belief that one can change it for the better– simply part of one’s character and inheritance, rather than something you have to struggle to claim.

Watching Carter Page tumble down Uncanny Valley

Rick Wilson on The Strange Pleasure of Seeing Carter Page Set Himself on Fire:

[Carter Page] gives off the creepy Uncanny Valley vibe of a rogue, possibly murderous android or of a man with a too-extensive knowledge of human taxidermy and a soundproofed van.

I do sometimes wonder if he escaped from a lab in Mountain View and refuses to respond to his firmware updates. Or maybe he’s hoping for a dramatic exit:

“Trump is simply and unceasingly angry on their behalf”

Another journalist reports from Trump country about the president’s popularity and its origins:

Johnstown voters do not intend to hold the president accountable for the nonnegotiable pledges he made to them. It’s not that the people who made Trump president have generously moved the goalposts for him. It’s that they have eliminated the goalposts altogether.

This reality ought to get the attention of anyone who thinks they will win in 2018 or 2020 by running against Trump’s record. His supporters here, it turns out, are energized by his bombast and his animus more than any actual accomplishments. For them, it’s evidently not what he’s doing so much as it is the people he’s fighting. Trump is simply and unceasingly angry on their behalf….

So many people in so many other areas of the country watch with dismay and existential alarm Trump’s Twitter hijinks, his petty feuds, his penchant for butting into areas where the president has no explicit, policy-relevant role. All of that only animates his supporters here. For them, Trump is their megaphone. He is the scriptwriter. He is a singularly effective, intuitive creator of a limitless loop of grievance and discontent that keeps them in absolute lockstep.

Then there are gems like this:

“Everybody I talk to,” he said, “realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet. Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend, like the last president did.”…

If Obama, I asked, is the antichrist—whose arrival is said to precede the second coming of Christ—what would that make Trump?

“The savior?” Del Signore suggested.

“Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You”

Lindy West admits that “Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You.” It’s a terrific piece:

When Allen and other men warn of “a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere” what they mean is an atmosphere in which they’re expected to comport themselves with the care, consideration and fear of consequences that the rest of us call basic professionalism and respect for shared humanity. On some level, to some men — and you can call me a hysteric but I am done mincing words on this — there is no injustice quite so unnaturally, viscerally grotesque as a white man being fired….

In a just system, Weinstein would have faced career-ruining social and professional consequences the first time he changed into a bathrobe and begged a horrified woman for a massage. In a just system, the abuse wouldn’t have stayed an open secret for decades while he was left free to chew through generation after generation of starlets. Weinstein’s life, like Cosby’s, isn’t the story of some tragic, pitiable downfall. It’s the story of someone who got away with it.

The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your legacy. The cost of being Harvey Weinstein is not getting to be Harvey Weinstein anymore. We don’t have the justice system on our side; we don’t have institutional power; we don’t have millions of dollars or the presidency; but we have our stories, and we’re going to keep telling them. Happy Halloween.

I look forward to the day when great writers don’t have to spend time writing about things like this (I wish I could write as well as her), but this is the world we live in.

Startups and “the Frightful Five”

One of the arguments you regularly hear in Silicon Valley is that we shouldn’t worry about the power of Facebook, Apple, or Google (or Amazon and Microsoft) because in the fast-moving world of technology, all glory is fleeting: their market share could be be destroyed by a plucky upstart tomorrow. Farhad Manjoo explains in “How the Frightful Five Put Start-Ups in a Lose-Lose Situation” why this is nonsense: essentially, today’s companies are better at watching the landscape, identifying promising new ideas, and copying those it can and buying those it can’t:

Because today’s giants are nimbler and more paranoid about upstart competition than the tech behemoths of yore, they have cleverly created an ecosystem that enriches themselves even when they don’t think of the best ideas first. The Five run server clouds, app stores, ad networks and venture firms, altars to which the smaller guys must pay a sizable tax just for existing. For the Five, the start-up economy has turned into a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose proposition — they love start-ups, but in the same way that orcas love baby seals.

Come for the salmon and natural beauty, stay for the white nationalism

This piece by David Lewis about a white nationalist convention in Seattle is something:

Seattle had somehow gone from virtually no open racists (although I’ve worked retail at places with pretty open whites only management policies) to being the kind of place to which you’d travel all the way from Sweden to study a new style of racism….

Former skinhead movements fizzled out because, in addition to requiring fanatical racism from their followers, they also required severe lifestyle changes like going off to live in survivalist compounds or being a Nazi 24/7. The Johnson Seattle approach to racism is more like, “let’s get a cake for Hitler’s birthday after picking the kids up from soccer practice,” making it more compatible with the way a lot of these people already live and the way they grew up.

Between this and the Buzzfeed article about Milo, it seems clear that while in most circles it’s still socially unacceptable to be openly white nationalist, they’re trying hard to change that.

Marina Hyde on the Tory conference

I don’t always read Marina Hyde, but her piece on the recent Tory conference in Manchester– “From Boris the Lion King to Theresa May’s P45 – my malarial week at the Tory conference“– is hilarious in that way a deeply partisan piece (think P. J. O’Rourke) can be.

Though when you have Boris Johnson as a target, it’s hard to go wrong.

He’s not so much a cabinet minister as an event horizon.

Almost entirely because of Boris, the Tories now resemble a franchise of the reality-TV show Real Housewives: a cast of behaviourally incontinent people with zero idea of how to act when people are looking at them, with the most ambitious star seemingly having decided that conflict is winsome. Boris’s May-undermining Sun interview on the eve of conference was the intellectual equivalent of pouring a whisky sour over the head of someone called Cristee, yet was analysed as though it were one of Talleyrand’s more complex gambits. According to what one cabinet minister told the FT: “Boris’s own psychology is a matter of infinite fascination.” Only to Boris, surely.

As a bonus, there’s this bit about Katie Hopkins:

No one could fail to salute whichever Tory brain judged that this already toxic conference would benefit from issuing a guest pass to Katie Hopkins. It’s akin to surveying survivors of the Lusitania and thinking: you know what would really lift the spirits round here? A visit from Typhoid Mary. For reasons I briefly considered looking up, Katie had got herself up in a full wedding dress for her turn at a fringe event. All that effort and still only the second most irksome and publicity-crazed blond at conference.

It’s kind of nice, in a heaving-a-sigh-of-relief-that-it’s-not-your-trainwreck-for-once kind of way, to read this kind of thing from across the Pond.

Dogs and cats in Europe

While I was in Copenhagen week before last, I came across a cat while heading to a friend’s house for lunch:

Cat

Then a couple days later, I ran into this cat at the book stalls in Amsterdam:

Open air book stalls

I also crossed paths with a couple dogs.

Open air book stalls

I always like seeing animals when I travel, if only because they remind me of my own pets back home.

Amsterdam city center

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