Links on the Margins - April 8th
On being an immigrant, Larry David,
Hi everyone. Can here.
It is hard for me to remember a time before the virus now. A little more than a month ago, I went out to dinner with a couple of friends to celebrate my birthday at a sushi restaurant. That was the last time I ate out and socialized in real life. A few weeks is not a long time, but it already feels like eons ago.
I am less interested in the navel-gazing proclamations on how we won’t go back to watching sports or how we will all work from home now, but I am wondering if this irksome feeling about being physically close to others will ever go away. Already, when I am watching TV and see people shaking hands or hugging, I feel myself cringing. That seems like a bad thing. Anyway, enough from me.
How did the US get caught so unprepared for the coronavirus? Of course, some people have called it out. But, largely, it was like that gif making the rounds; we watched an avalanche slowly gain speed as it encroached on us. One explanation I go back to is that we simply couldn’t muster the empathy for those in China. They were alien to us here in the US in a way, say, European countries would not be. This piece is not about that, but I appreciated Li Jin actually taking the time to talk to the people in China about how their lives have changed, at least as consumers. It is honest, and raw, in a way that I haven’t seen much of from the media. Emphasis hers:
These kinds of measures may be challenging to put in place in democratic countries. But I think we all realized that the government implemented these measures on behalf of the public good. So we were willing to abide by the rules and sacrifice some freedom in the short term to enjoy freedom when things improve. Now, the domestic epidemic situation is essentially under control, and many patients are being discharged from hospitals each day. Most of the new cases of coronavirus are imported from outside China. We expect to be able to go outside when the weather gets warmer in spring.
This piece cuts deep for multiple reasons. First, as I often talk here, I still wonder where I fit in the US, as a Turkish immigrant. America makes it easy, part by design, part by accident to immigrate. The culture is omnipresent, the history thin, and the language forgiving. Yet, even though I’ve been steeped in Americana for more than 15 years, and can even put on an “American” accent and riff on Americana, there are times I still feel like a fresh-off-the-boat foreigner. The second reason this piece was interesting to me was how both at home and foreign at the same time I felt when I lived in Singapore. I felt comfortable, in a way that I felt I didn’t deserve to be. The race relations there, and how they compared to the US is something I still think about daily. Credit goes to Adrianna Tan for pointing me to this piece.
When I am called a person of color in America, what do people see? Do they see the invisible privilege of being foreign-born, of having come from a country that afforded me the upward mobility my life benefits from? Do they see that while the color of my skin today renders me a minority in America, I spent most of my early life an oblivious, privileged ethnic majority? Racial privilege in Singapore, like anywhere else, is complex and multi-faceted. The Chinese enjoy certain advantages for being the majority, but this can be further broken down into dialect group, fluency in English and class, with English-speaking Peranakans historically being at the top of the pecking order. While not raised within this specific sub-segment of privilege, through education, I now undoubtedly belong to it when I am in Singapore.
More than a few people told me that Larry David’s character on Curb Your Enthusiasm reminded them of me. It’s not something to be proud of but I guess it is marginally better than being confused with Paul Rust’s character on Love or Bighead from Silicon Valley. I do see it, though, given how I often go on small, amusing (to me at least) rants about the minutia of modern life. I’ve enjoyed reading through this profile of Larry David and the socially distant photos are just something else.
“Larry David is saying you can have as much money as you want and not only are you still unhappy but you’re still unhappy about the most picayune things — jealousy and envy and all these venial sins,” Mr. D’Addario said. “That is something that puts a smile on my face, as opposed to celebrities telling you to be happy from inside their gated communities, which engenders rage.”
No sane person should be a fan of Tucker Carlson, but it is hard not to be fascinated by him. Ranjan wrote about him too. I was watching a Fox segment a week ago and mentioned to my friend that Carlson feels like he has perfected the pitch. If you stop listening to what he’s saying, but just listen to his voice, you can feel how he plays his audience with the perfect pauses, and the rises and the drops.
My friend then pointed me towards this old clip of Carlson arguing with Jon Stewart on an old CNN show called Crossfire. It’s painful to watch, both for its prescience but more importantly on how awkward Carlson comes out in it. Stewart’s criticisms played a part in the show's cancellation also.
I miss 30 Rock. I mused about it last week too. It’s lighthearted enough to binge on, and self-referential enough to make you feel smart. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and probably has the worst intro of any good show. It’s also daring enough to have called out Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby too. So, after last week I shared a piece on Tracy Morgan and Ranjan about the ethics of leaving the big city for the country to “quarantine”, it was mildly amusing to see those two worlds collide like this.
Jack would try to get Liz to go to the secret GE island off the coast of Connecticut: “It will just be the top executives, any wives under 40, and yes, Lauer will be there, but only because it was built into his deal years ago.” Liz refuses to go because of her desire to be egalitarian but also because everyone would probably be barefoot. Pass. She would shelter in place like nobody’s business and still somehow dodge sex with James Marsden.
Is this cheating? Just read this thread before tweeting about how great Singapore is. I am definitely not subsubstacking?) myself here.
I’m REALLY trying to not be cynical. I won’t even get into the tax implications of Jack’s move, but hoping that as insufferable as he is on Twitter, Anand Giridharadas makes a stink about this (or just read Nitasha Tiku’s 2016 piece on the structure of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative).
But I’ve linked to a piece from 2015 about how Dorsey pledged 20% of Square shares to a donation vehicle called….Start Small…to help underserved communities, and this 2018 SF Chronicle piece about how that effort faded away, and the Jack 2015 tweet where he announced the effort, along with the responses from excited librarians and people congratulating him. Fool me once….:
I’ve said this repeatedly, but writing this newsletter has been one of the most rewarding writing experiences of my life. It’s hopefully improved my writing a bit. I sometimes come across passages like this and it almost makes excited that maybe after decades of writing and writing, one day, I might possibly put together a string of words like this:
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
Hearing the sentiment that “it’s too dangerous to go outside so I’ll order everything” frustrates me to no end. It is a direct value judgment about your own safety over the hundreds of thousands of people going outside to make sure those packages get to you. And companies like Amazon do not ensure their safety.
Especially when people can still order rubber chickens:
As of April 6, in the United States, you could still order a bowling ball, a 10-pack of rubber chickens, and a prom dress and have them show up at your door within a week. All of the items are described on the website as either “Fulfilled by Amazon” or “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com,” and none of the items are in the categories previously deemed essential.
I have a longtime fascination with virtual influencers. I want to applaud the WHO social media manager who came up with this idea:
Someone brought up Clinkle in conversation the other day (a good post-mortem for the uninitiated). It made me a bit nostalgic for the go-go days of the early 2010s, when a 22-year old Stanford grad could literally sit with Richard Branson and light money on fire, thinking it was a good idea.
And now, dear reader, a question for you: What are some of the overwrought, tugging at one’s heartstrings type of commercials from tech companies you all remember from the early 2010s? My co-host Can claimed the Path 2.0 commercial (which he wasn’t able to find) is the patient-zero, and the Facebook Chairs is the gold standard, but if you can remember any of these gems, please send them our way!