Links on the Margins — September 11th

Fire Sky, Singapore, Guitars, Chumbox, and 9/11

Hi folks. Can here.

The relentless assault on my respiratory system that is living in California in 2020 has taken a turn towards my visual cortex this week. I woke up to an orange tinged sky that my camera had trouble recognizing, which got darker and more orange as the day went on.

And now, 2 days after The Day Sky Burned in San Francisco, I now woke up to what is truly the densest fog-cum-smoke I’ve ever seen in Bay Area. I can barely see the end of my block from where I’m sitting now.

September 9, 2020

I am grateful to be in good health, not forced to evacuate, and have the financial means to weather through this, but it does make one wonder. I’ve joined the American workforce at the peak of the financial crisis, but I also started my “America” journey literally the same week 9/11 happened. It’s been quite the trip, you could say.

We have a scattering of links for you today, ranging from the predictably grim to characteristically goofy. Have a great weekend. Stay safe. Stay…indoors? Outdoors? I don’t even know anymore…

Can’s Links

The True Story of Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore

Haonan Li and Victor Yaw, Palladium Magazine

Both Ranjan and I spent a few months in Singapore, though 10 years apart, for business school. I truly miss it every day, and maybe even more so now. The Little Red Dot is a fan-favorite among the technorati class. It’s time to build, like Singapore, people say often. And of course, the indubitable father of Singapore, the man with the iron in him, Lee Kuan Yew is revered like a god too. The Great Man Theory of leadership is always a questionable one, and this amazingly written piece makes a similar case. You owe yourselves to read this.

But the rise of Singapore provides compelling lessons of a different sort, ones which help us understand how the city-state was built in its unique conditions. Today, the new U.S.-China rivalry is playing out in the divergence between different development paths—a divergence which may end the mythos of a universally applicable model. While Lee’s admirers in the art of statecraft cannot import a Singaporean model, they can learn from the ardent pragmatism which drove him to reject the easy solutions of outsiders and build a state which defied all conventions.

As an aside, I always thought this infamous speech by LKY as the perfect crystal ball. Everyone sees what they want to see.

"Rumors Spread on Social Media..."

Matt Stoller, BIG

Is Facebook a right-wing echo chamber that also profits off of polarization and rumors? Or is it just a mirror to our society where there are lots of evil people who do evil things? As cliche as the saying is, the truth is probably somewhere in between but it’s worth noting that Facebook is the way it is, because it’s designed to be that way. It’s not a platform, where everything is teated the same, gets the same reach and distribution. The oligarch-in-charge, Zuckerberg, does press his thumb on the scale often. Then, does this means he needs to be liable?

And if that is so, then we need a different framework to understand just what these things are. In one sense, Facebook is a dominant communications platform that should be subject to public utility regulation and antitrust law. But I also think that standard product liability theories should apply. If a product causes harm to the customer that the customer did not expect, and the producer could reasonably see that it would do so, then the product is defective and the producer is liable for that harm.

The Falling Man

Tom Junod, Esquire

As I alluded up top, I started at an American boarding school the week 9/11 happened. Literally, one of my first memories is me running to the dorm, telling people to turn on the TV and then being ushered back to our rooms where we listened on the radio whether the world would come to an end soon after. The Twin Towers were both so far away — I hadn’t even been in the US at the time— but also so close. Maybe more so than what some Americans experienced it. But aside the whole geopolitical aspect, the towers were where real people, actual living beings worked, feared death by fire and then decided to take the matters into their own hands. This is a harrowing, but also a very human and powerful read. It’s one of those pieces of writing that I go back again and again.

[…] All over the world, people saw the human stream debouch from the top of the North Tower, but here in the United States, we saw these images only until the networks decided not to allow such a harrowing view, out of respect for the families of those so publicly dying. At CNN, the footage was shown live, before people working in the newsroom knew what was happening; then, after what Walter Isaacson, who was then chairman of the network's news bureau, calls "agonized discussions" with the "standards guy," it was shown only if people in it were blurred and unidentifiable; then it was not shown at all.

Why the French love to complain

Emily Monaco, BBC

I always found it easy to connect with French people. In them, I found a mutual love of complaining. Look, as someone who grew up in a troubled land, I appreciate the optimism of America, but it can be a little nauseating at times. Life sucks sometimes. Americans find the silver lining in a catastrophe, and that’s just not cool, man. But really, when French people (and I) complain, it is less about being unhappy or sad, but more about acknowledging the existential dread we all toil away in. It’s more meaningful than talking about the weather (ugh!), if nothing else.

In France, a complaint is an appropriate – and frequent – conversation starter. One could begin talking about a restaurant by focusing on the poor service during an otherwise great meal, or highlight the fact that the east-facing windows in your new flat mean you now have to buy curtains. But while, as Julie Barlow, Canadian journalist and co-author of The Bonjour Effectexplained, “To Americans, saying something negative sounds like you’re closing the conversation”, in France, such comments are perceived as “a way to invite other people’s opinions”. North Americans, she said, are not as comfortable with confrontation – or with criticism – as the French are. Râler, then, “comes across as something that’s more intelligent than being too starry-eyed and optimistic about things”.

Speaking of existential dread, this week a Twitter thread reminded of this amazing video series called I Miss Drugs. Man, I do miss…this series.

Ranjan’s Links

The 107th Floor

Ranjan Roy, Medium (Yes, written by me)

The friend I’d mentioned worked for Lehman Brothers, in the World Trade Center. That second bar we were told to check out was Windows on the World, located on the 107th story of the North Tower.

I post this link with a great deal of hesitation. Mainly because I don’t want to ‘promote’ my older writing about an event like 9/11. But as a longtime New Yorker, one who interned here in the summer of 2001, had a job interview scheduled 9/12/01 (for the job I’d eventually get), and have (mostly) lived here since July 2002, watching NYC’s progression over the years on this day has been tough, sad, and a bit cathartic to watch. I tried to capture my feelings a decade later.

America Is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral

Ed Yong, The Atlantic

I wrote this piece (I promise this isn’t some weird backlink strategy, just wait) early in the pandemic about how COVID completely screws up our natural ability to assess risks. It’s that element where, if everything we do works, we’ll never really know what would’ve happened otherwise. I was trying to use the idea of a “True Negative” to explain this, but could feel it was still a bunch of jumbled words on paper and thoughts in my head. 

Ed Yong, at The Atlantic, as he does well, managed to perfectly encapsulate a lot of those loose thoughts in this piece. 

This brief attention span is understandable. Adherents of the scientific method are trained to isolate and change one variable at a time. Academics are walled off into different disciplines that rarely connect. Journalists constantly look for new stories, shifting attention to the next great idea. These factors prime the public to view solutions in isolation, which means imperfections become conflated with uselessness

[Can: Ranjan and I share our favorite reads in a separate doc and occasionally we end up with the same links. This was one of them. One of Ranjan’s favorite jokes is that #NoOriginalThoughts, that we are all beholden to the same algorithms feeding us the same news and articles. He might be right.]

Guitars Are Back, Baby!

Alex Williams, The New York Times

Not all doom and gloom today! Guitars are back, baby!

I’ve played guitar since I was 9. Don’t get me wrong, I like plenty of music that doesn’t involve a guitar, but I have been rueing the slow popularity of the greatest instrument in the world over the past few decades. There’s still great music coming out that involve guitars, and some great guitarists, but that iconic guitar hero feels long lost from our more popular culture. 

Why the Taboola-Outbrain deal fell apart and what it means for publishers

Lara O’Reilly, Digiday

Best coverage of the breakup, naturally from a media trade publication. All I can ask is, media people, stop making the same joke tweet that’s something like “you’ll never believe what happened to this merger.”

[Can: Ranjan is being modest here (or just self-aware about how often he links to his own pieces) but he also wrote one of the most hilarious and in-depth deep dives into the chumbox supply chain on Margins more than a year ago.]