Lobster Links on the Margins - Sept 4th

With a side of QAnon, Saudi Princes and Chicken Deboning.

Ranjan here. I’m currently in Nahant, Massachusetts - a tiny island that feels like Cape Cod but is not too far from Downtown Boston. The local fish market has a giant lobster tank where they’re on special for $5 a pound. Boiled. Steamed. Poached. Baked. Grilled. Newburg. Thermidor. It’s all happening this week. For my half of the links, I will warn you it’s a bit lobster heavy.

I learned today that my co-host Can is allergic to shellfish and hasn’t had lobster in years, so he will take you in a different direction. His links include pieces on QAnon, Biden, Mohammad Bin Salman, and deboning a chicken.

Let’s pretend it’s summer just a little bit longer - Ranjan


Consider the Lobster

David Foster Wallace - 21 min read

It wouldn’t be a series of lobster links without including this masterpiece. I vividly remember reading around the time it was first published in 2004. As someone who grew up in the Boston area and was around plenty of lobster - even in an Indian family, it kind of felt like part of the assimilation process - I had never really “thought” about lobsters. It was the first time I learned that lobster was considered low-class food through the 1800s, but more importantly, the first time I actually thought about the act of boiling a lobster (spoiler: I’m still okay with it).

It’s a slow build; calling it like water coming to a slow boil would be a bit cliché, but that is kind of what it is. It reminds us of the power of an essay that’s a bit narrative, a bit rambling, a bit thought-provoking, doesn’t quite end up anywhere too firm, but leaves you with a lot of questions. If we’re doing our Margins’ job right, hopefully the experience is sometimes similar.

High-Risk Eating: Chinatown Lobster Edition

Me on Medium from 2013 - 3 min read

If you were offered a 1.5 lobster in Chinatown from an outdoor fish market for $5.72, would you eat it?

This was one of the earliest pieces I wrote using the Medium platform. Clearly lobster prices have long been on my mind for a while. I think as a New Englander who is obsessed with the economics of food, it’s a natural fit.

There was a good deal of talk this summer about lobster prices. While the price in Maine fell to $2.20 a pound, New York City lobster rolls barely budged from their $15 average. One theory on this market inefficiency is restaurants need the price of lobster high to make fish dishes look relatively cheaper. If they drop the lobster prices, the whole charade crumbles. Another more innocent explanation is they’re simply hedging for when prices rise again.

There is however one place in New York City where the invisible hand still reigns supreme: Chinatown.

What the Shell? Cracking the Lobster’s Mysteries

Gastropod (Podcast) - 40 minute listen

We listened to this on the drive up to Boston. There is an amazing section featuring the author of a book: The Secret Life of Lobsters - How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean covering how lobsters effectively urinate from their faces to communicate with one another. 

There’s also a really fascinating section on how lobster shells are both incredibly strong and flexible, and is now being experimentally repurposed into packaging, and even armor.

"Fitbit for lobsters" could reduce pressure on wild stocks

New Atlas - 2 min read

Lobster innovation 🔥.

Gordon Ramsay | How to Extract ALL the Meat from a Lobster

YouTube - 3 min watch

My final goal for the week. Have already tried but how he extracts the leg meat is not as easy as it looks.


A Saudi Prince's Attempt to Silence Critics on Twitter

Wired - 8 min read

This hits a bit close to home. As many of our readers know, I’m from Turkey and the Turkish government has been, let’s say, quite creative in using Twitter, both as a tool to disseminate its message and crowd out the dissenting commentary, but also as a company as a whole to hunt out its critics. There are always rumors in the Turkish diaspora that there are mules working at Twitter, both pro-and-against the government. I never got to the bottom of it, but suspected there’s some truth to it. The Saudi family seems a bit more, errr, aggressive in their attempts? Maybe not so surprising coming from a regime that chops its critics to pieces.

Then came the ask. Twitter users were making trouble for Mohammed, including one nicknamed Mujtahidd, who had been brazenly criticizing the royal family and publishing rumors about senior members that often had a kernel of truth. It was a political mess, but it wasn’t criminal or terrorist in nature, so Twitter wouldn’t reveal the identity of such users to Saudi law enforcement. Asaker asked if Abouammo could help them find information on the people who registered these accounts.

Can Biden's Center Hold?

New Yorker - 14 min read

I am not a US citizen (yet?) so the whole election brouhaha is not really relevant. I mean, it is relevant that I do live in the US and am deeply impacted by who gets to rule the federal government (in fact, more so than most American since as an immigrant, I deal with the federal government more than most of you) but it’s still a bit more academic than pragmatic. As Turkey is obviously in Europe and hence I’m obviously European, it’s a bit of a stretch for me to call when people call Biden a “lefty” figure but he’s center through and through. I’ll take it.

When Obama asked Biden to join the ticket, some Democrats were baffled. Biden, running as a candidate in that year’s primaries, had failed to crack one per cent in the Iowa caucuses. But Obama admired his feisty debate performance, his knowledge of foreign leaders, and his connections in D.C. Biden was also, as Axelrod put it to me, “culturally and geographically well situated”: he made Obama more attractive to older working-class Midwestern whites, who might not feel a natural connection to a Black former community organizer. Beneath the raw electoral calculation, Biden and Obama shared a basic belief that Americans craved unity in politics. Running for President, Obama called attention to fraying social bonds. He told an audience in 2008, “I’m talking about an empathy deficit, the inability to recognize ourselves in one another, to understand that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper—and, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a ‘single garment of destiny.’ ”

What if Facebook Is the Real ‘Silent Majority’?

NY Times - 5 min read

People say things like “internet is not real life” often, and this becomes more specific among the Twitter-addicted pundit/media class by replacing the internet by Twitter. It’s worth remembering though that while Trump is the Twitter president, Facebook is almost 10 times bigger than Twitter (by really any metric you choose) and what happens on Facebook often goes unnoticed among the media types. And as Kevin Roose shows over and over again, what happens there is not pretty.

But what sticks out, when you dig in to the data, is just how dominant the Facebook right truly is. Pro-Trump political influencers have spent years building a well-oiled media machine that swarms around every major news story, creating a torrent of viral commentary that reliably drowns out both the mainstream media and the liberal opposition.

The result is a kind of parallel media universe that left-of-center Facebook users may never encounter, but that has been stunningly effective in shaping its own version of reality. Inside the right-wing Facebook bubble, President Trump’s response to Covid-19 has been strong and effective, Joe Biden is barely capable of forming sentences, and Black Lives Matter is a dangerous group of violent looters.

Trump, QAnon and The Return of Magic

Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix series is one of my favorite things online and you owe it to yourselves to watch it. But this time, he comes with something both darker and relevant to our times (and our themes on Margins). 

Pepin Debones a Chicken

I don’t eat shellfish so I can’t really contribute to this week’s Lobster Discourse, but I’ll do better. It’s just fascinating to watch a chef as skilled as Pepin to debone an entire chicken in what seems like a blink of an eye. I’ve tried this a few times and it was always a mess. And then, to soothe my anxiety, I watched it again. Really, I can spend hours on Youtube on Pepin videos and I encourage you to do the same.