----- 4 stars -----
Qassem Suleimani and How Nationals Decide to Kill / New Yorker
When nation-states engage in the bloody calculus of killing, the boundary between whom they can target and whom they can’t is porous. On January 3rd, the United States launched a drone strike that executed Major General Qassem Suleimani, the chief of Iran’s élite special-forces-and-intelligence unit, the Quds Force. He was one of Iran’s most powerful leaders, with control over paramilitary operations across the Middle East, including a campaign of roadside bombings and other attacks by proxy forces that had killed at least six hundred Americans during the Iraq War. Since the Hague Convention of 1907, killing a foreign government official outside wartime has generally been barred by the Law of Armed Conflict. When the Trump Administration first announced the killing of Suleimani, officials declared that he had posed an “imminent” threat to Americans. Then, under questioning and criticism, the Administration changed its explanation, citing Suleimani’s role in an ongoing “series of attacks.” Eventually, President Trump abandoned the attempt at justification, tweeting that it didn’t “really matter,” because of Suleimani’s “horrible past.” The President’s dismissal of the question of legality betrayed a grim truth: a state’s decision to kill hinges less on definitive matters of law than on a set of highly malleable political, moral, and visceral considerations. In the case of Suleimani, Trump’s order was the culmination of a grand strategic gamble to change the Middle East, and the opening of a potentially harrowing new front in the use of assassination. The path to Suleimani’s killing began, in effect, with another lethal operation, more than a decade ago—on a winter night in February, 2008, in an upscale residential district of Damascus, Syria. [...] The U.S. describes such lethal operations as “targeted killings”—a term that does not have a long history in international law—to distinguish them from assassinations, which are explicitly prohibited by Reagan’s executive order and the Hague Convention. (In Israel, the terms are used interchangeably.) In practice, the drone wars have rendered the two largely synonymous, by establishing a “very attenuated concept of imminence,” according to Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. [...] He went on, “The metaphor of war has inured people to killings that, frankly, are quite extraordinary and should be happening only in the narrowest of circumstances. They’ve become almost an ordinary U.S. response.” By the end of Obama’s second term, after fifteen years of drone attacks, Americans no longer paid much attention to them. In polls, a large majority of Americans say they support targeted killings; in most other countries, the majority is firmly against them. [...] “When I heard about Suleimani, my first reaction was ‘Good. I’m not shedding a tear.’ But then my second reaction was ‘Wait—was this thought through at all?’ ” He continued, “In addition to reprisals against our people and our partners in the region, there’s now risk of being forced out of Iraq, which means we’d also need to leave Syria—precisely what Trump wants. It’s also what Suleimani wanted. So if, by Suleimani’s death, we are forced out of Iraq, that to him is a perfect death. That would be the final irony.” Mike Morell, the former deputy director of the C.I.A., said, “We haven’t dealt with the strategic problem that exists. If anything, this will strengthen the opposition to the United States. This guarantees that there’s no negotiated way out of this mess with them.” Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, said that he believed the killing of Suleimani was illegal: “Just because a single lawyer, or even a group of lawyers, says that something is lawful, that does not make it lawful. It just means you got someone to say that.”
People in France remember the summer of 1997 for the deaths of Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and Jeanne Calment. The first became a household name by marrying into royalty; the second, by caring for the world’s sick and poor. Jeanne Calment, however, was an accidental icon, her celebrity the result of a form of passivity. For a hundred and twenty-two years, five months, and fourteen days, Calment managed not to die. She was born at home on the Rue du Roure, in Arles, one of only four addresses she ever held. That February morning, in 1875, lavender smoke commingled with the cold in the tight streets of La Roquette, a traditional neighborhood of fishermen and the maritime trades. Plastic, tea bags, public trash cans, and the zipper had yet to come into the world. The life expectancy for a French woman was forty-five. Approximately one billion five hundred million people walked the planet, and Calment would outlive them all. Later in life, Calment claimed to have known Vincent van Gogh, telling different versions of an encounter with him in 1888. “Van Gogh was very ugly. Ugly like a louse,” she once remembered. “We called him le dingo.” According to one anecdote, van Gogh came into her family’s drygoods store, on Rue Gambetta, wanting to buy canvas. Calment sometimes said that her father waited on him. Her father, however, was a shipbuilder; the store actually belonged to her husband’s family. Another time Calment recalled, “My husband said to him, ‘I present to you my wife.’ ” This recollection was also blurred: Calment, an adolescent in 1888, didn’t marry for another eight years. [...] When Calment was ninety-four, in 1969, her notary bought her apartment. The purchase was made under the French en viager system, in which the buyer agrees to make regular payments on a property that the seller continues to live in. In such an arrangement, the buyer essentially wagers on how quickly the seller will die. The Calment apartment proved to be an epically terrible investment. By the time the notary died, in 1995, he’d spent nearly two hundred thousand dollars, more than twice the value of the place, without ever taking occupancy. As Calment approached her hundredth year, she was still riding her bicycle. Just before her birthday, the mayor of Arles offered to organize a celebration. Calment declined, calling the mayor un rouge, a Communist. Not long after, thinking better of her manners, she went to see him at the town hall. “In the waiting room, there were several people,” he later said. “I didn’t spot a centenarian. In fact, she was right in front of my eyes. A little woman in a gray suit, wearing a hat with a fine veil. I noticed her heeled shoes and seamed stockings. Very elegant, she seemed twenty years younger.” [...] The first public attack on Jeanne Calment’s authenticity appeared in the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, in November, 2018. In an interview, Valery Novoselov, a geriatrician and the director of the gerontology chapter of the Moscow Society of Naturalists, announced his intention to disprove Calment’s claim to the longevity title. A burly former doctor in the Russian Army, Novoselov said that he had been looking at some photographs of Calment and found that she simply didn’t display the physical characteristics one would expect of a person her age. “In the picture of 110-year-old Jeanne, I see a strong lady a little younger than 90,” he declared.
----- 3 stars -----
The Relentless Bid, Explained / The Reformed Broker
This is nearly 6 years old, but if anything, it's proven prescient and strikes me as quite insightful (the follow-up linked at the end is also worth reading):
You hear it all the time these days – “There is a relentless bid underneath this market just waiting to buy every single dip…” and you can’t really argue with the statement itself. The dips have become shallower and the buyers have rushed in more quickly each time. Sell-offs took months to play out during 2011 – think of the April-October peak-to-trough 21% decline for the S&P. In 2012, these bouts of selling ran their course in just a few weeks, in 2013 a few days and, thus far in 2014, just a few hours. It’s rather extraordinary. I’ve been thinking about the reasons why for a long time now and I believe I’ve got the answer – my unified theory of everything, so to speak. [...] Whereas yesterday’s brokers were principally concerned with keeping money in motion and generating activity each month, today’s brokers – who call themselves wealth managers by the way – are principally concerned with making client retirement accounts stretch out over decades. Stocks are increasingly the answer to this puzzle. Bonds, with their fixed rate of income, by definition cannot get the job done. This means a bias toward buying equities everyday and almost never selling. It means adding to stocks sheepishly on up days and voraciously on the (rarely occurring) down ones. In short, it means a relentless bid as the torrent of assets comes flowing in every day, week and month of the year. My theory also explains several other mysteries.
From the blackouts in California to the bloated bonuses on Wall Street to the entire biography of Jeffrey Epstein, it is impossible to look around the country and not get the feeling that elites are slowly looting it. And why wouldn’t they? The criminal justice system has given up all pretense that the crimes of the wealthy are worth taking seriously. In January 2019, white-collar prosecutions fell to their lowest level since researchers started tracking them in 1998. Even within the dwindling number of prosecutions, most are cases against low-level con artists and small-fry financial schemes. Since 2015, criminal penalties levied by the Justice Department have fallen from $3.6 billion to roughly $110 million. Illicit profits seized by the Securities and Exchange Commission have reportedly dropped by more than half. In 2018, a year when nearly 19,000 people were sentenced in federal court for drug crimes alone, prosecutors convicted just 37 corporate criminals who worked at firms with more than 50 employees. With few exceptions, the only rich people America prosecutes anymore are those who victimize their fellow elites. Pharma frat boy Martin Shkreli, to pick just one example, wasn’t prosecuted for hiking the price of a drug used to treat HIV from $13.50 to $750 per pill. He went to prison for scamming investors in a hedge fund scheme years before. Meanwhile, in 2016, the CEO whose company experienced the deadliest mining disaster since 1970 served less than one year in prison and paid a fine of 1.4 percent of his salary and stock bonuses the previous year. Why? Because overseeing a company that ignores warnings and causes the deaths of workers, even 29 of them, is a misdemeanor. Construction magnate Bruce Karatz provides an infuriating case study of how the criminal justice system treats wealthy defendants. In 2010, Karatz was convicted of failing to disclose in a financial statement that he had secretly “backdated” his stock options (think Biff with the Sports Almanac in “Back to the Future II”) to boost his pay by more than $6 million. Prior to his sentencing hearing, his lawyer submitted letters of support from former mayor of Los Angeles Richard Riordan and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. Prosecutors recommended six-and-a-half-years in prison; the judge gave Karatz five years’ probation and eight months of house arrest in his Bel Air mansion. After two years, the judge terminated the remainder of the sentence. Karatz later received a civic award from The Malibu Times for volunteer work he did to make a good impression for his sentencing hearing. Country-club nepotism and Gilded Age avarice are nothing new in America, of course. But the rich are enjoying a golden age of impunity unprecedented in modern history. “American elites have become more brazen than they were even five years ago,” said Matthew Robinson, a professor at Appalachian State University and the author of several books on “elite deviance”— all the legal and illegal social harms caused by the wealthy.
----- 2 stars -----
Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet / Wired
People used to think the crowdsourced encyclopedia represented all that was wrong with the web. Now it's a beacon of so much that's right. [...] Remember when Wikipedia was a joke? In its first decade of life, the website appeared in as many punch lines as headlines. The Office's Michael Scott called it “the best thing ever,” because “anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject—so you know you are getting the best possible information.” Praising Wikipedia, by restating its mission, meant self-identifying as an idiot. That was in 2007. Today, Wikipedia is the eighth-most-visited site in the world. The English-language version recently surpassed 6 million articles and 3.5 billion words; edits materialize at a rate of 1.8 per second. But perhaps more remarkable than Wikipedia's success is how little its reputation has changed. It was criticized as it rose, and now makes its final ascent to … muted criticism. To confess that you've just repeated a fact you learned on Wikipedia is still to admit something mildly shameful. It's as though all those questions that used to pepper think pieces in the mid-2000s—Will it work? Can it be trusted? Is it better than Encyclopedia Britannica?—are still rhetorical, when they have already been answered, time and again, in the affirmative. [...] Yet in an era when Silicon Valley's promises look less gilded than before, Wikipedia shines by comparison. It is the only not-for-profit site in the top 10, and one of only a handful in the top 100. It does not plaster itself with advertising, intrude on privacy, or provide a breeding ground for neo-Nazi trolling. Like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, it broadcasts user-generated content. Unlike them, it makes its product de-personified, collaborative, and for the general good. More than an encyclopedia, Wikipedia has become a community, a library, a constitution, an experiment, a political manifesto—the closest thing there is to an online public square. It is one of the few remaining places that retains the faintly utopian glow of the early World Wide Web. A free encyclopedia encompassing the whole of human knowledge, written almost entirely by unpaid volunteers: Can you believe that was the one that worked? [...] At Jimmy Wales' wedding, one of the maids of honor toasted him as the sole internet mogul who wasn't a billionaire.
For the better part of a decade, institutional investors have redeemed capital from active strategies and dumped it into Private Equity (PE). What’s the benefit of PE for allocators? You get to have levered equity returns without the volatility of actually owning public equities. Unlike stocks that often fluctuate wildly, PE is marked-to-model (M-T-M), hence quarterly volatility is minimal. Then, when there’s a liquidity event, you get to see how well you did. Or at least, that was the theory. However, by the time of the liquidity event, usually someone else is in charge of the position. Meanwhile, you’ve used the nice smooth M-T-M to earn yourself a bunch of bonuses and maybe even a promotion to somewhere else that’s ring-fenced from your allocation decisions at your prior job. In many ways, the funds and the allocators themselves are both incentivized to mark the numbers higher and hope that they’re proven right. [...] As the VC ecosystem has a slow-motion coronary, it’s worth asking what else looks like VC; where else can you mark-up your friend’s portfolio if he’s willing to mark-up yours. Well, PE sure looks similar—fake marks, unrealistic expectations and a lot of incentive to ignore reality in the hope of bluffing your way into an IPO. In VC, this all ended when Uber (UBER – USA) and Lyft (LYFT – USA) both had down-rounds, followed by WeWork failing to raise capital at any price. Since then, we’ve seen failures by many smaller companies like Casper (CSPR – USA), which serve to remind equity investors why they shouldn’t buy VC IPOs. However, PE was notably absent in this drama until recently. Is the bankruptcy of EnCap’s Southland Royalty, PE’s very own WeWork moment? I’m not trying to pick on EnCap; I’m sure they tried their best. That doesn’t change the fact that they marked their Southland asset at $773.7 million at the end of Q3/2019 and then marked it at zero a few months later. Having been in the investing world, I can commiserate with EnCap. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell what something’s worth. However, this isn’t Schrodinger’s cat; it’s either a healthy business or hurtling towards bankruptcy. It can’t be both and it should have been aggressively impaired heading into bankruptcy.
The big surprise has been the meteoric rise of a formerly unknown newcomer, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who seemed to come out of nowhere. Except that he did not. I have known Buttigieg since he was an undergraduate at Harvard. I taught Peter, as he was known then, in two classes during his senior year, 2003–2004. He was a frequent visitor to office hours, and seeing him two or three times a week during nine months meant that we became pretty well acquainted. We stayed in touch after he graduated. Although his transcript showed that I was one of the few Harvard professors to give him anything less than an A grade, he asked me to write one of the letters of recommendation for the Rhodes scholarship that took him to Oxford. A few years after he returned from England, I met with him, and with a couple dozen of his politically active peers, to talk about my book Reading Obama at a gathering he helped organize. When Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and he returned to Cambridge for conferences at the Kennedy School of Government, we got together to discuss everything from the details of smart sewers and street paving to the intractable, perennial challenges of urban renewal and race relations in a once-prosperous city struggling with deindustrialization. Since Buttigieg launched his campaign for the presidency last year, I have read or reread much of what he has written, at Harvard and since. Most notable is his excellent memoir Shortest Way Home, with its lyrical evocations of the Indiana landscape, its vivid account of military life in Afghanistan, its rollicking tales of campaign stops featuring Deep Fried Turkey Testicles and peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches dusted with powdered sugar, and its incisive analysis of the rewards and frustrations of life as mayor of a small city. I have spoken with a number of his friends, former classmates, and people active in his campaign. I had a very good meeting with him, after one of his recent fundraising events in Boston, about the experiences that have shaped his sensibility. I wanted to discuss with him the ideas that had mattered most to him, and to find out more about the relation between his religious faith and his political convictions. This article profiles the college student I got to know at Harvard and the budding political insurgent who, like many of his friends, was troubled by the acquiescence of the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton and after in the so-called Reagan Revolution of tax cuts and deregulation.
The post quickly went viral, tapping into a conversation about systemic discrimination throughout Silicon Valley. What I wrote changed the world, some said: for the first time, a woman had spoken up about mistreatment, the world listened to her, and she walked away unscathed. And, in those early days, it really did seem that I had turned the tables, and I started to wonder if most of my fears had been unfounded. It seemed too good to be true. And it was. I was soon jolted out of my daydream, and I awakened into a nightmare. It started with strange stories from my family, friends and acquaintances. Reporters had been contacting them from day one and asking for information about me, but now they were also being contacted by people who didn’t seem to be reporters at all, who asked questions about my personal life, questions about my past. Initially, it was mostly my relatives and friends from Silicon Valley who were being contacted, but then they—whoever “they” were—began contacting people I hadn’t spoken to in years, like an old neighbor I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager. “Someone’s digging really deep on you, Susan,” my neighbor said, “and it’s scary how far back they’re going.” Whoever was trying to dig up dirt on me was going deep into my history, talking to people that I’d forgotten I’d even known. I didn’t know who was trying to get this information, and I didn’t know how they were able to find out so much about my past. I didn’t know what they were looking for, and I didn’t know what they were going to find. It was terrifying.
An abandoned oil tanker with over a million barrels of oil on board is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen.
For a little over three months, we tracked over 1,100 Americans on how they felt about the impeachment process, surveying respondents like Engel every few weeks via Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel to find out whether their views on impeachment were changing. But there was remarkably little movement. The share of Americans who thought Trump committed an impeachable offense hovered between 55 and 58 percent in six separate surveys. Respondent after respondent told us that their belief of Trump’s innocence or guilt was just reinforced by the process. “The Democrats put up a flimsy case,” said Alan Satow, 60, a Republican. “They had all these witnesses, but they weren’t presenting facts. It was just a lot of hearsay.” The impeachment process might not have shifted anyone’s view about Trump, but it did drive Americans further into their partisan camps — and in the process, unraveled their already frayed sense of trust in the political system. When we spoke to them after the Senate trial had concluded, our respondents had few kind words for either party. Instead, they saw impeachment as a stark and painful example of the country’s partisan stalemate.
The excellent Random Critical Analysis has a long blog post, really a short book, on why the conventional wisdom about health care, especially in the United States, is wrong. It’s a tour-de-force. Difficult to summarize but, as I see it, the key points are the following. [...] 1. Health care spending is well predicted, indeed caused, by income. Notice that the United States doesn’t look unusual when income is measured at the household level. [...] 2. The price of health care increases with income but at a slower rate than income. [...] 3. The price of health care relative to income is lower in rich countries, including the United States. Let that sink in, health care prices are lower relative to income in richer countries. Health care in the United States is cheaper relative to income than in Greece, for example. [...] A bottom line is that health care spending in the United States is not exceptional once we take US income into account.
----- 1 star -----
The Neighbor’s Window / Kottke
Maybe an Oscar-winning film shouldn't only get one star...but since "one star" has inadvertently come to mean "it's a video" or "it's quick," I'm sticking by my rating:
From filmmaker Marshall Curry, The Neighbor’s Window is a poignant short film about the odd relationships you can sometimes form with your neighbors in big cities, even if you never meet in real life. "For real! Do they have jobs? Or clothes? All they do is host dance parties and sleep ‘til noon and screw." This film recently won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.
Happy Birthday in the Styles of 10 Classical Composers / YouTube (Nahre Sol)
Nahre Sol is fantastic; one of the few YouTube channels I subscribe to:
During the past 2 years, I've covered these 10 classical composers in my "How to Sound Like" series. Each episode was uploaded on or around the composers' birthdays, and I dissected the characteristics of their music to construct versions of Happy Birthday in their styles. This is a fun, celebratory, and educational exercise, and in no way am I claiming that the authenticity of these versions is anything more than sincere attempts at trying to understand the intricacies of each composer.
Accidental LSD overdoses are not fun. But for some, they can have a bizarrely beneficial effect.
Seven years ago, keen for a more conservative lifestyle, Mike McCarter, a firearms instructor in La Pine, Ore., considered moving to Idaho. But McCarter, 72, diagnosed with stomach cancer, decided not to. Now he’s thinking he might just move Idaho to him. The Republican is a leader of a group called Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho, which thinks Oregon’s government has become too liberal and would prefer to transfer Oregon’s rural areas to Idaho’s authority. While Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won Oregon in 2016 with 50.1 percent of the vote, then-Republican candidate Donald Trump swept up Idaho with nearly 60 percent of the vote. McCarter’s group is asking 18 Oregon counties to approve their petitions to open communications with Oregon’s legislature. Three have in the past week, McCarter said. Once approved, the group still would need to collect signatures of about 6 percent of the counties’ populations for local voters to see the referendum on their November ballots, the Oregonian recently reported.
Toyota Motor and Volkswagen each sell 10 million cars, give or take, every year. Tesla delivered about 367,500 in 2019. But when it comes to electronics technology, Elon Musk's scrappy company is far ahead of the industry giants. This is the takeaway from Nikkei Business Publications' teardown of the Model 3, the most affordable car in the U.S. automaker's all-electric lineup, starting at about $33,000. What stands out most is Tesla's integrated central control unit, or "full self-driving computer." Also known as Hardware 3, this little piece of tech is the company's biggest weapon in the burgeoning EV market. It could end the auto industry supply chain as we know it. One stunned engineer from a major Japanese automaker examined the computer and declared, "We cannot do it."
In less than a minute, this Senegalese sand artist working on the island of Gorée creates a portrait by pouring sands of different colors over a wooden board with glue on it. The way that the painting emerges at the last second out of seeming disorder is a lovely shock, like a magic trick.
Artificial light that floods the night sky is thought to be only an urban phenomenon. But when you adjust for population, the picture is dramatically different.
Sleep Support: An Individual Randomized Controlled Trial / Slate Star Codex
As I'm sure regular readers have surmised, I'm a big SSC fan. I wish the world had more of this sort of nerdiness; also, "I decided the next step was to do a randomized controlled trial" is a great reaction that too few people have:
The first night I took it, I woke up naturally at 9 the next morning, with no desire to go back to sleep. This has never happened before. It shocked me. And the next morning, the same thing happened. I started recommending the supplement to all my friends, some of whom also reported good results. I decided the next step was to do a randomized controlled trial. [...] On average there was no difference between the two groups on either measurement. There was also no difference on any of the subjective measures. My subjective guess about whether I’d taken experimental or placebo capsules that night had no correlation with the reality.
When parents portray success as a linear progression of SAT scores, acceptance to selective colleges, and high-powered internships, they set kids up for disappointment.
A Fascinating Diagram Breaking Down The 100 Most-Spoken Languages In The World / Digg
Probably not too surprising to most of you, but a nice infographic:
Mandarin and English are the most-spoken languages in the world, but the fuller picture is far more complicated and more interesting. This diagram, created by WordTips, breaks down the world's 100 most-spoken languages by their roots (e.g., Indo-European for English and Spanish, or Sino-Tibetan for Mandarin) and by the number of native speakers and total speakers.
This article demonstrates historically and statistically that conversionary Protestants (CPs) heavily inﬂuenced the rise and spread of stable democracy around the world. It argues that CPs were a crucial catalyst initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, and colonial reforms, thereby creating the conditions that made stable democracy more likely. Statistically, the historic prevalence of Protestant missionaries explains about half the variation in democracy in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania and removes the impact of most variables that dominate current statistical research about democracy. The association between Protestant missions and democracy is consistent in different continents and subsamples, and it is robust to more than 50 controls and to instrumental variable analyses.
For her video “The Real Thing”, filmmaker Julianna Villarosa used footage of Coca-Cola’s famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial ruined by pouring Coke on VHS and film copies to draw attention to the company’s water privatization practices in Chiapas, Mexico, where there’s a water shortage on. From the video: "The Chiapas Highlands, one of Mexico’s wettest regions, has a water shortage. Many drink Coca-Cola, which is bottled nearby and often easier to find than clean water. On average, residents drink more than half a gallon of soda per day. Indigenous Tzotzil use Coca-Cola in religious ceremonies and medicinal treatments. Diabetes has become the second-leading cause of death in Chiapas. The local Coca-Cola plant extracts more than 300,000 gallons of water per day." Simple, direct, and brilliant activist art — Villarosa uses the company’s literally corrosive product to physically destroy their feel-good advertising to draw attention to the real harm this US company is doing to people & ecosystems around the world.
"So should we then absurdly turn around and claim that Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates et al. are poor? Clearly not." I am baffled by the last two sentences. Bezos and Gates clearly are poor relative to people in the future who can choose to vacation on Mars. It seems absurd to me to think otherwise. Jeff Bezos has four children. Suppose one of them had cancer. If he could, do you think Bezos would hesitate for one minute to spend a billion dollars buying the medicine that will be available to an ordinary American in the year 2050? How much would Bezos pay for an extra 10 years of life? What about an extra 100? How much for a bionic eye, a dozen extra points of IQ, or freedom from Alzheimer’s disease? Or put it the other way. How much wealthier would you have to be to want to live in 1950, 1900 or 1850? I can come up with numbers for 1950 and 1900 but I think I would prefer my income and lifestyle today to anyone’s income and lifestyle in 1850. Dentist anyone? I’d also prefer it if my wife didn’t die in childbirth. Branko argues that comparisons of wealth across long time periods are impossible, meaningless, even “hallucinogenic.” I think he has it backwards. It’s quite difficult to compare wealth over fairly short periods. Am I wealthier than my father was at my age (he was also a professor). Maybe. Maybe not. We consume somewhat different bundles. I have Netflix and a nicer car. He had a nicer house. But am I wealthier than my grandfather? Absolutely. On either side.
No need to sugarcoat it, the internet has been eager to dunk on the new Sonic The Hedgehog movie for months. The response to the trailer was so brutal that the studio actually sent the lead character back for a redesign. The new and improved film speeds into theaters this weekend, and in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that the redesign might not have helped. Once again proving that the only thing worse than a studio pandering to “fans” is a studio actually listening to them. Perhaps I’m being overly harsh. The film is currently tracking in the mid-60s on RottenTomatoes, which I think we can all agree is a lot higher than expected! Reading the reviews though, it seems clear that this score is less the result of genuine enthusiasm than the kind of thing that happens when you force-feed yourself something you assume will be revolting only to find that it’s merely unpleasant. I knew it was bad when more than one of the positive reviews compared it to the most recent Tomb Raider, a movie so bland and pointless I started forgetting before it was even over like something out of Memento. As often happens, reading the critical dispatches from Sonic seem more entertaining than the film itself. So we turn to Plot Recreated With Reviews, in which we attempt to piece together the entire plot of a movie using only expository quotes from reviews.