Words for Wednesday

Things in my brain, at the present moment.

  1. Seattle’s Underbelly – Just read this article about an unauthorized homeless encampment (as opposed to the authorized ones) under the highway in Seattle that operates like a slum village in the developing world. Talk about a perfect (and perfectly disturbing) metaphor – folks living in the shadow of the physical interstate while excluded from the prosperity flowing on the “information super highway” in booming tech cities. This reminded me of something Stephen Hawking said in a Reddit AMA last year – “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.” Technology can either free us from work, allowing us to pursue higher forms of art and science (as the tech idealists ardently hope) or it can exclude us from work with no means of making a decent living without advanced skills (as the economic realists expect.) Here’s the question that keeps me up at night: How do we steer the country (and the world) to the path that obviously has greater social utility, when wealth and power are already so concentrated at the top?
  2. Aziz Ansari Goes to India – First, it should be noted that I love Aziz Ansari. I have, on more than one occasion, referred to him as my spirit animal because he’s cute and funny and brown like me. (Kidding! Sort of…) I loved his book Modern Romance and devoured his Netflix show Master of None. But the “I’m Indian and that is inherently interesting to white people” train has gone too far when you start writing campy drivel like Ansari’s recent New York Times Style Magazine travelogue. It’s a short piece, but I can make it even shorter without losing any of the depth or breadth of his writing: He lands, he eats with his hands (OMG so authentic), he feels out of place even though everyone’s skin looks like his, he sees old relatives (lolz who can remember all these relatives?), he sees his adorably aged grandmother, then he departs after a surprisingly insightful trip to KFC. “I opted instead for a basmati bowl topped with popcorn chicken, a peculiar hybrid of two vastly different cultures. Kind of like me.” (I think I just threw up in my mouth.) I love you, Aziz, but it’s exactly this kind of lazy exoticization that keeps South Asian culture in the closet and out of the American mainstream.
  3. Scott Kelly’s Year in Space – Yesterday, astronaut Scott Kelly returned from the International Space Station after 340 consecutive days in space, ending the first-of-its-kind Year in Space experiment to better understand (you guessed it) the effects of long duration space flight on human physiology. There are two other participants in the study, a Russian cosmonaut who also spent 340 days in space with Kelly and Kelly’s identical twin brother Mark, also an astronaut, whose biometrics were tracked on Earth for the same period of time. NASA TV aired the undocking live from the ISS. Watching the Soyuz capsule slowly drift away from our one tiny foothold in the vastness of space, knowing that the space-bucket will hurtle towards the earth, fall to pieces, and go up in flames, before gently depositing three men in diapers on the ground in Kazakhstan is the coolest thing ever.
  4. Last but not least, I’m thinking about the calm before the storm. I don’t really have any plans for March or April other than “keep my head down, do my work, live my values.” Jay is going to San Francisco from March to May for a data science bootcamp and (probably) won’t be moving back to Chicago long-term. I’m more or less on my own until May when everything goes crazy: committee meeting at Caltech, a couple of weddings, then the summer institute in Tanzania (!!!!!) If there was ever a good time to live in the present moment, to resist the pull of the-next-big-thing and remember-that-time-when, this is it. (Then again, this is always it.)

 

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