Review: Tanner’s Babbling Corpse

Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave And The Commodification Of Ghosts

Grafton Tanner

An odd little book on the rise of vaporwave and what it means for our current culture that some of the most subversive music being made in the 2010s was, basically, the hold music for 1980s corporate America.

I knew basically nothing about Vaporwave until long-time internet friends brought it (and this book) to my attention years after it was cool. I like it, but subversion today doesn’t mean what it did in my day, and that, my friends, is part of getting old.

Books like these can come off as too cute by half, but Tanner really deeply knows the genre and has the Marxian chops to put a gloss on it as a genre both haunted, and haunting, late capitalism. You gotta be a certain kind of person to like books like this, but I am that kind of person.

Recommended for the enthusiast of Marxian analysis of obscure musical genres

Caro’s The Power Broker

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
Robert Caro

I mean, how do you write a review of a work of genius?

Who cares what I think about perhaps the greatest work of nonfiction in the last fifty years?

If you care about New York, or governance, or how to avoid turning into a really bad person, you need to read this. That’s pretty much it. But in addition, here are some personal notes:

  • I was shocked at how readable it is. Yes, the book is massive, and exhaustively researched, but Caro is such a good writer that the pages fly by. I’m reading about zoning fights in the Bronx and I am riveted.  
  • The move from reformer to monster is one many people with large ambitions have tread. Few as starkly, or with as much damage in their wake, as Moses, but the allure is certainly there. Its easy to think you’re fighting the last war, that what you thought was right in 1920 is still right in 1950. We all need to resist that.
  • Moses died thinking he had saved New York when what he had done was almost kill it. That yes, he had to break a few eggs, but at least he was willing to do it while other sat on the sidelines and complained. I’ll be honest that I myself have little time for those who sit in the stands, but buying your own mythology is poisonous. It has to be avoided.

Recommended. (but you knew that)

Review: Ord’s The Precipice

The Precipice: Existential Risks and the Future of Humanity
Tony Ord

An odd and fascinating little book written by one of the leading forces in effective altruism, the Precipice is an attempt to catalogue and rate true existential crises facing humanity. We’re not taking about inconveniences, here, we’re talking ending human life kind of stuff. We’re talking asteroids, super volcanos, environmental collapse, rogue AI.

 It’s a project that is at once kind of wacky, while being brilliant and carefully done. My quibble, such as it is, is Ord’s insistence on putting a numerical possibility on the various scenarios. This, to me, is a misuse of mathematics. We’re obsessed with probabilities, and yet we know very little about them, and most of us profoundly do not understand how they work. Additionally, predicting rare events (or even semi-rare, like presidential elections) is incredibly hard, and really all Ord is doing here is spit balling. I wish he hadn’t as it leaves a sour taste on what is overwise a wonderfully challenging book.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Larson’s Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz
Erik Larson

Dad lit. Read right when the pandemic was at its worst in NYC – the park completely empty on my late night runs, the sirens, constant. It was interesting to read a book on the Blitz and Churchill at a time when NYC was going through such a profound crisis. Of course, one thing Larson focuses on in the book is the way Londoners carried on so much of their regular lives, even in the face of such danger. Not so NYC in March and April, 2020.

The intro to the book is also interesting as it warns that it will portray Churchill in a light unfamiliar to many. It goes on to show his eccentric side, but not his long history of racism and monumental mistakes. The Churchill you get here is not nuanced, perhaps a bit more personalized than just the hero of the Blitz, but not the deeply flawed and complex man he actually was.

Still and all and enjoyable book if this is your kind of thing,

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Nutt’s Drink

Drink? The New Science of Alcohol and Your Health 
David Nutt

Checked this out after it received glowing praise from Tyler Cowen and it was well worth it. Drink is an investigation into our relationship with alcohol and it’s historical importance, especially focused on England. But the main thrust of the book is a detailed investigation into what it does to our body and mind.

Spoiler alert – it’s not good.

Nutt isn’t a teetotaler, but I’ll be honest that this book made me rethink my own beer after work routine. This is probably the most information health book I have read in years and I’ve read my fair share.


Review: Venkataraman’s The Optimists Telescope

The Optimists Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age
Bina Venkataraman

People are very bad at long term planning. There are good reasons for this. For most of our existence it was always a better idea to eat that food, eat that mushroom, have sex with that person, right now cause tomorrow was really, seriously, not promised.

But things have changed, and now, putting off the instantaneous pleasure both personally (put down the cake!) and as a society (invest in renewable energy!) are hugely important. So, how individually and collectively, do we push against an essential part of our nature? Venkataraman has some ideas based in behavioral economics and told through a series of mini narratives.

It’s an interesting book, but frankly, while the stories were new to me, most of the ideas were not. Perhaps that’s a sign that I read too much in the behavioral econ-lite genre? If you’re new to this kind of thing, this is a fine place to start, but for others, perhaps not much new.     

Recommended for the enthusiast.  

Review: Kristof and WuDunn’s Tightrope

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope

Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Maybe you knew that Nicolas Kristof grew up on semi-rural Oregon, and that the vast majority of those he went to high school with are now either dead or in jail, but I didn’t. This book, where Kristof and Wu Dunn use the stories of the community Kristof came from to lay out the decimation of the white working class, and the tragic rise of so-called “deaths of despair” is heartbreaking.

I knew much of what was in here before I read it. My own family has been hit pretty hard by these issues. Indeed, I’ve lost quite a few family members to alcohol and suicide. Seeing it laid out here in the crisp storytelling and statistic put this crisis into sharp relief for me. While the rise of Trump is deeply tied to racism, that racism is deeply tied to this kind of poverty.  Well worth the read, especially if you haven’t thought much about this.


Corona Diaries Day 7 — My Dark Moments, My Better Moments

This is part of a series of posts chronicling the Coronavirus / Covid19 outbreak in New York City as seen by me, a father husband and lawyer living in Brooklyn. See them all on the main Corona Diaries page.

March 20, 2020

No school today, the teachers were taking a minute to regroup, so we were largely on our own.

Honestly, it was easier. I’ve noticed  that  the most stressful part is getting the kids to focus / deal with the tech issues of getting them through the day. Without those, it was actually easiert.

Got in a very short run (1 mile). It still feels like there are too many people out there. One of the joys of NYC is that  it is an uncontrollable mess, but in times like these it becomes clear that it is really fundamentally is nothing more then an uncontrollable mess.

In my dark moments  I think there’s no way out but through — we are going to loose lots and lots of people and what I need to do is keep my kids safe. Nothing more is possiible.

In my better moments  I think we’re learning many lessons from other places (Italy, Spain) and we’ll actually come out better.

I don’t know which is correct. I do know we need to keep it small, whether it is for our healthy or all of society, we need to continue like this, however hard it is, to remain physically distant while close socially.

Not an easy task.

Corona Diaries Day 6 — 2 Kids, 2 Careers

This is part of a series of posts chronicling the Coronavirus / Covid19 outbreak in New York City as seen by me, a father husband and lawyer living in Brooklyn. See them all on the main Corona Diaries page.

March 19, 2020

Tough one to get through today. Spent basically all day alone with the kids, the mornings aren’t  bad, it’s basically managing logistics, but the afternoons are tough. Just too much free time in a (suddenly very small) apartment. Its easy to loose your temper on your kids in this environment and I did today. Not proud of it, but here we are.

Meditation helps. And I’ve found time for that the last two days. Need to do it much much more. Tune out the crazy, get more in touch with what I can control.

It’s a crazy moment in world history to live through, massive events are happening, everyday, and yet it is also all so completely mundane for people like me. Long, long hours stuck inside with your kids while the world falls apart outside.

I may be completely wrong, but I think we’ll on the other side of this in about 18 months  to two years. That’s a long time, for sure, but not the end of the world.

The next bit will be the hardest — we will see awful things — but I feel pretty confident that not only will my family survive, we will thrive. We’re reasonably anti-fragile, but need to become more so. More debt free, better able to relocate quickly, better prepared.


Corona Diaries Day 5 — What We Can, and Cannot, Control

This is part of a series of posts chronicling the Coronavirus / Covid19 outbreak in New York City as seen by me, a father husband and lawyer living in Brooklyn. See them all on the main Corona Diaries page.

March 18, 2020

Yes, home schooling is stressful and yes, it is hard to focus and get work done when your kids are constantly demanding snacks and tech support, but still and all, today was a good day.

The kids have been basically great. Even though I barely leave the house, I am moving my body more than I have in a long long time. I meditated for the first time in more than a week and I’m keeping to my whole food plant based diet.

Yes, Western Society collapsing, but on the items I can control, I am doing great.

Here’s what I commit to doing, everyday:

  1. Run
  2. Body Weigh Work / flexibility
  3. Journal
  4. Meditate
  5. Read

    Right now, I need to focus on what I can control — my concentration, my fitness, my health. Do what you can today, and leave the things you cannot control where they are.