Links on the Margins - Aug 20th

SPACs, Wagyu, Red Pills, Tony Hawk, and BoJack Horseman

Ranjan here.

In this week’s edition a chicken is roasted, Paul Ryan gets a SPAC, there’s a guide for how journalists should cover Trump, and a piece on how to consume news about the USPS. There are red pills, Tony Hawk memories, a BoJack Horseman episode, a behind-the-scenes look at the Trump re-election campaign, and a potential future for the MIT Media Lab.

Enjoy these last weeks of summer. Fall is gonna be 🙀.

Ranjan’s Links

SPAC Man Begins

Alex Danco’s Newsletter - 11 min read

I remember when Chamath launched Hedosophia in 2017. I didn’t quite get it, but it had something to do with getting unicorns public markets liquidity without going through the standard IPO process. 

Like most things in markets right now, I’m still a bit confused, but holy hell, are people SPAC-ing. I liked this Alex Danco piece on the instrument as an explainer, especially as he was “in the room” for the launch of the Social Capital one:

Three years ago, Chamath sat us all down at a Social Capital all hands meeting and told us about this great new thing we were gonna do. It was called a SPAC. 

It took a few years, but Chamath got this one really right. 

As a testament to how widespread this craze is, just this week Paul Ryan, the Casper CEO, and Starboard Value all launched SPACs.

The Post Office Mess Is Meant to Exhaust You. Don’t Let It.

NY Times - 5 min read

I link to a lot of Charlie Warzel pieces because he manages to crystallize a lot of the loose fears occupying my mind. This piece on the current USPS drama/debacle/scandal is a must-read. As with most things in 2020, we somehow went from a definite scandal to reputable people posting overly-panicked pictures of mailboxes in trucks to a DeJoy apology to finding out DeJoy is lying to right back to not knowing just how in danger our election is. I loved the opening line: 

In the Trump era, news doesn’t break, it invades.

And later he continues:

It’s not just journalists who feel this exhaustion. Over the last four years I’ve had countless conversations where friends, family, sources and random acquaintances remark that they’ve felt forced to learn about the minutiae of the government during the Trump administration: the Hatch Act, the emoluments clause, the parliamentary procedure of impeachment. Lately we’ve added epidemiology, medical supply chains and antigen testing.

This sudden literacy is not a result of a newfound passion for civics but a reaction to a torrent of lies and disinformation from the president and his associates. 

Perfecting Roast Chicken, the French Way 

The New Yorker - 6 min read - 50 min cooking time

I recently ended up in a conversation about whether there is a high-end Wagyu equivalent of chicken. A few years ago I had the chance to go to Antoine Westermann’s Le Coq Rico here in NYC (which recently closed - not because of COVID, but rather mismanagement)  and had the famous Brune Landaise. It was really good. 

Roasted whole chicken with herbs and lemons
that’s courtesy of the New Yorker, not my attempt :)

Of course, as things these days go, that conversation led to me find a heritage chicken at a Whole Foods and roasting it (using the poach-then-roast method). It was also good.

While reading this article / recipe I learned about the “Oyster” part of the chicken:

But the whole, intact chicken, especially when roasted, has properties that you don’t want to lose by breaking it into bits: for instance, the three surprisingly satisfying segments of the wing, which you can eat with your fingers (you’d never bother with, say, the delicate little flappers of a tiny quail), or the wedge of yumminess surrounding the wishbone, or, possibly best of all, the “oyster,” that teaspoon of tender meat residing near each thigh. In French, it’s called “un sot-l’y-laisse”—i.e., only an idiot leaves it behind. 

This also led to a long rabbit hole of what exactly is Wagyu beef - I admit, I heard the “cows get massaged by hand” rumor many times while out at trader dinners in the 2000s. This was helpful in finally giving me some clarity:

From emergency to active threat: We have again switched settings in our coverage of Donald Trump

Pressthink - 5 min read

I’ve followed Jay Rosen, an NYU Professor of Journalism, forever. If every journalist followed his advice about how to cover Trump we would not be where we are. If you’ve never encountered it, go read the Citizen’s Agenda approach to campaign journalism.

He’s updated the original idea, into a somewhat more urgent call to action for every news media person out there:

We know this sounds extreme. We wish it were not happening. We understand the risk we take by putting it so starkly: The presidency of Donald Trump is an active threat to American democracy. What do we mean by an active threat? Using the powers he won by election, the incumbent is trying to destroy public confidence in the results of the next election.

Can’s Links

The Kids Are Alt-Right: When Your Star Pupil Gets Red-Pilled

Mel Magazine - 7 min read

There’s an alternate timeline where I never got out of the deep internet dive I’ve gone in in the deep 2000s. There were many times I had nothing to do but go online and I did get sucked into weird conspiracy theories. This hit a bit close to home in that regard.

Olivia, a 34-year-old teacher in Kentucky, had the “great displeasure” of watching one of her 14-year-old students become radicalized online. “[He went] from a sweet kid to a year later tweeting that if homosexuals weren’t willing to change their ways, they should be killed,” she says. “He then started tweeting about Black Lives Matter, immigrants, liberals, feminism and anything else he could get his hands on. This was a kid that was generally kind and quiet, but he began following far right figures on Twitter and the rest is history.”

An Oral History of ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’

The Ringer - 14 min read

I can still perfectly remember the every singe railing, every u-tube and every window of the warehouse level in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.  I was never really that good at it, but it was addictive in a way that you never fault inadequate or frustrated. Even when you fell, you were rewarded by seeing your tricks come to life. This was a great oral history of how the game and its infamous soundtrack came to life. I can’t wait to play the remake.

Pease: Motion capture was mostly a marketing thing. “We need the footage of Tony in the suit to say there’s mocap to make the whole story more interesting!” We didn’t need the mocap. But we went ahead and did the shoot and put Tony through the paces. He busted his ass off giving us all kinds of different tricks. He bailed on those ping-pong balls! It was fantastic to look at it on the computer and use it for reference, but it was way too late for us to get that data into that game. 

Inside Trump's Chaotic, Desperate Reelection Campaign

NY Mag - 13 min read

I have mixed feelings on this one. On one hand, Olvia Nuzzi is a truly exceptional writer and this is a deeply reported piece on the shitshow that is the Trump 2020 campaign. On the other hand, every time I read a piece like this, I am reminded of the infamous Time cover, portraying the Trump campaign in a state of meltdown. August 2016 feels like a century ago now, but might as well be today.

Seeing a path to Trump’s reelection doesn’t actually require fantasy. If the pandemic subsides, if the debates wound the challenger, if the polling narrows a bit, the hidden Trump voter — if such people exist — and the design of the Electoral College may be enough. If circumstances get slightly less bad, if the president forms a habit of making things worse a little less often, if he gets a little luck just one more time, he could pull this off again. Maybe Kanye West, or doubts about the official results of the election, or ratfucking the Postal Service, or birtherism directed at Kamala Harris is all the campaign strategy Trump needs.

To the future occupants of my office at the MIT Media Lab

Ethan Zuckerman’s blog - 4 min read

OK, so, MIT Media Lab (which, unbeknownst to many, came out its MIT’s Architecture school) has suffered a bit of reputational damage with the whole Epstein thing but it was home to a wonderful set of people too. This is a heartwarming love letter to a unique, creative culture where people form connections and bond over things as mundane (or wonderful) as a small piece of overly-elaborate gadgetry to open a window. Trust me, you have to read this.

I’m leaving the note because the previous occupant left me a note of sorts. I was working here late one night. I looked up above my desk and saw a visegrip pliers attached to part of the HVAC system. I climbed up to investigate and found a brief note telling the MIT facilities department that the air conditioning had been disabled (using the vice grips, I presume) as part of a research project and that one should contact him with any questions.

Episode 80: BoJack Horseman

BoJack Horseman’s dark humor holds a special place in my heart and especially the last couple seasons where they focused on issues like mental health were one of the most interesting pieces of TV in years for me. But most importantly, I’ve never skipped its intro ever: the music, the constantly changing references, its self-awareness coupled with a hint of melancholy captures the tone of the show perfectly. This was a wonderful recap on how the song and the intro come together.