wtf

Link Salad, the Brave New World Edition

-- The Teens Trapped Between a Gang and the Law - Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker, Jan. 1, 2018

"uliana grew up with a single memory of her father. He was sitting in the half-light of evening on the porch of their home, in a small town in El Salvador, while her mother cooked dinner in the kitchen. A man in a black mask emerged from the darkness. Juliana heard three gunshots, and saw her father fall off his chair, vomiting blood. She was three years old at the time, and afterward she wondered if the killing had actually happened. The most tangible detail was the man in the mask, who came to seem more present in her life than her father ever was. Juliana used to find her mother by the windows, pulling back a corner of the curtains to be sure that he had not returned. “It was like that man went on living with us,” Juliana told me. One day when she was older, her mother said that a gang called the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, had killed her father for refusing to pay a tax on a deli that he operated out of the house."

-- After the liberation of Mosul, an orgy of killing - Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, Nov. 21, 2017

"The heritage of torture in Iraq evolved in a linear path from Saddam’s intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, to the Americans in Abu Ghraib, and thence to the sectarian forces of the Iraqi government and its militias. Now, in the nightmare of Mosul, torture served no investigative purpose. It achieved and demanded nothing beyond an imperative to exact pain and revenge."

-- The Terror-Industrial Complex - Brian Castner, WIRED, Dec. 12, 2017

"In Syria and Iraq, ISIS fighters are in retreat, losing ground to government forces and becoming increasingly constrained in their attacks and ambitions. But their intellectual capital—their weapon designs, the engineering challenges they’ve solved, their industrial processes, blueprints, and schematics—still constitute a major threat. “That’s really the scary part, to the extent that the ISIS model proliferates,” says Matt Schroeder, a senior researcher at the Small Arms Survey, the Geneva-based think tank where Spleeters used to contribute. Much of the international structure that prevents weapons trafficking is rendered useless if ISIS can simply upload and share their designs and manufacturing processes with affiliates in Africa and Europe, who also have access to money and machinery."

-- You Are a Number - Mara Hvistendahl, WIRED, Dec. 14, 2017

"In China, anxiety about pianzi, or swindlers, runs deep. How do I know you’re not a pianzi? is a question people often ask when salespeople call on the phone or repairmen show up at the door. While my score likely didn’t put me in the ranks of pianzi, one promise of Zhima Credit was identifying those who were. Companies can buy risk assessments for users that detail whether they have paid their rent or utilities or appear on the court blacklist. For businesses, such products are billed as time-savers. On the site Tencent Video, I stumbled across an ad for Zhima Credit in which a businessman scrutinizes strangers as he rides the subway. “Everybody looks like a pianzi,” he despairs. His employees, trying to guard against shady customers, cover the office conference room walls with photos of lowlifes and criminals. But then—tada!—the boss discovers Zhima Credit, and all of their problems are solved. The staff celebrate by tearing the photos off the wall."

-- Jordan Peele's X-Ray Vision - Wesley Morris, New York Times Magazine, Dec. 20, 2017

"As a concept, the sunken place has grown even more capacious. It has been repurposed to explain both institutional disenfranchisement and racial self-estrangement — an explanation for the behavior of black people who seem to be under white control, based on either their sustained proximity to whiteness or statements construable as anti-black, or probably both. Sunken-place entrants include Clarence Thomas, Ben Carson, Tiger Woods, O.J. Simpson, sometimes Kanye West and any black person with something nice to say about President Trump. It’s more generous than “sellout” and less punitive than “Uncle Tom,” a dis and a road to redemption."

-- Game On - Nathan Hill, WIRED, Dec. 5, 2017

"And by “react accordingly” I mean that you not only execute a certain strategy correctly, but you also, if necessary, do so with any number of different heroes. Overwatch involves constant on-the-fly improvisational skill, an almost instinctive reaction to ever-changing conditions inside the game. If you play a really great damage-dealer but the other team is running a comp that neutralizes your particular hero, you must be able to extemporaneously and at any time switch to a different hero with a different specialization that disrupts the other team’s strategy. Plus, each hero has up to four different abilities that they can deploy at various times, including an “ultimate” ability that takes a long time to charge up and, when spent correctly, can be a total game-changer. 
So that’s about a hundred different abilities from 26 different characters teamed up in one of 230,230 different combinations. It’s mind-boggling. The sheer number of variables in play seems to exceed the human brain’s ability to grasp the scale and scope of big things. Which raises a question: How is it even possible to be good at this? I decided to travel to Redondo Beach, California, to the house where Stefano Disalvo lives with his team, to find out."
Spiros

Link Salad, the Idea Germ Edition

-- How a Dorm Room Minecraft Scam Brought Down the Internet - Garrett M. Graff, WIRED, Dec. 13, 2017

“The most dramatic cybersecurity story of 2016 came to a quiet conclusion Friday in an Anchorage courtroom, as three young American computer savants pleaded guilty to masterminding an unprecedented botnet—powered by unsecured internet-of-things devices like security cameras and wireless routers—that unleashed sweeping attacks on key internet services around the globe last fall. What drove them wasn’t anarchist politics or shadowy ties to a nation-state. It was Minecraft.”

-- Bussed out - Outside in America team, The Guardian, Dec. 2017

“When San Francisco, for example, reports on the number of people “exiting” homelessness, it includes the tally of people who are put on a bus and relocated elsewhere in the country. It turns out that almost half of the 7,000 homeless people San Francisco claims to have helped lift out of homelessness in the period of 2013-16 were simply given one-way tickets out of the city.”

-- The Untold Story of Kim Jong-nam’s Assassination - Doug Bock Clark, GQ, Sept. 25, 2017

“A second later, a Vietnamese woman wearing a white jumper emblazoned with LOL threw her arms over his shoulders and rubbed her hands across his face. She apologized, too, before hurrying in the opposite direction of the Indonesian woman.”

-- The African Enlightenment - Dag Herbjørnsrud, Aeon, Dec. 13, 2017

“For two years, until the death of the king in September 1632, Yacob remained in the cave as a hermit, visiting only the nearby market to get food. In the cave, he developed his new, rationalist philosophy. He believed in the supremacy of reason, and that all humans – male and female – are created equal. He argued against slavery, critiqued all established religions and doctrines, and combined these views with a personal belief in a theistic Creator, reasoning that the world’s order makes that the most rational option.”
Stringer

Link Salad, the _____ Like Me Edition

-- Her Eyes Were Watching the Stars: How Missy Elliott Became an Icon - Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Elle, May 15, 2017

“When Missy Elliott dropped her debut album exactly 20 years ago, she altered the spectrum and the range of hip-hop. She made it wild and hyperdimensional. Suddenly, we could all see and hear more. The first rap album I ever purchased was Supa Dupa Fly. And the most important video in the story of my life is "The Rain." On "The Rain," she raps about what still sounds like a perfect day: some light precipitation that clears, smoking some weed, driving to the beach, and dumping an undeserving man. It's a simple enough narrative, but she made it sound strange and wonderful. This was what hip-hop would sound like if it were conceived inside of the calyx of an African violet, unfurling and wet.”

-- Nina Simone in Liberia - Katherine Grace Thomas, Guernica, Jun. 19, 2017

“At the Montreux jazz festival, in 1990, Nina Simone sat at a white baby grand. Her hair was cornrowed into a bun, her cheeks brushed red; double drop earrings grazed her neckline. Leaning into the mic, she introduced the mostly white, transfixed crowd to a jaunty, go-go song: “Liberian Calypso.” “This is a song we learned from when we were in Liberia, for the three years we lived there; I guess most of you know about that,” she said. “In the middle of it I want you to sing with me: ‘Run, Nina.’” As the audience warmed up to the chorus, Simone slammed on the spruce, singing the story of that night at The Maze.”

-- What a Fraternity Hazing Death Revealed About the Painful Search for an Asian-American Identity - Jay Caspian Kang, New York Times Magazine, Aug. 9, 2017

““Asian-­American’’ is a mostly meaningless term. Nobody grows up speaking Asian-­American, nobody sits down to Asian-­American food with their Asian-­American parents and nobody goes on pilgrimages back to their motherland of Asian-­America. Michael Deng and his fraternity brothers were from Chinese families and grew up in Queens, and they have nothing in common with me — someone who was born in Korea and grew up in Boston and North Carolina. We share stereotypes, mostly — tiger moms, music lessons and the unexamined march toward success, however it’s defined. My Korean upbringing, I’ve found, has more in common with that of the children of Jewish and West African immigrants than that of the Chinese and Japanese in the United States — with whom I share only the anxiety that if one of us is put up against the wall, the other will most likely be standing next to him.”

-- It Was Gold - Patricia Lockwood, London Review of Books, Jan. 4, 2018

"The first thoughts about Joan Didion are not reasonable. The present literature about her is a hagiography that does not entirely trust itself; there is a vacancy at the centre of it that I call the ‘but surely’. But surely if these essays were published now, the hagiography says to itself at three in the morning, they would meet with a different reception? But surely if she wrote today, her ideas about feminism would be more in line with ours? But surely, for all her pointillism, she is failing to draw the conclusions we would most like to see? The hagiography turns the pillow over, looking for a cool spot. How much can we really rely on someone who loved The Doors? Why do all her last lines give the impression that she’s speaking from beyond the veil? What, in the end, is she actually saying? But surely she has told us that herself, and all along. What she is saying, standing in the corner of every piece, holding her yellow legal pad and watching, is: ‘I was there.’"
L'esclavage

Link Salad, the Generation FML Edition

-- Generation Screwed - Michael Hobbes, Huffington Post - Highline, Dec. 2017

"It’s tempting to look at the recession as the cause of all this, the Great Fuckening from which we are still waiting to recover. But what we are living through now, and what the recession merely accelerated, is a historic convergence of economic maladies, many of them decades in the making. Decision by decision, the economy has turned into a young people-screwing machine. And unless something changes, our calamity is going to become America’s."

-- The College Try - Ashley Powers, The California Sunday Magazine, Sept. 21, 2017

"Applying for financial aid can be an opaque and convoluted process. It’s even worse when you’re homeless. Technically, a student can prove she doesn’t have a place to live by having certain school or shelter officials vouch for her or by submitting to an interview with a financial aid administrator. But many schools, fearing that students might take advantage of the system, make some applicants undergo a more cumbersome process. That’s what happened to Liz. She’d brought her social worker from a mental health program to the financial aid office. But Cal State Long Beach asked for more, including her tax records and letters from two professionals. “There was a little paragraph box where it’s, like, talk about your circumstances,” she told me. “I just wrote a paragraph saying my dad’s a tweaker, tried to kill himself in front of me. Mom took off on me.” An administrator, she said, replied, “‘You really should have gone into more detail about this, at least a couple of paragraphs.’” Liz broke into angry tears and refused."

-- Young Americans - Michael Hall, Texas Monthly, Dec. 2017

"For years lawmakers have seized on the passion of immigrants to earn citizenship—for themselves and their kids. By the turn of the millennium, a whole new generation of immigrant children was on the verge of graduating high school. In the spring of 2001, Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator from Illinois, seized upon the story of a teenage girl, born in Brazil, who had lived in the country illegally with her family since she was a toddler. She had become a piano prodigy, first playing in a Chicago church, later with the Chicago Symphony. She had wanted to apply to several of the country’s most prestigious music conservatories, but in order to attend with a legal status, federal immigration officials told her she would need to leave the country for ten years and apply for reentry. This was nuts, thought Durbin, who set out to help fix the system. The eventual result was the Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would allow school-attending, law-abiding kids—Dreamers—an eventual path to citizenship. On August 1, 2001, Orrin Hatch, a Republican senator from Utah, formally introduced the legislation to the Senate, and gained eighteen Republican and Democratic senators signed on as co-sponsors."
Batou - Dog

Link Salad, the Once More With Feeling Edition

-- Secret Link Uncovered Between Pure Math and Physics - Kevin Hartnett, WIRED, Dec. 17, 2017

"So far, Kim has made no mention of physics in his papers. Instead, he’s written about objects called Selmer varieties, and he’s considered relationships between Selmer varieties in the space of all Selmer varieties. These are recognizable terms to number theorists. But to Kim, they’ve always been another name for certain kinds of objects in physics."

-- Love in the Time of Robots - Alex Mar, WIRED, Oct. 17, 2017

"In the lab, Risa’s mother helps her to undress. She takes off the girl’s clothes and stands her up on a small wooden platform. Together her father and an artist smooth a layer of pale-green paste over her torso and upper thighs; over that, they apply wide swatches of fabric dipped in plaster, asking her to hold very still as it dries. Then the 5-year-old girl, wrapped in a pink towel, her scalp covered in a rubber cap and her ears plugged with cotton, is laid down on a tabletop, her head fenced in with Styrofoam and packing tape. An artist lifts a plastic bucket and pours the paste in until it rises to cover her ears, as father and mother try to reassure her: “Don’t worry!” and “You’re fine!” At last they prepare the girl for the final part of the process: her face."

-- End Pain Forever - Erika Hayasaki, WIRED, Apr. 18, 2017

"Today when Costa resurrects memories of her own pain, they come with specific details and anecdotes—like that terrible day on the delayed plane, with the Smartwater bottles, or dunking her feet in gutter water as a child. Neurologists believe that, in the brain, pain is associated with memory-making processes, which explains the specificity of her stories. You don’t remember every time you’ve gone running, but you remember the day you slipped on ice and broke your knee. Pain also leaves an imprint on our cellular memory—the experiences our bodies hold on to and may pass on to our children and grand­children—which some scientists believe may one day help explain why chronic pain can persist even after an injury has healed. We live with the echo of pain inside us, constantly reminding us to watch our step, back away from the stove, slow down. Someone could get hurt."

-- The Real Danger To Civilization Isn’t AI. It’s Runaway Capitalism. - Ted Chiang, Buzzfeed, Dec. 18, 2017

"Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share? This hypothetical strawberry-picking AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do — grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly. The idea of superintelligence is such a poorly defined notion that one could envision it taking almost any form with equal justification: a benevolent genie that solves all the world’s problems, or a mathematician that spends all its time proving theorems so abstract that humans can’t even understand them. But when Silicon Valley tries to imagine superintelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism."
Rin Sword

Link Salad, the White Pow(d)er Edition

-- The Nationalist's Delusion - Adam Serwer, The Atlantic, Nov. 20, 2017

"It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation—outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety—to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump’s most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of."

-- The Family That Built an Empire of Pain - Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker, Oct. 30, 2017

"When the Met was originally built, in 1880, one of its trustees, the lawyer Joseph Choate, gave a speech to Gilded Age industrialists who had gathered to celebrate its dedication, and, in a bid for their support, offered the sly observation that what philanthropy really buys is immortality: “Think of it, ye millionaires of many markets, what glory may yet be yours, if you only listen to our advice, to convert pork into porcelain, grain and produce into priceless pottery, the rude ores of commerce into sculptured marble.” Through such transubstantiation, many fortunes have passed into enduring civic institutions. Over time, the origins of a clan’s largesse are largely forgotten, and we recall only the philanthropic legacy, prompted by the name on the building. According to Forbes, the Sacklers are now one of America’s richest families, with a collective net worth of thirteen billion dollars—more than the Rockefellers or the Mellons. The bulk of the Sacklers’ fortune has been accumulated only in recent decades, yet the source of their wealth is to most people as obscure as that of the robber barons. While the Sacklers are interviewed regularly on the subject of their generosity, they almost never speak publicly about the family business, Purdue Pharma—a privately held company, based in Stamford, Connecticut, that developed the prescription painkiller OxyContin. Upon its release, in 1995, OxyContin was hailed as a medical breakthrough, a long-lasting narcotic that could help patients suffering from moderate to severe pain. The drug became a blockbuster, and has reportedly generated some thirty-five billion dollars in revenue for Purdue."

-- The Secretive Family Making Billions From the Opioid Crisis - Christopher Glazek, Esquire, Oct. 16, 2017

"To the extent that the Sacklers have cultivated a reputation, it’s for being earnest healers, judicious stewards of scientific progress, and connoisseurs of old and beautiful things. Few are aware that during the crucial period of OxyContin’s development and promotion, Sackler family members actively led Purdue’s day-to-day affairs, filling the majority of its board slots and supplying top executives. By any assessment, the family’s leaders have pulled off three of the great marketing triumphs of the modern era: The first is selling OxyContin; the second is promoting the Sackler name; and the third is ensuring that, as far as the public is aware, the first and the second have nothing to do with one another."
world, politics, season

Link Salad, the Terrorism Tech Edition

-- Did We Adopt a Jihadist? - Scott Sayare, GQ, Oct. 25, 2017

"The boys were buried in the shaded corner of a nearby church cemetery, and she sometimes brought Ammar to their grave. On an afternoon last year, the cemetery grounds were strewn with fine white petals, a delicate confetti released from the old trees. Ammar sat slouched atop a pink headstone with a cigarette, the ashes floating toward the foot of Lina's boys' grave. He spat unthinkingly. “That's not respectful,” Lina said, and Ammar stood. She explained, to his shock, that her sons had been cremated. When people are cremated, do you watch them burn? he asked. She explained that you do not."

-- The Uncounted - Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 16, 2017

"Later that same day, the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria uploaded a video to its YouTube channel. The clip, titled “Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul, Iraq 20 Sept 2015,” shows spectral black-and-white night-vision footage of two sprawling compounds, filmed by an aircraft slowly rotating above. There is no sound. Within seconds, the structures disappear in bursts of black smoke. The target, according to the caption, was a car-bomb factory, a hub in a network of “multiple facilities spread across Mosul used to produce VBIEDs for ISIL’s terrorist activities,” posing “a direct threat to both civilians and Iraqi security forces.” Later, when he found the video, Basim could watch only the first few frames. He knew immediately that the buildings were his and his brother’s houses."

-- How One Woman's Digital Life Was Weaponized Against Her - Brooke Jarvis, WIRED, Nov. 14, 2017

"The lawyers were skeptical of the Allens’ story at first. It was so outlandish that Van Engelen wondered if it was made up—or if one spouse was manipulating the other. Courtney’s fear seemed genuine, but so many of the emails did appear to come from Steven, who knew his way around computers. Van Engelen wanted to be sure that Steven wasn’t the mastermind of a complex scheme in which he hid his own abuse, impersonating Zonis impersonating him. She interviewed the Allens separately and then spent a week poring through the evidence: voicemails and social media profiles and native files of emails. By digging into how they were created, she found that emails from “Steven” had been spoofed—sent through anonymizing services but then tagged as if they came from his email or were sent from an untraceable account. Had Steven been the mastermind, it would have been “like robbing a bank but wearing a mask of your own face,” she said later. “It just doesn’t make any sense.” Van Engelen came to believe the Allens were telling the truth."

-- This Is What A 21st-Century Police State Really Looks Like - Megha Rajagopalan, Buzzfeed, Oct. 17, 2017

"T., a writer, lived in an apartment complex in the regional capital of Urumqi with his wife and daughters until the middle of this summer. (He and his family are now in the US. He asked me not to disclose which city because he was afraid of being identified by the government.) For years, an official representing the neighborhood’s Communist Party committee would visit his home every week and ask a set of questions that soon became mundane: Who had come to visit? Was anyone pregnant? Had anyone changed jobs? She would then report the information to the local police department, he said."
Batou - Dog

An act of rebellion

I should be in bed right now.

I've spent all day trying to drown the scratch out from the back of my throat, and at the first moment I feel nasal congestion coming on, my desk is festooned with orange juice from the office fridge. The onset of October with its wonderfully seasonable weather has carried on the winds that most familiar of companions, the common cold, so common it seems we no longer seem to bother with a cure. It is quite literally as common as the air.

But I just came back from a late night event in New York, and I'm still rather giddy with it. My introduction to the work of Alexis Okeowo came either in the form of a piece in The Guardian or this essay in Granta on Lagos. I do remember being entranced while reading it as this woman so minutely detailed the present reality of the city where my mother had spent so much of her past. As has become typical now of modern descriptions I read of Lagos and of Nigeria by other Nigerian writers, a twinge of jealousy pinches the heart. It is almost as if to say that in having greater access to this place than I do, they have somehow gained greater access to her, meaning my mother. It is an absurd and easily fixable issue. I work in a place now where I wouldn't have to save for terribly long to raise the funds and where vacation time is in ample supply, so the usual excuses of time and money carry much less weight. But I digress. Alexis's work enthralled me, first in various publications, then, more regularly, for The New Yorker primarily because they concerned Africans and seemed determined to show a reality in Technicolor. Her paintings weren't awash in the familiar brown and gray of desolation and famine. Nor were they cast in the shimmering polychrome of the Rising Continent. They contain gradations. Multitudes. They feel like talking at the Cookout or the Wedding Reception, where we don't have to put on airs. Where we can make fun of our governmental dysfunction or address internecine stereotypes or have those conversations so filled with referents it would take outside parties a year of education to understand. I think, reading her now and after having listened to her talk, the secret is that her stories aren't for the West as traditionally imagined. They're not for white people the way stories of famine and terrorism are meant to push guilt like bile back up their throats so that they vomit donations to a charity. Nor are they the type of dismissive hand-wave meant to catch the attention of the person with whose attention you are supposedly no longer concerned. This didn't mean that they weren't celebrations or appreciations of Africa and its countries and its cities. It's more to say that none of her writing feels performative or performed. It's just us storytelling.

Us.

On the first day of Fall, I went to a pumpkin patch with a girl. Nicaraguan. And I'd done a little bit of research beforehand as pumpkin patches were relatively alien to me, but she had a thing for pumpkins and had determined to do this thing on this day, and the circumstances of our meeting seemed to have dictated that we would do the thing together. So we went to the first orchard and she told me of her tastes while we wandered and found her pumpkins of the size she preferred. We went to another that had the orange things laid out in neat rows, bunched together, but ultimately larger than she liked. It was unseasonably warm. I had on a short-sleeved shirt. In the car, she played wavy music, something a little lighter than trap soul and some stuff with Spanish guitars sprinkled between R&B tracks and we watched the night descend on us in an open-air bookstore where I ended up picking up three more books than I'd intended. Something by Aravind Adiga; The Industry of Souls, which book I remember reading sophomore spring at Yale and being profoundly moved by to the point where even the thought of it stirs something primordial within me; and Elon by Paul Harding, whose Tinkers is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever consumed, and whose journey to the Pulitzer Prize for fiction that year I remember finding immensely affecting. A taco spot was our last stop before we returned to my place for tea and then parting.

It was an auspicious start to my favorite season, a time of year that I've admitted to a few people is emotionally tumultuous. But if I'm to endure ritual tumult, I could not ask for a better clime. The wind massages the season into my face, makes my beard feel useful. My hoodie and my jacket feel perfectly calibrated to accord me warmth. I feel purposeful when I stride because too long spent outdoors could bring on a cold, but it's still light enough to merit occasional perambulation. I don't necessarily say all of these things when detailing to others why fall is my favorite season. I find myself describing the time of year by what's not in it. No mosquitoes or gnats. No Jupiter-sized humidity bearing down on the shoulders. The weather doesn't punish you with perspiration. Rain isn't nearly as plentiful as it is in the spring. And the snow hasn't yet arrived to trouble commutes.

And before I know it, it's the first week of October.

Today was the 19th anniversary of my father's passing, and if I let myself think on it, the day is always attended by some jogging free of spiritual and emotional silt. Before I came to an awareness as to causes, the Black Dog would come barking, unsummoned but insistent nonetheless. And it would bark and bark and bark, and I'd be at a loss to explain to myself its arrival, its Germanic sense of timing. But then I realize what day it is and if I've not managed to busy myself into unthinking, I can ponder and realize and walk into epiphany. But there always seems to be good here.

The anniversary comes right before my birthday. In the past, the two occasions bore witness to the massive swinging back and forth of moods. But there is an abundance of happiness in my life right now. Not just causes for happiness, but actual happiness. Tomorrow, for the second time, I will be watching Ta-Nehisi Coates speak on my birthday and doing it with two of my dearest friends, one of whom I attended a wedding with. An occasion wherein the groom spoke of black feminism in his vows and the bride charged onto the dance floor with her father to Petey Pablo, waving UNC-Chapel Hill flags. Then Thursday begins my surreal return to New York Comic Con, once an intern for Marvel and now as an author, yet the latest stop in this phantasmagorical odyssey.

Tonight was special. We were at the Tumblr Headquarters on East 21st Street and there were cushions in the rising rows where the audience was to sit while Alexis Okeowo and Miriam Elder, Foreign Editor at Buzzfeed, sat before a screen lit up with their Twitter handles.

Behind me in the audience were Alexis's parents. I'd been eager to see her as it would be the fulfillment of a promise I'd made to her back in June when she'd done an event in conversation with Souad Mekhennet, who had herself just written a book on jihad and journalism.

Just prior to this event, I spied and was spied by a woman I'd also gone on a date with and with whom I share quite a few friends and our reunion greeting was all genuine smiles and breathless "what I've been up to in the meantime" recaps with some "let's do something"s scattered throughout. And then a mutual friend of ours arrived, whom I'd not seen in a while, and we hugged then sat down for the event. And I listened to Alexis tell stories about how she told stories about Somali girls playing basketball and a Ugandan couple struggling to survive their time as child soldier and bush wife. And, later, of discovering that their son had overheard the couple telling their story to Alexis, the couple having found their first real opportunity to exorcise their experience. And throughout the event, talk of being unable to trust the Nigerian government's proclamations in the immediate aftermath of the mass kidnapping of the Chibok girls brought home the point that governmental distrust is, as the French would say, partout. The moderator related her own experience with Russia and its propaganda machine, and both women remarked on the peculiar pull their homelands had on them, Nigeria for Alexis and Russia for Miriam.

While in line, I ran into a classmate from my late night Arabic course, and my old college friend introduced me to a dear childhood friend of hers, the two of them having shared a childhood in Alabama with the author whose work we were celebrating this evening.

Later on, I met Alexis's effusive parents, who congratulated me on my upcoming book-birth and, upon hearing that mom is currently in Nigeria, commanded me to send her their best wishes. When I called Alexis's father "Uncle," the whole circle of us nearly collapsed in laughter. The room for the entirety of the evening was filled with those of the 2nd and 1.5 generation, and foreign accents gave the Q&A a global musicality. For several moments, I felt like an extra in an M.I.A. video. So young and beautiful and from a shared Elsewhere.

Words the whole night were spun around love and family and countries that were, blessedly, not America, and it felt for those hours like I was once again amongst comrades, those of us with feet planted in multiple worlds, those of us who had grown comfortable straddling boundaries of national and ancestral nature. Our passports are many-stamped, our food beautifully seasoned, our stories manifold and multiform.

I don't think about him much, usually in the service of some piece of writing, like a rumination on the grief-easing power of violent video games. What I find myself more often marveling at is how long I've gone without thinking or wondering at him.

It's perilously close to blasphemy to believe I would be a lesser person for his presence, but so much of my present existence can trace its genesis to his passing, to that point in time 19 years back where the grave was dug and the body buried in Nigeria.

In my younger days, I'd wonder how we would have talked about Vegas or whether I'd be different around girls, surer, less riddled with neuroses and grasping at perfection. In my younger days, I'd wonder if we would ever break through the barriers erected by the toxic masculinity in the culture he came from and the culture I was born into and talk about melancholy, about the shadows that lengthen with the seasons. I'd wonder if we would start to sound the same when we laughed, how he would have felt seeing so much of him grow inside me. Would he see, as I do, the same incandescence in our blood that touches the leaves in the trees on I-84 this time of year?

My younger self would've easily, readily, gratefully fallen into the prison of such wondering. Feeling caged by things like genetic determinism or the state of the country or the world, feeling duty-bound to despair.

It's officially October 4th, and maybe I've grown ornery enough that rebellion is less about righteous path-forging and more about personal desires and inertia.

I prefer joy.
Stringer

Link Salad, the Segregation Edition

-- Gone Baby Gone - Rachel Monroe, The New Republic, Sept. 19, 2017

"But even as Mitchell and his brother spackled walls and patched leaks, 1906 Boone sat vacant—a moldering eyesore that dragged the entire neighborhood down with it. Whenever it rained, water would collect in the abandoned row house and seep into Mitchell’s basement. To discourage break-ins, he hung his mother’s curtains in the upstairs windows at 1906. But with no one tending to it, the house eventually collapsed in on itself. When I visited the property, it looked like a stage set for an apocalypse film, its walls and floors partially demolished, its roof open to the sky. Bird droppings covered the stairwell. The bathtub was still there. Exposed, squatting precariously on a jagged scrap of what used to be the second floor, the tub felt somehow obscene: a ruin-porn image of a city in crisis."

-- Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City - Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times Magazine, Jun. 9, 2016

"The Farragut parents were also angry and hurt over how their school and their children had been talked about in public meetings and the press. Some white Dumbo parents had told Davenport that they’d be willing to enroll their children only if she agreed to put the new students all together in their own classroom. Farragut parents feared their children would be marginalized. If the school eventually filled up with children from high-income white families — the median income for Dumbo and Vinegar Hill residents is almost 10 times that of Farragut residents — the character of the school could change, and as had happened at other schools like P.S. 8, the results might not benefit the black and Latino students. Among other things, P.S. 307 might no longer qualify for federal funds for special programming, like free after-school care, to help low-income families."

-- Why Poverty Is Like a Disease - Christian H. Cooper, Nautilus Magazine, Apr. 20, 2017

"In human children, epigenetic changes in stress receptor gene expression that lead to heightened stress responses and mood disorders have been measured in response to childhood abuse. And last year, researchers at Duke University found that “lower socioeconomic status during adolescence is associated with an increase in methylation of the proximal promoter of the serotonin transporter gene,” which primes the amygdala—the brain’s center for emotion and fear—for “threat-related amygdala reactivity.” While there may be some advantages to being primed to experience high levels of stress (learning under stress, for example, may be accelerated), the basic message of these studies is consistent: Chronic stress and uncertainty during childhood makes stress more difficult to deal with as an adult."