Where have all the insects gone?

Farhad Manjoo: “Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are not just the largest technology companies in the world. They are also becoming the most powerful companies of any kind, essentially inescapable for any consumer or business that wants to participate in the modern world. But which of the Frightful Five is most unavoidable? If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?

On women in publishing: “A 2016 survey of the gender divide in US publishing found 78% of the industry is female (no UK-wide survey has yet been done). But the same survey found that, at executive or board level, 40% of respondents were men.”


“I told him I thought Alien 3 was underrated. He looked at me as if I’d brought up a family bereavement.”

Peter Conrad: “Trump is the very epitome of thoughtlessness. Beneath that curvaceous quiff, behind that permatanned pout, his mind is a broiling elemental chaos.[…] In 2013 he proudly retweeted a message that called him ‘the most superior troll on Twitter’: he assumed that he’d been paid a compliment.”

“To celebrate Mother’s Day, KFC published Tender Wings of Desire, a novella following the love affair between Lady Madeline Parker and Colonel Harland Sanders.” What a time to be alive.

Peter Berger on Jewish humour as a marker of sophistication: “I once went on a walk in Tokyo, entered a theater in which one of Woody Allen’s films was playing, in a dubbed Japanese version. The audience was almost all Japanese. They laughed at all the right places. Did they understand the film and know what was funny, or were they coached?”

“As of fall 2013, 43% of the 1.5 million faculty who teach at degree-granting postsecondary institutions [in the US] were white males and 35% were white females. The percentages for other racial groups stand in stark contrast to these numbers: Black men, for example, represented 3% of full-time faculty, whereas 6% were men of Asian/Pacific Islander descent. […] Why does American higher education lack diversity?

What do Coco, Rocky, Lola and Max have in common? They’re all popular dog names in New York City.

Carmen Aguirre: “Yes, far too often women who are sexually assaulted are disbelieved. Which is why I understand and see the reasoning behind the ‘I Believe Women’ slogan. It is a powerful statement. It is a strong political position. It is a rhetorical tool, but is not an actual, automatic truth. If we see it as such, it is an inherently tyrannical position that has historically been used to imprison and murder poor men of colour. For these reasons I much prefer ‘I Listen to Women.’ ”

“To the outside world, a moshpit looks like the nonsensical activity of a Neanderthal – which it is.”

Vinson Cunningham: “Because life is boring, and there wasn’t always such a thing as Netflix, and—let’s face it—good entertainment is way too hard to find, Saartjie Baartman, a young South African slave woman, was brought first to England and later to France, where in the early nineteenth century crowds gathered with the sole intention of looking at her butt. […] It was large, Ms. Baartman’s behind, astonishingly big, and for a public held rapt by several spells – phrenology, white supremacy, and, in all seriousness, probably just a crippling amount of boredom—it proved irresistible, if only for a moment.”

Elyse Graham: “One of the notable online trends of 2015 entailed people making videos of cats being scared by cucumbers. It turns out that cats are scared of snakes, which cucumbers resemble—so if you surreptitiously put a cucumber near a cat and wait for the cat to notice, you’ll be treated to a nice little freak-out. The trick is cruel, of course; as animal experts warned, it stresses the cat out. Then again, deriving enjoyment from a cat’s suffering (Katzen-Schadenfreude?) is a form of entertainment that goes back for centuries.”

Yo Zushi defends the indefensible: “Critics may howl when something deemed trashy captures the public imagination – for instance, the music of Ed Sheeran, who recently topped the charts with his album Divide, despite warnings from reviewers about its ‘flagrant sense of scheming’ and ‘deeply uncool whiteness’ – but our relationship with culture is a personal matter. There’s no shame in loving what a bunch of journalists have decided is a bit rubbish.”

From Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism”:

Many forms of donning a black identity are insulting because they are just that—the donning of a black identity. I take it that those who don a black identity do not express a genuine identification with blackness. Rather, they assume a black physical appearance, or appropriate certain exaggerated or maliciously concocted features of black culture for a brief period of time, usually for questionable ends. Yet we are examining the possibility of a person who genuinely identifies as black. This is completely different from someone who identifies as white but who pretends to be a black person precisely for the purpose of ridicule and reinforcement of racial stereotypes. The latter is appropriately deemed pretense because it relies on the fact that this person’s core identity is not who she publicly and permanently purports to be. Someone who genuinely identifies as black and feels that she is black is not pretending to be black. A person who genuinely identifies as black is thus not likely to don a black identity for a few hours or even days, weeks, and months, intending thereafter to resume a white identity. Instead, such a person is more likely to try to live as a black person, day in day out, year in year out, in perpetuity. Dolezal may well have been putting on a black identity for nefarious purposes. But the possibility that she was not is a reminder that we must keep these different ways of assuming an identity morally distinct. Someone who genuinely identifies with blackness could perhaps be viewed as affirming blackness instead of insulting it, insofar as this suggests it is desirable to be black. In a world where the worth and value of blackness is routinely denied, perhaps Dolezal’s transition could therefore be viewed in a positive light.

See also Jesse Singal’s “This Is What a Modern-Day Witch Hunt Looks Like,” written in response to the outcry provoked by Tuvel’s article.

Emma Smith: “Shakespeare is the apex predator in a cultural ecosystem where he has no rivals, only prey. The literary rabbits and deer and mice need to watch out.”

Sarah Boxer: “Bloggers assume that if you’re reading them, you’re one of their friends, or at least in on the gossip, the joke, or the names they drop. They often begin their posts mid-thought or mid-rant—in medias craze. They don’t care if they leave you in the dust. They’re not responsible for your education. Bloggers, as Mark Liberman, one of the founders of the blog called Language Log, once noted, are like Plato. The unspoken message is: Hey, I’m here talking with my buddies. Keep up with me or don’t. It’s up to you.”

Mark Forsyth: “The greatest joy a human being can achieve in this sorrowful world is to get one up on his or her fellow man or woman by correcting their English.”

John Berger: “The word we, when printed or pronounced on screens, has become suspect, for it’s continually used by those with power in the demagogic claim that they are also speaking for those who are denied power. Let’s talk of ourselves as they.”

Whitney Phillips: “The question of definitions is far from merely semantic; what people call things often dictates what people are willing (or feel compelled) to do about them. […] Nothing justifies legal intervention faster or more effectively than vaguely threatening abstract nouns.”

Lily Saint: “Much as that other famous Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, was repeatedly called upon, against his own wishes, to represent all African writers in the West, Adichie has had the misfortune of becoming the latest iteration of the West’s simplistic tokenistic relation to the African continent, a reductionism that obliterates the possibility of richer, more varied engagements with African writing and publishers.”

Who said “I’ve never heard anyone laugh bigger than an African mother who’s lost nine family members”? Brad Pitt or Derek Zoolander?

Gaby Hinsliff: “Naked racism may still be unacceptable in polite society. But post-Brexit vote there’s a clear market emerging for a slightly posher, better-read, more respectable way of saying that you’d rather not live next door to Romanians or think Muslims are coming to rape your womenfolk.”

Liza Featherstone, Doug Henwood, and Christian Parenti: “The young troublemakers of today do have an ideology and it is as deeply felt and intellectually totalizing as any of the great belief systems of yore. The cadres who populate those endless meetings, who bang the drum, who lead the ‘trainings’ and paint the puppets, do indeed have a creed. They are Activismists. That’s right, Activismists. This brave new ideology combines the political illiteracy of hyper-mediated American culture with all the moral zeal of a nineteenth century temperance crusade. In this worldview, all roads lead to more activism and more activists. And the one who acts is righteous.”

[H/T “Ritual Protest and the Theater of Dissent” by Virgnia Hotchkiss]

From the Sideways Dictionary: Arguing with a troll “is like playing playing chess with a pigeon. As the old internet meme has it, however good you are at chess, the pigeon will knock over the pieces, crap on the board, and strut around claiming victory.”

Two of the three authors still in contention for the 2017 Desmond Elliott prize for debut fiction are in their 50s.

There’s good news and bad news. Though most in the US still cling to their guns and bibles, a healthy 35% of American millennials are non-religious. Unfortunately, secularizing conservatives aren’t more tolerant than their pious counterparts. “Evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.”

From the Sideways Dictionary: Tor is “like the Ray-Ban Wayfarer of browsers. No one can see what you’re watching, and it makes you look cool and enigmatic.”  A botnet is “like a zombie army, full of dead-eyed, half-crazed people obeying the instructions of a remote and unseen master, without realizing they are part of a destructive tribe.” A cookie is “like a barista with a good memory. So every morning when you come in for your decaf soy latte with an extra shot and cream, they nod wearily and say ‘The usual?’ ”

James Joyce was a very naughty boy.

An American organisation famous for supporting homophobia and corporal punishment has launched a magazine for girls who lie awake at night wondering whether it’s OK to pray for their boyfriends. Grab a copy now.

Simon Goldhill: “If we oversimplify history, we will live – as both Cicero and Kant predicted – with the shallow mindfulness of children.”

“Where did the phrase ‘late capitalism’ come from, and why did so many people start using it all of a sudden?”

On being a fat medical student: “I am always aware of my fatness, but perhaps more so here at medical school. We are training to work with bodies, and mine is a type of body we warn our patients not to have. It is the first thing described in every list of ‘modifiable risk factors’. A colleague suggests ‘just don’t let yourself get too fat’ as we talk about preventing a certain type of cancer. A final exam question asks us to list four poor health outcomes associated with obesity. I sit through lectures with slides that have sniggering titles like ‘how BIG is the problem?’ ”

Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad has been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award for science fiction.