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Thursday, January 19, 2017

How Statistics Lost Their Power – And Why We Should Fear What Comes Next, by William Davies, The Guardian

In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone – no matter what their politics – can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies. [...]

Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various “experts” that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people’s sense of political decency.

The Whitewashing Of Urban TV Sitcoms, by Brentin Mock, CityLab

There wasn’t much on television that privileged the lives of the single, child-less urban dwellers who were neither crime-fighters nor crime-committers. Then “Living Single” came out and changed the game. Queen Latifah’s character, Khadijah, was a magazine publisher who lived with her cousin and employee, Synclaire, and their bad-and-boujee roommate, Régine, a wedding planner. They were frequently visited by their close friend Max, an attorney. Their male friends Kyle and Overton—a stockbroker and handyman, respectively—lived together in the same brownstone apartment building as their lady friends in Brooklyn.

“Friends” jacked that set-up, though, and moved the story to Manhattan, filling it with white characters. They didn’t just flip the script; they gentrified it. It continues to be one of the most brazen acts of TV plagiarism in pop-culture history. If Ta-Nehisi Coates’s call for reparations ever materializes, it would need to include a clause that redistributes all future residuals from “Friends” syndication to former, current, and future black TV actors forever.

Bringing Audiobooks To Life In The Valley, by Agatha French, Los Angeles Times

Behind a wrought-iron gate in a residential area of Northridge, Deyan Audio Services sits on what looks like a country estate, with manicured lawns and tall privacy hedges. The recording studio is also the home of owner Debra Deyan; two of its nine recording booths are down the hall from her kitchen, where a pair of snow-white German shepherds bound in to play. There is something about the arrangement — the ghostly dogs, the gardens, the cloistered rooms — that feels fanciful, like Dickens does L.A.

“It makes sense that audiobooks were really birthed in Los Angeles,” Deyan says. “You can’t read sitting on a freeway.”

A Novelist Scours The Honduran Jungle For Pre-Columbian Ruins. The Jungle Scours Him Back., by Brendan I. Koerner, New York Times

Memoirs of jungle adventures too often devolve into lurid catalogs of hardships, as their authors take undue glee in detailing every bug bite, malarial fever and bad cup of instant coffee they’ve had to endure. But Preston proves too thoughtful an observer and too skilled a storyteller to settle for churning out danger porn. He has instead created something nuanced and sublime: a warm and geeky paean to the revelatory power of archaeology, tempered by notes of regret.

Sweet Bitter Blues, by Amanda Petrusich, Oxford American

I couldn’t quite figure out why Japanese listeners had come to appreciate and savor the blues in the way that they seemed to—lavishly, devotedly. Blues is still an outlier genre in Japan, but it’s revered, topical, present. I’d spent my first couple of days in Tokyo hungrily trawling the city’s many excellent record stores, marveling at the stock. I had shuffled into the nine-story Tower Records in Shibuya (NO MUSIC NO LIFE, a giant sign on its exterior read), past a K-pop band called CLC, an abbreviation for Crystal Clear—seven very-young-looking women in matching outfits, limply performing a synchronized dance, waving their slender arms back and forth before a hypnotized crowd—and ridden an elevator to a floor housing more shrink-wrapped blues CDs than I have ever seen gathered in a single place of retail. I had been to a tiny, quiet bar—JBS, or Jazz, Blues, and Soul—with floor-to-ceiling shelves housing owner Kobayashi Kazuhiro’s eleven thousand LPs, from which he studiously selected each evening’s soundtrack. I had seen more than one person wearing a Sonny Boy Williamson t-shirt. I had heard about audiophiles installing their own utility poles to get “more electricity” straight from the grid to power elaborate sound systems. What I didn’t know was what about this music made sense in Japan—how and why it had come to occupy the collective imagination, what it could offer.