Recommendations for August 22, 2014

22 Aug

Alright, so: those of you watching closely (are there any such people?) will have noticed that I haven’t posted in…quite a while. As in months. There are several reasons for that, but the short version is that work got very busy, and I not only didn’t have time to post but didn’t really have time to find the stuff I would have been posting. That period has been done with for a while now, but by the time things calmed down, I had gotten out of the habit, and doing this regularly is at least as much about habits as it is about time.

So, I’m hoping to get back into posting here regularly, and in particular starting up with the recommendations again. The main reason I want to do this— aside from the immense public clamor for their return— is that they functions as a kind of disciplining mechanism. By that I mean that knowing that I need to do one of these every week makes me look at more stuff, and a greater variety of stuff, than I might otherwise, and also prompts me to think a bit more, in a sustained and systematic way, about what I am seeing/hearing/looking at and, hopefully, understand why I like it (or not).

With that in mind, here are two articles and two songs. The first article is old; it was in the last batch of stuff I was preparing to put up, way back when, but it’s not really a topic that’s going to get out of date and, as importantly, I don’t remember seeing it posted and talked about in a million places. Everything else I came across recently.

Article: ”The Racially Fraught History of the American Beard” by Sean Trainor

One thing that I really look for in any kind of non-fiction writing is the discovery of an interesting or remarkable story in something that wouldn’t seem to have one— like, say, facial hair and barbers. Of course, beards have waxed and waned (or been waxed, and so waned) according to fashion over time, and one would expect that certain things would correlate with those changes in fashion— razors and shaving brushes, say, would sell more or less, or things like mustache wax would be prominent when it is fashionable to have elaborately arranged mustaches— but you might not expect that all of these things would interact with the racial politics of a given era. In fact, in the middle of the nineteenth century, a weird confluence of social and economic factors led many black men, including former slaves, to become barbers. This was a job in which they could amass economic and cultural capital, but their position ultimately remained subject to the tolerance of whites which, unsurprisingly, eventually dried up.

Article: ”Paper Boys: Inside the Dark, Lucrative World of Consumer Debt Collection” by Jake Halpern

There are whole industries built around lending people money at interest. One might argue, indeed, that the economy of the United States as a whole is, if not entirely, then to an alarming extent based on precisely this. But it turns out that there is also a whole industry built around buying debt from the people who lent the money in the first place, and in particular buying loans that the original lenders have given up on. These debts can be purchased for pennies on the dollar, and so if their new owners can get even a fraction of the money owed out of the debtors, they can make significant profit. Halpern describes some of the people engaged in this business, and some of their methods; maybe not surprisingly, both are often a little unsavory.


I have posted songs by both of the following two artists before, so obviously I quite like them. Both have albums being released soon— next month, in Kwabs’s case. Both are fairly straight R&B with great production and very distinctive vocals (distinct from each other, as well as from other artists).

Song: ”Walk” by Kwabs

Song: ”Shudder” by Basecamp

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