Crazy Rich Panthers

Black Panther was one of the movies I had very high expectations of (yes, it's from 2018, and yes, it's now 2019). How would Afrofuturism be portrayed? How did they solve the resource curse of having so much vibranium? Who would the first big screen non-White Marvel superhero fight?

Turns out the secret to avoiding resource curse is simple: just hide your resource from everyone else and don't use it to trade. Better yet, build a camouflage shield so no one can see how advanced you are and as a result won't want anything from you. Having a seemingly infinite amount of it also helps.

If only that could work for other countries in real life. The world of economics was ignored and Afrofuturism was reduced to muscular men living in caves. Black Panther ended up fighting a black villain.

Fast forward a few months I went to the theater to see Crazy Rich Asians (yes, also 2018). A really hyped up movie with an Asian economics professor as the protagonist! How often would you see that? What kind of movie about Asia would be shown to Americans?

Of course, Crazy Rich Asians should probably be renamed to Crazy Rich Chinese, since all the notable characters in the movie were of Chinese descent. Singapore was a nation of no one except for the 0.1%, and everything that actually makes the city notable in the real world was absent (ok except for the food, it's a movie about Chinese, there's always food).

Instead of isolating themselves with advanced technology, the high societies of Singapore isolated themselves in plain sight. The Old Money of Singapore made their money the way you expect the Old Money would. By contrast, the Old Money of Wakanda made their money through sheer luck: vibranium literally fell down from the sky. In Singapore, the Old Money were the flashy ones. In Wakanda, they hid their wealth.

In most Marvel movies the superheroes fought antagonists with varies degrees of foreignness - Captain America fought the Nazis, Iron Man fought terrorists from other countries, Doctor Strange, Thor, and the Avengers fought invaders from other worlds. Black Panther is no exception - Black Panther fought an enemy foreign to Wakanda: an African American antagonist! The Freed from Africa defeated the oppressed from America.

Rachael Chu in Crazy Rich Asian followed more of a traditional hero journey. She went to Singapore, found herself, and the Have-not "defeated" the Have - Nick's Mom, her future mother-in-law.

The antagonist from Black Panther and the protagonist from Crazy Rich Asians both left America for their "ancestorial" land, and realized even in the land where they looked the same as everyone else, they still weren't quite welcomed. Nick's Mom said it best, "you are not our own kind." In the end, both Rachael and Killmonger reconciled with whom they set out to defeat. They both got what they wanted only through the generous understanding of their once enemies, who, once again, were just like them.

Both movies were also about keeping secrets from who you love in order to protect them. Nick didn't tell Rachael about his family. Rachael's Mom kept her story from Rachael. Astrid kept her desires hidden from her husband. And of course, much of Black Panther would have been a non-story had the old King told everyone what had happened in America. Some of us were thought to be too weak to be able to handle the truths. And the result was everyone was worse off.

When I was in the theater for Crazy Rich Asians there was an African American girl sitting next to me. She seemingly enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed Black Panther. In all honesty, Crazy Rich Asians wasn't a very good movie. The actings were mediocre and the story was predictable. So in my spare time I observed her reactions instead. Which parts did she find funny? Which references would she not get?

Then it stuck me: what if I hadn't watched Black Panther at home and instead went to the theater and sat next to an African American? Did they enjoy the movie more because the hero was "one of them"? Or would they also find it more amusing to speculate how someone different from them would experience a movie that was filled with people just like themselves?

by khc on Fri Apr 12 12:27:04 2019 Permlink
Tags: movie writing

End of the year tradition

It's almost 2019 which means it's the end of the year again. Continuing on the tradition of donating a pro-rated post-tax paycheck a year, here are the organizations I donated to:

ACLU/EFF/ProPublica: I put these in the "questionably effective" bucket. I think what these organizations do is important but I am not very sure that giving them money is the best way to achieve the outcomes that I want. On top of that I tend to think first world problems aren't the biggest problems that the world have. However I do live in the first world and I can't always ignore my self-interests.

GiveDirectly/GiveWell/IPA: These are the more "effective altruism" type of organizations and I've been donating to them for a few years now. This year I also looked into DonorChoose per Adrian's suggestion, but decided not to donate. I looked through hundreds of projects on the site and many of them were for giving out iPad to kids or "flexible seating". It's also difficult to tell if the teachers tried to fund the projects through their schools and got turned down because the schools didn't have the money or if the schools thought they were bad ideas. In the end my time was more valuable so I didn't spend more time doing research on this.

by khc on Mon Dec 31 17:54:50 2018 Permlink

How will I be voting this Tuesday


Prop 1, Housing Programs and Veterans' Loans Bond - Yes

Affordable housing is a regional problem that should be solved at a level higher than a city, so when a state is trying to do something about it I have to be for it.

Prop 2, Use Millionaire's Tax Revenue for Homelessness Prevention Housing Bonds Measure - Yes

The legislature already voted for it, I generally dislike citizen propositions but this is not one of them

Prop 3, Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative - No

A little torn on this one. Water is important but my general distaste of citizen propositions won out. Also, much of the funding is for long term maintenance which is something we should budget for, and not something that we should periodically borrow money (and pay interest) for.

Prop 4, Children's Hospital Bonds Initiative - No

Similar to Prop 3. Also, 72% of the money is for private (even though non-profit) hospitals. They should figure out how to plan for their own finances.

Prop 5, Property Tax Transfer Initiative - No

Prop 13 created this problem and this is the wrong solution

Prop 6, Voter Approval for Future Gas and Vehicle Taxes and 2017 Tax Repeal Initiative - No

Again I generally believe in representative democracy. The legislature voted for the tax already. Plus taxing drivers for their use of the roads is generally a good thing.

Prop 7, Permanent Daylight Saving Time Measure - Yes

Doesn't actually get rid of the need to change the clocks twice a year, but a step towards it. Also, already passed by the state legislature.

Prop 8, Limits on Dialysis Clinics' Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative - Yes

Generally dislike citizen propositions and limiting free markets, but there does seem to be a market failure in dialysis services

Prop 10, Local Rent Control Initiative - No

I benefit from rent control and I am not low income. Do you want more people like me to benefit from rent control? Probably yes, but this is not the way to solve the housing crisis. Also this is another citizen proposition that repeals something already passed by legislature.

Prop 11, Ambulance Employees Paid On-Call Breaks, Training, and Mental Health Services Initiative - No

Seems like a good idea but why are we voting on it? Voting no as a protest vote.

Prop 12, Farm Animal Confinement Initiative - No

I can certainly afford to pay for organic cage free all natural farm products where the animals have to get 8 hours of sunshine every day, but people should not be forced to pay for that. Also, another citizen proposition.

San Francisco

Board of education (3): Phil Kim, Michelle Parker, Josephine Zhao

Mostly because they called out restoring "advance" math classes (algebra) in middle school, something that the city decided that is too difficut for kids.

Community college board (3): No strong opinion

Prop A, Embarcadero Seawall Improvement Bonds: Yes

The claim that it will not increase property tax seems like a lie, but unanimous vote by SF supervisors.

Prop B, Personal Information Protection Policy Charter Amendment: Yes

Unanimous vote by SF supervisors

Prop C, Gross Receipts Tax for Homelessness Services: No

Only up to 15% for homelessness prevention. Homelessness is a regional problem and should not be solved by a city alone. We already spend almost $300M a year on homelessness and it's not clear what doubling down on that would do.

Prop D, Marijuana Business Tax Increase: No

Why are we lumping non-local business tax with a tax on marijuana? Taxing marijuana makes sense but requiring businesses that are not in SF to pay SF tax (other than sales tax) doesn't.

Prop E, Partial Allocation of Hotel Tax for Arts and Culture: No

Unanimous vote by SF supervisors, but they can already set the budget to fund arts and culture and choose not to do so. Fixed budget for non-essential services is a bad idea.

by khc on Sun Nov 4 17:08:31 2018 Permlink


I don't watch a lot of TV shows, but when I do, I binge them. One of the weekends a couple months ago I did nothing but sat in the couch and finished the only season of "Altered Carbon", partly to procrastinate doing my taxes. I was going to write about it then, but death and taxes got in the way.

Altered Carbon is set in a future where all your memory is instantly recorded in an electronic implant, and your memory can be restored into any body as long as the implant is not damaged. There's a side effect every time you switch body though, doing it too often and your mind gets damaged. The super rich make nightly backup of their implants and clone their bodies so they can essentially live forever.

A lot of the show is about the implications of "forever". As a side effect of the mind living forever, bodies are disposable, except for the religious few who believe lives are meant to end. Those who truly live forever have God-like status, and because they never die, wealth and power is not concentrated in families but in individuals. Ever complained about your parents still treat 30 year-olds like kids? That's nothing compared to 250 year-olds treating 200 year-olds like kids. Wedding vows are short and sweet but keeping them truly takes forever.

While I procrastinated with my taxes I also came across another Korean movie, The Beauty Inside. The main character, Woo-jin, wakes up with a different body every day. He lives by himself and nobody knows about his secret except his mom and his best friend. To everyone else, he's always a stranger. Instead of forever, everything in his life is transient.

In additional to having 100 different pairs of glasses and all the sizes of shoes, Woo-jin also has to live with other life inconveniences like not being able to speak Korean if he wakes up as a foreigner or the awkwardness of his best friend asking to have sex with "him" on the days he's a woman. Being a Korean movie, obviously the main obstacle Woo-jin faces is finding a girlfriend. Vernon Elliot still loves his wife when she re-sleeves into a man's body, but Woo-jin lives outside of the dystopian world of Altered Carbon where that is the norm.

The rebels in Altered Carbon lives in a world of forevers and fights for a world where everyone eventually dies. In Woo-jin's world everything lasts for only one day but he longs for forever. In both worlds the characters are not defined by their bodies but by their minds. If we are what we speak and anchoring are true to some extent, are we really only our souls or are there more to our non-disposable shells?

by khc on Mon May 21 18:49:05 2018 Permlink
Tags: movie

Least Recently Used

Finally have a weekend free and motivated/nudged enough to do some spring cleaning. Way too many people have written about Marie Kondo's book that I didn't have to read it to know her number one principle: to keep only those that spark joy.

Being a sentimental being makes following that simple rule a little difficult. My brain is filled with memories and every little thing is a key to unlock a particular period of my life. If our online, digital experience is characterized as abundant and cheap, then perhaps my offline, physical collection is too sacred to be disrupted.

But alas, they have to go. Google miraculously made deleting emails and photos a thing of the past, with essentially unlimited storage for everything for the low low price of free. In the physical world the cost of having things is much higher. So I've adopted a classical eviction algorithm: the LRU.

Obviously I am not the first person to have come up with using LRU for tangible things. And much like computers rarely implement perfect recency tracking because of performance concerns, it's not possible for me to remember exactly when I've used what. Instead of asking myself if the items spark joy, I simply ask myself if I've used them recently. If it's a no, it needs to go. Obviously I don't want to throw away my passport or my spare car key so various pinning policies need to be in place. I also came upon a few photo prints of value, which I digitized and physical copy discarded:

Of course, those prints with me shitfaced will never see the light of day again. Ever.

High school year book, gone. Letters from exes, skimmed them one more time but no time to dwell. Photo book from kindergarten, okay I was just too cute but even there not every picture is worth keeping. Have to make progress everywhere.

Obviously there's more to de-messifying then simply throwing things away. Doing two loads of laundry also helped. Also, at times the process felt more like garbage collection than eviction. Some of this is still ongoing and there are also thing that are recurring. If only evicting things from my own memory is as easy.

I haven't read Messy but its defense of actual messiness seems to be half-hearted. There's state of being and state of mind. Much like in programming, there is code that's necessarily complicated, but most of the time it's just technical debt. Sometimes it's a necessary evil due to time constraints but no one will ever call messy code a virtue. Messy code is a state of being, not state of mind.

Fixing up the mess takes time and effort and reward is often uncertain. Much like code, physical mess is often not dealt with until it's too late. Tim Harford tries to remind us to think more like an Homo Economicus and consider opportunity cost more often, but we rarely know the price we had to give up to get into this mess.

by khc on Mon May 14 21:44:02 2018 Permlink
Older Posts