What I’ve been reading
Which country has the world’s best healthcare system?
An argument that you should buy things, not experiences.
Chris Blattman has restarted blogging. See for example his best non-fiction of the year, parts one and two.
The story of scurvy; or, why reality is very weird.
Things you are doing but don’t want to be doing. Dynomight is one of the best recent blogs.
Dan Wang’s 2021 letter on living in China, opera, and reading. Strongly recommended.
I have very much enjoyed reading old New Yorker columns from David Denby. He is in my view far superior to his killjoy successor as film critic Richard Brody. See for example his best movies of the year roundup.
Noah Smith interviews Tyler Cowen. I wanted this to be much longer!
Normative implications of the contamination theory of obesity.
Always read Scott Sumner’s film recommendations.
Questions for Sam Bowman, from the new blog by Sam Atis (so many Sams in the blogosphere!).
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix This one might have been my favourite. I picked this up after watching all the Harry Potter films, since I only made it to book four as a kid. It definitely doesn’t need to be this long and I think Harry Potter needed a Silmarillion-style companion to contain all the worldbuilding tangential to the plot.
The Half-Blood Prince Maybe it’s just me but JK Rowling uses a truly excessive number of adverbs. One of the things I liked about the Lord of the Rings prose style was the confidence to almost always use the word ‘said’ instead of this “Dumbledore said calmly” malarkey.
The Deathly Hallows This might have been my least favourite of the Harry Potter books. It tends to overexplain. Potter’s origin story ends up relying on a few implausible details that I think would have been better off being left unspecified. The epilogue scene was the worst in the entire series. But still, of course, who doesn’t love Harry Potter?
What I’ve been watching
Harry Potter (all) My least favourite entries here were Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows Part I. If I had to nitpick, I would say the series has too much visual inconsistency, not just in lighting but in how certain spells are represented. I highly recommend watching all of the films over a week or so.
Moonrise Kingdom A much less contrived version of Wes Anderson. Watch this if The French Dispatch was too visually busy for you.
Once A perfect example of a low-budget film having a ton of heart, in a way that makes up for being visually rough around the edges. I had no idea how beloved/successful this film was when I started watching it, and the main track has 100 million plays on Spotify. I saw the excellent musical adaptation a few years ago. Doubly recommended to anyone Irish (though my American girlfriend loved it).
Snowpiercer Not as good as Okja or Parasite, but a great premise and a well-executed twist. Jamie Bell’s Irish accent is passable. I still can’t get into Tilda Swinton, and she feels out of place in everything I’ve seen her in. Snowpiercer has fallen victim to the trend of every popular piece of Korean cinema being interpreted by Americans as a metaphor for capitalism.
A mini-doc about rationality celeb Aella taking acid.
What I’ve been listening to
A good podcast about The Godfather.
Sam Bankman-Fried talking to Sam Harris on his podcast about philanthropy (again with the Sams!).
Once: soundtrack (see above).