When Rap Loved Math

The Five Percenters, a fringe religious movement and offshoot of the Nation of Islam, provided the founding ideology behind some of hip-hop music’s earliest superstars and landmark releases. But relatively scant critical attention has been paid to what rap used from the movement, and why rappers were attracted to the Five Percenters. This plays on the larger question of how and why underground scenes form, and the value of suspicion.

When Satire Goes Wrong

Why do Conservative politicians keep playing “Born in the U.S.A.” at their rallies? Why does Gordon Gekko inspire people to become stockbrokers? And why is Tony Montana a cult hero? Why, in other words, do we insist on misunderstanding these things?

Learning from "Learning From Las Vegas"

The existence of a place like Las Vegas confounded a lot of architects in the 1970s — but it’s historical precedents and continued relevance have much to teach us about why we seek out places that offer themselves as an escape from reality, and why these oases are liable to hide a deeper misery.

Change and The Extended Mind

Finishing out my trilogy on habit and change, this post uses some topics in philosophy and urban planning to think about why we are so hostile to interruptions in routine, and how we might be able to celebrate novelty rather than dread the loss of our everyday environment.

The Peculiar Drama of Elections and Infrastructure

With the Seattle City Council election fast approaching, I took some time to think about why construction is such an effective political tool, even if it doesn’t always serve the public welfare. Taking my cue from the mid-20th century modernization of New York at the hands of Robert Moses, I see a parallel between Moses’ power over the city’s Mayors and the current allure of a new bridge in Seattle.

Kung-Fu on the Virtue of the Unorthodox

In 1978 Jackie Chan emerged on the Hong Kong martial arts film scene with a movie about fighting drunk. The film, “The Drunken Master,” is a fun take on the genre, but its major idea, appearing in the final showdown, can teach us a lot about what it means to win by trying to lose, and the crucial relationship between art and misrecognition.

Ancestry Testing and the Problem of Belonging

DNA testing sites have exploded in popularity since 2017, yet the concept of tracing one’s heritage is nothing new. Set amidst the backdrop of growing urbanization and the breakdown of traditional ways of life, the renaissance in ancestry testing offers something that modernity has been accused of stealing: a sense of belonging. But to what extent can we ignore these companies’ sketchy business practices and the checkered history of lineage proofs?

What Type of a Job is an Athlete?

As the era of “Player Empowerment” takes hold of the NBA, players have begun to question a dated ownership system that limits players’ ability to choose the path their own careers take. In doing so, they raise an important question: What about sports make us forget that its athletes are employees?