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Weekend Reads: RIP Richard Swift, Akira, Zooropa, Praising RSS, Reassessing the Sexual Revolution & more

Richard Swift
Richard Swift

Richard Swift passed away earlier this week. He was a gifted musician who played with the likes of Starflyer 59, The Black Keys, and The Shins. He was also an incredible producer and worked on albums by Pure Bathing Culture, Foxygen, and Guster (to name a few).

My favorite work of his was probably his collaboration with Damien Jurado, which transformed Jurado’s trademark folk sound into something otherworldly. I was always excited when I saw Swift listed as producer; I knew that the album in question would be something special.

Related: A collection of remembrances and tributes to Swift from The Black Keys, The Weeks, Sondre Lerche, David Bazan, and many more. And NPR’s Lars Gotrich remembers the first time he heard Richard Swift’s music: ​“I’ll never forget the first time Richard Swift expanded my ears with little more than a drum machine and a few guitars.”

Akira - Katsuhiro Otomo
Neo-Tokyo is about the explode

Akira, one of the greatest animé movies of all time, turns 30 this year, and David Bennun ponders its themes. ​“It’s a stupendous achievement, one that more than lives up to its reputation. Perhaps its most notable attribute is this: that if you are an outsider who hopes to begin to understand the country that made it, you really ought to watch it.”

An oldie but a goodie: what if The Lord of the Rings had been written by other authors like Hemingway, Twain, and Lovecraft? From the Danielle Steele version: ​“Eowyn felt her heart flutter when she saw him. His raven hair flew in the breeze off the plain, and his piercing eyes caught her gaze as if by magic. He bore a kingly attitude; surely he was a prince. Her mind turned to forbidden things, things which would be forbidden to the King’s niece, but surely allowed for a free shieldmaiden. She knew that she was made to love this ranger.”

Enter the Dragon - Robert Clouse
Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!

It may sound blasphemous, but Paul Bramhall argues that Enter the Dragon is the most overrated kung fu movie ever. ​“You want me to watch a 1973 kung fu flick? Give me The Blood Brothers, give me When Taekwondo Strikes, for that matter, give me Knight Errant. I’d re-watch these endlessly before having to inflict myself with the plodding pace, overlong runtime, and one-sided fight scenes that so many seem to believe reflect Bruce Lee’s crowning achievement.”

If you’re into the Enneagram, then you might be interested in Sleeping at Last’s latest ​“Atlas” song series, which include songs for each of the 9 Enneagram types. The song for Enneagram type 5 (which is what I am) was released in June.

Zooropa
Through appliance of science we’ve got that ring of confidence

Zooropa may be the most un-U2 album that U2 ever released but Dylan Scott still thinks it’s a masterpiece. ​“Maybe you’ve never heard of it; maybe you have and want to forget it. But you should listen to it. Because it’s every bit the masterpiece that The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby were, even if it sounds nothing like them: a weird but heartfelt meditation of humanity on the verge of the technological revolution that is still remaking our world today.” On a personal note, the first review I ever wrote was of Zooropa.

Sorry UFO fans, but we’re probably all alone in the universe. ​“Using fresh statistical methods, the paper re-asks the question ​‘Are we alone?’ and draws some groundbreaking conclusions: We Earthlings are not only likely to be the sole intelligence in the Milky Way, but there is about a 50 percent chance we are alone in the entire observable universe.” Not surprisingly, this raises some major philosophical questions.

Healthcare.gov
Healthcare.gov was a disaster when it first launched

Now here’s some government legislation I can get behind: it’s time to modernize government websites. ​“When the federal government’s purpose is to serve the American people, lawmakers need to find ways to improve the citizen’s experience when they interact with their government. As times change, and as citizens’ needs transform, it’s our job to ensure we evolve the services we provide.”

Aral Balkan sings the praises of RSS. ​“For those of you born into the siloed world of the centralised web, RSS is an ancient technology from Web 1.0 (“the naïve Web?”). Like most things back then, it does what it says on the tin: it enables you to easily syndicate the content of your site. People interested in following your posts subscribe to your feed and receive updates using their RSS readers.” I love RSS because it lets me circumvent Twitter and Facebook while still following my favorite sites. And for what it’s worth, my RSS feed is here.

Google
(Carlos Luna, CC BY 2.0)

As Google has grown in power, it has encountered — and created — numerous moral, ethical, and political quandaries. ​“Google is now faced squarely with the irresolvable conflict between its core missions: The information people objectively want may, by Google’s reckoning, be evil. Put another way, there is a growing logic for Google to transform its conception of what is objective to suit its conception of what is good.”

How does Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the Web feel about its current state? Not too great, as it turns out, but he’s trying to fix it. ​“He is now embarking on a third act — determined to fight back through both his celebrity status and, notably, his skill as a coder. In particular, Berners-Lee has, for some time, been working on a new software, Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots.” More information about Solid can be found here.

Zero
(Bernard Hermant, Public Domain)

When you think about it, the number zero is pretty weird, especially since it has no analogue in the natural world. ​“Even in the empty reaches of space, if you can see stars, it means you’re being bathed in their electromagnetic radiation. In the darkest emptiness, there’s always something. Perhaps a true zero — meaning absolute nothingness — may have existed in the time before the Big Bang. But we can never know.”

In light of the #MeToo movement, Mary Eberstadt argues that it’s time to reassess the sexual revolution. “[W]e can no longer pretend that the sexual revolution operates in any other way but as the world imagined by Socrates’ interlocutor Thrasy­machus: It empowers the already strong and makes the already weak even more vulnerable.”