ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monthly Archive: November 2018



November 2018



Atlas of Improbable Places by Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

The Lost City of San Juan Parangaricutiro

Best for: People who enjoy books on world curiosities that don’t focus on making fun of or judging individuals. People who like books with three-four page chunks that can be read at once.

In a nutshell: The authors provide quick backgrounds on 51 places spread (very inequitably) across six continents, divided into categories of Dream Creations, Deserted Destinations, Architectural Oddities, Floating Worlds, Otherworldly Spaces, and Subterranean Realms.

Worth quoting:

Why I chose it: I’m always looking for places to add to my list of things I want to see in person. Plus, I like to learn about ostensibly weird shit.


When I was a teenager, my family took a trip to the pacific northwest, and went on the Underground Tour in Seattle. For those not familiar, part of the city closest to the water was raised at least a full story after a fire destroyed a bunch of buildings, putting shops and residences that were once at street-level down a dozen feet. The tour takes people through reconstructed older facades, and points out that the purple glass we walk over at street level was a way to allow light down to the still-functioning buildings below. I was fascinated.

A decade ago my sister and I visited Berlin and went on a tour of underground bunkers. I believe I found this one because, again, I like history but also unexpected and potentially weird things.

Neither of those items are listed in this book, but they aren’t that far off. The book includes some fantastical places (Hearst Castle), some disturbing ones — especially if you don’t like dolls — (Isla de las Muñecas), some truly bizarre ones (Darvata), and some sad ones (Oradur-sur-Glane). I’d only heard of maybe three of the places discussed in the book, and I want to go visit at least a few of them.

The book was generally good, but I have a couple of complaints keeping it from hitting five stars. The first is the distribution of sites. It felt a bit lazy to have so many concentrated in North America and Europe. There were also many in Asia, but only one in Africa, two in South America, and two in Oceania (and the one in Africa is mostly a criticism of art, which felt a bit off). The other is if you’re going to make a book focused on fascinating places, your pictures NEED TO BE IN FULL COLOR. I know it’s way expensive. But black and white photos do not in any way capture the vast majority of these locations. I finally had to just look up each place on my phone as I read a chapter. That seems unnecessary. Even with those two complaints, however, I would still recommend this book.

(I couldn’t help but think about the town of Paradise, California, as I read this book. Many, though not all, are abandoned spaces; some are that was as the result of some natural or unnatural disaster. And I wonder: in fifty years, will parts of the now-destroyed city in Northern California be added to this book? Or will they be featured in a different book, one focused on how cities can rebuild?)



November 2018



“As Bad As a Root Canal” Isn’t That Bad … If You Have Insurance or Money

Written by , Posted in Adventures

My first memory of dental work was when I was five or six. I even recall my dentist’s name, although I’m not going to share it here. My teeth were starting to come in, and he could tell my bite would need some correction, so he pulled five baby teeth in an effort to get things moving. The numbing agent started wear off by the end of the fourth extraction, and he didn’t offer to top me up, so I had one tooth pulled with essentially no pain killers.

You can see why I wasn’t such a fan of dental work after that.

Unfortunately, I had five years of orthodontics ahead of me. Braces, neck gear, rubber bands, and finally retainers. On the plus side, I was free from all but the retainer before I hit junior high, so while I looked awkward in middle school, it wasn’t because I had a mouth full of metal (just some bad haircuts and poor fashion choices).

I’ve also always liked sweets, so I knew I had to take care of my teeth. I flossed — and still do floss — every single night. I brushed twice a day. And yet the cavities came. And then the crowns. And the root canals. We tried prescription toothpaste. I got sealants on my teeth. And yet for many years, I feared each visit to the dentist (which I dutifully scheduled every six months) because of the newest filling I would need.

When I moved back to Seattle, I found a new dentist. He fixed some crappy fillings I’d gotten in New York, and did his best to keep fillings from turning into crowns. It didn’t always work, but he tried. In fact, the only reason my most recent root canal happened yesterday and not a year ago is because my Seattle dentist worked hard to make some adjustments.

Every molar in my mouth has some sort of restoration. When I visited my new dentist in the UK and got some x-rays, I was reminded of how lucky I’ve been to have access to dental care my whole life.

And when I was referred for a root canal last week, I was reminded of how screwed up it is that dental care isn’t covered for adults in the US. Even when people over 21 or under 65 qualify for public health benefits, dental care isn’t covered. And I’ve seen first-hand what that means.

For the past five years, Seattle has hosted a public health clinic in the fall. Individuals can, at no cost, receive medical, dental, and vision care. People line up at midnight to be let into a holding area, where numbers are then distributed. Because dental and vision coverage are hard to get in the US without private coverage, individuals are limited to medical + dental or medical + vision for each visit. The floor of Key Arena is converted to a giant dental office, filled with chairs.

Photo by KUOW

I was able to work at two of the clinics, one time as a runner, and one time managing the waiting area for the dental floor. People who had been up all night waited hours longer to be seen by a dentist, then sent over for x-rays and referred to come back the next day for a cleaning, flippers (removable partial dentures), fillings, or extractions. People who have had infections, even abscesses, for who knows how long, grateful that someone is taking their dental health seriously.

It was heartening to see all the volunteer dentists and hygienists, but it was infuriating that it was necessary at all.

I’ve had root canals in New York, Seattle, and London. I can vividly recall the walk into the New York endodontist’s office; there was scaffolding up around the building. My union dental insurance covered the full cost, I believe. The second one, in London, was performed at the dental office associated with LSE, and I don’t believe I had to pay anything for it. And I had great dental insurance in Seattle, so if I had anything to pay then, it was maybe 10%. In each of those three cases, I either had dental insurance (US) or didn’t have income and so qualified for my costs to be covered (UK).

As I sat in the dentist’s chair last week, she talked through my options. I could pay a whole lot of money to go to a private endodontist who has excellent new equipment, a private endodontist with good equipment, or I could pay £60 and go to an NHS specialist. The wait would probably be awhile, and the equipment might not be as good. I chose one of the private options, but the fact that, if I didn’t have money, I could still have secured the care I needed, is a reminder of how the UK is light years ahead of the US in so many ways.

People in the US like to make fun of British teeth. The reality is, they aren’t obsessed with the appearance of teeth; they just want to make sure their residents get to keep their teeth. In the US, people get care if they have insurance, but if they don’t? Oh well. Never mind the concerns about impacts of things like gum disease on overall health. I find it absurd that dental and vision care aren’t automatically included in all health care in the US. Those are vital parts of our overall health.

Monday afternoon I arrived at the posh dental office. After a consultation, I signed some forms and they got down to work. Even in the 15 years between my first and most recent root canal, the technology has improved. I had almost no pain during the procedure, and some of the techniques she used kept my jaw from aching and kept over spill from the various drilling and equipment out of the rest of my mouth. Near the very end, the numbing agent did start to wear off, but even then it didn’t really hurt. After about 75 minutes she wrapped things up, I popped some ibuprofen, and headed home. I haven’t needed any painkillers since.

I know I’m lucky that I had the money to get the procedure done quickly. But even if I hadn’t, I still would have been able to get care thanks to the NHS dental system.

I’m sure that there are plenty of people in the UK who have had horrible NHS dental experiences, but at least they had access to some care. It’s literally the least a country can offer its residents.



November 2018



What I’m Reading – November 11, 2018

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

US Elections

“This year we saw a high number of Black candidates running for office, especially Black women. They beat the odds against racist tactics targeted against them and the high claims of voter suppression and brought it home on election night.” These Are The Winning Black Candidates Of The Midterm Election (by Lorraine Haynes for Blavity)

“”When I showed up at the polling site near my house, I found that I had been kicked off the registered-voter roll,” Hill wrote. “A flurry of phone calls, and lots of head-nodding and ‘mmm-hmms’ from the supervisor of the polling site, failed to produce an explanation of why the system wasn’t showing me as a registered voter.” Hill was given a provisional ballot to use, and after voting, she began to investigate what had happened.” Jemele Hill Says Florida Officials Told Her She Couldn’t Vote Because Of A Tweet (by Ricky Riley for Blavity)

“Baltimore voters made history today by voting in favor of passing ballot question E, a city charter amendment that bans privatization of the city’s water and sewer systems. The Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to ban water privatization earlier this year. As of 11:15 p.m., Baltimore voters voted 77% in favor of this amendment with 91 percent of precincts reporting. This confirms Baltimore is now the first major city in the country to amend its charter to prohibit the sale and lease of the city’s water and sewer system.” (Food and Water Watch)

Horrific Trump Administration Actions

“The birth control rules endanger the care of more than 55 million cisgender women and an uncertain number of trans and nonbinary people who depend on getting no co-pay contraceptive care through the ACA. While the birth control benefit already allowed for religious exemptions, the Trump administration has sought to further meet the demands of the religious right, which believes the previous exemption isn’t broad enough.” Trump Administration Moves to Restrict Birth Control Benefit and Abortion in Post-Midterm Attack (by Katelyn Burns for Rewire)

“Mr Trump has signed a proclamation barring migrants who enter illegally from asylum for up to 90 days. The president can stop migration in the “national interest”, a statement said. Rights groups say it is illegal and have launched a legal challenge.” US proposes rule banning asylum for illegal migrants (BBC)

“It’s not hard to find the common denominator: Though there’s hardly anyone — from his predecessors to senators in his own party — he won’t try to shout down with ad hominem insults, Trump relishes, and injects venom into, verbal attacks against women of color.” April Ryan: I’m a black woman. Trump loves insulting people like me. (by April Ryan for Washington Post)


“In his statement, Matic said: “I recognise fully why people wear poppies, I totally respect everyone’s right to do so and I have total sympathy for anyone who has lost loved ones due to conflict. “However, for me it is only a reminder of an attack that I felt personally as a young, frightened 12-year old boy living in Vrelo, as my country was devastated by the bombing of Serbia in 1999.” Nemanja Matic: Man Utd midfielder explains why he will not wear poppy (BBC)

Mass Shootings

“Many of those who died were young, in their 20s. There was a college freshman and a graduate who had received his degree in May. There was the bar’s sunny cashier. And two friends who loved souping up old trucks for off-roading. Among the others were a longtime sheriff’s deputy who had rushed into the crowded bar to help and a 22-year-old patron whose friends said he had tried to help others escape, yelling, “Everyone, run!”” The Thousand Oaks Shooting Victims: These Are Their Stories (New York Times)


“But a new paper by the same authors (Sci-Hub mirror) shows that the rising minimum wage generated major increases for the workers who had the most hours, whose hours were only cut a little, but still came out ahead thanks to the wage increase; workers with fewer hours saw no financial harm from the rising minimum wage, working fewer hours and bringing home the same sum; and they found some harm to people who had the smallest number of hours) (which may actually reflect stronger demand for workers and fewer workers in this category of very-low-hour work).” Economists reverse claims that $15 Seattle minimum wage hurt workers, admit it was largely beneficial (by Cory Doctorow for Boing Boing)



November 2018



No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People still looking for answers to how we got here (i.e. got Trump) and some thoughts on ways to move forward.

In a nutshell: Trump’s election shouldn’t have been a surprise, and it doesn’t need to be the end of the world.

Worth quoting:
“If the goal is to move from a society based on endless taking and depletion to one based on caretaking and renewal, then all of our relationships have to be grounded in those same principles of reciprocity and care.”

Why I chose it: I keep looking for books to help me figure out a good way forward, and Junebug’s review suggested it’d be a good one. And it was, mostly.

I feel like there are two books here: a history book and a how-to book. And while the tag lines and blurbs are promoting the latter, the vast majority of it feels like the former to me. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just feel like lately I’m reading a whole lot of build up and not a lot of “now do this.” It’s especially frustrating when some of the things she warns us about not only happened but were way worse. I spent a fair amount of time in the first chunk saying “Oh honey, past you was a bit off, and not in a positive direction.”

That’s not to say there aren’t things in here that I learned. There’s a lot about US and world history I know nothing about, and haven’t sat with to connect all the dots, and to that end I think Ms. Klein does a mostly good job. However, at times it felt like a book that was trying to fit as much relevant information as possible without the best through-line. It could have benefited from some stronger editing and perhaps reorganization, though I appreciate she was trying to get this book out quickly as the Trump administration continued rolling over human and civil rights ad the environment.

The very last bit of the book focuses on options for going forward, but even there it feels a little … insufficient. She talks about the Leap Manifesto she was a part of putting together in Canada, but there isn’t a lot of how to try to reproduce that in the US or even within a state in the US.

I think I just want to know what to do. Does that make sense? And that’s a lot to put onto any author — or anyone, really — but at this point I’m tired of the history, at least the parts I’ve lived through. And that’s why for me this book is only three stars.



November 2018



What I’m Reading – November 4, 2018

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Horrific Actions by the US Government

“There is absolutely nothing special about this particular caravan except for it happening during a midterm election season so Republicans can press the racist panic button that works so well among its base of good, wholesome Christians who skipped all those parts of The Bible about helping refugees like Jesus helping the poor and other commie shit.” Trump Deploys 5,200 More Troops to Stop Migrant Caravan Because Racist Red Meat, Baby, Get Some (by Mike Redmond for Pajiba)


“I’m sure there will be people out there who will judge us harshly for opting out — who will say that we should be grateful for what we already have. They’ll probably tell us that our league is losing money. They’ll say it’s just “economics.” They’ll say it’s just “fair.” And they’ll definitely, definitely tell me that they can beat me one on one. To me, opting out means not just believing in ourselves, but going one step further: betting on ourselves. It means being a group of empowered women, in the year 2018, not just feeling fed up with the status quo, but going one step further: rejecting the status quo. And it means taking a stand, not just for the greatest women’s basketball players of today, but going one step further: taking a stand for the greatest women’s basketball players of tomorrow.” Bet on Women (by Nneka Ogwumike for The Players’ Tribune)

“If the repercussions of producing agitprop for a theocratic monarchy were considered at WWE headquarters, it likely wasn’t seriously. The easiest explanation for that, besides just greed, is a fairly simple one: While mainstream coverage of WWE and professional wrestling in general has steadily increased over the last seven or eight years, thanks to more fans in editorial roles at news organizations (especially sports and pop culture websites) and a history of reliably bringing in page views, critical coverage of the sport hasn’t boomed at the same level. It’s not as bad as it was when, in 1992, during a Donahue episode about sexual abuse and harassment allegations within WWE, an audience member expressed confusion at what everyone was worked up about since wrestling is “fake.” But pro wrestling is still a niche entertainment product, which means less outside scrutiny, even at a time when WWE is more financially successful than ever.” Why Is WWE Creating Propaganda for Saudi Arabia? (by David Bixenspan for The Nation)


“To be a journalist of colour can be to walk a tightrope. On which issues do you weigh in? On which issues do you not? What do you pretend you didn’t see or hear? When that isn’t possible to what do you cowardly chuckle along? The world has gotten uglier in recent years — I wasn’t exactly thrilled with how we were doing on race before that — and for me it has become more difficult to let things slide.” Journalism While Brown and When to Walk Away (by Sunny Dhillon on Medium)


“Demonstrations at the company’s offices around the world began at 11.10am in Tokyo and took place at the same time in other time zones. They follow allegations of sexual misconduct made against senior executives, which organisers say are the most high-profile examples of “thousands” of similar cases across the company.” Google walkout: global protests after sexual misconduct allegations (by Matthew Weaver, Alex Hern, Victoria Bekiempis, Lauren Hepler, and Jose Fermoso for The Guardian)