The Break

Michelle Wolf (wiki) has a Netflix comedy show called The Break similar to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.  However, her show is much more experimental, edgier and I think talks about random topics that she probably cares about.  And I also don’t think she cares what other people thinks about her topics considering how she roasted Huckabee-Sanders at the White House Correspondents dinner.

So I’ve been watching her show on and off.  But her Season 1 Episode 7: How Dare You? had a segment about pro-life supporters.  She goes on to comment that if a person was truly a pro-life supporter, then it would be logical to also assume they would also support healthcare, childcare, education, gun control and the environment.  The conclusion being that these other policies promote human life through a variety of different means.


Her bit starts below at the 35s mark.


It’s interesting to think about.

Sour Grapes Documentary

Here’s another Netflix documentary that is fascinating.  It’s a heartwarming story of an immigrant kid (Rudy Karniawan) coming to the US and making a name for himself in the wine industry.

With the wine industry commoditized as it is, old wine vintages are certainly disappearing by being opened and drunk or forever stored away in a vault somewhere.  Nonetheless, wines are increasingly being viewed not only as investment opportunities for investors but also as a much larger mutual funds investment.  This means there’s money to be made for vintage wines and even more for the rare hard to find ones.

The documentary details Rudy’s sudden appearance in the elite wine tasting circles and his fake wine operation.  At the heart of the operation is Rudy’s ability to recreate the taste of vintage French wines from a blend of new wines blended with old commercial “table” wines.  Similarly to today’s wine operations, some vineyards harvest more grapes and/or wine that end up being sold to 3rd party winemakers who will blend and relabel the wine.  As the documentary suggests, only the most trained wine connoisseur should be able to detect the differences between a real vintage and a “reconditioned” vintage.  But to many oenophiles, they might not be able to taste subtle differences between a real and reconditioned.  To add more authenticity to the reconditioned wine, Rudy’s operation also involved the authentic creation of labels, corks, wax guards and even aging of the wine bottle exterior to mimic what a real aged bottle could potentially look like.  And with the wine market as lucrative as it is, Rudy also started selling these reconditioned wine to other collectors.  Since winemakers in the 1920s to 1950s did not adequately take notes or had inventory lost to the world wars, the authenticity of the wine sometimes were never questioned.  This lead to investors and collectors to assume authenticity and subsequently bid up the wines.  Rudy’s operation eventually started to unravel when a French winemaker started to investigate why a particular vintage was being auctioned when in fact that vintage was never made until years later.

Watching this documentary reminds me of a Hidden Brain podcast about art forgeries.  The way Rudy approached wine is very similar to how the subject of the podcast committed his forgeries too.  However, after watching the documentary, I can’t help but wonder if a similar operation is currently running in Asia.  With China’s rising wine consumption and their potential desire to also obtain rare vintages, a black market supplying reconditioned wines is potentially lucrative in China.  Could Rudy’s operation help establish a Chinese operation for his relatives?

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Depending on who you ask, I think most people will generally view the 2008 global financial crisis as being caused by the Greedy Elite Bankers thinking only of higher profits at the expense of the everyday Joe and Jane Worker that started with subprime mortgages and housing bubble crash and ended in a government bailout of the “too big to fail” global financial institutions.  It should be noted that very few (if any) major C-suite executives from the bailed out financial institutions were charged with any crime.  The biggest “punishment” were fines paid by the banks.

Netflix suggested this documentary and it is absolutely amazing to watch.  It’s about Abacus, a small Chinese family-owned Chinatown bank in New York City, serving the unbanked Chinese clientele.  The bank was indicted for fraud in selling mortgages to Fannie Mae as well as falsifying loan documents.  It took the bank 5 years and 10 million dollars to be exonerated of all the charges.  Per the documentary, this bank was the only bank to have been charged for anything related to the 2008 financial crisis.  It’s extremely eye opening to see the human side of the defendants (the bank and the family), the lawyers, and also the jurors in the trial.  It’s definitely worth watching.

Watching this, a couple things stood out about this documentary.

Firstly, it’s a bit shocking though to hear how a juror recounted that another juror “wanted to punish the bank for the 2008 financial crisis” despite the fact that jurors should only be ruling on the merits of the case and not the broader background that the case might be related to.  Fortunately, they did their job and looked at only the merits of the case.

Secondly, and perhaps through the magic of TV editing, the conversations with the District Attorney displayed a sense of hubris.  From the conversations, it felt like the DA really believed that by catching one bad apple they were going to reel in the rest of the bad apples… almost like a mafia type of bust where one person exposes the mafia’s internal misdeeds.

Thirdly, the documentary showed this interesting scene of displaying charged employees were marching down a hallway all chained up to each other.  A journalist had remarked that this would never have been done if it were a black group of employees.  Former prosecutors also remarked that this usually never happened.  And the DA had stated that it wasn’t their decision to “chain them up” in that fashion and was an “unfortunate” event.  Clearly, it was meant to humiliate because the Chinese community would never speak out about such injustice and those in charge knew it. I found it horrific yet sad that Chinese people had to undergo this sort of humiliation.

Lastly, the interactions of the Sung family over dinner and over legal pow-wow phone calls reminds me hilariously of similar Chinese interactions that I’ve experienced too.   The shade the mom throws is hilarious.

Privacy Documentary

This fascinating Netflix documentary was created in 2013 before Snowden and is still relevant and worth watching even in 2018.  With the back drop of the EU’s recent GDPR law as well as Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, the same concerns of today are still the same concerns of the documentary in 2013.

It’s interesting to note that the documentary also pointed out that Privacy concerns were already an issue back in 2000.  It seemed like many people were concerned or started to be concerned about the data tracking and gathering by the Internet companies.  As the popularity of the Internet increases (hello dot com bubble!), citizens started to pressure their Congressional representatives to take up the Privacy issue following examples of bankrupt companies selling off user data.  The documentary posits that the post 9/11 Patriot Act squashed any effort for Internet privacy legislation.  In fact, the documentary implies that the Patriot Act implicitly allowed the tech companies to collect user data under the guise of collecting data for the government to prevent another 9/11 level attack. The documentary also points out the contradictions many tech companies (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Spotify, etc…) have publicly stated about Privacy that opposes to their actual business practices.  But after years of using these tech companies’ products, users have grown so accustomed to their daily use that Privacy seems to be just a secondary after thought until incidents like the Cambridge Analytica occurs.

If there’s anything to take away from this documentary… it’s that citizens need to really start thinking about privacy.

Hedy Lamarr

There’s a documentary on Netflix about Hedy Lamarr.  The first time I heard of her was on the recent Bill Nye Saves the World show.  The documentary goes deeper into Lamarr’s life but mainly focusing on her adult life as a movie star and inventor.  One of her biggest contributions is the invention of the “frequency hopping system.”  She hoped that this system would be able to increase the effectiveness of radio controlled torpedoes in hitting the intended targets during World War 2.

The system works using a broad spectrum of radio frequencies.  By syncing the frequencies on the torpedoes and the submarines, commands can be given to the torpedoes over the broad frequencies that allows the submarine to perform corrections as the torpedoes are enroute to an enemy ship.  An simpler analogy might be those classic music boxes.  If you can imagine the sound from the music box as a “command” and the tone/pitch of the note as the “frequency.”  So that as the tone/pitch changes, the command is sent out to the torpedo.  Unfortunately, because of bias as well as technological difficulties, Lamarr’s invention was never implemented until after the war.  Even more unfortunate, Lamarr wasn’t given credit for her work until late in her life which by then the technology had been adopted into a wide number of technologies.   As the documentary goes, her invention is to become the foundation for wifi, bluetooth, cell phone, GPS and other military technologies.

How about that!


Usain Bolt Documentary

Netflix has a documentary on Usain Bolt (wiki).  Most of the documentary seemed to have been filmed between 2015 and 2016 including the 2016 Rio Olympics with footage from the past interspersed to continue the narrative.  Briefly covering his rise as a junior sprinter to representing Jamaica at the three different Olympics, the documentary talks about Bolt’s legacy not only as a 3 time consecutive Olympic gold medalist in the Men’s 100m sprint.  But also the Men’s 200m and 4x100m Men’s relay.  This particular feat has never been done before until Bolt.

Listening to how he approaches his sport is pretty fascinating.  The documentary describes his support team as a triangle and how each corner of the team is contributes to ensuring Bolt’s optimal performance during competition.  The amount of training his coach puts him through is pretty intense.  Having to full sprint AND drag a sled 50m AND within a time limit is crazy.  Nothing was off limits in the documentary.  I was pretty glad that the show talked about Bolt’s motivation and psychology during his training period leading up to the 2016 Olympics.  I can imagine after winning in 2008 and then defending his Men’s 100m sprint in 2012… what more can he prove?  I think the show makes an important point that with athlete’s at Bolt’s caliber, the motivation to succeed turns to an internal motivation of “to be among the greats.”  Because at his level, he’s already succeeded many times.

I think this is a great documentary about one of the greatest athletes today.


Hari Kondabolu on Netflix

After recently watching Ali Wong’s latest Netflix stand up special, the Netflix’s algorithm suggested this other stand up called Hari Kondabolu.  To be honest, I’ve only heard of him once through a special Sporkful podcast live episode.  In the podcast, he sounded like he’d be a hilarious guy to listen to but I never really thought much further than that.  So with Netflix telling me that I might like his stand up special, who am I to go against an algorithm?

So Kondabolu’s special reminds me of Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix special.  Both use their immigrant and cultural background to poke fun of these stereotypes in a hilarious fashion.  For example, Kondabolu’s first joke was absolutely brilliant because he took me in a totally different direction than what I had expected it to be.  Since Kondabolu is an Indian American, I think the “High Expectations Asian Dad” meme also applies to him.  If you don’t know this meme, it’s basically a cultural stereotype of Asian father’s (Chinese, Indian, Korean, etc) expecting ONLY the best results from their kid… and by best I mean A+ only.  So his first joke about “how many people were in attendance?” threw me off when he didn’t go this route.  Yet he maintained the cultural stereotype perfectly!  Kondabolu’s jokes though are much more “aggressive/edgier” than Minhaj’s.  But that’s just the style of their stand up.

As I watch these stand up specials, I find that the immigrant comedians (Russell Peters, Hasan Minhaj, Margaret Cho) tend to be funnier than those who aren’t immigrants.  It’s specifically related to the fact that I can relate to their experiences as an immigrant.