Loops

I’m sure we’ve all heard the news in passing about how these times will affect our view of healthcare and how much we invest in it so I wanted to check it out. Let’s start with a big with a bird’s-eye view of the whole venture capital ecosystem. Here’s a historical look. I’ve plotted the amount of venture capital investment over time broken down by investment stage and then added the purple dashed line that notes the number of venture capital deals over time.

Looks pretty reasonable. I shaded vertical regions to correspond to recessions, which helps us check our intuition. Yup, looks like there’s a steep rise during the dot-com bubble followed by a sharp drop leading into the early 2000s recession, with deal flow finally stabilizing at the end of it. As for the Great Recession, it’s less obvious, but investments plateaued prior and then dipped during the actual recession. If anyone has a better sense of why the Great Recession looked far more different for VC than the early 2000s one, I’d love to hear. I’m looking at all of you – my econ major friends, especially those who wrote a thesis. I imagine it has to partially do with overvaluation during the dot-com bubble and with the Financial Crisis of 2007-08 not impacting non-traditional financial vehicles like VC as directly.

But back to what we care about. Venture capital — both in the amount invested and number of deals — has been trending down since 2018 or so. The most recent point on the plot corresponds to the first quarter of 2020. As we know, markets did poorly in Q1 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It looks like the number of deals has continued to fall, while amount invested saw a slight bump-up. Most of that bump-up is from expansionary stage investment so I wouldn’t say folks are exactly tossing in money wildly to new ideas right now.

Let’s dive a bit deeper and look at healthcare specifically. I chose to plot it against the Internet industry as well since it’s a good litmus test of how things are going in tech and venture.

Most trends look similar from our macro view — spikes in the dot-com boom, dips in recessions. It seems like healthcare is less volatile but also slower-growing overall. Internet industry investments look like they’re plateauing or declining. I wouldn’t say the opposite is necessarily happening in healthcare, but it does look like the amount invested has actually gone up as deal counts have remained consistent. I’d say that’s pretty solid for healthcare given the bigger-picture, macro trends.

So what’s happening in the healthcare industry right now?

Well, first, we turn to our favorite vocational school for some insight. Harvard Business Review has this short piece on what they call “The Consolidation Curve”, which is essentially the life cycle of an industry. I’m hoping it can be helpful to think about this life cycle as what it is — a loop. A lot of really complicated topics — circuit systems, the water cycle, Markov chains, my behavior at home — can be modeled rather elegantly in loops.

We’re seeing the simultaneous consolidation of healthcare systems and unbundling of healthcare services right now, and, if anything, this behavior that is further exacerbated by the coronavirus. In the last five years or so, we’ve seen small clinics absorbed by larger ones, university hospital systems buy up local ones, hospital M&As happening across the board. Coronavirus has resulted in closures of private practices and pay cuts among private equity-backed hospitals. On the other hand, we’re also seeing a gradual unbundling of healthcare services, oftentimes driven by tech – sometimes as simple as a website. We’re seeing direct-to-consumer brands like Hims, Curology, Nurx. Then there’s the rise of at-home testing startups — even gimmicky ones like 23andMe — that may one day disrupt how we use and apply our knowledge of the human genome. The healthcare startup, Elephant, I interned for was a true Swiss Army knife: consultations, diagnoses, prescriptions and so much more, all in one. The areas are endless: virtual primary care, telemedicine, healthcare payroll, radiology, etc.

This is all happening because these individual services provide a better product: better healthcare. These direct-to-consumer consultations are personalized and can all be done at your couch. These at-home testing companies provide products that can be used at, well, the ease and comfort of home. These startups that provide unbundled services ultimately provide more personalized, more efficient, and increasingly effective healthcare.

What does this mean for the future? It’s certainly daunting in some ways. We’re entering uncharted waters, where our lives and, scarily, our health will be increasingly quantified and turned into data. Whose hands will this data belong to? Will this data one day preemptively prevent us from seeking a job because of what it knows about us and our health? But it’s also an exciting time. These startups have the chance of, one day, informing us of underlying health conditions before they become fatal or locating the beginning of a pandemic before it becomes one. If anything, however, healthcare as we know it will change. The role of doctors, the purpose of hospitals, the definition of a patient will all change. We are seeing the fragmentation of healthcare, from a monolithic, viscous system to a nimble, personalized one, but these questions of privacy and transparency remain.

Is Kanye West Shakespeare in the Flesh?

I know, late to the post this week. Finished up my computer science & math thesis last Friday along with some other final deadlines and kind of just decided I needed a break and mentally checked out. However, I am more than excited about my English thesis (if approved) for the upcoming semester that’ll be exploring good ol’ William Shakespeare and our generation’s Shakespeare: Kanye West. I only say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

You wouldn’t need very much convincing from me to note that Shakespeare and Kanye West are two very different creators. William Shakespeare, a playwright and poet from over 400 years ago, is widely considered as the greatest writer and dramatist in the English language and has produced works that have stood the test of time, still lauded for their universality and brilliance. Kanye West, a forty-two-year-old American rapper and producer, once self-declared: “I am Warhol. I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh.” That about sums it up.

Kanye has certainly achieved tremendous critical acclaim but nothing of Shakespeare’s magnitude and, at the same time, has attracted equal amounts of controversial attention. Kanye’s brilliance is questioned by just as many who praise it. Shakespeare’s? Not so much. However, there’s a surprising amount of overlap and intersection between Kanye West and Shakespeare: their cultural influence, their performative context, their mainstream appeal, their heavy use of double entendres, their works as art, etc. There’s clearly much to be explored; however, for the sake of remaining focused, I’ll concentrate on textual analysis of Kanye’s lyrics and Shakespeare’s plays in a religious context. There are, understandably, concerns over equating Kanye and Shakespeare’s writing on a literary level, but the purpose here is not to establish or elevate Kanye as a literary figure nor assume Kanye’s brilliance — trust me, we all know this is very much a hotly contested subject. Instead, using Kanye’s I Thought About Killing You and Shakespeare’s Hamlet in religious conversation with one another, we can get a pretty solid glimpse into Kanye and Shakespeare’s religious beliefs.

I chose the two since both Kanye’s I Thought About Killing You and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, specifically Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, meditate on suicide. Obviously, they aren’t the same but there are enough parallels to make this work. I Thought About Killing You is the first track from Kanye’s eighth studio album ye (2018). Released in the middle of arguably Kanye’s most controversial period (and he’s been in the middle of, objectively, a lot of controversies) — flaunting his “Make America Great Again” cap on social media, sharing to TMZ that “When you hear about slavery for 400 years; 400 years, that sounds like a choice” — ye is considered by critics one of Kanye’s most vulnerable (and musically weakest) albums. The album art of ye explicitly declares his bipolar disorder, which Kanye opened up about on Jimmy Kimmel shortly after the album’s release. The only text on the cover reads: “I hate being / Bi-Polar / its awesome.” Haha, get it? It’s a bipolar statement.

Kanye’s I Thought About Killing You is split into two halves: the first segment is a mild spoken-word monologue, and the second segment, where Kanye engages in more aggressive rap. The first half consists largely of a set of repeated lines, as cyclical as the nature of suicidal thoughts. The beat, a warped a cappella loop, is hypnotic, evoking a trancelike, contemplative atmosphere. The addition of a fast-paced, heavy bass at 2:20 marks the musical shift to the song’s second half. This is what Kanye does best from a production-standpoint, effortlessly layering and weaving in new musical elements. A complete beat-shift occurs roughly three-quarters through at 3:09. And it’s brilliant — it’s sudden, unexpected, yet still smooth in his musical narrative. The two halves of I Thought About Killing You very much artistically represent Kanye’s bipolar disorder and the transition mirrors his mood swings. And because it’s the first track, I Thought About Killing You’s vulnerable presentation sets the tone for the rest of the album. Regardless of how genius or juvenile you might find Kanye, one thing is for certain: Kanye comes to us as himself, and we’re not listening to Kanye the artist but Kanye the individual.

In the first half, Kanye repeats thrice in slight permutations each time: “Today, I seriously thought about killing you / I contemplated, premeditated murder / And I think about killing myself / And I love myself way more than I love you.” Immediately, there’s the question of who Kanye is referring to with “you.” This is classic Kanye — intentionally provocative but there’s some genius in there too, intentional or not. Let’s take a look at the two most probable interpretations, split between this “you” referring to someone else and this “you” referring to himself. Upon first glance or listen, it might seem natural to assume this “you” is someone else given that Kanye directly compares himself and this other individual when stating, “I love myself way more than I love you.” However, I’d say there’s a much stronger case to be made that “you” refers to Kanye himself, given he later states “if I was tryin’ to relate it to more people / I’d probably say I’m struggling with loving myself” and the personal, depressive nature of the album ye. Kanye, in fact, followed up with a tweet after the release of ye: “I killed my ego.” Neat — so we can equate “you” and “myself” in the two lines: “I seriously thought about killing you” and “I think about killing myself.” In this interpretation, we can settle the contradiction presented by, “I love myself way more than I love you,” as Kanye killing off an alter-ego, a shadow self, or, as Kanye suggests, his ego.

Regardless of which interpretation you may buy, in stating, “You’d only care enough to kill somebody you love,” Kanye connects two opposing concepts, tying together death — whether by suicide or homicide — with love. Kanye adds, “The most beautiful thoughts are always inside the darkest,” a further ode to the dichotomies he has set up in this particular piece: the spoken-word first half and rap second half, the bisecting beat-switch, and death and love. We’ll come back to this later.

Likewise, Hamlet’s famed “To be or not to be” soliloquy contains its own set of contradictions and ambiguities. For instance, take the word “opposing,” found on the fifth line of his soliloquy, which has quite literally split scholars into opposing camps. One group considers “opposing” as figurative and that Hamlet is meditating on committing suicide; the other group considers “opposing” as literal and that Hamlet is contemplating engaging in conflict, which will inevitably lead to death. There are also inconsistencies in the scope of which Hamlet is speaking. In all of Hamlet’s other soliloquies, Hamlet is riveted by his own personal problems, absorbed in his own headspace. He contemplates “my mother,” “my uncle,” and “my father” in Act I Scene 2, and, later, “Am I a coward?,” “I, the son of a dear murdered,” and “the murder of my father / Before mine uncle” (2.2.490, 502, 514-515). However, this soliloquy doesn’t seem to be directly connected to his personal situation. Unlike other soliloquies, there is no mention of the events he currently finds himself engrossed in — his mother’s re-marriage, the murder of his father, or vengeance against his uncle — nor a single instance of “I”. Instead, the soliloquy deviates, and Hamlet speaks on the greater human experience:

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th’unworthy takes

Hamlet, Act III Scene 1 Lines 69-73

Note the difference in religious philosophy as well. In Act I Scene 2, Hamlet wishes “that the Everlasting had not fixed / His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter,” and in Act II Scene 2, Hamlet describes himself as “the son of a dear murdered, / Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell” (1.2.132-133, 2.2.502-503). While other Hamlet monologues share similar Christian undertones and concepts, his “To be or not to be” soliloquy stands out in its agnostic philosophy. After all, committing suicide is considered a sin by many Christians. On the afterlife, Hamlet comments, “But that the dread of something after death, / The undiscovered country from whose bourn / No traveler returns” (3.1.77-79). This inconsistency is further exacerbated by the ghost of his father — which Hamlet seems to have serendipitously forgotten at this moment — that is literally a returned traveler. Hence, scholars have proposed a pretty nifty and believable solution — that this “To be or not to be” soliloquy was written by Shakespeare as a discrete unit, added fittingly when he wrote Hamlet later.

We can then view Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy as Shakespeare speaking in his own voice, with the character of Hamlet discarded to the side. Similarly, I Thought About Killing You is Kanye’s own speaking, a mirror of his bipolar disposition that serves as the first track, the musical and lyrical introduction, to ye. Hence, Kanye’s I Thought About Killing You and Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy present to us rare windows into their respective authors’ minds. Both Kanye and Shakespeare ponder the age-old and, oftentimes, dark questions of mortality and suicide — one that is deeply religious as well. Both understand the Christian consequences of suicide. While Shakespeare’s private views are unknown, he was a confirmed member of the Church of England and certainly knew much about Christianity, given the abundance of Christian themes and concepts in his works. As for Kanye, in recent years he has become increasingly outspoken about his Christian faith and you all know about Closed on Sunday. For Kanye, I Thought About Killing You reveals his loose interpretation of the Christian faith — one that is more of a living, an adaptable lifestyle, than a set of rigid laws to just as rigidly abide by. He daringly and un-Biblically combines the concepts of killing with love, of dark suicidal thoughts with beautiful thoughts. For Shakespeare, his open exploration of suicide and what ensues in Hamlet provides us a potential glimpse of the agnostic uncertainty that possibly influenced his life. For him, death very much may have led to “The undiscovered country from whose bourn / No traveler returns.”

Is Kanye our generation’s Shakespeare? The honest answer: probably not as a literary figure. For some, Kanye’s writing is inconsistent at best, simultaneously sophomoric and clever, and too obvious to be brilliant. For hopefully all who have experienced works by both, Kanye doesn’t hold much of a candle to Shakespeare in the realm of writing. I’d pay good money to see them beef with each other over Twitter though. There’s a legitimate argument to be made from a cultural standpoint though. Both are creators of popular works that challenge the status quo, provoke critics and fans alike, and comment on our lives, on society, on religion, capable of being endlessly interpreted and re-interpreted through diverse social, cultural, and political contexts. So maybe there’s some truth in Kanye’s self-declaration: “I am Shakespeare in the flesh.”

Just Shoot Yo’ Shot

National Oil & Grease Seals put out a series of advertisements in the 1950s, each depicting a different technological invention from the future. What’s quite comical is these prints are largely unrelated to oil seals — at least directly. The company argues in some long-leaping, Olympian-scale, logical gymnastics that oil seals will, of course, be a key component of these future inventions, and, thus, oil seals are somehow related to the future and, hence, a shining beacon of the future. Put that at the top of the list of the best spins the world has ever seen, next to Roger Federer’s forehand.

National Oil & Grease Seals: “When astro-trucks help map the Moon… National precision oil seals will protect their performance.”

We’ve always been fascinated, curious, even anxious about the future. With the rise of science fiction, this type of future-thinking has made its way into the business realms, architecture & the arts, and just about everything in the mainstream world. Take, for instance, Shell Oil, which has put out an in-depth thought project on possible future global scenarios since the 1970s. As expected, some predictions are laughable, but others are eerily accurate.

In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, we are maybe as future-looking as ever. Rarely does a day go by for me without talking to a friend about if we’ll see any changes by summer or what this will look when it’s over or what “it’s over” even looks like. I debated whether or not to write on this. I feel it’s important to capture sentiments of coronavirus since it’s big and it’s happening in our lives right now, but I don’t want to be sounding the alarm on repeat. If anything, I hope to use writing to engage with other things going on since it’s so easy for everything and anything to converge back to coronavirus right now. So maybe the solution, for this time, is to provide some adjacent ideas on coronavirus and expound on perspectives not commonly touched on by media.

On March 16, Researchers at Imperial College London released a paper that rapidly spread among the scientific and policy communitiesthat influenced and persuaded lockdown in the UK and the US. Then NECSI — a Cambridge, MA-based research institution and think tank — fired back, stating, “using incorrect assumptions makes for bad policy advice. Where lives are at stake, it is essential for science to adhere to higher standards.” This is probably the closest you’ll get to an academic rap battle, and I’m all for it.

Titans of higher education have chimed in. Harvard history professor Jill Lepore speaks on the loneliness we feel now but also leaves us wondering: how long will this go for and what will the effects be? Brown University President Christina Paxson argues that campuses must reopen in the fall, and if not, we’ll face a future with irreversible losses in education and its institutions.

There’s also a coincidental Greek-American professor duo throwing down their own academic sledgehammers. And they don’t agree. Stanford School of Medicine professor John Ioannidis argues that we might be overreacting, and in a piece written by WSJ says, “‘usually I’m a pessimist, but in this case, I’m probably an optimist.'” But in a Twitter thread — that honestly looks more APUSH DBQ than sitting-on-the-pisser, casual-140-characters kind of message — Yale Professor Nicholas Christakis states: “COVID-19 resembles 1957 influenza pandemic in certain epidemiological ways.” In an email he sent out to his class which I was forwarded, he adds, “we all hope the 2020 pandemic will not be like the even worse 1918 pandemic.” Christakis also argues against Ioannidus’ Stat News piece in his Twitter thread, conceding “[Ioannidus] rightly points out that we are making huge decisions with crappy data” but counterarguing: “what I think Ioannidis ignores is the fact that we are facing an *epidemic* with a *pulse* of cases approaching us, all at once, in a wave.” (This might be the pinnacle of what my parents’-pocket-purging, Zoomified Yale education has prepared me for: citing tweets in MLA format.)

Industry giants have even chipped in their two cents (and maybe more if the Dems win in 2020). Morgan Stanley has modeled a projected timeline of US coronavirus cases and work life in the next year. Deloitte proposes four possible futures in a world reshaped by COVID-19. What a time to be alive in: Morgan Stanley and Deloitte, esteemed protectors of the free world, leading the forefronts of discussion on coronavirus-impacted futures, just as we all expected.

The point is there are endless arguments, models, hypotheses, and, above all, speculations being crafted — and they’re eloquent, insightful, and well-intentioned — but many of them are what they are at the end of the day: speculative. For instance, last Monday’s episode of NYT’s The Daily pointed out that there are folks — and these are incredibly smart and educated ones — suggesting a dip, followed by a second wave, is coming, but there’s no solid grounding for this. Coronavirus has spread just as quickly in the hot climates of India and Brazil. This isn’t to insinuate that we’re underreacting or overreacting with home quarantine policy, or that we should step on the gas or slam the breaks when it comes to preventing economic recession. We shouldn’t stop speculating, but we should be painstakingly cognizant that many of our discussions of the future are built upon the uncertainties of today so these assumptions must be noted and questioned. Our focus on the future might be detracting from our understanding of the now.

The late Mac Miller grapples with an uncertain future in Ladders from his 2018 album, Swimming. Likely influenced by a string of rough life events, Miller’s Swimming project is tainted by melancholic wisdom. Ladders is no exception as Miller uses the ladder — one’s climb and fall — as a bittersweet metaphor for life. He spends much of the song reminding us of a sobering future, the inevitability of falling: “But it all come fallin’ down / When the night, meet the light / Turn to day.”

But while an honestly, um, depressing piece, Miller offers his best advice — which comes with a conflicting feeling of remorseful closure — at the end: “I wouldn’t wait forever / Just shoot yo’ shot / We don’t need no more, no extras / We all we got.”

In a time of vast uncertainties, maybe the one thing we can and should be most certain of is our now — what we spend our time on now, who we spend our time with now, how we choose to spend our time now. And it’s happening now — move past the bad news, and I’m encouraged by the increased kindness people have for others, the intentionality and creativity of so many, and those doing things they love. “Just shoot yo’ shot” as Miller says.