Digest, 6/12/2021

the seventh weekly digest post

A little recent media roundup. Podcast videos really reveal the salt with the pepper in my beard these days.

Canadians are polite, pleasant:

An audio-only one for Reason. Interesting chat here. Perhaps makes me sound a little more triumphal than I really am about independent media.

This one’s just a preview but I’m wearing my favorite hoodie:

This one is for those who find glasses sexy:

This Week’s Posts

Monday, 6/7/2021 - Orange Cheeto Man Bad?

An attempt to model a particular set of feelings about Trump: he’s personal a monster, he was a bad president and a destructive force, he’s not remotely the worst president ever or even the worst president of my lifetime, liberals are dedicated to panicking about him in a way that seems to fill some deep psychic need that is entirely distinct from what we might conventionally call politics. I protest the insistence that I have to engage in this inherently affective form of politics too. An insane number of comments on this one.

Tuesday, 6/8/2021 - Maybe You Could YIMBY a Little Bit Less

A take on the NIMBY-YIMBY wars, informed by my now half-decade of housing activism in NYC. I fall firmly on the YIMBY side in general, but argue that the details matter very much, and also voice my reservations about the rhetorical strategies that YIMBYs tend to deploy. I tried to make this as respectful and generous of a piece as I could; judging from the reaction of YIMBYs on Twitter, I failed.

Wednesday, 6/10/2021 - Zipcar Sucks and So Does App World

A detailed account of how I came to give up on a service that, if it worked, would be immensely convenient to me. I also use this company and my problems with it to discuss the problems that occur when you subtract humans and stick in apps in their place, which is the basic business plan of a huge number of services these days.

Thursday, 6/10/2021 - The Movement Threw the First Brick at Stonewall

In which I point out that the obsession with who threw the first brick at Stonewall demonstrates a broader abandonment of the basic principles of collectivism that have always underwritten the leftist project. A lament.

Thursday, 6/10/2021 - quickie: a Nation of Dolezals (subscriber only)

This one was a mistake! I was making a point based on a dataset that several people have said can’t be correct, which kind of renders the whole thing moot. This should be a lesson to me about writing and posting too fast, but I’ve been failing to learn that lesson for thirteen years now, so.

Friday, 6/4/2021 - Can News Survive Being Unbundled? (subscriber only)

My rundown of where I think media in general and newsgathering in particular are now and where they’re heading, with a particular focus on how the internet unbundled the newspaper and in so doing imperiled the fiscal health of traditional reporting. I should have titled this one “Can News Survive Unbundling?,” which is both more concise and more elegant. Oh well.

From the Archives

The question of whether bad people can make good art, and whether we have some sort of obligation to discard or denounce the art of morally fallible creators, never stops rolling along. I found that this essay by Justin EH Smith on these themes to be quite brilliant on this topic. It’s a full-throated defense of the attitude, which I share, that the purpose of books and of reading them is not merely to have moral behavior reflected back at us, and that writers have to have the freedom to explore the darkest aspects of human nature. As he writes,

“going too far” is a philistine accusation, as it presupposes a prior rule as to how far is too far, which the writer may simply consult when uncertain in the course of writing. There is no such rule.

For my own little contribution, here’s a piece I wrote last fall. In it, I make a pretty basic analogy: the fact that some sports stars are morally questionable never leads anyone to conclude that they weren’t good at their sport, because we recognize that there is a certainty objective reality to what they did on the field that can’t be changed by what they did off of it. Lawrence Taylor solicited an underaged sex worker; he was also almost certainly the best defensive player in the history of football. My claim is that the quality of Paul Gauguin’s art should be no more subject to considerations of his moral character than the quality of Taylor’s play.

I'm not suggesting that the appreciation of art is as objective as the calculation of baseball statistics. I am suggesting that human beings produce things that are independent of their character, and separating the two is natural and easy. Richard Feynman was I'm sure as sexist as they say; how could that undermine the scientific validity of his scientific findings? It couldn't. These things just aren't connected.

Song of the Week

Substack of the Week

Strange Times by W.M. Akers

I love weird shit on the internet, which is a tough position to be in because the internet only gets less and less weird over time. I’ve already lamented the profound lack of diversity in the opinions and ideas of writers in mainstream publications in this space. What weird things exist appear in the form of memes, and memes are inherently flattening - whatever is legitimately strange about them is drained out through repetition and irony. So I like projects that surprise me. Strange Times is definitely its own thing. Here’s from the About section:

Strange Times is a weekly newsletter exploring the strangest material found in the archives of the 1921 New York Times. Each issue features several short articles drawn from a single issue of the newspaper—bizarre tales of bootleggers, jazz, murder, and thieves, told in classic, rat-a-tat newspaper prose.

Usually strange, sometimes dark, sometimes poignant, the stuff that pops up in the 1921 Times is interesting in that it is both clearly a product of another time and yet, often, achingly familiar. This is a good one to better grasp the cyclicality of history and the commonplaces of being human, in any time. I imagine Akers, a novelist and playwright of some renown, will do 1922 next year, but who can say? Check it out.

Book Recommendation

Alright, Alright, Alright, Melissa Maerz, 2020

Tons of fun. One of those books that does exactly what you expect it to and nothing that you don’t. Obviously you have to have a lot of love for Dazed and Confused to get something out of this book, but… you do love Dazed and Confused, don’t you? Lots of great stories, lots of interesting details I didn’t know - this is one of my favorite movies and I’ve seen it a dozen times and I didn’t know Renee Zellweger was even in it - and extensive interviews with almost everyone involved in the production. Like the movie itself, it’s light, good natured, deceptively deep, and welcoming… and yet ringed by a certain sadness.

Comment of the Week

You're framing the interests of detransitioners and trans people as opposed (both sides agendas', etc). That's just not the case. Both communities need the exact same thing: better mental and physical care. We sink or swim together, our interests are not opposed. - Jules

That’s it for this week! I hope the start of the summer is serving you well. Next week, Toni Morrison for sure, otherwise we’ll see.