I have, after many complaints, added my email address to the front page of this newsletter. I hadn’t done it before because you can’t put mailto: links in Substack’s links function currently. ( If you are aware of some clever workaround let me know.) If you are on the mailing list you can simply reply to the newsletter emails directly.
I appeared on a podcast all about educational testing to voice my various complaints with the deeply misguided anti-SAT movement. It was a sympathetic audience, but above and beyond that I enjoyed the conversation and think it was valuable. One point I don’t think I’ve ever made that’s germane: people complain about SAT tutoring, but of course getting rid of the SAT further emphasizes GPA… and the vast majority of tutoring dollars are spent on raising grades, not test scores. But then, the anti-test arguments are not an expression of either abstract principle or concrete empirical observation. They are an attempt to hide from a reality that people find uncomfortable: not everyone is good at school, and at present those inequalities tend to fall along lines of race and class. When an indicator gives us an uncomfortable result, well, let’s get rid of the indicator. 21st century progressive thinking, baby.
We’ve reached something of a steady state as far as subscriptions goes. The overall trend from a broader perspective remains upward, but for the past month it’s been a series of minor bumps up and then regression back down. (I lost some this week because people seem to have realized that, despite my deep contempt for the Democrats as an institution, I do vote for Democrats in elections lol.) Hard to say where things will go from here. If I get some sort of national exposure there’s always the chance for a new big bump, but I suspect in terms of organic reach things will slowly grow but I’ll generally be around where I am. Which is cool - I’m financially secure, and that’s all I really care about. My one hangup with the money is that, if my calculations are correct, I’m almost certain to put Substack in the black at the end of my year-long contract, barring some mass unsubscribing. But I’d like to be 100% certain that I was making them a chunk of change. (It’d be nice if I could just compare projected annual revenue to the advance they gave me but it’s not that simple given some of the quirks of the contract.) I don’t know why I’m invested in a company making profit off of my labor, other than that they took a chance on me and I want to reward them. In any event - I can pay my rent and the rest is all gravy.
There is a new feature approaching that might bump subscriptions but very well may not, I really don’t know. But I’m super excited to share. Just not quite ready yet.
Speaking of paying the rent, my girlfriend and I have secured a new apartment! Lease starts July 1 but I have this place through the end of that month so there’s no pressure to move in quickly. It’s a lovely little two bedroom in South Slope with a huge living area. I’ll miss my current apartment, where I’ve lived for 5 years, and will always look back fondly to it as my first NYC home. But we need more space, and while I like the neighborhood and my building, it’s just too loud - it’s right on Nostrand Avenue, a major thoroughfare, and people love to party right outside the window. I can sleep through anything, so this hasn’t been much of an issue for me, but my girlfriend is a lighter sleeper and it’s louder than is reasonable. Besides, I’m ready to move on. Five years is a long time, and moving will help put my Brooklyn College era to bed.
We caught the tail end of the Covid rental pricing collapse here; we could have gotten a better deal if we started earlier, but paying rent to two places at once would have wiped out the financial advantage, so. Part of the reason that we moved fast was that rents were suddenly rebounding up really quickly and we didn’t want to wait too long. We got in early enough that the two bedroom in what most would consider a more desirable neighborhood costs the same as the one bedroom we’re leaving, and it’s in the rear of the building on a quiet side street. Two commercial gyms and a YMCA within a couple blocks, a cool bar right up the road, nearby laundromat, 10-15 minute walk to the heart of Park Slope, 15 minute walk to Prospect Park, close to the R, F, and G trains…. I’m excited.
I’m not excited to move though.
Here’s something stupid: there are several ways to send out a gift subscription through Substack’s front end. One of the ways does not automatically include sending a welcome email, which I didn’t realize - which means that when I first set up this newsletter, a couple dozen people got gift subscriptions and never knew it. I could potentially try and go through and figure out who so I could tell notify them about it, but the very idea makes me tired. So I’m going to have some beers instead and lament how dumb life is.
This Week’s Posts
Monday, 6/14/2021 - Critical Race Theory, a Consolation Prize
So much talk about critical race theory. So little policy substance behind all of it. I hoped that the “racial reckoning” would push us towards the embrace of real material change over symbolism. It appears that the opposite is happening.
Tuesday, 6/15/2021 - Toni Morrison's Sula, the Great Underrated American Novel
My love letter to a brilliant, sad, troubling, distaff masterpiece. This is my favorite kind of writing to do, these days. Read the post and, I hope, be inspired to read the novel.
Thursday, 6/17/2021 - The Selfish Fallacy
My terrible name, which everybody hates, for a phenomenon I think is real and important: how people define ideas and tendencies associated with their broader political project in opportunistically vague ways, in order to preserve their prior commitments and sense of logic. I relate it here to CRT but I think applicable to many things. I recognize that it’s not a good name, sorry.
Thursday, 6/17/2021 - quickie: Who I Vote For, Dem Primaries (subscriber only)
I discuss how I voted in the New York City Democratic primary and why.
Friday, 6/18/2021 - Yes, Mass Home Ownership is a Dumb Policy Goal, But... (subscriber only)
I talk about the (contested) claim that Blackrock is buying up the single-family housing stock and that we’ll become a nation of renters. I admit that the wonks are probably right that mass homeownership is not a good policy goal, but also admit that I want to own my own home. It’s about how I’m conflicted, in other words. Relatedly, the commenters yell at me from both sides.
From the Archives
Here’s a piece about using the first person in essays that I wrote for a small online writing journal that disappeared from their website. It’s a kind of straightforwardly pedagogical writing about writing that I enjoy writing and value a great deal, and which has just about no home in today’s university. Certainly not in a way that benefits one’s career, anyway. But I think it’s good advice and I stand by it. I have been debating putting a bunch of my pieces of writing advice together into an ebook and distributing it on my website as an .epub and PDF etc., add an original introduction and some updates. We’ll see if I ever get it together to do so.
Song of the Week
This whole album is great, a really good option to have playing softly in the background when you have friends over for drinks or whatever. Recommended. The video is also pleasantly creepy and I think they’re beautiful women. (Don’t cancel me.)
Substack of the Week
TrueHoop by Henry Abbot et al.
In 2013 I wrote a piece titled “How the NBA Became a League for Snobs.” It was an expression of my great frustration that sports had become consumed by a class divide, which had been smuggled into the conversation in the guise of the metrics vs. experience war. See, the stats people were mostly correct, and the traditionalists mostly wrong, although that dynamic was sometimes subverted in interesting ways. Because I thought the stats people were mostly right, I was in some sense happy when they won a decisive victory, to the point that every major American sports team now employs an analytics department. But the stats revolution turned sports into a culture war, and it made looking down your nose at the rubes into a core part of the sports experience. Suddenly there was a whole army of self-fellating advanced sports fans who would never shut the fuck up about how they knew everything and were right about everything and everyone else was stupid and by the way being a fan was embarrassing, especially if it was a fan of a certain team, and you were just supposed to love the sport and look down your nose at people in the stands and blah blah blah…. Honestly this school of NBA fandom reminds me of “poptimists” so much: a niche community that became utterly dominant and yet never adapted to that dominance, allowing their deluded belief in their own marginalization to excuse their shitty behavior. Such is the internet I’m afraid.
Anyway - in this not-very-attractive crew, I always enjoyed the work of Henry Abbott, AKA TrueHoop. He worked at ESPN for a long time but was, I think, a victim of one of their high-profile payroll purges a few years ago. It was a shame because he’s a very bright guy who is firmly on the side of analytics and the new school of NBA appreciation but generally avoids the histrionics and triumphalism that are common to his broader tribe. There’s more sports commentary than any human being could possibly need these days, but very little of it is thoughtful and has perspective. TrueHoop has both. As the Medium post above shows, I don’t always agree with Abbott about everything, but I trust his judgment and I value his insight. TrueHoop also employs other writers, which I know is important to some people. Check it out.
For the record: a classic example of the “advanced” fans being full of shit lies in the pace explosion in the NBA in the last few years. For years cool savvy advanced NBA fans dismissed the accomplishments of players like Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain, saying that their numbers were inflated by the pace of their era. Well, the NBA’s current era plays at an insane pace. But do those same “advanced” fans dismiss the stats of James Harden or Russell Westbook under the exact same logic? No! No they don’t! They just want to lionize the present - because they live in the present. Oh well.
Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, Martha Stewart, 2008
I am 100% serious. When I first started cooking this was my bible. Set aside whatever sense you may have that Stewart is an uncool figure and focus on what this book brings to the table: it’s a big, thorough, beautifully-illustrated, well-explained guide to cooking that assumes no prior knowledge and demystifies the process of becoming a cook in an unintimidating and friendly style. There’s lots of lists of elementary information like different types of knives and their uses, various grains and their attributes, major cuts of meat…. And the pictures are both great to look at and genuinely informative. Personally I can’t stand using electronic devices for recipes and similar; it’s just too annoying to constantly be wiping your hands to manipulate a touchscreen and wake a device back up after it once again goes to sleep while you were cutting shallots. A big, durable book like this can lie open on the counter and give you the information you need, and you can pass it down to your kids someday. Highly recommended, honestly. Don’t make fun of me.
Comment of the Week
I listed Maya Wiley first, Dianne Morales second … I am not a big Wiley believer ... but she’s the only one of the left candidates who has a shot at winning, so I’m throwing my support behind her. ... Morales gets my #2 position because she’s my favorite actual candidate
*sigh* That's a misunderstanding of ranked-choice voting. In this situation, you're supposed to vote for Morales #1 and Wiley #2. By switching them, all you've done is vote for Wiley over Morales if it comes down to those two as the final candidates. I admit that's unlikely, but still: the main virtue of ranked-choice is that you can safely vote for your true favorite candidate. - MarkS
That’s it! If all goes to plan next week I’ll have something of a swansong when it comes to a certain kind of media criticism and some advice on writing book reviews. Cheers.
My gf points out that I forgot to mention that there is a French bakery close by so that she can get Madelines whenever she wants.
Woo-hoo! Comment of the week! I can ride off into the sunset now ...
I do regret the *sigh* though. It was genuine, but came off snarky.
I am thrilled to see ranked-choice voting (which I learned about half a century ago) finally coming into mainstream use. I hope it spreads far and wide.