Digest, 8/14/2021: Batter My Heart

the sixteenth weekly digest post

Given that I’ll never be skinny again, thanks to my meds, I’ve been trying to bulk up again lately. We live one block from our gym, which for me has made a huge difference in my consistency and frequency in working out; there’s just no excuse not to and it’s so easy to pop in for 45 minutes. I’ve been feeling good and getting stronger again. I benched 225 for five reps this past Tuesday, first time I’ve done that in 10 years, felt great - and then when I was doing a couple sets of 205 later I felt something pop in my left shoulder. I’ve been resting it since and there’s no pain anymore but I can’t lift it without it clicking in a disturbing way right now. I say this all as someone who tore his rotator cuff in both shoulders and his labrum in his right shoulder by the time he turned 32, so you can understand why I’m worried. If it doesn’t feel better in a few days I’ll get a doctor’s appointment. And then he’ll say “you need to see an orthopedist” and give me a referral, rather than me being able to just schedule an appointment with an orthopedist and not wasting his time. Ah well.

I hope it’s not fucked up. If I have to have saddlebags it’d be nice to be able to keep my muscles. I guess this is my introduction to my 40s.

This Week’s Posts

Monday, August 9th - If You’re Bound to Be Bad, Why Bother Being Good?

Via a consideration of the Minutemen, a band I admire without reservation, I talk about the ways that collective guilt and categorical thinking destroy the conditions that make integrity and moral behavior possible.

Tuesday, August 10th - NO ONE SAYS & What a Strawman Is (subscriber only)

My frustrations with the tendency of people to insist that no one argues points that, in fact, many people argue, and the selective interpretation of “strawman” to avoid dealing with popular arguments that you wouldn’t make yourself.

Sooner or Later, Ability Rules

On the heels of another major school district taking a hatchet to standards and reducing rigor in a misguided attempt to achieve “equity,” I discuss the knock-in effects of this type of thing. I point out that, eventually, you either can do stuff or you can’t, you have the knowledge and skills or you don’t, and if you keep getting passed through the system despite not learning it’ll eventually come back to haunt you.

Thursday, August 12th - Anti-Zionism is Perfectly Mundane

I think that anti-Zionism should not be seen as a heart attack-inducing, head-for-the-fainting-couches position, but an argument that stems from basic principles of liberal democracy. (Whether that position is right or wrong is a separate question.) 37 likes, 94 comments kind of sums this one up. People sometimes ask if I worry that the subscription money changes how I write. If I ever feel organically moved to write about Israel but decide it’s not worth it, I’ll know it’s time to hang it up.

Friday, August 13th - Lottery Ticket America (subscriber only)

Something a little different. A narrative of struggling in 21st century USA. Deliberately ambiguous. I said everything I need to say about the story in the story; the rest you’ll each have to fill in for yourselves.

And we got Chapter Five of The Red, the Brown, the Green this week. I love the illustrations so much.

From the Archives

Lots of Talk About the Trades, Not Much Evidence

I shared this post from around when my book was released last year in the comments recently, and figured I would share it here too. As someone who talks a lot about the problems with an expectation of universal college attendance, there’s a natural desire to say that more people should be going into trade schools and the trades. (It would certainly be convenient for my argument!) Well, I do think on balance that more people should consider the trades and that there’s certainly people being funneled into college who would benefit from trade school instead. The trouble is that “the trades” is just too diverse to say anything meaningful about them. As I say in the piece, it’s not just that things are different from one trade to another, but that the employment conditions are also very influenced by geography and the larger economy. (Obviously that’s true for all jobs, but my research suggests especially true for the trades.) If you can get into a New York City craft union, you’re aces - but you’re aces in part because people can’t just sign up for that life. Lots of these jobs run on patronage networks, and often seniority rules even outside of a formal union setting. What’s more, instability in the housing market can cause huge reverberations in the wages and unemployment rates in the trades. None of which makes them bad, or worse than jobs that require a college degree! But I am permanently skeptical about the “safe harbor” rhetoric you sometimes get when discussing the labor market.

Song of the Week

Substack of the Week

No Substack this week! Check back next week.

Book Recommendation

Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson, 2007

If you’re looking for a knock-you-on-you-ass capital-G Great book, here you go. Tree of Smoke is Johnson’s masterpiece, a testament to the power of quiet and restrained prose used in the service of an outrageous series of events. It’s a Vietnam book, but also a pre-Vietnam book, so to speak - a narrative not only of a war but of the period before the war in which the eventual participants were already busily maneuvering, committing acts of outrageous violence in anticipation of the combat to come. Johnson was an artist, and here he paints a canvas that’s mournful and unsparing but shot through with energy and life. I usually am reading several books at once, like a lot of people who read, but there are occasional books where I feel I have to stop reading anything else until I finish it, because it commands that kind of respect. This book does. And all will be saved. All will be saved. All will be saved.

Comment of the Week

I think you’ve written before about how a lot of the white participants in these social justice-y communities implicitly tend to assume that whatever dismissive or mean comments they make about white people just don’t apply to them.

The white people making these comments about how much white people suck on some level understand that what they’re engaging in is insincere posturing and should not be taken very seriously. The white guys who log on for the first time and see these ideas/posts unfortunately don’t understand yet that they shouldn’t be taking a lot of it literally or seriously. It would be easier if these hypothetical white Twitter users had an understanding of social context on the Internet such that they would realize that if a white guy online is talking shit about white people, it has little to do with reality, and much to do with that guy’s desire to advance socially, and he probably doesn’t actually believe in any of it. Alas. You have to spend years online to fully get any of this, and even then, it’s still annoying. - Pete

I’ll see you soon.