Digest, 9/18/2021: Right Now, All You Have is Time Time Time
the twenty-first digest post
But someday that time will run out….
Barring more insurance trouble, I finally see an orthopedist next Friday. It still clicks, it still hurts, but I’m able to get around OK. Mostly a pain in the gym; I’m working around it but I’m pretty limited in what I can do. (Bicep exercises, weirdly, hurt and don’t feel right, so I’ve been avoiding them.) Good news is my legs are getting better workouts than they have in years. I have been attempting to gain mass for some time now, as I rededicated myself to the gym about a year ago and it’s clear that being cut is not likely to happen again. Maybe I’ll post about it, if I have enough gains to post.
This Week’s Posts
Monday, September 13th - Beware Berkson’s Paradox
Returning to my tradition of thinking through research methods from a largely amateur perspective. Never been good for views but I quite enjoy doing them.
Tuesday, September 14th - Let’s Take the Alex Pareene Challenge
I responded to a little satirical take Pareene had on Substack in his own newsletter, trying to rebut what I find are common and unfair takes on the platform. I particularly dislike accusations of insincerity. Some took the occasion to say “haha he thinks Pareene is talking about him,” when in fact I explicitly said that isn’t the case in the beginning of the post. But oh well, it’s Chinatown.
Thursday, September 16th - The Original Matrix is Pretty Bad
A post destined to be called trolling or contrarian, but I swear to god when I rewatched it last week I was again struck with the feeling that thinking it’s bad should at least be understandable. Lively comments, as you’d expect.
Friday, September 17th - Emotional Overinvestment & Meaning (subscriber only)
Another attempt at grappling with a widespread sense of meaninglessness and confusion in our culture, including among the very successful, and the negative consequences it all brings. Great, great comments on this one too.
We also got Chapter 10 of The Red, The Brown, The Green (which is really heating up, if I do say so myself) and week two of the Cement Garden book club.
From the Archives
In the eyes: dream. The brow as if it could feel
something far off. Around the lips, a great
freshness—seductive, though there is no smile.
Under the rows of ornamental braid
on the slim Imperial officer's uniform:
the saber's basket-hilt. Both hands stay
folded upon it, going nowhere, calm
and now almost invisible, as if they
were the first to grasp the distance and dissolve.
And all the rest so curtained within itself,
so cloudy, that I cannot understand
this figure as it fades into the background—
Oh quickly disappearing photograph
in my more slowly disappearing hand.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Song of the Week
Lovely tune, this.
Substack of the Week
Generally speaking my rule with these recommendations is not to highlight anyone who’s already a big deal; you don’t need me to recommend you someone who’s already prominent, and people who are already financially successful with their newsletters don’t need more marketing. But I’m making an exception to point you towards Ross Douthat’s Reactions newsletter, which is free. (Likely by NYT fiat.) The occasion for this is indeed Douthat’s above rejoinder to my Matrix skepticism, but there’s a lot of thought-provoking stuff in there that’s worth your time, and I think he benefits from being able to stretch out in a way he usually can’t in his Times column. I hope to review his new book in this space soon.
Legacy of Ashes, Tim Weiner, 2007
When Tim Weiner’s remarkable history of the CIA was first published, I was already educated in anti-imperialist politics and knew quite a bit about the agency’s myriad crimes against innocent people and total indifference to international law. Yet the book still shocked me in its unsparing portrait of the CIA - yes, because of the audacity and shocking indifference to life inherent to their actions, but also because of their constant incompetence. This is, indeed, the real message of the book, which is an impeccable work of history and impressively cited. A typical attitude towards the CIA is to say, well yes, they’re bastards, but they’re our bastards, and they commit these attacks on innocent people and democracy to keep us safe. But Weiner meticulously portrays an agency that is as incompetent as it is reckless; again and again and again, its agents and leadership fail to accomplish their goals. (One of the USSR’s very few advantages in the Cold War was superior spycraft.) As Weiner makes clear, any functional civilian agency would have had wholesale leadership changes in the wake of the kinds of failures the CIA has repeatedly endured, but the cloak of secrecy protects them. A truly impressive effort on a massively important subject.
NFL Pick of the Week
Twelve underdogs won against the spread last week! Sadly my pick, the Colts, was not among them. Well, much like the Green Bay Packers, I’m looking to get off the snide this weekend. Against the possibly league-worst Detroit Lions, that’ll be easy for the Packers… or will it? I think Green Bay will win, but I don’t think the team I watched get absolutely worked by the Saints last Sunday should be laying eleven and a half to anybody. So it’s Detroit +11.5 for me this week. And I bet Green Bay’s win is one of those dispiriting last-second affairs against a far inferior opponent that just turns the heat up higher. Expect Aaron Rodgers to retire to become a civics teacher by Week 6.
Comment of the Week
… what stands out to me most about the members of the Gawker Extended Universe (which is increasingly indistinguishable from the Chapo, Jacobin, or DSA spheres) is how few people from that orbit are willing to ever venture an opinion on anything, as opposed to defending the consensus position of their circle. Something happens (a real event or a manufactured social media controversy), a consensus left-lib position emerges out of a stew of shibboleths and allegiances, someone like Nathan J. Robinson (pre-implosion) writes the lawyerly sophistic defense of that position, someone like Pareene writes the bitchy snarky defense of the position, and everyone else joins in to scoff and dunk or get indignant at any dissenters. That whole world runs on a posture of righteous and indisputable certainty, and any internal dissent would bring the whole thing crashing down. The arguments are nearly always overstated or rushed to a degree that a couple hours of Jesse Singal or Zaid Jilani digging in can poke them full of holes, but everyone who matters knows those guys are just contrarian bigots so they and anyone who would be persuaded by them can be perpetually ignored….
So, the idea that it's Substack world that runs on groupthink, kneejerk takemongering, and pandering to its audience is pure projection. The facade of righteous certainty can't show any cracks, so anyone disagreeing with the obviously correct takes of the Gawker Extended Universe must have a nefarious angle.
That’s it for this week! You are appreciated.
Perfect example of a Gawker extended universe take. I was pretty disappointed with that piece.
Seconding the Baribeau surprise from AndrewD. He's a musician who loomed very large in my taste from 16-19 and since then I've thought more about his straight edge Tutankhamun merch than about any of the songs.
Also would like to crowdsource a book recommendation from the people here -- I'm looking to read something about the development of the early modern Italian city states - sort of the rise of the Florentine & Venetian banking families and the Italian wars.