What I read Between March Wednesday 7 and Tuesday March 12, 2019

Archived Articles

Huh I guess it’s been a whole ass week since I did one of these! Gonna do another one anyway tho because I am in a mood to not give up on my project and also it is both difficult and necessary to change ones behaviors? Although man I have made alarmingly little progress.

Radio Free Syria – Eliza Griswold
New York Times, December 4 2014

I pay a lot of attention to the news. I tend to think I am reasonably well-informed. But man did reading this article show me how fundamentally ignorant I am. There is just too much to know, and too little time to know it, and it feels so impossible to ever actually be caught up. Which is I guess the interesting thing about this project; if I want to make progress on the archive, I have to ignore the headlines. Even the act of catching up is inherently a falling behind. It is tempting to draw some sort of conclusion here about there just being too much content. There is, without question, too much content. But that doesn’t mean I, or anyone, has to consume all of it.

Judaism and the Left are two sides of my particular coin. I am equally terrified of accepting bad-faith attempts to paint anti-zionism as antisemitism as I am of ignoring antisemitism among progressives I admire. But while the Ilhan Omar mishegas was always going to grab my attention, I probably didn’t need to give it quite so much. I do not need to read every 600 word think piece before I form my own opinion. Maybe I shouldn’t read any of them? I definitely don’t need to take any more decent faith looks at Brett Stephens’ POV.

I have a conflict, then, between being informed and being…in the loop? Up to date? Attuned to the discourse? On the one hand, it is good to know what the other side thinks, to know what is happening in the culture at large, to understand the basic direction of society or whatever. But when I started reading this profile of Raed Fares, a Syrian activist who in 2014 was one of the leading voices against Assad, two things struck me. First, I may not be able to see the trees for the forest; does it matter if I understand the context perfectly without a grasp on the content?Second, I was almost definitely reading a profile of a dead man. More than four years later, there was a vanishingly small chance that Fares had survived.

I googled him when I finished reading. The New Yorker ran Griswold’s piece on his death in November of last year.

What Can Bees Teach Us about Building Better Urban Ecosystems – Jen Kinney
Next City, May 28, 2018

Do you love bees? Do you love bees enough? Bees are very very good. We should definitely make sure they don’t go extinct. And it turns out a good way to do that is…with our cities? Bees hate monoculture farming and love the weird diverse weeds sprouting from our sidewalks. They really really love community gardens in urban environments! It sure is strange that humans seem happiest in environments where the broader ecosystem is thriving, too. Makes you wonder why we spent the last hundred years creating spaces that are the exact opposite. I wonder who could have benefited from that?

Anthony Bourdain Wonders What He Could Have Done – Isaac Chotiner
Slate, Oct 24, 2017

I loved Anthony Bourdain as much as the next white male in his early 30s, but this didn’t do it for me. I can’t tell if it’s earnest self-interrogation about his contributions to “meathead culture” in restaurants, or skillful dissembling about why shit isn’t really his fault. Maybe it’s Isaac Chotiner’s fault. People have opinions about that guy.

New, Interesting

  • Notes on Peach – A few days before this ran I was actively considering getting back into Peach. Apparently it is shutting down though? This is a good read anyway.
  • Eli Valley is Not Sorry – This is related to the Ilhan Omar stuff, but I am not going to recap the connection because it is exhausting. What is more important is that Eli Valley is one of my favorite contemporary Jewish voices, and this is a good interview on what does and does not count as antisemitism in his view. Plus you should always read Shuja Haider.
  • Culturally Muslim – Not new, but new to me. Linked in the aforementioned Eli Valley interview. Written by Shuja Haider (who you really should always read). Connects the Jewish and Muslim experiences of America through an obvious commonality I had never really considered before.
  • How We Hate the Homeless – Lori Teresa Yearwood was homeless for years. Now she is doing insightful, personal, and well-reported writing about homelessness for a blog that’s hosted on a cryptocurrency platform and run by a former Gawker staffer. It is weird to be alive in 2019. You should read this, and also the first piece in Yearwood’s series. I bet you won’t though. Coward.
  • America’s Cities Are Running on Software From the ’80s – On the one hand our entire society is held together by spit and frayed string. On the other, as Alexis Madrigal pointed out “It’s easy to make fun of this, but show me the web software that will still be mostly running in 38 years.”
  • The Obama Boys – Read this if you want to spend 30 minutes staring into the abyss where you thought the Obama administration kept its principles. Robinson thinks they just had no idea how to do politics and got beaten up by the right again and again. This is more charitable than the alternative, the aforementioned abyss.
  • Welcome to ‘Zombieland’: A Former US Army Base Rots in the Hands of Overwhelmed Afghans – Read it for the pictures and the stark reminder of how utterly fucked Afghanistan still is.
  • Behind the Hype of Apple’s Plan to End Mining – Cool to see but the earth is almost definitely still doomed.
  • Why the Left Can’t Stand the NYTimes – This made me feel even worse about reading so much content about the latest antisemitic brouhaha. Also Amber is the best Chapo.

What I Read Between Friday March 1 and Tuesday, March 6 February 28, 2019

Archived Articles

Who Killed Tulum? – Reeves Wiedeman
NY Magazine’s The Cut, February 20, 2019
When Wall Street is Your Landlord – Alana Semuels
The Atlantic, March 5, 2019
The Big Business of Becoming Bhad Bhabie – Jamie Lauren Keiles
NY Times, July 3, 2018
The Body Hunters – Marcia Angell
The New York Review of Books, October 6, 2005

I started saving articles in Pocket in late 2015. As a result, the vast majority of stuff in there is miserable to read. In fact, I saved some of this stuff because it was too depressing to read at the time; there’s a GQ piece called “How Puerto Rico Became the Newsest Tax Haven for the Super Rich” that I open and close like twice a month because I just can’t bear it. I plan to read hundreds of articles like this in 2019.

Anyone who follows the news risks drowning in the ceaseless sea of content. But I’ve already sunk to the bottom. There, I’ve condensed the last three years into a lake of poisonous brine. Day after day I risk its toxicity, hoping I’ll find the bottom before it overwhelms me completely. But it’s not all bad. There’s a few uplifting articles in there, carefully tagged “light” so they’re easy to see.

Which brings us to Bhad Bhabie. I’d just immersed myself in three globe-spanning stories of capitalist immiseration. What better way to rinse myself off than a puffy profile of a viral teen turned appropriative pop star?

But I had misjudged. I underestimated Keiles, who does a masterful job giving her more heinous subjects enough rope to make mock of themselves while treating the profile’s young centerpiece with kindness. Worse, I’d glossed over the word “business” in the headline.

The same people star in all four of these articles. The hypocritical pseudo-hippies of Tulum; the pharma execs running coercive trials in Africa; the private equity landlords neglecting their tenants nationwide; the cynical manager trying to wring every drop of fame from one viral moment; there’s one screaming through-line connecting them all.

I worry a lot about bias in my media diet. I could be reading too much lefty bullshit. Maybe there are equivalent stories out there that show how wonderful free markets are, how well they promote human happiness. If you find any, please send them my way. I’d love to read them. After all, what’s one more drop in the sea?

New and Interesting

US News

  • Trump, Cohen, Subpoenas, Ilhan Omar, Antisemitism, Climate Change, Various Flavors of Congressional Drama, The Trade Deficit Is Huge
  • Also Luke Perry died.

Also…

What I Read on Thursday, February 28, 2019

Archived Articles

I didn’t read any! The day was hella busy and I was like, social at night. So now I have gone from 351 articles in Pocket back up to 399. This project is frankly insane and also Pocket should make it easier to see how many articles you have saved.

New and Interesting this Week

Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain – Kevin Roose

New York Times – February 23, 2019

In lieu of archival content to review I am gonna go a bit longer on this. I tend to ignore this genre of article, because it seems pretty paint by numbers at this point. But my friend Adam sent me the link, and since we’re both trying to be a bit more intentional about how we consume digital media I gave it a read. I’m glad I did, and in honor of him, I am gonna talk about how it made me feel for a second and hold the critique for later.

About halfway through the article, Roose worries to his wife about what he’s been missing online. Her response, “I’m sad that you’re having trouble with this, because it’s been great for me.” is probably the most interesting thing in the article. I have been an extreme screen boy for more than half of my life at this point; At 16 I ruined a family vacation by insisting we stay somewhere with internet access. I needed to check my girlfriend’s LiveJournal to see if she was breaking up with me. In retrospect I think camping in Monument Valley would have been the better experience.

So I’ve been “phubbing” (cubbing? dubbing?) people, which wow I did not expect to see that word in an article in 2019 for close to 20 years. And it’s not until now, as I am starting to come out of it, that I realize how much it sucks. When we first moved in together, my then-girlfriend complained, often, about how much time I spent “staring at my phone.” I thought she was being unreasonable. But now I’m coming out of it, and the last thing I as I fall asleep is her face, blued by the night’s last scan of Instagram. I can’t in good conscience begrudge this; few things are more obnoxious than the proselytizations of a reformed addict. But that doesn’t mean things don’t look different from over here

Anyway, sorry Adam but the piece itself has problems. Either Roose or his editor must have been uncomfortable taking the premise too seriously. Lines about feeling like a human again post phone detox are interspersed with mockingly captioned photos like this:

It’s a reasonable defensiveness. Sincerity is terrifying, and we still tear people down for it after all these years of arguing about snark and smarm. But if you’re gonna live by a self-help guru’s edicts for one of these NYTimes almost advertorials, you have to buy all the way in. Acting like you’re in on the joke just highlights how transactional the whole thing is.

Also New, Interesting

Also…

What I Read on Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Archived Articles

Gavin Newsom, the Next Head of the California Resistance – Tad Friend

The New Yorker – November 5, 2018 Issue

I don’t know if I saved this in the first place because of work or because I live in California and care about politics, but I am glad I did. I had a pretty negative view of Newsom due to how selfish he was in the primary last year, and while Friend’s profile didn’t make me love the guy, it at least made him a bit more comprehensible.

Not to say that Newsom comes across particularly well in Friend’s telling. At times he seethes with a desperation to be liked and respected. At others he’s cocksure and dismissive, so fixated on his early struggles that he ignores the myriad advantages he’s enjoyed.

More sportsily, Gavin Newsom is the Golden State Warriors of politics: a once-beloved underdog whose achievements would have been impossible without huge amounts of luck and external support, he’s both irritated and incredulous that people don’t still focus on the struggle. Also they both purport to represent the entire state while being synonymous with the Bay Area—with San Francisco itself once the Dubs finish abandoning Oakland but that is not really anything from the article I just don’t really like the Warriors.

But I do like Gavin Newsom, at least a little bit. I like him because deep down, he knows he’s being irrational. He knows his insecurities are influencing everything he does, and tries to account for that in his actions. And while there’s some really suspect interactions with people of color in the piece, particularly an episode of alarming condescencion towards incoming SF Mayor London Breed, it does seem like his heart’s in the right place

Meditation in the Time of Disruption – Mike Powell

The Ringer – October 25, 2018

The Ringer is a frustratingly bad publication, so I was a little perplexed to find this in Pocket. Turns out it came from Next Draft, a really good daily news recap email that, if I still read it regularly, I would recommend to y’all.

Also I recommend this piece of writing! Powell examines the growing mindfulness industry from a deeply spiritual/religious point of view, a refreshing take on well-trod ground. He approaches the main three meditation apps (which he recognizes as a sort of inherently disgusting concept) with skepticism, and his takeaways are resonant, if not profound. 10% Happier sounds like the best one, if you’re wondering.

We are becoming, or have become, increasingly rational/logical/algorithmic/scientific. I am not passing judgement on that or anything. Climate change is real, etc. But I do think we may have accepted it as an objective good a bit too quickly. I am always happy to see a writer interrogate how we got there.

New and Interesting this Week

  • The Small, Small world of Facebook’s Anti-vaxxers—You should read most of what Alexis Madrigal writes, and everything he writes about how the internet works.
  • AMLO’s First Days – I keep reading Jorge Ramos’s columns for Splinter, and I keep coming away feeling like I almost learned something.
  • Can America Still Build Big? A California Rail Project Raises Doubts – This is cool because we’re all doomed.
  • Decriminalize sex work in New York – Remember when the whole media was freaking out because Julia Salazar did a bad job telling her own story? Weird how all that went quiet once she won, huh. Anyway I had just been wondering what she was up to, and turns out it’s co-sponsoring legislation to decriminalize sex work in NYC and writing opinion pieces about it in the NY Daily News. Might have lied about how rich she was, did not lie about being a legit progressive.
  • When Will Sex Work Finally Be Decriminalized? – This is a really good question! This is mostly quoted facts from the Ramos/Salazar piece above, but it also does a good job explaining just how hard the conversation is to have. And that is a really important thing to talk about I think. I feel actively weird any time I discuss decriminalizing sex work, even though anyone who believes in feminist movement or labor rights should be deeply invested in this cause. Even now I am sort of worried to write about this because like my grandma will probably read this. I am not gonna send it to her or anything but she loves and supports me and is surprisingly good at Google for a 91-year-old.
  • The Place to Watch Your Government in Action is on C-Span – You can actually just watch congressional hearings and other governmental business without any network commentary at all. You will have to form your own opinions about what happens though.

US News

  • Thousands of Immigrant Children Said They Were Sexually Abused in U.S. Detention Centers, Report Says – Skipped this the first time I saw the headline because I wasn’t ready to be horrified. It’s horrifying.
  • Congress passed gun control legislation for the first time in a decade. No one is thrilled about the compromise.
  • Oregon passed statewide rent control, or more accurately an anti-gouging law. No one is thrilled about the compromise.
  • Big pharma CEOs appeared before congress, could not justify high drug prices or their salaries.
  • So much Michael Cohen shit happened. Wired says that we had totally different experiences of it based on our individual media bubbles. We all know this but man it is always gonna get my click and also its really hard to see how we can continue to exist as a nation without a shared reality.

Also…

Empty Yr Pockets

Now that we are about 1/6 done with 2019 I thought I should start keeping a record of my big project for the year, which is (has been!) trying to read every single last article in my Pocket account. On January 1 I think I had ~575 links in there, but I did not actually write that down because who keeps track of things they do, right? As of this writing I am down to 351.

What I have been doing is saving all my favorite articles in an Airtable base with a cool Zapier automation because I like to pretend to be at all knowledgeable about computers (I am not). And it occurred to me today that I would probably benefit from writing up some of the stuff I am reading because I am putting a lot of words in my head these days and if I don’t get some back out I could very easily run out of room.

Which is to say that writing about what I am reading will likely help me remember a bit better, and also will be more fun to look back on than just a big ass list of stuff that I read, no matter how pretty it looks in Airtable.

So this is a post announcing that I am going to do more posts! In a perfect world I might even develop some sort of format that is replicable and perhaps even engaging, so that when I do return to all this it is fun to read. In the actual, horribly imperfect world this will probably be another short-lived experiment in creativity but at least I am trying. If I keep trying and don’t freak myself out I could start newslettering it too, because god knows no one is going to actually look at a blog on a regular basis. And like, the last one was pretty good for a while there. Couldn’t hurt to do it again.