First off, let me welcome all my new subscribers (subscriber count is up 43% since my last post). Going forward, you can expect more searing hot takes and aggregated links across tech, politics, media, and whatever else happens to be running through my ADHD-addled brain. I’m thrilled some many of you liked my post on minimalist brands enough to give me a chance to make you regret subscribing in the first place. I call this 99% Derisible because, frankly, almost all of it is trash.
But now that a critical mass of people who don’t already know and love me are subscribing, I’m gonna have to not suck :)
I’ve been sitting on something revisiting censorship on the internet for a long while now but expect it soon. In the meantime, here’s some quick hits and nice links (or tasty morsels from groovy hubs, if you prefer):
Download: Dreams. It’s TV for your phone. And it’s sick. (Dreams.tv)
Watch: Fargo. I know I’m super late to this but holy hell this show is 🔥🔥🔥
Listen: Secrets by Kitten (youtube). Couple real pop-y ballads.
Now onto the main event:
Everything In Men’s Style Right Now Is About Seinfeld - Put This On
While it’s hard to characterize today’s zeitgeist in just one word, however, it’s easy to capture it with two characters — Cosmo Kramer and George Costanza. To be sure, clothing has always played a large role in Seinfeld. The show, after all, opened and closed with a dialogue between Jerry and George about how the placement of the second button makes or breaks a dress shirt. There was also the time Jerry ruined an expensive suede jacket; the episode where Kramer couldn’t get out of a pair of skinny, raw denim jeans. Or that time George demanded an apology from someone for saying his rather “bulbous head” would stretch out the “normal sized neck hole” of a finely knit sweater.
The battle between two elites: the haves and have-yachts - Simon Kuper, Financial Times (un-paywalled)
This is a banger and presents the contradiction around “elite” politics really well.
In a strangely overlooked recent paper, French economist Thomas Piketty — famous for his 2013 tome Capital in the Twenty-First Century — anatomises the rival elites in the US, UK and France. Piketty has merged post-electoral surveys from 1948 to 2017 with data on voters’ wealth, education, income and so on. The story for each country is similar. The cultural elite and the moneyed elite (“Brahmins” and “merchants”, as Piketty calls them) are both growing. Both have captured their chosen political parties. On left and right, politics is now an elite sport.
If I were a better man, I’d commit to reading the actual paper in full… but alas.
Social Media Companies Aren’t Liberal or Conservative (They’re Capitalist) - Will Oremus, Slate
I know I said I’m working on something about free speech online (and I am) so I shouldn’t jump the gun here (but I will). This article makes an important point about Facebook et al.’s operating principles. Hunter Walk has also written about this well in The Quest For “Software Margins”.
For internet companies in particular, the profit motive militates against putting a political or editorial stamp on their platforms. When social media firms do risk partisan anger to move the goal posts, they do it reluctantly, to defuse a PR crisis that could threaten their bottom line.
To keep a semblance of consistency under these conditions [with billions of users], Facebook replaced nuanced human judgments with a series of highly specific rules—basically a huge decision tree—covering every kind of content imaginable. Since the application of those rules frequently runs afoul of common sense, let alone justice and fairness, Facebook is constantly updating them. Even Monika Bickert, the company’s head of product policy, acknowledged to Radiolab that “no matter where we draw this line, there are always going to be outcomes we don’t like.”
A satanic idol goes to the Arkansas Capitol building - Avi Selk, Washington Post
A bronze statue of the satanic goat monster Baphomet was unveiled Thursday at the Arkansas Capitol building in front of a cheering crowd of free-speech activists and a smaller crowd of unhappy people holding handwritten Bible verses. The nearly 8-foot-tall statue’s brief public appearance marked the culmination of a three-year effort for the Satanic Temple to bring it there.
I Worked With Avital Ronell. I Believe Her Accuser. - Andrea Long Chu, Chronicle of Higher Education
That Avital’s defenders are left-wing academic stars is not particularly surprising if you’ve spent much time in the academy. The institution has two choices when faced with political radicals: Ax them, especially if they are graduate students, or promote them. Make them successful, give them awards, power, enormous salaries. That way, when the next scandal comes along — and it will — they will have a vested interest in playing defense.
A culture of critics in name only, where genuine criticism is undertaken at the risk of ostracism, marginalization, retribution — this is where abuses like Avital’s grow like moss, or mold. Graduate students know this intuitively; it is written on their bones. They’ve watched as their professors play favorites, as their colleagues get punished for citing an adviser’s rival, as funding, jobs, and prestige are doled out to the most obedient and obsequious. The American university knows only the language of extortion. “Tell,” it purrs, curling its fingers around your IV drip, “and we’ll eat you alive.”
The Oral History of Four Loko in New York - Maxine Boulder, Grubstreet
In 2010, Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” was the song of the summer, the iPhone 4 was cutting-edge smartphone technology, and oversized, camouflage-printed cans filled with hypercaffeinated super-booze were fueling New York’s party scene. Against all odds, that fluorescent drink — the notorious Four Loko — was completely legal and widely available, until it very quickly wasn’t. New York regulators shut down the party almost instantly, marking a definitive turning point in what the city and state would tolerate from alcohol marketers. But while it lasted, Four Loko’s run made it New York City’s go-to “blackout in a can.” This is the story of that run, as told by the people who lived it (or at least, the parts of it that they remember).
In fairness, I hated Four Loko when I was in high school.