"Let's Hold Our Hands Up, Just Tonight, Pretend That We're Okay" Edition
This weekend I ran out through the forest to the big lake near my town. I love it there, with the peaceful expanse of water, and the majestic sweep of the sky.
Or not so peaceful. Last year there was a spate of drownings, three of which took place in a single day. Perhaps plants beneath the water played some kind of role. Doubtless alcohol contributed.
But it was as charming as ever. There is no idyllic escape from the world. One can only find the beauty contained within it.
Obligatory shilling. I wrote for my paying Substack subscribers about the Iraq invasion, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pitfalls of being “sensible” in politics.
A really silly thing about writing this newsletter is that every time I have nothing else to link to here I feel like a lazy piece of trash - even if I have been writing other articles that might be published later on.
Background noise. According to the Times, a government backed company is working on facial-scanning software that could be connected to “vaccine passports” that may be required for entry into some bars, restaurants and so on.
A day might come when a disease spreads across the world that is so unprecedentedly virulent it will demand the imposition of a biosecurity state to prevent civilisational collapse. COVID-19, while horrible, is not that disease - even before one takes into account how many people have been vaccinated against it. If it were then Sweden and Florida would have imploded.
Don't get me wrong - this technology is only being experimented with. It might never be used. I can't see many pubs rushing to make it trickier to get customers through their doors. But this remains a good time speak up against the potential for the establishment of coercion and morbidity as a permanent feature of our daily existence.
A grown-up's Where's Wally. Ellie Abraham writes an interesting article for the Guardian about the strange world of crowdsourced amateur online sleuthing:
A member of Websleuths for six years, Jane describes it as “almost like a grown-up’s Where’s Wally”, though she admits the hobby is an unusual one. “I suppose ‘what kind of blood spatter pattern was found?’ or, ‘did you read the autopsy report?’ isn’t really the kind of chitchat you have with a neighbour.”
This kind of amateur investigation is not new. Countless hobbyists have come up with elaborate theories about the identity Jack the Ripper. More recently, viewers of the Netflix series Don’t F**k With Cats saw how Facebook users hunted the Canadian psychopath Luka Magnotta across the world.
As traditional journalism declines, and police sclerosis and incompetence becomes more clear, it may become more of an industry. One can imagine people assembling narratives based not just on media reports but social media posts, Google data, photographic analysis and on-the-ground escapades. This has obvious and troubling dangers related to mass hysteria, bias and vigilantism. But I struggle to be wholly disapproving of the fact that people's urge towards screen-bound escapism is not being entirely consumed by fantasy.
Here we go again. A teacher in Yorkshire, England allegedly showed his students a picture of Muhammad and local Muslim parents are kicking off.
I think the behaviour of Islamic activists, who named the teacher and accused him of “sadistic…terrorism”, is utterly disgraceful given that the last teacher to show a picture of Muhammad to his students - Samuel Paty, in France - was killed by terrorists, along with several others. Frankly, I believe there is a case for prosecuting these activists on charges of incitement - but if not a simple “shut up” would have been better than the handwringing apologies that came.
With this said, I do feel sympathy for the average Muslim who feels concerned that their children might be exposed to blasphemous materials at school. I may not understand their beliefs but they believe them deeply. The liberal combination of openness and iconoclasm is odd to me. In a way, restrictionism is more respectful.
The same blend. Freddie deBoer reflects acidly on people who object to writers like him having a platform through which readers can support his work:
There are so many writers in news media whose work has literally nothing to distinguish it - not prose, not insight, not inside knowledge, not useful reporting, not expert opinion, nothing. They offer only the same blend of worn-out Weird Twitter-era jokes and identical woke politics as every other writer. So they have no way to distinguish themselves in a market.
Increasing encroachments. Ed West addresses the tyranny of HR:
Our economy may be in deep trouble following the pandemic, but one area which is already enjoying a roaring 20s is the diversity industry, which has significantly increased its presence in many companies since the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. All around, in hushed tones, people in a variety of careers, from academia to medicine to finance, grumble about the increasing encroachments on their workplace by newly empowered D.E.I teams. And the grumbling is always private; no one wants to go on record.
A paradoxical role. Geoff Shullenberger writes about contrarianism:
The contrarians now concentrated at Substack play a paradoxical role in the marketplace of ideas. They offer viewpoints that are scarce at larger outlets, so they diversify the landscape. On the other hand, their disaggregation into individual newsletters contributes to the fragmentation of the media—and the polarization of the public into vehemently opposed in-groups.
Missed connection blues. Harrison Lemke, one of my favourite singer-songwriters, has a new album out, Forever Only Idaho, about the struggles of leaving homes, and building homes. It's very good. Max Bodach reviews it at Athwart.
Have a lovely week,