Remedial Reading #1
A quick tour of some other Substacks worth diving into.
If you’ve been reading Bug-eyed and Shameless recently, you would have noticed that I’m bullish on the idea that Substack may be heralding a bigger shift on the internet. Away from big, messy, acrimonious slugfests in the public square full of main characters suffering from main character syndrome; and toward an internet that looks more like a conventional hall, where you can peruse conversations, topics, and platforms at your leisure and chat with others skimming the same content.
Substack is not paying me to say this, I swear. (Substack, if you’re reading this: Hey, I’m open to advertisers.) But it has gotten me thinking that I need to get better at reading other authors on this platform (and others like it.)
So I thought I’d shout out some other Substacks that have piqued my interest over the past couple of weeks.
Are you following a quality Substack, Ghost, or other newsletter that you’re keen to boost? Include it in the comments!
Casey Newton is one of those journalists whose names you might not recognize, but whose work you’re familiar with. His deep dives on social media companies’ nightmarish descent into content moderation was eye-opening, and illustrative of just how hard this problem is.
His recent dispatch on the difficult legal question over who is responsible when dangerous trends recommended by the algorithm lead to deadly results raised an issue that wasn’t on my radar at all, but may be one of the most significant challenges we’ve seen to Section 230 yet.
Newton raises the interesting question:
It’s dangerous but legal to film yourself doing the blackout challenge, and tell other people to try it. It would be strange but not unimaginable to think of a world where platforms host such content — and are indeed perhaps forced to, by laws like those recently passed in Florida and Texas — and get in trouble only for promoting it. How can the problem be the promotion of speech, rather than the speech itself?
Noah Smith makes economics fun! A one-man futurist Freakonomics.
Here, he and his co-author put into some pretty economical words all the reasons we should learn to stop worrying and love the AI. It includes some thoughts about Midjourney, the AI artist which I use to illustrate Bug-eyed and Shameless.
Smith defines the “sandwich workflow”: A human has an idea, sends it to the AI, the AI returns a menu of options, the human orders what they want and then edits it to their specifications.
The sandwich workflow is very different from how people are used to working. There’s a natural worry that prompting and editing are inherently less creative and fun than generating ideas yourself, and that this will make jobs more rote and mechanical. Perhaps some of this is unavoidable, as when artisanal manufacturing gave way to mass production. The increased wealth that AI delivers to society should allow us to afford more leisure time for our creative hobbies.
Listen I’m no big Bill Kristol fan, one of The Bulwark’s founders. But I do have nice things to say about Charlie Sykes, the newsletter’s other founder. If listened to The Flamethrowers, you would recognize Sykes as the right-leaning radio host who not only rejected the cult of Trump, but actually hold then-candidate Trump’s feet to the fire instead of kissing the ring.
Written off as a mushy-middle Never Trump organization, The Bulwark is a useful — if imperfect — holdout voice of sanity in a movement that has lost its damn mind. Whilst plenty of liberal writers fixate on how this time Trump may have gone too far, Jonathan V. Last rightly focuses on Trump’s biggest weakness being his lack of campaign:
Where is Trump? Not holding rallies. Not golfing with celebs. Not doing grip-n-grins with scared Republican toadies. Maybe he doesn’t have the vigor to be jetting around and scrapping. It takes a lot of energy to hold together an authoritarian cult. You have to stay visible and always look like you’re in charge. Maybe time is sapping enough of his energy that he won’t be able to do the barnstorming required to hold his movement together.
If you’re looking for the big takeaways from last month’s Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa, Wesley Wark’s newsletter puts everything into sharp focus. As one of Canada’s most studious experts on national security, Wark is a useful voice. His nascent newsletter will be worth keeping your eyes on.
The biggest mystery of all, in my book. The counter-factual. We can’t know what would have happened if the Emergencies Act was not invoked. The notion that the Emergencies Act regulations, once proclaimed, served as an important deterrence is not susceptible to measurement. Without this purported deterrent, what might have happened? Can’t know. We can’t know whether the government’s fear of a worsening future was real, imagined or exaggerated. That future never arrived at the station.
The Department of Homeland Security Is Still Lying To Congress About Its Portland Protest Surveillance
Spencer Ackerman’s Forever Wars is required reading. I always gauge a news outlet’s quality by its ability to surprise me: And it’s hard not to be surprised by every one of Ackerman’s dispatches. I’ve been trying my best to work through his fantastic Reign of Terror, but it crams so much of the miserable history of the War on Terror into such readable, plain detail that it can be frustrating and overwhelming at times.
His newsletter is hosted on the open source Ghost platform, following Ackerman’s falling out with Substack. (See? I’m not a Substack shill!)
Far too few journalists care about how police manage protest. Ackerman’s reporting on the Portland Occupied Zone is fascinating in that regard (and offers some interesting parallels with Ottawa’s Freedom Convoy problem earlier this year.)
Then there's the question of politicization. The section recounting the creation of the "Violent Antifa Anarchist Inspired" activity begins with a blandishment that "no politicization [of intelligence] was found." That's just not a credible statement about the adoption of a threat category in order to justify DHS surveillance of constitutionally-protected political activity, all at a time when the president of the United States was demanding the national-security apparatus target the protesters.
I love a crusade against historical revisionism. Dan Garner’s newsletter about how the past shapes our reality is such a good read. This is a story of how we went from a Basil Fawlty exclaiming “don’t mention ze war!” and goosetepping around the hotel to Tom Brokaw and Steven Spielberg deflating any comedy about the horrors of war.
The idea of joking about Nazis? Of portraying a camp commandant as an essentially harmless idiot? Presenting a German sergeant as a lovable lug who just wants to go home and make toys? Allied prisoners who are clever and successful, yes, but mostly wisecracking, back-slapping, cut-ups? Try pitching that to Netflix.
It’s unlikely I have to tell any of my Canadian subscribers to go check out Paul Wells’ Substack. But Wells’ skewering of the Conservative Party of Canada’s paranoid populist leader and his insulting rhetoric around North America’s deadly opioid crisis is a masterclass. Be sure to read the update as well.
To me this answer shows a lousy understanding of substance-use policy in British Columbia and Alberta and a strange conception of federalism. It suggests Poilievre would pursue policies that would likely make opioid deaths increase.
The newsletter that will have you brandishing a revolver and crying “garbage day!” Just let Ryan Broderick explain the internet to you.
If you’ve heard anything about the Colorado shooter claiming to be nonbinary it’s worth reading up on 4chan’s Operation Pridefall. As VICE wrote in 2020, Operation Pridefall was planned psyop of escalating cyber harassment where users would pretend to be LGBTQ and get activists to turn against each other.
Hype some other newsletters/blogs in the comments below!