BRIEFLY NOTED: For 2021-04-09 Fr

Things that went whizzing by that I want to remember...

First of All:

I have been trying to think about the editorial policy of Hamish MacKenzie and company—what kind of writers they think they ought to try to bring to the SubStack platform. So I am making the circuit of SubStack Pro. Today's stop is Freddie deBoer:

My knee-jerk reaction is: WHOA!! This goes totally off the rails, starting with "apparently so is something called Rebecca Baird-Remba…"

If Freddie deBoer wanted to make me 100% certain that SBR is right when she says—of FdB—“I.. was like... 'do we need this in the world again?’”, he would have to call her a inhuman “it”. And that is what he went and did.

No: we do not need this in the world again. It has long been a grave and pointed insult in English to call a man a woman, or to call a woman a prostitute. Calling a woman an inhuman thing does not seem to be an improvement.

Hamish, Chris: Is this your more thoughtful platform in action?

After that the spiral downward continues.

I wonder. I think: FdB wants me to read him, to listen to him, to understand him and consider his arguments. And yet here he is, giving me an overwhelming desire to simply get up and quietly sidle away to where the conversation and more information-rich and less… simply unbalanced:

Freddie deBoer: There You Go Again: ‘She’s in the club, so it’s OK. She’s in the digital media kaffee klatsch. (Apparently so is something called Rebecca Baird-Remba; I don’t know, I don’t read Commercial Observer.) She’s done the necessary ingratiating… liked the shitty joke tweets… pretended to care… gritted her teeth and congratulated writers she really, really didn’t like about their new jobs. She has completed the rituals, the sorority rush… awarded a rung on the ladder. That’s why she’s allowed to do it, and I’m not….

These people… their endlessly workshopped dry one-liners… depressed and anxious… cries for help of desperate people, trapped in a dying industry, making pennies to grind out something called content while 70 year olds in the same business write 5000 words a year and watch their pensions grow. They think that they’re participating in the traditions of Joan Didion and Ellie Bly but the work they produce are listicles about Tik Tok and thinkpieces about Rick & Morty.… They mock Silicon Valley while quietly knowing that they are utterly in its thrall, that any shithead VC baron could come along at any moment, decide to throw a switch, and obliterate them and their publication.... They look at publications like the New Yorker as the cathedrals they aspire to work for, not seeming to realize that the beauty of being a cathedral is you get to treat even your big name employees like shit.... They want some security but they won’t take that job offer from their uncle because they’re sure, somehow, that they’re better than him…

LINK: <>

My considered reaction: This is someone who should not tweet. This is someone who should not blog. This is someone who very much needs an editor—and a good editor who cares for him, and will calmly, patiently explain to him just how his current presentation-of-self shtick is alienating his potential core audience, and leading them all to think “is there any reason we need this?”

I think it was cruel for SubStack to have given him the keys—the social power and resources, via SubStack Pro—to do this full time without giving him an editor who cares.

Hamish, Chris, & company: What do you think you are doing here?

Very Briefly Noted:

  • Janelle ShaneBeing Vaccinated Does Not Mean It’s Okay to Ask Gpt–3 to Participate in Meme Formats About Pandemics That Didn’t Exist When Its Internet Training Data Cut Off in Oct 2019: ‘Being vaccinated does NOT mean you can travel through time and multiple realities. Fortunately you’re still the same good-hearted grade schooler you were before you walked out of that basement with two items in your hand. One was the ability to restore the Dragon Balls, and the other was the recipe for the world’s best green bean casserole… <>

  • WikipediaCatalan Atlas <>

  • A previous example of journalists finding a writer and letting him set himself on fire for the LULZ, and the clicks: The New York Times in 2017 hires Michael Kinsley to say nice things about Donald Trump. No link: this kind of behavior should not be rewarded: Michael Kinsley: We Asked People to Say Something Nice About Trump. Here’s What We Heard

  • A very nice and well-written take on Biden’s corporate tax proposals: Richard MurphyBiden’s Tax Plan Is About Tackling the Class Warfare of the Us Elite<>

  • I do not think IP suspensions are—necessarily—in order, but certainly we should produce now and sort out the finances later: the market was made for man, not man for the market: Caleb WatneyHow the US Can Solve the Global Vaccine Shortfall: ‘We need to rapidly expand vaccine manufacturing around the world—are IP suspensions the best way to do it?… <>

  • Speaking of people who I never thought would become big BitCoin bulls!: Noah SmithBitcoin Is Upending the World of the Rich: ‘What the Bitcoiners have done is to create not just a new technology or a new asset, but a new asset class. It’s difficult to describe just how valuable it is to have an asset class… <>

  • Smart economists, including me, opine: Neil IrwinHow 10 Economists Think About the Economy Potentially Overheating: ‘ow 10 Prominent Economists Think About Overheating Some notable participants in the debate over the Biden stimulus tell us, in their words, what a too-hot economy would look like… <>


1) Deliciously written and wonderful to read:

Matt RidleyThe Unexpected History & Miraculous Success of Vaccines: ‘The general idea behind vaccination was brought to the attention of the western world…. His name was Onesimus and he lived in Boston, as the property of Cotton Mather, a well-known puritan preacher. Her name was Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, the literary wife of the British ambassador to Constantinople…. Onesimus seems to have told Mather that back in West Africa people were in the habit of deliberately infecting children with a drop of “juice of smallpox” from a survivor, thus making them immune…. Six years later…. Mather wrote to 14 doctors begging them to try inoculation. Thirteen ignored him but one, Zabdiel Boylston, did not…. At almost the same time in Britain, a brave woman pioneer, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, was introducing variolation to London society, having learnt of the practice while in Constantinople as the wife of the ambassador. She too was the subject of fierce denunciation…

LINK: <>

2) Very pleased to see this, because it is what I was thinking. The fact that Tankersley thinks the same gives me much more confidence in my take:

Jim TankersleyWith Warning to Democrats, Manchin Points the Way for Biden’s Agenda: ‘The West Virginia Democrat’s latest plea for bipartisanship suggested that, to win over a critical swing vote in his own party, President Biden will first have to reach out to Republicans…. The chances that such a compromise will materialize are slim…. Manchin’s calls for bipartisanship were less an insurmountable obstacle for Democrats than a road map for Mr. Biden… reaching out to Republicans to explore possible areas of compromise while laying the groundwork to steer around them if no such deal materializes…. Biden… aim[s] at increasing the pressure on Republicans to compromise—and, if they will not, giving Mr. Manchin and other moderate Democrats whose backing Mr. Biden needs the political cover to accept an all-Democratic plan…. [Biden] urged Republicans to “listen to your constituents,” arguing that voters across America back infrastructure spending on the scale Mr. Biden envisions…. Smaller pieces that could attract 10 or more Republican votes each, starting with a bill focused on supply chains and competition with China…. Postponing Mr. Biden’s proposed tax increases on corporations… if doing so would get Republicans on board with a spending bill…. Manchin… has blared his message: First, try bipartisanship. “Senate Democrats must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues on important national issues,” Mr. Manchin wrote in the Washington Post op-ed on Thursday. “Republicans, however, have a responsibility to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise”…

LINK: <>

3) The only reporters who should speak at White House press briefings should be local reporters not in Washington, D.C. who have substantive policy-related questions. Just saying:

Anne LaurieMedia Mudlarks Open Thread: We’re Dying Over Here, Dude!: ‘From the ‘Short Attention Span’ file, by an experienced Washington Post reporter: Dana Houle: “Nope. This is not intentional parody. Paul Farhi: ”Where are the leaks? The Trump White House provided reporters with a gusher. Under Biden, the pipeline has dried up…. Juicy details about the president’s behind-the-scenes conduct and decision-making? No one seems able to dig up anything interesting. Early forecasts of major policy proposals on the horizon, a.k.a. the grand tradition of the Washington trial balloon? A story we’re not getting to read these days. Insider accounts of West Wing rivalries, analyses of who wields influence with the president, detailed lists of Oval Office visitors? No such thing anymore….’”

A whole two and a half months, and yet no drama! Truly, TFG’s Oval Office occupany spoiled our Very Serious Media, possibly irreversibly. They loved those four years of a non-stop peep show, where every news cycle was a new ‘reality show’ episode. What are they supposed to do now, find their own stories?… 

LINK: <>

4) They think their job is to suck up to their insider sources, their advertisers, and their bosses, Duncan:

Duncan BlackWhat Is Your Job: ‘Journalists spend years knowingly conveying a false impression of what’s going on and then get really f—ing excited when someone like Boehner pens a tell all. And, ok, they have their weird little conventions about “off the record” and “background” so they can’t always share the specifics of what they know, but the top political people get on teevee all the time and do “ANALYSIS” and it is here that they basically just lie. The fiction they present to the country is one they’ve all agreed on. And now they’re all on twitter basically saying “lol Boeher, we all knew that at the time.” Oh, cool. Thanks for all that, you a–holes…

LINK: <>

5) As John Oakes pointed out five years ago, many historians of capitalism confuse the true fact that slavery and capitalism were intertwined and mutually supporting at the market level with the false claim that slavery and capitalism were allied:

John Oakes (2016): Capitalism and Slavery & the Civil Ware: ‘at some point, the [historians of capitalism] are… going to have to do a better job of accounting for the Civil War, ideally in a way that brings the debate over slavery and capitalism into closer alignment with the debate over slavery and the sectional crisis…. As the North grew stronger… northern politicians… advocate[d] federal policies designed to bring about the “ultimate extinction” of southern slavery… the overthrow of a powerful slaveholding class and the destruction of the largest, wealthiest slave system in the world. Antislavery politicians could safely do this because their own economy was not threatened by the destruction of slavery. Northerners wanted cotton, but… grown by free laborers….

The slaveholders could not respond in kind. Proslavery politicians may have convinced themselves that grass would grow on the streets of New York and Philadelphia if the North dared make war on King Cotton, but the North had no intention of making war on cotton. It made war on slavery…. For all the proslavery bluster, the Old South never produced a popular movement calling for the abolition of free labor. Here and there eccentric intellectuals predicted the imminent demise of “free society,” but not even the most bellicose… advocated… the “ultimate extinction” of capitalism. They couldn’t…. Southern leaders struggled to insulate slavery from the revolutionary threat of capitalism…. The slaveholders grew ever more belligerent in their increasingly extreme demands for federal protection of slavery… because they really did face an existential threat to their way of life.…

LINK: <>

6) Was Kankan Musa the richest man before 1800? Possibly when valued in gold, certainly not when valued in salt. On Medieval and Early Modern Timbuktu:

Lorraine BoissoneaultThe Golden Age of Timbuktu: ‘On the southern edge of the Sahara… north of the… Niger… beige towers and dusty roads appear[ing] out of the sand…. From a seasonal camp for storing salt and other goods to a major center for caravan[s]… gold… for salt from mines to the east… By the early 1300s, Timbuktu belonged to the Empire of Mali and was truly prospering…. Europe was awash in rumors of Timbuktu’s seemingly endless wealth and resources. It’s said that, in 1324, Mali’s sultan, Mansa Moussa, made a pilgrimage to Mecca with 60,000 slaves and servants and so much gold that, during his visit to Cairo, the price of the precious metal dropped precipitously…. Ibn Battuta visited the famed city 30 years later, and his descriptions of the bustling metropolis stoked the… imagination…. Europeans struggled with a minor ice age and the bubonic plague… [and] dreamt of streets lined with gold in Timbuktu… [an] African El Dorado, hidden somewhere south of the Sahara.

It wasn’t until the late 15th century, however, that Timbuktu experienced its “Golden Age.” But it was books, not gold bars, that brought Timbuktu its prosperity. Hundreds of scholars studied at the nearly 200 maktabs (Quranic schools). These scholars worked as scribes, thus increasing the number of manuscripts in the city. (You can browse through digital versions of some of the manuscripts here.) Visiting strangers were treated like royalty in hopes that they’d share their knowledge and books with Timbuktu’s scholars. As California State University’s Brent Singleton, wrote: “the acquisition of books is mentioned more often than any other display of wealth, including the building and refurbishment of mosques” in texts from the era. Timbuktu was one of the world’s great centers of learning. Never had African Muslims seen a better time to be a scholar (or a librarian)…

LINK: <>

Share Grasping Reality Newsletter, by Brad DeLong

Leave a comment

(Remember: You can subscribe to this… weblog-like newsletter… here: 

There’s a free email list. There’s a paid-subscription list with (at the moment, only a few) extras too.)