What's Good: Jul. 3, 2020

Good journalists, rich assholes, and celebrations of varying quality.

Hello, good morning, happy Friday. I have been writing this newsletter for over 6 months now, although it feels like it’s been no time at all. This week is supposedly the pinnacle of fireworks season in the US, but I suspect that people will keep lighting off fireworks long throughout the summer. Everyone is, of course, very bored. And I don’t blame them for being bored, but it would be nice not to be up until midnight every night because of explosions outside my window. Anyway, today is also Hamilton Day, by which of course I mean that you can watch Hamilton on Disney+ starting today. I am very excited about this.


All the world’s a stage

If you haven’t heard of Clubhouse yet, it is essentially an app that is a never-ending Zoom call for rich people.

The app was valued at $100 million after a reported $12 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz, and requires an invite to join. In May, New York Times internet culture reporter Taylor Lorenz wrote that the app is "where venture capitalists have gathered to mingle with one another while they are quarantined in their homes."

Well, that certainly seems dangerous from the jump, I wonder how much trouble the people using it can get into. Oh, lots, okay:

During a conversation held Wednesday night on the invite-only Clubhouse app—an audio social network popular with venture capitalists and celebrities—entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan, several Andreessen Horowitz venture capitalists, and, for some reason, television personality Roland Martin spent at least an hour talking about how journalists have too much power to "cancel" people and wondering what they, the titans of Silicon Valley, could do about it.

There are several layers of incredible content going on here - first that they made a secret rich people meeting room and called it Clubhouse, second that they are using it to complain about journalists doing their jobs, third that they assume that by virtue of their positions they are able to make people they don’t like stop doing things they don’t like, and fourth that they would rather focus on the reportage of the bad behavior than on correcting the bad behavior itself.

I listened to the audio from the conversation last night, which is linked and embedded in the article, and it’s the sort of thing that you might generally believe could be possible but not actually believe happened, unless you listen to it yourself. It for sure happened, there was a guy rambling on about how it was Bad, Actually to abolish the fairness doctrine.

It should also not surprise you that “we’re mad at the media” took the form of targeting a specific journalist, in this case Taylor Lorenz:

The exclusive users of Clubhouse on the call seemed to conceive of themselves as humble citizens preyed upon by corrupted elites cravenly lusting after money and power; this reached a bizarre apogee when Srinivasan boasted of standing up for the CEO of a scandal-plagued luggage brand, depicting her as all but powerless because of her relatively low Twitter follower count. The conversation essentially resembled a Gamergate chat, with people obsessing over minute drama and, at times, suggesting that Lorenz had crossed a line on Twitter and must be punished.

"How can there be an accountability function that's implementable across all media that allows for that to happen, that pushback to happen without it being turned around and can become some toxic thing where all types of power dynamics are being used, and people have their weapons out," Jones said.

"Her employer should be saying, you cross the line with your editorial comments," Martin said, adding that "If I'm [Srinivasan], the argument that I would make to her bosses is you should be instructing your reporters not to be making editorial judgments about someone. Stick to reporting."

“Taylor is an excellent reporter doing incredibly relevant reporting for this moment. She, and all reporters, should be able to do their jobs without facing harassment,” Choire Sicha, editor of the NYTimes Styles desk, told Motherboard in an email.

I am glad the NYT is defending Taylor and her incredible reporting, fuck these guys.


There is no war in Menlo Park

Long ago, the tech journalists and company leaders lived in harmony. But everything changed when Mark Zuckerberg lied to Casey Newton:

One day in July 2016, Casey Newton, a tech reporter for The Verge, sat down at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park for the biggest interview of his career. Across from him was Mark Zuckerberg. With his characteristic geeky excitement, Zuckerberg described the promising initial test flight of Aquila, a drone with a wingspan larger than a 737 jet that was part of his plan to provide internet connectivity all over the world. 

Though Newton hadn’t witnessed the test flight in Yuma, Arizona—no members of the press were invited—he believed Zuckerberg’s account of it. When his article was published, it reported that Aquila “was so stable that they kept it in the air for 90 minutes before landing it safely.”

Months later, however, a Bloomberg story revealed that the flight hadn’t gone so smoothly after all—Aquila had crashed. While the craft had indeed stayed aloft for longer than intended, high winds tore a chunk out of a wing, leading to a crash landing.

“I immediately, of course, felt like an idiot,” Newton says. “In retrospect there were definitely questions that I should have asked that I did not.”

This is a long story about reporting on Facebook, and it is exactly the kind of story that I find extremely fascinating. It is one thing to learn about the company itself - it’s another entirely to learn about how the company treats the journalists reporting on it. It’s a great read.


Trigger discipline

Here is some schadenfreude:

After spending over $30m to help elect Donald Trump in 2016, the National Rifle Association faces a deepening financial crisis with over 200 staff layoffs and furloughs in 2020, according to three NRA sources, gun analysts and documents.

The situation is likely to hinder efforts by the gun rights group to help Trump and other Republicans win in November’s election.

The 200-plus layoffs and furloughs, which have not previously been reported and were mainly at NRA headquarters in Virginia, were spurred by declines in revenues and fundraising, heavy legal spending, political infighting, and charges of insider self-dealing under scrutiny by attorneys general in New York and Washington DC, the sources say.

“The widespread Covid layoffs and furloughs have further harmed both the NRA’s legal capacity and political influence beyond what was already a troubling deterioration,” said one NRA official who requested anonymity to discuss internal matters. The official added the outlook this year for NRA political spending was “deeply concerning.”

Yes. Good. More of that.


How to tread water

This article is from last year, but I was reminded of it by someone this week, and it remains poignant and important:

Content warning: this essay contains vivid language about suicide and suicidal thoughts.

I wish there was a nicer way to say this, but I don’t always want to be alive. Right now, I don’t actively want to kill myself — I don’t have a plan, I don’t check the majority of the boxes on lists of warning signs of suicide, I have a life I enjoy and I’m curious about the future — but the fact remains, I don’t always feel strongly about being alive and sometimes, on particularly bad days, I truly want to die.

It’s been a long time since that statement felt anything but mundane. In middle school and high school, there were the morbid poems, the self-harm, the overwhelming emotions that everyone dutifully labeled teen angst. In college, there were nights when I drank too much and the protective barriers keeping my depression at bay faded to nothing and the thought came to me unbidden, as seductive as it was scary. I want to die. Eventually, I finally stumbled my way into treatment. After that, I celebrated each birthday with surprise because each age I hit was one I assumed I wouldn’t reach.

If you have absolutely zero connection to the above, or to the rest of the piece generally, great! But I would recommend that you read it, because you probably have a number of friends for whom it resonates, and knowing what they’re experiencing can help you be there for them when they need you. I have been on both sides of that situation. It’s hard.


Looting

I don’t think I’ve ever met a conservative who was willing to have an honest conversation about the use of the term “looting,” and this is why:

For Americans with a less fancy résumé than the typical physician or Google engineer, the coronavirus has exacerbated an already dire lack of employment security. A great many essential workers have been growing, picking, tending, slaughtering, packing, preparing, and delivering food throughout the country without paid sick days. While other countries moved quickly to backstop payrolls and freeze their economies more or less in place, the U.S. let 40 million people go unemployed and has kept many of them waiting months for temporary assistance.

Long before the pandemic, U.S. workers’ productivity and their median pay, which once rose in tandem, went through an acrimonious divorce. Compensation, especially in some of the country’s fastest-growing industries, has stagnated, while the costs of housing, health care, and education decidedly have not. The federal minimum wage, stuck at $7.25 since 2009, is worth 70% of what it was in 1968, and about a third of what it would be had it kept pace with productivity.

The minimum wage should be twenty-two dollars and conservatives are getting mad about fifteen? Fuck that, no. Meanwhile, private equity funds are gutting newspapers and other businesses around the country so some rich assholes can get richer at the expense of good people who do good work.


Fyre festival, but make it pizza

I promise you will be enthralled by this story:

The problems with the New York City Pizza Festival began with the pizza. Slices were cut into comically miniature triangles, nowhere close to what Ishmael Osekre, the organizer, had promised. In Facebook ads he’d hyped stuff-your-face quantities of thin crust, served outdoors on a late-summer weekend in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. He’d set prices high, charging as much as $69 per person for VIP access, and recruited more than 1,100 ticket buyers for the pizza fest, as well as a simultaneous event, the New York City Burger Festival, which promised “mountains of french fries, oceans of ketchup, and waterfalls of beer.”


Pass the aux

Just kidding, nobody is allowed to have parties this year. I am specifically banning you from going to a party - parties, not protests, are the main threat vector for COVID-19 spread. Thankfully, MEL has some good content for you:

Let’s be honest — this Fourth of July season is probably a bust. Besides the fact that celebrating the day Americans “became free” during the nationwide protests for Black Lives Matter seems just the tiniest bit tone deaf, the coronavirus restrictions on large parties will probably put a cap on any backyard ragers for a while. (If that isn’t stopping you from partying, we have other things to worry about.) 

But let’s look at the positives. Have you ever truly enjoyed a Fourth of July party? It’s usually four days after the end of Pride, you’re still washing glitter out of places that never should have seen the sun and you’ll probably end the night blacked out on an atrocious beersunburned and wondering when the hell you’re going to use an American flag jumpsuit again. Corona has taken a lot of things from us, but missing your Fourth of July party might not be the biggest sacrifice. 

For those of us responsible enough to drink at home like adults rather than force an essential worker to serve you a ridiculous COVID cocktail at an outdoor bar, here’s a playlist of some of the best “American” songs that would ruin your party, but are perfect for day drinking alone at home

Also I just realized that there is and will be a growing segment of the population that doesn’t get this joke because Apple killed the aux port. That’s so sad, Alexa play Despacito.


You deserve some good animal content


Have a good weekend. Do not go to a party.