Weekly Roundup: Matt Runs The Voodoo Down Edition

If you want to know why so many young people call today’s American society Clown World, start with this: In a moment where race relations have forcibly erased all other possible subjects of conversation everywhere from the kitchen table to television news, the best-selling book in America is an oddly racist treatise on “whiteness” written by a white “corporate diversity trainer”. Every single person who spends time reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility would be better off reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: that’s a brilliant work of art that any English-speaking human would be better off for having read, written by a thoughtful and perceptive African-American, rather than a dime-store novelization of those bizarre corporate meetings where someone screams at you for thoughtcrime while you mentally calculate how many times you can look at your iPhone in any given ten-minute period before it gets taken away.

In addition to being a litmus test for limousine liberalism, White Fragility further exposes a genuine division in the American Left. A secret (and, sometimes, not so secret) battle was waged over the past two decades as to who would guide the Democratic party. You had the class-and-economy people, represented by Bernie Sanders at one extreme and William Jefferson “It’s the economy, stupid!” Clinton at the other. Then you had the all-about-race-and-gender people, who started off way behind in this race but eventually overtook and then purged their opposition. No doubt they would attribute this overnight success to the essential justness of their cause; a cynical person might point out that Bank Of America is perfectly willing to donate one billion dollars to people who frame the American discussion in terms of race but will not give a single penny to anyone who wants to overturn the existing economic order.

Seriously. Take a look at the OpenSecrets pages for Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. Warren’s top donor was the hard-left EMILY’s List, which gave her under $150k. Biden’s top donor was a hedge fund manager, who gave him EIGHT MILLION DOLLAR. Hell, Biden has gotten $1.9 from… wait for it… Bain Capital. That’s right. The 2012 “Republican” candidate for President just gave nearly two million bucks to the 2020 “Democratic” candidate. After hearing that, do you still think there is any genuine difference between the “mainstream” politicians in this country?

Matt Taibbi is firmly on the “class war” side of the Democratic divide, so it’s no surprise that he would be slightly cynical about the idea of white women earning millions of dollars as experts on race relations. What is surprising, for me at least, is the complete and pitiless broadside he launches against DiAngelo’s rather feckless and aimless book. You’ll want to read it.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: In The Twilight Of Human Precision Edition

The real revolution, it turns out, was in 1774. According to Simon Winchester’s absolutely outstanding book The Perfectionists, that’s when John Wilkinson (briefly) patented a method for boring holes in iron cannon. This, in turn, led to the accurate boring of cylinders for steam engines. In the two hundred years to follow, we became ever more precise as a civilization; Winchester’s book uses LIGO, the facility built to detect gravitational waves, as the apex example. Wikipedia says it can “These can detect a change in the 4 km mirror spacing of less than a ten-thousandth the charge diameter of a proton.” Which is quite precise indeed.

This week, inspired by a section of Winchester’s book, I bought my son an old set of Japanese calibration blocks as a gift for my son. (With one American block in there to make up the set, it turns out; buying cheap on eBay always leads to adventure of one sort or another. In this case, it means having seven Mitsuyos and one Starrett). Think of them as “go/no-go” gauges for measuring devices; if you want to know if your caliper is really reading precisely one inch, you’d have it measure the one-inch block and see what you get. When they were new, the blocks were calibrated to .15 micrometers. That is 1/100th the width of a human hair. I am hoping that these blocks remind my son that precision is a true and valuable thing. Without precision, bridges collapse and airplanes fall out of the sky.

Voluntary, habitual, culture-scale precision is the signature achievement of the Western world, although the Japanese also took to it with extraordinary fervor once they realized its benefits. It is an achievement of engineering rather than of science; that’s hard for many people to understand. And it’s going away, sooner rather than later. What will replace it? You don’t wanna know.

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Double Weekly Roundup: Then We Fight On That Lie Edition

This is a tale of two “underground” discussion groups. I’ll call them “underground” because they don’t conduct their business out in public via Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or whatever. Perhaps you’ve noticed lately how many people have simply stopped speaking their minds in public about anything. That’s because

a) they have jobs;
b) they want to keep them.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: What We Leave To The Kids Edition

More than ever, we live in a world of two movies and one screen. Perhaps more than two movies, now. The strangest bedfellows have been created. Corporations publicly thanking the people who looted their stores and apologizing for… taking up space? For not having more stock behind the shattered windows? Last week people were being arrested for going to church. This week they’re being ignored while they burn churches. We’ve been told that it was critical for us to stay home and keep six feet apart. Now it’s apparently a moot point. The media is lecturing us that property doesn’t matter as much as human life, but nobody wants to seem to address the fact that small businesses, many of them owned by minorities, are suffering disproportionately. The NYPD caught a couple of young people throwing Molotov cocktails into squad cars; once caught, the pair were revealed to be privilege-track “BIPOC” attorneys with Princeton and Fordham diplomas. Instagram influencers are posing at riots then getting back into $85,000 Benz SUVs. A Rolex dealer was burned and looted, a police precinct headquarters burned to the ground, but the CNN Building and Teamsters HQ were also smashed up.

Cui bono?

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: “when you just want to do a heckin smol human trafficking and be a cozy bean” Edition

It’s time for another game of Who Gets Fired And Who Gets Promoted In The Current Year Edition. Today, our two contestants are:

* someone whose parents engaged from the Nineties to 2003 in an exhaustively documented process of bribing public officials, creating visas for jobs which did not exist, bringing immigrants to the United States, forcing those immigrants to incur debt with interest rates of 50% or 60% percent, making them sleep 10 or 15 to a room, and then extracting money from their families back home;

* someone whose father said THE N-WORD during an interview in 1983.

One of these people lost their financial support (and effectively, their job) as a consequence of an action taken by their parents. The other one was promoted to staff editor at The New Yorker. Go ahead and guess who is who…

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Hey All You Cool Cat(Person)s And Kittens Edition

To Kristen Roupenian’s thousand literary injuries we can now add… perhaps inadvertent plagiarism. The New Yorker just indulged in a posthumous publication of Katherine Dunn’s “The Resident Poet”, and it’s eerily similar to Roupenian’s “Cat Person” despite having been written perhaps forty-five years earlier. Perhaps you don’t know who Katherine Dunn is, and I don’t blame you: she’s one of those obscurely-celebrated, literature-adjacent Boomers who seem more interesting in the rearview mirror, assuming said mirror is also being controlled by someone in her cohort. Her breakout novel of thirty years ago, Geek Love, is discussed by Kirkus like so: “Using drugs, insecticides and radioactivity, Al and his wife Crystal Lil, sometime geek, produce Arturo, a thalidomide child.” The older I get, the less patience I have with this sort of thing, this deliberate wallowing in the disgusting and frankly inhuman. Our modern society has evolved an insane preoccupation with the precise composition and quantity of the food we eat while simultaneously encouraging the wholesale and insensate consumption of trash media. What’s the Latin for unsound mind in sound body?

The New Yorker, of course, doesn’t see it this way. “But I already know,” Gen-X literature-adjacent person Naomi Huffman lectures the readers, “as well as anyone reading this, the reason that Katherine Dunn’s archive is full of work that wasn’t published during her lifetime and why it sat, untouched, for the first few years following her death: the supposedly enlightened institution of American literature has often overlooked the contributions of women. So many have had to wait to be heard. Now it is Katherine Dunn’s turn.” Seven of the ten top books on the NYT bestseller fiction list at this precise moment have been contributed by women; perhaps once Ms. Huffman’s “overlooking” is rectified we can have nine of the ten written by women, or perhaps ten of ten, for maximum diversity. Speaking for the American man, they’re welcome to take Stephen King’s current spot on the list, if they like, since King is also one of those people who requests that you open his book so he can vomit his filth directly into your mind. As a teenager I thought King was edgy and interesting, right up to the point in It where a pre-teen girl requests that she be gangbanged by her best friends and experiences two rockin’ orgasms in the process. I finished the book out of grim literary duty, threw it in a dorm hallway trash can, and never willingly considered King’s “work” again.

“The Resident Poet” is not close to being as awful as It was or Geek Love appears to be. It is depressing, and often artless in the bad sense of the word, but some of it is not unworthy of a brief examination, if only because doing so serves a greater discussion.

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Weekly Roundup: Always With The Cunning Linguists Edition

Venerable readers of this blog will recall that I received three “B” grades as an undergrad. One of them came from John Romano, because I was hospitalized for a week and thus missed enough of his class to receive an automatic penalty, though I’d never gotten a “B” on any assignment. I respected his choice, because he operated from unyielding precision in his teaching and evaluation. The second came from John Parks, and it stemmed from a disagreement over Mary Gordon’s bigoted trash novel Men And Angels. I did not feel the book was worthy of assignment nor of discussion in our class and I said so. Dr. Parks decided to engage me on this topic in front of twenty fellow undergrads; the consensus at the time among the students was that I had won the argument in scorched-earth fashion, but Parks had the final word when the grades were handed out. To this day, I remember him as an example of how not to teach at the college level; he was a soft and weak rhetorician who relied on the authority of his position, an easily provoked midwit perfectly suited for nothing better than the pallid bovine regurgitation of better writers’ work, a disjointed thinker who started blinking back the precursors of naked tears when I, a nineteen-year-old boy in a threadbare “Rockville BMX!” T-shirt, raised my voice at him.

Which leaves a third “B”, which wasn’t really a “B” because I saw the light during my third week of class and took advantage of a university rule which let me take a certain number of courses on a pass/fail basis. This, too, came from an in-class disagreement I had with the professor — but unlike the work of Mary Gordon, which has never appealed to any sort of reader other than the feebly subliterate, the substance of our squabbling remains intellectually relevant to the present moment.

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Weekly Roundup: Is It An “Assault Weapon” Or A “Patrol Carbine” Edition

To avoid insulting the reader’s intelligence, we will be using the following marked-up word:

(SHRUG)

several times in the narrative to come. When you see (SHRUG), it means that there is a fairly obvious hole in what is being reported or described — I can see it, you can see it, but nothing can be done. Using (SHRUG) in this fashion is inelegant and deliberately contra a few rules of grammar and usage, but we really need something that performs this particular task in this particular instance. Are you with me? Alright.

Last week, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman had an argument with his girlfriend. This (SHRUG) was the catalyst for him to head out to his garage, put on (SHRUG) a Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform, and get in his (SHRUG) detailed copy of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police car. He set a few houses on fire and killed the people when they came out. We don’t (SHRUG) know why he chose those people. Then he started pulling people over, using his fake police car, and killing them. The RCMP was in possession of this information fairly early in the spree but (SHRUG) decided not to alert people to what was going on. Instead, they (SHRUG) just told the cops to keep an eye out. Wortman then crashed into a real cop car, shot the male officer, and continued on his way. He crashed again (SHRUG) into a female officer’s car, killed the female officer, and continued on his way.

Wortman drove his cop car to the house of a woman he (SHRUG) knew, killed her, removed his police uniform, and took her SUV in place of her car. While refueling quietly at a gas station, looking exactly like everyone else instead of the fake cop he’d been for the entire day, he (SHRUG) happened to catch the attention of a police officer, who (SHRUG) gunned him down without return fire.

Wortman’s ruse was hugely effective, taking advantage as it did of Canada’s natural trust in its national police force. As the details of the shooting were coming to light, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a comprehensive ban on all semiautomatic rifles, aka “assault weapons”, in Canadian hands. At the same time, it was explained that Wortman was a convicted criminal who was not eligible to own firearms in Canada, and that he had not legally purchased any of the weapons he used. Nevertheless, (SHRUG) Trudeau emphasized that it was time for Canada to ban “assault weapons”. In a hastily delivered speech, Trudeau said

“”These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time. There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada.” Ah, but there is a use and a place for them. Get your (SHRUGGING) shoulders ready.

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Weekly Roundup: Frank Sinatra Has Over 300 Confirmed Kills Edition

I suspect that about half of my readers know the “Navy Seals copypasta” by heart. If you don’t, here is a brief introduction — but even that intro requires some grounding in what is called Extremely Online Culture, so hold on for a moment if you’re just a normal person who doesn’t deal in “memes” and “copypasta”.

The above video is the “Navy Seals Copypasta” fed through a computer program which mimics the distinctive style of Frank Sinatra’s rather relaxed late-period vocal performances. Why is this funny? Danger Girl didn’t think it was funny; she’s not wired for Fordite layers of irony. Let me take a shot at explaining the humor.

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Weekly Roundup: In Which The Author Seeks A Hoe For His Son Edition

I was born with a profound allergy to community. Don’t want a group, a crowd. Can hardly stand a team, and then only for short periods. The older I get, the worse this tendency becomes. I’d rather clean a toilet than attend a gathering. The latest covid chic trend of having “Zoom gatherings” and “virtual happy hours” confounds me: my first and only thought is why the fuck would I want to sit around and look at other people on a screen when I could be blissfully alone.

There are penalties for feeling this way: personal, financial, possibly criminal. The worst part of it, however, is that my antipathy to groups has caused me to walk away from a lot of great opportunities, great communities, great people. Here’s an example: I’ve been a NASA racer for a decade and a half but I’ve attended exactly one social event: the 2018 banquet where they handed out season championship trophies. I didn’t go because I wanted the trophy; I went because Danger Girl wanted to go. While I was there I saw all these people having a great time but all I could think was: I’m here to race against them, not to be their best friend.

I don’t want my son to feel this way. It’s damaging. Limiting. Yet I can already tell he has the same genetic inclination towards solitude. So we will fight it. We are fighting it. We started, as you might expect, by picking up a hoe.

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