Happy Birthday to Me

Social Media, Crypto, and such

Trump, Musk, Ye

When Jaron Lanier writes, I read:

I encountered Donald Trump a few times in the pre-social-media era, and he struck me as someone who was in on his own joke. He no longer does. Elon Musk used to be a serious person more concerned with engineering and building businesses than with petty name-calling. He didn’t seem like the kind of person to amplify a preposterous, sordid story about Paul Pelosi. Kanye West was once a thoughtful artist. Now known as Ye, he radiates antisemitism on top of his earlier slavery denialism.

I have observed a change, or really a narrowing, in the public behavior of people who use Twitter or other social media a lot. (“Other social media” sometimes coming into play after ejection from Twitter.) When I compare Mr. Musk, Mr. Trump and Ye, I see a convergence of personalities that were once distinct. The garish celebrity playboy, the obsessive engineer and the young artist, as different from one another as they could be, have all veered not in the direction of becoming grumpy old men, but into being bratty little boys on a schoolyard. Maybe we should look at what social media has done to these men.

I believe “Twitter poisoning” is a real thing. It is a side effect that appears when people are acting under an algorithmic system that is designed to engage them to the max. It’s a symptom of being part of a behavior-modification scheme.

The same could be said about any number of other figures, including on the left. Examples are found in the excesses of cancel culture and joyless orthodoxies in fandom, in vain attention competitions and senseless online bullying.

Twitter poisoning is a little like alcoholism or gambling addiction, in that the afflicted lose all sense of proportion about their own powers. They can come to believe they have almost supernatural abilities. Little boys fantasize about energy beams shooting from their fingertips.

Jaron Lanier in the New York Times.

Tulip mania

I started to read a story on Sam Bankman-Fried and the collapse of FTX, his cryptocurrency venture. But I stopped when aI realized that I still don’t understand crypto, which I accordingly never trusted, and that I was reading the story mostly for the schadenfreude.

That I mention this, and allude to tulip mania, shows that I, a sinner, still take pleasure in being vindicated.

… an endless stream of content

Instead of facilitating the modest use of existing connections—largely for offline life (to organize a birthday party, say)—social software turned those connections into a latent broadcast channel. All at once, billions of people saw themselves as celebrities, pundits, and tastemakers. A global broadcast network where anyone can say anything to anyone else as often as possible, and where such people have come to think they deserve such a capacity, or even that withholding it amounts to censorship or suppression—that’s just a terrible idea from the outset. And it’s a terrible idea that is entirely and completely bound up with the concept of social media itself: systems erected and used exclusively to deliver an endless stream of content.

Ian Bogost via The Morning Dispatch

What a waste!

The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.

Data scientist Jeff Hammerbacher via Nellie Bowles

Please, God, let Twitter live!

The best argument I’ve heard for praying fervently that Twitter survives is this:

Just FYI if Twitter dies, TGIF goes with it. (Nellie Bowles)

Election 2022

The Democrats’ greatest electoral asset

What will Democrats do when Donald Trump isn’t around to lose elections? We have to wonder because on Tuesday Democrats succeeded again in making the former President a central campaign issue, and Mr. Trump helped them do it.

Trumpy Republican candidates failed at the ballot box in states that were clearly winnable …

Since his unlikely victory in 2016 against the widely disliked Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump has a perfect record of electoral defeat. The GOP was pounded in the 2018 midterms owing to his low approval rating. Mr. Trump himself lost in 2020. He then sabotaged Georgia’s 2021 runoffs by blaming party leaders for not somehow overturning his defeat. That gave Democrats control of the Senate …

Now Mr. Trump has botched the 2022 elections, and it could hand Democrats the Senate for two more years. Mr. Trump had policy successes as President, including tax cuts and deregulation, but he has led Republicans into one political fiasco after another.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser

Smartest political money of 2022

The smartest money spent in this whole election was the tens of millions the Democratic party spent to help ensure Republicans picked the craziest candidates in nine different state primaries. It was a risky, cynical move for Dems to boost the most radical Republicans—and it paid off. The most effective (i.e.: dangerous) Republican candidate is someone reasonable like Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin. Trumpist Republicans reject these types as RINOs, and Dems were only too happy to help. 

Americans also rejected the #resistance stars. Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams lost again. And Texas’s Beto O’Rourke lost, again again. Not that it will deter either of them from running for President (certainly not from fundraising at least). TGIF looks forward to the Abrams-O’Rourke ticket in 2024.

Nellie Bowles

Look for the Republicans to copy “back the Dems’ craziest primary candidates” to their own playbook.

A Teachable Moment

An esteemed Tory political figure summed it up succinctly in London in August: “Donald Trump ruined the Republican Party’s brand.”

It will now stick with him or not. It will live free or die.

If, in 2024, Republicans aren’t serious about policy—about what they claim to stand for—they will pick him as their nominee. And warm themselves in the glow of the fire as he goes down in flames. If they’re serious about the things they claim to care about—crime, wokeness, etc.—they’ll choose someone else and likely win.

[Of a Trump rally in Ohio:] What I am seeing is the end of something. I am seeing yesterday. This is a busted jalopy that runs on yesteryear’s resentments. A second term of this would be catastrophic, with him more bitter, less competent, surrounded by collapsed guardrails. He and his people once tried to stop the constitutionally mandated electoral vote certification by violently overrunning the U.S. Capitol. If America lets him back, he will do worse. And America knows.

… All About Me is a losing game, because politics is all about us …

The old saying is there’s no education in the second kick of a mule. This is the third kick, after 2018 and 2020. Maybe they will learn now.

Peggy Noonan

The weakness of our major parties

The election of 2022 marked the moment when America began to put performative populism behind us. Though the results are partial, and Trump acolytes could still help Republicans control Congress, this election we saw the emergence of an anti-Trump majority.

According to a national exit poll, nearly 60 percent of voters said they had an unfavorable view of Trump. Almost half of the voters who said they “somewhat disapprove” of Biden as president still voted for Democrats, presumably because they were not going to vote for Trumpianism.

The telling election results were at the secretary of state level. The America First Secretary of State Coalition features candidates who rejected the 2020 election results and who would have been a threat to election integrity if they had won Tuesday. Most either lost or seem on their way to losing. Meanwhile, Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia who stood up to Trump’s bullying, won by a wide margin.

There are two large truths I’ll leave you with. The first is that both parties are fundamentally weak. The Democrats are weak because they have become the party of the educated elite. The Republicans are weak because of Trump. The Republican weakness is easier to expunge. If Republicans get rid of Trump, they could become the dominant party in America. If they don’t, they will decline.

Second, the battle to preserve the liberal world order is fully underway. While populist authoritarianism remains a powerful force worldwide, people, from Kyiv to Kalamazoo, have risen up to push us toward a world in which rules matter, practicality matters, stability and character matter.

David Brooks

This is one of Brooks’ best in a while.

Why Biden should announce his 2024 retirement

By saying he would not run again, Mr Biden would not surrender political leverage so much as enhance his chance to reach at least some deals. And he would make any Republican investigations of him and his family seem like malicious irrelevancies.

Joe Biden should not seek re-election | The Economist

Freddie’s not-so-grand conclusions

  • Trumpism continues to define American politics in many ways. Trumpian candidates appeared to do not great – JD Vance won, but he has a relationship to Trump that’s more complicated than Oedipus’s with Jocasta – but every single Republican Senate candidate had to define him- (or her-, but really him-) self in relationship to Trump. He wasn’t on the ballot, but our country’s political gravity sucks toward him at all times. What’s scary about him is knowing that, for him, nothing else matters – I don’t think he gives a single merciful shit about passing a conservative agenda, so long as people are talking about him. Including – especially – the haters!
  • I think people continue to underestimate the downsides of Trump’s influence on American politics. Yes, he served as president for a term, and just about everyone in politics (if speaking honestly) would say that electing your guy to the presidency is worth any cost. But Trump’s benefits are in some tension – he famously refused to put Social Security or Medicare in harm’s way, defying Paul Ryan’s previous stewardship of the GOP; he made just enough substance-free waves at economic populism and trade protectionism to let some people look past the fact that he’s a lunatic who says wild shit about whatever he wants and appears to barely be holding it together, cognitively. That’s one set of advantages. The other advantage is that he’s a lunatic who says wild shit about whatever he wants and appears to barely be holding it together, cognitively. A lot of Republican primary voters loved him because he would say absolutely whatever it took to most insult his enemies.
  • Finally, I continue to think that the outlook can’t look too rosy for Democrats given a basic question: what happens if an actually-competent populist Republican rises out of the morass of the party? What happens if someone takes Trump’s refusal to threaten SS and Medicare, takes his populist feints, and keeps a little bit of the performative rudeness, but isn’t, you know, absolutely fucking nuts? What if we get a Trump that hasn’t admitted to sexual misconduct on video? What if we get a Trump who doesn’t mock disabled reporters? What if we get a Trump who doesn’t have a mountain of oppos sitting out in the open for any reporter to get a hold of? What happens if, instead, we get a Reaganite figure who preaches a small government gospel while being smart enough to leave entitlements for the elderly alone, can give a speech without telling a thousand lies, and who doesn’t appear seriously cognitively compromised? Hypothetically, that figure could win 40 states. I truly believe that.

Freddie deBoer’s modest post-election analysis. Oddly, Freddie doubts that Ron DeSantis is the hypothetical candidate in his third-quoted excerpt.

Attempted extortion

Ron DeSantis, a Republican, won re-election as governor of Florida by a whopping margin. He is now well placed to run for the presidency in 2024. Donald Trump warned “Mr DeSanctimonious” to stay out of that race, hinting that he might dish up dirt on him if he challenges Mr Trump for the Republican nomination.

True Leadership

The voters have spoken, and they’ve said that they want a different leader. And a true leader understands when they have become a liability.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears on why she will not support 45 if he tries to become 47.

Groveling businesses

In the Holy Land and Jordan in late-October, I encountered the occasional pay toilet (usually, an attendant outside).

Considering the direction of American business, and even my big-clinic doctor, I’m almost surprised I haven’t gotten texts asking me to “Rate you experience breaking wind in our loo” — with a followup robocall if I don’t take the original bait.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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