Politico: "He's a Performance Artist Pretending to be a Great Manager."

“I don’t think there’s anything of scale that he’s had his hands on that he hasn’t made a hash of,” biographer Tim O’Brien said in an interview last week.

“Ramping up,” fellow biographer Gwenda Blair added, her tone dry, “is something he’s maybe not so good at.”

And as the ‘80s flipped to the ‘90s, the consequences of Trump’s unorthodox decisions were clear. “All those businesses are gone, of course,” Nobles said, “because they weren’t as successful as they could have been—and should have been.”

I'm starting to think this guy isn't very good at this job.

A Note on the Electoral College

Another mismatch between the electoral college and the popular vote. A short(er) note on the subject, as a preface to much more on this election, our politics, and our country.

TL;DR: It's here to stay, to help defend against city rule by fiat.  The closer you look, the worse it gets.

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How Trump Will Win

Here's how Donald Trump wins this election.

Right now, the electorate is made up of four distinct and relevant groups. They are, in order of size and significance:

  • Group 1: Trump Supporters

Trump supporters have a different value system than the media and the political class. Trump speaks to them and to the issues they care about. They will never vote for Hillary Clinton.

  • Group 2: Clinton Supporters

Clinton supporters are the political establishment and traditional Democrats. They will never vote for Donald Trump.

  • Group 3: #NeverTrump

These are voters that would not normally be in the Clinton camp, but are so mortified by the concept of a Trump presidency that they will vote against him, or not vote at all.

  • Group 4: #NeverHillary

These are voters that would not normally vote for Donald Trump (or any Republican), but are so mortified by the concept of a Clinton presidency that they will vote against her, or stay home.

Groups 1 and 2 are secure. Groups 3 and 4 are secure in their intentions, but whether they actually can be mobilized is another thing. Politically speaking, it is much harder to mobilize a group against a thing than for a thing: in general, the thing that motivates people against it must be way worse than the thing motivating people in support of it is good, often by a factor of 2 or 3.

All Donald Trump has to do is, by Election Day, be just good enough for Group 3 to stay home and bet that in a race between Group 1 and Group 2, Group 1 will win.

If the media succeeds in creating an equivalency between Trump and Hillary, and the NeverTrumpers lose enthusiasm, Trump wins.

A Note on Criticism

Most of the time, when you read a movie review or any other analysis of a cultural event, you only get half the story. To tell you the truth, I doubt you even get a quarter of what's really going on, once you do the math.

Let me start over.

This publication, as sporadic and periodic as I design to publish it, is concerned with greatness. This means I spend my letters most directly on objects of wide appeal and influence, because it is here that greatness can be most useful and impactful. In doing so, however, I then enter the realm immediately outside these objects, which is the area of popular criticism. It seems, then, that I should both concern myself with what it means for those objects to be great and what it means to be a great and effective critic of those things.

To be a generally effective critic, I have to do three things:
1. First, I have to state and clarify my expectations. This includes assessing what the maker sought to do, as well as what I expect it to do.
2. Next, I assess the object based on how it meets, exceeds, or fails my expectations.
3. Last, I assess my expectations in light of this new object.

The first part, I think, is actually most important, as it would otherwise be an unconscious undercurrent throughout the criticism. It would be the rubric by which I grade a test: the rubric must be sound first before the test can even be judged. So often, though, it's the part that's least clear, and rarely defined.

Take, for instance, the hubbub that surrounds Apple product releases, and the waterfall of content that flows forth from them. Each take on the "quality" of the product and the "success" of its release is launched from a berth of unknown and unstated expectations of that event, and those expectations range from "this product is of no consequence as I expect not to replace my current device" to "this product will be the most remarkable and revolutionary device ever made" to "this product will be an improvement on the current product". The review that comes will undoubtedly be a product of the object's fulfillment of those expectations, regardless of how much sense those expectations make. But, how often do we accept the star rating or collated score as-is, and how often do we reject criticism based on unreasonable expectations?

I submit that most of the time, we choose not to judge based on what's unsaid. We do that because we implicitly trust the publication, or maybe because we're reading in the aggregate and want to develop a wider perspective of opinions, which a lot of the time means you can't dive too deep.

But these are important objects, and criticism of those objects could be just as important if people trusted them to do what they ought to do. It's this goal I aspire to for the next few objects I'm going to criticize, and I thought I should stop fucking around about standards and throw my cap over the wall.

A Note on Horace and Pete

If you require some sort of explanation about the two characters mentioned in the title, here it is: on January 30, Louis C.K. sent this email to anyone who had created an account on his website, which he has previously used to sell copies of his standup:

Hi there.
Horace and Pete episode one is available for download. $5.
Go here to watch it.
We hope you like it.
Regards,
Louis

The show itself is too much to be summarized here. It's the first episode of a series of unknown length, released on an unknown schedule. It clocks in at 67 minutes, has no advertising, and follows a stage-inspired two-halves-separated-by-an-intermission format (which does nto end its similarities to stage productions, but thats more about the content of the show itself, which I wont speak to now).

His entire marketing strategy for this show consisted of those 24 words.


It could be said that there are two competing visions for the future of the internet.

The first views the internet as a dissemination tool. Networks and content makers stored and showed their video works on televisions to a discrete audience, and growth was scary and required a distribution undertaking on the scale of the production of the content itself. Print publishing before them dealt with similar issues, none more pressingly than journalism. The internet allowed for distribution of those products at a wide scale with much lower overhead, but didn't fundamentally change the nature of the products they produced or the forces behind them. They were just available in more places for more people for less money, and when distribution costs don't rise on scale with increased distribution, the revenue sources they use become much more effective.

The first group thinks that media companies and editors still have the real creative and curative energy behind them. So their distribution methods change, yes, and change they must and always will continue to change, but nobody in their garage is going to challenge Universal Studios or NBC or the New York Times because distribution is only worthwhile when the content is worth it, and their content is just more important. They are the curators.

The second group believes that the internet is a tool for the democratization of content: if not democratization, than anarchization of content. That decrease in distribution overhead didn't just lower costs for big publishers, it lowered the bar for potential producers, and someone who could foot this much smaller bill wondered why they didn't deserve an equal seat at the table. After all, the medium of browsing the web affectively gave them one: a URL was all you needed to get to both the New York Times and Joe Smiths Food Blog.

If large publishers and small publishers compete on an even playing field based on the quality of their content, the second group believes that small publishers will sometimes win.


The first battle between the two sides was fought over words, specifically published and printed words. The democratizers won.

The second battle was fought over music. A vision of instantly accessible garage bands was co-opted by the powerful marketing establishments of media companies, and today the media landscape is populated by the same types of artists looking for exposure to the same sorts of companies. The curators won. (Its worth mentioning that independent publishers won a side battle over podcasts, but that was more of a direct hit against terrestrial radio than music companies, who never really cared enough to fight this battle.)

The third battle was fought over movies, and the curators won, but not by beating independent creators on merit. Someone could make a movie for an audience and release it online, and maybe even have enough money to put a big name actor behind it, but it will never see an awards show appearance unless a production company markets it, and they will use the same techniques they always do when they eventually find something they like. Theres still a layer of production executives and producers in between people and movies.

The fourth battle is over short-form episodic video, formerly known as television shows.


Louis C.K. is not a production company. He has none of the baggage of producing a show thats supposed to be aired on television by a network: no commercials arbitrarily breaking up the flow of an episode into four parts, no S&P execs defining what can or can't be said by who, no marketing people determining what kind of things millennials will or will not watch. Theres no social media campaign, no commercials, no marketing of any kind aside from those 24 words.

But it is, by a quality standard, real. It stars Alan Alda and Jessica Lange. It has long takes and careful, almost mournful pacing. It has a theme song by Paul Simon, for Christs sake. This is a real show, meant to be consumed with the same reverence as any other show, but without the baggage from television and even the production filter of Netflix or Amazon, which are just as much content filters and curators as the networks were.

Whether or not the show is good, and I believe it is (please see for yourself: Go here and pay the five bucks), what is most important is that this model has to be seen as an option going forward in order for the democratizers to have a shot of winning this battle, and making sure the internet can still be a place for everyone.

A Meditation on the Release of Washington Post Reporter Jason Rezaian After Over 500 Days of Captivity in Iranian Jails

Remember: Jason Rezaian was not trapped in a coal mine, not rescued from a disaster. He was captured, held, and most likely tortured by the government of a nuclear power. These people are still there, and this will happen again: in fact, it's still happening.

Let this be the bones of our joy, the inner structure of our gratitude.