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Something worth reading is something worth sharing.

Critical Linking is a weekly(ish) newsletter of musings of all sorts, plus recommendations for what to read, watch, and listen to.

The Bear is Back

Did I watch all of the episodes in a single night?

Yes, Chef!

Should I? Probably not. I should have savored it, like an expensive tasting menu, but I gorged it like a bag of Doritos. The season is just as good as it’s ever been, but the forward momentum in the plot is minimal. The movement happens by way of depth: Each person is revealed to us a little more deeply. That’s why we watch. Sure, we want to know what happens to the restaurant because we’re rooting for this ragtag band of misfits. But we care about them beyond their roles in the kitchen: We want them to be happy and taken care of and to find peace and love and relief from a largely unrelenting world. The season provides more context and background for many of them, and it continues to document the growth of nearly every character. They feel real, as complicated and lovable as any family member or friend in our real lives. It’s a marvel.

You know those posts that say, “I watched all of such-and-such so you don’t have to”? Did I do that? Yes. Except 86 that last part. You absolutely have to watch this. It’s as good as it gets on TV.

Ep. 1: Felt a little disoriented between a largely plotless episode. That’s not a complaint. I could have watched an entire season in the montage-filled depiction of both the day immediately after the crazy season two finale. That much I expected, but I wasn’t expecting the time-travel bits that showed mostly how Carmy got to where he is. It was a masterful bit of table-setting for a new season, with little done to advance the ongoing storyline of this new restaurant. But it catches us up with this gang that we’ve come to love in such an elegant, graceful way, with a beautifully soft score throughout that all comes together to put you at ease, as if to say, “I’ve got you. You’re in good hands.”

Ep. 2: This is where the show’s comedy comes back. That first episode was so atmospheric; it was beautiful and quiet compared to the show we all know and love. And within seconds of this one starting, we’re back to laugh-out-loud hilarious line readings. The sheer volume of laugh lines per minute is off the charts.

  • The quasi-opening credits tour through various Chicago food-service locations, where many of the participants wave directly at the camera, felt a part of a different show but it was just so endearing.
  • As the scene in the kitchen grows from various two-shots to a full on ensemble is a masterclass of writing and staging.

Ep. 3: Here’s the chaos we’ve come to expect. It’s like someone said, “The feeling of PTSD—how do we make that a TV show?”

  • Uncle Jimmy steals the show, constantly worrying about where they money is.

Ep. 4: The first few minutes are a simple two-shot, just Carmy and Claire, and it’s a testament to the writing on the show. Not just on a macro level, but each individual line. Nothing happens in the scene, but you could watch it go on like that for the episode’s entire runtime. So lifelike and broken-in. It’s silly and lovebird-ish at times, but then somber and tense, and finally thematically profound. All in less than 4 minutes, without a single camera move.

  • Some top-notch Faks action.
  • Dad Richie is the best Richie.

Ep. 5: Quietly beautiful Marcus episode, which is fitting for a quietly beautiful character. From the opening scenes of clearing out his mom’s house and sitting on the steps with Syd, they bond over membership in a painful club: those who’ve lost a mother. There was such sadness in his simple statement: “I wish she’d gotten to try the food.”

  • Sammy Fak for the win.
  • Know who else loves Marcus? Nat.

Ep. 6: Great use of clocks in the early scenes. Tina’s entire world changes in just 4 hours’ time. The episode serves as an example of adding depth to a character who already feels fleshed out despite scant screen time; in just a few minutes, we understand her life more fully than any triumphs or failures in the kitchen ever showed us.

  • Time shift got me again. Fool me twice, shame on me.
  • Bernthal remains the magic fairy dust sprinkled ever so lightly throughout this show.
  • Heyo! Directed by Ayo. She’s got a great eye. Watch out, world. A real one here.

Ep.7: This show does memories as well as any I’ve ever seen. I think part of what makes us love these characters so much is that the chaos of their lives in the kitchen are just distractions from the stuff of real life, the hard things, the reality that the world keeps spinning and waits for no one. Carmy, Richie, Syd: Each of them is dancing on the edge of a memory constantly. Something else this show does better than any I can remember: Pairs its characters together in interesting and revealing ways. It doesn’t matter who gets together in a given scene, it always works.

  • What’s it like to be haunted? Uncle Fak will tell you.
  • Dueling partnerships! The drama!
  • Gary gets in on the memories: Triple-A ball. Such a touching scene.
  • Nat, you beautiful sunfish. What were you thinking?

Ep. 8: Mothers and daughters. Daughters and mothers. What more can you say?

Ep. 9: It’s not be entirely clear how the restaurant has been doing in terms of popular or critical opinion. It was a deft touch to see Syd reading profiles that all focus solely on Carmy while wearing a faded Scottie Pippen t-shirt. This episode doubles down on the excellent character pairings: Carmy and Unc, Unc and Computer, Richie and Tiff, the Fakses and Claire.

  • The number of gorgeous women who call Faks “my love” is unrivaled.

Ep. 10: I couldn’t help but wonder if funeral dinners like the one depicted here are a real thing when restaurants close. I’m guessing it is. Which is such a cool idea: one last meal, one last service, with friends and co-workers. It’s the perfect setting for the various deeply philosophical musings that happen throughout the course of the show: What experiences are most meaningful and most memorable, how to be good (or possibly great) at something, the value of food as a shared experience, the necessity for balance and restraint, the imperative to live.

  • Thomas Keller is the GOAT.
  • The guest stars in this episode are elite.
  • Looks like a mixed review where it counts. Sets up next season beautifully.

Goodbye to the Longform Podcast

They saved the best for last.

I said goodbye to dear friends tonight.

No, it’s not that kind of serious, because the “friend” is actually a podcast. And its hosts. I shared recently about the impending end of the Longform podcast, and it’s regretfully arrived. And boy, oh boy, what a get: John Jeremiah Sullivan.

Episode 585: John Jeremiah Sullivan - Longform
Interviews with writers, journalists, filmmakers, and podcasters about how they do their work. Hosted by Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky, and Evan Ratliff.

He’s got to be the show’s great white whale: He’s one of the best to ever do it and he’s never been on the show before. It’s so fitting that he would be their final episode.

Not to be too dramatic, but I treated the moment with some solemnity, not a tongue-in-cheek sort but an honest variety. I took the episode out of my earbuds and instead piped it through my big stereo, letting the voices and conversation fill the entire room instead of just being piped directly into my ear canal. That straight-to-the-dome quality of podcasts helps breed that heightened intimacy we feel from the medium; it’s why we feel like our favorite hosts are just friends. And in that spirit, I let my friends in and made drinks to settle in and enjoy each other’s company properly.

I further altered my normal podcasting mode by slowing it down to a normal speaking pace. It served nobody’s interest for me to speed it up. For once, I wasn’t trying to get through a podcast; I was intent on savoring it as long as possible. I sat with a pocket notebook, and I took notes, trying to drink in the knowledge pouring out of a master. It was quite lovely, a nice way to spend the evening and one I could always repeat from the show’s deep archive but just wouldn’t be the same.

Again, not to be overly dramatic, but when Max Linsky started wrapping up the episode, thanking the many along the way who’ve helped to make it possible, I got legitimately sad. My eyes watered. And I know that’s a silly thing. I do. I get it. But it was as natural as breathing in that moment; it could not be helped. The show meant the world to me. It was everything I loved about journalism school, everything I loved about working at a newspaper, everything I love about working with journalism school students. And I will miss it. And them. Max let me know, through the episode’s final words, that I wasn’t alone in how I felt, when he thanked the many listeners who took the time to reach out. The podcast mattered to a lot of people, and in a small way, that bucks me up. Feels less lonely in a moment of sadness. His response to the notes and thanks was perfect:

We should all be lucky enough to do work, to make things that mean something to other people. It’s the best. It is the absolute best.

Review: Good Together, Lake Street Dive

This band quite simply does not miss.

Their latest, Good Together was released on June 21, and it’s quick and supremely enjoyable listen. The grooves are impeccable, and it’s a nice treat to both hear Rachel Price’s vocals soar as fully as ever but also to hear her cede some verses over. It’s not unheard of for her to sit a verse out, but it’s a definitely a different sound, and this album makes great use of it. Feels fresh and exciting but not unfamiliar.

I heard a few of these songs when I saw them live last year in Kansas City, but it’s nice to hear them in context of the rest of the album.

Early Favorites

Dance With a Stranger; Help Is On the Way; Seats At the Bar; Twenty-Five

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Second-to-Last Episode of Longform Podcast

Never a bad conversation between these two.

Coates might just be one of the most-interviewed on the 12-year history of the show. He’s never not great. It’s interesting to listen to the different moments in his career, as he grew from a great writer to a household name.

Episode 584: Ta-Nehisi Coates - Longform
Interviews with writers, journalists, filmmakers, and podcasters about how they do their work. Hosted by Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky, and Evan Ratliff.

Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better second-to-last episode of the show. And I was glad to see that he was working on another book, because I was prone to wondering what he was up to nowadays.

His latest book, The Message, sounds awesome. From the publisher:

Ta-Nehisi Coates originally set out to write a book about writing, in the tradition of Orwell's classic "Politics and the English Language," but found himself grappling with deeper questions about how our stories--our reporting and imaginative narratives and mythmaking--expose and distort our realities.
In the first of the book's three intertwining essays, Coates, on his first trip to Africa, finds himself in two places at once: in Dakar, a modern city in Senegal, and in a mythic kingdom in his mind. Then he takes readers along with him to Columbia, South Carolina, where he reports on his own book's banning, but also explores the larger backlash to the nation's recent reckoning with history and the deeply rooted American mythology so visible in that city--a capital of the Confederacy with statues of segregationists looming over its public squares. Finally, in the book's longest section, Coates travels to Palestine, where he sees with devastating clarity how easily we are misled by nationalist narratives, and the tragedy that lies in the clash between the stories we tell and the reality of life on the ground.
Written at a dramatic moment in American and global life, this work from one of the country's most important writers is about the urgent need to untangle ourselves from the destructive myths that shape our world--and our own souls--and embrace the liberating power of even the most difficult truths.

George Saunders on Reading For Fun vs. Reading For Analysis

One of the good still-good things on the internet: George Saunders’s Substack, Story Club.

Today he wrote in response to a great reader question, summed up in this paragraph:

Ah, the eternal conundrum, the tug of war between imagination and reality. While the right brain strives for abstraction, metaphor, symbolism, the left brain struggles for certainty, objectivity, the material. Where's the ideal interface? How much critical analysis is necessary to enjoy a story? Is it sufficient to read for the pleasure of the experience? Are all impressions, conclusions, interpretations equally valid? Is a story whatever the reader thinks it is? Or, to paraphrase Orwell, "All interpretations are equal, but some interpretations are more equal than others"?

The question’s actually much long and better and entertaining than just that bit, but this is the heart of the matter.

To Analyze, or Not to Analyze?
Office Hours

His response is kind of perfect. Because we do both, don’t we? Or at least want to.

I wrote recently about wanting to recharge my reading habit, and this newsletter came at just the right time for me.

You ask, “Is it sufficient to read for the pleasure of the experience?” to which I would answer with a resounding YES. It is totally sufficient. It’s all there is.
It’s also necessary, if we have any desire to understand the thing better, to first read it for pleasure. Without that first read, we’ve got nothing to work with. I always read for pleasure (reaction) first. For sure.
And, for my money, it’s perfectly fine if a person wants to stop there.
However, if a person doesn’t want to stop there – if they feel that there’s (even more) pleasure to be had, by way of asking what makes the thing tick (why it gave them pleasure, or didn’t), then I’m good with that too – and I belong firmly in this camp. Approaching stories technically has definitely helped my work – although, as with all things, I find I have to do it “just right” – not too much and not too little.

Of course his answer goes beyond the most basic response; he’s a creative writing instructor (in addition to being an award-winning author). Of course he values the deeper analysis of books.

But when you’re trying to get back into reading as a dedicated hobby, it can feel like there’s a right or wrong way to go about it. It’s nice to read a reminder that there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Reading is enough.

I really hope you’ll read the entirety of his response. It’s great insight to his process as a writer and reader, and it can illuminate your reading and creative process.

Beautiful, Literary Writing About Golf on Deadline

Latest entry in an ever-growing list of things I wish I'd written.

Here’s a great piece of sports writing done at a lightning-fast clip. Shane Ryan at Golf Digest puts the reader in his head and on the grounds at Pinehurst No. 2, where Rory McIlory, one of the best (and most popular) golfers on the planet, missed two very short putts in the final holes of the U.S. Open that obliterated his chances of 1) winning and then 2) forcing a playoff.

Rory McIlroy and the newest shade of heartbreak
The four-time major champion’s U.S. Open loss was even more painful viewed up close.

It would be beautiful writing if he’d taken a few days to publish it, but its immediacy is what elevates it to even greater heights.

It’s not just a tick-tock of what happened, though it has that flavor, too. It’s more cerebral than that; it’s philosophical almost.

It wrestles with what Rory must have been thinking as much as it wrestles with what we, the fans, were thinking. What he, the golf writer, was thinking.

It just works on so many levels, and the writing is stunning. File immediately in: Things I Wish I’d Written.

Why Post Anything?

What do we want from our online content creation?

What do we seek when we’re creating stuff online?

It seems like a simple question, but I’d guess the responses to it would be quite varied. The question could be asked at any point, but it’s an interesting moment to ask it just days after Twitter (sorry, X)(nope, sorry again, still Twitter) decided to hide “likes” from public view.

X now hides your ‘likes’ from other users, whether you like it or not
The platform X is now hiding all users’ likes, with few exceptions. It says the change protects users’ privacy — but critics say it removes a layer of accountability in the process.

Likes and retweets make up the currency of the platform. Likes are pretty much the currency on any platform. They’re how we mark engagement with our content.

It’s as simplistic as it is understandable that we might think the answer to the question is: I want likes.

I don’t create enough on social media accounts to say I’ve ever been much of a likes chaser, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it intoxicating when just a handful of(literally count them on your fingers) likes have rolled in on a particular tweet. I can see why people would chase that feeling. And once upon a time ago, it was a great place to build a following. Not so much anymore.

I’ve decidedly redirected my efforts to this website and its accompanying newsletter. So what is it that I’m chasing?

Readers? Subscribers? Engagement? Some combination of the above is probably the best answer. It’s a return to the early 2000s kind of internet, before social media, when the web was dominated by individual blogs. That moments not coming back, and to the extent that it has tried, it’s probably been seen in the newsletter explosion a few years ago, thanks to Substack.

Caroline Crampton, of The Browser and her own books and newsletters, recently talked about being “in public” as a creative and, more basically, a person.

Going Public
A newsletter from Browser editor-in-chief Caroline Crampton.

Her foray into the attention economy was pegged to selling her most-recent book, A Body Made of Glass:

I started this year fully intending to do this. And I did, for a few months — I showed up on social media, I made videos about my life for the first time and started getting thousands of views for each one, and I said yes to every opportunity to write a promotional piece that I was offered. But as I got more and more tired, and closer to burn out, a question kept plaguing me: what did all of this even have to do with writing a book? As I edited dozens of video clips together to make a 60-second TikTok with enough jump cuts in it that viewers wouldn't instantly scroll away, my doubts grew further.

I just deeply respected her decision to opt out:

So I'm not going to. I will write about what I'm doing, as writing, in my own space, unmediated by other forces. I stopped writing a personal email newsletter several years ago when newslettering became my dream job at The Browser, but now I want to bring that practice back into my days. I want to write about my work to people who have chosen to hear from me and nobody else, with no external forces shaping what I say, how I say it or whether they are able read it. Perhaps I will be leaving potential sales on the table if I retreat from the conventional book promotion hustle like this, but with some reflection I have decided that should that be the case, it will have been a worthwhile sacrifice. That's what I learned from this intense period of publicity: I cannot take part in it while also making work that is worth publicising.

I have only moderate amounts of readers and subscribers, so it’s easy to imagine what they might feel like and assume it’s great. But in this day and age, it doesn’t take too much for that to tip into the undesirable.

This article from Slate sums up the feeling of having too many expectations on you simply because people have chosen to engage with what you’ve produced.

Sorry, but the Writer of Your Favorite Newsletter Isn’t Your Friend
The Substack newsletter boom might be warping your idea of who’s a friend.

It describes the balance between appreciation of the attention and the exasperation.

On one hand, what newsletter creator wouldn’t want their work to resonate with their audience so much that it drives them to reach out? On the other, how does a creator navigate the responsibilities and expectations of a parasocial relationship that formed without their buy-in? Is it now their obligation to not just provide customer service, but be a “good friend”?

So what do I want by creating things online?

Well, nothing much more than I’ve ever said before:

This is probably not normal, and I recognize that. I also realize that I do like the idea of leaving a digital footprint. I think about it when I think about this blog and what I want it to be at the end of the day. Ideally, I want it to be a catch-all for what I'm thinking and reading and doing. This is exactly what some people use their social media accounts for, but I've just never been one of them. I'm not likely to start this late in the game, either. I don't know why one seems better to me than the other, but it does.

If I’m lucky enough to bring a few readers with me along the way, all the better.

What to Read When You’re Stuck

Sometimes you just need a push to get going again.

I found this list of suggested reading list of works to check out if you need a reminder that all creative work is stymied from time to time. It’s useful not just for the recommendations but for the little nuggets it pulled out of them as advertisement for their fit in the list.

What to Read When You’re Out of Ideas
These books dispense practical advice on managing one’s ambitions—or describe the dread of writer’s block with precision and humor.

I especially loved this one from the blurb on Lynda Barry’s What It Is.

The core of the arts is play, Barry argues: something children undertake with great seriousness until they learn to be aware of what others think, which can choke off creativity. But the key, when you’re blocked, isn’t simply to think harder. It’s to relinquish control, “to be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape,” Barry writes.

College Days

What if you just kept going to school forever?

Every now and then, I’ll see something that makes me envious, and I’ll jokingly say “It’s tough to see someone else living out your dream.” It’s usually said with a grin and shoulder shrug, like “Whaddaya gonna do?”

I definitely felt that reading a recent New York Times Magazine story about the man who couldn’t stop going to college.

The lede alone had me hooked:

Benjamin B. Bolger has been to Harvard and Stanford and Yale. He has been to Columbia and Dartmouth and Oxford, and Cambridge, Brandeis and Brown. Over all, Bolger has 14 advanced degrees, plus an associate’s and a bachelor’s. Some of Bolger’s degrees took many years to complete, such as a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Others have required rather less commitment: low-residency M.F.A.s from Ashland University and the University of Tampa, for example.

I’ve been to a lot of school compared to most people, but this is wild. But I say constantly: If money were no object, I’d just go to school forever. And here this guy is, doing it.

His backstory is a compelling one. He had severe dyslexia to the point where his mother read assignments to him into college (from which he graduated at 19 with a 4.0 GPA) and into Yale Law School, where their system simply couldn’t keep up.

It feels comparable to seeing a genius in a particular area, and say “I wish I could do that,” but what we’re really saying is that we want the parts of it that seem appealing. We don’t always consider the ways in which that level of genius (or just singular focus on a particular specialty) makes life difficult, makes socialization seem unnatural. Bolger’s home-schooled existence seems to have produced a great academic and intellectual environment, but a line, tossed off quickly in the piece, states that he only had one friend his age as a child. For as appealing as his intellectual development (and the outside-the-box homeschooling that produced) may seem desirable when I think about the results and his countless degrees, I think about the simple joy of childhood friendships and know that it’s not as simple as just saying “I wish that were my educational experience.” As with everything, there are trade-offs.

He’s clearly a supremely intelligent person to have gotten beyond the learning challenge and admitted into such prestigious schools in the first place. But the author struggles, on the page, with the “why” of Bolger’s pursuits. And it’s truly perplexing when the answer comes back: I love learning. The author comes back to it a few times in the piece, and this quote about what the rest of us who “love learning” do hits home:

One thing Bolger has not seemed to learn over the years is to introspect. Why has he driven himself to this extent — to place himself over and over in the kinds of impractical programs young adults enter to wait out a bad economy or delay the onset of adulthood à la National Lampoon’s Van Wilder? Many of us love learning, too, but we don’t do what Bolger has done; we listen to history podcasts on our commutes or pick our way through long books in the minutes before sleep. Despite all his degrees, Bolger has never sought a tenure-track job — only a few of his degrees would even qualify him for such a position — and he has never really specialized.

The piece goes on to highlight how he’s made a career for himself by coaching kids on how to get into the best colleges in the world. It’s one that makes total sense: If he has expertise in anything, it’s the intricate dance of putting together an application packet.

And that’s worked out well for him. Can’t begrudge him for that.

But I prefer to think about his motivation rather than what his schooling has earned him:

“I believe that people are like trees,” he said. “I hope I am a sequoia. I want to grow for as long as possible and reach toward the highest level of the sky.”

Trying Out A New Writing Workflow: Ulysses

In search of the best writing experience

I’ve been writing in a lot of posts and all of my newsletter issues in Bear, which I’ve enjoyed a lot. But I realized there’s a good deal of friction when it comes to publishing to Ghost.

I realized that both Ulysses and iA Writer allow for direct integration with Ghost to ease publishing, so here I am, trying Ulysses because I like the features it offers a little more than iA Writer.

But stay tuned, especially if you’re in the market for a new writing app, because I’ll probably have more to say about it soon.

Spoiler: It seems to be pretty awesome publishing to Ghost with Ulysses.

The Magic of David Kwong

No matter how old I get, close-up magic will never not amaze me.

I learned who David Kwong was when he did one of those in-depth explainer videos for WIRED about how a crossword puzzle is made.

Not too long ago, I subscribed to his email newsletter, Enigmatology, in which he discusses his twin passions of crosswords and magic.

Chicago Opener
“The Enigmatist” in Chicago and a brand new crossword, “Chicago Opener”!

In his latest entry, he shows off a great bit of close-up, an old trick called the "Chicago Opener." The first half of the illusion is so good on its own, but the finale is so confounding, so much fun to ponder, that I just had to shout it out here.

THEN, in a convergence of all my media inputs, Pablo Torre just interviewed Kwong on his podcast to learn more about how Kwong makes a living as an illusionist, on advising and explaining but also not breaking the unwritten rules of magic.

The Unwritten Rules of Magic
EPISODE 111: Inside the illusion industry.

I don't normally suggest watching a video version of a podcast that I recommend (though many have video versions), but this one really benefits from the video. There are a handful of tricks described, namely the very beginning of the episode when Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets hit with a nasty one-two punch of a trick that is honestly deserves to be seen rather than explained, and a simple how-to trick from Kwong at the end. Just a lot of fun all the way through.

For more magic-related content, check out the links in this old post from me.

Chess Genius or Genius Cheater?

Hans Niemann was at the center of one of the biggest scandals in the history of chess, and it remains unclear if he's the real deal or a talented fraud.

I can never quite put my finger on why I find chess so fascinating. Maybe lots of people found this to be the case after watching The Queen's Gambit on Netflix: sucked in but not entirely sure if it was the subject matter or the TV show's writing, directing, and acting.

I remember loving Searching for Bobby Fischer back in the 1990s when it came on TV (I want to say ABC, but don't quote me on that; I feel like it was on one of the "clearest" stations, and at my house, that meant ABC on channel 7).

But maybe intuitively I knew this line from a recent New York magazine profile of Hans Niemann:

There are three disciplines in which scientists believe prodigies exist: math, music, and chess.

Perhaps I, too, could sense that, and I was drawn to it, not because I understood it with any personal connection, but because it's such an intoxicating idea. To be a prodigy, though its potential to exist in me is long, long gone, feels like something worth wishing for.

Either way, I loved this story. I've been close to chess storytelling before, and when done well, there's just something imminently readable about it. This piece excels in describing the chess of it all, but it's a much deeper and darker story than simply pawn-takes-rook and checkmates.

Chess Brat: Hans Niemann, One Year After the Cheating Scandal
The grandmaster has been kinda-sorta vindicated. So how is he more disliked than ever?

Former President Trump Found Guilty on All 34 Counts

In his trial for hush money payments to a porn star, Donald Trump is America's first former president to become a felon.

What a day. Who was thinking when they woke up this morning that they'd be living through an historic day?

Trump trial updates: Trump is found guilty in historic New York criminal case
Former President Donald Trump has been found guilty of falsifying business records to influence the 2016 election, a historic verdict as Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, campaigns again for the White House.

In this age of fragmented media, it's all too common (but still weird) to think that not everyone was able to just sit down and watch the news of former president Donald Trump becoming the first former president to be convicted as a felon.

I followed along on the New York Times app and CNN (via Max). Maybe it's profoundly old fashioned of me, but it just felt more real to see it reported on TV, which isn't really a take I'm likely to have about TV news more generally.

CNN's Jake Tapper literally read through all 34 counts, and he was sure to remark how remarkable the moment was in American history. With all the legal proceedings still to come for Trump and the very real possibility that he's elected president in November, I wonder if I'll remember this day, the way I remember watching TV on other huge news days? It's hard to say at this point, but I'm glad I was able to tune in.

MLB Recognizes Negro League Stats

A great day for professional baseball and our data-driven way of talking about the sport.

Major League Baseball's records will now include stats from the Negro Leagues, which ran from 1920 to 1948, and includes some of the most dominant performances in the sport's history.

From The Washington Post:

Stars such as Homestead Grays slugger Josh Gibson now stand alongside the likes of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams in record books that long excluded them. The Negro Leagues stars generally played fewer games than White players of the same era, so the top parts of leader boards for many of the counting statistics (hits, home runs, strikeouts, etc.) are unchanged. But rate stats, which speak to how effective a player was without being subject to scheduling, reveal a much different picture.

Judge Not Lest You Be Judged

Ed Yong talks about what it's like to judge a Pulitzer Prize.

I was drawn into this newsletter post from Ed Yong where he described his experience as a judge for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction books.

The Ed’s Up - On Judging a Pulitzer
Last summer, I agreed to serve on the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction—a group of five writers tasked with selecting the best nonfiction…

I haven't posted recently because I, too, have been consumed with contest judging. It's hardly the Pulitzers, but that surely didn't stop those applying for a chance to be deemed the winner.

Yong captured well the overwhelming feeling that sets in when you have a stack of submissions:

When you’re searching for excellence, even books you might have enjoyed under normal circumstances start looking mediocre, and the process quickly becomes a slog that drains the joy from reading.

I surely wasn't as busy as he and his fellow judges were; he said they judged more than 400 books, which honestly feels like it ought to be a full-time job if it wasn't. I had a meager 80+ submissions to consider, but that feeling of the joy of reading the thing being sapped from you was all too real.

Yong goes on to pry back the curtains of the Pulitzer's process, which is interesting in its own right. But then he also summarizes and makes a case for the winner, A Day in the Life of Abed Salama by Nathan Thrall. It sounds quite compelling:

In his book, the eponymous protagonist Abed Salama learns that the school bus carrying his five-year-old son, Milad, has crashed in the outskirts of Jerusalem. As Salama tries to find his son, he is stymied at every turn because he is Palestinian. In recounting this desperate quest, Thrall, who is a Jewish American journalist based in Jerusalem, offers an incredibly intimate portrait of life under occupation, and the challenges that Palestinians face during both the mundanities of daily life and the heightened moments of tragedy.

I respected Yong's willingness to lay bare some of his thinking after he made the recommendation that helped, in part, the book to be recognized.

While considering the book, I asked myself if I was rating it highly only because it was clearly relevant to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. To an extent, no: Even if the topic wasn’t extremely topical, ADITLOAS would still be one of the most finely reported and invaluably humane books of the year. But in a way, yes: Our task was to find the greatest books, and one that deeply illuminates a generation-defining moral catastrophe surely counts. If ADITLOAS had it come out a year earlier, it would still have been a masterpiece. That it came out now makes it an indispensable one. I’m glad that the Pulitzer Board agreed. They made a bold choice and, I think, the correct one.

I found it all too easy to wonder about how I was judging various pieces, how the timeliness of their subject matter influenced my decision, if at all, and whether it should (or shouldn't). It's a weird position to be given the power to judge after it seems so easy to do so in everyday life.

Yong's description of it was characteristically thoughtful and nuanced, and I'm glad he decided to share, both his experience and the recommendation.

RIP, Twitter

Twitter is officially dead. You know, except for those of us who'll always call it Twitter.

Elon Musk's transformation of Twitter to X may finally be considered complete, now that the actual website resides at

Here are two stories to commemorate the change-over and the final nail in the coffin for one of the most influential brand names in social media. Is Dead, Long Live
As part of Elon Musk’s ongoing effort to rebrand Twitter as X, the social media company has officially changed its URL to
Elon Musk Finally Puts Twitter Out of Its Misery
Twitter is fully now. Given its transformation since Elon Musk bought it, that may be a small mercy.

DIY Astrophotography

Space remains the coolest.

I came across a new Twitter account that immediately caught my attention.

This image is mind-blowing.

Below the photo, Machin links to a Youtube video by her husband, Ian, about which telescopes to buy. It was a really helpful breakdown that felt essential after seeing this image they captured. Would love to capture photos a fraction as cool as that one.

I followed both Machin's Twitter account and Ian's Youtube channel.

John McPhee and Words

Simply put, he loves them.

Tabula Rasa: Volume Four
A project meant not to end.

In his most recent piece for The New Yorker, he confessed as much in its opening lines.

In a cogent sense, I have spent, at this writing, about eighty-eight years preparing for Wordle. I work with words, I am paid by the word, I majored in English, and today I major in Wordle.

In multiple places in the piece, you can just tell how much he respects words and their power and how he regrets not a second of his life's dedication to them. Some of my favorite takeaways from the piece were of that playful joy he found in words.

John McPhee's Order of Wordle Answers

  1. Lottery
  2. Luckshot
  3. Insight
  4. Autodidact
  5. Buffoon
  6. D.U.I.

The old master's rating for how quickly one gets the Wordle answer reminded me so much of those triangular wooden peg games, where the goal is to leave one. My papaw had half a dozen of them in a bin at his house, and we'd always marvel at his ability to get it down to the prized single peg.

Cracker Barrels are where I've last seen them, and the games have their own version of this sort of rating system:

  • One peg: Genius
  • Two pegs: Pretty Smart
  • Three pegs: Just Plain Dumb
  • Four or more pegs: Eg-No-Ra-Moose

On His Literary Will

After a long list of examples of things he'd prefer not to be changed in future editions of his books published after he's died, McPhee ends the section with this passage:

My books have been proofread with exceptional care by proofreaders at FSG, by proofreaders at The New Yorker magazine, by myself, and by others. In more than a million words, there are probably fewer than ten typographical errors. Please do not fix one unless textual evidence allows you to be absolutely positive that you have found one of those ten. I warmly thank you for your attention to these words.

I love the confidence this must take to say and even more so the swaggering ability that makes it most likely unassailable.

On Great Writing Being Made, Not Born

He gave his students zany sentences that seem unlikely (if not impossible) for a right-thinking person to write down, and those are good for a laugh. But it's this collection of clunkers from a former New Yorker editor that gives me hope when I lament that my sentences just aren't quite good enough. Because even sentences that end up published in The New Yorker can't begin as indecipherable nonsense.

The late Charles Patrick Crow was an editor of nonfiction pieces at The New Yorker. He did not acquire manuscripts. They were assigned to him after they were bought. With the exceptions of fly-fishing and family, Crow had a distanced, not to say cynical, view of most aspects of this world. He kept in his wallet a little blue card that bore selected sentences from manuscripts bought by the magazine:
  • Very likely, if we knew the answer to this question we wouldn’t have to ask it.
  • Until the orchestra didn’t exist, composers didn’t write music for it, and instrumentalists didn’t form such groups because there was no music for them to perform.
  • Grey-haired, yet crewcut, he was clean, precise and appeared somewhat cold, just as one would expect a surgeon.
  • These two atolls being studied prior to returning the people that had been removed from those atolls prior to the nuclear testing.

On Final Exams and The Hardest Spelling Test

More gamification of words. I loved spelling tests (on paper) and spelling bees (the competition) when I was in school, and while I consider myself pretty good at it, I think I would wilt under the pressure of McPhee's test to his students. How many could you spell correctly? (The really brutal part is that assuredly you'd come close on many of them.)

Rarefy, liquefy, pavilion, vermilion, impostor, accommodate. 
Supersede, desiccate, titillate, resuscitate, inoculate, rococo, consensus, sacrilegious, obbligato.

I love words, and John McPhee loves words, and I love John McPhee.

Coolest Job in the World

Although no one, not a single solitary soul, asked, here's my take: I'd be willing to do it. Probably for cheaper than those on the short list.

I remember watching Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb and thinking, among other things, that EIC of The New Yorker seemed like the coolest gig in the world.

This piece from Semafor's Max Tani on who might succeed David Remnick in that role confirmed it.

Who wouldn't love working in a job describe like this?

The hiring challenge comes in part because of the long list of qualifications leadership, staff, and readers expect from the magazine’s top editor — and in part because of the magazine’s singular role in American liberal intellectual culture, one that is currently being challenged most strenuously by The Atlantic.
In addition to serving as its head of state, the next editor will need to be an intellectual force who can synthesize both the week’s events and literature, arts, and culture. They’ll have to possess an astute editorial mind that can provide a last line of defense on some of the most famously dense and detailed (and occasionally dangerous) journalism now published in a weekly magazine.
The New Yorker’s succession race is kicking off | Semafor
David Remnick, 65, embodies a brand that sits atop American intellectual culture. Who will replace him when he retires?

I'm invested in the decision not just as a journalism nerd but quite literally. The New Yorker is one of the most expensive yearly subscriptions I have. Full stop. No qualifiers needed. I have only ever subscribed during the David Remnick Era, so I have high hopes for his successor.

AI Helps to Win a Pulitzer

This interview with Nieman Lab explores how reporters used AI to assist in reporting that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. These are the first Pulitzers won with the assistance of AI.

For the first time, two Pulitzer winners disclosed using AI in their reporting
Awarded investigative stories are increasingly relying on machine learning, whether covering Chicago police negligence or Israeli weapons in Gaza

From the piece:

Local reporting prize winner “Missing in Chicago,” from City Bureau and Invisible Institute, trained a custom machine learning tool to comb through thousands of police misconduct files. The New York Times visual investigations desk trained a model to identify 2,000-pound bomb craters in areas marked as safe for civilians in Gaza. That story was one of several that won as part of the paper’s international reporting prize package.