Welcome to this week's Discontents! I'm Eoin Higgins, writer of The Flashpoint, and the newest addition to the group.
Rudy last year at a TPUSA event (Flickr)
Rudy Giuliani's been in the news quite a bit the last week or so, including in the previous edition of this newsletter, with his involvement in the attempted Hunter Biden smear and his self-fondling/shirt-tucking in Borat 2 making headlines. Not all publicity is good publicity—on Sunday the former New York City mayor was cursed at while driving through Times Square as part of Trump caravan.
"Giuliani, you fucking scum," one counter-protester says in the video.
"Fuck you, Rudy," says another, as Giuliani's car beats a hasty retreat.
Other members of the parade were also cursed at and had eggs thrown at them.
To those of us who remember Giuliani's time as mayor—even, in my case, from Massachusetts—it was a welcome if long-overdue comeuppance. Before he oversaw the security failure that was the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, Rudy was a proud cheerleader for all the worst parts of the city's administrative and policing culture. He oversaw a culture in the NYPD that led to an officer shouting "This is Giuliani-time" during the torture and beating of Abner Louima in 1997 and refused to condemn the cops who killed Amadou Diallo in 1999.
All that, of course, was forgotten when he became “America's Mayor” after 9/11. For a long time Rudy's name was gold (he even got knighted).
But the decline in his image that began in 2007 when none other than then-Senator Joe Biden mocked Rudy for the "only three things he mentions in a sentence—a noun, a verb and 9/11" has gone into overdrive since he's become tied to the president. It’s a welcome corrective.
Rudy being subjected to verbal abuse Sunday in the center of Manhattan is not much, but it's enough to make me slightly less discontent for the time being.
A Lonely Impulse of Delight
Connor Wroe Southard
For the first time in the history of my newsletter—a period spanning almost seven entire months—I excerpted my own fiction. In last week’s piece, I sampled part of my recent workshop story and broke it down for your edification. So if you want to see me making up a story, that’s a good place to start. I wrote a few clunky sentences and tripped over myself. Live to write another day, I guess.
Do you have thoughts about the kinds of things you’d like to see from a newsletter about “how stories work”? If so, sign up and get at me. I’m trying to expand the conversations happening in my comments section. I always welcome (and enjoy) commentary, especially from new readers. So let’s chat. Right after you sign up.
Wars of Future Past
Kelsey D. Atherton
In my last newsletter, I talked about loitering munitions, flying drones-that-are-sometimes missiles. It’s a topic I’m inclined to linger on for a couple of reasons. First, because they’re less effective as weapons that the video the record makes them appear to be. And second, because while the weapons are limited now, making them more effective at killing people means removing human control, which is a nightmare for a host of reasons.
At Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Arthur Holland Michel makes the second point really well:
Autonomous weapons—like other AI systems—that perform exactly as intended in all previous instances can still fail spectacularly when they encounter certain deviant conditions. If such a system is mysterious to the engineers who created them, let alone the soldiers who would have to make life-or-death decisions over their use, there’s probably no way to forestall such failures before it’s too late.
That the defense industry is charging forward on autonomous features of weapons is ominous enough on its own. It becomes darkly comic following a week where the NSA had to remind a bunch of companies that security flaws left unpatched since 2015 are being actively exploited by spies in other countries. Lethal autonomy is, gradually, being built into the “defense internet of things,” and like every other internet of things, security weakness in any part will lead to weakness in the whole system. Which is exactly what we want as a baseline as companies give robots guns.
Kelsey’s discussion of loitering weapons relates pretty well to what turns out to have been possibly this past week’s biggest international story, the announcement on Sunday of a third attempted ceasefire (following US mediation) between the Azerbaijani military and the forces of the breakaway Karabakh Republic, who are heavily supported by Armenia. Fighting broke out in the region around Karabakh late last month, the latest in a succession of such outbreaks since Armenian forces seized control of Karabakh and surrounding parts of Azerbaijan in the 1990s. But this outbreak has been bigger and more impactful than previous outbreaks, with Azerbaijani forces having made substantial territorial gains in areas south of Karabakh and Baku now claiming to have regained control over its entire Iranian border.
Azerbaijan’s successes have been due to a few factors, including Turkish logistical support, Syrian mercenaries (provided by Turkey), and drones. Lots of drones, provided by Turkey and Israel. They’ve allowed the Azerbaijani military to stand off and pound Karabakh’s forces from the air, avoiding the challenging terrain in Karabakh that has thwarted Azerbaijan’s previous attempts to retake control of the region. If Baku is satisfied with those gains it may finally be ready to abide by the ceasefire deal that the two sides initially reached on October 10 and them reaffirmed on October 17. It didn’t take in either of those instances, but maybe the third time will be the charm.
Or, you know, not.
Be The Spark
Hello again! I’ve been all quiet on the newsletter front for the past few weeks; I’m working on a book (!) and juggling freelance deadlines, and have fallen behind on updating this and my Patreon, but inspiration struck tonight (or rather, today, after an unfortunate phone call with my grandma).
This week’s newsletter is an essay about bears, but it’s also about grief, and my grandfather, and growing up in a hunting family, and all the things we don’t even know that we don’t know about the people we love.
Welcome to Hell World
The Last Normal Day series continued this past week. First my Discontents comrade Kim Kelly wrote on a move to Philadelphia just as things started to change.
There was so much happening, and I was tired of missing out and turning down invitations, of keeping one foot in New York and my eyes to the horizon. I wanted to start building my life up here. Two weeks later, everything would change. My world would shrink smaller than I could have imagined. All of those plans would crumble, and my yearnings to leave would spin in place, suspended in limbo.
Julieanne Smolinski wrote about giving birth to three children over the course of the Trump administration and hoping at long last in February “for a little personal space.”
As you might imagine I “had enough” of being a vessel for life. Not in the least because people had started looking at me like I was some kind of Dustbowl mom who only stops shelling beans to have unprotected sex. Also, because being pregnant is a little like being a TSA agent for a small boring country. No, you can’t take that. No, that either. Please throw that away. Please take that out of your ass.
Elsewhere I wrote about still not knowing what day it ever is...
In the beginning of all this I used to go haha what day is it? as like a bit but now I just say what day is it? flatly and without any sort of levity behind it. When you first gain ten pounds you might go haha I’m getting a little thick over here as a means of deflection but if you keep on gaining weight you stop joking about it and that’s just how you are now. Michelle told me just now it was Friday and it made no difference to me one way or the other like when you walk into a room and someone is watching a baseball game you don’t care about and you ask the score just to ask something. Like when you meet someone’s child and go oh how old are they? but you don’t care you just don’t know how else to speak to people.
...and reflected on memory and loss after reading The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa.
There are a number of ways you can read the book for example it’s an allegory of brutal oppression and thought control in line with Orwell or Bradbury or whoever — comedians can’t say anything nowadays by the way — but you could also read it as a warning of the ravages of climate change — when the calendars disappear at one point the seasons stop turning over and the snow never melts and they are locked into an eternal winter. Or you could read it like I read everything which is as a reflection on loss and the ravages of time on our memories and how the things and people that were once so important to your sense of self and your understanding of the world are inevitably stolen from you via entropy or accident or the dissolution of love and you spend the rest of your life experiencing their disappearance from your heart as increasingly dulled and muted reflections and vague sketches and cave shadows and eventually what you’re remembering isn’t even the actual person at all it’s a memory of how you used to remember them. It becomes less like remembering the lyrics or melody of a song from your youth and rather a faint stir of how the sound waves vibrated inside of your skull.
This week we’re joined by journalist Matthew Gault to talk about the AOC/Ilhan Omar Among Us Twitch stream, how the video games/streaming space is going to be used increasingly by folks across the political spectrum, including the military, to try to appeal to younger demographics, the lastest foreign election interference warnings from the famously trustworthy intelligence community and a whole lot more.
We were also extremely honored to receive a perfect phone call from none other than the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, about coming together in 2020, Ken Klippenstein’s nasty behavior towards Beto O’Rourke and the entire teaching profession, and how Joe Biden is secretly working with FIFA to steal the election.
Cruel and Usual
This week, I reposted the essay I wrote for Welcome to Hell World on the Last Normal Day in NYC criminal court. I also tweeted a fair amount about Fyre Fest grifter Billy McFarland reportedly being placed in solitary confinement for calling into a podcast from prison. I would love to laugh about this guy who just can’t stop grifting using his prison phone time to record a podcast, but I cam’t because the federal government responded to it by torturing him. Solitary is torture, there’s no way around it, and nobody deserves it.
This was our first full week with the new site, and we’re starting to settle in. It was also an incredibly bizarre, surreal news week, so let’s go with that. We started the week by pouring one out for the CIA, which has gotten trounced on multiple levels in the past week, then moved almost immediately into the feverish, insane Jeffrey Toobin discourse (a New Yorker staff writer got caught jacking off on a company Zoom call). Then it looked like the President was coming down from his steroid binge, and then we went straight into a debate news cycle, complete with a Trump impressionist and another livestream. The end of the week brought us Sacha Baron Cohen honeypotting Rudy Giuliani in a hotel room (we published the first transcript of the scene).
But let’s put all that aside for a moment. We were able to cover all the absurd news thanks to the new site we’re working with, but we also put out a lot of more important pieces that I don’t want to get lost in the shuffle. Sam Grasso asked whether or not we’ll care about the plight of immigrants when a Democrat is in charge again, and interviewed an abortion rights activist in one of the most repressive states in the country. Caitlin Schneider wrote about giant skeletons and our own fragile mortality, and Paul Blest wrote about the vital need for more direct stimulus to keep American families afloat. And as always, you can catch up on the week with “Man, What the Hell.”
Gaby Del Valle
Something Felipe and I get really annoyed about is the liberal focus on “kids in cages” two full years after the 2018 family separation crisis. Not because it wasn’t bad, because it was obviously an egregious human rights violation, but because what’s happening now is arguably worse, and it feels like no one outside niche immigration circles is paying enough attention to give a shit. This is always a weird conversation to have, because it’s hard to say “you’re all focused on the wrong thing” without sounding like I think taking kids away from their parents is good. I don’t! I think it’s awful!
Anyway, my point is that nothing has quite captured the liberal imagination like family separation, with good reason. And although families aren’t being separated at the border anymore—not because CBP officers finally developed a conscience or anything like that, but because the widespread policy was ended under immense public pressure and virtually no one is being admitted at the border right now anyway—the aftermath of the 2018 family separation policy is horrific. This week, we covered the latest update in the family separation saga: the government hasn’t been able to get in touch with the parents of 545 children who were separated from their families under the zero-tolerance policy. We also dug into the common refrain that the Obama administration “built the cages” (it did and it didn’t), and explained why family separation isn’t exactly over even if formal policy has ended.
We also took a look at the effects of the Trump administration’s third-country transit ban, which caused more than 25,000 people to be denied asylum in just two months, and discussed two upcoming immigration cases that will be heard by the Supreme Court. God help us, we’re fucked.