Our Weekly Discontents, 4/5/2021

It only gets better from here (unless it doesn't).

On behalf of all of us here at Discontents, a sincere congratulations to Substack for their series B round of funding. The $65 million in funds lead by Andreessen Horowitz now puts the email company at a very reasonable and real $650 million value. And a special thank you to Eli Valley for helping us celebrate and reaffirm our commitment to free speech.


Hello, friends. I’m Ashley Feinberg, the latest addition to the Discontents lineup and the author of two-week-old newsletter Trashberg. In my eight years of writing online, I’ve been fortunate enough to have editors who allowed me to do a lot of the weird and viscerally upsetting work that truly drives me. But despite this good luck, there have always been those ideas that seemed too trivial or dumb or just explicitly ill-advised to be worth the time they might take away from other, more worthwhile pursuits. With Trashberg, I hope to remedy this.

My first real post, a deep dive into the Instagram of the woman who makes love to Newt Gingrich, is a pretty good example of where I’d like things to go. And since part of the reason I’m doing this newsletter is to give myself an occasional break from the much heavier, long-term project I’m working on, my hope is that this can serve as a welcome distraction for others, as well.

And speaking of distractions: a quick story for you all. As I sat here at my computer, wondering what I would write for my very first Discontents entry, I found myself struggling. Perhaps I would write something about what it means that multiple lawmakers have allegedly seen nude photos of women Matt Gaetz had slept with, and even as the world comes falling down around Matty’s head, they’re still sitting there twiddling their thumbs and hoping no one notices. But no, that didn’t feel right. Or maybe it should be about the absolutely deranged responses to this perfectly good and thoughtful (but since-deleted) tweet from Raphael Warnock. But what’s there to say, really, other than the acknowledgment that conservatives continue to tell on themselves at every available opportunity? So no, that wasn’t right either.

But then, as I was searching through my computer for inspiration, I stumbled across this.

Almost every written assignment I completed from sophomore to junior year of high school. I suddenly had a vague memory of an enormously embarrassing poem so suffused with teenage angst that even the mere echo of what I thought I remembered was enough to cause me physical pain. Fortunately for you all, I found exactly that poem, and because I am not one to say no to fate, I will share it with you here, today.

The year is 2007. I’m a junior in high school, and I recently learned that an important part of good poetry is making the words looks weird.

And because Sunday was Easter, I will close with this excerpt from a sophomore year file called “English 10 Jesus Journals.”

So, why am I sharing this with you? Because it’s important to remember that no matter how bad things may seem, we can at least take solace in the fact that we will never have to do any of that shit ever again. And on that note, I wish you all a wonderful w e e k.


Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

Half a year after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in the ominous lull between “shock and awe” and before the war-defining insurgency was in full swing, Popular Science imagined an air war against a homegrown insurgency. “Air War: California AD 2043,” is mostly an excuse for a military technology showcase, under a goofy fictional premise. 

In my latest Wars of Future Past, I spend far more time than is perhaps reasonable exploring what, exactly, about “Air War” feels so off, from the bloodlessness of the war to the complete absence of street-to-street fighting. It is military fantasy, selling a kind of power from the sky that two decades of war with aerial superiority have revealed does not translate into clean or clear victory. 

“Mostly, in revisiting Air War I see an era of thinking about war frozen in amber,” I wrote. “War is the thing that planes do to people, the piece suggests, and then goes on to describe in detail how those planes do that war.”

Sick Note

Libby Watson

“I’m going to have to take a break from Sick Note for the worst possible reason: My mum’s lung cancer is back, and it’s very serious.”

Libby is on leave from Sick Note for a bit, called home to manage the appalling failures of her mother’s health care. We at Discontents wanted to make sure to share her hiatus message; it is, at once, deeply personal, insightful on systemic harms, and the sort of beat writing Libby has mastered. 

From Libby:

I am livid and baffled that she stopped receiving immunotherapy after two years, which is the NICE protocol (due apparently to a lack of evidence for benefit beyond two years), and that there was no option to go around that protocol even though it was working very well and also, couldn’t you just fucking give it to her anyway? I am livid that immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda are so expensive ($7,211 a dose, though the NHS pays less), which influences decisions like that. I am livid that anyone in the world has to go through what we’re going through right now, and in unimaginably worse circumstances—my stepfather is a retired doctor who worked in the area for decades, we have enough money to do things like flying me home, and we don’t live in the United States of America, where we’d have to think about things like ambulance bills and deductibles.

Sick Note is on hiatus, but it’s absolutely essential reading for navigating the hell that is experiencing health care, on either side of the Atlantic. It’s well worth the subscription.

Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

A couple of chapters of my book were published on two fine websites this week including I’ve Been Sleeping With A Shovel Under The Bed on Defector and Death Is the Capital of Uruguay on Slate.

For Hell World this week I talked to our very own Ashley Feinberg about her new newsletter, about which she already explained more above. We had a great chat about “the media nowadays” and Substack and Jeff Bezos’ penis among other things.

Elsewhere, nurses in Massachusetts have been on strike for five weeks now. Bill Shaner, formerly a reporter for Worcester Magazine and who now writes the newsletter Worcester Sucks and I Love It, reports for Hell World on what they’re asking for and why their massive employer Tenet Healthcare has so far refused to meet their demands.

One more thing! It’s been 27 years today since Kurt Cobain died which means he’s been dead for as long as he was ever alive. If you’ve never read it you might enjoy this one of the first editions of Hell World about his passing and suicidal ideation and football coaches.

The electrician found the body that morning but I guess it took a little while for the news to spread. It had been waiting there for three days but we didn’t know that yet we just knew all of a sudden that a person was a body now and that was that. It would have been early evening when I found out about it. April. My football coach broke the news to me in a football coach voice because that was how you found out about things back then. You’d walk around not knowing some shit until someone would tell you and then you had to wait to bump into someone else and go ahead and tell them. I don’t remember exactly what he said but it was something like ay your boyfriend Kurt Cobain killed himself.

Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future

Patrick Wyman

I’ve been thinking lately about how much of the past is just gone, never to be recovered. Wood rots, textiles decay, bones dissolve, houses fall down. People forget things, reshape their memories to suit their needs and wants, or die before they tell their stories. Maybe they’re altogether illiterate, or live in a society without writing. Maybe they did write things down, but the texts rotted away, were lost in a fire, or were tossed in the trash. How can we know?

That was what I wrote about last week: the perishability of the past, especially its material manifestations. The Shigir Idol is 12,500 years old, a giant wooden statue carved by hunter-gatherers in the Ural Mountains:

It’s unique, the only object of its kind and antiquity anywhere in the world. But how much else must have once existed? It’s mind-bending to think about.

Discourse Blog

Hi all, Crosbie from Discourse Blog here. What a week for Matt Gaetz! And also, for us. But for different reasons. 

Jack Mirkinson followed the Gaetz scandal all week, writing about the absolutely brain-melting interview he did with Tucker Carlson and the fact that damn, Gaetz seems like a pretty shitty dude. Meanwhile, Sam Grasso covered the new Satanic Panic inspired by a pretty good music video and a pair of shoes, Rafi Schwartz wrote about giraffes, and I wrote about Joe Biden’s dogs. We also did some more incisive political takes, like Paul Blest’s blog about the MLBPA, which I like to think inspired the MLB’s decision to move the All Star game out of Georgia because of its draconian voting laws. Paul and I also collaborated at an inside look at what’s been going on at The New Republic, so read that if you’re into the media gossip these days. 

We also blogged about Paddington the Bear and Henry Kissinger. Discourse Blog contains multitudes.