Dean Clough

October 5, 2022

Portico Darwin: No (Less) News is Good News

TODAY'S RAMBLINGS

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I am going to run with a complement - backhanded as it may have been - from the senior media critic Max "Madras" Ryder.  In response to my recent tongue-in-cheek (but only kind of) essay about our travails in first class on a EuroCity train, Max was nothing but sweetness.

Oh, you don’t realize how amusing that little 5 minute read was and earlier than normal.  I love it when you shake up the box and provide such a hilarious tale of your travels.  So much more joy than your view on politics.  Thanks for keeping it real!

My "view on politics"?  Do you mean pre-Italy vacation?  Because I really adjusted my news and social media intake during and since.  To not zero, but still, a big reduction. 

Here's the scintillating story.  And God, I hope it brings Max more joy!

It really began when both Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway blocked me on Twitter, a couple of months ago.

Yes, you read that correctly:  two of the most popular podcasters and pundits around took the time to say no to my pithy Twitter posts.  Or at least their handlers did.

Now, if you've read this blog, you know I really dig their Pivot podcast, and it remains my primary go-to for enlightened business and current events discussions. 

But Kara has an ego bigger than Texas, and I thought she pushed it too far when she thought it a great idea for her and Scott to dedicate an entire "Pivot" to Kara's . . . matchmaking skills.

They had a dating show, where Kara (along with an obviously embarrassed Galloway) showed off her inner Tinder.  They wasted an entire episode on something really mindless, especially in comparison to their normal, insightful commentary.

So why did they both block me?  What line did I so egregiously cross?   

I posted on their Twitter feeds this classic image, and said they had done it with the "Pivot" dating show.  I said they had jumped the shark, like Fonzie.
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That got me blocked.  It felt oddly exhilarating!

Yet, truth be told, heading to Italy, I was looking forward to going dark.  Not just because the admin of some quasi-celeb blocked me on Twitter, but because I knew I was over-consuming news and opinions. 

And that brings me (yes, Byron Browne IV:  finally) to my point:  I am taking a different approach to my intake of news and social media.

In sum:  a hell of a lot less.  And especially, no opinions - and that's why I've cut out some real faves. 

So goodbye, Jon Favreau.  See you later, John Heilemann.  And yes, it's even au revoir to Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman.

Whilst away on vacation, I literally went offline for 3 weeks.  And I did not die.  The only thing that broke through, as it should have, was the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.  Apart from that, I was Sargent Schultz.  No newsfeeds.  No podcasts.  No hot takes.  Just music and books.  

Upon my return, I decided I like the way I feel, sans a nearly intravenous feed of news.  Not as edgy.  Not as ready to pen a flaming blog post about how it is all so broken and all so wrong.  And yes, more gratitude for what we have, vs. what we don't.

My specific changes:

  • No Associated Press
  • No New York Times (excluding Games, Cooking, and The Athletic!)
  • No Atlantic
  • Much less op/ed intake in general, but specifically via podcasts
  • And most importantly:  NO FUCKING TWITTER

The first three?  I still hold them in the highest regard, and mean everything I've written about in the past about their veracity and place in a civil society.

But the fact remains, if it bleeds, it leads.  As it happens, The Atlantic's Derek Thompson (a journalistic hero of mine) and Galloway himself just confirmed it.   They both openly discussed on Derek's great podcast In Plain English how it's just too tempting to write and/or speak stuff that fosters and exacerbates anxiety, fear, and anger in their audience.  Because it sells.   

Or, to coin a phrase:  enragement = engagement.  The evil Mark Zuckerberg made a fortune from that very fact, as have any number of others.

But I'd prefer to not be as enraged.  Or perhaps, not even as engaged.  That's where dumping Twitter comes in. 

Now, I am certainly not the only one to become beholden to its insidious charms.  There's just nothing like getting live takes from Diamond Certified thought leaders - on demand.  People like retired US military generals.  Top journalists.  Globally influential politicians.  Smart business people.  Etc.

The problem is that it's too engaging.  Once I was sucked into its vortex, minutes (ok, maybe hours) would go by and I had simply not done anything else but read and process wave after wave of . . . opinions and/or brand-building masquerading as news.  So no more Twitter, thank you very little.

Of course, many will now ask:  "OK Portico - you've always been a news junkie, so I know you're still on something.  What is it?"
 
I have centered my news consumption around The Economist.  I challenge any reader to identify something better, in terms of journalistic integrity, accuracy and also, entertainment value.  They have a classically liberal ethical compass that has zero to do with politics or dogma.

I am using both their Espresso and namesake apps.  Espresso is a news feed, that is updated daily.  This way, I won't completely miss when Trump is put in shackles.  

Yet there's no barrage, either.  Their weekly printed and digital articles are plenty for me to know about what's happening, good and bad.

I supplement that with some new and old favorites.  Some habits are hard to break, and I ain't going without no f'ing Ezra Klein - got it?

  • Pivot and Galloway's various podcasts (yes, still)
  • Derek Thompson's aforementioned In Plain English podcast
  • Fareed Zakaria GPS
  • The Ezra Klein Show podcast
  • Vox's Conversations podcast
  • The masterful Freakonomics podcast
  • Real Time with Bill Maher (although I like him less and less as the years tick by)
  • Smartless podcast (Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes - clearly close friends all - alternate bringing on surprise guests.  This is very good and also very funny.  This week's guest was Anderson Cooper; a few weeks back, it was Katy Perry, and before then, Ewan McGregor.)

I'm also listening to even more music, too.  Have I mentioned Porcupine Tree lately?   

Who cares about all of this, you may ask?  Have you considered your own personal inputs and what it's doing to your attitude?  

I did. 

FROM THE UNWASHED MASSES

I appreciate the outreach regarding the memorial for Scott Edwards, and my post on gratitude. 

The memorial for Scott on Sunday was larger than life - like its subject.  It was as emotionally complex of an event that I've personally attended, and wow, did I cry during the entire ceremony.  I wasn't alone and he won't be forgotten any time soon.
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And worry not about me missing out on current events, what with mourning in Boulder and coming to my senses in Italy.  Thank you for this reminder, Steven Simon.

I saw this on Quora and thought it was really great.  Figured you would like it as well . . .

"Question: Did Liz Cheney forget that she was an elected official to represent the Republicans of Wyoming and not her integrity?

Answer: (by Mark Thomas - studied History at University of Colorado Boulder)
I’ve been thinking about that this week, now that Liz Cheney has lost in the Wyoming primary and will no longer represent Wyoming in the Congress.

What I’ve been thinking of, mostly, is a little book by Senator John F. Kennedy that came out in 1956, called Profiles in Courage.  It was the biography of eight United States statesmen who showed extraordinary courage in doing what they thought was right, even though they knew full well it would probably mean the end of their career.  The example that stands out in my memory was Sam Houston, who as governor of Texas refused to sign the act of the legislature whereby Texas would secede from the union at the beginning of the Civil War, and refused to swear loyalty to the Confederacy.  When he refused, the legislature voted to declare the governor’s office vacant and Houston never held political office again.

I remember having discussions with friends about issues like this when I was a younger man.  'It’s an elected official’s duty to represent the voters who elected them,' said some of my friends.  'If a politician doesn’t act the way the voters tell him to, then he’s betraying them.'  This is clearly what Wyoming Republicans think about Liz Cheney right now.

But that wasn’t John Kennedy’s point of view.  He thought that elected officials have a higher duty, and that is to obey their conscience.

I think John Kennedy would have admired Liz Cheney.  He would not have admired her politics — she was a true, right-wing, neocon conservative — but Kennedy wrote about people who had opposed him fiercely politically, but who showed true courage in obeying the dictates of their conscience. John Kennedy admired 'Mr. Republican,' Robert Taft, and I think that if he was compiling his book today he might include chapters for Liz Cheney and Vice President Mike Pence.

Wyoming Republicans, as your question suggests, don’t want a representative in the Congress who has integrity.  That’s a shame."

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.

KLUF

Here is an especially kick-ass song.  It's called "Catch the Sun", by Doves.  Indeed.
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