The Ghost Era of FOREVER WARS Begins
FOREVER WARS is no longer a Substack. PLUS: Biden's Mideast apology tour. AND FINALLY: merch!
Edited by Sam Thielman
AND JUST LIKE THAT, WE'RE OFF SUBSTACK! That's why you didn't see any subscription buttons or calls for money in yesterday's edition. Substack would have gotten a percentage. We're done with all that.
Hopefully this transition was seamless. YOU, THE SUBSCRIBER, DO NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING, WHETHER YOU ARE PAYING FOR THIS NEWSLETTER OR READING IT FOR FREE. YOU DEFINITELY DO NOT HAVE TO RE-SUBSCRIBE! If you subscribed during the Substack era and don't see the newsletter—please check promo and spam filters!—let us know. That's assuming you see this? IDK, we'll work it out.
As you may have heard, Substack gives certain writers a year of guaranteed money to get them to start newsletters on the platform. Something I've learned in 20 years of journalism is that no matter the "innovation," the money will only be there for, like, three to five years, so act fast. I wanted both a path out of newsrooms and, because I have children and elder care in a ludicrously expensive city, a hedge against REIGN OF TERROR flopping. (It did not flop.) Other writers who did or did not do Substacks might have had principled reasons for doing what they did. I did it for the love of cash, your honor.
I got paid, and I got Sam paid. [I bought MANY Transformers toys. Also food for my child.—Sam.] Substack, however, wouldn't pay me what I asked for, which was their right, but was also an issue since I was splitting the grant. Not for the first time, I swallowed my pride and took the money. But once that happened, I made up my mind to stop using the platform as soon as I was no longer contractually obligated. This is why you've seen me make repeated references to publishing 100 editions of FOREVER WARS in the span of a year.
Obviously I went in with the full knowledge of the reputation Substack had cultivated as a pandemic-disinformation vector and preferred platform of hot-take artists who wage culture wars and reify everything already wrong with the mainstream journalism and society they think they're challenging. But this is true of every social media platform. (Once Substack started doing internal recommendations and created an app reader, it undercut its protestations of being an alternative to social media.) It has to be this way, for reasons best explained by Shoshana Zuboff in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Saladin Ahmed had an excellent post last year addressing Substack in similar contexts.
Along the way, a number of things happened that made me look forward to the Substack contract expiring. Some people let me know they either weren't going to pay for FOREVER WARS on the platform or would strongly prefer it was hosted elsewhere. Then there was the Elon Musk simping, a surefire way to make me doubt a platform is actually interested in freedom of speech, as opposed to making a principle out of needing to maximize usership. Finally, the Drake album that Hamish McKenzie wrote when Luke O'Neil left undermined the company's if-you-leave-no-big-deal messaging. You guys have fun with that platform! It's getting late and I just remembered I have some videotapes to return.
Substack is right that newsletters are a worthwhile experiment in making money from your readership directly. But you do not need Substack to publish a newsletter. If you want to write a Substack, great, do that! There is zero reason that a choice of newsletter clients ought to have an identity attached to it. Brand attachment is a grim testament to the success of capitalist propaganda. For now, let's see how Ghost works out. It feels like a less dramatic platform thus far.
ONE SUBSTACK YOU SHOULD definitely subscribe to is Jessica Valenti's.
SO THAT BIDEN TRIP to Israel and Saudi Arabia sucked! I remember when Barack Obama went to Cairo and elsewhere in an attempt (rhetorically, non-materially, ultimately cynically) to make foreigners think of something other than the War on Terror when they thought of America. The right called it an "apology tour." But that term more properly applies to Joe Biden's recent trip.
Israel is admittedly less of an apology situation and more of a so-are-we-cool situation. Biden doesn't tend to criticize Israel, and certainly not with the intensity he directed at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. But he still demonstrated that he intends to exert no pressure on behalf of the Palestinians. "Even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations, the United States and my administration will not give up on trying to bring the Palestinians and Israelis and both sides closer together" [As someone who edits text professionally I find this statement doubly offensive.—Sam.] was the most Mahmoud Abbas got after Abbas talked about apartheid, expulsions and "daily killings and arrests." When Biden went to Israel as vice president in 2010, Benjamin Netanyahu built settlements in Jerusalem as a fuck-you. Twelve years later, Biden visited with now-former (though who knows what happens in November's election) PM Netanyahu when he didn't need to. All of it sent a clear message: Biden wants zero problems with Israel, which can do to the Palestinians as it pleases.
But in Saudi Arabia, Biden truly was abject. You already know about the MBS fist bump. The reason why it resonates as a symbol isn't just the emptiness it demonstrates within the U.S.' self-conception as a champion of human rights. It neatly encapsulates a foregone surrender.
Biden wasn't paying tribute to MBS so much as to fossil capitalism, the ultimate point of the U.S.-Saudi alliance. It was fitting that whatever remained of Biden's climate-mitigation agenda collapsed while he was in Saudi Arabia. He and his faction have no path out of the disasters fossil capitalism causes or exacerbates. Consider Ukraine. Under geoeconomic conditions of dependence on hydrocarbons, what did Biden think would happen to economies worldwide when he moved to take Russian oil and gas off a global market? His strategy (impose costs on Russian aggression) predictably ran into the headwinds created by those unchallenged structural conditions. The only course available in such circumstances, if you want to keep on not challenging those structural conditions, is to tell Mohammad bin Salman that you're really sorry for being mean.
Understandably, MBS is in a mood to make Biden eat shit. Whatever additional oil capacity will come on line will only happen in August through an OPEC process, Biden's team briefed reporters. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that it won't be much, since Saudi Arabia has "slim spare capacity" that "raises the prospect that any boost won't be enough to appreciably lower prices." MBS found it funny that Biden cared more about Jamal Khashoggi than Shireen Abu Akhleh. In the end, whatever open letters future Biden appointees signed, whatever rhetoric candidate Biden employed about MBS, the economic structure that Biden would prefer to preserve than to change means that the president ultimately cares about neither. Liberals do this pained fist bump thing while conservatives just rub the orb.
Shortly after Biden returned to Washington, the State Department released an "atrocity prevention" strategy. Its primary characteristic is to treat the United States as a bystander to foreign atrocities instead of the accomplice it so often is. The strategy prioritizes "promot[ing] data collection and information sharing on early warning, escalating risk, human rights violations and abuses, perpetrators, and ongoing atrocities." It doesn't prioritize say, stopping arms sales to Israel because of Palestine, or to Saudi Arabia because of Yemen—the one an apartheid, the other a steady supply of war crimes, and both of them supported, materially and diplomatically, by America.
AT LONG LAST, MERCH. When we launched this newsletter, I had plans for FOREVER WARS and REIGN OF TERROR merchandise, stuff I figured could serve as incentives for high-tier subscribers, because I don't have any other ideas for incentives. Then the rest of my life happened and I stopped thinking about it. Now I am waiting to hear back from some of my graphic-designer friends about FOREVER WARS merch. That'll still, uh, take a while.
But! I have a box in a closet filled with t-shirts for DANGER ROOM, the "national security" vertical at WIRED co-founded by Noah Shachtman and Sharon Weinberger for which I reported. A decade ago, Noah wanted to throw a party for the blog's ("the vertical's") fifth anniversary and figured we should make merch. I came up with what I think is a pretty fucking perfect concept, considering. Noah's friend Chris Standish did the artwork.
So, I don't know who in 2022 is interested in this. But I do know that (1) the references on that shirt override its specific purpose and (2) I only have 25 of these and (3) that's all that will ever exist.
Sam can probably come up with a better lottery system than this when he edits the edition but I propose we do it like this. I have seven mediums; 14 larges; and four XLs. I will sell each for $20, since I don't remember what I paid a decade ago to have these made. When these are gone, they are gone forever!
If and only if you are an annual-tier subscriber, and you want one of these t-shirts, email email@example.com with the subject header DANGER ROOM, and including your shirt size, to hold a position in the queue. I'll give you a Venmo account to lace within 24 hours. If that money goes through, I send you the shirt. If the clock expires without receipt of payment, the queue position goes to the next person in that shirt size whose email I received. Repeat process until sold out.
SO THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY will not have an arbiter of disinformation, which conservatives not unreasonably felt would jeopardize the First Amendment. But its immigration apparatus sure will circumvent the Fourth Amendment in bulk through the surveillance-capitalist practice of data arbitrage! Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection are purchasing cell-phone location information data from data vendors. Here's what the ACLU found when it obtained internal documents:
For one three-day span in 2018, the records contain around 113,654 location points — more than 26 location points per minute. And that data appears to come from just one area in the Southwestern United States, meaning it is just a small subset of the total volume of people’s location information available to the agency.
IF YOU'RE HAVING A HARD TIME with the apparent end of the Desus-Mero partnership – the only Brand we recognize (not named Abigail [Or Boston.—Sam.])—let Ben Dietrich and Andrew Kuo provide some perspective on Cookies episode #360. We got nine years of a classic run. New York will root for the two of them forever. What's the Statue of Liberty's torch if not a Problematic light?