Week 35, 2020

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TOUGH WEEK. Almost six months into lockdown, the wildfires encircle San Francisco and fill the skies with smoke. Suddenly even the limited ways we are able to go out into the world have become a bad idea. Some days are better than others, but the mornings are nearly always the worst; the smell of smoke invades everything, a blanket of smog sits in the sky and my chest stretches to grasp at the air. Combine this with the first week back at virtual school for L—a new school, a new class, a new everything really—and there was barely a moment where normality felt possible.

With everything else going on, it’s hard to stay on course sometimes. Anger, hopelessness, anger again. But I’m lucky that the dark clouds of my mood pass quickly. Hopefully you can manage the same.

Books I read: After a bye week, I managed to get through a couple of novels and some essays. Making my way through Maigret continues, Georges Simenon proving an easy and speedy palate cleanser: this week it was The Late Monsieur Gallet (I’m meandering through in some kind of rough chronological order.) I also read The 392 by Ashley Hickson-Lovence, a fast and lively piece of work which I really wanted to like—it’s an ensemble piece about my version of London—but couldn’t. There was talent in there, but I ended up disappointed by the caricatures.

Wrapped up week 35 with a busman’s holiday The Art of Making Magazines, a compilation of talks given by various industry luminaries to students at Columbia. I found half of it inspiring or insightful—Tina Brown’s contribution was honest and clear, Peter Kaplan’s gossipy and energetic, Michael Kelly’s deliciously blunt—but the other half felt unnecessarily romantic or wrapped up in a self aggrandizing myth. It was funny because these pomposities were punctured by flashes of mundanity, that showed either how much the world has changed or how out of date the conveners of the J-school’s program were (one interview with Chris Dixon, the creative director of New York magazine, became almost a parody when the old school editor who was interviewing him started asking about tools in a way that felt remarkably like “Wow, so you use computers now?” “Yes, we use computers.”) Not highly recommended.

Stories I worked on: The dark fascination with QAnon and the people who are sucked into it continues, with Abby Ohlheiser’s look at how the conspiracy theory is targeting and recruiting evangelicals (there’s a direct line from the satanic panic to pizzagate to this current omniconspiracy.) Last week, Patrick Howell O’Neill produced this deep dive on the Israeli spyware giant NSO, which has suddenly started talking a lot about how it’s changing but without much to back it up, and a follow-up interview with the CEO. Also along the way: an attempt to block spyware sales to Hong Kong, and a contact tracing study.

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