A Bigger Picture

American Heroes, American Villains, American Adult Popularity, Kids Music, Adult Streaming...

I basically had this newsletter locked and loaded to send last week. I was going to write some sort of preamble about wanderlust. Then the SpaceX launch was set (then unset, per below) and it was going to be about wonderment. Then the events of the past several days unfolded and it just didn’t seem appropriate to send a newsletter. Or to send one without acknowledging our current heartbreaking state of affairs in some meaningful way. But honestly, I’m at sort of a loss. Just when it seemed like things were perhaps looking a bit better on the COVID front, with the world starting to awaken again, and just as we’re all looking up with awe at the accomplishments in the stars, we get dragged back down to new lows. It’s just incredibly frustrating. And sad. And unacceptable.

And so a part of me would like us to go back to “normal” but another part of me knows we can’t accept this. And maybe because of our extraordinary (certainly not in a good way) times, this is the right time for things to change meaningfully. Maybe all the insanity swirling around has created a caldron of true change. That’s one hope anyway. Probably a naive one, I admit.

And just to vent some anger a bit on a tangential topic: Facebook’s stance on much of this remains infuriating. I recognize the intense desire to remain neutral here. I get it. But I also think we’re beyond that, even if that’s impossible to see right now. I think it’s one of those things we’ll only be able to see several years into the future. What looks like admirable restraint (to oneself) right now, will look like abhorrent appeasement with time. This is all much, much, much easier said than done, of course. But I do think you have to think about a bigger picture — one far larger than the frame in which you currently live.

So I was heartened to read that some Facebook employees are pushing the notion of thinking about how history will view these actionsa framework I hold dear. And more so to see them speaking out in public. And to see Facebook (presumably) not punish such action. This seems healthy. But I’m still not sure it’s not just for show. You still need to show history what you’re made of. These next few days will be key.


Elon Musk Is the Hero America Deserves

Ashlee Vance, who literally wrote the book on Musk, checks in on the cusp of his latest historic achievement: putting Americans back in space:

Even the most fervent Musk hater, of whom there are plenty in the U.S., has to feel some twinge of pride. At a moment when the American Empire can seem to be in decline, here’s a clear sign that great things remain possible and that humans have much left to achieve. “America is still the land of opportunity more than any other place, for sure,” Musk says, waxing patriotic. “There is definitely no other country where I could have done this—immigrant or not.” That it’s a multibillionaire, Covid-19-truthing, entrepreneurial huckster/hero delivering this message is pretty much perfect for America in 2020.

On the topic of Twitter:

“It’s hard to make everyone happy, especially on Twitter,” Musk says. “Look, you can either say things that are not controversial at all, and then you’re boring, and nobody cares. Some of the things I say, I would like to retract them. It’s not like I stand by all the tweets I’ve ever done. Some of them were definitely extremely dumb. On balance, the good outweighs the bad. It’s a means of communicating directly to the people without having to go through the press.”


That Musk somehow emerged from this with both companies intact is lottery-odds improbable. If we really are living in a simulation, as Musk has suggested, it’s the only one you could run where both SpaceX and Tesla survive.

Since then, Musk has built vast rocket, car, and battery factories. He’s employed tens of thousands of people, created a worldwide car-charging network, figured out reusable rockets, started an artificial intelligence software company, dug tunnels for high-speed transport, founded a brain-machine-interface startup, and constructed a high-speed internet system … in space. (How’s your sourdough starter going?)

The Leviathan playing zany, 3D chess.

If Trump Had Been in Charge During WWII, This Would be in German

It’s a great title by Max Boot, and it’s effective because it’s also likely true:

Coronavirus deaths are surging past 86,000 and unemployment claims past 36 million, but Trump sounded on Monday as if the pandemic is already over. “We have met the moment and we have prevailed,” he declared. It’s as if Roosevelt had declared Victory in Europe before D-Day.

Medical experts argue that it’s necessary to dramatically ramp up testing, but Trump has no national plan to do so, and said on Thursday that testing might be “frankly overrated.” “When you test you find something is wrong with people,” he declared. “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.” The mind reels. This is akin to FDR saying that if no one reported the attack on Pearl Harbor, it wouldn’t have happened.

Those deaths are now well past 100,000. It’s just staggering. And while the virus itself, of course, isn’t Trump’s fault, the complete and utter ineptitude in dealing with it, not to mention the decidedly unhelpful (or worse) rhetoric, very much is. If we’re succeeding, it’s in spite of him, because of the powers granted to states and localities. He just can’t help himself because he doesn’t know what else to do.

The reality is that he was never going to be up to such a challenge — which was the true risk of his presidency in the first place — but it’s still a true shame how we’ve all had to learn that lesson.

Why Is Joe Rogan So Popular?

This profile by Devin Gordon is from last year, but given the Spotify/Rogan news, it’s well worth your time once again.

The podcast is where Joe Rogan graduates from the guy you think you know (Fear Factor, UFC, comedy clubs) to someone who makes you think, “Wait—Joe Rogan?” Yes, Joe Rogan. The guy you forgot was on NewsRadio 20 years ago—he played a conspiracy theorist!—has somehow become a generational voice for men, and I couldn’t fathom why, and that bothered me. Why is he connecting so deeply with so many men, for such long stretches of time, at a moment when no one else can seem to hold anyone’s attention for more than two minutes?

I had totally forgotten the NewsRadio part. And:

The hard truth for some of Rogan’s critics in the media is that he is much better at captivating audiences than most of us, because he has the patience and the generosity to let his interviews be an experience rather than an inquisition. And, go figure, his approach has the virtue of putting his subjects at ease and letting the conversation go to poignant places, like the moment when Musk reflected on what it was like to be Elon Musk as a child—his brain a set of bagpipes that blared all day and all night. He assumed he would wind up in a mental institution. “It may sound great if it’s turned on,” he said in his blunt mechanical way, “but what if it doesn’t turn off?”

I think this is a good point.

Apple Music ‘Kids Mode’

Bradley Chambers back in January:

I take my kids to school every day, and right now we are alternating between the Frozen 2 soundtrack and Phineas and Ferb songs. As you can imagine, my 2019 Replay playlist is going to be useless. When Apple unveiled Replay back in November of 2019, I was excited to see how it worked. I took a look at my 2015 list, and it was pretty spot on. Once I started looking at 2016 and beyond, they were useless to me. My kids, on the other hand, probably would have loved them. They are filled with songs we listen to on the way to school. I’d love for this to become a problem of the past during 2020. Here are some ways Apple could address this problem…

I’m only mildly ashamed to admit that I subscribe to two music services for this very reason. It’s insane to me that there isn’t a ‘kids mode’ for not only Apple Music, but for every service that does recommendations based on history. YouTube, Netflix, etc. And while both of those have a dedicated kids area (or app), it needs to be a toggle in the main app, like incognito mode for web browsers. Just forget everything I’m about to listen to and watch, as I’m not actually a 1-year-old baby. Actually, better still: remember everything but sequester it in the ‘kids mode’ for when I toggle back.

How HBO Took on the Streaming Wars

Ahead of the launch of HBO Max this week (which has seemed mixed, at best), Anna Nicolaou and Alex Barker looked back at how AT&T got here, including the rise of John Stankey:

Blocking his path was Richard Plepler, a man often credited as the visionary behind the “golden age of television” and the-then CEO of HBO. Plepler is one of an increasingly rare breed of Hollywood showmen, known for legendary parties and a weather-defying suntan. A self-described “political junkie”, he had told confidants that AT&T’s mis-steps with HBO were reminiscent of the George W Bush administration’s Iraq war.

The lesson: “Don’t invade.” 

We’ve discussed this beforemultiple times — but I continue to believe it was a huge mistake to blow up the HBO brand and drive Plepler out. Time will tell, of course. But…

Since his exit last year, Plepler has been relatively subdued, based at his Upper East Side brownstone plotting his next act with Apple. But his shadow will loom over HBO for years to come. In a move equal parts savvy and chutzpah, Plepler doubled HBO’s scripted programming budget before the AT&T deal closed, betting his new overlords would pay up. Shows he greenlit years ago, such as Chernobyl, Euphoria and Watchmen, are still airing, while talent still thank him at awards galas — even ones where Stankey, not Plepler, is the one clapping in the audience.

…it may take longer for the degradation of HBO to show itself, as Plepler did the equivalent of changing the locks on his way out the door. AT&T will get in there eventually, it just took longer than it otherwise might have.

Still, there are some reasons for hope within the WarnerMedia group — namely Jason Kilar, the former Hulu chief with a strong Disney and Amazon pedigree. He now has Stankey’s old job, which seems like good news.


  • A patent shows an iPad Magic Keyboard with an Apple Pencil holder in the hinge. This would have been a clever way to carry it around without it needing to be stuck on the top, which, while great for charging and docked, is relatively insecure while out and about.

  • The new Disney+ show Zenimation is just classic scenes from their animated movies with everything stripped out but ambient sounds, ASMR-style. Brilliant.

  • The next iPhone may not include any headphones in the box. This will be controversial because it has always been wired headphones that have been included (and because it’s Apple), but this is just reading the trends. They should offer a nice discount on AirPods if you buy the two together.

  • The race is on to see if the world will be opened enough by July when Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Tenet, is set to hit theaters. Actual theaters. It’s apparently still all-systems-go, but wow, what a risky attempt to thread a needle. Still, Nolan’s movies tend to be ones you must see in theaters, so… We’ll see!

  • Did I mention that AT&T still intended to cram ads into HBO eventually? Because driving out Plepler and his bench of talent wasn’t a quick enough degradation of HBO per above, they’re exploring other ways

  • How about a fascinating story about eels? Certainly a sentence I never envisioned writing…

  • As every other major sport nears a plan to return to play, how dumb and greedy are the Major League Baseball owners? Roger Ehrenberg explores


Apple Gets Their Goodfellas

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ makes Apple a major cinematic player. Now what?

Fresh Content for Stale Days

The importance of ‘new’ for the streaming services

Twitter, Sometimes Still Magical