The Weekender, June 7, 2019

1) “Auschwitz Is Not a Metaphor” (The Atlantic, 11 minutes, June 2019). The subhead: “The new exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage gets everything right—and fixes nothing.”

This is one of the most powerful articles I’ve read in a long time. It makes a very important point: we’ve come to accept minor acts of bigotry (and particularly anti-Semitism) because it doesn’t rise to the level of genocide. And that’s a problem.

The [museum exhibit’s] audio guide humbly speculates about who these people might have been: “She might have been a housewife or a factory worker or a musician …” The idea isn’t subtle: This woman could be you. But to make her you, we have to deny that she was actually herself. These musings turn people into metaphors, and it slowly becomes clear to me that this is the goal. 

[ . . . ] 

At the end of the show, onscreen survivors talk in a loop about how people need to love one another. While listening to this, it occurs to me that I have never read survivor literature in Yiddish—the language spoken by 80 percent of victims—suggesting this idea. In Yiddish, speaking only to other Jews, survivors talk about their murdered families, about their destroyed centuries-old communities, about Jewish national independence, about Jewish history, about self-defense, and on rare occasions, about vengeance. Love rarely comes up; why would it? 

[ . . . ]

That the Holocaust drives home the importance of love is an idea, like the idea that Holocaust education prevents anti-Semitism, that seems entirely unobjectionable. It is entirely objectionable. The Holocaust didn’t happen because of a lack of love. It happened because entire societies abdicated responsibility for their own problems, and instead blamed them on the people who represented—have always represented, since they first introduced the idea of commandedness to the world—the thing they were most afraid of: responsibility.

2) “The Curious Cons of the Man Who Wouldn’t Die” (GQ, 37 minutes, May 2019). The subhead: “When Mark Olmsted contracted HIV, in the early 1980s, he figured the disease was a death sentence. And so he hatched a scheme to live out his last years in style—swiping credit cards, bilking insurance companies, even faking his own death. What’s the problem with some forgery, fraud, and crystal meth if you’ll soon be gone? A better question might have been: What the hell happens if you survive?”


3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

MondayWhy You Shouldn’t Tick off a Tiger — Seriously, it’s a bad idea.

TuesdayThe Goalie Who Wouldn’t Stop — He literally outplayed the other team. And his own!

WednesdayThe Slippers Which Slam Dunked on Loopholes — “Tariff engineering”

ThursdayD-Day’s Doomed Dry Run — D-Day was a success. The dress rehearsal? Not so much.

4) A few weeks ago, I put a rebus in this space, and it seemed popular. In fact, one reader — Larry B. — sent me one to share. Find it below.

(A rebus, by the way, is “a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters; for instance, apex might be represented by a picture of an ape followed by a letter X,” per Google.)

The question: Around 1900, this was put as an address on a postcard. Where and to whom was it delivered? Check out my Twitter later today for the answer.

5) “Shady Numbers And Bad Business: Inside The Esports Bubble” (Kotaku, 33 minutes, May 2019). I’m actually rather bullish on eSports, or at least in the general idea that people will watch other people play video games, and will do so in numbers that are monetizable via, e.g., ads. After all, America’s collective attention was just captured by some guy answering trivia questions at 7 PM every night, there’s a whole Game Show Network, ESPN airs the World Series of Poker, and Twitch is huge. But this piece is interesting nonetheless.

The mainstream narrative of esports has been lovingly crafted by those who benefit from its success. There’s big money in esports, they say. You’ve heard the stories. Teenaged gamers flown overseas to sunny mansions with live-in chefs. The erection of $50 million arenas for Enders Game-esque sci-fi battles. League of Legends pros pulling down seven-figure salaries. Yet there’s a reason why these narratives are provocative enough to attract lip-licking headlines in business news and have accrued colossal amounts of venture capital. More and more, esports is looking like a bubble ready to pop.

“I feel like esports is almost running a Ponzi scheme at this point,” Frank Fields, Corsair’s sponsorship manager, told an audience at San Francisco’s Game Developers Conference last March. He smirked. The crowd laughed uncomfortably. The smile dropped from Fields’ face as he continued. “Everyone I talk to in this industry kind of acknowledges the fact that there is value in esports, but it is not nearly the value that is getting hyped these days.” Later, Fields would clarify that this value, and future value, “as of now, is optimistic at best and fraudulent at worst.”

6) “Vanilla Fever” (1843, 16 minutes, June/July 2019). The subhead: “How did hunger for the humble vanilla pod lead to greed, crime and riches? Wendell Steavenson travels to Madagascar to meet the new spice barons”

Have a great (long) weekend!