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The World Is Ending. And We Probably Deserve It.

Three terrible things to ruin your day.
February 17, 2020
The World Is Ending. And We Probably Deserve It.

1. Repent. The End Is Nigh.

It’s been a pretty bad run these last few weeks. But the news out of major league baseball yesterday takes us from “Great, the republic is crumbling around us” to “OMG THE METEOR IS COMING GET TO THE SHELTERS.”

Perhaps you saw some of it?

For starters, the drip-drip-drip of the Astros’ cheating scandal keeps getting worse. Turn out that by 2019 it was an open-secret in the league that the Astros were dirty. How did it become an open-secret? Because guys noticed.

Here’s a story from the NY Post about Yankee’s pitcher David Robertson:

Robertson, who was in his second stint with the Yankees in 2017, allowed just four runs in 30 games for New York after getting traded from the White Sox. Through six appearances that postseason, including a scoreless two-inning stint in Houston, he allowed just one run in 11 innings. But then had the worst postseason outing of his career.Entering in the bottom of the eighth with the Yankees trailing Houston 3-1 in Game 6 of the ALCS, Robertson was lit up for four hits and four runs, unable to retire any of the four batters he faced.

“I got roughed up in Game 6,” Robertson said. “And I felt like in that game I threw as well as I’ve ever thrown in my entire life. I had some pitches that got hit that I was a little shocked by and some pitches that didn’t get swung at that I was a little shocked by. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about what we know now. But it all comes together now and, you know, I’m upset about it, that’s for sure.”

He’s not wrong. It is a disgrace. That Houston squad has (at least) three guys who will get long looks by Cooperstown. It is not too much to say that it might be appropriate for the Hall to pass on them. Because that’s the only way to send a message to the players that if someone in management starts these sorts of shenanigans, they better blow the whistle.

But even that’s not the really depressing news.

Yesterday the MLB announced that they’re going to roll out a new rule this season requiring pitchers to face a minimum of three batters.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

It would not be overstating matters to say that this is an abomination which will destroy the one thing America has managed to keep sacred while everything else has gone to shit.

Why not bring in robot umpires while we’re at it? And let teams spy all they want. Hell, let’s just cut to the chase and use robot players.

Every once in a while you’ll hear someone say, “I wish they’d use instant replay so that they can get important call right.”

This is a bad sentiment. A foolish sentiment. Perhaps an evil sentiment. But it’s something that, because humanity is flawed and sinful, people occasionally ask for.

Here is a thing no one on God’s earth has ever said: “I wish they’d require pitches to face a minimum of three batters, or end a half inning, because I don’t like seeing the best possible matchups at the most critical moments of the biggest games.”

This is a solution in search of a problem. But it’s more than that.

It’s the end of civilization as we have known it.

2. Burn It All Down

The timing of my career has given me a front-row seat to the total destruction of magazine journalism.

I entered the profession at a time when magazine were the most important cultural force in the journalism industry. If you wanted to live in the world of ideas, magazines were it. If you wanted the world of culture, magazines were it. If you wanted the world of glamour and society, magazines were it.

When I was sitting at sitting at a desk at the Weekly Standard, glossy magazine editors ruled the world and I saw how the business worked: Tina Brown taking over the New Yorker and then starting Talk. Graydon Carter making Vanity Fair serious again. (Sort of.) And the golden age of the men’s magazines, where GQ and Esquire published must-read essays and the upstarts, like Details, published great young writers.

Today, that’s all gone. Like gone gone. Nuclear-winter gone.

Part of this is a sadness to me, because magazine provide something unique to the public square and their destruction has not seen any other medium fill the void.

And part of it is a sadness because my own career got swept away in the turbulence, as it wasn’t just glossy magazines, but news magazines and political magazines and intellectual magazines and movie magazines and newspapers, too, that were decimated by the marginal revolution in digital.

But on the other hand, I read a story like this one, about the former editor of Details who has now written a memoir about how he spent his time on the throne stoned out of his mind, yelling at people, and getting by because his assistants fixed everything for him and I can’t help but think . . .

Maybe these people all deserved the apocalypse, I’m Ron Burgundy?

Drink in the details about life in Details. It’s amazing:

At 48, Dan Peres is already an old hand at being a former magazine editor. Condé Nast shut down Details, the men’s glossy that he had been editor of for 15 years, in 2015. Overnight Mr. Peres went from two decades spent as a coveted presence at fashion shows and parties in the world’s capitals to a divorced dad adrift in the ’burbs. . . .

The result is a memoir, “As Needed for Pain,” which was published this week by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.

In the book, Mr. Peres reveals an opioid addiction that he tried for years to hide, and which, until he got clean in 2007, had him taking as many as 60 Vicodin pills a day. . . .

After being summoned at 28 from the Paris where he had worked as a writer and editor for W magazine and given the top job at Details, Mr. Peres lived subsidized for months in the Morgans Hotel. Once, he trashed his room because he couldn’t find his Vicodin; he blamed the housekeeper for stealing his drugs. . . .Mr. Peres tells in his memoir of frequently not making it into the office; when he did, he sneaked occasional naps on his office couch during the heavy drug years. He fell asleep while interviewing a job applicant. He had an assistant plan an unnecessary trip to San Diego, where he rented a car (he doesn’t remember if he or the company paid for it), drove to Tijuana, Mexico, and bought $6,000 worth of drugs to smuggle back across the border and then to New York (in between, he appeared on “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher in Los Angeles).

He would find reasons to fly to Los Angeles, to meet a publicist, see his girlfriend, do drugs with a rock star, who is unnamed (“plane highs were usually the best, especially in first class,” Mr. Peres writes). That girlfriend, the actress Sarah Wynter, would become his wife and then ex-wife; they have three school-age sons.

He spent four days “in a plush terry cloth robe” at the Four Seasons in Milan without attending the fashion shows he had traveled there for because he didn’t have sufficient Vicodin to feel like himself. (He then had the front desk send a medico to his room, who wrote him a prescription.)

Mr. Peres conscripted an assistant to unwittingly create with the Condé Nast travel office a 30-day itinerary to Italy and Australia that he could show to doctors as evidence that he needed to fill prescriptions in advance.

There’s more. A lot more.

My favorite anecdote is the time Peres runs a piece by Big Time Writer Kurt Anderson—and includes in the front of the book a short interview with Anderson. Except that Anderson didn’t write a piece for him and didn’t sit for any interview.

Pure fabulism. This is supposed to be a capital crime for someone running a magazine, and yet Peres didn’t just skate—he kept living the Four Seasons life, abusing his employees and filing illegitimate expense reports, bleeding his magazine dry at the same moment that the financial structure of the industry was crumbling beneath his feet.

Anyway, all of this is the long way of saying this:

American culture deserves better journalism than the current economic structure allows. We are worse off for not having magazines that discover and nurture writers like Tom Junod and Mark Bowden and Joan Didion.

But the people who ran those magazines? They deserve exactly what they got.

3. Corona Virus

Maybe the best piece I’ve read on the subject, written by a Chinese dissident:

As the Year of the Pig [2019] gave way to the Year of the Rat [February 2020], a virus that started in Wuhan, a city famed as the nation’s major transportation and communication hub, was spreading throughout China. Overnight, the country found itself in the grip of a devastating crisis; fear was stalking the land. The authorities proved themselves to be at a loss and the cost of their behavior was soon visited upon the common people. Before long, the coronavirus was reaching around the globe and the country found itself becoming rapidly isolated from the world. It was as though the China of the Open Door and Reform policies for more than three decades was being destroyed in front of our eyes. It seemed as is, in one fell swoop, the People’s Republic, and in particular its vaunted system of governance, had been cast back to pre-modern times. Then again, as word spread about the blockades thrown up by towns and cities to protect themselves against contagion, and as doors were slammed shut everywhere, it felt as though we were actually being confronted by a kind of barbaric panic more readily associated with the Middle Ages.

The cause of all of this lies with The Axlerod [that is, Xi Jinping] and the cabal that surrounds him. It began with the imposition of stern bans on the reporting of factual information that served to embolden deception at every level of government, although it only struck its true stride when bureaucrats throughout the system shrugged off responsibility for the unfolding situation while continuing to seek the approbation of their superiors. They all blithely stood by as the crucial window of opportunity to deal with the outbreak of the infection snapped shut in their faces.

Ours is a system in which The Ultimate Arbiter [an imperial-era term used by state media to describe Xi Jinping] monopolizes power. It results in what I call “organizational discombobulation” that, in turn, has served to enable a dangerous “systemic impotence” at every level. A political culture has thereby been nurtured that, in terms of the real public good, is ethically bankrupt, for it is one that strains to vouchsafe its privatized Party-State, or what they call their “Mountains and Rivers” while abandoning the people over which it holds sway to suffer the vicissitudes of a cruel fate. It is a system that turns every natural disaster into an even greater man-made catastrophe. The coronavirus epidemic has revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance; the fragile and vacuous heart of the jittering edifice of state has thereby shown up as never before.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.