Praise the gods of Westeros and Middle-earth, for Friday is here! Coming to you on week three of the Nellie Bowles Understudy Project: I’m Noam Blum, potentially known to you as the terminally online tweeter @neontaster.
I’m the chief technology officer at Tablet Magazine. I also discuss the intersection of politics and culture on the internet as the co-host of the Ambitious Crossover Attempt podcast and All Crossed Out on Callin. I have one foot in politics and the other in gaming, which means I spend half my time with the worst people on the internet, and the other half with gamers.
Before we get into it, here’s what you might have missed this week at Common Sense:
Is wokeness just political correctness filtered through the internet? Phoebe Maltz Bovy thinks yes. Speaking of the internet, Suzy Weiss traveled deep into the world of “spoonies” —highly online young women who find their community through being sick—in her latest feature. Peter Savodnik broke down the case of Brittney Griner, the basketball star-turned-political-pawn. And on Honestly, Bari hosted a provocative debate about liberalism—whether we should be fighting to preserve it; whether it’s the root of all our problems—with New York Times columnist Bret Stephens and University of Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen.
And now to the week that was, beginning with the end of an epoch:
→ God Blessed the Queen: Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history, died Thursday at age 96 surrounded by her children and grandchildren at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Born in 1926—the year A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” was published, and two years before the invention of sliced bread—Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952 at age 25. Winston Churchill was then Prime Minister, and Britain controlled over 70 territories around the globe from Tonga to Uganda, the Bahamas to Brunei. But as early as 1953, the Queen foresaw a changing world. “The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past,” she said. Her successor, King Charles III, will control only 14 realms plus the U.K. The Queen oversaw historic transformation, even as she was the embodiment of tradition.
In 1944, as the Allies were engaged in a life-or-death struggle with Nazi Germany, she joined the women’s division of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, training as a driver and mechanic. In 1947, she married Prince Philip. They were wed for 73 years, until his death in April 2021. On Tuesday, two days before she passed, the Queen appointed Liz Truss as British Prime Minister—the 15th of her reign. Starting immediately, “Operation London Bridge,” takes effect. Charles ascended to the throne the moment his mother died, but over the coming days the government will execute the plan that has been tightly choreographed in the event of the Queen’s passing, culminating with her funeral, which is expected to happen in 10 days, and later, Charles’s coronation.
As the news of the Queen’s death broke, ordinary Brits converged at both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace and, in a scene too fantastical for The Crown, a double rainbow appeared outside the palace as the crowd sang “God Save the Queen.”
The Queen, whose reign of 70 years and seven months was the second longest for a sovereign monarch in world history after Louis XIV (whose rule stretched from the mid-17th century to the early years of the 18th century), not only appointed 15 prime ministers (the first, Winston Churchill, having been born 101 years before the last, Liz Truss), but also saw 13 American Presidents, seven UN Secretary-Generals, seven popes, and the global population almost triple since ascending to the throne.
There isn’t a prominent person who hasn’t offered their condolences or memories of the Queen. Everyone from Paddington Bear to J.K. Rowling to Joe Biden. But I’m thinking especially today of this amazing anecdote that conveys the late Queen’s mischievous sense of humor:
→ God Save the King: The vast majority of British people have known one monarch in their lifetimes. Today, they meet their king: King Charles III, father of William, new resident of Winsdor, and Harry of Montecito. If there was a word to sum up Queen Elizabeth the word was Duty. The big question now is: Can the monarchy remain strong in her absence? Elizabeth was the last of a certain kind of old-fashioned, stiff-upper-lip British royal, and her stolidness, her reserve, had the effect of preserving the institution, allowing it to hover above the rest of Great Britain. In her absence—in a world in which nation and history and tradition all feel increasingly remote—will the monarchy survive? Our friend Andrew Sullivan says the answer lies in four words: God Save the King.
→ In Liz We Truss? England’s new prime minister formally took over this week, inheriting an energy crisis, a plunging pound, soaring inflation, a looming general strike (not seen in Britain since 1926), and a war in Ukraine that threatens to go nuclear. Predictably, legacy media outlets in the United States, including NPR and The New York Times, were quick to note some good news that trumped these looming crises: her Cabinet is the most diverse ever. Thank God for that.
→ Who Ordered the Special? A federal judge ruled Monday that the materials seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago last month will be reviewed by an independent arbiter (or “special master”) for any documents protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.
Meantime, Southern District of Florida Judge Aileen M. Cannon also temporarily halted the Justice Department’s review of the materials. Naturally, this proved the judge corrupt, illegitimate, and “not a real judge” in the eyes of the usual suspects—especially since Cannon was appointed by Trump in 2020.
So, what does this all mean? As of yet, nothing much. Judge Cannon is yet to outline the duties and deadlines for the special master, but it will at the very least delay the investigation into the materials recovered from Mar-a-Lago, and any materials deemed privileged by the special master won’t be available for investigators. However, The New York Times spoke to legal scholars who said that ultimately, if the Justice Department decides to charge Trump, they would only need a few representative examples from the records, and that materials marked as top secret by intelligence agencies are unlikely to be privileged anyway.
→ The Bitter Bus Battle: The war of words over Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to bus migrants who cross the border into Texas from Mexico to major cities in blue states escalated this week, with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stating that “this is not Christianity” and that Abbott merely “professes to be a Christian” after 50 more migrants arrived in the Windy City, bringing the total number to 103. Abbott responded that Lightfoot should address her concerns to “the real cause of the border crisis: Joe Biden.” Abbott also clashed last month with New York Mayor Eric Adams over the migrants who arrived in the city, which was odd considering that last year Adams called his “City of Immigrants” a place where “people from every nation seek refuge” and that his government “will reflect that.”
→ Germany’s Nuclear Winter: Germany was forced to swallow its pride this week and announce that two of the nuclear reactors it intended to shut down would remain open to help forestall its worsening energy crisis. (Russia announced on Tuesday that it was shutting down the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Europe indefinitely, and one of the largest German gas importers Uniper did not rule out energy rationing.) I wonder if the German diplomats who openly laughed at Trump in 2018 when he warned that they were becoming too dependent on Russian energy can burn those fond memories for warmth this winter:
→ And While We’re on the Subject of Nuclear Power Plants: California voted to keep its last remaining nuclear reactor open past its scheduled shutdown date of 2025 as a “bridge” until more sources of wind and solar energy are built. Using green energy as a bridge to inferior forms of green energy. Makes sense! The decision comes amidst ongoing heatwaves and threats of blackouts. Things got so bad over Labor Day weekend that officials urged electric vehicle owners to avoid charging their cars during peak operating hours. Thus, California’s twin policies on electric vehicles and renewable energy sources collide like a Tesla in a crash test.
→ Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Her Wheelhouse: No, not pushing legislation through Congress. Complaining in the pages of a glossy magazine. This time, in GQ, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez lamented to AOC superfan Wesley Lowery about the pointlessness of her becoming president because “there are still plenty of limitations” for the person in power. “It’s tough, it’s really tough” she groused. Somewhere at Mar-a-Lago, Trump is doing a fist pump.
→ BLM Steals Even More Money: Everyone’s favorite financially responsible nonprofit is at it again, with a new lawsuit accusing an executive at the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation of “siphoning” more than $10 million from donors. The executive in question, Shalomyah Bowers–who denied the “harmful, divisive, and false” allegations–was hired by none other than Patrisse Cullors, the BLM co-founder whom you might know better as the proud owner of a $1.4 million Topanga Canyon home and a $6 million mansion in Studio City. Cullors departed the organization in May 2021 for reasons that were definitely, entirely unrelated to said home and mansion.
→ Tragic End to the Eliza Fletcher Story: A body found in Memphis on Monday was confirmed to be that of 34-year-old Eliza Fletcher, a kindergarten teacher, wife and mom of two. Fletcher had been missing since early Friday morning, after surveillance footage showed her being forced into an SUV while jogging around 4:30 a.m., several miles from where her body was discovered. Cleotha Abston, 38 years old, who was arrested for the kidnapping over the weekend, will now also face charges of first-degree murder. Abston has a lengthy criminal record dating back to age 11. He was released from prison in 2020 after receiving a 24-year sentence in 2001 for the “especially aggravated kidnapping” of a Memphis lawyer. If Abston had served out his entire sentence, he would have still been in prison on the day the young mom went jogging.
→ Terror After Dark: Memphis police scrambled to track down the perpetrator of a string of shootings that left four dead and three injured Wednesday night. Nineteen-year-old Ezekiel Kelly, identified by authorities as the perpetrator, live-streamed the shootings on Facebook Live, and was eventually arrested after crashing a stolen car. Kelly pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in April 2021 and was sentenced to three years, but was released after 11 months.
Meanwhile, in Maryland, Prince George’s County authorities have announced a curfew for anyone under 17 after a string of shootings and carjackings involving teenagers. According to NBC4 Washington, the 30-day curfew comes in the wake of the county’s deadliest month in at least 13 years, with nearly double the number of arrests of juveniles as last year.
→ Sent to Live on the Kiwi Farm: Even if you aren’t someone who lives their entire life online, chances are you’ve heard of Reddit. Maybe you’ve heard of 4Chan. Kiwi Farms, on the other hand, probably doesn't ring any bells, but it should if you’re someone that cares about freedom, safety, and privacy (in no particular order) in the internet age.
The message board, founded in 2013 by Joshua Moon, has been tied to at least three suicides and to the 2019 attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, was infamous among journalists across the political spectrum, who say they have been warned by colleagues to not discuss it for fear of publicizing it and detailed their own harassment by members of the site. Even right-wing politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene blamed Kiwi Farms for two recent “swatting” incidents in which SWAT teams were called to her Georgia home.
This past Saturday, the site was dropped by internet hosting and security services provider Cloudflare due to “an unprecedented emergency and immediate threat to human life unlike we have previously seen from Kiwi Farms or any other customer before.” Kiwi Farms’ ban is a notably rare one. The company does not make such moves lightly and has only done so twice before—banning the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer in 2017 and imageboard site 8chan two years later in 2019. Josh Moon is himself a former 8chan moderator.
The inciting incident for the ban took place on August 5, when Canadian Twitch streamer and trans activist Clara Sorrenti, aka Keffals, was arrested during a swatting incident, and later forced to flee her home and later a hotel because of concerted efforts to locate and harass her, all coordinated on Kiwi Farms. This led to the social media campaign dubbed “#Dropkiwifarms,” and eventually to the ban. This type of edge case—where a widely-accepted source of toxicity is deplatformed—is a lacuna in the intersection of free speech on the one hand, and, on the other, the need to address harassment that threatens to turn violent.
Personally, I tend to err on the laissez-faire side of things when it comes to the free flow of information on the internet. But in this type of polarized atmosphere, seeing ostensible rivals agree on something like this grants it at least some veracity.
→ New Constitution Receives a Chile Response: A referendum in Chile decisively struck down a new progressive constitution, with 62% voting to reject the proposal. The proposed new constitution, which was supported by Chilean President Gabriel Boric, was a massive document featuring 388 articles relating to social rights, government regulation, welfare, gender parity, and Indigenous rights. (In Persuasion, Francsico Toro writes that each one of these bloated, messy clauses guarantees rights that can often be contradictory and impossible to implement.)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it turns out that the largely left-leaning 154 delegates who drafted the constitution were not seen as representative of Chilean society as a whole, including the Indigenous populations that the constitution purports to benefit. Turns out diversity of opinion is the least important type of diversity in other countries too!
→ Maybe You Should Worry, Darling: The Venice International Film Festival was in full swing this week, with most media (and meme) attention devoted to Olivia Wilde’s upcoming film Don’t Worry Darling, which stars Wilde, Florence Pugh, Wilde’s beau Harry Styles, and Chris Pine. However, the buzz wasn’t so much about the film itself, despite Wilde’s comment that she modeled the film’s villain after Jordan Peterson. Instead, much of the focus was on the director's own conduct surrounding the production. Wilde told Variety in August that she had fired Shia LaBeouf from the film, citing his “process” which apparently requires “combative energy.” LaBeouf responded by sharing text messages with Variety showing that he was the one who initiated the departure and that it was Wilde who was unhappy about it.
But the memes, which flowed like the waters in the Grand Canal, made it all worth it. These included the Zapruder film-like analysis of this generation’s Magic Loogie, Harry Styles’ affinity for the word “movie,” and Chris Pine’s inexplicable coif. I know this might seem unimportant, but frankly I’d rather argue about Harry Styles-Chris Pine spitting conspiracy theories than ones about vaccines or elections.
→ More Blake Masters Messiness: Blake Masters, the Trump-backed Republican senate hopeful from Arizona, has been in the news after his abrupt pivot to the center following his primary victory in August. Masters removed references from his website about the legitimacy of the 2020 elections and softened his stance on abortion. (Before he supported a federal personhood law; now he backs a ban on late-term and partial-birth abortion.)
If you were wondering whether these shifts would hurt Masters among the Republicans who voted for him based on Trump’s endorsement, a newly published trove of messages he sent to a vegan co-op email board at Stanford could further complicate matters for him. The messages, all from 2006, include Masters—who was then 19 years old— defending 9/11 conspiracy theories, calling America “fascist,” and arguing that voting is meaningless unless you are in the majority. Expect Masters’ comments (on fascism and voting, in particular) to be co-opted by Mark Kelly’s campaign staff. Other Trump-backed candidates, like J.D. Vance in Ohio, have already faced criticisms for the political about-face they took after receiving the blessings from Mar-a-Lago. Also let’s make sure we don’t just gloss over the phrase “vegan co-op email board at Stanford” and give it the respect it deserves.
→ Amazonification of Tolkien: The first two episodes of Amazon Prime’s The Rings of Power—a prequel to the vaunted The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the less vaunted The Hobbit trilogy—debuted amid an exceptionally loud social media culture war battle featuring saber-rattling over woke narratives and tokenist (or Tolkienist) casting (something to do with “hobbits of color”).
One notable critic of the show was Elon Musk, who lamented: “Tolkien is turning in his grave. Almost every male character so far is a coward, a jerk or both.” I have no reason to question Musk’s motives, but I don’t doubt that he revels in a chance to needle mega-rich nemesis Jeff Bezos. The two have been known to snipe at each other. You may recall Bezos, in April, asking, “Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?” amid news of Musk’s expected acquisition of Twitter and reports of his business dealings in China.
But despite the seemingly inexhaustible amount of hate the show appears to be getting on sites like Twitter and YouTube, Amazon reported strong numbers, racking up 25 million global views in the first day. That’s good news for the streaming service, which has invested $1 billion in the series—reportedly the largest budget for any show ever—and staked its future in its success. “If we can’t make it successful, why is Amazon Studios even here?” one insider said.
→ Gibson’s Bakery Finally Gets Its Due: Nearly six years after Oberlin College falsely slandered the 137-year-old family business, the school is finally coughing up the $36.59 million judgment it owes the family. If you missed our recent investigation on Honestly—or Lorna Gibson's moving essay about the lengths she has gone to to restore her family’s good name—please give them a listen or a read.
This is a story about much more than the usual town-gown tension. As our friend Leighton Woodhouse put it: “Oberlin College's character assassination of a local bakery is a perfect analogy for how the new upper middle class language of social justice is deployed as class warfare.” As of last week, the bakery, which had been decimated by boycotts, was on the brink of bankruptcy. “Calling us racists wasn’t just wrong,” Lorna Gibson wrote, “It was deeply painful to our core.”
On Thursday, after years of appeals, the college finally initiated payment. The sum will be paid in part by the college’s insurance. In a statement, the school said: “We are disappointed by the Court’s decision…This matter has been painful for everyone.”
On the matter of their historic win, Gibson’s legal representative said this to Common Sense: “Truth still matters, and David has overcome Goliath. While Oberlin College has still refused to admit they were wrong, the jury, a unanimous panel from the court of appeals, and a majority of the Ohio Supreme Court decided otherwise. Now, the Gibsons will be able to rebuild the business their family started 137 years ago and keep the lights on for another generation.”
Oberlin might think of their students as customers who are always right, but the actual city of Oberlin, the small businesses there, the locals—they go by different rules. Apparently, so do Common Sense readers, who jumped to order sweets, t-shirts, hats and totes from the Gibson’s site. A lawyer for the family tells us that the bakery received “literally hundreds of online and telephone orders” as a result of our coverage of this case.
It’s been a pleasure TGIF-ing with all of you. For now, a final word of wisdom care of the late, great Elizabeth II: