The Friday Roundup - 1/12/2024 (FREE) Edition
Mysterious Synagogue Tunnels, Alluring Aliens, New UFO Hearings in Congress, Practical Book Writing Advice, The Modern Difficulty of Making Friends, and a Special Request
Every Friday, I share some of the most interesting articles, videos, and books I’m looking at with our subscribers. It’s an eclectic mix fueled by my unique personal variant of ADHD and pattern recognition, so you won’t find compilations like these anywhere else.
Normally, The Friday Roundup is available only to paying TSF subscribers. This week, we’re offering it for free so you can see what you’re missing. If you’d like access to the The Friday Roundup and all subscribers-only features and posts, you can sign up for just $5/month or $50 per year, right here:
The mystery of New York’s synagogue tunnels - Mary Harrington/Unheard
Perhaps you’ve seen some of the images of Hasidic Jews battling police over the discovery of some kind of a tunnel system they’d been building under the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn.
Some prosaic explanations have emerged, but the story remains elusively mysterious.
Enter the always-interesting, whose take ratchets up the strange just a smidge:
The building at 770 Eastern Parkway is the centre of a global network of “Chabad Houses”, founded by and linked to the charismatic rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who — until his death in 1994 — viewed himself as the leader of world Jewry. During his life many followers believed him to be the Messiah, and AP reports that some still think so, or even believe Schneerson is still living.
And both this apocalyptic turn among Chabad followers, and the speculation prompted by its discovery, together underline what I’ve described as the real and already well-established re-enchantment of the world. That is, the bleeding back into everyday life of the uncanny, occult, and mysterious, through the cracks in our supposedly rationalistic and mechanistic modern life.
The strangeness of the Brooklyn Chabad story, that is, rests not in the fuel it provides to an existing memeplex of often antisemitic conspiracies. Rather, it’s in how the report abruptly lifted the lid on a community — in one of the most modern, high-tech cities on the planet —for whom the rationalistic, pluralistic values that officially sustain that civilisation seem to have been largely irrelevant, in comparison to their self-contained, profoundly religious outlook.
After all, the Chabad community, (possibly undead) Messiah and all, flourished at the heart of Brooklyn. This fact only came to seem remarkable when some of its young men got a bit too headstrong about expanding. And the conspiratorial internet response to these revelations has been in its own way just as self-contained and religious. This all invites the question: how much of the rest of supposedly rational modernity now exists only as a veneer overlaying a competing upswelling of religious zealotries, both ancient or modern? Even leaving aside the internet rumour-mill, that on its own is a perspective-altering prospect.
Aliens Have Never Been More Alluring: Why pop culture now flirts with extraterrestrials as much as it fears them - June Thomas/New York Times Style Magazine
The piece itself is a bit of a nothingburger; it weighs in at only a little over 600 words and never digs deeply.
But what’s interesting here is the evolution of UFOs and aliens in pop culture over the years. Thomas argues they went from being a sinister, ‘panic-inducing’ phenomenon in the World War II era, to the scary-at-first-but-actually-cool-outcast-in-need-of-human-help motif we saw in movies like Spielberg’s E.T., to the “open-minded, quasi-scientific” attitude of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and X-Files, to something different in the present day:
Nowadays, though, a news topic that was once the exclusive province of tabloids has entered mainstream media. This past summer, a congressional subcommittee heard testimony about the discovery of nonhuman “biologics” at U.F.O. crash sites. In “The Little Book of Aliens” (2023), the astrophysicist Adam Frank argues that we’re closer than ever to being able to look for possible signs of civilization in outer space — just in time for a population that feels alienated from life on Earth.
The new generation of alien-focused pop culture reflects that shift, in which suspicion and fear have been replaced by something closer to affinity. In Marc Turtletaub’s 2023 film, “Jules,” Milton (Ben Kingsley) feels a sort of kinship with the alien (Jade Quon) whose craft crashes in his backyard. The new arrival ends up being more protective of 70-something Milton and his buddies than local cops ever have been so, when the feds show up, the seniors side with the alien.
There’s been a parallel relaxing in attitudes toward those who claim to have had contact with extraterrestrials, such as David Huggins, the subject of Brad Abrahams’s 2017 documentary, “Love & Saucers,” who’s depicted his decades of supposed encounters — sexual and otherwise — with aliens in a series of unabashed paintings. More recently, the isolation of the pandemic left many of us seeking connection in places we’d never considered before. For Courtney Gilbert, the curator of “Sightings” — a recent show exploring the human experience of the extraterrestrial at the Sun Valley Museum of Art in Ketchum, Idaho — that openness provides one possible explanation for the uptick in sightings of unidentified anomalous phenomena that has occurred since lockdown. The other, she says, is that “we were all outside more, looking up.”
Personally, I’d argue that Jordan Peele’s Nope and Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival are the two most important modern films on the modern alien phenomenon; both deal with the utter bizarre surreality of an encounter with the unknown and unknowable nature of the extra-terrestrial “other.” Both, too, imagine the unique, fascinating, and at times terrifying process humans might have to go through in order to try to understand them. If you’ve never seen these, I highly recommend both. Here are their trailers:
House committee receives classified UAP briefing - Tom Depmsey/NewsNation
Speaking of UFOs, members of Congress got yet another briefing on the topic today, this time in classified, closed-session:
“I’m more concerned than I was going into the (secure meeting room), and I think that they have a lot of questions that remain unanswered,” Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois told NewsNation.
Some lawmakers have called for increased transparency, and the outcome of this briefing could contribute to them learning more about the government’s knowledge on the matter.
“I think what most of the American people fear is true — is that the government — there’s a concerted effort to conceal as much information as possible, both from Congress and to the general public,” said Republican Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee.
Thomas A. Monheim, the inspector general of the intelligence community, briefed the House Oversight Committee after a surge in UAP interest last year.
Monheim, it should be noted, is the one who received the complaint of Pentagon whistleblower David Grusch pertaining to black programs set up within the intelligence and military communities to recover and reverse-engineer crashed UAPs without Congressional oversight. Grusch’s disclosure was featured in a groundbreaking article last summer by veteran New York Times investigative journalists Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal at The Debrief, followed by a lengthy televised interview on NewsNation. Grusch went on to testify in an open session before Congress the following month.
He told Elizabeth Vargas last month that during the course of his own investigation, he received reports that people have even been killed to keep these programs secret:
Monheim, in his capacity as Inspector General of the Intelligence Communities (ICIG), deemed Grusch’s complaints “credible and urgent.”
More from today’s briefing:
One lawmaker went as far as to describe a “concerted effort to conceal” information about UAPS.
“There is a movement, whether it’s within the Intelligence Community or not, to prevent us from finding out more information on this,” said Republican Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida. “So, we are going to do what we need to do as investigators to continue to pull on whatever strings and see where they lead.”
Luna told NewsNation that she believes Grusch to be a credible witness and plans to invite him back to Capitol Hill for more conversations about his claims.
“Mr. Grush has made allegations that we’re still trying to figure out the veracity of and we haven’t gotten the answers that we need,” Krishnamoorthi said.
Garcia called the intelligence officers “serious professionals” navigating a very serious topic, and he’s supported what they shared.
Investigative journalist Ross Coulthart, who performed the initial televised interview with Grusch, followed up with Elizabeth Vargas on today’s hearing, and he again confirmed that he is privy to information that people have been physically harmed or even killed to keep these programs secret:
How to Write a Book Right Now - Choire Sicha/New York (Vulture)
I don’t know what it is about these artsy New York media pieces today, but this is another nothingburger. Barely enough to constitute a conversation written down, let alone an actual interview of substance, I nevertheless am sharing Sicha’s interview with author and novelist Jami Attenberg, who has a new book about writing called: 1000 Words: A Writer's Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round.
The interview was light fare, but it was enough to prompt me to buy a copy of the book.
See, I haven’t finished my goals for this year yet, but one of them that is non-negotiable is finishing the first draft of what is currently named The Alamogordo Incident, my novel-in-progress. I’m currently (checks notes) 32,718 words in, leaving me at just about the halfway mark for the average American novel length.
Attenberg advocates writing 1,000 words a day, come hell or high water. From the intro to her book:
Since I began writing books in earnest, I have used 1000 words a day as my regular writing goal. It’s about four typed pages double-spaced. If I write 1000 words a day, five days a week, give or take time for edits, research, and other job responsibilities, I can finish a messy-as-hell first draft in about six months. It usually takes me another six months to get it in enough shape to be able to share it with other people.
The 1000 words (or whatever is comparable in your chosen genre) is a guideline. It’s my personal guideline because it has worked for me. I have published a book every two years for the last eighteen years, so I stand behind this premise.
But 1000 words is more than just about writing to me. I see it as:
a good day’s work
a meetable goal
a step toward finishing a project
a simple metric for creative output
I can sit here and say that the word count matters, that the numbers matter, and they do. But what I’m really saying is that in terms of what we need or want to write, showing up matters, but having focus matters more. These letters, this structure, this encouragement and support, anyone can access it. Then all you have to do is sit down and write.
I think it’s a solid goal to hit, 1000 words. I always feel satisfied at the end of the day when I see what I’ve written. Feeling satisfied is a valuable part of the process. Doing things that encourage ourselves to keep going—also part of the process. Setting reasonable but worthwhile deadlines for ourselves. Challenging ourselves to see what we can accomplish, what we’re capable of. All of this is tied into the general concept of meeting a goal.
And that’s essentially what I’m trying to do here: whatever they are, I want to assist you in reaching your writing or creative goals.
One thousand words helps me. I hope it helps you, too.
Attenberg, Jami. 1000 Words: A Writer's Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round (pp. 6-7). S&S/Simon Element. Kindle Edition.
Anyway, the book promises some creative boosting, and that’s something I need. Better habits that help me with the outcome of my creative projects, which are ostensibly the things I want to do most, but about which I also procrastinate incessantly. (Steven Pressfield would no doubt call this resistance.)
I’ve been on a creative book kick lately. I also picked up a copy of Rick Rubin’s new book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being. Don’t know much about it, except that Rubin is a universally-recognized creative genius, and the book has rave reviews. 4.7 stars with 5,439 ratings.
Let’s make this year a great one for creative projects!
“I miss having friends. Like real old-school, hang out any day, all night, up-for-whatever type friends.” - Hickman
Not an essay, per se, but a long tweet can be close enough. This thing from “Hickman” about the deathless death of modern drudgery, and the difficulty of making good, real-life friends (which is hard enough to do when you're young, let alone when you're getting older) is, I think one of the singular challenges of our time. An excerpt:
I miss having friends. Like real old-school, hang out any day, all night, up-for-whatever type friends. Where by default, if you've got free time you're together, having great conversations or heading out on some adventure.
I've watched the humor drain from people around me as they age. Fewer calls, fewer visits, briefer visits. I've watched brilliant young guys with passionate interests devolve into sluggards and shells of themselves; interested in nothing, without energy, simply slogging through workweek after workweek, virtually dead to the world. In a real comfy "rut".
Worse, in former eras of my life, there were many places in the US where I might go to find likeminded company. Now? I can hardly imagine where I might go if I wanted to find a new "crew". Wokeness has infected a lot of my old haunts. It seems as I age, the cohort of people with the free time and the drive to start a serious and lasting platonic relationship dwindle. Of those who might, I only rarely "click" with any in a very lasting way.
The 'eras' of life do change, but I cannot accept that they ought to ever take a form where lasting, platonic man-to-man bonds aren't of paramount importance. I miss this aspect of the military greatly. My shipmates might've been retarded drunks, but we were like family.
Hickman says, somewhat ironically from my perspective, that the “folks on Twitter” have given him “great hope.” He’s met many of the online folks in meatspace, and that’s made them real, and he’s gotten some actual friendships out of that.
In fairness, that’s how I met, who is the only new IRL friend I’ve made in quite a while. In general, though, Twitter/X has been a mixed bag in the 15 or so years I’ve been there. It remains the best place to get information or have discussions about any intellectual, political, or current events topic, and for those of us isolated in long term work-from-home environments, it’s the only water cooler we’ve got at the office. But it’s full of bots, trolls, obnoxious anons and feral Zoomers, too. If anything, it’s made more more misanthropic, if only because I anticipate so much hassle whenever I fire it up. But it would be rough to go without it. It’s a lonely world out there, and although I’m a bit of a recluse, I do miss hanging out in real life with people whose company I enjoy. This has become an all-too-rare experience for me, and I suspect many of you are also feeling this lack.
The modern world is optimized for isolation and atomization, not community. The physical non-proximity of members of online “communities” only accentuates how far they are from the real thing.
One Last Thing…
Ever since I hung up my hat as the publisher of a non-profit, donation-funded commentary site, I pretty much vowed never to be involved in a donation-funded business again. The generosity of so many people was truly amazing, but it’s nerve-wracking as hell to put out a product every day and tell people they can have it for free, but if they’d like to pay, we sure could use that to keep the lights on.
The vast majority of readers — and there were millions — never gave a dime. I think about 4,000 donors kept the site going for the entire 7 years I was at the helm. Amazing people. Never the loud ones in the comment boxes or blowing up my email, either. But either way, I hated the ask, and I found the instability of the revenue model anxiety-inducing.
This is why I’ve been committed to the subscription-for-service model ever since. I offer a product, I put a reasonable price on it, I ask that if folks find any of it valuable, they consider paying this reasonable price get access to everything offered and keep the machine running.
Bills have to be paid whether I’m focusing most of my efforts on the Substack or going out and getting a job as a garbage man. I’d prefer to be writing, and I hope you prefer that too, and are willing to sign up for just $5 a month if you find that you enjoy the content here. If you’d like to do that and haven’t already, you can do it here:
But although our numbers are going up consistently now that we’re back into a regular content schedule, we’re a long way from me being able to make TSF my full-time job. I make less doing this in a year than I used to make in a single month, and I am probably putting in about half the time I was when I was earning a livable income. The math isn’t great.
It’s also not your problem.
But things have been awfully tight, and as I’ve noted, my wife’s father died the week before Christmas. We’re still nailing down final funeral arrangements, but we have very little to work with to get it done. He didn’t have life insurance. He didn’t have savings. We were fortunate enough to have a donated plot and headstone through veterans affairs, since Jim served in the US Navy, and we had set aside a small amount of his modest social security income for a funeral with when the day came, but it’s turning out not to be enough.
We also have healthcare expenses for him that were supposed to be covered by a state insurance program. Problem is, he never made it through his approval process before he passed away. It’s not looking likely that we’ll see any of that money to pay retroactive expenses at this point, which means we’re just out another $5,000 or so that we didn’t have to lose.
So, I finally caved and put up a fundraiser, primarily so people going to the funeral would have the option of a helpful alternative to buying overpriced flowers that would just get disposed of anyway. But because I’m scraping pennies together to pay bills this month (I even liquidated my small crypto portfolio, which means crypto should explode in value in the next few weeks…lol) I’m throwing this out there for those who might feel inclined to help out.
I hate to even ask, especially after I fielded another fundraiser for a friend last month. I’d much prefer to keep increasing the number of subscriptions, or sell you a book, or give you something of concrete value in exchange for your hard-earned money — and I will be doing all those things this year. It just so happens that we’re fielding these additional expenses right now, without the luxury of time, while already running on empty. We’ve got some things in the works that should increase revenue in the first quarter of this year, we just need to get that far!
So if you can’t, no big. And if you can, thanks so much in advance! Anything helps. Either way, you guys are awesome!
That’s it for this edition. I’ll see you next week.