by UnHerd
Monday, 30
August 2021
Spotted
09:00

UnHerd picks: August’s best Substacks

Featuring: Afghanistan, Nike adverts, and Apple
by UnHerd
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August is often derided as the month of ‘silly season’ in UK media, with serious journalism being replaced with lighthearted, often farcical pieces about stories like an infected alpaca. This last month was different — the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent fall of the country to the Taliban has kept the newspapers busy covering events on the ground. But what of those outside of the media mainstream? UnHerd staff have collated a selection of what we think are the best and most important Substack posts this August.

The unmissable story this month was Afghanistan, and the reactions to it from our elite classes. Antonio García Martínez writes on why the Democratic media establishment seemed incapable of covering the reality of the conflict:

The reason for this sudden silence is that in the year 2021, the cream of American society and the flower of its finest universities, can only understand the world as projections of the country’s own domestic neuroses. Our current elites, whether in media or politics, squint at the strange peoples and languages of whatever international conflict and only see who or what they can map to their internal gallery of heroes and villains: Who’s the PoC? Who’s the Nazi?
- Antonio García Martínez, Substack

Richard Hanania also gave his thoughts on the Afghanistan disaster, focusing in on the incompetence of supposed policy ‘experts’:

For all that has been said about Afghanistan, no one has noticed that this is precisely what just happened to political science. The American-led coalition had countless experts with backgrounds pertaining to every part of the mission on their side: people who had done their dissertations on topics like state building, terrorism, military-civilian relations, and gender in the military. General David Petraeus, who helped sell Obama on the troop surge that made everything in Afghanistan worse, earned a PhD from Princeton and was supposedly an expert in “counterinsurgency theory.” Ashraf Ghani, the just deposed president of the country, has a PhD in anthropology from Columbia and is the co-author of a book literally called Fixing Failed States. This was his territory. It’s as if Wernher von Braun had been given all the resources in the world to run a space program and had been beaten to the moon by an African witch doctor. Meanwhile, the Taliban did not have a Western PhD among them. Their leadership was highly selected though. As Ahmed Rashid notes in his book The Taliban, in February 1999, the school that provided the leadership for the movement “had a staggering 15,000 applicants for some 400 new places making it the most popular madrassa in northern Pakistan.” Yet they certainly didn’t publish in or read the top political science journals. Consider this a data point in the question of whether intelligence or subject-matter expertise is more important.
- Richard Hanania, Substack

Michael Tracey takes aim at British media responses to Biden’s withdrawal:

If there’s any embarrassment to be had this Afghanistan situation from the perspective of UK politicians whose fantasies of “Global Britain” have been dealt a terrible blow, the original source of the embarrassment seems to have been obscured. That is, the UK knowingly entered a subordinate military arrangement with the US in Afghanistan such that the final decision to withdraw wasn’t even contingent on any “consultation” with UK officials — the same ones who apparently crave the projection of unbridled UK state power in Central Asia. Oddly, the basic powerlessness of a scenario where the US President can make an operational decision in Afghanistan, and the UK has no choice but to follow suit, never seems to have bothered May or her like-minded colleagues at any point in the 20 years prior to August 2021. If these UK officials pine for a “Global Britain” with the capacity to strut around unimpeded on “the streets of Kabul,” they perhaps ought not to have offered themselves as docile subservients of the US in the first place.
- Michael Tracey, Substack

Sports writer Ethan Strauss discusses the downfall of Nike ads, from internationally-acclaimed cultural touchstones in the 1990s to uncomfortable social-engineering projects:

Modern Nike ads will never be so remembered. It’s not because we’re so inundated with information these days, though we are. And it’s not because today’s overexposed athletes lack the mystique of the 1990s superstars, though they do. It’s because the modern Nike ads are beyond fucking terrible… Nike’s main problem is this: It’s a company built on masculinity, most specifically Michael Jordan’s alpha dog brand of it. Now, due to its own ambitions, scandals, and intellectual trends, Nike finds masculinity problematic enough to loudly reject.
- Ethan Strauss, Substack

Edward Snowden drew attention to Apple’s latest invasion of privacy:

Once the precedent has been set that it is fit and proper for even a “pro-privacy” company like Apple to make products that betray their users and owners, Apple itself will lose all control over how that precedent is applied. ​​​​​​As soon as the public first came to learn of the “spyPhone” plan, experts began investigating its technical weaknesses, and the many ways it could be abused, primarily within the parameters of Apple’s design. Although these valiant vulnerability-research efforts have produced compelling evidence that the system is seriously flawed, they also seriously miss the point: Apple gets to decide whether or not their phones will monitor their owners’ infractions for the government, but it’s the government that gets to decide what constitutes an infraction… and how to handle it.
- Edward Snowden, Substack

 

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
8 months ago

With regard to the Michael Tracy article, I dug out an interesting little memento from 2003 this week: a cutting from a newspaper (possibly The Times), depicting Tony Blair as an eager little poodle before its master, George W. Bush, dressed up as a cross between a chicken and a bald eagle.
Blair is saying: “Oh, mighty chicken hawk – what does the future hold?”
Bush replies: “Bricks of solid gold are gonna fall outta my ass!”
Now, I tend to look upon my 21-year-old self and think that I was clueless and as daft as a brush. Looking at this little cutting from 18 years ago, I think my misgivings about Britain being so subservient to the US were spot on. Maybe I wasn’t so stupid after all.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

We are all clever, after the fact.
We are also very good at selectively fitting the opinions that support the present facts and discarding those that don’t. And just because we might have been right in the past, it doesn’t always mean we were right for the right reasons, we might, in all probability, have just lucked out.
If divining the future, occasionally even in, what might appear to be, the simplest of circumstances was easy then we’d all be rich little financial investors, would we not ?

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
8 months ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

This was hardly the prediction of the century. It is possible to have been right about this at the time and for the right reasons while not having a clue about stock market investments

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
8 months ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

I think at that time, it was a case of having certain gut feelings about stuff that I felt instinctively strongly about – without having the breadth of knowledge or the maturity to really explain why. Which opinions I still have and which ones have been jettisoned over the years as I acquired more structured knowledge about the world and experience has been quite random. So, the learning experience, more than anything, was that gut feeling can be an important factor in decision making and you ignore it at your peril.

Last edited 8 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

My gut usually tells me I am right too. Your feelings toward Bush and Blair at the time echo mine.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
8 months ago

”It’s as if Wernher von Braun had been given all the resources in the world to run a space program and had been beaten to the moon by an African witch doctor.”
good line from Richard Hananiaanania

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
8 months ago

You omit one of the most important substacks of all – on the vaccines. This guy has just been removed from Twitter. Make of his arguments what you will, but he should be part of the conversation.
https://alexberenson.substack.com

Last edited 8 months ago by Hosias Kermode
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

These day anyone who has been removed from Twitter is a magnet for me. In fact I think Unherd should publish some on his writing.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
8 months ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

I must not understand this link – not knowing substack – all it gives is a few comments….I am always interested in the vaccines as all the global covid response pivots on them, seemingly irrationally.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
8 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I figured it out – the one I clicked on ‘Muzzled’ was for paying members only – most of the rest open, very fascinating, really gets it across that it appears conspiracy is the reality.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
8 months ago

Apple gets to decide whether or not their phones will monitor their owners’ infractions for the government, but it’s the government that gets to decide what constitutes an infraction… and how to handle it. 
Worrying indeed. I wonder if the proverbial will hit the fan over this one.

J Bryant
J Bryant
8 months ago

Not sure what’s happening at Unherd today. Normally there are three full-length pieces and three short articles. Today there are two long pieces, but they’re both reviews. One of a novel and one of a Welsh philosopher. One of the two short pieces is an original contribution by Mary Harrington while the other is this summary of interesting substack articles. Is it just a slow day at Unherd? Is this the new format going forward?
Of today’s articles, I find the summary of Substack pieces most interesting. I was introduced to Substack by Unherd (thank you). My attention is shifting there because the authors deal with the pressing issues of the day and take the approach Unherd claims for its own–think differently from the crowd.
I hope today’s edition is a just minor glitch in the Unherd matrix and we can look forward to more incisive journalism tomorrow.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Why don’t you email them to find out? I have my hands full with trying to ascertain which malign individual is disagreeing with me and simply flagging my comments for moderation.

J Bryant
J Bryant
8 months ago

My sense is they don’t want that type of inquiry. The only way to contact them I’m aware of is the link they provide in the membership section where they ask you to send any questions you might have about your account. There’s no general inquiries email or a ‘suggestions box’. So I will gripe in the comments section secure in the knowledge that Unherd management pays no attention to the comments.
Good luck with your mole hunt. It sounds like a version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. 🙂

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

You can contact them on [email protected] – the Community and Commercial Manager is Sophie Muscat.
Back to my sleuthing….

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
8 months ago

Do you lose many posts? I virtually never return to old posts so do not know If mine do the same, I post here just for my own entertainment because I find typing out stuff is fun – but their robot moderator gets me all the time on the most inane things. How will you do your sleuthing? Sounds tough, what sort of trap can you lay, what for bait?

I guess you can tell what kind ideologue it is by which bait it goes for….

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
8 months ago

In addition to these pieces from substack I recommend warmly the following interview:  https://www.mintpressnews.com/decline-us-empire-lawrence-wilkerson-afghanistan-pull-out/278326/

Andrea Re
Andrea Re
8 months ago

Isn’t this a rehashed article?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

“in the year 2021, the cream of American society and the flower of its finest universities, can only understand the world as projections of the country’s own domestic neuroses.”

This is top notch stuff…..

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

Unherd has collected a few more gems to throw our way. This seems a second pointer to new material. I appreciate the ointers, substack organization leaves a lot to wander through.