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How Elon Musk Could Actually Kill Twitter

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Journalists have been declaring Twitter dead for nearly a decade. Observers see flagging user numbers or feel an amorphous, grim vibe shift and pounce, often prematurely. But this week, everyone is fretting and monitoring. As of this writing, Elon Musk appears poised to finalize his Twitter acquisition, and there is, both inside and outside the company, an apocalyptic feel to the ordeal.

At Twitter’s headquarters, in San Francisco, Musk is doing things like wandering around the lobby carrying a porcelain sink (for content purposes) while simultaneously trying to convince employees that he will not, as previously reported, cut 75 percent of staff. One current Twitter staffer told me that “the bootlicking is next level” as anxious employees greet Musk in the hallway, unsure of his plans for his new company and their place in it. Outside the company, power users are mulling plans to bail, and sharing a report that Twitter is already on life support. My timelines are full of earnest eulogies for the platform or fears that it will turn into a 4chan clone once Musk takes the reins. People are waxing nostalgic, sharing greatest-hits threads of good tweets. Dara Lind, a reporter, summed it up succinctly, noting that the whole thing has “big, big last-night-of-camp energy.”

It seems foolish to try to predict what a mercurial person like Musk—who loves to troll and to float ridiculous ideas in public—will actually do to the platform. But it is impossible to ignore that his tenure is an inflection point for the company and, perhaps, for the 2.0 generation of social-media companies, which have been battered by misinformation, a techlash, and changing online behaviors. Platforms and networks rise and fall and even die out naturally—just look at MySpace—but there’s not much precedent for what’s happening with Twitter: A culturally resonant and politically influential platform could, quite suddenly, flame out as the result of new ownership.

Naturally, this has led me to wonder, and to ask those with experience at large platforms, what could Elon Musk actually do to kill Twitter?

[Read: An unholy alliance between Ye, Musk, and Trump]

Those I spoke with agreed that Musk likely couldn’t flip a proverbial switch to destroy the platform immediately. Any harebrained, Muskian idea for a new feature couldn’t get implemented overnight. One former senior employee I spoke with also argued that high-profile, controversial decisions (like the reinstatement of Donald Trump or Alex Jones) would certainly drive some people off the service but would be unlikely, on their own, to cause a mass exodus. They cited past mass-quit movements like #DeleteFacebook and #DeleteUber as historical analogues, suggesting that it’s pretty hard to get huge numbers of people to log off as part of a moral stand. That said, Twitter already appears to be hemorrhaging power users, and it’s unclear how much more the platform can take.

But Musk could certainly kneecap Twitter via inept management. If he really does cut a significant chunk of Twitter staff, that would cause an organizational nightmare. Even if one assumes there’s bloat in the company, former employees argued that Twitter could still lose all kinds of institutional knowledge in the shuffle. That institutional knowledge would be useful in a crisis—the kind that social-media companies have all the time, such as when high-profile users go renegade, or the site goes down, or traffic unexpectedly surges. Those I spoke with were especially worried about losing site-reliability engineers and members of the internal trust-and-safety team, which handles content moderation.

Even if Musk’s cuts don’t affect these departments, his ownership could possibly trigger a wave of resignations from employees in key infrastructural roles.

“These sites—no matter how talented the engineering organization—are often held together by a series of fragile, legacy systems, the precise functioning of which is only truly known to a few people,” Jason Goldman, a member of Twitter’s early team, a former board member, and the company’s former vice president of product, told me. “Without even factoring in nefarious intent, it is easy to imagine scenarios where big mistakes happen because of the kind of disruption Twitter is about to endure. The exact nature of the mistake is impossible to predict, but the increased likelihood of a mistake happening is a reasonable assumption. And it’s more likely to be from some small error that compounds than it is from the large decisions that often end up in the spotlight.”

Sources described a few nightmare scenarios that could legitimately hobble Twitter, which is still used by more than 200 million people every day:

1. Outside hackers and/or hostile foreign governments focus their hacking efforts on Twitter. Because of the massive layoffs and org-chart chaos, Twitter is unable to adequately address the attacks, causing catastrophic breaches, loss of personal information, or extended outages.

2. A stripped-down trust-and-safety team is unable to deal with government subpoenas or complex law-enforcement requests. A bare-bones team might, for example, accidentally assist outside efforts to identify anonymous dissidents and activists in foreign countries.

3. The trust-and-safety team is unable to stop coordinated efforts from fraudsters orchestrating low-level scams. Similarly, a strapped trust-and-safety department is unable to combat or monitor child-sexual-abuse material, sex-trafficking efforts, nonconsensual pornography, and copyright violations.

4. An inexperienced engineer pushes some buggy code and part of the site’s functionality goes down, but the people with expertise in that area of site reliability are not there to help restore it.

5. Musk does indeed roll back Twitter’s content-moderation rules and reduces tools for monitoring and reporting abuse on the platform. As Kate Klonick, an associate professor at St. John’s University Law School who studies content moderation, argued recently, a lack of speech governance, or a dismantled trust-and-safety apparatus, will result in a bad product, less engagement, lower ad revenue for the company, and, ultimately, more radicalized communities.

These scenarios are hypothetical, but they illustrate a truism about platforms: They do not run themselves. They are made up of humans, many of whom have complex jobs overseeing niche parts of the social network, much of which is unseen to the average user.

One former trust-and-safety engineer for a large social network told me that many elements of the job that seem boring or straightforward are actually incredibly fraught, like how to define and take action on different kinds of spam. Trust-and-safety officers in charge of such efforts aren’t just dealing with Viagra ads or crypto-scam bots; they’re figuring out how to handle bulk messages from legitimate political organizers exploiting the platforms for mass messaging. As one person put it, there are good actors and bad actors and also “spammy but not necessarily malicious businesses trying to get you to buy things in between, and all those things can look very similar to machine-learning models.”

[Read: Elon Musk’s texts shatter the myth of the tech genius]

Those with trust-and-safety experience at the platform told me that a big percentage of the job is dealing with the messy edge cases that are difficult for a computer to decipher. Programs might be able to address specific product quirks if a user files a clear help ticket reporting an obvious problem. “But if I wrote in, ‘My account has been hacked because it “accidentally” liked a porn tweet on 9/11 and I’m U.S. Senator Ted Cruz,’ that’s going to be a lot for a computer to unpack,” Brian Truebe, a former Twitter trust-and-safety professional, told me over email.

“A lot of things humans say and do are only easily interpretable/decoded by other humans,” he continued. “And when all speech is happening in a few places, those few places need more humans to review, not fewer.”

Reactionary tech figures such as Musk like to imply that content-moderation teams act as a kind of thought police. But these teams largely work on protecting users’ privacy, complying with laws, or keeping the site from becoming overrun by the kind of spam that no human wants to encounter. “To really have a robust security-and-abuse team, you need a massive amount of actual humans to respond and filter things that need to be filtered out,” Southey Blanton, a systems technician who worked in trust and safety at MySpace, told me. Blanton said that cuts to his team led to a skeleton crew of moderators, who had to rely on imprecise AI tools to get rid of bots and spam—which led to many legitimate human accounts getting banned as well. “Overall, a social-media site is under attack, as well as being overwhelmed, basically 24/7, 365,” he said. “I am fully convinced that if Musk does what he is saying he will do, it will be an absolute shitshow.”

Klonick echoed the sentiment. “Language and the meaning of language always evolves, but on the internet, that happens a billion times faster,” she told me. “And if what online speech governance does is manage the harms of how people communicate, it has to be constantly working and changing. It’s not like an oil change.”

Even under leadership that values moderation, Twitter isn’t exactly known for peace and harmony. There are numerous reasons for this. The tech journalist Ryan Broderick suggested in his newsletter that “Twitter has never been able to deal with the fact its users both hate using it and also hate each other,” and that the platform’s architecture causes such frequent context collapse and infighting that its least aggressive and obnoxious users tend to leave or just lurk. If Twitter is struggling with this now, imagine the impact if Musk does decide to turn the platform into a maximalist speech Thunderdome. The truth that the anti-“woke” warriors refuse to acknowledge is that the economic success of platforms depends on thoughtful, swift content moderation that strikes a balance between open dialogue and chaos. This morning, in a letter to advertisers in which he used the bloodless, platitudinal language of a veteran social-media executive, Musk wrote that Twitter cannot become a “free-for-all hellscape.”

Most of us understandably think of technology platforms in abstract terms. When tech titans like Musk or his text-message friends wonder what all those employees at Twitter are doing, they are, quite foolishly, looking at a social network as if it were a basic piece of machinery. “There’s often a supposition that sites like Twitter must work like a car; maybe they need some routine maintenance every year, but under the hood they mostly just work,” Goldman, the former Twitter VP, told me. But Twitter isn’t a car; it’s a living, breathing, dynamic entity.

Living, breathing things do one thing quite reliably: They eventually die, for all kinds of reasons. They die of natural causes, or because of direct harm. They die because of unforeseeable events. Musk very well could kill Twitter out of malice or hubris, or through calculated, boneheaded decisions. But one possibility seems more likely than others. If Twitter dies at the hands of this billionaire, the cause is likely to be tragically banal—neglect.

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43 days ago
but can he please kill it
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How platforms turn boring

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Russell Brandom on the "Bootleg Ratio," the ratio of original to freebooted content #
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78 days ago
newsblur not boring tell your cool friends
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Mariah Carey says we should finally hear her secret 1995 grunge album

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Mariah Carey performs on stage at the Wembley Arena in London in 1996.

Carey has shared that recordings of the alternative album with her lead vocals have been found. And she hinted that the elusive project will finally be released.

(Image credit: Mark Baker/Sony Music Archive via Getty Images)

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78 days ago
mariah save us
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Joni Mitchell performs first full set in over 20 years

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she spent years recovering from a 2015 brain aneurysm, relearning guitar by watching videos of herself playing #
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135 days ago
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Cooking with Dante Alighieri

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Photograph by Erica MacLean.

For the past fourteen months I have been on a path of conversion to Catholicism. In addition to going to mass, trying to memorize prayers, and worrying about my singing voice, I attend a staid biweekly discussion group moderated by a priest. We are slowly reading a book of contemporary Italian theology. My conversion was spurred by a specific—and specifically Catholic—experience of grace. I am confident about it, but less so about reconciling myself with the many dogmas of Catholic Church. I have struggled especially, as a previously secular person, with believing in sin. As a category, it has always seemed socially malignant, an excuse to burn witches. And in my personal life both gluttony and lust might be problems, especially because they don’t really seem like problems: sex and food are good things.


“The ideal way of reading The Divine Comedy would be to start at the first line and go straight through to the end, surrendering to the vigor of the story-telling,” writes translator Dorothy Sayers. Photograph by Erica MacLean.

And so I was overjoyed to find an articulation of sin that makes sense to me in The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), a three-volume work wherein a pilgrim travels through nine circles of hell and then seven cornices of purgatory, before reaching paradise. The version I’m reading was translated and annotated by English mystery writer Dorothy Sayers, who was also a theologian, and I found her work on natural and moral law, laid out in the book The Mind of the Maker, helpful as background to understanding Dante. Natural laws, Sayers wrote, are “statements of observed facts inherent in the nature of the universe”—along the lines of “if you hold your finger in the fire it will be burnt.” The religious viewpoint says there is also a universal moral law,” which is itself a natural law, “which consists of certain statements of fact about the nature of man.” By behaving in conformity with moral law, “man enjoys his true freedom”—a state available in this life, which we might call happiness, or a kind of soul-deep fulfillment. Behavior that does not conform with the moral law “tends to enslave mankind and produce the catastrophes called ‘judgements of God,’” Sayers says. Sin, then, is behavior that does not conform with moral law; behavior which is spiritually and soulfully bad for us and will hurt ourselves and others. Injunctions on sin do not exist to deny us pleasures but to save us from harm.

The pleasures that landed a French pope in purgatory: fried eels and sweet Vernaccia wine. Red Vernaccia Nera bubbles sourced for me by spirits consultant Hank Zona. Photograph by Erica MacLean.

Viewed through this lens, The Divine Comedy becomes the page-tuner Sayers claims it is, offering “the drama of the soul’s choice” in this life. And while my general-secularist understanding of sin has been that it condemns activities that really aren’t bad at all, what I found in the lowest rings of The Inferno were behaviors that did seem like our human worst. In the last trench of circle eight, for example, alchemists are punished. These are “transmuters of metals,” as Sayers puts it, “every kind of deceiver who tampers with the basic commodities by which society lives.” Dante indicates that their behavior breaks “the general bond of love and nature’s tie” between people—almost the worst thing you can do. I imagine today’s alchemists as makers of poison baby formula or builders of shoddy public housing; circle eight, trench ten is just what they deserve. Just below them are three giants whom Sayers believes are “images of the blind forces which remain in the soul and in society” when the general bond of love is withdrawn. The giants are “blocks of primitive mass emotion” representing “nonsense,” “senseless rage,” and “brainless vanity.” Reading this, I thought about the contemporary internet and especially the impacts of social media—which seems to me located between rings eight and nine of hell.

An Italian preparation of eels asks for a marinade of garlic and bay leaves. For more authenticity, substitute a white Vernaccia wine for the vinegar in the recipe. Photograph by Erica MacLean.

In this moral universe, my own sins of lust and gluttony turn out to be the least bad sins, punished in the first two circles of hell and purged on the last two cornices of purgatory. Both my vices are what Sayers calls sins of incontinence” produced byself-indulgence, weakness of will and easy yielding to appetite.” Their mitigating factors, according to Dante: they are not related to desire to do harm; they often concern pleasure and mutuality. But there are ways in which these behaviors often just don’t work for us. Punishments throughout the Divine Comedy are simply the sin itself, experienced without illusion,” Sayers writes. What unrepentant sinners did in life, they will do forever in hell, without the illusion that the sin was pleasurable.

In hell, for example, the lustful are swept along by a black wind. “The bright, voluptuous sin is now seen as it is—a howling darkness of helpless discomfort,” Sayers says. This helpless discomfort is of course not located in all forms of sexuality—but I know it can be found there. And gluttony, a sin which begins in mutual indulgence, leads, according to Sayers, by “imperceptible degradation to solitary self-indulgence.” I’d understand that to mean that it’s not the dinner and drinks with friends that are the problem but the binge-eating afterwards. And if we take the lessons of The Divine Comedy seriously, perhaps one leads to the other more than we realize. The gluttonous in Canto VI wallow in the mud, being torn by the claws of Cerberus, an experience Sayers calls “a cold sensuality, a sodden and filthy spiritual wretchedness.” This description dovetails with my experiences of binge-eating—enjoyment of food gone too far.

Instead of stuffing oneself with eel, Dante recommends: “Blessed are they whom so great grace illumes, /… that in their bosom’s core / The palate’s lust kindles no craving fumes.” Photograph by Erica LacLean.

Equally important, Dante’s gluttonous are responsible for “prey[ing] on people and things,” Sayers says, a concept that relates to our increasing awareness of food systems and food ethics. If your consumption preyed upon others in life, in hell you are turned into the prey of a three-headed dog. In purgatory, the punishment for gluttony is starvation—a fate which also seems illuminating when we think in the network of global consumption. I turned to this concept, with Purgatory as my guide, in order to cook from Dante. Dante describes the this fate in Cantos XXII-XXIV; the emaciated shades of the gluttonous are teased by a tree “green with laden boughs” whose “crop of tempting fruit ambrosial odours spread.” The tree tapers from bottom to top, so the shades cannot reach its fruit, and it is cascaded with spray at the top from a mountain stream, also out of reach of  the thirsty sinners. Beneath the tree we meet people who ate and drank too much. One is a Frenchman named Simon de Brie, who died from a surfeit of “Bolsena eels and sweet Vernaccia wine.” Another is Ubaldin dalla Pila, “a liberal and cultivated man, with a great knack for inventing new culinary recipes,” as Sayers explains in a note. (As an inventor of recipes, I am concerned!) In contrast with these peoples’ behaviors, Dante celebrates a “primal age … beautiful as gold” when “Hunger made acorns savory to its need” and “Streams for its thirst like rills of nectar rolled.”

“Gluttony tends to be, on the whole, a warm-hearted and companionable sin,” Sayers wrote. I served the scones made from these acorns to as many friends as possible. Photography by Erica MacLean.

I decided to make a combination of gluttonous and virtuous foods: I’d serve “bad” Italian-style fried eel with Vernaccia wine, but would also make “good” scones with tree fruit and acorns. And a third dish would be a mixture of bad and good: an apple, taken straight from the tree of the knowledge (and my favorite fruit, incidentally), sweetened virtuously with honey. Dante remarks that “locusts and honey were enough to feed / The Baptist in the desert.” The usage of acorns seemed especially appropriate to counteract gluttony, since I have tried to make acorn flour before and discovered that processing acorns is so time-consuming, finicky and laborious that the results must be energy-negative. Acorns are also the kind of foraged and wild-crafted food recommended for a more sustainable lifestyle (though humans should harvest them only in years when they are bountiful in order not to negatively impact squirrel populations).

I had acorns in my freezer from a previous adventure cooking from the work of Mary Shelley and began working on them about a month in advance; there was no easy gluttony in this task. Acorns are bitter and very tannic, and their interior meat is encased in a tightly fitting husk that might be poisonous (sources conflict). I tried various methods recommended online to remove the husk, including boiling the acorns, which didn’t work, and shaving it off with a knife, which did, but was incredibly slow. Since I was doing penance for my sins, I dutifully shaved acorns in my free time for about a week before discovering, mostly by accident, that the husk falls right off previously frozen acorns cracked and left out on the counter to dry for a few days. Leaving the acorns exposed to the air makes the outer flesh oxidize and turn black, but it didn’t seem to affect the color of the final flour. In fact, my final flour was lighter in color than that of the commercial kind I’ve bought before.

My flour, during the cold-leaching process. The finished product was worth the time. Photograph by Erica MacLean.

Once the acorns were peeled, I had to leach out their tannins, a process that can take between three days and two weeks depending on the type of acorn. I ground my acorns with water in the blender, making a mixture that looked like a coffee milkshake, and then placed it in a large jar in the refrigerator. Once the mixture settled, I began pouring off the water and refreshing it twice a day. Internet sources instructed me to preserve the white layer on top of the flour, allegedly the fat and starch, by straining the mixture through cheesecloth with every refresh. I tried, but my cloth was too porous and my fat and starch layer was lost—perhaps better from the standpoint of gluttony. At first, the mixture was overpoweringly oaky and bitter and smelled strongly of vanilla; but as promised, after two weeks of assiduous leaching, it became bland and pleasant with an oaty, milky scent. At that point I drained it and spread it out on a cutting board, fluffing and stirring it with my fingers every day or two until it dried. This might take a few days in a warm climate, but for me it took a week. I then ground it again (by the three-quarters cup in a coffee grinder—also a slow task) and set out to bake the world’s most hard-earned scone, using a recipe I’d previously had success with using commercial acorn flour, and substituting dried figs, a classic Italian ingredient, for the foraged dried apples I’d previously used.

A recommendation to preserve the flour’s fat and starch by draining the water off through cheesecloth was not effective. Photograph by Erica MacLean.

My three dishes were some of the ugliest food I’ve ever made—which made me happy morally, if not creatively. To see ugly truths behind illusions is, I think, the first steps toward the kind of spiritual self-improvement I’m seeking. I thought the unaesthetic results might also reveal my sins from a new angle. I propagate photos of pretty foodstuffs on the internet—which I have located between circles eight and nine, don’t forget—a practice that encourages appetite in others and supports a lazy subconscious assumption that our food is all pretty and good. Yet we know the stories behind it are often ugly.

In terms of taste, my dishes fell neatly into the categories of bad, mixed, and good, almost as if Dante had placed them there. I have never had much success cooking eel. When cooked well, it is tender and melting, but mine always turns out tough. Neither the texture nor the oily, fishy flavor would tempt anyone to overconsume. The baked apple was fine, a reliable dish of moderate sweetness. I ate it but thought it really could have used some ice cream. (Would this have been a sin?) And the homemade acorn flour scones were incredible, and even grew on me as I polished them off over several days. The flour had a sweet, nutty, faintly oaky flavor, and a unique brawny toothsomeness. Its relative lack of fat and starch made the scones crisp-dry on the outside and perfectly pillowy in the center. I’ve since made a second version without figs and with pecans, which was even better, and the recipe below reflects the changes. The virtue of restraint, in this case, really was its own reward.

The fruit tree which taunts the gluttonous in purgatory with unreachable branches is “a scion of the self-same stock … which fed that greed of Eve’s,” Dante wrote. Photograph by Erica MacLean.

The wine for my meal was a Vernaccia, a type which appears frequently in medieval and early Renaissance Italian literature. My spirits consultant Hank Zona explained that in that time period, it was a lightly macerated sweet wine that could have been made from any number of grapes. Today the term refers to wine made from a specific Vernaccia grape, of which there are several. Hank chose a bubbly red Vernaccia Nera from Italian producer Paris Rocchi, a second-generation vineyard run by a brother-sister team. He said that bubbles and fried food go well together, and that the eel’s meaty flesh would pair with the earthy, dark-berry notes in the wine. The wine went a long way towards improving the dish, and unlike the other sinful food, was delicious.

I enjoyed drinking the wine and pulling together the meal,  odd as it may have been. Despite the complexities, I hope such enjoyment is  not a sin—but I suppose, someday, I’ll find out.

Fried Eel

½ pound eel fillets
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3 bay leaves, crumbled
Olive oil
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
⅓ cup flour, for dredging
Light flavorless oil for frying
Lemon wedges to serve

Chop the eel fillets in three-inch pieces. Set them in a flat-bottomed dish, topped with garlic and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, and set aside to marinade for at least an hour or ideally overnight. When you’re ready to cook, place the flour in a shallow dish, season with salt and pepper, and dredge the eel pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet to approximately 350 degrees and fry the eel until browned and crispy, being careful not to crowd the pan. Set on paper towels to drain and serve with lemon wedges.

Acorn Scones

For the acorn flour:

1 gallon freezer bag filled with acorns.

For the scones:

1 cup white flour
¾ cup acorn flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
⅓ cup pecans, chopped
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 egg

To make the acorn flour:

Pre-freeze your acorns for at least a day. Remove from the freezer, crack the shells, and spread them out on a countertop to dry for two or more days, waiting until the inner husk of the acorn falls off easily. The acorn flesh will turn black, but don’t worry about it. When you can easily remove the husks, do so, then process the acorns in your blender in batches, using about a 1:2 ratio of acorns to water. Put the resulting mixture in a large jar with a lid, refrigerate, and wait for the flour to settle to the bottom. When it has, you can pour off the top of the liquid, add more water, shake and repeat. Refresh the water in this way twice daily until the tannins have leached out and the flour is bland and pleasant to taste, anywhere from three days to two weeks. If you are not sure if the flour is bland enough, give it more time. When ready, drain and spread out in a warm place to dry on a large baking sheet, anywhere from one day to one week. At this point you’ll have a chunky, polenta-like meal. Grind again in a coffee grinder until fine. One gallon freezer bag of acorns produces about three cups of flour.

To make the scones:

Preheat the oven to 375. Mix together the acorn flour, white flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cold butter and cut in with a pastry blender until the mixture is mostly combined and any remaining chunks of butter are smaller than pea-size. Add the pecans and stir. Make a well in the center and add the egg and the buttermilk. Whip with a fork to combine, and then start pulling in the flour mixture, stirring until the entire mass is moistened. Use your hands to crunch the dough together until it is homogenous and forms a single ball. Place the dough on a baking sheet, flatten slightly with a rolling pin, and cut it into six wedges. Pull the wedges apart a little so they dont stick together when they cook. Bake for sixteen minutes, until puffy and cooked through.

A Single Baked Apple

1 apple
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350. Cut the cap off the apple and remove the core. Fill with the honey and pecans, place in your smallest baking dish, cover the dish with foil, and bake for thirty to forty-five minutes, until the apple is soft.

Valerie Stivers is a writer based in New York. Read earlier installments of Eat Your Words.

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148 days ago
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Big Ben Bongs for Boris

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Boris Johnson, owner of the world’s second most cynical haircut, has finally resigned as Tory leader and Prime Minister (a British government job that has no American equivalent) after disgorging one too many puddles of cringe for the soggy but phlegmatic shopkeepers of Albion to tolerate, argued the Washington Post’s Adam Taylor. The short version of BoJo’s last scandal is that he appointed a sex pest named Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip (a British government job that has no American equivalent) despite knowing that Pincher got pissed (a British government term that means “shitfaced”) and groped two men in a part of a Tory club literally called “Cad’s Corner.” “Pincher by name, pincher by nature,” Johnson reportedly joked, which also makes this whole story a legitimate Today in Crabs. Johnson held out as long as he could, but everyone in his government had resigned except for Nadine Dorries, and there was a real risk that the Queen might be activated, a catastrophe that last occurred in 1666 and left nearly one quarter of Britons dead and most of London a smoking ruin.

British newscasters, driven mad by the unfamiliar stress of something interesting happening, shouted questions at Larry the Downing Street cat (a British government job that has no American equivalent), attempted to be heard over the blasting Yakkity Sax that Hugh Grant was somehow responsible for, and generally treated the entire event with the level of respect and decorum it deserved. Meanwhile, NY1 found the local angle.

In his resignation statement, Johnson unleashed his full rhetorical powers, saying: “I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks.1 He has proposed staying on as “temporary Prime Minister, you know just to make sure the transition is smooth” at least until he has had his wedding celebration at Chequers (a British castle that has no American equivalent).

Meanwhile in America, a normal country, the sky turned green, Arizona Congressional Representative Debbie Lesko passionately declared that she would shoot her grandchildren to protect them from gun control, and someone blew up Georgia’s Tchotchke Monument because a Republican gubernatorial candidate said it was the work of a “Luciferian Cabal.” The Georgia Guidestones were supposed to be “capable of ‘withstanding catastrophic events’,” but collapsed like a cop who heard the word fentanyl at their first brush with a guy in an older model Pontiac. John Oliver pre-explained all of this in May:

What Oliver was about to say at the end of that clip is that the man who commissioned the Guidestones was probably Herbert Hinie Kersten, a Klansman and eugenicist from Iowa, which makes this a bit of an own-goal for the likes of Kandiss Taylor and (as Garbage Ryan so beautifully put it) “sentient Applebee’s margarita Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.” So… win-win, I guess?

Today in Yesterday: I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s Classic Tabs. Coincidentally, today in TechCrunch Ivan Mehta reports that “Reddit is launching a new NFT-based avatar marketplace,” so I guess they still haven’t given up on the dream of using math to convert fossil fuels into misogyny.

How Normal Am I” is an “AI face judgement” app that’s actually about web privacy. In Locus, Cory Doctorow explored an extended metaphor involving a bus. “We’ve got to seize the wheel of the bus,” he writes, “We’ve got to plunge past the first-class passengers in the front rows of the bus, and we have to yank the wheel. We have to swerve.” I see what you’re doing here Cory. We have to “murder the rich” and “eat them.” 😉 We have to “take their stuff” and “redistribute it for the good of humanity.” 😜 Am I doing this right? “Exposure: the cryptocurrency for creative professionals” would be funny if it were a joke, but it’s an actual cryptocurrency so it’s a different kind of joke. Scientists, let me sit on the giant lily pad and play the banjo, I am begging you. Let me be smol frog. Shoshana Wodinsky found 11 cursed ASMR videos. This is not a huge accomplishment, because all ASMR videos are cursed. In her media blog, Gawker, Tarpley Hitt reports that BuzzFeed’s interim editor in chief Samantha Henig is off to be COO of ice cream brand Ample Hills, which melted down in 2020.2 And Elon Musk continues to spawn like a desperate salmon.

This is the last regular Tabs before I take a birthday-week break to go get lost in the woods, so I want to leave you with something sweet. Fortunately for us both Alexandra Petri just checked in from four months of maternity leave:

I have read to her. I have read her a book called “Little Gorilla.” I have read her a book called “Little Gorilla.” I have read her a book called “Little Gorilla.” I have read her a book called “Little Gorilla.” I have memorized “Little Gorilla” and can recite it to you right now if you want to hear it. Do you want to hear it?

And sure, skillful writing about kids is an easy shortcut to most people’s squishy emotional center, but I’m not above it. So here’s Isaac Fitzgerald on not having his own kids but being there for everyone else’s kids instead.

To be fair, in certain ways, not having a child is a very selfish act on my part: it allows me great financial freedom, the ability to travel more and focus on my own life, instead of doing my damnedest to raise a healthy little one. But the non-selfish part of not having children for me is that I can literally show up for people who need the help, especially in this country where healthcare and finances don't make it easy to raise a child. That’s absolutely a problem in this country, but a problem I alone will not be able to solve.

Today’s Song: Smashing Pumpkins, “Silverfuck”

~ Them’s the tabs ~

Thank you so much for reading Tabs, I don’t say it enough but your delicious eyeballs are the reason for the season. Specifically, Season 6, of which there are only three! more! weeks! until I go into August seclusion in my mountaintop sensory deprivation float tank to recharge and work on my bingo card before emerging for Season 7 like a beautiful butterfly pupating from the world’s most multiply mixed metaphor. All of which is to say you should still subscribe, because it all evens out over a year.

Anyway here’s a video of America, bye!


I hope you all appreciate how difficult it is to write jokes about a man who literally said “them’s the breaks” in his resignation speech.



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155 days ago
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153 days ago
No he has NOT resigned. He waffled round the situation and blamed everyone else.
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