Our favorite posts we did in 2023


Our favorite posts we did in 2023

Indignity Vol. 3 (Reprise)

GOOD EVENING! TODAY was the last weekday of 2023, which wraps up another volume of Indignity—more than 200 new entries in your inbox, not even counting the Indignity Morning Podcast. Thank you for reading (and listening). Thank you especially if you paid to subscribe. We write or record these things because we think people might want to read or hear them!

It was not an easy year, businesswise. As we've already belabored, Elon Musk managed to ruin Twitter as a platform for reaching new readers, replacing its previous social network dynamics with a pay-to-play scheme for idiots, creeps, and/or Nazis. Our own platform, Substack, not to be outdone, likewise decided to make its own bid for the idiot/creep/Nazi market. We are still looking into our options for a less pandering platform, and we hope you'll bear with us while we do, so we have our full subscriber list available to port over.

Anyway, also, both of us caught Covid, one of us got terrible Covid-related complications, and neither of us had any luck on the market for more steady and supportive employment. But we had a good time making the newsletter. Here are some of the posts we're happy we published in 2023:

Dispossessions: Makeshift Pencil-Sharpener Drawer Made Out of Index Cards and Tape

All my adult life, I've held a half-submerged belief that the way the household is running—the way I'm running my life—is somehow provisional, that the real grown-up arrangements will kick in eventually. Those drifts and cairns of books and papers will be shelved someday; the tea packages and bags of spices won't be falling out of the kitchen cabinets forever; I won't always be re-tightening the hinges of the doors of those kitchen cabinets with a butter knife as a screwdriver. Some future version of me would not be sharpening pencils into a grubby homemade paper box.

What Does Manhattan Smell Like?

Here is a necessarily incomplete ranking of noticeable smells of Manhattan, by their salience or dominance:

1. Curbside garbage.
2. Piss.
3. Nuts 4 Nuts carts.
4. Body odor.
5. Subway brakes...

What Is There to Learn From Pictures of Gun Slaughter?

What got through to me, from the photos, was noticing that underneath the blood, the classrooms were a little grimy. Just a touch, the kind of school grime that comes with a dozen or two little kids coming in and out, day after day, grabbling and handling things. The classroom organizers and accessories were just this side of cluttered. My imaginary versions of these schools had for whatever reason been pristine. The real ones were lived in, right up to the moment so many people died in them.

What else happened, on other ordinary days? Someone went to work at the gun factory to make the gun. Someone packed the gun for sale. Someone designed the packaging to catch the eye, gave the snake logo on the Bushmaster box the right degree of sneer. Someone brainstormed the ads—"CONSIDER YOUR MAN CARD REISSUED"—pitching the gun to weaklings and losers as a source of power, agency, redemption. The revenue line went up.

MR. WRONG: I, the Dutiful Juror

Jury Duty is a thing I hear people whine about all the time, and I do not sympathize. We live in a time when there is a lot of complaining about The System, and if you are not part of the Solution, you are part of the System, ab initio and ad coleum, etc. I am not thrilled to spend a day, or in this case, three days, sitting in an old courthouse which is not the cleanest building in the whole world, believe me. It’s like if a bus terminal was your office, you know? Everything has been worn down and things get cleaned, but there’s such high volume in some of the building’s rooms that there is a patina of grime, which has been cleaned, it’s like, polished filth, somehow.

MR. WRONG: 4 a.m. Is the Worst Time to Be Awake

However, once all the Pain of rejoining Consciousness has faded, I gotta admit there are some pleasant aspects of 4 o’clock in the fuckin’ morning. Don’t get it twisted, overall it’s unacceptable, Do Not Want, but it’s a very calm world at 4 fucking a.m. Sometimes there are a few worm-getting Early Birds out there, singing in the dark. Driving around, there’s practically no traffic, so you get from point A to point B in a weirdly short amount of time, and the streets in my city, Baltimore, MD, are serene, mostly, and look like a movie set ready for action.

WEATHER REVIEWS: New York City, June 7, 2023

Still, outside, in the coral-tinted morning light, people were walking around in masks again. The light kept its color even as the sun went higher, and by early afternoon it was all back and even more ghastly: the smoke smell leaked in through closed windows and the sky was simply glowing orange. The dogwood blossoms spread open to the sky were orange too. The forecast had been suitable for a t-shirt and shorts, but the forecast had assumed the warmth of the sun, and under the orange pall it was a chilly 66 degrees.

MR WRONG: Some Kid Tried to Bully My Beach-Ready Toes

My wife wanted to get her nails done before our big trip to shove our toes in the sand along the Gulf of Mexico, and I went along with her and got a pedicure. Have you ever gotten a pedicure? Holy wow, I would get one of these every week if I had more disposable income! The place where my wife gets it done has these massage chairs, and you can control ‘em, and I totally got the kink in my shoulder worked out while I was getting my toenails filed and the rough parts on my feet sanded off (it tickles) and then my whole foot shoved into a bag of hot wax, boy does that feel good! I might be getting this outta order, but then I got my feet dropped into a whirlpool bath, and a foot and calf massage (tickles) and then they paint your toenails any color you want, or even clear. I went for a metallic black, and I’m not saying I could be a foot model or anything, but my tootsies look pretty good, just saying.

Photo: Mario Tama/AFP via Getty Images

There Will Never Be an Honest Case for the Invasion of Iraq

Not personally regretting it is not the same as being right about it, and Stephens, after puckishly describing himself circa 2003 a "warmongering neocon," conceded that the people who do regret the invasion have some arguments worth listening to. Because he is Bret Stephens, the first objection he classified as "strong" was that our "government bureaucracy is slow, wasteful and frequently incompetent," and so shouldn't have been entrusted with the complicated work of rebuilding Iraq.

This was less a sincere reassessment than a bit of self-pardoning. Rather than admit that the Bush administration, which he supported, didn't bother to come up with a rebuilding plan before invading, he wrote off the botched rebuilding as a natural result of big government, which as a conservative he claims to oppose. From that angle, Stephens was right about Iraq, really, in essence.

The New York Post Is Just Another Poster Now

It felt like a great New York tabloid story: the ethically slippery mayor, a powerful foreign strongman, New York's Bravest, a luxurious highrise that might be a firetrap. But it was the New York Times that was breaking the news. The Daily News gamely gave chase, with Saturday's front page wood screaming "FEDS GRAB ERIC'S PHONE."

And the New York Post? The big city's merciless, swaggering scandal sheet? The Post went sniveling in Adams' defense, complaining that the story existed at all.

Why Is the New York Times So Obsessed With Trans Kids?

Page A1 is where questions go. Is the number of young trans people suddenly unusually large? Is it good for young trans people to be getting medical treatment as drastic as breast-removal surgery? If they're deferring more drastic medical treatment by taking puberty blockers, is it harmful for them to take those puberty blockers? If they're not getting medical treatment at all, are their schools letting them socially transition too easily?

This is pretty obviously—and yet not obviously enough—a plain old-fashioned newspaper crusade. Month after month, story after story, the Times is pouring its attention and resources into the message that there is something seriously concerning about the way young people who identify as trans are receiving care. Like the premise that the Clintons had to have been guilty of something serious, or that Saddam Hussein must have had a weapons program worth invading Iraq over, the notion that trans youth present a looming problem is demonstrated to the reader by the sheer volume of coverage. If it's not a problem, why else would it be in the paper?

Photo: Philip Pacheco/AFP via Getty Images

Warning: Radioactive Boars

The Bavarian landscape was dosed with radioactive material, including cesium isotopes, during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Time passed, and the levels of radiation in most wildlife markedly declined. The wild boars, however, have maintained higher levels of radioactivity, in what the researchers noted is called the "wild boar paradox."

"In certain locations and instances, the decline in contamination levels [in boars] is even slower than the physical half-life of 137Cs," the researchers wrote.

The prevailing explanation of this is that as the cesium gradually sinks into the ground, it is taken in by fungi, which concentrate it. Then the wild boars dig up the fungi and eat them, and it's 1986 all over again. Except—the era of nuclear folly didn't begin with Chernobyl. The power-plant disaster produced a characteristic ratio of cesium-137 to cesium-135, and atmospheric nuclear weapons testing produced a different ratio. The radioactive wild boars of Bavaria, the researchers found, had eaten cesium from both sources.

Ask the Sophist: Can I Be in Love With My Friend, Please?

The trouble here is that people use the word "love" for two quite different things—well, a lot more than two, but here we're going to focus on the two. One of these, probably the more popular one, is kind of perniciously empty? There's love as a collaborative relationship between two people (within certain allowances, naturally, for the fundamental unknowability of one human being to another) and but then there's the love that so many of the singers sing love songs about, where they say they're "in love with" someone but what they mean is more like "in love at" at someone.

Photo: Evan-Amos

Funny Paper: Hiatus Interruptus

ANDY CAPP: Andy Capp, his sense of honor offended by hearing two men in the pub talking about his brawling, storms over to fight them.

THE WIZARD OF ID: The King, on advice of his Magic 8-Ball, appears to murder a diplomatic emissary.

MARMADUKE: The sleeping Great Dane's subconscious spreads terror to those around him.

Photo: Wikipedia

Samsung's Fake Lunar Photos

In fact, most of what occupies your ostensible field of vision is bluffing and guesswork by the brain—colorized around the edges where your color-sensing cells give out, heavily deblurred, edited to fill in the gaps left by the blind spots where your optic nerve meets your retinas. The crisply focused, intelligible part of your vision, rendered by the fovea, takes up only a few degrees in the center.

Because the moon in the sky is so tiny, it fits nicely within that tiny visual window. It is the right size for the eye to hold it and see it, in all its detail, without any scanning or backfilling. When you look at the moon, you see it purely and directly. Everything else is vague, unreal, and insignificant.

ANDY ROONEY 2.0: I Don't Know Where to Buy Anything Anymore

Last week, we were almost out of dishwasher tabs, because I had been putting off ordering some more, because it's such an impossible ordeal. To try to find major-brand dishwasher tabs on Amazon is to confront head-on, or rather tailgate-on, the truth that the Everything Store is now the world's largest grimy white box truck selling merchandise of shaky provenance out the back on a side street. It's a mess of arbitrage by package size and product subtype—gel tabs, powder tabs, 82-count, 94-count, 117, 125—from mob of fly-by-night vendors, where if you click "Buy It Again" you get a broken link, or a shipping cost jacked up to the price of the item itself.

But where else am I going to buy them? The chain drugstore, where everything is locked away behind plexiglas barriers? The supermarket, which has been hollowed out by private-equity goons?

Photo illustration. Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair.

What Did We Learn From Elizabeth Holmes?

There is a long-running dispute among the people who write feature stories—and the people who read feature stories, who overlap with the former population to a depressing extent—about how explicit a profile ought to be in its judgments. Readers frequently get angry at an article for being too kind to its subject, and, as evidence, point to the negative facts about the subject that the writer chose to mention in that very article. To the more sophisticated reader, this is hopeless philistinism.

Some Things ChatGPT Apologized to Me for Getting Wrong or Not Knowing

Buoyed by my success at getting ChatGPT to generate citations of nonexistent articles about its own habit of generating citations of nonexistent articles, I tried to extend its frontiers of fakery by confidently asking for something less plausible, inspired by a video I'd just seen of New Yorkermagazine staffers recording audio for the magazine's new interactive musical cover: "Can you name three albums on which David Remnick played guitar?"

Photo by Carl Iwasaki/Getty Images

ANDY ROONEY 2.0: The Pharmacy Lunch Break Is a Rude and Transparent Scam

Every phone-tree robot is there to protect a company from paying a human to answer the phone and help callers. The company achieves those savings by wasting everyone's time, which makes everything worse on the callers and call-answers alike when the call finally goes through: Annoyed and frustrated customers meet overworked and under-supported staffers, so that nobody is in a position to give or get what they need.

The pharmacy lunch break is the extension of that logic into physical space. The chain pharmacies invented it in the last two years or so. It is a workplace concession taken out of the customers instead of the bosses: Rather than hiring enough pharmacy staff that some of them can keep filling prescriptions while others break for lunch, the companies decided they could get away with shutting the whole thing down in the middle of the day—as if you, with your insatiable need for medicine, were the person who had to be restrained from placing too many demands on the busy and hungry workers.

Photo: Janet Griffin-Scott/iStock/Getty Images

The Baltimore Oriole Can Keep Its Name

Rectifying bird names is a tradition as old as popular ornithology. In A Field Guide to the Birds, the first real birdwatcher's manual, Roger Tory Peterson included a plea to give more accurate names to North American raptors. "The colonists who settled here were not naturalists," Peterson lamented, and so the settlers had applied the name "hawk"—which in the Old World was reserved for relatively short-winged, agile accipters like the Cooper's hawk—indiscriminately to falcons and the wide-winged soaring buteos (known in the Old World as "buzzards," a term "corrupted in popular usage to mean our Vultures"). Peterson asked that at least the "duck hawk," "pigeon hawk," "sparrow hawk," and "marsh hawk" be granted the names they had in England, as the peregrine falcon, merlin, kestrel, and harrier, respectively, and within a generation or two, they all were. No self-respecting birder would dream of calling a peregrine a duck hawk today.

Who Will Fistfight the Pope? A Discussion With Max Read About Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

Indignity: I don't know if this is a kind of myopia particular to my age bracket, like Kurt Andersen declaring in the 2010s that youth fashion hadn't changed at all in 30 years, but it really does seem to me as if action movies hit some sort of visual peak around the turn of the century—The Matrix being the benchmark here—where the problem of how to make things look cool and attractive was essentially solved? A 1980s action flick looked as dated 20 years later as one from the 1960s looked in the '80s, but Brotherhood of the Wolf seems wholly up-to-date to my eyes. The puppetry and CGI of the Beast may occasionally make one's suspension of disbelief wobble a little, but it's no likelier to knock you out of the story than any of Marvel's present-day rush-job computer graphics are. Or am I just seeing what I want to see?

Read Max: I would say the directorial flourish that marks Brotherhood as distinctly of its time is "sudden under-cranking," used most often in the movie's frequent sweeping helicopter shots. The under-crank treatment, a technique also used in music videos and American horror movies of the era, gives a jerky, supernaturally sped-up quality to the motion across the landscape, and communicates an affect I would describe as "spooky/crazy."

Or maybe the thing that marks it as a period piece is precisely that, as you say, it looks pretty great. There is color and contrast; the images have depth and visual clarity. Someone—several people—lit this movie, like, actually thought about what kind of light should fall on the subjects and background of a shot, and how. It has become cliché for people with memories of the 1990s to over-praise what at the time was seen as middling or basically competent work, and I don't want to overstate the movie's visual quality, but watching something like Brotherhood and comparing it to one of the straight-to-Netflix action movies I am for whatever reason compelled to watch puts me in the mind of that trad Twitter meme about cathedrals. ("My father-in-law is a builder. He is insanely gifted. We were looking at a cathedral together years ago and I asked him what it would cost to build it today. I will never forget his answer… 'We can’t, we don’t know how to do it.'") Only, instead of "cathedrals," "competently shot action movies."


New York City, December 28, 2023

★★★ The rattletrap Uber, a debadged remnant of the would-be Taxi of the Future fleet, lurched its way through wet gray streets to the far side of the Park. On the walk back, the ultratalls to the south stood touching the clouds. A vast black puddle took up right field on one of the baseball diamonds, mirroring the buildings of the East Side. Ducks were paddling on it where it spread into foul territory. The water in the Pool was dull brown with silt, running high and loud over the waterfall as more mallards dabbled in among the rocks there. A stream of water ran across the path, moving in neatly spaced ruffles like a flamenco skirt. The dampness on the air slowly and very slightly intensified into a drizzle.


THE READERS OF Indignity are generous! They continue to supply us with new sets of Bluesky codes, for people who want to try the still-beta Bluesky social networks. If you haven’t already gotten a code from us, email indignity@indignity.net and we will award Bluesky codes to those who respond, one per reader, first email, first served.


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of sandwiches from A Calendar of Dinners, with 615 Recipes (stealth title: The Story of Crisco), by Marion Harris Neil, Published in 1921, now in the Public Domain, available at archive.org for the delectation of all.

Sardine Sandwiches
2 tablespoonfuls melted Crisco
1 dozen sardines
1 tablespoonful whipped cream
1 tomato
Salt, pepper, and paprika to taste
Lettuce leaves
Slices of brown or white bread

Bone and skin the sardines, then rub through sieve, add cream, Crisco, pulp of tomato, and seasonings and mix well. Spread mixture between slices of brown or white bread and butter, stamp out in rounds, in center of each round force a row of whipped cream seasoned with salt and red pepper, place small stamped out leaves of lettuce round the cream.

Sufficient for twelve sandwiches.

Tomato Sandwiches
2 tablespoonfuls Crisco
1 cupful water
1/2 cupful vinegar
2 eggs well beaten
1 teaspoonful salt
1 teaspoonful mustard
1 tablespoonful flour
1 1/2 tablespoonfuls sugar
Few grains red pepper
Firm ripe tomatoes
Whipped cream

Mix sugar, flour, salt, mustard, and red pepper together, add eggs, vinegar, Crisco, and water and cook in double boiler until thick, stirring all the time. To every tablespoonful of dressing add equal quantity of whipped cream. Skin and slice tomatoes very thin, dip slices into dressing, and place between thin slices of buttered bread. Cut into finger shaped pieces.

Sufficient for thirty sandwiches.

Tomato and Horseradish Sandwiches
1 tablespoonful Crisco
1/4 cupful grated horseradish
1 tomato
1/4 cupful mayonnaise
Salt and paprika to taste

Mix Crisco, horseradish, and mayonnaise together. Skin and slice tomato, sprinkle with salt and paprika. Spread thin slices of bread and butter with Crisco mixture, and put sliced tomato between, cut into fancy shapes and garnish with parsley.

Sufficient for ten sandwiches.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to indignity@indignity.net.


The second printing of 19 FOLK TALES is now available for belated Holiday gift-giving and personal perusal!

U.S. Postal Service media mail delivery takes an estimated 4 to 8 business days. For Eastern Orthodox shoppers, the author stands ready to hand-fulfill orders as they come in, even at the cost of dealing with that one clerk at the neighborhood post office whose whole thing is trying to start a fight with everyone who steps up to her window. Happy holidays!

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm Daily. The special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

FLAMING HYDRA will launch in January of 2024. The FLAMING HYDRA Holiday Preview Spectacular, a rich sampling of the writing and art you’ll enjoy as a subscriber to the forthcoming daily newsletter, is available now for your inspection. FLAMING HYDRA is the work of 60 world-class talents, but that’s just one reason to subscribe. FLAMING HYDRA is a 100% cooperatively owned, ad-free publication with no owners and no investors; just a bunch of writers and artists working together and splitting the proceeds equally.

INDIGNITY is a general-interest publication for a discerning and self-selected audience. We appreciate and depend on your support!