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Walter Isaacson and the Power of Not Asking Questions

Well ah don't, ah say, ah don’t give a hoot about a rocket tah’ Mahhs, boy.

Last week, The Washington Post published an excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography which included the claim that Musk had shut off Starlink coverage near Crimea to neutralize a Ukrainian military operation:

Throughout the evening and into the night, he personally took charge of the situation. Allowing the use of Starlink for the attack, he concluded, could be a disaster for the world. So he secretly told his engineers to turn off coverage within 100 kilometers of the Crimean coast. As a result, when the Ukrainian drone subs got near the Russian fleet in Sevastopol, they lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly.

That’s from the Wayback Machine because the most damning claim in that paragraph has been updated after Isaacson’s account of the event was sharply disputed on Saturday by Walter Isaacson:

Tweet from Walter Isaacson: “To clarify on the Starlink issue: the Ukrainians THOUGHT coverage was enabled all the way to Crimea, but it was not. They asked Musk to enable it for their drone sub attack on the Russian fleet. Musk did not enable it, because he thought, probably correctly, that would cause a major war.”

So Musk didn’t “turn off coverage,” he just “did not enable coverage?” Isaacson’s updated version of the story treats Starlink coverage being disabled within 100 miles of Crimea as some kind of natural state of affairs, a passive-voice “policy” that “had been implemented earlier.” Whose policy, and implemented when? The intrepid reporter does not seem to wonder. Meanwhile Musk spent the weekend claiming that his brain implant company only did fatal experiments on “terminal moneys (close to death already)” and not explaining any of this.

BlameTag posts: “Elon Musk enters monkey cancer ward. ‘Yes, I'll take 23 of your sickest monkeys please.’” quoting Musk’s tweet claiming “No monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant. First our early implants, to minimize risk to healthy monkeys, we chose terminal moneys (close to death already),” trailing comma [sic].

But just as Isaacson was busy kissing Elon Musk’s ass, Shawn McCreesh was puckering up for a big New York Magazine Walt Isaacson profile to complete the human centipede. McCreesh’s signature “guy whose favorite movie is Swingers” voice and sycophancy for the powerful have never been more grating. The phrase “swizzling a Sazerac” appears in the very first sentence, and while he respectfully notes that Isaacson “still retains a touch of his genteel Louisiana drawl,” later on ”a prim, polite, and politically connected uptown New Orleans woman in a floral dress whose name is Anne Milling” gets the full Foghorn Leghorn dialect treatment:

“You may not like certain aspects of what he tweets,” Isaacson tells her, “but he has sent up this year so far more mass to orbit than all countries and all companies combined. He has created a car company that’s worth as much as all nine other car companies combined.”

“That’s great,” she shoots back. “I admire that, Walter, but now I’ll teyyeh what! His values are not my values, so theyyeh go!”

“But have you gotten a rocket to Mars?” he asks.

“I don’t give a hoot about a rocket tah’ Mahhs!”

You can judge McCreesh’s ear for Milling’s accent yourself in her interview for the 2012 Junior League of New Orleans Mary Harriman award, but neither McCreesh nor Isaacson appear to be aware that Elon Musk has never sent a rocket to Mars. At least McCreesh managed to get an explanation for how Isaacson got the details of his Starlink anecdote so wrong:

“The way I did it was to avoid trying to pepper him with questions and just observe,” says Isaacson. “Secondly, don’t fill the silences. There’d be times when it would just be him and me sitting in a conference room between meetings, sometimes 45 minutes. Occasionally, he’d start talking and reminisce. Then he’d go quiet or he’d read his mail or just stare into space. My way of operating was, Don’t fill the silences. If I’m quiet, they’ll eventually start talking again.”

Avoid asking questions! So simple, but so powerful. If you never ask questions, everyone will be happy talk to you and you can fill book after book with whatever they want you to say.

vandroidhelsing.bsky.social posted: “starting discourse over whether the Frodo/Sam ship is more problematic because of the master-servant dynamic, the 12 year age gap, or the clout differential”

And if all that wasn’t enough today, Isaac Chotiner profiled Ross Douthat and hapless Michael Barbaro somehow caught all the strays:

Michael Barbaro, the Times podcaster, has been a close friend of Douthat’s since childhood—he told me that he was Douthat’s “sidekick”—and was the best man at his wedding. In 2015, Douthat wrote a piece critical of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, expressing concern that it reflected a “more relaxed view of marriage’s importance.” The two men were now colleagues, but they had drifted slightly apart over the years. And Barbaro was married to a man.

Barbaro said, “We hadn’t been in touch that much, but Ross reached out to me to say, ‘I’m about to publish a column in which I come out against same-sex marriage, and I want you to know that it didn’t come to me easily, and that it’s something I know may be sensitive to you. And, as somebody I care about, I want you to understand it, and I don’t want you to read about it in my column without us talking about it.’ ” Barbaro told me that he appreciated the note, which surprised me…

Barbaro and his husband later divorced; when we spoke, he was on vacation with his wife and two children. “I’ve been on a long journey that I know Ross generally approves of,” he said. “But, although I didn’t do it for him, it’s very funny, as I have had children I can just sense his glee. It’s no secret that he wants people to have children and to enter into monogamous heterosexual relationships.” Barbaro let out a laugh. “And that wasn’t my plan, but I have sensed his joy at that outcome.”

Chotiner really captures Douthat’s unique talent for patiently thinking his way through social issues and always managing to follow all the right steps to arrive at the wrong conclusion. Douthat also claims that “If I wrote a flatly conspiratorial essay for the Times, it would get fact-checked and not published,” as if none of us have ever seen a Pamela Paul column.

DID YOU KNOW: Crabs walk sideways because they know that straight ahead lies doom.

The anti-glasses wellness influencer’s vision healing secret is apparently “put essential oils in your eyes.” @this_is_mallory’s full spiritual vision healing masterclass livetweet thread is really something. The influencer, Samantha Lotus, was last seen following Mallory around all social platforms and messaging her legal threats.

What a piece of work is a man. How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty. In form and moving how express and admirable. In action how like an Angel. In apprehension how like a god. The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals. Here’s what happens when you burn a sparkler through an egg.

I have no opinion about Martin Short but people sure did object to Dan Kois calling him “the most annoying actor on Earth,” which up until Friday I would have thought everyone agreed was Short’s lifelong artistic project?1 Classicist Ms. Frizzle shows off “the fit of a 3 year old whose parents have completely given up,” but they’re educating her ass about modern sweatshop labor in the QTs. This skeet goes too hard to embed. Brave explorer missing since passing through the ice wall; Globe Earth myth not yet debunked.

Screenshot of a Futurism headline from 9-29-2017: “Elon Musk is Officially Sending Humans to Mars in 2024. SpaceX’s BFR puts off-world colonization within our grasp.” Not long now!

Finally: Kate Lindsay, “We're all lurkers now.”

Today’s Song: Olivia Rodrigo, “Vampire”

I don’t care what you think, it’s a great album. Please like & subscribe. Does anyone still need Bluesky codes? bsky-social-lyqys-k4yk7 bsky-social-oezgm-dmlwr bsky-social-ttuzn-fwcwm bsky-social-vw72h-jsrzb bsky-social-wogjl-t5npy All used already, dang!

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