The Cruft Of 2020
Skim it off my brain please
Cruft is one of these words that’s common amongst the engineering set. Loosely defined, it sort of means “ugh, this shit.” Cruft is anything from unused code to used bathwater. It’s the feeling you get when you walk into a conference room and someone’s put the chairs in a weird layout. It’s stanky-ass belly button lint. Cruft is extraneous, it’s annoying, it needs to get dealt with, but the sheer feeling of having to deal with it can sort of be categorized as cruft as well. It just sucks, and if you ignore it, it’ll just sort of go on existing in your periphery until you’re forced to handle it.
Going off this definition of the word, I’ve had a number of “crufty” thoughts over the course of this year that, perhaps, do not merit publishing—they certainly elude any sort of development—but they’ve persistently sort of been the idea-fish jumping out of the otherwise tranquil (hah) thought-pond that is my mind. So I’m sharing them here.
On Food Pyramids
I’ve always been in awe of the pure hedonism of the old 1992 food pyramid. Go ahead, it suggests, titillating your senses with its flat, lifeless, illustration. Eat 11 fucking bowls of pasta every day for your entire life. Fitting that it’s a pyramid, as it’ll forever stand firm through the shifting sands of time, entombing an era of American life where everything was fun and chill, and you could devour 11 entire Panera bread bowls and think, “Damn, I’m healthy,” while a mass of compressed White the size of a bowling ball squeezes through your duodenum like a bodybuilder’s arm through a child’s shirt sleeve.
I was taught this pyramid in my public school like it was immutable truth until 2005, when the “new” food pyramid was unveiled.
This looks healthier. The foods are jumbled into one giant heap at the bottom, a cornucopia of disparate photograph angles and Adobe Illustrator CS2 tutorial final projects. Exercise has now been added to the graphic, although in a way that makes it seem like the limby (seriously, this mf is all limbs!) runner is running towards better, tastier-looking food, perhaps situated at the top of this Escheresque impossible pyramid. And when you actually choose to engage with the nutritional guidelines, it turns out nothing changed. The new system just recommends the exact same thing! It’s crazy. I hope the ag lobbyists that drafted this thing made bank, because they successfully propagandized me into eating 11 chocolate babkas every single day for 25 years.
This all ties into a broader gripe I have with school—we should get a letter or something when stuff changes. I’m not really worried about myself, because I’m sick in the head and spend all day reading news, but I’m sure there are adults out there that straight up don’t know that Brontosaurus was real, then fake, then real again. A few months ago, I discovered that the term “prokaryote,” which I was taught in a public school, is basically obsolete, and that “archaebacteria” are significantly more complex and unique than originally thought. (Funnily enough, it was the advent of PCR testing that allowed scientists to identify this, and now we all know what PCR testing is because of the pandemic.)
Basically, school is where they teach you all the baseline stuff about how the world works. Not the useful stuff like the difference between labor and capital, but the beautiful stuff like the fact that “setae” (or, as my 7th-grade biology teacher called them, “setae-feeties”) are tiny hairs that earthworms use to move. That stuff colors in the darkness for you, makes you feel a little more in awe of the sheer complexity of everything. If school is the only place that most adults learn these baseline facts of the world, it stands to reason that most everything—from essay writing formats to nutritional guidelines—need updating once in a while. We should get a big fat letter every year with all the stuff they updated! Adults shouldn’t have to be trawling scientific journals just to get a little update on animal classification. I shouldn’t have to see a tweet that says
to know that skunks are not mustelids anymore. It is information that should be fed into my brain, in the same way that public school curriculum was fed into my brain. I’m not willing to discuss this any further.
Anyway, here’s my new new food pyramid.
There’s been an unending, and frankly, unbearable amount of discourse around Substack these days. For those blissfully unaware, the discourse is roughly between Tech Guys and Media Girls (an age-old feud bridged only by Anna Weiner’s relationship). Media Girls are more or less arguing that they’re annoyed that Substack is getting everyone’s attention, and they’re pissed that they didn’t start one when they could have gotten popular and rich off it like Haley Nahman. Tech Guys are asserting that they have the God-given-right to extract every last sweaty, shitty, crumpled dollar on the face of the planet and that the Joe-Rogan-ification of society deserves to continue apace, full steam ahead, never mind the consequences. Both sides are sort of right and sort of wrong. And neither seems to have considered the true, Chaotic Good application of Substack: you can just make newsletters for your friends like we do.
This one isn’t really for our friends anymore, especially not since Nabeel’s hilarious piece from last week went viral and brought us a glut of new subscribers from the Indian healthcare VC world. But I think this is the real joy of something like Substack; it makes it easy to publish things just for your friends! Long-form writing! If you’re like me and all of your friends are leagues smarter than you, you’re desperately curious to know what they actually think about almost everything. Substack feels like a great social media replacement with the time, space, and lack of urgency to allow ideas to breathe and develop. I sincerely mean this: If I could delete social media and just get weekly written updates from my friends on their thoughts and activities… I mean, that’s the ideal, baby. No “business insights” allowed.
Actually, a few of my friends do have newsletters that I think are quite good, and it’s the end of the year so I’ll plug ‘em for ‘em.
Chazzy’s World is one of the best parts of my week. Always hilarious and frequently thought-provoking, the titular Chazzy writes with wit and poise upon the issues of the day.
Only Child by my friend Chuckry is always introspective, always goofy, always eclectic and fun. A great read!
Some Eye is a brand-new newsletter from my friend Som-Mai. I’m recommending it to you sight unseen because I find her writing to be sharp, fiercely intelligent, just all-around brilliant.
On -ass and -esque
“Ass” as a suffix has been covered to death. Here’s a twist: I think it’s funny to say, for example, “Kafka-ass” instead of “Kafkaesque.” Ruben-ass. Arab-ass. Picture-ass. I have no other examples.
I just want to thank you for reading this. 🙂 Writing this newsletter with one of my best friends has been one of 3 good things to come out of this hellish year. I think about it all the time and I enjoy it so much, even though the idea of starting a new post scares me so much I almost always start the night before it’s sent (this is no exception). In an exceptionally crufty time period, this newsletter is extraneous and frivolous, but it doesn’t evoke that “ugh” feeling. It’s good cruft. It’s gruft.
On Top of Spaghetti
All covered with cheese…
On Dasher, On Dancer
On Prancer and Vixen…
On Tario, Canada
Ooh kill em…