The Worst Of 2023

The Defector staff reflects on some of the worst shit from 2023.

The Tech Industry’s Reaction To Bob Lee’s Murder

On the morning of April 5, San Francisco’s local CBS outlet reported that 43-year-old tech executive Bob Lee had been found stabbed to death one day earlier underneath the Bay Bridge. Lee, 43, was the highly regarded founder of CashApp and the former CTO of Square. As the tech world shifted towards crypto in the wake of COVID, he shifted with it, splitting his time between San Francisco and Miami.

That last bit is somewhat critical, and explains some of the reactions to Lee’s murder, a narrative crafted by a cohort of some of the most powerful and annoying people in the city: San Francisco is basically post-28 Days Later London, beset with apocalyptically violent homeless people, essentially ungoverned by its sadistic class of Democratic Party reformists, and, because of those two factors, no longer the bastion of technological innovation that is the city’s birthright. In other words, the sort of place someone like Bob Lee was right to flee, and the sort of place someone like him would get murdered for being someone like him.

That cohort includes: Elon Musk, who called out the city’s tough-on-crime DA and squawked, “Violent crime in SF is horrific and even if attackers are caught, they are often released immediately.” Michelle Tandler, a breathtakingly birdbrained rich-kid with a crippling posting addiction, wondered, “What would happen if a few meth dealers were publicly hung?” Local VC Matt Ocko, who forgot who he helped recall a year earlier, tweeted, “Chesa Boudin, & the criminal-loving city council that enabled him & a lawless SF for years, have Bob’s literal blood on their hands. Take action.” David Sacks, Jason Calacanis’s Wario, said he would “bet dollars to dimes” that Lee was killed “by a psychotic homeless person who had been through the revolving door of the jail and criminal justice system.” Calacanis himself said the city was descending “into utter chaos” and screamed at the “EVIL INCOMPETENT FOOLS & GRIFTERS WHO ACCOMPLISH NOTHING EXCEPT ENABLING RAMPANT VIOLENCE.”

A few days later, Mission Local reported that the SFPD had arrested tech consultant Nima Momeni and charged with him murdering Lee. According to prosecutors, Lee and Momeni’s sister were involved, and suspect and victim had exchanged numerous text messages and spent a good deal of time partying together on the night of April 3. The murder of Lee was not, as it had been portrayed, the handiwork of an addled and empowered member of the city’s unhoused population—it was someone Lee knew. Our council of morons mostly ignored the new information or, in Tandler and Calacanis’s case, mounted a vibes-based defense of their bloodlust. It was embarrassing, an extremely cynical appropriation of Lee’s memory, and not something any of them will ever think seriously about again. The mission is not justice for Lee, but fighting their side of the class war.

I will give them this, however: They are right about crime being rampant on the streets of San Francisco. I’m a victim, too. A Hillsborough resident has owed this company $500,000 for three years. – Patrick Redford

Patriots Vs. Jets

The quarterback rooms of the New England Patriots and New York Jets, whose combined might this season (nine people, if you include Malik Cunningham getting sacked without ever attempting a pass) provides a rating of 71.27, or Mitchell Trubisky. The inability of Bill Belichick to correctly choose a successor to Tom Brady—and don’t forget Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham or Axel Edward Brian Hoyer—has reduced him in the public’s eye from the greatest coach in league history to doddering nincompoop is less about him being a petulant old man at the end of his rope and more about not wanting to say the words “Mac Jones” or “Bailey Zappe” without tasting his own sick. And some end-of-rope petulance as well.

Yet that’s still better than the Jets, who hired Robert Saleh to make a defense but left him offensively naked. Aaron Rodgers is now a full-fledged tinfoil hat, Zach Wilson is an allegedly very reluctant part-timer who has been benched four times in three years, Tim Boyle is a statistical and eye-test mudslide, and Trevor Siemian a Netflix special on desperation. As of this writing, the Jets’ best quarterback is 37-year-old punter Thomas Morstead.

Sure there are worse things, like the end of the human race at the hand of the human race, everything Elon Musk touches, Henry Kissinger not yet cleared for Hell because the committee is still worried he might lower the tone of the room—and there is a bright spot coming in 2024, when Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Derek Maye all sit at the NFL draft and refuse to take the stage if their names are called by either the Patriots or Jets. But for the moment, whoever is perched behind centers David Andrews (New England) or Joe Tippmann (Jets) is by definition among the worst of 2023. – Ray Ratto

Seeing Someone Who Was Mean To Me And My Friends In Middle School Make the Forbes 30 Under 30

Some of us live long enough for our haters to become our waiters; others live long enough to see people who were literally so mean to us in middle school make the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. I am others. This is not the first time someone I’ve gone to middle school with has made the arbitrary listicles that are commonly referred to as the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. I haven’t kept track of everyone, but I do have one old classmate who not only made the Forbes 30 Under 30 List, but also became the first person to make the Forbes Hall of Shame: The 10 Most Dubious People Ever To Make Our 30 Under 30 List

But this particular beef is not with Sam Bankman-Fried, because for all his seven counts of fraud and conspiracy, he was never mean to me. My beef is with this person who was mean to me and meaner to some of my friends for years. They were not the only one, of course. They operated within an untouchable posse of popular people. (I, of course, was not a faultless child, but was generally so unpopular that there was nowhere for me to punch but up.) Anyway, you can imagine the deep sigh I let out when I saw them this year on the list of lists. I didn’t envy them—most of the people I know who have made these lists in any category other than media and entertainment are self-described “serial entrepreneurs.” What to do with my placeless frustration? I texted my childhood friend, who actually had juicy details to share about this old classmate, and we proceeded to reminisce and gossip about them and have a grand old time. Maybe this catch-up session was the real Forbes 30 Under 30! Maybe Forbes will release another list of the 30 Most Dubious People To Make 30 Under 30 and I will have my requital then … haha … just kidding … unless? – Sabrina Imbler

Twitter

I don’t remember what it was that got me off Twitter, but I remember that the decision was easy, to the point where it hardly even felt like a decision. I had spent embarrassing blobby swathes of just about every day on Twitter for something like a dozen years, and my brain had degraded not just accordingly but in perfect synchronicity with the ways that such an experience would cause a brain to degrade. But, as with some other lousy habits I kept alive for longer than was healthy or gratifying, there was an aspect that I hadn’t considered that made quitting easier than it might otherwise have been. It is hard to stop doing something that you really like doing, even when it is not good for you; I know this because I have never done it. Posting on Twitter was one of those, but at some point I was honestly rather relieved to find that the habit, and the little perks and spikes that it provided, started losing ground first slowly and then much less so to the sense that continuing to do it would feel worse. 

The pleasures of the routine flattened out, relative to the accumulating challenge to what I had come to consider a vestigial sense of self-respect that was inherent in simply hanging out there at all. I wouldn’t even say that my experience of the site got worse, beyond a general uptick in technical jankiness. I knew that the cheesy tech dork who’d bought it was losing his shit in increasingly dire ways somewhere else on the site, but that had always been true of cheesy dorks on the site. It was the nature of Twitter that whenever something sufficiently embarrassing was happening someone you followed would drop it at your doorstep, like a well-meaning Labrador bringing you a dead pigeon it had found. I just stopped wanting it, and then I stopped. (I do still check in with my DMs from time to time, mostly to see how my fellow mentally ill Mets fans are holding up; I can report exclusively that everyone seems more or less “fine” with the Adrian Houser/Tyrone Taylor trade.)

It’s hard to give myself too much credit for any of this; I just took a very obvious hint. The party crashed itself, and whatever is wrong with Elon Musk just kept getting worse, as such things invariably do for people like this who have problems like these. It does not help that Musk’s super-class of dipshit futurists is awakening as one, in its senescent and furious middle age, to its ancient and ugly native impulses. They’re mostly fascists, in the same ways that so many other previous boring industrialists discovered, late or early, that they actually believed the highest and most fundamental purpose of the state was to serve them. 

If it is helpful to see and hear these powerful people as what they are, without the old euphemism and grandiose feigned altruism, they nevertheless remain very rich. They are, as far as I can see, not the future of anything, up to and including Weird Nerds You Would Avoid At A Party. They are the avatars of a present that is unsustainable not because it is too unjust—that sort of thing can last for a very long time—but because they themselves do not have the range, or focus, in large part because their experiences on social media were even more deranging than everyone else’s. 

More than that, though, this is an old and uninteresting and unremarkable type of person to be. We are going on a century of knowing what this type of person is, and where they tend to go, and only the most sentimental or motivated observer could have projected much else onto this cheesy cadre of vibe-killers. Most people will realize that they do not want to be around people like this in the same unconscious way that they know not to eat a hot dog they see discarded in a puddle.

Still, it’s hard not to resent this, both because of who has won and because of the specific shape that their triumphant desecration has taken. Whatever Twitter was from one moment to the next, it felt surprising and open in ways that most things increasingly do not. It also made people go insane in variously lurid and grim ways, one of the most reliably lurid and grim of which was generating incentives for them to perform more strident and parodic versions of themselves; the incentive, hilariously, was a few numbers that either would or wouldn’t go up as a result. Everyone that has ever posted on there felt this pressure, but one of the site’s strengths was that it was broad enough that there were so many shapes and directions that this derangement could take. It wasn’t always great, either on balance or on the merits, but it felt vast.

It is unsurprising to anyone who ever loved the site that Musk’s decision to spring all the various varieties of Slimer contained in Twitter’s Ghostbusters Containment Device made it not more chaotic and lively but less. Even people with actual personalities and values were warped in some ways by being on Twitter; people who have neither, and whose whole identity is mashing away on the soundboard of hoary reactionary shit that Musk and his cohort find so thrilling, are subsumed entirely by those incentives. One of the less remarked-upon things about the goblins to whom Musk has more or less turned over the site is that, in addition to being creeps and bigots, they are extremely boring. Their discourse is indistinguishable from AI noise; they mostly just rephrase their buddies in increasingly dense code.

Any private platform would be free to ban these donkeys without apology, simply because of how uniquely and comprehensively they befoul every space that affords them entry. The usual adult libertarian lorem-ipsum pap about the marketplace of ideas that Musk’s cohort offer to justify their (repeated, unmistakable) service of this group does not really apply here, both because these ideas have been thoroughly defeated and discredited everywhere they have been debated (and, I guess, also at Nuremberg) and because these are not really ideas. There are not two sides to the question of who or what type of person is subhuman. It’s just a disgusting thing that a person could say if they couldn’t think of anything else.

At some point, you just have to take these people—the sociopathic aspiring gurus; the reactionary provocateurs with their realtor grins or hooded Garfield eyes; the powerfully repellent apostate academics; the various button-mashing mediocrities selling this sort of derangement by subscription—at their word. You wouldn’t ask a clown who has just fashioned a balloon animal for a child, “What did you really mean by that?” The pitchmen, supplicants, and actual committed creeps ascendant on Twitter are not just like Musk himself, but sell what someone as cretinous as Musk would like, and which most everyone else can identify from 40 paces as an absolute and instant pass. 

“Musks (sic) goal with X is to create a group mind or collective consciousness where every person is part of that group mind or collective consciousness,” one of the Krassenstein brothers, it does not matter which, tweeted the week before Christmas. “Think of it as a giant brain.” At the risk of handing it to either of the co-authors of How The People Trumped Ronald Plump, I don’t really have a problem with that. That is indeed the kind of party that Musk’s Twitter is becoming, and as such it is a very easy one to leave—it is not so much a giant brain as a honking simulacrum of Musk’s own small mind. It was once more than that, which is what I miss about it, but it was never claustrophobic until the very end. None of these guys ever knows what the fuck they’re talking about, and wouldn’t tell the truth about it if they did. You wouldn’t share a brain with people like that any more readily than you’d split a cab with them. – David Roth

Air

This movie was like watching a group reading of a Wikipedia entry, and not even a cool Wikipedia article like that one about the Great Molasses Flood. – Drew Magary

Israeli War Propaganda

Being online for the last three months has meant being hollowed out by the images of death and destruction coming out of Gaza in one moment, and then driven mad by the engineers of that death and destruction attempting to explain themselves. I see the bloodied corpse of yet another child being pulled from the rubble of a bombed-out residential block, and then I see an IDF spokesman standing in the basement of a hospital that was just raided, holding up a baby bottle he found as evidence of some lurid crime. “It’s a baby bottle in a basement,” he says. I read about how an IDF unit shot and killed three escaped Israeli hostages, as they were waving a white flag and begging for rescue, and I can’t help but remember a news segment in which an IDF tank gunner said that another soldier told her to fire into an Israeli home on Oct. 7 despite not knowing if there were civilians inside.

If there’s anything to hope for, it’s that the brazen intensity of this particular propaganda campaign will ultimately undermine its purpose. Perhaps PR campaigns based around the idea that Palestinians in Gaza should feel lucky that they aren’t being slaughtered at an even greater rate will open more hearts and minds than it will win. Maybe those who see groups of alleged Hamas fighters surrendering to IDF soldiers after being stripped to their underwear, but not before being disarmed, will start to understand that the attempts to justify what’s happening in Gaza are so snarling and desperate precisely because of how unconscionable the killing is. – Tom Ley

Al Michaels’s Palate

One of the very first big pieces we ran at Defector was Drew’s profile of Al Michaels. It begins, unforgettably, with the famous announcer’s pathological fear of vegetables (not to mention plenty of other foods), which runs as deep as you could imagine:

If a burger comes with a leaf of lettuce, do you throw the lettuce into the woods?

“I have them re-plate it.”

You do?

“I don’t want to have the residue. Sometimes, the lettuce might leak a little bit.”

Isn’t that residue just water?

“I understand, but it’s touched it.”

When the Jets played the Dolphins on the day after Thanksgiving this season, we all got to see Michaels’s pickiness for ourselves. During a break in the action, the broadcast cut to a kitchen where David Chang was at work. The chef presented the camera with an absolutely gorgeous-looking sandwich duo, which then apparently teleported up to the booth.

I don’t know if I’ve ever thought more about a sandwich that I haven’t been able to actually eat. It looks, to me, like an endless field of flowers or a sunset on Lake Michigan. But Michaels, gazing upon it, simply uttered a ridiculous “What!?” like Grover the waiter was presenting him with the big hamburger. He dared to take a look inside this beauty, then recoiled as though there was a pile of fingernails in between the bread.

The crew, knowing this would take place, presented him with a substitute more catered to his tastes. “That’s the key to life: steaks and chops. You know that,” said a delighted Michaels, before seemingly admitting to sending back a steak three times at a restaurant the previous night.

I won’t say I ever expected a wealthy 79-year-old to suddenly change his most stubborn habit, but I am still annoyed at the perfectly good sandwich that sat uneaten next to him. Jeff Bezos: Don’t tease us with the uneaten ‘wich! Please send it, or a suitable replacement, to Lauren Theisen, c/o Defector Media, 147 Prince Street, PR3/19, Brooklyn, NY 11201. – Lauren Theisen

Social Media

The worst thing about 2023 is the worst thing about most years: Twitter, social media, the discourse, super-rich Silicon Valley egomaniacs. But this year it reached a peak when Elon Musk took over Twitter and ended its relevance once and for all. Everyone on Twitter (no way I’m ever calling it X) is there now because they’re a hopeless addict at this point. It’s the most piss-poor, ugly, hate-fueled place.

On the bright side, this outcome has encouraged me to do things like go outside more, read, clean my apartment, cook, and learn chess—you know, human stuff. It’s also played a role in Musk’s public meltdown and the end of his stature as an allegedly smart businessman, and that’s been great. But part of why I think Twitter continues to live is because of how much it portends where the rest of internet culture is going, which is down the toilet. So much of this mythic idea of wokeness and PC culture run amok is turning everyone online insane, with one side trying so hard to be shocking and transgressive that they’re just becoming full Nazis as a bit, and the other side continually using academic language to convince themselves that actually being a virgin that never talks to anyone in real life is correct politics. It’s depressing, obviously, but more than that it’s pathetic. It’s part of a degeneration of society. The dream of the internet is dead and I can only hope that its collapse will be a benefit to humanity. – Israel Daramola

Amtrak

To be clear, I would not describe myself as a foamer. I’m not that into trains. Have I said, on multiple occasions, that my favorite part of visiting European countries is the public transportation? Yes. But I think this is a reasonable feeling for anyone who is subjected to—or voluntarily subjects themselves to—American public transportation on a semi-regular basis. In much the same way that I am a slut for SEPTA but also hate SEPTA, I love Amtrak, and I feel very strongly that it is the worst thing on Earth.

If you buy Amtrak tickets over a month in advance, you’re usually OK-ish on pricing, especially if you travel on an off hour. If you try to buy a week in advance, nobody’s saving you from your terrible mistake, which was not buying Amtrak tickets at least a month in advance. A last-minute plane ticket from Philadelphia to Boston (terrible and wasteful!) costs less than a last-minute Acela ticket, possibly less than a last-minute Northeast Regional ticket, and is definitely at least two hours faster, depending on the whole airport security rigamarole. And this is in the mega-busy Northeast Corridor! Amtrak will never be a profitable venture and that is totally fine because trains should be a public good the same way that roads are, so perhaps it should start acting like one.

I hate Amtrak. I will continue taking Amtrak until the day I die. – Kathryn Xu

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