Pithy Pell and RBG’s Call


Looking for a worthwhile news and commentary aggregator, I found Dave Pell’s celebrated NextDraft site. The background buzz was almost intoxicating.

Maria Konnikova, of The New Yorker, declares it to be “a consistently informative and entertaining guide to some of the best stories on the web, with a healthy mix of news you should know, want to know, and prefer to pretend you didn’t read.” Wah?

CNN Executive Editor, Ram Ramgopal, says “NextDraft is a must read.” (Where have I heard that before?)

Andrew Corsello, associated with the authoritative serial GQ, lauds Pell for answering “questions you weren’t even aware you were asking.” I guess that’s a reference to the really important questions.

“NextDraft is invaluable,” says Tim Sullivan, Editorial Director of Harvard Business Review. Don Van Natta Jr. (ESPN) calls it “indispensable.” Hamish McKenzie (whoever that is) offers somewhat more modest praise when he says that NextDraft is “perhaps the world’s best email newsletter.” Modesty increases as visibility on the page decreases, when Kevin Kelly (whoever that is) says that NextDraft is “usually interesting.”

Others opine, but Dave Pell himself tops them all. “I am the algorithm. Each morning I visit about 75 new sites, and from that swirling nightmare of information quicksand, I pluck the top ten most fascinating items of the day, which I deliver with a fast, pithy wit that will make your computer device vibrate with delight.”

This is not the pithiest expression of hubris I’ve heard. But the point is made . . . pointedly. Except that the entries for September 21 don’t live up to the self-hype.

First up, “Famous Last Words.” This witty entry begins with recitations of last words by cultural gods and goddesses—Dylan Thomas, Elvis Presley, James Joyce, Groucho Marx, Christopher Hitchens, and Steve Jobs. (“Oh wow” is right.)

Oops. Did I say “gods and goddesses”? Mea culpa. There are no goddesses in the group, only male deities.

Recently, however, a woman “placed herself towards the top of the pantheon” when she “dictated to her granddaughter” words we’ve heard trumpeted in worshipful awe over the past few days: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Dave Pell thus sets the stage for his first diatribe of the day, a missive about doubts that the attribution is genuine.

I don’t doubt that Ruth Bader Ginsberg said such a thing. Count me agnostic. And indifferent.

But isn’t it interesting how the alleged deathbed wish has been baptized as an almost religious aphorism? Pell speaks of “RBG’s call.” Does he mean that Ginsberg (who “placed herself” in the pantheon) issued an edict to be obeyed by the American people? Surely not. But Pell does say next that some people launched “an immediate, cynical race to disobey.” To disobey? You heard that right—disobey. These are the people cynical enough to follow (obey?) the United States Constitution, drafted by a pantheon of American political geniuses.

So as RBG joins the august ranks of Groucho Marx and Elvis Presley, Pell enjoins obeisance worthy of her peers within that great pantheon. The suggestion appears almost satirical. But the subtlety of such wit strikes me as beyond the reach of the celebrated aggregator.

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