Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Drew’s off this week. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about interning, crime, dark matter, and more.
Hello everyone, welcome to the Xubag. This is Kathryn, Defector’s editorial intern, or “not Drew” as I am also famously known. Big shoes to step into! Once, and this is a true story, I told a kid that I was going to intern at Defector and he said, “Oh, where Drew Magary writes?” Anyway, I expressed the fact that it felt like a lot of pressure to guest-host the Funbag before I was relentlessly reassured from all sides that there wasn’t any pressure at all and in fact the Funbag was just a big fun waste of everyone’s time.
Something that did shock me in my guest-hosting adventures was how many Funbag questions were sent in with what appeared to be real names and professional email signatures and such accouterments. If I were ever to participate in something like this, I would make an entirely new ProtonMail account under a fake name and then send in, “Do you think Russell Westbrook would make for a good return in a Kevin Durant trade?” and then never touch that account again with a 10-foot pole. Or maybe I’m the weird one!
Now for your bravely emailed questions:
When I was young and single, I was incapable of actually finishing a loaf of bread. Always managed to develop new green fuzzy life forms before throwing the loaf away. Is this the same for women? (Is it the same for other men?) As a married dad, I have to buy a loaf every other day to sustain the PBJ addictions in the house (including my own).
I can’t speak for women on account of not having that kind of authority, but maybe I’m just built different from you because when I was a feral freshman living in a college dormitory, I burned through a loaf of sourdough a week. It was like a ritual. Every Wednesday after class I would go to the farmer’s market near the university bookstore and pick up a loaf of sourdough that looked an awful lot like a Chinese oracle bone, and then over the course of the next week I would burn through it. Untoasted, no butter, no jam, nothing. Just prepping the bread somehow between my mini-fridge and the microwave on top of it. I honestly can’t remember what I did. Freshman year was a blur. Maybe it was because of the excessive amounts of sourdough consumed and/or the global pandemic that struck two-thirds of the way through.
Now that I’ve mellowed out some and gained possession of both a kitchen and mediocre cooking skills, I’ve pivoted to rye because the slices actually fit in my toaster, and I generally have a much more balanced diet. Mostly I toast two slices and eat them with jam for breakfast because my mother insists that I should eat something in the morning, and then sometimes it becomes my lunch and dinner too, depending on my level of laziness. Even so, I know I will never again reach such heights as a loaf of bread a week. I might if I switched back to sourdough, because I do think that something about sourdough makes me want to consume excessive amounts of bread, but it’s doubtful.
And yet! And yet, I do not have issues with my bread developing mold because I keep it in the fridge. Maybe the real lesson here is that everyone should keep their bread in the fridge or freezer.
As the intern at Defector, which is worse: getting coffee orders correct for 8-12 people, combing crumbs out of Ray Ratto’s mustache, or writing posts about baseball (I’m told that young people hate baseball)? To counterbalance the negative, what’s the best part about being the Defector intern?
Goodness, it’s like you had the opportunity to witness firsthand what this internship is like. Every day I am expected to hop on a train (more environmentally conscious than a plane) and travel cross-country in order to deliver each Defector staffer their coffee orders, some of which are frankly unhinged. Ray Ratto promised to me in an email before I even started the internship that he would limit his interactions with me in order to make my experience the most fruitful, and yet there he was on the third day after I started, complimenting me on my first blogs and gently leading me to tell him to eat shit! Despicable. All the while on my very long train rides, I have to write about baseball, search up how appending two arrays in NumPy works for the thousandth time, and generate graphs with their inherent Matplotlib ugliness while the metaphysical presence of Tom Ley hovers over my shoulder. And don’t get me started about how Barrold Petchesky removed a Freud joke from my Derek Jeter blog.
The best part of being the Defector intern is being able to tell Ray Ratto to eat shit.
Crunchy Cheetos or Puffs? Why or why not? Assume that Planters Cheez Balls are a separate argument.
The only correct answer is Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are a food group. Everything else can go the way of Choco Tacos, as far as I’m concerned. I can’t remember the last time I had an ordinary Crunchy Cheeto, but Puffs are disgusting inventions that turn into wet mush in your mouth. And why have an ordinary Crunchy Cheeto when you can have the vastly superior Flamin’ Hot Cheeto? Bangs gavel. Court is adjourned.
Since people of Drew’s age (and mine) love to regale you youngsters with stories of the “good old days,” I would like to know if there is any of that kind of talk that you actually DO find good?
Candy stores? Were candy stores things back then? Buying a cola for a dime and then sipping it on the curb? I do love some sepia-toned nostalgia. Old romantic comedies! I am very much not a movie person, but my older sister is, and she’s been on an old Hollywood kick recently. We watched How To Steal A Million together, which was released in 1966, so I’m sure everyone of Drew’s age was sitting eagerly in the theaters to watch it. Fun movie! I can’t even make it through a modern comedy nowadays, so it was a fun change of pace.
Another one is maybe the slower pace of life? I say all of the following with the acknowledgment that I could just be projecting my own issues onto the past, which Freud would have a blast with, but it really feels like my generation loses so much more of their childhood with the intention of preparing themselves for the future, which just continues until you don’t really live life until you’re in your late 30s.
I do hear a fair amount of “just live life now and don’t worry about X or Y!” nowadays. That’s all fine and good, but I did not hear a lot of it growing up. Except for that time my AP Gov teacher handed out the last test of the year, let kids who didn’t really want to take it just take it later, and said something along the lines of, “You know, in four years, this test won’t matter at all. I promise that you’ll go on with life without even remembering what grade you get. Who cares? What does it matter?” Shout out to Mr. McMenamin. Absolute legend.
Do you think you have the smarts to be a master criminal? Would you be able to retire on an island or would it be prison or killed by rivals?
Equally as firmly as I believe I could’ve landed the spaceship on the moon like they did in Moonfall, I do think that I could get away with crime. Sometimes in a museum gift store I am seized with the urge to steal, which I mostly suppress, but that is not the piecemeal stuff I am talking about. My crime of choice would be arson, and my life’s goal is to commit upwards of a million dollars of property damage without causing any physical harm to anyone.
So I would probably target some billionaire’s fifth mansion or something like that, which probably wouldn’t be the most effective as far as praxis goes but would be deeply cathartic, and also, I think, not actually all that difficult to do? Maybe I’m drastically overestimating my own capabilities here, but by the time you reach ownership of a fifth house, surely you must loosen up on how much you care about it and how much security you hire and so someone could just kinda walk in and set fire to the house and then scurry away. Food for thought!
It would also be neat to commit real, actual museum theft, like that described in this very-fun-if-you-ignore-its-colonial-overtones story about Chinese art theft. (For some more interesting pieces on how aesthetics mediate race, I recommend Chi-ming Yang’s writing on toy dogs in the British Empire or Anne Anlin Cheng’s writing on ornamentalism.) Who amongst us has never wanted to steal a painting or art before, especially if it was something that had already been stolen from somewhere else! Fair game at that point, methinks. And I could get away with it like all of those other people got away with it too. Guaranteed.
Though I do suppose that if I were a real master criminal, I would not be opining in public about my criminal career goals on a site where roughly 90 percent of the reader base is lawyers.
Who are the sneaky worst fans in sports — not the Boston fans or Pittsburgh fans or southern football fans, the ones that fly under the radar? My votes: Syracuse Men’s Basketball, Wisconsin (mainly UW), and every single team that ever played in Missouri.
This is not exactly an answer to your question though there are correct answers to your question, but my lukewarm take is generally speaking, if you were to meet a random sports fan from any team on the street or through the internet, which is surely the same thing, they would all be equally likely to be toxic and bad. Of course, Boston fans are the worst of the worst and Philly sports fans have never done anything wrong in their time, ever.
But sports lends itself well to tribalism and even to fan wars, which is probably enabled more by social media and such. No wonder why every fifth book on the New Arrivals table in bookstores nowadays is about the internet. I’m just saying that I was in the K-pop trenches back in high school, an experience I can’t really recommend to anyone, and the general level of toxicity about various other fandoms was just about the same. Not to mention the layers of one-upping which group was more problematic than the other or more deserving of their success, or the general disdain for journalists.
Spend enough time on team-specific subreddits or Twitter spaces, and it’s always an absolute cesspool. Maybe everyone just sucks! From the way that some people talk about it, you’d think that, like, Astros fans or [insert fanbase of your choice here] are somehow a cohesive social group that are capable of being oppressors and/or oppressed. Which sounds very fake, unless you are a Sebastian Vettel fan, in which case you are Jesus Christ on the cross each race weekend. Or an A’s fan.
Everyone would probably be happier if they worried a little less about what other team’s fans were doing, thinking, or feeling. Just appreciate your sports team and/or favorite K-pop group on its own terms, like its powerful homoeroticism, necessary athleticism, noisy fun, etc. I will say that I have finely honed hater instincts, so I was surprised by how accepting my colleagues are to each other’s sports allegiances. But that appears to be a skill you gain from being a working adult.
That said, the answer to your question is Villanova fans.
Last weeks funbag featured a fellow disparaging his wife’s monotone voice to text exclamation points, and it got me thinking. Does everyone instinctively smile and do the quiet laugh whenever they text “haha” or “lol,” even when you’re just being polite or trying to cap off a sentence you don’t intend to be taken seriously? I do and when I catch myself I feel like a psycho.
I do this all the time, especially when I’m reading over a proper text or email or Slack message that actually matters, which is admittedly not very common, and I also feel like an absolute psycho. Maybe this says something about the affectual state of our digital age. Maybe we’re just psychos!
Personally, there’s also an added layer of balancing emoji usage or hahas and lols. If I include lol in a previous message, I’ll skip it in the next one, or maybe replace it with a haha. Also because repetition bothers me, if I just acknowledged a message on Slack with a simple Investigative Squirrel emoji, then the next acknowledgement message I send will probably be an o7, which is my favorite text emoji recently, or a thumbs-up emoji. If I punctuated a previous message with an exclamation point, I might punctuate the next one with a smiley face instead. Usually after I compose an email, I actively go through and take out exclamation points so that I don’t sound too excited, especially since I’ll normally get a one- or two-word response in return.
I was once interviewing a college sports coach, and I sent him a text that included a hello, my name so he wouldn’t think I was spam, and two exclamation points, to which he responded, “Call me”—clearly the efforts are going to waste.
A mayo question for Drew’s absence. Keeping it simple. Duke’s or Hellman’s?
When I was young, I used to despise mayonnaise with a passion. I thought it was the most repulsive thing I’d ever had in my life. I will admit that I was not generous to mayonnaise as a general concept—we did not have mayonnaise at home, but whenever I saw it in the school cafeteria, I regarded it with abject disgust, though to be fair, I regarded most things in the school cafeteria with abject disgust.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really grown to appreciate mayonnaise, along with mustard and various other sauces that I didn’t have the wherewithal to enjoy when I was a child. I’m still not the biggest fan of mayonnaise in its purest form, but I enjoy mayonnaise-based sauces, or mayonnaise-adjacent sauces like aiolis. After spending a month in the U.K. and having fish and chips with me mates at the pub on more than one occasion, I’ve also learned to enjoy tartar sauce.
Still don’t have an opinion on mayonnaise brands, though.
One of the most famous errors in baseball history (it even has its own Wikipedia page) is Merkle’s Boner. Since it’s baseball canon, would it get more people watching the games if they changed the stat line from Runs Hits Errors to Runs Hits Boners?
I’ve been a big proponent of getting rid of errors entirely in the R H E statline since they’re mostly useless nowadays, unless you are the first-half 2022 Chicago White Sox, and replace the errors portion with walks or something. With your suggestion, I’m now torn. Just as with TOOTBLAN, FARTSLAM, and other baseball stat names along those lines, you can argue that the humor of boner as a stat would fade with too much emphasis, but consider: Haha, boner. I wish I could say that I was above being amused by it, but here we are.
Would constant repetition of the word boner eventually make it lose its charm? Probably. But there’s nothing like a term that crops up occasionally enough to always occupy the somewhat amusing thin boundary between “vulgar slang” and “informal speech” in the Oxford dictionary. Kind of like five-hole!
Who is your favorite F1 Team Principal? Guenther’s charm and boat pictures are cream of the crop in my book.
I make a concerted effort not to stan, as the kids are saying nowadays, any F1 team principals who are all mostly terrible. Guenther has unfortunately lost any goodwill I had for him after the decision to keep Mazepin on board (I don’t give him much credit for eventually sacking Mazepin considering that it literally took a war for it to happen), but I do appreciate the man for somehow being the main character of Drive to Survive, and his sheer commitment to the bit. Occasionally I find myself feeling an inkling of sentiment for Toto Wolff, like in this unfortunately very adorable video with his son, and then I remind myself to snap out of it.
My true pick would be Otmar Szafnauer on account of the fact that he is American and F1 is one of the few sports where you can have a disproportionate amount of American pride without it being cringe. He also has the best name out of all the team principals, sounds very soothing whenever he’s doing the pit wall interviews, and lived through the Racing Point Pink Mercedes scandal before bailing just before the Aston Martin rendition of the Green Bull and still criticized AM for their artistic decisions! That’s all I need, really. I respect a man who can go out there and get what he wants.
If you want my favorite race engineer, a question that you did not ask, it’s Peter Bonnington. This is not to discredit the achievements of Lewis Hamilton, who is the undisputed GOAT of his generation, but if I had Bono in my ear, I, too, would simply drive three-tenths faster than the rest of the field.
Today’s mailbag featured a question about getting older and not caring to know “everything”. It reminded me of when my dad was terminal one of the few things he regretted was that he’d never know what the deal was with dark matter. He was lucky enough to be able to pull the strings he had and talk with a leading dark matter expert for a few hours but he’ll never know whatever we learn in the future.
All that said, you get one tangible thing (can’t be something like “is God real” though i guess in theory if he is that makes him tangible? I dunno…) where every question you asked about it would be answered definitively before you move on, what would it be? Mine is all centered around what the hell goes on in the deep sea. We have no idea what’s down there or sometimes how things there survive and we live on the same freaking planet as them. I considered aliens but I’m fairly certain they exist and there is some form of intelligent life out there and that’s good enough for me.
Hope this made sense! Really enjoying all your work at Defector!
Your dad had brilliant taste in scientific questions. The astrophysics research I used to do prior to sports blogging was all about dark matter/dark energy (matter is energy, and whatever else Einstein said) and all that jazz. Specifically, on using the large-scale structure of galaxies to try to get better constraints on dark energy. It feels like a bit of a cop-out, but that really is my question: What exactly is going on with dark energy, anyway?
The two questions we have here—space and the deep sea—really get at what’s lovely about these broader existential questions about, well, everything. John Paul Brammer has this wonderful blog on the all-important question of “Is Space Gay?” which covers a lot of the emotional ground that we put on these vast, unknowable spaces, and of course we also have Barry’s excellent blog on the James Webb Space Telescope. What is maybe loveliest is how the efforts to answer these questions, to make these unknowable quantities a little bit more knowable or try to find out what is the answer to the question, the same way that your dad or you or scientists are, is both reassuring and emotional in a similar way.
Things kick off so quickly. Everyone thinks that we’re reaching the limits of human knowledge about space, and then multiple assholes discover the accelerating expansion of the universe in 1998 by looking at some Type Ia supernovae, and then everyone’s left scrambling for an explanation of why. Dark energy’s still just a theory, of course, but it’s the most widely accepted one.
We can’t actually detect dark energy (or dark matter) directly, so what we’re left with is its effects, the ripples it leaves in the sky around it—baryonic acoustic oscillations, the cosmic microwave background, galaxy formation and the large-scale structure of galaxies. There’s something deeply romantic and unromantic about the process entirely, trying to collaboratively explain a fundamental unknown about our world, or at least get better constraints on it, and yet so much of the work nowadays is done through instrumentation and Jupyter Notebooks and Python. Astrophysicists do love their Jupyter Notebooks and Python.
And yet all of that has been true, to an extent, since the beginning of astronomy too. One of Tycho Brahe’s finest contributions to astronomy was his use of extremely precise measurement tools. Things change, things stay the same. I mean, nobody’s going to die by holding in their own piss or possibly by being mercury-poisoned by your protégé nowadays, but some things stay the same!
At the end of all this, we don’t even know what the answer will be, which is at the root of all research—the sense you could be proceeding blindly and, in the end, find nothing at all. I hope we figure it out before I die, but it’s somehow very reassuring that there’s so much more out there in the world than we will ever be able to understand in our lifetimes, and that there will always be something else left to discover.