Things I’m Verbing: Elephant seals, kidney pools and new words for a weird future

TFW you spend a year chasing down evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia, and then Trump Jr. scoops you on Twitter.

That… sure has been some morning!

  • How about a nice history of skateboarding from 99% Invisible?
  • Or, from On the Media, a look at how science fiction is tackling climate change? It’s not all doom and gloom — one of the piece’s loveliest features is the words listeners made up to describe the new environmental realities we may face in coming years. See also: Atlas Obscura’s great piece on demonyms, and where you come from if you’re a Leodensian.
  • Also related to the future: from Pacific Standard, “The Fallacy of Endless Growth.”
  • Via Quartz: It turns out we understand calories a lot less than we think we do.
  • Last night, I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it was a complete and utter delight. I wouldn’t call it a terrifically deep film, which is a great strength — emotionally, it’s great, but it doesn’t ask big questions like even other Marvel movies (e.g., my all-time No. 1, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). That’s my awkward segue into a piece of excellent pop culture criticism from Angelica Jade Bastién, writing for Vulture. Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, a Civil War-era story about Southern belles that features no people of color, has drawn lots of criticism for its oblivious whiteness. Bastién, however, offers a different perspective in “How The Beguiled Subtly Tackles Race Even When You Don’t See It.”

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: War heroes, late capitalism and the City of Lions

D-Day has a hashtag this year: #DDay73. Meanwhile, last night I finally saw Wonder Woman, taking on a different world war, and it’s spawned a cascade of hot takes ranging from “Is it really feminist?” to “You sheeple don’t realize this film is propaganda!” What a time to be alive.

D-Day has a hashtag this year: #DDay73. Meanwhile, last night I finally saw Wonder Woman, taking on a different world war, and it’s spawned a cascade of hot takes ranging from “Is it really feminist?” to “You sheeple don’t realize this film is propaganda!” What a time to be alive. Still:

  • If we’re going to talk about improperly lionizing the military, let’s start with Adam Serwer’s gut-wrenching demolition of the myth of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. As a childhood Civil War nerd, I had never heard any of this. Serwer’s response to the inevitable “He was a man of his time!” articles (provided, in this case, by the National Review) is equally damning.
  • Wellston, Ohio, is very close to where I grew up. New York Times science journalist Amy Harmon went there to meet the students pushing back against learning about climate change. This story exemplifies all of Harmon’s empathy for her subjects, without editorializing on them, and that kind of reporting may have a payoff by the end.
  • I forget sometimes how engrossing and beautiful book reviews can be. Jacob Mikanowski’s “Wine, Olive Oil and Wisteria: A Sensual Tour of the ‘City of Lions’” is Dictionary of the Khazars-level detailed and fascinating. It’s a tour through time and empire of what is currently Lviv, Ukraine, illuminating both the forces of history acting on the city and the individuals who make it memorable. Book reviews like this are a project I want to take on someday; the Open Notebook has some interesting thoughts on how to get started.
  • Twitter loves its @Alt- and @RogueAgencies. You can even become a Resistance Ranger with an actual wooden badge. Snopes has finally carried out a task we needed from the beginning: creating a directory of verified accounts.
  • I keep thinking about Sarah Jeong’s February comment that “Silicon Valley is obsessed with solving problems that are clearly most efficiently solved with better public works.” In that light, read “Uber, But for Meltdowns.”

If you want to end on a happier, sillier note (goodness knows we all need it):

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: Brave geeks, inland farming and Zac Efron’s abs

It’s been an otherwise stupid week for speech; the furor about comedian Kathy Griffin’s Judith-and-Holofernes portrait of herself with the severed head of the president is an exercise in one-sided performative outrage, which the left has self-abasingly internalized from the right.

I make a habit of linking as little breaking news or reaction pieces as possible. Given the ridiculous speed with which this administration’s already imaginary moral center collapses into a gravitational singularity, it hardly seems worth trying to keep up with it all. Every once in a while, though, someone gets so furious and so creative with their fury that I have to celebrate it. This week, snaps to Charles Pierce of Esquire, writing on Trump’s withdrawal (for “negotiating a better deal,” very reality show) from the Paris Accords on climate change. Calling it “the Rose Garden’s dumbest moment on record,” he sold me with “obvious anagram Reince Priebus” and just keeps going from there.

It’s been an otherwise stupid week for speech; the furor about comedian Kathy Griffin’s Judith-and-Holofernes portrait of herself with the severed head of the president is an exercise in one-sided performative outrage, which the left has self-abasingly internalized from the right. That said, my favorite literary take on this administration comes from SFF writer Catherynne M. Valente, who realized back in April that Trump is our first magical realist president.

  • This isn’t all going to be outrage, but personally, I’m fed up with the rapturous response to David Alm’s “I was friends with Richard Spencer” essay in the Point. The surface-level read is a seemingly brave self-examination about why Alm stayed friends with the white-supremacist troll. He doesn’t seem to notice that every woman and minority tells him from the outset that Spencer is bad news. In fact, the entire essay is a master class in falling prey to Geek Social Fallacies, which, as a fellow alumna of the University of Chicago, surprises me not one bit.
  • Speaking of white supremacy, sit with Garrett Epps’ lovely piece for the Atlantic on Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue, “The Motionless Ghosts That Haunt the South.” As a Civil War–obsessed fifth-grader, I dragged my parents on two separate Spring Break trips to battlefields and museums. One stopped in Richmond, where a transplanted Northerner working at the Museum of the Confederacy told us the row of statues was also called the Avenue of Second-Place Trophies.
  • From the New Food Economy, consider Chelsey Simpson’s look at who benefits from VC money for food startups, with a case study on the local food movement in Oklahoma City.
  • Death with dignity, as the assisted suicide movement calls itself, provokes strong emotions on all sides of the issue, especially disability rights activists. For many my own age, physician-assisted suicide may raise the specter of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, with its unsettling euphemism “being released.” Myself, I appreciated (and wept through) this New York Times Magazine exploration of a man who attends his own wake. It’s a complicated, thorough look at ceremony, survivors and agency at perhaps the most vulnerable time in anyone’s life.
  • Wonder Woman comes out in the United States today. Among the many preemptive criticisms I’ve seen of the film (most, from star Gal Gadot’s nationality to the studio’s “risky gamble” on a female director, unworthy) stands the odd complaint that Gadot isn’t buff enough to play an Amazon. Writing for Vulture, E. Alex Jung takes on the film industry’s insistence on outrageous swole bodies for male actors. “I’m worried that the Hollywood Chrises are just one scoop of protein powder away from total renal failure,” he writes.

I’m excited for Wonder Woman, personally; I’ll be seeing it in one of the Alamo Drafthouse’s all-female screenings, which I expect will be both delightful and powerful.

Stay brave, friends.

Photo credit: payattn13/Flickr

Things I’m Verbing: Why we need mammoths, delayed swanhood and dictator chic

I’m taking a social media detox at the moment, which feels great (yes, I’m going to do one of these). As I watch myself try to find the Twitter app on my phone, I definitely realize how often I reach for it as a numbing agent — and how outrage itself can be a numbing agent. On my commutes, instead of draining my battery and my data trying to refresh my feed underground, I’m going for Pocket and actually catching up on all the longreads I meant to finish when I had time.

So hey, happy Friday! Happy St. Patrick’s Day (and happy birthday to one of my very favorite people in the world since middle school, the incredible Out There podcast creator Willow Belden). Have some really excellent longer “slow journalism.”

  • More on that wilderness thing: You must, you must read Ross Andersen’s “Pleistocene Park” for the Atlantic. It’s an intersection of climate change, land management and resurrecting charismatic megafauna that I never saw coming. It’s also a nice antidote to (or at least a bit of hope versus) excellent but gloomy pieces like Laurie Penny’s “The Slow Confiscation of Everything.”
  • Sarah Menkedick’s “The Making of the Mexican-American Dream” for Pacific Standard is the best blending of personal experience, good reporting and national policy. She beautifully explores the identity Mexican-Americans do and could have in the United States, and the way they’re poised to define American identity going forward.
  • I found Marshall Allen’s ProPublica piece “What Hospitals Waste” from a tweet proclaiming it “one of those stories you’re immediately jealous of.” It’s an inspired and inspiring work of investigative reporting about the conflicting requirements of desperate communities and cleanliness protocols.
  • Another great, sideways piece of analysis: For Politico, Peter York analyzes Trump’s decorating style and how it compares to other regimes historically and around the world in “Trump’s Dictator Chic.”
  • Finally, in a much lovelier look at art, Irina Dumitrescu reflects on the joys of learning ballet as an adult, and what the lives of professional ballet dancers mean, in the wonderfully titled “Swan, Late.”

Stay brave, friends.

Image credit: How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth

Things I’m Verbing: Plague pits, zoodles and the Death Star

It’s a rough world out there. The more you learn about Trump, Putin and their nuclear bromance (at least in Trump’s mind), the more you may just want to retreat into concrete joys in life. For me, one thing I decided earlier this month was that if I got a spiralizer, everything would be okay. (It was after midnight, and I’d had one drink earlier in the evening; I’m a lightweight, but an inspired lightweight.)

Now that I have this implement, of course, I have to learn to use it, which sent me down the rabbit hole of spiralizer recipes, which led me to the most beautiful vegetable tart I’ve ever seen, summer and winter versions. My own ambition to dive right into complicated food-making is its own kind of optimism, so I’ll take it. Here is an incredibly soothing video of a cuddly German hipster making an intensive pie by hand, from me to you.

Okay, ready for the rest of it? I promise it’s not all bad.

  • I was supposed to go see Star Wars: Rogue One on Christmas, and I totally blorped out of making any plans at all, in favor of sleeping in and cleaning my apartment. (Sorry, Meisje, ugh!) However, as with every release of a Star Wars franchise film, there’s been some great pop culture commentary alongside it. First, Vulture’s Abe Riesman on the dangerous politics of violence the films present — namely, when is it justified and what does that say about how we come to view violence. Another great look at the ethics (and economics!) of empire and rebellion, Imaginary Worlds takes on independent contractors and the Death Star, and whether it was okay to take them down with the ship, so to speak.
  • New York magazine partnered with a nonprofit to attempt feats of radical empathy — between gun advocates and victims of gun violence, some of whom you’ve heard of. I’m thinking hard about this piece; I’m not sure if it’s forcing the hopefulness of the ending or not, or whether it’s just a reminder that you can’t expect a 100% success rate right away or ever. But this is well worth a read, plus it includes video of these people telling their stories.
  • I’ve always been fascinated by the Arctic. Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sophia Roosth explores the way time wobbles in the far northern reaches, and what that means for human survival: “Virus, Coal and Seed: Subcutaneous Life in the Polar North.”
  • Shoutout to my friends who grew up on communal journaling, the first real social media networks. Early this year, E.D. Adams shared “What I Learned While Exposing Myself on LiveJournal.” Rather than being snide or exploitive, this is an affecting piece about self-love, vulnerability and community — and, unfortunately, the shitty trolls that will destroy it all given a fraction of a chance.
  • I know I’m late to the Lumineers, and that this song didn’t even come out in 2016, but I first heard “Ophelia” on Song Exploder earlier this year and fell in love with it. You ought to be listening to Song Exploder, in which Hrishi Hirway gets artists to aurally dissect the various ingredients in composition and shows how it all gets assembled. It’s fascinating, especially in the genres you don’t normally gravitate to. Do some stuff that makes you happy.

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: Actor problems, Arctic problems and asshole journalist problems

I love a lot of things about new Marvel movie season. Top of the list is seeing my favorite actors gleefully making idiots of themselves in every available interview and on every available surface upon which their faces can be displayed. However, the downside is that every time a big fandom event comes around, reporters and editors get this dumb, terrible, no-good idea that actors should confront the works fans make for themselves. An otherwise fine recent interview with Sebastian Stan, for instance, devotes several paragraphs up top to some verbal reaction shots to sometimes-erotic art featuring Stan and his character, Bucky Barnes. (One elicits “That’s—wow. Strong.”)

Fellow reporters, just don’t do this. It’s tired, it’s smug, it’s punching down and it can’t be fun for the people you’re interviewing. Generally it harms and humiliates the fans. Maybe you can try a different woman- and queer-shaming tactic, like talking about how gross and unnecessary Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter is and how bisexuality doesn’t exist. If you report on fandom without actually talking with fans and figuring out where they’re coming from, you may as well just be aggregating hot takes. Don’t be lazy. P.S. Fans are wonderful.

Anyway, for those playing along, I saw Captain America: Civil War on 3-D IMAX on Friday and loved it. Will I be writing about it? What kind of question is that?

  • Actors have bigger problems than journalists playing slash chicken. In the U.K., the Guardian lays out why working-class actors are a disappearing breed, and what that means for the arts and anyone who doesn’t come out of Eton.
  • Actually, as long as I’m on my high horse about newsroom standards (once a copy chief, always a copy chief), for anyone who ever wants to draw some analogies about “frivolous lawsuits,” here’s the truth about that McDonald’s hot coffee case.
  • Okay, back to big problems. Pacific Standard has a beautiful piece by Eva Holland on the Northwest Passage, which didn’t exist until very recently. “Cruising Through the End of the World” looks at shipping, tourism and the Inuit people caught between changes on virtually every front.
  • More essential reading, on another insidious topic: “How the Rhetoric of Imposter Syndrome Is Used to Gaslight Women in Tech.” Of course, this doesn’t just apply to STEM work, because human nature can be terrible in any field it occupies.
  • Ready for some adventure? I mean, Civil War is made of emotional whiplash, so I can’t freely recommend it unless you’ve girded yourself. But “The Battle Over the
    Sea-Monkey Fortune” may be up your alley. It’s a wild ride beginning to end.

Many thanks to Kelsey for permission to use her A+ Cap Cubed fanart as the featured image of this post.

Things I’m Verbing: Send-offs, bad opera and the actual end of the world

Should I be surprised that journalists are suddenly rewriting Jeb Bush as a hapless, cuddly, decent man we all never gave a chance? I mean, Slate, the Washington Post, the New York Times, I understand that he may have seemed like one of the least bad options in an increasingly dreadful field. But at least (she said dubiously) we have Gawker to keep us honest, as Deadspin reminds us that Jeb! is not cuddly/bumbling/upright (nor is his patrician, disastrous-for-America family) and “ugh, the Terri Schiavo stuff” was abjectly and constitutionally horrible.

Some journalists and public figures have been struggling with this urge to play nice in how they talk about Antonin Scalia, but not all. Stephen Colbert is a classy man, and his send-off managed to be neither crass nor dishonest about Scalia’s legacy. Jeffrey Toobin was on-point without being dishonest in his look back for the New Yorker. Yes, Justice Scalia was funny and charming and great friends with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. His colleagues and loved ones have every right to be elegiac if they choose. The lawyers and law students on my Facebook feed have largely thanked Scalia for making them better thinkers and analysts, no matter their own politics. But no one responded better than a college friend of mine, Craig Segall. From “Against a Hagiography for Justice Scalia“:

Increasingly, I do not think very much of gentility when it is used as a weapon to protect the powerful, and even less when the powerful used their authority largely to wound those below them. I think the claims of politesse look pretty tinny against the immense harm Scalia did — the harm that will live long after him. If I get the vapors, it is not going to be about failing sufficiently to show my respects to a man who showed so little respect to so many.

Meanwhile, the bench must march on. I am not a legal reporter nor do I have much inside knowledge of who Obama’s likely replacements could be, but the National Association for Public Defense makes a very interesting case for one of their own, a civil rights attorney from Montgomery, Alabama, named Bryan Stevenson.

That intro got long. And don’t we have other things to talk about?

  • Mike Judge gave us both Beavis & Butt-head Do America (still hilarious) and Office Space (one of the most perfect films ever assembled), but I may love him most for King of the Hill. So does the Atlantic, where Bert Clere makes an interesting case for the show as TV’s last true bipartisan comedy.
  • I don’t generally understand audience fascinations with very, very rich people (although I do love shows about the food they eat), but the New Yorker‘s “The Golden Generation” takes a different approach, following the children of Chinese nouveau-riche living abroad (in this case, Vancouver) and their underlying anxieties. It’s the flip side of the ongoing panic about empty luxury housing in cities with skyrocketing rents and demands.
  • Dungeons, Dragons and Disabilities” might be about D&D (though it’s vastly applicable to any kind of writing or journalism), but everyone should read Feminist Sonar‘s Elsa S. Henry’s work whenever she publishes, whether it’s about disability activism or her own great sci-fi.
  • Meryl Streep has not had a good few weeks. However, when she’s in her element as an actress, she does tend to make good choices, and her upcoming biopic Florence Jenkins Foster, about the world’s most enthusiastic bad opera singer, has some real promise.
  • Let’s end on a good note, at least. #ObamaAndKids, anyone?

ETA: Hang on, let’s end on an appropriate note. Today marks the five-year anniversary of @MayorEmanuel’s disappearance in a clap of thundersnow. (If you don’t understand the reference, you are in for a treat.) That Rahm’s creator, Dan Sinker, has saved us from a bunch of missing-the-point thinkpieces by writing his own, in which he wrestles with the account’s legacy and how both Twitter and Chicago have changed in the half-decade since that weird, wonderful, foul-mouthed adventure. An absolute must-read for everyone, Chicago person or not.