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
I usually don’t share — can we call them incremental stories in the Trump-Russia thing, even when they’re massive, massive revelations? The thing is, it all tends to move so fast, and it’s easy to tune out because it gets overwhelming. But I can’t ignore the Washington Post’s “Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel.” This is literally the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel. I will be interested to see how Trump and GOP supporters continue to justify their support for this administration, whether it’s simply calling this reporting fake news, “just some left-wing blog” or shrugworthy, as Rep. Jason “I don’t think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more” Chaffetz professes.
Are you ready for more?
- Let’s start off light with Colin Dickey’s “Building in the Shadow of Our Own Destruction.” If that and the fact that it’s architecture criticism don’t put you off, you’re in for a thoughtful and unsettling look at how great buildings must be designed while already imagining them in ruins. There’s also a story about a man who died because of accumulated pigeon guano, so really, don’t miss it.
- Further light reading: Noah Berlatsky, for BuzzFeed, “The Zookeeper’s Wife Is Yet Another Gentile Savior Story.” Even though all the trailers tell me otherwise, I was somehow hoping this wouldn’t be the same self-congratulatory grossness that Schindler’s List epitomizes. Easter and Passover are sensitive times for Jews, not least because Easter has traditionally been a period of heightened violence against them. Not all violence has to be a pogrom; appropriative “Christian seders” and playacting Jewish culture are pretty upsetting too. Anyway, Berlatsky makes the point that centering the heroic bystander experience in mass storytelling, rather than that of the oppressed, ultimately dehumanizes the oppressed. All of these are worth reading.
- Segueing into another aspect of Hollywood, Anne Helen Petersen asks a worthwhile question: “How Many Times Does Nicole Kidman Have to Prove Herself?” Ain’t sexism grand?
- Meanwhile, from the Establishment, “Why Don’t We Think Fat People Are Worth Fighting For?” challenges thin people, particularly thin women, to turn body positivity into real solidarity.
- Finally, Elle has a marvelous and poignant longread that I missed in November. “The 20-Week Abortion Ban Bind” sits with the women who need to terminate pregnancies after the “acceptable” cutoff date, and the heartbreak of losing a wanted child that could not survive outside the womb.
Stay brave, friends.
You can’t help but click on a story titled “The Case for Becoming a Hermit” in this day and age. It’s actually a well-written book review that makes me wish it answered the questions it raises, but for my part, the response was almost ravenously quick. There are still good things out in the world, though. For instance:
- One feel-good story for the day: Meet the Black antifascist activist who shows how hate has consequences.
- I love science writing and science stories. This week, On the Media re-aired two phenomenal interviews about gene editing and human cloning, as well as the ethics of both, as explored in the amazing BBC America series Orphan Black.
- The Baffler and the Atlantic have two similar stories about the academy and its relationship to public life. First, from Maximillian Alvarez, “The Accidental Elitist,” on the humanities and the way we need to rethink the public intellectual. Then, from the excellent Ed Yong, “How Brain Scientists Forgot That Brains Have Owners.”
- I loved this Briallen Hopper piece from the Cut: “Relying on Friendship in a World Made for Couples.”
- Finally, from the Ringer, an actually excellent process/inside media story about food writing. Once I discovered The Great British Bake Off/Baking Show on Netflix, I leaped right into documentaries and travel shows like Chef’s Table, Somm, I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, Michael Pollan’s Cooked and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Pardon the pun, but the market’s appetite for food media right now is insatiable, and I love it. “Will Write for Food” addresses two problems we don’t really see as consumers. First, in Bryan Curtis’ own words, “If everyone wants to be a food critic, who’s going to pick up the bill?” But there’s also another issue worth exploring: “A food critic is a rock critic that has been ripened and aged.” Really interesting stuff.
There’s a lot of other big stuff going on, of course.
Stay brave, friends.
We have stripes. I don’t know why I’m amazed by this fact, but human people have stripes! Bless, Mental Floss, this really brightened my day.
- Other things that brighten my day: confirmation bias. And I don’t just mean backup for my apprehension about gyms. Laurie Penny, who has been writing about Milo Yiannopoulos long and deeply enough to text with him for comment, has a smashing longread at Pacific Standard. “On the Milo Bus With the Lost Boys of America’s New Right” takes an inside look at what happens when a movement of gamers recognizes they’re not players, but pawns (their subhed, not mine). As good as everyone’s been saying on Twitter. Read it.
- Libraries are great. Librarians are great. Protect them at all costs.
- Former colleague and current BuzzFeed ace Sara Yasin has written one of those essays you wish some so-called deplorables would really absorb and understand: “Muslims Shouldn’t Have to Be ‘Good’ to Be Granted Human Rights.”
- George W. Bush’s administration was supposedly characterized as that of a long-awaited “CEO president,” which was, until recently, historically unpopular. Trump is also a CEO — is this a common thread? Actually, not at all. Writing for the Conversation, business professor Burt Spector explains the huge cultural differences and investor expectations of heads of family-owned corporations.
- Pour one out for the failing New York Times; this Modern Love column on working in a dog shelter totally made me tear up.
Stay brave, friends.
Image credit: San José (California) Library, 2010 (Flickr)
I… look, I’m just as overwhelmed and wild-eyed as anyone, gang. Thank goodness for What the Fuck Just Happened Today?, at least, because as one might expect from a DDoS on American democracy, there is just A Lot.
- First things first, here is a thing that will just make you feel better. I haven’t seen Stranger Things yet, but I absolutely loved cast member David K. Harbour’s impassioned speech at this weekend’s SAG awards. It will make you feel good about art and resistance, which goodness knows we all need.
- For the Huffington Post, Thenmozhi Soundararajan writes about why international intersectionality matters in “I’m a Proud Dalit-American and This Is Why I Marched.”
- Spend some time with PEN America’s “Surviving Autocracy: Lessons From Russian Writers.” See also, from the Washington Post, “In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did.”
- Some good, if not terribly reassuring, Twitter threads:
- Duke professor Gabriel Rosenberg on the emotional motivations of Trump supporters. “They see Trump as instrument of punishment, less against refugees, but against the left.”
- Author Alexandra Erin on what’s needed to tip things into impeachment territory. “The CIA hasn’t had to *live* anywhere they staged a coup before.”
- The popular Twitter account @RoguePotusStaff is mostly likely fake, based on linguistic tics that seem to indicate Russian-speaking authors (“vakay,” “-esk,” “muzzie Canucks”).
- From David Frum at the Atlantic (whose new terrifying cover story I’ve only just begun to read), “Advice for Those Weighing Jobs in the Trump Administration” has the most killer knockout final punch you could ask for. Further proof of this, from the New York Times: shot, “Bannon Is Given Security Role Usually Held for Generals“; chaser, “President Bannon.”
Stay brave, friends.
Statue of Liberty cartoon originally found at Desert Island Comics; I had no luck with reverse image searches, but if anyone can identify the original artist (Mary?), please let me know so I can properly credit. Read “The New Colossus” and the story behind the Emma Lazarus poem here.
I write you from John Glenn International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, where I’m waiting for the second day in a row to see if a nor’easter will keep my dinky plane from landing at LaGuardia. It’s been a good visit home, but a bit of a rough one — we’re clearing out my parents’ house so my dad can move next month. That means sorting through all kinds of artifacts and memorabilia, one of which was my grandfather’s 1959 edition of Gray’s Anatomy. Good thing we did; my cousin found three pristine front pages from the 1960s, two of the moon landing and one on the assassination of JFK.
You rarely get to see these things in 3-D; the backs of the moon landing page especially were fascinating (particularly given my love of Hidden Figures):
We also found New Yorker medical ethicist and essayist Dr. Atul Gawande, who grew up down the street from me, in my sister’s middle-school yearbook. Uh, I might wait to share that with the world — he might have something to say about that picture.
Other ways in which the world is moving backward, bad and good!
- Trump, in typically vindictive fashion, responded to the Women’s March by savaging access to reproductive health care worldwide. On Facebook too, one conservative woman’s response to the campaign, claiming that she doesn’t need it, has gone viral. Two good posts on Medium rebut that view, one gently (“To Christy on Facebook, who doesn’t need the Women’s March” by Susan Speer) and one forcefully (“You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry.” by Dina Leygerman).
- See also, from the Washington Post, “She’s 54, white, rural and a lifelong Republican. Why is she protesting Donald Trump?“
- Meanwhile, news organizations are getting some appropriate fight back in them. I was thrilled to see the New York Times get this savage: “With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift.” From NPR, pair with “We Cannot Tolerate Legal and Personal Attacks on Journalists For Doing Their Jobs.”
- Bringing it way back, Hyperallergic points to a University of Michigan archive of more than 2,000 radical posters from the late 19th and early 20th century.
- Xiaolu Guo thought she knew what she could look forward to when she moved from China to London on a filmmaking scholarship. What followed was a years-long confrontation with identity and assimilation. This is a beautiful excerpt from her memoir Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up in the Guardian.
Stay brave, friends.
My very earliest entries in this blog were not always up-to-the-minute stories and analyses. Sometimes I just posted things that I thought were cool. Given that by the time I post my next entry, the Shit Demon from Dogma will become the leader of the free world &c, I’m going to go halfsies on this one. If you want to skip right to the good-still-exists-in-the-world stuff, I don’t blame you in the slightest. First:
- There’s little I love less than autoplaying news video online, but I have to urge you to watch this clip from Rachel Maddow on the ever-widening gyre of Russian state meddling in the 2016 election, particularly regarding the internal workings of the FBI.
- Delightfully foul-mouthed author Chuck Wendig hosts a guest post on his blog by writer Sarah Gailey, on the eugenics of the ACA repeal, and how deeply rooted the social Darwinism of that act is rooted in American history. Update: Disabled activists Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Heather Ace Ratcliff joined the post in an interview about how eugenicist history and policy has targeted disability from the very beginning.
- Jack Shafer of Politico has not quite written the “Think of how good adversity will be for the arts!” post of journalism, but he comes close. Meanwhile, Masha Gessen urges us to learn from Russian reporters about what’s to come.
- You want to feel really nauseated? “‘You Focus on the Good’: Women Who Voted for Trump, in Their Own Words” literally mirrors the language of abuse and the abused.
- From Damon Young, for the Root: “America Didn’t Deserve Michelle Obama.” Damn right.
Okay, but now:
- A real thing in the world: collectible Hieronymus Bosch figurines.
- This Azerbaijani woman wrote out the entire Quran on black silk in gold and silver ink. Gorgeous doesn’t even begin to describe this.
- Are you listening to Song Exploder? You really should. This week, host Hrishikesh Hirway (also of local favorite The West Wing Weekly) gets Solange Knowles to break down “Cranes in the Sky.” It’s so fortifying to hear an artist talk about depression, mental health, her creative process and what makes her laugh; it’s also good for me to realize that the title of this song actually has nothing to do with birds.
- Another podcast rec, from Slate: “How the Onion Remade Joe Biden.”
- A very real story that will make your heart sing: in Polish (so hit “translate” on your browser, what a future we live in!), a gigantic, authentic Nazi-eating fish.
Stay brave, friends.