I’m a magazine gal at heart — daily news is not my preferred speed, addicted as I am to news Twitter. Almost as if proving my point, the links I had been saving since last week have become, well, not irrelevant but deep backstory by now, particularly in the thread starting from Michael Flynn discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador pre-inauguration, turmoil within the national security community and the so-called “spy revolt” that’s leading the intelligence community not to brief Donald Trump on certain issues because of their certainty he’s been compromised (which he does easily enough on his own anyway). That turned into the explosive revelation that former acting AG Sally Yates warned the administration that Flynn was vulnerable to Russian exploitation, and then seven hours after Kellyanne Conway said Flynn had the full confidence of the president, Flynn resigned.
That was yesterday. And today?
Oy. So that all happened. I’m going to share some more evergreen stories today, because honestly, if you want to keep up with current events, Twitter will have already moved on by the time you read it here.
- The GOP is right on one thing — it is Valentine’s Day! Please read Laurie Penny’s “Maybe You Should Just Be Single” (“Happy Marxist Valentine’s Day!” she tweets), an actually quite good essay about women who drain themselves trying to find and please “lacklustre, unappreciative, boring child-men who were only ever looking for a magic girl to show off to their friends, a girl who would in private be both surrogate mother and sex partner.” Look, we know she’s not wrong. And to characterize this piece as one more bitter harpy with sharp words about the patriarchy does a profound disservice to Penny and you the reader.
- You also need to read the Huffington Post Highline’s “Revenge of the Lunch Lady” by Jane Black. Several years ago, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver brought his reality show to the Charleston, West Virginia, school system to overhaul their appalling school food program. Meet the woman who succeeded where he totally failed.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education shares a speech from English professor Kevin Birmingham which lays out the immorality of how adjuncts are treated, consumed and paid by universities. “The Great Shame of Our Profession” is essential reading; follow up with Longreads’ “A Shot in the Arm,” which also appeared this week, about a tenure-track professor forced by debt to donate plasma twice a week.
- You can always rely on Aeon for interesting and well-written topical essays. Jay Griffiths argues that we’re looking to the wrong fascists in finding precedent for the alt-right. It’s Italy we need to study, not Germany. Meanwhile, as we try to diagnose the national ills that ail us, psychologists and psychiatrists are debating fiercely among themselves on the ethics of speculating on Trump’s mental health.
- Want a feel-good story? I promise it doesn’t get much better than the Guardian’s “I accidentally bought a giant pig” (whose name, it turns out, is also Esther!). If you really want to just laugh at stupid things until you start wheezing at your desk, for whatever reason, “15 Hilarious Kitchen Fails That’ll Make Even the Worst Cook Feel Better” honestly made my day so much lighter.
It’s almost paczki season, friends. Stay brave.
Image Credit: Thomas Leuthard, 2011 (Flickr)
Hey, we’ve done it! (She said, incautiously, with 36-ish hours to go.) 2016 is still sucker-punching us with all it’s got, right down to the wire, of course. I’m not even a huge Star Wars fan, but the outpouring of raw, ragged grief at losing Carrie Fisher has really overwhelmed me. That her mother, Debbie Reynolds, would die a day later is just… well. If you’re going to read one Carrie Fisher thinkpiece, make it Anne Theriault’s “General Leia Organa Is the Hero We Need Right Now.” This started as a widely shared Twitter thread, and I’m glad to see it in a more permanent, shareable format.
(The full-sized original of that is by Julian Callos, by the way. I wish there was a print available, but it seems to have been a charity painting, so there’s just the one.)
So, how are we going to round out this flaming shitstorm of a year? Mad as hell, for the most part.
- Madeleine Davies, writing for Jezebel, speaks for so many of us, I think, in “Becoming Ugly,” an essay about the fury of the constant humiliation of baked-in cultural misogyny. It starts off with young Davies dick-punching an asshole teenage boy, and the injustice that followed. I don’t know any woman who doesn’t identify, somehow.
- One of the Rockettes spoke to Marie Claire about the command performance at Donald Trump’s inauguration. Meanwhile, a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has resigned rather than sing for that event; more than 20,000 Mormons have signed a Change.org petition to get the group out of their commitment.
- Just what the transition needed: Israel/Palestine bristling up again. Michael Koplow, policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, has an even-handed explanation of what the UN resolution condemning settlements will actually do to the peace process.
- You’re not going to get a much better polemic against this year than Chris Kluwe’s “Fuck You, Donald Trump.” It lays the blame where it belongs: everywhere. On the “a plague on all your journalistic houses” note, pair with Dan Gillmor’s “Fix the Demand Side of News Too,” a call for media literacy, now more than ever.
- And yet, at the bottom of Pandora’s box, there was hope. WYNC podcast Note to Self re-aired its episode on FOMO versus “the joy of missing out” — an actually excellent conversation about presence, mindfulness and overload, particularly in that everything we complain about in being overwhelmed and oversaturated with media is exactly what suits the business model of the companies that fuel it. Also listen to their interview with performance artist Marina Abramovic, who has turned the focus of her art from her own body to her audience. I hope these both help.
Stay brave, friends. We can do this.
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.
A few years ago, when it seemed like my mother’s second surgery and chemo regimen had given her a clean bill of health, I bought myself a ukulele. I had never played a string instrument before, being strictly a piano/oboe/bassoon girl growing up (yeah, I know), but my reasoning was that a ukulele can make literally anything sound happy, including Hamlet meditating on suicide and murder. I can’t pretend that in the time since, I’ve become some sort of Jake Shimabukuro, but music is an act which adds something to the world, and as draining as the past year and a half has been and as horrible as it seems like it’s going to get, I’ll take any nourishing thing I can get.
All of this is to say that while I’m still a little shaky on the folky version of “The Star-Spangled Man With a Plan,” this week I managed the Nouvelle Vague cover of “The Killing Moon,” and that made me forget all this nonsense — that is, the Cold War-throwback news that Russia may have swung the election for Trump — for at least 20 minutes.
- So, any time Anne Helen Petersen writes about celebrity, you ought to sit up and listen. “The Key to Trump Is Reading Him Like a Celebrity” is excellent, excellent work for BuzzFeed. Also unmissable on that site, from author Jesmyn Ward: “This Was the Year America Finally Saw the South.” Absolutely not the “pity the white working class” piece you might think it is; much more essential. (Though of that genre, though not really, Susan Faludi’s “Trumped and Abandoned” for the Baffler knocks it out of the park.)
- As if they weren’t already, language and rhetoric are going to be more important than ever going forward. Read the libertarian Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh on patriotic correctness, the right’s stifling counterpart to that favorite bogeyman, political correctness. See also, from Tina Dupuy, “So We Elected an Autocrat: What to Do Now.” (One hint: Don’t adopt language like “MSM” or “mainstream media.” Do you flinch every time you see liberals use “flip-flop” as a verb? I do.) See also: the Teen Vogue broadside against Trump’s gaslighting that everyone is rightly talking about.
- There’s magical thinking (the Electoral College and then the Republican-dominated House of Representatives are going to save us) and then there’s “Trump and the GOP won’t get rid of Obamacare; it’s working too well for us.” Heartbreaking.
- What, you thought I wouldn’t post any Jewish stuff? Come on, on a scale of 1 to unmissable, “My Name Is Loolwa Khazzoom and I Won’t Change That to Come Off Less Middle Eastern” is off the charts. Given last week’s “are Jews white?” hubbub, if you have time, read Richard Jeffrey Newman’s “The Lines That Antisemitism and Racism Draw: Reflections on White Jewish Intersectionality” (multipage; one page). It was originally commissioned for a series of essays on #BlackArtMatters; you might think the two are unrelated, but read the piece. It will open up some things for you.
- I started this on ukuleles and things that are joyful, didn’t I? Let’s end on some uplifting notes. For instance, someone found an entire feathered dinosaur tail inside a chunk of amber, and the photos are just staggering. See also:
(How are you real?!!)
Stay brave, friends.
This is still about where I am: angry, cynical, unable to square the idea that Trump was either an actively good choice or not a dealbreaker for millions of Americans. I’m told that cultural issues are just a big distraction from “the real story,” the economic devastation that “we all ignored” in “the real America.” I’m still not sure why the Twitterati can’t seem to hold it in their heads that we can be usefully angry about many, many issues all at once. There’s no zero-sum game here if enough people get involved.
- If you only read one of these links today, make it this one: Laurie Penny’s “Against Bargaining.” Penny is one of those cultural critics who profoundly irritates me about 85% of the time; however, when she’s right, she’s right on the ball, and this piece illustrates with lightning clarity how so many of us, journalists and voters and everyone with a stake in the Clinton candidacy, are stuck in the bargaining phase of grief — a phase that looks remarkably like the self-protections victims of abuse build.
- I do wish the New York Times had done this work before the election, but its six-byline piece on Trump’s worldwide conflicts of interest is amazing to see even now. It never occurred to me that this also means he has worldwide vulnerabilities to terror. This is going to be fun.
- Ian Millheiser, the justice editor at ThinkProgress, has posted the only useful journalistic mea culpa of the many that I’ve seen. Still compare with The New York Review of Books, “What James Comey Did.”
- This week, we had a bit of a moment of journalism-in-pop culture pieces, with quite a kerfluffle about what a bad journalist Gilmore Girls’ Rory Gilmore is. Jen Chaney at Vulture argues for better depictions of good journalism in the fiction we enjoy; Jess Plummer at BookRiot points to an already teeming source of inspiration and representation — comics.
- Thanksgiving is over (as is the regrettable spate of “ugh, how am I going to deal with politics at the dinner table this year?” thinkpieces), but noted nerdy advice columnist Captain Awkward has something the others don’t: a plan for going forward and connecting with people who don’t agree with you. Valerie Aurora of the Ally Skills Workshop provides a guest post with scripts for in-person conversations about bridging the aisle. An important point: You’re not trying to change the obnoxious live troll, you’re trying to reach the quieter, uncertain person who can still be reached.
Good luck out there, friends. Let me leave you with a picture of my dog being cute:
While you weren’t looking, Scientific American posted one of the most damning, a-plague-on-everybody’s-house political broadsides I’ve maybe ever seen. Right, left, objective, biased, it doesn’t matter: Everyone gets the unfunny version of “being read for filth.” You need to read “A Plan to Defend Against the War on Science” for so many reasons, but the root of it is this: When science becomes subject to politics and not observable facts, whether that’s denying climate change or misunderstanding GMO foods or even choosing what observable facts even are, that opens the door to a situation like, well, Donald Trump, where baldly lying to gain absolute power becomes the new normal.
A family friend mailed this out this morning, and I’m so glad, honestly — because even This American Life is getting anxious about the state of truth and lies in this country. Major points off for uncritically using the term “illegal immigrants” over and over, Ira Glass, but on the other hand, this episode also gives us Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. singing in character as President Obama, courtesy of composer and singer Sara Bareilles, and… it’s actually really, really good.
- The economics of the news industry have undoubtably contributed to the rise of partisan facts. Part of that is the sterility of media ownership: It’s limited and homogenous and desperately underfunded, in most cases. To demonstrate the extent of the problem, the University of North Carolina has issued an important report on the rise of new media barons, as well as an interactive website to help answer an all-important question: Who owns your hometown paper?
- There’s a whole genre of “trying to understand the other side” pieces, of “how could nice people vote for X candidate?” essays. Amy Kurzweil, who has just published her first graphic memoir, about her Holocaust-survivor grandmother and how that experience plays out through three generations, has added a wonderful addition to the mix. Imagine said Holocaust-surviving grandmother announcing that she liked Donald Trump.
- Speaking of Donald Trump, opinion pieces and brilliant women, read Alexandra Petri’s “Nasty Women Have Much Work to Do.” Hilarious, powerful and beautiful don’t begin to describe it.
- Ah, parenting. Ah, helicopter parenting? Ah, Silicon Valley dads who think the best solution to kids being too controlled by their parents to take risks is… something called a Playborhood. There’s a lot that’s interesting about this article, because it’s true: How are you going to break free of over-scheduled kid syndrome if your kid is the only one breaking free? But also… this seems like the perfect example of a Silicon Valley dude thinking that “disruption” is the best and only solution to just about anything he doesn’t like.
- I haven’t been able to shake “We Have Tried Every Kind of Death Possible.” Raed Saleh used to buy and sell electronics in a small town in Syria. Now he’s the head of the White Helmets, volunteers who rush to extract survivors from bombed buildings. Every platitude about how heart-wrenching his account of this life is falls flat in the face of the fact of it.
Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Debbie Mccallum
I love Pocket — I really do. Being able to save longer stories for later, especially in the stripped-down, no-ads version that lets you best concentrate on the ideas and images, is great. But I have outdone myself in much the same way I have outdone myself rediscovering how much I love the public library system: I just have too many things I want to read or share right now. This week has been a good week for big stories! That book review about Hitler that’s a deadpan subtweet of Donald Trump; that gorgeous Michael Chabon piece about his high fashion–loving son, with that perfect, perfect ending; that profile of Maryland state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby, which a friend was raving about on Facebook, so I saved it.
I’m a bit overwhelmed. So we’ll get to those after the weekend. For now, glad as I am for an embarrassment of riches, here are some other good, important stories that have popped up over the last week.
- I already linked NPR’s live transcript and fact-check of the first presidential debate on Monday, but it’s an invaluable resource. Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker has surely written the most straightforward, punch-to-the-heart commentary about what that proved, in an ongoing way, about Donald Trump and his fundamental badness.
- Although the Chicago Tribune endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for president today (a poor choice even aside from his stance on the issues), the paper can still publish good opinion pieces when presented with the opportunity. I suspect I’m a little bit older than Charles Johnson, but I recognize what he describes in “What millennials know: We can’t return to Rockwell’s America.”
- My parents never let me play video games, although I did have a computer I spent endless hours on, out of the fresh air and sunlight, writing epics about the American teenaged girl whom all four Beatles fall in love with. However, the BioShock games have always intrigued me, not least for their amazing visual language and use of mid-century popular music. David Sims, writing for the Atlantic, talks about how BioShock “mocked video game morality.” Pair this with Imaginary Worlds’ episode earlier this year on Undertale, which takes a totally different approach.
- My love of baseball pretty much starts and stops with A League of Their Own, but I can’t help but be heartsick at the news of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death this week in a boating accident. Ryan Cortes, writing for the Undefeated, puts who and what we’ve lost into context.
- There’s a journalism school at the state university in my hometown, so I’ve seen a lot of poverty porn, especially from photojournalism students, about Athens, Ohio. Little did I expect this week to hear WNYC travel to the poorest county in Ohio to see what all the media attention has done for Appalachians most in need. (Spoiler alert, straight from the mouth of the dad of childhood friends: not much.) This is an ongoing series, so I’m excited to see what the On the Media crew will tell us about the rest of the state — even if Ohio is no longer the bellwether it’s cracked up to be.