List of all columns

Archives of The Sunday Post

The Sunday Post for December 10, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Libya's Slave Trade Didn't Appear Out of Thin Air

You should read this piece by friend-of-SRoB Rahawa Haile multiple times (as I just have), and you should also trace each link, each video, and each photo in Haile’s footsteps, looking with careful attention to see what she saw. Haile effectively documents the connection between Libya’s slave trade, immigration policies worldwide, and racism. Throughout she drags the reader’s focus back to small moments in her research where she connected with another human’s suffering. It’s deeply unsettling: we’re familiar with how journalists write about terrible things, and we know how to take it — how to digest their words safely. Haile doesn’t write to keep herself safe, or us.

In 2016, several articles spring up about slave auctions in Libya. A year later, video of an auction goes viral. Black men sold for $400. The president of the U.S. calls those who reported the story purveyors of "fake news"; a Libyan broadcaster latches onto those words to discredit the video. African leaders, European heads of state, and the United Nations feign ignorance, but they have known. And we, of the African diaspora, have done our best to tell these stories. What those in power can't name is the way the world has become too much at all times for them.
On Being Queer and Happily Single — Except When I'm Not

Brandon Taylor writes reflectively and eloquently about desire, especially navigating a kind of longing that looks quite different from what anyone else expects.

Sometimes, I say that I want to be with someone who I only have to see three or four times a week, and only to cook meals and go book shopping. I say that I want some flannel-wearing bearded man to descend from a rainy mountain in Washington State or Vermont, who smells like crushed ice and the sharp scent of pine sap, who will read Proust to me in French and drink from enamel mugs beside a firepit with me. That’s what I want. And what my friends say to me is that I want a best friend who dresses like Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and I say, yes, probably. But the look in their eyes is rueful pity, that this is not enough.
The Consent of the Ungoverned

As accusations and resignations and firings related to sexual assault, sexual harrassment, and just plain jackass behavior continue to roll out, it's hard to pick a single essay to promote. Right now the internet is doing something the internet does really, really well (yes, those things exist): a multitude of smart, experienced, excellent thinkers and writers are analyzing, arguing, negotiating with themselves and with each other — prodding the rest of us to think harder and not be complacent in our own righteousness and sense of outrage.

This week, Ijeoma Oluo is brilliant and angry and honest, as always, in her response to her hero Al Franken's resignation. The New York Times's breakdown of how Harvey Weinstein used his power and influence to silence women he had irrevocably wronged and the men who might have spoken up for them is chilling. Lucinda Franks, also in the NYT, talks with honesty and weight about revising her perception of her past — it's the other side of the male complaint that "things were different then," a side that hasn't been fully addressed. Jess Zimmerman responds to Claire Dederer's piece on "the Art of Monstrous Men" with one of her own about how gatekeepers not only determine what's good art, but what good art is. Josephine Livingstone argued with Allison Benedikt about what women will have to give up — what cherished fantasies and self-conceptions — if we continue, as we should, to walk through the door that Weinstein's accusers opened for us all.

So it's really a matter of personal taste that Laurie Penny gets top billing this week — Laurie Penny, our resident master of articulating inarticulate-able rage.

We know the world doesn’t work the way most of us want it to. We watch a bunch of badly-fitted suits stuffed with self-satisfied swagger frogmarch our nations down the road to economic calamity and climate destruction, and we try to tell ourselves that we chose this, that we have some sort of control, that there is a thing called democracy that is working more or less as it was designed to. We want to believe that some of this is our fault, because if it isn’t, then maybe we can’t do anything to stop it. This is more or less the experience of being a citizen of a notionally liberal, notionally democratic country these days. It is depressing and scary. And if we ever actually speak about it honestly we can count on being dismissed as crazy or bullied into silence, so it’s easier to swallow our rage, to bear up and make the best of things and try not to start drinking before noon every day. Being as furious as we want feels like it might be fatal, so we try not to be too angry. Or we direct our anger elsewhere. Or we turn it inwards. Or we check out altogether.

Sound familiar? That’s about how most women experience sexuality.

My Twentieth Century Evening — and Other Small Breakthroughs

It’s perfectly fair to wish the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature had gone to a writer who was nothing like Kazuo Ishiguro: a writer less expected, less established, in particular less powerful and privileged. Big prizes have muscle — muscle that could be used to shake the equilibrium of the literary mainstream, to break the vacuum seal and pull different voices into the conversation with a great whoosh of fresh air.

However, for readers who love Ishiguro and his quiet, terrifying sentences, who love Ishiguro and his quietly terrifying books — especially the ones that aren’t suited to a Merchant Ivory film — pfft on reasonable thinking: your man won. Here’s his Nobel Lecture, interesting for its insight into his process (cameo by Tom Waits!), his history, his hopes. I only wish Ishiguro had been, in addressing the imperatives for writers and readers right now, as quietly terrifying as our current political moment deserves.

So here I am, a man in my sixties, rubbing my eyes and trying to discern the outlines, out there in the mist, to this world I didn't suspect even existed until yesterday. Can I, a tired author, from an intellectually tired generation, now find the energy to look at this unfamiliar place? Do I have something left that might help to provide perspective, to bring emotional layers to the arguments, fights and wars that will come as societies struggle to adjust?
Hummingbirds Are Where Intuition Goes to Die

And now! Hummingbirds! Birds’ tongues are straight-up weird. If you pull on a flicker’s tongue, for example, the feathers on the top of their heads stand up. TRUE. (This is both difficult and rude — to the flicker — to test out in daily life, so please don’t.) Here’s another one: We thought we knew how hummingbird tongues work; turns out we were completely wrong. Also their flight style is insane, they can bend their beaks, and there’s absolutely no reason they should be able to thrive in the environments they prefer. Also science. This article by Ed Yong is pure joy.

Rico-Guevara handcrafted artificial flowers with flat glass sides, so he could film the birds’ flickering tongues with high-speed cameras. It took months to build the fake blooms, to perfect the lighting, and to train the birds to visit these strange objects. But eventually, he got what he wanted: perfectly focused footage of a hummingbird tongue, dipping into nectar. At 1,200 frames per second, “you can’t see what’s happening until you check frame by frame,” he says. But at that moment, “I knew that on my movie card was the answer. It was this amazing feeling. I had something that could potentially change what we knew, between my fingers.”

The Sunday Post for December 3, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Trapped: The Grenfell Tower Story

Tom Lamont’s account of the Grenfell Tower fire is riveting and wrenching. It’s not a political examination, but a human one, a set of interlocking stories by residents and firefighters who lived through the night. A piece like this always risks catering to looky-loos. But I think it’s worthwhile, for obvious reasons right now, to invest our attention in the implications of political decisions (regulatory, economic, and otherwise) — implications from which the politicians calling the shots are mostly exempt.

Fire from the fourth floor had reached an outside wall of the tower and then caught — unthinkably — the sheer sides of the exterior. Fat amber flames licked up Grenfell's northeastern elevation so quickly, so determinedly, that for a time firefighters stationed indoors and outdoors would have been responding to wildly different degrees of crisis. What would have seemed inside to be a manageable appliance fire was catastrophizing, outside, into the gravest threat to residential Londoners in 75 years: since the city's bombing at war. One of the first police officers to arrive at the scene would later say that "the building was melting." At least 320 people were inside. Most, like Oluwaseun Talabi, were asleep.
Ana Mardoll on Prairie Fires

With many apologies to those for whom Little House on the Prairie is a beloved childhood touchpoint, here’s Ana Mardoll’s brilliant, hilarious live-read of Prairie Fires, the new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, take them off now so you don’t get shards in your eyes — this woman has evidence-based smacktalk down to an art.

To no surprise whatsoever, Almanzo is now breaking homesteading rules and scamming the government. Again, I don't disapprove exactly, but I remind you this is supposed to be people who succeeded through honest hard labor.

Almanzo is being a dick to Eliza Jane but I am 100% on her side, fight me. She's going to claim her own homestead at 29 because fuck marriage and men, and that's frankly way more sympathetic than Manzo and Royal. I mean, they're all trash fires stealing land from indigenous people, but at least she hates men and I respect that.

Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem

The only thing better than Cormac McCarthy offering up an apostrophe-less analysis of one of the knottiest problems in linguistics is McCarthy responding to readers’ comments and questions on the selfsame piece.

I havent read the William Burroughs book that several people mentioned in which apparently language is compared to a virus. The only Burroughs book I’ve read is Naked Lunch. One reader seemed to know that that is just what I would say. Bloody McCarthy lies about everything. Naked Lunch was supposedly so named by Jack Kerouac. When Burroughs wanted to know what it meant, Kerouac said that it was that frozen moment when everybody sees what’s on the end of the fork. Or so the story.
Mea Culpa. Kinda Sorta.

Remember how your mom taught you to apologize — straight up “I’m sorry,” not “I’m sorry you felt bad,” not “I’m sorry and here’s why it’s your fault”? Apparently not everyone got that memo from mom, even with professional PR agencies to help them. Jessica Bennett, Claire Cain Miller, Amanda Taub, and Choire Sicha of the New York Times analyze shitty responses from shitty men, media and otherwise, to accusations of harassment and assault.

These sound like the ramblings of your crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner.

The Sunday Post for November 26, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?

This is the must-read of the week, and not just because it’s Claire Dederer, which means it’s sharp and funny and expresses anger and feelings in the most satisfyingly vulnerable-but-also-take-no-prisoners way possible. I mean, that’s a perfectly good reason to read it. We could stop there.

But also read it because it turns out that our creator-heroes don’t just have feet of clay, they have been absolutely wading through shit, and it’s spattered all of us. Now we have to deal with what that means for everything important and beautiful they made — all the important and beautiful things that became part of us — and the making of important and beautiful things at all.

The thing is, I'm not saying I'm right or wrong. But I'm the audience. And I'm just acknowledging the realities of the situation: the film Manhattan is disrupted by our knowledge of Soon-Yi; but it’s also kinda gross in its own right; and it's also got a lot of things about it that are pretty great. All these things can be true at once. Simply being told by men that Allen's history shouldn’t matter doesn’t achieve the objective of making it not matter.

What do I do about the monster? Do I have a responsibility either way? To turn away, or to overcome my biographical distaste and watch, or read, or listen?

And why does the monster make us — make me — so mad in the first place?

Wednesday Addams Is Just Another Settler

Thanksgiving — especially in the American West, a scant year after the police attack on protesters at Standing Rock (and a scant week after the largest spill yet from the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota) — represents some of our nation’s very worst moments, all knotted up with family and tradition and community in a way we just can’t seem to tease apart. Elissa Washuta writes brilliantly about reclaiming a sense of belonging from the sticky tangle of America’s most problematic feast day.

It's been a decade since I spent a Thanksgiving with my parents. After I moved to the West Coast, the holiday wasn't important enough to me to justify the expense of a cross-country flight. For the last ten years, I've spent Thanksgiving with friends or relatives or alone. I've never liked Thanksgiving and for a while, I couldn't figure out why: I like and love my family and I like to eat. I decided it was the football, or the years of packing my body with stuffing while suffering from undiagnosed celiac disease, or the anxiety, later, of trying to avoid both gluten and the anxious shame of making others think about it. Really, though, I'm uncomfortable committing to a six-hour stretch spent with other people (even those I'm fond of), no activity planned but eating, no hiding place for me to retreat to, and no way to silence the mean critic in my head who begins analyzing my words at the two-hour mark. I dread any event that fits this description. Thanksgiving is only different because my Nativeness has let me get away with hating it.
'I Have No Idea How to Tell This Horror Story'

You’ll find this correspondence between reporter John Branch and Walter Peat, father of an NHL “enforcer” with concussion-related health and behavioral issues, nestled between headlines celebrating the sport on the hockey page on the New York Times website. It’s a short read, but a unique perspective on how badly big-money sports organizations are failing their players — a raw appeal for help that had not, at the time of publication, yet appeared.

I am at a loss of what to do, and who to turn to for help. Many night, I lose countless hours of sleep, thinking of what will happen, and am I doing the right thing. There are so many people who prefer to put a paper bag over their head and ignore the fact that Stephen or so many players suffer from these injuries. But, the injuries just don’t stop there, as the emotional, financial, and in some cases, physical injuries suffered by family members. I am living the nightmare of the movie "Concussion."
How to Get Rich Playing Video Games Online

Remember when the Seattle Police Department’s public affairs office tried using the streaming video game platform Twitch as a way to connect with the public about sensitive issues like the Charleena Lyles shooting? Here’s an insanely fascinating article by Taylor Clark about the people who make a living as Twitch personalities, sometimes playing 60 hours or more straight to build and keep an audience. That this exists at all feels crazy, much less that it’s getting professionalized in exactly the same way as any other digital marketing medium.

Perhaps the best embodiment of the effort to master Twitch is Ben Cassell, O.P.G.'s first client, who broadcasts, as CohhCarnage, from his farmhouse in North Carolina. After nearly quitting Twitch in 2013, when sixteen-hour streams weren't winning him an audience, Cassell instead dedicated himself to research. "This medium is brand new," he explained. "There's nowhere to go to see how to succeed on Twitch." So he built data-tracking software, and studied scheduling, game selection, and the market's niches: hard-core professional gamers, lighthearted jesters, "boobie streamers," histrionic yellers, baseball-cap-wearing frat bros. Based on his findings, Cassell reinvented his channel as upbeat and safe-for-work; to followers, he told me, "my channel is "Cheers.' " Every day — and he has logged more than fourteen hundred in a row, including the one on which his first child was born — he begins his stream at 8 a.m., right before Twitch's audience crests.

The Sunday Post for November 19, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner published an open letter this week about the paper’s history and commitment to holding power’s feet to the fire. It’s a stirring account of the tough choices a newspaper makes — the risks that journalists face, to their livelihoods and persons, when they oppose the dominant political and social thinking. Under the implied heading now more than ever, Viner says, “We believe in the value of the public sphere; that there is such a thing as the public interest, and the common good; that we are all of equal worth; that the world should be free and fair.”

Here are two picks that show a gritty and determined commitment to the same ideals from regional papers here in the United States. Unquestionably there are many more each week that don’t make it past their local circuit but are heard by those who need to hear them. So don't be jaded, by the echo chamber or the flood of "content" crawling across the internet. In a time (now more than ever) when journalism is at the bleeding edge of financial survival, these writers continue to put their livelihoods on the line.

Walking While Black

Topher Sanders and Kate Rabinowitz at ProPublica teamed up with Benjamin Conarck of the Florida Times-Union on this story about racial inequities in ticketing for pedestrian violations in Jacksonville, Florida. Fines are small, but being handcuffed (a 13-year-old girl) or on the wrong end of a Taser for jaywalking is not, to say the least. It’s impossible not to feel furious or nauseated or both while reading this piece, especially these on-the-record comments by the local law enforcement.

In interviews, the sheriff’s department’s second-in-command, Patrick Ivey, said any racial discrepancies could only be explained by the fact that blacks were simply violating the statutes more often than others in Jacksonville.

“Were the citations given in error?” Ivey asked. “I have nothing to suggest that. Were they given unjustified? I have nothing to suggest that.”

In response to the ProPublica/Times-Union findings, Sheriff Mike Williams said, “Let me tell you this: There is not an active effort to be in black neighborhoods writing pedestrian tickets.”

Ivey said stopping people for pedestrian violations as a means for establishing probable cause to search them was also fully justified. “Shame on him that gives me a legal reason to stop him,” Ivey said.

'One of the most secretive, dark states': What is Kansas trying to hide?

At the Kansas City Star, Laura Bauer, Judy Thomas, and Max Londberg sweep aside the veil that’s dropped between Kansas State government and Kansas State residents: a child welfare system that’s geared to protect itself over the children under its trust; police operating without public accountability; the authors of key legislation (abortion, gun violence) protected by anonymity. Any one of these threads could have been a great investigative piece; woven together, an insane picture emerges: government by those in power, for those in power. Finally, something both political parties can agree on.

Both Democrats and Republicans have run opaque administrations, said Burdett Loomis, who worked for former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

“Once you’ve got that lack of transparency, unless there’s something that rocks the boat, the people who benefit from it are perfectly happy to let it be,” said Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas. “Corporations, lobbyists, lawmakers, a lot of these people have no reason to change anything very much.”

The culture that stifles transparency has become ingrained, said Benet Magnuson, executive director of Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit justice center serving vulnerable and excluded Kansans.

“There’s something about once that culture sets in,” Magnuson said. “It’s really difficult to move out of.”

I Was Already Leaving Florida When I Arrived

Changing tone, but staying on location: In a personal essay that’s both lyrical and muscular (characteristically, and appropriately for a swimmer), Lidia Yuknavitch talks about catching and gutting fish, and how to finally throw the hook of your childhood.

I think it might be true that arriving in Florida was a leaving. I was already leaving the moment I got there; I hated it passionately. Those scant years, between high school and college, everything in me was about leaving. I left my father’s house forever. I left my alcoholic mother. I left the boy I loved. I left the girl I was, the girl who did not know a god damn thing, in our garage next to my father’s Camaro. I left ever being abused again — except that isn’t true, is it — I found other fists later in life, I found other ways to punish myself when no one else was around to do it. And, the truth is, I left a bloodline near a sinkhole near my house in Florida.
The Afterlife of a Memoir

After 26 years of silence, Aminatta Forna published the story of her father’s hanging at the hands of the government of Sierra Leone. Beyond the usual intimate disclosures that memoir requires, she dealt with life-and-death questions of security: her own, her family’s, and that of the man whose purchased testimony led to her father’s death. A dramatic story and also a thoughtful piece about what conversations the author of a memoir starts with her or his readers, intentionally or not.

The writer of a memoir must necessarily reveal a great deal about herself or himself, and often about other people, too. You sacrifice your own privacy, and you sacrifice the privacy of others to whom you may have given no choice. They may enjoy the attention or be enraged by it. “People either claim it or they sue you,” the head of press at my publisher told me in the weeks before my memoir was published. I knew who might sue or come after me — members of the regime that had killed my father.
The Myth of the Male Bumbler

Lili Loofbourow betrays men’s best-kept secret: they are actually well able to recognize right and wrong. So how did we come to think otherwise?

Allow me to make a controversial proposition: Men are every bit as sneaky and calculating and venomous as women are widely suspected to be. And the bumbler — the very figure that shelters them from this ugly truth — is the best and hardest proof.

The Sunday Post for November 12, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

The Unforgiving Minute

Laurie Penny delivers a not-that-gentle-but-still-sorta-loving ass-kicking to men who are worried that the so very long overdue public outrage over sexual assault by men in positions of power feels awkward and uncomfortable.

We are not done describing all the ways this shit isn’t okay and hasn’t been okay for longer than you can believe. We want you to make space for our pain and anger before you start telling us how you’ve suffered, too, no, really you have. We are angry, and we are disappointed.

Because you made everything precious in our lives conditional on not making a fuss.

Because you behaved as if your right never to have to deal with anyone else’s emotions or learn the shape of your own was more important than our very humanity.

Because you made us carry the weight of all the hurt that had ever been done to you, and then you praised us for being so strong.

Because we tried for so long to believe the best of you, because it felt like we had no other option.

I promise you will survive our rage. We have lived in fear of yours for so long.

When You Can’t Throw All Men Into The Ocean And Start Over, What CAN You Do?

Ijeoma Uluo delivers a not-that-gentle-but-still-loving ass-kicking to pretty much everybody in this “broken, abusive, patriarchal (and white supremacist, ableist, hetero-cisnormative) trash” society. But in a hopeful way. No, really.

I have not yet figured out how to drive all men into the sea. I’ve considered maybe taking a boat to the middle of the ocean to start shouting about the wage gap to see how many men would try to swim over to tell me that it doesn’t exist. But I’m very fond of a few men (including the two I gave birth to  —  nepotism, I know) and I also get really seasick on boats.

So if we can’t drive all men into the ocean and start over, do we just throw up our hands? Do we just excuse this rampant abuse as “locker-room talk” and “locker-room groping” and “locker-room rape” and “locker-room forced witnessing of masturbation”? Do we continue to insist that we do not have a toxic masculinity problem and these are just isolated cases of sick individuals who are abusing women and let everyone else off the hook?

The Liberal Landgrab

Bookslut founder and red state resident Jessa Crispin has a few sharp words for blue-staters who think moving to her town is an act of political heroism.

Problems are never solved by invasion. Storming into a place because you think you know more than its inhabitants about how things should be is ignorant and dangerous. If you want to make a difference in the way this country is run, maybe start with where you are. Start by seeing that the income inequality of New York City is as bad a cultural issue as the perceived homophobia and misguided voting patterns of the Midwest, and you’ll start to see how you have just as much opportunity to effect change where you are.
Cowboy or Terrorist? Harney County and the Trump Presidency

In a sweeping and thoughtful essay, Nora Brooks examines how the myth of the American cowboy has been used by con men from terrorists to Trump to suppress exactly the values it’s supposed to represent: independence, self-sufficiency, and the equally misused ideal of Real American Freedom.

One day on the campaign trail, Trump pulled into Las Vegas. A group of Black Lives Matter protesters showed up at his rally to register their disapproval. One was dragged from the ballroom across the floor by a knot of security guards. Trump supporters called out encouragement: their ideas including kicking him, shooting him, and lighting “the motherfuker on fire.” Some yelled out “Seig heil.” Trump’s response was that “maybe the protestor should be roughed up.”

The next time Trump was in Vegas, he lamented the passing of a time when protesters would have been “carried out on a stretcher.”

Trump has convinced his supporters he will give them a frontier America again — the “good old days” as he put it, when anyone was free to run someone out of town simply because they were not us.

Teen Girl Posed for 8 Years as Married Man to Write About Baseball and Harass Women

And, finally: At age 13, the thing Becca Schultz wanted most was to write about baseball. So she did what any aspiring young journalist would do: created a male identity that she maintained online for 8 years, publishing under the name Ryan and eventually forming relationships with women via Twitter in which she harassed, manipulated, and verbally abused them.

Yes, this is clearly a troubled young woman; yes, she did terrible damage and unforgiveable damage to other women. Once you reach the point of threatening suicide to procure nude photos, you’ve gone far past “I’d like more writing gigs.” And still: this is the story of a young girl who believed that she could succeed mostly easily if she pretended to be a man, and who believed that behaving as if she hated women would make that deception convincing. That’s a heartwrenching mirror for us all to look into, as if the last few weeks haven’t provided ugly mirrors enough.

Last weekend, Ryan Schultz made some sort of misogynistic joke on Twitter that elicited a lot of anger and criticism, multiple women told me; Saturday night, the @rschultzy20 Twitter account was deleted. (It has since been restored, and again deactivated.) After this incident, women started talking about having been harassed by Ryan for years, and on Monday night, four writers began searching for the wife to whom he constantly referred to offer support to her and their two supposed children. They feared Ryan’s erratic and harmful behavior might be affecting his family most.

They couldn’t, though, find any evidence that his wife, Blair, even existed. Then they realized that the university Ryan said he was attending while working on his pharmaceutical degree didn’t have a pharmacology school. Finally, after looking at the Facebook pages of Ryan’s family members, they realized that he was not mentioned by any of them and wasn’t in photos with the children he had presented as his, and that another Schultz, Becca, seemed to have an awful lot in common with Ryan.

The Sunday Post for November 5, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

To the Lady Who Mistook Me for the Help at the National Book Awards

Poet Patrick Rosal issues an epistolary rebuke to a woman who took him for a server at a black-tie event, in a series of letters addressed to a subtly shifting cast of one — “Dear lady,” “Dear Miss Lady at Fancy Table 24,” “Dear ___ ” (we both know who you are). Out of the shock of that mistake, Rosal draws a compassionate essay on how style and dignity intersect, and how very little expensive fabric and brand names have to do with either.

Surely, by the way you crane your neck forward and to the side, stepping slightly left into my path just enough to intercept me, I must know you from somewhere else, right? I lift my chin a little to see if I can link a name to your face. And surely you think you know me too, don’t you? I’ve traveled only from the other side of the room to walk toward you and for you to walk toward me. But doesn’t something break just then, when you and I approach? All the festive shimmering in the space. These eyes. This face. I think I’m even smiling now, when you point back at your seat to tell me you need a clean linen to dab the corner of your mouth. You need a knife for the beef cheeks. A refill of your cabernet. Maybe you need me to kneel down and shim one of the table legs to keep it from bobbing.

So this is how you and I have been walking toward each other maybe this entire time.

Bear, Bat, or Tiny King?

There’s a romance to the Rorschach that no other personality test can match — not the Myers-Briggs; not the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, as sexy as it sounds; certainly not the myriad quiz memes that plague social media (House Slitherin, thanks for asking). No: it’s the Rorschach, the psychiatric test that spawned an antihero, that’s the warped and inky mirror of our souls.

Reviewing The Inkblots by Damion Searls, Deborah Friedell takes a tour of the test’s history, from the Swiss psychiatrist who created it “when he was bored during the First World War” to the problems of interpretation (“teenagers … too often came off as insane”) to the test’s use as a way to out gay men, “gauge the character” of foreign people, and provide final proof that women do go crazy on a lunar cycle. Huh. Maybe the test — at least, how we used it — tells us something about ourselves after all.

In horror movies, serial killers successfully feign harmlessness by claiming that all they see in the blots are butterflies, certainly not piles of female corpses. In the great Olivia de Havilland movie Dark Mirror – she plays good and evil twins — the test is all about Jungian archetypes. But for the actual test — this is the sentence that Rorschachians always repeat — ‘what matters isn’t what you see, but how you see.’ A few ‘content’ answers would later come to be thought significant: ‘food responses’ indicate that a person is ‘unusually dependent’ in relationships; a lot of sexual responses point to schizophrenia. But of more importance is whether an answer is judged to have ‘good form’ — ‘whether it could reasonably be said to describe the actual shape of the blot’ — as determined by Rorschach’s own sense of things, and also by responses from other ‘normal subjects’; he doesn’t say how he determined that those subjects were normal.
The First Woman to Translate the 'Odyssey' Into English

Mary Beard has demonstrated — at great risk to her (fortunately thick) electronic skin — that women have quite a bit to say on subjects one might think long-tapped-out by generations of male scholars. Now classicist Emily Wilson is breaking a gender barrier on our side of the pond: she’s turning a woman’s eye to the one of the best-known heroes of the Greek classics.

Of 60 English translations of the epic poem, not one of them is by a woman. Wyatt Mason does an excellent job of outlining exactly why this new translation and the gender of its author matter. I look forward to the academic feather-fluffing that’s sure to follow.

Throughout her translation of the "Odyssey," Wilson has made small but, it turns out, radical changes to the way many key scenes of the epic are presented — "radical" in that, in 400 years of versions of the poem, no translator has made the kinds of alterations Wilson has, changes that go to truing a text that, as she says, has through translation accumulated distortions that affect the way even scholars who read Greek discuss the original. These changes seem, at each turn, to ask us to appreciate the gravity of the events that are unfolding, the human cost of differences of mind.

The Sunday Post for October 29, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

On Being Driven

Kristen Millares Young read this essay at Lit Crawl to a packed room held silent by the story: an ill-met drive on a small island in the Bahamas; a trade of threats; a tangle of considerations involving sex, race, money, and history. Her voice — conversational, warm, relentless — comes through as clearly on the page. A rich and difficult and exceptional piece.

I worried about going to jail on this island, where he would know everyone watching over me inside. Worried even about stepping into the building to make a report. And what would I have said? That we had a dangerous conversation. That he left bruises on my mind.

That I cursed him. That I cursed him, and he believed it. That I cursed his family, threatened to rain down destruction on their black bodies, invoked centuries of white oppression, and he believed me because he lived that truth.

That I would do it again, and again, and again, just as he hoped to do me.

'No Fatties': When Healthcare Hurts

If you’re still not sure (after reading Shrill, after reading Hunger, after reading the plethora of voices that are speaking on this issue) that fat shaming is a moral and social wrong that urgently needs addressing, read this, by Carey Purcell. Purcell dissects how systemic bias in our medical system makes weight discrimination literally life-threatening, from MRI machines designed for the slender, to doctors who misdiagnose and mistreat disease because they can’t look past their prejudice. When we turn to the medical system, we are at our most vulnerable, and most in need of generous and compassionate care. But the medical system is failing some of us and failing badly.

The need for hospital equipment that can accommodate fat people has grown, and imaging devices are now available. This equipment is not available everywhere, however, and sometimes patients are referred to their local zoos. When Wann called the San Francisco Zoo’s medical department to ask about accessing its technology, the person on the phone sighed and said, "I wish people would stop saying that," referring to requests to use the department’s CT and MRI scanners. While vet schools and zoos have larger-capacity devices, they can’t allow human subjects, and scanning humans in machines intended for animal subjects is banned by formal policies in most facilities. "That’s really beyond their certification," explained Wann. They’re not licensed as an institution to practice medicine on people. Their entire institutional certification is being put on the line because our human medical system refuses to accommodate people above a certain size. It draws an arbitrary line and says, ‘Go beyond this line, and they’re monsters.’"
Nazism: what it is, why we fight it, and how

You know how some stories are scarier when told in a calm, dispassionate voice? For Halloween, here’s one by Yonatan Zunger. Zunger reminds us that “Nazi” is more than a slur; that Nazis are not just bad but really, really bad; and that there’s a tipping point after which being a Nazi is normal, a point the US is approaching and may have passed. The good news is he’s a “thumbs up” on punching Nazis — with caveats, and as long as we apply other counter-measures too. There’s also a fun opportunity to consider which segment of the 10–80–10 rule you would like to be in …

Before we talk about what you do about Nazis, there’s a very important thing to remember: The 10–80–10 rule. In pretty much any society, 10% of people (give or take about 5%) are going to be heroes, no matter what: people with strong moral compasses, unwilling to be swayed from that. Another 10% (give or take 5%) are going to be villains, no matter what: they will engage in villainy and violence for the sheer fun of it. But the large majority of the population  —  the 80% in the middle  —  is neither. Instead, they will set their norms of what is acceptable by watching people around them.
‘Tiny House Hunters’ and the shrinking American dream

If you follow Roxane Gay on Twitter, you already know she’s fond of House Hunters, reality TV in which couples search for a new home on the air, armed with budgets as improbable as their expectations. Spinoff Tiny House Hunters takes Gay to a new level of sort-of-affectionate disbelief, as well as to some thoughts the Tiny American Dream.

As the reality of tiny living sets in, the hunters often lament how tiny a tiny home actually is. Or they are in complete denial and exclaim that there is just so much space. In one episode of Tiny House Hunters a man sat in the "bathtub" in the tiny bathroom. He looked ridiculous, his knees practically in his mouth as he contorted himself into the improbable space. He, the realtor, and his friend, who were all viewing the property, were nonplussed, as if the goings on were perfectly normal. And there I was, shouting at the television, "What is wrong with you people?"
This Taco Chain Isn't Really About The Tacos

And now, at last: Mexi-Fries®. I almost can’t write this up without walking a mere block (envy me) to the nearest Taco Time. However, if you thought we were steering away from serious social issues, don’t get your hopes up. David Landsel is writing an elegy for a local favorite at threat from — you guessed it — the rapid growth and change in our region. Jeff Bezos, you’ve finally gone too far.

Taco Time was originally an Oregon thing — it started up in Eugene, back in the 1960's. Over time, the Western Washington stores spun off into a company called Taco Time Northwest. These appear to have been the smart guys in the bunch, because the years have not been kind to the original Taco Time. The Taco Time you need to know about is the one with the shops up and down the I-5 corridor, many of them in the Seattle region. This is the Taco Time, even if they don't say so in front of their cool friends, that holds a special place in the hearts of many Washingtonians. If not for the food, then rather as a piece of nostalgia for a Northwest that's slowly going away, as money pours in, new people arrive, and tastes and trends evolve.

The Sunday Post for October 22, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Judging Books by Their Covers

Jason Diamond loves books, and the Vintage Contemporary imprint in particular (you’ve almost certainly got one or two of those iconic covers on your shelves, whether you know it or not). This essay is steeped in his passion for the series, but it’s more truly a love letter to collecting — to how physical objects carry stories in their making, and to how paying respectful attention to small, necessary details makes life richer and more explicable.

I first loved Bright Lights, Big City as a teenager stuck in the Chicago suburbs in the 1990s. To my 15-year-old, Clinton-era mind, the book was moody and weird, an example of the kind of urban malaise I would have preferred over the suburban brand I’d experienced growing up. I can’t recall a book so perfectly set up by what was on the cover — a man in a trench coat framed by the neon glow of The Odeon restaurant and the glittering World Trade Center. McInerney’s Manhattan was the city I wanted to go to, in all of its decadent and gritty glory. If I was going to be lonely, I’d rather be lonely around people like me.
The Secretive Family Making Billions from the Opioid Crisis

In late September, Seattle sued Purdue Pharma, the nation’s largest makers of opioid drugs. That’s the stuff you get after major surgery, and also the stuff that’s created an epidemic of addiction across the United States. The lawsuit hoped to recoup the costs of epidemic addiction in our city.

Turns out, the people manufacturing those drugs are actually people, and in fact a single family: the Sacklers. The Sacklers are the Kardashians of pharmaceutical-style heroin, if you will, though with a much smaller social media presence. Christopher Glazek steps up to help with their publicity problem.

The descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, a pair of psychiatrist brothers from Brooklyn, are members of a billionaire clan with homes scattered across Connecticut, London, Utah, Gstaad, the Hamptons, and, especially, New York City. It was not until 2015 that they were noticed by Forbes, which added them to the list of America’s richest families. The magazine pegged their wealth, shared among twenty heirs, at a conservative $14 billion. (Descendants of Arthur Sackler, Mortimer and Raymond’s older brother, split off decades ago and are mere multi-millionaires.) To a remarkable degree, those who share in the billions appear to have abided by an oath of omertà: Never comment publicly on the source of the family’s wealth.
What Miyazaki’s Heroines Taught Me About My Mixed-Race Identity

I’m not saying that anybody’s princesses are better than anybody else’s. But isn’t there something grittier, more badass, and ultimately more relatable about Hayao Miyaziki’s heroines than those in the Disney catalog — no matter how hard mainstream American cinema tries to evolve?

Nina Coombs thinks so. Part Japanese, part American, in this short essay, she traces how Miyazaki’s heroines helped her understand a physical transition that made palable her position at the tipping point between two worlds.

That summer, I frequented bathhouses similar to those in Spirited Away with my mother and sister. One day I stood under a showerhead, rinsing my body of dirt and grime before entering the bath, and noticed that the arc of my stomach was jutting softly from my sternum. I had never seen my stomach before, not from this vantage point, with my chin tucked and hair wet. I had always been concave, a pocket of negative space ballooning between my ribcage and hips. To see my stomach take up space was new and strange. As I stared, water ran into my eyes and questions churned in my head: What was I becoming? Was I becoming an American? Was I not Japanese anymore? Had I ever been Japanese?

The Loneliest Polar Bear

I almost didn’t read Kale Williams’ story about Nora, an infant polar bear abandoned by her mother. In fact I was asked not to read it: I’ve been found on my knees sobbing in front of the BBC’s Planet Earth, I’ve been gently asked about my welfare by a bartender at Portland’s Tugboat Tavern (rest in peace, Tugboat Tavern!), where they used to show nature programming instead of sports. (Barnacle geese, with explanatory sound turned off, are a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.)

But proceed without fear. Except for devastating questions about climate change, the human race’s impact on the creatures with whom we share the planet, and the value of saving a single animal in the teeth of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, this is a happy story told in a fabulously furry multimedia presentation.

Aurora had been gone for 30 minutes. She’d never left Nora for this long.

She wandered the rooms of the compound, seemingly deaf to the sounds of her daughter.

Inside the trailer, the tension was thick. Nora’s cries reminded the keepers of their own children, only louder and more urgent. As long as her vocals were strong, they were willing to wait.

The women watching had decades of experience hand-raising jungle cats, livestock and primates. The prospect was starting to hit them: Would they have to raise a polar bear?

The Sunday Post for October 15, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Rebecca Solnit on Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, and Blaming Women for the Acts of Men

How to excerpt Rebecca Solnit’s supremely satisfying and hilarious (sort of, ha ha that’s funny) tirade about the mountainous blamefulness of women? In short, Harvey Weinstein is our fault, Velcro is our fault, frowning, the Black Death, Donald Trump, also not being Matt Damon. Donald Trump, Donald Trump? Born, after all, to a woman. The fault is ours.

I always suspected it was so.

It is Anita Hill’s fault that Clarence Thomas is a creep, and it’s also her fault that he’s on the Supreme Court, and it’s her fault she didn’t speak up about his sexual harassment, and also her fault that she did speak up about it, ruffling important waters when men were trying to fly-fish them, as women do when men try. To fly-fish that is, and the trout that are not biting are the fault of the woman who did not smile at you on the bus this morning, though it is a gospel truth that lady strangers owe you smiles. If we study up, it may be possible to figure out which parts of everything are Anita Hill’s fault. Mary Todd Lincoln: perhaps her faults linger on, and it would be fun to blame her for something, and why did Michelle Obama choose to exercise her right to bare arms? Perhaps that makes her responsible for some mass shootings, which tend to be carried out by men, but not their fault. Someone made them do it, and every time a man does something awful we can all pause for a moment of respectful silence while we figure out who to blame.

Additional reading: Laurie Penny on consent and rape and technicalities and anger.

Here's Why Debunking Viral Climate Myths Is Almost Impossible, In One Animated Chart

One thing quickly becomes clear if you write a weekly list of links (or just read Twitter): the Internet is a regurgitation machine, spitting out the same stories from a thousand mouths, and again, and again. At this volume, the news is little more than an impression, quick takes turned gospel.

Who better than BuzzFeed News to explain (in simple graphics under a clickbait headline) exactly how the rinse-and-repeat online content cycle makes fake news real? Zahra Hirji and Lam Thuy Vo tracked the social progress of a misleading article about climate change across almost a million interactions. Every share and spinoff increased its truthiness, though not, unfortunately, its truth.

The story centered on a two-year-old Science study showing that the rise in global temperatures had not recently stalled, as previous data had suggested. The Science paper had repeatedly been attacked by climate skeptics, including House Science Committee chair Lamar Smith (R-Tex.). After the Mail on Sunday’s piece, Smith demanded, for at least the sixth time, that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration turn over its correspondence about the Science data.

Now, some seven months later, the Mail on Sunday has begrudgingly admitted its story was wrong. But will this update change anyone’s minds?

Additional (necessary) reading: Alexis C. Madrigal’s good, solid reporting on Facebook’s role in putting Donald Trump in power, which, as both a compelling read and a thorough historical analysis, shortcuts several spins in the regurgitation cycle for this particular topic.

Death at a Penn State Fraternity

Caitlin Flanagan investigates Beta Theta Pi pledge Tim Piazza’s death, which came after 12 hours of struggle while his frat brothers sat by — more worried about their liability than his life. Mesmerizing article on a culture dominated by power and privilege, and deeply committed to maintaining both.

All of these dynamics came into play the night Tim Piazza was fatally injured. The chapter president, Brendan Young, was — get this — majoring in risk management. He fully understood that officers of the fraternity face greater liability than do regular members. He became the president in November 2016, and shortly before rush began, in January 2017, he texted Daniel Casey, the pledge master: “I know you know this. If anything goes wrong with the pledges this semester then both of us are fucked.” He wasn’t suggesting they scrap hazing; he was reminding his subordinate that they had better not get caught doing it. (Young’s lawyer declined to comment.)
Murder by the Book

This week in personal essays: Jordan Fuller remembers Portland’s Murder by the Book, a mystery bookstore managed by her mother, and walks us through the dark streets of her childhood reading.

My television and film diet was closely monitored but I had no restrictions on what I could read as a child. I fell under the spell of Jack the Ripper, drawing macabre maps of 1888 Whitechapel with the names and relevant details of his victims. Did I make the connection then that the Ripper was stealing the women’s uteruses? Did I know then that they were prostitutes or what that meant? I must have, because I was a child who did not like the feeling of not knowing — words, concepts, reasons — so I must have scanned the dictionary and found what I was looking for. I don’t remember having that conversation with my mother, though I doubt she would have shied away from it.
Dirty John

Christopher Goffard’s Dirty John podcast makes it in on a technicality; it can be read, as well as heard, on the Los Angeles Times website. Debra Newell met the man of her dreams online and was soon trapped in a nightmare of manipulation, deception, and self-deception. The six-part story maps how “Dirty John” seduced Newell, wedged himself between her and her children, and then — well, it’s a familiar tale but will be impossible to put down, for those who love true crime or are fascinated by the darkness and brightness of the human heart.

By the second or third date, he was telling her he loved her, that he wanted to marry her. She didn’t mind his idiosyncrasies, like his habit of wearing his faded blue medical scrubs everywhere, even to a formal-dress cancer benefit she invited him to. Some people snickered, but she thought, “Busy doctor.”

“So you are the real thing,” she texted him after one date.

“Best thing that will ever happen to you,” he replied.

The Sunday Post for October 8, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

“Like Sonny Liston”: An Appreciation of Tom Petty

The best thing about this piece by the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood is not his apt and lyrical assessment of Tom Petty’s achievements as a musician, or the wry anecdotes (Petty and the Replacements trading barbs on stage, Hood napping through a one-time chance to meet his hero). It’s how he articulates the different kinds of grief he felt last Monday: the devastating grief we all shared over the grotesque fucked-up-ed-ness of the shooting in Las Vegas — and our government’s continuing permission of such events — and the lesser but still painful loss of a much-loved musician. Many encomiums to Petty have ignored Las Vegas entirely, as if nothing else happened that day.

Thanks for not doing that, Patterson. Play on.

My pain and anger at all of this are so out of control and unfathomable that I don’t even know how to begin to process them. I don’t know how to address it. I sure as hell ain’t going downtown to raise a glass about it. I’m hoping that in time, maybe someone will wake the hell up before it’s too late (if it’s not already) and bring about some kind of real change in our bloodthirsty gun culture. I hope it happens before a massacre occurs in front of me or to one of my loved ones. When members of our government say that they are praying for the victims, I say, Save your prayers for yourself and the hell that I’m certain awaits you. Thoughts such as this are not constructive or helpful, but it’s all I have right now.

And Tom Petty has passed away. I can’t really fathom living in a world without him, but I know for a fact that I’ll never really have to. He lived a full life, not long enough, but fuller than most ever dream. He was loved by millions and left us a legacy of music that will live on for decades, perhaps centuries. He touched our lives and made each day, even the darkest ones, a little brighter and better.

To that, I can raise a glass and toast.

An Epitaph for Newsvine

Newsvine, the Seattle-based news site that helped pioneer citizen journalism as a credible alternative to professional reporting (the latter should probably have quotes, air or literal, at this point), closed its doors on October 2. The decade-plus in which Newsvine operated saw seismic changes for the industry, mostly driven by the vast shift in media consumption via social media. Co-founder Mike Davidson’s brief comment on the site’s origins and evolution during this time is both interesting and insightful.

When we look at how the average person’s news and media diet has changed over the last decade or so, we can trace it directly back to the way these and other modern organizations have begun feeding us our news. Up until 10 or 15 years ago, we essentially drank a protein shake full of news. A good amount of fruits and vegetables, some grains, some dairy, some tofu, and then a little bit of sugar, all blended together. Maybe it wasn’t the tastiest thing in the world but it kept us healthy and reasonably informed. Then, with cable news we created a fruit-only shake for half the population and a vegetable-only shake for the other half. Then with internet news, we deconstructed the shake entirely and let you pick your ingredients, often to your own detriment. And finally, with peer-reinforced, social news networks, we’ve given you the illusion of a balanced diet, but it’s often packed with sugar, carcinogens, and other harmful substances without you ever knowing. And it all tastes great!

If you're looking for more on the media, and you've somehow avoided an outraged adrenaline spike this Sunday morning, try this: Buzzfeed's Joseph Bernstein on how Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos made it okay to be a Nazi.

Christ in the Garden of Endless Breadsticks

All of Eaters’ essays on the decline of the great American chain restaurant are excellent; the series is a delight to explore. But it’s Helen Rosner’s piece on the Olive Garden that won the Internet’s heart this week.

At first I thought that was just the web’s ongoing fascination with the OG. As an Applebee’s girl from childhood, I find this inexplicable (contrariwise, Chip Zdarsky’s gentle, loving mockery of his local Applebee’s has long been my favorite bit of restaurant irony).

But man, now I get it. Rosner’s essay is so good. It’s got art, metaphysics, memoir. It’s funny, contemplative, and knowledgeable. And it holds the menu hack to unlock a magical plate of toasted ravioli.

In the infinity of Olive Garden meals that make up my life, one stands out from the great glutinous mass of memory. It took place outside of Madison, Wisconsin, off a commercial strip that I vaguely remember abutting a retaining pond that was home to an extremely aggressive paddling of ducks. At this meal, two great things happened.

The first is that my boyfriend introduced me to toasted ravioli. This was — and remains — the single greatest thing Olive Garden has ever sold. “Toasted” is a euphemism for fried: The breadcrumb-coated squares of pasta are simultaneously crispy and chewy, filled with a savory meat paste that’s not dissimilar to the inside of a mild Jamaican beef patty. You dip them in warm marinara sauce, which comes in a ramekin on the side.

My boyfriend and I broke up a few weeks after we shared that meal, and when I next entered one of the many doors of the infinite and singular Olive Garden, I wanted the toasted ravioli appetizer, but I couldn’t find it on the menu. The toasted ravioli turned out to be a parable: I scanned the name of every dish on the menu, hoping the next and the next and the next would turn out to be the one I was looking for, and came up with nothing. Here’s the secret: They were right at the beginning all along. Tell your server you want to Create A Sampler Italiano, the very first thing listed on the menu, which involves selecting two or three items from a set of options, toasted ravioli among them, listed in the description in quotidian roman type. Then make every single choice the toasted ravioli.

The Touch of Madness

Nev Jones, a brilliant young philosophy student, noticed one day that a nearby stone wall was both solid and infinitely porous — so much space between its molecules that you could almost blow it away with a puff of breath. It sounds like typical college-kid pretension, but for Jones, it was the first note in a symphony of mental disorder. Writer David Dobbs paired up with Jones (now a successful psychologist) to document America’s self-defeating, isolating response to madness and how it leads us right to the outcomes we’re most afraid of.

Monday, April 21st, 2008, was a particularly fine spring morning in Chicago, with a warming sun and magnolia blossoms scenting the air. The kind of day that, after a tough winter, can seem a miracle, lifting one's spirits and hopes. Jones, ready to start the week's classes and only a few weeks away from summer, was enjoying the walk to campus when she noticed she had a voicemail from Dr. Holland.

Holland seldom had reason to call. Jones became anxious as soon as she saw the message. She would later see the call, and the news it relayed, as the moment in which she went from clinging to a safe place within a small subculture to being flung away from it. The effect would prove catastrophic and lasting.

The Sunday Post for October 1, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

How to Protest Without Offending White People

Michael Harriot has a brutal takedown of the response to the #takeaknee protests that just builds and builds relentlessly. An effective call for awareness (and call to arms) even for white people who supported the protests wholeheartedly.

Any mention of race is divisive because it overlooks the fact that every color and creed has problems. Some people have to worry about the leader of the free world trying to deport their children, vilifying their religion or referring to their mothers as bitches, while others have to live with the terrible burden of people constantly belittling their chicken seasoning and potato-salad-making.

We all have a struggle.

The Polar Expedition That Went Berserk

Recruited by Jarle Andhoy, a madman and self-proclaimed modern-day Viking, 18-year-old Samuel Massie miraculously survived an Antarctic expedition that cost three men their lives. Blair Braverman — who tells their story — drove sled dogs in Norway, led tours of the Alaskan glaciers, and has “adventurer” in her bio. You can feel her passion for the Earth’s most dangerous wild places, and her compassion for those who enter them, in this piece about an otherwise completely insane attempt at the South Pole.

When they left their final port in New Zealand, the Berserk carried five men and ten tons of equipment, including the ATVs, two kayaks, a dinghy, tents, metal ladders for bridging crevasses, food to last them six months, and matching wool socks and skull-and-crossbones hats knit by Robert’s grandmother. They were heading toward the most dangerous waters in the world, where waves could rise 80 feet, three times the length of the 27-foot boat. With the extra gear, the Berserk was top-heavy — but not, they hoped, enough to tip over and drown them. To this day, nobody knows if they were right.
Keepers of the Secrets

Book archeology! In his profile of Thomas Lannon, archivist at the New York Public Library, James Somers investigates “BookOps” and the meticulous and brilliant people who transform the crumpled, the stuck-together, and the barely readable into the story of a city: the man whose existence was recorded only through a passing mention in a young socialite’s diary; the source material for the best-selling Killers of the Flower Moon.

This essay is a celebration of patience, a lesson in the ethics of information, and a reminder that the Internet, while vast, is not yet the sum total of what we can know.

That is the paradox of being an archivist. The reason an archivist should know something, Lannon said, is to help others to know it. But it’s not really the archivist’s place to impose his knowledge on anyone else. Indeed, if the field could be said to have a creed, it’s that archivists aren’t there to tell you what’s important. Historically momentous documents are to be left in folders next to the trivial and the mundane — because who’s to say what’s actually mundane or not?
"Megyn Kelly Today" Is Not Going Well

I know it’s wrong to enjoy it when other people tank, hard — but hey, we’re only human. Kate Aurthur traces the not-so-gentle failure of Megyn Kelly’s new show, Megyn Kelly Today. If any of the criticisms in this piece — which include a suggestion that stars might be tricked into guesting, and an anecdote in which Jane Fonda cuts Kelly right off at the knees — seem harsh, remember that Kelly is reaping what she’s sown.

Does some of the disdain for Kelly come from her Fox News past haunting her? Are any of these people thinking of when she said, "For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white"; or her "racist demagoguery," in Jamelle Bouie's words; or, in the case of Fonda, resuscitating the image of "Hanoi Jane," just to stoke the Fox News base? I do wonder. Because even if the left projected feminist hero status on Kelly after she was the object of Trump's ire and for arguably being the final nail in Roger Ailes' coffin, she is still largely a cypher.

If you’re a better person than I am, instead read this piece about how stupid-smart our televison-addict president is. Despite that description, it is less a takedown than a considered argument about post-literacy and the difference between deliberative and performative culture.

RIP The Broccoli Tree

Jason Kottke rips our hearts out in a handful of words, eulogizing a beautiful tree with a silly name. Patrik Svedberg has been photographing the Broccoli Tree for several years, in a series of images that show the tree in all its glory and humanity in all of ours. Until a recent act of vandalism, that is. RIP, Broccoli Tree.


May 18, 2017. Spring burst into summer overnight here. Carpe that Diem man, I know you deserve it 👌✨😎

A post shared by A tree on Instagram (@thebroccolitree) on

The Sunday Post for September 24, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

The College Try

Ashley Powers follows two young women attending Cal State Long Beach and gives us a new perspective on “working your way through college,” one that’s a bit less rosy than the classic American trope. Liz Waite carries a full course load while bouncing from couch to couch and navigating a labyrithine system of social aid; Kersheral Jessup makes it to graduation, but it’s not enough to get her out from behind the cash register at Home Depot. An effective and sobering debunking of the bootstrap myth.

No type of school has been more successful at lifting the poor up to the middle class and beyond than midtier public universities like the Cal States. In a ranking published this year of colleges that helped the highest percentage of students claw their way out of poverty, four Cal State campuses made the top 10. Cal State Long Beach clinched the last spot, vaulting 78 percent of its students from the bottom of the economic ladder, where household incomes top out around $25,000 a year. But for all the good Cal State does for its alumni, most students there struggle to get their degrees. Only one in five finishes in four years, and a little more than half graduate in six, their progress slowed, in part, by soaring living costs in one of the nation’s most expensive states.
Snopes and the Search for Facts in a Post-Fact World

Speaking of debunking: Snopes.com is famous as the go-to for fending off panicked emails from overly trusting relatives and winning arguments over a second beer. Michelle Dean introduces us to the site’s founders, a scrappy couple who love to get fussy about details, and looks at how Snopes is changing in a country led by the most terrifying urban myth of all.

Since about 2010, this house has passed for a headquarters, as Snopes has no formal offices, just 16 people sitting at their laptops in different rooms across the country, trying to swim against the tide of spin, memes, and outright lies in the American public sphere. Just that morning Mikkelson and his staff had been digging into a new presidential tweet of dubious facticity: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” Trump had the correct total, but the overwhelming number of those detainees had been released during the George W. Bush administration. “There’s a whole lot of missing context to just that 122 number,” Mikkelson said.
My Abyss

Hazlitt has two very good recent pieces about living in your head, both love stories of a kind. I can’t choose between them, so you get both: Soraya Palmer on her decades-long affair with an imaginary boyfriend, who will never love her the way she wants to be loved, and Patty Yumi Cottrell on her obsession with Fiona Apple, which is actually a devastating story about her brother.

Among my collection of photos, there’s one of Fiona Apple from 1998 that I purchased at a CD Warehouse in a Milwaukee plaza. I’ve kept this photo of Fiona Apple with me all these years, moving from Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Milwaukee to Chicago to New York City to Los Angeles. Every time I pack up my things, I consider throwing it away. It makes me think of abject despair and isolation and my teenage bedroom. It makes me think of my life with my brother, watching NBA games in his dark cocoon of a room, avoiding the rest of our family. He preferred Tori Amos to Fiona Apple. We would argue about who was better at Christmas. He loved Tori Amos, which I thought was weird for a man. He was sensitive. No. I will never throw away my Fiona Apple photo.
Loyalty Nearly Killed My Beehive

Under John Knight’s care, a beehive survives a near-Shakespearean drama, a tragic battle for rule and survival of the hive, complete with love, loss, and self-destruction. (Or is it Game of Thrones?) From a bee’s perspective, the beekeeper is the ultimate deus ex machina. But even the god in the machine has to play by genre rules.

My unraveling colony made clear to me the complex, fraught relationship between honeybee and beekeeper. Bees are tremendously self-sufficient, and follow a set of old and finely tuned instincts. The beekeeper, ideally, needs only to nudge them in the right direction to make them do what he wants: pollinate an almond orchard, or survive on a Brooklyn rooftop. But to do this correctly, the beekeeper needs to understand what it is the hive wants. In my case, Todd was telling me, it wanted to die.
'To Donald Trump,' by Leland Melvin

Leland Melvin, former NASA astronaut and NFL player, famous dog-lover, suggests we send Donald Trump to space. Is that an option?

Looking back at our planet from space really helps one get a bigger perspective on how petty and divisive we can be. Donald Trump, maybe you should ask your good friend Mr. Putin to give you a ride on a Soyuz rocket to our International Space Station and see what it’s like to work together with people we used to fight against, where your life depends on it. See the world and get a greater sense of what it means to be part of the human race, we call it the Orbital Perspective.

The Sunday Post for September 17, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

The Sorrow and the Shame of the Accidental Killer

A broken glass; a stumble on the sidewalk; a misplaced word that leads to hurt feelings. Most of us screw up on a daily basis, and for the most part we can fix it with a little glue and an earnest apology. What happens when you hit the top of the screw-up food chain, though, and someone dies? Alice Gregory explores the aftermath of accidental death and why we have so little to offer the survivors.

There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows, rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors, asexuals, and people who just aren’t that happy and don’t know why. But there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person.
The Google Bus

In the wake of Amazon’s announcement that they’re planning to grace another city with HQ2 — an announcement met with either consternation or celebration by Seattleites, depending on inclination — read this reflection by Google staffer Min Li Chan about the tech giant’s impact on San Francisco. Chan has been moving toward Google since she was nine; she’s living her childhood dream. But she’s also watching the job she loves steal the city she loves and lives in.

When the first bus protests erupted in late 2013, my peers and I reacted with bewilderment, certain that we had been unjustly cast as scapegoats for the city’s problems. “Why are they angry at us?” a friend remarked one night over dinner. “We haven’t done anything wrong, we’re just trying to get to work!” That morning, a man had driven by our tech shuttle stop in his beat-up Honda Accord and given all of us the middle finger while leaning on his horn. As my friend and I recounted other instances of aggression we had witnessed or heard about, other guests — close friends who didn’t work in the industry — listened. “But you guys get why this is happening, right?” asked one after we had finished our meal. After everyone had gone home, I turned her question over in my mind. In the calculus of culpability, I had believed that as well-meaning technologists and productive members of society, we were irreproachable. How could we be wrong?
Is It OK to Make Fun of Instagram Poets?

Lisa Marie Basile jumps into the Instagram poetry fray after Electric Literature’s recent evisceration of practitioner Collin Yost. This gets stickier the deeper you go; the Twitter exchange (between Portland writer/artist Izze Leslie and Yost) that sparked this particular flamewar went ad hominem quickly and across multiple social media platforms. Basile steers us onto higher ground with some good (oft-trod, but never too oft) questions about the value of verse.

On one hand, I personally don’t think it’s excusable to pump that sort of drivel onto the Internet — especially because of the fact that those Instagram poets, whose work is heavily tied to the Internet, likely have access to other poets’ work on that same Internet. By reading anything published in a literary journal or a release from a small press (which I think is partly a duty of being a poet) or even work by another poet that isn't published, they must have some semblance of knowledge around what constitutes original writing that doesn’t rely on gimmick or cliché.

But if these poets want to write what they write — and if their readers are getting some sort of emotional response out of it — is that not what matters?

The Battle for Blade Runner

With a Blade Runner sequel coming soon, Michael Schulman has a short history of the making of the original. It’s just as chaotic and fraught as you might imagine: Scripts are written on the sly, there’s a near-mutiny on the set, and Philip K. Dick goes creepily head over heels for Sean Young. Here’s just one anecdote, in which Ridley Scott delivers an unwelcome surprise to writer Hampton Fancher:

Then, around Christmas 1980, Scott’s aide Ivor Powell invited Fancher for dinner and handed him a script. Fancher figured it was a different movie entirely, until he flipped the page and realized it was a re-written Blade Runner. “I stood up and started crying, tears coming down my face,” Fancher recalls. “Ivor put his arm around me. He told me this was going to happen before — he said, ‘I know my man. If you don’t do what he wants, he’ll get someone who will.’”

Days later, Fancher stormed into the production office and screamed, “Why?!”

“Elegance is one thing, Hampton,” Deeley told him. “Making a film is another.”

“Fuck you guys,” Fancher said, and returned home to Carmel.

Drummer Jon Wurster Remembers Grant Hart: 'The Center of the Sonic Hurricane'

We don't ususally count our dead in the Sunday Post, even on a week of notable losses. Many are mourning Harry Dean Stanton this weekend, rightly; on the non-human side, we obsessively and collectively tracked Cassini's final flight in our imaginations, through the lens of history, and through images.

But if you grew up in a certain midwestern city, there was one death this week that stung even more sharply: Grant Hart, the better half of Minneapolis punk band Hüsker Dü. Many will take issue with "better half," but Grant would love it. And it's sweet, smartass Grant Hart who always belonged to his hometown — no matter how far he traveled.

I first laid eyes on Grant in December of 1983. Hüsker Dü were sharing a bill with SST Records labelmates the Minutemen at Love Hall, a rundown punk dive on South Broad Street in Philadelphia. Grant was being shown around the freezing venue by the promoter before the show and I remember thinking how "un-punk" he looked in his trench coat, paisley shirt and long hair. He looked like a hippie who was on his way to see Hot Tuna but walked into the wrong club.

Any doubts I harbored were obliterated when Hüsker Dü launched into "Something I Learned Today," the lead-off track from their upcoming double album Zen Arcade. I can only liken seeing Hüsker Dü that night to the daze of disorientation you feel after accidentally banging your head on something very hard. It was punk, it was pop, it was jazz, it was psychedelic; it was an ear-splitting swirl of sound. And at the center of the sonic hurricane was Grant Hart, arms flailing, feet flying, laying waste to every drum and cymbal in his path.

The Sunday Post for September 10, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Voynich manuscript: the solution

This week, a credible solution to the most mysterious manuscript of all has been put forth. Is the Voynich manuscript a private home-remedies manual for a well-to-do woman? Nicholas Gibbs certainly thinks so. I think Maria Dahvana Headley said it best:

For medievalists or anyone with more than a passing interest, the most unusual element of the Voynich manuscript – Beinecke Ms. 408, known to many as “the most mysterious manuscript in the world” – is its handwritten text. Although several of its symbols (especially the ligatures) are recognizable, adopted for the sake of economy by the medieval scribes, the words formed by its neatly grouped characters do not appear to correspond to any known language. It was long believed that the text was a form of code – one which repeated attempts by crypt­o­graphers and linguists failed to penetrate. As someone with long experience of interpreting the Latin inscriptions on classical monuments and the tombs and brasses in English parish churches, I recognized in the Voynich script tell-tale signs of an abbreviated Latin format. But interpretation of such abbreviations depends largely on the context in which they are used. I needed to understand the copious illustrations that accompany the text.
Twenty-Six Notes on Cannibalism

Seattle writer, and Seattle Review of Books contributor, Anca Szilágyi walks a numbered path for the Los Angeles Review of Books, detailing her observations of Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son, and in doing so recalls Sontag, Berger, and others. She explores how a painting evokes both a method to the artist, and an evocation of historical moments foretold.

4. Saturno devorando a su hijo is different from Francisco Goya’s other works, such as early portraits of royalty or even later etchings sharply critical of the atrocities of war. It is one of the Black Paintings affixed to the walls of his home, Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man), which he bought in 1819 at age 72. These paintings were not commissioned. They were not for sale. No one saw them until after his death. The artist’s fear is in Saturn’s eyes.
The Department of Justice Is Overseeing the Resegregation of American Schools

Thought it was gonna be all medieval ciphers today and explorations of dark paintings today? Sorry, and welcome to the nightmare of our modern backslide into mid-century unexceptionalism, racism, and horribleness. Turns out, white parents will segragate their schools again. Because reasons. Emmanuel Felton reports on this very thing for the Nation.

See, also, the New York Times Magazine take on the same issue.

Speaker after speaker complained about how the city had been portrayed. This wasn’t about race, they insisted, but about doing what was best for “our” children. But Williams knew that her children weren’t included in that “our.” Just the night before, at a meeting in her own neighborhood, Jefferson County’s superintendent presented Williams and the other parents with a list of schools their kids could choose if Gardendale left the district. All of the schools served more black and poor students than Gardendale’s, and all had far worse test scores. At the Gardendale meeting, Williams stood by quietly until she couldn’t take it anymore.

As she headed to the front of the packed hearing room, Williams felt glad that she had dressed up. “I’m a product of the schools they don’t want my children to be at,” she said later. “I wanted to be a perfect example of why they should include them.”

You Are the Product

John Lanchester writes about Facebook for the London Review of Books. He is decidedly not a Millennial digital native, but as Facebook switches from being a successful startup to a world-dominating force, holding them to a high standard becomes absolutely critical.

Zuckerberg’s news about Facebook’s size came with an announcement which may or may not prove to be significant. He said that the company was changing its ‘mission statement’, its version of the canting pieties beloved of corporate America. Facebook’s mission used to be ‘making the world more open and connected’. A non-Facebooker reading that is likely to ask: why? Connection is presented as an end in itself, an inherently and automatically good thing. Is it, though? Flaubert was sceptical about trains because he thought (in Julian Barnes’s paraphrase) that ‘the railway would merely permit more people to move about, meet and be stupid.’ You don’t have to be as misanthropic as Flaubert to wonder if something similar isn’t true about connecting people on Facebook. For instance, Facebook is generally agreed to have played a big, perhaps even a crucial, role in the election of Donald Trump. The benefit to humanity is not clear. This thought, or something like it, seems to have occurred to Zuckerberg, because the new mission statement spells out a reason for all this connectedness. It says that the new mission is to ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together’.

The Sunday Post for September 3, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Nightingale: A Gloss

Paisley Rekdal's beautiful, devastating comment on her poem "Philomela" deserves a willing commitment of time and attention. Fair warning: it's anchored by an open recounting of sexual assault, so read at your own emotional risk. Rekdal draws on centuries of poetry — Shakespeare, Ovid, Chaucer are just a start — to gloss her experience and her own lines, spiraling away from and back to the narrative. This is literature at the top of its game.

Perhaps the greatest desire a victim of violence has is to look, in memory, at that violence dispassionately. But remembering, the heart pounds, the body floods with adrenaline, ready to tear off into flight. For some, there is no smoothing chaos back into memory. Poetry, with its suggestion that time can be ordered through language, strains to constrain suffering. It suggests, but rarely achieves, the redress we desire. Language does not heal terror, and if it brings us closer to imagining the sufferer’s experience, this too does not necessarily make us feel greater compassion, but a desire for further sensation. If we cannot articulate pain beyond inspiring in the listener a need for revenge, we only speak of and to the body.
The Secret e-Book That Changed My Life

An impassioned piece by Scott Esposito, author of The Surrender, on why books matter — with a visceral example from his own life. As Esposito says, it’s easy for even the most dedicated readers, writers, and booksellers to feel overwhelmed by the daily grind and the “mind-numbing cascade of new books, book reviews, author interviews, profiles, lists, gossip, feuds, and so on.” His essay is a welcome antidote.

I know that against the awesome power of the President of the United States a single book doesn’t seem like much, against a hateful Klan rally a mere LGBTQ bookstore display seems puny. But I’m here to tell you that these things do make a difference for a lot of people. We must not doubt the importance of books. When we publish, or handsell, or review, or simply recommend to a friend, we must think very deeply about the kinds of messages we are putting into the world, as well as the sort of country we want our literary culture to represent. They are heard and seen by people all around us, and they are affecting lives.
The Rise of the Valkyries

Lana Lokteff runs a media company that’s the digital hub for the alt-right, and advocates for using the fear of rape as a conversion tactic to bring other women into the fold. Ayla Stewart is a successful YouTube personality who dresses her children (her “BASKET FULL OF ADORABLES”) as Pepe the Frog. Mary Grey is a podcaster and the author of the children’s book Walls and Fences (“Why do we build walls? We have walls for protection.”).

These are women walking a very thin line, stepping into positions of power within our nation’s ugliest political splinter group while advocating for their own subordination. Seyward Darby’s investigation of how the alt-right’s perhaps most dangerous members operate, and what they hope for, is a long, slow punch in the stomach.

For months, America has tried to understand what the movement wants. Perhaps the better question is, who gets to decide? In grappling with how to set priorities, the alt-right is bumping up against ideological contradictions, divergent opinions, and other schisms in its ardent, loosely formed ranks. Assertive women are exposing some of these fissures, which seem likely to grow as the movement vies for a modicum of political acceptance.

Lokteff, though, is sanguine. “Ten years from now, a lot of these alt-right concepts are going to be very mainstream in white people’s minds,” she told me. Then, as though a light bulb had clicked on in her brain, she continued: “Look at feminism. It started as a fringe movement. Now it’s mainstream, left and right.”

My week in Lucky House: the horror of Hong Kong's coffin homes

Benjamin Haas spent a week in Hong Kong’s ironically named Lucky House, where “the poorest people in the most expensive city in the world” find shelter in tiny plywood enclosures, so small they’re openly referred to as “coffin homes.” Haas got just a taste of life in twelve feet of personal space; as you read his essay, imagine the experience without an exit date. This photoessay on the same subject from June has blunter impact; the two pair well.

The plight of Hong Kong’s coffin dwellers is well known throughout the city. The tight living conditions have become so infamous, one hostel styled its dormitory as a sort of hip hybrid of coffin homes with modern details.

The hostel bills itself as “authentically HK”, which strikes me as insensitive, as no one who has spent a night in a coffin home would ever think there is anything trendy about how the poorest live.

But the hostel’s existence speaks to the complacency that has developed, with many Hong Kong residents convinced the city’s problems are unsolvable.

The Sunday Post for August 27, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

The President of Blank Sucking Nullity

David Roth won the internet’s heart this week by boiling our nightmare national politics down a simple and compelling assertion: Donald Trump is an asshole. We’ve let the Confounder in Chief tie us in knots, and we’ve knotted ourselves up just as much, trying to make sense of it all. Roth’s Gordian solution — “stop trying” — is a bit of a relief all around.

There is no room for other people in the world that Trump has made for himself, and this is fundamental to the anxiety of watching him impose his claustrophobic and airless interior world on our own. Is Trump a racist? Yes, because that’s a default setting for stupid people; also, he transparently has no regard for other people at all. Does Trump care about the cheap-looking statue of Stonewall Jackson that some forgotten Dixiecrat placed in a shithole park somewhere he will never visit? Not really, but he so resents the fact that other people expect him to care that he develops a passionate contrary opinion out of spite. Does he even know about . . . Let me stop you there. The answer is no.
I Want to Persuade You to Care About Other People

In an essay that's pretty much the antithesis of asshole (see above), Danielle Tcholakian talks about becoming a journalist in the era of fake news, and what it takes to keep an open heart — and an open ear — with people who have fundamentally different beliefs. May we all maintain the same equanimity in the face of conflict, and the same willingness to take a punch if it means a handshake at the end of the round.

Maybe it will be exhausting and frustrating. But I want to try, both in-person and online, with people who have thousands of followers and people who have a handful. Because it’s my job and I love my job, because they are colleagues and neighbors and voters, and because we all have to live here on this Earth together, and if we’re not communicating, what the hell are we doing?
The princess myth: Hilary Mantel on Diana

Maybe you’re refusing to read any of the buzz around the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death; it’s an entirely defensible position, and I was like you until The Guardian pushed this piece by Hilary Mantel. Gretel, princess bride, Joan of Arc, White Goddess — Mantel applies her signature talent for pulling story out of history to the question of why we can’t stop talking about Diana Spencer.

Myth does not reject any material. It only asks for a heart of wax. Then it works subtly to shape its subject, mould her to be fit for fate. When people described Diana as a “fairytale princess”, were they thinking of the cleaned-up versions? Fairytales are not about gauzy frocks and ego gratification. They are about child murder, cannibalism, starvation, deformity, desperate human creatures cast into the form of beasts, or chained by spells, or immured alive in thorns. The caged child is milk-fed, finger felt for plumpness by the witch, and if there is a happy-ever-after, it is usually written on someone’s skin.

But in case you just can’t stomach or just don’t care (still very defensible), here’s another excellent long read from The Guardian: a look back at the tsunami that followed the monstrous 2011 earthquake in Japan, and how hard it is to make the right decision when the water comes over the wall.

I Don’t Read to Like

“What do you like to read” is a very personal question; Amy Reading breaks down why. A little romantic — or, less generously, pretentious — this essay works best as a personal reflection and less well as an anatomy. Most readers will recognize themselves at least once or twice, then enjoy arguing when they don’t.

Part of the problem is in the word “like,” that little heart we tap ten thousand times a day. I like lots of things, so many things, but I am not guided by what I like. I regularly read books that I know I’ll dislike, not to hate-read, but because I’m just plain curious — because there is something in there I need that is not pleasure.
What Cities Lose When an Alt-Weekly Dies

On a recent visit to the US Post Office, a postal employee offered some practical advice: need packing material? Grab a few copies of the The Stranger from the box at the door. Leaves you wondering: with the Village Voice gone digital, what the heck are New Yorkers using to wrap fish?

David Dudley’s mostly unsentimental comment on the shuttering of the Village Voice’s print edition does a good job on why alt-weeklies matter, and why print matters in particular for the free weekly newspaper. It’s not just the writing — though alt-weeklies can offer a specific and unique way of experiencing a city — it’s how print gets in your space, welcome or not, and stays there.

The thing the Voice and its descendants gave readers was something more important than the occasional scoop: They served as critical conveyors of regional lore and scuttlebutt and intel. Dailies may have told you what was going on; alt-weeklies helped make people locals, a cranky cohort united by common enthusiasms and grievances. The alternative media was the informal archive of the city’s id, a catalog of fandom and contempt that limned the contours of the populace. And this part of their role, as it turns out, is a lot harder to replace in the digital era.

The Sunday Post for August 20, 2017

Annie Dillard's Classic Essay: 'Total Eclipse'

Instead of starting this week's picks looking backward at the barfing horror show of a week that proceeded it, let us turn our attention to the heavens, to the cleaving of our nation by a shadow stripe which will wend its way from west to east, a direction opposite the sun's travel (therefore significant, symbolically), and in that unearthly darkness (the shadow of which, for a minute or three, reminds us of one necessary constant in our lives that we barely pay enough heed to, the mostly unhidden sun) may the sins of our forbearers be purified in the birth of a new sun, a post eclipse sun, a sun whose rays pierce madness and bring succor to pain and horror and fear. Let this moment our country is experiencing be but a symptom of misunderstood celestial psychology; for ask any emergency room worker and they will tell you that things are worse at a full moon. Surely, then, there is a possibility that the madness we are amidst, this unhinged and unbalanced carnage of irrationality could be tied to the heavens and the gravitational bodies swinging against each other, drawn by the magnetism of our dense inflamed nuclear center. Let it be so. Let us be free of this terror.

Apparently, eclipses inspire great awe. Don't take my word for it, listen to Annie Dillard:

I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970. A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it. During a partial eclipse the sky does not darken—not even when 94 percent of the sun is hidden. Nor does the sun, seen colorless through protective devices, seem terribly strange. We have all seen a sliver of light in the sky; we have all seen the crescent moon by day. However, during a partial eclipse the air does indeed get cold, precisely as if someone were standing between you and the fire. And blackbirds do fly back to their roosts. I had seen a partial eclipse before, and here was another.
The White Lies of Craft Culture

Lauren Michele Jackson argues that the explosion of white-owned "craft" businesses are built on privilege and appropriation. You will not be surprised to learn this is not a new phenomenon. As Jackson points out, Jack Daniels himself learned how to distill from an enslaved black man named Nathan "Nearest" Green. Jackson visits barbecue and coffee as well, bringing forth the black history so readily ignored.

Craft culture looks like white people. The founders, so many former lawyers or bankers or advertising execs, tend to be white, the front-facing staff in their custom denim aprons tend to be white, the clientele sipping $10 beers tends to be white. Craft culture tells mostly white stories for mostly white consumers, and they nearly always sound the same: It begins somewhere remote-sounding like the mountains of Cottonwood, Idaho, or someplace quirky like a basement in Fort Collins, Colorado, or a loft in Brooklyn, where a (white) artisan, who has a vision of back in the day, when the food was real and the labor that produced it neither alienated nor obscured — and discovers a long-forgotten technique, plucked from an ur-knowledge as old as thought and a truth as pure as the soul.
Here’s What Really Happened In Charlottesville

Can you believe it hasn't even been a fucking week since that shitshow? A moment so present and intense in cultural life, that it will be the point they talk about in history books. You could feel how palpable it was, the needless and horrible deaths, the nazi inciting to violence, the militias armed to the teeth and ready to defend...something.

But of all the reports I've read from the ground, Blake Montgomery's coverage for BuzzFeed News is the clearest and most well laid-out. It's a nice companion piece to the Vice Media video that has been so widely shared.

Yes, you can blame the Nazis.

The race-fueled chaos that wracked Charlottesville, Virginia, finally came to rest on Sunday night. And the hundreds of people who spent the weekend fighting in streets — and the millions who watched them — began what has become a new American ritual: arguing about what really happened, and what a spasm of localized political violence means.

Was this an assault by racist extremists on innocent, rightly outraged Americans? Was it a clash between “many sides,” as President Trump notoriously said? Was the scale of the white supremacist threat blown out of proportion? Was the violence of the black-hooded “antifa” understated?

The answers are clearer on the ground than they are in the filter bubbles driven by fierce partisan argument on social media and cable news. They are complicated but not ambiguous. Here are a few:

An Open Letter To Our Fellow Jews

Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman draw the stark line in the sand for Jews who either support, or think they have found common cause with our president. There is no middle ground here, now that he has unequivocally showed his truth. The time to oppose him is now.

So, now you know. First he went after immigrants, the poor, Muslims, trans people and people of color, and you did nothing. You contributed to his campaign, you voted for him. You accepted positions on his staff and his councils. You entered into negotiations, cut deals, made contracts with him and his government.

Now he’s coming after you. The question is: what are you going to do about it? If you don’t feel, or can’t show, any concern, pain or understanding for the persecution and demonization of others, at least show a little self-interest. At least show a little sechel. At the very least, show a little self-respect.

The Sunday Post for August 13, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

"Ready Player One" is a terrible book and it will be a terrible movie

There’s nothing like a solid takedown, especially of a book that, apparently, many people disliked but were afraid to confess to disliking until the movie trailer came out. We could go deep here on how nerd culture became cool, and whether we’ve hit peak nerd and are ready for a nerd backlash, but maybe let’s just take this at face value: Ready Player One had the references, but not the heart, of Among Others. One round was enough.

Nearly every one of Ready Player One’s faults is a direct result of Cline’s authorial narcissism. The writing process appears to have begun with the question: What if the entire world revolved around me, and the specific video games and movies I like? The rest was assembled around that essential core. Cline is far from the first author to write a self-insert wish fulfillment narrative, but he may be the first to write one this lazy and self-indulgent.
At the heart of every restaurant

It’s a narrow line: spend a day in one of the lowest-paid and least-respected jobs in the food industry; write a shiny, self-deprecating-but-not-really, slice-of-life story; but don’t condescend or overwrite the reality of working your ass off for very little money in an environment where your colleagues may not even speak your language.

Food critic Tom Sietsema does a reasonable job with his recounting of a day as a dishwasher in a high-pressure restaurant kitchen, and there’s lot of interesting stuff about the job itself — and how the job is changing, thanks in part to successful chefs who got their start with their arms buried in suds. Here’s hoping equal salary goes along with the new titles and upgraded uniforms.

The median annual wage for the 500,000 or so dishwashers in the United States is about $20,000, up only $4,000 or so from just over a decade ago. But a few restaurants, including the French Laundry, give cleaners the stature of sous chefs and extend titles that capture the broad range of responsibilities.

“We don’t call them dishwashers, but porters,” says Keller, who got his start washing dishes in his mother’s restaurant, the late Bay & Surf in Laurel, Md. “We give them the same respect we give anyone else in the restaurant.” Indeed, the only difference between the embroidered uniforms worn by his chefs and his porters are the latter’s short sleeves.

The Front Row

This series of photographs of front-row fans, taken by documentary photographer Jessica Lehrman from the concert stage, are stellar: the human face (and body) burning with adrenaline, jubilation, awe, and fury. Look especially for the outliers in each image — the stone-faced security guard, the blue-lit skeptic, the man whose eyes drift from the star and meet the camera dead-on.

The front-row fans are willing to be crushed against a metal barricade, hundreds, maybe thousands of people swaying and pulsing behind them, all connected to the same rhythm.

There are weepers, Instagrammers, those who need to live-stream all their experiences.

The fanatics know every single word.

Nobody Knows What Lies Beneath New York City

There’s a surprising amount of romance in Bloomberg Businessweek’s soul — witness this piece by Greg Milner on NYC’s subterranean mirror. We’ve mapped the surface of the planet down to the last ripple and bump; maybe the final frontier is under our feet.

New York City’s daunting infrastructural labyrinth is like the “Here be dragons” decorating ancient maps. Underneath the 6,000 miles of asphalt and concrete road lie thousands of miles of water, sewer, gas, telecommunications, and electrical infrastructure. And let’s not forget the 500 miles of underground subway tracks or Con Edison’s 100-mile steam delivery system. In its entirety, it’s known to no one.
The Loveliest Living Fossil

An ode to the numero by type designer Jonathan Hoefler, a geeky piece that philosophizes about punctuation, reminisces over a few lost forms (the asterism!), and winds its way to a detailed exploration of the main character (pun intended). The internet is swarming with this kind of “inside look” from industry experts; here’s an enjoyable example based on real knowledge and obvious love for the subject.

At its leading edge, punctuation is volcanically active, giving shape to concepts that move far faster than words. Anyone communicating today has seen #topics and #themes and #categories identified this way, using a symbol that was intuitively understood and replicated even before it was first called a hashtag in 2007. The symbol and its meaning are now universally recognized, transcending even the locality of language, but their use is scarcely a decade old — an astounding accomplishment for a bit of lexical fluff, when you consider that the newfangled OMG was first recorded in 1917 (and in a letter to Winston Churchill, no less.)

The Sunday Post for August 6, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Beat the Clock

This essay by soccer player Georgia Cloepfill starts with what I believe is called a “devastating indictment” of the discrepancy in how male and female athletes are treated, financially and otherwise; that section alone is worth your time. And then she offers more, handfuls of short, lyrical-in-a-good-way vignettes about the nature of work, sacrifice, and achievement, through the lens of a woman who’s dedicated a great deal of heart to her sport.

I ask the clock how much time is left. It answers in monotonous pulses: there is still time, there is still time; or: it is nearly over. The amount of time that passes is inseparable from the immensity of my panic — they are one and the same.

With a comfortable lead, ninety minutes have the texture of a single day. Things happen with a calm inevitability. Events are as stable as a sunset, and consequences are modest. There is still time to erase, if necessary; to repeat, if you’ve already done the right thing; to find glory, if glory has thus far proved elusive.

Academic language and the problem of meaninglessness

At its worst obscure, self-righteous, and exclusionary, academic language is such an easy target! And yet I can’t help cheering Nathan J. Robinson on as he takes aim and fires at it again. In fairness (to the language), his point is that academic writing isn’t inherently bad, it’s just used that way.

if people are actually trying to communicate with one another their words need to have meaning, and we need to have relatively fixed and identifiable definitions for concepts and actions. That’s always going to be elusive, because the usages of words will change over time and vary among users, so it will be impossible for any definition to stay truly stable and universally agreed. Yet while their boundaries can be fuzzy and contested, words ultimately need to be something more than meaningless mouth-noises.
Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that.

If we’re going to face off against inflated language (see above), why not go head-to-head with inflated pocketbooks as well? If Spidey has to check his virtue, even more so Batman.

According to many philosophies and faiths, wealth should serve only as a steppingstone to some further good and is always fraught with moral danger. We all used to recognize this; it was a commonplace. And this intuition, shared by various cultures across history, stands on firm empirical ground.

Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.”

The ISBN, decoded

Bonus for book nerds! Adrian Tahourdin reports out of London on how to decode the ISBN, and on the sea change its adoption signaled in what we know about the books we read. The article is a bit of an amuse-bouche, so here are a couple of trails to follow, based on Tahourin’s references: Philip Bradley on the ISBN’s history and use, and David Whitaker (“the father of the ISBN”) on the classification system’s birth.

One senior editor at the time would spend half his working hours proof-reading the item; I think he quite enjoyed it. He must have known many of the ISBN prefixes by heart: 0 19 for Oxford, 0 521 for Cambridge, the somehow pleasing 0 224 for Jonathan Cape, and the equally pleasing 0 393 for Norton and 0 674 for Harvard. Another editor at the TLS used to like being tested on ISBN prefixes, but she recalls that particular challenge now with some (understandable) embarrassment. She’s probably not even aware that Cambridge University Press a few years ago changed their prefix from 521 to 107.

The Sunday Post for July 30, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

I choose my pearls: on feminism, fashion, and Disneyland

A microinteraction with a stranger waiting to ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad sparks a wide-ranging essay by Tabitha Blankenbiller on women’s clothing, choice, and self-respect. And nope, it wasn’t a man who shamed her for wearing a dress to the Happiest Place on Earth.

A day at Disneyland is a rare day of freedom. If you have a ticket, you have the world. You can stay as late as your feet will carry you, ride as many Mountains and Mansions and Cruises and Carousels as you wish. You can have Dole Whips for lunch and Matterhorn Macaroons for dinner. You can let yourself believe that the college student in a wig you’ve waited forty minutes in line to be photographed with is actually Cinderella because she is Meryl Streep-level committed to the role. A hundred fireworks end the day not because it’s special, but because it exists.

On top of that, you can wear whatever you want.

I've Found Her

You’ll begin this piece by Martha Baille knowing what it’s about; very shortly in, you’ll realize you have no idea at all. But you’ll keep reading — lyrical in substance, blunt in language, and personal without a hint of gossip, it’s addictive. Yes, this is slightly mysterious; now is a moment for trust. Read on!

My future self, month in month out, has perched on the tall filing cabinet in the corner of my study these past eleven years. Every so often I’ve cast a glance her way, applauded V for his fine sense of humour, and wondered about the life and identity of the woman captured in the likeness offered to me as a teasing foretelling of who I may one day become. Most days I’ve given her no thought, yet she has hovered. Then H’s recent shot of her arrived.
What It Feels Like Being A Trans Person Serving In The Armed Forces

Graphic novelist Jess Ruliffson has spent the past five years interviewing veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars for an upcoming book about their experiences. This well-timed excerpt is a reminder, for those who need it, of what’s at stake when our crazy president salves his political humiliations by reverting to Bully in Chief.

If Hillary Clinton Had Won

Nate Silver wins this week’s sci-fi smartass award for playing tour guide through an alternate universe in which we were all right about Election Day 2016.

Things are really different on Earth 2! Merrick Garland is on the Supreme Court instead of Neil Gorsuch. Clinton didn’t enact a “travel ban.” The United States didn’t withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Kellyanne Conway has a CNN show.

OK, maybe things aren’t that different. This is Earth 2, not Earth 5, where Clinton won in a landslide, or Earth 4044, where Jim Gilmore is president (it’s a cold and dark place, and I wouldn’t advise visiting). Earth 2 preserves about as many of Earth 1’s features as possible, other than the things that just can’t be the same because you have Trump as your president and we have Clinton as ours.

A New Approach to Designing Smart Cities

Would you rather live and work in a Twinkie, or in your grandmother’s fruitcake? (Perhaps neither.) David Galbraith proposes a new concept, “recipe-based” city design, that could change how architecture and city planning interact with human experience. A fabulous set of images and examples, from David Cronenberg to Mies van der Rohe, brings this somewhat wonky piece to life.

This functional need for highly ordered city plans is changing, however, as information technology allows communication that is independent of the physical environment, and intelligent automation allows point to point physical movement in self directed pods rather than mass transit on fixed arteries. Specifically, ubiquitous, GPS enabled smartphones remove entirely the concept of "getting lost," and route programmed self driving cars and mesh network power grids enable organic city layouts to replace grids. Cities of the industrial age looked mechanical, cities of the information age can look like fractal networks  —  like nature.