Outside Reading — See Yourself Here edition

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100 years after the 19th Amendment women still have yet to achieve equality by Lyz Lenz

Using as a prompt the centennial anniversary of women belatedly earning the right to vote in the U.S., Lyz Lenz offers an agitated and weary consideration of the distance one-half of the population feels from the halls of power. As part of the piece, Lenz includes comments by Jean Hall Lloyd-Jones, a four-term representation in the Iowa legislature, who pinpoints the default assumption women hold that they haven’t accumulated the proper credentials to run for office, a mindset that is far less prevalent in men (including the lifelong criminal who took second place in the most recent presidential election and was given the job anyway). The dismal truth of the observations are borne out on a daily basis, as supposedly fair-minded arbiters of public discourse consume themselves with speculations about whether Elizabeth Warren’s gender is automatically a demerit with the voting population. This article was published by The Gazette.

 

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How Did Americans Lose Faith in Everything? by Yuval Levin

In The New York Times, Yuval Levin addresses one of the core problems of the modern era: the demolition of the political and social institutions that once drove the nation. For decades, there’s been a clear, concerted effort by the marauders on the right side of the political spectrum to damage our shared institutions (launched heartily by Ronald Reagan when he chortled his way through his famous stump speech joke positing “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” as “the nine most terrifying word in the English language”). The result is that the average citizens who most rely on those institutions are prompted to vote against them, to their own harm and to the nasty benefit of the greedy souls at the top of the malfunctioning capitalist structure. The continuing effort to undermine our most vital institutions — of government, of education, of environment protection — from certain politicians is an act of unforgivable cruelty.

Outside Reading — Gender Specific edition

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The Third Rail of Calling ‘Sexism’ by Rebecca Traister

The endless frustration of the media’s coverage of political campaigns continued this past week as policy discussions (not to mention the ongoing criminality of the amoral marauders currently occupying the White House) were largely set aside to eagerly pursue an inconsequential squabble between two candidates who almost entirely agree. Even putting aside the likelihood that the reportorial astonishment about freshly unearthed behind-the-scenes discussion was likely hogwash, there was an especially nettlesome aspect to the need to contrive drama. Think pieces and cable pundit pontification proliferated, all musing about the electability of a female candidate. As usual, when arriving at the intersection of gender and politics, Rebecca Traister provides the most useful reflection. This piece was published at The Cut.

 

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Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (2019) by Benjamin Dreyer

The chief copy editor at Random House assembles his basic rules and guidelines for strong writing, and it is an absolute delight. I will readily concede, however, that, to deploy a cliched metaphor that would surely cause Benjamin Dreyer to deploy his editing pen, mileage may vary. I was thoroughly enamored with the astute breakdown of language usage and the chapters that tick through words and phrases most likely to set writers stumbling. Mostly, I appreciated the way Dreyer’s views are founded on a principle of crafting work that is consistently engaging and highly readable. Rather than setting up rigid, persnickety rules that can lead to painfully tortured sentences (Dreyer is happy to discard some of the most timeworn strictures), he repeatedly stresses crafting writing that is clean, clear, and consistent. Every rule can be excepted if doing so will improve the finished work. Except the serial comma. And I agree with him on that, too.

 

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The Undoing Project (2016) by Michael Lewis

One of Michael Lewis’s specialities as a writer is shrewd assessments of figures who spend a lot of time thinking about the way we think. So it makes sense — it indeed has the air of inevitability — that Lewis found his way to Israeli scholars Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The duo conducted transformational research demonstrated all the faulty ways human beings observe and process reality, and the shaky decision-making that often results, driving society into disrepair. As usual, Lewis demonstrates an uncommon skills for taking incredibly complex material and getting it as close as possible to broadly understandable. He also proves to be a skilled biographer (if fairly surface-level in his examination), tracing the genesis, prosperity, and eventual dissolution of the partnership with a keen eye.

Outside Reading — But You Can’t Stay Here edition

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Lived in Bars by Helena Fitzgerald

Writing for Good Beer Hunting, Helena Fitzgerald offers this absolutely marvelous appraisal of bar culture with a bracing honesty about the complicated intermingling of reasonable social norms and a potential problematic developed reliance on alcohol. There’s no much in the article I relate to, right down to Fitzgerald’s evocative descriptions of the comforts found in the bar environment. She hasn’t had any alcohol in over a year (Fitzgerald admirably takes care to distinguish her choice to abstain from drinking as quite different from those who do so while struggling with alcoholism), and there’s a fine acuteness and poignancy to her observations about moving through bars both inside and outside of a boozy haze.

 

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One Year in Washington by David Freedlander

David Freedlander profiles Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as she nears the end of his first full year in the House of Representatives. I think the article has some pesky issues, most notably an occasional tinge of glibness that is dismaying common in The Atlantic since Jeffrey Goldberg became editor-in-chief. Mostly, though, the intelligence and impressive character of Ocasio-Cortez wriggles past any attempts to reduce her to the usual push-and-pull narrative of modern politics. As has been the case during her entire first year, Ocasio-Cortez comes across as someone who is empathetic and kind, truly devoted to representing her constituents and striving towards some sort of justice in this broken system of ours.

Outside Reading — Terra Australis edition

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From a vital and heartbreaking photo essay by The New York Times

We are seeing the very worst of our scientific predictions come to pass in these bushfires by Joëlle Gergis

While the U.S. news media is distracted by the geopolitical instability fomented by the moronic lifelong criminal who’s perplexingly still allowed to make literal life-and-death decisions despite his flagrant and continuous demonstrations of his unfitness for the office he stumbled into, an entire continent is burning down. The level of catastrophe is exactly what scientists have been forecasting, and exactly what right-leaning politicians, bending to the greedy needs of their wealthy benefactors, have been dismissing. For years — decades, even — we’ve known these problems were coming, and we’ve done practically nothing in response, at least on the larger policy scale that could truly make a difference. Writing for The Guardian, climate scientist Joëlle Gergis expresses valorously contained outrage.

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Read the whole thread.

 

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Martin Scorsese Is Letting Go by Dave Itzkoff

Of course, the main quote that made the rounds after publication of this Martin Scorsese profile involved his views on a movie centered on a comic book character. That Scorsese’s bored dismissal of Joker is extremely funny doesn’t completely alleviate the frustration that the great living film director is being reduced to a cranky pop culture editorialist, especially since the focus should be on his recent, late-career triumph. To Dave Itzkoff’s credit, the requisite superhero chatter is relegated to the end of an article that deeply, seriously concentrated on the filmmaker’s work and his place in the canon of cinema. (And Joker, in its overt borrowing from Scorsese’s work, in a far more relevant topic than whether or not he was blown away by Avengers: Endgame.) It’s not Itzkoff’s fault that everyone chooses to tweet Scorsese’s quote about the clown prince of crime. This article was published by The New York Times.

Outside Reading — America’s Press Conference of the Air edition

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The Christmas Eve Confessions of Chuck Todd by Jay Rosen

Earlier this week, Rolling Stone gave a platform to Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, interviewing him about an upcoming special edition of his venerable program. Todd and his producers have apparently come to an epiphany about the intellectual dishonesty employed by several of the politicians and political commentators booked as guests on his program. For those of us not drawing obscenely large paychecks as network news figures but actively paying attention to the right wing’s strategy of flooding the public  with easily debunked distortions (often propagated on Meet the Press, where the lies too often go unchallenged), Todd’s newfound astonishment is embarrassing. Luckily, NYU professor Jay Rosen writes a properly savage appraisal of Todd’s comments in the interview, detailing exactly how current stewards of journalism like Todd are entirely unprepared for the current era. More worrisomely, that lack of basic ability to meet the moment helps perpetuate the ruthless opportunists who are spreading their destructive toxins throughout society.

 

Little Women (1868, 1869) by Louisa May Alcott

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To the best of my recollection, I’d never previously read Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s book that’s one of the cornerstone works of U.S. literature. It’s possible that there was a school assignment at some point, and it’s equally possible I stupidly dismissed such an assignment because it was a “girl’s book.” Although clearly pitched at younger readers, the novel is rich with offhand insight about the ways in which people move around one another, striving to make and keep ahold of connections. It often reads more like a collection of connected short stories, reflecting the time when it was written and first published. Through it all, the measured mastery of Alcott is evident. There’s no confusion as to why it’s a classic.

Outside Reading — Lightsabers Out edition

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Why ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Really Pissed Off Fans by Matt Singer

As far as I’m concerned, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi saved Star Wars from itself, or at least from the tepidly sycophantic revival of the classically derived space saga that was set into motion by J.J. Abrams with The Force Awakens. Johnson’s movie made more than one billion dollars at the global box office and received largely laudatory reviews, but it’s almost entirely defined by a cacophonously loud subset of entitled fans offering their seething dissent. And all indications are that this group’s ire dictated the direction of latest Star Wars installment (which is back in Abrams’s hands), an astonishing outsourcing of the creative process for a film property that’s hardly a financial risk requiring desperate attempts to find an extra nickel here and there. Writing for ScreenCrush, Matt Singer nicely breaks down the likely reasons these bratty fans saw the strengths of Johnson’s filmmaking as something akin to an attack on their delicate, precious sensibilities.

 

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ELIZABETH WARREN The Rolling Stone Interview by Tessa Stuart

I usually invoke the publication Jann Wenner launched over a half-century ago in order to lob a couple embittered insults at it, mostly because I feel its former enormous influence on the music canon helped stagnate the pop culture canon. But I subscribed for many years, and this week I was reminded why. For a Rolling Stone cover story, Tessa Stuart interviews Massachusetts senator, U.S. presidential candidate, and all-around truth-teller Elizabeth Warren. The resulting piece is probing, engaging, and lively. And I truly believe Warren’s approach — the way she thinks about interconnected economic issues and the way she explains them, sometimes person by person — is the proper one for getting the nation to move forward again instead of maintaining the current regressive state that only benefits the most unsavory figures in the existing power structure. Every Democrat should study this answer:

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Outside Reading — Food on the Table edition

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Mentioned in the below article, this spatula designed by José Andrés is available for purchase.

HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE FOR FOODIES: FROM MURDEROUS-MERMAID SALT TO LAMPS MADE OUT OF CROISSANTS by Helen Rosner

Holiday gift guides are usually painfully dull. Writing for The New Yorker, Helen Rosner avoids the usual listing of marginally interesting wares for sale with glib descriptions. She instead fills the article with personality that give her opinions an added authority. I have no need for a piece of bread repurposed into a decorative light, but Rosner almost has me convinced that no home (or at least stack of meticulously wrapped gifts beneath a bauble-adorned tree) is complete with one. Arguably the best part of the article, though, is the portion of the introduction devoted the gift that absolutely should not be given, a verdict rendered with appropriately withering wit.

 

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America’s Dairy Farmers Are Hurting. A Giant Merger Could Make Things Worse. by David Yaffe-Bellany

This news story, which was in today’s print edition of The New York Times, touches on a topic of great interest to my home state. Reporter David Yaffe-Bellany lays out the questionable practices of the Dairy Farmers of America, a co-op that seems more interested in shoveling money into their own coffers than protecting the family farms they’re supposed to serve. And matters could get worse if the DFA follows through a plan to acquire dairy food giant Dean Foods, currently mired in bankruptcy proceedings. The article is about one sliver of the greater agricultural industry, but it gets at a pervasive problem in the current U.S. economy. Everything is rigged in favor of conglomerates, and anything created by small, independent operators to help them get ahead will be quickly and heartlessly stomped out. As my state’s good and honorable U.S. senator pointed out, Wisconsin has seen over eighteen hundred dairy farms go out of business in the past three years. There are many factors behind the loss of these farms, but there’s little question that greedy monsters with the means to manipulate national systems in their favor are exacerbating the problem at the expense of regular citizens trying to earn a modest living.