Outside Reading — Lessons Worth Learning edition

nytime brooklyn hospital

‘We’re in Disaster Mode’: Courage Inside a Brooklyn Hospital Confronting Coronavirus by Sheri Fink

One of the frustrations I’ve felt over the coverage of the current health crisis steams from my perception that there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the harrowing conditions that will arise in hospitals if we don’t collectively work to flatten the curve. It’s generally left as an abstract concept for the general public, a soft theory that it would be generally better for health care professionals if we didn’t hit them with too many cases all at once. That contributes to the small, vocal subset of awful people who decry the pandemic as a hoax. Weeks ago, there was available footage from Italian hospitals that could have presented a stark example of the repercussions if we didn’t work quickly enough. We didn’t work quickly or seriously enough, and now we have examples that are closer to home. The New York Times gives the story to Sheri Fink, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting from a New Orleans hospital in the immediate aftermath of Hurrican Katrina (reporting which she expanded into a weighty, award-winning book). Telling this story is monumentally important. These health care professionals are truly heroic.

 

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The Coronavirus Pandemic Demonstrates the Failures of Capitalism by Kandist Mallett

Day-to-day existence has shifted in a multitude of ways in response to COVID-19. And it’s increasingly remarkable how many of those shifts expose wholly solvable problems deeply embedded into our wounded society. All the assurances that we will collectively return to normal at some point are misguided. We should emerge from this with a collective commitment to do better, to move towards a system where tapping the brakes on our way of life doesn’t threaten to collapse everything. Writing for Teen Vogue, Kandist Mallett goes straight at the issue. When we get through this, let’s take advantage of the scorched earth to grow a greener, better forest.

 

And from the Outside Viewing department, this story appeared on CBS Saturday Morning today. I think it’s meant to be a heartwarming piece, largely unchallenging to the status quo. But embedded in this story is a condemnation of how most of the prison industrial complex works, ultimately uninterested in rehabilitation and generally seeing incarcerated individuals as human beings. There is a better way.

Outside Reading — See You on the Other Side edition

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She Finds Meaning in the Dark by Manohla Dargis

In this strange, unsettled time, there are many who are facing far greater hardships than me and most of my friends. For this I am a grateful. But everyone’s context is their own, and few things make the wide-ranging shutdowns hit home for me like the indefinite closing of movie theaters. Writing for The New York Times, Dargis expresses the feelings of the change better than I could, probably in part because she has a lifelong relationship with moviegoing — including childhood trips to see French New Wave classics in the initial New York runs — that I can only fantasize about.

 

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Meet the Firefighters, Nurses and Janitors on the Front Lines by Sarah Mervosh

Also in The New York Times, Sarah Mervosh writes brief profiles of four different professionals who are ramping up as everyone else shuts down. When we cross through to the other side of this almost entirely unprecedented situation, these are the people who need to be celebrated and — if our economic system worked properly — rewarded properly. On a daily basis, we’re learning big lessons about which jobs are truly vital for the functioning of our system. Our collective relief when the pandemic abates should be joined by a demand for shifts in compensation structures, moving salary away from paper-shufflers and money-movers and to individuals who provide needed services every day.

 

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The Infuriating Story of How the Government Stalled Coronavirus Testing by Julia Ioffe

Just remember: When the morally bankrupt conservatives try to shift blame away from the inept slug to whom they’ve pledged their allegiance, this all could have been different if they executive branch weren’t filled with grifters whose sole interest is making money for themselves and their soul-curdling private-industry backers at the expense of citizenry that they see as either exploitable or expendable. For GQ, Julia Ioffe reports on the valiant efforts of researchers who persevered in the name of the public good, even as their efforts were consistently undermined by the gang that couldn’t govern straight.

 

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The Vegetarian (2016) by Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith

Aching and elegant, Han Kang’s novel centers on a young wife who stops eating meat, to the immediate consternation and even outsized rage of her family. The book is divided into three different sections, as the woman’s choice grows more extreme and the situations around her similarly escalate into the bizarre. Kang’s prose is sharp and direct, conveying emotion with the simplest strokes. The story builds a cumulative power, conveying the multiple ways social structures force women to give up their autonomy, especially control over their own physical beings.

Outside Reading — Closed edition

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The Dismantled State Takes on a Pandemic by Alex Parnee

Writing for The New Republic, Alex Parnee addresses the clumsy ineptitude of the U.S. executive branch at this moment and correctly points out it is the logical outcome of around forty years of Republican disdain for the responsibilities of governance. Since at least the stretch when Ronald Reagan villainous beamed at the whoops that erupted whenever he made his stupid joke about the scariness of a federal worker announcing they’ve arrived to provide assistance. The government is struggling because right-wing elected officials — while drawing comfortable, tax payer–funded paychecks, of course —have ruthlessly, deliberately made it more difficult for the government to do its work on behalf of the citizens. (And Democrats, to my relentlessly dismay, have too often adopted their political rivals’ rhetoric, or at least not vociferously defended the working of government and the dedicated employees of various offices.) The dire circumstances playing out across the nation are a direct outcome of Republican orthodoxy. It didn’t need to be this way.

 

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The Mysterious Meaning of the Second Amendment by James C. Phillips and Josh Blackman

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is a mess. Simply in terms of its grammatical construction, it’s almost nonsensical, which is big part of the reason why few people believed it provided for an individual right to carry firearms for the first two hundred years of its existence. It’s also why lobbyists funded by gun manufacturers have been able to warp to the law to the bottom-line benefit of their ghoulish benefactors, all of them eager to expand their market base beyond the already lucrative military industrial complex. Putted aside heated political debates, James C. Phillis and Josh Blackman use a legal language database to get to the bottom of what the language of the amendment means in the context of the time in which it was written. The article is no diatribe. It is a highly measured consideration of the original intent of the amendment, largely determining that, at this point, no one really knows. There’s no true foundational basis for all the thundering with certainty on either side of the gun ownership divide.

Outside Reading — You’re Better Than All These Fuckers edition

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America Punished Elizabeth Warren for Her Competence by Megan Garber

Given the harsh realities of the political landscape, Elizabeth Warren’s withdrawal from the presidential race was the right choice and the right time. But it still stings, and Megan Garber, writing for The Atlantic, explains why in the best of the many pained postmortems I read. In my opinion, Warren was far and away the best person for the monumental tasks of cleaning up the wanton destruction of the four years of the current criminal enterprise masquerading as a presidential administration, and I desperately hope whoever has a D next to their name on the official November ballots will ask permission to use her “Restoring Integrity and Competence to Government After Trump” policy as the instruction manual for their first days in office. Although I’m not enthused about either of the septuagenarians still duking it out for the nomination, I am mindful that the gag political signs offering support to “Any Functioning Adult” in the 2020 election remain pertinent. I understand the righteous fury that comes from seeing your passionate political hopes dashed in the name of mealy compromise, but I also plan to keep the following Twitter thread handy for the next several months.

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Image result for laura bassett hardball

I told my story about Chris Matthews. I’m celebrating that he no longer has a platform. by Laura Bassett

While we’re on the subject of casual chauvinism, Laura Bassett noted a different ending this week, reflecting on the “retirement” of longtime Hardball host Chris Matthews, a departure seemingly inspired in part by her recent GQ article addressing his yucky, lascivious behavior when she was a guest on his show. For The Washington Post, Bassett penned a new essay in which, among other things, she recounted the online vitriol she received in response to the assertion of the host’s transgressions, most of them presumably coming from people who don’t actually give a damn about Matthews (and likely complained about him on prior occasions when he wasn’t sufficiently slathering praise on their political figure of choice) but feel immediate fury against any women who dares to speak up and say she deserves to be treated with dignity. It’s a reminder of the enduring truth of Lewis’s Law, which states, “the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”

Outside Reading — Parallel Path edition

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Garbage Language by Molly Young

Ever-wonderful Molly Young wittily, wisely addresses the scourge of the modern workplace: communication twisted into a buzzy abomination meant to confer seriousness and impenetrable expertise. The most tellingly obtuse words and phrasing are brought out for easy mockery, but Young shrewdly goes deeper, exploring the ways in which the language is meant to draw sham boundaries around certain individuals and teams. She also artfully draws upon the history of business communication to demonstrate that this filmflammery has been going on for ages.

 

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Duncing About Architecture by Kate Wagner

Realistically, all anyone needs to know about the proposal detailed and challenged by Kate Wagner is the following: “Everyone is very mad online, except for Ross Douthat, who loves the idea.” If the dunderheaded New York Times columnist is a fan of a pitch, it absolutely belongs in the discard pile. Writing for The New Republic, Wagner digs into a suggested federal policy that would force all future governmental buildings to be designed with a stultifying sameness. Even worse, at the core of the proposal is an insidious attempt to ratify the supposed superiority of certain European cultures. Wagner writes with a caustic comic touch that’s especially appreciated given the ugliness she’s confronting.

And let’s add to our Saturday tradition with some Outside Viewing.

My first real job was in a video store, renting blocky VHS tapes (and, at a different store I worked at, even the occasionally Betamax tape) to eager masses seeking distraction. The melancholy nostalgia of this brief documentary is therefore irresistible to me, as are the old photos capturing a more prosperous time for the shop in question.

Outside Reading — The Jalaiah Harmon School of Dance edition

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The Original Renegade by Taylor Lorenz

There’s a long, miserable history of pop culture appropriation that swipes innovations from their creators to earn riches for performers more immediately palatable to the masses. Digital interconnectivity has only turbo-boosted that process as insidious so-called influencers snap up every meme, joke, or dance that has a shot at going viral, not giving a sliver of concern to due diligence and instead happily, rapidly branding it as their own. In one instance, anyway, the Paper of Record decisively redirects the spotlight where it belongs by profiling Jalaiah Harmon, the fourteen-year-old from Atlanta who invented a dance dubbed the Renegade and watched in frustration as others adopted it in more famous videos with nary an indication that someone else deserved credit for the moves. Harmon comes across as bright and charismatic, a superstar in waiting.

 

willie horton

End the GOP by Osita Nwanevu

Writing for The new Republic, Osita Nwanevu makes a plain and forceful case that one of the major U.S. political parties has essentially abdicated their worthiness to remain part of the nation’s ongoing experiment in democratic governance. There are severeal perfectly constructed turns of phrase across the article, but there may be no more succinct summary than describing the Republican party as “prejudiced, venal, and unmoored from reason.” In an especially valuable act of journalistic scholarship, Nwanevu demonstrates that the current state of affairs is not some aberration, a brief spell that will be broken once their especially amoral leader is driven, one way or another, from his ill-gained perch in the White House. This is the latest stage in an evolution that’s been ongoing for decades, with the GOP continually escalating their bigotry in the name of keeping power and then using that power to make sure government reflects their own greed-based hostility rather than the will of the people. In a representative government, their shared worldview is a purely destructive force.

 

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Blowout (2019) by Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow examines the insidious influence and devastating impact of the oil and gas industry with a dizzying exactitude that will be familiar to anyone who’s watched her preside over a news telecast. Her voice is incredibly strong across the book, right down the occasional dollop of gleeful sarcasm and a corresponding weakness for corny jokes. The thread of humor is appreciated, because most of the tapestry is a nightmare of corporate greed and geopolitical malfeasance running roughshod over what’s good for the human race. (As George Carlin accurately explained, “The planet is fine; the people are fucked.”) Maddow is especially convincing in conveying the codependency of unethical parties that catalyzes everything from the foolish indifference of local governments to Russia’s emergence as a global chaos agent.

Outside Reading — Oscars Eve edition

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I still love watching the Oscars by Karen Han

To be simultaneously devoted to modern cinematic art and the Academy Awards is an invitation to perpetual heartbreak, and I type that as someone with fairly mainstream tastes (as opposed to the film fans out there who breathless advocate for artistic superiority of Fatih Akin, Abel Ferrara, and other wild iconoclasts). Writing for Polygon, Karen Han expertly articulates the dilemma, evocatively sharing the feeling of borrowed triumph that comes from watching a personal favorite claim the prize that remains the pinnacle of modern cultural achievement accolades, despite the perpetual diminishing of its stature that the Academy itself has inflected. Someday, they’ll again hire a ceremony producer that is actually excited about the Oscars, instead of all these people who seem to resent the time given over to, you know, the awards. That’ll be a fine night.

 

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Catherine Burns: The Vanishing of an Oscar-Nominated Actress by Scott Feinberg and Scott Johnson

It’s also worth remembering that earning a place on the annual Oscar list isn’t a guarantee of continued success or even lasting acknowledgment of existence, at least if there’s a concerted effort to pull away. The investigation, jointly undertaken by Scott Feinberg and Scott Johnson for The Hollywood Reporter, rambles down the where-are-they-now path in search of Catherine Burns, an Oscar nominee for her supporting role in the 1969 drama Last Summer. (Along with Dyan Cannon, Sylvia Miles, and Susannah York, she lost out to Goldie Hawn, doing her sweet, ditzy hippie thing in Cactus Flower.) The discoveries made in seeking out Burns are surprising and a little bittersweet, illuminating the distance between the red carpet and the finishing spot of some who stroll it.

 

wild west

THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW ‘WILD WILD WEST’ SPUN OUT OF CONTROL by Ralph Jones

Winner of Worst Picture and four Razzies at the 2000 Golden Raspberry Awards, Wild Wild West is one of those disasters that only can only be cooked up on the rumba line of oblivious, overfunded ineptitude enabled by the Hollywood structure. For Mel, Ralph Jones provides a genially gobsmacked rundown of all the ill turns that must be taken to result in such a glorious mess. I saw this movie in the theaters. It was one of the experiences that made me think, ‘Maybe I don’t need to buy a ticket to everything.’