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Katie Kosma

Twenty-five Years After Breaking Brandon Teena’s Story: An Apology

Lane Hickenbottom for AP / Fox Searchlight Pictures

Village Voice journalist Donna Minkowitz apologizes 25 years after breaking the story of Brandon Teena, transgender murder victim and subject of the film Boys Don’t Cry. Realizing in hindsight it was “the most insensitive and inaccurate piece of journalism I have ever written,” Minkowitz examines what she recognizes now as her own internalized homophobia and ignorance of trans issues. 

For years, I have wanted to apologize for what I now understand, with some shame, was the article’s implicit anti-trans framing. Without spelling it out, the article cast Brandon as a lesbian who hated “her” body because of prior experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape.

At the time, I was extremely ignorant about trans people. Like many other cis queer people at the time, I didn’t know that there were gay trans men, trans lesbians, bisexual trans folks, that being trans had nothing to do with whether you were straight or gay, and that trans activism was not, as some of us feared, an effort to stave off queerness and lead “easier,” more conventional heterosexual lives.

I was apoplectic with Feinberg for decades because she’d publicly called my article “sleazy, salacious psychosexual babble,” and falsely claimed the “article [let] the cops off the hook for their culpability in instigating the violence against Teena in the first place.” But in many of her criticisms, Feinberg was correct. I shouldn’t ever have suggested that Brandon wanted to be a man because he was sexually abused, and I should have listened to his own wishes as reflected in the memories of his survivors, and called him trans.

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Mining Britain’s Recent Past to Save Our Future

Miners coming off the last shift at Kellingley Colliery in Knottingley, northern England, on the final day of production, Friday Dec. 18, 2015. John Giles/PA via AP

Coal once fueled the British Empire, yet with little industry pushback the United Kingdom announced plans to stop burning it by 2025. Carolyn Beeler of Public Radio International chronicles the decision’s instigating events including divisive strikes, climate change awareness, and a levy on coal usage. Digging through this history unearths a glowing ember remaining staunchly reliant upon coal: The United States.

The announcement signaled the dethroning of King Coal in a country where it had reigned for more than a century, and where just six years prior it provided more than 40 percent of the nation’s energy.

By the turn of the millennium, environmentalist and lawmaker Baroness Bryony Worthington says, the issue of climate change was starting to work its way into the UK’s politics.  “There was a real sea-change in attitude toward climate change,” says Worthington, who today is a member of the House of Lords and heads the Environmental Defense Fund’s European branch.

To meet the requirements of the act, the UK established a carbon tax in 2013. That tax eventually made coal more expensive than natural gas, and when that happened, Wilson says, it’s like someone flipped a giant switch.

Just ahead of the UN climate change summit in Paris, the UK’s Energy Secretary Amber Rudd announced the country would stop burning coal for electricity in a decade.  “It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations,” Rudd said. “Let me be clear: this is not the future.” A month later, the very last deep mine in the UK closed.

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Frailty, Thy Name Is Immigration Control

Culture Club/Getty, Illustration by Katie Kosma

A Philadelphia judge quoted a line from Hamlet in a recent ruling fighting against the presidential mandates of immigration control. Lawyers and judges have long set a precedent for citing Shakespeare; during these murky, divided days the Bard’s words may ring truer than e’er. Clemson University Professor and The Atlantic author Walt Hunter writes how a play like Hamlet, so imbued with political chaos, holds a mirror up to our own legal and ethical confusion. 

Hamlet makes sense in 2018. Almost too much sense. The contours of his tragedy, as with many of Shakespeare’s doomed characters, are startlingly familiar at a time when Americans are deeply divided over the fate of the country and its people. The story of a man exposed to the political violence of a kingdom under usurpation, some would argue, offers an eerie parallel to the lack of sanctuary or safety in the United States for many of the people who seek to make their lives here.

Shakespeare’s frequent treatment of ethical and legal questions is marked far more by its ambiguity and unresolved tensions than by clear directives and propositions—this is part of what makes his work simultaneously playful and vexing. Yet the choice of the quotation from Hamlet, “No place indeed should murder sanctuarize,” responds directly to the present political moment—and uncovers the play’s contemporary relevance.

The meaning of Shakespeare’s works, or for that matter of any literary work, is not preprogrammed by the monumental status of the plays, but rather set loose by their malleability and the time-bound nature of any single interpretation.

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TPS Reports All Day Long

Simon & Schuster

Existentialists with agita, rejoice. We now have an anthropologist’s confirmation that what we do means nothing. At the New YorkerNathan Heller writes about David Greaber’s Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, a book that examines our current work economy and how we attribute meaning to our lives with possibly (probably?) meaningless tasks.

[Bullshit] jobs are endemic even to creative industries. Content curators, creatives—these and other intermediary non-roles crop up in everything from journalism to art. Hollywood is notoriously mired in development, an endeavor that Graeber believes to be almost pure bullshit.

In a famous essay drafted in 1928, John Maynard Keynes projected that, a century on, technological efficiency in Europe and in the U.S. would be so great, and prosperity so assured, that people would be at pains to avoid going crazy from leisure and boredom. Maybe, Keynes wrote, they could plan to retain three hours of work a day, just to feel useful.

Is it possible that bullshit jobs are useful? In Graeber’s view, they simply reinforce their premises. “We have invented a bizarre sadomasochistic dialectic whereby we feel that pain in the workplace is the only possible justification for our furtive consumer pleasures, and, at the same time, the fact that our jobs thus come to eat up more and more of our waking existence means that we do not have the luxury of—as Kathi Weeks has so concisely put it—‘a life,’” he writes. 

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Across the World in 80 Days

“Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is." (Illustration by George Diebold/Getty)

The Flat-Earther movement is gaining momentum. The New Yorker’s Alan Burdick spent two days at a North Carolina convention discussing lies we’ve been fed, rotating primarily around the alleged shape of our planet. In a post-truth era, should more people shed their spherical beliefs and admit science may not be science at all?

To be clear, Hughes did not expect his flight to demonstrate Earth’s flatness to him; nineteen hundred feet up, or even a mile, is too low of a vantage point. And he doesn’t like that the mainstream media has portrayed things otherwise. This flight was just practice. His flat-Earth mission will come sometime in the future, when he will launch a rocket from a balloon (a “rockoon”) and go perhaps seventy miles up, where the splendor of our disk will be evident beyond dispute.

“Look around you,” Darryle Marble, the first featured speaker on the first morning of the conference, told the audience. “You’ll notice there’s not a single tinfoil hat.” He added, “We are normal people that have an abnormal perspective.”

To insiders, the message is empowering. Trust in your senses. Don’t accept the word of a talking head. (Set aside the paradox of a man onstage imploring his large audience to ignore him.) “We all live in the world; we can see what’s real and what’s not,” Campanella said. “Science is really an excuse for people to be stupid.” Mike Hughes, the rocket builder, told the A.P. in November, “I don’t believe in science. I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula.” 

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