Category Archives: Blog Post

Longreads Essays Editor Sari Botton’s Guide to Pitching

In recent months, there’s been a lot of hubbub and even a little hysteria over the fate of the personal essay. It began with a New Yorker piece by Jia Tolentino with the headline, “The Personal Essay Boom is Over.”

But Tolentino wasn’t proclaiming the death of the entire category, just essays of a certain kind: often sensationalized, barely edited accounts of very personal experiences with click-baitish headlines. The pieces tended to lack reflection, and offered little connection between their anecdotes and something larger.

Having regrettably fired off some pretty half-baked “essays” along those lines myself years ago, I’m not sorry to see that trend die. I see it as a good thing for readers and writers alike that the bar has been raised.

If any doubts still remain about the vitality of the genre, let me offer my beast of an inbox as an indication that rumors of the personal essay’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Tolentino’s piece was published around the same time that I put out some calls for personal essay submissions, and also around the time we updated our submissions guidelines. One of my calls for submissions was then picked up by a website popular with aspiring freelance writers, and as a result of this confluence, since then, I’ve been hit with an ongoing deluge of essays. At its peak, I was receiving more than 100 a week. (It didn’t help that between May and July, the The New York Times‘ Modern Love column was on hiatus from accepting new essays.)

Because there are so many people emailing me essays every day — more than I can respond to — and because I am ramping up from 8 essays a month to 10 or 12, I thought it might be a good idea to post here clarifying what I’m looking for, what are the best ways to pitch me, and what you can expect from working with me once I choose your essay.
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Tech Companies Are (Maybe) Ready to Punch Nazis Now

In the week since white supremacists descended on Charlottesville with tiki torches blazing, tech companies have begun to eliminate website hosting or accounts run by neo-Nazis. The decision to kick people off the internet—a world many of us occupy in equal measure, if not more than we do the physical one around us—is not one taken lightly, and these companies have remained cautious until proven complicit.

The CEO of Cloudflare, Matthew Prince, explained in a public blog post why he chose to drop the Daily Stormer, a hate-mongering website that published openly racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist screeds, including a post about Heather Heyer. “Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion,” writes Prince. “The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology.” (ProPublica skewered Cloudfare earlier this year for providing the Daily Stormer with information about people who criticized or complained about the website’s explicitly offensive content.)

Cloudflare is not alone in abandoning Nazi clients. As Adrienne Jeffries reported at The Outline, in the last few days Squarespace has dropped an array of so-called “alt-right” sites, including the think tank of neo-Nazi poster boy Richard Spencer. On Tuesday, Sean Captain at Fast Company noticed that publishing platform WordPress.com (the parent company of Longreads) is no longer hosting the website for the ultra-nationalist organization Vanguard America. (The man who drove the car that killed Heyer and injured 19 other people was allegedly a Vanguard America member, though the organization has tried to disown him.) Read more…

A Look Back at the 1939 Pro-Nazi Rally at Madison Square Garden and the Protesters Who Organized Against It

In late February 1939, roughly 22,000 people gathered at New York City’s Madison Square Garden for a rally, which included a 50-member drum and bugle corps and a color guard of more than 60 flags.

The event, which had been proposed the year before and—after much hand-wringing and debate—had been given the green light by NYC mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, drew scores of protesters and at least one thousand police officers which promised to turn the Garden into an “a fortress impregnable to anti-Nazis.”

What type of gathering would draw this much scrutiny and opposition? A pro-Nazi rally organized by the German American Bund, which festooned MSG’s interior with both American flags, swastika-bearing banners, and a thirty-plus foot high painting of George Washington. Also included were signs that read “Wake Up American. Smash Jewish Communism” and “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian Americans.”

The 1930s were a boon period for American supporters of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. A depressed work force coupled with little chance of upward mobility and an economy not yet on the rebound led to a majority that was fearful of their place in the world, and Hitler’s rhetoric added fuel to an already lit population.

In 1933, deputy fuhrer Rudolf Hess ordered Heinz Spanknobel, a German immigrant, to form Friends of New Germany, a group based in NYC, with the goal of spreading National Socialism throughout the United States. Though Spanknobel was eventually forced to leave the country—he had failed to register as a foreign agent—and his organization collapsed, the German American Bund, or Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund, emerged in the vacuum and coalesced FONG and the other American-based groups that supported the Reich.

According to historian Warren Grover, the German American Bund was “the largest and best-financed Nazi group operating in America,” financing youth summer camps and family retreats in states like New Jersey, Wisconsin, and California (among others) and espousing concepts of pan-Germanism and a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

A New York City mounted policeman outside Madison Square Garden during a pro-Nazi rally is shown attempting to take an American flag away from one of the demonstrators on Feb. 20, 1939. (AP Photo)

By the time of the rally at Madison Square Garden, the German American Bund had as many as 25,000 members nationwide. At that time, holding an event at the Garden and filling the cavernous space gave any group an air of legitimacy, and that’s what the leaders of the German-American Bund sought. “The Pro-American Rally” was scheduled to take place on George Washington’s birthday—the group considered the president to be the “first fascist“—and though NYC mayor La Guardia considered shutting down the event, he agreed to let the Bund proceed, arguing:

Our government provides for free speech, and in this city that right will be respected. It would be a strange kind of free speech that permits free speech for those we agree with.

LaGuardia then departed the city on what was described as a “western trip“. His constituents, though, certainly did not agree with the mayor’s rationale:

From 2/6/1939 New York Times.

Inside the Garden, the thousands who had gathered heard dozens of speeches denouncing “International Jewry,” while at least 100,000 protesters organized by the Socialist Workers Party—equipped with anti-Nazi posters and banners that read “Give me a gas mask, I can’t stand the smell of the Nazis“—picketed, held back from storming the Garden by police mounted on horseback. One protester named Isidore Greenbaum did manage to slip into the Garden and rushed the stage at one point, only to be badly beaten by “Bund storm troopers” who “ripped [his clothing] to shreds.”

According to Felix Morrow of the Socialist Appeal, the turnout was diverse and the protest unifying:

Among those who pressed against the horses, fighting for every inch of ground, were Spanish and Latin American workers, aching to strike the blow at fascism which had failed to strike down Franco; Negroes standing up against the racial myths of the Nazis and their 100% American allies; German American workers seeking to avenge their brothers under the heel of Hitler; Italian anti-fascists singing “Bandera Rossa;” groups of Jewish boys and men, coming together from their neighborhoods, to strike a blow against pogroms everywhere; Irish Republicans conscious of the struggle for the freedom of all peoples if Ireland is to be free; veterans of the World War; office workers, girls and boys, joining the roughly-clad workers in shouting and fighting; workers of every trade and neighborhood of the city.

Mounted police form a solid line outside Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20, 1939. To prevent any clash between bundsmen and counter-demonstraters, police surrounded the area with a force of 1,500. (AP Photo/Murray Becker)

The Pro-American Rally was the Bund’s final hurrah; its leader was convicted for tax evasion and embezzlement and the group dissolved after the United States entered World War II, but it never really disappeared. The recent violence in Charlottesville is a reminder that hate and fear don’t need many openings to cross from the shadows and into the mainstream. Once there, it is difficult to unroot.

Failed Promises: A ‘Bachelorette’ Reading List

The Bachelorette came to an end on Monday when Rachel Lindsay, the first black Bachelorette, broke up with Peter and chose Bryan. Seven million viewers collectively released the most exasperated sigh they could muster in an already-exhausting year. Lost love is as horrible to experience on a television screen as it is in real life. 

As a first-time viewer, Rachel Lindsay drew me in with her easy smile, fiery confidence, and honest vulnerability. It felt powerful; a woman of color commanding both the camera and a palette of men eager to woo her. Watching the show was like vicariously living what I thought my twenties would be like: fun, flirty, and carefree. Her dark skin was a desired luxury in Bachelorette paradise. Rachel played the rejecter, not the rejected, and she didn’t have to gloss over her race with her suitors or the viewers. 

Before I could slip fully into this idealized universe, the rosé-tinted veil parted. Instead of the other, better world I’d hoped for, the past nine weeks brought unnamed racial tensions masked as entertainment, a hazy divide between reality and reality television, and millions of regular viewers questioning the morality of the network. 

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Overseas Elite: The Team Dominating the Single-Elimination, Winner-Take-All Basketball Tournament

Jonathan Mugar’s idea was simple: create a single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament full of ex-college stars and pros. The Basketball Tournament—or, more simply, TBT—would take place every summer and, much like March Madness, only a select few could enter, determined by popular demand and an at-large selection process.

When TBT first launched in 2014, a team made up of former Notre Dame basketball players took the title, and the squad won $500,000, but the competition was seen largely as a niche event: perfect for the summer months to ease the doldrums of choosing between golf and baseball for your sports viewing pleasure. In the years since, though, TBT has exploded, adding 32 more teams (for a total of 64) to the field and upping the prize money to a whopping $2 million, attracting better athletes and enhancing the competitive spirit.

It’s within this chasm that Overseas Elite began its dynasty. An easy team to root for—Overseas Elite is stocked with Big East favorites including former St. John’s players (like DJ Kennedy) and Pittsburgh-area stars (DeAndre Kane)—the squad has won the past two TBT titles, racking up $4 million in the process and carving a path to the 2017 TBT finals (versus the Carmelo Anthony-coached Challenge ALS, which airs Thursday night on ESPN, challenging the NFL Network’s first preseason game).

Each of the half-dozen of so Overseas Elite players all have careers playing international ball, so it’s somewhat shocking that a team of such disparate players can come together for three straight years and make a mockery of the competition.

So what has helped Overseas Elite achieve this level of dominance? The team is built much like the modern NBA—that is, chock full of positionless players all capable of driving the lane and finishing at the rim or scorching the nets from deep. During the win against Boeheim’s Army in the TBT semifinals, Overseas Elite connected on nearly 50 percent of its threes, led by Errick McCollum II’s five three-pointers. During his time as a member of the Red Storm, Kennedy wasn’t known for his passing capabilities, but the big has evolved into a point-forward as a three-time Overseas Elite member (handing out 19 assist over five games).

By mimicking the tweaks already embedded in the modern NBA—offensive spacing, perimeter shooting, and lineups stacked with multi-versatile players—Overseas Elite has essentially become the Golden State Warriors of The Basketball Tournament. Back in 2014, when TBT was still very much a cool idea rather than a proven concept, Grantland’s Zach Lowe outlined the uniqueness of such a competition:

Picking the teams is the fun part. Any group of between seven and 10 players can apply for one of the 32 spots on TBT’s website (launching today). Every team has to have a “general manager” who selects the players, manages the team, and recruits “fans” through the website. Every “fan” must fill out a simple form to become official, and any team wishing to make the 32-team field must recruit at least 100 such fans — and likely thousands more. The 24 teams with the most fans will earn automatic bids into the 32-team field. The tournament organizers will choose the remaining eight teams, provided they’ve all met a baseline of 100 enlisted fans. That allows the tournament to make sure a high-profile team can make the field even if it somehow fails to pile up enough fans to crack the top 24.

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A Close Reading of Ryan Lizza’s Phone Call from Anthony Scaramucci

The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza got a rare triple-stack headline on his bombshell of a post Thursday chronicling a phone call from new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci that would be unbelievable if anything was unbelievable anymore.

Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon

Interesting. Okay. I guess these are topics relevant to your professional life, Anthony. Continue.

Lizza had tweeted about Scaramucci’s dinner plans and Scaramucci really wanted to know who told Lizza about Scaramucci’s dinner plans, a subject which, if revealed, posed “a major catastrophe for the American country.”

Wait, what?

“What I’m going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over,” he said. I laughed, not sure if he really believed that such a threat would convince a journalist to reveal a source. He continued to press me and complain about the staff he’s inherited in his new job. “I ask these guys not to leak anything and they can’t help themselves,” he said. “You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.”

Again, this is about the dinner plans of a man referred to as “The Mooch.”

I asked him why it was so important for the dinner to be kept a secret. Surely, I said, it would become public at some point. “I’ve asked people not to leak things for a period of time and give me a honeymoon period,” he said. “They won’t do it.”

A honeymoon period.

Mooch then becomes convinced Reince Priebus, the Republican Party’s delegate in the Trump White House, is leaking things about him.

He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ”

Here is where we say a little prayer of thanks that this phone call was not wasted on the tongue-biting puritans at the New York Times. Cock-block!

Scaramucci was particularly incensed by a Politico report about his financial-disclosure form, which he viewed as an illegal act of retaliation by Priebus. The reporter said Thursday morning that the document was publicly available and she had obtained it from the Export-Import Bank. Scaramucci didn’t know this at the time, and he insisted to me that Priebus had leaked the document, and that the act was “a felony.”

“I’ve called the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice,” he told me.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

That last line could have been the headline of this piece.

“The swamp will not defeat him,” he said, breaking into the third person.

Oh, my god.

“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist.

OH, MY GOD.

Scaramucci said he had to get going. “Yeah, let me go, though, because I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy.”

The sheer magnificence of this story appears to have crashed The New Yorker’s website, but once that’s remedied, you should definitely…

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A Transgender-Military Reading List

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced, via Twitter, a ban on transgender people serving in the United States military.

His tweeted justification was that “our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military [sic] would entail.”

It was, several Twitter users noted, an odd way to mark the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman signing an executive order that ended racial discrimination in the military. There are currently thousands of transgender people serving in the nation’s all-volunteer military.

As BuzzFeed News noted, a policy instated last year ensures transgender people the right to serve in the military, and have the medical costs of their transition covered. Trump’s tweet alone can’t undo that, and the Pentagon does not appear to have any new policies in the works that would. In fact, military officials weren’t given notice of the new ban before Trump tweeted about it:

At the Pentagon, the first of the three tweets raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action. Many said they were left in suspense for nine minutes, the time between the first and second tweet. Only after the second tweet did military officials receive the news the president was announcing a personnel change on Twitter.

Trump’s tweets appeared to come out of nowhere, though hints of attempts to unravel Obama-era protections for transgender service members have been seen in recent weeks.

The policy enacted last year included efforts to recruit more transgender military members, which Trump’s Department of Defense has been delaying, BuzzFeed News reported last month. Foreign Policy published a story on Tuesday reporting that Vice President Mike Pence has been pushing Republican members of Congress to tack amendments onto a Pentagon spending bill that would rescind financial coverage of transition procedures for transgender military members. Similar legislation failed to pass earlier this month.

Pence, for what it’s worth, has long hated diversity in the military. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski dug up a 1990s op-ed by Pence that amounts to a screed against the Disney movie “Mulan,” which he believed was pushing the liberal agenda of including women in the military.

According to Politico, Trump’s tweets on Wednesday were part of negotiations to secure funding for his much-discussed border wall with Mexico, a key campaign promise. Though Trump repeatedly vowed to strong-arm Mexico into paying for it, it appears it will be paid for with the rights of transgender patriots, instead.

Trump’s tweets apparently took even the Republicans he was trying to please by surprise, however. They only wanted to prohibit Pentagon funds from being used for gender reassignment surgery and medication, not wholesale ban transgender people from service. As Politico reported:

“This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” said one senior House Republican aide. The source said that while GOP leaders asked the White House for help, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.

Jonathan Swan at Axios tweeted that it was a strategic move to influence midterm elections.

As STATnews and The Atlantic noted, estimated costs of covering transition services for transgender service members are minimal — “little more than a rounding error in the military’s $47.8 billion annual health care budget,” according to the author of a New England Journal of Medicine study in 2015.

The New England study found that there are 12,800 transgender services members eligible for medical care, and fewer than 200 would require transition care. A June 2016 RAND study, commissioned by the Department of Defense, found between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender active-duty service members, out of 1.3 million total. The New England study found an overall estimated cost of $4.2 million to $5.6 million, while the RAND study found providing care to transgender service members would increase military healthcare expense by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million each year — an uptick of between 0.04 and 0.13 percent.

As far as Trump’s claims that transgender service members create “disruption,” RAND found that fewer than 0.1 percent of military members would seek treatments that could delay deployment.

Trans Military Service Member

Army Sergeant Shane Ortega, the first openly transgender person in the U.S. military, works out with gymnastic rings at a park on March 26, 2015 in Mililani, Hawaii. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

For comparison, James Hamblin at The Atlantic noted military bands cost $437 million of the DoD’s estimated total $640 billion budget, and that the increase to care for transgender soldiers amounts to one tenth of the annual $84 million that the military spends on medication for erectile dysfunction. (It’s easy to mock treatment for erectile dysfunction, but important to keep in mind that it’s a common side effect of post-traumatic stress disorder.)

As Hamblin wrote:

The diseases that do seem to disproportionately afflict transgender people are mental-health issues. The pathology behind this is abetted by societal marginalization of exactly the sort that Trump’s language propagated today—portraying transgender people as a burden to The Mission, with a focus on “medical costs” as an apparent euphemism for gender-reassignment surgeries.

For now, the military is taking no action without further instruction from the president.

Some on Twitter noted that the response from both former military officials and Republicans is an indication of how far the struggle for transgender rights has come in the past few years alone. Orrin Hatch, the 83-year-old longest-serving U.S. Senator, was one of the first to speak out against the ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union is already moving to block any potential ban stemming from the President’s tweets.

Here is a reading list on transgender people serving in the United States Armed Forces.

1. “The Military Is An Imperialist Tool, But The Ban on Trans Folks is Dehumanizing As Fuck” (L’Lerrét Jazelle Ailith, Wear Your Voice, July 2017)

One of the only pieces by a trans writer published in the wake of Trump’s tweets, Ailith’s post at Wear Your Voice also talks more broadly about the plight of transgender Americans under Trump.

Much like the debate on which bathroom trans people should be able to use, this issue of trans involvement in the military is less about the actual military itself and more about denying us our right to occupy space, make decisions, navigate authentically, and live within our full dignity as human beings.

But the President’s tweets from this morning are also a distraction. They are a distraction from the multiplicity of ways that the system has failed to protect trans people. Especially Black and Brown trans folks.

2. ‘”Did I just get fired… via tweet?” Transgender troops in Colorado react to Trump announcement” (Jennifer Brown, The Denver Post, July 2017)

Brown followed up with transgender troops featured in her 2015 Denver Post story on trans people in the military before they could serve openly.

“Did I just get fired … via tweet?” Staff Sgt. Patricia King asked on her Facebook page Wednesday shortly after President Donald Trump used Twitter to announce that transgender people can no longer serve in the military.

“This is a concerning turn of events,” said King, who lived for 16 years as a male soldier before transitioning to female while stationed at Fort Carson south of Colorado Springs in 2015. “Please keep trans service members in your prayers and call your representatives.”

3. “A Soldier’s Story” (Jennifer Brown, The Denver Post, October 2015)

At the time of Brown’s story, King was one of an estimated 15,500 transgender service members living dual lives.

For now, Trish must play the role of male soldier while on duty. It is only after work, at her home in Colorado Springs, that she lives “genuinely.”

Splitting her life in two is a torment.

Trans Military Service Member

Army Sergeant Shane Ortega, the first openly transgender person to serve in the Army, shaves at home at Wheeler Army Airfield on March 26, 2015 in Wahiawa, Hawaii. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

4. “What It Feels Like Being a Trans Person Serving In The Armed Forces” (Jess Ruliffson, BuzzFeed Reader, October 2016)

Ruliffson illustrates her interview with former Senior Airman Jordan Blisk, an Air Force Reserves member who joined the military as a young girl because her family couldn’t afford college. “When I started getting called ‘sir,’ I was scared by how right it felt,” Blisk told her.

5. “Transgender, in War and in Love” (Fiona Dawson, New York Times Op-Docs, June 2015)

This short film shares the story of a transgender military couple who at the time could not serve openly as their true selves. The producer, Fiona Dawson, also created “TransMilitary,” a platform for transgender service members.

6. “Transgender airman: ‘I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military'” (Stephen Losey, Air Force Times, July 2017)

After Trump’s tweets, one of the transgender service men in the Times Op-Doc told Air Force Times, “You are not going to deny me my right to serve my country when I am fully qualified and able and willing to give my life.” He was one of several people interviewed by the publication.

A Marine military police officer who is a transgender man (he asked that his name not be used), pointed out that he’s served honorably through two deployments. He’s never endangered his comrades, he said, or made anyone else “conform to my world view.” All he asked for, he said, was the same respect he gave others.

“I have never described myself as trans; I’m a mother—-ing Marine,” the corporal said. “That‘s all that matters. Don’t tarnish my title with your bigotry and fear of the unknown.”

US-MILITARY-TRANSGENDER-RIGHTS

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announces that the military will lift its ban on transgender troops during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, June 30, 2016. ‘This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force,’ Carter said. (Photo Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

7. “Trump’s Pick to Lead the Army Believes Being Transgender is a Disease” (Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post, April 2017)

When Trump announced he wanted to nominate Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green as Army secretary, Terkel highlight Green’s recent comments to the Chattanooga Tea Party.

Green replied that many service members are younger and are more than fine serving alongside openly gay men and women, which have been allowed in the military since President Barack Obama signed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010. He said that although most millennials are comfortable with people who are transgender, it is a “disease.”

8. “Trans Soldier Shane Ortega on Trump’s Military Ban, How to Save America” (Raven Brajdic, Rolling Stone, July 2017)

Shane Ortega, the first openly transgender soldier in the U.S. Army, tells Rolling Stone his thoughts on Trump’s tweets.

This is so much more than people needing jobs, or serving, or war. This is about who is considered a valid human being, and who is not a valid human being. And who gets to decide. Right now, we’re seeing that Donald Trump gets to decide.

I knew what gender I was before I joined. These new recruits will know what gender they are before they join. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. These people still chose to take bullets for you.

9. “Transgender in the military: A Pentagon in transition weighs its policy” (Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, April 2015)

Ortega was first profiled in 2015, before the Obama administration allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military.

He holds a man’s military travel passport, based on the new Social Security card he received when he changed his name. But he is still identified as female in the military’s official computer system. He must wear a woman’s “dress blues” for official occasions.

Looking for clarity, his commanders have formally asked the Army a simple question: Can Ortega serve openly as a man?

“Administratively I shouldn’t exist,” said Ortega, 28. “But I do exist, so that’s still the problem.”

US-POLITICS-MILITARY-TRANSGENDER-RIGHTS-USA

Transgender former US Air Force member Vanessa Sheridan poses for a photo after talking with reporters in Chicago, Illinois on July 26, 2017, after Trump’s tweets. (Photo Credit: DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

10. “Kristin Beck: A Navy SEAL in Transition” (Devin Friedman, GQ Magazine, November 2015)

A SEAL on the unit that took out Osama bin Laden earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, among about 50 other ribbons and medals. Friedman’s piece is so eminently readable and compelling, it’s hard to pull just one quote.

It’s a weird thing to say, but talking about transgender people has become a trend. Which is a good thing. “Visibility is good,” as Kristin says. But trends are also reductive and facile and sometimes dehumanizing while letting everyone off the hook. It’s like using the hashtag Black Lives Matter and thinking—well, we took care of racial injustice, let’s go have brunch. A trend usually fails to make a connection between people like Kristin Beck and the rest of us. Kristin Beck’s story isn’t just about the relatively small number of people who are born with the traits of a gender they don’t identify with. Aren’t most of us hiding some part of ourselves? Would we not, most of us, be terrified at having to walk out into the world with that part of ourselves on the outside? Are we not, often, made up of impulses and identities that seem like they can’t exist together? What Kristin Beck is asking is: What happens if you feel like a Navy SEAL and a woman in a red dress accepting a bouquet of flowers from an admirer at an airport? Are any of us really just one thing? Aren’t we all made up of a bunch of conflicting identities (masculine and feminine, liar and self-righteous, etc.) that we’ll never be able to make fit together? And how do we bear life, knowing we are so many things that can never be reconciled?

It’s A Very Muppets Controversy!

A kerfuffle over Kermit is causing a Muppets media maelstrom.

In October, parent company Disney fired Steve Whitmire, the man who has voiced and handled Kermit the Frog since creator Jim Henson’s death in 19990. While Henson was alive, he was the sole voice of the famous frog. When he died in 1990, his son Brian took over his company and tapped Whitmire, who had been part of the Muppet family since 1978, to keep Kermit alive.

Last week, Whitmre wrote about his sudden firing in a blogpost.

For me the Muppets are not just a job, or a career, or even a passion. They are a calling, an urgent, undeniable, impossible to resist way of life. This is my life’s work since I was 19 years old. I feel that I am at the top of my game, and I want all of you who love the Muppets to know that I would never consider abandoning Kermit or any of the others because to do so would be to forsake the assignment entrusted to me by Jim Henson, my friend and mentor, but even more, my hero.

Whitmire’s complaints are typical of someone pushed out of a career after decades. Why didn’t you give me a warning? Why are you taking away everything I’ve ever cared about?

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But His Emails: The Evolving Story of Donald Trump, Jr.’s Russia Meeting

Remember that part in “All the President’s Men” when Deep Throat tells Dustin Hoffman, “The truth is, these are not very bright guys and things got out of hand”?

Well.

It’s been a heck of a few days after a heck of a few months after approximately 900 years that got squeezed into this mutation of the space-time continuum we’re calling 2017.

Our president’s namesake has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle and the New York Times, as the saying goes, is on it. The first story, published on Saturday, noted how Donald J. Trump, Jr. said in March that he probably met with people that were Russian — who hasn’t, in today’s globalized world? — but no meetings “that were set up” and “certainly none” in which he was representing his father’s presidential campaign.

And then this beauty of a standalone single-sentence paragraph:

Asked at that time whether he had ever discussed government policies related to Russia, the younger Mr. Trump replied, “A hundred percent no.”

But then the Times tells Junior — and Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, the young son-in-law with the security clearance and the mandate to fix the Middle East — that they know about a meeting.

How do they know about it? Well, that security clearance-wielding son-in-law’s lawyer went ahead and told them Junior invited his brother-in-law to it.

Families, am I right?

So back on Saturday, approximately 16 lifetimes ago, Junior says the meeting, with Krelim-connected Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, was just about adoption.

On Sunday, the Times publishes another story, this time citing five anonymous sources, two of whom are identified as advisors to the White House, saying Junior went to the meeting after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

This time, Junior says, OK, yes, we talked about Clinton — but it’s not what you think!

“After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton.”

Russia was helping ClintonAlso, for what it’s worth, this Russian lady lawyer “made no sense,” Junior tells the Times. 

On Monday, the Times has a new story. This one says there’s an email that explicitly told Junior the Russian lawyer had information on Hillary Clinton that “was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy.”

Yikes. What say you now, Junior?

Well, but, see, Junior. According to Vox, you’re really not supposed to get that info from foreign governments.

Junior also said the Times just didn’t ask enough questions for the first two stories, on which three reporters have bylines.

And by the way, he is happy to be called before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Other tweets that day include a New York Post story calling the Times’ work “a big yawn,” a Fox host claiming that calling the meeting a “nothing burger” is an “insult to nothing burgers,” and a retweet of Dad’s biggest fan, Laura Ingraham, re-upping Politico story from January about Ukrainian efforts to help Clinton.

(In case you, like Ingraham, are too busy to click on the story, it says that Ukraine’s efforts “were far less concerted or centrally directed than Russia’s alleged hacking and dissemination of Democratic emails. Russia’s effort was personally directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, involved the country’s military and foreign intelligence services, according to U.S. intelligence officials.”)

Junior then channeled our favorite Mean Girl, tweeting:

And then along comes Tuesday. At 11 a.m., Junior tweets a statement and three pages of emails. What the heck?

Ohhh.

Guys. Guys! Never give them more time to comment. This is the greatest lesson I ever learned from Andrew Cuomo’s press office. You politely say, “We’ll be happy to add in your comment whenever you send it!” and hit publish.

Now let’s look at this latest New York Times story.

Russian Dirt on Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said

Whomever wrote this headline is having a great day.

Less good day for the person who wrote the email to Junior that explicitly stated they wanted to provide information on Clinton that “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

To which Junior responded with a line that will make Carly Rae Jepsen weep missed-opportunity tears when she reads it:

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

This is LFO meets Icona Pop. This is a line from a perhaps too-perfect summer banger, the likes of which we’ve never heard. Junior, you have a calling.

The rest of the Times story includes incredible reporting, but more impressive is how it is written as a straight news story, but with the driest, most next-level shade investigative journalism has ever seen.

As part of their explanation of one of the characters involved, Emin Agalarov, whose father “boasts close ties to Mr. Putin,” they embed a music video featuring young Emin and our current U.S. president.

After quoting an email in which lawyer Rob Goldstone mentions “the Crown prosecutor of Russia,” the Times notes “there is no such title as Crown Prosecutor in Russia.” Another sentence refers to the damning Junior email (or future summer banger) as “his ‘love it’ reply.”

Hillary Clinton Testifies Before House Select Committee On Benghazi Attacks

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

While all of this is obviously bad for Junior, it’s also not great for Kushner, whose lawyers have gone to lengths to emphasize his obliviousness to his surroundings before, during and potentially even after this meeting. And for Manafort, who said in February, “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.'”

Both men were forwarded the email that promised Russian state-sponsored dirt on Clinton. And even if they didn’t open it, the subject line was, I kid you not, “FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

Still can’t stop thinking of that line from “All the President’s Men.”

The 1972 Movie of the 1969 Musical, “1776”

There’s no going out on the 4th of July at my house. The evening is allocated to the soothing of an anxious dog. The shift runs from dusk (around 8:30 in my Northwest corner of the U.S.) until the bad noises stop. It’s a good night for movies. Thanks to a recommendation from Salon, I landed on 1776, the 1972 movie version of the 1969 musical.

“1776” brings to life the vibrant personalities that helped bring America to life. You have Daniels as the acerbic, indignant and unshakably honorable Adams, Da Silva as the sly and charming but deeply idealistic Franklin and Howard as the quiet and cerebral Jefferson. Like all of the best works about history, it forces audiences to see important figures from the past as flesh-and-blood human beings rather than stodgy icons.

Spoiler alert: the vote goes to independence and the rest is (sorry) history.  I did not read the entire Salon piece up front; I didn’t want to know anything more than “Yep, this movie is a great choice (for those of you stuck under 15 pounds of quaking dog) for July 4th.”

Because I didn’t read the entire write up, I didn’t know that none other than President Richard Nixon had feelings about the movie. It’s thanks to him the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” was cut; it’s since been restored.

In the musical “1776,” the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” depicts Revolutionary War era conservatives as power-hungry wheedlers focused on maintaining wealth. So it’s not surprising that then-President Richard Nixon, who saw the show at a special White House performance in 1970, wasn’t a big fan of the number.

What is surprising is that according to Jack L. Warner, the film’s producer and a friend of the president, Nixon pressured him to cut the song from the 1972 film version of the show–which Warner did. Warner also wanted the original negative of the song shredded, but the film’s editor secretly kept it intact.

Small wonder — it’s a scathing number. “Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor,” scowls John Dickinson. (Dickinson refused to sign the Declaration of Independence.) The cast breaks into a second verse about the joys of conservatism.

We’re the cool, cool considerate men
Whose like may never, ever bee seen again
With our land, cash in hand
Self command, future planned

And we’ll hold to our gold
Tradition that is old
Reluctant to be bold

We say this game’s not of our choosing
Why should we risk losing?

No wonder Nixon hated it. It was the Broadway version of the 1776 version of “We’ve got ours, we’re good, thanks.”

The movie holds up well enough for 1972, though I’m fairly certain Martha Jefferson would not have sung to John Adams and Ben Franklin about her husband Thomas’ prowess at… violin, sure, that song is about his musical skills, sure. I found Franklin too cartoonish, though I liked William Daniels’ Adams a lot (he played Benjamin’s dad in The Graduate). I was riveted by “Molasses to Rum,” the number praising, among other things, the slave trade.

Once the credits rolled, I had to research any number of things — where Edward Rutledge stood on slavery, what happened to John Dickinson after he declined to sign the Declaration, and what about that Abigail Adams anyway?

I don’t know how I got through the 70s without seeing 1776. When I posted to Facebook that I was watching it, my feed lit up with commentary — including one friend admitting he would like to play Andrew McNair, the long suffering custodian/bell-ringer who keeps trying to open the windows to let some air into what’s now known as Independence Hall.

All those men in brocade, arguing in the heat of a Philadelphia summer. It must have stunk to high heaven in the room where it happened.


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