Wednesday night, before a national audience, presidential candidate and part-time comedian Jeb Bush—son of George H.W., brother to George W., and father to George P.—told a funny story. “There’s one thing I’ll tell you about my brother,” he said, referring to W’s tenure as president from 2001 to 2009,“He kept us safe.” Good one, Jeb! I’m still laughing.
Here is a joke I found on the internet that seems appropriate given what’s transpired this week. Question: What do politicians and diapers have in common? (No, not that!) Answer: They should both be changed regularly—and for the same reason. And with that, onto our favorite stories from the past week.
It’s been one year since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson police officer who gunned down the unarmed black teen on August 9, 2014. Brown’s death, which came just weeks after Staten Island resident Eric Garner was choked to death by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, sparked national protests that called for, among other demands, the end of state violence upon America’s black citizenry.
“We won’t die secret deaths anymore,” begins Prior Walter in the final moment of Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about AIDS and gay love in New York City circa 1985. “The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come... You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More life. The Great Work begins.” Friday—as the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide—the US moved forward in its fight to grant equal rights to all citizens. Ever forward.
The final line of Audre Lorde’s 1978 poem, “Sequelae,” reads: “I have died too many deaths that were not mine.” The horror that unfolded in Charleston, South Carolina this week brought us nine more: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Ethel Lee Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and Rev. Sharonda Singleton. Rest peacefully.
From the NBA Finals and the Women’s World Cup to the death of Kalief Browder and the outing of Rachel Dolezal, it has been a roller-coaster week. Oh, and Gawker Media—you know, the company that owns this very website—is, according to Jonathan Mahler and the New York Times, undergoing a “moment of truth.” You don’t say?
What time of year is more beautiful: spring or fall? A college friend and fellow journalist posed the question on Instagram earlier this week, and I had trouble answering at first. But, after some thought, I’d say spring is the superior, more radiant season. Perhaps it’s the symbolism of life in bloom, or the fact that summer—unquestionably my favorite time of the year—comes after, and gives me something to look forward to, but spring is certainly more desirable than fall. Rejoice internet, temperatures are rising.
Hillary Clinton has a date with history. It was all but inevitable: The former Secretary of State officially announced her candidacy for president this week. Other hopefuls include Republican senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. I’m stating the obvious here, but Cruz, Paul, and Rubio don’t have a real shot at winning; it will, however, be entertaining to watch them fumble all the way to wherever it is losers go when they don’t win presidential elections.
Here is the best story you will ever read: The Potato Incident, a modern-day parable that begins with a man who has been invited to dinner to meet his girlfriend’s parents. “When I saw that baked potatoes were served I got the idea that it would be very good if I pretended I did not know what potatoes was. That would be funny.” But this choice quickly backfires. He continues:
Are we being who we think we should be or who we think other people want us to be? Hyun Kim, meditating on the matter of habits, posed this question two weeks ago. But maybe it's less a question of who we think we should be and who we think other people want us to be, and instead a question of who we are. So, who are you?
In this week’s Sunday Book Review, Zoë Heller and Adam Kirsch weigh the importance of an author’s intended meaning versus a reader’s interpretation of the text. Which is more important, they ask. “If a text can mean anything the reader wants it to mean, then why read it in the first place?” Kirsch argues. “Isn’t literature supposed to help us achieve contact with other minds, rather than trapping us in a hall of mirrors, in which we can see only our own distorted reflections? Surely there must be limits to a text’s interpretability.” I instantly thought of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man—the 1952 epic that confronts America’s twisted legacy of identity politics, race, black nationalism, and class disillusionment. “I am an invisible man,” it begins. And depending on the reader, the ensuing 500 pages present a multitude of revelations, answers, or questions (or a mix of the three). Yet, no matter which way you interpret the book, its true essence is found, time and again, in the first sentence—all conclusions root back to Ellison’s opening line. “Great works of literature are like stars,” Kirsch concludes, “they stay put, even as we draw them into new constellations.”
Futurists flocked to Barcelona this week to take part in Mobile World Congress. The annual exhibition gathers technophiles, venture capitalists, and mobile manufacturers in one place for a five-day, tech industry circle jerk. This year's big announcement came via Samsung: the electronics mega-company unveiled new phones—the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Despite its advanced features, one thing is abundantly clear right away: the S6 resembles the iPhone 6. Gizmodo writer Darren Orf noted, "It's hard to not see the iPhone 6 in Samsung's latest phone... But that doesn't mean the Galaxy S6 doesn't have its own charms." This reminded me a lot of what Matt Buchanan wrote about in 2013 when Apple debuted the iPhone 5S and 5C. "[P]hones have matured to the point that, until a truly radical breakthrough in computing technology occurs, there is not much left to improve on... And, for the next few years, advances in smartphones and tablets will continue to be subtle and iterative, driven by the twin processes of simplification and connection." Mobile technology, it could be said, has entered an era of convergence. Competing phone makers are developing devices that mirror one another, in both design and function. Or, the short version: Samsung is Apple is Microsoft is Amazon. The old axiom proves true: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Pawnee, Indiana was a place of hope and absurd dreams. It was a place where meager, government officials with outsized personalities could stimulate change—no matter how small. With Leslie Knope and her eccentric band of misfits on the case (yes, even Jerry), everything seemed just a little more possible. So as we bid farewell to Pawnee—"First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity"—may we never forget the most important lesson of all: to always "treat yo self."
The Academy Awards air Sunday night, which means a lot of moderately talented (white) people will win awards for, basically, reciting a handful of lines that were only somewhat convincing because of special effects and a months-long editing process. Did you really think American Sniper was that good? (It was not.) Even more disheartening, but not totally surprising: the winners are selected by a group of crazy and racist Academy voters. Isn't showbiz great?
There are few good journalists left. David Carr—the New York Times media columnist, veteran reporter, and author—was one of the last good journalists. I didn’t know him personally (we met twice on different occasions last year; he was kind and attentive, gracious with his time) but as a writer I have followed his reporting and criticism through the years. Writing should be work; it should inform and challenge readers, but also push the writer to voice uneasy truths and confront his or her own limitations. I think Carr understood that better than most writers. He wrestled with his demons, sometimes publicly and on the page, but never lost sight of what we journalists and editors hold dear above all else: truth. Thursday night, as news spread of his passing, Gawker CEO Nick Denton captured Carr’s magnitude in all its grandeur. “A light went out,” he tweeted.
Soda is bad for you. Sugary soft drinks like Coca-Cola, for example, have been linked to depression, diabetes, osteoporosis, and are known to accelerate aging. Last year, along with the American Beverage Association and Alliance for a Healthier Generation, several major beverage corporations decided to "promote smaller portions as well as zero and low calorie offerings, and provide calorie counts on vending machines, soda fountains, and retail coolers." Why? Because we're a nation of voracious consumers—clothes, TV, food, among other cravings—and, over time, soft drinks like Coke had become a leading contributor to America's obesity epidemic. What, then, should the purpose of a mega-corporation like Coca-Cola be? To sell a product and create a "lifestyle" for consumers? To profit at all costs? To make sure its customers don't die from heart disease? Or, perhaps, to make the internet a "more positive place" via an ASCII art Twitter bot? Whatever it is, it's certainly not the latter.