Thursday, January 27th, 2022


Does Anybody Remember Laughter?

As the son of two Holocaust survivors it may surprise you that on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, I'm making the following request: Forget the Holocaust. Instead, focus on the years before the Holocaust and apply the lessons to today's America. As a teen, my dad Joe Pell knew he'd be the only member of his family to survive after he narrowly escaped capture and crawled on his hands and knees through mud and shit until he reached the edge of the Polish forest. He survived there for months, alone, often getting through the night by stealing some warmth while lying on top of outdoor bread ovens. Eventually, he got a gun. A gun meant you could join the partisans, an organized group of insurgents, protecting each other and launching attacks from their hideaways in the woods. When the most evil forces of history pushed, my dad pushed back.

During our last time going out to lunch before the pandemic, my dad and I were walking toward a restaurant, and he expressed his dismay that Americans weren't taking the threat to our country and our democracy seriously enough. My dad wasn't an emotional guy. He wasn't a liberal snowflake. He was probably a Republican for most of his life. He was quite possibly the least hysterical person in America. So when he worried, I worried.

I suggested that while most Americans were concerned, they didn't see the Trump era as being that ominous because they assumed the kinds of things that happened in his life could never happen here. My dad stopped walking, looked at me, and asked, You think vhen I vas a kid any of us thought it could happen there? It was at that moment that I decided to write, Please Scream Inside Your Heart, a book that is as much from my parents as for them. The book has the same quick takes and humor you find in NextDraft, but it also carries an important message: What you're seeing and hearing in today's America is actually happening. Democracy is under threat.

One of the areas we see this is in the banning of books at schools across the country. Just yesterday, a school board in Tennessee banned Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer prize-winning, Maus, a graphic novel about the Holocaust. Board members claimed they banned the novel, which features hand-drawn illustrations of mice as Jews and cats as Nazis, because it contained swear words and a naked illustrations. Let's pause here. The illustrations were of a naked mouse. I know, ridiculous, right? And Spiegelman's interview on CNN (complete with tea sips and vape puffs) clarifies the absurdity: "I've moved past total bafflement to trying to be tolerant of people who may possibly not be Nazis? Maybe? Because having read the transcript of the school board meeting, the problem is sort of bigger and stupider than that.

Yes, this widespread trend of book banning is big and it's comically stupid. But don't mistake funny for harmless. The press conference in front of the Four Seasons Total Landscaping was hilarious. But the underlying efforts to overthrow an American election continue to this day. Don't get me wrong. I laughed at that moment, too. But I was also reminded of something my dad said during the early days of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. "This guy's speeches sound a lot like Hitler's. Everyone laughed at him in the early days, too."


Breyer Patch

"I've made no decision except the one person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It's long overdue." So said Joe Biden as Stephen Breyer made his retirement official. Here are some of the judges in contention.

+ To the average liberal, the need for Breyer to time his departure for this moment was wildly obvious. But, for most of the time he served on the bench, he wasn't the type to make political calculations. Times change. The excellent Dahlia Lithwick: The Deep Irony of Stephen Breyer's Bare-Knuckled Exit From the Supreme Court. "While Breyer was possibly a hopeless romantic—right to the bitter end—about the need for civics, cooperation, mutual respect, and dignity on the bench, he has proved to be the most realistic about assessing the moment in which we now find ourselves: a judiciary committee that may deadlock 11–11 and be saved by parliamentary maneuvers; two Democratic senators who are not all that interested in preserving voting rights; and the prospect that a July retirement might not have afforded the president enough runway to get someone confirmed by November. That is the world we now inhabit. That the justice for whom the notion of constitutional and judicial 'hardball' has always been anathema has just ended his Supreme Court career with the most hardball Supreme Court retirement in recent history speaks volumes about the current moment."


Bubble Wrap

"Photographer Jae Hong said he had been warned about the bubble but seeing it in effect in Beijing was still a shock. He described seeing passengers met by workers in white, full-body protective gear. Everyone is tested for COVID-19 at the airport before being transported to their barricaded hotels, the entrances protected by round-the-clock guards." Entering Beijing's Olympics bubble is a surreal experience.

+ "This year, the Winter Olympics in Beijing will play out inside a bubble as the rest of China remains sealed off against the coronavirus. With U.S.-China relations tense, Washington has declined to send senior officials; Beijing has retorted that they weren't invited anyway." WaPo (Gift Article): The moon, Mars and the return of strongman rule: How China has changed since the 2008 Olympics.


Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Rogan

"Young's challenge to Spotify has become a high-profile, if unexpected, flash point in the battle over misinformation and free speech online. It also raised questions about the power of performing artists to control where their work is heard. In a statement posted to his website on Wednesday, Young called Spotify 'the home of life threatening Covid misinformation.' He added: 'Lies being sold for money.'" NYT (Gift Article): Spotify Is Removing Neil Young Songs After He Complains of ‘Misinformation.' (It's anyone's guess why the word misinformation needs to be in quotes. Yes, Young used the word, but it's not as if there's some question as to whether Rogan peddles in dangerous misinformation.) Of course, Neil Young's move wasn't going to change Spotify's mind about its $100m investment in Rogan. But what if a few big names, for whom the streaming revenue is a rounding error, also took a stand? You know, like rock and roll style.

+ Young's statement: "These young people believe Spotify would never present grossly unfactual information. They unfortunately are wrong. I knew I had to try to point that out." (And of course, he mentioned their weak sound quality because he is, after all, Neil Fu--in' Young.)


Extra, Extra

Meth Lab: "Simply owning a natural gas stove, and having natural gas pipes and fittings in your home, leads to more emissions over 24 hours than the amount emitted while the burners are on." Gas stoves leak climate-warming methane even when they're off.

+ Grow Operation: "The U.S. economy surged ahead with a 6.9% annual growth rate in the final months of 2021 and achieved the strongest growth over an entire calendar year since 1984." (Tell that to my stock portfolio...)

+ Picking Noses: "In addition to web glitches, the initiative seems to have left out some groups from consideration entirely, according to data from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including people without fixed addresses; the 11.8 million US households that have more than four members, who are more likely to be nonwhite; the 7.5 million households that do not have home internet access; and the 3.5 million that do not speak English or Spanish, the two languages in which the site is currently available." Free covid tests are meant to reduce inequity, but they're highlighting it. (This story could be altered to fit many programs aimed at helping people.)


Bottom of the News

"It must be said that Mayman's engineers have done a remarkable job with the balance and the intuitiveness of the controls. Instantly, it feels correct, all of it. That is, until the buckles and straps. There are many buckles and straps, and they fit precisely like a skydiving kit, with an emphasis on groin-cinching. Before I can say anything about the groin-cinching, Jarry is explaining the throttle, which is in my right hand and gives the jet turbines more or less fuel ... Mayman fills the pack with kerosene, and steps back to the side of the tarmac, remote control in hand. Jarry asks if I'm ready. I tell him I'm ready. The jets ignite. The sound is like a category 5 hurricane passing through a drainpipe." We were promised jetpacks. And as Dave Eggers explains, we have jetpacks and we do not care. (I thought the whole point of being a famous writer was that you didn't have to take crazy risks. You just stayed home and wrote about them. Now every time I think of Eggers, I'm gonna think of this moment from The Right Stuff.)

+ The American circus is in decline, but performers thrive on TikTok.