Monday, March 28th, 2022


Taking Fresh Prints in Bel Air

It makes perfect sense that the biggest movie moment of the year happened on television. All the dramatic action is on TV these days, a reality hammered home by Will Smith's bizarre slap-stick reaction to Chris Rock's punch-line. The Oscars In Memoriam segment should have paid tribute to Will Smith's self-control after he responded to a Chris Rock joke about Jada Pinkett Smith by storming onto the stage and slapping Rock across the face, in the most shocking moment in Academy Awards history—one that turned the Oscars from Oscar De La Renta to Oscar De La Hoya with one forehand swat. We quickly learned that Chris Rock would not be pressing charges, robbing us of the moment when one arresting police officer could say to the other, "We need some fresh prints." The unexpected action scene was followed by the surreal dramatic conclusion that was Will Smith's rambling speech for Best Actor for his work in King Richard (more like King Dick, amiright?). The only tears the speech jerked were his own. After allowing the entirety of Will Smith's endless (and endlessly pathetic) address, the Academy orchestra is never allowed to play off anyone else ever again. Smith shared Denzel Washington's admonition that, "At your highest moment, that's when the Devil comes for you." But Will Smith is handsome, talented, famous, wealthy, and beloved. The Devil has never been within six degrees of separation of him. What really happened is that the Devil came for Chris Rock's face.

From the moment Will Smith turned Oscars night into Palm Sunday, outraged people took to social media to stake their positions on the matter. Some were outraged that Smith's toxic masculinity would overtake the event, others were outraged that Chris Rock would allude to Jada Pinkett Smith's Alopecia-driven baldness in a joke about a new GI Jane movie. But no one was really outraged. Social media has banished all us to our various politicultural micro-communities of homogeneity, and we're all dying to be talking about the same thing at the same time (preferably not a war or a global pandemic). The faux outrage is just a manifestation of our glee at having a common, non-horrible topic of conversation. Chris Rock will turn this into a remarkably funny comedy routine. Will Smith is way too big to fail and was already back on top by the time he got to the after party. And the rest of us got to be extras in the greatest scene in television history, one that Netflix is probably already stretching into a forty-episode series called, The Slap.

+ Yes, there were also some awards. CODA won Best Picture, in a huge breakthrough for the deaf community and a huge breakthrough for streaming content (even the best movie was watched on television). Wired: Apple TV Just Won Best Picture. Everything Is Different Now. Netflix and Amazon had been vying for this breakthrough for years, which makes Apple's win so shocking. Yes, there were outfits. And yes, there were snubs and surprises. And before all the hubbub, there were some great lines from Amy Schumer, including the best of the night: "Leonardo DiCaprio—what can I even say about him? He's done so much to fight climate change and leave behind a cleaner, greener planet for his girlfriends." (In retrospect, it would've really been something if Leo and his girlfriends had stormed the stage and tried to beat up Amy Schumer. Oh well, there's always next year.)


They Are Who We Thought They Were

From the most shocking story to the least. AP: Judge: Trump likely committed crimes related to election. "Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021."

+ Also, not shocking: "An examination ... of Cruz's actions between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, shows just how deeply he was involved, working directly with Trump to concoct a plan that came closer than widely realized to keeping him in power. As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump's base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles." Inside Ted Cruz's last-ditch battle to keep Trump in power. (What everyone was saying during the Oscars: Violence is wrong. Hitting can never be condoned. What everyone was thinking: Why didn't someone do that to Ted Cruz during the SCOTUS confirmation hearings?)

+ David French in The Atlantic echoes what I mentioned last week. "One of the most dangerous aspects of the effort to overturn the election was the extent to which it was an explicitly religious cause. January 6 insurrectionists stampeded into the Senate chamber with prayers on their lips. Prominent religious leaders and leading Christian lawyers threw themselves into the effort to delay election certification or throw out the election results entirely. In the House and Senate, the congressional leaders of the effort to overturn the election included many of Congress's most public evangelicals. They didn't just approach the election fight with religious zeal; they approached it with an absolute conviction that they enjoyed divine sanction." Amen.


Making a Murderer

"Mr. Putin is an enigma, but he is also the most public of figures. Seen from the perspective of his reckless gamble in Ukraine, a picture emerges of a man who seized on almost every move by the West as a slight against Russia — and perhaps also himself. As the grievances mounted, piece by piece, year by year, the distinction blurred. In effect, he became the state, he merged with Russia, their fates fused in an increasingly Messianic vision of restored imperial glory." Great piece from Roger Cohen in the NYT (Gift Article): The Making of Vladimir Putin. Tracing Putin's 22-year slide from statesman to tyrant.

+ "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power." At the very end of a great speech in Poland, Biden uttered those words. The administration reeled them in. But the truth is that dealing with Putin in any normal way is probably over.

+ Russian soldiers raping and sexually assaulting women, says Ukraine MP.

+ Were Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators poisoned during peace talks? It's Putin's M.O. It's being reported. It's also being questioned by American intel. Here's the latest on the invasion from BBC.

+ Times change. Holocaust survivors flee from Ukraine to Germany for safety.


Coal Porter

"Then he did something beyond routine constituent services. He went into business with the Grant Town power plant. Mr. Manchin supplied a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay known as "gob" that is typically cast aside as junk by mining companies but can be burned to produce electricity. In addition, he arranged to receive a slice of the revenue from electricity generated by the plant — electric bills paid by his constituents. The deal inked decades ago has made Mr. Manchin, now 74, a rich man." NYT: How Joe Manchin Aided Coal, and Earned Millions. "At every step of his political career, Joe Manchin helped a West Virginia power plant that is the sole customer of his private coal business. Along the way, he blocked ambitious climate action."


Extra, Extra

Conscious Uncoupling: "This great disentangling may never become a complete divorce. Relocating the Chinese manufacturing operations of a company like Taiwan's Foxconn, supplier extraordinaire to Apple, is extremely difficult, as the firm's bungled factory project in Wisconsin showed. There's no reason to believe Starbucks coffee shops in China will close anytime soon, if ever. The world has been "flattened" so successfully over the past 40 years that unraveling what's been done may be close to impossible. Unlike the Cold War, when the U.S. and Soviet blocs were clearly delineated, the two segments of the coming world will likely remain somewhat connected. Yet the outlines of these two spheres are becoming more distinct nonetheless." Michael Schuman in The Atlantic: The World Is Splitting in Two. (Even the Russian invasion is more broadly a story about China and America.)

+ Long Covid: "China began its most extensive coronavirus lockdown in two years Monday to conduct mass testing and control a growing outbreak in Shanghai as questions are raised about the economic toll of the nation's 'zero-COVID" strategy.'" And as America braces for the next wave: For red and blue America, a glaring divide in COVID-19 death rates persists 2 years later. "Post-vaccine, death rates in red states were 38% higher than in blue states." (Politics has become a deadly sport.)

+ Birkenstock and Two Smokin' Barrels: "The shoe store below, Footprints, specializes in Birkenstock sales and repairs, helping to cement the town's identity as 'the Berkeley of Kansas.' But few have entered the repair shop out back, where Birkenstocks mailed from anywhere with a U.S. zip code — including Guam — await personal attention. Hidden from view, this workshop is a sacred space." NPR: For 35 years, Birkenstock lovers nationwide have sent worn-down shoes to this Kansas cobblery.

+ The Call Is Coming From Inside The Phone: "Did you recently get a spam text... from yourself? You're not alone."


Bottom of the News

"Of all the modern conveniences, we might think of chewing gum — a variety of which can be found at any drugstore's checkout counter — among the most mundane. But while chewing substances have a timeless place in history, our modern perception of gum can be traced back to a strange meeting of the minds in Staten Island between a glassmaker and an exiled Mexican president desperate for funds." How an Exiled Mexican President Accidentally Invented Chewing Gum.

+ The rise, flop and fall of the comb-over.