Thursday, September 28th, 2023


Is That a Man?

When I was kid, it was easy to define what it means to be a man. All I had to do was watch a closing scene from The Right Stuff during which Sam Shepard playing Chuck Yeager stoically walks away from a plane crash scene. The driver of an oncoming ambulance sees his shape in the distance and asks, "Sir? Over there. Is that a man?" The fighter pilot in the passenger seat responds, "Yeah, your damn right it is!" Over the years, for ego-preservation, I've had to adjust my definition of manhood to highlight alternate virile traits like coming up with killer puns, yelling at commentators while watching televised sports, immediately coming down with symptoms of any ailment one learns about, complaining about the weather (even when it's perfect), and knowing just who to call when something around the house needs fixing.

It's particularly difficult to define manhood in these fraught modern times. In GQ, the excellent Rosecrans Baldwin rode into the sunset to find some answers about American manhood; ours in general, and his in particular. Do You Need a Visit to the Confident Man Ranch? "Equine-assisted coaching was integral to their system primarily because horses are extraordinary readers of humans. The animals, they explained, exist in one of two states—afraid or not afraid—and when a person comes near, they immediately sense whatever is being projected: confidence or insecurity, intention or confusion. Maybe we didn't know what was going on inside our minds and bodies, but the horses did and would respond in kind." (I have a similar relationship with my beagles, who have come to understand me better than anyone. The second I get home and walk through the door, they immediately run to the couch and wait for me.)


A Tale of Every City

This year, there have been endless stories about urban crime and municipal doom-loops. But beneath the surface, there's one underpinning factor that runs across all of them. For an example of what that is, let's head to NYC, where it is the best of times and the worst of times. "Across the city, wages are up, but mostly for the affluent. Jobs are returning, but many are in low-paying positions. Unemployment is down, but remains sharply higher for Black and Hispanic New Yorkers. The mixed signals highlight a widening chasm: The city is recovering, but many of its residents are not." NYT (Gift Article): New York Is Rebounding for the Rich. Nearly Everyone Else Is Struggling. "The wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites earned an average household income of $545,549, or more than 53 times as much as the bottom 20 percent, who earned an average of $10,259."

+ The divide impacts every part of American life, including disasters. WaPo (Gift Article): What one motel tells us about survival in post-disaster America. (It tells us a lot about pre-disaster America, too.) "A disaster is a swift sifter. In an instant, when all is gone, those with money, good jobs, reliable friends and families often land in a safe place. They can bounce back. Those who do not, those already on the edge, fall. And they can fall hard — further out of sight, deeper into darkness and trauma. Who, if anyone, catches them?"

+ The divide is global. And as it widens, far-right, populist leaders often benefit. Buenos Aires central square becomes nighttime soup kitchen as poverty hits 40%.


An Easy Cell

"When 11,000 soldiers and police officers stormed Venezuela's Tocorón prison this month, they discovered a professional baseball field, swimming pools, children's play equipment — even a small zoo, with monkeys and flamingos. They also found concrete tunnels in and out ... What they didn't find was Tocorón's most notorious inmate: Héctor 'El Niño' Guerrero." Wow. WaPo: Troops stormed a prison. They found inmates had built a luxury resort.


Running Scared

Considering the fact that none of the partipants mentioned that their party leader is a lying, indicted, fraud who betrayed America, incited an insurrection, tried to overthrow an election, and recently floated the idea of executing his former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I really couldn't stomach the latest GOP debate. All of this is too dismal and dispiriting. I'll let Dan Pfeiffer (who is obviously on a better antidepressant than I am) summarize. None of these Losers Want to Win: "They are all on the primary ballot. They spent their time meeting the voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But last night's debate proved that none of them are ACTUALLY running for President in 2024. Nikki Haley and Tim Scott are vying to be Trump's vice presidential pick. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy are campaigning for the 2028 GOP nomination. Chris Christie is auditioning for a gig on MSNBC. Mike Pence may have a death wish by courting the voters who want to murder him. And no one knows what the hell Doug Burghum is doing." (But sure, let's pretend this is just another debate ahead of just another election and publish stories about who got off the best zinger of the night...)

+ And Trump? Oh, he just keeps on Trumping, this time at an event supposedly focused on the auto strikes: "One individual in the crowd who held a sign that said 'union members for Trump,' acknowledged that she wasn't a union member when approached by a Detroit News reporter after the event. Another person with a sign that read 'auto workers for Trump' said he wasn't an auto worker."

+ Meanwhile, with the federal government days away from a shutdown, the House GOP running a sham impeachment hearing, which even their first witness torched. This outtake sums up the whole impeachment effort and provides a decent how-to guide for any students participating in mock trial this sememster. In between sessions, the gang is having expletive-laced fights behind closed doors. "After the exchange, members in the room could be heard complaining about Gaetz, with one member calling him a 'scumbag' and another saying "F**k off." (Maybe we can find some bipartisan common ground after all...)

+ OK, this stuff is bumming me out and I'm probably being too negative. It's not like Congress can't come together and solve big problems. Senate unanimously passes formal dress code.


Extra, Extra

Tripping Out: "Israel's tourism minister went to Saudi Arabia, and a Saudi envoy toured the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The trips reflected how the two countries are moving toward normalizing their relationship." NYT: Once Inconceivable, Officials' Visits Highlight Warming Saudi-Israeli Ties.

+ The Ban of Our Existence: "Jennifer Petersen keeps 73 school books she detests in her basement. She ordered most from Amazon. In the last year, she read each one. She highlighted and typed up excerpts from more than 1,300 pages — of the 24,000-plus pages she read — that she says depict sexual acts. Then she filed challenges against 71 of the books with Spotsylvania County Public Schools, the Virginia district where one of her children is a student and the other is a recent graduate." One person really can make a difference. Eleven people even more so. WaPo (Gift Article): She challenges one school book a week. She says she'll never stop. "The majority of all school book challenges in the 2021-2022 school year came from just 11 people." (I'd say something to these people, but it would definitely be banned for they heard it.)

+ Making Babies: "The goal of IVG is to make unlimited supplies of ... 'artificial' eggs and sperm from any cell in the human body ... Besides the technical challenges that remain to be overcome, there are deep ethical concerns about how IVG might eventually be used."

+ Perfect Timing: Musk ditches X's election integrity team ahead of key votes around world. (Putin, happy. Xi, happy. Musk, happy.)

+ Taking the Real out of Reality Show: Tired of obsessing over celebrities? Now you can obsess over (and interact with) AI versions of them. Meta Launches AI Chatbots for Snoop Dogg, MrBeast, Tom Brady, Kendall Jenner, Charli D'Amelio and More. (Sounds totally healthy.)


Bottom of the News

"'This is how we save local journalism ... This is what we need to do.' If successful, Gannett may create similar roles covering other personalities and popular topics, she said." WSJ (Gift Article): Nearly 1,000 Apply for Taylor Swift, Beyoncé Reporting Jobs: ‘This Is How We Save Local Journalism' (In other words, local journalism is in big trouble.)

+ I really don't see the point of hiring someone to cover Taylor Swift when I'm already covering that beat quite thoroughly. (Not to toot my own horn, but TnT is clearly the best nickname for Taylor and Travis, so please spread the word!)

+ Scheduling note: Due to some school events, NextDraft might be off tomorrow.