A look at the weeks happenings.
TGIF: Dignity for Oompa Loompas
Former President Donald Trump hands out Make America Great Again hats to McDonalds employees in East Palestine, Ohio. (Jabin Botsford via Getty Images)
TGIF: Dignity for Oompa Loompas
Robots replace academics. Another Dolezal. The censors come for Roald Dahl. Buttigieg blows it in Ohio. Plus: David Mamet on cowboys.
By Nellie Bowles
February 24, 2023
→ Home sales fall for 12 straight months: It’s the longest streak since 1999. Mortgage rates are still too high. See I only care about politics that directly impact me financially, and this does because it means when I look at my house on Zillow I see the number going down. Not allowed! Meanwhile, office landlords are beginning to default as those 10-year leases end.
→ Georgia grand jury foreperson gone wild: The head juror for the special grand jury looking into Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results has gone rogue. She is Emily Kohrs, 30, a private citizen, a grand jury foreperson tasked with protecting elections, and as of this week a chatty new media darling.
To MSNBC: “I kind of wanted to subpoena the former president because I got to swear everybody in. And so I thought it’d be really cool to get 60 seconds with President Trump, of me looking at him and being like, ‘Do you solemnly swear?’ And me getting to swear him in.”
To CNN: “There may be some names on that list that you wouldn’t expect. But the big name that everyone keeps asking me about—I don’t think you will be shocked.”
Emily’s having fun! (And of course she’s into witchcraft.) Honestly, the grand jury foreperson’s main bias seems to be toward drama and chaos, and in that we salute her.
As an aside, you know why Trump hasn’t been caught for anything big? The man never writes anything down. Not an email, not a text. The resistance, run by chaos Wiccans like Emily, will simply never catch him.
→ Roald Dahl meets 2023: The long-dead British children’s books author—Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG, and, who could forget, The Witches—has not escaped our moment, and now his books are getting a modern makeover to remove offensive bits. I forget, were those books racist? Sexist? Not exactly, no, but lots of people might be offended, for example, by the fact that Dahl describes witches as bald. And so now there is a new line in the book right after his description of a witch’s hairless head: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.” (I’m dead serious.)
Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was described as “fat.” That’s gone (now he’s just “enormous”). And did anyone ask the Oompa-Loompas whether they self-identified as “small men?” Now they are “small people,” which of course gives these characters, who are called Oompa. Loompas. All their dignity back. In one story, a character Dahl described as “ugly and beastly” is now just “beastly,” a concession, I guess, to sensitive ugly people. But what about the beastly?!
Now the next lines from James and the Giant Peach are so offensive, I want you to be very careful who sees your screen. These were traditionally sung by the Centipede: “Aunt Sponge was terrifically fat / And tremendously flabby at that.” And: “Aunt Spiker was thin as a wire / And dry as a bone, only drier.”
Those are gone now, replaced with new and worse rhymes coughed up by the very nice censors at Inclusive Minds.
Now, Dahl was also famously an antisemite, which he occasionally cloaked as simple anti-Zionism. Actually, that didn’t need a modern progressive update at all. Now excuse me while I go track down my original copy of The Twits before a sensitivity reader with red pens shows up at my door.
→ Ancestry is complex: One-time Black Panther Angela Davis went onto the PBS show Finding Your Roots, where Henry Louis Gates Jr. does a deep dive into your ancestry. But then something strange happened: It turns out her ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. Now the gotcha here from the right is something like “Oh she’s a descendant of the Mayflower! Not so victimized, eh?” But actually it’s sort of a vindication of the 1619-mindset, in that the history of America and slavery is entwined from the start. It’s worth watching the clip just to see Davis’s face and the gravity of being tied genetically back to that ship. “No, my ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower. No, no no. That’s a little bit too much to deal with right now.”
→ Selling unused Covid gear on the cheap: New York City is auctioning off $200 million in Covid supplies for just $500,000. This comes from local news blog The City, who got the scoop. Among some of the details from the story: A junk dealer from Long Island picked up $12 million in ventilators for just $24,600. “It took the dealer 28 truckloads to cart the stuff away, auction records state.” It’s a great story that also includes emails showing city officials fretting that people might find out how much they overspent. It’s like Storage Wars but so, so sad.
Congratulations to the junk dealer who got 500,000 pounds of ventilators.
→ Jimmy Carter, 98, in hospice: The former president is now in hospice in his Plains, Georgia, home. I recommend this 2018 feature about his sweet and simple life in retirement with Rosalynn, where every Sunday he taught a lesson at the Maranatha Baptist Church. TGIF salutes Jimmy Carter, a model of decency.
Speaking of gentle souls with good intentions, humble dreams, and devoted marriages, let’s see what Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are up to this week. . .
→ Trump gets to East Palestine before the White House: Trump visited the site of the toxic train derailment, spoke to residents, and brought pallets of water (Trump-branded, of course). He stopped at McDonalds, telling workers quite believably: “I know this menu better than you do.”
Meanwhile, local officials in East Palestine are getting on camera to show themselves drinking tap water. Like, see, it’s totally safe! The fish are dead and your dog is dying, but we’re cool! Don’t be so uptight about “vinyl chloride” and “phosgene,” which are just fancy words for totally not-toxic water.
One thing that makes Trump successful is he says that things are shitty when they’re shitty, and I’m sorry, but the water in East Palestine is shitty right now.
Racing there after Trump was Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the man who is proving single-handedly that Rhodes Scholars are overhyped. Buttigieg whiffed when he arrived: he ran away from reporters, leaving his press secretary begging those reporters to turn off their cameras before she would talk to them. When he did finally speak, he said he “lost his train of thought.” Oh god:
Is there something I’m missing here? Why did the train derailment get coded as so conservative that no one could talk about it? Why do the cameras have to be off? Why isn’t Michael Moore there? To me, this whole thing is a gimme for Democrats: use it to argue for more and smarter government infrastructure spending. But for some reason, acknowledging the crash and its environmental impact is verboten. If you can answer this political mystery, please do in the comments.
→ I really don’t like this item: Mark Middleton, a one-time advisor to Bill Clinton, who seemed to be involved with handling his Jeffrey Epstein relationship, is dead by apparent suicide. Details came out this week: Middleton was found hanged with an electrical cord—and with a gunshot wound to his chest. When it comes to Epstein-related shadiness and the extended cover-up of that scandal, at this point, I’m willing to believe just about anything. On the other hand, people who have done bad things do generally want to avoid facing their own souls. So I’d say I’m Epstein-related-murder-conspiracy-open but not sold. But let’s give it a week.
→ James O’Keefe is out: Project Veritas, the right-wing undercover investigations outlet, has ousted its leader and star, James O’Keefe. He spoke to staff before leaving and you can watch that strange, rambling speech here. The board accused him of spending “an excessive amount of donor funds in the last three years on personal luxuries.” Items and amounts that the Veritas board lists: “$14,000 on a charter flight to meet someone to fix his boat under the guise of meeting with a donor” and “over $150,000 in Black Cars in the last 18 months.”
Now, to be clear, James O’Keefe’s job is setting up shady stings of his enemies. One of my friends who got stung was on his third date with a woman who turned out to be an undercover Veritas operative. It was on that date that she recorded him. To me, there’s no one better to run an operation like that than a dude who spends $14,000 to meet someone about a boat. Over $150,000 on limos is basically the minimum spend for a guy like this.
→ Ozy Media founder arrested: It’s not only right-wing media that’s losing a star this week. On Thursday we learned that Carlos Watson, founder of progressive media company Ozy, had been arrested on charges of fraud. The United States of America v. Carlos Watson and Ozy Media, Inc. is pretty fun reading. Among other things, Watson allegedly had a subordinate— Samir Rao, Ozy’s COO—pretend to be a YouTube executive on a call with Goldman Sachs, to say how great Ozy Media was doing on YouTube.
This whole thing was first broken open by scoop hound Ben Smith, now of Semafor. An idea: maybe Carlos Watson and James O’Keefe can start something new together?
And now, a word from resident cartoonist David Mamet . . .
→ University DEI admins come up with their perfect replacement: Vanderbilt University’s office of diversity issued a statement consoling students about a recent mass shooting at Michigan State. But apparently they are so very busy that they used AI to write it.
Let me back up: last week, 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae—who had previously pleaded down a felony charge that would have prevented him from possessing a gun—slaughtered three students, seemingly at random, on Michigan State’s campus.
In response, Vanderbilt’s equity workers released a touching statement about how everyone needs to be kind and inclusive to, I guess, prevent mass shootings by nearby career criminals: “Another important aspect of creating an inclusive environment is to promote a culture of respect and understanding.” And: “[L]et us come together as a community to reaffirm our commitment to caring for one another and promoting a culture of inclusivity on our campus.” And: “Finally, we must recognize that creating a safe and inclusive environment is an ongoing process that requires ongoing effort and commitment.” It’s the same nonsensical but warm sentiment said over and over—inclusive (7 times), community (5 times), safe (3)—and it kinda worked!
Except at the bottom of the statement was this sentence: Paraphrase from OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model, personal communication, February 15, 2023.
People were upset. The university apologized. And yes, you could ask what exactly these bureaucrats are doing all day. But their laziness might also be their genius: replace all university bureaucrats with ChatGPT. Like the discovery of penicillin, sometimes accidents make genius.
→ NPR cutting 10 percent of its staff: The public radio station—that is, in part, taxpayer funded—is losing money and needs to cut staff. I can’t point to an institution that has more fully failed its mission than NPR, which went from fulfilling a genuine public service with news and great stories (I’m thinking of early This American Life) to just another hyper-partisan maker of mush. Tote bags and mush.
→ NYT union versus NYT workers: The New York Times’ labor union is a funny thing because reporters pay into it every two weeks and, in turn, the union’s main project is getting some of those reporters fired. It’s a bit like musical chairs: If you’re too slow putting the fist in your Twitter profile picture, you’re it. See, the union is pretty bad at achieving boring stuff like raises, but it shines at gathering groups of reporters to get a deskmate ousted. Who needs money when you can draw blood?
The latest: the union stepped in to help ax a couple Times writers who reported on trans issues with anything close to an objective lens. Here’s what union head Susan DeCarava wrote to Times staff in a note about how to organize: “[E]mployees are protected in collectively raising concerns that conditions of their employment constitute a hostile working environment.” Oh yes, reporting on trans issues makes a hostile work environment. Perfect. We got the language, now let’s march on Katie, that very bad Times reporter! Let’s picket the awful Emily! The people united will get Katie fired!
Except finally, finally, the union this week is seeing some organized pushback, and a group of Times people wrote their own letter asking the union to just please stop. “We ask that our union work to advance, not erode, our journalistic independence.”
If media union bosses can’t wake up and get Katies and Emilys fired, what exactly are they supposed to do all day?
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