This Weekly Reader features links to articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy as we approached the end of 2020. Here’s hoping you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.
Kimberly Harrington takes on this crazy year at McSweeney’s with Things I Didn’t Have on My 2020 Bingo Card Bingo.
Click through to check out her full card and have a hearty laugh (or a moist eye). Here are three to whet your appetite:
- Dumbest. Coup. Ever.
- Quitting royal family: An option
- U.S. Postal Service: White hot center of drama and intrigue
In a similar vein of looking back with a combination of laughter and horror, the Washington Post recently published 2020 in editorial cartoons from all over the country.
With everything that happened, editorial cartoonists more than made their money this year. Have you forgotten that we impeached a president in 2020? That seems like history from another era.
Speaking of history, two recent pieces by historians are worth your consideration. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Northwestern University’s Daniel Immerwahr writes that History isn’t just for patriots: We teach students how to understand the U.S., not love it — or hate it.
Immerwahr wrote one of the best works of history I read this year. His ability to illuminate complex issues comes through again in this piece in the Post, where he outlines the contours of the battle over patriotism in the classroom. He explains that the study of history isn’t based on how we feel, but what we learn, and provides two reasons why the question over patriotism in the classroom is an odd one.
“The aim of a geometry class is not for students to love or hate triangles but to learn the Pythagorean theorem. Similarly, the point of U.S. history isn’t to have students revere or reject the country but to help them understand it.
The second reason is that, by imagining history class as a pep rally or a gripe session, we squeeze the history out of it. The United States becomes a fixed entity with static principles, inviting approval or scorn. And that makes it hard to see how the country has changed with time.“
A good history class, writes Immerwahr, “doesn’t treat the United States as an unvarying force for freedom or oppression but as an arena where worldviews compete. Students learn that different people had irreconcilable dreams, clashing understandings of what made their country ‘great.’ They learn that history is messy.”
In the second piece, historian, CEO of New American History, and president emeritus at the University of Richmond Edward Ayers, writing in Medium, tackles The Deep History of the 2020 Election.
Ed takes the reader on a fascinating look, with an insightful assemblage of maps, at how two centuries of black migration in the U.S. shaped today’s political parties.
“In many ways…the broad outlines of the election of 2020 — like the elections of the last half-century — are products of the 1820s and 1920s. Fundamental contours of the electorate were defined by the migrations of Black Americans, first in the forced movements of enslavement and then in the bold movements of the Great Migration and succeeding generations.“
Eight years before the 2020 election the changing nature of the suburbs in the South (from white to black) and gerrymandering by Republicans in more rural states had crystallized voting patterns at the congressional level. If you want to understand more about how the election played out, take a look at Ed’s history of black migration over the past 200 years.
Writing in Mother Jones, Tim Murphy hits the ball out of the park with Monsters of 2020: The People Who Gutted Minor League Baseball.
In one of the under-reported stories of the year (perhaps the press should get a pass just this once, given everything on their plate), the brains who run Major League Baseball decided that this was the time to gut another of America’s beloved institutions.
“There will be 40 fewer minor leagues farm teams next year than there were in 2019….The minor leagues—which rely on in-person interactions like concessions and ticket sales—were hit hard when the pandemic forced the cancellation of their 2020 seasons, but that’s not why these franchises got kicked to the curb. Plans to dramatically reduce the number of minor league franchises and players were in the works long before that, because Major League Baseball is filled with insufferable ghouls.“
Of course, the cheating Houston Astros with their ex-McKinsey general manager were among the leaders of this drive to “optimize” baseball and save costs.
“It’s a testament to the almost religious levels of self-absorption among Major League owners and executives that they didn’t think (or perhaps just did not care) about just how awful it sounds to tell people, publicly, that baseball games are a wasteful byproduct of professional baseball, as opposed to the entire point of professional baseball.
“Even as other sports produce better highlights or cooler players, baseball’s great asset is that it’s there. A game is a nice place to be, with friends or family, reasonably close to where you live…Most people who go to these games will not particularly care if a pitcher throws 90 miles per hour instead of 93. They might not even be able to tell you what happened on the field at all. Getting rid of the ubiquity that’s sustained its popularity for 150 years gets sold as streamlining. It’s really just strip-mining.“
This is not just a baseball story, notes Murphy.
“By this point in the 21st century, you should know enough to run full speed away from people who talk about optimization—people who take over beloved institutions with little appreciation for what those institutions actually do, who talk about getting better by getting leaner, about rooting out inefficiencies and pivoting into a new ‘space.’ These people buy newspapers and gut them. They buy your company and make you build a stage for the announcement where they lay you off. They take over the post office and, well, you know.“
Yes, we do. As I said, Murphy hits a home run with this piece. Go read the entire aticle.
The Angry Grammarian, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, has some advice for those of us who write in I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you need to stop using these 13 phrases right now.
Jeffrey Barg notes that there are so many things we should leave behind as the calendar turns — “including far too many words and phrases that 2020 wrung dry.” Here are three of the 13 he features in a funny and insightful piece:
- “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but …” Stop lying. You know exactly who needs to hear it. Grow some stones and confront them.
- “Asking for a friend.” Stop lying. You don’t have friends.
- “This is so me.” Grammatically, this one is interesting. So is a remarkably versatile word, having legitimate uses in five different parts of speech: It can be an adverb, adjective, conjunction, noun, or pronoun. In this sentence, me, which would typically be a pronoun, is functioning as an adjective, following the linking verb is. So that makes so an adverb modifying an erstwhile pronoun functioning as an adjective. But being grammatically interesting doesn’t make your overused sentence interesting itself.
Moving to a musical theme, for those who like their songs with a Southern twang, check out the 30 Best Southern Albums of 2020 from The Bitter Southerner.
The list is wide and eclectic, just like the South. Some are from old musical friends, such as Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, and The Chicks. Others were new to my ears. All are interesting and many are worth repeated listenings.
The 2021 Reading Challenge from Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy is designed to put more intentionality into your reading list next year.
“Haven’t we all spent the year examining myriad aspects of our lives, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t? And even more than before, we’re turning to reading with wildly different purposes in mind.“
Bogel has structured her challenge around these questions:
- What do you want more of in your reading life?
- What do you want to be different in your reading life?
- What are you looking for in your reading life right now?
For those who want to “read harder” in 2021, you might also want to check out this challenge.
Enjoy these writers and artists, and we’ll see what the first week of 2021 brings in the next Weekly Reader.
More to come…
Image by Nina Garman from Pixabay