Happy Fourth of July. I hope the day finds you resting and spending time with friends and family (mindful of that summer heat, though).
It’s a time to be thankful for this big beautiful (oftentimes crazy) country of ours, those who served to make it so, and the history-altering effect of its place in the world. (It’s also a time for cookouts and ball games and all the things that are so quintessentially “American.”)
This week’s links (took last week off because I spent the weekend in a friend’s wedding) all touch on some concept, big or small, that touches on America and its unique culture.
If you find yourself inside to beat the heat and in need of something to read, hopefully you’ll find something here of relevance, whether it be in news or entertainment.
Take care and happy holidays.
Ten Worth Your Time
1. There is perhaps no more American name in politics than Kennedy. And there seems to be no more American pastime in recent years than conspiracy-theory peddling. Robert Kennedy, Jr. is the happy marriage of the two, as he gains popularity in an insurgent candidacy for president. Nominally, he is the Democrat of his forebears, the most storied family in politics, but in reality, he’s a new breed of politician and one headline of this Atlantic profile calls him: the first MAGA Democrat.
2. The U.S. Supreme Court has a long history of shaping exactly what America will look like for the millions of us who call it home, but the court itself has not looked like the country it shapes. This term, which concluded last week, was the first to see a Black woman sitting as one of the nine justices, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, as this Washington Post wrap-up of her first year seems to attest, appears to be here to stay. Hers is a powerful (and singular) voice on the left.
3. Slow Burn, Slate’s in-depth podcast series that tackles a new topic each season, never disappoints, but this eighth season on Clarence Thomas couldn’t be more timely, as the longest-serving justice is asserting his power on the bench and reshaping America in the process.
4. Charles Pierce, one of the finest thinkers and writers on the American political experiment for decades now, on some of the biggest Supreme Court decisions of the term is like a voice of reason as the world goes crazy around us.
5. In case you needed a reminder that time is a flat circle and there is nothing new under the sun, the New York Review of Books brought out a 1992 Cass Sunstein piece from its archive that wrestles with the question of the Supreme Court and judicial independence. The issue has obviously been the news recently as more and more stories of justices taking lavish gifts from wealthy benefactors who are sometimes connected to cases that eventually come before them. Things weren’t so gratuitous in this 1992 version, but the question persists.
6. Jill Lepore, professor of American history at Harvard, wrote in the New York Times about the value—and necessity—of constitutional amendment. It’s an interesting argument steeped in historical justification, but perhaps the most interesting part of the piece came near the end, when she log-rolled for a project of hers. Here’s the relevant bit:
If only the Supreme Court can change the Constitution, it needs a fuller archive. This Fourth of July, the Amendments Project , a research collaborative I’ve directed for the last three years, is publishing a vast new trove of past proposals, a free and fully searchable archive of every notable documented attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution. It includes at least 11,000 proposals introduced on the floor of Congress between 1789 and 2022, tagged with topics devised by the Comparative Constitutions Project; about 9,000 petitions submitted to Congress between 1789 and 1949, from the Congressional Petitions Database; and many, many more proposals made outside of Congress, by everyone from political parties to activist organizations and people posting petitions on Change.org.
7. In his own quiet, methodical way, John McPhee as long been one of the best nonfiction writers working in America for the past 60 years. AirMail wrote a short piece anticipating the 92-year-old’s next book, due out in a next week. I, for one, can’t wait.
It is difficult to find a reader who likes only some of John McPhee’s work. Oh, one may have a favorite or two of the New Yorker writer’s 31 books, but his talent at turning any subject that interests him into writing that is fresh and compelling is unmatched. He is always a deep pleasure to read, whether it is about a headmaster at Deerfield, tennis, fission, shad, Alaska, Bill Bradley as college-basketball player, oranges, the Swiss Army, bark canoes, tectonic plates, merchant ships … the list is so long and catholic that the newcomer to his work might wonder what he hasn’t written about. His new and 32nd book, Tabula Rasa, ostensibly deals with that very question: the topics that first caught his interest but for numerous reasons he never pursued.
8. There’s been a long list of concerning actions since the merger of Warner Bros. and Discovery, but now the company’s cost-cutting measures threaten Turner Classic Movies. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody on why that would be a travesty and a potential alternative. But what makes TCM different, and what makes its potential shuttering a grave menace to culture at large, is that TCM (or, rather, its parent company) owns many of the movies that it shows. (It pays to license others.) Consider, by comparison, the short-lived, aggressively art-house channel Uptown, which I watched in the nineteen-eighties. (The channel was available to residents of northern Manhattan.) When Uptown was shuttered, films that it licensed for broadcast remained available to other channels. In that regard, Uptown was like a repertory cinema, which rents prints or copies of films and competes with other repertory houses in quality of programming. It’s sad when one closes, but, when that happens, others can open and show the same films if they so choose. On the other hand, if TCM went off the air, no other broadcast outlet would necessarily have access to its library. The channel that Turner put together holds an astounding degree of control over a crucial part of the American artistic and cultural heritage. What makes TCM indispensable is its library, and what brings the library to life—what makes it an ongoing vital experience rather than just a vault—is its programming.
9. There is perhaps nothing more American than the immigrant story. Celine Song’s debut feature mixes the poignancy of an immigration tale with the bittersweet emotions of reuniting with a first love decades after separating. Past Lives is an Oscar frontrunner at this early stage. If it’s playing anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and see it ASAP. This Rolling Stone article—‘Past Lives’ Is Already the Best Movie of the Year—recognizes it for what it is.
10. A stone-cold American classic. That’s what Indiana Jones represents to popular culture. He’s been with me since childhood. I won a Halloween costume contest at 7 years old when I went as a tiny Indy, complete with stubble lovingly drawn on my cheeks by my dad using one of my mom’s makeup pencils. So my heart was full and flying high at the thought of yet another Indiana Jones movie after all these years. It wouldn’t have Steven Spielberg at the helm, but James Mangold is responsible for one of my favorite "dad movies” of the past 5 years in Ford vs. Ferrari, so I was hopeful. And mostly, I’m pained to say, it worked for me. I say "pained” because it played off the same trope that I’m so often decrying in popular entertainment: nostalgia in place of substance. There is a lot to love about the film, and it scratches a lot of itches by hitting tried and true points along the way. But if you squint at it for more than two seconds (thereby cutting through the fog of nostalgia), you have a movie that, on its own terms, doesn’t work quite. ‘Indiana Jones 5’ review: Have you driven a Ford lately? | Los Angeles Times
Here’s a collection of what I’ve been consuming in the past couple of weeks. (Fair warning: After finishing season 2 of The Bear, it’s been almost non-stop cooking content.)
The legend for my list was stolen from Steven Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film, Italics is a book, and bold is a live performance or show. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.