It’s been 20 years since the Iraq War started. Isn’t that wild to think about?
In this moment, I’m struck by how little I grapple with one of the defining events of my formative years.
I was a freshman in high school when the war began. Perhaps it’s because of the sheer enormity of other events of the intervening 20 years—Hurricane Katrina, the election of the nation’s first African American president, the economic collapse of 2008, the tumult of the 2016 presidential election, the continued scandals of the Trump presidency, more mass shootings than one could possibly imagine, the world-halting reality of a devastating pandemic, an insurrection of the U.S. Capitol, to name a few—but the degree to which my friends and I talk about it is minimal.
It’s a sobering thought to realize how little I considered the fact that when I came of age, graduated high school, there were not one but two wars into which I could have easily stepped. I cannot begin to describe how far away that was from an actual consideration or possibility. It never seriously crossed my mind, and I was not unique in this among my friends. I look back at that with some amazement, and in moments when I think about the military tradition of men in my family, with a little bit of shame. Don’t get me wrong: I remain steadfastly certain I wanted no part of those wars, but I don’t feel great about that steadfast certainty.
Just a few weeks ago, I had reason to think about the Iraq War in a sustained way for the first time in quite a long while. I was helping a student at the university’s Writing Center, who’d come for help a paper about nuclear deterrence, and in the midst of the paper, had tried to use a reference to the Iraq War to make a point.
Now, it’s important context to say, that my “expertise,” as it were, is in writing and the formation and clear communication of ideas and supporting evidence. I’m rarely called on to use any subject matter knowledge to assist a student, which comes in handy when I’m ignorant to a particular subject (which is a great many of them). If I happen to have any subject matter knowledge, it’s only to my benefit as a tutor; it allows me to go deeper and ask more probing questions.
While reading this student’s paper, I felt my brain synapses firing, long-dormant circuits were lighting up again, for I had majored in political science in college. I studied international relations theory, and I did so as wars in the Middle East waged on. Debates about preemptive strikes and neoconservatism and the like were not just abstract topics of which I’d only read about in books; I remembered it.
The student’s paper, when it turned to the Iraq War, prompted questions about why we, the United States, had invaded at all. I raised this issue, and I started talking through some of the talking points that I could remember. And then I stopped, and I had to confess that I didn’t know if any of them were settled on as the definitive account of why we did it.
In a collection of pieces to commemorate the anniversary, one of the lead pieces by the New York Times saved me (only in my mind) from the embarrassment of not knowing history so recent that I’d lived through it.
The question wasn’t just unsettled in my foggy memory; it’s very much still unsettled history.
Ten Worth Your Time
Another aging celebrity profile for you, not quite as good as Wright Thompson’s on Michael Jordan at 50 or Joe Montana after being retired for 30 years. This time, it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger turning 75, written by The Atlantic’s Mark Leibovich. The details are incredible, and one particular extended scene—when The Terminator visits Auschwitz—has to be read to be believed.
Sometimes a story just comes together in a way that seems to defy logic. “There’s no way this is real.” That’s how I felt when I read the New York Times Magazine story about Thomas Midgely Jr. I was captivated by the story’s headline: “The Brilliant Inventor Who Made Two of History’s Biggest Mistakes” and the subhead that followed: “A century ago, Thomas Midgley Jr. was responsible for two phenomenally destructive innovations. What can we learn from them today?” So then I had to know: What the heck did he do? What did he invent? From the story:
While The Times praised him as “one of the nation’s outstanding chemists” in its obituary, today Midgley is best known for the terrible consequences of that chemistry, thanks to the stretch of his career from 1922 to 1928, during which he managed to invent leaded gasoline and also develop the first commercial use of the chlorofluorocarbons that would create a hole in the ozone layer.
Speaking of big inventors (which doesn’t technically apply, but it feels close enough), check out this story from Texas Monthly’s most recent edition that looks at Elon Musk’s uneasy fit in the state of Texas, where his anti-oil views are bumping up against a very pro-oil (and anti-renewables) state.
Tommy Tomlinson’s newsletter, The Writing Shed, is wonderful, and you should definitely be reading it. Last week, it contained this delightful ode to the humble Pop-Tart, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker’s secret weapon. I used to eat Pop-Tarts a lot. Oh, you probably think, “Yeah, duh. Me too. We were all kids once.” First off: Touché. But alas: I was still eating them in law school. Like, classmates remember this fact about me. It would shock them—schock, I say—if I was like, “Nah, not anymore. I went clean. I’m a health-food nut now.” Lucky for them, I haven’t. Still eat like an idiot a lot of the time, but Pop-Tarts actually are one of things that have fallen away for me. But reading this piece from Outside, I could practically hear the crinkle of the foil wrapper by the time I’d finished.
Feels like it should have been right in my backyard when I was living in Wyoming, but it really wasn’t. Know why? Wyoming is a massive state. But this deep-dive from ESPN into the college wrestlers who wrestled, tag team-style, a grizzly and lived to tell the tale, feels like I never left.
Remember the nepo baby conversation? It feels like a lifetime ago, and that was, like, three months ago. Here’s an interesting way back into that dialogue, brought to you by BuzzFeed News, not because of this college journalist’s famous journalist parents, but because of the actually impressive reporting into potential academic fraud at one of our most esteemed universities in this country.
The most recent episode of Slate’s Culture Gabfest tackles three interesting topics: An assessment of this year’s Oscars ceremony, the end of peak TV, and a so-good-it’s-scary photo filter used on TikTok. For subscribers (it’s so worth it; I heartily recommend it), they dive into a thoroughly insufferable New Yorker article about a philosopher who lives with her husband, a philosopher, and also her ex-husband, another (wait for it) philosopher.
If you’re not in the mood for the navel-gazing musings of a throuple of philosophers (and honestly, you probably shouldn’t be; just check out what was said about them in Today in Tabs), here’s a New Yorker story that’s actually a delight to read: It’s like Succession but much lower stakes. Like, bargain basement-level lower. It’s about a fight between a 95-year-old publisher of a local Greenwich Village neighborhood newspaper and his falling out with a friend who supposedly staged a coup and stole all the paper’s writers in order to start a competing paper. At least that’s how the 95-year-old tells it. But the reality of it was pretty much the entire staff’s dissatisfaction with a conspiracy theory-loving caregiver who’d begun to wield too much influence on the paper. Just a funny, gossipy, utterly low-stakes read. (Shoutout to my dear friend Jake back in Wyoming who made sure I didn’t miss this story.)
They say it’s hard to watch other people living out your dreams. Well, my friend, I’m not always sure what my dreams truly are, but any finalized list would have to put A.O. Scott’s career up there near the top. After more than 23 years as a movie critic for the New York Times, Scott will be taking his talents to the Books section of the paper. Not one dream gig, but two. In a touching send-off, Scott “interviews” himself and drops a few gems that remind me why I like his film writing so much.
The thing I love most about the movies is their ability to obliterate reason and abolish taste. You know the jump scare is coming, but you jump anyway. You suspect you should be offended by the joke, but you laugh helplessly in spite of yourself. Why are you crying? You don’t really know, but you can’t argue with tears.
Here’s a collection of what I’ve been consuming in the past week.
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.