Outside Reading — Precedented edition

mcduffie riots

“Can We Live?” by Tananarive Due

Now that we’re almost halfway through this calendar year that epitomizes the curse of interesting times, it’s useful to remember that the the cataclysms of now have historic precursors that we can learn from. And those past events can also provide a stark reminder that the demands for change are not sudden and new, but have been repeated for a long time. If anything, the extensiveness of the current protests is overdue. Writing for Vanity Fair, Tananarive Due delivers an incredibly powerful remembrance of being a child of activists in Miami during the 1980 riots that took place after the acquittal of four white officers in the police brutality–caused death of Arthur Lee McDuffie. It simply shouldn’t be necessary to still continue crying out for justice forty years later.



I’m a priest. The police forced me off church grounds for Trump’s photo op. by Gini Gerbasi

It is unsurprising and maddening that there remains a contingent of people — out of ignorance, bigotry, pathetic fealty to power, or a toxic combination of all of the above — who remain supportive of the police state in the face of overwhelming evidence of perverse, pervasive cruelty against citizens exercising their first amendment rights. Knock a seventy-five-year-old man to the pavement, cracking his skull open, and there will be a cluster of the proudly hateful prepared to line up and offer their applause. Identifying the most egregious assault against the populace is difficult, but few instances have been more cruelly cynical than deploying chemical agents to disperse a crowd in front of a church so an astoundingly amoral man could get his picture taken brandishing a holy book that means absolutely nothing to him. Gini Gerbasi, the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church was on the grounds of the church attacked by the authorities in the name of a photo op, and she wrote about her experience for The Washington Post.



The Remaking of Steve Buscemi by Gabriella Paiella

Gabriella Paiella writes an exceptional profile of Steve Buscemi, an actors who been around for so long, and done such good work so consistently, that he’s easy to take for granted. Paiella gets at why Buscemi is appealing on screen, but she performs the more valuable service of exploring his fundamental decency as a human being. Published by GQ, this article pass the most basic test of piece about an actor; it makes me want to go back and rewatch all my favorite Buscemi performances.




The Joy of Having Plans Cancel Themselves by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

There have already been plenty of humorous rumination about COVID-19 shutdowns being a boon for introverts, but I’m especially partial to this piece by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, published a couple weeks back in the book review section of the Sunday edition of The New York Times. With her typical wry specificity, Brodesser-Akner perfectly captures the sense of relief when reluctantly accepted social engagements fall away.



The Fifth Risk (2018) by Michael Lewis

Expanding on reporting he did for Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis details the drastically (and perhaps deliberately) bungled transition process undertaken by the current presidential administration after the improbable outcome of the 2016 election. Straight lines can be drawn from the current executive branch’s vicious disinterest in public service to the flagrantly inept response to the COVID-19 virus that has killed over — likely well over, given the challenges of tracking — one hundred thousand U.S. citizens. In its educated shock, The Fifth Risk also provides an invaluable primer to how much the federal government actually does for people, especially those living in small, rural communities who, by their voting tendencies, are most likely to oppose the very programs that benefit them. The massive damage sustained by the U.S. in recent years isn’t caused by governors imposing public health measures or people marching in the streets. The culprits, Lewis’s book makes abundantly clear, reside in White House offices, proud of their oblivious ineptitude.

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