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Politics

Fate of the Rebel Flag, William Bauley (1861)

It’s a curious thing, this American exceptionalism. It always has been, even before we inadvertently and loudly made this country the most exceptional nation in the world this side of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and even that bit is becoming questionable. Ego begets ego, and the hot air balloon rises seemingly infinitely, toward the clouds, toward the moon, toward the fully-visible sun. In any case, it’s getting away from here.

Every country is exceptional from the jump, at the most basic level. Any country can be exceptional in a next-level, “people are discussing this thing’s exceptionalism to a tautological degree in a bar over high-ABV motor oil right this second” sense. The logical next phrase there should’ve been “if it tries hard enough,” but then, that’s part of what got the United States into this in the first place, constantly feeling like the lights were turned on an hour ago, but you’re still at the aforementioned bar.

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Photograph by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I’m not at all qualified to discuss sports, professional or otherwise. Or, at least, not in the view of the people who believe Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment is anything other than a morally righteous comeuppance, an inevitable reaction to a decorated athlete of color speaking his mind. How dare a person have thoughts beyond their scope of expertise? Can’t he just keep quiet, perform for the fans and accept his sizable paycheck? Why doesn’t he #sticktosports?

Given that thought process, none of us are qualified to form an opinion on, really, anything. Your dentist shouldn’t tell you what he thinks about the Mets’ starting rotation, nor should your accountant divulge his thoughts on Gary Bettman’s perpetual dismantling of professional hockey. Drill the teeth, find the tax breaks, shut up and do your job. Most notably, of course, the current POTUS wouldn’t be anywhere near his position had much of his base applied to him the same logic they – liberally – apply to athletes, given his complete lack of political experience and expertise prior to assuming the role[1].

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The moon hides the sun for about two hours. That’s basically what all this business about the solar eclipse comes down to – the 14 brands of sunglasses NASA’s approved for viewing, the hastily requested time-off notices, the paths of totality sounding like some phony spiritual journey, the 99 years of waiting. But some state Departments of Transportation are taking it seriously in an effort to work around what they see as being a potentially severe congestion problem along many of the country’s major trucking routes. From I-5 running parallel up Oregon’s coast to I-26 slicing through the heart of South Carolina, officials are considering limited deliveries and restricted wide loads.

It’s a stone of madness, really. The country’s major terra firma shipping arteries could be clogged by a bunch of us desperate to stare at our most blistering light in the anticipation that it gets hidden for a twelfth of our day. What new astrological insights are we hoping for from down here? What are we expecting to be different? What truth will freshly burned retinas bring us?

Plenty of cosmic rituals make absolutely no sense to me, but this one is its own reality.

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“Open” is a peculiarly malleable word, one which shifts with the times and becomes whatever the ones weaponizing it desire. Fields can be open, as can forums; countries, well – that’s up to big wigs.

Merriam-Webster takes one opportunity to define something that is open as “enterable by both amateur and professional,” as well as, primarily, “having no enclosing or confining barrier.” When confronted with the realities of the 2017 Australian Open, it is vital to keep these two, in particular, in mind. The former is a matter of practice and formality; the latter is a guide to understanding the drafts that continue to slip through the windows of two tennis players born just under two months apart 35 years ago: Serena Williams and Roger Federer.

Over the past few days, I’ve been struggling to comprehend what I watched happen in the finals at the first major of the year. Literally half a world away[1], four tennis players on the wrong side of 30[2] survived tough draws, lucky breaks, stunning upsets and injury scares to reach a pair of Grand Slam finals which would’ve appeared unremarkable a decade ago but which, in 2017, were downright anachronistic.

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Photograph:A painting shows George Washington giving a speech on the day he became president in 1789.

Tompkins Harrison Matteson/Library of Congress

In theory, democracy is a relatively emotionally detached system, a utilitarian tool for selection based on preference which, at its conclusion, yields the most popular choice for a given role. In practice, of course, it isn’t so simple, as voting methods and the different weights assigned to certain swaths of the voting populace tend to skew results one way or another.

All of this is entry-level political science; you certainly don’t need anyone reminding you of the way things are, especially on this of all days. It seems overly simplistic to just say that sometimes things don’t break the way they should, the way most people think they should, but then, it becomes hard to explain other voters’ tendencies[1] without reverting to childish name-calling and inflammatory rhetoric.

On Thursday, the NBA announced the starters for this year’s All-Star Game. Russell Westbrook, currently leading the league in scoring while averaging a triple-double, was not among them.

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Brian Kraker / Tuesdays With Horry

Brian Kraker / Tuesdays With Horry

Right from the very start, 2016 stood to challenge us. From the very start, we knew it wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill annum, from North Korea’s interstellar aggravation to the deaths of every stranger we thought we knew, from our laughter at nationalistic shortsightedness abroad to the joke turning on us with an apolitically exhausting election cycle that, even now, seems interminable, this year has cast shadows into every corner and fear into every heart, asserting its overwhelming pessimism past the point of absurdity and into realms of dystopian ennui.

But then, light is said to shed out of darkness; without the light, we wouldn’t know dark from darker, and pitch blackness would be broad daylight. As historically low as some of the valleys insisted upon going, a great many peaks, more than we’ll care to recall, shot up with a distinctly human, distinctly empathetic vitality. 2016 was the equivalent of the Gordie Howe hat trick: a goal first, an assist next and one giant, inevitable fight, with indescribable rage having finally boiled over to manifest itself in hideousness antipathy. It is with this in mind that we at TwH look back, one final, bitter time at the insanity of the preceding twelve months, with an eye toward what society has constructed as 2017. If Earth is really dying, and if we’ve only got five years left to cry in, U better live now.

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This past summer I taught a college composition course that focused on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The final assignment in the class required students to assemble an online portfolio where they reflected on their progress as writers and researchers over the quarter.

Having taught this class before, I knew that these portfolios often provided insight but sometimes devolved into a series of clichés about improvement accompanied by colorful and irrelevant images designed not so much to convey a rhetorical message but to distract from the lack of substance in the writing. It is with this cynicism that I regarded the above image, prominently plastered on the homepage of one student’s portfolio.

Though I found the Pepe the Frog meme a bit baffling in the context of the assignment, I quickly dismissed it as an attempt to take up space and moved on to grading other portfolios.

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