The Bluestocking, vol 187

If you write him as a dog you’ll never go wrong.

Happy Friday!

Two fresh slices of Atlantic pie from me this week, on Nicola Sturgeon’s feminism troubles (below) and Facebook’s Oversight Board. I’m off for a lie-down in a darkened library. Have a good weekend.


PS. I’m talking to the Lib Dem feminist brigade on Monday 10 May at 7pm. Free tickets here.

PPS. Difficult Women is currently £1.99 on Kindle, which is about a tenth of a penny for every cup of tea Jonathan had to make me so that I could write it.

Scotland’s Feminist Schism (The Atlantic)

[Nicola] Sturgeon’s political story is one of extraordinary, sustained success: No one expects her to be dethroned as first minister this week. But there is an irony in these two subjects causing such problems for a woman who once boasted that she had turned Scotland from a “macho, aggressive country” into a feminist one. The shared goal of independence holds together an electoral coalition and activist base drawn from social liberals and conservatives, pro- and anti-Brexiteers, precarious Millennials and comfortable Boomers, all locked in the perpetual limbo of awaiting another referendum. Battles over feminism have provided a rare chance for a deep well of dissent within the SNP, and within Scottish politics, to spill out into the open.

It’s strange to me that feminist issues have become the flashpoint for dissent within the SNP (far more so than dealing with the fallout of Brexit), and yet that dynamic seems so poorly understood in the rest of Britain. The above is my contribution: I was intrigued by the ostensible oddness of dozens of feminist activists leaving the SNP for a party led by a man accused (and cleared) of sex offences, and by the question of how Sturgeon’s own feminism has translated into her hiring decisions and policy-making.

Signal bought Facebook ads that showed how much Facebook knows about its users. Facebook banned them.

An Oral History of the Bin Laden Raid (Politico)

ROB O’NEILL, senior chief petty officer, Seal Team Six, U.S. Navy: We were pretty sure that we weren’t going to come back from the mission—we had this new stealth technology, but no one really knew if it worked. We didn’t know how good the air defenses for Pakistan were. We knew that we were invading, and that they could shoot us down and be justified. We also thought we might simply run out of gas in the helicopters and end up on foot in a really, really bad part of the world. We thought if anyone’s going to blow himself up and his entire family and martyr everybody, it’s going to be bin Laden. He wasn’t going to let us get him.

We had our last meals with our families and our kids—I know I did—and then hand-wrote letters to our families. We all joined to be in the fight, and that’s why we were going. We had that conversation about how the first ones to fight al Qaeda were the passengers on Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. God knows how many lives they saved, but they killed themselves for the western world. We had these conversations every night. That was why we went.

It still remains crazy to me that, in the same weekend, Obama ordered the raid to kill Bin Laden, watched the final American space shuttle take off and roasted Donald Trump at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, which was pretty much the inciting incident for the latter’s run at the presidency.

There are so many incredible lines in this piece, starting with, “I remember Admiral Mullen walked down the row of all the special operations forces folks who were there—including the dog, Cairo—and he shook everybody’s hand and one paw, and wished them luck”. Then there’s the joke Judd Apatow wrote for the Dinner, and the guy carrying all the details of the raid in a “lock bag” having to wait at the White House security desk, and some dude deciding to tell his wife about it in advance by dragging her into the shower, in the most bathetic breach of national security rules ever. Also, I didn’t know until now that the first helicopter in the raid crash-landed and the SEAL team had to destroy it to stop the Chinese getting hold of the radar-evasion technology.

But above all, what a decision to take. And lord, it’s a trip to remember that this was part of Obama’s speech at the Correspondents’ Dinner, aimed at Trump:

But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example—no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice—at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.

… having just ordered American soldiers to invade Pakistan on the downlow.

Still, this is my favourite line, after The Rock scoops the entire press corps on Twitter:

BEN RHODES: We’re like, “How the hell did The Rock know about this?” I have no idea where The Rock gets his information, but it’s pretty good information.

Quick Links

  1. “In 2015, when Koko was filmed relaying what appeared to be a sign-language message to the United Nations climate-change conference (“Koko sorry. Koko cry. Time hurry. Fix Earth! Help Earth!”), several linguists and primate researchers argued that she could not possibly understand a concept like climate change, and that the display must have been largely scripted.” No shit. Given that Ted Cruz can’t understand the concept of climate change, it does feel like asking a bit much of a gorilla. A great piece on the language of animals. (New Yorker)

  2. Game of Thrones “mistakes graphically portraying rape for having something insightful to say about it.” This is why I stopped reading the books—they were using rape as a kind of generic-bad-thing lorem ipsum, where no instance of sexual assault had any actual meaning—and this piece suggests I’ve not missed much by bailing out of The Handmaid’s Tale after the season one finale, either. (The Atlantic)

  3. “One moment [Homer is] the saddest man in the world, because he’s just lost his job, or dropped his sandwich, or accidentally killed his family. Then, the next moment, he’s the happiest man in the world, because he’s just found a penny—maybe under one of his dead family members. He’s not actually a dog, of course—he’s smarter than that—but if you write him as a dog you’ll never go wrong.” On writing the Simpsons. (New Yorker)

  4. “But if there’s one feature that can immediately categorize a joke as a “dad joke,” it’s wordplay, especially of the unsophisticated variety. Examples: “Hey, do you know what time my dentist appointment is? Tooth-hurty.” “You know why they always build fences around cemeteries? Because people are dying to get in.” The purposeful confusion of “smart feller” and “fart smeller.” This famous exchange: “I’m hungry.” “Hi, Hungry. I’m Dad.”” (The Atlantic)

  5. This New Statesman piece on feminism has rendered me hysterical: it’s such a perfect example of the process of dehistoricisation I describe in Difficult Women. “Basically, Second Wave feminists were right to question whether cosmetic surgery and BDSM were truly liberating, but in saying that I’m not being an ugly dried-up privileged prude like they were!” I suppose every generation has to learn for itself that previous generations of feminists didn’t screw up by not asking for things in the right tone.

  6. “The way it covers sex scandals is quintessentially English, with just enough information to both titillate and disgust, a dose of moralising and concluding the story with a description of the property in which the disgusting actions took place and an estimated market value. (“MP’s sordid sex sessions with rent boy in £600,000 maisonette”.)” Unherd’s Ed West on the 125th birthday of the Daily Mail.

  7. “Funny, they were plain women working at Vogue, not chic. They were decent, nice women—the nicest women I ever met—but they had no business on such a magazine. They wore funny little bonnets and in the pages of their magazine they virginized the models from tough babes into exquisite little loves. Now the editors are what they should be: all divorcees, and chic, a collection of Ilka Chases; the models are out of the mind of a Bram Stoker, and as for the caption writers—my old job—they’re recommending mink covers at $75 apiece for the wooden ends of golf clubs “—for the friend who has everything.” Civilization is coming to an end, you understand.” Dorothy Parker’s 1956 interview with the Paris Review.

See you next time . . .