Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building to hear the verdict in his trial on December 9, 2021, in Chicago. Smollett was found guilty of five of the six counts against him. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

TGIF: Abortion, Guns, and Other Polite Topics of Conversation

Plus: Jussie Smollett's self-administered hate crime. And that time I met Elizabeth Holmes.

Welcome back to the Friday news roundup with Common Sense. We have all the news we’re watching this week—and there has been a lot. We’re especially riveted by the trial of Jussie Smollett (why did he do it?) and the ongoing case of Elizabeth Holmes. Read on for the time I rubbed elbows with the Blood Queen. 

→ The Black Lives Matter national organization came out in support of Jussie Smollett. “In our commitment to abolition, we can never believe police, especially the Chicago Police Department (CPD) over Jussie Smollett, a Black man who has been courageously present, visible, and vocal in the struggle for Black freedom,” the director of BLM Grassroots said in a statement. Well, the jury didn’t see things quite that way. Yesterday, the actor was found guilty of five counts of disorderly conduct. Special prosecutor Dan Webb called the verdict “a resounding message by the jury that Mr. Smollett did exactly what we said he did.”

I remain fascinated by the question of why Smollett did what he did. And then why we were all supposed to believe that two MAGA racists in red baseball hats were crawling the Chicago streets in the middle of the night during a polar vortex, brandishing a noose, and looking for an Empire TV star picking up a tuna sandwich from Subway.

→ Latinx people report being largely offended by being called Latinx: Democrats insist on calling Hispanic people Latinx (pronounced: luh-TEE-neks or luh-TINKS) in order to expressly include nonbinary Latinos. Adding the X to words is for progressives what making the sign of the cross is for Catholics—a good idea in most tricky situations. But Hispanics do not, in fact, like being renamed Latinxes (luh-TEE-neks-suhz). About 2% like the term, while about 40% are actively offended by it, according to a new nationwide poll. Sixty-eight percent prefer the already gender-neutral term Hispanic. It appears the only people who liked the term were white guys in Fort Greene, who could use it to fire anyone who didn’t go to Yale with them.

And yet, somehow, these Oat Milk Americans convinced the entire Democratic establishment to go along with the scheme. The other shoe drops: support for Democrats is plunging among Latinxes, according to a new Wall Street Journal poll

→ Prince Harry says not to worry about jobs: “Many people around the world have been stuck in jobs that didn’t bring them joy, and now they’re putting their mental health and happiness first. This is something to be celebrated,” he said, while promoting his new mental health startup to Fast Company magazine. Thanks for the work advice, The Duke of Sussex, His Royal Highness.

→ Adoption v Abortion: It looks like Roe v. Wade may well be overturned come June, when the Supreme Court is expected to hand down their decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The battle over abortion, which has felt until quite recently like a footnote in our roiling culture war, is back in a big way. 

When I was in college, the pro-choice argument, which I had always sympathized with, went like this: Women have a right to bodily autonomy and to make their own choices. Abortion is not good, but sometimes it is necessary. We need only look back at, well, almost all of history to see the danger and death that comes when women are desperate.

Here’s why the abortion battle is changing now:

The right is acting as though all would-be abortions can be easily rerouted toward adoption (not true) and the left is now saying that, actually, adoption is bad (it isn’t). The left’s argument this week is that adoption is so traumatic for a child, who bonds in utero with the mother, that abortion is a mercy. The idea that the fetus can bond with the mother in utero seems to make the implicit case against legal abortion but no matter. Last week, a New York Times piece written by an adoptee argued this: “Babies bond with their mothers in utero and become familiar with their behaviors. When their first caretaker is not the biological mother, they register the difference and the stress of it has lasting effects.” Interracial adoption is apparently especially problematic: smells of white colonization.

The other issue is that good progressives are having a hard time talking about abortion as a women’s rights issue, since men can and do become pregnant (remember, the phrase now is “pregnant people”). So some of the most articulate defenders of the pro-choice position are tongue-tied. The Women’s March organizers are busy apologizing profusely for emailing bad numbers—trigger warning: 1492—while abortion rights are under more serious threat than any time I’ve been alive. 

The debate now is further complicated because abortion is a rare situation where technology makes the liberal case harder. A premature baby born last year at just 21 weeks survived. I find my own feelings about abortion changing as the date when a child can survive out in the world gets closer and closer to the start of a pregnancy. The most beautiful writing about the complexity of this subject comes from Caitlin Flanagan

→ The crime wave hits grim new records across the country: Twelve major American cities have now hit an all-time high homicide record, with three weeks still left in the year. Philadelphia, which has one of the much celebrated new progressive prosecutors at the helm, reported double the number of homicides it had five years ago. 

→ Meanwhile, AOC still says the crime is fake news: “A lot of these allegations of organized retail theft are not actually panning out,” she told The Washington Times

→ Elizabeth Holmes, damsel in distress: Elizabeth Holmes, at one point the youngest female self-made billionaire in history, has been in court arguing that she was manipulated and abused emotionally and physically by her older boyfriend, Sunny Balwani, the company’s former president. It was he who pressured her and tormented her into allegedly committing nine counts of wire fraud. “He impacted everything about who I was and I don’t fully understand that,” she said on the stand. 

I met Elizabeth Holmes once. I was a plus-one to a book party at Sheryl Sandberg’s house, and there was Holmes, the tall turtlenecked blond with perfect posture. The Theranos scandal news had just broken. It was still unclear how it would shake out, and I found myself at one point alone with her in the middle of the room, trying to make conversation. 

She breaks my heart. In legal discovery, early notes to herself have come out, and you see her handwritten schedule and mantras: “4am rise and thank god. Wash face, change. I am not impulsive. I do not react. I show no excitement, calm, direct, pointed non-emotive. I do not hesitate. I speak rarely. My hands are always in my pockets or gesturing.”

It’s easy to laugh about a list like that, but I read it, and I relate. You may say it’s cringe, but I was deeply inspired by the girlboss movement and “Lean In,” which in many ways teaches women to mimic stereotypically male behaviors to get ahead in corporate America. I would power pose just like Sandberg taught, standing up straight, arms akimbo, looking in the mirror before intimidating interviews. I would take up room at the table, even when I wanted to shirk and sit by the wall.

Holmes was the girlboss who went all the way. She dropped her voice and erased her emotions. When we met, she said something about how people always want to criticize the world’s builders, and after a beat of silence, I wasn’t sure what else to say but the obvious: Hell yeah, Liz Holmes, haters gonna hate. I meant it.

So now, when she plays the damsel, blaming the boyfriend, feigning weakness, I’m depressed by it. I wish she’d stand tall, arms akimbo like we know she knows, and take responsibility like a man. 

→ Miami’s gain: The surge of very vocal tech workers moving to Miami is now a trend backed by real numbers. Between March 2020 and Feb 2021, 15% more tech workers moved to Miami and 35% fewer moved to San Francisco, compared to the year before, as calculated by the business publication Quartz.

→ Please don’t make little kids hold your guns: There seems to be a new Christmas card trend among the American Right in which the whole family, including young children, pose with assault rifles. Now, I do come from a gun family, and I have posed with guns (I pray every day that I don’t offend the friends who have these pictures). I even do like the meme of dads posing with guns next to the daughter’s prom dates, which is objectively funny. But armed children at Christmas? Please bring back the manger and matching sweaters.

→ Teachers for Long Weekends and Quiet Children! The teachers’ unions three-day weekend agenda continues to expand, with schools in Detroit and others deciding that Covid-19 safety simply requires Fridays off. Public schools are also now telling children they cannot speak to each other during meals, so they must sit silent and alone while they eat. Videos have emerged of children made to sit outdoors on small buckets, in the winter cold, socially distant, not speaking as they eat. Serene silence, holiday weekends, all part of the struggle for safety. Covid also requires me to pour a glass of wine right now.

But seriously it’s no wonder the mental illness rate among children is soaring, leading the Surgeon General to issue a message about it this week. The teachers unions have abused their power, while docile journalists applaud them, and children are suffering for it. Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, is busy this week promoting the SALT tax deduction, a big tax break for the financially comfortable. 

→ Good news: A young Syrian refugee with an incurable genetic disorder got swaths of new skin with healthy genetic code, grown by an Italian stem cell expert. Now, five years later, that skin is going strong, growing with him, and he’s a healthy teenager. 

→ Correction + some more: Last week, I wrote incorrectly that the transgender swimmer Lia Thomas swims for Penn State. She swims for the University of Pennsylvania. My apologies to all readers, especially those in the Keystone state.

This week, Lia Thomas, who competed for years on the men’s swimming team before joining the women’s team, has broken several women’s swimming records and finished one race a full 38 seconds before her nearest rival. 

Good Reads:

Two great pieces by two great friends: First, Liel Leibovitz has an essay out in Tablet Magazine about finding himself as a political outcast, unmoored from his supposed party. “Having lived through the turmoil of the last half decade—through the years of MAGA and antifa and rampant identity politics and, most dramatically, the global turmoil caused by COVID-19—more and more of us feel absolutely and irreparably politically homeless.” He calls this shift The Turn. Perhaps you’re also experiencing it.

A few days ago Abigail Shrier went to Princeton, where her presence was so controversial that she had to speak to students off-campus. The talk she gave is about free will, and it is astonishing and gorgeous.

“When I look back on my life thus far, it occurs to me that the decisions of which I am most proud—the ones that strike like an unexpected kiss—are not the times when I obeyed the algorithm. They’re the times when I defied it and felt, for a moment, the magic and power of being alive. When I felt, even for an instant, the exquisite joy of not being anyone’s subject. When I had the unmistakable sense that I’ve existed for a purpose, that I stood the chance of leaving the world better than I found it. You don’t get any of that through lock-step career achievement and you certainly don’t get that by being the Left’s star pupil.”

And this week’s entry into the ‘huh, weird, okay then!’: After setting up a free little library on her front lawn, the writer Erin Aubry Kaplan becomes upset that a couple walks past and peruses it. “What I resented was not this specific couple. It was their whiteness,” she writes in The New York Times.

This Week on Common Sense:

Leighton Woodhouse wrote about what it feels like as a father living in Oakland through the crime wave. “Our nanny’s living room in Oakland was sprayed with bullets. It didn’t even make the local news.”

Peter Savodnik investigated Havana Syndrome, which has largely been treated like a secret super weapon, but may in fact be a social contagion. The last paragraph: “The real fuckery, as it were, is not Russian agents causing American spies and diplomats a great deal of suffering. That’s awful, if it’s true. It’s awful no matter the cause. The real fuckery is that, five years after Havana Syndrome came to America, five years after America veered off its prescribed historical-political course, we remain convinced that the very bad thing that is happening to us is being imposed from the outside—a mysterious force infiltrating our homes and warping our brains. That whatever this is must be someone else’s fault. That it can’t be us.”

And on the podcast, Bari talked to Wilfred Reilly, author of “Hate Crime Hoaxes,” about Jussie Smollett—and why people are willing to risk everything to gain the status of a victim.

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