Protestors in Iran. (via Twitter)

TGIF: Bad News for Bad Guys

Iran’s heroines. Putin’s problems. Plus: Stacey Abrams, Adnan Syed, and an X-rated chess scandal.

Hi everyone! I'm Kat Rosenfield: culture writer, novelist, podcast co-host, occasional Common Sense contributor, and now, a proud member of the TGIF bullpen. I really wanted to make my debut here at TGIF by parachuting into the Common Sense headquarters dressed up as an astronaut, but when I went to NASA to get my spacesuit everyone was like, “You can’t wear that,” and “How did you even get in here” and “Why are you covered in Vaseline?!” (Pro tip: If you’re greasy enough, they'll never catch you.) 

It's been a great week here at Common Sense.

From London, Zoe Strimpel explained the mystery wrapped in an enigma that is Liz Truss, Britain's new prime minister. Suzy Weiss introduced us to the Park Slope Panthers—the neighborhood watch group that almost was. (Many readers thought this was a parody, we promise, all true!) Paulina Neuding offered a harrowing glimpse of life in Sweden, where violent crime has risen sharply for reasons that nobody wants to talk about. The reporter’s acquaintance confided: “All I want is for my kid not to get kidnapped and peed on.” And on Honestly, Bari hosted Terry Glavin, a veteran reporter who dug deep into the bombshell story of the mass graves of indigenous children in Canada . . . and found out it wasn’t at all what it seemed.

And now, to the news!

→ Not-so-peaceful protests: Dozens of cities across Iran are witnessing their seventh day of fierce, furious mass protests over the death of a 22-year-old woman at the hands of Iran's “morality police.” Mahsa Amini died on September 16 in Tehran after being arrested and beaten by police for the crime of “unsuitable attire.” In other words, she was flouting the medieval Islamic Republic laws that require women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothing in public. (The police have denied mistreating Amini and claim she died of a heart attack. Amini’s family say that she was healthy with no history of heart trouble, and that authorities prevented them from seeing her body before she was buried.)

Amini’s death was a spark in a tinderbox of long-standing unrest: young Iranians are increasingly rejecting the regime's strict religious laws, its intolerance for dissent, and its merciless treatment of its citizens—especially women.

Videos, mostly shot on phones, have been emerging all week of scenes both inspiring and brutal: women burning their hijabs and hacking off their hair in protest to the sound of cheers; police on motorcycles surrounding and beating women who dare unveil; and angry citizens facing off with cops on the streets, tear gas thick in the air.

In an address to the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday, President Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s ultraconservative president, didn't mention Amini. Instead, he whined about the “oppression” of sanctions and the “double standard” Iran is held to when it comes to human rights violations, invoking the specter of “mass graves” full of indigenous Canadian schoolchildren. Talk about the pot calling a kettle a mass murderer.

This isn’t the first uprising of its kind in Iran: In 2009, millions of Iranians took to the streets in the Green Movement. Then, they got little support from the West. Maybe this revolution—one led by women—will be different.

→ Martha, Martha, Martha: The 50 Latin American migrants whom Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flew to Martha’s Vineyard spent less than 48 hours on the island. But the saga continues this week, with each new development dumber and yet more dramatic than the last. A lawsuit on the migrants’ behalf was filed Tuesday by a civil rights law firm in conjunction with the nonprofit Alianza Americas, seeking to ban DeSantis from inducing immigrants “to travel across state lines by fraud and misrepresentation.” The alleged fraud includes the production of fake brochures that misled the migrants into believing they would receive “refugee benefits” upon arrival in Martha’s Vineyard.

At the same time, someone, and nobody seems to know who, said that DeSantis was flying a fresh load of migrants to Joe Biden’s home in Delaware, causing a veritable stampede of takes accusing DeSantis of being a human trafficker.

Except when the plane landed in New Jersey, it was empty—at which point DeSantis became a monster for not sending the migrants to Delaware.

Needless to say, the shouts of “Punked!” from the right are not exactly dispelling the impression that DeSantis is using desperate human beings as pawns in a quest to own the libs, though the shrieks of “Kidnapping!” from the left don't seem entirely rooted in sober reality, either. 

In a press conference, DeSantis rather absurdly claimed that he’s just trying to address the border crisis by offering immigrants free transport to the kind of blue-state enclaves that claim to welcome them. He also called out the wealthy residents on the Vineyard for being a bunch of NIMBYs dressed up as open-borders progressives, and the media class for only jumping on the border crisis story when it was politically expedient, a point I will reluctantly concede. 

“They said we want everyone, no one’s illegal—they’re gone in 48 hours,” he said. “There are more ACELA corporate journalists in Martha’s Vineyard today than have ever gone down to the southern border.”

For those worrying they might have to put their money where their IN THIS HOUSE WE BELIEVE yard sign is, it’s not too late to buy the alternative version that proclaims your belief in (and carnal lust for) Bigfoot instead.

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→ Putin has problems: It’s safe to say that the war in Ukraine isn’t going the way Putin imagined when he hatched his plans for invasion while sitting at a comically large table. Ukrainian troops have retaken crucial territory in the east, as many as 80,000 of Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded, and Putin just called up another 300,000 troops, a move that Russian citizens are not happy about. The sense that Putin is in over his head and losing ground is also emboldening more Russians to speak openly against the war, including pop star Alla Pugacheva, who condemned “the death of our boys for illusory goals” in an Instagram post. 

Obviously, nobody is going to win this war anytime soon, but Ukraine has to be feeling good about the general direction of things. And while rumors began swirling about a chaotic mass exodus from Russia after the conscription announcement, according to Finland’s border guards, they’re handling it. C’mon, Russians! Don't you want to defect to the land of lingonberries, reindeer jerky, and a hot prime minister who loves to party?

→ Schrödinger's pandemic: President Biden apparently went off script in a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, accidentally expressing the closest thing to a normie take on the pandemic: “We still have a problem with Covid,” he said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it . . . but the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing.”

This comment was met with a resounding “No shit!” by most Americans—except for the screeches of outrage from the folx who just aren’t ready to say goodbye. The actual screech was faintly muffled by the N95s they are still wearing everywhere, but their tweets were loud and clear:

Among those disagreeing with Biden is Anthony Fauci, who I thought was already retired and sipping piña coladas on a beach in a hazmat suit somewhere, but apparently not. At the same time, the White House said that Biden was just stating the obvious, so who knows. Perhaps the pandemic, like war, is over if you want it.

→ Stacey Abrams: science denier? Here’s Stacey Abrams explaining that fetal heartbeats aren’t a thing, actually: “There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks. It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman's body,” she says, as everyone around her nods in somber agreement. 

This is the latest, greatest example of what happens when science collides with The Science™ on a politicized playing field. Is that sound you hear on a six-week ultrasound the pumping action of a fully formed human heart? No. Does that matter to the millions of pregnant women who feel a profound sense of joy and wonder when they hear it? Gee, I wonder. 

→ Serial thriller: Eight years after Sarah Koenig and “Serial” made Adnan Syed’s case famous—and the question of his guilt a hot topic at water coolers, and gastro-pubs everywhere—Syed has finally walked free. A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge vacated Syed’s conviction for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, whose body was found at a Baltimore park in 1999. Syed always maintained his innocence, but his attempts to get a new trial stalled in 2019 when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case. This time around there appears to be new evidence—including alternative suspects—that created insurmountable cracks in the prosecution's case. 

One particularly remarkable thing about this development: it happened at the behest of prosecutors, who usually rank only slightly below politicians on the list of People Who Will Never Admit They Were Wrong. 

→ The boobs heard round the world: Why is everyone suddenly talking about some random high school shop teacher in Canada? Well, let's just say there are two reasons. 

The teacher, who reportedly began identifying as a woman last year, is being defended by school administrators who argue that they cannot reasonably discriminate against an expression of gender identity—even if that expression has giant protruding rubber nipples that hang at the wearer's belt line and seem all but destined for some kind of terrible accident involving a circular saw. 

The best take on this, in my extremely biased opinion, belongs to Phoebe Maltz Bovy, who sensibly walks us through all the arguments in favor of unfettered gender expression before politely eviscerating them: "But then you return to planet Earth and see the images of a teacher with what are rather obviously pornographic prosthetic breasts."  

Meantime, in New York, a transgender social studies teacher has been fired simply because of being transgender—but nobody's talking about her. While people like the Ontario teacher make headlines for making a buffoonish spectacle of womanhood, it’s the trans people who just want to live their lives who get hurt.

→ Syphilis is back! The O.G. of STDs is suddenly everywhere in the U.S., with a 26% rise in infections reported last year. This is a bummer for public health officials—not to mention college students—who were at one point on the brink of actually eradicating the disease. The AP reports that infections “plummeted in the U.S. starting in the 1940s when antibiotics became widely available,” and continued falling until 1998 to a nationwide low of fewer than 7,000 cases, prompting (now-abandoned) speculation by the CDC that it might be possible to eliminate syphilis in the U.S. entirely. Personally, I thought syphilis did some great work in the 16th century, but their antibiotic-resistant comeback tour kinda seems like selling out. Know when to quit, syphilis! Read the room! 

→ Is that a King in your pocket or are you just excited to see me? A bizarre scandal out of the ultra-competitive world of grandmaster-on-grandmaster chess involves the allegation that a player cheated by using vibrating remote-controlled anal beads to receive illicit communications in Morse code. (If that sentence made sense to you, I have some questions about how you spend your leisure time.) Like so many stories about remote-controlled anal beads, this is actually a story about artificial intelligence and how, rather than training machines how to think, it’s causing people to think more like machines.

→ An embarrassment of MVPs: Okay, I know we don’t usually get into sports, but I’m flying the plane this week. So gear up sports fans. We're coming down to the final weeks of Major League Baseball's regular season, but the question of who will be the American League MVP is still wide open, since two players are having such unprecedented seasons that there's a great case for giving it to either one of them. Shohei Ohtani of the Angels is one of the best pitchers in the world and also a top-10 hitter. (For those not in the know, this makes Ohtani a veritable unicorn: most pitchers can barely swing a bat at all, let alone swing it like that.) On the other hand, there’s Aaron Judge, a giant man with giant hands who is currently chasing some big single season home run records. Judge matched Babe Ruth's record of 60 homers this week, and all eyes are on him to crush Roger Maris's 61 sometime during a four-game series with the Red Sox this weekend. 

Ohtani was last year's MVP as well as Rookie of the Year in 2018, and his fans are quite adamant that there's no bigger Big Man On Campus in baseball. But Judge is only the sixth man in the history of baseball to hit 60 homers in a season. Plus, he’s a welcome palate cleanser after the last guy to break a home run record turned out to be full of secrets, lies, and anabolic steroids. As for me, I have no strong opinions about who should win the big award, but I personally volunteer to hug the loser and gently stroke his hair while he weeps.

→ Putting it out into the universe: Donald Trump can always be counted on for a novel defense of the most objectively rule-breaking behavior, but this one might be his best. In the wake of the FBI raid of classified materials at Mar-a-Lago, Trump told Fox News that actually, the President can declassify documents with his brain.

Some Common Sense staffers have pointed out that this may be the closest thing we ever experience in real life to this classic moment from The Office:

→ Scrunchies 4ever: Let’s pour one out for Rommy Hunt Revson, the inventor of the scrunchie, who recently died at 78. Revson got the idea for the accessory in 1986, after being inspired by the elastic waistband on a pair of sweatpants. And while scrunchies were briefly considered unfashionable in the snobbier parts of the fashion universe (thanks in no small part to the anti-scrunchie bias of one Carrie Bradshaw), they've basically never gone out of style. In Revson's honor, I present to you the most iconic scrunchie movie moment of all time:

That’s all from me this week!

Until next Friday, I leave you with a prayer: may your bats be mighty, may your balls be plentiful, may your giant prosthetic breasts be kept safely out of the belt sander danger zone.


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