Bomb Scares in the US Top This Week’s Internet News Roundup

How’s everyone doing? OK? Getting by? All feelings are valid—especially after this week, which was tumultuous, even by the value-adjusted standards of 2018. Even ignoring all the news below—which is a lot, trust us—there’s also Megyn Kelly’s departure from NBC, Saudi Arabia admitting that it intended to kill journalist Jamil Khashoggi after previously denying it, and the murder of two men in Kentucky. That’s all real, important stuff! (Well, OK, maybe not Megyn Kelly’s career prospects, but at least it’s more meaningful than caring about Kendall Jenner’s hair, which was also a topic of much discussion last week.) With all of this in the offing, it’s no surprise that we all reached the point of nervous exhaustion just trying to make it to the weekend. I mean, that’s not just us, right? Right?

Bomb Scares

What Happened: Last week, several potentially dangerous packages were intercepted on their way to a number of public figures.

What Really Happened: For some time now, George Soros—business magnate, philanthropist, and, famously, The Man Who Broke the Bank of England—has been a target of many accusations, from paying protestors to funding illegal immigrants. But last week, he became the target of something more serious.

The explosive device was discovered in the mailbox of a property co-owned by Soros. If there was any doubt that this was a politically motivated attack, it was wiped away when, two days later, this happened.

But that, worryingly, was just the beginning.

The news was dominated all Wednesday by the story, understandably, with each new development breathlessly covered as everyone expected something new and probably terrible to happen. The CNN package was, it turned out, mis-directed.

It also wasn’t the only mis-directed suspicious package.

Let’s just say that precision wasn’t necessarily the key for whoever was behind the mailings (Notably, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s name was also misspelled as were multiple addresses, according to reports.) What was going on was clearly a big deal, but was it terrorism? Not necessarily, if authorities were to be believed.

That’s right; multiple explosive devices sent to politicians and former public officials may not be terrorism because … Actually, we have no idea. Because it’s targeting Democrats? Who can even tell. Suffice to say, people weren’t exactly convinced by this argument, fittingly:

After offering just a retweet of a comment from Vice President Mike Pence and a vague statement from his press secretary, President Trump finally broke his silence about the events a number of hours later, at a pre-arranged event.

It’s … a start. Despite some saying that the message was too vague—Trump notably didn’t mention CNN by name—he repeated the positioning at a rally in Wisconsin later that day—

—but couldn’t help but return to his old habits during the same rally.

Well, who really thought that the president would fail to go after his favorite enemies just because someone was, you know, actually trying to kill them. The next day, Trump continued this line of thought on Twitter.

While he was attacking the media one day after CNN was sent a pipe bomb, dangerous packages continued to appear elsewhere.

A day later, bombs addressed to Cory Booker and former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper were discovered. For anyone paying attention, that’s nearly a dozen in the last week alone, as the FBI has officially confirmed. Despite this, the president continued to sew the seeds of disbelief about whether or not the threat is real—note the quote marks around “bomb” below.

Friday morning, authorities arrested Cesar Sayoc, a Florida man, in connection with the packages. Sayoc was charged with five federal crimes, including threatening former presidents. As of this writing, the investigation is still on-going.

The Takeaway: Let’s let legendary newsman Dan Rather put this into perspective, shall we?

In Which the Administration Refuses to Recognize the Civil Rights of Its Citizens

What Happened: While the nation was focused on the dangerous packages, the Trump Administration significantly upped its attacks on the trans community in a number of ways.

What Really Happened: In case anyone still thought that Sundays were relatively relaxed even in the whirlwind of 2018, last weekend proved that wasn’t the case anymore when the New York Times broke a very important story.

Revoking the rights of trans, gender nonconforming, non-binary, and intersex people is appalling and horrific, but shouldn’t be that surprising considering Trump tried to ban trans troops earlier this year. Beyond the initial shock of the report, social media was quickly flooded with messages in support of the trans and non-binary communities.

If the administration saw the negative feedback for the first Times story, it apparently had little impact, given what was to come later in the week.

Yes, not only is the Justice Department now OK with discrimination, but the US is also attacking use of gender in UN documentation. This is, unmistakably, a war on trans rights, which is to say, human rights.

The Takeaway: Despite what’s happening, there are many standing against it—including a pro bono legal defense team willing to fight the discrimination.

Damn Lies!

What Happened: Everyone knows that the president fudges the truth a lot, but this week he’s been lying a lot even for him.

What Really Happened: It’s fair to say that, at this point, we’ve all become aware of the fact that President Trump isn’t always truthful. After all, it’s been something that’s been happening for a while now; it’d be strange if people didn’t feel like it was something a little less shocking than it used to be, surely. But Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein shouldn’t be the only one talking about it. Let’s take a look at a recent example of one of the president’s untruths.

Rioting? In California? That seemed amazingly unlikely, according to everyone, basically. Twitter was happy to look into the subject.

Even in the face of basic facts, the president was unrepentant.

But non-existent Californian riots weren’t the only outright fiction the president was peddling this week. Far from it, in fact; there was also a caravan of potential illegal immigrants moving towards the US, something that is half-true—there is a caravan of migrants moving north through South America, but they’re unlikely to make it en masse to the US border and they’re not “Middle Easterners,” as he claimed. When faced with those facts, he impressively declared, “There’s no proof of anything,” which is at once an admission on his part and an existential proposition about the failures of our own perception. Some have noted that Trump’s untruths have been getting … well, quite extreme, even by his own standards lately.

So why is he lying so brazenly, and so often? It’s very simple:

The obvious response to all of this is, “Just tell the truth and point out the lies.” But … has that really been a particularly successful attitude so far?

“There’s no proof of anything,” remember…

The Takeaway: Let a former National Security Council spokesperson for Barack Obama focus attention for you on this one.

In Which President Trump Admits What He Is (Maybe, Almost)

What Happened: At a rally for Ted Cruz, President Trump used his outside voice instead of his inside voice and told the crowd that, sure, he’s a nationalist. What could be wrong with that?

What Really Happened: Ever since—well, for a long time, considering both the birther thing and his comments on the Central Park Five, not to mention the past half-century, more or less—there have been rumors and clues and suspicions that President Trump is racist. Why else would he defend white nationalists at Charlottesville? But for many, they needed more proof. Like, for example, maybe this?

Well, there it is. By his own admission, the president is a nationalist, a term that is commonly paired with the word “white” and used as a polite way of saying “racist.” It was a potentially alarming admission, but there was one obvious question left unanswered by his announcement…

While people were struggling to come to terms with the whole thing, others were considering the history behind the announcement.

But this wasn’t the very first time Trump had used the term to describe himself.

Some tried to walk the comment back the next day—

—while others obfuscated what “nationalist” meant.

But maybe we should listen to the experts on this one.

What’s that saying about, if someone tells you who they are, believe them?

The Takeaway: For all those who believe that President Trump was either mistaken in his choice of language or speaking in such a code that it doesn’t really matter anyway, here’s what the author of a book about white supremacists had to say in response.

But Her Emails…

What Happened: For those who voted for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton because they were concerned that her private email server was a security risk, this week brought a story that put everything in context.

What Really Happened: Perhaps you remember the whole thing during the 2016 election where Hillary Clinton was basically judged to be an untrustworthy candidate because she had a private email server—a server that then-candidate Trump claimed had been hacked by China (the FBI disagreed, by the way). It was, the argument went, proof that Hillary would be a bad choice because she’d represent a threat to national security. Hey! Guess what?

Oh. That’s not good. Indeed, the New York Times story is not good at all for anyone who actually worries about foreign powers eavesdropping on the conversations of the most powerful man in the world.

The story was, at least, oddly informative.

And there was also an … upside?

As the story gained traction through other outlets, it was only a matter of time before Russia and China, the two countries named as listening in on the president’s calls, weighed in publicly. Let’s just say that neither offered a denial that seemed entirely serious.

OK, there’s a little bit more to the Chinese response, but not too much more—and definitely nothing that felt as if it was a particularly important or serious matter.

As would only be expected at this point, the president took to Twitter to, uh, “correct” the story the following morning.

You can tell that he means it; look at the number of Os in “soooo.” But, there was one small problem with his tweet…

Oops. Or maybe that should be “Oooops”…?

The Takeaway: Let’s try to find the light at the end of this particularly upsetting tunnel, shall we?


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‘Fortnite’ Season 6 Lands, and the Rest of the Week in Games

This week’s Replay is all about the power of gaming communities—the power they have to make ongoing games really entertaining, the power they have to put pressure on corporations, and the power they have to, well, be really quirky and odd. Let’s go!

Fortnite‘s New Season Lands with Spooky Aplomb

First up, the biggest news of the week: Fortnite‘s new spooky and weird sixth season is finally here. Continuing the game’s striking creativity, the “Darkness Rises” update fills the island with creepy woods and “corruption cubes,” which do … something. Of course, there are the smattering of new items and cosmetics, too, including passive companions who will follow you into battle and watch as you die. Cheery!

If you’re wondering about Fortnite‘s continued dominance in the battle royale genre, this is it, right here. Here is a game that’s always growing and experimenting, and that’s doing extremely clever things with space and setting in the medium. Fortnite forever.

Sony Caves in to Cross-Play Demands, to the Joy of People with Friends

Over the past few months, one of the more mild, agreeable controversies in games has been about Sony’s insistent refusal to allow cross-console play on the PlayStation 4’s multiplayer games, despite many publishers wanting it, basically every consumer wanting it, and it being, apparently, very technically accomplishable. (The functionality has, in fact, been turned on by accident before.)

Now, finally, they’ve caved. This week Sony announced that they would begin allowing cross-play on some multiplayer titles. While this is going to be on a case-by-case basis, it means that if you have buddies who use other gaming consoles, you might actually be able to play with them. The first game to receive cross-play is, of course, Fortnite.

I Guess We Have to Talk About Bowsette, Huh?

Fandom is weird and beautiful, and very thirsty. This past week provided irrefutable evidence of that with the emergence of Bowsette, a phenomenon that is, well, a little hard to explain. So, recently, when Nintendo announced Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe for the Switch, a new Mario powerup was introduced, a Mushroom Crown that could turn Toadette into Peachette, a Peach lookalike. Wait, said the internet, that crown can turn a mushroom person into Peach? Can it turn anyone into Peach? What about, say, Bowser? Could there be a Bowser Peach?

Yes, the internet responded to itself, resoundingly, yes. And fan artists went wild, producing more vaguely suggestive videogame fan art than I have ever seen. Bowsette is a huge meme, appealing to queer people who find something very relatable and fun in freely changing genders and to people who just really liked The Shape of Water. So, is Bowser sexy now? Definitely yes. Enjoy it. But maybe don’t browse any Mario fan art on Twitter while you’re at work for a while.

Recommendation of the Week: Life Is Strange

The first episode of the second season of Life Is Strange dropped this week, which means now is the perfect time to experience the bittersweet original. Following Max, a teen photographer who realizes she can rewind time, and her best friend, Chloe, it’s a fascinating and, to me, deeply moving queer coming-of-age story nestled in a creative little adventure game. Things get surreal, and sad, and beautiful. And the soundtrack is superb.


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It’s the Emmy Awards That Need a ‘Popular’ Category, Not the Oscars

Jessica Biel never had a chance.

Granted, it’s hard to be a real contender when you share an Emmy category with Regina King; her Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie win last night for her role in the Netflix miniseries Seven Seconds became her third Emmy since 2015. But the strength of the talent pool wasn’t why I assumed Biel would come up empty-handed for her haunted performance as accused murderer Cora Tannetti on The Sinner. Instead, it was the fact that hers was the only nomination for a shrewd and surprising why-dunit, one that subverted crime dramas by giving you the killer at the season’s outset.

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See, The Sinner, the second season of which ends tonight and which Biel also executive-produces, belongs to a once-rare but ever-swelling genus of shows: the word-of-mouth sensation. If you’re lucky, you stumble on it—or have it recommended to you—early enough to catch up in time for its season finale. Think Killing Eve, Succession. The Sinner plumbed the same ground in 2017, emerging as the number one new cable series in “delayed viewing.” Then it picked up an even more delayed audience when it caught fire on Netflix earlier this year. Yet, similar to Killing Eve, it didn’t pile up nominations. There wasn’t one for its patient directing, nor its halting, revelatory writing, not for Bill Pullman’s chokingly understated portrayal of long-suffering detective Harry Ambrose. It deserved at least four—and even its single nod turned out to be for naught.

And once again, last night’s Emmys revealed that The Sinner and Killing Eve are not alone. Trophy after trophy went to the most prestigious of prestige TV: Netflix’s Queen Elizabeth II bio-series The Crown; FX’s Cold War domestic espionage cat-and-mouse The Americans; Amazon’s upstart comedy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; HBO’s … everything. No question, these were deserving shows and performances. Henry Winkler? Still a treasure, even if his Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series award for Barry came at the expense of Atlanta‘s far more deserving Brian Tyree Henry.

Meanwhile, some of the television series I’ve had the most conversations about it—the good kind, the morning-after-Slackathon kind, the “oh, you’ve gotta watch this” kind—got overlooked. Big Mouth (one music nomination, zero awards). The Good Place (two nominations, zero awards). Insecure (two nominations, zero awards). Ozark (five nominations, zero awards). American Vandal (one nomination, zero awards). That doesn’t mean programs that did take home statuettes—Seven Seconds, Godless, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story—weren’t talked about, they just never got discussed with the same breathless zeal.

All of which makes me wonder if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences might have been on to something with its proposed-then-scrapped idea to introduce a “outstanding achievement in popular film” Academy Award category—not for the Oscars, but the Emmys.

You can’t be serious, you say. Look at all the genre series grabbing awards. Game of Thrones won Best Drama Series; Westworld was everywhere! How can these not be “popular”? Look, yes, of course these are popular. And they’re also painstakingly produced and designed within a millimeter of the uncanny valley. Look at the Outstanding Period Costumes and Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes categories and you’ll find five of the seven Outstanding Drama Series nominees. Great shows, great aesthetics—but while they’re certainly among the most sumptuous spectacles on TV, they’re not necessarily the best. (Also, I’m not saying Big Mouth is a better animated comedy than the eighth season of Bob’s Burgers and the millionth of The Simpsons—oh, wait, yes; yes, I am absolutely saying that.)

It’s a ridiculous and unnecessary understatement to say television has changed. In 2018, 520 scripted series are expected to air on broadcast, cable, premium cable, and streaming services. Five hundred twenty—and that’s up from 487 in 2017. (That figure also doesn’t include Apple, which has reportedly thrown more than $1 billion at original programming for its as-yet-still-not-officially-announced content plans.) There’s simply no way for people to see every show, or discuss them—which is why shows like The Sinner and Killing Eve and Big Mouth and The Good Place, shows that have demonstrated reach far beyond their initial impact, matter so much.

These are the shows that have managed to defeat the algorithm. They might not be what a computer thought you’d like, but they bucked the feedstream and came to you via actual recommendation. They’re not the most ambitious, or expensive, or generationally sprawling. They’re the unearthed gems you enjoy so much you want other people to enjoy them too. And if that’s a sin, I don’t want to be a saint.


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Omarosa’s Possible Trump Tapes Top This Week’s Internet News Roundup

Bad news for those hoping to see President Trump‘s planned military parade this November: It’s postponed, perhaps because it was apparently going to cost more than $80 million more than originally estimated. And that was just one of a couple setbacks last week for Trump, who also got dinged by a federal judge who ruled the administration screwed up the wording on its controversial NDA forms. (The president also picked a fight with veterans over what happened in Apocalypse Now.) Also, the defense rested in the trial of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort last week without calling any witnesses, so the jury is expected to return a verdict very soon in that case. There’s no telling how the outcome will affect the president until the verdict is out, but surely the waiting isn’t fun for him. Perhaps he could find some solace in the FDA’s approval of a cheaper, generic EpiPen or the release of a new Ariana Grande album? We’ll have to wait to see what this upcoming week has in store. In the meantime, there’s all of this.

Let’s Go to the Tape

What Happened: Forget receipts. Omarosa apparently has tapes of her time in the White House. Yes,”tapes.” Plural.

What Really Happened: Omarosa Manigault Newman continued the promo tour for her new book, Unhinged, last week with a strategy that is, shall we say, somewhat unique. It all started when, on last weekend’s Meet the Press, she shared something genuinely unexpected.

Why, yes, this was immediately agreed to be a really big deal, and not just because it was potentially illegal. Some people had concerns about the recording actually coming from the Situation Room, and what implications that had.

Considering that this came in connection with her assertion that President Trump is “mentally declined,” this all went down really well with Omarosa’s former boss, as you might expect.

That sure sounds like he was glad to see the back of her, right? Oh, but wait: There were more tapes to come.

As it was, people had obvious concerns with the way—and the particular language—Trump was using to talk about his former employee, and the fact that she was, after all, his former employee.

Still, at least there were no more tapes, right? Like, say, recordings revealing whether or not the president has ever used theN-word,” as it’s so euphemistically called. That would be really bad.

We’ll come back to this in a second, but could there be even more tapes? Apparently so.

Late in the week, reports claimed that Omarosa could have as many as 200 tapes waiting to be released. No wonder, then, that Trump is seeking legal actions to stop that from happening.

The Takeaway: There’s something so wonderfully trashy, yet compelling, about seeing a reality star take on Trump in this way, isn’t there? (At some point, Omarosa and attorney Michael Avenatti will cross paths, and reality might implode.)

Now, About What’s On Those Tapes…

What Happened: Folks spent a lot of time last week talking about the fact that Omarosa might have tapes of Trump. They spent just as much time talking about what might be on them.

What Really Happened: But let’s go back to Trump’s racism, and the discussion thereof. As if calling Omarosa a dog wasn’t enough of a reminder that President Trump is clearly racist, the discussion in Omarosa’s book about Trump’s alleged use of the N-word has brought the subject to the fore yet again.

This isn’t a new allegation. Former Celebrity Apprentice contestant Tom Arnold has been talking about it since 2016, and the rumor existed even before then. Penn Jillette has said the same thing, and then there’s Omarosa’s recording of Trump insiders apparently confirming that they’ve heard a tape of him saying it, too. At this point, Occam’s razor would indicate the tapes exist. So now might be a good time for the president to address things, right?

Well, that’s a response. As others have pointed out, when you need someone to call you and tell you that there are no tapes of you saying something, that means you’ve definitely said it more than once. But how do you think the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chose to spin this? Everyone saying, “really badly,” you win a prize.

Yes, it’s come to this: The White House press secretary has to admit that she can’t say for sure that there’s no tape of the president using a racist slur. And then there’s what she added to that weak rebuttal…

That’s … certainly a look. Still, at least Sanders had a good way to prove that the president wasn’t racist: facts and figures! There was just one problem with that.

To be fair to Sarah Huckabee Sanders: It is actually a big deal when this administration apologizes for anything. So there’s that.

The Takeaway: Let’s give this one over to David Axelrod.

Top Secret (Slight Reprise)

What Happened: As the White House removes the security clearance of one of its critics, politicians and the intelligence community respond in the manner you’d likely expect.

What Really Happened: Some of you may or may not remember that, last month, there were stories in the press about the president considering stripping security clearance for former intelligent officials who had been critical of him. Some said it made no sense, others—including House Speaker Paul Ryan—poo-pooed the idea; Ryan, famously, said Trump was just trolling people with the idea. Funny story: He meant it after all.

Yes, former CIA Director John Brennan was stripped of his clearance last week, with the clearances of others apparently also under review. There were, initially, theories as to why this happened when it happened.

As it turned out, maybe none of these ideas were necessarily true.

Huh. Wait. July 26…?

The plot only thickened from there, as the White House apparently recognized its error.

But let’s not get distracted by when it happened, and go back to the fact that it happened in the first place. As is only customary, the president gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal where he explicitly linked Brennan’s clearance being revoked with the Russia investigation, saying, “I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham… And these people led it! So I think something had to be done.” Of course, people noticed these comments, perhaps because Trump can’t stop giving away that he’s obstructing justice publicly no matter what.

As would be expected, the administration’s actions were widely condemned by politicians and intelligence officials, but perhaps no condemnation was more damning than that of retired Navy admiral and commander of US Joint Special Operations Command, William H. McRaven, who wrote in the Washington Post, “I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency,” adding, “Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”

Soon afterwards, 12 former intelligence officials issued a collective statement condemning the move.

The Takeaway: This is, as one might expect, already being portrayed by some as President Trump taking on the Deep State. For everyone else, it’s a particularly chilling moment in a series of chilling moments. The most obvious questions might be, what (and who) is next, and why are certain people sticking around in the administration at this point?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

What Happened: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul—and the woman in possession of one of the finest voices ever committed to vinyl—passed away last week. Amid a flurry of tributes, there was also one confusing comment and one utterly embarrassing mix-up.

What Really Happened: After days of reports of failing health, Thursday brought the tragic news that Aretha Franklin had passed away.

The internet was, deservedly, filled with stories about her legacy, both inside popular music and outside it—she played an important role in the civil rights movement, and inspired and gave voice to women across the world. As is sadly customary in times like this, Twitter was overtaken with those paying tribute to her talent.

Of course, politicians paid tribute, as well…

And then, there were President Trump’s comments…

As much as the comments drew a lot of analysis and attention—amusingly, Franklin was reportedly not a fan of the president’s—it could’ve been worse. A fact ably demonstrated by Fox News, of all places.

See? At least the president didn’t do that. But, amazingly, Fox really did and many people noticed, because of course they did.

Aretha, you really deserved better.

The Takeaway: As great as the NYT and LA Times entertainment section covers were on Friday—

—the Detroit Free Press front page has them beat, appropriately.

Millennials’ Next Victim? Mayo

What Happened: From the death of a soul giant to the reported death of something you put on a sandwich. Is mayonnaise really doing that poorly?

What Really Happened: When will the murder spree by millennials end? Not content with killing department stores, vacations, marriage, and the European Union—not to mention all manner of other things—now they’re turning their attention to … condiments, apparently.

Yes, millennials have apparently killed mayonnaise, although it should be noted that the writer of this piece had previously claimed that millennials had also ruined the workforce and people are still working as far as we know. Nonetheless, if the death of mayo was something to be mourned, it seemed that not everyone got the memo.

Some people just wanted to point out the failures of logic in the central argument, understandably.

As the backlash got underway—along with the over-analysis—at least one person was just ready to enjoy the dramatic potential of any mayo murder.

Still, at least there was some upside to the whole thing: The success of the original piece, even if written just to provoke a backlash and uproar, means we can perhaps expect more such stories in the near future.

Finally, we have our new Condiment King!

The Takeaway: Yes, this is ridiculous. But let’s just take one second to think about what might be the most ridiculous part of the whole thing:


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