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Heather Cox Richardson didn’t set out to build a fan base when she started her daily “Letters from an American.” The Harvard-educated political historian and Boston College professor had actually just been stung by a yellow-jacket as she was leaving on a trip from her home in Maine to teach in Boston last fall when she wrote her first post.

Since she’s allergic to bees, she decided to stay put and see how badly her body would react. With some extra time on her hands, she decided to write something on her long-neglected Facebook page. It was September of 2019, and Representative Adam Schiff had just sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence stating that the House knew there was a whistleblower complaint, the DNI wasn’t handing it over, and that wasn’t legal.

“I recognized, because I’m a political historian, that this was the first time that a member of Congress had found a specific law that they were accusing a specific member of the executive branch of violating,” Richardson told Bill Moyers in an interview in July. “So I thought, you know, I oughta put that down, ’cause this is a really important moment. If you knew what you were looking for, it was a big moment. So I wrote it down…”

By the time she got to Boston she has a deluge of questions from people about what she’d written.


“It was clear that the readers wanted to know more,” she said. “They seemed to want to know the answers, so I wrote again…And I’ve written every night since because questions just poured in, and people flooded me with questions about what was going on. And who were the players? And how was this going to play out? And what were the laws, and why should I have any hope that this was gonna turn out in a good way? And this was just something that really was sort of reader-driven, not driven by me at all. And I think that’s probably why it’s had such staying power.”

For a year now, Richardson has synopsized the day’s political news in a way that only a historian can. She places everything into the big picture of American history while also offering facts and details that help readers understand the significance of what’s happening at the moment.

Prior to her letters, Richardson was best known as an academic for the five books she’s written, including “How the South Won the Civil War,” and “To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party.” Now, everyday Americans love her for her informative daily Facebook posts.

In an age where people build personal social media brands around being sensational, entertaining, or the loudest voice in the room, Richardson’s concise, historical, fact-based, no-drama posts are an unlikely way to form a following, but here we are. In 2020 there are still a whole lot of us who are desperate for a steady, knowledgeable voice of reason and sanity, and Richardson’s posts have have become lifelines of knowledge and hope for the nearly 600,000 readers who follow her Facebook page.

Part of Richardson’s appeal is her clear love of the topic. “I take our government extraordinarily seriously,” she told Moyers. “I have lived with American politics really since I was about 21, and maybe earlier because I was really first aware of the world during Watergate. And I care deeply about our traditions, about our heritage, about democracy. I’m happy to criticize it, because I always want it to be better, but I take that stuff really seriously.”

Another part of her appeal is that she is able to take the rapid pace of the news cycle, the constant craziness of our political climate, the complex patterns of history, and the way each of those things intertwines, and then condense it down into a 1200-word, easy-to-read “letter” that anyone can digest.

Having a political historian providing context is a huge gift, especially in the era of Donald Trump as president. While he clearly tramples over political and democratic norms—which some love and some hate—it’s not like we haven’t seen politicians like him before. In fact, his tactics are straight out of an autocratic playbook.

“It’s not just that he’s good at reading an audience, and it’s not just that he himself might have a short attention span,” Richardson told Moyers about Trump. “If you continually change the subject, you continually stay one step ahead of the story, you can do a couple of things. First of all, you can control the narrative, because by the time people have fact-checked you, you’re already onto the next story. Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s developed that tactic really carefully. Because the media simply couldn’t catch up with the stories, by the time you fact-checked ’em, they were fourth-page news. And there was the first-page story of something else outrageous. So it’s partly to control the narrative, but it’s also something I think more nefarious with this particular president. And that is that, if you, as Steve Bannon said, ‘flood the zone with expletive–’ what you do is, you keep your audience off guard all the time. They never know what the truth is. They never know what’s coming next, and they don’t know how to answer to any of it. And it’s a game of psychological warfare, if you will. But if you keep knocking people around enough, eventually what they will do is simply say, ‘I don’t care. It’s too much for me. Everybody’s lying. I don’t know what’s real. Just make it all go away.’ And when you do that, the way is pretty clearly open for an autocrat to step in.”

Richardson eloquently explains some of the realities—or alternate realities—that have so many of us baffled in the disinformation age. One of her areas of expertise is how politicians and political parties deliberately construct narratives to create their own reality; it’s something she’s spent a lot of her research time studying.

But the main draw to Richardson’s letters is how well she distills and contextualizes everything the way a history book would—only she does it for us in real time.

Writer Elly Lonon summed it up perfectly:

“Honestly, if democracy were a tv series, Heather Cox Richardson would be that little blurb that runs before the actual show starts. You know, ‘Previously, in Democracy…’ and then the summary so you remember where you left off and what you’re supposed to be paying attention to.”

It is definitely worth a click to follow her on Facebook.

She also hosts fairly frequent Facebook Live History & Politics chats in which she answers reader questions about things in the news. Her video from today addresses the I.C.E. whistleblower complaint about COVID handling and mass hysterectomies in an I.C.E. detention facility, gives some history of eugenics and poverty and wealth in the U.S., and explores whether or not there will likely be another coronavirus stimulus bill. It’s a worthwhile way to spend an hour.

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Trauma Center’ on Amazon Prime, a Brainwaster Action Flick Featuring Bruce Willis in a Few Scenes

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New on Insomniac Theater, and also Hulu, is Trauma Center, a movie with Bruce Willis in it, playing a police cop as he’s done so many times before, and also playing a rent-a-star cashing a paycheck, as he’s done so many times in the past decade. Both are quite prevalent on screen in this movie, so maybe it’s funny at the same time that it’s bad. Or maybe it’s just plain bad?

The Gist: A thug drags a woman’s bleeding body down a hallway. Now we JUMP BACKWARDS IN TIME, to when that thug is Pierce (Tito Ortiz) and he’s with Tull (Texas Battle) and a man who’s freshly stabbed, and therefore dead. They’re in some kind of bind. Cut to the soon-to-be-dragged-and-bloody woman, waiting tables in a cafe. She’s Madison (Nicky Whelan), and her mother is dead. That’s her character trait. Madison has a sister, Emily (Catherine Davis), and, logically, her mother is dead too, and on top of that, she’s asthmatic, which for a movie like this, makes her exponentially multi-dimensional. Emily forgot her inhaler and starts having an attack and so they end up in the hospital but she’s OK because the plot needs her later.

Enter BRUCE WILLIS, in a hail of LENS FLARE. This scene introduces him as a cop, and apparently Pierce ‘n’ Tull are cops too, which makes them DIRTY cops, because they were doing something with some cash and a memory card that they should flush down the toilet or feed to a humpback whale or mail to Alpha Centauri, anything really, besides holding onto it and the incriminating evidence contained therein. But there’s a story to be told here, and the story needs a MacGuffin.

Madison is taking out the trash behind the cafe when Bruce Willis’ partner stumbles into her, newly perforated with bullets. Pierce ‘n’ Tull show up and fire away, killing the guy dead and tagging Madison in the leg. She blacks out and comes to in the hospital [INSERT TITLE OF MOVIE HERE], where a doctor played by Steve Guttenberg (Stevie Gutes!!!) tells her they’ll eventually get around to removing the bullet from her thigh, maybe tomorrow or something. Did I mention the asthmatic sister is still in the hospital? Well, the asthmatic sister is still in the hospital, which may become an issue after Bruce Willis moves Madison to an isolated room on an entirely empty floor to hide her from Pierce ‘n’ Tull, who surely yearn to forcibly remove from this mortal coil any witnesses to their unsavory shenanigans. And they all lived happily ever after, and Madison didn’t even have to get all shiny-sweaty in her skimpy hospital gown as two loaves of muscle chased her through the hospital. The end.

TRAUMA CENTER MOVIE
Photo: Everett Collection

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Die Hard in a hospital! Actually, Die Hard on one floor of a hospital! And even more accurately, Die Hard on one floor of a hospital with a budget comprised wholly of nickel rolls and BOGO soap coupons!

Performance Worth Watching: The talking defibrillator that speaks user instructions in a robotic lady-voice gets all the best lines.

Memorable Dialogue: “Tag it and bag it.” — Willis reviews his own movie

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Trauma Center features a scene in which former MMA champ Tito Ortiz bleeds out his eyes and roars like the MGM lion. The rest of the movie makes dreck look like crap. The dialogue is insipid, the production looks like it redlined the budget at $832, the plot is an affront to sense and the sub-par acting is the sad product of the three aforementioned elements. “Bruce Willis shot all his scenes in a total of two days,” reads the movie’s IMDb trivia page, and you better f—ing believe it. What is Willis doing? Not doing here — he’s been in a couple dozen junk flicks, many with the Emmet/Furla production banner that so often indicates a derivative el-cheapo action banger. On one hand, he may be trying to goose a drab script with some cornball line-readings. Maybe he’s propping up an empty-skulled sub-sub-sub-Die Hard screenplay. More than anything though, I think he’s getting paid.

The movie is full of scenes that exist, and I can confirm they exist, because I watched them. Granted, you’ve also watched them too, in other movies: The one where the protagonist shows off their toughness by stitching up their own wound without anaesthetic, the one where the chaser chases the chasee up into the ventilation duct, the one where the bad guy holds a gun to the hostage character’s head and the hostage character uses a prop introduced in the first act to get free. The plot is so logic-starved, it’s a penguin in the Gobi searching for a mackerel. If there’s such a thing as less than nothing, that’s what it’s about. It’s not even good for a few snide giggles. Steve Guttenberg, we hardly knew ye.

Our Call: SKIP IT. Trauma Center is as convincing as a Romper Room production of Hamlet.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Where to stream Trauma Center

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Love Island’s Molly-Mae Hague urges fans to get skin screenings

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Love Island favourite Molly-Mae Hague has encouraged her fans to get skin screenings after having a mole recently removed.

The reality TV star, who reached the final of the 2019 series with partner Tommy Fury, took to her Instagram Stories yesterday (September 28) with a shot of her leg following the procedure.

In the right-hand corner you can see what the mole originally looked like, and Molly Mae emphasised how important it is to get such marks checked out in case they become cancerous.

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Related: Love Island‘s Molly-Mae responds to ‘pregnancy’ confusion after posting snap of baby shoes

“So this is what I’ve been up to today…..” she wrote. “Some of you might remember me talking about the mole that was here a few weeks ago on my story.

“Not going to go into too much detail until I have my results back next week but this just goes to show how important getting different doctors’ opinions is.

“So relieved to have it gone. I’ll keep you all updated. I just need to share this because I can’t stress the importance of this situation enough.”

london, england   february 13  molly mae hague seen attending prettylittlething x tatti lashes dinner at the ivy chelsea garden on february 13, 2020 in london, england photo by ricky vigil mgc images

Ricky Vigil MGetty Images

Related: Love Island‘s Molly-Mae Hague unveils short hairstyle as she ditches extensions

Molly-Mae previously revealed that her mum Debbie spotted a mole on her calf when she was living in the Love Island villa.

She said at the time: “Get your moles checked out people! It is so unbelievably important. I’ve had this checked three times now by different consultants to be sure.”

Love Island is available via catch-up on ITV Hub.



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The Office actors recall using a live bat for that memorable season 3 episode

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There were plenty of memorable gags on The Office over the course of nine seasons, but one particularly funny moment happened in season 3 episode 16, titled “Business School.”

It’s all business as usual at Dunder Mifflin until Dwight (Rainn Wilson) discovers animal droppings on the floor. Initially, Dwight believes a bird is trapped in the office. After some investigating it’s discovered, to everyone’s horror, that a bat has been living in the ceiling. Naturally, chaos ensues.

Longtime fans of the series will know that actresses Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer, who co-starred on the mockumentary comedy series as Angela Martin and Pam Beesly respectively, began a podcast called Office Ladies in 2019 to celebrate The Office and its fans.

For each episode of the podcast, Kinsey and Fischer rewatch an episode of the series and reminisce about their time on the show while explaining behind the scenes details about that episode.

As reported by People, Kinsey and Fischer invited their former co-star Kate Flannery onto the podcast to discuss the bat scene. In the episode, Dwight eventually catches the bat by trapping it in the break room with Meredith. He proceeds to trap the animal, along with Meredith’s head, in a garbage bag.

Flannery revealed on the podcast that a real bat was used to shoot part of the sequence! Here is what the actress had to say about the experience:

Yes, we had a real bat with five handlers. But we were not allowed to make any noise around the bat. I couldn’t scream. So even though I was screaming, I was acting like I was screaming when we were shooting because — don’t upset the bat. Something with the sonar.

However, a motorized contraption was used to mimic a bat during the scene when it’s trapped in the garbage bag with Meredith’s head. Flannery continued:

I did all of it. The motorized thing on the head, it was like, sort of like this fluttery thing, almost like a headband with a motor.

That must have been a weird day on set! I have to say, my favorite scenes of The Office are the ones when Jim is trying to mess with Dwight. The interactions between the two after Jim pretends to have been bitten by the bat are just so funny, and Jim acting like garlic bread burned him is the cherry on top of an already hilarious bit.

If you want to rewatch the entire bat situation unfold, you can check out the video below.

Next: 30 best Halloween movies and shows on Netflix (2020)

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