Looking Back on 6 Years of Fighting for Chelsea Manning

Follow me on Twitter @RaineyReitman

President Obama announced that he would commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence today. Instead of spending another 28 brutal years in a military prison for men, she’ll walk free in just a few months.

Chelsea inspired me, and her actions forever changed my life. I remember watching the Apache helicopter video of American soldiers gunning down unarmed people in Iraq, including a Reuters journalist and two children. It fundamentally changed how I saw America’s overseas wars.

I believed strongly that this video belonged in the public. People who elect our government had a right to see what was being done in our name. They had a right to decide for themselves if they agreed with our foreign policies. The day it was published by Wikileaks, I sent it to pretty much everyone I knew.

In late May 2010, Manning was detained. Sometime around June 10th or 11th, word leaked out to the press that an Army analyst named “Bradley Manning” was being charged with leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. On June 11th, an anarchist in Bratislava named Mike Gogulski put up a blog post on BradleyManning.org—a domain he had just registered—linking to the Apache helicopter video. On June 13th, he put out a blog post asking for volunteers.

He said he needed writers:

“We need people writing on-topic, current material on an ongoing basis. Articles could be published here either under your name or pseudonymously, and material already published elsewhere is welcome.”

I decided to send an email.

At the time, just sending that first email seemed scary. Manning was being labeled a traitor, and I was living in the military-heavy town of San Diego and thinking I might one day apply for a job at the Federal Trade Commission. I thought getting involved with Manning’s campaign might land me on some government watch list, or hurt future career opportunities.

Instead, I was swept up, and the campaign we built together over the coming weeks, months, and years took over my life.

My friend Charles Langley, who was the first person I talked to about wanting to do something about Chelsea Manning, said at the time that he feared I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I replied that life was about biting off more than you can chew.

Today, looking back over the beauty, mess, and weirdness of the last six and a half years, I still believe it. Life is definitely about biting off more than you can chew.

It boggles the mind to think how far we came with the Chelsea Manning Support Network. In some ways, we were squaring off against the United States government itself, with its seemingly infinite resources. As the trial dragged on for years, we had to fundraise for every dollar to cover legal fees, buy supplies to send mailings, and pay a pittance to a small group of overworked, dedicated, wonderful organizers who used every scrap of bravery and creativity imaginable to advance the public’s knowledge of Chelsea Manning.

That campaign included billboards, flash mobs, banner drops, rallies, viral videos, and one full page ad in the New York Times. I remember working late in the night to help craft a letter to propose Chelsea Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize, stepping onto a soap box with a bullhorn for the first time in my life, waking up to calls from supporters in other time zones, and sitting in a court room furiously scribbling notes during Chelsea’s pretrial hearing and court martial. 

Even as I continued my work with the Chelsea Manning Support Network, I shifted more of my energy to the Freedom of the Press Foundation over the last few years, where I continued working to raise awareness about Chelsea. We brought the world Chelsea’s voice in court, leaked anonymously to us, and we also launched a crowd-funding campaign to send court reporters to document Chelsea’s entire court martial. Between the two organizations, we covered the overwhelming majority of Chelsea’s legal fees.

Working on the Chelsea Manning campaign, I learned to believe in the transformative power of hope. And also the importance of clear delegation, well-run conference calls, and getting good photos at public events. 

I also learned that heroes are fictional. No matter how awe-inspiring someone seems on paper, we’re all human. In many ways, I appreciated Chelsea even more as I got to know her over the last year, and discovered that she was funny, sensitive, gentle, and deeply intelligent—not someone to put on a pedestal, but someone to trust and talk to as a friend.

I wish that we had won Chelsea’s freedom in court. I wish that she’d received a sentence of time served at her court martial, and that she could have walked out of prison free years ago. As Trevor and I wrote earlier today, “Whistleblowers acting in the public interest should not be beholden to the president’s whims. Instead, fair laws should ensure strong protections for whistleblowers who shed light on human rights abuses, war crimes, corruption, and government deception.”

Even as Chelsea Manning prepares to leave prison, many others await justice. Among them is Edward Snowden, a young man who responsibly disclosed documents about intelligence abuses and has been in exile for years as a result. His campaign—which is far prettier and better organized than anything we ever made for the Chelsea Manning Support Network—is at PardonSnowden.org.

The last 6 years, I’ve been continually inspired by not just Chelsea, but the dedicated group of people working—often with no appreciation—in defense of Chelsea Manning. There are too many to name, but I have to acknowledge a few who have every right to celebrate today. Above all, Jeff Paterson, Project Director of Courage to Resist. I truly believe no one on earth handles a crisis better than Jeff, which is lucky since we had more than our fair share.  Also, David Coombs, Chelsea’s first attorney, who gave everything to her case for many years.

So many people spent years fighting to raise awareness about Chelsea’s case. These include (in no order whatsoever) Daniel Ellsberg, Mike Gogulski (OMG Mike did this really just happen really?), Emma Cape, Trevor Timm, Alexa O’Brien, Evan Greer, Chase Strangio, Nancy Hollander, the amazing individual who is too private for me to name publicly but knows how much I value them, Gerry Condon, David Solnit, Kevin Zeese, Michael Thurman, Charlotte Sheasby-Coleman, Logan Price, Jonathan Matthew Smucker, Owen Wiltshire, Nathan Fuller, Melissa Keith, Farah Muhsin, Gary Virginia, Leez, Martin MacKerel, and the rest of Get Up Street Theater, Bob Meola, and Michael Moore. I know I’m forgetting a ton of names, and I’m sorry, but it’s late and I’m still dizzy with gratitude. There were also stellar journalists covering this case, and while I can’t name them all, Glenn Greenwald, Kevin Gosztola, Denver Nicks, and Charlie Savage were especially dedicated to ensuring the public understood this case.

Many organizations other than the Chelsea Manning Support Network  and Freedom of the Press Foundation fought hard to ensure justice for Chelsea, including Courage to Resist, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, ACLU, EFF (my full time job), and Amnesty International. I know there are many others, these are just the few I worked with most closely.

Also, a huge shout-out to those who spoke out for Chelsea Manning in our celebrity video, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Roger Waters, Oliver Stone, Phil Donahue, Alice Walker, Tom Morello, Matt Taibbi, Peter Sarsgaard, Angela Davis, Moby, Molly Crabapple, Tim DeChristopher, LT Dan Choi, Bishop George Packard, Russell Brand, Allan Nairn, Chris Hedges, Wallace Shawn, Adhaf Soueif and Josh Stieber.

And finally, a special thanks to Michael Ratner, a tireless advocate for Chelsea Manning until his death. I know he would have been proud to be here today.

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2 interviews for Chelsea Manning campaign

As you may have read, we’re shutting down the Chelsea Manning Support Network. I’ve been processing a lot around this, and will likely write more about it. But for now, I’m just gathering up a few of the old campaign materials and copying them here for archival purposes.

Here are two interviews I did for Chelsea Manning advocacy that I particularly liked. The first, with Tech Crunch, was right before Chelsea changed her name. The second, with Swirl, was after.

Swirl Episode 6- Chelsea Manning, Rainey Reitman, Transgender Law Center from The Michelle Meow Show on Vimeo.

EFF’s full page ad in Wired

This week, you can buy a copy of Wired Magazine’s January edition and see the EFF ad in it. It’s a full page letter to the tech community, urging them to safeguard user data now in light of incoming President Donald Trump’s positions on surveillance and censorship.

This ad was a big lift for me and others at EFF—from figuring out where we would place it, negotiating with Conde Nast’s marketing team, and then working internally with EFF’s legal and graphics team to finalize the ad. I’m really proud of the final version.

Check out the full campaign page.

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Text of the ad:

To the Technology Community:
Your threat model just changed.

Incoming President Donald Trump made campaign promises that, if carried out, threaten the free web and the rights of millions of people. He has praised attempts to undermine digital security, supported mass surveillance, and threatened net neutrality. He promised to identify and deport millions of your friends and neighbors, track people based on their religious beliefs, and suppress freedom of the press.

And he wants to use your servers to do it.

Today, we are calling on the technology community to unite with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in securing our networks against this threat.

Encrypt: Use HTTPS and end-to-end encryption for every user transaction, communication, and activity by default.

Delete: Scrub your logs. You cannot be made to surrender data you do not have.

Reveal: If you get a government request to monitor users or censor speech, tell the world.

Resist: Fight for user rights in court, on Capitol Hill, and beyond.

When you stand with users, we’ll stand with you. EFF has fought for the rights of technology creators and users for 26 years, through four different presidential administrations. As a nonpartisan nonprofit, we combine litigation, activism, and software development to defend civil liberties in the digital world.

The future of our democracy depends on an Internet that is free from censorship and government surveillance. Together we can ensure that technology created to connect and uplift people worldwide is not conscripted into a tool of oppression. Join us in defending users.

 

Small Kitchen, Small Budget

I moved into my tiny, perfect house in Oakland in August of 2015, and my partner and I have been slowly turning it into a real home. From replacing broken thermostats to installing an embedded cabinet over the bathroom sink, I personally think we’re doing a marvelous job at making our house nice without spending much money.

One of the biggest problems is that our kitchen is tiny.  And there isn’t much room for storage. We’ve been slowly adding shelves where we can, and wall-mounting things to save cabinet space.

Today I’m showing off what I consider to be a tiny masterpiece: a kitchen cart and wall-mounted lid organizer. Both fit into the small area between my backdoor and my countertop—space which we’d been wasting before.

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The kitchen cart was originally $60 from Ikea, but I found it cheaper on Craigslist. It’s actually easy to find cheap Ikea furniture on Craigslist—just figure out what you like at Ikea, then set up an alert whenever something with that name gets posted. With a name like “Bekvam,” it was easy to find this cart.

Then we grabbed some dark cherry wood stain, finishing oil, a tarp, some gloves, and a few cheap rags from the hardware store.

To stain furniture, you apply a very small amount of stain and then wipe it away. I used a small sponge. It can’t pool or drip, or it will look terrible. (I know, I ruined a dining room table once.)

Luckily, the unfinished microwave cart from Ikea didn’t need to be sanded much, so staining it was simple. (Here’s a basic intro to wood staining, if you haven’t done it before).

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I originally intended to go darker, but I fell in love with the dark golden pattern in the wood, so I stopped a few shades lighter than I originally intended.

 

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I only spent a few hours on staining, and then let it dry overnight. Then a little touch-up in the morning, some more drying, and then we ran a protective oil over the entire thing.  Two days later, we had a beautiful new kitchen cart.

The lid holder, unfortunately, was not as simple.

We bought this lid organizer off Amazon. Unlike the Ikea cart, it was already finished.

Which meant hours and hours of sanding.

Thankfully my partner has a multifunction power drill (I think that’s what it’s called?) which has an adapter for sanding, and we were able to use that to sand the majority of the lid organizer. But it was very difficult to reach down to the creases between the dowels. Deciding the perfect was the enemy of the good, we just sanded it as best we could, stained it, and called it a day.

 

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We tried to mimic the shade of the kitchen cart, and I think we got pretty close.

 

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The end result? No more clattering pot lids cascading out of the cabinet whenever I need to grab a frying pan.

And there are even a few hanging hooks below for small pots and pans or mugs.

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The dowels didn’t come out perfectly, and one of the back screws didn’t want to go far in the wall. Nonetheless, I’m still ridiculously happy with it.

There’s something particularly nice about having done this ourselves. I don’t have a lot of downtime at home, and so carving out the hours to see this through from start to finish was in itself a challenge. From bargain hunting on Craigslist to careful wood staining to wall-mounting, this project was a lot more about time and energy than about money. And while I know there are imperfections in the final piece, I somehow don’t mind. Maybe I even like it more because of those little imperfections, each a little testament to our journey down the slow, stumbling path toward self-sufficiency.

Gear Review: 3 Ultralight Backpacks from Gossamer Gear, Hyperlite, and ZPacks

Comparing Gossamer Gear’s Mariposa, Hyperlite’s Windrider 3400, and ZPack’s Arc Haul

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My old Gregory pack, which I bought 6 years ago before my first backpacking trip.

I hate my old Gregory pack, so I’ve been looking to upgrade to a lighter, better fitting pack for a while.

But making the decision about which backpack is so hard.

After hours of research, I ordered three backpacks online and tried them all out.  This article compares the Gossamer Gear Mariposa, the Hyperlight 3400 Windrider, and ZPacks Arc Haul.

Rough stats:

Mariposa: Weight: 32.4 ounces. Volume: 60L. Max carry: 35 lbs.
Windrider: Weight: 33.5 ounces. Volume: 55L. Max carry: 40 lbs.
Arc Haul: Weight: 24 ounces (unconfigured). Volume: 62L. Max carry: 40 lbs.

I tested these packs three ways (since I couldn’t take them backcountry and still return them):

  • With the Bearikade. I used my partner’s Bearikade Expedition—the biggest bear canister we have in the house—and threw 10 pounds of dumbbell weight into it. Then I loaded all my backpacking gear and the Bearikade into the backpack, with a brimming 3L Camelbak. I saw how it all fit, tried it on, and walked around my house for a bit.
  • With a smaller bear canister. I then repeated the exercise with all three backpacks, only replacing the Bearikade with a slightly smaller Garcia.
  • Without a bear canister.  While I do most of my backpacking in the Sierras, I hate the bear canister and occasionally go places where the amazing, lightweight Ursack is allowed. So I tried all three packs again without a bear canister, keeping the 10 pound weights, and all my gear including 3L of water.

Note: 10 lbs is about how much weight I would carry for 6 nights/7 days of food.

Things all these packs had in common:

  • All three packs could handle the Bearikade bear canister and all my gear.
  • All of them were well-constructed and seemed durable.
  • All of them transferred weight to the hips.

More details:

Mariposa

The Mariposa is super cushioned and rests close to the body. The weight balances low, so that there’s no sense of sway from a too-tall pack. The pockets are incredible. First, the hip pockets are a great size for my iPhone, a headlamp, snacks, chapstick, etc. They may even be too huge, as I only use poles on descents and the rest of the time my hands swing by my hips and would likely graze these big awesome pockets. There are a total of 7 external pockets, and they are stretchy and strong and fantastic for organizing.

The Mariposa has a squishy back panel that can be laid on the ground as cushioning for your bum during rests. Alternatively, it’s possible to put a short, folded up sleeping pad here. I’d need to cut my Z Lite sleeping pad to 8 squares, which would be enough for my head, shoulders, back and hips but not my legs. Alternatively, I could find a way to strap my whole sleeping pad to the bottom or outside.

The shoulders of the Mariposa were great for my frame, and the chest strap fell just above my breasts. I felt like this pack had been made with women’s shoulders and chest in mind.

My problem with the Mariposa was actually in how cushy it is. The wide belt felt like it would trap in heat and sweat. When I get too hot on long, midday hikes, I often find myself getting nauseous. The first thing I do in those circumstances is unhitch my hip belt, and sometimes I’ll put a damp bandana against my stomach to cool off my body. I was worried this hip belt, while cozy, might actually trap in too much heat.

Here’s me on the top of Mt. Elbert, hip strap off because of nausea:img_2720

I also worry about the back padding. The pack is comfortable and rests softly against my back with a wide panel of cushy padding. This makes for easy carrying, but I again worried about the summertime heat and how this pack would feel against my sweaty back for hours on end.

I was also somewhat concerned about the 35 lb weight limit. It’s very unlikely that I’d go over 35 lbs on most of my trips. In the Sierras, I have to carry more weight with the bear canister, but less water. In the desert, I carry more water but no bear canister. But on long desert treks, carrying 15 lbs of just water, I would easily be getting near and perhaps passing the 35 lb weight limit. Winter camping in the Sierras would also be problematic.

My partner tried on the three backpacks and he strongly favored the Mariposa. He said it was the most comfortable by far, and looked like it fit my frame better than the other two.

I wore the Mariposa in the house weighed down with 34 lbs of gear for about an hour, and it continued to stay comfy.

Windrider 3400

This pack is tough. The waterproof material seemed incredibly durable, the type of material I’d happily drag through brambles without fear. It seems significantly more substantial than the Mariposa, for all they are similar in weight. I loved the roll-top closure. There was more airflow between my back and the pack, with was nice. The padding was perfect.

Unfortunately, it was really hard to fit all my stuff in when I used the Bearikade. Without a bear canister, the pack excelled. With a bear canister, it was wobbly to walk in and the weight sat too far back on my shoulders. With the Bearikade, these problems were exacerbated. Filled to the brim, it towered slightly over my head and would sway a bit as I walked.

I think this would be an excellent pack for someone who rarely needed a bear canister. But for someone who uses a bear canister more often than not, this pack didn’t quite have the volume I wanted.

Note: There is actually a larger version of this pack, the Windrider 4400, which holds 70L and up to 65lbs. That version would likely fit a Bearikade and all my gear much better, but it’s honestly got a little more volume than I need and it weighs over 2 lbs.

Arc Haul

As soon as I put this pack on, I realized I’d ordered a size too big. I had ordered the Medium, since my torso is 19 inches long and the website highly encourages buying the Medium when in doubt. But this was a mistake: the pack was too big for me, and my head kept banging into a metal rod right behind my skull.

That said, the construction was really interesting. Of the three packs I ordered, this one handled the bear canister best. It felt tougher than the Mariposa, even though it was significantly lighter. It didn’t feel quite as durable as the Windrider.

The ZPack frame design is unique. You press down on the top corner of the pack until the external metal frame starts to bow, then you tighten straps to hold it in place. ZPacks recommends about a 2.5 inch arc. This arc transfers weight to the hips and keeps the pack away from your back, creating air flow. It also removes the need for much or any cushioning on the back, since the pack actually isn’t touching your back.

I loved the belt on the Arc Haul. It adjusts from the top and bottom separately, so it’s possible to create the perfect angle to cradle your hips. It’s also significantly more slender than the Mariposa belt. My partner said it dug into his waist and that they had reduced weight at the cost of necessary padding. But I actually really liked the lightweight feel of the belt.

I had a few big concerns about the Arc Haul:

  • The chest strap lands right in the middle of my breasts. My first thought was These packs are not designed for women. But then I realized I’d bought a size too large, and that I could get a shorter version. Hopefully the chest strap on the short version would sit more comfortably.
  • All but one of the reviewers on the Arc Haul website are men. I became a little concerned about the pack when the chest strap fit so awkwardly, and so I went to the ZPack website to see if other women had similar difficulties. I noticed that there were tons of reviews at the bottom of the page, but all of them were from men except one woman. And when I read her full review, I realized she’d had some big issues with the hip belt and had to create her own lumbar support. That made me concerned, but I also found more women who favorably reviewed the Arc Blast and Arc Zip (which are very similar to the Arc Haul).
  • The backpack relies on tight vertical straps holding the rest of the backpack bowed and away from the back, but the vertical straps themselves rest close to or against the body, which I’m worried could rub or become uncomfortable.
  • With an external metal frame, I found I could tip my head back into the metal rod at the top of the pack. However, again, I think these things could be addressed by getting a smaller size.

Of the three, I thought this pack handled 34 lbs of gear the best. It felt lightest on my back, transferring weight efficiently to my hips for a light feeling.  

My partner tried it on and immediately disliked it, feeling like there was no padding at all. He could feel the edge of the bear canister against his back. He said he wouldn’t want to do a long distance thru hike with this pack.

But I was intrigued. I felt like the clever design transferred weight well and kept me cool, and that it could handle a big bear canister or 7 liters of water or snow camping in the Sierras better than the other two.  It’s also configurable, with external pockets available for the hip belt.

Verdict

In case it wasn’t clear, these are all fantastic backpacks. Light, tough, and well-built, I think that I’d be happy with any of them. 

My specific use case (carrying a lot of bear canisters in the Sierras, lots of shoulder season backpacking) and body type (5’3″ and curvy, with a 19 inch torso) impact the kind of pack that will work well for me. I truthfully think all of these are packs that I could be happy with, and that would work well for lots of other people.

But, based on everything above, I’m planning on returning the Windrider and Arc Haul Medium, then ordering an Arc Haul Short. If the short size can address some of the issues I was having (with the chest strap hitting me in the middle of the breasts and the metal bar right behind my head), then I think there’s a high likelihood I’ll keep it. If not, the Mariposa is a very comfortable, well-made backpack.

I’ll update this once I’ve tried the Arc Haul Short.

Have thoughts to share about backpacks? Leave a comment below please.

Publishing my journals from the Colorado Trail

I just finished uploading the last of my trail journals from hiking the Colorado Trail. I included an explanation of why I was publishing a journal in spite of my ambivalence, some thoughts about backpacking as a woman, and an overview of my medical kit.

The daily journals are far more detailed than most people would need or even want to read, so it’s designed primarily for other thru hikers—especially first time thru hikers. The journals include a lot of the nitty-gritty details—yes, including the gross daily realities of backpacking for that long—but it’s the level of information I found valuable before my hike. It’s also a way for me to look back, whenever I want, to remember the trip.

There was a lot about the Colorado Trail that was hard. Many days were deeply physically challenging: nausea, blisters, pain, and often brutal cold. It was also mentally difficult—some moments of fear and self-doubt, and the stress it placed on my relationship.

It was also beautiful. Stark, epic, awe-inspiring, a bit transformative. I was more than a little heart-broken to leave, but I also remember what my partner told me on one of the last days we were hiking: that the trail will always be there, and we have our whole lives to walk it.

Check out the trail journals. 

 

 

Thinking about ledes

If your opening sucks, it doesn’t matter what else you say.

That was the theme for a writing workshop I hosted this week at EFF, with some help from the ever-amazing Danny O’Brien.

If your opening sucks, it doesn’t matter what else you say.

That was the theme for a writing workshop I hosted this week at EFF,  with some help from the ever-amazing Danny O’Brien.

We gathered a group of about 10 folks to discuss ledes on Friday afternoon. For the first 20-30 minutes, we talked about the philosophy of ledes and walked through several articles that demonstrated different approaches. I also created a handy worksheet (copied below in case anybody wants to steal it).

After walking through the basics, I passed out a few paragraphs from a complicated, very technical article and asked people to write the headline and first few sentences. Everybody had to write at least two ledes, then pair up and share them with a partner. Afterwards, we got back together as a group and shared a few.

This is the second time I’ve led a writing workshop specifically focused on ledes, and I personally thought it was a blast. I loved the fact that people actually brought pens, wrote something down, and shared it with the group. So often, writing workshops are about thinking, analyzing, and providing feedback, and that accesses the analytic parts of the brain without engaging the creative side. But there’s something a bit magical and even silly about taking pen to paper and creating something on the spot. And then getting to hear what people wrote—unpolished, a bit messy—is also really exciting for me. I am amazed at the ideas people come up with, and I also love the practice of working creatively and then sharing fearlessly in a welcoming environment.

While we didn’t have enough time for it Friday, I think creativity inspires creativity. One or two people who are willing to think outside the box and then share their writing can inspire others to want to do the same. So ideally, I’d like to do this workshop with enough time to do two rounds of free writing.

The main result of the workshop, I hope, is simply mindfulness. The next time someone from the group sits down to write a blog post, they’ll hopefully remember how vital those first few lines are and then give themselves permission to take a few risks.

My workshop handout:

Ledes are Awesome!

What is it?

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • First couple lines (see examples)

Imagine that you are a director. Your lede is the opening shot in the movie.

What’s the purpose?

  • Convince people to click on the article
    • Intriguing
    • Relatable
    • Alarming
    • Funny
    • Fascinating
    • A topic you care about a lot
  • Convince people to keep reading after the first sentence
  • (Sometimes) Convey all the important stuff in an article, so people get the main gist even if they stop reading
  • Sets the tone for the rest of the article

Why should I care?

In some ways, the lede matters more than any other section in your article. If you don’t get it right, it doesn’t matter what you say later because people won’t click on your article or will abandon it before they get far along.

Also, some people will only EVER see the lede (e.g. skimming Google News results)

Strategies for the process of writing ledes:

  • Write several different ledes (both title and intro text); don’t just go with your first idea.
  • Don’t phone it in.
  • Get creative in a few drafts (you don’t have to use a creative idea, but it helps to get you thinking outside the box to write a few!). Remember: nobody sees your shitty first drafts.
  • Remember: there is no one single “right” way to write a lede!

Some ideas to try:

  • Assertions that may seem unlikely.
  • Narrative moments
  • Powerful quotes
  • A summary of the article—but only if it is a truly amazing summary!
  • A particularly intriguing fact or figure
  • A relatable human

Some things you might want to try to avoid in your lede:

  • A bunch of acronyms
  • Specific names of cases, bills and laws
  • Trying to cram all the details into the first sentence
  • “Last week” and other dated time references
  • Too many facts and figures can be bad (though one really scary fact or figure can be great)
  • A bunch of links