Hello TGIF! I’m back. I’m thrilled our TGIF commenters followed my advice to absolutely brutalize each replacement. Shawn McCreesh is currently in a safe house.
Me? Although I had wanted to be on maternity leave, I ended up spending these weeks as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Rescue Operation for Migrants, day after day tirelessly helping anyone out of place (new money and Central American migrants) by calling up the National Guard.
This week in Common Sense, we ran an investigation by Olivia Reingold into the attacks on pro-life organizations (‘If Abortions Aren’t Safe, Neither Are You’), a column by Bari on Kanye West’s antisemitic breakdown, and a piece by our own Isaac Grafstein on why the rom-com ‘Bros’ bombed.
Now I’m where I belong, in the warm bath of TGIF. My brain is a haze of pregnancy hormones that make me feel great love and also vicious road rage.
Which brings me to the news.
→ The end of democracy: In shock new polls, American voters say they are most concerned about . . . . wait for it . . . inflation and the economy. Abortion ranked as a distant third. Meanwhile, 39% of voters are open to a candidate who calls 2020 “stolen,” as a lot of Republican leaders do, with varying degrees of interpretation there. Or as the New York Times summarized it: “Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn’t a Priority.”
It’s Democrats versus the end-of-democracy. And so when President Biden this week announced he would be releasing 15 million barrels from America’s strategic petroleum reserves, he’s not a politician trying to goose his party’s prospects, he’s staving off the end times.
Here’s MSNBC’s Chris Hayes saying exactly that: “We find ourselves in a situation where keeping gas prices low is key to preserving and strengthening the future of our democracy. And so here we are. Hence, Biden releasing oil from the reserves today.” And to be fair to both coasts, here’s the actor Rob Reiner: “I’ve never been frightened of losing our Democracy. Until now. If we don’t Vote Blue, it will be gone.”
Biden’s pivot to pocketbooks is too late: The analysts at Bloomberg see an upcoming recession as “effectively certain.” A 30-year-fixed mortgage rate has soared to averaging 7.2% (a housing correction is also effectively certain). Gas prices here in California have hit new historic highs. Consumer inflation hit a four-decade high. Why would anyone be shocked that voters are willing to go for any candidate who promises to fix this?
→ You’d be happy about the economy if you didn’t have kids: When an MSNBC News host suggested voters care more about economic issues than about abortion rights, Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams argued the two are entwined. Thread, meet needle.
“Let’s be clear: Having children is why you’re worried about (the) price for gas. It’s why you’re worried about how much food costs. For women this is not a reductive issue, you can’t divorce being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy from the economic realities of having a child.”
So, single, childless people care less about the price of gas? Abortions would make people more relaxed about inflation? My single friends are the ones buying those expensive plane tickets, complaining about hotel costs. I’m at home making frozen potstickers.
→ Trump is still the head of the Republican party: For anyone hoping the calm, buttoned-up Florida Governor Ron DeSantis takes over as the more civilized head of the Republican party, it’s not looking likely. At least not without Donald Trump’s gracious exit and selfless blessing. And if there’s one thing we all know Trump is great at, it’s gracious, selfless acts.
A new poll shows 47% of likely GOP voters would vote Trump if the election were held today, while only 28% would vote DeSantis. To get a sense of the internal conservative dynamics of this, watch Megyn Kelly break it down to Dave Rubin, who looks pretty sad about it. As Kelly bluntly says: “The only way DeSantis is going to become the Republican nominee is if Trump chooses not to run and endorses him or dies.”
We are all doomed to have Biden versus Trump for a thousand years. When they’re 500-year-old mummies, they will still run against each other. Candidates who are mummies or, otherly-living persons, are no less capable than you or me. To suggest otherwise is frankly ableist. Speaking of . . .
→ John Fetterman, champion of disabled America: Since the Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman’s stroke, he has struggled to understand speech and needs to use a text-based system to assist in interviews. When an NBC News reporter Dasha Burns simply pointed this out last week, all the good liberals went ballistic, calling the reporter ableist for noticing. We stand with Dasha. But either way I’m more interested in this perfect CNN.com headline: “John Fetterman said he’s ‘always supported’ fracking—he previously said ‘I don’t’ and ‘never have.’” He sounds like me, denying all previously held positions. A child soldier for the vegan movement? You have the wrong Nellie Bowles.
Nowadays politicians are universally pretty bad, but I do feel uniquely sorry for the Pennsylvanians who have to choose between Fetterman and Dr. Oz.
→ Conservative Muslim parents shut down a school board meeting: The alliance between Christian and Muslim conservative parents was inevitable and only surprising in how long it took. At a recent school board meeting in the 47% Arab American community of Dearborn, Michigan, hundreds of parents showed up furious about the new ultra progressive sex ed curriculum. The parents took over the school board meeting, shouting down school board members, and holding signs that read: “Keep your porno books to yourself,” “Homosexuality Big Sin,” and “If democracy matters, we’re the majority.”
Not to roll out my old hobby horse but if you’ll make some room for my hobby horse: Super woke new sex-ed curriculums are causing a backlash that is then making life much harder for gay people. Schools boards should probably moderate a bit on this front or there’ll be a lot more districts with a lot more parents holding up Homosexuality Big Sin signs. (For a fascinating, and scary, fiction take on some of these dynamics, I loved Michel Houellebecq’s “Submission”.)
→ The new anti-war right is getting louder: Something Common Sense hasn’t covered enough but that’s fascinating is the new anti-war right, which is arguing against American intervention into Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Newsweek this week ran a smart piece in this vein by David Sacks, who calls it “Woke War III” and says purity-politics are blocking de-escalation efforts. From his essay, which represents the views of a sizable group right now:
“A regional war turned into the First World War because all parties made maximalist demands and assumed others were bluffing. It can happen again, especially if the media, social media, and foreign policy elite join forces and use woke cancellation tactics to preclude discussion of any alternatives. Right now, we are locked on an escalatory path, and the destination ahead is Woke War III.”
I disagree with this argument, but I wanted to drop in the article to see what our commenters thought. I’ve personally never been wrong, but there’s a first for everything.
Following the mess that is British Parliament is Zoe Strimpel, who keeps us abreast of everything Truss from across the pond:
→ Liz Truss versus lettuce: Liz Truss, the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister in history, called it quits after just 45 days on the job. Really, it was all over September 23. That was when Kwasi Kwarteng, Truss’s chancellor of the exchequer, proposed more than 48 billion dollars in tax cuts. By ignoring the debt, the tax-cut proposal unleashed universal horror, with Tory M.P.'s running for the hills and the market reacting . . . not well. The pound plummeted to a 37-year low, government borrowing rates soared, and the Bank of England had to intervene to stop the collapse of pension funds. On October 3, Kwarteng announced a U-turn on the top-rate tax cut. By October 14, he was gone. Of course by then, so was Truss's authority.
A week ago, the supermarket tabloid The Daily Star set up a webcam pointed at a wilting head of iceberg lettuce with a blonde wig to see if the lettuce would outlive the prime minister. It did.
So who comes next in the cavalcade of failed British heads of state? Boris Johnson looks likely to throw his hat back in the ring, but he has—how to put this gingerly?—a lot of enemies. The top bets are Rishi Sunak, the brainy ex-chancellor of the exchequer who saw Britain through Covid, and Penny Mordaunt, the proud owner of four Burmese cats and current Minister of Trade, who did a beautiful job handling Charles' accession. For now, congrats to the lettuce:
OK, me again.
→ Et tu, Susan Sarandon?! I never thought the day would come but Susan, our Bernie-backing, Jill Stein-voting stalwart, is starting to notice the chaos on city streets, or at least she shared one wordless video in a genre now very familiar to anyone living in the West. Welcome to the IDW, Susan Sarandon.
→ Spilled milk (and soup) for the climate: Eco-protesters this week did a few interesting actions to make people hate eco-protesters, mostly involving gluing themselves to things. First, they threw soup at an iconic Van Gogh painting of sunflowers and glued their hands to the wall. Then, they went into a grocery store and did what I guess is called “a milk pour,” just dumping milk jug after milk jug into the aisle to protest milk-drinking. The protestors are actually pretty articulate and compelling (watch one of the van Gogh girls explain herself here). They’re also funny. After a group this week glued themselves to the floor of a VW facility, they got upset that VW wouldn’t help them out, writing: “VW told us that they supported our right to protest, but they refused our request to provide us with a bowl to urinate and defecate in a decent manner while we are glued, and have turned off the heating.”
This was all in Europe. When climate activists blocked a highway in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, it went, well, a little differently.
“Move before I pull my gun out,” said one woman. “Test me, fucking test me.”
A little background on these protests, organized through “Just Stop Oil” reminded to me by venture capitalist Paul Graham: “This was funded by a group started by three rich Americans who became concerned about climate change after their houses in Malibu were threatened by wildfires in 2018. I'm not making this up.” Good reminder! Funding these actions is, in part, a Getty and a Kennedy.
→ A delicious lit mag meltdown: If you want to feel really good about your job and your friends, take a minute to dive into the drama at Hobart, a well-established American lit mag. An editor interviewed Alex Perez, a Cuban-American writer who ranted in a very entertaining way about the literary scene and how sensitive and lame the liberal “rich white” fiction world had gotten. What happened next you ask? Rich white fiction world got very upset! Upset, indeed. How dare Alex say these things? And how dare the magazine print them? Hobart’s staff resigned en masse in outrage, citing Perez being allowed to speak “regressive, harmful” things in their hallowed pages.
Alex Perez, and editor Elizabeth Ellen, if you’re reading this, we don’t do fiction . . . yet!
→ Why did the FBI raid an investigative journalist’s house? National security journalist James Gordon Meek, who has been working on investigations related to America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, has quit his post at ABC and gone off the grid after the FBI raided his home. It’s very odd. As Rolling Stone put it this week: “With nine years at ABC under his belt, a buzzy Hulu documentary poised for Emmy attention, and an upcoming book on the military’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the 52-year-old bear of a man seemed to be at the height of his powers and the pinnacle of his profession.” Who knows what’s going on here, but I’ll be following this.
→ An appalling arrest in Florida: After Florida voters in 2018 passed an amendment giving many former felons the right to vote, it seemed fairly simple: after serving the terms of their sentence, a former felon can vote. But the roll-out has been confusing, and in cracking down on “voter fraud,” DeSantis has had dozens of former felons re-arrested. Watch a confused Tony Patterson get arrested by cops who are equally confused. “Why would you all let me vote if I wasn’t able to vote?” Those arrested say they were told they could vote, applied to the Florida secretary of state and got voter registration cards. It definitely seems like most of the ex-felon “fraud” voters misunderstood and filled out the wrong applications. What a bizarre use of state resources.
→ Semafor and the new landscape: We love to see the rise of new media. Especially when they give us props. This week, former Times columnist and BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith debuted his new company, Semafor, and his inaugural column was about (what else?) the Times. Ben nabbed the first interview with ousted Times opinion head James Bennet, who absolutely unleashed on the paper and its publisher, A.G. Sulzberger. “When push came to shove at the end, he set me on fire and threw me in the garbage and used my reverence for the institution against me,” Bennet told Ben. “This is why I was so bewildered for so long after I had what felt like all my colleagues treating me like an incompetent fascist.” TGIF loves to see an unleashed James Bennet.
The best part, though, was this line in Ben’s column: “‘There’s a lot of stuff I’m reading in Bari Weiss and then I’m reading in the Times,’ said one Times journalist, referring to the former opinion editor who quit amid the internal conflicts of 2020 and started her own outlet, Common Sense.” Longtime Common Sensers know this already. And to the unnamed Times journalist, keep on keepin’ on.
→ One idea is scientists could stop making new Covid strains: Boston University researchers made a new deadly Covid strain, a sort of souped up Omicron. They’re now in damage control. The goal was to make a gentler Omicron, but they accidentally made a more fatal Omicron. The new virus killed 80% of the lab mice. Whoops. But, they say, it’s still not as fatal as the original Wuhan variant, which had a 100% mouse kill rate. So that’s good, right? “That 80% kill rate, that headline doesn’t tell the whole story because Wuhan killed all the mice,” said Emily Erbelding, a director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded the research. I’m pulling this from a great STAT investigation into it. That same director said she didn’t know the Boston group planned to actually make a new virus with the funding.
“What we would have wanted to do is to talk about exactly what they wanted to do in advance,” Erbelding said. And: “I think we’re going to have conversations over upcoming days.” My god yes please do.
→ College enrollment keeps falling: Universities are still losing students. The latest: 1.5 million fewer students are enrolled in college now than pre-pandemic, according to a report from National Student Clearinghouse. Perhaps paying huge sums of money to be locked in dorm rooms and banned from socializing for a couple years turned kids off?
→ Update from my hometown: No TGIF could be complete without an update on the insanity in the city I love the most, the city that this week announced that a single new public toilet would cost $1.7 million and open in 2025. Our item is Davis Smith, the CEO of colorful bag company Cotopaxi, who posted a long missive on LinkedIn of all places:
When the supply chain is even more backed up because of the volume of security gate requests you know there’s a problem.
→ There’s a Covid baby bump! In great news for America, there’s a Covid baby bump. Here’s a lovely graph from a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research showing what happened nine months into the pandemic. Maybe it was letting people work from home, so they could have more flexible days and imagine having children more easily. While quiet quitting is a fake trend, work-from-home sex is real. And thank God because otherwise my daughter’s preschool class would just be stuffed animals and the dancing Tesla robot.
→ For those who celebrate: America’s Fall Influencer aka Caitlin Covington has blessed us with this year’s iconography.
→ And thank you, David Sedaris:
I’m back, baby. See you in the comments.