Jennifer Coolidge accepts the Best Supporting Actress award for "The White Lotus.” (Rich Polk via Getty Images).

TGIF: Planes, Trains, and Gastric Bypass for Kids

Out for 2023: the IRS, gas stoves, pictures of Muhammad, National Merit Scholarship certificates, cardigans, and the British monarchy.

Welcome back to TGIF. 

Four months ago I believed I gave birth to a perfect angel. In an unexpected twist, our daughter—whom I have extended meetings with at 1 A.M., 3 A.M., and 5 A.M.—appears to be an active member of ISIS, sent here to break us. So forgive me if I’m punchier than usual this week. Ok, here we go . . . 

→ American infrastructure in collapse: It’s unfair to say American infrastructure is third world, which is an insult to Peru and Tunisia and all the good developing nations. But American infrastructure is a unique shame, since we are so rich as a nation, and the rails and pipes and air control systems that hold us together are so very poor. This week saw every flight in the country just randomly grounded thanks to software trouble. You know it’s not good when the cutesy FAA Twitter account is on “Update 6.”

Meanwhile on Amtrak, one breakdown this week was so extreme, so inexplicable, that passengers began assuming they’d been taken hostage. An accident along a track between Virginia and Florida added 12 hours to one train’s journey. Staff needed to be switched out. At one point, panicked passengers started calling 911. 

You know it’s bad when you, as a train conductor, have to reassure your passengers they are not hostages in a terrorist plot: “Once again, for those of you calling the police, we are not holding you hostage. We are giving you all the information we have and apologize for the inconvenience.”

I used to like Pete Buttigieg because he was my type of politician (a technocratic McKinsey shill with a sassy partner) but McKinsey would never put up with this. 

→ Out of the grounded planes and into the fire: Never mind the trains and the planes. This week, the Biden administration was instead laser-focused on the most important issue of our era: banning new gas stoves. Now, I’m a health freak and lover of Big Brother public health interventions (a la Bloomberg’s Big Gulp Ban). I want raw spring water to flow from my faucet. I’ve never met a car seat I didn’t want to install just to be sure. But of all the interventions we need, this is such a minor and bizarre one.

The administration is claiming gas stoves cause 12.7% of all pediatric asthma cases, citing a December 14 study. To be safe, I looked into the research myself (i.e.: I read Emily Oster’s post on the topic). She says it’s really not true. “Overall analysis, though, suggests that factor may be small relative to other factors—including other kinds of air pollution from (say) cars.” But beyond that, she writes, “we do not see the kind of smoking gun in any of these data that would suggest a really consistent link.” 

Within days, thanks to backlash, the administration dropped the idea. I turned the gas all the way up across my giant range this morning, breathing in American freedom. 

→ The GOP keeps trying to abolish the IRS: This is, I guess, going to be a major Republican effort now. House Republicans are voting on a bill to abolish the IRS and eliminate the national personal and corporate income tax. The bill would also abolish the death, gift and payroll taxes. This is happening thanks to the growing power of the right-wing Freedom Caucus.

Nothing will come of the effort. But no one likes the IRS, and I guess it feels good to say I voted to end those jerks, your boat is a deductible business expense in my heart. Like any good American, I would like lower taxes. But I also like roads and running water and our military. 

→ Mishandling classified documents is apparently no big deal now: Biden staffers found classified documents including “intelligence memos” in the president’s Delaware garage and his pre-Oval Office office. The documents were “discovered” by the president’s team right before the midterms but announced only this week. 

Do you remember the apoplectic panic about the classified documents at Mar-A-Lago? No comparison says Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who said: “There is no comparison. They were in a locked closet. They were not accessible.” Biden during a press conference emphasized that even the documents in his garage were well-guarded, since they were being kept by his car: “My Corvette is in a locked garage, OK? So it’s not like they’re sitting out on the street.”

Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to look into this classified document situation. But why was Biden hiding these documents in the first place? And why announce their “discovery” now? Likely it’s related to the fact that Republicans are going to launch a series of investigations into, among other things, Biden family corruption. For a taste of what’s to come from Republicans here, I recommend watching this Tucker Carlson monologue. There are a lot of GOP-led Hunter Biden investigations coming. We’ll be following along.  

→ Inflation is getting under control: Consumer prices are 6.5% higher now than last year. That’s still real inflation, but it’s coming much slower than the height of the stimmy check, money-firehose days. Cheers to the Fed.

→ Meet our new colleague, SBF: We who publish on Substack are a family, and so it’s with a lot of joy that I welcome my brother in blogs: Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced crypto magnate and Dem megadonor. On Thursday, comrade Bankman-Fried published a long, dense piece continuing to explain just how innocent he is and how his various crypto schemes (FTX and Alameda) were very legitimate. He does summarize it nicely: “All of which is to say: no funds were stolen,” he writes. Meanwhile, his old company, which declared bankruptcy, recently “discovered” $5 billion more in cash and liquid assets. Sorry, what? And from where? Impossible to know, really. As the Wall Street Journal puts it: “The company didn’t keep reliable financial records and lacked normal corporate controls under past management.”

→ George Santos should definitely resign: The Republican congressman from New York who fabricated his entire resume is just . . . not resigning. Sure, he lied about all those properties, his education, family, a 9/11 connection, Jewish heritage, and probably his own name, but his plan seems to be: keep on keeping on. And get in an elevator as quickly as humanly possible

Some House Republicans are calling for him to resign. But not enough. Weirdly, Santos said he would resign if 142,000 people asked him to. More than 142,000 of you read TGIF every week, so what I’m saying is we could really accomplish something together. 

And now a brief interlude from our resident cartoonist, David Mamet . . . 

→ Please stop making TGIF so easy: Government administrators seem to be misreading TGIF. This newsletter is not meant to be inspirational. These missives (a primal scream) are not meant to give you fresh ideas for the lunch-and-learn. This month the state of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services decided to ban the term “field worker” (as did the University of Southern California). The term does not have a racist history at all, but apparently the word “field” is triggering. "Phrases such as ‘going into the field’ or ‘field work’ may have connotations for descendants of slavery and immigrant workers that are not benign," USC administrators wrote

This movement is so removed from the reality of what actually happens in rural America that it literally believes the word “field” is racist. People do realize that food is grown in fields, right? Baseball is played there and I’m pretty sure it’s something you can do with questions too. You have to be many generations deep into city-living for the word “field” to make you think of white supremacy instead of something like garlic. 

→ More drugs and surgery for kids: The American Academy of Pediatrics this week came out with new recommendations: Obese children should be given weight loss drugs and surgery at ages as young as 12 and 13, respectively. Now, that is probably the right thing to do for severely obese children. But also: The new recommendations argue that “obesity is a chronic disease.” Obesity, in the new mindset, can never be about choices. It is not a lifestyle problem. 

The message is: body positivity and junk food are a-ok (can’t be shaming anyone!) until the American medical establishment can profit, and then it’s a sharp pivot to  hardcore drugs and surgery. It’s cheap, government-subsidized corn products shoveled into school lunches, then a series of expensive drugs for chemically imbalanced adolescents. There is no middle ground. 

One thing I noticed in the new pediatric guideline is they use the word overweight in a way I’d never seen. It goes: “youth with overweight and obesity.” As in: “This is the AAP’s first clinical practice guideline (CPG) outlining evidence-based evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with overweight and obesity.” Obesity and “overweight” is a disease you catch. 

→ Russiagate continues to fall apart: A new report this week puts another nail in the coffin of the Russiagate narrative. This time, it’s a study published in Nature magazine. The conclusion: “We find no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior.” Readers of this blog will remember that I fell hook-line-and-sinker for Russiagate. Realizing how deranged and overblown that whole movement was, how conspiratorial I became—and that the mainstream media was never going to reckon with the fact that it led me there—has been a major life lesson. 

→ College must go by Taliban rules: Hamline University fired an adjunct professor for showing a piece of gorgeous Medieval Islamic art. The art in question—pictured just below—depicts Muhammad receiving his first revelation through the Angel Gabriel and is considered a masterpiece, which is why it was included in a global survey of art history class. 

That professor forgot that in America, we must go by the new blasphemy laws. After a student complained, the university’s associate vice president of inclusive excellence—yes, that is his title—called the class “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” And the instructor was released from her contract. 

I love the Hamline University president, Fayneese S. Miller, who issued a deranged, rambling statement slamming people criticizing “from the security” of their computer screens. (Everyone is feeling a little too safe, if you know what I mean.) She writes:

Does the claim that academic freedom is sacrosanct and owes no debt to the traditions, beliefs, and views of students, comprise a privileged reaction? That is why Hamline's Civility Statement, which guards our campus interactions, notes that any student, regardless of race, ethnic background, religion or belief, deserves equal protection from the institution.

And, literally: “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”

Now, the academic freedom group FIRE is filing a complaint on behalf of the instructor. (As you all know, we never tire of criticizing the New York Times, but props to them for breaking this story.)

→ Speaking of the Taliban, let’s check in on Missouri: Republicans in Missouri are fighting about whether a cardigan counts as a jacket. The current rules require everyone to wear a blazer. The cardigan risk is that a woman’s shoulder might be seen in outline (softcore), the soft cotton or (god forbid) cashmere falling suggestively (triple X). Might as well turn the place into a Hooters at this rate!

→ School districts withholding merit awards for equity: You know the drill. Anything celebrating academic achievement has to go. This is especially true if a lot of Asian students are the ones being recognized. The latest is that schools in Virginia tried to withhold announcing National Merit Awards because the results skewed in favor of Asian students. In response, the state’s attorney general is expanding his civil rights investigation. Various Virginia school leaders, caught in the crosshairs of the investigation are now scrambling: “I must apologize that certificates were not distributed to these Langley High School students in the usual way this past fall,” one high school principal wrote. It could have something to do with the new equity training guru who said

To have true equity, you have to be willing to be purposefully unequal when it comes to resources. I want to say that again because most districts struggle with that. To have an equity-centered organization, we have to have the courage and the willingness to be purposefully unequal when it comes to opportunities and access. 

The deck is fully stacked against Asian students, who should really do better by not winning National Merit awards.

→ Another study links long Covid to mental health issues: A team at Japan’s Department of Public Mental Health Research has found that preexisting psychiatric disorders—I’m talking the Big Two, anxiety and depression—were associated with long Covid, adding to a growing body of research showing this. As the government figures out who to send disability checks to, long Covid will be a complicated one to handle. 

→ Prince Harry’s press tour makes me uncomfortable but also proud: If you want to listen to some very strange audio, I recommend this clip of Prince Harry talking about applying ointment to his penis and thinking of his mother. I will say, I started the Netflix documentary series being vaguely anti-Harry and Meghan, and I end it being vaguely pro. To me, they represent America’s final triumph over the British royal family. The laundry they’re airing is so dirty, their press tour so thorough and the details so . . . detailed. All of it done with reality TV cameras and late show sets. The royal family didn’t stand a chance against Tyler Perry, Oprah, and above all: California. 

Sussexes: if you are reading this, I would like to invite you for green juice and botox at my home. 

→ In other tabloid news: Every week there’s a great tabloid story about a lovely wife disappearing and her grieving husband asking people to help find her. We can almost always guess the ending. This week, cops discovered that the latest distraught husband, Brian Walshe of Massachusetts, Googled the following: “how to dispose of a 115-pound woman’s body.” Just out of curiosity, just asking questions. 

Ok one last tabloid item: Mackenzie Scott, who got some $36 billion in her divorce from Jeff Bezos, who then married the science teacher from her kids’ school, is now getting another divorce. I identify personally as the Mackenzie Bezos of The Free Press, in that I’m the wife of a successful entrepreneur, vaguely around the office, vaguely attending meetings. Anyway, I wish her well.

→ Requiem for Matt Yglesias: If you want a master class in the snide profile, read this about Matt Yglesias in the Washington Post. Every paragraph (in the weirdly long piece) drips with disdain. I am a big Yglesias fan. I post his links; he dunks on mine. I see this as our intellectual conversation. And so my free PR advice: If you’re a successful independent writer, absolutely never grant an interview to someone whose paycheck comes directly from Jeff Bezos. Because, spoiler alert, they’re jealous and they hate you. 

One caveat is you can talk to the Washington Post if you are Chris Rufo. The man loves talking to reporters who just can’t help but lie a little bit about him. Rufo is a Republican, you see, which reporters take to be an invitation to call him whatever else they want, to gild the lily just a bit. So Rufo has made a sport of getting big corrections, the latest whopper now sitting on top of a WaPo story (the story details his appointment to the board of a Florida college). 

My grandfather put his antlers up on the wall, and I imagine Rufo doing that but with his corrections. 

→ Jennifer Coolidge didn’t need a trophy: She’d already won our hearts with White Lotus (and Best in Show and Legally Blonde). But, boy, did her acceptance speech kill. Watch that, and Ke Huy Quan’s speech, too. The Banshees of Inisherin and The Fablemans got best motion picture nods, the producer Ryan Murphy got a ton of shout-outs, and, for some reason, when Evan Peters got up there to accept his little gold statue for playing one of America’s most ruthless serial killers, he did not thank, “beyond my agents, my beautiful wife, and my parents, Jeffrey Dahmer!” A missed opportunity.       

→ A random man decoded the earliest human writing: Ben Bacon, a furniture conservator in London, has cracked the meaning behind 20,000-year-old cave drawing symbols. He realized the little dots and lines drawn around animals indicated lunar cycles. The symbols communicated when different animals reproduced. Now he and a group of experts published these findings in Cambridge University Press. He’s called himself "effectively a person off the street.” Congrats to Ben for finding the earliest human writing, and to you for perusing the latest!

TGIF. See you in the comments.

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