Happy Friday to those of you who celebrate. And to all the Pastafarians out there, I wish you a blessed “R’amen.”
Who is this guy filling in for the irreplaceable Nellie Bowles this week, you ask? I’m Noah Rothman, the associate editor of Commentary Magazine and a regular contributor to MSNBC.com. I’m also an author (new this year: “The Rise of the New Puritans: Fighting Back Against Progressives’ War on Fun”).
With that awkward display of credentials behind us, let’s take a look at what went down at Common Sense this week.
Why would women at an elite university send pictures of their feet to dudes in the middle of the country for extra cash? Nicola Buskirk interviewed her classmates, the sugar babies of Stanford, to find out. Peter Savodnik went to Pennsylvania to look into John Fetterman, the 6-foot-8, tatted-up, cargo-shorts-wearing mayor poised to become the Keystone State’s newest senator. Michael Shellenberger made the provocative case for mandating treatment for the dangerously mentally ill. On Honestly, Kmele Foster, Glenn Loury, and John McWhorter discussed anti-racism, America’s so-called racial reckoning, and if race abolition is possible.
Here’s what else happened this week:
→ Putin and the Bomb: When Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine February 24, he insisted it was a war of liberation. The “goal is to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide” from the “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis” in Kyiv, Putin told his people. Fast forward seven month. His war has transformed into one meant to protect the motherland from the West. “We will defend our land with all the powers and means at our disposal,” Putin said in a speech last Friday marking the annexation of four Ukrainian regions. This even as Ukraine’s counteroffensive is making great strides.
→ Nuclear War Games? Fearing that the Kremlin, feeling cornered, might go nuclear, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday suggested that NATO launch a preemptive strike on Russia’s nuclear weapons “so that they’ll know what will happen to them if they use nukes, and not the other way around.” A little over two weeks ago, Putin warned that his nuclear bullying “is not a bluff.”
American officials are said to be quietly communicating to Moscow the “grave consequences” it would face in the wake of a nuclear detonation.
Two alarming data points: Government officials in Kyiv are reportedly distributing potassium iodine pills in the possible event of a Russian nuclear strike. And last night, at a Democratic fundraiser, President Biden said: “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis.”
→ Fresh Squeezed Juche: Starved for the attention (and occasional affection) he enjoyed in the Trump years, North Korean despot Kim Jong-un doesn’t want to be left out of the conversation. The Hermit Kingdom has tested over 20 ballistic missiles this year, the most since Kim came to power. This week, for the first time since 2017, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile without warning over Japanese territory, where air-raid sirens blared and residents scrambled for shelter. Two further missiles, fired on October 6, landed outside Japan’s economic exclusion zone.
Meanwhile, the South Korean military fired its own missiles into the sea. One of those missiles failed on launch and exploded on its pad in a military base just south of the DMZ. On Thursday, the conspicuous flight of a dozen North Korean warplanes near the DMZ forced South Korea to scramble 30 fighter jets. In response to all this action, the USS Ronald Reagan has been dispatched to the Korean peninsula as tensions rise. Whether you’re looking to Eastern Europe or Asia, it’s not looking good.
→ Iran So Far Away: The mass protests in Iran, which were sparked by the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s religious police, are entering their third week. These demonstrations, often led by teenage girls, are being put down with all the force this repressive state can muster. Yet, they persist. They grow.
These protests have a distinct feel to them that departs from the disruptive demonstrations that have erupted in Iran over the last decade. Those protests were generally a response to economic hardships: the price of eggs, rising gas costs, that sort of thing. By contrast, the protests now taking place were inspired by an act of repression, and the protesters demand nothing less than liberty as a remedy. The echoes of the Enlightenment whisper to us in the unofficial slogan of the increasingly brazen backlash against the Mullahs: “Woman, Life, Freedom”
In a display of solidarity with Iranian women, French film stars Marion Cotillard, Isabelle Huppert, and Juliette Binoche cut off their hair—an act that has come to symbolize defiance against the regime. Good on them. If only the pussy-hat brigade would join them.
→ Drama in Georgia: Georgia’s Republican voters knew what they were getting when almost 70 percent of them backed Herschel Walker in the primary election for U.S. Senate. The one-time Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star has been clear for years about his struggles with mental illness and dissociative identity disorder (what we used to call multiple-personality disorder). He spoke openly with reporters about his diagnosis and participated in interviews alongside his ex-wife, who alleged that he “got a gun and put it to my temple” (an allegation that features prominently in Democratic campaign spots).
Now we’ve got drama of a different kind. According to The Daily Beast, the staunchly pro-life Walker impregnated a woman he was dating in 2009, consented to aborting the child, and partially reimbursed her for the cost of the procedure. Walker’s accuser has since been identified as the mother of one of the many children he has sired out of wedlock.
Walker continues to deny the legitimacy of the report and has threatened to sue the Beast for defamation (a high-stakes gambit on which he has yet to follow through). Meanwhile, Walker’s son is telling anyone who will listen that his father is lying about the whole mess. Not since Sarah Palin rapped in a cotton-candy-colored bear costume have we been forced to witness such a cringe-inducing spectacle.
Speculation about the political effect of the Walker revelation focused mostly on how it could cost the Republican one of the most winnable U.S. Senate contests in America. Walker is facing off against incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, who has turned in a record that is probably to the left of his state’s median voter. While the race for Georgia’s Senate seat remains competitive, it would be a gimme for the GOP if they had nominated almost anyone else.
But despite all of this—the abortion, the obvious lying, the volatility—for the party faithful, Walker is the only game in town, and they’re standing fast. And the rationalizations are already flying:
→ Dr. Gavin Newsom: The California governor has decided he knows best how to police California doctors when it comes to Covid. Starting January 1, according to a measure signed by Newsom last week, it will be illegal for doctors to spread so-called misinformation about the pandemic to their patients. Bottom line: Don’t question the orthodoxy, whatever that may be. Thing is, there’s a reason doctors have always been in charge of regulating other doctors (just like lawyers are in charge of other lawyers). They’re supposed to know more about medicine than, say, a politician who majored in poli-sci while going to college on a partial baseball scholarship.
→ Ian’s Aftermath: With more than a hundred confirmed fatalities as of this writing, Hurricane Ian is likely the deadliest hurricane to make landfall in Florida since 1935. In response to this challenge, Florida’s headline-chasing governor, Ron DeSantis, has pocketed his often provocative and occasionally irascible public persona and replaced it with the sober demeanor of a crisis manager.
On Wednesday, President Biden toured the damage in Florida alongside DeSantis. The two mercifully put politics aside, though DeSantis was careful to greet the president with a handshake. No hug.
→ The Great Weed Pardon: Yesterday, the Biden Administration announced its plans to pardon anyone who has been charged federally with simple marijuana possession. The president urged governors to do the same at the state level, and called for a reassessment of how marijuana is categorized on the “schedules” established by legal and medical authorities to reflect drugs’ potential for abuse. The move signals a step toward federal legalization—it’s already legal in 39 states plus D.C.—which is what most Americans, on both sides of the aisle, support.
→ OPEC Gives Biden the Finger: This week, the cartel of petroleum-producing nations announced that it would significantly cut production in a deliberate effort to raise oil prices. According to CNN, the Biden Administration mounted a full-court diplomatic press in an effort to persuade nations like Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia to vote against such a move.
It didn’t work. Now the Democrats are appropriately panicked.
The White House announced it would release another 10 million barrels of oil from America’s already dangerously depleted Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Embattled Democrats like New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski are lobbying for legislation that would pull all U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia, sticking it to Riyadh while also imperiling U.S. assets in the Gulf. But in flailing around like a wacky, inflatable, tube man, Democrats reveal how parlous rising gas prices are for the party in power.
→ Why, If It Isn’t the Consequences of My Own Actions: In the spring of 2021, as New York University’s campus was emerging from pandemic-induced hibernation, 82 of organic chemistry Professor Maitland Jones Jr.’s 350 students affixed their name to a petition.
“We are very concerned about our scores, and find that they are not an accurate reflection of the time and effort put into this class,” the missive read. It added that “a class with such a high percentage of withdrawals and low grades has failed to make students’ learning and well-being a priority and reflects poorly on the chemistry department as well as the institution as a whole.”
NYU apparently agreed. The award-winning chemist and textbook author who is credited with redefining the pedagogical standards in his field was fired.
“Students were misreading exam questions at an astonishing rate,” Jones wrote in a letter protesting his treatment. “In the last two years, they fell off a cliff,” he said of the pandemic’s effects on student performance. “They weren’t coming to class, that’s for sure, because I can count the house,” Jones told The New York Times, “After several years of Covid learning loss, the students not only didn’t study, they didn’t seem to know how to study,” the Times wrote of Jones’s ordeal.
It wasn’t Jones’s decision to push off restoring pre-pandemic operations on campus until this year. That was NYU’s choice. It wasn’t Jones who taught students the lingua franca of the progressive cultural revolution and granted them outsize influence over their education. That, too, is an academy-wide phenomenon. And it wasn’t Jones who instituted an SAT/ACT-optional admissions policy for new students last year.
Jones’s crime was simply to notice the deleterious effect these faddish phenomena were having on students.
The undesirable consequences of this paradigm shift in education are hard to miss unless you’re trying to miss them:
→ Goring Musk’s Ox: Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s bid to purchase Twitter back in April came like a bolt from the blue, and his interest in the platform dissipated with similar alacrity. In the interim, a nasty legal battle over Musk’s exposure to fines that would follow if he backed out of the deal has simmered. But on Tuesday, Musk surprised investors once again by reviving his bid for the social media site, and the folks who view life though the prism of Twitter are once again on suicide watch.
“If Musk is really taking this site private, there are no real guardrails anymore,” NBC News reporter Ben Collins warned. “Rulemaking can be capricious.” Heaven forbid Twitter make up its content moderation rules on the fly. According to Bloomberg, “Musk has said he wants Twitter to be more like TikTok and WeChat,” two platforms that operate under Chinese law.
But if that’s Musk’s model, it’s a wonder that he’s come under vitriolic attack from a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party. “Elon Musk has released his personality too much, and he believes too much in the US and West’s ‘freedom of speech.’” wrote Hu Xijin, a reliable source of pro-Beijing propaganda. “He will be taught a lesson.”
On this, China and the West’s “disinformation reporters” appear to agree.
→ Homophobes Everywhere: Billy Eichner has dealt with the abysmal opening numbers of his film “Bros” in the most 2022 of ways: by calling everyone who didn’t buy a ticket a homophobe.
“Even with glowing reviews, great Rotten Tomatoes scores, an A CinemaScore etc, straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn’t show up for Bros,” he mourned on Twitter before adding that “everyone who isn’t a homophobic weirdo” should go buy a ticket.
Apparently “homophobic weirdos” didn’t get the memo before they lined up for “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Birdcage,” “Philadelphia,” “Rocketman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “The Imitation Game,” among others, which grossed tens of millions domestically.
→ Trevor Noah Goes There: One of the many casualties of the Trump years was the death spiral of late-night comedy, which used to be funny and then became deeply, almost reflexively not funny. With rare exceptions (looking at you, Jimmy Fallon), these venues have transformed themselves into group therapy sessions for progressives.
Recently, however, Trevor Noah and “The Daily Show” have declined to look away. We’re not talking about gentle ribbing here, which Noah and his competitors in the late-night space never avoided. Last week, Noah took aim at Joe Biden’s self-evident decrepitude. This week, Noah’s program highlighted a handful of Vice President Kamala Harris’s rambling non-sequiturs:
These segments weren’t just funny. They were bold insofar as the host wasn’t afraid of the inconvenient conclusions the audience might draw from his impertinent satire. It’s probably only a coincidence that the show found its courage just as Noah was making his way for the exit.
→ Going to the Dogs:
San Francisco famously has more dogs than kids, and the bistro Dogue is there to serve them. Michelin-quality plates that appeal to the canine palate include “hand-cut filet mignon tartare topped with a poached quail egg,” “doggy petit gâteau,” “dogguccinos,” and a three-course tasting menu for Sunday brunch.
To this unnerving development, we’re obliged to object. Only three courses? Tiny doggy stomachs notwithstanding, that’s pretty stingy. You could order that for yourself a-la carte. And the San Francisco Chronicle made no mention of pairings, which is a staple of the tasting menu experience. Maybe you wouldn’t impose a Châteauneuf-du-Pape on your pup, but no dog would object to, say, puddle water that might bring out the complexities of a dish. Seems like there’s quite a lot of room for innovation in the fine-dining-for-dogs space. “Late capitalism,” indeed.