Scenes from the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 14. (Rebecca Kiger via Getty Images)

TGIF: World Turned Upside Down

The blind should not see. The old should not live. An apocalyptic tragedy in Ohio. Plus: Is ‘The New York Times’ finally growing a spine?

TGIF. This week my editor, Suzy Weiss, who punches up my jokes and pulls me back when I sound “too angry” and “conspiratorial,” has announced she is “going to a wedding” and “can’t help.” Lucky us. 

Let’s start with water turning the frogs gay.

→ East Palestine, Ohio: On February 3, a train carrying toxic chemicals in Ohio derailed, with horrible consequences for the community. A lot is worrisome: there’s been a plume of black smoke rising from the crash site for 14 days. (Authorities intentionally burned some of the chemical cargo rather than risk an explosion.) There are dead fish in the local water. Wildlife and pets are expiring. The government response has been muddled at best. At a press conference this past Tuesday, Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, gave this Ouija board–like advice to concerned residents: “I think that I would be drinking the bottle of water, and I would be continuing to find out what the tests were showing as far as the air.” And: “I would be alert and concerned, but I think I would probably be back in my house.”

He thinks, and probably? And he wants people to wait politely under the black plume to see what the tests say? 

Good thing we have someone competent like Pete Buttigieg heading up the Department of Transportation, which oversees the trains. Let me just Google what he’s been doing… oh, actually it took him ten full days before he even acknowledged that it happened, when he sent out a tweet-thread expressing “concern.” This could have been his Rudy Giuliani moment, posing by the plume, shaking hands with the people cleaning this disaster, brave people who I’m sure suspect that the work of saving this town will eventually kill them. But that would mean first going to Ohio (ew) and then also getting really close to the plume (gross). Buttigieg said there’s just not much he can do, now or ever, claiming he was “constrained” and blaming (who else!) Trump. 

Amazingly, the mainstream press take is that it’s a conservative thing to worry about the chemical spill, with The New York Times writing in news coverage of the event: “Right-wing commentators have been particularly critical, using the crisis to sow distrust about government agencies and suggest that the damage could be irreparable.” And: “A chemical odor lingers because people can smell the contaminants even when they are far below hazardous concentrations.” It may smell toxic, but it’s fine! As journalists, when the government says things are A-OK, well sir, thank you, that’s all we need to know. 

The best coverage is coming from the true left: Read this New Republic piece from an on-the-ground journalist in East Palestine, and this smart takedown of Buttigieg from news site The Lever

→ Aliens vs. Spies: First there was one Chinese spy balloon. Then there were two. Then—pop—there were half a dozen! If these balloons are the vessels of an alien civilization, foreign explorers who’ve journeyed far to find us, then they are very easy to shoot down. Disappointingly easy. Anyway, why are there so many spy balloons? A perfect headline from NBC: “How many Chinese spy balloons did we miss and when did they start flying above the U.S.?” Has China not heard of Google Earth? I can look in your backyard right now, takes two seconds. What more does China need to see other than me frozen forever on Street View taking out the trash? And if it’s audio interception they’re after, isn’t TikTok scraping my phone enough?

→ Progressives rethink stance on racism and sexism for Nikki Haley: Now, you know I’m not one to cry sexism often. Frankly, when I found out a hot college professor of mine had been fired for doing a #MeToo, I was offended for not being involved. I’d gone to office hours, for godsakes. But there is sexism this week we have to call out. Nikki Haley announced she is running for president. She’s a reasonable Republican candidate who is, of course, a long shot against Trump. There are plenty of ways to criticize her politics, but for some reason a bunch of people we are meant to respect tried to say that the real problem is that she’s a woman, that she’s not young, and that she’s Indian. 

You may think I’m exaggerating. 

Here is Don Lemon on CNN: “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime. Sorry,” he says, looking to camera, a little smile on his face. “When a woman is considered to be in her prime in 20s and 30s and maybe 40s…” His co-hosts, both women, balk. (“Prime for what?”) But Lemon keeps going. Watch the extremely stressful video here, where he goes on… and on… about how Nikki Haley, who is 51, cannot criticize Biden’s age. Because women peak in their 20s, and she’s long past that

Or here’s progressive hero Mary Trump, Donald’s niece, who disavowed him and became a star of the intelligentsia. She decided that the best way to insult Nikki Haley this week was by highlighting that she’s Indian, because Nikki is her middle name. Again, this is a real statement Mary Trump released on Twitter: “First of all, fuck you Nimrata Haley.” Sorry, I’m slow: If you’re a white person trying to insult someone who’s not white and you do it by highlighting their race, what’s that called again? I’m sure there’s a Robin DiAngelo chapter on this somewhere. 

→ Do not cure blindness, you monster: Popular YouTuber MrBeast decided to get some content out of helping people. He paid for cataract surgery for a thousand blind or nearly blind people, and he recorded (with their permission) the joyful moment their vision cleared. Now, I think it’s gauche—charity should be done quietly. But I did not think curing blindness itself is controversial. And yet, in fact it is. Have you ever considered that people might want to stay blinded by cataracts? That assuming someone wants to see is ableist?

One Washington Post reporter tweeted (then deleted): “What truly needs curing is society’s view of disabled people.” Here’s TechCrunch: “MrBeast’s blindness video puts systemic ableism on display.” (I disagree with the argument, but it’s actually a lovely piece of writing by someone born quite prematurely and who has impaired vision.) There’s even a BuzzFeed story, which describes the “huge problem.” The problem: “MrBeast’s video seems to regard disability as something that needs to be solved. He doesn’t say in the video or in any of his subsequent public statements whether he consulted with the video’s subjects about how they felt to have their disability treated as a problem.”

I’ll make it fast: there is a movement that makes the word disabled into a broader cultural and social identity, one that includes people who would not have previously been considered disabled at all. And this group is against efforts to cure. So to be in the cool crowd: next time you meet a doctor who talks about curing blindness, throw your wine right at him. That monster. 

→ Josh Hawley proposes an age limit for social media use: Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri, introduced a bill this week to keep anyone under 16 off social media. No Facebook, no Twitter, no TikTok till you’re old enough to drive and have at least two friends who are old enough to get cigarettes. On the one hand: I am pro-freedom. On the other hand: young teens seem miserable and adults have a hard time making a rule when but all my friends are doing it. Comments section, I leave this one for you to decide. 

One other note on teen health this week. The CDC released data from a large survey of teenagers conducted last year. Teen girls are suffering: “In 2021 30% of females seriously considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago and 57% felt persistently sad or hopeless—double that of boys.” Eating disorders among teens are up 15%

→ John Fetterman suffering from depression: He’s checked himself into inpatient care at Walter Reed, according to a statement from his wife. I’m sorry to hear this. 

→ Dianne Feinstein is retiring: Feinstein, at 89 the eldest and longest-serving senator, declared her plans to retire. There’s an indignity to all this—she seemed confused about the announcement. 

But the Feinstein I think we should remember is early Feinstein, the woman who, fifty years ago, began to serve in the chaotic 1970s Bay Area. From a great San Francisco Chronicle story on Feinstein, who at the time was viewed as an establishment moderate: “Underground radicals shot out the windows of her weekend home in Monterey Bay.” And when the pioneering local politician Harvey Milk was shot and killed, she was the first to find his body. She “knelt to poke a finger through a bullet hole.” When it was clear he was dead, she stood up to give a speech to the crowd.

These old (and I mean seriously old) senators should retire earlier so we can remember them at their height, not watch them stumbling through marble halls, ushered around by aides. Although, this observation is unrelated to my next item. 

→ Dept. of Stay Away from My Dad:

→ Jim Biden, also corrupt: Lest we focus all our attention on Hunter Biden, let’s not forget about Jim. Yes, our president’s younger brother. Jim Biden was reportedly hired to broker a $140 million deal with Saudi Arabia while his brother was vice president, according to newly released court documents. It’s so interesting how the minute Joe Biden gets to the White House, everyone in his life becomes an international business expert. So weird that I have as many skills as Jim, and yet no foreign governments approach me to broker their deals. 

We have gotten so docile about corruption among our political families that we can barely muster a shrug. Shady brothers of American presidents are a tradition—Billy Carter, Roger Clinton, Malik Obama, Ted Kennedy. 

Jim Biden denies that he made the deal happen. 

→ Elon Musk wants you to see his tweets and only his tweets: Last week, Musk was mad. His tweets were not getting enough attention. He wrote: “Long day at Twitter HQ with eng team. Two significant problems mostly addressed: 1. Fanout service for Following feed was getting overloaded when I tweeted, resulting in up to 95% of my tweets not getting delivered at all.” Yes, a significant problem for the CEO of Twitter, Tesla, and SpaceX was that his personal tweets were not getting enough attention. No matter that this week Tesla has to remove the “full self-driving” software from 363,000 vehicles by order of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Well, Musk definitely fixed the problem (of his tweets not showing up, forget about the silly cars). First, an engineer told him that declining engagement with his tweets was due to declining interest in Musk more generally, so Musk immediately fired the guy. Then, Musk tapped his cousin James to help. James got it done. For several days now, my entire Twitter feed has just been Elon Musk’s musings. I open my news app and it is Elon tweeting “wow.” Then Elon tweeting “awesome.” Then Elon tweeting “Vanity Unfair.”

Meanwhile, new Twitter seems to be letting the Chinese Communist Party take the wheel and censor whomever it wants. Activists and critics of the regime have noticed their accounts going dark over the past weeks. They should consider seeding their pleas for freedom with the word Elon

→ NYT reporters sign group letter against reporting: A large number of New York Times contributors signed a letter yelling at the small number of NYT writers who have dared to report vaguely objectively about trans issues. The basic argument is that no one should look into topics such as when gender-affirming care goes wrong, since it’s so very rare. Specifically: No one should talk about what choices a 14-year-old can really make and whether it’s okay for schools to transition children without informing their parents. No one should talk about detransitioners, regret, or the impact of puberty blockers and hormones on broader health. None of it. 

“A tiny percentage of the population is trans, and an even smaller percentage of those people face the type of conflict the Times is so intent on magnifying,” the letter stated. “There is no rapt reporting on the thousands of parents who simply love and support their children.”

It’s actually a classic neg on reporters. Critics will say: Why are you all so focused on bad news? Why don’t you write about all the planes that don’t crash? 

In a shock move, the Times responded by defending the targeted writers. It’s not 2020 anymore, kids! It takes a little extra effort to get someone fired these days. I want to see some hustle.

Take inspiration from the Germans, who don’t mess around with open letters. This week, a German ballet director assaulted a writer, one of his critics. And what did he bring to use in the attack? Dog poop. That’s commitment.

→ The FBI infiltrated BLM to stir things up: The FBI reportedly got involved in Denver’s Black Lives Matter movement and worked to encourage naive young activists to get more violent, the better to score some arrests. From an Intercept story exposing this: the informant would meet with young BLM recruits in his apartment, where there’d be a table full of guns, and he’d push for escalation. 

Lately, the FBI has been coded as progressive, part of the #resistance, its various square-jawed figureheads frequently appearing on MSNBC as the good guys to talk about how bad January 6 was, etc. So hopefully this is a nice reminder: the FBI is not your friend. The agency infiltrates any inconvenient American political movement, left or right, homes in on the dumbest, most malleable members, and encourages them to escalate just a tiny bit, just enough to get into criminal territory. 

If you’re someone who is organizing a protest for some cause or another (honestly, nothing is too small for the FBI, so even if it’s to keep your local bookstore open, be aware), and a guy shows up with lots of time on his hands, a cool truck, cargo shorts, and a pile of guns—that, my friends, is a trap. 

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