Thursday, March 23rd, 2017


Driven to Despair

It's important to separate the anger and despair felt in many American regions from the vehicle through which those feelings of anger and despair were expressed. In other words, you can dislike Trump while still acknowledging the very real, complicated issues affecting huge swaths of the country. As the mortality rate among middle-aged whites has surged, Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case are trying to identify the various forces behind the trend. Obesity, depression, the opioid crisis, alcohol abuse ... all of these are symptoms of a broader problem: "Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high-school-educated working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline." From WaPo: New research identifies a sea of despair among white, working-class Americans.

+ "We know what they were dying from. We knew suicides were going up rapidly, and that overdoses mostly from prescription drugs were going up, and that alcoholic liver disease was going up. The deeper questions were why those were happening -- there's obviously some underlying malaise." The forces driving deaths of despair.

+ While there are plenty of national and even global drivers one can point to, the actual scourge is narrowly targeted. From Vox: Why the white middle class is dying faster, explained in 6 charts.


The Gig is Up

"At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy's rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear." From Jia Tolentino in The New Yorker: The gig economy celebrates working yourself to death. (For some of us, it celebrates our inability to work well with others...)


Health Care’s Defib-rillator

Most members of GOP's political surgery unit agreed that they needed to remove the Obama from Obamacare. But the best way to perform that surgery has been a serious point of contention. As the clock ticks towards a deadline, the American Health Care Act will need some serious zaps from the resuscitation paddles to survive the week. From WaPo: Health bill passage in doubt after hardliners rebuff White House offer. And by Thursday afternoon, the health bill vote had been officially delayed.

+ What's interesting about the health plan being pushed by the Trump/Ryan alliance is that it's quite unpopular among voters. And that's especially true when it comes to Trump's base. I'm no doctor, but I'd argue that the longterm prognosis for Trump is a lot better if this bill doesn't pass.

+ This could be part of the reason for the lack of public support: If you're a millionaire, the AHCA gives you $50K. If you're poor, it costs you $1,420.


The Caller is Inside the House (of Worship)

For the past several weeks, I've been suggesting to my mom that the bomb threats called into JCCs across the country may have been the work of a troubled teenager with access to advanced robocalling software. I didn't, however, predict that the teen would be from Israel. From The Atlantic: An Israeli American Teen Has Been Arrested in the JCC Bomb Threats Case. "He has also been accused of making threatening calls in New Zealand and Australia, along with a call to a commercial airline that forced it to make an emergency landing."

+ The Forward: Israeli American's Arrest As Bomb Suspect Intensifies Hate Crime Debate: "The unidentified teen was apparently a troubled individual who has lived in Israel for many years. The army refused to draft him after finding him unfit for service, Haaretz reported. The newspaper also said that he was homeschooled by his parents and received education outside the family home."


High Nunes

The investigation into potential links between the Kremlin and Trump's campaign team got even weirder on Wednesday, when Devin Nunes, the Chairman House Intelligence Committee, uncovered potentially new evidence, and then decided to visit the White House to share the findings with President Trump. (Sidenote: President Trump is one of the people he's supposed to be investigating.)

+ The move added more somewhat shocking complexity to an already shocking story. Here's Vox with the latest Trump wiretapping news, explained in plain English

+ The way I see it, if Nunes gets to keep his job as chair of the investigation, none of us has to follow any rules, ever again. But like everything, opinions on the matter are decidedly split; and some media outlets covered the Nunes bean-spilling as vindication for Trump. This divide is all part of Donald Trump and the rise of tribal epistemology. (Don't worry, you don't need to know the definition of epistemology to get something out of the article.) At this point, Trump could detonate a dirty bomb in the rose garden and the reaction would be split across party lines.


Roll Credits

Several top movie studios realize that you don't really like leaving your house, and they're willing to let you watch new releases (still in theaters) from home. But to do this, they need to charge you enough to be able to share some of the revenues with theater owners. What does that mean? You could be able to rent movies a few weeks after their release as long as you're willing to part with $25-$50. (Or the average price of a popcorn, Red Vines and Coke at the theater.)

+ That price is probably a dealstopper. But it's not the main impediment to the success of this program. The real issue is that you can't keep up with all the TV you need to watch.

+ Wired: How TV Opening Titles Got to Be So Damn Good.


Shop Vac

"Amazon is an extraordinary company. The former bookseller accounts for more than half of every new dollar spent online in America. It is the world's leading provider of cloud computing. This year Amazon will probably spend twice as much on television as HBO, a cable channel. Its own-brand physical products include batteries, almonds, suits and speakers linked to a virtual voice-activated assistant that can control, among other things, your lamps and sprinkler." And one of the company's big advantages is that investors are willing to let it get bigger and bigger without worrying too much about profits. The Economist: Amazon, the world's most remarkable firm, is just getting started.

+ "Costco is the world's largest seller of choice and prime beef, organic foods, rotisserie chicken, and wine (!), and it moves more nuts than Planters. Its private label, Kirkland Signature, which sells everything from packaged goods and beverages to apparel, generates more revenues than the Coca-Cola Co." Fortune on the magic in the warehouse.


Alarmist Theories

Your alarm woke you up this morning and you groaned. Then you walked down the hall to wake you kids and they screamed at you. And right now, you're tired as hell. What gives? Well, you can blame it all on suburban sprawl.


Electro Schlock Therapy

"I was at the Alchemist's Kitchen, a wellness outpost in Manhattan's boutique-strangled NoHo neighborhood. The boutique sells expensive loose teas, Himalayan salt bowls, sensual tinctures, aphrodisiac elixirs, purifying sage bundles, reiki sessions, and a hangover treatment where vitamins are absorbed intravenously. It's a ritzy hippie oasis that isn't affiliated with Gwyneth Paltrow, but really feels like it should be. Goop-adjacent. I went there on a snowy afternoon to learn about one of its newer treatments, the Theraphi." The Ringer's Kate Knibs tests out the latest in a long line of dubious electricity-themed cure-alls.


Bottom of the News

"Something strange happens when NBA teams play on the road these days, a trend line that baffles statheads. In the 1987-88 season, home teams won an astounding 67.9 percent of games, boasting an average win margin of 5.8 points, the highest on record. The advantage was so profound that home teams, on average, played at the level of a 55-win team. Then, in less than a decade, the home-court advantage gap was sliced in half." What happened? Well, in short, Tinder happened. Technology has enabled NBA players to have sex without the need to spend hours partying at a club first. (Working title of the study: Lays Up.) As one former player explained: "It's absolutely true that you get at least two hours more sleep getting laid on the road today versus 15 years ago." ESPN takes you inside the Tinderization of today's NBA. (If my math is right, Tinder could have saved me about 8 years in high school...)

+ Let's not let the relentless pace of political news distract us from the fact that I just won the shit out of national puppy day. If you must, here are some of the other contenders.