Thursday, May 5th, 2022


Derrick and the Dominos

Chronic pain. Unhappiness. Drug and alcohol abuse. According to economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, those are a few of the side effects of being a non–college educated adult in America. The other side effect: premature death. If we're to understand what's happening in today's America, we have to understand what was already here: massive inequality. From the opioid pill mills along Interstate 95, to the flattened quality of living, to an exploding economic divide, to the unjustifiable wealth being pumped out by the tech sector, to the way those on one side of the divide look down on those on the other, to poisoned water supplies, to boarded-up factories, to CEOs making 278 times as much as the average employee; the story is always the same. The America of the twenty-first century is not merely leaving some groups behind, it's quite literally killing them.

While many of us may be disappointed in the way the frustration and anger are expressed (Trumpism), it's foolish to deny that for millions of Americans, the frustration and anger are wholly justified. People think the system is rigged against them because the system is rigged against them. Consider today's America where many citizens have been making the same salary for years while inflation makes that salary worth less. Nowhere is that more clear than at the gas pump. Sure, part of that price hike is due to our fully merited decision to stand up to Putin's invasion. But we all know there's more to the gas prices than that one factor. And no one knows that better than the folks for whom those price hikes have a direct and immediate impact on their quality of life. Yesterday, we learned that BP had a remarkable quarter. Today, we learned that Shell profits nearly tripled as oil prices surged.

+ Part of this section is adapted from my book, Please Scream Inside Your Heart: Breaking News and Nervous Breakdowns in the Year that Wouldn't End. The reviews from readers have been excellent. There's also an audiobook with Peter Coyote as the main narrator. Trust me. You'll love it


Dashing Through the Snow

"Before they could dig in, the pilot first had to ferry the order on the long air journey over the silty waters of Cook Inlet, the craggy snow-covered peaks of the Alaska Range and the lake-pocked terrain near the airstrip in Nikolai where he would land. There, the box of food (only slightly crushed) was passed on to Ms. Navarro, 29, who works as a health aide at the village's clinic. There are no grocery stores or restaurants in that community of fewer than 100 people, so once or twice a month her family orders from DoorDash to break the monotony of chicken- and moose-based soups and stews." NYT (Gift Article): Need a Big Mac Out on the Tundra? There's an App (and a Plane) for That. "Robert Golike said he feels like the world's most expensive food-delivery driver — but that's probably because he uses a Cessna." (In Samoa, commuter planes have been delivering McDonald's from one island to another for decades. When there's a will, there's a way.)


Pill, Baby, Pill

"Use of abortion pills has been rising in the U.S. since 2000 when the Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone — the main drug used in medication abortions. More than half of U.S. abortions are now done with pills, rather than surgery ... The FDA last year lifted a long-standing requirement that women pick up abortion pills in person. Mail delivery is also now allowed nationwide." Next battle over access to abortion will focus on pills.

+ Here's a sentence from Ron Brownstein worth reading twice: "The fundamental divide in our politics today is between those voters and places most comfortable with the demographic and cultural changes remaking 21st-century America and those most hostile to them—what I've called the Democratic 'coalition of transformation' and the Republican 'coalition of restoration.'" As Brownstein explains in The Altantic: "A decision overturning Roe v. Wade—especially on the sweeping grounds in Justice Samuel Alito's draft opinion that was leaked to Politico—would sharpen the confrontation between these two coalitions." And it's already as sharp as a razor's edge.


Woe is Brie

"Marc Andreessen — a pioneer of the web browser, a Facebook board member, and a top venture capitalist — is worth an estimated $1.7 billion. His VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz, controls billions more in capital and is a major force in guiding the next generation of well-heeled start-ups ... He seems to live well: In the last six-plus months, he's spent $255 million on three homes in Malibu. He ticks some of the other popularity metrics: a million Twitter followers, a regular on the conference and speaking circuit, a member of the Internet Hall of Fame. He's donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats and Republicans, and he has the ear of fellow billionaires including Elon Musk. Andreessen is a big deal — a tech, business, and political power player — in whatever sense that still matters. For Andreessen, it doesn't seem to matter all that much. This putative titan of industry has spent the past week tweeting about how he and some of his fellow billionaires are less powerful than one might think. In fact, they might not even count as 'elites,' that most hallowed signifier of political and economic influence." Jacob Silverman nails it in NYMag: Pity the Billionaire. I wrote about this really weird trend when Elon Musk first made his move for Twitter. Musk has 81 million followers on Twitter. Almost every word he says makes headlines. He is the richest person in the world and among the most famous, too. To quote the great philosopher Nigel Tufnel, if the loudest, free-est speech ever measured goes to ten, then Elon's goes to eleven. His speech goes to eleven. His fame goes to eleven. And his wealth goes to infinity and beyond. And yet, he feels like he's somehow being shortchanged by the current ecosystem. I see this trend playing out with other wildly successful businesspeople as well. This era brings us a staggering version of narcissistic victimhood. People who couldn't be benefiting more from the current state of things are intent on convincing themselves that they are actually the victim of the current state of things.


Extra, Extra

You're Invited to a Key Party: "A passwordless login process will let users choose their phones as the main authentication device for apps, websites, and other digital services ... made possible through the use of a unique cryptographic token called a passkey that is shared between the phone and the website." All the tech giants want to roll out FIDO passkey technology in the coming year.

+ Major General News: "The Biden administration had sought to keep much intelligence secret to avoid provoking Vladimir Putin into a wider war. That cautious calculation appears to have changed in recent weeks, as countries have voiced overt support for Ukraine and supplied far more lethal equipment, including much-needed artillery and ammunition." US intelligence helping Ukraine kill Russian generals, report says. Whether it's US intel or Ukrainian know-how or some combination of the two, there are a lot of Russian generals being killed.

+ The Toll: "The Covid pandemic has caused the deaths of nearly 15 million people around the world, the World Health Organization estimates. That is 13% more deaths than normally expected over two years. The WHO believes many countries undercounted the numbers who died from Covid - only 5.4 million were reported. In India, there were 4.7 million Covid deaths, it says - 10 times the official figures - and almost a third of Covid deaths globally." (This report has been in the works for a while. India was working to delay it.)

+ Beyond Terrible: This is story about the caste system, misogyny, and a rape culture. And it's terrible. "A 13-year-old girl who was allegedly gang-raped by four men in India, was allegedly raped again by a police officer after she tried to seek his help in reporting the initial attack."

+ Plastic Figure: "A new report shows that U.S. plastic recycling rates have declined from about 8.7% to between 5% and 6%, revealing the challenges and shortcomings of the country's waste management infrastructure and policies." Plastics Recycling 'Does Not Work.'

+ Panic A Tax: Over 60 million Americans have taxes so simple the IRS could do them automatically. (But that would be a bummer for corporations that live off of doing tax returns, so never mind.)

+ Liver Let Die: "The Liver King does own shirts, first of all. Several, he claims. I haven't personally seen them, because when he greeted me in the cavernous entryway of his Texas mansion, he wasn't wearing one. Nor did I see any in his closet later, which—though it contains approximately 900 identical pairs of athletic shorts and enough guns and ammunition to arm the military of a smaller nation—did not seem to contain even a single t-shirt. Nonetheless, he assured me that there are a few in there, somewhere ... A shirt would only muffle the Liver King's message: that the modern world has made men unconscionably soft, and that the only way to fight back is by living more like our earliest, most-jacked ancestors." GQ: In the Court of the Liver King. (This dude looks like he works out.)


Bottom of the News

"Clearly, this man was crying out for help and in a desperate state of "Someone notice my pain!" threw this life advice on the board. Or maybe he peeked into a crystal ball earlier that day and knew the Rockies were about to get demolished 10-2 by the lowly Nationals." The Rockies' scoreboard operator is going through some stuff.

+ "Asked about the pooping allegation, she responded: 'No, never,' then added, 'maybe I am getting old.'"

+ And we end where we began. ‘A five-day wait for $5,000': the man who queues for the uber-rich. "It's a strange career, but one which has given Samuel a front row seat at some of the biggest cultural events of the last decade – and a job which perhaps sums up the state of capitalism, and inequality, in 2022."