Monday, September 12th, 2022


Talmud Ring

Karl Marx once described religion as the opiate of the masses. Maybe that's even more true when the adage is applied to the current opiate crisis in America. A little bit of religion can be helpful, providing tradition, community, social structure, an occasional day off from work, and, quite literally, relief from pain during our most challenging moments. But too much religion can lead to a dangerous overdose. America's streets are sadly littered with opiate overdoses. America's institutions, from the Supreme Court to local book-banning school boards, are suffering from a religion overdose. I don't want to talk trash about your religion. So I'll talk trash about mine. The NYT's Eliza Shapiro and Brian M. Rosenthal spent more than a year investigating the performance of schools in a couple of New York's Hasidic neighborhoods. These are, of course, religious schools. But they're funded by the government to the tune of about $1 billion over the past four years. What are American tax payers getting for their money? Don't ask the students in these schools. Math is not one of their specialties. In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush With Public Money (Gift Article): "The Hasidic Jewish community has long operated one of New York's largest private schools on its own terms, resisting any outside scrutiny of how its students are faring. But in 2019, the school, the Central United Talmudical Academy, agreed to give state standardized tests in reading and math to more than 1,000 students. Every one of them failed. Students at nearly a dozen other schools run by the Hasidic community recorded similarly dismal outcomes that year, a pattern that under ordinary circumstances would signal an education system in crisis. But where other schools might be struggling because of underfunding or mismanagement, these schools are different. They are failing by design. The leaders of New York's Hasidic community have built scores of private schools to educate children in Jewish law, prayer and tradition — and to wall them off from the secular world. Offering little English and math, and virtually no science or history, they drill students relentlessly, sometimes brutally, during hours of religious lessons conducted in Yiddish." This is cultural child abuse and we are funding it. With the line between Church (and Temple) and State being gradually obliterated, these stories will only become more common. It reminds me of an old Yiddish proverb. "A man may learn for seventy years and at the end die a fool."


Drop and Give Me Plenty

"'They just dropped rifles on the ground,' Olena Matvienko said Sunday as she stood, still disoriented, in a village littered with ammo crates and torched vehicles, including a Russian tank loaded on a flatbed. The first investigators from Kharkiv had just pulled in to collect the bodies of civilians shot by Russians, some that have been lying exposed for months. 'I can't believe that we went through something like this in the 21st century,' Matvienko said, tears welling." Amid Ukraine's startling gains, liberated villages describe Russian troops dropping rifles and fleeing. (And they're leaving a lot behind.)

+ "Many things about this advance are unexpected, especially the location: For many weeks, the Ukrainians loudly telegraphed their intention to launch a major offensive farther south. The biggest shock is not Ukraine's tactics but Russia's response. 'What really surprises us,' Lieutenant General Yevhen Moisiuk, the deputy commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, told me in Kyiv yesterday morning, 'is that the Russian troops are not fighting back.'" The Atlantic's Anne Applebaum on how the liberation of Russian-occupied territory might bring down Vladimir Putin. It's Time to Prepare for a Ukrainian Victory. (Then it's also time to prepare for desperate acts of wanton violence by a cornered monster.)


LLC Shells

Johnson & Johnson has faced endless lawsuits related to the baby powder product many say caused their cancer. So they took all those liabilities, wrapped them up in an LLC, and then declared the side company bankrupt. "The bankruptcy route taken by Johnson & Johnson, formally called a divisional merger, is better known as the Texas two-step." It could work. And if it does, it will become the norm. Casey Cep in The New Yorker: Johnson & Johnson and a New War on Consumer Protection.


Net Results

"A comprehensive new analysis shows that child poverty has fallen 59 percent since 1993, with need receding on nearly every front. Child poverty has fallen in every state, and it has fallen by about the same degree among children who are white, Black, Hispanic and Asian, living with one parent or two, and in native or immigrant households. Deep poverty, a form of especially severe deprivation, has fallen nearly as much." Here's some good news. The safety net works. NYT (Gift Article): Expanded Safety Net Drives Sharp Drop in Child Poverty.


Extra, Extra

Let's Game it Out: "For an increasing number of Americans, addiction treatment involves not only hard work, but also earning rewards — sometimes totaling $500 — for negative drug tests or showing up for counseling or group meetings. There's brain science behind the method, which is known as contingency management. And barriers to wider adoption of reward programs, such as government concerns about fraud, are starting to crumble." Candy, cash, gifts: How rewards help recovery from addiction. Gamification works.

+ Tinder Box: "Monica White had gone through a painful divorce, but at 53 she was ready to begin dating again in the fall of 2020. She created profiles on dating sites and soon got a message from a potential suitor - a man authorities would allege was a serial killer a year later."

+ Calling For Back Up: "This exosuit is about as far away from Iron Man as you can get." The Army set out to build Iron Man suits. Instead, they're rolling out something that could be more widely appreciated. A new suit to solve soldier back pain.

+ Tennis Anyone (Else)? Nadal slow plays. Djokovic is unlikeable. Federer was emotion free. The greatest trio in tennis history may have also made this the most boring era - in part because of their dominance. Over the past two weeks, we had our first "major" glimpse of a new era in men's tennis and it sure was fun—especially the 19 year-old US Open winner and new number one player in the world. Carlos Alcaraz, 19, wins US Open to become youngest world No. 1 in men's tennis history. Here's a look at the kid's top 10 points from the 2022 US Open.

+ Frost Bitten: The Nebraska Cornhuskers wanted football coach Scott Frost out so fast they spent an extra $7.5 million instead of waiting a few weeks.


Bottom of the News

Last week, I explained that the endless coverage of the royals shows that while the British used to colonize land, they now they colonize our attention. But even amid the the breathless coverage, I was surprised that WaPo chose to take over the top of the homepage with a breaking news alert that the Queen's corgis will live with Prince Andrew. (Also, what did the dogs do to deserve that fate?)

+ "Over the last few decades, nearly every kind of fast food chain — local, regional and national — has set up in Ming's epicenter. I've driven up and down that miracle mile of mass-marketed goodies dozens of times, watching lines of cars form in drive-thru lanes that appeared unique. Even so, I had a tough time identifying what was really happening." The Central California town where McDonald's, Taco Bell and Carl's Jr. test market their newest creations.

+ Shoji Morimoto has what some would see as a dream job: he gets paid to do pretty much nothing.