Wednesday, December 21st, 2022


Democracy Comes to DC

On one hand, it will mark a monumental moment when Volodymyr Zelensky, on his first wartime overseas trip, meets with President Biden and addresses Congress. Zelensky is the face and heart of the global fight against authoritarianism; an unlikely hero who answered history's call to hold the line against a monstrous, expansionist, despot. On the other hand, Zelensky is making this trip now because of the upcoming power shift in the House, which will empower many of the US officials who range from being not quite sure fighting for democracy is worth the cost to being fully in bed with the enemy. Marjorie Taylor Greene called Zelensky the "shadow president" and argued we should put America first. Crime family member Don Jr explained that "Zelensky is basically an ungrateful international welfare queen."

Yes, I've space-lasered in on some extreme examples of the imbecilic anti-democracy, historically stupid comments you'll find on the subject, but they represent the opinions significant portion of the ill-informed public, including many public officials. And yes, one doesn't have to dig particularly deep into America's past to find plenty of examples of politicians who have celebrated their spot on the wrong side of history. But that it's nothing new doesn't make it any less shameful.

I admit my personal bias on this issue: Smart, funny, brave, heroic, pro-democracy Jews are my jam. Most Americans feel the same and many of those in Congress today know it's an honor to be addressed by Zelensky and to support the Ukrainan fight. But as Tom Nichols writes in The Atlantic: "The war in Ukraine is not over. When the Ukrainian president speaks on Wednesday, he will be a symbol not only of one nation's struggle against the Kremlin, but of the global fight for democracy. Unfortunately, it is a fight with multiple fronts—and that includes Capitol Hill." Zelensky Knows the Clock Is Ticking. (When it comes to the fight for liberal democracy, it always is.)

+ Here's the latest on the visit from CNN. Zelensky has already secured $1.85 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, which includes the Patriot missile defense systems. How Much Aid Has the U.S. Sent Ukraine? (About as much as Elon Musk spent on Twitter. Seems like America is getting a pretty good deal.)


Handmaid’s Tailspin

"People from Texas who have the financial means have flown to states like New York or California, where abortion remains legal, to receive the procedure. Others, with fewer resources, have driven to New Mexico, Kansas, or Colorado, nearby states where abortion is also legal. But, for undocumented women, who do not have the resources to travel long distances, the fear of being criminalized, and potentially deported, has become far greater—and so has the need to use underground abortion networks, where the risk of exposure is less." Stephania Taladrid in The New Yorker with a story most didn't expect to be reading in 2022. The Secret Abortions of Texas.


Chat Roulette

"It can serve up information in clear, simple sentences, rather than just a list of internet links. It can explain concepts in ways people can easily understand. It can even generate ideas from scratch, including business strategies, Christmas gift suggestions, blog topics and vacation plans." Nothing lasts forever. Will tools like ChatGPT be the tipping point in internet search? NYT (Gift Article): A New Chat Bot Is a ‘Code Red' for Google's Search Business. (It's worth noting that Google has its own chat AI. It's really a question of monetization. Who knows, the AI might be better at selling than text ads.)


Rockettes Kick to the Curb

"Lawyer Kelly Conlon was denied entry to a performance of the 'Christmas Spectacular' show with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in New York City after facial recognition technology spotted her in the lobby." The reason why she was banned is sort of interesting (she works for a law firm on cases opposing Radio City's owners.) But the big story is how remarkably good facial recognition has gotten. Girl Scout mom kicked out of Rockettes show after being detected using facial recognition technology.


Extra, Extra

H&R Blockhead: After five years, Trump's tax returns have finally been released. I'm sure they reflect a business that's totally on the up and up. The IRS didn't audit the returns. So wait, that audit excuse wasn't real!?

+ Rudolph, Looks Like We're Gonna Need a Bigger Bulb: "A major winter storm and cold blast will impact nearly every state and bring what the National Weather Service is calling a 'once in a generation type event' that will cripple travel on some of the busiest travel days of the year."

+ Booked and Bookless: "Louisiana prohibited a 700-page book featuring the art of Leonardo da Vinci because it contained nudity. In Texas, a visual Spanish-English dictionary was banned for the same reason, even though prisoners there are forced to see dozens of nude people daily when they undergo group strip searches." Think regular book bans are nuts? Take a look at the absurdities behind prison book bans (and some surprising ones that are allowed).

+ University Press: "Taliban security forces in the Afghan capital on Wednesday enforced a higher education ban for women by blocking their access to universities, with video obtained by The Associated Press showing women weeping and consoling each other outside one campus in Kabul."

+ Franco Phile: "His death comes two days before the 50th anniversary of the play that provided the jolt that helped transform the Pittsburgh Steelers from also-rans into NFL elite and three days before the team is scheduled to retire his No. 32 during a ceremony at halftime of its game against the Las Vegas Raiders." Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris dies at 72. The timing of a death is never good, but this seem particularly terrible. Sadly, Harris is missing out on what would have been his second immaculate reception, this one from Steeler fans.

+ Party Chopper: "So many jubilant, flag-waving fans swarmed the capital that the players had to abandon the open-air bus transporting them to Buenos Aires and board helicopters for a capital flyover that the government billed as an aerial parade." The celebration in Argentina got a little intense. Oddly, the celebrations in in Bangladesh were also pretty major.


Bottom of the News

It's the holiday season, so let's spread some feel good story cheer. Homeward Bound! Dog, found 1,600 miles away, will be home for Christmas. (If your pet makes it 1,600 miles away, is it time to wonder if maybe he's just not that into you?)

+ Let's look back at the year on YouTube.

+ And you can wow your family and friends by being the person at the holiday dinner table who knows the history of the snow globe.