May 5th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

Fear and Loathing on the F Train. Weekend Whats, Feel Good Friday.

FDR famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Well, fear itself is here. What are we afraid of? Each other. This week, America’s fear and loathing played out on the F Train where a homeless man was killed by another passenger. NYT (Gift Article): A Subway Killing Stuns, and Divides, New Yorkers. “For many New Yorkers, the choking of the 30-year-old homeless man, Jordan Neely, was a heinous act of public violence to be swiftly prosecuted, and represented a failure by the city to care for people with serious mental illness. Many others who lamented the killing nonetheless saw it as a reaction to fears about public safety in New York and the subway system in particular.” How did it come to pass that New Yorkers would be conflicted about the killing of a man when, as the same article explains, “there is no indication that he was violent or that he made any direct threats.” As Elizabeth Bruenig in The Atlantic (Free article) explains, we have become A Country Governed by Fear. Those fears are both politically motivated and, because of rampant gun violence, somewhat understandable. “Many people feel uncomfortable when confronted with someone in an acute crisis. But certain factors can turn an uncomfortable situation into an intolerable one, such as living in a society where anybody could have a gun, where any agitation can boil over into mass murder. An irate neighbor slaying five people with an AR-15-style rifle after a noise complaint in Texas; an unstable Coast Guard veteran killing one and injuring four while attending an appointment with his mother in an Atlanta hospital. The stakes in any given episode of public agitation or distress or even psychosis aren’t typically all that high; the majority of people having crises at any time represent no risk to anyone (save, perhaps, themselves), but the incessant rat-a-tat of bloody headlines makes people feel—viscerally—that the risks they do encounter are unbearably dangerous.”

+ “Homelessness and erratic, nonviolent behavior, in this case, received a death sentence.” The New Yorker: Jordan Neely’s Death and a Critical Moment in the Homelessness Crisis.

+ One of the big problems with addressing homelessness and other urban problems is that they are politicized beyond recognition. San Francisco’s homelessness and economic woes have been turned into national political fodder—evidence of the ill effects of weak progressive policies (never mind that the city had the same progressive policies during a multidecade, world-leading, tech-powered economic boom.) What we’re actually experiencing here is not a rabid rise of violent crimes to be feared but rather a confluence of factors that have led to a moment of deep despair. Nordstrom just announced plans to close a massive downtown store, and its landlord cited “the deteriorating situation in Downtown San Francisco.” Indeed, the pandemic fallout, the work from home trends, the massive tech layoffs, and the rip-roaring economic divide created a deterioration. San Francisco got ghosted. A recent study tracking mobile device usage found that downtown activity in SF is just 32% of what it was before the pandemic. The problems in San Francisco and other urban areas are real and need to be addressed. But they can’t be overcome with violence, fear, and hate. What we need is a little empathy.


Emergency Break

“He went on to state that for more than a year the pandemic has been on a downward trend and ‘this trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19 … Therefore, with great hope, I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency.” WHO ends global health emergency declaration for COVID-19. Imagine if back in January of 2020 we really understood what the just declared emergency would mean for the world. “Nearly seven million deaths from COVID-19 have been reported to WHO, Tedros said. More than 1 million of the deaths were in the United States alone. But Tedros emphasized that ‘we know the [death] total is several times higher, at least 20 million.'”


Penne From Heaven

“There are now some answers regarding a fascinating macaroni mystery in a New Jersey town that has captivated the internet. It all started when hundreds of pounds of pasta was found by a city council candidate along the banks of the Iresick Brook in a wooded part of Old Bridge. Keith Rost, who lives nearby, said there was likely about 200 pounds of alphabet noodles and spaghetti just left there, with no explanation given.” Neighbors Solve Mysterious NJ Pasta Dump Case. Durum Da Dum Dum. (I was gonna do a whole pun-filled thing about the crimes of Rigatoni Soprano, but I just didn’t feel like spending all morning noodling on it.)


Weekend Whats

What to Watch: Bob Odenkirk plays Professor Hank Devereaux, Jr., the unlikely chairman of an English department at a badly underfunded college who becomes increasingly unhinged navigating the dysfunctional chaos of personal and academic life. It’s a really smart and fun show. Check out Lucky Hank.

+ What to Book: Kevin Kelly’s timeless advice covers an astonishing range, from right living to setting ambitious goals, optimizing generosity, and cultivating compassion. He has wisdom for career, relationships, parenting, and finances, and gives guidance for practical matters ranging from travel to troubleshooting. From the excellent Kevin Kelly: Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier.


Extra, Extra

Home Run: “It turns out that, given a place to live, Finland’s homeless were better able to deal with addictions and other problems, not to mention handling job applications. So, more than a decade after the launch of the “Housing First” policy, 80 per cent of Finland’s homeless are doing well, still living in the housing they’d been provided with — but now paying the rent on their own.” How Finland managed to virtually end homelessness.

+ Death Row: “After 26 years behind bars, nine execution dates, three last meals and two independent investigations that raised serious doubts about his conviction, Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip is facing what could be the final days of his life.” (Even though both prosecutors and defense agree he wasn’t given a fair trial.)

+ Chem Tales: “Sacrifice zones — that’s what we call them … These areas here are paying the price for the rest of the nation, really.” NYT (Gift Article): Living and Breathing on the Front Line of a Toxic Chemical Zone.

+ They The People: “About 74 percent of the electorate was White, compared with 59 percent of the population. About 41 percent of the electorate was 60 or older, compared with 30 percent of the adult population.” This from WaPo explains a lot: New data shows how little the electorate looks like the population.

+ Bing O: “Where once you went to a search engine to find another website to go to, you will now go to a search engine and stay on that search engine.” The Atlantic (Free Article): Bing is a Trap.

+ Don’t Ignore the Buzz: “Run in a straight line, find an enclosed space and don’t jump into water. Here’s how to stay safe when a swarm of bees attacks.” WaPo: What to do if you get attacked by bees? First, run away.

+ No Additional Kostner: At long last, Americans across the political spectrum are all angry about the same thing. “Yellowstone is officially coming to an end, with the final episodes of the megahit Paramount Network series’ fifth season set to launch in November.”


Feel Good Friday

Birds of a feather: How a wayward duck changed a Kansas City homeless man’s life.

+ The FDA approves a breakthrough vaccine 50 years in the making. And more RSV vaccines are on the way.

+ New Alzheimer’s drug slows disease by a third.

+ The best picket signs of the Hollywood writers’ strike.

+ More from the great Busload of Books Tour we’ve been following all year. People: How One Family Is Sharing a Love of Reading with Kids Around the U.S. — Via School Bus!

+ 43-year-old used her life savings to open a bar that only plays women’s sports—it brought in almost $1 million in 8 months.

+ Berkeley diner provides free meals to anyone who’s hungry, no questions asked.

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