Tuesday, March 19th, 2024


A Method to the Madness

This season, my son coached an eighth grade basketball team. So I went to watch the team play. This is in character for me. Watching sports is one of my escapes, and let's be honest, there's a lot to want to escape from these days. I don't miss my son's HS Volleyball games or my daughter's tennis and lacrosse matches. I am an obsessive San Francisco Giants fan; I even listen to their Spring Training games on the MLB app. To you, I'm a news junky. But the second I press publish on this edition, I'm going back to obsessing about the story I really care about: The Giants wrongly parting ways with their stadium PA announcer. I watch most Warriors games. I never miss a 49ers game (though I wish I had missed the last one this year). I watch non-major tennis tournaments. I habitually read The Athletic, listen to my local sports talk radio, and almost never miss an episode of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. But I must admit, aside from an occasional TV check-in with Cal Men's basketball and following Caitlyn Clark's amazing Iowa scoring feats, I really haven't watched a single NCAA college basketball game this season. In other words, I might be perfectly positioned to succeed in this season's March Madness bracket challenge. After all, there are a lot of people who watch a lot of games and spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff, and none of them has ever gotten a bracket just right. "No one has ever picked a verified perfect NCAA men's bracket, and it's probably not going to happen in our lifetime, or the lifetime of our kids, or their kids, or their kids. The possibility of getting every game right is often reported as 1 in 9.2 quintillion. But that figure is slightly hyperbolic ... The actual odds of a knowledgeable person picking a perfect men's bracket are closer to 1 in 120 billion." Has anyone come close? Yes. But how he did it is a mystery. And the fact that he posted a bracket at all is something he barely remembers. The key, it seems, is to know very little, make a series of haphazard guesses, and then forget anything happened. It's not unlike how I've managed my stock portfolio picks and my social media posts over the years. Ryan Hockensmith in ESPN: How one fan came close to a perfect March Madness bracket. "As he got in the car on Saturday morning, still a little under the weather, he had no idea the reality of his situation: He was well on his way to having built the best NCAA men's bracket ever assembled -- one that he didn't even remember filling out."


The New World Border

"What has gone so haywire in the U.S.-Netanyahu relationship that it would drive someone as sincerely devoted to Israel's well-being as Chuck Schumer to call on Israelis to replace Netanyahu — and have his speech, which was smart and sensitive, praised by President Biden himself as a 'good speech' outlining concerns shared by 'many Americans'? Tom Friedman in the NYT (Gift Article): What Schumer and Biden Got Right About Netanyahu. Friedman makes some good points and offers a key reminder: "The war in Gaza was forced on Israel by a vicious attack by Hamas on Israeli border communities, populated by the most dovish Israelis in the country's political spectrum. If you are calling for a 'cease-fire now' in Gaza and not a 'cease-fire and hostage release now,' it's making the problem worse." But I want to add a broader point. The Schumer/Bibi split is indicative of a much wider global trend where alliances are driven more by politics, worldviews, and ethics than by borders. It's too simplistic to look at the Middle East crisis as one between Israelis and Palestinians. The battle right now is also one between Jews and Palestinians who want peace and those who want chaos and violence. Look at America's view of NATO and Putin. We used to be unified on these issues. Now a large portion of our Congress has been hijacked by Putinism and is witholding aid to Ukraine. It's ironic that American politics is laser-focused on the border issue when we're living in an era when borders matter less than alliances. And because this is our new reality, sometimes the greatest threat to a nation comes from within. Such is the case in America.


Oh Say Can You Autocracy…

Indeed, a version of America's internal battle is playing out across the world. And I'm sad to report, it's not going well for the good guys. WaPo (Gift Article): Russia's farce election sums up a grim moment in global democracy. "Some 42 countries are 'autocratizing,' according to V-Dem, and 71 percent of the world's population now lives in autocracies — up from 48 percent just a decade ago."


Toto, We’re In Kansas

"While many have regretted buying their Pelotons or even their homes, those who installed the bathroom fixture at the height of the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 are far from remorseful. Instead, they've become true believers, evangelizing to family and friends and trying to help the United States catch up with the rest of the world on bidet use." WaPo (Gift Article): Four years after the toilet paper shortage of 2020, bidet converts say they're never going back. And people aren't just being anal about their own cleanliness. "Giving bidets as gifts has become a surprisingly common practice, according to Bill Strang, president of operations and e-commerce at Toto, a Japan-based manufacturer of luxury toilets and bidets."


Extra, Extra

Tex and Balances: "The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for Texas to immediately begin enforcing a controversial immigration law that allows state officials to arrest and detain people they suspect of entering the country illegally ... The decision hands a significant – yet temporary – win to Texas, which has been in an ongoing legal battle with the Biden administration over immigration policy." Supreme Court allows Texas to begin enforcing controversial immigration law. Sotomayor: "The court gives a green light to a law that will upend the longstanding federal-state balance of power and sow chaos." (Pretty much.)

+ As I Live and Breathe: The world's 100 worst polluted cities are in Asia. And 83 of them are in India and "all exceeded the World Health Organization's air quality guidelines by more than 10 times."

+ Group Work: "A dozen detectives from the California Highway Patrol gathered in a Los Angeles-area parking lot the other morning for an operational briefing. In about twenty minutes, they would drive to a nearby Home Depot, where customers were known to regularly wheel carts of merchandise out the door without paying, and to stick power tools down their pants." In addition to taking what I consider to be a pretty intense risk (power tools, genitals), these thieves aren't you're everyday shoplifters. The New Yorker: The Crime Rings Stealing Everything from Purses to Power Tools.

+ Around the Ban: "To be precise, researchers estimate there were 1,026,700 abortions in 2023. 'That's the highest number in over a decade, [and] the first time there have been over a million abortions provided in the U.S. formal health care system since 2012.'" Despite bans in some states, more than a million abortions were provided in 2023.

+ 23 and Xi: "Article 23 targets new offenses like external interference and insurrection, and penalties include life sentences. It was fast-tracked through its final stage by the city's pro-Beijing parliament in less than two weeks." Hong Kong passes tough security law fought by protesters for years. Related: If you haven't seen the excellent Hong Kong based series Expats, do so at once.

+ Chicken Comes Home to Roost: "In one corner is the family of Pakistani chef Kundan Lal Gujral, who is said to have taken leftover tandoori chicken and mixed it in a gravy he formed with other unused ingredients. Following the partition in 1947, Gujral moved over to Delhi, India, where he set up the restaurant Moti Mahal, which became internationally famous for this very dish. On the other side are the family members of Kundan Lal Jaggi, a chef at Moti Mahal. They claim he is the true inventor of butter chicken. Whoever wins in India, within the US — where giving credit where credit is due is hard to come by and playing fast and loose with authentic cuisine is acceptable — it won't matter much. What's top of mind here is the dish's popularity and how it has helped bridge cultural gaps." Raj Tawney in Bloomberg (Gift Article): America's Place in India's Butter Chicken Fight.

+ Til the Sitter End: "The field is hard to track precisely, because it's so informal by definition, but sources told me that many parents today are looking for professionalized child care, or at least older and more experienced caregivers. Teens, meanwhile, are given few opportunities for responsibility—especially with the kind of training wheels that babysitting used to entail." Don't Tell America the Babysitter's Dead.


Bottom of the News

"Hun Manet, who last year took over the wheel of government from his father, Hun Sen -- who led Cambodia for 38 years -- called on the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation and police across the country to immediately take action against any vehicle whose normal horn has been replaced by a tune-playing one by ripping it out and restoring the standard honking type." Cambodia's prime minister sounds sour note on trucks' musical horns.

+ Jimmy Kimmel sent a crew to a MAGA rally to see if any of them could answer questions on a citizenship test.