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kmcowan 19 May, 2018 0

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  • What I Learned About Love When I Stopped Being Honest
    When I was a child, my dad invented a game that I loved. Wherever we went, he’d predict what strangers were about to say or do. We’d walk into a store and he’d point at the salesman and say something like, “Watch this. When I tell him how much I’m willing to spend, he’ll immediately show me something more expensive.” The salesman did exactly as Dad had prophesized. When Dad took me to my first concert, he told me the musician would ask the audience how they were feeling tonight and, when everyone cheered wildly, would respond, “I can’t hear you!” It wasn’t long before the musician spoke those exact words.It felt like magic, like Dad was telling the future or reading minds, so I asked how he did it. Most people follow a script, he said. I asked him why and I remember him replying, “Because they’re afraid that if they say what they really feel, people won’t like them. And they’d rather be liked than be honest.” I knew then that I wanted to be honest, regardless of the consequences. I stuck to that for the next 25 years. And there were consequences.In my family, honesty wasn’t just the best policy—it was the only policy. This was never explicitly stated; there was no family contract or manifesto, and my parents never came out and said, “We don’t lie under any circumstances.” But I still learned the lesson that they were very strict in how they defined a lie—and their definition included much of what was considered polite or normal. They led by example, by just being themselves. I had no sense that a question could be considered inappropriate or that anyone would refuse to answer. Even when I was 4 and 5, Dad would respond to my curiosity with long-winded history and philosophy, explaining things such as the scientific method or the subconscious mind, or telling details from his own life and feelings that many would have kept hidden.[Read: The worst part of keeping a secret]Dad taught me the word hypocrite early on, as part of a conversation on being honest with yourself. I brought up to Mom that I’d noticed my grandmother complaining about others who did the same things she did. I asked Mom if her mother was a hypocrite. “Well,” I remember my mom saying, “she certainly does a lot of hypocritical things.” When my paternal grandmother told Mom not to speak ill of her own mother, Mom replied that lying to me would mean I’d either stop trusting my own observations or stop trusting her, and that she wasn’t satisfied with either of those outcomes.My parents’ unwillingness to hide their feelings was a rejection of their own pasts. Throughout my childhood, they’d tell me stories of their own parents, bosses, teachers, and friends pressuring them to follow the script. I was glad to have been raised by my parents instead of by “most people.”One time that I was particularly grateful was when I got my measles shot. I remember hearing other kids in the waiting area asking their parents, “Will it hurt?” Most parents said it wouldn’t. Some said nothing at all, and just ignored the question. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing: parents lying to their children right in front of me! Dad explained, “Most parents consider lying good parenting.” I asked Mom what the shot would feel like, and she told me that it would hurt a little, but the pain wouldn’t last long. When I received the shot, I smiled to find that she’d told me the truth. It horrified me to imagine the lives of the children who couldn’t trust their parents.My parents were so enamored with my moments of honesty and proud of their truthful parenting that they’d tell stories like this to anyone who would listen and even retell them to me as family folklore, thrilling bedtime stories in which my parents and I were the heroes. My early childhood memories of exactly how these things happened are surely influenced by the retellings.By the time I went to school, I’d heard a lot about how the outside world wasn’t like my family, and I was content to be different. At age 4, I attempted to prove that a mall Santa was a fraud. At 5, I was crying in class daily, all the while insisting that openly crying felt great and that everyone should try it. At 9, I asked my rabbi what the Torah said about my fetishistic sexual fantasies. At 13, I called out the bragging boys at camp for lying about their sexual experience. I’d laugh about the bizarre and absurd lies I witnessed, mentally cataloging lists of common manipulations and evasions. Eventually, most things I heard people say stood out in red.[Read: The new white lies of lockdown]Everyone else was well acquainted with the countless good reasons to hold their tongues, but my parents and I couldn’t fathom them. Why wouldn’t you want to hear what others thought? Why wouldn’t you tell them what you thought? For us, it seemed as if people didn’t want to really know one another. Many years later, a co-worker would tell me she wished for a day that no one else would remember, a day to tell everyone what she really thought. For my family, every day was that free. Telling the truth felt like singing, but when I started dealing with the world outside, I found that it also made people want to strangle me.When I say that I spent decades being off-puttingly truthful, many assume that I used honesty as an excuse to insult people; I’m aware that there are many such people, going around insisting that they’re “just being honest” when they’re actually being cruel. My honesty did occasionally offend people, such as if I admitted that I’d forgotten someone’s name or if I didn’t feign interest when I was bored. But insulting people wasn’t nearly as much of a problem as making them uncomfortable. Even close friends would squirm when I’d gush about how much I liked them or when I’d tell a personal story that moved me to tears. I got the impression that, after having dealt with me, most would have preferred to have been insulted.My insistence on honesty escalated when I was 17 and I first attended “therapy camp” with my family, where we camped out with a few hundred others in tents in the woods and participated in extreme, public therapy sessions. I spent one week each summer watching hundreds of adults tell their most vulnerable stories, sobbing in front of the audience. With my newfound sense of the feelings boiling unexpressed beneath all the facades, I’d rant to anyone who would listen about how ridiculous it was that everyone hid so much. I insisted that if we could all read one another’s minds and see the truth of others’ pain, we’d relate, and all love one another. I couldn’t understand why others valued what they called “privacy.”When I moved to New York at 22, it became clear that an honest man would have a hard time getting a job. The nicer interviewers would get concerned and offer sincere advice, telling me that when asked about my biggest flaw, I wasn’t supposed to actually list my flaws. When I told them I hoped some employers would appreciate my honesty, most laughed. In some cases, I ended interviews early on the grounds that the interviewer and I clearly weren’t compatible. But I got lucky and was hired by an eccentric who was charmed by my earnestness. After two months as his assistant, he brought up areas where I needed to improve, and I candidly told him that I didn’t think I could do better, that I wasn’t the best person he could get for this job. I pretty much persuaded him to fire me.Up to this point, my truthfulness had also prevented any romantic possibilities; it seemed unlikely that anyone would want a truly honest boyfriend. But then I fell in love with someone who appreciated my openness and joined me in it. We talked constantly, sharing our most bizarre feelings, observations, and opinions; telling stories from our pasts; feeling known and understood. But talking through everything also meant obsessing over what otherwise would have been fleeting emotions. Expressing feelings regardless of how they might affect the other person often felt self-centered and uncaring. I’d gotten what I’d always wanted and found that I couldn’t take it. After six years together, we broke up, and in my heart-wrecked state, I decided that my truth-telling had caused enough destruction, that it was no longer worth it. There must be things others knew that I didn’t, I thought, reasons why dishonesty made others genuinely happy. So, the following New Year’s, at the age of 29, I resolved to be “less honest.”There were no support groups for people who wanted to be less honest. Therapists advised people to speak their truth, not to shut up for once. Whatever advice everybody else needed, I needed the opposite. So I came up with my own system, made myself lists of subjects that I’d no longer discuss and various rules for myself, such as: Hide your feelings and observations. Instead of searching for people who will appreciate who you really are, try to be what the person in front of you wants. Learn to make small talk. Do NOT be yourself. This felt both stupid and impossible. My brain had been built to be honest. I couldn’t even answer “How are you?” with “Fine” without feeling ill.I started with small talk. I asked the same safe questions the people around me asked and pretended to be satisfied with vague or avoidant answers. I’d stuff my hands in my pockets so no one would see the involuntary clenching and shaking when I held back the truth. But I couldn’t ignore how much smoother every interaction went, how much happier everyone else seemed. I got an apartment after I falsely claimed that I had a high-paying job. I got piano-playing gigs by refraining from mentioning that I wasn’t a very good piano player. I found that I could have romances if I didn’t mention my qualities that others might not like.But I had the feeling, for the first time, that those who liked me didn’t really know me. And I was the only one who felt that there was anything wrong. I tried to remind myself that this people-pleasing was normal, that it was what everyone wanted from me. I tried to find pleasure in being liked, having jobs and friendships and romances. But all along, my honest brain kept telling me that I had become a con artist and that those who liked me really only liked the person I’d tricked them into believing I was.After years of feeling torn between my old ways and my new ones, I got over my discomfort at participating in the dishonest world and started to see why people spared one another the truth. As I experimented with small talk, I noticed how others used honesty to establish intimacy. I’d always seen “hiding feelings” as cowardly, but for other people, the selectiveness of their honesty was what gave it meaning. They’d choose who was special enough to hear their secrets. My indiscriminate, automatic honesty had meant that I’d tell a personal story the same way to a stranger as I would to my closest friend; that cheapened anything I shared. Anyone who loved me wanted to see a side that I didn’t show others, but I hadn’t saved one for them. Immediate honesty was impatient; if I wanted people to be honest with me, I had to earn it.It’s now been 11 years since I started letting myself lie. I’m still probably more honest than most; I’m sure some people think I’m still too honest. But shutting up for a while has certainly softened me. These days, I try to save my honesty for those who want it. And when someone won’t be honest with me, I can understand why. I still hope people will give me the unvarnished truth. But sometimes we have to start with the script to build enough trust to throw it away.
  • The Bird That Builds Nests Right By Its Worst Enemy
    To watch a bald eagle raid a nesting colony of great blue herons is a gut-churning experience. “The herons have a progression of alarms,” explains Ross Vennesland, a researcher with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “They start with a chortle, and quickly move to really hideous screaming as the eagle swoops in and lands on the nest.” The adult herons are usually forced to flee, while the eagle cracks open an egg or flies away with a chick. “It’s a pretty horrible scene to witness,” he says.You’d think the herons would want to build their nests as far away from bald eagles as possible. But you’d be dead wrong. Research on the southwest coast of British Columbia shows that herons are deliberately seeking out nesting pairs of eagles—and building right next to them.“You can understand the predator wanting to be near the prey, but not really the other way around,” Vennesland says. “We were amazed. We call it the mafia-protection racket.”A heron’s decision to build right next door to such a dangerous predator is a delicate trade-off. Bald eagles are territorial and will chase off other eagles. A heron colony with a neighboring eagle pair may lose some young to them, but the carnage would be greater without their protection.This tactic may be helping great blue herons cope with the renewed threat from bald eagles. In British Columbia, coastal herons are a unique subspecies numbering an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 individuals; they’re classified as being of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.Bald eagles, meanwhile, have been rebounding following a brush with extinction in the 1960s; their comeback is partly due to bans of the toxic DDT in both the U.S. and Canada and restrictions on hunting. But herons have paid the price for this renewal, in some cases abandoning nesting sites in the face of widespread predation.“The eagles weren’t around for decades, and the herons pretty much had a free rein,” says ornithologist Rob Butler, author of The Great Blue Heron. “Then the eagle numbers started going up, and we’d see them going into the colonies. That’s when we got really concerned.”The situation raised fears that the herons might themselves become a threatened species. But continued research suggests that the eagle population leveled off around 2005, and that heron survival has improved over the past decade. Some of that gain may be due to the herons’ unexpected nesting strategy.The tactic, called the predator-protection hypothesis, is seen in other species. Arctic geese, for example, are known to nest close to raptors such as snowy owls and peregrine falcons, and in Italy, wood pigeons nest alongside hobby falcons. “It’s probably some sort of ancient behavior,” Vennesland says of the herons. “Or it could just be that they figured out quickly their best bet was nesting near eagles.”However the behavior came about, it seems to be working.A 2009 master’s thesis by Iain Matthew Jones at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia looked at 1,165 heron nests within. 15 colonies. He found that 70 percent of those nests were found in the three largest colonies, all of which had long-term eagle nests no more than around 650 feet away.One heron colony crossed an international border to seek out an active eagle nest, relocating from Point Roberts, Washington, to nearby Tsawwassen, British Columbia.Vennesland says that, later on, those same eagles uprooted—and the herons followed. “They surrounded the eagle nest to the point there was a heron nest on the same tree right under the eagle nest. Maybe the eagles didn’t like that very much, so they moved just a couple hundred meters down the slope—and the whole heron colony moved with them.”The Tsawwassen colony remains British Columbia’s largest, with more than 400 nests. But why have the resident eagles not wiped out the entire heron colony? To answer that, one must consider what else is nearby. The colony’s located in a prime foraging area next to the Fraser River delta, where the eagles’ favored prey—fish—does not come with agitated parents. Waterfowl in winter also provide the eagles a cleansing of the palate.Research at a second site—the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve in the upper Fraser Valley—supports the Tsawwassen findings. Vennesland says a bald eagle nest there fell from its tree in 2019, and when its owners rebuilt in 2020, sure enough, the herons followed. Earlier research at the same site showed that for herons, average reproductive success was 1.62 fledglings per active nest when an eagle pair was present, and 1.11 after winds took out the eagles’ nest.Vennesland is hopeful for the great blue herons: “The optimistic voice thinks that maybe some sort of equilibrium is finally being reached between these long-dueling species.”This post appears courtesy of Hakai Magazine.
  • I Stare at a Cormorant
    with its waterlogged wings spread open, drying off on a rock in the middle of a man-made lake after diving for food and it makes me think about wonder and it makes me want to pry and stretch my shy arms open to the subtle summer wind slicing through the park, sliding over my skin like a stream of people blowing candles out over my feathery body and it makes me think about my church when I was a kid, and how I lifted my hands to Jesus, hoping for surrender, but often felt nothing, except for the rush of fervent people wanting to be delivered from their aching, present pain, and how that ache changed the smell in the room to money and how I pinched my face and especially my eyes tighter, tighter and reached my hands higher—how I, like the cormorant, stood in the middle of the sanctuary so exposed and open and wanted and wanted so much to grasp the electric weather rushing through the drama of it all like a shout in the believer’s scratchy throat.I don’t go to church anymore, but today I woke up early and meditated. I closed my eyes and focused on a fake seed in my hand and put my hands over my heart to shove the intention inside my chest to blossom—I’m still stumbling through this life hoping for anyone or something to save me. I’m still thinking about the cormorant who disappeared when I was writing this poem. I was just looking down and finishing a line and then I looked back up—gone.
  • Listen: Who Gets the Next Shot?
    Ruth Faden, an expert in biomedical ethics with Johns Hopkins University, has helped vaccine drives answer some tough questions: Who should be ahead of whom? Do we prioritize speed or equity? And once people are inoculated, should they get “vaccine passports” allowing freer movement?She joins James Hamblin and guest host Maeve Higgins on the podcast Social Distance to assess how we’ve done so far—and what we could expect next.Listen to their conversation here:Subscribe to Social Distance on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or another podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they’re published.What follows is a transcript of the episode, edited and condensed for clarity:Maeve Higgins: How do you think vaccinations are going so far?Ruth Faden: Globally, or within particular countries?James Hamblin: Let’s start with the U.S.Faden: Because, globally, it’s a disaster. Within the United States, it’s not so great, but it’s way better than it is globally. Right now, we are really in a bad situation. We’ve hit the horrible 400,000 death mark. And while there is some indication that the death rate and the hospitalization rate may be flattening, it’s still not clear. And if it does plateau, it’s going to plateau at a really bad place, which is the place we’re in now.We only have about 12.5 million doses administered to people. That’s not full courses, that’s doses, because we’re still dealing with the two-dose vaccine. And that’s nowhere near the pace we need to be able to get our arms around this terrible loss of life. We need to really pick up the pace in this country.Hamblin: In the months leading up to the actual rollout of the vaccine, there was a lot of discussion of how we created hierarchies and lists of who would get it when. How has that short supply—or less-than-expected supply—changed or put an emphasis on those difficult decisions about who should be vaccinated first?Faden: In the summer and into the fall, an awful lot of effort was put into coming up with prioritization frameworks, with a lot of attention to the ethics justifications for which groups should go where: first phase, second phase … first half of the first phase, second half of the first phase … and so on. And, to some extent, that planning had to occur when it did, in the absence of specifics about either the particular characteristics of the vaccines, like how effective they would be or whether they would work for everybody. We didn’t know when we were doing that planning what the epidemiological context would be, that is: exactly how bad or better the pandemic would be when vaccines started to become available. And we didn’t know the pace of the supply.A lot of that planning was done with reasonable assumptions about those three things, but knowing that the particulars would necessarily have an impact on what could be done. And I’ve been part of those efforts, so I will include myself when I raise this criticism: There was insufficient attention to matching the carefully thought-through prioritization road maps with the realities of mass vaccination programs.Hamblin: How so?Faden: Well, as we are learning in the U.S., it is hard to mount a massive vaccination program in a context of constrained supply with complicated criteria for who should go when. If we look to a country where things have gone well, Israel—which is totally the opposite of the U.S.: tiny population, tiny geography, and a really coordinated health-care system, so, like, nothing like the U.S. They began and continued with a very simple prioritization scheme that was age-descending. That’s a lot easier to get your hands around logistically, or so it’s argued, than the way in which we’ve sort of marched our way through in the United States.Higgins: I wonder if there’s another example. Israel is tricky because they’re not vaccinating Palestinians, so I don’t know about them as holding them up as a great example.Faden: Well, I think maybe you want to distinguish between two different things. They are a great example of an effective public-health program. I’m not saying whether it’s an equitable public-health program. It’s efficient. They’re doing an incredible job of getting a lot of people vaccinated in a short context.Higgins: That’s a good distinction.Faden: That is very different from saying whether the Israeli government has a moral obligation to Palestinians, who are not living in the territory of Israel but over which Israel has control. That is a whole separate conversation. They are linked, but you want to be careful.Generally, there’s the question of what we sometimes call “humanitarian situations of special concern.” There are lots of places in the world where people are living where the countries that have some jurisdiction, military or political, over them, are not viewing them as citizens or residents of the country for purposes of vaccine distribution.That’s a huge, horrible, terrible ethical morass. It’s awful. But what is going on in Israel is an example of what can be done with a really high degree of attention to detail. Within the system in which they’re operating, for people who are legal residents of Israel, whether they’re Arab or Jewish or Christian, the system is quite fair. You just have to show that you are the age at the time that that age cutoff is called up. And they also manage to largely solve the “What do we do with the doses at the end of the day?” problem.Hamblin: We were wondering about that.Higgins: Yeah, there was a situation in Ireland, where I am at the moment, where a doctor gave out 16 extra doses to his family because he was worried they wouldn’t get used. But then members of the public found out and were very upset, understandably. But I can see it from both sides.Faden: So, look, this is a practical problem that needs to be dealt with pragmatically, but also with some attention to concerns of ethics and equity. The worst thing is to throw away a single dose of this precious vaccine. That’s ethically unacceptable. And from a public-health point of view, it’s just dumb. So if you haven’t planned for it and you’re at the end of the day and you’re close to the end of the window where the vaccine must be administered or tossed, I don’t have any trouble with grabbing any arm you can get from anybody who wants to be vaccinated.But stepping back, it’s possible to anticipate that you could be in that circumstance and plan for it. Even if you schedule appointments and have a very efficient system, there are going to be no-shows and there could be extra vaccine, just based on how it’s drawn out of the vial. So whether you use social media to alert people, kind of like vaccine flash mobs: It looks like we’re going to have X doses if you can show up by Y o’clock. There’s a queue.I live in Washington, D.C., and there are a couple of pharmacies that are reputed to let people know that they’re going to stop vaccinating at 8 p.m. and people can start queuing whenever they want in case there’s any vaccine left. It’s first come, first serve. And there have been reports of people lining up at, like, 3 in the afternoon for the possibility of a vaccine-access availability at 8.And a lot of the people who really need the vaccine right now are not positioned to be able to figure out how to check every two seconds on a website or wait forever for a phone call or navigate the system in a language they don’t know. We have a lot of equity challenges buried in the details. And then we have the equity challenges that come from the justified distrust of communities of color and poor people with respect to institutions generally and public-health programs in particular.Hamblin: We had a question from a listener asking about if and how it’s being kept track of who’s been vaccinated and who has not. Is there any discussion about the ethics of having a registry of who has and hasn’t been vaccinated?Faden: It’s a great question. There are two pieces to this. One: Absolutely, as a public-health matter, we have to keep track. That’s nonnegotiable. Now, the question is: What other data do you collect? Age, ethnicity, location? There’s that issue. And then there’s this issue of: Should any perks result from the fact that you’ve been fully vaccinated? And that’s the conversation about “vaccination passports” or “vaccination passes” of some kind.Hamblin: Like that you might not have to wear a mask if you’ve been vaccinated? Or something like that that could actually incentivize people to get the vaccine?Faden: Or maybe you have to wear a mask, but if you have been exposed and ordinarily you would be a contact and have to quarantine for two weeks, you would get a quarantine pass, for example. I don’t think anybody is going to say you don’t have to wear a mask. We don’t know enough about that yet.Hamblin: Yeah, we don’t know yet, but just in terms of the idea of what kind of things it might eventually be …Faden: Yeah, it could be something like that. And that’s a kind of calculated gamble too. No one is proposing that in the U.S.Higgins: If you could prove you were vaccinated, could you travel to another country, for instance?Faden: From a global point of view, it’s a complete structural-injustice mess. Because if we’re going to start privileging people—which makes a lot of sense, depending on what we learn about onward transmission and these vaccines, which we don’t know enough about yet … If we start basically saying that if you’ve been fully vaccinated, then you can start traveling globally. And we have a context in which a very tiny percentage of the world’s population outside of high-income countries gets access to the vaccine, who’s going to be able to travel globally?It’s an awful picture. The director-general of the WHO gave an address [recently], and he made a stunning point. There were 39 million doses of vaccine administered in 49 high-income countries as of [a few] days ago. Can you guess how many doses have been administered so far in a lowest-income country?Twenty-five total. Against 39 million. So I don’t think people have begun to get their heads around how wide the disparity is and how urgent it is to try to do something about this. We’re concerned about what to do because this doctor gave it to his family. I mean, there are definitely ethical issues there, and I don’t mean to dismiss them, but we have to put that in perspective as well.
  • The U.S. Must Do More to Care for Its Caregivers
    Some of the couples eligible for coronavirus-relief stimulus checks last year, and who could receive up to $2,800 more under Joe Biden’s proposed plan, paraded in their golf carts in support of Donald Trump through the Villages, a Florida community for people over 55. Many are retired and living comfortably, their benefits protected by the government safety net. If they had lost jobs during the pandemic, they would have been eligible for expanded unemployment benefits.Many of the home-health aides and nursing assistants, some of them elderly themselves, who care for retirees in places like the Villages do not enjoy the same benefits. In Florida, more than 40 percent of these workers are immigrants, both authorized and unauthorized. This percentage does not include the groundskeepers, maintenance people, housekeepers, and food workers who keep retirement communities and nursing homes running. A growing number of all of these workers are now struggling, turning to food lines around the country.According to a Pew Research poll, many Americans in the Silent Generation believe the myth that immigrants burden, rather than strengthen, the United States, when, in fact, the opposite is true. Our aging population depends on immigrants, not just for elder care but for health care (immigrants are playing a huge role in caring for COVID-19 patients), technological innovation (think Zoom, created by a Chinese immigrant), agriculture, and other aspects of a dynamic economy.The Biden administration must work to narrow the gap between what older Americans and the immigrants who support them receive from the government. And older Americans, including the two of us, must acknowledge our country’s dependence on immigrants and contribute more to earn our keep.For four years, Trump instituted policies that rewarded retirees. In response to his 2020 budget proposal, for example, the Urban Institute reported, “By proposing to pare down discretionary programs even further than under current law, abandon the Affordable Care Act, and cut back on Medicaid (all while still retaining large deficits), [Trump] demarcates the elderly as the only spending priority for new resources other than foreign and domestic bond holders.”[Read: The Biden generation’s last chance]While Trump favored the elderly, he sought to exclude those who help them the most. The CARES Act, passed last spring, distributed $1,200 cash grants to tens of millions of Americans. However, it did not include many immigrants, including undocumented workers as well as U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who were related to undocumented immigrants, even if they worked at essential jobs. Although those in mixed-status families received $600 checks as part of the new stimulus program in December, the government still ignored the undocumented workers who help to keep society afloat.The Trump administration also restricted the number of people who could come into the country, despite a growing shortage of workers who care for the elderly and the disabled. Trump’s wealth test for prospective legal permanent residents dismantled family reunification, a cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy since 1965. He overturned U.S. asylum law and shut out refugees and foreign workers, including H-1B and Diversity Visa holders.Biden is taking many steps to right these wrongs. In his platform, he recognizes immigration as “the reason we have constantly been able to renew ourselves” and as “essential to who we are as a nation, our core values, and our aspirations for our future.” Biden has taken up immigration as one of the first issues to tackle in office, offering a path to citizenship for those in the country without legal status.The Biden plan for elder care, child care, and caregivers would dedicate $775 billion over 10 years to working parents caring for elderly parents, small children, and family members with disabilities. It also promises more jobs and higher pay for professional caregivers. However, Biden should go further. He should the follow the lead of Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas and Senator Alex Padilla of California in calling for a fast track to citizenship for undocumented essential workers.[Read: The danger of America’s coronavirus immigration bans]Heeding this call would allow the U.S. to join other democratic nations, including Italy and France, in recognizing a dependence on immigrant workers. Italy offered undocumented domestic-care and agricultural workers temporary amnesty in 2020, a move that some decried as too restrictive. France expedited citizenship for immigrant essential workers, from doctors to garbage collectors.The pandemic has given new urgency to the question of what we owe each other as citizens. The coronavirus doesn’t distinguish citizens from noncitizens and authorized immigrants from unauthorized ones. As California’s Governor Gavin Newsom declared when he unveiled the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants plan last April, “We are all in this together.” The program ended on June 30, and the $125 million in cash assistance for undocumented immigrants was only a small fraction of what’s needed. Still, it was a step in the right direction.However, many people don’t define “we” the way Newsom does. They believe the stereotype that immigrants siphon jobs and entitlements from people born in the U.S. This is simply not true. Not only do documented and undocumented immigrants fill jobs that most Americans don’t want, many pay taxes and contribute to Social Security.Retirees, on the other hand, take far more in government and private benefits—including Medicare, Social Security, and pensions—than their parents or grandparents did. Entitlement programs benefiting the elderly compose close to half of the federal budget, up from about a quarter 50 years ago. That’s more than $30,000 annually for each elderly American, according to the Urban Institute.Older Americans believe that they worked hard, paid into the system for decades, and deserve their entitlements. But, in fact, a Baby Boomer couple retiring at 65 last year, with one partner having earned an average wage and one a low wage, will have paid about $120,000 in Medicare taxes and will receive benefits worth about $500,000, according to Eugene Steuerle, a former Treasury official now at the Urban Institute. (Those figures are in present-value terms, adjusting for inflation and assuming a real rate of return of 2 percent.)Some Americans note that the strain on our federal budget is not the growing cost of retirees but the low taxes for the extremely wealthy. We agree that these taxes should be much higher, to subsidize retirees and everyone else. But even if Jeff Bezos and all the other billionaires paid in 100 percent of their income, it still wouldn’t come close to covering the growing cost of the aging population.The Biden platform promises to protect programs for the elderly and proposes additional ways to do so—breaks for long-term care and a tax credit for informal caregivers, for example. That’s admirable. But older Americans, in particular the healthy and more comfortable, need to contribute more. As we are vaccinated first and emerge from our homes more safely, we must continue to work, volunteer, and donate to causes that benefit the less fortunate and enrich society. The Biden plan promises to encourage older people to keep working, by fighting age discrimination and offering tax incentives. We must think more about being productive versus unproductive, about giving versus taking, and about acknowledging who helps keep our country running.
  • TV Captured Trump by Looking Away
    Paul Spella / HBO / Netflix / Getty / The AtlanticLate last year, at the end of my parental leave, I finally caught up with The Comey Rule, Showtime’s stolid adaptation of former FBI Director James Comey’s memoir about—among other things—being fired by Donald Trump. A cluster of TV stars play the civil servants elevated by the MAGA internet into almost mythological characters: Jeff Daniels as Comey, Holly Hunter as Sally Yates, Steven Pasquale and Oona Chaplin as the text-crossed lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. But the real draw is Brendan Gleeson playing Trump. The Irish actor gives a fantastic performance that dances between impersonation and interpretation: Physically, Gleeson has the lunatic bronzer, the grimace, the sagging tie. More crucially, he captures the former president’s pettiness and malice in a way that communicates how dangerous those qualities can be, in tandem and totally unchecked. Gleeson’s Trump seethes and crawls around the White House like a swamp creature in a Brioni suit. It’s one of the most striking TV performances of the past four years. And I watched it and felt nothing at all.Television during the Trump era faced a paradox: The 45th president was obsessed with TV, was saved by TV (The Apprentice resurrected him as a public figure in one of the lowest periods of his career), was influenced by TV, and seemed made to be analyzed by it. But early on, creators appeared befuddled by the project of portraying someone whose self-satirical physicality and distorted psyche defied pastiche. It didn’t help that so many viewers were, like me, exhausted by the antics of the real-life Trump and emotionally numbed by cortisol spikes of outrage.And yet, Trump exerted a centripetal force on pop culture. Broad swaths of works that weren’t about him at all seemed newly crucial in understanding his ascent, even as the stakes for shows that tried to deal with him directly as a subject grew impossibly high. What became clear while taking stock of TV over the past four years is that the shows and artists that most clearly and urgently responded to him did so by looking past his theatrics as an individual, and focusing instead on the elements—recurrent throughout American history—that led to his rise.THE SATIRESNo show illustrated television’s challenges in tangling with a Trump presidency like Saturday Night Live. From 1999 to 2016, Darrell Hammond played Trump as a robotic moron, hawking Domino’s Pizza with the same inane egotism the real Trump used to hawk McDonald’s Big N’ Tasty burgers opposite Grimace. Taran Killam played Trump as a commedia dell’arte clown, his facial expression constantly darting between a pained smile and a comedic scowl. Alec Baldwin’s Trump was different: cruder, meaner, no less dangerous for being so transparently cretinous. When Baldwin debuted the role in October 2016, about a month before Trump won the election, many critics were thrilled that the actor captured some of the nativist ugliness of Trump’s pitch to the American people. After the show had controversially—and inexplicably—invited Trump to host for the second time the previous year, Baldwin’s interpretation felt like a corrective, wearing Trump’s innate bigotry and casual cruelty as obviously as his bottled bronzer.[Read: Alec Baldwin’s scarier, nastier Donald Trump]By 2017, when Baldwin’s Trump appeared on the cover of this magazine, expectations for what a weekly sketch-comedy show might be capable of had skyrocketed. If television had created Trump, the theory went, couldn’t it make him vulnerable? But Trump’s divisiveness seemed to insulate him from satire—the people who found Baldwin’s Trump funny or cathartic hadn’t voted for him, and the people who had weren’t watching. Not to mention that nothing writers dreamed up could outdo Trump’s schtick. “Alex Baldwin, whose dieing mediocre career was saved by his impersonation of me on SNL, now says playing DJT was agony for him,” Trump tweeted in 2018. “Alex, it was also agony for those who were forced to watch.” Saturday Night Live might have ousted Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, after Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of him as a belligerent, raving drill sergeant supposedly displeased Trump. (The issue wasn’t the specific notes of the characterization so much as Trump reportedly thinking that it weakened Spicer to be played by a woman.) But Baldwin’s hope, as the writer Chris Jones described it, that SNL’s “constant belittlement might sting [the Trump administration] into submission,” looks lamentably naive in hindsight.Will Heath / NBCUniversal / GettyComedy couldn’t uncover any buried facets of Trump—he was an open book, his narcissism and caustic insecurity self-stamped across Twitter every day. The directly satirical shows that emerged (Comedy Central’s The President Show and Showtime’s Our Cartoon President) inevitably relied on threadbare gags—the president’s uncomfortable comments about his daughter Ivanka, or his predilection for fast food. In the meantime, children were being caged at the border, white nationalists were marching with tiki torches, and entire branches of government were being co-opted in service of Trump’s innumerable grudges.By 2020, the only comedian who could make Trump funny was Sarah Cooper, whose TikTok bits of herself lip-synching to Trump’s own words became viral motifs of a terrible year. Notably, Cooper didn’t try to perform Trump. No one, she seemed to sense, could top the man himself. But by miming his speech as a Black woman, she redirected the joke outward, to an American electorate normalizing nonsensical verbiage because it came out of the mouth of a famous white man. Other comedians mimicked and mocked the smoke and mirrors Trump constructed around himself—his hair, his chalky concealer, his puckered mouth and angrily jutting chin. But these elements were tricks Trump relied on—whether consciously or not—to deflect from his woeful record, his unparalleled ignorance, and his platform of hate. Cooper dispelled the illusion.[Read: Sarah Cooper has mastered the Trump joke]THE VANGUARDIn early 2017, as the Vulture writer Jen Chaney wrote that January, absolutely everything in culture seemed to be about Trump. The Young Pope, a surreal drama about a brash American elevated to one of the most powerful roles in the world, felt Trump-inflected; Veep turned out to have been an actual prophecy; Nineteen Eighty-Four soared up the Amazon charts when the Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway used the phrase alternative facts on Meet the Press. And at the Women’s March in Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration, protesters carried signs that read Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again.HuluThe Handmaid’s Tale debuted on Hulu in April 2017, three months into Trump’s presidency, and its timing was as serendipitous as its subject matter—the show adapts Atwood’s novel about a repressive totalitarian U.S. government. The fervor with which it was received was emotional more than it was logical; for all his alleged sins against women, Trump never proposed forcing them into reproductive servitude or installing a Christian theocracy that forbade women from working or owning property. (Mike Pence’s reported refusal to eat alone with a woman who wasn’t his wife bore more obvious parallels to Gilead.) But Handmaid’s resonated with so many women because the election of a flagrantly sexist man made a nebulous feeling tangible—the sense that progress, for women, wasn’t inevitable and could easily be reversed. The series occasionally came discomfitingly close to real life. Trump’s separation of children from their parents at the border, which the administration justified using Bible passages, mirrored children’s removal from parents who were deemed “morally unfit” on the show. “It is very biblical to enforce the law,” then–Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in 2018. Protesters dressed in red cloaks and white bonnets would join scarlet MAGA hats and smirking Pepe as icons of the Trump era.[Read: The visceral, woman-centric horror of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’]Another early show to adroitly reflect the period was Orange Is the New Black. The series first debuted before Trump’s presidency but, throughout his term in office, focused on the fundamental imbalance of power in America via the lens of the carceral system. Orange began as a comedy; it ended as a gutting exposé of how stacked and inhumane the justice and immigration systems can be. The fifth season, released in the summer of 2017, saw the women of Litchfield prison riot in response to an inmate’s death at the hands of a guard. Initially, the rebellion was cathartic. But Orange was never an idealistic show, and the women’s display of power couldn’t end well.NetflixNow I can’t help thinking about Orange in tandem with another Netflix series that came out later in 2017, Marvel’s The Punisher. The show has received new attention since the Trump-incited Capitol riot earlier this month, during which men with zip ties and Punisher motifs on their body armor seemed to be seeking out politicians—the bad guys in their mind—because they’d bought into the lie that they were being disenfranchised. At the time of its debut, the series, starring Jon Bernthal as the veteran and gun-toting vigilante Frank Castle, didn’t seem to offer much insight into politics, even though it was an uneasy release, given the mass shootings that had occurred throughout the year. Castle’s extralegal activities are justified in the comics and on the show because he kills only bad guys. But what constitutes a bad guy, it turns out, is more complicated outside the realm of comics. On Season 5 of Orange, female prisoners rioted against cruelty and inhumane conditions and the system crushed them further in return. Both series depicted a rotten setup, but only one heroized a character who took the law into his own hands.THE PARABLESThe more writers and showrunners sensed that Trump himself was an impossible subject, the more they looked instead to the landscape that fostered him: the ascendance of anti-elitism, the absurdity of jingoism-as-exceptionalism, the legacy of American racism. Some of these takes worked better than others.A month or so before Q Clearance Patriot began posting cryptic messages about celebrities sex-trafficking children on 4chan, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk debuted American Horror Story: Cult. The FX series was a hastily rewritten addition to the AHS franchise starring Evan Peters as Kai, a Trump fan leading a murderous cult whose ultimate goal was … getting elected to city council? AHS: Cult was nonsensical and gruesome and apparently unfamiliar with the motivations of human beings. But it was the first TV show to tap into the idea of a Trumpian cult, and probe the fealty of its devotees. Space Force, a shaky satire pegged to Trump’s creation of a galactic branch of the U.S. military, was a show solely about the funniness of American idiocy, an uneasy subject during a deadly pandemic. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America? gave a bothsidesish and caustic treatment to ludicrous excess on the left and the right, although in its more perspicacious moments, it revealed how hatred can be a passive thing rather than an active one—how simply going along with something despicable, or even just declining to object, enables atrocities.[Read: ‘Space Force’ tells a terrible joke about America]Some of the series that were most incisive about Trumpism weren’t intended to address it at all. Stranger Things 3, the third installment of the sci-fi series from the Duffer Brothers dug into a paranoiac strain in the American imagination that seemed to anticipate QAnon’s peak the following year; the show included conspiracy theories about a parallel universe riven by bloodthirsty monsters and unethical experiments on children. Tiger King’s documentation of the strange cult of personality surrounding an outrageous big-cat collector named Joe Exotic seemed inextricable from Trumpism. “Even though [people] were making fun of him,” one person recalled about Exotic’s rise to fame, “Joe was the star.” Meanwhile, one of the superlative shows of the Trump period, HBO’s Succession, proffered the barbed comedy and surprisingly poignant tragedy of a clan of media moguls raised by a pugnacious and hopelessly damaged father. Even food shows offered a window into the 45th presidency: Padma Lakshmi’s Taste the Nation, on Hulu, was a notable exploration of how America has co-opted the cooking of immigrants while rejecting the people who have been making it since before the country’s inception.NetflixOther shows used allegory more intentionally. In 2019, HBO aired Chernobyl—a five-part series about the devastating 1986 explosion of a nuclear reactor. In the immediate aftermath of an unimaginable crisis, government leaders responded by rejecting reality. “The official position of the state,” one character says, “is that global nuclear catastrophe is not possible in the Soviet Union.” When I watched Chernobyl in 2019, it felt like a striking parable about the limits of a regime that refused to accept science and reason as principles. Thinking about the show now, with 400,000 Americans dead despite Trump’s insistent assurances that one day COVID-19 would just go away, I see that Chernobyl was more urgent than anyone could have guessed.But the best show over the past four years, both as a response to the Trump presidency and a corrective to the notion that it was an aberration, was HBO’s Watchmen. Maybe it was appropriate, given the technicolor chaos and extravagant villainy of the moment, that the miniseries was a comic-book adaptation. Watchmen started with a depiction of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, in which white supremacists burned down the wealthiest Black community in the country, murdered likely hundreds of its residents, and left 10,000 others homeless. It imagined a world where reparations had been paid to Black Americans, and how the heirs of those white supremacists would respond in turn. It considered the legacy of trauma and proposed that a reckoning with racism is the most urgent and necessary issue of modern times. More than one scene predicted the storming of the Capitol by wannabe fascists in costume.[Read: ‘Watchmen’ is a blistering modern allegory]It’s too early to say what will become of the insurrectionists and their movement. But TV’s explorations of Trump and his enablers, at their best, showed how fragile American democracy is, that it could be easily challenged and corrupted. The person I thought of more than any other in the waning moments of the 45th presidency was Trump’s mentor Roy Cohn. The HBO documentary Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn explored how Cohn aggressively rejected all qualities that might weaken him, including loyalty, respect, and love. But it also used Cohn’s own end to offer a warning: The cost of ruling by fear is that nothing else is left when power is gone. Roy Cohn died alone, in debt, disgraced, and abandoned by everyone, even his protégé Donald Trump.
  • Why Israel’s Vaccine Success Might Be Hard to Replicate
    One nation has already provided more than a quarter of its people with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, outpacing every other country in the world and more than sextupling the percentage in the United States. During one recent three-day period, in fact, it administered a dose of the vaccine to a higher percentage of its population than the U.S. has altogether. Nearly three-fourths of those over age 60 have gotten their first shot. And most of the population could be vaccinated by the end of March, which would be earlier than any nation except, perhaps, tiny Palau and the Vatican. The government is now preparing “passports” for the twice-jabbed that will exempt them from quarantines.It’s the kind of standout success one would expect from the now-familiar stars of the global response to COVID-19—Taiwan, South Korea, or New Zealand. But it’s actually been achieved by Israel, in several respects a surprising country to be the world’s front-runner on vaccine distribution. A 2019 Johns Hopkins study ranked Israel an unspectacular 54th among 195 countries in terms of preparedness for a pandemic. After initially appearing to vanquish the coronavirus, Israel has since suffered some of the world’s worst outbreaks—something that remains true as it celebrates its vaccine advances. And during a pandemic in which public trust in government has emerged as arguably the most consistent ingredient across countries for success in combatting the virus, public confidence in Israel’s political leaders is dismally low. The Israeli government currently has the distinction of being one of the most unstable in the democratic world.[From the September 2020 issue: How the pandemic defeated America]So how exactly has Israel pulled off this unlikely feat? The answer traces back decades to the embryonic health infrastructure created before the State of Israel even existed. That, in turn, should serve as a sobering reminder for Americans: Nations faring well against the virus are drawing on preexisting strengths, not flexing muscles suddenly conjured amid the crisis or, say, a change in administrations.The countries that have performed best against COVID-19 have been those “that in general have good public-health infrastructures—and we [in the United States] just don’t,” Helene Gayle, the head of the Chicago Community Trust and a veteran of the CDC, told me.“There’s a big lesson from this, which is: You’re not going to be ready for a pandemic if you don’t have your data systems in place, your surveillance systems, your state-level funding for the infrastructure, so that you can distribute [vaccines] effectively and fast,” argued Gayle, a co-chair of a recent study on how to equitably allocate COVID-19 vaccines.And as the world shifts from focusing solely on containing the virus to rolling out vaccines as well, the key determinant of success is morphing from the credibility of the government to the credibility of the health-care system. As the scholars Jeremy A. Greene and Dora Vargha have observed, vaccines are at least in part “technologies of trust” that rely on people “maintaining confidence in national and international structures through which vaccines are delivered.”The apparent paradox of Israel being both a “vaccine champ” and a “contagion chump,” as the Israeli journalist David Horovitz memorably put it, becomes less mystifying on closer inspection. Whereas some countries that did better in flattening the curve of coronavirus cases, such as Australia and South Korea, at first proceeded cautiously with plans to approve and procure vaccines, because they felt they had the virus under control, pandemic-battered Israel didn’t have that luxury. What the Israeli government felt instead was urgency.Ahead of elections this March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cast himself as the face of the country’s vaccination campaign (he got Israel’s first COVID-19 shot) and its dealmaker in chief, negotiating directly with Pfizer’s CEO and reportedly paying Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna top dollar to receive doses quickly and at scale when global supplies are tight.Netanyahu recently announced an agreement with Pfizer that will send hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses to Israel per week. Israel, in turn, will serve as something of a national clinical trial—or, in the prime minister’s words, a “global model state for the rapid vaccination of an entire country.” It will send Pfizer anonymized medical information about the effects of the vaccine on the population and on curbing the epidemic. The statistical data could yield lessons not only for Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies as they continue to develop COVID-19 vaccines, but also for other countries and international organizations working on their own vaccination campaigns.But the story of Israel’s success is arguably more about distribution than procurement. As Dany Bahar, an Israeli economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., recently observed, focusing on what the Israeli government has managed to negotiate overlooks why it was in a strong negotiating position in the first place. It could present itself to pharmaceutical companies as an attractive “pilot country” for an effective mass-vaccination program for its 9 million–plus people because of its small size and the “vast public health infrastructure” that the state has invested heavily in over the past seven decades, building on a tradition of socialist-minded worker health-care cooperatives that preceded the state’s founding.[Read: Where year two of the pandemic will take us]As Bahar noted, the modern manifestations of these cooperatives are Israel’s four nonprofit health-maintenance organizations, or HMOs, which offer health care to all citizens through an individual mandate and social-security payroll contributions, share a single electronic medical-record system, and benefit from a “centralized chain of command” that allows them to implement plans across the nation’s range of medical facilities. These HMOs don’t just help cover medical expenses; they also operate clinics and provide doctors.“When it comes to understanding the early success and—perhaps as importantly—the reason why pharma companies trusted Israel in its ability to implement this massive endeavor, it comes down to its public-health system, inherited by those in power today,” Bahar argued.The semiprivate, publicly funded HMOs, which don’t respond to the same profit incentives that private insurance companies in the United States do, are present not just in big cities but also in more remote and disadvantaged locations such as “poor, smaller Arab towns or Bedouin villages in the Negev” desert, Bahar wrote to me in an email. “The contrast in my mind here was rural America, which will be hard to vaccinate if people there have to drive one and a half hours each way to the closest CVS or clinic.” (In this regard, Israel benefits immensely from being a much smaller country than the United States.)The HMOs have helped make Israel’s health-care system one of the most efficient in the world. And crucially—and in contrast to public sentiment regarding the government and other aspects of the health-care system such as surgery or queues for services—confidence in these health funds is widespread; roughly three-quarters of Israelis say they trust their HMO physician, and 90 percent say they are satisfied with their plan. This trust matters, because the HMOs are at the forefront of the vaccination campaign.To execute that campaign, the Israeli Ministry of Health has acted as a hub for receiving the vaccines from drugmakers and distributing them to the HMOs. The HMOs tapped into the country’s digital medical records to determine the order in which population segments needed to be vaccinated, and speedily set up hundreds of vaccination centers across the country.While Israelis must be members of an HMO, they can choose which one and have the option each year of switching to another if they are unhappy with the services they’ve received. “The competition between these HMOs facilitated a much more efficient vaccination rollout,” as did additional competition with independent hospitals, Cyrille Cohen, a professor at Bar-Ilan University and member of a coronavirus vaccine advisory committee to the Health Ministry, wrote to me by email. It helped foster what he called “‘vaccinal capitalism.’”Cohen told me he got his shots by tuning into regular updates on the news about which demographic group was eligible to be vaccinated next. He logged into his account on his HMO site when he learned it was his turn, chose a vaccination center based on his location, and scheduled an appointment. “Thirty seconds after confirming, I got a text on my cell with all the info, including date, time, place and already a second appointment for [the] next shot, exactly three weeks apart,” he told me. It all took “less than two minutes.” There are alternative options if you don’t use the internet or prefer to get your vaccination at a hospital rather than through your HMO.As Bahar sees it, Israel’s HMO infrastructure and medical-record system have enabled it to achieve two of the three requisite goals for a staged national vaccination program when supplies are short: targeting shots to the people who most need them and ensuring that those who are eligible can access the vaccine for free. But he told me that what he sees as the third requirement—a public understanding that the vaccine is safe and that the whole population must be vaccinated to end the COVID-19 crisis—still depends on the confidence in government that was so essential for countries to beat back the virus during the pandemic’s first phase.Israel has also performed well on this third front. “Only 9 percent of the population has declared that they won’t get the vaccine,” which is low compared with many Western countries (including the United States) and in keeping with the practical, “start-up nation” mentality of Israelis, Cohen observed.But he added that Israel’s success looks more uneven when you zoom in on the specifics, noting that vaccination rates in the Arab population and Ultra-Orthodox populations are only half those of the general population. Misinformation and a lack of trust in Israeli authorities, among other challenges, are tamping down rates among both groups.Israel’s vaccination drive also doesn’t include Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as Israeli and Palestinian authorities each accuse the other of shirking their responsibility for these populations. Even when you zoom back out, Israel’s successful procurement of vaccines raises broader questions about the inequitable global distribution of vaccines between rich and poor countries that may only grow more pronounced in the coming months.While the Biden administration has ambitious plans to invest $20 billion in a new campaign to vaccinate the nation through federally supported vaccination sites, the reality is that there are limits to what a country can do if it neglected to invest in the prerequisites for an effective response until the crisis was already upon it."We would never think, Let’s wait until we’re in the middle of a war to fund our military. But we do that all the time with our public-health infrastructure” in the U.S., said Gayle. “That’s the backdrop against which we are now trying to do what is the most complex public-health implementation that we’ve ever had, which is getting this vaccine rolled out and effectively given to diverse populations.”[Read: The] long haul of vaccine results is just beginningTo make progress, the United States would do well to play to its unique strengths, just as Israel did with its HMOs. To cite an example that’s especially relevant now, as new coronavirus variants emerge around the world that could undermine the effectiveness of vaccines: The United States has so far sequenced only 0.3 percent of its COVID-19 genomes—a process that would help it track the virus’s genetic changes—even though the U.S. has more genomic-sequencing capacity than any other country, according to Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at Baylor College of Medicine. It currently ranks a middling 43rd in the world on percentage of COVID-19 cases sequenced. When it comes to combatting the coronavirus, America has the science in spades. But that scientific knowledge has repeatedly been detached from its public-health response.The United States has failed at every stage in the fight against COVID-19, from its inadequate diagnostic testing and genomic sequencing to what now appears to be its botched vaccine rollout, Hotez told me. “There was never a plan to vaccinate the American people,” he argued, noting that the military-led logistics for the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed seem to have been “all about loading boxes off UPS and FedEx trucks and keeping them cold,” rather than focused on fashioning efficient, effective, and equitable systems for getting the vaccine doses in those boxes into Americans’ arms.“The states put in place an adult-vaccination infrastructure that was basically just the pharmacy chains and the hospitals, maybe a few community clinics,” Hotez said. “It was not nearly adequate for the task at hand: to vaccinate three-quarters of the American people. And we’re backed into a corner now because, since we failed to even attempt to do COVID-19 control, we’ve put all of our eggs in the vaccine basket.”The way out might be leaning more on the few institutions that still retain high levels of trust among Americans—the equivalents of Israel’s HMOs. In a new survey, the communications firm Edelman identified a striking dynamic in the United States (and many other countries): Although public trust in government is low, trust in business and particularly people’s employers is higher, even across the country’s political divide. That argues for the U.S. government to work more closely with the private sector on vaccinations, as Washington State’s health department just announced it will do by establishing a “Vaccine Command and Coordination Center" in partnership with companies such as Starbucks and Microsoft.But the fact that this public-private innovation is happening at the state level is revealing. The federal government’s decision to send vaccines to states but then delegate the administration of the vaccines to under-resourced local authorities has produced a bewildering, disorganized patchwork—what often amounts to public health by happenstance. In contrast to Israel, far more doses have been distributed across the United States than shots given. Americans are scrambling to track down doses however they can—whether a tip from their mail carrier, a text from a friend, or a trip to the grocery store to buy Hot Pockets. Even when they are deemed eligible to be vaccinated, too many Americans are finding that maxed-out appointments, crashing websites, and endless hold times mean they can’t avail themselves of the opportunity. Cyrille Cohen’s two-minute sign-up this is not.Israelis know exactly where to turn for their vaccine: their familiar HMO, which provides for all their family’s primary-care needs. Many Americans, even when their time for a shot has finally come, don’t know what to do or where to go. Employers, having built up trust and personal connections with their employees, could potentially fill that void in the United States.Israel has “a system of community clinics and community public health. We don’t do that. I mean, what do we have? We have Sam’s Club and Rite Aid and Walgreens and hospital chains,” Hotez said. In the U.S., “it’s all privatized. And it works for some things. But for an ambitious undertaking to vaccinate the American people, it’s an abysmal failure yet again.”
  • The Forgotten People Fighting the Forever War
    Both the Trump and Obama administrations relied heavily on highly trained Special Forces units to keep Afghanistan from collapse. The strategy has kept recent episodes of the 21-year Afghan War out of the public eye, but it is failing to stabilize the country and is straining the United States military’s elite troops, who serve back-to-back combat tours without an end in sight and disproportionately give their lives in service of a war the public knows almost nothing about.When Kunduz, a major city in northern Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban in 2015, U.S. Special Forces were dispatched on a secret mission to help Afghan commandos recapture it. Under-resourced and unprepared, the soldiers found themselves in the midst of a pitched battle with conflicting orders. The story of how it led to one of the U.S. military’s worst disasters in Afghanistan shows the perils of relying on Special Operations alone to fight the nation’s wars. Major Michael Hutchinson, a Green Beret with the 3rd Special Forces Group, was in charge of the secret operation to help Afghan commandos recapture Kunduz. It was his fifth combat deployment, counting three tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, yet he had never experienced such intense fighting.The mission had been scrambled together after Kunduz had come under attack four days earlier. The Afghan army and police, plagued by corruption and poor leadership, had abandoned their posts and left the city to the Taliban with barely a fight. It fell within hours.Hutch, as the other soldiers called him, worried that the slightest mistake or miscalculation could end in disaster. The Green Berets had reached the area by air and lacked armored vehicles. Some had driven into Kunduz on quad bikes. They had a single map between them, and no one had set foot in the city before.This post was excerpted from Donati’s upcoming book.After four days of fighting, they were still hunkered down at the city’s police headquarters, where the American and Afghan teams had set up a command center. That wasn’t the original plan: They were supposed to have established a foothold at the governor’s office, but got lost in the dark. They were under attack from all sides, and only air strikes and the snipers on the walls were preventing the Taliban from overrunning the base.Hutchinson was in contact with an AC-130 gunship, which was circling overhead, to provide air support to his Afghan colleagues who were preparing to hit a building believed to be a Taliban command and control center.The Afghans didn’t have radios, though, and were relying on limited cellphone coverage to make contact with Hutchinson. Communications were patchy, but this process had become routine. After hearing gunfire erupt, Hutchinson’s interpreter was able to reach them and confirm they needed air support for the building they were attacking. Hutchinson ordered the gunship to fire.A series of technical and communication failures aboard the aircraft had prevented the crew from preparing for the mission. It didn’t help that Hutchinson’s team had run out of the batteries needed for the video receivers typically used to communicate with the aircrew.That meant he didn’t know that things had gone seriously wrong. The building he had ordered the AC-130 gunship to strike was not a Taliban control center, but a trauma hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières.[Read: How the press sustains the forever war]There, Evangeline Cua was in between surgeries. She had her own practice in the Philippines, her home country, but had taken a break to work for the aid group over the summer. It had been an intense several months, but nothing compared with the past four days. The hospital had been flooded with patients since the city had fallen, and health-care workers were using hallways and offices to create space for makeshift beds. Her heart broke when entire families came in, and she couldn’t save them all.The first rounds from the AC-130 struck the hospital’s emergency room. The operating theaters shook and the windows rattled. Cua looked up and exchanged glances with an assistant surgeon who had finished suturing a patient’s wound. The doctors had grown used to the sounds of explosions and gunfire. They laughed uneasily. It was probably just another clash, she thought, exhausted.But then a second blast struck with terrifying force. All three theaters were in use when it hit. The surgeons leapt up and fled down the hallway, leaving their anesthetized patients on the operating tables. The doctors and nurses gathered across the hall, dragging tables together for cover, but it was too hard to breathe through the acrid smoke, so Cua groped her way back to the operating theater.Her mind raced to understand what was happening. The hospital was supposed to be protected. All sides had recognized its impartiality. An air strike? Why? Another deafening blast shook the building, and the ceiling came crashing down, plunging them into darkness. She saw her patient’s heart monitor flatline. We’re going to die, she thought. Rounds hammered the building.She imagined her remains being delivered to her parents in the Philippines in an urn. Or worse, what if her body was never found? She tried to focus on the patients’ lives she had saved during her time in Kunduz, but all she could think of were her parents. I’m sorry, Mom, she thought. I’m sorry. Nearby, she heard her colleague praying softly. “Pray with me,” he told her.MSF’s country director, Guilhem Molinie, was in Kabul when he received a call from the hospital reporting the air strike. He immediately dialed Bagram Airfield, praying for a quick response. He felt sick to his stomach.“The trauma center is under attack,” Molinie told the U.S. officer who picked up. “You’re bombing the hospital!”The officer ran to the joint-operations center, pulled the battle captain aside, and told him about the call in a whisper. But Lieutenant Colonel Jason Johnston, the 3rd Group battalion commander, who was sitting in the next row, heard and leapt up. He asked the officer to repeat himself. None of them was aware the air strike was under way.They tried reaching Hutchinson, but couldn’t get through for several minutes. They identified a plume of smoke rising from the center of Kunduz over a video feed and pulled the coordinates to check them against the ones provided by the hospital. When Hutchinson called back, Johnston told him about the report. Hutchinson stopped to process the message. He replayed the past hour and didn’t see how it could have happened.“No way,” he said. “That’s not possible.”Hutchinson ordered the aircraft to stop shooting, but didn’t mention the report to anyone else. As hardened as the other Green Berets were, it would deliver a terrible blow to morale, adding to the stress of the ongoing battle for the city. He told himself there must have been a mistake.But in the first morning light, the destroyed hospital building was smoldering. Cua and the other doctors and nurses who survived the bombing set to work trying to save the wounded as the sun came up. In the end, 42 people, including 14 staff members, would be reported killed in the strike.[Read: The forever war fought by America’s allies]After a week-long battle, Kunduz was more or less back under government control. Afghan soldiers cheered as the Americans drove past. Hutchinson hadn’t heard anything more about the air strike and, because he and his team had not visited the site of the blast, assumed the report was a mistake.Hutchinson was elated. This was what he had secretly dreamed of since childhood: participating in a battle for survival with a small band of brothers. Every emotion he had suppressed during the battle hit him at once. His men were high with the feeling of being alive. They felt like heroes in a movie. They had saved a city from ruin against the odds. They weren’t prepared for the news.On TV back at the camp, the world’s attention was indeed focused on Kunduz—but not on the Taliban’s defeat. Every major outlet was covering the U.S. bombing of the hospital, and asking whether the air strike was a war crime.Hutchinson still believed he and his men had done the right thing by going into the city, and tried to console Ben Vontz, the young Green Beret responsible for communicating with the gunship that night, who was distraught. If the mission had failed, the Taliban would be entrenched in Kunduz by now, he told Vontz, and a door‑to‑door battle to drive them out would have yielded an even higher human cost.It had been 10 years since Hutchinson’s first tour in Iraq. A decade was a long time to learn how to process the horrors of war. To him, it was clear the bombing was a mistake caused by equipment failure, exhaustion, and human error. Everyone had done their best in a situation they should never have been put in, he told Vontz. The combat controller was 25, and it had been his first time in battle. He was inconsolable.By this point, an investigation team had reached Kunduz; they wanted to see Hutchinson immediately. The investigators stared at him uncomfortably. The media were describing Hutchinson as a potential war criminal. He refused to flinch and promised to help with the inquiry.Hutch called home. His wife answered.“Is everything okay?” Tina asked. “Because they’re calling it a war crime.”Hutchinson was relieved of his duties and sent to Bagram Airfield to await the results of the inquiry. He felt confident that the investigating officers would realize the soldiers had done their best. The strike was an unfortunate mistake made in the heat of battle. He planned to bravely accept whatever punishment the military saw fit to administer and move on.When a chaplain visited from Kabul, he was shocked to find Hutchinson in good spirits. He had been assessed to be a suicide risk. “I’m fine,” Hutchinson told him, trying to sound upbeat.But he had started to hear that some in the Army’s headquarters believed he had violated the rules of engagement and wanted him to stand trial for murder. He tried to stay positive and kept to his gym routine to fight off the depression and negative thoughts nagging at him.He couldn’t tell Tina much over the phone, but he tried to reassure her that everything would be fine once the investigation had run its course. She was on her own, pregnant and juggling two kids.Tina knew not to ask questions, but she was scared about what was going to happen to them. “I’m not going to jail,” he promised her. She was worried. The images from the hospital were etched on her mind. She couldn’t help but read the stories about the staff and patients who had survived, even if in her heart she knew that her husband had done his best.The military changed its official story several times. The secrecy surrounding the investigation fueled the public’s worst suspicions, that the hospital had been struck on purpose. Hutchinson felt that people would understand if they heard firsthand how the mistake had occurred. He asked to be allowed to explain publicly what had happened. The battalion told him it wasn’t a good idea.The investigators called Hutchinson in for questioning over and over again. Eventually, the investigating officer, Brigadier General Richard Kim, approached him. He didn’t believe Hutchinson’s version of events, he said. He thought that Hutchinson had broken the rules of engagement and illegally used pre-assault fire. “Would you like to change your story?” he asked.Hutchinson was shocked. He could accept having made a mistake and that civilians had died as a result. He could accept that the tragedy was preventable. He was prepared to accept whatever punishment was meted out. But to be accused of trying to cover up a deliberate act? That was too much. It couldn’t be real.This post was excerpted from Donati’s upcoming book, Eagle Down: The Last Special Forces Fighting the Forever War.
  • Don’t Move On Just Yet
    Until the day that a violent mob stormed the Capitol building, it seemed possible that Donald Trump would be able to shuffle into postpresidential life without facing any real consequences. President-elect Joe Biden had indicated his anxiety over a potential prosecution of the former president. Commentators muttered about the political divisiveness of pursuing Trump after he left office. Better, perhaps, to look forward, not backward, as President Barack Obama famously said of potential lawbreaking under the Bush administration.Then, after being egged on by the president on January 6, pro-Trump rioters broke into the Capitol and terrorized staffers and members of Congress. The House of Representatives impeached Trump a second time—setting in motion a process that, if successful, could bar him from seeking the presidency in 2024. According to The New York Times, the overwhelming mood of Democratic politicians and activists lurched toward support for investigations, prosecutions, and other forms of accountability. As law enforcement continued searching for rioters, the very same Republican politicians who had earlier been stoking chaos frantically backpedaled, issuing statements calling for “unity” and “healing.”The country does deserve unity and healing following the Trump presidency, but they won’t come from ignoring the destruction that has transpired. Accountability—a public reckoning for Trump and those who enabled his abuses—is the way forward. One path is prosecution, which can provide punishment to perpetrators. But another, complementary approach is truth commissions, which center on the voices and experiences of victims.Imagine a commission convened to investigate family separations and the administration’s policies forcing people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in dangerous, squalid conditions in Mexico. This investigation could seek not only to hear testimony from the victims, but also to understand how the recent history of American immigration law and policy enabled these horrors. The value of a truth commission, in part, would be in establishing a common public understanding of the Trump administration and the damage it caused, without which the nation will not be able to move in a new direction. Other potential subjects for such a commission include the administration’s embrace of lies about the integrity of American elections, leading to the attack on the Capitol, and its catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic.[From the October 2020 issue: America’s plastic hour is upon us]Truth commissions are particularly well suited to addressing societies divided not merely by political differences but by wholly different understandings of history, as ours is. They gained prominence in the latter half of the 20th century as a means by which countries emerging from periods of violence or political upheaval could come to grips with past abuses. Commissions typically seek to provide victims of wrongdoing with an opportunity to speak and be heard, and to find the public respect and recognition they have been denied. As Kelebogile Zvobgo, a political scientist who studies truth commissions at William & Mary, told me, the violence in the Capitol showcased exactly the “lack of shared understanding of past and present” that makes a commission necessary.The most widely used definition of a truth commission comes from the human-rights scholar Priscilla Hayner, a senior mediation adviser for the United Nations. Commissions, Hayner writes in her book Unspeakable Truths, are temporary bodies established by the government to study past abuses, rather than monitor an ongoing crisis. They tend to focus on patterns of abuse over time—long histories of racialized violence, for example—rather than isolated events. “The past is an argument,” writes the Canadian author and politician Michael Ignatieff, “and the function of truth commissions … is simply to purify the argument, to narrow the range of permissible lies.”Some scholars contend that, in order to constitute a truth commission, the process must be linked with a political transition: the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, perhaps the most prominent example of such an organization, was formed at the end of apartheid. In recent years, though, some established democracies—such as Canada and several American states—have also begun to make use of commissions in facing the uglier aspects of their pasts. In 2013, Maine created the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission to study the state’s removal of Wabanaki children from their families beginning in the 1970s. And in 2019, the government of Maryland established a body dedicated to investigating the history of racist lynchings across the state from 1854 to 1933. Arguably, the first—and only—national truth commission in the U.S. was established in 1980, to examine the World War II–era internment of Japanese Americans. More recently, members of Congress have put forward proposals for truth commissions to deal with legacies of racial violence against Black Americans and other people of color, along with policies that forced Native American children to attend boarding schools away from their communities.Weeks before the election, the historian Jill Lepore argued that the idea of a truth commission after Trump would minimize those earlier, historical wrongs: “Coming to terms with centuries of dispossession, enslavement and racial violence is a very different matter from reckoning with four years of a democratically elected president,” she wrote in The Washington Post. This underestimates the predation of the Trump administration—especially given that the Republican Party has now tossed aside its commitment to democratic elections going forward. But rather than separating Trump’s abuses from “centuries of dispossession,” an American truth commission might be better conceptualized as an investigation beginning with Trump and stretching backward. In many ways, Trump represents something genuinely new and warped, but he is also an extension of the uglier parts of the country’s character. “You’d need to contextualize Trump as part of the through line” of abuses over history, Zvobgo told me.The most obvious way to establish an independent commission would be through the legislative branch: the federal investigation into Japanese American internment was created by an act of Congress. But that commission had support from both Democrats and Republicans, a notion that seems far-fetched now. Even if Democrats manage to somehow push through a bill along a razor-thin majority—or if a commission were established by other means, perhaps an executive order—a post-Trump investigation pursued along partisan lines could be doomed from the start. This is the irony: The exact conditions that led to and sustained the Trump era—white grievance, a polluted media ecosystem, and political polarization—are the same conditions that will likely prevent a truth commission from succeeding.[Read: Is American healing even possible?]These problems are already apparent. Right-wing commentators have compared suggestions for a truth commission to threats of “totalitarianism” and “the guillotine.” It’s all too easy to imagine how Fox News and Newsmax would turn Trump supporters against even the most painstakingly fair commission—and how former administration officials could use this fury as a cover for refusing to testify, denying commissioners the participation they would need from perpetrators in order to succeed. A truth commission may be needed now in America to reestablish what Ignatieff calls “the range of permissible lies” about the country’s history, but how it would work is hard to see, precisely because so many liars have stopped asking for permission.“I just don’t think the country is ready” for a truth commission, Adam Kochanski, who studies transitional justice at McGill University, told me. In his view, the political divisions are too deep: “A lot of groundwork needs to be laid first in order for a truth-commission process to be successful and for the truth to stick.” Before a national truth commission can be possible, Kochanski told me, work needs to be done around restoring trust in government and “reestablishing truth.”Even so, “there’s never a ‘good time’ for transitional justice,” Zvobgo argued to me in the aftermath of the riot. “We just need to go for it.” Likewise, when I first spoke with him shortly after the November election, Joshua Inwood told me that a national truth commission is “probably a long shot.” An associate geography professor at Penn State University, where he has studied American truth commissions at the local and regional levels, Inwood found that U.S. commissions tend to do best when they enjoy strong grassroots support—which would be challenging to organize countrywide. When we spoke again after the Capitol riot, he remained cautious about the feasibility of a national truth commission, but felt that such an organization could help Americans “at least begin to have conversations about a shared set of facts and a shared reality.”If a truth commission does not emerge, other strategies exist for ensuring that wrongdoing is not forgotten. After the Capitol riot, a surge of energy has poured into shunning the Republican politicians who egged on the violence. Commentators have suggested that figures such as Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley be shunned for their role in precipitating the siege of the Capitol, and home-state newspapers are calling on the legislators to resign. The day after the riot, Simon & Schuster announced that it would no longer publish Hawley’s upcoming book.Social sanctions such as these are powerful in their own right, argues the political theorist Jacob T. Levy. After the 2019 resignation of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen—who was crucial in implementing the family-separation policy—the Niskanen Center, where Levy is a fellow, announced that it would refuse to associate with Nielsen or any organization that gave her an institutional home. Such shunning is “an important fallback when official impunity has been granted,” wrote Levy in the months before the election. His view is that, at a minimum, officials who engage in abuses of power “should not have their time in office counted in their favor by any institution making any decision about conferring status and prestige.”[Read: The man without a country]“It will take serious effort to shape the understanding of the election into ‘Trump was specifically rejected, for good reason that we should remember,’” Levy told me over email. “Without some widespread and visible ongoing rejection of those who served in the Trump administration, I don’t think we get any norm-rebuilding at all, just pious hopes.” A truth commission, he said, could help provide a documentary record to supplement that process, but the work ahead remains the same.And then, there is the question of prosecutions—a possibility that might have seemed far-fetched before January 6, but now appears somewhat plausible. Biden told reporters in August that prosecuting a former president would be “probably not very … good for democracy.” Yet Trump’s recent dangerous behavior undercuts one of the key arguments against, at a bare minimum, looking into possible criminality on the president’s part, not to mention that of other officials who may have committed crimes. As my colleague Paul Rosenzweig wrote in The Atlantic, “the promise not to prosecute after a term ends is part of the price we pay for the routine peaceful transition of power”—but now that Trump has already broken his side of the bargain, why make that payment?For this reason, justified investigations of Trump and his associates would help support the Biden administration’s effort to redraw the lines of what is and isn’t acceptable, and recommit the country to the much-battered principle that no one is above the law. And if a case ended up in court, it would set out the truth of Trump’s actions in the judicial record in black and white. This is a different form of justice than that offered by a truth commission, but it is also a form of healing, a way of saying that Trump’s vision of America is not the only way for the country to be.In the short run, any of these measures could risk making the country’s social and political divisions worse.  Republican lawmakers have threatened as much with their arguments that any efforts to hold them accountable for the Capitol riot would be divisive. Yet that may matter less than it seems. Truth commissions are often referred to as “truth and reconciliation commissions,” but, Zvobgo told me, scholars have begun to split truth from peacemaking in recent years. “Truth can be a foundation,” Zvobgo said, “for education, commemoration, trials, reparations”—all worth pursuing in and of themselves, whether or not reconciliation results. Reconciliation that forfeits truth is not a trade worth making in the United States today. No solid foundation can be built from forgetting. The challenge will be to avoid the temptation of polite forgetfulness and insist instead on acknowledging and uncovering what happened under Trump, and who was responsible.
  • The Atlantic Daily: 9 Poems to Read This Weekend
    Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.Amanda Gorman stole the show.In his piece on the performances at this week’s presidential inauguration, our Culture staff writer Spencer Kornhaber maintained that “the signature art-statement of the day came from a newcomer.”“It was Gorman’s delivery—flowing with tidal grace, accentuated by symphony-conductor hand motions—that cast a spell in the manner of great music,” he writes.Her recitation of “The Hill We Climb” is worth rewatching this weekend.If you’re feeling inspired—and looking for more poems to help you make sense of this moment in American history—keep reading. Below, eight writers and editors from around our newsroom share the poems they’ve been turning to at this juncture.  “PRAISE SONG FOR THE DAY” BY ELIZABETH ALEXANDERThe stitching of hems, the patching of tires, the making of music—“the day” as a banality and “the Day” as an exultation. “Praise Song,” written for Barack Obama’s first inauguration, thrillingly convenes the American quotidian and the American sublime. Notes of the poems I’ve loved sometimes whisper back to me, as I’m going about the business of my own little life: Audre Lorde’s ancient and familiar sorrows, William Butler Yeats’s ceremony of innocence, and, as of Wednesday, Gorman’s a nation that isn’t broken / but simply unfinished. It’s one of Alexander’s lines that has been echoing most loudly, though, in this moment of horror and hope: What if the mightiest word is love?— Megan Garber, staff writer covering culture“A NEW NATIONAL ANTHEM” BY ADA LIMÓN While I listened to Amanda Gorman on Wednesday, I was struck by how gracefully she captured the country’s dual states of celebration and mourning, anxiety and hope. I was reminded of Ada Limón’s “A New National Anthem,” which also reflects on America’s contradictions, exploring how our flag and anthem can be sources of both shame and pride: a weapon and a match being lit / in an endless cave. As we enter a new chapter in our history, I find Gorman’s and Limón’s words uplifting, not only because they gesture toward healing, but also because they invite the reader to actively be a part of that process.— Morgan Ome, assistant editor“A BIRTH” BY MURIEL RUKEYSER With the coming of a new era, it may be tempting to want a blank slate. The urge to forget unwelcome memories—or, at the very least, to hope they are finally a thing of the past—is a familiar one. Yet, as Muriel Rukeyser reminds us, not by evasion but by coming through can we celebrate what may be true beginning. I have found in her words the best counsel one could ask for in a moment of change.— Ena Alvarado, assistant editor“POEM WHERE NO ONE IS DEPORTED” BY JOSÉ OLIVAREZI think often about a Percy Bysshe Shelley quote that the poet Natasha Trethewey mentioned when we spoke about her memoir last year: “Poetry is the mirror that makes beautiful that which is distorted.” More than any other form, poetry can rewrite painful truths or accepted parts of life by giving voice to different possibilities—to alternate futures, even. This poem by José Olivarez is a beautiful example of that remarkable power.— Hannah Giorgis, staff writer covering culture“BOOT THEORY” BY RICHARD SIKEN Sometimes, when things feel bleak, I seek out art that makes me hopeful. Other times, I just want to see my own despair reflected back. For those times, Richard Siken’s “Boot Theory” is perfect, full of nightmarish visions of everything spiraling, nothing making sense. He captures the way that mundane life—the simple but incessant accumulation of days—can be absurd and exhausting. And then the second boot falls. / And then a third, a fourth, a fifth.— Faith Hill, assistant editor who helps select our Atlantic weekly poem“COMMENCEMENT SPEECH, DELIVERED TO A HERD OF WALRUS CALVES” BY MATTHEW OLZMANN My children, like all toddlers, are utterly fascinated by animals. Every day they wake up with a new favorite. Lion. Tiger. Zebra. Iguana. Penguin. But one that has particularly captured their attention is the walrus. We have read books about walruses, watched videos of walruses, and annoyed our neighbors by making too many walrus noises. So when I came across Matthew Olzmann’s “Commencement Speech, Delivered to a Herd of Walrus Calves,” I found it particularly resonant. Olzmann’s poem is equal parts profound and hilarious, speaking to the precarity of navigating a world fraught with danger while writing in a voice that centers levity rather than fear.— Clint Smith, staff writer and author of the poetry collection Counting Descent“OUR BIAS” BY W. H. AUDEN I went on a little W. H. Auden kick this week, and found myself returning to his poems about the nature of time. There are many of them, but one of my favorites is “Our Bias,” which points out the peculiarity of the human obsession with the past and the future. Auden sets forth the idea that the natural world is glorious because it does not suffer over time’s passage; and yet the human world is beautiful precisely because of this unique suffering.— Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor“THE END AND THE BEGINNING” BY WISŁAWA SZYMBORSKA Someone has to clean up. After a life’s worth of turmoil in her native Poland, Wisława Szymborska wrote of the unexpectedly precious dullness of peace, and the unglamorous work of restoring a functional society. Following years of daily outrage, Americans must roll up their sleeves to duty. Szymborska also flags the need to keep a clear memory of how we arrived here, to avoid the end rhyme of repeating history. Things won’t / straighten themselves up, after all.— Jennifer Adams, associate director of productionSign up for The Atlantic Daily here.
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  • NFL Journal: Experience in Vikings’ aggressive moves should benefit George Paton with Broncos
    When George Paton watched his Minnesota Vikings complete their season Jan. 3, only one player on the roster — center Brett Jones — was acquired via trade. But don’t think Paton, in his new role as the Broncos’ general manager, will stand idle in rebuilding a team in the midst of a five-year playoff drought. Paton made draft-and-develop his modus operandi (“The best way to build a football team”) during Tuesday’s introductory media session, but 24 years in pro football have taught him to be open-minded about any kind of move. “Will (we) be aggressive and dip into free agency or the trade market? Yeah, every now and then, but it takes that right type of player to do that,” he said. Last April, the Vikings traded disgruntled-but-outstanding receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo for a package that included Nos. 22, 155 and 201 picks in the 2020 draft and a 2021 fourth-round pick. Diggs (league-best 127 catches and 1,535 yards) has the Bills in Sunday’s AFC title game at Kansas City. The Vikings used the Bills’ first-round selection on Justin Jefferson, who finished fourth in the league with 1,400 receiving yards. “We’ve made a lot of moves like that,” said Paton, who declined to “specifically” address his role in the Diggs trade. One move that didn’t work out was acquiring Jacksonville pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 conditional pick. Ngakoue, an impending free agent, was flipped to Baltimore on Oct. 22 for a 2021 third-rounder and a 2022 conditional. It was a decent move by the Vikings to re-coup a Day 2 pick immediately instead of waiting for Ngakoue to sign elsewhere and get a compensatory pick in 2022. Armed with cap space and some young talent to shop if the deal is right, being bold should be Paton’s objective this offseason. “We’re going to look at every situation,” he said. “We’re going to be in every deal and if it’s right for the Denver Broncos, we’re going to make that move.” Around the Broncos Kubiak calls it a career. Former Broncos coach Gary Kubiak’s race has been run — he retired as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator on Thursday, ending a 36-year NFL career as a player and coach. Kubiak, 59, won Super Bowl rings as an assistant for San Francisco (1994) and the Broncos (1998-99) and as the Broncos’ head coach in 2015. Related Articles Kiszla: If Broncos don’t make playoffs next season, will it be last season for coach Vic Fangio? Kickin’ It with Kiz: Would Eric Bieniemy be better coach for the Broncos than Vic Fangio? Former Broncos right tackle Tony Jones passes away Pick 6: Odds on where Drew Lock will start in 2021, DeShaun Watson joins the Broncos Gary Kubiak retires after 36-year NFL career “He is an outstanding coach who did a masterful job of leading us to a win in Super Bowl 50, deftly navigating that season with tremendous instincts and feel every step of the way,” president/CEO Joe Ellis said in a statement. “Gary will always have a special place in our championship history.” Kubiak deserves a spot in the Broncos’ Ring of Fame because of his overall body of work with the organization. Gary’s son, Klint, could be in line to be promoted from Vikings quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. Klint, 33, attended Regis Jesuit in Aurora and Colorado State and served three years (2016-18) on the Broncos’ staff. Chasing the game. The Broncos trailed 55.6% of the time this past season (533 minutes, 37 seconds), compared with leading 27.9% (267:53) and being tied 16.5% (158:30). The Broncos never led in losses to Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Kansas City (first game), Atlanta, Las Vegas (first game), Buffalo and the Los Angeles Chargers (second game). They never trailed in only one game (New England). Around the NFL Rivers retires. Quarterback Philip Rivers, who retired on Tuesday, had many great duels with the Broncos over the years. According to the team, no quarterback started more games (30) and had more pass attempts (909), completions (564), yards (6,732) and touchdowns (46) against the Broncos than Rivers. Rivers was 13-17 all-time against the Broncos. Although he would be brilliant analyzing the game on television, his next stop is coaching high school football in Alabama and, in 2026, the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Turner shows versatility. Former Broncos offensive lineman Billy Turner’s ability to play multiple spots has proved valuable to Green Bay. Turner started every game at right guard in 2019 and moved to right tackle this year. But he started three games at midseason at left tackle when David Bakhtiari was unavailable (ribs). In December, Turner was back at right guard and then back to left tackle when Bakhtiari tore his ACL in practice on Dec. 31. “He’s definitely one of the unsung heroes of the season for so many reasons,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers told reporters. Second-time GMs. Last week, we wrote about how second-time general managers weren’t being considered for the seven openings. That changed … a little bit. Washington tabbed former Detroit GM Martin Mayhew and Jacksonville hired former San Francisco GM Trent Baalke. The caveat is coaches Ron Rivera (WFT) and Urban Meyer (Jaguars) lead the organization. Among the six head-coaching spots that have been filled, all have gone to first-timers although Meyer led four college programs and Detroit’s Dan Campbell was previously an interim head coach in Miami. Sunday’s picks. Let’s go with Tampa Bay upsetting Green Bay 30-24 in the NFC title game and Kansas City downing Buffalo 28-23 in the AFC title game. The common statistic: For the first time in the Super Bowl Era, each of the final four teams averaged at least 29 points per game in the regular season — Green Bay (31.8), Buffalo (31.3) and Tampa Bay (30.8) were the top three scoring teams and Kansas City was fifth (29.6). The Broncos were 28th (20.2). For Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, it would be his 10th Super Bowl appearance (6-3 record) if the Bucs win. It would be the second for Rodgers (1-0) and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes (1-0).
  • Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic making history as 7-foot passing wizard
    When it comes to Nikola Jokic, Isiah Thomas doesn’t see height. Heck, no. He sees a ninja. A cobra in a dragon’s body. In his mind, the Joker’s just another member of the club. The point guard club. “I look at Jokic as a 7-foot point guard,” Thomas, the NBA TV/Turner Sports analyst and longtime Detroit Pistons floor general, told The Post. “A 7-foot point guard (with) his passing skills, his ability to lead the break, rebound. “I think coach (Michael) Malone does the right thing by playing through him, recognizing his guard skills and not necessarily looking at him as just a traditional 7-footer, but having the awareness to see the talent that he has.” Yeah, but here’s the thing: Can a 7-footer really lead the NBA in assists? Isn’t 2020 over with? Aren’t we past the weird? “I believe he can,” Thomas replied, “because of the way (the Nuggets) play their offense. Because of his decision-making, his passing ability. Every offensive decision starts with him. And he makes the decision of who’s going to shoot, who’s going to score. And when he’s not passing … he’s capable of scoring himself.” Through the first fifth of the regular season, the Joker is putting up Oscar Robertson/Russell Westbrook numbers, darn near a triple-double every night: Through Saturday afternoon, the Serbian was averaging 25.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 9.9 assists over 35.3 minutes per game. But it’s the dimes that keep raising eyebrows. After Friday night’s action, Jokic remained the league’s leader in total assists, with 148 — 13 more than Dallas’ Luka Doncic. No starting NBA center has ever averaged double-digit in assists while appearing in at least 58 games. And no big man has led the league in total assists, the pride and purview of legendary point guards such as Thomas, since Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain did it back in 1967-68. We’ve been down this road before with the Big Honey, who’s the only starting NBA center to average at least six assists per game over three consecutive seasons (2017-2020). But as the Nuggets get Michael Porter Jr. back into the rotation and work shooters such as Jamal Murray, Will Barton and JaMychal Green into the flow, Jokic could have plenty of snipers to feed over the weeks to come. “Coach (Malone) is putting me in the right spot and I’m trying to just find an open guy,” the Nuggets All-Star said recently. “I love when everybody is involved. I think that’s really hard to guard when everybody is involved, when everybody expects the ball, and everyone is active on offense. That’s just really hard to guard, in my opinion.” It’s even harder to put into context. Former Nuggets assistant Bob Weiss was Chamberlain’s teammate as a twenty-something point guard with the 76ers from 1965-67. By that point, the Big Dipper had become “bored with the game,” Weiss recalled, that basketball had become a job in which the prodigiously gifted Chamberlain could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. “I never thought of Wilt as a creative passer,” Weiss explained. “But he was willing to give the ball up … he passed well enough to get the assist title (in ’67-68) but he wasn’t the same kind of passer that Joker is. Nikola is a little more creative, a little more mobile. It’s such a great value in today’s game, because it allows you, if you’re a coach, so many more options.” And other big men with great court vision haven’t been shy about passing the Joker their compliments. Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton (3.4 career assists per game) has sung Jokic’s praises, in his own Waltonesque way, on several occasions. And Vlade Divac (3.1 career assists per game), the Serbian native and former Lakers/Hornets/Kings center, said Big Honey is probably the best passing post player of the last three decades. “Joker just surpassed everybody,” Divac told The Post last week. “He went to the next level. “(His) basketball IQ is what impressed me. A lot of people in my time would ask me, how did I do it? And it was just hard to explain. You just see it before and you just do it. And I’m sure he does the same thing. He makes things happen before they happen.” The only question is whether he can keep making it happen, statistically, over the next four months or so. Health shouldn’t be an issue: Jokic has appeared in at least 81% of the Nuggets’ regular-season games since the start of the 2016-17 season. Related Articles Nuggets survive wild double-overtime vs. Suns, improve to 9-7 on the year Nuggets journal: Monte Morris is a bargain Denver should be happy to pay Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. returns following NBA’s protocol: Absence was “out of my control” Nikola Jokic, Nuggets survive OT in Phoenix to improve to 8-7 on the season Nuggets coach Michael Malone: You feel “spoiled” watching Nikola Jokic While the Joker appears to be in the best physical shape of his young career, Weiss notes that he’s also going to need rest, periodically, in anticipation of a spring playoff run to come. Chamberlain averaged a staggering 46.8 minutes per game in ’67-68, when he led the loop in dishes, after averaging 45.5 minutes and 7.8 assists the season prior. “So that gave him at least 10-12 minutes a game more than Joker is getting to get for his assists,” Weiss said. “So it’s hard to compare apples and oranges now, because the game was so different then. But I mean, (Jokic) is just a tremendous asset. Just on another planet.” Yeah, but can a 7-footer really lead the NBA in assists in this day and age? Over a full season? “He could,” Weiss said. “The thing I like about Joker is, he doesn’t go out here trying to get any particular stat. And so if he wanted to lead the league in assists, if he wanted to put his mind to it, he probably could.”
  • Colorado prep basketball players, coaches gear up for season with masks: “It’s going to be tough”
    Boston Stanton plays high school basketball with a relentless energy that often leaves the Denver East senior gasping for air when he finishes a fast break or sprints back in transition. Lately, it’s been difficult to catch his breath. High school players all across Colorado can relate. With high school basketball practices underway, and games starting Monday in a season abbreviated due to COVID-19, teams are grappling with a rule change mandating masks worn by all players during games. Stanton, among the state’s top boys basketball players, is conscious of health concerns that led to the mask requirement. “(They) want everybody to be safe just as much as we want to be able to go out and play,” he said. But he also joined a chorus of area players and coaches who anticipate significant challenges as a result of mandatory masking during games. “It stinks, and we’d rather not do it, but we all want to be able to play,” Stanton said. “I’ve cycled through three or four different types. I go back and forth between a couple of different ones that are easier to breathe in. It’s going to be tough getting used to it at first.” The Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) required masks for basketball in following guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to a CDPHE spokeswoman. Colorado is one of a handful of states — including North Carolina, Minnesota and Virginia — calling for player masks during games. But there are plenty more — such as Alabama, Missouri and North Dakota — that do not require masks during play. “Once you get inside (the gym), you’re really sharing that same airspace. Because you’re doing that, the risk is just going to go up,” Dr. Lisa Miller, a professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health. “Wearing a mask lessens risk.” The CDPHE recommends either cloth or disposable masks, according to CHSAA’s latest basketball bulletin, that are “composed of multiple layers of fabric or material. A mask might be too thin or porous if you can easily feel your breath in front of you (or can easily blow out a candle) while wearing it, or if you can easily see through it when stretched. Masks with exhalation vents should not be used as infectious droplets can be exhaled. The best mask is one that can be worn comfortably and consistently. Any mask or face-covering that covers the nose and mouth will work.” Multiple medical studies, published by the American Thoracic Society and the University of Saskatchewan, have found through clinical trials that “negative effects of using cloth or surgical facemasks during physical activity in healthy individuals are negligible” and there is “no discernable detrimental effect on blood or muscle oxygenation.” But science doesn’t change the uncomfortable reality for Colorado prep basketball players. “When you wear those blue disposable ones, they get covered in sweat and spit when you’re playing,” said Courtney Hank, a senior forward at Green Mountain High School. “Sometimes, when you breathe in, it comes with you when you inhale. … It’s definitely a mental game being able to push through the discomfort and being out of breath. Also, communication is a huge part that the masks take away from.” Masking presents challenges equally daunting for coaches as well. “We’ve been practicing in them,” Denver East boys basketball coach Rudy Carey said. “There is a tendency to let the masks slip down a little bit to gather air. But we’ve got to remind them it’s for their safety as well as everybody else’s safety. It’s new, but it’s necessary.” Jessika Caldwell, the head girls basketball coach at Valor Christian High School, has worked with players in small group sessions to identify how wearing masks might impact the flow of a game. The restriction of oxygen could lead to shorter playing shifts, Caldwell said, with depth becoming even more essential. Related Articles George Washington guard Jaida Redwine was one of Colorado prep hoops’ biggest secrets. Not anymore. CU Buffs commit Julian Hammond III leads loaded Cherry Creek into abbreviated 2021 season: “He’s just a winner” 20 Colorado high school boys basketball players to watch in 2021 20 Colorado high school girls basketball players to watch in 2021 preseason prep basketball rankings: Cherry Creek, Grandview atop 5A boys, girls top 15 “We’ve really been trying to figure out how long our athletes are able to go at full speed wearing a mask,” Caldwell said. “What is their top-out time? We’ve been trying to do a lot of drills and mini-games to see how we’re feeling and how long we can go.” Darren Pitzner, head girls basketball coach at Green Mountain, added: “We want to push our teams and get our legs and lungs ready, but we also can’t see the body language on kids’ faces. As coaches, that’s what we use to determine whether we can keep pushing or whether we need to back off.” Players like Stanton won’t allow masks to be used as an excuse for failure this season. Teams must play seven games to qualify for the playoffs, with three games scheduled per week. But one positive COVID-19 test among a team will require the entire team to quarantine for 14 days. “That’s six games gone out of 14. We can only really slip up once,” Stanton said. “The goal is to not slip up at all. … At the end of the day, it’s for a greater good. We’re all willing to sacrifice something for the end goal of a state championship.”
  • Ask Amy: Siblings can love (but not like) each other
    Dear Amy: After becoming a born-again Christian, my brother seemed to feel it was his responsibility to be my moral compass. He critiques my faith, my life and my family. He’s a far-right conservative and never fails to weigh in on any liberal post I make in social media, apparently feeling it necessary to correct my wrong-headedness. He even commented that his son’s liberal opinions weren’t valid. For most of this I just roll my eyes and ignore him. He has now chosen to voice his disapproval of my daughter. Why? Because she, with a successful career and beautiful family, is gay. He stated that while he loves my child, he can’t condone her lifestyle. As for my relationship with my brother, I’m not sure I want to get over this hurdle. I love him, I just don’t like him much right now, and I’m not sure that it’s worth maintaining a relationship when he keeps thumping me with his superiority and his Bible. — Seething Sister Dear Seething: Your brother has answered this for you: You can continue to love him, while not condoning HIS lifestyle. I gather that the majority of these connections happen over Facebook. The day you disengage from him, your blood pressure will return to normal. Look into how to hide, unfollow, and block before actually “unfriending” him. You can start by exploring the “snooze” function. Dear Amy: I have a dozen grandchildren. Since the first was born 14 years ago, all my grandkids have used a particular grandmother title, “Gee,” for me. I chose it because it’s easy, and because it doesn’t confuse me with other grandparents and great-grandparents, many of whom are still alive. One of my daughters lives overseas. She has two children (ages 2 and 4) Their European grandmother is local and sees the children all the time. Lately, via Zoom, my daughter has been referring to me as a mash-up of both grandmother names. To her children, she refers to me as “Nanny-Gee.” But that’s not my name. If this was an issue with any of my other children, I’d address it calmly and directly. This particular daughter, though, is provocative, argues unnecessarily, and institutes estrangement fairly frequently. I’m unwilling to rock her boat without good reason. I’m working very hard to maintain a long-distance relationship with these kids. I’d like to be called by MY name. Can you help me figure this out? Related Articles Ask Amy: Positive Penny meets Negative Nancy Ask Amy: Brother writes unsettling funeral home dispatches Ask Amy: “Barking” episodes make partner flee Ask Amy: I’ve fallen in love with my friend with benefits Ask Amy: Husband’s webcam habit affects the marriage — What’s In A Name? Dear What’s: Your name is not “Gee.” That’s the assigned endearment your American grandchildren use. Your European grandchildren are being prompted to refer to you by that name, with the prefix of “Nanny.” Nanny, like “Nana,” translates to “grandmother,” especially in Britain. Your daughter is asking them to call you “Grandmother Gee,” It’s an honorific. Given that you mainly know these very young children so far via video, I can see why your daughter prompts them in this way. She is making sure they realize that you are their grandmother, just like the grandmother they see regularly in real life. It is clear that you have a problematic history with this particular daughter, but my advice is that you should not create or inflate a problem where there shouldn’t be one. Must all of your grandchildren address you identically, and only by the name you choose? I hope not. Dear Amy: “M” asked if you had any advice for aspiring journal keepers. In my pediatric practice, I’ve noticed that many of my patients experience stress and anxiety, especially during the pandemic. Writing in a journal has helped me, so to introduce my patients to writing, I made up a short writing exercise, the 3-Minute Mental Makeover (3MMM). I give out journals and write together with my patients using the 3MMM as a guide. My research showed the 3MMM decreases stress for parents, kids, and health practitioners. To do the 3MMM, write: One: Three things you are grateful for. Be specific (“My dog when she wags her tail; My dad when he bakes cookies.”) Two: The story of your life in six words (Example: “Born, school, work, work, work, work.”) Three: Three wishes. (Pretend you rub a magic lamp. List your wishes.) I have used the 3MMM with thousands of people, and many who didn’t think they could write have started a reflective writing practice. — David G. Thoele, M.D., Chicago Dear David: This is wonderful! It is so thoughtful for a pediatrician to work with young patients in this way. I’m starting my own 3MMM writing practice today. (You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
  • Dustin Poirier knocks out Conor McGregor in 2nd round at UFC 257
    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Dustin Poirier stopped Conor McGregor with a flurry of punches midway through the second round Sunday, avenging his loss to the Irish superstar with a knockout victory at UFC 257. Poirier (26-7) caught McGregor with a series of shots to the head before buckling his knees with two left hands. Poirier then sent McGregor to the canvas with a short right hand and finished it swiftly, setting off stunned excitement among the few thousand screaming fans allowed inside the Etihad Arena on Yas Island. In his first fight in a year, McGregor (22-5) had a strong first round before he was stopped by punches for the first time in his mixed martial arts career. McGregor, whose previous four losses all came by submission, stayed on the canvas for several moments afterward, gathering himself after his second loss in three fights since 2016. Two wins vs Holloway. One win vs McGregor. Best boxer in the Octagon? #UFC257 — UFC (@ufc) January 24, 2021 “You know, it’s hard to overcome inactivity over long periods of time,” said McGregor, who hadn’t fought since beating Donald Cerrone last January. “I just wasn’t as comfortable as I needed to be, but Dustin is some fighter. If you put in the time, you’re going to get cozy in here. I have to dust it off and come back, and that’s what I will do. … I’ll take my licks, but I’m gutted.” McGregor and Poirier met for the first time in September 2014 as featherweights, and McGregor won by knockout in just 106 seconds during his incredible early-career success. McGregor became the featherweight champion 15 months later, while Poirier rebuilt his career with just one loss in his next 11 fights. With a second chance to derail McGregor while boosting his own hopes of regaining the lightweight title, Poirier didn’t miss. Sporting a shaved head and a beard, McGregor pushed the action early against Poirier, who landed an early takedown before getting backed against the cage for stretches of the first round. In the second, Poirier bothered McGregor with leg kicks before throwing the punches that ended it. In the co-main event at UFC 257, three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler made a stunning UFC debut with a violent knockout of New Zealand’s Dan Hooker midway through the first round. Chandler could be the next matchup for Poirier in a fight for the lightweight title apparently vacated by long-reigning 155-pound champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, who announced his retirement after his final victory last fall. UFC President Dana White so far has been unable to persuade Nurmagomedov to go back on his vow to his mother to quit the sport after his father’s death, not even for a wildly lucrative rematch with McGregor, who repeatedly vowed to fight on after this loss to Poirier. McGregor has not fought regularly in recent years, but his popularity was undiminished: UFC 257 is expected to be one of the most popular pay-per-view events in the promotion’s history, according to White, and distribution problems in the U.S. early in the PPV portion of the card led fans to bombard social media and ESPN with complaints. "I'm gutted." Conor McGregor reacts after his #UFC257 loss. — UFC (@ufc) January 24, 2021 Chandler’s long-anticipated UFC arrival was worth the wait for his 27th professional fight in a career that began in 2009. After a deliberate start, Chandler (22-5) jabbed to the body as he lunged forward and caught Hooker with a left hand to the face that crumpled his opponent. Chandler finished a dazed Hooker with punches on the ground before climbing atop the cage and doing a full standing backflip into the octagon from atop the fence. And Chandler was still fired up in his post-fight interview, calling the bout “the greatest moment of my professional life.” “Conor McGregor! Surprise, surprise, there’s a new king in the lightweight division,” Chandler added. “Dustin Poirier, your time is coming. And Khabib, if you ever do see fit to grace us with your presence back here in the UFC octagon in your quest for 30 (victories), you know you’ve got to beat somebody, so beat me — if you can!” Marina Rodriguez opened the pay-per-view portion of UFC 257 by upsetting fellow Brazilian strawweight contender Amanda Ribas. Rodriguez got a second-round stoppage with a flurry of punches and a knee in the opening minute. UFC 257 concluded a run of three shows in eight days with a few thousand fans allowed inside the promotion’s coronavirus bubble in the Middle East. The promotion hadn’t held shows with fans since before the pandemic began last March. The UFC returns to Las Vegas in two weeks for another run of shows at the fan-free Apex gym on its corporate campus.
  • With COVID-19 variant positives, Michigan pauses athletics
    ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The entire University of Michigan athletic department is pausing after several positive tests for the new COVID-19 variant that transmits at a higher rate. The state Department of Health and Human Services issued the mandate Saturday, with the school saying it follows the positive COVID-19 tests for several individuals linked to the athletic department. The entire department could be in quarantine for two weeks. The 11th-ranked women’s basketball team was set to play at home against Purdue on Sunday. That was one of four athletic events the school had scheduled. The men’s tennis team was hosting a tournament while women’s tennis was in Atlanta. The men’s gymnastics event at Nebraska was also postponed. The seventh-ranked men’s basketball team wasn’t supposed to play until Wednesday at Penn State. “Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread among student-athletes, coaches, staff, and to the student-athletes at other schools,” athletic director Warde Manuel said. Michigan said it was worked diligently within state and Big Ten guidelines, but the state’s HHS department is mandating a more aggressive strategy for the new variant. Michigan’s men’s basketball team leads the Big Ten and had four games scheduled in the next two weeks, including a big rivalry game against Michigan State on Feb. 6. The women’s team currently has its highest AP ranking ever. Ohio State handed the Wolverines their first loss of the season Thursday despite 50 points by Michigan’s Naz Hillmon. The Wolverines were supposed to play six games between now and Feb. 7, including two against Michigan State.
  • Nuggets survive wild double-overtime vs. Suns, improve to 9-7 on the year
    If it was a beauty contest, the Nuggets would’ve been embarrassed. Not that they have any reason to apologize. The Nuggets survived a gripping double-overtime affair against the Phoenix Suns, this time escaping with a 120-112 win. “This felt like a playoff game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said in the aftermath. After Jamal Murray’s preposterous 3-pointer tied it to end regulation, and Jae Crowder’s equally stunning triple tied it to end the first overtime, Nikola Jokic and Monte Morris sealed it in the second extra session. The effort gave the Nuggets consecutive overtime wins over Phoenix, and improved their record to 9-7 on the year, with another road game Monday at Dallas. Morris, still with life in his legs, gave the Nuggets a quick cushion off a layup and then a 3-pointer to start the second OT. Jokic, seemingly exhausted on the second night of a back-to-back, drilled two more shots in the lane to create a healthy buffer. Later, Jamal Murray buried one of his patented step-backs to end Phoenix’s hopes. “It’s a very delicate balance,” Malone said, when asked about the 85 combined minutes from Jokic and Murray. “You want to win the game … They ran their guys, we ran our guys.” The game nearly ended in the first overtime, after Jokic finished a reverse layup, which gave the Nuggets a two-point cushion. And despite a crucial shooting foul against PJ Dozier, Suns guard Abdel Nader missed two of three free throws that could’ve tied the game yet again. Jokic grabbed the final miss, and his ensuing two free throws would’ve won it had Crowder’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer not dropped. “I was feeling good,” Jokic said. “You know when you are playing you are feeling good … I mean, good. Tired but good.” Jokic finished with 29 points, 22 rebounds and six assists. His monster effort gave the Nuggets a decisive 65-50 edge on the boards. Michael Porter Jr. was integral on the glass as well, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds in just his second game back following an extended absence. Murray added 26 points in 43 minutes. Chris Paul and Crowder paced the Suns with 21 points each, as Paul dished a team-high 13 assists. It took nearly six minutes of the third quarter, but the Nuggets finally scored. The only reason Phoenix didn’t blow it up open was because their offense was equally as awful. Gary Harris drained a 3-pointer from the corner to stop the drought, but the out-of-sync offense had built another hole. Phoenix was up 69-61 before the Nuggets returned to their more productive bench unit, featuring Porter, Morris and JaMychal Green. Morris, like he did Friday, drained another clutch 3-pointer but the Suns carried a 77-73 lead into the fourth. The 16-15 quarter in favor of Phoenix may have been as much about tired legs as it was about seeing the same team over again. Regardless, it won’t be on either team’s highlight reel. Saturday marked Denver’s only back-to-back series of the first half of the season against the same opponent. Malone said he tried to maintain some semblance of normalcy, even though his players couldn’t go anywhere in Phoenix and they all needed to get tested three times. “It’s challenging because the policies are ever-changing, and I get it,” Malone said. “That’s not a complaint. The NBA is doing everything within their power to try to keep this season going.” The Nuggets met Saturday afternoon as a team and dissected film from Friday’s overtime win against the Suns. “We didn’t change what we were doing in the second half (Friday),” Malone said. “We just did it a hell of a lot harder, with more intensity, with more discipline and for longer stretches.” Their defense Saturday, at least to start, was marginally better. Related Articles Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic making history as 7-foot passing wizard Nuggets journal: Monte Morris is a bargain Denver should be happy to pay Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. returns following NBA’s protocol: Absence was “out of my control” Nikola Jokic, Nuggets survive OT in Phoenix to improve to 8-7 on the season Nuggets coach Michael Malone: You feel “spoiled” watching Nikola Jokic Unlike Friday night, when the Nuggets’ starters sunk them in a 14-point deficit at the break, Denver stuck with the Suns throughout the first half. The Nuggets entered halftime down 61-58, which was encouraging given how little they’d gotten from starters Will Barton and Paul Millsap. Jokic, Murray and Porter picked up the slack. Jokic finished the half with 11 points and eight rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. His timing and soft hands gave the Nuggets a 14-5 edge on second-chance opportunities. Despite the shoulder sprain, Murray poured in a team-high 14 points over the first two quarters, including his first 3-pointer in three games. Porter’s boost was substantial. Coming off the bench, he rained three 3-pointers, lifting Denver’s bench unit with 12 points in just 10 minutes of action. There was no hesitation, whatsoever, when he got space. The trio’s offense helped offset 10 first-half 3-pointers from the Suns.      
  • Colorado rallies from 18 down, beats Washington State 70-59
    PULLMAN, Wash. — Evan Battey had 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, McKinley Wright IV added all 12 of his points in the second half, and Colorado rallied from an 18-point, first-half deficit to beat Washington State 70-59 on Saturday night. The Buffaloes (12-4, 6-3 Pac 12) opened the second half with a 19-6 run to take a 49-43 lead on Maddox Daniels’ 3-pointer with 10:51 left. The Cougars stopped the run briefly and then Jabari Walker scored eight and Wright added six of Colorado’s 14 straight points to build its biggest lead at 66-48. D’Shawn Schwartz added 11 points and Walker had nine. Wright added seven rebounds and five assists. Isaac Bonton scored nine of his 21 points in the first eight minutes of the game while the Cougars (9-6, 2-6) made nine of their first 10 shots and jumped to a 23-5 lead. The Buffaloes made 2 of 11 shots during the same stretch. Noah Williams added 16 points and Dishon Jackson had 10 for Washington State, which had its losing streak extend to five games. Colorado returns to Boulder for a five-game home stand starting with a rematch with Washington State on Wednesday.
  • Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain, GOP governor
    PHOENIX — Arizona Republicans voted Saturday to censure Cindy McCain and two prominent GOP members who have found themselves crosswise with former President Donald Trump. The censures of Sen. John McCain’s widow, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Gov. Doug Ducey are merely symbolic. But they show the party’s foot soldiers are focused on enforcing loyalty to Trump, even in the wake of an election that saw Arizona inch away from its staunchly Republican roots. Party activists also reelected controversial Chairwoman Kelli Ward, who has been one of Trump’s most unflinching supporters and among the most prolific promoters of his baseless allegations of election fraud. The Arizona GOP’s combative focus has delighted Trump’s staunchest supporters and worried Republican insiders who have watched the party lose ground in the suburbs as the influence of its traditional conservative establishment has faded in favor of Trump. A growing electorate of young Latinos and newcomers bringing their more liberal politics from back home have further hurt the GOP. “This is a time for choosing for Republicans. Are we going to be the conservative party?” said Kirk Adams, a former state House speaker and chief of staff to Ducey. “Or is this a party … that’s loyal to a single person?” It’s a question of Republican identity that party officials and activists are facing across the country following Trump’s 2020 loss, and particularly after a mob of his supporters laid siege on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Nowhere is the question more acute than Arizona, where the state GOP’s unflinching loyalty to Trump stands out even in a party that’s been remade everywhere in the image of the former president. Ward has relentlessly — but unsuccessfully — sued to overturn the election results. The party has used its social media accounts to urge followers to fight and perhaps even to die in support of Trump’s false claims of victory. Two of the state’s four Republican congressmen are accused of playing a role in organizing the Jan. 6 rally that turned violent. After dominating Arizona politics for decades, Republicans now find themselves on their heels in the state’s highest offices. President Joe Biden narrowly eked out a victory here, becoming just the second Democrat in more than five decades to win the state. Consecutive victories in 2018 and 2020 gave Democrats control of both U.S. Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years. Ward, a physician and former state legislator who lost two Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate, defeated three challengers to win a second term. In a brief interview, Ward acknowledged “disappointment at the top of the ticket” but said she and many other Republicans still question the results showing victories for Biden and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Judges have rejected eight lawsuits challenging Arizona’s election results. Ward pointed to GOP successes down the ballot, noting Republicans defied expectations in local races. Ward said she’s a “Trump Republican” who will “always put America first, who believes in faith, family and freedom.” The way forward for the GOP, she said, is keeping Trump’s 74 million voters engaged. “Yes, I will be radical about those things because those are the things that keep this country great,” Ward said. “The people who are complaining are the people who actually put us in this spot where we are in Arizona, people who have been mamby pamby, lie down and allow the Democrats to walk all over them.” The censures target some of Arizona’s most prominent Republicans, Cindy McCain endorsed Biden and became a powerful surrogate for the Democrat following years of attacks by Trump on her husband. “Maybe (Ward) should be reminded that my husband never lost an Arizona election since his first win in 1982,” McCain said in a statement before the vote. Flake was one of the few congressional Republicans who was openly critical of Trump for failing to adhere to conservative values. He declined to run for reelection in 2018 and endorsed Biden in last year’s election. “If condoning the President’s behavior is required to stay in the Party’s good graces, I’m just fine being on the outs,” Flake wrote on Twitter before the vote. Ducey is being targeted for his restrictions on individuals and businesses to contain the spread of COVID-19. While it’s not mentioned in the proposed censure, he had a high-profile break with the president when he signed the certification of Biden’s victory. “These resolutions are of no consequence whatsoever and the people behind them have lost whatever little moral authority they may have once had,” said Sara Mueller, Ducey’s political director. Many traditional conservatives fret that the censures and Ward’s combative style turn off the swing voters and ticket-splitters who handed Democrats their recent victories. But they say the party’s decisions will reflect only the views of about 1,500 committed activists. John McCain was censured by the state GOP in 2014 and went on to comfortably win a Republican primary over Ward and a general election. The self-described maverick, known best for his willingness to buck his party, had strained relations with the state party for much of his career but was consistently reelected by wide margins. ___ Associated Press writer Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed.
  • U.S. 50 east of Cañon City is back open after removal of road debris
    The westbound lanes of U.S. 50 have reopened after concrete had fallen from a bridge, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. The highway closure happened between 12th Street and Malibu Boulevard near Penrose, about five miles east of Cañon City. It’s not clear what part of the highway has opened up, because engineers need to inspect the bridge to ensure it’s safe to send cars through the underpass, CDOT said. Related Articles RTD, flush with COVID relief money, is calling back laid-off employees Two Coloradans chosen for positions in Biden’s transportation department Strong winds topple trees in the metro area with widespread gusts up to 65 mph How to avoid the worst MLK mountain traffic on I-70 this weekend Screws on I-70 near Lookout Mountain flatten dozens of tires Monday A spokesman wasn’t sure when the bridge was damaged. It probably was caused by an oversized truck, which apparently kept driving after hitting the bridge, he said. US 50 WB: Road open between 12th St and Malibu Blvd. — CDOT (@ColoradoDOT) January 24, 2021
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  • He created the Web. Now he’s out to remake the digital world.
    By Steve Lohr, The New York Times Company Three decades ago, Tim Berners-Lee devised simple yet powerful standards for locating, linking and presenting multimedia documents online. He set them free into the world, unleashing the World Wide Web. Others became internet billionaires, while Berners-Lee became the steward of the technical norms intended to help the web flourish as an egalitarian tool of connection and information sharing. But now, Berners-Lee, 65, believes the online world has gone astray. Too much power and too much personal data, he said, reside with tech giants like Google and Facebook — “silos” is the generic term he favors, instead of referring to the companies by name. Fueled by vast troves of data, he said, they have become surveillance platforms and gatekeepers of innovation. Regulators have voiced similar complaints. The big tech companies are facing tougher privacy rules in Europe and some American states, led by California. Google and Facebook have been hit with antitrust suits. But Berners-Lee is taking a different approach: His answer to the problem is technology that gives individuals more power. The goal, he said, is to move toward “the web that I originally wanted.” “Pods,” personal online data stores, are a key technical ingredient to achieve that goal. The idea is that each person could control his or her own data — websites visited, credit card purchases, workout routines, music streamed — in an individual data safe, typically a sliver of server space. Companies could gain access to a person’s data, with permission, through a secure link for a specific task like processing a loan application or delivering a personalized ad. They could link to and use personal information selectively, but not store it. Berners-Lee’s vision of personal data sovereignty stands in sharp contrast to the harvest-and-hoard model of the big tech companies. But it has some echoes of the original web formula — a set of technology standards that developers can use to write programs and that entrepreneurs and companies can use to build businesses. He began an open-source software project, Solid, and later founded a company, Inrupt, with John Bruce, a veteran of five previous startups, to kick-start adoption. “This is about making markets,” said Berners-Lee, who is Inrupt’s chief technology officer. Related Articles On factory floors, a chime and flashing light to maintain distance President Biden’s tech to-do list Amazon won’t have to restore Parler web service, judge says What exactly is a Carvana tower? Rezoning board ponders unusual project Want to invest more this year? Treat it like a subscription Inrupt introduced in November its server software for enterprises and government agencies. And the startup is getting a handful of pilot projects underway in earnest this year, including ones with Britain’s National Health Service and with the government of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. Inrupt’s initial business model is to charge licensing fees for its commercial software, which uses the Solid open-source technology but has enhanced security, management and developer tools. The Boston-based company has raised about $20 million in venture funding. Startups, Berners-Lee noted, can play a crucial role in accelerating the adoption of a new technology. The web, he said, really took off after Netscape introduced web-browsing software and Red Hat brought Linux, the open-source operating system, into corporate data centers. Over the years, companies focused on protecting users’ privacy online have come and gone. The software of these “infomediaries” was often limited and clunky, appealing only to the most privacy conscious. But the technology has become faster and smarter — and pressure on the big tech companies is mounting. Tech companies have formed a Data Transfer Project, committing to make personal data they hold portable. It now comprises Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Twitter. The Federal Trade Commission recently held a “Data to Go” workshop. “In this changed regulatory setting, there is a market opportunity for Tim Berners-Lee’s firm and others to offer individuals better ways to control their data,” said Peter Swire, a privacy expert at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. Inrupt is betting that trusted organizations will initially be the sponsors of pods. The pods are free for users. If the concept takes off, low-cost or free personal data services — similar to today’s email services — could emerge. The National Health Service has been working with Inrupt on a pilot project for the care of dementia patients that moves from development into the field this month. The early goal is to give caregivers access to a broader view of patients’ health, needs and preferences. Each patient has a Solid pod with an “All About Me” form with information submitted by the patient or an authorized relative, supplementing the person’s electronic health record. The pod might list that the patient needs help for daily tasks like getting out of bed, tying shoelaces or going to the bathroom. It might also include what soothes the patient when agitated — perhaps country music or classic old movies. Later, activity data from an Apple Watch or Fitbit could be added. The medical goal, said Scott Watson, technical director on the pilot project, is improved health and better care that are less stressful for the patient. “And it’s a fundamental change in how we share information in health care systems,” he said. The initial project will begin with up to 50 patients in the Manchester region and be evaluated in a few months. In Flanders, a region of more than 6 million people, the government hopes the new data technology can nurture opportunities for local entrepreneurs and companies and new services for citizens. Personal data in pods can be linked with public and private data to create new applications, said Raf Buyle, an information architect for the Flanders government. One potential app, Buyle said, might suggest routes and modes of travel for work commutes, once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Such an app, he said, could combine location data from a person’s smartphone, with preferences for exercise and reducing the carbon footprint, and weather and public transport schedules and bike or scooter rental pickup sites. “Most of the cool use cases will come from companies building new apps on top of the data,” Buyle said. For Berners-Lee, the Solid-Inrupt venture is a fix-it project. He has spent his career championing information sharing, openness and personal empowerment online — as director of the World Wide Web Consortium, president of the Open Data Institute, and an academic at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Oxford University. His accolades include a Turing Award, often called the Nobel Prize of computer science. In his native England, he is a knight — Sir Tim. “But Tim has become increasingly concerned as power in the digital world is weighted against the individual,” said Daniel Weitzner, a principal research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “That shift is what Solid and Inrupt are meant to correct.” The push to give individuals greater control over their data, Berners-Lee said, often begins as a privacy issue. But a new deal on data, he said, will require entrepreneurs, engineers and investors to see opportunities for new products and services, just as they did with the web. The long view is a thriving decentralized marketplace, fueled by personal empowerment and collaboration, Berners-Lee said. “The end vision is very powerful,” he said. Whether his team can realize that vision is uncertain. Some in the field of personal data say the Solid-Inrupt technology is too academic for mainstream developers. They also question whether the technology will achieve the speed and power needed to become a platform for future apps, like software assistants animated by a person’s data. “No one will argue with the direction,” said Liam Broza, a founder of LifeScope, an open-source data project. “He’s on the right side of history. But is what he’s doing really going to work?” Others say the Solid-Inrupt technology is only part of the answer. “There is lots of work outside Tim Berners-Lee’s project that will be vital to the vision,” said Kaliya Young, co-chair of the Internet Identity Workshop, whose members focus on digital identity. Berners-Lee said that his team was not inventing its own identity system, and that anything that worked could plug into its technology. Inrupt faces a series of technical challenges, but none that are “go-to-the-moon hard,” said Bruce Schneier, a well-known computer security and privacy expert, who has joined Inrupt as its chief of security architecture. And Schneier is an optimist. “This technology could unlock an enormous amount of innovation,” potentially becoming a new platform as the iPhone was for smartphone apps, he said. “I think this stands a good chance of changing how the internet works,” he said. “Oddly, Tim has done it before.”
  • On factory floors, a chime and flashing light to maintain distance
    By Christopher F. Schuetze, The New York Times Company BERLIN — The 2019-20 National Basketball Association season was suspended for over 140 days after a player tested positive for the coronavirus. But once play resumed in late July, no other players tested positive. The league was able to evade the virus by requiring teams to live and play their games in an isolated area known as the Bubble, at the closed Disney World resort in Florida. But a small piece of technology also played a role: a wristband that players, coaches and trainers could wear off the court, and that was required for reporters covering the teams. A tiny digital chip in the band enforces social distancing by issuing a warning — by light and sound — when wearers get too close to one another for too long off. The bands have been picked up by the National Football League, the Pacific-12 college conference and other sports leagues around the world. The Munich startup behind the NBA’s wristbands, Kinexon, is happy with the publicity of helping prevent top athletes from catching the virus, even as such devices raise privacy concerns. Now it is looking toward broader arenas: factory production lines, warehouses and logistics centers where millions of people continue to work despite the pandemic. One of the companies working with Kinexon is Henkel, a global industrial and household chemical manufacturer based in Germany. When the coronavirus infected about a dozen workers in Henkel’s plant in Serbia last spring, the two-week shutdown that followed cost millions of dollars in lost revenue, said Wolfgang Weber, a senior manager for Henkel. Henkel was already testing an earlier version of Kinexon’s wearable tech, designed to avert collisions between forklifts and workers on high-traffic factory floors. The system’s sensors would automatically stop a forklift if it got too close to a worker. After the outbreak at the Serbian plant and within weeks of the first wave of pandemic lockdowns, Kinexon offered Henkel a chance to test a variation of that technology, called SafeZone. Its half-ounce sensor, worn on the wrist like a watch or around the neck on a lanyard or on a badge, makes a chime and flashes when another sensor is within a prescribed distance for a set period. Henkel agreed to give it a try. Testing the devices in real life was important to Kinexon. Anna Liminowicz, The New York Times)SafeZone sensors at the Henkel plant in Raciborz, Poland, on Oct. 8, 2020. Businesses like Henkel, a big German chemical company, are trying wearable sensors to prevent virus outbreaks among workers. (Anna Liminowicz/The New York Times) “What’s important in this is not only to have the technology working in a lab — what’s important now is to be able to bring the technology to where people need it,” said Oliver Trinchera, who co-founded Kinexon in 2012 and is one of its directors, “be it on the factory floor or on the sports pitch.” Henkel tested the system on the entire staff of its plant in Raciborz, Poland, a big facility on the southern outskirts of a medieval coal town, where 250 people work three shifts a day making and packaging powdered and liquid detergent for Central Europe. Related Articles He created the Web. Now he’s out to remake the digital world. President Biden’s tech to-do list Amazon won’t have to restore Parler web service, judge says What exactly is a Carvana tower? Rezoning board ponders unusual project Want to invest more this year? Treat it like a subscription The sensors were programmed to go off when two people were within 1.5 meters, roughly 6 feet, of each other for more than 5 seconds. The sensors measure distance using ultra-broadband signals, which Kinexon says are more accurate and use far less energy than Bluetooth signals, the other technology often found in coronavirus tracing apps. The workers wear the sensors throughout their shift, reminding them to keep their distance even during lunch in the canteens. Adrian Wycisk, the plant’s manager, compared the sensors’ chimes to the alert in cars when people haven’t put on their seat belts. “It ultimately changes the behavior in drivers,” he said, adding that he has seen a marked improvement in workers’ keeping a safe distance. The system stores, for several weeks, information on when a worker was near other workers — a potentially useful tool for tracing interactions if a worker becomes infected, but one that raises worries about management’s keeping tabs on a worker’s movements all shift long. Henkel said that it gave only a small number of senior managers access to the data, and that the company had distributed pamphlets explaining to workers that the badges would never be used to track their movements. The data records which employees interacted, not where the interaction took place. Wycisk said Henkel had vowed to retrieve the information only if a coronavirus infection needed to be traced. The German union that represents Henkel workers declined to comment about the technology. In the long run, the technology could also help Henkel reconfigure some of its production procedures to avoid close contact, Weber said.   Kinexon has sold the technology to a number of well-known German manufacturing and cargo companies — the tire maker Continental and the logistics giant DB Schenker were early adopters. Kinexon said that it has worked with U.S. companies, but that it was contractually obligated not to release their names. Overall, the company said it is supplying the technology to over 200 companies worldwide. It estimates its badges have prevented 1.5 million contacts a day, a difficult number to confirm. The sensors are priced between $100 and $200 each. The six-week test in Raciborz, during which no worker tested positive, persuaded Henkel to roll out the technology in its cleaning-chemicals production sites over the next year. How many of the company’s 52,000 employees worldwide ultimately wear the technology depends on how long the pandemic continues. If the vaccines are successful and the pandemic is overcome sometime this year, Weber said, he plans to the reuse the sensors for their original intent: to avoid collisions between workers and forklifts. The fact that such plans would require fewer badges than Henkel acquiring is not a concern. “I would still say that it is a success,” he said.
  • President Biden’s tech to-do list
    President Joe Biden is inheriting tricky tech questions including how to rein in powerful digital superstars, what to do about Chinese technology and how to bring more Americans online. Here’s a glimpse at opportunities and challenges in technology policy for the new Biden administration: Restraining tech powers Under the Trump administration, there were investigations, lawsuits and noisy squabbles over the power of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and other tech companies. Tech giants can expect more of the same under Biden and a Congress narrowly controlled by Democrats. Government lawsuits that accused Google and Facebook of breaking the law to become successful or stay that way will be handed off to the new administration, which is expected to continue them. More lawsuits could come, too, possibly making it harder for Big Tech to continue as is. On Tuesday, a top Justice Department lawyer appointed by former President Donald Trump agreed with many of the prescriptions from congressional Democrats who said America’s top four tech superpowers are harmful monopolies. The speech showed that hating Big Tech is one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement. Online speech This was a central internet dispute long before Facebook and Twitter locked Trump’s accounts after he incited a mob. The question of what, if anything, the government should do about online expression is just getting trickier. This policy fight has fixated on a bedrock 1996 internet law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives websites some legal protection for what their users do. It means Yelp can let people leave reviews and screen them for fraud or nastiness, without being legally accountable to unhappy restaurant owners. And yet, the law also protects websites where people post sexually explicit photos of their exes without permission. Democrats and Republicans both have misgivings about Section 230, but not for the same reasons. Those on the right have said that the law gives internet companies too much leeway to intervene in what people say online. Democrats, including Biden, have said that internet companies have too much cover not to intervene in harmful posts. The uneasiness with Section 230 increases the likelihood of at least some modifications. Those might include rescinding the legal protections for sites that host misinformation about voting or forcing companies to be clear about how their posts are moderated. Tech and China The Trump administration’s fumbling over Chinese apps including TikTok was a missed opportunity to address an important question: What should the U.S. government do about globally important technology from countries that don’t share America’s values? Biden seems to agree with the Trump administration’s concerns about the ambitions of China in tech and other areas, but he hasn’t said much beyond aiming for a more consistent and coherent policy. Biden has also expressed support for more government investment in essential U.S. technology to counter China’s tech ambitions. Digital divide The pandemic highlighted a persistent gap between Americans who can get access to and afford internet service and the millions who can’t, particularly in low-income or rural households. Related Articles He created the Web. Now he’s out to remake the digital world. On factory floors, a chime and flashing light to maintain distance Amazon won’t have to restore Parler web service, judge says What exactly is a Carvana tower? Rezoning board ponders unusual project Want to invest more this year? Treat it like a subscription Biden’s priorities mention “universal broadband,” but he hasn’t specified how to get there. The Washington Post reported that Biden’s advisers want to enhance E-Rate, a program to help schools and libraries provide internet access. What else? Biden’s economic revival plan includes suggestions to “launch the most ambitious effort ever” to modernize U.S. cyberdefenses. Maybe this is the year for a federal data privacy law? And there are rifts among Democrats on special employment treatment for “gig” workers. The most urgent priorities for the new administration are to end the pandemic and help Americans recover from the damage. But how the U.S. government handles these complex tech questions will also have a big effect on Americans and others around the world.
  • Amazon won’t have to restore Parler web service, judge says
    Amazon won’t be forced to restore web service to Parler after a federal judge ruled Thursday against a plea to reinstate the fast-growing social media app favored by followers of former President Donald Trump. U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle said she wasn’t dismissing Parler’s “substantive underlying claims” against Amazon, but said it had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction forcing it back online. Amazon kicked Parler off its web-hosting service on Jan. 11. In court filings, it said the suspension was a “last resort” to block Parler from harboring violent plans to disrupt the presidential transition. The Seattle tech giant said Parler had shown an “unwillingness and inability” to remove a slew of dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others. The social media app, a magnet for the far right, sued to get back online, arguing that Amazon had breached its contract and abused its market power. It said Trump was likely on the brink of joining the platform, following a wave of his followers who flocked to the app after Twitter and Facebook expelled Trump after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Parler CEO John Matze asserted in a court filing that Parler’s abrupt shutdown was motivated at least partly by “a desire to deny President Trump a platform on any large social-media service.” Matze said Trump had contemplated joining the network as early as October under a pseudonym. The Trump administration last week declined to comment on whether he had planned to join. Amazon denied its move to pull the plug on Parler had anything to do with political animus. It claimed that Parler had breached its business agreement “by hosting content advocating violence and failing to timely take that content down.” Parler was formed in May 2018, according to Nevada business records, with what co-founder Rebekah Mercer, a prominent Trump backer and conservative donor, later described as the goal of creating “a neutral platform for free speech” away from “the tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords.” Amazon said the company signed up for its cloud computing services about a month later, thereby agreeing to its rules against dangerous content. Matze told the court that Parler has “no tolerance for inciting violence or lawbreaking” and has relied on volunteer “jurors” to flag problem posts and vote on whether they should be removed. More recently, he said the company informed Amazon it would soon begin using artificial intelligence to automatically pre-screen posts for inappropriate content, as bigger social media companies do. Amazon last week revealed a trove of incendiary and violent posts that it had reported to Parler over the past several weeks. They included explicit calls to harm high-profile political and business leaders and broader groups of people, such as schoolteachers and Black Lives Matter activists. Google and Apple were the first tech giants to take action against Parler in the days after the deadly Capitol. Both companies temporarily banned the smartphone app from their app stores. But people who had already downloaded the Parler app were still able to use it until Amazon Web Services pulled the plug on the website. Related Articles He created the Web. Now he’s out to remake the digital world. On factory floors, a chime and flashing light to maintain distance President Biden’s tech to-do list What exactly is a Carvana tower? Rezoning board ponders unusual project Want to invest more this year? Treat it like a subscription Parler has stayed online by maintaining its internet registration through Epik, a U.S. company owned by libertarian businessman Rob Monster. Epik has previously hosted 8chan, an online message board known for trafficking in hate speech. Parler also gets support against denial-of-service and other attacks from DDoS-Guard, a company whose owners are listed as residing in Russia, public records show. The case has offered a rare window into Amazon’s influence over the workings of the internet. Parler also argued in its lawsuit that Amazon violated antitrust laws by colluding with Twitter to quash the upstart social media app, although it offered little evidence for that claim other than the fact that Twitter, like Parler, is an Amazon Web Services customer. Amazon said Twitter doesn’t use its cloud services to power its main feed, though it will in the future. Rothstein has been on the Seattle-based court since her 1980 appointment by Democratic President Jimmy Carter.
  • Selena Gomez: Big Tech “cashing in from evil”
    LOS ANGELES — Hours after an angry mob of Trump supporters took control of the U.S. Capitol in a violent insurrection, Selena Gomez laid much of the blame at the feet of Big Tech. “Today is the result of allowing people with hate in their hearts to use platforms that should be used to bring people together and allow people to build community,” tweeted the singer/actor. “Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Jack Dorsey, Sundar Pichai, Susan Wojcicki — you have all failed the American people today, and I hope you’re going to fix things moving forward.” It’s just the latest effort by the 28-year-old Gomez to draw attention to the danger of internet companies critics say have profited from misinformation and hate on their platforms. Gomez has been calling out Big Tech for months — publicly on the very platforms she’s fighting and privately in conversations with Silicon Valley’s big hitters. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Gomez said she’s frustrated by what she views as the companies’ lackluster response and that they have to “stop doing the bare minimum.” “It isn’t about me versus you, one political party versus another. This is about truth versus lies and Facebook, Instagram and big tech companies have to stop allowing lies to just flow and pretend to be the truth,” Gomez said in a phone interview from New York. “Facebook continues to allow dangerous lies about vaccines and COVID and the U.S. election, and neo-Nazi groups are selling racist products via Instagram. “Enough is enough,” she said. Facebook and Twitter representatives declined to comment. Google didn’t respond to an AP request for comment. Gomez is among a growing number of celebrities using their platforms to call out social media, including Sacha Baron Cohen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Kerry Washington, and Kim Kardashian West. Gomez became passionate about the issue in 2017 when a 12-year-old commented on one of her Instagram posts: “Go kill yourself.” “That was my tipping point,” she said. “I couldn’t handle what I was seeing.” Social media experts have argued that companies like Facebook and Twitter played a direct role in the Capitol insurrection both by allowing plans for the uprising to be made on their platforms and through algorithms that allow dangerous conspiracy theories to take flight. That’s even though executives, such as Facebook’s Sandberg, have insisted that planning for the riots largely took place on other, smaller platforms. Related Articles He created the Web. Now he’s out to remake the digital world. On factory floors, a chime and flashing light to maintain distance President Biden’s tech to-do list Amazon won’t have to restore Parler web service, judge says What exactly is a Carvana tower? Rezoning board ponders unusual project “The operational planning was happening in spaces that Selena, for example, was identifying to Sheryl Sandberg in advance saying, ‘You know, we need to do something about white supremacist extremism online and their ability to just form a group on Facebook and happily talk away to each other, plan what they’re going to do next,’” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which has helped educate Gomez about online misinformation. In emails shared exclusively with the AP, Gomez told Sandberg in September that “a search for a militia group ‘Three Percenters’ results in dozens of pages, groups and videos focused on people hoping and preparing for civil war, and there are dozens of groups titled ‘white lives matter’ that are full of hate and lies that might lead to people being hurt or, even worse, killed.” That’s even though Facebook banned U.S.-based militia groups from its service in August. In the same email, Gomez also points to several ads with lies about election fraud being allowed to remain on Facebook and Instagram and questions why that was being allowed. “I can’t believe you can’t check ads before you take money, and if you can’t you shouldn’t be profiting from it,” she wrote. “You’re not just doing nothing. You’re cashing in from evil.” In an email response to Gomez, Sandberg defends Facebook’s efforts to remove harmful content, saying the platform has removed millions of posts for hate speech, and bans ads that are divisive, inflammatory, or discourage people from voting. She didn’t directly address the advertising examples Gomez pointed to. “It’s beating around the bush and saying what people want to hear,” Gomez said about her interactions with Sandberg and Google, among others. “I think at this point we’ve all learned that words don’t match up unless the action is going to happen.” Following the violence at the U.S. Capitol, tech companies made some of their biggest changes to date. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms banned President Donald Trump, drawing criticism from some including the American Civil Liberties Union that it was censorship, and praise from others who say the president abused his platform by encouraging violence. In a thread defending Twitter’s Trump ban, CEO Jack Dorsey said “offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all.” In addition to banning Trump, Facebook has been removing video and photos from Capitol rioters. The company also added text on posts questioning the election, confirming that Joe Biden has been lawfully elected, and saying it was taking enforcement action against militarized social movements like QAnon. While the changes are positive, they’re “just a drop in the bucket,” said Jeff Orlowski, director of Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma,” a popular 2020 film that showed how Silicon Valley’s pursuit of profit could pose an existential threat to U.S. democracy. Voices like Gomez’s can be a huge help to get the message across, considering her hundreds of millions of followers, Orlowski said. “Think of the advertising revenue from every Selena Gomez post. Think of the advertising revenue from every Donald Trump post, the advertising revenue from every post from The Rock or whoever,” he said. “Those people are literally generating millions of dollars for these companies … The top 20 people on Instagram have probably the most influence over Mark and Sheryl compared to anybody else until finally Congress as a whole gets enough momentum and energy to put some legislation together.” Orlowski and Ahmed both said they’re looking to Biden’s administration for reforms, including a measure that would hold social media companies accountable for the posts they allow, an effort that has gained momentum and drawn bipartisan support. “The question no longer is ‘Is there going to be change,’” Ahmed said. “The question is, ‘What kind of change are we going to get?’” Meanwhile, Gomez vows to keep fighting as long as she has a pedestal. “While I have this, I’m going to do good things with it,” she said. “I think that’s my purpose.” Associated Press writer Barbara Ortutay contributed to this report from Oakland, California.
  • Teachers on TV? Schools try creative strategy to narrow digital divide
    By Kellen Browning, The New York Times Company NEW YORK — Nearly every weekday morning, Valentin Vivar curls up in bed next to his older sister, Araceli, and switches on one of his favorite television shows. The hourlong program, “Let’s Learn NYC!”, isn’t typical children’s fare. Valentin, 5, watches as educators from New York City public schools teach math and science, sing songs and take viewers on virtual field trips to botanical gardens and dance performances. Araceli, 17, is there to help out. After the coronavirus pandemic shut down their schools in March, the siblings attended virtual classes from their apartment in Queens on Araceli’s iPhone. Their parents could not afford another device, and their class attendance was sporadic because sometimes both had school at the same time. Valentin, who needed speech therapy, was missing out on conversations with classmates, and he was struggling to pronounce words. Then a teacher told them about the television program, and Valentin was hooked. He sounded out letters and words and formed strong bonds with the teachers he saw on screen. Now, Valentin “wants to read books by himself, and he’s writing new words,” Araceli said. “I really like to see him learn and grow.” Around the country, educators and local television stations have teamed up to help teachers make their broadcast debuts and engage children who are stuck in the doldrums of distance learning. The idea — in some ways a throwback to the early days of public television — has supplemented online lessons for some families, and serves a more critical role: reaching students who, without reliable internet access or a laptop at home, have been left behind. In some places, the programs air on weekends or after school. Elsewhere, districts have scheduled time to watch it during the school day. In New York, the program airs every weekday on a public television channel, part of a network of PBS stations working with school districts. Fox stations in several cities are airing teachers’ lessons as well, thanks to Melinda Spaulding Chevalier, a Houston resident and former TV news anchor who thought of the concept in March. She pitched a daily program featuring teachers to her old boss, D’Artagnan Bebel, the general manager of Houston’s Fox station. He was in. Less than two weeks later, local educators were on the air, teaching condensed lessons for an hour. The concept quickly spread to Fox stations in Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, all of which joined with local school districts or teacher unions to put teachers on television. (The initiative ended in Houston and Washington after the spring but is still airing every weekday in San Francisco and on Saturdays in Chicago.) Related Articles He created the Web. Now he’s out to remake the digital world. 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Rezoning board ponders unusual project In Houston, an average of 37,000 people watched the program each time it aired in the spring, and about 2,200 people were watching the San Francisco version each day this fall, the TV stations said. “We Still Teach,” the Chicago version of the program, which began in May, reaches 50,000 households in the area each weekend, according to Nielsen. “We’re not solving the digital divide, but from my experience with the personal connection of coming into a viewer’s kitchen or living room, I felt this could be a more immediate way to help bridge the gap,” Spaulding Chevalier said. “We’re letting them know they haven’t been forgotten.” The divide in education between families that can afford laptops and strong Wi-Fi signals and those that can’t has been well documented, and often affects rural areas and communities of color. In 2018, 15 million to 16 million students didn’t have an adequate device or reliable internet connection at home, according to a report from Common Sense Media, a children’s advocacy and media ratings group that receives licensing fees from internet providers that distribute its content. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has been exacerbated by school shutdowns. As recently as October, at least thousands of students in the United States were still unable to join remote classrooms because they had no access to a laptop. But 96% of Americans were estimated to have a working television set, according to Nielsen. Spaulding Chevalier’s sister, Tamika Spaulding, who produces the Chicago version of the program with her friend Katherine O’Brien, said they had acted with urgency. “There are a lot of plans to address the digital divide, but they have four-year rollout plans,” Spaulding said. “So what are you doing for the student today, right now, who’s just not getting educational content?” The plan was embraced by hundreds of educators who agreed to set up tripods in their living rooms, assemble makeshift props, send in footage and make their broadcast debuts. Some of their content is aimed at younger children, and other segments target high school ages. Erik Young, a high school social studies teacher in Chicago, said he had jumped at the chance to provide extra help to students stuck at home. “It was needed for lots of us,” he said. “In addition to us missing our students and our school family, you really do miss the camaraderie.” Young filmed a series of social studies quiz shows and cheesy history poetry in his basement on his daughter’s iPhone, starting over whenever he stumbled over a line. His efforts epitomized what the show’s creators consider one of the program’s most endearing characteristics — a grassroots, rough-around-the-edges quality. “This is what we do — creating something out of nothing is quintessentially what it feels like to be a Chicago Public Schools educator,” said Stacy Davis Gates, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union. The Fox stations are airing the educational program for free, without requiring districts to pay for airtime and without running commercials. Future Chicago broadcasts are dependent on whether the creators continue producing it. Educators say the program has helped children form deep connections with the teachers they see on screen — a classroom type of relationship that is tough to reproduce through remote learning. “There are no frustrating tech disruptions,” Spaulding Chevalier said, explaining why children are often more drawn to the teachers on TV than on a computer screen. “Students are able to focus on the lesson, on a larger screen, and with a medium that’s comfortable.” In San Francisco, Latoya Pitcher’s 4-year-old son, Levi, is a devoted fan of the program, and loves to sing its daily goodbye song along with the school district’s superintendent, Vincent Matthews. The one time Pitcher forgot to turn on the program, she said, Levi asked: “Mommy, what happened to my friend?” “They have Dora and ‘Blues Clues’ and all that, but this is people,” Pitcher said. “That’s what they lost with shelter-in-place: seeing people every day.” Public television stations have worked out similar partnerships with educators in at least 15 states, according to America’s Public Television Stations, a nonprofit organization that coordinates with local stations. Melissa Good, a sixth grade teacher in the mountain community of Montrose, Colorado, said she was nervous about teaching writing skills on TV. But she did it anyway for Rocky Mountain PBS’ program because, she said, she has seen the learning deterioration that takes place when children lack internet at home. “It’s incredibly disheartening to watch the kids feel like they’re drowning at home,” she said. Chiara Grey, a Montrose resident, could not afford internet in the spring, so her son Connor, 9, did not attend online classes and missed out on several months of education. “That big, huge gap was a pretty detrimental thing,” Grey said. Through the PBS program, Connor learned how to write a paragraph over the summer, and caught up on some of the lost time. “We were really thrown into this parenting-slash-teaching role, and I don’t know how to do those things,” Grey said. “So having somebody who knows how to show me or tell me, ‘This is what you do,’ that was really helpful.” In New York, fall education has fluctuated between remote and in person, but the Vivar siblings have remained at home because of concerns about the coronavirus. Valentin, a kindergartner, got an iPad from the school district in September, so he can attend remote classes, but he still watches the TV program. Araceli, a high school senior, has struggled to keep up with assignments and college applications while also ensuring her brother is getting an education. When Valentin is watching the television program, she said, she can focus on her studies and know that he is being taken care of. “Whenever he sees the program, he gets happy,” Araceli said. “It’s good for him to know that there’s another teacher in the TV for him.”
  • Amazon Halo review: The fitness gadget we don’t deserve or need
    By Brian X. Chen, The New York Times Company Many of us are in the same boat these days. With the coronavirus killing more people by the day, we are increasingly stress-eating and drinking more alcohol. At the same time, with gyms shut down, we are sitting around more and glued to screens. So you may be wondering what I’m wondering: How is the pandemic affecting my body? Because we can’t easily leave the house to see doctors for nonemergencies, we are largely left to figure this out on our own. Enter the Halo, a new fitness-tracking bracelet from Amazon with a novel twist: It claims that by using a smartphone app to scan images of your body, it can tell you how much body fat you have much more precisely than past technologies. The bracelet also has a microphone to listen to your tone of voice and tell you how your mood sounds to other people. (The masochist inside me said, “Sign me up!”) The Halo is Amazon’s foray into so-called wearable computers that keep an eye on our health, following in the footsteps of Apple and Fitbit. Amazon is selling the Halo for $65 on an invitation-only basis, meaning you have to get on a waiting list to buy it. I volunteered to be a guinea pig and received mine in October. When the Halo arrived, I installed the app, removed my T-shirt and propped up my phone camera. Here’s what happened next: The Halo said I was fatter than I thought — with 25% body fat, which the app said was “too high.” I was skeptical. I’m a relatively slim person who has put on 2 pounds since last year. I usually cook healthy meals and do light exercises outdoors. My clothes still fit. Glenn Harvey, The New York TimesHalo, a new fitness-tracking bracelet from Amazon features a novel twist: It claims that by using a smartphone app to scan images of your body, it can tell you how much body fat you have much more precisely than past technologies. I felt body-shamed and confused by the Halo. So I sent my Halo data and body scans to Dr. Lawrence Cheskin, a professor of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University and founder of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. After reviewing my results, Cheskin jotted down my height and weight to calculate my body mass index, which is a metric used to estimate obesity. A man my age (36) with my body mass index, he said, is highly unlikely to have 25% body fat. “Unless you were a couch potato and ate a very poor diet, I have my doubts about the Halo’s diagnosis,” he said. Related Articles He created the Web. Now he’s out to remake the digital world. On factory floors, a chime and flashing light to maintain distance President Biden’s tech to-do list Amazon won’t have to restore Parler web service, judge says What exactly is a Carvana tower? Rezoning board ponders unusual project Cheskin encouraged me to gather more data by measuring my body fat with other devices, and to do the same with at least one other person. So I did and found that the Halo’s body fat readings consistently skewed higher than other tools for myself and my test subject. I concluded that the Halo’s body analysis was questionable. More important, it felt like a negative experience that failed to motivate me to get fit. I’ve had much more uplifting experiences with other products like the Apple Watch and Fitbit bands, as laid out below. Measuring body fat Body fat measurement can be complicated because the traditional methods available to consumers are not always accurate. Smart bathroom scales that measure body fat use bioelectrical impedance analysis, which sends a small current through your bare feet. Skin calipers, a more dated method, are essentially rulers that pinch down on skin folds to measure thickness. These techniques are not perfectly reliable. If people step on smart scales at different times of day or with different levels of hydration, their results may vary. Calipers can measure skin folds incorrectly if you pinch in the wrong areas. Amazon said the Halo’s technology was much more precise. To scan your body, you use the smartphone’s front-facing camera to take photos of your body from the front, sides and rear. Then Amazon stitches the images together into a 3D model to analyze your body composition and calculate the percentage of fat. I decided to record consistent body fat measurements for myself and a friend using the Halo, a Fitbit bathroom scale and a highly rated skin caliper. In November and December, I took early-morning measurements with the Halo and bathroom scale; my wife pinched my skin folds in four areas with the caliper. I measured my test subject’s body fat once with each device. Our results were remarkably similar for two men with very different body compositions: — The Amazon product estimated that my friend, a 6-foot-3 man weighing 198 pounds, had 24% body fat, the Fitbit scale read 19%, and the skin-fold measurements added up to 20%. — For myself — 5-foot-6 and about 140 pounds — the Halo said in November that I had 25% body fat, the Fitbit scale said 19%, and the skin-fold measurements added up to 20%. In December, the Halo said I had 26% body fat (alas, I had more Thanksgiving leftovers than usual), the Fitbit scale said 20%, and the skin-fold measurements added up to 21%. Cheskin speculated that the Halo might have an overestimating bias in its algorithm because underestimating body fat for an obese person would be more problematic. Dr. Maulik Majmudar, Amazon’s medical officer, who worked on the Halo, said people should expect the device’s results to be different because the method was more accurate than body fat scales and calipers. Amazon developed its body-measuring algorithm from a sample set of tens of thousands of images of people’s bodies from across a wide range of demographics, he said. Amazon then did internal tests measuring people’s body fat using the Halo scanner, smart bathroom scales and DEXA, a technique that uses X-rays to scan for bone density, which studies have found to be a reliable measure for body fat. It found that the Halo method was twice as accurate as bathroom scales. Still, Cheskin was unconvinced by Amazon’s accuracy claims. He said a valid study would involve a clinical trial measuring body fat of many human subjects with each method — the Halo, DEXA, bioelectrical impedance scales and calipers — and comparing the results side by side. Accurate or not, the most disappointing part of Amazon’s body fat analysis was that it lacked important context. Even though the app asked for my ethnicity, age and sex, it said my 25% body fat level was too high and well outside the “Healthy” zone (roughly 12% to 18%). It also said healthy results were associated with longer life and lower risks of heart disease. Cheskin offered a more nuanced analysis. Body fat levels may have different health implications depending on your age, ethnicity, sex, cholesterol levels and family history. Waist circumference matters, too, because severe abdominal fat can be associated with health problems. For an Asian man my age with a 34-inch waistline, whose family has not had a history of diabetes or heart problems, and whose blood tests recently showed normal cholesterol levels, even a 25% body fat reading would probably not be alarming, he said. That context, combined with my body mass index along with the measurements taken with a body fat scale and caliper, led Cheskin to doubt Halo’s analysis. He worried about the technology’s potential consequences. “Does it potentially create eating disorders?” he said. “You’re taking a bunch of people with normal weight and BMI and telling them they’re too fatty. What are they going to do with that? Some of them are going to be more compulsive and start doing things that are going to be inappropriate.” Bottom Line In my experience, there are better fitness-tracking products that offer more positive motivation. The Apple Watch, for one, lets you set goals for how much you want to move or exercise each day, and those goals are symbolized by colorful rings that are shown on the watch face. Once a ring is completed, you have met your goal. Fitbit devices send notifications to your phone, egging you on when you are nearing your step goal. Neither device comes anywhere close to giving you body dysmorphia. Another of Halo’s unique features is Tone, which uses the bracelet’s microphone to periodically listen in on your conversations to tell you what your mood sounds like. I turned the feature off after two days because it felt like a creepy invasion of privacy. But I left it on long enough to complain to my wife about what a bad idea it was. After analyzing the conversation, the Halo app said I sounded irritated and disgusted. That, at least, was accurate.
  • The tech that will invade our lives in 2021
    By Brian X. Chen, The New York Times Company This year, the technologies that we will most likely hear the most about won’t be fancy devices like smartphones or big-screen television sets. It will be the stuff we don’t usually see: workhorse software and internet products that are finding their moment now. Before the coronavirus transformed our lives, the lists of tech to watch each year were often dominated by whiz-bang gizmos like smart speakers and curved televisions. But the pandemic has pushed us to embrace useful technology that was often overlooked. Once lame or gimmicky apps on our devices suddenly became central tools. Take mobile wallet apps like Apple Pay and Square. While these have been around for years, some people stuck with credit cards and cash. But new germaphobia finally pushed more of us to try the contact-free phone payments as opposed to a card swipe. Then there’s augmented reality. The technology, which lets us interact with digital objects superimposed on our physical world, has been more than a decade in the making. For years, it seemed more futuristic than useful. But now that we can’t easily go to a physical store to try things on, snapping a selfie to see a digital rendering of makeup on your face sure seems like a better idea. “All those things we started to see a need for during COVID,” said Carolina Milanesi, a consumer technology analyst for Creative Strategies. “Think about how neglected video calling has been for so long. Finally, we get it. It’s not sexy, but it does make a difference.” With that in mind, here are four tech trends that are set to invade our lives this year. 1. Tech that replaces our stores. You may not have noticed it as you shop online, but the experience is changing. Clicking through a navigation bar of a website to find an item has become passé. A search bar that allows you to look up a specific product is faster. In some cases, chatting with a bot may be even more efficient. We have experimented with chatbots for years. Facebook has offered tools for merchants to make bots that engage with customers. Retailers like Amazon have used chatbots to answer customers’ questions, and when the bots can’t help, a person can hop in to take over. Related Articles He created the Web. Now he’s out to remake the digital world. On factory floors, a chime and flashing light to maintain distance President Biden’s tech to-do list Amazon won’t have to restore Parler web service, judge says What exactly is a Carvana tower? Rezoning board ponders unusual project Now that visiting a physical retail store has largely become impractical in the pandemic, we can expect such conversational technologies to gain momentum, said Julie Ask, a technology analyst for Forrester Research. “This notion of going online and searching and clicking and using a navigation window is very dated,” she said. “What’s next after that? A lot of it is going to be conversational, whether it’s text or voice.” There are already plenty of examples. Recently, I shopped for a pair of shoes at Beckett Simonon, an online fashion brand, and asked an employee via a chat box about the correct shoe size for my feet. More companies are also using augmented reality to help people with online shopping, Ask said. Jins Eyewear, which sells prescription glasses, lets you take a photo of your face to virtually try on glasses before deciding whether to buy them. Snap, the parent company for Snapchat, has teamed up with luxury brands like Gucci and Dior to offer virtual try-ons. Augmented reality is poised to become especially popular this year because the technology keeps improving. New high-end Apple and Android smartphones include sensors for detecting depth, which makes it easier for augmented reality apps to place objects like virtual furniture in physical spaces. 2. Wi-Fi is getting smarter. One home technology problem that the pandemic underscored was our sluggish, unreliable internet connections. Last year, as people hunkered down to contain the spread of the coronavirus, average internet speeds all over the world slowed, in part because broadband providers were crushed by the heavy traffic. Thankfully, Wi-Fi technology keeps getting better. This year, we will see a wave of new internet routers that include Wi-Fi 6, a new networking standard. Unlike past wireless upgrades, Wi-Fi 6 will focus not on speed but rather on efficiency by sharing bandwidth across a large number of devices. Here’s what that means. Let’s say your family owns smartphones, several computers and a game console. If all of them are being used to consume heavy amounts of data — to stream video, for example — Wi-Fi 6 does a better job at providing bandwidth to all the devices at the same time as opposed to letting one device hog most of it. 3. Tech that lets us keep our hands to ourselves. Last year was an inflection point for mobile payments. For safety reasons, even cash-only die-hards, like farmers’ market merchants and food trucks, started accepting mobile payments. Overall, 67% of American retailers accept touchless payments, up from 40% in 2019, according to a survey by Forrester. Among those surveyed, 19% said they made a digital payment in a store for the first time last May. Hands-off technology doesn’t end with mobile wallets. So-called Ultra-Wide Band, a relatively new radio technology, may also find its moment this year. The technology, which uses radio waves to detect objects with extreme precision, has not been used much since its debut on smartphones about two years ago. But the need for contact-free experiences could change that, said Milanesi of Creative Strategies. 4. Tech that virtualizes work and self-care. The pandemic has made it clear that virtualized experiences, like video meetings and Zoom yoga, are viable substitutes for the real thing, whether you embrace them or endure them. In 2021, expect more products to offer to digitize the way we work and stay healthy. One example: Some tech companies are experimenting with recreating the office conference room with virtual reality. Microsoft’s AltspaceVR, for example, lets you and your colleagues wear headsets to have meetings in hologram form. Facebook’s Oculus, the virtual reality division of the social network, said it was hastening its plan to bring virtual reality to offices. It plans to bundle its latest headset, the Oculus Quest 2, with business-ready software that helps companies train employees and collaborate, for about $800. With gyms shut down, we are also increasingly turning to tech to keep an eye on our health. Last year, Amazon introduced its first wearable for fitness tracking, which includes software that scans your body fat. Apple recently introduced Fitness+, a copycat of Peloton, the video service that offers instruction for at-home workouts. Ask said this trend would continue into other aspects of health, like self-care and mental health, with video apps that offer guided meditation or therapy. As is always the case, some of these trends will stick with us while others may fizzle out. All of these technologies have to survive the test of remaining relevant after life returns somewhat to “normal.” “Buying a Peloton, yoga mats, Apple Watches — how much of that behavior is a permanent shift versus a 12-month to 24-month shift as we go through the pandemic?” Ask said. “Consumers will always default to what is convenient.” That means digital payments are probably here to stay because they save time. But if we return to gyms, lots of our health-related tech purchases may lead to buyer’s remorse.
  • In Westminster, a company’s satellites help journalists the world over
    On Aug. 4, a massive amount of ammonium nitrate stored at a port in Beirut exploded, causing hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries as it leveled surrounding neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital. Christoph Koettl, a visual investigations journalist at the New York Times, wanted to learn more about the ship that brought the ammonium nitrate to Beirut seven years earlier. To do so, he would need the help of Stephen Wood 2,600 miles away in Colorado and satellites 300 miles above them both. Wood runs the news bureau at Maxar Technology, a space technology company based in Westminster. The news bureau works with journalists around the world at no cost to their news outlets, providing satellite imagery that can confirm crucial details of a story. Wood and Koettl were able to track the ship in Beirut and discover it’s still there, submerged not far from where it dropped its deadly cargo. “For larger stories, I often send them requests for very specific images and locations that I have already researched. For example, to track a motorcade in central Pyongyang as an indicator of Kim Jong-un’s whereabouts,” Koettl said. This year alone, Maxar’s imagery showed the rapid construction of hospitals in Wuhan, China, and mass graves in Iran, where the government lied about coronavirus’s spread. It displayed the extent of wildfires in the U.S., an earthquake in Turkey, hurricanes in Central America, and an oil spill in Russia. “We work with Maxar when we need detailed imagery from the sky,” said Tim Meko, deputy graphics director at the Washington Post. “The stars — or satellites — don’t always align due to weather or flight paths, however when they do the results are pretty fantastic.” When television reporters in India heard China had constructed a village in the sovereign Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, they emailed Wood coordinates of the suspected village. Pulling from Maxar’s database of images, updated daily and dating back 20 years, Wood could see the creation of a new village. A massive tent camp is seen near Kafaldin, Syria, on Feb. 16, 2020. (Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies) “A journalist may just be starting their story and thinking of a research topic, or have heard something from a human source embedded in their organization or elsewhere, but they don’t have quiet enough to go on yet,” Wood explained in a recent interview. “Given the visual aspects of what we’re able to do, it complements (journalism) very well. Sometimes we can either refute or confirm the reporting.” Along with natural disasters, Maxar’s technology especially excels at showing armed conflicts, which are often difficult and dangerous to report on. Its satellite imagery has proven the claims of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, and clearly shown the Myanmar military’s devastating destruction of their villages. “Attacks against civilian infrastructure or displacement can be easily tracked through satellites,” said Koettl, from the New York Times. “A big added value of remote sensing is that satellite images come with a specific timestamp and coordinates, which can be useful to establish precise timelines.” Last year, Maxar imagery helped the Times uncover key details about the bombing of a migrant detention center in Libya — a potential war crime. “It turned out that (there) was an earlier airstrike, 11 minutes earlier, that targeted a military site next to the migrant center, a crucial part of the story,” Koettl recalled. Maxar’s constellation of satellites captures the entire Earth, without exception, shining a light on the most secretive nations — and likely frustrating them as well. The news bureau has ethical boundaries — it won’t show U.S. troop movements or work with outlets in countries facing U.S. sanctions, such as Iran — as well as occasional conflicts of interest. It may decline to offer free photos for an exposé on an oil company that is a customer of Maxar’s, charging instead. But it denies only a few of the hundreds of requests it receives each year, according to Wood. The image above shows Olympic Stadium (the white-roofed, oval building) in Tokyo, Japan. (Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies) Not all requests involve serious geopolitical matters. Meko, at the Washington Post, used the imagery to show Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms at peak bloom. And other outlets recently used Maxar imagery to determine a monolith in Utah was placed there between July 2016 — when imagery shows no monolith — and October 2016, when the monolith first appears in Maxar’s satellite photos. “People were like, we don’t know when this thing showed up,” Kristin Carringer, Maxar’s spokeswoman, recalled of the mystery before her company tracked the monolith in a desert its satellites do not photograph often. “It could have been here for five years, or 10 years, or a million years, or maybe an alien brought it –” “We still haven’t ruled that out yet, Kristin,” Wood interjected. Related Articles North Korea blows up inter-Korean office, raising tensions U.S. government agencies hacked; Russia a possible culprit Cory Gardner targeted by pro-Iranian disinformation effort, report says Colorado Republicans target China for everything from TikTok to COVID “OK, fine, aliens may be behind it, but we were able to narrow it down, to know that sometime in these three months it showed up.” (The monolith was removed by four Utah residents more than a week after it was discovered. They eventually returned it to the Bureau of Land Management.) Nearly every day in a year unlike any other, the Maxar News Bureau was tracking, monitoring, and explaining the events of an ever-changing world. “We are often chatting over the weekends or at nighttime. ‘Did you see what just happened?’ or ‘Did you see that image we just collected?’” Wood said. “It just never stops, there’s always something that’s happening.”
  • Parler, founded by University of Denver grads, is squeezed as Trump seeks new online megaphone
    Two University of Denver graduates grabbed national headlines in recent days as the social media site they started was shunned by mainstream technology companies in the wake of Wednesday’s violence in the U.S. Capitol building — prompting their alma mater on Monday to issue a statement condemning “any and all acts of violence.” The graduates, John Matze and Jared Thomson, are the founders of Parler — a social media site billed as a free-speech-protecting alternative to Twitter that has become a magnet for conservative and far-right users. After President Donald Trump was kicked off most mainstream social media platforms, Parler — founded in Nevada in 2018 — had been the leading candidate for the president to reconnect with his followers, at least until Google and Apple removed it from their app stores and Amazon booted it off its web hosting service just after midnight Pacific time early Monday. The companies dropped Parler on the grounds it allows posts that incite violence. Parler sued Amazon to get back online, telling a federal judge that the tech giant had breached its contract and abused its market power. Matze and Thomson studied computer science at the University of Denver, according to their LinkedIn profiles. Matze graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree and Thomson in 2016 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, according to the University of Denver. “The University of Denver condemns any and all calls to violence, insurrection, or sedition,” DU officials said in a statement Monday. “We are grounded in the tenets of free speech and First Amendment rights, but those rights end when they incite the populace to violence or to harm others. Those we condemn unconditionally.” Matze, Parler’s CEO, said the industry cut-off could knock Parler offline for a week, though that might prove optimistic. And even if it finds a friendlier web-hosting service, without a smartphone app, it’s hard to imagine Parler gaining mainstream success. The two-year-old magnet for the far right claims more than 12 million users, though mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower puts the number at 10 million worldwide, with 8 million in the U.S. That’s a fraction of the 89 million followers Trump had on Twitter. Still, Parler might be attractive to Trump since it’s where his sons Eric and Don Jr. are already active. Parler hit headwinds, though, on Friday as Google yanked its smartphone app from its app store for allowing postings that seek “to incite ongoing violence in the U.S.” Apple followed suit on Saturday evening after giving Parler 24 hours to address complaints it was being used to “plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.” Public safety issues will need to be resolved before it is restored, Apple said. A message seeking comment from Parler was sent Sunday on whether the company plans to change its policies and enforcement around these issues. Amazon struck another blow Saturday, informing Parler it would need to look for a new web-hosting service effective midnight Sunday. It reminded Parler in a letter, first reported by Buzzfeed, that it had informed it in the past few weeks of 98 examples of posts “that clearly encourage and incite violence” and said the platform “poses a very real risk to public safety.” When asked for comment, an Amazon spokesperson referred The Associated Press to the letter obtained by Buzzfeed. Parler CEO John Matze decried the punishments as “a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the marketplace. We were too successful too fast,” he said in a Saturday night post, saying it was possible Parler would be unavailable for up to a week “as we rebuild from scratch.” “Every vendor, from text message services, to e-mail providers, to our lawyers all ditched us too on the same day,” Matze said Sunday on Fox New Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” He said while the company is trying to get back online as quickly as possible, it’s “having a lot of trouble, because every vendor we talk to says they won’t work with us, because, if Apple doesn’t approve and Google doesn’t approve, they won’t.” Losing access to the app stores of Google and Apple — whose operating systems power hundreds of millions of smartphones — severely limits Parler’s reach, though it had continued to be accessible via web browser. Losing Amazon Web Services means Parler needs to scramble to find another web host, in addition to the re-engineering. Related Articles Colorado geophysicist accused of dragging a police officer down steps at U.S. Capitol riot to be beaten CU Boulder strips John Eastman of public duties following professor’s speech at Trump rally that preceded Capitol riot Steve Cohen: I reported what I saw accurately without any accusation that Rep. Lauren Boebert was helping the insurrection Letters: One flame extinguished (1/20/21) A few from Colorado’s congressional delegation will skip Biden’s inauguration Trump may also launch his own platform. But that won’t happen overnight, and free speech experts anticipate growing pressure on all social media platforms to curb incendiary speech as Americans take stock of Wednesday’s violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol by a Trump-incited mob. While initially arguing their need to be neutral on speech, Twitter and Facebook gradually yielded to public pressure drawing the line especially when the so-called Plandemic video emerged early in the coronavirus pandemic urging people not to wear masks, noted civic media professor Ethan Zuckerman of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Zuckerman expects the Trump de-platforming may spur important online shifts. First, there may be an accelerated splintering of the social media world along ideological lines. “Trump will pull a lot of audience wherever he goes,” he said. That could mean more platforms with smaller, more ideologically isolated audiences. On the first full day of trading since kicking Trump off of its platform, shares of Twitter Inc. tumbled more than 10% at the opening bell Monday. Facebook and other tech companies that have put restrictions in place on conservative platforms fell as well amid a broader market selloff. Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.
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