Gas Stoves Begets Culture War, The Rise of Antisemitism, The End of Art (and Popular Culture)?; GOP Defends George Santos, Missouri Hates Bare Arms & More. Plus Music and TV
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
Science Vs. Politics: The Big Loser Is Always Us
GOP REP. RONNY JACKSON THROWS RIDICULOUS SHIT FIT OVER THE PROSPECT OF LOSING GAS STOVE (Vanity Fair)
SUMMARY: “Earlier this week, Bloomberg News reported that a federal ban on gas stoves is ‘on the table amid rising concern about harmful indoor air pollutants emitted by the appliances.’” No decision has been made and in fact also on the table is implementing emissions standards. In response, former White House doctor Ronny Jackson and current Texas Congressman, tweeted the statement above.
MY TAKE: Just to clarify, two days after the original article another article refuted the claim: “The head of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission said the agency has no plans to ban gas stoves, days after one of his colleagues said a ban was one option under consideration in comments that ignited a political firestorm.” But that’s not the point. What matters is the oversized reaction and how it reveals the incompetence and arrogance of some elected officials.
Rep. Jackson wasn’t the only politician to stake a claim on Bluster Mountain. West Virginia Democrat (-ish) Joe Manchin said in a statement Tuesday: “I can tell you the last thing that would ever leave my house is the gas stove that we cook on. If this is the greatest concern that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has for American consumers, I think we need to reevaluate the commission.”
Do we? Because the facts are on the Commission’s side: “Natural gas stoves are used in about 40% of homes in the US. They emit air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter at levels the EPA and World Health Organization have said are unsafe and linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, cancer and other health conditions, multiple studies have said.
“Consumer Reports, in October, urged consumers planning to buy a new range to consider going electric after tests conducted by the group found high levels of nitrogen oxide gases from gas stoves. And new peer-reviewed research published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that more than 12% of current childhood asthma cases in the US can be attributed to gas stove use.”
In addition, The Guardian reported, “A study by PSE Health Energy found benzene in 99% of samples it took in homes in California. Other chemicals discovered included xylene, toluene and ethylbenzene, which can also cause respiratory issues and may cause cancer as well.”
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: The conclusion is that there is a significantly higher risk of health problems in kids (and adults) because of gas stoves. No one said gas stoves would be banned, only that the Commission was evaluating all options to protect consumers. Seems reasonable since that is their actual job. Would Jackson and Manchin have led the protests over removing asbestos from paint and buildings? “They’ll have to pry my asbestos insulation from my cold, dead… *cough* *cough* Plop.
I get that gas stoves are better for cooking. I also understand that none of us wants to lose our artifacts of comfort, whether metal lawn darts or gas stoves. But the whole reason civilization evolves is because we learn about our mistakes. In the nineteenth century, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, acting on the new and unaccepted germ theory of disease, encouraged hand-washing by the hospital staff thus reducing mortality rate by 90%. However, the other doctors rejected his theory and the obvious results, eventually firing him and destroying his reputation and life. (“They’ll have to pry the germs from my cold, filthy hands…”)
Instead of proclaiming their heated defense of gas stoves, shouldn’t our elected officials be proclaiming their defense of the children suffering? What are their specific reasons for defending gas stoves as if they were sacred altars? None. They just want to tap into the knee-jerk outrage whenever science trumps nostalgia.
This isn’t about gas stoves, it’s about who stands in the way of protecting Americans—even when it’s other, un-informed Americans.
This Week in Antisemitism
Survey finds ‘classical fascist’ antisemitic views widespread in U.S. (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “At points in the past half-century, many U.S. antisemitism experts thought this country could be aging out of it, that hostility and prejudice against Jews were fading in part because younger Americans held more accepting views than did older ones.
“But a survey released Thursday shows how widely held such beliefs are in the United States today, including among younger Americans. The research by the Anti-Defamation League includes rare detail about the particular nature of antisemitism, how it centers on tropes of Jews as clannish, conspiratorial and holders of power.
“The survey shows ‘antisemitism in its classical fascist form is emerging again in American society, where Jews are too secretive and powerful, working against interests of others, not sharing values, exploiting — the classic conspiratorial tropes,’ Matt Williams, vice president of the ADL’s year-old Center for Antisemitism Research, told The Washington Post.”
MY TAKE: When Jon Stewart hosted The Daily Show, he would occasionally do a segment called “Is This Good for the Jews,” in which he featured something currently in the news and then commented on how non-Jews would perceive it when judging the entire Jewish community. No one frets, “Is Trump Good for Christianity?” Yet, Jews must deal endlessly with being the default villains of many political and social groups trying to rally the least intelligent and most fearful segment of society by giving them a familiar bogeyman. No facts needed. No logic required.
I’ve always appreciated that segment because all my life I’ve been aware of the enormous pressure of how being in the public eye makes me—in the eyes of most of White America—a representative of all Black people. At any time, I could do something that perpetuates Black stereotypes and stalls civil rights equity. This is true for members of all marginalized people who are fighting the damaging images and biases people use to justify their ignorance. Dumb blondes. Shifty immigrants. Lazy (fill in any person of color).
I’ve always held out hope that this hard candy shell of prejudice would be licked away by the wet tongue of time until we reached the tasty center of equity and mutual respect. Prejudiced old-timers whose intellectual arteries have hardened would be replaced by younger generations of rational thinkers not tethered to dumb traditional thinking. But this new study has eye-gouged my hope.
I have long accepted the fact that about a third of society is unchangeable. They are the segment that is easily manipulated into January 6-type behavior because they lack the ability or will to think for themselves. They want to be told what to do and what to think and if you give them some phony reasoning to perpetuate the illusion that they can reason, all the better. We could fact-check 24/7 for them and they wouldn’t budge in their beliefs.
But when openly expressed prejudice against a group—any group—is on the rise, it concerns me because that means the lack of reason has seeped into other people not in that Thick-Headed Third. That’s why it is important for all our survival not to be tolerant of any form of anti-semitism. It is just a tell-tale symptom that the entire body is under attack.
Popular Culture: The End of Art (and Popular Culture)?
Is this by Rothko or a robot? We ask the experts to tell the difference between human and AI art (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: The article displays a number of real paintings in different styles and genres and asks art experts to pick which is human created and which computer generated. It’s harder than it seems.
MY TAKE: For weeks I’ve been reading articles about the impact on education of ChatGPT, an AI chatbot that creates remarkably well-written essays that have shaken the education community. I read a couple AI essays and was quite impressed. Teachers are discussing returning to in-class essays written by hand. Obviously, AI written novels, pop songs, and screenplays as well as AI-generated actors are not too far behind. It would be a lot cheaper than paying people.
Could this be the end of art, literature, and pop culture as expressions of human insight? Yes and no. I know a lot of people reading this will immediately feel somewhat outraged by the idea of a program creating art that is meant to move us emotionally and intellectually. That can seem to reduce our emotions and thoughts to simple formulas that even a machine can figure out. Which makes us as predictable and manipulatable as machines. Well, we are, which every artist has figured out, which is how they are able to manipulate our emotions and thoughts.
The problem with the AI art is that it reflects what already exists. It can recreate what’s been done, but can’t really innovate something new. Art constantly evolves as it learns new ways to express the times in which it is created. Art doesn’t just repeat the past, it also leads the future by articulating—whether visually, musically, or in words—the direction society is heading. Art has vision and evolves new ways to express that vision. Artists distill their pain, their joy, their sorrow into ways for us to understand those emotions. They show us what we want before we even know we want it.
As for the above paintings: (Left) Homer Watson, Down in the Laurentides (1882). (Right) An image generated using Dall-E with the prompt “Landscape oil painting Constable Claude Corot.” Composite: Homer Watson/ National Gallery of Canada; Image generated by Jo Lawson-Tancred and Philip Booth.
My initial reaction was preference for the one on the right by the AI, which reminded me of the work of nineteenth century English painter John Constable (which was one of the names given to the AI as a prompt). That’s my point: the AI can remind us of what came before, but can’t lead the way into what comes next.
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Equality for All: National Day of Racial Healing
SUMMARY: “American companies should be ‘champions’ of racial healing and avoid the “leaky bucket” scenario in which people of color are hired only to quickly depart rather than be promoted, a leading Black philanthropist has urged.
“La June Montgomery Tabron is the first female and first Black president and chief executive of the WK Kellogg Foundation, one of the world’s biggest philanthropic organisations, which on Tuesday holds its seventh annual National Day of Racial Healing.
“Held each year on the Tuesday following Martin Luther King Day, there will be more than 160 events across the country featuring performances and conversations with community leaders, advocates and artists with the aim of building trust, bridging divides and telling stories about a community or organisation’s racial past.”
MY TAKE: My guess is that most Americans have never heard of National Day of Racial Healing so I’m going to take this opportunity to introduce you to it through this article. The Kellogg Foundation, created in 1930 by the breakfast cereal innovator Will Keith Kellogg, is supporting this effort to promote equity and inclusivity in the workplace. Since 2020, more than 100 companies and over 550 executives have joined the cause.
Equity in the workplace isn’t just about seeing more black and brown faces in stores and offices, it’s also about making sure they have a path to promotion that is equal to the white faces. This is especially important when you know that racially and ethnically diverse companies have a 36% higher likelihood of financially outperforming less diverse companies. Yet, “The Washington Post found that at the 50 most valuable public companies in the U.S., only 8% of top executives were Black. At least eight companies, including Walmart, employed no Black executives at all.”
Which is exactly why we need National Day of Racial Healing.
Kareem’s Short Takes
SUMMARY: “When Idaho state Rep. Jack Nelsen (R) introduced himself to the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday, he attempted to make a joke about his 45 years of experience in dairy farming. ‘I’ve milked a few cows, spent most of my time walking behind lines of cows, so if you want some ideas on repro and the women’s health thing, I have some definite opinions,’ Nelsen said, before having a little chuckle to himself.
The Idaho Statesman’s editorial board dragged Nelsen’s ass in a Thursday op-ed, both for comparing women and pregnant people to livestock and for offering opinions on ‘the women’s health thing’—in a state where abortion is banned.
‘It would be nice if men like Nelsen would demonstrate a bit of humility and decency, and not paint themselves as experts in women’s health care—which they certainly are not,’ they wrote. ‘It would also be nice if they kept their mouths shut a little more, didn’t insult women and saved Idaho from national embarrassment.’”
MY TAKE: Nelsen later apologized, citing the strong women in his life yadda, yadda. The usual. And I think he believed it. But that is the heart of the problem. He thinks he’s making a joke, probably saying at home, “People don’t have a sense of humor anymore,” and thinks he’s a victim of political correctness. In reality, he’s a virus carrier spreading misogyny without even knowing it. He coughs out his words and they infect society with others now thinking speaking in such a demeaning way is okay. The fact that its unconsciously said rather than deliberately proves how ingrained the misogyny is.
George Santos a ‘bad guy’ who did ‘bad things’ but should not be forced out, top Republican says (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: The New York Republican congressman George Santos, whose résumé has been shown to be largely fictional, whose campaign finances are the subject of increasing scrutiny and who is under local, federal and international investigation, is a “bad guy” who has done “really bad” things, the new House oversight committee chairman said on Sunday.
But Santos should not be forced to quit, James Comer said.
“He’s a bad guy,” the Kentuckian told CNN’ State of the Union. “This is something that you know, it’s really bad … but look, George Santos was a duly elected by the people. He’s going to be … examined thoroughly. It’s his decision whether or not he should resign.”
MY TAKE: Has the GOP tumbled so far down the rabbit hole that they can no longer distinguish between right, wrong, and unjustifiably wrong? The only Republicans supporting Santos are Kevin McCarthy supporters because Santos is also supporting McCarthy. They fear that if Santos resigns, whoever replaces him may have ethics and integrity. Every day Santos remains in Congress, he contaminates the institution as well as our electoral process. Any Republican defending him is exposed for the corrupt politician they are.
Missouri is all for the right to bear arms – but the right to bare arms is up for debate (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “The right to bear arms is sacred in Missouri: the state has some of the weakest gun laws in the US. The right to bare arms, however? Well that’s a little more complicated. On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives decided to spend its time debating what sort of clothes female legislators should wear in the chamber. Did they also review the current dress code for male legislators? No, of course not. After some deliberation on this important issue, the lawmakers decided that women were allowed to wear cardigans and jackets but must conceal their arms. Can’t have ladies flashing a naughty bit of elbow when men are trying to get important stuff done!”
MY TAKE: If you want the sensation of time travel without building a machine, then visit Missouri. To add to the disorienting effects of time travel, the dress code was presented by a woman, Republican state senator Ann Kelly. Originally, she sought to force women to wear blazers, but compromised on also permitting cardigans.
However, Democratic representative Ashley Aune noted that Kelly wore sequined tops. “We’re walking around here in sequins and velveteens,” Aune protested. “So, what is appropriate, and why do you get to decide?” To which Kelly replied, “We need to get over the sequins. That’s ridiculous.” Ah, the sweet sound of logical discourse by our elected officials.
Kelly’s out-dated vision of women and proper attire perpetuates misogyny as our social norm by narrowly defining a woman’s choices in appearance. Elected officials can decide what they should look like and if their constituents disagree, they’ll vote them out.
Kareem’s What to Watch
I’m a fan of all kinds of mysteries that appeal to all kinds of audiences. I wrote a couple young adult mysteries (Sasquatch in the Paint and Stealing the Game), so I was interested in a reimagining of the origins of the Scooby-Doo gang through the lens of creator Charlie Grandy (SNL, The Office) and producer Mindy Kaling (who also voices Velma).
Velma is a thoroughly enjoyable, witty, and creative animated mystery-comedy that both makes fun of the various tropes of teen movies and still gives us an interesting mystery. But the humor and cultural references will appeal more to older teens and adults than young teens (as the show’s own description makes clear). Among the changes from the original show: Velma is of Indian ancestry (like Kaling) and possibly a lesbian or bisexual, too soon to know (“How ‘Velma’ Star Mindy Kaling and Creator Charlie Grandy Found a ‘Worthy Origin Story’ in the Scooby Characters’ Love Lives”)
The show has not been well received by fans (“HBO’s ‘Velma’ Series Slammed by Fans Following Season Premiere”). Some claim her portrayal of having Indian ancestry is self-loathing. I disagree. The self-loathing (insert any marginalized group) is familiar but it is also a way to explore the social conditions that cause this, which the show does with wit and charm. It’s also clear that Velma is presented as having all the insecurities and vulnerabilities of her age, but also unusual intelligence and daring. What makes her especially interesting is that she’s wrong about a lot of things, giving her room to grow as a character.
There are a lot of great shows that critics and viewers didn’t like at first (Friends, Breaking Bad, Parks & Recreation, Star Trek, The Big Bang Theory, etc.), but persevered to become huge hits. I hope this show is one of them because it is a lot of fun.
Music: Great Singer, Great Human
Lena Horne: Stormy Weather (1957)
MY TAKE: I’m continuing my appreciation for some of the great women blues and jazz singers from the past. Eighty years ago, the movie Stormy Weather (1943) was released featuring 26-year-old Lena Horne singing the title song. The movie is notable as having an almost entirely Black cast and featuring the top Black talent of the time.
Her career spanned 70 years and for most of that time she was also a devoted civil rights activist. During WWII, she performed for troops with the USO, but refused to sing before segregated audiences. When she saw that her integrated audience was made up of Black soldiers and German POWs, with the POWs seated in front of the Black soldiers, she got off the stage and performed in front of the Black soldiers, with the POWs to her back.
I met Lena and her presence was just as compelling and charismatic as her voice.
Stormy Weather features songs by Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, and more. Or, both Spotify and Apple Music have available “Lena Horne Selected Favorites.”