Markets: Stocks brought their Jackie Wilson energy yesterday, climbing higher and higher, with the Dow notching its best day since June and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both snapping losing streaks as investors wait for inflation data later this week. Berkshire Hathaway soared to a record high after Warren Buffett revealed over the weekend that it had a quarterly profit of more than $10 billion for the first time.
Tesla’s CFO stepped down. Tesla’s Chief Financial Officer Zach Kirkhorn unexpectedly resigned after working with Elon Musk at the electric vehicle maker for 13 years, which one asset manager told Bloomberg “is like working 50 years for anyone else.” Kirkhorn, who plans to stay at the company until the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition, has been replaced by Tesla’s chief accounting officer. Still, the unexpected departure spooked investors, raising concerns about volatility in the company’s executive ranks and the succession plan for one day replacing Musk at the top.
Yellow’s bankruptcy might cost taxpayers. The 99-year-old trucking company made it official on Sunday, filing for bankruptcy and ending the employment of its 30,000 workers following years of financial struggle and a labor battle with the Teamsters. But for most outside the trucking industry, the big question looming now is whether the company’s plan to sell off its assets will enable it to pay back the controversial $700 million pandemic-era loan it got from the government or whether other creditors like Apollo Global Management will get whatever is left from the freight company.
Freeway traffic won’t be the only thing grinding to a halt in Los Angeles today. More than 11,000 city workers plan to walk off the job this morning for 24 hours.
Sanitation and airport workers fed up with a lack of resources and unfilled vacancies will be among those participating, according to the SEIU Local 721, which represents many city workers.
Hot Strike Summer has already been extra scorching in LA. The city workers will be joining:
170,000 Hollywood actors and 12,500 screenwriters picketing there and in NYC.
Thousands of local hotel workers staging rolling strikes (who even tried to get Taylor Swift to postpone her LA tour dates).
Nationwide, strikes have spiked this summer, putting July among the busiest months for labor action in decades, according to the Washington Post.
But…unless UPS’s 350,000 workers reject the contract their union secured for them, this year is not on track to have more strikers than 2018 or 2019—which in turn had fewer strikers than many years in the 1950s through 1970s, per Bloomberg columnist Justin Fox. There’s another big strike looming, though: With the auto workers union demanding a 40% raise for 150,000 hourly workers at General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, Detroit may soon look like LA with less green juice.—AR
Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photo: Getty Images
Turns out classics majors and petroleum-engineering students have more in common than we thought: Both their programs are shrinking. College students aren’t interested in entering the oil and gas industry like they used to be, no matter how much money they could make when they graduate, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The number of undergrads studying petroleum engineering—once a practical, popular major that would make Boomer parents proud—has seen a 75% decline since 2014, Texas Tech professor Lloyd Heinze told the WSJ.
In the past, enrollment in oil- and gas-related majors followed the market, but despite oil prices popping off between 2016 and 2021, the number grads entering the field still fell, according to the US Dept. of Education. It probably didn’t help that the pandemic highlighted how volatile the oil and gas industry could be as companies laid off over 100,000 employees between March and August 2020.
It’s not just about business. Petroleum engineers can earn 40% more post-graduation than computer science grads, but Gen Zers are opting for more environmentally conscious companies and positions. Current students are nervous about the fossil fuel industry’s role in climate change and question whether these high-paying jobs will even exist in the future as the country moves toward clean energy.—MM
Firefighters battling a large whirl-spawning wildfire in California and southern Nevada are facing challenging conditions as the blaze spreads and threatens iconic desert Joshua trees.
The York Fire – already California’s largest fire of the year – has burned more than 82,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, fire officials said. It began Friday in the New York Mountains of California’s Mojave National Preserve and crossed state lines into Nevada on Sunday.
Crews have been battling the flames under unpredictable wind patterns and unrelenting heat, authorities said. They’ve also been trying to not disturb desert tortoises – federally listed as a threatened species – in part by trying to avoid their burrows.
The fire, among dozens burning around the country under scorching temperatures, has been fueled by extreme conditions that have made it more dangerous and difficult to control, fire officials said Monday night. The York Fire was 30% contained as of Wednesday morning.
The blaze has spawned fire whirls – “a vortex of flames and smoke that forms when intense heat and turbulent winds combine, creating a spinning column of fire,” the Mojave National Preserve said Sunday. As the fire-heated air rises, cold air dashes to take its place, creating a spinning vortex rising from a fire and carrying aloft smoke, debris, and flame – also referred to as a fire tornado in some cases.
The fire is also threatening groves of Joshua trees – the branching, spiky plants of the Mojave Desert that can live more than 150 years.
“It will take a lifetime to get those mature Joshua trees back,” Laura Cunningham, the California director of the Western Watersheds Project, told CNN affiliate KVVU. “Some are fire resistant, and if the flames are not too hot, they will stump sprout out or reseed.”
“This is pretty devastating,” Cunningham said.
The Mojave National Preserve has been seeing an increase in fire frequency over the past decade due to a combination of wet winters and increasing levels of invasive grasses, fire officials say on Inciweb, a clearinghouse for US fire information.
“If an area with Joshua trees burns through, most will not survive and reproduction in that area is made more difficult,” the National Park Service says. “Wildfires could also result in the loss of irreplaceable resources in the park, like historic structures and cultural artifacts.”
In 2020, a 43,273-acre wildfire burned through the Joshua tree woodland of California’s Cima Dome, destroying as many as 1.3 million Joshua trees and leaving behind a plant graveyard, according to the National Park Service.
Firefighters braving intense desert heat to stop the York Fire’s spread in the Mojave National Preserve are among more than 11,000 wildland firefighters and personnel assigned across the country, the National Interagency Fire Center said Tuesday.
Fifty-six active, large fires were burning in 11 states as hot and dry conditions persist throughout the US, the center said Tuesday. More than 1.1 million acres have burned across the US in 2023 as of Tuesday, the center said.
Emerging desert tortoises pose unique challenge
Firefighters were aided by a brief but heavy downpour early Tuesday as they worked to contain the York Fire. More rain moved across the area early Wednesday and may give firefighters an additional boost.
But rain in the Mojave Desert, which is seasonal and scarce, “poses a unique challenge to firefighters,” the Mojave National Preserve said.
Desert tortoises – federally listed as a threatened species – become especially active on wet summer days, emerging from their burrows to drink rainwater.
“Fire crews carefully balance fire suppression with resource protection. They will be on the lookout for desert tortoises, making sure to avoid burrows and active individuals,” the Mojave National Preserve said.
The good news is that most desert wildlife can move to safety when fire approaches, park officials said.
“Resource staff at Mojave National Preserve anticipate that the York Fire has caused minimal damage to critical tortoise habitat and has likely affected few individuals since tortoise observations in the fire area are rare,” preserve staff said.
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Headline News. Some of the stories making the news.
X no longer marks the spot. Yesterday, workers took down the giant glowing X sign installed Friday at the San Francisco headquarters of the Elon Musk-owned company formerly known as Twitter. Neighbors had complained about the brightness, and city officials said they had been told the sign was temporary. In other news at the recently renamed company, it has threatened to sue researchers who track hate speech and found that it had increased on the social media platform since Musk took over, claiming they are harming the business.
It’s getting harder to get a loan. A Fed survey released yesterday shows banks are being stingier when handing out cash, thanks to all those interest rate hikes. A net 51% of banks said they’d raised their standards for large- and medium-sized business loans last quarter, up from 46% during Q1 and the highest since 2008 (not counting the pandemic). For consumer loans, more banks than last quarter said they had upped credit card loan standards, but not as many banks tightened auto loan standards. Banks expect standards to keep getting stricter, with most reporting they’ll continue to raise the bar across loan categories.
California wants to know what your car is doing with your data. California’s new privacy regulator—the only agency in the US devoted solely to privacy issues—has announced its first investigation, and it plans to probe whether your smart car is too smart. The watchdog’s enforcement division plans to examine what manufacturers are doing with the data collected from internet-connected autos, including location data that is highly sought after by advertisers, info on driver behavior coveted by insurance companies, and data from cameras and apps.
Homer Simpson’s expertise is wanted down South: Georgia’s Plant Vogtle has taken a brand-new reactor online, the company that operates it announced yesterday.
The first built-from-scratch nuclear reactor to get turned on in the US in decades is supplying electricity to Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, with capacity to power up to 500,000 homes and businesses.
The new reactor is part of a larger expansion at Vogtle, which already had two operational reactors and will add a fourth one by next spring…if everything goes according to plan. But things haven’t so far: The new reactor went live seven years later than planned, and costs ballooned from $14 billion to nearly $35 billion.
The delays and cost overruns have led some experts to oppose new nuclear plant construction as impractical, but the public is warming up to the energy source. Recent polls show the highest level of support for nuclear power in a decade. It currently supplies almost 50% of US carbon-free electricity, and many experts believe it’s an essential clean energy supplement to wind and solar.
Other countries are also going nuclear…two new nuclear energy projects were announced in Canada this month, while China plans to build at least six to eight new reactors a year.—SK
FROM THE CREW
Robot revolution? Not quite. You can breathe a sign of relief—AI isn’t replacing your job just yet. Instead, MIT researchers are hopeful we can work collaboratively with ChatGPT, DALL-E, and more. Check out Tech Brew’s take on what AI can and can’t do—and assess its potential implications in your field of work.
Wearing the chunkiest, ugliest shoes has always been in fashion for some. But now it’s clog girl summer, and Birkenstock is bracing for a possible September IPO that would value the company anywhere from $8 billion to $10 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Birks have always been lurking. The German sandal has enjoyed several waves of popularity since it first arrived in the US in the ’60s, including in the 90s and 2000s when the brand proved it wasn’t just for Deadheads as mega celebrities wore them. And just like other perfectly horrendous footwear options (Crocs just reported a record $1 billion of revenue for the second quarter and is valued at ~$6.7 billion), Birks are back.
Birkenstock’s revenue jumped about 29% to $1.3 billion last year.
Celebs like Kendall Jenner are rocking Birks this summer, and the sandal even made it in a couple of scenes of the new Barbie movie, which Bloomberg reports helped boost recent sales.
It’s by design: Two years ago, Birkenstock was acquired in a deal that valued the company at roughly $4.9 billion by L. Catterton, the private equity firm backed by LVMH, the luxury conglomerate that keeps Bernard Arnault constantly trading spots with Elon Musk on the list of richest people in the world. Since the acquisition, the brand has collabed with high-end designers like Dior and Manolo Blahnik.
Looking ahead…sources told Bloomberg that the timing and size of the IPO haven’t been nailed down yet, but the potential plans are another sign that market debuts are making their own comeback.—MM
Stat: Who better to deliver the news that you’re quitting your job or want out of your relationship than a celebrity like Flavor Flav or Brian Cox (though those ones may be NSFW)? Some people are so keen to avoid an awkward “It’s not you, it’s me” conversation that they’re using Cameo to pay famous faces to relay these messages instead: In the past three years, the pay-for-celeb-video service has received close to 5,000 requests that included “divorce” and ~2,000 with “break up,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The service has also been used at least 1,000 times to put in two weeks notice, per the WSJ.
Quote: “Delisting every asset other than bitcoin, which by the way is not what the law says, would have essentially meant the end of the crypto industry in the US.”
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong has never been shy about his disagreement with the SEC over whether cryptocurrencies should be viewed as securities (he says no). And in a recent interview with the Financial Times, he said the agency made it an easy choice for his company to fight for that view in court since, before suing, the agency demanded that the exchange stop trading in any crypto token besides bitcoin. The agency’s case against Coinbase is one of several it has pending that ask courts to weigh in on that existential question for crypto in the US.
Sad news: Angus Cloud, the 25-year-old actor who played Fez on Euphoria, has died. And Paul Reubens, the actor best known for creating the character Pee-wee Herman, also died, at age 70, after battling cancer.
Taco Bell was hit with a proposed class-action lawsuit claiming the chain advertised its Mexican Pizzas and Crunchwraps as having more than double the fillings they actually do.
A zoo in China has denied claims that its bears are really people in bear suits after videos surfaced of the bears standing on two legs.
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Last Friday, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, classified aspartame, a non-nutritive sweetener widely used in diet sodas, as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Other substances that share the designation include gasoline, diesel fuel, engine exhaust, chloroform, DDT, and lead. But despite aspartame’s inclusion among that ominous cadre of chemicals, you can continue drinking diet sodas almost entirely worry-free. Here’s why.
IARC is terrible at science communication
IARC’s cancer classifications may be one of the greatest failures of science communication in the world. The agency reports “hazard” (that is, whether a substance could be dangerous) rather than “risk” (that is, the magnitude of any potential danger). By declaring aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic,” people around the world interpret that message as, “Diet sodas are causing cancer.” As always, context is everything, and IARC’s designations mostly leave that out.
Numerous studies over the years have probed whether aspartame is linked to a higher risk of cancer. The resulting data is essentially a wash. Some studies found a small increased risk, while others found no correlation. Trials in rodents do show that consuming inordinately large amounts of aspartame can cause cancer, but this is true for many chemicals eaten in extreme excess. That’s why the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reasonably warns people against consuming more than 40 milligrams of aspartame per day per kilogram of body weight. For a 200-pound person, that’s equivalent to drinking 18 cans of diet soda.
“And even this ‘acceptable daily intake’ has a large built-in safety factor,” Sir David Spiegelhalter, an emeritus professor of statistics at the University of Cambridge, told the Science Media Center. In other words, the 40 mg/kg/day guideline is a conservative estimate; you could probably consume much more and be just fine. In fact, the JECFA considered the same evidence on aspartame and cancer that IARC did and concluded that the evidence for a link is not convincing, an opinion shared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Obesity risk vs. cancer risk
The IARC’s classification of aspartame as a possible carcinogen undoubtedly will cause a PR headache for food companies utilizing the compound, and perhaps prompt them to reformulate their products to avoid the risk of opportunistic lawsuits. The move unfortunately also may lead drinkers of diet sodas to choose sugar-laden options instead. Physician Walter Willett of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told NPR that would be the “worst possible decision.” The health consequences of consuming large amounts of added sugar — including diabetes and obesity — dwarf the remote cancer risk from aspartame.
The simple truth is that every decision in your life affects your risk of cancer, from how much you sleep, to what you eat for breakfast, to whether you ride your bike or drive to work. How we balance that equation is up to each of us. Some decisions, like smoking and using tanning beds, increase the risk of cancer dramatically. Others, like eating right and exercising, clearly lower it. Many more, like using aloe vera, eating pickled vegetables, and drinking diet sodas, have such a small effect — if any — that it’s not really worth worrying about.
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You should ask questions before believing that enraging story and posting it on social media.
[Note: the original article is from Margaret Sullivan, a former columnist for WAPO, so of course, all the “bad actors” she cites are “Republican” or “conservative.” Naturally, the left never does any of this, do they Media Matters for America?]
Vetting news sources has never been more difficult than in today’s most complex information environment.
With no shortage of websites and social media accounts claiming to be credible—often propagated by bad-faith actors—how can you tell what’s legit from what’s not? The crisis of local news outlets shutting down across the country has only exacerbated this problem, making it easier for nefarious forces to fill the void with “pink slime” sites with misleading names.
[“Pink slime” refers to processed lean beef trimmings, and is a cheap filler used to “beef up” many meat products. It is made by salvaging the meat that gets trimmed off cuts of beef along with fat. The the salvaged meat is squeezed through a pipe and sprayed with ammonia to kill bacteria, after which it is dyed pink, packaged into bricks, frozen and shipped to meat packing plants. — TPR]
In 2020, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School identified at least 1,200 such sites.
It’s always tempting to share the news that comes across our social media feeds when it not only seems outrageous but also confirms our biases, fears, or suspicions.
“See?!” we seem to say as we retweet or post; this latest exciting development is just what we knew could happen all along!
But there’s a question we need to ask these days before sharing one of these scintillating stories with friends and followers: Is it true?
Increasingly, “articles” that look like news may be something entirely different — false or misleading information grounded not in evidence but in partisan politics, produced not by reporters for a local newspaper but by inexperienced writers who are paid, in essence, to spread propaganda.
Last [year] provided a case in point when what looked like a legitimate news story went viral.
Published in the “West Cook News,” the story purported to reveal that a suburban Chicago school would soon be giving students different grades depending on their race. It started like this:
“Oak Park and River Forest High School administrators will require teachers next school year to adjust their classroom grading scales to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students. … In an effort to equalize test scores among racial groups, OPRF will order its teachers to exclude from their grading assessments variables it says disproportionally hurt the grades of black students. They can no longer be docked for missing class, misbehaving in school or failing to turn in their assignments, according to the plan.”
There was a big problem, though: It wasn’t true.
It found a ready audience. “But of course,” tweeted the conservative author Andrew Sullivan, as he shared the story to his hundreds of thousands of followers.
He was far from alone in promoting the story. There was a big problem, though: It wasn’t true.
The school issued an unequivocal statement denying the story. While school board members have considered all sorts of research about grading practices — the bogus story relied on out-of-context material presented in a meeting for discussion — the school “does not, nor has it ever had a plan to, grade any students differently based on race.” Georgetown professor Donald Moynihan debunked the story point by point: “The piece has failed the most basic journalistic standard: it has not provided evidence either for the sensationalistic headline or its core claims.”
Some of those who shared it later expressed regret or deleted their original posts, as Sullivan did, but, of course, it’s impossible to put the viral genie back in the bottle.
This single incident was bad enough; what’s worse is what it shows us about our poisoned news environment. While fact-based, accountable local newspapers are struggling to survive — many of them facing budget cuts or closure — what’s known as “pink slime” sites are sneakily trying to fill the void. They traffic in falsehood and exaggeration, paid for by political groups.
“These sites are insidious,” said Alan Miller, founder, and CEO of the News Literacy Project, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that works to make students and the public smarter news consumers and better citizens.
Named after a meat-processing byproduct used as filler — in other words, it looks like meat but isn’t — pink slime news sites are often funded through secret and politically motivated “dark money” contributions. And they are growing fast. In 2020, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School identified at least 1,200 such sites.
With names such as the Des Moines Sun and Illinois Valley Times, they leverage the trust that people have for local newspapers, built up over many decades, to boost their own dubious credibility. Their content is “rooted in deception, eschewing hallmarks of news reporting like fairness and transparency,” according to a New York Times investigation that referred to them as “Pay-for-Play” outlets. Most of them, for example, don’t disclose the funding they get from advocacy groups. Davey Alba, one of the reporters who co-wrote the Times investigation, noted that the “West Cook News” is part of a network of local sites run by Republican operatives.
Meanwhile, of course, local newspapers are shrinking or dying. Between 2005 and the start of the pandemic, about 2,100 newspapers were closed, as I detailed in my book, “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy.” And although many legitimate and admirable news sites have sprung up to help fill the gap, it isn’t always easy for news consumers to know the difference.
I asked Miller for his advice to news consumers.
First, he said, take a pause when you see a story that gets your blood pressure jumping: “Don’t let your emotions take over. If something makes us angry, anxious or excited, that’s when we are most vulnerable to being manipulated.”
Then, he suggested, spend a minute doing your own research. Glance at the comments to see whether anyone has done a fact-check or has credibly challenged the findings. Use a search engine to see whether any other news outlets have covered this story. Try to find the original source of the story or ask the person who shared the post for evidence supporting the claim. Ask yourself whether it seems too good to be true.
You don’t need to take all of these steps, he noted, acknowledging that this is more work than most people will probably undertake. But “doing any of them will be beneficial.”
The News Literacy Project has managed to reach tens of thousands of educators and, through them, potentially millions of students. Because older people are most likely to share false information, according to research published in 2019 in the journal Science Advances, the News Literacy Project is working with an affiliate of AARP and hopes to expand the partnership. [Meaning they can think for themselves — well, some of them, anyway. Ageism by the left: how shocking! — TPR]
There’s really only one solution, after all: skeptical awareness.
News consumers must cultivate their own ability to know the difference between journalistic meat and fraudulent filler.
And, whatever their politics may be, those who care about truth need to slow down — way down — before sharing content that appeals to their emotions or preconceived ideas. It’s increasingly likely that it may be nothing but slime.
[Although trying to pin all these “pink slime” sites on the political opposition, Sullivan does make valid points about how to view “news” items that might not be as objective — or even truthful (#RIPJeremy Renner was a hoax, yet trended on Twitter just the other day) — as we want our news to be. —TPR]
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Trump will surrender to authorities. Former President Donald Trump will be arraigned for the second time in 2023—this time in a Miami courthouse—on Tuesday. That afternoon, a judge will read the 37 counts Trump has been charged with relating to his hoarding of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate after he left the White House. Trump has called on supporters to rally around the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.
A Fed pause? At its meeting this week, the Federal Reserve is expected to do something it hasn’t done in the last 15 months: not raise interest rates. Chair Jerome Powell has suggested it might be time to take a breather as the gargantuan series of rate hikes filters through the economy.
Sports calendar: The Denver Nuggets and Las Vegas Golden Knights are each one win away from clinching their respective championship. Plus, the US Open for golf will tee off on Thursday—it’s the first major since the PGA Tour and LIV agreed to link up (but it’ll be hard to top the drama of this weekend’s golf tournament.)
Bonnaroo starts on Wednesday.
All the TikTokers are about to get one-upped, because the real Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City hits select theaters on Friday.
Father’s Day is Sunday.
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We’re beginning to learn what Meta’s “year of efficiency” means in practice: fewer employees.
Yesterday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Meta plans to lay off 10,000 employees, just four months after it laid off 11,000 staff members. That round of layoffs, impacting 13% of Meta’s workforce, represented the biggest job cuts in the company’s history.
Not only is Meta laying off 10k employees, but it’s also closing 5,000 open roles. This is not a company that wants to onboard many people right now.
Why is that?
Meta is looking to reduce costs as part of what Mark Zuckerberg calls the “year of efficiency.” Last year was “a humbling wake-up call,” Zuck said, citing economic uncertainty and increased competition (aka TikTok) for denting the company’s ad revenue.
But Meta made plenty of unforced errors, too. And by dubbing 2023 “the year of efficiency,” it’s acknowledging that previously, things were not very efficient.
That starts with hiring. Meta has been criticized for growing its headcount so rapidly that many employees had nothing to do.
In a viral TikTok video, one former Meta employee said, “we were just sitting there” and “you had to fight to find work.”
A report in Wired argues that Meta’s headcount got bloated due to “ghosts in the machine”—employees who were brought on to launch new products and stayed on the payroll even when those products failed.
Putting the recent layoffs in context: Even after shedding 21,000 jobs, Meta will still have a higher headcount than it did before the pandemic. In the boom times of 2020 and 2021, it hired more than 27,000 employees.
Zoom out: While the US labor market remains strong, layoffs have spiked in 2023. Companies announced 180,713 job cuts in January and February—the most to start any year since 2009, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. About one-third of the layoffs took place at tech companies.—NF
A Russian fighter jet crashed into a US drone. In the first known physical contact between US and Russian aircraft since the invasion of Ukraine, a Russian fighter jet collided with a US surveillance drone in international airspace above the Black Sea, damaging a propeller and forcing the US to bring the drone down. At least that’s what the US claims happened: Russia denied that the plane came into contact with the drone. According to one US official, drones have been intercepted in the area before, but this incident was particularly “unsafe and unprofessional.”
ChatGPT is old news. OpenAI released its much-hyped GPT-4 AI language model yesterday, representing an advancement over the tech that powers ChatGPT. GPT-4 is wowing reviewers with its ability to understand not only text but also images (even complex memes). Plus, it crushes its predecessor GPT-3.5 on academic assessments: On a simulated bar exam, GPT-4 scored around the top 10% of test takers, while GPT-3.5 scored around the bottom 10%.
EPA moves to get “forever chemicals” out of drinking water. The EPA proposed regulations yesterday to limit the amount of six types of industrial chemicals allowed in drinking water. PFAS, as they are known, cause health problems including cancer. Though many companies have begun phasing out the chemicals, a 2020 study found that 200 million Americans are exposed to PFAS in tap water.
We’ve written at George R. R. Martin-length about the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, the second-largest banking collapse in US history. But did you know that the third-biggest bank failure happened just two days after SVB imploded? The deets are juicy.
On Sunday, regulators seized the assets of NY-based Signature Bank and gave senior management the boot, but they assured its depositors that they could access all of their money. Signature was deemed a threat to the US financial system after panicked customers reportedly withdrew 20% of its total deposits.
But leaders inside the bank say authorities overreacted, led by none other than Barney Frank, the former US representative on Signature’s board. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Frank crafted key banking regulations in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis (the Dodd-Frank Act).
Frank argues that Singature was singled out because of its ties to crypto—it was one of the go-to banks for crypto companies. Frank told Bloomberg that he believes Signature wasn’t on the verge of collapse, and regulators only shut it down “to send a message to get people away from crypto.”
Authorities have pushed back on the pushback. The New York State Department of Financial Services, which initiated the closure, claims that Signature executives were elusive in sharing data with regulators during the bank panic, causing a “crisis of confidence.”—SK
Everyone with a complex about getting wing sauce all over their face has a new hero. Aimen Halim of Chicago filed a class-action lawsuit against Buffalo Wild Wings that accuses the restaurant chain of falsely advertising its boneless wings when they are allegedly just chicken nuggets.
The lawsuit, filed last Friday, states that Halim believed BWW’s boneless chicken wings were actually deboned wings. If he had known the breast-meat truth, Halim claims he would have ordered something else, and therefore he’s suffered “financial injury.”
This debate has been a hot one. A man went viral in 2020 for giving an impassioned speech to the Lincoln, NE, city council about why the term “boneless wings” should be stripped from every menu in the city.
But we’ve been having the conversation even before that. In the early 2000s, boneless wings gained popularity when the price of chicken breast—which is what boneless wings are usually made of—cratered, while wings remained expensive. And wing purists have always pushed back against the bone-free option. The prices of both items have fluctuated in the past few years, but the debate over what, if anything, constitutes a boneless wing has raged on.—MM
Stat: Calling it now—summer 2026 will see the lowest worker productivity on record. The World Cup is expanding to 104 games, a considerable increase from the 64 matches played last year in Qatar. That’s the result of more teams in the field (48 vs. 32 previously) and a bigger group stage. The next tournament will be hosted in North America over a span of nearly six weeks.
Quote: “The standard deli sandwich with processed meat and cheese, you’re literally eating a heart bomb.”
An article from the WSJ ruined sandwiches for us, and now we’re ruining them for you, too. Sorry. This quote about the health risks of sandwiches comes from a cardiologist and nutrition professor at Tufts University, who, along with other health experts, is warning about the high levels of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat in Americans’ favorite lunch option. A typical turkey sandwich in the 1980s had ~320 calories; in the 2000s, it had 820, per the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Read: Influencer parents and the kids who had their childhood made into content. (Teen Vogue)
Former President Donald Trump hands out Make America Great Again hats to McDonalds employees in East Palestine, Ohio. (Jabin Botsford via Getty Images) TGIF: Dignity for Oompa Loompas Robots replace academics. Another Dolezal. The censors come for Roald Dahl. Buttigieg blows it in Ohio. Plus: David Mamet on cowboys.
By Nellie Bowles
February 24, 2023
→ Home sales fall for 12 straight months: It’s the longest streak since 1999. Mortgage rates are still too high. See I only care about politics that directly impact me financially, and this does because it means when I look at my house on Zillow I see the number going down. Not allowed! Meanwhile, office landlords are beginning to default as those 10-year leases end.
→ Georgia grand jury foreperson gone wild: The head juror for the special grand jury looking into Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results has gone rogue. She is Emily Kohrs, 30, a private citizen, a grand jury foreperson tasked with protecting elections, and as of this week a chatty new media darling.
To MSNBC: “I kind of wanted to subpoena the former president because I got to swear everybody in. And so I thought it’d be really cool to get 60 seconds with President Trump, of me looking at him and being like, ‘Do you solemnly swear?’ And me getting to swear him in.”
To CNN: “There may be some names on that list that you wouldn’t expect. But the big name that everyone keeps asking me about—I don’t think you will be shocked.”
Emily’s having fun! (And of course she’s into witchcraft.) Honestly, the grand jury foreperson’s main bias seems to be toward drama and chaos, and in that we salute her.
“This was a horrible idea and I I guarantee you prosecutors are wincing”
As an aside, you know why Trump hasn’t been caught for anything big? The man never writes anything down. Not an email, not a text. The resistance, run by chaos Wiccans like Emily, will simply never catch him.
→ Roald Dahl meets 2023: The long-dead British children’s books author—Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG, and, who could forget, The Witches—has not escaped our moment, and now his books are getting a modern makeover to remove offensive bits. I forget, were those books racist? Sexist? Not exactly, no, but lots of people might be offended, for example, by the fact that Dahl describes witches as bald. And so now there is a new line in the book right after his description of a witch’s hairless head: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.” (I’m dead serious.)
Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was described as “fat.” That’s gone (now he’s just “enormous”). And did anyone ask the Oompa-Loompas whether they self-identified as “small men?” Now they are “small people,” which of course gives these characters, who are called Oompa. Loompas. All their dignity back. In one story, a character Dahl described as “ugly and beastly” is now just “beastly,” a concession, I guess, to sensitive ugly people. But what about the beastly?!
Now the next lines from James and the Giant Peach are so offensive, I want you to be very careful who sees your screen. These were traditionally sung by the Centipede: “Aunt Sponge was terrifically fat / And tremendously flabby at that.” And: “Aunt Spiker was thin as a wire / And dry as a bone, only drier.”
Those are gone now, replaced with new and worse rhymes coughed up by the very nice censors at Inclusive Minds.
Now, Dahl was also famously an antisemite, which he occasionally cloaked as simple anti-Zionism. Actually, that didn’t need a modern progressive update at all. Now excuse me while I go track down my original copy of The Twits before a sensitivity reader with red pens shows up at my door.
→ Ancestry is complex: One-time Black Panther Angela Davis went onto the PBS show Finding Your Roots, where Henry Louis Gates Jr. does a deep dive into your ancestry. But then something strange happened: It turns out her ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. Now the gotcha here from the right is something like “Oh she’s a descendant of the Mayflower! Not so victimized, eh?” But actually it’s sort of a vindication of the 1619-mindset, in that the history of America and slavery is entwined from the start. It’s worth watching the clip just to see Davis’s face and the gravity of being tied genetically back to that ship. “No, my ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower. No, no no. That’s a little bit too much to deal with right now.”
→ Selling unused Covid gear on the cheap: New York City is auctioning off $200 million in Covid supplies for just $500,000. This comes from local news blog The City, who got the scoop. Among some of the details from the story: A junk dealer from Long Island picked up $12 million in ventilators for just $24,600. “It took the dealer 28 truckloads to cart the stuff away, auction records state.” It’s a great story that also includes emails showing city officials fretting that people might find out how much they overspent. It’s like Storage Wars but so, so sad.
Congratulations to the junk dealer who got 500,000 pounds of ventilators.
→ Jimmy Carter, 98, in hospice: The former president is now in hospice in his Plains, Georgia, home. I recommend this 2018 feature about his sweet and simple life in retirement with Rosalynn, where every Sunday he taught a lesson at the Maranatha Baptist Church. TGIF salutes Jimmy Carter, a model of decency.
Speaking of gentle souls with good intentions, humble dreams, and devoted marriages, let’s see what Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are up to this week. . .
→ Trump gets to East Palestine before the White House: Trump visited the site of the toxic train derailment, spoke to residents, and brought pallets of water (Trump-branded, of course). He stopped at McDonalds, telling workers quite believably: “I know this menu better than you do.”
Meanwhile, local officials in East Palestine are getting on camera to show themselves drinking tap water. Like, see, it’s totally safe! The fish are dead and your dog is dying, but we’re cool! Don’t be so uptight about “vinyl chloride” and “phosgene,” which are just fancy words for totally not-toxic water.
One thing that makes Trump successful is he says that things are shitty when they’re shitty, and I’m sorry, but the water in East Palestine is shitty right now.
Racing there after Trump was Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the man who is proving single-handedly that Rhodes Scholars are overhyped. Buttigieg whiffed when he arrived: he ran away from reporters, leaving his press secretary begging those reporters to turn off their cameras before she would talk to them. When he did finally speak, he said he “lost his train of thought.” Oh god:
Is there something I’m missing here? Why did the train derailment get coded as so conservative that no one could talk about it? Why do the cameras have to be off? Why isn’t Michael Moore there? To me, this whole thing is a gimme for Democrats: use it to argue for more and smarter government infrastructure spending. But for some reason, acknowledging the crash and its environmental impact is verboten. If you can answer this political mystery, please do in the comments.
→ I really don’t like this item: Mark Middleton, a one-time advisor to Bill Clinton, who seemed to be involved with handling his Jeffrey Epstein relationship, is dead by apparent suicide. Details came out this week: Middleton was found hanged with an electrical cord—and with a gunshot wound to his chest. When it comes to Epstein-related shadiness and the extended cover-up of that scandal, at this point, I’m willing to believe just about anything. On the other hand, people who have done bad things do generally want to avoid facing their own souls. So I’d say I’m Epstein-related-murder-conspiracy-open but not sold. But let’s give it a week.
→ James O’Keefe is out: Project Veritas, the right-wing undercover investigations outlet, has ousted its leader and star, James O’Keefe. He spoke to staff before leaving and you can watch that strange, rambling speech here. The board accused him of spending “an excessive amount of donor funds in the last three years on personal luxuries.” Items and amounts that the Veritas board lists: “$14,000 on a charter flight to meet someone to fix his boat under the guise of meeting with a donor” and “over $150,000 in Black Cars in the last 18 months.”
Now, to be clear, James O’Keefe’s job is setting up shady stings of his enemies. One of my friends who got stung was on his third date with a woman who turned out to be an undercover Veritas operative. It was on that date that she recorded him. To me, there’s no one better to run an operation like that than a dude who spends $14,000 to meet someone about a boat. Over $150,000 on limos is basically the minimum spend for a guy like this.
→ Ozy Media founder arrested: It’s not only right-wing media that’s losing a star this week. On Thursday we learned that Carlos Watson, founder of progressive media company Ozy, had been arrested on charges of fraud. The United States of America v. Carlos Watson and Ozy Media, Inc. is pretty fun reading. Among other things, Watson allegedly had a subordinate— Samir Rao, Ozy’s COO—pretend to be a YouTube executive on a call with Goldman Sachs, to say how great Ozy Media was doing on YouTube.
This whole thing was first broken open by scoop hound Ben Smith, now of Semafor. An idea: maybe Carlos Watson and James O’Keefe can start something new together?
And now, a word from resident cartoonist David Mamet . . .
→ University DEI admins come up with their perfect replacement: Vanderbilt University’s office of diversity issued a statement consoling students about a recent mass shooting at Michigan State. But apparently they are so very busy that they used AI to write it.
Let me back up: last week, 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae—who had previously pleaded down a felony charge that would have prevented him from possessing a gun—slaughtered three students, seemingly at random, on Michigan State’s campus.
In response, Vanderbilt’s equity workers released a touching statement about how everyone needs to be kind and inclusive to, I guess, prevent mass shootings by nearby career criminals: “Another important aspect of creating an inclusive environment is to promote a culture of respect and understanding.” And: “[L]et us come together as a community to reaffirm our commitment to caring for one another and promoting a culture of inclusivity on our campus.” And: “Finally, we must recognize that creating a safe and inclusive environment is an ongoing process that requires ongoing effort and commitment.” It’s the same nonsensical but warm sentiment said over and over—inclusive (7 times), community (5 times), safe (3)—and it kinda worked!
Except at the bottom of the statement was this sentence: Paraphrase from OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model, personal communication, February 15, 2023.
People were upset. The university apologized. And yes, you could ask what exactly these bureaucrats are doing all day. But their laziness might also be their genius: replace all university bureaucrats with ChatGPT. Like the discovery of penicillin, sometimes accidents make genius.
→ NPR cutting 10 percent of its staff: The public radio station—that is, in part, taxpayer funded—is losing money and needs to cut staff. I can’t point to an institution that has more fully failed its mission than NPR, which went from fulfilling a genuine public service with news and great stories (I’m thinking of early This American Life) to just another hyper-partisan maker of mush. Tote bags and mush.
→ NYT union versus NYT workers: The New York Times’ labor union is a funny thing because reporters pay into it every two weeks and, in turn, the union’s main project is getting some of those reporters fired. It’s a bit like musical chairs: If you’re too slow putting the fist in your Twitter profile picture, you’re it. See, the union is pretty bad at achieving boring stuff like raises, but it shines at gathering groups of reporters to get a deskmate ousted. Who needs money when you can draw blood?
The latest: the union stepped in to help ax a couple Times writers who reported on trans issues with anything close to an objective lens. Here’s what union head Susan DeCarava wrote to Times staff in a note about how to organize: “[E]mployees are protected in collectively raising concerns that conditions of their employment constitute a hostile working environment.” Oh yes, reporting on trans issues makes a hostile work environment. Perfect. We got the language, now let’s march on Katie, that very bad Times reporter! Let’s picket the awful Emily! The people united will get Katie fired!
Except finally, finally, the union this week is seeing some organized pushback, and a group of Times people wrote their own letter asking the union to just please stop. “We ask that our union work to advance, not erode, our journalistic independence.”
If media union bosses can’t wake up and get Katies and Emilys fired, what exactly are they supposed to do all day?