November 8, 2018 in 3,080 words

America’s Problem Isn’t Tribalism—It’s Racism

Only one of America’s major political parties relies on stoking hatred and fear against those outside its coalition

It’s fashionable in the Donald Trump era to decry political “tribalism,” especially if you’re a conservative attempting to criticize Trump without incurring the wrath of his supporters. House Speaker Paul Ryan has lamented the “tribalism” of American politics. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has said that “tribalism is ruining us.” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has written a book warning that “partisan tribalism is statistically higher than at any point since the Civil War.”

In the fallout from Tuesday’s midterm elections, many political analysts have concluded that blue America and red America are ever more divided, ever more at each other’s throats. But calling this “tribalism” is misleading, because only one side of this divide remotely resembles a coalition based on ethnic and religious lines, and only one side has committed itself to a political strategy that relies on stoking hatred and fear of the other. By diagnosing America’s problem as tribalism, chin-stroking pundits and their sorrowful semi-Trumpist counterparts in Congress have hidden the actual problem in American politics behind a weird euphemism.

Take Tuesday’s midterm elections. In New York’s Nineteenth Congressional District, the Democrat Antonio Delgado, a Harvard-educated, African American Rhodes scholar, defeated the incumbent Republican John Faso in a district that is 84 percent white, despite Faso caricaturing Delgado as a “big-city rapper.” In Georgia, the Republican Brian Kemp appears to have defeated the Democrat Stacey Abrams after using his position as secretary of state to weaken the power of the black vote in the state and tying his opponent to the New Black Panther Party. In Florida, the Republican Ron DeSantis defeated the Democrat Andrew Gillum after a campaign in which DeSantis’s supporters made racist remarks about Gillum. The Republican Duncan Hunter, who is under indictment, won after running a campaign falsely tying his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is of Latino and Arab descent, to terrorism. In North Dakota, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp lost reelection after Republicans adopted a voter-ID law designed to disenfranchise the Native American voters who powered her upset win in 2012. President Trump spent weeks claiming that a caravan of migrants in Latin America headed for the United States poses a grave threat to national security, an assessment the Pentagon disagrees with. In Illinois on Tuesday, thousands of Republicans voted for a longtime Nazi who now prefers to describe himself as a “white racialist”; in Virginia, more than a million cast ballots for a neo-Confederate running for Senate.

A large number of Republican candidates, led by the president, ran racist or bigoted campaigns against their opponents. But those opponents cannot be said to belong to a “tribe.” No common ethnic or religious ties bind Heitkamp, Campa-Najjar, Delgado, or the constituencies that elected them. It was their Republican opponents who turned to “tribalism,” painting them as scary or dangerous, and working to disenfranchise their supporters.

The making of an opioid epidemic

When high doses of painkillers led to widespread addiction, it was called one of the biggest mistakes in modern medicine. But this was no accident.

Jane Ballantyne was, at one time, a true believer. The British-born doctor, who trained as an anaesthetist on the NHS before her appointment to head the pain department at Harvard and its associated hospital, drank up the promise of opioid painkillers – drugs such as morphine and methadone – in the late 1990s. Ballantyne listened to the evangelists among her colleagues who painted the drugs as magic bullets against the scourge of chronic pain blighting millions of American lives. Doctors such as Russell Portenoy at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York saw how effective morphine was in easing the pain of dying cancer patients thanks to the hospice movement that came out of the UK in the 1970s.

Why, the new thinking went, could the same opioids not be made to work for people grappling with the physical and mental toll of debilitating pain from arthritis, wrecked knees and bodies worn out by physically demanding jobs? As Portenoy saw it, opiates were effective painkillers through most of recorded history and it was only outdated fears about addiction that prevented the drugs still playing that role.

Opioids were languishing from the legacy of an earlier epidemic that prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to appoint the US’s first opium commissioner, Dr Hamilton Wright, in 1908. Portenoy wanted to liberate them from this taint. Wright described Americans as “the greatest drug fiends in the world”, and opium and morphine as a “national curse”. After that the medical profession treated opioid pain relief with what Portenoy and his colleagues regarded as unwarranted fear, stigmatising a valuable medicine.

These new evangelists painted a picture of a nation awash in chronic pain that could be relieved if only the medical profession would overcome its prejudices. They constructed a web of claims they said were rooted in science to back their case, including an assertion that the risk of addiction from narcotic painkillers was “less than 1%” and that dosages could be increased without limit until the pain was overcome. But the evidence was, at best, thin and in time would not stand up to detailed scrutiny. One theory, promoted by Dr David Haddox, was that patients genuinely experiencing pain could not become addicted to opioids because the pain neutralised the euphoria caused by the narcotic. He said that what looked to prescribing doctors like a patient hooked on the drug was “pseudo-addiction”.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

The NIH is looking for someone to roll its joints


Dealers choice.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking a contractor to manufacture “marijuana cigarettes.” In a posting from October 24, the United States’ premier health research organization requires applicants prove they are a small business capable of producing and shipping the wares.

The NIH is seeking quality. An ideal contractor would be able to “manufacture standardized marijuana cigarettes within a range of varying concentrations of delta-9-THC.” Delta-9-THC is the active psychotropic ingredient in marijuana. It’s more commonly referred to simply as THC.

Street smarts matter too. Contractors need to show the ability to “acquire hard-to-find controlled and uncontrolled drug compounds and/or drug dosage forms and analyze purity, authenticity, and stability of these compounds.”

With Canada legalizing recreational marijuana use and more US states poised to relax the drug’s criminal enforcement, studies on the impacts of habitual use is a pressing issue for health researchers. While its effects on nausea—as an appetite promoter—and as a painkiller are well documented, the drug’s impacts on dependency and withdrawal are less understood. US authorities have stymied efforts to study them in the past.

5 Very Real, Very 2018 Jobs (You Had No Clue Existed)

As time marches on and the world gets ever more complex, it’s inevitable that we’ll start to see jobs appear that we never thought were possible, for better or worse. And the entertainment sphere is no different. Well, good news! It’s already happening, and it’s surprisingly dumber than we thought. Believe it or not, right now, someone somewhere is getting paid to do stuff like …

5. The People Who Watch (And Buy) Videos That MIGHT Go Viral

Viral videos make up a huge chunk of the #content that blasts through the intertubes every day — the rest being pornography and hot takes about Star Wars. One problem with online video is that like, well, most things when it comes to the internet, “ownership” is more of a Utopian ideal than a thing that really exists. If you’ve watched a viral video lately, there’s a good chance it was a repost intended to capitalize on the original’s viralness and suck up as much ad revenue as it can before we move on to something new.

It’s a lawless landscape…and Jukin Media is the new sheriff in town.

Apparently, yelling “Fail!” at wedding bloopers requires a strong hand.

Jukin is in the business of buying popular videos before they truly go viral, then raking in those sweet ad impression bucks and making sure anyone trying to reuse the vids (from morning shows to your aunt on Facebook) has to go through them. So how do they find these videos? Easy, through the expertise of Jukin representatives — a fancy way of saying “a bunch of millennials who sit in a comfy office and, no shit, watch videos all day.” Sometimes they’ll catch the videos when they’re already gaining traction on sites like Reddit or YouTube, but many other times, they’ll simply take a chance on something that looks cute, funny, or stupid enough to touch our collective hearts.

This means they end up buying thousands and thousands of obscure videos of puppies farting or dudes getting hit in the groin in every conceivable way, but it’s not wasted money. Many of these videos will eventually show up for half a second in a detergent commercial or something. And every once in a while, they’ll stumble upon a Pizza Rat and make some serious bank. That’s not a joke. By 2015, Jukin had paid out royalties totaling over $5 million to video owners. They estimate that number will be at $20 million by the end of 2018. We fully expect them to own the world by 2045.

The cult of creativity is making us less creative


Creativity isn’t always reflected in brainstorming sessions.

You may have noticed that creativity is all the rage—and not just among artists. American culture, and indeed the world, has become obsessed with manufacturing creative kids, who will turn into inventive workers, who will then become the innovative leaders we need in these rapidly-changing times.

All this obsessing over creativity would be fine if we were actually good at fostering inventiveness. But as writer and teacher Diana Senechal points out in her new book Mind Over Memes, many schools and employers are going about it all wrong. By attempting to instill creativity, she argues, we end up killing it.

As creativity is increasingly touted as the “premiere skill” of our time, Senechal argues, there’s little interest in just letting this ability develop independently. Instead, it is being quantified, dissected and tested, taught and measured.

For example, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning—a collaboration between education, business, community, and government leaders in the US—insists that kids must be educated in the ability to think quick and come up with unusual solutions to respond to future employment in a transforming landscape. Similarly, the International Organization for Cooperation and Development, which generates data and research for policies that promote prosperity worldwide, argues that education today must be focused on cultivating and measuring creativity. Teaching, learning, and assessing creative and critical thinking skills will “help [students] succeed in modern, globalised economies based on knowledge and innovation.”

One winner of the work-from-home revolution: the cottage seat-filler industry


Look busy. Investors are coming.

In the spring of 2010, Vice had a meeting with Intel that could have been make-or-break for the company.

Though popular at the time, Vice was barely sustaining itself as a business. Intel, one of the 10 most valuable companies in the world, had access to a $2 billion annual marketing budget. So, like the machiavellian founder he was, Vice CEO Shane Smith decided the company needed to craft an image to look like the company Intel would want it to be.

He walked down the hall to an architecture firm in Vice’s Williamsburg building and negotiated to temporarily borrow its space. By the time of the Intel meeting, the fancy office appeared to belong to Vice. The rebel media company went as far as to install a glass-enclosed conference room and a high-end Japanese toilet in the short-term digs, according to New York magazine, which published an excellent expose on Vice back in June. “Shane’s whole thing was, ‘We can’t let them think we’re these poor kids,’” one former employee told the magazine.

However, there was still one problem. Vice didn’t have enough New York-based employees to pack the room. The morning of the meeting, Vice encouraged its staffers to bring their hip, 20-something friends to the office to fill out the space. It was the workplace equivalent of seat fillers at the Oscars.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

More than 5,000 migrants have arrived in Mexico City after a grueling 1,000-mile journey across three countries in just as many weeks.

Police, city employees, humanitarian aid groups and countless volunteers converged on Jesus Martinez stadium, a sports venue that has been converted into a temporary shelter for the thousands expected to arrive from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

Mexico City is the caravan’s longest pit stop so far. The first among the group trickled into the city on Saturday with thousands more arriving in the days since. No decision has been made on when to resume the trek northward, but there is talk among the migrants that it could be as soon as this weekend.

In the meantime, migrants have received medical treatment, rummaged through piles of donated clothes, and lined up to make quick calls home in stations set up by the Red Cross.

“The caravan has been a lot harder than I thought,” said Jonathan Suazo Rodriguez, a 23-year-old migrant from Colon, Honduras.“I’ve thought about turning back, but then I think what you have to endure back home, and I have to keep moving forward.”

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been encouraging them to stay— offering asylum, visas, and jobs to any migrant who wants it, stepping up the weeks-long effort to halt the advance US-bound caravan that became the rallying cry for Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric leading up to Tuesday’s midterm elections.

“We’re operating under the assumption that at least half of them will stay in the city or the country” said Nashieli Ramirez, ombudsman for the city’s human rights commission. “These people need to receive all the pertinent information and then make their own decision.”

So far, close to 3,000 migrants have taken them up on that offer, according to Mexican officials, but thousands more are still determined to reach the United States southern border.

Much of the nation sees the 2018 midterms as a referendum on the last two years of Trump. For many Michiganders, however, this election comes down to two elements: hydrogen and oxygen.

From one district to the next, many residents are more focused on a recent series of water crises caused by the state’s crumbling pipes and contamination than they are on the latest Trump tweet.

And it’s not just the Flint water scandal: Michigan residents have come to see water infrastructure as a metaphor for broader political decay.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

Participatory budgeting is an experiment in grassroots democracy that gives citizens partial control of where their taxpayer dollars are allocated. Here’s an inside look at the process at work.

Following the Democrats’ midterm election wins, President Trump seized control of the news cycle by attacking the media in a wild, confrontational press conference, then firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, leaving the Mueller investigation in danger.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Stephen is forced to say goodbye to the former Attorney General and cookie with the most appearances on the Late Show, Jeff Sessions.

As Donald Trump claimed victory for the midterms, he couldn’t help but express contempt at every failed GOP candidate that didn’t embrace him.

While it wasn’t the blue wave Democrats had hoped for, there were plenty of bright spots and record-breaking numbers for the left.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

We’re reluctant to ever trust that an election will be good or fun again, but Tuesday night went kind of ok! (Also, Sessions was forced to resign and Trump accosted Acosta. What a ride!)

Stacey Abrams broke down barriers, knocked on doors, and also had Oprah! Brian Kemp, however, had the much more American strategy of racism, which is likely to bring him the governorship.

THANKS to TBS and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee for making this program available on YouTube.

Everything is good now, right?

THANKS to CTV and The Beaverton for making this program available on YouTube.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

ere’s me commentary on a cat becoming a pole dancing coach.


Quakes, mudslides, an active volcano: inside the world’s riskiest city

Due to its unparalleled exposure to natural disasters, Manizales in central Colombia is globally recognised for its innovative approach to prevention and response.

The city of Manizales in central Colombia following a mudslide in April 2017.

On the evening of 13 November 1985, Luz Estrella Arías was at home with her young daughter in Rio Claro, a hamlet in Caldas in the heart of Colombia’s coffee region. When she heard the roar, at first she thought it was a truck overturning. Then she heard the screams.

“My first instinct was to stay in the house,” she says. “My husband had a prize cockerel that we couldn’t afford to lose. But then the water started coming in, so I grabbed my daughter and stepped outside. The water swept me off my feet, but I managed to grab a coffee plant and hang on.” She swings from one of the pillars of her porch, recreating the gesture.

Arías was fortunate; her house was higher up the slopes of Rio Claro. More than 250 of her neighbours in the valley below weren’t so lucky – they were swept to their deaths by the water and rocks coughed up by the eruption of Nevado del Ruiz, a volcano 15km (nine miles) to the east. It took months to clear the debris and recover the bodies.

On the volcano’s eastern side, however, the damage was catastrophic. When a pilot telephoned then-president Belisario Betancur to tell him the town of Armero had been “wiped from the map”, the president told him not to exaggerate. But he wasn’t: two-thirds of the 29,000 inhabitants had died in the mudslide, the worst natural disaster in Colombia’s history.

Sprawled over a series of mountain ridges in the shadow of Nevado del Ruiz, this urban area faces a panoply of natural disaster risks that are unlikely to be matched anywhere else in the world.

Ed. More tomorrow? Possibly. Maybe. Probably Not? Tomorrow’s a Groundhog Day.