February 5, 2019 in 2,655 words

Trump Is a Mental Health Story

Reporters need to stop covering him as if he’s strictly a political one


In the 818 days since the 2016 election, the Washington Post has used the word “unprecedented” in reference to President Donald Trump, or his associates, about 657 times­ — or almost every day. On just one day in January, for example, readers learned of Trump’s “unprecedented steps” to slow immigration, his “unprecedented decision” to hold onto his business in the White House, and his “unprecedented assault” on the census.

There is a breathlessness to the coverage that, oddly, does not diminish with time. The word “remarkable” appears almost as often in the Post, averaging every other day since 2016. We read about the “remarkable rift” between the President and his former National Security Adviser (Dec. 1, 2017), Trump’s “remarkable ignorance of U.S. history” (July 19, 2018), and his “remarkable tweetstorm” against his former lawyer (Dec. 4, 2018).

If something happens that often, it can’t be all that remarkable. Why do journalists keep using these words? Simple. Because any time news breaks, we call political scientists, pollsters, former White House staffers, and opponents for analysis, little of which is remotely illuminating. The problem is, we try to cover Trump as a political matter. And by doing so, we’re potentially missing a big part of the story.

Imagine if Trump had a seizure during a press conference. Would reporters ring up the folks at Brookings and the Cato Institute for comment? Would we analyze new polling data to help us understand if there is a clever political strategy behind his behavior?

No. We’d call physicians, who would tell us that they can’t formally diagnose the president without seeing him, but they can say that a seizure is generally caused by an uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. They could then explain that a seizure might be caused by epilepsy — and what might happen if epilepsy goes untreated. This context would not be inappropriate or biased; it would demystify the president’s behavior and help us prepare for what comes next, with significantly less drama and noise.

Super-tall, super-skinny, super-expensive: the ‘pencil towers’ of New York’s super-rich

An extreme concentration of wealth in a city where even the air is for sale has produced a new breed of needle-like tower.

The proposed 2022 skyline overlooking Central Park.

It is rare in the history of architecture for a new type of building to emerge. The Romans’ discovery of concrete birthed the great domes and fortifications of its empire. The Victorians’ development of steel led to an era of majestic bridges and vaulted train sheds. The American invention of the elevator created the first skyscrapers in Chicago. Now, we are seeing a new type of structure that perfectly embodies the 21st-century age of technical ingenuity and extreme inequality. A heady confluence of engineering prowess, zoning loopholes and an unparalleled concentration of personal wealth have together spawned a new species of super-tall, super-skinny, super-expensive spire.

Any visitor to New York over the past few years will have witnessed this curious new breed of pencil-thin tower. Poking up above the Manhattan skyline like etiolated beanpoles, they seem to defy the laws of both gravity and commercial sense. They stand like naked elevator shafts awaiting their floors, raw extrusions of capital piled up until it hits the clouds.

These towers are not only the product of advances in construction technology – and a global surfeit of super-rich buyers – but a zoning policy that allows a developer to acquire unused airspace nearby, add it to their own lot, and erect a vast structure without any kind of public review process taking place. The face of New York is changing at a rate not seen for decades, and the deals that are driving it are all happening behind closed doors.

The results range from the sublime to the ridiculous, or even both at once. There is 432 Park Avenue, a surreal square tube of white concrete that appears to shoot twice as high as anything around it, its endless Cartesian grid of windows framing worlds of solid marble bathtubs and climate-controlled wine cellars within. It is the most elegant of the new towers, recalling the minimalist sculptures of Sol LeWitt, although its architect, Raphael Viñoly, says it was inspired by a trash can. He can clearly turn garbage into gold, given the penthouse sold for $95m (£72m).

Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

Soak the rich? Americans say go for it

Surveys are showing overwhelming support for raising taxes on top earners.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said polling numbers suggesting fairly wide public support for plans like hers to tax the rich did not come as any shock.

The prospect of 70 percent tax rates for multimillionaires and special levies on the super-rich draw howls about creeping socialism and warnings of economic disaster in much of Washington.

But polling suggests that when it comes to soaking the rich, the American public is increasingly on board.

Surveys are showing overwhelming support for raising taxes on top earners, including a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Monday that found 76 percent of registered voters believe the wealthiest Americans should pay more in taxes. A recent Fox News survey showed that 70 percent of Americans favor raising taxes on those earning over $10 million — including 54 percent of Republicans.

The numbers suggest the political ground upon which the 2020 presidential campaign will be fought is shifting in dramatic ways, reflecting the rise in inequality in the United States and growing concerns in the electorate about the fairness of the American system.

The 5 Biggest Tech Lies Governments Tried To Pull Off

Governments lie about lots of things — what they’re doing, how much they’re doing, whether they’re doing anything at all. You know, the usual stuff. But they especially like to lie about how crazy advanced their technology is. There are myriad reasons for this, from intimidation to keeping the population on their side with a list of impressive accomplishments. And besides, who’s going to call them out on bending the science a little? Everyone, as it turns out. Absolutely everyone.

5. Iran’s “New” Fighter Jet Was A Copy Of A U.S. Plane From The ’70s

In 2018, Iran unveiled a new fighter jet “designed and manufactured solely by Iranian military experts.” It was proclaimed a groundbreaking engineering development, and all the government officials beamed with pride … until about five days later, when one of the jets crashed.

The co-pilot lived! And that would be the end of the good news, as far as this story’s concerned.

Then reports came out that the crashed plane was actually one of the American-made Northrop F-5s that were sold to Iran in the ’60s and ’70s, back when their horribly oppressive dictatorship was the kind we approved of. But you can understand the confusion, seeing as how the two craft look so much alike. In fact, one might say they’re … completely identical.

There’s even a Jefferson Airplane fan club newsletter on the floor of the cockpit for some reason.

The “advanced,” “100 percent indigenously made” Kowsar was a (technically illegal) copy of an American plane from the Nixon administration. The Kowsar might be useful in training new pilots, but if it finds itself in a modern dogfight, it will be as about as effective as a stern frown. But President Rouhani still took advantage of the big reveal to taunt the United States, like a man confidently declaring that he could take LeBron James one-on-one while safe in the knowledge that the situation will never, ever arise.

At least Iran still has the awesome might of the Qaher-313 stealth fighter. Why, according to analysts, it, uh, is about 75 percent the size of a real plane, would probably melt on takeoff, and seems to have the same stealth technology as a Smartcar. Just keep all this in mind the next time the media tries to hype Iran as a big military threat.

Gut bacteria may have impact on mental health, study says

Research opens door to possible treatments for depression based on probiotics.

The finding could pave the way for new treatments for mental health disorders based on probiotics such as these Lactobacillus bugs.

Microbes that set up home in the gut may have an impact on mental health, according to a major study into wellbeing and the bacteria that live inside us.

Researchers in Belgium found that people with depression had consistently low levels of bacteria known as Coprococcus and Dialister whether they took antidepressants or not.

If the preliminary finding stands up to further scrutiny, it could pave the way for new treatments for mental health disorders based on probiotics that boost levels of “good” bacteria in the intestines.

Jeroen Raes of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology and the Catholic University of Leuven drew on medical tests and GP records to look for links between depression, quality of life and microbes lurking in the faeces of more than 1,000 people enrolled in the Flemish Gut Flora Project.

He found that two kinds of bugs, namely Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus, were both more common in people who claimed to enjoy a high mental quality of life. Meanwhile, those with depression had lower than average levels of Coprococcus and Dialister.

The study reported in Nature Microbiology does not prove that gut microbes affect mental health. It is possible that the effect works the other way around, with a person’s mental health having an impact on the bugs that thrive inside them. But in follow-up experiments, Raes and his team found evidence that gut microbes can at least talk to the human nervous system by producing neurotransmitters that are crucial for good mental health.

Crazy ‘cat men’: how New York’s feline frenzy made headlines decades ago

Peggy Gavan’s book sheds light on the lives of workers in storied institutions in the 1800s and 1900s – and their bonds with cats.

Mother cat Blackie halts traffic as she transports her five kittens, one by one, across Lafayette Street in lower Manhattan.

New York was no place for a stray cat in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Thousands of feral cats were rounded up and gassed, ostensibly for “humanitarian reasons”. Poor children were paid one nickel per catch, which meant scores of healthy pets also met their ends.

Thanks to some New Yorkers, however, many were saved from slaughter in acts of kindness which have been documented by Peggy Gavan in a new book, The Cat Men of Gotham: Tales of Feline Friendships in Old New York.

Though stories and pictures of cats have become enormously popular online in today’s world, Gavan’s book shows the path to this obsession was evident decades ago.

“In the late 1800s, early 1900s, every time a cat did something – saved its family by meowing at a fire, or was rescued by a police officer, or something like that – it always made the headlines,” Gavan said.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Though not a new phenomenon, flat Earth theory has enjoyed a huge resurgence recently. A YouGov poll indicated that a third of Americans aged 18 to 24 were unsure of the shape of our planet, in spite of scientific proofs from Pythagoras to Nasa. Why has this happened now, and what does it tell us about society today?

Last Tuesday morning, Catardo Gómez stepped from the United States into Mexico, looked around briefly in confusion, and was immediately swarmed by microphones and cameras.

He’d made history simply by walking onto the other side of El Chaparral, a pedestrian border crossing connecting San Diego with Tijuana. Gómez was the first migrant sent back under a new Trump administration program, called the Migrant Protection Protocol, which requires asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico instead of the U.S.

“I’m going straight to the place where I’m staying,” Gómez told the scrum of reporters before being hustled into a van by Mexican immigration agents. “I’m tired.”

Soon, more migrants from Central America like Gómez will be forced to make the trek back over the border as they wait for their asylum cases, which the US is required by domestic and international law to hear in full before it deports asylum seekers back to their home countries. If the program is fully implemented, the implications could be massive.

Most asylum seekers who enter the U.S. through the southern border, either by presenting themselves at a port of entry or crossing illegally and surrendering to Border Patrol agents, wait in the United States while their asylum cases proceed through the severely backlogged immigration court system, which can take months or years.

But now, a growing number will be forced to wait out the process in Mexican border cities, which are often beset by the same problems of violence and poverty that migrants fled in the first place. Some are likely to give up and return home as a result, and both supporters and critics of the program say such a deterrent effect is part of its design.

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

A ‘The Late Show’ Exclusive: Stephen Colbert’s Interview of Margaret Brennan’s Pre-Super Bowl Interview of President Trump.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam withdraws previous comments in which he admitted to being pictured in a racist 1984 yearbook photo, but admits that he wore shoe polish as blackface during a Michael Jackson dance competition the same year.

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

Stephen provides some alternatives after Trump declares ‘Choosing Greatness’ as the theme of his State of the Union Address.

In the face of countless calls for his resignation following a racist photograph, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam nearly moonwalked.

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

Seth takes a closer look at every major Democrat in the country calling on the governor of Virginia to resign after a racist photo surfaced from his medical school yearbook.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.



YOU KNOW THE story. Despite technologies, regulations, and policies to make humanity less of a strain on the earth, people just won’t stop reproducing. By 2050 there will be 9 billion carbon-burning, plastic-polluting, calorie-consuming people on the planet. By 2100, that number will balloon to 11 billion, pushing society into a Soylent Green scenario. Such dire population predictions aren’t the stuff of sci-fi; those numbers come from one of the most trusted world authorities, the United Nations.

But what if they’re wrong? Not like, off by a rounding error, but like totally, completely goofed?

That’s the conclusion Canadian journalist John Ibbitson and political scientist Darrell Bricker come to in their newest book, Empty Planet, due out February 5th. After painstakingly breaking down the numbers for themselves, the pair arrived at a drastically different prediction for the future of the human species. “In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline,” they write. “Once that decline begins, it will never end.”

But Empty Planet is not a book about statistics so much as it is about what’s driving the choices people are making during the fastest period of change in human history. Ibbitson and Bricker take their readers inside the Indian slums of Delhi and the operating rooms of Sao Paulo, Brazil, to eavesdrop on the conversations young professionals have at dinner parties in Brussels and over drinks at a young professionals’ club in Nairobi. The end result is a compelling challenge to long-entrenched demography dogma, Trojan Horse-d inside an accessible, vivid portrait of modern families from every walk of life. The authors sat for an interview about how they arrived at a radical new outlook on the human race and its implications for future societies.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?