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What Happened: August 10, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Cuomo resigns; Mask study’s faulty science; After Google

The Scroll
August 10, 2021

The Big Story

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will resign in 14 days, he announced Tuesday at a press conference. Everyone from President Biden to Cuomo’s former allies in New York were calling for him to step down after a state attorney general’s report last week accused him of serial sexual misconduct, but until today there seemed to be a chance that the politically savvy three-term governor could survive the ordeal. It’s a dramatic fall for Cuomo, who was hailed as a hero last year for his “pandemic leadership,” the basis of a $5 million dollar book deal he scored in the midst of the crisis. After a long career in which he made many enemies and earned a reputation for political hardball, Cuomo was fawned over by much of the national press in 2020. That spectacle reached its nadir with the governor being “interviewed” on CNN by his own brother, anchor Chris Cuomo.

At the same time he was getting the hero treatment, Cuomo and his top officials were suppressing information related to thousands of nursing home deaths in New York. Independent investigations have shown that some percentage of those deaths were caused by the governor’s policy requiring elder-care facilities to accept COVID-19 patients. But Cuomo’s downfall only began last December when a former aide accused him on Twitter of sexually harassing her for years. At least 11 other accusations followed, with most echoing charges of harassment and one woman alleging that Cuomo groped her against her will. As Michael Tracey argued in yesterday’s Back Pages, the evidence against Cuomo is less conclusive than press accounts have suggested: In one instance of alleged abuse, the governor is accused of grooming—a term usually applied to child predators—a 25-year-old woman. Cuomo is now the second straight governor of New York to resign following a scandal related to sexual conduct.

Read it here:

Today’s Back Pages: A Guide for Normal People to Pick a Search Engine that Won’t Spy on You and Sell Your Data

The Rest

China and Russia have begun joint training exercises—the first time that the drills, which have been going on since 2005, have taken place on Chinese soil. More than 10,000 troops from the two countries are participating in the The Sibu/Cooperation-2021 exercises that incorporate both ground and air forces and will conclude Friday.

The Office of the Inspector General (IG) for the National Security Agency has launched an investigation into claims first made by Tucker Carlson that the agency targeted his communications and “unmasked” his identity in an act of political retribution. While the IG’s statement never names Carlson, it “leaves no doubt” that it pertains to the popular Fox News host, writes Glenn Greenwald on his Substack. As Greenwald explains, if the NSA does not have a special warrant to spy on a U.S. citizen, it’s “required by law to engage in ‘minimization’ efforts to protect the privacy of that citizen.” But the agency appears to have broken that rule—not for the first time—when Carlson’s identity was revealed.
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The country’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has called for children returning to schools to wear masks despite mounting evidence that prolonged mask usage among minors leads to physical, developmental, and psychological problems. “Hopefully, this will be a temporary thing, temporary enough that it doesn’t have any lasting negative impact on them,” Fauci said Monday in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
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An influential study that promotes children masking in schools, and whose authors published an article making their argument in today’s New York Times, was apparently conducted without using a control group—an allegation that, if true, would seriously undermine the study’s findings. Journalist David Zweig, who spoke with the study’s authors, says that they never looked at any “unmasked” school populations before endorsing the effectiveness of masking. 


I corresponded with the authors of the Duke study behind this opinion piece weeks ago...

— David Zweig (@davidzweig) August 10, 2021

 Massive wildfires driven by extreme heat are still burning along the coastal areas of Greece and Turkey. Fires burned for their seventh straight day on Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, where 2,000 residents were evacuated. As Greece experiences its most extreme heat wave in three decades, with temperatures reaching 113 degrees Fahrenheit, the country’s prime minister called it “a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions.”

Shany Mor remembers the August 9, 2001, Sbarro suicide bombing in which a Palestinian terrorist working for Hamas murdered 15 civilians, including seven children and a pregnant woman.

Twenty years since the Sbarro bombing. I remember that afternoon well, trying desperately to get a hold of friends who I knew were in the area, not all of whom had cell phones back then.

And I remember listening to the radio and hearing the death toll rise and rise.

— Shany Mor שני מור شني مور (@ShMMor) August 9, 2021

The long-awaited $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill has finally passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 69-30, which included support from 19 Republicans. The passage of the physical infrastructure plan sets the stage for Senate Democrats to pursue an even more expansive $3.5 trillion plan that would include expanding healthcare and funding education initiatives.

Andrew Cuomo will be succeeded as governor by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, making her the first woman to become governor of New York. Though not very well-known to the general public, Hochul, a former state representative from Buffalo, and the first Democrat to represent her district in 40 years, is well-known in Albany. Hochul is set to serve out the remainder of Cuomo’s term before new elections are called.

A proposed new law in California would make it illegal to protest at a COVID-19 vaccination site in the state. Measure SB 743 resembles regulations on anti-abortion protestors and would prohibit “interfering” with people getting vaccinated even indirectly by “displaying a sign or engaging in oral protest.” If it passes, the bill would make people who violate the ban eligible for six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Back Pages:

A Guide for Normal People to Pick a Search Engine that Won’t Spy on You and Sell Your Data

Former Tablet fellow and freelance tech and culture writer Ross Anderson provides a guide to the confusing but all-important choice between search engines: the windows—or dungeons, as it were—to the universe online.

You probably use Google.

Statistically, everybody does. As the default search engine on almost every phone and browser, with over 90% of the search engine market, most users don’t even think to look for an alternative. It’s friendly, reliable, convenient, and not Bing—what’s not to love? But Google has long forgone the “Don’t Be Evil” slogan, algorithmically tweaking search results and selling everything about you to advertisers. And, because we search the internet for information on all things big and small, embarrassing and proud, it does know everything—“Incognito Mode” does not save you. If that alarms you, it’s time to shop elsewhere.

To put it in layman’s terms, search engines store and organize millions of websites, creating an “index” (much like that in a book) that shows which pages relate to what information, or keywords, and ranking them by how many other sites have linked to that page. This way, a search for tiramisu recipes yields details of the delicious Italian dessert, not pictures of hippos or other unrelated items.

This a costly process, though, which Google pays for by tracking all your search behavior and terms and then selling that data along with an alarmingly detailed profile of individual users—including you—to advertisers. In 2014, Target knew a customer was pregnant before her father did, just from her shopping behavior; and Google knows far more about you than Target does. The next biggest search engines, Bing and Yahoo (with 5% and less than 3% market share, respectively) are somewhat better than Google in this regard, but not by will; they’re just worse at tracking you and selling your data. What you need is a search engine dedicated to privacy; and thankfully, there are a few options.

The most notable of these is DuckDuckGo, which is convenient and simple but also a bit of a cheat. When you click search on DuckDuckGo, Qwant, or Startpage, you’re mostly getting (Microsoft’s) Bing or Google searches stripped of tracking, with sprinkles in from Wikipedia and other sources. It works well, but if you’re worried about manipulated results and the control of Big Tech, it’s only a minor improvement; and that’s not to mention that the ads, served primarily by major ad networks, employ tracking.

From the browser of the same name, the alternative Brave Search is private, doesn’t sell your data, and doesn’t rely on big browsers. Instead, it directly sells ads based on individual search terms and, in my two months of use, has been a noticeable improvement over the conventional alternatives. If you’re looking for a (at least currently) free, private search engine, this is my recommendation. 

It doesn’t do anything new, though, and that’s why, if I see the future of search anywhere, it’s Neeva. The product of a former Google senior vice president of advertising, it’s a search engine as a service, with a $5 per month subscription fee instead of advertisements. It still monitors your search behavior, but instead of selling data to advertisers, it uses that to make a customized search tool, with features unavailable in an ad-supported model. It currently only operates in the United States, but if you’re able and comfortable with paying the subscription (the first three months are free to try), I would highly recommend it.

Neither of these are likely to unseat Google, as free default options will always trump the paid. But if Apple ever forgoes the roughly $9 billion Google pays it annually to remain Safari’s default browser, and releases its long-rumored search engine, that could be it: the free, convenient, default—but private—replacement to take Google’s throne.

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel and Park MacDougald.