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What Happened: October 29, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Turkish-Ukrainian relations; meta-Facebook; Andrew Cuomo; Charlie Munger’s architectural malpractice

The Scroll
October 29, 2021

The Big Story

A Hasidic rabbinical court operating in New York City has ruled that COVID-19 vaccines are “strictly forbidden” for children, creating a constitutional challenge to any future vaccination mandates in schools. The Scroll is still working to establish a clearer picture of what specific Jewish communities the court, composed of three rabbis, represents in the New York area. One member of the court, Rabbi Michoel Green, was censured in February of this year by the Central Massachusetts Chabad for making what the organization characterized as “reckless” statements about vaccines that were “contrary” to its mission. In response, Green wrote on Facebook that he is “not just anti-vax” but “consistently anti-pharma.” Regardless of the court’s religious jurisdiction, its ruling establishes a precedent for religious exemptions from vaccine mandates that could lead to a future legal clash, in which First Amendment protections are asserted against state health regulations. Just this week, the Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisory panel voted to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 5 years old. In Oakland, the Board of Education approved a plan this week to force unvaccinated students 12 or older to either leave school or enter independent-study programs.

Details about the rabbinic court’s ruling were publicized on Twitter Friday by Robert Malone, a pioneering virologist and immunologist whose testimony was considered by the court, known to religious Jews by its Hebrew name as a beit din. Malone helped invent mRNA vaccines and this past June wrote that the “data strongly indicate that the experimental genetic vaccines, including the mRNA and recombinant adenoviral vaccines, have saved lives. Many lives.” But he has been accused of spreading “misinformation” over the past year for warning that it is “also increasingly clear that there are some risks associated with these vaccines.” In all, it appears that the court collected nearly eight hours’ worth of evidence and testimony on video that was considered in its ruling. 

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Today’s Back Pages: Your Weekend Reads

The Rest

-People who have not received COVID-19 vaccines are no more likely to transmit the Delta variant of the virus in their own household than others who have been vaccinated, according to a new study. The results of the yearlong British study of 621 people were published in the medical journal The Lancet and showed that vaccinated participants recovered from Delta virus infections more quickly and had less severe cases, requiring fewer hospitalizations compared to their unvaccinated counterparts.
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-Russia issued a warning to Turkey earlier this week over the sale of drones to Moscow’s rival Ukraine. “We have really good ties with Turkey, but in this situation our fears are unfortunately being realized,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday after Ukrainian military forces used a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone to strike Russian separatist positions in the Eastern Ukraine conflict zone. Ukraine now has a deal with Ankara to manufacture its own version of the Turkish drones near the capital, Kyiv. Ukraine is only one issue of several inflaming tensions between Turkey and Russia. The most significant is Syria, where Russia has been a leading international ally of the Assad regime while Turkey has been the Iranian-backed Syrian government’s chief challenger in the region. 

-With the walls closing in on Facebook as government efforts to control the company converged with a media-led crusade to turn the platform into the internet’s censor, Mark Zuckerberg released a video yesterday rebranding his social media company as “meta.” That’s short for metaverse, a fully immersive, distributed virtual reality environment that Zuckerberg wants to take the lead in creating. The move represents several different impulses: an effort to stave off regulatory pressures, a fairly conventional corporate restructuring, and a big step toward making genuine human experience a luxury product available only to the rich while everyone else is kept docile by simulations of being alive. It’s all about as funny as a living death, which is the joke among Hebrew speakers on Twitter who have been amusing themselves with the fact that meta sounds like the feminine version of the Hebrew word for “dead.”

-Good advice from novelist Walter Kirn.

I will be tweeting against this video all day because it depicts the end-stage masturbatory fall of our species & I’d rather not have to travel back in time someday to destroy it when I can start right now

— Walter Kirn (@walterkirn) October 28, 2021

-A criminal complaint was filed in Albany against Andrew Cuomo, accusing the former three-term governor of New York of “forcible touching.” Cuomo resigned from the governor’s office in August after a report from New York’s Attorney General Letitia James that amplified claims of sexual misconduct made against him by multiple women. As the journalist Michael Tracey pointed out in an article published by The Scroll in August, the release of the report represented “an extreme rarity in the annals of American due process.” Tracey quoted Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman: “For a prosecutor to say the things she did ... would be a violation of the code of ethics … A lot of her statements were quite inflammatory, and highly prejudicial.” James announced today that she’s running for the governor’s job that Cuomo vacated.

-The mega dormitory designed by 97-year-old billionaire Charles Munger—an amateur architect who donated $200 million to the University of California Santa Barbara for its construction with the stipulation that his blueprints be followed exactly—is so monstrous it led a consulting architect on the project to resign in protest. Dennis McFadden, a Southern California architect who spent the past 15 years on the university’s design review committee, writes in his resignation letter that the plan for the 11-story dorm in which 94% of the small bedrooms would not have windows is “unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent, and a human being.”
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-Supply chain issues—the same ones that a White House spokesman recently suggested were only rich people’s problems—appear to be responsible for U.S. economic growth hitting its worst slowdown since the end of the 2020 pandemic recession. One continuing upside in the current inflationary economy is that the labor shortage has created a tight labor market that’s driving wages up and affording some workers the leverage to negotiate for better contracts.

-“Nearly two dozen intelligence assessments from four different” U.S. intelligence agencies all failed to predict the rapid fall of Kabul, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal. The intelligence reports acknowledged Taliban advances “and that the U.S.-backed government in Kabul was unlikely to survive absent U.S. support.” But none foresaw the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan capital prior to the U.S. military completing its departure from the country.
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-The 30-year-old rapper Fetty Wap is facing life in prison after being arrested on drug charges by the FBI Friday. Wap, real name William Junior Maxwell II, is alleged to have been running a multimillion-dollar drug ring selling heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine out of Suffolk County. Federal investigators found $1.5 million in cash, 16 kilos of cocaine, and five weapons in the course of the bust.

The Back Pages

Your Weekend Reads
—The standard account of easily triggered college students is that they’re vulnerable “snowflakes” whose parents and other adult authorities left them unable to deal with life’s slings and arrows. But that’s a misunderstanding, Michael Brendan Dougherty convincingly argues here. In fact, the “snowflakes” have adapted to environments in which accusations of injury are a currency that can be traded for power.

In a society where safety is the highest value, people will discover that asserting a claim of unsafety is the most effective way to co-opt institutional and state power. Authorities will not only gravitate toward actions that minimize risk but also run away from making decisions of their own lest the power of victimhood be turned on them. In a culture without shared values beyond “avoid hurt,” risks become impossible to assess or accept against a claim that someone may be harmed, sapping our appetite for exercising judgment in the face of inevitable tragedy and loss. Thus, the safety imperative undermines conservatism and the common good not because it advances some “woke” agenda, but because it enforces through legal and social concepts of liability an absolute preference for harm reduction over the many other values—from liberty and fairness to tradition and hierarchy—that human flourishing requires as well.

Read it here:

—This is a story about the search for immortality among performance athletes and how cutting-edge science is helping them cheat the effects of aging and physical wear. And wouldn’t we all like to know how that’s going and how long until it reaches us.

Eventually, inevitably, the anti-aging industry and the athletic performance industry intertwined, with weird results. Now, HGH and testosterone are no longer solely the tools of bodybuilders, MLB sluggers, and NFL linemen, but also of CEOs, bankers and life hackers. Now, science and salesmanship can be hard to separate; outcomes are murky—enhancing performance doesn’t necessarily mean extending longevity—and those people with time, money, and privilege have a huge head start on the rest.

Now, we live in an era of possibility. Even if many of us don’t yet know it.

Read it here: m/nba/2021/10/21/how-long-can-we-play-daily-cover

—I usually avoid repeats here but am making an exception for Norman Doidge’s opus on the history and uses of vaccines. As I wrote in The Scroll yesterday, “It’s probably too late to say, ‘If you only read one thing on vaccines,’ but if you only read one more thing, make it this.” The full essay is also included in an easy-to-read PDF format.

As I understand it, there are two main approaches to public health in liberal democracies, and both have been tried historically in different places. One begins voluntarily, out of respect for civil liberties, but switches to coercion when some voluntary ceiling, deemed insufficient, is reached. Ideally, this intervention is based on the principle of least-necessary coercion. The benefit to this is that it may work to get more people vaccinated in shorter order. But it also conveys that the government does not trust its citizens to make good decisions on their own, a condescension that in turn—this is human nature 101—eventually generates resentment, even revolt, and the disengagement of significant segments of the population. The other approach, participatory public health, sees the need for coercion as a sign that something in the public health outreach itself has failed; if a ceiling is reached, society’s leaders should not simply resort to force but rather confront the flaws in their own leadership—that they should double-down on their responsibility to generate trust in the public. The goal of participatory public health is not to crush, but to better engage.

Read it on the website here:

Or click here to get the full essay in a special PDF format.

Send your tips, comments, questions, and suggestions to [email protected].

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