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What Happened: November 5, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Commercial flight disruption; murders in Cancun; Sunrise Movement

The Scroll
November 05, 2021
Guest-edited by Sean Cooper.
Guest-edited by Sean Cooper.

The Big Story

With the holiday travel season just around the corner, the U.S. Department of Transportation submitted 37 new cases for investigation to the FBI yesterday, as the agencies continue their new joint effort to prosecute unruly passengers who’ve disrupted flights and in some instances violently assaulted crew members. Seeking to temper this unprecedented trend, the Federal Aviation Administration has increased fines to $37,000 per incident, but airlines have made calls for even more-stringent deterrents, such as a centralized no-fly list to keep violators off airplanes. Though disputes over rules about wearing masks on flights account in part for the alarming uptick of viral stories of passengers making a scene or being forcibly restrained with duct tape—or being subdued by fellow passengers, as happened in May on a Southwest Airline flight to a woman who punched two teeth out of the mouth of a stewardess—the collapse of norms of decency on commercial flights fits into a larger pattern of civil discomfort and unease.

With vaccination rates peaking and droves of Americans flocking to airports, passengers are encountering long delays and flights being canceled by the hundreds, while airlines suffer from a continual shortage of reliable labor. Rental car companies are charging upwards of triple their pre-pandemic rates, and hotels, with their own labor issues, are struggling to clean rooms and serve guests warm meals. “We are very concerned about the upcoming holiday travel season,” a representative of the Allied Pilots Association told Bloomberg of the various forces that could lead to chaos for airlines. “They are setting up all the dominoes. All it’s going to take is the finger tip of Mother Nature to send those tumbling.”

Today’s Back Pages: Your Weekend Reads

The Rest

→ The continual pressure weighing on Americans trying to resume normal life has taken a grave toll on the psyches of the nation’s children. In a recent declaration of a national emergency in children’s mental health, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has called on the federal government to increase spending to provide better access to mental health screening and diagnosis. Emergency rooms at children’s hospitals have been flooded during the pandemic with patients in severe crisis, the AAP notes, with suicide attempts by those under the age of 18 up almost 20% over the summer.

→ An execution of two gang members at the Azul Beach resort in Cancún yesterday had guests fleeing for safety, as police responded to the scene of what was suspected to be a dispute between rival drug cartels, Reuters reports. While no hotel guests were harmed, the murders are only the latest in a spate of drug land attacks creeping into Mexico’s tourist destinations. Two weeks ago, two Tulum resort guests were killed during a gangland shootout.

→ The Professional Squash Association announced this week that Diego Elias became the first Peruvian to ever reach the top five of the Men’s World Rankings. In October, Elias, whose silky footwork and cunning attacks have earned him the nickname “the Peruvian Puma,” brought glory to his home nation after winning the Qatar Classic, a major tournament that, like much of professional squash, has been overwhelmingly dominated by Egyptian men.

→ Expect more workplace confrontations over vaccination status in the coming weeks, as the Biden administration targeted Jan. 4 as the deadline for companies with more than 100 employees to mandate their employees become vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. More than 80 million American workers will be subject to the new mandate, of which fewer than half are currently believed to be vaccinated. Analysts fear the mandate could lead to major disruptions across nearly all sectors of the economy, in everything from retail to trucking and construction industries, as employees walk off the job or protest the rule’s implementation.

→ Robert Sarver, the owner of the NBA team the Phoenix Suns, is under investigation by the league after ESPN published a report based on over 70 interviews with former and current Suns employees about Sarver’s alleged pattern of racial slurs and sexually charged commentary. Sarver denies the accusations, including those leveled by one Suns co-owner, who told ESPN, “The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale.”

→ Democratic California state senator Scott Wiener endorsed the effort to recall three members from the Board of Education in San Francisco, which falls within the senator’s district. A strong supporter of LGBTQ rights, the Jewish official, originally from Philadelphia, cited several episodes over the course of the pandemic that convinced him the three “commissioners have failed our students and families … [and] caused the school district to deteriorate during the pandemic.” In addition to mentioning delays in reopening the school, poor oversight of remote-learning quality control, gross mismanagement of school financials, and plummeting enrollment, the senator chided the commissioners for wasting precious resources on renaming dozens of schools while stripping one high school of its merit-based admissions. 

Today, I announced my support for the recall of three members of the San Francisco Board of Education: Alison Collins, Gabriela Lopez, & Faauuga Moliga.

These commissioners have failed our students and families. It’s time for new, responsible leadership.

— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) November 4, 2021

→ This week, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced what he called an “unprecedented … investment” of $250 million dollars in government funding to combat the gun violence crisis plaguing his state. Pritzker joins a growing chorus of local and state officials decrying the escalating volume of death and injury by firearms since the start of the pandemic. In Philadelphia, officials recently acknowledged the city has suffered 445 homicides so far this year, outstripping the 382 attributed in New York City, which is home to more than six times as many residents. Including both fatal and nonfatal incidents in Philadelphia, the total of nearly 1,700 shootings already has the city at the second-highest total since it began recording the stat in 2007. Gun violence experts point to several reasons for the nationwide uptick in homicides during the pandemic, including the stress of school closures, workforce disruptions, and tensions with local police spurred on by protestors.

Cases of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will no longer fall under military jurisprudence, Minister of National Defense Anita Anand announced yesterday. After a year in which multiple allegations of sexual assault against senior CAF leaders reignited a focus on the pervasiveness of military misconduct, cases will now be heard in civilian courts, which former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour, who led an external review of the military court’s case management, recommends for their “independence and competence” to handle the allegations.

→ Representing an unnamed American client, Tzolman’s Auctions was recently prevented by an Israeli court from auctioning rare tools purportedly used to tattoo inmates at Auschwitz. The owner of the auction house, Meir Tzolman, disagreed with the complaint brought before the court by the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, which argues that the needles and instruction manual should be preserved in a museum for the edification of the public about the horrors of Nazi death camps. “I have a great merit to help increase awareness of the suffering of Holocaust survivors,” Tzolman told The Jerusalem Post this week. The needles and instruction manual are likely to fetch upwards of $40,000 at auction, and Tzolman stands to make a 25% commission on the sale.

→ The South African novelist Damon Galgut was named the winner yesterday of the 2021 Booker Prize. Galgut, who was twice previously short-listed for the prize awarded to the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom, centers the book on “an ordinary bunch of white South Africans,” as he describes them in the text, as they struggle to maintain ownership of their assets in the post-apartheid nation. Given by the judges for the book’s bracing reckoning with “inheritance and legacy,” the award earns Galgut roughly $68,000 in prize money.

The Back Pages

backpagesYour Weekend Reads

—Proving the perpetual elasticity of the essayistic form, and something of a bleak reminder of how generally lifeless American letters has become as of late, this is a terrific piece in the latest issue of Harper’s magazine by author David Treuer. With a frantic comedic rhythm that brings to mind some of Philip Roth’s early antics, and the psychological characterizations Norman Mailer could swiftly conjure up when he was on his better behavior, Treuer writes of his time preparing for his bar mitzvah, trying to understand his father, and making little money selling ice cream in Minnesota in the 1980s. 

Of his father, he writes:

He was a complex man of simple tastes and convictions. The only things he truly got excited about—other than Chopin and Brahms—were class struggle, prairie flowers, old-growth pine forests, and John Steinbeck. (It would be years before we learned he also got very excited about a number of women around town.)

On peddling his ice-cream cart around town:

Sometimes, at the end of my shift, I paid my boss because I had eaten more than I had sold. My boss was a Vietnam veteran and a former actor on The Young and the Restless. He had huge biceps, bleached hair, and a uniform tan. “The M16 is a good weapon,” he’d tell me and the other kids with more emotion than an adult should show discussing any topic. “I could hit a two-inch spread at four hundred yards,” he would say, looking off over Lake Bemidji into the middle distance. “I bet I could still get two inches. I bet I could. …

—Poet Alice Gribbin offers a powerful analysis of some of the causes that has led to the dour and joyless state of today’s art and literature, including the overemphasis on political messaging at the cost of aesthetic merit.

The empathy racket and the political activism now ascendant in contemporary arts and letters are parallel phenomena. Both are utilitarian. The empath and the activist regard art fundamentally as a delivery system for messages and awarenesses. They believe that the output of an artwork, its effect on audiences, can be controlled and predetermined. According to both frameworks, we should be goal-oriented in our thoughts and feelings when visiting a gallery or opening a book. Our responses matter to the world. The well-being of society is at stake.

Read it here

—Struggling to form a coherent political strategy now that Joe Biden is in the White House, climate activist group Sunrise Movement is featured in this Politico piece on the increasing difficulty activists have faced as they try to achieve anything resembling their goals for a comprehensive Green New Deal. The profile includes scenes of the young group members gathering this summer, practicing their protest posture with phantom signs while they chant, simply, “Three-word chant!” Once hailed as the climate plank of a new progressive activism, the Sunrise Movement made recent headlines for refusing to attend a rally alongside Jewish organizations that support Israel. This week, its campaign for pending legislation found its members in the streets of D.C., shouting at the closed window of West Virginia Congressman Joe Manchin’s Maserati.

Increasingly, the movement that seemed like the future of progressive politics has found itself at an impasse: attacked by pundits for impeding its own cause, wading into diffuse non-climate causes of the activist left, racked by internal conflict and out of options to deal with Manchin.
Now, Sunrise is faced with a question about how to move forward: embrace the idealistic side of its mission and keep hammering Biden—the president who’s on the verge of making more progress toward the climate agenda than any of his predecessors—for not going far enough, or embrace its pragmatic side and declare a partial victory whenever Congress passes its spending compromise?

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