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Explosion near train station rocks German city of Munich
An explosion has occurred near a busy train station in the German city of Munich, police said Wednesday.
4 m
Can You Spot Mt Everest From Space in This Photo an Astronaut Took From ISS?
NASA's Mark T. Vande Hei captured the image of Earth's highest peak while aboard the International Space Station, situated 248 miles above our planet.
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Michigan high school teen killed in shooting was 'hero', classmates say
Three Michigan high school students were shot and killed in a school shooting at Oxford High School.
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Why Ghislaine Maxwell Trial Is About to Reach First Major Test
Ghislaine Maxwell's trial is on the cusp of a pivotal day in court as the defendant's legal team is scheduled to cross-examine a key witness.
Biden public trust on COVID-19 plummets as omicron variant feared to hit US
The omicron variant's seemingly inevitable spread in the United States could prove disastrous for President Biden, who has seen his pandemic approval numbers sink to negative territory in the most recent polling.
To fight AIDS, we have to stop the spread of Covid-19
Jennifer Lotito writes that in order to defeat AIDS and Covid-19 our leaders must treat these twin crises like the global emergencies they are.
Dr. Oz's Pennsylvania Senate Announcement Did Not Mention Pennsylvania Once
The longtime New Jersey resident cast himself as a candidate who can "bravely fight for freedom and tell it like it is."
Lili Reinhart Says ‘Riverdale’ Season 7 Will “Probably Be the Last One”
"We're hoping for a season seven," Reinhart said in an Instagram Live.
Tucker Carlson Defends Chris Cuomo Helping Brother: 'Best Thing He Ever Did'
Carlson said an individual's first obligation is to his family, but also mocked Cuomo for his time as anchor at CNN.
Sandra Bullock shares the phrase she says 'a lot' that her parents couldn’t: 'It was a generational thing'
On Wednesday, she appeared on Jada Pinkett Smith's "Red Table Talk" on Facebook Watch where she discussed her life as a parent, opening up about one of her biggest strengths as a mom.
Celtics' Enes Kanter Freedom, social activist, celebrates US citizenship with new name
"Maybe the most unforgettable moment that I had in my life." Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics becomes a U.S. citizen and adds Freedom to his name.
Japan's Shinzo Abe Fires Direct Warning to China's Xi Jinping Over Taiwan
The former Japanese prime minister offered his strongest remarks yet on the prospect of conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
A Tucson police officer shot a man in a wheelchair 9 times, killing him. The department is moving to fire him.
A Tucson police officer shot a man in a wheelchair nine times after the man allegedly stole a toolbox from Walmart.
Peyton List kicks off a new season of ‘Cobra Kai’
If you happen to glimpse Peyton List at a stoplight and she’s got a head wound, take it with a grain of salt. “I love messing with people,” says the “Cobra Kai” actress, whose character relishes a no-holds-barred fight. List’s been known to drive home with her busted-up makeup still on, and likes to watch...
20 million lives saved: How America came together to lead the fight against AIDS
On World AIDS Day, as we continue to battle HIV while also seeking a road map against COVID-19, it's important to look at how PEPFAR succeeded.
South Korean footballer Suk Hyun-jun racially abused during Ligue 1 game, Troyes alleges
French side Troyes has alleged that South Korean striker Suk Hyun-jun was racially abused during the club's game against Marseille on Sunday.
Can my remote work location impact pay? Ask HR
Whether it is the regional labor market or local cost of living, where you live has always been calculated into your pay rate.
Fear of falling into homelessness is an urgent threat for many L.A. voters, new poll finds
L.A. voters want the government to focus on shelter for homeless people living in the streets, even if those efforts are short-term, a poll has found.
The Federal Reserve Needs to Accelerate the Taper
If central bankers don’t act at their policy meeting in two weeks, it’ll be too late.
Lawbreakers in federal prisons include prison staff, report finds; senators demand accountability
Twitter’s new CEO is bringing an engineering background to a politics fight
Why Twitter chose Parag Agrawal, an engineer with limited management experience, for one of the most fraught roles in tech.
5 things to watch on Fox Nation this December
Sleigh-ride into December and embrace the holiday spirit with all-new Christmas content on Fox Nation!
Poll on homelessness: How it was done
How the poll on Los Angeles' voters attitudes toward homelessness was conducted.
2021: The Year the Grift Kept Giving 
It’s been nearly a year since Hilaria Baldwin, the yoga influencer and wife of Alec Baldwin, was caught in the slightest of scandals. Many months before the tragedy that befell her husband’s movie set, she was revealed to have been born in Boston, despite using a Spanish accent for much of her career, one largely…
America needs to get ready for a world after Roe
The Supreme Court could have continued to ignore the issue of abortion, but instead took up a case that offers a direct challenge to the status quo.
Twitter has a confusing new policy on what images you can post. Here’s what you need to know.
People aren't allowed to post photos without consent — except sometimes, they are.
Is Benedict Cumberbatch's 'The Power of the Dog' on Netflix Based on a Book?
Benedict Cumberbatch takes on a villainous role in the western drama "The Power of the Dog," which is streaming on Netflix now.
How to Decorate a Christmas Tree, According to Experts
Spruce up your home with a beautifully decorated Christmas tree over the holiday season with these top tips.
Corporate Abuse of The U.S. Postal Service Threatens Family Businesses | Opinion
The fact that USPS gives away its services at below-market prices to one of the world's largest companies, while demanding additional taxpayer support, is simply unfathomable.
14 Christmas Candles That Will Make Your Home Smell Better Than Santa's Grotto
Get into the holiday spirit with these Christmas candles to fill your home with the atmospheric festive aromas.
‘Rock Concert’ goes behind the scenes with the people who made the biggest shows happen
Marc Myers’s oral history looks at the explosion of rock concerts over four decades.
How to protect your potted plants from winter’s chill
What can stay outside, what should come in and what isn’t meant to last.
What Makes a Vaccine’s Protection Last?
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, perhaps more than any other COVID shot, knows what it is to be bullied by the American public. Since the spring, the shot’s been roasted, and roasted, and roasted again—first for its late arrival and its imperfect performance in trials, then for a rare but concerning side effect that temporarily halted its distribution in April. Tweets, memes, and listicles dragged it. SNL skewered it. CVS pharmacies stopped offering it. Then, in October, federal officials urged everyone on Team J&J to get another shot—any shot (but also, maybe try Moderna this time?)—rendering the vaccine’s one-and-done protection, its clearest advantage over its mRNA competitors, just about moot. The underdog dose, the “second class” shot, the nation’s vaccine-a non grata, seemed as good as dead.This incessant ragging has been all too easy—and maybe shortsighted. According to some experts, the haters are overlooking a trait that could rescue J&J’s reputation, and possibly even keep it in scientific contention. “I think there is a silver lining to this vaccine that a lot of people don’t see,” David Martinez, an immunologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is studying immune responses to COVID-19 shots, told me. It’s a trait called durability—the ability of a vaccine’s protection to persist, despite the ravages of time. Several researchers, including representatives of the company that designed the J&J vaccine, say they’re seeing early hints of this with the shot. “It’s unequivocal,” Mathai Mammen, the global head of research and development for Janssen, the vaccine-manufacturing pharmaceutical company owned by Johnson & Johnson, told me. In tracking the vaccine’s effectiveness, “there is no change, month over month over month.” The shot’s initial magnitude of protection against sickness might not match Moderna’s or Pfizer’s. But after they’re built, J&J’s defenses seem to stick around in a way that their mRNA-driven counterparts might not, like a low-wattage bulb that keeps burning, long after all the other lights in the room have flickered and died.Not everyone is ready to laud J&J’s staying power; we are, after all, still very early on in our relationship with these vaccines, and our understanding of their traits will keep evolving. But even the potential for tenacity, in a vaccine, has real appeal. A durable shot is low-maintenance, requiring only rare checkups or boosters; it can be delivered once or twice or thrice and, in the best-case scenario, never, ever again. As the pandemic heads into its third year, durability underpins some of the biggest open questions in COVID immunology—the long-term outlook for our current shots, the number we’ll ultimately need, and the possibility of engineering an even sturdier vaccine. A lack of durability might mean we’ll be getting COVID shots often, maybe even annually. Or, if we can figure out a clever way to give out shots now, we may not have to administer them again. A vaccine’s value isn’t just in its peak performance; also essential to know is when, and how quickly, protection might start to decline.But the quest for durability has long been thorny. Several experts I spoke with described it as one of the most elusive concepts in vaccinology, an immunological white whale that researchers frequently chase but almost never catch. “We don’t have one right answer” for what makes a vaccine’s protection stick, Padmini Pillai, an immunologist at MIT, told me. “It’s always it depends.” As long as the virus continues to sprout new variants, and we as hosts continue to throw ourselves in its path, lasting protection may not really be in the cards. A vaccine that guards us doggedly, though, could cushion us against the pathogen’s constant pummeling. In a world without guarantees, we need a vaccine that doesn’t just punch back, but punches back reliably, again and again and again.Establishing durability starts with first impressions. To offer truly long-lasting protection, a vaccine has to persuade the body to study its offering, then stably store that intel away. “The bottom line is, you have to convince the immune system that this is scary,” Mark Slifka, an immunologist and vaccine expert at Oregon Health & Science University, told me. When the process works well, it can work really well. Every time a microbe returns to trouble us, the defenses we mount against it get stronger, faster, more precise; the response becomes a reflex, built on the memories of immune cells that have thwarted the same threat before.The major players in immune memory fall into two main camps, headlined by B cells and T cells. B cells are weapons manufacturers, tasked with pumping out microbe-trouncing antibodies; T cells are single-combat assassins that home in on infected cells and force them to self-destruct. Both Bs and Ts will show up to fight most infections of note, cloning themselves into complementary armies. As the danger passes, their numbers contract, leaving behind only a so-called memory contingent—dormant Bs and Ts that holster the capacity for protection, like sleeper agents waiting to hear a trigger phrase. And finding relatively sturdy levels of these cells and the molecules they make is a decent proxy for judging immunity’s longevity. High levels of antibodies and B cells that recognize the viruses responsible for smallpox and measles, for instance, have been found in people decades after they received those two very potent vaccines.When investing resources, though, our immune systems must be stingy. Not every potential threat they encounter gets locked in the body’s defensive memory. Generally speaking, they’ll devote more storage space to bugs they deem dangerous repeat offenders. Many durable vaccines, then, are really annoying ones, pestering cells so much that they have little choice but to remember what’s up.[Read: We’re asking the impossible of vaccines.]One decent approach to making a vexing vaccine involves a weakened version of the bona fide pathogen. The measles vaccine, for example, contains a neutered virus—one that won’t cause true measles, but is otherwise a dead ringer that bops through the body, infiltrating cells and copying itself in much the same way its scarier cousin would. This approach isn’t foolproof: Manufacturing vaccines like these can be slow and difficult, and the payoff doesn’t always come through. Shot-induced defenses against mumps, for instance, seem to slowly ebb over time. And toying around with vaccines that still replicate can be dangerous. The tamed virus in the oral polio vaccine can, in very rare cases, acquire mutations that allow it to cause full-blown disease.To ratchet down risk, researchers will sometimes opt instead for killed microbes—completely incapable of causing harm, but still very much recognizable as the real thing. This strategy is akin to giving the immune system target practice with a corpse, and can be very, well, hit or miss. Our most used flu vaccine, for instance, is of this ilk, but offers only modest protection that appears to atrophy just months after people get their shot. Still other tactics simplify things further, and use only select pieces (often proteins) of a pathogen’s anatomy. The idea here is to teach immune cells about the bug’s most salient or dangerous features, in hopes of coaxing out a hyper-precise, hyper-potent attack. These vaccines are especially safe, and easy to mass-produce. But there’s always the risk that they fixate on the wrong microbial feature, especially if it’s one easily modified through mutation. Many of these limited-focus shots have also, over the years, delivered lackluster results because they poorly titillate T cells. By themselves, “proteins just aren’t irritating cells that much,” and sometimes, vaccine makers have to add other ingredients just to rouse immune cells into reacting, Sallie Permar, a pediatrician and vaccinologist at Cornell, told me. Protection offered by the protein-based pertussis vaccine, for instance, is infamously brittle.Common vaccine lore holds that some in this last class of vaccines might be too unlike the bugs they’re modeled on; the immune system has a hard time appreciating what they represent. After all, loose jumbles of free-floating protein are, architecturally, nothing like the intricately patterned pathogens they’re meant to teach immune cells about. For someone who’s never seen a flower, a pile of petals is not enough to form a picture; first, the petals have to be arranged.In this way, the very unusual shape of the HPV vaccine makes it an outlier among its colleagues. This shot contains viruslike particles—hollow shells, ornamented with a tight array of HPV proteins. The particles aren’t themselves infectious, but they seem to do a heck of a job eliciting a persistent antibody response. After just two doses of the vaccine, levels lift, then dip down to a startlingly stable plateau, thanks to a small armada of B cells in the bone marrow that continues to churn out antibodies. The HPV shot “has become the poster child of durability,” John Schiller, whose discoveries helped develop the vaccine, told me. Its recipients seem to retain a shield against the virus that is, as far as researchers can tell, as close to impermeable as one can get. If Schiller were to take a stab at designing a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, he said, “I would do virus-like particles.”The future of COVID-19 vaccines could include some of these flashier, virus-mimicking models. For now, though, our best shots are the ones we already have. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson varieties seem to sit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of immunological irk. Like protein vaccines, they serve up only chunks of the virus, but part of their innovation is that they don’t offer those tidbits directly. Instead, the vaccines instruct our cells to manufacture SARS-CoV-2’s spike, a protein that normally decorates the virus’s surface, and parade those spikes in front of immune cells, partially simulating an infection. In J&J’s case, the comparison to infection is particularly close. The vaccine contains a different virus, called an adenovirus, that pushes into cells and delivers its protective payload. It’s modified to be benign, but it’s still, to the immune system, a virus. That might be why some studies have found that the J&J shot is especially good at tickling certain types of T cells, which prefer to take their lessons from vaccines that will pantomime infected cells.That’s not to say the mRNA vaccines are T-cell slouches. The post-shot T-cell counts for all three vaccines are respectable, and their levels all look quite stable, several months out. There’s also now strong evidence that great numbers of B cells will post up in the blood and the bone marrow after COVID vaccination, some of them retaining the ability to eke out antibodies long-term, even sharpening their sniperlike skills against SARS-CoV-2. Those forces are a big part of why “the level of protection against severe disease is still very good” with all three brands, Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist at Harvard who helped develop Moderna’s vaccine, told me. And sustained protection against severe disease certainly counts as a type of durability.[Read: The good part about ‘waning’ immunity]When defenses drop, though, they tend to do so stepwise: The strongholds against infection fall first, then transmission, then serious disease, and finally death. Pfizer’s effectiveness against milder COVID cases, and probably transmission, gradually but notably ebbs in the months after people are inoculated. Some of that dip is probably attributable to fast-spreading, slightly immune-evasive Delta, and the world’s growing ennui with distancing and masks; if a new variant like Omicron rises, we could be due for yet another trough in protection. But decreasing effectiveness could also reflect our bodies’ reaction to the shots. Antibodies seem to be tied tightly to protection thresholds, and “we’re quickly seeing antibody levels fall” in the months after people get their Pfizer and Moderna shots, Ai-ris Yonekura Collier, a physician and immunologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, who’s been studying immune responses to COVID-19 shots, told me.That in and of itself isn’t catastrophic—antibodies always contract after the first flush of infection or vaccination—but the slope is steeper than some researchers would like. In a small, recent study, Collier and her colleagues showed that about eight months post-vaccination, virus-blocking antibodies are down roughly 40-fold from their peak, and it’s not clear when or where the downslope will flatten into a plateau. Perhaps the molecules have already settled at a stable level, with safeguards against severe disease strong, and defenses against milder outcomes middling. Or maybe they’ve still got a ways to fall. “It’s normal to see rapid decay,” Slifka told me. “The question is, how high above the protective threshold do you land?”[Read: Should you mix and match your booster shot?]It’s still early, but Collier thinks the dynamics might look a bit different for people who got a single dose of J&J. Her recent work shows that their antibody levels start significantly lower than mRNA recipients’, but that eight months out from vaccination, the numbers have stayed stable, and have, perhaps, even gone up, shrinking some of the gap between brands. “I liken them to a fine wine,” Collier told me. “They get better over time.” Still, antibodies aren’t everything. J&J’s success might come down to how those antibody levels behave further out, and how the rest of the immune system behaves in concert.With only months of data to back the J&J shots, “the jury’s still out” on how long their strongest effects will last us, Slifka said. For now, though, he isn’t betting that any of our current COVID vaccines will be immortalized in the durability hall of fame.A strong shot design might jump-start durability, but even less-than-triggering recipes aren’t doomed to fail durability tests. The how, when, how often, and how much of administration can also cement protection. Those gentle hacks are what we’re all obsessing over now, with COVID-19: how many shots we’ll need, and how far apart.True staying power almost always requires more than one dose; most shots need to usher in multiple immunological reminders to really get the message to stick. The HPV vaccine and the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) shot are two-dosers; the vaccines that block hepatitis B use three shots; the diphtheria/tetanus/acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine uses five, and that’s all before boosts. “It can make a huge difference,” Slifka said. “The immune system thinks, I must not have dedicated enough of an immune response to it the first time.” Each additional injection tends to have a nice effect on the strength of the response, pushing B and T cells to be far feistier than they were before. No clear-cut logic dictates how many refreshers a vaccine regimen will need. Some shots have added doses over the years, while others have stripped them away. Researchers around the world are still debating how often we need boosters for the shots we use to block mumps (more often?), tetanus (less often?), and yellow fever (depends whom you ask). “And every time we start to look at different pathogens, the rules can change a little bit,” UNC’s David Martinez told me.With COVID, the math remains extra muddy, but might fit the pattern of more is more, as my colleague Rachel Gutman has written. Moderna and Pfizer are both double-dose vaccines, a one-two punch that seems to land better than J&J’s single jab. The second injections, in particular, send antibody levels soaring. The higher that early-post-vax peak crests, the more those antibodies can accomplish: They’ll be able to rally against variants they weren’t initially roused to spot. And their level will have more room and time to fall before it dips past the point of protecting against infection, disease, or death, “even if it’s decaying at the same rate,” Diane Griffin, an immunologist and measles-vaccine expert at Johns Hopkins, told me. Post-Moderna antibodies in particular surged up so high that, despite some declines, effectiveness still looks substantial, many months out; immunity-dodging variants, too, keep falling prey. The Moderna moxie might be due to how much viruslike stuff is in each dose as well. Each shot pumps in more than three times the mRNA that Pfizer’s does, perhaps scandalizing B cells into squeezing more antibodies out.[Read: Is Moderna really better than Pfizer—or is it just a higher dose?]The antibodies lured out by the single J&J jab are, in comparison, not much to brag about. Adding a second J&J dose two months after the first, though, offers a substantial bump, and a concomitant skyrocketing in effectiveness: 94 percent against moderate to severe COVID-19, compared with just 74 percent from the solo shot, at least among Americans. That puts J&J roughly on par with the mRNA vaccines in their early days. If those extra-elevated antibody levels hold, J&J could end up being a vaccination dark horse.Timing, too, can help a vaccine’s protection cling. Moderna’s vaccine, whose two doses are delivered four weeks apart—a week longer than the Pfizer interval—appears to be the more obstinate of the mRNA duo. Other multidose vaccines are doled out over months or years, which might make for a better learning experience, allowing immune cells to mull a vaccine’s contents, rather than frantically skim through them. Early data on COVID-19 vaccines back this up: Waiting to give the second dose seems to drive an even heftier antibody response for all three vaccines.And then there’s the question of location—where vaccines are administered, and where their ingredients end up. A shot in the arm can be a big mismatch for a microbe that enters through the gut or airway, where specialized immune cells might better respond to a vaccine that’s swallowed or sprayed into the nose. Vaccines that vanish from the body too quickly can also be forgettable. “The mRNA vaccines are a quick show” and might not give the immune system much time to wise up, MIT’s Padmini Pillai told me. The HPV vaccine, by contrast, might owe some of its success to the prolonged study session it delivers to cells, according to Schiller. Some experts suspect that the J&J shot might also smolder slowly, giving cells more time to sharpen their skills.There’s likely still room to keep pushing our current COVID vaccines’ protective potential. Doses could be spaced further apart, brands mixed and matched. Perhaps the key is to boost at the appropriate time, to shore up immune responses that have started to crack and crumble. Pfizer’s boost, for one, seems to rejuvenate defenses against infections of all severities—especially in older adults—probably in part by reawakening legions of antibody-producing B cells that the body has stowed away. “Boosters are kind of a way to patch durability,” Martinez told me. What we’re now calling “boosts” could someday even become part of the primary-shot series: Pfizer and Moderna would be three-dosers; J&J, a double whammy or more.[Read: A better name for booster shots]When testing the Moderna vaccine on nonhuman primates, Harvard’s Kizzmekia Corbett has seen something encouraging. When she and her colleagues boost rhesus macaques six months after their first two doses, antibody levels rocket up, then mosey back down—but the peak is higher, and the slope of decline in the weeks following “is not as steep as previously.” That could be great news for us humans: Antibodies may take much longer, after a third shot, to reach their plateau. Better yet, that set point could be higher than before, a sign that the body’s been goaded into further invest in its SARS-CoV-2 defense. In a best-case scenario, that additional shot could be the last one we ever need. But we won’t know either way for a good while yet.Durability isn’t airtight. The length of time our vaccines protect us also hinges on the microbes they guard against, which could shapeshift out of our shots’ grasp. Human behavior, too, dictates the dynamics of protection. Pathogens spread through us and because of us; the more blasé we are about exposure, the more often our defenses get battered. When a virus runs rampant, “we can’t just ask our vaccines to pick up all the slack,” Corbett told me.But when deployed in the right context, vaccines that are durable—really and truly durable—can completely change our relationship with a pathogen. Viruses and bacteria, starved of proper hosts, don’t circulate as much. The post-vaccination cases that do occur become, on average, less severe, more ephemeral, and less likely to spread, untethering infection from serious disease. We stop checking if vaccine protection is still in place, because we don’t have that much use for it anymore; the shields can fall because the attacks have stopped. For SARS-CoV-2, a pathogen that has so deeply intertwined itself with us, that future is a long way off. But it’s a realization of the dream of a near-perfect vaccine: one so excellent, so steadfast, that it prompts our bodies to remember, long enough that even our minds can eventually forget.
The New Right’s Strange and Dangerous Cult of Toughness
Last month, at the National Conservatism conference, a gathering of hundreds of leaders and members of a movement that hopes to represent a new, less libertarian American right, one of the speakers, a lawyer named Josh Hammer, delivered a strange denunciation of “fusionism.” For those not steeped in the language of conservatism, fusionism refers to the alliance among economic conservatives, social conservatives, and defense hawks forged during the Reagan administration. It was designed to confront government overreach at home and the threat of Soviet tyranny abroad.Fusionism, Hammer said, is “inherently effete, limp, and, as Hillsdale College’s David Azerrad might say, unmasculine.” It “makes for a cowardly way to approach politics” in part because it “ensures never having to face pushback from one’s political opponents on the most contested issues.”Longtime fusionists, who are veterans not just of the intense and consequential debates surrounding foreign policy during the Cold War and the War on Terror but also of countless successful courtroom contests designed to expand First Amendment rights in the face of government censorship, might be startled by this news.But that’s hardly the oddest part of Hammer’s critique. Fusionism is “unmasculine”? How is that claim a part of an allegedly serious ideological argument? The critique, however, helps illuminate the emerging culture of the right—a culture that idolizes a twisted version of “toughness” as the highest ideal and despises a false version of “weakness” as the lowest vice.Claims of cowardice have particular purchase among Trump’s followers. Coward is a one-word rebuttal that not only attempts to end an argument, but also aims to discredit the person who made it. Who wants to listen to a coward? Who wants to be known as a coward?[Tom Nichols: Donald Trump, the most unmanly president]What makes the claims of toughness and weakness especially curious and dangerous is the way in which they’re tied to the person of Donald Trump. Although “toughness” has long been a populist virtue—especially in the South—the age of Trump transformed the right’s definitions of strength and courage by reference to the man himself. And what are Trump’s alleged strong, masculine virtues?In the Azerrad essay that Hammer cited, Azerrad explains that Trump’s strength is “not that of a soldier who risks his life in combat or of a general who leads men into battle.” (Trump used an alleged diagnosis of bone spurs to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.) So in that sense, Trump “isn’t as manly as” General Jim Mattis, Azerrad concedes. But Trump is more manly than Mattis in a different way, he explains: “Trump’s manliness is that of a man who is not afraid to say out loud what others only whisper and to incur the wrath of the ruling class for doing so.”This is a curious definition of manliness. Saying what you think or what others seem afraid to say isn’t inherently “manly.” Speaking your mind isn’t even inherently virtuous, much less inherently masculine. Trump has said many false and harmful things, and the fact that other people might whisper them does not mean that they should be shouted from the presidential bully pulpit.When Trump’s supporters claim that he is tough and manly, though, they’re often also trying to flatter themselves by implying that they share his virtues. In an apology written to Never Trumpers after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the evangelical intellectual Hunter Baker expressed a common view. Never Trumpers, he said, “struck me as psychologically and emotionally weak people with porcelain-fragile sensibilities.”The weakness/strength dichotomy works as shield and sword. Any critique of Trump, Trumpism, or the new right can be dismissed as evidence of mere cowardice or fragility. The Never Trumpers and classical liberals aren’t strong enough for the fight, the new right tells itself. Rather than doing what it takes to stand against the left, they retreat to the shelter of “elite” spaces, where the left welcomes them with open arms.And what of the “strength” of Trumpism? Because the movement is centered on and modeled after Trump himself, many of these displays of “strength” are deliberately cruel (see, for example, Adam Serwer’s seminal essay, “The Cruelty Is the Point”) and deliberately defy moral norms. Indeed, the cruelty itself is an act of defiance—decency is what “they” demand, and one cannot comply with “their” demands.[Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Welcome to the age of lawless masculinity]This defiance of moral norms means that Trumpist “toughness” was never, and could never have been, truly confined to online spaces or even to tough rhetoric. Boundaries are for the weak. So while Trump’s new-right allies and successors often treat Twitter as their Omaha Beach and angry tweets and vicious insults as the online equivalent of attacking a German pillbox with rifle fire and grenades, others know that becoming a keyboard warrior is hardly the highest masculine ideal.Indeed, the logic of the movement presses toward direct action. If you tell enough people that the future of the country is at stake, that their political opponents have corrupted democracy, and that only the truly tough have what it takes to save the nation, then speeches about unmanly ideologies will never be enough. Trolling on Twitter will, ironically, come to look like a hollow remedy, itself a form of weakness.Thus we see the increased prevalence of open-carried AR-15s at public protests, the increased number of unlawful threats hurled at political opponents, and outbreaks of actual political violence, including the large-scale violence of January 6.One of the most dangerous developments in our contentious times has been a growth in radical ideologies bolstered by radical intellectuals who often treat decency and even peace as impediments to justice. The riots that ripped through American cities were inexcusable expressions of political fury (and sometimes pure nihilism) that were too often rationalized, excused, and sometimes even celebrated. The author and academic Freddie deBoer has compiled a depressing list of articles, essays, and interviews in prominent publications excusing and justifying violent civil unrest.The right-wing cult of toughness, in its distinctly Trumpist version, is no exception to this trend. When it is drained of limiting principles and tied to a man who would rather seek to upend our nation’s constitutional order than relinquish power, then the threat to the republic is plain. That threat will remain until the supposedly weak classical liberals on the left and the right do what they’ve always done at their best—rally in defense of liberty, the rule of law, and the American order itself.
Why People Turn Watching TV Into Work
When Jon Schneider watches Saturday Night Live, he doesn’t just tune into NBC at 11:30 p.m. eastern on Saturdays. He also takes notes on his laptop, and as soon as the episode ends, at about one in the morning, he goes live on his YouTube account to discuss the sketches for a small but dedicated following. During the week, he rewatches every sketch and tracks show-related data on a spreadsheet, including the number of appearances each cast member made.Watching SNL by doing more than simply watching SNL began as a personal project to appreciate the series on a deeper level, Schneider told me. What he does—participating in obsessive, sports-like analysis of a TV show—might sound uniquely intense, but he’s not alone. Since late 2018, he’s found a community of like-minded SNL superfans, including Mike Murray, who has about 85 spreadsheets and creates charts every week for each performer’s screen time. This isn’t typical fan behavior, or even superfan behavior, such as going to conventions or cosplaying as favorite characters. This also isn’t behavior meant to make the viewing experience more entertaining—such as playing drinking games or, in the way an audience watching the cult film The Room traditionally does, tossing spoons at the screen. This is work, the kind of hard-core analysis that yields beyond in-depth knowledge. Schneider and Murray can tell you when Pete Davidson said “Live from New York!” for the 16th time and when Mikey Day appeared in his 100th sketch. And to an average TV watcher, such activities might sound like too much work.[Read: The ‘magical episode 4’ theory]Yet these intense TV watchers aren’t such a niche group; making leisure time productive has become a habit for many. Apps and sites such as Goodreads and Letterboxd encourage users to track and evaluate the books they read, the films they watch, and the music and podcasts they listen to, while those same forms of entertainment can be streamed at faster speeds. The rise of the attention economy, which encourages optimizing everything a person does toward efficiency, accelerated our tendency to engage with our hobbies in a worklike, data-driven way.The coronavirus pandemic only pushed more people toward this impulse to hustle. Murray is a musician, but when gigs dwindled, he poured his energy into his SNL fandom, turning a pastime into a task—and practically a job. His evolution tracks with a larger shift. “During the pandemic, we doubled down … Instead of working from home, everybody was living at work,” Celeste Headlee, the author of the book Do Nothing, which explores the way American culture revolves around efficiency, told me. Americans have been told “both explicitly and implicitly that we shouldn’t be wasting time,” she explained. “Anytime you’re just entertaining yourself, [like if] you’re just watching a movie, you’re wasting money.” Perhaps without noticing, more and more viewers have been learning to actively engage with what they watch. “This is a generation that will seek out the ability to control the settings, to change it, to play with it,” Neta Alexander, an assistant professor of film and media studies at Colgate University whose research focuses on viewing habits, told me.Chad Kultgen and Lizzy Pace, for instance, never thought they’d “hyperbinge” every episode of The Bachelor at 2x speed while taking notes. But amid the pandemic, Kultgen and Pace, both TV writers who’d been co-hosting a Bachelor-related podcast during their downtime, saw their job opportunities fizzle out as productions shut down, so they spent far more time than usual engaging with the show. “I don’t know if we could do it if it were a circumstance other than when we did it, which was deep COVID,” Pace told me. Watching The Bachelor, a pastime, became an opportunity for productivity. They came up with an idea for a book that would analyze the show statistically, and in their hyperbinge, they gathered the necessary data. Now The Bachelor, Kultgen told me, “literally is our job.”[Read: When the fantasy of The Bachelor finally met reality]Even when the act isn’t a means to make a living, optimizing leisure time is no longer the work of an obsessed few. “We’re living in increasingly data-driven worlds,” Murray said, adding that crunching numbers, as a fan, can invite more insightful conversations about a show such as SNL. “Using data to predict [cast-member trajectories] is better than just asking someone who their favorite person is.” Meanwhile, Pace has been struggling with relishing her leisure time without thinking about how to make the most of it. She once had to remind herself not to change the playback speed while watching an episode of The Real Housewives. “I was like, You know what, I’m going to really let myself enjoy this one,” she told me. “This was a weird decision, because theoretically, it’s all leisure … but I was like, I’m going to really let myself relax.”According to Alexander, one of the first times people altered the playback speed of recordings, they did so out of necessity. In the 1940s, she explained, children in a school for the blind hacked a phonograph to play their audiobooks faster. They had to get their homework done, and audiobooks at the time involved far too much fluff.But changing speeds or turning a piece of entertainment into something resembling work isn’t really about completing assignments anymore—people aren’t listening to podcasts or watching The Bachelor for homework—though efficiency remains “the go-to explanation,” Alexander said. Instead, the habit affords the modern user a sense of discipline, a feeling that many people find inherently satisfying—and, in the case of those who generate some income from it, valuable. “Speed watching gives people the illusion that they can control temporality,” she explained. “There is the idea that I am rewiring my brain … I am improving and upgrading my own cognitive skills to be able to add time, to be able to put more into my day.” She relates the rise in such strategies to the way athletes eventually master a skill; the more a person practices a certain approach to whatever they’re doing, the better they get at employing it—perhaps even turning it into a reflex. “It’s the pleasure of just being able to train your body,” Alexander said, an analogy echoed by Kultgen, who described his and Pace’s hyperbinge of The Bachelor in comparable terms: “I’ve never run a marathon,” he said, “but I assume it’s kind of similar.”Some forms of programming boost this sensation more than others. Live TV such as award shows and reality series that involve competition mechanics invite the viewer to extract data—how many times a contestant on The Bachelor has received a group-date rose, for example, or how many trophies a film has racked up over the course of the night—and to predict winners and losers. That method of “algorithmic watching,” as Alexander put it, makes the viewer feel like a productive participant—a TV optimizer, if you will, rather than a mere TV watcher. Schneider certainly feels this way about SNL, as well as series like Survivor and Big Brother. “The television shows that I enjoy the most are the ones where there’s an extra, almost meta level to the show,” he said. “We can take ourselves out of it and then evaluate whether it works or whether it doesn’t.”Headlee has a less charitable view of this drive to optimize TV watching. She told me that when people engage with entertainment as if they’re doing work, or going further and turning it into a source of income, they’re not discovering a new way to process information. They’re merely finding a way to cope with the constant societal pressure to be productive, which they’ve mistaken for a natural impulse. Headlee doesn’t blame them for wanting to feel more efficient; boredom can be uncomfortable. Just look at what happened amid the pandemic, she said: For those who began working remotely, the line between work and play blurred further, exacerbating the instinct to use time constructively even during moments away from their desk.[Read: The best time-management advice is depressing but liberating]In other words, leisure time is beginning to seem like a waste of time. “When you’re burnt out, you’re basically in fight-or-flight mode all the time,” Headlee explained, referring to how, during lockdown, brain fog and fatigue crept into people’s homes. “People weren’t ready [for such a shift], and they were, not surprisingly, starting to feel super anxious. And then they started thinking, Okay, how can I use every single minute of my time?”By keeping productivity in mind as the end goal, Headlee posited, we’re perhaps misinterpreting what we watch. Artists don’t intend for their projects to be exercises in efficiency, which is why filmmakers such as Judd Apatow and Brad Bird protested Netflix’s decision to test a playback-speed-altering feature in 2019. “You’re not immersing yourself” in the story, she said. “You’re trying to get through it as quickly as possible.” Headlee experienced this firsthand when her habit of live-tweeting her favorite TV shows started stressing her out, rather than adding to her enjoyment. “I was turning something that I really, really like into something that I didn’t like anymore,” she said.Still, the optimizers I spoke with say that when they dissect and speed through what they watch, they’re not distracting themselves from the actual shows. In fact, all of them expressed that when they analyze a show they love in real time, they feel they’re paying closer attention to it than most people do. “You definitely feel like [you’re having] a more intimate experience,” said Murray, who has watched SNL sketches so often, he thinks he could recite entire scripts. That sensation of closeness and understanding, Alexander pointed out, has become harder to achieve amid so many distractions—and reveals why more people are trying to analyze what used to be passively enjoyed. “We live in a second-screen viewing culture,” she said. “Normally when we watch Netflix, we’re also on our phones, we’re also getting back to email, we’re also checking the weather, we’re also playing a video game.” Turning leisure time into work may seem like a heavy price to pay, but in a world with little control, delving so deeply into anything provides, perhaps, a means to seize that control back.For many superfans, that’s enough to stave off burnout—for now. “You could fly a little bit too close to the sun when it comes to doing something you love,” Schneider conceded. “But I think that so far, up until this point ... I haven’t lost the love for SNL.” Or for those spreadsheets.
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