The Gluten Lie.

Alan Levinovitz is, by day, a professor of philosophy and religion at James Madison University, focusing “primarily on the relationship between religion and literature, with particular attention to classical Chinese thought and comparative ethics,” according to his official bio. Yet he stepped way out of his lane in the best possible way with his 2015 book The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What We Eat, which dissects the history of fad diets and the misunderstandings or blatant falsehoods behind claims that foods like flour, sugar, and salt are “toxins” or otherwise harmful.

The gluten lie of the title is the first major food myth Levinovitz tackles, in part because it is so pervasive right now. While some people suffer from a real autoimmune disease triggered by ingesting gluten, known as celiac or celiac sprue, thousands of others have given up gluten for dubious reasons, including the belief in “gluten sensitivity,” a medical condition for the existence of which there is scant evidence. Gluten is not inherently harmful, but it’s blamed for all sorts of current health evils, from obesity to autism to heart disease to cancer to the quack favorite, “leaky gut syndrome,” which isn’t even real. Numerous books excoriating gluten, including Wheat Belly and Grain Brain, have become bestsellers based on questionable or nonexistent science, taking advantage of a gullible public eager for quick fixes and explanations for their health woes. (Here’s the answer no one wants to hear: obesity, autism, heart disease, and perhaps even cancer are at least partially explained by genetics, and there isn’t much you can do to alter that part of your system.)

Levinovitz starts out by giving the history of glutenphobia and the very real celiac disease, explaining along the way how some doctors refused to accept proof that gluten was the cause of celiacs’ illness, generally because it interfered with their profits. He details the criminal behavior of Walter Kempner, whose name is still easily found on Duke’s campus because his “rice diet” was popular even among celebrities, but who operated a de facto cult, convincing women to be his sex slaves and whipping other patients who didn’t adhere to the diet’s strict limits (around 1200 calories/day). He also covers Dr. Sidney Haas, who believed bananas had some magical cure for celiac disease, so that his patients would get better – until they later ate wheat again. Today’s charlatans may not be so violent or obstinate, but they are profiting off the science ignorance of the public by convincing people that one ingredient is making them sick, offering a quick-fix rather than the more difficult treatment of a healthful, balanced, calorie-limited diet and regular exercise. It’s much easier to just blame the bread.

Gluten isn’t the only enemy Levinovitz exonerates; the new food nemesis is sugar, and he describes the war on sucrose and fructose, along with the past wars on fat and salt, none of which was really based in sound science. (The research on sugar is nascent compared to that on the other fields, for political reasons as much as scientific ones, so I’m not quite ready to give sugar a complete acquittal yet – but he’s right that evidence against it is overstated.) The idea that salt is dangerous still persists across a broad swath of the population, especially those my age and older, because it was everywhere in the 1980s and 1990s, from warnings about salt intake to the prevalence of “salternative” products like NoSalt (which contains potassium chloride, safe in low doses but lethal in moderate ones) or Mrs. Dash (salt-free spice blends). The truth is that sodium is necessary for most people – salt is the only rock we eat, and we eat it because we need it – and only dangerous for a narrow subset of the population, like folks with high blood pressure, Meniere’s disease, or other rare disorders around the body’s homeostasis of sodium. It’s unlikely that you’re eating too much salt, and if you cook most of your food rather than eating out or buying it already prepared, it’s unthinkable.

The low-fat craze, which is also still with us albeit at a lower level of intensity, is based on some outdated science and a history of corporate interference and corruption that led to government condemnation of fat in its dietary recommendations. (Don’t eat what the USDA tells you to eat.) Again, your body needs fat; in fact, you may crave it. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 for proteins or carbohydrates. Humans evolved in environments of scarcity, and fat, typically animal fat, was the most calorie-dense food source available. Such cravings may be ‘hardwired’ in our genes – that is, humans carrying genes that rewarded them for eating fats and sugars fared better in natural selection, and thus craving those foods may now be innate.

The word “natural” in there draws special ire from Levinovitz, as most modern diet fads revolve around some misunderstanding of what a “natural” diet means. Some people simply assume anything artificial is bad, as if your body knows whether a molecule you consume was created in a forest or in a lab. The same applies to the fear of GMO foods. Paleo diets are based on a poor understanding of how early man lived and ate, demonizing foods that can be healthful (whole grains) just because Thag the Caveman no eat them. Others claim you should avoid dairy because it’s not “natural” to consume the milks produced by other species. Levinovitz goes after hucksters like the Food Babe and Joseph Mercola, who demonize harmless ingredients with scary names (and, in Mercola’s case, vaccines and real medicines) to convince you to buy their books and supplements.

Science-ignorance is rampant in our society; I find copious examples every week for my links roundup, and it particularly bothers me when it comes to our governments setting policies that put people’s health and lives at risk. The Gluten Lie aims a little lower; if anything, Levinovitz’s main goal seems to be protecting your wallet, and perhaps your taste buds, from falling prey to groupthink and con artists who’ll peddle what you want to hear in exchange for some of your money. If you want to lose weight, reduce your caloric intake. If you have other health problems, talk to your doctor. But don’t deny yourself the glory of Neapolitan pizza or fresh pasta just because someone on your internet told you that gluten was evil.

Not a Scientist.

Dave Levitan’s 2017 book Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science couldn’t have come at a better time … or a worse one, I guess, if you’re at all rational-minded and believe that science is real and should inform policy decisions on science. Levitan’s book looks at the various ways our elected officials – really, our elected Republican officials in nearly every example in this book – either ignore science to suit their goals or twist it to justify bad decisions. He wrote the book last year, but it was published this spring, so while our Dear Leader doesn’t figure much directly in the meat of the book, Levitan has added an introduction to at least address the topic of anti-science, which is only growing in importance as the United States continues to cede any leadership role on global issues like climate change and ocean acidification.

This quick read will be pleasant enough for right-minded people who accept facts as they are, but it won’t tell you much you don’t already know. Levitan identifies about a dozen different tricks pols use to ignore scientific realities that interfere with their plans, and you won’t be surprised at the names that appear or the topics under discussion. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe – I’d identify these guys as Republicans, but you know they all are – makes various appearances for his climate denial, since he’s in the pocket of the oil and gas industries and gladly ignores the evidence that man-made activities are warming the planet or that fracking is harmful. Trump and Michelle Bachman both appear for their vaccine denialism. Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee also appear on climate denial. Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell both pushed the “global cooling” hoax – which was never a scientific consensus or proven hypothesis of any sort – as part of their denialism. Mo Brooks (Alabama) pushed some anti-science nonsense about immigrants spreading deadly diseases to justify his xenophobia. Rick Santorum appears for his bogus arguments against an EPA standard aimed at reducing mercury pollution in the water and air. George W. Bush gets quite a bit of ink here for the reasons he used for cutting funding for basic research. There are, to be fair, a couple of Democrats in here, including former DEA head Chuck Rosenberg, who threw out some serious bullshit on the topic of marijuana to try to rationalize the government’s treatment of it as a drug as dangerous as cocaine or meth. Even Barack Obama gets a little smackdown, although in his case, his error was overstating the benefits of a scientific endeavor, the Human Genome Project.

The readers who would really benefit from Not a Scientist are the folks least likely to read it: The politicians I just mentioned and all of the people who vote for them. Science is not subject to your personal approval. Vaccines work, life evolved from a single common ancestor, the climate is warming and it’s our fault, GMOs are safe, chemtrails are fake. You don’t get a vote on any of this – but you do get to vote every November, and many people (probably not many of you specifically) vote for candidates who publicly disavow or attempt to discredit settled science, all in the name of pursuing other policy goals. Their words and actions put everyone at risk – literally everyone, when it comes to climate change, and more than just humans, but coral reefs, tropical frogs, even many microorganisms whose roles in the global ecosystem we don’t even yet understand. This stuff matters, much more than whether two men living 2500 miles away from you get a piece of paper that says they’re married, but the Republican Party of 2017 has got everyone convinced that gays and ISIS are the real threats and climate change is some sort of progressive hoax. People who don’t get this, who vote for Inhofe and McConnell and Brooks and Rubio and of course the guy in the White House, need to read Not a Scientist. But they won’t, and their celebrations last November and this past January were just another nail in our collective coffins.

If this stuff bothers you as much as it does me, check out 314 Action, a new nonpartisan science-advocacy group that encourages more STEM professionals to run for political office so that we get voices in Washington DC and every state capital who speak out in favor of science and fact.

Stick to baseball, 8/12/17.

I’m back from a week of vacation in Aruba, which was lovely, not least because I turned my phone off when we took off from BWI and didn’t turn it back on until we landed on US soil seven-plus days later. That means my last Insider posts were at the trade deadline, including breakdowns of the Yu Darvish trade, the Sonny Gray trade, and the Justin Wilson/Jeimer Candelario trade.

I’m back at Paste with a new boardgame review, this time of the two-player variant of Uwe Rosenberg’s massive Caverna, Caverna: Cave vs. Cave.

I appeared on the Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast, co-hosted by Ben Lindbergh, to discuss the current golden age of boardgames and how that might be affecting videogame funding. I also spoke with Jeff Krushell, who worked for the Blue Jays for some of the same years I did, about my book, Smart Baseball, and the role of analytics in the sport.

While I was away, the Washington Post ran a favorable review of Smart Baseball.

I’ll be at GenCon 50 in Indianapolis starting on Thursday, appearing on a few panels, signing copies of Smart Baseball on Friday at 2 pm (or if you see me walking around), and trying lots of new boardgames. I hope to see a bunch of you there.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 5/27/17.

My one Insider piece this week was on Luis Robert, his deal with the White Sox, and the poor history of Cuban position player free agents. I did not hold a Klawchat, and will have another mock draft up on Tuesday.

Smart Baseball continues to sell well and I am very grateful to all of you who purchased it. I have about 100 signed bookplates that I can send out to readers who’ve bought the book, and I’ll get that info to everyone soon – probably in my next email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 5/20/17.

My one baseball post this past week was the annual ranking of the Top 25 MLB players under 25, which causes more “read the intro” violations than anything else I write every year. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday while in Minneapolis; I will do a quick eats post from there soon, but I’m about six topics behind here due to travel and lack of sleep.

For Paste, I reviewed the new puzzle game Shahrazad, which has a solo version and a two-player mode, both pretty clever with fantastic artwork and very few rules to learn.

My book, Smart Baseball, came out on April 25th from HarperCollins in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats. I traveled to Atlanta and the Twin Cities for readings/signings this past week, and am very grateful to all of you who came out to buy the book, have yours signed, or just say hello; we had 50+ folks at each event and Moon Palace Books sold out of the book Thursday night. Smart Baseball also got a very positive review from an unexpected source, the political site The Federalist.

I’m still sending out my email newsletter when I can, and the last edition, about some recent troubles I’ve had with my anxiety disorder and the medication I take for it, got the strongest response yet – so many replies and comments, in fact, that I haven’t been able to respond to the majority of them. I did see them all, though, and I really appreciate all the kind words.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 5/13/17.

My one Insider post this week was my first ‘mock’ draft for 2017, although it’s really too early for that sort of exercise. And I held a Klawchat on Thursday.

Smart Baseball is out now in the U.S. and Canada; you can order it here or get it at any local bookstore. We are working on getting an ebook version out in some international markets, but I can’t promise anything there yet.

I have two signings/talks this week, for which I’m very excited (and a little anxious, to be honest). The first is in Decatur, Georgia (Atlanta area), at the Georgia Center for the Book on Tuesday at 7 pm, and the AJC was kind enough to lead their book events page with a note about my appearance. The second is in Minneapolis at Moon Palace Books on Thursday at 6:30 pm. I hope to meet many of you at these events, both of which are free to attend.

I’ve been asked by many of you about organizing other events. If a bookstore reaches out to Harper Collins to invite me, and I can work it into my schedule, I’m certainly open to doing more. I do have further events scheduled for Toronto, Miami (July 8th), and Berkeley (July 19th), plus am hoping to do signings at GenCon and PAX Unplugged later this year.

I spoke with SUNY-Oswego Professor of Digital Media Brian Moritz about the book, analytics in sports, and being a writer. I joined The Young Turks’ video show to discuss the book and media resistance to advanced stats. I also spoke with ESPN Radio in Dallas, with ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati, and with SI Now about the book & Mike Mussina’s Hall of Fame case.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 4/8/17.

I had one Insider post this week, on the most prospect-packed minor league rosters to open the season. I have already filed a draft blog post on last night’s outing by Hunter Greene, with additional notes on a half-dozen other draft prospects, including Brendan McKay and Austin Beck. (EDIT: It’s up now.) I held my regular Klawchat on Thursday.

I resumed boardgame reviews for Paste this week with a look at the reissue of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, specifically the Jack the Ripper & West End Cases set, but found it more like a solitaire puzzle than a cooperative game.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. The book now has two positive reviews out, one from Kirkus Reviews and one from Publishers Weekly.

Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 3/18/17.

Two Insider posts this week from Arizona, one on Padres and Dodgers prospects and one on Dodgers, Reds, and Rangers prospects. I’ll have one more post coming from this trip. I did not chat this week because I was out at games every day. The trip also meant I didn’t get to review a boardgame this week either.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. The book now has two positive reviews out, one from Kirkus Reviews and one from Publishers Weekly.

Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 2/5/17.

My organizational reports for all 30 teams, featuring at least ten prospects ranked for each club (and as many as 25), went up this past week for Insiders. You can find them all here on the landing pages for each division:

American League East
National League East
American League Central
National League Central
American League West
National League West

My list of thirty sleeper prospects, one for each MLB organization, for 2017 went up on Friday, wrapping up the prospect rankings package for the year. I also held a Klawchat on Friday.

For Paste, I reviewed the complex strategy game Forged in Steel, a citybuilder with some worker-placement and card management aspects that, once you get the first few moves underway, really gets going and manages to be both smart and fun.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

  • The must-read piece of the week – actually published in early January – comes from British journalist Isabel Hardman, who wrote about how even England’s vaunted NHS doesn’t do justice to people with mental illnesses, although the piece itself also provides a great window into her own difficulties recognizing what was happening to her and getting properly treated.
  • It’s Super Bowl Sunday! If you wouldn’t let your kids play football because it’s dangerous (and has led to the premature deaths of many players), is it moral to still watch the NFL?
  • I thought this New Yorker profile of Evan McMullin, who has emerged as a major Trump critic from the center-right was both an excellent piece of balanced journalism and a good window into someone who, even though I disagree with him on a couple of major policy issues, speaks very clearly to my concern that the man in the Oval Office – well, that man, and the one pulling his strings – needs to be stopped.
  • The batshit insane people who claim Sandy Hook was a hoax believe Trump’s election furthers their cause. I’m just glad these hoaxers are facing legal consequences when they harass relatives of the deceased.
  • As if Betsy DeVos’ awful answers in her confirmation hearing and embrace of creationism and other anti-science bullshit weren’t enough to disqualify her from running the U.S. Department of Education in everyone’s eyes except, well, our President and 50 Senate Republicans, she’s also a major investor in an utterly useless pseudoscience business of neurofeedback that claims it can use brain waves to diagnose and treat autism, depression, and why are we even talking about this it is such obvious bullshit? If you have a U.S. Senator who is planning to vote for DeVos – that’s every Republican right now except Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Sue Collins (Maine) – get on the phone on Monday morning, or send a fax, or go to their offices and make it clear you want a no vote on DeVos. One more Republican will end her candidacy, and while we aren’t guaranteed that the next nominee will be better, I’m not sure they can find one who’s worse.
  • You want more about DeVos being delusional in her belief in anti-science folderol? Look at her use of code words for creationism. While her camp has hidden behind the federal law and court rulings that intelligent design can’t be taught in public schools – it’s religion, thinly disguised as pseudoscience – that opens the door for her to push to change such laws, or challenge the court rulings, to suit her own misguided beliefs.
  • The House Science Committee is something between a joke and a modern-day Spanish Inquisition, thanks to its science-denialist head, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas, where else?), and the new Holman Rule that allows House appropriations bills to target any federal employee and reduce his/her salary to $1. Boys, all you boys, you think you’re so American.
  • Is the white-supremacist (and possible fascist) Steve Bannon positioning himself to be the de facto President? Fifty Democratic Congresspersons have called for Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council, co-sponsoring a House bill that would ban political strategists from serving on the council. (Reports that the appointment requires Senate approval were false or at least incomplete.) Meanwhile, filings from Bannon’s second divorce include accusations that he failed to pay child support and was abusive toward his daughters.
  • I think this ProPublica piece has the wrong title. It’s not can the Democrats be as stubborn as Mitch McConnell, but will they? Of course they can, but so far, I see no signs that they well. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley is prepared to lead a filibuster of Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorusch, who’s filling a seat that should have been filled last year by Merrick Garland. (By the way, if you saw the claims that Gorusch had created a pro-fascism club while a student, those were false.)
  • Eric Trump’s business trip to Uruguay – that is, a trip to benefit the Trump family business, not on U.S. official business – cost the taxpayer over $97K in hotel bills. This is a good example of where the Democrats need to be obstructionist – Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill requiring him to divest, but even the Dems appear to have little interest in this fight.
  • How about that immigration order, now halted, that served as a de facto Muslim ban? The Archbishop of Chicago spoke out against it. The order stranded a Brooklyn doctor in the Sudan. VICE published a list of doctors and researchers thus barred from returning to the United States. Don’t you feel so much safer now?
  • Bloomberg published a short op ed that argues that Trump has failed his Wall Street and big business backers twice over, by putting all permanent resident employees at risk of deportation or refused re-entry, and by failing to repeal the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, which – get this – which requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients in retirement accounts. I don’t know what’s worse: that Trump’s camp wanted to repeal the rule, or that the rule was ever necessary in the first place.
  • The farewell message from Tom Countryman (!), Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, who was summarily dismissed along with five other State Department lifers last week, is well worth your time.
  • Who’s behind the fake-news site CGS Monitor, which uses real experts’ names in bylines on articles they didn’t write? It could be Russia – I mean, of course it’s Russia, right? – although this piece speculates it could also come from Iranian interests.
  • This post from “The Jester” on Russia’s infiltration of our federal government pissed someone off enough that the site was hit with a DdoS attack a few hours after the article went up. Within it, he points out that the ex-KGB/FSB official suspected of helping MI6 agent Christopher Steele assemble that dossier on Donald Trump was found dead in his car on December 26th, and the the author accuses the Kremlin of orchestrating his murder.
  • Republicans are further trying to rig the electoral college system in their favor by pushing blue states to adopt “proportional” electoral voting, which, as that FiveThirtyEight piece explains, means that Clinton could have won the popular vote by five percentage points and still lost the election.
  • A new law in Arkansas allows rapists who impregnate their victims to stop the latter from getting abortions, or a husband to sue to prevent his wife from doing so, and so on. Even setting aside the clear infringement of religious belief into law here, this is as blatantly anti-woman as you can get. I’ve got one state left to visit to be able to say I’ve visited them all, but you know, I think any trips to Arkansas can wait until they start to treat women like actual people. UPDATE: Snopes has more details on the law, such as pointing out that rapists can’t sue for damages, and that the law delays rather than prevents the abortions. The ACLU is still planning lawsuits.
  • Abortion is an important, sometimes lifesaving medical procedure, and keeping it legal and available reduces deaths from unsafe abortions, while improving access to abortion and contraception reduces abortion rates overall. Again, women are actual people, and the infamous photo of Trump signing an anti-abortion executive order while surrounded by men sort of says it all – and that’s why the photo of the Swedish Prime Minister trolling Trump is such a thing of beauty.
  • Protesters plan to shadow Trump whenever he travels so he feels their dislike, an extension of the idea that he thrives on public adulation.
  • The apparently random murder of a woman walking on a Reykjavik street after dark has shaken the city, which is known for its low crime rate and 24-hour party culture.
  • I tweeted about this earlier in the week, but donors across the country are helping pay students’ lunch debts. It’s such a little thing, and so easy to do if you have any cash to donate. We called our daughter’s school, asked how much it would take to clear any outstanding tabs, and wrote them a check. You’ll make a lot of families’ lives easier, and will reduce the shame these kids feel for something that’s no fault of their own.
  • The Brits have all the legislative fun: A Labour MP held up a sign saying “He’s lying to you” behind Nigel Farage in a televised address by the far-right UKIP leader.
  • The University of Nevada joins the growing list of NCAA football programs reneging on scholarship offers weeks or even days before the official signing day. I’m no lawyer, so I’ll ask the crowd: at what point does such an oral agreement become binding on either party?
  • I’d never heard of the Chinese delicacy fat choy, a bacteria that grows long, noodle-like strands, but it turns out its farming is harmful to the environment, and the Chinese government is now cracking down on its production and sale.
  • Recode has a long, fascinating interview with my former colleague Bill Simmons on The Ringer, the rise and abrupt end of Grantland, the demise of his HBO TV show Any Given Wednesday, and much more. I’m still not sure I get the mission of The Ringer; they’ve mixed some great sports content with some head-scratchers where they offer advice to the movie or music industry. But it’s early in the site’s history, and I’m 100% behind any site that supports good journalism and pays its writers.
  • I’m linking here to a piece I saw on Google’s home page (I think) but that I really thought was trash: you could read 200 books a year in the time you waste on social media. There’s a lot wrong with this piece, but let me highlight two things. One, not everyone is wired for the kind of sustained attention required to read a lot of books, and no one should make someone feel bad because s/he isn’t a book reader. I love finding fellow bibliophiles, but if you don’t read books, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Two, his math suchs. He says “typical non-fiction books have ~50,000 words,” which is wrong; that’s under 200 pages, and even Smart Baseball, which I did not want to be too long, runs over 80,000 words. He also says he reads 400 words per minute and assumes that most Medium readers will too; I doubt he reads that fast unless he’s speed-reading, which doesn’t work (you don’t retain what you read as well), because reading 400 wpm would mean reading about 80 pages an hour, which I think would put anyone at the far-right end of the scale for reading speed … or means he’s reading books written for children. I read a lot, and I read fast, and I doubt I read 400 wpm unless it’s something simple and incredibly engrossing, like genre fiction or a Wodehouse novel. So, yeah, if you don’t read 200 books a year or 100 or even 20, don’t feel bad. This article was just stupid.
  • Is the hunt for paid editors tearing Wikipedia apart from the inside? That seems a bit dramatic, but I think the mere existence of paid editors is cause to retain or recover our skepticism about the reliability of information found on the site.
  • From McSweeney’s: The Rules of This Board Game Are Long, But Also Complicated. I don’t understand why this is supposed to be funny.

Stick to baseball, 1/7/17.

I’ve been working on the top 100 prospects package, which begins a three-week rollout on January 18th, since New Year’s, so I didn’t write anything for Insider this week. My boardgame reviews continue, with a review of the Celtic-themed game Inis for Paste and a review of the boardgame and new iOS app for Colt Express here on the dish. I did hold my regular Klawchat on Thursday.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

  • Several former Justice Department lawyers penned an op ed claiming that Jeff Sessions is lying about his involvement in civil rights cases. They say, “Sessions knows that his real record on race and civil rights is harmful to his chances for confirmation. So he has made up a fake one.” In a rational world, that would end his nomination for Attorney General.
  • Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic meltdown may lead to a recall of president/dictator Nicolas Maduro, but he appointed a successor this week in new Vice President Tarek el Aissami, who is (or was) under investigating by U.S. authorities for drug trafficking.
  • Author Ryan Holiday wrote an insightful, somewhat angry piece on the ‘online diversity police’, folks who immediately decry the lack of diversity on any list or grouping (often inaccurately, as it turns out).
  • Lindy West wrote one of the week’s best, most important essays, on why she left Twitter after six years on the service, citing the endless abuse and the rise of neo-Naziism.
  • The Daily Beast exposed the long con of 55-year-old “millennial” comedian Dan Nainan, who tries to pass himself off as 35 and has fooled several media outlets as such.
  • Esquire has a longread on former Deadspin and Gawker EIC A.J. Daulerio, whose career was derailed by the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit.
  • Grierson & Leitch each posted their top ten films of 2016, along with a 100-minute podcast where they reveal their lists to each other and discuss them. As usual, Leitch’s list comprises fairly well-known films, while Grierson’s has several films I’ve heard of and three that may not actually exist.
  • The eight-year-old transgender boy kicked out of a New Jersey Cub Scouts group after other parents complained talked to the Jersey Journal, as did his mother, about what happened, in a piece that also explores the psychiatric community’s evolving understanding of “gender dysphoria.”
  • Jill Saward’s death didn’t garner much coverage here either, but she was an important figure in the movement for sexual assault victims’ rights, as the first British rape victim to waive her right to anonymity and publicly discuss her case.
  • Will Trump’s election mark the return of civil disobedience? So far it has, but can the various movements opposed to the Republicans’ reactionary agenda keep it up for four or more years?
  • Let’s talk about the Russian hacking operation, which a US intelligence report says Putin ‘ordered’ to get Trump elected. David Remnick weighed in as well.
  • The Seattle Times called out Trump’s “reckless linkage” of vaccines to autism, desperate overwhelming evidence that there is no link.
  • Lauren Duca of Teen Vogue has quickly become one of the most important voices in political journalism, thanks to pieces like this one about the family selling access to the President-Elect at a party at Trumo’s Mar-a-Lago resort that made over $420K.
  • Republican Christine Todd Whitman headed up the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, but she said she fears for the planet under a Trump regime for many reasons, including his denial of climate change.
  • The Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel outlines the Republican Party’s plan for a “sweeping conservative agenda” now that they control the White House and both houses of Congress. I’d dispute the word “conservative” here, though; this is very much an agenda written by and for white Americans, especially Christians, but doesn’t bear much resemblance to the traditional economic and libertarian-minded conservatism of Reagan or Buckley.
  • The political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo hasn’t gotten much attention here amidst our own, but President Kabila hasn’t signed the agreement to end his rule, which has been marked primarily by his looting of the country’s coffers of millions of dollars.
  • Finally, the Huffington Post made news of nothing with a piece on Mark Zuckerberg apparently becoming an ex-atheist. I’m linking this for one major reason – my disdain for the need to classify people by their religious beliefs, something I first encountered on Wikipedia maybe a decade ago, where articles on people can be categorized by the subject’s religion. You can change your religious beliefs on a dime; you can lie about them (in many countries, you may have to); you can fail to fit in any neat bucket of beliefs. As a general rule, I don’t think your religion is any of my business unless you wish to make it so, so I particularly dislike the idea that you need to know what someone believes or, as in this case, that a possible change in the beliefs of a famous person are somehow newsworthy. I’ll be happier when Zuckerberg’s beliefs include extirpating fake news sites from Facebook.