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What Happened Today: August 19, 2022
Heat waves and pandemic restrictions hammer Chinese economy; Israel’s doctor shortage; Beach Reads
The Big Story
Ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and a two-month heat wave are straining the Chinese economy, forcing the central bank to raise interest rates earlier this week. The move contradicts the trend of most world-leading nations tightening their monetary policy, and analysts say it’s unlikely to significantly ease the pressure that’s hammering everything from home building to the retail sector.
Some six dozen rivers in the farm-rich region of Chongqing have dried up because of the drought, and the Ministry of Water Resources said on Wednesday that the degradation of the soil moisture there, as well as in several other nearby agricultural regions near the middle stretch of the Yangtze, now requires the state’s Ministry of Emergency Management to reallocate water supplies to protect the fall rice harvest. Scorching temperatures in July were directly responsible for roughly $400 million in economic losses absorbed by 5.5 million people with ties to the agricultural economy, while declines in hydropower capacity and electrical grid strain forced factories and office buildings to close amid rolling blackouts. Stringent COVID-19 travel restrictions, meanwhile, have collapsed domestic tourism while hammering retail sales, as more shoppers fear being forced into quarantine after they encounter a positive COVID-19 case in public. Home purchases similarly plummeted, down 28% in July compared to 2021—an additional strain on cash-crunched developers already struggling because hundreds of thousands of buyers of new building units are boycotting their mortgage payments until the homes are completed.
In the Back Pages: Weekend Reads
→ Israel will need roughly 800 new medical students every year to compensate for a dire shortage of doctors across the nation. The scarcity of new doctors coming into the medical system will now be only more difficult to solve, some say, after government officials moved to close down three medical school programs that served foreign students studying in Israel. The government said it wanted local students to take over the spots that had previously been occupied by 130 foreign students each year, but critics of the plan say that the students in the foreign program, paying as much as 10 times in tuition, help to fund the medical system and that the two programs could have easily coexisted. One committee studying the shortage is recommending a way to add as many as 400 slots for local medical students, but it will require more, not less, investment from state agencies. “I don’t see a single reason to close the American programs,” said Arnon Afek, a former director of the health ministry who had previously led the Tel Aviv University program that trained U.S. students. Many students who come to study in Israel return home, where pay is significantly more lucrative. But their tuition payments can help build out the clinical training spaces needed to increase recruitment for Israeli students, which will be important as the domestic population ages and requires more medical care just as a wave of older doctors move into retirement. “It truly hurts my heart,” Afek said. “It’s so hard to build something and so easy to destroy it.”
→ Number of the Day: $4 million
The cost in San Francisco ambulance fees accrued by just five patients, who needed to be rushed to the Psychiatric Emergency Services department of San Francisco General Hospital—the only such unit in the entire city—dozens of times this year. During a public hearing on Thursday, city officials and healthcare workers laid out the numbers that underscored the high cost of the urban crisis in San Francisco, where a growing underclass of people are struggling with addiction, homelessness, and mental health problems. Some patients were admitted as many as 20 times in 2022 alone, and four people had between 1,781 and 2,000 ambulance transports in that period. Rafael Mandelman, who represents District 8 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was the one who called the meeting, and he voiced concerns about whether the city was doing enough to help the homeless before they needed ambulance care and hospitalizations. “We need a facility for people who need emergency psychiatric care, who we see far too frequently not getting that care on the streets,” he said.
→ In yet another example of the frenzied monetization of college sports, Big Ten, the hugely profitable and popular Division I college sports conference, inked a seven-year contract with Fox, CBS, and NBC on Thursday worth some $7.5 billion. The Big Ten stands to be broadcast and streamed across numerous channels and platforms, much as the National Football League had been previously, and in contrast to other college leagues like the Southeastern Conference, which will be streaming exclusively with Disney+. With the recently announced addition of UCLA and USC—two schools in California, one of the largest markets in the country—the Big Ten has emerged as “the most national of conferences,” as Pete Bevacqua, the chairman of NBC Sports, put it.
→ Graph of the Day:
The inflation-adjusted cost of raising a child through high school in the United States is now $300,000, according to the Brookings Institution, marking a 9% increase since two years ago. The increase is largely due to necessities for kids—school supplies, haircuts, footwear, toys, sporting goods—getting especially hard-hit by inflationary pricing. Then there is the cost of childcare itself, which in New York City averages roughly $1,000 per month. For low-income parents, these costs and increases are especially crippling. “We’re cutting off the cable today because we can’t afford it,” one mother told The Wall Street Journal. “There’s nothing left to cut out.”
→ Amazon has rapidly expanded Amazon Care, its in-house telehealth and in-person medical services program that offers remote treatment across all 50 states and in-person treatment at clinics in at least seven cities to both internal employees as well as those at several other companies—but there have been serious growing pains, as “Amazon sometimes prioritized pleasing patients over providing the best standard of care,” according to a new Washington Post report. With an emphasis on convenience and technology over what several sources say was standard medical care, nurses and doctors frequently butted heads with Amazon’s engineers and project leads over the program’s design and execution as Amazon seeks to disrupt the healthcare industry. Medical staff pointed to problems like poorly built health-record software, competition for patient ratings at the cost of best practices, and an insistence on treating patients with ailments like sprained limbs remotely rather than in person. Nurses were sent out to see patients using wireless stethoscopes designed to broadcast signals to doctors stationed elsewhere—that is, when they worked properly. The tech-centric approach also saw a request for nurses to “store and dispose of medical supplies at home and stabilize patient blood samples using centrifuges in their personal cars,” a plan that Amazon abandoned, staffers said, after nurses balked at the idea.
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→ Tweet of the Day:
Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse, noting that escape plans that American schools are adopting for live-shooter situations now include security measures for children too young to walk. The United States is seeing a surge in gun violence this year—there have been 422 deaths related to mass shootings in 2022 to date, according to Gun Violence Archive, putting the country on pace to have the most such deaths in its history. In June, Congress passed a law that allocated $300 million to “harden” schools and make them more prepared for an active shooter.
→ The Trader Joe’s Wine Shop in New York City’s Union Square—a vital resource for college students in search of three buck chuck—was suddenly shuttered last week after the store’s management learned of its employees’ plans to unionize. “They’re hoping this dissuades other workers from doing the same thing we’ve done,” said one of the wine-shop employees who was on the planning committee pushing to unionize. “It’s totally to stop the union effort before it can begin,” said another. The planning committee had been hoping to announce the unionization drive during the week of August 15; the committee believed that it had at least 22 “yes” votes out of the roughly 30 workers at the store, which would enable them to successfully join the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
→ Quote of the Day:
If I try to think about the way I was in 1981, I can’t do it. I mean, what in the world was I thinking? It’s like it was like another person. I do have remorse, certainly, for what happened. It’s in one of my songs.
John W. Hinckley Jr., who just spent 41 years in mental institutions and under state supervision after trying to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, on the disconnect between the present-day John—aspiring music man and overall chill guy—and the young and confused would-be presidential assassin of 1981. Harshing his mellow, however, is that John can’t get a music venue to book him. Some venues have tried, booking the singer-songwriter (who has hundreds of thousands of followers on YouTube) before abruptly canceling the concert because of all the death threats. But maybe John, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity, is just the artist for our moment. “The climate in the country now is just so bad,” he told The Washington Post. “I just try to write songs to uplift people.”
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
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This week and next, Tablet Magazine is running a series of Beach Reads that collect some of our best deep dives. For the offline enthusiasts, the whole series has been bound together in a special edition of our printer-friendly weekly digest: an amazing free 113-page anthology for you and your hammock, from Baku in Azerbaijan, Geneva, the Solomon Islands, Harbin in China, and beyond. Below is one of those Beach Reads to get you started. In “David Blaine Goes Up and Up and Up to Heaven,” Jeremy Sigler asks, Can the great illusionist make suffering, anxiety, and death disappear?
We hear the swish of blood coursing through a gray heart. Or is it a spade? It’s actually a “d” and a “b” (db)—the David Blaine logo—animated to appear as if it’s been welded out of twisted wrought iron.
Enter “Jen,” i.e., world-famous actress Jennifer Lawrence, kicking back on a FaceTime call with Blaine, getting into character to assist in a piece of magic that, while designed to reach millions, will create an impression of two pals just killing time. Blaine instructs Jen to take out her own deck and “riffle shuffle” the cards (creating a hypnotic ASMR effect). He then asks her to choose a card in her mind and to say it out loud. “Jack of clubs,” says Jen tentatively. Blaine then instructs her to choose a number between one and 52 (she chooses 23) and to flip each card until she gets to that number. At the 23rd card, Jen flips over the jack of clubs.
This is when the public display of mentalism becomes extremely alluring, as Lawrence, a highly trained actress, warps the fourth wall of 5G. “No!” she screams, in a tone ordinarily reserved for horror films. “You’re a witch! You’re a witch! No!” We cut back to Blaine who smiles like an unpopular eighth grader who has finally found a way to interest the prettiest girl in his class.
But it’s not yet time to press the yellow thumbs-up emoji, not until Lawrence unleashes her plea: “One day before you die, are you gonna write a book and tell us? You CAN’T die! If you started a religion, I would follow it!”
Blaine smiles. He looks satisfied.
Hasn’t Blaine already started a religion? Or at least a cult? Blaine is shaman to the stars. He’s like a very dark Rick Rubin. In fact, the two bearded gurus (or Jew-rews) are chummy. A podcast hosted by Malcolm Gladwell features them in a conversation, Rubin having come out as a magic lover and devoted fan of db. If rap impresario Rubin is a touch rabbinical, then Blaine, by comparison, has been touched by evil. He’s basically trouble—a little like that weirdo Russian healer Rasputin who got in with the Romanovs before they started suspecting him as a conspirator and ordered him to be shot and drowned.
I was watching another of Blaine’s domestic celebrity ops—one set in Harrison Ford’s kitchen. By frame one, Ford already seems bugged-out. Perhaps he’s overwhelmed by the room’s demonic aura. Blaine shuffles and asks Harrison to think of a card (nine of hearts), as he teleports this card (nine of hearts) through a mysterious portal of time and space into the juicy interior of a navel orange.
“Here’s what we’ll do. Do me a favor ...” Blaine says, scanning and commanding the kitchen counter. He asks Harrison to grab a ripe orange out of a bowl of fruit, hold it steady on a cutting board, and hand him a knife, so that he may perform a C-section on the orange, and deliver the nine of hearts. Harrison’s eyes go into a hypnotic spiral, and he begins to breathe heavily, as if he’s going into cardiac arrest. He turns to Blaine and says: “Get the fuck out of my house.”
I replayed the video, pausing to study the intricacies of Blaine’s sleight-of-hand and to reverse engineer his switcheroo. But who would want to debunk David? I’m reminded of Robert Bresson’s 1959 masterpiece Pickpocket, and the 2018 Japanese film Shoplifters. The trick, in magic as in theft, is to be one step ahead and to never get caught red-handed.