What Happened Today: November 10, 2022
No recession for Pfizer; Israeli drones don’t just take pictures; Apple is watching you
The Big Story
Pfizer profits should be doing well for at least the next decade, thanks in large part to the subscription-style series of COVID-19 vaccines CEO Albert Bourla described to investors during an earnings call last Tuesday. “We believe our COVID-19 franchises will remain multibillion-dollar revenue generators for the foreseeable future which should serve as a buffer for any unforeseen challenges with other products in our portfolio,” Bourla said on the call. With government contracts for Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot set to wrap up next year, the vaccine will then enter the private healthcare market. While the shot costs less than $1.50 to produce, according to Julia Kosgei of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, Pfizer is expected to charge $130 per dose once it hits the market—a steep markup from the current $40 government rate. That new price point could prove expensive for those who don’t have the health insurance that will cover the cost, though Pfizer suspects that retail buyers will be motivated. “This (COVID-19) is going to be somewhat like a flu, sustained flu, but actually more deadly than the flu,” CFO David Denton told investors.
The update on the future earning potential of the COVID-19 vaccine was no doubt a welcome reassurance to investors concerned about the projected losses of $16 to $18 billion in revenue due to the expiration of five major patents in the Pfizer arsenal. With the revenue generated from the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the company’s Paxlovid offering, Pfizer officials say they can now make new acquisitions and build out research and development of products that could bring in as much as $25 billion in revenue over the next decade.
Investors got a sneak preview of the new offerings, which include a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine for both pregnant women (meant to confer immunity to vulnerable newborns before birth) and the elderly; a new migraine drug, which Pfizer says is especially well positioned to market to primary care physicians; and two experimental diabetes pills with massive potential in the lucrative weight loss arena. A similar drug from Eli Lilly is projected to produce $100 billion in revenue by 2035, according to Bank of America.
In The Back Pages: Norah Vincent’s Gender Trouble
→ Three men were arrested Tuesday night in New York on charges stemming from multiple incidents of harassment throughout Williamsburg’s Jewish community. Adding to the many other stories of attacks on Brooklyn Jews in recent years, the men began their spree on Sunday evening, allegedly shooting local Hasidim from their car window with a “gel gun” (which is similar to a paintball gun but less powerful). After men in the same car were spotted shooting Jews on Monday, the proverbial shofar was sounded, and the Jews of Williamsburg took up the call. The Shomrim, Brooklyn’s independent Jewish patrol, put 50 members out onto the streets. Quickly responding to an attack on a woman and her teenage son by the twentysomething suspects, the patrol alerted the NYPD, which eventually charged the assailants with hate crimes. Lesson: You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.
→ Number of the Day:
That’s the amount dropped at auction on Wednesday for Georges Seurat’s “Models, Ensemble (Small Version),” an 1888 masterpiece sold as a part of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection. The priciest art auction of all time, the 60 pieces sold at New York City’s Christie’s fetched more than $1.5 billion. The selection of works by Jasper Johns, Cezanne, Botticelli, and others was what separated the collection from the previous all-time sale record: an auction in May of real estate mogul Harry Macklowe’s pieces by Andy Warhol and other mid-century pop icons, which pulled in $922 million. As a collector with wide-ranging tastes, Allen had pieces that spanned centuries, with some of the old master paintings and newer works of American modernism he purchased over the years gaining more than 200% in value.
→ Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to look like a reboot of its disastrous war in Afghanistan after the Russian military announced on Wednesday that its troops were set to retreat from the city of Kherson in southeast Ukraine. Releasing Kherson, the most significant city thus far captured by Russian forces, back into Ukrainian control could become a turning point in the conflict. Ukraine forces will now have the opportunity to launch rockets at Russian supply lines going in and out of the Crimean Peninsula, while the Russians, for their part, will have to rebuild a new backstop position to protect their gains in southeast Ukraine. Momentum shifts aside, the war continues to bleed both countries dry. U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley estimates each side has lost about 100,000 soldiers to date.
→ Israel, which as of 2017 produced the majority of military drones exported worldwide, on Wednesday admitted for the first time to using drones not just for surveillance but for military strikes. While speaking at a technology conference in Tel Aviv, Brigadier-General Neri Horowitz said that Israel has used drones in combat since at least 2012, when an armed drone struck and killed members of a terrorist group that had infiltrated Israel’s border with Egypt. Horowitz also explained that the drones have been a boon against rocketeers in Gaza, allowing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to neutralize terror cells on the ground before they can launch rockets. In recent years, drones have significantly enhanced the Israeli military’s edge in combat. Another general who spoke at the conference reported that drones now account for 80% of IDF flight hours, a sign of the times in a nation with some of the world’s most respected fighter pilots.
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→ In an unqualified win for modern medicine, researchers and doctors from the University of California–San Francisco, Duke, and two hospitals in Canada have successfully treated Pompe disease, a rare genetic disorder that usually leads to irreparable damage to the heart and other muscles in infants. The disease inhibits the production of a crucial enzyme that helps the body break down sugars; without it, children’s muscles weaken and fail, leading to death via cardiac or respiratory failure. In recent years, doctors treated the condition with enzyme infusions and immunosuppressants after birth, in the hopes of slowing down the illness, but even for those who survived, there have been long-term complications. Now doctors can inject the enzymes directly into the umbilical cord while the baby is in utero–and the results look promising. One family that lost two babies already to the syndrome are hopeful that the new treatment will be what saves their youngest daughter, Ayla Bashir. Her father says he is now “scarily optimistic” as she is now 16 months old and healthy.
→ Somewhere this morning in a bathrobe, Bernie Sanders shouted, “Take that, billionaires!” On Forbes’ list of China’s wealthiest people, released on Thursday, the 100 richest have collectively lost $573 billion in the past year, or 39% of their wealth, a stupendous drop driven by the fall of the yuan against the dollar, the major hit to Chinese stock indexes, and faltering real estate markets. The rapid depletion of wealth has some speculating if this was a known and intended side effect of some of President Xi Jinping’s recent pet policies, including his indefinite zero-COVID mandate, which has ground many Chinese industries to a standstill. “It is clear that Xi Jinping favors the state system because of the control it offers the central government to engineer changes in the economy,” Andrew Kemp, a managing director at Orient Capital Research, told the Financial Times.
→ Thread of the Day:
Is Apple’s iPhone really “better” on privacy than Google and its fleet of Android devices? Two security researchers say it would appear not. Tommy Mysk and Talal Haj Bakry, who run the software company Mysk, stumbled upon some disturbing data harvesting within Apple’s App Store, which appears to transmit everything you do within the store—as well as in Apple Music, Apple TV, and the Books app—to Apple’s servers in real time. Even more alarming, the researchers noted, is this: User data is transmitted to Apple even if that user has turned off data collection within the phone’s settings. Data collected from the Stocks app would theoretically provide Apple with a rough estimate of a phone user’s stock portfolio, though it remains unclear how much of that data is being harvested by Apple.
→ Graph of the Day:
After a tough run for the stock market this year, and an absolutely brutal collapse in crypto yesterday, the NASDAQ and S&P 500 took off today in their biggest one-day rally since 2020. Catalyzed by surprisingly optimistic inflation data, the rally builds on investors’ hope that the Federal Reserve might now slow down its aggressive rate hikes and reduce the price for lending. Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer of Bleakley Financial Group, suggests inflation could settle to 3% or 4%, down from 7.7% today. But whatever the Federal Reserve does next, investors are happy now, with NASDAQ up 7.35% and the S&P up 5.54% on the day.
TODAY IN TABLET:
Feeding the Spirit by Mary Lane Potter
Learning how to participate in religious rituals that aren’t our own
The Freedom to Think Differently by Blake Smith
Judith Shklar’s minority liberalism offers both an escape hatch from the Hobbesian tyranny of democratic majorities and a pathway to becoming the freest and most authentic versions of ourselves
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Norah Vincent's Gender Trouble
The Late Writer's Lessons on Breaking the Gender Barrier
By James Kirchick
When the late writer Norah Vincent decided to live as a man for the purposes of a journalistic experiment, she did so with the expectation that her life would be easier. Men, after all, enjoy many types of structural and social advantages in American society, advantages Vincent explored in her 2006 book chronicling that experiment, Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey Into Manhood and Back Again. Much the way that other great immersive journalist, Barbara Ehrenreich, reported on the working poor by laboring in a series of minimum wage jobs (and who happened to die weeks after Vincent’s own death this past summer by suicide at the age of 53), Vincent undertook an investigation into how a more literal version of "the other half" lived.
With the help of a new wardrobe, a shorter haircut, a layer of artificial stubble, an extremely tight sports bra, and a Juilliard voice coach, Vincent lived as "Ned" for 18 months. Throughout her experiment, Vincent successfully passed in various male milieus, from a bowling league to a strip club to a high-powered sales firm straight out of Glengarry Glen Ross, earning the confidence of her many male interlocutors along the way. To her surprise, what she found made her more sympathetic to the plight of men, whom, she wrote, suffered as much or more from society’s gendered expectations than did women.
Vincent’s main takeaway from her time living as Ned was a deeper appreciation for “the toxicity of gender roles” that “had proved to be ungainly, suffocating, torpor-inducing or even nearly fatal to a lot more people than I’d thought, and for the simple reason that, man or woman, they didn’t let you be yourself.” For the male members of our species, this toxicity stems from anxiety over being perceived as feminine, “the result of men actively working to squelch any creeping womanly tendencies in themselves and their brothers.” Ultimately, it “wasn’t being found out as a woman that I was really worried about. It was being found out as less than a real man”—that is, a man who does not conform to stereotypically masculine gender norms. The English language has plenty of words for this type of man—pansy, sissy, fag, queer—all of which denote that class of human being who was, until very recently, among the most despised of minorities: the homosexual.
“The greatest fear of the American male is that he will be homosexual,” I write in my recent book, Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington, and Vincent’s reporting confirmed this. The damaged men with whom she bowled, drank, and ogled women, “took refuge in machismo because they feared inappropriate intimacies between men. A feminized man is a gay man, or so the stereotype goes.” Living in a society that pressures them to exhibit traditionally masculine virtues (“hierarchy, strength, competition”) and smother feminine ones (“supplication, apology and need”), men go through life as if they are under constant surveillance, with dire penalties exacted for falling short. “The worst of this scrutiny,” Vincent wrote, “came from being perceived as an effeminate guy … most men were genuinely afraid, almost desperately afraid sometimes of the spectral fag in their midst.”
Vincent’s response to this social trauma was to advocate an escape from the “straitjacket” of gender, to expand the possibilities of what it means to be a man or a woman. As a proudly butch lesbian, she spoke from personal experience. “I have always lived as my truest self somewhere on the boundary between masculine and feminine,” Vincent wrote. Despite her refusal to fit into a binary box, Vincent was fiercely protective of her femininity, her lesbianism, and her womanhood. She saw no contradiction in her masculine gender presentation and her female sex. Standing nearly 6 feet tall and wearing 11.5 men’s size shoes, Vincent never felt herself “to be a man trapped in the wrong body. On the contrary,” she identified “deeply with both my femaleness and my femininity.”
In the years since Self-Made Man was published, so dramatically has our conversation about gender shifted, and so fearsome are the consequences for questioning the novel dogmas surrounding it, that the book reads like samizdat. While Vincent’s conclusion—that the oppressive conflation of sex and gender should be ruptured—was undoubtedly forward-thinking, today it would strike many progressives as retrograde. For those who fashion themselves insurgents on the newfangled cultural vanguard of the radical transgender movement, gender nonconformity no longer widens the broad spectrum of gender but narrows it by fusing gender expression with biological sex—defining effeminate men as women and masculine women as men.
In her book, Vincent barely addressed the transgender question, doing so only to deny that she identified as the opposite sex. “Am I a transsexual or a transvestite, and did I write this book as a means of coming out as such?” she asked, using words to describe those with a cross-sex identity (and, in the case of “transsexual,” those who had undergone a physical sex change) which have since been replaced with the much more expansive term “transgender.” While Vincent’s answer at the time was no—she “rarely enjoyed and never felt in any way fulfilled personally by being perceived and treated as a man”—today she would be deemed by many to be transgender or nonbinary, whether she liked it or not.
This new understanding of transgender as an internal, subjective feeling that may or may not correspond with one’s objective sex—a philosophy which emerged very recently yet has now been adopted by many American institutions—presents a challenge to homosexuality, a biological reality and facet of the human species that has existed since time immemorial. By their very nature as same sex-attracted persons, gays and lesbians have always been nonconforming in their gender expression and roles.
And as long as the vast majority of humanity is heterosexual, we always will. Because our same-sex attraction defies that which is "normal," many gay people have been told, particularly at a young age, that we are actually members of the opposite sex trapped in the "wrong body." This form of homophobia is particularly gruesome in Iran, where gay men are often forced to undergo sex changes in order to rectify their same-sex desires, as well as in certain parts of Africa, where lesbians confront the threat of "corrective rape" to "make" them heterosexual.
In the supposedly more enlightened West, a nonviolent but conceptually similar campaign of erasing homosexuality is afoot. If the oppressive gender norms Vincent critiqued were the product of conservative social conventions, today, in a strange development, those same conventions are being unwittingly reified by progressives under the influence of radical transgender ideology. Under this faddish new dispensation, gender nonconformity, a trait inherent to being homosexual, is being conflated with gender dysphoria, a medical condition. It is having a particularly deleterious effect on gender nonconforming young people—many of whom would otherwise grow up to be gay but who are increasingly being told that their defiance of gender norms is a likely indication that they are the opposite sex. As a result, homosexuality is being transmuted into transgender.
Much of this erasure is due to the linguistic hegemony of the word "transgender." Until the 1990s, people with a cross-sex identity typically referred to themselves as “transsexuals,” a term that inferred one had undergone a physical sex change. "Transgender," by contrast, defines a much broader spectrum of identity, encompassing not only those who identify as a member of the opposite sex but increasingly anyone who doesn’t conform to traditional gender roles. This has led to an explosion of young people identifying as transgender.
At increasingly younger ages and in ever larger numbers, masculine girls and effeminate boys are being encouraged not only to explore their gender variance—a perfectly healthy and welcome development—but to embrace a transgender or nonbinary existence. From there, it can be a straight path to irreversible medical interventions—puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgery—to "correct" their "sex assigned at birth." Almost 50 years after the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, we have unintentionally achieved a new means of pathologizing it.
Of course, none of this is to say that transgender identity isn’t real or legitimate. But the rapidity with which so many young people are declaring themselves transgender and nonbinary is worthy of skepticism. In 2020, almost 700,000 people in the United States under the age of 25 identified as transgender, nearly double the amount from just three years prior. According to Dutch doctors who have been researching adolescent gender dysphoria for decades, 80% to 95% of pre-pubertal adolescents will desist from their feelings of gender dysphoria by later adolescence, and the vast majority of them will grow up to be gay.
Vincent herself was just such a child. “Practically from birth,” she wrote, “I was the kind of hard-core tomboy that makes you think there must be a gay gene.” Had Vincent been born later, it’s entirely possible that well-intentioned educators, doctors, and other authority figures would have interpreted her gender nonconformity as a sign that she was transgender and encouraged her to transition. Testimonies from an increasing number of “detransitioners”—many of whom attribute their youthful decisions to transition as resulting from internalized homophobia—attest to this phenomenon.
The slow erasure of homosexuality and the concomitant ascendance of transgender in its place extends beyond individuals to the culture at large. The routinization of gender pronouns in email signatures, verbal greetings, and so many other areas of daily life has codified in humorless bureaucratese what had been, for gay men going back generations, a teasing form of endearment (referring to one’s friends as "she" or "her"). Over the past decade, activists, journalists, celebrities, and the New York City government have engaged in a revisionist campaign to rewrite one of the seminal moments in the history of gay liberation, the Stonewall Uprising, by concocting a false narrative that it was led not by gay men and lesbians but "trans women."
Or consider last year’s remake of West Side Story. Discussing the film, then still in development, in a 2018 interview, Rita Moreno, a star of both the original and the updated version, addressed the evolution of the character Anybodys, a female tomboy whose desperate attempts to join the Jets are stymied due to her being a girl. In 1961, when the original film premiered, the motion picture industry’s infamous “Production Code” prohibited overt depictions of homosexuality. Half a century later, Moreno enthused, Anybodys’ authentic nature could finally be realized on screen. “Anybodys can be what she was always meant to be: a lesbian,” she said. “That's really what she was and what she was meant to be, but at the time that was as far as they could go.” Upon the film’s release three years later, however, Anybodys had been converted into a transgender man.
One of the great, largely unheralded, accomplishments of the gay rights movement—and of gay people as individuals—was blurring an all-too-rigid gender binary. By expanding our notions of what it means to be a man or a woman, gay people didn’t just liberate themselves from constricting gender stereotypes. They liberated society. Thanks in large part to the courage of an earlier generation of gays and lesbians like Norah Vincent, heterosexual men can express affection for one another with less fear of having their manhood called into question, while heterosexual women face less pressure to conform to traditional (and ruthless) feminine beauty standards. The fear of being called "gay"—a word that, not so long ago, rolled off the tongues of American teenagers as easily as "retard" did decades before—no longer haunts us as it once did. And yet, just as we reached the point where we could celebrate this long overdue disruption of gender norms, a new movement, marching under the banner of "progress," seeks to reimpose them.