What Happened Today: November 14, 2022
Taiwan tensions at Biden’s first meeting with Xi Jinping; UVA shooter in custody; chronicles of FTX
The Big Story
For the first time since taking office, President Joe Biden met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, for a three-hour conversation ahead of a Group of 20 (G20) summit sure to be dominated by ongoing geopolitical strain stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Warmly greeting each other at a hotel in Bali, Indonesia, both leaders cautiously pledged to repair the diplomatic relationship between their nations that has been at its most fraught in decades, though tensions still linger over Taiwan’s independence in light of Beijing’s standing threat to take control of the island.
“I do not think there’s an imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan,” President Biden said afterward. “I think we understand each other.” In a Chinese statement on the summit, Xi had described Taiwan as the “first red line” that cannot be breached by the United States, adding that “anyone that seeks to split Taiwan from China will be violating the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation.”
Despite Beijing’s recent aggressive military drills and increasingly bellicose rhetoric around Taiwan, at the bilateral summit there were more pressing issues of mutual interest—namely China’s economy, which has been significantly strained by global inflation, a domestic real estate bubble, and industrial output kneecapped by Xi’s zero-Covid policies. Biden’s entourage included his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, who had recently led the White House effort to vastly curtail China’s technology trading with the West because of its preeminent threat to long-term U.S. national security.
Though Mr. Xi reaffirmed his ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Xi has avoided sending any kind of overt, material support to Russia that would violate the Western sanctions led by the United States. Further aligning with the West ahead of the summit, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang described the “irresponsibility” of Moscow’s recent nuclear provocations. Following the talk on Monday, Chinese media reported that Xi informed Biden that “China is highly concerned with the current situation in Ukraine,” with both leaders, according to the White House summary, “[reiterating] their agreement that a nuclear war should never be fought.”
In the Back Pages: The Crushing Loneliness of the Girl Boss
→ A 12-hour manhunt following a Sunday-night shooting that left three dead and two injured on the University of Virginia campus has ended after police took a suspect into custody on Monday. The suspected shooter was at one time a UVA football player; the three victims, all of whom had been current players on the team, were killed after they returned to campus from a class trip to Washington, D.C. According to UVA Police Chief Tim Longo, the suspect had been charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a misdemeanor, in 2021, but the suspect had failed to report the criminal charge to the university. The suspect had also been under university investigation stemming from a hazing incident, Longo said, but school administrators closed the case because witnesses had not been forthcoming with testimony.
→ Dozens of children—including one as young as 13 years old—have allegedly been employed by a major U.S. sanitation company for dangerous overnight shifts spent sanitizing slaughterhouse killing floors, the Department of Labor said on Friday.
Packer Sanitation Services has denied any wrongdoing after the Labor Department filed court documents in a Nebraska Federal District Court that said a months-long investigation following a tip by local law enforcement revealed the sanitation company to be in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which makes “oppressive child labor” illegal.
Court documents allege several slaughterhouses employed more than dozens of teenagers, including one 14-year-old and one 13-year-old, who worked six or seven nights a week for six- to eight-hour shifts that began at 11 p.m. and involved the use of hazardous chemicals to clean bone-cutting saws and meat-grinding machines.
Evidence released by the Department of Labor also points to the possibility of similar conditions with underage workers at 400 more slaughter facilities nationwide.
A Nov. 23 hearing will either extend or pause the court’s initial decision ordering PSS to cooperate with the investigation and “immediately cease and refrain from employing oppressive child labor.”
Since 2018, at least three employees have died on the job, including one slaughterhouse worker who was decapitated while cleaning a chicken processing machine.
→ Almost a week after the close of midterm polls, Americans are still awaiting the final vote counts that will determine the control of the U.S. House. With 212 seats secured, the GOP has closed the gap on the 218 it would need for the majority, though at least a dozen tight races, including 10 in predominantly Democratic California, are reason enough to inject uncertainty into the outcome. Over the weekend, the Democrats secured the Senate after Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto defended her seat. The collapse of the much-anticipated midterm red wave will drive the finger pointing as Republicans begin a weeklong conference on Monday to decide leadership roles for the next congressional session.
→ Quote of the Day:
I’m very skeptical of books. I don’t want to say no book is ever worth reading, but I actually do believe something pretty close to that … I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.
That’s from Sam Bankman-Fried’s interview published in September, but recently taken offline, by venture capitalist firm Sequoia Capital, which was one of the many high-profile investment firms to lose their lunch by backing FTX, Bankman-Fried’s now-collapsed crypto empire. Bankman-Fried might take a new interest in reading hardcover tomes after it was reported this weekend that chronicler of Wall Street’s biggest losers, Michael Lewis, was shopping around the movie rights to his forthcoming book based on the six months of time he’d spent with Bankman-Fried—a reporting relationship that presumably ended after the crypto prince was revealed to be engaged in widespread and likely illegal speculation with FTX customer money, among other accounting improprieties, which led to Bankman-Fried pushing FTX into bankruptcy while he tried to hawk his $40 million Bahama estate and $472 million of Robinhood stock at a 20% discount. Questions remain over what legal jurisdiction would apply to the FTX operation since it was based in the Bahamas, though already the Bahamas Securities Commission, as well as the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, have opened up probes into the collapse of the marketplace.
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→ Just as the United States and China wrapped up a major bilateral summit ahead of Monday’s G20 gathering in Indonesia, CIA Director Bill Burns was sitting down to discuss the dangers of nuclear weapons with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Naryshkin. The meeting in Ankara, Turkey, was set, the White House said, so Burns could reiterate the “consequences of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia” after Moscow recently stoked fears of a possible “false flag attack” when it accused Ukraine, without evidence, of preparing a crude, radioactive weapon known as a dirty bomb. With recent setbacks for Russian troops in southern Ukraine and the looming slowdown of fighting because of a brutally cold winter season, the White House will use the G20 summit with allies to apply more pressure to resume peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.
→ Number of the Day: 115
That’s roughly how many vehicles are being stolen in Colorado every day as car thefts in the Rocky Mountain State have more than tripled over the past decade. “It’s overwhelming, almost every single day, trying to put the energy into finding and investigating each one of these auto thefts,” said Denver Police Chief Aaron Sanchez, who said there was no clear single factor driving what has become a car-theft epidemic. Much of the spike in vehicular thefts have occurred since 2017, with an 89% rise resulting in 42,061 cars stolen last year. On average, arrests were made in just 10% of reported incidents, though while police struggle to catch the thieves, they’ve had better luck finding the cars, utilizing tracking technology and community reports to eventually locate nearly 71% of the stolen cars, some of which are even found undamaged.
→ Hardly making a dent in Google’s $110 billion in advertising revenue earned in just the first half of this year alone, Google agreed to fork over $391.5 million in fines, a slap on the wrist, to settle a lawsuit with 40 states, led by Oregon and Nebraska prosecutors, over illegal tracking of Google user locations. The penalties for improperly monitoring customers on their platforms continue to mount for Google, which settled a suit for $85 million with Arizona in October of this year. But Google says it’s getting better about privacy—and, of course, there’s no reason not to trust it. “Consistent with improvements we've made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” spokesperson Jose Castaneda said after the most recent settlement.
→ Graph of the Day:
What you call your mug of water steeped in leaves depends largely on how the leaves first arrived to your particular slice of the world. As this graph points out, nations that first acquired tea by way of their sea ports called it tea, a derivative of the typical coastal pronunciation of te. But if tea arrived over land, it was called chai, reflecting the Mandarin pronunciation of chá.
TODAY IN TABLET:
A Good Painter…For a Woman by Pat Lipsky
Lessons from a half-century in the art world
The Jewish Flavor of the Pacific Northwest by Sonya Sanford
Years of cultural mixing and a focus on what’s locally available have made the region’s Jewish cuisine unique
SCROLL TIP LINE: Have a lead on a story or something going on in your workplace, school, congregation, or social scene that you want to tell us about? Send your tips, comments, questions, and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Crushing Loneliness of the Girl Boss
COVID lockdowns have sparked a backlash against the fashionable brand of feminism that promotes placing career and individual satisfaction above family life
By Katherine Dee
When the COVID lockdowns began in March 2020—that great sterilization of our personal lives, that mass removal of distraction—I observed something strange. My peers, ordinarily proud of their independence, realized that they didn’t just love their families but kinda liked them. Other friends—friends who’d been stuck quarantining with roommates or worse yet alone—yearned for families; they began joking about how nice it’d be to have a husband and kids for company in eating or drinking themselves to death—or, less gloomily, to share their freshly baked sourdoughs. With the mounting pressure of COVID restrictions, many people learned that their “chosen families” of friends and colleagues were less durable than they’d thought.
I wasn’t a detached onlooker. I, too, worked a tech job 3,000 miles away from my family, the kind located on a plush campus with floor-to-ceiling windows and on-demand gelato. Then suddenly the artifice was stripped away and my time was no longer broken up by campus bike rides or leisurely strolls to the office sushi chef. I was alone facing the silence of the day and I found myself confronted by questions I hadn’t asked since my early 20s: What am I for? Why am I doing any of this?
My days amounted to sitting on my couch in a 400-square-foot apartment, my neighborhood a sea of strip malls rapidly being abandoned, as I did technical writing for a megacorporation. For months, the only socialization I had was calling my parents and Zoom meetings where I’d litigate a comma placement for 45 minutes. This is what my life looked like when all perks were stripped away. It wasn’t the reason I’d put off having a family, but it was what occupied that void. The misery I saw my friends experiencing was my misery, too.
It was around this time that I noticed an uptick in feminism-skeptical social media content. There’s always been a market for anti-feminism online for the same reasons that being a “gamer girl” sells: It leverages a niche position that’s in high demand but undersupplied. And yet this felt different. The feminism-critical content I was seeing came from all points on the political spectrum, across every race and economic demographic, and, importantly, from people who didn’t appear to be selling anything. Of course, there were some people angling to become capital-p Personalities, but mostly I saw ordinary women venting their frustrations, many of them spurred by the conditions brought on by the pandemic. Some of these women were part of larger digital subcultures, like the modest fashion movement, or the now infamous subreddit, Female Dating Strategy. Others were part of nascent philosophical and intellectual scenes, a reactionary feminism spearheaded by writers like Mary Harrington, Louise Perry, Nina Power, Helen Roy, and Alex Kaschuta.
But this didn’t seem like a case of subcultural capture, or a trendy ideology being amplified by a small group of vocal spokespeople. It was a much broader feeling that something had gone terribly wrong, leaving so many women so deeply unhappy in lives that seemed, on the surface, to be tolerable, or even good.
“The ‘I’m an independent strong Black woman’ narrative is a scam,” said one TikTok video personality in August, cautioning Black women, in particular, against buying into the familiar “girl boss” narrative, and encouraging them to seek stability in their communities. Alt-girls with septum piercings and tattoo sleeves shared how the microblogging site Tumblr’s glamorization of sex work and BDSM put them in harm's way. Another video, since taken down, featured Muslim women discussing the pitfalls of Western feminism.
These critiques crept into explicitly left and left-liberal spaces, too, not just those prone to agree with socially conservative thought. In the wake of the West Elm Caleb episode—a peak COVID-era social media spectacle where several women realized they’d been ghosted by the same man—even the notoriously and often punitively “woke” Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz levied criticism against the excesses of #MeToo. Porn came under the microscope; dating app burnout escaped its manosphere containment zone; the perception of OnlyFans evolved from a “great way to make this month’s rent” to a predatory multilevel marketing scheme.
For over a decade, liberal or choice feminism has been fashionable. Despite the supposed mainstreaming of socialist thought, intrinsically capitalist archetypes like the “girl boss” were still idealized. In the realm of dating, the notion that enthusiastic consent is the cornerstone of good sex was ubiquitous; women’s publications placed a disproportionate focus on a brand of feminism that eschewed emotional attachment, embraced being a “hot mess,” and bandied about the slogan “all men are trash.” Like “epic bacon” before it, it was only a matter of time before the pendulum swung and we got a software update that said, “this isn’t cool anymore.” But these changes are also rooted in something deeper. Our world just can’t sustain the lives these values have wrought.
There’s this fashionable notion that women without children or husbands are happier. Let’s assume that’s true, not just a decontextualization of some rogue statistic with perfect headline potential. That would only be true in a society that can support it: a stable society built by people who make sacrifices and raise kids so that the childless rest can enjoy their lives. And importantly, it would only be true of some people, people who are aberrations to the norm. If everyone’s single and childless, then society stops being able to function. It’s like being a celebrity. If everyone is a celebrity, then nobody is a celebrity. Being unshackled from adult responsibilities is only attractive in a world that demands them in the first place.
The same realizations spurred by the shock of mandatory quarantines—that the burden of a family isn’t necessarily a bad one; that a life alone is only as fun as the distractions available—will come into even sharper relief as millennials enter middle age. Marriage and fertility rates continue to decline; meanwhile, the rates of deaths of despair, friendlessness, and loneliness balloon. Recognizing systemic problems is nothing new to us millennials, but what does seem to be new is the need to expand our purview beyond the realm of economics. If capitalism failed our generation, then it failed more than just our bank accounts. It disrupted everything: from our identities to our family life to the way we make friends and find love. Suffering through this latest crisis isn’t just being burdened by student loans—it’s putting off kids, too. And the culture of capitalism is about marketing those failures as cool lifestyle choices. Podcasts like “Sofia with an F,” and “Why Won’t You Date Me,” are filled with reassurances that women can settle down whenever they want to. The horizon on choice doesn’t have to end if you have the right mindset, and a willingness to freeze your eggs or make good use of IVF.
It’s not so much that millennials were just fed a bunch of lies and need to fix their behavior, it’s that their environment didn’t allow them to behave any differently, and they attacked anything but the root cause. The “girl boss” makes sense in an environment where you’re going to have to work a soul-sucking job no matter what; why not add a veneer of glamour to it? In a world where day care is an expensive necessity, there is a womblike comfort in telling yourself stories about how staying childless is an “act of heroism” or even a ticket to happiness.
For working-class millennials, the crisis materialized differently. They were forced back into what is essentially multigenerational housing in a world where this kind of reliance on family is stigmatized. Not only was moving back home seen as a personal failure—and for the parents providing for you, a burden—it limited the possibilities for romance. And so, they, too, had to create new narratives around courtship and dating. If the model of marriage as a union based on choice and love as opposed to social and economic pragmatism proved disastrous when scaled, then it makes sense to eschew marriage altogether.
Perhaps all of these trends are the lies we tell ourselves about our jobs, our relationships, and our feelings of futility to make life more tenable—a form of denial that retrieves a modicum of control. It sounds harsh, but as millennial women begin aging, and are increasingly doing so alone, the clarion call naturally becomes, “Your life doesn’t end at 30, 35, 40.” I happen to agree that life doesn’t end at 30—I would hope it doesn’t! It doesn’t end in middle age, either. However, “life doesn’t end at 30” shouldn’t be a euphemism for loitering in some kind of extended adolescence, an alternate way of saying, “You are still capable of looking and behaving like a 22-year-old.”
These lies set women up for even more heartbreak as they learn that saying they can act like they’re 22 at 30 doesn’t mean that they’ll be treated like they’re 22 at 30. This isn’t a shallow commentary on women aging out of the dating pool, either, though it’s true that dating becomes harder as you get older. As you age, your desires change. Your disposition changes. Your brain changes. Your hormone makeup changes. Nobody is free from biological reality. There is something tragic that it becomes more difficult to have children after the age of 35 in a world where people are encouraged to see adulthood as a burden they can postpone indefinitely.
And while, yes, it’s possible for many women to conceive even into their 40s, the reality is that there is a fertility cliff. IVF isn’t a fix-all; freezing your eggs doesn’t necessarily mean that those eggs will be viable. Some would have you believe that even a phrase like “biological reality” is a far-right dog whistle—that it’s a symptom of a problem some portions of our society are unwilling or unable to face.
Women are waking up to the truth through new expressions of feminism, growing digital subcultures, and reanimated political movements. But more broadly, they’re waking up to the truth in ordinary ways. They’re looking around at their lives and realizing that time is finite and they’re long overdue for a change.