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Thursday, March 28, 2024

Opinion | Conversations and insights about the moment. - The New York Times

What New York City Did to Flaco the Owl

"The death of Flaco, the Eurasian eagle-owl who flew into a building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan last month, shook our usually unflappable city. This week, Bronx Zoo pathologists published a coroner’s report that helps explain why he died. It revealed that even Flaco, who had fled the confines of the Central Park Zoo, could not escape the strictures of his environment, especially because that environment was New York City.

While the acute trauma from that crash was the most immediate cause of death, the necropsy also found that Flaco had pigeon herpesvirus and exposure to four different anticoagulant rodenticides. In other words, he had eaten too many infected pigeons and poisoned rats.

“These factors would have been debilitating and ultimately fatal, even without a traumatic injury,” the report states, “and may have predisposed him to flying into or falling from the building.” Flaco, it seems, was a dead bird flying.

Anyone who believed that the forced exodus of Claudine Gay as Harvard’s first Black female president was dousing the fire rather than fanning it doesn’t understand how racial propaganda wars feed on momentum.

As The Harvard Crimson reported last week, three other Black women at the university have had anonymous complaints of plagiarism lodged against them since Gay’s departure. Christopher Rufo, a right-wing provocateur and instigator, immediately cheered the complaints on social media, claiming they were part of a clear pattern for academics involved in the diversity, equity and inclusion field.

This is, after all, part of Rufo’s plan, having announced, “Game on,” after helping to push out Gay. The veracity of the complaints doesn’t matter; the reputational harm — to the accused and to the idea of inclusion — is the goal.

When my column about the Democratic strategist James Carville was published last weekend, a lot of readers were transported back to the Clinton era. Carville was a key strategist for Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign in 1992 and an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful one in 2008.

Naturally, the prolix politico had more to say than I had room for. Here are some of his comments that didn’t make it into the column:

When you look back at why Hillary lost,” I asked Carville at one point, “do you think it was mostly sexism, or we underestimated Trump, or they didn’t listen to Bill, or what?”

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Shakira’s “Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran — her first album in seven years, released on Friday — has all the ingredients to be a downright explosive comeback. After splitting from the retired soccer star Gerard Piqué in 2022, she released a diss track directed at him and his new girlfriend. Fans reeled, and Shakira enjoyed her biggest commercial success in years.

But all those elements — an icon reveling in her legacy, a media-commanding breakup narrative and commercial clout — can’t compensate for uninspired music. This album lacks what has long made Shakira a daring artist: her devotion to sonic eclecticism that cuts against the pop landscape’s typical riskless pablum.

Shakira knows how to concoct genre-bending bangers. Her first English record borrowed from Nirvana’s guitar riffs. The Wyclef Jean collaboration “Hips Don’t Lie” has a reggaeton beat and a sampled salsa intro. And there may never be a World Cup song that tops the Soca-infused “Waka Waka.” Her transnational sound can sometimes feel more like mélange than cohesion, but more often, Shakira’s go-for-broke attitude captivates.

Parents know what’s best for their kids, except when the State of Florida does.

When Florida passed a law prohibiting children younger than 14 from having social media accounts, lawmakers crowed about the move, claiming they had to act because children don’t have the brain development to see the harm in addictive platforms.

In other words, under the new law, even if parents want their tweens to have a social media account, they’re out of luck. Florida knows better. (The state doesn’t allow parents to decide about the merits of gender-affirming care for their kids either.)

Even the hard-right Supreme Court has its outer limits, it seems.

On Tuesday morning, a majority of justices appeared very likely to vote to throw out the first big challenge to abortion rights to reach the court since it overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. (Wait, didn’t they promise us that the ruling would end abortion litigation at the court, sending the issue instead back to the states, where it rightfully belongs? But I digress.)

The current case was brought by a group of doctors who are morally opposed to abortion and are seeking to severely limit the distribution of the nation’s most used abortion drug — mifepristone, which women obtain to end about 650,000 pregnancies a year, or nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the country. They challenged the F.D.A.’s approval of the drug as well as recent regulatory changes that have made it easier for women to obtain and use.

It’s standard practice in engineering — as well as common sense — to design a system so that it stands up even if something goes wrong. An engine failure on a cargo ship is a foreseeable problem. It should not have been enough to bring down an entire bridge span, as happened on Tuesday, when a ship leaving the Port of Baltimore lost power and plowed into a pier of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing it to collapse. Six workers who had been patching potholes on the bridge were missing.

Diagnosing precisely what went wrong in Baltimore will take months or years. I expect investigators will zero in on a few obvious questions. One is why the vulnerable piers of the bridge, which opened to traffic in 1977, were so exposed. The buffers around the piersfailed. If the piers had been buffered by wider concrete bases or giant piles of rocks or both, the errant ship might not have done the damage it did. If the lack of a thick buffer was intended to save money, it was a costly mistake, though the bridge was designed before the modern era of gigantic ships.

It also appears that the ship wasn’t escorted by tugboats, which could have kept it on course after it lost power. That would also appear to be a cost-saving decision. I can’t judge whether it was a mistake or not, but it clearly needs to be looked into.

On Wednesday, New York may finally become the first city in the nation to adopt congestion pricing, a plan to get cars and trucks off city streets and raise funds for public transit by charging drivers a premium for entering Manhattan’s busiest areas.

The ambitious plan was stymied for nearly two decades, mostly because politicians were wary of challenging the city’s car culture, but if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approves the final proposal on Wednesday, as expected, the program could start in June. It will be a resounding victory for New York’s economy and for roughly 5.5 million people who ride the region’s subways, buses and commuter rails every day.

The money raised from truck and car tolls in Lower and Midtown Manhattan is expected to add about $1 billion each year for the region’s public transit system, which needs significant investment, especially after taking a hit in ridership during the height of the pandemic.

Patrick Healy, Deputy Opinion Editor

Nick, you’ve reported deeply for years about exploitation, abuse and trafficking of women and girls. Your latest column on deepfake nude videos showed us new ways that technology has become a vile weapon against them. What did you learn in reporting the piece that surprised you?

Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist

What startled me the most was simply the failure of regulators, lawmakers and tech companies to show much concern for the humiliation of victims, even as sleazy companies post nonconsensual fake sex videos and make money on them. Women and girls are targeted, yet the response from the tech community has mostly been a collective shrug. Why should Google, whose original motto was “don’t be evil,” be a pillar of this ecosystem and direct traffic to websites whose business is nonconsensual porn? 

Has Boeing finally gotten the message that its very future rests on restoring faith in the safety of its products? I hope so.

Trust in the aircraft manufacturer was shaken nearly five years ago, after the crashes of two 737 Max 8 planes killed nearly 350 people. Then in January, just when it seemed that the company had put its safety problems behind it, a panel blew off a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane midair during an Alaska Airlines flight. Fortunately, there were no major injuries.

If Boeing’s current management had tried to ride out this storm, it would have shown a sense of impunity and a lack of remorse. The people at the top aren’t the only problem at Boeing, to be sure, but leadership matters.

Maurizio Pollini, the great Italian pianist who died on Saturday at 82, could never escape adjectives like cool and cerebral and remote. Perhaps some critics and listeners found him that way. Certainly there was no dispute over his technique, considered to be among the most brilliant of any pianist who flourished in the second half of the last century. He was also an intellectually searching man, interested in art and literature.

Pollini’s virtuosity was evident from the beginning. Artur Rubinstein, who led the jury that awarded him first prize at the Chopin competition in 1960, reportedly said, “That boy plays better than any of us jurors.” Pollini was 18.

Pollini’s brilliance was marked by precision and clarity. He excelled in complex modernist scores by Stockhausen, Nono and Boulez — especially Boulez’s Piano Sonata No. 2. For some, his Beethoven was exceptional. He was a master of Schumann. Brahms, Schubert and Debussy were in his repertoire. Mozart too, although the accolades here were a bit quieter.

Don’t hold your breath, but as of Monday, the American people are just a few weeks away from maybe, possibly, witnessing the first ever criminal prosecution of a former American president. It might even end before Election Day.

That prospect — once a near certainty, given that Donald Trump faced 91 (now reduced to 88) felony charges in four separate trials — has been looking increasingly dodgy of late. One trial has been delayed by an inexperienced, Trump-friendly judge. Another has been delayed by an indiscreet, overstretched prosecutor. Yet another, the federal Jan. 6 trial, which was supposed to start three weeks ago, has been delayed by an absurd hail-Mary legal argument by Trump that the Supreme Court has decided to take seriously.

Through it all, the former president has reveled openly in his unmatched ability to turn the justice system’s great strengths — deliberation and due process — against it. “We want delays, obviously,” Trump told reporters in February before a hearing in the fourth case, involving hush-money payments made to Stormy Daniels, a porn star, in the hope of influencing the outcome of the 2016 election.

How the United States deals with U.N. Security Council resolutions on Israel has long been a barometer of Washington’s feelings about its close ally. America’s record of at least 55 vetoes on Israel’s behalf over half a century, often standing alone with Israel, has made those times when the United States abstains or even votes against Israel noteworthy and newsworthy.

So when the Biden administration produced a tough resolution last week calling for a cease-fire and then allowed a similar measure to pass by abstaining on Monday, the signal was unmistakable. It was a way of broadcasting what President Biden has made abundantly clear in other ways in recent weeks: He is tired of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defiance of American and global calls to ease up on an offensive that threatens famine on a Gazan population whose homes and lives have already been cruelly devastated.

Security Council resolutions are binding in international law but have no enforcement mechanism. In Israel’s case they have been used as a diplomatic cudgel that the United States has usually blocked and Israel has usually ignored. This time, the administration’s demonstration of frustration with Netanyahu was all the sharper, since Washington vetoed three earlier resolutions calling for cease-fires. Netanyahu, whose survival in office depends on the support of two extremist parties, has resisted all entreaties to order a pause in the brutal Israeli offensive.

A British government source, reportedly, told the British newspaper The Telegraph that “hostile state actors” — China, Russia and Iran — are “fueling disinformation about the Princess of Wales to destabilize the nation.” British morning shows promptly picked up the story, comparing it to election interference.

It’s certainly possible that countries with a history of online conspiracy mongering played some role in amplifying the most salacious rumors about Catherine, the Princess of Wales. But it’s also undeniable that large numbers of people — and celebrities and newspapers and everything else — were intensely interested in the princess’s whereabouts.

The claim about foreign bots and the Princess of Wales is just the latest of similar claims of foreign interference or social media manipulation made without convincing public evidence. Young people are dissatisfied with President Biden’s policies over the Israel-Hamas war? Blame TikTok. Consumer sentiment soured amid high inflation and housing prices? Must be social media!

President Biden and Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco in February.Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Every Monday morning on The Point, we kick off the week with a tipsheet on the latest in the presidential campaign. Here’s what we’re looking at this week:

  • You can learn a lot about presidential candidates by the company they keep. In the first campaign I covered as a reporter, in 2004, then-Senator John Kerry came alive on the trail when he invited Edward M. Kennedy to join him in Iowa; Teddy loosened Kerry up, and those Kennedy stemwinders gave Kerry energy. By contrast, Kerry was never excited by his slick No. 2, John Edwards. In 2008, Hillary Clinton seemed happiest and heartiest when Bill Clinton was around, making her laugh, rooting her on — but they did relatively few joint appearances, with the Big Dog casting a long shadow. In 2016, if Donald Trump had a friend, I never saw it. He was a man who liked being alone with his own press clippings, and seemed happiest talking to journalists about his poll numbers.

  • This week, consider the company the candidates keep. Today, the No. 1 reality of Trump’s life — unending legal problems — will be in sharp relief as his lawyers grapple with a Manhattan court date in the Stormy Daniels hush-money case, and as they fight the seizure of his assets in the New York civil fraud case. Yes, Republican leaders are falling in line behind Trump, but few want to be in his company in public. Trump stands before us not only friendless and family-less — the company he keeps is the company of lawyers.

  • On Tuesday, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will announce his running mate in his independent bid for the presidency. Kennedy’s choice — the company he keeps — will tell us plenty about his campaign’s strategic imperatives; does he go with someone who has governing experience, or does he choose someone with celebrity flash or with deep pockets who can help finance signature collections to qualify for the November ballots?

  • Then there’s President Biden, who is focusing on the Democratic base. He held a call on Saturday with former President Barack Obama, the former House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and supporters celebrating the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, and will join Obama and Bill Clinton at a big fund-raiser Thursday. Obama and Clinton are two of the party’s best communicators; though they have lost some popularity, I think they’ll be big assets for Biden and unfurl some good lines on his behalf. If Trump can prosper from misplaced nostalgia for his economic record, surely Biden can prosper from genuine nostalgia among a lot of Democrats and swing voters for the Clinton and Obama visions for hope and change. Plus, they’re fun company.

Medical personnel removing bodies from the scene of the terrorist attack near Moscow.Maxim Shipenkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

The horrific terrorist attack on people gathering for a concert at Moscow’s cavernous Crocus City Hall was a brutal reminder that Russia has long been a target of Islamist terrorists. From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, through Moscow’s long and savage campaign to crush Chechen separatists, and Russia’s support of the Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, Moscow has been at least as despised a foe of Islamist extremists as the United States for all of Vladimir Putin’s years in power.

In the past the Kremlin acknowledged its opponent and dealt ruthlessly with Islamist extremists. This time, however, Putin made no mention of the organization that credibly claimed responsibility, an Afghan offshoot of the Islamic State known as ISIS-K, and instead cast indirect and utterly unsubstantiated suspicion on Ukraine.

He said the criminals acted like the Nazis invaders who once slaughtered helpless civilians to intimidate the population, a charge meant to echo Putin’s regular depiction of the Ukrainian leadership as neo-Nazis. And the four attackers who were apprehended, he said, were moving in the direction of Ukraine, where he said a “window was prepared” for their escape."

Opinion | Conversations and insights about the moment. - The New York Times

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