Author: Jonathan Kay

For Journalists, The New York Times’ Social-Justice Meltdown Is a Sign of Things to Come

On Sunday, two weeks following the shocking killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the city’s leaders pledged to overhaul their entire municipal police department. The  move could mark the beginning of a law-enforcement reform movement across the whole United States. This is a welcome phenomenon. Even conservative public figures such as Mitt Romney and George W. Bush are telling America that it’s time for change. Yet it’s not just America’s police forces that have come under attack. One notable aspect of the response to Floyd’s death is that many of the institutions being assailed most scathingly are charities, media companies, museums, and arts organizations that have no direct connection to the issue of law enforcement. This includes the Poetry Foundation, a Chicago-based 501(c)(3) organization that was established two decades ago by a wealthy heiress to a pharmaceutical fortune. The Poetry Foundation and POETRY magazine stand in solidarity with the Black community, and denounce injustice and systemic racism. Read our full statement here: https://t.co/qqbiqEn9UZ — Poetry Foundation (@PoetryFound) June 3, 2020 While the …

Ronan Farrow’s Botched Journalism is Troubling. The Response to It Has Been Worse

On January 9th, during jury selection for the sex-assault trial of Harvey Weinstein, Ronan Farrow tweeted that a “source” with knowledge of the proceedings had told him that “close to 50 potential jurors have been sent home” because they’d read his book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators. In fact, the number of jurors sent home for that reason was two, as a New York Times reporter had already noted. Source involved in Weinstein trial tells me close to 50 potential jurors have been sent home because they said they’d read Catch and Kill. — Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) January 10, 2020 Twitter typically isn’t journalism, and Farrow wasn’t tweeting in his capacity as a reporter. But the fact that he believed the vastly inflated figure to be accurate, saw fit to boast to his followers about it, and even stood by the number when later challenged on it, is indicative of his robust sense of self-regard and the ease with which he is seduced by dramatic but dubious narratives. As …

As Common Sense Returns to the Gender Debate, Radicals Set Upon Their Own Allies

In 2014, Ottawa-based writer Amanda Jetté Knox reported that her child Alexis had “come out to the family as a transgender girl.” This event changed Knox’s life, as “Alexis’ journey taught [her] a great deal about courage, compassion and authenticity.” A few months after that, Knox’s spouse came out as transgender as well. Knox reported to her readers that this realization, too, was “beautiful,” and that she could not be more delighted to now be “gay married.” In blog posts, Knox described the whole family as “the happiest we’ve ever been,” and wrote that “our world is so full of love and support that it leaves absolutely no room for hatred or ignorance to reside within it.” Indeed, Knox made gender transition her professional focus, “studying research, interviewing experts, giving talks, writing articles” about trans issues. She authored a bestselling 2019 book about her experiences. In newspapers and magazines, she wrote articles under headlines like “The only way to respond to my transgender child’s desperate plea was with love,” “My daughter came out as trans, …

Enough With the Phoney ‘Lockdown’ Debate

On March 15th, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee ordered all bars, restaurants and recreational facilities closed. The next day, New York followed suit, in a move coordinated with New Jersey and Connecticut. In Florida, by contrast, Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t issue a stay-at-home order until April 1st, more than two weeks later. And in Sweden, there was never any real lockdown, even if bars and restaurants there have been operating under restrictions that govern use and occupancy. Four jurisdictions. Four different lockdown timetables. Imagine if we were able to plot an index of human activity in these four places. These graphs would show, one might predict, that things were going along fairly normally, perhaps starting to dip, until a lockdown went into effect, and then activity levels plunged abruptly. It so happens we can plot such an index, because Moovit, an Israeli-based transit-app service provider, has released its metadata in regard to ridership in dozens of cities around the world. And in the graph below, which I created based on Moovit’s numbers, you can see …

COVID-19 Superspreader Events in 28 Countries: Critical Patterns and Lessons

In 1899, a German bacteriologist named Carl Flügge proved that microbes can be transmitted ballistically through large droplets that emit at high velocity from the mouth and nose. His method for proving the existence of these “Flügge droplets” (as they came to be known) was to painstakingly count the microbe colonies growing on culture plates hit with the expelled secretions of infected lab subjects. It couldn’t have been pleasant work. But his discoveries saved countless lives. And more than 12 decades later, these large respiratory droplets have been identified as a transmission mode for COVID-19. Flügge’s graduate students continued his work into the 20th century, experimenting with different subjects expelling mucosalivary droplets in different ways. Eventually they determined, as a 1964 report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine put it, that the quantity of expelled Flügge droplets varies markedly based on the manner of respiration: “Very few, if any… droplets are produced during quiet breathing, but [instead, they] are expelled during activities such as talking, coughing, blowing and sneezing.” A single heavy …

Board-gaming in the Age of Isolation

I sometimes get asked why I didn’t include a chapter on chess in my recently published co-authored book about boardgames. The answer is that since I’m not a chess specialist, I didn’t think I was up to the job. The bar has been set high because chess is the only boardgame in the world that’s already the subject of an enormous, well-established literary sub-genre. And I’m not just talking about dry analyses with titles like Fire On Board: Shirov’s Best Games and Beating the French Defense with the Advance Variation. There are also plenty of books about the lives of chess grandmasters and the tragicomically obsessive nature of chess culture—including an excellent new specimen called All The Wrong Moves: A Memoir About Chess, Love and Ruining Everything by Canadian-American writer Sasha Chapin. The author isn’t a particularly great player. But that’s one of the things that makes the book so good: Chapin perfectly captures the daily agony of being a chess obsessive (as I once was) who secretly knows that his brain isn’t wired—and never …

Rethinking Human Ecology in the Age of COVID-19: Lessons from a Fish Market

Three years ago, a young virologist named Jemma Geoghegan purchased 48 whole fish from a market in Sydney, Australia—12 each of Eastern Sea Garfish, Australasian Snapper, Eastern Red Scorpionfish and Large-tooth Flounder. The fish ended up in a freezer. And over the next few months, Geoghegan and her colleagues sent bits of their gills and livers to the Australian Genome Research Facility for DNA sequencing. Their goal was to better understand the assortment of viruses—collectively known as the “virome”—contained within seemingly healthy fish, a topic with obvious relevance to modern aquaculture. The four species that Geoghegan sampled exhibit radically different appearances and behaviours. The Eastern Sea Garfish is thin and silvery. The Australasian Snapper is a hump-headed fish that looks like it’s wearing a helmet. The Eastern Red Scorpionfish is a spiky crevice-dwelling ambush predator with an enormous mouth, into which prey disappear whole. The Large-tooth Flounder is a wide, thin, asymmetrical fish that spends its life lying in sand or mud—always on its right side, so that it may behold the world above through …

Quillette’s Quarantine Book Club: Readers Offer Their Suggestions, Part I

Three weeks ago, our editors asked readers to share suggestions for Quillette‘s Quarantine Book Club. “Is there a book—or an author, or even a whole genre—that would be alien to you but not for the enforced solitude and inactivity imposed by disease?” we asked. Since then, we have been sifting through the feedback, excerpts of which appear below. More will follow next week. If you have your own suggestion, please email jon@quillette.com, with “Quarantine Book Club” in the subject line. Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America Your call for suggestions comes as I am recovering from recent surgery. A little more than four weeks ago, as I lay in my hospital bed the day after my operation, I began reading my selection: Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America, by Paul Schneider. I’d selected this 2006 work of historical non-fiction because of my interest in pre-contact Indigenous societies and in the history of Latin America. What made it perfect for a time of personal …

COVID-19 Science Update for March 31st: Wear a Mask, Georgia’s SSE, Kinsa’s Fever Map

This article constitutes the March 31st, 2020 entry in the daily Quillette series COVID-19 UPDATES. Please report needed corrections or suggestions to jon@quillette.com. Today’s data According to statistics compiled by Our World in Data (OWD), the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths increased yesterday. The data, as reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), indicated 3,698 new confirmed COVID-19 fatalities globally, up from Monday’s newly reported deaths, of which there were 3,125. This included 418 new cases in France, 128 in Germany, 28 in Canada, and 661 in the United States—all of which represent new highs for these countries. Italy and Spain recorded 810 and 812 new deaths respectively, roughly equivalent to their average daily values over the last week. As usual, the four countries that consistently registered the most new deaths over the last three weeks—France, Italy, Spain, and the United States—accounted for almost three-quarters of all new deaths worldwide (73 percent). One other statistical pattern worth noting: Yesterday’s drop in worldwide newly reported deaths—from 3,461 to 3,125—represented the second …

COVID-19 Science Update for March 30th: The Planet’s Deadly Viral Baseline

This article constitutes the March 30th, 2020 entry in the daily Quillette series COVID-19 UPDATES. Please report needed corrections or suggestions to jon@quillette.com. According to statistics compiled by Our World in Data (OWD), the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths decreased yesterday. The data, as reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), indicated 3,128 new confirmed COVID-19 fatalities globally, down 10 percent from Sunday’s newly reported deaths, of which there were 3,461. This is only the second time in the last two weeks that the daily death rate has decreased. The rate of new deaths fell in France, the UK, Italy, Iran, and the United States. In Spain and Germany, the rate remained virtually unchanged. These seven countries have collectively accounted for over 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths in late March. So this is good news. While previous updates in this series have focused closely on short-term developments in the fight against COVID-19, today’s entry will examine some of the important background issues that are commonly referenced in public discussion about …