Friday Edition


1. Getting Big Mad at Jokes

The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning satire website, is facing backlash from fellow conservatives over jokes about Donald Trump and other “MAGA” figures. (The Blaze)

Last week, Kari Lake’s GOP Senate campaign account on X/Twitter flipped out over a mocking headline aimed at Lake’s ever-evolving stance on abortion.

A few days later, former GOP congressional candidate David Giglio, and other popular MAGA influencers, rushed to Trump’s defense.

The Babylon Bee is no stranger to controversy, but usually it’s coming from liberals and the mainstream.

  • In 2019, Snopes was criticized for “fact-checking” satirical articles from the Bee. (Snopes would later drop claims accusing the Bee of engaging in “misinformation”).

  • In 2021, The New York Times issued a correction after it referred to the Bee as a “far-right misinformation site.”

  • Twitter suspended the Bee in March 2022 for “misgendering” U.S. Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine in a tweet. (The Bee’s account was reinstated later that year after Elon Musk bought Twitter).

Bubba’s Two Cents: So let’s recap what’s happening here — GOP campaign staff are publicly feuding with the Babylon Bee, the country’s “newspaper of record” has written multiple articles about the site and a major Big Tech platform went out of its way to censor it. At the end of the day, the Bee is really just dad jokes for conservative Christians. What does it say about our culture that we’re spending time and energy getting mad about this stuff?

2. Knowing Where the Line Is

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik seemed to have learned a lesson from the recent months public backlash to university leaders' blasé attitudes toward campus antisemitism from pro-Palestine protesters. (Mo News)

How Shafik and other Columbia officials’ testimony before Congress went down this week:

Question: “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Columbia's code of conduct?”

  • Columbia board of trustees co-chair David Greenwald: “Yes, it does.”

  • Columbia board of trustees co-chair Claire Shipman: “Yes, it does.”

  • Shafik: “Yes, it does.”

  • Former Columbia law school dean David Schizer: “Yes, it does.”

How elite college presidents’ testimony before Congress went in December:

Question: At Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard's rules of bullying and harassment?”

  • Former Harvard President Claudine Gay: “It can be, depending on the context.

Question: “At Penn, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn's rules or code of conduct?”

  • Former University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill: “If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment. … If it is directed and severe or pervasive, it is harassment. It is a context-dependent decision.”

Question: “At MIT, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate MIT’s code of conduct or rules regarding bullying and harassment, yes or no?”

  • MIT President Sally Kornbluth: “If targeted at individuals, not making public statements. … I have not heard calling for the genocide for Jews on our campus.”

Bubba’s Two Cents: We’re reaching an inflection point in radicalism with college leaders’ tolerance of animosity against Jewish students. The American public seems to have a relatively high threshold before it gets concerned about extremism. College presidents have seen where the line is, and it looks like they’re recalibrating …at least for now.

3. Some Good News About Climate, For a Change

Much of the coverage around climate change is alarmist, but encouraging new data should soothe some of the doom and gloom. (Cipher News)

Chart: Cipher News

Before the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world was projected to warm between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, with a median increase of 3.7 degrees Celsius. Today, the projection has been lowered to 2.7 degrees Celsius.

More good news for climate advocates: Per capita greenhouse gas emissions peaked a decade ago and are now decreasing, suggesting a global peak in total emissions might be close.

  • The International Energy Agency predicts demand for all fossil fuels will peak this decade.

  • In 2020, one out of every 25 cars sold globally was electric; by 2023, this ratio increased to one in five.

  • Electric vehicles and other renewable energy technologies are becoming increasingly cost-effective.

Bubba’s Two Cents: Cipher News executive editor (and former Axios colleague of mine) Amy Harder contextualizes the significance of the data nicely, “As climate data scientist Hannah Ritchie says in her new book, scientists — and yes, the media too! — have emphasized scary charts to give us the impression we’re all doomed by the impacts of a warming world.” Highlighting only the negative aspects of climate change to encourage urgent action may backfire, as it can leave people feeling hopeless and asking, "Why bother doing anything, if we’re screwed no matter what?”

4. What’s In a Song Lyric?

A new study of over 12,000 English-language songs across genres like rap, country and pop found lyrics have become simpler and more repetitive over the 40-year period. (The Guardian)

  • The emotional content of lyrics has shifted from joyful to more anger, disgust and sadness.

  • There’s also been an increase in self-centered language with more frequent use of words like "me" and "mine.”

  • Overall, songs now are designed to be catchier and easier to memorize, aligning with trends in music consumption where listeners often play music in the background.

Some evidence suggests these lyrical trends could mirror darker shifts in society.

  • We’ve arguably gotten angrier: A Harvard Business Review study revealed that rudeness towards frontline workers increased from nearly 50% in 2005 to 76% in 2022.

  • Narcissism is up: Multiple studies have found narcissistic behavior has been on the rise for years. According to one such study, in the early 1950s only 12% of teenagers aged 14-16 agreed with the statement “I am an important person,” but by 1989, this number soared to 77% of boys and over 80% of girls.

  • We’re also getting dumber: An analysis of 394,378 intelligence test scores from 2006 to 2018 reveals a decline in American IQs across all categories except spatial reasoning.

Bubba’s Two Cents: Does this pattern of lyrics tell us something deeper about our culture? Or is this a reflection of how artists have learned to adapt to modern distribution, like Spotify, YouTube or TikTok, where catchy songs with easy-to-remember lyrics perform better than albums far longer than modern attention spans? Yes and yes, probably.

5. Rummy Is All of Us During Tax Season

As Tax Week falls into the rearview, now seems like a good time to reflect on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s classic rant on the complexity of our tax system.

Rumsfeld’s 2014 letter to the IRS: "I have sent in our federal income tax and our gift tax returns for 2013. As in prior years, it is important for you to know that I have absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and our tax payments are accurate. I say that despite the fact that I am a college graduate and I try hard to make sure our tax returns are accurate. …

… The tax code is so complex and the forms are so complicated, that I know I cannot have any confidence that I know what is being requested and therefore I cannot and do not know, and I suspect a great many Americans cannot know, whether or not their tax returns are accurate.”

Why is the tax system so dang complex? Why can’t we be more like the Netherlands and Japan, where the government just tells you how much you owe and filing can take a few minutes?

Part of it’s lobbying: The tax preparation industry is valued at over $10 billion annually and has spent at least $39 million in lobbying efforts since 2006.

Despite the introduction of the "Free File" system by the IRS, aimed to assist low-income taxpayers, only about 3% of eligible Americans actually use the free tax preparation services offered.

  • This is a significant drop from the intended 70%.

  • Americans collectively spend about 7.9 billion hours annually on tax preparation.

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