Vitamins Are Still Mostly Useless, Even If Theyre Personalized

colorful pills

Photo: Thunderstock (Shutterstock)

The best explanation I’ve seen for why “personalized” products have bloomed in recent years is that we love to hear stories about ourselves. I think astrology is dumb personally, but I’ll still scroll through a bunch of Sagittarius memes until I see one that tells me something I want to hear. It’s no surprise that trend has extended to vitamins.

As we noted with personalized protein powder, the whole racket of personalization is about collecting data and selling you a basic product you could get anywhere else cheaper. But to get you to take the quiz and pay extra for the product, the company has to convince you it’s just for you. One vitamin company used to run ads emphasizing how confusing the vitamin aisle can be, as if we’re all just trying to do the basics to be healthy and need someone to hold our hand to solve the impossibly perplexing puzzle of which vitamins we need.

The appeal is real, but the underlying idea is bullshit. Vitamin supplements are somewhere between mostly useless and completely useless. If you eat fruits, vegetables, and animal products on any kind of regular basis, you almost certainly have all your bases covered. There are a few exceptions, and they’re not exactly secrets: Vegans typically need a B12 supplement. People who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should get extra folate, and typically do so by grabbing a bottle of prenatal vitamins at the grocery store. (There are a few nutrients where experts disagree; maybe we all need vitamin D supplements, or maybe we’re fine.)

As the National Institutes of Health points out in their page on dietary supplements, almost everybody can get their necessary vitamins from food, and your time and money are better spent on improving your diet than buying pills, even if it’s a slickly-branded algorithm that picks the pills for you. Remember, they’re just going to give you something you could have bought at the store anyway, based on some extremely basic facts like your age and sex.

If you think you have medical issues that mean you need something truly personalized, try this groundbreaking idea: ask your doctor. Vitamin deficiencies aren’t common, but they do exist, and an appropriate medical professional can diagnose one. (By “appropriate,” I mostly mean one who does not make a significant portion of their income from supplements, so skip the chiropractors with pill bottles displayed in the waiting room.)

But if you’re thinking about buying vitamins—personalized or not—just because a company promises to send them to you in cute packaging, remember that youre probably fine without them.

Too Much Licorice Stopped Man’s Heart and Killed Him, Doctors Say

Black licorice candy.

Black licorice candy.
Photo: Patrick Silson (AP)

A Massachusetts man’s fateful switch to licorice candy seems to have sent him to an early grave. In a case report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors described how the man’s recent habit of eating a bag of licorice every day likely led to his sudden cardiac arrest, kidney failure, and eventual death.

The report was presented as a teaching exercise for doctors and medical students—part of a longstanding tradition of the journal. Outside doctors are asked to diagnose a patient based on their initial symptoms and medical history upon admission, with the details of the case all taken from the genuine but anonymous patient records of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Afterward, the patient’s actual diagnosis and outcomes are revealed.

In this case, a 54-year-old construction worker was admitted to the hospital with sudden cardiac arrest, his heart having stopped beating in the middle of the day while he was at a fast food restaurant. Though the hospital was able to stabilize him, he had experienced multi-organ failure, particularly his kidneys, and he was admitted to the cardiac intensive care unit. Three hours later, his family arrived and was able to fill in some of the man’s medical history and relevant habits.

Though the man did have some preexisting conditions, including chronic hepatitis C, there was no apparent history of cardiovascular problems or other chronic ailments that could have explained his drastic turn for the worse. His family did tell doctors that he had a poor diet and that he loved candy. More importantly, they mentioned he had switched from eating fruity soft candy to eating a bag or two of licorice-flavored soft candy three weeks earlier, a decision that was likely his downfall, doctors concluded.

That’s because the somewhat-sweet flavor of licorice (the authentic black licorice kind, not what you find in red licorice candy) comes from a chemical called glycyrrhizic acid. Too much or chronic consumption of glycyrrhizic acid can cause our body’s level of potassium to plummet, which can then affect everything from our nervous system to our heart. As it happens, an abnormally slow beating heart is a well-known risk of low potassium levels caused by licorice consumption, which can then trigger cardiac arrest.

Unfortunately, the man’s prognosis following his sudden cardiac arrest was grim, and after consulting with doctors, the family opted for him to only receive palliative care. Just 32 hours after his symptoms began, the man died with his family by his bedside, according to the report.

Black licorice is rarely ever this dangerous, thankfully. It takes eating a lot of it for a while for licorice to really pose any health risks, and simply the act of not eating it anymore will usually boost potassium levels back to normal. Still, the Food and Drug Administration now explicitly warns people over the age of 40 to moderate their love of licorice, noting that eating 2 ounces a day for at least two weeks has been linked to an irregular heart rhythm and other health problems.

Given that Halloween is right around the corner, that remains good advice.

In 2020, Not Even Your Seltzer Is Safe

Illustration for article titled In 2020, Not Even Your Seltzer Is Safe

Photo: Randy Shropshire/Stringer (Getty Images)

If you, like me, woke up one day in your 30s and decided that seltzer was suddenly your thing, I have some bad news. It’s time to sit down, friend, and mourn yet another thing that this garbage year 2020 has taken from us. As it turns out, a Consumer Reports investigation has found that toxic “forever chemicals” are in several popular bottled water and carbonated water brands.

Per- and polyfluoroakyl substances (PFAS), according to the Environmental Protection Agency, are a group of man-made chemical compounds that don’t easily break down in the environment, or the human body. They’re found in many consumer products, including food packaging, textiles, and nonstick pans, but the most troubling source is drinking water itself.

Your Topo Chico, Bubly, La Croix, and Canada Dry; hell, even your Perrier—all contain levels of PFAS that are higher than the 1 part per trillion (ppt) recommended by scientists and environmental groups. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences notes that human exposure to PFAs can result in adverse health effects, including “altered metabolism, fertility, reduced fetal growth, and reduced ability of the immune system to fight infections.”

Meanwhile, a report by the CDC found that PFAs were present in the blood of 97% of Americans. Cool cool cool.

Different regulatory agencies have, surprise surprise, differing cutoffs for what’s an acceptable level of PFAS in water (carbonated or otherwise.) The EPA only has voluntary guidelines for PFAS levels set at 70 ppt for a combination of two of the most studied and dangerous PFAS compounds. Some states have lower limits of 12 to 20 ppt. Meanwhile, the International Bottled Water Association says PFAS levels should be under 5 ppt for one compound and under 10 ppt for more than one compound. However, the investigation emphasized that some experts have said even these “acceptable levels” are too high and that we should really be aiming for less than 1 ppt.

But back to seltzer and bottled water. Consumer Reports tested 47 bottled water brands—35 non-carbonated and 12 carbonated—for four heavy metals and 30 PFAS. Among bottled water brands, Consumer Reports found that most were within acceptable limits for both PFAS and heavy metals. When it came to PFAS, the exceptions were Nestlé’s Deer Park and Tourmaline Spring, which contained 1.21 ppt and 4.64 ppt, respectively. For heavy metals, Whole Foods’ Starkey Spring Water was disturbingly found to have 9.53 ppt of arsenic, which was over three times the recommended limit of 3 ppt.

For carbonated water, all were found to have acceptable levels of heavy metals. However, only Sparkling Ice had undetectable levels of PFAS, while popular brands like Spindrift, Sanpellegrino, Dasani, and Schweppes were all found to be below 1 ppt.

Now here is the more tragic news: Perrier, La Croix, Canada Dry, Poland Spring, Bubly, Polar, and Topo Chico all had levels over the 1 ppt limit. Of all of them, Coca Cola’s Topo Chico was the highest at 9.76 ppt. Polar was second highest at 6.41 ppt. (You can find the entire list here.)

Some of you may be tempted to comment about how much you hate seltzer and that this is a sign that the rest of us should stop being babies and drink regular water like adults. Some may even be former Gizmodo writers with terribly wrong takes. To that, I say, good for you. Have a gold star and let us seltzer drinkers have a whole two seconds to grieve. Soda is bad. Diet soda is also bad. Juice may also be bad and apparently contains harmful levels of arsenic, cadmium, and lead. Some people are yelling that human adults aren’t meant to drink milk. Plant milks are sometimes not great for the environment.

While there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, I thought I had an okay compromise drinking seltzer as an occasional treat for whenever I got sick of guzzling my daily two liters of regular water. Apparently, 2020 won’t let us have anything so I’m going to cross Coconut La Croix off my grocery list. Maybe later I will google how to make infused water. For now, I am going to sit in front of my fridge, blankly stare at my unopened seltzer cans, and wonder how many more meltdowns my shriveled husk can handle this week.

Man dies from eating more than a bag of liquorice a day

Stock photo of liquoriceImage copyright
Getty Images

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Studies have found that eating too much liquorice can cause a dangerous drop in potassium levels

A construction worker in the US state of Massachusetts was killed by his liquorice habit, doctors say.

The man, who has not been named but was 54 years old, ate about one-and-a-half bags of black liquorice every day.

He had suffered no symptoms before suddenly going into cardiac arrest in a fast food restaurant.

Describing the man’s case in the New England Journal of Medicine, his doctors said the glycyrrhizic acid in liquorice was to blame.

“We are told that this patient has a poor diet and eats a lot of candy. Could his illness be related to candy consumption?” Dr Elazer R Edelman said.

He said studies had shown glycyrrhizic acid – the active ingredient in liquorice – could cause “hypertension, hypokalemia, metabolic alkalosis, fatal arrhythmias, and renal failure” – all of which were seen in this patient.

Hypokalemia is when a person’s potassium levels in their blood become dangerously low.

The patient had also recently changed the type of sweets he was eating. A few weeks before his death, he switched from red fruit-flavoured twists to another type made with black liquorice.

Another doctor, Dr Andrew L Lundquist, agreed in the report that the liquorice was to blame.

He wrote: “Further investigation revealed a recent change to a liquorice-containing candy as the likely cause of his hypokalemia.”

TikTok bans ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements

Generation Z’s favorite app, TikTok, is making moves to make sure its young fans stay healthy.

In an announcement on Wednesday, TikTok rolled out a number of new policies, including one that bans advertisements for fasting apps and weight loss supplements on its platform. The new rules also restrict ads and content that “promote a harmful or negative body image.” 

“These types of ads do not support the positive, inclusive, and safe experience we strive for on TikTok,” the company said in its statement.

In addition to the outright ban on certain advertisements, TikTok will put “strong restrictions” on ads that make weight loss claims. The company will also limit ads promoting weight management products to users over the age of 18. 

Ads also can’t push a “negative body image or negative relationship with food” or they’ll be banned. 

The announcement also explained how people can block content, users, and comments that they find disturbing, and report ads that violate its policies. 

As CNBC points out, TikTok’s users have noticed an uptick in advertisements for fasting apps and weight loss supplements in recent months. 

According to a leaked pitch deck from the company, 69 percent of TikTok’s users are between the ages of 16 and 24. Compare that to Facebook. Around 46 percent of its users are older than 65 years old, according to a Pew report from last year.

Not only does TikTok have a young user base, but it’s more visually oriented than some other social networks. And photos and videos can be particularly harmful to a young person’s self-esteem. For example, more than 70 million posts on Instagram feature the #fitspo hashtag, which can spread unhealthy body standards

Late last year, Instagram rolled out similar ad policies restricting diet posts and weight loss products.

By far, the most problematic trend is “Snapchat dysmorphia.” In 2018, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) warned of young people seeking out plastic surgery in an attempt to look like the Snapchat-filtered version of themselves.

It’s a positive step for TikTok to take, but obviously it doesn’t solve the issue as companies will always look for workarounds to hawk their products. The viral video app will need to stay vigilant in order to maintain a body positive space for its users.

How to Handle Your Pets Allergies

Illustration for article titled How to Handle Your Pets Allergies

Photo: Chendongshan (Shutterstock)

Allergies to animals are a bummer at best (no puppy cuddles for you!) and life-threatening at worst. Research suggests that up to 20% of people worldwide are allergic to dogs and/or cats—but there’s a growing number of animals being treated for allergies of their own.

While there’s no solid data on the prevalence of allergies in pets, anecdotal evidence suggests that around 10% of animals may have some type of allergy. The most common pet allergies are to fleas, plants, and dust mites—not unlike humans, says Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinary health expert with In some rare cases, pets may actually be allergic to each other.

If you think your pet may have allergies, there are a few signs to look out for:

  • Itchy, red or inflamed skin
  • Chewing on paws
  • Infections (skin or ear)
  • Respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing or wheezing)
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting or diarrhea)

Richter says that if pets are allergic to another animal, symptoms are most likely related to appear on the skin or in the respiratory system. If your pet is showing any of these signs, the first step before trying any type of treatment is to make an appointment with your veterinarian.

While pet allergies can be managed, they aren’t preventable, and there’s no cure. Here are a few options your vet may suggest.

Test and treat

Treating pet allergies often takes a lot of time, effort, and money. Like humans, pets may get some relief from allergy shots, but these are generally available only after extensive testing, and only if the allergy is environmental, says Dr. Tory Waxman, chief veterinary officer at Sundays for Dogs. There are also a variety of other pharmaceutical options with varying side effects as well as more natural therapies. Again, talk to your vet.

Look at your pet’s diet

Pets can be allergic to certain foods—and food can exacerbate allergies. Waxman says there’s no effective test for food allergies in pets, but your vet can help you set up an elimination diet to narrow down the cause. Adjusting your pet’s food may also alleviate other allergy symptoms.

“Providing optimal nutrition and supplementation can help the body/immune system function better and thus, hopefully limit allergies and allergic responses,” says Richter.

Keep your pet clean

If you notice that your pet gets especially itchy during certain seasons, Dr. Waxman recommends wiping down their coats and paws whenever they come inside to minimize ongoing exposure to environmental allergens.

Keep your home clean

Similar to humans, pet allergies can be exacerbated by their environment. Make sure your home has good air circulation, and clean it regularly.

If you can avoid or eliminate the allergen entirely, that’s obviously the goal. But if one of your pets is allergic to another, that may not be possible, and addressing the symptoms is your best option.

“People need to be diligent with what works,” Richter says, adding that “at the end of the day, allergies are something that some pets/people just have to deal with and manage.”

Japans governing party chooses Shinzo Abes successor

Yoshihide SugaImage copyright

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Yoshihide Suga was born the son of strawberry farmers

Japan’s governing party has elected Yoshihide Suga as its new leader to succeed Shinzo Abe, meaning he is almost certain to become the country’s next prime minister.

Last month Mr Abe announced his resignation for reasons of ill health.

Mr Suga, 71, serves as chief cabinet secretary in the current administration and was widely expected to win.

He is considered a close ally of Mr Abe and likely to continue his predecessor’s policies.

Mr Suga won the vote for the presidency of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) by a large margin, taking 377 of a total of 534 votes from lawmakers and regional representatives.

He saw off two other contenders – Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister, and Shigeru Ishiba, a former LDP secretary-general and one time defence minister.

Image copyright

Image caption

Shigeru Ishiba (left), Yoshihide Suga and Fumio Kishida

Now that the party has chosen its new leader, there will be another vote on Wednesday in parliament, where Mr Suga is almost certain to be made prime minister because of the LDP’s majority.

Taking over mid-term, Mr Suga is expected to stay in post until elections due in September 2021.

Who is Yoshihide Suga?

Born the son of strawberry farmers, Mr Suga is a veteran politician.

Given his central role of chief cabinet secretary in the administration, he is expected to provide continuity heading an interim government until the 2021 election.

“Shinzo Abe and the other party bosses picked and joined the bandwagon for Mr Suga precisely because he was the best ‘continuity’ candidate, someone who they think could continue Abe government without Abe,” Koichi Nakano, dean and political science professor at Tokyo’s Sophia University, told the BBC.

While not considered the most energetic or passionate politician, Mr Suga has a reputation of being very efficient and practical.

One of his most prominent appearances recently was during the transition from Emperor Akihito, who abdicated, to his son Naruhito in 2019. It fell to Mr Suga to unveil the name of the new Reiwa era to the Japanese and global public.

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He was nicknamed “Uncle Reiwa” after unveiling Japan’s new era name

Yet, while he was the favourite to clinch the LDP leadership after Mr Abe’s resignation, it is much less clear whether he will lead the party in next year’s general election.

Observers suggest that by then, the party dynamic could shift to put a more vibrant man at the helm who can reach a wider general electorate.

What can we expect?

Mr Suga has promised to continue with “Abenomics”, Mr Abe’s signature economic policy that was designed to stimulate the world’s third biggest economy through monetary easing, fiscal spending and structural reforms.

But like his predecessor he will first need to tackle the pressing demands of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ahead of his election Mr Suga had pledged to expand Covid-19 testing and source vaccines for Japan by the first half of 2021.

He also said he would raise the minimum wage, promote agricultural reforms and boost tourism.

On foreign policy, too, he is expected to follow in Mr Abe’s footsteps, prioritising Japan’s long-running alliance with the US while also maintaining stable relations with China.

What is Japan’s political outlook?

The leadership transition comes at a difficult time for the country. Japan is still struggling with the coronavirus pandemic which has caused its biggest economic slump on record.

Mr Abe’s long-standing project of kickstarting the economy, dubbed Abenomics was, even before the pandemic hit, still a work in progress and the country has seen several years of stagnation, recession or only very slow growth.

There’s also unfinished business in the government’s plans to reform the post-war pacifist constitution. Mr Abe wanted to change a section in the constitution to formally recognise Japan’s military, which is currently called the Self Defence Force and is essentially barred from participating in any international military mandates.

For all those projects, a new administration under Mr Suga could provide stability.

Image copyright
Getty Images

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Japan has been hit by the pandemic and an economic slump

But during his time as chief cabinet secretary, he was “remarkably lacking in vision”, Prof Nakano cautions.

“The only slogan he came up with is “Self help, mutual help, and public help” – emphasising neoliberal self-help and self-responsibility at the time of [a] pandemic that is exposing a whole lot of people to economic vulnerability.”

New general elections for the Diet, the lower house, are scheduled for September 2021 and by then, there will likely be another leadership contest within the LDP.

That contest will be more about who can win over the general electorate – rather than merely promise continuity, observers say.

Why did Shinzo Abe resign?

Mr Abe said he did not want his illness to get in the way of decision making, and apologised to the Japanese people for failing to complete his term in office.

Image copyright

The 65-year-old has suffered for many years from ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, but he said his condition had worsened recently.

Last year, he became Japan’s longest serving prime minister. His current period in office began in 2012.

He abruptly resigned from a previous term as prime minister in 2007 also because of his chronic condition.

Raised By Wolves Questions Whether Humanity Can Be Saved

No one in HBO Max’s new science fiction drama Raised by Wolves is who they used to be. Humans have flung themselves from a decaying, technologically advanced society to a deserted planet where they grow tubers and scrabble at fungus. Religious order and hierarchy have been replaced by chaos as hardship and whispering voices unspool faith. Children kill their innocence for food. People surgically alter their faces. Androids have been hijacked and reprogrammed, and cobble themselves back together with pieces they ripped from the squelching, milky-blooded bodies of the fallen. All of this, they insist, is necessary: for survival, for a god, for the preordained bright new future.

Raised by Wolves follows parallel attempts to save humanity from itself. First, there are Mother and Father, two androids dispatched by their creator to raise human children to be pacifist atheists after religious wars destroyed Earth. After landing on Kepler-22b, they farm and weave their own clothes from rough fibers. Father has been programmed to tell them dad jokes, but life is harsh. They’re joined by the last remnants of the civilization they’ve fled and been taught to abhor—an ark full of the Mithraic, a militaristic religious group with a fondness for mullets and crusader-style tunics who are led to the planet by prophecy. Mother and Father’s hopes of founding a peaceful, science-driven society fracture and tilt.

The show cleaves to the classics. The first two episodes were directed by Ridley Scott, legendary director of Alien, Blade Runner, and The Martian. Much of the world will be familiar to sci-fi fans: post-apocalyptic convoys, a slightly sepia desert planet, a plucky and rebellious boy, gloopy space food, succulents standing in for alien plant life, androids who are considered sentient by some and disposable, unfeeling tools by others. It’s a few shades of Star Wars, a smidgeon of The Matrix, and a heaping spoonful of Battlestar Galactica, especially when it comes over all religious. (Granted, whatever higher power is at play in Raised by Wolves, it’s not nearly as cool as Battlestar’s. Less “All Along the Watchtower” and more immolation and traumatized pregnant children. Petition for scifi-fantasy HBO to take a break from sexual assault plots.) That said, rhyming with the genre’s greatest hits isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you like those shows, you’re likely to enjoy this one, too.

Raised By Wolves’s Ghosts of Sci-Fi Past aren’t the most compelling thing about it, however. That distinction is reserved for its uncanny focus on death and rebirth. The high level of religiousness happening basically guaranteed some afterlife talk, but even Kepler-22b is full of it: the tubers they farm can only grow where the bones of some extinct great serpent lay, and what dies there doesn’t always stay dead. Many of the characters grapple with what death really means, if it means anything at all. “At least you’re not intelligent,” Father says to a creepily humanoid mysterious animal he intends to kill for food. “I died once. Death can be very unpleasant when you’re intelligent.” To the Mithraic, Father’s death would mean nothing, and neither would a human atheist’s, because they’re both soulless and unworthy of mourning. Killing, however, can only be performed by military families and renders others unclean. Campion, a boy raised by Mother and Father on Kepler-22b on a vegan mono diet of tubers (scurvy who?), thinks they’re all monsters.

All of this existential hand-wringing eventually forms the show’s central question: Do humans have to be what they have been? Are humanity’s faults—violence, destruction, prejudice, selfishness—written down like prophecy in our DNA, or have we learned them? Is the natural order truly natural, or a convenient bit of scripture to excuse human exploitation? Science fiction, even as it strives to push humanity forward, often suggests that human failings are inescapable and that cruelty is destiny, sometimes completely by accident. In Raised by Wolves, a white boy is the special one who survives when girls and children of color die. Android servants, “generic service models,” and jailors (jailors!) are all Black, while white, blonde, blue-eyed near-omnipotent Mother flies around posed like Jesus on the cross. What science fiction has imagined has always been limited by history and context and who is allowed to imagine it, as has society. Let’s hope it doesn’t actually take the apocalypse and ascendency of tuber eating to build a better future.

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I’m a Muslim and Arab American. Will I Ever Be an Equal Citizen?

Culturally too, we are usually treated as a separate race, hence our almost universal portrayal as villains or victims in popular media. In books and newspapers, Arabs and Muslims are typically seen through the lens of current events — foreign wars, global migration and especially terrorism. The association is so pervasive that references to it crop up even in situations that have nothing to do with terrorism. At my literary events, for example, I’ve been asked many times about Al Qaeda and ISIS, as though my being Muslim grants me special insight into transnational terrorist groups that combine Islamist ideology with guerrilla tactics.

Muslim Americans who appear in a public forum will, sooner or later, face that question, whether the forum is a literary event or a fashion show or the halls of power in Washington. It may take the form of an accusation, from someone who has been fed a diet of propaganda, or it may take the form of a sincere remark; it may even take the form of a joke, intended to lighten the mood of the audience. But it will come. And when it does, the Muslim faces an impossible choice: Ignore the comment and perpetuate the association with terrorism, or address the comment and perpetuate the association anyway. There is no right answer. There is only the hope, by speaking about oneself, to create room for individuality.

My own life has taken turns I could not have imagined when I stepped off a plane at Los Angeles International Airport on a late-summer afternoon in 1992. Back then, my intention had been to complete a Ph.D. in linguistics, then return home to Morocco, where I planned to work as a college professor. A couple of years into my degree, however, I met an American, we fell in love and eventually married. In choosing to be with him, I chose to embrace his country as well. That made of me an immigrant, the kind of person that America has long mythologized, in art if not in life — from the ruthless gangsters in “The Godfather” to the hardworking women in “The Joy Luck Club” to the eponymous founding father in “Hamilton.”

But even under the best of circumstances, immigration is a traumatic experience that cuts a person’s life in two: There is the life before and the life after. For a long time after I moved to the United States, I wore two watches: one that told the time in Los Angeles, and the other the time in Rabat. In the morning, while I was getting ready for class, I would often think about my family, 6,000 miles away, sitting down to afternoon tea. In my memory, everyone back home remained exactly as I had last seen them, as if caught in a photograph. It never occurred to me that, day after day, they were getting older, making new friends, switching jobs or moving houses. They were changing, just as I was changing.

Whenever I stepped out of my apartment, I felt keenly aware that I was speaking a foreign language, whose sentences I had to compose with deliberation before I could speak them. In graduate seminars, my classmates would chuckle or even laugh when they heard me mispronounce some words, especially those I had only known in print — “epitome” and “fortuitous” and “onomatopoeia.” At times, the phonetic rules of English didn’t make much sense to me: Why did “rough” rhyme with “tough” but not with “dough”? Eventually I adapted to the local dialect and my foreign accent became less noticeable. One morning, a few years after arriving in this country, I woke up with the startling realization that I had dreamed in English.

The language was the easy part, however. There were so many cultural differences that hardly a day went by when I didn’t notice a new one. It was not considered impolite, for example, to eat one’s breakfast in front of others in the dorm’s common room without offering to share it with them. It was not considered rude to invite someone to lunch at a restaurant and then expect them to pay for their meal. If I sound singularly focused on food, perhaps it’s because food is so intimately tied to culture. It seemed to me that Americans were always rushing around, never taking the time to sit down for a cup of coffee or a proper dinner. I was shocked the first time I saw a woman eating a hamburger as she drove down the 10 freeway.

My story of immigration has been enriched by the love of my husband and family, the joy of enduring friendships, the fulfillment I find in my work. But nothing could have prepared me for what I lost. I missed my grandmother’s funeral, four of my cousins’ weddings and countless birthdays and celebrations with my family. If there was a crisis, I could never be sure that I would be there to help. Once, I remember, I was on vacation in Wyoming when I received a text in the middle of the night telling me that my father was in the hospital and that he might not make it. For several minutes my mind couldn’t comprehend the text I was reading. All I wanted then was a chance to say goodbye. I scrambled to book a flight and traveled back to my hometown. To my relief, the treatment my father received worked and, while he recovered, we had a chance to spend some time together.

We read Rage, Bob Woodwards new Trump book, so you dont have to

Whisper it low: Could Rage, out in bookstores this week, be the first Bob Woodward book in an age that’s actually worth reading? 

My answer: Yes, but only 50 percent of the thing. Only after Woodward, at age 77, has an Alice in Wonderland epiphany halfway through, and that changes the way he interviews Trump. At long last, with unusual honesty, Woodward becomes a visible character in his own decades-long story — and actually checks his own privilege. 

They’re strange things, Woodward books. They invariably break news, because Mr. I-Broke-Watergate convinces every source in Washington to speak to him eventually, and they usually have something jaw-dropping to say when the tape-recorder’s on. (In the case of Rage, it’s Trump  spilling his brains on COVID-19; the president kept calling Woodward because he was mad at being left out of Woodward’s previous book, Fear.)   

So we buy them, anticipating some solid Pulitzer-worthy narrative. We proudly display them on the shelf for a week or a month or three, because who has the time? Then we crack them open one evening, long after the news storm has passed, and we realize: Holy cow, this guy cannot write

Woodward admitted in a 1989 interview that good analysis eludes him. But it’s a language problem too. If you’ve ever had to re-read his pages to understand them, you’re not alone. Each paragraph contains a lead balloon of a sentence; each chapter meanders through pointless details. (Rage is the only book that will ever reveal how many Diet Cokes Trump drank as his helicopter circled a foggy landing zone in the Korean demilitarized zone: two.)

We also rediscover this inconvenient fact: Bob Woodward is an old-school establishment Republican. His political lean should come as no surprise; it’s right there in the movie about Woodward and Bernstein bringing down Nixon, All The President’s Men. (Robert Redford as Woodward says he’s GOP and voted for Nixon in ’68; Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein stares, incredulous). And it comes out in every book he writes; no matter how much Woodward claims to be an old-school just-the-facts-man objective journalist, his choices of source and subject speak volumes. 

Fear, which I described in three words — bad, boring, bogus — was in many parts a love letter to Woodward’s favorite Trumpian sources. Lindsey Graham, Kellyanne Conway, and even Steve Bannon came out of it glowing whiter than white. Graham gets the occasional mash note in Rage too, but the bulk of Woodward’s ballpoint hearts are now etched next to former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Trump’s former Defense secretary, retired General Jim Mattis. 

I regret to report that Woodward, who admired both Mattis and Lt. General H.R. McMaster’s “ramrod-straight” posture in Fear, is at it again: “Mattis had a stoic Marine exterior and attention-getting ramrod posture, but his bright, open and inviting smile softened his presence.” Guys, get a room. 

To read the first half of Rage is to believe that very little worthy of attention happened in this administration prior to the coronavirus outside of its erratic diplomacy with North Korea. Woodward repeatedly blanches at the thought that Mattis might have had to shoot down a North Korean nuke, maybe. It is to accept Russian election interference while eliding the very clear fact that the interference was to help Trump. It is to dismiss the Mueller report and all its open questions even as you report that Rosenstein deliberately set out to limit the investigation. 

It is, in short, to give Trump every possible chance. Woodward is not even a Never Trumper Republican; by temperament, he seems to be a Maybe Trumper. At one point, for no narrative reason, he describes Dan Coats’ Indiana Republican wife wrestling with whether to vote for candidate Trump in 2016. While the Access Hollywood tape was “lewd,” and “she knew he was, as she put it, ‘a philanderer and a womanizer, no doubt about that,'” Trump had on the other hand “promised to fund a stronger military.” More ramrod-straight generals for the win! 

Enter the Cheshire Cat

Is Trump a cat with the ability to disappear in thin air? His son-in-law thinks so.

Is Trump a cat with the ability to disappear in thin air? His son-in-law thinks so.

But the fact that Woodward speaks fluent old-school GOP is what makes his second-half conversion all the more powerful. And it’s why you might consider, if not reading Rage yourself, then at least mailing it to your political history-loving Republican uncle before the election. 

The change comes when Woodward speaks to Jared Kushner halfway through, looking for keys to Trump’s character. Kushner takes him to Alice in Wonderland territory, literally: 

He paraphrased the [Cheshire] cat: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there.” The Cheshire Cat’s strategy was one of endurance and persistence, not direction. 

Kushner was explicitly saying Alice in Wonderland was a guiding text for the Trump presidency. Did Kushner understand how negative this was? Was it possible the best roadmap for the administration was a novel about a young girl who falls through a rabbit hole, and Kushner was willing to acknowledge that Trump’s presidency was on shaky, directionless ground?

In short, yes. This seems to be Woodward’s first clue that his president has no moral center whatsoever, and will say any old shit that appears in his brain, often on a repetitious loop. In the words of the New York Times‘ Maggie Haberman, another essentially sympathetic reporter, Trump will “say whatever he needs to say to get through ten minute increments of time.” Woodward is a late convert to this notion, because he is patriotically trained to expect more of presidents. He cannot believe there’s no there there, but … he finally got there.  

Something remarkable happens with his Trump conversations from this point forward: Woodward actually starts fact-checking the president’s statements. It’s fact-checking of the most milquetoast sort, the kind that continually gives Trump the benefit of the doubt. There is plenty he doesn’t push back on, and alarmingly Woodward still seems to be more gung-ho on the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was created in a Chinese lab than Trump is. 

But that doesn’t stop Woodward boarding a fast train to Never Trump Town, where he will arrive at the end of the book. And no wonder. Trump has a limited number of verbal tricks to deploy, they all depend on distraction, and they look increasingly desperate the longer you keep him talking. Eventually he will try to end the debate by blurting out something pathetically, revealingly narcissistic, like this: “But the ideas are mine, Bob. The ideas are mine. Want to know something? Everything’s mine. You know, everything is mine.” 

The more Trump reveals himself, and the more Woodward pushes back, the more the author becomes something he never intended but should have been all along — a visible figure in his own journalistic process. Finally, he has stepped out of the shadows where he tape-records and burnishes the legacy of his beloved sources. Finally, he is self-examining. 

In the book’s most surprising moment, Woodward shares some of his own evolution with Trump: “My father was a lawyer and a judge in Illinois. And we know what your dad did. Do you have any sense that a privilege has isolated and put you in a cave, as it put me… and that we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain Black people have in this country?”

Trump scoffs and lashes out, accusing Woodward of “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Woodward persists, and finally drags Trump to a discussion about systemic racism where the president finally, briefly, reluctantly, admits it’s a thing — and has been a thing “for hundreds of years plus.” Kind of like, say, the 1619 project has been saying all along.   

It’s too little too late, as far as Woodward is concerned. Trump has committed the fundamental crime of being an unserious president, and the coronavirus damns him. Mattis comes out against Trump in June 2020, describing him as a “threat to the Constitution” after Trump’s cynical church photo-op with active duty military on the streets of Washington D.C.; Woodward’s epiphany, coincidentally or otherwise, seems to have come around the same time. Finally, he abandons obtuse neutrality. 

On the very last page of his epilogue, Woodward reaches his Never Trump destination. The establishment Republican who hoped for the best from Trump instead realizes he is a grifter who has “enshrined personal impulse as a governing principle of his presidency… Trump is the wrong man for the job.”

For those of us who reached that conclusion in 2016, Woodward’s plodding pace can be infuriating. But there are many white seventysomething Republicans in America in his situation right now, with the scales falling from their eyes in the wake of a virus that Trump clearly isn’t protecting them from, and reading Rage may help speed along their own epiphanies. 

This should be encouraged, not scoffed at. For the sake of the country, and for us never having to read another Woodward book on Trump, let us hope they vote accordingly.