Sic Simmer Tyrannis

The gas stove moral panic, farming out my newsletter to AI, and more

Sic Simmer Tyrannis
Actual photo from the American Revolutionary war, colorized

Edited by Sam Thielman

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN and federal agents are not plotting to break down your door and take your natural gas range to a supermax prison, despite what you may have heard from right-wing media last week. Veracity aside, reports of forthcoming appliance seizure inspired a week of Oscar-worthy performances in which partisans pledged their lives to stove protection.

This latest outrage cycle spun up after Richard Trumka, Jr., a member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission told Bloomberg News the agency should consider banning gas stoves. The agency later clarified that it was “researching gas emissions” and exploring ways to counter negative health effects from gas stoves, and that it had no plans to ban the appliances, actually. But in the window between “reporting” on Trumka’s remark and the clarifications the agency and Biden White House tried to offer days later, a battle cry emerged: Don’t tread on stove.

Republican elected officials and media figures took turns proclaiming their devotion to gas stoves, speaking about them in the same tones the National Rifle Association reserves to talk about NATO 7.62 rounds after a mass shooting. Rep. Ronny Jackson tweeted, “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!” Rep. Andy Biggs wrote, “Enough with this woke garbage!” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected by the political press to run for president in 2024, showed a room full of retirees Thursday two signs reading “Don’t tread on Florida” and “Let us alone,” decorated with illustrations of gas stoves. He has been hawking campaign merchandise featuring the stove illustrations ever since.

It should go without saying that none of the conservative leaders waxing poetic about the joys of cooking with gas are actually invested in keeping them around (beyond, perhaps, the degree that the gas and oil industry’s longtime bankrolling of the Republican Party would require of them).

Phillip Buchanan, the Florida man who posts online as “Catturd,” embodies this insincerity as well as anyone else. On Twitter, he boasted: “Dear Liberals… I turned on all my gas stove eyes today and let them burn for no reason - and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it but cry.” But if we assume Buchanan lives at the home he registered his Catturd LLC to, he has an electric stove in his kitchen, like some kind of communist. Maybe he renovated the home and installed a gas line after his home’s most recent real estate photos were taken, but I’m more inclined to believe he’s cranking “culture war” clickbait for your least favorite uncle, or whoever else memes like these are supposed to appeal to.

And of course, our national political media took the bait, as it loves to do. Article after article framed Republicans’ performative outbursts over gas stoves as a “debate” or “culture war” consuming Washington. In reality, the episode was just fodder for the unending outrage machine that drives GOP-aligned media in this country. High-level political reporters often seem to mistake the narratives driven in that partisan media environment for the genuine sentiments of Republican lawmakers and voters. Perhaps many of them are merely joining the right-wing press in exploiting public ignorance for clicks and pageviews, but it’s hard to believe that pure cynicism alone could compel the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal to weigh in on this imaginary issue.

A recent David Brooks column noted an observation from American Enterprise Institute's Ryan Streeter: The not-mad-actually constituency of the Republican Party that goes ballistic over stories like these is only representative of the Party’s most affluent supporters, who can spend vast amounts of time ingesting outrage bait. Brooks writes (emphasis mine):

The American right, for instance, finds itself in a state of perpetual apocalyptic alarm these days. Streeter observes that it’s not the poorer members of the conservative coalition who are pessimistic; it’s the affluent white Republicans who watch Tucker Carlson and believe the nation is on the verge of total destruction. Many of them believe that radical action, even violence, may be necessary to save it.

And as Bloomberg’s Liam Denning noted in a column last week, most of the nation’s gas stoves are installed in states firmly held by the Democratic Party. He wrote:

More than half the nation’s households using a gas stove are in states with unified Democratic control and where Biden won. Throw in states where Biden won but government is divided, and the blue-ish share rises to more than two-thirds. New York alone, whose governor just proposed making it the first state to ban gas appliances and heating in new construction, is home to almost 1 in 10 US households with a gas stove. California, where Berkeley began the trend of cities enacting bans on new gas hookups, hosts 1 in 5. Indeed, the 16 bluest states account for a similar proportion of residential gas demand overall, at 52%.

The risks associated with gas stoves have been the topic of debate for years, though nothing in the way of a gas stove ban has ever materialized on the federal level. Rather, the battle has mostly played out on the state level and in the public sphere, where competing pro- and anti-gas parties try to influence consumer decisions about what kinds of stoves to buy.

There’s very little about this “debate” that is worth entertaining. It is the exact kind of “culture war” nonsense peddled by politicians in lieu of discussing real issues or explaining how their policies might actually help their constituents. It is the political equivalent of fast food, or as I wrote two years ago, snake oil miracle cures.

Will our national political discourse ever stop taking the bait? I’m not hopeful, but I desperately wish it would. Despite all the public conversation the US has had about “misinformation” and partisan lies, we have collectively failed to mature in our ability to spot and discard these kinds of distractions. I think this is attributable in no small part to a larger problem: A lot of high-ranking figures in political media are so far removed from the concerns of the general population that they become overly dependent on disingenuous right-wing media, where a sizable minority of them began their careers.

It’s nothing but a lot of gaseous emission—some of it pretty dangerous—if you ask me.

Can AI write this newsletter?

OPENAI'S CHATGPT IS REALLY GOOD. Like, almost scary good in some cases. And as the underlying technology matures, and publications like CNET employ it to produce filler articles for their websites, some have wondered what it will mean for the future of online content.

Will we one day be wolfing down clickbait produced by computers, rather than depressed and underpaid writers at publications that give their employees coolers full of free seltzer water and terrible healthcare benefit packages? Does that make the content any less enjoyable? Would we even know we were ingesting robo-writing if it wasn’t disclosed to us? And how do we feel about the various plagiarism problems in play?

Though, like Max Read, I am generally unsure of how to feel about the current slate AI offerings and the promises its advocates make about its ability to shape the future, the situation feels to be quickly entering “uncanny valley” territory. Most of the copy these bots write is not quite advanced enough to fool people who are interested in writing, but it is just close enough to make us feel pretty weirded out by it.

I farmed out part of this portion of the newsletter to ChatGPT to see what it could come up with. Could it help me fill in this part of the newsletter? I entered into the prompt, “Can you write a couple paragraphs about why AI written newsletters are bad?” Here’s what it spit back out.

ChatGPT: AI-written newsletters can be problematic for several reasons. One of the main issues is that AI-generated text may lack the personal touch and human emotions that are necessary to create an engaging and relatable newsletter. People often subscribe to newsletters because they want to feel a connection with the writer or organization. However, AI-generated text may come off as impersonal and robotic, which can make it difficult for readers to connect with the content.
Another problem with AI-written newsletters is that they may not be as accurate or informative as newsletters written by human experts. AI algorithms can be trained on a specific dataset, but they can miss out on important context, nuances and historical background that a human would take into account. Additionally, AI-generated text may contain errors or inaccuracies that a human editor would catch. This can lead to confusion or mistrust among readers and ultimately harm the reputation of the organization or the writer.

Honestly, that’s not too bad. The paragraphs are sterile and methodical, and it gives me a strong “English 101 book report” vibe. The issues it picked out to mention I think are pretty spot-on, but the way it writes definitely reads as robotic, at least to me. I have some confidence I could pick this out as AI generated if I were asked to scrutinize it, though it's admittedly less confidence than I wish I could say I had.

So, for now, the answer seems to be “no.” ChatGPT can’t write my newsletter. Or perhaps the real answer is “not yet, anyway.”

There’s still time to call in for the next podcast episode

At the end of the next podcast episode, I’ll be taking listener calls and messages. You can dial (202) 630-0580‬ and leave a voicemail to be played, or text the number and have your message read aloud by yours truly. If there’s a huge surge of messages, I may record a dedicated episode even sooner. Let me know what’s on your mind!

Watching, reading, listening


  • The movie “RRR” is an amazing film out of India. Easily one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in a long time. (Netflix has an English dub but the translated subtitles are a better script.)
  • The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker” on Netflix



  • Rumble” by Skrillex, Fred again…, Flowdan
  • Tonight” by Phoenix (ft. Ezra Koenig)
  • Parts one and two of QAnon Anonymous’ reexamination of the Cambridge Analytica scandal

A good tweet