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World Edition - The Atlantic
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World Edition - The Atlantic
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A School Nurse Is on a Mission to Count the Women Killed by Men
PLANO, Texas—In February 2017, a school nurse in this Dallas suburb began counting women murdered by men.Seated at her desk, beside shelves of cookbooks, novels, and books on violence against women, Dawn Wilcox, 54, scours the internet for news stories of women killed by men in the United States.For dozens of hours each week, she digs through online news reports and obituaries to tell the stories of women killed by lovers, strangers, fathers, sons, stepbrothers, neighbors, and tenants.[Read: Nearly half of all murdered women are killed by romantic partners ]“I’m trying to get the message [across] that women matter, and that these women’s lives mattered, and that this is not acceptable in the greatest country in the world,” Wilcox says.Her spreadsheet, a publicly available resource she calls Women Count USA, is a catalog of lives lost: names, dates, ages, where they lived, pictures of victims and their alleged killers, and the details that can’t be captured by numbers.For Wilcox, these women are more than statistics.She wants you to know Nicole Duckson, a 34-year-old Columbus, Ohio, woman whose friends “remembered her as a prayerful person and a loving mother.”And Duckson’s 4-year-old daughter, Christina, who was stabbed to death alongside her mother, “a polite, happy little girl.”And Claire Elizabeth VanLandingham, 27, a Navy dentist fatally shot by her ex-boyfriend. She had appeared in a video for Take Back the Night, the organization known for fighting dating violence, sexual violence, and domestic violence on college campuses nationally. Her mother said, “Her heart was kind; her spirit generous; her soul wise. She gave her smile to everyone who needed it; to everyone who hadn’t even realized they did.”Those are just a few of the nearly 2,500 women listed in Wilcox’s album during the past two years.“Where is the outrage? Where are the marches, the speeches? I know where the silence is. It is everywhere, and it is deafening,” Wilcox says.Her crusade, she says, was spurred in part by the media frenzy about the shooting death of a gorilla, Harambe, at the Cincinnati Zoo and the uproar over the killing of Cecil the lion, shot by a Minnesota dentist as a trophy.As an animal lover, she was horrified by those killings. But as she saw the social-media fury and the online petitions spread, she asked herself: What about women?“Women are people and they deserve to have their lives valued,” she posted on Facebook in 2016, after Harambe’s death. “They deserve our voices speaking out on their behalf. And when they are abused, assaulted, murdered and erased they deserve our attention and our outrage.”The FBI releases crime data every year, including the number of women who have been killed by men, but local police are not required to file reports to the federal agency, so some state figures are missing.Florida, for example, has not provided its data to the FBI since 1996, according to reports by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates to stop gun violence. Numbers from Alabama and Illinois have also been unavailable or limited in certain years.Since 1996, 1,613 to 2,129 women have been murdered by men each year in the United States, FBI data show. In 2017, the latest year for which data are available, the FBI counted 1,733 women. An overwhelming majority of those women were killed by a man they knew.“If you just go by the raw numbers, it is undoubtedly an undercount of domestic-violence homicides,” says April Zeoli, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University and an expert on domestic-violence homicides and gun laws. Still, she adds, “it’s the most accurate picture we have.”Wilcox, however, is doing something the FBI does not: putting faces to the cases. Recording the correct number of women murdered isn’t her only goal. Her work is about searching for their stories, finding their photos, trying to learn who they were, so that these women aren’t forgotten.Wilcox is no stranger to violence against women.When she was 21, she began dating a man she met in a bar in Dallas. She’ll never forget the first time he hurt her.On a night out at a dance club, Wilcox’s boyfriend stepped into the restroom. When he came back, she said, he sprayed cologne into her face, which burned her eyes as she groped her way to the bathroom to rinse it out. It was an accident, she says he told her. But Wilcox knew it was an attempt to humiliate her.The violence escalated, Wilcox said, culminating in a night that left a deep scar on the inside of her arm and a memory of abuse that echoes the stories of the lost women for whom she searches.It was hot and the power had gone out, leaving her with no air-conditioning as she read a book by candlelight in her apartment. Her boyfriend began kissing her leg, she said, but soon she felt his teeth digging into her as he bit her. She told him to stop, but he put his hand at the base of her throat, pushed her down on the bed, and, after telling her he wanted to taste her blood, bit into the crook of her arm, tearing out skin, she says.Wilcox went to a local hospital emergency room and then fled to her mother’s home. She eventually ended the relationship with the man.Wilcox considers herself lucky. “I could’ve easily ended up one of the women on my own list.”[Read: On the trail of missing American Indian women]Today, she is married to a man who says his wife’s work has opened his eyes to the pervasiveness of violence against women.“She’s inspired me,” says Mike Nosenzo, who married Wilcox in 2018. “The amount of time that she spends on it, the dedication that she puts into it—I don’t see how I could feel any other way.”As her project nears the two-year mark, Wilcox wants to dig deeper to find more details on the lives of these women before their deaths: How many of the women had a protective order against their assailant? And how many cases involved a prior history of domestic violence?She is here, she said, not only to remember these women, but to make people care about their fate, with the hope of raising awareness to save others.“I feel like these women were completely failed by all of us, really,” Wilcox says. “A lot of these women did everything you’re supposed to do to keep themselves safe. They told people, they went to the police, they got protective orders, and it still was not enough.”This post appears courtesy of Kaiser Health News.
6 h
World Edition - The Atlantic
Blackface Was Never Harmless
Long before the future leaders of America were moonwalking with shoe polish smeared on their cheeks, the first blackface minstrels took to the stage in the early 19th century. Beginning in the decades leading up to the Civil War, troupes of white men, women, and children darkened their faces with burnt cork and traveled the country performing caricatures of blackness through songs, dances, and skits. These performances, arising out of Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati, and other northwestern cities, became one of America’s first distinct art forms and its most popular genre of public entertainment.From the beginning, minstrelsy attracted criticism for its racist portrayals of African Americans. Frederick Douglass decried blackface performers as “the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied to them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens.” In venues where black artists were often banned from performing and black audiences, if they were admitted at all, were forced to occupy segregated sections, white entertainers in blackface furthered the same paternalistic and degrading stereotypes that plantation owners and politicians advanced to justify slavery, and helped create a racist symbology that came to represent generations of prejudice. Shows featured a cast of recurring characters: the clownish slave Jim Crow; the obsequious, maternal Mammy; the hypersexualized wench Lucy Long; the arrogant dandy Zip Coon; the lazy, childish Sambo. Some of these archetypes continue to surface in the present day.“There’s always been a resistance to it, in part because it was so demeaning,” says Lisa M. Anderson, who has studied the history of minstrelsy and other performances of race as a professor at Arizona State University. “The shows really were set up to demean blackness and black people.”But to many white audiences and entertainers, the performances seemed innocuous, fun, even esteemable in their representation of African Americans. Early audiences were composed mainly of white working-class people and recent immigrants, for whom, Anderson says, the exaggerated characters onstage enhanced a feeling of racial superiority and belonging—and provided cheap, accessible entertainment. The shows reflected back a foolish, animalistic image of blackness that was already ingrained in the national culture; the racism was so familiar to observers that it could be lauded as artistic or progressive, or even overlooked entirely. That indulgent ignorance has followed blackface through decades of criticism and transformation, and into the present day.Two Atlantic articles from the late 1860s provide insight into minstrelsy’s heyday in the mid-19th century. In an article from our November 1867 issue, Robert P. Nevin describes the form’s early development with an admiration largely divorced from consideration of its sociopolitical context or implications. He viewed successful minstrel performances as accurate portrayals of African American culture and mannerisms, praising their ability to retain “unimpaired … such original excellences as Nature in Sambo shapes and inspires.”He lamented what he saw as the temporary failure of performers in the 1830s and ’40s to live up to this goal. “The intuitive utterance of the arts was misapprehended or perverted altogether,” he recalled. “Gibberish became the staple of its composition. Slang phrases and crude jests, all odds and ends of vulgar sentiment, without regard to the idiosyncrasies of the negro, were caught up, jumbled together into rhyme, and, rendered into the lingo presumed to be genuine, were ready for the stage.”But ultimately he devoted his article to praising the songwriter Stephen C. Foster, who began writing for minstrel shows in the 1850s and, in Nevin’s eyes, elevated the performances to a position of new respect. Rather than embodying only “the vulgar notion of the negro as a man-monkey,” Nevin wrote, Foster’s art “teemed with a nobler significance. It dealt, in its simplicity, with universal sympathies, and taught us all to feel with the slaves the lowly joys and sorrows it celebrated.”During this period of heightened popularity and respect, Ralph Keeler, then an adolescent boy who had fled his New York family, became enamored with minstrelsy and joined a traveling troupe. He described the experience in an 1869 article for The Atlantic, charting his three years as a “youthful prodigy” who performed jigs, played female parts in “negro ballets,” and danced as a “wench” to the misogynistic “Lucy Long” song.To Keeler, the racial aspect of the performances seems incidental; his article makes almost no mention of the nature of the characters he played or his own understanding of blackness. Instead, he dwells on his development as an entertainer, on the excitement of finding a place in a troupe and traveling the country, and on his eventual disenchantment with playing to an audience. When the social and political dynamics of race do enter into his story, it comes off as more inadvertent than anything. He describes, for instance, a black man named Ephraim who began traveling with and serving the troupe, although he was repeatedly told that it couldn’t pay him for his labor, and who became an object of ridicule before being jailed for an altercation with an Irishman that he didn’t initiate. Introducing him partway through the article, Keeler cruelly describes Ephraim as “one of the most comical specimens of the negro species.”In a more striking passage, Keeler recounts witnessing a mob lynching a man on a boat while traveling through the Midwest. The troupe arrived in the town of Cairo, Illinois, on the night that a group of white men decided to punish a black man who had been running a “gambling-saloon” on his “old wharf-boat” by the town levee. “At a given signal, the wharf-boat was set afire and cut adrift, and, as it floated out into the current, the vigilantes surrounded it in small boats, with their rifles ready and pointed to prevent the escape of their victim,” Keeler remembers. The minstrels and vigilantes watched as the boat exploded with the black man still on board.“The next day I spoke with the leader of the band in the small boats,” Keeler writes. “He even confessed that … he felt almost sorry for the victim, after the explosion had blown him into eternity.” Then the article moves on, without further reflection.Keeler does describe losing respect and enthusiasm for minstrelsy, though not because of any moral objection. Early on, he recalls, “I looked upon a great negro minstrel as unquestionably the greatest man on earth,” but later began “to doubt whether a great negro minstrel was a more enviable man than a great senator or author,” and he decided to leave the troupe to pursue a university education.Soon after Keeler’s stint in the shows, minstrelsy’s popularity began to decline, particularly in the North. Looking back from 1869, he begins by noting: “Negro minstrels were, I think, more highly esteemed at the time of which I am about to write than they are now; at least, I thought more of them then, both as individuals and as ministers to public amusement than I ever have since.”But despite consistent resistance to the racist portrayals and the rise of more popular art forms, blackface performances persisted, becoming a part of vaudeville shows, radio programs, and television shows and movies as time went on. Only in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with increased public pressure from the civil-rights movement, did the form mostly disappear from stage and screen. But even then it remained a part of the national culture, a feature of parties, Halloween costumes, comedy sketches, and fashion that’s lingered on into the 21st century.In part, Anderson says, white Americans might continue to wear blackface out of ignorance. “People don’t necessarily know the history of blackface minstrelsy,” she says. “They don’t necessarily even know that was a thing. They’ve seen blackface images, but they don’t know that’s where they came from. So there’s a kind of decontextualization of the place of blackface in our history.”But in some cases the choice seems to go beyond ignorance. The photo of two men standing side by side in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan robe, respectively, that appeared in Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s medical-school yearbook (without his knowledge, he now claims), is difficult to explain away by saying its racist implications were unclear; even if blackface has been decontextualized, the KKK robe remains unambiguously attached to the tradition of white supremacy that spawned it. And Virginia’s attorney general, Mark Herring, said in a statement about his own youthful experiment with blackface that it was “a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.”That horrific history can also be traced as a legacy of white ignorance, from the 1860s articles that fail to grapple with minstrelsy’s racial context and implications to the statements of frat boys and medical students and police officers who appear in blackface in photos that continue to crop up in the news now. But against a backdrop of consistent criticism and overt racism, some of that ignorance, then and now, appears willful—and some of it doesn’t appear to be ignorance at all.
6 h
World Edition - The Atlantic
Kamala Harris’s Blackness Isn’t Up for Debate
I never would have put Snoop and Tupac Shakur on the list of things that could potentially harm California Senator Kamala Harris’s presidential bid. But this week, two of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time unwillingly played a part in the latest attack on Harris’s blackness, which came after the Democrat’s appearance on the popular morning-radio show, The Breakfast Club.Harris engaged in a 40-plus-minute wide-ranging conversation with hosts Charlamagne the God, Angela Yee, and DJ Envy, detailing an agenda focused on issues disproportionately impacting African Americans—the staggering rate at which black women are dying in childbirth, mass incarceration, and poverty.Unfortunately for Harris, her stances on these matters were drowned out by a dumb headline. Call it #AllEyezOnMeGate. Charlamagne asked Harris if she ever smoked marijuana. She admitted that she’d smoked in college—and did indeed inhale. At some point, Envy asked Harris about her favorite music. But before she could respond, Charlamagne jokingly asked Harris about what she liked to listen to when she imbibed. Harris laughed off Charlamagne’s question, and instead told Envy that some of her favorite artists were Snoop and ‘Pac. She also mentioned her affinity for Cardi B.[Read: Kamala Harris’s show of strength]But when the story went viral, the takeaway was that Harris had smoked marijuana while listening to ‘Pac and Snoop. With the help of the typical rush to judgment on social media, and some masterful by Fox & Friends, a fake controversy was born. The claim was that Harris lied about her weed experience to curry favor with the black community.Had the critics bothered to watch her entire Breakfast Club interview, they would have seen just how foolish these assumptions were. But then again, since Harris announced her decision to run for president, the attacks on her blackness have only seemed to gain momentum. Why would it change now?It’s always problematic to try to define blackness, but the strange part about the reaction to Harris is that her identity and motives are being challenged by both sides. One reason her campaign booked her onto the Breakfast Club was because it reportedly saw this as a sound strategy to send a direct signal to those African Americans who just don’t trust that Harris is being authentic.When she announced she was running for president at her alma mater, Howard University, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it should have been a touching and significant moment. Instead, there was a bubbling sentiment that Harris was, again, only doing that to suck up to African Americans. Forget about her personal connection to Howard, or how a black woman running for president extends the legacy of the civil-rights movement.[Annie Lowrey: Kamala Harris’s Trump-size tax plan]Harris should be questioned about her record as a senator and attorney general, and her tenure as San Francisco’s district attorney, but too much of the conversation about her is instead dominated by insecurities that have nothing to do with determining whether she would be a good president.The economist and author Boyce Watkins, who is black, tweeted: “If #KamalaHarris went to an #HBCU, what do you think led her to marry a white man?” Harris had to address this in her Breakfast Club interview. She said she’s married to her white husband because she loves him.Imagine that.In a nod to the racist birther conspiracy that enveloped President Barack Obama, a tweet claiming Harris wasn’t eligible to run for president because of her immigrant parents went viral. It has been repeated as fact so often that Harris is now forced to explain her ethnic background.Was nothing learned from Obama’s run for president? He also faced the same inane, pointless questions about his mixed-race identity as Harris. Just like Obama, Harris has exposed narrow-minded views of blackness with her presidential run. Harris is a multi-racial woman who was born in Oakland, went to high school in Montreal, and worshipped with both Hindus and Baptists. She’s a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and yet, by her account, knows how to make an incredible bolognese and a mean pot of collard greens. If the criteria for running for president is being authentically American, people have to accept that this is what that looks like.“I think they don’t understand who black people are because if you do, if you walked on Hampton’s campus or Howard’s campus, or Morehouse, or Spelman or Fisk, you would have a much better appreciation for the diaspora, for the diversity, for the beauty in the diversity of who are as black people,” Harris said on The Breakfast Club. “So I’m not going to spend my time trying to educate people about who black people are. Some folks have a limited vision of who we are as black people. That’s on them. That’s not on us.”
8 h
World Edition - The Atlantic
The Atlantic Daily: Struggling for a United Front
What We’re FollowingPresident Donald Trump did end up calling for a national emergency, in order to get the funds to build his border wall.It’s a consequential announcement, but one that was temporarily dulled by the president’s rambling, chaotic speech. He ad-libbed on the threat posed by gangs and criminal cartels—and even undermined his own case for the move by saying that he made the call out of political expediency, not necessity. The controversial decision now faces a dicey legal challenge ahead, but David Frum argues that’s only one of the potential roadblocks the president faces.At a speech in Warsaw this week, Vice President Mike Pence took an unusual approach: blasting America’s allies. Top officials from Germany and France neglected to show up to the conference, which featured representatives from more than 60 countries, because its aim was to criticize Iran and support America’s reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions on the country. That comes after the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, a repudiation of Trump’s predecessor’s policies. Under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the administration has doubled down on the Obama-era move to disengage militarily from the Middle East.Twitter may be the president’s social-media platform of choice, but for users, it’s dizzying to follow. That was made acutely clear in a high-profile, 90-minute chat on the site between Jack Dorsey, the company’s enigmatic CEO, and the tech journalist Kara Swisher: The discussion was clunky and difficult to parse, degrading Twitter’s goal of connecting people and letting them follow conversations. That’s not the only flack Twitter has gotten of late—it has a festering harassment and abuse problem that it’s been exceedingly slow to address.—Saahil DesaiEvening Read(Wenjia Tang / The Atlantic)Selasi Gbormittah and Val Stones, two former contestants on the beloved show The Great British Bake Off, forged an unpredictable intergenerational friendship, which they’ve maintained since that season of the show stopped filming in 2016. In The Friendship Files, a newly launched weekly Q&A featuring a pair of unusual friends, Julie Beck talks with both of them about the relationship:Beck: Do you remember your first impressions of each other?Selasi: I was very late, so they're all thinking, Who's this guy who is late? He's gonna be a problem. I turned up really late on my motorbike. I was soaking wet and I just smiled. I don't think I even apologized. I just said, “Hey, I'm here for the baking show.” And everyone looked at me like, Who the hell is this?Val: You walked in in your gear and I remember thinking, Ah, it's that young man that I saw. And I realized, Gosh, he's gonna be real trouble, that one. But I was so pleased to see you.→ Read the rest.Thad Roberts was arrested in 2002 for stealing more than $20 million worth of moon rocks, and before that, as a college student, he showed a preternatural ability to get others to join him in occasionally risky pursuits:“The professor boasted that the university’s own rising star, Thad Roberts, had just been accepted to NASA’s internship program. At 23, Roberts was a triple major in physics, geology, and geophysics, as well as the founder of the Utah Astronomical Society. He was determined to be the first person on Mars. He was also about to change the trajectory of my life.”→ Read the rest.Our Critic’s Picks(Fox)Read: A tender and at times inspiring account of the year since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, following a small group of student survivors turned activists.Watch: Alita: Battle Angel. Indulge in the postapocalyptic action drama, if you can acclimate to the giant manga-style eyes computerized onto the lead actor Rosa Salazar’s face.Listen: Accepting his Best Rap Song Grammy award for “God’s Plan,” Drake worked into his speech a sideways jab at the Recording Academy’s failures in acknowledging the work of female musicians and artists of color.Poem of the WeekHere is an excerpt from “Pursuit,” by Sylvia Plath:There is a panther stalks me down:One day I'll have my death of him;His greed has set the woods aflame,He prowls more lordly than the sun.→ Read the rest, from The Atlantic’s January 1957 issue. Renewal Awards The Renewal Awards, a national competition now in its fourth year, recognizes local organizations and individuals who are driving change in their communities—and helps them make an even bigger impact. This year’s voting is now open. You can support the efforts of these nonprofits by voting for one of the 15 finalists, here. Five winners, including the Allstate Youth Empowerment Award winner, will receive $20,000 in funding from Allstate. Concerns, comments, questions, typos? Email Shan Wang at swang@theatlantic.com Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up.
World Edition - The Atlantic
The Family Weekly: Introducing the Friendship Files
This Week in Family: Introducing The Friendship FilesToday we’re kicking off a project I’ve been working on for months now: The Friendship Files. We so often tell stories of parents, children, or significant others—but friendships are our most formative relationships. These relationships, while not defined by blood or law, shape and anchor our lives.Every week, I’ll talk to two or more friends about how they met, how they’ve grown together, their inside jokes and antics. I interview the friends at the same time, to capture their unique dynamic together.Two high-school friends reunited by a sweater after spending decades apart; contestants from The Great British Bake Off who bonded over motorcycles and baked goods, despite the generation gap between them; two women who moved to a new city and found each other on a dating app; and four students who remain close with their favorite high-school teacher after graduation—these stories reflect the warmth and generosity, as well as the hardships and challenges that friendships bring to our lives.If you or someone you know would like to be a part of the series, send a nomination to friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com.— Julie Beck, senior editor***A Friendship Baked in the Great British Bake Off TentSelasi Gbormittah (left) and Val Stones (right). Courtesy of Val Stones. Beck: Do you remember how you two, specifically, became friends? Selasi: During downtime or when we were at the hotel I used to talk to Val a lot, and in the green room. I think our common interests came into play, because I found out that Val loved motorbikes. Val: I had a motorbike license before Selasi. Selasi: I think that's when the friendship really began. Also because I love whiskey—Val brought me two tiny bottles of whiskey from a distillery onto the set for me, which I still haven't drank. They're still at home. Val: I've got some more samples for you, but you're gonna have to come over here to drink them ... Selasi: My favorite OAP. Beck: What is OAP? Selasi: Old-age pensioner. Val: A person who is past 60 and getting retirement pension. I'm his favorite OAP. And I've always said that Selasi is my favorite adopted son ... He watches his swearing with me, just like he would his grandma. Highlights Money can’t buy you love, but it can buy you a fairy-tale wedding. The Atlantic fellow Natalie Escobar visited a wedding expo, which featured a range of businesses from bakeries and dress shops to barbecue-sauce stands and dance lessons. The expo’s consumerist bonanza shows the wedding industry’s choke hold on middle-class couples tying the knot: Most couples will spend $15,000 to $35,000 on a wedding, often adding to existing debt from student loans or mortgages. Ahead of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, The Atlantic’s Ashley Fetters follows a mother-daughter team that’s been showing dogs together for nearly a decade. Eighteen-year-old Becca Flood and her mother, Mara, breed collies, spending hours on end to breed them, train them, and groom them for the show. Now that Becca is off at college three hours away from home, she and her mother are getting used to a new routine—for Becca, a life without pets for the first time, and for her mother, attending shows without her daughter and most trusted partner. And of course, there are many, many photos of the Floods and their dogs, including Cherry (whose full name is SugarNSpice Cherry On Top) and Poe (Travler SugarNSpice Witches Do Come Blue). Dear Therapist(Illustration: Bianca Bagnarelli)Every Monday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions about life’s trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column.This week, a father writes in asking for advice on reconnecting with his estranged daughter. They haven’t talked in 25 years, since he got remarried, and no amount of Christmas cards or letters seem to help.Lori’s advice: Try to understand and acknowledge your daughter’s feelings next time you reach out, and don’t demand forgiveness from her. You might feel hurt that she hasn’t reached out, but she’s likely holding on to years of pain and hurt as well. You can start with a sincere apology. A sincere apology is heartfelt and empathic and entirely about the person receiving it. A letter in this spirit might go something like this: “I owe you an apology, and I wish I’d offered it much sooner. I know that I’ve hurt you deeply, and I’m truly sorry for that. I would like to know more about your experience, because I’ve come to realize that I failed to see earlier that I put you through a lot of pain.” Send Lori your questions at dear.therapist@theatlantic.com.
World Edition - The Atlantic
Will Trump Live to 500?
Six days passed between the president’s physical exam and the release of the doctors’ findings on Thursday. Even then, the anticlimactic unveiling raised only more speculation about the true state of Trump’s health.On February 8, President Trump underwent a physical exam, according to the White House, which afterward released a brief press memo that said it was from the president’s new physician, Sean Conley. But the authorship of this report is questionable for several reasons, one of which was the sentence: “The president is very grateful for the outstanding care he received today, and he especially wants to thank the doctors, nurses, enlisted and civilian staff who participated.”It would be unheard of for a doctor to praise himself in such a statement. Odder still is the subsequent assertion that Trump is “in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his Presidency, and beyond.” This sort of long-term prediction is atypical for any physician, much less one whose only charge is to assess the president’s ability to execute the duties of the office.It would inspire more confidence in the objectivity of the process if just once a doctor would simply share Trump’s test results in a transparent way. This has not been the case at any point in Trump’s presidency, during which his health reports have been inconsistent and sprinkled with—if not entirely written in—sensational prose. As a result, the credibility of the presidential health assessment process and the professionals involved have entered a free fall.Trump’s first physical as a candidate was reportedly performed by his former doctor, Harold Bornstein. After a year of journalistic scrutiny and national ire over the odd assessment (in which Trump was declared “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency”), Bornstein accused the president last year of dictating the assessment—and of sending associates to “raid” his office and take possession of his medical records.Earlier, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump underwent a mock evaluation on the Dr. Oz Show in which Oz spent most of the hour letting Trump say that he was doing great. Oz was later appointed by Trump to his “Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition Council” despite being called before Congress and castigated for unethical behavior.In 2018, Trump’s new physician Ronny Jackson (before being embroiled in scandal) gave an audience-of-one theme press conference laden with the words excellent and incredible and suggested that Trump could live to 200 because he has such excellent genes. (“Hands down, there’s no question that he is in the excellent range. . . . I put out in the statement that the president’s health is excellent, because his overall health is excellent. . . . Overall, he has very, very good health. Excellent health. … Incredible cardiac fitness … He has incredible genes. . . . He has incredibly good genes, and it’s just the way God made him.”)Two months later, Jackson was nominated by Trump to lead the VA healthcare system, the nation’s largest, despite no experience in health-care policy or administration.As I’ve written with regard to evaluating Trump’s mental health, it is historically unprofessional for doctors to speculate from afar. But in the absence of a transparent process, even though it’s not possible to make a comprehensive assessment, it’s possible to say more than nothing.What we do know: The president is 72 years old, and he is widely reported to sleep little. He avoids exercise because of his erroneous belief that it “depletes energy.” He has evidence of coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis, according to a coronary arterial calcium score done last year. He takes a cholesterol-lowering medication because of a history of high cholesterol. He is obese and eats a lot of junk (specifically the Filet-O-Fish). He is regularly described in palace-intrigue stories as “increasingly isolated,” and he is under as much professional stress as it’s possible for a person to be.There is no suggestion here that he’s physically unfit to execute the duties of the office, but it’s also unclear on what basis any doctor could deem that “very good health.” As in the past, there’s little evidence that this assessment is not primarily about good publicity—about outcome, not process.
World Edition - The Atlantic
Letters: ‘Tribes Do Not Tolerate Freedom’
What I’ve Gained by Leaving the Republican PartySince the political rise of Donald Trump, Peter Wehner has found himself deeply disappointed in—and often at odds with—the Republican Party. Both losses and insights come from being politically homeless, he wrote last week: “The main thing I’ve gained in unfastening myself from the GOP is critical distance and detachment. One can see certain things from outside the silo that one cannot see within it.”As a lifelong Republican, I pretty much agreed with every sentiment Wehner expressed. And it meant something to me, living in a world where I feel increasingly alone, because I am unwilling to align myself with my fellow Republicans who have doubled down on Trump’s brand of crazy, and yet unwanted by a Democratic Party hell-bent on its own brand of extremism.I don’t know what that means for me, but for now it’s at least somewhat comforting knowing I am not alone.Grey ProctorRidgefield, Wash.Peter Wehner makes the point that only once he left the Republican Party was he able to view issues outside of the tribal lens. I believe that this may be the critical issue of our day: We have enabled partisanship to the point that all issues are now forced into a tribal argument. Honest conversations are no longer relevant. How can we choose the right path for America while we are busy looking to see which party has the most to gain? Everyone looks to a leader who can unite us, but I think the problem is within ourselves. When all is said and done, every single one of us has a solemn responsibility to truth and morality.Diane M. SloanSchaumburg, Ill.Peter Wehner’s “What I’ve Gained by Leaving the Republican Party” resonates with me. I am a former conservative evangelical minister. I now consider myself a Christian nonbeliever.Wehner focuses mainly on the tribal impact—the willingness to overlook certain flaws in fellow tribal members, to give them the benefit of the doubt when they don’t live up to tribal ideals. He eschews, at least for himself, the idea of automatic blinding to other points of view, but does praise the concept of critical distance detachment. “One can see certain things from outside the silo that one cannot see within it,” he says.In conservative Christianity, belief is the litmus test. One is continually fussing about what it is they believe about something and seeking out others who believe what and like they do. Belief is not a benign thing; it is, like membership in a political party, a choice, a commitment.While I was pastoring in my church, despite my own predilections for study, I knew there were some things I just could not research or analyze in depth. To do so would risk arriving at contrary positions to my church. I deliberately avoided thinking about things so that I could with integrity continue to affirm commitment to the Statement of Faith of my denomination and church.Once I left, I reveled in the freedom to explore these things knowing that my employment and my status were no longer attached to them in the same way. My thinking on these items has changed.Wehner’s article is a call for freedom. Freedom to explore, think, and be different. Tribes do not tolerate freedom. When they do, they risk a metamorphosis of the tribe, and that may not be what they want.Andrew R. McGinnCambridge, Ontario, CanadaI applaud Peter Wehner for having the guts to question the foundation of his entire adult life. I did the same thing myself (although it was half my life ago, around the age of 20).My family’s deep Catholicism denied me access to sex ed and birth control. I didn’t want to burn in hell, of course, so I didn’t think for myself and just go out and get it. Instead, I thought, how would I get through the phalanx of Planned Parenthood opponents whom I knew (through being forced by my mom to pray the rosary with them every Sunday at the same clinic)? But really I was afraid. Isn’t an abortion clinic where women go to die? Where they are murdered by rich and calculating abortionists? As a pregnant teen, I often thought I’d be better off if I just drove really fast into a brick wall, but I couldn’t quite get up the bravery required. So I looked through the pile of wannabe adoptive parents—thoughtfully provided by the pro-life folks—and looked through the legal contract.My son is now 22. We both volunteer for Planned Parenthood.It is great that Mr. Wehner found compassion and regret in looking back at the Willie Horton ads. I hope that he will meet more women who tell them their late-term abortion nightmare stories so that he will be able to one day have compassion for them, too.Joan VignocchiSanta Barbara, Calif.Thoughtful editorial; helped me clarify my own thinking. Unfortunately, insight and distance aren’t enough to offset the immense grief of having arrived at where we find ourselves.Jim KolocEagan, Minn.Mr. Wehner is more a part of a growing group of people in this country than he realizes. His views on his party have been reflected by more than a few on the left as well, but many, including me, are fearful of voicing their views. The left hands out harsh criticism to anyone who disagrees with it. As a woman of color and a veteran of the very liberal world of Hollywood, I have realized that I, too, have no political home base anymore. But I simply cannot look away from what I see. Donald Trump is a product of deeper problems in this country, and the left ultimately put him in power. If they aren’t careful, they are going to do it again. Mr. Wehner is in good company, and I’m glad he isn’t the only one questioning. Please thank him for having the guts to put his piece out there. And yes, there are people on the other side doing exactly what he is doing.Gina NelsonNorth Hollywood, Calif.
World Edition - The Atlantic
Photos of the Week: Lego Bugatti, Snowy Seattle, Cattle Dating
Valentine's Day among humans and animals, fashion in New York City, dogs at play and in competition, a peasant revolt reenactment in Croatia, family reunions at an Indian border fence, an icy dinosaur in Latvia, the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, snow kayaking in Estonia, International Condom Day in Mexico City, and much more.
World Edition - The Atlantic
A Mind-Boggling Soviet Nostalgia Project
PARIS—It’s the most bananas artistic undertaking of this century. DAU, as the project is known, is a Soviet thought experiment that brings together A-list artists, word-class scientists, a handful of famous actors, Cambridge Analytica (almost), and a lot of Russian money to create 13 feature-length films, as well as an online experience and a rich auxiliary cultural program. The Guardian called it a “Stalinist Truman Show.” And so when DAU had its world premiere here in Paris last month after more than a decade in the works and years of ambient avant-garde buzz, I figured I had to go.The DAU films are on view until Feb. 17 inside two of Paris’s main public theaters, the Théâtre de la Ville and the Théâtre du Châtelet, which are open 24 hours a day for the event. If you show up as the pale winter sun is rising, you’re likely to bump into people just leaving after a night of carousing. There are pop-up concerts (Robert del Naja from Massive Attack, Brian Eno), seminars (the writer Jonathan Littell, French academics), drinks (wine, vodka, Cognac, kvass) and food (borscht, gloppy Russian salads).Some rooms in one theater are decorated like period Soviet communal apartments, and visitors can hang out there, occasionally with members of the DAU cast. Another theater has a room set up like a Berlin sex club. As part of the project, priests, rabbis, imams, shamans, and psychologists are on call to discuss people’s experiences of DAU and to film their responses, which visitors can opt to archive or delete. Centre Pompidou, Paris’s preeminent modern art museum, has also joined the DAU bandwagon. They’ve installed an inclosure inside the Russian art section, furnished it like a Soviet apartment, and have two people living there around the clock posing as DAU scientists. Visitors can watch them read or pace around, like animals at the zoo.To DAU’s producers and editors, and some of its celebrity artist guests, the project has become a vibrant creative and intellectual community, even a way of life. To anyone outside it, the project can seem unwelcoming. I’ve spent many long hours visiting DAU since it opened here on Jan. 24 and I’ve found the films at turns maddening, boring, and pornographic. I’ve never encountered a project whose monumental, megalomaniacal ambitions are so dramatically at odds with the uneven final product. Although maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s all a big metaphor for the Soviet Union.A scene inside DAU’s Institute(Olympia Orlova / Phenomen)DAU began rather modestly around 2005 when the Russian film director Ilya Khrzhanovsky, who is now 43, set out to make his second feature, a biopic about the Russian theoretical physicist Lev Landau—hence DAU—who won the Nobel Prize in 1962, and whose open marriage made for rich material. Somewhere along the line, after the cameras had already begun rolling in St. Petersburg, “I understood that everything I created was bullshit, and I immediately had to stop and change everything,” Khrzhanovsky told me when I spoke to him recently in Paris. “It was a Dostoevskian moment.”He veered away from the biopic, for which the dystopian Russian novelist Vladimir Sorokin had written the screenplay, got what seems like a blank check from Sergei Adoniev, a Russian businessman who’s made a fortune in telecommunications and is still the project’s main backer, and began to dream big. So big that Khrzhanovsky moved to Kharkov, Ukraine, built a replica of a top-secret Soviet research facility, and commissioned around 400 people to live and work there for two years and re-enact 30 years of Soviet history, from 1938 to 1968. The participants had to wear their period costumes even when the cameras weren’t rolling. More than 350,000 people auditioned. Between 2009 and 2011, the director shot more than 700 hours of raw footage.It became a crazy game, in which Khrzhanovsky made the rules. But the set began to take on a life of its own, one that seemed to echo the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which students were told to act as prison guards and got overzealous about the job. There was no script for the DAU films, only guided improvisation. The line between reality and fiction began dissolving. Off screen and on, the participants fell in love, and more than a dozen babies were born. They also all signed non-disclosure agreements, Khrzhanovsky told me.Teodor Currentzis, a Greek-Russian conductor, plays Landau in the films. The director cast Radmila Shchegoleva, the only professional actor in the core group, to play Dau’s wife, Kora. Before filming began he had Shchegoleva spend a year preparing for the role, which included working in a chocolate factory and living in a communal apartment, as Kora had done. The artists Marina Abramovic and Carsten Höller, and the theater director Peter Sellars made cameos (Abramovic played a visiting anatomy professor in the year 1956). James Fallon, a neuroscientist who specializes in psychopaths and the nature of aggression, made repeat visits playing the part of an academic. In one film, he has a gripping discussion about the Gulag with Vladimir Azhippo, a former KGB officer who also played one in DAU.In their meticulous period reconstructions, the films operate as a critique of the Soviet regime, but also exude a genuine nostalgia for it. It was hard to pin down Khrzhanovsky about his aims, but Ilya Permyakov, one of three editors for the films, who also organizes conferences central to the project’s after-life, spoke of DAU as a spiritual exploration, one that asks: “What is a human being? What elements of the infernal do I contain in me?” He called the project “not a historical reconstruction but a parallel multiverse,” and referred to it as “a place of self-rebirth” and a “confessional experience” where you can ask, “What is my alter ego? What did I hide from myself?”From the outset, there have been complaints about the project’s working conditions. The writer Michael Idov visited the set in 2011 after hearing stories about the “survivalist camps” environment, and wrote a vivid, unsettling account in GQ. Some participants told Idov they thought there were hidden cameras in their apartments, filming them at all times. Khrzhanovsky told me he’d installed the hidden cameras but never activated them and never forced anyone to do anything against his or her will. It was all a game, he said.Last month, a former casting assistant for the DAU films, Albina Kovalyova, wrote in The Daily Telegraph that she’d had a mental breakdown on the set and thought Kyrzhanovsky had crossed a line “from fictional abuse to the real thing,” and she was afraid babies had been tortured during the shoot. Kyrzhanovsky assured me no babies had been harmed. He made it seem as if the controversy was part of the project.A scene inside DAU’s Institute(Olympia Orlova / Phenomen)Filming ended in late 2011, when some neo-Nazis whom Khrzhanovsky invited from Moscow to spice up the narrative destroyed the film set, which the director had everyone refer to as “the Institute.” It was all captured in one of the DAU films, which I’ve heard is engrossing. How could it not be? A Jewish director engaging with neo-Nazis. An artist turning the destruction of his own work into art, a not-so-subtle nod to Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th-century godfather of Russian anarchist thought. Perhaps it was the only way to end a film shoot that could have lasted forever.There’s no schedule for the 13 films or any of the other events at DAU’s Paris venues. If you showed up when Currentzis was in town and conducted his MusicAeterna ensemble in a breathless performance of Tchaikovsky, great. If you didn’t, tough luck. “It’s like a safari,” Ruth Mackenzie, a co-director of the Théâtre du Châtelet, which co-produced the event, told me. “You don’t buy a ticket to a safari and then complain if you didn’t see an elephant.”Before entering the theaters you have to check your cell phone at the door. Instead of tickets, visitors are granted “visas” issued for six hours, 24 hours, or multiple-entry for the length of the run. I got an unlimited visa, which meant answering a psychometric questionnaire. (I was told the results would be fed into a program that would create a personalized itinerary through the narratives based on my answers, although this system wasn’t yet working when I visited.) The questions included: “I have engaged in deliberately self-destructive behaviors and not cared about the consequences,” “I have been in a relationship with an imbalance of power,” and “In the right situation, everyone could have the capacity to kill.” We could answer on a scale of seven, from “completely unrelated” to “completely related” or “completely disagree” to “completely agree.”To help design a program that would create viewing itineraries based on people’s answers to the questionnaire, DAU’s producers spoke with Cambridge Analytica, the now-infamous British political data firm that was hired by Donald’s Trump campaign for the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and which Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating for alleged misuse of the private data of Facebook’s 50 million users. But DAU’s executive producer, Martine d’Anglejan-Chatillon, told me they never hired the company. “They were just not very good,” she said. Instead, they hired Truth, a London-based agency that specializes in psychometric profiling.I sat in a single-viewer booth in front of a screen divided into 16 windows, exploring different plotlines and finding more information about the central characters—a project called DAU Digital that will soon go live online. The images ranged from zany science experiments to tender love stories. In one window, scientists put men in a metal pyramid and shot invisible rays at the pyramid, then recorded the men’s responses. One compared the sensation to “a warm bath.” In another screen, a woman in a glass box mimicked a monkey in an adjoining box. There was a sex scene. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, playing himself, talked about Marxism as a kind of religion.In one film, which I liked best because it had true emotional depth, Dau receives a visit from a friend of his youth, Maria, played by the Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou, and they talk about what might have been. Others are terminally boring, with little character development. In a film set in 1968, Dau’s wife, Kora, washes her now-infirm husband in the tub, then makes dinner, pounding chicken cutlets for what seems like ages before frying them. Later, she lies in bed with the couple’s teenage son and kisses him on the lips. In this work at least, Kyrzhanovsky makes even incest seem dull. A scene inside DAU’s Institute(Olympia Orlova / Phenomen)The films that troubled me most were ones that I felt crossed a line. One featured two men who came across as mentally challenged and who spent much of the time fondling each other, naked. Who were these men, I wondered, and did they know what they were getting themselves into? (That piece has voice-overs in French and English by the actors Gérard Depardieu and Willem Dafoe, respectively; there are no subtitles or background music in any of the movies.)Another film featured a waitress named Natasha who drinks to excess with a bunch of scientists and winds up having what looked to me like actual, penetrative sex with the French scientist, Luc Bigé. Because she’s slept with a foreigner, which is against the Institute’s rules, she’s called in for questioning by Azhippo, the real KGB agent. He then forces Natasha to strip naked, drink the better part of a bottle of Cognac, and perform graphic sexual acts on herself with the empty bottle, before making her sign a pledge to inform on the scientists. “Remember,” he tells her, “We’re going to be friends, and you’re signing this confession of your own free will.” Afterwards, Natasha flirts with the agent and says she only signed because he had nice eyes. The French voice-over is by the actress Charlotte Rampling.The sex and manipulation didn’t seem to serve any greater artistic purpose, even if the participants had joined the project of their own free will. Also, if DAU isn’t scripted, were we seeing real drinking, real puking, and real sex? I asked Khrzhanovsky. “Yes,” he said, they were having actual sex. So what kind of direction had he given the characters? What’s the difference here between art and pornography? “You should answer me,” he said. I told him I wasn’t the creator. We went around in circles a bit. “It is sex, but I think it doesn’t matter if it’s with penetration or without penetration. What matters is what happens between people,” he said.Well, here I disagree. If there’s one line between art and pornography, it’s the line between simulated sex and real sex. Before filming, had he asked Natasha if she was comfortable having sex on camera? “When you invite people to this kind of project, generally you have all possible forces there and of course you discuss about sex, about arrest, about words you cannot pronounce,” Khrzhanovsky said. He said Natasha was Ukrainian, and not a sex worker, and that she and Bigé, her on-screen lover, continue to be part of the project. “Why do people try to be more moral than the people who participate? It’s a question about the question,” he asked me.As we spoke, I could hear in the background the slightly menacing thrum of an industrial soundscape composed by Brian Eno, who said at the press preview that DAU was “the most insanely ambitious project” he’d ever been involved in. At times during our conversation, Khrzhanovsky would occasionally open a black book that he’d placed on the table, its spine facing me. I could see it had been hollowed out and he kept his cellphone inside. I found this nod to the old KGB tactic of hiding recording devices in books amusing—and emblematic of the multiple levels of irony in Khrzhanovsky’s project. He was self-consciously making fun of his Soviet affectations, while also embracing them. He was pretending to be a sadist, but also just might be a sadist. He certainly seemed like a man with teenage fantasies about sex and control and way too big a budget.A scene inside DAU’s Institute(Olympia Orlova / Phenomen)When I asked Mackenzie, the co-director of the Théâtre du Châtelet, if she’d seen anything in the DAU films that made her reconsider showing them, she said no. Some were “disturbing,” she said, but she stood by Khrzhanovsky’s vision and thought he had his “finger on the Zeitgeist.” How? I asked. She mentioned the #MeToo movement. “The boundaries of acceptable behavior are changing by the year in a way that I think is healthy,” Mackenzie said. “As a feminist, I absolutely applaud the chance to debate and discuss these things and confront them. And in my view, Ilya gives us this chance through his art.”Ah, the stories we tell ourselves. I don’t think the DAU films start the slightest serious debate about #MeToo or anything related to it, except a debate about the director’s own attitudes toward women on and off the set. I kept thinking back to the Cognac bottle scene. The only thing that seemed to distinguish that movie from pornography was the involvement of serious artists and scientists in other aspects of the project. Their reputations gave cover to something quite creepy. DAU is a cagey project that largely gets a pass because it poses as an artistic exploration of control, authoritarianism and the exploitation of women, when what’s going on here might just be plain exploitation.The more time I spent in the hermetic universe of DAU, the more I began to think that for all the hoopla, on some level Khrzhanovsky didn’t actually want to show it to the public. He had spent years editing the material from DAU’s headquarters in Central London. Now that he put it before an audience, it felt as if we were an inconvenience, treated with contempt. When I asked him where he thought the audience fit in, he told me, “This project exists only through the public.” People’s reactions “become a part of the project,” he said, citing how a DAU premiere planned in Berlin last fall was called off because the city wouldn’t let him build a replica of the Berlin Wall. Khrzhanovsky seemed to enjoy the negative reactions. He’s been getting plenty in Paris, too.In the end, DAU in Paris is a massive Gesamtkunstwerk without much Kunst. It’s a nightclub disguised as an art installation. It’s a party—and it makes you feel as if you’re not invited. DAU is a case study in how word-of-mouth spreads among artists, and how the Paris cultural establishment will seemingly embrace any project that affirms its commitment to the avant-garde, no matter how grotesque or banal. The true work of art here may be that Khrzhanovsky managed to pull it off at all.Before he glided out into the night, I asked Khrzhanovsky what he wanted visitors to take away from the project. “That they can feel something about themselves, and I don’t know what, because people are so different,” he said. I did feel something. That I have a high tolerance for art, a low tolerance for physical discomfort, and an even lower tolerance for bullshit.
World Edition - The Atlantic
Read President Trump’s Speech Declaring a National Emergency
President Donald Trump announced Friday morning that he’s declaring a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border and will be reprogramming billions in federal funds to build a wall. Below, the full text of his remarks from the White House Rose Garden before he took questions from reporters.Thank you very much, everybody.Before we begin, I would like to say that we have a large team of very talented people in China. We have had a negotiation going on for about two days. It's going extremely well—who knows what that means because it only matters if we get it done, but we are very much working very closely with China and President Xi who I respect a lot, very good relationship that we have. And we are a lot closer than we ever were in this country with having a real trade deal.We are covering everything, all of the points that people have been talking about for years that said couldn't be done whether it was theft or anything, anything, the unfairness. We have been losing, on average, $375 billion a year with China. A lot of people think it is $506 billion. Some people think it is much more than that. We’re gonna be leveling the playing field. The tariffs are hurting China very badly. They don't want them and frankly if we can make the deal it would be my honor to remove them. But otherwise, we are having very many billions of dollars pouring into our treasury; we have never had that before with China. It has been very much of a one-way street. So that's happening. And the relationship with China is very good, but I think they finally respect our country. They haven't respected us for a long time, not for a long time.The U.K. and the U.S., as you probably have been seeing and hearing, we are agreeing to go forward and preserve our trade agreement. You know all of the situation with respect to Brexit and the complexity and the problems. But we have a very good trading relationship with U.K. and that has just been strengthened further. So with the U.K., we are continuing our trade. And we are going to actually be increasing it very substantially as time goes by. We expect that the U.K. will be very, very substantially increased as it relates to trade with the United States—the relationship there also is very good.We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate, and that’ll be announced over the next 24 hours, and many other things. A lot of positive things are going on. We’re working on a summit, and you know all about the summit. It’ll be in Vietnam. Hanoi. And we will be meeting in Hanoi. I think a lot of you will be going, I suspect, and I hope we have the same good luck as we had in the first summit.A lot was done in the first summit. No more rockets going up, no more missiles going up. No more testing of nuclear. Take back our remains, the remains of our great heroes from the Korean War. And we got back our hostages. But we hope we will be very much equally as successful. I'm in no rush for speed. We just don't want testing. The sanctions, as you know, remain. Everything is remaining. China has been helping us and Russia has been helping us, and South Korea I think you can say has been—we have been working very closely with South Korea, with Japan, but China, Russia on the border have really been at least partially living up to what they're supposed to be doing, and that's okay, as per the United Nations.So we will have a meeting on the 27th and 28th of February, and I think that will be very successful, and I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim. We have also established a very good relationship which has never happened between him or his family and the United States. They have really taken advantage of the United States, billions of dollars has been paid to them, and we won't let that happen. But we think that North Korea and Chairman Kim have a tremendous potential as an economic force and economic power. Their location between South Korea and then Russia and China, right smack in the middle, is phenomenal. And we think they have a great chance for tremendous economic prosperity in the future. So I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim in Vietnam.Today, I'm announcing several critical actions that my administration is taking to confront a problem that we have right here at home. We fight wars that are 6,000 miles away, wars that we should have never been in in many cases, but we don't control our own border. So we are going to confront the national-security crisis on our southern border. And we are going to do it one way or the other.We have to do it. Not because it was a campaign promise, which it is—was one of many, by the way, not my only one. We are rebuilding the military, our economy is thriving like never before—you look at other economies, they are doing terribly, and we’re doing phenomenally. The market is up tremendously today. Not that that’s anything, because I’ll go back in and they’ll say the market went back down. But the market is getting close to the new highs that we created. We have all the records. We have every record, but we are getting close to that point again where we’ll create new records. So our country is doing very well economically, and we have done a lot. But one of the things I said I have to do and I want to do is border security, because we have tremendous amounts of drugs flowing into our country, much of it coming from the southern border.When you look and when you listen to politicians, in particular, certain Democrats, they say it all comes through the port of entry. It's wrong. It’s wrong. It's just a lie. It's all a lie. They say walls don't work. Walls work 100 percent. Whether it’s El Paso—I really was smiling because the other night I was in El Paso, we had a tremendous crowd, tremendous crowd, and I asked the people, many of whom were from El Paso, but they came from all over Texas, and I asked, them, I said, “Let me ask you as a crowd, when the wall went up, was it better?” You were there, some of you. It was not only better, it was like 100 percent better. You know what they did. But that's only one example. There were so many examples. In El Paso, they have close to 2,000 murders right on the other side of the wall, and they have 23 murders. That’s a lot of murders, but it's not close to 2,000 murders right on the other side of the wall in Mexico.So everyone knows that walls work, and there are better examples than El Paso, frankly. You just take a look almost everywhere. Take a look at Israel. They are building another wall. Their wall is 99.9 percent effective, they told me. Ninety-nine point nine percent.That is what it would be with us, too. The only weakness is they go to the wall and go around the wall. They go around the wall and in, okay, that's what it is. It's very simple. And a big majority of the big drugs, the big drug loads don't go through ports of entry. They can't go through ports of entry. You can't take big loads because you have people, you have some very capable people, the border patrol, law enforcement looking. You can't take human traffic, women and girls, you can't take them through ports of entry. You can't have them tied up in the backseat of a car or a truck or a van. They open the door, they look. If they can't see three women with tape on their mouth or three women whose hands are tied. They go through areas where you have no wall. Everybody knows that. Nancy knows it. Chuck knows it. They all know it. It's all a big lie. It's a big con game. You don't have to be very smart to know, you put up a barrier, the people come in and—that's it, they can't do anything, unless they walk left or right and they find an area where there is no barrier and they come into the United States. Welcome.We have detained more people. Our border agents are doing such incredible work. Our military has been incredible. We put up barbed wire on top of certain old walls that were there. We fixed the wall, and we loaded it up with barbed wire. It is very successful. But our military has been fantastic, and I want to thank them. And it's very necessary. We’ve broken up two caravans that are on their way. They just are in—they’re in the process of breaking up. We have another one that we haven't been able to break up yet.We have been working with Mexico much better than ever before. I want to thank the president. I want to thank Mexico. They have their own problems. They have the largest number of murders that they have ever had in their history, almost 40,000 murders—40,000. They’ve got to straighten that out. I think they will. But I just want to thank the president, because he has been helping us with these monstrous caravans that have been coming up. We had one that was up to 15,000 people; it’s largely broken up. Others have gotten through. And in Tijuana, you have a lot of people staying. If we didn't have the wall up and if we didn’t have the wall secured and strengthened, they would have walked right through. They would be welcome to the United States.One of the things we saved a tremendous, just a tremendous amount on would be sending the military. Well—we don't need the military. Cause we would have a wall. So I'm going to be signing a national emergency, and it's been signed many times before. It's been signed by other presidents, from 1977 or so, it gave the presidents the power. There has rarely been a problem. They sign it. Nobody cares. I guess they weren't very exciting. They sign it for far less important things in some cases, in many cases. We are talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.We have some of the greatest people I know—they’ve been with me from the beginning of my campaign, almost from the first week—the angel moms. Unfortunately, we have new angel moms. One incredible woman who showed me her daughter who we’re talking about killed in the year of ’18. I said, “I haven't seen you before.” She said, “No, I’m new.” I said, “That’s too bad, it’s too bad, it's so sad.” Stand up just for a second. Show how beautiful your girl was. Thank you.I have such respect for these people. Angel moms, angel dads, angel families. I have great respect for these people. These are great people. These are great people. They're fighting for their children that have been killed by people that were illegally in this country. And the press doesn't cover them. They don't want to, incredibly, and they're not treated the way they should be. They are fighting for other people because they don't want what happened to their children or husband or anybody—we have one young lady whose husband—please, stand up. Your husband was just killed in Maryland. Incredible man just killed. Beautiful children won't be seeing their father again. These are brave people. These are people that—they don't have to be here. They don't have to be doing this. They are doing it for other people. So I just want to thank all of you for being here, okay, I really do. I want to thank you. Incredible people.Last year, 70,000 Americans were killed at least—I think the number is ridiculously low—by drugs including meth and heroin and cocaine, fentanyl. Now one of the things that I did with President Xi in China when I met him in Argentina at a summit before I started talking about the trade—it was a trade meeting, it went very well. But before I talked about trade I talked about something more important. I said, “Listen, we have tremendous amounts of fentanyl coming into our country, kills tens of thousands of people, I think far more than anybody registers. And I'd love you to declare it a lethal drug and put it on your criminal list.” And their criminal list is much tougher than our criminal list. Their criminal list, a drug dealer gets a thing called the death penalty. Our criminal list a drug dealer gets a thing called—how about a fine.And when I asked President Xi, I said, “You have a drug problem?” [He said,] “No, no, no.” I said, “You have 1.4 billion people, what do you mean you have no drug problem?” [He said,] “No, we don't have a drug problem.” I said, “Why?” [He said,] “Death penalty. We give death penalty to people that sell drugs.” End of problem. What do we do? We set up blue-ribbon committees, lovely men and women. They sit around the table. They have lunch, they eat, they dine, and they waste a lot of time. So if we want to get smart, we can get smart. You can end the drug problem. You can end it a lot faster than you think.So President Xi has agreed to put fentanyl on his list of deadly, deadly drugs. And it's a criminal penalty and the penalty is death. So that's frankly one of the things I'm most excited about in our trade deal. Want to know the truth, I think maybe there is no more important point.We are going to make billions of dollars with this trade deal. It’s going to be great with this country and great for China, I hope. Their market is down close to 40 percent. Our market is way up. We have picked up since my election trillions of dollars of worth, trillions, many trillions. And China has lost trillions of dollars. But I want it to be good for China and I want it to be good for the United States. We'll see what happens. China is coming here next week. They are coming home, the traders. And then China is coming here next week. I’ll be meeting with President Xi at some point after that to maybe have remaining deals. We'll make them directly one-on-one ourselves. So.So we're going to be signing today, and registering, national emergency and it's a great thing to do. Because we have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people and it's unacceptable. And by signing the national emergency, something signed many times by other presidents, many, many times—President Obama, in fact—we may be using one of the national emergencies that he signed having to do with cartels, criminal cartels. It's a very good emergency that he signed. And we’re going to use parts of it on our dealings on cartels. So that would be a second national emergency. But in that case it’s already in place. And what we really want to do is simple. It's not like it is complicated. It's very simple. We want to stop drugs from coming into our country. We want to stop criminals and gangs from coming into our country. Nobody has done the job that we have ever done. I mean nobody has done the job that we’ve done on the border.And in a way, what I did by creating such a great economy—and if the opposing party got in this economy would be down the tubes, you know, I hear a lot of people say, “Oh well, but maybe the previous administration … ”—let me tell you, the previous administration it was heading south and it was going fast. We would have been down the tubes. The regulations were strangling our country, unnecessary regulations. By creating such a strong economy, you just look at your televisions and see what is going on today, it’s through the roof. What happens is more people want to come.So we have far more people trying to get into our country today than probably we have ever had before and we have done an incredible job in stopping them, but it is a massive number of people. If we had the wall it would be very easy. We would make up for the cost of the wall just in the cost of the fact that I would be able to have fewer people. We wouldn't need all of this incredible talent, some of whom are sitting in the first row. You wouldn't need all of this incredible talent. We would get, we would get thousands of law-enforcement people including Border Patrol. You put them in different areas and you have them doing different things, law enforcement and Border Patrol. And I want to thank law enforcement and I want to thank Border Patrol and I want to thank ICE. ICE is abused by the press, and by the Democrats, by the way, we are going to be taking care of ICE. We talk about the new bill. We’re going to be taking care of ICE. They wanted to get rid of ICE. And the bill is just the opposite of that. A lot of good things happen.So that's the story. We want to have a safe country. I ran on a very simple slogan: make America great again. If you are going to have drugs pouring across the border, if you are going to have human traffickers pouring across the border in areas where we have no protection, in areas where we don't have a barrier, then—very hard to make America great again. But we have done a fantastic job, but we haven't been given the equipment. We haven't been given the walls.And in the bill, by the way, they didn't even fight us on most of the stuff—ports of entry. We have so much money we don't know what to do with it. I don't know what to do with all the money they are giving us. It's crazy. The only place they don’t want to give us much money—$1.375 billion, it sounds like a lot, but it is not so much, although we are putting it to much better use than it used to be. A lot of the past administrations it was easy to get, they didn’t build. They didn't do what they could have done. It would have been great. It would have been great to have done it earlier, but I was a little new to the job and a little new to the profession. And we had a little disappointment for the first year and a half, people that should have stepped up did not step up. They didn't step up and they should have, it would have been easy. Not that easy, but it would have been a lot easier. But some people didn't step up. But we are stepping up now.So we have a chance of getting close to $8 billion; whether it is $8 billion or $2 billion or $1.5 billion, it’s gonna build a lot of wall. We’re getting it done. We are right now in construction with wall in some of the most important areas, and we have renovated a tremendous amount of wall making it just as good as new. That's where a lot of the money has been spent, on renovation. In fact, we were restricted to renovating which is okay. But we are going to run out of areas that we can renovate pretty soon, so, and we need new wall.So I want to thank everybody for being here. I want to thank, in particular, the angel moms and dads for being here. Thank you very much. We have great respect for you. The real country, our real country, the people that really love our country, they love you. So I just want you to know that, I know how hard you fight and I know how hard a fight you’re having.I also want to thank all of the law enforcement for the job you do. Believe me, our country loves you and they respect you greatly. And we are giving you a lot of surplus. We are giving you surplus military equipment, which a lot of people didn't like giving previous to this administration, but hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus equipment. And as we get it, as you know, we send it down, and you have much better protection. But I really appreciate you being here.So the order is signed, and I'll sign the final papers as soon as I get into the Oval Office, and we will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit, even though it shouldn't be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling and then we will get another bad ruling, and then we will end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we will get a fair shake and win in the Supreme Court, just like the ban—they sued us in the Ninth Circuit, and we lost, and then we lost in the appellate division, and then we went to the Supreme Court and we won.And it was very interesting because yesterday they were talking about the ban, because we have a ban that is very helpful, Madame Secretary, is that right? Without the ban, we would have a bigger problem. We have a ban on certain areas, certain countries, depending on what’s going on in the world, and we won. But somebody said President Trump lost on the ban. He was right. I lost at the lower court. He didn't say that we ultimately won at the United States Supreme Court. They don’t want to say that, they didn't want to go that far. They were saying how I lost, the person sitting right up here. Donald Trump lost on the ban. Yeah, I did, and then I lost a second time, and you should have said that, too. Then it went to the Supreme Court and I won. Didn't want to take it that far. But we won on the ban and we won on other things, too.The probably easiest one to win is on declaring a national emergency, because we are declaring it for virtual invasion purposes—drugs, traffickers, and gangs. And one of the things, just to finish, we have removed thousands of MS-13 gang monsters, thousands. They are out of this country. We take them out by the thousands. And they are monsters. Okay. Do you have any questions?
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Trump Administration Can’t Get a United Front Against Iran
Mike Pence traveled to Warsaw to deliver a scathing message to European allies for not standing with America against Iran. “The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and the Iranian people,” he declared.Except some of the Europeans hadn’t even bothered to show up.Nevertheless, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heralded the breadth of the Middle East conference, citing representatives present from “60-plus” countries around the world. The absences were telling: Foreign ministers from Germany and France declined to show, sending lower-level officials instead. The EU’s foreign-affairs chief had a scheduling conflict. Representatives for key players in the Middle East—including the Palestinian Authority, Iran, Russia, and Turkey—also weren’t there. The last three were at a conference of their own, where they lauded the U.S. withdrawal from Syria and said Syrian troops should replace the Americans.[Read: Germany preps a Plan B for Trump’s foreign-policy ‘zigzag’]This was after the formal Warsaw agenda was broadened from its Iran-centric origins to accommodate the Europeans, who broadly support the Iran nuclear deal and have tried to preserve it since the U.S. withdrawal. Even Pompeo’s co-host, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, emphasized Europe’s commitment to the accord at a joint press conference with the U.S. secretary of state, though he did “condemn intolerable actions of Iran beyond its own territory, including Europe,” where the EU has accused Iran of directing four recent terrorist plots.Pompeo didn’t take the bait in that setting; he barely mentioned Iran at all. But the administration’s focus on Iran was clear in other venues—for instance, in Pompeo’s appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where he noted destabilizing Iranian activities throughout the region and remarked, “You can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran. It’s just not possible.”Vice President Pence went further in his own speech, criticizing European allies of the United States for their efforts to do business with Iran despite the reimposition of American nuclear-related sanctions on the regime. And he referred explicitly to the growing rift between America and its European allies, declaring that such efforts “will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU, and create still more distance between Europe and America.”“I don’t see any real benefit to this,” said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution. “It doesn’t speak well of the administration’s organizational capacity that after a lot of high-profile attention to this conference, there wasn’t a lot of there there.”But if the Iran issue divides traditional allies, it unites traditional adversaries. What were perhaps the summit’s most significant moments of unity came from improbable places, namely between the Israelis and the Arabs. Netanyahu noted as much in an unfortunately phrased tweet on Wednesday, where he cited Israel and Arab countries’ “common interest of war with Iran”—before reissuing the tweet with a softer “combating Iran.”[Read: A Trump doctrine for the Middle East]It was something significantly short of Middle East peace, but still significant. It wasn’t the unveiling of Jared Kushner’s much-hyped peace plan; there was no photo op with Netanyahu and the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs. There was, however, Netanyahu attending a session with Arab officials and meeting with the Omani foreign minister; there was the Bahraini foreign minister’s declaration to The Times of Israel that his country would “eventually” establish ties with Israel; there was even a former senior Saudi official giving an interview to an Israeli television station, albeit one in which he criticized what he called Netanyahu’s “hubristic attitude.” The official, Prince Turki bin Faisal, who once served as the kingdom’s head of intelligence, also noted, “We don’t need Mr. Netanyahu to tell us the dangers Iran poses.” But the rapprochement will go only so far, said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. The Arab states are worried about Iran, he said, but Netanyahu’s “war” gaffe didn’t help anybody. The Arabs “do not need a war. That they don’t need, and they know it.” And there are serious limits on how much they’re willing to cooperate formally with Israel absent progress on the Palestinian issue, he said. Prince Turki said as much in his interview: “From the Israeli point of view, Mr. Netanyahu would like us to have a relationship, and then we can fix the Palestinian issue. From the Saudi point of view, it’s the other way around.”In the end, the Warsaw confab produced little of immediate substance but a call for more dialogue and the establishment of working groups on a range of issues, including cybersecurity and missile proliferation. The very number of parties in attendance would naturally limit their ability to forge agreements, given the wide range of perspectives at stake. If Pompeo hoped to stitch together more support from the Europeans for the Trump administration’s Iran policy, he instead succeeded in highlighting their divisions. And still the size of the gathering—which also included representation from Asia and Latin America—said something about the convening power of the United States. And perhaps it provided an implicit warning that in the face of European snubs, the U.S. may try to find its backing elsewhere. Whether American Iran sanctions can survive without the Europeans is another question.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
It’s Impossible to Follow a Conversation on Twitter
Earlier this week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and the tech journalist Kara Swisher conducted a full 90-minute interview entirely on Twitter. The interview was meant to be an old-school “Twitter chat,” and users were instructed to follow along using the hashtag #KaraJack.It was a disaster. Attempting to follow a public conversation happening on Twitter is “pretty much a mess right now,” Dorsey himself noted at a conference yesterday. The chat was so difficult to parse that Recode futilely attempted to collect Dorsey’s responses into a Twitter Moment. Meanwhile, other users begged the Thread Reader App bot to unroll the thread, to which it replied that it simply could not.Part of the problem is that #KaraJack didn't follow any of the standard norms for Twitter chats (essentially long, back-and-forth conversations that unfurl in @ replies on the network). When I worked as a social-media strategist eight years ago, at the height of Twitter chats’ popularity, I conducted more than 100 of them for brands. They were almost all bad, but they were made marginally better by a couple of important protocols. One is to number the questions and replies so that it’s clear what exactly someone is replying to. Another is to space out questions and answers and not talk over each other. #KaraJack did neither. Both Swisher and Dorsey split the original thread and replied to the wrong tweets. Swisher made a typo right at the get-go. But still, following a conversation on Twitter shouldn’t be this hard.The theoretical benefit of being on Twitter, a broadcast-based open social network, is to talk with other people and follow their conversations, even ones that don’t include you. Somehow, in 2019, the product has degraded to the point where this has become impossible. It’s like running through a public square shouting at people, trying to start a dialogue while getting jostled by a crowd.The primary issue is threads. Threaded tweets were first introduced back in December 2017 as an easier way for people to make “tweetstorms” cohesive. Twitter has done almost nothing to hone the feature since then.The most obvious problem with threading is that it assumes Twitter users think linearly. In real life, you may post a 12-part thread only to realize that you need to expand on or clarify just the third tweet. If you reply to that third entry alone, you’ll break the thread, splitting it into two and making it harder for people to find the original. This not only makes complex thoughts difficult to communicate, but it also makes deciphering them almost impossible.The problems don’t stop there, though. The way Twitter shows replies is also confusing: Users have to click into each tweet in a thread to get the full scope of responses to it. There’s no simple, all-encompassing hub to view both the thread and the conversation happening around it.The #KaraJack chat would have been a perfect opportunity for Twitter to show off a new hashtag hub or similar feature. The company has invested resources into adding emojis to the end of special hashtags, but it still hasn’t harnessed hashtags’ real power: collecting conversation. (Twitter declined to comment.)When users click the #KaraJack hashtag, for instance, they should be presented with a chronological, easy-to-follow feed of Swisher and Dorsey’s conversation and the response tweets to it. Instead, Twitter offers a messy, algorithmic timeline full of random tweets, mostly from other people. Since both Swisher and Dorsey failed to include the #KaraJack tag in some of their tweets, those tweets are nowhere to be found. This is a missed opportunity: Twitter should have a way for users to hashtag an entire thread. Part of Swisher’s and Dorsey’s hashtag negligence could have been due to character-count pressures, since hashtags still inexplicably count toward the limit on each tweet. This makes users less likely to categorize their own content via hashtags; the company’s CEO just proved as much firsthand.Though Twitter prides itself on being an open social network, the #KaraJack interview proves its desperate need for more walled-off spaces. Currently Twitter offers users only two core privacy options: You can set your entire profile and tweets to public or private. But users who choose to remain private should have the ability to make their voices heard in public conversations. Twitter could offer privacy restrictions on individual units of content, as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and just about every other modern social platform do. Or it could allow users to keep a private profile while tweets with a public hashtag could be open to views, replies, and retweets from other users.Twitter has another, bigger problem. No one will want to engage in any sort of public discussion on the platform until it recognizes the sheer depth of harassment taking place there. One big takeaway from the #KaraJack conversation was Dorsey’s failure to admit that harassment is an issue. When asked who he admired on Twitter, Dorsey championed Elon Musk, a man who regularly uses the platform to harass critics and baselessly claimed that the man who saved Thai children trapped in a cave was a pedophile. If this denial continues, it will ultimately be the platform’s downfall. Most users don’t want to hop into a public discussion where simply tweeting with a female avatar can be enough to garner an inbox full of rape threats.One way for Twitter to better moderate a user’s experience would be to create closed “rooms” for Twitter chats, where only approved people could participate. Facebook offers this feature through private groups; Reddit has subreddits, and Discord has rooms. This would help protect those who are participating in a thoughtful way from harassment, and could offer a less chaotic experience for those who are trying to follow along, by segmenting the chat out from their main feeds. It doesn’t matter how many color-coded replies or pop-up profiles Twitter implements if chats are too hard to discover and follow.Whatever Twitter chooses to do, it must start making changes quickly. The company reported just 126 million daily active users in its most recent earnings—fewer than Snapchat, which has been written off for its slowing growth. As Casey Newton at The Verge recently said, “There are talented product managers inside Twitter who would do more, if they could. But they are often stymied by internal roadblocks that—unlike the collective behavior of hundreds of millions of users—actually are under the CEO’s control.” Dorsey’s disastrous Twitter interview is proof that he needs to spend less time talking and more time focusing on the product.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Nationalist Case for Amnesty
Perhaps 10 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Their fate is among the most polarizing, seemingly intractable issues in American politics.Proponents of a substantial amnesty often make humanitarian arguments, highlighting the most affecting challenges faced by families “living in the shadows.” That makes it easy conclude that the debate is best understood as pitting globalists who emphasize the needs of the least well-off against nationalists who insist that the nation must prioritize what’s best for its own citizens.That fault line certainly runs through the immigration debate. But it can be misleading. Imagine that the welfare of undocumented immigrants counts for nothing at all—that their fate should turn entirely on what makes U.S. citizens best off. Given that constraint, there’s still a strong case that an amnesty is the best policy.Many on both sides of the debate intuit otherwise because they conceive of undocumented immigrants as laborers who crowd into segregated urban enclaves, follow harvests, or sleep in worker bunks at meatpacking plants. In this telling, they might interact with Americans when making up our motel rooms or bussing our tables, but were they deported, the worst consequences most of “us” might suffer would be higher prices for lettuce or lawn maintenance. There are wealthy Americans who interact with undocumented immigrants almost entirely as consumers of cheap labor; there are working-class Americans who interact with undocumented immigrants mostly as competitors for jobs; and those incentives do, in fact, fuel self-interested positions on the issue.But so many undocumented immigrants have been in the United States for so long that literally millions are deeply integrated into American communities. They have friends, classmates, neighbors and coworkers who are U.S. citizens. Many of them have enjoyed significant economic success, too. All that helps to explain polls like the one Fox News did in 2017, noting that setting up “a system to legalize undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. receives bipartisan support: most Democrats (95 percent legalize vs. 4 percent deport), Republicans (69-28 percent) and independents (82-13 percent) want legalization to happen.”In 2015, Pew found that “a solid majority (72%) of Americans—including 80% of Democrats, 76% of independents and 56% of Republicans—say undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in this country legally if they meet certain requirements.” Most recently, a 2019 Gallup poll found 81 percent “favor allowing immigrants living illegally in the U.S. the chance to become citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.”Watching Lou Dobbs or listening to Rush Limbaugh, one could be forgiven for concluding that support for a substantial amnesty is a radical position that cosmopolitan elites want to foist on “regular Americans.” In fact, despite being a legislative improbability at the moment, amnesty is very popular in this country. It is opponents of amnesty who are out of step with “regular Americans.” That majorities of Americans favor a qualified amnesty is strong evidence for the proposition that it is the policy that would make citizens best off. Even those motivated by selfless humanitarian concerns derive value from getting their way in politics. But it is not definitive evidence, in part because it doesn’t tell us much about salience. Maybe lots of people favor amnesty but don’t care about it that much, while a smaller number oppose it with a strong, passionate hatred. Let’s assume that among the minority of American citizens who oppose granting legal status to most undocumented immigrants, a sizable faction counts the issue as among the most important, or close to it, and opposes any amnesty intensely. Are any of their fellow citizens similarly passionate in the other direction?There are, in fact, millions of American citizens who very likely value amnesty much more highly than the vast majority of its most passionate opponents value stopping it. Pew Research found in 2008 that “the number of U.S.-born children in mixed-status families (unauthorized immigrant parents and citizen children) has expanded rapidly in recent years, to 4 million in 2008 from 2.7 million in 2003.” That number is almost certainly even higher than 4 million today.If we’re trying to maximize the happiness of Americans, with no regard for morality, just utility, how should we compare the cost suffered by a restrictionist who doesn’t get his way on amnesty in relation to the benefit derived by another American citizen for whom amnesty means getting to live in the same country as their mother and father without worrying about their deportation?We’re admittedly crossing into the realm of speculation.Still, there is a hugely compelling case for the proposition that 4 million Americans who’ll no longer worry that armed agents of the state will force their moms and dads to move far away, often to an impoverished or dangerous country, will get more utility from an amnesty than millions of those most opposed will lose.When one starts to treat all Americans with close personal connections to undocumented immigrants as fully equal citizens whose pursuit of happiness is as valuable as that of any others, rather than unconsciously discounting them as possessing less legitimate claims to the nation, the case for legalizing the status of their parents or romantic partners or best friends or employers or employees starts to add up to a whole lot of profound benefits for Americans. And that’s leaving aside public goods that would flow from amnesty, like hastening assimilation and facilitating better cooperation with local authorities. Unlike some proponents of amnesty, I do not discount the preferences of the people on the other side of the debate, who object to rewarding unlawful entry or feel deep psychological discomfort with difference and ethnocultural change. Those concerns are legitimate. I just don’t think it’s fair for their fears and strong predisposition to prize sameness to trump a policy that has majority support and that would very likely enhance the overall happiness and well-being of Americans. That’s especially so because undocumented immigrants who’ve been here for many years likely play a lesser role in the activation of latent predispositions to authoritarianism than does the rapid introduction of refugee populations or the overall changes in ethnocultural makeup that flow from ongoing legal immigration. Legalizing undocumented immigrants doesn't change who resides here; they’re already here.A compromise bill that traded a substantial amnesty for a five-year pause in legal immigration; the aggressive, ongoing deportation of newcomers who are convicted of felonies; offering permanent legal status rather than eventual citizenship for older unlawful entrants; and a shift away from chain-migration toward a skills-based system might even be a satisfactory bargain both for Americans who are appalled at the treatment of undocumented immigrants and fearful authoritarians. Loath as I’d be to delay the legal migration of newcomers eager to come here for a better life, I’d likely support such a compromise as an elected official faced with the alternative of extending a decades long nightmare for the undocumented and the tens of millions of Americans who love them. Or if Donald Trump wants to trade an amnesty for a wall that’s worth it, too.At the same time, a substantial amnesty should no longer be conceived of as a radical, unpopular proposal that starry-eyed humanitarians must wrest as a concession from the majority. Amnesty is a sensible policy with majoritarian popular support that can be justified on the nationalistic basis of increasing the overall happiness of Americans. Its supporters should push for its standalone passage. And opponents of amnesty should be forced to recognize that the longer they delay in agreeing to a bargain that legalizes the status of undocumented immigrants, the weaker their ability to wrest any concessions will be.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
A Dispatch From the Anti-Amazon Victory Party
A piñata hangs from a tree on Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens. It is decorated with the face of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and by the end of Thursday night it will meet the fate of all piñatas. It is here to celebrate a major victory for grassroots activism in New York City. Earlier in the day, Amazon announced that it would not build its planned headquarters in Queens, with or without $3 billion in tax incentives. After months of intense opposition from a coalition of dedicated progressive groups and local politicians, the tech giant has folded.“This is the best Valentine’s Day present ever,” says one woman in the crowd. Volunteers hand out chocolate kisses. It is February 14 and you can feel the love. Activists fall into each other’s arms, bestowing congratulations. Many are women. Most are young people of color. The faces here tonight contradict the media’s claim that the Amazon opposition is mostly made up of white, upper-class, NIMBY naifs. As the crowd grows in number, Fahd Ahmed, an immigrant from Pakistan and a grassroots organizer, starts off the speeches. “We just beat the richest man in the world,” he shouts. The crowd cheers. They are jubilant and they should be. Together, they helped bring down a Goliath that few imagined would fall. As Ahmed says, “It is a turning of the tide.”Since the 1970s, the tide in New York City has moved in one direction—rising to lift the fortunes and freedoms of the rich, while ushering in hyper-gentrification and displacement for the working-class. Leveraging the fiscal crisis of the time, New York’s leaders abruptly turned away from the city’s burgeoning social democracy toward the radical capitalist ideology of neoliberalism, a model of governance that focuses on privatization, deregulation, fiscal austerity, small government, and trickle-down economics. New York was re-organized into a competitive city, fighting a Darwinian battle with other cities around the globe for world-class businesses, mega-developments, and tourist dollars.The new strategy required giving large tax breaks and other incentives to big businesses and real-estate developers, especially those who promised something shiny in return. One of the first and biggest recipients of New York’s corporate welfare program was Donald Trump, the ultimate developer of glitz in the greed-is-good, over-the-top era of the 1980s. Without the multi-million-dollar giveaways he reaped for the Grand Hyatt Hotel and Trump Tower, would he have built his fortune and celebrity to such powerful heights? It is perhaps cosmic justice that, four decades later, the movement to turn back the neoliberal model is fueled by righteous anger unleashed by Trump’s election to the presidency. At Diversity Plaza, the speeches end with a chant of “We are the revolution” and people are leaping with fists in the air. A mariachi band begins to play. A man blows bubbles overhead and people dance on the snow-wet pavement. The defeat of Amazon has ignited a sense of possibility, and it seems as if everyone is talking about a major shift in the collective consciousness of the city. Under a lamppost, in the phosphorescent glow of a Bangladeshi buffet, I talk with Fahd Ahmed. As Executive Director of DRUM: Desis Rising Up and Moving, he helped to organize tonight’s event. “This is a loss for the neoliberal approach to the city’s physical and economic development,” he tells me. “Politicians have felt the change in the wind.”He’s quite right that local politicians are starting to respond to the people’s demands. At a City Council hearing in January, Speaker Corey Johnson slammed Amazon executives while protestors held a banner that read, “Amazon delivers lies.” State Senator Michael Gianaris, recently appointed to the Public Authorities Control Board, pushed back against Governor Andrew Cuomo and demanded an end to the Amazon deal. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was an early opponent of the plan. When news broke of Thursday’s decision, she tweeted, “Anything is possible.”In cities where unfettered global capitalism and hyper-gentrification have taken hold, making neighborhoods unlivable for all but the wealthy, activists might start looking to the anti-Amazon fight for strategies. Lena Afridi, Director of Economic Policy at the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, and an immigrant born in Karachi and raised in Queens, sees this broad coalition, led by women, people of color, and immigrants, as a model for progressives everywhere. “This will have an international impact,” she tells me. “People all over the world are watching Queens. And it’s beautiful.”Over warm cups of butter tea at a nearby Tibetan restaurant, anti-gentrification activists Beatriz Rodriguez of SaveNYC and Kirsten Theodos of TakeBackNYC agree there is something powerful about Queens that Amazon did not anticipate. The borough holds the Guinness World Record for “most ethnically diverse urban area on the planet,” and with diversity comes healthy dissent and resistance. “The people here really struggle,” Rodriguez says. “They are being displaced all the time. They left other countries to come here and get pushed around again? That’s why they have that fight.”“It’s not like a lot of Manhattan,” Kirsten adds, “which is so white-washed. For the people in Queens, it’s about survival.” And where there is a fight for survival, there cannot be complacency. There must be progress.Progress, in this case, means looking to the past. Many New Yorkers now believe the party line that to have a functional city, you have to welcome big development, and to have jobs, you have to give away billions in taxpayer money to corporations. But not too long ago, New York was a rambunctious and progressive city. Its unbridled spirit, what came to be known as “New York values,” was built by a confluence of immigrants, people of color, artists, the early LGBTQ communities, and a strong working class. They brought democratic socialism, built strong unions, and fought for human rights.Samuel Stein, Urban Studies instructor at Hunter College and author of Capital City, also sees the Amazon defeat as a watershed moment—and he expects pushback from the establishment. “Some will say that the successful fight against Amazon’s HQ2 marks the death of New York, and the triumph of negativity and fear over progress and development. They will say it shows that we can’t do big things anymore. I say: bullshit. This is not the death of New York City, this is its resuscitation. If it is the end of anything, it is the end of an era in which people feared the developers, and the beginning of a time in which developers fear the people.”If those developers were here at Diversity Plaza, they might at least feel pretty nervous. Boodoosingh, a Tassa drumming group, is pounding out a percussive rhythm so powerful you can feel it in the marrow of your bones. Its ancestral beat, calling back to Trinidad and Tobago, to colonized India and ancient Persia, intensifies and rises until it feels like an exorcism, a ritual cleansing. The people in the crowd are moving together, bouncing on their toes, dancing with arms in the air. There is a spirit moving through the people and it will not stop. Behind the drummers, the head of Jeff Bezos looks on from the piñata. After the music, a boy is pulled from the crowd and handed a broomstick. The people gather close, urging the boy to hit it hard. He aims and takes a whack at the piñata. Then another. Bezos’ head spins. The boy keeps at it. Another whack and the pinata splits open, spilling out a glittering burst of confetti. The crowd cheers.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
A State of Unreality
President Trump’s declaration of emergency salved yesterday’s loss of face—but has not solved any real problems for this administration or the country. In fact, he has opened four new problems atop the original problem that he has never been able to solveThe original problem is that a border wall was Trump’s signature promise, backed by his guarantee—“Believe me!”—that Mexico would pay for it. Trump has successfully induced his supporters to shrug off the abandonment of his promise that “Mexico will pay for the wall,” which is an impressive hustle already. He might well have induced them to forget the wall, or to accept that a light upgrade of the existing 700 miles of fencing counted as “the wall.” By now, his supporters are much more invested in the idea of Trump as a success than in his achieving any success in particular.Still, Trump has to imagine that in 2020 some political opponent will drive to an unfenced part of the U.S.-Mexico border with a camera crew, walk back-and-forth across it, and make a mocking campaign commercial asking: Whatever happened to the wall?He felt the need to be seen doing something, at least. The state of emergency is something. But this something comes with four catches.The first catch is legal. The declaration of a state of emergency is heading almost immediately to court. Construction could be enjoined while the litigation proceeds. Trump could lose. Yes, that would give him somebody to blame in 2020. Liberal judges stopped the wall. But a loss with an excuse remains a loss.By declaring an emergency, the president gains legal authority to move around some military construction funds, reportedly about $3.6 billion. But that money has to come from somewhere, and where it comes from is other projects. “That must have been really tough. To lose. To be a loser.” Those were Trump’s mocking words to acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, as quoted in his new book. He’ll have to wear them himself if the courts stop his wall.The legal route imposes another risk. Few voters will understand the limits on the emergency powers Trump has just invoked. The invocation will sound to many like final confirmation that Trump aspires to dictatorship. If the courts stop him, he will look like a defeated dictator—dangerous but weakened.The second catch is legislative. Congress will now vote on a statement of disapproval of Trump’s use of his emergency authority. That statement will fly through the House of Representatives. In the Senate, it will need only 51 votes. Can Trump muster a blocking majority? Maybe not. He can veto the bill, and Congress may not muster the two-thirds majority necessary to override it. But even if he does, Congress will have gone on record accusing the president of abusing his powers, and acting like a dictator.Central American border-crossing and asylum-claiming has been accelerating since the end of 2017. What kind of emergency can be postponed for 14 months? In 2018, Congress offered a lot of money for more fencing. Trump refused it. Even in 2019, it offered some. The state of emergency allows the president to reach for a little more than offered in 2019, but a lot less than was on the table in 2018. This does not look like emergency behavior. A congressional vote of disapproval will harden the already widespread impression that Trump himself does not believe his own claims, that he is playing demagogic politics with border security.The third catch is political. The emergency powers Trump has proclaimed allow him to reshuffle money between military-construction envelopes. Every additional dollar he devotes to the border is a dollar taken from another project already approved by Congress. Every one of those projects has patrons and sponsors. And because most military contracting goes to red states, most of the reshuffled dollars will be removed from red states.Among the projects at risk: a $32 million vehicle-maintenance shop in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I have no idea whether this project is supremely necessary or a pork-barrel boondoggle. But I bet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell strongly believes it is the former. What will North Carolina senator Thom Tillis—up for re-election in 2020—think if Trump pulls funds from the approved but not yet contracted project for a new aircraft hangar at the Marine Corps’ air station in his state? And so on down the line.Senate Republicans have submitted to a lot since 2017. Trump may at last discover their breaking point.The fourth catch is constitutional. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pointed out that Democrats stand ready and eager to make use of the emergency-powers precedent being created here, if they reclaim the White House in 2020. There is some exaggeration to her talk. Once the courts get done, Trump’s precedent may actually set new limits on presidential emergency powers.Remember, the most binding Supreme Court ruling on emergency powers delivered a rebuke to presidential power: the 1952 steel-seizure case, Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer. In the context of a real emergency, the Korean War, President Truman tested the outer limits of his power to seize private property—and got told no. The case governs to this day.Trump’s assertion of emergency powers does not go anywhere near so far as Truman’s. He’s messing with congressional prerogatives, not private property—but he’s inviting another sharp rebuke, one that will bind future presidents, too. Those future presidents may someday want for an authentic public purpose the powers Trump will shortly squander for crass political motives. To rebuke Trump’s abuses, the better presidents of tomorrow will be denied a power they might have used for good.Trump has been hoisted high by his vision of the presidency as the world’s highest-rated reality-TV drama. His instinct to escape every previous episode’s failure by creating a new drama for the next episode has served him well to date. But reality TV is ultimately not reality. Government is very real, and hedged by realities. Reality is now exacting its retribution upon the Trump presidency. Ahead looms the fate that the reality-TV star must most dread: the cancelation of the whole crazy series.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
A Friendship Baked in the Great British Bake Off Tent
Every week, The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic's Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship. This week she talks with two former contestants on the U.K. reality show The Great British Bake Off (known in the U.S. as The Great British Baking Show) who forged an intergenerational friendship during the competition. They discuss the shared love of motorcycles that brought them together, the games they played during downtime on set, and how they stay close with each other as well as all the other bakers from their season. The Friends: Selasi Gbormittah, 33, a banker who lives in LondonVal Stones, 68, a (semi) retired teacher who lives in Somerset This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Julie Beck: When did you first meet? Was it when filming started?Selasi Gbormittah: We met in January 2016.Val Stones: We happened to be on the same technical challenge, didn't we?Selasi: Yeah. For Bake Off auditions, it's usually done in groups. I think it was on my final technical interview. I was hungover; it was my 30th birthday and I was in Prague. I caught an early flight and came back to the U.K., and had to bake my challenges to take with me. And that's where I met Val for the first time. Actually, Val and Kate [Barmby, another contestant].Selasi Gbormittah (bottom) and Val Stones (second from right) pose with the other contestants on the set of The Great British Bake Off. Courtesy of Val Stones.Val: There was Lee [Banfield], Kate, myself, and you. I could spot this very tall young man and I thought, He's bound to get in. I said to Lee, "If you and I get in, we're the two old ones and he's going to be the young one."Selasi: I'll pay you later, Val. Thanks.Beck: So you come in and they have you do a technical challenge the way it would be in the show?Selasi: Exactly like that. They basically make it as real as possible, just to make sure that you can cope with the pressure, because it's not easy, baking in the tent. You’re doing your daytime job and you are having to write recipes and practice while being filmed at the same time, while competing with 11 other people who are equally as good as you. It gets really tough. But I think everyone who makes it on the show deserves to be on there, because they've worked their ass off. I don't know if I can say ass.Beck: You can, it's okay. That's one of the lower-tier ones.Selasi: Okay. Lower-tier swear words. This is the thing I always tell people: It's one of the best shows, because you go on there, and you’re competing for a bunch of flowers and of course the cake stand. And of course huge opportunities after, because it opens a lot of doors for all the bakers. But everyone is very, very friendly and helping each other, and it doesn't actually feel like a competition. It ends up feeling like a group of friends, baking together in the same kitchen and just having fun.Val: I remember I was doing my gingerbread [on the show], and it collapsed. I’m going “Ahhh!” and I think it was you who said, "I've got some glitter." You threw some glitter over to me and put icing sugar and glitter all over it and we just kept it going. And that's what bakers do. You shout out that you need a bowl or a whisk and one of your baking friends will get it for you. You know those trenches in the war? It’s kind of like that.Selasi: She's going war story on you now.Val: I'm not that old. You do—you look after each other, you protect each other's backs, and it makes for a long-standing friendship.Beck: I think a lot of Americans, myself included, really love the show because it seems so much friendlier than American reality shows.Selasi: I've heard that before. American reality shows, they'll literally stab you and push you under a bus at the same time.Beck: I don't know if you've seen American cooking shows, but there's actually one where the whole point is to sabotage the other chefs. It's called Cutthroat Kitchen.Courtesy of Val Stones.Val: My sister lives in New York, so for the past 10 years I've been watching American cooking programs when I'm over there. They record them for me. I think what it is, is they offer large sums of money. We don't get offered any money. It's a bunch of flowers and the kudos of winning. If they put a hundred thousand pounds on it, you might start thinking, Well, I'm not going to help him. And that doesn't happen on Bake Off, does it, Sel?Selasi: Nah. Because there's no money, no one is stabbing each other. And if I'll be honest with you, if you did win a lump sum, I still don’t think it’d be like that, because—no offense to the Americans—but I think it's an English thing where we're nice. We like competition, but we're still polite.Even still today, everyone’s very helpful when you're having some sort of breakdown or issue, anything. Everyone steps in. And Val is always the one who gives the experienced speech about—Val: I'm the grandma of the group.Selasi: It's always with words of wisdom, because you've lived it, so you know how it is. Everyone's from different backgrounds, and there are huge age gaps, but we all managed to get along because of one thing, and that's baking.Val: When we met for the first time at the hotel, that was the moment that you knew who the other bakers were. We had no idea who had been picked until folks started walking in the doors.Beck: Do you remember your first impressions of each other?Selasi: I was very late, so they're all thinking, Who's this guy who is late? He's gonna be a problem. I turned up really late on my motorbike. I was soaking wet and I just smiled. I don't think I even apologized. I just said, “Hey, I'm here for the baking show.” And everyone looked at me like, Who the hell is this?Val: You walked in in your gear and I remember thinking, Ah, it's that young man that I saw. And I realized, Gosh, he's gonna be real trouble, that one. But I was so pleased to see you.Beck: What was the vibe like on set? Was there time for hanging out and getting to know one another, or was it all stress all the time?Selasi: There was always time. From day one, that's when the friendship began. It’s two days of baking, so we arrive on the evening before the first day and then we all catch up on what's been going on in the week. When we arrived at the hotel, we all had dinner together, we just got to know each other. And then on the first day of baking we wake up, we get ready, we get on the same bus. No one's quiet or got their game face on. If anything, we're quite playful and loud—like schoolkids going on a field trip.And then we go in the tent and we bake and then after we bake the challenge, we go into a green room and we catch up there. We sing, we eat, and then we go back in. So there's always time. Even during competitions, we used to just chat and sometimes get told off for being too playful.Beck: By who? The producer?Val: The tent police.We were up at 5 o’clock, on the bus at 6 o’clock, on the set at 7 o’clock checking your ingredients, and we would bake often 'til half past 9 o’clock at night. We were never allowed out of sight of anyone. We were either in the tent or in the green room, for nine to 12 hours a day. You're very close to each other.It is stressful. We used to have downtime, playing stupid games. Each week we'd bring board games. We would do karaoke. You name it, we tried it.Selasi: It was a good thing no one brought Monopoly, because that would have ruined the entire friendship.Val: I did something on my last day. We were running out of ideas, so I brought my shopping list from 1972, and I had people guessing how much things cost in 1972. It wasn't very entertaining, but it passes the time a little.Selasi: We have a video, which obviously we're not showing anyone, of our karaoke sessions and our amazing voices. What was the song—Bon Jovi, “Always.”Val: You were singing to a vase.Beck: Val, do you have a go-to karaoke song too?Val: I do like cheering, but everybody knows I'm busted out of tune.Beck: Do you remember how you two, specifically, became friends?Selasi: During downtime or when we were at the hotel I used to talk to Val a lot, and in the green room. I think our common interests came into play, because I found out that Val loved motorbikes.Val: I had a motorbike license before Selasi.Selasi: I think that's when the friendship really began. Also because I love whiskey—Val brought me two tiny bottles of whiskey from a distillery onto the set for me, which I still haven't drank. They're still at home.Val: I've got some more samples for you, but you're gonna have to come over here to drink them.Also, people don't know, but I had an accident about seven or eight months before I entered Bake Off and I broke both sides of my body. I find it really hard carrying heavy things, and Selasi was always there— "Come on, I'll carry your bags." I felt, My goodness, he's been brought up properly. He's a nice young man. What do you call me, Selasi?Selasi: My favorite OAP.Beck: What is OAP?Selasi: Old Age Pensioner.Val: A person who is past 60 and getting retirement pension.Selasi: That's the term in the U.K.Val: I'm his favorite OAP. And I've always said that Selasi is my favorite adopted son.Also we've got the same stupid sense of humor. I can say things and I know Selasi won't take offense, and vice versa. But he watches his swearing with me, just like he would his grandma.Selasi: It's not my fault. I work in a bank, so we're used to shouting.I remember one thing Val did for the friendship was, because she knew I'm basically addicted to—it's not weed or cocaine, so don't worry—it's Haribo.Val: Candy.Beck: Oh, the gummy bears.Selasi: I've got a major addiction to them. So during one of the filmings, Val brought me a massive box-load of Haribos. And she just won me over at that point. I'm keeping you forever.Val: I come over to America twice a year, and I always bring back some different Haribos that I might find on my travels. I've limited it a little bit because we're concerned it's not gonna do you good, having all this sugar.Selasi: No, my dentist is gonna kill me.Beck: After the season wrapped up filming and you guys went home, how did your friendship progress after that?Val: We have a very strong WhatsApp group, so we continued to chat. I've got this kind of mothering instinct for all the bakers, but particularly for Selasi.Selasi: Because I'm the troublesome one, that's why. She wants to make sure I'm behaving.Courtesy of Val Stones.Val: I often think about Selasi and worry about him. I watch how the banks are going and I'll email him and say, “Are you all right? Your bank's not closing?” And when you did your patisserie course, I was really proud that you worked so hard for it.Selasi: I spent eight months this year in Switzerland just studying patisserie.Val: I kept looking at photographs that Selasi put on Instagram and thinking, Oh, that's going to be really bad, he’s leaning over. I'll be reminding Selasi to stand properly and stretch out his back.Selasi: Val is really good about making sure I'm okay and that everyone else is okay and just updating us on what she's up to. She’s very busy. She's nonstop. We have to make sure that she's not overworking herself, because at the end of the day she's retired.Val: They all treat me like the aged grandma. I'm, like, 22 in the head and 68 in the body. I've always been active. I would never retire as such. So I still teach. I do baking classes and I work for a company that sells houses. And we do food festivals.Beck: I know you guys are kind of far apart geographically, but do you ever visit each other?Val: Of course, it may be difficult this year because it was a very intensive course, wasn't it, Selasi? You didn't have much time to come home. Last year we met twice. And we all did Candice [Brown]’s wedding in the summer, in France, who won [our season of Bake Off]. Selasi, because he was already in Europe, came on his motorbike. You made chocolates, and we all made wedding cakes.Beck: You all made wedding cakes?Val: Yes.Selasi and Val (left) at the wedding of their fellow contestant. Courtesy of Val Stones.Beck: That's a lot of wedding cakes.Val: She had 11 wedding cakes.Selasi: I didn't do a wedding cake, because I was coming on the motorbike. Logistically, it wouldn't work. So I made chocolate pralines.Val: They were delicious.Selasi: And then Val, she has this habit, bless her—if you want one thing, Val will give you four. She's always giving, giving, giving—that's the nature of Val. I think you made little cakes, and then what was the big one?Val: I used Candice's grandma's Christmas-cake recipe. I said, “Your grandma is with you, because I've made her cake.” And I modeled a bride-and-groom pug dog for the top. We all stayed in one house, all the bakers. They were consoling me because the cakes traveled in the hold of the airplane and when I unwrapped them they were a little bit battered. Everyone said, “No, no, no, come on, we can do this.” And it was just like being back in the tent again: everybody helping each other. We are like a family.We had to squish up, double up in some of the rooms, but it was brilliant. We're thinking about maybe doing it again this year. It's hard to plan. But we try really hard. And I know I've always got a bed in your spare room, Selasi.Selasi: I need to cut you a key, actually.Beck: Selasi, do you have other friends who are Val's age, and Val, do you have other friends who are Selasi's age?Selasi: No, actually. I was gonna say some of my work colleagues, but I don't really talk to them outside of work as I do with Val.Val: Because I work as a teacher, I'm about young people all the time, which is lovely. Most of the people I work with are in their 30s. I tend to just enjoy the company of younger people. It keeps you young. It really does.Beck: It seems like it's pretty rare these days, to have close relationships with people of another generation outside of your family. What do you think your friendship has brought to your lives that you don't get from your other friendships with people your own age?Selasi: Most of the time it’s the voice of reason. Because when you're young, you can fall into a trap thinking, Oh, nothing's going to work for me. But when you have someone like Val who's lived in a different generation—she knows life's basically repeating itself. What happened to our parents is gonna happen to us is gonna happen to our kids. Having Val, I see a different side of things, because her life experience is also different from my parents’ life experience or my grandma's life experience.Val: There are things that you might not want to tell your mum that you could tell me.Selasi: Exactly.Val: I'm not a replacement mom, and it's not an Oedipus thing, nothing like that. Honestly. There's a saying that if you want to ask somebody a question, ask the person with the grayest hair, because they will probably give you a proper answer. I always say to all the bakers, there isn't much I haven't experienced, so I'm always here for everybody.The reason I like Selasi is: being around young people—listening to them, knowing what makes them tick—gives you an insight into the beat of life now. It stops me getting older far before I need to.If you or someone you know should be featured on The Friendship Files, get in touch at friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com, and tell us a bit about what makes the friendship unique.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
When a Teacher Becomes a Friend
Every week, The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.This week she talks with a group of college students who have been friends with their high-school history teacher since they started eating lunch in his classroom sophomore year, discussing politics and sharing stories from their lives.They discuss how the students went from being afraid of their teacher to being close friends, how they've all kept in touch since the students left for college, and how their intergenerational, intercultural friendship has given them new perspectives. The Friends Mike Oliveira, a.k.a. "Mr. O," 42, a history teacher at Interlake High School, in Bellevue, WashingtonJasmine Sun, 19, a sophomore at Stanford University, major undeclaredJessica Dai, 19, a sophomore at Brown University, studying computer scienceCayla Lee, 20, a sophomore at Harvard University, studying social studies and mathChristina Li, 20, a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon, studying finance and decision science This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Julie Beck: For the students: How long have you all been friends, and how did you meet?Jasmine Sun: Our high school has a competitive debate team, and all four of us joined as freshmen. We were the only four people in our year who stuck it out through the whole year. And when you're stuck with the same three other people for hours and hours on end, you have to like each other, or else you would quit.Jessica Dai: People called us “the debate girls.”Jasmine: My high-school community was pretty apolitical, and debate was one of the communities where we learned about a lot of things. Bellevue's kind of a suburb, and it's pretty privileged and homogenous. At least our classrooms felt like it. So we'd challenge each other to do our best to think about things that weren't in our immediate vicinities.Beck: When did you meet Mr. O? (Should I call you Mike or Mr. O?)Mike Oliveira: It's funny, everybody calls me O; my students call me Mr. O. So Jasmine, I met her during her freshman year, on the tennis team, because I coached tennis. And then the other three young ladies I met in class when they were in their sophomore year—an International Baccalaureate class in U.S. history.Jasmine: I think we started talking by going to his tutorial, which is a half hour after school where students can ask questions about homework. I'm not sure if any of us asked questions about homework, though. 'Cause he's really scary.Cayla Lee: I can confirm that Mr. O was really scary.Beck: How so?Mr. O: I've been wanting to know this for years. How so?Cayla: As little 15-year-olds, it's easy to get intimidated. Mr. O has a very sarcastic sense of humor, and he yells a lot in class, but, like, in a funny way. But I think it scares a lot of kids off.From left to right: Mr. O, Jasmine Sun and Jessica Dai. Courtesy of Jasmine Sun.Beck: Mr. O, were you the debate adviser as well?Mr. O: No. I have nothing to do with debate. Debate would use my room at the end of the day, so I think because I was in here, they would show up a little early, and conversation started that way.Christina Li: Once we became more familiar with O, the four of us began joining him for lunch, or dropping in during lunch hour to tell him about our day, or ask about his day, and share whatever was going on in our minds.Beck: What would you talk about?Christina: I think as teenagers, we all complained a lot, and we would always go to O to detail our daily trivial matters, and ask him for advice. O would listen to us, but his very sarcastic humor usually put everything into perspective. He’d be very realistic and make sure that we weren't too caught up in our everyday troubles.Mr. O: I always felt like my job was just to listen. One of the things that has always been cool to me about the friendship is that they come from a totally different mind-set and background than what I have. And to see a window into their lives was cool. The topics you guys you were doing for debate led into more political conversations that weren't tied to class, which I think is where things moved away from just a normal teacher-student kind of relationship.Jasmine: O told us that his goal through teaching U.S.-history classes was to plant the seeds of awareness of inequality—racial inequality, social inequality. Stuff like looking at maps of, say, black migration after Reconstruction. Or looking at maps of segregation within our own city. And he wouldn't say “Oh, you should believe X or Y.” But by giving us that information, he planted the seeds for people later in life, maybe even years later, to have a realization, like: Oh my God. I suddenly understand all of these things. That was really important to my own understanding of education.Cayla: What Jasmine said about Mr. O’s history style parallels the way he talks with us, because he doesn't really impose value judgments on how we feel or what we're going through, but just always provides perspective.Jasmine: I will say, there was a lot of value in our everyday complaining. Because the four of us come from pretty similar backgrounds. Not exactly the same, obviously, but all of our parents emigrated to the U.S. from different places in Asia. And there's a lot of pressure to go into certain careers, to achieve certain amounts, some of which aligns with stereotypes. It was cathartic to talk to each other, but oftentimes that would make us more stressed out, because we were all stressed about the same thing, with the same kind of familial pressures. It was just very grounding to talk to O. Because rather than letting that energy fester within ourselves and within our communities, we were able to gain some perspective that came from somewhere else.Cayla: I agree. I feel like Mr. O was my first adult friend. It's hard to have adult friends when you're a high schooler.Beck: So you guys kept eating lunch together the rest of your time in high school?Jasmine: I mean, the cafeteria was crowded and dirty. So I think we just started coming to O's room. I don't even know if we asked permission. Probably not.Beck: How did your friendship evolve over the rest of high school, and after you guys graduated?Christina: I think especially senior year, we got to see more into his life. For example, hearing the thoughts that are running through his head as he's teaching day-to-day. He would ask questions like “What does the student think when I say this?” And when O was expecting his first baby, he told us, and that was really special to me. That was a very defining moment in which I realized, Hopefully we provided as much value to O as he has to us. It made me realize, also, that this friendship was something that would last a lot longer than just my high-school years.Mr. O: My daughter was born two years ago. It was a very difficult process for my wife. The girls didn't know that I was going through all these baby issues, wondering, Will my daughter be healthy? and all these kinds of things. So having them come in was always this super wonderful distraction from that part of my life. It was one of those situations where we didn't tell a whole lot of people about the upcoming birth, because we weren't sure which way it would go. It wasn't until a week or so before my daughter was born that I announced it at school to the kids. And I made an announcement to the ladies first, before I made it to the other students. But it was really impactful to have those conversations with them, knowing that I had this dark haze in the background. It also put things into perspective.Beck: How so?Mr. O: During the things that we were going through with my daughter, the terror and the fear of that, I had the hope of, if this thing does work out, I kept thinking these would be great, strong young female role models for Addison.Cayla, Christina, Jasmine, Jessica: Aww!Mr. O: Now it got weird.Beck: Have you introduced the girls to your family?Mr. O: They've met Addison, my daughter, a couple of times. We've gone to the park.Cayla: It was on Mercer Island.Mr. O: I live in Seattle, in the city, and the girls live in the suburbs. So we met in between the two. That was fun, to see them interact with her. I've always been very shocked as to how much they've cared about Addison. So I've always sent pictures, and Jasmine created a Facebook group for that.Jessica: I had a folder in my email with the label “Addison Pictures” because we've gotten so many of them. That’s why Jasmine made the group.Beck: Can you describe what the Facebook group is, and when that started?Jasmine: Mr. O used to always call us the Goof Troop, because we would roll in with our goofy problems, I guess. And you're not allowed to friend teachers on Facebook until you graduate probably, right?Mr. O: It was toward the end of the senior year.Jasmine: Eventually he let us add him on Facebook. Because we had these super long email chains with baby pictures in them, and I wanted a way to keep in consistent contact. All four of us were going to different schools, and none of us were in the area, and our breaks would never align. So I just made a Facebook group called “The Goof Troop” or something like that.Beck: Do you remember why you started calling them the Goof Troop?Courtesy of Jasmine SunMr. O: So the Goof Troop is—I don't know if you guys even know this—it's from an old cartoon.Cayla: I didn't know that.Mr. O: Yeah, with Goofy, like Mickey Mouse Goofy. And he had this little kids' show called The Goof Troop. Jasmine: In the Facebook group, O posts a lot of baby videos that we like, because we're stressed out still, and they make you feel better. And then also sometimes we'll add questions. Like if we go to an interesting talk, we'll post that and be like, "What do you think?" Or whenever we visit, that's how we coordinate a meet-up. It's nice, because when your life is chaotic, it’s easy to forget little happy things, like Addison is walking, Addison is talking.Also I remember before he announced he was having a baby, we had this theory. We were like, “O is softer this year, and we don't know why.” He’s usually very sarcastic and gruff. And why would he be nicer to these kids than he was to us? Then he sent us this email that was like, "Come to my room during lunch. It's important.” And then everything made sense.Cayla: I remember discussing the email and what it could possibly mean. And we predicted that he had a baby. He was very sentimental around that time.Beck: Wow, very intuitive.Jasmine: He doesn't like to be seen as sentimental. It's not his personal brand.Beck: Is that true, Mr. O? What is your personal brand?Mr. O: I didn't realize I had a personal brand. I'm face-palming and laughing, because I hadn't heard the backstory on this. But I probably was much different at that moment in time, and so it makes sense that they were like, “What the hell is going on?”Beck: Are there any other standout memories you have of how your relationship became a more outside-of-school friendship?Christina: This touches on the more intercultural interactions that we have: One of the first few breaks when I came back home from Pittsburgh, where I go to school, there was this new Asian bakery that had just opened up. And I had told O before about this Chinese cake, this kind of dough with filling inside, and he had no idea what I was talking about. And when I visited that day for break, I was very insistent on getting this cake with a small filling in it and bringing it to O, and showing him what it was and making him eat it. I was so excited to have him try it and see a part of my culture.Jessica: Also, I remember in maybe junior year—do you know what bubble tea is?From left to right: Jasmine, Christina, Jessica, Cayla. Courtesy of Jasmine Sun.Beck: Mm-hmm.Jessica: O had never heard of what it was. We were trying to describe it to him, and he just didn't understand.Cayla: We went to the bubble-tea store, and we were trying to think what drink we should put the boba in. We were thinking, what is the whitest thing we could get? So we ended up putting boba in a smoothie or something, so that it would be more palatable to him. But it actually backfired, because Mr. Oliveira doesn't like sweet things. So we would have been much better off just getting him a jasmine tea or something.Beck: Mr. O, do you like bubble tea now?Mr. O: As Cayla said, the one they got me was unbelievably sweet. So I did not prefer that version, that's for sure. I do enjoy it, but that one was unbelievably sweet.Jasmine: We were trying to be culturally sensitive. We were like, “Should we get taro?” because we like taro. But then we were like, “White people don't like taro.” Our cultural-sensitivity practices have improved, I think.Beck: What is the value of an intergenerational friendship like this? What has it added to your life?Cayla: I felt this after my first semester of college when I came back and visited Mr. Oliveira: I had changed so much as a result of being away in a completely unfamiliar environment. Coming back and reflecting on the semester with him was valuable to me, because he has seen me grow throughout the years. We really did talk to him about things that probably our parents don't even know.Christina: I enjoy psychology and thinking about how generations are changing. It’s always interesting to talk to him about his life, and then talk about my life and talk about Addison's life. Those three very different generations are something that I enjoy reflecting on.Jessica: I think our friendship has allowed me to keep my stressors and concerns in perspective. Especially in thinking about what kinds of decisions I make about my life going forward, and how I visualize what my life looks like in 20, 30 years. Having someone like O there is an interesting way for me to process my thoughts, and think about what really matters to me.Jasmine: Our first normal exposure to adults is parents. Parents are there to guide you in a more direct sense—it's their job. They'll have opinions on what you should do. O has opinions, I'm sure, but because he's so nonjudgmental, it is that approach of letting us figure things out but also planting seeds of guidance. And that nonjudgmental but still older advisory perspective is really nice.Mr. O: Getting to know them, it's helped me massively in my own teaching. I actually wish that y'all could be in my class now, and see how it has changed. Because I've been able to better understand your generation. In class today, we were looking at the difference between the generation of Martin Luther King Jr. and their tactics for civil rights, and how that has evolved with Black Lives Matter, and the tactics that they're using. It’s cool to see the next generation and how they push things. As a teacher, yes, I teach content, but that's the stuff that I care very little about. It's more about being able to create these relationships to help them tackle whatever's going to be out there in their future.If you or someone you know should be featured on The Friendship Files, get in touch at friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com, and tell us a bit about what makes the friendship unique.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
He Returned His Friend’s Sweatshirt 20 Years After He Borrowed It
Every week, The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.This week she talks with two men who were close friends in high school in the ‘90s, lost touch, and were recently brought back together by a sweatshirt that one of them had borrowed 20 years earlier. The Friends Everett Lippel, 38, an HVAC salesman in South Plainfield, New JerseyCraig Wojcik, 37, assistant director of technology for a school district, lives in Scotch Plains, New Jersey This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Julie Beck: Let’s start at the very beginning. Where are you guys from and when did you meet?Everett Lippel: We both grew up in Union, New Jersey, which is maybe a 20 minute ride outside New York City.Craig Wojcik: We met in high school. I graduated in ’99.Everett: I graduated in '98.Craig: We became close because of theater—we were in plays twice a year and we did choir, as well. We were in rehearsal after school from three to seven o'clock; sometimes we were there until midnight. And that became a friendship outside of those programs. Mine and Everett's relationship outside of the theater was usually going to pick up girls.Beck: Did it work?Craig: We were pretty successful.Beck: What were you guys like in high school? Paint me a picture.Everett: Craig and I had very different personalities. Craig is tall, skinny, super freaking studly, blond hair. So I'm the short, witty one, brown hair. We would be like the straight guy and the slapstick guy, that was Craig and I.Craig Wojcik (left) and Everett Lippel (right). Courtesy of Everett Lippel.I was super-duper extroverted, loud, obnoxious. Half the people I ever met just didn't like me and the other half loved me. Craig got along with everybody, for sure had more poise and tact. Still very humorous, but not quite as rambunctious as I am.Beck: So are you the slapstick guy or the straight man?Everett: I'm the guy that starts the conversation with the chicks. Craig's the closer.Beck: I see.Everett: He's laughing. Go ahead, Craig. I'm sorry.Craig: For me in high school, I kind of had two sides to my social life. I grew up in sports and I was an athlete my whole life, and so I had that group of friends, and then my theater group of friends. And then, at some point it kind of blended together.I think Everett was pretty spot on. I was always very outgoing, but a little bit more, I guess, controlled than Everett was. I could read the room a little bit better maybe.Everett: We had a tight group of a bunch of girls and a bunch of guys. We traveled on these competitive show choir trips and stuff like that. So we spent a ton of time together outside of theater. We would go out, and do the stupidest things. Craig, were you there the day we had four or five cars deep of ridiculous stupid people?Craig: I think you have to be more specific than that.Everett: One of our friends decided that he was going to moon us while he was driving.Craig: Yes. Yes, I was there.Everett: He ended up hitting the car in front of him because he couldn't get to the brake in time. It was so stupid.Beck: Oh my gosh. Okay. So would you say that you two were particularly close? Or were you just both part of this bigger group?Craig: I think we were particularly close, because we had a friendship outside of that.Everett: Also there was a third. We had a friend, Doug, who was kind of like a glue for all of us. Doug was one of the most incredible people I've known in my entire life. Unfortunately, he died in a car accident, and it devastated our community. It devastated us to no end. He was 23 years old. I actually went to Craig's house right after we found out. This was in 2004.Craig (center) and Everett (center right) with their high school friends, including Doug (bottom right) in the 90s. Courtesy of Everett Lippel.Beck: You guys were in college or just after college?Craig: Just after.Everett: Craig and Doug went to college together. Doug ended up getting a job at MTV. And actually their 2004 New Year’s Eve Party, when the credits rolled on MTV, it was dedicated to his memory.Craig: I actually have that video.Beck: Wow.Everett: So, Doug was a major part of this.Craig: He was that middle ground guy, when we're talking about the difference between the athletic side of things and the theater side of things. He was that linchpin that put it all together.Beck: And when you found out you went over to Craig's house?Everett: Yeah, in Union. I don't think I was even living in Union at the time. What a devastating night. It was a horrible, horrible time. He had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people at his funeral. Amazing guy.Craig: Yeah, he really was. That could be a story unto itself, honestly.Beck: Did Doug come out often with you guys?Craig: Everett and I would hang out sometimes without him; me, Everett, and Doug would hang out; and when we hung out with the big group he would be there, as well.Beck: When you were going out and looking to meet girls, was that you and Everett? You, Everett, and Doug?Craig: That was pretty much just me and you, right?Everett: Yeah, Craig and I. Doug was definitely more reserved. We thought we were really cool, didn't we?Craig: Yeah, we thought we were real cool. We were drinking Zimas.Everett: Fricking Zima, oh, god. MD 20/20, malt liquor.Beck: I assume you were going to places that weren’t carding.Craig: We wouldn't even be in a place. I don't even know where we were. People’s houses and parks.Everett: Parking lots.Beck: So it was one of these nights when Craig lent Everett the sweater, is that right? What do you remember about that night?Courtesy of Everret Lippel.Everett: Okay, so we were going to go out. I don't remember what I was wearing. The details are foggy, but I remember how cool his clothes were. And his room was immaculate. Craig's mom made sure—maybe it was Craig, I don't know.Craig: It wasn't Craig. It was definitely my mother.Everett: So everything had its spot, and I remember that sweatshirt. And I was like, "Oh, Craig. I need to borrow something. I need to look good, bro." I definitely wasn't wearing anything that was appropriate. So, Craig lent me the shirt. It looked really good on me.Beck: Could you please describe the shirt?Everett: It's gray. Definitely from Pacific Sunwear, no way around that.Craig: I mean, everything I owned was from Pacific Sunwear at the time.Everett: It was a thicker sweatshirty kind of thing. A nice thick material, which I guess is why it weathered so well over the years. Slightly tapered sleeves. It has a gray collar with a white trim.Craig: Couple buttons on the collar.Everett: If you surfed and you were like, "All right, I'm done surfing now. It's cold and I'm getting a breeze." And then you put on a nice little sweatshirt with a cool beachy look to it, that's the shirt.Beck: That was very evocative, thank you. Do you remember anything else about that night after you put the sweatshirt on? Do you remember where you went and what you did?Everett: Not a clue.Craig: Not even a little bit.Beck: Do you remember what year of high school that was?Everett: I'm going to say it was my senior year.Beck: So you just kept it? Craig, did you ever ask for it back?Craig: I have to tell you, I don't know that I even realized it was gone after that night.Everett: It became my most meaningful piece of clothing that I owned.Craig: I probably thought my brother stole it.Beck: What happened to your friendship after high school graduation?Craig: When Everett graduated, he'd come back every once in a while to visit us. But we didn't keep in too much contact, even my senior year. We probably saw each other four or five times that year. And then I went off to college. We’d shoot an AIM to each other every once in a while to see how we were doing. And we all grouped back together right after we were done with school, because Doug passed away. So we all got to see each other again.Beck: Was that the first time you guys had seen each other since high school?Craig: Yeah, I would say that's a very good possibility.Beck: What was that like?Everett: Terrible. I mean, it was wonderful seeing each other. At his funeral, everybody said, "Man, it's such a shame that such a horrible tragedy is bringing all these people that shared all these things together."Craig: Yeah, at a time in your life you thought you couldn't live without them, you know.Everett: We used to do this thing. Not to jump topics, but back in high school, we would go “shoe flinging.”Beck: What is that?Everett: This was a big deal.Craig: It's really not, but it really is.Everett: Okay, so it's not a big deal, but I think these are the moments that you remember. Whenever I talk to anybody they're like, "Oh, my god. Shoe flinging." We'd go to a park and we would swing on a swing. There'd be a fence maybe a hundred feet away. You'd have your shoe half off your foot, half on your foot. We would have a competition as to who could fling their shoe further. Whoever lost would have to go and pick up the shoes with one shoe on.Craig: Hopping across the park on one foot.Beck: So you went to college. You saw each other again at Doug's funeral. Did you continue to stay in touch after that?Craig: No, we pretty much went off in different directions again, until probably about a year ago, right? That was when we ran into each other.Everett: It was December of 2017. I guess it was somebody's birthday. And then, Craig was in the bar that we went to. He just happened to be there.Craig: I was there for a work event.Everett: And that was the first time I'd physically seen Craig, what do you think? Since the funeral?Craig: It very well could have been.Everett: Wow. 13 years.Beck: How close do you live to each other now?Craig: Very.Everett: We live within five miles of each other right now.Beck: How long had you lived that close without seeing each other?Craig: Five or six years.Beck: Wow. Were you guys in touch at all on social media or anything?Craig: Since last year, yeah. Everett's done a very good job. I'm the worst at keeping in touch with people, I really am. I'm not the social media guy.He sends messages out, asks what's going on and tries to get together. We’d try to set stuff up and then a few days would go by, and both of our lives probably got busy and nothing ever happened. And then, a few weeks later, we'd talk a little bit online, or via text.Beck: Was that after you ran into each other at the bar?Craig: Yes.Beck: So, no contact in the years before that?Craig: Things would come up, Everett would post something and tag me in it. But other than that, not really. I didn't know what was going on in his life, for sure.Beck: Why do you think you drifted apart?Craig: I think life got in the way. Space, and time, and just, you know, life.Everett: My first daughter was born when I was super young. I was 21 when she was born. I was a traveling actor. I had a bi-coastal agent. I was ready to rock. But my acting career, my singing career, all of that took second place to making sure that I could be the best dad that I could possibly be.As a part of that, you lose people. Because when you're 21 years old and you have a kid, other young people around you, they're not there yet. You can't have the same type of relationships that you had. I probably distanced myself from people in the same way people distanced themselves from me. And as time goes on, now, everybody has kids. Things change. I got remarried. My current wife and I have had three kids together.Craig: He wore the sweatshirt on their first date.Everett: That's a fact. I have pictures of some of the first days that she and I were together, and I am wearing that sweatshirt in every one of those photos.Beck: Wow. So over the years, this remained your favorite article of clothing.Everett: It's not even a question. One hundred percent.Courtesy of Everett Lippel.Beck: Did you remember this whole time that it was Craig's originally? Or was it one of those things where you're just like, "I've always had this, and I don't know where I got it”?Everett: Every time I looked at it, I thought of Craig.Beck: Craig, did you even remember giving him the shirt?Craig: No, like I said, I probably always chalked it up to me losing it or my brother taking it. When we got back in touch and he told me he had it, I did remember the sweatshirt.Courtesy of Everett Lippel.Beck: So one day Everett decides to return it. Why? When did that happen?Everett: Okay, here's the deal. Are you ready?Beck: I hope so.Everett: You know this huge wave going through the world right now with this Marie Kondo lady, right?Beck: I do.Everett: We have five kids, so the house is always in disarray. I started watching this show and I realized that I have a hard time of letting go of things. This is like a psychological process that I'm going through. And I just thought, you know, this doesn't belong to me. So I texted Craig, and I said: "I'm going to offer you something strange. I have your sweatshirt from 1997. I would like to give it back to you. I'm going through all my stuff and simplifying things. I figured I'd offer, since it's yours, L-O-L. I could keep it as memento in a box, but giving it back to you after 22 years would be epic." He goes, "Ha, sounds good. Let's grab a beer and we can complete that sweater's epic journey."And I knew if I procrastinated, we would never get together. So I just said, "Fine, let's go tonight." And he was like, "All right, I'll meet you." And five miles from my house and a half a mile from his house, we sat down and we had a beer.Craig: It was probably more than one.Beck: Was that the first time you had gotten together since you ran into each other at the bar?Everett: Yes.Beck: Was there any ceremony when you handed over the sweater?Craig: Yes, there was some level of ceremony. There are pictures of him handing it over to me, and me putting it on and wearing it.The night was great. Even though it's been however many years, over 10, it was like we didn't miss a step. Goofing around and having a good time, talking about the old times. We actually made future plans to get together. Everett plays in a band, and he was asking me if I would come up and sing with them. I told him if you really want to kill it, you should have my wife sing because she's a much better singer than I am. So, now my wife's going to sing with his band next month. Everything was smooth as silk. We didn't skip a beat.Everett: But we didn't go macking it to the honeys because, you know, the wedding ring.Craig: Because we have honeys of our own.Beck: Did anything surprise you about how the other had changed over the years?Everett: We talked about this. I said, "Well, after 20 years, what do you think? Are we different? Are we the same?" He's like, "Well, you know, people do kind of grow up after 20 years. But god, you're the same guy."Craig: I think maybe he's gotten a little better at reading the room because, you know, the children and stuff.Everett: I'm really good at reading rooms now. Yeah, you grow up. You learn. You get smart. You get a job. You do all this kind of stuff, but really, Craig, you're the same dude.Craig: I'd like to think so, or hope so.Beck: Craig, how does it feel to have your sweater back after all this time? Does it feel like yours?Craig: No. It was his way longer than it was mine. I don't even know how long I had that sweatshirt before Everett took it. But the fact that I have a friend who held onto a piece of clothing from a great time in both of our lives, and when he looked at the sweatshirt he remembered me… I always look back at those days fondly. Not just my time with Everett but with that whole group, and with Doug. I’m not a super sentimental person, but he created that opportunity for me to be sentimental, which I appreciate.Everett: So many conversations have sparked from this, because I posted about it on social media, and it's like wildfire. People are crying and sending me messages, it's crazy. We're actually setting up a reunion of everybody that was part of that group back in the day. We're going to do it at a Bowlmor.Beck: Is that a bowling alley chain?Everett: Yeah, but it has a bar and music and all that kind of stuff. It's going to be fun.Craig: And I work in the town we grew up in, I do training in the school district, so I'm getting stopped in the hallways. People are like, "next training, you’ve got to wear the sweatshirt.”If you or someone you know should be featured on The Friendship Files, get in touch at friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com, and tell us a bit about what makes the friendship unique.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
What It's Like to Make a Friend on Bumble BFF
Every week, The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship. This week she talks with two young women who met on Bumble BFF—the friendship mode of the dating app Bumble—when they both were living in Austin, Texas. (One has since moved to New York.) They discuss becoming friends through an app, blind friend dates, and the stigma that’s still attached to swiping for friends. (Editor's note: This interview was conducted in July 2018.) The Friends Kristina Baptiste, 24, a copywriter and social-media manager at a music magazine in New York CityDree McCarrel, 27, a social-media manager for a beauty brand in Austin, Texas This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Julie Beck: When and why did you guys start using Bumble BFF?Dree McCarrel: When Kristina and I met, I was doing social media freelance. I’m very extroverted, so I was feeling totally cooped up when I was working at home. I wanted to meet friends who had a similar lifestyle, who wanted to meet up and work at coffee shops and go swimming in the middle of the day. I just felt like I had all this freedom and all of this time that my other friends didn't have. I had used Bumble for dating and I love meeting new friends. And so right when the feature rolled out, I was down to try it.Kristina Baptiste: I moved to Austin not knowing anybody. I was dating somebody at the time who lived there, but I didn't have any of my own friends. I met people through him, but I wanted my own friends. I was hanging out with a lot of guys, and I was kind of over that whole social scene. So when I heard about this feature I thought, I’ll try this. What do I have to lose?Beck: Was it a similar or different experience to using dating apps for actual dating?Dree: There is a really similar vibe actually to the beginning of it. It’s the same feeling of “Why are you on here?” Are you on here because you are a freak and you have no friends? Or because you just want to meet new people, or you're new to the city, or maybe you like going out a lot and your friends don’t like doing that? It’s the same with dating. I feel like you go on the app and you’re like, “Are you on this because you’re just ho-ing around town, or do you want to meet interesting people?”At the time, the BFF feature, it was new. And I would say girls did feel kind of awkward. A lot of girls would say in their bios: "Just looking for friends, obviously, but I'm also moving in six months so would love to meet a roommate!" They were always trying to act like they weren’t just there to meet friends. But you definitely get to a certain point where, similar to dating, you're like, “All right let’s take this IRL. Let's meet up.”Kristina and I laugh about this a lot. We had to both go on pretty awkward friend dates. It’s just like normal dating. But then when Kristina and I met up, we just hung out for hours. It was similar to when you go on a really good date.Beck: How long were you using the app before you guys met each other?Kristina: I think I started using it in February 2017, and I think Dree and I matched in early March.Courtesy of Kristina Baptiste.Dree: It was definitely March, because I was dating a musician at the time and I got really sick after South by Southwest [in early March]. So I almost ghosted the chat because I was never checking it. I think she messaged me after South by.Beck: Do you remember the first message you sent each other?Dree: Kristina has it!Kristina: Dree deleted her Bumble recently so I went on my account to screenshot them.Oh, it’s really simple: “Hey what’s up?” And then Dree responded: “Hey hey living out my Sunday funday dreams, aka cleaning my apartment. (Laughing emoji face.) How are you?” And it goes from there.Dree: There’s less pressure to be super clever or whatever because you’re not flirting. Kristina was just like, “Hey what’s up?” I feel like whenever we’re on the dating version of Bumble, you'd feel like you have to have some silly intro line that's going to test their sense of humor.Beck: If somebody just said “Hey what's up” in a dating context, would you feel fine about that, or would you be like, “Eh, they're not really trying”?Dree: I don’t think I would respond.Kristina: It depends on the person, but if they have no personality and nothing interesting profile-wise, I don’t think I would.Beck: You said you went on a few other friend dates before you met each other. What were those like?Dree: I feel like happy hour is where I go with friendship dates, and normal dates too. I’m still friends with other Bumble BFFs, kind of peripherally. But Kristina and I, when we became friends, we straight up hung out for like six months, nonstop.Kristina Baptiste (left) and Dree McCarrel (right). Courtesy of Dree McCarrel.Kristina: It got to the point where I was sleeping over there all the time. We were having a nonstop sleepover. It was great.Beck: Tell me about your first friend date.Dree: We went to this place on the east side of Austin. It's called Brew & Brew, because it's coffee and beer. We went in the afternoon because we were like, “Oh, we’ll do work.” So we both brought our laptops and stuff, and we did not open our laptops.Kristina: No, didn’t do any work at all.Dree: We started drinking beers together, and then we both found out we were both in this Dogspotting Facebook group [where people share pictures of dogs they see in public.]Kristina: Oh my gosh, yeah!Dree: We saw this amazing dog at Brew & Brew and I took a photo of it, and it did really well on Dogspotting. So when it comes up in my Facebook memories, I'm like, “Oh my god it's our friendiversary!” This dog marks the day we met. It was a great dog, too—his name was Brick; he was a little dog with dreads.Kristina: Both of us are dog-obsessed.Beck: How did your friendship develop from there?Kristina: The third friendship date was actually really funny. I think Dree went to Miami or something, and on the airplane there was this old couple from Austin, and they were really cute. Ron and Betty. Do you remember them? You tell it.Kristina (left) and Dree (right) pose with impromptu friends Ron and Betty (center). Courtesy of Dree McCarrel.Dree: Oh my god, I forgot about this! I'm not meaning to scream, but this is really cute. I went on a trip to Miami, right after our second friendship date. When I was flying there, I sat next to these two elderly people named Ron and Betty. I’m very liberal and the woman ended up roping me into a conversation about politics, and she was super liberal too, and she was hilarious. So when the plane landed, they were like, “We need to meet up for drinks in Austin.” We exchanged phone numbers, and they wanted to get margaritas at this old bar on the west side of Austin. They told me they go there every Tuesday.Right when I got back, Kristina and I met up for dinner [on a Tuesday]. We had a couple of drinks, and I was like, “You know what we should do right now? We should go hang out with Betty and Ron.”Kristina: And I was like, “Sign me up, this sounds amazing, let's go.”Dree: We have a photo of us with them, too. He taught us how to dance—Kristina: Waltz!Dree: I have their phone numbers. I need to go back; it’s been almost a year since that experience. But it was so fun.One thing to add that I think is really special about our friendship is I feel like both of us just totally welcomed each other into our lives. Like Kristina’s childhood friend, he is moving in with me. He's one of my best friends now.Kristina: He moved in recently, right Dree?Dree: Yeah, he moved in yesterday.Kristina: So fresh, I love it.Beck: So how's it going with the new roommate? Do you guys talk about Kristina all the time?Dree: Yes, for sure. Kristina was here a couple weeks ago, so we all hung out. It's funny because he and I, whenever we go out together, people always ask us if we’re twins, because we look alike. But Kristina and I spent most of our friendship going out and trying really hard to convince people that we were twin sisters, even though we look nothing alike.Kristina: There's a true story on National Geographic or CNN of these two twins, they're from England, one’s black and one’s white. So our big line is like, “Hey, you know that story on CNN?” The big thing about Dree is she can’t tell a lie—she’s the worst liar in the world. She'd laugh halfway through and I'd have to take over.Beck: Did anybody ever believe you?Kristina: A lot of drunk boys definitely believe us.Dree: The obvious target for that lie is boys.Courtesy of Dree McCarrel.Beck: Did the process of becoming friends feel different from the way you’ve become close to other friends you didn’t meet on the app? Did it feel more like dating?Dree: Once you have the first friendship date and it goes well, I feel like you’re just already friends. It’s so much lower pressure than actually dating someone. But to be honest, the friendship breakup, or not wanting to go on a second friendship date, is definitely more awkward. With dating, there’s such a standard way. "I feel like we didn’t have chemistry," "I feel like we'd be better as friends"—you can’t really use any of those lines on friends.Beck: Dating apps are basically totally normalized ways to find romance now, at least among younger generations. But it feels like there’s still a bit of stigma or weird vibes around using apps to find friends. Do you think that’s true?Dree: I think it probably depends on the city you live in. Because in Austin everyone is new. People are always moving here for a couple years and moving away. Austin is so laid-back about it.Kristina: I think people can be really judgmental, like, “What’s wrong with you that you can’t make friends by yourself?” But it's honestly really hard to do it naturally. I tried organically for the first couple months [after moving to Austin], but people are a little more reserved these days; everyone’s on their phone. Everyone's solidified in their friend groups.Dree: If you meet someone at a party and you think they're cool, you don’t know if you’re meeting someone who has the intention of expanding their friend group. Making new friends can be a lot of emotional labor and a lot of work. So maybe you get along with that person, but they’re not necessarily looking to be best friends.There’s something about choosing to go on an app that shows a sort of deliberateness and care. It shows that you want to be serious about cultivating your friendships. I feel like we’re used to that kind of seriousness for romance, but it still feels like friendships are just supposed to … happen naturally, and you should be chill rather than intentionally looking for something. People think you’re supposed to just slip and fall into friendship, when as adults it does have to be as intentional as dating if it’s something you need or want in your life.If you or someone you know should be featured on The Friendship Files, get in touch at friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com, and tell us a bit about what makes the friendship unique.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Introducing ‘The Friendship Files’
Today, The Atlantic is launching a new series of interviews that we are calling The Friendship Files. It will feature a weekly conversation between me and two or more friends, talking about the history and significance of their relationship—how they met, the way their friendship evolved over the years, what they mean to one another, that time one of them borrowed a sweatshirt and didn’t give it back for 20 years, and so on.Friendship is the most flexible category of relationship—it can ebb and flow with the tides of busyness; it can stretch and contract to fill whatever space people make for it; it can evolve over the seasons of a life; it can weather a long dry spell or wither away. Friendship’s strength—and its weakness—is that friends choose one another. And with no shared cultural script for how a friendship should progress, like the one that exists for romantic relationships, friends have to figure it out for themselves.Friendships are rarely considered to be people’s primary relationships—that honor falls to family, or romantic partners. Those are the relationships that get the most research, and most of the epic storytelling. The Friendship Files is a corrective to that, an invitation to read about the internal dynamics of a wide range of friendships, and a reminder that these relationships, while not defined by blood or law, shape and anchor our lives too.When I started this project, I worried that perhaps talking with friends about their friendships week after week might start to get repetitive, or boring—but that wasn’t the case. People are at their most generous, their funniest, and their most fascinating when talking with and about their friends. Doing these interviews has been one of the greatest joys of my career so far, and I can’t wait to do more.The Friendship Files is launching today with four Q&As, and we will add a new one every week, starting next Friday. Here is our opening lineup:A Friendship Baked in the Great British Bake Off Tent“You need a bowl or a whisk and one of your baking friends will get it for you. You know those trenches in the war? It’s kind of like that.” What It's Like to Make a Friend on Bumble BFF“People can be really judgmental, like, 'What’s wrong with you that you can’t make friends by yourself?' But it's honestly really hard to do it naturally.” He Returned His Friend’s Sweatshirt 20 Years After He Borrowed It“It became my most meaningful piece of clothing that I owned.” When a Teacher Becomes a Friend“I think we just started coming to Mr. O's room for lunch. I don't even know if we asked permission. Probably not.” I am always looking for friends who would be a good fit for this series—friends who met in an interesting way, who have gone through an unusual experience together, or whose story illuminates a particular facet of modern friendship. If you or someone you know fits the bill, please send a nomination to friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com and tell me a bit about what makes this friendship unique.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Books Briefing: What Stories About Childhood Teach Adults About Themselves
Childhood may be fleeting, but the stories, heroes, and fantasy worlds of children’s books somehow always manage to carve out space in readers’ hearts long after they’ve grown up. Of course, there’s the magical world of Harry Potter, which has continued to inspire countless films and plays today. For one writer, rereading the boy wizard’s confrontations with mortality became instrumental in helping her grapple with her own trauma as an adult. The author Lev Grossman explains how in other mythical worlds (such as C. S. Lewis’s Narnia), characters—and through them, readers—still must work through earthly problems. And in Michael Ende’s Momo, which depicts an imagined society where time is stolen and saved, adult readers may find that they are eerily similar to the story’s villains.The act of rereading can sometimes diminish the luster of childhood favorites. The Hardy Boys series, which was edited 60 years ago to remove racist content from many of its entries, makes for a “knotty” kind of nostalgia for one writer, whose boyhood was both shaped by and excluded from the “lily-white” Americana depicted in its stories. But all this is to say that there is value in the dissonance that comes from rereading children’s stories. While the characters and plots have stayed the same, how have readers changed since they last picked up their favorite books from childhood? Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out. Check out past issues here. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email. What We’re ReadingThe knotty nostalgia of the Hardy Boys series“Rereading the Hardy Boys series has been an opportunity to untangle my nostalgia around the sleuths, who inadvertently helped me understand my identity through a fictional world not exactly built with boys like me in mind.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Loopy, Meta Thrills of Happy Death Day 2U
The premise of 2017’s Happy Death Day is a perfect elevator pitch: What if Groundhog Day were a horror film? Theresa (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in a college-dorm room, goes through her routine, and then dies at the hands of a masked serial killer, becoming the first murder victim of the movie. Except when she dies, she wakes up back in that dorm, at the start of the day again, doomed to relive the experience but, perhaps, given the power to solve the mystery. The movie’s cutesy logline belies a clever undermining of genre conventions. Theresa (nicknamed “Tree”) is very much a horror-film trope, the first casualty in a slasher flick, the character who exists only to die and to raise the narrative stakes for everyone else. In Happy Death Day, though, the action stays with her. And because of that, she eventually gets to become the hero.Christopher Landon’s film was a classic Blumhouse surprise—a disposable-seeming, low-budget entry from the horror-centric production company that turned out to be a rather subversive piece of work. Its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, faces a new challenge, however. It’s armed with a cute title, but how can it recycle a story concept that is itself about recycling, about living the same day over and over? For Landon, who both wrote and directed this second entry, the answer is simple: Take the very idea of a horror sequel to its logical extreme, and make Tree literally relive the first movie, down to the wardrobes, the set dressings, the background characters—only this time equipped with the knowledge she gained from the original go-around.If that sounds excessively heady, don’t worry too much. Landon’s film is also broad and funny, tossing the requisite jump scares and PG-13-level violence into a story that doubles as a sci-fi caper. Though it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as its predecessor, Happy Death Day 2U is along the lines of other recent, inexpensive genre efforts that behave more like franchise blockbusters by building out their lore and doubling down on their nerdiness. Think of John Wick, which went from cult hit to summer tentpole, or the more recent box-office success Escape Room, which had an ending that teased an epic, universe-expanding Escape Room 2. In this Hollywood age, even the silliest of sequels has to feel like an event.Happy Death Day 2U embraces that mandate by being a sequel that’s about making a sequel, digging into the formula of replicating a hit, keeping what worked, and throwing out what didn’t. The film opens with the clever twist that Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), a tertiary character from the first movie, is now the one caught in a loop, thanks to an illicit science experiment he’s running out of the college labs. But this serves only to explain the origins of the series’ time-travel conceit. Soon enough, Ryan ropes in Tree to try and solve his quandary, and in doing so, ends up trapping her in the original loop, yanking her back to the first film’s premise.Landon squeezes plenty of humor out of all the repetition. Every character except for Tree resets to their old selves, the kind of devolution to the status quo that so many second entries demand. Think of RoboCop, a film about a cybernetic law-enforcement officer who, over the course of the movie, comes to accept his own humanity and takes off the metal mask that hides his face. What happens in RoboCop 2? The mask is back, and the character’s mechanical personality has returned, just to ground audiences in familiar territory. Happy Death Day 2U’s script gets a lot of comedic mileage out of playing with that reset concept before it starts to throw in tweaks.Tree’s frequent time-traveling does, quickly enough, expose some differences in her current reality, and most of the film is spent solving new twists on old mysteries. It might be absurd to compare this chipper confection of a movie to Shane Carruth’s famously dense indie classic Primer, but as Happy Death Day 2U keeps unfolding, there are moments of glorious ambition—one character runs into his double, while others see their motivations shift as the timestream is corrupted. The entire project is anchored by Rothe, an immensely charming performer who was the first Happy Death Day’s most valuable asset.Expectedly, the film ends with a teaser for an even more convoluted (potential) threequel. The need to concoct follow-ups for hit slasher movies is part of an age-old Hollywood tradition, not a symptom of recent franchise fever. But what distinguishes Happy Death Day 2U is its willingness to dig deep into the universe Landon (and the original film’s writer Scott Lobdell) created. It’s one thing to make fun of the repetitiveness of a second movie, but this one manages to do that while actually expanding its storytelling horizons.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Gavin Newsom’s Big Idea
It wasn’t long ago that Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, was dismissed as a showboating opportunist, who cared more about climbing the political ladder than he did about the finer details of public policy. But his decision to abandon the dream of a high-speed train that would ferry passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco, at least for now, suggests he’s made of sterner stuff. Lamented by romantic environmentalists, for whom high-speed rail has long served as an emblem of ecological virtue, and cheered by critics on the right as a rare reversal for California’s ascendant left, the decision to pare back this misbegotten project is best understood as a wise strategic retreat from a governor with far larger ambitions for his tenure.To the surprise of hardened cynics, myself included, Newsom has moved swiftly since his inauguration to address the state’s housing crisis, championing initiatives that have the potential to transform the face of urban California. Between now and 2025, he has called for the construction of 3.5 million new housing units, or an average of 500,000 a year. Considering that California has built an average of 80,000 new homes per year over the past decade, this is a pretty lofty goal. Newsom is envisioning a building boom that would surpass that of the postwar era, and that is exactly what the state would need to make up for lost time. This effort will require every ounce of his political capital, and it made the choice before him clear. Newsom could either fight tooth-and-nail for a bullet train for the classes or he could devote his energies to building housing for the masses. So far, it seems he’s made the right call. California’s high-speed rail project was, from the very start, a textbook example of getting your priorities wrong. There is nothing remotely objectionable about passenger rail per se, and the diversion of some number of travelers from California’s overburdened airports and from carbon-intensive air travel itself would be a welcome development. The question, as ever, was whether the benefits of high-speed rail were large enough to justify the mounting cost of construction, which was expected to surpass $77 billion.This is a sum that could finance a dramatic expansion of mass transit throughout the state’s largest metropolises, or a network of “driverless roads” that could unlock enormous efficiencies in moving people and goods. Alternatively, $77 billion could underwrite the spread of innovative technologies such as mass-timber construction, modular permeable pavements, and, well, you name it. If California’s goal were to achieve the biggest bang for its environmental buck, building high-speed rail would be far from the top of the list. It would make far less sense than, say, using those same funds to lower housing costs in cities in California, where the average carbon footprint is considerably lower than in more humid U.S. cities that lie further east. Even leaving environmental considerations aside, completing the high-speed rail project meant securing a right-of-way through the South Bay, home to some the country’s most affluent, and most effective, opponents of development. That effort had met with limited success, to put it mildly, and the potential political dividends from kicking up that hornet’s nest were always slight: There you go, now you have a train you will use rarely if at all. Watch as it tumbles by your hideously congested freeway. As of now, the plan is to complete the high-speed route currently under construction in the Central Valley, where it will serve as a monument to the armies of shortsighted elected officials, overpriced consultants, and delusional local boosters who inflicted it upon California, where a large and growing share of the population can’t afford decent housing.Which leads us back to Newsom’s housing crusade. Given the political clout of California’s homeowners, many of whom can be expected to resist even the most modest densification of single-family home neighborhoods, the governor’s housing effort is fraught with danger. Overcoming their objections will be exceedingly expensive, as it will require spending generously on measures designed to curb congestion, and cementing a pro-growth coalition of Silicon Valley employers, construction workers, public-sector employees, and renters desperate for relief. And Newsom’s off to a decent start.In recent weeks, the Newsom administration has, among other things, proposed spending $1.75 billion to incentivize housing production, boosting housing targets for local jurisdictions, and, more controversially still, giving those housing targets new teeth by threatening to deny transportation funds to jurisdictions that fail to meet them. A small coterie of California lawmakers is devising proposals of its own to capitalize on Newsom’s enthusiasm, some of which are very ambitious indeed.Yet there is much more to be done, as evidenced by the fact that cities and counties throughout the state have only set aside enough land for 2.8 million new homes to be built. There is simply not enough zoned land to reach Newsom’s target of 3.5 million new housing units, even if everything went swimmingly. To achieve his objectives, the governor will have to make the case not just for casitas, or accessory dwelling units that can be added to existing homes, or for the occasional smattering of duplexes and townhomes in post-industrial corners of the state where NIMBYs are few and far between. He will have to make an affirmative case for a new way of life, in which Californians embrace multi-family dwellings, walkable neighborhoods, and, sacrilegious though it may sound, trading their private automobiles, or at least their second private automobiles, for increased reliance on buses, bikes, and, of course, electric scooters.Is Newsom up to the challenge? I can’t really say. Because I don’t share his ideological proclivities, I’m inclined to be skeptical. What I do know is that the billions of dollars he might otherwise have wasted on a doomed high-speed rail project could be more productively spent bribing NIMBYs into becoming YIMBYs.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Suicide Memes Might Actually Be Therapeutic
In a recent post to the popular meme-sharing platform 9gag, two side-by-side storybook illustrations depict a girl watching snowflakes fall outside her bedroom window. The left panel is titled “kids then”: In a thought bubble, the girl wistfully muses, “I sure hope they cancel school for all this snow.” The right panel is “kids now.” The girl looks at the snow outside and thinks, “I hope a car loses traction on the ice and rams into me and I fucking die tomorrow.”This is a joke—and apparently a very relatable one for its target demographic, the millions of Generation Y and Z digital natives for whom memes are a mother tongue. A casual scroll on 9gag, which receives 3.5 billion page views a month, will turn up dozens of memes daily about self-harm or wanting to die, and young people are sharing, retweeting, and reblogging similar content across the social-media landscape. You’ll find storybook illustrations doctored to show children dreaming of grisly deaths, Spongebob joyfully flailing to his doom during a bank stickup, and Obama about to throw himself off a bridge.At first blush, these jokes couldn’t be in poorer taste. The World Health Organization ranks suicide as the second leading cause of death for youth worldwide. In the United States, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed staggering 70 and 77 percent increases in suicide rates of white and black teens, respectively, between 2006 and 2016. In response, public-health officials and tech giants alike have been cracking down on potentially dangerous messaging on self-harm. Last Friday, Instagram rolled out a new policy banning “graphic” depictions of self-harm or suicide.But memes about suicide remain largely uncharted territory. While disturbing, they’re far less graphic than actual depictions. And they’re often darkly funny. As the gatekeepers of social media are wrestling with how to police this trend, some suicide-prevention experts see a window of opportunity. Typically, suicide memers aren’t mocking suicidal thoughts; they’re commiserating and bonding over being suicidal. Morbid memes, these experts believe, may be a foot in the door to one of the most vulnerable and hard to reach populations: socially isolated young people.April Foreman is a seasoned veteran of the dark web. As a licensed psychologist and executive board member at the American Association of Suicidology, she’s clicked through the foulest content on the internet to keep tabs on the volatile and high-risk souls that live there.Foreman wasn’t surprised when suicide memes began to percolate up into the surface-level internet after a long incubation period in more hostile and conspiracy-laden depths (see: 4chan). In a way, she’s heartened by the memes’ increased social acceptability. Like so many anonymous platforms, 9gag struggles with pervasive racism, misogyny, and old-fashion trolling. But while the predictable ‘lol, do it’ replies pepper the comment sections to suicide memes, messages of support tend to be buoyed to the top by hundreds of upvotes. Internet scamps with usernames like necrolovertown gently direct suicide-meme posters to local suicide hotlines (or, in necrolovertown’s case, provide his Facebook contact info and a standing offer to chat—“any hour anytime I’ll be there”).[Read: Social media is redefining “depression”]What we’re witnessing on 9gag, Foreman explains, is the writing of a new “social script.” Sometimes it’s tough to know what to say, “like if someone’s dog dies, or if you have to go to a funeral,” she says. But through experience, communities develop a formula for how to respond supportively, something like, “Dude, that’s rough. I’ve gone through it. Here are the resources, let me know if you need support.” Foreman has identified several corners of the internet that seem to have healthy social scripts for suicidal thoughts. “Reddit communities around certain video games”—like the Eve Online universe’s Broadcast 4 Reps–“tend to have communities where you talk about your mental health and you feel better. People help you.”Still, Foreman cautions, destructive conversations about suicide abound deeper in the bowels of the internet. “We have people that go in there as trolls to really stir people up and make them feel worse,” she says. They make “‘sui-fuel,’ memes to get people even more depressed, with the idea that you might ‘rope’—which is kill yourself—or you might even go and do a murder-suicide.”Foreman’s colleague Bart Andrews, another clinical psychologist and executive board member at the AAS, is a full-throated advocate for suicide memes as an alternative to these destructive depths. Andrews bucks the traditional wisdom on suicide contagion, the idea that suicidal thoughts can spread through a community like a virus. It’s an evidence-based notion that’s been widely unchallenged for decades, and informs national and international guidelines for media coverage of suicide. Andrews acknowledges that irresponsible reporting of suicide—such as sensationalistic, needlessly graphic descriptions of celebrity suicide—likely has population-level effects. But if safe-messaging guidelines prevent people from having meaningful conversations, Andrews contends, they can be deadly.“The very people we’re trying to reach, the youth—we’re telling them they can’t talk about suicide the way they talk about it,” Andrews says. “When you read the threads on these memes, people find them helpful. They don’t feel alone. It’s a way for them to anonymously communicate their inner pain in a way that’s artistic, super clever, and that people who are struggling identify with.”Andrews believes that decades of an effective “gag rule” on suicide stifled conversation and perpetuated stigma—and that while the younger generations are more willing to talk, there’s still a vestigial wariness among listeners that the very act of discussing suicide could make their friends worse. He rattles off a list of memes formats that emphasize hope or resilience. Perennial favorites are “not today, old friend,” where Moe from The Simpsons decides not to kill himself, and “my mom would be sad.” “They get at reasons for living,” Andrews says. “And those can be really small.”Another camp of suicide-prevention experts prefer to err on the side of caution. Jane Pirkis, the director of the center for mental health at the University of Melbourne and an expert on suicide-contagion theory, is the traditionalist yin to Andrews’ laissez-faire yang when it comes to safe messaging. “I wouldn’t say I’m alarmed, but I don’t think it’s very good,” she told me after reviewing a handful of 9gag memes. “The work we’ve done looking at traditional media definitely shows that representation that normalizes suicide or glorifies it at all can lead to so-called copycat acts.”Pirkis concedes that the bulk of the scientific literature on contagion came from the pre-internet age, but she insists those lessons carry into social media. “They’re very basic, Psychology 101 principles about modeling behavior, and people learning what’s normal, what’s likely to get a response,” she says. “That’s why you don’t see depictions of smoking in film and television any more.”This conversation around suicide memes is complicated by a generation gap between suicide-prevention experts and the communities they serve. I talked to several mental-health experts who were well beyond the age of the average memer and entirely unaware that suicide memes exist. Once they recovered from the initial surprise at this undercurrent of dark humor, however, they warmed to the idea that memes about suicide could have a capacity to heal.These experts emphasize that it’s a fine line between destigmatizing suicidal thoughts and normalizing them. The right messages can let people know they’re not alone and that it’s okay to reach out for help. But overexposure could, in theory, lead to the belief that thoughts about self-harm are normal and not a cause for concern. Further muddying the waters, the very meme that could inspire one teen to call a psychiatrist could dredge up painful memories of a prior attempt in someone else.There’s a dearth of experimental research on how people respond to non-graphic content about suicide, so social-media platforms are left to cobble together their own policies through high-stakes trial and error. The changes to Instagram’s self-harm policy last week, for instance, were reportedly spurred by the death of a 14-year-old in the United Kingdom Most social-media outlets draw the line at text, image, and video that appear to encourage suicide or self-harm. Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram have “hot words” associated with self-harm that automatically trigger messages to users about mental health and links to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of crisis hotlines that offer free counseling around the clock. But since image-based memes are hard for AI to parse, platforms generally rely on users to report sensitive material that isn’t simply text-based.Foreman points to Tumblr as a platform that’s getting it right. Tumblr partners with mental-health advocacy groups, like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and National Alliance on Mental Health, and reviews every post reported with the “self-harm” flag, according to Victoria McCullough, the company’s head of social impact and public policy. Depending on the post itself and its reception by the community, Tumblr might remove abusive responses, remove the post itself, or refer the creator to additional mental-health resources. McCullough says the company is very cautious about removing content altogether for fear of “undermining those recovery conversations.”[Read: Tumblr has a cutting (and an anorexia and bulimia) problem]9gag only added a tag specific to self-harm in the past several months. “Personally, I don’t think any community can claim that users’ comments are 100% positive at all times. There’s no such thing in life either. LOL,” 9gag’s COO Lilian Leong told me over email. “Of course, we can always level up our filtering measures. But we are very cautious not to get over-engineered and overkilled.”Unlike Facebook and Twitter, 9gag is a single-scroll platform; regardless of a user’s previous activity on the site, everyone sees the same grab bag of memes. What’s on the ‘hot’ and ‘trending’ pages is determined by users’ upvotes and any editorial choices 9gag makes. Leong did not respond to questions about specific curation decisions—like why users couldn’t search the tag “suicide,” but could search “kill myself” and “suicidal”—or describe the decision-making process behind the removal of a sensitive post. In the days following our exchange, however, 9gag plugged all the holes in its search system pertaining to self-harm.At the end of my reporting for this story, I posted on 9gag asking users to talk about their experience with memes about suicide. You can see the full threads here and here. The replies were a case study of what happens when a diverse community is left all-but-unsupervised in their reactions to suicide memes.Some users like dracothedragon told me to “F.O.A.D.”—or “fuck off and die.” But most shared stories about how suicide memes sparked feelings of belonging amid isolation. @angry_doge42 said, “I tried so hard to gather the courage to end it. But I remember this post about how this random dude from the other side of the planet turned his life around after surviving the attempt and was now doing his own thing (I think, making candles). Gave up trying to knock myself haha. You guys maybe pricks but most of y’all are awesome.”@streethastle wasn’t going to let me off easy: “You’re going to set people up with false hope if you’re really going to pull through with a naive article filled with cherry picked examples of ‘supportive’ comments. This website is a fucking cesspool of social degenerates.” But @infexo rushed to my aid. “I don’t see any harm in shedding light on the positive side of 9gag, because like it or not, it does exist ... And a few lines coming out from a caring heart can change drastically a [tragic] act.”Pirkis, the University of Melbourne mental-health expert, agreed with @infexo, saying it’s a deadly myth that only professionals can help people at risk of suicide. “This great unwashed population that we’re talking about has a role to play,” she says.Foreman and her colleagues at the American Association of Suicidology look forward to seeing the dialogue expand around suicide memes, however inelegantly. “I’ve never known a single problem that got better by not talking about it,” Foreman says. “Not a single public health problem has gotten better by reducing conversation.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
I Fell Under the Spell of NASA’s Most Notorious Thief
I first heard of Thad Roberts during a lecture on black holes. November 18, 2000, was the University of Utah’s Science Day, a grand affair for visiting high-school students like me; the lecture hall was packed. The professor began by invoking the name of the 18th-century natural philosopher John Michell, whose theory of a “dark star” was the forerunner of today’s black hole—a fuel-spent star so compressed by gravity that even light bends to its will.The lecture then took a detour. The professor boasted that the university’s own rising star, Thad Roberts, had just been accepted to NASA’s internship program. At 23, Roberts was a triple major in physics, geology, and geophysics, as well as the founder of the Utah Astronomical Society. He was determined to be the first person on Mars. He was also about to change the trajectory of my life.After the lecture, I asked my undergraduate guide, who was friends with Roberts, to pass him my email address. I wanted to be an astrophysicist, but my ambitions conflicted with my upbringing; as a 16-year-old Mormon girl, I felt pressure to focus almost exclusively on home, family, and church. I didn’t feel confident I belonged in science. Maybe this rising star could light the way.Roberts soon wrote back, offering to help, and he became my unofficial career counselor. But then the Mars-bound intern captured headlines for a different reason: In the summer of 2002, he stole more than $20 million worth of moon rock and Martian meteorite samples from under NASA’s nose. He was caught in an FBI sting in Florida and spent six years in prison.The heist sabotaged not only Roberts’s own goals of space travel but also those of his accomplices: fellow NASA interns Tiffany Fowler, then 22, and Shae Saur, then 19. “Being an astronaut is something I had planned to do and aspired to do my entire life,” Saur told the Houston Chronicle before she was sentenced. “My own actions have shattered that dream.” The two Texan women were given three years’ probation and required to repay NASA $9,000 in damages.In the years since, Roberts has received a great deal of media attention, including a TEDx talk based on a book he wrote in prison and the writer Ben Mezrich’s version of the tale, Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History. Million Dollar Moon Rock Heist, a documentary by Icon Films, aired on the National Geographic channel in 2012. In contrast, Fowler and Saur have faded from public sight.Why the two women joined him remains unclear; neither could be reached for comment. But accounts over the years suggest that Roberts was talented in recruiting others to accompany him in sometimes risky exploits. One of the FBI officers interviewed in the Icon Films documentary said of the court ruling, “I think the judge was very sympathetic. She realized that Thad manipulated them and that this was out of character for them.”Recently, I interviewed Roberts to ask him myself why he stole moon rocks from NASA. His story still haunts me because I was part of its prequel: Before he apparently charmed Fowler and Saur, he charmed me.Thad’s first email came a few days after my Science Day visit to the University of Utah in 2000. “I heard from Oliver that you have some questions about becoming an astronaut. Feel free to ask me anything you like,” he wrote. Even digitally, Thad exuded confidence, from his “astronaut_thad” Yahoo handle to the three inspirational quotes on his automatic signature. One was unabashedly his own: “Passion is the essence of the human soul, to be truly alive is to kindle that fire within and explore your passions. —Thad Roberts.”In the flurry of emails that followed that winter, Thad asked whether I wanted to visit the moon or Mars as casually as asking whether I wanted a hamburger or a hot dog. As he was still an intern, alternating semesters between NASA and the University of Utah, he encouraged me to join him in learning skills he felt would give us an edge in applying for full-time positions at NASA. Learn Russian and Japanese, he said. Start attending astronomy nights. Get your pilot’s license.A month later, after my 17th birthday, Thad offered to take me flying. He asked which high school I attended.“You won’t come stalk me or anything?” I wrote.“Just give me any info that you are comfortable with me knowing,” he responded. To assure me he was no Ted Bundy, he sent a picture of his wife, Kaydee, visiting him in NASA’s lunar lab. Both of them were wearing protective gear as they handled moon rocks. “Cute, isn’t she?” he wrote. Kaydee was pursuing modeling back in Utah, and she often accompanied Thad on his many outdoor adventures. I assumed the couple was Mormon—a common mistake in Utah—but they’d left the faith several years earlier. (Kaydee has since returned to Mormonism.)[Read: When mentorship goes off track]My constant begging and a reassuring phone call from Thad had convinced my protective parents to let me board a single-propeller Cessna with a stranger who’d barely earned his pilot’s certificate. How could he be dangerous if he was a happily married man who worked for NASA, I’d argued. In the frigid waiting room of the Ogden-Hinckley Airport, my father and I met Thad and a friend of his who joined us for the flight. Thad had a warm smile, a firm handshake, and disarming green eyes. His stocky outdoorsman build gave the impression that he was a man who did things and did them well.We’ll be back in an hour, Thad told my father, and I buckled up in the backseat of the plane. The jolt of vertigo I felt was forgotten as we ascended: The fresh snow on the Rocky Mountains blinded me as early morning light shone through silver-white clouds. “Eeeeexcellent,” Thad said, quoting Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. “Time for the first Zero G.” My stomach screamed as Thad tipped the nose of the plane into a steep dive. I saw fast-approaching white fields out the front window. My body was weightless; I’d been momentarily set free from the gravitational power of my planet, a wonderful and terrible sensation. Thad yee-hawed.As he started climbing again, I felt triumphant. This is what space is like, I told myself. I could do this. Who needed a multimillion-dollar Vomit Comet when you had Thad Roberts for a friend?A photo display the author made after her plane ride with Roberts (Jamie Zvirzdin)The rest of the flight didn’t go as planned. Before we returned to my frantic father much later than promised, we got lost and landed in a deserted airport in Preston, Idaho. Thad’s friend was feeling sick, so Thad offered me the co-pilot’s seat, and he guided me in managing the rudders and lifting the plane off the ground. My first time in a plane and I’d flown it. When we were again soaring through the wintry air, I peppered Thad with questions about black holes. I didn’t fully understand his answers, but the fact that he knew them still made me feel important.“Hey, want to see a cool trick?” Thad asked at one point. He cut the engine.While unnerved by Thad’s antics, I was still thrilled to be making steps toward a career in astrophysics. Soon after our flight, I asked him for help making a portfolio for a statewide scholarship competition for graduating high-school students. We met during spring break in the University of Utah’s computer lab, where he helped me build my first HTML webpage. I posted an image of the Eagle Nebula, new stars forming in its clutching fingers. To me, it was an image of hope, of the chance to escape the proscribed orbit set for me by my religious culture.Thad offered to give me a quick tour of campus. I mentioned that my father had once worked for the university’s Cosmic Ray Research group, and he showed me their building. He encouraged me to ask them for a job interview, something that hadn’t even occurred to me to try. When you put yourself out there, Thad said, opportunities come to you. Cliché, but correct: For the next three summers, I would intern for the group, learning how to program, to solder, to track down cosmic rays with air-fluorescence detectors in the Utah desert.It didn’t take long, though, for Thad’s mischievous side to reappear. At the end of that campus tour, Thad led me to some large orange tanks in the basement of the South Physics Building. After pouring liquid nitrogen into a two-liter bottle, he brought me up to the roof, then sniggered as he dropped the bomb off the side of the building, rattling windows across campus. The rattling shook me, as well. Maybe I’d put too much trust in this man.I consciously distanced myself from Thad after that, focusing on my summer internship and the demands of senior year. Thad emailed me once more the following spring about an upcoming University of Utah astronomy night. He was setting up the telescope’s solar filter for sunspot viewing—on the same roof where he’d thrown liquid-nitrogen bombs. Would I like to join him and the others? In the waning light, after seeing sunspots for the first time, I showed Thad the portfolio he’d helped me create, complete with pictures from our flight and from my internship with Cosmic Ray Research. He was delighted to hear I’d won runner-up in the scholarship competition.The author with one of the University of Utah’s cosmic ray telescopes, 2002 (Jamie Zvirzdin)Three months later, on July 13, 2002, Thad stole a national treasure. The plot had been forming throughout the time I knew him. Early in 2001, during Thad’s visit to NASA’s lunar lab in Houston, Texas—the trip when he posed with his wife for the photo he later sent me—he spotted a 600-pound safe containing lunar samples from almost every Apollo mission. These were “contaminated” rocks, still useful for certain research but no longer sealed in nitrogen for safekeeping. Thad noticed that the NASA senior scientist Everett Gibson opened the safe by first looking at something written on the back of its label. Hearing other scientists bemoaning their tight budgets and wishing they could sell some of these rocks, Thad began concocting a fantasy of how someone might steal them.That same year, Thad met a student named Gordon McWhorter during another rooftop astronomy night, and McWhorter agreed to research how to sell moon rocks. Using the alias “Orb Robinson,” he emailed a Belgian amateur mineralogist in May 2002. The mineralogist, Axel Emmermann, suspected a hoax and alerted the FBI, who took over the online correspondence by pretending to be Emmermann’s sister-in-law. To Thad, it looked like they’d found someone to buy the moon rocks he’d not yet stolen.A month later, during the last round of his NASA internship, Thad met Tiffany Fowler and says he immediately fell in love with her. Thad claims that he and Kaydee had grown apart as they followed their separate dreams, and they’d decided to have an amicable open marriage. Kaydee, however, says she had not agreed to this. “Thad has put so much incorrect info out there,” she wrote in a Facebook message to me, “so he seems like a hero to others instead of the lying, manipulative person he really is.” In an episode of the television series Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry? Kaydee claims that when she confronted Thad about Fowler, he told her she “didn’t understand his relationship with Tiffany. He was using her for something.”Some facts of the heist remain murky, with certain details varying across reports—including the Icon Films documentary, the FBI’s account, and stories by the Los Angeles Times, The Orlando Sentinel, Science Magazine, CBS News, and other publications. Thad now admits he initially “just let people go with” some of the more exaggerated claims. What seems clear is that a week before the heist, Thad told Fowler of his plan to steal the moon rocks. Thad’s friend Shae Saur joined them just a few days after Fowler. While Saur waited in a borrowed Jeep outside NASA’s Building 31N, Thad and Fowler cracked the four-digit combination on NASA’s lab door. They arrived at the safe, and Thad pulled its label off, sure he’d find Gibson’s code on the back. The label proved worthless; it was only an algorithm Gibson had created to remember the combination. So Thad and Fowler used a heavy-duty dolly they’d brought to wheel the entire safe out to the Jeep.Back in a motel room, the three interns broke open the safe with a power saw and catalogued the lunar samples in vials. Then they discarded the safe, along with a set of green notebooks that represented 30 years of Gibson’s research. (In court, Thad denied the notebooks were in the safe, but Fowler and Saur told the FBI he had insisted on throwing the notebooks out.)Hiding the samples and the meteorite in Fowler’s apartment, the trio returned to NASA as if nothing had happened. A week later, Thad and Fowler drove to a hotel in Orlando, Florida, to complete the sale. In a romantic gesture before the meeting, Thad told me he put a few vials of moon rocks under Fowler’s hotel pillow—unbeknownst to her—wanting to say he’d had sex on the moon. Thad embellished this detail in previous interviews, telling CBS News that having sex on top of moon rocks was “uncomfortable.”[Read: Why are art heists so fascinating?]McWhorter joined Thad and Fowler, and the three met Emmermann’s “sister-in-law,” the undercover FBI agent, at an Italian restaurant. Thad proudly told her the whole story. Thad, Fowler, McWhorter, and Saur were all arrested and eventually sentenced. (Thad, Fowler, and Saur pleaded guilty; McWhorter denied the charges but was convicted at trial.) Kaydee sent Thad divorce papers.Meanwhile, in a cubicle at Cosmic Ray Research, I stared, horrified, at Thad’s mugshot in the newspaper after his arrest. It wasn’t even his first theft, I learned: An FBI search of Thad’s home had revealed fossils stolen from the basement of the University of Utah’s Natural History Museum. The mentor who believed in me turned out to be a con man.While I’ll never get on another plane with Thad, he has served his years in prison, and he is trying to move on. Instead of fleeing from science, he now puts forth theories on quantum gravity as a “philosopher of physics,” according to his website. As a public speaker, he urges people to commit to their dreams and rebound from their mistakes.Over the past year, I’ve reestablished contact with Thad to better understand why he gave up the very dream he’d encouraged me to seek. He immediately responded to my email, agreeing to an interview on Skype. He was as charming as I remembered him, although he appeared more careworn and subdued. I finally asked him the question that had plagued me for almost 20 years: Why steal the moon rocks in the first place? Was it for money? I didn’t believe it was for love, since he’d been planning the theft well before he met Fowler.“To feel good enough,” he said. This surprised me—he had always seemed sure of himself. Kaydee, too, says she saw him as a confident person. But Thad claimed he’d felt insecure from the beginning, terrified from day one of his internship with NASA. He was afraid of being abandoned by Fowler, his new lover, worried about losing his wife, and unsure he’d be able to provide for both of them. It didn’t help that at 19, at least according to Thad, he’d been sent home in disgrace from his Mormon mission for confessing to premarital sex—and, subsequently, thrown out of his home in Syracuse, Utah, by his family.Kaydee was the one, Thad insisted, who believed he could make it to NASA, a fact she also confirmed to me. She was even willing to get another part-time job to support him. Although he was newly involved with Fowler, Thad said he wanted to support her dreams in return. Stealing the moon rocks would solve the problem. Any time he started doubting his plans, he’d tell himself he’d already decided to do it and dismiss the fear.The more I reviewed Thad’s history, the less the label con man—or its backformation, confidence man—seemed to fit him. Con artists use a show of confidence to trick their “marks” out of money or other valuables. They’re people who overpromise and under-deliver on purpose. Thad, in contrast, was a simple thief. Led by his own irrational justifications and the conviction he could evade capture, he was willing to persuade accomplices to join him, abuse the trust his employers placed in him, and deliver stolen goods to a buyer as promised.Months after our initial interview, Thad emailed to say he was in Utah and wanted to meet for lunch. We met at The Pie Pizzeria, a dimly lit, underground restaurant adorned with graffiti. Thad had asked if he could invite additional friends, and he brought a full contingent with him: one of the women he is currently dating, on her way to live with her other boyfriend in Canada; a camping friend; a prison friend; and a friend from one of his old philosophy classes. Thad still drew people together.The conversation was amiable and casual. At some point, Thad revealed he had dumped his entire life savings into a new online business venture. “I haven’t regretted it yet,” he said. “I thought, I’m a divorced, two-time-loser felon. This is my last chance for security. Let’s go.” Despite this bleak assessment, Thad held onto the idea that if you put yourself out there, opportunities come to you.I stood to go, and Thad rose to give me a hug. I told him, genuinely, that I wished him all the best. For years, I’d thought of Thad as my own dark star. He’d drawn me into orbit around him, and I’d let him overrule my sense of what was smart and safe. But people are more complex than black holes. We can change course if we choose.For so long, I’d wasted time and energy seeking assurance that I belonged in science. Last summer, almost 20 years after my first lesson on dark stars, I started working for Cosmic Ray Research again. This time, I’m confident I can do it.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Hollywood Producer Behind Bryan Singer’s Stalled Movie
LOS ANGELES—He got his start in the movies as a theater projectionist in South Africa, and later managed the first drive-in in his native Israel. The Hollywood Reporter once dubbed him the low-budget “King of the B’s” and “The Most Unlikely Movie Mogul.” He is so frugal, a filmmaker who worked with him recalls, that he once suggested an Oscar-winning movie star like Diane Keaton should drive herself to and from a location shoot in a budget rental car.Eighteen months ago, a deal to sell a majority stake in his company to a Chinese holding company collapsed, and only last month Deadline reported that it would receive a cash infusion of undisclosed size from the Russian energy oligarch Andrey Georgiev. His flattering profile on IMDb reads as if he wrote it himself.He is Avinoam “Avi” Lerner, the pugnacious 71-year-old producer whose Millennium Films is behind The Expendables and the reboots of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo, and at the moment he is the subject of a flood of atypically unwelcome publicity. That’s because, for roughly two weeks, he was just about the only figure of any consequence in Hollywood who publicly stood by Bryan Singer, the director of Bohemian Rhapsody and several of the X-Men movies, after a years-long string of allegations was detailed in this magazine—allegations of sexual misconduct by Singer against teenage boys.At first, Lerner issued a statement denouncing The Atlantic’s account as “agenda driven fake news,” saying he felt “very comfortable” retaining Singer as the director of Millennium’s forthcoming remake of Red Sonja, based on a Marvel Comics heroine originally depicted as a survivor of rape. He cited Bohemian Rhapsody’s gross ticket sales of more than $800 million as testament to Singer’s “remarkable vision and acumen.” A week later, he told The Hollywood Reporter that he’d approved his publicist’s initial statement without reading it and that it “came out the wrong way,” though he added, “I don’t want to apologize. I just want to clarify [the statement]. I think victims should be heard and this allegation should be taken very, very seriously. I just don’t agree to judge by the Twitter.” Finally, on Monday, Deadline broke the news that while Singer had not been officially fired, Red Sonja was no longer on Millennium’s upcoming list of films and would not be marketed at the European Film Market in Berlin this week.[Read: Bryan Singer’s accusers speak out]Lerner, who came up through the exhibition side of the film business, and then branched into distribution and production, did not return messages seeking comment, and his office said he did not wish to be interviewed. But those who know him and have worked with him say that his distancing himself from Singer in light of the latest allegations against the director—just days after stoutly defending Singer in an interview with Israel’s Ynetnews—is a sign of Singer’s status as persona non grata in Hollywood, even with a producer whose guiding light has always been the bottom line.“From what I’ve been picking up,” one longtime producer and former senior studio executive told me before the latest announcement about Red Sonja, “no one and no company will go near Bryan Singer, and there is an expectation that Lerner and Millennium will eventually recognize that his company’s investment might backfire and they’ll find a way out, a way to go with a different director. On the other hand, Singer is creatively and commercially a sound choice for Red Sonja, and perhaps the thick-skinned Lerner will stick with it. For Lerner, it’s all about return on investment.” A range of senior studio executives, producers, and directors with whom I spoke echoed these sentiments.One veteran Academy Award–winning director, referring to Lerner, offered an even more jaundiced view: “He’s had some success. He’s made low-budget films, some of which have paid off hugely. He’s from a fringe element of the picture business. He was never a major. But he did get stuff made. You have to say that.”Indeed, it was Lerner’s one-man, no-frills ability to get financing for movies—in a Hollywood studio culture that was growing steadily more corporate and risk-averse—that helped propel Millennium to greater prominence beginning about a decade ago, in the wake of the 2008 recession. The surprise $275 million box-office smash of The Expendables, a 2010 CIA thriller starring Stallone and featuring Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, made the industry take notice. Lerner was no longer just the producer of dreck like Scar City and Cyborg Cop III, but a force to be reckoned with.[Read: Bryan Singer’s next project collapses]In 2011, Lerner hired Mark Gill, a veteran executive at Miramax and Warner Independent Pictures, who’d had a hand in movies including March of the Penguins and Under the Tuscan Sun. Gill helped Millennium raise its sights, as the company produced films like The Paperboy, a crime drama directed by Lee Daniels and starring Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey; The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a thriller with Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson; and Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, thrillers with Morgan Freeman, Gerard Butler, and Aaron Eckhart. Lerner fired Gill in 2017, a person close to the company told me, after Lerner changed his mind about selling Millennium to the Chinese company Recon Holding, in a transaction that would have installed Gill as the head of the newly owned company. A deal in which Lerner would have sold 51 percent of his company to Recon later collapsed in the face of Chinese controls on export of capital, the person close to the company says.Lerner is a Barnumesque persona, more akin to an old Hollywood press agent than to the sleeker executives who dominate the industry today. He is the hero of his biographical entry on the aforementioned IMDb.com, a generally reliable industry bible. It describes him as “one of the most experienced, prolific and successful independent filmmakers of our time,” whose “reputation, business acumen and impact on the motion picture industry is known worldwide,” and it variously credits him with having produced more than 230 or more than 300 films in the past two decades. His entry also lists no fewer than 19 titles as being in pre- or postproduction or merely having been “announced,” a strikingly high total. On the other hand, Millennium’s slate of eight to 10 or more movies a year is itself unusually high for a scrappy independent outfit.Lerner once told the Los Angeles Times that while a movie’s creative elements are important, “I will not make something for the sake of art—I refuse to do it.” He was born in Haifa, in what was then the British mandate of Palestine, one year before Israeli statehood, the son of a Polish mother and a German father who’d escaped the Nazis. According to a person who knows him well, he had a difficult childhood, and his father drank too much. He “certainly wasn’t handed anything” in life, this person says. He went to work as a teenager washing dishes and making pizza, and by 18 was a paratrooper in the Israeli army, later fighting in the Six-Day War of 1967. Lerner told the L.A. Times, “I’m a tough guy because I have to be tough today, not because I had to be tough when I was younger.”In 1969, Lerner moved with his father to South Africa and took a job as a projectionist at a drive-in movie theater in Johannesburg, eventually becoming its manager before persuading some Jewish South Africans to help him build the first drive-in theater in Tel Aviv, in 1972. He later expanded into ownership of a chain of theaters and a refreshment-concessions business. By the 1980s, he was branching beyond exhibition, and sold his theaters to the Israeli producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the partners best known for a string of Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris action films under their American company, Cannon Films.Lerner moved into film production with Golan and Globus, in London and South Africa. Their business relationship eventually ended in acrimony—there are conflicting reports about the precise reasons—but Lerner used proceeds from the partnership to help launch his own production and distribution business, Nu Metro Entertainment, with his partners, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, and his brother, Danny Lerner. (Golan died in 2014, but Globus remains active in Hollywood under the banner of Rebel Way Entertainment; he did not return messages left at the company’s offices on Sunset Boulevard.)In 1992, Lerner and his partners moved to Los Angeles, starting a new foreign-films sales company, Nu Image, and later a production arm, Millennium Films. In the past 20 years, Lerner has worked with directors such as Stallone, Brian De Palma, Richard Donner, Neil LaBute, and Antoine Fuqua, and stars including Willis, Richard Gere, Nicolas Cage, Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro.Lerner himself has not been immune to allegations of misconduct. In 2017, a former female employee identified only as Jane Roe but described as a “creative executive,” filed a lawsuit alleging that she and other female employees were subject to a discriminatory and misogynistic work environment in which actresses were described as “too fat,” “too ugly,” or “too old.” The employee alleged that shortly after telling management that she needed back surgery, she was fired. (Lerner responded saying that the suit is “all lies” and “a joke.”) One source reported that the suit was settled last August for undisclosed terms.As my Atlantic colleague David Sims notes, in 2018, the actor and former NFL player Terry Crews toldthe Senate Judiciary Committee that Lerner had pressured him to drop a sexual-harassment case against the Hollywood agent Adam Venit, as condition of appearing in the fourth Expendables movie. (Lerner said that he was simply asking for “some kind of peace.”)By all accounts, Lerner has built a successful business with Millennium, part of which involves relying on outside investors. The previously noted investment by Georgiev—the chair of Rusneftekhim, which began as a crude-oil trading company in 2005 and now also owns a group of gas-condensate fields—will help fund Millennium’s forthcoming slate of films. That group had included Red Sonja, as well as The Outpost, based on the CNN anchor Jake Tapper’s best-selling book about the Afghan War and starring Scott Eastwood. Now at least one of those projects is still on track, but the other is very much up in the air.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
What Did Elliott Abrams Have to Do With the El Mozote Massacre?
In a testy exchange with Elliott Abrams on Wednesday, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar resurrected the memory of El Salvador’s El Mozote massacre, one of the worst mass killings in modern Latin American history. Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, was all of two-months old when the December, 1981 massacre took place. Abrams, President Trump’s new special envoy for Venezuela, was a senior State Department official in the Reagan administration, which was sending military and economic aid into El Salvador to defeat a leftist insurgency and stop what it saw as a wave of Communism approaching the United States.What happened in 1981? And what did Abrams have to do with it?More than 900 peasants were murdered in and around several villages in the eastern province of Morazon. Mostly old men, women, and children. At the Roman Catholic church in El Mozote, soldiers separated men from their families, took them away, and shot them. They herded mothers and children into the convent. Putting their American-supplied M-16 rifles on automatic, the soldiers opened fire. Then they burned the convent. Some 140 children were killed, some of them toddlers. Average age: Six.Omar’s questioning of Abrams was not artful, and Abrams wasn’t unreasonable in viewing it as a personal attack. But she was right to suggest that he had sought to diminish the massacre. Nor was she wrong to question whether Abrams was ethically qualified to assume a high government position, with the mission to oust the Venezuelan dictatorship and promote democracy.In El Salvador, the Reagan administration, with Abrams as point man, routinely defended the Salvadoran government in face of evidence that its regular army, and allied right-wing death squads, were operating with impunity, killing peasants, students, union leaders, and anyone considered anti-government or pro-guerrilla. Abrams went so far as to defend one of the death squads’ most notorious leaders, Roberto D’Aubuisson, who was responsible for the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero while he was saying mass, in March 1980.It was Romero’s assassination that touched off a civil war in El Salvador — an alliance of the military and the oligarchs, which had ruled for decades with support from the United States, against a Marxist-inspired insurgency. Most of the support for the revolution came from El Salvador’s peasants, who had little to lose in seeking to overthrow a government that had resorted to brutal repression to keep them in miserable poverty.To drain the peasant sea in which guerrillas swam, to borrow from Mao, the Atlacatl battalion, whose officers had recently completed counterinsurgency training in the United States, launched a “scorched earth” operation in Morazon, a mountainous region where semi-literate peasants labored on their small plots of sisal and corn.I began reporting from El Salvador for the New York Times in December, 1980. Four American Roman Catholic churchwomen had just been raped and murdered by Salvadoran soldiers, another heinous crime that the Reagan administration sought to cover up. One year later, I was smuggled by guerrillas into Morazon. I was accompanied by Susan Meiselas, the photojournalist already well-known for her work in Nicaragua. Simultaneously, but separately, Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post made her way into the area as well.When we reached El Mozote, evidence of the massacre was still abundant. Skeletons were being picked over by vultures, the stench of death carried by the breeze.My reporting and Susan's pictures appeared in the Times, and Alma's reporting in the Post, in January 1982. Immediately, the administration attacked us and sought to deny the stories, calling them guerrilla propaganda. The reports were not credible, Abrams said. As Abrams put it, El Mozote “appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.” So the murder of hundreds of children became a mere “incident.”I returned to El Mozote last year, the first time since the 1980s. I found a survivor, Amadeo Sanchez. He had been eight years old at the time, a peasant boy who worked in the fields with his father. When word of the Atlacatl’s operation reached his village, the gun fire close enough to be heard, and the helicopter gunships overhead, Sanchez told me he fled with his father. His mother remained in the village, with Sanchez’s three younger siblings, including a one-year old brother. “I have done nothing wrong, nothing is going to happen to me,” Sanchez recalled his mother saying.From their hiding place amid rocks and weeds, Sanchez said he saw soldiers going house to house. In one house, they dragged out two teen-age girls, and led them to the river, Sanchez told me. Sanchez couldn’t see them. But he heard them screaming for their mothers. “Mom, they’re raping me.” Then he heard gunshots. All was silent.A day or two later, after the soldiers had left, Sanchez and his father returned to the village. Sanchez said he found his mother and siblings dead. In one house, he said, he saw a woman, Mario Santos. In her bed. She had been shot in the forehead. Next to her was her daughter. One-day old. Stabbed in the throat. On the wall, the soldiers had scrawled in blood. “Un nino muerto, un guerrillero menos.” One dead child is one less guerrilla.(Sanchez also gave this testimony under oath to a judge who is now conducting a trial of some 18 military officers who are charged with the massacre).Omar didn’t have Sanchez’s testimony, but she would have been more effective in questioning Abrams if she had read from the United Nations Truth Commission report on the human rights abuses in El Salvador during the civil war, which was released in 1993. Relying on classified U.S. government documents made available to the Commission, as well as scores of interviews, the Commission wrote: On 10 December 1981, in the village of El Mozote in the Department of Morazán, units of the Atlacatl Battalion detained, without resistance, all the men, women and children who were in the place. The following day, 11 December, after spending the night locked in their homes, they were deliberately and systematically executed in groups. First, the men were tortured and executed, then the women were executed and, lastly, the children, in the place where they had been locked up. Even if Omar had read that to Abrams and asked for his reaction, she probably would not have gotten a straight answer. Abrams is practiced at dissembling before Congress.In 1982, in an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Abrams was asked by Senator Paul Tsongas if he thought Roberto D’Aubuisson “would fit the extreme on the right.” “No, I don’t think so,” Abrams replied. “So, you’d have to be to the right of D’Aubuisson to be considered extremist?” Tsongas asked. “You’d have to be engaged in murder,” Abrams responded. D’Aubuisson was engaged in murder, as Abrams should have known.A few months after the Romero killing, a Salvadoran soldier had gone to the American embassy and told a young political officer, Carl Gettinger, that D’Aubuisson had presided over a meeting at which the assassination was plotted and soldiers had drawn straws to see who would do it. This had been duly reported to Washington, and other intelligence placed D’Aubuisson "at the center" of death squad activity, as a senior diplomat in El Salvador put it at the time. In this period, El Salvador was the top foreign policy issue and Abrams was a senior State Department official.The evidence that D’Aubuisson had been complicit in the murder of Archbishop Romero, that there had been a meeting to draw straws, was “credible,” the CIA later concluded, “While any number of rightwing death squads could have planned and carried out what was a relatively simple execution … there probably were few so fanatical and daring as D’Aubuisson to do it.”Inadvertently, Omar revealed that Trump may have picked the right man to implement his policy in Venezuela. As his record in El Salvador suggests, Abrams will say whatever is necessary to accomplish the administration’s will.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Stop Alleging Anti-Semitism Just to Score Political Points
There’s little doubt that Israel is shaping up to be one of the hottest of hot-button issues in the 2020 presidential-election cycle. While one might hope that a presidential campaign could feature a productive discussion about policy toward a region vital to U.S. interests, what we’re likely to have instead is a toxic political firefight, rife with partisan attacks and recrimination, bereft of insight or vision.Republicans are already attacking critics of Israeli government policy as “anti-Israel,” or even “anti-Semitic.” They have set out to drive a wedge between the progressive and more centrist wings of the Democratic Party, focusing in particular on people of color, women, and, most cynically, the two newly elected Muslim women in Congress.The first order of business in the Republican-controlled Senate was taking up legislation to suppress the free-speech rights of pro-Palestinian activists and extend U.S. legal protection to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.[Read: Why does the United States give so much money to Israel?]When many senators—including almost every declared Democratic 2020 presidential candidate in the chamber—objected to the legislation on First Amendment grounds, Republicans such as Senator Marco Rubio accused them of secretly supporting the problematic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which does not recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state.On the far left, vocal advocates for Palestinian rights cast the issue in winner-take-all terms as well, too often failing to recognize that the Jewish people have their own right to self-determination and their own history of pain and suffering. While these activists justly denounce Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories beyond the Green Line, they don’t often acknowledge the toll the conflict has taken on Israelis—and they haven’t shown a willingness to call to account extremists on the Palestinian side, such as Hamas.This week’s furor over Representative Ilhan Omar’s tweets highlighted the unhealthy state of the discourse. Omar engaged in an exchange on Twitter, singling out financial contributions from a prominent pro-Israel group as the explanation for American policy when it comes to Israel. While money plays a significant and detrimental role in many areas of our politics, including pro-Israel politics, Omar’s comments evoked disturbing anti-Semitic tropes about Jews, money, and power.[Read: Ilhan Omar just made it harder to have a nuanced debate about Israel]The tweets played into the hands of those looking to enforce limits on criticism of Israel—allowing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has justly faced criticism for his own tweet evoking anti-Semitic tropes, to try to claim the moral high ground.A healthy national debate over Israel and Palestine should welcome a wide variety of views and perspectives, and it should be possible to criticize Israeli actions without being dismissed as an anti-Semite, or to promote American support of Israel without being accused of buying influence. When the debate descends into an exchange of charges of anti-Semitism, you can be sure we’re not teeing up a reasoned discussion about the shape of American policy.Being afforded the space for criticism brings with it an obligation on the part of the critics to think about the impact of their words—and tweets. And critics of the critics should be called to task when their rhetoric crosses the line to Islamophobia and racism.Sadly, the noisy political firefight means there’s little chance of having the discussion that’s actually needed about how to end the nearly century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Getting this right means reversing a political dynamic that rewards political grandstanding and devalues those who stand up for a future in which Israelis have security and recognition and Palestinians have freedom and self-determination.[Read: The real dispute that’s driving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]The United States won’t play a productive and necessary diplomatic role so long as its political leaders would rather score political points than work to bring about that better future.The majority of Americans support a two-state solution, recognize the humanity of both peoples, and reject the absurd idea that one side or the other bears sole responsibility for the conflict. Instead of debating who’s the bigger bigot, the 2020 candidates should explain how the United States will be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine by helping the two peoples find a way out of their tragic and deteriorating conflict.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Sunni Jihad Is Going Local
For decades, Sunni jihadism has been characterized by transnational terrorism, suicide bombing, and excommunication. These three pillars not only attracted the ire of American and European governments, but turned off many of the jihadists’ target constituents, namely Sunnis living in the Muslim world. Yet there are signs that Sunni extremists are changing their ways, drifting away from the global agenda that reached its apotheosis in al-Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center, and toward a hyperlocal one.The transformation is happening in various countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen, and Mali. Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria, provides an illustrative example of how the jihadist threat is changing across the region.In 2016, Jabhat al-Nusra put together a lengthy training manual for its new recruits. In the roughly 200-page book, obtained by the author, the group argues the merits of country-focused jihad over global jihad. It advises followers that al-Qaeda’s stated strategy of going after the “far enemy” was not set in stone, and that, in the current moment, a focus on anything other than the local fight would be an “unacceptable distraction.”Throughout the Syrian War, the group has put that theoretical injunction into practice. Its leader, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, even pledged in an interview with Al Jazeera in May 2015 that Syria would not be used as a launchpad for jihadists to attack the West, based on orders from al-Qaeda’s central leadership. The group established a political office and reached out to countries including Turkey to sell itself as a reliable partner, one that poses no threat to anyone outside Syria.Simultaneously, the group has moved away from the other two pillars of suicide bombing and excommunication, part of the grander effort not to alienate locals.Jabhat al-Nusra, according to an insider source, has issued internal instructions ordering its commanders to refrain from the use of suicide attacks whenever possible, and never in civilian areas. And indeed, few such attacks have happened away from the front lines. Similarly, Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafi-jihadist group close to Jabhat al-Nusra, banned suicide bombing in the early days of the conflict. The cautious use of suicide bombing is also common beyond Syria, including in Yemen and Libya. It seems that suicide attacks reached a high point after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but they have now fallen off dramatically—with the notable exception of those committed by the Islamic State.Excommunication, or takfir, is on the decline as well, as jihadist groups have come around to the practicality of aligning themselves with relative moderates instead of enforcing a rift whenever a theological difference of opinion becomes apparent.Beyond Syria, the al-Qaeda chapter in Yemen has also looked closer to home in the aftermath of the anti-government uprising in 2011 and the war launched by Saudi Arabia against the Houthis in 2015. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, once seen as the most dangerous branch for its role in international terrorism, governed Hadhramaut for an entire year; this experiment seems to have further enmeshed it in local dynamics. In 2017, the group told a Norwegian newspaper that it had renounced international operations and stopped recruiting foreign fighters as part of an agreement with local tribal and religious leaders.One could easily dismiss these changes as limited or temporary, but there are two reasons to believe that they represent a genuine trend.First, Sunni jihadists’ localized approach evolved organically out of the geopolitical upheavals of 2011. The popular uprisings across the region submerged jihadists deep in local struggles. Extremist groups had to respond quickly to rapidly changing events, which meant they could not always report to jihadist ideologues or leaders living elsewhere. That was a radical change from the way jihadists used to operate, mostly as a vanguard movement led by dogmatic radicals who wanted to go after the “head of the snake,” as Osama bin Laden and others labeled the U.S. and its Western allies.The emergence of the Islamic State in 2013 and 2014 might seem like a dispositive counterexample; in reality, that group’s radicalism and global ambition caused something of a backlash among other Sunni jihadists, who sought to distinguish themselves from the hard-liners through relative moderation and localism. As ISIS rose to power, and later as it collapsed, other Sunni groups continued their local strategy, suggesting that it arose from deep convictions, and was not superficial or merely tactical.In the past several years, Sunni jihadists have begun to speak in favor of cross-ideological coalitions in countries such as Syria and Libya, and to describe them as “corrective” or “reformist” models. They are advocating a move away from a “jihad of the elite” that looks down on the masses, and toward a “jihad of the people” that respects local communities and reflects their priorities.Second, pro-Iranian Shiite militants evolved in just this way a few decades ago, from global to more local in outlook.Among Muslim radicals, Shiite groups pioneered transnational terrorism and suicide bombing. In October 1983, twin suicide attacks carried out by what became Hezbollah in Beirut killed 241 U.S. personnel and 58 French soldiers. Two months later, Hezbollah of Lebanon and the Islamic Dawa Party of Iraq conducted a joint suicide operation in Kuwait, targeting six foreign and national installations, and were implicated in other terrorist attacks against diplomatic and cultural missions in numerous countries. Iran’s use of child suicide battalions to charge across Iraqi minefields during the Iraq-Iran War, from 1980 to 1988, was the most grisly and large-scale example of the tactic.During the 1980s, by contrast, not a single Sunni extremist blew himself up—even at the height of the jihad in Afghanistan. It would take Sunni militants another decade to embrace the suicide bombing, which they did precisely because they believed it was central to Shiite groups’ success in driving out foreign forces from Lebanon and in the Iran-Iraq War. (Ramadan Shalah, the former leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, told the Saudi newspaper Al Hayat in 2003 that the tactic was “borrowed” from Shiites.)Over time, however, Shiite militant groups abandoned suicide bombings, which they came to view as counterproductive. (In Israel in particular, the tactic had damaged the reputation of the Arab cause.) Groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and the majority of Shiite militias in Iraq also shifted from transnational terrorism to a more nationalist approach, infiltrating and then dominating local politics. This strategy has enabled Shiite jihadist groups to grow and dominate in multiple countries, even where Shiites are a minority.(Of course the conversion is not complete; Iran, famously, uses jihadist groups as proxies in other countries. But state-sponsored Shiite militancy is not quite the same as an international terrorist campaign organized by a radical, stateless vanguard.)So this looks like a pattern: Shiite jihadists embrace suicide bombing; Sunni jihadists follow suit; Shiites reject suicide bombing and move toward a local strategy; Sunnis follow suit. The Shiites have stuck to their local agenda, and there’s every reason to expect Sunnis to do the same.The U.S. needs to adapt to the changing nature of the jihadist threat. The new jihadists will not focus on exporting violence to the West, but instead on infiltrating local communities and building influence. The future extremist landscape could be dominated by Hezbollah-like Sunni jihadist groups, ones that have the determination to fight a long war, but are grounded in local struggles.The way to counter these emerging movements is through a deeper engagement to stem their influence on a local level. In practical terms, the strategy should include consistent and long-term American support and oversight for governments to fill the vacuum in restive areas. But 18 years after the War on Terror started, Washington has no appetite for such an engagement. In all likelihood, Sunni jihadists will continue to adjust their tactics to deepen their presence across the region, as their Shiite counterparts did before.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Trump's Emergency Declaration Is a Test for Senate Republicans
There was a climactic moment Thursday afternoon as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on the Senate floor that President Donald Trump would sign a compromise deal on border-security funding, but would also declare a national emergency to try to build his wall. What happens next will be a test of the mettle of Republicans in the Senate—though if the past is any indication, it’s likely to be more of an anticlimax.The announcement, confirmed by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, capped a tense afternoon, as the mood on Capitol Hill shifted from an expectation that Trump would sign the deal to jitters that he might not. McConnell’s announcement ended one acute, Trump-created crisis—the threat of a second government shutdown starting Friday—but the expected emergency declaration creates another. (Trump is slated to sign the bipartisan deal on Friday morning.)Republicans have warned Trump against declaring a national emergency for weeks. Their concerns spring from both principle and pragmatism. Emergency declarations are a gray area of the law and raise concerns about executive power. It isn’t clear how an emergency declaration to build a border wall would work, nor whether courts would approve it in the inevitable legal challenge to come. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a close ally of McConnell’s, has said he opposes the idea because it could empower a future Democratic president to proclaim an emergency of his or her own.Following a declaration, the White House would still have to come up with funding for the wall without Congress’s help, which would require overriding appropriators’ spending decisions. That might well be unconstitutional, and in any case risks infuriating appropriators, who jealously guard their power.[Read: Trump was always going to fold on the border wall]McConnell, as the head of the Senate and the top Republican on Capitol Hill, has been one of those warning against an emergency declaration, delivering his opinion in his typically understated, bland way. “I don’t think much of that idea,” McConnell told Charlie Homans of The New York Times Magazine in January. “I hope he doesn’t go down that path.”He also reportedly warned Trump privately against the idea. McConnell told the president that if he declared an emergency, Congress might try to overrule him with a resolution, and that enough Republicans might join with Democrats that the resolution would succeed. Opinion among Republicans is not uniform; Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has been a cheerleader for a declaration. But many Republicans have expressed misgivings, including on Thursday, and Trump’s decision to go forward sets up a test of their will to oppose the president.Yet if McConnell himself is any indication, they are unlikely to push back. He flip-flopped on Thursday, announcing he'd support the president, despite his past public and private warnings against an emergency declaration. The GOP’s acquiescence wouldn’t be a surprise: While I have written that Trump almost always folds—and his decision to accept the compromise funding bill is yet another example—Republican members of Congress almost always fold, too.With control of the one chamber, Democrats can force a battle over funding through spending bills, but only the GOP-controlled Senate can decide the fate of the emergency declaration by joining the House to vote against it. In one sign of their weak resolve, Republican members were reportedly demanding to know whether Trump would sign the funding bill before they held a vote—effectively delegating their decision to the White House.That fits with the pattern. Despite having already passed a funding bill without money for the wall in December, they declined to force Trump’s hand and end the recent shutdown by voting for anything without his stamp of approval. Trump has stonewalled them on a report over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the White House is legally required to provide, eliciting only some mildly affronted quotes from senators. They gave in to his decision to levy a range of tariffs on imports. Because of this pattern, it was especially surprising when the Senate voted to rebuke Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria—in a non-binding resolution.[Peter Beinart: What will Trump do if he realizes he’s lost the shutdown fight?]The reasons for Republicans’ faintheartedness are varied. Some are worried that opposing him could generate career-ending primary challenges, a fear that is probably correct. In McConnell’s case, as Homans reported, the majority leader has apparently concluded that any Faustian bargain with Trump is worth the opportunity to remake the federal courts with conservative judges.Now, Senate Republicans have another chance to demonstrate their willingness to stand up to the president. The results could have far-reaching implications. Their actions will help determine the fate of the wall, an enormous undertaking that could cost $25 billion or more. They will also help determine whether Trump and future presidents are able to find ways to undertake huge, costly projects without congressional approval by using emergency declarations as an end run around legislators.Each encounter between Trump and the Senate that ends in a senatorial surrender is also a signal to Trump about what could happen should he decide to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller or take other unprecedented steps to protect himself from investigations. McConnell has refused to allow the Senate to vote on a bill defending Mueller, but he’s also said he doesn’t think Trump is going to fire him. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan told Homans that he and McConnell had a contingency plan if he did. Then again, McConnell didn’t think Trump was going to declare a national emergency, either.
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World Edition - The Atlantic