First thoughts, running arguments, stories in progress
The interior of America was exciting for Albert Bierstadt and the imaginative landscape painters of the 19th century. It's newly exciting, in a different way, now. ('Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains,' Albert Bierstadt, 1868, Smithsonian Institute, via Wikimedia)

1) Meet the Press podcast. Yesterday afternoon I spoke with Chuck Todd for his podcast; the segment has gone up today, and you can find it here on Soundcloud or here from the MTP site.

Mainly we were talking about the election, immigration, the cycles of class friction through American, the strategic and economic implications of TPP, and so on. But near the end, Chuck (whom I know from his days as editor of Hotline, part of the Atlantic combine) asked me where I’d like to live next.

The premise was: over the years my wife Deb and I, plus our kids when they were little, had lived in a sequence of foreign spots, reporting on what seemed interesting. What and where would be interesting next?

I hadn’t been expecting the question and just said, without thinking, “the interior of the United States.”

By “interior” I meant a shorthand for the places other than the handful of big coastal cities that dominate media awareness and the sense of chic: Boston to DC on the East Coast, Seattle to LA in the west, a courtesy extension to Miami and San Diego, and a smattering of others. Basically this media-mind-map creates a picture of the United States as if it were Australia, with the action all happening along the rim.

Of course a sense of excitement about the rest of the country reflects what Deb and I have been reporting in our travels these past few years, but it actually is something I believe more strongly the more I see. If you were traveling the country wide-eyed and mainly tuned out from the national political news, you would think this is a big, interesting, diverse civilization, in the process of dealing with and beginning to solve the many ills of the era.

Much as I wasn’t expecting the question, Chuck wasn’t expecting the answer, but we agreed and went on to some of the political and economic ramifications thereof.

All notes on "American Futures" >
New Line Cinema / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

Wag the Dog is notable, mostly, for its cynicism—cynicism that is so deep, and so pervasive, that it takes for granted that the cynicism will be shared by its audience. The film’s satire is so searing, in part, because it starts with the premise that politics is performance (or, ahem, that it is Political Theater, if you will)—and then it takes that premise to its logical conclusion. The argument undergirding the whole thing is that what Americans experience as the details of their civic life is actually an enormous production. All of it—the pageantry, the policy divisions, the things that suggest that Americans, by way of our hard-fought representative democracy, have an active say in our own future—is basically one elaborate Truman Show.

Wag the Dog, for my money, is very, very good satire. But what I kept thinking about after I watched it was why, in particular, its satire was so successful. And I think it had something to do with the fact that the film is based on a truth that is so widely distributed, I think, as to be largely invisible: that Americans, nowadays, take for granted the idea that politics is, in some sense, a lie.

All notes on "Political Theater" >

A reader has trouble picking one song for the series:

I like Beirut’s “Santa Fe” and Weird Al’s “Albuquerque.” (I grew up in New Mexico.) There are so many good answers to this, but I think most of Sufjan Stevens’ album Illinois is amazing, even if I have no personal ties to that region.

Sufjan’s other state-based album, Michigan, is nearly as good as Illinois, and I do have personal ties to Michigan—I was born in Alma and my dad now lives in East Tawas—but I haven’t live there much at all, let alone Flint. So if any Flint natives want to reflect on your city, especially in light of the horrible water crisis, drop me a note and I’ll update.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

All notes on "Songs About a Place" >

Our list of power plants continues to grow: a nuclear one over Michigan, a bunch of wind turbines over Colorado, some solar panels with crop circles in Arizona, a pair of coal-fired plants in Iowa … and now another nuclear one, this time on the California coast (followed by a bonus AbA photo from a new state—Maine!):

Dan Terzian

Here’s the Pacific Gas & Electric nuclear reactor at Diablo Canyon, near Avila Beach, California. The picture was taken from the front seat of a Pitts Special biplane. The Diablo Canyon plant has churned out energy for the state of California for over 30 years but may finally succumb to requests for its closure from environment groups.

Not if local Ellie Ripley can help it. From her letter to the editor of The San Luis Obispo Tribune:

For 40 years, the anti-nuclear groups have been spouting off about how unsafe, poorly designed and outdated Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is. Where are their credentials? Have they had any training, any experience in nuclear? Clearly they have not. They make their claims without any truth-based facts.

Diablo Canyon has been producing power for more than 30 years that has proven safe, clean, affordable and reliable. Shutting down Diablo Canyon would be trading 2,250 megawatts of clean, nonpolluting energy to substitute it with fossil fuel which will be needed to back up intermittent renewable energy. Where is the sense in that?

Another Tribune reader looks at the cost factor:

[R]eplacing Diablo Canyon requires 14 500-megawatt solar farms. Solar farms like the Topaz facility take three years to build and cost about $2.4 billion each. Building two a year it would take seven-plus years, 133 square miles of land and cost $33.6 billion. Guess who pays the $33.6 billion!

Circling back to wind turbines, here’s an AbA submission from a reader flying above “Vinal Haven Island, Maine, on the way to and back from Portland”:

Doug Magruder

With Maine now checked off the list of states we’ve covered in America by Air, only eight remain: Connecticut, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. Do you happen to have a good photo above one of those states? We’d love to post it:

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This story from a 39-year-old reader is totally heartbreaking. He and his wife not only struggled for years to conceive—suffering a miscarriage along the way—but also struggled to adopt. (Perhaps they can find some helpful insight from our reader series on adoption, or some solace in our reader series on miscarriage.) He begins plaintively, “Being a father was always the thing I wanted the most, from childhood on up.”

I was an only child to an only son from my grandfather who had lost a courageous battle of MS over ten years before I was born. My nuclear family connections were important and I wanted to have a good job, but not a great job because I wanted to have the freedom to be there for my kids when they needed me, like my family had been for me.

I got married pretty much straight out of college and my wife wanted a professional career that required a master’s. We put off starting a family until she was done, after we’d been married three years. We were both 26 when she went off birth control.

The following January we were pregnant. The following March we were not.

The product of our conception slipped away, and we were excoriated for not visiting the emergency room instead of urgent care. We knew that miscarriage was common, so we chose not to tell anyone (or nearly anyone) that we were trying, nor that we were unlucky.

All notes on "Stories of Infertility" >
Mick Tsikas / Reuters

Among the many stories from women (and some men) who were told to smile by strangers, we’ve also heard from readers who have confronted such comments at work. Melissa writes:

I work in a male-dominated environment with a high percentage of former military. About once a month I encounter some dummy in the hallway who says “Smile!”—always a man, and most of the time far below me in station.

Ugh! I don’t have to smile; I’m at work. I have a lot of stuff to do!

Ugh, indeed. And yet, it’s complicated: While pressure to smile at work is usually less overt and less frightening than street harassment, it can also carry greater repercussions. The need to preserve a good relationship with coworkers and clients means that responding angrily to frustrating requests isn’t really an option. And the subtle, unconscious biases that influence things like promotions and evaluations make the office one place where women sometimes really do “have” to smile to succeed.

Take teaching: There’s an ever-growing body of evidence that female professors are rated more harshly than their male peers on things like classroom demeanor, which means the stakes of “not smiling enough” or appearing “too outspoken” can become very high. As reader Michelle explains:

For years I’ve been an adjunct instructor. I get exhausted smiling, always being cheerful and pleasing. I know that fewer smiles would mean lower student evaluations, less enrollment in my classes, no work. I genuinely love teaching and care about my students. The extra emotional energy that goes into always being sure I’m pleasing would be better spent on real professional concerns and authentic emotional expression. With a paycheck on the line, I have to let this slide.

One woman who didn’t let this slide is our next reader, “a Boomer mom” who’s taught at a community college for almost 30 years:

Our union has always negotiated contracts with tenure after three years, but I was turned down at first. Both my then-department chair and my then-supervisor did not support me. So I had to investigate on my own to discover why. Conversations with both of them and with other faculty soon revealed that I did not get tenure basically because I did not “smile enough.” They meant it literally!

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A reader in Massachusetts writes, “As a displaced Angeleno in New England, this song takes me back to L.A. in every way.”

The video below presents a version of the song remixed by Diplo and illustrated with various scenes from Wattstax. What’s Wattstax?

It was a benefit concert organized by Stax Records to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 1965 riots in the African-American community of Watts, Los Angeles. The concert took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 20, 1972. The concert’s performers included all of Stax’s prominent artists at the time. The genres of the songs performed included soul, gospel, blues, funk, and jazz. The concert was filmed by David L. Wolper’s film crew and was made into the 1973 film titled, Wattstax. The film was directed by Mel Stuart and nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film in 1974.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

All notes on "Songs About a Place" >

A reader writes:

I’m 36 and I’ve been struggling with infertility for a bit over a year now. I say “I” because from my point of view, this is much more my problem than my husband’s (yes, he’s had tests done and all is normal). I know many men are as heartbroken as their partners over trying to conceive, but that hasn’t been my experience, nor my friends’. My husband loves me and wants me to be happy, but it’s very simple for him to say “we’ll adopt” or “we’ll have a baby some way; you’ll be a mother.” It’s very different to be the one who feels that her body doesn’t work; who doesn’t feel like a woman; who feels as if life is passing her by every day that passes without a baby.

I feel guilt and anger every day about waiting so long to try to get pregnant; anger at my husband for persuading me to wait until we were 35 to start trying; anger at myself for listening to him when having a family is my life’s goal.

I also struggle with jealousy. (“Oh! We weren’t even trying to get pregnant!”) A good friend of mine is 42 and is about to have a baby girl via IVF. I think of her every day and hope that I am just so lucky.

That reader’s marriage doesn’t seem to be imperiled, but we’ve heard from other readers about the damage that infertility can inflict on a couple. Rachel has seen it secondhand:

I’ve known a few people who have done IVF. What people don’t talk about much is the high level of divorce correlated with the procedure. Couples are three times more likely to divorce [at least according to this 2014 study of Danish couples]. The impact of the hormones often leads women to have harder time moderating feelings, and feeling out of control is compounded with an impact on sex drive that reduces the sexual relationship to mechanics. [This 2010 study from Stanford backs up that last assertion.]

It’s an interesting choice: your marriage or a child.

The high cost of IFV—for example, one of our readers spent $15,000 on it and related measures—undoubtedly strains a marriage as well. Has infertility ruined, or nearly ruined, your marriage? If so, and if you’d like to talk about it anonymously, please send us a note:

Here’s another reader who witnessed the detrimental effects of infertility on marriage:

All notes on "Stories of Infertility" >
The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, one year after The Atlantic’s founding, “mattered” in American history because of the ideas they advanced. (Stephen Douglas held onto his seat in the Senate; not long afterward Lincoln began his campaign for the presidency.) Is it possible that the Clinton-Trump debates of 2016, or Year 159 of The Atlantic’s history, will also matter? (Robert Marshall Root painting, via Illinois Periodicals Online)

In my my article on this year’s presidential debates, I pointed out that these high-drama election-year rituals seem important to mere citizens and journalists. But political scientists have long claimed there’s no proof that they’ve actually changed presidential election results.

Maybe they’ll say something different when this year’s results are in. At face value, it certainly appears that the first Clinton-Trump debate—a month ago today—marked a clear shift in Hillary Clinton’s favor and against Donald Trump.

Below is a screenshot of the timeline for the “polls-plus” prediction of the election’s outcome, from FiveThirtyEight. I’ve added the big black arrow to mark the first debate. The thinner vertical lines to the right are the other two debates, each one of which went badly for Trump and, from this chart, seemed to reinforce Clinton’s lead.

As a reminder: debate #2 was the town hall, in which Trump loomed up behind Clinton like a lurker, and #3 was the debate of “such a nasty woman” and “keep you in suspense” (about accepting election outcome).

The screenshot below from the NYT’s “Who Will Be President” tracker shows something similar. Again, the black bar marks the first debate.


For one more way to look at this question, which is less immediately obvious in graphic terms but cumulatively more convincing, please check out this recent tweet-storm by the U. Michigan economist Justin Wolfers.

All notes on "Trump Nation" >
Kacper Pempel / Reuters

The first story in our new reader series comes from a 33-year-old woman who has struggled to conceive for more than two years. “As I write this, I have one hard-won blastocyst on ice, waiting to be transferred to my uterus.” She looks back to the beginning:

From my early twenties, I often told my doctor at annual exams that I was concerned about my fertility because of irregular, scant, light periods and a history of eating disorders in adolescence. I was written off as young, healthy, and too anxious for my own good.

When we started trying for a family at 30, I brought it up again and was told to come back after one year of trying. After spending almost $2,000 on acupuncture, hundreds of dollars on vitamins, thousands more on counseling and mindfulness and relaxation, seed cycling, supplements, and ketogenic diets, I was finally referred to a specialist. After an invasive and painful procedure to open a blocked fallopian tube, we spent a year on medications and HCG injections to force ovulation, awkward timed intercourse, and bouts on birth control to suppress the cysts that kept developing.

After over a year with a specialist, our infertility is still unexplained.

All notes on "Stories of Infertility" >
"Who's that, behind me? Oh, it is you again, Mr. Trump!" The candidate with some employees at his golf course, yesterday in Florida. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Yesterday, in installment #148 of the time capsules, I contrasted circa-2008 videos of a (comparatively) thoughtful-sounding Donald Trump with the splenetic buffoon we see today, and asked, What happened?

Readers offer three hypotheses.

1) You’re fooling yourself. There’s no change. From a reader in California:

I differ with your take on Trump’s comments about the movie. (Caveat: I have a serious problem watching film at all.) I’m not interested in cinematography, never mind Trump’s views of same. However, your statement, “For any rich person to say these things about the movie would be something,” is simply mistaken. Trump isn’t saying anything about “the movie.” He’s riffing on his own self-absorbed impressions of wealth, women, and personal relationships. He makes one bland remark about the camera’s emphasis on the extent of the table ...

In sum, “this other Trump” is not by a stretch another Trump. He’s the same Trump, but at the time one who wasn’t running for POTUS.

FWIW, what struck me about Trump’s “Rosebud” comments was not his assessment of Citizen Kane as a film itself but rather his allusions to the distancing effects of wealth. Through the past year, we’ve heard him say “I’m really rich!” (or used to, back in the “self-funding” days). We still hear him say “I’m so smart” and “I have the greatest temperament.” It’s a different tone in these clips.

All notes on "Trump Nation" >

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