I was very sorry to learn this week that Peter Claeys, whom you see in action above and in the family photo below, had died recently in Lille, at age 62. With his family’s permission, here is their announcement, followed by my appreciation:
I was very sorry to learn this week that Peter Claeys, whom you see in action above and in the family photo below, had died recently in Lille, at age 62. With his family’s permission, here is their announcement, followed by my appreciation:
As mentioned last week, I’m nostalgically trying to piece together some elements of the olden-days blogging culture in the current, very different online environment.
Today’s installment: A long note from a reader working through why he has changed his mind about Comey’s Choice™—former FBI Director James Comey’s decision to ignore the practice of his predecessors and comment openly about the investigative status of candidates during an election.
The reader begins about the overall process of collaborative thinking-out-loud:
I confess to using [emails to me and other writers] as a foil against which to flesh out my thoughts and ideas. I hope it hasn't been an irritating distraction. It's certainly helped me. I'm at least hoping that the elaboration of my own denseness has helped you to understand how much (or little) of the media's message is being absorbed and understood by people in the general population who think about it.
In that spirit, I just listened to the Colbert-Comey interview; I'd listened to the Maddow interview, and read summaries of a couple of others. [Update: I recommend listening to Michael Barbaro’s 42-minute interview with Comey on the NYT podcast The Daily, which goes into many of the questions the reader raises.] And I was about to sit down and ask you an honest question: Why was Comey's decisions to make public pronouncements about Clinton's e-mails wrong? The case he states makes sense, especially given the impossible consequences of going in either direction.
I've seen your many tweets challenging both the decision and the media handling of it. But his case still is highly persuasive. He was facing, in his statement, a Hobson's choice between tainting an election, or tainting a presidency, depending upon the outcome, given his perception that the independence of Justice (Loretta Lynch) being questioned.
And then, amidst my shower this morning, I got it. And I want to share it with you because, honestly, I haven't seen, or perhaps more accurately, been able to pull out of the mishmash of facts and events, a clear explication of why what he did was wrong.
Last week I quoted a long dispatch from a Harvard graduate now living in New Haven, on why he thought the Trump era held more perils for elite-level schools like Harvard and Yale than they might be anticipating. Readers chimed in to agree, disagree, and share parallel experiences here.
I’ve received a flood of mail since then—supportive, angry, provocative in various ways—which I’ll work through and quote as circumstances allow. But for real-time reasons, I want to quote one of them today. It’s from Justin Kaplan, a current graduate student at Harvard, who is originally from southern Virginia and went to college at the University of Virginia. (He points out that he is one of a set of triplets, which has affected his parents’ ability to support his higher-education costs.)
Kaplan, whose name I am using with his permission, writes about a vote for graduate-school unionization at Harvard that is winding up today. As he points out, his experience should obviously not be taken as representative of elite universities in general, or Harvard in particular, or even his own graduate department. But accumulations of individual experience have their weight, and this is his account:
Regarding your piece on “The Future of Elite Schools in the Trump Era,” I would love to share my thoughts and experiences of the “Present” at an elite school: namely, Harvard.
I will preface my comments with a disclaimer: I do not claim to speak for all students at Harvard, nor all students at the School of Public Health, where I currently pursue a master’s degree. I am just relaying the observations I have been banking since my acceptance and subsequent arrival here… It would be fallacious to generalize widely from my experience.
That being said, my best friend at Harvard is my therapist. Or maybe my psychiatrist, whom I see monthly at student health, and who recently comforted me with an age-old adage: “it’s better to be from Harvard than at Harvard.”
In a few days, the May issue of the magazine will arrive for subscribers ( ! ) and appear on newsstands. It includes an article I’ve done as a more analytically explicit companion to Our Towns, the mainly narrative book that I’ve written with my wife, Deb, and that will come out next month.
In the Atlantic article I elaborate on a claim that I’ve been exploring in this space over the past five years of traveling through and reporting about “interior America.” It boils down to this, from the article:
Dysfunction at the national level genuinely is a problem, as the world is reminded every time the federal government shuts down. Some of that pathology has spread to the state level. But for us the American story was of a country that is still capable of functioning far more effectively than national-level paralysis would indicate or than most people unaware of the national patterns we are reporting would assume about the parts of America they’re not in.
The words I most want to emphasize from that passage are the final ones. People generally develop a more-or-less realistic assessment of the communities and institutions they experience first-hand. But more and more, they have come to believe that the world “outside” is full of dystopian horrors they are fighting off at home. The simplest illustration, which I mention and document in the piece: Polls show that by huge majorities, Americans think things are getting worse for the country as a whole. By similarly huge majorities, they believe that conditions in their own communities are getting better, not worse.
What explains this split awareness? It’s complicated. No doubt a significant factor is that politics at the national level have genuinely reached a point of crisis — and it’s tempting for people to base their judgments of local conditions on first-hand knowledge, and assume that the (abysmal) level of national politics is the default assumption about everywhere else. The decades-long fear-and-disaster emphasis of local news and cable news also has an effect. (“We’re not having many car hijackings / tornados / terrorist threats here locally, but they must be widespread because I see them all the time on the news!”)
In the article I also propose a way to test the proposition that America is, at a local level, positive minded. I offer this for the (no doubt substantial) number of readers who might start out skeptical. Further details when the magazine comes out. For the moment, here is a way to sample what it has been like to go city-by-city and ask about the most significant local developments.
While on a long drive yesterday, I listened on the radio to Joshua Johnson’s radio interview, on his 1A program, with Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas. Ross’s story, told last month in this Smithsonian article, is of a conservative-Republican mayor in a Republican-voting town, who has made Georgetown the largest town in America to run entirely on renewable power. Something similar is true of the also-Republican mayor of the also-conservative city of Lancaster, California, which has gone all-out in its transition to solar power.
Recently I posted a dispatch from a reader based in New Haven, himself a Harvard graduate, who said that America’s elite-level universities were ill-prepared for what the Trump administration had in store for them.
Here is a sampling of the response that has come in. First, the flippant:
Your blog post detailing a reader’s concern about the insularity and elitism of Ivy League universities made me think of a personal anecdote about the last time I visited Cornell.
It was my 24th birthday, and I was at an apartment party with a few friends. I was offered the chance to pick the music, and I decided to put on one of the greatest pop songs of all time, Mariah Carey’s “Emotions.”
Not only did no one besides me dance, but someone had the gall to change the track during the iconic vamp where Mariah hits the highest falsetto note of the song. Maybe it’s just me being petty, but that moment demonstrated the aloofness and entitlement of Ivy League students; if they wouldn’t let me finish listening to one of my favorite songs on my birthday, and an objectively fantastic one at that, how much awareness do they really have about their fellow American’s lives, and will they realize that their instincts and decision-making skills aren’t always right?
Yeah, I’m probably just being petty.
Much more substantively, from another reader, a young woman named Erica Yurvati :
I just read your post about the future of elite schools in the Trump era. I think I might have a unique perspective to add.
I grew up in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, which is a small town in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. It's definitely Trump territory. Most of my ancestors were farmers and my mom's generation was the first to go to college. I was an overachiever who made the most of the opportunities at my school and was lucky enough to have parents who supported me in activities outside of school.
When I got into Yale, I knew it would change my life and it absolutely did.
I recall the first time I heard someone in New York talk excitedly about plans to “go to Coachella.” What? I thought.
The Coachella I had known while growing up in the vicinity was a small desert town where irrigation made farming possible, and where the crops ranged from rows of vegetables to groves of citrus and date-palm trees. Under the blasting desert sun, its motto—“The City of Eternal Sunshine”—seemed a literally accurate description, except maybe for the nighttime hours. Every year the next-door town of Indio would hold the National Date Festival, where events included naming a Queen Scheherazade and her court. (That tradition continues: here’s the current queen, Keanna Garcia.) During Cesar Chavez’s heyday as an organizer, his United Farm Workers led a number of strikes and other actions among the mainly Latino work force in the area.
So to me, the name Coachella had always meant “date palms” and “farm-workers’ efforts.” But over the past 20 years, it has come to mean “Music Festival” to much of the world. In fact, the web address coachella.com takes you directly to festival information, rather than to a municipal site.
This tension—Coachella the real place, where struggles for economic and environmental progress have been waged for decades, versus Coachella the stylish venue toward which festival-goers are flocking right now—is the theme of an intriguing new “story map” produced by the novelist Susan Straight, the photographer Douglas McCulloh, and our friends* at the Esri corporation, of Redlands, California. The map is here, and a few details about it are after the jump.
A few days ago, for no intended reason, I came across this remarkable off-the-cuff essay from back in 2011 by my then-and-now colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates. In those days—before “The Case for Reparations,” before Between the World and Me, before the new, wonderful Apollo Theater rendition of Between—Ta-Nehisi was a closely followed writer but not yet the internationally influential figure he has deservedly become. And, like many of us writing online for The Atlantic in those days (I was doing so from Beijing), he used the then-flourishing model of the blog to carry out an extended thinking-out-loud relationship with his readers. That’s what you’ll see in the post mentioned above, which is about Ta-Nehisi’s encounter with some works of Herman Melville’s.
The world has moved on from that era of online discourse, principally because of a shift in the dynamics of readership and traffic. Then, you could assume that readers of today’s post would have some background awareness of what you wrote yesterday, or maybe last month as well. They’d know the kind of sensibility a comment came from, and of the parts of the argument you weren’t spelling out.
Now, any given post bears a greater expectation of being a stand-alone, completed thought—one that can “travel” via social-media sharing (through Facebook or Twitter) and will be comprehensible to people who have no idea of the preceding flow. With no assumption that posts will be read in context, there’s a correspondingly greater risk that any comment or sentence can be taken on its own, taken the wrong way, and instantly circulated to damaging effect. There’s less leeway for the “error” part of the trial-and-error aspect of thinking in public. The writing naturally becomes more formal and less playful.
To exist in journalism is to be comfortable with accelerating change—back in 2011, I quaintly resisted the term “blog” for my part of the site, little imagining that a few years later that word would have the lost-era resonance of “first quarto edition” or “hand-written letter.” And this shift in discourse, by which something is lost, is also part of a process by which a lot is gained: namely, a much broader potential audience for material on a site like ours. But it is a shift.
This is a build-up for saying that I’m going to try once more, within the confines of this space, to revive a little of the retro blogging spirit. As an example for today, here is a message that came in from a reader in an elite-university college town. (OK: It’s New Haven.) He says that an under-appreciated aspect of Donald Trump’s war on expertise deserves further attention. The reader writes:
I believe that you, like me, are the product of some of the most elite schools in the US.* I've been involved in the Ivy League, indirectly or directly, almost every year since [the 1980s] when we all drove my oldest brother to Harvard. It's striking to see how Trump has turned his anti-elitist fire onto Harvard and its peers. First their endowments were targeted in the tax reform. And now we are learning that the Justice Department is going after their admissions practices.
There is a problem with China. But what the U.S. is doing to solve it won’t work.
On Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook finally appears before Congress. Franklin Foer, who has extensively chronicled the relationship between social-media companies and democracy, had a report yesterday on the phase-change in national power that his appearance might indicate. (And you can take an advance look at Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony, highly underwhelming in my view.)
Last week I ran a long dispatch by my friend Michael Jones, one of the inventors of Google Earth and former “Chief Technology Advocate” at Google, arguing the difference (as he had seen it) between the Google and the Facebook approach to customer data. In short: Both companies based their business on achieving a more and more precise understanding of who their users were. But, Jones said, there was a big difference in how they protected the information, Google being more intent on making sure the “Personally Identifiable Information,” PII, never left its own control.
His argument attracted a lot of discussion on Twitter, from some past and present employees of Facebook and some other figures. I’ve also heard many dissenting (and supporting) views.
The purpose of this post is to quote a few of the dissents, and a reply from Michael Jones.
First, from someone within the Facebook world:
[A relative who works for Facebook] told me: "The article is mostly false in regards to what advertisers get. It makes it seem like the advertiser knows your every move—as well as your kids. Obviously FB and Google have tons of PII, but it really only gets shared with advertisers in aggregate, not one by one. Unless the user volunteers it [i.e. fills out a form to provide their information to the advertiser]".
I agree with this. There are two cases to consider here: Facebook Advertisers and Facebook Applications.
Facebook Advertisers: When an advertiser uses FB (or Google) to post ads, very granular micro-targeting can be done in order to deliver the ads/content to a very specific audience. The advertiser doesn't know who the ads are getting delivered to; all of that information is held by FB (or Google). In this area, Google and FB are identical.
Facebook Applications: Facebook provides a mechanism to allow Facebook users to use their FB identify (i.e. username/pwd) to access other applications. This way, the user just has to remember their one identity. When the user first sets this up for a specific application, they are told that when doing this, their FB information is going to be provided to the application (and it lists the type of information that is going to be accessible by the app). Several years ago, the application could receive not just the user's information, but the information for the user's FB Friends as well. This type of access (friends) was discontinued.
Over the years I’ve often turned to my friend Michael Jones for guidance about the cultural and social effects of technology.
For instance, five years ago I did an Atlantic interview with him about how the dawn of omnipresent mapping-on-your-phone was about to change personal and collective life. (He had been one of the inventors of Google Earth.) A few years before that, when Jones was the “chief technology advocate” at Google, he guided my wife, Deb, and me through the implications of having Deb’s Gmail account get taken over by a hacker in West Africa. My article about the episode was called “Hacked,” and it was an early klaxon about the importance of using two-stage sign-on systems. (If you’re still a holdout, install them now!) You can read more about Michael Jones’s background at the bottom of this piece. It’s relevant to note that he and I disagree on many issues of national politics, he taking a much more pure-libertarian approach than I do.
Earlier today I noted an op-ed in the New York Times by the law professor and technology-policy writer Tim Wu, saying that Facebook’s problems with privacy-protection were too fundamental to be repaired. (Instead, Wu argued for creation of nonprofit alternatives.) Michael Jones responded with the proposition below, which I’m quoting with his permission.
Here is what someone who has made his living in the details (and innovations) of the “big data” world thinks about the Facebook predicament. He begins by mentioning Wu’s article:
WRT the article you mention and the subject in general, I am your doctor. Let me explain the patient's disease and treatment.
The superficial (though global and important) issue is that FB allowed its partners/customers to access/copy/appropriate the personally identifiable information (PII) of 70+ million people.
The secondary issue is that one of the thousands of these PII recipients [that is, Cambridge Analytica] passed the data to those who could weaponize it and use to against America, FB's homeland. This is the drama of the moment, the ideas of "rogue application of data", "improper handoff of data", and "unintended usage against FB policy which therefore need to be strengthened." You'll hear noise about this when Mark Zuckerberg is questioned by Congress.
This is news and drama. But it is historical. Like a tragic accident with deaths and maiming, however terrible, it is done. There may be grave penalties, but no matter what they are, they cannot undo what has already happened—the harm, the threats, the future uses of that PII.
More meaningful is what happens going forward.
The idea of "as before, but better," which is MZ's road show theme, could only work in a world where nobody who decides understands the core issues. Sheryl Sandberg's sudden disappearance makes me wonder if perhaps this very issue is why—she well-understands the difference [between Facebook’s policies and Google’s, from her experience as a former VP at Google] and would not be able to pretend otherwise to the congresspersons and regulators.
This is where I'd like to share perspective with you about the real problem and the only known cure. A topic hopefully made clear by comparison with Google, analogy with you, and a review of the nature of targeted advertising.
Last week, as part of The Atlantic’s discussion of the 15th anniversary of the disastrous invasion of Iraq, I wrote a post called “The Inevitability of Ignorance.” Its main point was about the necessity, and the impossibility, of trying to “learn” from successes and failures in the past.
Everyone has heard the Santayana chestnut/homily/warning about “those who cannot remember the past….” But even the most earnest efforts to apply yesterday’s lessons can cause missteps across tomorrow’s terrain, with its inevitable surprises and differences.
Is this frustrating and contradictory? Yes, but in that it is like most other important challenges in statecraft and in life. (For instance: Should the United States be “idealistic” in its approach to the world? Yes. Must it also be self-interested and practical-minded? Also yes. The goal is to manage the tradeoffs, with the needle pushed as far as possible in the idealistic direction. As one of our presidents said about this contradiction more than 40 years ago*:
We live in a world that is imperfect and which will always be imperfect—a world that is complex and confused and which will always be complex and confused.
I understand fully the limits of moral suasion…. But I also believe that it is a mistake to undervalue the power of words and of the ideas that words embody. In our own history, that power has ranged from Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream."
As a tool in managing this contradiction, I also mentioned the insightful book by Ernest May and Richard Neustadt, Thinking in Time, which is about the difficulty and utility of looking for historic patterns and clues.
Now, several readers weigh in—on the specific failures born of amnesia I mentioned, Lyndon Johnson’s escalation in Vietnam and George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and on the larger struggle to “learn” from the past only to the right degree.
For an index of the two-dozen previous items in the post-Parkland gun-safety series, please see the bottom of this post. In this installment, I offer reader messages on two main themes. One is whether it matters to talk about the specific “killing power” of the AR-15 and the ammunition it uses. The other is about the specific historical background of the “well regulated militia” phrase in the Second Amendment.
Ammo and velocity. Reader J.E., in Kentucky, writes to object to another reader I quoted here, concerning the lethality of the AR-15’s high-velocity bullets. J.E. writes:
Our laws have capably recognized distinctions within the Second Amendment’s category of “arms." This series of articles have helped convince me that a further distinction needs to be made delineating a class of semiautomatic rifles which includes the AR-15 and variants.
For the purpose of regulation, it is possible to define this type of firearm objectively without falling prey to the kind of loopholes found in the ’94 “Assault Weapons” ban. Such a definition is crucial to avoid the slippery-slope fallacies which have been levied by regulation opponents in the past (or recently by Marco Rubio). This possibility is evidenced by the 1934 National Firearms Act which has successfully regulated certain categories of firearms without spill over.
Since these definitions are inherently technical, the argument is not aided by gun-control proponents who make factual errors. When at a gun range or store, I regularly hear such mistakes being ridiculed. They go viral on social media depicting supporters of gun control as clueless (an example here).
I fear the previous comment [here] about the kinetic energy of .223/5.56 round being greater than that of a 30-06 unfortunately provides just one more example.
The gun massacre in Parkland, Florida, was nearly six weeks ago. In those weeks, thousands more Americans have died from gun violence. (The average rate is around 90 per day, more than half of them suicides and the rest homicides or accidents.) Today hundreds of thousands of students and others have joined the “March for Our Lives” to demand a solution to what seems America’s most insoluble problem.
As I return to the country (and the online realm) after several weeks away from both, I’d like to resume the discussion that ran in this space in the three weeks after the Parkland killings. Starting with the most recent, the previous entries in the series are:
and before that:
Now, a sampling of messages that have come in, responding to arguments in the preceding rounds.
Seriously, why stop with the AR-15? A previous installment was from a reader who said it was unfair to single out the AR-15 for attention, even though it is a weapon originally intended for military use, now present by the millions in civilian households in America, and very commonly used in recent massacres. After all, that reader said, many other kinds of guns can have roughly the same effect. Another reader takes similar reasoning in a different direction:
The U.S. is destined to keep overlearning the lessons of the last conflict.
Here are two pro-gun arguments, from people who are not bots and who don’t go in for the “you libtard cuck!” style of discourse. Obviously I disagree with their perspectives. But because they’re making sustained versions of two main arguments against current gun-control measures, I quote them at length.
The first argument is that it’s meaningless to concentrate on one weapon, the AR-15, even though it has been used in the most notorious recent gun massacres. A reader writes:
I am an avid firearms enthusiast, and I own an AR-15 rifle.
One of your articles begins as follows: "I’ve argued over the years that the AR-15 is a weapon designed for the military, which was never meant to be in civilian hands. Dissenting arguments fall into three main categories: slippery slope (any step toward gun regulation is really a step toward confiscation and prohibition); pointlessness (disturbed people will always find a way to kill); and hypocrisy (how can you complain about gun killings, when abortion goes on?).”
I would provide you with a fourth dissenting argument: functional non-uniqueness. The AR-15 style rifle was introduced into the civilian market in the early to mid 1960’s, not long after its fully automatic variants were introduced to the military. While the rifle was indeed originally designed for the military, there is nothing notable about that fact.
Such is the case for all semi-automatic rifles, both “assault"-style and wood/steel traditional style, bolt-action rifles, lever action rifles, etc. I would encourage you to research the M1 carbine, M1A, and M1 Garand. These rifles have all been used in the US military, but none are ever mentioned in the context of an “assault weapons” ban. Indeed, they would not even be affected by any such legislation. [JF note: as non-peevishly as I can, I’ll point out again that I researched and wrote in detail about the engineering and wound-ballistics history of these Army weapons, back in the 1980s, in my book National Defense and in this Atlantic article.]
AR-15 and AK-47 rifles are not functionally different from other semi-automatic rifles. You cannot provide any evidence to the contrary of that fact.
Are they fully automatic? No. All firearms available to civilians in this country are semi-automatic, which is a very different mechanism.
Do they have a particularly high rate of fire? No. The rate of fire of an AR-15 or AK-47 style rifle is no different than that of a handgun. [JF note: Without getting into all the details, I’ll note that this is a hotly contested claim.]
Do they fire particularly powerful rifle ammunition? No. In fact the AR-15 is illegal for deer hunting in many places because it tends to use very low-powered ammunition. I’ve recently read articles that compare AR-15 ammunition to handgun ammunition and arrive at the conclusion that the AR-15 is so powerful that it must be banned. What’s missing is a comparison to other rifles. Virtually all rifles are more powerful than the average handgun. Such does not render the AR-15 different.
For the list of previous entries in this series, please see the index at the end of the post. But: if you’re revving up to send me a note explaining what kind of ammunition the AR-15 uses, and how it is similar to (and different from) the military’s M-16 (and so on), please first at least look at this 8,000 word Atlantic article I did on that exact topic more than 35 years ago.
For today’s installment, letters from readers who are familiar with weapons and with the military application of firepower, and the lessons it has for civilian use.
First, from an Army officer:
I’m a Regular Army officer and have served in frontline positions in Iraq (this only to mean that I’ve got a very small slice of experience with the practical application of what military grade weapons were designed to do).
I’m a southerner who grew up shooting .22s in the field behind the house from the time I could hold the rifle.
I own several “classic” firearms like the M-1 Garand and a Martini-Henry, though not an AR-platform, which I shoot enough at work, to be honest (something half-submerged in my mind makes me think that in my house I don’t need a weapon designed exclusively for combat, either for sport or home defense—my German Shepherd is a much better platform for both).
All that to say that for the first time ever, I find myself more strongly on the side of gun control than of unrestricted gun circulation. (Addendum: I am not one who “vet-splains” and expects that my service makes my point of view infallible, but I hope this might tease out some further lines in the discussion.)
My niche perspective is this: in the Army, firearms are much more heavily regulated than in civil society. How can so many enthusiastic gun owners say that they hold the military as a model, and yet not accept the strict regulations that go with the military’s use of firearms?
Previously in this series:
Two readers with suggestions on talking and thinking about guns.
First, how we talk:
I’m struck by the central role language might be playing in impeding agreement on gun measures. In large part, this revolves around the manner in which words fall upon the ears of gun owners and the effect that has on gaining their (disclosure: our) cooperation (assuming this is truly sought).
Often the way gun control people call for regulation immediately discredits them in the eyes of the gun community or allows for far too-easy caricature.
Some examples are well-worn—for instance, the continued misuse of the term “automatic” instead of “semiautomatic.” Failing to make that distinction unfortunately provides an immediate off-ramp when it comes to engaging skeptical gun owners (assuming this is truly sought). Other examples (trivial as they may seem) include “clip” for “magazine”, “silencer” for “suppressor”, or “AK” vs “AR.”
We normally expect those seeking to regulate practices or products to have at least a passing knowledge of the same. If legislative debate confused wheels with tires (in the case of automotive regulation), ailerons with flaps (in the case of aviation), Oxycontin with Oxycodone (in the case of opioids), it would invite unnecessary obstacles to progress.
In more reasonable times or topics, we could get past inexact language either through faith in one another and/or the education that comes through civil exchange. That’s not where we are. Rather, what we have is a predominant viewpoint (additional reasonable gun regulations) confronting an intense, single-issue-voting, gun-identitarian minority saturated for decades with the doomsday fear and loathing of the NRA.
Previously in this series:
This installment is a sample of the range of recent response. Note: many people have written about David French’s post explaining why he feels “safer” owning an AR-15. Since I didn’t publish that item myself, I don’t feel that I should post dissents here. Instead I have forwarded those messages to the editors of the Atlantic’s new Letters section.
Moral equivalence and hypocrisy. I’ve argued over the years that the AR-15 is a weapon designed for the military, which was never meant to be in civilian hands. Dissenting arguments fall into three main categories: slippery slope (any step toward gun regulation is really a step toward confiscation and prohibition); pointlessness (disturbed people will always find a way to kill); and hypocrisy (how can you complain about gun killings, when abortion goes on?). Here’s a representative sample from the last category:
Funny how you write about gun violence in America
Iike so many others without a hint of care about the 700,000 (yearly average) deaths of kids in this country caused by abortion. Death is final no matter how it's done, legal or not.
All arguments about gun violence are hypocritical without addressing this sad, yet legal, genocide being accomplished by those liberal progressives who cry the loudest.
No I don't own any automatic or semi-automatic gun and I am not a Republican or Conserative party member. Just a middle of the road American Citizen who thinks the pot should stop calling the kettel black!
James Fallows explains why removing China’s term limits is a step backward.
Previously in this series:
Today, Eric Kingsbury, of San Francisco, on what he has thought, and felt, about guns after being robbed at gunpoint a year and a half ago. I should note that all the links in his dispatch are ones he added himself:
I’ve faced down a loaded gun once in my life. It was 10 PM on the night before the Fourth of July in 2016 and I was walking to the train from a friend’s house in Berkeley. Almost as soon as I walked out of my friend’s driveway, a kid ran across to the street to ask me if I had a phone. I told him I didn’t and asked that he leave me alone. That’s when he began to ask more forcefully. Within seconds I felt a hand over my mouth, as two other kids ran out from the shadows. I was completely helpless and, for the first time in my adult life, I wasn’t in control of my body or my fate.
The kid to my right showed me his gun. He told me he would, “pop a cap in you if you scream or tell anyone,” which would have been darkly funny—the sort of thing someone thinks they should say to sound hard—in almost any other circumstance. He then put the gun back in his sweatshirt pocket and pushed it up against my stomach. Meanwhile, his other two friends went to work grabbing my phone, peeling off my backpack, and checking all my pockets. Once they had everything, they let me go. It didn’t last more than 30 seconds, tops.
The aftermath of the whole situation was a bit of a blur. There was talking to the cops, a very restless night, and the conversations with all my friends and family the following morning. All of it was difficult, especially learning the truth that many of my most liberal-minded friends and family actually held quite retrograde views on race—the assailants were black, and I am white—that they felt freed to share now that something that they’d heard about so many times in the media had happened to “one of us.” But there was one question I got over and over again, one that really surprised me: Would it have been different if you had a gun?
The Comey memos are more revealing than they seem.
One feature of the truth is that it doesn’t change much. A lie is hard to sustain. The details may change in each retelling because the liar is not actually remembering the events, but instead remembering the telling of the events. The truth, by contrast, is sticky. Consistency is not the only hallmark of truth—some people’s memories are better than other people’s memories, to be sure—but there’s a reason that inconsistency tends to discredit a witness.
If someone had told you a year ago, when news first broke that James Comey had made memos of his conversations with President Trump, that those memos would eventually come out and make little news, you probably wouldn’t have believed it. These memos are, after all, a big deal. They will play a major role in corroborating Comey’s story in the investigative setting.
Floyd Landis, a former teammate of the cyclist’s, just won more than $1 million in a legal case against Armstrong. Here are his thoughts on the suit, cycling, and his onetime rival.
At 5:19 p.m. on Friday, April 30, 2010, Floyd Landis hit send on what would prove the most consequential email of his life. Addressed to the then-CEO of USA Cycling, Steve Johnson, the email bore the subject line “nobody is copied on this one so it’s up to you to demonstrate your true colors….” It went on to detail, year by year, how Landis and other members of the United States Postal Service team had used illegal performance-enhancing drugs and methods to dominate the sport of cycling and claim victories at the sport’s premier event, the Tour de France. The email, later included in Landis’s 2012 affidavit for a United States Anti-Doping Agency (usada) investigation, clearly implicated many of his former teammates—most famously, the seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (who declined to comment for this article).
For years he used fake identities to charm women out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then his victims banded together to take him down.
By the spring of 2016, Missi Brandt had emerged from a rough few years with a new sense of solidity. At 45, she was three years sober and on the leeward side of a stormy divorce. She was living with her preteen daughters in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota, and working as a flight attendant. Missi felt ready for a serious relationship again, so she made a profile on OurTime.com, a dating site for people in middle age.
Among all the duds—the desperate and depressed and not-quite-divorced—a 45-year-old man named Richie Peterson stood out. He was a career naval officer, an Afghanistan veteran who was finishing his doctorate in political science at the University of Minnesota. When Missi “liked” his profile, he sent her a message right away and called her that afternoon. They talked about their kids (he had two; she had three), their divorces, their sobriety. Richie told her he was on vacation in Hawaii, but they planned to meet up as soon as he got back.
The Trump administration shouldn’t get too excited about Kim Jong Un’s pledge to limit his weapons program.
Over the past four months, North Korea has been saying all the right things. After weeks of silence regarding his intentions for upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, made a dramatic announcement on Saturday morning, pledging unilateral limits on his nuclear weapons and missile programs. Though the announcement has been widely hailed as encouraging—President Donald Trump declared it a sign of “big progress”—it does not, in fact, set up a path to denuclearization. It does, however, open the door to capping Kim’s arsenal, keeping America and its allies safer while talks are underway.
Speaking before the central committee of his country’s governing party, Kim described six so-called “decisions” on nuclear-weapons policy. These included a declaration that North Korea was satisfied with its existing nuclear warhead designs, and that it had discontinued all nuclear and intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) tests and closed its nuclear test site at Punggye Ri. Kim also announced that North Korea would suspend nuclear testing, and reiterated his commitment not to use nuclear weapons “unless there is [a] nuclear threat,” and to stop the proliferation of nuclear technology. In addition, he said that North Korea would concentrate on developing its economy and improving dialogue with neighboring countries.
The psychological origins of waiting (... and waiting, and waiting) to work
Like most writers, I am an inveterate procrastinator. In the course of writing this one article, I have checked my e-mail approximately 3,000 times, made and discarded multiple grocery lists, conducted a lengthy Twitter battle over whether the gold standard is actually the worst economic policy ever proposed, written Facebook messages to schoolmates I haven’t seen in at least a decade, invented a delicious new recipe for chocolate berry protein smoothies, and googled my own name several times to make sure that I have at least once written something that someone would actually want to read.
Lots of people procrastinate, of course, but for writers it is a peculiarly common occupational hazard. One book editor I talked to fondly reminisced about the first book she was assigned to work on, back in the late 1990s. It had gone under contract in 1972.
A look at the available evidence
It only took five minutes for Gavin Schmidt to out-speculate me.
Schmidt is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (a.k.a. GISS) a world-class climate-science facility. One day last year, I came to GISS with a far-out proposal. In my work as an astrophysicist, I’d begun researching global warming from an “astrobiological perspective.” That meant asking whether any industrial civilization that rises on any planet will, through their own activity, trigger their own version of a climate shift. I was visiting GISS that day hoping to gain some climate science insights and, perhaps, collaborators. That’s how I ended up in Gavin’s office.
Just as I was revving up my pitch, Gavin stopped me in my tracks.
“We’ve always joked about this, but holy crap, this man actually did it.”
Earlier this May, Gregory Holt had just finished doing the morning rounds at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, when he got a call about a new patient in the emergency room. He went down with seven colleagues to find an unconscious 70-year-old man with breathing problems and signs of septic shock. He was alone and had no identification. His blood was full of alcohol, and its pressure was dropping. And when the doctors peeled back his shirt, they found a tattoo, running along his collarbones.
It said: DO NOT RESUSCITATE.
The NOT was underlined. There was a signature under the final word.
Holt was shocked. “We’ve always joked about this, but holy crap, this man actually did it,” he says. “You look at it, laugh a little, and then go: Oh no, I actually have to deal with this.”
A memorial for the slaves of Guadeloupe has become a flashpoint for still-unresolved social and economic grievances.
Long before it became the first slavery memorial in the French West Indies, the Darboussier Sugar Factory powered France’s Caribbean empire. In the 19th century, the 77,000-square-foot factory, located in Pointe-à-Pitre, the largest city on the butterfly-shaped island of Guadeloupe, exported goods produced by slaves to mainland France. In the process, it transformed the Lesser Antilles from a forgotten tropic into an economic El Dorado. Today, the factory, which was abandoned after France officially abolished slavery in its colonies in 1848, is known as Memorial ACTe. Strings of quartz, meant to represent the lost souls of the slave trade, crawl up its black-box-like exterior, embodying what has become the memorial’s unofficial motto: Memory Inspires the Future.
Getting too little sleep can have serious health consequences, including depression, weight gain, and heart disease. It is torture. I know.
I awoke in a bed for the first time in days. My joints ached and my eyelids, which had been open for so long, now lay heavy as old hinges above my cheekbones. I wore two pieces of clothing: an assless gown and a plastic bracelet.
I remembered the hallway I had been wheeled down, and the doctor’s office where I told the psychiatrist he was the devil, but not this room. I forced myself up and stumbled, grabbing the chair and the bathroom doorknob for balance. I made it to the toilet, then threw water on my face at the sink, staring into the mirror in the little lavatory. My tousled hair shot out around my puffy face; my head throbbed. I looked hungover.
In those first moments, I remembered the basics about what had landed me in the hospital: Some pseudo-philosophical ranting and flailing brought on by a poorly executed experiment to see how long I could last without sleep.
The gruesome rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl has left many Indians wondering what it will take to stop sexual violence.
Indian law prohibits the identification of a rape victim by name or appearance without explicit permission from the survivor or their next of kin. Yet for the last three months, the name and face of an eight-year-old child, raped and murdered in the small town of Kathua in January this year, circulated widely in the Indian media.
Perhaps her details were published due to early confusion over the nature of the crime; she had been missing for days before her dead body turned up. Perhaps it simply seemed like an acceptable mistake in the case of someone from a marginal community of nomads, impoverished Muslims with little social clout. Yet the slip resulted in an unforgettable shock for many Indians this month, forced to confront the use of rape as a political crime, and the question of what, if anything, has changed for Indian women despite years of feminist advocacy and anguished protests against sexual violence.