—Iraqi government troops and Kurdish fighters, backed by U.S. airstrikes, have begun the long-awaited assault on Mosul to retake the Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq from the terrorist group. More than 1 million civilians remain in the city, Iraq’s second-largest, and their fate is uncertain amid what is likely to be a month-long military operation. More here
—High-school graduation rates reached 83.2 percent, a new record, according to government data released Monday. The highs were seen across all groups, though there were marked differences: Asian Americans had a 90.2-percent graduation rate, whites 87.6 percent, Hispanics 77.8 percent, African-Americans 74.6 percent, and Native Americans 71.6 percent. More here
—The economic cost of Brexit is becoming more apparent. A new report released Monday by EY Item Club predicted “prolonged weakness” for the UK economy. It’s the latest warning about the impact of Britain’s vote to exit from the European Union. Although the worst economic warnings of a “no” vote have yet to materialize, the British pound has been battered in recent weeks, falling to record lows against the euro and the U.S. dollar. More here
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
The factions involved in Yemen’s war are considering a cease-fire, according to officials on both sides, Reuters reported Monday.
The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Yemen said their governments would agree to a pause in fighting if Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, agree to halt violence, too.
Yemeni government forces have been fighting the Houthis since 2014 when the rebels took control of Sanaa, the country’s capital. A Saudi-led military coalition of several Arab nations began bombing Houthi targets in the spring of 2015. The conflict has killed thousands of civilians and destroyed crucial infrastructure, leaving many people without food, fuel, and basic supplies.
United Nations-mediated peace talks have been unsuccessful. The British ambassador to the United Nations said last week the country would soon present a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Yemen. Add to this situation, a U.S. warship came under fire from Houthi-held areas last week. It responded by firing at and destroying three locations.
Steven Woolfe, Who Was Hospitalized Following an Altercation, Quits UKIP
Steven Woolfe, the UKIP MEP who was hospitalized nearly two weeks ago following an altercation with a fellow member of the UK Independence Party, says he is quitting the party.
“I will be withdrawing my application to become leader of UKIP,” he told the BBC. “I’m actually withdrawing myself from UKIP. I’m resigning with immediate effect.”
Woolfe, who was seeking UKIP’s leadership at the time of the altercation, also said there was “something rotten” within the party. At issue is the incident with Mike Hookem, who denied assaulting Woolfe. Relations between Woolfe and the party’s base were tense following revelations he was contesting the UKIP leadership election—following the surprise resignation of Diane James 18 days after she was elected—while simultaneously talking to the Conservatives about possibly defecting to the ruling party.
On Monday, Woolfe told the BBC that he was hit. Hookem “rushed at me,” he said. “A blow to my face forced me back through the door." Woolfe was hospitalized and there were fears for his life following the incident.
UKIP, a far-right party, has struggled since it achieved one of its main goals: the UK’s vote to leave the EU. First, Nigel Farage, the party leader, quit in July after achieving what he called his “political ambition.” The party then held a fractious leadership vote that resulted in a victory on September 16 for James, who herself quit just days later.
Woolfe’s resignation is likely to throw the party into further turmoil. In his interview with the BBC, he said UKIP was "ungovernable without Nigel Farage leading it and the referendum cause to unite it.” Farage is back temporarily as head of the party while it chooses a new leader. Here’s more from the BBC:
Nominations to replace Ms James close on 31 October, with the new leader announced on 28 November.
One of the contenders, Raheem Kassam, said those responsible for "negatively campaigning" against Mr Woolfe should "hang their heads in shame" and urged him to return to UKIP.
UKIP chairman Paul Oakden said he felt "sadness and disappointment" at Mr Woolfe's resignation.
He said he disagreed with Mr Woolfe's characterisation of the party, and predicted the forthcoming leadership race would showcase the "strength and depth of talent" in the party.
Austria to Tear Down the Home Where Hitler Was Born
The three-story house in Braunau where Adolf Hitler was born will be demolished, the Austrian government announced Monday, citing the need to prevent the site from becoming a gathering point for neo-Nazis.
“The Hitler house will be torn down,” Wolfgang Sobotka, the Austrian interior minister, told the German-language newspaper Die Presse Monday. “The foundations can remain but a new building will be erected. It will be used by either a charity or the local authorities.”
The site has undergone many changes since the Hitler family left their rented upstairs rooms in the northern Austrian town in the early 1890s. The house was used by the Nazis during World War II after Martin Bormann, a prominent Nazi official, bought the home from its original owners in 1938. The Nazis later tried to blow up the building, though American troops ultimately prevented it. It was later repurchased by its former owners and rented to the German government to prevent misuse of the property. Since 1952, the house served as a library, a school, a bank, and a home for the disabled.
Though it has remained empty since 2011, plans introduced in 2012 to demolish the home prompted disagreement among the city’s 17,000 residents over what the fate of the site should be. While some argue the house should be destroyed to prevent it from drawing neo-Nazi sympathizers, others said the building should be preserved as a historic part of the city. As the BBC reported:
Over the past three years, various proposals have been put forward about how to use the house. These include turning it into flats, a centre for adult education, a museum or a centre of responsibility, for confronting the Nazi past. One Russian MP even offered to buy the house and blow it up.
In July, the Austrian government approved legislation that would enable the government to seize the house from its owner—a bill the interior ministry told Agence France-Presse would be debated in parliament this week and, if approved, could enter into force by the end of the year. If the parliament approves the legislation this week, Hitler’s house may finally be demolished.
WikiLeaks said Monday that Ecuador cut off Julian Assange’s internet access, raising questions about his future at the country’s embassy in London.
Earlier Monday morning WikiLeaks tweeted that a “a state party” cut Assange’s internet connection, but did not expound on what country may have done it. Neither accusations have been confirmed. Although if true, it could signal a change in Assange’s arrangements at the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he has lived for four years.
Julian Assange's internet link has been intentionally severed by a state party. We have activated the appropriate contingency plans.
Here’s the background to the case from our previous reporting on Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks:
Assange was arrested in 2010 under a European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden over claims of sexual assault—claims he denies. But in 2012, while on bail, he sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London so he could avoid extradition. Last year, Swedish authorities dropped two cases of sexual assault against him, though the allegation of rape still stands—and it’s in connection with that case the Swedish prosecutor wants to question him. Assange says he fears that if he’s sent to Sweden he’d be extradited to the U.S., whose secret diplomatic cables were published by Wikileaks. The U.S. says there’s no sealed indictment against Assange.
From inside the embassy, Assange has been able to speak with media and appear via video connection at conferences around the world. WikiLeaks recently has published thousands of emails linked to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.
Hoping to confirm the reports of a severed internet connection, the Associated Press reported:
Calls, texts and emails left with WikiLeaks weren't immediately returned Monday. A woman who picked up the phone at the embassy said: "I cannot disclose any information." An email to Ecuador's ambassador wasn't immediately answered. London's Metropolitan Police declined comment.
The development comes a day after WikiLeaks published its ninth round of email leaks linked to John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman. Clinton’s office has said the leaks are the result of state-sponsored Russian hackers trying to interfere with the U.S. election.
U.S. Repatriates Guantanamo Detainee to Mauritania
The United States repatriated a Guantanamo Bay detainee to Mauritania, the Pentagon announced Monday, bringing the total number of those remaining in the detention facility to 60.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi was released after it was determined in July by a Period Review Board representing the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and the Department of State that he did not pose significant threat to the United States. Slahi, who had been imprisoned in Guantanamo since 2002, wrote a memoir titled Guantánamo Diary in 2005 detailing his time in isolated detention. The 466-page hand-written manuscript was declassified by the U.S. government in 2012, though it contained several redactions; it became an international bestseller in 2015. The book remains the first and only memoir to have been written by an imprisoned Guantanamo detainee.
Slahi surrendered to Mauritanian authorities for questioning in 2001 after previously traveling to Afghanistan. He was then transferred to a Jordanian prison for eight months, followed by Afghanistan, and later to Guantanamo in August 2002. His repatriation follows the release of 15 other Guantanamo prisoners in August. They were sent to the United Arab Emirates in the largest transfer of detainees under President Obama. Like Slahi, most of those prisoners had been in Guantanamo for more than a decade.
The prison, first constructed in 2002 to house dangerous terrorism suspects, has held approximately 780 prisoners. Though Obama previously campaigned to shut down the camp, it remains unclear if that will happen before the end of his term.
Russia Announces An 8-Hour 'Humanitarian Pause' in Aleppo
Russian and Syrian regime forces will halt operations in Aleppo Thursday to allow for an eight-hour humanitarian pause in the besieged city, Moscow announced Monday, according to Russian media.
“We are prepared to cease fire and ensure the unhampered access of medical personnel to the city and ensure the evacuation of the injured and sick as soon as we get a request from humanitarian organizations,” Sergei Rudskoy, a Russian military officer, said.
In addition to giving humanitarian relief to the estimated 250,000 Syrians remaining in the rebel-held eastern part of the city, Rudskoy said the pause will also allow rebel fighters to leave the eastern part of Aleppo, one of the rebels’ last major strongholds in the country.
Both Moscow and Damascus have faced heightened scrutiny for their intensified bombing campaign in eastern Aleppo, the latest attempt by the Syrian government to retake the city that has been divided between government and rebel forces since 2012. The offensive has resulted in civilian casualties and has led to the destruction of the city’s few remaining hospitals—actions many in the international community, including the United States and France, have condemned as war crimes.
The pause will go into effect between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time.
Thousands of police officers in London will begin wearing body cameras in the coming months, the Metropolitan Police department announced Monday.
The rollout of the technology—small devices that are clipped to an officer’s uniform—began Monday. By mid-2017, more than 22,000 officers will be equipped with the cameras, which many believe provide a layer of accountability in police interaction with citizens.
“Body-worn video will support our officers in the many challenging situations they have to deal with, at the same time as building the public's confidence.hat we do every day will be seen by the public,” said Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of London police. “What we do every day will be seen by the public—that has to be good.”
Officers will receive the cameras in 32 London boroughs.
In the United States, police departments are increasingly testing and using body cameras. The technology entered the national debate in mid-2014, during protests of the fatal police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old in Missouri. Research has shown their use can lead to a decrease in complaints against officers. Supporters of body cameras say their presence can force both officers and civilians to change their behavior, and the footage they capture can serve as important evidence in potential prosecutions of killings by officers. Last year, two officers were charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of a six-year-old boy in Louisiana in a decision that authorities said was heavily influenced by the “extremely disturbing” footage captured by a body camera in the incident.
Srebrenica Gets Its First Serbian Mayor in Nearly Two Decades
Srebrenica has elected a Bosnian Serb as its mayor, the Bosnian Central Election Commission announced Monday—the first time that has happened since the infamous massacre in which the Bosnian Serb army targeted the city’s Muslim population in the 1990s.
Mladen Grujicic, whose father was killed in 1992 at the beginning of the conflict, won 54.4 percent of the vote in the October 2 mayoral contest, beating out Camil Durakovic, the incumbent, a Bosnian Muslim who was elected in 2012. Though Durakovic did not formally address the results of the election, he previously commented on “irregularities,” alleging that 2,000 absentee ballots submitted by voters abroad were not counted. He also accused Grujicic of maintaining his lead because Serbian nationalist parties sent voters across the border from Serbia to vote for him. It’s unclear if either allegation has merit.
Skandalozno: CIK odbija uvažiti 2.000 listića koji bi mogli promijeniti rezultat izbora u Srebrenici https://t.co/N1hcUwxhuu
“Scandalous: CEC refuses to accept 2,000 ballots that could change the outcome of the elections in Srebrenica,” he tweeted Saturday.
The historic election result threatens to open old wounds in the city commonly associated with the July 1995 massacre, in which more than 8,000 of Srebrenica’s Muslim men and boys were killed by the Bosnian Serb army during the four-year Bosnian War. It is considered one of the worst massacres to take place in Europe since World War II and was classified by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as a genocide.
Grujicic hasn’t always described the massacre that way.
“The Serb people are portrayed in the media as committing genocide, but it isn't so,” Grujicic, who serves as president of a Bosnian-Serb organization which seeks to help Serbian victims of Srebrenica, told the BBC in 2010. He added: “No Serbs contest that a crime happened in Srebrenica, but they're insulted when the numbers are manipulated.”
But Grujicic reaffirmed his commitment to commemorating the massacre and bringing the city’s communities together.
“I want us to turn the page in Srebrenica, to have a new life, to look ahead, to develop Srebrenica in all areas, to ensure that people stay here, regardless of their faith or ethnicity,” he toldAl Jazeera.
UK Bank Freezes Accounts of RT, Russia's State-Run News Organization
The Royal Bank of Scotland Group has frozen all accounts held by RT, the state-run Russian broadcaster, the organization’s editor in chief said Monday.
RT published a copy of the letter it received, sent from a Royal Bank subsidiary, National Westminster Bank. The letter said all of RT’s accounts would be closed within in a month, and RT would need to find other banking arrangements. The bank offered no explanation for its action, but it did say the decision was not open for discussion.
Margarita Simonyan, the editor of RT, the former Russia Today, said in a tweet: “Our accounts in Britain have been blocked. All of them. ‘Decision not to be discussed’. Hail to freedom of speech!”
Нам закрыли счета в Британии. Все счета. 'Решение пересмотру не подлежит'. Да здравствует свобода слова!
The letter says RT has until December 12 to find other banking arrangements, otherwise its accounts will be cleared and the remaining balances returned in the form of a check.
Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulatory agency, has previously sanctioned RT for “materially misleading” reports, the BBC reported. The Kremlin-run news organization had reported that BBC staged a chemical-weapons attack for a report in Syria, something the BBC denied. RT eventually lost that case in court. But there’s no indication this decision had anything to do with RT’s reporting style, or any specific stories.
Report Warns of 'Prolonged Weakness' After Brexit Vote
A report by the EY Item Club, a UK think tank, has predicted economic uncertainty as Britain feels the impact of the vote last June 23 to leave the European Union.
“It may look like the economy is taking the referendum in its stride, but we think that impression is deceptive,” the report released Monday said. “Sterling’s shaky performance so far this month provides a timely reminder that troubles lie ahead.”
At the moment, growth in the economy is being driven entirely by the consumer, supported by rising employment and real wages, as well as ultra-low interest rates. However, sterling’s devaluation will push inflation up to 2.6% temporarily next year. With average earnings still surprisingly subdued, this will slow the consumer. In the meantime, many firms have put investment and recruitment on hold while they assess the likely impact of the Article 50 negotiations on their business and consider their long-term options.
The report’s authors said the 1.9 percent GDP growth expected this year is likely to be the best performance for some time. In the medium term, they said, GDP growth will slow to 0.8 percent in 2017, 1.4 percent in 2018, 1.6 percent in 2019, and 1.8 percent in 2020.
The nature of how the UK will separate from the EU is a subject of speculation. The main sticking point is whether the UK will enjoy access to the European single market—a benefit for which EU leaders insist the UK must permit the free movement of all of the bloc’s citizens. But immigration was one of the main reasons Britons voted to leave the EU, and the idea of open borders is unpalatable for many UK politicians and citizens. Last week, remarks by Theresa May, the prime minister, raised the specter of a so-called “hard Brexit,” one in which the UK would leave the EU in 2019 with no access to the single market. That possibility pushed the British pound to record lows against the U.S. dollar and the euro. But on Monday, the Financial Timesreported that May’s government was considering the possibility of paying billions of pounds into the EU budget in exchange for access to the single market. The government hasn’t publicly commented on the report.
U.S. high-school graduation rates for the 2014 to 2015 school year rose to a new record-high of more than 83 percent, according to the White House.
This is the highest graduation rate recorded since the Obama administration implemented a uniform reporting method in 2010. This year, rates rose among students who are black, white, Latino, Native American, disabled, and low income. The numbers represent another year of gains for each group, but still show great disparity in graduation rates for most students of color compared with white students.
For example, about 88 percent of white students earn a high school diploma on time. But 78 percent of Latino kids do; just 74 percent of black students do; and Native American students graduate at a rate of 71.6 percent. The graduation rate for Asians is the highest among all groups: 90.2 percent. There’s also speculation that these numbers don’t actually reflect gains in student education, and may be the result of federal pressure on schools to shore up their numbers.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” high school students have not shown academic progress in recent years: In 2015, high school seniors posted lower scores in reading than they did in 1992, and their math scores were unchanged across the past decade.
On Monday, President Obama is scheduled to talk about the new numbers and his administration’s educational legacy at an event at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. The District showed the highest single-year gain—7 percent—in the country. However, at 68.5 percent, it also had the lowest graduation rate. New Mexico had the second-worst. The highest was Iowa.
Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters, and their allies, backed by U.S. airstrikes, have begun the battle to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from ISIS.
“The hour of victory has come,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the nation in a televised address Monday.
He added: “God willing we will meet in Mosul to celebrate the liberation and your salvation from ISIS so we can live together once again, all religions united and together we shall defeat Daesh to rebuild this dear city of Mosul.”
In response, ISIS has lit oil- and tire fires to obscure the sight of pilots carrying out airstrikes on the city, Patrick Osgood, the Kurdistan Bureau Chief of Iraq Oil Report, said in an interview. He said ISIS “has largely abandoned the left bank of the city,” which was traditionally more diverse, and is “concentrating its defenses in the right bank” of Mosul.
ISIS, which is known across the region by its Arabic-language acronym Daesh, has controlled Mosul since 2014. And therein lies a problem for Iraqi forces and their Western allies: How to retake the city while inflicting minimal casualties on the approximately 1.5 million civilians still in the city.
The operation is expected to take several weeks. Here’s the BBC on who’s doing the fighting:
About 30,000 pro-government troops are involved in the operation. The main assault is being led by Iraqi army troops based south of Mosul.
About 4,000 Kurdish peshmerga militia have begun clearing villages in the east.
Sunni tribal fighters and Shia-led paramilitary forces are also due to take part. Planes from the US-led coalition against IS are providing air support.
US Special Operations personnel are advising forces on the ground. Elite Iraqi counterterrorism forces are expected to join in the coming days.
An estimated 4,000-8,000 Islamic State fighters are defending the city.
Mosul, which is the capital of Nineveh province, was historically one of the Iraq’s most diverse cities, comprising Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Turkomen and others. Some of these groups fled Mosul when ISIS—a Sunni group—took the city two years ago, but many Sunnis remained, fearful of their own position in the new Shia-dominated Iraq. As there are no Western reporters inside Mosul, it’s unclear what the remaining civilian population there thinks of the Iraqi military operation, but there reportedly is some opposition within Mosul against ISIS’s draconian policies.
Thomas Weiss, the chief of mission in Iraq for the International Organization for Migration, said humanitarian groups have had no access to ISIS-occupied Mosul for the past two-and-a-half years.That, he said in an interview, has led to a situation “where we, as humanitarian organizations, only have a very sketchy picture of what's going on in ISIS-controlled territories, or the number of people affected, on their specific needs, etc. That, of course, makes planning, in terms of humanitarian response extremely difficult.”
We will explore the humanitarian aspect of the operation in a post later today.
Other groups made a bigger splash, but Blondie was a true genre chameleon.
No decade is dominated by a single genre of popular music, but the 1970s was arguably more motley than most. What is the sound of the ’70s? Is it … folk rock? (Neil Young’s Harvest turned 50 last year.) Progressive rock? (Prog’s nadir, Yes’s Tales From Topographic Oceans, was released in 1973 and promptly crashed under its own weight.) How about disco? Punk? Post-punk? New wave? Reggae? Rap? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. And what do we do with Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, one of the 10 best-selling albums of the decade? Is bombast a genre?
But if you were to drill down through the decade and pull up a core sample of ’70s pop, it would come up Blondie—and would look, in fact, very much like the band’s eight-disc box set, Against the Odds: 1974–1982, which is nominated for the Best Historical Album Award at this weekend’s Grammys. As the academic and artist Kembrew McLeod has written, Blondie was a mediator between the experimental music and art scene of downtown New York City and the larger pop audience. But more fundamentally, I’d argue, the group was also a conduit and popularizer of a wide variety of new rock and pop sounds.
Artificial intelligence could spare you some effort. Even if it does, it will create a lot more work in the process.
Have you been worried that ChatGPT, the AI language generator, could be used maliciously—to cheat on schoolwork or broadcast disinformation? You’re in luck, sort of: OpenAI, the company that made ChatGPT, has introduced a new tool that tries to determine the likelihood that a chunk of text you provide was AI-generated.
I say “sort of” because the new software faces the same limitations as ChatGPT itself: It might spread disinformation about the potential for disinformation. As OpenAI explains, the tool will likely yield a lot of false positives and negatives, sometimes with great confidence. In one example, given the first lines of the Book of Genesis, the software concluded that it was likely to be AI-generated. God, the first AI.
Long hours on the job can temporarily ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety. But you’re better off leaving the office and facing your feelings head-on.
“How to Build a Life” is a column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.
Winston Churchill was many things: statesman, soldier, writer. He was one of the first world leaders to sound the alarm about the Nazi menace in the 1930s, and then captivated the global imagination as a leader against the Axis powers in World War II. While prime minister of the United Kingdom during the war, he kept a crushing schedule, often spending 18 hours a day at work. On top of this, he wrote book after book in office. By the end of his life, he had finished 43, filling 72 volumes.
Churchill also suffered from crippling depression, which he called his “black dog,” and which visited him again and again. It seems almost unthinkable that he could be so productive in states so grim that he once told his doctor, “I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything.”
Expect Donald Trump to blame his own party if the Republicans’ debt-ceiling gambit goes wrong.
Updated at 9:20 a.m. ET on February 2, 2023
House Republicans are preparing for a big confrontation with the Biden White House over the debt ceiling—a confrontation that could, if played wrong, collapse the U.S. financial system and drag down the world economy. President Joe Biden has been preparing for this fight since 2011, the last time Republicans tried a similar trick. That year, the doomsday device was switched off seconds before it detonated by an agreement on a sequester that automatically cut spending on defense and domestic programs with little regard to merits. Even so, the S&P rating agency downgraded U.S. debt below triple A for the first time, and the stock markets spasmed. The sequester was ultimately jettisoned by Republicans during the Trump years.
A nascent scientific field is working to untangle the complex relationship between metabolism and infection.
When it comes to treating disease with food, the quackery stretches back far. Through the centuries, raw garlic has been touted as a home treatment for everything from chlamydia to the common cold; Renaissance remedies for the plague included figs soaked in hyssop oil. During the 1918 flu pandemic, Americans wolfed down onions or chugged“fluid beef” gravy to keep the deadly virus at bay.
Even in modern times, theinternetabounds with dubious culinary cure-alls: apple-cider vinegar for gonorrhea; orange juice for malaria; mint, milk, and pineapple for tuberculosis. It all has a way of making real science sound like garbage. Research on nutrition and immunity “has been ruined a bit by all the writing out there on Eat this to cure cancer,” Lydia Lynch, an immunologist and a cancer biologist at Harvard, told me.
You’re probably sick of reading about him. Now you know how the ancient Mesopotamians felt about Methuselah: Jeez, 969 years old—how many more hot takes do we need about when that priest is going to retire?
What we witnessed in the past year was the undead phase of Brady’s football career. The actual human version of that career ended, possibly, after his Super Bowl win with the Buccaneers, in 2021 or, more probably, with his short-lived retirement early in 2022. But Brady shambled on, liminal, cadaverous, desiccated (compare his sunken, middle-aged cheeks of 2023 with the chubby baby face of his early seasons), his demeanor on the field alternately forlorn and enraged. But as fans of TheWalking Dead or The Last of Us know, the undead can be lethal.
The 29-year-old deserved more chances to observe life’s ordinary miracles.
Vincent van Gogh’s painting Willows at Sunsetis a dazzling kaleidoscope of twilight. The canvas is awash in orange and yellow brushstrokes, as if the painter meant to depict the world ablaze. An asymmetrical sun hovers in the background while beams of light shoot across the sky. Terra-cotta grass leans in the wind that I imagine van Gogh felt slide across his cheek. Three pollarded willows rise up from the earth and bend like bodies frozen mid-dance. Shades of black expand across their barren trunks, as if they are about to be swallowed by the oncoming night.
The piece, painted in 1888, wasn’t originally meant to be shared with the world. The wide brushstrokes on the canvas have led art historians to believe that van Gogh painted the image quickly, perhaps as a sketch for another work—the artist’s attempt to capture the majesty of a sunset before it slipped beyond the horizon.
In my senior Southern Literature class, I’m about to teach Go Down, Moses, William Faulkner’s great novel about how racism has warped America. I ask my students to think about the stories Faulkner tells: the dispossession of the Chickasaw people, the enslaved woman who drowns herself in despair, and the white family struggling to accept that the admired patriarch who built their Mississippi cotton kingdom also raped his own daughter. Here at Florida State University, in the capital city of the third state to join the Confederacy, I ask them to consider the ways our troubled past haunts our precarious present. I start writing dates on the board—1619, 1830, 1863—and I wonder if somebody will accuse me of breaking Florida law.
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Let’s say you’re a politician in a close race and your opponent suffers a stroke. What do you do?
If you are Mehmet Oz running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, what you do is mock your opponent’s affliction. In August, the Oz campaign released a list of “concessions” it would offer to the Democrat John Fetterman in a candidates’ debate, including:
“We will allow John to have all of his notes in front of him along with an earpiece so he can have the answers given to him by his staff, in real time.” And: “We will pay for any additional medical personnel he might need to have on standby.”
Our constant need for entertainment has blurred the line between fiction and reality—on television, in American politics, and in our everyday lives.
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“Do a Dance”
The trend started, as so many do, on TikTok. Amazon customers, watching packages arrive through Ring doorbell devices, asked the people making the deliveries to dance for the camera. The workers—drivers for “Earth’s most customer-centric company” and therefore highly vulnerable to customer ratings—complied. The Ring owners posted the videos. “I said bust a dance move for the camera and he did it!” read one caption, as an anonymous laborer shimmied, listlessly. Another customer wrote her request in chalk on the path leading up to her door. DO A DANCE, the ground ordered, accompanied by a happy face and the word SMILE. The driver did as instructed. His command performance received more than 1.3 million likes.