—Bob Dylan broke his cryptic silence about receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature two weeks ago in an interview with a British newspaper. Will he attend the ceremony? “Absolutely,” he said. “If it’s at all possible.”
—Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rojay received a narrow mandate from parliament to form a new government, ending 10 months of paralysis after two inconclusive elections.
—Icelandic voters are poised to hand the Pirate Party, a populist civil-libertarian party, the most seats in the Althing in Saturday’s parliamentary elections.
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
Spain’s parliament re-elected Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Saturday, ending 10 months of paralysis following two inconclusive elections last December and this June.
Neither Rajoy’s center-right People Party nor the opposition Socialist Party mustered a simple majority of seats in either general elections, forcing both sides into a protracted stalemate as they struggled to build coalitions with smaller parties to govern.
The stalemate ended when Ciudadanos, a centrist regional party from Catalonia, threw its support—and its 32 seats—behind Rajoy. The New York Timeshas more:
The Popular Party won the most votes in June’s election but, with just 137 of the 350 seats in Parliament, fell well short of a majority. The Socialists came in second, with 85 seats, their worst-ever result, but still sufficient for them to remain the largest left-wing political group, ahead of the far-left Podemos party.
In the coming weeks, Mr. Rajoy will present a budget for 2017 that will be the first major test of his ability to pass legislation without a parliamentary majority. He will be under pressure to make budgetary concessions to regional and left-wing parties, but his spending will be curtailed by deficit targets imposed by the European Union.
Mr. Rajoy is also under pressure to defuse a territorial dispute with Catalonia. Separatist parties control the Catalan regional Parliament and have pledged to hold an independence referendum by September, despite fierce opposition from Madrid and the courts.
Had legislators not granted Rajoy a slim mandate to govern, Spain would have been forced to call its third election in a year in an attempt to break the deadlock.
Icelandic voters are heading to the polls Saturday as the country holds its first parliamentary elections since the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson in April.
Gunnlaugsson’s fall from power followed revelations in the Panama Papers, a cache of leaked documents from the corporate law firm Mossack Fonseca, that linked him to foreign creditors who profited from the collapse of Iceland’s banking sector.
Leading the latest opinion police is Iceland’s Pirate Party, a civil-libertarian party founded in 2012. It currently holds three seats in the Althing, Iceland’s parliament, but could emerge with the most seats of any party after the election. The Guardianhas more:
Riding a wave of public anger at perceived political corruption in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers scandal in April, the Pirate party campaigns for direct democracy, full government transparency, individual freedoms and the fight against corruption.
Its radical platform, which also includes decriminalising drugs, offering asylum to whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and relaxing restrictions on the use of the bitcoin virtual currency, has the backing of 21% of Icelanders, polls suggest, making it the country’s second-biggest party.
Its figurehead is Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a 49-year-old MP, poet and former WikiLeaks collaborator who has said she has no ambition to be prime minister but wants to sweep away a “corrupt and dysfunctional system.”
The election results will be announced Sunday morning local time.
Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this month, finally acknowledged the honor on Friday. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the American folk bard said he might attend the awards ceremony in Stockholm in December.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “If it’s at all possible.”
Dylan cryptically did not elaborate on why he wouldn’t be able to attend. The Nobel Foundation subsequently released a statement that said Dylan had called the Nobel committee last week. “The news about the Nobel Prize left me speechless,” he said, according to the foundation. “I appreciate the honor so much.”
The Nobel committee announced Dylan had won literature’s most prestigious honor on October 13 for “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He is the first musician to receive the prize. The choice caused a minor controversy within the literary world, with some praising the selection’s novelty while others dissented that a more traditional writer or poet was not honored instead.
Then followed silence. Dylan made only a brief, fleeting reference to the award on his website that day. To the foundation’s frustration, he also did not answer or return numerous calls from them. A committee member last week described his silence as “arrogant and impolite.”
Three Atlantic writers discuss the HBO epic’s divisive series finale, which tries to break the wheel one last time.
Every week for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers have been discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we’ll be posting our thoughts on the series finale in installments.
Credentialed authorities are comically bad at predicting the future. But reliable forecasting is possible.
The bet was on, and it was over the fate of humanity. On one side was the Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich. In his 1968 best seller, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich insisted that it was too late to prevent a doomsday apocalypse resulting from overpopulation. Resource shortages would cause hundreds of millions of starvation deaths within a decade. It was cold, hard math: The human population was growing exponentially; the food supply was not. Ehrlich was an accomplished butterfly specialist. He knew that nature did not regulate animal populations delicately. Populations exploded, blowing past the available resources, and then crashed.
In his book, Ehrlich played out hypothetical scenarios that represented “the kinds of disasters that will occur.” In the worst-case scenario, famine rages across the planet. Russia, China, and the United States are dragged into nuclear war, and the resulting environmental degradation soon extinguishes the human race. In the “cheerful” scenario, population controls begin. Famine spreads, and countries teeter, but the major death wave ends in the mid-1980s. Only half a billion or so people die of starvation. “I challenge you to create one more optimistic,” Ehrlich wrote, adding that he would not count scenarios involving benevolent aliens bearing care packages.
To save the Church, Catholics must detach themselves from the clerical hierarchy—and take the faith back into their own hands.
To feel relief at my mother’s being dead was once unthinkable, but then the news came from Ireland. It would have crushed her. An immigrant’s daughter, my mother lived with an eye cast back to the old country, the land against which she measured every virtue. Ireland was heaven to her, and the Catholic Church was heaven’s choir. Then came the Ryan Report.
Not long before The Boston Globe began publishing its series on predator priests, in 2002—the “Spotlight” series that became a movie of the same name—the government of Ireland established a commission, ultimately chaired by Judge Sean Ryan, to investigate accounts and rumors of child abuse in Ireland’s residential institutions for children, nearly all of which were run by the Catholic Church.
No president I know of has asserted a blanket power to reject any request that doesn’t suit him—until Donald Trump.
In my long career as an academic jack-of-all-trades, I sometimes teach law students Jurisprudence—that is, Philosophy of Law. The course begins with the question “What is law?” and its corollary, “What is lawlessness?”
The latter comes in two flavors. The first is anarchy—Hobbes’s “war of all against all,” a Mad Max moonscape in which only stealth and brute force provide even a semblance of safety. Such situations existed for millennia and, though relatively rare, exist in remote parts of the globe today.
But there is an authoritarian lawlessness that is far more common in the 21st century, and next time I teach the course, I will have the most precise example of this second version I have ever seen: the dispute over 26 U.S. Code § 6103(f)(1), which reads: “Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary [of the Treasury] shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request,” subject only to a requirement that the return be considered in closed session.
It expands by 10,000 times in a fraction of a second, it’s 100,000 times softer than Jell-O, and it fends off sharks and Priuses alike.
At first glance, the hagfish—a sinuous, tubular animal with pink-grey skin and a paddle-shaped tail—looks very much like an eel. Naturalists can tell the two apart because hagfish, unlike other fish, lack backbones (and, also, jaws). For everyone else, there’s an even easier method. “Look at the hand holding the fish,” the marine biologist Andrew Thaler once noted. “Is it completely covered in slime? Then, it’s a hagfish.”
Hagfish produce slime the way humans produce opinions—readily, swiftly, defensively, and prodigiously. They slime when attacked or simply when stressed. On July 14, 2017, a truck full of hagfishoverturned on an Oregon highway. The animals were destined for South Korea, where they are eaten as a delicacy, but instead, they were strewn across a stretch of Highway 101, covering the road (and at least one unfortunate car) in slime.
It was a blockbuster discovery at the time. The team found that a less active version of the gene was more common among 454 people who had mood disorders than in 570 who did not. In theory, anyone who had this particular gene variant could be at higher risk for depression, and that finding, they said, might help in diagnosing such disorders, assessing suicidal behavior, or even predicting a person’s response to antidepressants.
Back then, tools for sequencing DNA weren’t as cheap or powerful as they are today. When researchers wanted to work out which genes might affect a disease or trait, they made educated guesses, and picked likely “candidate genes.” For depression, SLC6A4 seemed like a great candidate: It’s responsible for getting a chemical called serotonin into brain cells, and serotonin had already been linked to mood and depression. Over two decades, this one gene inspired at least 450 research papers.
The German chancellor has shown how to win and keep power in a man’s world.
To the six women currently running in the 2020 presidential race, I offer this advice: Study German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the world’s most successful living politician, on the basis of both achievement and longevity. Now in her 14th year as chancellor of Europe’s powerhouse, Merkel has upended the rules of the male-dominated German political culture, and transformed her country along the way.
Without fanfare, Merkel made German society friendlier to the ambitions of women. Merkel’s handpicked successor to lead the Christian Democratic Union is a woman, there are six other women in her cabinet, and women abound in her circle of advisers. Alexander Gauland, the leader of Germany’s far-right political party AfD, recently asked, “Are there no men left in the CDU?” The party still has quite a few men; they just don’t run it any longer.
China has more leverage in its trade war with the U.S. than you think.
Just how bad are things between the United States and China? Over an evening beer in Beijing this week, a friend and I debated which prominent American company China would whack first. It’s a serious question—and the answer could be the next ugly step in the escalating economic dispute between the two powers.
The standard line from President Donald Trump and those who support his get-tough approach toward Beijing is that because China sells more to the U.S. than the other way around, Washington has the upper hand in its game of tariffs. “China buys MUCH less from us than we buy from them,” Trump recently tweeted, “so we are in a fantastic position.”
Statistically, that’s true: The U.S. exported only $120 billion worth of goods to China in 2018, compared with the $540 billion it imported. Beijing has a lot less stuff to tax, so the amount of damage it can inflict on the American economy and business through tariffs is much more limited. That view seemed confirmed when Beijing announced a surprisingly moderate package of new duties in retaliation for Trump’s latest broadside. While Washington hiked tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion of Chinese products, and is threatening to slap on even more, Beijing responded by increasing tariffs on only about $60 billion of American goods.
One day in February 2009, a 13-year-old boy named Sasha Egger started thinking that people were coming to hurt his family. His mother, Helen, watched with mounting panic that evening as her previously healthy son forgot the rules to Uno, his favorite card game, while playing it. She began making frantic phone calls the next morning. By then, Sasha was shuffling aimlessly around the yard, shredding paper and stuffing it in his pockets. “He looked like an old person with dementia,” Helen later told me.
That afternoon, Sasha was admitted to the hospital, where he saw a series of specialists. One thought Sasha might have bipolar disorder and put him on antipsychotics, but the drugs didn’t help. Helen, a child psychiatrist at Duke University, knew that psychiatric conditions develop gradually. Sasha’s symptoms had appeared almost overnight, and some of them—including dilated pupils and slurred speech—suggested not mental illness but neurological dysfunction. When she and her husband, Daniel, raised these issues, though, one doctor seemed to think they were in denial.
They say religious discrimination against Christians is as big a problem as discrimination against other groups.
Many, many Christians believe they are subject to religious discrimination in the United States. A new report from the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings offers evidence: Almost half of Americans say discrimination against Christians is as big of a problem as discrimination against other groups, including blacks and minorities. Three-quarters of Republicans and Trump supporters said this, and so did nearly eight out of 10 white evangelical Protestants. Of the latter group, six in 10 believe that although America once was a Christian nation, it is no longer—a huge jump from 2012.
Polling data can be split up in a million different ways. It’s possible to sort by ethnicity, age, political party, and more. The benefit of sorting by religion, though, is that it highlights people’s beliefs: the way their ideological and spiritual convictions shape their self-understanding. This survey suggests that race is not enough to explain the sense of loss some white Americans seem to feel about their country, although it’s part of the story; the same is true of age, education level, and political affiliation. People’s beliefs seem to have a distinctive bearing on how they view changes in American culture, politics, and law—and whether they feel threatened. No group is more likely to express this fear than conservative Christians.