The Senate, in a bipartisan 66-32 vote on Monday evening, confirmed Mike Pompeo to be the next CIA director. Pompeo was in his fourth term in the House. The only Republican to vote against Pompeo was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. The other 31 votes against Pompeo came from Democrats. As my colleague Russell Berman writes:
Pompeo’s harshest critic was Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a privacy hawk who delivered a lengthy speech criticizing the Kansas Republican’s “enthusiasm” for broad surveillance programs and what he said were Pompeo’s shifting positions on torture and on Russia’s interference in the November election. Other Democrats had said they were satisfied with Pompeo’s assertion during his confirmation hearing that he would not restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques in violation of the law, even if Trump ordered him to do so.
Snapchat Filter Not Responsible for Distracted Driver Claim, Judge Rules
A lawsuit claiming Snapchat was to blame for a high-speed car crash was dismissed by a Georgia court Friday, citing the social media company’s immunity under the Communication’s Decency Act. The case was brought against Snapchat in April by Wentworth and Karen Maynard, who claimed the application’s “speed filter,” which shows how fast the phone is moving at the time the photo or video is taken, caused 18-year-old Christal McGee to crash into Wentworth Maynard’s car while driving at 107 miles per hour (171 kilometer per hour), leaving Maynard with severe brain damage. McGee, who was also sued by the Maynards, claimed she was “just trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.” In his ruling Friday, Spalding County State Court Judge Josh Thacker said the social media company was exempt from liability under the CDA’s immunity clause, which states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Snapchat’s attorneys told the Associated Press Monday the ruling reaffirms the need for “responsible use of these technologies by the driver.”
The First Drone Strikes Under Trump Target Al-Qaeda in Yemen
The U.S. carried out several drone strikes in Yemen over the weekend targeting al-Qaeda leaders, marking the first drone strikes under the new Trump administration. The bombings hit the country’s southwestern Bayda province, and among the targets was Abu Anis al-Abi, a field commander with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. These strikes did not necessarily require Trump to sign off on them, because the Obama administration enabled the four-star commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, to oversee strikes. Drone strikes increased to unprecedented levels under Obama, much to the anger of human-rights groups, which decry their use because of the risk of collateral damage. On Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials released a report saying that under Obama as many as 117 civilians died in drone bombings. These numbers, however, are often viewed as extremely low by human rights groups.
Trump Signs Executive Order Withdrawing From the TPP
President Trump signed an executive order Monday to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a longstanding campaign pledge. The TPP, a project initiated by the Obama administration, would have placed the U.S. and 11 Asia-Pacific countries in an unprecedented free-trade zone. Trump’s executive order pulls the U.S. out of that deal, an effort to refocus on putting “America first,” as the president repeated in his inauguration address Friday. The trade deal had been a tough sell for both major political parties, with former-President Obama struggling to convince even Democrats of its worth because it had been painted during the election campaign as detrimental to U.S. manufacturing. Until this election, trade deals had received mostly bipartisan support. Trump has also said he wants to renegotiation the NAFTA, which set up a free-trade zone from Mexico to Canada.
Trump Reinstates Mexico City Rule, Blocking U.S. Funding for Abortion Services Worldwide
President Trump, in one of his first acts since assuming office, reinstated Monday a policy blocking U.S. funding for health programs that provide abortions or related services overseas. Known commonly as the Mexico City policy or the “global gag rule,” the policy restricts foreign organizations receiving U.S. family-planning funding from conducting any abortion-related services, even if they are conducted with non-U.S. funds. Since it went into effect in 1984, the policy has routinely been enacted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones. As my colleague Anna Diamond writes:
Now, the signing of the order is filled with symbolism. Always falling on or within days of the January 22nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it’s become a way for the incoming president to signal to his party and supporters an initial commitment for or against abortion rights.
A Violent California Storm Destroys an Iconic Concrete Ship
A harsh storm hit the California coast this weekend and set surf records, with wave heights reaching nearly 35 feet in some places. They were particularly violent near Santa Cruz, about 80 miles south of San Francisco, where the storm wrecked a local icon, a historic World War I concrete ship called the S.S. Palo Alto. Then-President Woodrow Wilson ordered a fleet of concrete ships built in 1917, and while other ships had been made of this material, none had ever been made so large—420 feet long. The S.S. Palo Alto was one of 24 others built at the time, and it came to rest near Santa Cruz in 1930, where it connected to a pier and became a famous icon of the beach. The ship’s hull had been crumbling for some time, and over the decades it served as a home for the area’s wildlife, like sea lions, fish, and sea birds. In the mid-2000s, a leak in the ship’s tank spilled old oil into the waters and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spent $1.7 million to clean up the fuel. This weekend’s storm sent waves crashing against the hull and split off the stern. It’s unclear what will be done with the crumbling remains.
What was once a solid structure, is now in 2 pieces. The S.S. Palo Alto's stern has taken enough beating and gave-in to Mother nature. pic.twitter.com/ljRytxwpf7
Syrian Government, Rebels Meet for Talks in Kazakhstan
Representatives of the Syrian government and rebel groups are meeting in Astana, the Kazakh capital, for the first time in more than a year for talks on ways to end the more than five-year-long civil war. Russian, Turkish, and Iranian officials are also attending; the three countries brokered a cease-fire between the fighting factions December 30. Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, and military officials are representing the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Mohammad Alloush of the Army of Islam is leading the rebel delegation. Talks are scheduled to continue until Tuesday.
The Trump Administration's War of Words With the Media
President Trump was inaugurated in Washington, D.C., Friday. A day later, a women’s march in the city, and others across the country and the world, vowed to oppose some of the Trump administration’s policies. Photographs from both events, coupled with crowd estimates, suggested more people turned out to the march in Washington than the inauguration. Trump and his aides apparently disagreed. At an appearance Saturday before the CIA, the president railed against the media, calling it “dishonest.” Later, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, repeated those claims, adding: “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”—a demonstrably false claim. On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counselor, went on NBC’s Meet the Press, and countered the view Spicer was lying, adding “our press secretary gave alternative facts to that.” When Chuck Todd, the show’s host, asked Conway why Spicer had said something that was clearly not true, she replied: “If we're going to keep referring to the press secretary in those types of terms, I think we're going to have to rethink our relationship here.” Trump himself initially criticized Saturday’s protest march, saying on Twitter he “was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote?” He later tweeted out a more conciliatory message:
Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don't always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.
The show finally got satire right ... with the help of Hello Kitty.
Earlier this week, Merriam-Webster announced its 2022 word of the year: gaslighting. The dictionary’s selection of the term—defined as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage”—was in part a response to public demand: Searches for gaslighting rose by 1,740 percent over the past 12 months. That interest might reflect the fact that gaslighting describes so much, so efficiently. It emphasizes the emotional consequences of lies, capturing the destabilizing feeling that can set in when someone or something keeps telling you that your perception of reality is wrong.
Many recent works of culture have tried to give shape to that feeling. The latest attempt, appropriately, found its articulation through a mouthless cat. Last night’s Saturday Night Live, hosted by Keke Palmer, displayed the show’s usual mix of topical humor (the night’s roastees included Herschel Walker, Mitch McConnell, and Ye) and broad observation. But one sketch, in particular, managed to capture this dizzying political moment by thoroughly conceding to its absurdities. The setting: an employee training at a Sanrio store in New York City. The players: two store managers who were familiarizing four new hires with Sanrio’s “official Hello Kitty story.” Among the facts that the managers insisted on: Hello Kitty is “a human little girl.” She has a boyfriend named Dear Daniel, who actually is a cat. She is in the third grade. She is also, somehow, 48 years old.
David French’s culture picks include Amazon Prime as well as HBO Max hits, and a profoundly meaningful blockbuster art film.
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.
Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.
Today’s special guest is David French, a contributing writer and the author of the newsletter The Third Rail. He’s a football fan who has critiqued what he calls the NFL’s “good ol’ boy problem” and extensively covered First Amendment issues, including the Republican turn against free speech. David loves living in the worlds of both The White Lotus and The Terminal List, and claims that true history dads read books about World War I, while true nerds read Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series.
A 1957 image of the Dallas Cowboys’ owner highlights long-standing inequities in the NFL.
If you’re wondering why, in professional football, so few Black coaches get hired and Black players struggle to be heard, you can learn a lot from a 65-year-old image of Jerry Jones. In a 1957 photo published late last month by The Washington Post, the future owner of the Dallas Cowboys, then 14, stood among a group of white teenagers who were blocking six Black students from desegregating his Arkansas high school.
In an interview with the Post, Jones minimized his role in the event. “I don’t know that I or anybody anticipated or had a background of knowing … what was involved. It was more a curious thing,” Jones told the newspaper, which has published a series of stories about the NFL’s failure to promote Black coaches over the course of decades.
The app’s original purpose has been lost in the era of “performance” media.
Earlier this fall, while riding the subway, I overheard two friends doing some reconnaissance ahead of a party. They were young and cool—intimidatingly so, dressed in the requisite New York all black, with a dash of Y2K revival—and trying to figure out how to find a mutual acquaintance online.
“Does she have Instagram?” one asked, before adding with a laugh: “Does anybody?”
“I don’t even have it on my phone anymore,” the other confessed.
Even just a couple of years ago, it would have been unheard-of for these 20-something New Yorkers to shrug off Instagram—a sanctimonious lifestyle choice people would have regretted starting a conversation about at that party they were headed to. But now it’s not so surprising at all. To scroll through Instagram today is to parse a series of sponsored posts from brands, recommended Reels from people you don’t follow, and the occasional picture from a friend that’s finally surfaced after being posted several days ago. It’s not what it used to be.
Twitter is a private company—not the federal government.
Last night, Matt Taibbi, an independent journalist, wrote a lengthy Twitter thread he called “THE TWITTER FILES.” The thread purported to expose how Twitter made the decision to dramatically suppress discussion of the contents of a hard drive from Hunter Biden’s laptop. But it inadvertently did something else entirely: It exposed the new Twitter owner Elon Musk’s profound misunderstandings about the First Amendment.
Taibbi’s documents provided further evidence demonstrating what Twitter’s critics (including me) have long argued—that the decision to suppress the information was both incoherent and inconsistent. Twitter suppressed the information based on its so-called hacked-materials policy, but the application of that policy was hardly clear in this instance, especially given that the platform had, at the time, just permitted widespread sharing of New York Times stories about Donald Trump’s leaked tax information.
Netflix’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover updates the book’s treatment of sex, presenting the act as not just an erotic force, but a miraculous one.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence’s infamous 1928 novel about an upper-class woman’s extramarital affair with her gamekeeper, was considered so obscene that it was banned in multiple countries for years. But as much pleasure as the author took in describing, well, pleasure, he wasn’t distasteful, just bold for his time. When writing clandestine trysts, Lawrence detailed every motion, thrust, and caress with relish. He especially liked equating desire to a flame—a warmth that guided his titular aristocrat out of her ennui. Lady Constance “Connie” Chatterley’s sexual awakening, he wrote, was like a “curious molten thrilling that spread and spread.”
Netflix’s adaptation, which started streaming yesterday, takes a different route to illustrating lust. Unlike many previous onscreen versions, this film eschews the soft glow of Lawrence’s words for a more haunting aura. The director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre drenches her cast in a blue tone, transforming what could have been another titillating period piece into something more mesmerizing. The naked actors often look like figures from a painting—surreal and sumptuous rather than merely erotic. Seen through shaky-cam shots, Connie (played by Emma Corrin) and her paramour, Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell), appear as wild, breathless creatures. The film updates the book’s treatment of sex, presenting the act not just a “molten” force, but a miraculous one.
The swastika that the rapper tweeted ties a nasty little bow on his ever-expanding collection of disturbing ideas.
What was your line with Kanye West? If you never listened to what he had to say in the first place, you don’t get a medal: The rapper now known as Ye really did, at one time, merit attention for making some of the most forward-thinking art of this century. (Plus he was funny, in an actually-trying-to-be way.)
But over the years he’s done plenty of things that indicate he is a fundamentally bad dude, like when he went on the radio to slut-shame his ex, or when he told Black people that they’d chosen to be enslaved. Of course, he’s faced accusations of reckless arrogance all along, but discerning whether those reflected a racist double standard—isn’t bragging American?—was never simple. For me the exit point came late and oddly. Earlier this year, Ye started publicly lambasting his ex-wife and making violent art about her new boyfriend. Actions that might have been written off as tabloid-baiting theatrics were, in the totality of Ye’s life, getting scary: He seemed to be trying to hurt others both for his own gain and for larger, almost metaphysical reasons, perhaps best described as evil.
The island’s people seem blissfully oblivious of a looming conflict with China. The U.S. can’t afford that luxury.
The night before boarding a flight home, at the end of a trip that had taken me from D.C. to Taiwan, Japan, Macedonia, Turkey, and back again, I came across a tweet that succinctly crystallized many of the fleeting impressions I had accumulated on the Pacific leg of my journey. The tweet was from Tanner Greer, a brilliant and iconoclastic China scholar, citing a quote about Taiwan sometimes attributed to Kurt Campbell, years before he became President Joe Biden’s chief Asia adviser on the National Security Council: “I thought I was going to find a second Israel; I found a second Costa Rica.”
“Whether Campbell ever said such a thing is beyond the point,” Greer wrote, explaining that he’d heard it from a Taiwanese think-tank associate. “What mattered was that this retired Taiwanese nat/sec official believed he could have said it, and believed the description accurate.”
How can watching people fiddle with spreadsheets possibly be this fun?
A few weeks ago, you very likely missed what were very likely the most thrilling moments in the history of Microsoft Excel. Allow me to set the scene: The semifinal of the Excel World Championship was streaming live on YouTube and ESPN3. Defending champion Andrew Ngai had steamrolled his previous three opponents, but he now trailed the unseeded newcomer Brittany Deaton 316–390—not an insignificant margin, but by no means insurmountable. “Andrew is lost,” GolferMike1 commented in the YouTube chat. “He’s shaken.” The game clock ticked under four minutes.
To be crystal clear: Yes, we are talking about people competing in Microsoft Excel, the famous (and famously boring) spreadsheet software that you may have used in school or at work or to track your finances. In competitive Excel, players square off in test-taking showdowns, earning points each time they answer a question correctly. Players’ screens are a whirlwind of columns and keystrokes and formulae; if the terms XLOOKUP, RANDBETWEEN, and dynamic array don’t mean anything to you, you are unlikely to understand what’s going on. The commentators help, but only to a point. Even so, you can always follow the scoreboard, which tends to change suddenly and drastically. With just over three minutes to play, Ngai nailed a set of questions and jumped out to a 416–390 lead. GolferMike1 began to rethink his earlier assessment: “Uh oh. We got a game.”
These titles do more than answer questions: They explain how the world moves and what moves it.
The cover of a nonfiction book is like the hood of an automobile: Nudge it open, and you’ll find sentences like cylinders and pistons folded and coiled together, an engine ready to propel us toward answers to daunting questions. How did life begin? What is art for? What transpires inside our cells? How do our nation’s values hold up in an era of accelerating change? The best nonfiction does more than just assemble information. It takes a reader through curious landscapes, offering a deeper grasp of how the world moves and, most important, what moves it.
The seven nonfiction titles below are not textbooks; they’re accessible to lay readers, give an overview of crucial topics, and can serve as a jumping-off point for further research. They investigate what our society values and what it’s built on, driving us to the monumental, the sublime, the quintessentially human.