—The U.S. military struck a Syrian airfield near Homs, the opening salvo in the Trump administration’s response to this week’s chemical-weapons attack by the Assad regime. More here
—Republicans changed the rules of the Senate on judicial nominations, invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for such votes from a supermajority of 60 to a simple majority of 51. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
UPDATE: Republicans Use 'Nuclear Option' After Democrats Filibuster Gorsuch Nomination
Updated at 1:08 p.m.
Republicans changed the rules of the Senate on judicial nominations, invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for such votes from a supermajority of 60 to a simple majority of 51. The change came after Democrats filibustered the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court seat made vacant by the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans, who have a 52-48 majority in the Senate, had the support of at least three Democratic senators, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Democratic filibuster. The party-line vote on the rule change was 52-48. Democrats, still smarting over the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings for Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the same Supreme Court seat, have been unrelenting in their opposition of Gorsuch. They say if the president’s nominee cannot get the support of 60 U.S. senators, the White House should withdraw his nomination in favor of someone who can secure the support of a supermajority of senators. But it was always going to be an uphill effort, and Gorsuch is expected to be easily confirmed Friday by the Senate.
Devin Nunes Temporarily Recuses Himself From Russia Investigation
Representative Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, announced Thursday he would temporarily recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Nunes said in a statement it was “in the best interests” of his committee and Congress for him to temporarily step aside, adding: “I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as Committee Chairman, and I am requesting to speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims” filed by left-leaning organizations. Nunes has faced mounting pressure to step down from the investigation after it was revealed last month he visited the White House before and after announcing he had significant information to support President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims his transition team was surveilled by the intelligence community. That resulted in allegations from Democrats he was too eager to do Trump’s bidding, especially after it was revealed the information was given to him by White House officials. Nunes said the investigation will be taken over by Republican Representative Michael Conaway, with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney. As my colleague Russell Berman notes, though Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his support for Nunes in a press conference following the announcement, “the chairman’s sudden move to quit the Russia probe raises questions about whether he misled the speaker about his handling of evidence that he viewed at the White House.”
North Korea Looms Over Meeting Between Trump, China's Xi
President Trump has called China a currency manipulator, he has criticized it on trade, and for, in his view, not doing enough to curtail North Korea’s activities. But while those issues loom over the meeting today between Trump and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Florida, the two leaders are likely to discuss the one area where there could be a deal of some sort: North Korea. Their meeting comes a day after North Korea launched a ballistic missile off the coast of the Korean peninsula, the latest of several such tests the North has carried out in recent months. Last month U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ruled out talks with the North until it renounces its nuclear-weapons program, adding that when it came to the North, the U.S. kept all options on the table. The New York Timesnotes that Trump, behind closed doors, “intends to aggressively press his counterpart to more effectively use China’s economic leverage on North Korea to restrain its rogue leader, Kim Jong-un, from developing nuclear weapons.” Meanwhile, their discussions on trade could focus on the U.S. trade deficit with China, which stands at about $300 billion annually.
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.
Yesterday Vladimir Putin went to Stalingrad. It was the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in the city once named after the Soviet dictator. The current Russian dictator solemnly bowed his head and knelt before a wreath laid to honor the heroes of the battle that turned the tide of World War II. The day before the ceremony, a bronze bust of Joseph Stalin had been unveiled in the city, whose name was changed to Volgograd in 1961. By then Stalin, perhaps the 20th century’s greatest mass murderer, was out of favor. But for Putin, the city is still Stalingrad, the year is still 1943, Nazis are still waging a scorched-earth war, and the heroic Russian people are still fighting a far stronger enemy in defense of the motherland. Only it’s 2023, and the enemy is the independent, democratic, much smaller nation of Ukraine, led by a Jewish president and armed by Western democracies—including Germany.
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.
The model and actor drove men wild. She’s still enduring the consequences.
When the subject of Pamela Anderson comes up, understatement likely isn’t the first word that comes to mind. And yet, as her entirely self-authored memoir, Love, Pamela, makes clear, it is actually her preternatural calling. She can virtually murder a man with a simple declarative sentence.
About Jack Nicholson, who she says meets her gaze in a bathroom at the Playboy Mansion, while she’s fixing her lip gloss and he’s carousing with two women against a wall, she writes, “I guess that got him to the finish line, because he made a funny noise, smiled, and said, Thanks, dear.” She recalls Scott Baio (also at the Playboy Mansion) strangely inspecting her toes and ears before making a move, but later getting in trouble with his family “when he let me drive his Mercedes convertible.” Tim Allen, she alleges, flashes her on her first day filming Home Improvement, which she gently categorizes as one of many “encounters where people felt they knew me enough to make absolute fools out of themselves.” (Allen denies the allegation.) Tom Ford, at a Vanity Fair shoot, strips her naked, trusses her up in nude-toned Thierry Mugler, and says, “You have NO organs, you must never leave the house without a corset.”
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.
As the imprisoned former Georgian president’s health worsens, so do prospects for democracy in his country.
Sixteen months after his arrest, Mikheil Saakashvili has lost more than 90 pounds and needs a walker to move around his prison hospital. The former Georgian president was for a time, on a hunger strike, which helps explain his weight loss and his exhaustion. But it does not explain the traces of arsenic, mercury, and other toxins that a doctor found in his hair and nail clippings. It does not explain the beatings he has described to his lawyer. It does not explain the constant pain in his left shoulder, neck, and spine.
Nor can anything other than malice—organized, official, state-sponsored malice—explain why Saakashvili is on a strange medical regimen that includes 14 different drugs, some addictive, some not approved for sale in the United States. Or why he has mild brain damage. Or why he has seizures. Giorgi Badridze, a former Georgian ambassador who keeps in constant touch with Saakashvili’s family, told me that “nothing has been exaggerated. He is doing really badly.” At age 55, Saakashvili is declining rapidly. And as he declines, so do the prospects of a sovereign, democratic Georgia.
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.
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.