The Atlantic Daily: Proximity as a Shortcut to Empathy

The Ethiopian Airlines crash and the media erasure of African tragedy. Plus: Houseplants and clean air, why Americans are so honest about their taxes, and more

What We’re Following

Is indicating proximity the only way to evoke the empathy of Western audiences? 157 people—the entirety of those on board—died after Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed Sunday morning en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. The passengers came from 35 different countries, from Ethiopia to Kenya, the United States to Canada. Some Western media reports cast aspersions on the safety of the airline (on the contrary, EA does not have a “poor safety record”); others, such as the Washington Post’s homepage coverage, highlighted the American deceased in its headline (yet the Washington area has the largest population of Ethiopian descent outside of Ethiopia).

+ The aircraft that crashed Sunday was the same model in the Lion Air disaster in Indonesia last fall, which killed 189 people. Some countries and carriers are now grounding Boeing’s 737 Max 8 plane. James Fallows looks at whether it’s time to worry about that specific new model.

Check your assumptions. Home gardening has bloomed to a $47 billion industry in the U.S. But where did the line that stuffing a home or an office with plants will help filter pollutants from the air come from? Robinson Meyer examines research on the link between houseplants and air quality: One scientist estimated that one houseplant for every 20 square feet of floor space would be required to make even the most minimal impact on indoor air quality, and “there are downsides to that.”

+ What does the insult that a person has “no personality” mean? Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory and Angela Martin and Toby Flenderson from The Office were among the fictional television characters cited as having “no personality” by one recent study’s participants. But no-personality people might just be quieter people who keep their thoughts to themselves.

Did any of this research surprise you? As always, we want to hear from you. Write to us anytime at, and we may feature your response on our website and in future editions of The Atlantic Daily.

Evening Reads

This director is challenging Netflix's eligibility to compete for Oscars

(Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP)

The 72-year-old director and Hollywood giant Steven Spielberg is challenging a streaming service’s eligibility for Oscar awards. He may have a point:

“Netflix’s audience numbers are a proprietary secret, and the company only announces very limited viewership data for its biggest hits. Though Hollywood’s obsession with box office can be one-dimensional, the evidence of a high-grossing hit is a crucial metric for movie studios. A film like Black Panther grossing $700 million domestically, for instance, can help sway producers into backing more diverse projects in the future.

The biggest fear for directors like Spielberg, though, is that Netflix’s current torrent of content will prove unsustainable—no major studio pumps out movies at that pace and quantity—and that whatever changes it forces on the industry will be difficult to undo.”

→ Read the rest

Americans don't cheat on their taxes

(James Graham)

Eighty-eight percent of Americans say that cheating on taxes is not at all acceptable, an attitude that’s held steady over time, according to a recent IRS survey. This isn’t just Americans’ social-desirability bias.

“The U.S. is among the world’s leaders when it comes to what economists call the voluntary compliance rate (VCR). In recent decades, America’s VCR has consistently hovered between 81 and 84 percent. Most countries don’t calculate their VCR regularly, but when they do, they lag behind the U.S. One paper that gathered what comparative data were available reported that Germany, the top European Union economy, had a VCR of 68 percent.

Other countries score worse, among them Italy (62 percent), the site of a sprawling tax scandal in which about 1,000 citizens were charged last year with bilking the government out of 2.3 billion euros in tax revenue. The public didn’t seem terribly bothered; ex–Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was convicted of tax fraud in 2013, may have tapped a common sentiment when he said back then that ‘evasion of high taxes is a God-given right.’”

→ Read the rest

Dear Therapist

Every Monday, Lori Gottlieb answers questions from readers about their problems, big and small. This week, an anonymous reader writes in:

“No one likes my mother. She is loud, obnoxious, negative, and self-involved. She doesn’t listen to people when they talk, or look them in the eye. She doesn’t have any common ground with most folks, since she’s mostly interested in her own stories.

All of this means being around her difficult. She has instigated arguments at family gatherings, making things very uncomfortable ... I want my mom to be more likable. I want to be able to have my mother around when I have children. I don’t want riffs between me and my husband about her coming over.”

→ Read the rest, and Lori’s response. Have a question? Email Lori anytime at

The Atlantic Crossword

Click here for The Atlantic's free daily crossword

(Illustration: Araki Koman)

Have you tried your hand at our daily mini crossword (available on our website, here)? Monday is the perfect day to start—the puzzle gets bigger and more difficult throughout the week.

→ Challenge your friends, or try to beat your own solving time

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