The Atlantic is always trying to ask great questions. We know our readers are, too. What are your curiosities? What are the lingering questions you have that never found satisfying answers? We’ll be posting calls for questions around particular story threads on social media, in our daily newsletter, and in the thread below.
The Atlantic is always trying to ask great questions like these. We know our readers are, too. As The Atlantic’s new assignment editor, part of my job will be fielding your questions: What are your curiosities? What would you like to know more about? What’s not on our radar but should be?
Branching off of Chris Bodenner’s work here in Notes—selecting and editing your emails, comments, and feedback to our stories—I’ll be focused on fielding the questions you’d like us to think about in our work going forward.
You’ll see us doing this in a number of ways: We’ll be posting calls for questions around particular story threads in our daily newsletter (which you can sign up for here). We'll be tweeting at you. And we’ll be using Notes, of course, to keep the conversation going.
Many of my calls for questions will be specific, tied to a theme or a news event that’s grabbed our attention. But feel free to ask about anything: facets of the stories we cover, the weird ways your city functions, largely-accepted-but-never-explained cultural norms.
We’ll be digging into this development more, but while we do, we’d like to know what you want to know. What lingering questions do you have about Boehner’s resignation and its implications for Congress? Tell us here.
The exit of long-time Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the scrutiny of Common Core during the GOP presidential debates are just the latest signs that American education is in a period of major flux. Parents, teachers, lawmakers, and officials have long wrestled with the best way to prepare students for the world beyond school boundaries, as The Atlantic has covered more and more. But we still have a lot of blindspots, so maybe you can help.
Syria is now more than four years into a civil war, which began in the midst of the Arab Spring protests. The armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is made up of several groups, including ISIS, and major world powers (i.e., the U.S. and Russia) are butting heads over how best to respond. Caught in the warfare are roughly 4 million refugees and 7.6 million people internally displaced.
The complex causes, dynamics, and even basic details of this conflict can be difficult to keep up with. The Atlantic is working on a project we hope will clarify things, and we’d really appreciate your input in guiding it. So: What do you want to know about the Syrian civil war?
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Our latest news from Syria comes from the caption for the above photo, taken today: “Released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, this photo shows Syrians holding images of President Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a rally to thank Moscow for its intervention in Syria, in front of the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus. (The placard at right with Arabic reads, ‘Yes to Russian-Syrian cooperation.’) As those hundreds of pro-government supporters gathered, insurgents fired two shells at the Russian embassy.”
I’m pretty excited about the possibilities here: Our goal for the video series is to boil down some unnecessarily wonky aspects of the U.S. election process—because, frankly, it’s six shades of impenetrable for those of us who weren’t poli-sci majors (🙋).
Each episode, I’ll be sitting down with Atlantic staffers and outside experts for some help interpreting the major election checkpoints and dynamics in the coming year.
For the record, and to reassure the concerned readers we heard from during our call-out in November: I’m more interested in empowering voters with insight on these concepts rather than having our editors and reporters join the hordes of talking heads offering their hot takes. My hope is for these to be like an ongoing study guide to help people know what to listen for throughout this election year, and what to do with the polls, platforms, and outcomes.
This week’s episode featured Priscilla, assistant politics editor, laying out what actually happens during the Iowa caucus—taking us inside the room(s) where it happens, if you will.
We’re aiming to produce these pretty frequently throughout this election cycle. So I’d love your help brainstorming future episodes. Let me re-up that call for questions: What else can we untangle? What are the cryptic election terms and processes you hear thrown around casually, but aren’t totally sure what they are?
The ads are everywhere. You can learn to serve like Serena Williams or write like Margaret Atwood. But what MasterClass really delivers is something altogether different.
Image above, clockwise from top left: MasterClass instructors Serena Williams (who teaches tennis on the platform); Natalie Portman (acting); Gordon Ramsay (cooking); Malcolm Gladwell (writing)
Sometimes an advertisement is so perfectly tailored to a cultural moment that it casts that moment into stark relief, which is how I felt upon first seeing an ad for the mega-best-selling writer James Patterson’s course on MasterClass a few years ago. In the ad, Patterson is sitting at a table, reciting a twisty opening line in voice-over. Then an overhead shot of him gazing out a window, lost in thought like a character in a movie. A title card appears: “Imagine taking a writing class from a master.” It didn’t matter that I’d never read a book by Patterson before—I was hooked. What appealed to me was not whatever actionable thriller-writing tips I might glean, but rather the promise of his story, the story of how a writer becomes a mogul. Any hapless, hand-to-mouth mid-lister can provide instructions on outlining a novel. MasterClass dangled something else, a clear-cut path out of the precariat, the magic-bean shortcut to a fairy-tale ending—the secret to ever-elusive success.
Something fundamental has changed about the ways Americans vote.
As polling places closed on November 6, 2018, the expected “blue wave” looked more like a ripple. Not only had some of the highest-profile Democratic candidates lost, but the party’s gains in the House and the Senate looked smaller than anticipated.
The wave, it turned out, simply hadn’t crested yet. Over the ensuing weeks, as more ballots were counted, Democrats kept winning races—eventually netting 41 House seats. In Arizona, the Republican Martha McSally conceded the Senate race to the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who picked up more than 70,000 votes in post–Election Day counting. Democrats narrowed deficits in races in Florida and Georgia too. Republicans were stunned.
No matter what happens now, the virus will continue to circulate around the world.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has sickened more than 16.5 million people across six continents. It is raging in countries that never contained the virus. It is resurgingin manyof the ones that did. If there was ever a time when this coronavirus could be contained, it has probably passed. One outcome is now looking almost certain: This virus is never going away.
The coronavirus is simply too widespread and too transmissible. The most likely scenario, experts say, is that the pandemic ends at some point—because enough people have been either infected or vaccinated—but the virus continues to circulate in lower levels around the globe. Cases will wax and wane over time. Outbreaks will pop up here and there. Even when a much-anticipated vaccine arrives, it is likely to only suppress but never completely eradicate the virus. (For context, consider that vaccines exist for more than a dozen human viruses but only one, smallpox, has ever been eradicated from the planet, and that took 15 years of immense global coordination.) We will probably be living with this virus for the rest of our lives.
My entire nuclear family is incredibly angry with me.
My younger sister is a few years younger than I am. Growing up, I had to care for my younger sister, and tension resulted from me having to include her when playing with friends, etc., despite not wanting to. This tension continued when my sister had mental-health issues and other life crises. Although I didn’t have a great relationship with her, I was responsible for stepping in and filling the role of caregiver. My parents were so overwhelmed and unable to meet my sister’s emotional needs that they turned to me to do so instead. This resulted in much resentment and anger and hurt between my sister and me. My sister craves closeness and my approval, and I just want to be left alone.
The university’s leader has effectively become a spokesman for evangelicalism. Pastors and alumni worry about the consequences for their faith.
As president and chancellor of the country’s largest Christian university and the son of one of the founding fathers of the religious right, Jerry Falwell Jr. has come to serve as a stand-in for American evangelicals. But to those inside the Liberty University community, Falwell’s leading role has lately seemed more like a liability than an asset. On Friday, the executive committee of the school’s board announced that Falwell will take an indefinite leave of absence.
Alumni feel “they have to hide their association with Liberty,” Colby Garman, a pastor who graduated from Liberty and serves on the board of Virginia’s Southern Baptist Convention, told me by phone Friday night. “A lot of pastors feel that way, a little bit, when it comes to the leadership of the school.” (Falwell did not reply to my request for an interview.)
Three predictions for what the future might look like
In March, tens of millions of American workers—mostly in white-collar industries such as tech, finance, and media—were thrust into a sudden, chaotic experiment in working from home. Four months later, the experiment isn’t close to ending. For many, the test run is looking more like the long run.
Google announced in July that its roughly 200,000 employees will continue to work from home until at least next summer. Mark Zuckerberg has said he expects half of Facebook’s workforce to be remote within the decade. Twitter has told staff they can stay home permanently.
With corporate giants welcoming far-flung workforces, real-estate markets in the superstar cities that combine high-paid work and high-cost housing are in turmoil. In the San Francisco Bay Area, rents are tumbling. In New York City, offices are still empty; so many well-heeled families with second homes have abandoned Manhattan that it’s causing headaches for the census.
A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million.
Which is too bad because we really need to understand how the immune system reacts to the coronavirus.
Updated at 10:36 a.m. ET on August 5, 2020.
There’s a joke about immunology, which Jessica Metcalf of Princeton recently told me. An immunologist and a cardiologist are kidnapped. The kidnappers threaten to shoot one of them, but promise to spare whoever has made the greater contribution to humanity. The cardiologist says, “Well, I’ve identified drugs that have saved the lives of millions of people.” Impressed, the kidnappers turn to the immunologist. “What have you done?” they ask. The immunologist says, “The thing is, the immune system is very complicated …” And the cardiologist says, “Just shoot me now.”
The thing is, the immune system is very complicated. Arguably the most complex part of the human body outside the brain, it’s an absurdly intricate network of cells and molecules that protect us from dangerous viruses and other microbes. These components summon, amplify, rile, calm, and transform one another: Picture a thousand Rube Goldberg machines, some of which are aggressively smashing things to pieces. Now imagine that their components are labeled with what looks like a string of highly secure passwords: CD8+, IL-1β, IFN-γ. Immunology confuses even biology professors who aren’t immunologists—hence Metcalf’s joke.
The electorate is split into separate information bubbles. But unconventional messengers, appeals to patriotism, and even jokes can reach voters who don’t want to listen.
A few weeks ago, I went to a political rally in a farmyard. The Polish presidential candidate Rafał Trzaskowski was speaking; in the background, a golden wheat field shimmered in the late-afternoon sun. The audience was enthusiastic—the host, a local farmer, had spread news of the candidate’s visit only the day before—but the juxtaposition of Trzaskowski and the wheat field was odd. He is the mayor of Warsaw, speaks several languages, has degrees in economics, and belongs to the half of Poland that identifies as educated, urban, and European. What does he know from wheat?
But Trzaskowski was running for president in a country whose other half lives in an information bubble that teaches people to be suspicious of anyone from Warsaw who is educated, urban, and European. Polish state television, fully controlled by the ruling Law and Justice party, was sending aggressive messages into that bubble, warning its inhabitants that Trzaskowski was dubious, foreign, in hock to “LGBT ideology”—which the incumbent president, Andrzej Duda, called “worse than communism”—and beholden to Germans and Jews. The messages, constantly repeated on a wide array of radio stations and television channels, were designed to reinforce tribal loyalties and convince Law and Justice voters that they are “real” Poles, not impostors or traitors like their political opponents.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.