Just months after leaving office, the former president has all but disappeared.
The president was insistent as he left office: “We’re not going anywhere.” It had been a turbulent end of the presidency—impeachment, appalling pardons, and a lengthy dispute over the outcome of the presidential election—but he knew that he had a devoted following, and he had every intention to remain a force in politics. And not just him: His family was eager to cash in on his electoral success, too. Usually a former president laid low for a while after leaving office. He wasn’t going to do that. He’d remain a political force, and the dominant figure in his party.
But the plan didn’t go well. The president sat at his new home—he had decamped from his longtime home state—guzzling Diet Cokes and calling friends to rage about how unfairly he’d been treated and complain about overzealous prosecutors. “You get tired of listening to it,” one friend confessed.
The CDC has finally said what scientists have been screaming for months: The coronavirus is overwhelmingly spread through the air, not via surfaces.
Last week, the CDC acknowledged what many of us have been saying for almost nine months about cleaning surfaces to prevent transmission by touch of the coronavirus: It’s pure hygiene theater.
“Based on available epidemiological data and studies of environmental transmission factors,” the CDC concluded, “surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low.” In other words: You can put away the bleach, cancel your recurring Amazon subscription for disinfectant wipes, and stop punishing every square inch of classroom floor, restaurant table, and train seat with high-tech antimicrobial blasts. COVID-19 is airborne: It spreads through tiny aerosolized droplets that linger in the air in unventilated spaces. Touching stuff just doesn’t carry much risk, and more people should say so, very loudly.
My son blames his father and won’t speak to him, but my husband is making matters worse by not apologizing.
My husband used to take our two dogs for walks and would let them off their leash to run in an abandoned field. Three weeks ago, he woke up early in the morning to take them out. Around 9:30, he came down to the basement, where I was working out, and said Lager, our Boston terrier, had run off.
I called a good friend to come help me look for Lager, and we searched for him until dark. We posted pictures of him on Facebook, Ring, and dog sites but heard nothing back. My son, who is 14, also went to look for him. Meanwhile, my husband went out downtown with a friend, and I was disappointed that he would leave while our dog was still missing.
The next morning, there were still no responses to our online posts about Lager, so I was sad and worried. Then my friend who had helped me look for him called to ask what color his collar was; I texted my husband, and he said it was blue. My friend put me on with dispatch, and they said Lager was deceased—he had been hit by a car while trying to come home. I was devastated and broke down, but I needed to get it together so I could tell my son. As soon as I told him, he started to cry and said he would never speak to Dad again, because he killed our dog.
The joys of money are nothing without other people.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
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In 2010, two Nobel laureates in economics published a paper that created a tidal wave of interest both inside and outside academia. With careful data analysis, the researchers showed that people believe the quality of their lives will increase as they earn more, and their feelings do improve with additional money at low income levels. But the well-being they experience flattens out at around $75,000 in annual income (about $92,000 in today’s dollars). The news materially affected people’s lives—especially the part about happiness rising up to about $75,000: In the most high-profile example, the CEO of a Seattle-based credit-card-payment company raised his employees’ minimum salary to $70,000 (and lowered his own salary to that level) after reading the paper.
In early March 2020, Rick Phillips, 63, and his wife, Sheryl Phillips, quietly cloistered themselves in their Indianapolis home. They swore off markets, movie theaters, the gym, and, hardest of all, visits with their three young grandchildren. This April, three weeks after receiving her second shot of Pfizer’s vaccine, Sheryl broke her social fast and walked into a grocery store for the first time since last spring. Rick has yet to join her. He received his shots on the same days his wife received hers. By official standards, he, too, can count himself as fully vaccinated. But he feels that he cannot act as though he is. “I personally remain scared to death,” he told me.
Rick has rheumatoid arthritis, which once rendered him “barely able to walk across the room,” he said. He now treats the condition with an intensely immunosuppressive drug that strips his body of the ability to churn out disease-fighting antibodies. Rick credits the treatment with changing his life. But it might also keep him from developing lasting defenses against COVID-19.
In 1974, John Patterson was abducted by the People’s Liberation Army of Mexico—a group no one had heard of before. The kidnappers wanted $500,000, and insisted that Patterson’s wife deliver the ransom.
Illustrations by Leonardo Santamaria
This article was published online on April 15, 2021.
The Motel El Encanto in Hermosillo, Mexico, served a lavish breakfast that John and Andra Patterson liked to eat on the tiled deck near their suite. The couple would discuss the day ahead over fresh pineapple and pan dulces while their 4-year-old daughter, Julia, watched the gray cat that skulked about the motel’s Spanish arches.
On the morning of March 22, 1974, the Pattersons’ breakfast chatter centered on their search for a permanent home. They were nearing their two-month anniversary of living in Hermosillo, where John was a junior diplomat at the American consulate, and the motel was feeling cramped.
After breakfast, Andra dropped John off at work. Because this was his first posting as a member of the United States Foreign Service, the 31-year-old Patterson had been given an unglamorous job: He was a vice consul responsible for promoting trade between the U.S. and Mexico, which on this particular Friday meant driving out to meet with a group of ranchers who hoped to improve their yield of beef.
Concerns about blood clots with Johnson & Johnson underscore just how lucky Americans are to have the Pfizer and Moderna shots.
A year ago, when the United States decided to go big on vaccines, it bet on nearly every horse, investing in a spectrum of technologies. The safest bets, in a way, repurposed the technology behind existing vaccines, such as protein-based ones for tetanus or hepatitis B. The medium bets were on vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which use adenovirus vectors, a technology that had been tested before but not deployed on a large scale. The long shots were based on the use of mRNA, the newest and most unproven technology.
The protein-based vaccines have moved too slowly to matter so far. J&J’s and AstraZeneca’s vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19—but a small number of recipients have developed a rare type of blood clot that appears to be linked to the adenovirus technology and may ultimately limit those shots’ use. Meanwhile, with more than 180 million doses administered in the U.S, the mRNA vaccines have proved astonishingly effective and extremely safe. The unusual blood clots have not appeared with Pfizer’s or Moderna’s mRNA technology. A year later, the risky bet definitely looks like a good one.
Being so close (and yet so far) is a stress all its own.
On February 25, I got my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine bright and early, picked up a breakfast burrito on the walk home, and spent the rest of the day sitting in my desk chair, doing what can only be described as vibing. I felt a little bit stoned, like I had taken a low-grade edible instead of being shot up with cutting-edge technology that would help end a year-long global disaster. This acute, mildly high feeling—“brain fog,” a known side effect of the vaccines—lasted about two days. As potential side effects go, it was rad.
More durable, though, was the strange feeling that began when I made my appointment. In the hours after scheduling my shot, I blew a deadline and was late to meet up with friends for a very cold outdoor hang. I was overcome with relief, everything felt slightly unreal, and the time-dependent obligations of my life faded to the periphery of my consciousness. In the two months since, the delirium has settled into something duller, less frantic—the keys are in the ignition, but my mind simply will not turn over.
Leaders in Myanmar, Hong Kong, and India see no issue in blaming former colonial overlords while using their repressive laws.
Late last month, the leader of Myanmar’s junta, Min Aung Hlaing, stood on a huge parade field to recount the military’s “immense prestige etched in the annals of history.” Hundreds of soldiers who had not been deployed to quell an uprising against the country’s coup marched in formation at dawn. Armored vehicles spewing black smoke rumbled alongside them.
The speech marked Myanmar’s annual Armed Forces Day, telling a soaring and selectively edited tale of the institution’s “glorious past.” As in most retellings of the country’s recent history, special attention was paid to the wrongdoings of its former colonial master and the way the military “annihilated the British Imperialists.” Indeed, Myanmar (also known as Burma) might have won independence in 1948, but almost all of the country’s ills—real and perceived—are still regularly blamed on the British.
Television, of late, has been obsessing over technological advances that don’t yet exist—rather than the innovations that are already changing our romantic lives.
On television these days, the near future tends to look like an Apple Store. Everything is gleaming white, a triumph of polymers and marble and Windex. Everything is shiny and unsullied by human fingerprints. On Made for Love, HBO Max’s zany new series about a woman who manages to escape what’s essentially a virtual-reality prison, the contrast between her pristine digital surroundings and her disheveled, pine-paneled childhood home makes for the show’s most effective comedy. On Starz’s third season of The Girlfriend Experience, which will debut in May and places its central character within a groundbreaking start-up in what seems to be the near future, all the messiest and most primal human experiences—eating, fucking, fighting—are rendered sterile, and bloodless. The clothes are made of latex and the gourmet dinners are sashimi, both smooth and chilly to the touch.