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?
A faction of the religious right has concluded that if liberal democracy does not guarantee victory, then it must be abandoned.
By the tail end of the Obama administration, the culture war seemed lost. The religious right sued for détente, having been swept up in one of the most rapid cultural shifts in generations. Gone were the decades of being able to count on attacking its traditional targets for political advantage. In 2013, Chuck Cooper, the attorney defending California’s ban on same-sex marriage, begged the justices to allow same-sex-marriage opponents to lose at the ballot box rather than in court. Conservatives such as George Will and Rod Dreher griped that LGBTQ activists were “sore winners,” intent on imposing their beliefs on prostrate Christians, who, after all, had already been defeated.
The rapidity of that cultural shift, though, should not obscure the contours of the society that the religious right still aspires to preserve: a world where women have no control over whether to carry a pregnancy to term, same-sex marriage is illegal, and gays and lesbians can be arrested and incarcerated for having sex in their own homes and be barred from raising children. The religious right showed no mercy and no charity toward these groups when it had the power to impose its will, but when it lost that power, it turned to invoking the importance of religious tolerance and pluralism in a democratic society.
Homes have gotten bigger, but Americans aren’t any more pleased with the extra space.
American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be. In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015.
This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later.
But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes. “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980,” writes Clément Bellet, a postdoctoral fellow at the European business school INSEAD, “house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs.”
Americans are hypochondriacs, yet we skip our checkups. We demand drugs we don’t need, and fail to take the ones we do. No wonder the U.S. leads the world in health spending.
I was standing two feet away when my 74-year-old father slugged an emergency-room doctor who was trying to get a blood-pressure cuff around his arm. I wasn’t totally surprised: An accomplished scientist who was sharp as a tack right to the end, my father had nothing but disdain for the entire U.S. health-care system, which he believed piled on tests and treatments intended to benefit its bottom line rather than his health. He typically limited himself to berating or rolling his eyes at the unlucky clinicians tasked with ministering to him, but more than once I could tell he was itching to escalate.
My father was what the medical literature traditionally labeled a “hateful patient,” a term since softened to “difficult patient.” Such patients are a small minority, but they consume a grossly disproportionate share of clinician attention. Nevertheless, most doctors and nurses learn to put up with them. The doctor my dad struck later apologized to me for not having shown more sensitivity in his cuff placement.
As several states move to limit exemptions to required vaccines, the actor hit a nerve in a larger debate about personal belief in science.
One morning in 1934, panicked passengers jumped from the deck of the SS Morro Castle as it sank just off the coast of New Jersey. The ocean liner had caught fire, and the passengers had rushed to grab personal flotation devices. But some improperly wrapped the life preservers around their necks. As they fell and hit the water, the torque snapped their spines.
Personal flotation devices save exponentially more lives than they cost. Of the catastrophic boating accidents that occur daily, 84 percent of people who drown were not wearing one. But etch the details of this horrific wreck scene into one’s mind, and a person might become a life-preserver skeptic. Our basic tendency toward short-term thinking means we judge risk based on whatever is in front of us. We draw anxiety disproportionately from wherever we happen to be focusing our attention.
Gibson’s Bakery, a family-owned business near Oberlin College accused of racism, just won a big payout.
The writer Jon Ronson once observed that every day in the social-media era, “a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping.” In Ronson’s 2015 book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, his subjects found themselves beset by angry detractors for, say, an insensitive Twitter joke or Facebook photo. They lost jobs, received threats, even pondered suicide. And they mostly retreated from view until the shame storm passed.
Today they might sue instead.
Last year, I reported on a lawsuit that a man accused of rape on the “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheet filed against the woman who had created and circulated the document.
In January, a viral video of the high-school student Nick Sandmann at a protest march in Washington, D.C., appeared to some to show him smirking at a Native American elder. That triggered a wave of inordinate social-media hate and flawed journalism. Now the young man who was at the bottom of the pile-on is suing The Washington Post for $250 million, NBC for $275 million, and CNN for $275 million.
“I was struck by how much shame there was in Eat Pray Love, and how apologetic I was as a narrator.”
Like Spinal Tap, Elizabeth Gilbert goes to 11. Whether it’s the depths of her despair in Eat, Pray, Love, the intensity of her research in her fiction, or the openness with which she shares her life—romantic and otherwise—with her rabid fans, she lives in bold.
Gilbert has something of a two-track career toggling between carefully crafted fiction and confessional creative essays. The latter, of course, made her a guru for thousands of women who longed for similar arcs of self-discovery and thrilling lives. Now, after the death of her partner Rayya Elias, Gilbert has written a new novel, City of Girls, set in 1940s New York. The work follows a privileged woman’s adventures, headstrong mistakes, and growing self-knowledge. It’s sprawling and colorful, with characters firing off dialogue that would fit in a Howard Hawks movie. I spoke with her about her book, her craft, and what it means to be Elizabeth Gilbert. This interview has been edited and condensed.
A growing pattern of attacks across Europe is as much about electoral opportunity as a conflict of ideas.
When Federico Batini, an Italian academic, wanted to research classroom bullying, he distributed a questionnaire to 54 schools in central Italy. The survey was carried out in partnership with local education authorities and sought to explore the extent to which young people faced racial, homophobic, or gender-based discrimination from their peers.
But instead of learning more about students’ experiences, Batini found his name smeared in the national media and his research abruptly discontinued. A senator from the far-right League party condemned Batini’s questionnaire as “gender indoctrination.” A national conservative daily, La Verità, berated the survey as “crazy gender ideology.” Then the Italian education minister, Marco Bussetti, a member of the League, blocked the questionnaire altogether.
American analysts keep trying to fit the country into familiar patterns—ignoring the many ways in which it’s an exception.
Thirty years ago this week, I watched the news from Beijing and started shredding my bedding. It was the night before my college graduation, I had been studying Chinese politics, and news had broken that college students just like us had been gunned down in Tiananmen Square after weeks of peaceful and exhilarating democracy protests—carried on international TV. In the iconic square where Mao Zedong had proclaimed the People’s Republic decades before, bespectacled students from China’s best universities had camped out, putting up posters with slogans of freedom in Chinese and English. A “goddess of democracy” figure modeled after the Statue of Liberty embodied their hopes—and ours—for political liberation in China.
After a lopsided World Cup game, the focus was once again on how female athletes behave, not on what they’ve achieved.
It was Megan Rapinoe’s goal in the 79th minute that really seemed to tick people off. Rapinoe, the vivacious U.S. women’s national soccer team forward with pink hair, ran with outstretched arms, spun around a couple times, then slid to the ground and kicked her right heel high in the air several times.
A whole lot of people were big mad at Rapinoe, whose goal made it 9–0 over Thailand, a team the U.S. thoroughly dominated in its opening World Cup match on Tuesday. The Americans eventually won 13–0. But, rather than being praised for setting a World Cup record for scoring the most goals in the tournament’s history and securing the largest margin of victory ever, the win turned into a debate about sportsmanship.
Interviews with the House speaker’s old friends and colleagues offer a window into her reluctance to pull the pin on a political grenade.
When Republicans voted on impeachment more than 20 years ago, Nancy Pelosi was right there on the House floor, watching as the GOP plunged headfirst into the process without broad public support or the clear prospect of conviction in the Senate. For many establishment Democrats of a certain age—say, those who are now eligible for Medicare—the lesson from that time is clear: Impeaching Bill Clinton was a bad idea that hurt the presidency, the country, and most of all, the House Republican majority.
How Pelosi handles the growing calls from her caucus to begin removal proceedings against Donald Trump will illuminate the degree to which she herself believes that lesson. But as she struggles to manage pressure from roughly a quarter of House Democrats, interviews with some of her old friends and colleagues, and others who were in the trenches of the Clinton impeachment battle, offer a window into Pelosi’s reluctance to pull the pin on that particular grenade just yet. For now, she seems to be keeping her options open, waiting to see whether Congress can unearth new allegations that might shift public opinion.