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?
Through the 2016 campaign, I posted a series called “Trump Time Capsule” in this space. The idea was to record, in real time, what was known about Donald Trump’s fitness for office—and to do so not when people were looking back on our era but while the Republican Party was deciding whether to line up behind him and voters were preparing to make their choice.
The series reached 152 installments by election day. I argued that even then there was no doubt of Trump’s mental, emotional, civic, and ethical unfitness for national leadership. If you’re hazy on the details, the series is (once again) here.
That background has equipped me to view Trump’s performance in office as consistently shocking but rarely surprising. He lied on the campaign trail, and he lies in office. He insulted women, minorities, “the other” as a candidate, and he does it as a president. He led “lock her up!” cheers at the Republican National Convention and he smiles at “send them back!” cheers now. He did not know how the “nuclear triad” worked then, and he does not know how tariffs work now. He flared at perceived personal slights when they came from Senator John McCain, and he does so when they come from the Prime Minister of Denmark. He is who he was.
Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out.
In the summer of 1987, I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and headed northeast to attend Yale. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at various universities—the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees along the way. Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy.
Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders.
The president crossed an important line when he canceled a meeting with the Danish prime minister.
Yesterday, President Donald Trump canceled a meeting with the new Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, because she refuses to discuss the sale of Greenland. Greenland used to be a Danish colony but now belongs to the people of Greenland—the Danish government could not sell the island even if it wanted to. Trump likely did not know that Denmark is one of America’s most reliable allies. Danish troops, for example, fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered 50 fatalities, and Danish forces were among the earliest to join the fight against the Islamic State.
Many Americans may laugh off Trump’s latest outrage, but Trump crossed an important line. It is one thing to float a cockamamie idea that no one believes is serious or will go anywhere. “Let’s buy Greenland!” Yes, very funny. A good distraction from the economy, the failure to deal with white supremacy, White House staff problems, or whatever is the news of the day. It is quite another to use leverage and impose costs on Denmark in pursuit of that goal—and make no mistake, canceling a presidential visit is using leverage and imposing costs. What’s next, refusing to exempt Denmark from various tariffs because it won’t discuss Greenland? Musing on Twitter that America’s defense commitments to Denmark are conditional on the negotiation? Intellectual justifications from Trump-friendly publications, citing previous purchase proposals and noting Greenland’s strategic value and abundance of natural resources? (That last one has already happened.)
What speech should be protected by the First Amendment is open to debate. Americans can, and should, argue about what the law ought to be. That’s what free people do. But while we’re all entitled to our own opinions, we’re not entitled to our own facts, even in 2019. In fact, the First Amendment is broad, robust, aggressively and consistently protected by the Supreme Court, and not subject to the many exceptions and qualifications that commentators seek to graft upon it. The majority of contemptible, bigoted speech is protected.
He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention.
Every morning of my Joe Rogan experience began the same way Joe Rogan begins his: with the mushroom coffee.
It’s a pour-and-stir powder made from lion’s mane and chaga—“two rock-star mushrooms,” according to Joe—and it’s made by a company called Four Sigmatic, a regular advertiser on Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast. As a coffee lover, the mere existence of mushroom coffee offends me. (“I’ll have your most delicious thing, made from your least delicious things, please,” a friend said, scornfully.) But it tastes fine, and even better after another cup of actual coffee.
Next, I took several vitamin supplements from a company called Onnit, whose core philosophy is “total human optimization” and whose website sells all kinds of wicked-cool fitness gear—a Darth Vader kettlebell ($199.95); a 50-foot roll of two-and-a-half-inch-thick battle rope ($249.95); a 25-pound quad mace ($147.95), which according to one fitness-equipment site is a weapon dating back to 11th-century Persia. I stuck to the health products, though, because you know how it goes—you buy one quad mace and soon your apartment is filled with them. I stirred a packet of Onnit Gut Health powder into my mushroom coffee, then downed an enormous pair of Alpha Brain pills, filled with nootropics to help with “memory and focus.”
They are endangering both American citizens and American ideals at large.
I haven’t seen Justice Hans Linde in more than a decade, but I thought of him last Saturday, when I found myself locked in a science museum with frightened parents and children while neofascist thugs marched by. Hans was a child in Weimar Germany; I suspect he would have known how I was feeling.
The museum was the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, in Portland. The occasion was a rally organized by the Proud Boys, an all-male group that exalts “Western values” and promotes Islamophobia. Other affiliated groups joined in—a loose conglomeration of racists, chauvinists, and just plain thugs. Some of them were connected to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two years ago, at which a right-wing marcher drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman named Heather Heyer. The Proud Boys aren’t from Portland, but they have selected the Rose City as the site for their rallies, threats, and clashes with local “antifa,” or antifascist activists. The rally Saturday was nominally to demand that Portland suppress the antifa groups so that the Proud Boys can march unopposed whenever they choose.
The U.S. president canceled his visit to the kingdom over his failed attempt to buy Greenland. Danes are reacting with bewilderment, anger, and humor.
COPENHAGEN—At first there was disbelief, then anger, and then, following a script now familiar to a growing number of nations, Denmark turned, in its attempt to explain the inexplicable, to speculation. After waking yesterday morning to the news that the president of the United States had canceled a state visit that he himself had requested, Danes found themselves moving through the stages of Donald Trump grief.
Trump tweeted early yesterday here, just two weeks before he was to come to Denmark, that the trip was off. “Based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting,” he wrote. (His tweet was sent just hours after Carla Sands, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, tweeted: “Denmark is ready for the POTUS.”)
The famed economist’s “shareholder theory” provides corporations with too much room to violate consumers’ rights and trust.
On Monday, the Business Roundtable, a group that represents CEOs of big corporations, declared that it had changed its mind about the “purpose of a corporation.” That purpose is no longer to maximize profits for shareholders, but to benefit other “stakeholders” as well, including employees, customers, and citizens.
While the statement is a welcome repudiation of a highly influential but spurious theory of corporate responsibility, this new philosophy will not likely change the way corporations behave. The only way to force corporations to act in the public interest is to subject them to legal regulation.
The shareholder theory is usually credited to Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate. In a famous 1970 New York Timesarticle, Friedman argued that because the CEO is an “employee” of the shareholders, he or she must act in their interest, which is to give them the highest return possible. Friedman pointed out that if a CEO acts otherwise—let’s say, donates corporate funds to an environmental cause or to an anti-poverty program—the CEO must get those funds from customers (through higher prices), workers (through lower wages), or shareholders (through lower returns). But then the CEO is just imposing a “tax” on other people, and using the funds for a social cause that he or she has no particular expertise in. It would be better to let customers, workers, or investors use that money to make their own charitable contributions if they wish to.
The debate over Britain leaving the European Union has polarized the country and normalized what was previously unthinkable.
Brexit isn’t what it used to be. In the months immediately after Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, two flavors were on offer—“hard” and “soft.” A soft Brexit generally meant leaving the bloc’s political structures but not its economic ones, such as the single market for goods and services. The hard version meant leaving those, too. Crucially, both versions would see Britain formally agree to a new relationship with the EU.
“In the summer of 2016, everyone was a soft Brexiter, really,” Anand Menon, a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, told me.
Now no one is. The political landscape is polarized. What was once considered “hard” is now denounced by the loudest Brexiteers as a squalid compromise. Instead, “no deal” has become the purest, truest form of Brexit—“No deal is the best deal,” the official account of the Brexit Party, the most doctrinaire of Brexit-supporting groups, recently tweeted.
Hundreds of people say a Michigan doctor falsely diagnosed them with epilepsy. He wouldn’t be the first to lie to patients about how sick they are.
The headaches started when Mariah Martinez was 10 years old. It was 2003, and she was living in Dearborn, Michigan, with her mother and two sisters. Whenever a headache struck, she would want to put her head down, stay in the dark, and be alone.
Martinez saw her primary-care physician, who referred her to Yasser Awaad, a pediatric neurologist at a hospital that was then known as Oakwood Healthcare. Right away, Martinez told me, Awaad ordered an electroencephalogram, or EEG, a test that uses electrodes to detect abnormal electrical activity in the brain. In a small room, Martinez was wrapped in bandages and had wires placed all over her head. The procedure required her to be sleep-deprived; she came in on one or two hours of sleep after staying up much of the night watching TV.