Highlights From the Aspen Ideas Festival
Video excerpts from six days of debate and discussion
Video excerpts from six days of debate and discussion
The look made famous by the platform just doesn’t resonate anymore.
As Instagram has grown to more than 1 billion monthly users, it has ushered in a very particular look: bright walls, artfully arranged lattes and avocado toast, and Millennial-pink everything, all with that carefully staged, color-corrected, glossy-looking aesthetic. Photos that play into these trends perform so well on Instagram that the look became synonymous with the platform itself, then seeped into the broader world. Even if you don’t use the app, you’ve undoubtedly encountered an “Instagram wall,” a pop-up experience like the Museum of Ice Cream, or a brightly patterned restaurant bathroom just made to be photographed.
No one has capitalized on this look’s popularity more than influencers. Some have even started to make thousands of dollars on photo presets that warp anyone’s pictures to fit this mold. But every trend has a shelf life, and as quickly as Instagram ushered in pink walls and pastel macaroons, it’s now turning on them. “Avocado toast and posts on the beach. It’s so generic and played out at this point. You can photoshop any girl into that background and it will be the same post,” said Claire, a 15-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym because of her age. “It’s not cool anymore to be manufactured.”
The Fox News host squandered an interview with the most powerful man in America.
Last night, I expected Sean Hannity would fail the American public similarly in his interview with President Donald Trump. But it wouldn’t be fair to beer-guzzling amateurs playing recreational slow-pitch to compare what I saw to softball.
T-ball is closer to the mark.
At the interview’s end, Hannity said this about his approach to asking questions: “Sometimes I know when you do other interviews that people want to play gotcha. But every once in a while, I think it’s important for the American people to hear you in answer in your own words at length on some important issues.”
By focusing on bizarre hypotheticals, candidates keep falling into the traps we’ve seen before.
In a week during which, among other things, the White House defied multiple congressional subpoenas, the commander in chief threatened armed conflict with Mexico, and we learned that the number of Americans breathing unsafe air is at an all-time high, presidential politics was largely consumed by the following question: Should the Boston Marathon bomber be allowed to vote from jail? The odds of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev swinging an election from death row are approximately zero. But if Democrats aren’t careful, the odds of these inconsequential controversies dominating election season are dismayingly high.
Outlier hypotheticals have, of course, been around for quite a while. The most famous example came at the beginning of an October 1988 debate between the presidential candidates Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush. “If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered,” CNN’s Bernard Shaw asked the Massachusetts governor, “Would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”
Our very attempts to stave off disaster make unpredictable outcomes more likely.
Accidents are part of life. So are catastrophes. Two of Boeing’s new 737 Max 8 jetliners, arguably the most modern of modern aircraft, crashed in the space of less than five months. A cathedral whose construction started in the 12th century burned before our eyes, despite explicit fire-safety procedures and the presence of an on-site firefighter and a security agent. If Notre-Dame stood for so many centuries, why did safeguards unavailable to prior generations fail? How did modernizing the venerable Boeing 737 result in two horrific crashes, even as, on average, air travel is safer than ever before?
These are questions for investigators and committees. They are also fodder for accident theorists. Take Charles Perrow, a sociologist who published an account of accidents occurring in human-machine systems in 1984. Now something of a cult classic, Normal Accidents made a case for the obvious: Accidents happen. What he meant is that they must happen. Worse, according to Perrow, a humbling cautionary tale lurks in complicated systems: Our very attempts to stave off disaster by introducing safety systems ultimately increases the overall complexity of the systems, ensuring that some unpredictable outcome will rear its ugly head no matter what. Complicated human-machine systems might surprise us with outcomes more favorable than we have any reason to expect. They also might shock us with catastrophe.
It’s much less scientific—and more prone to gratuitous procedures—than you may think.
In the early 2000s Terry Mitchell’s dentist retired. For a while, Mitchell, an electrician in his 50s, stopped seeking dental care altogether. But when one of his wisdom teeth began to ache, he started looking for someone new. An acquaintance recommended John Roger Lund, whose practice was a convenient 10-minute walk from Mitchell’s home, in San Jose, California. Lund’s practice was situated in a one-story building with clay roof tiles that housed several dental offices. The interior was a little dated, but not dingy. The waiting room was small and the decor minimal: some plants and photos, no fish. Lund was a good-looking middle-aged guy with arched eyebrows, round glasses, and graying hair that framed a youthful face. He was charming, chatty, and upbeat. At the time, Mitchell and Lund both owned Chevrolet Chevelles, and they bonded over their mutual love of classic cars.
Fifty-five years ago, a congressman made a single addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that changed everything.
Because of sex. Over the past 55 years, that single three-letter word has had momentous legal and social consequences for American life that the man who inserted it into the 1964 Civil Rights Act on a wintry Saturday morning could never have imagined. And now that the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether that landmark law forbids employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the adaptive power and enduring meaning of that plain little word is about to be tested once more.
On February 8, 1964, as the House of Representatives debated passage of the bill, Howard Smith, an ardent segregationist from Virginia, rose to propose changes to four pages of Title VII, the section of the bill barring hiring and firing “because of” race, creed, religion, or color. “After the word religion, insert sex,” Smith drawled, urging his colleagues to rectify “this grave injustice … particularly in an election year.”
Mick Mulvaney wants you to know that he’s no narc like John Kelly.
Here’s the thing, Mick Mulvaney says, sitting in his West Wing office on Wednesday afternoon: He knows that Donald Trump’s administration doesn’t always make good on conservative ideals. He knows that they’re “spending a bunch of money on stuff we’re not supposed to,” and that all the excess doesn’t comport well with his own reputation as a fiscal hawk and Tea Party darling during his congressional days, before he became acting White House chief of staff.
At ease as he pages through work papers, Mulvaney seems the opposite of John Kelly, the retired Marine Corps general painted as a conflicted soul who despised running the White House. “When I got here, morale wasn’t what it needed to be,” Mulvaney told us. “I don’t think I’m telling any secrets—John hated the job. And let everybody know.” He cheerfully extolled his relationship with Trump, joking that he’d gained 10 pounds since becoming chief. (“I eat more with the president now,” he said. “He eats hamburgers all the time.”)
The former vice president pondered running in 2016, but Obama wanted Hillary Clinton.
Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden, watching Joe Biden announce that he wasn’t going to run for president—exactly what he wanted and had helped make happen.
Four years later, the president has come a long way on his views of a Biden run.
For many Democrats, Biden’s 2020 announcement today is the bookend to the anxiety and regret they’ve been filled with since Election Night 2016, when they watched the “blue wall” of midwestern states fall away from Hillary Clinton: He would have held on to those white working-class voters and beaten Donald Trump, they believe. He would have won.
“It’s one of the great imponderables,” Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who supported Clinton but immediately endorsed Biden today, told me hours before the former vice president released a campaign video that he will follow with events in Pittsburgh and a tour of the early primary states over the next two weeks.
A software program called “Annie” uses machine learning to place refugees in cities where they are most likely to be welcomed and find success.
PITTSBURGH—Half a world away from the refugee camp in Uganda where he lived for a dozen years, Baudjo Njabu tells me about his first winter in the United States.
“The biggest challenge is the cold,” he said in Swahili, speaking through an interpreter. We’re sitting on dining chairs in his sparsely furnished living room. Outside, snow covers the grass on the other side of the glass patio doors that lead to the back of the townhouse he is renting in western Pittsburgh. Njabu recounts how his children missed school recently because the bus was delayed and they couldn’t bear the frigid temperatures. His daughter and two sons sit with their mother on a leather couch nearby, half-listening to his replies, distracted by their cellphones and an old Western playing on the television.
These strange, barren halos are thought to be the work of fearful fish—but the reality is far more complicated.
The last decade of Elizabeth Madin’s work began with one day of terrible weather.
In 2010 she and her husband, Joshua, both ecologists, flew to Heron Island in Australia to study how fishing influences the creatures of the Great Barrier Reef. But they arrived to find strong winds and rough seas that constrained them to the beach. While trying to work out how to spend her time while the elements calmed down, Madin happened across a large satellite image of the island and its surrounding lagoon. That’s when she noticed the rings.
The lagoon is full of “patch reefs”—isolated chunks of coral that can be as small as a melon or can span acres. Regardless of size, these chunks are often encircled by barren rings of sand, which separate them from the algae and seagrass that lie further afield. “It’s a teeming city on the reef and then when you move away, it’s like a desert,” says Madin. These bare circles are obvious to swimmers, but they’re also visible on satellite images like the one Madin found.
The National Hockey League insisted that Todd Ewen’s death wasn’t related to his hockey career. Science suggests otherwise.
A trans man offers a unique perspective on the internalization of masculinity.
What’s the difference between Buddhist detachment and demotivation?