Updated on May 29, 2023, at 1:48 a.m. ET
This article contains spoilers through the Season 4 finale of Succession.
Talk about a ludicrously capacious feast. After the Roy siblings finally agreed to back Kendall (played by Jeremy Strong) as their leader in the series finale of Succession, they commemorated the call with “a meal fit for a king”: a vomit-colored (and likely vomit-flavored) smoothie that included, among other unappetizing ingredients, bread, raw eggs, Branston pickles, and spit. Kendall gamely drank until he couldn’t, and then had the rest poured over his head like a slimy crown.
I felt as if I’d been gulping the meal down myself as I watched the episode—an equal parts hilarious, repulsive, and sensational end to one of the most enthralling series of our era. Sure, the eleventh-hour boardroom battle was to be expected for a show that has thrived off cutthroat corporate tactics, but the dramatic developments along the way kept me guessing—not only about who would end up leading Waystar Royco, the company Logan Roy (Brian Cox) left behind, but about who among these ruthless point-one-percenters could ever escape the vicious cycle instilled by the late patriarch. In the end, none of the Roy siblings won the throne Logan vacated. Shiv (Sarah Snook) schemed to stay close to power without guarantees of wielding any, forcing Kendall and Roman (Kieran Culkin) to exit the company. All three are left adrift, traumatized once again by the world in which they were raised, and the choices made by their late father—but perhaps more free.
Succession ended in a satisfying yet stomach-churning fashion. Consider the way the episode indulged in levity in the scenes leading up to the contentious board vote. Kendall, Roman, and Shiv reunited at their mother’s mansion, a paradise at which they could bask on a terrace and lounge by a pool while accusing each other of disloyalty. Roman and Shiv joked about killing Kendall, while debating whether—and seemingly agreeing—to support him. Moments of tenderness came with pain: Kendall gave Roman a hug when his little brother seemed to be getting cold feet about handing over control of the company, but gripped him hard enough to make his head wound bleed. And when Shiv needed a moment to collect her thoughts, Kendall and Roman tried to check on her, only for the trio to fight loudly and physically until Shiv fully changed her mind. They’re, as Logan once put it, “not serious people,” yet forced to handle a serious and consequential task. And the more they tussled, the more the episode seemed to be setting them up for failure.
Which is why, when Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard), the founder of GoJo, the company buying Waystar Royco, sidestepped Shiv and chose her husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) to be his
CEO, the move felt both surprising and inevitable. Tom, the character I’d called the most pathetic man on Succession a few weeks ago, had obediently performed every servile task, taking his role so seriously he was willing to go to prison for Logan—a boar on the floor through and through. He succeeded because he was happy doing whatever it took to be admired by those in power, unlike the Roy kids, who have only ever known extreme wealth. Yet his new position is a small victory. As Matsson put it, Tom would be his minion, cleaning up his messes and taking on the work Matsson won’t touch. “It’s gonna get nasty,” Matsson told him. “I need a pain sponge, when I’m under the hood, doing what I love, you know?”
It’s a line that recalls, of all people, Connor’s insult to his siblings earlier this season: that they were “love sponges,” doomed to fight for proof that Logan cared for them. And if Tom became the poster boy for the stifling, claustrophobic nature of the corporate world, perhaps the real winners are characters who are no longer sponges at all. Both Kendall and Roman walk away without their jobs but billions of dollars instead, untethered from the company they’d been fighting over. They’re free, in other words. Logan’s legacy was cruel; Waystar Royco maybe got a far-right white-supremacist politician elected president, covered up deaths and sexual assaults on their cruise lines, and whatever else the show never got around to portraying. He may have told each of his children to expect the reins, but none of them were ever truly ready for the position; now, Kendall and Roman, at least, have the chance to move on from caring about Logan’s wishes. “We are bullshit,” Roman told Kendall shortly after Shiv announced that she switched her mind to support the GoJo deal. “You are bullshit. I’m fucking bullshit… It’s all fucking nothing.”
Succession has often been cyclical in its plot, and this episode certainly indulged in callbacks to the pilot. There was Tom trying to make sure Matsson liked him, the same way he agonized over choosing the right birthday gift to give to Logan. There was the entrepreneur Lawrence Yee, back in play after Kendall betrayed him. And there was Kendall, promised something only for it to be ripped away at the last minute. Yet in the final scene, Kendall wasn’t in the Waystar Royco offices, looking down on the city from up above, or hidden in the back of an SUV like he was when the series began, shielded from the rest of the world. He’s outside, gazing at the sunset over the Hudson River. He’d better learn to like the view.
Kate Bingham, who chaired UK’s Covid vaccine taskforce, tells Hay festival she hopes mind-altering drugs could treat mental illness
The former chair of the UK’s Covid vaccine taskforce has described the use of psychedelics to treat depression as an “area of real excitement” in a talk at the Hay literary festival in Wales.
Speaking at a panel event alongside the UK government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Kate Bingham said she was hopeful that the drugs could have a positive impact on mental ill health.Continue reading…
Att bo i villa- eller radhusförort tycks vara en riskfaktor för depression, enligt en ny studie. I glesbygd och i förorter med höghus är risken lägre. "Märkligt", säger forskarna – som ändå har förklaringar till hur det kan hänga ihop.
Inlägget Ökad risk för depression i villa- och radhusförorter, enligt forskare dök först upp på forskning.se.
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38726-9The trade-off between grain number and grain weight is a major obstacle for increasing rice yield. Here, the authors show that variation in 5’ UTR of OsMADS17 can simultaneously increase grain number and grain weight through decreasing mRNA translation efficiency.
Att bo tätt ökar inte risken för psykisk ohälsa. Däremot finns ett tydligt samband mellan depression och villa- och radhusområden, enligt en ny studie.
Inlägget Villa- och radhusförorter ökar risken för depression, enligt forskare dök först upp på forskning.se.
This should be comforting, but it is unsettling
When I was eight, my mother made a Halloween costume for me for a party I was going to. Even at eight, this seemed like an important party. The costume was beautiful, as the things my mother made often were: more beautiful than a child’s thing ought to be, more beautiful than a mother ought to be able to make after work.
It was a skeleton costume: a unitard made from stocking fabric, painted with fluorescent paint; I remember the care she took to make the bones accurate, to make them just my size, matching femur to femur.Continue reading…
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38853-3Chromatographic enantioseparation requires tedious trials to find proper experimental conditions. Here, the authors construct a deep learning model to predict retention times of chiral molecules and obtain the separation probability under given conditions.
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38719-8Daly, Danson and colleagues employ a multi-omic approach in neuroglioma cells to characterise endolysosomal dysfunction caused by perturbation of the evolutionarily conserved Retromer complex, highlighting Retromer’s neuroprotective function.
For those who want to build a landing page for their products, I found that https://www.waibsites.com/ can help you do that.
It generates the marketing text for you and you can download the codebase thereafter.
You even have Stripe integration and advanced analytics with Vercel.
The design of my page is also amazing!
Editor’s Note: On the last Monday of each month, Lori Gottlieb answers a reader’s question about a problem, big or small. Have a question? Email her at email@example.com.
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My stepdaughter is 35 years old and has been in a relationship with a 38-year-old man for five years. He is an only child with odd parents and is a bit odd himself. It takes so much patience to deal with his idiosyncrasies—such as his food habits, for example.
He comes to our house for holiday meals and never brings anything, but comes with containers to take food home. He never buys gifts for my stepdaughter. They have been going to weddings of her friends, but it doesn’t occur to him to think of marriage or making a commitment to her.
She bought her own condo three years ago, but he seems content with a tiny apartment. She is sort of resigned to this dead-end relationship, but I need a good way to convince her that she can move on. Help.
Many people can relate to your dilemma of anxiously watching someone they care about make what seems to them like a bad choice in life. Understandably, you want your stepdaughter to be happy, and your concern comes from a place of love. But love, especially in parenting, can be complicated, because sometimes love can lead us to confuse our own desires and values with those of our children. This is true when they’re young and doesn’t necessarily get any easier as they move through adulthood and the consequences of their choices become more significant.
You asked for a good way to persuade your stepdaughter to move on, but the more important question you need to answer is how you can express your love by offering the support that serves her best. This is where gaining clarity on the line between her feelings and yours comes in.
Specifically, I notice that when you describe your stepdaughter’s boyfriend, you don’t say who is bothered by him and his behaviors. For instance, whose patience is tested by what you call his idiosyncrasies—hers, yours, or both? Has she expressed frustration that he doesn’t buy her gifts, or are you assuming she feels as you might in this situation? Do you know that marriage “doesn’t occur to him” when they go to friends’ weddings based on her sharing that with you, or are you simply guessing because they aren’t engaged? Once you distinguish any assumptions you might be making from what your stepdaughter is actually experiencing, you’ll know how to support her well-being.
Let’s say that she has discussed with you her unhappiness over the various issues you mention in your letter. In that case, the most helpful thing you can do for her is to simply listen and ask nonjudgmental questions, while keeping your opinions to yourself. If she says, “His idiosyncrasies are hard to deal with,” instead of responding with “I know, I think he’s very odd!,” you can say, “Have you considered talking to him about your frustration?” If she says she has but he’s unwilling to be more flexible, instead of saying, “See, that’s why you should leave him!,” you can say, “That sounds really hard. How are you feeling about that?” Similarly, if she says, “He never buys me gifts,” instead of calling him a cheapskate or selfish, you can say, “Have you told him how you feel about this?” If she says she hasn’t, you might ask, “What’s keeping you from being open with him?” If she says she has but his response feels invalidating (“I don’t believe in gifts”), you could say, “I can imagine how hurtful it must feel when you’re with someone who doesn’t respond to what you need.”
This is called supportive reflection, and you can apply it to all of her complaints. If she makes a comment about his not having her level of ambition or lifestyle preferences, instead of insulting his choices or character, you could say, “How are the two of you working through this difference?” And if she expresses concern about his interest in marriage, you can ask, “Are the two of you talking openly about your goals and his, and whether they align on a timetable that realistically works for both of you, given that you’ve spent five years together?” If she shares that she’s “resigned” to staying in a “dead-end relationship,” you might say, “It breaks my heart to see you in a relationship that isn’t making you happy. I wonder if seeing a therapist might help you see your worth more clearly.”
One mistake many well-meaning parents make in trying to protect their children from wasting time with someone they view as the wrong partner is becoming so aggressively critical of the partner that their children no longer feel comfortable voicing their own ambivalence about the relationship. Instead, the children wind up feeling an even stronger need to defend their partner and hide any issues that do come up and for which they might otherwise want your guidance and support. Moreover, if they eventually get married, they’ll always know that their parents think that their spouse (and perhaps the mother or father of their future children) is a loser.
By listening and asking questions, you’re directing these concerns back to your stepdaughter so she can give them some thought herself while also implying that instead of telling you what she doesn’t like, she should be talking about these issues with her boyfriend. If she and her boyfriend can’t communicate openly and take each other’s needs seriously—or if their needs and desires are incompatible—they will be far better off confronting these realities together rather than using that valuable time to vent to you. Most important, you’re reflecting back to her that she is worthy of being in a fulfilling relationship that aligns with her needs and life goals, and, by implication, that if that isn’t possible with this particular person, she deserves to find it elsewhere.
Remember that even with your support, your stepdaughter might not change her mind. We can’t protect our children from the mistakes (perceived or real) they make in life, but we can always provide supportive guidance along the way and make sure to be there for them if things go badly.
However, if the concerns you write about are yours alone, the best way to support your stepdaughter’s well-being is to take steps to contain your own anxiety about her choices. Although the kind of relationship she’s in might not appeal to you, you’re going to need to get genuinely curious about why it appeals to her. Find out what she likes about her boyfriend by trying to see him through her eyes and take in the entirety of who he is. Ask her what she loves about him so you can get to know him better. Listen more closely for the positive stories she tells about him and their relationship. Most people are not all good or all bad, and focusing on his positive aspects, if he does make your stepdaughter happy, will help you offer the kind of love and support you seem eager to provide.
Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.
Monic Uriarte was thrilled to get approved for an affordable apartment in Los Angeles’ University Park, close to USC. But soon after she and her family moved there in 2004, they started experiencing headaches and other illnesses.
Her mother was diagnosed with asthma at age 70. Her daughter had to sleep propped up because she’d get nosebleeds so bad she’d choke. On sweltering days, when they opened the windows, they noticed the air had a nauseatingly sweet taste.
Uriarte eventually learned they’d moved into an apartment just 30 feet from an area with dozens of oil wells and a gas processing facility, hidden behind layers of brick and iron and trees.
“Our bodies were the oil company’s filters,” Uriarte said.
That realization kick-started Uriarte’s career as an environmental activist. Now she’s advocating for a statewide measure, backed by climate and environmental groups, that would impose what is likely the strongest law in the nation to hold oil and gas companies accountable when their operations make people sick. The bill, SB 556, comes on the heels of an industry-funded referendum campaign that halted a law to create buffer zones, or “setbacks,” between oil and gas wells and homes, schools, parks and health clinics.
It also emerges in the context of
Supreme Court ruling on April 24 that allows lawsuits filed by cities and states against fossil fuel companies over climate change to move forward in state courts. Hundreds of such climate cases have been filed worldwide, but SB 556 may be the first policy that would specifically link drilling to paid compensation for acute health impacts. It’s already passed out of an important legislative committee, despite a pro-business law group’s warning that it would be extremely difficult to attribute harm to specific wells.
In the last decade, much more research on the harmful effects of oil and gas wells on human health has been published, including their disproportionate impacts on low-income communities, where the dirtiest and most productive wells are often located. Chronic exposure is as harmful as breathing freeway exhaust or secondhand smoke. A recent study that examined the health of residents living within the Las Cienegas Oil Field in South Los Angeles — where Uriarte lived with her family — found that people within 200 meters (656 feet) and downwind from wells reported symptoms including wheezing, eye and nose irritation, sore throats, dizziness, and weaker lungs overall.
SB 556 says children or seniors diagnosed with lung ailments, those who endure dangerous pregnancies and residents diagnosed with cancer who live within 3,200 feet of an active well can sue companies and their board members. The payout runs between $250,000 and $1 million, with potential for doubling or tripling penalties as a “deterrent.” About 2.76 million people in California live within that zone, according to FracTracker. State prosecuting authorities would also have the ability to sue companies to recoup costs for public health programs.
California’s own scientific advisory panel affirmed “with a high level of certainty” that close proximity to wells is associated with perinatal and respiratory harms.
Companies would be presumed guilty from the onset and bear the burden of proving that their operations didn’t make a claimant sick. A legislative analysis says that while this approach is “extraordinary,” it isn’t totally without precedent. Regulations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and North Carolina hold oil drillers presumptively responsible for groundwater contamination near wells.
Beth Kent, a fellow in environmental law and policy at UCLA who hasn’t been involved with the bill, pointed to conclusions from the state’s own advisory panel in 2021 as evidence that the legislation’s central mechanism could hold up in court. The California Oil and Gas Public Health Rulemaking Scientific Advisory Panel affirmed “with a high level of certainty” that close proximity to wells is associated with perinatal and respiratory harms.
“That’s a strong hook for the causation argument,” Kent told Capital & Main.
The bill was inspired in part by the industry’s referendum campaign, which was accused of using misinformation to mislead voters and stopped California from implementing the setbacks law, according to Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). The law’s future will be decided by voters in November 2024.
“I think [SB 556] is timely and it keeps up the momentum, and hopefully doesn’t allow residents to feel like their voices — even though [the setbacks law] is in limbo — that their voices aren’t heard,” said Gonzalez, author of SB 556.
As a result of the pending referendum, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration asked lawmakers to eliminate a $2.24 million budget request to implement the setbacks law. The money would have funded nine regulators.
Representatives from the Western States Petroleum Association and the Civil Justice Association of California, a group that advocates for business protections from litigation, argued the bill’s proposals for companies to avoid liability were vague. They also said it’s impossible to prove a well caused an illness, rather than another source, such as tailpipe emissions from diesel trucks.
“This would almost eliminate oil production in California,” warned Paul Deiro, the senior director at WSPA, at a hearing.
The bill also makes companies “jointly and severally” liable, meaning one could attempt to recoup costs from other suspected polluters if the first company believes a person’s ill health was the result of other sources besides its oil and gas wells.
“I prefer to have good health than millions of dollars in my bank account. I would prefer that my daughter was never diagnosed with cancer.”FORMER UNIVERSITY PARK RESIDENT MONIC URIARTE
For Uriarte, who no longer lives near wells, ending all urban drilling should be the state’s goal. Last year her daughter, Nalleli Cobo, won a prestigious environmental justice prize for her work with her mother organizing residents against the oil drilling site. Cobo was diagnosed in 2020 with reproductive cancer, which Uriarte suspects may have been caused by pollution from the wells.
Listen to Nalleli Cobo’s story. Air date: Sept. 7, 2021
The site, operated by the company AllenCo, shut down in 2013. A criminal case filed by the city of L.A. against AllenCo grinds on. The California Geologic Energy Management Division, which oversees the plugging of old wells, told Capital & Main it finished depressurizing the wells in January.
Uriarte says she’s advocating on behalf of all her friends and former neighbors who still live near active oil and gas sites, as well as poor people worldwide who bear the brunt of climate change.
“I prefer to have good health than millions of dollars in my bank account. I would prefer that my daughter was never diagnosed with cancer,” Uriarte said.
Farther south, in the L.A. community of Wilmington, Dulce Altamirano’s home is about a mile away from a Phillips 66 oil refinery and an oil drilling site owned by Warren E&P, and a few blocks from the 110 Freeway. She likely wouldn’t qualify for compensation under SB 556’s terms, but she’s advocating for those who would.
Altamirano lived in the neighborhood for more than two decades before learning that fossil fuel production could be adversely impacting her family’s health. She carried five children there, and now they have various health issues, including eczema and headaches, that she attributes to the wells and the refinery.
Like Uriarte, she got involved in advocacy after environmental justice organizers helped her understand the effects of oil drilling. She used to think urban pumpjacks were pumping water, a belief she said is still common among her neighbors.
“My neighbors get sick and when I tell them it’s the oil wells, they say, ‘Well, I’m old, this is how I’m going to die,’” Altamirano told Capital & Main. “I’m stubborn. I want to believe in a different future where my children and grandchildren aren’t getting cancer because I’m fighting for their future.”
SB 556 will be heard by the state Senate’s Appropriations Committee, where lawmakers may place it in a “suspense file” reserved for legislation with substantial costs to the state. It’s also a way for legislators to kill bills without much fanfare. If it’s placed in suspense, SB 556 will have a chance to get out of it during another hearing on May 18.
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38948-xChemical fuel-driven supramolecular systems have been developed showing out of-equilibrium functions such as transient gelation and oscillations but these systems suffer from undesired waste accumulation and they function only in open systems. Here, the authors we report non-equilibrium supramolecular polymerizations in a closed system, which is built by viologens and pyranine in the presence of hydrazine hydrate.
America has two national holidays that honor those who have served, Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The former is for the living; the latter is for the dead. How we remember, honor, and judge the dead was on my mind as I wrote Halcyon, a novel that imagines an alternate America in which a scientific breakthrough has allowed a few of those dead to again wander among us. What follows is an excerpt that foregrounds questions of national memory, in which the novel’s narrator, Martin Neumann, encounters the World War II hero and renowned lawyer Robert Ableson considering his military service and the symbolism of our national cemeteries. Halcyon is about the intersection of individual and national memory, which is what Memorial Day is about too.
Oak Ridge Cemetery was as its name described. The headstones were interspersed among the ancient trees, and the ridge was one of many that bracketed the northeast-by-southwest-running Shenandoah Valley. It lacked the grandeur of Arlington National Cemetery, where Robert Ableson’s military service had entitled him to a plot; instead, he had opted for this quieter and less trafficked place. Before his wife, Mary, mentioned the grave, it had never occurred to me that Ableson had one. But without a grave, you can’t really have a funeral, and his had been a well-attended affair. Mourners had crowded the cemetery from all four corners of the country, but few of those who would mourn him in death had been confidants in life, and no one among them had known that the casket was empty and that Ableson had made other arrangements.
It was Mary who’d asked me to search the cemetery. Of those of us gathered in the kitchen, she recognized that I had the least to do. It was a modest drive from her home at Halcyon, 20 minutes. Scribbled on a scrap of paper in my pocket was a section, row, and grave number. Having parked my Volvo, I was referring to this scrap as I ascended a gravel path that wound through the terraced rows of headstones, family plots, and marble angels with their lichened wings.
When I crested the ridge, I found Ableson on its far side. He sat with his back leaning against one of the ubiquitous oaks. He was facing away from me, down into the sprawling valley below. It was one of those spring afternoons when slanted light catches every mote of pollen, making the invisible air visible. A few clouds lumbered overhead. The Shenandoah River meandered in the distance, and when the sun fell on the water, it glistened like foundry iron, and when the clouds obscured the sun, it appeared as water again. I watched Ableson watching the elemental interplay between sun and clouds and water. Then he turned, looking over his shoulder, saw me, and stood.
“I’m glad it’s you who came,” he said, brushing dirt from the seat of his pants.
“Is that your plot?”
He glanced down at the simple white marble headstone behind him. “It is.”
The marker was the same as those modest ones used for graves at Arlington. Etched into the white stone were the dates 1914–1999, and I ran my hand over the numerals. Other facts were etched into the headstone as well. His name, his branch of service, and rank during the war. However, none of those held my fascination like those two dates. The year of your birth. The year of your death. They’re supposed to be immutable brackets. But he’d proven otherwise. This made him a time traveler of sorts.
“Right after they brought me back,” he said, “when I was in social quarantine, I’d sneak out here.” He wasn’t looking at me as he spoke, but down into the valley.
“I can see why.”
“No, it wasn’t the view I came for.” He again turned toward me. “I wanted to know if anyone had visited.” Pebbles rested on top of many of the headstones around us, and I could see how Ableson jealously counted them. “Sometimes I’d come and a person would’ve placed one on my headstone. More often there’d be nothing. It’s terrible to feel as though you’ve been forgotten.” He squatted to the ground and picked up a small stone. He weighed it in his hand. He then slung it out a great distance so that it sailed down the ridge, disappearing in the late-day sun. “Amazing to think that now, if you want, your life can just keep going on and on.”
“Except Mary doesn’t want hers to,” I said.
“No,” he answered somberly. “She doesn’t.”
“Everyone is pretty worried about you.”
“I know,” he said, dropping his shoulders with a little sigh, as if the burden of other people’s worries had exhausted him. “I could have had a grave at Arlington,” he commented, continuing to stare off into the valley. “My service in the war qualified me for one. The plot they offered was ideal, in a prominent part of the cemetery, not too far from Section 16.” He glanced back at me as if to gauge whether I knew the special significance of this section—which I did not—and he disappointedly turned away. “That’s the section for Confederate war dead. There’s 482 of them buried there. You know the story of Arlington, of course.” I did, but this didn’t stop Ableson from recounting it, how the land was originally owned by the grandson of George Washington, who was in turn the grandfather of Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary Custis. The white porticoed house that still stands at Arlington, and which bore a striking resemblance to Halcyon, is named the Custis-Lee Mansion. If you look out from its front porch across the Potomac River you can see the Capitol dome, which remained under construction in 1864, the war’s third year. By then, the cemeteries in Washington overflowed with dead. The government needed more space, and they charged the quartermaster general of the Union Army, General Montgomery C. Meigs, with finding it. Meigs, who was mourning the battlefield death of his own son, 22-year-old John, appropriated the land around the Custis-Lee Mansion for the new cemetery. Specifically, he chose Mary Custis Lee’s rose garden as the site to bury the first bodies, so she could never return home. “A hundred and fifty years later,” said Ableson, “and you can still feel the perfect enmity of that gesture. How do we then go from burying our dead children in one another’s gardens to honoring Confederate soldiers with an interment at Arlington?”
This part of the story I also knew—and taught in my course at Virginia College. Thirty-seven years would pass until, in 1901, the U.S. government would exhume the graves of Confederate war dead and inter them at Arlington. The reason was national reconciliation in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. Only blood can wash away blood and
, North and South, inspired by a new grievance, had come together to form a fist. When the dead returned from that war, many also found their resting place at Arlington. Among those dead were African American soldiers and they too had a place at Arlington, though not in Mary Custis Lee’s rose garden, nor in the centrally located environs of the newly dedicated Section 16. Their segregated acreage was in an isolated corner, less visited, and on low ground that in heavy rains collected runoff and remained sodden for weeks. All it took was a minor skirmish like the Spanish-American War to create the political impetus for Confederate and Union soldiers to reconcile within Arlington, while for African American soldiers it would take another 50 years and something far larger than a Caribbean quarrel; it would take a world war for the dead—of all races—to finally mingle within Arlington’s sacred soil.
“Do you know what pattern the graves of the Confederate dead are arrayed in at Arlington?” Ableson asked.
I had to confess I did not.
“The other graves in the cemetery are laid out in rows, easy to elongate,” he said. “The Confederate dead are arranged in concentric circles. They’re set up that way so you can’t add any more graves. Someone like my daughter looks at me—at the cases I’ve tried, at the causes I’ve championed—and she can’t understand why I would want to preserve the Virginia Monument. She probably believes that I should be leading the protest myself, shouting ‘Burn, baby, burn,’ with the rest of them. But tearing down monuments isn’t too many steps removed from digging up graves. I know better than most what happens when you bring up the dead—they find their place again among the living.”
It was Ableson’s place among the living that had come to concern me. He couldn’t stay here, loitering in Oak Ridge Cemetery. He would need to return to Halcyon. Right now, I needed to get Ableson home, and said as much.
“You’re right,” he answered. “Let’s go. No doubt Mary’s worried.”
But before leaving, Ableson bent over. He fussed about in the grass near his and Mary’s shared plot. He was stamping around, searching for something. Then he stopped. Whatever it was that he’d found, he was clutching it in his hand as he stood. As we left the cemetery, I saw what it was. He had placed a single dark pebble on top of his headstone.
This story was excerpted from Elliot Ackerman’s novel Halcyon.
“The language of escalation is the language of excuse.” That’s how Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, dismisses anxiety that assistance to Ukraine could provoke Russia to either expand the war to NATO countries or cross the nuclear threshold. The country most concerned about Russia expanding its aggression beyond Ukraine is the country least likely to be the victim of it: the United States.
The Biden administration has been unequivocal in its policy declarations. The president has said, repeatedly and in public, that the U.S. will provide Ukraine “whatever it takes, as long as it takes.” The president wants the political benefits of heroically assisting the good of Ukraine against the evil of Russia, but his administration’s policy is much more hesitant than its bold declarations would suggest.
I spoke to Ukrainians both in and outside of government during a recent trip to Kyiv with the Renew Democracy Initiative. Those I met were keenly aware that Ukraine relies on U.S. weapons, U.S. financial assistance, and U.S. leadership to pull together international support, and they expressed gratitude for all that the United States is doing. Most know very well that Ukraine would have lost the war without the U.S. rallying support to keep its economy from collapsing, arm its soldiers, and provide essential intelligence to protect its leaders and blunt Russian attacks. Ukrainian government officials are careful to speak only of the United States as a whole, without singling out the Biden administration or delving into U.S. domestic politics.
Yet Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers acknowledged that “the first answer the U.S. gives to any request is no.” That was America’s answer across the past three presidential administrations: no to javelin missiles, no to stinger missiles, no to NATO membership, no to F-16s, no to weapons that can reach Russian territory, no to tanks, no to Patriot air defenses, no to HIMARs, no to ATACMs, and—until this week—again no to F-16s, even if they aren’t U.S. F-16s.
The Biden administration has made three arguments against Ukrainian requests. The first and most condescending was, to quote the president, that “Ukraine doesn’t need F-16s now.” This came at a time when Russia’s strategy had shifted to long-range missile strikes on civilian populations and infrastructure that air dominance could better resist. Kyiv may now be well protected, but Kharkiv and other major cities continue to be at greater risk.
The Pentagon has further insisted that mastering the desired weapons systems would be prohibitively difficult and time-consuming. That argument weakened when Ukrainians, on a wartime footing, blew through the training curricula in a fraction of the time it took to train U.S. soldiers who had been in regular rotations on other systems. The Ukrainians have successfully sustained battlefield operability of an extensive array of internationally donated weapons systems.
The administration does make one argument against Ukrainian requests that should carry greater weight. Despite the president’s claims of unlimited assistance for as long as it takes, U.S. assistance isn’t endless, and Ukraine is asking for expensive items that are often in short supply. For example, having provided Ukraine with 20 HIMARs, the U.S. has only 410 remaining and 220 M270 MLRS (a tracked variant). That number may seem large, but not when you consider the intensity of fighting and the size of the U.S. forces that a war against China would entail. Nor are the costs inconsequential, even for the United States: An F-16 of the model Kyiv seeks costs about $15 million, and Ukraine wants 120 to protect its airspace. One reason the F-16 is Ukraine’s fighter of choice is that it exists in large supply in allied arsenals, not solely in the U.S. inventory.
The sweeping declaration that Washington will give Ukraine what it needs for as long as it takes is part of a pattern of presidential rhetorical largesse. It’s of a piece with committing U.S. troops to fight for Taiwan without providing the military budget to produce a war-winning military for that fight, or designing a national-security strategy that commits to allied solidarity while producing exclusionary economic policies that allies resent.
The escalation concern that looms largest for the Biden administration in Ukraine, understandably, is Russian nuclear use. Ukrainians remain admirably stalwart about this prospect, suggesting that a nuclear battlefield strike would not serve Russian objectives. To be more concerned about nuclear use than the likely victims of it are—or to push Ukraine toward untenable outcomes in the name of avoiding that risk—is to actually encourage nuclear threats. The United States can strengthen deterrence instead by publicly committing that if we see any sign that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon, we’ll share the intelligence widely and provide Ukraine with weapons to preempt the attack. We can put Russia on notice that if it uses a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, we will send NATO radiological teams—NATO forces—there to assist Ukraine’s recovery, and we will ensure that any Russian involved in the decision or its execution ends up dead or in the Hague.
The true cost of the Biden administration’s focus on escalation may be one of prolonging the war. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has assessed that F-16s are “a decision that could have been made six months ago. Truth is, if they had begun training pilots on F-16s six months ago, then those pilots would be able to get into those airplanes this spring.” Our hesitance telegraphs to Russia that by continuing to assault Ukraine, it can wait us out—a lesson consistent with the course of the U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.
For the leader of the free world to be more worried than the leaders of Poland, Denmark, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom is not a great look. Those countries are already considering offering fighters or training to Ukraine—and are at greater risk of Russian retaliation than the United States is.
Editor’s Note: Read Cynthia Ozick’s new short story “Late-Night-Radio Talk-Show Host Tells All.”
“Late-Night-Radio Talk-Show Host Tells All” is a new story by Cynthia Ozick. To mark the story’s publication, Ozick and Oliver Munday, the associate creative director of the magazine, discussed the story over email. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Oliver Munday: Your story, “Late-Night-Radio Talk-Show Host Tells All,” is about an aging radio host named Nicky. It’s a beguiling and profound character study. What drew you to after-hours radio as a fictional setting?
Cynthia Ozick: Chronic insomnia, to begin with, which turned, for a time, into a nocturnal addiction. So much of night radio is repetitious detritus: weather, traffic, headlines, sports, nostrums for this and that ailment, the buzz and miasma of voices, voices, voices with raw cawings of what passes for song. Who listens (millions do, from their beds), and why? Yet the true spur to this story was a question that was put to me in a conversation not long before—what do you most desire from your fiction? The answer came so quickly, and so unexpectedly, that it startled me to the marrow: feeling, pure feeling. And I thought I might look for it.
Munday: Nicky is described ambiguously and remains somewhat enigmatic to the reader. We’re left uncertain about details including gender. Why withhold and obscure in this way?
Ozick: But it is night radio itself that obscures. When the listeners in the story—mainly old men and a lesser contingent of old women, all of them hoarse, sick, fatigued, worn, resentful, opinionated—are roused to speak, we hear a hundred accents and origins that puzzle, while the overlay of the native yawp of New York scrambles them all. Even more noticeably, some of the more popular real-life talk-show hosts often sound unidentifiably in-between (high-pitched male? low-pitched female?). No wonder, then, that when the beautiful boy arrives, he is surprised to see that Nicky is actually Nicole.
Munday: At one point in the story, Nicky muses about potential listeners: “If you call me, you hallucinate.” What is the most notable difference between the act of listening and the act of reading?
Ozick: Hmm. This may be the very first time this question has come into being. So let’s see … When we’re physically gripping a book or anything in static print, we are free to look again, to think again, to moon and muse and ponder and dally, but responding to a voice (whether on the radio or to a teacher in a classroom or while speaking at a lectern) means a fleeting one-time-only opportunity, and we’re stuck with whatever we’ve said. Reading, then, is relatively riskless. Listening is all risk. Reading can take its time. Listening is flying sans wings. Nor does listening to a voice on a recording supply a safety net: Awareness of the persistent machine always intervenes. A book, too, may be a kind of machine, but it’s our unconscious breathing that is its motive and engine: We live in a book.
Munday: Radio and podcasts have come to dominate media. Nicky interestingly describes the floating voice of radio as a god that can reprimand and seduce. Does the disembodied yet guiding nature of audio appeal to a world searching for idols?
Ozick: Immersion in late-night radio can certainly point to such an observation. Though there are occasional rebels and cranky dissenters who are soon dismissed, allegiance to the talk-show host prevails—reliance on his personal wisdom (mostly his, more rarely hers), devotion to whatever of home life he chooses to reveal, whether for comic relief or suspense (what will the new baby be named?). Talk-show hosts become authority figures, if not like priests then like therapists. They are trusted to offer continuity, connection, comfort, consolation, intimacy. Intimacy above all. You are alone with the one who gives solace, in the dark, in the quiet of night. Even if you don’t participate, even if you are too diffident to call the number that is infinitely repeated, the aura is that of prayer. Of petition. Of alleviation. Of submission.
Munday: One night, Nicky is visited by an intruder at the radio station who accuses Nicky of being an impostor and fake. This incident leads Nicky to question notions of performance and pretense; to the idea of “pure feeling.” This motif recurs throughout the story. How does one reach the state of pure feeling?
Ozick: Imposture and fakery are a double-bladed razor. They are the devices and designs of the impostor and faker, the misleading talk-show host himself. But at the same time they are what are most desired by the late-night listener, who will be shocked and stripped of delusion if confronted with the pragmatic indifference, the insincerity, of the radio performer. “We must not let daylight in upon magic,” Walter Bagehot said of royalty (an old quote evoked by a new coronation), and the state of pure feeling may be one with that magic: It urges—it commands—the muffling veil of night.
Munday: I was reminded of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice while reading this story. Nicky becomes, much like Mann’s aging protagonist, Aschenbach, obsessed with a young boy’s beauty and purity. You describe “the pathos of a boy’s lone big toe.” Are beauty and purity closely linked?
Ozick: Mann’s Tadzio is an erotic incarnation, and also an emblem of Aschenbach’s yearning for his own irretrievable youth. But Nicky, the septuagenarian Nicole, sees in the beautiful boy and his imaginings an immaculate yet wayward innocent who represents beauty, pure beauty, right down to his least flesh-and-bone embodiment. Call him her aesthetic principle; he may indeed be no more than an apparition. As such, he is also a test case: It is his presence that asks, as you do, Are beauty and purity closely linked? The answer I found—or, rather, the answer that this story found out—is no; something more pressing, more needful, is at stake. Late-night radio is an outlet for pity, pure pity, and what is pity if not emotion distilled?
But is there a catch lurking here? Can pity be pure if the talk-show host, like Nicky herself, is merely an actor? I’ve left the conclusion to the reader, but here is my private view: Feeling, pure feeling, is a willing collaboration between the godlet and the believer who is carried away.
Munday: You’ve written many novels and short-story collections … How does the process of writing short fiction compare to that of novel-writing?
Ozick: Writing for me is hard labor, no matter the length or the form. I start out in fear and doubt, and continue in this state of prolonged discontent and conscious forcing, until certain unpredictable moments of excitement take over, when the thing begins to know itself and its own trajectory. In the long-distance run of a novel, this can come as late as three-quarters of the way through. The short story at times knows what it intends to happen from the start, but is wholly perplexed as to how to get there. When the dam suddenly breaks, even the words find themselves. All in all, it feels better to have written than to have to write. But not writing, as every writer will testify, is even more punishing than writing!
Munday: Aside from short stories, what are you currently working on?
Ozick: How not to lie when writing make-believe.
Editor’s Note: Read an interview with Cynthia Ozick about her writing process.
Do I have rivals? Competitors? Certainly: the sports blatherers with their outer-borough accents, the medicine men and their elixirs, the partisan boosters who stir up primitive rage, the DJs peddling their caterwaulings. From one end of the dial to the other, clamor and cacophony. My mode is otherwise: seduction, consolation, the whisper, the voice that caresses and heals. The voice of a lover. And sometimes of a skeptic.
The middle of the night is mine. From 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. I am sovereign here in my windowless cubicle. My desk with its scattered papers and corn-muffin crumbs, my electric coffee pot, my chair, my mic, the ancillary mic that connects me to the tech interior (and to Peter, the screener who weeds out the nuts and the cranks), the extra chair that is never used, the door that leads to my personal W.C., the time signal on the clock on the wall.
And out there in the invisible dark, the sleepless, the solitary old with their decrepit hearing aids, the unknown tormented who lie awake in their hundreds of thousands—those unpredictable callers to call-in shows, the braggarts, the know-it-alls, the timid stutterers, the unassuaged sufferers of unforgiven family quarrels, the enraged, the bitter, the lonely, the hopeless, the jilted, the sacked. The masses of racked human roil.
I sleep during that daylight I rarely see, except as it seeps in the advancing hours under the threshold of the door to my cubicle, which during broadcasts is always shut. The tech interior incessantly keeps track of audience ratings, but they mean nothing to me; I am, after all, on the leaner side of 74, and have had my steady following for years. I cut off the feed when the commercials take over and during those so-called musical intervals (drums tearing into the brain). Almost always I can predict what is to come—someone’s nocturnal cry in a parched tract of wilderness peopled only by the unlucky. And by me, their intimate, their confidante. Their trustworthy tryst. And sometimes their disloyal doubter.
Nicky at Night is how I am featured. And here, in this no-man’s-land of secrecy, is where I am confounding. My radio voice is, in fact, my primary toolbox, and can travel as it pleases into both high and low registers. Am I Nicholas or Nicole? Whichever suits the need. Whatever your hunger, I am the sustenance. Name your belief, and I am your god. But I can be impatient too. I can reprimand, I can correct the self-pitying. Some say I am a charlatan, a deceiver, a shaman; but never mind, this only increases my popularity; in the land of video, I would count as a showpiece. And show is the key. Nothing on radio can be shown. All the world is drawn to screens, to faces, to seeing. Radio is obsolete. It ought not to exist. An illusion. If you call me, you hallucinate. I am not meant to be seen.
Yet here was a figure sitting in my unused chair.
“How did you get in here?” I said.
“Saw your name on the door, took a chance it wasn’t locked—”
“I’m on in five minutes, so get out, go.”
“But I’ve been waiting for you, and you know me, you’ve known me forever. I’m not just any random nobody.”
I did not say Of course you are. You all are, every one of you. Aloud I said, “I’ll call security if you don’t get out right now.”
“You don’t understand. You saved my life.”
One of those, I thought. The ones in pursuit of a savior. The ones mostly winnowed out by Peter.
These invasions occasionally happen. The seekers (so I’ve privately named them) usually ask for money. Once I’ve mentioned security and hand them some cash, they disappear. This one did not.
“I just want to sit here awhile and watch how you do it, see if you mean what you say.”
“Please leave. I need my privacy when I’m at work.”
“I won’t be in the way, and I’ll even set up the coffee. Well look, you’ve got only one cup, but it’s all right, I should stay away from caffeine anyhow.”
The on-air light on the wall went on. Two minutes.
Into the ancillary mic I shouted, “Music!”
Horns, clarinets, and a raucous nasal chorus swelled, crowding the air, followed by security with their badges. Before she fled, the intruder—the seeker—threw out, “Impostor! Fake!”
This incident, brief and harmless though it was, left its mark. I felt scathed and unsettled: It is true that I am an impostor, and what performer isn’t? Still, the word stirred an unexpected longing. The impostor is a puppeteer whose marionette is the self, an unfulfilled living actor turned wooden. At heart, buried and undisclosed, didn’t I hope to be a seeker myself? To break out of the prison of pretense into the freedom of … what? Feeling. Pure feeling.
And once I did. The caller’s story—they all have stories—was preposterous. He claimed he was 19 and already a widower. He pronounced this in separate syllables: wi-do-wer, as if he had still to get used to it. His wife had died tragically and unexpectedly, from fast-acting leukemia. This expression alone, fast-acting leukemia, appeared to be lifted from an all-night cancer barker. He said he had fathered an infant, and that his former wife’s mother was caring for it, and that he was barred from ever seeing his own flesh and blood, not that he cared. This was all so absurdly melodramatic, and all of it in some newly ripened boyish timbre, that I half-believed he was a brazen brat up well past his bedtime on purpose to lampoon. He said he saw right through me, and was ready to offer some advice.
“You could use a partner,” he said. “You’re getting tedious, all on your own.”
Voices are what I know, and he was not 19.
I said, “How old are you really?”
“So why don’t you see for yourself? If you invite me, I’ll come.”
“Sorry, I don’t have visitors.”
“I’d come as a collaborator.”
Here was a smart aleck whom Peter ought to have sent packing. And when Peter fails me, I have my cutoff switch. I use it sparingly, though, so as not to seem brutish. I maintain my auditory smile.
But I used it now.
Less than a week later I discovered him—the purported widower—at ease in my extra chair. I had arrived early, but he might have been there for half the day. I knew him by his boy’s voice, yet now it carried a different syrup: He had cajoled security into trusting that the talk-show host had summoned him. He was surely much younger than 19. And because I had scolded him with my gruffest inflections, he had supposed the host to be Nicholas, but here was Nicole instead. I caught the spasm of surprise in his eyes. They were very black eyes; the pupil and the iris made a single oval of lightless dark. His head was all Mediterranean, Italian or Greek or Levantine: the curly black hair, winding wild over the ears, the earth-carved nose and mouth. The nose, the source of life’s breath … but that mouth!
What I saw—what came over me, in the way of instinct, of unwilled sensation—was that the boy was beautiful. His hands were beautiful. The throat with its Adam’s apple (the name itself a hint of Eden), the bare uninnocent nape. This was distracting; it was unnatural, as much as if he had been acutely disfigured. I was forced to stare. I was unable not to look and look.
I said, “Go home and go to bed. Don’t you have school in the morning?”
“I’ve listened to you every night for months. Every night when you’re on. I’ve got one of these transistor radios, fits into a pocket. I can keep you like a secret.”
“And when I’m not on?”
“Mostly I spend the night in the library. The big one with the lions. I go in just before closing, and afterward they can never find me. The best place is periodicals. That’s how I get to keep up.”
A drawer in my table was partly open. He had sniffed out the box of corn muffins. A random circle of yellow crumbs was spread around his feet. But he had no shoes. Instead, here was a row of flawless little toes in plastic sandals, and then the pathos of a boy’s lone big toe.
Was he a runaway, a truant? A busy thief? A chronic master of stealth? Was there a parental search under way? Or was he a mote among the abandoned homeless, with no one to miss him? Was it his intuition to conceal himself in fantasy (the forbidden infant, warm nights among the stacks)? Had he come to me as a protector, to hide out?
“You should put me on the air,” he said.
The air: a raft that rode on the wind.
But something was breaking out, a disruption, an unruly directive—a decree—I had never before heeded, or taken to heart. His beauty was terrifying. It looted, it deprived me of my own secrets. I looked and I looked, I saw and I saw, but fitfully. Furtively. I didn’t dare hold my gaze; he was a child, not an exhibit. He could not have been more than 14. A septuagenarian staring at a vagabond boy. A stupidity and a perplexity.
And I all at once took in that I would, in fact, do it—put the boy on the air. There was no logic to it, no reason, a kidnapping, an exploitation of a minor, and thousands would know. The station manager would know. The station owner would know. I might be sacked for underhandedness. For an unannounced turning, for running wild.
“Come here,” I told the boy. “Sit next to me. Bring over that other chair. We’ll share the mic.”
His closeness dizzied me. It was as if I had inhaled a drug. Or was the boy redolent of some faint narcotic that, so suffocatingly near was he, was leaching through my skin?
And so it began. The signature opening, that choir of tumult I so much despised; but I had neglected to ask him his name. There was no need to put questions, or to explain. His voice alone carried the hours. The widower was nowhere. The boy was an instrument of fabrication. He led from disbelief to disbelief. New implausibles swarmed. The somnolent woke; the boy’s voice roused them to the long-ago children they once were, or fathered, or mothered, or lost, or mourned, or were estranged from. He animated them, they were drawn to him like the millings of shadowy moths, they seemed to see what he made them see, he was visible in his voice. The boy’s voice, the look of the boy, an unfolding, an unnerving, an undoing that made me afraid of the very thing it was: a visitation of feeling, pure feeling.
Daylight crept under the doorsill.
“Thank you,” the boy said then. “I hope you think I did well.”
He swiped the last of the corn muffins and left. There were no repercussions. Whether the ratings thickened or shrank I was never told. The audience returned to its usual configuration: grief and grievance, lamentation and despair. Those end-of-life larynxes scratching out their woes were sickening me; at 75, I retired. My slot was instantly replaced by a chiropractor hawking his surefire panacea, and I was just as instantly forgotten, never mind that he and I were equal saviors. What is more evanescent than a voice on the radio?
In my newly freed leisure I went often to the movies, though I disliked being made to see what in novels I could otherwise see for myself, how a room was replicated, the carpet, the vase on the windowsill, the large sofa, the small sofa, five figurines on a shelf. All of them falsifying shadows, specters declaiming reality. I had the notion that beauty, supernal beauty, would not go to waste, and could be captured and somehow disseminated, as it had been one night on the radio. Maturity must somehow abrade or deform it; for this I was prepared. But the boy could not have become what he already was: an actor. An impostor.
Still, it is indisputable that a boy grows into a man. I explored the reading tables in the periodicals room of the library. The boy had hidden in the midnight stacks; the man was missing from the tables.
I listened to the radio at night. I still do—what elderly insomniac does not? I tune in to the pundits, the show-offs, the hucksters, the healers, the howlers, the ringmasters, the weather forecasters, the traffic reporters, the inescapable musical intervals that screech. I search through the dial, from highest to lowest, until tedium and fatigue overcome naked hope. And all who are sleepless must ask—what is more fleeting than feeling, pure feeling?
Scientific Reports, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35964-1Encouraging adoption of green manure technology to produce clean rice product
Scientific Reports, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35893-zBiomineralization of coral sand by Bacillus thuringiensis isolated from a travertine cave
Scientific Reports, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35410-2Dynamic patterns of electroosmosis peristaltic flow of a Bingham fluid model in a complex wavy microchannel
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38884-wThe donor-acceptor (D-A) interaction and exciton binding energy have been investigated for a series of D-A pairs by DFT calculations. Here, the authors synthesize the corresponding D-A COFs, and demonstrate that their photocatalytic hydrogen production activities match well with the calculation results.
Southern Ocean phytoplankton help to brighten Earth’s clouds
Var fjärde kvinna som tar penicillin vid halsfluss får flytningar och klåda i underlivet. Det kan vara tecken på svamp vilket i sin tur kan orsaka ett stort lidande.
– Det är inte tidigare beskrivet att det är så här vanligt, säger läkaren och forskaren Karin Rystedt.
Inlägget Problem i underlivet mycket vanligt hos kvinnor som äter penicillin dök först upp på forskning.se.
- Montana’s ban seems unlikely to survive all the legal challenges, but we might see similar bills pass in other states, which is even more interesting within the broader context of how internet speech regulation is playing out in the US.
This article is from The Technocrat, MIT Technology Review’s weekly tech policy newsletter about power, politics, and Silicon Valley. To receive it in your inbox every Friday, sign up here.
Recently, I drove from Washington, DC, to New York and passed through Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey on the way while scrolling through Instagram,
, and Twitter. Crossing all those state lines got me thinking about Montana and its recent ban on TikTok, the massive social media app owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance.
Are we really proceeding down a path where I might have to delete and re-download certain apps as I cross state lines? What is the future of TikTok bans, and could they ever actually be enforced?
US policymakers have been scrutinizing the app intensely in recent months over concerns about Chinese espionage, but Montana’s ban is the most dramatic move so far. Legislators structured the law to target marketplaces like Google Play and Apple’s App Store. Starting on January 1, 2024, those companies could face a fine of $10,000 per day if they make TikTok available to users in Montana.
A lot of pundits, politicians, and technologists have written off the ban as ridiculous, unconstitutional, and xenophobic. And it’s already seeing legal challenges. On Monday, TikTok filed a lawsuit against Montana following a suit from a group of users, citing Constitutional grounds.
Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University and co-director of the law school’s High Tech Law Institute, told me that he doubts the bans are anything more than a political play, intended to deliver a message: “It’s just propaganda, not actually an effort to keep Montanans safe.”
There is still really no evidence that TikTok is handing over user data to the Chinese government on the scale that US politicians are claiming. But proposed TikTok bans are cropping up all over
with mostly bipartisan support, and President Biden has threatened a national ban as well. It’s also not the first time US lawmakers have pushed a TikTok backlash; in 2020, the Trump administration tried to ban the app but was blocked after a judge determined there wasn’t enough evidence of Chinese spying.
As for its enforceability, what would happen if Montana’s ban did go into effect? Would I have to delete the app if I went to visit Glacier National Park? That’s not at all likely, and the current law looks to cut off access to the app at the point of initial download—not for people who already have it on their phones.
Some Montana TikTokers have already started lamenting the potential loss of their platforms and communities on the app, but they might not need to worry too much, as the law also doesn’t directly threaten to punish TikTok users.
Removing TikTok from app stores would significantly reduce its ability to gain new users, and the stores would be tasked with policing access according to device location. TechNet, a lobby group that represents Apple and Google, says that enforcement of such a policy is currently impossible as the stores don’t have the ability to “geofence” by state.
Goldman says Montana lawmakers likely never intended to craft a truly enforceable bill. “They pass bills that aren’t likely to ever work, but they’re not intended for that purpose. They’re intended to show that the legislatures care about certain constituents,” he said. Governor Greg Gianforte hasn’t replied to my questions.
Montana’s ban seems unlikely to survive all the legal challenges, but we might see similar bills pass in other states, which is even more interesting within the broader context of how internet speech regulation is playing out in the US. State legislatures influence each other and serve as laboratories for the national political strategies of both parties. And right now, everyone is experimenting with how to increase limitations on social media and the harm it can do, especially in the absence of national internet speech and privacy laws.
I’ve recently written about the wave of child online safety bills, efforts to censor abortion information by targeting internet service providers that host relevant websites, and the fragmented patchwork of state-based laws that we’re creating in the US. Many of these sorts of bills, like the TikTok ban, are highly politicized and unlikely to survive judicial review, but they drain effort, money, and attention from productive national conversations about how to make the internet a safe, open space.
The ACLU of Montana and other free-speech organizations have come out in opposition of the ban. Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana, said in a statement, “We will never trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points.”
Ultimately, that seems like the real danger posed by experimenting with these bans—that politics is encroaching on policymaking. It’s a tale as old as time. Unfortunately for us, this era of junk internet bills seems here to stay.
What else I’m reading
- Speaking of the China-US tech war, on Wednesday Microsoft warned that Chinese malware affected telecommunication systems in Guam and other places in the US. US intelligence agencies found out about the hack back in February; it appeared as mysterious code that enables remote access to a server in “critical” cyber infrastructure. The attack, attributed to the Chinese hacking group
Volt Typhoon, appears to be ongoing. Guam is an essential location for any US military response in Taiwan.
- Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president in 2024 on Twitter Spaces yesterday in an interview with Elon Musk. The site repeatedly crashed, but the event was monumental for reasons beyond the promotion of the site’s premier audio feature. It marked a clear call to a more right-wing politics that Musk seems intent on bringing to the platform.
What I learned this week
We’re starting to learn a bit about the mess of online mis- and disinformation around covid-19 vaccines over the past few years. A new study from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that some efforts to combat bad information were effective. Exposure to good information did more to change people’s minds than direct rebuttals, which could actually backfire and make people less likely to take the vaccine. The expertise and trustworthiness of the information source were also important factors, and the researchers found that doctors were effective messengers.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35860-8Entomological surveillance of invasive Aedes mosquitoes in Mazandaran Province, northern Iran from 2014 to 2020
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38818-6Ultracold atoms are generated in the lab using optical trapping and cooling. Here the authors implement a fiber-coupled photonic integrated circuit for a beam delivery to a three-dimensional magneto-optical trap where greater than 1 million rubidium atoms are cooled near 200 μK.
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38856-0Non-reciprocal critical current in a Josephson junction device is known as the Josephson diode effect. Here, the authors observe such an effect in 3-terminal Josephson devices based on InAs two-dimensional electron gas proximitized by an epitaxial Al layer.
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38415-7Highly pathogenic avian
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38668-2Deoxycytidine kinase is the rate-limiting enzyme of the salvage pathway and it has recently emerged as a target for antiproliferative therapies for
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38846-2Organic molecules and materials are generally insensitive or weakly sensitive to magnetic fields due to their small diamagnetic force. Here, the authors show a strategy to amplify the magnetic responsiveness of self-assembled peptide nanostructures by synergistically combining the concepts of perfect α-helix and rod-coil supramolecular building blocks
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38158-5Tetrahymena thermophila possesses tubular mitochondrial cristae and a highly divergent electron transport chain. Here the authors report cryo-EM structures of its half ring-shaped ~8 MDa megacomplex IV2 + (I + III2 + II)2 and ~10.6 MDa megacomplex (IV2 + I + III2 + II)2 adapted to the cristae membrane curvature.
Coffee shops, churches, libraries, and concert venues are all shared spaces where mingling can take place. Yet the hustle and bustle of modern social life can pose challenges to relationship-building—even in spaces designed for exactly that.
In this episode of How to Talk to People, we analyze how American efficiency culture holds us back from connecting in public, whether social spaces create a culture of interaction, and what it takes to actively participate in a community.
Hosted by Julie Beck, produced by Rebecca Rashid, edited by Jocelyn Frank and Claudine Ebeid. Fact-check by Ena Alvarado, and engineering by Rob Smierciak.
Build community with us! … via email. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To support this podcast, and get unlimited access to all of The Atlantic’s journalism, become a subscriber.
Music by Alexandra Woodward (“A Little Tip”), Arthur Benson (“Charmed Encounter,” “She Is Whimsical,” “Organized Chaos”), Gavin Luke (“Nadir”), Ryan James Carr (“Botanist Boogie Breakdown”), Tellsonic (“The Whistle Funk”), Dust Follows (“Willet”), Auxjack (“Mellow Soul”).
Host Julie Beck: I think what I’ve observed in public spaces, especially in my neighborhood, is really just a hustle and bustle. And people are going somewhere specific to do something specific with specific people. They’re sort of on a mission.
Eric Klinenberg: Efficiency is the enemy of social life. What kind of place would allow us to enjoy our lives and enjoy each other more than we do today? What kinds of things would we need to reorient our society around?
Kellie Carter Jackson: You know, people say, like, misery loves company. I don’t think that is true. I think that misery in a lot of ways requires company; it requires kinship. It requires community. So that you are not isolated in your pain.
Klinenberg: What kinds of things would we need to reorient our society around?
Beck: I’m Julie Beck, senior editor at The Atlantic.
Rebecca Rashid: And I’m Becca Rashid, producer of the How To series.
Beck: This is How to Talk to People.
Rashid: Though I normally am not making a friend at the café, recently there was a girl that was working on her laptop. She noticed I was, too. We started chittin’ and chattin’, and after a few weeks of running into each other so many times at the café, she finally—slightly awkwardly—asked yesterday, “Hey, do you mind if I get your number if you maybe wanted to get a drink?” Very friendly, sweet sort of way of fighting through the awkward.
Beck: I’m so impressed! Of course, people do connect at cafés like you literally just did. And, you know, in Paris or whatever, they may be happy for people to linger and chat all day. But I think the connection that’s happening in those spaces, like, that’s not the purpose of the space; that’s a byproduct. Perhaps a welcome byproduct, but like the point of the space is to make money. The point is to sell you something.
Rashid: It’s a business.
Beck: They’re selling you a coffee; they’re selling you a sandwich. There are several cafés in D.C. that I really like that just don’t offer Wi-Fi, or they give you a ticket where you have like a couple of hours of Wi-Fi after you buy something. And I get why they’re doing that, because they want the customers to cycle through, and they don’t want people taking up tables all day when they could get a fresh paying customer in there.
That may well be good business sense. But if those are the only spaces that you have to maybe just mingle and get to know people that are in your neighborhood, what are the spaces where you can just have friendly mingling, and that’s the point?
Beck: Eric Klinenberg is a researcher who is really into all of these questions that we’ve been talking about. He’s a professor of sociology at New York University, and he’s an expert on city infrastructure and urban life.
He wrote this book called Palaces for the People in which he talks about this concept called social infrastructure. That is essentially the physical spaces that are available to the public that are designed to facilitate these social connections.
Klinenberg: If you want to have a transit system like a train, you need an infrastructure to carry the train, right? The rails, for instance, There is also an infrastructure that supports social life: social infrastructure. And when I say social infrastructure, I’m referring to physical places. They can be organizations; they can also be parks. Physical places that shape our capacity to interact.
When you have strong social infrastructure, people have a tendency to come out and linger. And if you live in a poor neighborhood where the social infrastructure is strong, if you’re older, if you’re more frail, if you’re very young, you might spend more time sitting on the stoop in front of your home. You might have a bench that you spend time on, that’s on your street. There might be a diner where you go every day.
And what that means is there are people who are used to seeing you out in those public places on a regular basis. And when it’s dangerous outside, someone might notice that you’re not there. And they might not even know your name. They might just know your face. Maybe they know where you live. They’re used to seeing each other in the public realm.
I grew up in Chicago. And in 1995, just before I was about to start graduate school in sociology, there was a heat wave that hit my hometown and lasted just a couple of days. But the temperatures were quite extreme. It got to about 106 degrees. Chicago did what it always does when there’s a heat wave: It turned on air conditioning everywhere you could go. And the power grid got overwhelmed. And very soon the, you know, electricity went out for thousands of homes.
At the end of this week, in July, Chicago had more than 700 deaths from the heat. And this was the pre-pandemic time. So people dying in a city in a couple of days seemed like an exceptional thing. We hadn’t gotten numb to it yet. I was really curious about what had happened, and the first thing I did was I made these maps to see which people and places in Chicago were hit hardest. And at first blush, the map looked exactly like you would expect it to look. The neighborhoods that were hit the hardest were on the south side and the west side of Chicago. They were the historically segregated Black, poor, ghettoized neighborhoods.
Beck: Right. Chicago’s extremely segregated.
Klinenberg: And when there’s a disaster, you know, poor people living in segregated neighborhoods will fare the worst. So I looked a little more closely at the map, and I noticed something that no one else had seen—which is that there were a bunch of neighborhoods that were located right next to places that were among the deadliest neighborhoods in Chicago. But this other set of places wound up being extraordinarily healthy.
Beck: So these were neighborhoods that were geographically really close to each other and shared a lot of characteristics, but they were having really different outcomes?
Klinenberg: Matching neighborhoods. Like, imagine two neighborhoods separated by one street—same level of poverty, same proportion of older people. The risk factors that we ordinarily look for were equal. But they had wildly disparate outcomes in this heat disaster. That’s the kind of puzzle that you live for when you’re a social scientist.
Klinenberg: And so, what I observed is that the neighborhoods that had really high death rates, they looked depleted. They had lost an enormous proportion of their population in the decades leading up to the heat wave. They had a lot of abandoned buildings. Even the little playgrounds were in terrible shape, not well-maintained.
And across the street in the neighborhoods that did better, the public spaces were much more viable. They didn’t have abandoned homes. They didn’t have empty lots. There were community institutions, grocery shops, coffee shops, a branch library, places that anchored public life.
In those neighborhoods in Chicago, people knocked on the door, and they checked in on each other. And as a consequence, if you lived in one of these poor neighborhoods that had a strong social infrastructure, you were more likely to survive the heat wave. People in the neighborhood across the street, the depleted neighborhood—they were 10 times more likely to die in the heat wave. And that difference was really quite stark.
Beck: So you said when we talk about regular infrastructure, we’re talking about what carries the train, right? So what carries the train of our relationships? What are the actual railroad tracks?
Klinenberg: Think about a playground, for instance. We know that one of the core places that families go to meet other families in their neighborhood is a playground. All kinds of socializing happens when parents or grandparents or caretakers of all kinds are pushing a swing and looking for a companion, someone to talk to.
Those conversations at the swing set often lead to a shared little break together on the bench or maybe to a picnic and then a playdate, and then two families getting to know each other and communities growing. If you took playgrounds out of American cities and suddenly there was no playground, our social lives would be radically different.
We act as if, you know, in the Old Testament, on the fifth day, God said, “Today I give you the playground and the library,” and it’s our birthright to spend time in them. We forget that these are achievements. These are human inventions.
We built giant parks, theaters, art spaces. We created a good society based on a vision of radical inclusion. Not quite radical enough. People have always been left out of our public spaces. There’s no history of this idea that is complete if it doesn’t pay attention to how racial segregation works and how racial violence works and how gender excluded some people from some public realms. All of that stuff is there in the history of public space. I think in the last several decades, we’ve kind of come to take all these places for granted.
Beck: What is the connection between having places to just hang out and vibe and having a community rally together and support each other in an emergency like a heat wave?
Klinenberg: Well, one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. You can have places where people hang out and vibe and don’t get active and engaged on important civic matters. I generally argue that public spaces and social infrastructure—they’re a necessary condition for having some sense that we’re in it together, and we have some kind of common purpose. But they’re by no means sufficient. And so that has to do with programming; that has to do with design; that has to do with this feeling of being part of a shared project. And some public spaces give us that feeling, and others really don’t.
Beck: Yeah. I’m curious about the mechanics of how that even happens. I feel a bit of a divide, where being in public is for being active and relaxing is for home. And so much of the public space around me is bustling—people are engaging in commerce, or they’re just walking from here to there, and there are no opportunities to slow down and talk to each other. And I don’t know that we would. Does that make sense?
Klinenberg: Yeah. I mean, it makes perfect sense, because efficiency is the enemy of social life. You tend to enrich your social life when you stop and linger and waste time.
And in fact, one of the really striking things, I think, for Americans when we travel to other countries is to see the extent to which people all over the world delight in sitting around: the culture of the souk or of the coffee shop or the wine bar or the plaza.
Beck: Oh, yeah, the five-hour dinners in France. Like, you can’t find that waiter to get your check. You know?
Beck: He’s gone.
Klinenberg: Because the point is not to pay the check. The point is to be there. And it’s hard for us to come to terms with just how forcefully the ticking clock shapes our capacity to take pleasure in social life.
Rashid: It’s interesting that you see the no Wi-Fi on the weekends as a way to cycle people out of the space. I thought that was the café or coffee shop making a grand gesture in favor of relationship-building.
Beck: Oh. I guess I’m just more cynical than you. But I think it’s because they need to make money. I go to the public pool with friends. I get books from the library. There is a very hot ticket at our local library, which is like a semi-regular puzzle swap that they do. Oh, and my partner and I, we’re very cool.
We go and we swap puzzles with the community. But I don’t feel like I am really building new relationships or getting to know my neighbors at these places, or even at these events. Like, I love these resources. I don’t want to lose them. I enjoy them, but I just kind of use them by myself or with people I already know.
Rashid: Yeah. And I think the norm of keeping to yourself is only fueled more by things like social media and being able to look away and be on your phone. And it’s interesting how just that shared physical presence with people also doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re closer.
Beck: Yeah, just because you go to the café doesn’t mean you’re going to look up from your phone.
Beck: Do you think that to some degree we’ve replaced our relationship to social infrastructure with social media?
Klinenberg: I think of social media as like a communications infrastructure. It definitely helps us to engage other people. It’s a kind of impoverished social life that it delivers in the end.
Think about how life felt in April of 2020 when we were in the beginning of the pandemic, because we were all in our homes cut off from each other. We were talking to each other all the time, right? But we were physically isolated, and we were miserable. So that’s life where social media is social infrastructure.
Beck: I do wonder whether there is an individualism that is also affecting our living choices and the way that we engage with the social infrastructure.
Klinenberg: I discovered that
is a laggard, not a leader, when it comes to living alone. Living alone is far more common in most European societies than it is in the U.S. It’s more common in Japan. It’s more common in France and England. Scandinavian societies have the highest levels of living alone on Earth, and Germany is higher than the United States.
And what I learned about doing this research is that what really is driving living alone is interdependence. When you have a strong welfare state, and you guarantee people the capacity to make ends meet without being tethered to a partner who they might not want to be with.
Beck: Do you think, then, that solo livers rely on social infrastructure more?
Klinenberg: They do. They’re more likely to go out to bars and restaurants and cafés and to gyms, to go to concerts. I just published a paper in a journal called Social Problems with a graduate student named Jenny Leigh, and we interviewed 55 people who were living alone in New York during the first stage of the pandemic.
We talked to them about their experiences. And it was really interesting. Like, they talked very little about social isolation, and they didn’t complain that much about kind of conventional loneliness, like lacking people to talk to. But they felt physically lonely; they felt physically isolated.
And they really missed the kind of familiar strangers we see when we spend time in a neighborhood who just give us a sense of where we are and that we belong. They felt [an] acute kind of pain that was slightly different than the pain of the common conversation we had at the time.
Klinenberg: One of the problems we have now is most cities, suburbs, towns in America have public libraries there. There’s neighborhood libraries. The building is there. And the buildings are generally not updated there. They need to have new HVACs. They need new bathrooms. They need new furniture, let alone new books.
Some are still not accessible to people in wheelchairs. I mean, there’s all kinds of problems with libraries, just physically, because we’ve underinvested in them. But libraries, unfortunately, have become the place of last resort for everyone who falls through the safety net.
Klinenberg: If you wake up in the morning in an American city and you don’t have a home, you’re told to go to a library. If you wake up in the morning and you’re suffering from an addiction problem, you need a warm place. They’ll send you to a library.
If you need to use a bathroom, you’ll go to a library. If you don’t have childcare for your kid, you might send your kid to a library. If you’re old and you’re alone, you might go to the library. We’ve used the library to try to solve all of these problems that deserve actual treatment.
And how many times have you talked to someone who said, like, it’s basically a homeless shelter. What’s happened is we’ve stigmatized our public spaces, because we’ve done so little to address core problems that we’ve turned them into spaces of last resort for people who need a hand. And as we do that, we send another message to affluent, middle-class Americans, and that is: If you want a gathering place, build your own in the private sector. So we have a lot of work to do.
Beck: It’s really interesting to me to hear about the ways our environment either encourages or discourages interaction and community-building, because I think on some level I’ve always felt like if I don’t have that ideal sense of community that I really want, then it’s my fault for not trying hard enough. How much of this is just on the government? And there’s not much we can do besides, like, pestering aldermen.
Klinenberg: I think it’s on us to build the political institutions that we want and also to build the public places that we need. So, one of the miracles of American life is that we have these public libraries in every neighborhood.
Nobody would support the idea of a library if we didn’t already have it. It’s like a utopian socialist fantasy, the library. And the miracle is that we have them. If you think about the American public-park system, the public schools, like: We built all these things.
The reason so many of us feel like it’s so hard to hang out and enjoy the companionship of other people is because the signals we get from each other and from the state and from the corporate world tell us that we’re freakish and weird if we want that kind of collective experience. Everybody knows happiness is in your phone. It’s at the $22 cocktail bar. It’s at the $9 coffee shop, the $14 ice-cream cone. Those are the things that are supposed to give us pleasure.
And I think we need to start to imagine what a different kind of society might look like and how to rebuild public spaces that are the 21st-century version of the 20th-century library. What are the kinds of places we’d like to design so that we could be with each other differently?
Beck: Another important piece—back to actually finding community in these spaces—is people acting on the opportunity to connect that they present. It’s hard if I’m going to the puzzle swap, and no one’s talking to each other. I mean, I’m guilty of going in and grabbing my puzzles and getting out and not really making a big effort to chitchat and make a new relationship there.
And it’s hard to feel like you’re just taking that on yourself to try to make that happen. It’s also: Do you see people welcoming you? Do you feel comfortable going up to someone to strike up a conversation? Do you see other people mingling? The design of a place can totally encourage or discourage interactions, but obviously so can the behavior of the people in the place.
Rashid: Right. Like, the friend I made at the café is kind of a rare occurrence, because normally people in the café are working, reading, or, as you’ve said before, with people they already know.
Beck: And the social norms of a café are going to be different than the social norms of a public pool or a local sports team or a church. In a café, everyone kind of has different agendas, like Becca’s out there making a friend. But, like, some people are just reading a book by themselves or having that one-on-one lunch with somebody. But in a church, for instance, like generally speaking, there’s a norm that we want to be in community with each other. We have shared values, and we’re here to connect.
Jackson: My church has been everything to me, because those relationships have just been so transformative and so deep. Every single highlight of my life, although like the church, my church has been there for me.
Beck: Kellie Carter Jackson is a historian and a professor from Wellesley College, and we recently spoke about the culture of care in her community. So in her life, she’s found that places like the church and her kids’ school have smoothed that path to building those deep relationships of support, because both the spaces themselves and the people in them have been welcoming.
Beck: Do you feel like finding a church in the new places where you’ve moved to? Has that helped in getting to those deep relationships quickly?
Jackson: Yes, absolutely. I will say that when we lived in North Dakota, almost all of my friendships either came from the military or the church that we were going to. People were just so warm and so kind. And, you know, you would join like a Bible study group or a mommy-and-me group, and those became fast friendships.
When my husband was going through extensive training, he was in Memphis. He was out of town for like three months. And I was overwhelmed by three kids. They did a meal train and just brought—I hate cooking! [Laughter.] And so my church small group was like, “Hey, how can we take off some of the burdens since Nathaniel’s gone? What can we do?” And so, just to know that people would go the extra mile for you when you’re really taxed is huge.
Beck: Yeah. I guess I see, you know, church as sort of a natural gathering place because it has those kind of communal values built into the institution. How does your faith sort of influence your approach to community with your neighbors?
Jackson: I think that I have always tried to model what it means to be a good neighbor regardless of my neighbors’ religious affiliations. I grew up in the church, so my parents modeled for me hospitality. We always had people over at our house all the time. We have a big family; I’m one of seven. So it’s like, what’s one more? What’s six more? What’s 10 more?
Beck: Just bring ’em on in.
Jackson: Bring them on in. That is how I show my friendship, show my love, show my care. It is by making you feel welcome and by giving you a place to rest. And it does not always extend to people we know. Like, when I think of neighbors, I think that extends even into my kids’ school. So my six-year-old had a real hard time because not only had my mother-in-law passed away, but her great-grandmother had died as well. So we had like two big losses—a mother and a grandmother—in about a three-month period.
Jojo is my middle child’s name. Jojo was just distraught by it. Like, she cried for 30 minutes, and I couldn’t calm her down. I sent her teacher an email, and I said, “Hey, Jojo’s having a really hard time. I sent her to school with a picture of her grandmothers. She might keep it in her backpack; she might take it out. But I just want you to know, like, this is what’s going on.”
Jackson: And her teacher did something—gosh, sorry I’m getting emotional …
Jackson: Her teacher saw her with the picture … and she said, “Jojo, do you want to share that with the classroom?” And so she got up in front of the classroom, and she talked about her grandmothers and just who they were. And the fact that her teacher gave her space to do that—it just meant, like, I don’t know her teacher very well, but I know that she loves my kid. And I know that she created space for my kid when she was having a hard time emotionally, and that she would do that for any kid. I am always overwhelmed by just the goodness of neighbors, and people’s capacity to provide comfort during hard times.
Beck: I mean, I think there’s so much go-it-alone-ness, um, in our culture a lot of the time. And like, sometimes you can get by with that. Like, it seems lonely, but like, you can do it, and—
Jackson: Can, but should you?
Beck: Yeah. But when you are in such a place of intense grief, like, it becomes very clear that you can’t.
Jackson: You can’t, and you shouldn’t. I mean,If I hear one more person say “God won’t give you more than you can bear,” I will want to punch them. But I think that we have these clichés that are so empty. You know, just giving people the freedom to feel what they feel, to act upon those feelings without feeling judged, to be heard. You know, most people just want to be heard.
You know, I think in the Black community, we care for one another. There is this idea of kinship. This idea that whether you are blood related or not, this is your auntie, this is your uncle, this is your cousin, this is your fam. That we see each other, that we recognize each other’s humanity, that we show up for each other. There is something about that familiarity of Blackness that connects people, that is both spiritual and cultural. And so, if you grew up in the church, I think those ideas are fortified for you of how you should show up and care for other people.
Beck: I mean, how do you get to that place with neighbors and people in your community without a church?
Jackson: I think it’s tough.
Beck: It is tough.
Jackson: I think it’s not impossible. I mean, there is something about a shared set of values sometimes that comes from the church, that allows making friendships to be a little bit easier. But if you don’t have that, sometimes I think that trust can be an issue. Like, I’ve had to let people know who are outside of my faith: You can depend on me; you can trust me. I’m not going to judge you. That our home is welcome to anyone, of all backgrounds.
Because I think people can sometimes be skittish around people that they think are religious. And I never wanted anyone that I connected with to feel like that.
I had a friend who was in graduate school whose mother passed away, and I remember reaching out to her, sending her food or a gift card—like, how are you doing? How are you feeling? You know, here’s some literature that helped me, because my siblings had passed away maybe about a year before. And she was a little startled, actually, by my response, I think. Because she said, you know, I grew up in a community of atheists. She said, we just don’t have a practice or tradition. That the idea of bringing food or, you know, sort of like ongoing care was not something that was a part of her tradition.
So regardless of people’s faith, my job as a good neighbor is to help shoulder some of that weight, so you don’t have to carry it all on your own. So I try to remember important dates. I try to remember names, which is why when I meet new people, “Oh, man! Okay, give me more capacity!”
Rashid: So, Julie, where do you go to build community, or at least feel this sense of community in a shared space?
Beck: I don’t feel like just sitting out on my front porch, if I had one, or going to a café or going to a specific place is going to make community come to me.
I feel like talking with both Eric and Kellie kind of made me realize that you need both the design of a place and the intentions and the values of the people who are using that space.
The sort of post-college secular world particularly doesn’t feel set up for just spontaneous, easy connection in the same way. If you just have an impeccably designed space where people don’t want to connect, then, like, I guess what you have is the Apple store. And if people really want to connect, and they don’t have anywhere to go to do that, then they’re going to struggle as well.
And even though this is kind of a frustrating takeaway, honestly, it feels to me like if you want that deep, interconnected sense of community outside of a church or a college or an institution that’s built to help you find it, you kind of have to swim against the current a little bit—and find a way to make it for yourself.
This episode was produced by Rebecca Rashid and hosted by Julie Beck. Managing Editor Andrea Valdez. Editing by Jocelyn Frank and Claudine Ebeid. Fact-check by Ena Alvarado. Our engineer is Rob Smierciak.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-36012-8CuFe2O4@SiO2@
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Scientific Reports, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35967-yResearch on production capacity planning method of open-pit coal mine
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Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38618-yEstrogen controls female fertility in part via restraining or promoting kisspeptin (Kiss1)-neuron activity in the arcuate hypothalamic nucleus and the AVPV hypothalamic nucleus, respectively. Here the authors report that estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) interacts with the genome and the nuclear receptor co-repressor NR0B1 (DAX1) to manifest region-specific actions on Kiss1 expression.
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38755-4Glia are housekeepers of the nervous system that eliminate neuronal debris after
Some of your fans want public health officials to suffer. Should you care?The post Open Letter to a Medical Student Part 2: “It Was Criminal in My Mind” first appeared on Science-Based Medicine.
Books on how to think like a futurist or general futurist books, something more like what I can read thats fairly new in terms of the date it was published or just really books in general that can help me think for the future, or get a step ahead.
Atmospheric methane and industrial pollutants suggested as reasons for lack of noctilucent cloud sightings before 1885
Late spring, early summer marks the beginning of noctilucent cloud season in the northern hemisphere. The name derives from Latin, where noctilucent means “night shine”. These beautiful cloud formations can often be seen during the summer months shining with an electric blue colour against the darkening western sky about 30 minutes after the sun sets.
The origin of the noctilucent clouds remains mysterious. They are the highest known clouds in Earth’s atmosphere, existing at an altitude of about 80km (50 miles), which is virtually the edge of space. They are regarded as being too high and too tenuous to have any effect on the weather at ground level.Continue reading…
This story contains spoilers through the Season 4 finale of Barry.
After everything he’d somehow survived—the stash-house shoot-outs, the brushes with law enforcement, the prison beatings, the time he’d found himself tied up in a chair opposite someone who was absolutely ready to kill him—even Barry wasn’t surprised by his own death. In the series finale of Barry, which aired tonight, the hit man turned actor turned unconvincing family man (played by Bill Hader) reacted to being shot in the chest by his former acting teacher, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), with total resignation: “Oh wow,” he flatly declared, blood spreading through his shirt. The kill shot arrived a split second later, and Barry’s head snapped back from a bullet to the dome—an unglamorous yet definitive ending.
Barry’s matter-of-fact reaction to his fate brought another of the show’s confrontations to my mind. Midway through Season 2, Barry was seemingly caught by John Loach (John Pirruccello), the former LAPD partner of Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), whom Barry had killed in order to cover up his involvement with a Chechen crime ring. But rather than arrest him, Loach asked Barry to murder his ex-wife’s new boyfriend in exchange for his freedom. Barry’s response to this request was a wide-eyed and full-throated “WHAT?!” (also the name of the episode)—the utter disbelief of someone shocked to yet again get away with murder. Barry had extricated himself from numerous delicate situations by brutal force of will, but here he was saved by dumb luck and the venal self-interest of others.
“WHAT?!” as astonished exhortation, and “wow” as joyless acceptance of the circumstances: These two reactions also describe how I’ve felt about Barry’s arc. With its finale, I can’t shake a sense of disappointment at watching Hader, who was both the star and a co-creator of the series, turn away from the tone that made the show such a surprise hit. When it debuted in 2018, the “hit man with a heart of gold” trope had already been explored throughout pop culture, but Barry plumbed new depth by leaning into goofball slapstick and mordant pathos. (And, befitting its subject, it found room for some of the most gripping action sequences I’d ever seen on television.) It was hardly the first show to straddle drama and comedy, but it was unique in how it chased extremes at both ends. I was frequently amazed at the way moments of unbelievable tension could be leavened by a ridiculous punch line; how comedic situations could quickly turn deadly.
Barry rejected not just genre and stereotypes, but one of prestige TV’s favorite themes. From the moment Tony Soprano stepped into Dr. Melfi’s office, Can a bad person be redeemed? has been the animating question of many acclaimed shows; Barry highlighted how clueless and self-serving the query could be. “Whatever lives these characters may be aspiring toward is irrelevant, because who they are right now is bad,” the show seemed to say. All of Barry’s attempts to improve himself were undercut by the people he continued to kill. Redemption might have come in the solitude of a jail cell, but Barry kept weaseling out of accountability while lying to himself about the moral weight of his actions. Time and time anew, he’d declare that he was turning over a new leaf, only to kill again, forcing himself to relaunch the betterment process: “Starting … now,” he kept saying, oblivious to the permanence of the red in his ledger.
This contradictory behavior was, in fact, the root of much of the show’s humor. Slowly, though, Hader ramped up Barry’s bad behavior—notably in his verbally abusive treatment of his girlfriend, Sally (Sarah Goldberg), in Season 3—while leaching the show’s comedic relief. The final, fourth season still had its moments of levity: I grinned at the stomach-turning sight gag of the Chechen mob boss NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) finding four bloody boxes in his office, each one presumably containing the head of the four killers he’d hired to murder a rival. But the characters’ moral descent simply made the show less funny, and more self-consciously serious than in prior seasons.
Here’s one example: Back in Season 2, NoHo Hank quipped that he couldn’t just walk into the “John Wick assassin hotel”—which, in those movies, serves as a neutral base for an assortment of hired guns—to find a competent contract killer. By the end of Season 4, Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root) had evolved from Barry’s bumbling handler into the paterfamilias of a group of hit men he befriended in prison—in other words, a one-man proprietor of an assassin network. That Fuches became the type of cliché the show once mocked was sort of played for laughs—it was very, very silly to see the avuncular Fuches skulk around in a tank top and full-body tattoos—until it wasn’t. Getting beaten up in prison forced Fuches to accept who he was: “a man with no heart,” as he declares to NoHo Hank when they stand off in the final episode. Similarly, much of this season attempted to depict who these characters really were once their delusions were stripped away, and its joyless appraisals were more tedious than revelatory.
This happened repeatedly: The goofy and affable NoHo Hank was forced to abet the death of his lover, Cristobal (Michael Irby), and ugly-cry on multiple occasions, until his anticlimactic death. Sally killed a would-be assassin at the end of Season 3 and spent most of this season racked with guilt and haunted by her PTSD. And after watching Cousineau spend three seasons seeking justice for the murder of his girlfriend, the LAPD detective Janice, I found it hard to see him ultimately charged for the crime because of a procedural misunderstanding. Cousineau—a pathetic yet sweet-hearted actor still hanging on to his dreams of movie stardom, who so believably fell in love with Janice—became a breakout favorite, winning Winkler new acclaim in the late period of his career. His killing of Barry, the one person who could get him off the hook for Janice’s death, felt sour; Winkler had never played his character as someone who’d walk the route of pure vengeance, not with a chance of vindication still hanging in the air.
Yet I sort of understand why the hitherto innocent Cousineau had to take the blame. In Barry, ambition and self-deception were neatly entwined. Cousineau’s evergreen desire for the spotlight—he insisted that he didn’t want Janice’s murder to be adapted into Hollywood schlock, but reversed course when he thought he might be portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis—ended up being his downfall. Meanwhile Barry, right before he was shot, seemed to finally understand that it was time to drop his fantasies and accept blame for killing Janice—the first glimmer of legitimate growth he’d displayed throughout the show’s four seasons.
Good for him, but the breakthrough wasn’t cathartic or meaningful. By the end, the show was out of surprises. There were no more “WHAT?!” moments, no more inventive narrative jolts, few examples of that singular comedic register. But perhaps that’s the truth about bad people who’ve finally shed their delusions: They’re not that surprising, or funny. In its final episodes, Barry leaned into tragedy and resignation because that’s all its characters had left.
At one point in the the early 2010s, I thought that by now we would have photorealistic CGI humans and would have overcome the uncanny valley, but still, it seems video game graphics have stagnated, where the NPCs of the latest AAA games, such as Final Fantasy 16, are hardly any different from the NPCs of the early 2010 games.
Even the metahumans from UE5 – ordinary people can easily tell that they are not real.
Is it due to the lack of computing power or the lack of research in the proper algorithms required to enable this, but why don't we yet have the technology to create photorealistic CGI NPCs/humans that are indistinguishable from real humans?
I am not talking about the AI – just the body movement and facial expressions – even this domain seems still very primitive compared to real life humans.
used GPT-4 to create a autonomous AI agent that goes around Minecraft, explores and advances the tech tree.
The incredible thing here is that the bot writes scripts for itself that makes it better at playing the game. So if it meets a spider, it writes a script for how to kill that spider. Once that script is working, it adds that "skill" to it's "skill library". Over time it keeps advancing and developing better abilities.
It's skill library is also transferable to other AI agents like AutoGPT.
This seems like it has a lot of implications for the future of software development. This is able to generate code and keep making it better without human help. Everything is automated.
Here's a video overview:
GPT-4 here is used as a sort of "reasoning engine". It decides on what to do in the game, but also it creates the code to make itself better and add new skills for it to use.
Another thing is GPT-4 doesn't have vision. All the data is fed into it through a text prompt.
It's told "you have a fishing rod, you are standing next to a river, and around you are blocks of sand, and a pig. What do you want to do?".
What does this mean for software developers?
It seems like GPT-4 can now autonomously create, test and optimize code. It decides on what it needs to do like:
"Craft 1 Stone Ax"
It works like a developer, thinking through the task, developing and testing code and continuously optimizing the entire application to make sure it's working well and getting updated.
It seems like this would rapidly replace developers. You still need some sort of a person that sets up the environment for the AI to start and then also maybe "babysits" it to make sure it's not going off the rails, but overall it seems like it will largely do it's own work.
The first protein-based nano-computing agent that functions as a circuit has been created by Penn State researchers. The milestone puts them one step closer to developing next-generation cell-based therapies to treat diseases like diabetes and cancer.
Traditional synthetic biology approaches for cell-based therapies, such as ones that destroy cancer cells or encourage tissue regeneration after injury, rely on the expression or suppression of proteins that produce a desired action within a cell. This approach can take time (for proteins to be expressed and degrade) and cost cellular energy in the process. A team of Penn State College of Medicine and Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences researchers are taking a different approach.
"We're engineering proteins that directly produce a desired action," said Nikolay Dokholyan, G. Thomas Passananti Professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Pharmacology. "Our protein-based devices or nano-computing agents respond directly to stimuli (inputs) and then produce a desired action (outputs)."
In a study published in Science Advances today (May 26) Dokholyan and bioinformatics and genomics doctoral student Jiaxing Chen describe their approach to creating their nano-computing agent. They engineered a target protein by integrating two sensor domains, or areas that respond to stimuli. In this case, the target protein responds to light and a drug called rapamycin by adjusting its orientation, or position in space.
To test their design, the team introduced their engineered protein into live cells in culture. By exposing the cultured cells to the stimuli, they used equipment to measure changes in cellular orientation after cells were exposed to the sensor domains' stimuli.
Previously, their nano-computing agent required two inputs to produce one output. Now, Chen says there are two possible outputs and the output depends on which order the inputs are received. If rapamycin is detected first, followed by light, the cell will adopt one angle of cell orientation, but if the stimuli are received in reverse order, then the cell adopts a different orientation angle. Chen says this experimental proof-of-concept opens the door for the development of more complex nano-computing agents.
"Theoretically, the more inputs you embed into a nano-computing agent, the more potential outcomes that could result from different combinations," Chen said. "Potential inputs could include physical or chemical stimuli and outputs could include changes in cellular behaviors, such as cell direction, migration, modifying gene expression and immune cell cytotoxicity against cancer cells."
The team plans to further develop their nano-computing agents and experiment with different applications of the technology. Dokholyan, a researcher with Penn State Cancer Institute and Penn State Neuroscience Institute, said their concept could someday form the basis of the next-generation cell-based therapies for various diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, viral infections, diabetes, nerve injury and cancer.
Yashavantha Vishweshwaraiah, Richard Mailman and Erdem Tabdanov of Penn State College of Medicine also contributed to this research. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
This work was funded by the National Institutes of Health (grant 1R35GM134864) and the Passan Foundation
The Challenges of Traditional Government Systems: Traditional government systems often grapple with challenges such as bureaucratic inefficiencies, slow decision-making processes, and difficulties in adequately addressing the needs of diverse populations. These shortcomings can hinder progress and hinder the overall effectiveness of governance. However, proponents of AI assert that it could provide innovative solutions to these long-standing issues.
- Team develops new 'attacker' device to improve autonomous car safety
Are you training the robot that will replace you? Do you know your employer intends to replace you with AI soon? Or has it unlocked unfathomable potential for you to do your job even better?
We’ll be making a considered and empathetic documentary that puts a human face on all the flashy technological advances that have consumed the news in recent months. We aren’t looking to demonize technology or deify humanity, we are looking for stories that can anchor us in a moment of rapid change and individuals living through this rapidly approaching future.
Recently described as a public health emergency, profound loneliness can affect anyone craving deeper connections
In the UK 25 million people report they are occasionally, sometimes or often lonely, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness. In the US the surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, recently disclosed his own experience of “profound loneliness” as he released his national strategy highlighting just how many people experience loneliness as well as potential solutions to alleviate it. Murthy emphasised that loneliness has escalated into a public health emergency, affecting one in two
, with health impacts as serious as addiction and obesity, and warned it was as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Murthy’s candid account of his own loneliness was picked up by multiple media outlets and resonated deeply with my client Murray*. Like many people, Murray struggled to understand that loneliness doesn’t just affect people who are socially isolated or who live alone. Murray is professionally successful, earns a higher-than-average income and lives with a partner and teenage children. He plays sport, helps with his children’s sport clubs and keeps a busy round of dinners and social events for work. Murray sought help for anxiety which he found scary and surprising. He’d begun experiencing overwhelming panic attacks that took hold of him at unpredictable times and seemingly without warning. Murray felt ashamed and helpless and just wanted the attacks to stop. In telling me about himself he didn’t mention any feelings of loneliness.
These terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually different. Social isolation is the objective state of being alone. In contrast, loneliness is the subjective experience of disconnection. This means that you could be around other people, yet still feel lonely.
Why might that be? Loneliness can arise from not feeling seen, understood, or validated. It can come from spending time with people who don’t share your values or interests. It can also come from too many superficial interactions and not enough deeper connections.Continue reading…
Scientific Reports, Published online: 28 May 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35151-2Exploratory preferences explain the human fascination for imaginary worlds in fictional stories
After a three-year hiatus, scientists in
Unlike light waves, gravitational waves are nearly unimpeded by the galaxies, stars, gas, and dust that fill the universe. This means that by measuring gravitational waves, astrophysicists like me can peek directly into the heart of some of the most spectacular phenomena in the universe.
Since 2020, the Laser Interferometric Gravitational-Wave Observatory—commonly known as LIGO—has been sitting dormant while it underwent some exciting upgrades. These improvements will significantly boost the sensitivity of LIGO and should allow the facility to observe more-distant objects that produce smaller ripples in spacetime.
By detecting more of the events that create gravitational waves, there will be more opportunities for astronomers to also observe the light produced by those same events. Seeing an event through multiple channels of information, an approach called multi-messenger astronomy, provides astronomers rare and coveted opportunities to learn about physics far beyond the realm of any laboratory testing.
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.
Good morning! I’m the senior Books editor at The Atlantic. I’m taking over today’s culture edition of the Daily for something a little different: an exciting update from our Books section, and some recommendations for your summer reading list.
First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:
- The first social-media babies are growing up—and they’re horrified.
- Colorado’s ingenious idea for solving the housing crisis
- Twitter is a far-right social network.
Your Summer Reads
This past week was a big one at The Atlantic’s Books desk. Not only did we publish our annual summer reading guide (more about that soon), but we also relaunched the Books Briefing, our weekly newsletter where you can find all things bookish in The Atlantic: essays, recommendations, reports from the literary world.
One thing you should know is that our approach to books is a little different here. With all due respect to the traditional book review and its thumbs-up or thumbs-down assessment, we know that our readers want more than just to be told whether they should buy a book (though we hope to help with that as well). They want to understand how a novel might give them a new way to think about language or altruism. They want the concepts embedded in the best nonfiction books—whether it’s okay to live a “good-enough life,” for instance, or what the difference is between accomplishment and mastery—to be debated, not just named. And they want incisive profiles of storytelling masters, such as David Grann, and of novelists who are trying something strange and original, such as Catherine Lacey. They want the latest on book banning.
We’ve got all of it. And the Books Briefing will really be the best way for you to stay caught up. This week, for example, we’re pointing to our summer reading guide, which we just published. This is the annual opportunity our writers and editors get to share some of their favorites with you.
Many of the books on our list are older and have earned their place as treasured recommendations over time (one of mine this year is Lore Segal’s Her First American; you’ll never find a more eccentric love story). But we like to make sure our readers also know about some of the brand-new books out this summer that we think are worth picking up. Here are a few highlights:
- This year, my colleague Maya Chung looked at Emma Cline’s The Guest and the “feeling of sweaty anxiety” it creates through the story of a young grifter on Long Island who survives by taking advantage of nearly everyone she meets.
- Emma Sarappo, also an editor on the Books desk, read Samantha Irby’s Quietly Hostile, a hilarious collection of essays that tracks the great transition from being “young and lubricated,” as Irby puts it, to being middle-aged.
- Nicole Acheampong, on our Culture desk, delved into Brandon Taylor’s new novel, The Late
Americans—a group portrait of a loose circle of friends in Iowa City fighting and loving and fighting as they come of age.
- And I took the nonfiction route and spent time with David Grann’s The Wager, about an 18th-century shipwreck off the coast of Patagonia and its mutinous aftermath—an incredible story rendered by Grann as a narrative that insists you keep reading.
For people inclined toward audiobooks (a newly acquired habit of mine), I’ll leave you with a recommendation from some of my recent listening. I’m a big fan of James McBride’s work and loved his last novel, Deacon King Kong, which I actually chose as one of my summer reads last year. His new book, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, is out in August, and in anticipation, I decided to listen to his memoir, The Color of Water. The book is McBride’s love letter to his mother—a Jewish immigrant and the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi—who survived a brutal childhood in the South, left her family at 17, and married a Black man and raised 12 children in Brooklyn. The audiobook is read alternately by a voice actor who presents McBride’s narration (JD Jackson) and a different actor for the chapters in which Ruth McBride tells her life story in the first person (Susan Denaker). It’s a wonderful way to take in the memoir and appreciate McBride’s reconstruction of his family’s history, and the voice he gives back to his mother.
The Week Ahead
- The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America, in which the journalist Monica Potts uncovers the plight of girls and women in the nation’s rural towns (on sale Tuesday)
- Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the long-awaited sequel to 2018’s “exuberant and inventive” Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (in theaters Friday)
- Searching for Soul Food, which follows the celebrity chef Alisa Reynolds in her quest to find out what soul food looks like around the world (begins streaming Friday on Hulu)
The 400-Year-Old Tragedy That Captures Our Chaos
By Megan Garber
This story contains spoilers through the ninth episode of Succession Season 4.
Roman Roy was ready. He had written his eulogy for his father—a great man, he would say, great despite and because of it all—on hot-pink index cards. He had practiced the speech in front of a mirror. He had “pre-grieved,” he kept telling people, and so could be trusted to fulfill, one last time, the core duty of the family business: to love in a way that moves markets.
More in Culture
- Yellowjackets, how could you?
- A Chinese American show that doesn’t bother to explain itself
- Tina Turner’s cosmic life
- You Hurt My Feelings is a hilarious anxiety spiral.
- We still don’t know Anna Nicole Smith.
- Chain-Gang All-Stars is Gladiator meets the American prison system.
- The 1880s political novel that could have been written today
Catch Up on The Atlantic
- The far right is splintering.
- The hottest trend in investing is mostly a sham.
- Why the GOP wants to rob Gen Z to pay the Boomers
Check out the Chelsea Flower Show in England, a scarecrow fair in Italy, and the rest of our photo editor’s selections of the week’s best snapshots.
Kelli María Korducki contributed to this newsletter.
— For Donna
Rain comes back to the East River,
never the same river
but the buildings still toss their lights
on the water like flaming cocktails, the ferry
groans as it docks and then turns
away. Rain returns
to the river and goes
wherever souls go, thronging
forward and falling back. Your sister
at the end, flushed with morphine, called out
to the gone dog of your childhoods Here
Come in from the balcony, honey.
I’ve made you some food.
Sit in this chair and force it down
and we’ll hate God together and remember her.
Five years ago, I stood at the end of a knife-edge ridge, a tangle of blue rope at my feet, my 25-year-old daughter Lilidh by my side. I knew we were beaten – we hadn’t made it anywhere near the top. I had pulled back from the brink, no longer able to feign competence. Despite my best efforts I realised I simply did not have the technical skills needed to proceed. Lilidh felt crushed by our defeat that day.
It had begun casually enough. Lilidh lived and worked near Queenstown, New Zealand, as a trekking guide on multi-day hikes. When I visited her, we would head into the surrounding valleys and mountains for adventures. Back in 2018, two months before one of these trips, Lilidh had suggested we try Mitre Peak.Continue reading…
Threat posed by ‘provocative’ Russia and China has left US no choice but to prepare for orbital skirmishes
is ready for conflict in outer space, according to a senior military official, after developing anti-satellite technologies to counter the threats posed by “provocative” countries such as Russia and China.
Brig Gen Jesse Morehouse at US Space Command, the arm of the military responsible for space operations, said Russian aggression and China’s vision to become the dominant space power by mid-century, had left the US with “no choice” but to prepare for orbital skirmishes.Continue reading…
Sigmund Freud had a rule. However irresistible the temptation to burrow into the inner life of kings, prime ministers, and tycoons, he wouldn’t analyze famous contemporaries from afar. It just wasn’t right to rummage around in the mind of a subject who didn’t consent to the practice. But in the end, he found one leader so fascinating and so maddening that his ethical qualms apparently melted away.
From the distance of the present, it’s almost impossible to imagine that Woodrow Wilson was the one public figure whom Freud felt compelled to put on the couch. But that’s because the current prevailing image of the early-20th-century president—an enforcer of white supremacy, an enemy of civil liberties, a man preserved in sepia photographs as an unsmiling prig wearing a pair of pince-nez—is so remote from the near-messianic character that he cut in his day.
When Wilson arrived in France at the end of 1918, one month after the armistice that ended the Great War, he was greeted by adoring crowds hanging out of windows, crowding sidewalks, and chanting his name. “An immense cry of love,” read the six-column headline in Le Petit Parisien. That tableau followed him to every European city he visited. What he represented was, in fact, redemption: the promise of eternal peace and the dawn of a new world order.
Of all the politicians of his day, Wilson most clearly envisioned the better world that could emerge from war, built on values of self-determination and democracy. He not only had the best plan for realizing his high ideals, but he also possessed an acute understanding of what might go wrong if the Allies allowed their sense of grievance to drive them to impose harsh terms on the vanquished. Wilson’s failure to make good on these bloated expectations was the source of Freud’s fascination and fury, as it was for a generation of intellectuals.
Some of the animosity that Freud and other critics aimed at Wilson was unfair: After dinging him for negotiating a treaty they regarded as dangerously misguided, they turned around and chided him for his inability to shepherd it through the U.S Senate, an institution he had carefully studied during his long, celebrated career as a professor. That failure was further evidence, they argued, of Wilson’s abominable statesmanship. He refused to make concessions to his critics, even when that was clearly his only viable choice. And in the end, unable to achieve the purest form of his plans, he bizarrely instructed the Senate to reject a modified version of the treaty altogether. More than any of his enemies, he was responsible for shattering his own dreams. The Senate’s failure to ratify the treaty was one of the greatest embarrassments in the history of the presidency.
Wilson’s inexplicable choices, his extreme stubbornness, demanded a psychological explanation, perhaps one that scrutinized childhood traumas. This was Freud’s business, and he couldn’t resist. Eleven years after the Senate rejected Wilson’s treaty, the world’s most famous psychoanalyst began writing a long study of Wilson’s mind, in collaboration with the American diplomat William C. Bullitt, who had been one of Wilson’s aides. At Freud’s urging, Bullitt went back and interviewed a slew of Wilson’s closest friends and advisers so that the pair could devise their own intimate theory of Wilson’s failures. What emerged was a scathing indictment of Wilson, whom they depicted as neurotic and self-sabotaging, in what was a polemic masquerading as dispassionate biography.
Their book, Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study, has a life and afterlife nearly as complicated and fascinating as its subject. The manuscript sat unpublished for nearly 35 years. When it finally appeared—in 1966, long after Freud’s death in 1939—the doctor’s daughter Anna, a fanatical guardian of her father’s reputation, worked to discredit the final product. (She even managed to tweak a draft of a review panning the work that ran in The New York Times—and succeeded in persuading the book’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin, to nix a preface to the book written by one of Freud’s disciples.) The controversy over the book was such that The New York Review of Books covered it with vituperative essays from mid-century powerhouse intellectuals such as Erik Erikson and Richard Hofstadter. Many of the critics doubted that Freud played a meaningful role in the production of the manuscript, because some of its interpretations deviated from Freudian orthodoxies, and the prose was clunkier and more repetitive than in his masterworks. The doubts stoked in those reviews have hovered over the book ever since.
Patrick Weil, a researcher at both Yale Law School and the French National Centre for Scientific Research, has written a lively book about the book, The Madman in the White House—a work of archival digging that digressively caroms across subjects, from Paris in 1919 to interwar Vienna to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Washington. Even if his attempt to defend the lasting value of Freud’s book isn’t entirely convincing, he has written a vivid shaggy-dog story about a curio that illuminates the possibilities (and perils) of studying the psychological soundness of presidents—a discipline as relevant as ever.
What makes Weil’s book most compelling is that he has a charming, somewhat caddish central character in Freud’s co-writer, William C. Bullitt: a swashbuckling diplomat, a successful novelist, and a bullheaded political operator who habitually provoked controversy.
As a 20-something, Bullitt traveled to Paris as part of Wilson’s entourage, sitting by the president’s side as he presided over negotiations that would end the war. Wilson’s alter ego and closest adviser, Colonel Edward House, stocked the American delegation in France with bright young Ivy Leaguers, but Bullitt received the most exciting assignment of the lot. In early 1919, House furtively dispatched him to Moscow to explore a deal with Vladimir Lenin that would establish American diplomatic relations with the Bolsheviks. That trip ruptured Bullitt’s relationship with Wilson. Word of his mission to Russia leaked and was blasted in the Daily Mail, which accused Bullitt of working on behalf of Jewish interests seeking to bolster the Communists. The British publicly distanced themselves from his efforts. When Bullitt returned with the outlines of agreement, Wilson kept canceling their appointments. (Wilson claimed he had a headache.) The whole effort awkwardly withered.
Cut off from his access to Wilson, Bullitt resigned from the administration—and wrote a letter listing the many reasons that he considered the president’s peace negotiations a disaster. Anticipating what would be the main lines of criticism from John Maynard Keynes and Walter Lippmann, Bullitt accused Wilson of abandoning his high ideals. He had allowed the other victorious Allied nations to impose unnecessarily harsh terms on the vanquished. The emerging peace settlement transgressed the slogan that Wilson had promised would guide their thinking: “Peace without victory.”
The resignation of a 28-year-old aide would not have normally grabbed global headlines. But Bullitt, with his flair for spectacle, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and bluntly accused Wilson of lying about what took place at Versailles, dramatically wielding Wilson’s own typewritten notes as evidence. It was a public turn that profoundly wounded the treaty’s prospects of being ratified in the Senate. And in the days that followed Bullitt’s testimony, Wilson complained of more “blinding headaches, breathing difficulties, and exhaustion.” His physical deterioration progressed: drooling and the drooping of the left side of his face, followed by the paralysis of half his body. His stroke was so severe that the aides feared his imminent death and considered how they might replace him. Physically, politically, and perhaps cognitively, Wilson no longer had the capacity to fight for his treaty. He never recovered.
Bullitt’s anger toward Wilson was itself worthy of psychoanalysis—and, in fact, Bullitt found himself in Vienna in 1926, knocking on Freud’s door and asking if he would take him on as a patient. Bullitt’s marriage was crumbling, and he had lost his sense of professional purpose. Apparently, Freud recognized his name and agreed to admit Bullitt to what the diplomat called the “sacred couch.”
The relationship wasn’t a straightforward doctor-patient one, and their long conversations would invariably circle back to their shared animus toward Wilson and their mutual disappointment in his ineffectual leadership. The former president was the unevictable tenant squatting in Bullitt’s mind, and he used his sessions to hash out the contents of a play that he was writing about Wilson. Bullitt dedicated the script, which never made it to the stage, to “my friend Sigmund Freud.”
Four years into their relationship, Bullitt described a book he wanted to write about the leaders who populated the Paris Peace Conference and their personalities. He asked if Freud might want to write the chapter on Wilson. Despite his principled reservations about analyzing public figures, Freud loved the idea. Bullitt sensed an opportunity and suggested that Freud’s chapter become the whole of the book. Freud agreed, on the condition that Bullitt perform the donkey work of compiling the raw material that would allow them to sketch their shared analysis.
As they began researching and writing the book, Freud told him, “I hope one result of the publication of this work will be your reintroduction to politics.” But it was precisely Bullitt’s reintroduction to politics that scuttled the publication of their work. Just as they finished their collaboration in 1932, Bullitt told Freud that he worried that the book might undermine his chances for a job in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s incoming administration. Publishing a scathing portrait of the previous Democratic president, a president whom FDR revered, might be received as evidence that Bullitt was a loose cannon. His caution was rewarded. Roosevelt named Bullitt the first American ambassador to the Soviet Union.
From his perch in Moscow, Bullitt mentored George Kennan, his deputy, and befriended the novelist Mikhail Bulgakov. In 1935, he hosted perhaps the most famous party in American diplomatic history, a spring festival that included an aviary in the embassy’s great hall, white roosters in glass cages, a menagerie that included goats, a banquet table covered in a lawn of emerald-green grass, and a baby bear that sipped champagne. (The bear vomited on a Soviet general.) Bulgakov, who attended, used the party as inspiration for a memorable set piece in The Master and Margarita.
In 1936, after three years of aggravating back-and-forth with Stalin—Bullitt described him as “a wiry Gipsy with roots and emotions beyond my experience”—Roosevelt rescued Bullitt from Moscow and relocated him to Paris, where he remained ambassador until the Nazi invasion. Bullitt styled himself as Roosevelt’s roving emissary in Europe—and made it his mission to serve as Freud’s protector once the continent became a dangerous place for a famous Jewish doctor. After the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, Bullitt pushed German diplomats to let Freud leave—and he dispatched the American chargé d’affaires in Vienna to rescue their manuscript before the Nazis had a chance to rifle through Freud’s study. When the Freud family finally departed on the Orient Express, the State Department supplied a bodyguard to watch over them.
Despite his diplomatic skills, Bullitt frequently said the undiplomatic thing. He began to regard FDR as hopelessly soft on communism and dangerously duped by Stalin. Estranged from the administration, he became a brash freelancer. Toward the end of the war, he enlisted in Charles DeGaulle’s Free France army. (He was run over by a vehicle during fighting in Alsace and spent two months in the hospital.) And in the aftermath of the conflict, his commitment to the anti-communist cause took him to Taiwan, where he advised Chiang Kai-shek. Back at home, he adopted Richard Nixon as his foreign-policy protégé.
Only at the very end of his life did Bullitt’s thoughts return to releasing the Wilson book into the world. Weil suggests that Bullitt spent decades dithering over publishing it, because he harbored misgivings about some of its sensational conclusions.
Weil’s speculation is grounded in his sleuthing. He tracked down the long-lost versions of the book, following the scent to a box filled with drafts in an archive at Yale. What he discovered settles some of the old debates about Freud’s authorship. Weil found the good doctor’s signature on each chapter of the manuscript, evidence that he considered himself the book’s intellectual co-owner.
But after Freud’s death, Bullitt kept on editing. As he prepared the text for publication, he cut some of its most incendiary claims. He culled passages about Wilson’s teenage masturbatory habits and excised sections implying that Wilson was a latent homosexual. (One of Wilson’s aides would share his bed on the president’s speaking tours, but he also testified that there was never any hint of sex.) In effect, Bullitt was trying to save the book from the embarrassing excesses of Freudianism.
Still, the work remained an unabashed expression of Freudian theory, placing Wilson at the center of an Oedipal drama. The president appears in its pages as a hopeless neurotic trying to best the father he revered and resented. The book argues that Wilson cast his father as God—and himself as Christ, a long-suffering servant. This accounts for Wilson’s tendency to accuse his closest confidants of betrayal, and for his sanctimony.
Weil struggles to make a compelling case for the interpretative value of Freud and Bullitt’s book. But in describing the manuscript, he also damns it by calling attention to its tenuous claims. For example: Wilson’s overbearing father was a Presbyterian minister—and as a teenager, Wilson idolized British prime ministers, especially William Gladstone, whose speeches he memorized; as an academic, Wilson argued that American presidents should behave more like their counterparts in the U.K. It was a theory he tried to turn into practice: Once he became head of state, he initially styled himself as a parliamentary leader. Freud and Bullitt trumpet this fascination with becoming prime minister as evidence of his desire to be a more important minister than his father, one-upmanship in his Oedipal struggle.
To the extent that Weil has a larger point to make, it’s that the character of political leaders matters. It’s hard to disagree with that. Certainly, recent American history provides a disturbing confirmation of the importance of presidential temperament. But, as Freud and Bullitt’s book illustrates, it can also be a distorting obsession. The focus on presidential character tends to overstate its importance and to encourage what’s been called Green Lanternism, the idea, coined by the political scientist Brendan Nyhan, that a president could accomplish more if only they tried harder.
The psychological approach can flatten the career of a politician. If Wilson had a self-defeating Christ complex, how, then, is it possible to explain the many domestic accomplishments of his first term? More bizarrely, Freud and Bullitt downplay Wilson’s stroke, which clearly incapacitated him at a crucial moment in his presidency and exacerbated his stubbornness. His mental and physical deterioration remained dangerously out of public view, and the constitutional system faltered in its attempts to compensate for his incapacity and limit the damage he inflicted in his deteriorated state—an object lesson in how not to deal with an impaired president.
Even though Weil hints at his own quibbles with the thesis of the Freud-Bullitt collaboration, he doesn’t voice those objections very loudly, because they would diminish his justification for writing this book. But Freud should have never violated his own rule.
When I was a deaf kid growing up in the 1990s, I had two recurring fantasies. One was that more hearing people would learn
Sign Language. The other was that, one day, the whole world would be captioned, just like TV shows and movies. I imagined pulling on sleek sci-fi glasses, and voilà: The tangle of spoken words around me would unravel into beautiful, legible, written English.
The second of my childhood reveries came back to me recently when I sat down in a quiet on-campus atrium at Harvard with Alex and Marilyn Westner, the co-founders of the Boston-area start-up Xander, who had invited me to chat over coffee after seeing me quoted in a newspaper article about their company’s augmented-reality live-captioning glasses. They slid a bulky prototype across the table, and I put the glasses on my face. Immediately, written words scrolled across a translucent digital box above my right eye.
“How does that feel?” I saw the captioned words right after Alex uttered them. Because I have always watched videos with closed captions on, my initial thought was that he’d stepped out of a TV screen to talk to me.
Although this was my first time trying captioned glasses—a still-nascent form of augmented-reality technology that companies such as XRAI Glass and Google are also competing to develop—I’ve been watching for years now as the possibilities of a live-captioned world have been advancing. Look around and you’ll find automated captions everywhere—on YouTube and Instagram Reels, on Google Meet and Zoom and FaceTime. Like other AI-generated tools, these captions are not perfect, and they aren’t an accessibility silver bullet, but for some uses they’ve gotten surprisingly good. In my discussion with the Xander founders, we mainly stuck to topics about how the glasses worked—a tightly-focused conversation is typically easier to follow—but live captions did ease the guesswork of chatting with my two hearing coffee companions.
Anyone who has turned on automated captions over the past decade knows that accuracy isn’t always their strong suit. I’ve hopped on Zoom lectures and seen opaque walls of text without punctuation and technical vocabulary butchered beyond recognition. I’ve gone to church without an interpreter, where I fixed my eyes on a live-captioning app that plunged me into non sequiturs about the “Cyanide Desert” (no wonder those Israelites were so unhappy), or about Abraham using his “phone” (instead of his son?) as a sacrifice to the “Clearview Lord” (whoever that might be). After those sermons ended, my head throbbed. I couldn’t help but think of all the people scattered after the fall of Babel, scrambled into all their varying languages. Like those ancients, we must remember that technological innovation, by itself, cannot transport us to the heavens. We must still choose when and how to use it.
For a while, like Rikki Poynter and many other deaf advocates, I associated auto-captions with #craptions—that is, captions so bad that they were less likely to tell a comprehensible story than to make the user unleash streams of profanity. (And with good reason: Sometimes nonobscene dialogue appears on-screen as starred-out curse words.) I’d always been able to request professional human-generated Communication Access Realtime Translation services for school and work events, and I cringed every time a naive hearing companion mentioned auto-generated captions. That was a sign that they didn’t understand how low the quality of those captions were.
When I started graduate school in 2015, I saw an academic administrator rightly apologize in front of a large assembly after she’d played a Harry Potter video clip for us during orientation. She’d forgotten to check whether the dialogue was accessible to everyone in the audience, and she might have assumed that the YouTube auto-captions would be just as good as the captions that accompanied the original video.
They weren’t. Harry and Ron and Hermione soon fell into such streams of cursing and nonsense that one would have thought they’d been bewitched.
While I sank in my seat, the hearing students burst into collective laughter at the bungled captions. To her credit, the administrator promptly stopped the video. She expressed regret to me and my ASL interpreter in the front row. Then she reprimanded the others: “How would you like to have this for your access?”
The room fell silent. The administrator had identified a fundamental lack of communicative equity. At least it’s better than nothing—this was often what hearing people told me about auto-captions, but what was I supposed to do, settle for scraps? I, too, found some of the errors funny, but I mostly thought of them as garbage.
By the beginning of the pandemic, though, my relationship with auto-captioning had begun to shift. Stuck at home and dealing with physical isolation and the masks that made lipreading impossible, I sighed when some hearing friends suggested that I try speech-transcription apps and auto-captioned video calls. I remember logging tentatively into Google Meet for the first time, unsure if I would see something like my old dream of beautiful written captions or their mangled cousin.
Two of my hearing friends, who sign a little but not much, entered the video chat. One said, “Hey, Rachel, it’s so good to see you.”
The caption read, “Hey, Rachel, it’s so good to see you.”
We continued, relieved to see one another’s faces again. The captions still had some errors, but they largely kept up. I sensed that the game had just changed.
During the pandemic, I videochatted blissfully with deaf and signing friends—captions were unnecessary—but I also felt freer to join spontaneous chats with non-signing hearing people. Auto-captions became an unexpected lifeline. I used them for informal work and social calls, and I saw them appear with greater accuracy across more online content. At the same time, more hearing people around me started regularly using captions for watching movies, TV shows, and videos. This captioned life was suddenly everywhere.
Deaf and disabled people have always been supreme life hackers, and I have learned to embrace auto-captions as an everyday communication-hacking tool. I love them for smaller discussions, where my online companions and I revel in the mutual act of shaping meaning. We stop for clarification. We gesture or type to one another in the chat box. The speech-transcription technology still struggles with specialized vocabulary and certain voices, including my own deaf voice—but, at their best, the captions can transform piecemeal exchanges into lively, coherent, easily legible paragraphs.
High-quality auto-captioning, as wondrous as it can be, does not automatically create access. Not all deaf people prefer to encounter conversations through captions, for one thing. Communicating through ASL, for many of us, is still easier and allows for far greater expressive fluency. And take the auto-captions out into the wide and noisy world, into larger professional events or lectures or multiperson interactions, and they can quickly turn precarious. We’ll turn on the live captions for you! hearing people say. But people who don’t rely on those captions for comprehension might not realize how often they still leave some of us stranded in the Cyanide Desert. Interpretation by human professionals is by no means obsolete.
So when I went to test the Xander glasses, I had my doubts about how well they would work. I also wondered how I might opt to use such a device in my own multilayered communicative life. Research by Xander, Google, and other companies invites us to consider how “accessibility” tech often enters and shapes the mainstream: More widespread use of captions and auxiliary text could benefit not just hard-of-hearing and late-deafened people, but also anyone else who savors the multisensory pleasures of seeing (rather than just listening to) spoken dialogue.
My first conversation with captioned glasses did feel like something out of the movies. I kept shaking my head in wonder at the captions floating in the air before me. “This is so cool,” I kept saying. Other deaf and hard-of-hearing users have expressed similar enthusiasm, noting that reading captioned conversations felt more intuitive and enjoyable than fighting to lipread or straining to hear sounds garbled by hearing aids.
Yet using captioned glasses involved its own active considerations. Every time I nodded, the captions jumped around. My vision got a bit blurry. I held my head absurdly still, trying to adjust my retinas to take in the captions and my companions at the same time. The Xander founders asked me about how clear and useful the captions were, where they were appearing on the lenses, and how large they were. I felt very aware of how much practice I still needed, of how the captioned life awaiting us may never be as straightforward as toggling something on or off with a device.
Furthermore, our immediate environment was more conducive to using the captioned glasses than the typical coffee shop or classroom would be. We had chosen a quiet spot with little background noise and few distractions. Perhaps one day improved language-processing software will be able to cut through overlapping chatter. Or perhaps, just like in my other principal childhood fantasy, more people will learn ASL and we won’t have to—but in the meantime I noted how our conversational setting affected the ways we communicated. Because it always does. I’d mentally toggled myself into English-speaking mode for the afternoon, and I also knew that using these glasses depended on my ability and willingness to do such a thing. I enjoyed talking with the Xander co-founders about speech, ASL, sound engineering, and the joys and complications of language, but I also felt grateful later that weekend to plunge into signing gatherings with deaf friends, sans glasses and caption-reading and text-scrolling. Both types of conversations felt meaningful, but for different reasons.
Our sleek sci-fi present offers no panaceas, even though technological advances such as automated captions bear immense promise for bridging our physiological differences. To use these forms of technology well, we must also consider what communicative equity can look like in different circumstances. I still dream of beautiful written captions, but I also believe they can be part of something much bigger: a social world more attuned to the deeply human need to be part of the conversation, and more cognizant of the variety of ways in which each of us can uncover linguistic meaning.
For months, the West has fretted over the prospect of paying for Ukraine’s reconstruction. Russia’s war has inflicted an estimated $400 billion in rebuilding costs, a tally that rises every day. Western leaders, already alarmed by inflation and the threat of recession, have understandably blanched over the bill.
But many of them are disregarding a solution that would cover most of Ukraine’s costs and help deter future aggression not only from Russia but from dictatorships around the world. A year ago, Western governments froze some $300 billion in state assets from Russia’s central bank. Now they could seize the funds and give them to Ukraine.
The biggest question is whether this would be legal. As critics have noted, a seizure of this magnitude has never been attempted. Moreover, little precedent exists for the United States to confiscate the assets of a nation with whom (despite the Kremlin’s claims to the contrary) it isn’t at war.
But Russia has unleashed a kind of rank imperialism the world has rarely seen since the Cold War, committing war crimes and—as manifold evidence suggests—genocide, all against a harmless neighbor. Because of its unjustifiable aggression and atrocities, Moscow has forfeited any moral right to funds stashed abroad.
The reasons to seize them are legion. Confiscating the Russian funds—which are spread across various Western economies—would serve a crucial role in ending the fighting, beating back Russian imperialism, and ensuring a viable economic future for Ukraine. And it would send a clear threat to regimes that might otherwise be willing to breach international law and destabilize continents for their own gain, as Moscow has.
Seizing these assets would also help fix an overlooked issue facing Ukraine: investor hesitancy. Investors remain wary of bankrolling projects that could be targeted by Russian drones and artillery. But the frozen funds could cover nearly 75 percent of Ukraine’s costs and significantly reduce the burden on potential financiers, making the country a more appealing investment destination.
In the U.S., much of the legal debate has focused on the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), a 1977 law that defines the president’s abilities to regulate international commerce during national emergencies. Although the IEEPA has historically been used to authorize more conventional sanctions—including in Iran, the Central African Republic, and China—some scholars have argued that it could also be used to seize the tens of billions of dollars in Russian assets currently in U.S. reserves.
That proposal has generated legal pushback, although advocates are undeterred. The nonprofit Renew Democracy Initiative told me that it plans to examine the “legal foundations for seizing frozen Russian assets and transferring them to Ukraine” and expects to publish its findings in the coming months. (The initiative is chaired by Garry Kasparov, who also chairs the Human Rights Foundation, where I direct a program on combating kleptocracy.)
Even if U.S. law offered clear justification, though, it couldn’t be used to touch any of Russia’s assets frozen in Europe, which are far more valuable than those in the U.S. Fortunately, international law appears to offer such justification.
As Philip Zelikow and Simon Johnson wrote in Foreign Affairs last year, Russia’s obvious culpability for the war entitles Ukraine to claim compensation from Russia. Because “the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a wrongful, unprovoked war of aggression that violates the United Nations Charter,” Zelikow and Johnson argue, any state (not just Ukraine) can “invoke Russia’s responsibility to compensate Ukraine, and they can take countermeasures against Moscow—including transferring its frozen foreign assets to ensure Ukraine gets paid.”
Despite many policy makers’ impression that Russian assets are untouchable, Anton Moiseienko, an international-law expert at the Australian National University, recently showed that they aren’t immune from seizure. “To extend protection from any governmental interferences to central bank assets would equate to affording them inviolability,” Moiseienko wrote, which is reserved only for property belonging to foreign diplomatic missions. The protection afforded central-bank assets “is not as absolute as is often thought.”
That is, in the eyes of international law, Russian assets aren’t inviolate. In fact, the only real remaining obstacles to seizing them are debates surrounding domestic laws and domestic politics. As Moiseienko wrote, “Political and economic circumspection, rather than legal constraints, are the last defense against [the assets’] confiscation.”
This is particularly true in the U.S., where plenty of hesitancy remains even after more than a year of war. As The New York Times reported in March, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen believes that seizing Russian assets could reduce faith in the American economy and the U.S. dollar. Other critics think it would threaten U.S. assets and investments in other countries.
These points all have a certain merit. And so, too, do concerns about such a move prompting the Kremlin to escalate. In all likelihood, though, Putin’s regime has already written off these funds, not least because they’ll almost certainly never be returned while he’s in power. Moreover, seizing them is hardly as escalatory as, say, the West sending Ukraine F-16s or long-range precision rockets.
But at a broader level, these criticisms misunderstand the significance of the war and what it may lead to.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is an assault on the geopolitical order. A nuclear power launched a militarized annexation, entirely unprovoked, against a neighbor that had long ago given up its arsenal. In the months following the invasion, the Kremlin has been accused of torture, beheadings, and manifold crimes against humanity. And it has been responsible for more bloodshed than any conflict in Europe has exacted since World War II. It is led by a dictator wanted for arrest by the International Criminal Court, and who is driven solely by a deranged, messianic imperialism. And it is setting a precedent for other autocrats, who are eager to see whether Putin’s revanchism will work—and eager to emulate any success he finds, especially if his crimes go unpunished.
If this war doesn’t justify seizing a nation’s assets, I’m not sure what would. Repairing the damage it has caused is well worth the risks that have occupied Washington.
Some Western leaders still hold out hope for a negotiated peace and argue that we should keep Russia’s assets frozen to be used later as a bargaining chip. But Putin cannot be negotiated with. And given the alternative—that these funds remain frozen in perpetuity as Russian munitions continue demolishing Ukrainian cities—the argument against seizing these assets gets weaker by the day.
The unprecedented nature of Putin’s crimes, the allowances of international law, and Ukraine’s growing need all point in one, clear direction. Russia’s frozen assets are not spoils of war; they are rightfully Ukraine’s. It’s time for the Biden administration and the rest of the West to put them to use.
This week, several shared articles did quite well on our Facebook page: The Upper Atmosphere Is Cooling, Prompting New Climate Concerns, At a glance – Global cooling – Is global warming still happening?, Global heating will push billions outside ‘human climate niche’, and Can Climate Change spark (zombie) Pandemics?
Links posted on Facebook
- The Upper Atmosphere Is Cooling, Prompting New Climate Concerns by Fred Pearce, Yale Environment 360, May 18, 2023
- Can Climate Change spark (zombie) Pandemics? by Adam Levy, ClimateAdam on Youtube, May 11, 2023
- At a glance – Global cooling – Is global warming still happening? by John Mason, Skeptical Science, May 23, 2023
- Global heating will push billions outside ‘human climate niche’ by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, May 22, 2023
- Climate change conspiracy theory about cataclysmic changes in Earth’s magnetic field goes viral on TikTok by Ilana Berger and Abbie Richards, MediaMatters for America, May 24, 2023
- Tweets, Ads, and Lies: Researchers Are Fighting against Climate Misinformation by Jessica Colarossi, The Brink, May 23, 2023
- Climate scientists flee Twitter as hostility surges by Roland Lloyd Parry, YahooNews, May 24, 2023
- ‘The public wants certainty’: why have
Americansstopped trusting in science? by Chris McGreal, The Guardian, May 25, 2023
- Emissions are no longer following the worst case scenario by Zeke Hausfather, The Climate Brink, May 25, 2023
- With Climate Panel as a Beacon, Global Group Takes On Misinformation by Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, May 24, 2023
- Skeptical Science New Research for Week #21 2023 by Doug Bostrom & Marc Kodack, Skeptical Science, May 25, 2023
If you happen upon high quality climate-science and/or climate-myth busting articles from reliable sources while surfing the web, please feel free to submit them via this Google form for possible inclusion on our Facebook page. Thanks!
The remarkable journey of Ben Abeles will be celebrated next week by the opening of a new archive
Ben Abeles’ impact on science was out of this world. He helped develop alloys that were key components of the radioisotope generators that powered US robot space probes on their interplanetary journeys. Nasa was then able to reveal the wonders of the solar system, from the ancient river beds of Mars to the icy moons of Jupiter.
One of the devices is still in use, providing electricity for the Perseverance robot rover that currently trundles across the surface of the red planet.Continue reading…