Zicutake USA Comment | Search Articles

#History (Education) #Satellite report #Arkansas #Tech #Poker #Language and Life #Critics Cinema #Scientific #Hollywood #Future #Conspiracy #Curiosity #Washington
 Smiley face
 SYFY TV online Free


[Calculate SHA256 hash]
 Smiley face
 Smiley face Encryption Text and HTML
Aspect Ratio Calculator
[HTML color codes]
 Smiley face Conversion to JavaScript
[download YouTube videos in MP4, FLV, 3GP, and many more formats]

 Smiley face Mining Satoshi | Payment speed

 Smiley face
Online BitTorrent Magnet Link Generator




How to Parent an Olympic Athlete

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 04:00 AM PST

Editor's Note: Find all of The Atlantic's Winter Olympics 2018 coverage here.

Watching a kid's (usually mediocre) school piano recital can be enough to elicit in her parent a range of emotions, from fear to excitement to overflowing pride. What happens when the big event is not a rec-room recital but, say, the Winter Olympics?

Being the parent of a competitive athlete comes with all kinds of pressures. But Karen Crouse, a New York Times sports writer who has attended around ten Olympic games over the past few decades, stumbled upon a kind of parenting utopia where, in her view, parents are really getting it right. That utopia is Norwich, Vermont, a charming town with roughly 3,000 residents. It has a historic inn and spotty cell service; households' groceries are added to a running tab that families pay off at the end of the month. But Norwich is big in other ways: The town has sent an athlete to almost every Winter Olympics over the past 30 years, and it boasts three Olympic medals.

Simon & Schuster

After covering the Olympics for so many years, Crouse grew tired of the games' intense competitiveness and felt nostalgic for the more convivial ethos on which the games were founded. As Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the modern Olympics in 1896, said, in Crouse's paraphrase: "the most important thing was not winning but taking part, just as the essential thing in life was not conquering but fighting well." She found in Norwich a similar kind of grounded approach that she discovered was key to raising healthy and happy kids—many of whom would also end up excelling in competitive sports. Crouse is out with a new book on the town and its lovable residents—Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town's Secret to Happiness and Excellence. I asked Crouse about Norwich, the challenges of raising kids who play competitive sports, and whether this New England parenting utopia holds lessons for parents everywhere. Her answers, provided via email, have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Isabel Fattal: What role do parents play in their kids' Olympics experiences? Do parents usually come to the Olympics?

Karen Crouse: Few people know this, but parents of Olympians do not have ready access to their children during the Games. I've watched swimmers converse with their parents through a chain-link fence because ... of tight security measures that are in place. And the athletes' days during their competitions are so regimented they don't have a lot of free time until they're done competing to hang out with their parents. Sometimes the athletes would have a hard time spotting a familiar face in the stands. The parents are often relegated to the nosebleed seats because their children didn't secure their Olympic spots until weeks before the start of the Games … or because they're settling for the most inexpensive seats as that's all they can afford.    

Fattal: You write of the parents of the mogul skier Hannah Kearney and the pro-hockey player Denny Kearney that their "greatest contribution to their children's sports careers was simply showing up." Yet some people people might say that good parenting involves pushing kids to remember their goals and dreams at times when they lose focus. When it comes to parenting kids who are involved in something as stressful as competitive sports, where's the line between supporting their ambitions and not pushing them too hard?

Crouse: From fleshing out the stories of the Norwich Olympians, my rule of thumb for parents would be this: If your child needs help remembering their goals and dreams at times when they lose focus, that could be a sign that they have lost their passion or enthusiasm for the sport. [The kids I wrote about in the book] never needed to be reminded of their goals. They woke up every morning thinking, "How can I get better today?" Parents who give their children ownership of their sports careers, who are content to ride shotgun for the journey—however long it lasts and wherever it leads—never have to fret about separating their ambition from their children's ambition. They need not worry that they've crossed the line between supporting their children to pushing them.

[The Kearney parents] got in that passenger seat for every mile of the journey—but [they were] never the ones behind the wheel, dictating the path that Hannah took.

Fattal: What do you think makes the schools in Norwich most unique? Are there lessons other schools can adopt to better balance rigorous sports with student health and well-being?

Crouse: A good start would be no-cut recreational leagues, which send the message that there is a place for anyone in sports and not just for the most skilled. Sports at the youth level should not be the province of only the very best. In a child's formative years, the intrinsic benefits of sport far outweigh the extrinsic rewards—the trophies and medals and records. Sports is a vehicle to learn life skills like self-discipline, teamwork, perseverance, goal-setting, delayed gratification, and risk-taking. It is a vehicle to develop a lasting love for physical activity and the great outdoors and form enduring friendships.

Fattal: The experience of growing up in Norwich seems to be unique in that the town itself sort of parents the children. Do you think it's possible for some of Norwich's child-rearing tricks to be incorporated in bigger and less personal settings?

Crouse: Norwich is overwhelmingly white and mostly middle class, but the town's child-rearing philosophy can be replicated in any community with parents, coaches, and administrators committed to following a few simple principles: Treat your neighbor's child as your own (in Norwich, parents are invested in everybody's children, not just their own. They foster an environment in which the success of one child is celebrated as a victory for everyone); frame sports as a really fun thing for your children to do on their way to longer-lasting achievements rooted in education; give children ownership of their activities.

Fattal: You mention in the book that many adults in Norwich trade treadmills for nature walks and other, more "grounding" sorts of activities. Did you see a clear correlation in Norwich between parents' mental health or habits and the outlooks of their kids?

Crouse: There is really no way to gauge people's mental health ... But I can say this: The parents I observed in Norwich make a concerted effort to be the people they want their children to become. They model kindness, compassion, and volunteerism; keep physically active; and place a higher priority on connecting to nature and the outdoors and to one another than to technology. One small example of the Norwich way: Parents regularly stop in at the school and volunteer to read a chapter or two from a paperback book of the teacher's choosing to the younger classes while they eat lunch. I know because I did this a few times while I was living there. Then there was the example of the benefactor who helped a teenage Hannah Kearney cover her skiing expenses. He asked two things of her in return—that she provide him with a copy of her report card each term and that she break down how she spent the money. Hannah said it wasn't lost on her that he didn't ask for her skiing results. She realized he was sending her a clear message that her education is more important than her skiing while helping her to appreciate the value of a dollar and learn how to budget her money. Again, he was instilling in her the habits and values that he deemed most essential.             

Fattal: Often, being around other ambitious people can help kids find their own ambition. Norwich seems like a place teeming with ambition, but a quiet and slow-moving kind of ambition. Do you think the slower pace of Norwich is challenging for kids who aren't very self-driven?

Crouse: I would suggest that being around passionate people can help kids develop their own passions, and Norwich struck me as a place where people's passions are supported and celebrated. Their kids are self-driven because the parents let them take the wheel of their lives and choose which path, or paths, they want to take. They will offer direction from time to time, but they aren't providing the road map. The result is there is a place for the kids who like a sport like skiing because they enjoy being outdoors and want to be part of a group activity, and there is a place for kids who are more competitive and really, really enjoy the racing piece of it. Different strokes for different folks—the Norwich parents embrace both models with equal enthusiasm. They don't see the point of one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter childhoods when no two kids are exactly the same.

The parents of Norwich are not setting out to develop Olympians. Their aim is to use sports as a vehicle to instill in their kids a lasting love of the outdoors and physical activity, learn life lessons, and develop lasting friendships. They recognize that in the big picture, relationships matter more than championships.

The Death of <i>Newsweek</i>

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 03:05 AM PST

Newsweek is in the news—raided by the police last month as part of a probe into the owners' shady finances, then subjected to a crude purge on Monday, when the owners sacked the editors and reporters who tried to write about the scandal. This was the cinematic coda to a decade of collapse. Whatever its shortcomings, the country lost something with the demise of classic Newsweek—a magazine with guts and heart.

After years of survivable financial struggles, the magazine—founded in 1933—cratered with the economy in 2008, was sold by the Washington Post Co. for $1 in 2010, and sold again in 2013 by Barry Diller's IAC to a shadowy company called International Business Times. In the last five years, Newsweek produced some strong journalism and plenty of clickbait before becoming a painful embarrassment to anyone who toiled there in its golden age. Matt Cooper, who also worked at the old Newsweek, resigned from the latest incarnation Monday with a letter saying that in three decades in journalism, "I've never seen more reckless leadership." Ed Kosner, editor in the late 1970s, wrote on Facebook Tuesday, "Time to begin always making the distinction between our Real Newsweek of sainted memory and this shameful Fake Newsweek."

I went to work at Newsweek 35 years ago last month. Sometime in the early 1990s, when I wasn't yet 40, the Village Voice joked that I'd have to be carried out prone—and they weren't far wrong. I stayed for nearly three decades as a national-affairs writer, media critic, and political columnist. Many of my colleagues also worked there for the better part of their lives—unheard of nowadays. We bitched a lot but loved the place. Journalists are sometimes compared to the horses in Black Beauty—all we want is a nice master, a little hay to lie down on, and a sugar cube once in a while. We got that and a lot more from Katharine Graham, now immortalized by Meryl Streep in the film The Post, who until her death in 2001 was the best proprietor imaginable. While more publicly identified with The Washington Post, she would hold monthly editorial lunches at our plush headquarters at 444 Madison Avenue (and later 251 W. 57th) in New York, where travel and expense accounts were generous and even researchers often had their own offices.

Beginning in the 1980s, newsmagazines were written off as dinosaurs, but it didn't matter. Dinosaurs still roamed the media earth, and the Grahams were satisfied with modest profits at best. The paid global circulation of today's print edition of Newsweek is said to be 100,000; well into the internet age, ours was at least 30 times larger—3 million paid subscribers and 15 million readers, which encompassed the "pass along" rate in families, doctors' offices, and foxholes. And we were a distant number two, well ahead of U.S. News but trailing Time, which had a weekly readership of 20 million in the late 20th century, with more than $600 million in annual ad revenue. Now that magazine is perilously thin and was recently sold. Last week, workers replaced the Time-Warner sign outside its downtown Manhattan headquarters with Meredith, an Iowa-based company with little interest in news.

Newsweek was always the scrappy, risk-taking underdog, Avis to Time's Hertz. As Don Graham, his mother's successor, liked to say, "We're the pirate ship and they're the stately ocean liner sailing off." Pirates had fun—not raffish newsroom amusement (our offices looked more like an insurance company) but a spirit of adventure every week. "Scramble the jets!" our late editor, Maynard Parker, would shout, and all over the world dozens of correspondents and editors swooped and dove on a Friday afternoon to cover the big, late-breaking story of the week. Within 24 hours, we could produce a polished 7,000-word cover package with arresting, often-exclusive reporting from far-flung locales, fresh columns and sidebars, classy photos and spreads, and—especially if someone like Peter Goldman, Evan Thomas, or Jerry Adler was writing—exquisite narrative "tick tock." The features and criticism in the "back-of-the-book" were also as good or better than those in more intellectual publications, even if it wasn't cool in New York to admit that about a middlebrow magazine.

In the rest of the country, news-starved subscribers, unsatisfied by a limp local paper and a half hour of John Chancellor, ripped through every issue, happy to have a cogent way of catching up on everything they had missed during the previous week. Of course technology—first television, then the internet—changed that habit. A tardy summary of the news was no longer as useful. And with the advent of a 24-hour news cycle a decade ago, online newspapers, smaller magazines, and cable-news networks began to eat our analytical lunch.

I'm not going to argue that the dominance that we and a half-dozen other news organizations enjoyed until the turn-of-the-century was inherently better than today's democratized media ecosystem, which allows thousands more voices into the national conversation. The "My Turn" column by a non-journalist wasn't enough to broaden access to our pages. Newsweek hired black journalists early—and Mark Whitaker became the first African American editor of a major American publication in 1998—but the magazine was infamously late in promoting women in the 1970s. We sometimes hyped popular-culture stories, were slow to feature investigative reporting, and succumbed too often to covering politics and national affairs as if they were thrill-of-victory-agony-of-defeat sports instead of matters of substance and consequence for real people (though, in an effort to lampoon that superficial Washington frame, a couple of colleagues and I anonymously wrote a weekly feature called "Conventional Wisdom Watch").

Beneath our coverage lay a journalistic commitment to all of the civic norms now under assault. It would have been too earnest to discuss this around the water cooler, but we were invested in hard-edged democratic accountability (politicians often feared us) and expanding cultural awareness. Millions of people recognized this. They saw Newsweek as a brightly-painted lighthouse in the fog of news—a way to peer through the storm cloud headlines to distant shores of depth, clarity and understanding. Like the old big-three television networks—CBS, NBC and ABC—newsmagazines were accused of too much fealty to established institutions and often attacked from both left and right. But our faith in those institutions let us cover them aggressively when they went wrong, and in a way that was compelling enough to attract readers across the spectrum.

Today's atomization of news and commentary has made that kind of journalism harder to find. "Agenda-setting" by elites is deeply out-of-fashion. But someone will always set the table for the national conversation, and smart editors did it better than Twitter mobs. Donald Trump's obsession with Time covers—to the point of hanging fake ones in his resorts—is a product not just of his perverted neediness but of the understanding of anyone over 30 that newsmagazine covers once counted. They propelled the debate forward, often (though not in Trump's case) to where it needed to go.

In the 1960s, Newsweek—much more than Time—helped bring civil rights and the anti-war movement into the mainstream. In the 1970s, the magazine explained week-after-week to a bipartisan audience how the evidence stacked up against Richard Nixon, and—thanks in part to Eleanor Clift and Vern Smith—led the pack on the emergence of a peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter. In the 1980s, we put AIDS on the cover before anyone but a few doctors had heard of it, and under editor Rick Smith helped drive coverage of the Reagan Era. In the 1990s, Newsweek's tech coverage, especially Steven Levy's, was clairvoyant, Osama bin Laden was on the cover before 9/11, and Michael Isikoff and the rest of the all-star Washington bureau helped lead to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, though almost no one thought it should end that way. In the 2000s, Chris Dickey, Rod Nordland, and others exposed the folly of George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" claim in Iraq and—in 2004, when he was still an Illinois state senator—Newsweek was the first magazine anywhere to put Barack Obama on the cover.

Unfortunately, finding Newsweek stories online from before 2000 is hard. Various owners were too cheap to invest in archiving it properly. Maybe a new owner will remedy that, and find a place for a new Newsweek in the media universe. In the meantime, the real Newsweek of "sainted memory" lives on in the hundreds of people who worked there—and the millions who turned to it each week to better understand the country, the world, and themselves.

Military Parades Are a Waste of Time and Money

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 03:00 AM PST

Since President Trump wants a military parade, let's talk about parades.

I don't like them. I have an aversion, as a point of fact, to any and all military drill and ceremony aside from that performed at military funerals. The other occasional ceremonies performed by specialist units such as the U.S. Army's Old Guard or the Marines at the barracks at 8th and I are okay as well, I guess, but everything else is a waste of time and money.

As a young lieutenant in the U.S. Army, I marvelled at the amount of time our units could spend rehearsing for changes of commands and other events. This was time we could have better spent training our bodies in the gym, rehearsing battle drills, or almost anything else that could have contributed to our combat effectiveness.

The only enjoyable parade in which I have ever participated was the 2004 St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah, Georgia, a parade for which my unit didn't rehearse and for which I marched in the front row of our company. I ended that parade covered in lipstick on both cheeks, with about 10 pounds of plastic beads hanging from my neck, and wearing a cologne of spilled Bud Light.

That, friends, was a good parade.

All other parades are a waste of time, and it's military malpractice on Trump's part to order his troops to participate in something as silly and vain as a parade through Washington, D.C., when they would be better off road marching through Fort Bragg.

When I think about the amount of time military organizations waste on pomp and circumstance, I remember the words of a character in Jean Lartéguy's novel about French paratroopers in Vietnam and Algeria, The Centurions:

I'd like to have two armies: one for display with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, staffs, distinguished and doddering Generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their General's bowel movements or their Colonel's piles, an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country. The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage uniforms, who would not be put on display, but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That's the army in which I should like to fight.

Any active duty combat arms officer who doesn't agree with all of that should find another line of work and should quite possibly be dishonorably discharged from service.

That's not to say I agree with every sentiment in Lartéguy's novels, mind you, which involve sympathetic portrayals of torture and also, in the sequel to The Centurions, a coup against the elected government of France.

That, of course, was something that actual veterans of the French war in Algeria actually attempted, which is why there is today a 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment in the French Army but not a 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment. (Apparently threatening to jump into the nation's capital and overthrow the government crosses a line somewhere.)

I only mention this because apparently the annual Bastille Day parade of 2017—which the president attended as a guest of his French counterpart—was the inspiration for the president's desire to have a similar parade in the United States. And if you're looking for historical models of healthy civil-military relations, well, France might not be the best place to start.

Americans don't have a problem of appreciating the military too little. Americans have a problem venerating the military too much. I spoke to a retired allied naval officer recently who confessed to me that he could not understand why, after 17 years of inconclusive war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military remains on such a high pedestal in the United States. It's a good question.

I personally didn't have any problem with President Trump giving the U.S. military 12 more months in Afghanistan, for example. But I wonder how he will hold his generals accountable when they fail to realize significant gains after pledging to regain momentum in the war there. Will he be as critical of their performance now that he, as their commander in chief, owns their victories and defeats? I hope so, frankly.

Along the same lines, rather than ordering troops to march in vanity parades, they should be ordered them back to the rifle range. After all, to quote a pretty handy German general, the best form of welfare for the troops is first-class training.

And how can citizens support that? Well, as John Noonan, a staffer for Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton noted, you can start by pressuring the Congress to pass an appropriations bill that gives the U.S. military the budget to recruit, train and equip its troops.

Second, once the Congress has authorized and appropriated funds to the Department of Defense, voters can press their elected representatives to cast aside meaningless platitudes and ruthlessly hold the military's commissioned officers to account for everything their troops do or do not accomplish in American overseas adventures.

And if, in the end, you really want your parade, well, you can have that too. As my friend Lauren Katzenberg observed, there's an annual, sparsely attended Veterans Day parade each year in New York City.

Take the family there this fall.

Amazon's Failing Bet on Woody Allen

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 03:00 AM PST

Amazon's entry into the world of filmmaking began in earnest less than three years ago, when the company announced in July 2015 that it had acquired Spike Lee's Chi-Raq to be the first "Amazon Original Movie." Quickly enough, Amazon Studios (then headed by Roy Price) pursued a strategy of tapping established indie filmmakers who had risen to fame in the '80s and '90s to make their passion projects. In 2016, there was Whit Stillman (Love & Friendship), Todd Solondz (Wiener-Dog), Jim Jarmusch (Paterson), and another director who had been around even longer—Woody Allen.

Allen had released his movies through the same company (Sony Pictures Classics) for many years. But in 2016, Price managed to pry the Oscar-winner away with a lavish $20 million offer to distribute Allen's upcoming film Café Society, a period piece set in 1930s Hollywood. At the time, the deal was seen as a "staggering" but bold move for the online streaming-focused company, which needed to lay out large cash offers to muscle out more traditional studios and attract big-name artists. How quickly things change. Price resigned from Amazon last October after a producer accused him of sexual harassment, and Allen's next star-studded film A Rainy Day in New York, his third for the company, will likely be released this year with little fanfare—if it gets released at all.

As Hollywood continues to react and adapt to the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein scandal (and the many other abuse allegations churned up in its wake), Amazon has become a revealing example of how the strategy of pursuing big names to buy instant credibility in the industry can backfire. The studio's two Allen movies (Café Society and Wonder Wheel) have grossed a combined $12.5 million at the domestic box office, and the TV show the director did for Amazon (Crisis in Six Scenes, which cost $80 million) debuted to negative reviews. Beyond that, Amazon is apparently on the hook for three more Allen films after A Rainy Day in New York because of the deal Price struck, according to The Hollywood Reporter. With collaborators continuing to denounce the director, Amazon may end up having to buy Allen out of his contract.

Price's pursuit of Allen—as streaming services were gaining a foothold in the film and TV industries—showed how much things can stay the same in Hollywood, even when they're supposedly radically evolving. When Amazon began its relationship with Allen in 2015 and ordered his series Crisis in Six Scenes, the director had already weathered newly resurfaced allegations of child molestation from his daughter Dylan Farrow. That negative attention fully boiled over two and a half years later, as actors involved with his recent projects began openly disavowing him. (Allen, for his part, has long denied Farrow's claims and has never been charged.)

Allen's power in the film industry wasn't connected to financial success (his movies do better overseas but rarely make their budgets back in America). Price sought him for his clout: He could attract top actors, was often a part of the Oscar conversation, and simply had the kind of brand name most directors could only dream of. Now, Amazon is facing the consequences of tying its fortunes to someone who had a tarnished personal history and relatively weak box-office appeal to begin with.

The studio's difficult current situation points to how companies looking to "disrupt" the film industry often end up doing little more than propping up its hoariest institutions. Amazon and Netflix made waves at festivals like Sundance and Toronto in the last two years by making large bids on buzzy movies. But that's a strategy that has persisted in Hollywood for decades, and it's one that increasingly doesn't seem worth the effort for the deep-pocketed studios, which can instead fund their own projects. Neither Amazon nor Netflix made any purchases at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and both are looking to concentrate more on in-house programming.

If it does buy its way out of the Allen deal, Amazon will then have to decide what to do with A Rainy Day in New York, which may get a minimal theatrical release because of contractual obligations, but no promotion. In the few years since Amazon started collaborating with the director, the industry at large has started to sour on working with artists accused of sexual misconduct, no matter how well-burnished their professional reputations. (Consider, variously, the controversy that surrounded the actor and director Nate Parker, Roger Ailes' resignation from Fox News, and Kevin Spacey being fired from All the Money in the World and House of Cards.)

Of course, Amazon's relationship with Allen is ultimately about business. In Hollywood, even when there's an element of morality at play, the market is what rules the day, and Allen arguably isn't marketable anymore. His movies' lackluster box office meant that all he had to keep Amazon interested was his status as "one of the greatest filmmakers America has ever produced," as Price put it in 2015. But that no longer appears to be enough—and the signs that Allen's career may not recover further suggest that, in Hollywood, an artist's reputation extends beyond simple "prestige."

Democrats' Complicated Path to Victory in 2018

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 02:00 AM PST

A massive new measure of state-by-state attitudes toward Donald Trump offers important clues about the pressure points that could tip the 2018 elections.

Last week, Gallup released Trump's average approval rating in all 50 states in 2017, based on more than 171,000 survey interviews it conducted over the course of the year. That compilation put Trump's average national approval rating for 2017 at 38 percent, close to the 40 percent Gallup recorded for him in its latest weekly finding.

Throughout the year, Gallup found Trump averaged majority approval in just 12 states; in nine states that he carried in 2016, he managed an approval rating of 43 percent or less. New Hampshire and Nevada—both at 42 percent—were the only two of the 20 states Hillary Clinton carried where Trump's approval rating peeked above 37 percent.

To better illuminate patterns of Trump's strengths and weaknesses, Gallup provided The Atlantic with more finely grained demographic results in 13 battleground states where there were enough interviews to analyze his ratings in detail: six across the Rustbelt (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) and seven through the Sunbelt (Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Colorado). These findings underscore both the persistence of the demographic divides over Trump—and the continuing tug of regional variations. With congressional elections increasingly pivoting on voter attitudes toward the president, both dynamics will frame the battle for control of Congress this fall.

Unlike a comparable compilation of 2017 surveys from the online-polling firm SurveyMonkey, which found some gains for Trump with non-white voters, the Gallup data show Trump still failed to make inroads with them. In none of the 13 states did more than 23 percent of minorities say they approve of Trump's performance last year.

Among whites, the results show the persistent power of both class and gender in driving the reaction to him. In all 13 states, white men and women with a college degree gave Trump a lower approval rating than their counterparts without degrees. But in each state, Trump's approval rating was also considerably lower among white women than white men at the same level of education.

These twin forces—of class and gender—have established a sharp continuum of white attitudes toward Trump. White men without a college degree remain his foundation, even if the pillar is showing some cracks: Relative to his 2016 vote, Trump's approval rating in 2017 among this group declined in all 13 states. But given his commanding initial position, Trump retains a very strong hold on those men, drawing 60 percent or more approval from them in each state except Michigan, Colorado, and Minnesota (though he still retains majority support in those).

At the opposite pole, college-educated women remain the engine of white resistance to Trump. In only four of the 13 states (more on them below) did Trump's approval among college-educated white women exceed an anemic 34 percent. That widespread rejection of Trump keys the Democratic opportunity in 2018 in House seats in information-age, white-collar suburbs in major metropolitan areas.

The two other groups of whites are more conflicted. Among college-educated white men, Trump retains majority approval in five of the states and draws at least 45 percent in four more. The intense backlash against Trump from well-educated white women means that GOP hopes of minimizing their suburban losses may depend on maintaining majority support from college-educated white men—who many Republican strategists consider the audience most likely to snap back to GOP candidates over the tax bill and generally brightening economic picture (the stock market's tumble this week notwithstanding).

The situation looks even more volatile among white women without a college degree. No group was more central to Trump's victory, especially in the Rustbelt states that effectively decided the election. (Trump won at least 56 percent of those women in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, according to exit polls.) In 2017, Gallup found, Trump averaged majority approval from these blue-collar white women in six of the 13 states. But that finding highlights the continuing force of regional variation in shaping attitudes about Trump: All six of those states are in the South and Southwest.

In the Rustbelt states that decided 2016, Trump has slipped into a much more precarious position with these women: Gallup put his 2017 approval with them at 45 percent in Pennsylvania, 42 percent in Michigan, and 39 percent or less in Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Compared to his 2016 vote, his 2017 approval among blue-collar white women in the Rustbelt represented some of his largest declines anywhere—18 percentage points in Ohio and 19 in Wisconsin and Minnesota. That erosion, which intensified during Trump's effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, creates the opening for Democrats to contest blue-collar and non-urban House seats this fall through the Midwest and Northeast.

Conversely, Trump's relatively greater strength among Sunbelt college-educated whites underscores the challenge Democrats face extending the battlefield into the white-collar Republican-held House seats they hope to flip in suburbs of Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas. Though he's slipped substantially relative to his 2016 vote among college-educated white women and men alike in Georgia and Texas, they remain Trump's two best states with those groups. (Along with Arizona and Florida, they were the only states where Trump draws positive approval ratings from more than about one-in-three white women with a college degree.)

Gallup's findings on Trump clarify the hurdles Democrats must clear to recapture the House. Job one is generating strong turnout from the minorities and young people most alienated from him in all polls. Beyond that, these numbers suggest Democrats must solve two intertwined demographic and geographic puzzles by winning more blue-collar women in the Rustbelt and more white-collar whites in the Sunbelt. Trump's tumultuous tenure has provided them an opening with those voters—but no guarantees of pushing through it.

Who Murdered Malta's Most Famous Journalist?

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 02:38 AM PST

STRASBOURG—Daphne Caruana Galizia was just a few miles from home when her Peugeot 108 exploded and burst into flames last October, killing her instantly and sending shrapnel into a nearby field. She was 53 and the most famous investigative journalist in Malta. In that tiny country, her scoops consistently made life uncomfortable for the powerful, whether in banks or the prime minister's office. Investigators later found that a sophisticated device had been planted on the car and remotely detonated. In December, after turning to the FBI and Dutch forensic experts for help, Maltese authorities arrested 10 people and eventually charged three Maltese nationals with carrying out the attack. But the bigger question—the one that has reverberated far beyond Malta—remains unanswered: Who ordered the killing?

The journalist had faced death threats and libel suits for years. "Our mother's death warrant could have been signed two years ago," Matthew Caruana Galizia, one of Daphne's three sons, and himself a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, said here on a recent afternoon. He was in Strasbourg to speak before lawmakers at the Council of Europe, the continent's watchdog for human rights and the rule of law. "It has been like watching her assassination unfold in slow motion," he added.  

Long before she began investigating the Maltese leads unearthed in the Panama Papers, Caruana Galizia's one-woman blog, "Running Commentary," drove the news cycle in the EU's smallest member state. She had reported on money laundering, the Italian mafia, and a controversial program begun in 2014 that allows wealthy foreigners to purchase Maltese passports; that program has effectively turned the country into a backdoor to Europe, especially for wealthy Russians. Damning scoops tied the prime minister's wife, an aide, and one of his ministers to suspicious financial transactions through a Maltese bank to a Panamanian shell company; another scoop alleged that the aide had personally profited from the sale of Maltese passports. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called a snap election last summer following the report about his wife—and won. (Muscat has publicly said that he would resign if the allegations were proven true, and he and his associates deny all wrongdoing.)

Caruana Galizia was harassed for years. During an election campaign, the governing party had put her face on wordless billboards, along with opposition politicians, marking her as a political enemy. The family home had been set on fire twice. Pet dogs had been found killed. "This didn't come out of the blue. Her assassination wasn't some kind of aberration," Andrew Caruana Galizia, another of her sons and a Maltese diplomat, said at the Council of Europe. "The fact that the people she had implicated in her investigations got away with complete impunity and any kind of institutional response was completely crushed meant that her assassination was not only conceivable, it actually became possible," he said. "The people she reported on faced no other threat except from her."

Hers was the fifth death by car bomb in Malta in the past few years, and none of the other cases have been solved. It may take time to solve her murder, but the question is whether Malta's institutions have the political will to try. The accused, who are charged with detonating the bomb from afar, are most likely foot soldiers in a much bigger game. Malta's ability to solve Caruana Galizia's murder is implicitly linked to its ability to investigate the allegations she had been reporting on. For years, she had probed corruption and foot-dragging in the same institutions now charged with investigating her death.

The case points to deeper structural flaws in the rule of law in Malta. The country may be a blip on the map, an outcropping of rock between Sicily and Libya, with a mere 400,000 inhabitants. But it is a member of the European Union, and its passport sales to wealthy individuals, its sometimes cavalier awarding of banking licenses and its monitoring of money laundering—to say nothing of its liberal granting of visas from its consulate in Algeria, which allow recipients visa-free travel inside Europe's Schengen area—suggest that Malta has become Europe's soft underbelly. The murder of a journalist in Europe, at a time when democratic institutions face severe tests worldwide, risk making Malta the weak point that could threaten the entire bloc.

In announcing the arrests in December, Muscat called the murder "a barbaric act" and said Malta "will leave no stone unturned to get this case solved." He added, "I am committed to do so more than ever." But more than three months after the journalist's death, little has come to light. Her family and some European lawmakers are so concerned about this that, at the hearing last month where the journalist's sons testified, MPs on the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly took an unprecedented step: calling for an independent rapporteur to monitor the investigation. This person would have a mandate to interview officials in Malta and beyond, to hold hearings in Strasbourg and Paris, and to publish a report. The recommendations would be non-binding, but would bring international attention to the case.

It's the first time the Council of Europe has ever suggested appointing a rapporteur for an investigation inside an EU member state, and a sign of how concerned it is about rule of law in Malta. The motion calling for the appointment, which is expected to be approved, says the international community has a responsibility to ensure an investigation "without political interference," and it called for "an examination of the full context of the assassination, including institutional failures and the systematic targeting of Caruana Galizia for her work."

"This is obviously a very serious case of a journalist being silenced, and it's right within the European Union," Pieter Omtzigt, a member of the Dutch Parliament and a co-author of the Council of Europe motion, told me. "Usually we think things are going all right-ish in the EU and problematic states are outside, like Turkey or Russia."

The two other times the Council of Europe has appointed a special rapporteur were both in Russia: for the investigation into the 2015 murder of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader, and into the 2009 death in pre-trial detention of Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor who had discovered what he said was fraud by Russian officials.

This form of attention toward Malta is not the first sign of Europe's concern about the country. Last month, members of the European Parliament released a damning report in which they cited "serious concerns" about the country's legal system and separation of powers, as well as its "weak implementation of anti-money laundering legislation." Those weaknesses could cause problems far beyond little Malta.

Given Malta's EU membership, money in Maltese banks can flow freely throughout the European banking system. And if Malta is lax on implementing anti-money laundering norms, the whole continent could be affected. In November, Frans Timmermans, the executive vice president of the European Commission, said he had "no general concerns" about Malta's application of anti-money laundering procedures. But that may change. Last weekend The Guardian reported that Europe's banking watchdog, the European Banking Authority, had opened a "preliminary inquiry" into the Maltese bank that Caruana Galizia had reported held accounts for Russian clients, as well as accounts tied to the Maltese prime minister's wife and two advisers. (Last month, a former European Commissioner from Malta also confirmed he had held an account there.)

Meanwhile, a former shadow justice minister of Malta has said most of the foreign buyers of Maltese passports are Russian. If any Russians with Maltese passports happen to pop up on U.S. sanctions lists, as Maltese media has suggested some have, they will benefit from the full rights and protections of the EU. An EU passport wouldn't mean an individual could evade U.S. sanctions, but it would would make visa-free travel to the U.S. possible. And it raises the question of whether Malta is doing the U.S. (or the EU) any favors by selling citizenship to people who might wind up on a sanctions list. Iranians aren't eligible to buy Maltese passports because the U.S. would withdraw visa-free access to all Maltese citizens.

The European parliamentary report is enough to inspire despair. It invites doubt about whether Maltese authorities have the will and resources to investigate both Caruana Galizia's death and the allegations of corruption she had been reporting. Far beyond raising questions about the current Maltese government, she had essentially painted a picture of a system that sells shadowy figures access to Europe, weakening its institutions. The members of the European Parliament asked Maltese police why they had never opened an investigation into the allegations, raised by Caruana Galizia, that Muscat, his chief of staff, and his tourism minister made use of Panamanian shell companies, and they didn't receive a conclusive answer.

The report also shows the challenges Europe faces in keeping its own member states in line. When I talked to her in Brussels last month, Sophie In't'veld, a member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the Netherlands who sits on a committee that wrote the report, conceded Europe was still finding its way when it came to ensuring that member states were upholding the rule of law, and that Poland was currently the biggest test case. "We're inventing the mechanisms as we go along," she told me.

Ana Gomes, an MEP from Portugal and one of the authors of the report, said the Malta trip had been dispiriting. "Who controls whom?" Gomes wondered out loud to me, regarding the Maltese government and the foreign investors who were buying Maltese passports and moving money to and through Malta. "Is the prime minister controlling them, or are they controlling the prime minister?" I pointed out that the Maltese government had won the snap elections with a secure majority. "It's not through elections that you can clear corruption," she said.  

Maltese officials reject this. "The picture you have painted is not the real picture of Malta," Malta's justice minister, Owen Bonnici, said of the report during the parliamentary hearing. As to the specific allegations raised by Caruana Galizia's reporting, Kurt Farrugia, a spokesman for the Maltese government, wrote in an email that the prime minister maintains that "if any proof or truth is found in the allegations against him or his wife he would resign immediately."

He added that the government was "giving all the resources to Police" to solve Caruana Galizia's murder, and that it had assistance from Europol and the FBI. "In the matter of two months, the Police apprehended three suspects which are being accused of killing Daphne Caruana Galizia. There is enough proof on the suspects to prosecute them and they are awaiting trial. Further investigations to get the bottom of the murder are still ongoing and we remain fully committed to bring to justice the persons behind this heinous murder."

The broader investigation, though, faces some hurdles. The first magistrate assigned to investigate the journalist's murder recused herself, at the family's request, as she had once brought a criminal defamation case against Caruana Galizia. The journalist had also investigated the officer currently leading the investigation, and he sits on the board of a government body that Caruana Galizia had alleged was suppressing reports of money-laundering by government officials.

At the end of the hearing in Strasbourg, a Maltese member Parliament from the governing Labor Party, Etienne Grech, had asked a question to Caruana Galizia's sons: "Did your mother ever encounter any difficulties with freedom of expression during the time that she wrote?" he asked, adding that Caruana Galizia had reported on the opposition leader, too. Matthew Caruana Galizia took the microphone. "Your question is totally outrageous," he said. "She was killed for what she wrote for God's sake. How can you possibly say that she was free to express herself?" The air in the room grew tense. Grech said that "a tragedy had occurred."

"It wasn't a tragedy," Matthew said. "It's a crime."

<em>The Atlantic</em> Daily: The Path of Least Resistance

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 04:10 PM PST

What We're Following

It's a Deal: The Senate has reached a bipartisan budget agreement that lays out federal spending for the next two years. Republicans pushed for an increase in military funding, while Democrats called for money to address the opioid crisis, infrastructure, and other domestic programs. Both parties got what they wanted, but the result, if the budget is passed, will be a $300 billion spending increase that—on top of the GOP's recently enacted tax cut—contributes substantially to the national debt. That prospect has some House conservatives refusing to support the deal.

West Wing Happenings: White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter has resigned in the wake of published allegations from two of his ex-wives that he physically and verbally abused them. As there is reason to believe that Chief of Staff John Kelly was aware of the allegations, the fact that he has defended Porter joins a series of incidents casting doubt on early hopes that he'd bring order and judgment to the White House. Meanwhile, President Trump caused an outcry with a proposal for a military parade in Washington, D.C.—a rare occurrence in the U.S. capital, though common in other countries. And the president's advisers are reportedly urging him not to speak under oath to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but Mueller is unlikely to accept a refusal from Trump.

The Afghan War: The Defense Department announced that its current strategy is to pressure the Taliban into negotiations through military force. The group now controls more territory than it has at any point since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, 17 years ago. On the latest episode of The Atlantic Interview, Steve Coll, a journalist and Afghanistan expert, discusses why the war has gone on so long—and what a victory could look like. Listen here.

Rosa Inocencio Smith


The 2018 Winter Olympics kick off in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Friday, February 9. Thanh Do created this collage of athletes to watch. Read about them here.

Evening Read

Sophie Gilbert reviews Red Clocks, a new novel by Leni Zumas that—like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale—has reproductive rights at its center:

Zumas, like Atwood, has grounded her book in reality—in things that existing people have said and done. The difference is that The Handmaid's Tale has to imagine a confluence of global pandemics, mass infertility, and constitutional crises to will Gilead into existence. In Red Clocks, women simply wake up one day to find that a president they didn't vote for—a man with a history of extreme rhetoric and legislation on reproductive issues—has proposed a Personhood Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which a majority of states then vote to ratify.

Abortion, or the sudden illegality of it, is the novel's grounding hypothesis, but it isn't its primary focus. Zumas has written a work that's preoccupied with what it means to live inside a woman's body, and to exist in that body in a world that's long viewed it with fear and unease. And to handle a biological imperative that seems sometimes incompatible with other ambitions. And to experience the myriad small humiliations and the pain of the body's physical state.

Keep reading here, as Sophie describes how Zumas builds "a thoughtful, complicated picture of womanhood—and a fierce argument for individual choice."

What Do You Know … About Science, Technology, and Health?

This week, our team was immersed in all things that go boom. A group of researchers in New Mexico is planning to ignite several kinds of crude oil to determine whether some fireballs are more dangerous than others. A new paper found that bombardier beetles can survive being swallowed by causing explosions inside the stomachs of toads that try to eat them. Pajamas have roots in the zeppelin bombings of World War I, when midnight evacuations forced Londoners to get innovative with their sleepwear. And despite Elon Musk's worst fears, there's at least one thing that didn't blow up: During its first test flight, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy and its gimmicky payload stayed perfectly intact.

Can you remember the other key facts from this week's science, technology, and health coverage? Test your knowledge below:

1. In 2017, the U.S. ____________ industry lost nearly 10,000 jobs.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. Before city planners started draining New Orleans in the 1800s, ____________ percent of the city's land was above sea level.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. After gaining the ability to clone themselves, a species of ____________ is spreading across the globe.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Rachel Gutman

Answers: solar / 100 / crayfish

Look Back

From our April 1920 issue, Frank Tannenbaum describes the prison system's "continuous and universal" cruelties:

The whole administrative organization of the jail is centered on keeping the men inside the walls. Men in prison are always counted. They are counted morning, noon and night. They are counted when they rise, when they eat, when they work, and when they sleep. Like a miser hovering over his jingling coins, the warden and the keepers are con­stantly on edge about the safety of their charges—a safety of numbers first, of well-being afterwards ...

The warden is human. Being human, he is strongly inclined to follow the path of least resistance. And the path of least resistance, in the light of the ordinary understanding of a prison warden, is to make jail-breaking hard, by making the individual prisoner helpless.

Read more here, and watch an Atlantic documentary on life inside one of America's largest modern-day prisons here.

Reader Response

In January, Vann R. Newkirk II wrote about how backlash to Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement laid the groundwork for the rise of Trumpism. Linda S. says the article "helped me see a lot of things":

I'm a 70-year-old white lady who left the U.S. for good to go live in Canada (though I didn't know that at the time) in late August 1968, right after the Democratic National Convention, in Chicago, and the riots that went with it. The first day I had ever seen Canada was the day Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. Driving eastward across Ontario, 45 minutes after we had passed through the tunnel from Detroit, my friend and I heard on the car radio that the border had been closed behind us because of the spreading riots. That night I sat with friends in a living room in Kitchener watching big cities burn on the 11 o'clock news. I was 20 years old, and it felt so weird to be in a country that wasn't at war—with itself or with half of Vietnam—and to be shut out of a country that was.

Read more from Linda here, revisit the year 1968 with us here, and respond to Atlantic articles via letters@theatlantic.com.


Colors neglected, schools subverted, stalemate broken, markets misunderstood.

Time of Your Life

Happy birthday to Ikram's brother Zakaria (a year younger than Wikipedia); to Joni (eight years older than the moon landing); to Carol (a year younger than sunscreen); and to Walter (twice the age of CD players).

Do you or a loved one have a birthday coming up? Sign up for a birthday shout-out here, and click here to explore the Timeline feature for yourself.

Meet The Atlantic Daily's team here, and contact us here.

Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up here.

<i>The Atlantic</i> Politics & Policy Daily: When the Tanks Go Marching In

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 02:32 PM PST

Today in 5 Lines

Senate leaders announced a massive budget deal that would increase military and domestic spending over the next two years. The deal received pushback from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said she would not agree to a plan that did not address immigration. White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned after allegations that he abused his two ex-wives. During a speech in Japan, Vice President Mike Pence said that the administration will "soon unveil" its harshest sanctions yet against North Korea. Despite criticism from Democrats, the White House is defending the idea of throwing a military parade.

Today on The Atlantic

  • Trump's FBI: Adam Serwer argues that Trump's claim that the FBI is biased against him advances his ultimate goal: to turn law enforcement into a tool of partisan warfare.

  • A Moment for Progressives: Illinois Representative Dan Lipinski, an anti-abortion Democrat who voted against the Affordable Care Act, will face his first serious challenger in a decade in the state's March 20 primary. (Russell Berman)

  • Fuzzy Math: President Trump's comments about the stock market slump reveal his lack of knowledge about how it actually works. (Annie Lowrey)

Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.


In a marathon speaking session on the floor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi advocated for a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. U.S. House TV / Reuters

What We're Reading

While You Were Sleeping: On Tuesday night, a Missouri district that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 elected a Democrat to the state House. It's the 35th state House seat to flip since Trump took office. (Amanda Terkel, The Huffington Post)

They Got Through: Russian hackers were reportedly able to penetrate the voter-registration rolls of several U.S. states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. (Cynthia McFadden, William M. Arkin, and Kevin Monahan, NBC News)

Loyalty to the Man, Not the Office: Jonah Goldberg responds to Jonathan Swan's piece, "The Cult of Trump," explaining that the GOP's acceptance of the president shouldn't have come as such a surprise. (National Review)

Pence Seeks Revenge: Vice President Mike Pence has been attacking Senator Joe Manchin because he believes the West Virginia Democrat broke a promise to vote for the tax bill. But Manchin has a different recollection of events. (Burgess Everett and Matthew Nussbaum, Politico)

Reason to Worry: Democrats' enthusiasm going into the midterms could actually hurt their prospects of winning. Here's why. (Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post)

A West-Wing Reset: President Trump is reportedly discussing shaking up his White House staff. "The president's view is that allies on the outside are doing a better job defending him than his political shop," said one Republican close to the White House. (Gabriel Sherman, Vanity Fair)


'Little Room for Error': These are the scenarios in which Democrats could take control of the Senate in 2018. (Jasmine C. Lee and Alicia Parlapiano, The New York Times)

Question of the Week

In The Atlantic's March issue, Jonathan Rauch and Ben Wittes argue that "the best hope of defending the country from Trump's Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself" is for all voters—Republicans and Democrats alike—to vote against Republican candidates at every opportunity, "until the party either rights itself or implodes."

Do you believe the GOP needs to be defended from Donald Trump? If so, do you agree with this strategy?

Share your response here, and we'll feature a few in Friday's Politics & Policy Daily.

-Written by Lena Felton (@lenakfelton) and Taylor Hosking (@Taylor__Hosking)

Can Speaker Ryan Convince House Republicans to Support the Budget Deal?

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 02:12 PM PST

As Senate leadership celebrated their agreement on a massive two-year budget deal, Speaker Paul Ryan struggled to convince his conference's right flank that the legislation was worth supporting.

The Senate hasn't even yet passed its funding package—which includes a stopgap bill to keep the government open until March 23, along with a two-year, $300 billion increase in defense in domestic spending, a one-year suspension of the debt limit, and $81 billion in disaster relief—but House leaders are already trying to contain opposition among their members.

Negotiations have sparked a resurgence of the internecine strife that has wracked the conference in recent years: Spending hawks in the Freedom Caucus, for instance, are decrying the deal. If Republicans support this package, they argue, they've signaled to voters that the party's message of fiscal prudence—the message that sealed their majority in 2010—is a sham. Moderate Republicans, meanwhile, counter that the bill's long-term Pentagon funding, not to mention its cessation of the pattern of month-to-month government funding, makes the deficit  a necessary pill to swallow.

Those tensions were brought into sharp relief this afternoon, when Ryan pitched his members on the deal's terms in a closed-door conference. Over salads and sandwiches from Corner Bakery, members listened as Ryan hyped the stability this would bring the Pentagon. He also argued that revenue from the recently passed tax plan, along with a small series of offsets, would help stymie any fiscal fallout from the long-term deal (Republicans believe economic growth will offset the cost of the tax law; most analyses say otherwise). "It once and for all gives Secretary Mattis what he needs on defense," says New York Representative Chris Collins, who supports the package. "There's a bitter pill of sorts we are swallowing on the fiscal side, but there's a point at which we have to get things done."

"But I think we're gonna need votes coming both ways," Collins added. "I don't think I'm going to be on the 7:30 flight tomorrow going home."

Virginia Representative Barbara Comstock echoed that the fiscal "bitter pill" of the package was perhaps less biting in the context of where domestic funds will actually go, as well as tax reform. "The additional domestic spending is going to be on our priorities, which are infrastructure and things like the opioid crisis," she said. "I feel this is a good bill that's mainstream, conservative, and complemented by the tax relief of families and businesses, I think it will be very positive."

She added: "I think [Freedom Caucus members] need to have more confidence in what the tax bill is going to do."

But conservatives left the room incensed. "I'm not only a no; I'm a hell no," Alabama representative and Freedom Caucus member Mo Brooks told reporters. "This spending bill is a debt junkie's dream … Quite frankly, I'm astonished that the Republican Party seems to be the party of big government in this day and age."

Arizona Representative Paul Gosar, also a member of the Freedom Caucus, borrowed Brooks's language to describe his own stance. "There's no way in hell I sit by and vote for this." Of GOP leadership, he said, "frankly, I don't get their logic … it seems like to us that they're throwing a life vest to Chuck Schumer and the Democrats."

"If we were so uptight about the military, send what we sent yesterday and keep sending it back," Gosar added, referring to the stopgap bill passed yesterday by the House, which included only an increase in defense spending. "Just break 'em."

There to rub salt in the wound was the Heritage Foundation. The conservative think tank—whose political arm is a crucial voting metric for conservatives up for reelection—issued a statement blasting the caps deal as a non-starter. "The country cannot afford an irresponsible plan that welcomes back trillion dollar deficits with open arms," the statement read. "Congress should reject this deal."

Other Freedom Caucus members said the deal's development gave them reason to question Ryan's leadership and fiscal bonafides. "I can't believe Paul Ryan, a former Budget Chairman, is gonna do that [to us]," former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan told me on the phone.

In private conversations, aides are predicting that more than 60 Republicans will defect, meaning that Republican leadership will have to lean on Democrats to send the package to President Trump's desk. For House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, it's a heavy lift: in the last shutdown fight, mere weeks ago, Pelosi pledged that her caucus would not support any future stopgap bill that does not address the so-called "dreamers," undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, who were shielded by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This morning on the House floor, Pelosi exercised her privilege of limitless speaking time to make that clear; as of press time, she's been speaking filibuster-style for more than five hours, reciting letters from "dreamers and urging Congress to pray for them. "During the night when I was thinking and praying so hard about our Dreamers, I thought, maybe we should just pray all day on the floor of Congress," Pelosi said."Maybe I should bring my rosary blessed by the pope ... his holiness, Pope Francis, or the one before that, Benedict," she added.  

Yet people familiar with discussions among House Democrats predict Pelosi will ultimately cave. Which isn't to say Pelosi herself will vote for the spending deal; rather, she may free up her caucus to break rank. "The reason she's on the floor right now is for one reason: To make the progressives feel good, say she fought for us, bla bla bla," says one person close to House Democratic leadership.

"We all know how the story is going to end," the person added. "I wouldn't be surprised if 40 to 50 [Democrats], maybe even more, vote for this."

The whip count on both sides, however, is still in flux. House Republicans will use their next vote series, expected later this afternoon, to whip their vote. Whether Pelosi does, in fact, give her caucus her blessing, remains to be seen. If she doesn't, Congress could find themselves in yet another shutdown.  

"There's no way to gauge how many people will vote for this," said Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, who opposes the bill. "Some people are excited, think we oughta celebrate. Some of us are rather depressed."

The Rise and Fall of John Kelly's Reputation

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 02:42 PM PST

There's only ever really one story arc in Washington. A new face arrives in town, impresses people, and reaches dizzying new heights. Before too long, however, the capital becomes disillusioned and turns on him (or occasionally her).

That's the story of Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary, who announced his departure on Wednesday after published allegations of abuse from his two ex-wives. And more broadly, it's also the story of John Kelly, the White House chief of staff who was Porter's boss and defender.

Unlike many members of the White House cast, Porter is not a household name, but he had rocketed to an important role directly by President Trump's side. He controlled the flow of information to Trump and spent a great deal of time with him. "Porter had good relationships across the ideological spectrum of the White House—from Stephen Miller to Gary Cohn, was one of Kelly's most trusted aides, and was in charge of the weekly trade policy meetings," Jonathan Swan reports.

According to two ex-wives, Porter was also abusive. The women gave interviews to the Daily Mail describing both physical abuse, including punching and choking, and verbal abuse. On Tuesday, the White House staunchly defended Porter. Kelly called Porter "a man of true integrity and honor and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante, and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him."

On Wednesday, after The Intercept published photos provided by Colbie Holderness, Porter's first wife, that showed a black eye, Porter announced he was resigning from the White House, though he declared his innocence. "These outrageous allegations are simply false," he said in a statement. "I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described."

The case once again brings unwanted attention to the president's own record with women, just as many of the stories in the #MeToo movement have—most recently, the resignation of RNC finance chairman Steve Wynn, a Vegas mogul whom Trump handpicked for the job. Ivana Trump, the president's first wife, once accused him of marital rape, though she later backpedaled on that claim.

But Porter's story also brings fresh scrutiny to Kelly, who was promoted from secretary of Homeland Security to White House chief of staff last summer. In addition to Kelly's surprisingly unequivocal statement on Tuesday, Axios reports that Kelly was among White House officials urging Porter, in an unfortunate turn of phrase, "to stay and fight" rather than resign.

If Kelly did not know about the allegations in Porter's past, then his unflinching defense is a matter of bad judgment, but there are reasons to believe that Kelly should have known. Both of Porter's ex-wives told The Intercept that they had informed FBI agents vetting Porter about the past abuse. A senior administration official also told Politico that Kelly was aware of a 2010 protective order against Porter.

In fact, Porter had reportedly not received permanent security clearance because of the order, which is notable because his job was to handle all documents that went to Trump, which included a great deal of classified material. Staffers can receive temporary clearance to view classified material while waiting for final clearance. (White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to comment on the status of Porter's clearance during Wednesday's briefing.) Despite these issues, Kelly hired Porter on, kept him, and defended him to the hilt. Kelly is the same man who, during an emotional briefing in October, fumed that when he was young, "Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore as we've seen from recent cases."

This is not the only turn in the spotlight this week for Kelly, a generally press-shy individual. The chief of staff, rejecting calls for the White House to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, said that "Dreamers" should have registered during the Obama administration, and those who did not were "too lazy to get off their asses." Democrats lashed out at Kelly about the comments behind closed doors, but rather than try to set the incident aside, Kelly repeated what he'd said to reporters. As even rigorously nonpartisan reporters noted, Kelly was invoking shopworn stereotypes about immigrants and people of color.

Only a few weeks ago, Kelly reportedly torpedoed a deal between Trump and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to extend DACA. After a productive meeting between Schumer and the president, Kelly called Schumer and informed him that the deal was insufficiently tough on immigration, eventually leading to a brief government shutdown.

It seems as if scales are falling from some eyes in Washington, allowing them to see Kelly more clearly—just the same arc of meteoric rise followed by disillusionment that Porter followed. When Kelly was moved to the White House in July, at the time of the political murder-suicide of Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci, he was hailed as the "adult in the room." With his military background and baseline competence, this was true—but, as it turned out, this was more of a commentary on what came before. Adoring press coverage portrayed Kelly as a patriot who was taking on an impossible job with an impossible president out of love of country and out of desire to protect the nation from its own president.

It quickly became clear, however, as I wrote in October, that Kelly is a true Trumpist. Early on, he was caught on film appearing to grimace as Trump offered aid and comfort to white supremacists; it didn't take too long for it to become clear that this was just Kelly's default facial expression, and he had no compunctions about the president's actual comments.

In October, Trump was slow to speak about the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Niger, only delivered condolences in a delayed fashion, and then inexplicably got into a feud with the widow of one soldier. The president than crassly invoked Kelly's son's death in action, and much of the press—still convinced Kelly was a moderate voice of reason in the White House—waited anxiously for the chief of staff to set the president right.

Instead, Kelly came out and staunchly defended Trump. In the process, he escalated a feud with Representative Frederica Wilson of Florida, a black woman, telling an anecdote that portrayed her in a negative light and calling her an "empty barrel." (This was the same occasion on which he lamented that women were no longer sacred.) Video proved that Kelly's attack was false, but the White House refused to acknowledge as much. Sanders scolded reporters, "If you want to get into debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that is highly inappropriate," a chilling suggestion that military officers (even retired ones like Kelly) are above criticism, and one that foreshadowed Trump's more recent accusation of "treason" against congressional Democrats who didn't applaud his State of the Union address. Kelly also defended Robert E. Lee, who led a treasonous armed revolt against the United States, as an "honorable man."

Leon Panetta, the Washington wiseman and White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, had advised Kelly early on, but in late October, he said, "John is a great Marine … but he is not a politician, and one thing he lacks is the ability to look at the big political picture and understand what you should and shouldn't say as chief of staff."

There had been plenty of warning signs that Kelly was no moderate, even if they went largely unheeded in the mainstream press. These included his devotion to the drug war, his hard-charging if brief tenure as secretary of Homeland Security, and his prior defense of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. (Some Obama administration officials accused Kelly, at the time commander of the U.S. Southern Command, of sabotaging the prison's closure.)

Kelly has brought new discipline to the West Wing, but he has not moderated Trump's behavior. While that is in part, as Kelly takes pains to point out, because his job is to manage for the president, not to manage the president, it is also because Kelly seems to be on the same page as Trump on most issues. One crucial element of Kelly's successful management is that insofar as Trump has any ideology, Kelly shares it. More than any other West Wing aide, past or present, Kelly is a true Trumpist. Reince Priebus was a classic establishment Republican; Trump was until recently a registered Democrat. Stephen Miller is a hard-line conservative ideologue; Trump has no such consistent views. Steve Bannon tried to impose his own confused nationalist-populist melange on Trump and found himself kicked to the curb. (Bannon's genius-to-outcast path follows the Washington arc, too.)

Kelly shares the same worldview as Trump. Both men have a reflexive social, rather than political, conservatism, grounded in nostalgia for a former era. (They are close in age, and both from northeastern cities.) As a result, they are more pragmatic on some issues than conservative ideologues, while bringing less political finesse to matters of race. They are reflexively disdainful of immigrants and tend to pick fights with women, especially women of color. Each reveres the military (Kelly as a career veteran, and Trump despite, or perhaps because of, his draft-dodging), and each detests Congress. In forcing the president to stick to his campaign line on immigration when he was ready to compromise with Schumer, Kelly even showed himself to be a steadier Trumpist then Trump himself.

By last fall, it should have been clear that Kelly was a better disciplinarian than Priebus but had no intention of trying to slow Trump's project. In the wake of his defense of Porter, his "lazy" comments, and his intervention in the immigration debate, many observers who had stubbornly clung to hopes that Kelly would deliver the nation from chaos are finally abandoning those hopes. It's Washingtonian physics: What goes up must come down.

Trump Wants a Military Parade—So What?

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 05:56 PM PST

Let's get this out of the way: America still holds military parades. Regularly. They are held in small towns across the country to honor veterans, to remember those who were killed on the battlefield, and to showcase a community's ties to the military. But the last time there was a military parade in Washington, George H.W. Bush was president. It was 1991 and the U.S. had just won the war in Iraq. About 200,000 people showed up to watch, and all told it cost about $8 million.

The world was different then (even if that parade had its critics). The nearly five-decade-long Cold War was just about over. The ease with which American and allied forces swept aside Saddam Hussein's military left little doubt, if any lingered, that the bipolar world of the previous era had given way to one in which the U.S. was the sole global superpower. And the parade allowed the still-raw memories of the wars in Korea and Vietnam to be set aside.

Twenty-five years later, another American president, Donald Trump, reportedly wants to have a military parade in Washington to honor the armed forces and to showcase U.S. military strength. That strength is not in doubt: The U.S. spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined. But military successes, like the one in Iraq in 1991, haven't been as easy to come by. The U.S. is still in Afghanistan 16 years after it ousted the Taliban, has a limited presence in Iraq, and now has troops in Syria, as well. It is being challenged in East Asia not only by China, but by North Korea. A military parade in Washington, which might have seemed appropriate at the end of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, or indeed the first Gulf War—all conflicts with clear winners—doesn't hold the same appeal today.

"We simply don't think a national-level parade is appropriate while we continue to have America's sons and daughters in harm's way," Colonel David Lapan, spokesman for General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in 2012 when there were calls for a ticker-tape parade in New York to mark the end of the second Iraq war.

Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton University, said some Americans are criticizing Trump's proposed parade not because they don't support the military, but because, in contrast to other countries, the U.S. has always wanted to "imagine ourselves celebrating values that go beyond the military."

Contrasting the U.S. to the Soviets, he said: "We were always defining ourselves by our ideals. It may not have have been true, but that's how we did it: freedom, liberty, and even the market rather than through power. They had arms to win over countries. And we had ideals. If that is shed, [then] for some people we come closer to military power being the basis of our strength."

Military parades have long been an annual feature in other countries. Russia still holds an impressive one each year, as do authoritarian countries such as China and North Korea, which is holding its own military parade Thursday. So do states looking to out-flex their rivals: India and Pakistan; Greece and Turkey. Military parades can even be a feature of Western democracies like France, whose military parade on Bastille Day so impressed Trump that he wanted a grander one.

Benjamin Haddad, a research fellow at Hudson Institute specializing in European and trans-Atlantic affairs, said the French parade is not only not controversial, it's quite popular.

"I wouldn't say it's a central moment in the French Republic. It happens every Bastille Day. People like it. Kids like to watch it. I don't think it's overhyped or overplayed," he said. "I think a lot of French people would be surprised to see that it has gotten so much attention here and it's being copied."

The roots of the Bastille Day parade lie in France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. The parade began in 1880 as a reaction to that defeat, "as a way to reclaim national pride, and clearly in a context of nationalism," Haddad said. But it has modernized quite a bit since then—especially over the past decade.

"Now it has become customary to invite foreign leaders, as was the case with Trump this year, or foreign troops to the parade as well," Haddad said. "You have European flags. It has become quite modern. It's not a nationalistic or militaristic parade." Indeed, the French military band even played Daft Punk last year. Still, Haddad said, the French will be amused that Trump wants to emulate their parade.

"The French actually appreciate the fact that even if we do have policy disagreements, the two countries and the two presidents have good relations, and that the French president is respected by the American president," he said. "The fact that Trump wants to emulate the parade, I think, will amuse … the French."

Trump is hardly the first American president—or politician—to be enamored of the military and its equipment. Both Dwight Eisenhower, a retired five-star Army general, and John F. Kennedy, who served in the Navy in World War II, included weapons in their presidential inauguration parades (Kennedy's included a nuclear weapon). But Trump's domestic critics point out the president, like the president before him, never served in the military. They also point to the parade's potential costs, Trump's admiration of authoritarian leaders, as well as the parade's Cold War-era overtones as reasons for their reservations toward the planned event.

"What are they going to do, stand there while Donald Trump waves at them?" Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian, asked The Washington Post. "It smacks of something you see in a totalitarian country—unless there's a genuine, earnest reason to be doing it."

As to what those reasons might be, James Mattis, the defense secretary, said Wednesday: "We're all aware in this country of the president's affection and respect for the military. We've been putting together some options. We'll send them up to the White House for a decision."

Peggy Fleming and the 1968 Winter Olympics

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 01:51 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This is part of The Atlantic's ongoing series looking back at 1968. All past articles and reader correspondence are collected here. New material will be added to that page through the end of 2018.

Fifty years ago this week the 1968 Winter Olympics began in Grenoble, France, where 37 countries competed, including West Germany and East Germany, who were permitted to enter as separate countries that year for the first time.  

The official film is unbeatable for a visual sense of the games. The bobsled events were held in darkness, as shown in the video, because the track was melting during daylight hours. Jean-Claude Killy won gold in all three alpine skiing events.

In hindsight, the most significant legacy of that year may be the introduction of doping tests and sex tests for women's events, though Norwegians could be forgiven for drawing attention to their performance: 14 medals, six of them gold, besting all other countries including the Soviet Union, which came in second.

Then again, maybe the figure skating competition had the most lasting legacy, at least here in the United States.

The U.S. won just one gold medal, in figure skating, and it could hardly have been more poignant––while heading to the 1961 World Championships, the entire U.S. figure skating team had been killed in a plane crash. Afterward, a memorial fund was set up to help rebuild the program. One beneficiary was a 12-year-old Peggy Fleming, whose coach had died in the plane crash.

She used the money to buy new skates.

Fleming ascended the ranks quickly to help the program recover. She won a national championship in 1964, qualifying for that year's Olympics, where she finished sixth. In Grenoble, she would win that gold medal. Here is one of her  performances:

In a retrospective, NBC Sports explains that her mother chose the color of her costume "after learning that monks in the Grenoble region of France made Chartreuse Liqueur at a nearby monastery. Doris believed that the particular green hue, reminiscent of the herbal liqueur, would subliminally cause French audiences to cheer on her daughter, which would in turn boost Fleming's confidence."

It wound up on the cover of Life.

Sports Illustrated later summed up the effect of her victory by writing that when she "glided into the adoring embrace of the American public by winning the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, she launched figure skating's modern era. Pretty and balletic, elegant and stylish, Fleming took a staid sport that was shackled by its inscrutable compulsory figures and arcane scoring system and, with television as her ally, made it marvelously glamorous. Ever since, certainly to North Americans, figure skating has been the marquee sport of the Winter Games and an increasingly popular staple of prime-time television."

If your appetite is whetted for more Olympic history, don't miss Alan Taylor's look back at photographs from the first 12 Winter Olympic Games, from 1924 to 1976. And your emails about 1968 are still encouraged––write conor@theatlantic.com.

A New Era of Big Spending in Trump's Washington

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 01:16 PM PST

Congressional leaders struck the biggest bipartisan breakthrough of the Trump era by going back to the old rules of Washington: The quickest way to reach consensus is by cracking open the federal piggy bank and divvying up what falls out.

A two-year budget agreement announced on Wednesday achieves a hard-fought fiscal peace, but at a steep price for taxpayers and the federal deficit: an increase of around $300 billion in overall spending. President Trump and GOP defense hawks have secured a long-sought boost in military funding, but only after agreeing to nearly commensurate increases in domestic discretionary spending. The deal directs tens of billions of extra dollars to disaster relief, $20 billion toward infrastructure projects, $6 billion to combat the opioid crisis, and billions more for veterans and children's health care. In exchange for eliminating across-the-board sequestration cuts to the Pentagon, lawmakers will all but ignore the $54 billion in reductions to domestic programs and the State Department that Trump proposed in his first budget request last year.

The result is that if this agreement wins approval, federal spending would rise to levels few would have predicted when Republicans won full control of Congress and the White House in 2016. On top of the $1.5 trillion tax cuts the GOP enacted in December, the deal will confirm the nation's return to the $1 trillion annual budget deficits that arrived with the Great Recession a decade ago. As part of the agreement, Congress would suspend the debt ceiling for another year, ensuring that it will not have to be lifted again until just before Trump runs for reelection.

"After months of legislative logjams, this budget deal is a genuine breakthrough," crowed Senator Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader. "And it should break the long cycle of spending crises that have snarled this Congress and hampered our middle class."

Democrats used the leverage of their 49 votes in the Senate—easily enough to sustain a filibuster—to win spending increases for domestic programs alongside the boost for the military. But they failed to achieve a central goal they set at the outset of the budget talks in September: legislation offering permanent protections for the so-called "dreamers," the young immigrants at risk for deportation once Trump ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In exchange for ending the government shutdown last month, Schumer secured a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to debate immigration legislation on the floor next week.

In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to give Democrats a similar assurance. Guarding against a revolt from liberals in her caucus, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she would not support the budget agreement absent a commitment from Ryan to vote on a DACA bill. Using a privilege afforded to her as party leader, Pelosi held the House floor for more than six hours on Wednesday, reading letters from young immigrants and urging Republicans to back a DACA deal.

Pelosi's opposition could prove important, since dozens of conservatives are expected to balk at the high spending levels in the budget agreement. With support from both parties, the Senate plans to attach the deal to a temporary spending measure that would keep the government open past Thursday and buy time for Congress to write and pass an omnibus appropriations bill for the remainder of the fiscal year. But the package likely will need plenty of House Democratic votes to pass once clears the Senate.

Republicans hailed the increase in defense spending, saying it would help them keep their promise to "rebuild the military" after what they viewed as years of decline under the Obama administration, exacerbated by the sequestration spending caps enacted under the Budget Control Act in 2011. "This agreement delivers on our commitment to fully fund our national defense—no more short-term ploys and patches," Ryan said. Republicans also secured a higher increase in defense spending than Democrats did for non-defense, breaking a pattern of parity that the parties stuck to under Obama.

The GOP scored other wins as well. After failing last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the deal continues to chip away at the law by cutting spending from its prevention fund (what the GOP calls its "slush fund") and by eliminating the Independent Payment Advisory Board—the cost-containment measure that inspired the false conservative warnings about "death panels."

Still, the real significance of this deal lies in its spending. Congress ended its period of fiscal austerity in the final years of the Obama administration. But it took the arrival of a Republican president promising military dominance and beefed-up security to get the party's congressional leadership to ditch its deficit worries, open up the Treasury, and launch a new era of big spending in Washington.

Other Presidents Who Have Met Famous Black People

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 01:11 PM PST

Donald Trump Jr. recently defended his father from charges of racism in an interview with The Daily Caller, offering as evidence a past history of photographs taken of the elder Trump with African American celebrities: "It's amazing—all the rappers, all his African American friends, from Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, have pictures with him." Since the mid-20th century, U.S. presidents and those who dream of becoming president have all made a practice of being photographed with prominent African American performers and artists. Below, a sampling, from President Harry Truman meeting with Duke Ellington in 1950 to President-Elect Trump with Kanye West in 2016.

Here's How U.S.-North Korea Crises Typically End

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 11:52 AM PST

How will the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons end? Will Kim Jong Un buckle under pressure and roll back his nuclear program, or will he press forward in completing an arsenal that can threaten the whole world? Will Donald Trump make good on his threats to take military action against the North, or will he focus on deterring Kim from ever using his nukes?

It's impossible to answer these questions with certainty. But it's possible to find clues in the historical record. And history suggests that the current crisis is unlikely to devolve into fighting—that the more probable outcome is one or both leaders backing down and reaching a compromise.

Long before North Korea was antagonizing America with missile and nuclear tests, it was seizing American spy ships, downing American planes, and hacking American soldiers to death. In 2007, the Congressional Research Service catalogued well over 100 North Korean provocations against the United States and its allies over the previous 57 years, ranging in severity from the digging of a cross-border tunnel to the invasion of South Korea in 1950. That invasion sparked a three-year war that left millions dead. Since then, however—from the bombing of a South Korean airplane in 1987 to the more recent sinking of a South Korean warship and shelling of a South Korean island in the same year—no North Korean provocation has resulted in a major military conflict.

There is reason to believe this time could be different. History is not destiny. North Korea is nearing a truly new frontier: possessing the capability to target the United States with the world's deadliest weapons. Kim Jong Un, North Korea's young, audacious leader, has exhibited a penchant for provocation and a distaste for negotiation, in just six years testing far more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. And Donald Trump is an exceptional president, who has said as much. "I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position," Trump said regarding North Korea in his recent State of the Union address. "Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation." Neither leader appears inclined to back down from a confrontation.

Yet there is also a reason why the history is what it is. While American and North Korean leaders have risen and fallen, while the Cold War has come and gone, while North Korea's arms have expanded from artillery to chemical and biological weapons to nuclear weapons, certain realities have not changed. "Structural forces," such as the "formidable military capabilities" of the United States and North Korea, and the geographic proximity of South Korea and China to North Korea, constrain the decision-making even of seemingly singular leaders such as Trump and Kim, the political scientists Michael Horowitz and Elizabeth Saunders recently wrote. "And these factors reduce the likelihood of war."

From the U.S. perspective, confronting North Korea has always been complicated by the North's inscrutable leadership, ties to Russia and China, and capacity to lash out at Americans and America's allies in one of the most vital and volatile regions on earth. As a result, the prospect of unleashing a second Korean war has repeatedly proved more daunting than the latest act of North Korean aggression. The United States has succeeded in avoiding a military conflagration, but often at the expense of signaling to the North Koreans that so long as the North doesn't stage an unacceptably massive provocation, America will react with restraint—maybe even with concessions.

Below are the most prominent examples of these provocations and brief accounts of how each crisis played out. Since the pressing question at the moment is how the United States will respond to the direct threat of a long-range North Korean nuclear capability, the cases involve either North Korean attacks on the United States or demonstrations of military capabilities that pose grave dangers to the U.S. and its allies.

The Blue House Raid and Pueblo Seizure

Year: 1968

North Korean provocation: Thirty-one North Korean commandos snuck across the Korean Demilitarized Zone and attempted to kill South Korean President Park Chung Hee at his Blue House residence, sparking clashes that left numerous South Koreans and several American soldiers dead. Two days later, North Korean forces opened fire on a U.S. Navy spy ship called the USS Pueblo, seizing a literal boatload of U.S. intelligence secrets, killing one American sailor, and holding hostage 82 other crew members.

U.S. response: President Lyndon Johnson weighed a range of military responses to the seizure of the Pueblo, including snatching a North Korean vessel, implementing a naval blockade, launching air strikes, sending ground forces over the DMZ, and even using nuclear weapons in the event that the North invaded the South. And South Korean officials—including an incensed, nearly assassinated president—demanded that the United States take "punitive action" against North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and considered attacking the North themselves.

Johnson built up U.S. air and naval assets in the waters off the Korean peninsula. But he ultimately restrained American and South Korean hawks. Forceful U.S. retaliation would probably make it impossible to free the sailors, invite North Korean countermeasures, and "bring the Chinese and Soviets more directly into the situation"—risking military escalation that an America consumed by the Vietnam War had no interest in, U.S. officials reasoned.

The United States instead entered into protracted negotiations with the North Koreans, who released the crew 11 months after they were taken captive. The U.S. bizarrely issued an apology to North Korea that it simultaneously repudiated. The Pueblo itself was never returned, and is now a floating North Korean museum.

Resolution: The United States staged a display of military force but eventually chose diplomacy to free the sailors.

Who backed down first: The United States.

The EC-121 Shootdown

Year: 1969

North Korean provocation: North Korean fighter jets shot down an American EC-121 plane on a routine reconnaissance mission over international waters, in the country's most aggressive act against the United States since the Korean War. All 31 Americans on board were killed.

U.S. response: Facing its first international crisis, the Nixon administration half-heartedly considered many of the military responses that Johnson studied. But Richard Nixon, who had campaigned against Johnson's "weak" handling of the Pueblo affair, settled on a symbolic show of force: dispatching a couple aircraft carriers to the Sea of Japan and redeploying reconnaissance planes escorted by fighter jets to the region. "The weak can be rash," Secretary of State William Rogers declared. "The powerful must be more restrained."

Nevertheless, the administration subsequently elaborated dozens of contingency plans to respond to the next hostile act by North Korea—ranging from bombing North Korean airfields to limited or all-out nuclear attacks on North Korea's military capabilities. Henry Kissinger, the national-security adviser at the time, captured the conundrum plaguing the exercise: The military options "that seemed safe were inadequate to the provocation, while those that seemed equal to the challenge appeared too risky."

The United States could try to minimize the risk of North Korean retaliation by responding to another EC-121-like incident with a surprise strike on a single military target, officials reckoned. But the only way to eliminate that risk would be a massive campaign to destroy North Korea's air power. Since there wouldn't necessarily be a difference between the costs of a major or minor military operation, America might as well go big or do nothing at all. Nixon did the latter for the remainder of his presidency—despite telling Kissinger, after the EC-121 crisis petered out, that the North Koreans "got away with it this time, but they'll never get away with it again."

Resolution: The United States engaged in a show of military force but didn't use actual force or extract any compensation from North Korea.

Who backed down first: The United States.

The Tree-Cutting Incident

Year: 1976

North Korean provocation: North Korean troops beat two American soldiers to death with axes and clubs in a shared truce area along the Demilitarized Zone, resulting in the first fatalities there since the end of the Korean War. The scuffle began when an American and South Korean crew attempted, over North Korean objections, to trim a poplar tree as a means of improving visibility at the border.

U.S. response: President Gerald Ford upgraded U.S. forces in Korea to the readiness level of DEFCON 3, moving nuclear and conventional weaponry to concrete bunkers and an aircraft carrier to Korean waters. North Korea, for its part, put the military on high alert, conducted civilian air-raid drills, and evacuated top North Korean officials to fortified tunnels. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who was a Pacific Command intelligence official at the time, has said that war felt more imminent during the tree-trimming crisis than it does today.

Kissinger, now secretary of state, recommended striking the barracks of the North Korean soldiers involved in the tree attack. But Ford was wary of thrusting the United States back into combat after it had just withdrawn from Vietnam. Instead, he selected a modest but still risky option called Operation Paul Bunyan; the chief of staff of U.S. Forces Korea estimated that it "stood a 50-50 chance of starting a war." Three days after the axe murders, a convoy of 300 American and South Korean soldiers (including, incidentally, current South Korean President Moon Jae In) returned unannounced to the DMZ to cut down the poplar tree while helicopter gunships, B-52 bombers, and fighter jets hovered overhead and nearby.

Within minutes, North Korean troops stood down and the poplar was reduced to a stump. Within hours, a spooked Kim Il Sung expressed regret for the incident; he soon agreed to remove guard posts from the southern side of the shared truce area. The United States hadn't made so dramatic a demonstration of military power to the North since the Korean War. Nor has it since.

Resolution: The United States stopped just short of military action, avoiding North Korean retaliation and receiving minor concessions from the North.

Who backed down first: North Korea.

The Pursuit of Weapons of Mass Destruction

Year: 1994 — present day

North Korean provocation: In the late 1960s and 1970s, North Korea's direct provocations against the United States consisted of hostile actions. Since the 1990s, they've taken the form of advances in developing weapons of mass destruction. In 1994, U.S. officials believed the Kim government was on the verge of reprocessing fuel from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor for use in nuclear weapons, precipitating the first nuclear crisis with North Korea. Since 2006, North Korea has tested ever more powerful nuclear weapons and ever more sophisticated long-range missiles—to the point where, according to Trump's CIA director, the North is now only months away from being able to place a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reliably strike the U.S. mainland. North Korea has for decades amassed chemical and biological weapons as well. But in 2017 it went much further: Agents of the North Korean government are suspected of assassinating Kim Jong Un's half-brother in broad daylight in a bustling Malaysian airport using the chemical nerve agent VX.

U.S. response: Every presidential administration over the last couple of decades has explored military options for dealing with North Korea's nuclear-weapons program, most seriously in 1994 when that program was still rudimentary and the Clinton administration drew up plans and mobilized forces to strike the Yongbyon reactor. But each administration has instead chosen a mix of engagement (diplomatic dialogue, economic assistance, security assurances) and pressure (diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions, beefed-up military deterrence against North Korean aggression). The Trump administration is currently waging a campaign of "maximum pressure."

"For whatever benefits we might accrue from the strike, and they might be substantial benefits, there is a very significant downside," the Clinton-era Defense Secretary Bill Perry has noted in explaining why "coercive diplomacy" has again and again seemed more attractive than military action. "It could start as a relatively minor conflict, but it is all too likely to escalate into a bigger war and ultimately into a nuclear war." The carrot-and-stick approach has at times succeeded in suspending or setting back North Korea's quest for nuclear weapons, but so far the progress has unfailingly proved fleeting. Now, with negotiations nowhere in sight, North Korea is racing to complete its nuclear arsenal before the Trump administration's pressure becomes too much to bear. Who wins the race, or whether it ends in some sort of draw, isn't yet clear.

In killing off Kim Jong Un's half-brother, North Korea showed that it was willing to use a sophisticated weapon of mass destruction outside its borders. But here too, the Trump administration responded not with a punitive military strike, as it did when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, but with increased pressure: redesignating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Resolution: To be determined.

Who backed down first: Sometimes the United States, sometimes North Korea.

Donald Trump has argued that episodes such as the Pueblo and EC-121 crises have led the Kim regime to interpret "America's past restraint as weakness"—and that it "would be a fatal miscalculation" for Kim to draw the same conclusions this time around. But Trump nonetheless confronts the same conundrum that Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton all confronted well before North Korea had nuclear weapons. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger, the least-risky military options are insufficient to meet the challenge from North Korea and the sufficient military options are very risky. And even if the military plans are limited, the planners must be prepared for unlimited war on the Korean peninsula. Since the horror of the Korean War, no U.S. leader has been willing to assume those risks. Not yet, at least.

Inside Facebook's Fast-Growing Content-Moderation Effort

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 03:01 PM PST

Monika Bickert is a serious, impressive person. Before she became Facebook's head of global policy management, she put her Harvard law degree to work as an assistant U.S. attorney going after corrupt government officials.

On February 2, Bickert spoke very intentionally and precisely about how Facebook's content-management team and policies are constructed at the Santa Clara University School of Law's Content Moderation and Removal at Scale conference, organized by Eric Goldman, the director of the school's High-Tech Law Institute.

Bickert emphasized that humans are deeply necessary to the project of content moderation, saying that Facebook now has 7,500 content moderators around the world, meeting the hiring goal Mark Zuckerberg set in May of 2017, when the company only had 4,500 content moderators. In other words, they've added almost the same number of content moderators as Twitter or Snapchat's total employee head count in the last eight months.

And they're not hiring most of those people in Silicon Valley.

"Content reviewers tend to be hired for their language expertise, and they don't tend to come with any predetermined subject-matter expertise. Mostly they are hired, they come in, and they learn all of the Facebook policies, and then over time, they develop an expertise in one area," she said. "The review team is structured in such a way that we can provide 24/7 coverage around the globe. That means that we often are trying to hire a Burmese speaker in Dublin, or come up with other ways of staffing languages so that the content can be reviewed or responded to within 24 hours. That's our goal. We don't always hit it."

As social media has become a cultural and political battleground, content moderation has become a pressing topic for the technology industry's biggest companies. The Santa Clara conference follows one at UCLA late last year that focused on the labor that goes into dealing with "the basic grossness of humans." The internet companies have taken over the traditional role of governments in allowing and limiting speech within their virtual walls. And they've all struggled to do so fairly. In addition to Facebook, representatives from Google, Pinterest, Reddit, Yelp, and a host of other companies spoke at the event.

To give an idea of the relative scale of Facebook's efforts, Google's Nora Puckett said that the company's entire trust and safety team is 10,000 people, which includes far more people than just content reviewers. At the other end of the spectrum, Pinterest's Adelin Cai said the team moderating the service's 200 million users is composed of only 11 full-time people.

At Facebook, there are 60 people dedicated just to crafting the policies for the company's content moderators. These policies are not what you read in Facebook's terms of service or community standards. They are a deep, highly specific set of operational instructions for content moderators that is reviewed constantly by Bickert's team and in a larger intra-Facebook gathering every two weeks. For example, one rule that came to light in a Guardian investigation noted that while nudity on Facebook is verboten in general, it was okay to show adult nudity in the context of historical Holocaust photographs.

"Every week, there are updates to those policies. Sometimes it's something little. [For example] this word, in Korean, is no longer being used as a slur, now we're seeing people try to take it back and we have to evaluate it differently," Bickert said.

At that biweekly content meeting, different teams across the company—engineering, legal, the content reviewers, external partners like nonprofit groups—provide recommendations to Bickert's team for inclusion in the policy guidebook. Bickert called it a "mini legislative session."

Her colleague Neil Potts, who spoke later, also emphasized the similarity between what Facebook is doing and what government does. "We do really share the goals of government in certain ways," he said. "If the goals of government are to protect their constituents, which are our users and community, I think we do share that. I feel comfortable going to the press with that."

The reason that the content rules are so detailed is that Facebook wants to reduce the bias- or judgement-based variability of the decisions that the content reviewers make.

"We try to make sure that our standards are sufficiently granular so that they don't leave a lot of room for interpretation," Bickert said. "We know people are going to disagree. Reviewers are gonna have different ideas about what level of nudity is offensive or what level of graphic violence is something we should take down. Or, should you be able to use certain words? What constitutes an ethnic slur? We have very specific guidance, so that if the person is in the Philippines, in India, in Texas they are gonna reach the same decision."

And to ensure that this is happening, they have ongoing audits of all the work of reviewers to see "if that person's accuracy is where it needs to be and if that person's decisions are matching our policies."

But the downside of having such specific rules is that they are blunt. "There are always situations where we look at a specific piece of content that technically doesn't violate our hate-speech policy, but when you look at it, you think, 'Wow, as we sit here and look at it, we all think this looks like hate speech,'" Bickert said. "So, you're gonna have those uncomfortable ones that are close to the line, but something that we have to do is have these granular standards so that we can control for bias."

One revealing anecdote from Bickert's presentation seemed to show that Facebook hasn't always taken content review as seriously as they do now. When Facebook Live launched, the technical tool that they had to review the videos did not show what part of a video tended to generate user flags. So, if a Facebook Live video was two hours long, the reviewers had to try to skim through to figure out where the objectionable material might be.

"The review tool for the content reviewers who were looking at the videos that were reported proved to not be what we needed," she said. "It didn't allow reviewers sufficient flexibility in going back and looking at the video."

That sure seems like the kind of thing that you might want to have locked down before careening into a massive live-video push. But that was 2015 Zuckerberg, back in the preelection naïveté when he was a mere engineer and not a community builder.

Facebook does seem to have gotten religion on the topic over the last year and a half, but the content moderation challenge is different from the many competitive bouts and platform shifts that the company has proven able to overcome. It's not a primarily technical challenge that can be solved by throwing legions of engineers at the problem.

"That's a question we get asked a lot: When is AI going to save us all?" Bickert said. "We're a long way from that."

The current stable of machine-learning technologies is not good at looking at the context of a given post or user or community group. That's just not how those tools work, and so the wild advances we've seen in other domains are not being realized in this one.

"There are some areas where technical tools are helping us do this job," Bickert said. "But the vast majority, when we're looking at hate speech or we're looking at bullying or we're looking at harassment, there is a person looking at it and trying to determine what's happening in that offline world and how that manifests itself online."

How Hard Do Professors Actually Work?

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 11:30 AM PST

If there were a "10 Things That Piss Academics Off the Most" list, ranking near the top would be the perception that academic life is easy and relaxing. Professors get annoyed at having to explain to their neighbors and family members that their work extends far beyond the lecture hall—and far beyond the seven-month-or-so academic year. They might be seen walking their dog in the middle of the day, but chances are they're going back home to grade papers or prepare a seminar discussion or conduct research.  

Despite broad consensus among professors that their job isn't for slackers, they tend to disagree, primarily among themselves, about exactly how hard they work. While some scholars say they maintain a traditional 40-hour workweek, others contend they have a superhuman workload. Take Philip Guo, an assistant cognitive-science professor at University of California, San Diego, who on his blog estimated that in 2014 he spent 15 hours per week teaching, between 18 hours and 25 hours on research, four hours at meetings with students, between three hours and six hours doing service work, and between 5 hours and 10 hours at "random-ass meetings (RAM)." That amounts to as many as 60 hours per week—which, he noted, pales in comparison to the 70 hours he worked on average weekly as an undergraduate student at MIT.

America's higher-education system is under increased scrutiny largely because of rising tuition costs and ballooning student debt; concerns about liberal indoctrination on college campuses, which are subsidized by taxpayer dollars, have also started to bubble up. People want to know where their tuition and tax money is going—are professors working hard for that money?

This week, academic-Twitter is bickering over the answer to that last question. Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology at New York University, kickstarted the debate on Sunday when he wrote, "The average #professor works over 60 hours a week (from one university) and 30% of their time is spent on emails or meetings."

Van Bavel provided a link to a 2014 Inside Higher Ed article on the research of John Ziker, an anthropologist at Boise State University. In that study, Ziker found that faculty at his university worked 61 hours per week and that senior faculty worked slightly longer hours than junior faculty. In addition to the 30 percent of time spent in meetings and going through email, faculty spent 40 percent of their time on teaching-related tasks.

These Boise State findings were only the first stage of a larger research project; the sample included only 30 faculty members, who self-reported their work hours during the busiest part of the spring semester. Ziker plans to follow up on this research using a new mobile app that he says will allow him to more accurately monitor work patterns among a larger sample size.

Responding to Van Bavel and others as the discussion went viral in the insular world of academic-Twitter, some professors confirmed that they worked 60 hours per week or more, while others said they worked fewer weekly hours, especially when summer hours were included in the overall total. Yehuda Ben-Shahar, a genetics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said, "Academics who say they work over 60 hours a week are dishonest or have very poor time management skills."

The discussion became heated at times. Paul Bloom, a Yale psychologist, noted, "Man, academics just freak out when anyone makes a claim about workload."

Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist at Yale, helped to stir up this week's viral controversy by agreeing with Van Bavel that academics work long hours and adding, "I tell my graduate students and post-docs that if they're working 60 hours per week, they're working less than the full professors, and less than their peers." His tweet generated over 500 comments. Some faculty took issue with the fact that he was reinforcing his workaholic lifestyle on the next generation of academics. Christakis felt that his graduate students should know the reality of the academic job market.

Robert Gooday, a geologist at Cardiff University in Wales, responded to Christakis, saying, "Fuck me, I must be getting left in the dust! I work (at most) 9.30 - 5 Monday to Friday, and the vast majority of that is spent having tea breaks. And I'm doing alright because, surprisingly, 'hours worked' does not define me as a person. Wanker."

Many pointed out that it is difficult to define academic life as "work," because so many people enjoy what they're doing. If someone is obsessed with Victorian literature and is lucky enough to have a job that pays her to research that topic, does reading Oliver Twist in the evening really count as work?

Indeed, NYU's Van Bavel noted that academics put in those long hours because they enjoy their jobs. "Most of us choose to mentor students, update lectures, attend conference, conduct new studies, etc because we love the work. Time flies compared to my prior white & blue collar jobs."

And sometimes "work" happens outside the office. A anonymous philosophy professor tweeted, "I always find it hard to estimate the number of hours that I work. When I'm in the shower mulling over a paper and sketching a proof outline in the fog on the glass, does that count as 'work hours?'"

While professors themselves cannot agree on whether they work too damn hard or just hard-ish (minus the ones who mostly spend their days drinking tea), this Twitter debate has certainly exposed the need for additional research. Future studies could compare the work experiences of tenured, tenure track, and adjunct faculty, for example, or see how the loads of liberal-arts faculty stack up against those for academics in the sciences, among other comparative analyses.

This information could reveal whether colleges and universities should pay professors more. The average salary for full-time faculty was $80,095 last school year, while someone who earned her MBA at Harvard (and who probably works similarly long hours), makes $150,000 in her first year. Assuming adjuncts' workloads are similar to that of full full-time faculty, then the former's average take-home pay of $20,000 per institution is insufficient.  

The research could also help paint a clearer picture of how academics divvy up their time—how many hours are spent teaching students, doing research, attending conferences, frittering away in meetings. That information could prove especially useful at universities that are rethinking the demands they place on professors and striving to enable faculty to spend more time in the classroom.

This week's viral Twitter battle over the workload of professors was a fun, insider debate, but it also opened up serious questions about the purpose of college.

Trump Finally Comments on the Stock Slump—by Arguing With It

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 12:37 PM PST

On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump—chief executive of a $19 trillion economy, leader of the free world, commander of a nuclear military force—finally weighed in on the stock market's sudden decline, by arguing with it. "In the 'old days,' when good news was reported, the Stock Market would go up," he wrote on Twitter. "Today, when good news is reported, the Stock Market goes down. Big mistake, and we have so much good (great) news about the economy!"

There is at least one thing he is right about: The stock market is indeed in a slump. For the past few days, indices from around the world have been in various states of free fall, correction, surge, and panic, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average experiencing its biggest-ever one-day point drop on Monday, Nasdaq halting trades in a few financial instruments linked to market volatility, and apocalyptic headlines piling up. Animal spirits, in the memorable phrasing of the economist John Maynard Keynes, are loose.

Trump is right about another thing too: The U.S. does have so much good (great) news about the economy at the moment. Every developed economy on earth is growing right now, for the first time in a decade. Corporate earnings are coming in higher than expected this season, and the jobs market is potentially close to full employment. The major leading indicators continue to look good, as well, dampening fears of an imminent correction or recession.

But his tweet evinces both a prurient interest in the market and a lack of knowledge about its gyrations. The stock market is not a reflection of the true state of the economy. It does not always go up as the economy strengthens, or decline as the economy falls. And no one, save for some day traders and investors with a very short time horizon, need to spend much time worrying what it is doing or why—at least not for now.

In Trump's formulation, financial markets have a simplistic, monocausal relationship with economic data: good news, markets up; bad news, markets down. In reality, though, financial markets have an obtuse, metaphysical relationship with economic data: good news, who knows; bad news, who knows.   

As a very general point, the markets do tend to drift in the same direction as the economy. Recessions tend to come with declines in the Standard & Poor's 500 (a far better index to keep an eye on than the Dow Jones, by the way). Expansions tend to come with bull markets. But the financial markets tend to be vastly more volatile than headline economic figures—and that is true even in the long period of unusually low volatility that appeared to end late last week. An economy growing 2 percent a year might see market surges of 2 percent a day, or swift year-on-year growth of 10 percent.

Plus, on a day-to-day level, good economic news does not cleanly translate into a higher market, nor does bad news translate into a worse one. Financial traders take in a huge number of economic and financial variables. They bet on what the other guy knows. They signal. They hedge. They construct algorithms to seek out strange correlations. As such, in the short term, it tends to be surprising news—not good or bad news—that forces market movements. And sometimes it is no news at all.

Indeed, it is often totally unclear what causes a given surge or sell-off. Trump was trumpeting the theory that better-than-expected jobs and wage numbers raised concerns about rising inflation and tighter monetary policy. "The U.S. Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to prevent the economy from overheating," Ken Griffin, the founder of the investment behemoth Citadel, wrote in a note late last week, just as the market started to sour. "We are particularly concerned about the nascent signs of accelerating inflation in many countries around the world, given the general complacency around the risks of an inflationary shock." But nobody knows for sure. Perhaps the gyrations have to do with interest rates. Perhaps they have to do with rising wages cutting into corporate profits. Perhaps they have to do with algorithmic trading. Perhaps traders are trolling the new Federal Reserve chairman.

The important thing—and the reason it seems that most Americans can safely ignore the turbulence—is that the economic and business outlook remains rosy. Global growth is secure for now; the Federal Reserve has telegraphed its intention to increase interest rates; businesses are competing for workers. "It seems like people are pricing in that the tax cut is going to have more of a near-term stimulative effect then maybe we appreciated a few months ago," Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said in a television interview this week.

Further, it would take a much more significant sell-off to mar the extraordinary bull run that has gone on for nearly a decade at this point. After the setbacks of the past few days, the Dow Jones is back where it was in December—which is still far higher than it was when President Trump took office, let alone when President Barack Obama took office. Anyone with an investment horizon longer than a few weeks is likely to be firmly in the black, and anyone with an investment horizon longer than a few days would probably do well to ignore the headlines and flashing lights.

That goes for President Trump, too. Presidents have historically tried to avoid talking about these volatile investments, given that what goes up so often goes down, and given that what is good for traders and investors is not always good for workers. But this president touted that the market has "smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value" in his State of the Union address, and argued that "the reason our stock market is so successful is because of me" a few months ago. That, to be clear, is not true either.

<i>Red Clocks</i> Imagines America Without Abortion

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 12:52 PM PST

The America in Leni Zumas's new novel, Red Clocks, is so familiar as to be almost unremarkable. Ro, a history teacher, has a father in a retirement home in Florida and a brother who died of a heroin overdose. Susan, a mother, raises two children in the house she grew up in. Gin, a loner, is defiantly private but offers home remedies to local women with health issues but no money or insurance. Mattie, a teenager, loses her virginity to a confident and callous classmate who's unconcerned with her comfort and doesn't wear protection. The only tweak Zumas has made is that in the world of her book abortion has been criminalized in the U.S., an occurrence introduced so quietly and so plausibly that it isn't even startling—just another calamity for women to add to the list.

Zumas switches fluently through the perspectives of each of these women in Red Clocks, which is set in the fictional small town of Newville, Oregon. Like an Elizabeth Strout novel, their personal stories and heartbreak layers into something more acute. But the speculative aspects of the book, combined with Zumas's historical and sociological insights, inevitably bring to mind Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Zumas, like Atwood, has grounded her book in reality—in things that existing people have said and done. The difference is that The Handmaid's Tale has to imagine a confluence of global pandemics, mass infertility, and constitutional crises to will Gilead into existence. In Red Clocks, women simply wake up one day to find that a president they didn't vote for—a man with a history of extreme rhetoric and legislation on reproductive issues—has proposed a Personhood Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which a majority of states then vote to ratify.

Abortion, or the sudden illegality of it, is the novel's grounding hypothesis, but it isn't its primary focus. Zumas has written a work that's preoccupied with what it means to live inside a woman's body, and to exist in that body in a world that's long viewed it with fear and unease. And to handle a biological imperative that seems sometimes incompatible with other ambitions. And to experience the myriad small humiliations and the pain of the body's physical state. In the first scene, Ro is visiting a fertility specialist, described as "a room for women whose bodies are broken." At 42, Ro is many things: a teacher, a daughter, a writer working on the biography of a 19th-century Faroese polar explorer called Eivør Mínervudottír. In the doctor's office, though, she's defined only by her failure to fulfill her "animal destiny," and her "elderly pregravid" status as a patient. Ro tries repeatedly to understand why she wants so badly to be a mother, but it's an impulse she can't quantify, a desire she can't rationalize.

In the world of Red Clocks, the same administration that's criminalized abortion has also outlawed IVF, since fertilized eggs can't give their consent to be moved from laboratory to uterus. It has also introduced new legislation called Every Child Needs Two, which requires that adoptive parents be married. As a single woman, Ro's last chance to have a child is artificial insemination, requiring drugs that leave her dizzy and exhausted, and that her insurance doesn't cover. On the flip side of her reality is Mattie, adopted herself, who's pregnant at 15 and out of options. Terminating a pregnancy is now classified as conspiracy to commit murder, and Mattie has already seen her best friend, the daughter of a state representative, jailed after she tried to self-abort rather than jeopardize her mother's career. In the abortion ban's early days, Red Clocks explains, women were prosecuted particularly harshly to help the legislation take effect, and "girls as young as 13 were incarcerated for three to five years."

The cleverness of Zumas's narrative structure is that it allows readers to understand the characters both from their own perspective and as they exist in the minds of others. Their names are introduced late into their stories; until then, Zumas refers to them as "The Biographer" (Ro), "The Daughter" (Mattie), "The Mender" (Gin), and "The Wife" (Susan), in a nod to the singular categories women can be shoehorned into. Gin is revealed as a woman who loves to fix people and animals, a person with kind instincts who feels things deeply, not least of which is the impulse to isolate herself. It's only when she's seen by other characters that she becomes an outcast, a hermit whom the local fishermen suspect of witchcraft. Similarly, Susan and Ro judge each other's lifestyles and choices, making presumptions that are soon challenged by the other's narration.

What this all builds into is a thoughtful, complicated picture of womanhood—and a fierce argument for individual choice. The reality Zumas conceives is much like the reality of any society where abortion is outlawed: Deprived of options, women go to increasingly desperate and unsafe lengths to end their pregnancies. Teenagers fleeing to Canada face the "Pink Wall," a diplomatic agreement that allows border police to detain and forcibly test any woman or girl whom they suspect to be seeking an abortion. Without access to comprehensive sexual education, Mattie and her friends share old wives' tales and snippets of hearsay that invariably fail them. But something else happens, too. Women like Gin become de facto healthcare providers, offering remedies that Ro describes as being "thousands of years in the making, fine-tuned by women in the dark creases of history, helping each other." Activist groups emerge with names like the "Polyphonte Collective," which nod to the forbidding history of women being punished for their reproductive decisions.

That Red Clocks does all this while portraying the everyday existence of four such different characters in persuasive, gripping language is striking. Zumas isn't an idealist—she's fully aware of the ways in which women think about each other, and the conditioning that turns minor encounters into contests or conflicts. But she's also steeped her book in history, which fills in the gaps between her characters. Gin is descended from Maria Hallett, an 18th-century woman abandoned by a pirate whose reclusiveness led to her being labeled as a witch. Ro is obsessed with uncovering the life story of Mínervudottír, whose biographical fragments precede each chapter, and who couldn't stop striving for an extraordinary life, a life "in which survival was not assured."

Zumas, an author and professor of creative writing at Portland State University, reportedly based some of the novel on her own experiences undergoing fertility treatment. In these chapters, Red Clocks is relentlessly interrogative but always humane. Ro asks herself over and over again why she wants to be a mother, and can only answer, Because I do. The desire, she deduces, must come from "some creaturely place, pre-civilized, some biological throb that floods her bloodways with the message Make more of yourself." But even in her most desperate moments Ro never lets her desires supersede anyone else's. The paradox of fertility, where teenagers procreate effortlessly against their wills and adult women with means find they've left it too late, is a bittersweet joke in Ro's mind, but not one she's willing to compromise other women's choices for—her own difficulty conceiving doesn't change her belief that every women should have autonomy over her own body.

With such a provocative premise, you might expect Red Clocks to be an activist novel, or a polemical one. But the political circumstances of the novel are sidelined to only the most essential moments of exposition, in snatches of memories about women's marches (and a fleeting mention that PBS has lost its government funding and is forced to air commercials for control-top panty hose). Red Clocks instead is deeply, intentionally personal. Rather than trafficking in sweeping generalizations or one-size-fits-all dictates, it focuses on the uniqueness of all of its characters, who are nevertheless linked by the immutability of their  bodies. The familiarity of the book's world, just a step removed from our own reality, is the most shocking thing about it.

WWI’s Zeppelin Bombings Popularized the Trend of ‘Pyjamas’

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 11:01 AM PST

World War I introduced so many terrifying new ways to die, and chief among those was, of course, death by air.

You didn't even have to be a soldier. For Londoners, the threat began in January 1915, when the Germans sent zeppelins loaded with bombs across the Channel. Eventually, they sent planes, too.

The air raids, often at night, accomplished little tactically, but their true purpose was to terrorize civilians and sink British morale. "There's never been anything like this. Suddenly a blazing bomb is coming out of the sky and setting light to a house, it's almost science fiction," an aviation historian told the BBC.

The Guardian / Newspapers.com
The aftermath of an air raid on the town of King's Lynn on January 20, 1915 (Imperial War Museum)

The air raids brought the war to the home front. They intruded in the bedroom, the most private space of all. And thus, they had quite an effect on fashion.

Think about it this way: Bedclothes are among most intimate of garments. But with the advent of nighttime raids, these private fashions were thrust suddenly into the public sphere when people had to evacuate their homes at a moment's notice. It was the original "I woke up like this."

A crumpled nightdress would no longer do. It was a matter of practicality! But also a matter of looking good!

On January 21, 1915, days after the first zeppelin raid over England, the Manchester Guardian reported that women were already strategizing how to prepare to "meet the midnight world at a minute's notice."

None of those questioned seemed to be much alarmed at the prospect of a raid, but they all admitted—with some surprise that anyone else should have had the same forethought—that when they go to bed nowadays they are always careful to hang a becoming cloak near at hand. Some of them had thought of silk scarves to throw over their heads. An elderly lady recommended an emergency toupee.

As the bombings continued, distinct trends took hold. Pajamas, or "pyjamas," as the Brits called them—a loose-fitting set of jacket and pants—became especially popular. "Women in trousered attire of any kind was a new phenomenon in 1915 and many magazines saw pyjamas simply as 'the season's novelty,'" wrote the historian Lucie Whitmore in a recent Twitter thread on WWI air-raid fashions. But they ended up being much more than a season's novelty—"pyjama" sets are hanging on the racks of your local Target even today.

Pyjamas were both warmer and more practical than thin nightdresses during air raids, but attractiveness was important for some, too. "The zeppelin raid has not only set a fashion for respirators but it has, ridiculously enough, given rise to an attempted fashion in clothes," sneered one Guardian columnist in August 1915. The column went on: "Zeppelin pyjamas can be made of honest flannel. Very much more often they are made of crepe de chine, or, failing that, of Japanese silk. Favorite colors are dark blue and pale pink. Needless to say the former color is most suited for its purpose"—presumably to blend into the night.

Among the more keen was a fashion editor, quoted by the historian Lucy Adlington: "I do want a little zep scare, so that I can wear them," the editor confessed about her black silk pajamas. "Of course I don't want anyone to be killed."

Another novel form of trousered attire for women was the one-piece sleeping suit, suitable for venturing out during air raids. An ad touted the sleeping suit in "white, pink, blue, or mauve nainsook"—a soft, delicate form of muslin.

World War I Centenary / Lucy Adlington

As for the head, women now faced the prospect of running out with their hair undone. Boudoir caps kept them presentable. The caps could be lacy, embroidered, threaded with gold, or decorated with ribbons. Whitmore notes that boudoir-cap sales increased 50 percent at one London department store in October 1916.

Boudoir caps were, obviously, not practical against shrapnel or falling debris. But to call them simply frivolous may not do either. They served a purpose: to conceal the undressed, unmade female body so rarely seen in public. Women could now wear their trousered pyjamas, but of course they couldn't look totally undone.

<em>Pale’ocracy</em> and Other Names for This Era

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 01:34 PM PST

Following this article, and this reader-response note, more responses on the most accurate way to name the political challenge of these times.

Pale'ocracy. A reader recommends this term, "because of its varied and versatile potential definitions:"

--First, the Greek word pale' is defined as "to wrestle," broadened to mean "to struggle, fight, conflict, contest." That's deep Trumpism, especially because of his participation in, admiration for and understanding of professional wrestling. (It is one of the few things he really does understand.)

--Second, broadening the prefix to paleo, you get something old or ancient, and in modern contexts, referring to cavemen. I do not have to flesh this out.

--Third, pale (with no accent mark) is an accurate representation of Trump's favored skin tone (besides orange, of course), favored peoples, and favored nations.

* * *


I've been using another term to describe this time: Trumpistan.  There is something of the Central Asian despot to Trump: corrupt and megalomaniacal like Saparmurat Niyazov building a statue of himself that rotates with the sun.  

* * *

Read On »

Germany's Long Road to Roughly Where It Started

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 11:00 AM PST

For four months, Germany—that reputed pillar of stability in a tumultuous Europe—limped along without a government. The country's elections in September not only failed to deliver a clear governing majority for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, but it also brought unprecedented gains for the populist party Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD), marking the first time a far-right party would enter German's national parliament in nearly six decades. The Social Democrats, who had served as the coalition partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party for nearly a decade, refused to join her again, preferring instead to lead the opposition. But no one would form a government with the AfD either. The result: Deadlock.

Until Wednesday.

Which is when a 23-hour marathon negotiating session resulted in a compromise that would return the very same kind of grand coalition that has governed the country for eight years. Faced with the prospect of new elections (which polls projected would earn them yet another crushing defeat), the Social Democrats decided they could work with Merkel after all. And after months of uncertainty, the Germans ended up roughly where they started.

Yet there were some differences. The Social Democrats, despite their comparatively poor showing in the September election, walked away from the coalition negotiations with some notable wins, including control of the coveted foreign, finance, and labor ministries. Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) also lost their hold on the interior ministry to a more-conservative politician from their sister party, the CSU. "The CDU, even though they have the largest share of the votes, doesn't have any of the key ministries," Marcel Dirsus, a political scientist at the University of Kiel, told me, noting that "Merkel paid a very steep price" to get this government.

The ministerial shake-ups have been widely regarded as concessions by Merkel made to ensure the success of the negotiations and stave off the possibility of fresh elections. And while some of the changes will have notable implications for Germany (such as the move to give Social Democrats control of the labor ministry, which will allow it to push for its own traditional left-wing policies, such as on employees' rights), in other ways the changes promise much of the same. In the case of the move to reportedly replace as finance minister CDU lawmaker Wolfgang Schäuble with the Social Democrats' Olaf Scholz, Dirsus said, "this is a guy who is not a radical—he's a centrist, and he's quite pragmatic. So just because the [Social Democrats (SPD) have] the finance ministry doesn't mean that Germany is going to radically change its course when it comes to eurozone integration … Personalities like Olaf Scholz will make a drastic change less likely."

While more than half of Germans were found to be in favor of fresh elections if coalition talks failed, it's not an option either Merkel's conservatives or the Social Democrats would benefit from. In fact, a recent survey by the German newspaper Bild revealed that if elections were held today, the grand coalition would lose support, with Merkel's conservatives dropping by three points and the Social Democrats dropping by half a point. Such an outcome would put the SPD just two points ahead of the populist far-right AfD, which under this coalition deal makes them the largest opposition party in the country. It's a calculus that Dirsus says gives the SPD leaders little choice but to accept the deal. "A lot of the people who just got elected simply don't want to go through another election again," he said. "It's tiring, it's expensive."

Unfortunately for them, they may not have a choice. Before the grand coalition can become a reality, it must first be approved by the SPD's more than 460,000 members, who will have the final say on the coalition agreement when they vote by mail in the coming weeks. How that vote will go is anyone's guess—just a narrow majority of the party's delegates backed entering into formal coalition talks, despite SPD leadership's strong endorsement in favor of doing so. Kevin Kühnert, the leader of party's youth wing, signaled that some of the party's younger members are adamant in their opposition to the Social Democrats entering another grand coalition. "#NoGroko does not just mean rejecting a coalition agreement," he tweeted in response to the coalition deal. "#NoGroko also means the rejection of the political style that is being performed today." If, however, the party votes in favor of accepting the deal, Germany could have a new government by Easter.

But for now, party leaders involved in the deal appear to be optimistic. "Tired. But satisfied," is how the Social Democrats' leaders summed up their reaction in a WhatsApp message to its members confirming that a deal had been reached. Alexander Dobrindt, a CSU lawmaker, similarly hailed the agreement, noting that  "it's about time we had a prospect of a government in Germany. So it's a good day."

Peace Through Bombings: The U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 08:56 AM PST

Pummeling someone into reconciliation might seem like a curious strategy. But that's what the Trump administration is proposing to do to the Taliban as it seeks to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan.

"We will do everything we can to support the ANDSF fight against the Taliban in order to drive them to the negotiating table," Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense, said Tuesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, referring to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. "Fundamentally, our goal is to convince the Taliban's senior leadership that its goals are better pursued through political negotiation rather than violence." Put another way, as Brigadier General Lance Bunch, who heads the the air campaign in Afghanistan, did in an interview with Defense One: "This is all part of our overarching strategy to continue to put pressure on the Taliban until they realize they've basically got a binary choice: They can negotiate and reconcile, or live in irrelevance and die. We'll continue to go until the Taliban reconcile."

President Trump, as part of his strategy for the longest U.S. war, has reluctantly sent more Americans to Afghanistan. There are now 14,000 U.S. troops in the country, with plans to send another 1,000. At the height of the war on terrorism, there were about 100,000 U.S. troops in the country. Since that time, the Taliban has re-emerged as a potent force. It now controls about one-third of Afghanistan, more territory than at any point since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Although the remarks by Schriver and Bunch reflect Trump's broader Afghan policy, they also appeared to contradict his assertion last month that "[we] don't want to talk with the Taliban. There may be a time, but it's going to be a long time." On Tuesday, John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, told senators the president's remarks were a reaction to last month's fatal attacks, claimed by the Taliban, in Kabul. "Significant elements of the Taliban are not prepared to negotiate," Sullivan told some skeptical lawmakers. "And it may take a long time before they are willing to negotiate. That was the thrust of the president's remarks."   

This apparent dissonance between the president's public proclamations and his administration's stated policies isn't new, however. Since his inauguration in January 2017, he has sent conflicting messages about NATO, the crisis in Qatar, North Korea, Russia, and, now, Afghanistan.

Sometimes, this dissonance has yielded results. Take Qatar, a U.S. ally that has long been criticized for its ties to groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Eight months ago, its Arab neighbors imposed a blockade against it, in part as a punishment for those ties. Washington's response was at first chaotic, but since that time Qatar has publicly said it is cooperating with the U.S. on counterterrorism initiatives—perhaps because it needs to address the perception in the U.S. that it supports terrorist groups.

The Taliban, by no means a U.S. ally, is unlikely to be motivated by the same logic—especially as it continues to enjoy support from the Pakistani military, a major power broker in Afghanistan. But Washington is confident because of its decisive military victory over ISIS in Syria and Iraq, which was achieved with the help of an international coalition. It is also confident because Trump's Afghan strategy, along with the military effort, includes increased pressure on Pakistan in order to change its policy toward the Taliban.

Sullivan told senators Trump's strategy was showing "some signs of progress," adding that the Taliban's momentum is beginning to slow on the battlefield. The new U.S. military strategy could be one reason for this, but fighting in Afghanistan typically slows down during the winter and resumes in the spring. Neither Sullivan nor Schriver could offer details on whether the Taliban has grown, shrunk, or maintained its size. They said that picture would become clearer only when the fighting season resumed.

Ultimately, however, the U.S. policy in Afghanistan calls for an Afghan-led reconciliation process that includes all regional players. "We've engaged in discussions with the governments in both Kabul and Islamabad on the need for a peace process to resolve the security situation in Afghanistan … including the Taliban," Sullivan said. "What we haven't seen, however, is any inclination from … significant elements of the Taliban that are still engaging in horrific acts of terrorist violence" that they are willing to "engage in a discussion at a peace conference."

The U.S. hopes its strategy of pummeling the Taliban will persuade the group. But as the Taliban's spokesman said in response to Trump's remarks: "If you insist upon war, our mujahideen will not welcome you with roses."

Elon Musk's Victory Lap

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 11:17 AM PST

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—You had to see it to believe it, and even then, you weren't quite sure it really happened. The successful launch of the Falcon Heavy, the world's most powerful rocket, stunned spectators on Tuesday—including the man who invented it.

"It seems surreal to me," Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, said Tuesday night, a few hours after the flight. "I had this image of just a giant explosion on the pad."

Instead, SpaceX made history. The Falcon Heavy now joins the club historically reserved for the U.S. government, not commercial companies run by quirky billionaires who sell flamethrowers and punny hats so they can dig long-running tunnels in the ground. At about 3:45 p.m. ET on Tuesday, 15 minutes before the day's launch window closed, the Falcon Heavy's 27 engines ignited with a roar and the rocket shot up into the sky, buoyed by a golden tail of fire. It disappeared from view within minutes. The scene at Kennedy Space Center—the cheers, the traffic, a sense of shared adrenaline—recalled the days of NASA's Space Shuttle flights, which took off from the very same launchpad.

Musk rarely addresses a room full of reporters about SpaceX, but a victory lap was certainly in order Tuesday night. After all, Musk had just successfully put in space a cherry-red Tesla convertible, with a mannequin wearing a SpaceX space suit that took three years to design, sitting inside. Musk, wearing a plain black T-shirt, appeared calm and almost a little dazed.

"I didn't really think this would work," he said.

But it did—for the most part. The upper stage, the part of the rocket that carried the Tesla, made it into orbit and broadcast live views of Earth against a star-specked void. Like the launch, you had to see the video to believe it. "You can tell it's real because it looks so fake," Musk said. "The colors all look kind of weird in space ... Everything's too crisp."

A couple of engine blasts by the upper stage helped push the Tesla way out of Earth's orbit, and, it appears, toward the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. SpaceX planned to put the Tesla in an orbit around the sun between Earth and Mars, but the car seems to have traveled much farther, according to a graphic Musk shared Tuesday—and which astronomers are still trying to make sense of, based on the numbers provided.

The Falcon Heavy's side boosters successfully detached and returned to Earth, touching down nearly in unison in a move that looked like something out of science fiction. The rocket's third and center booster didn't make it. The core came barreling back to Earth and just missed its target, a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. It hit the water traveling at 300 miles per hour. The impact knocked out two engines on the ship and send debris flying all over the deck. Musk said an igniter in the booster may not have had enough propellant to relight the engines and complete the complicated landing maneuver, which involves a flip in the sky.

SpaceX won't reuse the recovered side boosters because they aren't the latest version of the Falcon 9 rocket, and the company will make some tweaks to the Falcon Heavy design for future flights. Musk said there won't be another major version of the Falcon 9 after the current iteration. Now, he said, the focus—and the resources—will be on the BFR, the company's next, and even bigger, rocket, which stands for "big" and "rocket" and, well, you can guess what the F stands for. Musk hopes the BFR will someday transport travelers between major cities super fast—New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes, for example—carry astronauts to low-Earth orbit, and someday take humans to the moon and Mars.

Musk said he feels confident the BFR "is really quite workable." SpaceX could begin testing small liftoff and landing capabilities of parts of the spaceship at its Texas facility as early as next year, he said. The first orbital test flight would come in three to four years, and then to the moon "shortly thereafter," according to Musk. It's important to remember that these deadlines are on Musk dream time, which tends to take longer than regular time. When he unveiled designs for the Falcon Heavy in 2011, he said it would launch in 2013.

Musk said he wants to use the BFR to send two paying customers on a trip around the moon, which he announced last year. The Falcon Heavy, meanwhile, won't be certified to carry humans. This left some people scratching their heads. The decision seemed to leave little for the Falcon Heavy to do, aside from carrying satellites and spacecraft too big for the Falcon 9 to handle. The Heavy is capable of launching more than twice the payload of its nearest competitor, the United Launch Alliance's Delta Heavy IV. What was left for the Falcon Heavy that was, well, heavy enough?

"It can launch things right to Pluto and beyond, no stop needed," Musk said. "It can do anything you want."

He added that the company has "a number" of commercial customers for the Heavy. He predicts the rocket will fly several times a year.

Rockets aside, SpaceX is also working on developing a space transportation system that NASA will use to send astronauts to the International Space Station, which Musk said Tuesday was "top priority." NASA expects the first un-crewed test flights by SpaceX and Boeing, which is developing its own system, to occur late this year. A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the companies have a "considerable amount of work" to do to meet safety standards. SpaceX may not get certified for regular flights to the ISS until December 2019, and Boeing until February 2020, the report found.

President Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations on the launch Tuesday night. "This achievement, along with NASA's commercial and international partners, continues to show American ingenuity at its best," the president said. Musk replied, "An exciting future lies ahead!" The Trump administration has expressed considerable interest in boosting the nation's spaceflight activities in low-Earth orbit and has put an emphasis on the moon as a destination, and not just a quick stop on Americans' journey to Mars. Musk said the Falcon Heavy could carry classified national-security satellites for the government, but it's not clear whether Musk would consider working directly with the Trump White House on some of their lunar ambitions—or whether the White House would approach him. Musk removed himself from a presidential advisory council last year over his disagreement with Trump's decision to pull the United States from a climate-change agreement that includes virtually every nation on Earth.

For now, Musk and SpaceX can spend a few months basking in the afterglow of a launch many thought would end up in flames. The product of the launch will last much longer than that. The Tesla's batteries are expected to die after about 12 hours, but the car will coast through the solar system for perhaps hundreds of millions of years. It will be, by definition, space junk. A very good-looking and out-of-place piece of space junk.

"The imagery of it is something that's gonna get people excited around the world," Musk said. He paused, and it seemed as if he was no longer seeing the crowd in front of him. "It's still tripping me out."

Who to Watch at the Winter Olympics

Posted: 07 Feb 2018 11:05 AM PST

Editor’s Note: Find all of The Atlantic's Winter Olympics 2018 coverage here.

On Friday, the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony will get underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea. For every athlete involved, the arrival of the Games marks the realization of a lifelong dream, the payoff for countless hours of training and sacrifice. For the nations represented, the Games are a show of goodwill and global citizenship, however fraught, in the case of the host country and its neighbor to the north.

For viewers at home, though, the Olympics can be something much simpler: a perfectly pleasing television event to liven up the middle of winter. The Games have every ingredient of a two-week miniseries, promising triumph and failure, raw emotion and sideshow laughs, pure spectacle, and constantly rising stakes. Most importantly, they come fully stocked with characters. But while no Olympian is undeserving of an audience, even the most committed viewer has to prioritize. Below, then, is a brief guide to the 2018 Games' most compelling figures.

Marco Tacca / AP

Lindsey Vonn, Alpine Skiing

This year marks Vonn's Olympic return, as she missed the 2014 Games in Sochi due to a knee injury. It was just one in a string of ailments that have plagued Vonn over the years; since her Olympic debut as a 17-year-old at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, the daredevil downhiller has suffered a concussion, broken bones, and shredded ligaments in her legs. She even sliced her thumb attempting to open a bottle of champagne celebrating a gold-medal run at the world championships.

It's not hard to guess Vonn's style, given her medical history: fearless, all-out, accepting risk as a gateway to glory. Now 33, Vonn is entering the twilight of her pro career, but she remains a favorite for gold in women's downhill. "With each injury she's had, she's learned something about herself and her body," said Lindsay Winninger, Vonn's often-called-on physical therapist. "I believe she's a better athlete for it."

Domenico Stinellis / AP

Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine Skiing

If Vonn is the current face of American skiing, then Shiffrin is its quickly arriving future. The 22-year-old specializes in slalom, for which she won gold in Sochi, and has the ahead-of-schedule resume of a prodigy: 41 World Cup wins and three World Championship gold medals, steadily accumulating since her pro debut at age 16. Compared with the speedier downhill and Super-G events, slalom places a greater emphasis on the technique of angles and turns, and watching Shiffrin is like seeing the science perfected. She won last February's World Championship slalom race by more than a second, which in the context of the sport's usual hair-thin margins is akin to a three-touchdown blowout in a Super Bowl.

Despite her peerless status, Shiffrin has admitted to bouts of competitive anxiety. "I started to worry about disappointing people," she told Sports Illustrated about a spell in 2016. "My team, the media. My feelings were scattered all over the place." She has since recovered ably, not only dominating her preferred events but also finding new success in the more straightforward races.

Carlos Osorio / AP

United States Women's Hockey Team

Last March, on the brink of the World Championships in Michigan, the U.S. Women's hockey team—a perpetual presence on whichever podium it happens to be competing for—announced a boycott. The issue at hand was their payment; the players received $6,000 in the six months leading up to Olympic competition and almost nothing the rest of the time, in addition to earning less than their male counterparts in per diems and travel perks. They demanded a living wage and a greater investment from USA Hockey in the women's game, and just before the World Championships began, the organization acquiesced, raising player salaries to $70,000. "Our sport is the big winner today," the forward and team captain Meghan Duggan said after the agreement was reached. "We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey's leadership listened."

A little less than a year later, as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements make waves at home, the team stands as a timely symbol of channeled frustration overcoming demeaning systems. What's more, it is the betting favorite to avenge a loss to Canada at the 2014 games and take home gold—which would add an additional and well-deserved $20,000 bonus.

Tony Avelar / AP

Nathan Chen, Figure Skating

There is no doubt of the Winter Games' marquee sport: figure skating. It makes stars, ignites controversy, and serves as a summary of the Olympics' distinct combination of sport, spectacle, and culture. Chen, an 18-year-old first-time Olympian from Salt Lake City, has as good a chance as anyone to be the breakout skating star in this year's Games. He has won the last two U.S. national titles, the most recent coming last month, when his 40-point margin over the second-place finisher was larger than that between second and seventh.

In a sport often so closely contested that judges' stylistic preferences become deciding factors, Chen's uniqueness rests largely on his remove-all-doubts athleticism. He is the current master of the quadruple jump, a famously demanding feat that involves four rotations in the air. In his championship-winning turn in January, Chen pulled off an unprecedented five such jumps in a single program. He faces a slew of talented challengers on the international stage but has the ability, at his best, to overcome matters of taste with unavoidable fact.

Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

Pita Taufatofua, Cross-Country Skiing

Taufatofua became an instant sensation at the Opening Ceremony for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, where he served as Tonga's flag bearer dressed only in a ta'ovala—a floor-length Tongan skirt—and with his torso glossily oiled. Taufatofua, competing in taekwondo, would quickly bow out after losing his first match, but his heavily shared appearance evoked the simple joy of representing one's country to the world.

In the years since, Taufatofua has been training as a cross-country skier, and on January 20, near the end of the qualification period, he finished well enough at a race in Iceland to reach the Games in his adopted event. He will almost certainly not win a medal, but he doesn't seem bothered. "One step at a time," Taufatofua said after qualifying. "Right now, I just want to go and party."

Pavel Golovkin / AP

Russian Men's Hockey Team

When the International Olympic Committee decided to ban Russia from the 2018 Games but allow individual athletes who could prove they were free of performance-enhancing drugs to compete, it set up some problems of categorization. Nowhere are those problems more pronounced than in the case of the team favored to win the men's hockey tournament—whose players all hail from the Russia-centric Kontinental Hockey League and who have Russian citizenship but will play in non-Russian uniforms.

The National Hockey League elected not to allow its players to participate in the Olympics this year, so a team of stars from the KHL—arguably the second-best professional league in the world—enjoys a decided edge over the competition. The quasi-Russian squad features two former NHLers in Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, and it inherits a national tradition of team-oriented hockey predicated on puck control and passing. The KHL didn't hesitate to halt play for a month to give its Olympians a chance to compete, proving that the tournament remains a priority and point of pride, regardless of whether the Russian anthem plays at the medal ceremony.

Matthias Schrader / AP

Martin Fourcade, Biathlon

The biathlon presents an odd combination to the uninitiated: cross-country skiing mixed with rifle shooting. If there is one athlete to use as an introduction, though, it is Fourcade, who has come to master the sport so fully that he seems to define it. Fourcade has won six consecutive World Cup titles, and in 2014 he took home two gold medals from Sochi.

The basic difficulty of biathlon is in its contrast; athletes have to exert themselves during the race then, as quickly as possible, calm themselves to take aim at their target. It is easy, in many of the competitors, to see that difficulty, the shots flying wide and the face showing exhaustion and stress. Fourcade, forever cool and steady, is the most notable exception and a likely candidate to maintain his perch at the pinnacle of the sport.

Mark Schiefelbein / AP

Becca and Matt Hamilton, Curling

The 2018 Games bring the debut of mixed-doubles curling, the often-mocked but highly strategic stone-and-ice target game, and Becca and Matt Hamilton enjoy an advantage unique among the field. The siblings began playing the sport together growing up in Wisconsin, and due to some combination of sibling sixth-sense and a decade-plus of shared ice time, they know each other's styles inside and out. "Matt and I are a force to be reckoned with," Becca boasts. "We work well together on the ice and off the ice."

Casual viewers encountering curling for the first time are often unimpressed, but what at first seems like an easy target for ridicule—the shuffleboard aesthetics, the conspicuous broom—reveals layers of skill and strategy the longer one watches. The Hamiltons experienced this themselves. "I did not think it was cool when dad was doing it," Matt says of watching his father play as an eighth-grader, but he soon became obsessed, and he quickly recruited the teammate most readily available: his younger sister.

Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

Nigerian Women's Bobsled Team

With their first race in Pyeongchang, Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga will be making history twice: as the first winter Olympians to represent Nigeria and as the first bobsled team to represent any country in Africa. The three live and train in Houston, Texas, but Adigun, the team's captain and driver who was recruited by Team USA, says that the chance to compete for the country of their heritage offered more meaning. "They told me there's an opportunity for me to help change what it means to be a bobsled athlete for the continent of Africa, and in the sport itself," she said. "The humanitarian in me knew that this was something that I had to do."

It was a makeshift effort at first—Adigun built the team's practice sled herself, and the squad of former track-and-field athletes didn't compete on ice until last January—but now Adigun refuses the idea that her team is anything but a serious entrant in the field. "We are this Cinderella story, and we didn't really mean it to be this," she told The New York Times Magazine. "I put a plan down, and I am ready to execute that plan."

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Shaun White, Snowboard

The short hair isn't all that distinguishes the present-day White from his "Flying Tomato"–nicknamed, Rolling Stone cover–gracing days. At the 2014 Games in Sochi, he experienced rare defeat, failing even to reach the podium in his signature halfpipe event. In the years since, he said he found new balance in his life and regained his joyful approach to the sport before an October crash led to 62 stitches in his face and five days in intensive care.

Even that didn't keep White down, though. In January, at the U.S. Grand Prix in Snowmass, he registered a perfect 100 halfpipe run that both qualified him for the Olympics and reaffirmed his status as the event's master. Afterward, White offered some self-reflection. "I never say this," he said, "but I'm really proud of myself. When I was in New Zealand, I ripped my face open trying these tricks."