SNL allowed the Euphoria star, who refuses to be pigeonholed, a chance to show her range.Rosalind O'Connor / NBC via Getty ImagesMarch 3, 2024, 12:10 PM ETSydney Sweeney seems to enjoy making jokes about how big her breasts are. She once announced that her grandparents declared that she had the “best tits in Hollywood.” And she alluded to her bra size in her Saturday Night Live monologue this weekend, in which she described how she presented her parents with a “backup plan” if her initial attempt to break into acting failed. A PowerPoint slide flashed on the screen that read: Plan B: Show Boobs. It got a knowing laugh.But there’s a subtly disarming quality to the way that Sweeney, best known as the star of the HBO teen drama Euphoria, acknowledges her buxomness. Yes, she tends to lead with that, but she also proves time and time again that you shouldn’t underestimate her. That was certainly the case on SNL, where she was an impressively game host, thriving in ridiculous scenarios and allowing herself to get weird. By the time the show got around to putting her in a sketch about being the highest-tipped waitress at a Hooters, it was sort of disappointing: At that point we already knew she could do a lot more than that.Read: The youths really like ‘Anyone But You’Sweeney was immediately comfortable on the SNL stage in the first sketch of the night, in which she and Chloe Fineman played Gen Z “interns” at the NYPD who were shockingly adept at solving cold cases based on their social-media-stalking skills. The actress trotted out the vocal fry she used to such great effect in her Emmy-nominated performance in The White Lotus. (Lest you forget, Sweeney has two Emmy nominations under her belt; the other one for her teary, memeable work in Euphoria.) She almost seemed to upstage Fineman in the sketch, a rare feat, giving her own disaffected character a hilarious naturalism.Whatever SNL threw at her, Sweeney committed. Take, for instance, the “Air Bud” sketch, in which she played a popular cheerleader determined to flirt with the new star player on the basketball team. It didn’t matter that the player happened to be a golden retriever, a refere
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Culture and entertainment musts from Gisela Salim-PeyerR.Tsubin / GettyThis is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.Welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer or editor reveals what’s keeping them entertained. Today’s special guest is Gisela Salim-Peyer, an assistant editor who has written about the fantasy of heritage tourism, the Venezuelan government’s project to redeem a dead rapper, and Italy’s millennia-old ambition to build a bridge to Sicily.Gisela fell in love with Mexico City and Mexico’s national anthropology museum on her first visit last spring, was transfixed by the opening paragraph of Juan Rulfo’s novel, Pedro Páramo, and views the 17th-century Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz as the last word on everything.First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:The
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When then-President Donald Trump was briefed on the California wildfires in 2020, the scientific opinion he heard was that climate change was real and had contributed to the conflagrations that ended up consuming more than 4 million acres and killing 31 people. His response? “Science doesn’t know.”Millions of Americans trusted Trump, a fact he leveraged to attack the trustworthiness of science itself. Trump’s actions are part of a larger pattern of assault on expertise. People need to trust that the experts will tell the truth, and they need to trust the connections between themselves and the experts. A division of labor that was necessary because of our complex social and technological world created the vulnerability of a possible cleavage between expert elites and a distrustful populace.Our belief in things we cannot ourselves verify relies on trust networks. If the connections to the experts are broken, our understanding of reality becomes untethered. Society then begins a slide into doubt and denialism, and “truth decay,” as a RAND initiative has called it, starts to occur. If we want to reverse that process, we need to rebuild the networks of trust.Half a century ago, the pioneering philosopher and mathematician Hilary Putnam observed that philosophers had long assumed that to know a word’s meaning is to know how to use it. To know red, for example, is to describe something as red when you see red; the same goes for the word denoting an object, such as pencil, or an action, such as run. But with the emergence of science, in the West from the Renaissance onward, a new class of empirically grounded concepts entered our everyday vocabularies that relies on experts to discern meanings. Putnam asked us to consider gold:Gold is important for many reasons: it is a precious metal; it is a monetary metal; it has symbolic value (it is important to most people that the “gold” wedding ring they wear really consist of gold and not just look gold).So how is it that we are able to use the word gold, Putnam asked, when most people actually can’t tell the difference between real and fake gold? He pointed out that society has organized a linguistic division of labor:Consider our community as a “factory”: in this “factory” some people have the “job” of wearing gold wedding rings; other people have the “job” of selling gold wedding rings; still other people have the job of telling whether or not something is really gold. Competent metallurgists can tell the difference between real and fake gold, so we rely on their expertise. The rest of us need to trust that the metallurgists know what they’re doing, and that we can take them at their word.In my studies, I routinely use visual diagrams. So I would translate Putnam’s observation into this image showing the flow of information among people in a social network:The green nodes depict the scientific experts who can reliably tell whether a yellowish metallic substance is gold or not. The gray nodes represent the rest of us. Information moves between people through the links. The meaning of gold for all of the nonexperts is grounded in the knowledge held and applied by the experts.Rogé Karma: What would it take to convince Americans that the economy is fine?Underlying the linguistic division of labor is one of expertise, and it applies to all sorts of empirical knowledge—concerning, say, the unemployment rate, the counting of electoral votes, and the number of missiles the U.S. has provided to Ukraine. Because of the scale and complexity of our world, fact-based experts such as statisticians, auditors, and inspectors play roles analogous to scientists in these situations. For Putnam’s factory of meaning and knowledge to work, the social network needs to be a trust network.When Trump voiced skepticism about climate science, he was raising doubt about scientists’ expertise. Another way to erode trust in experts is to attack their credentials, or even the entire system of credentialing institutions such as universities. Yet another tactic is to question whether something is knowable at all. This is a method perfected by Russian propagandists and amplified by state media to sow doubt and place an event in a cloud of confusion.When this occurs, what Putnam called the “linguistic community” informed by experts has been fractured, leaving a swath of society split off from experts.This is the first stage in the decay of truth. The segment of society depicted on the left side of the network diagram is divided from all of the experts (green nodes). Let’s consider the case in which the experts are metallurgists who can tell the difference between real gold and fake gold. Imagine that you are one of the people on the left side of the divide. You no longer have trusted connections to metallurgists. Perhaps you have heard of them, but everyone you know feels the same about them: Don’t trust them. They don’t know what they are talking about. They act as if they can tell the difference between real and fake gold, but who knows? Even if they do know, they are probably lying to us to enrich themselves.So now what? Is that wedding ring on your finger real gold or not? When you use the word gold, what does that word really even mean anymore? Maybe it’s real; maybe it’s not. Over time, if no one you trust helps resolve these questions, you will eventually conclude that the truth is not knowable. Over time, you and your social connections might even start to question whether a distinction between real and fake gold even exists.Maybe there was just one kind of yellow metal all along? Who knows? Once you and your network arrive at that conclusion, the cultural significance and monetary value of gold—which is rooted in the scarcity of the real stuff—will inevitably deteriorate, assuming that fake gold is easy to obtain.This is not just a story about gold. Any belief grounded in empirical expertise—even something as apparently simple and indisputable as the number of votes cast for each candidate in an election—becomes imperiled if those in a position to know the truth are isolated from one’s trust network.The next stage of truth decay is that those who no longer trust the scientists and technocrats search for alternative sources of information, “truth” from outside the network of elite expertise.The implications are alarming. Acting on beliefs disconnected from reality can lead to catastrophic failures, such as the mishandling of health crises (for example, by encouraging people to ingest or inject bleach) and the acceleration of environmental collapse. The erosion of a shared social reality breeds deep distrust. Conflict entrepreneurs gain power and wealth by deepening divides through attacks on expertise.This fragmentation is not just an internal domestic issue; it’s a national-security vulnerability. Our geopolitical adversaries, notably Russia and China, learn that American society is easily manipulated by misinformation, and even our allies lose trust in the U.S. as a predictable and reliable partner.A constellation of factors has brought us to this situation. Most scientists, economists, engineers, policy makers, election officials, and other experts are on the winning side of growing economic inequality. Resentment among those who do not see themselves on the winning side tends to coincide with suspicion of higher education as a bastion of progressive politics. As president, Barack Obama repeatedly argued for policy positions he favored as “smart,” connecting the authority of expertise to positions that also hinged on values judgments. During the coronavirus pandemic, public-health officials admonished people, on science-based grounds, for joining anti-lockdown protests, yet just weeks later, some experts counseled others to join social-justice protests after the murder of George Floyd.Finally, social-media platforms have become the major distribution channel for mainstream-media content, effectively giving the upper hand to algorithmic selection of emotionally provocative content over editorial control based on quality of information. I see no clear pa
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This article was originally published by The Conversation.It’s been a warm day, maybe even a little humid, and the tall clouds in the distance remind you of cauliflower. You hear a sharp crack, like the sound of a batter hitting a home run, or a low rumble reminiscent of a truck driving down the highway. A distant thunderstorm, alive with lightning, is making itself known.Every second, lightning in thunderstorms flashes at least 60 times somewhere on the planet, sometimes even near the North Pole.Each giant spark of electricity travels through the atmosphere at about 200,000 miles per hour. It is hotter than the surface of the sun and delivers thousands of times more electricity than the power outlet that charges your smartphone. That’s why lightning is so dangerous.Lightning kills or injures about 250,000 people around the world every year, most frequently in developing countries, where many people work outside without lightning-safe shelters nearby. In the United States, an average of 28 people were killed by lightning every year from 2006 to 2021. Each year, insurance pays about $1 billion in claims for lightning damage, and millions of acres of land burn in lightning-caused wildfires.Yet estimates of U.S. lightning strikes have varied widely, from about 25 million a year, a number meteorologists have cited since the 1990s, to 40 million a year, reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That complicates lightning safety and protection efforts.I’m a meteorologist whose research focuses on understanding lightning behavior. In a new study, my colleagues and I used six years of data from the National Lightning Detection Network that we believe has become precise enough to offer a more accurate picture of lightning strikes across the U.S. That knowledge is essential for improving forecasts and damage prevention.Read: Almost no Americans die from lightning strikes anymore—why?To get a clearer picture of how often lightning strikes, it helps to define what a lightning strike is.Imagine looking out a window at a thunderstorm with cloud-to-ground lightning nearby. The lightning appears to flicker.A lightning flash is all the cloud-to-ground l
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Explore the April 2024 IssueCheck out more from this issue and find your next story to read.View MoreThen, everything was garnish, two kids and a house, a wife who kept thebeds made, shirts ironed, secrets hidden like duston the canned goods. What can’t be washed with vinegar—scum of the coffee pot—or set out in the sun with fresh linenmy mother swears had to be ironed and I believe menmade work for women, invented tile,starch, matrimony, and ama de casa to chop the tomatoand lettuce sometimes in bowls, often on the side as adornment. What is the relationshipbetween mother and daughter,
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Jesus told us to love our enemies. And yet so many have embraced hostile politics in the name of Christianity.A church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (T.J. Kirkpatrick / Redux)America is a riven society. Political divisions have been on the rise for years. The gap between the Republican and Democratic Parties has grown in Congress, and the share of Americans who interact with people from the opposing party has plummeted. Studies tell us, “Democrats and Republicans both say that the other party’s members are hypocritical, selfish, and closed-minded, and they are unwilling to socialize
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Following a grim tradition, a brave Russian human-rights advocate speaks out before being sent to prison.Oleg Orlov, a leading human-rights activist, at the Human Rights Center Memorial in Moscow, Russia, on May 17, 2023. (Nanna Heitmann / Magnum)Oleg Orlov began his career by protesting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At about the same time, he joined Memorial, Russia’s first and most important historical and human-rights organization—in Russia, the two subjects are organically connected—while it was still an underground, dissident operation. In the 1990s, Memorial emerged into the open and began publishing books detailing the mass arrests and murders committed by the Soviet Union. During the decade I spent researching the history of the Soviet Gulag, I ran into Memorial historians and activists all over Russia, including in their one-person “office” in Syktyvkar and in the spectacular museum, now dismantled, that they built on the site of a former concentration camp near Perm.Anne Applebaum: Russia has a new GulagMemorial is dedicated to both revealing the truth about the past and preventing that past from repeating itself in the future. Its activists work in archives, but they also monitor human-rights violations in modern Russia. Orlov, who became Memorial’s co-chair, worked especially hard to expose the horrors of Russia’s wars in Chechnya, and the cultural and political destruction that followed. He did so because he wanted to live in a different kind of Russia. Now he will pay a high price for his patriotism.On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the regime shut down Memorial, after 30 years of operation. The same regime arrested Orlov, who had criticized the invasion with the same unsparing language he had used for the previous four decades. “This brutal war,” he wrote in an article, is “not only mass murder of people and destruction of the infrastructure, economy, and cultural sites” of Ukraine but also “a severe blow to the future of Russia,” a country that “is now pushed back into totalitarianism, but this time into a fascist totalitarianism.” Like Alexei Navalny, whose funeral took place in Moscow on Friday, Orlov was extraordinarily brave—brave enough to publish his criticism of the war, of President Vladimir Putin, and of Putin’s regime.Anne Applebaum: Why Russia killed NavalnyO
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Julio Torres’s existential comedy Problemista is a marvelous mixture of surrealism and social satire.Jon Pack / A24March 2, 2024, 10:19 AM ETAlejandro, the protagonist of the film Problemista, is an aspiring toy designer who creates idiosyncratic renditions of classic objects. To him, every toy truck should come with a tire that slowly deflates to illustrate the concept of running out of time. Cabbage Patch Kids should hold cellphones that display worrisome notifications, such as an unexpected Venmo charge from a frenemy. My favorite is his concept for Barbies: His version of the doll keeps her fingers crossed behind her back. That way, as Alejandro puts it, she’s a woman full of “tension and intrigue.”Problemista, written and directed by the comedian Julio Torres, works the same way: by putting a singular spin on something familiar, in this case a fish-out-of-water coming-of-age story. Torres, who plays Alejandro, is the offbeat comic voice behind some of Saturday Night Live’s most strangely melancholic sketches, such as “Papyrus,” and his goofy flourishes come through in the film. But within Problemista is a heartfelt core conveying something profoundly human. It’s a marvelous mixture of surrealism and social satire that depicts the American dream as a nightmare of bureaucracy and phone calls to customer service. There’s nothing more absurd, the film argues, than the mundane.Take the reason for Ale’s presence in America in the first place. He wants to work for Hasbro, but the company accepts applications only from those living within the United States; there’s no “Other” option for him to check. And so Ale, after emigrating from El Salvador, must always be sponsored by an employer to keep his visa from expiring. When he loses his job, he begins working for Elizabeth (played by Tilda Swinton), a bitter art critic who promises him her signature if he helps her sell her late husband’s paintings. That sounds like the answer to his problem, except Ale can’t make money legally until his visa is renewed, which means he has to look for alternative ways to pay his rent and his immigration lawyers. Craigslist gigs aren’t always enough, so he has to overdraft his bank account, but the more debt he goes into, the lower his credit becomes, and the more his mother worries back home. All he wants to do is work in the States, but every step to making that happen only seems to create more problems.Read: 17 indie films you must see in 2024Perhaps this all sounds too heavy for a comedy, but Torres finds the whimsy in Ale’s plight through fantastical sequences depicting his mindset. At one point, Ale gets lost in an impossible maze in which he must unlock a door using a key kept on the other side of said door. In another, Ale is dressed as a medieval knight crushed under rubble as he attempts to reason with a Bank of America representative. These moments would feel cartoonish were they not paired with some of the peculiar things Ale spots in the real world, such as a woman’s purse caught between subway doors and a child’s dollhouse abandoned between piles of trash bags on the sidewalk. In these images, Torres unearths the
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The president still has time to improve his standing on the economy, but that time isn’t unlimited.Jim Watson / AFP / GettyMarch 2, 2024, 9:34 AM ETJust since last November, the most closely watched measure of consumer confidence about the economy has soared by about 25 percent. That’s among the most rapid improvements recorded in years for the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment, even after a slight decline in the latest figures released yesterday.And yet, even as consumer confidence has rebounded since last fall, President Joe Biden’s approval rating has remained virtually unchanged—and negative. Now, as then, a solid 55 percent majority of Americans say they disapprove of his performance as president in the index maintained by FiveThirtyEight, while only about 40 percent approve.That divergence between improving attitudes about the economy and stubbornly negative assessments of the president’s performance is compounding the unease of Democratic strategists as they contemplate the impending rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump. Most Democratic strategists I spoke with believe that brightening views about the economy could still benefit Biden. But many also acknowledge that each month that passes without improvement for Biden raises more questions about whether even growing economic optimism will overcome voters’ doubts about him on other fronts.Read: The real reason Trump loves PutinDoug Sosnik, the chief White House political adviser to Bill Clinton during his 1996 reelection, told me that if he was in the White House again today, “I would say I’m not that concerned” about improving economic attitudes not lifting Biden yet, “because this takes time.” But, Sosnik added, “if you come back to me in six weeks or two months and we haven’t seen any movement, then I’d start becoming very concerned.”Historically, measures of consumer confidence have been a revealing gauge of an incumbent president’s reelection chances. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Clinton, and Barack Obama, as I’ve written, all saw their job-approval ratings tumble when consumer confidence fell early in their first terms amid widespread unease over the economy. But when the economy revived and consumer confidence improved later in their term, each man’s approval rating rose with it. Riding the wave of those improving attitudes, all three won their reelection campaigns, Reagan in a historic 49-state landslide.By contrast, when Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush lost their reelection bids, declining or stagnant consumer confidence was an early augur of their eventual defeat. Collapsing consumer confidence amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 also foreshadowed Trump’s defeat, after sustained optimism about the economy had been one of his greatest political strengths during his first three years.Read: Biden Is still the Democrats’ best bet for NovemberPolling leaves little doubt that since last fall, more Americans are starting to feel better about the economy. An index of economic attitudes compiled by the Gallup Organization recently reached its highest level since September 2021. Even after the s
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“McConnell was the final backstop against the complete Trumpification of the Senate.”Courtesy of Washington Week With The AtlanticEditor’s Note: Washington Week With The Atlantic is a partnership between NewsHour Productions, WETA, and The Atlantic airing every Friday on PBS stations nationwide. Check your local listings or watch full episodes here.  The race to become the Senate’s top Republican is already under way. Mitch McConnell made the surprise announcement this week that he will step down from his role as Senate minority leader in November—ending his tenure as the longest-serving Senate leader in U.S. history and solidifying former President Donald Trump as the leader of
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How the singing voice actually works, and what humans can create when we sing togetherImagno / GettyThis is an edition of The Wonder Reader, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a set of storie
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The writer Rob Henderson recalls a classmate at Yale, where he was an undergraduate, telling him that “monogamy is kind of outdated.” But she was raised by monogamous parents and said that she planned to have a traditional marriage.Henderson shares that anecdote in his new memoir, Troubled, an account of his upbringing in foster care and his escape into the Air Force and higher education. For him, “Monogamy is kind of outdated” is a “luxury belief,” a term he coined. He defines it as an idea or opinion “that confer[s] status on the upper class, at very little cost, while often inflicting costs on the lower classes.” Henderson suggests that members of the upper class know, on
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Maritime Morse code was formally phased out in 1999, but in California, a group of enthusiasts who call themselves the “radio squirrels” keeps the tradition alive.“Calling all. This is our last
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The tech giant’s new sports tool shows scores, betting odds, and little else.Illustration by Matteo Giuseppe Pani. Source: Getty.On Tuesday, I downloaded the new Apple Sports app just before watching basketball on TNT, and soon noticed something strange: The scores on the app were ahead of the telecast. Presumably the game between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers was appearing on my TV in near-real time, but it was still behind the app’s ticking game clock.Launched last week, the Apple Sports app is mostly sleek and mostly intuitive, as Apple products tend to be. But it’s also something of a misnomer. Apple Scores would be a better name for the app, because it does almost nothing else. Unlike ESPN and the many other major sports apps you can download to track scores and follow games, it offers no highlights. There is no news. The app doesn’t even show what channel or streaming service the games are airing on. Nor does it show the results of any game more than a day ago, or any team’s schedule more than a single game in advance. And yet what it does show you is betting odds, prominently displayed in the home screen.Click on a specific game, and you’ll get detailed betting odds, such as odds for the total number of points that will be scored in a game, all provided by the sports-betting juggernaut DraftKings. You can hide these details in your iPhone’s general settings, and the app doesn’t link to DraftKings, where you can actually put money down. But this seems to be the crux of the app. It’s the beginning of a betting app.Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment on the app, but it’s hard to rationalize the app’s purpose in any other way. If you look at Apple Sports as an ESPN competitor, it pales in comparison. No news? No highlights? If you are a die-hard soccer fan, the app is essentially unusable: Along with the MLS, you can track the top five European men’s soccer leagues, but not the super-popular UEFA Champions League or any matches between national teams. It allows you to follow your favorite teams and leagues—if you don’t select any, you’ll see nothing when you open the app—but does not include NFL or c
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This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.Freedom and democracy have endured a long winter of setbacks. Spring will bring its own challenges both overseas and in the United States.First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:A Lingering WinterPhoto by J. David Ake / GettyView in browserFor many of us, March 1 is the unofficial start of spring. The head may know that it’s still winter, but the heart feels that warmth and new blossoms are not far away. For those of us in more northern locations, the firewood we stacked last fall is dwindling. We’re putting away sweaters (perhaps in a fit of optimism). Students are taking a deep breath as they head to the academic year’s finish line; older people are waiting for the sun to chase away their winter aches and pains.I spent this first day of March watching people line up in the Russian snow for the funeral of a brave man who died in a Siberian penal colony.The death of Alexei Navalny is one of many blows to the cause of freedom that has made it a hard winter for democracy on almost every front in the world. I wish I could be a bit more cheerful—it is, after all, Friday�
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Let’s start with the obvious. The concerns about Joe Biden are valid: He’s old. He talks slowly. He occasionally bumbles the basics in public appearances.Biden’s age is so concerning that many Biden supporters now believe he should step aside and let some other candidate become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. The New York Times journalist Ezra Klein made the best-available case for this view recently in a 4,000-word piece that garnered intense attention by arguing that Biden is no longer up to the task of campaign life. “He is not the campaigner he was, even five years ago,” Klein writes. “The way he moves, the energy in his voice. The Democrats denying decline are only fooling themselves.”In one sense Klein is correct. As the political strategist Mike Murphy said many moons ago, Biden’s age is like a gigantic pair of antlers he wears on his head, all day every day. Even when he does something exceptional—like visit a war zone in Ukraine, or whip inflation—the people applauding him are thinking, Can’t. Stop. Staring. At. The antlers.Biden can’t shed these antlers. He’s going to wear them from now until November 5. If anything, they’ll probably grow.That said, there’s another point worth noting up front: Joe Biden is almost certainly the strongest possible candidate Democrats can field against Donald Trump in 2024.Biden’s strengths as a candidate are considerable. He has presided over an extraordinarily productive first term in which he’s passed multiple pieces of popular legislation with bipartisan majorities.Unemployment is at its lowest low, GDP growth is robust, real wage gains have been led by the bottom quartile, and the American economy has achieved a post-COVID soft landing that makes us the envy of the world. He has no major scandals. His handling of American foreign policy has been stronger and defter than any recent president’s.Moreover, he is a known quantity. The recent Michigan primary results underscored that Democratic voters don’t actually have an appetite for leaving Biden. In 2012, 11 percent of Michigan Democrats voted “uncommitted” against Barack Obama when he had no opposition. This we
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The app is basically just broadcast TV now.Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: LesDaMore / Getty.When the Universal Music Group decided to pull its songs from TikTok last month in the midst of a protracted rights dispute, some called the move the “nuclear option.” UMG handles major artists including Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny, and isn’t music the lifeblood of the social app? Billboard has a separate chart for the most popular songs on TikTok; artists such as Lil Nas X effectively owe their career to the platform. Surely this would mark the end of TikTok as we know it, right?Well, not so fast. TikTok has grown into a titanic content machine with a sprawling user base; the platform has good reason to believe that it doesn’t need UMG’s catalog for the gears to turn. As creators were quick to point out following an embarrassing congressional hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew last year, during which politicians betrayed a deep unfamiliarity with the app, the stereotype that TikTok is for dancing, lip-synching teens is long out of date. The TikTok of today is more like a cable-TV giant or a streaming service crushed into an endlessly scrolling feed.Culturally, the platform has been trending more toward the mainstream for quite some time now. But this shift has become even more pronounced during the fight between the company and the world’s biggest music label. TikTok and Universal Music Group have been in the process of renegotiating their expired rights contract, which allowed TikTok to license UMG’s songs for use in videos. As talks dragged on, TikTok first silenced the songs—meaning they wouldn’t play in existing TikTok videos and couldn’t be used for new ones—and now has begun the process of deleting the UMG library entirely.Read: TikTok killed the video starAs a result, the app has been functionally UMG-music-free for a month already, and its feeds haven’t felt remarkably different. TikTok does not release real-time usage stats, but representatives for data.ai and Sensor Tower, two independent data-analytics companies, both told me that they had not seen an appreciable drop in usage since the songs first went silent at the beginning o
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Lily Meyer recommends books that recollect personal experience without being prescriptive.Dr. Paul Wolff & Tritschler / Corbis / GettyThis is an edition of the Books Briefing, our editors’ weekly guide to the best in books. Sign up for it here.The temptation for a writer to turn their memoir into a self-help book must be strong. The author has looked back at her life, her choices, her blunders, her triumphs. And through this process of retrospection, she might see lessons learned that apply not just to her, but really, to everyone. This is a big mistake, writes Lily Meyer, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, in her assessment of This American Ex-Wife, Lyz Lenz’s new book about her divorce.First, here are four new stories from The Atlantic’s Books section:What memoir needs to succ
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A new book explores the American right’s tendency to admire and want to emulate foreign dictators.Brendan Smialowski / GettyListen to this articleProduced by ElevenLabs and NOA, News Over Audio, using AI narration.For nearly the entirety of the past decade, a question has stalked, and sometimes consumed, American politics: Why do Donald Trump and his acolytes heap such reverent praise on Vladimir Putin? The question is born of disbelief. Adoration of the Russian leader, who murders his domestic opponents, kidnaps thousands of Ukrainian children, and interferes in American presidential elections, is so hard to comprehend that it seems only plausibly explained by venal motives—thus the search to find the supposed kompromat the Kremlin lords over Trump or compromising business deals that
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Performing pop songs live offers a thrilling reward—if your voice doesn’t betray you, that is.William H. Kelly III / Jackson State University / GettyListen to this articleProduced by ElevenLabs and NOA, News Over Audio, using AI narration.Almost one-third of the way through Usher’s performance at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, Alicia Keys appeared, attached to a billowing red cape and seated at a matching piano. As the Grammys-festooned pop and R&B singer-songwriter gently played the opening arpeggios of one of her biggest hits, 2004’s “If I Ain’t Got You,” something small but unexpected happened. Instead of easing into the song with the first verse, Keys skipped straight to the chorus—and right on the dramatic opening note, her famously velvety-smooth singing voice noticeably cracked.In the immediate aftermath, viewers were strikingly quick to pounce on Keys—in the press as well as on social media—for her perceived vocal transgression. Adding to the furor, the sound of Keys’s voice cracking was edited out in the official video uploaded by the NFL. An otherwise-fleeting memory had seemingly fallen prey to pop music’s version of the Mandela effect (a
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New data centers are springing up every week. Can the Earth sustain them?Illustration by Erik CarterOne scorching day this past September, I made the dangerous decision to try to circumnavigate some data centers. The ones I chose sit between a regional airport and some farm fields in Goodyear, Arizona, half an hour’s drive west of downtown Phoenix. When my Uber pulled up beside the unmarked buildings, the temperature was 97 degrees Fahrenheit. The air crackled with a latent energy, and some kind of pulsating sound was emanating from the electric wires above my head, or maybe from the buildings themselves. With no shelter from the blinding sunlight, I began to lose my sense of what was real.Microsoft announced its plans for this location, and two others not so far away, back in 2019—a week after the company revealed its initial $1 billion investment in OpenAI, the buzzy start-up that would later release ChatGPT. From that time on, OpenAI began to train its models exclusively on Microsoft’s servers; any query for an OpenAI product would flow through Microsoft’s cloud-computing network, Azure. In part to meet that demand, Microsoft has been adding data centers at a stupendous rate, spending more than $10 billion on cloud-computing capacity in every quarter of late. One semiconductor analyst called this “the largest infrastructure buildout that humanity has ever seen.”I’d traveled out to Arizona to see it for myself. The Goodyear site stretched along the road farther than my eyes could see. A black fence and tufts of desert plants lined its perimeter. I began to walk its length, clutching my phone and two bottles of water. According to city documents, Microsoft
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In early January, I drove along the Pan-American Highway in the scenic Mexican state of Oaxaca. On the opposite side of the road, the Mexican National Guard had erected a temporary roadblock. A line of cars heading north had halted. Uniformed officers walked down the line, questioning drivers. They were searching for migrants bound for the United States.A few hours later, I returned by the same route. I braced myself for the obstruction and delay. There was none. The roadblock had vanished.In the effort to contain unauthorized migration to the U.S., Mexico is an on-again, off-again partner. Sometimes it helps more; sometimes less.In 2022, Mexico detained almost 320,000 migrants and expelled 106,000, according to a condemnatory report by Amnesty International. Detainees were held under conditions much harsher than would be allowed in the U.S. A migrant from El Salvador described the facility where he was held in Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican border town adjoining El Paso, Texas. As NPR reported in 2023:There was no water and scant food. There was no toilet paper and no running water in the two open-air toilets. Sewage spilled onto the floor. The migrants were getting desperate, clamoring for help and pleading to not be deported home, but guards from Mexico’s immigration agency were increasingly dismissive. “I asked for water and a guard responded, ‘You want it, give me 500 pesos,’” the migrant from El Salvador recalls. That’s about $30. To migrants’ demands for wat
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Listen to this articleProduced by ElevenLabs and NOA, News Over Audio, using AI narration.Sign up for The Decision, a newsletter featuring our 2024 election coverage.Sometimes the law mandates delay and no one can do anything about it. But there is nothing mandatory at all about what the Supreme Court has done with Donald Trump’s appeal. On the contrary, the decision to hear his petition for presidential immunity and delay his criminal trial for the January 6 insurrection is an affirmative choice.When Richard Nixon’s appeal of the order to turn over his presidential tapes was pending, the
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Unusually warm weather in Turkey, a volcanic eruption in Mexico, sledding in Morocco, a job fair in China, wildfires in northern Texas, displaced Palestinians in Gaza, under-ice swimming in Italy, and much more Read moreHints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.
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The calendar blip has led to some unusual rituals in past decades.Bernd Weibrod / picture alliance / GettyThis is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.A calendar is a site of order. What happens when that order gets disrupted?First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:A Quadrennial BlipFebruary 29 is a blip in the normal flow of time. The date may not appear on dropdown menus or at the DMV; it may scramble pay stubs or confound bartend
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