Growing up in Canada, Ken Ho never quite felt like he fit in. At his Vancouver high school, children of Chinese descent like himself were either perceived as studious nerds, or wealthy “Fresh Off the Boat” international students.He could see little of himself either in Canada’s history or its contemporary culture – and he certainly wasn’t anything like the flannel-clad white men proudly proclaiming “I am Canadian” in the popular beer commercial for Molson Canadian.Why overseas Chinese are…
NASA's robotic probe InSight has detected and measured what scientists believe to be a "marsquake," marking the first time a likely seismological tremor has been recorded on another planet, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California reported on Tuesday.
This review avoids serious spoilers about Avengers: Endgame, but mild plot descriptions do follow.
The biggest surprise of Avengers: Endgame may be its leisurely pace. All right, perhaps that’s not the film’s most shocking twist. Considering that the movie is the 22nd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that it purports to bid farewell to at least some of its major characters, Avengers: Endgame has a few bombshells. Given that the running time is a whopping 182 minutes, audiences might go in expecting something that feels like a slog. But the film earns its length not by overstuffing the frame with opulent action, but by slowing things down and basking in the charisma of its ensemble.
In the 11 years since Marvel began its experiment of creating an interconnected world of superhero movies with Iron Man, the studio has assembled an all-star cast of hunks, cult favorites, and Hollywood legends to play its leads, costumed and otherwise. Avengers: Endgame,directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, lives up to its promise of providing a real ending for the series’ original crew, including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk. But the movie also functions as a brag for how expansive the Marvel universe has gotten over the past decade—a necessary strength, since the broader franchise shows no sign of concluding, just recycling and evolving as the box-office receipts continue to pile up.
After all, the Marvel movies can never really stop. This was a notion that Thanos (played by Josh Brolin), the big bad of the Avengers series, sought to challenge when he showed up in Infinity War, which was released almost exactly one year ago. Thanos, a giant purple meanie from a distant planet that was destroyed by overpopulation, entered this cinematic universe and declared it crowded. After assembling the mighty Infinity Stones, a collection of celestially significant jewels, he set about trying to thin the herd, killing off a few major characters and eventually snapping his fingers and turning half of all living things into ash.
Endgame is set in the aftermath of that devastating Snapture, with the galaxy’s remaining heroes struggling to pick up the pieces. Popular pals such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and the Scarlet Witch have vanished, and the Russos (along with the screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) emphasize just how miserable life has become in their absence. Whereas Infinity War was all chaos, a frantic race to stop Thanos from executing his plan, Endgame is curiously static for much of its running time, thriving more on witty dialogue and the well-established dynamics of its cast than on CGI bedlam.
Of course, the story eventually shifts into epic mode, and the action has the usual bland competence of Marvel movies (something even outstanding entries such as Black Panther struggled to dodge). But all the applause breaks and jaw-dropping developments work only because of the interpersonal bonds that have been strengthened over the years and that Endgame spends much of its time celebrating. After beginning with a mournful tone, the film turns goofier and livelier as the team’s wild gambit to save the world comes into focus; it’s to the Russos’ credit that they manage this transition with aplomb.
Digging into the details of Endgame’s plot is a very tricky proposition. If you’re invested in the Marvel world, it’s best to go in knowing next to nothing at all. One should head to the theater armed just with the memory of what happened in Infinity War, as well as perhaps the briefest of refreshers on the details of the Infinity Stones. It’s not giving anything away to say that the film mostly focuses on the original team that headlined the first Avengers movie, all of whom conveniently survived Thanos’s magic snap. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and, returning from a mysterious sojourn, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all gather to try to undo Thanos’s universe-wide genocide.
Their mission takes them on a winding course that touches down in the furthest reaches of the Marvel realm, referencing the best-loved entries from the series as well as more overlooked chapters. If Avengers: Endgame were, for some bizarre reason, your first Marvel movie, it’d be a miserable experience. But for devoted fans, it functions as a greatest-hits clip-show package. It’s filled with hat-tips and winks to the audience—forgivable pieces of indulgence, given the goodwill the series has built up with millions of viewers. The film works to resolve conflicts beyond Thanos, fights that were first kindled in movies such as Captain America: Civil War (which wrenched Captain America and Iron Man apart) or Thor: Ragnarok (which rent the magic kingdom of Asgard asunder). For viewers, much of the joy will come from watching the movie pull it all off, effortlessly tying most of the series’ narrative threads into a satisfying knot.
The biggest question the film leaves open is whether the Avengers—as a name brand in the Marvel Universe—should continue after this barnstorming ending. The Marvel experiment continues apace, with many (mostly untitled) new editions on the docket, and Endgame will make more than enough money to justify them. But it’s hard to know whether the series will ever be able to replicate the peculiar magic of this movie’s finale, which had me realizing with a jolt, over and over again, how much I cared about the lives of these loud, wisecracking, CGI-bedazzled champions. The newer arrivals to the franchise, folks such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), are similarly lovable, but who knows whether the formula of “heroes assembling again and again until their contract options run out” can be repeated forever. All I know is that Thanos’s demand for a dramatic ending in Infinity War pays off here in all the right ways. The Avengers, as a concept, probably won’t be going anywhere, but Endgame still feels like a proper goodbye.
Warren Adler in 1991. He found a niche writing about dysfunctional relationships, like that of Jonathan and Barbara Rose, the couple immersed in a domestic free-for-all in “The War of the Roses” (1981).
The former co-presenter of What Not to Wear on treating fast fashion garments with respect – and how the right shoes made her favourite look zing
Yellow is one of my favourite colours. I always associate it with happiness and joy. This isn’t my perfect shade, which would be more lemony, but it just about does it. I usually put yellow and white together, but the last time I wore this I paired it with a yellow shirt. I wanted to be a beacon of yellowness.
I wore it earlier this month to what I thought was a memorial. It was for a lady who was one of the most energetic women I’ve ever met. Her name was Maya and she had died from cancer, aged 60. She just exuded positivity and fabulousness and I wanted to celebrate her life. I walked in and realised it was a requiem mass – I was the only person not wearing black. For a second, I worried about what all the staunch Catholics would think, but then I thought: I don’t care. My friend always liked the way I dressed and I imagined her looking down and thinking: here she is, dressing for me.
According to the indictment, the man arranged to meet escorts and prostitutes in cities like London and New York with the help of fabricated documents, before submitting reimbursement requests for them.
“Like a Girl,” like some of Lizzo’s most popular songs to date, is a tad mawkish but nonetheless feel-good. So it’s not wholly surprising that the perennially positive singer sounded a bit defensive about the feminist-adjacent missive during a recent interview with The Cut, when she expounded on its meaning: After being told the track, and its premise, sounded rather commercial, Lizzo quickly justified the song’s concept by suggesting that her goal was to take ostensibly basic concepts—including the brand-dominated territory of “women’s empowerment”—and broaden them to include previously excluded groups. “I’m trying to be inclusive,” the artist said. “Could this song be in a Dove commercial? Yes, but it won’t. They aren’t thinking about everybody.”
Lizzo’s infectious music does often sound like it’s made with everybody in mind. It’s meticulously universal, the kind of art that’s said to push boundaries both because of its content and by virtue of who is making it. It feels good to root for Lizzo—not just because of her undeniable talent, but also because of what and whom she represents. Lizzo is, after all, a fat black woman; she shirks easy categorization along numerous lines, including sexual orientation. Her music is celebratory. It’s defiant and boundary-pushing by necessity. It’s also fun: Listening to Lizzo can feel like taking a SoulCycle class without all the requisite shame.
There has never been a woman like Lizzo at her level of pop stardom—and her road to fame has come with no shortage of slights, often rooted in or amplified by overlapping forms of discrimination. She has utilized her expanding platform to address racism, sexism, and fatphobia in her music and media appearances alike. It’s endeared her to a legion of fans, many of whom feel like misfits in their own ways. Lizzo has managed to harness the isolation she’s felt at various points in her life and produce work that marries social critique with self-affirmation, all buoyed by bounce-heavy production. This savvy has also primed her for commercial co-option. In that same interview with The Cut, Lizzo bristled at the way she’s been crowned a queen, an Icon™ of the sometimes-fraught Body Positivity movement:
“It’s not a label I wanted to put on myself. It’s just my existence. All these fucking hashtags to convince people that the way you look is fine. Isn’t that fucking crazy? I say I love myself, and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so brave. She’s so political.’ For what? … Even when body positivity is over, it’s not like I’m going to be a thin white woman. I’m going to be black and fat. That’s just hopping on a trend and expecting people to blindly love themselves. That’s fake love. I’m trying to figure out how to actually live it.”
This emphasis on her realness and authenticity has characterized much of the press Lizzo has received in recent months. Cuz I Love You reached the No. 1 spot on the iTunes chart over the weekend, ahead of even Beyoncé’s Homecoming live album. For many listeners, her ascent has been a welcome sign that artists—particularly women, musicians of color, and fat people—may not need to sacrifice their essential selves to find loyal audiences or success. In an entertainment landscape that often forces people to choose between valuing underrepresented communities and producing commercially viable work, Lizzo seemed to be doing both. And winning.
It’s particularly disappointing, then, that the artist reacted to a mildly critical review, published on Pitchfork early Monday morning, with a series of tweets denigrating the writer, Rawiya Kameir, also a black woman. “PEOPLE WHO ‘REVIEW’ ALBUMS AND DONT MAKE MUSIC THEMSELVES SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED,” Lizzo tweeted. She then followed up with a series of now-deleted disclaimers that attempted to both downplay the original hyperbole and further drag the writer in question for her perceived pettiness. (In one, she suggested that only people who cook well can judge her food.)
The comments are troubling for a variety of reasons: Even without taking into account the bizarre invocation of unemployment in an industry already characterized by massive economic instability, this is a dubious kind of gatekeeping. To suggest that only musicians can critique music is a bizarre line to draw, an echo of the same sort of hierarchical thinking that much of Lizzo’s music and public persona has thus far explicitly opposed. The comments also betray a fundamental misreading of the purpose of criticism, which exists not just to rank artists against some imperceptible standard, but also to contextualize art within the genre, medium, and world it enters.
It’s understandable that any artist would be, to quote a famously cantankerous musician, “sensitive about [their] shit.” And for multiply marginalized artists such as Lizzo, navigating the boundary between shrinking oneself to fit repressive industry standards and over-marketing one’s own identity is tricky territory. Kameir’s review was a thoughtful assessment not just of Lizzo’s music itself, but also of how the musician’s prominence affects the fans whom she is most beholden to: “Lizzo does have a genre, something like empowerment-core, and she offers songs for an astonishing array of demographics: thick women, independent women, women in general, anyone struggling with body image, people who are single, people who wish to become single, etc.,” Kameir wrote. “Lizzo’s music performs an important social function. The sound might disappoint, but there will be people moved to transformations of their own thanks to her songs. And that’s important, too.”
The Pitchfork review was by no means scathing, or even mostly negative—nor was it a mean-spirited attack on Lizzo’s musicianship. Rather, this kind of thorough analysis is rare; artists such as Lizzo are too often either dismissed immediately or written about exclusively as “unapologetic” avatars of whatever identity is most convenient to name-check. Cuz I Love You, like much of the artist’s other work, has been met with near-rapturous praisefromcritics. This reception, and her response to one perceived aberration, recall Chance the Rapper’s reported outrage at MTV News for publishing a lukewarm review in 2016. The artist’s manager threatened that he would no longer work with MTV, prompting the publication to remove the post, which the writer David Turner later published on his own Medium account. (Again, the critic in question was black, a troubling detail for artists whose public personas hinge largely on championing their communities.)
In both cases, overwhelmingly beloved musicians—who gained popularity partly through their lovable music—lashed out at critics who were simply doing their jobs. It’s an avoidable shame that Lizzo’s reaction to a comprehensive, if also critical, response to her work has now served to distract from the music itself.
Cuz I Love You is, after all, an eminently enjoyable record. Even with its many soundtrack-ready bops, the album has no shortage of vulnerable, masterly songs with immense replay value. There’s the soulful ballad “Jerome” and the sexy ode to self, “Lingerie.” For every ad-ready “Like a Girl,” there’s an original, high-powered show of impressive vocal range such as “Crybaby,” on which she belts over brash electric guitar riffs: “I swore you’d never see this side / But it’s so hard to say goodbye / I don’t need to apologize / Us big girls gotta cry.” There are also funky anthems like “Juice,” a natural extension of the hyper-confident 2017 single “Truth Hurts.” (The latter track still has one of the most memorable lines in modern pop: “I just took a DNA test / turns out I’m 100% that bitch.”)
On the Missy Elliott–assisted “Tempo,” Lizzo is collaborative, sharp, and cheeky. The Ricky Reed–produced song’s chorus reminds listeners exactly what it is that Lizzo’s music, at its best, inspires listeners to do: “Slow songs, they for skinny hoes / Can’t move all of this here to one of those,” she sings. “I’m a thick bitch, I need tempo (Tempo) / Fuck it up to the tempo.”
When I was in sixth grade, the cool girls at my school drew up a document they called the popularity pyramid. Everyone was sorted into a handful of social categories; suffice it to say, I, along with the plurality of the class, was relegated to the lowest tranche and designated a Loser Beyond Belief.
Now a pair of scientists are doing something similar with the birds of the United States. In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they ranked 621 avian species by their popularity. But unlike the pyramid of my past, this list isn’t meant to give any animal an inferiority complex; instead, the authors hope that it can be used to boost the profiles of lesser-known species in a way that’s best suited to their unique traits and talents.
The most popular birds in America are more or less what you’d expect: They’re large, they’re widespread, they’re popular mascots or children’s characters. The snowy owl, the common raven, and the bald eagle are all among the top 10. The authors of the paper, Alison Johnston of Cornell University and the Maine-based biologist Justin Schuetz, measured popularity by looking at the number of Google searches a species generates compared with the number of sightings recorded in a bird-watching database called eBird. Bigger birds tended to produce more hype, as did species that are mascots for sports teams. Bright colors, migration, frequent feeder visits, and endangered or threatened status also added small popularity boosts.
Many birds in the lowest ranks of the avian “it list” are found only in small areas in the southwestern United States. That puts them at a disadvantage, since, like the kids in middle school who hung out only in the band room, relatively few people are likely to have ever heard of them. Take the Couch’s kingbird, a gray-and-yellow number that came in dead last. Tim Brush, an ornithologist at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, says the bird is ecologically “very successful” in South Texas, but doesn’t often travel to other parts of the country. Its cousin, the eastern kingbird, dresses in a much more subdued black-and-white getup, but its range covers more than half of the continental United States. The eastern kingbird ranks more than 200 places higher than the Couch’s.
Other less exalted species suffer from shyness, a condition that will be familiar to many an uncool sixth grader. The MacGillivray’s warbler—bird No. 617 out of 621—is what ornithologists call a “skulker” because it likes to stay under the cover of thick vegetation. When Jay Pitocchelli, who studies the species at Saint Anselm College, goes out in search of the birds, he says, “I’m looking for a mountain range, and then I’m hoping that there’s a logging road or there’s a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service road or there’s a mining road” that will take him far into the hills. That’s not a route most people are likely to take, which means that the MacGillivray’s warbler isn’t a bird most people are likely to see and Google.
The popularity (or lack thereof) of many species can’t be helped. Their appeal to humans “is, to a large extent, going to be determined by the evolutionary history of the bird as well as a lot of the behavior of the bird,” says Sean Mahoney, who studies Lucy’s warblers (No. 619 out of 621) and other birds at Northern Arizona University. That is to say, you can’t change the fact that these birds are small, dull-colored homebodies who hate social interaction. And you can’t change the fact that humans think all those characteristics are boring.
That, according to Mahoney, is the point of the paper. “This is a really important paper because it allows us to identify what it is about birds that people value,” he says. Given what these rankings reveal about how humans judge different species, he says he would plan conservation efforts around Lucy’s warblers in a very specific way. He wouldn’t emphasize the bird’s small stature or its gray-and-brown feathers, he says, because “people don’t care about these things.”
Instead, he’d point to the important ecological role Lucy’s warblers play in the Southwest: The birds are the only western warblers that nest in cavities, and they help maintain those cavities for other animals such as lizards, snakes, and even small mammals that use them to escape the heat. “I think that would be something that people could get on board with,” he says.
Other less glamorous species have different redeeming qualities, which could be leveraged to craft and improve their public image. MacGillivray’s warblers, despite their shyness, like to broadcast their originality—“almost every individual bird has an individual song, different from the one next to him,” Pitocchelli says. Couch’s kingbirds, the biggest losers of all, are devoted parents. They aggressively defend their young from much larger predators such as hawks, and use their body to shade their eggs from the boiling Texas sun.
Deborah Finch, of the U.S. Forest Service, says there are plenty of ways dull-colored birds can make up for their less compelling exteriors. “There’s a lot of species that can be flashy and drab at the same time,” she says. “They’re flashy because of their behavior.” The plain chachalaca, for example, is a pheasant-like bird with brown feathers. Its favorite activity is hopping up into a tree and screamingat the top of its lungs. At No. 604 out of 621, it’s still pretty unknown, but at least it’s got a big personality. That’s something the uncool among us can all get behind.
Alia ditched the present craze for gowns and opted for a completely different look. She wore a monotone jacquard jumpsuit with a plunging neckline and bishop sleeves that looked bold, sassy and chic just like the remarkable roles she chooses.
The great white shark—a fast, powerful, 16-foot-long torpedo that’s armed to the teeth with teeth—has little to fear except fear itself. But also: killer whales.
For almost 15 years, Salvador Jorgensen from the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been studying great white sharks off the coast of California. He and his colleagues would lure the predators to their boats using bits of old carpet that they had cut in the shape of a seal. When the sharks approached, the team would shoot them with electronic tags that periodically emit ultrasonic signals. Underwater receivers, moored throughout Californian waters, detected these signals as the sharks swam by, allowing the team to track their whereabouts over time.
In 2009, the team tagged 17 great whites, which spent months circling Southeast Farallon Island and picking off the local elephant seals. But this period of steady hunting ended on November 2 of that year, when two pods of killer whales (orcas) swam past the islands in the early afternoon. In the space of eight hours, all 17 great whites abruptly disappeared. They weren’t dead; their tags were eventually detected in distant waters. They had just fled from Farallon. And for at least a month, most of them didn’t return.
Jorgensen wondered if this was a one-off, but the tags recorded similar examples in later years—orcas arrive, and sharks skedaddle. Some orcas also hunt seals, so it’s possible that the sharks are just trying to avoid competition—but that seems improbable, given how quickly they bolt. The more likely explanation is that the most fearsome shark in the world is terrified of orcas.
Killer whales have a friendlier image than great white sharks. (Perhaps because of their respective portrayals in movies: Jaws 2 even begins with the beached carcass of a half-eaten orca.) But orcas are “potentially the more dangerous predator,” says Toby Daly-Engel, a shark expert at the Florida Institute of Technology. “They have a lot of social behaviors that sharks do not, which allows them to hunt effectively in groups, communicate among themselves, and teach their young.”
Combining both brains and brawn, orcas have been known to kill sharks in surprisingly complicated ways. Some will drive their prey to the surface and then karate chop them with overhead tail swipes. Others seem to have worked out that they can hold sharks upside-down to induce a paralytic state called tonic immobility. Orcas can kill the fastest species (makos) and the largest (whale sharks). And when they encounter great whites, a few recorded cases suggest that these encounters end very badly for the sharks.
In October 1997, fishing vessels near Southeast Farallon Island observed a young white shark interrupting a pair of orcas that were eating a sea lion. One of the whales rammed and killed the shark, and the duo proceeded to eat its liver. More recently, after orcas passed by a South African beach, five great-white carcasses washed ashore. All were, suspiciously, missing their liver.
A great white’s liver can account for a quarter of its body weight, and is even richer in fats and oils than whale blubber. It’s “one of the densest sources of calories you can find in the ocean,” Jorgensen says. “The orcas know their business, and they know where that organ lies.”
Rather than ripping their prey apart, it seems that orcas can extract livers with surprising finesse, despite lacking arms and hands. No one has observed their technique, but the wounds on otherwise intact carcasses suggest that they bite their victims near their pectoral fins and then squeeze the liver out through the wounds. “It’s like squeezing toothpaste,” Jorgensen says.
An orca, then, is an apex predator’s apex predator. No wonder sharks flee from them. But orcas don’t actually have to kill any great whites to drive them away. Their mere presence—and most likely their scent—is enough. Many predators have similar effects. Their sounds and smells create a “landscape of fear”—a simmering dread that changes the behavior and whereabouts of their prey. The presence of tiger sharks forces dugongs into deeper waters, where food is scarcer but cover is thicker. The mere sound of dogs can keep raccoons off a beach, changing the community of animals that lives in the tide pools.
The fear of death can shape the behavior of animals more than death itself. “Lions, for example, do not eat a lot of impala, but impala fear lions more than any other predator on the landscape except humans,” says Liana Zanette from Western University in Canada, who studies landscapes of fear. Similarly, killer whales don’t have to kill many white sharks to radically change their whereabouts. In 2009, for example, orcas passed by Southeast Farallon for less than three hours, but the great whites stayed away for the rest of the year. For the elephant seals, the island became a predator-free zone. “The two predators faced off, and the winners were the seals,” Jorgensen says.
And what about the sharks? “They had to move to find a new food source when the killer whales ruined the neighborhood,” Zanette says. “This could interfere with their ability to successfully migrate, which requires a bulk-up of fat and nutrients.”
“We think of white sharks as these great ocean predators, but their bag of tricks includes knowing when to pack it in,” Jorgensen says. “That play might have contributed to their long-standing success.”
Or, in other words: Run away, doo doo doo doo doo doo, run away, doo doo doo doo doo doo, run away, doo doo doo doo doo doo, run away.
With Joe Biden's announcement seemingly imminent, the Democratic primary is about to finally hit full steam. For weeks, the polls have suggested a potential two-person race between the two septuagenarians, Biden and Bernie Sanders, with Biden looking more likely to triumph.
The day was cold, gray, and rainy, and the wolf smelled exactly like a wet dog. I sat on my heels, my shoulders just a few inches higher than hers, and hesitantly scratched her belly, her thick, black-tipped gray fur soft and greasy between my fingers. She nosed at my face, bumping my chin and lapping my cheeks. She tried to slide her long, flexible tongue into my mouth, and when that failed, an unguarded nostril.
This wolf lives with four of her siblings on five acres of remote spruce forest in northern Norway, well above the Arctic Circle. Though she hunts the small animals that find their way through the high steel fence that encloses her world, she mainly eats carcasses supplied by her human keepers. Through the long winter twilights and summer days, she fights with her pack mates; she stretches, yawns, and rolls on her belly; she sits on her haunches and stares across the valley. But unlike free-roaming wolves, she has no reflexive fear of humans. When she was born in captivity five years ago, her keepers named her Frigg, after the Norse goddess, and in their care she has learned that most humans are simply objects of curiosity, sporadically available for inspection.
Which is not to say that Frigg is tame. Wolves long accustomed to humans can still be frightened by unfamiliar behaviors—and in a confined space, they may feel cornered and attack. Even when at ease, wolves can be dangerous at close range, and what starts as a playful lick can end in a painful nip. Before entering the wolves’ enclosure, I was told not to make sudden movements or actively approach the animals. I was told to allow them to advance and retreat as they pleased; to speak quietly, if at all; and to kneel, not sit, so that if necessary I could make a hasty escape through the nearby gate. I was instructed to take off my earrings, my hair clip, and any wool clothing, lest I smell like a sheep. I was warned not to wear heavy scents, and told that synthetic polar fleece is, for reasons not entirely understood, perilously exciting to wolves. Only with hesitation were my leather boots permitted.
This place is called Polar Park, and though visitors can see many species here—lynx, moose, bears, reindeer—what draws them from all over Europe and beyond are the wolves. Wolves were trapped, shot, and chased out of much of Europe long ago, and a lot of people, it seems, are willing to pay a lot of money to watch wolves at play in a European forest.
I had, and still have, mixed feelings about these wolves’ captivity, their training, and the resources required to get near them. I’d heard and seen free-roaming wolves in the past—closer to home, in Yellowstone National Park—and I had wondered whether an encounter with captive wolves, even a hands-on one, could compare. Yet once inside the enclosure, I was overwhelmed by the immediacy of the animals. I don’t cry easily, but when Frigg butted her heavy body against my chest, vying for attention as her pack mate made her own attempt to spiral her tongue into my nasal cavity, I choked up.
Though Polar Park might be one of the few places in the world where it’s possible to pet a wolf in relative safety, it’s no longer one of the only places in Europe where it’s possible to see a wolf. As organized persecution of wolves has eased, and as people continue to leave the European countryside for cities, wolves and other predators are wandering back to the countries that once exterminated them. Wolves from surviving populations in Italy crossed the Alps into southern France in the 1990s, and wolves from Poland took up residence in eastern Germany a few years later. In 2011, a Dutch mortician photographed a wolf crossing a road in the eastern Netherlands—the first verified sighting in the country in well over a century. In 2012, Danish officials confirmed their country’s first wolf sighting in 200 years, and last spring, researchers filmed a litter of wolf pups at play on the Danish mainland. Wolves have returned to the Scandinavian peninsula, too, and today, more than 400 wolves live in the unfenced forests of Sweden and Norway.
Europe is now home to an estimated 12,000 wolves, 17,000 bears, and 9,000 lynx, and wolf sightings have been documented in every country on the European mainland. Large predators provoke powerful emotions, and in Norway, where captive wolves are a beloved and lucrative tourist attraction, humans have greeted the returning wolves with both great joy and exceptionally furious resistance. The resulting conflict is testing humans’ ability to coexist with our fellow predators—and, along the way, our ability to coexist with one another.
More than 500 miles south of Polar Park, well beyond the easternmost fingertips of the coastal fjords, the broad glacial valleys of inland Norway are thinly populated and thickly forested. Along the Norway-Sweden border, the high plateaus are speckled with lichen, and in the fall, yellowing birch leaves glow in the low-angle light, buttery flames against the gray clouds.
Petter Wabakken has lived in this area for 40 years, ever since he moved here with his young family in the fall of 1978. Tall, thin, and scruffy-haired, he is now, somewhat to his chagrin, the public face of wolf recovery in Norway. Back in 1978, though, he was a student at the University of Oslo, hired by the Norwegian government to look into a spate of reported wolf sightings along the border. The last wolf bounty in Norway had been paid more than a decade earlier, and for nearly a century there had been no more than a handful of wolves in southern Norway. Most experts dismissed the reports from southeastern Norway and southwestern Sweden as sightings of “unidentified pet animals,” and Wabakken was not expected to find much of interest.
Wabakken, however, was not intimidated by scientific authority: While still in high school, he’d published a paper questioning the official counts of threatened bird species in Norway. “When things are described in black-and-white terms, then I get very curious,” he told me when I met with him at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, the small technical college where he teaches.
Wabakken had heard and read enough about the local sightings to suspect that at least some were accurate, but there was no obvious way to confirm them. DNA testing of hair and scat was not yet possible; motion-sensitive camera “traps” were not yet widely available; individual tracks in the snow could not be confidently distinguished from the tracks of dogs or wolf-dog hybrids. But Wabakken had time, and he had patience. Whenever he found a set of canine tracks in the snow, he followed it on skis—sometimes for hundreds of miles and weeks at a time. He hypothesized that wolves, which, unlike domestic dogs, had no reliable source of food or shelter, would behave in ways that allowed them to save energy. He noticed that some of the animals he was tracking sought out shallower or more compacted snow, sticking closely to riverbanks, forest roads, and tire tracks. Some even used old moose prints to hopscotch over the landscape, stretching from one track to the next without dropping into the snow. “I’d like to see a dog move its paws so efficiently and elegantly,” he said.
After four winters of work, Wabakken concluded that between three and five wolves had taken up residence in Norway, but he didn’t have definitive proof. And because he had purposely kept his distance from the animals he tracked—he didn’t want to influence their behavior—he had not yet laid eyes on a Norwegian wolf.
In 1982, Wabakken was invited to present his findings at an international mammal conference in Helsinki. As a young, unproven researcher, he expected that only a handful of people would listen to his report. Due to a scheduling mix-up, however, his talk was squeezed between presentations by two eminent scientists, and he spoke to a captive audience of hundreds. Wabakken won over the experts who heard him, and their endorsement convinced Scandinavian managers that wolves were back in Norway. The following year, a litter of wolf pups was spotted on the Norway-Sweden border, and for the first time in nearly a century, the peninsula had a documented breeding population of wolves.
For a while, the public reaction was muted. Few managers believed that the fledgling binational population would survive, and with good reason; to get to Sweden and Norway from Finland or Russia, which have substantial wolf populations, a wolf must either survive a long and dangerous journey through the Sámi reindeer-herding districts of northern Scandinavia, where legal protection for wolves is relatively weak, or cross at least 90 miles of unpredictable Baltic sea ice. But by 1990, at least one more wolf had managed the trip, and the small band founded a thriving population. By 2002, as many as a hundred wolves in eight family packs were in southern Sweden and Norway. Last winter, researchers counted 305 wolves in Sweden and 94 in Norway, living in a total of 41 packs. Lynx, bears, and wolverines have rebounded, too.
As the wolf population expanded, resistance to it grew. During the decades in which wolves and other predators had been scarce or absent, Norwegian farmers had begun allowing their sheep to scatter in the mountains each summer, believing that dispersed animals could make the most of the sparse vegetation; they even developed breeds known for their disinterest in herding. Norwegian moose hunters, who traditionally work with elkhounds on leashes, had begun to train their dogs to run loose in the forest after quarries. “The return of the wolves represented a change in a system that had taken many, many years to build up,” says John Linnell of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. Polls consistently showed that the majority of Norwegians supported wolf recovery, but as the sheep and dog casualties mounted, the pitch and volume of the complaints increased.
Wabakken recognized that the wolves’ survival depended on their human neighbors’ ability to cooperate across borders: Sweden and Norway, despite their proximity and linguistic similarities, are divided by history, culture, and, most recently, the boundary of the European Union (Norwegian voters, famously, rejected EU membership twice, first in 1972 and again in 1994). While Sweden is bound by the environmental regulations of the EU, Norway answers primarily to its own national laws and to the Bern Convention, a wildlife-protection treaty signed by all European countries; the practical result is that Sweden is required to accommodate many more wolves than its neighbor.
To ensure that scientists, at least, treated the countries’ shared wolf population as a single unit, Wabakken co-founded SKANDULV, a Swedish-Norwegian wolf-research project, in 1998. Over the past two decades, Wabakken, his colleague Barbara Zimmerman, and their collaborators in Sweden and Norway have monitored the growth of the population, tracked the movements of radio-collared wolves, and conducted genetic studies so extensive that they can describe the family tree of every wolf on the peninsula.
Yet this heavy investment of time and money—by both countries—has done little to reduce public opposition to wolf recovery in rural Norway. Though the Scandinavian wolf population remains among the smallest in Europe, the political divide over the animals is at least as deep and stubborn as anywhere on the continent.
To anyone familiar with the rural United States, rural Norway is almost disconcertingly prosperous. On an early evening in mid-September of last year, in the eastern Norwegian town of Elverum—a winding half-hour drive south of Wabakken’s college campus—teenagers chased soccer balls across vivid green fields, and Teslas purred past the neat storefronts that line the wide main street. On the outskirts of town, in the lingering autumn sunlight, nearly 300 people stood outside the Norwegian Forest Museum, waiting to be let through the front doors. They filed into the museum’s spacious atrium, helped themselves to black coffee and sweet bread, and settled into chairs arranged in careful rows. The only suggestion that this gathering was anything other than a well-attended community meeting were the two uniformed police officers stationed discreetly in the atrium’s balcony.
Though wolves were the ostensible subject of the meeting, they were present only in effigy, and only on the distant edges of the crowd. In the museum foyer, a taxidermied wolf eyed arriving visitors. Upstairs, in a darkened gallery, another stood in a too-small glass case, head thrown high and teeth bared as if about to howl.
The September meeting’s organizer was Gunnar Gundersen, a former member of Parliament who swam the 400-meter medley in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and still cuts a powerful figure at the podium. A wealthy private-forest owner, he works for a national timber cooperative and heads a regional alliance of forestry and farming organizations. The meeting, he told me later, was intended to “put a bit of pressure” on the national environment ministry. For most of three hours, as the deputy environment minister hunched uncomfortably at a long table in the front of the room, a succession of invited speakers endeavored to do exactly that.
While the translator I was working with whispered subtitles into my ear, a local hunter reported that his beloved elkhound had been killed by a wolf—then got some laughs by poking fun at the absent environment minister Ola Elvestuen, known for both his sympathy for wolves and his dandified good looks. Diminutive, white-haired Gunnar Glöersen, a representative from the Swedish Hunters Association, warned that if the government didn’t permit more wolf hunting in Norway, hunters would take matters into their own hands and start poaching the animals.
Several area farmers said that the continued killing of livestock by wolves threatened their livelihood. More than 2,600 sheep and lambs were documented by government officials as having been killed by wolves in 2018—Norway’s agricultural daily often led with bloody photos of disemboweled lambs—and while those casualties represent a small fraction of the roughly 2 million sheep and lambs that graze freely in the forest each summer, some farmers were hit disproportionately hard. (The government compensates farmers for documented losses of sheep to wolves, but as many farmers point out, the payments don’t cover the costs of extra shepherds and other indirect impacts to their businesses.)
The evening’s argument revolved around the number of wolf packs permitted to live in Norway. In late 2016, a resolution by the Norwegian Parliament set a target of “four to six” litters in the binational population each year, with at least three born to packs living entirely within Norwegian borders. Regional authorities were allowed to permit hunters to “cull” or shoot additional animals, and a total of 30 wolves were legally shot by private or state-employed hunters between June of 2017 and March of 2018. Another 20 have been shot since June of 2018. Wolf numbers still exceed the target set by Parliament, however, and most of those who spoke at the meeting—including several irate members of Parliament—wanted the national environment ministry to allow more hunting and fewer wolves.
Elvestuen, however, has been reluctant to expand the wolf hunt. In contrast to the parliamentary agreement, both Norway’s national environmental law and the international Bern Convention state that no species can be hunted until its populations are self-sustaining within national borders—which some legal scholars interpret to mean that more wolf packs should be allowed to survive and reproduce in Norway. The matter is currently in court, with conservation groups and agricultural and hunting organizations lining up on opposing sides.
The disagreement runs far deeper than numbers. For Norway, which declared its independence from Sweden just over a century ago and was occupied and nearly starved out by German forces during World War II, domestic food production is a matter of both national security and national pride. In recent decades, the government has gone to great lengths to keep farmers and rural communities solvent. (Norwegian voters opposed EU membership partly because they feared it would lead to cuts in state agricultural subsidies, which currently make up about 60 percent of farmers’ gross income.) But farming is and always has been a marginal enterprise in cold, soil-poor Norway, and despite the generous government support, more than half of the country’s farmers work second jobs.
When sheep farmers say that wolves are threatening their livelihood, or hunters say their traditions are endangered, they’re rarely talking about their individual survival: Norway’s extensive, tax-supported welfare state guarantees every Norwegian a basic level of economic and social security. What most mean, fundamentally, is that wolves look like yet another threat to Norway’s hard-won independence.
Such fears surfaced throughout the meeting, and toward the end of the evening, when the floor was opened to public comment, they were echoed by many in the mostly older, predominantly male, and almost entirely white audience. But the room held other fears, too. “My family is going to tell me to shut up,” said a young, dark-haired woman who declined to identify herself. “But not everyone in Elverum is against wolves.” The crowd muttered, and there was scattered applause.
The next speaker, Kari Wenche Fossum, wore her long gray hair in a loose twist, and surveyed the audience through round glasses. “I’m going to say something you don’t want to hear about being outside, about feeling safe,” she said calmly. Because of her support for wolves and other predators, she continued, “I’ve been physically threatened, I’ve been injured twice. I want to encourage everyone to think about this. It’s not just you guys who are suffering.”
The relationship between Norwegian humans and Norwegian wolves is, in some ways, distinctive. Because of Norway’s investment in rural life, its countryside is more populated than Sweden’s, and Norwegian sheep farmers have hung on while most of their Swedish counterparts have simply moved out of wolf habitat. And some Norwegian politicians have found that it is both possible and politically convenient to keep compensating farmers and hunters for wolf damage, all the while promising a radical reduction in wolf numbers—a strategy that gives their constituents little incentive to adapt.
Public attitudes toward wolves in Norway, and in northern Europe as a whole, also seem to be less tolerant than attitudes in southern and eastern Europe, where some farmers have never known a world without wolves. There, defensive practices such as keeping sheep in tighter, more closely supervised herds are considered routine. “Wolves might be a pain, you might not like them, but eventually, there is not much sense in protesting against them,” says the researcher Nathan Ranc, who studies carnivores in Italy, France, and elsewhere. “They’re like a storm or an avalanche. They’re there, and it’s part of the job to deal with them.”
At the same time, what’s happened to the public discussion about wolves in Norway in recent years is exactly what’s happened to discussions of all kinds, all over the world: It has become more and more polarized, sometimes violently so. In 2009, an Elverum-area resident named Tore Hauge was so outraged by the illegal killing of a local wolf that he personally offered a reward of 50,000 Norwegian kroner—about $8,000 at the time—for information leading to the culprit. After his offer appeared in the newspaper, garbage was dumped in his driveway, and his outbuildings and fences were vandalized. One night, when he was out of town, his wife awoke to a loud buzzing noise and realized that a group of people had encircled the house and were marching around it, waving chain saws. Wenche Fossum, who spoke at the Elverum meeting, told me that she has been the target of threats for more than a decade.
Critics of the government’s wolf policy have fewer and less extreme stories of harassment, but they feel the sharp edges of polarization, too. Three herding-cooperative leaders told me that every time they appear on television to talk about their problems with wolves, they are blasted with vicious texts and calls from wolf supporters.
The Norwegian sociologist Ketil Skogen, who has studied the wolf controversy for two decades, says that its deepest divisions are between rural and urban Norwegians. Since World War II, in Norway and the rest of the developed world, the growth of the urban middle class—both in numbers and political and cultural influence—has fostered a sense of inferiority in rural communities. Many rural people feel, not without reason, that their practical knowledge and experience are dismissed by more formally trained urban “experts,” and some have responded to perceived and real disrespect with a deep skepticism of science and scientific authority. These urban-rural resentments, Skogen has found, can obscure even vast class differences, creating political alliances between large rural landowners such as Gundersen and working-class hunters and farmers.
Gundersen has worked with farmers’ and landowners’ groups to mobilize this alliance, and this past January, they drew an estimated 7,000 protesters to a torchlight parade in Oslo. Supporters of wolf recovery have also organized large protests, with several thousand people turning out for demonstrations across the country this winter. Vi er vikinger, ikke veikinger, (We are Vikings, not weaklings), read one pro-wolf demonstrator’s sign.
In Norway, like everywhere else, these divides are deepened by social media. During my week of conversations in rural Norway—in farmyards, in offices, and over teatime waffles in cozy kitchens—I heard repeatedly that the nastiest arguments about wolves take place on Facebook. Social media have bred conspiracy theories, too, with many wolf opponents insisting, for instance, that the wolves were secretly trucked into Scandinavia and released. (There are many variations on this rumor, all fanciful extrapolations of a real but stillborn Swedish proposal to reintroduce wolves in the 1970s.) The theory is so persistent that a group of landowners in eastern Norway commissioned a second set of wolf DNA analyses, separate from those already conducted by SKANDULV, in hopes that the results would suggest that the animals were descended from captives or came from far outside the region. Wolf opponents have also convinced the Norwegian government to sponsor two additional studies. But none has found any evidence of deliberate reintroduction.
Even for a visitor, the polarization can be exhausting—and frustrating, for the stereotypes that help maintain it usually collapse in conversation. One of the most passionate wolf opponents I spoke with, a sheep farmer and the leader of a local herding cooperative, grew up outside Oslo and took up farming only after pursuing a career in the city. Marte Conradi of the World Wildlife Fund, whom I met with in a swank coffee bar at the Oslo airport as she was returning from a conference on European predators, grew up in a tiny town in eastern Norway and worked for several years as a county-level wildlife manager. Tore Hauge, who put up the reward for the wolf poacher, grew up in Rena, near Elverum, and before his recent retirement made a living mining coal and building highway tunnels. And not many wolf opponents are more skeptical of scientific authority than their sworn enemy Petter Wabakken.
Even those who think wolves have no place in Norway insisted to me that they have no problem with wolves in general, and many spoke of them with admiration. This might have been what they thought I wanted to hear, but I heard it expressed so many times, and in such detail, that I came to believe it was at least partly sincere. Jørn Stener, a hunting guide and a fierce critic of the government’s handling of the wolf recovery, sounded almost reverent when he recalled the first of his many encounters with wolves in the woods. “They’re smart, they’re adaptable—they’re amazing animals,” he said.
Though politics may or may not allow the Scandinavian wolf population to expand in eastern Norway, Norwegian wolves are almost certainly here to stay. “You can sit and dream about the time when we didn’t have large carnivores,” Wabakken said. “But that dream is over.” Even if resident wolves were to be killed or driven out, as they were in previous centuries, young wolves born to Swedish packs would soon wander over the border to take their place. Eventually, farmers in wolf habitat will have to adjust: They will have to switch from raising sheep to raising cows, which are less vulnerable to wolf predation, or follow the lead of farmers such as Morten and Linda Ulvedalen, who recently bought a farmstead inside the wolf-management zone.
Morten Ulvedalen is the CEO of a specialty construction-supply company in Oslo, and the couple was able to afford enough land to both keep their sheep enclosed in the summer and grow grass for winter feed (many sheep farmers point out that they need to graze their animals in the mountains in the summer in order to use their pasture to grow feed). With the help of a government grant, they were also able to afford a burly electric fence from New Zealand, and their sheep now graze placidly within it. Linda Ulvedalen, who breeds sheep, is especially interested in reviving older breeds that are less likely to scatter in the woods. Though their surname translates to “Wolf Valley,” neither of the Ulvedalens is particularly happy about the expansion of the wolf population, and when I visited their farm, Morten Ulvedalen was quick to point out that government grants don’t cover the full cost of their adaptations. Such practical measures, however, give livestock the best chance at coexisting with wolves.
Larger pastures and stronger fences don’t heal the deeper divide over wolf recovery, though. The first step toward doing that, says John Odden, a predator researcher with the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, is for opposing groups to agree on a shared set of facts. Odden uses camera traps to gather data on predator populations, and about five years ago he began to set up cameras around a community where government estimates of lynx numbers, and the consequent limits on lynx hunting, had been met with great skepticism. Odden, who grew up in the countryside not far from Elverum, decided to involve the community in his project, convincing local hunters to advise him on the placement of the cameras and help him collect the camera data cards. Some hunters got involved because they hoped to prove the government wrong; others just wanted to geek out about the fancy cameras. But one participant, Jan Erik Olbergsveen, says that those who took part in the data collection gained more confidence in its accuracy, and skepticism faded.
Odden has since organized a similar project to track wolf movements near communities in eastern Norway, and while wolves are much more controversial and politically complex than lynx, he has once again enlisted locals to help place and check the cameras. Some of the angriest anti-wolf voices at the Elverum meeting, in fact, belonged to his volunteer data collectors.
The reasons for opposing wolf recovery in Norway, as in most of the rest of the world, are pretty straightforward: inconvenience, cost, fear of change, fear of fangs. The reasons for championing wolves—for going to court on their behalf, for inviting anger and worse by speaking up for their protection, for spending excruciating amounts of money visiting the captive pack at Polar Park—are harder to pin down.
In the United States, supporters of wolf reintroduction and recovery often point to the importance of large predators in ecosystems, especially to the measurable changes in the flora and fauna of Yellowstone National Park since the return of wolves. But in Europe, where most ecosystems are highly human-dominated, few wolf supporters expect wolf restoration to lead to a broader recovery of ecological processes. Some value wolves as symbols of wildness, or nature, or the limits of human influence, but most make another argument for wolf recovery: They say that wolves have a right (up to a point) to survive and repopulate the places where their kind once lived, and that humans have a duty (up to a point) to accommodate them.
The idea that humans should accommodate other large predators is nothing new, and it’s far from exclusively urban. In 1893, Swedish authorities ended a long-standing bounty on brown bears because they realized that the country’s bear population was about to go extinct. “It is a matter of honor for our country that this interesting animal be protected from complete extermination,” the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences stated in 1905. Concern about the extinction of other species—useful to humans and not—was by that time widespread throughout North America and Europe. Since then, measures to protect other species have been almost constantly challenged, but the general notion of species survival and recovery as a good thing has persisted worldwide.
Even opponents of wolf expansion in Norway indirectly acknowledge the existence of these rights and duties: One reason for the longevity of the clandestine-reintroduction conspiracy theory, for example, is that reintroduced wolves are seen as having a much lesser claim to the Norwegian countryside than animals that returned on their own, and would therefore be politically easier to drive out. Even the complaint that “wolves have more rights than we do,” often heard in eastern Norway, implies that both parties have at least some rights.
The trouble with wolves, of course, is that their pursuit of survival collides with ours. While some species demand little of people in order to survive, large, free-roaming predators can require humans to change their habits, their livelihood, and even their place in the food chain. Norwegians, who live in one of the wealthiest and best-educated countries in the world, have an opportunity to reduce these conflicts: to hack through the accumulated mistrust and resentment, identify the genuine burdens that accompany meaningful predator recovery, and figure out, as a society, how to share those burdens more equitably. If they can do that, they will have taken a step toward solving one of the wickedest problems in conservation. If they can’t, conservation will remain a job that gets done when convenient—and rarely otherwise.
“If we can conserve predators, we can conserve everything,” says Guillaume Chapron, a wildlife researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. “If we can’t conserve predators, it doesn’t look good.”
Toward the end of my visit to Polar Park, I asked Stig Sletten, who had accompanied our small group into the wolf enclosure, whether he had time to talk. Sletten, the park’s head animal keeper, was clearly reluctant to be interviewed, but after disappearing for several hours to finish what he said were some much-needed repairs to the musk-ox shelter, he consented to a conversation.
Polar Park, which was dreamed up in a bar by a group of locals hoping to bring more tourists to the area, opened in 1994 and is now supported primarily by entrance fees and corporate sponsorships. Sletten, who grew up nearby, was one of the park’s first employees, and after more than a decade in the Norwegian military, he returned to the park full-time in 2008. Soft-spoken, with white hair that contrasts with his unlined face, Sletten is as alert and wary as a wolf, noticing everything but giving little away. He’s aware of the resemblance, and said it serves him well inside the enclosure: “I do have to sniff around a bit, notice what people are feeling and thinking, whether someone’s nervous,” he said, raising his pointer fingers above his temples to resemble ears.
When I asked him what he hopes people will take from the experience, he turned serious. “I don’t want to force anyone to like it or not like it,” he said. Many visitors, like me, cry when the wolves approach them. Some cry when the keepers judge them too small or frail to enter the enclosure safely. Some brag to their friends and family that they have a special way with animals, and are embarrassed when the wolves ignore them. Some are preoccupied with their cameras. And some are scared, which doesn’t bother Sletten. “They’re going to meet a predator—they’re going to meet a wolf. It’s okay that they’re scared, maybe even a good thing,” he said. Far more dangerous, he added, would be to have no fear at all.
I wasn’t especially afraid in the enclosure, though maybe I should have been; as much as the wolves look, behave, and even smell like large dogs, they can turn on one another with shocking speed, snapping and growling with fleeting but genuine menace. With humans, however, they are simply nosy. They placidly investigated our small group, then loped off, then returned, coming and going for about an hour. Prompted by a couple of convincing howls from their keepers, they let out a piercing, unruly chorus of yips and yelps that seemed to linger in the fog.
When we finally filed through the heavy gate and departed, skirting the outside of the enclosure, Frigg and her pack mates followed us on their side of the fence, whining indignantly and gnawing at saplings. They didn’t need us, and they certainly didn’t love us, but they wanted us to stick around. The fascination, like the trepidation, is instinctive—and mutual.
Late in a blowout win over the Washington Wizards back in February, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks snatched an opposing player’s dribble and sprinted the other way. Fans of the 24-year-old MVP front-runner knew what to expect next. Antetokounmpo spanned the court in just a few long strides, sidestepped the last unlucky defender between him and the rim, leapt and stretched out his 6-foot-11-inch, 242-pound frame (with its 7-foot-3-inch wingspan), and drummed home a one-handed dunk. The sequence belongs to that slightly disorienting category of athletic accomplishments only the NBA’s best players have access to. It was spectacular—a merging of reflex, strategic intuition, quickness, and power into five unimprovable seconds. But it was also familiar, verging on routine. Bucks season-ticket holders see something like it from Antetokounmpo probably 50 times a year.
What wasn’t familiar was Antetokounmpo’s reaction. “I’m the fucking MVP!” cameras caught him yelling as he stomped toward the courtside seats, flexing and thumping his chest. Over his six seasons, the native of Greece has earned a reputation for humility. He talks regularly about all he has left to learn, having come to the sport at the relatively late age of 12. He engages fans with such warmth that it sometimes moves them to tears. But however uncharacteristic, the celebration seemed to capture something important about the story of this season, in which Antetokounmpo has staked out a place near the top of the NBA hierarchy, and Milwaukee has opened the playoffs as the favorite to reach the Finals out of the Eastern Conference. In years past, despite climbing stats and All-Star accolades, Antetokounmpo remained a figure of potential. This year, he and the Bucks have announced that they’re ready to make good on it.
When Mike Budenholzer was introduced as Milwaukee’s new head coach in May, he spoke of Antetokounmpo with excitement and relief. “It was miserable coaching against him, and I’m so happy to be saying, ‘34’s on my team?’” Budenholzer gushed. “That’s, like, really cool.” Antetokounmpo was coming off his second straight All-NBA season, but the Bucks had sputtered down the stretch and lost to an undermanned Boston team in the playoffs’ first round. The Milwaukee brass had fired the former coach, Jason Kidd, in January, and the hiring of Budenholzer, the 2015 Coach of the Year with the Atlanta Hawks, signaled a belief that there was room for more substantial growth.
The Bucks’ management had perhaps taken a lesson from recent NBA history. Every mid-market team is looking for its version of Antetokounmpo, a young player who can lift it to a period of the sort of relevance that organizations such as the Celtics and Lakers take as a birthright. But after the initial euphoria of finding these players, frustrating failures in capitalizing on them often follow. The Cleveland Cavaliers surrounded LeBron James, during his seven-year first stint on the team, with now-forgotten fringe stars such as Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison—all brought in to provide the supposed last push to a championship—and were swept out of the only Finals they reached during that era. The New Orleans Pelicans have put a rotating cast of coaches and second fiddles around Anthony Davis, who’s now eager to leave town for a more stable and winning environment. Supposed saviors can sometimes delude higher-ups into thinking that the hard part is done, that titles are only a few tweaks away.
Budenholzer arrived in Milwaukee with a plan to connect the skill set of Antetokounmpo to forward-looking tactics. Where Kidd had run an offense reminiscent of the paint-by-numbers systems James suffered through early in his career, Budenholzer prioritizes putting knock-down shooters around his star. The off-season addition of Brook Lopez, a 7-foot-tall center who can launch from 30 feet, typifies the approach. Milwaukee shot 1,110 more triples over the course of this regular season than they did last year, and graded out as the league’s fourth-most potent offense.
The defense has improved even more drastically. With Antetokounmpo stationed in the lane to wall off passes and smother shot attempts, the Bucks allowed only 104.9 points per 100 possessions—the lowest mark of any team. “Coach Bud did a great job,” Antetokounmpo said recently after Budenholzer’s peers again named him Coach of the Year, “just putting a great culture together, bringing a great atmosphere, making everybody have fun.” He acknowledged that part of that fun might owe to simple winning; Milwaukee’s 60 regular-season victories were the most in the NBA.
As the Bucks have emerged, the shape of Antetokounmpo’s approaching prime has started to come into focus. The job of a franchise player is to stabilize, not experiment—to provide the kind of dependable nightly contribution around which a team can maintain a broader identity. Last year, Houston’s James Harden won MVP honors by dancing through pick-and-rolls and hoisting step-back three-pointers, his activity igniting the Rockets’ offense. Antetokounmpo, in turn, barges into the lane and finishes the play himself, or, if the defense collapses, flicks the ball out to one of the waiting marksmen. Clarity of purpose has suited him. The regular season saw him set career highs in points (27.7), rebounds (12.5), assists (5.9), and field-goal percentage (57.8). Advanced analytics conclude that he’s the most disruptive force near the rim since Shaquille O’Neal’s heyday. If Harden plays like a riddle, Antetokounmpo is an emergency.
Milwaukee’s opening playoff series has proved mostly ceremonial, with a pair of easy wins against the already outmatched Detroit Pistons, who are missing their hobbled forward, Blake Griffin. Still, it’s been a serviceable enough summary of the progress team and star alike have made this season. In Game 1, Antetokounmpo put up 24 points and 17 rebounds in just 24 minutes as the Bucks won by 35. He bore toward the basket, breaking out of a defender’s grip for an and-one layup or reaching over the scrum for a jam. In the third quarter, with another highlight imminent, the Pistons center Andre Drummond shoved Antetokounmpo out of the air. Drummond, a big and tough All-Star center in his own right, didn’t seem to mind the resulting ejection; he looked like he’d had enough of trying to keep up.
This is still the era of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. If the Bucks manage to reach the Finals and face the Golden State Warriors, they’ll be heavy underdogs. But where the Warriors might be a dynasty in twilight, the Bucks are the envy of the rest of the league: an already accomplished team still on the upswing, with a plan in place and a star player sure of his role. “I was just trying to be aggressive,” Antetokounmpo said after that first playoff win. “I knew if I was in that aggressive mode the whole game, good things were going to happen.”
FALL RIVER, Mass.—Four new members of the House were hanging out at a bar back at the end of 2012, after a long day of new-member orientation at Harvard’s Kennedy School: Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and Eric Swalwell of California.
A woman approached the table, and caught O’Rourke’s eye.
“She’s like, ‘Are you who I think you are?’ And I thought, I just won this seat in Texas and she knows about me, and this is cool. I’m big-time,” O’Rourke told me last year, a few months before his Senate run took off. “And I say, ‘Well, yeah, I think I am.’ She’s like, ‘You’ve got to come over to my table. All my friends want to meet you. This is crazy.’ So I go over and we’re taking pictures.”
This went on for a bit, the table getting excited over the young congressman with the big teeth that his new friend would later joke made him the best-looking Kennedy on Capitol Hill.
“Then it dawns on me,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t have his red hair, but I can tell from picking it up that it’s not Beto O’Rourke that they’re interested in. In the middle of the third or fourth picture I said, ‘Oh, hold on a second. Wait. It’s not me you’re looking for. It’s that guy.’ And I went over and I got Joe Kennedy.”
Six years later, O’Rourke, Gabbard, and Swalwell are all running for president—O’Rourke is drawing comparisons to Robert Kennedy—and Joe Kennedy and I are in a rental car, rounding an exit from the highway to this small city on the south edge of his district, not far from Rhode Island.
The smokestacks of a factory pop into view outside his window, and Kennedy is talking about what he calls “moral capitalism,” his rethinking of the fundamental rules of the American economy. He’s also pushing back on the thought that what he’s envisioning seems too radical to become reality by comparing it to John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon.
He’s the last Kennedy left in politics. He’s young, has a national profile, and has come at economics and other issues more thoughtfully and more forcefully than most of the people who are running for president.
That’s why a number of party power players, led by Louis Susman, an investment banker and the former ambassador to Britain under Barack Obama, came to him last year, telling him the answer to the “Why not me?” election the Democrats are in the middle of was “Why not you?”
Kennedy listened. He considered running. For brief moments, he even entertained it.
The Democratic primary field is a mix of 70-year-olds with famous names and candidates scrambling to produce enough excitement to break 5 percent in the polls. It already includes six senators, a governor and a former governor, five current or former House members, and a small-city mayor. This could have been Kennedy’s moment, Democratic power brokers told him. He could have been the candidate to transcend the generational divide, with name recognition on par with that of Joe Biden, politics that could match Elizabeth Warren’s, an electric presence, and the social-media savvy of Pete Buttigieg or O’Rourke, who has remained a close friend. Other supporters are worried that there’s only so much longer that the Kennedy name will resonate as loudly—people who were in high school when JFK and RFK were assassinated are already eligible for Social Security.
People were looking for the next Kennedy. They had the next Kennedy right there.
Kennedy, at 38, is now in his fourth term, with curly bright-red hair and a baby face that can make him seem younger. At least so far, he has managed to avoid the demons and debacles that have defined many in the second political generation of his family. He met his wife at Harvard Law—they both took Professor Elizabeth Warren’s class—and the two cut a striking image together. They have two young children under 4 who they show off on their Christmas cards.
He speaks fluent Spanish, from his time in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. He writes congratulatory emails and thank-you notes by hand, and has developed a fan base of insiders impressed with the battles he picks and how he fights them. He’s well liked by most of his colleagues (including, in an odd-couple pairing, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy), and the few who gripe about him, and the attention he gets, know they’re better off not admitting it.
Even at the end of last year, Kennedy would tell people only that he probably wasn’t going to run. He’s been a huge fundraiser for House Democrats over the years and would have been able to call on those contacts. But he’s also just a fourth-term congressman who’s spent most of his time in Washington, D.C., as a backbencher in the minority, and another white man. And just ask Hillary Clinton how dynasties fare in American politics these days.
Kennedy has always had other plans. Most people expect that he will run for governor of Massachusetts in 2022, or senator at some point down the line, though there is some talk already of him being a good running mate for many of the potential Democratic nominees. (The only candidate for whom he couldn’t be vice president is Warren, since both parties of a ticket being from the same state causes complications in the Electoral College—but she’s the one he endorsed early, before it was clear that O’Rourke would run or that his newer friend Buttigieg would surge.)
“He sees this as a marathon, that he has a lot of years ahead of him,” a Kennedy friend told me.
But, the friend went on to wonder, what if the other runners pass him by?
Kennedy chose Fall River as the backdrop for his speech when he was picked in early January 2018 to give the State of the Union response the following month, as part of the Democrats’ continuing evolution in thinking about how to rebut Donald Trump. In 2017, the response was given by Steve Beshear, the older white former governor of Kentucky, who was speaking for the still-2016-shell-shocked party from a table at a diner, surrounded by more older white people. In 2019, it was given by Stacey Abrams, the dynamic African American woman who’d just missed being elected governor of Georgia.
In 2018, the Democrats’ thinking went, Kennedy’s name recognition alone could make people curious enough to tune in, and compete with Trump’s celebrity, allowing the representative a chance to give them a sense of the future with his focus on justice and equality. From the auto-repair shop at a trade school, the hood of an old car propped open behind him, he delivered the party’s first full articulation of how Trump had betrayed America and his own 2016 campaign promises. (The substance of his remarks was eclipsed on Twitter by people getting caught up in mocking him for too much ChapStick making his lips shiny.)
When the news broke that he’d been picked, Kennedy had just come from hours sitting in a classroom at Harvard Law. He was already at work on a speech he was writing on his big idea: moral capitalism. A few months earlier, in late 2017, Kennedy had emailed Sharon Block, the director of the school’s Labor and Worklife Program and a former Ted Kennedy aide, asking for help in developing his concept, which he was viewing as a kind of working political philosophy. He’d come by her office early in the new year and they talked for hours, back and forth, about books to read. They kept the conversation going via email as Kennedy and his staff kept building up ideas.
This felt familiar, Block told me later, from her years working for Ted Kennedy. She organized a session like the ones he used to enjoy, bringing in experts from the law school and business school, MIT, and a few other places.
In telling me about how it went, Block kept bringing up Ted Kennedy. She tends more toward policy discussions than daydreams, but there’s just something about the family, she insisted, and something that’s made its way down to Joe. “I don’t feel like I have to denigrate other people to say he’s unusual or impressive. This has been a more intense interaction, intellectual exercise,” she said, “than I am used to having with members directly.”
Kennedy could have been a barnstormer all over the country in 2018. Instead, he appeared sporadically at best. His first stop after giving the State of the Union response was just a day later, outside Pittsburgh, for Conor Lamb, then running in a special election for an open House seat. Kennedy was one of only a few national Democrats whom Lamb brought in—along with Biden and Representatives Tim Ryan and Seth Moulton—but it was with a very specific, gray-haired pitch, with the Lamb campaign bringing him by a senior center and a campaign headquarters stocked for the day with older volunteers. Neither got the moral-capitalism speech.
A few weeks later, he was the guest of honor at a Broward County Democratic fundraiser in Florida, with the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland still fresh and student survivors in the room. He talked about a nation in shame about not doing enough to control guns, and then he got personal on a topic he’d never touched publicly before: his grandfather’s assassination. He didn’t say Bobby Kennedy or RFK, but a “young senator from New York,” and then, Kennedy said, “the young senator was gone.”
“Far too many families know the pain of sudden loss. We know that time passes, wounds heal—but scars remain. You are forced to live with that empty space in your heart,” he said.
The room wasn’t expecting it. People were in tears.
He didn’t campaign all that much for the rest of the year, wary of going to Iowa because of the speculation it would have set off, though he wanted to help out Abby Finkenauer, the young candidate running in the northeast corner of the state. He’d go where he had family, or where he could bring his wife and kids: to Texas for his friend O’Rourke, and to Michigan for a day of campaigning.
After what turned out to be the most intense day of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, he was across the river at the Northern Virginia Democrats big event of the year, the Kennedy-King Dinner. With black-and-white photographs of his grandfather projected on a screen, he urged people to ignore anyone saying that his party was fractured: “Forget the catchy bumper sticker or the perfect slogan. Democrats are united by a higher calling that drives the Blue Dog and the democratic socialist alike. Our party fights for the dignity and livelihood of every person that calls this country home. Our party will not leave you behind. We meet you where you are.”
Lines like this would light up on Twitter for a day or two. But because they were all just pop-ups, not driving to anything bigger, they’d quickly disappear.
The last Friday before the midterms, Kennedy went to West Virginia to campaign for Talley Sergent, a House candidate who had been written off by the party. No other out-of-state Democrat had come to campaign in West Virginia. No other out-of-state Democrat was wanted. But Sergent had chased Kennedy for months, and there he was, the Massachusetts liberal, in hot demand.
“You could feel the energy pulsating. I felt like we were walking out to some sort of concert of an A-lister like Garth Brooks at Heinz Field,” Sergent says. “He gave people a reason to feel good again, and to feel like we’re not invisible.”
He gets the state, Sergent told me. When I asked her how that could be since he’d never been there before and was on the ground for only a few hours, she went on about how often JFK and RFK had campaigned there in the ’60s, as if the knowledge had come down through his DNA and the decades—and Kennedy himself told a story about checking in with his grandmother Ethel before making the trip.
“Even to this day, there is a special relationship that bypasses generations between the people of West Virginia and the Kennedys,” Sergent said. “We are an older state; there are people who remember those days. He appreciates that, and he represents the future. The mix of the two—people felt comfortable with him. And there’s a trust with the brand that he brings.”
The Kennedy family helped make him a national figure. But the family also exposed him, probably more than anyone else in America, to what a campaign would actually entail for him, his wife, and his kids.
That was what he asked about when he got into what a presidential campaign would involve.
“I had folks tell me what that’s like—you’re in D.C. for your actual real job and you get off an airplane to finish up your votes and hop on an airplane to Iowa or New Hampshire or someplace and you’re there all weekend and then you get back on a plane and you fly back,” he said. “You’re never home.”
Again, Kennedy said, he’s cautious about just trading on his name.
“I don’t want to take advantage of the reputation that other family members of mine have earned without giving the public a chance to actually know who I am,” Kennedy said. “Yes, I think there’s a lot of similarities between the values I share and those of my family members. But there’s differences, too.”
When he needs to, he’ll be the one to defend the family’s legacy, like when he ripped into Eric Trump in March for saying on Fox & Friends that “the Democratic Party is no longer the party of JFK.” In a Twitter thread, he quoted his great-uncle in 1960—“If by a ‘liberal,’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions; someone who cares about the welfare of the people, their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties; someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad; if that is what they mean by a ‘liberal,’ then I’m proud to say I’m a liberal.”
The gripe about Kennedy that is voiced quietly by friends and political professionals alike is that he’s too cautious and has spent so much time stressing about the right way to deploy himself that he’s missed actually deploying himself. They fear he’ll miss his moment.
“He won’t take any chances,” a friend and supporter told me.
How Kennedy handled the internal Democratic-leadership fight in the fall, this friend said, is a perfect example: He came out early and importantly for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker again, but he did that without asking for or getting a committee assignment or a leadership position or anything in return. But Pelosi did provide an emailed quote, via a spokesman, praising his “bold-vision and values-based leadership.”
“Congressman Kennedy’s energetic leadership honors his family’s proud legacy of patriotic service,” the quote went on, “and his unwavering commitment to addressing the challenges facing hard-working families has been essential in our fight to build a better future For The People.”
The Kennedys are historical figures for him just like they are for anyone else, but many were also the people who were around the dinner table—and now they’re people that he’s judged against.
“I have the challenge in my life of basically, almost whatever I do in this role, some family member has done it or said it better than I ever could have before,” he said.
In the context of moral capitalism, he brought up the famous speech his grandfather gave in Kansas the day he launched his 1968 presidential campaign, with the line that gross national product misses “the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.” Fifty years later, it’s the same struggle.
“Unfortunately,” Kennedy told me, “he said it a lot better.”
Kennedy came back to Harvard Law in early February to deliver the completed moral-capitalism speech. Listen carefully, and it could have been a 2020 launch speech, speaking to the pain and anxiety that so many Americans are still feeling, and that so many of the presidential candidates are trying to figure out how to address.
“We let the wealthy divert and dilute resources from public schools, public transit, and public housing meant to level the inevitable tip of capitalist scales, and then criminalize the marginalized when they can’t hang on,” he said. “This is the story of our modern economy, and of a government that aided, abetted, and encouraged its rise. It is the challenge of our time.”
America, he told the packed room, is a place “where we reward vast wealth with tax cuts, loopholes, and endless ways to ensure dollars earn more dollars, but value actual labor at only $7.25 an hour. A place whose laws steadfastly protect multinational corporations like Philips Lighting and General Motors when they harvest millions from government tax cuts while laying off workers from Fall River to Detroit … Here, our medical innovations subsidize global health, but our citizens die rationing insulin they can’t afford. Here, we dehumanize immigrants with one hand while exploiting their cheap labor with the other.”
A riff at the end of the speech was pure Joe Kennedy—carefully elevated wordplay delivered with long pauses, a clenched hand hitting the end of each point and a voice that sounded like it was about to crack. He got to it talking about how Trump had usurped America’s story, turning people against one another so that “Americans today fight each other over the scraps of our system, instead of uniting to fight a system that finds them worthy of only scraps to begin with.”
“They bear the swollen, stubborn scars of a government that has, for much of a half century, abdicated its role as guarantor of economic equity and a country that has made it difficult to be middle class, excruciating to be poor, and downright impossible to be poor and—” he said, and then he explained, “poor and black. Poor and brown. Poor and female. Poor and gay. Poor and sick or old or addicted.”
A couple of days after the speech, Kennedy endorsed Warren for president. She calls her platform “accountable capitalism,” but she and Kennedy agree that they’re basically talking about the same thing he calls moral capitalism.
Warren says she was impressed that Kennedy first laid out moral capitalism at the New England Council in Boston the week after Thanksgiving—at what could have been a perfect moment to test drive a presidential platform.
I asked Warren why she gets tagged as a radical when Kennedy is also saying that capitalism is “badly broken and rightfully under attack.”
“That’s an interesting question,” Warren said. She was in a car back to her Senate office from MSNBC’s studio, where she’d been talking up her proposal to break up the big technology companies.
“I think of it like music,” Warren said. “Good to have lots of instruments playing in concert.”
His endorsement came at her official launch event in front of the old mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts, that had been the site of the Bread and Roses strike in 1912 by immigrant textile workers protesting a cut in their wages. He quoted a speech his grandfather had made in 1968. “Joe is a modest person, and it didn’t surprise me when he batted back suggestions that he run,” Warren said. I asked her if she thinks he will eventually—naturally, after the two terms of the Warren administration that she’s looking to win herself—and she said, “I hope so.”
Kennedy’s district office is in Newton, a few miles outside of Boston, across the street from a strip of strip malls. A Dunkin’ Donuts is on one side of the road; a Whole Foods is on the other. Kennedy prefers breakfast at the Whole Foods. The day after his moral-capitalism speech went over well at Harvard Law School was when we made the drive from Newton to Fall River, about 45 minutes away. “That whole democratic adage of saying, ‘If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to get ahead’?” he said in the car. “They are working very hard, they are playing by every set of rules, and they’re not. And if they’re not, that means the system that is responsible for setting up those rules has to reexamine those rules—and that’s government.”
He knows he was born rich and white and with a family that has a famous compound and that gave him a multimillion-dollar trust fund. He also believes that if capitalism isn’t radically rethought, democracy will collapse. But Kennedy isn’t a socialist, and he doesn’t want socialism to be where his party is headed, although he understands why what’s happening in the country and the world has driven some Democrats in that direction.
Fall River is a town where the problems go much deeper than the crumbling streets and the 27-year-old mayor who was just recalled and reelected on the same day, after charges of fraud and falsifying his tax returns. The town is heavy on melodrama and dysfunction: The previous mayor was investigated for pulling a gun on the current mayor when he was a city councilman. And while all this was playing out, the streets were full of potholes and city services were a mess.
About two months after Kennedy gave the State of the Union response from Fall River, Philips Lighting, a major employer, announced that it was closing its manufacturing plant in town and moving operations to Canada. The workers had been recognized by the company for being one of the best plants in the nation, but within a year of that announcement, about 160 people were out of a job. Kennedy started reaching out to the White House as soon as Philips said it was leaving, reminding Trump’s people that the president had publicly shamed other companies for just this kind of move.
Now that he was back in Fall River, meeting with a few Philips workers in the local offices of their union—secretly, so as not to jeopardize the temporary benefits that the company had promised—Kennedy summed up the response he’d received from Trump in a word: “crickets.”
The workers all wore worry on their faces. A union leader, his voice coming through a speakerphone, thanked “Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy the Third” and read a prepared statement in exactly the accent you’re imagining. A year after Kennedy’s State of the Union rebuttal, the stock market was up, as Trump likes to point out, but the real economy had settled in. The workers told Kennedy that they just wanted a little more time before they hit retirement. They also felt they were due some recognition for helping make Philips Lighting a success for so many years.
Instead, they were scrambling to get retrained, trying to find some way of making the math work on their mortgages and car payments, even if that meant getting a temporary job for $15 an hour.
A few weeks after that trip to Fall River, Kennedy was back in Washington, standing outside the Capitol, squinting in the sun. The House had just passed his resolution rejecting Trump’s ban on transgender service in the military, with every Democratic vote and five Republicans. Kennedy had called a press conference, but he left most of the talking to everyone else there: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a collection of other members, and six veterans, including one who asked what being transgender had to do with working on radar-jamming airplanes.
As much as Hoyer praised Kennedy for his work keeping the caucus together, it was only part way to a symbolic victory. It was a resolution and not a law, and it didn’t go anywhere in the Senate before Trump’s ban took effect last week. Same goes for Kennedy’s evisceration of administration officials over work requirements for Medicaid and insulin prices in recent months: They became viral moments, but so far, at least, haven’t amounted to much more than tweets.
When I asked Kennedy after the press conference why he was so focused on this, or on the rest of his work as the chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus’s Transgender Equality Task Force, he launched into a typical Joe Kennedy moment, in which he managed to sound both completely heartfelt and a little too much like a Boy Scout to be believed. “Because everybody counts. Because that’s what this country’s about. The first words of our founding documents are that we were all created equal and when we said ‘All men are created equal,’ we meant rich white Protestant men. And the 200-plus years since, we have tried, and struggled, and fallen short, but picked up and struggled again to make sure that that word men actually starts to mean women, and African Americans, and Hispanics, and immigrants, and the LGBT community, and everybody else,” Kennedy said. “And I come out of work every day in front of that building, the Supreme Court, and etched in stone above those columns says ‘Equal justice under law’—and the rights I enjoy as a straight white guy are different than the ones the transgender community has to protect them. And that’s just not right, and that’s just not fair.”
Whether Trump wins a second term next year or not, the numbers about America’s future are pretty clear. It’s not going to be more white, more male, more bound to the traditional power centers. Demographics aren’t destiny, which would seem to be bad news in the long term both for Trump-style politics and for a rich white man who is literally the scion of America’s great political dynasty, not yet 40 and betting on there still being time for a big political future past this year.
He’d said in his moral-capitalism speech that he hoped the 2020 election and history would put Trump in his “rightful place.” When I asked him what he thought that rightful place would be, Kennedy said, “His rightful place in history is a candidate that called on some of the darkest impulses of an American electorate at a particularly vulnerable time to elevate his own political prospects.”
Judgments of history and politics are intertwined for the Kennedys, and for Joe Kennedy. There was a line in his speech about not allowing Trump-style politics to go unchallenged. Still, as he’s watched the field fill up, it seemed to speak to his decision to let the race move forward without him at a time when the country and the politics his family helped shape hang in the balance.
“At this particular moment in history, we are reminded of exactly what happens if we take another path,” Kennedy said, “If we choose not to act, someone else will.”
Water from the rooftop pool of a skyscraper in the Philippines was filmed cascading from the top edge of the building like a strange suburban waterfall following the 6.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked Manila. Read Full Article at RT.com
In the first of her monthly car-free coast series, our writer takes the train to the Vale of Glamorgan, to explore its beaches and clifftops by bus and on foot
Clifftop bluebells frame the view. Below us is the beach we’ve just crossed, balancing on barnacle-crusted rocks and jumping over rain-boosted streams. As the falcon flies, we’re less than 20 miles from Cardiff, but there is a wild remoteness here in the cascading valleys, pungent with wild garlic, and shining sand that mirrors a cloudy sky.
I’ve joined the Vale of Glamorgan branch of the Ramblers for a walk along the crumbling shore, after first filling up on gourmet fish and chips in Monknash. Cliffs rise like shale-and-limestone layer cake over curving waves of rock, and a huge fossilised ammonite clings to one stony ledge.
“I used to lighten the moment if my father used to get angry in just a minute. I like to play with words even now. But now, things are misconstrued and half-baked sentences are used. But I am scared now what if …my intentions are not that.. and they are misused,” the Prime Minister said during the interview.
Just after midnight, I felt the first unmistakable contraction. I still had two days until my due date, but I knew it was time to get to the hospital. A bulldozer inside my uterus revved its engine, shifted into high gear, and rammed a baby out into the world less than two hours later. Her name would be Isobel, Izzy for short.
She weighed five pounds, three ounces, below the threshold for “normal.” This was surprising—I’d had an uneventful pregnancy, and in one of my last prenatal checkups, my obstetrician predicted that she’d weigh about seven pounds.
Did the doctor miscalculate my due date? I wondered. Should I have taken more prenatal vitamins? Eaten better, worked less?
There would be no explanation, at least not then. We moved upstairs into a recovery room with a view of the summer sun rising behind the Oakland, California, hills. In those early-morning hours, I cradled Izzy’s warm, powdery body and nestled into a feeling that everything was fine.
Five weeks later my father, a retired pediatrician, put a stethoscope to Izzy’s chest and heard a hissing noise. An echocardiogram two days after that revealed a small hole in the membrane dividing the lower chambers of her heart, causing oxygenated blood to leak back into her lungs. The cardiologist explained that her heart was working harder than it needed to, burning extra calories and keeping her small.
Odds were that over the next few months, new tissue would grow and the hole would “spontaneously” close. Considering how much of human development happens on its own, for a heart to correct itself in this way seemed perfectly plausible. I told myself that’s what would happen. At Christmas and New Year’s Eve gatherings with family and friends, that’s what I told them, too.
But my hope was no match for the eventual and unanimous recommendation from a panel of two dozen cardiologists: open-heart surgery, and soon. A force I could not see was starting to take over.
As Izzy’s surgery date neared, I could feel the panic slowly and steadily growing inside me. I retreated into what could be known: A cardiopulmonary-bypass machine would bring her body to a sub-hypothermic temperature, allowing the heart to stop beating. The surgeon would saw through the sternum, shave a tiny piece of tissue off the heart’s outer membrane, and use it to patch the hole. A resident would sew her back up.
Two conversations helped convince me that after the surgery, Izzy would grow up healthy and things for our family would return to normal. The first was with a couple whose son had the same procedure with the same surgeon. They apologized for having to mute the phone for short stretches to temper their 5-year-old’s rambunctiousness, something I found reassuring.
The second was an email exchange with a woman who underwent a valve replacement in the 1970s, when open-heart surgery on babies was still relatively uncommon. “I was a three-season athlete in high school,” she wrote, “and did all the partying that everyone else did. The only impact on me was a scar that healed well and frankly, made me feel like a bit of a badass.”
Less than 24 hours after doctors had wheeled Izzy into the operating room for surgery, she was guzzling down bottles of high-calorie formula. In 72 hours, her rosiness returned; eight days later, we left the hospital and arrived home to find the first buds on our magnolia tree. Within a few weeks, Izzy had gained enough weight to make her growth-chart debut at the 0.2 percentile. Witnessing her scar heal was like watching a time-lapse movie, only in real time.
I started the process of reeling our ship back to shore—we’d be there soon, I thought. My parents booked their flight back to the East Coast, and my husband started a new job earlier than planned. Disillusioned by my last tech job, I was determined to make a fresh start somewhere else. I could envision the end of Izzy’s recovery period, the loving nanny I’d finally hire, a more deliberate career.
But, no. Just as we’d caught sight of land, we were again suddenly unmoored, pushed by unforgiving hands back out into the dark, open sea.
The cardiologist called on an unseasonably warm afternoon, a Tuesday last April.
Sure, I have a few minutes.
I glanced at Izzy, eight months old, wearing only a diaper. The edges of the five-inch incision line down the middle of her chest were still red and puckered from the suture removal a few days earlier. Her scar served as a visual cue that, surely, the worst was behind us.
The call itself was not a shock. One week before surgery, a neurologist had examined Izzy and noticed abnormalities in her facial features so subtle that I, her mother, could barely see them myself—slightly wide-set eyes, straight eyebrows, a thin upper lip, a tiny hole on the upper ridge of her ear that I’d mistaken for a mole. Genetic testing would be the sensible next step, the neurologist had said. He’d ordered seven vials of Izzy’s blood to be drawn in the OR.
The cardiologist began with a “Well …” followed by a sigh. Then his voice assumed the objectivity of a radio traffic reporter describing a seven-car wreck, and he rattled off the details he knew.
I absorbed only the keywords—“abnormal result … syndrome … genetic material missing …”—and scribbled “1p36” on the back of a stray Home Depot receipt. Anxious for more information, I ended the call and grabbed my laptop.
I steadied my fingers and clicked through to an online forum where parents had celebrated their child’s first step at 3, 4, or 8 years old. They compared devices to help nonverbal children communicate and shared work-arounds to Keppra, an anti-seizure medication that can cause kids to bite themselves or hallucinate.
As I skimmed their posts, my heart pounded and I started to hyperventilate. Air was stuck in my throat; I screamed to let it out, gripping the edge of the kitchen counter so I could scream louder. I felt as if I was suffocating in a room filled with invisible pillows, and the only thing that could cut through it was noise in the form of very loud, guttural, incomprehensible screaming. I slammed a door leading into the bedroom and pounded the walls. I remember thinking, I don’t give a shit if the neighbors hear.
The internet confirmed a truth that up until that moment lay beyond the boundaries of what I’d ever imagined possible for my child’s life or my own. As a mental warm-up before her birth, I’d imagined Izzy in painful situations that were both better (a broken arm, pneumonia, being bullied) and far worse (my death, or hers). I hadn’t imagined a scenario in which she might not walk or talk, or where she’d live with debilitating seizures. I hadn’t imagined that I might be uncertain whether she recognizes me. I hadn’t imagined caring for her for the rest of my life. I now had two children, but was only just beginning to understand what it means to be a parent.
The next day, my husband left early for his third day of work at his new job. In an orientation session about employee volunteering, while the presenter rolled a video about the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he sat in the back row and wept. Meanwhile, after a long, sleepless night, my son watched cartoons as I crawled through Izzy’s morning routine, taking breaks to ice my swollen eyelids. I finally got everyone dressed and dropped him off at preschool a few hours late without the words to explain why.
The day after that, Izzy and I had a geneticist appointment at the medical campus five blocks away. I’d been here before. Almost one year earlier, in my second trimester, I’d sat through the routine prenatal screening for birth defects and Down syndrome. The results had been normal.
The geneticist came in to greet me and Izzy. As I took in her easy, welcoming smile, a wave of relief washed over me. The test was wrong, and this is all a terrible mistake!
This was a delusion. She led us into an examination room, where we were joined by a younger, more clinical assistant. I called my husband and put him on speakerphone—we’d agreed before the appointment that he didn’t need to be there in person, a sign that at some level we had not yet fully grasped the magnitude of Izzy’s diagnosis.
The geneticist told us that my daughter has “the most common of rare syndromes diagnosed after birth.” Her tone remained gentle, but unequivocal.
“The size of her genetic deletion is clinically significant.”
“It’s hard to say what that means in terms of how the syndrome will present.”
I recounted some of what the internet had told me. Will she walk? Talk? Hear? Seize? See?
“We just have to wait and see.”
We reviewed three single-spaced pages of test results that looked as though they had come out of a dot-matrix printer. The geneticist was quick to clarify that “terminal deletion” referred to the physical location of Izzy’s 133 missing genes (that is, the terminus of the “p” arm of chromosome 1) and did not suggest that the syndrome itself leads to death, although its complications sometimes can. A second, more user-friendly handout summarized the syndrome’s most common “features” in a tidy, bullet-pointed list: seizures, deafness, blindness, low muscle tone, feeding issues, digestive disorders, heart disease, heart defects, kidney disease, intellectual disability, and behavior problems.
I fixated on the likelihood that Izzy would be nonverbal, feeling gutted by the possibility that she might not talk or even develop the coordination to sign. How would she express herself? How would I know her?
My husband left the appointment by hanging up. The geneticist briefly examined Izzy’s “curly” toes, noting it as a common and typically benign congenital anomaly—connected to her syndrome, perhaps, but no one could know for sure.
I packed up our things and made our way home. The only certainty I left with was that I had a lot more to worry about than a couple of curly toes.
Books, the internet, and friends said I would go through a grieving period. But I am still not entirely sure what I am grieving.
I didn’t lose a child; now a year post-op, Izzy is here and very much alive. She shakes her head vigorously when she’s happy, and grunts indignantly when she’s not. She has gobs of voluminous hair that looks as if it’s been blown out at a salon—a common trait for “1pers,” who bear a strong physical resemblance to one another; many don’t look like their parents. But unlike most “typical” 21-month-old toddlers, she cannot yet sit up by herself (let alone toddle), grab a spoon, or use any words to communicate. A few weeks ago, she started to regularly say “aaaah,” one of the vowel sounds that are the first forms of speech—a milestone that most babies hit at four to five months old.
I spent the months following Izzy’s diagnosis deeply confused about how I should feel. Her heart defect had been an isolated biological issue, and the surgery was a relatively common procedure. The hole is gone. A genetic syndrome is different—uncontained and unfixable. Every cell in Izzy’s body lacks some data, and there’s no way those data can be recovered.
During sleepless nights, I anchored my grief in the heft of Far From the Tree, Andrew Solomon’s profound, 1,000-page book about the challenges parents face in accepting differences in their children. “We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die,” Solomon writes. “Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do.” The book offered me a crucial mooring. Powerless to change my circumstances, I could at least change my psychology.
I am learning that grief can be complicated and ambiguous—that we hold ideas and expectations of ourselves and loved ones so tightly that we have difficulty seeing them from any distance, and that it’s even harder to let them go.
I can describe what’s gone. I’ve lost the buoyancy I gained from the conversation with the parents of the rambunctious 5-year-old boy. I no longer feel the relief, even joy, of envisioning Izzy as an athletic, partying, badass teenager.
I lost any lightheartedness I had left as the 40-year-old mother of two young children. I lost my faith in statistics. A 99.98 percent chance of something not happening is also a .02 percent chance that it will.
I lost the ability to enjoy the scene of my two kids together without feeling guilty that I’d sold my son short. Instead, it’s a reminder of the responsibility I feel to gently acculturate him to the strange, politicized world of disability rights and rare diseases, and to breed empathy and a respect of difference in him above all else.
I lost the identity, earnings, and lifestyle that came with having an upward career trajectory and being an equal breadwinner to my husband. We now have the sort of traditional arrangement I never thought I’d be in: He makes all the money, and I do most of the emotional, logistical, and physical labor of child-rearing. For Izzy, this includes frequent doctor appointments, three therapy sessions a week, and a lot of open-ended research and worrying.
This laundry list of dreams lost has positive value, Solomon maintains. “While optimism can propel day-to-day life forward, realism allows parents to regain a feeling of control over what is happening and to come to see their trauma as smaller than it first seemed.”
Without crumbly, unreliable hope, what else is there? There’s my child, no less alive or human than any other, and with abilities and inabilities much different than I imagined. And realism, which I’ll use to reassemble a positive, long-term picture of what her life could be. Izzy’s diagnosis wiped my canvas clean. But while the expanse of whiteness is unsettling, it is also temporary. Soon there will be lines, contours, shading—a new and beautiful composition. I will not accept less.
In 'Shoah through Muslim Eyes,' Dr. Mehnaz Afridi asserts that Muslims’ refusal to accept Israel is one of the main reasons for their Holocaust denial, and describes what it's like to be the only Muslim visiting Dachau
Chris Rush was a Catholic kid, the middle child of seven in a brood headed by distracted, sometimes damaging parents. Their mother “regarded her children as her audience,” Rush writes, “and once we’d applauded, we could do as we wished.” Like his mother, Rush had a flair for the dramatic — setting...
Editor’s Note: In the next five years, most of America’s most experienced teachers will retire. The Baby Boomers are leaving behind a nation of more novice educators. In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. Less than three decades later, that number had fallen to just five years leading a classroom. The Atlantic’s “On Teaching” project is crisscrossing the country to talk to veteran educators. This story is the fifth in our series.
On a late February afternoon, Angela Crawford, an English teacher, stood in front of about three dozen Philadelphia educators—mostly young, black women—as they all swapped stories of small victories and challenges in their classrooms. Dressed in a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt and slim black slacks, Crawford, at one point, reflected on what has helped her remain resilient while working in some of the nation’s least resourced and most segregated classrooms for 23 years.
“Black women are caretakers of everyone else but ourselves,” she said. “You need daily rituals for your mind, body, and soul to stay in this profession. No one is going to move me from my daily workout and sleep. Block out weekly time for yourself: sit in silence, read for pleasure, buy yourself a nice dinner and flowers. That’s how I will have energy tomorrow to honor, listen, and uplift my students.”
Crawford has observed firsthand the rise and fall of black teachers in the city. When she was a student in Philadelphia in the ’70s, the city’s schools were desegregating and federal and state governments were pouring extra resources into buildings serving black students to compensate for a long history of racial exclusion. A decade before that, black students and educators in the city led one of the largest youth walkouts of the civil-rights era, which resulted in more integrated schools, more black teachers, and the addition of African American history in the school curriculum.
Today, Martin Luther King Jr. High School, where Crawford has taught since 2014, is highly segregated: Ninety-three percent of its students are black and only 1 percent are white. It’s one of roughly 6,700 schools nationwide in which 1 percent or less of the student body is white. And it’s also in a state with one of the country’s most unequally funded education systems: Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom of the country in the state share of education funding, making districts like Philadelphia reliant on property taxes to fund its schools, which deepens the inequities between rich and poor districts. Pennsylvania is also one of 14 states that sends more money to its wealthy districts than its poorest ones.
As fellow black colleagues have left the profession, Crawford has doubled down on organizing as a way to improve the quality of education for her students. She is a member the racial-justice committee of the Caucus of Working Educators, a local chapter of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union. The group brings together teachers, students, and parents calling for recruitment and retention of more black teachers, fewer police officers, and anti-racist training for teachers.
Crawford and her fellow organizers have been pushing back against the presence of police officers at schools, metal detectors and body scanners for children, punitive rules, and classrooms focused on standardized tests—which they believe lead teachers to behave like police officers rather than educators. While such approaches are meant to improve the safety of students, studies have linked them to increases in harsh disciplinary tactics and out-of-school suspensions, which disproportionately affect black students. “This climate is dehumanizing and creates obstacles to forming the kind of relationships that promote intellectual engagement,” Crawford says.
As a result, Crawford often tells young educators that, sometimes, they must resist policies they consider pedagogically inappropriate in their classrooms. Crawford insists on foregoing worksheets and multiple-choice questions geared toward state tests for assessments that she views as more rigorous and relevant for success in work and life: open-ended writing, speaking, listening, presentations, and performances.
As an adolescent, she earned the nickname of “professional student” for always carrying around half a dozen books in her backpack—most which came from her home library. Crawford’s mother spent much of her time and limited money on building a large library, with books from authors like Marcus Garvey and James Baldwin. “Everything I learned about black history and culture before college came from home,” said Crawford, who spent most of her school years in predominantly white Catholic schools. “In our home, the most common directive you heard from my mother was, ‘Go read a book.’”
That bookishness led to success at school, but didn’t inoculate her from jeering classmates. In her elementary school, Crawford was one of just three black students in the building. These were some of the toughest years in Crawford’s childhood, filled with racist slurs and abusive comments from classmates about her big, thick-rimmed glasses. In the third grade, Crawford’s teacher told her that she wasn’t smart enough to be in her school and should consider finding another one.
By the sixth grade, Crawford was plotting her first act of protest. “I don’t like how you are treating me,” she told a teacher, “I’m not coming back.” Soon after, Crawford’s mother transferred her to another Catholic school with more black students.
In the last year of middle school, Crawford transferred to the majority black neighborhood school. There, for the first time, Crawford experienced both high academic expectations and a sense of belonging as a student. At E. Washington Rhodes Middle School, Crawford had her first experience with veteran black teachers in the classroom. “These women put on their best clothes to school every day: stilettos, dresses, beautiful coats,” she told me. “They loved their jobs. They loved the kids. And they pushed you to do your best work every day in a disciplined, no-nonsense way.”
Around this time, Crawford decided that she wanted to become a teacher, so that she could help create the kind of classrooms that allowed her and her black classmates to thrive in school. She noticed that veteran black teachers—and many of their white colleagues who learned from them—ran rigorous, well-structured classrooms, but also got to know their students’ personal lives and intellectual interests. They knew when a student needed a push, cheering up, or help calming down. They knew how to organize adults in the school and enlist help from a student’s community to ensconce each child in a supportive web of high expectations and warm relationships. “My college counselor reminded me of my grandmother,” Crawford said. “These women were your mama, auntie, disciplinarian, coach, and your biggest cheerleader.”
In 1997, after becoming the first in her family to graduate from college, Crawford returned to E. Washington Rhodes Middle School as an English teacher. By then the school had fewer black teachers, but most were still veterans who coached younger teachers and established a school climate of high expectations and relationships that resembled familial bonds. Crawford’s alma mater still had arts and music programs, many student clubs, a library, a gym, and a robust maintenance staff to keep the building in pristine shape.
Two decades later, because of school resegregation and chronic budget cuts that have accelerated in recent years, most of those student clubs and electives have largely disappeared. Martin Luther King, Jr. High School has no library. The school employs twice as many school police officers than counselors, and students have to pass through metal detectors before entering the school. As pressures to deliver higher test scores have increased, public displays of individual student outcomes on multiple-choice tests have replaced student essays and art that used to adorn many classroom walls.
With so relatively few veteran black teachers, Crawford feels a unique responsibility to show her African American students that their lives, interests, and culture really do matter. Behind Crawford’s desk, underneath a large “Education is Liberation” poster, are pictures of black icons that students read in her classes—James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Dr. King, Angela Davis, and Octavius Catto, a local anti-segregation organizer and teacher murdered for his activism in 1871. In Crawford’s English classes, she includes many historic texts by black authors to highlight the intellectual and cultural contributions of African Americans, as well as narratives of black triumph over racism.
Crawford told me that culturally relevant content promotes student engagement in their work and reduces the number of disaffected students—and the reliance on suspensions as a way to manage them. Most importantly, Crawford believes that black authors help students develop an understanding of why racial disparities persist—even among black students earning high test scores or living at the top of the economic ladder—and help kids see how critical thinking through writing can challenge the power structures that maintain such disparities.
“Ms. Crawford finds books that connect to our lives,” said a senior in one of her classes who is not being identified by name since he’s a minor. “In other English classes, we read textbooks, and study metaphors and similes from copied articles. Here, we study ideas, learn our history, and prepare for the real world.”
Crawford told me that her generation of educators is fighting to continue this tradition centered on black culture and relationships—at a time when the need for such support has only multiplied. Today, Philadelphia struggles with higher rates of poverty than when Crawford was a student in the ‘70s, and schools have become more segregated since Crawford began teaching in 1995. Half of Philadelphia’s poor residents are black—and 29 percent of them live in racially isolated areas of concentrated poverty, many in the West and North Philadelphia, where Martin Luther King, Jr. High School is located.
Her students often have a lot to deal with outside of school: gun violence and public brutality are rampant, as are foster care and homelessness.“Some of the things our children face today, I would never had to deal with as a kid myself,” Crawford told me. “Many of my students have witnessed their friends beings shot, some live with grandparents because their parents struggle with various hardships, others are homeless.”
Right below the portraits of Dr. King and Angela Davis, Crawford keeps a memorial box for the names of her students’ lost family members and friends, surrounded by electric candles and African mud cloths—which Crawford uses as symbols of resilience and creativity of people in the African diaspora. Recent studies suggest that caring relationships—rather than reactive punishment, like out-of-school suspensions—can help buffer children and teens against the long-term health effects of chronic stress and trauma.
“At the beginning of the school year, I tell students, ‘If you want to pay homage to someone, put their name in the basket,’” she says. “I want them to know that if they are hurt, angry, or grieving, I understand that and will create space for that. When students feel that they won’t be judged, that they can bring their full selves—intellectually, emotionally, spiritually—they are much more likely to trust the learning process and take intellectual risks.”
SAN FRANCISCO—The thought I had when the $100 chicken nugget hit my expectant tongue was the one cartoon villains have when they entrap a foreign critter and roast him over a spit: It tastes like chicken.
That’s because it was chicken—albeit chicken that had never laid an egg, sprouted a feather, or been swept through an electrified-water bath for slaughter. This chicken began life as a primordial mush in a bioreactor whose dimensions and brand I’m not allowed to describe to you, for intellectual-property reasons. Before that, it was a collection of cells swirling calmly in a red-hued, nutrient-rich “media,” with a glass flask for an eggshell. The chicken is definitely real, and technically animal flesh, but it left the world as it entered it—a mass of meat, ready for human consumption, with no brain or wings or feet.
This meat was what most of the world calls “lab grown,” but what Just, the company that makes the nugget, and other Silicon Valley start-ups want me to call “cultured meat” or “cell-based” meat, or better yet, “clean meat.” The argument is that almost all the food we eat, at some point, crosses a laboratory, whether in the course of researching flavors or perfecting packaging. So it is not fair to single out this particular product as being associated with freaky science. (Yes, I raised the point that all meat is technically cell-based, too, and no, this did not persuade anyone at the start-ups.)
“Every big brewery has a little room in the back which is clean, and has people in white lab coats, and they’re not ‘lab-grown’ beer,” argues Michael Selden, the co-founder of a cell-based-fish start-up, Finless Foods. “But we’re for some reason lab-grown fish, even though it really is the exact same thing.”
Regardless of what you call it, Just and others say it’s coming. Just, which was called Hampton Creek until last year, started out making vegan “eggs” and mayonnaise, then revealed in 2017 that it had also been working on cultured meat. The nugget was served to me to demonstrate that Just isn’t vaporware, in Silicon Valley parlance, or in this case, vapor-poultry. There’s a there there, and it’s edible.
Just has been mired in turmoil in recent years, as board members resigned and former employees complained of shoddy science. (CEO Josh Tetrick calls the claims “blatantly wrong.”) Because of what the company said are regulatory hurdles, Just missed its goal of making a commercial sale of the chicken nuggets by the end of 2018. The Atlantic ran a somewhat unflattering profile of Tetrick in 2017, implying that the company is more style than substance.
Tetrick seemed eager to prove this magazine wrong. He told me he tries not to get too down about bad press. A couple of years ago, “we were pretty much just selling mayonnaise,” he said. But now the plant-based Just Egg, which was practically a prototype when the Atlantic article came out, is in grocery stores, and as of this week, you can order it at Bareburger and the mid-Atlantic chain Silver Diner.
Cultured chicken is, too, now on the horizon—that is, if people are willing to eat it. And if Just can ever make enough of it to feed them.
Tetrick is hawklike and southern, which, when combined with his conservational tendencies, lends him young–Al Gore energy. He’s nostalgic for chicken wings even though he’s vegan and does not eat them. When I visited Just a few weeks ago, he showed me a photo of wads of meat and fat in a bowl. They are chunks of Japanese beef that the company hopes to grow into a cultured version by scraping off samples within 24 hours of the animal’s demise. This product wasn’t ready for me to taste yet, but it’s important, in Tetrick’s view, to be a little bit aspirational. “If my team cannot see where we want to go, they’re never gonna go there,” he said.
“There”is a world in which cultured meat is inexpensive and everyone eats it, even if those same people have never heard of tempeh. Living, breathing, belching livestock is responsible for 15 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, about on par with cars. But Tetrick thinks that for many Americans, flavor and price rule the shopping cart, not environmentalism.
“I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, so imagine one of my friends who doesn’t care about any of the shit that I’m doing now,” he said, while perched on a bar stool in front of Just’s test kitchen. This hypothetical friend goes to a Piggly Wiggly to buy burgers. Except—oh wait!—next to the animal-based patties wrapped in clear plastic, he sees a Just burger patty for less money. “That, to me, is what it’s gonna take in order to break the dam of a habit,” Tetrick said.
Animal meat is a habit that many young Americans are ready to abandon. A quarter of 25-to-34-year-old Americans now say they are vegans or vegetarians, prompting The Economist to proclaim 2019 “the year of the vegan.” Burger King this month introduced a Whopper made with a plant-based Impossible patty. True, chicken grown in a bioreactor like Just’s is still animal, not vegetable; but without the factory-farming component, some vegetarians and vegans might be inclined to love their chickens and eat them too.
I am the ideal customer for this, because I enjoy meat-like flavors but don’t appreciate the more carnal elements of meat. I’m sure the Wrangler-clad Texan Council will revoke my Texanship for saying this, but I have never had a rare steak. I’ve never eaten something and thought, I wish this would make more of a murdery mess on my plate. And yet, I have no interest in passing up barbecue or Tex-Mex when I visit home or in telling my first-generation immigrant parents that I no longer eat meat. I would like a protein-rich substance that reminds me of my childhood and injects a robust, savory essence into my salad. I do not, however, care if that substance was ever technically alive.
Because frankly, life for many mass-bred animals is no life at all. In her book Big Chicken, Maryn McKenna describes seeing 30,000 birds crammed into a hot shed, some with bellies rubbed raw and legs twisted underneath them. Or, behold this description of the chicken-slaughtering process in a 2017 New Yorker story about Case Farms in Canton, Ohio:
At the plant, the birds are dumped into a chute that leads to the “live hang” area, a room bathed in black light, which keeps the birds calm. Every two seconds, employees grab a chicken and hang it upside down by its feet. “This piece here is called a breast rub,” Chester Hawk, the plant’s burly maintenance manager, told me, pointing to a plastic pad. “It’s rubbing their breast, and it’s giving them a calming sensation. You can see the bird coming toward the stunner. He’s very calm.” The birds are stunned by an electric pulse before entering the “kill room,” where a razor slits their throats as they pass. The room looks like the set of a horror movie: blood splatters everywhere and pools on the floor. One worker, known as the “backup killer,” stands in the middle, poking chickens with his knife and slicing their necks if they’re still alive.
(In response to the New Yorker story, Case Farms issued a statement that read, in part, “Our employees and growers share a committed responsibility to ensure the well-being and humane handling of all animals in our care.”)
Just’s process, meanwhile, is much more clinical. The company takes live cells from biopsies that don’t require the death of the chicken. It then isolates the cells that are most likely to grow, and gently nurtures them in tank-like bioreactors in a soup of proteins, sugar, and vitamins.
Across the bay from Just, in Emeryville, California, Finless Foods is attempting to perform this same procedure on fish. It’s not as far along as Just: Finless Foods has only 11 employees, to Just’s 120. Its office looks even less like a traditional workplace, with mismatched desks that early employees picked up from a used-furniture store. Its largest bioreactor holds only a liter of fish meat, while Just expects that in the “near term,” its bioreactors will have a capacity of hundreds to thousands of liters.
Finless Foods’ Michael Selden rattled off an assortment of environmental and social injustices that motivate the need for cultured meat, from microplastics in our oceans, to greenhouse gases from shipping, to what he calls “environmental imperialism”: “The way that we get our food is very much just sort of like, we take what we want,” he told me. “If you live in San Francisco and you eat bluefin tuna, that bluefin tuna almost definitely comes from the Philippines. And we basically have fishing fleets in the Philippines that are, like, destroying local ecosystems to feed us.”
Whether Americans are sufficiently distraught over the state of Filipino ecosystems to replace a dinnertime staple remains to be seen. But for now, these companies have bigger challenges to getting to market.
For Finless Foods, a major hurdle is texture. It aims to make cultured bluefin tuna, which in animal form glistens like raspberry jam and springs back like a wet sponge. “I will not say we’ve fully solved that problem, because I’d be totally lying,” Selden said. The few journalists who have tasted the product were served a carp croquette that one reporter described as having “a pleasant aftertaste of the sea, though not fish as such.” Selden is looking into 3-D printing as a potential path to creating a sashimi-like simulacrum.
Similarly, when I asked Tetrick when his nuggets would actually be on sale, he glanced at Andrew Noyes, Just’s PR guy. “I know Andrew loves when I give timelines,” he said coyly. “I drive him crazy. It’s more likely than not … between now and the end of the year that we’re selling outside of the United States.”
Before that happens, the bioreactors need to get larger, and there have to be many, many more of them, without sacrificing quality. Tetrick estimated that there would need to be 25 to 100 culturing facilities just to fulfill America’s demand for meat. These companies are also searching for a way to reduce the cost of the “media”—the vitamin slush the cells incubate in—potentially by reusing it.
Finally, the Just employees told me, they need the U.S. government to figure out a way to regulate the product, so people can rest assured that it’s not going to make them ill.
Al Almanza, the former acting deputy undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, agrees that there aren’t enough data yet for food inspectors to know what’s normal or abnormal—and thus potentially unsafe—in a cultured-chicken plant. But he also says that regulators would probably expedite approval for Just if the company reached a scale at which it could sell its cultured meat, which it hasn’t yet. (The USDA did not return a request for comment.) And while Just argues that its process is better, from a food-safety standpoint, than animal slaughter, we only have the company’s word to go on at this point.
“Unless you have a perfectly sterile facility, with a cleanroom, and the bioreactors are being operated by robots, you’re at risk of some kind of contamination,” says Ben Wurgaft, a writer and historian who’s writing a book about laboratory-grown meat.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has argued that only beef that’s been raised and slaughtered should be labeled “beef.” Just fervently hopes that when labeling rules do come down, it will be allowed to call its product “meat,” rather than “lab-grown meat,” for the good of public relations, if not fairness. “Back in Alabama, where all my old friends drive pickup trucks, imagine if Tesla put out a really fast, really affordable pickup truck, but Tesla couldn’t call it a pickup truck,” Tetrick said. “On the back, they had to say, like, ‘Electric mobility transport wheeler,’ or some godforsaken name. My friends do not want to drive that, because it fucks with their identity, unfortunately.”
On my visit to Just’s office, I asked Josh Hyman, the company’s chief of staff for research and development, whether the concept of cultured meat ever weirds anyone out.
“Yeah! I think it does,” he said as he prepared to fry up my $100 nugget from its frozen state. “Till you explain it.”
This is what Tetrick calls the “cultural component,” or letting “the consumer know this is a positive thing and they should eat it for dinner.”
As I chewed my nugget, I realized that though its taste asymptotically approached chicken, it was not, alas, chicken. It was crunchy, thanks to the fried, breaded coating; it was flavorful, thanks to the salt and spices inside; and its innards were creamy, which frankly is an improvement on the graininess of most processed nuggets. But it lacked the gamey animal kick that screams “chicken.”
We like meat to taste a certain way, but I realized that if I had never before had chicken, I might prefer this. Why is gaminess a virtue, anyway? Some people relish traditions such as hunting and fishing and the more visceral experiences with meat they provide. But if Just and similar companies are successful, future generations might only know chicken to be a pleasant, meat-esque paste, with no bones and skins to speak of. In fact, our entire notion of animal products might become unhinged from animals. The idea that human gustatory pleasure necessarily involves the inhumane farming of other creatures might come to be seen as outdated and gauche. A “real” chicken sandwich might be viewed, in some quarters, as barbarous as poaching. That is, if the bioreactor thing gets worked out.
Several Just employees have culinary backgrounds, and Hyman presided in front of the tasting table like a proud chef. There was heating up and cooling down of a pot of oil to reach the perfect temperature for my nugget. Noyes, who lived in D.C. before moving out West, shifted warily and remarked a few times that we were running “behind schedule.”
After serving me the nugget, Hyman scrambled up a custard-colored mung-bean egg substitute—the Just Egg, which comes in a squeeze bottle. It was fine; I don’t love scrambled eggs. Then he fed me a dairy-free rum-raisin ice cream that was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had.
Finally, he served up a breakfast sandwich made with a firm, plant-based “egg” patty. The patty had a pleasing earthiness, offset perfectly by a glop of spicy, stringy pimento cheese. Even at 3 p.m., after a full lunch, it was objectively tasty. If I had been hungover, it would have been heaven.
Stunning all-in-one PC that slides to become drawing tablet is held back by high price and old chips
The Surface Studio 2 is Microsoft’s beautiful all-singing, all-dancing, all-in-one desktop computer that is quite unlike anything else on the market. But then it should be with prices starting at more than £3,500.
Straight out of the box it’s obvious that the Surface Studio 2 is no ordinary computer. Its gorgeous, pixel-dense 28in screen appears to float, held effortlessly by two chrome articulated arms that are invisible when you’re sitting directly in front of it. The small grey pedestal below looks like a weighted stand, but contains the full workings of the PC.
No one has capitalized on this look’s popularity more than influencers. Some have even started to make thousands of dollars on photo presets that warp anyone’s pictures to fit this mold. But every trend has a shelf life, and as quickly as Instagram ushered in pink walls and pastel macaroons, it’s now turning on them. “Avocado toast and posts on the beach. It’s so generic and played out at this point. You can photoshop any girl into that background and it will be the same post,” said Claire, a 15-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym because of her age. “It’s not cool anymore to be manufactured.”
Fast-rising young influencers such as Emma Chamberlain, Jazzy Anne, and Joanna Ceddia all reject the notion of a curated feed in favor of a messier and more unfiltered vibe. While Millennial influencers hauled DSLR cameras to the beach and mastered photo editing to get the perfect shot, the generation younger than they are largely post directly from their mobile phones. “Previously influencers used to say, ‘Oh, that’s not on brand,’ or only post things shot in a certain light or with a commonality,” says Lynsey Eaton, a co-founder of the influencer-marketing agency Estate Five. “For the younger generation, those rules don’t apply at all.”
In fact, many teens are going out of their way to make their photos look worse. Huji Cam, which make your images look as if they were taken with an old-school throwaway camera, has been downloaded more than 16 million times. “Adding grain to your photos is a big thing now,” says Sonia Uppal, a 20-year-old college student. “People are trying to seem candid. People post a lot of mirror selfies and photos of them lounging around.”
Take Reese Blutstein, a 22-year-old influencer who has amassed more than 238,000 followers in just over a year by posting unfiltered, low-production photos of herself in quirky outfits. (A recent flash photo into a mirror with her dog picked up more than 5,000 likes). She, like many members of her generation, doesn’t stress about posting almost the exact same photo twice in a row, something first-generation influencers wouldn’t dream of. “I’m not afraid to over-post. I don’t think, Oh, will this mess up how my feed looks,” she says. “I don’t think too much about it. If I like an image, I just post it.”
Anything that feels staged is as undesirable for Blutstein’s cohort as unfiltered or unflattering photos would be for older influencers. “For my generation, people are more willing to be who they are and not make up a fake identity,” she says. “We are trying to show a real person doing cool things as a real person, not trying to create a persona that isn’t actually you.”
Matt Klein, a cultural strategist at the consultancy Sparks & Honey, also says he’s seen a gradual shift away from the rainbow-colored preplanned photos that dominated the platform in late 2017. “We all know the jig is up,” he says. “We’ve all participated in those staged photos. We all know the stress and anxiety it takes. And we can see through it. Culture is a pendulum, and the pendulum is swaying. That’s not to say everyone is going to stop posting perfect photos. But the energy is shifting.”
Over the past year, “Instagram vs reality” photos havegrown in popularity as influencers attempt to make themselves seem more accessible. Earlier this month at Beautycon, a beauty festival, Instagram stars spoke about moving away from ring lights and toward showing off their faces in sunlight. As the public becomes more aware of the prevalence of sponsored posts, beauty influencers are abandoning branded shots for ones that show off their “empties” (empty bottles of product they actually use). A growing number of accounts are dedicated to calling out the various cosmetic procedures celebrities and influencers have had. Influencers have also been actively speaking out themselves about burnout, mental health, and the stress that comes with maintaining perfection.
“Everyone is trying to be more authentic,” says Lexie Carbone, a content marketer at Later, a social-media marketing firm. “People are writing longer captions. They are sharing how much money they make … I think it all goes back to, you don’t want to see a girl standing in front of a wall that you’ve seen thousands of times. We need something new.”
James Nord, the CEO of Fohr, an influencer-management platform, says he sees this shift play out in his clients’ numbers every day. “What worked for people before doesn’t work anymore,” he says. “For the first time, influencers are coming up against this problem of, How do I continue to grow as tastes change?” A year ago, an influencer could post a shot with manicured hands on a coffee cup and rake in the likes—but now, people will unfollow. According to Fohr, 60 percent of influencers in his network with more than 100,000 followers are actually losing followers month over month. “It’s pretty staggering,” he says. “If you’re an influencer [in 2019] who is still standing in front of Instagram walls, it’s hard.”
The platform itself could be partially responsible for how things have evolved. Whereas Instagram started as a purely visual feed of filtered photos, it has morphed into a messy, tangled social network where photos fight with stories, IGTV, GIFs, and video clips for attention. For many users, a photo itself is just a way to vent in the captions or comment section.
According to Taylor Cohen, a digital strategist at the advertising agency DDB, the Instagram aesthetic’s saturation point came sometime in mid-2018. “It’s not the same as it was even a year ago,” she says. Consider, for example, the Happy Place, an Instagram museum that opened to great fanfare in Los Angeles in 2017 and bills itself as the “most Instagrammable pop-up in America.” When it opened, people were thrilled to fork over the nearly $30 admission price ($199 for a VIP pass). But when it arrived in Boston this month, it landed with a thud. “I would not go,” said Claire, the 15-year-old. “I’d rather take pics in front of a library or something.”
Instagram museums and walls were built to allow normal people to take influencer-quality photographs—but they worked so well, those types of photos became common enough that they don’t resonate like they used to. In the beginning, “you had everyone posting these normal photos, and so that rainbow-food photo stood out,” Klein says. “But because so many people adopted that aesthetic, that has become passé. We’re living in influencer overload.”
Plus, all that perfection is a grind. “I spent so many months looking for a wall that was a certain color,” says Sarah Peretz, a Los Angeles–based influencer known for her stylized, hyper-saturated feed. “There came a point in my life where all I’d be looking for was walls, walls, walls. I was like, Guess what day it is? It’s another wall.” After interrupting a vacation to take a picture against a roadside casino’s perfect orange wall, she decided enough was enough. She began pivoting her feed away from the traditional Instagram aesthetic and started experimenting with drone photography and more creative formats. She says wall photos had become boring to her audience anyway, who are more interested in entertaining Instagram Stories than flat photos.
Last year, Kristen Ruby, the president of Ruby Media Group, a public-relations consulting firm, splurged on a blowout and waiting in an endless line at an Instagram museum—but now, she says, she doesn’t think the pop-ups are worth it. These days, like many users, she doesn’t think too much about her feed and posts more frequently on Instagram Stories. “You don’t have to think about colored walls, the filter, or the people in the background in the way of your perfect candytopia photo,” she says.
As the ideal Instagram look shifts, brands are, as ever, eagerly trying to catch the next wave. “For brands to seem cutting edge, they can’t paint a wall and say that’s what they’re doing,” Nord says. “That aesthetic … is no longer viable.” Cohen points to Glossier as an example of a brand that’s using Instagram in a more modern way. The beauty brand shares a mix of memes, natural-looking close-ups, and recently, a cute video of a sloth “just because.”
Ultimately, Eaton says, “people are just looking for things they can relate to.” And “the pink wall and avocado toast are just not what people are stopping at anymore.”
In the Hawaiian religion, Pele is the goddess of volcanoes, fire, and lightning. She is believed to have created the Hawaiian islands, and is considered to be a sacred, primordial force.
Like many native Hawaiians of his generation, Keoni Kaholoʻaʻā, a park ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, wasn’t exposed to much information about his indigenous roots. “I never grew up learning the culture,” Kaholoʻaʻā says in Bradley Tangonan’s short documentary Kaholoʻaʻā. “It left a massive void in me.”
Recently, he discovered the true meaning of his family name—“flow of jagged rock”—which, according to tradition, makes Kaholoʻaʻā a direct descendent of Pele. This understanding has renewed Kaholoʻaʻā’s sense of purpose. When the volcano Kilauea erupted in 2018, Kaholoʻaʻā joined other native Hawaiians in welcoming and expressing reverence for the deity, rather than fearing the damage the lava flow might cause.
“In the Hawaiian belief system, kanaka 'oiwi, or Hawaiian people, are descendants of the deities that constitute the natural world,” Tangonan told me. “Humans are a small component of this system of natural entities and processes, whose complex operation relies on a delicate balance. The reverence that Keoni bears toward Pele reflects the humility that Hawaiians believe we owe to nature as a whole.”
This article contains spoilers throughout Season 1 of Ramy.
Hulu’s new series Ramy depicts a fictionalized version of the life of its star and co-creator, Ramy Youssef (named Ramy Hassan on the show), a Millennial Egyptian American from a robust North Jersey Muslim community. Along with the co-creators Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, Youssef explores the complexities of being a religious man from an immigrant family with wry humor and a dash of surrealism.
The series swings from topic to topic with ease: the ennui of living at home as a young adult; the misguided ways first-generation kids romanticize their family’s homelands; the difficulty of coming of age post-9/11. Also dispersed throughout the season are depictions of Ramy’s various relationships with women, both platonic and romantic, as he seeks a partner. In these scenes, the show reveals a more myopic perspective through its disparate treatment of Muslim women, characters often boxed into stereotypes with no recourse to develop as fully realized individuals.
In the pilot episode, written by the trio of creators, Ramy goes on a first date with a Muslim woman named Nour (Dina Shihabi), courtesy of his mother’s machinations. Despite his low expectations, the date goes well, with the pair making plans to see each other again. Those arrangements, however, are upended by an intimate encounter gone comically wrong, when Ramy is taken aback by the lustful forthrightness of the woman he was initially charmed by. Incensed by his hesitation, Nour pointedly calls out what she considers the limited capacity Ramy expects her to occupy: “I’m in this little Muslim box—I’m supposed to be the wife or the mother of your kids,” she says. “But I’m not supposed to come.”
Her frustration is valid. Implicit in Ramy and Nour’s interaction is the idea that Ramy’s reservations are not tied to a commitment to celibacy, but rather to his idea that sexual liberation (and impropriety) is reserved only for white women. Ramy’s experiences with Muslim women in the United States and Egypt prevent him from seeing them as autonomous individuals who have romantic and sexual agency. In rebuffing his mother’s initial suggestion that he find a partner at the mosque, he dismissively replies, “You can’t just walk up to a Muslim girl and like, start spitting game or something. What am I supposed to say? Like, ‘Hey, can I get your father’s number?’”
It’s an especially stark juxtaposition to an earlier conversation he has with a Jewish American woman named Chloe (played by PEN15’s Anna Konkle). Ramy admits trying to obfuscate his adherence to Islam in his romantic endeavors, telling her, “I’ve met girls who seem open-minded and then they’re not. Maybe you’d be into the idea of me being culturally different, but hate that I actually believe in God.” The empathy that he seeks from his non-Muslim love interests is the exact understanding that he denies his female Muslim counterparts.
As the series unfolds, Ramy freely processes his relationships with women while navigating the anxieties generated by his religious sins. In a scenario where he meets another potential partner, for example, Ramy spends the night with the woman during the twilight hours before the adhan call to prayer that kicks off the holy month of Ramadan. The rest of the episode is spent unpacking his guilt for such incidents as the month progresses, and examining the motivations behind his behavior. Yet the frame of reference for Ramy’s female Muslim characters is rather limiting, one that denies the significant power they hold within their own faith systems. And though scenes like the one with Nour are valuable because Youssef smartly recognizes the stereotypes applied to Muslim women and confronts them on the show, absent any narrative progress, these moments merely become a distancing device.
While Ramy’s family grants him the space to reconcile the aimless indulgence of young adulthood with his piety, his sister Dena (May Calamawy) struggles to establish her independence. In a capsule episode written by Bridget Bedard (Transparent, Mad Men), Dena fights to have the same free rein of life that’s afforded to her brother. Much of this double standard is realized on-screen by comparing Ramy’s and Dena’s contrasting performances of sexuality, with Dena navigating the shame, policing, and fetishization that come with attempting to make the same choices as Ramy. As a result, she’s far more stunted in the area.
For instance, in a real-life fantasy turned nightmare, Dena is asked by her romantic interest to come up with sex positions. She hesitates, then blurts out, “Whatever, I’m cool with like, any of them,” conjuring the false confidence of a pubescent boy bragging on a school bus. The episode’s rendering of her limited exposure to the basics of sex seems a bit unfeasible: Chastity and modesty aren’t synonymous terms. And there’s little reason she’d be oblivious to any sex positions—despite her virginity—given the ubiquity of popular culture and social experiences.
Moreover, the bulk of the dialogue within the episode is framed around Dena’s frustrations with her restricted life. The role is brilliantly performed by Calamawy, who imbues the character with a delicate balance of brashness and vulnerability. But the portrayal still leaves viewers with very little understanding of who Dena is beyond an outspoken personality exasperated by the barriers she keeps running into. Compared, for instance, with the show’s depiction of Ramy’s male cousin Shadi (Shadi Alfons)—a character introduced as a boorish party animal, but later fleshed out as a complex and problematic individual grappling with the trauma of the 2011 Egyptian revolution—Dena’s character development is limited to the perceived albatross of her sexuality.
This is a pattern that continues as the series proceeds. Youssef dedicates an episode to Ramy’s mother, Maysa (Hiam Abbass), in which she’s portrayed as a once-vibrant, worldly woman now reduced to an ignored and undesired housewife. Salma (Poorna Jagannathan), a mother at the mosque with whom Ramy has an extended affair, is trapped in a loveless marriage with an absent husband, yet is still expected to be a dutiful Muslim wife. Even Ramy’s ultimate romantic connection at the end of the season—with the first Muslim woman he takes seriously (Rosaline Elbay)—hinges on him “liberating” her from the restrictive dichotomy he feels she is bound to as a divorcée: consistently dealing with men who either, in her words, “want to marry a virgin or have sex on the first date.”
The irony is that while Ramy puts Muslim women in a box, he similarly constrains himself as he vies for the attention of white women. He transforms into the most milquetoast, accessible, and understandable versions of his religious self for their comfort, to little avail. In a discussion with Elbay’s character in the final episode, Ramy recalls a conversation where he tells a non-Muslim woman he’s pursuing, “Child’s pose and prayer are the same position … we’re almost doing the same thing.” His tone in retelling the story is self-mocking, and it seems to be tinged with an awareness of the cost of his frequent overcompensation.
The illustrations of the majority of the Muslim women in Ramy’s life are focused on all the things they seemingly can’t do. These representations are divorced from reality; Muslim women are indeed varied and complicated, but portraying them as largely absent of agency, or somehow wholly separate from the temptations or crises that Ramy himself navigates, excludes them from the modern Millennial existence in a way that rings false. The lives of Muslim women aren’t exclusively dominated by forlorn conversations about potential suitors and their proclivities; women are mobilizing and advocating for their people in the face of rising oppression, breaking barriers in sports and modeling, and engaging in their day-to-day lives on their own terms. They are defining their identities in a world often committed to making them feel that they should be in despair. Ramy executes its male narratives with wit and precision. It’s unfortunate that, so far, the show fails to demonstrate that Muslim women’s stories can be more than a sympathetic canvas of unfulfilled dreams.
Joe Biden is running. The former vice president will make his candidacy official with a video announcement next Wednesday, according to people familiar with the discussions who have been told about them by top aides.
Seriously, he’s actually made a decision. It’s taken two years of back-and-forth, it’ll be his third (or, depending on how you count, seventh) try for the White House, and many people thought he wouldn’t do it, but the biggest factor reshaping the 2020 Democratic-primary field is locking into place.
He wants this. He really wants this. He’s wanted this since he was first elected to the Senate, in 1972, and he’s decided that he isn’t too old, isn’t too out of sync with the current energy in the Democratic Party, and certainly wasn’t going to be chased out by the women who accused him of making them feel uncomfortable or demeaned because of how he’d touched them.
Biden’s campaign will, at its core, argue that the response to Donald Trump requires an experienced, calm hand to help America take a deep breath and figure out a way to get back on track. First, however, the man who would become the oldest president in American history needs to get through a primary—one that’s already tracking 18 other candidates, including six senators, two governors, a charismatic Texan wannabe senator, a geek-cool Indiana mayor with an impossible-to-pronounce name, and a guy no one had ever heard of who’s already scored a spot on the debate stage by becoming a mock obsession in weird corners of the internet by talking about universal basic income and robots.
The primary, Biden believes, will be easier than some might think: He sees a clear path down the middle of the party, especially with Bernie Sanders occupying a solid 20 percent of the progressive base, and most of the other candidates fighting for the rest. And the announcement comes at a moment when many in the party have become anxious about Sanders’s strength, with some beginning to wonder whether Biden might be the only sure counterweight to stop him from getting the nomination. A Biden spokesperson declined to comment.
Biden’s announcement video will draw, in part, on footage shot two weeks ago outside his old family home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he likes to bring people and tell stories about how his grandfather would sit at the kitchen table, talking about making ends meet. But the campaign is still making key decisions on what will happen next, including whether to go cute for a launch event by doing it on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, famous for the training montage from Rocky, or go for a powerful challenge directed right at Trump by heading to Charlottesville, Virginia, where the president infamously blamed “both sides” of a neo-Nazi march in August 2017.
Charlottesville was the event that first led Biden to speak out forcefully against Trump, and by going there, he could use the event as a rallying point for “the battle for the soul of this nation” that he’s been talking about since Trump refused to condemn the white supremacists that weekend. (Biden’s team has also looked at locations back home in Delaware.)
If all this uncertainty seems extraordinarily last-minute for so high profile a candidate, that’s because it is. Biden still had not officially made up his mind when the accusations from the women came out weeks ago, and his staff has been scrambling to get ready. Also: He doesn’t have any money to pay for any real campaign operations, since he doesn’t have an active campaign account. He’ll be hoping for a show of force, raising a few million dollars in the first few weeks. Without that, he couldn’t even pay for setting up a rally.
Senior staff for the campaign is set. Interviews for new aides have quietly been going on over the past two weeks, and some hires have been made. Calls have gone out to key donors. A wider circle has been told to stand by. There’s a lot to get ready, including how to build a series of smaller campaign events that would showcase his strength in retail politics by playing up his interactions with voters—and counter the women who questioned those interactions when they came forward earlier this month.
Getting in next week will give Biden more than two months to fundraise ahead of the next quarterly reporting deadline at the end of June, and keeps him on track for the post-Easter timeline his top advisers have been projecting for the past few weeks.
On Thursday afternoon, Biden was in Boston, where he joined the picketing of the Stop & Shop supermarket chain by the United Food and Commercial Workers, in his third appearance with a union crowd in the past six weeks. Workers there, as when he addressed the International Association of Fire Fighters in March, held up Run Joe Run! signs. “Bankers, Wall Street, and CEOs didn’t build this country,” he told them as he spoke about the dignity of workers, health care, and good wages. “You did!”
Biden and his team have eagerly been taking in nearly every public poll that has him in first place, convinced those numbers will only grow, despite many Democratic operatives, on opposing campaigns and beyond, who believe he’ll start leeching support almost as soon as he declares. Biden’s doubters are convinced that he seems better as a theoretical alternative than as someone people would actually support, especially when they start looking at his record closely.
Already the scrutiny has started, with attention to his opposition to school busing in the 1970s, as well as his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee during Anita Hill’s testimony in the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991, which many women have never forgiven him for, and which he’s stumbled over in trying to explain since. “I wish I could have done something,” is how he put it in late March, infuriating people who pointed out that he was in charge of the process.
Besides, what’s come out so far, in the press and from other campaigns, is only the beginning of what Biden will have to explain. “There is a concentrated [opposition research] dump on him and will continue to be,” one person close to Biden said earlier this month, reflecting on the touching accusations and expecting more. But after a few days of intense coverage, which eventually included about 10 women speaking out, the news cycle—and the outrage cycle—tumbled forward. That might change with his announcement.
Biden has been keeping a light public schedule in the past two weeks, as his deliberations reached a logical conclusion. On Tuesday, he was in South Carolina to deliver a eulogy for an old friend, former Senator Fritz Hollings. In his remarks, Biden said that Hollings had taught him about “recognizing that we can learn from the past and build a better future.” On the cusp of a campaign in which he’ll aim to make his long record in politics a strength, not a weakness, Biden said Hollings had exemplified that “what a man will do in public office is best told by what he’s done.”
Now we’ll get to see what Biden’s actually able to do.
While people have been talking about hugely complicated and sophisticated theme park attractions like the Wizarding World of Happy Potter at Universal or Avatar- or Star Wars-themed lands at Disney … Click to Continue »