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A national conversation sort of took place Saturday in Boston.
BOSTON — A small-scale, free-speech rally one week after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, was drowned out by thousands of protesters in Boston on August 19, ending relatively peacefully despite a few arrests.
On a hot and muggy Saturday, about 100 attendees at the Boston Free Speech rally were taunted and harassed by scores for holding the rally soon after the white supremacist and Nazi march in Charlottesville. And while the First Amendment-focused event was not meant to celebrate racism or bigotry, some participants — primarily rally speaker Kyle Chapman — promote those views.
The event was a small window into a national conversation about the limits of free speech. For the small group of rally-goers, the event provided a chance to celebrate the ability to express how one feels, even if it advocates violence against others. For counterprotesters, it was an opportunity to denounce hate-filled chatter, not just in Boston but as a rebuke to the rise of racist rhetoric nationwide. In all, an estimated 40,000 people, according to Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, showed up to fight for something they hold dear.
Before and during the free speech rally, I spoke with some attendees and some supporters of the small event. All denounced Nazism and other hate groups, with most expressing that they didn’t want those groups to participate. Still, they said it was important to protect their First Amendment rights, even if it was unpopular.
The event protesters disagreed. That led to a remarkable few hours in the heart of Boston where contrasting viewpoints clashed in dramatic — and sometimes physical — ways.
Below are the conversations I had with Free Speech rally attendees and non-protesting onlookers based on my notes. All people referenced below gave me permission to take a photo and publish the main points of our conversations. Press was not allowed into the rally and its events could not be heard from outside the barricaded, police-protected area.
1/ Meet Dave, 21 from MA. Wouldn't give last name. (Worried antifa would track him and family down.) pic.twitter.com/hLXakPNQcA— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) August 19, 2017
“Dave” — which I later found out was not his real name — is 21 years old and from Massachusetts. He believes violence in support of any ideology is wrong. That’s why he agrees with the president that “both sides” were to blame for the conflict in Charlottesville (even though evidence shows the Nazis and white supremacists instigated the conflict).
He worried for his safety because of the presence of antifa, anti-facism activists that protested the event.
Dave said he is Jewish and dislikes being called a Nazi. “Even if I wanted to be a Nazi, I couldn’t be,” he said. He said he’s not a fan of the Daily Stormer — a prominent neo-Nazi, white supremacist website — but mentioned he would give the site money if it were ever in financial trouble so it could continue to exercise its freedom of speech.
He also mentioned his biggest reason for attending the rally was to point out the conservative bias in the entertainment industry. “It bothers me that people who think like me are unwelcome in Hollywood,” he said. “I do think free speech is in danger.”
1/ Meet Ron Villareale, 71, from Easton, MA. pic.twitter.com/g9ZD5lWF9h— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) August 19, 2017
Ron is a 71-year-old Navy veteran from Easton, Massachusetts, who said the nation is being torn apart because people with opposing views refuse to listen to one another.
“I support free speech,” he told me, “because that is the bedrock of America.” In fact, he believes diversity of opinion is at the heart of what sets the US apart. “What makes America great is our diversity,” he said.
I asked him what he does when he hears the views of those he disagrees with, including those of white supremacists. “I just ignore them,” Villareale responded. “You don’t throw rocks at them.”
And when I asked him his thoughts about holding the rally so close the events at Charlottesville, he didn’t seem phased. “Charlottesville was 1,000 miles away,” he told me. “It has nothing to do with this.”
Villareale didn’t attend the barricaded rally, but said it was important to show his support.
1/ Meet Chris Hood, 18, a high school grad who wants to join the military. pic.twitter.com/uHQyZvzhLA— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) August 19, 2017
Chris Hood is a recent high-school graduate from Dorchester, Massachusetts, and says he wants to join the military someday. But today he wanted to defend free speech.
Hood said Trump was right to point out “both sides” were at fault for violence in Charlottesville. That said, he did say the timing of the Boston event was unfortunate since it happened only a week after the violence in Virginia.
He supports everyone’s right to free speech, but was against hosting white supremacists at the rally. “If [they] show up, we’ll kick them out,” he said. “No one wants them here.”
Chris was confused why protesters thought the event was a Nazi rally. “This is Boston. We don’t support Nazis here.” He expected the crowd of protesters to far outnumber the rallygoers. After all, the permit the Free Speech-ers only allowed for up to 100 participants.
1/ Meet Andrew (wouldn't give last name). He's 29 and from Suffolk County, NY. pic.twitter.com/8zZnrgR6Ga— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) August 19, 2017
Andrew, a self-identified LGBTQ+ ally, is 29 years-old and comes from Suffolk County, New York (he did not want to reveal his last name).
He also attended the rally to support free speech as he thinks everyone has a right to their own opinions. But he was “a little bit” concerned with the event’s timing because of its proximity to Charlottesville and he denounced the violence in Virginia. “I don’t approve of those things,” he said.
Andrew attended the rally because, he says, LBGTQ people and other minorities are ostracized if they hold conservative views. That’s why he wanted to defend their right to follow any political inclination they had.
He also doesn’t believe that violence should be used in the name of getting points of view across. One would not be protected by the First Amendment, he argued.
Deaconess Anne Armstrong and Canon Alan Gordon
1/ Meet Deaconess Anne Armstrong and Cannon Alan Gordon from The Healing Church (note the "THC"). Armstrong is the 1st speaker at noon. pic.twitter.com/stW2OkOKJ5— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) August 19, 2017
Deaconess Anne Armstrong and Canon Alan Gordon are the leaders of The Healing Church (THC) in Rhode Island. (Keep the “THC” acronym in mind.)
Armstrong was the first speaker at the event where she performed the opening ceremony, read the Bill of Rights, and lead a moment of silence for Heather Heyer, the counterprotester who was hit by a car and died in Charlottesville.
However, she and Gordon decided to perform a prayer before entering the barricaded entrance to the rally, mostly because police were worried someone might use the shofarot — the Biblical-style horns — they were carrying for violent means.
Part of the ritual included smoking cannabis (hence “THC”) and blowing the smoke through the instrument. The two said they are big advocates of religious freedom and freedom of expression.
Timothy Lavin and Philip Falco
1/ Meet Timothy Lavin (R) and Philip Falco (L). Both 24 and from Methuen, MA. pic.twitter.com/4Z7Q1LfzpZ— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) August 19, 2017
Tim Lavin and Phil Falco are both 24 years-old from Methuen, Massachusetts. Lavin is currently a student at a nearby community college and Falco is a mechanic.
They said they were both “unaffiliated observers.” And while they both lean more to the political left, they were dismayed by how the protesters were acting, particularly antifa. “They came here looking for a fight,” Falco said.
They were both adamant they had “no sympathy” for Nazis or white supremacists. However, they said the tactics used by protesters — shouting, name-calling, intimidation — were counterproductive to their cause. Lavin and Falco said protesters were missing the point and making a big mistake.
“There’s a demonization of white people that goes on,” Lavin said. “It’s fodder for the other side who live off the idea that whites are discriminated against.”
They didn’t want to attend the rally.
1/ Meet Cass Michael, 28, from Cranston, RI pic.twitter.com/SGxPGgVtHz— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) August 19, 2017
Cass Michael, 28 and from Cranston, Rhode Island, wanted to attend the free speech event but couldn’t figure out how to get in. Instead, she chose to spread her message to onlookers who would listen.
“Everyone is talking politics, not principles,” she said. “We need open minds on both sides.”
Basically, she doesn’t like the ideologies promoted by Nazis, white supremacists, or leftist groups — but says they all have a right to express their views.
She said holding the rally one week after Charlottesville was “the right time” to do so. If organizers postponed the event, she worried that both the left and right would try to take free-speech rights away. When I asked her why she thought that, she did not provide any specifics.
However, she said that left-leaning protesters were using Nazi tactics to silence right-leaning thought. She also didn’t specify exactly what she meant by that. But she was adamant that all viewpoints should have the opportunity to be heard and people not resort to violence to promote their beliefs.
Rally participants wanted this to be about free speech. Protesters were focused on Charlottesville.
The Boston rally was nothing close to what happened in Charlottesville.
The attendees or event supporters I spoke to didn’t openly promote hate-filled causes. Again, most preferred that racists and bigots not take part in their rally.
Still, hate-speech advocates were given a platform at their event because the organizers wanted to give them a chance to speak their minds. That’s different than an entire event in Charlottesville based on white supremacy. This group even held a rally in May with the same objectives; it just received far less press attention.
The protesters — who numbered in the thousands — didn’t seem to buy the nuance. Among them were a mixture of peace-loving veterans, masked agitators, teenagers, champions of racial, gender, and sexual equality, and more.
Some protesters took advantage of their numerical advantage by shouting and denouncing rally-goers, even chasing them around Boston Common. Many Free Speechers I saw required police assistance to make it through the thousands of protesters. (Around 500 police guarded the rally and its participants from start to finish.)
Below is just one example of one of those altercations I filmed.
The rally was meant to last about two hours from noon to 2 pm but ended about a half-hour early. Police escorted the participants out of Boston Common and into official vehicles.
But as of this writing, the events were nothing like those in Charlottesville. That said, protesters celebrated the early end to the event with a big march and even some dancing (see below).
Still, both sides effectively talked past each other. And while they for the most part restrained themselves, it seems pretty clear that not many divides were bridged this weekend.
As tens of thousands of anti-racism protesters descended on Boston to counter a Free Speech rally that many worried would attract the same white supremacist, alt-right crowd seen in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald Trump again chose to respond to “both sides.”
First, he chided the “anti-police agitators” among the counterprotesters, picking up on footage of “fuck the police” chants, and a reports of rock and urine throwing. According to Boston Police, the events Saturday were largely peaceful. Among an estimated crowd of 40,000 protesters there were 27 arrests for disorderly conduct and some for altercations with police.
“99.9 percent of the people here were here for the right reasons and that’s to fight bigotry and hate for the most part here today,” Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said at a press conference Saturday.
Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
The troublemakers, Evans said, weren’t with either side — they were just there to make trouble.
Trump quickly changed his tone about the protests, and tweeted only an hour later that such anti-racism protests will help the country heal.
Our great country has been divided for decades. Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
He continued to applaud the many protesters in Boston who came out against “bigotry and hate.”
I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
It was a sudden change from the president, who has spent the past week equivocating blame around the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, which turned violent last weekend. In that case, groups of white supremacists, nationalists, and neo-Nazis went to Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in a public park, and were met by thousands of counterprotesters.
It was clear Saturday that the Boston Free Speech rally would be quickly overshadowed by thousands of counter-protesters denouncing bigotry and racism.
More anti-racism protesters, led by the local Black Lives Matter chapter, marched through Boston Saturday from the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center to join the counter demonstration at Boston Common.
Here’s how the 20 national parks on the path of totality are preparing.
On August 21, a total solar eclipse will blaze through 20 national parks and nine national trails in its path of totality across the United States, which begins in Oregon and ends in South Carolina.
And those who were lucky enough to book campsites and hotels in time will be heading into these parks to experience it in gorgeous natural splendor.
While the parks in the path have been making the most of the eclipse — planning special events and festivals, and raising awareness about their offerings — Monday will also be a major test of their ability to handle big crowds at a time when they’re already strained by record numbers of visitors. Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, for instance, anticipates August 21 will be the busiest day in the history of the park.
John Day Fossil Beds in Kimberly, Oregon, is expecting larger-than-normal crowds around the eclipse too, because Eastern Oregon has been hyped as one of the best eclipse-viewing areas in the country.
In a typical year, the Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice, Nebraska, welcomes about 100,000 visitors. On August 21, it expects several thousand. Susan Cook, chief of interpretation resource management for the park, told Vox that getting prepared is no small feat.
“There’s lot of moving parts to this,” she said.
National parks see record high visits
The eclipse is arriving in a year when the number of people visiting national parks is at an all-time high. The entire park system saw a record 330 million visitors in 2016.
The crowds are increasing so much that some parks have considered restricting the number of visitors. Last year, Zion National Park explored limiting campgrounds and access to popular trails in an effort to reduce the strain on infrastructure, keep crowds down around the popular sites in the park, and protect the surrounding environment.
“In the last few years, this huge uptick in visitation has overwhelmed our infrastructure facilities, our trails, our backcountry, it goes on and on and on,” John Marciano, a spokesman for Zion, told the online magazine Yale Environment 360 in July. (The entire story is worth reading.)
Preparing for a historic day
On top of concerns about the cumulative impact of the growing crowds, parks are now preparing to grapple with what’s expected to be a historic surge around the total solar eclipse. The natural phenomenon happens every two years or so (as Neil deGrasse Tyson reminded us), but Americans rarely have the opportunity to experience the event close to home.
It’s not just the parks — every community in the path of totality is expecting crowds. And crowds mean traffic. An estimated 200 million people live within a day's drive of the path of totality. FiveThirtyEight mapped the worst potential bottlenecks along the 70-mile-wide strip.
National parks are particularly wary of eclipse-chasing crowds because the areas are fragile ecosystems already impacted by millions of visitors over the years.
Grand Teton public affairs officer Denise Germann says the park is encouraging visitors to carpool, bike, or hike to minimize traffic. Cell or internet service may also not be consistent or available. A remote area plus a high volume of users isn’t a great recipe for a strong signal.
Germann’s advice? “Come with your patience.”
Smaller national parks in the path of totality have also been planning for the eclipse for well over a year. Congaree National Park in Hopkins, South Carolina, says it’s been getting phone calls since last year with questions about what they’re doing for the total eclipse. The two small campgrounds inside the park were filled up on the same day reservations opened six months ago. Hotels in nearby Columbia are all booked up too.
“There is not a spot left for anyone to get,” says park ranger Jonathan Manchester.
The chance to experience a “once-in-a lifetime opportunity”
National park employees told Vox they’ll be working on eclipse day and sharing the “once-in-a-life opportunity” right alongside the visitors they’ve been waiting for.
For Homestead National Monument, Cook says, these eclipse viewers — watching with the sky and the stars — are special, because homesteaders in Nebraska were doing that too.
“They were paying attention to ‘When do we harvest?’ ‘When do we plant?’ ‘When is a storm coming?’ — and they would know that because they knew how to read the skies.”
Will you be watching the total solar eclipse? If so, tell us how it made you feel in six words, using #VoxEclipseIn6Words on Twitter.
Here’s what you’ll see where you live in the US
An anatomy of what made “Despacito” the most popular song of the year.
On the way home from the beach last weekend, as we got into the car and turned on the radio, I immediately heard the familiar plucks of the cuatro, a steel-strung Puerto Rican guitar, on Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” remix.
When the song ended and the station went to commercial, we switched to another station, and within minutes the falling melody of the cuatro came on again. Having just heard the song, we tried another station. And another. And then we realized that we’d run out of pop stations before going 10 minutes without hearing “Despacito.”
The sweltering pop reggaeton-love ballad hybrid has been everywhere this summer, playing in cities and suburbs, at house parties and barbecues, at wedding receptions and department stores, in people’s headphones during their commute.
“Despacito” is inescapable and inevitable. You couldn’t avoid the song if you tried.
“It’s massively popular. It’s sort of unprecedented to have a song do so well in so many formats simultaneously,” Tom Poleman, the chief programming officer of iHeartRadio, told Vox. He explained that the song’s popularity spans a wide range of listening categories, including Top 40, Adult Contemporary, and Spanish Contemporary: “If you look at what we call total audience spins or total impressions, ‘Despacito’ has 1.8 billion total audience spins. That’s massive,” he said.
The original song and its music video were released in January; the video has since become the most watched YouTube video of all time, with more than 3 billion views. The remix, which features Justin Bieber, came out in April — and the two versions of the song combined have earned “Despacito” the distinction of “most streamed song in history.”
In May, the remix hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, where it has remained for the past 14 weeks. It’s only the third Spanish-language song in history to reach No. 1 in America — the first since 1996’s “Macarena,” and before that, Los Lobos's 1987 cover of “La Bamba.” And now it’s tied with a handful of other songs for the title of second-longest-leading Billboard Hot 100 No. 1.
“Despacito” is equal parts heartbeat, heat, sweat, and skin, making it perfect for summer. But it’s become much more than the song of summer 2017, more than the results of what happens when human voice is stretched on top of music, more than a beat that sits at your hips and a melody that hits you in your chest.
Quite simply, “Despacito” is magic.
To have a whole country singing along and connecting to a song that so many of us don’t know the words to is a feat. “Despacito” appeals to each one of us in its own way, and that’s the greatest thing about it.
On a technical level, we can look at its chord progressions and melody and identify a few reasons why the song is so beloved. Audiences seem to be craving something that’s different from what they’ve been hearing, yet still familiar, and “Despacito” offers that.
But the song also represents something you can’t find in the notes and melodies and lyrics. “Despacito” now occupies a special place in recorded musical history. It represents incredible potential. It’s a reflection of its culture, and the appreciation it can bring to that culture. And to some, its popularity and crossover appeal have even become a political message of defiance against the status quo and the summer of 2017.
“Despacito” doesn’t sound like the music that’s been popular over the past couple of years. That’s helped boost its popularity.
To fully understand why people love “Despacito,” you have to understand the current state of pop music in America. “Despacito” is fusion of reggaeton, a style of music that originated in Puerto Rico, and pop. But for the past five or six years, American pop music has become nearly synonymous with electronic dance music (EDM), with not just EDM artists, producers, and DJs crossing over, but also major pop stars embracing the features and structures of the genre. And when everything begins to sound the same, people start to crave something new.
Beginning in late 2010 and continuing throughout 2011, pop music began to fuse with EDM. Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s 2011 single “We Found Love” became an absolutely huge hit, spending 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100; the song introduced some classic EDM elements (or dumbed them down, if you’re talking to EDM purists) to mainstream audiences. Among those elements were the manipulation of vocals and the tweaking of more traditional song structures, as well as one that’s specifically known as the drop — the moment in a dance track where the music coils around itself, building and building until it bursts, then unspools in a glorious, tempestuous release as the beat kicks in (in “We Found Love,” the drop comes about a minute and seven seconds into the song).
Success begets success, and EDM producers, DJs, and artists began to notice that there was a mainstream audience for a pop version of EDM. If a song could mimic “We Found Love” or David Guetta’s “Titanium,” particularly in its vocals, buildup, and drops, it could find the same audience.
Since then, many have forecast the death of EDM. Yet its influence on different genres of music, particularly pop, has continued for years. Bieber’s 2016 album Purpose, along with popular collaborations between pop and EDM artists — think Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande’s songs with Zedd, or DJ Snake’s and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What” — are a testament to that. The popularity of dubstep, along with Skrillex’s mainstream success and that “wub-wub” sound you hear in so many pop songs, is evidence of it too. And earlier this year, Lady Gaga released “The Cure,” which features a chirping chimera-like synth that mimics the music of the Chainsmokers, whom she was trolling on Twitter just last year.
As a result, American listeners and even artists seem to be burned out on that sound and are craving something new, something that doesn’t sound like anything we’ve been hearing lately.
The “Despacito” remix — which features a verse sung in English by Justin Bieber at the start of the song, followed by Fonsi’s swooning vocals and Daddy Yankee’s grit — helps to satisfy those sonic cravings. In particular, it focuses on intimate vocals, and shifts away from high-energy choppy vocal synths and swirling drops.
“Between the smoothness of its backing instrumentals, its midtempo groove, and its repetitive and very familiar chord progression, it’s as if they’ve removed anything that could distract us from the interaction of the voice, the melody, and the language,” says Alex Reed, an associate professor of music theory, history, and composition at Ithaca College. “The fact that it’s three men alternating verses makes it a showcase for subtle differences in vocal timbre.”
This upfront approach to vocals is something pop artists have begun experimenting with of late. Chris Harding, a songwriter and co-creator of the Switched on Pop podcast, explained to me that songs with “much more restrained, close-up, nice vocals that feel intimate and feel more minimalist” — like Bieber’s verse on “Despacito,” as well as Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar” and Julia Michaels’s “Issues” — have been growing in popularity.
But this isn’t to say that the only reason “Despacito” hit No. 1 in America is that it sounds different and enjoyed some fortuitous timing. There are a lot of great songs out there that are popular but sound similar to other hits, and there are a lot of great songs out there that are sonically different but will never find a huge audience.
“Despacito” is a scorcher of a tune — the experts I talked to all agree. And standing out from recent pop music is only the start of what it has going for it.
The key to “Despacito” is how it’s constantly moving
In addition to Bieber’s buttery vocals, and the contrast between its reggaeton-inspired style and the EDM-inspired pop dance music of the past few years — its most pronounced feature is a thumping downbeat, a.k.a. what the Atlantic has called the “boom-ch-boom-chick" beat — the opening and chorus of “Despacito” sink their teeth into you via a perpetual rise and drop.
“If you want to geek out over the melody, it does a similar thing [as] the chorus, it keeps climbing in thirds,” Reed says. “An important part of the rhythm is its syncopation on offbeats, which make it feel kind of open, giving the listener and dancer a lot of space to move around — it ends up feeling free, evocative, and sensual.”
To really hear the difference, listen to the melody in the opening verse of the “Despacito” remix, and compare that to the chorus of Taylor Swift’s “Welcome New York.” The chorus of “Welcome to New York” feels like it wants to keep you at one moment or one level, while “Despacito” wants to keep climbing.
“One thing that stands out about ‘Despacito’ is that ‘Despacito’ opens on melodic movement,” Harding says. “What ‘Despacito’ is doing is, instead of having a rise to this epic big moment, it's constantly moving — it's forcing us to feel different emotions.”
Harding explains that Bieber’s vocals sort of sound like the beginning to a pop song. But then the rise and drop of “Despacito” become really noticeable when Fonsi’s voice comes swooping in, shifting the song from pop to love ballad. Then there’s another aural surprise when the downbeat kicks in, and the song assumes its reggaeton-pop form.
“The cool thing about where it goes from the pre-chorus to the chorus, it’s kinda like this buildup, this suspense that’s building, and then all of a sudden, it’s like you’re there and then you go, ‘Despacito,’” Fonsi said in his commentary about the song on Genius. “We even slowed down the track just to give it a little bit more of a dramatic feel.”
“Despacito” expertly mixes the fresh with the familiar
Perhaps the most beguiling thing about “Despacito” is the way it surprises our ears — in both its melodies and the fact that it’s a Spanish-language song in the American pop music ecosystem — yet still folds in the familiar.
“The chord progression is the most common one of the last 20 years: It’s what Marc Hirsh called the ‘sensitive female chord progression’ in 2008,” Reed told me.
The chord progression Reed mentions (vi-IV-I-V) was dubbed the sensitive female chord progression because it appeared in a bevy of pop songs sung by women in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Beneath the surface differences of those songs is a feeling of yearning, a kind of ache that never quite feels resolved.
One of the most well-known examples of this chord progression is in 1995’s “One of Us,” by Joan Osborne, where you can hear it in the chorus:
It’s also present in Beyoncé’s 2008 song “If I Were a Boy”:
"What [the sensitive female chord progression] allows is for [a song] to be very fluid. You're really not centered anywhere,” Rob Kapilow, a conductor and former host of NPR’s What Makes It Great series, said in 2008. “What it does is not have that kind of resolution, that kind of firm, declarative ‘We're here.’”
“Despacito” also fits this description. “It repeats cyclically in a way that feels always rolling forward, without a clear beginning or end,” Reed says. That repetitive, rolling quality is especially apparent in the chorus.
The chord progression in “Despacito” fit into the song, since the song is open-ended. It’s a question and an invitation without a response from whoever Bieber, Fonsi, and Yankee are singing it to.
“Despacito” is all about lingering in that moment of connection between two people — not what comes before or after. The song’s title literally translates to “slowly.” And when you dig deeper into the lyrics, it becomes about seduction: all the things you’d want to do to someone you’re madly attracted to. It’s not about prelude or resolution, but about being locked into a moment of infatuation.
It’s funny that a song as sexy and passionate as “Despacito” is using the same chord progression that made the music of the late ’90s and early 2000s so folky and sad. But the key to “Despacito” sounding so different is that it puts that chord progression into the frame of reggaeton.
“Compared to the pop genres where the progression is common, it appears less often in reggaeton and Latin music, so it’s a synthesis of different modes of pop,” Reed says.
“Despacito” also features another common sound. According to Harding, the song actually relies on a principle that a lot of hit songs over the past couple of years employ: “harmonically ambiguous or modally ambiguous chord progressions,” where “the listener is being pulled between a predominantly minor sound and a predominantly major sound.”
Or what I, as a tone-deaf pop music fan, might call the “minor sad.”
In the plainest English speak: “Despacito” and a lot of hit songs of the past couple of years use notes that aren’t definitively upbeat, which makes it hard to pinpoint whether the song is happy or sad.
“Minor sad” examples in pop music include the Chainsmokers’ “Closer” and a lot of the Weeknd’s songs — songs that feel like they’re danceable but aren’t necessarily outright “happy.” They can also make you question why you’re dancing in the first place.
“Whether or not we are musically literate, we hear major [chords] as happier and more optimistic, and minor [chords] as more sad and sorrowful, solemn, maybe introspective,” Harding explained, noting that adding a minor sound has been used in dance music to make songs, which can be repetitive, feel less so.
I don’t think there’s a point in “Despacito” that feels sorrowful or solemn. But it does feel like a song that isn’t obviously happy or sad. We don’t really know if the singer’s seduction is successful. At the end of the remix, everything cuts out and all you’re left with is Bieber’s feathery voice singing “Des-pa-cito” with a blush of yearning — an end that fits seamlessly with the beginning of the song.
How Justin Bieber’s involvement in the “Despacito” remix helped make the song a hit in the US
“Despacito” is a song that’s had two lives. Long before the remix hit No. 1 in the United States, the original version of the song was a global hit — one that Bieber heard in a club while touring in Colombia earlier this year.
“About two weeks ago, the song took another step because Justin Bieber did a feature on it, and that gave the song a different dimension,” Fonsi told Forbes at the beginning of May. “The story behind it was he was on tour in Bogotá, Colombia, and he went out to a club and he heard the song, and he saw how people went crazy over it and started singing it, so he contacted us through his management.”
According to iHeartRadio’s Poleman, Bieber’s vocals and credit on the remix are what helped it achieve mainstream success and the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
“The song was a hit in the Latin community before Justin Bieber was added to it,” Poleman said. “But he has that magic touch in pop for the last couple of years. Adding him made a huge difference.”
In those last couple of years Poleman is talking about, Bieber’s music has functioned more as a showcase for producers, DJs, and trends than anything uniquely Bieber. His hit songs feel like aural kaleidoscopes that highlight the neat things producers, songwriters, and Bieber can do with his breezy vocals.
In 2015, the Skrillex-Diplo collaboration Jack Ü chopped Bieber’s voice into jagged, mewing bits for the emo-EDM track “Where Are Ü Now.” Those vocal synths and beats, combined with tropical house (which borrows rhythms from dancehall and reggaeton), showed up in Bieber’s 2015 album Purpose, which featured hits like “What Do You Mean” and the breakup bop “Sorry.” In 2016, Bieber teamed up with DJ Snake for “Let Me Love You,” an existential love letter that sometimes sounds like a humpback whale laced up in a booming electro-pop corset.
As a result of all this experimentation, Bieber has become something of a gateway for mainstream pop fans, allowing them to experience sounds they weren’t listening to before. And by attaching his name to “Despacito,” he introduced his fans to the song.
Ironically, however, the extended success that “Despacito” has enjoyed in the US as a result of Bieber’s involvement in the remix underlines an unfortunate reality about the state of the American Top 40: It’s not even remotely diverse. “Despacito” being the third Spanish-language song to hit No. 1 in the US is a triumph, but it’s also a sign of how flat American listening tastes can be. A potential hit could be all around us and people might not embrace it if Bieber isn’t involved.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that, despite his fluent-sounding Spanish in the “Despacito” remix, the Canadian star has forgotten the words to the song during multiple live performances — occasionally singing “blah blah blah” without any hint of embarrassment. In one video, you can hear Bieber flub the chorus to the song, admit not knowing what he’s singing, and then swap the lyrics for Spanish you’d see at a Taco Bell drive-thru. He eventually stopped performing the song live.
Still, in the coming months, we’ll see if “Despacito” bucks American pop’s history with Spanish-language songs and ushers in a new wave of appreciation for Latin music and the artists who create it — DJ Khaled and Rihanna’s “Wild Thoughts,” which includes a heavy sample and homage to Carlos Santana’s “Maria Maria” is arguably the second biggest song of summer, possibly signaling the effect “Despacito” has already had in creating that appreciation.
Poleman believes “Despacito” can bring true change in a way that’s more lasting and significant than the faddish late-’90s craze of the “Macarena” or the early 2000s Latin-pop trend.
“It’s going to certainly change the desire for record labels to sign Latin artists that they think can cross over,” he told me. “It’s already happening. The barrier has been broken. People have seen that a Spanish song can be a mainstream hit. I don’t think it’s going to completely change the complexion [of the charts] right away, but I think it opens the door.”
What we talk about when we talk about “Despacito”
My favorite origin story about the popularity of “Despacito” is that it the song has been a huge hit among people who do Zumba, a popular dance workout at health clubs across the country. Daddy Yankee, speaking at a conference in France earlier this summer, said: “Zumba is a huge platform as well, and it relates to the music we’re making. They reach out to millions of people in their platform and that’s another tool we have to promote our music. I’m taking advantage of many platforms.”
I’m not familiar with the latest Zumba trends, but anecdotally I can say that whenever an instructor drops “Despacito” in one of the SoulCycle classes I frequent, everyone in the studio — predominantly white women in Spandex — loses their collective shit. Eyes squint, hair is tossed, Caucasian selves are felt.
I’m not exempt; I absolutely lose my shit too, mouthing along to the lyrics that I still don’t really know (prior to writing this story, I just knew “Despacito” was about doing sexual things slowly to someone). By the end of the three minutes and 48 seconds, I’m ready to name my firstborn child “Suave Suavecito.”
Reed says this is natural.
“When we hear songs in foreign languages, our hearing is connotative, and not denotative — and actually we often prefer it that way, since music itself is more about evoking ideas than dictating them,” he explains. “Even when we hear songs in English, we rarely really latch onto the lyrics in an expository, textual way.”
Harding says this idea illustrates the idiom of “getting lost in the music” — where you are more interested in how a song makes you feel, as all of its components work in unison to create something bigger than just lyrics or a melody.
If you don’t know the meaning of the words to “Despacito,” you can still pick up on the images and feelings it’s creating. It’s still possible to appreciate the way the lyrics sound, how they flow from verse to verse. For listeners who don’t speak Spanish, their “appreciation” of the song and the feelings it conjures up come from their individual experiences with the song’s roots.
“Those connotations are ones that are suggested to us by our background knowledge of the language and its culture, which is why ‘Despacito’ seems to resonate for a lot of people,” Reed says. “It plays up existing cultural stereotypes of Puerto Rico as sensual, bodily, passionate — stereotypes that you can find way back in West Side Story.”
But the cultural stereotypes and touchstones present in “Despacito” and its music video don’t necessarily have to be taken negatively. In an age where the president of the United States flattens entire peoples into exaggerated, inaccurate caricatures, a song like “Despacito” could give listeners an appreciation for the cultures and people who created it.
“Well, I think it’s ironic,” says Enrique Santos, an on-air radio personality at iHeartRadio and the chairman of iHeartLatino. “But [the song and the appreciation it brings to Latin art] is a great thing when you have had such negative rhetoric being tossed around. It shows that we’re much more than what some people have portrayed us to be as drug dealers or rapists — no. We’re musicians, we’re artists, we’re mothers, dads, brothers, sisters.”
In that sense, “Despacito” can be an act of defiance.
In early August, Moises Velasquez-Manoff wrote a column for the New York Times about how “Despacito” is undeniably politically relevant to him. The song’s success in the time of Donald Trump doesn’t necessarily mean that it will conquer people’s tribalistic instincts or topple any of his administration’s actions. But to Velasquez-Manoff, the song’s success and Americans’ appreciation of it represents what he believes is an anthem that celebrates natural inclination of the human spirit.
“We have this other side that’s curious, that doesn’t cringe from difference so much as find inspiration in it,” Velasquez-Manoff writes. “A transcendent side that takes joy in bringing together disparate parts, in creation, in play. … The song is a fusion, an amalgam. As such, it doesn’t just illustrate the genius of pop music but also serves as a model of how creativity works generally.”
The common thread among many of the music experts I spoke to is that they believe “Despacito” is more than just a song about a certain kind of slow lovemaking, but is also very much about a specific kind of human love. Music’s most powerful magic is its ability to connect people.
“Despacito” and other popular songs like it give us something to feel even if we don’t know what’s happening the melody, the chord progressions, or the words. For three minutes and 48 seconds, it can change our lives. It can be a passionate love song, a beacon for humanity, or an inventive fusion of innovation all at once or not at all.
Because all we want to do is listen just one more time.
The Boston Free Speech rally, which many feared would draw a violent crowd of white supremacists Saturday, was instead overshadowed by thousands of counter-protesters denouncing bigotry and racism.
The dueling demonstrations on Boston Common showed a shocking disparity in size. As Vox’s Alex Ward reported from the scene, the Free Speech rally, scheduled to begin at noon, was only permitted for 100 participants. The press was not allowed within a policed perimeter of the Free Speech rally, gathered in by the Parkman Bandstand — a small gazebo in Boston’s public park.
Meanwhile, counter-demonstrators — which, as Ward reported, were conservatively estimated to outnumber the Free Speech rally-goers 15 to one — filled the grounds outside a security perimeter, drowning out the speeches at the Free Speech rally.
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More anti-racism protesters, led by the Black Lives Matter chapter, marched through Boston Saturday from the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center to join the counter demonstration at Boston Common. Police are estimating roughly 15,000 people in the march, according to ABC News.
The two protests come in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week, including when a Nazi-sympathizer drove his car into a crowd of anti-racism counter-demonstrators, protesting a white supremacist rally, killing one and injuring more than a dozen others.
The events in Charlottesville sparked national outrage after President Donald Trump equivocated his condemnation of white supremacists. Trump waited two days to denounce the hate groups by name, and went on the next day to give what was largely received as a defense of the alt-right — a fringe conservative movement that espouses white nationalist politics.
After Charlottesville, reports of similar white supremacist rallies planned for Saturday dissipated. Instead, several pre-planned Free Speech rallies — which have caused controversy for being in defense of hate speech — continued to go on as scheduled.
But on Saturday, it was clear those voices were outnumbered, and outshouted.
President Donald Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and a very expensive “tax” on American businesses that make the United States less competitive. In June, he announced that it was in the best interest of the country to withdraw from the Paris climate accord drawing on several bogus arguments.
His administration has also axed several regulations issued by President Obama to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the impacts of climate change. The latest to fall: a 2015 directive to federal agencies requiring them to account for sea-level rise and storms when making grants and building infrastructure.
The so-called federal flood risk management standard was still in the works, but the aim was to create design standards to guard against increased flood risks for new construction in flood-prone areas. Trump did away with it in his executive order on infrastructure on Tuesday.
Environmental groups say the standard would have helped mitigate the risk of costly and harmful damages from floods. Now, “taxpayer dollars will likely be wasted through investments in projects that could be washed away in the next storm,” said Rachel Cleetus, lead economist and climate policy manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a statement. According to FEMA, floods led to $260 billion in damages between 1980 and 2013.
Of course, Trump himself is one such property owner who stands to lose a lot in future flood events. Mar-a-Lago is the crown jewel of his extensive real estate portfolio and his preferred location for carrying out many of his official presidential duties. But rising sea levels are causing more frequent and more damaging tidal floods on the Florida coast. And projections suggest that the risk to human lives and property from climate change-related flooding events in this region is only going to increase dramatically in the coming years.
The National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has put out a variety of different estimates of rising sea levels in Southern Florida. The more conservative finding suggests that they could jump anywhere from 3 feet by 2050 to 7 feet by 2100.
But in January, the agency put out new “extreme” sea level projections — its doomsday scenario, in other words. In this scenario, we’d see a 10- to 12-foot rise in sea level in the US by 2100, which would have dramatic consequences for places like Mar-a-Lago (see the photo above).
Of all US states, Florida faces the greatest risk from rising sea levels
So what would a 10-foot rise in sea levels mean for Florida? Here’s a satellite image of what that would look like. Large swaths of the state are submerged. Miami is entirely flooded, along with the rest of Southern Florida:
There is evidence that average sea levels are already steadily rising in Southern Florida. A 2016 paper found that in the past decade, the average rate of sea-level rise had tripled from 3 millimeters a year to 9 millimeters. And overall sea levels in Southern Florida had risen about 90 millimeters, or 3.5 inches, since 2006.
Of the 30 most populous US cities that would be negatively affected by extreme sea-level rise, Climate Central, a nonprofit climate science research group, found that 19 were located in Florida (circled in yellow in the chart below).
Sea-level rise is hard to predict, but it’s clear Mar-a-Lago is at risk of extreme flooding
Scientists don’t have a great understanding of how exactly rapidly sea levels will continue to rise or the precise impact on specific areas.
But new research that indicates parts of the Antarctic ice sheet may collapse in the next 100 years — and that has scientists scrambling to model more extreme scenarios. If the Antarctic ice sheet does melt, it could trigger a catastrophic 10-foot spike in sea levels and inundate major US cities like New York and Miami, displacing nearly 150 million people worldwide.
“It may be a lot less stable [in Antarctica] than we thought,” said Ben Strauss, a vice president at Climate Central. “But the truth is we are relatively early in our scientific understanding of how the great ice sheets will respond to warming.”
Last summer, the Guardian investigated Trump’s coastal properties to see how at risk each of them were to flooding from rising sea levels.
What they found was Mar-a-Lago was already in serious trouble.
The estate was at high risk for flooding during heavy rains and storms, with water already pooling on the premises in addition to nearby bridges and roads in Palm Beach. Plus, in the next 30 years, they estimated there will be 210 days a year where Mar-a-Lago will be flooded with at least a foot of water.
Keren Bolter, chief scientist for Coastal Risk Consulting and the firm that analyzed Trump’s properties, told the Guardian that tidal flooding in the next 30 years could partially submerge some of the club’s luxurious cottages and bungalows. And perhaps even eventually render Trump’s “Southern White House” uninhabitable.
For now, though, Trump remains stubbornly in denial of the threat. In June, he reportedly told the mayor of Tangier Island, Va., which is losing up to 16 feet of coastline a year, that there was no need to worry about sea-level rise.
From The Night Porter to Nazisploitation, we eroticize the "forbidden" nature of fascist imagery — and make fascists stronger.
Last weekend, a group of neo-Nazis marched alongside other white supremacists and far right activists in Charlottesville. The chants and visual tools they used — from swastikas to wooden shields to “blood and soil” chants — revived rhetoric and imagery that many in America believed to be entirely eradicated: so beyond the pale of common morality that no reasonable person could possibly seek to revive it.
That belief, and the complacency it engendered, was erroneous. If anything, the sheer taboo nature of Nazi imagery — how thoroughly outside the window of acceptable discourse it is — has, to its supporters, only added to its appeal. Its very transgressive nature has made it easy for propagandists to market it as “sexy” and “forbidden.”
This is not new. The sexualization of fascist and, specifically, Nazi imagery precedes even World War II. In his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, written against the backdrop of the Nazi rise to power in the late 1930s, critic and cultural theorist Walter Benjamin warned against the aesthetic dangers of fascist imagery, as it was predicated on eroticized notions of power and submission.
"The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life,” Benjamin wrote, latter adding: “[Mankind’s] self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”
In other words, we culturally fetishize both absolute power and our own apocalyptic destruction, and fascism capitalizes on that fetishism to win supporters. And certainly the success of Hitler’s own propaganda lay in part in the Nazis’ ability to harness that erotic undertone to gain support. Consider German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia documentary series, which celebrated (Aryan) German masculine beauty at the 1936 Olympics. (Riefenstahl’s conscious complicity with Nazi ideology has long been a subject of debate — she strenuously denied it — but it’s undeniable that her lens captured how Germans of the time saw their Germany identity, and their Führer.)
The taboo nature of Nazi imagery made it even more of an eroticized phenomenon after World War II. Cultural critic Susan Sontag noted this in her 1974 essay “Fascinating Fascism,” pointing out how the trappings of fascism (particularly here, too, Nazi fascism) gained a cultural potency from being illicit and forbidden.
"To those born after the 1940's,” Sontag wrote, “fascism represents the exotic and the unknown. ... Right-wing movements, however puritanical and repressive the realities they usher in, have an erotic surface. ... Certainly Nazism is ‘sexier’ than communism.”
French philosopher Michel Foucault, likewise, commented in an interview that “Every shoddy erotic fantasy is now attributed to Nazism. … Aren’t we witnessing beginnings of a re-eroticization of power, taken to a pathetic ridiculous extreme by the porn shops with Nazi insignia that you can find the United States?”
Plenty of films about World War II made in the second half of the 20th century echo those tensions. On the high culture front, there was Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter, about a sadomasochistic relationship between a concentration camp survivor and her old guard. On the pulp side, there was 1975’s Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, one of so many “Nazisploitation” movies that treated the Holocaust as Eli Roth-style torture porn, complete with a sexual frisson. In Ilsa, the main character and her contemporaries were leather-clad, whip-wielding Nazi dominatrixes.
The more taboo the approach, the more powerful it became in the popular id. After all, Nazi prisoner-themed pornographic pulp, or “stalags," were so popular in the newly created state of Israel — the population of which was at that time 50 percent Holocaust survivors — that the Israeli government had to ban the genre in 1963.
Even today, we fetishize the taboo nature of Nazi ideology. A November 2000 New York Times style article celebrated “fascist chic” as the “in” look of the season, quoting a magazine editor as saying: "Fascism — I hate to say it, but it's sexy. ... It expresses the idea of taking and then relinquishing control.” Often, the aesthetics of Italian fascism — a more palatable aesthetic than the German version — would make its way into pop culture. The article quotes a New York fashion designer who modeled her latest collection after architecture under Mussolini: “Brutal granite and travertine structures,” the dictator's pet mode of propaganda, “are all about power,” the article quotes her as saying, “and power is the greatest turn-on.”
The eroticization of Nazism was twofold, in other words. It relied on both a wider existing cultural fetishization of power and masculinity and a more recent fetishization of the forbidden. As scholar Laura Catherine Frost writes in her book Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism, “the politically forbidden and repudiated is just as likely to be the substance of erotic fantasy and the chosen political object. ... Images of sexualized fascism derive their meaning precisely from the distance mainstream culture puts between itself and deviation.”
Understanding our cultural fetishization of Nazism is key to understanding how Charlottesville happened
To admit the erotic charge of Nazi ideology openly may seem distasteful — or outright immoral. But it is precisely the dialectic between repression and transgression that allowed Nazi ideology to flourish in certain corners of the internet: permitting the Twitter trolls of the alt-right to morph, slowly, into flesh-and-blood perpetrators of racial violence.
After all, as I wrote for Real Life magazine in November 2016, the loose coalition of “alt-right” that came to form the umbrella we know today wasn’t entirely composed of conscious, intentional white supremacists. Some were, to be sure, but as many denizens of alt-right gathering places like 4chan’s /pol/ modeled themselves after British free speech firebrand
Many members of the alt-right and alt-right-adjacent I interviewed then spoke of the Overton window — the field of culturally acceptable discourse — and how they wanted to widen it as much as possible. Unchecked free speech, including the freedom to do a Hitler salute, was integral to how they presented themselves: as sexy, transgressive agent provocateurs.
And widen the Overton window they did. Capitalizing on those same erotic tropes that defined a 1974 genre of soft porn, or a “sexy” 2000 fashion trend, they managed to present themselves as the real underdogs: the most punk rock of us all, going beyond the boundaries of outrage, morality, and good taste. In so doing, they provided a culturally acceptable avenue for “jokes” about a pure ethnostate to become ideology, for the implicit racism underpinning so much of America to become explicit, and to reinforce itself through repetition — the real “meme magic” so popular with the alt-right — until irony became truth.
As long as the alt-right continues to be glamorized, we risk making more would-be rebels without a cause like the man who drove his car into the crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
Indeed, perhaps the most effective portrayal of Nazism is one that looks on its horrors with humor. Mel Brooks’s 1967 film The Producers — so controversial when it came out — culminated in the (Jewish) protagonists attempting to stage a schlocky propagandistic musical, “Springtime for Hitler,” a surefire (they hoped) bust. The film presents the musical’s title number in its entirety: awkward goose-stepping and robotic salutes, Nazi Rockettes, and a drugged-out Hitler who can barely remember his lines. That film, created by Jews just two decades after the horrors of the Holocaust, smashed open the Overton window far more defiantly than Milo Yiannopoulos and his ilk could ever hope to do.
If the alt-right is correct about anything, it’s that we should — in this one instance — keep that very window of discourse open, to strip Nazi ideology once and for all of the taboo eroticism it’s had since Leni Riefenstahl captured some strapping Aryan boys on camera. And we should use that space to point and laugh.
When it comes to Kennedy Center honors — an event which recognizes lifetime contributions to the arts — President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump seem to know when they are not wanted.
Trump and Melania will skip the Kennedy Center honors this year to “allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” according to a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued Saturday.
Three of the event’s five honorees — singer Lionel Richie, dancer Carmen de Lavallade and television producer Norman Lear — have already said they would boycott White House reception for the event. Rapper and actor LL Cool J has not said whether he would attend and singer Gloria Estefan said she would use the opportunity to push Trump on immigration issues, the Washington Post reported.
In the aftermath of the Charlottesville terror attack, when a neo-Nazi protester drove into a crowd of anti-racism counter-demonstrators, Trump received a public censuring for equivocating his condemnation of white supremacists from both Republicans and Democrats — including members of his own administration. After waiting two days to denounce the hate groups by name, Trump went on to give what was largely received as a defense of the alt-right — a fringe conservative movement that espouses white nationalist politics.
In response, CEOs of Trump’s two business councils began resigning en masse, disbanding the advisory committees. Actor Kal Penn, who served in the Obama administration, also announced the resignation of members on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities — a council formed under President Ronald Reagan to advise on cultural issues.
After the resignation, the White House said Trump was planning to disband the group anyways.
The first family’s decision to skip the Kennedy Center honors — an event presidents traditionally attend — is yet another sign of Trump’s isolation. His approval rating currently sits at 38 percent.
This is not the first event Trump is skipping because of political tensions. At the beginning of his presidency, the president and his administration skipped the White House Correspondents Dinner, citing heightened animosity between Trump and the press. This, however, seems less of a political statement.
“First Lady Melania Trump, along with her husband President Donald J. Trump, extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year's award recipients for their many accomplishments,” Huckabee Sanders said.
For the love of all good things, do not try to photograph the total solar eclipse.
Here at Vox, we are thoroughly convinced the August 21 total solar eclipse will be worth the hype. As we’ve learned from astronomers, astrophysicists, and eclipse-chasing enthusiasts, in the 70-mile-wide band of totality from Oregon to South Carolina, the moon will completely block out the sun, day will turn to twilight, stars and planets will appear, and the sun’s ethereal atmosphere will dance in the sky. Many people say standing beneath a total solar eclipse is a life-changing experience. We’re pumped.
(Don’t worry, the rest of the country will see a partial eclipse, which will be cool too.)
But here’s the problem: Totality only lasts for about 2.5 minutes. So how does a first-time eclipse viewer make the most of this rare moment? We asked several veteran chasers, some of whom have seen upward of 30 total solar eclipses, for some advice. Here’s what they said.
1) The most important piece of advice: Get to the totality!
A 99 percent partial eclipse is still a partial eclipse. Make an effort to drive to the path of totality, if you can.
“My best advice for first-timers is to at all costs try to get into the path of totality,” says Mike Kentrianakis, an astronomer with the American Astronomical Society’s solar eclipse task force. “And I mean anywhere in the path of totality. Simply getting within the northern or southern limits is fine [where the duration of the totality will be shorter]. ... See one minute, you'll be just as awestruck.”
2) Consider what kind of experience you’re looking for and plan for it
Some people want to experience totality in a crowd. Some want to take the time to be alone and contemplate their place in the universe without distraction.
“Just spend a little bit of time thinking about what it is that you want out of the eclipse,” Vicky Sahami, an astronomy professor and eclipse tour guide, says. “Maybe it's going to be a very personal, very spiritual thing.”
If that’s the case, let people around you know not to bother you during the eclipse.
3) For the love of God, do not try to photograph totality
The eclipse enthusiasts we spoke to said this over and over: Totality only lasts a precious few moments, and photos never do it justice.
“Anytime you've ever taken a picture of the full moon, it never captures how it felt in your eyes and in your heart, you know what I mean?” says Rhonda Coleman, an eclipse-chasing resident of Bend, Oregon. “It seems to fill the sky, but your photograph will only be a memory.”
Joe Rao, a meteorologist who collaborates with the Hayden Planetarium, says, “trying to photograph your first total eclipse of the sun is like ... your first girlfriend or boyfriend. You're not very good, it's over very quickly, and you just want to do it again.”
You get the point.
The picture can’t really capture it because totality is so much more than just a visual experience. It’s auditory: People around you may scream in joy; birds may start chirping their nighttime songs. It’s tactile: The winds shift and temperature changes. It’s otherworldly: You’re surrounded by 360-degree sunset colors. It all adds up to an awesome gestalt: a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
“Try and be there in the moment,” Kate Russo, an eclipse chasing clinical psychologist, says. “Really focus on what you're feeling and what you're thinking because there're some profound things that are gonna happen. Also, it happens within you, as well, so yes, it's how it can change you as a person.”
4) But you could set up your camera to record the people around you
Bill Kramer, a retired computer engineer who has seen 16 eclipses, says it’s fun to set up a video stream of the crowd witnessing the eclipse. You can turn on the video camera before it happens, and then watch the sky show without fiddling with any buttons.
“You'll hear people crying, screaming, swearing, etc., etc.,” Kramer says. “The video can be a lot of fun.”
5) Don’t forget to take off glasses during totality!
You cannot look directly at the sun during the eclipse’s partial phases, so this is the time you’ll need to keep those glasses on. Only during the short totality can you take off the glasses and stare directly at the sun.
“If you leave the filters on, you won't see anything at all,” says Fred Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist who has been to 27 total eclipses. It’ll be too dark.
6) A pair of binoculars will help you see the corona
During totality, you can see something rare and specular: the solar corona. It’s the sun’s outer atmosphere, and it’ll radiate out from the black disc of the moon like the petals of a lotus flower. With binoculars, you might also be able to see prominences: enormous filaments of plasma and magnetic energy that appear as ropes or loops in the corona.
“Binoculars are going to give you a nice, improved view that you'll be able to see a lot more detail inside the corona,” Kramer says.
Just know: If you’re going to use binoculars during the partial phases, you’ll need to put solar filters on them to protect your eyes.
7) Make a list of things to look for before and after totality
Coleman also suggests making kind of a list of cool astronomical features to look for. For instance, she suggests, you can make it a point to try to spot some Baily’s beads. Those are the last beams of light that slip through the canyons of the moon before and after totality.
“There's a lot of things to see in a short period of time, so make a list,” Coleman says. You might also want to remember to look around for 360-degree sunset colors. Or try to spot a prominence in the solar corona. There will also be stars and planets — like Mercury and Mars — and the bright star Regulus to spot during totality. (Use an astronomy app like Sky Guide to figure out where to look.)
Coleman also insists: “If you're going to be with a sweetie, you have to kiss them because that's super good luck to kiss while an eclipse is going on.”
8) Stick around after totality is over
Everything that happens in the buildup to totality — the eclipse partial phases, Baily’s beads, the diamond ring effect (where one last beam of light makes the eclipse look like a diamond ring in the sky) — all repeat themselves after totality ends. Savor them! “After totality ends, very few people bother to watch the last partial phases,” Espenak says. “They are too busy celebrating, telling each other their own experiences during totality, what they liked most.”
Joss Fong contributed reporting.
Why a total solar eclipse is a life-changing event, according to 8 eclipse chasers
It made me sentimental for landline telephones, Doom, and the screech of modems.
The long cords extend from the phones they’re attached to, spiraling in neat little curves. The people talking on those phones have to always be conscious of them, to navigate them as they chat for hours on end.
I kept thinking if the individual shots of this conversation could be stacked side to side, the phone cord would exit the right side of the screen in one and seem to re-enter the screen in the same position on the left. There was something so tangible about it. It ran from them, into the phone, into the wall, out across wires, then back down toward their conversational companion. That cord, slight though it is, represented connection, as if you could tug on it and pull your loved one to you, across the miles.
Halt and Catch Fire doesn’t just depict connection. It is, especially in this fourth and final season, when its characters are scattered every which way but always on each other’s minds, about connection. It exists at the point in history when it ceased to be a mystery when somebody was, somehow, in constant contact and started to become a mystery when they weren’t; when you couldn’t instantly ping them via text or instant messaging or any number of apps.
It takes place at the very dawn of the internet, and it made me feel an intense nostalgia — not just for its vision of the early days of search engines, or for the video games and music of the era, or even for those landline telephones. No, it made me feel nostalgia most intensely for a time when the internet still seemed like it had the potential to completely remake a species and a planet, instead of squeezing us dry.
In its own way, then, Halt and Catch Fire’s final season acts as a mirror version of The Leftovers’ final sequence. Where that HBO series captured our current apocalyptic fervor, Halt wonders if we mightn’t start over and do things better this time. We still have the tools. Maybe now we know how to use them.
Halt and Catch Fire endlessly reinvents and reboots itself, but its characters can’t escape themselves
By now, I’ve hopefully ranted at you enough times about the greatness of Halt and Catch Fire that I don’t need to repeat myself. The drama, set in the tech world, has become one of TV’s best series about how we use electronic means both to draw others closer and to push them further away. As such, it makes sense that the series sets its final season in the early days of the internet, when the very idea of indexing it, so it could be searched, seemed like a half-crazy, out-there notion.
One of the things that has held Halt and Catch Fire back from the sort of massive audience that might have let it run seven or eight years has been that it refuses to show off. It’s one of the best made series on TV, in terms of writing, performance, and direction, but it rarely bothers with anything that would immediately call attention to itself.
Take, for instance, one of the show’s rare moments of playing at being a showman, an extended sequence that opens the fourth season. Structured to look like a single shot (though it will quickly become clear this effect was achieved through clever editing), the sequence follows Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), a tech genius whom life keeps dealing bum hands, as he builds an internet service provider from the ground up, even as his friend and colleague Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) dissolves in a stew of regret in the building’s basement.
The sequence encompasses three years in less than 10 minutes of screen time, and it not only captures the way Gordon has to wait for the internet to become a going concern in American homes, but also the way that Joe’s extended self-exile becomes a chance for him to punish himself, to live in the middle of his deeply felt sorrow at the way he could never build a functional, adult relationship with Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), who’s now living in Tokyo with her husband. He waits for her to deliver a cutting-edge browser to him, because he’s just waiting for her.
Thus, Halt and Catch Fire creates nostalgia around the early internet era in the best way possible: by creating nostalgia for that moment in anybody’s life when they’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for someone or something to come through. You can lose whole years in the middle of the memory hole, but then, a modem shrieks to life, or a phone rings, and the years evaporate.
It also functions as a kind of meta-commentary on a series that has long prided itself on reinvention. It started as one thing — about Joe and Gordon trying to build a computer that could compete with IBM in the early ’80s — and then became about seven different things across its first three years. It’s one of the few dramas in its weight class that hasn’t had to add fleets of new characters to stay nimble and sharp, because it finds endless new iterations of the characters it already has, simply by throwing them into new groupings with each new season.
Season four functions as a sort of mirror image of the show’s (often maligned) first season — Gordon and Joe are working on a project together again; Gordon’s ex-wife Donna (Kerry Bishé) is outside the main group; Cameron is a constant wild card — but in so doing, it reveals both how far the characters have come and how little they still understand themselves.
Joe better understands how casually cruel he can be, but he can’t keep himself from lashing out. Cameron better understands how she can seem a little cold and aloof, but she can’t bring herself to say how she feels when it most matters. And so on.
In lesser hands, the series could feel like a merry-go-round, constantly spinning and returning to the place it started out. But in the hands of showrunners Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, the series becomes about how reinventions and reboots are often about trying to convince yourself you’re somebody you’re not, somebody better.
The internet changed how we live. But we also changed the internet.
The thing Halt and Catch Fire is so clear-eyed about that many other tech-based stories miss is how technology doesn’t make people different. Instead, people take technology and bend it to their will.
When a teenage girl builds a website that lists a bunch of internet sites she thinks are cool, it has the sort of rough, personalized charm you’d expect from such an invention. But when that site becomes a larger, corporate project, the edges are slowly sanded off. The implication is clear: the tools might be sleeker, but they’re still wielded by human beings. The internet changed the way we live our lives, but it could never change us. We’re still short-sighted and petty and nasty — but we’re also capable of kindness and depth of feeling. The internet is just how we express ourselves.
The season’s central metaphor seems to be the search engine, the idea of seeking something — an answer, an item, the right question to ask. If you could just plug the right combination of words into a box, maybe a computer could give you what you needed. But we know from our own lives that there’s an immense gap between Googling the answer to a question, truly understanding the answer you receive, and realizing you were asking the wrong question in the first place.
Just as Mad Men used advertising as a short-term panacea for the soul, doomed to fail, Halt and Catch Fire uses technology as a means of expression that is inevitably misunderstood.
Cameron, who’s become an acclaimed game designer, struggles in the face of her artistic ambitions being swept aside in the face of the rise of action games like Doom (or, she’s loathe to admit, maybe her latest game just wasn’t very good). Donna, now a corporate executive, can’t help but make everything she touches just a little bit inorganic and false. Joe so desperately wants to connect with anyone that he’ll become whatever person he needs to be to fit the situation. And Gordon, living with a life-threatening health condition, uses computers (the one thing he understands) to connect with a teenage daughter who’s slipping away from him.
The idea is that a computer, or the internet, or a smartphone, or a social media post, might better tell the world who you are. But who you are is something hidden away from everybody else, maybe even hidden from yourself. It exists in the spaces between, the regrets and lost years you let grow tattered and worn. The story of your life, if it were a TV show, would skip over so many events and moments, just as your memory does. But it’s in those gaps, those moments between, where life is built and lived.
The internet can never be our savior or our devil. It is only as good as any of us are, and to use it as an alternative form of the self is a dangerous thing.
Halt and Catch Fire knows that. But it also knows that the internet is there, waiting, for us to log in and connect. We might type something into that box, then let the world see it. Someone else might see it and say, “Oh, hey, me too.” We might, finally, win the greatest struggle. We might finally be known.
The smash hit was an instant classic and a coming-of-age story for America.
Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movie of the week for August 20 through 26 is Dirty Dancing (1987), which is available to digitally rent on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, and Google Play.
When Dirty Dancing hit theaters on August 21, 1987, it was widely expected to be a flop. The film hadn’t tested well with audiences — at one screening of a rough cut, 39 percent of viewers didn’t even realize it had an abortion subplot — and the distributors planned to let it run for a weekend, then release it to home video.
But nobody was going to put Baby in a corner. The film was a sensation. Based on the youthful experiences of Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote the screenplay, the film clearly resonated with audiences; their repeated viewings and enthusiastic response made it one of the highest-grossing films of 1987, and made Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey into bona fide stars.
The story on its surface is simple: a girl on the cusp of womanhood (Grey) goes with her wealthy family to a summer camp in the Catskills, where she learns to dance, but also falls in forbidden love with the dance instructor (Swayze). It’s a classic princess-and-stable-boy situation: class, experience, and a stern father separate them.
But Dirty Dancing looks unique, especially from 2017, 30 years after its release. For one, its princess — who’s nicknamed Baby, but actually named Frances, for Bergstein’s older sister — is both doe-eyed and socially conscious, in tune with world events and planning to join the Peace Corps after she finishes a degree in “economics in underdeveloped countries” at Mt. Holyoke.
She and the other young women at camp are surrounded by college boys, recruited from Harvard and Yale to wait tables and show “the daughters” a good time. The obvious subtext: Bring your well-bred daughters to camp, and we’ll serve up some well-heeled young men for them to marry alongside the tennis and golf and mambo lessons. The “help,” on the other hand, are the working-class kids brought in to do the dirtier work, including entertaining. Hanging with them is “going slumming.”
Dirty Dancing is set in 1963 but released in the 1980s, and its interest in class politics through the lens of the Reagan administration is what makes the story move. The well-bred Ivy League boys could be straight out of a comic piece on clueless men from 2017: “Sometimes, in this world, you see things you don’t want to see,” one young man says to Baby in all seriousness, doing what can only be described as “mansplaining.” Another tells her that “some people count, and some people don’t,” then straightfacedly hands her a copy of The Fountainhead, instructing her to “be sure you return it, I have notes in the margin.”
Johnny Castle, Swayze’s dance instructor, is different. He’s not swaggering or proud of his background. You get the sense that he’s been made aware of his “place” too many times to count: “The reason people treat me like I’m nothin’s because I’m nothin,” he tells Baby. Dirty Dancing feels like a predecessor to movies like Magic Mike, which cast cash-strapped young men, many from blue-collar backgrounds, in the position of entertaining well-off women and trying to figure out if they’re supposed to like it.
Johnny doesn’t expect much from people, especially not the “rich and mean” people at the camp, who treat him cordially and then get mad if he gets too close. But despite Baby being much younger than him (something the movie never really addresses), she makes him think there might be some people in the world who still have principles, and even, he claims, makes him want to be a better person. Baby has the same effect on her father, when she angrily tells him that he disappointed her for not holding to his own principles. In a herd of morally limp camp-goers, those transformations stand out.
Dirty Dancing is often described as a coming-of-age story, probably because the girl at its center is 17. But of all the main characters, Baby goes through the fewest changes in the film. By the end she’s more confident and wiser about the world, but Grey’s performance from the start projects a confident young woman who’s not afraid to dance with a stranger, take on a wild and difficult project, or dump a pitcher of water on the crotch of a young man who’s gotten way too drunk on his own privilege. Johnny, and even Baby’s father, go through bigger transformations than she does.
If you read between the lines, it’s a subtle coming-of-age story for America, seen from the distance of 24 years. Grey’s voiceover in the opening moments reminds us that the summer of 1963 was before Kennedy was assassinated, before the Beatles brought rock ’n’ roll to America. The movie contrasts the more staid and “innocent” entertainments of the wealthy classes in a post-war country with the coming heated revolutions in politics and in culture.
Near the end, camp owner Max Kellerman reminisces with the band leader about the past — the wars, the Depression — before saying that “it all seems to be ending.” The kids don’t want to come to camp with their parents anymore — “trips to Europe, that’s what kids want!”
“It feels like it’s all slipping away,” he says, before taking the microphone to join the group singing the camp song. And then he’s interrupted by Johnny and Baby, who dance to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” and the whole crowd joins in.
From 2017, the film feels dated; for one, it’s hard to imagine a dance film about social divisions being almost entirely cast with white people today (though it’s worth remembering that’s exactly what Magic Mike did). But then again, Dirty Dancing was already a throwback when it came out. It’s wildly entertaining, but it runs on the rails of conflicts and movements that have marked the last half-century. And just like its heroine, it’s not going to apologize for that one bit.
Watch the trailer for Dirty Dancing:
Netflix’s newest superhero series has one great fight scene and many scenes where people explain how they know each other.
Marvel’s The Defenders is a show about that age-old adage: The best teams are greater than the sum of their parts. In Netflix’s newest entry in its connected Marvel Universe, said parts include a woman with super strength, a man with bulletproof skin, a daredevil fighting machine, and a martial artist with a powerful glowing fist. If they can learn to work together, anything is possible.
But that isn’t the most interesting thing about The Defenders. What’s more compelling is the question of whether Marvel could tell a cohesive, fresh story while staying true to (and ideally improving upon) the 65 hours of television it’s already made around these characters: two seasons of Daredevil, and one season each from Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.
And though Defenders has its flaws, Marvel has accomplished most of that mission.
Helped along by its core heroes and the talented actors playing them — Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Danny Rand, a.k.a. the Iron Fist (Finn Jones) — The Defenders mines the fruitful storytelling territory at the intersection of the “band of outsiders” and “family of friends” tropes. It’s seemingly built on the idea that it’s never not fun watching your favorite — and sometimes not-so-favorite — heroes get together and beat up some villains for a common cause.
Here, that common cause is fighting an evil force known as the Hand (which has previously figured into Daredevil and Iron Fist), led by Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra —an icy, mysterious woman with a penchant for dramatic coats — alongside Daredevil’s bloodthirsty old flame Elektra (Elodie Yung). Alexandra, Elektra, and Defenders’ rogues gallery of villains are planning to bring New York City, the home these heroes share, to its grim end. The villains share an ancient secret — which I won’t spoil — that necessitates the heroes coming together to defeat an evil that’s bigger than anything they’ve faced on their own.
Smashing so many characters and plot threads into eight episodes means Defenders’ story is at times too crowded, and the dialogue often spends too much time explaining backstory or too little time building the relationships between the characters. But The Defenders is also more self-aware than Marvel’s four other Netflix superhero series, and there are flashes of humor that we rarely get to see in shows like Daredevil or Jessica Jones. The show also manages to rehabilitate the disaster known as Iron Fist.
But most importantly, The Defenders seems to recognize the genuine, smile-inducing fun in seeing your favorite heroes get together to mess up some villains.
The first three episodes are a slog, but there’s payoff if you have patience
Let’s be real: The Defenders was never going to be a nuanced or understated work of art. It’s a superhero show first and everything else second. People are most likely tuning in to The Defenders because they want to see these four heroes band together and beat up a slew of faceless henchmen.
To get to that amazing moment, though, you have to make it through a couple of episodes that feel like needless table setting. The stories catching us up with the individual heroes — which employ a heavy-handed style where each character’s scenes are bathed in a corresponding color — aren’t necessarily bad, but getting to the point where they all finally meet feels like it takes forever.
But it’s all worth it once the Defenders actually do team up.
Seeing these characters’ fight styles work together is a treat: Jones and Cage are inelegant bulls in a china shop, relying on their superpowers to get the job done, while Rand and Murdock are acrobatic, elegant martial arts machines. The way these characters fight fit their personalities and stories.
The drawback is that the majority of the fight scenes are choreographed to look more like Iron Fist and Luke Cage than Daredevil. In The Defenders — with the exception of one fantastic rumble in episode four — jagged cuts, shaky-cam effects, and dark lighting define the majority of fight sequences. They’re fun, sure, but they may be somewhat of a letdown for anyone who loved the purpose and physical artistry of the fights in Daredevil.
But beyond the fight scenes, seeing these characters’ personalities bounce off one another provides an element of fun that’s mostly missing from their individual stories. The sexual tension between Cage and Jones will make you want to watch the first season of Jessica Jones all over again. The strange, winsome big brother/little brother chemistry between Cage and Rand inspires hope that it’ll be explored more in their future individual series. Watching Jones and Murdock circle each other as each tries to figure out the other one is tremendously entertaining. And everyone involved seems eager to take Rand down a peg or two.
The Defenders figured out what to do with Iron Fist
In the middle of the season, The Defenders lets one of its villains be absolutely savage to Danny Rand, sneering, “You’re the dumbest Iron Fist yet.”
He’s not wrong.
Iron Fist, which came out earlier this year, was the weakest of Netflix’s four Marvel shows. Its dodgy script didn’t do its actors — save Rosario Dawson — any justice. Danny Rand, its hero who’s anointed the “chosen one,” wasn’t someone you could root for. And its fight choreography was dull, an egregious mistake for a show that’s supposed to be about a martial arts master.
Instead of continuing in that vein, though, The Defenders takes Iron Fist in a new direction, giving the character some much-needed self-awareness. Instead of being the “chosen one,” now he’s the least street-smart hero in a group where his power, a glowing fist that only works roughly half the time, is overshadowed by those of the other three members, whose superpowers work every single time and are far more useful.
In other words, Danny Rand becomes a lot less special in The Defenders, and that shift in his character allows Jones to imbue the character with comedy.
In Iron Fist, Rand was a frustrating idiot. In The Defenders, he’s a funny idiot. He gets called out for his stubbornness. He’s reminded to laugh at his silly origin story. He’s the butt of jokes and eats a lot. He’s in awe of bulletproof men and super-strong women, looking at his cohorts the way tiny children look at cardboard boxes. By the end of the season, Danny Rand is actually sort of lovable. (Perhaps that’s an overstatement, but now I would be sad if he died, instead of the indifference I felt toward him at the beginning of the season.)
Getting to bounce off the cynicism and toughness of the other Defenders unlocks Iron Fist and allows Jones more freedom to do something compelling with the character. After that dismal first season of Iron Fist made me dread another series featuring him, The Defenders actually gave me hope for Iron Fist’s second season.
The show’s weakest link is its dialogue
The Defenders is one crowded show — possibly too crowded for its own good.
Not only are all of Marvel’s Netflix heroes here, but so are their love interests, their exes, their partners, their confidants, and everyone else they hold near and dear. There’s also a slew of villains from previous shows, like Madame Gao and Elektra, as well as some new ones like Weaver’s Alexandra.
With a cast this big, there’s a lot of time devoted to “how do I know you?” conversations. A lot of the villains’ scenes go something like this:
VILLAIN: Why haven’t we killed the heroes yet?
ALEXANDRA: We must be patient. Sure, they won, but we have Elektra.
VILLAIN: So? How can I trust you?
ALEXANDRA: She is a weapon. Don’t you know about the time we shared _______ (insert tidbit about their shared past) and were almost ________ (insert synonym for killed or betrayed or both) and then … [long speech about future plans].
*Similar scene repeats four scenes later. *
This sort of exposition helps remind viewers how far back these relationships go, but it also creates the sense that it’s just there to reveal tidbits and clues rather than giving viewers an understanding of the relationships between these characters. I know that the villains don’t completely trust each other because of their past, but I only know this because the villains told me they don’t completely trust each other because of their past. As a result, talent like Weaver’s is stifled, dulled into redundant expository flourishes. (I lost count how many times she called Elektra “my child” and explained who she is to her.)
These “how do I know you” conversations happen on the heroes’ side too, but they work a bit better because of the context provided by the previous four Netflix series. The references they cite to each other resonate with viewers who remember how emotionally evocative those shows (with the exception of Iron Fist) could be.
The Defenders will make you excited for the future of Marvel’s Netflix shows
By the end of the season, I found myself caught up in one of the most common complaints about Marvel entertainment: It was hard to tell whether I was genuinely excited about the eight episodes of The Defenders I’d just watched, or excited about how it set up future iterations of the four Netflix shows.
One common critique of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is that each movie functions more as a commercial for the next upcoming Marvel movie than as a standalone piece of art. What’s different in Marvel’s Netflix universe, though, is that we get 13 hours or so of each hero in individual, self-contained shows, rather than just more movies setting up future movies. While it may have been marketed or described as an Avengers-like team-up, The Defenders feels more like a bonus issue, or a special crossover, rather than an event series of its own, like the Avengers movies.
So while I wouldn’t necessarily mind another Defenders series, I’d be devastated if we didn’t get to see how what happened in The Defenders affects each of its heroes — even Iron Fist.
What a terrible week it has been for everyone. If you would like to know more about what happened in Charlottesville, Vox has you covered. If you’d like to read some books for background, I suggest starting with these. And if you would like to read something hopeful about being creative in the face of destruction, we’ve got that too.
If you would like to just spend some time thinking about books and their craft, you are in the right place. Welcome to the Vox weekly book link roundup, a curated collection of the best writing on the internet about books and related subjects. Here’s the best the internet has to offer for the week of August 13, 2017.
- Several years ago, the Chinese novelist Liu Yongbiao wrote a book called The Guilty Secret (clue number one), and in the preface said he wanted to write a crime novel about a writer who commits a string of murders and is never caught (clue number two). Last week, he was arrested for murder:
According to The Paper, a news website, Mr. Liu was arrested early Friday at his home in Nanling County in the eastern province of Anhui.
“I’ve been waiting for you here all this time,” Mr. Liu reportedly said to the police when they arrived at his house.
- The New York Times magazine explains how writer Rebecca Solnit became a progressive icon:
Strange as it is to say, Solnit’s newfound popularity reveals more about her readers than it does her. That the book, and her other suddenly timely work, was not written in the last several months, but rather years prior, makes its ideas seem even truer, giving it the veneer of sacred text. She has become a Cassandra figure of the left, her writing, which seems magically to have long ago said the things that many Americans now most want to hear, consumed as both balm and rallying cry.
- Karl Ove Knausgaard did the New York Times’s “By the Book” interview and, as is his wont, got philosophical with his responses:
The act of seeing involves the whole body and all the other senses — it is not an abstract enterprise, but very physical — and that the things observed always come together in the brain with a delay, so that we basically live in the past. Everything we see has already happened. And finally, that the feeling of flow we all know, when we are so deeply immersed in something that we lose track of time and who we are, has a neurological explanation: In a state of flow, the activity in the frontal lobe is reduced, it is almost shut down — and it is in the frontal lobe the ability for abstract thinking situated, the planning for the future and the sense of self. Everything that makes us human, in other words, and that makes perfect sense: You lose yourself and sink into a state of pure being, like an animal — belonging to the world, not to yourself.
- Speaking of the New York Times! Remember how Michiko Kakutani is leaving her role as chief book reviewer? New York magazine suggests that her departure may not have been entirely of her own volition:
Whatever it was she was looking for at the Times, it wasn’t available. Under all these circumstances — a new boss demanding uncomfortable levels of team spirit, a lateral promotion denied — the buyout is perceived by some Times staff members as something short of completely voluntary. “There was a ‘didn’t play well with others’ aspect” to her departure, says one friend. If Kakutani jumped, there was a wind at her back. It must have been pretty strong.
- At LitHub, Maggie Downs explains the deep appeal of the Silent Book Club:
The moment I heard about Silent Book Club, I got it. Here was an opportunity to be social but to also reconnect with my reading life. Time to relax in a bar without a stranger interpreting my book as an invitation to chat. A chance to read something beyond Dragons Love Tacos.
- Also at LitHub, Erica Trabold attempts to visit Montaigne’s chateau:
If my life is an essay, this trip is a transition, the small but necessary scaffolding that structures days. I am moving away from student and toward writer, France representing the inbetweeness of my present. There’s a question I want to answer: How does an essayist live inside her own walls? I want to touch them. I need to see.
- The house that was used in the Harry Potter movies as Harry Potter’s parents’ place in Godric’s Hollow is for sale for just under a million pounds. Apparently it was also the house where the sister and youngest brother of Charles II and James II were kept under house arrest in the 17th century. Whoever buys that one can have some sweet theme parties.
- At Atlas Obscura, Zoe Baillargeon tells the story of how a single word from a dying language became internet famous — but lost much of its original meaning in the process:
“A look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin.” Okay, now say that in one word.
Hard to distill, isn’t it?
But one word does exist to define this nebulous concept, a term originating from the highly endangered Yaghan language: Mamihlapinatapai.
Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Ella Nilsen. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.
Steve Bannon departs the White House after another tumultuous week; white supremacists are getting shut down on the internet; a solar eclipse is coming to the United States.
Totality is upon us
- Everyone get your special glasses ready and prepare your pinhole cameras — if you have somehow not heard, there’s a solar eclipse coming to the United States! [Vox / Joss Fong]
- On Monday, the moon’s shadow will fall on the surface of the Earth and block out all or part of the sun. A total solar eclipse hasn’t happened in North America since 1979, and the last solar eclipse to cross the entire US hasn’t happened since 1918. [Business Insider / Leanna Garfield]
- Depending on where you live, you’ll get to see a partial or total eclipse. The path of the total eclipse traverses parts of the United States, and people in states including Wyoming, Idaho, Nebraska, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina are right in the path of the total eclipse. [NASA]
- People in these states and the ones surrounding them are preparing for huge crowds and intense traffic on highways. Officials at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming are anticipated record crowds. [Vox / Lauren Katz]
- California’s solar industry is also prepping for the phenomenon, which could temporarily deprive the grid of a lot of energy. [Curbed / Patrick Zisson]
- For a full map, plus a handy tool to find out how much of the eclipse you’ll be able to see depending on where you live, check out this awesome interactive from the Vox team. [Vox / Casey Miller, Ryan Mark, and Brian Resnick]
- An evergreen reminder: You cannot look directly at it without protection for your eyeballs, so that you don’t burn a hole in them. You need solar eclipse glasses (which are pretty cheap), or you can make a pinhole camera pretty easily. [Wired / Rhett Allain]
- Also, for all you Snapchat- and Instagram-happy people out there — don’t even try to waste your time pulling out your iPhone to get a picture of totality, because guess what it’s going to look like? A whole bunch of darkness. [Vox / Brian Resnick]
Bannon gets voted off the island
- Another Friday, another Trump administration official gone. [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
- White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is out, officials confirmed today. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that new Chief of Staff John Kelly and Bannon “mutually agreed” that Friday would be Bannon’s last day. [Washington Post / Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, and Damian Paletta]
- Bannon's departure signifies not only a signal that his brand of nationalist thought is waning in the White House, but also that Trump is focused more on infighting than driving a concrete policy agenda. [Vox / Ezra Klein]
- There were hints of a possible Bannon departure for a while, including a strange interview he did this week with the left-leaning American Prospect, where he called out other administration officials by name, threatened to fire people from the State Department, and questioned Trump’s stated policy on North Korea. [American Prospect / Robert Kuttner]
- Bannon has been one of the most controversial White House officials, owing to his past heading up the far-right news website Breitbart and being one of the big players behind the Trump travel ban. [Bloomberg / Joshua Green]
- There are also many questions about Bannon’s future — and a rumor that he’ll be returning to Breitbart, which essentially became a mouthpiece for Trump during the 2016 election. [Gabriel Sherman via Twitter]
Judging from the tweets of Breitbart editors since Bannon’s firing, it looks like a publication that once could say nothing bad about Trump is stepping up its critiques. The site has already started to suggest this is the beginning of a liberal pivot on Trump’s part. [Breitbart / Joel Pollak]
The internet vs. neo-Nazis
- When white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, some told reporters that it was the moment they were taking their message off the internet and into physical space. [Vice News / Elle Reeve]
- But in the wake of Charlottesville, white terror groups are finding their internet presence is rapidly shrinking, as web hosting companies are kicking them off en masse. [NPR / Aarti Shahani]
- Hosting services like Google, GoDaddy, and CloudFlare pulled the domain of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer off their platforms, effectively shutting it down. The Daily Stormer also tried to register its domain in Russia, but it was taken down there too. [CNN Money / Ivana Kottasová]
- Meanwhile, the social media giant Facebook is actively monitoring postings about Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer and taking down ones it deems to be hateful, as well as suspending page of hate groups, while the music streaming service Spotify axed white supremacist bands. [Washington Post / Hazma Shaban]
- That is creating a big debate over free speech online, and some tech CEOs are publicly wondering if they’ve gone too far. [Ars Technica / Timothy Lee]
- As CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince wrote, he believes his own “arbitrary” decision to remove the Daily Stormer from the internet shouldn’t be so arbitrary, because free speech is at stake. In a blog post, Prince said there needs to be an established process to determine what can and can’t be on the internet, so that a group of tech CEOs aren’t the only ones deciding. [Ars Technica / Timothy Lee]
Off the internet, officials in Boston are preparing for another “free speech rally” that will draw conservative activists and members of the alt-right, as well as counterprotesters. Police have warned people not to bring any weapons, and are keeping the groups confined to separate areas. [WBUR / Max Larkin]
- Thieves with a sweet tooth are on the loose in Germany, where a truck containing 20 tons of Nutella and Kinder Eggs was stolen, as well as another truck containing 30 tons of fruit juice. [NPR / Colin Dwyer]
- How do countries around the world deal with statues put up during dark periods of their history? Some have constructed entire parks devoted to monuments that were taken down, so they can be viewed with the proper historical context. [Atlas Obscura / Erik Schilling]
- In today’s top news for ridiculous vanity, an Indiana Congress member distributed an eight-page memo to his aides with specific details on how he likes to be driven around, with instructions for a smooth ride and all the things he likes to have (toothbrush, “petty cash,” stapler, and staple remover included). [Politico / John Bresnahan and Rachael Bade]
- For people who don’t know when to stop working: There’s a persuasive case that you get more done when you work less (think cutting the typical eight-hour workday in half). [The Guardian / Oliver Burkeman]
- In rural Washington, Trump voters are still facing addiction and poverty, and are growing frustrated with the seemingly endless chaos coming from the man they voted for. [Associated Press / Clare Galofaro]
- “I'm not talking to the president now. I'm sorry. After what he said about my child.” [Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer to Good Morning America / Robin Roberts]
- “I am not a hawk nor a dove. I am not a bird at all, again. I am not affiliated with any sort of organization with ‘coo’ or ‘clucks’ in its name, neither for racist reasons nor for the reason that these are noises a bird would make. I distance myself from both of those things equally.” [Washington Post / Alexandra Petri]
- “Excessive worry can lead to fatigue, lack of concentration, and muscle tightness. The interesting thing is the fatigue and lack of concentration are the opposite of what people are trying to promote when they’re advocating for vigilance.” [Scott Woodruff to the Atlantic / Julie Beck]
- “Modern archery is like you’re shooting a machine; with traditional, you feel it.” [Sebnum Salika Cakiroglu to NYT / Monique Jaques]
- “For the past 20 or 25 years two central themes in rap have been having money and finding ways to show it off; it makes sense that certain artists known for a dandyish flair in their music would gravitate toward the realm of European high fashion, which is nothing if not exclusive, distinctive, and expensive.” [NYMag / Frank Guan]
Watch this: How a recording studio mishap shaped ’80s music
It’s a unique opportunity to try to solve the mysteries of the sun’s atmosphere.
A total solar eclipse is a rare occasion to marvel at nature, contemplate life, and think about the cosmos. But the total solar eclipse on August 21 will also be an important moment to gather scientific data about the sun as the moon covers it completely for an hour-and-a-half journey across the United States.
To this day, many aspects of the sun remain a mystery: What causes solar flares, when massive amounts of energy and plasma are ejected from the sun? Why is the corona, the solar atmosphere, actually hotter than the surface?
The eclipse provides a natural experiment to test some of these questions. The moon is perfectly sized to block out the entire surface of the sun, leaving the corona, which is some million times fainter in our view.
“Even with our best instruments today we cannot recreate those observations,” Ryan Milligan, a solar physicist who works with NASA, says. The space agency has two spacecrafts, called the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory and STEREO, that can — with a disc — mimic an eclipse to study the sun.
But the moon provides a deeper view. With the moon, “we can see the corona almost all the way down to the surface,” Milligan says.
It’s essential for us understand the sun. For one, knowing more about our own star helps us understand all the other stars in the universe just a bit better. But we also need to understand the sun because of the dangers it poses to our civilization. One solar storm pointed toward Earth could take out or disrupt much of our communication infrastructure.
During this coming solar eclipse, there will be several experiments to make the most of this rare moment. One involves NASA sending up two WB-57F jets to trace the path of totality and capture the corona with specially mounted telescopes. The hope is to create a time-lapse video of the activity in the corona.
“These could well turn out to be the best-ever observations of high frequency phenomena in the corona,” Dan Seaton, a University of Colorado solar physicist leading the project, said in a press statement. Specifically, the planes will be searching for “nano flares” — relatively small pulses of energy that are hard to spot but might explain the superheating of the corona.
Other efforts will be ground-based. One NASA-funded experiment, called Citizen Cate, will link 68 telescopes (manned by high schools and universities) across the path of totality in the hope of creating a 90-minute video of the corona.
“Some of these cameras [attached to the telescopes] can take 100 frames per second, and from that, you could actually see waves propagating from coronal structures,” Milligan says. And charting those waves, again, could give clues to how energy is transferred from the surface of the sun to the corona. Another, separate project will launch dozens of balloons equipped with cameras and sensors in the path of totality to capture the event above the threat of clouds.
Eclipses have already yielded a wealth of fascinating scientific insights
If these efforts are successful, they’ll join the canon of scientific knowledge accumulated from eclipses past.
For instance, helium — the second most abundant element the entire universe — was discovered during a solar eclipse.
In 1868, a total eclipse was passing over southern India, and scientists had what was cutting-edge technology at the time: a spectroscope. The spectroscope is basically a prism — a device to separate light into its different wavelength components. When you point a spectroscope at burning gases, you can determine which element is burning in the flames by looking at the pattern of light that comes out of the prism.
The sun is, essentially, a ball of burning gases. In 1868, astronomer Pierre Janssen used a spectroscope to analyze the composition of the sun’s atmosphere during a total eclipse, and he found a strange spectral pattern. Further analysis revealed the element burning in the corona was like nothing else on record. The element was named “helium” (for helios, the Greek word for “sun.”) “Helium is the only element that was ever discovered somewhere else rather than on Earth first,” Steve Ruskin, an astronomer and science historian, says. And it’s all thanks to the solar eclipse.
One of the most famous scientific theories of all time was also proven during a solar eclipse: Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The theory, first published in 1915, said that gravity literally warps the space and time surrounding massive objects. The sun, the most massive object in the solar system, in this sense should act like a lens, bending light around it. In 1919, during an eclipse in South America, astronomers took photographs of the stars surrounding the sun during totality. And they found the evidence: Stars that should have appeared near the sun were shifted ever so slightly in the sky, proving spacetime warps around our star.
All this science is possible because of a cosmic coincidence: The apparent size of the moon is the same as the sun in our sky. There’s no scientific reason for this to be the case. We’re just lucky.
And we won’t be lucky forever. The moon is slowly getting farther and farther away from the Earth. It will take a billion years or more, Vox’s Joss Fong reports, but eventually there will be a final total solar eclipse.
By then, we hope, humanity — or whatever comes to replace it — will have finally figured out the secrets of the sun.
A resignation letter from all 17 committee members, including actor Kal Penn and author Jhumpa Lahiri, contained an acrostic that spells out “RESIST.”
All 17 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) have resigned in response to the controversial remarks Donald Trump made earlier this week in which he avoided condemning participants in a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The move follows Trump’s disbanding of the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategy and Policy Forum after several business leaders resigned from the two groups in protest over his remarks.
In a letter of resignation tweeted by PCAH committee member Kal Penn on Friday morning, the committee declared that “reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville.” The letter also contains an emphatic acrostic: The first letters of each of the five paragraphs combine to spell out “RESIST,” a word that has become associated with protest against the Trump administration.
The White House issued a statement on Friday afternoon claiming that the president had intended to disband the council anyway. This echoes Trump’s previous claim that he was disbanding the Strategy and Policy Forum after all its members had made the decision to disband it on their own, and prompted an amused response from Penn:
The PCAH is not connected to the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities; rather, it is responsible for education and cultural ambassadorship for the arts. Unlike the other advisory councils Trump has recently disbanded, however, the PCAH is a federal agency headed by Melania Trump as honorary chair. Its members were appointed by President Obama and include such cultural figureheads as author Jhumpa Lahiri and writer-director George C. Wolfe.
In its resignation letter, the committee condemned “the administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred” from “those who wish America ill.” But the committee also went further, noting the connection between the important work of the arts in creating empathy and love — “art is about inclusion” — and the work of the humanities in supporting “a vibrant free press.” Trump, the committee declared, had “attacked both,” along with numerous other civil liberties:
You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy funding. The administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Act and attacked our brave trans service members. You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women & children from our great country ... Your words and actions push us all away from the freedoms we are guaranteed.
All 17 members of the committee signed the letter, including Wolfe, who added his signature to the document after Penn’s tweet featuring the initial 16 signatories. Though the committee had not met under Trump’s administration, Politico reports that it had continued to do some of its basic work, which includes overseeing educational programs and diplomatic functions. The resignation of the full committee makes the PCAH the first White House agency to officially dissolve under President Trump.
“Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values,” the letter concluded. “We must be better than this.”
Steve Bannon’s hatred for “globalists” has done him in.
The controversial senior strategist was pushed out of the White House late on Friday, according to multiple reports, chiefly due to his constant feuding with his rivals inside the administration — people like National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn.
Bannon opposed them for essentially ideological reasons: He saw them as being soft on China, on Islam, and on immigration. He waged war against these so-called “globalists” in the press, developing a reputation for frequently leaking damaging stories to conservative media outlets — and was eventually pushed out when the president grew tired of Bannon getting so much attention and Chief of Staff John Kelly grew tired of the infighting.
That Bannon’s attempt to take power eventually led to his downfall is a funny irony. But it also means that Bannon’s crusade against globalism is on the verge of total failure.
Bannon fought so hard, by his own account, because he wanted to reshape the world, starting with the United States. This is a tremendously tough task: When you try to “drain the swamp,” the swamp creatures are going to fight back. He positioned himself against the ideas that had dominated official Washington, and indeed much of the world, for decades — and didn’t even come close to changing that consensus.
Trump does not have the discipline and policy knowledge to make this kind of radical change alone; he needed a figure like Bannon at his side. Now that Bannon is gone, the idea that Trump was going to radically reshape American foreign policy — what he promised during the campaign — looks vanishingly unlikely.
In short? If there’s no Steve Bannon, there’s no Trump Doctrine.
Bannon had a radical vision for the world
Bannon’s project centered on opposition to what he derisively called “globalism”: the idea of tearing down borders and linking countries through trade, immigration, and international institutions like NATO and the United Nations. He believed that Brexit and Trump’s rise in particular showed the way for a global uprising of so-called “nationalists” or “populists” against the status quo.
“We believe — strongly — that there is a global tea party movement,” Bannon said in a 2014 speech. “The central thing that binds that all together is a center-right populist movement of really the middle class, the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos.”
Bannon sees this movement’s central demand, sovereignty, in a disturbingly ethnonationalist way. He warned of an “invasion” of Europe by Muslims; he emphasized the need for countries that have a “Judeo-Christian” heritage to band together to fight radical Islam. The scale of the threat, Bannon has suggested, is akin to what the West faced in the 1930s.
“This is when Europe’s looking down the barrel of fascism — the rise of Mussolini in Italy, Stalin and the Russians and the communist Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union. And obviously Hitler and the Nazis,” he said in a 2016 radio show. “I mean you’re looking at fascism, you’re looking at communism. And to say that — what so blows me away is the timing of it. You could look in 1938 and say, ‘Look, it’s pretty dark here in Europe right now, but there’s something actually much darker. And that is Islam.’ ”
China, in Bannon’s eyes, was also a fundamental threat. He has predicted an outright war between the United States and China — two nuclear-armed powers — in under 10 years. In a recent interview with the American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner, one of the attention-hogging stunts that allegedly contributed to his departure, Bannon described the world as a zero-sum competition between the United States and China.
“We’re at economic war with China ... the economic war with China is everything,” he said. “One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path.”
This apocalyptic vision of global conflict really did drive Bannon’s behavior in Washington. His view of Muslim immigration as an “invasion” manifested in the Muslim ban, the initial draft of which was written entirely by Bannon and White House aide Stephen Miller. His fear of China, he told Kuttner, led him to push for harsh restrictions on trade with that country. It also was the motivation behind much of the infighting that got him fired, as he wanted to replace career officials who wanted to work with China with those who shared his aggressive worldview.
“I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State,” Bannon said in the Prospect interview. “That’s a fight I fight every day here.”
Bannon’s ideas aligned with Trump’s
This dark vision — of a Judeo-Christian, Western alliance squaring off against China and the Islamic world — gave an ordering principle to the president’s own impulses.
Trump shares Bannon’s support for European right-wing nationalism, his fear of Islam, and his instinctive hostility to China. But it’s clear, at this point, that the president does not have a way to translate those ideals into policies. Trump is neither an ideologist nor a policy wonk; his feelings about the world have little in the way of connective tissue or workable implications. It’s up to others to turn these impulses into an agenda.
Bannon had ideas for doing that. They were radical, and he worked — as he said — “every day” to try to implement them. But he didn’t have much of a support network.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the highest-level official who shared parts of Bannon’s worldview, doesn’t play a major role defining Trump’s foreign policy — and is busy trying to save his own job. Steven Miller has seemed to play a limited role in foreign policy decisions aside from the Muslim ban. Other than that, there’s no one at the top like Bannon.
Now look at who’s on the other side — the people who want to channel Trump away from Bannon’s vision and toward a more typical approach to foreign policy.
Kelly, McMaster, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis are well-known for taking basically conventional stances on the big foreign policy issues. As a group, they’re strongly in favor of maintaining traditional American alliances, generally hostile to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and skeptical of blaming Islam as a religion for jihadist terrorism. Gary Cohn, the NEC director, has been the biggest opponent of Bannon’s proposals for cracking down on trade with China. Jared Kushner, Trump’s influential son-in-law, seems to have views similar to this group — as does Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, though he’s been largely ineffectual in internal White House debates.
The “globalists,” as Bannon would call them, dominate the White House — the aides on Bannon’s side aren’t even close to their level of influence. The president has no demonstrated interest or capability to radically revise foreign policy on his own. His most controversial pronouncements, as my colleague Ezra Klein details, are actually being ignored by the foreign policy apparatus:
White House staff, congressional Republicans, military leaders, and executive branch officials are increasingly confident simply ignoring President Trump. After Trump tweeted that he wanted the military to ban transgender service members from serving, for instance, the Pentagon quickly said that it had not received an official order and was going to carry on with business as usual until it did. Similarly, after Trump tweeted his threats at North Korea, the key organs of American foreign policymaking — the State Department, the Defense Department, and so on — were quick to declare that nothing had changed, there was no military buildup or new red lines, and everyone should just ignore the commander in chief’s morning outburst.
Absent Bannon, there’s no one to give unifying voice to a distinctively Trumpian foreign policy, no one who could really take the president’s impulses and shape them into a truly radical doctrine. Without him, in short, the Trumpiest elements of the Trump administration is rudderless on foreign affairs.
Rudderless does not mean impotent, to be clear. The president still has the ability to make spur-of-the-moment decisions — like failing to commit to defending NATO allies in a speech or threatening to attack North Korea in a press conference — that destabilize global politics. That’s really scary, and I don’t mean to downplay it.
But off-the-cuff Trump pronouncements are not the same as radically transforming America’s approach to the world — forming an alliance with Russia to fight Islamism, for example, or taking an extremely hawkish line on China both militarily and economically. Those things take time, patience, and, above all, someone at the helm willing to fight for them.
It’s hard to say how Trump can be that guy without Bannon by his side.
With Steve Bannon’s ouster, four of these five Trump advisers are now gone.
Eight days after being sworn in as president, Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin while surrounded by five of his top advisers, as you can see in the above photo.
And now four of those five advisers are gone from the White House.
The ouster of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon Friday was just the latest personnel shift in an administration that’s had a remarkable amount of turnover so far.
Of the others in the photo:
- National Security Adviser Michael Flynn didn’t even last a month in his job — he was fired in February after news broke that he had misled the vice president about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition.
- Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer departed in July after Anthony Scaramucci was hired as communications director — Spicer quit in protest, and Priebus was ousted.
- Only Vice President Mike Pence — who was elected and can’t actually be fired, except through impeachment — remains.
And there’s been much more high-level White House turnover even than that.
- Trump’s first communications director, Mike Dubke, who never had much of a public profile, departed in May.
- His replacement, the infamous Anthony Scaramucci, was then fired by the new Chief of Staff John Kelly just 10 days after being named to the job — apparently because Scaramucci was incompetent and unqualified.
- And Deputy White House Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, a Priebus ally, left the administration in March, after her rivals attempted to brand her as a leaker.
That’s not to say that everyone has been cleared out. Many of the top White House staffers first appointed in January still hold their posts, including senior advisers Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller, counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, press aides Hope Hicks and Dan Scavino, legislative affairs director Marc Short, and White House counsel Don McGahn. Furthermore, under any president, White House staffers have difficult and stressful jobs, and turnover naturally occurs.
Still, it’s remarkable that Trump has burned through so many of his choices for senior jobs in less than seven months in office. For instance, his predecessor Barack Obama went through four official chiefs of staff and one interim one over his eight years in office — something Trump mocked at the time:
3 Chief of Staffs in less than 3 years of being President: Part of the reason why @BarackObama can't manage to pass his agenda.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 10, 2012
Trump is far exceeding that pace — not just for his own chief of staff (who had the shortest stint of anyone since the position was created) but for a whole swath of top-level White House jobs.
Interestingly, there’s been far less turnover in Trump’s Cabinet so far, with the only change being John Kelly’s move from secretary of homeland security to White House chief of staff. This makes sense — firing Cabinet members is more of a headache, since Trump would have to get their replacements confirmed by the Senate. But he has a much freer hand with filling White House vacancies.
What will — and won’t — change in a post-Bannon White House.
Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist and one of his most controversial advisers, is exiting the Trump administration after a tumultuous seven-month stint. The White House released a statement Friday saying that Bannon and White House chief of staff John Kelly had “mutually agreed” that this would be Bannon’s last day in his job.
Bannon’s departure has been long in the making. Trump signaled his public displeasure with Bannon’s high media profile back in April, and the chief strategist’s clashes with other administration officials have only worsened since. A new round of rumors about Bannon’s potentially imminent departure began swirling after Kelly was named chief of staff in late July and began exploring how to restructure the dysfunctional West Wing.
Then Bannon poured gasoline on the fire by giving a shockingly candid interview to liberal journalist Robert Kuttner Tuesday, in which he criticized some of his rivals in the administration by name, contradicted Trump’s stated North Korea policy, and explained his plans to reshuffle State Department personnel.
This provided his many internal enemies — who had already accused him of being too eager to leak and to take internal disputes to the press — with several more reasons to call for his head. (Bannon’s allies have put out the word that he wasn’t aware his remarks would be reported, which seems rather sloppy of him.) Now, Bannon is claiming that his departure was his own idea, and that he submitted his resignation two weeks ago — but several reporters are hearing that he was in fact fired.
In any case, Bannon’s exit marks a major milestone for an administration and indeed a party that he’s influenced in profound ways. Bannon has attempted to steer Trump administration policy, and the GOP generally, toward what he dubs nationalism.
Part of this strategy involved stoking white voters’ resentments of various “others” — immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters — beyond what was previously considered acceptable by GOP elites. President Trump shares Bannon’s instincts, and so this resentment stoking has suffused much of Trump’s campaign and presidency (as we saw in the president’s statements on the violence in Charlottesville).
Much of this will surely continue despite Bannon’s departure. But in losing Bannon, Trump is losing an adviser who was deeply committed to implementing this agenda at a granular level — someone who cared about policy details and lower-level personnel appointments, rather than just presidential tweets or statements.
Furthermore, Bannon has said he wants to turn the GOP toward economic nationalism — which he defines as tougher trade policies, increased infrastructure spending, and perhaps even tax hikes on the wealthy — as well. But he’s been much less successful on that front, as other advisers and interests have argued in favor of Republican status quo policies on economic issues, and have mainly won out in the Trump administration so far.
Bannon wasn’t Trump’s brain. But they had similar passions.
While Bannon has often been characterized as the shadowy adviser whispering things to Trump — “Trump’s brain” — the truth is more complicated. Many of the signature characteristics of Trump’s politics predated August 2016, when Bannon joined Trump’s campaign as its CEO.
What actually happened was that in the years before Trump’s campaign, he and Bannon seemed to come to parallel but similar realizations about what much of the GOP base wanted and truly cared about — and weren’t getting from existing Republican elites.
For Bannon, this realization came through running the conservative media outlet Breitbart News and noticing which issues resonated most with readers: The site spotlighted tales of lurid crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants, Muslims, and African Americans. Trump was drawn toward the same sorts of rhetoric, from the moment he launched his campaign and denounced Mexico for sending “rapists” to the US.
“Both of them had a real talent for kind of stoking resentment and channeling that resentment into a political force that they could direct at more mainstream Republicans and at Democrats,” Josh Green, author of the book Devil’s Bargain, told me in July.
The two men also shared a disdain for the GOP establishment. They had little use for Republican orthodoxy on economic issues (Bannon and Trump are both harsh critics of recent multilateral trade deals), and for what they viewed as an overly politically correct approach to campaigning.
But where Trump mainly expressed his views in off-the-cuff remarks and sound bites, Bannon tried to stitch it all together in a grand theory. Trump and his voters, he said, were part of a “global populist movement” challenging the power and conventional wisdom of political, cultural, and business elites in favor of “nationalism.”
Bannon dominated the Trump administration’s earliest days — and then lost influence
So days after Trump unexpectedly won the presidency, he announced that Bannon would be his White House chief strategist — a newly created position given equal billing with Reince Priebus’s appointment as chief of staff.
Bannon’s appointment was massively consequential because of where he came from and whom he was most focused on satisfying — the Breitbart base. By naming Bannon his top political adviser, Trump was signaling that his top political priority would be pleasing that base, rather than reaching out to try to build broader support. That was, after all, what Bannon knew how to do.
Furthermore, there was a power vacuum during the chaotic transition period, and Bannon took advantage of it. He helped craft a series of executive orders Trump could use to start off his presidency with a bang, in a strategy deemed “shock and awe.”
Several of the orders involved immigration, and Bannon huddled with fellow anti-immigration hardliners like Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller to craft their details — with hardly any consultation from the agencies that would implement them or the lawyers who’d be tasked with defending them in court.
But in the end, one order towered above the rest in importance — the travel ban. The order Bannon’s team drew up was remarkably extreme in both substance and execution, and threw airports all over the country into chaos. It led to the sudden detention of hundreds of people and many others being turned away from flights or sent back out of the US after landing there. It also led to massive, spontaneous protests across the country and, eventually, the courts stepping in to block it. (A greatly scaled-back version went into effect months later.)
The travel ban fiasco defined the beginning of the Trump presidency, overshadowing everything else he tried to do and poisoning any attempts at outreach he might have hoped to make.
It also fed a narrative that Bannon, not Trump, was truly pulling the strings in the White House — a narrative the president didn’t like very much. So Bannon was reined in somewhat. There was to be no more blindsiding the rest of the administration with monumental executive orders. He was now clearly one adviser among many.
Bannon has spent the past few months waging war against his rivals in the administration
Bannon then transitioned from shock and awe to something more like trench warfare — he and his “nationalists,” against people he viewed as his rivals in the administration, whom he referred to with the epithet “globalists.”
Publicly, Bannon has styled his role as trying to make sure Trump sticks to his campaign platform against establishment-oriented advisers who are trying to steer him in a more conventional direction. And this means a lot of conflict.
On trade policy, he wanted tougher measures against China but faced opposition from National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs COO. “That’s a fight I fight every day here,” Bannon said to Kuttner. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying. We gotta do this. The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s like, every day.”
Meanwhile, on foreign policy, Bannon has sparred with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. He reportedly opposed Trump’s strike in Syria in April, and has been arguing against McMaster’s recommendations to send more troops to Afghanistan. But he also claims to be using his influence with the president to get rid of lower-level State and Defense Department officials he dislikes. “I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State,” he told Kuttner.
There have also been many reports about Bannon coming into conflict with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser. Bannon seems to view Kushner as too beholden to business and New York elite opinion on controversial matters. Their conflict started spilling out into the press in April, and is sometimes said to include Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, as well.
Overall, Bannon has made many enemies in the administration. These rivals essentially view him as a mischief maker beholden to his own ideological faction rather than to the success of the administration as a whole. And fairly or not, he’s gained a reputation for leaking and trying to undermine other officials in the media.
So when John Kelly came in as chief of staff and started thinking about how he should shake up the West Wing, Bannon’s continued presence in the administration came into serious question. The New York Times reported Monday that Bannon could well be fired, and that he has been blamed for leaks. And Trump was vague on Bannon’s future at a press conference Tuesday, saying, “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.” And now he’s out.
What Bannon couldn’t do: turn the GOP left on economics
In reflecting on Bannon’s influence in the administration now that he’s headed out the door, it’s worth looking back at an excited interview he gave to journalist Michael Wolff back during the transition.
“We’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” Bannon said. He continued:
It's everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I'm the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it's the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.
If this had happened, it would have been a fascinating start to the Trump administration. Infrastructure spending polls incredibly well, meaning the new president would have begun his term with an initiative that could unify rather than divide the public. Meanwhile, Democrats (particularly those in red states) would have faced enormous pressure to work with Trump, and even holdout Republicans would likely fear getting on the wrong side of the new president.
But the White House didn’t end up doing anything like this. Instead, Bannon’s infrastructure push was relegated to the bottom of the administration’s priority list. There hasn’t been a serious, substantive push on it all year.
There were understandable reasons. New roads and bridges cost money, and Trump would need Congress to give him that money. The problem was that Republican leaders who controlled Congress simply didn’t support ramping up infrastructure spending. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress faced powerful partisan incentives to oppose the administration, so an effort to work with them would have been risky.
So the White House decided to sign on to GOP leaders’ preferred agenda of health reform first, then tax reform — an agenda that’s now in shambles.
Much of the rest of Bannon’s hoped-for economic nationalist agenda has fallen by the wayside too. Trump has put the kibosh on major new multilateral trade deals, but hasn’t yet done much to roll back the existing status quo (advisers have warned him that tougher measures against China could start a trade war). Bannon’s reported suggestions that Trump back a tax increase on the wealthy have also been ignored. The result is that when it comes to economics, Trump’s administration has looked a lot more conventionally Republican than Bannon would have preferred.
Bannon’s departure will likely change the administration most in lower-profile ways
We certainly shouldn’t expect the spirit of the Trump administration to greatly change now that Bannon is departing. The president himself has repeatedly demonstrated that his own instincts on racial controversies are much like Bannon’s. And Bannon has gotten like-minded people into prominent administration jobs — for instance, fellow immigration hardliners Sessions and Miller will continue to guide policy there.
Still, with Bannon’s exit, Trump really is losing a high-level adviser who was deeply committed to operationalizing — rather than watering down — some of the most controversial parts of his agenda.
Again, while President Trump may share Bannon’s instincts on many matters, he has little interest in policy details or lower-level personnel appointments. Bannon was greatly interested in both, and worked hard to try to ensure that they complied with his “nationalist” views.
Trump could get someone else to fill a similar role (Stephen Miller seems an obvious candidate). But it’s also possible that, beyond Trump’s tweets and top-level decisions, the administration could drift in a more establishment-oriented direction on some fronts without Bannon there to wage lower-profile fights. Who will keep pushing against the tide on trade policy, or try to veto lower-level agency appointments?
The bigger picture, though, is that after seven months of the Trump administration under chief strategist Steve Bannon, the president’s approval rating is down at 37 percent. That’s hardly all Bannon’s fault — he was a skeptic of the health care push and doesn’t seem to be embroiled in the Russia scandal.
Still, much of Trump’s failure to start off his presidency on a more positive and popular footing should indeed be laid at Bannon’s feet. Bannon has often seemed more focused on pleasing the Breitbart base and waging war against his own enemies than on making Trump a successful and broadly popular president. So with a chief strategist like that, it’s no surprise that Trump has ended up largely unsuccessful and unpopular.
Neo-Nazis marched and a chief strategist got fired.
There was really only one political story this week — Donald Trump’s erratic behavior in the wake of a white supremacist murder in Charlottesville, Virginia, and its fallout. But the sheer volume of events and kaleidoscopic array of consequences — ranging from the removal of a statue in Annapolis, Maryland, to the imperiling of the president’s relationship with key congressional Republicans, to the departure of chief strategist Steve Bannon — can be difficult to keep up with.
Here’s what you need to know.
Trump pulled his usual tango with an explosive group
It all started with the “Unite the Right” gathering of “alt-right” white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville who rallied in defense of the town’s statue of Robert E. Lee and marched carrying torches and chanting slogans like “Jews will not replace us.” The rally attracted counterprotesters, and a Nazi sympathizer named James Field drove his car into them, injuring nine people and killing one woman, Heather Heyer.
- Trump’s back-and-forth: Trump’s initial reaction Saturday blamed “many sides” for violence, leading to several days of criticism, a reluctant Monday statement clearly blaming white supremacists, and then unscripted remarks on Tuesday where Trump returned to the many sides theme and even defended some of the marchers.
- Trump is Trump: The remarks were, fundamentally, nothing new for a man who launched his ascendancy in Republican politics with birther conspiracies, said a judge was unfit to serve based on Mexican ancestry, and campaigned on a Muslim ban.
- Why it matters: Practical responses to Trump continue to vary across the board, but this appears to be the week when the American political elite finally reached the conclusion that, whatever you think of Trump, he’s not going to change who he is.
Corporate America kinda ditched Trump
Backlash to Trump’s flirtations with white supremacist groups led to increasing pressure on American businesses to distance themselves from the White House by quitting his various advisory councils. At first, Trump was defiant, but eventually he bowed to the inevitable by folding the councils.
- Trump is no longer intimidating: Early in his presidency, many businesses clearly feared Trump, and there was a lot of discussion of the possibility that he could shift corporate culture in favor of domestic production and against outsourcing by using his Twitter bully pulpit. But Trump is now sufficiently unpopular that the dynamic, if anything, goes the other way, and companies are under pressure to not align with the White House.
- Business still loves Trump: But make no mistake — these advisory councils are just for show. Corporate America has every intention of continuing to work quietly with the White House on their shared priorities of slashing regulations and cutting corporate taxes. It’s just that it will happen in a low-key way.
- CEOs could check Trump if they cared: When corporate America gets really mad about something, they make their voice heard through collective action (and massive political spending) via groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. If CEOs wanted to, they could use these levers against Trump. Instead, they’re running ads in support of Republican tax cuts.
Trump’s fighting with Senate Republicans
Charlottesville fallout does appear to be further imperiling Trump’s relationship with Senate Republicans, a relationship that had already been strained after the failure of Obamacare repeal efforts. The key step here was Trump taking the extraordinary measure of directly calling for a primary challenge to Jeff Flake (R-AZ), though the clashes are multidimensional.
- Republicans are hitting Trump: Incumbent senators — including majority leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Arizonian John McCain — were quick to rally around Flake. And the nexus of the Flake attacks with Charlottesville is emboldening other Republicans to express their annoyance. Sen. Bob Corker complained that Trump hasn’t shown the “stability” or “competence” the country needs from a president, while Tim Scott (R-SC) said Trump’s “moral authority is compromised.”
- Flake challenging Trump on policy: Trump’s explicit endorsement of a primary challenger to Flake appears to have helped inspire Flake to clearly and directly break with Trump on immigration, standing up for the value of the “low-skilled” immigrants whom Trump wants to bar from the country.
- Why it matters: Since FDR’s time, presidents have shied away from challenging same-party presidents — even ones who defy them — for precisely this reason. Open warfare tends to provoke more policy dissent from the senator you’re at war with, while incumbent senators like to protect other incumbents.
We started talking about Confederate statues
The Unite the Right rally was not primarily about the Robert E. Lee statue that inspired it, but it has helped spark a national debate on the subject by inspiring critics of Confederate monuments to step up their activism, while inducing Trump to explicitly endorse them as an integral part of American history.
- Monuments coming down in Maryland: Early in the week, the mayor of Baltimore quickly and quietly dispensed with the city’s Confederate statues, and a few days later, the governor of Maryland removed a statue of the author of the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision from public grounds.
- Trump stands up for statues: Seeking to shift conversation away from the very dicey ground of neo-Nazi marches, Trump tweeted vocal support for Confederate statues (a position that has traditionally polled well), asking, “who’s next, Washington, Jefferson?”
- What’s next: While Confederate statues are swiftly dispensed with in no-longer-Southern Maryland, the issue looks set to be a significant flashpoint in November’s elections in Virginia — a state that’s emerged as blue-leaning while retaining significant amounts of Southern identity. The Confederate statues that sit in the United States Congress are also coming under increasing criticism from Democrats, but there’s no sign they’ll be removed.
Steve Bannon got fired
To cap things off, on Friday afternoon word began leaking from the White House that the president had decided to fire chief strategist Steve Bannon — or maybe that Bannon had already submitted his resignation. The White House confirmed that Friday would be Bannon’s last day.
- Progressives have been demanding this: Bannon was Trump’s most visible and clearly identifiable link to the alt-right, and pressure to fire him has come from progressive groups and congressional Democrats since the day his appointment was announcement.
- He seems to have been fired for other reasons: One read of Trump’s outbursts this week regarding Charlottesville is that it’s his way of clarifying that getting rid of Bannon does not mean backing down in the face of critics who charge him and his administration with racism. Bannon got fired because he’s been the source of inter-office leaks and drama, not because Trump has any fundamental disagreement with his view of ethnic politics.
- What’s next? A critical question moving forward is what Bannon’s departure augurs for coverage of the Trump administration from his Breitbart media empire. In the immediate aftermath of the news, rank-and-file Breitbarters seemed ready to go to war with Trump. But it’s far from clear that Bannon himself wants to go in that direction.
With Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House, there are some signals that Breitbart News — the website Bannon ran that has relentlessly boosted Trump — might be about to turn on the administration.
Without Bannon, "it's now a Democrat White House," one anonymous source close to the former chief strategist reportedly told New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman. Sherman reported that Bannon is expected to return to Breitbart — the far-right media network he raised to a national platform under President Donald Trump.
Some of Bannon’s former colleagues at Breitbart, like senior editor at large Joel Pollak, have been declaring war much more literally.
Pollak wrote that the decision to part ways with Bannon “may turn out to be the beginning of the end for the Trump administration” in a Breitbart article with the headline “With Steve Bannon Gone, Donald Trump risks becoming Arnold Schwarzenegger 2.0”:
Bannon was not just Trump’s master strategist, the man who turned a failing campaign around in August 2016 and led one of the most remarkable come-from-behind victories in political history. He was also the conservative spine of the administration. His infamous whiteboard in the West Wing listed the promises Trump had made to the voters, and he was determined to check as many of them off as possible. Steve Bannon personified the Trump agenda.
With Bannon gone, there is no guarantee that Trump will stick to the plan. That is why — too late, in retrospect — conservative leaders wrote to the president Friday to advise him that Bannon and campaign manager-turned-counselor Kellyanne Conway were too valuable to lose.
Breitbart London’s editor-in-chief Raheem Kassam posted a mock-up of a “Bannon 2020” campaign banner.
The White House confirmed Bannon’s departure Friday, after months of rumors that the strategist was on shaky ground. Trump signaled in April that he was unhappy with Bannon’s growing media profile. Internal divisions within the White House have only escalated since.
Even so, Bannon, and his Breitbart media world, is deeply intertwined with Trumpism. It won’t be an easy divorce, and going against Trump could prove to be an extraordinarily risky move for Breitbart, which has grown in national name recognition largely because of Trump’s base.
War would be as much a test of Breitbart’s brand as it is Trump’s — and it’s unlikely that it would end in Breitbart’s favor.
There is an alternative route for Breitbart, which the Washington Post’s Robert Costa pointed out. Bannon has always been careful not to wage war against Trump specifically, but rather find foils in his inner circle — specifically advisers like Gary Cohn and Jared Kushner, whom Bannon sees as corporate “globalists.” In this scenario, the war wouldn’t be against Trump, but against those that are leading him astray.
This is the web version of VoxCare, a daily newsletter from Vox on the latest twists and turns in America’s health care debate. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get VoxCare in your inbox here.
The Trump administration announced in April that it would cut the Affordable Care Act's open enrollment period in half.
Typically, the government has given health law enrollees 90 days to sign up for coverage in the fall. This year, they will have just 45 days to enroll in marketplace plans, from November 1 through December 15.
States that like Obamacare are starting to push back on this change. Louise Norris at HealthInsurance.org (are you following her on Twitter? You should!) reports that six states have extended their open enrollment periods to look a lot like the pre-Trump era. This includes:
- Colorado (open enrollment extended until January 12)
- Minnesota (open enrollment extended until January 14)
- Rhode Island (open enrollment extended until January 1)
- Washington (open enrollment extended until January 15)
- California (open enrollment extended until January 31)
- District of Columbia (open enrollment extended until January 31)
These are six states that run their own health insurance marketplaces, meaning they have the flexibility to change the rules — for example, run a longer open enrollment period than what the federal government has proposed.
Twelve states and the District of Columbia run their own insurance marketplaces. The rest are run either completely by or in partnership with the federal government, and rely on the Healthcare.gov platform. These states have significantly less ability to change the rules around their marketplaces.
Over the past few years, we saw a handful of states switch from running their own marketplaces to handing that work over to the federal government. Building insurance marketplaces turned out to be remarkably hard work (Exhibit A: Healthcare.gov) and there didn't seem to be much advantage to doing that work if the federal government was offering to step in and take over.
States could offload a responsibility to the government and, in 2014 and 2015, a handful did. Once Healthcare.gov seemed stable, states like Oregon and Hawaii — both supportive of the health care law — switched over to the federal platform.
At the time, the decision seemed to make sense. I often wondered why other states didn't follow in their footsteps. Why replicate the work that the federal government was willing to do for free? During the Obama administration, there didn't seem to be a huge difference between running one's own marketplace or leaving the task to the feds. Both administrators wanted to build a marketplace that worked, which was what seemed to matter the most.
But the states that held onto their state-based marketplaces are now seeing the advantages of this decision. This flexibility matters to states attempting to Trump-proof their insurance marketplaces.
California, one of the states that extended its open enrollment period, is one of the best examples of this right now. Along with the longer sign-up period, it is spending an additional $5 million on marketing to counter the current uncertainty over the law's future that might have some enrollees thinking their coverage no longer exists.
For the past few years, the marketplaces that states run and the marketplaces the federal government runs have looked relatively similar. But this year could well be the start of a divergence, where state-run marketplaces act differently than Healthcare.gov. They do things to encourage robust enrollment when the White House does not.
And if this is indeed the case, it will be the state that supported Trump that will get hurt the most. These are places like Kentucky, which used to have a state-run marketplace but defaulted to Healthcare.gov in 2016 under the leadership of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. They will have shorter enrollment periods and less outreach, which near certainly will lead to fewer sign-ups. The places that have held onto control of the health care law seem to have a much better shot at success.
Chart of the Day
Most Americans want Trump to continue ACA outreach — including Republicans. While you see a partisan split in who wants to continue enforcing the individual mandate, there is clear support on both sides of the aisle for the Trump administration continuing health law outreach in the latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Read the full results here.
With research help from Caitlin Davis
Today's top news
- “Dems ask Trump officials for briefing on ObamaCare”: “Top Democrats on committees overseeing healthcare are requesting a briefing on the administration’s plans for ObamaCare’s open enrollment season, which begins Nov. 1, amid uncertainty over how President Trump will administer the law.” —Rachel Roubein, the Hill
- “Bernie Sanders’ first draft of “Medicare for All””: “There's been a lot written lately about how Democrats are going to have to start working out details about single payer if they're serious about running on it. Now, we're getting a better idea of how Bernie Sanders will address some of them — though not all of them — in the "Medicare for all" bill he hopes to introduce next month.” —David Nather, Axios
- “Mylan, Department of Justice finalize $465 million settlement over EpiPen, Medicaid drug rebates”: “Mylan and Mylan Specialty will pay $465 million to settle allegations they knowingly misclassified renowned epinephrine auto-injector drug EpiPen as a generic drug to avoid paying Medicaid rebates in violation of the False Claims Act, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.” —Beth Jones Sanborn, Healthcare Finance
Analysis and longer reads
- “Time Crunch Among Hurdles for Bipartisan Senate Push to Bolster ACA”: “The leaders of a key Senate committee say they are cautiously optimistic about reaching a deal to shore up the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplaces, but even with a bipartisan effort, it is far from certain whether they can hash out an agreement in time.” —Jon Reid, Morning Consult
- “Most hospices fare well in first public release of Medicare quality scores”: “In a press briefing Wednesday, Kate Goodrich of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said the effort will provide a “snapshot on the quality of care delivered by each provider” that will “help consumers make informed decisions.” Scores for the vast majority of hospices were near the top end of the quality range — so good, in fact, that some observers questioned whether consumers will find the data useful for comparison shopping.” —Cheryl Clark, STAT
- “Managed Care Companies Should Publish Lessons Learned From Studying Their Own Big Data”: “Managed care companies have an imperative to participate in quality improvement initiatives, conduct rigorous, transparent research with our data, and widely share and disseminate those findings so that others may learn from and build on our experiences.” —Stuart L. Lustig and Liana D. Castel, Health Affairs
Join the conversation
Are you an Obamacare enrollee interested in what happens next? Join our Facebook community for conversation and updates.
Just over three weeks ago — on July 27 — the New York Post made its cover “Survivor: White House” amid reports of chaos and uncertainty in the administration. With Steve Bannon’s departure Friday, three of the seven officials pictured are now gone.
Bannon joins Reince Priebus (who was ousted July 28) and Anthony Scaramucci (who was removed from his new job as communications director before he could even formally start on July 31).
They join other notable departures from the Trump administration in its first not-quite-seven months:
- Acting Attorney General Sally Yates — fired January 30, 2017
- National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — resigned February 13, 2017
- Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh — resigned March 30, 2017
- FBI Director James Comey — fired May 9, 2017
- Director of communications Mike Dubke — resigned May 30, 2017
- Director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub — resigned July 6, 2017
- White House director of communications Sean Spicer— resigned July 21, 2017
- White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus — ousted July 28, 2017
- White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci — fired July 31, 2017
- White House chief strategist Steve Bannon — resigned August 18, 2017
Also on the New York Post cover is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom President Trump has repeatedly mocked on Twitter; Trump also told the New York Times in July that, in hindsight, “If he was going to recuse himself [from the Russia investigation], he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.”
Sessions, though, still has his job.
Harsh new Chinese sanctions have sparked protests. Is it just savvy optics?
China is getting serious about cracking down on North Korea with punishing economic sanctions — or at least it’s trying to make it look that way.
This week China abruptly cut off seafood imports from North Korea in accordance with new UN Security council sanctions intended to discourage North Korea from advancing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. And it did so with such speed and intensity that it’s causing an uproar among Chinese seafood traders whose businesses are suffering from the move.
Protests have spread across the Northeastern Chinese city of Hunchun, which hosts hundreds of seafood processing plants and relies almost entirely on food imported from North Korea. Dozens of Chinese seafood importers demonstrated in the streets this week carrying red banners with slogans such as “Money earned from our blood and sweat is sitting on the bridge. Please, customs, let us go” and “Sanction North Korea, as long as you protect Chinese citizens from losses.” (Hopefully they’re catchier in the original Chinese.)
“It was completely laughable,” Lang Yulin, an importer from Hunchun, told the Financial Times. “We received the notice of the customs ban only half an hour before everything was totally shut down.”
North Korea relies on China for about 90 percent of its foreign trade. So any move Beijing takes to restrict the flow of North Korean goods into China deals a substantial blow to Pyongyang. But because China’s economy is so intertwined with North Korea’s, it also causes hurt at home.
“I have more than 30 workers and I asked them to all go home or find other jobs,” Song Min, who runs a fresh seafood business in Hunchun, told the Associated Press.
China clearly wants to look tough on North Korea to outside observers. The very fact that the protests have been so visible and that the Chinese government hasn’t cracked down on them is likely a deliberate decision to allow the world to witness evidence of its sanctions.
“The fact that they would let [the protests] be amplified in the media is probably part of an information operation inside China,” explains Patrick Cronin, the senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the left-leaning Center for a New American Security. “They want to find ways to signal that they’re doing something.”
But experts say the question is whether China will stay the course.
China has few good options on North Korea
China has a tricky dilemma when it comes to leaning on North Korea. It would prefer that North Korea not have nuclear weapons and provoke the global community constantly with its missile testing, and for that reason it does want to apply some pressure to Pyongyang.
On the other hand, China isn’t as worried about North Korea’s nuclear program as it is the potential collapse of the country itself, which would create a refugee crisis on the peninsula and likely send millions of North Koreans pouring across the Chinese-North Korean border. China also believes the US would likely dramatically increase its military presence in the region to deal with the fallout from the collapse and to secure North Korea’s nuclear weapons. And a US military presence on China’s border is not something China’s leaders want to see any time soon.
That dilemma has resulted in an incoherent mix of economic policies toward North Korea. China announced a ban on coal imports from North Korea in February, but overall trade between China and North Korea grew in the first quarter by close to 40 percent. China is also famously lax in its enforcement of the UN-backed luxury goods ban on North Korea; Glaser told me during an interview in April that she’s seen Mercedes-Benz cars drive across the China–North Korean border without license plates.
Right now China has an interest in making dramatic gestures with sanctions enforcement for tactical relief from US pressure. The White House has been demanding that Beijing do more to pinch North Korea’s economy and slow the progress of its nuclear programs, and even hit Chinese banks with sanctions to goad them into doing it.
But while the protests make the Chinese government look like they’re willing to make hard decisions to put more heat on North Korea, what really matters is if they’re still doing it in the future.
“The pattern in the past has been initial compliance with sanctions, then becoming more lax over time,” Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and international Studies, told me.
Cronin says that China’s “attention span on sanctions tends to be very short” — typically six months or less.
There is reason to think China could behave differently this time.
President Trump is persistently threatening to impose severe tariffs on China’s exports if it doesn’t do more to curb North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. And China is already unnerved by South Korea and Japan’s attempts to improve their missile capabilities. As international pressure ramps up, these developments could be just enough to get China to rethink its usual strategy.
Donald Trump doesn't need help being a racial demagogue.
When Steve Bannon was hired as President Trump’s chief strategist — one of the first two hires the president-elect announced after winning the election — it was correctly regarded as a symbol that Trump would govern as the same sort of populist he’d been during the campaign: loose-cannon attention seeking in style, “law and order” hawkishness about immigration, Islam, and crime in policy.
But the opposite isn’t true. Bannon’s departure from the White House, announced on Friday after weeks of speculation, doesn’t mean the Trump administration is pivoting away from “Trumpism” — the racialized populism Bannon represented. If anything, it means that Bannonian strategy has been so deeply embedded in the DNA of the Trump administration that Bannon’s own presence is no longer needed.
Consider Tuesday’s press conference — in which Trump said that the white supremacist march in Charlottesville featured “very fine people” and deflected blame for the violence that killed one counterprotester onto “bad people on both sides” — a commencement ceremony. Trump isn’t firing Bannon. He’s graduating from him.
Bannon wasn’t the driver of Trumpism within the Trump administration
For all the drama of the Trump White House, with its alarming turnover and constant backstabbing leaks, it’s easy to assume that no one in the executive branch has any idea what they’re doing. That might look even more true with the departure of Bannon, who cultivated (to Trump’s annoyance) a reputation as being the master puppeteer of the Trump phenomenon.
But it’s not. If the leaks are to be believed, Steve Bannon doesn’t appear to have been really doing anything in the Trump White House. When new Chief of Staff John Kelly made the rounds to figure out who fit where within the West Wing org chart, according to Politico, he apparently heard from multiple people that Bannon didn’t actually have any responsibilities. According to the New York Times, Bannon spent the last week “in exile,” with no face-to-face meetings with Trump — even as Trump’s response to Charlottesville seemed to reflect Bannon’s worldview as well as anything else the president had done. As the rumors of Bannon’s ouster circulated, one anonymous staffer snarked to Axios that at least his departure would be smooth because he didn’t have any projects to wrap up.
While Bannon has been swanning around with his whiteboard, though, other figures in the White House and the rest of the executive branch have been working to implement the social arm of the Trumpist agenda: to crack down on legal and unauthorized immigration, to re-empower police officers to do what they need to do to crack down on street crime and left-wing protest.
Take Stephen Miller, who helped write the RAISE Act — the only major bill the Trump administration has had a hand in introducing since inauguration, which would cut legal immigration to the US in half over 10 years — and who is increasingly central to the White House’s communications work. Take Sebastian Gorka, whose willingness to defend the Trump administration’s record on terrorism has made him a favorite of the president.
Take Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who, after a period of public tension, appears to have been reassured of his stature by Kelly, and who is plugging along with his threats to deprive cities of federal grants because they don’t do enough to help federal agents enforce immigration law. Or take Kelly himself, who was a staunch defender of the Trump administration’s fights against “bad hombres” of all stripes as secretary of homeland security.
Not all of these figures liked Bannon himself. And not all of them necessarily believe that Trump’s style is helpful to getting his agenda enacted, the way Bannon does. But they’re all doing the work of turning Trumpism into not just a political style but the policy of the United States government.
Bannonism has failed and Trumpism has won
But the “law and order” policies that have emerged as the core of Trumpism are only half of the governing philosophy Bannon himself supports. Bannon’s label for his own philosophy — “economic nationalism” — might be a dubious attempt to distance himself from the ethnic nationalists who make up many of his allies, but it’s also a reminder that economic populism is part of Bannonesque Republicanism.
And the Trump administration hasn’t seen much of that at all. The plum economic jobs have gone to Goldman Sachs bankers — whom Breitbart calls “globalists,” complete with globe emojis, in an increasingly unsubtle anti-Semitism.
Trump distinguished himself among his primary opponents for opposing cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and for saying that government should make sure people don’t die for lack of health coverage. Then he proceeded to spend weeks at a time pressuring Congress to pass Obamacare repeal bills that would restrict coverage. He may have called the bill passed by the House “mean” after the fact, but it didn’t stop him from holding a Rose Garden party when it passed the chamber, or induce him to oppose a Senate bill that would also have stripped coverage from millions of people.
And then there have been all the doomed attempts to pivot to infrastructure.
The fact of the matter is that Trump has, since the election, ceded economic policy to the Republican establishment in exchange for them not attempting to “tame” him on social and racial issues (and simply on issues of style).
As Ezra Klein wrote earlier today, Trump simply doesn’t appear interested in doing the work that would push forward an economic agenda. He is much more interested in saying racially inflammatory things and getting people to pay attention to him. That might, on occasion, advance a policy agenda on “law and order” issues — it can’t really advance an agenda on economic ones.
Trumpism is becoming policy without Trump’s personal involvement. Bannonism would require a bigger lift. And it’s one the president is uninterested in providing.
Bannon’s genius is for attention. Trump had that talent from birth.
Despite Bannon’s lofty monologues about “economic nationalism,” though, his key contribution to the conservative movement and the Trump presidency wasn’t his ideology. It was a tactical insight: to treat American politics as a constant culture war.
Breitbart under Bannon was more hawkish on immigration than other conservative outlets, sure. But it was notable for its willingness to jump on stories outside Washington that could cast people on the “other side” of the culture war — liberals, higher ed institutions and academics, immigrants, people of color — as the villains. The site had a “Black Crime” vertical. The stories themselves weren’t politics stories, but they were part of a politics.
If people were outraged, at least they were paying attention. And if “the left” was outraged and overreacted, even better — it would make the Breitbarters look like the victims and their critics look like the ones who wanted to “divide” America.
Of course, all of these were tricks that Donald Trump was using long before Steve Bannon got on board. Trump didn’t actually need to be taught that saying inflammatory things was good for keeping all attention on you, or that there was a subset of Americans who were so hungry for an alternative to “political correctness” that they’d accept tired racism as blunt truths.
The reason Donald Trump was the Republican presidential nominee was because he knew these things. Bannon simply stepped in in the fall of 2016 to make sure Trump wasn’t steamrolled by the Republican establishment into forgetting them.
After half a year of the Trump presidency, it’s eminently clear that there is never any reason to worry that Donald Trump will forget how to say inflammatory things for attention.
Trump’s post-Charlottesville press conference on Tuesday, reportedly lauded by Bannon as a “high point,” was also a reminder that Trump didn’t need anyone whispering in his ear to remind him to praise the “very fine people” marching at a white supremacist rally and lie about who had initiated the violence. He did that on his own. Bannon was free to go.
Trump is losing control of his administration, and he likes it that way.
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump praised autocrats and exhibited strongman tendencies. But as president of the United States, Trump is proving to be one of the weakest, most disinterested executives in memory. He seems happy — even eager — to be both operationally and ideologically marginalized inside his own administration.
This is, I think, the best way to understand the ouster of chief strategist Steve Bannon.
White House staff, congressional Republicans, military leaders, and executive branch officials are increasingly confident simply ignoring President Trump. After Trump tweeted that he wanted the military to ban transgender service members from serving, for instance, the Pentagon quickly said that it had not received an official order and was going to carry on with business as usual until it did. Similarly, after Trump tweeted his threats at North Korea, the key organs of American foreign policymaking — the State Department, the Defense Department, and so on — were quick to declare that nothing had changed, there was no military buildup or new red lines, and everyone should just ignore the commander in chief’s morning outburst.
A list like this could go on. Senate Republicans are ignoring the president’s demand to keep holding votes on health reform. The National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services are ignoring Trump’s campaign promises to raise taxes on the rich and protect Social Security and Medicaid from cuts. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — one of the few executive branch officials who seems to ideologically align with Trump — is ignoring Trump’s clear desire that he resign, or at least take a more aggressive hand overseeing Bob Mueller.
As CNBC’s John Harwood concluded in a recent overview, “fresh evidence arrives every day of the government treating the man elected to lead it as someone talking mostly to himself.”
Trump could react to all this with fury. He could elevate aides, like Bannon, who are committed to his ideological agenda and invested in reshaping the federal government around his vision, and fire Cabinet officials and top staffers who seem to be using his administration to drive their agendas. But he isn’t.
In a recent interview on my podcast, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes outlined a theory as to why. He argued that it’s wrong to see this as the government defying the president. This, he thinks, is exactly how Trump wants it:
I don't think the president wants to be in charge. I think he wants to sit on his couch and yell at his TV screen and tweet things, but he's almost happy to be able to kind of get it out of his system and not have anyone listen to him. I think his optimal equilibrium is hectoring Jeff Sessions but Jeff Sessions not quitting, or tweeting out the thing about transgender service members and the military ignoring him, or tweeting out threats to North Korea and not actually changing American posture.
I think that that we have arrived at a new equilibrium in which both the interior members of his staff, the actual federal bureaucracy, the US Congress, the US public, the global public, and global leaders all basically understand the president is fundamentally a bullshit artist and you just shouldn't listen to what he says.
Which brings us back to Bannon’s ouster, and what it means for the Trump administration going forward.
There are two ways a president can make sure the federal policy roughly tracks his wishes. One way is to insist on it himself, but Trump has no interest in doing that. Another way is to outsource ideological enforcement to committed, empowered lieutenants.
Bannon was the closest thing Trump had to a lieutenant like that: He was the true believer running around the federal government trying to force various agencies and officials to align their work with Trump’s campaign promises. In his interview with the American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner, Bannon said that forcing the government to actually carry out Trump’s trade agenda was a daily struggle. “That’s a fight I fight every day here,” he said. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and [National Economic Council Chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying. ... The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy.”
The problem is that Bannon could only win those fights if Trump wanted him to win those fights — and now we see Trump didn’t. Instead, Trump has systematically elevated outsiders to his campaign and operation like John Kelly and Gary Cohn while alienating or firing allies like Bannon and Reince Priebus. The result is a White House where the top staff doesn't care what Trump says and the president doesn't seem to care that they don't care.
This doesn’t make much sense unless you buy Hayes’s theory of Trump’s presidency: that we’re watching a president who wants to comment on his own presidency without actually driving its agenda or being held accountable for anything he says. Having someone like Bannon running around demanding the federal government conform to Trump’s campaign promises and forcing Trump himself to step in and resolve angry disputes is contrary to that vision.
The presidency Trump wants is one in which he can say whatever he likes but other people do the work and ignore him when necessary. Chief of Staff John Kelly seems to understand that:
As the new White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly routes all calls to and from President Trump through the White House switchboard, where he can sign off on them. He stanches the flow of information reaching the president’s desk. And he requires that all staff members — including Trump’s relatives — go through him to reach the president.
American politics is hurtling toward a very strange place. The president of the United States is clearly unfit for the job, but the good news, to the extent that there is good news, is that everyone around him knows it, and he is willing to be sidelined as long as no one takes away his phone. Whether he is being marginalized by his own administration or choosing to marginalize himself I don’t know, but Bannon’s ouster is another piece of evidence that Trump is interested in Twitter, not Trumpism.
From the vital documentary Whose Streets? to the new DuckTales reboot to Kesha’s first album in five years.
The ever-growing glut of great new TV, movies, books, music, comics, and podcasts can be a lot to keep up with. So we here at Vox Culture — where our current obsessions include the new DuckTales reboot, Kesha’s first album in five years, and the end of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy — have a few suggestions for how to make the best use of your pop culture–consuming time.
Here are eight items to consider adding to your pop culture queue.
Watch: Crown Heights, a new film based on a This American Life episode about a man wrongfully accused of murder
A 2005 This American Life episode told the story of Collin Warner — a young man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for killing a man he’d never met — and his friend, Carl King, who spent more than two decades trying to solve the case and free his pal. This weekend, a film adaptation of the story opens in theaters, starring Lakeith Stanfield as Warner and former NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha as King. The film struggles a bit to keep its story moving, but it’s both inspiring and infuriating, as the faultlines in the justice system — especially when the accused is simply assumed to be a criminal due to the color of his skin — are exposed and dramatized. —Alissa Wilkinson
Listen: Kesha’s first album in years is a wrenching, glorious comeback
Rainbow, Kesha’s first album in five years, isn’t just a sharp “fuck you” to those who have kept her down — it’s a fantastic reminder of just how good Kesha can be as a songwriter and performer. She’s near unstoppable when all the gears are in place, and on Rainbow, she wields her brassy caterwaul with a grateful grin. The album is far more country-inflected than her previous albums, with honky tonk, twanging guitars, and Dolly Parton herself tapping in as backup. She’s still got some of her old school dive bar spark, ripping into party jams like “Woman” and “Boots,” but there’s a new urgency to it all that makes Rainbow impossible to ignore. — Caroline Framke
Watch: Whose Streets? is a powerful inside look at the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Mike Brown
The co-directors of Whose Streets? are Damon Davis and Sabaah Folayan, who were on the inside of the protests following the 2014 killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a raw, potent film pieced together from footage and interviews, and it’s unabashed about its perspective and connection to the activists. The film premiered at Sundance in January, and opened in theaters last weekend as a white supremacist march began to unfold in Charlottesville. It’s an essential piece of historical documentation that cries out to be seen, and heeded. —AW
Read: Fetch is a great memoir about a bad dog
With the annual Clear the Shelters animal-adoption drive happening this Saturday, August 19, now’s a great time to check out a recent graphic novel that beautifully illustrates — quite literally — the big challenges and even bigger rewards of rescuing a pet. Released in July, Nicole Georges’s Fetch is a personal memoir situated within the framework of her relationship with her dog, a rescued shar pei/corgi mix she names Beija. Subtitled How A Bad Dog Brought Me Home, the book makes no bones (sorry) about Beija’s behavioral issues, thoughtfully using them as context for Georges’s own emotional scars and struggles.
It’s a sometimes-funny, often heartbreaking account of the joys and frustrations of pet ownership that will ring familiar to dog lovers everywhere (who should brace themselves for the book’s inevitable, sob-inducing coda), but it’s also hyper-specific to Beija and Georges’s unique story, and offers much more to readers than mere commiseration. Even those who’ve never owned a dog can find something to love. —Genevieve Koski
Watch: solve a mystery or rewrite history with Disney XD’s DuckTales reboot (a-woo-oo!)
Just the title of DuckTales is enough to cause shivers of nostalgia in a nation of ‘80s and ‘90s kids. But Disney XD’s new take on the adventures of Scrooge McDuck and his exhaustive list of friends, family members, and rivals (including, yes, Donald Duck himself) is also just whole lot of fun.
The reboot boats great jokes, some solid action sequences, and a winning voice cast that’s led by David Tennant, in full Scottish dudgeon, as the lead character. And it never forgets the most important part of its premise: This is a show about the world’s richest duck doing anything he can to avoid becoming the second richest duck. —Todd VanDerWerff
Listen: Lorde breaks down her latest album in her new, intimate acoustic sessions
Lorde’s latest album Melodrama, which came out in June, is a deeply personal work that bleeds sincerity from every track. Her new acoustic performances of tracks from the album, released this week in partnership with the music video hosting service Vevo, are doubly so, spotlighting Lorde’s snarling rasp and sly vulnerability. For most of them, she performs in a candlelit room, wearing an oversized nightgown and singing to a bare beat.
But on “Hard Feelings/Loveless” — a particularly weird and great interlude on Melodrama — she stands on a rooftop with a group of young women and sings a cappella harmonies with a smile. And the highlight is a new performance of “Supercut,” her anthem to living out the perfect romance in your head even as things fall apart in real life. —CF
Read: it’s a great time to discover the rich fantasy worlds of N.K. Jemisin
It’s a good week to be N.K. Jemisin and a great week to be a fan of her Broken Earth trilogy. Last year, Jemisin became the first black fantasy author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel for the first book in the series, The Fifth Kingdom. Last weekend, she won the Hugo once again for the book’s sequel, Obelisk Gate. And just days later, TNT announced it had snagged the rights to The Fifth Kingdom and will be developing it as a drama series with Heroes’ Tim Kring attached as a producer.
Amid all this hubbub, Jemisin published the conclusion to the trilogy, The Stone Sky, complete with a swanky Housing Works book release party and tons of buzz. The author is known for her rich worldbuilding, her complex female characters, and her use of fantasy to tell deeply political stories about broken worlds and dysfunctional societies; Stone Sky takes you inside such a world, where humans have been battling for survival against apocalyptic climate “seasons,” and the fraying or rebuilding of certain character relationships could mean the perpetuation or end of humanity. The Verge’s Andrew Liptak has called Stone Sky “a phenomenal end to one of the greatest works of fantasy literature ever put to page.” — Aja Romano
Read: in Sarah Rees Brennan’s In Other Lands, war, diplomacy, and courtship at a wizarding school make for a delightful new YA fantasy
Sarah Rees Brennan’s brand-new novel, In Other Lands, was first published in serial installments on the author’s blog, where the story became so popular she decided to make a book out of it. It’s easy to see why: The young adult fantasy author is known for her delightful characters, and In Other Lands’ hero, Elliott, is a precocious, snarky wunderkind who’s whisked away to wizarding school, where he’s given his choice of becoming a warrior or a diplomat. But Elliott has his two best friends at his side — one a matriarchal elf princess, the other a quiet jock with a secret — and he isn’t about to play by the rules. If you enjoy stories about magical boarding schools, In Other Lands is a treat. It’s full of romance in all directions, plenty of fantasy trope subversions, Brennan’s typical insouciant wit. —AR
20 questions you were embarrassed to ask about the August eclipse, answered.
On August 21, a total solar eclipse will cut through the entire continental United States. It’s going to be awesome. If you’re in the bull’s eye center of the moon’s shadow, known as the totality, the sky will go dark for a few minutes in the middle of the day. The temperature will drop, stars will appear, and birds will become confused and start chirping their nighttime songs. And it’s all because of a cosmic coincidence: From the Earth, both the moon and sun will appear to be roughly the same size.
At just 70 miles wide, the path of the totality is narrow. For the rest of the US beyond this slim band, anywhere from 20 to 99 percent of the sun will be covered by the moon. But everyone in every state (even Hawaii and Alaska!) who’s awake and outside will get to experience it. You won’t want to miss it.
Solar eclipses are pretty unusual. You probably have some questions. To clear up any confusion, we’ve complied this comprehensive scientific guide.
The first thing to know: why do we have solar eclipses?
The simple answer: Because the moon occasionally covers the sun in its path across the sky.
The complicated answer: Because of three key conditions that rarely occur all at the same time.
1) There has to be a new moon
One side of the moon is always lit by the sun, but the lit side isn’t always facing the Earth. This is how we get the phases of the moon. For a solar eclipse to occur, it needs to be in its “new moon” phase.
During the new moon, the dark side of the moon is directly facing the Earth.
2) The moon has to cross the plane of Earth’s orbit
So if the dark side of the moon has to be facing the Earth for a solar eclipse to occur, why don’t we have them every new moon?
Because the moon’s orbit isn’t perfectly matched up with the Earth’s.
It’s tilted 5 degrees, like so:
(No one is completely sure why — but it might have to do with how the moon was likely formed: from a massive object smashing into Earth.)
Basically, this means during most new moons, the shadow misses Earth.
But there are two points in the moon’s orbit where the shadow can fall on the Earth. These are called nodes.
For a total eclipse to occur, the moon needs to be at or very close to one of the nodes.
3) The moon’s distance to the Earth
You might remember this from middle school science: The moon’s orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle. It’s an ellipse.
There’s a point in the orbit where the moon is farthest away from the sun, and where it’s closest. For a total eclipse to occur, the moon needs to be near its closest approach to Earth.
Eclipses can occur when the moon is at apogee (its farthest distance from the Earth), but the moon won’t block out the entire sun. These are called “annular” or “ring of fire” eclipses, because a white-hot band of sun will encircle the darkened face of the moon. They look cool.
When all three conditions line up, you get this: The Earth and sun are aligned with the moon at a node, and a shadow is cast upon the Earth. (The opposite configuration — when the full moon is facing Earth — is when we have lunar eclipses.)
The very darkest part of the shadow is the totality — it’s where the entire disc of the sun is blacked out by the moon. While most of the US will see a partial eclipse on August 21, only those in the 70-mile-wide bull’s-eye of the shadow will see the totality.
How fast does the shadow move across the US?
The totality will reach Oregon at 10:16 am Pacific time, and will end in South Carolina at 2:49 pm Eastern time. That’s an hour and 33 minutes to cross the country. Fast!
But because of the geometry of the Earth and moon, the shadow won’t be traveling at a constant speed. It moves quicker at the beginning of the path and at the end, according to Ernie Wright, a NASA data visualizer. He provided this sketch to demonstrate.
In space, the shadow moves at a constant rate. But it’s “going to cover more ground when it's hitting the Earth at a slant [the red line] than it will when it's more straight-on [the green line],” says Wright. Covering more distance in an equal amount of time means faster speeds.
When the totality hits Oregon, it will be moving at 2,955 mph, according to eclipse2017.org. It will slow down to 1,462 mph as it passes through Kentucky. Then it will speed back up to 1,502 mph by Charleston, South Carolina. After that, the shadow will trail off the edge of the Earth.
So is it easy to predict when an eclipse is going to happen?
The three cycles that conspire to create eclipses — the new moon, the moon crossing the plane of Earth’s orbit, and the moon’s distance to the Earth — all repeat on slightly different time scales.
- It takes the moon 27.212 days to return to a node (this is called a draconic month).
- And every 27.554 days, the moon returns to its closest approach to Earth (an anomalistic month).
- And finally, the moon cycles through all its phases once every 29.530 days (a synodic month).
It takes a while, but three months will come back in sync on an 18-year, 11-day, eight-hour cycle. This is known as the Saros cycle, and it predicts both solar and lunar eclipses.
Saros is ancient: The Babylonians discovered it in the few centuries before the start of the common era. And they worked it all out just by making careful observations of the moon for hundreds of years.
Some 115 years ago, an archeologist was sifting through objects found in the wreck of a 2,000-year-old vessel off the Greek island Antikythera. Among the wreck’s treasures — beautiful vases and pots, jewelry, a bronze statue of an ancient philosopher — was the most peculiar thing: a series of brass gears and dials mounted in a case the size of a mantel clock. Scientists would later realize that the clock had a dial for counting the Saros cycle.
Today, NASA doesn’t have to rely on the Saros cycle alone to predict both solar and lunar eclipses. It has detailed computer models of the orbits of the Earth and moon around the sun.
“It’s pretty easy now to ask directly, where is the sun, where is the moon, where is the Earth, where are they lined up, and you can make a computer do that millions of time,” Wright explains.
Do the eclipses repeat in the exact same spot?
Because the Saros cycle ends on an uneven number of days, eclipses happen in different locations. “The extra 1/3 day displacement means that Earth must rotate an additional ~8 hours or ~120º with each cycle,” NASA explains.
There are many separate Saros series that create eclipses. Learn more about them here.
Do we know where the next total solar eclipse is going to be?
There’s a total solar eclipse roughly once every 18 months. The next one will be on July 2, 2019, stretching over a wide swath of the Southern Pacific before passing across Chile and Argentina.
So that’s why we know, for instance, that on January 27, in the year 2837, a total solar eclipse will pass over southern Mexico (will anyone be around to see it?).
Okay, enough with the astronomy. What am I going to see?
My colleagues Casey Miller and Ryan Mark created an interactive to help you out. It grabs your zip code and shows the exact path the moon will take across the sun for your area. You’ll also see when the eclipse will peak (i.e., reach maximum obscuration) in your area. Check it out. It’s very cool.
What happens during a total eclipse?
If you’re in the path of the total solar eclipse, you’re in for some waiting for the big moment.
For most locations, it’s going to be about an hour and a half from the start of the partial eclipse to totality. NASA has a nice interactive map to help you sort out when to watch. (Click on any location in the US and it will tell you when the eclipse starts, when it peaks, and how long totality lasts.)
So the first thing you’re going to see is a partial eclipse: the moon slowly starting to obscure the sun. For most of the country, this is all you’ll see. It’s pretty cool.
During a partial solar eclipse, shadows form eerie crescent shapes.
When totality nears, that’s when the show really begins. There are a couple of awesome phenomena that you can look out for.
Right before totality, the last glimpse of light from the sun will form a “diamond ring” in the sky.
You’ll also be able to see “Baily’s beads” (named after astronomer Francis Baily) — bits of light poking through canyons and craters on the roughed-up surface of the moon.
Then comes totality: The moon is fully covering the sun. This is what you’ve been waiting for.
Depending on your location, this will last for about two minutes (in other eclipses, it has lasted for as long as seven).
What’s so awesome about totality?
In conversations with several “eclipse chasers,” I was told that the photos can’t really capture the awesomeness (in the truest sense of the word) of the experience.
“Anytime you've ever taken a picture of the full moon, it never captures how it felt in your eyes and in your heart, you know what I mean?” says Rhonda Coleman, who has seen six solar eclipses and lives in Oregon. “It seems to fill the sky, but your photograph will only be a memory.”
When the totality happens, the sky goes dark. Stars come out. You can see the corona — the sun’s wispy outer atmosphere.
“The disc of the sun is a black, black, black — like the blackest hole you can ever imagine, ringed with these beautiful wispy white coronal streamers,” Coleman says. “With the naked eye you can see, they're called prominences. It's the flames on the sun. ... There's also a very interesting 360-degree sunset around the rim of the Earth”
While you’re dazzled by the corona, consider this: The sun’s atmosphere is actually hotter than its surface, but no one really knows why. (In 2018, NASA will launch the Parker Probe Plus, a spacecraft that will come within 4 million miles of the surface of the sun, to help sort it out.)
Will it change my life?
Many people report feeling a profound sense of awe during and after a total solar eclipse. “You suddenly feel as though you can see the clockwork of the solar system,” Wright says.
We kind of know — in the back of our minds — that we live in a giant ball and it revolves around a hot ball of gas, and we’re floating in space. But you don’t really believe it until you see something like a total solar eclipse, where everything is all lined up and you go whoaaa. Other planets pop out. You got instant nighttime. And you can see Mercury and Venus usually. And sometimes Mars and Jupiter. ... It looks like the pictures from the textbook. It’s not entirely a science thing anymore. ... It’s mostly a thing where you have a better appreciation of where you are in the solar system.
Your experience may vary.
Outside the totality, what will the rest of the country see?
All of the continental United States will see a partial eclipse. Even people way north in Bangor, Maine, will see 54.22 percent of the sun covered at the peak of the eclipse.
Do normal laws apply during totality, or am I allowed to do weird, wolflike things without the fear of repercussions?
You can do weird, wolflike things any day of the year! It’s 2017.
Will my pets freak out?
Probably not. I posed this question to Bill Kramer, a 16-time eclipse viewer who runs eclipse-chasers.com, an online community for, well, you know.
Kramer says pets get confused and will think it’s nighttime.
“Some dogs bark at the eclipse,” he says. “Some dogs detect the emotion of the moment, or anxiety beforehand, and react accordingly. Never heard of one reacting like some do to fireworks or gunshots. The eclipse is a silent thing, except for the ambient sounds and cheers. ... Cats, on the other hand, are cats.”
I need to see this! Where? Where?!
To make an absolutely precise map of the eclipse, you need to account for the geography of the moon, the geography of the Earth, and the angle of the sun’s light hitting Earth.
NASA makes this easy: All of this information was used to create these maps of the total eclipse path as it passes through each state.
For instance, here’s Missouri. Check out the rest of the state-by-state maps here.
And here’s the overview:
Check out an interactive version of the map here. (Click on any spot in the US to get a time for when the eclipse will peak there.)
Can I still plan a trip to see the totality?
Yes. But hotels and campsites in many places along the totality are already booked. Many eclipse chasers have had RVs and hotels booked for years. And travel on the day of the eclipse may get dicey.
Government officials in Oregon are telling people to prepare to shelter in place, since the traffic may come to a standstill. (“Don't burn your deck down in a barbeque, don't cut yourself,” one official told the Oregonian. “Really prepare yourself and be vigilant.” They warned that cellphone networks might be strained.)
But there’s still time to plan your trip.
I had some success opening a search map on Airbnb on one screen and the map of the eclipse path on another.
Remember: The total eclipse is passing through plenty of rural stretches of America, too. If you want to beat the crowds, with some planning, you can find a place to stay or camp.
Many websites suggest you check out the major cities where the total eclipse is passing through. But you’ll get just as good of a view in Sparta, Tennessee (population 5,075), as in Nashville (population 684,000).
Brian, can I come with you?
Will bad weather ruin it?
Always a risk.
If you’re feeling really anxious about picking out the “perfect” spot to view, you’ll want to find a place with little cloud cover. An eclipse during a cloud-covered day is still cool (it will get very, very dark), but you won’t be able to see the dark mask of the moon in front of the sun.
The weather, as you know, can be hard to predict. Here, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has crunched its data on the average cloud cover that typically occurs on August 21. The darker the dot, the greater the chance of clouds. “The chance for clearer skies appears greatest across the Intermountain West,” NOAA explains.
Will I go blind?
Not if you’re careful! On a normal day, staring straight into the sun can harm your eyes. Eclipse day is no different.
NASA warns: “It is never safe to look directly at the sun's rays — even if the sun is partly obscured.” The intense light from the sun can damage your retina and cause “permanent scotoma or ‘blind spot’ in the central vision,” according to the Lancet. Even when the sun is 99 percent obscured, it can still cause damage.
During the partial eclipse phases, and even through the eclipse’s “Baily’s beads” and “diamond ring” phases — when you can see the last bits of sun peeking through the craters of the moon — you need eye protection. You can only take the protective glasses off when the moon has completely covered the sun during totality.
Regular sunglasses won’t block enough light. You’ll need glasses that filter all but 0.003 percent of visible light and block out most ultraviolet and infrared as well. “Such filters usually have a thin layer of aluminum, chromium or silver deposited on their surfaces that attenuates ultraviolet, visible, and infrared energy,” NASA’s eye safety page explains.
You could grab a pair of the darkest available (No. 14) welder’s glasses. But this is even easier: Pick up a dirt-cheap pair of disposable eclipse glasses. The American Astronomical Society points out there are five manufacturers that meet international standards for eclipse eye protection. They are:
You can buy a pair for less than $1. Or you may be able to pick up a pair for free at your local library. The Space Science Institute, an education nonprofit, is distributing 2 million pairs of specs to 4,800 libraries across the country. Find out if your local branch has them here.
What does a total solar eclipse look like from space?
In 1999, a French astronaut on the Mir space station snapped this photo of a total solar eclipse over Europe.
Do any other planets have solar eclipses?
Kramer, the veteran eclipse chaser, did the math and found that only two other moons in the solar system are the right size to produce a total solar eclipse: Pandora and Epimetheus, which both orbit Saturn — though Saturn doesn’t have a solid surface from which to view these eclipses.
So Earth is still your best bet.
I can’t believe I just read 3,000 words on solar eclipses. Can I just see some cool photos now?
(If you have questions not answered in this post, let me know! Brian@vox.com.)
How's this for a long-range forecast?
NASA knows that on January 27, in the year 2837, a total solar eclipse will pass over southern Mexico. If the onlookers (our descendants or our conquering alien overlords) are lucky, and it's a clear day, they'll see something like this — a show that's captivated people on this planet for as long as we've been on Earth.
They even know the exact time, down to the fraction of a second, that the eclipses will occur. Here are the stats for that 2837 eclipse over Mexico.
NASA is able to make eclipse predictions because it has all of the variables: the orbit of the Earth around the sun, the orbit of the moon around the Earth, and the daily rotation of the Earth.
But these calculations aren't all that simple. For one, the moon's orbit around the Earth is constantly changing (there are actually several ways to measure the length of a lunar month, which complicates matters). Still, it boils down to this: Any given eclipse will repeat on an "eight years, 11 days, eight hours" cycle, or what's known as the Saros cycle. And though the eclipses repeat, they don't repeat in the exact same locations.
"Because the Saros period is not equal to a whole number of days, its biggest drawback is that subsequent eclipses are visible from different parts of the globe," NASA explains. (For a more thorough explanation of how eclipses are predicted, check out this video.)
On this website, which draws from NASA's data, you can explore all the solar eclipses (total, partial, annular, or hybrid) and map them. I wanted to know if there would ever be a total solar eclipse on my birthday, August 27. There will be! Unfortunately it will be in 2212, and it will occur over the southern Atlantic Ocean. (You can similarly explore lunar eclipses here).
The map of an August 27, 2212, eclipse over the South Atlantic. I'll have been dead for a long time. (Via http://xjubier.free.fr/)
There's some comfort in knowing that people 1,000 years from now can look up in wonderment at the same natural phenomenon we see today. Life on Earth may change, but the cosmic properties of the Earth itself will not.
For the near term, know that there will be a few total solar eclipses over North America during our lifetimes. NASA has them mapped, too.
The next chance to check out a total solar eclipse on this continent will, of course, be on August 21.