US Government


James Mattis, a Warrior in Washington

The New Yorker

On January 22nd, two days after President Trump was inaugurated, he received a memo from his new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, recommending that the United States launch a military strike in Yemen. In a forty-year career, Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had cultivated a reputation for being both deeply thoughtful and extremely aggressive. By law and by custom, the position of Defense Secretary is reserved for civilians, but Mattis was still a marine at heart. He had been out of the military for only three years (the rule is seven), and his appointment required Congress to pass a waiver. For the first time in his professional life, he was going to the Pentagon in a suit and tie. Mattis urged Trump to launch the raid swiftly: the operation, which was aimed at one of the leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen, required a moonless night, and the window for action was approaching. Under previous Administrations, such attacks entailed ...


Margaret Atwood, the Prophet of Dystopia

The New Yorker

The ritualized procreation in the novel--effectively, state-sanctioned rape--is extrapolated from the Bible. " 'Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her,' " Atwood recited. "Obviously, they stuck the two together and out came the baby, and it was given to Rachel.


Trump's Confusing Strike on Syria

The New Yorker

On August 7, 1998, Al Qaeda suicide bombers struck two U.S. embassies in East Africa, killing two hundred and twenty-four people, most of them Africans. Two weeks later, President Bill Clinton launched Operation Infinite Reach, a fusillade of cruise missiles aimed at a reported Al Qaeda meeting in Afghanistan, and at a factory in Sudan, which was suspected of involvement with chemical weapons. "There will be no sanctuary for terrorists," Clinton declared. The retaliation produced few tangible benefits. And yet, since then, from Kosovo to Waziristan to Libya, the United States has repeatedly threatened or carried out missile and drone attacks and air strikes for limited and sometimes imprecise purposes.


Are Liberals on the Wrong Side of History?

The New Yorker

Of all the prejudices of pundits, presentism is the strongest. It is the assumption that what is happening now is going to keep on happening, without anything happening to stop it. If the West has broken down the Berlin Wall and McDonald's opens in St. Petersburg, then history is over and Thomas Friedman is content. If, by a margin so small that in a voice vote you would have no idea who won, Brexit happens; or if, by a trick of an antique electoral system designed to give country people more power than city people, a Donald Trump is elected, then pluralist constitutional democracy is finished. The liberal millennium was upon us as the year 2000 dawned; fifteen years later, the autocratic apocalypse is at hand. You would think that people who think for a living would pause and reflect that whatever is happening usually does stop happening, and something else happens in its place; a baby who is crying now will stop crying sooner or later. Exhaustion, or a change of mood, or a passing sound, or a bright light, something, always happens next. But for the parents the wait can feel the same as forever, and for many pundits, too, now is the only time worth knowing, for now is when the baby is crying and now is when they're selling your books.


Why Trump Needs an Enemy

The New Yorker

Last week, a senior White House official shared a candid theory with me about why President Donald Trump and his team have been adrift since November: they've yet to adjust to the post-election reality, and they haven't yet learned how to operate without a single, common enemy--Hillary Clinton--to focus on. It was a frank admission that a team built for winning a campaign has so far failed at governing. Incoming Presidents usually trade in some of their political tacticians for experienced Washington hands when they take office, but Trump installed his entire senior campaign leadership into top positions in the White House, a place where few of them have ever worked before. In fact, one of the only senior Trump staffers with previous White House experience is Omarosa Manigault, the reality-star villain from "The Apprentice," who briefly worked in the Clinton White House when she was twenty-three years old. The early results of this experiment in governance by the least experienced have not been promising.


The Cost of Defying the President

The New Yorker

A group of air-traffic controllers, their wives, and kids, we carry signs emblazoned with the logo of PATCO, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, and chant a medley of protest slogans most of us are learning for the first time. "United," we cry, "we will never be defeated." We are the only two black people in the group, but this isn't why we stand out. "I take it you're not in this for the sport!" he shouts. And when he throws his hands up and cries, "What, and leave show business?" he brandishes his placard like a spear. "Figure it out," he tells me when he mistakes the look on my face for confusion. Of everyone here, I'm the one who has the least trouble deciphering his private meanings. As the world's leading scholar on Gregory Pardlo, Sr., I know these pronouncements he's polished, these homemade koans impenetrable to reason, that were once the punch lines of tired jokes. The jokes themselves are vestigial. He no longer needs them, confident his enemies will notice the deft lacerations of his wit in some later moment of quiet reflection. Uncharacteristically reckless now, he heaves them with neither accuracy nor discrimination at the passing traffic. Highway grit settles across my brow and our picket line warps in the heat. Although many cars honk in solidarity with the air-traffic-controller strike, odds are the honk will precede a driver's flipping us the bird. Nothing, though, causes me to question the righteousness of our mission. In this, at least, I hold my father infallible. Sun catches in the penumbra of his hair when he turns to face me, and I squint until I fit into his shadow.


At Volkswagen, a Scandal Where Executives Could Pay the Price

The New Yorker

At the Detroit Auto Show last week, Volkswagen hoped to escape the present with a nod to the past, introducing a revamped version of its iconic flat-faced, boxy Microbus, the vehicle that shepherded the counterculture across the interstates some five decades ago. The bus's reincarnation is a battery-propelled, self-driving vehicle called ID Buzz. But nostalgic wing-vent windows and chrome trim could not distract from the company's current predicament. Barely had the auto show kicked off when the Justice Department announced that VW had pleaded guilty to criminal and civil charges related to its efforts to cheat on U.S. emissions standards. The company agreed to pay $4.3 billion in penalties, the largest fine ever levied by the U.S. government on an auto company, dwarfing both Toyota's $1.2-billion settlement for vehicle-safety problems involving unintended acceleration and GM's nine-hundred-million-dollar settlement for ignition-switch defects.


Rewriting the Code of Life

The New Yorker

Early on an unusually blustery day in June, Kevin Esvelt climbed aboard a ferry at Woods Hole, bound for Nantucket Island. Esvelt, an assistant professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was on his way to present to local health officials a plan for ridding the island of one of its most persistent problems: Lyme disease. He had been up for much of the night working on his slides, and the fatigue showed. He had misaligned the buttons on his gray pin-striped shirt, and the rings around his deep-blue eyes made him look like a sandy-haired raccoon. Esvelt, who is thirty-four, directs the "sculpting evolution" group at M.I.T., where he and his colleagues are attempting to design molecular tools capable of fundamentally altering the natural world. If the residents of Nantucket agree, Esvelt intends to use those tools to rewrite the DNA of white-footed mice to make them immune to the bacteria that cause Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. He and his team would breed the mice in the laboratory and then, as an initial experiment, release them on an uninhabited island. If the number of infected ticks begins to plummet, he would seek permission to repeat the process on Nantucket and on nearby Martha's Vineyard. More than a quarter of Nantucket's residents have been infected with Lyme, which has become one of the most rapidly spreading diseases in the United States. The illness is often accompanied by a red bull's-eye rash, along with fever and chills. When the disease is caught early enough, it can be cured in most cases with a single course of antibiotics. For many people, though, pain and neurological symptoms can persist for years. In communities throughout the Northeast, the fear of ticks has changed the nature of summer itself--few parents these days would permit a child to run barefoot through the grass or wander blithely into the woods. "What if we could wave our hands and make this problem go away?" Esvelt asked the two dozen officials and members of the public who had assembled at the island's police station for his presentation. He explained that white-footed mice are the principal reservoir of Lyme disease, which they pass, through ticks, to humans.


Our Automated Future

The New Yorker

There are many accounts of the genesis of Watson. The most popular, which is not necessarily the most accurate--and this is the sort of problem that Watson himself often stumbled on--begins in 2004, at a steakhouse near Poughkeepsie. One evening, an I.B.M. executive named Charles Lickel was having dinner there when he noticed that the tables around him had suddenly emptied out. Instead of finishing their sirloins, his fellow-diners had rushed to the bar to watch "Jeopardy!" This was deep into Ken Jennings's seventy-four-game winning streak, and the crowd around the TV was rapt. Not long afterward, Lickel attended a brainstorming session in which participants were asked to come up with I.B.M.'s next "grand challenge." The firm, he suggested, should take on Jennings.


Briefly Noted

The New Yorker

Unfolding across four decades via dozens of characters, this satirical novel takes aim at several targets. When, in 2012, Faye Andreson-Anderson pelts a right-wing Wyoming governor with rocks, in the lead-up to his Presidential bid, she achieves "meme status." She also becomes newly present for her son, Samuel, who tries to leverage the assault into a best-selling memoir. His research leads him deep into his mother's childhood and his own. Hill astutely skewers the media for the way it packages experience--Samuel's publisher claims to be an "interest maker" specializing in "multimodal cross-platform synergy."