The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Intergalactic behemoths are changing how you’re shaped

6 min

You’re reading the Today’s Opinions newsletter. Sign up to get it in your inbox.

In today’s edition:

In the gravitational splash zone

Far out, in the intergalactic deep, great beasts churn and collide, sending forth waves that distort space-time and everything in it. As they pass through you, you become for an instant a different shape.

You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into … cosmologist Katie Mack’s op-ed on gravitational waves.

Mack wrote her (literally!) mind-bending piece in response to new findings that “the cosmos is churning with low-frequency gravitational waves.” Scientists detected these waves by using the Milky Way itself as a “makeshift observatory,” revealing signs that the waves could come from the collisions of supermassive black holes.

Anything beyond that I’ll let Mack herself explain, because I’m not an expert in astrophysics. But we all can be experts in awe, and an essay that teaches about the “spinning remnants of dead massive stars” or the “naturally occurring cosmic metronomes” that dot the galaxy provides plenty to wonder at.

And Mack’s takeaway is clear to anyone of any level of interstellar education: If these waves do come from huge black holes, the discovery could be the “first step toward a whole new way of seeing the universe.”

The anti-strongman plan(s)

When a strongman has been inflicting misery on his country for a decade or more, do you redouble old efforts to stop him? Or do you take a new tack?

That’s the case with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his years of corruption and oppression. He’s up now against a surging pro-democracy opposition leader, but, alas, it looks like he’ll succeed in sidelining her candidacy through some authoritarian chicanery.

The Editorial Board picks the new-tack option, arguing that it’s time for President Biden to develop a Plan B. The White House should accept that negotiations between Maduro and the opposition have stalled, the board writes, and that Biden’s sanctions relief is “yielding diminishing returns.”

So, Plan B (or at least its first step): Rule out any more sanctions relief, the board advises, until Maduro restores the rights of a candidate who could unseat him.

On Syria, by contrast, the United States needs to stick with its Plan A, columnist Josh Rogin writes: Twelve years ago, President Barack Obama declared that dictator Bashar al-Assad had to go, and that’s still the right course of action, no matter how much leaders have backed off since.

Josh saw the seeds of more active opposition to Assad’s diplomatic rehabilitation in Biden’s conversation with three Syrian American activists at a recent private fundraiser. According to one of them, Biden agreed with her assertion that Assad — still — “must go.”

“Biden officials like to think … the president won’t change U.S. policy after a few conversations,” Josh writes. “But you never know.”

Chaser: Columnist Greg Sargent writes that after a string of huge legal setbacks in taking down their perceived foes, top MAGA officials are on to Plans C, D and beyond.

From the Editorial Board’s analysis that chronic absenteeism might require a rethink of schools. And the problem is chronic indeed: For context, that 16 million figure works out to about a third of schoolkids nationwide — twice the pre-pandemic rate.

The solution the board proposes is radical only for its simplicity: Make schools a place kids want to be.

This doesn’t mean offering endless recess or returning to the salad days (or chicken nugget days) of junk-food lunches. But it might mean making classes “culturally relevant to all backgrounds,” the board writes, or even offering laundry services at school for students self-conscious about dirty clothes.

This bit is simple, too: Stop punishing kids and families for absences. One study found that every week a student misses drops the likelihood of graduation by 20 percentage points — so why should a school ever inflict a week of suspension?

Chaser: At the same time America shores up homegrown achievement, it ought to enact immigration policies that will drain China’s brains, columnist Catherine Rampell writes.

Less politics

If you are so lucky as to be heading to the beach this weekend, think very carefully about what reading material you’ll bring. Humor columnist Alexandra Petri knows exactly what it says about you.

A big biography? Clearly, “you didn’t feel like putting sunscreen on your face.” And a print newspaper? Same, Alex writes, “but your arms are not strong enough for Robert Caro’s masterworks.”

Her list runs through fiction, nonfiction and, naturally, the ancient Akkadian complaint tablet to copper purveyor Ea-Nasir of Ur (no spoilers — I’m halfway through!). She even has you covered if you forgot a book — though you might not be keen on the options.

Chaser: Obviously, if you go for columnist David Ignatius’s spy thriller “The Tao of Deception,” now available in its entirety, you are a discerning reader with the greatest of taste.

Smartest, fastest

It’s a goodbye. It’s a haiku. It’s … The Bye-Ku.

Cosmic mystery

A beach read you can’t put down —

Gravity, reversed

Plus! A Friday bye-ku (Fri-ku!) from reader Tim H. in Palm Springs … and its heat wave:

One hundred thirteen

Going higher and higher —

Why do we live here?


Have your own newsy haiku? Email it to me, along with any questions/comments/ambiguities. Have a great weekend!