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The Air We Breathe

2020-09-15 12:34:21

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During a short walk in her Los Angeles neighborhood a few days ago, my colleague Jill Cowan could smell and feel the smoke that had entered her throat. In Estacada, Ore., southeast of Portland, Lisa Jones told The Washington Post that breathing the air felt “like sticking yourself in a little room with 12 people all around you, smoking cigarettes.” A friend of hers, Deborah Stratton, added, “It burns your chest.”

The worst effects of the wildfires are the direct ones: the deaths, the loss of homes and the destruction of natural habitat. But the secondary pollution effects — from the smoke that is clogging the air — are not minor.

The world’s most polluted cities are typically in Asia, like Delhi, Beijing, Lahore and Dhaka. Over the last few days, though, Portland, Ore., has had significantly worse air quality than any other city in the world. The air in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle hasn’t been quite so bad, but it has still been worse than in virtually any place outside the U.S.

“Two months of this kind of air quality is really going to impact people,” Pawan Gupta, a research scientist at the NASA’s Universities Space Research Association, said.

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Much of the recent debate over immigration to the United States has been about how to reduce it. Matthew Yglesias, a Vox co-founder, offers a different idea: Increase immigration — by a lot.

His new book, “One Billion Americans,” argues for radically increasing the country’s population through immigration and a higher birthrate. Yglesias points out that even if all of the new Americans lived in the continental U.S., it would still have less than half the population density of Germany. And only if the U.S. vastly increases its population can it hope to keep pace with the growing power of authoritarian China, he argues.

There are plenty of reasons to question how the U.S. might absorb so many new citizens, but Yglesias makes a provocative case for a new kind of American greatness. “Rather than being paralyzed by racial panic, ecopessimism, or paranoia about the loss of parking spaces,” he writes, “America should aspire to be the greatest nation on earth.”

Listen: My colleague Ross Douthat recommends Tyler Cowen’s recent podcast interview with Yglesias. Ross writes: “Trump-era bestseller lists are dominated by ‘exposes’ that tell us the same things, and (esp. under pandemic conditions) better books can’t get oxygen. So if you enjoy an excerpt or interview, buy the book!”

Tender baked salmon, roasted potatoes and a swipe of tangy horseradish-tarragon sauce all make for a contemporary spin on an 18th-century recipe. Picky eaters also have some wiggle room with this dish. Don’t like potatoes? Try carrots or other root vegetables. Salmon-averse? Swap it out for cod, halibut or another whitefish.

“Homeland Elegies” by the playwright Ayad Akhtar, is part memoir, part fiction. The story’s narrator and its author share a name, were raised in Milwaukee by doctor parents born in Pakistan, and have written a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, among other things.

In a review, The Times’s book critic Dwight Garner calls it “a beautiful novel about an American son and his immigrant father that has echoes of ‘The Great Gatsby’ and that circles, with pointed intellect, the possibilities and limitations of American life.”


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