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This week in Tortoise: Beau and Biden

This week in Tortoise: Beau and Biden

As America pulled out of Afghanistan, President Joe Biden gave a speech. And that speech contained a reference to Biden’s son Beau, who died from a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer at the age of 46 in 2015. “Maybe,” said the president of the sacrifices made by serving troops, “it’s because my deceased son, Beau, served in Iraq for a full year…”

This week’s episode of the Slow Newscast is Beau and Biden: Constant Companion. It’s about that line in Biden’s speech – and what it really means. Beau was the president’s constant companion, a man whom his father regarded as a superior person, and someone who might also have gone on to his country’s highest office. The president now believes that Beau’s time in Iraq, where he served on bases that burned huge piles of waste and fuel and other toxic materials, may well have brought about the cancer that killed him.    

There isn’t a direct line between those burn pits and the decision to leave Afghanistan, but there is an indirect one. As the podcast makes clear, Biden’s losses – of Beau six years ago, and of his first wife and their daughter in a road accident in 1972 – have shaped both his character and his political career. This is a president who is unusually attuned to the importance of family and of grief. Please do give it a listen.

The United States and its position in the world also feature in one of our ThinkIns this week. On Wednesday evening, David Taylor, a Tortoise editor and a reporter on Beau and Biden: Constant Companion, will be joined by Alec Ross and Anne-Marie Slaughter, who both worked at the US State Department, to discuss a pretty big question: What is America for now?

As for the rest of this week’s ThinkIns, at 6.30pm BST today, we ask whether meritocracy works – and both Adrian Wooldridge and Daniel Markovits, authors of two brilliant recent books on the subject and who see things very differently, will be there to help us decide. 

On Thursday, we’ll be investigating a distressing feature of the British health system: Why do so many people with autism die young?

We’ve got plenty of great guests to come later in the month. Under our new hybrid approach, online tickets are available for all of these ThinkIns, but in-person tickets have already sold out for some. Just click on the images to see what’s available.

And don’t forget the forthcoming Tortoise Cyber Summit, a whole day of sessions devoted to cybercrime and how we can defend against it. You can see the entire schedule – and book tickets – here.

Have a very good week.


James Harding
Editor & co-founder