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Jon Stewart's 'Daily Show' return is so smooth, it's like he never left

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Jon Stewart's 'Daily Show' return is so smooth, it's like he never left

Jon Stewart returned Monday as host of The Daily Show.

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Jon Stewart returned Monday as host of The Daily Show.

Matt Wilson/Comedy Central

After watching Jon Stewart’s triumphant return to The Daily Show last night, I had two thoughts.

The GOAT of late night satire is back. And even some of the show’s biggest fans may not be all that happy to see him return.

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That’s because, in his first episode returning as host — nearly nine years after he originally left — Stewart took on a subject that even his most liberal fans might find touchy: the idea that concerns about how age may have affected President Joe Biden aren’t necessarily overblown.

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He didn’t mince words about the erratic behavior of Biden’s likely opponent for the presidency, Donald Trump, either — showing how the former president couldn’t remember basic things during court depositions like how long he was married to Marla Maples or whether he had bragged about how great his memory was (“It turns out, the leading cause of early onset dementia is being deposed,” Stewart cracked, after showing a montage of Trump’s grown children having similar recall issues).

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But even though some liberals may be sensitive to the idea that comparing Biden’s gaffes with Trump’s behavior is an unfair “both sides” balancing act, Stewart insisted supporters should do a better job showing the current president is vital and effective as they say he is.

“It’s the candidate’s job to assuage concerns,” Stewart said in a 20-minute segment that kicked off last night’s program. “Not the voter’s job not to mention them.”

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Easily slipping back into the host chair

From the show’s opening moments, Stewart eased back into the host’s chair without missing a beat, firing off jokes with a familiar style that felt like he had left just a few weeks ago, rather than in 2015. He brought a confidence the program sorely needs; it’s been searching for a permanent host for more than a year since the departure of Trevor Noah, who succeeded Stewart as host.

Stewart returns in a unique arrangement, hosting The Daily Show on Monday nights and serving as an executive producer for all evenings – similar to an arrangement crafted by another cable TV star, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. The new setup allows him to avoid the grind of daily hosting, ceding the rest of the week to the show’s correspondents, starting with Jordan Klepper, who hosts Tuesday through Thursday.

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Even as he eased into familiar rhythms last night — poking fun at idea that he’s an old guy returning to his old job, highlighting concerns about two other old guys competing to get their old job back — Stewart faced a new challenge: Reminding everyone why he was such a venerated host in the first place.

In his first 16 years hosting The Daily Show, Stewart elevated the program into an incisive look at the hypocrisies of media, politics and society. Along the way, he helped birth a style of fact-based satire that has exploded all over television, from the work by Daily Show alums John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight and Stephen Colbert on CBS’ The Late Show to the sharper political tone of Late Night with Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel Live.

But the media environment Stewart has returned to is quite different. Ratings in late night have declined and the young audiences which once fueled the genre have moved on to TikTok and YouTube. With luck, Stewart’s appeal to The Daily Show‘s old school fans will bring better ratings on the cable channel, but it’s still likely to be a smaller crowd than he once commanded.

Regardless, last night’s program shows Stewart’s still got the comedy chops and incisive ideas to power the show at least through the presidential election in November. He has said in interviews that part of the appeal in returning was to have a place to “unload thoughts” as the election season progresses.

Last night’s debut proved Stewart will bring that and more, buying time for an influential show at a crossroads to figure out a new future for itself at least one more time.

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Feast your eyes on Taiwan's distinct food (and understand a history of colonization)

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Feast your eyes on Taiwan's distinct food (and understand a history of colonization)

Ivy Chen (left) and Clarissa Wei browse Shuixian Gong Market in Tainan, Taiwan, in January.

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Ivy Chen (left) and Clarissa Wei browse Shuixian Gong Market in Tainan, Taiwan, in January.

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TAINAN, Taiwan — On a Friday morning in the southern city of Tainan, Shuixian Gong Market overflows with displays of shiny orange and silver fish, stacks of glistening pork ribs and crates of dragon fruit and guavas. Vendors wash out their stands with hoses, and Taiwanese cooks ask for parcels of raw drumsticks or breasts. People on motorized scooters ride carefully through the market’s corridors, laden with bags of dried goods.

It’s easy to think of Taiwanese food as a subset of Chinese food — after all, the island’s food shares many culinary traditions and techniques with those from mainland China. Yet Clarissa Wei and Ivy Chen would argue that Taiwanese food is distinct. They’re the creators of the cookbook Made in Taiwan.

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That title declares something: Even though about 90% of people in Taiwan have Chinese ancestry, they have forged a cuisine that is, in many ways, their own.

A set of traditional Taiwanese cuisine staples: oyster omelet, lu rou fan, oyster soup and fish ball soup.

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A set of traditional Taiwanese cuisine staples: oyster omelet, lu rou fan, oyster soup and fish ball soup.

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Fresh seafood is sorted at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Fresh seafood is sorted at Shuixian Gong Market.

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“Taiwanese food is quite distinct in that we have our own pantry items that are made in and unique to Taiwan,” Wei says. “So the way that soy sauce and rice wine and rice vinegar are made in Taiwan are not made similarly elsewhere in the world.”

Another key difference: Taiwanese food is sweet. In Tainan, which used to be a sugar-cane-producing hub, it’s even more pronounced.

Chen also points out that Taiwanese food doesn’t tend to rely on a lot of spices. “When our ancestors moved here, they found we have so many fresh ingredients in this small island, so it’s very easy to get food very fresh, so we don’t over-season it,” she says.

These differences are all products of Taiwan’s unique history.

“Taiwanese food is, I would say, a combination of all of our waves of colonization and governance,” Wei says.

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Dried goods on sale at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Dried goods on sale at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Vendors at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Vendors at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Take sugar. In the 1600s, the Dutch came to southern Taiwan, where they established a couple of forts and the sugar cane industry, bringing Chinese farmers to help raise the crops. During Japanese occupation from the late 1800s through World War II, Taiwan was Japan’s main source of sugar production.

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“At one point, two-thirds of all Taiwanese families were in the sugar cane industry,” Wei says. “So it was a huge part of our culture.”

Sugar is so important in Taiwan that it shows up even in its savory dishes, like Taiwanese sausages or braised pork over rice. It’s also a key ingredient in some of the island’s religious offerings, like ang ku kueh, or “red turtle kueh,” which are bright-pink sticky rice sweets stuffed with fillings like red bean and black sesame and shaped to resemble a turtle’s shell.

And just like sugar, the types of rice help tell the story of colonization on the island.

A bowl of traditional wa gui, a savory steamed rice cake.

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A bowl of traditional wa gui, a savory steamed rice cake.

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Tapiocas on sale at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Tapiocas on sale at Shuixian Gong Market.

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“The type of rice that Taiwanese people eat on a daily basis has changed really depending on who has governed Taiwan, which I find is a really fascinating reflection of Taiwanese colonial history,” Wei says. “Taiwan is the only subtropical country in the world where short-grain rice are the grain of choice.”

Wei explains that early Chinese settlers who came to Taiwan hundreds of years ago brought over long-grain rice, which was commonly grown in mainland China. When Japanese colonizers came, she says, they craved the short-grain rice they were accustomed to eating. The problem: Short-grain rice doesn’t grow very well in Taiwan’s subtropical climate.

“They spent 10 years trying to cultivate short-grain rice on Yangmingshan, which is a mountain hill-ish area in Taipei,” Wei says. “After 10 years, they finally succeeded, and that has become our rice of choice.”

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Order a rice dish from any restaurant in Taiwan, and your bowl will be filled with bright, sticky, short-grain rice. “And that was really through the efforts of the Japanese,” says Wei.

A selection of pastries on sale at the market.

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A selection of pastries on sale at the market.

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Fresh wheel cakes being made at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Fresh wheel cakes being made at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Foods like kueh are made using time- and labor-intensive crops, like sugar and sticky rice, so that makes them special and a worthy offering to one’s gods and ancestors. Chen says food culture in Taiwan is inextricable from religion.

“During the worship time [which could be] two or three hours, people are hungry, so they are hanging out in the neighborhood and looking for food. And that’s [why] the many small vendors [began] gathering in the neighborhood and start doing their business,” she said.

In fact, in Taiwan, temples and food markets often appear side by side. Shuixian Gong Market is also home to Shuixian Temple — a structure that is hundreds of years old. The temple is dedicated to water gods, with intricately carved stone pillars, red-painted wooden beams and gold dragons flanking its entrance. Paintings above the temple’s entrance depict scenes of maritime life, paying homage to the ocean that surrounds the island.

Just a few yards away from the temple stands a fish ball vendor. Trays of ice in front of her display neat rows of balls made from varieties of seafood: shrimp, flounder and milkfish.

Fish balls vendors serve up the goods at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Fish balls vendors serve up the goods at Shuixian Gong Market.

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Just some of the fresh fish on display at the market.

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Just some of the fresh fish on display at the market.

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“The milkfish is a very important aquaculture in the Tainan area,” Chen explains. The bony white fish also has a connection to the Dutch colonization of the island.

“The milkfish [has] been here for centuries,” Wei says. “When the Dutch came in, they started the aquaculture industry where they were breeding the fish, and this has become a staple of the Taiwanese diet ever since.”

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Seafood makes up a huge portion of the Taiwanese diet — from fish balls in soups, to a dried flounder used by many Taiwanese cooks to make stock, to Pacific oysters, which are found in a variety of dishes.

Chinese migrants started farming these oysters along the island’s west coast hundreds of years ago. They’re smaller than the oysters seen in North America, and most of the time, they are not eaten raw. Most farmers lack the infrastructure to closely monitor the water quality, so they show up in cooked dishes, like o-a-tsian, oyster omelets.

These eggs are thickened with sweet potato starch and studded with oysters before being slathered in a sweet and tangy sauce made from pickled vegetables. Wei says the ingredients in this dish can show a lot about the island.

An oyster omelet.

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An oyster omelet.

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Clarissa Wei and Ivy Chen share wa gui, a savory steamed rice cake.

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Clarissa Wei and Ivy Chen share wa gui, a savory steamed rice cake.

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“It describes what Taiwanese food was 200, 300 years ago. It’s very simple. The bulk of it really is sweet potato starch, because sweet potatoes thrive [here in Taiwan] — it’s kind of like a weed,” she says. “And this isn’t a dish you associate with Chinese food at all. It’s something that’s very, very Taiwanese and unique to Taiwan.”

What distinguishes Chinese food from the unique flavors in Taiwanese food is a bit of a nebulous thing. Chen is a cooking instructor and has taught students from all over the world. She says they’d often ask her, “What is Taiwanese food? What is Chinese food? What’s the difference?” Figuring out the difference was a process for her.

“I can tell [the difference],” Chen says. “But I never think that people will ask me that way, that I need to give a definition about Chinese food and Taiwanese food.”

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There isn’t a black-and-white definition of Taiwanese food. Wei and Chen argue that the food is unique because the flavors in Taiwan’s cooking, as well as its produce and seafood, are the historical record of colonialism and migration on this island.

And to them, that means the island’s cuisine deserves to stand on its own.

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Sweden's potent anti-submarine weapon Torpedo 47: A game-changer in Ukraine's stand-off with Russian fleet

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Sweden's potent anti-submarine weapon Torpedo 47: A game-changer in Ukraine's stand-off with Russian fleet
Despite numerous reputational blunders, the Russian Black Sea Fleet successfully blocked the Black Sea for an extended period. The introduction of new Western weapons, such as the Storm Shadow missiles, to Ukraine and relentless attacks from unmanned sea vessels eventually compelled Russia to retract its naval presence despite Ukraine lacking a for…
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What Black women's hair taught me about agency, reinvention and finding joy

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What Black women's hair taught me about agency, reinvention and finding joy

Throughout my childhood, my mother’s hair was a symbol of creativity, individualism, and self-care for me.

Treye Green


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Throughout my childhood, my mother’s hair was a symbol of creativity, individualism, and self-care for me.

Treye Green

The chorusing clack of curling irons and the deep hum of hooded hair dryers were familiar sounds throughout my childhood.

I’d regularly accompany my mother on her bi-weekly visit to the hair salon, each trip leaving me transfixed by the seemingly endless array of hairstyles that filled the salon posters on the walls and packed the issues of Black Hair magazine I flipped through while patiently sitting in the waiting area.

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Black women of all shapes, sizes, skin tones and hair textures transformed right in front of my eyes. Whether toting a magazine tear-out of a celebrity hairstyle or sharing a hairstyle of their own imagining, these women confidently trusted their stylist of choice to bring their hair visions to fruition.

I was in awe of the practice enacted by my mother and the women she joined creative forces with during each salon appointment.

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I was in awe of the practice enacted by my mother and the women she joined creative forces with during each salon appointment.

Treye Green

From blunt bobs to micro braids and curls as high as the prayers I heard her lift up every morning, I’d revel in the debut of what new hairstyle my mom had chosen for herself.

I witnessed the sense of pride that filled my mother’s beautiful face, her valley-deep dimples pressed into cheeks professing the delight of her stylist’s job well done.

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Those salon trips of my childhood had a great influence on me — becoming one of the spaces where I first discovered the allure of the art of creating. I was intrigued by the idea of transformation and the glamour I witnessed in action.

But as I aged into my teenage and adult years, I more fully understood what hair represented for my mother and the Black women of the diaspora.

My mother’s hair became a vessel through which I grasped the ideas of agency, evolution and being fearless in pursuit of what brings me joy.

The everyday icon I call mom expressed herself in a way that mimicked the pop culture sirens I also found so creatively inspiring. There were Janet Jackson’s burgundy coils on The Velvet Rope album cover and Toni Braxton’s transition from a classic pixie during her self-titled debut to back-length waves on her sophomore project, Secrets. And then there was Brandy’s revolving array of micro braid styles and the quartet of varying styles worn by LeToya Luckett, LaTavia Roberson, Kelly Rowland, and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter between Destiny’s Child’s debut and sophomore projects.

Black women’s hair is intentional, and limitless, and historical, and influential, and deeply political in a world often incapable of recognizing the depths of its wonder. The Black women I met in the salon as a child reflected that splendid truth back at me — the transformational power of their hair existing as just one movement in the expansive symphony of Black womanhood.

Decades after those childhood trips accompanying my mom to the salon, her hair remains a symbol of her agency and the choices she makes on how she wants to be seen in the world.

It is her lifelong promise to always make time for herself. It is her note to never fail to celebrate the infinite options of who she can be. It is her thoughtful act of self-care and self-preservation.

And she is my gloriously unwavering reminder that our personal identity is ours to pridefully shape, build, and display in whatever style we choose.

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