Life in the Slovak Republic is a bit different than what I imagined when I was living 5,000 miles away before coming to the country with my husband, the U.S. ambassador. I am not entirely clear what I painted my new world to be, but it hasn't been a disappointment. Nothing is totally easy moving to a new community, as friends, family, and the familiar are temporarily gone, but the upside is a fascinating culture, new surroundings, and work with a different gathering of friends--although the latter hasn't come as quickly as I had hoped for in my little corner of the world. This country of 5.5 million is part of the European Union and NATO yet only 22 years out of Communist rule. They have made great strides and are now the fastest-growing economy in Europe.
I often wonder, as I walk by their modern Parliament building, what their sessions are like and how they conduct their business. One day, I am going to ask someone to take me inside for an education in the running of their government. I have a lot to learn. But not speaking Slovak (I am trying) could impede my learning curve--or flatten it. Oh well, worth a try.
The new prime minister, Iveta Radicova, is a sociologist by training and was elected in June by the leading coalition party, SKDU. She is the first woman elected leader and for many reasons, we are cheering her on from the sidelines. With this country and my own homeland at times, I want progress to proceed quickly--time is passing, let's get this show on the road. And then I slow down and remember the PM paraphrasing a former professor of hers in which she says something to the effect that you can change the politics in six days, the economics in six weeks, but it takes many decades to change society.
Speaking of changing society, the people in this country are very kind but somewhat reserved. I especially noticed it on my walks in the park with a neighbor. We each nodded to our park friends and said, "dobry den" (good day), but got not or not much acknowledgment. It became a bit more noticeable when we saw the same people each day. So I thought I'd better slow down my "dobry dens" so as not to be the presumptuous American. After all, I am just a guest here.
But, still curious about this, I asked a Slovak friend, and he said by all means keep it up, and they will trust and then respond. He reminded me that with 41 years of Communism, trust in the society has to be built up again. During those years, often even neighbors didn't speak to each other, so our way of meeting and greeting can get lost in translation. Well, I followed his cue and--success! My neighbor and I now have park friends. Something has changed in my life here, and I'm glad I reached out and engaged my wise acquaintance in conversation, listening to his advice. Otherwise, I wouldn't have my new friends in the park. I think I'll do an observational study as I walk. I'll categorize those who speak and don't speak by gender, ballpark the age, and whether they have a dog or a stroller. It will be interesting to watch the results. No scientific gold standards of statistical significance so far, but enough participants who speak to keep me walking and engaged. That's a piece of good news.
Kate Sedgwick has a Master's degree from Harvard in Public Health.
She has been involved in HIV/AIDS work and now lives in central Europe
with her husband, US Ambassador to Slovak Republic.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
19 Kids and Counting built its reputation on preaching family values, but the mass-media platforms that made the family famous might also be their undoing.
On Thursday, news broke that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family's 19 children, had, as a teenager, allegedly molested five underage girls. Four of them, allegedly, were his sisters.
The information came to light because, in 2006—two years before 17 Kids and Counting first aired on TLC, and thus two years before the Duggars became reality-TV celebrities—the family recorded an appearance on TheOprah Winfrey Show. Before the taping, an anonymous source sent an email to Harpo warning the production company Josh’s alleged molestation. Harpo forwarded the email to authorities, triggering a police investigation (the Oprah appearance never aired). The news was reported this week by In Touch Weekly—after the magazine filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the police report on the case—and then confirmed by the Duggars in a statement posted on Facebook.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In an interview, the U.S. president ties his legacy to a pact with Tehran, argues ISIS is not winning, warns Saudi Arabia not to pursue a nuclear-weapons program, and anguishes about Israel.
On Tuesday afternoon, as President Obama was bringing an occasionally contentious but often illuminating hour-long conversation about the Middle East to an end, I brought up a persistent worry. “A majority of American Jews want to support the Iran deal,” I said, “but a lot of people are anxiety-ridden about this, as am I.” Like many Jews—and also, by the way, many non-Jews—I believe that it is prudent to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of anti-Semitic regimes. Obama, who earlier in the discussion had explicitly labeled the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-Semite, responded with an argument I had not heard him make before.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”
Advocates say that a guaranteed basic income can lead to more creative, fulfilling work. The question is how to fund it.
Scott Santens has been thinking a lot about fish lately. Specifically, he’s been reflecting on the aphorism, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” What Santens wants to know is this: “If you build a robot to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?”
Santens is 37 years old, and he’s a leader in the basic income movement—a worldwide network of thousands of advocates (26,000 on Reddit alone) who believe that governments should provide every citizen with a monthly stipend big enough to cover life’s basic necessities. The idea of a basic income has been around for decades, and it once drew support from leaders as different as Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon. But rather than waiting for governments to act, Santens has started crowdfunding his own basic income of $1,000 per month. He’s nearly halfway to his his goal.
Will the streaming service’s new features transform how people work out, or just transform’s Spotify’s value proposition?
Running alongside the Potomac River this past Wednesday afternoon, I had one of those thoughts that seems revelatory when high from either drugs or running, but obvious any other time: In the utopian future, we’ll make no decisions. Call it the cresting of the stream or the resolution of the paradox of the choice; the idea is that after the Internet has overwhelmed so many of us with so many options about so many things, the innovations to come will ease the burden of indecision. Here’s what you need to know, say newly trendy newsletters; here’s what you’re going to eat, say meal-delivery services. And now, here’s what you’re going to listen to while you sweat off brunch, says the new Spotify, the cause of this particular endorphin rush.
Why agriculture may someday take place in towers, not fields
A couple of Octobers ago, I found myself standing on a 5,000-acre cotton crop in the outskirts of Lubbock, Texas, shoulder-to-shoulder with a third-generation cotton farmer. He swept his arm across the flat, brown horizon of his field, which was at that moment being plowed by an industrial-sized picker—a toothy machine as tall as a house and operated by one man. The picker’s yields were being dropped into a giant pod to be delivered late that night to the local gin. And far beneath our feet, the Ogallala aquifer dwindled away at its frighteningly swift pace. When asked about this, the farmer spoke of reverse osmosis—the process of desalinating water—which he seemed to put his faith in, and which kept him unafraid of famine and permanent drought.
In any case, people have probably heard the phrase in reference to something gone awry at work or in life. In either setting, when the shit does hit the fan, people will tend to look to the most competent person in the room to take over.
And too bad for that person. A new paper by a team of researchers from Duke University, University of Georgia, and University of Colorado looks at not only how extremely competent people are treated by their co-workers and peers, but how those people feel when, at crucial moments, everyone turns to them. They find that responsible employees are not terribly pleased about this dynamic either.
This weekwe have photos of an 80-foot-high tire in Michigan, dozens of Siberian students smashed into a car, two volcanic eruptions, yet another nail house in China, synchronized swimmers in a pond at the Chelsea Flower Show, a view from the top of the 104-story One World Trade Center, cows on the beach along the Mediterranean, a solar halo above Mexico, and much more.