The 15th New York aka "The Harlem Hellfighters." Regiment of black and Puerto-Rican soldiers. Winners of the Croix de Guerre in World War I. (The National Archives)
We are doing a house-swap in order to spend these eight weeks in Paris. House-swapping is the trusted method of travel for those of us with European dreams and a Baltimore budget. I didn't even know house-swapping existed until last summer when I first began plotting my way out. This might be pedestrian for the folks here, but for those who were like me, house-swapping is what it sounds like--you live in someone else's home and they live in yours. I know a family that does this, every summer, sight unseen. Keys are left in appointed places, supers are informed, and whole families from other continents make moves. For others it's like dating--personal ads, vague guarded e-mails, g-chat, then video-skype to see if you like the look of your paramours.
My connection was as old fashion as you can imagine in these times. A sharp, learned journalist on this side was a fan of my blog and a native New Yorker. We exchanged a few e-mails, then dined together in Paris and instantly liked each other. He wanted to get home with his son for the summer. I wanted to get out with mine and my wife. Et voilà. C'est ça.
Before he left, my new found homeboy plugged me into to a number of Parisians--most of them people of color with some kind of immigrant connection. Their job, I suspect, is to get me out of the Sixth and into the underbelly of things. I saw some of it yesterday riding the RER. The further out you go on the train, the more African and Asiatic the world becomes. The kids look like our kids with their headphones and haircuts. They talk loud and boastfully, as I once did, so that you might know that they are alive.
"Here is the thing," my buddy said to me, just before leaving. "I am not trying to get you to hate France. I want you to love France. But I want you to love it for the right reasons."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I thought. "Pass me a pain au chocolat and let's get this swap-joint popping."
And popping it was. Yesterday, when I went out to get milk, I saw a man outside the store preparing le poulet et pommes de terre. I want to pause here and point out that "Pomme de terre"--"apple of the earth"--is beautiful name for a potato. The man was preparing this in a rotisserie oven. At the bottom the potatoes were roasting in the juices. I came back, told my wife, and I had found dinner.
After we dropped off our son we picked up dinner along with a salad and some chocolate for desert. We drank a bottle of wine together--it's becoming a tradition--and ate an awesome dinner. I got up this morning and hit La Seine for my morning run. I came back, showered, and was immediately felled by food poisoning. So this is loving France, wholly, right reasons and all.
Illness aside, there is always the danger in falling in for a distant lover who seems magically free of all the complications back home. I was raised by a generation that--to varying degrees--found this out. My friend Brendan Koerner just published a book which is getting raves everywhere--The Skies Belong To Us. The most bracing portion, to me, is Brendan's hard look at the New Left. I got my first lessons in skepticism and counter-intuitiveness from a lot of these guys. But it's worth remembering that there was when they sung the praises of Kim il Sung.
I don't want to take this too far. If America has the right to be wrong, then so do its reformers. It mirrors our discussion here where we find people attacking other countries for not being "democratic" without understanding our own long, ugly and sometimes dishonorable path. More, I would say that because of my particular background, my canon was a little different than most, and whatever differences you might find in my voice are attributable to that.
It's also attributable to discovering the Western canon, and the significance of the West, almost as something exotic since my roots seemed elsewhere. That allows me to be fascinated, to be blown away. Nothing is more fascinating than finding your allegedly foreign roots are common. I thought of this recently digging through Rousseau:
This passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a most remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his behaviour and endowing his actions with the morality they previously lacked before. Only then when the voice of duty succeeds physical impulsion and law succeeds appetite, does man, who until now had thought only of himself, find himself forced to act according to other principles, and to consult his reason before heeding his inclinations. Although in this state he denies himself a number of advantages granted him by nature, he gains others so great in return his faculties are exercised and developed, his ideas expanded, his feelings ennobled, his entire soul soars so high that if the abuses of this new condition did not often degrade him below that from which he emerged, he ought continually to bless the happy moment that wrested him thence for ever, and out of a stupid, limited animal made him an intelligent being and human.
Right down to the language around civilization, this is remarkably similar to Malcolm X's parable of transition wherein black people go from being savages "deaf, dumb and blind" and "lost in the wilderness of North America" to civilized black men committed to some higher ideal. In Malcolm's vision it was Islam. Among his nationalist descendants it was black people.
For one such as myself, schooled on the savagery of Cortez and Pizarro, once inculcated with the theories of a natural impulse toward warfare among white people, raised up to seethe after the partition of Africa, it is still odd--a decade and a half after I left that world--to see myself in the image of people I once solely took as conquerors and barbarians.I like to think I've come some ways since then, bearing the skepticism of those days, but free of the prejudice and the utopian romance. I like to think that I know that every home is imperfect, that I don't come to France looking for something better than America, that I know that America is my own imperfect home. I like to think that you need worry about me going too zealous and hard. This is a great great trip. But it's the food poisoning that makes it real.
Even in big cities like Tokyo, small children take the subway and run errands by themselves. The reason has a lot to do with group dynamics.
It’s a common sight on Japanese mass transit: Children troop through train cars, singly or in small groups, looking for seats.
They wear knee socks, polished patent-leather shoes, and plaid jumpers, with wide-brimmed hats fastened under the chin and train passes pinned to their backpacks. The kids are as young as 6 or 7, on their way to and from school, and there is nary a guardian in sight.
A popular television show called Hajimete no Otsukai, or My First Errand, features children as young as two or three being sent out to do a task for their family. As they tentatively make their way to the greengrocer or bakery, their progress is secretly filmed by a camera crew. The show has been running for more than 25 years.
A new study finds that people today who eat and exercise the same amount as people 20 years ago are still fatter.
There’s a meme aimed at Millennial catharsis called “Old Economy Steve.” It’s a series of pictures of a late-70s teenager, who presumably is now a middle-aged man, that mocks some of the messages Millennials say they hear from older generations—and shows why they’re deeply janky. Old Economy Steve graduates and gets a job right away. Old Economy Steve “worked his way through college” because tuition was $400. And so forth.
We can now add another one to that list: Old Economy Steve ate at McDonald’s almost every day, and he still somehow had a 32-inch waist.
A study published recently in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
Any attempt to address mass incarceration has to begin with an effort to tackle crime—and the social conditions linked to its rise.
With the publication of “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” Ta-Nehisi Coates has added an elegant and forceful voice to the growing frustration with the inefficacy and injustice of America’s criminal-justice system. Mandatory-sentencing laws, the War on Drugs, juvenile-justice sentences that seem to do more to create than deter criminals, racial arrest and sentencing disparities: All are ready for a tough national cross-examination.
But even in the unlikely event that Washington and state legislatures successfully adapt the nation’s crime policies to a safer, more racially sensitive era, the nation will still look around to find more black men in prison than it might expect or want. There’s a simple reason for that, one that Coates himself notes: Relative to other groups, blacks commit more crimes. To understand why is to tackle some very hard-to-talk-about realities of black family life. And on that issue—and despite his announced interest in the topic—Coates has been the opposite of lucid.
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.
Some businesspeople are working half of the week in far-off countries or catching 3 a.m. trains just so that they don’t have to uproot their lives at home.
A few years back, David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue Airways, left his company and launched a new airline in Brazil. The airline, Azul, flies 22 million people a year, employs 12,000 people, and is the fastest-growing carrier in the region.
You’d think running such a large, complex operation would require a move to South America. But Neeleman commutes to Azul’s Sao Paulo headquarters every week from his home in Connecticut, taking the 10-hour redeye on Sunday nights and returning on Thursdays. This way, he says, he doesn’t have to uproot his family of 10 kids.
“My wife wasn’t so interested in moving,” said Neeleman, who recently bought TAP, Portugal’s national airline and is now commuting there as well. “We had all these kids playing [American] football and lacrosse. They don’t have those sports in Brazil.”
In the movie Up in the Air, George Clooney successfully captures the road-warrior ethos that has long been associated with, say, business consultants from firms like McKinsey & Company who work on projects outside their hometowns and spend most of their week in hotels. But now, more and more executives around the world are choosing to take on lengthy commutes on a permanent basis, even if their jobs don’t demand it. Increasing globalization and tech-enabled workplace flexibility are certainly part of the reason why. But a more child-centered approach to parenting also seems to be a factor, as these executives make other major sacrifices in order to balance their professional and home lives.
David Hume, the Buddha, and a search for the Eastern roots of the Western Enlightenment
In2006, i was 50—and I was falling apart.
Until then, I had always known exactly who I was: an exceptionally fortunate and happy woman, full of irrational exuberance and everyday joy.
I knew who I was professionally. When I was 16, I’d discovered cognitive science and analytic philosophy, and knew at once that I wanted the tough-minded, rigorous, intellectual life they could offer me. I’d gotten my doctorate at 25 and had gone on to become a professor of psychology and philosophy at UC Berkeley.
I knew who I was personally, too. For one thing, I liked men. I was never pretty, but the heterosexual dance of attraction and flirtation had always been an important part of my life, a background thrum that brightened and sharpened all the rest. My closest friends and colleagues had all been men.
In 1973 my father was killed by his best friend, but according to the Internet he never even existed.
I don’t recall ever being told that my father had been murdered. I have no memory of a day when my mother sat me down and slowly and carefully unwound the story of how he had been reckless with his life and that he had been murdered as a result of it. I don’t recall her telling me about the other woman … about that woman’s husband shooting my father.
His death … his murder, which occurred in 1973, long before the invention of the Internet, has been as much my story, in some ways, as it was his own.
Being the daughter of a man embroiled in scandal, infidelity and ultimately life-ending violence defines you in ways beyond comprehension.
As a young girl, when introduced to a friend’s parents, there was no mistaking that faraway look in their eyes as they tried to recall why it was that my last name raised a feeling of alarm. This was typically followed by a wave of recognition, when their memory brought back pieces of my story. Their eyes said what they could not say aloud: “Oh … she’s the daughter of the man who was murdered by his best friend,” followed by the struggle to decide whether or not they should allow their child to be friends with me at all.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.