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.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and the forthcoming Between the World and Me.
Why haven’t more challengers entered the race to defeat the Iraq War hawk, Patriot Act supporter, and close friend of big finance?
As Hillary Clinton loses ground to Bernie Sanders in Iowa, where her lead shrinks by the day, it’s worth noticing that she has never made particular sense as the Democratic Party’s nominee. She may be more electable than her social-democratic rival from Vermont, but plenty of Democrats are better positioned to represent the center-left coalition. Why have they let the former secretary of state keep them out of the race? If Clinton makes it to the general election, I understand why most Democrats will support her. She shares their views on issues as varied as preserving Obamacare, abortion rights, extending legal status to undocumented workers, strengthening labor unions, and imposing a carbon tax to slow climate change.
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.
Conservatives want to defund the group, even if it means shutting down the government. And they’re holding the GOP leadership accountable.
It has become an annual harbinger of autumn in this era of divided government: The calendar swings from August to September, Congress returns from its long summer break, and Republican leaders try to figure out how to keep the federal lights on past the end of the month.
In 2013, John Boehner gave in to Senator Ted Cruz and his conservative allies in the House, and the government shut down for two weeks in a failed fight over Obamacare. A year ago, Boehner and Mitch McConnell succeeded in twice putting off a losing battle over immigration until after they could wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats.
With federal funding set to expire on September 30, conservatives are once again demanding a standoff that Boehner and McConnell are hell-bent on avoiding. This time around, the issue that might prevent an orderly—if temporary—extension of funding is Planned Parenthood. Along with Cruz, House conservatives insist that any spending bill sent to President Obama’s desk explicitly prohibit taxpayer dollars from going to the women’s health organization, which has come under fire over undercover videos that purportedly show its officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue. Democrats have rallied around Planned Parenthood, and an effort to ax its approximately $500 million in annual funding is likely to fall short, either by running into a filibuster in the Senate or a presidential veto.
Actually, a good amount: Belittling their plight by comparing it to blue-collar workers’ ignores the trickle-down harms of an exhausting work culture.
Over the past few decades, workers without college degrees have not only seen jobs disappear and wages stagnate—the jobs that remain have, all too often, gotten worse. Constant surveillance is common; schedules are erratic; escalating performance quotas exact faster work. But these trends, often thought to be confined to front-line workers, have creeped up corporate hierarchies, affecting managers and executives. That’s prompted a new controversy: Are white-collar workers victims of exploitation, or merely whining?
A devastating report on the work culture at Amazon’s headquarters recently reignited the debate. The New York Times’s August exposé, based on dozens of interviews, portrayed a firm with all the regimentation and rigidity of military boot camp, minus the esprit de corps. Workers routinely cried at their desks. Rather than being comforted or accommodated, sick employees were dumped into Orwellianly named “Performance Improvement Plans” that simply hastened their eventual departures. Faced with a comprehensive employee-ranking system, cabals of managers agreed to praise one another while talking down the performance of others. Amazon’s “collaborative feedback tool” encouraged a Panopticon of vicious feedback—and similar software may be coming to many more firms.
But letting customers buy their own would force cable companies to improve their equipment.
One of the least glamorous realities of the American cable industry is a relic invented in 1948: the cable box. The box has become a fixture in the American household, not least because it is surprisingly profitable. Earlier this year, a U.S. Senate study found that American households pay $231 a year on average renting cable boxes. Further, the report estimated that 99 percent of cable customers rented their equipment, and, across the country, that added up to a $19.5 billion industry just renting cable boxes.
The senators who commissioned the study, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, noted that this dependable rental revenue gave the industry little incentive to innovate and make better cable boxes. Which begs a really good question: Why aren’t more people purchasing their cable boxes?
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
Learning to program involves a lot of Googling, logic, and trial-and-error—but almost nothing beyond fourth-grade arithmetic.
I’m not in favor of anyone learning to code unless she really wants to. I believe you should follow your bliss, career-wise, because most of the things you’d buy with all the money you’d make as a programmer won’t make you happy. Also, if your only reason for learning to code is because you want to be a journalist and you think that’s the only way to break into the field, that’s false.
I’m all for people not becoming coders, in other words—as long they make that decision for the right reasons. “I’m bad at math” is not the right reason.
Math has very little to do with coding, especially at the early stages. In fact, I’m not even sure why people conflate the two. (Maybe it has to do with the fact that both fields are male-dominated.)
The NBC show isn’t casting its net wide enough when it comes to finding new players.
Since the departure of many of its biggest stars two years ago, Saturday Night Live has mostly avoided major cast changes. Yesterday, NBC announced the show would add only one new cast member for its 41st season—the near-unknown stand-up comic Jon Rudnitsky. SNL is, of course, a sketch-comedy show, but it keeps hiring mostly white stand-ups who have a markedly different skill set, with limited results. As critics and viewers keep calling out for greater diversity on the show, it’s hard to imagine the series’s reasoning in sticking to old habits.
As is unfortunately typical today, controversy has already arisen over some tasteless old jokes from Rudnitsky’s Twitter and Vine feeds, similar to the furore that greeted Trevor Noah’s hiring at The Daily Show this summer. But Rudnitsky was apparently hired on the back of his stand-up performances, not his Internet presence, similar to the other young stand-ups the show has hired in recent years: Pete Davidson, Brooks Wheelan (since fired), and Michael Che. It’s a peculiar route to the show, because SNL is 90 percent sketch acting, and unless you’re hosting Weekend Update (like Che), you’re not going to do a lot of stand-up material. So why hire Rudnitsky?
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
Many educators are introducing meditation into the classroom as a means of improving kids’ attention and emotional regulation.
A five-minute walk from the rickety, raised track that carries the 5 train through the Bronx, the English teacher Argos Gonzalez balanced a rounded metal bowl on an outstretched palm. His class—a mix of black and Hispanic students in their late teens, most of whom live in one of the poorest districts in New York City—by now were used to the sight of this unusual object: a Tibetan meditation bell.
“Today we’re going to talk about mindfulness of emotion,” Gonzalez said with a hint of a Venezuelan accent. “You guys remember what mindfulness is?” Met with quiet stares, Gonzalez gestured to one of the posters pasted at the back of the classroom, where the students a few weeks earlier had brainstormed terms describing the meaning of “mindfulness.” There were some tentative mumblings: “being focused,” “being aware of our surroundings.”