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.
The president’s unique approach to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will surely be missed.
No U.S. President has been a better comedian than Barack Obama. It’s really that simple.
Now that doesn’t mean that some modern-day presidents couldn’t tell a joke. John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton excelled at it. But Obama has transformed the way presidents use comedy—not just engaging in self-deprecation or playfully teasing his rivals, but turning his barbed wit on his opponents.
He puts that approach on display every year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This annual tradition, which began in 1921 when 50 journalists (all men) gathered in Washington D.C., has become a showcase for each president’s comedy chops. Some presidents have been bad, some have been good. Obama has been the best. He’s truly the killer comedian in chief.
Two scholars discuss the ups and downs of life as a right-leaning professor.
“I don’t think I can say it too strongly, but literally it just changed my life,” said a scholar, about reading the work of Ayn Rand. “It was like this awakening for me.”
Different versions of this comment appear throughout Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr.’s book on conservative professors, Passing on the Right, usually about people like Milton Friedman and John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Hayek. The scholars they interviewed speak in a dreamy way about these nerdy celebrities, perhaps imagining an alternate academic universe—one where social scientists can be freely conservative.
The assumption that most college campuses lean left is so widespread in American culture that it has almost become a caricature: intellectuals in thick-rimmed glasses preaching Marxism on idyllic grassy quads; students protesting minor infractions against political correctness; raging professors trying to prove that God is, in fact, dead. Studies about professors’ political beliefs and voting behavior suggest this assumption is at least somewhat correct. But Shields and Dunn set out to investigate a more nuanced question: For the minority of professors who are cultural and political conservatives, what’s life actually like?
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
After the successful Allied invasions of western France, Germany gathered reserve forces and launched a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes, which collapsed by January. At the same time, Soviet forces were closing in from the east, invading Poland and East Prussia. By March, Western Allied forces were crossing the Rhine River, capturing hundreds of thousands of troops from Germany's Army Group B. The Red Army had meanwhile entered Austria, and both fronts quickly approached Berlin. Strategic bombing campaigns by Allied aircraft were pounding German territory, sometimes destroying entire cities in a night. In the first several months of 1945, Germany put up a fierce defense, but rapidly lost territory, ran out of supplies, and exhausted its options. In April, Allied forces pushed through the German defensive line in Italy. East met West on the River Elbe on April 25, 1945, when Soviet and American troops met near Torgau, Germany. Then came the end of the Third Reich, as the Soviets took Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, and Germany surrendered unconditionally on all fronts on May 8 (May 7 on the Western Front). Hitler's planned "Thousand-Year Reich" lasted only 12 incredibly destructive years. (This entry is Part 17 of a weekly
“A typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash,” says a new report.
Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.
These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.
In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Why thyroid diseases are so common—and still so mysterious
When I first suspected I was suffering from hypothyroidism, I did what any anxious, Internet-connected person would do and Googled "dysfunctional thyroid symptoms," and, in another tab, "hypothyroid thinning hair??" for good measure.
What came up sounded like someone describing me for an intimately detailed police sketch:
heightened sensitivity to cold
unexplained weight gain
a pale, puffy face ("Finally, a medical explanation for this," I thought.)
This, combined with the fact that a close family member had recently been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, sent me scurrying to the nearest endocrinologist's office. They took a blood test, and two weeks later the results came back. Sure enough, the doctor said solemnly, I had hypothyroidism, which meant my thyroid was under-active. She would be starting me on thyroid medication. She couldn't know for sure, but I might have to take drugs for the rest of my life.
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.