The man who inspired the world with his technology anonymously inspired one writer with the simple beauty of his home
A Palo Alto resident looks upon the flowers, candles, and apples placed on the sidewalk outside Steve Jobs's home / Reuters
The world is mourning the loss of Steve Jobs this week, and with him, the inspiration he provided to so many innovators, technologists, designers, thinkers, and everyday consumers. But in perusing some of the news coverage of his death, I came across one particular photo that stopped me in my tracks.
It was a picture of Jobs' house in Palo Alto, California -- a low-roofed, brick and slate cottage straight out of some English or French countryside -- with bundles of flowers and memorials piled up against its split-rail garden fence. And it stopped me in my tracks because I know that house. Really well. It was, in fact, an important source of inspiration for me, for the 7 1/2 years I lived in that neighborhood. It's just that, ironically, the inspiration it and its owner provided had nothing to do with technology.
I moved to Old Palo Alto in the aftermath of the dot.com bust, when rents in the area plummeted to merely expensive, instead of stupid, ungodly, unbelievably expensive. I rented a small writer's cottage a few blocks away from where Jobs lived, although I had no idea, until I saw that photo, that he (or anyone else I might have heard of) lived anywhere nearby. The cottage I rented had been built by Herbert Hoover in 1937, after he moved out to start the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a few blocks away. He built four small cottages on a piece of property near the campus for writers to live in while they worked with the Institution. I'm even told that General Douglas MacArthur lived in my cottage while he wrote his memoirs.
It was, in other words, quite literally a writer's cottage -- which seemed appropriate, seeing as that's what I do for a living. But when the muse didn't speak, or some personal or professional setback got the better of me, or I needed to de-stress, or I just felt too unhappy to produce anything useful.... I'd go walking in the neighborhood. Because Old Palo Alto is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods the city has to offer.
I heard somewhere that the eclectic designs of the houses there stem from the fact that the professors and professionals Leland Stanford recruited to teach at the new Stanford University, at the turn of the 20th century, all built homes there that reminded them of the various places from whence they'd come. That explanation might or might not be true, but the diversity was certainly there. Strolling under a canopy of grand and leafy old trees, I might pass an English Tudor house, and then a Dutch Colonial, followed by a southern Georgian, which would be next to a California Craftsman, which might be next to a mission-style hacienda, which might be next to... well, a medieval English cottage, compete with tousled and carefree-looking shrubbery and gardens.
The corner where Jobs lived, however, was my favorite corner and block in the entire neighborhood. If I was really upset or stressed, I might walk up and down the two blocks that framed his house multiple times, just because it was so beautiful, and somehow so calming that I'd always leave there feeling better. Reminded, in some wordless way, of the simple beauty in the world that existed before, after, and beyond career or relationship mishaps. And on more than one occasion, freed of the writers' block that had driven me away from my desk in the first place.
On numerous occasions, as I walked around that block, I would also see a slender man moving around inside the house. Unlike many houses in the neighborhood, the windows of that house were, at least on one side, almost right up against the sidewalk. Close enough for me to admire the furnishings, anyway, and see anyone walking through the rooms on that side. I never did anything but glance that way, but I honestly used to wonder what that man did for a living, that he'd be there in the late afternoon, calmly going about his business in that lovely and soul-soothing cottage.
I'm actually glad, now, that I didn't know. Because if I had, I couldn't have looked at that cottage, or the man walking around inside it, the same. Even if I'd tried. As it is, I find it both ironic, and oddly fitting, that the man who inspired the world with his technology anonymously inspired me, instead, with the simple beauty of his garden and his home. After all, simplicity and beauty were the two trademark qualities Jobs brought to all the personal technology he designed. It makes sense that a man who valued those things so highly would surround himself with them in his home life, as well.
The seemingly calm man I glimpsed as I walked down that block might not match at all with how the people who worked with him remember him, of course. But that's okay. They can have their Steve Jobs. I have mine. And I like being able to remember him that way: quiet, calm, and anonymous, surrounded by simplicity and beauty that changed with the seasons, but were always, somehow, inspiring.
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.
Maya Arulpragasam is a famous rapper, singer, designer, producer, and refugee. When she was 9, her mother and siblings fled violence in Sri Lanka and came to London, and the experience was formative for her art. As she explained to The Guardian in 2005 after the release of her debut Arular, “I was a refugee because of war and now I have a voice in a time when war is the most invested thing on the planet. What I thought I should do with this record is make every refugee kid that came over after me have something to feel good about. Take everybody’s bad bits and say, ‘Actually, they’re good bits. Now whatcha gonna do?’”
That goal—to glorify people and practices that the developed world marginalizes—has been a constant in her career. Her new music video tackles it in a particularly literal and urgent way, not only by showing solidarity with refugees at a moment when they’re extremely controversial in the West, but also by posing a simple question to listeners: Whose lives do you value?
Without the financial support that many white families can provide, minority young people have to continually make sacrifices that set them back.
The year after my father died, I graduated from grad school, got a new job, and looked forward to saving for a down payment on my first home, a dream I had always had, but found lofty. I pulled up a blank spreadsheet and made a line item called “House Fund.”
That same week I got a call from my mom—she was struggling to pay off my dad’s funeral expenses. I looked at my “House Fund” and sighed. Then I deleted it and typed the words “Funeral Fund” instead.
My father’s passing was unexpected. And so was the financial burden that came with it.
For many Millennials of color, these sorts of trade-offs aren’t an anomaly. During key times in their lives when they should be building assets, they’re spending money on basic necessities and often helping out family. Their financial future is a rocky one, and much of it comes down to how much—or how little—assistance they receive.
To solve climate change, we need to reimagine our entire relationship to the nonhuman world.
Humans were once a fairly average species of large mammals, living off the land with little effect on it. But in recent millennia, our relationship with the natural world has changed as dramatically as our perception of it.
There are now more than 7 billion people on this planet, drinking its water, eating its plants and animals, and mining its raw materials to build and power our tools. These everyday activities might seem trivial from the perspective of any one individual, but aggregated together they promise to leave lasting imprints on the Earth. Human power is now geological in scope—and if we are to avoid making a mess of this, our only home, our politics must catch up.
Making this shift will require a radical change in how we think about our relationship to the natural world. That may sound like cause for despair. After all, many people refuse to admit that environmental crises like climate change exist at all. But as Jedediah Purdy reminds us in his dazzling new book, After Nature, our relationship with the nonhuman world has proved flexible over time. People have imagined nature in a great many ways across history.
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.
The generation has been called lazy, entitled, and narcissistic. Their bosses beg to differ.
Yes, many Millennials are still crashing on their parent’s couches. And there’s data to support the claim that they generally want more perks but less face time, and that they hope to rise quickly but don’t stick around for very long. Millennials have also been pretty vocal about their desire to have more flexible jobs and more leave time.
But does all of this mean that all Millennials are actually worse workers?
Laura Olin, a digital campaigner who ran social-media strategy for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, says that’s not been her experience. “You always hear about Millennials supposedly being entitled and needing coddling, but the ones I’ve encountered have been incredibly hard-working and recognize that they need to pay their dues.”
Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and other presidential contenders appease Donald Trump at their own peril.
Give Donald Trump this: He has taught Americans something about the candidates he’s running against. He has exposed many of them as political cowards.
In August, after Trump called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and vowed to build a wall along America’s southern border, Jeb Bush traveled to South Texas to respond. Bush’s wife is Mexican American; he has said he’s “immersed in the immigrant experience”; he has even claimed to be Hispanic himself. Yet he didn’t call Trump’s proposals immoral or bigoted, since that might offend Trump’s nativist base. Instead, Bush declared: “Mr. Trump’s plans are not grounded in conservative principles. His proposal is unrealistic. It would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.” In other words, demonizing and rounding up undocumented Mexican immigrants is fine, so long as it’s done cheap.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
While Saint Nicholas may bring gifts to good boys and girls, ancient folklore in Europe's Alpine region also tells of Krampus, a frightening beast-like creature who emerges during the Yule season, looking for naughty children to punish in horrible ways—or possibly to drag back to his lair in a sack.
While Saint Nicholas may bring gifts to good boys and girls, ancient folklore in Europe's Alpine region also tells of Krampus, a frightening beast-like creature who emerges during the Yule season, looking for naughty children to punish in horrible ways—or possibly to drag back to his lair in a sack. In keeping with pre-Germanic Pagan traditions, men dressed as these demons have been frightening children on Krampusnacht for centuries, chasing them and hitting them with sticks, on an (often alcohol-fueled) run through the dark streets.
What I learned from attending a town-hall meeting and listening to students’ concerns
Sometimes it takes a group of young people to set you straight.
For months now, I’ve been reading about college students who’ve been seeking “safe spaces.” They’ve often been met by derision—even the highest ranked Urban Dictionary definition is mired in sarcasm, describing them as having “pillows” and “soothing music” that “allows them to recover from the trauma... of exposure to ideas that conflict with their leftist professors.”
I also had some mid-life skepticism about teenage hyperbole, that is, until I attended a town hall meeting at Duke University (my alma mater) earlier this month. The “community conversation,” as it was called, had been hastily convened to discuss the rash of racist and homophobic incidents on campus. Listening to those students—and watching their expressions—I realized that what’s been happening at Duke is serious, and no amount of sarcasm can disguise the pain and anger on campus, or cover up the real dangers lurking there.