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.
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”
George Will is denouncing a GOP that has been ailing for years, but quitting won’t help—an American political party can only be reformed from within.
This past weekend, George Will revealed that he had formally disaffiliated himself from the Republican Party, switching his Maryland voter registration to independent. On Fox News Sunday, the conservative pundit explained his decision: "After Trump went after the 'Mexican' judge from northern Indiana then [House Speaker] Paul Ryan endorsed him, I decided that in fact this was not my party anymore.” For 40 years, George Will defined and personified what it meant to be a thoughtful conservative. His intellect and authority inspired a generation of readers and viewers, myself very much among them.
His departure represents a powerful image of divorce between intellectual conservatism and the new Trump-led GOP. Above all, it raises a haunting question for the many other Republicans and conservatives repelled by the looming nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for president of the United States: What will you do?
Hillary Clinton wrote something for The Toast today. Are you sobbing yet?
Either you’ll immediately get why this is crazy, or you won’t: Hillary Clinton wrote a thing for The Toast today.
Are you weeping? Did your heart skip a beat? Maybe your reaction was, “What. Whaaaat. WHAT,” or “Aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!” or “OH MY GOD,” or simply “this is too much goodbye I'm dead now.”
Perhaps your feelings can only be captured in GIF form, as was the case for someone commenting on Clinton’s post under the name Old_Girl:
Reader comments like the ones above are arguably the best part of Clinton’s post, because they highlight just how meaningful hearing directly from Clinton is to The Toast’s community of readers. The Toast is a small but beloved feminist website known for its quirky literary humor. It announced last month it couldn’t afford to continue operating. Friday is its last day of publication.
How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?
Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.
But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?
“This western-front business couldn’t be done again.”
On this first day of July, exactly 100 years ago, the peoples of the British Empire suffered the greatest military disaster in their history. A century later, “the Somme” remains the most harrowing place-name in the annals not only of Great Britain, but of the many former dependencies that shed their blood on that scenic river. The single regiment contributed to the First World War by the island of Newfoundland, not yet joined to Canada, suffered nearly 100 percent casualties that day: Of 801 engaged, only 68 came out alive and unwounded. Altogether, the British forces suffered more than 19,000 killed and more than 38,000 wounded: almost as many casualties in one day as Britain suffered in the entire disastrous battle for France in May and June 1940, including prisoners. The French army on the British right flank absorbed some 1,600 casualties more.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
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.
There needs to be more nuanced language to describe the expanding demographic of unmarried Americans.
In 1957, a team of psychology professors at the University of Michigan released the results of a survey they had conducted—an attempt to reflect Americans’ attitudes about unmarried people. When it came to the group of adults who remained single by choice, 80 percent of the survey’s respondents—reflecting the language used by the survey’s authors—said they believed that the singletons remained so because they must be “immoral,” “sick,” or “neurotic.”
It’s amazing, and reassuring, how much has changed in such a relatively narrow slice of time. Today, certainly, marriage remains a default economic and social arrangement, particularly after having been won as a right for same-sex couples; today, certainly, those who do not marry still face some latent social stigmas (or, at the very least, requests to explain themselves). But the regressive language of failed morality and psychological pathology when it comes to singledom? That has, fortunately, been replaced by more permissive attitudes.
What percentage graduated from high school and enrolled within a year at a four year institution where they live on campus?
Who are today’s college students?
The answer surprises most people who attended four year universities, according to Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of Lumina Foundation. Addressing audiences, like the one he spoke to Friday at The Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, he frequently poses this question: “What percentage of students in American higher education today graduated from high school and enrolled in college within a year to attend a four year institution and live on campus?”
Most people guess “between forty and sixty percent,” he said, whereas “the correct answer is five percent.” There is, he argued, “a real disconnect in our understanding of who today’s students are. The influencers––the policy makers, the business leaders, the media––have a very skewed view of who today’s students are.”
The trend helps explain Trump and Brexit. What’s next?
On Wednesday, Facebook made an announcement that you’d think would only matter to Facebook users and publishers: It will modify its News Feed algorithm to favor content posted by a user’s friends and family over content posted by media outlets. The company said the move was not about privileging certain sources over others, but about better “connecting people and ideas.”
But Richard Edelman, the head of the communications marketing firm Edelman, sees something more significant in the change: proof of a new “world of self-reference” that, once you notice it, helps explain everything from Donald Trump’s appeal to Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Elites used to possess outsized influence and authority, Edelman notes, but now they only have a monopoly on authority. Influence largely rests with the broader population. People trust their peers much more than they trust their political leaders or news organizations.