I have always considered myself a product of the Crack Era, despite having never slung a rock, smoked a pipe, or fired a gun. The violence of the late 80s and early 90s was a nuclear bomb--we remember those who died in the blast, but so many more walked away, done different and irradiated.
I was nine-years old the first time I got jumped. When I was ten, I watched another boy in the parking lot of a 7-11 pull out on one of my fifth grade classmates. It was a kind of magic and I recall that moment in cinematic slow-motion...
The boy is jawing with another kid from my school. He is from Pimlico...
His friends are holding him back..
And when he reaches into his dip, into his jacket, I take it to be the same pantomime that so many boys of that era enacted...
Except this is really happening...
And what is unveiled is not simply a gun, but an iron scepter, a symbol of the boy's primacy in all our small affairs...
I was not a gangster. I wasn't even a fighter. I was slow to anger. I didn't simply fear being hurt, I actually didn't like hurting other people. I only changed because it was made clear that the quickest path to peace was, in fact, a sharp, immediate demonstration of violence.
More, I came to understand that there were principles beyond the immediate safety of my person. The basic code held that it was fine to catch a beat-down, this was all in the game. You could even run if seriously outnumbered. But you always shot the fair one. And you never never left a friend in arms to the gentle clutches of some other crew.
The acceptance of this violence was framed by still greater violence. For all of us it was the violence parents did to children. But for many of us it was more--sexual violence, the violence adults did to each other, the violence brought out by addiction, the constant presence of the police. This greater violence influenced our principles, which themselves were premised on other implicit, unstated principles. Among them: That the world was--and would always be--violent. That we were powerless to alter this fact.
Violence was a language in the crack era. I have never, in my life, been as scared as I was on the first day of middle school. What petrified me was that the boys--most of whom were older--spoke the language of violence. Violence shaped how they walked. Violence shaped who they walked with. Violence shaped when they laughed and what they laughed at. Violence shaped how they wore their Starter caps. Violence told them when to give dap and when to give the ice-grill. It was an entire range of cues, an intricate dance, all designed to either protect your person, or dramatize the effort.
Learning the language of violence as a child, has a way of putting all of life's normal adult fears into perspective. But it does not banish them. You remember the overpowering darkness of it all--and you remember this (the not knowing) even more then you remember the bumrush.
Only twice in my life have I felt as lost as I did on that first day at Lemmel: When I moved to New York and when I started studying French. The obvious point is that "not knowing" on the streets carries a kind of consequence which "not knowing" in French class does not. And yet the fear--the darkness--is still powerful. Violence isn't simply physically painful, it is degrading and humiliating. The worst part about getting jumped was my helplessness. This is how I have experienced learning French.
I walk into a room and the Power in the room refuses--with very few exceptions--to speak a common language. More she speaks to me in such a way, and with such a manner, that I am supposed to understand. Even the rules of that foreign language are given in a foreign language. And when she calls on you, it's with the expectation that you will understand. And you never do. I experience this as a bumrush, as a rain of blows from all directions. It is humiliating because I am helpless to respond. My intellect is injured. My strutting manhood is made irrelevant.
The only way forward is that path I found as a young boy--principles. To learn French you must accept that you will be humiliated--you are helpless to stop it. But as surely as you once committed to shooting the fair one, to swinging your hapless and errant blows, you now commit to spouting what little French you have at your command. You commit to sounding like a fool, much as you once committed to looking like one. And this will always be true. No matter how good you get, there will always be someone sneering at your awful accent. You are helpless to change those facts. They simply must be endured.
It is odd to take in that lesson so young, and in such a way. When I was a boy, I did not understand. More, I did not understand that not understanding was how it al happened. I was left in the dark--and then forcibly remanded to a strange immersion. And yet I learned the syntax, the vocabulary, the sounds. And I came to like the sound. I got fluency and then fraternity. I walked outside. And then I got love.
*The painting is Jacques-Louis David's "The Oath of the Horatii." Info here.
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
As the world frets over Greece, a separate crisis looms in China.
This summer has not been calm for the global economy. In Europe, a Greek referendum this Sunday may determine whether the country will remain in the eurozone. In North America, meanwhile, the governor of Puerto Rico claimed last week that the island would be unable to pay off its debts, raising unsettling questions about the health of American municipal bonds.
But the season’s biggest economic crisis may be occurring in Asia, where shares in China’s two major stock exchanges have nosedived in the past three weeks. Since June 12, the Shanghai stock exchange has lost 24 percent of its value, while the damage in the southern city of Shenzhen has been even greater at 30 percent. The tumble has already wiped out more than $2.4 trillion in wealth—a figure roughly 10 times the size of Greece’s economy.
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.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
An attorney who helped players file a gender-discrimination lawsuit over artificial turf in the World Cup proposes a way forward for the sport.
On Sunday, players from the U.S. and Japan’s women’s soccer teams will step onto the field in Vancouver to compete for the sport’s greatest achievement: the World Cup. But perhaps the bigger battle—one that started well before the final match and will continue well after—isn’t about a trophy or national glory. Women’s soccer teams have long fought for recognition and respect not just from the public, but also from the male organizers of the sport, and it’s a struggle symbolized by the very fields they’ve been playing on.
The co-hosts of the World Cup—FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association—failed to stage this year’s tournament to be played on real grass like every other World Cup previously, mandating that it be played on artificial turf instead. This is despite the dangers and inconveniences plastic turf poses. The synthetic pitches bake in the sun, with surface temperatures sometimes reaching 120 degrees. Clouds of rubber pebbles fly into players’ eyes, and the turf makes it difficult for the women to gauge the way the ball will bounce.