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.
After more than a year of rumors and speculation, Bruce Jenner publicly came out as transgender with four simple words: “I am a woman.”
“My brain is much more female than male,” he explained to Diane Sawyer, who conducted a primetime interview with Jenner on ABC Friday night. (Jenner indicated he prefers to be addressed with male pronouns at this time.) During the two-hour program, Jenner discussed his personal struggle with gender dysphoria and personal identity, how it shaped his past and current relationships and marriages, and how he finally told his family about his true gender identity.
The show went to impressive lengths to explain unfamiliar concepts of gender and sexuality to its audience, although it didn't always go smoothly. Sawyer’s questions occasionally came off as awkward and tone-deaf, mirroring a broader lack of understanding by many Americans about the difficulties that trans people face. But Sawyer’s empathy also shone when explaining concepts like gender identity and transitioning to her audience—a rare experience on primetime American television. It was a powerful signal of how much progress the LGBT movement has made over the past twenty years, even though the T in that acronym still lags behind the other three letters in both social acceptance and legal protections, and in how much progress remains to be made.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
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.
Leon Trotsky is not often invoked as a management guru, but a line frequently attributed to him would surely resonate with many business leaders today. “You may not be interested in war,” the Bolshevik revolutionary is said to have warned, “but war is interested in you.” War, or at least geopolitics, is figuring more and more prominently in the thinking and fortunes of large businesses.
Of course, multinational companies such as Shell and GE have long cultivated an expertise in geopolitics. But the intensity of concern over global instability is much higher now than in any recent period. In 2013, the private-equity colossus KKR named the retired general and CIA director David Petraeus as the chairman of its global institute, which informs the firm’s investment decisions. Earlier this year, Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, Britain’s CIA, became the chairman of Macro Advisory Partners, a firm that advises businesses and governments on geopolitics. Both appointments are high-profile examples of a much wider trend: an increasing number of corporations are hiring political scientists, starting their board meetings with geopolitical briefings, and seeking the advice of former diplomats, spymasters, and military leaders.“The last three years have definitely been a wake-up call for business on geopolitics,” Dominic Barton, the managing director of McKinsey, told me. “I’ve not seen anything like it. Since the Second World War, I don’t think you’ve seen such volatility.” Most businesses haven’t pulled back meaningfully from globalized operation, Barton said. “But they are thinking, Gosh, what’s next?”
In India’s state of Uttar Pradesh, the village of Kannauj lies a dusty four-hour drive east of the Taj Mahal, the white-marbled wonder built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third and favorite wife. Empress Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 giving birth to their 13th child. The Taj is Jahan’s grand paean to lost love. But he also mourned his queen in much more personal ways. For one thing, Jahan never again wore perfume. Fragrant oils—known in India as attars—had been one of the couple’s great shared passions.
Then and now, Kannauj was the place to fetch the fine scents—jasmine oils, rose waters, the roots of grasses called vetiver, with a bouquet cooling to the nose. Exactly when attar-making began there, no one is certain; archaeologists have unearthed clay distillation pots dating back thousands of years to the ancient Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley. But today, Kannauj is a hub of a historic perfumery that draws much of the town to the same pursuit. Most of the villagers there are connected to fragrance in one way or another—from sinewy craftsmen who steam petals over wood fires in hulking copper pots to mothers who roll incense sticks in the shade while their toddlers nap on colorful mats nearby.
The editors of Smithsonian magazine have announced the winners of their 12th annual photo contest, selected from more than 26,500 entries. The winning photographs from from the competition's six categories are published below: The Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile. Also, a few finalists have been included as well. Captions were written by the photographers. Be sure to visit the contest page at Smithsonian.com to see all the winners and finalists.
Many young adults remember their childhood participation in Drug Abuse Resistance Education, better known by the acronym "D.A.R.E." One of the program's core messages—along with the idea that you should always shout "NO!" when offered some "really cool drugs to smoke"—is that marijuana is a "gateway" to all sorts of other substances.
D.A.R.E's effectiveness was later called into question, and its curriculum overhauled, but the legend remains: One toke, and before long you're living a less-accented version of Trainspotting.
“Marijuana is a gateway drug,” New Jersey governor Chris Christie told a radio host recently. "I just think it's a slippery slope," Boston Mayor Marty Walsh warned reporters last year. Even D.A.R.E. is back in the game, publishing a blog post last year with the headline, "Marijuana a risky gateway drug, experts say."
On Inauguration Day 2013, a few minutes after 12 p.m., Raffi Hovannisian stood before a massive crowd at Liberty Square in the heart of Yerevan, Armenia. Thousands of Armenians had gathered in the capital to cheer on their leader: “Raffi! President! Raffi! President!” The man before them was tall and dynamic, his fist thrown into the air like a high-school football star. He drew himself to the microphone and thundered over the crowd: “Armenia! Armenia!” The people whistled and cheered. Many of them did not notice that they were being surrounded by riot police with red berets, reinforced by special units of the armed forces.
At exactly the same time, a few kilometers up a hill, Serzh Sargsyan was taking the oath of office for the presidency of the Republic of Armenia. The entire government was in attendance—all the church leaders, too. The official results had been clear about the incumbent’s victory, with 59 percent of the vote. The man on stage was short, with silver hair and the disciplined expression of a military commander. He spoke solemnly about the challenges still facing the country: unemployment, poverty, emigration.
New Zealand's largest newspaper is deeply conflicted. With the World Cup underway in Brazil, should The New Zealand Herald refer to the "global round-ball game" as "soccer" or "football"? The question has been put to readers, and the readers have spoken. It's "football"—by a wide margin.
We in the U.S., of course, would disagree. And now we have a clearer understanding of why. In May, Stefan Szymanski, a sports economist at the University of Michigan, published a paper debunking the notion that "soccer" is a semantically bizarre American invention. In fact, it's a British import. And the Brits used it often—until, that is, it became too much of an Americanism for British English to bear.
The story begins, like many good stories do, in a pub. As early as the Middle Ages, Szymanski explains, the rough outlines of soccer—a game, a ball, feet—appear to have been present in England. But it wasn't until the sport became popular among aristocratic boys at schools like Eton and Rugby in the nineteenth century that these young men tried to standardize play. On a Monday evening in October 1863, the leaders of a dozen clubs met at the Freemasons' Tavern in London to establish "a definite code of rules for the regulation of the game.” They did just that, forming the Football Association. The most divisive issue was whether to permit "hacking," or kicking an opponent in the leg (the answer, ultimately, was 'no').
This month, many of the nation's best and brightest high school seniors will receive thick envelopes in the mail announcing their admission to the college of their dreams. According to a 2011 survey, about 60 percent of them will go to their first-choice schools. For many of them, going away to college will be like crossing the Rubicon. They will leave their families -- their homes -- and probably not return for many years, if at all.
That was journalist Rod Dreher's path. Dreher grew up in the small southern community of Starhill, Louisiana, 35 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. His family goes back five generations there. His father was a part-time farmer and sanitarian; his mother drove a school bus. His younger sister Ruthie loved hunting and fishing, even as a little girl.