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.
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.
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.
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
How a re-creation of its most famous battle helped erase the meaning of the Civil War.
"No person should die without seeing this cyclorama," declared a Boston man in 1885. "It's a duty they owe to their country." Paul Philippoteaux's lifelike depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg was much more than a painting. It re-created the battlefield with such painstaking fidelity, and created an illusion so enveloping, that many visitors felt as if they were actually there.
For all its verisimilitude, though, the painting failed to capture the deeper truths of the Civil War. It showed the two armies in lavish detail, but not the clash of ideals that impelled them onto the battlefield. Its stunning rendition of a battle utterly divorced from context appealed to a nation as eager to remember the valor of those who fought as it was to forget the purpose of their fight. Its version of the conflict proved so alluring, in fact, that it changed the way America remembered the Civil War.
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.)
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.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
Many veterans are suffering from a condition similar to, but distinct from, PTSD: moral injury, in which the ethical transgressions of war can leave service members traumatized.
Amy Amidon has listened to war stories on a daily basis for almost a decade.
As a clinical psychologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, she works with a multi-week residential program called OASIS, or Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support, for soldiers who have recently returned from deployments. Grief and fear dominate the majority of the conversations in OASIS: Amidon regularly hears participants talk about improvised explosive devices claiming the lives of close friends; about flashbacks of airstrikes pounding cities to rubble; about days spent in 120-degree desert heat, playing hide and seek with a Taliban enemy. Many veterans in the program are there seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.