As I often do on this blog, I'd like journey back to the Crack era--the late 80's and early 90's --when the general sense was that the black youth of America had lost their minds. All across our cities, young black men were bleeding in the streets. All of us had friends who were dead or jailed. All of our high school classes included at least one young woman who was a mother or about to be. All the brothers were out.
It was a good time to be young and angry, to retreat to into the audio chaos of Chuck D, retreat into the writings of Malcolm X, and fantasize about revolution. The verdict of the young held that our leadership was desolate--boycotting South Carolina for some expected slight, trying to secure entrance into a country club, picketing Denny's, or fighting over Affirmative Action at Harvard Law. We didn't know anyone at Harvard Law, and so we fumed. What we wanted was a great messenger who would talk to us, instead of talking to white people. You see, whatever our anger, we were American (though we would have said different) and believed in our talent to reinvent ourselves and compete with the world.
The need was real. And the man who best perceived that need -- Louis Farrakhan -- preached bigotry, and headed a church with a history of violence, and patriarchal and homophobic views. We knew this. Some of us even endorsed it. A few of us debated about it. But, ultimately we didn't care. Farrakhan--and his cadre of clean disciplined black men and modest, chaste black women--spoke to our deep, and inward, sense that we were committing a kind of slow suicide, that--as the rappers put it--we were self-destructing.
Throughout the late 80s and early 90s, Farrakhan's beguiled young African-Americans. At the height of his powers, Farrakhan convened a national meeting of black men on the Mall. (Forgive my vagueness. The number is beside the point. It was a group of dudes.) The expectation, among some media, was for violence. What they got instead was a love-in. I was there. I don't know how to describe the feeling of walking from my apartment at 14th and Euclid, down 16th street, and seeing black women, of all ages, come out on the street and cheer. I can't explain the historical and personal force of that. It defied everything they said we were, and, during the Crack Era, so much of what we had come to believe.
I think about that moment and I get warm -- and then I think about Farrakhan and I go cold. The limitations of the man who'd orchestrated one of the great moments of my life were evident as soon as he took the stage and offered a bizarre treatise on numerology. The limitations became even more apparent in the coming months, as Farrakhan used the prominence he'd gained to launch a world tour in which he was feted by Sani Abacha and the slave-traders of the Sudan.
During Farrakhan's heights in the 80's and 90's, national commenters generally looked on in horror. They simply could not understand how an obvious bigot could capture the imagination of so many people. Surely there were "good" Civil Rights leaders out there, waging the good fight against discrimination. But what the pundits never got was that Farrakhan promised something more--improvement, minus the need to beg from white people. Farrakhan promised improvement through self-reliance--an old tradition stretching back to our very dawn. To our minds, the political leaders of black America had fled the field.
I've thought a lot about Farrakhan, recently, watching Ron Paul's backers twist themselves in knots to defend what they have now euphemistically label as "baggage." I don't think it makes much sense to try to rebut the charges here. No minds will be changed.
Still let us remember that we are faced with a candidate who published racism under his name, defended that publication when it was convenient, and blamed it on ghost-writers when it wasn't, whose take on the Civil War is at home with Lost-Causers, and whose take on the Civil Rights Act is at home with segregationists. Ostensibly this is all coincidence, or if it isn't, it should be excused because Ron Paul is a lone voice speaking on the important issues that plague our nation.
I have heard this reasoning before.
As surely as Ron Paul speaks to a real issue--the state's broad use of violence and surveillance--which the America's political leadership has failed to address, Farrakhan spoke to something real, something unsullied, which black America's political leadership failed to address, Both Paul and Farrakhan, in their glamour, inspired the young, the disaffected, the disillusioned.
To those who dimly perceived something wrong, something that could not be put on a placard, or could not move the party machine, men such as this become something more than political operators, they become symbols. Substantive charges against them, no matter the reasons, are dismissed. The movement they represent means more. But as sure as the followers of Farrakhan deserved more than UFOs, anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, those of us who oppose the drug-war, who oppose the Patriot Act deserve better than Ron Paul
It is not enough to simply proffer Paul as a protest candidate.One must fully imagine the import of a Paul presidency. How, precisely, would Paul end the drug war? What, exactly, would he do about the Middle East? How, specifically,would the world look for women under a Ron Paul presidency?
Let us stipulate that all politicians compromise. But the mayhem and death which attended the talents of Thomas Watson and George Wallace renders their design into a school of sorcery all its own. In that light, it is fair to ask if Ron Paul was willing to sacrifice black people to garner the support of the bigoted mob, who, and what, else might he sacrifice?
"We quadrupled the TSA, you know, and hired more people who look more suspicious to me than most Americans who are getting checked," Paul says. "Most of them are, well, you know, they just don't look very American to me. If I'd have been looking, they look suspicious ... I mean, a lot of them can't even speak English, hardly. Not that I'm accusing them of anything, but it's sort of ironic."
Presumably, this too, is just another unfortunate slip. Surely it says nothing about Paul's actual views.
I do not mean to be unsympathetic here. It is regrettable to find ourselves in this untenable space, where all our politicians cower and we are bereft of suitable standard-bearers. I would like nothing more than to join my friends in support of Paul and exhilarate in a morality unweighted by the ugly facts of governance and democracy. But the drug war is not magic. It is legislation passed by actual politicians, themselves elected by actual by Americans. Unbinding that war demands the same.
The fervency for Ron Paul is rooted in the longing for a reedemer, for one who will rise up and cut through the dishonest pablum of horse-races and sloganeering and speak directly to Americans. It is a species of saviorism which hopes to deliver a prophet onto the people, who will be better than the people themselves.
But every man is a prophet, until he faces a Congress.
People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.
This week, in a much-anticipated sketch on her Comedy Central show, Amy Schumer staged a trial of Bill Cosby in “the court of public opinion.” Schumer—her character, at any rate—played the role of the defense. “Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here,” she argued to the jury. “If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show you may wince a little. Might feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang.”
Her conclusion? “We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping.”
Ooof. This is the kind of thing that gets Inside Amy Schumer referred to as “the most feminist show on television,” and her act in general called, in a phrase that reveals as much about her craft as about Schumer herself, “comedy with a message.” But while Schumer’s work is operating at the vanguard of popular comedy, it’s also in line with the work being done by her fellow performers: jokes that tend to treat humor not just as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for making a point. Watch like no one’s raping.
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life. We've grown more adept at shaping these underground shelters and passages over the millennia, and today we dig for hundreds of reasons. We excavate to find both literal and cultural treasures, digging mines and unearthing archaeological discoveries. We use caverns for stable storage, for entertainment, and for an effective shelter from natural and man-made disasters. And as the planet's surface becomes ever more crowded, and national borders are closed, tunnels provide pathways for our vehicles and for smugglers of every kind. Collected below are more recent subterranean scenes from around the world.
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 are two types of people in the world: those with hundreds of unread messages, and those who can’t relax until their inboxes are cleared out.
For some, it’s a spider. For others, it’s an unexpected run-in with an ex. But for me, discomfort is a dot with a number in it: 1,328 unread-message notifications? I just can’t fathom how anyone lives like that.
How is it that some people remain calm as unread messages trickle into their inboxes and then roost there unattended, while others can’t sit still knowing that there are bolded-black emails and red-dotted Slack messages? I may operate toward the extreme end of compulsive notification-eliminators, but surveys suggest I’m not alone: One 2012 study found that 70 percent of work emails were attended to within six seconds of their arrival.
This has led me to a theory that there are two types of emailers in the world: Those who can comfortably ignore unread notifications, and those who feel the need to take action immediately.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
The danger of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer without a suicide switch
Imagine a supercomputer so advanced that it could hold the contents of a human brain. The Google engineer Ray Kurzweil famously believes that this will be possible by 2045. Organized technologists are seeking to transfer human personalities to non-biological carriers, “extending life, including to the point of immortality.” My gut says that they’ll never get there. But say I’m wrong. Were it possible, would you upload the contents of your brain to a computer before death, extending your conscious moments on this earth indefinitely? Or would you die as your ancestors did, passing into nothingness or an unknown beyond human comprehension?
The promise of a radically extended lifespan, or even immortality, would tempt many. But it seems to me that they’d be risking something very much like hell on earth.
For those who didn't go to prestigious schools, don't come from money, and aren't interested in sports and booze—it's near impossible to gain access to the best paying jobs.
As income inequality in the U.S. strikes historic highs, many people are starting to feel that the American dream is either dead or out of reach. Only 64 percent of Americans still believe that it’s possible to go from rags to riches, and, in another poll, 63 percent said they did not believe their children would be better off than they were. These days, the idea that anyone who works hard can become wealthy is at best a tough sell.
Along with the Nancy Drew series, almost all of the thrillers in the popular teenage franchise were produced by ghostwriters, thanks to a business model that proved to be prescient.
In the opening pages of a recent installment of the children’s book series The Hardy Boys, black smoke drifts though the ruined suburb of Bayport. The town's residents, dressed in tatters and smeared with ash, stumble past the local pharmacy and diner. Shards of glass litter the sidewalk. “Unreal,” says the mystery-solving teenager Joe Hardy—and he's right. Joe and his brother Frank are on a film set, and the people staggering through the scene are actors dressed as zombies. But as is always the case with Hardy Boysbooks, something still isn’t quite right: This time, malfunctioning sets nearly kill several actors, and the brothers find themselves in the middle of yet another mystery.
What it’s like to watch a komodo dragon get dissected
Try to imagine how hard it would be to skin a Komodo dragon.
It is harder than that.
The problem is that the giant lizard’s hide is not just tough and leathery, but also reinforced. Many of the scales contain a small nugget of bone, called an osteoderm, which together form a kind of pointillist body armor. Sawing through these is tough on both arms and blades.
I’m at the Royal Veterinary College, about 20 kilometers outside of central London, watching four biologists put their shoulders into the task. A Komodo dragon, which recently died in London Zoo for unexplained reasons, lies on a steel gurney in front of them. Their task, over the next three days, is to dissect it and measure all of its muscles. So, first, the skin must come off.