Chris Bodenner

Chris Bodenner
Chris Bodenner is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Track of the Year: ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’

A reader, Rick Jones, writes:

This video of Stephen Foster’s great song “Hard Times Come Again No More” seems to tie together some of Notes’ recent themes. It’s a cover (the song was written in 1856) by the Familia McGarrigle (including a teenage Rufus and Martha) and it speaks to coming troubles and the need for perseverance that Fallows has been evoking in his writing.

If you have a version of “Hard Times” that particularly resonates with you and have a memory associated with it, please send us a note: (The McGarrigle/Wainwright clan also did a version of Stephen Foster’s sunnier “Better Times Are Coming.”) Update from a reader who flags a rendition of “Hard Times” from Mavis Staples:

From another reader, Peter:

What a great song, unfortunately, it seems timeless. I first heard it in 1981, sung by the outstanding Chapel Hill string band The Red Clay Ramblers. Their wonderful harmony singing frames the song with a warmth that counterbalances the bleakness of the lyrics you can here them here.

Another reader recommends a version that isn’t available on YouTube:

My favorite is somewhere in my library of Bill Frisell bootlegs, but it’s something along these lines. I’m fascinated by songs like this that are just so old and remain in the repertoire. For example, “St. James Infirmary” is based on “The Rake’s Lament,” an 18th century British naval song. It’s also the parent of “Streets of Laredo,” the Johnny Cash tune. That’s nuts!

One more reader, Sydney:

Greetings from just south of Raleigh, NC, as I read all the news I missed last night because often, playing with babies beats knowing more details of terrorism. When I saw your post on “Hard Times” I immediately thought of the Yo Yo Ma and James Taylor cover that I had on repeat this time last year while waiting for morning sickness to magically disappear in the second trimester of a twin pregnancy, but instead got more pains and swelling. I resigned myself to only focusing on seeking the good in life, that hard times would pass.

Proud to say I’ve now got two happy healthy baby girls, one of whom wants to keep me company now. Keep up the great work.

The covers keep arriving from long-time readers, namely Barbara:

It has been so great to see the McGarrigle thread spin into Stephen Foster land with “Hard Times Come Again No More.” I like sentimental songs and apparently have a high tolerance for pathos, especially if rhyming lines are involved. I thought the song’s Wikipedia entry, describing it as a “parlor song,” was a nice touch that avoided the judgement implicit in “sentimental,” even if the judgement is right on target.

The song is one of my favorites from Foster, who is one of my favorite composers. I learned to play some of his songs on the piano from a tattered copy of a collection of his work. I learned a lot of other folk songs and sentimental favorites from an even more tattered hardcover copy of the Fireside Book of Folk Songs I still have, although the book now begins halfway through the song “Cockles and Mussels” and ends partway through the index, with no hardcovers in sight. (I was able to get another copy of the book, covers and all, when a family member passed away, but I still play from the spineless copy that opens flat and stays open.)

I am not an accomplished pianist and I’ve grown increasingly rusty. Early in elementary school, I only progressed partway through John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano: The Second Grade Book: Something New Every Lesson. The “something new” that killed my progress was syncopation, in the form of dotted eighth notes in a version of James A. Bland’s “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.” (I understood the mathematics just fine, but my mind had decided on a rhythm that seemed pleasing to my fingers, and no amount of repetition and no lack of a gold star got me to play the song correctly. After weeks of intractable stubbornness on my part and the part of the only piano teacher in town, we parted ways. I did take more lessons in high school when the wife of a new music teacher at the central school offered them. I explained my history, and we started out lessons with Bach. It was more successful, but I stopped taking lessons when I left for college.

Anyway, I liked all the versions your readers provided; it was interesting to hear a range of interpretations. I like Emmylou Harris’s performance of “Hard Times Come Again No More.” I don't know if the cut I listen to is online, but in this video from a concert, she says that “this is probably the oldest song in my repertoire.”

The performance of “Hard Times” I play most often is by Thomas Hampson, because I like to listen to the album in the car and am very fond of his “Beautiful Dreamer.” (The album is American Dreamer: Songs of Stephen Foster, and performers include Jay Ungar on violin, Molly Mason on guitar, and David Alpher on piano.)

Unlike some other covers, Hampson’s doesn’t sound like he’s actually been through hard times. His performance instead fits the Wikipedia description; I imagine he sings the song just as a gentleman with a good voice would have done years ago in some parlor, playing piano with more finesse than I have and trying to impress the guests at a party, particularly the woman he has his eye on. The rendition is smooth, and if you enjoy Hampson’s voice, you may not realize how awful some parts of the lyrics are. The chorus is what makes the song great, not the verses.

Of all the versions, the Mavis Staples cover is my new favorite.

Thanks everyone!

Here’s a final update, from the reader who started this “Hard Times” series. Rick indicated in our email exchange that he was a long-time reader of The Dish, the blog I helped edit for seven years—three of which were at The Atlantic. If you ever followed the blog, Rick’s retrospective here is poignant:

  • ‘Will He Board the Plane? I Am Freaking Out!’

    We posted a note earlier from an Iranian American woman who worries that her sick grandmother and other family and friends back in Iran won’t be able to come to the U.S. A few more readers followed up with similar worries regarding loved ones in Iran—one of the seven countries affected by Trump’s travel ban:

    My husband left for Iran on Thursday (the day before the ban was signed) to visit his sister who had a heart attack! He is supposed to come back in February. He has a Green Card and has been in the U.S. since 1994. We own a business here in Virginia, with several contracts that are due by end of February. What can I say to our clients? How am I suppose to earn any money to keep our mortgage and bills paid without my husband?  I am still not clear if Green Card holders can board the plane to U.S. or not. We live five minutes away from the Dulles airport. He has no problem answering any questions by customs agents, but will they let him board the plane in Munich? I am freaking out!

    I have lived in the States since I was 7, which makes it 40 years now, and I have never been so sad with what is happening here. What is happening? I’m so confused and disappointed.

    The Trump White House initially barred Green Card holders, but no longer. The reader’s confusion is understandable, however, given the rushed, uncoordinated, and imprecise language of the executive order—and what might come next.

    This next reader also has family ties with Iran:

    Long story short, my son was born and raised in the U.S., as was I (my family were Polish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century). He has become a successful writer and professor, after receiving his doctorate degree from Columbia at the age of 24. He fell in love with a wonderful Iranian woman several years ago. She is such an intelligent, beautiful woman working as a pediatric nurse anesthetist and hoping to get into the medical field here in the U.S.

    They have been waiting for her visa since applying in 2015. They were married in Georgia (the country), and they were expecting to be together soon. Unfortunately, that process has been stopped due to the ban on Iranians. Even if you marry a U.S. citizen, you have to get a visa first before entering the country.

    My heart is broken for them. We are all devastated. I really am at a loss for the right words to describe what we have gone through this past week … such sadness.

  • ‘In Iran They Call Trump the American Ahmadinejad’

    On June 2, 2009, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a rally at Tehran's Azadi sports complex during his re-election campaign. Caren Firouz / Reuters

    An Iranian American reader is worried about her family and friends in the wake of President Trump’s travel ban on the citizens of Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and, of course, Iran:

    My father is a small business owner in the Midwest, managing a manufacturing company of 20 employees. He has operated this business for the past 15 years, providing jobs and benefits to hard-working Americans. My dad himself is a naturalized citizen, Iranian born. He attended university in the U.S. right before revolution broke out in Iran, and for 35 years thereafter he was unable to return to Iran.

    His siblings slowly immigrated to Europe and the U.S. over the years with my grandparents visiting us for years at a time. My grandparents very proudly became naturalized citizens a few years ago.

    My father spent these last two weeks in Iran attending to his widowed mother, who is hard of hearing, hard of sight, and diabetic. She had missed her sisters and their families and so went back to Iran a few months ago, despite our wish for her to stay.

    This weekend, with the confusion over the ban and not understanding to whom it applied, I found myself asking if my father would be allowed back in the country on Sunday because of his dual nationality. Thankfully, he was.

    But my grandmother is still in Iran. I am worried about our ability to bring her back to the U.S. before tensions get worse between the two countries, despite her dual citizenship and the dual citizenship of my relatives who would need to escort her back. We are worried about our friends and family, the students who have visas to study in the U.S., who don’t know if or when they can visit home now. We are worried about the families who hoped to send their children to the U.S. for educational opportunities. We are worried about the individuals who fled Iran and sought asylum and freedom from religious persecution.

    They call Trump the “American Ahmadinejad” in Iran and no wonder; he is self-serving, uninformed, and shows intolerance to vulnerable populations.

    I am hopeful that our senators and governors will hear our calls to stay Trump’s immigration order. We are a nation founded on seeking refuge, and to institute a “Muslim ban” on the premise that providing solace to refugees will harm our nation is an insult to this country.

    If your own family is being affected by the travel ban and you’d like to share your story, please send us a note. Regarding the first reader’s Ahmadinejad/Trump comparison, “it has some depth,” according to The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor in a September 2016 piece:

  • When the Children of Sperm Donors Want Answers

    A reader, Erin, raises a really interesting concern among the estimated 30,000-60,000 Americans born every year from artificial insemination:

    I’ve seen several of the posts in this infertility series pop up in my social media feed and was wondering if you’ve considered sharing the perspectives of adults who were created using 3rd party reproduction methods, such as donated eggs or sperm. If you are attempting to engage in a conversation about ethics, I believe that is a vital piece of the puzzle. Please don’t forget that infertility “treatments” like egg and sperm donation affect the people they help to create. It’s worth noting that the majority of people conceived through anonymous sperm donation do not support the practice.

    Indeed, according to a 2010 study written up in Slate by two of its authors, Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt, “About half of [people conceived via sperm donors] have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even if parents tell their children the truth.” More of their findings:

    Two-thirds of adult donor offspring agree with the statement “My sperm donor is half of who I am.” Nearly half are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related. About two-thirds affirm the right of donor offspring to know the truth about their origins.

    Regardless of socioeconomic status, donor offspring are […] more than twice as likely to report having struggled with substance abuse. And they are about 1.5 times as likely to report depression or other mental health problems. As a group, the donor offspring in our study are suffering more than those who were adopted: hurting more, feeling more confused, and feeling more isolated from their families.

    Read the rest here. Clark and Marquardt conclude that the U.S. “should follow the lead of Britain, Norway, Sweden, and other nations and end the anonymous trade of sperm.”

    Circling back to our reader, I asked Erin if she has personal ties to the issue of sperm donation, and she replied:

  • America by Air: ‘Shadows Can’t Be Caught, but Always Chased!’

    Bill Barse has been one of the main contributors to our aerial series, namely with his tours of Appalachia from the air and an archeological site in Florida. This time he provides a glimpse of a historic airfield in southern Florida. Regarding the photo above, Bill writes:

    Coming in low to land at Airglades Airport in Clewiston, Florida, I noticed my plane’s shadow flying in tandem with me. I took a photo because it’s rare that I’ve flown in tandem with my shadow. It actually took me quite by surprise!

    It seems like the entire past year has been one of chasing shadows—multiple shadows and to what end.

    This second photo shows another shadow, but only if you know where to look. It’s a view of Airglades Airport, which used to be BFTS #5 (British Flying Training School #5) established in 1942 to train British RAF pilots to fight in WWII. Records suggest that about 1,700 cadets did their primary flight training at BFTS #5 before going back to Britain to fight in the war.

    There is a trace of one of the old runways—a shadow, to wit—that I used frequently, since it was nothing more than a grass strip that once ran beyond the current paved runway. It’s perfect for the tail-wheel Aeronca. You can see it as a faint shadowy line with brushy vegetation at both ends, to the left and right. The old grass strip once crossed the end of the current paved runway. I called it RAF Clewiston when I was working there. It is an archeological remnant of earlier times.

    And wait! As I stare again at the clear shadow of the tail feathers of my plane, I see what could be a head, and a leg dangling below the vertical fin! Well, notions of ghosts aside, perhaps it could be seen as the shadowy wraith of an RAF cadet, riding along with me looking for the nostalgia of earlier times, and staring at the shadowy trace of the field he once trained at.

  • Debating the Ethics of Egg Donation

    After we published a story from a reader who had ethical qualms about using a donated egg that became her daughter, a bunch of readers in the TAD discussion group debated the question, “Is egg donation unethical?”—especially since thousands of dollars are typically given to the donor. Below are some of the best comments and personal stories from those readers, edited for concision. Here’s Terri:

    My only real concern is compensation. Selling to the highest bidder for significant profit is risky and unseemly. It has to be regulated in a manner that protects both parties.

    Another reader takes a more libertarian approach:

    As long as all parties consent and the child created is loved and taken care of, then all is good. What’s unethical is bad parenting.

    Jim compares egg donation to adoption:

    The financial aspect of donation is no more fraught, to my mind, than adoption fees. The stickler is setting a fair price for the not inconsiderable pain and discomfort the donor experiences, as well as screening donors to make sure they are psychologically secure with the process.

    Egg donation, fertilization, and implantation is essentially a rich person’s ethical problem, if that. Many women and their partners beggar themselves financially in an effort to become pregnant. If they can afford it and they want to, why not?

    This next reader complicates Jim’s characterization that it’s “a rich person’s ethical problem”:

    I am part of an IVF support group, with 10,000-plus members, and I’ve undergone IVF myself. The large majority of us are not affluent.

    Also, it’s not fair for people who have never struggled with infertility to imply/demand that those of us who suffer from infertility settle with adoption, as if it’s an easy solution. We just want the same chance fertile people have—a chance they didn’t have to fight for or pay for, or suffer from.

    Another reader also isn’t troubled by egg donation:

    Is it less creepy than adoption? Prospective parents are also given dossiers of babies/kids they would like to consider. It shouldn’t be creepy to “choose” a child. We choose our mates, after all, and the initial attraction is mostly superficial there too. Is a child that arises from such a pairing not “chosen” as well?

    It’s not uncommon in egg and sperm donations for people to search for donors who bear some similarity to them. Since the child will not have a genetic connection to the replaced parent, isn’t it better that they at least have some physical similarities? This is supposed to make life easier for the young kid, so they are not wondering why they look different or being teased as school for looking different (young kids can be merciless to their peers).

    Finding physical similarities and other preferences is a big part of Gail Sexton Anderson’s job. She runs Donor Concierge, a service that matches intended parents with egg donors and surrogates.

    Race and ethnicity is a big part of that process, which Gail addresses in this blog post:

    For many intended parents having a sense of continuity within the family blood lines helps them to come to terms with going forward with an egg donor. I have had many intended parents tell me that they would like to find a donor who is Irish, Welsh, Italian etc. so that they can share stories of their heritage with their child and not feel they are being false to their child who shares their family but may not have similar ethnic heritage.  ...

  • Butt-Dialing 911

    A reader has some advice if you ever find yourself accidentally and unknowingly dialing the emergency hotline:

    I have worked as a law enforcement dispatcher for 14 years, the last two as part of a 911 center. I must first say that most reactions from people are positive, usually along the lines of “I could never do that!”—even (especially) from officers. I have come across a couple of incorrect assumptions, though. The one I have dealt with personally is that because I work with law enforcement, I’m a hardcore law-and-order type. While this misconception may keep me off juries, in fact I—like most others in the profession with whom I am acquainted—probably have a  more balanced opinion of law enforcement than many people.

    Another assumption my supervisor hears  is “Oh, so you answer phones”—in a tone that suggests that people call 911 to chat. Yes, we answer phone calls—from people who are frequently angry, upset, or in great distress to the point of incoherence. It is up to us to turn that call into useful information to be used by the appropriate responders.  

    Actually, the type of call I would most like to mention is the accidental 911 call. These have become increasingly common with cellphones with single-button 911 activation. Many people don’t know that they did it (the “butt” or “pocket” dial). This is a large enough problem at some centers that software exists to help handle it.

    It’s policy at our center to check out all 911 calls with at least a call-back and in most cases send an officer. If you do accidentally dial 911 and you realize it, please stay on the line and let the call-taker know what happened and where you are (or follow the procedure for the center you contact). If you get a call from us because of an accidental dial, please bear in mind that we have to check out all 911 calls and be patient and cooperative.

  • Adopting an Embryo


    This reader’s story of building a family has a dramatic series of ups and downs:

    At first I wanted to be silent about my story, but I realized I want to live my truth out in the open. And if I speak up, it might help other families that are struggling in a similar way.

    In 2004, I had an unplanned pregnancy and did not want to have children. I was going to a Bioengineering Ph.D. program in Hawaii after my graduation and also getting divorced from my first Russian husband (I am Russian too). So I considered terminating my pregnancy.

    Luckily, I decided to keep my baby, and now I have a loving and musically talented 11-year-old son. But I had to give up Hawaii, choosing to become a single working mom (though my degree in biochemistry helped). I always felt guilty that I almost chose to end his life. That is how I became pro-life.

    I re-married in 2008 and had two biological children, followed by a miscarriage. I wanted to adopt and was devastated when our adoption did not work out. It is a long and very painful story in itself—one that others judge me for, and some of my friends became my enemies.

    Below is an excerpt from that blog post, which chronicles her agonizing process of un-adopting a pair of destitute and deeply traumatized—and traumatizing— young kids:

    [My adopted daughter] constantly pushed her boundaries and challenged my authority. She pooped and peed on the floor, destroyed her toys and made holes in her clothes with teeth. She seemed to thrive on chaos and our family’s unhappiness.

    Being an intelligent and social little girl, she was getting a lot of attention from strangers, and without any reservation, she would hop on their lap or kiss them. I explained to her that those behaviors are not safe and appropriate, but she continued doing it just to make me angry.

    I also noticed that my daughter started hurting my baby behind my back. Once I was in a different room and heard strange noises, and when I walked into the living room, I saw her covering the baby’s mouth and nose. After that, I always carried my baby in a carrier on my chest.

    Read the whole story here. (If you have your own experience with a failed adoption you’d like to share, please let us know.) Back to the embryo adoption:

    After my failed adoption and miscarriage, and witnessing my father’s death, I was in a very dark place. We tried to have a biological baby again, but I was not conceiving—probably due to all the stress and grief. I went to a fertility clinic and was given a few options.

    I chose embryo adoption for multiple reasons. A year after our traditional adoption failed, I wanted another child, and embryo adoption gave us a chance to adopt again but avoid the trauma of mother-child separation from a traditional adoption—which clearly did not work for us.

    I did not consider egg donation because my goal was different; I wanted to adopt an embryo that was already created. There are more than a million embryos in storage in this country and, of course, there are ethical questions as what to do with them. I believe that frozen embryos are alive and have a human potential. So my solution would be: Fertilize only as many eggs as women want to transfer and keep the rest frozen. After all, it is a lot less ethically problematic to discard non-fertilized eggs than embryos. (Though yes, it might lead to a lower success rate of pregnancy.)

    I chose an anonymous adoption, and the embryo had been frozen for a little less than four years. I am very happy with my decision; I felt it was “meant to be.”

  • Fleeing Iran With a Young Daughter

    A reader tells the story of a brave accomplished American—her mom:

    I saw that you guys are interested in hearing about naturalized citizens. My story is mildly interesting, but my mother’s is amazing (we are both naturalized citizens). This is her story to the best of my recollection.

    My mom was born and raised in northern Iran. By all accounts, she was incredibly accomplished, even in her youth. She went to the best university at the time, Shiraz University, and studied horticulture. She went on to get a Master’s in that subject in Iran and later a PhD in the U.S.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. When the Shah came to visit her hometown, my mom was chosen as the town’s ambassador to greet him at a young age. When she was in high school, my mom competed in what is essentially the Miss Iran contest, wherein the contestants had to tailor their own attire for one part of the event—another talent she has. Although she did not win, she was a finalist (apparently it’s all political).

    During her university studies, my mom married a dapper basketball player who later became my father. The marriage was against the advice of all her family, I am told. My father became addicted to gambling and drugs. In Iran, as you may know, it is quite difficult for women to get divorced from their husbands. Once I was in the picture, Mom was focused on getting a divorce so she could safely get me out of Iran.

    Her undergraduate training had been in English, and she and my father had lived in San Diego in the late 1970s (having moved back to Iran, sadly, just prior to the revolution). So my mom felt comfortable with English and figured out a way to get funding to pursue her PhD in the United States. The only trouble, then, was the divorce. It’s a long story involving having to get my father’s signature on a form wherein he admitted wrongdoing. She eventually managed to get that and the divorce, and we fled Iran in 1985. I was five years old at the time.

  • ‘I Often Think of My Angel Baby’

    Sunday was the 44th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, and the following day, as one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump reinstated “the Mexico City policy,” a rule that bans U.S. funding to foreign family-planning organizations unless they agree not to promote abortion. In the new GOP-controlled Congress this month, Steve King of Iowa introduced the Heartbeat Protection Act, a bill that would prohibit an abortion if an ultrasound detected a fetal heartbeat.

    In The Atlantic today, Moira Weigel traces the origins of ultrasound and how the technology has been increasingly used by pro-life advocates to persuade women not to have abortions. “Of course, ultrasound technology has been a crucial component of prenatal care, too,” Weigel notes. “Imagery obtained through ultrasound can alert doctors to potentially serious problems in a pregnancy—such as placental issues or congenital defects in the fetus.” The following reader can relate—in agonizing detail:

    My views on abortion have always been pro-choice. However, when I actually had to live through the experience myself, I was torn.

    To be honest, even when I talk about my second pregnancy now, I still refer to what happened as a miscarriage: I lost my baby, rather than terminating my pregnancy.

    It was fall of 2011. I was 23 years old, married to my husband for two years, and we had a beautiful one-year-old daughter. We wanted a big family and were excited when I found out I was pregnant again. I was a high-risk pregnancy with my daughter, so it was no surprise that I was sent to a perinatologist.

    That first visit with her would forever change my life. It was my husband, my daughter, and me in the room, and we were so excited to have my daughter see her new little sibling. A few minutes into the ultrasound, the nurse practitioner paused and stated she needed to get the doctor’s opinion on something, so she stepped out of the room. I was confused.

  • ‘The Strongest Guys Are Often the Worst Construction Workers’

    Another reader joins the series:

    As a construction laborer, I find that one of the funniest misconceptions about my job is that Hollywood and pretty much all TV show producers seem to think that all construction workers have Brooklyn or Bronx accents from the 1950s. Even when they show construction workers in LA or Dallas, the workers all seem to have Brooklyn accents.

    But more seriously, I’ve had people literally tell me that I do “unskilled” or “brainless” work because I’m in construction. Yes, the construction industry is one of the least credentialed industries; you literally do not need a high school diploma. But once you enter the industry, you are expected to learn on the job—and quickly.

    This week, I’m putting in a concrete footer/foundation underneath a
    120-year-old brick house. That doesn’t require academic credentials, but it does require skill. Guys in my neighborhood have been killed because they did the process wrong.

    Many people seem to think that strength is the best quality for a construction worker to have. Actually, even when it comes to the hard laboring jobs, the biggest and strongest guys are often the worst workers. They often get outworked by older, smaller, and/or skinnier or fatter guys. A man who likes to work or has a good attitude towards work can easily outwork a lazy muscular guy.

    I had a relative by marriage who ended up disabled after a number of years in construction after episodes of showing off how much he could lift. He’d show up all the other guys on the job site by carrying two of whatever everybody else carried one of, after bragging he could out-lift everyone on site. All this resulted in delays in work followed by multiple back surgeries. I’d bet that some of the men who refused to engage in his petty contests kept their jobs a lot longer than he did.

  • Some Lessons on Teaching

    So far we’ve heard from a minister who gets exasperated when parishioners treat her differently outside the church and a reader in the biotech field who cleared up a common misconception about cancer. This next reader, David, runs through several misconceptions about his work as a preschool teacher:

    You’re so lucky. You get summers off.

    Many teachers work in the summer. They don’t make enough money during the school year. More than a few teachers have to pay for supplies for their own classroom. They are not given a big enough budget by the school.

    You’re so lucky. You get off work at 2:30, right?

    Faculty meetings, prep for the next day’s classes, emails and phone calls to parents ... you get the picture. It is 8:30 pm as I write this, and I’m taking a break from preparing for tomorrow’s school day. I’ve only taken time off for dinner and a short walk since the kids left.

    You’re so lucky. You get to play with kids all day.

    This was said to me by a parent—and preschool teacher too—at a parent conference. For the youngest children, play is work. And in these days of Common Core and the Every Student Succeeds Act, preschool is pre-high-stakes testing. Five year olds have work to do in their handwriting workbooks. After that, they work on what number combinations make 5. Morning meeting lasts at least a half hour. And all this is before any recess.

    A daughter of a teacher adds:

    I stopped visiting my parents over Christmas because my mom was WAY too busy to do anything with me while on her winter break. Much better to go in late July or early August, after the prior school year was put to bed, but before it was time to start setting up for the next year. (And she usually still coerced me into doing prep work for her :)

    Another teacher is a bit miffed that “people perceive teachers as being ‘secular saints’—and that we are expected to be: mother/father, nurse, social worker, psychologist, and a host of other things to our students that go above and beyond our job description.” Another reader looks through a gendered lens:

  • Track of the Day: ‘Democracy’ by Leonard Cohen

    From David, a reader in Oakland:

    I hope it’s not too late to point out the perfect track for Inauguration Day. For so many reasons, it just has to be Leonard Cohen’s exhausted but hopeful “Democracy,” recorded 25 years ago [yesterday] and still inspiring—and, let us hope, prophetic.

    Cohen died just a day before Donald Trump was elected president, so we’ll never know his reaction. But we can still glean wisdom and hope from his lyrics:

    It’s coming to America first,
    the cradle of the best and of the worst.
    It’s here they got the range
    and the machinery for change
    and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
    It’s here the family’s broken
    and it’s here the lonely say
    that the heart has got to open
    in a fundamental way:
    Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

    Shelagh Huston absorbed more of the lyrics in the days following Trump’s win:

    After months of an election campaign that gave us the feel / that this ain’t exactly real / or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there, and after years of a rising tide of the wars against disorder / the sirens night and day / the fires of the homeless / the ashes of the gay, Leonard Cohen prophesizes: Democracy is coming to the USA. Like so many of us, Cohen cared about the idea of America (I love the country) but was horrified and revolted by what’s been happening to it (but I can’t stand the scene). [...] At a time when the US is in more danger of foundering than ever before, Cohen’s words are the perfect anthem for these times: Sail on, sail on / oh mighty ship of State, we’re dreading this voyage, not knowing if we’ll we make it to the shores of need / past the reefs of greed / through the squalls of hate.

    (Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

  • ‘I Have a Uniquely American Daydream of Starting a New Life Out West’

    Photo of Shiprock, a land formation in New Mexico, by reader Jimmy Rollison for our America by Air series.

    Our latest reader contributor, Mar, became an American citizen in 2013 but now has uncertainty about her future in the U.S.:

    In 2001, at the age of 12, I immigrated here from Spain with my parents. My father, a veterinarian, had lost his job and was offered a position (and visa) as a researcher at the FDA after applying for an opening online. The FDA benefitted from my father’s labor in that he performed the work of a veterinarian, but because he lacked a license to practice in the U.S., he was paid less than a licensed vet.

    The only difference between myself and someone who crossed the border illegally is that I was born to a family with the means of immigrating legally when faced with economic forces beyond our control.

    But I believe it’s still unclear to my parents and I if it was a good decision to immigrate here. My father is getting older and will not be able to afford retiring soon. Once he is unable to work full time, my parents might have to immigrate again somewhere where the cost of living is lower. (They do hang an American flag from their porch and watch Fox News.)

  • The Depression of a Deportation Notice

    Fabian and his family overcame the fear and uncertainty of having the wrong documentation:

    I was brought to the U.S. in the late ’80s by my parents while I was barely eight years old. We left Uruguay, where I grew up and where my sister was born. (I was born in Argentina for reasons still unclear to me.)

    I attended school and ferociously embraced American culture. When I attended college, I was notified that I either had to pay cash or prove that I am a U.S. citizen. My family had gotten a deportation notice in the mail during that time. Although we had been living here for 10 years—which seemed like an eternity at the time—the INS did not recognize my family as having legal status. My father began to suffer from a major depression that deteriorated his health physically. I continued to study and worked three jobs at times.

    In 2000, I married the love of my life, a refugee from El Salvador who was a U.S. citizen. We immediately started the process to become a permanent resident. By 2006, I had become a U.S. citizen in LA County. My dad took me to the ceremony himself to make sure I got there on time.

    The first person I voted for was myself in a city council election. I lost by three votes in a three-person race in my district.

    I am now a U.S. Government and U.S. History teacher. Eventually, my parents were able to become permanent residents through my status as a citizen. Unfortunately, my sister continues to be undocumented because she didn’t qualify for any programs. She is planning to move with her family to Canada due to the Trump presidency and his continuous anti-immigrant rhetoric.

  • From the Promised Land to the Land of Opportunity

    This next reader, Shelly, immigrated to the U.S. from Israel in the late ‘50s:

    I came to this country with my family when I was five years old. We actually landed on my 5th birthday off a big ocean liner which sailed from the U.K., where we’d visited relatives and toured London. We came from Israel—a country only a decade old at the time—to help with some of my health issues and so that my father could find better business opportunities. My grandmother, aunt, uncle and their families were already in the U.S. I remember that day as my grandmother met us and brought me my first really beautiful doll.

    My parents had been refugees from Nazi Europe in 1938. They met in pre-Israel Palestine and were filled with hope when they came to America.

  • ‘I Grew Up Afraid and Guilty Over My Immigration Status’

    A reader sketches out the basics of his immigration story:

    My family and I came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico City when I was three years old. My parents divorced a few years later and my father later married a U.S. citizen. My father, my two siblings, and I became legal residents when I was 12 years old. I grew up in Chicago. I became a naturalized citizen at the age of 21 during my last year of college.

    I am now 25 years old and living in Los Angeles. My mother is still undocumented with no path to citizenship. I’m visiting Mexico again in two weeks and it’ll be my first time back in the country since I was 12 years old.

    When I asked him what it was like to spend a large part of his childhood in the U.S. illegally, he replied at length:

    It was terrifying. The fear of anyone finding out I was undocumented loomed over my entire childhood. It still does, to some extent.

  • Fleeing Cuba Alone as a Child

    For a recent Atlantic photo essay of naturalization ceremonies, “Choosing to Become an American,” we attached a callout for reader stories. The first one comes from Mayda, who was part of the largest exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere:

    I was born in La Habana, Cuba, and came to the United States in 1961 under the Peter Pan Program, which allowed Cuban children to leave the island without their parents or any other adult.

    Being a very young girl at the time, I had no idea why or for how long I was leaving Cuba. As anyone can imagine, it was a very traumatic time in my life. For any child to find themselves without their parents arriving at an unknown place, not knowing anyone, not speaking the language—it’s unreal. I passed many nights remembering my family, remembering Cuba, my friends, my school … being very sad and wanting to go back.

    But time has a way of healing, even when we don’t want to heal. I finished my high school while living in a camp for unaccompanied Cuban refugee children on Homestead Air Force Base in Florida City. I went on to study at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

    In 1973, I decided it was time to become an American citizen and to honor this country which had given me a home. I consider myself very lucky I was born on a beautiful island to a loving family, and I came to live in and love another wonderful country. I’m very proud to call myself a Cuban-American.

    “I do not have any photos of my early times in the U.S., but this is a photo of my Twenty Five years service to the United States federal service.” (Photo courtesy of Mayda R. Cruz)
  • Cancer Isn't a Disease

    A reader who works in biotech responds to the TAD question, “What is a common and/or annoying misconception about your vocation?”

    Here’s an interesting one I just thought of for my field in cancer research: Sometimes I’m asked why we haven’t come up with a “cure for cancer.” This may sometimes come packed with assumptions that the biopharmaceutical industry is deliberately trying to avoid “curing” cancer because there’s so much money in drugs.

    The reality is, cancer is hundreds of different diseases, and it’s still deeply complex and far from fully understood. So since there’s no clear solution to stopping cancer, therapy is the next best answer, since patients are suffering now. I’m definitely not saying that companies in my industry are doing their absolute best (they’re only as good and smart as the people who run them), but the collective of scientific knowledge says that nothing about this line of research is easy.

    Here’s a quick reply from a reader who spent 15 years working in Big Pharma:

    That fact alone—that cancer is a collection of diseases—dissuades Pharma from attacking it, with the absence of blockbuster potential. It’s becoming reminiscent of antibiotics, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

    The first reader adds:

    But antibiotics are an interesting case as well; they’re not getting any more effective. Before long we will need another means of fighting dangerous bacterial infections. Some serious work to be done in that area.

    Speaking of that work, Sarah Zhang just last week had an alarming Atlantic piece about antibiotic resistance:

  • Pastors Are People Too

    The TAD group of long-time Atlantic readers started a really interesting discussion this week that centers on the question, “What is the most common and/or annoying misconception about your vocation?” The most up-voted entry came from a clergywoman:

    Oh, boy. It’s a long list.

    People assume that clergy want to discuss religion all the time. Not remotely true. I’ve had hairdressers start in with, “What do you think is the most pressing problem in the church today?” I’m thinking, “Dude, really? You don’t have to do this. Just let me read my magazine in peace.”

    People also think they have to watch every word they say around you. (I realize English teachers sometimes get this as well, but for a different reason.) Or, as a friend of ours put it when hubs and I were going to be dinner guests along with another couple, “I told that couple that you’re a minister, but you’re nice.” Gee, thanks.

    The one that I find the most troubling is that some people act as though my prayers “count” more or do more than those of others. That is absolutely not a part of my theology. I do not have a red phone nor a direct line. And God doesn’t like me better than you.

  • Track of the Day: ‘Everything Counts’ by DMK

    Reader Barry highlights a band of two young kids and their father that became a YouTube sensation several years ago:

    DMK is a Depeche Mode cover band from Bogotá. They have a ton of videos, including a concert in Poland from last year. “Enjoy the Silence” when the kids were still pretty small and really cute.

    Likewise with “Everything Counts,” the band’s mega-hit embedded above. More details on DMK (short for trio’s names—Dicken, Milah, Korben) from their Wiki page:

    DMK is noted for crudely emulating the sounds of Depeche Mode using an old keyboard and various toys and household items as instruments. … The band was featured in MTV Iggy’s “10 Colombian bands on the rise” article, by JetSet Magazine as the most famous Colombians in YouTube, and their remake of “Everything Counts” has been selected by Electronic Beats magazine as one of the ten best Depeche Mode covers ever.

    Here’s a much more produced video with a wonderful dream-like vibe:

    From an interview with the dad:

    “The first video we made was kind of an act of psychomagic,” he said. “We never expected that it would evolve beyond that. I made one video and I invited my kids to join me and sing a song with me. I am not a professional musician. I have never taken a music lesson in my life. Everything I know about music is just for the love of it; it’s empirical. … We never expected [the fame]. It was organic and natural.”

    (Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)