I've been listening to Plushgun's (up there with the all-time terrible band names) "Just Impolite" pretty much on repeat since I heard it in my boss's office last week, and I think it's helped me figure out something about what I like in some pop music:
It's a big, narratively expansive song, but one that's chock-full of, for lack of a better word, stuff. The chorus alone, "I walk the line like Johnny Cash / I made the bus in seconds flat / I called your line too many times / I'm not obsessed, just impolite," has three separate ideas and three arresting images in it. And I think I kind of like that lack of focus. There's something true in it.
One of my favorite songs right now is Bishop Allen's "The Chinatown Bus," which is if anything, much more geographically and temporally broad than "Just Impolite" (though a little less musically shimmery, despite the tambourine):
I think the thing that these messy songs get at is the way an emotionally engaged mind works. The song begins with an invocation of a Chinatown bus driver's luck on a crowded road, and ends, after meandering through Shanghai and cotillions, with this verse: "I clutched at the Saint Christopher / I picked up at some country abbey / Long ago when I believed / He'd keep me safe and make me happy / But it seems / The luck he brings / Is not the common currency of penny in Japan." These are the kind of connections we make when we're open to the universe or tense with distress and scrambling for explanations. They're songs that get at the whole universe of experience and association behind a particular reaction.
And then there's the "Spaceship," (or hell, any album on that EP) by a guy I knew a little in college, Daoud Tyler-Ameen, who I really wish would start blogging again. It's got a frame idea, the struggle for success in that odd space of post-college uncertainty, and the same sparkly sound of the previous two songs. He sings: "Can't return a call / Skipping every breakfast / He tried to be a writer but instead he only fact-checks / Out of shape / Uninspired / Forced down solid / And you just feel tired / Wake up every day / Spend it from the get-go / Chewing on your thumb / Staring out the window / You could really go / No one's going to stop you / You could really go / No one's going to stop you / You could really go / You could spend your money / But you're burning through your twenties / For a misdirected, energetic asshole." That's a lot of explication to get through in 31 seconds, and it's only one verse and chorus.
And I think that's what it's like to be a particular kind of person in your twenties, overloaded by possible explanations for what your'e feeling and new experiences. Is the problem the job? The significant? The lack of courage to match ambition? A combination of all three? A profound spiritual lassitude? "I'll bide my time and pay my rent / 'Til something knocks me to my senses," but what will it be? Life's big and confusing, and sometimes only the three-minute framework of the pop song can force you to make sense of it, to the extent you can.
She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.
The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.
The condition has long been considered untreatable. Experts can spot it in a child as young as 3 or 4. But a new clinical approach offers hope.
This is a good day, Samantha tells me: 10 on a scale of 10. We’re sitting in a conference room at the San Marcos Treatment Center, just south of Austin, Texas, a space that has witnessed countless difficult conversations between troubled children, their worried parents, and clinical therapists. But today promises unalloyed joy. Samantha’s mother is visiting from Idaho, as she does every six weeks, which means lunch off campus and an excursion to Target. The girl needs supplies: new jeans, yoga pants, nail polish.
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At 11, Samantha is just over 5 feet tall and has wavy black hair and a steady gaze. She flashes a smile when I ask about her favorite subject (history), and grimaces when I ask about her least favorite (math). She seems poised and cheerful, a normal preteen. But when we steer into uncomfortable territory—the events that led her to this juvenile-treatment facility nearly 2,000 miles from her family—Samantha hesitates and looks down at her hands. “I wanted the whole world to myself,” she says. “So I made a whole entire book about how to hurt people.”
The office was, until a few decades ago, the last stronghold of fashion formality. Silicon Valley changed that.
Americans began the 20th century in bustles and bowler hats and ended it in velour sweatsuits and flannel shirts—the most radical shift in dress standards in human history. At the center of this sartorial revolution was business casual, a genre of dress that broke the last bastion of formality—office attire—to redefine the American wardrobe.
Born in Silicon Valley in the early 1980s, business casual consists of khaki pants, sensible shoes, and button-down collared shirts. By the time it was mainstream, in the 1990s, it flummoxed HR managers and employees alike. “Welcome to the confusing world of business casual,” declared a fashion writer for the Chicago Tribune in 1995. With time and some coaching, people caught on. Today, though, the term “business casual” is nearly obsolete for describing the clothing of a workforce that includes many who work from home in yoga pants, put on a clean T-shirt for a Skype meeting, and don’t always go into the office.
Instead, the Netanyahu government is nervous about the new administration.
In Tel Aviv on Monday, Donald Trump will not receive a gleaming gold medal or join a boisterous sword dance. But his 28-hour stop in the Holy Land should have been the highlight of his first foreign tour as president of the United States. Israel’s ruling right-wing greeted his election with glee, and for good reason: The new president seemed ready to fulfill its deepest wishes.
During Trump’s campaign and transition, he vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. (The United States, like most countries, keeps its mission in Tel Aviv to avoid wading into the dispute over the contested holy city.) He nominated a U.S. ambassador, bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, who supports Israeli settlements—not only in his words, but as the president of a foundation that donated millions to Beit El, an ideological settlement outside of Ramallah. Trump said he would be open to a one-state solution, a statement that seemed to casually discard decades of bipartisan U.S. policy. Several hawkish lawmakers even started drafting a bill to annex large chunks of the West Bank, a step that would permanently foreclose a two-state outcome. “The era of a Palestinian state is over,” Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, cheered at the time. “Obama is history. Now we have Trump,” Miri Regev, Israel’s populist culture minister, declared.
“Having a slave gave me grave doubts about what kind of people we were, what kind of place we came from,” Alex Tizon wrote in his Atlantic essay “My Family’s Slave.”
A thousand objections can be leveled against that piece, and in the few days since it was published, those objections have materialized from all quarters. It’s a powerful story, and its flaws and omissions have their own eloquence. For me, the most important failure is that Tizon seems to attribute Lola’s abuse entirely to another culture—specifically, to a system of servitude in the Philippines—as though he believes, This doesn’t happen in America. But that system is not only in America, it’s everywhere. It ensnares not only immigrants, but everyone.
Isabel Caliva and her husband, Frank, had already “kicked the can down the road.” The can, in their case, was the kid conversation; the road was Caliva’s fertile years. Frank had always said he wanted lots of kids. Caliva, who was in her early 30s, thought maybe one or two would be nice, but she was mostly undecided. They had a nice life, with plenty of free time that allowed for trips to Portugal, Paris, and Hawaii.
“I wasn’t feeling the pull the same way my friends were describing,” she told me recently. “I thought, maybe this isn’t gonna be the thing for me. Maybe it’s just going to be the two of us.”
At times, she wondered if her lack of baby fever should be cause for concern. She took her worries to the Internet, where she came across a post on the Rumpus’ “Dear Sugar” advice column titled, “The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us.” The letter was from a 41-year-old man who was also on the fence about kids: “Things like quiet, free time, spontaneous travel, pockets of non-obligation,” he wrote. “I really value them.”
President Trump’s former national security adviser won’t comply with the Intelligence Committee’s demand for Russia-related documents, his lawyers said Monday.
Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday he won’t comply with their May 10 subpoena of materials related to the Russia investigation, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“The context in which the committee has called for General Flynn’s testimonial production of documents make clear that he has more than a reasonable apprehension that any testimony he provides could be used against him,” Flynn’s lawyers wrote in a letter to the committee. “Multiple Members of Congress have demanded that he be investigated and even prosecuted.”
Flynn’s response comes less than a monthafter the committee issued a formal demand for any documents “relevant to the committee’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.” The committee noted it had asked him to voluntarily turn over the documents in April, but his legal counsel declined.
No one thinks the enslavement of Eudocia “Lola” Pulido by Alex Tizon and his parents was morally defensible, but some have condemned the family with greater sympathy than others. Among the more sympathetic is New York’s Jesse Singal, who reads Tizon’s story as a tale of moral luck—one that teaches how a decent person like Tizon becomes implicated in a wicked social arrangement. Among the less sympathetic is Josh Shahryar, a journalist and activist who says Tizon was a monster.
As a former slaveholder myself, I am more inclined to see things as Singal does. For a period of about five days in 1999, I had two child slaves at my disposal. Like Tizon, I did not ask for them. I acquired the use of them by accident, and at the time I didn’t even realize that they were slaves.
The president’s aristocratic tax-and-spend plan isn’t just a reversal of his campaign promises. It’s also a deeply unpopular blueprint for the country.
President Donald Trump’s first major budget proposal comes out on Tuesday, but many of the details are already public. The budget would reverse several of Trump’s campaign promises—like his pledge to preserve Medicaid and Social Security—by dismantling welfare for the poor and sick, while ensuring that rich Americans keep more of their income.
At this point, the proposal is just that—a proposal, and Congressional Republicans, some of whom have balked at the president’s blueprint, hold the power of the purse. But if followed, the plan would reportedly cut anti-poverty programs by $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years in an attempt to balance the budget, according to the The Washington Post and Axios. In addition to $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid—which comes directly from the House’s Obamacare replacement—the budget would also let states use “work requirements” to limit eligibility and spending on programs like SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps), CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program), and Social Security Disability Insurance. There is little question that these policies would raise the number of uninsured Americans (the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates suggest by more than 20 million), expose more households to medical bankruptcy, and push more families into poverty.
The story of a decades-long lead-poisoning lawsuit in New Orleans illustrates how the toxin destroys black families and communities alike.
Casey Billieson was fighting against the world.
Hers was a charge carried by many mothers: moving mountains to make the best future for her two sons. But the mountains she faced were taller than most. To start, she had to raise her boys in the Lafitte housing projects in Treme, near the epicenter of a crime wave in New Orleans. In the spring of 1994, like mothers in violent cities the world over, Billieson anticipated the bloom in murders the thaw would bring. Fueled by the drug trade and a rising scourge of police corruption and brutality, violence rose to unseen levels that year, and the city’s murder rate surged to the highest in the country.