A reader recommends the stirring hymn, “Partly because I’m from Africa, but mostly because it is just a beautiful song.” The version above is sung by a massive crowd led by Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Paul Simon. Here’s some background for “Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika”:
[It’s] a hymn originally composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Xhosa clergyman at a Methodist mission school near Johannesburg [South Africa]. The song became a pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the national anthem of five countries in Africa including Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe after independence. Zimbabwe and Namibia have since adopted new national anthems. The song is currently the national anthem of Tanzania and, since 1994, a portion of the national anthem of South Africa.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
“Galveston” is another in a line of lush, cinematic songs by songwriter Jimmy Webb. The original, iconic version by Glen Campbell was released during the Vietnam War, but the last few years make lines like “I clean my gun and dream of Galveston” as topical as you can get. Here’s the original version [above], as well as a cover by David Nail and Lee Ann Womack (the female harmony adds depth to the longing and fear of a young man at war).
Yesterday we had Georgia on our mind, and in today’s track, from Otis Redding, he “left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay.” Here’s a reader in San Francisco, Doug:
For me, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” captures so much of the San Francisco experience (or at least the SF experience I’ve idealized): carefree, sitting overlooking the water, relaxing and listening to some amazing music. But as you can see from this playlist I made when I was moving back to California a few years ago, songs about California are kind of a dime a dozen (and I barely scratched the surface) …
If you have any reflections on a song about a specific place in California (real places—no Hotel Californias), drop us a note. Update from a reader in Oregon, Brian:
As a former San Franciscan, I’d like to point out that “Dock of the Bay” is not a San Francisco song but a Sausalito song—another city on the “Frisco” Bay. Although neither city name is mentioned, just the Bay. (And the City and County of San Francisco is named after the Bay, not the other way around.)
(Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
To get our new series going—songs about a particular place—here’s a classic pick and a wonderful memory from Jackie in Leonard, Maryland:
Georgia is my home state, and nobody, but nobody, could sing “Georgia on My Mind” as Ray Charles could. Charles was born in Macon, and I heard him sing the song live in Columbus, Georgia, in June 1962, right after I graduated from Baker High School. My date and I were the only white people there; Georgia was a segregated state then. But everyone there was cool with it, especially when they saw that we knew the words to all the songs and could dance well. The whole joint was rocking. It was a memorable night; I still have the program.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Both songs are unabashed, upbeat, and unironic love songs to these iconic American cities. In a time when we are constantly bombarded by messaging that signals that somehow this country is something less than it once was, it is nice to be reminded that we are, in fact, the sum of all of our parts—and that the parts are actually (as Fallows points out) pretty great.
P.S. I only recently noticed the timing of the daily song release ;)
Great picks, though “I Love L.A.” was already featured in TotD (in our series of songs about complicated patriotism) and “City of Immigrants” doesn’t seem to be about a particular city. So I asked the discussion group of Atlantic readers known as TAD for further picks. But first, one of them begs to differ with Adam:
As a proud Angelino, Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” is a sort of theme song and also the soundtrack of all of our many sporting achievements, but I’d hardly call it an “unabashed, upbeat, and unironic love song.” It’s very much a satirical take on the city. It includes lines like, “Look at that bum over there, man, he’s down on his knees.” Newman has said in interviews that he does in fact love L.A., but that song has deeper layers than it what it first appears to be.
Let’s go with “Twin Falls” for the first song in the new series, recommended by a reader in TAD:
I didn’t grow up in Twin Falls, Idaho, but I know it, and I grew up in a town just like it. Built To Spill’s nostalgic song about nostalgia gets it good.
Listen and reminisce for yourself:
If you have a favorite song about a specific place, please send it along with a short description of why you love it so much—and perhaps the place as well: firstname.lastname@example.org. Update from Adam:
I re-listened to “City of Immigrants” and it is true that Steve Earle never actually mentions a specific place, but it is about NYC; it was on Earle’s album Washington Square Serenade, which is (mostly) an extended love letter to the Big Apple.
Regarding “I Love L.A.,” I always took the line about the bum to be a warts-and-all kind of reference. As a teenager stuck in the heartland, that song represented the Los Angeles that I knew from the movies and pop culture. Maybe to the locals it was a theme song, but for this Iowa boy, it was aspirational.
(Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Polls suggest the left will lose out in the city arguably leading the socialist revival in the United States.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most prominent progressive politicians in the country, warned last week that her hometown is at high risk of having a decidedly moderate mayor. Standing in New York’s City Hall Park to deliver a last-minute endorsement of Maya Wiley, a civil-rights lawyer who’d previously struggled to crack the top tier, Ocasio-Cortez urged the left to come together. “We have the candidates in the field, and it’s time for us to make a choice,” she said. “We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines. We can’t afford to not engage because of what could have been. We engage in the world that we have.”
The forces driving a likely moderate outcome in the June 22 Democratic primary are varied; many are specific to New York and to this election. But the race also contains major warning signs for progressives across the country. If the left loses out in the city arguably leading the socialist revival in the United States, it will be, at least in part, because of dramatic infighting fueled by rigid positions on sexual and social-justice politics, as well as the generalized failure to unify behind one candidate alluded to by Ocasio-Cortez.
People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, history, or meaning. Is reconciliation possible?
Nations, like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be. National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.
The narrative that nonwhite people will soon outnumber white people is not only divisive, but also false.
In recent years, demographers and pundits have latched on to the idea that, within a generation, the United States will inevitably become a majority-minority nation, with nonwhite people outnumbering white people. In the minds of many Americans, this ethno-racial transition betokens political, cultural, and social upheaval, because a white majority has dominated the nation since its founding. But our research on immigration, public opinion, and racial demography reveals something quite different: By softening and blurring racial and ethnic lines, diversity is bringing Americans together more than it is tearing the country apart.
The majority-minority narrative contributes to our national polarization. Its depiction of a society fractured in two, with one side rising while the other subsides, is inherently divisive because it implies winners and losers. It has bolstered white anxiety and resentment of supposedly ascendant minority groups, and has turned people against democratic institutions that many conservative white Americans and politicians consider complicit in illegitimate minority empowerment. At the extreme, it nurtures conspiratorial beliefs in a racist “replacement” theory, which holds that elites are working to replace white people with minority immigrants in a “stolen America.”
“Scientists are meant to know what’s going on, but in this particular case, we are deeply confused.”
Carl Schoonover and Andrew Fink are confused. As neuroscientists, they know that the brain must be flexible but not too flexible. It must rewire itself in the face of new experiences, but must also consistently represent the features of the external world. How? The relatively simple explanation found in neuroscience textbooks is that specific groups of neurons reliably fire when their owner smells a rose, sees a sunset, or hears a bell. These representations—these patterns of neural firing—presumably stay the same from one moment to the next. But as Schoonover, Fink, and others have found, they sometimes don’t. They change—and to a confusing and unexpected extent.
Schoonover, Fink, and their colleagues from Columbia University allowed mice to sniff the same odors over several days and weeks, and recorded the activity of neurons in the rodents’ piriform cortex—a brain region involved in identifying smells. At a given moment, each odor caused a distinctive group of neurons in this region to fire. But as time went on, the makeup of these groups slowly changed. Some neurons stopped responding to the smells; others started. After a month, each group was almost completely different. Put it this way: The neurons that represented the smell of an apple in May and those that represented the same smell in June were as different from each other as those that represent the smells of apples and grass at any one time.
To get better sleep, stop treating it like a chore.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
For many people, the cruelest part of daily life is the transition between wakefulness and sleep. When you should be sleeping, you want to be awake; when you should be awake, you want to stay asleep. It is easy to regard sleep as a torment: hard to attain and then hard to give up, day after day after day.
According to the CDC, about 70 million Americans have chronic sleep problems. Insomnia affects between a third and a half of U.S. adults at one point or another. And we Americans are not unusually afflicted—one 2016 study reported that worldwide, 10 to 30 percent of the population experiences insomnia; some studies find rates as high as 50 to 60 percent.
We understand how this will end. But who bears the risk that remains?
During a pandemic, no one’s health is fully in their own hands. No field should understand that more deeply than public health, a discipline distinct from medicine. Whereas doctors and nurses treat sick individuals in front of them, public-health practitioners work to prevent sickness in entire populations. They are expected to think big. They know that infectious diseases are always collective problems becausethey are infectious. An individual’s choices can ripple outward to affect cities, countries, and continents; one sick person can seed a hemisphere’s worth of cases. In turn, each person’s odds of falling ill depend on the choices of everyone around them—and on societal factors, such as poverty and discrimination, that lie beyond their control.
In states where Republicans control the legislature, American life is rapidly changing.
It’s not just voting rights.
Though this year’s proliferation of bills restricting ballot access in red states has commanded national attention, it represents just one stream in a torrent of conservative legislation poised to remake the country. GOP-controlled states—including Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, and Montana—have advanced their most conservative agenda in years, and one that reflects Donald Trump’s present stamp on the Republican Party.
Across these states and others, Republican legislators and governors have operated as if they were programming a prime-time lineup at Fox News. They have focused far less on the small-government, limited-spending, and anti-tax policies that once defined the GOP than on an array of hot-button social issues, such as abortion, guns, and limits on public protest, that reflect the cultural and racial priorities of Trump’s base.
Simone Biles is the greatest athlete in the world today.
For me, this isn’t a debate. It’s a statement of fact. On Sunday, she won a record seventh United States gymnastics championship, continuing her jaw-dropping winning streak in every all-around competition she’s entered since 2013. The 24-year-old hasn’t lost in eight years. Typical gymnasts her age aren’t beating all their rivals by the big margins that, for Biles, have become routine.
Although Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl at age 43, he is no longer in his prime, and other Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks, including Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, are arguably more physically talented. Unlike the current greats in other sports, Biles has no peer. Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all time and among the greatest athletes of all time, but her career is winding down, and Naomi Osaka is in position to unseat her as the face of women’s tennis. LeBron James won’t get a chance to defend the NBA title he won with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, because the Phoenix Suns eliminated his team in the first round of this year’s playoffs.
Many people who have been working from home are experiencing a void they can’t quite name.
This article was published online on June 9, 2021.
Back when commuting was a requirement for going to work, I once passed through a subway tunnel so filthy and crowded that the poem inscribed on its ceiling seemed like a cruel joke. “Overslept, / so tired. / If late, / get fired. / Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home / do it again.” “The Commuter’s Lament,” which adorns a subterranean passage in New York City’s 42nd Street station, made the already grim ritual of getting to and from work positively Dante-esque. But no one questioned the gist of it. The commute, according to the Nobel Prize–winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s research, ranked as the single most miserable part of our day. A Swiss study held long commutes responsible for “systematically lower subjective well-being.”
Republicans around the country are proving Joe Manchin wrong.
While Senator Joe Manchin is demanding that both parties agree on any further federal voting-rights legislation, a new study quantifies how completely Republicans have excluded Democrats from the passage of the restrictive voting laws proliferating in red states.