I've been meaning to link to this interview I did with The Days of Yore for awhile now. Without harping, it probably explains why I blanch at criticizing children for wanting to play sports or be rappers. Essentially I was that kid:
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Tony Dorsett, the running back for the Dallas Cowboys. That's what I wanted to be.
Did you play a lot of football on your own or was that just sort of a....?
I did, but I didn't play too much on account of not being very good. You know, it was just something we did in the neighborhood, threw the football and ran around a lot, yeah, a lot of fun...
And not only was I that kid, but the roots of my present self are there:
And you listened to a ton of hip-hop.
It was constant, it was the soundtrack of my childhood. It was just everywhere.
So then I wanted to be a rapper, that was next. But much like being a running back, I wasn't very good at it so that was a minor problem with that dream. I wasn't good at that but that led me to poetry and I did poetry for a while. I was a better rapper than I was a running back and I was a better poet than I was a rapper. I wasn't particularly good at any of those things yet.
There was a great degree of failure in my life and I never really... You know, the way I came up, it quickly became clear to me that no person has the right to success. There's no guarantee to success at all; you may get it or you may not. You can like something and you can be bad at it and you can keep doing it or you can be not great at it and you can keep going or you can be mediocre at it and you can keep doing it. You keep doing it because you like it, just because you like it, for you, it's yours, it's private, you own it. Not to please other people, not to impress nobody.
I wasn't really good at school, I wasn't an athlete, I wasn't particularly good with girls, I didn't have any of that. I wasn't a social outcast; I had pretty good social skills and was well-liked among my crowd, so I didn't have the sort of nerd-geek experience. But I did have the experience of not being particularly good at anything measurable as a young child.
And I went through a long period, once I got to writing, of not being very successful but I kept doing it because I liked it.
When I think about my early life I don't really see much difference between myself and other kids--except one thing. I had people around me who. whatever their disappointments in me, really encouraged my interests. My house was pretty tough place. You could get your ass kicked for disrespecting your mother, your teachers or any other adult. Yet there was always hippy-streak to my folks and they tended to be great believers in imagination. So, for instance, I wasn't allowed to have GI Joe's with white faces--this was the era of black Barbie, and black everything. But my Dad never really told me and my brother Malik to put away the Dungeons & Dragons and read some Du Bois. (He was more a Booker T guy, anyway.)
As a child, there is a very narrow range of things from which you can derive enjoyment and build self-esteem. You can get self-esteem from romance, or from athletics or from school--but not much else. I basically failed at all of those things. The things I was good at it tended to be narrow. I was a good reader--but mostly outside of school. I was very good at memorizing Rakim lyrics. That was a good party trick, but it didn't have much broad value.
But my folks were pretty good about building in opportunities for me. I started playing the djembe when I was in tenth or eleventh grade. I loved the djembe. (Dundunba seen here was my favorite) And I loved it even though I sucked at it when I started. The djembe was the first thing I actually took on, and through practice, improved. After that I started shaving goat-skins in my parents basement and putting the heads on drums alone. I had never been good with my hands. But I discovered that with some practice, I could become better. This was a lesson--you didn't actually have to suck at things. An ethic of curiosity married to an ethic of work would be rewarded. My folks had said as much. But what I needed was a field where I could see that to be true.
I got this lesson at a time when I was really doing horribly at school. (I got kicked out of high school right about then.) My parents were about through with me. But here is what they did not do--they did not take my drum. The did not tell me that I would not have a career playing the djembe. In fact my mother actually bought me a second one. (They were not cheap. I think my second one cost around $350.)
I remember one day I wanted to go over to D.C. to drum with some friends. I was trying to get my Dad to give me money to catch the local commuter train over. I think he was annoyed because, as usual, I was screwing up in school. But he gave me the money and said, "I guess there are worst things that you could want to do on a Saturday night." And there really were.
Sometimes the lessons came in more indirect ways. My Dad used to watch football with me. He was from Philly and hated the Cowboys. Then in 1987, Doug Williams took the Redskins on a playoff run and my Dad was like Flavor Flav--"We got a black quarterback, so step back." I remember watching the Super Bowl with him and Williams getting hurt. Jay Schroeder came in. Williams kind of hated Schroeder. And my Dad--again this is the 80s--says, "Doug ain't going let the white boy have it." And Doug didn't. He came back in and bombed the Broncos out the stadium. Even now I can see Williams hitting Ricky Sanders with a bomb and my Pops jumping up yelling, "Go, Dougie go!!"
That was a moment for me. Like a deep moment. My parents came up so hard. My Moms is from the projects. She was raised by my grandmother who cleaned white people's floors and sent three black girls to college. My Dad grew up in abject poverty in Philly. He'd once come home and seen all his belongings sat out on the street. He'd lived on a truck for a week as a child. His father had abused him and his family. He used to cut school to hang out in the libraries in Philadelphia.
I just gave my son a copy of Slaughterhouse Five and watching him go through it, I keep thinking of how our relationship is built on my Dad's time in the library, or my Mom teaching me to read before I went to school. That is wealth. And I think how that social wealth is now compounding with my wife and my son. And then I think of people who didn't have any of that, who were born wan how that debt compounds.
We all aren't going to come into our own in the same way. Everybody isn't going to be ready for college. But one reason I even had the opportunity to reflect on that is because I had great deal of wisdom and social wealth around me. I grew up in West Baltimore. In my heart I wasn't much different than my friends. But I had advantages. I didn't just have a mother and a father, I had two parents who really knew some things, who were, in their own way, wealthy. Because of them I had the opportunity to fail and learn. What I want to say here is everybody won't be so lucky. But what I really want to say is buy my book. (What? Too much??)
About 10 years ago, after I’d graduated college but when I was still waitressing full-time, I attended an empowerment seminar. It was the kind of nebulous weekend-long event sold as helping people discover their dreams and unburden themselves from past trauma through honesty exercises and the encouragement to “be present.” But there was one moment I’ve never forgotten. The group leader, a man in his 40s, asked anyone in the room of 200 or so people who’d been sexually or physically abused to raise their hands. Six or seven hands tentatively went up. The leader instructed us to close our eyes, and asked the question again. Then he told us to open our eyes. Almost every hand in the room was raised.
In the media world, as in so many other realms, there is a sharp discontinuity in the timeline: before the 2016 election, and after.
Things we thought we understood—narratives, data, software, news events—have had to be reinterpreted in light of Donald Trump’s surprising win as well as the continuing questions about the role that misinformation and disinformation played in his election.
Tech journalists covering Facebook had a duty to cover what was happening before, during, and after the election. Reporters tried to see past their often liberal political orientations and the unprecedented actions of Donald Trump to see how 2016 was playing out on the internet. Every component of the chaotic digital campaign has been reported on, here at The Atlantic, and elsewhere: Facebook’s enormous distribution power for political information, rapacious partisanship reinforced by distinct media information spheres, the increasing scourge of “viral” hoaxes and other kinds of misinformation that could propagate through those networks, and the Russian information ops agency.
Four decades ago Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th president of the U.S., the original Star Wars movie was released in theaters, and much more.
Four decades ago Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th president of the United States, the original Star Wars movie was released in theaters, the Trans-Alaska pipeline pumped its first barrels of oil, New York City suffered a massive blackout, Radio Shack introduced its new TRS-80 Micro Computer, Grace Jones was a disco queen, the Brazilian soccer star Pele played his “sayonara” game in Japan, and much more. Take a step into a visual time capsule now, for a brief look at the year 1977.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
And there could be far-reaching consequences for the national economy too.
Four floors above a dull cinder-block lobby in a nondescript building at the Ohio State University, the doors of a slow-moving elevator open on an unexpectedly futuristic 10,000-square-foot laboratory bristling with technology. It’s a reveal reminiscent of a James Bond movie. In fact, the researchers who run this year-old, $750,000 lab at OSU’s Spine Research Institute resort often to Hollywood comparisons.
Thin beams of blue light shoot from 36 of the same kind of infrared motion cameras used to create lifelike characters for films like Avatar. In this case, the researchers are studying the movements of a volunteer fitted with sensors that track his skeleton and muscles as he bends and lifts. Among other things, they say, their work could lead to the kind of robotic exoskeletons imagined in the movie Aliens.
A small group of programmers wants to change how we code—before catastrophe strikes.
There were six hours during the night of April 10, 2014, when the entire population of Washington State had no 911 service. People who called for help got a busy signal. One Seattle woman dialed 911 at least 37 times while a stranger was trying to break into her house. When he finally crawled into her living room through a window, she picked up a kitchen knife. The man fled.
The 911 outage, at the time the largest ever reported, was traced to software running on a server in Englewood, Colorado. Operated by a systems provider named Intrado, the server kept a running counter of how many calls it had routed to 911 dispatchers around the country. Intrado programmers had set a threshold for how high the counter could go. They picked a number in the millions.
How a seemingly innocuous phrase became a metonym for the skewed sexual politics of show business
The chorus of condemnation against Harvey Weinstein, as dozens of women have come forward to accuse the producer of serial sexual assault and harassment, has often turned on a quaint-sounding show-business cliché: the “casting couch.” Glenn Close, for instance, expressed her anger that “the ‘casting couch’ phenomenon, so to speak, is still a reality in our business and in the world.”
The casting couch—where, as the story goes, aspiring actresses had to trade sexual favors in order to win roles—has been a familiar image in Hollywood since the advent of the studio system in the 1920s and ’30s. Over time, the phrase has become emblematic of the way that sexual aggression has been normalized in an industry dominated by powerful men.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
The president managed to cause a brief firestorm by falsely accusing predecessors of neglecting slain soldiers, but real answers about why four men were killed are still elusive.
On October 4, four American Special Forces soldiers were killed during an operation in Niger. Since then, the White House has been notably tight-lipped about the incident. During a press conference Monday afternoon, 12 days after the deaths, President Trump finally made his first public comments, but the remarks—in which he admitted he had not yet spoken with the families and briefly attacked Barack Obama—did little to clarify what happened or why the soldiers were in Niger.
Trump spoke at the White House after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and was asked why he hadn’t spoken about deaths of Sergeant La David Johnson and Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Dustin Wright, and Jeremiah Johnson.
For the first time, astronomers have detected visible light and gravitational waves from the same source, ushering in a new era in our attempt to understand the cosmos.
In September of 2015, astronomers detected, for the first time, gravitational waves, cosmic ripples that distort the very fabric of space and time. They came from a violent merger of two black holes somewhere in the universe, more than a billion light-years away from Earth. Astronomers observed the phenomenon again in December, and then again in November 2016, and then again in August of this year. The discoveries confirmed a century-old prediction by Albert Einstein, earned a Nobel prize, and ushered in a new field of astronomy.
But while astronomers could observe the effects of the waves in the sensitive instruments built to detect them, they couldn’t see the source. Black holes, as their name suggests, don’t emit any light. To directly observe the origin of gravitational waves, astronomers needed a different kind of collision to send the ripples Earth’s way. This summer, they finally got it.