Zócalo Public SquareReadings – Zócalo Public Square http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org Ideas Journalism With a Head and a Heart Thu, 23 Nov 2017 01:59:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Ten Illuminating Books for Confusing Timeshttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/11/22/ten-illuminating-books-confusing-times/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/11/22/ten-illuminating-books-confusing-times/books/readings/#respond Wed, 22 Nov 2017 08:01:35 +0000 BY SARAH ROTHBARD http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89479 If 2017 was the year the world stopped making sense to you, Zócalo’s 10 favorite nonfiction books of this new era are exactly what you need. They all, in some way, make sense of phenomena, past and present, that intrigue and confuse us. What is it we love about ghost stories? Where did life come from? Who is Barack Obama, really? Why are Trump supporters so angry? How did Cheech get his nickname? Find the answers to these big questions, and more, in the 10 books we love—by Zócalo contributors and other big thinkers from around the world.

 

Susan Owens’ The Ghost: A Cultural History strives to explain why we keep seeing ghosts and what the ghost stories we tell reveal about us. Owens, an art historian who was formerly a curator at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, focuses on British art and culture—but the variety of ghosts she

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If 2017 was the year the world stopped making sense to you, Zócalo’s 10 favorite nonfiction books of this new era are exactly what you need. They all, in some way, make sense of phenomena, past and present, that intrigue and confuse us. What is it we love about ghost stories? Where did life come from? Who is Barack Obama, really? Why are Trump supporters so angry? How did Cheech get his nickname? Find the answers to these big questions, and more, in the 10 books we love—by Zócalo contributors and other big thinkers from around the world.

 

Susan Owens’ The Ghost: A Cultural History strives to explain why we keep seeing ghosts and what the ghost stories we tell reveal about us. Owens, an art historian who was formerly a curator at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, focuses on British art and culture—but the variety of ghosts she explores is anything but narrow, including ghosts in visual art, literature, movies, and more, depicted by artists from Shakespeare and William Blake to Hilary Mantel and Sarah Waters. Three hundred years ago, Samuel Johnson acknowledged that the existence of ghosts had yet to be proved: “All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.” So why are people still watching Ghost Hunters? Owens has more than a few ideas.

 
 

Andrea Pitzer’s One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps begins in the 1890s, when the Spanish set up the first concentration camps in Cuba to quell a guerrilla insurgency. Its harrowing journey continues in the Philippines, where the United States created similar camps in the early 1900s; the British concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War; the gulags of Soviet Russia; the Nazi death camps; Mao Zedong’s camps across rural China; and on to the 21st-century concentration camps in Myanmar and, argues Pitzer, Guantanamo Bay. For 100 years, there has been a concentration camp somewhere in the world. Pitzer, a journalist and the author of The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov, draws on human stories from survivors as well as guards to show us how the unimaginable has become ubiquitous.

 

J. Scott Turner’s Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It is guaranteed to delight contrarians and the curious. Turner, a biologist and physiologist, proposes that by centering all our studies of life around modern evolutionary theory, we’re missing a great deal. Why can’t Darwinism explain the origins of life? Turner argues that what distinguishes life is striving, and that adaptive striving is one of the drivers of evolution. In putting forth his ideas about evolution, he also makes a compelling argument about the relationship between culture and science—and the danger in pretending that science exists in a vacuum.

 
 

Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger: A History of the Present couldn’t be more topical or timely, yet its exploration of the great rage of the 21st century and what it has wrought (terrorism, authoritarianism, populism) is rooted in the past. Indian essayist and novelist Mishra (who was inspired to write the book after his home country elected Hindu nationalists in 2014) locates the roots of today’s angry young men in the European Enlightenment. Those who were left behind by the prosperity and intellectual foment of that era became alienated and violent; Europe was rocked by years of revolution and revolt. In our age of abundance, there are many have-nots—and there are many demagogues eager to exploit them. Mishra’s sobering text shows how we got here.

 
 

Cheech Marin’s Cheech Is Not My Real Name … But Don’t Call Me Chong! is a trip of a memoir: a journey inside the head of a comedic icon who captured the zeitgeist of the 1970s along with his partner, Tommy Chong, and went on to become a seasoned solo entertainer and collector of Chicano art. The son of an LAPD officer, Cheech grew up in South L.A. and ended up in Canada dodging the draft, where he met Chong. This memoir offers a glimpse into their creative process, how they achieved success, and (circumspectly) why they broke up. It also tells the tale of Marin’s post-Cheech and Chong successes. It’s just as much fun as you’d think it would be.

 
 
 

Historian David J. Garrow’s Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama is an epic, checking in at nearly 1,500 pages and based on more than 1000 interviews, including with the former president himself. Like Garrow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rising Star finds the man behind the legend. President Obama is not the saint we hoped for, and this isn’t the book to go to if you want to envelop yourself in nostalgia for eight blissful years of hope and change. The Obama you find here is much more complicated than even he makes himself out to be in his well-regarded memoirs, much more flawed than the hero in the Oval Office, and much more interesting than you thought he could be.

 
 

Michael Hurd’s Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas reveals a largely unknown piece of sports history that is just as enthralling as (and maybe even more important than) H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights and the fictional counterparts it has spawned. In Texas, until the end of the 1960s, white high school football teams played on Fridays, while black high school football teams played on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Hurd, a Houston native and former sportswriter who is now the director of Prairie View A&M University’s Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture, shares the story of the creation of the Prairie View Interscholastic League where these teams played, the years when it flourished, and what happened after integration. It’s a celebration as well as a reminder of how quickly your history can get erased if you’re not the one writing it.

 

Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World is scarier than science fiction. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 (which probably began in Kansas) killed more people than World Wars I and II combined, striking not just the elderly and infirm but healthy adults, who died brutally in a matter of days or hours as their lungs filled with fluid. Spinney, a science journalist, traces the path of the disease (which decimated communities from Alaska to India), the political and medical responses to its spread, and the scientific fight to stop it (which continues today). You’ll want to get your flu shot after reading this book; you’ll also understand that the speed at which the flu evolves can make the vaccine ineffective.

 
 

Elizabeth Cobbs’s The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers tells the story of the forgotten women who helped win World War I: American switchboard operators. Historian Cobbs draws on diary entries to bring these courageous and nimble female soldiers to life. The “Hello Girls” helped the underprepared Americans win the war and paved the way for women’s suffrage. Yet they were left out of history, and the military denied them veteran status for 60 years. Hello Girls is the book they deserve.

 
 
 
 

Martin Puchner’s The Written Word: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization unpacks 4,000 years of world literature via 16 foundational texts that helped create the world we live (and read) in today. Puchner, a literary scholar, isn’t making an argument that’s new to bookworms, but he shares the stories behind the stories and the change they created with verve and affection.

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Quench Your Curiosity with Zócalo’s Summer Book Listhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/05/30/quench-curiosity-zocalos-summer-book-list/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/05/30/quench-curiosity-zocalos-summer-book-list/books/readings/#respond Tue, 30 May 2017 07:01:50 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=85722 Summertime was invented for catching up on great books, whether lolling on a Gulf Coast beach on July 4, sheltering under a tent in the Adirondacks, or slouched in a lawn chair at Griffith Park. Every year at Zócalo Public Square we ask some of our favorite recent event guests and contributors to hand-pick their favorite nonfiction titles. This year’s selections range from books on the Industrial Age roots of global warming, and the meeting of two beautiful scientific minds, to frontline tales of Mexico’s brutal drug wars, to a biography of the ever-metamorphosing Meryl Streep. So get ready to crack open a spine or download an e-book—and don’t worry about spilled sand or suntan oil.

Lynn Vavreck

UCLA political scientist and The New York Times contributing columnist

The Undoing Project

by Michael Lewis

Everyone who has a best friend should read this book. It’s a story about a work

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Summertime was invented for catching up on great books, whether lolling on a Gulf Coast beach on July 4, sheltering under a tent in the Adirondacks, or slouched in a lawn chair at Griffith Park. Every year at Zócalo Public Square we ask some of our favorite recent event guests and contributors to hand-pick their favorite nonfiction titles. This year’s selections range from books on the Industrial Age roots of global warming, and the meeting of two beautiful scientific minds, to frontline tales of Mexico’s brutal drug wars, to a biography of the ever-metamorphosing Meryl Streep. So get ready to crack open a spine or download an e-book—and don’t worry about spilled sand or suntan oil.

Lynn Vavreck

UCLA political scientist and The New York Times contributing columnist

theundoingprojectfrontcoverThe Undoing Project

by Michael Lewis

Everyone who has a best friend should read this book. It’s a story about a work relationship that becomes a friendship that then becomes a scientific collaboration; one that changes what we know about how people make decisions. The science is exciting, but it’s the friendship—and the love these two men have for one another’s minds—that makes this story remarkable. Everything is possible when psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky are bouncing around the world’s greatest universities, thinking up clever experiments to test their ideas on human behavior. Their union changed science not just because they wouldn’t have come up with the ideas on their own, but because they might have given up on them without the obligation they had to one another. It’s one of the best love stories ever—and it ends with a Nobel Prize.

Sam Quinones

Journalist and author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic

the-taken-by-javier-coverThe Taken

by Javier Valdez Cárdenas, translated by Everard Meade

Over the last decade, Javier Valdez Cárdenas was one of Mexico’s bravest reporters, chronicling the drug world and drug wars as they descended into medieval cruelty. His book, The Taken, is his first to be translated into English. It is, I believe, without equal in English for the detailed and unexpected glimpses of this world that few other authors could provide and that Americans rarely have access to. His stories are stunning, beginning with a Mayan Indian from Chiapas, the father of six pairs of twin girls, who is recruited to work in the north, doing he knows not what and never finding out, as a battle ensues that almost costs him his life. Valdez was gunned down in May 2017 as he walked from his newspaper office in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He left behind a gripping narrative of life in a maelstrom, provided by one of the great storytellers and journalistic spirits in our hemisphere, now sadly silenced.

Mitchell Duneier

Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and winner of the seventh annual Zócalo Book Prize for Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea

the-color-of-lawThe Color of Law

by Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law contains a massive amount of original research that illustrates the extent to which the Northern racial segregation we still live with today was brought about by federal and state policy, rather than through the decisions of private individuals. This is not news to urban historians or sociologists, but the research contains much that even specialists can learn from and the book is beautifully written. What ultimately makes Rothstein’s book essential is that it is a re-contextualization of these insights for the times in which we are living. Rothstein is a brilliant policy analyst and his goals are political. He ties his research to the claim made by the U.S. Supreme Court, under Chief Justice John Roberts, in school integration cases that racially separate neighborhoods are “not traceable” to government actions. By demolishing the factual accuracy of this argument, Rothstein has written a book that doesn’t simply preach to the choir, but could change the minds of some conservatives who will only accept race-conscious remedies for segregation that are traceable to government action.

Irina Dumitrescu

Junior Professor of English Medieval Studies at the University of Bonn, Editor of Rumba Under Fire: The Arts of Survival from West Point to Delhi, and author of The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature

her-again-meryl-streepHer Again: Becoming Meryl Streep

by Michael Schulman

Where stardom meets genuine talent, the result is an enigma: The actress is everywhere to be seen, but her skill remains inscrutable. Schulman’s biography of Meryl Streep’s life until her first Oscar traces Streep’s metamorphosis from blonde cheerleader in New Jersey and budding feminist at Vassar College to a rising star in theatre and film. The portrait he paints is of a natural chameleon who, early on, had a firm sense of her talents and how she wanted to apply them. If Streep’s gifts still remain otherworldly—Schulman suggests her success on stage and screen came despite, not because of, her training—Meryl herself comes across as deeply human, at times insistently normal. The book’s pleasure also lies in its rich evocations of 1970s theatrical culture: the Yale School of “Trauma,” Joe Papp’s entrepreneurial energies in New York, and the troubled, epic production of The Deer Hunter.

Sylke Tempel

Editor-in-Chief of Internationale Politik

road-to-somewhereThe Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics

by David Goodhart

What are the fault lines in today’s open societies? Do they run between left and right, urbanity and provincialism, those adapting to globalization and those left behind? David Goodhart finds a new definition: The gap, he claims, is between those who are at home anywhere in the world, and adapt easily to rapid change, and those who are at home somewhere and wish for a less relentless pace of modernization. A must-read because Goodhart not only offers a sound diagnosis but also offers some remedies.

Steven Petrow

Columnist for The Washington Post

blood-of-emmet-tillThe Blood of Emmett Till

by Timothy B. Tyson

Earlier this year, I tried to attend a reading by Tim Tyson about his New York Times bestseller, which tells the story of the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till in the Mississippi Delta. I write “tried’ because so many folks had come out to hear Tyson that the bookstore had standing room only—out on the street. In an era marked by the Black Lives Matter movement, by rising numbers of hate crimes, and by the birth of a 21st-century resistance movement, Emmett Till speaks to the history of what is often referred to as the most notorious hate crime in U.S. history, and explains what citizens can learn from it and do now. And make no mistake: This powerful book is a first-rate detective story, too. 

Susan Scott Parrish

Professor of English at the University of Michigan and author of The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History

fossil-capitalFossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming

by Andreas Malm

Malm is one of a group of environmental historians correcting the generality of the term “the Anthropocene”—and its claim that our entire species has indelibly altered the planet—by pinning down who it was, in which region, and at what time, who tied the course of industrialization to fossil fuels. With both deep research and a flair for storytelling, Malm zeroes in on the middle decades of 19th-century England to study why cotton manufacturers fatefully shifted from renewable water power to coal-powered steam, and in so doing, altered planetary history. His answers—and his tying of these answers to lessons for our own moment—are deeply important.

Jennifer Mercieca

Historian of American political rhetoric at Texas A&M University

insane-clown-presidentInsane Clown President

by Matt Taibbi

Insane Clown President is Matt Taibbi’s analysis of how media corporations only interested in ratings, ultra-rich donors only interested in influence, and political parties only interested in retaining power have made a mockery of democracy in America—and how Donald Trump expertly took advantage of the whole sham to become president. Taibbi—a smart and observant reporter—is alternately horrified and impressed by Trump, yet he is no apologist for either Trump or Clinton or any of the other “robo-babbling representatives of unseen donors” who ran for president in 2016. Taibbi writes in the tradition of Max Lerner, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, and Hunter S. Thompson—he’s alert to the irony, doublespeak, and manipulation of the political process, but he hopes for better for American democracy. This book is for anyone who is still trying to make sense of what happened during the 2016 presidential election.

Adam Winkler

Constitutional Law Scholar at the UCLA School of Law

crisis-of-middle-classThe Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution

by Ganesh Sitaraman

Economic inequality threatens the very fabric of our republic, according to Ganesh Sitaraman’s groundbreaking book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. Indeed, for much of American history, including the founding, the concentration of economic power was seen as a problem of constitutional dimension. With lucid prose and keen insight, Sitaraman shows how economics fell out of favor in constitutional thought in the twentieth century. The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution is both a richly detailed history and a clarion call for recapturing a lost way of understanding our most fundamental rights.

Miguel Figueroa

Director of the Center for the Future of Libraries

when-strangers-meetWhen Strangers Meet: How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You

by Kio Stark

I still think that summer reading should be enjoyable—even if it’s educational. At just over 100 pages, in a funky 5 x 7-page format, and with illustrations, Kio Stark’s When Strangers Meet is accessible enough to take to the beach or on vacation, but deep enough to keep you thinking and maybe even inspire change. Stark helps us understand who strangers are, why our brains are predisposed to categorize people, the benefits of talking with and listening to people we don’t already know, and strategies for entering and exiting conversations with new people. It’s summer—you’re going to find yourself outdoors, in crowds, in places you don’t know. Let’s use that time to break out of the insular world so many of us live in.

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The Ghetto’s Complex and Troubled Legacyhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/05/11/ghettos-complex-troubled-legacy/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/05/11/ghettos-complex-troubled-legacy/books/readings/#respond Thu, 11 May 2017 07:01:31 +0000 By Mitchell Duneier http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=85386 In 2017, we often hear the word “ghetto” come up in music lyrics and casual conversation, out of the mouths of politicians and activists. We know what it means; it needs no explanation. Yet beyond its negative connotations lie 500 years of rich—and relevant—history. Princeton University sociologist Mitchell Duneier, winner of the seventh annual Zócalo Book Prize for Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea, visits Zócalo to examine why the ghetto endures and what it means to us today. Below is the preface from his book.

Today, many people understandably dislike the word “ghetto” for its associations with stigmatizing and harmful stereotypes—especially of African Americans. In Ghettonation: A Journey into the Land of the Bling and the Home of the Shameless, Cora Daniels writes that “ghetto” today refers to “gold teeth, … Pepsi-filled baby bottles, and baby mamas.” One New York City councilwoman went

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In 2017, we often hear the word “ghetto” come up in music lyrics and casual conversation, out of the mouths of politicians and activists. We know what it means; it needs no explanation. Yet beyond its negative connotations lie 500 years of rich—and relevant—history. Princeton University sociologist Mitchell Duneier, winner of the seventh annual Zócalo Book Prize for Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea, visits Zócalo to examine why the ghetto endures and what it means to us today. Below is the preface from his book.

book-prize-book-cover

Today, many people understandably dislike the word “ghetto” for its associations with stigmatizing and harmful stereotypes—especially of African Americans. In Ghettonation: A Journey into the Land of the Bling and the Home of the Shameless, Cora Daniels writes that “ghetto” today refers to “gold teeth, … Pepsi-filled baby bottles, and baby mamas.” One New York City councilwoman went so far as to try to ban its “negative usage” in New York City’s official government documents. Even a figure as prominent as Mario Luis Small, the first black dean of the Division of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago—the very university where the ghetto was established as a social scientific idea almost a century ago—has written a nuanced essay explaining his reasons for abandoning the idea.

In this book, I hope to show that the ghetto remains a useful concept—provided we recall its rich historical background and stop divorcing it from its past. The word derives from the name of a Venetian island that once housed a copper foundry, or geto. Five hundred years ago, in 1516, the Venetian authorities required the city’s Jews to live on that island, in an area enclosed by walls. Venice was thus the first place to have a ghetto with today’s connotation of restriction in space. In 1555, Pope Paul IV forced Rome’s Jews into a similarly enclosed quarter, which, a few years later, came to be called by the Venetian name “ghetto.” The term then gradually spread to other European cities where Jews were similarly segregated from the larger population. In all these places, they simultaneously suffered and flourished.

Although the ghettos were demolished in the 19th century, in tandem with a gradually swelling wave of Jewish emancipation, the term “ghetto” was increasingly used from the late 19th century on, first to refer to dense Jewish quarters in Europe and America and then occasionally in reference to black urban neighborhoods. The word was given even greater prominence when it was reappropriated by the Nazis as they confined the Jews of Eastern Europe behind barbed wire in the late 1930s. A few years later, the idea of the ghetto took on new significance in the United States. During World War II, as black Americans served in the military (usually in arduous roles of logistical support) and witnessed the liberation of the Jews, blacks at home saw parallels between the ghettos established by the Nazis and their own segregated neighborhoods, between the Caucasian purity that whites were seeking to preserve in the United States and the Aryan purity that Hitler was trying to impose on Europe. As they had during World War I, they found themselves asking, in effect, “Have we been fighting once again for everybody else’s freedom except our own?”

For many of the undergraduate students who take my seminar on the idea of the ghetto, it comes as news that Jews, not blacks, were the original ghettoized people. This is a first clue to a motivation behind this book: ghettos can get lost. Had my course been offered earlier in Princeton’s history, before the mid-1940s, it would have had nothing to do with blacks and no one would have expected it might. Instead, an instructor would have focused exclusively on Jews. The link between blacks and the ghetto has been around for less than 10 percent of the term’s 500-year history.

It is not just the Jewish ghettos that have been forgotten by certain younger cohorts. It has become harder and harder to recall the black ghettos of previous generations—ghettos that were quite different from those we know now. And as the word “ghetto” has itself become less meaningful in many quarters, so too have we largely forgotten the way the word was understood in discussions of race, poverty, and place by social scientists, activists, politicians, journalists, and other intellectuals. It’s little recognized that the term embodies some of the most brilliant work in the history of the social sciences, much of which was contributed by black scholars such as those presented in these pages.

I have tried to recover that particular history by focusing selectively on a series of figures: Horace Cayton and St. Clair Drake, whose account of the Chicago “ghetto” in the Nazi era underlined the importance of restrictive housing covenants and other coercive measures—and served as an alternative to the famous portrait of the black situation in An American Dilemma by the Swedish economist and later Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal; Kenneth Clark, who revived the ghetto as an explanatory concept during the civil rights movement to show how segregation was damaging Northern blacks even without Jim Crow; and William Julius Wilson, who showed how the successes of the civil rights movement facilitated the departure of the black middle class from the ghetto, leaving behind a destitute population with a paucity of economic opportunities. In an era when the spotlight was no longer on the problems of poor blacks, he argued that the only way to interest whites in joblessness among black adults or even poverty among black children was to focus on programs that would also help whites. But working around the racism (and classism) of advantaged whites was not in itself enough to build the kind of support he had hoped for.

So we’re back to individual ghettos that are left to their own devices, as well as the activists and reformers who desperately try to achieve miracles on the ground. One particular effort garnered recent attention, support, and celebrity for its guiding founder: Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children’s Zone. He advances the idea that whereas single-focus efforts to improve the lot of the black poor do not succeed, a full-court press will. His initiative also presumes that private philanthropy can sometimes be a substitute for public policy, and at best an integral part of it. Although President Barack Obama tried to make Canada’s ideas the centerpiece of a national urban policy, Obama found it impossible to get meaningful support from Congress. Thus far, Canada’s success hinges on his own charismatic efforts and on the generosity of a few highly committed white billionaires.

We are left with the remains of an age-old system of exclusion—and no straightforward remedy. Worse yet, we are only now emerging from what has arguably been the largest and most consequential of all recent interventions in the lives of poor blacks: a War on Drugs based, ultimately, on its own misguided fantasy of a solution. The tactic emerged gradually, only after deindustrialization rendered poor urban blacks increasingly superfluous. The black ghetto became a hyperpoliced and monitored zone. Today, most men in the ghetto, subject as they are to paramilitary-style policing such as stop-and-frisk operations, will spend some time in prison. The ghetto can no longer be simply defined as a segregated area in which most blacks live. It is better understood as a space for the intrusive social control of poor blacks. As such, many of the ideas about the ghetto that emerged at the time of World War II may be more relevant than ever.

In this book, I seek a sense of historical awareness that is increasingly missing from our understanding. So much has been lost that needs to be remembered, if only because the ghetto’s troubled legacy has not gone away.

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The Zócalo Dozen Soothe, Agitate, and Enlightenhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/12/21/zocalo-dozen-soothe-agitate-enlighten/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/12/21/zocalo-dozen-soothe-agitate-enlighten/books/readings/#respond Wed, 21 Dec 2016 08:01:32 +0000 Zócalo Public Square http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=82303 In 2016, writers of Zócalo essays took us inside a dry cleaning business in South L.A., admired the ingenious mosaics created by a Chicago artist to fill the city’s potholes, sampled Minnesota soul food, and introduced us to the black man from Missouri who became America’s first “Indian” TV star.

Picking favorites among the hundreds of essays we publish each year is hard—and dangerous, because you don’t want to leave anything delicious out. But after quite a bit of thought and re-reading, the 12 essays below stood out because they felt even fresher and more powerful today than when we first published them weeks or months ago.

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How the Politics of Resentment Corrupted Wisconsin’s Culture of Nice
Way back in April, Katherine Cramer, a University of Wisconsin political scientist and author of The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, saw where

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In 2016, writers of Zócalo essays took us inside a dry cleaning business in South L.A., admired the ingenious mosaics created by a Chicago artist to fill the city’s potholes, sampled Minnesota soul food, and introduced us to the black man from Missouri who became America’s first “Indian” TV star.

Picking favorites among the hundreds of essays we publish each year is hard—and dangerous, because you don’t want to leave anything delicious out. But after quite a bit of thought and re-reading, the 12 essays below stood out because they felt even fresher and more powerful today than when we first published them weeks or months ago.

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How the Politics of Resentment Corrupted Wisconsin’s Culture of Nice
Way back in April, Katherine Cramer, a University of Wisconsin political scientist and author of The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, saw where the American elections were going through the lens of her home state, long before the rest of the country did. She shared her research, based on years of conversations with people in smaller towns and rural areas, about their anger at being left behind in an increasingly urban America. If you’d read Cramer’s essay in the spring, you wouldn’t have been surprised by the results in fall—especially in Wisconsin.

“Frivolous” Humanities Helped Prisoners Survive Communist Romania
Irina Dumitrescu, who teaches medieval literature at the University of Bonn, offers a beautiful personal essay about how her own path in life, starting as a Romanian immigrant to Canada, and how her translation of Romanian memoirs of the gulag taught her the value of the humanities. As Dumitrescu observes in the piece, “if the study of literature or history were really that pointless, a government trying to control the minds of its subjects would not go to the trouble of putting humanities students and professors in jail.”

From "America’s First ‘Indian’ TV Star Was a Black Man from Missouri" by John Turner

From “America’s First ‘Indian’ TV Star Was a Black Man from Missouri” by John Turner

America’s First “Indian” TV Star Was a Black Man from Missouri
John Turner, a biographer and documentarian, tells the remarkable story of Korla Pandit, who, stymied by Hollywood racism, reinvented himself as a mystical Brahmin pianist. “The way he came to fame,” Turner writes, “is one of those only-in-America fables where the audience and the performer are both invested in the illusion.”

Witty Mosaics Offer a Beautiful Solution to the Pothole Problem
Mosaics, made of small bits of stone and glass fixed with mortar, are as durable as any asphalt. So why not use them to fix broken streets? Our Glimpses photo essay, accompanied by a short essay from Zócalo’s own Siobhan Phillips, shows the whimsical—and sturdy—mosaics that Chicago artist Jim Bachor created to fill some of the city’s many potholes.

Why It’s OK to Laugh About ISIS
Shazia Mirza, a British comedian of Pakistani Muslim descent, describes how she stands up to terrorists—and to right-wing critics—by joking about the absurdities of ISIS. “Now it’s time for Muslims to be funny,” she writes. “Let us fight our own war on terror with laughter—it may work even better than the bombs.”

Tater Tot Hotdish, Minnesota Soul Food
Ah, the comfort of the casserole. As a Minnesotan expat, novelist, and author Lori Ostlund pens an essay that hits home—perceptively picking up on her home state’s odd formality, emotional restraint, practicality, and the (hot) dish that captures it all. “I spent several years working toward a career in academia,” Ostlund writes, “engaged in the sort of critical analysis and textual parsing that would have had me discussing hotdish as a metaphor of community mingling, ingredients coming together to create a pragmatic citizenry where individual differences are buried beneath a blanket of cream of mushroom soup.”

From "Witty Mosaics Offer a Beautiful Solution to the Pothole Problem" by Siobhan Phillips

From “Witty Mosaics Offer a Beautiful Solution to the Pothole Problem” by Siobhan Phillips

Winning Freedom From Guantánamo With Forbearance and Trust
Anne Richardson, director of the Consumer Law Project at Public Counsel, tells the tangled tale of successfully representing Obaidullah, a detainee at Guantánamo, which started with winning his trust. “During our regular phone conversations, which I took from home as they were scheduled very early West Coast time,” Richardson writes, “he loved it when my dog barked: It was a small but vivid reminder of the real world.”

The Heroin Epidemic Is Turning My Soup Kitchen Into an Emergency Room
Bill Burns is coordinator of the Preble Street Resource Center, a social service agency in Portland, Maine and has also worked with homeless people in San Antonio, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia. Burns describes—in wrenching detail—the work he and his colleagues do every day as first responders for clients suffering the effects of heroin and opiate addiction. He writes: “Scandalously, the cause of our current problem is not a virus but a series of deliberate policies that combined into disaster.”

The Little Dry Cleaning Shop Around the Corner
Vivian Bowers, who owns her family’s dry cleaning store on S. Central Avenue in Los Angeles, tells the difficult if romantic tale of the work that went into reviving her block—and so much of South L.A. She describes how, in 1994, as a single mom and against the wishes of her children, she took over the family dry cleaning business. Her kids worried that the business would go under and leave them with no income, but as Bowers observes, “it’s a timeless truth that people will always need to get their clothes cleaned.”

From "An All-Volunteer Clinic With Muslim Roots Brings the Community Together to Save Lives" by Muhammad Safwatullah

From “An All-Volunteer Clinic With Muslim Roots Brings the Community Together to Save Lives” by Muhammad Safwatullah

Film Noir’s Enduring Sympathy for the Devil
Author Michael Shelden, biographer of Graham Greene, explains why Greene’s film “The Third Man,” the noir classic about an unapologetic anti-hero, may resonate more powerfully in 2016 that it did when it was first made. “Why does film noir still have a large following today?” Sheldon asks. “Because we love moral ambiguity even more than audiences did in the middle of the last century, when everyone desperately needed an escape from wars and depressions. “

An All-Volunteer Clinic With Muslim Roots Brings the Community Together to Save Lives
Muhammad Safwatullah tells the very Californian story of Al-Shifa, the health clinic he manages near San Bernardino that serves a low-income, largely Latino clientele. “Without a clinic like ours close by,” he writes, “checkups would not happen and chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease would be left untreated.”

The Most Overlooked Resource in Fighting Violent Extremism: Moms
Counterterrorism efforts often fail to engage the families of aspiring jihadists, despite their ability and eagerness to help. Daniel Koehler, of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies, tells the story of how he tried to change that. “In almost all previous attacks by lone actors or members of small terror cells, someone in the attackers’ close social environment recognized a disturbing change in their behavior,” Koehler writes. “Sometimes, this close relative or friend even knew about the attack plans.”

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After a Stomach-Churning Year, Feed Your Head With Terrific Nonfictionhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/12/09/stomach-churning-year-feed-head-terrific-nonfiction/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/12/09/stomach-churning-year-feed-head-terrific-nonfiction/books/readings/#respond Fri, 09 Dec 2016 08:01:45 +0000 By Zócalo Public Square http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=81999 Looking back over the last 12 months, many see a year of horrors—from political turmoil to mass shootings in Orlando and Dallas to the deaths of pop culture giants David Bowie and Prince. But 2016 was also a year that delivered a bounty of great nonfiction, some the best of which we at Zócalo have compiled here, in our annual list of 10 favorite books. The works we love this year explore the worlds of the smallest microbes, the weirdest sea creatures, and the grandest trees; plumb the internal lives of slaves and parents, CEOs, and First Ladies; question the very basis of sacred institutions such as democracies and war memorials; and, just for kicks, alight on the places where we perch. Find your favorite chair, and enjoy.

 

Jason Brennan’s Against Democracy seems scarily prescient today. Writing well before the twin shocks of the Brexit and the U.S. elections,

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Looking back over the last 12 months, many see a year of horrors—from political turmoil to mass shootings in Orlando and Dallas to the deaths of pop culture giants David Bowie and Prince. But 2016 was also a year that delivered a bounty of great nonfiction, some the best of which we at Zócalo have compiled here, in our annual list of 10 favorite books. The works we love this year explore the worlds of the smallest microbes, the weirdest sea creatures, and the grandest trees; plumb the internal lives of slaves and parents, CEOs, and First Ladies; question the very basis of sacred institutions such as democracies and war memorials; and, just for kicks, alight on the places where we perch. Find your favorite chair, and enjoy.

 

against-democracy Jason Brennan’s Against Democracy seems scarily prescient today. Writing well before the twin shocks of the Brexit and the U.S. elections, the Georgetown political scientist makes a powerful case that popular democracy can be dangerous—and, provocatively, that irrational and incompetent voters should be excluded from democratic decision-making. The case for elitism in governance never read so well.

 

one-child Mei Fong’s One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment digs into the history and politics of China’s famous one-child policy, digging into the social, economic and personal ramifications of limiting family size writ large. What makes it truly fascinating, however, is Fong’s attempt to address bigger questions. What does it mean to be a parent? What happens when the state puts limits on that most human desire? Fong released a Mandarin translation of the book too, which, because of censorship in China, she decided to circulate for free.

 

i-contain-multitudes Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us takes the reader on a friendly romp through microbiology—a seemingly unlikely journey. Yong, who has an advanced degree in biology and writes about science for The Atlantic, tags along to a zoo with one researcher as he samples microbes from a pangolin. Later, he sits beside another microbiologist on a London park bench, as her son draws pictures of cells. It’s a trip into one of the most important scientific revolutions of the last decade: scholars’ new understanding of and appreciation for the microbiome, the vast universe of microbes that live within and around us, and which may be as important to our biology as our own cells.

 

voyage-of-slave-ship Sean Kelley’s The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare performs a feat of historical forensics, unearthing unconventional and hard-to-find records in an attempt to individualize and re-humanize a group of Africans who were taken from Sierra Leone and delivered into slavery in South Carolina during 1754 and 1755. Kelley tells the story of their voyage on the Hare and recovers their identities as people, not just slaves. His work is now being incorporated into a larger digital database of similar efforts.

 

now-i-sit-me-down Witold Rybczynski’s Now I Sit Me Down is a book about chairs that’s so good it’ll be hard for you to stay seated: you’ll want to stand up and shout about the surprising details it offers. Chair sitting originated in China, it turns out, while pharaohs first thought of the folding stool. (A reasonable alternate title might have been Everything You Wanted to Know About Chairs But Were Afraid to Ask.) Rybczynski has created an interdisciplinary masterpiece, connecting the seated experience to art, design, engineering, social history, geography, religion, and war. Whether you’re a chaise longue or a Barcalounger kind of person, you’ll love it.

 

hidden-life-of-trees Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, an unlikely bestseller when it was published in Germany in 2015, gives voice to Earth’s most majestic flora. Wohlleben, a former forester, writes that trees form their own communities and friendships, talk to one another, even protect one another—and he asserts that we humans must do a better job of understanding them and protecting them in turn. Wohlleben’s knowledge of trees is both authoritative and whimsical, but always deeply underpinned with urgency. His book was released in English translation this fall.

 

nothing-ever-dies Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War is a meditation on wars everywhere: Is there an ethical way for winners and losers to remember–and in some cases, forget—brutal conflict? Taking the reader on a journey from the war cemeteries of Vietnam to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. and beyond, novelist and USC professor Nguyen, born in wartime Vietnam but emigrated to California as a child, examines how the arts (including visual arts, literature, and film) impact and enrich our memories of war. A finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction for 2016, the book complements Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year.

 

louisa Louisa Thomas’s Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams reminds us that Melania Trump won’t be the only First Lady born in a foreign land; she’ll share the distinction with Louisa Adams, the wife of president John Quincy Adams. Born in London in 1775, and 26 years old when she first arrived in the U.S., Adams participated actively in her husband’s political career, writing extensively about her public and private lives. Thomas mines Adams’ work to reveal the 6th First Lady’s interior world, including her struggles with her identity as an American woman.

 

shoe-dog Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog, a new memoir, recounts how the legendary Nike creator borrowed $50 from his father to strike out on his own and sell shoes—and how his vision evolved over 50 years into one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Personal, candid, accessible, and entirely devoid of jargon, the book could—indeed, should—be a huge influence on business memoirs in the future.

 

other-minds Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness combines the author’s uncanny underwater experiences interacting with octopi, squid and cuttlefish near Australia with some heady (or perhaps limb-y) thoughts about brains and consciousness. A philosopher of science, Godfrey-Smith ponders the significance of creatures whose neural systems lie not only in their heads, but also in their appendages. These beasts think, at some level, with their arms. You can think about that while you hold this book in your hands.

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Why Urban Poverty Is More Desperate in India and More All-Consuming in Chinahttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/06/15/why-urban-poverty-is-more-desperate-in-india-and-more-all-consuming-in-china/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/06/15/why-urban-poverty-is-more-desperate-in-india-and-more-all-consuming-in-china/books/readings/#respond Wed, 15 Jun 2016 07:01:35 +0000 By Anja Manuel http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=74160 The first thing that struck me was that the streets were spotless, polished clean with the swing of hundreds of broom strokes a day. Women squatted in front of their corrugated iron homes, wearing ragged sweaters and hats to ward off the January Delhi chill. They chatted while they ripped the feathers off scrawny, recently butchered chickens. Preschool age children played with sticks in the dirt, and one three-year-old girl in a dusty pink hoodie with bunny ears confidently grabbed my hand.

The waste-picker slum community I visited in east Delhi in January 2015 works off the landfill. Every day parents and children hike a 1,000-foot-tall mountain of rubbish and hunt for plastic bottles, metal cans and other goods, which they then sell to recyclers, earning about $8 per family each day. In India, the 1.5 million waste-pickers reside near the bottom of the social and economic ladder.

Mohammad Asif

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The first thing that struck me was that the streets were spotless, polished clean with the swing of hundreds of broom strokes a day. Women squatted in front of their corrugated iron homes, wearing ragged sweaters and hats to ward off the January Delhi chill. They chatted while they ripped the feathers off scrawny, recently butchered chickens. Preschool age children played with sticks in the dirt, and one three-year-old girl in a dusty pink hoodie with bunny ears confidently grabbed my hand.

Manuel on India BOOK

The waste-picker slum community I visited in east Delhi in January 2015 works off the landfill. Every day parents and children hike a 1,000-foot-tall mountain of rubbish and hunt for plastic bottles, metal cans and other goods, which they then sell to recyclers, earning about $8 per family each day. In India, the 1.5 million waste-pickers reside near the bottom of the social and economic ladder.

Mohammad Asif and his family are among the more affluent in the community. In addition to the one-room hut he shares with his wife and children, he has a small, covered storage area where his extended family works at separating small mountains of plastic water bottles from Tetra Pak juice packs and aluminum cans. The poorer slum residents (who have no storage area) sell their daily finds to Mohammad, who sorts and stores them to sell to larger, more professional recyclers. He pays significant rent for his hut to a slum landlord. His family has enough food to eat, but barely.

Supriya Bhardwaj, the energetic, young director of Chintan’s children’s programs, walked me around the learning center and the slum community, and explained much about the life of Delhi’s urban poor. We stepped gingerly around several cows feeding on trash and over an open sewer, and then climbed rickety stairs to a collection of four tiny, windowless rooms on the second floor of a listing concrete structure. In each room 15 or so children sat happily on the floor in front of a teacher, learning basic writing and math, and spontaneously sang a welcome song for me.

In total, almost 65 million Indians live in urban slums, and 300 million live under the World Bank poverty line, which is a depressingly low $1.25 each day. Almost a third of the rural Indians and a quarter of its city dwellers are this destitute. This seemingly incurable poverty—despite decades of effort—is the most fundamental problem India faces on its way to becoming a true world power. It is the issue that keeps Indian politicians up at night, determines whether they are re-elected, and has until recently kept Indian leaders—who were preoccupied with solving these domestic issues—from engaging more deeply in international affairs.

By contrast, China’s economic juggernaut has lifted many millions out of poverty, so there are fewer Chinese who live in extreme deprivation. According to the latest World Bank data, in 2011, approximately 84 million Chinese lived on less than $1.25 per day, many of those in the rural interior of the country.

The massive efforts the Chinese government has made to build housing in the country’s interior means there are far fewer Chinese urban slums like the one I visited in eastern Delhi. However, vast income disparities remain. While the GDP per person in Shanghai and Beijing is close to that of Portugal or the Czech Republic, the per capita GDP of interior provinces like Xinjiang is closer to that of Congo. As a result, hundreds of millions of migrant workers left their farms over the past three decades in search of higher incomes in the giant metropolises near the coast. Until recently the government attempted to ignore this enormous migrant community of nearly 220 million people. Instead it tried to push them back to their villages by refusing to provide them with any services at all in the cities.

The fact that India’s poor work mostly in the informal sector while their Chinese counterparts often work for giant factories for formal employers creates a key difference in how each government is able to help its poorest citizens.

Xian and her younger sister Qian are two tiny, energetic women in this mass of migrant humanity. Xian, the quieter older sister, dropped out of high school at age 16, married a man her parents found for her, and moved with him to Guangzhou where they worked in separate garment factories—12 hour shifts, six days a week. After two years, the garment factory reduced the number of overtime hours Xian was able to work, so they moved to Shenzen, where she and her sister were lucky enough to land a job in one of the enormous, city-like electronics factories that assemble our cell phones and tablets.

Xian and Qian do not live in a slum, but their life is at times more reminiscent of Sinclair’s The Jungle than Mohammad’s life in Delhi. Their dorm room, for which they each pay 100 yuan ($16) in rent a month, has eight bunk beds covered in polyester blankets. Suitcases under the beds hold the women’s few possessions. It smells of Chinese noodles and inexpensive room freshener. A blanket covers the one filthy window at all times, because five of the roommates work at night, and the others during the day, so someone is always sleeping.

Xian last saw her husband three months ago because he lives in a similar men’s dorm attached to a different factory across town. “That’s fine,” she comments, “It’s better than fighting all the time when he is around.” It is harder for Xian to talk about her one-year old daughter, who lives with her husband’s parents in their home village in Hunan. She only sees the little girl once a year during the spring festival, and says, “She hardly recognizes me.” Xian talks about her family as if she is describing someone else’s life—with no real feeling. She acts a decade older than her 22 years and is quite pessimistic about her future. Migrant workers endure long separations from their partners and children in order to make enough money to send home. The Economist estimates that 61 million Chinese children are left with relatives in villages while their parents work in big city factories. Factory life is all-consuming, and there is not much room for personal lives.

Income disparity is a serious concern in both India and China. Yet urban poverty feels very different in the slums of Delhi and in the blade-runner landscape of a Shenzhen factory town. Indian slums are more desperately poor. They also function as complete communities, with families of the same caste or religious group shopping from the same street vendors and going to the same schools, and at times living in the same slum for generations. A manufacturing industrial revolution has so far skipped India, so 93 percent of India’s workforce is in the “informal sector.” That includes virtually all of the urban unskilled poor, who recycle trash from landfills, drive rickshaws, or clean toilets in wealthy houses.

China’s manufacturing boom has raised the incomes of millions of former peasants, who now get meager paychecks from factories each month. Unfortunately, the factory towns tend to be lonely places without much community: Xian and Qian say they don’t have many friends because workers come from different regions, often speak different dialects, and the turnover at the factories is so high that it is hard to form lasting bonds.

The fact that India’s poor work mostly in the informal sector while their Chinese counterparts often work for giant factories for formal employers creates a key difference in how each government is able to help its poorest citizens. India cannot even begin to create a Western-style social safety net—most of its poor don’t have paychecks or even bank accounts. As a result, most assistance comes in the form of subsidized food, fuel, and in some lucky cases, free healthcare and housing. India has established enormous wealth transfer schemes, but they are highly inefficient and often corrupt. The government is trying to fix this by signing up the poor for bank accounts and biometric identification, and by moving to direct cash transfers for many assistance programs.

In China, most workers have formal jobs with paychecks. That makes it easier for the government to send assistance in the form of social security, unemployment insurance, and other benefits, if it chooses to. China was until a few years ago reluctant to create any social safety net at all for the migrant poor at the bottom of the scale, because they wanted them to move back to the countryside. Now the government may have no choice: Xian, Qian, and their young colleagues at the factories are bombarded with information from advertising and social media that shows other Chinese making more money, buying houses, building families, and creating what President Xi calls the “Chinese dream.” Through social media the poor and lower middle classes increasingly see that China’s boom times are leaving them behind. These workers are causing the stirrings of a labor unrest movement in China that has the government very worried.

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The Ladies Who Saved the U.S. Senatehttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/06/02/the-ladies-who-saved-the-u-s-senate/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/06/02/the-ladies-who-saved-the-u-s-senate/books/readings/#respond Thu, 02 Jun 2016 07:01:55 +0000 By Jay Newton-Small http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=73550 Whatever the outcome of the presidential election in November, the increasing influence of women in politics and culture—in some ways because they are women—is irrefutable, argues Jay Newton-Small in Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works. The Time magazine Washington correspondent and New America fellow Newton-Small visits Zocalo to discuss the ways in which women are changing America’s most important institutions. Below is an excerpt from her book.

Within weeks of being named Budget Committee chair in November 2012, Sen. Patty Murray asked to meet her House Republican counterpart, Paul Ryan, for breakfast in the Senate Dining Room. It was a bit like an awkward first date, she recalled, rather than a business meeting between two political adversaries: Ryan is a conservative, Murray a liberal Democrat who is 20 years his senior.

Instead of talking shop, the two, led by Murray, spent over an hour getting to

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Whatever the outcome of the presidential election in November, the increasing influence of women in politics and culture—in some ways because they are women—is irrefutable, argues Jay Newton-Small in Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works. The Time magazine Washington correspondent and New America fellow Newton-Small visits Zocalo to discuss the ways in which women are changing America’s most important institutions. Below is an excerpt from her book.

BroadInfluence_Book_Cover

Within weeks of being named Budget Committee chair in November 2012, Sen. Patty Murray asked to meet her House Republican counterpart, Paul Ryan, for breakfast in the Senate Dining Room. It was a bit like an awkward first date, she recalled, rather than a business meeting between two political adversaries: Ryan is a conservative, Murray a liberal Democrat who is 20 years his senior.

Instead of talking shop, the two, led by Murray, spent over an hour getting to know each other. How did they get started in politics? How did they meet their spouses? Murray and Ryan forged a friendship that ultimately achieved the country’s first budget agreement in four years, during an infamously gridlocked congressional session marked by paralyzing partisanship and a government shutdown.

In their first breakfast, the word “budget” never came up. “We talked about his family and my family, what he grew up with. I wanted to know him. I wanted to know what drove him and what is his passion,” Murray said.

They both fished, Murray for salmon in her home state of Washington and Ryan for muskie and walleye in Wisconsin. Both their young lives were altered by their fathers’ tragedies: Ryan at age 16 found his father’s body in the family home, dead of a sudden heart attack, and Murray’s father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 15, which forced her family onto food stamps. “We know what it’s like to be on your own and fight through existence,” Murray said.

But perhaps the most important commonality was a shared love of football. Murray was an avid Seahawks fan and Ryan supported the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks had stunned the Packers in September in a close game featuring a notoriously controversial officiating call at the end. Murray would jibe him about the rivalry to fill awkward pauses during their initial breakfast and later in sometimes heated budget negotiations, particularly over Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who’d attended the University of Wisconsin—home state of Ryan’s beloved Packers—and then went to play for Seattle.

“I think the reality of that is if you focus on something that makes people human beings … if you actually find a way to be friendly with each other and understand where they are coming from, that’s how you get an agreement,” Murray said. “I think women can do that.”

For Ryan, sports became their language. “Basically our staffs had this notion that we’d both start from our 20-yard lines and we’d try to get together in the middle of the field,” Ryan said. “With Patty, we were able to dismiss all of the theater … and get to a very common understanding so that we could achieve our objective. The key was that we set out from the get-go not to swing for the fences and get a grand-slam budget agreement, which we knew would fail because the prior four times it had failed.”

Indeed, that December morning as they laughed over sports, they recognized the scope of the task before them. Murray was determined to do things differently, to break with the system of the past—and she wasn’t the only one. For the first time in history, the Senate was 20 percent female. Even more important, the women sat atop half the committees, exerting outsize influence.

By the end of this rancorous congressional term, the women produced 75 percent of the major legislation that passed the Senate, showing how different the Senate can be—how much more functional—when women reach a critical mass. Study after study shows that women govern differently than men in legislative bodies. They tend to compromise more and grandstand less. They are better at building consensus. And at a time when bipartisan relationships have all but died in Washington, the 20 women of the Senate also had 20 years of deep friendships and trust to draw upon.

Murray and Ryan’s budget deal wasn’t the only breakthrough. Sen. Barbara Boxer saw through a $12.5 billion water resources bill and $54 billion transportation legislation; Sen. Debbie Stabenow got a gigantic $955 billion farm bill passed; Sen. Barbara Mikulski shepherded more than a dozen appropriations bills; and all 20 women came together to ensure passage of the Violence Against Women Act.

It wasn’t that the women had some special feminine powers. To some degree they took charge because the men had lost the ability to find common ground. In the 1990s, then House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised congressional salaries, and members started traveling home every weekend. Though intended to get members outside the insular Beltway, it also gave them less opportunity to maintain relationships. Bipartisan friendships began to evaporate, and most male members hardly knew people in their own party, let alone those across the aisle. But the women of the Senate made a point through the 2012–13 session to continue holding regular bipartisan dinners that started more than 20 years ago, from which have grown countless baby and bridal showers, dinners with spouses and children—and dozens of pieces of legislation.

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From Former Slaves to Female Soldiers, Ten True Stories to Heat Up Your Summer Reading Listhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/05/31/from-former-slaves-to-female-soldiers-ten-true-stories-to-heat-up-your-summer-reading-list/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/05/31/from-former-slaves-to-female-soldiers-ten-true-stories-to-heat-up-your-summer-reading-list/books/readings/#respond Tue, 31 May 2016 07:01:19 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=73425 Who says your summer reading must be as slight as a string bikini? Every year at Zócalo Public Square, we pack our beach bags with fresh nonfiction titles recommended by some of our favorite recent event guests and contributors. This year’s must-read list includes accounts of famous former slaves, forgotten domestic terrorism, an all-woman special ops team, a legendary soul singer, and a scarily relevant civil war. Plus leadership advice for when the vacation ends.

Matt Garcia

Professor of History and Transborder Studies and Director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University

The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

by Karl Jacoby

In today’s world, where business success is defined by an orange white man, it is refreshing to read a book about a truly self-made figure, William Ellis. Born a slave in Texas in 1864, Ellis—or

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Who says your summer reading must be as slight as a string bikini? Every year at Zócalo Public Square, we pack our beach bags with fresh nonfiction titles recommended by some of our favorite recent event guests and contributors. This year’s must-read list includes accounts of famous former slaves, forgotten domestic terrorism, an all-woman special ops team, a legendary soul singer, and a scarily relevant civil war. Plus leadership advice for when the vacation ends.

Matt Garcia

Professor of History and Transborder Studies and Director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University

The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

by Karl Jacoby

In today’s world, where business success is defined by an orange white man, it is refreshing to read a book about a truly self-made figure, William Ellis. Born a slave in Texas in 1864, Ellis—or Guillermo Eliseo, as he eventually became known in Manhattan at the turn of the 19th century—navigated between the Confederate South and Mexican North to emerge as one of the richest cotton moguls to ascend the heights of American capitalism. Karl Jacoby’s artful rendering of this life-less-ordinary reveals a man who leveraged the ambiguity of race in the U.S.-Mexican borderlands to survive and thrive in the land of opportunity. This is a rags-to-riches story for the new millennium and a new America.

Geoffrey Cowan

President of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, professor and Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership at the University of Southern California, and author of Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary

Spain in our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939

by Adam Hochschild

Once again, Adam Hochschild (King Leopold’s Ghost, To End All Wars) brings an important chapter of history to life. With vivid portraits of the young men and women—including leading journalists such as Ernest Hemingway—who were caught up in a great cause, he helps us to understand their passion as well as the moral ambiguity of a war against fascism during which the leaders of the Spanish Republic turned to and embraced the repressive regime in the Soviet Union when the United States refused to aid the forces of democracy. At a time when a new authoritarianism that one leader has called “illiberal democracy” has taken over in Hungary and Poland, and is on the rise in nations around the world, Spain in our Hearts is both a great book to read and chillingly relevant.

Sarah Lewis

Author, curator, and Assistant Professor at Harvard University

Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American

by John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste Marie-Bernier

Lin-Manuel Miranda reads a book on Alexander Hamilton for a getaway; let’s see what happens when the new book on Frederick Douglass gets onto the summer vacation reading list. Picturing Frederick Douglass is the one to pick up. Inspired by and including transcripts of Douglass’s Civil War speech about the importance of pictures for America’s vision of itself, the book is beautifully illustrated, containing the largest selection of images of Frederick Douglass—the most photographed American man in the 19th century—in one book. It also contains powerful writing including an introduction by the authors, an essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and one by Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., a direct descendent of Douglass.

Pete Peterson

Dean of Pepperdine School of Public Policy

DaysRageDays of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence

by Bryan Burroughs

If you’re a late Gen X’er like me you may vaguely remember the events surrounding Patty Hearst’s kidnapping by a group called the Symbionese Liberation Army, along with the bombing of a restaurant in Lower Manhattan by an organization named F.A.L.N. But what Bryan Burroughs does here is draw one of those detective maps on a wall, connecting dozens of homegrown terrorist groups with threads of shared actors and philosophies, revealing the 1970s to be one of the greatest periods of terrorism in American history. In 1972 for example, there were more than 1,900 domestic bombings perpetrated by an array of mostly left-wing groups, and while relatively few people were killed, Burroughs clearly demonstrates that this was more due to good fortune and bombers’ ineptitude than intent. The subtitle of the book—“the Forgotten Age”—is accurate, but with this fast-paced yet comprehensive book, Burroughs helps us to remember.

Brigid Schulte

Journalist for Washington Post and Washington Post Magazine and author of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

WhatWorksWhat Works: Gender Equality by Design

by Iris Bohnet

One of my favorite books of the past year was What Works by Iris Bohnet, a behavioral economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Bohnet does a masterful job of not only compiling all the key research on the power of unconscious bias, but she tells compelling stories of how data, transparency, and simple and elegant designs can lead not only to a fairer world, but a better one—who wouldn’t want the best talent, regardless of gender, in orchestras, on trading room floors, and operating on loved ones? A favorite story: the women at two of the biggest stock brokerage firms earned about 60 percent of what their male counterparts earned. Everyone assumed the women just weren’t as good, or as “hungry.” A class action lawsuit, and a data analysis by the Wharton School revealed that the women were given the worst-performing accounts to start with. Designing a fairer system for assigning accounts erased the pay gap and the companies prospered.

David Greene

Host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and author of Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia.

KillEmAndLeaveKill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

by James McBride

It’s a beautifully written fresh account of James Brown’s life, confronting the musician’s dark past, but also digging for the nuance and truth behind a man who was well known but not well understood. It’s an extraordinary journey full of true characters.

Naomi Hirahara

Edgar Award-winning author of the “Mas Arai” mystery series. The sixth, Sayonara Slam, was released in May.

Where the Dead Pause pbk.inddWhere the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey

by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

Mockett’s book is subtitled “A Journey,” and a journey it is. The reader will be whisked on a ride through tsunami- and earthquake-ravaged Japan, the real practice of Zen Buddhism, and grief from losses, both collective and personal. As we reflect on the past relationship between the U.S. and Japan, this read is definitely a timely one.

Michael Shelden

Author of Melville in Love: The Secret Life of Herman Melville

WallaceStevensThe Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens

by Paul Mariani

Wallace Stevens pulled off one of the great balancing acts of the 20th century, writing brilliantly imaginative poetry in hours stolen from his business career as an insurance executive in Hartford, Connecticut. How the bean counter responsible for surety claims lived inside the same head as the lyric poet whose romantic visions rivaled those of Keats and Shelley is the puzzle that Paul Mariani explores with great intelligence and sensitivity in this definitive biography.

Jay Newton-Small

Time political correspondent and author of Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works

ashley'swarAshley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield

by Gail Tzemach Lemmon

When I was researching my chapter on women in the military I came across Gail, then her book came out and we became friends. I was blown away by her depiction of women on the front lines. In her book, you really live the experience of what an amazing job they are doing to contribute to our country’s defense.

Fernando J. Guerra

Director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University

FutureLeadershipThe Future of Leadership: Leveraging Influence in an Age of Hyper-Change

by Michael Genovese

This short (121 pages) but powerful book provides leadership strategies for a modern world. If you think of yourself as a future leader you must prepare for the future of decision-making. Like Machiavelli centuries ago, Genovese provides sage advice for the leaders of tomorrow.

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How Much of Mental Illness, or Brilliance, Is Hereditary?http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/05/23/how-much-of-mental-illness-or-brilliance-is-hereditary/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/05/23/how-much-of-mental-illness-or-brilliance-is-hereditary/books/readings/#respond Mon, 23 May 2016 07:01:02 +0000 By Siddhartha Mukherjee http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=73220 Race and identity, sexuality, temperament, and even free will. Siddhartha Mukherjee tackles these themes in his newest book The Gene: An Intimate History, weaving the pattern of schizophrenia in his own family with larger threads of science and social history. The author of the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center, Mukherjee visits Zócalo to discuss his fascinating journey into the farthest reaches of the fundamental unit of heredity. Below is an excerpt from his book.

 
The blood of your parents is not lost in you.
—Menelaus, The Odyssey

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
—Philip Larkin, “This Be

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Race and identity, sexuality, temperament, and even free will. Siddhartha Mukherjee tackles these themes in his newest book The Gene: An Intimate History, weaving the pattern of schizophrenia in his own family with larger threads of science and social history. The author of the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center, Mukherjee visits Zócalo to discuss his fascinating journey into the farthest reaches of the fundamental unit of heredity. Below is an excerpt from his book.

Mukherjee_Book_Cover

 

The blood of your parents is not lost in you.
—Menelaus, The Odyssey

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
—Philip Larkin, “This Be The Verse”


 

In the winter of 2012, I traveled from Delhi to Calcutta to visit my cousin Moni. My father accompanied me, as a guide and companion, but he was a sullen and brooding presence, lost in a private anguish that I could sense only dimly. My father is the youngest of five brothers, and Moni is his first-born nephew—the eldest brother’s son. Since 2004, when he was 40, Moni has been confined to an institution for the mentally ill (a “lunatic home,” as my father calls it), with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is kept densely medicated—awash in a sea of assorted antipsychotics and sedatives—and has an attendant watch, bathe, and feed him through the day.

My father has never accepted Moni’s diagnosis. Over the years, he has waged a lonely counter-campaign against the psychiatrists charged with his nephew’s care, hoping to convince them that their diagnosis was a colossal error, or that Moni’s broken psyche would somehow magically mend itself. My father has visited the institution in Calcutta twice—once without warning, hoping to see a transformed Moni, living a secretly normal life behind the barred gates.

But my father knew—and I knew—that there was more than just avuncular love at stake for him in these visits. Moni is not the only member of my father’s family with mental illness. Of my father’s four brothers, two—not Moni’s father, but two of Moni’s uncles—suffered from various unravelings of the mind. Madness, it turns out, has been among the Mukherjees for at least two generations, and at least part of my father’s reluctance to accept Moni’s diagnosis lies in my father’s grim recognition that some kernel of the illness may be buried, like toxic waste, in himself.

In 1946, Rajesh, my father’s third-born brother, died prematurely in Calcutta. He was 22 years old. The story runs that he was stricken with pneumonia after spending two nights exercising in the winter rain—but the pneumonia was the culmination of another sickness. Rajesh had once been the most promising of the brothers—the nimblest, the supplest, the most charismatic, the most energetic, the most beloved and idolized by my father and his family.

My grandfather had died a decade earlier in 1936—he had been murdered following a dispute over mica mines—leaving my grandmother to raise five young boys. Although not the oldest, Rajesh had stepped rather effortlessly into his father’s shoes. He was only 12 then, but he could have been 22: his quick-fire intelligence was already being cooled by gravity, the brittle self-assuredness of adolescence already annealing into the self-confidence of adulthood.

But in the summer of ’46, my father recalls, Rajesh had begun to behave oddly, as if a wire had been tripped in his brain. The most striking change in his personality was his volatility: Good news triggered uncontained outbursts of joy, often extinguished only through increasingly acrobatic bouts of physical exercise, while bad news plunged him into inconsolable desolation.

The emotions were normal in context; it was their extreme range that was abnormal. By the winter of that year, the sine curve of Rajesh’s psyche had tightened in its frequency and gained in its amplitude. The fits of energy, tipping into rage and grandiosity, came often and more fiercely, and the sweeping undertow of grief that followed was just as strong. He ventured into the occult—organizing séances and planchette sessions at home, or meeting his friends to meditate at a crematorium at night.

I don’t know if he self-medicated—in the ’40s, the dens in Calcutta’s Chinatown had ample supplies of opium from Burma and Afghani hashish to calm a young man’s nerves—but my father recollects an altered brother: fearful at times, reckless at others, descending and ascending steep slopes of mood, irritable one morning and overjoyed the next (that word: overjoyed. Used colloquially, it signals something innocent: an amplification of joy. But it also delineates a limit, a warning, an outer boundary of sobriety. Beyond overjoy, as we shall see, there is no over-overjoy; there is only madness and mania).

The week before the pneumonia, Rajesh had received news of a strikingly successful performance in his college exams and—elated—had vanished on a two-night excursion, supposedly “exercising” at a wrestling camp. When he returned, he was boiling up with a fever and hallucinating.

It was only years later, in medical school, that I realized that Rajesh was likely in the throes of an acute manic phase. His mental breakdown was the result of a near-textbook case of manic-depression—bipolar disease.

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To Start Talking, Stop Textinghttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/05/10/start-talking-stop-texting/books/readings/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/05/10/start-talking-stop-texting/books/readings/#respond Tue, 10 May 2016 07:01:32 +0000 By Sherry Turkle http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=72840 Text messages can make us feel constantly connected to the people we care about. But texting, and the ubiquitous presence of our phones, can also have the opposite effect. Who hasn’t had the experience of sitting around a dinner table with family or friends when everyone is using his or her phone to chat with other people rather than talking face-to-face? Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT and the winner of the 2016 Zócalo Book Prize for Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, visits Zócalo to discuss this paradox, and how we can relearn the art of talking to one another. Below is an excerpt from her book.

 
These days, we want to be with each other but also elsewhere, connected to wherever else we want to be, because what we value most

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Text messages can make us feel constantly connected to the people we care about. But texting, and the ubiquitous presence of our phones, can also have the opposite effect. Who hasn’t had the experience of sitting around a dinner table with family or friends when everyone is using his or her phone to chat with other people rather than talking face-to-face? Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT and the winner of the 2016 Zócalo Book Prize for Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, visits Zócalo to discuss this paradox, and how we can relearn the art of talking to one another. Below is an excerpt from her book.

Jacket-for-Reclaiming-Conversation

 
These days, we want to be with each other but also elsewhere, connected to wherever else we want to be, because what we value most is control over where we put our attention. Our manners have evolved to accommodate our new priorities. When you’re out to dinner with friends, you can’t assume that you have their undivided attention. Cameron, a college junior in New Hampshire, says that when his friends have dinner, “and I hate this, everyone puts their phones next to them when they eat. And then, they’re always checking them.”

The night before at dinner he had texted a friend sitting next to him (“ ’S’up, dude?”) just to get his attention. Cameron’s objection is common, for this is the reality: When college students go to dinner, they want the company of their friends in the dining hall and they also want the freedom to go to their phones. To have both at the same time, they observe what some call the “rule of three”: When you are with a group at dinner you have to check that at least three people have their heads up from their phones before you give yourself permission to look down at your phone. So conversation proceeds—but with different people having their “heads up” at different times.

I meet with Cameron and seven of his friends. One of them, Eleanor, describes the rule of three as a strategy of continual scanning:

Let’s say we are seven at dinner. We all have our phones. You have to make sure that at least two people are not on their phones or looking down to check something—like a movie time on Google or going on Facebook. So you need sort of a rule of two or three. So I know to keep, like, two or three in the mix so that other people can text or whatever.

It’s my way of being polite. I would say that conversations, well, they’re pretty, well, fragmented. Everybody is kind of in and out. Yeah, you have to say, “Wait, what . . .” and sort of have people fill you in a bit when you drop out.

The effect of the rule of three is what you might expect. As Eleanor says, conversation is fragmented. And everyone tries to keep it light.

 
Even a Silent Phone Disconnects Us

Keeping talk light when phones are on the landscape becomes a new social grace. One of Eleanor’s friends explains that if a conversation at dinner turns serious and someone looks at a phone, that is her signal to “lighten things up.” And she points out that the rule of three is a way of being polite even when you’re not at the dinner table. When “eyes are down” at phones, she says, “conversation stays light well beyond dinner.”

When I first planned the research that would lead to this book, my idea was to focus on our new patterns of texting and messaging. What made them compelling? Unique? But early in my study, when I met with these New Hampshire students, their response to my original question was to point me to another question that they thought was more important. “I would put it this way,” says Cameron. “There are fewer conversations—not with the people you’re texting, but with the people around you!” As he says this, we are in a circle of eight, talking together, and heads are going down to check phones. A few try not to, but it is a struggle.

Cameron sums up what he sees around him. “Our texts are fine. It’s what texting does to our conversations when we are together, that’s the problem.”

It was a powerful intuition. What phones do to in-person conversation is a problem. Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on the table (even a phone turned off) changes what people talk about. If we think we might be interrupted, we keep conversations light, on topics of little controversy or consequence. And conversations with phones on the landscape block empathic connection. If two people are speaking and there is a phone on a nearby desk, each feels less connected to the other than when there is no phone present. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

So it is not surprising that in the past 20 years we’ve seen a 40 percent decline in the markers for empathy among college students, most of it within the past 10 years. It is a trend that researchers link to the new presence of digital communications.

Why do we spend so much time messaging each other if we end up feeling less connected to each other? In the short term, online communication makes us feel more in charge of our time and self-presentation.

If we text rather than talk, we can have each other in amounts we can control. And texting and email and posting let us present the self we want to be. We can edit and retouch.

I call it the Goldilocks effect: We can’t get enough of each other if we can have each other at a digital distance—not too close, not too far, just right.

But human relationships are rich, messy, and demanding. When we clean them up with technology, we move from conversation to the efficiencies of mere connection. I fear we forget the difference. And we forget that is a difference or that things were ever different. Studies show that when children hear less adult talk, they talk less. If we turn toward our phones and away from our children, we will start them off with a deficit of which they will be unaware. It won’t be only about how much they talk. It will be about how much they understand the people they’re talking with.

Indeed, when young people say, “Our texts are fine,” they miss something important. What feels fine is that in the moment, so many of their moments are enhanced by digital reminders that they are wanted, a part of things. A day online has many of these “moments of more.” But as digital connection becomes an ever larger part of their day, they risk ending up with lives of less.

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