Kathleen Miles is the executive editor of the newly launched Noēma Magazine, which is based in Los Angeles and published by the Berggruen Institute. She previously was senior editor of The WorldPost, worked in New York for HuffPost, and served as a news producer at the NPR affiliate KPCC. Before moderating a Zócalo/Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy event, titled “Should Global Democracy Become More Direct?,” she spoke in the virtual green room about Brazilian bowls, labor investigation, and what New York and L.A. don’t get about each other.
What was the last book you read?
I just finished Stoner by the late American novelist John Edward Williams. It’s about William Stoner, a professor at the University of Missouri. What’s remarkable about it is that somehow this relatively ordinary man’s life story, which is told from cradle to grave, was completely riveting. I was searching for clues throughout about the mystery of life, what the point of it all is, especially as the years go on and his disappointments and missed opportunities pile up.
What’s the biggest misconception New Yorkers have about Los Angeles?
There is a rumor among some of my New Yorker friends that in L.A., because of all the abundant frolicking in the sunshine, you’ll be too happy, and you won’t get any work done. You won’t have enough pain and angst to fuel your creativity and productivity.
What’s the biggest misconception Angelenos have about New York?
I think some people here think that everyone in New York is brilliant—the “city of winners.” Also there’s a perception that so much of the food there is top-notch. Of course there’s plenty of superb food there … but also so many food joints that are positively lousy.
What was the biggest lesson you learned as a teacher in L.A. for Teach for America?
In order to succeed in a classroom, perhaps more than academic intelligence, it takes tremendous emotional intelligence. I learned that the hard way. You can’t assume that your students will know that you have high expectations for them because you respect and believe in them. You first have to show them that you respect them and believe in them.
You also worked as an investigator for the National Labor Relations Board. What was the worst thing you saw there?
So, I was the field investigator on numerous cases brought by individuals who filed unfair labor practices against their employers because they were fired, they believed, for union organizing. In one of those cases, a man stood out. I’ll never forget—he was sitting in my office as I took his affidavit. He looked frightened and worried. He said he hadn’t yet told his pregnant wife and kid that because of repeated exposure to asbestos on the job, he was dying of stomach cancer. He’d been terminated from his job; he couldn’t afford health insurance. … I was able to mediate a substantial settlement for him with the employer.
You studied international political economy at UC Berkeley. What do you miss most about Berkeley?
So much. Professors, the Redwoods, losing myself in the stacks. I spent a lot of time in the library. Probably most, the camaraderie in this co-op I lived in, with 150 students, it was formerly a hotel, and we all did so much together. We debated and evolved our own governance rules.
What’s your favorite meal?
Probably the Brazilian Bowl at Sage, a vegan spot in Echo Park. It’s made of pretty simple ingredients, but they’re just put together perfectly. … The part we can’t replicate at home is they have a great house-made green hot sauce.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
These days, definitely it’s not wearing a mask. Or wearing it over your mouth and not nose. And you see members of Congress with their noses out.
Also, on a recent road trip through Arizona, I saw a sign on a gas station front door that crossed out the illustration of a mask, and it read something like, “Forget the New Normal. It’s the Old Normal Here.” Everyone inside was mask-less, and I was enraged.
Who is your political hero?
“Political” is maybe not the best word. But obviously top of mind is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I’ve been reading a lot of her obits. It’s one thing to have moral clarity and vision, which she did. But it’s another to have strategy and tact, to be able to convince people of your ideas. Especially people who staunchly oppose your ideas. But she did it, again and again, with her mostly male colleagues.
What’s your go-to streaming service?
The Criterion Channel, which features older and foreign films.
Which teacher left the biggest impression on you?
I have several professors who come to mind. But the biggest impression was probably made when I was most impressionable. Mr. Bernstein, my high school freshman English teacher. He would visibly be swept up by these enrapturing novels and stories he assigned. … He was also a hilarious storyteller with a wry sense of humor. … I’ll never forget this wild tale he told about the time he and his brother threw all the clocks and watches in the house into the swimming pool. Half the class was convinced it was a true story, and half the class was convinced he made it up.
Of all the places on earth that you haven’t been to, which would you most like to visit?
I’m going to go with Vietnam because friends of mine have raved about its natural beauty, food, caves, jungles, and lakes. And of course the ancient and modern historical sites, which is where I tend to geek out whenever I’m traveling.