Roving thoughts and provocations

America’s Jobless Generation

Jeff Madrick

Karen Kasmauski/Corbis

Our current employment crisis has less to do with technology or globalization than with the administration’s failure to adopt policies to support young workers. Consider the bleak prospects of young people entering the labor force today: the portion of people aged twenty to twenty-four who have jobs has fallen from 72.2 percent in 2000 to just 61.5 percent. Meanwhile, the median earnings of men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four working full-time has fallen by nearly 30 percent since 1973. For women, the median has fallen by 17 percent. As Andy Sum, an economist at Northeastern University who has studied youth unemployment for many years, has shown, if you are out of work or underemployed during those initial years of adulthood, chances are far higher you will be unemployed, poor, or dependent on welfare later on.

What Seamus Heaney Taught Me

Christopher Benfey

Ian Berry/Magnum Photos

Seamus Heaney used to say that the poetry-writing hours of a poet’s day were the easy part; it was what to do with the rest of the day that was a challenge. He decided early on that teaching was something honorable to do with the rest of the day. He took his teaching very seriously, regarding it as a craft, something to be worked at, much like writing.

Snowden in Exile

Amy Knight

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

It is probably unfair to draw comparisons between Edward Snowden and Kim Philby, another Westerner who fled to Russia, whose betrayal of his country as a double agent did unprecedented damage and cost many lives. Snowden was not an agent of a foreign state, and was apparently motivated to divulge NSA secrets to journalists by his indignation at the discovery of the NSA’s pervasive and intrusive eavesdropping program. But the longer Snowden remains in Russia, at the mercy of his Russian hosts, the greater the chances of his ending up like Philby and living the life of a man without a country.

Obama, Syria & the Constitution

David Cole

Reuters/Corbis

Having warned Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in August 2012 that the use of chemical weapons on his own people was a “red line” that would compel the United States to respond with force, President Barack Obama now apparently feels the need to follow through on his threat. In preparation, his diplomats are seeking international backing, with limited success. But while Obama sends his representatives around the world to obtain backing and gain more legitimacy for a US-led military response, he has not sought the approval of the one body whose authority is clearly required: the United States Congress.

Syria: Which Way to Kurdistan?

Hugh Eakin

G. Gubaeva/UNHCR

While the dramatic images of refugees pouring into Northern Iraq are new, Northern Iraq’s troubled relations with Syria—and Syria’s Kurds—are not. As I discovered during a trip to Northern Iraq earlier this month, the war in Syria has lately been anything but a boon to the region. The Barzani government has had to deal with ten times as many Syrian refugees as anticipated a year ago—numbers which have quickly exhausted its political will or administrative capacity to deal with them. And now it faces growing agitation among its own people to enter the war, despite indications that sending in KRG-backed fighters might be disastrous for Kurdish unity in the region.

China: When the Cats Rule

Ian Johnson

Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos

In his novel Cat Country, Lao She produced one of the most remarkable, perplexing, and prophetic works of modern China. On one level it is a work of science fiction—a visit to a country of cat-like people on Mars—that lampoons 1930s China. On a deeper level, the work predicts the terror and violence of the early Communist era and the chaos and brutality that led to Lao She’s own death during the Cultural Revolution. Cat Country is often called a dystopian novel, but when Lao She took his own life, it was an uncannily accurate portrait of the reality around him. Many points still ring true today.

Holding Italy Hostage

Tim Parks

Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters/Corbis

If Nixon had refused to accept impeachment and had tried somehow to hang on to power, he would have been summarily removed. The same goes for any leader in Europe’s main democracies. Most will step down at the first sign of a serious criminal charge against them, aware that their parties will not support someone who damages their cause. The truly disquieting aspect of the present situation in Italy is not so much Berlusconi’s brazenness, but that his blackmail is possible and credible, that he has such complete control over such a large political party, and that he still commands considerable popular support.

Questlove’s Outward Blues

James Guida

Phil Knott/Corbis Outline

Ahmir Thompson’s Mo’ Meta Blues is a hip hop memoir, a now distinct genre within America’s wider memoir boom; Ice-T, Jay-Z, and Prodigy have titles out, and more are coming. But Mo’ Meta Blues is, from what I can tell, the first not by a rapper, and that is just one way that it stands out. Reflective and self-deprecating, Thompson, a drummer who is also known as Questlove, says he’s tasted little hip hop glamor, calling the poor groupies who followed his band “those five guys who wanted to smoke a blunt and talk about recording equipment.” Instead of tales of gritty street life, we get to hear about nose-diving in conversation with Prince.

Turkey’s Women Strike Back

Suzy Hansen

Dado Ruvic/Reuters/Corbis

In June, the protest that began as a tiny demonstration against the destruction of Gezi Park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square morphed into a large-scale, country-wide standoff with the Turkish government that has been followed around the globe. Since then, five people have died, some eight thousand have been injured, and hundreds of professionals, students, and workers have been arrested; still, the protests continue. What hasn’t been much noted abroad is how many of the activists closest to the front lines are women.

Watching Her Drown

Francine Prose

Sony Classics

Cate Blanchett’s performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is so riveting, and the film is so entertaining, that it took me until the day after I saw it to figure out why I’d found the film distasteful. I’ve always had a certain fondness for films about women breaking down, perhaps because madness has always seemed to me the road not taken. But none of the films I’ve admired have made me feel, as Blue Jasmine did, that the heroine is at least partly responsible and is getting what she deserves.