English Rules — Ta-Nehisi Coates on the power of the common language.
My class at Alliance Française is international. The students come from Italy, Spain, Japan, Korea, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Brazil, Venezuela, Germany, China, Australia and everywhere else. Virtually everyone here is learning their third language–and many are on their fourth. There was a young lady in my class a few weeks ago who spoke Spanish, Catalan and English. All I could think about was how 10 years ago I didn’t even know what Catalan was, how I thought that all European countries were united in language. They are white so (unlike us) they must be united, n’est-ce pas?
In his lectures, the historian John Merriman said that as late as 1789, only 50 percent of the people in France spoke “French.” In the west along the Atlantic coast, it might have been Breton. In Normandy it might have been a patois. Further north it could have been Flemish. In Alsace or Lorraine, Merriman says you could have asked someone “What are you?” and they might reply “I am French”–in German. These are the sorts of things you miss when you can only picture Europe as a unified unerring mass of white folks.I am the only person in the class who speaks only one language. I tell my friends there that I wish more people in America spoke two or three languages. They can’t understand. They tell me English is the international language. Why would an American need to know anything else? Their pursuit of language is not abstract intellectualism. A command of English opens job opportunities.I am getting some small notion of what it feels like to be white in America. What my classmates are telling me is that the Anglophone world is the international power. It dominates. Thus knowledge is tangibly necessary for them in a way that it is not for me. Of course the flip-side of this calculus is that power enables ignorance. Black people know this well. We live in a white world. We know the ways of white folks because a failure to master them is akin to the failure of my classmates to learn English. Your future dims a little. The good slave will always know the master in ways that the good master can never know the slave.
Congress has closed for a five-week vacation, leaving the rest of us to figure out what happened in the several days of yelling about bills that no one was willing to pass, and to ask whether there is anything left of the Republican Party. The best approach might be to put together a diagram of who hates whom in the G.O.P., except that the drawing would get too messy; you’d need an Etch A Sketch and, like Mitt Romney, after a while you’d just want to shake it.
To start simply: John McCain hates Rand Paul, so much that he suggested, to The New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner, that he might prefer Hillary Clinton for President. Chris Christie hates Rand Paul, so much so that he said he was not interested in having a beer with him. Rand Paul seems to hate Chris Christie, since he called him the King of Bacon and mocked him to an audience in Tennessee by saying, “Gimme, gimme, gimme—give me all my Sandy money now.” But then Christie had compared Paul to Charles Lindbergh—for his isolationism, not the aviation. What was strange about the Paul-Christie spat was that Charles Krauthammer and other observers spoke of it solemnly, as though it was the intellectual engagement on the future of foreign policy that the G.O.P. had been longing for. Really what we were talking about was Christie saying that libertarians like Paul ought to come to Jersey and sit across from a 9/11 widow before saying that the N.S.A. shouldn’t collect all the information it wants to.
The other event of the week that was spoken of in similar terms was the Senate’s collective primal scream at Rand Paul when he introduced an amendment to take away Egypt’s foreign aid and to use the money on infrastructure at home. He lost, by a count of eighty-six to thirteen, after the debate was extended so that everyone had a chance to tell him that he was awful and would destroy America’s power. The tally would have been more “lopsided,” Dana Milbank wrote, except that “in the final seconds of the roll call and after the outcome was obvious, a bloc of six GOP lawmakers led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) quietly cast their votes with Paul—not in agreement with him but in fear of the tea party voters who adore him.” So there are also the people who hate Paul because they have to pretend to like him.
Carl Hiaasen records Edward Snowden’s first day of freedom in Russia.
An absolutely true news item: After spending a month confined inside a Moscow airport, former U.S. intelligence contractor and NSA leaker Edward J. Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
Sweet freedom, at last!
I thought I’d never get out of that crummy terminal. After a month of gagging on Cinnabon fumes, even this sooty Moscow air smells like daisies.
Today I walk the streets a free man, accompanied by my two new best friends, Anatoly and Boris. They do NOT work for the KGB, OK? They’re professional tour guides who came strongly recommended by President Vladimir Putin.
By the way, Vlad (that’s what he told me to call him) has been a totally righteous dude about this whole fugitive-spy thing, unlike a certain uncool American president, who keeps trying to have me arrested and prosecuted for espionage.
The Russians have generously given me a Wi-Fi chip and free Internet, so I can go online anytime I want and see what the world is saying about me. A recurring theme in many blogs and chat rooms seems to be: What was that kid thinking?
First of all, I believe with all my heart that Americans have the right to know about the far-reaching surveillance tactics employed by our government to monitor its own citizens. I also believe I’ve restarted an important debate about national security and privacy.
Could I have handled this whole thing differently? Sure. In retrospect, there’s definitely something to be said for anonymity.
But, hey, cut me some slack. I’m only 29 and this was my first time leaking classified intelligence data.
I’ll be the first to admit that my plan wasn’t 100 percent seamless. For example, I should have figured out what new place I wanted to live in before I revealed my identity as the leaker. Clearly, I underestimated how difficult it would be to find a country that would welcome me, especially a country as free and open as the United States.
Doonesbury — Dumb and dumber.