Featured, The Takeaway »

Hawaii’s Identity Is Powerful–and Endangered

By | July 26, 2017

America’s youngest state, Hawaii, isn’t known for making Texas-sized boasts about its greatness, or for aggressively pushing its brand on its neighbors, the way that, say, Florida and California do.
Yet Hawaii may have the strongest sense of identity of any U.S. state—a fierce cultural pride and feeling of exceptionalism that flow from its unique island heritage.
That was the premise of a Smithsonian/Zócalo “What It …

Headline, Nexus »

How This Journalist Is Surviving Mexico’s Drug Wars

By | July 26, 2017

In early 2007 I lost a plane ticket that I had purchased to travel to Africa. My plan was to arrive in Nairobi and stay two months, since the World Social Forum was scheduled to be held there in February of that year. I hoped to obtain some interesting insights, as well as personal contacts that would let me take the first steps toward becoming …

Headline, Nexus »

Why California’s Greatest Historian, Kevin Starr, Couldn’t Get Elected in San Francisco

By | July 25, 2017

Kevin Starr is widely regarded as California’s pre-eminent historian—a prolific author and public intellectual for nearly 50 years—and his death earlier this year generated much writing about his life and scholarship. But one episode in his life was not widely known or much remembered: his race for San Francisco Supervisor in 1984.
I was a volunteer in that campaign, and got to see firsthand how …

Connecting California, Headline »

Is California an Incubator for New Ideas, or an Insular Bubble?

By | July 24, 2017

California, do you want to be an incubator for great ideas—or a bubble that shuts out the world?
That’s the question Californians need to ask, as we simultaneously confront three big challenges: building a more sustainable economy and future; reckoning with our crisis-level shortages in housing and infrastructure; and protecting ourselves from a deranged Trump administration.
The bubble-or-incubator question is also the best way to understand …

Headline, Poetry »

she has a look that would land her on the front page #poem

By | July 21, 2017

Can I buy a cigarette from you?
she asked.
I paused.
I just wanted coffee.
The weekend commute had been particularly suburban.
She looked like she was going to a pool party
only it was 31st between 7th and somewhere.
Something in the way she took that first drag and held it
made me ask why.
She said she doesn’t smoke, but ..
And took another desperate drag.
She told me she told her boyfriend …

Featured, Nexus »

Sorry, Reading Jane Austen Doesn’t Make You a Better Person

By | July 20, 2017

In 2013, Science published a study with the intriguing title, “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.” The authors (David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano) claimed to have proven that literary fiction—not “genre” fiction, not well-written nonfiction, but literary fiction—develops our “theory of mind,” which means our ability to recognize other peoples’ thoughts and feelings. This ability, in the words of the authors, “allows successful …

Headline, Nexus »

How Sears Industrialized, Suburbanized, and Fractured the American Economy

By | July 20, 2017

The lifetime of Sears has spanned, and embodied, the rise of modern American consumer culture. The 130-year-old mass merchandiser that was once the largest retailer in the United States is part of the fabric of American society.
From its start as a 19th-century mail-order firm, to its heyday on Main Street and in suburban malls, and from its late 20th-century reorientation toward credit and financial …

Featured, Nexus »

Is Our Culture of Empathy Perpetuating Inequality?

By | July 19, 2017

We desperately need more empathy. At least, that’s what we are told—in political rhetoric, in bestselling popular science books, in international development discourse, in feminist and anti-racist activism. Among current political antagonisms, especially the rise of Trumpism, many are worried about the deleterious effects of “empathy erosion.”
Empathy has been touted as a necessary quality in leadership, the solution to a wide range of social …

Featured, Nexus »

No, Empathy Isn’t a Universal Value

By | July 19, 2017

Empathy varies a lot among people, psychological research has found. But it also varies widely among countries and cultures. When my colleagues and I set out to analyze the largest study on empathy ever done—104,365 people from 63 countries—we expected to learn whether the extent to which we tune into others’ emotional cues clearly differs by culture. Instead, we were left with a number of …

Headline, Nexus »

Emmanuel Macron’s Centrist Victory May Only Add Fuel to the Populist Fire

By | July 19, 2017

Last year, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President sparked fears of a worldwide populist revolt. But when Geert Wilders’s right-wing populist Freedom Party finished second in the Dutch general elections in March 2017, and Marine Le Pen was defeated in the run-off of the French presidential elections two months later, some political commentators were quick …

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