Headline, What It Means to Be American »

The Slave Gardener Who Turned the Pecan Into a Cash Crop

By | December 14, 2017

Pecan trees, armored with scaly, gray bark and waving their green leaves in the breeze, grow in neat, uniform rows upon the Southern U.S. landscape and yield more than 300 million pounds of thumb-sized, plump, brown nuts every year. Native to the United States, they’ve become our most successful home-grown tree nut crop. Hazelnuts originated here too, but they come from a shrub, which can …

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Will Squid Soon Rule the Oceans?

By | December 13, 2017

The future is full of tentacles.
Even now, both giant and colossal squid writhe throughout the deep, while hooked and flying squid migrate from sea to sea in swirling swarms. Otherworldly glass squid and jewel squid proliferate in the open ocean. And market and common squid blanket shorelines with their egg capsules and their own dying bodies.
Then, of course, there are the octopuses: giant and pygmy, …

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Depression Isn’t Just a Global Epidemic. It’s a Silent One.

By | December 12, 2017

Depression is still the illness that dares not speak its name. Taboos persist. Social stigmas endure. Many confounding mysteries remain about exactly what causes depression and how best to treat it—even though it affects tens of millions of people worldwide, and even as the number of suicides globally has soared to 1 million.
Those painful realities formed the backdrop to a Zócalo/UCLA event titled “How Can …

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When Alaskan and Russian Native People Thawed the Cold War’s ‘Ice Curtain’

By | December 8, 2017

As the Russian city of Provideniya’s deteriorating concrete buildings came into view below, Darlene Pungowiyi Orr felt uneasy. So did the other 81 passengers landing in that isolated far-eastern Soviet outpost in 1988.
They were aboard the first American commercial jet to land there since the United States and USSR had imposed a Cold War “Ice Curtain” across the Bering Sea some 40 years earlier. Orr, …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

Why We French Canadians Are Neither French nor Canadian

By | December 7, 2017

Whenever my family visits Québec, people other than our relatives are surprised to hear Americans—even our grandchildren, ages five and six—speak fluent French. They’re amazed to learn that French is our mother tongue and that we also speak English without a French accent. Likewise, if we leave our native New Hampshire to travel elsewhere in the United States, we get blank stares upon mentioning that …

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Why Poor Americans Are So Patriotic

By | December 6, 2017

Why do the worst-off American citizens love their country so much?
Patriotism may be defined as a belief in the greatness, if not superiority, of one’s country relative to others. Depending on how one defines the term exactly, somewhere between 85 to 90% of America’s poor are “patriotic.” They would rather be citizens of their country, for instance, than of any other country on Earth, and …

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Treason Isn’t Just a Crime—It’s a Sin of the Heart

By | December 5, 2017

If you’re looking to nail someone for treason these days, don’t talk to a lawyer. The answer you’ll get will be short and likely disappointing: It’s hard to convict someone of treason and chances are the actions you’re describing won’t qualify for the charge. But if what you’re really trying to express is an emotional response, you’re better off turning to 14th-century Italian literature, not …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

When Burlap Underwear Was Fashionable

By | December 4, 2017

In 1928, when President Calvin Coolidge visited Chicago, the ladies of a Presbyterian church presented him with a set of pajamas made from flour sacks dyed lavender and finished with silk frogs and pearl buttons in appreciation of his program on economy and thrift.
It seems surprising now, but once the use of cloth feed bags for clothing and household items was a part of …

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Hiking Wisconsin With ‘Ghosts’ of the Ice Age

By | December 1, 2017

In “Marshland Elegy,” an essay in A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold described a dawn wind slowly rolling a bank of fog across a Wisconsin marsh. “Like the white ghost of a glacier,” he wrote, “the mists advance, riding over phalanxes of tamaracks, sliding across bog-meadows heavy with dew.” It’s a haunting image that enthralls me each time I read the essay. Even if you’re …

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Forget Fake News. Social Media Is Making Democracy Less Democratic.

By | November 29, 2017

Anxieties that new communications technologies and media formats would undermine democratic citizenship go back more than a century. In the late 19th century, critics worried about sensationalistic “yellow journalism”; a cartoon from that era even used the phrase “fake news. And indeed the newly cheap mass newspapers—in reckless disregard of facts—helped push the United States into war with Spain in 1898.
A generation later, …