Headline, What It Means to Be American »

When Halloween Mischief Turned to Mayhem

By | October 26, 2017

Imagine. Pre-electricity, no moon. It’s late October, and the people whisper: This is the season for witchery, the night the spirits of the dead rise from their graves and hover behind the hedges.
The wind kicks up, and branches click like skeletal finger bones. You make it home, run inside, wedge a chair against the door, and strain to listen. There’s a sharp rap at …

Headline, The Takeaway »

Before Going to War in North Korea, Try Understanding the Place First

By | October 25, 2017

With schoolyard taunts hurtling between Washington and Pyongyang, and fears of nuclear Armageddon escalating from Seoul to Tokyo to Los Angeles, the once-unthinkable idea of a military showdown between North Korea and the United States has become frighteningly plausible.
On an October evening when many Angelenos were pondering the opening game of the World Series rather than end-of-the-world scenarios, a Zócalo/UCLA panel discussion explored the question, …

Essay, Headline »

Today’s Mass Killings Shouldn’t Distort Our Assessment of Everyday Risk

By | October 24, 2017

In the midst of the Second Intifada, in summer 2001, I was living in the dorms at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Normally bustling streets were nearly empty. Signs in store windows offered discounts for the “brave tourists” who ventured inside despite the growing violence and tension. Being constantly on alert exhausted me, a short-term visitor insulated from many of the complexities of what was unfolding. …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Positive Symbol of American Power!

By | October 23, 2017

I can’t really remember when I first encountered Superman. It might have been through the 1950s television series The Adventures of Superman, or it might have been in a Superman comic book—not an American comic book, but a black and white reprint, by the Australian publisher K. G. Murray.
Growing up in Australia, I learned the basic stories of American history from the pages of …

Essay, Headline »

Bitcoin Is an Energy-Wasting Ponzi Scheme

By | October 20, 2017

Digital currencies, in their current form, should be prohibited by law. And not because they are a Ponzi scheme (which they are), and not because they can help facilitate criminal activity (which they do), but because they incur colossal social waste.
This waste is energy. The media organization Diginomics estimates that the energy consumption to fuel bitcoin is equivalent to the consumption of just under …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

When Black Texans Gathered Under “Thursday Night Lights”

By | October 19, 2017

I had only been in and out of Houston since leaving our Sunnyside neighborhood on the city’s southeast side, in 1968, to begin eight years of Air Force service. Whenever I returned, I made only casual note of neighborhood and city changes, such as the sad state of the mom-and-pop “candy store” where we used to hang out after school, now boarded up, or a …

Essay, Headline »

The Invention and Evolution of the Concentration Camp

By | October 18, 2017

Before the first prisoner entered the Soviet Gulag, before “Arbeit macht frei” appeared on the gates of Auschwitz, before the 20th century had even begun, concentration camps found their first home in the cities and towns of Cuba.
The earliest modern experiment in detaining groups of civilians without trial was launched by two generals: one who refused to bring camps into the world, and one …

Essay, Headline »

What Losing a War Does to a Nation’s Psyche

By | October 17, 2017

In the spring of 1976, while visiting the Tokyo Zoo, I was confronted with the unforgettable sight of an aging former Japanese soldier, wearing a ragged army uniform and cap, and bowing before all who entered.
One of his legs had been amputated. A begging bowl before him, he bowed as low as he could to Japanese families coming to see the newly arrived pandas. …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

A Short History of the Idea of ‘Main Street’ in America

By | October 16, 2017

In the United States, Main Street has always been two things—a place and an idea. As both, Main Street has embodied the contradictions of the country itself.
It is the self-consciousness of the idea of Main Street—from its origins in a Nathaniel Hawthorne sketch of New England, to Walt Disney’s construction of a Main Street USA, to the establishment of ersatz Main Streets in …

Headline, The Takeaway »

California’s Housing Crisis Is a Nasty Intersection of the State’s Worst Problems

By | October 13, 2017

California’s sky-high housing prices haven’t just made it hard to find and afford a place to live. They’ve put pressures on the economy, the environment, transportation, and health that threaten the California dream itself, said panelists at a Zócalo/AARP event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Los Angeles.
The event—entitled “Are Housing Prices Destroying the California Dream?”—brought together a scholar, a politician, …