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Emojis Don’t Give Meaning to Our Deepest Feelings

By | August 7, 2017

It’s been 35 years since Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, urged users of an online bulletin board to add two character sequences to their messages: ‘:-)’ to mark jokes; and ‘:-(‘ to indicate the preceding text was not meant humorously. The smiley (or emoticon) was born.
A mythology grew up around the importance of inserting graphic elements at the ends of written …

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What the “Crowd-Work” Economy Taught Me About Community

By | August 4, 2017

If you’ve never heard of Amazon Mechanical Turk, my workplace of the last 11 years, you’re not alone. Most people know about Amazon—the massive conglomerate where you can do everything from buy a book to put your online store into the cloud. Fewer know about Mechanical Turk, the crowd-work platform Amazon owns and runs. But mTurk is worth knowing about. Amazon claims that more than …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

How the Kellogg Brothers Taught America to Eat Breakfast

By | August 3, 2017

The popular singer and movie star Bing Crosby once crooned, “What’s more American than corn flakes?” Virtually every American is familiar with this iconic cereal, but few know the story of the two men from Battle Creek, Michigan who created those famously crispy, golden flakes of corn back in 1895, revolutionizing the way America eats breakfast: John Harvey Kellogg and his younger brother Will Keith …

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How Southern Rock Reclaims Regional Identity While Facing Down Old Ghosts

By | August 2, 2017

The South spawned rock ’n’ roll. Some scholars pin its arrival to the first week of March, 1951, in Memphis, Tennessee. There, in the studio run by record producer, label chief, and talent scout Sam Phillips, the rhythm-and-blues bandleader Ike Turner cut a jump-blues inspired paean to “oozin and cruisin’” in a sleek black convertible called “Rocket 88.” Phillips, of course, would later discover Elvis …

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Why Building More Freeways Makes Traffic Worse, Not Better

By | August 1, 2017

In 1865, British economist William Stanley Jevons wrote an influential essay entitled “The Coal Question.” Today his insights are interesting to me not as they relate to coal, but rather as they relate to me sitting in the legendary traffic of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles during my morning commute.
Jevons’ observations on coal also have something to say about the Oshiya (train pushers) who …

Connecting California, Headline, Joe Mathews »

Will California’s Housing Shortage Epidemic Infect the Rest of the West?

By | July 31, 2017

Sorry, Utah.
And apologies to the rest of the West. California’s epidemic shortage of housing hasn’t just sickened our own state—by driving up prices, forcing residents into rentals and onto the street, and putting a $140 billion annual drag on the Golden State’s economy. The disease is spreading to our neighbors, too.
Today, every significant city in the Western United States is experiencing a minor league …

Headline, Nexus »

How African Americans Emerged from Slavery with a Hunger for Education

By | July 28, 2017

The focus of my research and writing is women’s involvement in higher education, especially women from the Pentecostal and Holiness faith traditions. While conducting research on African American female seminaries, I found myself reaching back to a very rich yet little-known history of educational efforts by African Americans both during and after slavery. The narratives of those days should remind us just how stubborn and …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

An L.A. Woman Embraces Her Ancestral New Orleans Home

By | July 27, 2017

Zigzagging through the crush of rush-hour commuters at L.A.’s Union Station, I’m hoping to make up for lost time. Suddenly, out of the edges of my vision, a man crosses in front of me, planting himself directly in my path. In a broad-brimmed Panama hat, cream-colored slacks and shoes to match, he’s a vision of not just another place, but another era.
“Where you from?” …

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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 …

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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 …