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 …

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 …

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 …

Headline, Nexus »

Why We Should Fear Emotionally Manipulative Robots

“Keep going straight here!”
“Err, that’s not what the app is telling me to do.”
“Yes, but it’s faster this way. The app is taking you to the beltway. Traffic is terrible there!”
“Okay. I don’t know these roads.”
So went a conversation with an Uber driver in northern Virginia recently. But imagine it was a self-driving Uber. Would you even have that conversation, or would you be doomed …

Headline, Inquiry »

Is Empathy the 20th Century’s Most Powerful Invention?

By | July 17, 2017

This is a Zócalo Inquiry, Is Empathy the 20th Century’s Most Powerful Invention?

Headline, Nexus »

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Speech Reminds Us That Songs Are for Listening, Not Reading

By | July 14, 2017

“Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.” Homer’s opening to the Odyssey is one of the most well-known lines of what we call literature—but the Greeks called song. This particular translation—by Robert Fitzgerald with an added “oh”—puts Homer somewhere between singing and storytelling. And now, taking his seat next to Homer, at least according to the 2016 Nobel prize committee for literature, is Bob …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

What Grandaddy Taught Me About Race in America

By | July 13, 2017

I lived most of my childhood convinced that my grandfather, Calvin Muldrow, was Superman. On summer evenings, I’d perch atop his knee as we sat on the creaky back porch of his red brick house in North Little Rock. He’d weave elaborate tall tales about his magical excursions gliding over the jungle canopies of Sierra Leone, or wrestling boa constrictors, or floating aloft past my …

Headline, Nexus »

The Weather Scientists Who Can Forecast a National Security Threat

By | July 12, 2017

You’ve probably never heard of the Air Resources Laboratory. I hadn’t until two years ago, when I was hired to preserve a trove of oral histories recorded in the early 1990s. Those audio cassettes held a history of hidden science, full of amazing stories about nuclear explosions, air pollution, and volcanoes. I encountered scientists whose research had strengthened national security, improved emergency response, and protected …

Headline, Nexus »

How Fireworks Helped Spark a Scientific Revolution

By | July 11, 2017

Night falls. A crowd assembles. A kaleidoscope of exploding colors and noise entertains us to the sound of oohs and aahs. All around the world, throughout the year, fireworks dazzle, as pyrotechnic performers create a wide assortment of patterns in the dark sky—from starbursts to smiley faces. Fireworks mostly seem to be a matter of beauty and awe. But in previous eras, fireworks had a …