Essay, Headline »

Why the Planet Should Fear North Korean Nuclear Testing

By | November 28, 2017

Fishermen in Japan peer wearily into the skies, fearful of the North Korean foreign minister’s recent warning that Pyongyang may conduct an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific. Earlier this fall, sirens and “J-alerts” sent to millions of cell phones terrified Japanese citizens as two North Korean ballistic missile tests flew over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.
The North Korean threat to launch another …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

Why Americans Love Diners

By | November 27, 2017

Driving north on Route 95 through Connecticut, I noticed a billboard advertising a local diner. Its immense letters spelled out: “Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free and Diner Classics.” I knew a seismic shift had occurred when Blue Plate Specials—hands-down favorites for nearly a century such as meat loaf, hot turkey sandwiches, and spaghetti and meatballs—were last on a list of diner offerings.
Over their long history, diners …

Headline, Poetry »

O the mornings I wasted/ Reading about how to give birth #poem

By | November 24, 2017

This matzah ball soup
Reminds me of my grandmother
I’m so close to her here in Brooklyn city of her birth
Darling as she called everyone
Let’s be sentimentalists together
And forget about her personality disorder
Forget her in the attic on St Marks Avenue
Thinking her baby was a bouquet of flowers
Instead regard the mama bird
Feeding her openmouthed chicks
Who is the worm I am the …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

How Norway Taught Me to Balance My Hyphenated-Americanness

By | November 20, 2017

During the year I spent studying at the university in Trondheim, Norway, I sometimes learned more about my own country than Norway. One day, in my immigration studies class, my professor David Mauk, who hailed from Ohio, asked, “What does it mean to be American?”
I braced myself to hear the usual stereotypes from the news from the Norwegian students in my class. Then the …

Essay, Headline »

Want to Take My Civics Class? Get Ready to Squirm

By | November 17, 2017

In many conversations, the topic of civics education comes with its own halo. The conventional wisdom is that it’s good, clean medicine, and if our children just get enough of its inoculation, the American body politic will be healthy enough to survive another generation.
But after nearly two decades as a middle-school and high-school history teacher, I’ve come to understand through teaching civics—and studying how it’s …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

Can a Corrupt Politician Become a Good President?

By | November 16, 2017

“Who you are, what you are, it doesn’t change after you occupy the Oval Office,” President Barack Obama said during the 2016 election campaign. “It magnifies who you are. It shines a spotlight on who you are.”
But at least one man was transformed by the presidency: Chester Alan Arthur. Arthur’s redemption is all the more remarkable because it was spurred, at least in part, …

Essay, Headline »

Surviving Managua’s Government Crackdowns and Torrential Rains

By | November 15, 2017

On an overcast afternoon, Julio Baldelomar carries his metal ring of bagged chips past a new tourist attraction called Paseo Xolotlán, named for the nearly Los Angeles-sized lake on Managua, Nicaragua’s north side. Families flock to the high-walled complex to see a miniature replica of old Managua and walk on the waterfront promenade. But 31-year-old Julio is not allowed to enter while he’s hawking the …

Essay, Headline »

American Populism Shouldn’t Have to Embrace Ignorance

By | November 14, 2017

Public ignorance is an inherent threat to democracy. It breeds superstition, prejudice, and error; and it prevents both a clear-eyed understanding of the world and the formulation of wise policies to adapt to that world.
Plato believed it was more than a threat: He thought it characterized democracies, and would lead them inevitably into anarchy and ultimately tyranny. But the liberal democracies of the modern …

Headline, What It Means to Be American »

The Southern Writers Who Defined America

By | November 13, 2017

Tell about the South. What’s it like there? What do they do there? Why do they live there? Why do they live at all?
           —Shreve McCannon, to Quentin Compson
Struggling in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! to field these questions, flung at him by his Harvard roommate on a snowy evening in 1910, the young Mississippian Quentin Compson plunges into the history of …

Essay, Headline »

We Shouldn’t Rely on Politicians to Memorialize Our Fallen Soldiers

By | November 10, 2017

Five U.S. infantry soldiers died on June 21, 2007, when their 30-ton Bradley tracked vehicle hit a deep-buried bomb in Adhamiyah, Iraq.
I was embedded as a reporter with their unit when they died, and I watched as the men who served with them rallied.
They reached out to the mothers and fathers and wives, offering and seeking comfort, but also saying what they believed needed to …