What It Means to Be American »

Amazon Is Nothing New, Even in the 1930s and ‘40s the World Came to My South L.A. Door

By | July 7, 2016

I remember most clearly the things that aren’t here anymore, the things that I saw as a child in our neighborhood in South Los Angeles.
In 1937, when I was seven, we lived in a white, wood frame house on East 61st Street. It had a front lawn and a big backyard with an alley behind it. Main Street was a few feet west, with …

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San Jose’s Insane Winchester Mystery House Was Always Meant to Be Haunted

By | July 5, 2016

Once the United States’ largest private residence and the most expensive to build, today you could almost miss it. The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, sits between the eight lanes of the I-280 freeway, a mobile home park, and the remains of a space age Century 23 movie theater. The world has changed around it, but the mansion remains stubbornly and defiantly what …

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Randy Newman Doesn’t Know Anyone Who Lives in Bel-Air, but He Sure Likes the Trees

By | June 30, 2016

Celebrated American singer/songwriter Randy Newman—the man behind songs including “I Love L.A., “Short People,” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” as well as the scores of many movies, including all three Toy Story films—is a Los Angeles native and the recipient of many honors, including six Grammys, three Emmys, and two Academy Awards. Before being interviewed by Zócalo publisher and founder Gregory Rodriguez at …

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Meet the Other LBJ, Quiet Champion of Causes from Civil Rights to the Environment

By | June 28, 2016

“Somebody else can have Madison Avenue,” Lyndon Johnson once said. “I’ll take Bird”—that is, his wife, Claudia Alta Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson. (She got her elegant nickname as a toddler, when a nanny said she was as “purty as a lady bird.”) The president recognized her political acumen. Not everyone did—or does. When Robert Schenkkan’s play All the Way, about the fight for passage of …

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In 2016, Some Reviewers Still Object to Biographies About “Whiny,” Self-Assured Women

By | June 21, 2016

A hundred years ago, in March 1916, the first biography of Julia Ward Howe was published to general acclaim. Written by Howe’s three daughters, Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910 was the first major biography of an American woman, and set a high standard. In 1917, it received the first Pulitzer Prize for biography; not until 1986 would another biography of an American woman by a woman …

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The Economist’s Adrian Wooldridge Ignores the Intelligentsia, Watches Breaking Bad Instead

By | June 17, 2016

Adrian Wooldridge is The Economist’s management editor and writes the “Schumpeter” column. He was previously based in Washington, D.C., as the Washington bureau chief and author of the “Lexington” column. Among his books are The Right Nation, a study of conservatism in America, co-authored with John Micklethwait, and Masters of Management: How the Business Gurus and Their Ideas Have Changed the World—for Better and for …

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From Dengue Fever to Zika, the Nation-Slaying Power of the Mosquito Spans Centuries

By | June 14, 2016

In recent months, millions of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been at work spreading the Zika virus in South and Central America. This summer, millions more, all capable of conveying the virus, will flit and bite throughout the southern U.S. Congress just approved funding to battle its spread. This is not the first time a mosquito-borne virus has broken loose in the Americas and it will …

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In Colonial America, You Had to Be a Little Nuts to Think Mountaineering Was a Good Idea

By | June 7, 2016

In the spring of 1642, in what was then the Upper Plantation of Massachusetts Bay Colony, later the colony, and still later the state of New Hampshire, Darby Field, a 32-year-old Englishman of Irish descent, was doing something unprecedented in England’s newly-established North American colonies—climbing a mountain.
Field, a resident of the community of Pascataquack (present day Durham, New Hampshire), left no written record of …

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What Herbert Hoover Can Still Teach Us About Capitalism

By | May 31, 2016

From our nation’s inception, Americans have been a forward-looking people— youthful, optimistic, even revolutionary. Progress has been our byword, and the past has often been dismissed as stodgy, if not rudimentary. Few phrases are so thoroughly dismissive as to pronounce, of a person, a trend, or an idea, as, that, or they, are “history.”
This inclination is rooted in a sense of optimism, and the confidence …

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The Epic Bar Fight That Sums Up the Problem with Memorial Day

By | May 26, 2016

On Memorial Day, 1930, Mrs. Mathilda Burling of New York stood before the headstone of her son, Private George B. Burling, Jr. at grave 17, row 29, at the St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France. Burling, an imposing matriarch in a cloche hat and glasses, savored the realization that her decade-long struggle to persuade the government to ensure the right of Gold Star mothers …