Monthly archive February, 2013
Curing Fernweh with Imagination

Curing Fernweh with Imagination

On Christmas Eve in 2008, I watched the sunset at Boudhanath in Kathmandu, Nepal, while hundreds of red-cloaked Buddhist monks chanted evening prayers and others circumambulated the stupa in silent meditation. In a cafe overlooking the scene, my partner and I sipped hot coffee and chatted with a group of monks-in-training, five British guys and one woman, who had come down to the city from a monastery in the Himalayas to indulge in earthly pleasures: beer, rum, coffee, and cigarettes.

The Crossing

The Crossing

When I first read about Bab al-Mandeb — the “Gate of Tears,” where the Red Sea narrows and powerful ocean currents have sunk countless ships over the ages — I knew I wanted to go there. I wanted to be where it all began: where the human race left Africa, spreading out into the world until they filled every corner of it. [From Nowhere magazine]

Is America ‘a Racist Country’?

Is America ‘a Racist Country’?

“America is a racist country,” Mychal Denzel Smith wrote earlier this month in an article at the Nation. Smith called on whites to acknowledge racism’s pervasiveness and eliminate it. I won’t debate the accuracy of Smith's assessment of what America is, and I don’t know whether or not he was using hyperbole to make his point. Either way, however, his demand that white people admit its truth as part of their pledge to fight racism only discourages some of them from doing what the article’s title rightly demands.

New Direction for Israel?

New Direction for Israel?

Dare we dream? After seeing his conservative party alliance shrink from forty-two to thirty-one seats in last month's elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now trying to put together a parliamentary majority. Did these losses chasten him? Will they lead to a real change in his policies? He has certainly made a splash with his first move. His selection of long-time political foe Tzipi Livni as justice minister and, more importantly, as head of the government's official negotiating team (should negotiations ever resume) with the Palestinians, is being praised by some as a potentially important shift and dismissed by others as window dressing. By no means am I now deeply optimistic about the prospects for peace. But at least I'm less pessimistic than I was before the elections. At this point, that's real progress.

Covering (Up) Mental Illness in the Black Community

Covering (Up) Mental Illness in the Black Community

From Metta World Peace to Rudy Eugene, African Americans confronting mental health challenges are often portrayed as isolated examples of crazy or deranged people rather than members of a marginalized community suffering an illness. Beyond the black blogosphere and social networking events, the dismal state of black mental health treatment and awareness hasn’t been adequately covered by mainstream media.

How Do Immigrants Become Americans?

How Do Immigrants Become Americans?

How do diverse societies integrate newcomers? How do they balance the need to develop a sense of community with the desire to maintain one's ancestral culture? Every multiethnic society faces these questions, and those that fail to agree on an approach are doomed to fall apart. In Patriotic Pluralism: Americanization Education and European Immigrants, historian Jeffrey Mirel challenges examines the civic instruction European immigrants received in the first half of the twentieth century.

Second-Generation Success

Second-Generation Success

One of the most valuable things America can do is show the world that a society made up of people from every corner of the globe — where in a generation or two no race will be a majority — can be a place where people can choose to preserve their ancestral cultures even as they truly become one people as Americans. We can serve as an alternative model to societies that reject pluralism, that look to suppress dissent and diversity because their majority believes its culture or beliefs are the only acceptable ones. One report doesn't mean the task has been accomplished. But it does mean that, on an issue of paramount importance for us and for the world, we are on our way.

Judging Lincoln: Thoughts on His Birthday

Judging Lincoln: Thoughts on His Birthday

Yes, it is important to know the full picture of Lincoln. That's what history is about, not hero worship. Nevertheless, I would argue that it's unfair to look at history solely from the perspective of one's own ancestors because doing so implies that what a historical figure does or believes regarding one's own ancestors (broadly defined) matters more than what that person has done or thought regarding all human beings. Additionally, judging people solely on how their views compare to those of the present is equally unhelpful. Who knows how people in 200 years will judge even our most egalitarian ideas today? Whether we are talking about Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, or any historical figure, a person need not be perfect in order to be great.

The Megalomaniac's Shadow

The Megalomaniac’s Shadow

British journalist John Lanchester once famously described writers as being "shy megalomaniacs." I have pondered this somewhat humorous description in an attempt to better understand my own reasons for engaging in this excessively scrutinized profession — might I be a megalomaniac? I've also considered the connections it alludes to between writing, mental health, and pathology. (My interview with Joy Castro, for example, teases at the interplay of these concepts.) Certainly, there are writers who possess an audacious understanding of the value they bring to popular conversation and literary craft, but what is the effect of focusing on public personas that reflect bombast and bravado over consideration and humility? What is obscured by the megalomaniac's shadow?

Charles Albert Poland’s Sacrifice

A Vietnam veteran, Charles Albert Poland drove a school bus in Dale County, Alabama, until January 29, the day Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded that bus and told him to surrender two of the children who were in his care. Poland knew Dykes reasonably well, having recently given him a present of homemade jam and eggs. Rather than accede to Dykes' demand, Poland instead opened the emergency door, located at the bus’s rear, and put himself between the children and the assailant. Dykes shot Poland four times, killing him, while twenty-one children escaped out the back. Let us all be inspired by his sacrifice to do more for others who need our help, whether they live in our own neighborhood or halfway across the world. That’s how we best honor Charles Albert Poland Jr.