Author Archive

A Proven Way to Prevent Cancer versus Ideology. Guess Who Wins?

The evidence from the CDC is clear. This vaccine saves lives by the thousands — women and men. But ideology and unproven fears are preventing many more from getting immunized. My hope is that parents will take a hard look at the science and realize that any fears they have about teenage sex pale in comparison to the very real danger of their children dying from a disease that could have easily been prevented.

A Cross-cultural Movement Emerges

Joe Maddon and his colleagues at the Hazleton Integration Project are working at a grassroots level to improve their city and overcome its ethnic divides. I can't think of worthier goals.

Time To Go Nuclear

Republicans in the U.S. Senate have routinely used the filibuster — and the threat of the filibuster — to deny President Obama and the Democrats their legislative agenda. It's time to go nuclear. The facts that Goldman's study lays out make it clear that Senate Republicans don't believe Democrats, even when they win an election, should be allowed to govern. After the last election, Reid agreed to modest measures of "filibuster reform" that Republicans promptly ignored. Now it's time to call out their strategy of blanket obstruction for what it is: the subversion of democracy.

After London’s Terrorist Killing, Asking the Big ‘Why?’

What is it that makes people capable of hacking another human being to death on a peaceful street? The question is not easy to answer. What it comes down to, I suspect, is a combination of hate and fear, which feed upon each other. The violence begets more violence, a vicious cycle of bloodshed that becomes increasingly difficult to halt. What I can say with more certainty, though, is that we should be highly suspicious of anyone who claims to have a simple answer.

When Our Information Changes

When Our Information Changes

It's rare to see a macroeconomics experiment play out in real time in the way we are seeing it right now in Japan and Europe. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on aggressive measures to stimulate Japan's long-moribund economy since he took office in December, and the result so far has been strong growth — and, perhaps, liftoff after a triple-dip recession. Europe, on the other hand, remains mired in the muck of austerity and economic contraction.

The Blunter Edge of the Racial Wedge

The Blunter Edge of the Racial Wedge

For the sake of this country's multiethnic democracy, I want Republicans to do better among nonwhite voters. A society where ethnicity defines the political parties is doomed to disaster. The political process becomes a zero-sum game where each ethnic group fights for its share of the pie. Any commitment to a broader common good is lost, as is any sense that citizens of different backgrounds can come together and feel a strong patriotic bond.

Civilization and Its Peacemakers

Civilization and Its Peacemakers

After protracted, months-long negotiations, Kosovo and Serbia recently agreed to a compromise on sovereignty and autonomy that would end two decades of conflict. In extinguishing the last embers of war in what was Yugoslavia — the volatile, ethnically divided nation where the assassination of an Austrian archduke launched World War I, and where civil war throughout the nineties led to ethnic cleansing and other atrocities — Europe is nearing the end of its long journey to overcome its tribal enmities and build a cohesive, peaceful civilization.

These hopeful developments overseas have been on my mind recently. This semester, I've been teaching a course on the debate within the West over human nature: What are we? What can we be? Why do we act the way we do?

The Prejudices We Permit

The Prejudices We Permit

Prejudice can kill. George Zimmerman saw a young black male wearing a hoodie, and made a decision that reflected the dictionary definition of prejudice — a "preconceived judgment or opinion … An adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge." Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator of a gated community in Sanford, Florida, didn't know Trayvon Martin, the teenager he followed. Martin didn't do anything specific that would have been suspicious to an unprejudiced observer. He was unarmed and gave no indication that he harbored criminal intent of any kind. Zimmerman simply prejudged him. And it cost Martin — a seventeen-year-old out to buy some Skittles — his life.

Prejudice killed Trayvon Martin. But there are other, less obvious forms of prejudice, ones that even those of us who would rightly condemn a man like Zimmerman might be tempted to practice and justify.

Lions Lying Down with Lambs

Lions Lying Down with Lambs

Rather than taking his crimes with him to the grave, Elwin Wilson repented. Rather than indulge the impulse for vengeance, John Lewis forgave. We could all learn from their example.

‘I Love My Culture and My People’

‘I Love My Culture and My People’

Feeling connected to my country and to all its citizens is consistent with my progressive beliefs, in particular because Americanness can be — even though it hasn’t always been — an inclusive form of national identity. Americanness can offer a model whereby people of every imaginable background see themselves as part of a single community, a model that stands in powerful contrast to fundamentalism and hate. That's the kind of identity that builds bridges rather than walls. And that’s the kind of America I can wholeheartedly love.

Hate and Extremism: An Annual Report

Hate and Extremism: An Annual Report

The topline numbers in the recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center are not good. There are now more hard-right, antigovernment “Patriot” groups than there were at the movement’s previous heyday in the mid-1990s. The number of hate groups identified by the SPLC has been on a steady climb over the past dozen years.

The Art of Race War

The Art of Race War

The fear of a race war is clearly delusional, but it draws strength from the half-truths and outlandish comments that reverberate in the partisan media's echo chamber. For example, black nationalist leader Louis Farrakhan said in a recent interview that the film Django Unchained — a fictional account of a freed slave seeking retribution — is “preparation for a race war.” Conservative media — from Rush Limbaugh to Fox News to Breitbart.com — breathlessly spread word of Farrakhan’s remarks. With pundits so willing to piece together high-level conspiracies out of random shouts and murmurs, it’s no wonder our politics have become so toxic.

Muslims Defend Free Speech of Anti-Muslim Extremist

Diversity isn’t easy. It’s even harder in countries like Denmark that have, until recently, had very few immigrants from Muslim countries. When you add religion to the mix of language and culture, it’s still harder. Throw in the tensions between Muslims and the West in a post-9/11 world, and now you’re talking about a really daunting challenge. But it is a challenge Europeans, Americans, and every diverse society must overcome. And seeing this kind of progress in Denmark, coming from some of the same people who were at the center of fomenting violence in 2006 — well, that gives me reason to hope.

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.

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.

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.