The Heart of Everything That Is tells the little-known story of Red Cloud, a ruthless Lakota chief who brought together the warring tribes of the Great Plains to fight the US government and halt its relentless westward expansion.
In her deeply personal account of life in post-earthquake Haiti, journalist Amy Wilentz looks at how outsiders' distorted views of the country have misrepresented its culture and history and encumbered its progress.
South Africans found the unlikeliest of musical heroes in their struggle against apartheid: a Detroit-born, Mexican American guitarist named Sixto Rodriguez. The documentary Searching for Sugar Man traces Rodriguez’s rapid ascent from obscurity in Motown to mythology in Cape Town — and the equally sudden oblivion that followed.
Conservative inflexibility and liberal apathy have endangered the dream of a democratic, secure Jewish state, a prominent American Zionist argues in a new book. But for all his ideas to salvage the two-state solution, Peter Beinart seems really to be documenting its demise.
In a poignant family memoir, veteran journalist Mark Whitaker describes his long road to truth and reconciliation with his parents, a biracial couple brought together by a shared faith and torn apart by their separate frailties.
The Truongs and the Vos escaped war-ravaged Vietnam, but years later, the wounds of unspoken trauma and regrets have not healed. In a story that spans three decades across three countries, Aimee Phan’s debut novel describes the secret history of two families and the shared pain that both unites and divides them.
Best of In The Fray 2012. Long before he was a dissident or president, Václav Havel was a playwright. His plays offer the fullest picture of the late Czech writer’s moral vision, which cast aside ideology in favor of a more authentic, more personal “truth and love.”
I've written a piece for The Atlantic about the hollowness of our modern economy and the effect it has on the working class. Here is an excerpt:
The modern economy privileges the well-educated and highly-skilled, while giving them an excuse to denigrate the people at the bottom (both white and nonwhite) as lazy, untalented, uneducated, and unsophisticated. In a society focused on meritocratic, materialistic success, many well-off Americans from across the political spectrum scorn the white working class in particular for holding onto religious superstitions and politically incorrect views, and pity them for working lousy jobs at dollar stores and fast-food restaurants that the better-off rarely set foot in. And when other sources of meaning are hard to come by, those who struggle in the modern economy can lose their sense of self-worth.
It’s the late morning, and my wife Mardena and I are headed back to our hostel in Antalya, a city on Anatolia’s southwestern coast. We’ve just returned from a trip to the archeological museum, where we saw a stunning display of Roman mosaics set out under clear glass walkways. As we duck out of the 111-degree heat and into the hostel’s lobby, we come upon a young man, probably in his early twenties, standing with his head craned forward and eyes fixed on a TV mounted high on the wall. A Turkish news report is discussing the war raging in neighboring Syria. The camera footage shows smoke, rubble, and bombed-out buildings, but I have no idea what the reporter is saying. I ask the young man what is happening. “Assad is bombing Homs,” he says, his eyes still on the screen.
“My family is there,” he adds. “I haven’t been able to talk to them.” He speaks in a flat, almost stoic, tone, with a slight accent to his English. “My sister lives in Homs, but she can’t go out. She’s stuck in her apartment. She can’t get to my parents’ house.”
He glances at us, then turns his eyes back to the TV. “Hezbollah won’t let Syrian refugees into Lebanon,” he says. He pauses a moment, then adds, “Syria would not do that. Syrians are generous people.”Read More →
The Atlantic has published a piece I wrote about living in an extreme meritocracy:
Increasingly sophisticated data-gathering technologies measure performance across very different domains, from how students score on high-stakes tests at school (or for that matter, how they behave in class), to what consumers purchase and for how much, to how dangerous a risk—or tempting a target—a prospective borrower is, based on whatever demographic and behavioral data the credit industry can hoover up.… Statistical models that measure performance have biases that arise from those of their creators. As a result, algorithms are often unfair and sometimes harmful.… But as serious as their shortcomings are, the widespread use of decision-making algorithms points to an even bigger problem: Even if models could be perfected, what does it mean to live in a culture that defers to data, that sorts and judges with unrelenting, unforgiving precision?
Hopewell-Mann is a predominantly Latino neighborhood in the predominantly Latino city of Santa Fe. Close enough to downtown to make it a short commute, yet a world away so that tourism doesn’t quite reach it, it’s a stark reminder of some of the inequalities present in this city. While the stunning adobe architecture downtown looks like it’s been preserved in aspic, Hopewell-Mann’s main drag is lined with big-box stores, fast-food restaurants, and cheap motels offering month-to-month leases. The neighborhood attracts a mix of the transient and the locally displaced, and not surprisingly, people downtown tend to avoid it.
Earlier in the year, I was a writer in residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute, which is located in Hopewell-Mann. One day, I asked a friend to drop me off at the mall downtown, where I needed to pick up a few essentials. From there, I planned to catch a bus and take the scenic route back home.
Calvin and Raul waiting at the bus stopWhen I finished my shopping, I headed over to the bus stop—which took several minutes to locate, thanks to its inconspicuous signage. When I got there, I saw the back of a white-and-blue city bus trundling into the distance. I’d missed it by seconds. According to the timetable, the next bus wouldn’t be for another hour. I was stuck. Just then, the rain began to pour.Read More →
It’s a small coffee shop, a Shingle-style shack with blue trim, listed by Yelp as one of Laguna Beach’s best. Cookies and biscotti lie in a basket in front of the order window. The barista, an upbeat blonde woman in her late fifties, early sixties, comes over to me. As I’m trying to choose what flavor to put in my coffee, we start talking. She finds out I’m from Phoenix and asks what brought me to Laguna.
“My friend passed away two weeks ago. I’m here to clear my head,” I tell her. Hal, a pastor, was one of the first friends I’d made after moving to Phoenix a year and a half ago with my fiancé. He had helped us through some tough times.
She’s curious about where my accent is from. I tell her I was born in Iran. “But I have lived here longer than I have lived there,” I quickly add.
It’s a cool, sunny November morning. As she’s making my coffee, the woman spots the book I’m carrying in my hand, The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, by Hooman Majd. She asks me what it’s about. I tell her it was written by an Iranian immigrant who had left Iran when he was eight months old. When he turned fifty, he decided to go looking for his grandmother’s house halfway around the world, hoping to find his roots. He found the area, the familiar scents, the leftover mud walls. But he couldn’t find the actual house.
His story is not much different from mine, I say. Several years ago, I visited the neighborhood where my family used to live in Tehran. For the first time in more than two decades, I walked our old block, looking for the home I had grown up in. But it wasn’t there anymore.Read More →
This weekend, low-wage workers from around the country will be arriving in my city, Richmond, to make a case for increasing the minimum wage. It’s the first-ever national convention for the Fight for $15 movement, which in the past few years has launched wide-ranging strikes and protests to raise awareness about how a $7.25-an-hour wage—the current federal minimum—just doesn’t cut it for many workers struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their families.
There’s a long line of economic arguments in favor of, and opposed to, increases in the minimum wage. Among other things, opponents say it will raise prices for consumers, cause employers to slash jobs or cut back on workers’ hours, and put many companies out of business. Advocates say it will help the economy by giving workers more money to spend in their communities, encouraging the unemployed to seek out work, and reducing the stress and anxiety the working poor deal with, as well as their reliance on government benefits.
As important as the economic impacts of this policy are, however, it’s even more important to consider its cultural and moral implications. After all, that’s what drives much of the widespread public support for increasing the minimum wage, even among people who have never heard of, say, the elasticities of labor supply and demand. Many Americans just don’t think it is right that people who work hard should have to struggle so hard.Read More →