Having visited several American cities in recent weeks and talked to public servants, business leaders, community activists, and academics about current urban stresses and strains, it is difficult not to conclude that they face deeply troubling challenges. The riots in West Baltimore in April and May 2015 are only the most recent in a long line of outbreaks of urban violence suggesting that all is not well.
The Wells Report besmirched the reputation of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, concluding that the NFL ‘golden boy’ was likely aware that he was playing with under-inflated footballs in the 2015 AFL conference game against the Indianapolis Colts. If the report is to be believed, even Brady has stooped to less-than-savory methods to win a game of football. There are a range of opinions about Brady’s innocence, offered by nearly every sports commentator and former football player.
Fifty years ago during their North American tour, The Beatles played to the largest audience in their career against the backdrop of a nation shattering along economic, ethnic, and political lines. Although on the surface the events of August 1965 would seem unconnected, they nevertheless illustrate how the world was changing and how music reflected that chaotic cultural evolution.
The idea of social networks is not new, nor is their range of importance: from shared intimacy, to commercial nicety, to revolutionary provocation. At no time do we see more of their range and variety and importance than in the letters of Colonial and Revolutionary America. Letters connected families and friends, facilitated commerce and legal disputes, and turned all of these into a porridge of political transformation. Not only can we read history as part of everyday life, we can see it expressed in language of considerable beauty, grace and virtue.
On 24 July 1847, Brigham Young, the Mormon prophet, entered the Salt Lake Valley with the first company of Latter-day Saint pioneers. They had endured an arduous trek across the American plains after having been forcibly driven from Nauvoo, Illinois. Entering the Salt Lake Valley, Latter-day Saints expressed both bitterness and joy.
Beginning in the early 1960s, a Calvinist scholar named Rousas John Rushdoony started a movement called “Christian Reconstruction.” Rushdoony sought to develop a “biblical worldview” in which every aspect of life is governed by biblical law from the Old and New Testaments. The movement has been influential in some very conservative corners of American Christianity, especially the religious right.
Guns, ammunition, bootlegged liquor, illegal drugs, counterfeit cash—these are the most common objects that generations of smugglers have carried across the US-Mexico border. Historians of the borderlands, as well as residents of the area, know that government agents on both sides of the line have never been able to gain complete control over this type of trafficking, despite their best efforts. And so, from the late nineteenth century to the present day, the borderlands have been portrayed in popular culture as a site of sin and dissolution, contraband and illicit trade.
Are Christians persecuted in America? For most of us this seems like a preposterous question; a question that could only be asked by someone ginning up anger with ulterior motives. No doubt some leaders do intentionally foster this persecution narrative for their own purposes, and it’s easy to dismiss the rhetoric as hyperbole or demagoguery, yet there are conservative Christians all across the country who genuinely believe they experience such persecution.
Award-winning director Liz Garbus has made a compelling, if sometimes troubling, documentary about a compelling and troubling figure—the talented and increasingly iconic performer, Nina Simone. The title, What Happened, Miss Simone?, comes from an essay that Maya Angelou wrote in 1970. In the opening seconds of the film, excerpts from Angelou’s words appear: “Miss Simone, you are idolized, even loved, by millions now. But what happened, Miss Simone?”
Election Day is more than a year away, yet already the presidential campaigns have begun. Given previous contests, we should most likely expect a good deal of disingenuous diatribes and debates—some of it from the candidates, and even more of it from their supporters. In anticipation of the coming ugliness, it seems as good a time as any to learn something about civil disagreement and the possibilities of persuasion from an unlikely source: the Puritans.
John Paul Jones died in Paris on this day in 1792, lonely and forgotten by the country he helped bring into existence. Shortly before his death, he began to lose his appetite. Then his legs began to swell, and then his abdomen, making it difficult for him to button his waistcoat and to breath.
In the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, a few media outlets reinforced the public perception that Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) were mostly white. Jimmy Kimmel asked on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, “Are there black Mormons? I find that hard to believe.”
Amid Fourth of July parades and fireworks, I found myself asking this: why do we call this day ‘Independence Day’ rather than ‘Revolution Day?’ The short answer,of course, is that on 4 July, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a day that has been commemorated since 1777.
“When I went to the Iv’ry Coast, about thirty years ago, I remember coming off the plane and just being assaulted with not only the heat but the color.” These were the first words of the most moving story I have ever heard—but it wasn’t the story I was there to collect. For me, the best oral histories are the ones that sound a human chord, stories that blur the spaces between historically significant narrative and personal development.
On 9 July 1755, British troops under the command of General Edward Braddock suffered one of the greatest disasters of military history. Braddock’s Defeat, or the Battle of the Monongahela, was the most important battle prior to the American Revolution, carrying with it enormous consequences for the British, French, and Native American peoples of North America.
Just as in Clarence Darrow’s day, the death penalty continues to be practiced in many American states. Yet around the world, the majority of nations no longer executes their prisoners, showing increasing support for the abolition of capital punishment. Recently, in December 2014, when the United Nations General Assembly introduced a resolution calling for an international moratorium on the use of the death penalty, a record 117 countries voted in favor of abolition, while only 38 nations, including the United States, voted against it.