Category Archives: Essays

Jane Austen, Mirror Neurons, and Bonobos

By Wendy Jones

Jane Austen has recently replaced Darwin on the 10-pound note in England, largely because of the uproar over the scarcity of women represented on currency. It is fitting that the argument about what is known as “cultural capital,” the extent to which people, things, and ideas are valued within a society, should revolve around portraits that appear on money. The exclusion of women from currency sends the message that they are not treasured in the treasury, or elsewhere in English society. And the triumph of activism that got Austen her place tells of the continual fight for recognition of women’s contributions. But Darwin’s replacement also tells a different story about value, or more accurately values. Darwin and Austen each tell a distinctive story about what we think is noteworthy about being human. Continue reading

Confucius is Dead

By Fae Myenne Ng

Walking through Sproul Plaza in the summer is like traversing Tiananmen Square diagonally — less square footage, but packed with students from the PRC (People’s Republic of China). The men lurch and lunge, two variant strides of the golden son. The women saunter, elbows cozily linked like fawn heading toward Strawberry Creek for a dip.

The University of California, Berkeley makes a mint off international enrollments: $520 per credit, $380 in registration fees, another $300 for international processing, and $55 for document fees. Their coffers balloon; my paycheck shrinks. The tuition of three foreign students equals my salary. Continue reading

The Monster in my Garage

By Jillian Lauren

A few weeks ago, on an ordinary Wednesday night, I finished drying the dinner dishes in the husband-out-of-town-kids-in-bed blissful quiet, and poured myself a glass of pinot grigio. As I leaned back against a counter and took a sip, for no discernable reason I thought of Nick — an unexpected emotional freight train barreling down a long-deserted track.

I crawled into my bed, fully clothed, next to my sleeping boys, ages five and nine, and pulled my laptop off the nightstand. Closing my eyes for a moment, I listened to the comforting, sweet sound of the their breath. Even on their best days, my boys are an extreme iteration of what my mother’s generation would have called wild. What the parenting books call challenging, or high needs. What the school district calls special needs. What I call, simply, my family. What my friends seem to often call “boys.” As in, boys will be boys. Continue reading

Under the Umbrella

By Joe Milan Jr.

In 2007, I started my job as an English teacher in South Korea and spent my nights climbing the steep stairs to foreigner bars where teachers and US army soldiers drank and wrote their names in chalk on black painted walls. When you asked a soldier about a new Korean war, they’d snort. Then they’d see that you were new and straighten up on the stool or hold their pool cue beside them like a pitchfork and tell you that Seoul and its suburbs would be pummeled within hours. Not by a blooming mushroom cloud, but by artillery shells diving down from the sky like swarming locusts. These shells could also carry chemical and biological agents from one of the largest caches in the world. Fortified and shielded within the granite mountains on their side of the DMZ, thousands of North Korean artillery pieces would create an artillery “umbrella” that could hurl destruction nearly a hundred miles deep into South Korea, including most of the 25 million people living in and around Seoul. The umbrella would extend to the entirety of Korea and much of Japan when you include North Korea’s various kinds of ballistic missiles. Expert estimates of how many would die in the opening hours of war vary anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands. What is certain is a multitude would die well before smart bombs, missiles, or counter artillery could grace social media with blasting patriotic light on the granite hills. Even then it could take weeks to gut the artillery. Continue reading

Why “Disaster Porn” Storm Reporting is So Tantalizing — And Destructive

By Rachel Kraus

When Hurricane Irma tussled the West coast of Florida instead of decimating the state entirely, those of us following closely, but from afar, unwittingly felt…disappointed. Nowhere was that anticlimax more evident than in the overblown and ubiquitous fixture of the fall: the live television special news storm report. Continue reading

Normal Girls: On SZA, Nella Larsen, and the Varieties of Black Feminism

By Marina Magloire

I am not Beyoncé. Never did I feel this more strongly than when I sat high above her, watching her tiny figure strut across the stage at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. Screens several stories high projecting her image hung like banners for some erstwhile fascist leader. It was in many ways not the ideal concert — it was outdoors, and a thunderstorm sparked a temporary evacuation of the stadium (“Please remain calm, Beyoncé is not leaving” someone said over an intercom). But what struck me as least ideal was the staged-ness of every word and gesture, everything scripted from the high kicks, to the thank yous to her loyal and dedicated fans, to the rote delivery of the songs meant to be uplifting and to get us “in formation.” Did she know the tears I had shed in the dark over “Sandcastles,” the reckless careworn times in my car when I drove on the highway just to turn up “Sorry” loud enough to drown out my pounding heart? Did she not know the emotional catharsis I wanted to share with her at that concert? Apparently not. Continue reading

Shadi Yousefian: A Retrospective

By Christopher Ian Lutz

Know thyself. You would have read these two words as you entered the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, if you lived in Greece 2000 years ago. More recently you might have read or watched Alice in Wonderland, in which the Caterpillar asks Alice: “Who are you?” This question has been known to initiate young people on a lifelong journey of self-realization. It is the underlying factor of self-expression, teenage angst, and mid-life crises. This question, this pursuit of identity, is what perpetuates the institutions of religion, other spiritual practices, and all the methods individuals use to connect with an identity beyond temporary designations. In a similar systematic approach, Shadi Yousefian has undergone a journey of self-realization through the ritual of art by dismantling such designations in order to construct a truer form of identity. Continue reading