Honest Language Lessons: Русский – In which I explore the idiocy of foreign language instruction and how it could be vastly improved.
“It is bewildering that a text published in 1984 would feature the above unlikely scenario. Why is the shopkeeper smiling? Why is there so much bread available? Where is the queue of exhausted comrades standing behind Anton?”
Ruins, Bomb Craters, and the Question of Mines – Part of a series about Cambodia: On the vulnerabilities of travel and the legacy of war.
“Was I insane to be wandering around in the jungle in a country with more landmines and unexploded ordnance lying in wait than anywhere in the world? A question, perhaps, for the one-armed man.”
Rumors of Rumours Are Not Exaggerated – An increasingly disgruntled series on development and demolition in my ‘hood, with emphasis on why local watering holes matter.
“At its best, a neighborhood bar can become a character in your life story, a repository of plot twists, a constant volley of escalating tales, practiced and perfected.”
Pink-Ribbon Pushback – Three survivors talk straight about breast cancer: what not to say to a friend with cancer, what it’s like to be “Star-Trek bald,” and why not everyone likes pink ribbons.
“There should be room for dissent in the ranks of women, and of breast cancer sufferers, when it comes to how to feel about pink—whether to wear it proudly or set it on fire.”
Open Letter from Tennessee to Poland and Ukraine – A state grapples with its racist history and tries to pass on a little hard-won wisdom to two countries with a slight skinhead problem of their own.
“It only takes one idiot erecting a hideous statue of a former Confederate general, surrounded by Confederate flags a-waving, to convince the world that I am exactly the sort of state it thinks I am.”
Old School: The Making of Hume-Fogg - In 1983, a few pioneering teachers and students took a chance on each other and a decrepit building in seedy downtown Nashville. What happened next was magical.
“My Hume-Fogg era was the best of times, but it was not the best time of my life—because even a happy high school experience should never be as good as life gets. It should, ideally, be the inciting incident that moves your story forward, inexorably, to a life of epic intellectual adventure.”
The Tyranny of Language – On Orwell’s classic essay, “Politics and the English Language.”
“What would happen if bills, laws, and the U.S. tax code were written clearly and succinctly? Answer: they’d actually be possible to understand and less open to interpretation and arbitrary enforcement. And that would, quite simply, make us just a little bit freer.”
Notes from the Jury Box – A firsthand account of the voir dire phase of jury selection, and how I realized I needed to recuse myself from a rape case.
“I thought, maybe I could be the person who helped them understand how the thing comes to pass, the cascading series of decisions that, like loose pebbles, seem harmless enough until the avalanche cuts loose…I wanted to be the ‘It could have been us’ voice in the jury room.”
Back in the (Former) USSR – A trip to Moscow after 14 years away awakened old fears and a torrent of recollections. But a tableful of women-war heroes with harder histories by far helped to banish the meaner ghosts.
“Those women were acknowledging our American tragedies, after all the catastrophes they had suffered in their lives…With a tableful of war heroes, I drank a toast to the disasters life doles out, to misfortunes we all share and must learn to survive.”
Inside the Titans’ Locker Room: Naked Fear - My initial forays as rookie sportswriter into the weird world of the professional sports locker room haven’t exactly been home runs. Turns out, all I needed was a little practice.
“All I really want is to show these men the professional courtesy of not staring at them. But it’s a locker room. And the people populating it are Greek statues with the power of locomotion. And now, every minute or so, the shower doors swing open, and there, just beyond, shines the full glory of The Titans.”
On Working - The single most popular post on this blog over the past three years (to the tune of 25,000 hits in a week) is, basically, a cat picture with a few sentences tacked on.
“Does anyone truly love to work?” Clearly, Otis the Cat does not.
25 Categories of Rape - A Horror Poem and Questionnaire; a quietly outraged response to crackbrained politicians who venture to speak on such matters