Getting Lost on a Mountaintop: Hiking To the Wooden Churches of Eastern Slovakia

Well. You’re an idiot. Again. Surely I didn’t repeat Šumava. You did. Idiot. I lost the hiking map. Sigh. At least in Šumava, I was with seven people. At least in Šumava, I bought another map. At least in Šumava, I wasn’t at the most isolated point of the hike before realizing it. The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and […]

Wild Europe: Perceptions of the Balkans and the East

Travel writing appeals to me because it’s possible to be honest and sincere, yet write something ignorant and vapid. That tension, and the problems it reveals, makes travel writing a sociological lens for perceptions and assumptions about foreign countries. London, Paris, and Rome, for example, have mythical qualities and romantic notions associated with them. For post-communist […]

Discovering Romani Culture in the Czech Republic

With the exception of stereotypes*, it’s difficult to find information concerning Romani (gypsies) in Europe. Rick Steves has a brief article on his site, and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations gives a bit more information. For a continent obsessed with museums, only one exists** in Europe dedicated to the history and culture of the Roma […]

Another Castle in Moravia: Helfštýn

Castles intrude upon most of my trips. I don’t plan to visit, but a friend always drags me along. After a handful, they blur together like cathedrals. Not being Catholic, the cathedrals come off to me as beautiful (sometimes), but pompous and slightly shameful. At least with a castle I get a view of the countryside or […]

Repression By Any Other Name

From “Repression By Any Other Name” by Ariel Dorfman in Guernica: Of course, the U.S. government will continue to spy, no matter what limited and cosmetic restrictions may henceforth be enacted, and of course the criminalization of journalists who question or inform about these activities and methods is bound to increase as leaks and whistleblowers proliferate. […]

An American Surveillance Story: Congressional Edition

Does the NSA spy on Congress? “Probably.” Is there a more American way to admit it? The surveillance apparatus has become so sprawling, so all-encompassing, that we can’t get a “yes,” but a “we collect so much data, it’s hard to believe we don’t.” The affirmation might cause the first substantive change in the dragnet-style […]

Lazy Thinking: Problems of Exceptionalism and the Threat of Nationalism

Western tradition gets upheld as a lone bastion of freedom, the shining city on a hill. To make that story plausible, we can argue that, among other things, Western countries uphold conceptions of nationalism that center around individual rights and intermediate institutions which preserved freedom and community. That story falters, however, when we treat the […]

10 Essays That Will Improve Your Mind

The following, in no particular order, range across the political, literary, virtuous, and philosophical. They lack a thematic coherence, but capture something valuable in a process, thought, or method. Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much […]

The Cult of Economic Progress Isn’t Always Progress

I always dismissed “people before profits.” It sounds reactionary, an economically ignorant slogan rather than anything meaningful. Hippies or “artists” living in the city on trust funds from suburban parents shout it at rallies. However, it deserves more than flippant disregard. Uttered in a more nuanced light, it’s a commentary on progress. Or, as Orwell understood the […]

Walter Block and Vladimir Putin: When Reactionary Aversion Blinds Common Sense

In politics, Americans have a penchant for domestic cynicism and foreign naivete. Conservatives write, earnestly and unironically, that Barack Obama wants to destroy America, and liberals warn that the specter of the Koch Brothers threaten democracy in the United States. Such cynical attitudes feed conspiracy theories or comprehend different political views as sin. When foreign […]