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In 1903, an American writer by the name of James Duff Law introduced a new word into the English lexicon: Usonia.

His rationale for creating the term “Usonia” and its related demonym, “Usonian,” was to create an alternative to calling the US and its citizens “Americans.” This was because the term “American” shortchanged all the citizens of other nations part of the two American continents.

Law’s Usonia was actually an acronym, representing the “United States of Northern Independent America.” Mr. …


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Should travel writing be written by travelers, or, as NYTimes Travel editor Amy Virshup would have it, locals? (Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash.)

‘The Best American Travel Writing 2019' and the schisms currently upending travel journalism

On Amazon, The Best American Travel Writing 2019 holds a 4.3-out-of-5-star-rating, its acclaim ever-so-slightly dragged down by a vocal minority of negative reviews. As this book ostensibly showcased the best travel writing on offer, I wondered about the root of such gripes. One particularly polemical two-star review stated:

I enjoy food and travel writing that makes you think. . . However, this years [sic] compilation has a definite agenda. Which is. [sic] “We hate Trump and his policies.” Whether you agree or not it gets old less than halfway through the book. Anyone who doesn’t agree will not read much…


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Austin, TX is a boomtown, an urban colossus with attributes of Portland, Nashville, Brooklyn and San Francisco. (Photo by Harrison Blackman)

The divergent trajectories of San Antonio and Austin

Everything is bigger in Texas. Except for the Alamo, that is. Perhaps it is telling the state’s most iconic landmark is smaller than you’d think. Perhaps it’s telling that, across the street from the historic mission chapel and battle site, is a “Tomb Rider 3D Adventure Ride and Arcade” and Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

The Alamo may be the most famous landmark in Texas, but it’s also indicative of the nature of San Antonio, a sprawling urban area that somehow doesn’t feel crowded. The city’s old-world, touristy vibe contrasts mightily with the burgeoning, gleaming city just 79.5 …


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Some forceful lightning would have better than too much. (Photo by O12 on Unsplash.)

The cavalier storytelling attitude of Star Wars Episode IX

(Spoilers throughout, so be warned).

Toward the beginning of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, a bunch of Resistance fighters learn that Emperor Palpatine survived falling into a bottomless pit three movies earlier. The camera pans around the group, and a rebel played by three-time hobbit Dominic Monaghan offers a few possible explanations for Palpatine’s return — “Dark science. Cloning. Secrets only the Sith knew.” Even Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) uses the artful term “somehow” to describe Palpatine’s improbable resurrection.

Evidently director J. J. Abrams doesn’t really want to answer such pesky questions of narrative coherence. Rather, he…


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Rally attendees crane their necks to catch sight of former vice president Joe Biden. (Photo by Harrison Blackman)

Biden forcefully rebuts Trump’s Ukraine accusations, ignores Warren’s momentum

RENO, NV — “I’m not surprised Donald Trump asked a foreign government for help to beat me,” Joe Biden declared at an October 2, 2019 campaign event held in the student center of Truckee Meadows Community College.

“I’m not surprised that the head of the NRA met with Trump to prop him up,” Biden added, in reference to Wayne LaPierre’s recently-scrutinized visit to the White House. “I’m not surprised that the president’s allegations of wrongdoing against me have been debunked across the board by every major publication.”

As expected, the former vice president and 2020 presidential candidate was forceful in…


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South Bend Mayor improvises as the power goes out at his rally in Sparks High School, in Sparks, Nevada. (Photo by Harrison Blackman)

Though Buttigieg electrified a Nevada audience, the electric grid had other plans

On September 28, 2019, the day Pete Buttigieg visited Northern Nevada, the temperature dropped from 64º to 41º F in a matter of hours. Dark clouds loomed over the lip of the Sierras. Winds blustered around this edge of the Great Basin, signaling that Northern Nevada’s brief autumn was in fact over — winter, rather, was already here. If the climate was any indication, then Nevada’s caucus — February 22, 2020, the third Democratic primary contest — felt just around the corner.

Sparks, a city neighboring and bleeding into Reno, is probably not the Northern Nevada locale you’d expect the…


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Bernie Sanders speaks at the University of Nevada-Reno, on September 13, 2019. Photo by Harrison Blackman.

Bernie Sanders’ post-debate campaign stop at UNR

On Friday the 13th, a day after the third 2019 Democratic debate, and hours after he shared an unexpected hug with a Trump supporter in Carson City, Senator Bernie Sanders arrived at the University of Nevada-Reno to speak on the subject of “College for All.”

The stage was suitably set: A cool evening breeze filtered through the quad wedged in between the mammoth “Knowledge Center” (library) and its accompanying parking garage. A crowd of about 350 people, young and old, had gathered to see the iconic Democratic socialist from Vermont.

Senator Sanders had visited UNR before — most recently, last…


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The desert, the backdrop for the violence depicted in ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado.’ (Photo by Rachel Lynette French on Unsplash)

Why do we go to the movies? Often it’s to escape — to let the lights go down and get lost in a story. Sometimes we watch a movie up for awards, usually so that we can talk about why we thought the awards were wrong. Other times — perhaps less often than we should — we watch films about social issues, to empathize with people with vastly different experiences.

Last year, I saw a movie that checked none of these boxes. It was too confusing and poorly-written to function as an escape; it certainly wouldn’t be up for any…


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2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke addresses a crowd at a café near the University of Nevada-Reno on April 25, 2019 (Harrison Blackman).

The once-darling candidate makes his case in purple Nevada

On April 25, 2019, at 10:29 AM, Beto O’Rourke arrived at a café just a block from the University of Nevada-Reno. On this particularly brilliant spring Nevada day, he parked a rental car, a Ford Fusion with Eco-Boost. A crowd of about a hundred had gathered within and around the tiny café to hear from the 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful.

Immediately upon exiting the vehicle, O’Rourke donned a UNR Wolfpack cap and greeted the café manager.

“Bibo, right?” O’Rourke asked, shaking the man’s hand. “Beto.”

Known for his proclivity for shouting and standing on tables, O’Rourke proceeded to do just…


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Moria Camp, island of Lesbos. (2016, Photo by Harrison Blackman)

Reflecting on the migration crisis in Greece, two years after visiting Lesbos’ notorious camps—which have only gotten worse

In July 2016, I, along with five other Princeton journalism students, had the extraordinary opportunity to take a course in international crisis reporting. Our class, supervised by an experienced Washington Post reporter, focused on the migration crisis in Greece.

Since 2015, more than 1 million refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece from unstable nations like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan. 60,000 of these migrants are currently stranded in Greece—the side effect of a April 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey to restrict Eurozone asylum seekers, which in practice has been used to dissuade other migrants from arriving…

Harrison Blackman

Essays on film, politics, and storytelling. Learn more at www.harrisonblackman.com/ and https://harrisonblackman.substack.com/.

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