The House on the Rock: Heaven or Hell?

200px-american_gods2In his novel, American Gods, Neil Gaiman imagines that the bizarre roadside spectacle called The House on the Rock is actually the most important place in a America, a kind of temple, as well as a portal to another 553191dimension. I always knew there was something strange about it, but I thought its peculiarity lay elsewhere. That’s the topic of a piece I just did for Madison Magazine about the “one of the world’s strangest tourist attractions.” Really, you have to see it for yourself to believe it.

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Mosque Pit: Muslim punks rock out

jf09-toc-cover-250x330In the new issue Mother Jones, there’s a short piece I wrote about Taqwacore, a kind of movement among young Muslim-Americans to create their own cultural space. It’s a great story, though somewhat truncated. I’ll put more up about it later, but for now you can pick up the February Mother Jones and check the media section. There should also be a film version of Mike Knight’s The Taqwacores coming out soon, as well as a documentary, and more books by Knight, like Osama Van Halen. Meanwhile, here’s a video by Al Thawra, one of the groups in the story.

Looking for Shangri-La

shangri_largbDo you ever wonder if there’s some place better than this? Some place out there, high in the mountains that hasn’t been ruined? A place where things are a little easier, a little gentler on the soul. That place is Shangri-La, and it exists inside all of us. But does it exist outside of us too? That’s what I asked Michael Buckley, the author of the new book: Shangri-La: A Travel Guide to the Himalayan Dream, in an interview for World Hum.

Emerging Trend, 2009: Placentas Up

poisonous-evil-rubbish1Slate has a fascinating story about placenta consumption in Japan, which, to my mind, beats Matthew McConaughey’s announcement last year that he was going to plant his wife’s placenta under a tree. (“It’s going to be in the orchards and it’s going to bear some wonderful fruit.”) Apparently, placentas are all the rage in Japan. You can buy a placental health drink that tastes like peaches, or you can pay $30 for an invigorating “placenta pack” IV drip. So if you can’t wait for McConaughey’s apples to ripen, best get a ticket to Tokyo.

The Madison Murders

wrayNot long ago, I heard about a relative of mine, a recent graduate of the UW-Madison, who had moved out of the city. One of her main reasons for leaving was crime. Last year, Madison had a record 10 murders, many of them high profile, including that of Brittany Zimmerman, who was killed in her downtown Madison apartment in the middle of the day. No one has been caught or charged, and the killer is still (as far as we know) at large. This episode is at the heart of the story I did for Madison Magazine. It’s a profile of the police chief, Noble Wray, who has been at the center of many of the controversies surrounding these murders, and who Madison Magazine named its person of the year. The story just went online, and is the first piece I’ve done that’s given me serious nightmares.