Joe Mathews

Joe Mathews is the California editor of Zócalo Public Square, a not-for-profit daily Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism. He is the author of The People’s Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger And the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy and coauthor of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It, books that established him as one of the premier translators of the state’s politics and policy. Previously, he was a reporter for the Los Angeles TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and the Baltimore Sun.

Ways to Connect

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Fresno regularly ranks as one of the poorest metro areas in the United States. So why do people keep moving there?

The short, if incomplete, answer: Fresno is in California. And there is something very different about our state’s poor cities.

On Christmas Eve, it felt like the park was all ours.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

I am a California dairy cow.  Mmmm—oo.

Surprised to hear from me? In normal times, I wouldn’t be inclined to cooperate with the anthropomorphic scheme of a writer desperate for a mid-summer column.

But today so much is being said about agriculture here in the Central Valley, and dairies in particular, that I felt the need to—if you’ll pardon the pun—milk the moment. Too many of you city slickers have the wrong impression of the cows you pass along the 5 or the 99.

I’m not talking about secession or flying Sarah Palin down from Alaska but about what may be the most important California arts event most Californians have never heard of: Fresno’s Rogue Festival. Founded more than a decade ago in the backyard of artist Marcel Nunis, the independent festival brings thousands of people from around the country and the world to Fresno the first two weekends of March for hundreds of performances in a dozen different venues.

Flickr user OZinOH / Creative Commons License /

I miss the days when Thanksgiving felt as big as all of California.


I’m not a big fan of trains, but my oldest son, Ben, 4, loves them. He’d been lobbying to go on a “big train trip,” and his school would be closed for a couple days at the end of September, when I had a meeting in Sacramento. Why not take the kid on a train trip from L.A. to the state capital, by Amtrak?

Flickr user bob_in_thailand / Creative Commons License /

There’s a nasty California disease spreading so fast that even our baseball teams have caught it.

Flickr user / Creative Commons License /

A riddle. If you land at a big-city airport and there’s no train there, where are you?

Answer: California.

Yes, San Francisco, I know you’re the exception, with a BART train stop inside San Francisco International Airport (SFO). But the California rule is that we’ll invest billions in our airports and billions in our trains, but we wouldn’t dream of directly connecting the two.

Instead, we taunt those who dare to dream.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Are you a young person in an expensive coastal city who fears the California dream ended a few generations back? Do you see no end to your struggles with high rents and a sluggish job market?

Go inland, young Californian.

This may seem like strange advice. Inland California—especially Southern California’s Inland Empire counties of Riverside and San Bernardino—was ground zero for the housing and foreclosure crisis. Inland regions have some of the state’s dirtiest air and most dangerous streets, along with jobless rates that remain in the double digits.

Flickr user JeffBelmonte / Creative Commons

Pssst. Wanna know a secret?

I’m going to let you in on confidential marriage, an only-in-California concoction that is little known but deeply relevant to today’s debates about marriage.

Confidential marriage is in most respects the same as any old legal marriage—solemnized and binding. But confidential marriage licenses, unlike the regular marriage licenses, are not part of the public record. And confidential marriage is limited to couples who are already living together (although no proof of cohabitation is required).