The Crippling of Donald Trump

Factor 1: More than anything else in the world, more than having a happy marriage, more than raising healthy, well adjusted children, more than God, Mom, or Apple Pie, Donald J. Trump wants to be a WINNER.

Trump has always been hell bent on publicly proclaiming himself a winner. And for him, being a winner means not just being successful, but being the best.  Better than anyone and everything at whatever he does.

It’s not enough to be rich; he has to claim he has more money than he actually does (I’ve actually heard first hand stories about this from a former Forbes journalist).  It’s not enough to screw starlets and gold diggers; he has to “anonymously” phone the press so that everyone can know about it.  It’s not enough to host a long running, highly rated tv show; he has to claim its failure to win an emmy damaged the emmys’ credibility.  It’s not enough to win the presidency; he has to claim he won the popular vote because millions of people supposedly voted illegally, even though they didn’t.  It’s not enough to take the oath of office in front of the entire world; he has to claim more supporters showed up at his inauguration than for any other president, despite the all the aerial photographs revealing him to be a infantile liar.

He can’t help himself.  He must lie and lie and lie, exaggerating every legitimate success and adamantly denying anything remotely smelling of failure.

No wonder then that of all the many insults that Trump lobs like handfuls rice at a wedding, in his mind the biggest, baddest epithet he can hurl at someone is “Loser!”  Because losing is sad.

🙁 Continue reading The Crippling of Donald Trump

In Memoriam: Hugh Hefner

In 6th grade wood shop class, my main project was making a Playboy bunny logo.  I carved the wood, torched the grain, added finish, and then mounted it on a piece of peg board I had cut and painted red.

Neither my fellow students nor our shop teacher thought there was anything odd about this.  In fact, my teacher had given me the template to cut the the iconic bunny head.  He had dozens to choose from, and I, like many of his students before me no doubt, had picked that one.

There were no girls in junior high wood shop class.

Like many boys of the 1970s, my childhood was punctuated by various pornographic discoveries.  Pornography was more prevalent than ever before, but in an era before VCRS, it was still largely hidden away in XXX movie theaters, or stashed on the top shelf of your dad’s bedroom closet.  For a boy, it was tantalizingly close, yet still far away, like some ancient Greek punishment that mocks you with with unattainable temptation.  But unlike the doomed souls of Hades, for us there was a way.

In a scene repeated countless times around the nation, my initiation into the world of sexualized, naked women came via the dirty magazine an older boy dug up from underneath a large rock behind our apartment building in the Bronx.  I was about 8 years old, maybe younger, and I stared in wonderment at those women’s nude bodies.

In the years that followed, similar occasions led me to cross paths with well worn, second tier nudey mags like Cheri, Oui, and Jugs.  It’s something that stays with you. Continue reading In Memoriam: Hugh Hefner

Shut Up, It’s the Flag!

I remember my 6th grade English teacher, Mrs. Newman.

Not Ms., but Mrs.  Why?  Because things change.

Mrs. Newman was aware that things change, but she wasn’t always happy about it.  Take the National Anthem, for example.

One day she told us that she was raised to behave in a respectful manner when the National Anthem was played.  That meant, after it finished, you remained silent for a moment.

You most certainly did not yell and applaud as do modern sports fans at today’s arenas and stadiums.

That habit, of loudly celebrating the anthem after its completion, had already taken hold when Mrs. Newman schooled us on patriotic etiquette in 1980.  Such antics, she told us, were vulgar. Continue reading Shut Up, It’s the Flag!

Yes, I’m Defending the Millennials, Goddammit

Generational analysis, when done poorly, is half-a-notch above astrology: All the people born at this time are like this!

Of course there’s plenty of good generational research and analysis by demographers and other social scientists.  However, most people don’t delve into that stuff.  Most people simply absorb generational analysis from popular culture.  That’s unfortunate, because you can often get more penetrating insights from a Chinese restaurant paper place mat.

Worse yet, a lot of pop culture generational analysis is passively racist and classist.  You know who we’re really talking about when we say “Baby Boomers,” right? It’s hardly every American born between 1946-1964.  Black people? Latinos? Most immigrants? The deeply impoverished? Pushaw.  For the most part, we’re just talking about the white MCAU (middle class and up), and whoever can pass through their circles.  And we’re not even talking about them smartly.  By and large, we just rehash dumb stereotypes.  This generation sacrificed.  That generation navel gazed.  Bla bla bla.

For example, when I Googled “Baby Boomers are,” the auto complete came up:
selfish
the biggest
entitled

When I Googled “Millennials are,” the auto complete came up:
lazy
the worst
screwed

Indeed, pop culture generational analysis is often so shallow, haphazard, and/or commercialized, that it typically only blathers about every other generation.  There’s an accordion discourse, which fixates on alternating generations (Greatest, Boomers, Millennials) while largely ignoring the generations between them (Silent, X, Z).  As a result, Baby Boomers dominated popular discourse for a long time.

However, Baby Boomers have recently been knocked off their demographic perch.  There are now more Millennials than boomers in the U.S. population, and these relative youngens are increasingly the subject of America’s generational fascination.  As such, they catch a lot of flak, much of it head smackingly stupid.  I recently came across a stunning example of this vapid chatter while drinking a blueberry beer in a Lake Placid, NY tavern.

Yes, that Lake Placid, two-time Winter Olympic town and scene of the 1980 Miracle on Ice.  And yes, blueberry beer.  It was actually quite good, thank you very much, Judgy McJudgerson. Continue reading Yes, I’m Defending the Millennials, Goddammit

Charlottesville, Heather Heyer, and America’s Quest for White Martyrs of Racial Violence

It began with Emmett Till.

He was a fourteen year old black boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1954 when two white men lynched him to death for whistling at a white woman.  That in itself, sadly, wasn’t so unusual.  Thousands of African Americans were lynched to death during the first half of the 20th century.  What was different about this particular lynching was his mother’s response.

Till’s mother demanded her son’s body be returned to Chicago instead of getting a quick burial in Mississippi. She then insisted upon an open-casket funeral so the world could see what they had done to her boy.  The black press covered the funeral as upwards of 50,000 mourners passed by the coffinJet magazine and The Chicago Defender newspaper published photos of his body, mutilated almost beyond recognition.  Afterwards, mainstream (white) national publications also ran the pictures and covered the story in depth, and Emmett Till entered the larger white consciousness as a martyr of racial violence.

Needless to say, there have been countless black (and Latinx and Indigenous and Asian) victims of racial violence in America over the last four centuries.  How many black people have been killed or maimed by whites for, essentially, being black? The number is impossible to know.  As an American historian, I suspect that tens of thousands would be an underestimate.  When considering the ravages of slavery and decades of subsequent lynch violence, the number could easily be in the hundreds of thousands.

Yet prior to Emmett Till, almost none of them ever entered white consciousness as martyrs.  Till became the first, the token black, the only one from among the countless thousands who most white people ever learned about in school or could cite by name.  That Slavery and Jim Crow repression wrought horrible violence was no secret.  But upon whom, specifically?

In the 1960s, Till was joined in this sad canon only by Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers (briefly), and Malcolm X (but only to a minority of whites).  However, with the death of King in 1968, white consciousness considered the civil rights era over, largely went into hiding on the issue of race, and stopped acknowledging new black martyrs of white racial violence.

Why? Continue reading Charlottesville, Heather Heyer, and America’s Quest for White Martyrs of Racial Violence

Man-Child Author of the Google Memo

I finally got around to actually reading the now-infamous internal Google memo about women in the workplace.  The first thing that strikes me is that The Atlantic is absolutely correct: The press coverage has largely been atrocious.  In fact, it’s the kind of thing that really gives the press a bad name.
 
In short, the memo is decidedly NOT an attack on diversity as so many outlets have erroneously reported.  Quite to the contrary, the memo’s author goes out of his way to say that he supports diversity in the work place and wants there to be more of it.  Shit, he even offers up a bunch of solutions to “reduce the gender gap” at Google.  Just read this quote from the memo and tell me it’s a “screed against diversity” like so many articles have claimed.
I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority.

But why let that stand in the way of lazy reporting and inflammatory headlines?

So what exactly is the problem with this this memo [full text here]?

The author, former Google Senior Software Engineer James Damore (he’s since been fired), goes off the rails with his explanations for why there isn’t enough gender diversity at Google specifically and in the computer world more generally.

He makes a series of sexist claims about how women are different from men, and in the process spouts a bunch of pseudo-scientific gibberish about biological determinism of the sexes.  Among other things, Damore states that women relative to men supposedly:

Continue reading Man-Child Author of the Google Memo

There Is No Grand Conspiracy

Donald Trump’s most recent interview with a newspaper editorial board is here.  This time the Wall Street Journal had the privilege of sitting down for a tête à tête with the bloviating POTUS.

I think it’s a good idea to read extensive Trump interviews with serious journalists once in a while, whether they be from a liberal paper like the New York Times or a conservative one like the Journal.  Why?  Because they immediately dispel any notion of Trump as the master puppeteer choreographing a complex dance of political distraction.

There’s a line of thought, fairly popular at the moment, that Trump is some evil mastermind who makes outrageous comments to drag our attention away from his insidious plans, which are supposedly unfolding as we waste time parsing his tweets.

The truth is quite the opposite: Donald Trump is just not very coherent, and he lies a lot. Continue reading There Is No Grand Conspiracy

Interesting Times

I was wrong about Donald Trump winning the presidency.  Hell, I was one of those dopes who thought he wouldn’t even be able to get through the GOP primaries.  But at least one of my predictions did come true.

From day one, I told anyone who asked that a Trump presidency would be far more interesting than any other 2016 electoral scenario.  Indeed, a Trump presidency would be one of the most interesting political developments of the last hundred years, maybe of the next hundred.  And I’m afraid I was right.

After all, these are, if nothing else, interesting times.

There are many reasons to be deeply interested in the festering, moldy pyrotechnics of Trump’s amateur hour presidency.  There’s the sheer comedic value of watching him fumble and roar.  There’s the absolutely stunning, slow motion reshuffling of America’s role on the global stage.  There are the painful undulations and muted screams of a Republican Party unexpectedly confronting its own impotence in the hour of its great victory.  And there are all the things you were absolutely certain would happen that will not.

All of these funny, alarming, surreal shocks and many more cry out for explanation.  Anyone who’s paying attention desperately wants to understand just what the hell happening. Continue reading Interesting Times

Singing the Praises of James Bond

Roger Moore died last week at the age of 89.  He is the first important Bond to pass (sorry David Niven!), so predictably heated arguments ensued: Where does Moore rank in the canon of Bond actors?

It was a boring debate.  Moore was the worst, plain and simple.  He helped drive the franchise into a ditch of silly gadgets and bad puns.  Revisionists now praising Moore celebrate the supposed “camp” of his films are badly misguided.  They weren’t camp.

John Waters films are camp.  The Avengers and Charlie’s Angels are camp.  Drag queen lip sync cabaret is camp.  Roger Moore’s James Bond movies were just bad.

Moore’s first turn as Bond (Live and Let Die, 1973) was actually quite good.  That’s because he was still cowed by the towering shadow of Sean Connery, so he played it straight.  But director Guy Hamilton (who also pushed the franchise in the wrong direction) soon told Moore to stop imitating Connery and just be himself.  It sounds like the kind of genuine, supportive advice you should give any artist.  Except that Moore being himself, as it turned out, was little more than a dandy in a tux.  By his second film (Man with the Golden Gun, 1974) pubescent girls were “upstaging” him in a karate scene.  Har Har.  It wasn’t camp.  It was failed comedy, 1970s-style.  At that point Burt Reynolds could’ve been playing the role.

Part of the problem also stemmed from Moore’s age; he was simply too old for the part during most of his career.  Connery debuted as Bond at age 31.  Moore was 45 when Live and Let Die premiered.  From Moonraker (1979) on, his fight scenes were laughable and his love scenes with women half his age or less were creepy.  Bond the charming dilettante.  Bond the well groomed pensioner.  Bond as a candidate for late life romance on The Love Boat.

Jesus, maybe it was camp.

Nevertheless, when my favorite film critic, A.O. Scott of the New York Times, exalts Moore as the best James Bond on the grounds of camp and pshaws Millennials for not getting it, I just can’t go along.  I’m a Gen Xer like Scott, and I do enjoy camp, but this smells of defending the crap of our youth with rationalized nostalgia.  Waters wants to be camp.  Charlie’s Angels has to be camp.  But Bond movies can actually be good without being campy.

Anyway, instead of prattling on about who the best (or worst) Bond was, I’d rather tackle something a bit tastier: The Top 10 James Bond movie theme songs.  Drum roll please . . . Continue reading Singing the Praises of James Bond

My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture

C-SPAN has a series of televised lectures on American history by college professors.  A colleague was kind enough to recommend me to them.  C-SPAN then asked for a list of potential lecture topics.  I submitted the list, and to my surprise, they asked to film my lecture on Victorian culture in America.   The producer said they she selected this lecture because it’s a bit different from the usual topics they get on the Revolution, the Civil War, and such.

I wrote this lecture a few years ago for the freshman introduction course on U.S. History since the Civil War.  The topic is pretty far from my research area, and nothing I actually specialize in, but I included it on the list because it’s gone over well in the past.  Maybe because it includes a discussion of sex.

So for those of you who have ever wondered just how boring it would be to sit and listen to me ramble on about history for an hour, here’s your chance.  Highlights include photos of dazzling Victorian fashions for men and women, some botched spelling and word history, and a nice cutaway shot of a student yawning.

The lecture was filmed on February 23, 2017 at Towson University.  It originally aired on C-SPAN 3 at 8pm, and then again at midnight opposite Saturday Night Live.  I haven’t checked the ratings, but I’m pretty sure I crushed them.

C-SPAN Lectures in History: Akim Reinhardt on Victorian Culture Continue reading My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture