Hotter

orange catHotter.  I need it to be hotter.

I’m sitting in the backyard of my sister’s carriage house apartment in Orange, California, a circle of jolly boutique and micro brew quaintness amid the sprawling shit hole that is Orange County.

Of course nowadays, most any place in America afflicted by people is a shit hole.  Indeed, even a quotient of the unpopulated spaces is beginning to emit a fecal stench, as if the human foulness emanating from the peopled portions of our nation is so strong as to waft and stain everything around it, like a halo of shimmering, homo sapiens stank.

I want it to be hotter.

After all, there are no more distinct places in the United States, or precious few at any rate.  Instead, there are just types.  The urban playground loaded with bars and restaurants, and kickball and skeeball leagues for childless 20- and 30-somethings; the poor and working class black and brown food deserts that gird the yuppies and empty nesters; the little towns hemorrhaging people, stragglers holding onto the local bar like shipwreck survivors grasping a buoy in the ocean; the increasingly opulent college towns full of precious students, microcosmic training yards for the urban playgrounds; the tourist spots offering up overpriced drinks and glossy nostalgia; and all of it bound together by highways, those endless concourses of fast food, gasoline, and the occasional pile of roadkill.

But all of those types are just islands scattered about the uber-type, that oceanic wasteland of suburbia and its relentless waves of roads, strip malls, and tract housing, repeating itself over and over again like the backdrop of a cheap 1970s cartoon where a boring bipedal cat, arms outstretched, chases a smarmy little mouse who’s certainly got it coming, but predictably manages to perpetually escape the fanged horror it deserves, thus prolonging the crankshaft repetition of house tree fence; house tree fence; house tree fence . . . Continue reading Hotter

Why You’re Going to Vote for Trump and How You Can Win a Free Ticket to Mexico

2+2=5I was very, very wrong, and now it’s time to pay for my mistakes.

The good news is, when I pay, you just might be the one to collect.  My loss can be your windfall.

The catch? You too will have to publicly debase yourself

Sigh.

How did it come to this? You and I publicly shaming ourselves on the internet, each of us desperately hoping to salvage a little bit of joy as the world burns around us?

It’s all because of that goddamned Donald Trump.

Trump is about to claim the Republican presidential nomination, and a whole lotta pundits got that one wrong.  Legions of professional gabbers, from every corner of the political spectrum, badly missed the mark, assuring you that he’d never be the GOP candidate.

Despite their wishful thinking dressed up in high falutin’ gibberish, it’s happening anyway; Trump is poised to become leader of the pachyderm pack.  And so a lot of the yakkers had to make amends.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post literally ate his words.  Pass the salt and pepper.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times and David Byler of Real Clear Politics each created a laundry list of everything they got wrong, which like most analysts, was quite a lot.

Perhaps the oddest mea culpa came from polling wunderkind Nate Silver, who explained away his spectacular failure by saying that he had acted like a barbaric “pundit” instead of staying true to the “scientific method.”  Rather than relying on statistical modeling to figure out if Trump would win, Silver says he just made “educated guesses.”

Since Silver never really explains why he traded  true reason for such wild tomfoolery, I’m just gonna assume he went on a months-long bender.

Normally, it would be very easy for me to look down my nose at these losers.  After all, I’m not a statistician or a professional talking head.  I’m a historian.  And if there’s one thing studying history has taught me, it’s that trying to predict the future is pure folly.

What were these dullards thinking? Guess the future? Good luck with those crystal ball shenanigans.  Studying history has shown me, time and time again, that the future is unknowable.  The past is a mystery and the future is an illusion.  So allow me, in full haughtiness, to point a sanctimonious finger at these morons.

Except for one thing.  It turns out that I’m one of those morons.  I, too, am a loser. Continue reading Why You’re Going to Vote for Trump and How You Can Win a Free Ticket to Mexico

The NRA Supports Terrorists

Omar Mateen“The NRA does not want terrorists or dangerous people to have firearms,” National Rifle Association Director of Public Affairs Jennifer Baker said last November after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

I have no doubt that’s  true.  After all, why would the NRA want terrorists to have firearms?  It’s difficult to imagine a reason.

Baker went on to say: “any suggestion otherwise is offensive and wrong.”

Well, it’s not my intention to offend anyone, but honestly, I don’t care if I do.  Because it is increasingly obvious to most rational observers that while the NRA may have good intentions, its actions facilitate domestic terrorists’ acquisition of firearms.

The NRA likes to prattle on about how gun control laws won’t keep guns away from criminals.  But in the case of Orlando, Florida shooter Omar Matteen and other terrorists, we’re not talking about mere criminals. We’re talking about enemy combatants: people who have effectively declared war on the United States and seek to overthrow the constitution, including the 2nd amendment the NRA cherishes above all else.

As has been widely reported, the FBI investigated Mateen three times for possible terrorist links and activities.  Mateen variously pledged support to ISIS, Hezbollah, and a branch of Al-Quaida  called the Nursra Front.  These three groups all oppose each other, which illustrates Mateen’s incoherence.  However, the groups also all have something in common: they are all hostile to the United States, and the federal government lists them as terrorist organizations.

Nevertheless, Mateen legally purchased two guns from a shop run, ironically enough, by a retired New York City police officer who worked out of the World Trade Center on September 11.  Continue reading The NRA Supports Terrorists

In Memoriam: Muhammad Ali

Photo by John Peodincuk/NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesAs a boy, I was a Ken Norton fan.  That means I spent the 1970s rooting against Muhammad Ali, which was usually quite fruitless.  Any Norton fan could tell you: our man had beaten him two out of three, although the judges robbed one of those from Norton with a crooked decision.

So when the vampiric Leon Spinks shocked the world by outpointing Ali in 1977, it was a cause for celebration.  And when Ali got revenge in the rematch, it was to be expected.

The underlying story, however, was that when someone like Ali loses to someone like Spinks, it’s time to hang up the gloves up.  Yet Ali kept going, trudging through a series of embarrassments.  By the time Trevor Berbick finally pummeled him into retirement in 1981, it was hard to hate on Ali anymore.   He seemed like just another sad pugilist who’d hung around long past his due date.

It was also increasingly obvious to most observers that Ali was becoming what was then known as “punch drunk.”  The more technical terms was dementia pugilistica.  Today it’s it’s called CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopahty), the form of brain damage that makes parents think twice about letting their kids play football.

As I came of age during the 1980s, I learned more about Ali, née Cassius Clay.  As a boxing fan, I came to appreciate that he was, in fact, almost certainly the greatest heavyweight of all time,  and undoubtedly one of the greatest boxers of any class.

But far more interesting was the life he lived outside the ring. Continue reading In Memoriam: Muhammad Ali

How The Washington Post Embarrassed Itself Badly

Marty Two Bulls cartoon
cartoon by Marty Two Bulls

Did I ever tell you about the four years I spent in prison back in the late 1990s?

Well, actually, it was just two hours on Thursday afternoons as a volunteer with the Native men’s group at Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I could gussy up the experience and say I was teaching inmates.  But mostly I was just hanging out.  Many prisoners, particularly those who’ve been in a while, are starved for new faces and happy to get some fresh conversation.

Sometimes I’d talk to people about serious issues.  Other times we’d just shoot the breeze.  One day while inside, I was talking to a guy.  Nothing serious.  I don’t even remember about what.  He asked something of me.  I said, “You got it, chief.”

Now here’s the thing.  Growing up in New York City, “chief” was (and still is) in the same class of words as “boss” and “buddy.”  They’re all informal monikers one man might casually give another if you don’t actually know each other’s names, or as a temporary nickname even when you do.  It’s a sign of modest respect and affection in the moment.  In a typical New York City context, they’re all completely harmless words and have zero racial connotation.

But the moment “chief” slipped out of my mouth in prison, I immediately remembered that of course this particular word has a very heavy connotation for Native people, particularly men.

His entire demeanor changed in a heartbeat.  We’d been happy, joshing around.  Now he stared right through me.

“Don’t you ever call me that again,” he said quietly, anger flashing in his eyes. Continue reading How The Washington Post Embarrassed Itself Badly

Notes Upon Seeing The Princess Bride for the First Time

photo from BuzzfeedI’m not sure why I never saw The Princess Bride before.  It came out in 1987, when I was a college student.  I saw lots of movies back then, both on the big screen and whirring through the VCR, but not that one.  And then over the years, it just slipped through the cracks.

I’d always heard good things about it.  I remember once my father sitting on the couch watching it on TV with my younger sister.  He raved about it and she was enraptured, but I was on my way out to carouse with friends.

Now and then people would quote lines from it; sometimes I was able to figure out the source, other times I had no idea.  Slowly it seeped into the edges of my consciousness without me even realizing it.

And then the other night, my girlfriend suggested we watch it.  So we did.

It is, of course, a minor masterpiece, easily living up to the hype.

Here are some random thoughts on what it is like at the age of 48 to see The Princess Bride for the first time, nearly 30 years after its theatrical release. Continue reading Notes Upon Seeing The Princess Bride for the First Time

Prince, Bowie, and Glenn Frey Filtered through Cold War Culture, or; Why Nobody Really Cares About that Guy from the Eagles

princeDavid Bowie was a white Englishman.  Prince was a black American.  Bowie was deeply rooted in the riffs, major/minor chords and melody of rock-n-roll.  Prince was grounded in the syncopated rhythms and arrangements funk and R&B.

Prince’s and Bowie’s careers did overlap to a degree.  Their biggest selling albums, Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Prince’s Purple Rain, were released within a year of each other.  But of course Let’s Dance was Bowie’s capstone in many ways, his big pop breakthrough after nearly 15 years of churning out music, whereas Purple Rain came fairly early in Prince’s career, establishing him as an international pop icon for decades to come.  So despite the kissin’ cousin chronology of their biggest albums, the respective heydays of David Bowie and Prince were, in many ways, separated by about a decade.  That makes sense since Prince was ten years younger than Bowie.

Despite all these differences, however, their deaths, coming three months apart from each other, produced similar strains of public mourning.  In particular, many people confess how one or the other artist had profoundly affected them during their formative years.  And this heartfelt influence, many said, came not just from Bowie’s and Prince’s music, but especially from their artistic personae.

In between Bowie’s and Prince’s passing came the death of Glenn Frey, one of the two lead singer/songwriters of the Eagles, one of the most successful bands in the history of recorded music.

I have yet to see anyone write an essay, post a facebook comment, tweet, or make any other public expression of their deep gratitude for the vital role Glenn Frey played in helping them cope during their formative years.

Why?  I suspect the answer is the Cold War.

Cold War Culture in the United States (roughly the second half of the 20th century) was marked by a rigid sense of right and wrong, an overwhelming pressure to conform, and vitriolic and at times even violent condemnations of outliers.

It was not an easy time to be an LGBT person.  Or a leftist.  Or a nerd or a geek.  Or not from here.  Or anyone who did not easily mesh with the dominant social and cultural norms.  It was an era when being different often meant being ostracized and isolated. Continue reading Prince, Bowie, and Glenn Frey Filtered through Cold War Culture, or; Why Nobody Really Cares About that Guy from the Eagles

The Public Professor Site Redesign

cropped-Profile-Picture.jpgFive and a half years after its initial launch, this site is receiving a substantial update for the first time.  Some of it is aesthetics, with new colors, imagery, and font.  Some of it involves updating content.

The “Pages” at the top of the site (eg. “Me” and “Books I Done Written”) are not only renamed, but also updated.  Click inside and see.

In addition, I’ve added two new pages: “Books I Might Write” and “CV.”  The former contains brief overviews of book projects I’m working on.  Beyond the infamous Communities book that was responsible for launching this site but has yet to see the light of day, there are also working manuscripts on music and misadventures from the road.  The “CV” page contains my Curriculum Vitae, which is what professors call their resumé.  Is our pretentious Latin name for it better than your pretentious French name for it?  Who knows.  The bottom line is, we’re all pretentious.

Enjoy!

P.S. Yes, I’ll keep blogging here on the front page.  If you’d like to sign up for email notifications, or get them via Facebook or Twitter, that’s just to the right near the top of any page.  Viva la blog! (That’s pretentious Spanish for, “None of this stuff ends up on my resumé.”

Some of the People All of the Time (On Trump’s Legion)

Lincoln quotesYou can fool all the people some of the time
and some of the people all the time,
but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

For example, sometimes all of the people believe that Abraham Lincoln first uttered these famous words.  But he didn’t.  It originally traces back to a French Protestant named Jacques Abbadie in 1684.  The phrase doesn’t show up in American letters until some Prohibitionist politicians started using it in 1885.  Twenty years after Lincoln died.

Until recently, I simply took at face value the common claim that these were Lincoln’s words.  It’s not a very important issue, so what would push me to question it?

My decision to title this essay.

A little healthy skepticism is all it took.  After all, lots of famous quotes are misattributed to famous people, ergo the Yogi Berra line: “I really didn’t say everything I said.”  Which he really did say.

So before titling and publishing this rant, I looked up the aphorism at a reputable site with citations, just to be sure.  And presto: suddenly I am, at least in this regard, all of the people some of the time, and not some of the people all of the time.

You really don’t want to be some of those people who get fooled all the time.  Which brings us to Donald Trump. Continue reading Some of the People All of the Time (On Trump’s Legion)

Salon Says Trump is a Fascist. I Heartily Disagree.

writing at Salon.com makes the case that Donald Trump is a fascist.  Buric is an actual historian, so we should take him seriously.  What’s more, unlike me, he specializes in modern Europe, so he’s far more qualified than I am to make this assessment.

But despite all that, I think he’s wrong.  Donald Trump is not a fascist.

Buric’s essay is very good and worth reading.  He serves up a compelling case about certain similarities between Trump’s antics and Italian fascism of the 1920s and 1930s.  For example, he makes interesting comparisons  between Trump and  Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. 

I am disputing none of the facts Buric presents, and I agree very strongly with some of his insights.  For example, I think Buric’s absolutely right to say “It is no coincidence that the Trump phenomenon emerges during the tenure of the first black President.”

However, in the end I think Buric comes to the wrong conclusion because he has fallen into a logical trap.  He tallies up lots of similarities between Trump and Mussolini, and between today’s environment and the atmosphere that produced European fascism, but too many of those similarities are superficial.  And more importantly perhaps, the differences are profound. Continue reading Salon Says Trump is a Fascist. I Heartily Disagree.