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.


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 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.

I Wrote a Goddamned Coffee Table Book

Rounds Reinhardt, 20th Century in 100 Mome;ntsI wrote my first poem when I was 11 years old.  Simple quatrains with an ABCB rhyme scheme, it was a meditation on the 6th grade coming to an end.  I enjoyed the work of writing it and was proud of the finished product.  I think the money line was:

I sit in wood shop
carving my bunny
Looking at it
I feel kind of funny

Up until that point, whenever an adult had posed that most rote of questions (What do you want to be when you grow up?), I typically responded “baseball player” or “president of the United States.”  The former because I loved playing baseball, even if I wasn’t very good at it.  The latter because, if you had to make an abstract choice about the far distant future, why not just pick the top thing?

But after assiduously penning those verses into lined loose leaf paper, another idea began to take vague form: Perhaps I could write for a living. Continue reading I Wrote a Goddamned Coffee Table Book

On Donald Trump: I Was Wrong, I Will Be Right, & Here’s What You Want

Donald TrumpThe Trumpster killed it in Nevada yesterday.  He collected about as many votes as the combined total of his only real rivals, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

He’s tan and in command.

Of course this goes squarely against an earlier prediction I made here and at 3 Quarks Daily, saying Trump would be done by the Ides of March.  Obviously, and much to your chagrin, I was wrong.  It’s full steam ahead for The Donald.

But before you go reaching for the Kleenex [Note: This blog is not sponsored by Kleenex.  Or Xerox.  Or Clorox.], pull yourself together and take heart.  Because in the big picture view, this is all starting to look pretty good.

In fact, I’m firmly standing by my primary prognostication: No way in Hell does Donald Trump actually win the presidency, and if he does, I’ll buy you a one-way ticket to Mexico (better food and weather than Canada).

But between now and his eventual downfall, it’s gonna be a little rocky.  So here’s what you need to do: Strap in for the most terrifying roller coaster ride of your life, and have faith that it doesn’t end when you look up and realize Donnie Hairpie’s at the controls, aiming your careening car straight for the White House.

It’s an act of faith, I know.  But if you don’t want a Republican president working with a GOP Congress in this current political climate, then what you should really, really want is for . . .

Donald Trump to win the Republican presidential nomination. Continue reading On Donald Trump: I Was Wrong, I Will Be Right, & Here’s What You Want

What You See Is What You Get

ScaliaAntonin Scalia is dead.  President Barack Obama will soon be nominating his replacement.  There should be no surprises.

There can be zero doubt that Obama and his team have their short list updated and ready to go.  Five or six names, perhaps?  And a much longer list of backups just in case.

Who is on the list is a bit of an open secret.  People who follow the Supreme Court and its politics can take very informed guesses as to whose names are in the president’s back pocket.

Much of the vetting has already taken place.   Someone will be tabbed shortly.  That person will reflect much (although of course not all) of Obama’s legal and political philosophy.  That person will probably be liberal on some issues, center-right on others.

After being contacted, but before being publicly announced, the nominee will begin receiving expert grooming from the White House on handling the press and the Senate confirmation hearings.

That person will be smart, polite, and tight lipped in public.

All will go according to plan.  There will be no surprises.  The process will be boring.  Their appointment is a fâit accompli.  Their tenure as one of the nation’s nine highest arbiters will be straightforward.

It’s been a while since a Supreme Court member didn’t really behave as advertised.  It’s been a while since a nominee botched it and fell short of the bench.

But oh, how it used to be different.

Does the name Harriet Miers ring a bell? Continue reading What You See Is What You Get

From Andrew Jackson to Donald Trump: Chasing the White Working Class

March 15Progressives, moderates, and even many conservatives are aghast at Donald Trump’s populist appeal.  As this cantankerous oaf flashes ever brighter in the political pan, they fret that his demagoguery might land him the Republican presidential nomination, and perhaps even carry him all the to the White House.

I’m not worried about the prospect of a Hail to the Trump scenario and never have been.  As far back as August, I opined that he has virtually no chance of becoming president.  I still believe that.  He lost to Ted Cruz in Iowa, just like I said he would.  And I’m sticking with my prediction that he’ll be done by the Ides of March.  Should Trump actually make it to the Oval Office, I’ll buy you all plane tickets to Canada, as promised.

That being said, the Trump phenomenon is certainly worth investigating.  After all, how are we to explain the dramatic success of this heinous cretin?  How could this man, who is not just a walking punch line, but also thoroughly repulsive in almost every way, be so popular, not just on a silly reality TV show with a dumb catch phrase, but also in the supposedly serious world of presidential politics?

As has been pointed out elsewhere, The Donald’s popularity is far from universal.  He does poorly among women, independent moderates, the under-40 crowd, and the educated.  He is almost universally loathed by minorities and Liberals.  In particular, he is scoring high marks with the white working class, a category we need to understand in both social and economic terms.

More than nine-tenths of Trump’s supporters are white.  Almost 85% are 45 or older.  Almost 60% are male.  Nearly half have no more than a high school diploma, while fewer than a fifth graduated college.  More than 40% of them favor of bombing Agrabah, a fictional country from the Disney animated children’s film Aladdin.  More than 60% think Barack Obama was not born in the United States; two-thirds believe Obama’s Muslim; well over four-fifths support Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims (as opposed a little over half of Republicans generally).  Seventy-two percent are in households earning less than $100,000 per year, and a third are in households earning less than $50,000. [source]

It would seem that the cuff linked billionaire has surged to the front of GOP polls (if not its delegate count) by using populist appeals to attract white working class voters.  But really, this is nothing new.  There is a long tradition of populist politics in U.S. history, and it hearkens all the way back to Andrew Jackson.  A brief recap of that tradition not only puts Trump into historical context, but can also reveal both the perils and possibilities of populism. Continue reading From Andrew Jackson to Donald Trump: Chasing the White Working Class