Category Archives: Culture

Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

I’ve been writing blog posts at this website for over six years now.  Well over 500 to date.  But I’m not doing it today.  I’m not writing an essay today.

Why, you ask?  Why am I refusing to entertain my loyal dozens (and countless accidental readers) with yet another rambling jeremiad today?  Well, there’s a whole bunch of reasons, really.  Behold.

I’m a Lazy Bastard: My whole life I’ve loved nothing better than doing nothing.  Sometimes I come clean and admit my lethargy.  Yet people often refuse to believe me.  “You have a Ph.D.  You’ve published three books.  You helped negotiate the Peace of Westphalia.  You can’t possibly be lazy.”  I wave off their protestations.  I insist that I am really quite slovenly.  I remind them that professors are notoriously lazy, barely rousing themselves to fabricate random grades for their students.  But the skeptics just pshaw and in insist I’m energetic.

Yeah?  Well not energetic enough to write this essay.

There’s a Stray Cat on the Back Porch: I think he might be part Maine Coon.  He’s got pointy ears that sprout tufts of hair.  He’s not fully grown but looks to be getting quite large.  And he doesn’t seem to mind the cold.  Hell, I think he enjoys it.  A few weeks back it got down to 14F at night.  For you fancy people with your hip, scientific measurements, that’s some big negative number in Celcius. Continue reading Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

Talking to a High School Student about Racism

high-schoolRecently, a high school student contacted me because she had questions about racism in America.  Specifically, she wanted to interview me for a school project on the topic of institutional racism.

Institutional racism is a tricky subject, and I did my best to introduce her to the complexities and nuances of something that often flies under the radar.  Many white Americans are unaware of the issue, or have trouble understanding it if they are aware.  And so after I answered her questions, I decided to re-print our Q&A.

Here is my conversation with a high schooler about racism in America.

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Thank you very much for helping me with my project by taking the time out of your day to answer a few of my questions on the following questions/topics.

How do you define institutional racism?  And how prevalent would you say it is in modern North American society?

We normally associate racism and bigotry with the intentional actions of an individual or group of people.  But institutional racism is the result of larger social forces that can be difficult to detect.  Instead of one person or a few people doing or saying something racist, institutional racism comes about when society at large expresses racism in more subtle and impersonal ways. Continue reading Talking to a High School Student about Racism

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.”

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

No Solace For Children

sunset.jptI sat on a friend’s living room couch, waiting for her to emerge from her bedroom contraptions.

I had arrived at the time and date requested.  But my initial visit to her room had been cut short amid the beeps and whirring of machinery.  After some brief exchanges, she began to raise herself and then asked me to summon her aide.

“Please get Dr. Reinhardt some tea while he waits for me.”

During the whole of the visit, that was the one time her eyes sparkled and she was fierce and energetic, full of bearing and dignity.  That she was truly herself.

I went to the kitchen with the aide.  She had already poured me some iced tea when I first arrived.  I retrieved the glass and said, “I think she wants you to go back in and help her come out.”  The aide smiled and returned to the bedroom laboratory.  I found a seat on the living room couch and took small sips while she helped my friend get herself together.

It took a few minutes.  Terminal lung cancer patients move slowly.  When she finally came out, it was with the help of the aide and a multi-pronged cane.  Trailing behind her was a machine that facilitated breathing; she was tethered to it by a clear plastic tube attached to her nose with fasteners looped around her ears.  She sat down gingerly and was engulfed by a wing back chair.

As we talked, we knew it would be the last time.  Adults don’t have to explain these things to each other.  She gave me a colorful pouch with a drawstring.  It contained a small gift of remembrance for a mutual friend who was out of town: polished stone jewelry from Afghanistan.  The pouch itself, made in Oman, was for me.  I asked if there was anything I could do for her.

“Take me to Oregon,” she responded. Continue reading No Solace For Children

In Memoriam: Lemmy

Ace of SpadesThe first time I heard of Motörhead was in the late 1980s.  I was a DJ at WCBN-FM, the college radio station in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  During my late night shift, someone called in a request  for “Ace of Spades” off the band’s self-titled 1980 album, their fourth.

I shuffled through the stacks and found the record.  The cover featured three guys in the desert wearing black leather and cowboy hats.  One of them had a bandalero.  Another wore a serape.

Maybe they’ve got a ZZ Top kinda thing going on, I thought to myself as I slapped the album on the platter.

No.  They did’t sound like ZZ Top. Continue reading In Memoriam: Lemmy

Guest Blogger Shayla Swift on Child Sexual Assault

Shayla Swift is an educator, a social justice historian, and an advocate for victims of sexual violence.  She is also the Executive Director of Speak Truth to Sexual Violence.  When she is not fighting hard for social change (always) she might be found in a dojo actually fighting, er, training several martial arts practices and overusing the word “rad.”

Last month, the Associated Press broke a story about child sexual assault cases in the military, and the staggering number of plea agreements the Judge Advocate General makes in lieu of going to trial.  What’s more, the general public can only find out about such cases after an arduous freedom of information search process.

The story was profoundly disturbing, raising all sorts of red flags.  It seemed to be yet another case of military’s shady handling of sexual violence, even against children.  It was a moment that called for something more than the vagaries.

What is really going on beyond the surface? Continue reading Guest Blogger Shayla Swift on Child Sexual Assault