Two Ridiculous Poems

by Akim Reinhardt

Franz Klammer! Franz Klammer!

“In Memory of Franz Klammer”

Franz Klammer soared
down alpine mounts,
His glory assured
by the clock’s count

The lord of Austria,
the king of the hill,
the master of the Alps,
the bringer of thrills

His grace, his speed,
defied laws of nature
His beautiful name
redefined nomenclature

Franz Klammer! Franz Klammer!
you were the best,
sparkling Olympic gold
draped ‘cross your chest.

We shall always remember
how you stormed down the mountains,
and now that you’re gone
we shall always be counting

The hours since you left,
and awaiting the day
when a soothsayer comes
and we all hear him say:

“Look up on the hill,
yonder snowy peak
A young man races hither
Come see him streak

Down the mountain side
like a B-29 bomber
Roaring like thunder,
he looks like dear Klammer!

With the wind in his face,
the mountain in his hands,
such bold, Teutonic grace,
he looks like beloved Franz!”

But alas, I do fear
such a day will not come
during my life
He was the only one

One of a kind
as down the mountains he tread–
What’s that you say?
Franz Klammer’s not dead?

But that must be a mistake,
we visited him just last week
He was rotting at the hospice,
I heard the doctor speak

Jean-Claude Killy.  Ooh la la.

About the ugly brain tumor
the gangrene and gonorrhea,
the lupus, the scurvy,
the heartburn, the diarrhea

They said he was a gonner
just a matter of time–
What? They let him out ?
He’s going home? He feels fine?!

This is ludicrous! I thought–
No, no! I’m not bitter
But between you and me,
Jean-Claude Killy was better. Read more »

Older White Men

by Akim Reinhardt

Old white men wearing ties can do anything they want.
-Mike Cooley, “One of These Days” (2001)

I am more powerful than I used to be, and it unnerves me.

I am a white man. And to be a white man in America is to have more power than women and people with darker skin. Just like rich people are more powerful than the poor, and heterosexuality holds more power than transexuality. I’ve been a white guy all my life, a half-century of it now, and for most of that time I’ve been aware that my skin color and increased testosterone endow me with extra power in our society. It’s been a learning curve, to be sure, one that I continue to climb as best I can. And the first lesson came at the hand of my father the only time he ever struck me.

Both of my parents suffered abuse as children, and when they made me and my sister, they swore they would not beat us. But there was this one time . . .

My father was working at a small, private school in the Bronx on a summer afternoon. The owners had hired him to repair a stone retaining wall. My father ran a small contracting business and often had one or two men working with him. Even though I was perhaps no more than six or seven years old, I knew this because I sometimes tagged along with him on jobs, like I had on this day. And so as I watched him labor and sweat beneath the hot sun, moving earth and lifting heavy stones, it occurred to me that normally he would have another worker to at least help with the worst of this grunt work. And indeed, there was another worker there. A black man who was close by, wearing work clothes and tending to some other manual task. So when my father let out a mild complaint about the weight of the rocks and the heat of the day, I offered what I thought was a perfectly reasonable suggestion:

“Why don’t have you have the black man do it?”

He turned, eyes afire, and slapped me across the face.

He thought I was being racist in a way that reminded him of growing up in segregated North Carolina, where even a white child could openly suggest the ordering around of black people. He would not suffer that in me. He would beat it out of me, if necessary.

But as soon as my tears welled up, he regretted it. He understood. Read more »

April Fools

by Akim Reinhardt

LollipopDonald Trump's first hundred days as president are nearly tallied. Enough time has passed that we can now divide people who voted for him into two groups:

1. Those who: never liked Trump (but made a calculated decision to vote for him); have more recently developed doubts; or will soon become disillusioned when Trump not only fails to deliver on his promises but actually does the opposite in many respects (eg., loses good paying blue collar jobs instead of creating them; contributes to a national healthcare scenario that's worse than ObamaCare; doesn't build a wall or at least doesn't get Mexico to pay for it, etc.)

2. Suckers

Ahh, the sucker.

Most of us like to pretend we're immune to crass charlatanism. I'm not that gullible, you tell yourself, refusing to believe you could be seriously suckered. Surely, someone as smart as you sees through the vulgar farces dangling before us.

The embarrassing truth, however, is that we all get taken for the proverbial ride now and again. It's not easy to admit, but really, there is no shame in it. Everyone has vulnerabilities and prejudices. Even the most skeptical and jaded among us are occasionally susceptible to a snazzy sales pitch. Sharp logicians and clever rhetoricians can still be manipulated by a well aimed guilt trip or melodic seduction. No one is perfect, and a good con artist can size you up, get you to look away, and then go right for your soft spot when you're not paying attention.

It can happen to anyone. All the people, as the old adage states, can get fooled some of the time. That will never change. The important thing is that we recognize and learn from our mistakes.

All of us are wrong on occasion. We can stumble over trivialities, or choose incorrectly on matters of grave import. To err, after all, is human. And if forgiveness is indeed divine, then it is precisely because we all require a pardon now and again. Salvation is a truly universal need.

Genuflect, admit your sins, work to better yourself, and be absolved.

But the gravest sin against the gods of redemption? To deny your guilt. To double down on your errors. To stubbornly roar with hubris, feign righteousness, and insist upon your rectitude. To set yourself up as a false god and never admit the wrongness of your ways.

There is no helping such miscreants. The perverse degenerate who cannot confess sin must be cast out of the temple and banished from the community!
So sayeth this atheist.

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This Is Not About White People

by Akim Reinhardt

White PersonMaybe one day I'll publish the 2,500 word screed I wrote for this website about how fucking sick I am of white people. And not just the racist, sexist ass holes who eagerly voted for a racist, sexist ass hole flaunting racism and sexism as a central part of his campaign; or the not-racist, sexist ass holes who held their noses and pulled the lever for a racist, sexist ass hole, and in doing so exhibited morally bankruptcy by giving public sanction to racism and sexism; but also the middle class, white liberals ass holes who valiantly fought hard to prevent a racist, sexist ass hole from reaching the White House, but once they lost, became self-centered, self-indulgent turds who had to publicly make everything about themselves, because nobody fucking suffers like white people.

Maybe one day I'll publish that essay.

But not today. Because publishing that essay, ironically enough, would be just one more way in which a white, middle class ass hole (me) found a way to use his privileged platform (this site) to make public declarations about white people. And even though it's a blistering critique which I stand behind every word of, it would just be another example of a white person making this all about white people.

But right now, this is not about white people. This is about what we, as Americans, choose to do amid the horror that some of us have wrought.

So instead of going an angry rant, I am going to write in of support brown people, in support of immigrants, and in support of women, and in support of LGBTQ people.

People are complex, contradictory beings. Despite the absurd fantasies of some economists, we are not like cats, simply licking what we like, clawing what we don't, ignoring all that doesn't matter or captivate us, and always working in our self-interest.

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The Two Party System is Officially a Nightmare

Teenager For Barryby Akim Reinhardt

Much has been made of the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most loathed presidential candidates since the birth of polling. Each of them has managed to alienate roughly half the country. About a quarter of Americans despise both of them. They make Barry Goldwater, Michael Dukakis, and Mitt Romney look beloved.

There has been a lot of focus on why these two candidates are so widely reviled. Simple partisanship doesn't seem to adequately explain it; fewer than a third of American view either of them favorably.

The Washington Post and ABC News tell us that Clinton-haters typically see her as a corrupt, untrustworthy flip-flopper, while Trump-haters hate too many things about him to list here, but it largely boils down to him being perceived as an inexperienced hatemonger.

Fortune magazine dispenses with the specifics and instead points to Clinton's and Trump's long and choppy resumés as repulsing the masses. Despite whatever accomplishments they may have racked up over the years, the thinking goes, voters simply can't get past the many “bad” things each candidate has done.

However, I'm less concerned with why exactly these two candidates are so widely detested. On some level, the why doesn't really matter; what's more pressing, I believe, is the how. In terms of American political mechanics, how could this happen and what does it mean? How did it get here, and what can we learn from it?

The one common mechanical process in almost every aspect of American politics is the two-party system: an extra-constitutional artifice that long ago hijacked government. And it is through those double swinging doors that we have stumbled into our current political purgatory.

This bi-polar orgy of villainy signifies that America's two-party system itself is badly broken; indeed, odds are that such a scenario would not have emerged if there were additional healthy political parties.

Let's start with Donald Trump.

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

by Akim Reinhardt
2+2=5
Hello. My name is Akim Reinhardt, I was very, very wrong, and now it's time for me 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'll have to publicly debase yourself almost as much I am about to do right now.

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 in 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 shennanigans. 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 to haughtily 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.

I spouted off like all the others, publicly assuring people that Trump would not win the nomination, offering up historically informed ramblings as evidence. And just like the rest of them, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

It was a fool's errand, of course. So why did I do it?

Read more »

Prince, Bowie, and Glenn Frey: 21st Century Public Mourning as a Rejection of Cold War Culture, or, Why Nobody Really Gives a Shit About that Guy from the Eagles

by Akim Reinhardt

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 of 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 confessed 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.

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

by Akim Reinhardt

You 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.

Lincoln quotesFor example, some people will always believe that Abraham Lincoln first uttered this famous aphorism, even though there is no record of him ever having written or said those words.

A French Protestant named Jacques Abbadie authored an early incarnation of the adage in 1684.

In 1754, the French editors Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert helped cement its popularity.

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 article.

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 essay, I looked up the maxim 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.

He's very good at fooling people. At the moment, he's successfully fooling millions of Republican voters into thinking he'd be a good president generally, and more specifically, that if elected he could actually do many of the outlandish things he's claiming, like getting Mexico to pay for a wall.

Thus, the question lurks forebodingly: Are we living through “some of the time?”

Is this the moment when Donald Trump fools all of the people, or at least enough of the ones who call themselves Republicans, that he lands the GOP's presidential nomination?

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On Writing a Coffee Table Book

by Akim Reinhardt

100 Moments coverI 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.

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 that first set of verses into lined loose leaf paper, another idea began to take vague form: Perhaps I could write for a living.

During the next decade-plus, I found various ways to entwine myself with written words. I continued composing lots of poems. I wrote for the 9th grade yearbook. I struggled and failed with short stories. As a freshman in college I took an introductory creative writing class. As a sophomore I began writing about music for the college newspaper. As a junior I took a second writing course. After graduating I did some freelance work for alternative weeklies. Around that time, I began writing songs, and my earlier interest in poems was eventually usurped by the crafting of lyrics. I took another swipe at short stories; they were now a lot better, but highly derivative.

During those years of knock around jobs and cheap rent, I thought very hard about being a writer and put in a fair amount of practice. Could I actually do this?

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

March 15by Akim Reinhardt

Progressives, 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 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 on this very website 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, it's certainly worth investigating the Trump phenomenon. 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?

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No Solace For Children

by Akim Reinhardt

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. However, 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'd 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.

I was puzzled. So far as I knew, she didn't have any family or friends in the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, I doubted that she'd ever even been there. She was originally from Ohio, started her family and got her doctorate there. She had lived in Maryland for decades, and had conducted her research in sub-Saharan Africa. I looked at her quizzically. “Oregon?”

“They have that law there.”

It took a moment, then I understood. Physician assisted suicide. She nodded, wheezing and in pain.

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Is Donald Trump a Fascist? Will He Be the Next President? No, and Fuck No

by Akim Reinhardt

TrumpBack in August, here at this very site, I published a piece dismissive of Donald Trump's chances of gaining the White House. I called those who feared he would become our next president “worry warts.”

My basic contention was that Trump is involved in a quadrennial rite: announcing his presidential candidacy as a way of garnering free publicity. Furthermore, pursuing attention isn't just a way to soothe his massive ego. Publicity is very important to him because at this point he's a commercial pitchman much more than he is a real estate developer, and the brand he mostly sells is himself. In this way, he's fundamentally no different than Michael Jordan or Kim Kardashian. It also helps explain why he has previously “run” for president in 1988, 2000, 2004, and 2012, along with short-lived efforts to run for New York state governor in and 2006 and 2014. Free publicity.

In that August essay, I also asserted that most of his supporters, which really aren't that many when you crunch the numbers, don't actually agree with his vague platform. They're just buying his brash brand. He'll start to fade by the end of the year, I said. He'll be done for good in February or March of 2016, I said.

Well, it's mid-December, ie. the end of the year, and Trump's shadowy specter has not faded from our watery eyes. Indeed, his numbers are up. Furthermore, as he remains on the political scene, his political statements get more and more outlandish, leading many to brand him a fascist.

So now Donald Trump's a fascist, and he's going to be our next president.

Golly gee willikers, Batman! That sounds dastardly. I sure hope he doesn't pick The Joker as his V.P.!

But hold on a second. Before we shoot that Bat Signal floodlight into the nighttime sky, as if we're engulfed in some comic book version of the burning of the Reichstag, let's think about it rationally.

Is Donald Trump actually a fascist? No. And anyone who says Yes doesn't know what fascism is.

Can Donald Trump be the next president? Wait, let me stop chuckling. Okay . . . No.

To understand why not, and what's going on, let's break it down. First, I'll address why The Donald isn't the second coming of Il Duce, and then I'll expand on earlier points about why he won't be the next president.

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Burning My Confederate Flag

by Akim Reinhardt

1967 Summer of Love WardrobeTo be born in America in 1967 is, to some degree, to fall through the cracks.

The Baby Boom was most certainly over by then, its most senior elements old enough to vote and drink. But the Millennials, now the focus of every drooling advertising executive and marketing guru, were naught but twinkles in the eyes of their Boomer sires and dames.

Bookmarked between bigger generations, being born in the late 1960s and early 1970s meant you were conceived and suckled amid the tumult of the Civil Rights and Vietnam protests; in (cloth) diapers when the moon landing occurred; discovering kindergarten as President Richard Nixon’s Plumbers were bumbling the Watergate break-in; and learning to read when the final U.S. helicopters evacuated Saigon.

To be born in 1967 means that when the late 1960s and early 1970s were becoming iconic, you were there, but you weren't. You didn't get to partake in the Summer of Love. You're what it spit out.

Thus, when coming of age, many important things were very familiar to you, but their meanings were muddled. Cultural symbols like bell bottom jeans and rubber Richard Nixon masks were still common enough to be lodged in your consciousness, but deeper insights were lacking. By the time you were waking up in the late 1970s, they seemed to be little more than goofs, unmoored from the bloody anti-war protests that divided a nation, or the collapse of a presidency that shook Americans' faith in their government.

Sure, we understood our own moment well enough. Late Cold War and early computers. AIDS and acid rain. Crack cocaine and homelessness. But the gravitas that had conceived us was by then little more than parody and catharsis. Black Power surrendered to Blacksploitation. Protest songs gave way to disco and synth pop. Vietnam was reduced to Rambo.

And if the late 1970s began glossing over so much of what had immediately preceded it, then the 1980s buffed it into a smooth, porcelain sheen. In pop culture representations of the 1960s and early 19790s, substance had been overtaken by style. Symbols, absent their meaning, were rendered fashion accessories and punch lines. A case in point was the Confederate flag.

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The Current Spike in Baltimore Violence

by Akim Reinhardt

MurderAs has been widely reported, May was an exceptionally violent month here in Baltimore. The city has witnessed dozens shootings and 38 murders. That is the most murders in any one month since 1996.

Such a spate of violence is certainly worth reporting, and the national media has been quick to pick up on it. However, many media outlets are also drawing lazy connections to the riot and protests that took place several weeks back.

The typical analysis, whether implied or explicit, goes something like this.

There was a riot in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody. The riot amplified already troubled relations between Baltimore's African American community and its police force. The police, unhappy about the indictment of six officers in the Gray case, are staging a work slowdown. The result is tremendous violence across the city.

Examples are: here, here, here, here, and here.

This brand of analysis is not factually wrong. Some of those statements may be a bit vague, but they're wrong in and of themselves. However, when those those facts are strung together in this manner, the narrative they produce is just a bit too facile to offer a penetrating explanation for recent upswing in violence.

The problem with such an analysis is that it's:

  • Too focused on the present to account and fails to account for historical forces, and;
  • Too narrow in the way it corrals all the immediate factors but fails to make room for larger structural forces

All of this leads to questions bout causality. For example, to what extent could Baltimore's bloody May be part of a seasonal burst of violence that has taken place across the country?

And how, exactly, does a bad relationship between black Baltimoreans and Baltimore police directly lead to more black-on-black murders (which is mostly what has happened)? Black people don't trust cops, so now they're murdering each other more? That seems like a very peculiar correlation to make.

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A Love Letter from Baltimore

by Akim Reinhardt

Baltimore postcardLast Wednesday, over at my website, I published an essay on the riot that took place in Baltimore, a city where I've lived since 2001. Sincere thanks to 3QD for re-posting it here.

That essay primarily focused on the riot itself, not the protests that followed or the de facto police state Baltimore has become since then. I considered the conditions in Baltimore that led to the riot and and examined rioting as a form of social violence.

In this essay, however, I would like to offer a more personalized reaction to the events of the past two weeks: fragments of thought and experience amid the choppers circling overhead, parks filled with protestors, and streets lined with soldiers.

Unleashing a Beast?: The Legitimizing of Governor Larry Hogan.

The night of the riot, a dear friend and fellow historian called me up and said: “This legitimizes Hogan.”
That's a very prescient insight.

When 9-11 happened, Bush the Younger was woefully unqualified to handle the situation. In the end, he seriously botched it in numerous ways. But it didn't matter. He was the man in charge. People turned to him, and he played it macho, maintaining his image enough to reap the political benefits. He was instantly legitimized, and despite all of his bungling over the next three years, was able to win re-election in 2004.

Eight months ago, Larry Hogan was kind of a nobody. Until 2003, he was just a businessman working in commercial real estate. Then, when Bob Erlich became the first Republican governor of Maryland since Spiro Agnew (yes, former disgraced Richard Nixon VP Spiro Agnew), Hogan finagled a spot as Secretary of Appointments. In other words, he was responsible for patronage appointments in the Erlich administration.

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An Atheist Considers God’s Plan

by Akim Reinhardt

Oprah quote“It's all part of God's plan.”

That's bad enough. But I go a little nuts whenever someone says: “Everything happens for a reason.”

After all, if you actually believe that we're all just mortal puppets dancing on a divine string, then there's really no point in us having an adult conversation about cause and effect.

But unlike God's plan, “Everything happens for a reason” does not suggest a deep detachment from reality, which is precisely what makes it far more exasperating than assertions of, say, childhood leukemia being an important cog in God's grand machinations.

Rather than embracing wild delusion or concocting a fantastic blend of paternal benevolence and cruelty, “everything happens for a reason” suggests a far murkier and depressing version of surrendering reality. Like the “God's plan” adage, it indicates the speaker just can't live up to the horrors of life, and is wont to soothe oneself with the balm of inevitability. But it also leads me to suspect that while the speaker is sane enough to dismiss sadistically intricate divine plans, s/he has been reduced to hiding behind the gauze of unstated and unknowable “reasons.”

Everything happens for a reason.

In other words, even the worst of it can be justified, even if we don't know how.

To say childhood leukemia is part of God's plan is to give that reason a name. Specifically, God's plan is how one justifies the horror. That's pretty awful.

But to say childhood leukemia happens for a vague, unnamed reason is to accept that it's justified in some way, but to not know what the justification is. That seems even worse.

Both proverbs, to my mind, are patently dishonest sentiments. But while I can easily dismiss the former as delusion in the face of pain, the latter reveals just enough self-awareness to anger me.

God's plan is the refuge of those who, unable to face up to harsh realities, opt for fantasy. But to recognize that childhood-leukemia-as-God's-plan is a form of lunacy, yet hide your own weak-kneed desperation behind claims of “reason,” is really insulting. It's one thing to dismiss rational thought altogether when attempting to face life's horrors. It's quite another to bastardize and mangle rational thought to create a shield against life's horrors.

Or so it seemed to me when I first considered these aphorisms.

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This Essay is Still not about American Sniper or Even the Travesty of Boyhood Not Winning Best Picture

by Akim Reinhardt

Sad cakeLast month I offered about 2,000 words on the meaninglessness of life.

“Life is meaningless,” I said. “Nothing matters, nothing at all.”

I suggested that “meaning and truth are just illusions that humans chatter about incessantly because they can't stomach the sheer meaninglessness of it all.”

Indeed, your birth was an act of unfathomable randomness, as is the very existence of life on Earth and the rise of humanity. We delude ourselves by creating and embracing meaning. But the absence of truth is the only truth I know and meaninglessness is the only thing I have.

“And today,” I said last month, “I just can't bring myself to pretend otherwise.”

But 4 Mondays ago isn't everyday. The fact is, many days, perhaps most, I do pretend that things matter and that truth exists and that morality is real.

I pretend even though I know I'm pretending. I can't help myself. I'm not a guru of nihilism with single-minded purpose of pulling back the curtain to reveal the empty chair where you thought sits the wizard. I'm not a sociopath incapable ascertaining that anything might matter beyond me.

I'm just a regular person for the most part. One with a devilish smile and more corduroy than the average person does or should have in their wardrobe, perhaps. But regular in most ways. And so even though I know deep down that life is meaningless, I usually give in to the temptation to pretend that things do matter. Pretending this way comes naturally, and to a large degree I'm happy with the results.

Thus, last month's 2,000 words about why life is meaningless and how nothing matters, are now complemented by these 2,000 words about why and what I pretend is meaningful and matters.

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This Essay Is Not About American Sniper

by Akim Reinhardt

American SniperI was gonna write something about the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper. Seems like a topic of the Now. Something the internetting public can really grab onto and scream about.

Clint Eastwood: Sentimental warmonger, or artist of more nuance than leftists and pacifists can discern?

U.S. sniper Chris Kyle: Troubled war veteran of humble origins whose experiences are a sharp prism for viewing America's exploitative class divides and tragic foreign policy, or a remorseless, racist killing machine who's murderous life and violent death reflect much of what's wrong with the nation?

That kinda thing. People love that sort of stuff. Gets ‘em all jacked up, clickety-click. Plus, I just saw the movie and have some ideas of my own. But you know what?

Fuck it.

I don't wanna talk about moral ambiguity. I don't wanna dissect global politics. I don't wanna filter through the finer shades of artistic vision, intention, and reception. I don't wanna delve into any of those abstractions. I don't wanna tap society's pulse and jump on the topic du jour. You know why?

Because life is meaningless.

As I sit down in front of this keyboard, I can't bring myself to care about what 3QD readers want or would enjoy reading. I can't be bothered to speculate on what type of essay might once again garner me a citation by Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish or land me back in the Huffington Post.

None of that matters. Because nothing matters. Nothing at all.

Meaning and truth are just illusions that humans chatter about incessantly because they can't stomach the sheer meaninglessness of it all.

The Earth is a snowball of cosmic debris. The possibility of life on it is a longshot accident that came in like a broken down nag in the 10th race at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens (a real dump if you've never been). To consider the evolution of single cell floaters into multi-cell life forms is a far more boring prospect than even the droning monotone of the dullest high school biology teacher could suggest. Just that jump took over two and half billion years.

The rest of it? Some dinosaurs, some meteorites, some mammals, and us.

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I’m on a Big Boat

Sinkshipby Akim Reinhardt

I think I'm supposed to call it a ship. I get confused about these things. All I know for sure is that we're headed south.

I used to be tough when it came to winter. Not like strap-on-some-snow-shoes-and-hunt-a-walrus-with-a-harpoon tough, but tough enough that a five month season in Nebraska or Michigan didn't bother me. That, however, was then.

I've lived in Maryland since 2001. It's made me soft. When I first showed up, I thought to myself: These people are pathetic. Complaining about their mild, mid-Atlantic winter that lasts all of ten weeks. Can't drive worth a damn in the snow. Losers.

And I do still make fun of them for their shitty winter driving and their weird snow amnesia; every year when it snows for the first time (and it snows almost every year), there's a collective gasp of horror and frenzied panic, as if they've never seen the white before. Two inches, they close all the schools and pillage the supermarket. But by the time it dumps eight inches in late February, they're acting like seasoned pros, talking about how this one's easier to shovel than the last one because the snow's not as wet. Every year, the same thing, evolving in two months from snow virgins to grizzled winter vets. Strangest fuckin' thing I've ever seen.

I think mocking them for stuff like that is the right thing to do. But the truth is, after fourteen years, I'm soft too. It gets below 50F, I start to shiver. I recently told that to a native New Yorker who transplanted to Minnesota. He didn't respond. It was over the phone, so I couldn't see his facial expression. Couldn't tell if he wanted to strangle me or if he was just silently crying to himself.

I'm not proud of having turned weak when it comes to the cold, but I'm not ashamed either. Fuck it. I'm skinny and I don't like being cold. And so one question has dogged me for several years now, vis a vis winter:

How can I get warm on the cheap?

I'd been toying with that question for a few years, but last winter broke me. I didn't want to endure it again. The 2013-2014 season was a tough one throughout the East. From Maine to Arkansas, whatever passes for your normal winter, it was colder and longer than that.

In Baltimore that meant winter was three and a half months instead of two and a half. It meant frequent bouts with temperatures in the twenties and teens. It was so bad, I wrote about it here. Wasted your time, dear readers, with my drivel about how it was so goddamn cold, and for so long, that it was the first Maryland winter to ever remind me of a Michigan winter.

Fuck that. I'm soft. I'm weak. I want out. Don't wanna write about winter anymore. I just wanna be warm.

How can I do it on the cheap? As I looked into it, the same answer to that question kept popping up.

Get on a big boat and sail south to the Caribbean.

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Tchotchkes and Latkes

by Akim Reinhardt

DavenportsI still remember the first time I heard it. It was back in the late ‘90s, when I had cable. There was this openly gay guy, bald, a little overweight, a beard I think. He had some design show about sprucing up your house.

There weren't a lot of openly gay men on American TV back then. They were just breaking through into mainstream culture. There was the sitcom Will & Grace, and those five gay guys who taught straight men how to dress. Anyway, this guy, whose name I can't remember, was enough of a national sensation that Saturday Night Live spoofed him for a while.

I was sitting on my velour davenport watching cable TV. I flipped by his show. He was pointing out all the bric a brat cluttering a room and said: “I'm in tchotchke heaven.”

Except he didn't say it right. He said choch-kee. Kinda rhymed with Versace. I cringed.

I was living in Nebraska at the time. I didn't have any real desire to move back to my native New York City, but there were certainly things I missed about it. After all, it was still the 20th century, before Manhattan had transformed into a playground for tourists and millionaires, and Brooklyn into an equivalent for the six-figure crowd.

Back then I would watch Law and Order repeats and really enjoy the opening segment where some bit characters would stumble across a corpse. Those people playing those bit characters often seemed liked they'd been plucked right off the street. I cherished little New York moments like that. The mere sight of fellow Bronx native Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe would make me wistful for the old days when Orbach did drug store commercials on local TV.

So to hear this hammie cable hack say choch-kee was like a kick in the gut. Stop mispronouncing my word, I thought. Then he said it again. I changed the channel.

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