I Have a Concussion and Can’t Write 2,000 New Words, So Here’s an Old, Unpublished Essay About How Ridiculous it is that Bob Dylan Won a Nobel

by Akim Reinhardt

clip artSmacked my head on the pavement while jogging across campus in the rain. Had my hands on my stomach, holding documents in place underneath my shirt to keep them dry. So when my foot went out after skipping over a puddle, I couldn’t get my front paws down in time to brace my fall as I corkscrewed through the air, landing on my hip and shoulder, and whiplashing my head downward.  Consequently I don’t have the brain power to crank out 2,000 fresh words.  So here’s a dated piece about Baby Boomer navel gazing and ressentiment.

Perhaps I should just skip a week instead of peddling an old, cranky number that previously had not found the light of day. That would probably be the prudent, and certainly reasonable course. But vanity urges me onward. I have a bit of a streak running here at 3QD and don’t want to break it just cause I cracked my noggin. Alas, for better or worse then, I move forward by looking backwards.
*
Ugh. Bob Dylan.

Even though we’re well into the 21st century and half the Baby Boomers are collecting Social Security, they’re still determined to thumb their noses at their parents. Even the Swedish ones, apparently. So Bob Dylan gets a Nobel Prize in Literature.

I told you, daaaaaaaaad! My music is art toooo! Seeee?

You know what? You’re dad’s dead. Grow up. Find a new battle to fight. Go argue with your grandkids or something.

Bob Dylan. Jesus.

The guy plagiarized substantial portions of the only prose book he ever wrote, his 2005 memoir. You’d think that right there would disqualify a writer from winning the world’s most prestigious lifetime literary award. But this is the Age of Truthiness, so I guess all bets are off. 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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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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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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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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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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On the Academic Boycott of Israel

by Akim Reinhardt

Torn pagesLet me begin with some personal disclosure. I am a half-Jewish American who has never been and has no personal connection to Israel. In the early 1960s before I was born, my mother, who has otherwise lived her entire life in The Bronx, spent two years on a northern Israeli kibbutz named Kfar Hanassi. Over the years she has occasionally told stories of her time there and maintained some long distance friendships. That one, small tangent is the full extent of my personal association with Israel; in other words, there is virtually none.

In addition to having never been to Israel and never having had any friends or known relatives who live there, I also have no spiritual connection to the place. Though raised Jewish, my inter-faith parents were ambivalent about religion and occasionally outright hostile to organized, institutional forms. I have also been an atheist my entire adult life. The city of Jerusalem and holy sites like the Wailing Wall have no more religious meaning to me than Catholic Cathedrals or Buddhist monasteries. I simply admire the architecture, as the old saying goes.

Yet despite all this, I'm well aware of the hold that the concept of Israel has on American Jewry in general, which is why I disclose my Jewishness. For many American Jews, regardless of their religiousness or lack thereof, Israel is a powerful symbol. As someone whose maternal Jewish grandparents fled Poland and Rumania not terribly long before WWII, and whose grandmother lost almost all of her entire extended family in the Holocaust, I understand that.

You can't grow up with family stories of violent, pre-war persecution, narrow escapes, the two cousins who survived unspeakable horrors, and seemingly countless dead relatives you never met, and not be affected. Refugee trauma is real and it often reverberates down through several generations.

So even though Israel is a place I have virtually no connection to whatsoever as a country or religious site, I am cognizant of the potent symbol it remains for millions of Jews who don't live there. For many Jews, the historical trauma of the Holocaust, not to mention the longer history of persecutions, violence, and ethnic cleansings in Europe and the Middle East, is real. Although most of today's Jews have never experienced a pogrom, survived a concentration camp, or been a refugee, for many of them the echoes of that past remain.

Thus, for many ethnic Jews, Israel continues to stand as the symbol of last resort, the theoretical lifesaver against the turbulent tides of history. I recognize the power that symbol has for many American Jews. It has the capacity to color people's interpretations, definitions, and understandings of Israeli affairs, particularly if they, like myself, have no real connection to Israel, thereby rendering it more abstract.

I do not believe that Israel, as a symbol to Jews, colors my own thinking of Israel the nation. Nonetheless, disclosure is important, particularly because I am going to discuss the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions ovement (BDS) against Israel. Some people may suspect that being half-Jewish (my father's family are White Protestants from North Carolina and California) affects my understanding and interpretations. I don't think it does, but I certainly won't hide the fact or pretend its irrelevant to everyone.

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Remembering Winter

by Akim Reinhardt

Tapping a Maple TreeIn an early episdoe of Mad Men, a character named Ken Cosgrove publishes a short story in the Atlantic Monthly. It'sentitled:

“Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning.”

That's just about pitch perfect for the American literary scene circa 1960. The coating of influential New England literati is so thick on the young author, you can practically see it glisten.

But the reason I recently remembered “Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning” had nothing to do with Mad Men or literature. Rather, it's because of late I've been remembering winter.

For much of the United States, including here in Maryland, it has been a particularly fierce winter. Not the snowiest necessarily, though there has certainly been snow. But long and cold.

This is my 13th consecutive winter in Maryland, and it's the first one that harkens back to my experience of onerous winters in harsher climes.

From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, I toughed it out, spending the better part of seven winters in southeastern Michigan and another five in eastern Nebraska. These are serious winter places. They're not Siberia or Winnipeg, but they will punch you in the face, and you need to come to terms with that if you live there.

Southern Michigan winters, first and foremost, are just plain long. Snow usually begins falling in November and never quite goes away. Just when you think it might all melt off, boom! Another half foot covers everything. None of this March goes out like a lamb stuff. Every bit of March is winter. So is a chunk of April.

When will it end? you find yourself pleading aloud to no one in particular. It just goes and goes and goes. It grinds you down and forces you to get back up again. Every year you know what you're in for. Body blow after body blow. And you wonder to yourself how the people from northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, the ones who mock you for your soft, southern winters, how do they do it?

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Black Pete, the Washington Redskins, and Modern Minstrelsy

by Akim Reinhardt

Photo from Huffington PostBlack Pete. Good Lord, what a head shaker that is.

Most anyone who's not Dutch looks at Black Pete and thinks to themselves: For real? You've got Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, working his Christmas season magic accompanied by an army of little Jumpin' Jim Crows? Diminutive, black face helpers who look like an unholy cross between Al Jolsen and Rhoda from the Mary Tyler Moore Show?

If that ain't a goddamn freak show, then I don't know what is.

Until recently, most Americans had never heard of Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet as he's known in Dutch. He only first caught my attention a couple of years ago. But this year, the little fella began reaching an international level of infamy as even the United Nations chimed in on Holland's favorite little pickaninny.

White performers dressed in black face and performing as Black Pete is pretty cut and dried for most people: it's stunningly distasteful, and an embarrassing throwback to Europe's imperial culture.

But then again, most people aren't from Holland, and that's where it starts to get interesting.

The Dutch have overwhelmingly rallied together in defense of Black Pete. Amid the hubbub following the U.N. condemnation, a Dutch Facebook page supporting Black Pete quickly garnered over two million of Likes. In a nation with fewer than 17 million people, that's quite a statement.

But rather than helping their cause, the rationale most apologists offer only compounds matters. They insist that Black Pete needs to stay because he’s good for children; that the character is a cherished part of most Dutch people’s childhood, and many of them can’t imagine depriving today’s children of that joy.

Because really, nothing’s better for helping children gain a sound sense of themselves and others than watching black face performers prance around cartoonishly.

Americans such as myself can be quick to judge and condemn. Living in a country that saw a protracted civil rights movement reach its apex half-a-century ago, the knee jerk reaction is to condescendingly nod our heads and mutter something about Europe's backwards race relations. We know our own state of race relations is far from perfect. But black face in 21st America? And directed at audiences of children no less? Incomprehensible.

But what about red face?

The Kansas City Chiefs football team. The Cleveland Indians baseball team. The Washington Redskins football team. The Atlanta Braves baseball team. The Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. And beyond professional sports teams garnering huge profits, there are also prestigious research universities like Florida State University and the University of Illinois that continue to field sports teams with Indian names and mascots, have many fans who dress up in red face, and even present sanctioned red face Indian performances for the crowd.

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The New Dark Ages, Part I: From Religion to Ethnic Nationalism and Back Again

The Torture of a Witch, Anne Hendricks, in Amsterdam in 1571by Akim Reinhardt

European Historians have long eschewed the term “Dark Ages.” Few of them still use it, and many of them shiver when they encounter it in popular culture. Scholars rightly point out that the term, popularly understood as connoting a time of death, ignorance, stasis, and low quality of life, is prejudiced and misleading.

And so my apologies to them as I drag this troublesome phrase to center stage yet again, offering a new variation on its meaning.

In this essay I am taking the liberty of modifying the tem “Dark Ages” and applying to a modern as well as a historical context. I use it to refer to a general culture of fundamentalism permeating societies, old and new. By “Dark Age” I mean to describe any large scale effort to dim human understanding by submerging it under a blanket of fundamentalist dogma. And far from Europe of 1,500 years ago, my main purpose is to talk about far more recent matters around the world.

Life is, of course, a multi-faceted affair. The complex relationships among individuals and between individuals and societies produce a host of economic, cultural, political, and social manifestations. But one of the defining characteristics of the European Dark Ages, as I am now using the term, was the degree to which those multi-faceted aspects of the world were flattened by religious theology and dogma. As the Catholic Church grew in power and spread across Europe from roughly 500-1500, it was able, at least to some degree, to sublimate political, cultural, social, and economic understanding and action under its dogmatic authority. In many realms of life far beyond religion, forms of knowledge and action were subject to theological sanction.

Those who take pride in Western civilization, or even those like myself who don't necessarily, but who simply acknowledge its various achievements alongside its various shortcomings, recognize a series of factors that led to those achievements. Some of those factors, such as colonialism, are horrific. Some, like the growth of secular thought, are more admirable.

Not that secular thought in and of itself is intrinsically laudable; maybe it is, though I don't think so. But rather, that the rise of secular thought enabled Europe, over the course of centuries, to throw off it's own self-imposed yoke of religious absolutism. And that freeing itself in this way was one of the factors spurring Europe's many impressive achievements over the last half-millennium.

Most denizens of what was once known as the Christian world, including various colonial offshoots such as the United States and Australia, now accept and even take for granted a multi-faceted conception of life and human interaction. For most of them, including many of the religious ones, it is a given that moving away from a world view flattened by religion, at the very least, facilitated the development of things like science and the modern explosion of wealth. Of course the move from a medieval to a modern mind set also unleashed a variety of problems; but on balance, relatively few Westerners would willingly return to any version of medieval Christian theocracy.1

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It’s All About the Benjamins: Grappling with Fears of Inflation

by Akim Reinhardt

BankerI belong to a credit union. It's been fifteen years since I kept my money in a for-profit bank.

Nearly one-third of Americans also belong to credit unions, and for most of us, the reason is obvious: for-profit banks suck. They nickle-and-dime you to death, looking for any excuse to charge fees. And that makes perfect sense. After all, banks aren't designed to do you any favors. They're designed to make money off of your money.

Credit unions, however, are non-profit cooperatives. So they're not out to fuck ya. People who keep money with them are shareholders, not targets of exploitation. And when a credit union does charge fees, the reason and amount always seem sensible, to me at least. So not only do I keep my money in a credit union, I also took a home mortgage with one and run my credit card through one.

The financial meltdown of 2008 only reinforced my decision to avoid for-profit banks at all costs. As profiteering financial institutions hit the skids, and were either bailed out with public money or put down altogether, the credit union industry was relatively unscathed by comparison. Reasonable regulations and responsible banking practices ensured that most credit unions never gambled away their shareholders' money.

In fact, no retail (a.k.a. consumer or natural person) credit union, the kind that operates like a bank for regular people, has ever been bailed out with taxpayer money. Ever. Furthermore, compared to banks, only a fraction of retail credit unions went under, although it should be noted that the financial meltdown did substantially damage the wholesale (a.k.a. corporate or central) credit union industry, which offers investments and services to the retail credit unions, not their patrons.

Fewer fees and peace of mind are nice perks, to be sure. However, there are certain disadvantages. One inconvenience that plagued me for several years has to do with the relatively sparse physical presence of credit unions, compared to the monstrous for-profit banks that loom large on the landscape; it seems you can't spit without hitting one of the latter, while the former is far less ubiquitous.

With fewer branches and outlets, credit unions can't offer nearly as many automated tell machines as do the big boys. Of course the credit union would never charge me for using someone else's ATM. Again, they're not looking for excuses to screw me over. But the non-credit union ATMs that I did occasionally use invariably charged me for using their machine.

So to avoid fees, I had to take care to make withdrawals only from the relatively few credit union ATMs, none of which were near my home. Either that, or I had to suck it up and pay the piper.

Fortunately, my credit union came up with a solution. They cut a deal with 7-11. As a result, I can withdraw money with my credit union ATM card at any of their stores and pay no fees. And it just so happens that there are two 7-11s within a few blocks from my home.
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Ann Coulter is Not Funny

by Akim Reinhardt

Image from FreeRepublic.comLet me be clear from the start. This article is not about Ann Coulter's politics, which I find to be dogmatic, bigoted, and intellectually dishonest. I've already written about that elsewhere.

Rather, politics aside, the goal here is to consider her humor and try to understand why it fails. To figure out why, despite her best efforts, Ann Coulter is not funny.

This is worth considering because Coulter often attempts to dismiss criticism and defend many of her horrific comments by bending them on the anvil of comedy. When people complain about something outrageous that Coulter says or writes, she and her supporters often insist that she is merely joking.

For example, after hiring her to write about the 2004 Democratic national convention, USA Today declined to publish Coulter's first article for the paper on the grounds that her writing suffered from a “basic weaknesses in clarity and readability that we found unacceptable.” When she refused their editorial suggestions, the paper let her go. Coulter responded that “USA Today doesn't like my ‘tone,' humor, sarcasm, etc., which raises the intriguing question of why they hired me to write for them.”

This is just one among countless examples of Coulter using her supposed sense of humor to deflect criticism. In that vein, one of her canned responses is that some people don't get her jokes because “Liberals” have no sense of humor.

This is, of course, a very strange and paradoxical accusation. For at the same time Coulter and other Conservatives are chanting that Liberals have no sense of humor, they're also endlessly complaining about how Liberals dominate the entertainment industry. And of course they're right about that. The entertainment industry, including all those professionally funny people ranging from comedy writers to standup comics, are overwhelmingly liberal and always have been.

There are people in this country who are so funny they can do it for a living; they're so funny that the broad American public will pay money to watch their movies, TV shows, and standup. And the vast, vast majority of those people are either liberal, or at the very least not conservative.

So where are all those side-splittingly funny Conservatives who, for some reason, aren't getting paid to be funny? Well, there's at least one, or so I've been told over and over. And her name is Ann Coulter. There's just one problem with this.

Ann Coulter is not funny. And I say this only with the deepest respect for comedy.

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The United States: A Premature Postpartum in Four Parts

by Akim Reinhardt

Ottoman EmpireThe Ottoman Empire, which emerged during the beginning of the 14th century, reached its zenith some 250 years later under its 10th Sultan, Suleiman the Law Giver. By that point, the empire held sway over more than 2 million square miles spread across parts of three continents, from Hungary in the west to Persia in the east, from the north shore of the Black Sea to the southern tip of the Red Sea.

And then began the long, slow slog towards oblivion. Osmanli imperial decline unfolded over the course of three and a half centuries. There was no shortage of ups and downs along the way, but of course there were more of the latter than the former. The empire teetered into the 20th century, and by the start of World War I, had lost almost all of its holdings in Europe and north Africa. As with the Hapsburgs and czarist Russia, the war itself proved to be the coup de grace, signaling an end to the era of classic empires. Ottoman forces achieved mixed results during the actual fighting, but by the time the war was over, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was leading a successful revolt from within. The sultanate was abolished in 1922, and the empire's Anatolian rump reformed as the modern nation of Turkey the following year. After more than six centuries of rise and fall, the empire was done.

It had taken 350 years for the Ottoman empire to slip from apogee to dissolution; just its decline alone had lasted longer than many political entities exist in toto. Indeed, the United States first gained first independence “only” 230 years ago, which means it needs well over four and a half more centuries to match the staying power of the Ottomans.

As a Historian, I know better than most how useless it is to predict the future. I will not even hazzard a guess as to when the United States will finally dissolve or how it will occur: through bloody war, contentious rebellion, or quiet disintegration.

But it will happen eventually. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing.

And whenever it does happen, future historians might possibly look back to the mid-20th century as the U.S. imperial acme in much the same way they now look back to the mid-16th century as the peak of Ottoman glory.

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Family Feud

by Akim Reinhardt

Elvis Presley in Kissin CousinsLess than an hour apart, similar in size and population, and connected by I-95 and a tangled overgrowth of suburbs, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. are very much alike. The mid-Atlantic's kissin' cousins share everything from beautiful row home architecture to a painful history of Jim Crow segregation.

But the wealthier parts of D.C. have grown uppity of late, and you can blame Uncle Sam.

Whereas Charm City has suffered from de-industrialization, depopulation, and growing poverty over the last half-century, Washington's economy has grown dramatically with the federal government's rapacious expansion since World War II.

Once upon a time, Baltimore was a major American city driven by heavy manufacturing and voluminous harbor traffic, while Washington was a dusty, lackluster town, the population noticeably undulating with the political season. But after moving in opposite directions for decades, D.C. was poised to surpass Baltimore economically by the 1990s.

The rich cousin is now the poor cousin and vice versa, trading seats at all the family functions. But one thing has not changed: Neither member of America's urban clan ever has or likely ever will come anywhere close to competing for the title of Patriarch. We're not talking about big boy national powerhouses like New York or Los Angeles, or even avuncular, regional monsters like Chicago and Houston.

Nope. It's just D.C. and Baltimore

If Baltimore is the southeastern most notch on the rust belt, the rough, homemade punch hole that allows the nation to let out the its sagging waistline, then Washington is the two-bit company town in the heady throes of a contrived boom. Each town has seen their fortunes headed in different directions of late, but nobody is ever going to confuse either of these old branches on the family tree for anyone's rich uncle. Baltimore's heyday is in the past, while D.C.'s rising glory is transparently artificial.

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Never on a Saturday

by Akim Reinhardt

Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz Earlier this week, the United States Post Office announced that come August, it would be suspending regular home delivery service of the mails on Saturdays, except for package service. The USPS is In financial straits, and the budget-cutting move will save about $2 Billion in its first year, putting a dent in the $16 Billion it lost just in 2012.

The Post Office has come under financial pressure from a number of sources over the past decade. Of course the internet has usurped traffic. And there’s also lost market share to private carriers like Federal Express and United Parcel Service, which cut into the lucrative package an overnight delivery markets, while leaving the USPS with an unenviable monopoly in the money-losing but vitally important national letter-and-stamp service. Despite regularly increasing rates over the last decade, the United States still offers one of the cheapest such services in the world, with a flat fee of 46 cents to send a 1 oz. envelope 1st class anywhere in the United States.

For less than half a dollar, you can send a birthday card from Maine to Hawai’i, and be confident that it will arrive in 2-3 days. Pretty impressive. Especially when compared to other nations, almost all of which charge more for an ounce of domestic mail, even though most of them are quite a bit smaller in size. The chart below compares rates from 2011.

Another financial constraint comes from the fact that, other than some small subsidies for overseas U.S. electoral ballots, the USPS is a government agency that pays its own way, operating without any taxpayer dollars for about thirty years now..

However, the biggest factor in its recent financial free fall is undoubtedly the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), which Republicans pushed through Congress and President George W. Bush signed into law. The PAEA required the Post Office fully fund its pension healthcare costs through the year 2081.

Yes, you read that right. 2081. And it was given only 10 years to find the money to fund 75 years worth of retirement healthcare benefits.

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Americans are Unbecoming

by Akim Reinhardt

E pluribus unumTo study American history is to chart the paradox of e pluribus unum.

From the outset, it is a story of conflict and compromise, of disparate and increasingly antagonistic regions that somehow formed the wealthiest and most powerful empire in human history. For even as North and South grew further apart, their yawning divide was bridged by a dynamic symbiosis that fed U.S. independence, enrichment, and expansion. The new empire at once grew rapaciously and tore itself apart. It strode from ocean to ocean and nearly consumed itself completely in the Civil War, which all these years later, remains the deadliest chapter in American history by far, two world wars not withstanding.

After the bloody crucible, a series of historical forces began to homogenize the American people, slowly drawing them together and developing a more cohesive national culture. As has been pointed out before, Americans began to say “the United States is” instead of “the United States are.”

But now, in the second decade of the 21st century, America is possibly coming apart once more. That hard won but ever tenuous inclusion and oneness is beginning to disintegrate. Yet there is no fear of returning to a bygone era of balkanized sectional divides, of North versus South. Instead, the increasingly polarized nation now seems to be fracturing along ideological lines.

In this essay I would like to briefly explore the history of how Americans came together under a common definition “America,” and how they may be coming apart again. I don’t wish to examine the rise and fall of an empire, but rather its citizens’ ever-shifting sense of who they are and what their nation should be.

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An American Creation Story

by Akim Reinhardt

BeringiaThere is scientific evidence indicating that Asiatic peoples migrated from Siberia to America many millennia ago via a land bridge that was submerged by the Bering Sea after the Ice Age ended, or by island hopping the Pacific cordillera in coastal water craft. But when I teach American Indian history, I don’t start the semester discussing Beringian crossing theory.

Instead, I first talk about Indigenous creation stories. For example, a Jicarilla Apache story says that in the beginning, all the world was covered with water. Everything lived underwater, including people, animals, trees, and rocks, all of which could talk. People and animals used eagle feathers as torches, and they all wanted more light, except for the night animals who preferred the darkness: the panther, bear, and owl. The two sides competed by playing the thimble and button game. The sharp-eyed quail and magpie helped people win five consecutive games until the sun finally rose to create the first day. People then peered through a hole to see another world above them: Earth. They climbed up to it.

Or there’s a story from the Modocs of California and Oregon, which says the leader of the Sky Spirits grew tired of his home in Above World. It was always cold, so he carved a hole in the sky and shoveled down snow and ice until it almost reached the Earth, thereby creating W’lamswash (Mt. Shasta). He stepped from a cloud onto the mountain. As he descended, trees grew where ever his finger touched the ground, and the snow melted in his footsteps, creating rivers. Long pieces from his walking stick became beavers, and smaller pieces became fish. He blew on leaves, turning them into birds, and the big end of his stick created the other animals, including the bears, who walked upright on two legs. Pleased with what he’d done, the leader of the Sky Spirits and his family lived atop the mountain. But after his Mt. Shastadaughter was blown down the mountain by the wind spirit, she was raised by a family of grizzly bears. When she became a woman, she married the eldest grizzly bear son, and their children were the first people. When the leader of the Sky Spirits found out, he was angry and cursed the bears, forcing them to walk on all fours ever since.1

One reason I begin the semester with Indigenous creation stories instead of scientific evidence about the peopling of the Americas is that, like most people who teach American Indian history nowadays, I look for ways to emphasize Indians’ historical agency. Stressing agency, the centrality of people in manifesting their own history, is an important part of teaching any group’s history. However, for too long, American Indian history was taught (when it was taught at all) through a EuroAmerican lense. Instead of looking at what Indians did, historians used to focus on what was done to them. Indians, they told us, were victims of aggression and/or obstacles to progress. Native people were reduced to two-dimensional tropes, mere foils in the larger story about European empires and the rise of the United States.

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Found In Translation

Akim Reinhardt

Jasper Johns, I have taken several famous political passages from American History and run them repeatedly through Google Translator. I present them here in verse form. An explanation follows, but first, please enjoy these poems.

Join the Team (The Declaration of Independence: Opening)
He joined the team
and they have a separate equal station
to understand and to be separated from God
Human, land, honor, human activities such as authority,
is required to follow the natural laws,
and growing in another way

Self-Evident Truth: Hynaur (Declaration of Independence)
We had a life, liberty and happiness
of the invasion of the rights of the creator,
it is clear that he believes
that like all men are created equal …. hynaur

Our Sacred HonorStatue of Liberty (The Declaration of Independence: Conclusion )
This announcement:
The organization and protection of Providence
To give our lives
To help our country and our sacred honor.

A More Perfect Union (Preamble to the Constitution)
American people
in their ability to protect the U.S. Constitution
welfare for children in public,
system security state and to keep the peace,
could be more perfect union.

The Right Combination (Second Amendment to the Constitution)
Freedom of speech,
or of Congress
or newspaper religion
or people
do not get the right combination
Of passive or prohibiting
the free exercise,
and asks the government for redress of the complaint.

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The Occupy Movement and the Nature of Community


by Akim Reinhardt

Community cartoonI’m currently at work on a book about the decline of community in America. I won’t go into much detail here, but the basic premise is that, barring a few possible exceptions, there are no longer any actual communities in the United States. At least, not the kinds that humans have lived in for thousands of years, which are small enough for everyone to more or less know everyone else, where members have very real mutual obligations and responsibilities to each other, and people are expected to follow rules or face the consequences.

One of the fun things about the project has been that people tend to have a strong reaction to my claim that most Americans don’t live in real communities anymore. Typically they either agree knowingly or strongly deny it, and I’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful conversations as a result. But for argument’s sake, let’s just accept the premise for a moment. Because if we do, it can offer some very interesting insights into the nature of the Occupy movement that is currently sweeping across America and indeed much of the world.

One of the critiques that has been made of the Occupy movement, sometimes genuinely and thoughtfully but sometimes with mocking enmity, is that it still hasn’t put forth a clear set of demands. It’s the notion that this movement doesn’t have a strong leadership and/or is unfocused, and because of that it stands more as a generalized complaint than a productive program. That while it might be cathartic and sympathetic amid the current economic crisis, the Occupy movement doesn’t have a plan of attack for actually changing anything.

While I disagree with that accusation for the most part, there is an element of truth in it. However, to the extent that it holds water, the issue isn’t that the people involved don’t know what they want to do. Rather, many of them know exactly what they want. But they are nevertheless going through the careful steps of trying to assemble democratic communities before issuing any specific demands. And as we’re constantly being reminded these days, democracy is messy and inefficient, which is one of the many reasons why the founders created a republic instead.

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The Three Categories of Television Food Show

by Akim Reinhardt

TheCookingChannel Over the last twenty years or so, there has been a proliferation of food shows on television, both here in the U.S. and abroad. In America, The Food Network has been dedicated to that format sincethe 1990s, and a host of other channels also dabble in the genre.

It’s not going out on any kind of limb to say that these shows tend to be somewhat reductionist in their approach to food. Therefor, I feel perfectly justified in being a little reductionist in my approach towards these shows; turnaround’s fair play, after all. And in that vein, it seems to me that all of these many shows can be divided among three basic categories that I’ve come up with to describe them.

Exotica– You’ve never heard of many of the ingredients. If you have, you probably can’t afford most of them, and lord knows where you might even find them. Only the finest kitchen tools and implements are used to prepare dishes with skill and panache, and the result is mouth watering perfection. Viewers are invited to live vicariously through the food. Yes, you want to eat it. You also want to write poetry about it. Something inside says you must paint it. You want to make love to it.

Exotica Some people are wont to refer to this type of programming as Food Porn. I think the term’s a bad fit. Food Romance Novel might be a more accurate, albeit clumsier moniker. With an emphasis on eroticizing foreign food by casting it as an idealized version of The Other, or perfecting domestic food to a generally unattainable degree, the Exotica approach is more about romanticizing with supple caresses, whereas real pornography is about mindlessly cramming random, oversized monstrosities into various orifices. And that’s actually a pretty apt description for our next category.

Dumb Gluttony– For the person who wants it cheap and hot, and served up by the shit load, there’s the Dumb Gluttony approach to television food shows. All you need is a handheld camera and an overweight host in a battle worn shirt, then it’s off to the diner, the taco truck, the hamburger stand, or the place where they serve a steak so large that it’s free if you can eat the whole thing in one sitting and not barf.

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