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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7500 Miles, Part II: Dakota

by Akim Reinhardt

Dusk at the BadlandsPart I of this essay appeared last month.

Thus continues my grand voyage, in which a rusty ‘98 Honda Accord shuttles me from one end of North America to the other and back again . . .

After stumbling half-way across the continent, I settled into the northern Great Plains for a spell. Determined to visit a variety of archives, I cris-crossed South Dakota to the tune of a thousand miles. It's a big state.

First I spent some time in the East River college towns of Vermillion and Brookings. A hop, skip, and a jump from the Minnesota border, this here is Prairie Home Companion country. It's a land of hot dishes (casseroles) and Lutheran churches. Of sprawling horizons and “Oh, ya know.”

There's lots of tall people. Lots of blond people. Lots of tall, blond people. I like it.

But after a week of researching and visiting old friends, I left behind the Scandinavian heritage and Minnesota-style niceties of eastern South Dakota. I made my way west across the Missouri River and then headed north. Actually, I crossed the line into North Dakota; Sitting Bull College on the Standing Rock Reservation is actually in the NoDak town of Fort Yates.

I'm happy to give the tribe some money, so I spent a night at the tribally owned Prairie Knights hotel and casino. I had a mind to play some poker, but when I went downstairs to investigate, I found the card room was already in the thick of a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament. So I bought a sandwich, returned to my room, and watch Derek Jeter's last game at Yankee Stadium.

After Standing Rock, the plan was to go straight down the gut of central South Dakota to Rosebud Reservation, which sits near the Nebraska border, and then westward to Pine Ridge Reservation in the state's southwestern corner.

If you were to plot my herky-jerky route across South Dakota, I suspect it would create an exciting new shape that mathematicians would get wide-eyed about. And then they'd come up with a cool name for this strange but essential new shape. Maybe something like an “akimus.” The akimus will shed new light on our understanding of trapezoids. And of course it will have some mysterious relationship to Pi.

I can imagine this because I haven't passed a math class since the 10th grade.

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Marketing Soccer to Americans

by Akim Reinhardt

World Cup USA 1994It has been exactly 20 years since the United States hosted a World Cup, and just as long since the debut of Major League Soccer (MLS), the nation's homegrown professional soccer league. Two decades later, American interest in the World Cup continues to grow. Beyond that, however, soccer remains a marginal product in the marketplace of U.S. spectator sports.

There are many obstacles to soccer becoming substantially more prominent in the U.S. marketplace beyond the World Cup. But I believe most of them can be overcome, and the key is better marketing.

Several factors are often cited as major roadblocks to soccer becoming a major spectator sport in the United States. Some of them are indeed daunting, but some are misunderstood and not as obstructionist as commonly perceived. Regardless, they can all be overcome to one degree or another. The key is understanding that soccer, like all spectator sports, is a cultural product. And cultural products demand relevant marketing.

Let me begin by briefly listing the perceived major obstacles to soccer's popularity as a spectator sport.

  • The U.S. marketplace for spectator sports is already saturated.
  • Soccer is low scoring and Americans hate low scoring sports.
  • Most Americans don't really understand soccer.
  • Americans are turned off by the dives, fake injuries, and histrionics
  • Most Americans won't embrace soccer because they perceive it as “foreign.”

After briefly assessing each of these obstacles, I will make a case that they can be overcome with better marketing to American consumers.

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Clayton Lockett’s Botched Execution and the Moral Ambiguity of Capital Punishment

by Akim Reinhardt

Let me begin this essay by making one thing clear: I am opposed to capital punishment.

I agree with pretty much all of the arguments against it. It's clearly not a deterrent. The possibility, much less the reality, that innocent people are sometimes executed is beyond inexcusable. A variety of factors have contributed to capital punishment being disproportionately applied to minorities and the poor in the United States. And I don't believe the state should be in business of killing its own people, even its most reprehensible members.

And so for all of those reasons, and several others, I oppose capital punishment.

Stephanie Neiman 3However, I also believe there is an element of moral ambiguity inextricably woven into the issue, and I am not comfortable with the moral absolutism that sometimes accompanies opposition to the death penalty.

While I personally oppose the use of capital punishment, I acknowledge that there is a rational and reasonable moral framework around which some supporters advocate for it. In short, I reject the notion that opponents such as myself can claim some sort of moral monopoly on the issue.

For starters, I think it is perfectly normal for someone to wish death upon a person who has brutally murdered a loved one. Opponents of capital punishment often drift into language of “savagery” when rejecting appeals for capital punishment, and I find this very troubling.

I think it extremely heartless and sanctimonious to label as “savage” or even “immoral” the very understandable desire for revenge by the loved ones of brutal crime victims. To the contrary, those feelings are incredibly normal. Ask any grief counselor.

I know that if someone, say, raped and murdered a member of my family, I would want the rapist-murderer to die. The vast majority of people would. Those who wouldn't are not the norm. Rather, the loved ones living in the aftermath of horrific, murderous crimes, who find it within their hearts to forgive the criminal, or at the very least, not want them dead, are extraordinary and admirable people.

Thus, I reject outright the notion that wishing death upon those who have committed unspeakably immoral acts of murder is itself an immoral sentiment. Rather, I see it as a humane and even sensible one, though I myself do not support the subsequent act of capital punishment.

Beyond the morality of victim survivors' desires, however, I also recognize the morality of a more distanced stance in support of capital punishment, even if I do not support the act itself. This is because I also reject what I consider to be a sentimentalized view of humanity that casts all human life as sacred. Instead, I embrace our mortality and impermanence, I reject our supposed inherent moral superiority to other beings, and I recognize that morality itself is a human construct that no other beings conceive.

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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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The Crisis in American Colleges: Rising Tuition and Labor Degradation

by Akim Reinhardt

Tuition costsAmerican colleges have undergone substantial changes during the last three decades. Rising tuition costs, which have far outpaced the rate of inflation, are nearly universal. Other changes that have affected most schools include a tremendous growth in non-instructional areas and a serious re-shuffling of labor. Many schools have added layers of administration; seen their rosters of administrators substantially enlarged; and spent millions of dollars on non-instructional construction such as recreation centers, student unions, and administrative buildings. Meanwhile, the ranks of college teachers have shifted from tenured and tenure track (TTT) professors to predominantly contingent faculty (ie. non-tenure track) that falls into two broad groups: part-time labor (adjuncts and graduate students) and full time labor (mostly lecturers and visiting faculty).

There are, of course, many causes and explanations for these wide ranging changes, as well as varying degrees of change among America's hundreds of colleges. For example, private colleges are generally less dependent on public largess, though many of them do in fact receive public subsidies from federal, state, and even local governments. Meanwhile, the public colleges that rely more heavily on public spending face different circumstances depending on which of the fifty states they are part of, all of which have different budgets and policies for supporting higher education. In some states there has been extreme volatility in funding while some have been more stable, though in almost all states the share of public college budgets supplied by state governments has declined. This has led most public schools to not only raise tuition rates, but to also seek substantial revenue from fund raising, which runs the gamut from alumni contributions, to naming rights of campus buildings, to exclusive contracts with junk food venders. For example, many schools have cut deals with either Pepsi Co. or Coca Cola, Inc. granting one or the other head of this corporate duopoly exclusive rights to sell beverages on their campus.

Amid all these changes, most TTT college professors are alarmed at the decline of their cohort, less for selfish reasons (they are secure, or will be once they earn tenure), but more because it is a degradation of higher education. The creation of a two-tiered labor system, with a minority of TTT professors and a majority of contingent faculty, is patently exploitative and an affront to the values of higher education.

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The Scorpio Groin

Palm readingby Akim Reinhardt

It was 1996. I was 28. I had recently moved to Nebraska to attend graduate school. I was at a party. I didn't know a lot of people. Maybe I didn't know anyone. One woman was talking about palm reading. Apparently she read palms.

Laughable, of course. But I didn't say anything, just drank my beer. There was this other guy though, in his early twenties. He said some things. None of it nice. How stupid. Don't be ridiculous. Duh.

Sure, yeah, I agreed with him. It is stupid. But do you have to be such a dick about it? This woman seems like a perfectly nice person, maybe even nicer than most. What's the point of insulting and belittling her?

I guess it was one of those moments when I recognized a younger version of myself in someone else and I didn't like what I saw. It's good to have those moments, even if they make you uncomfortable. Especially if they make you uncomfortable.

I finally spoke up.

“Why don't you read my palm,” I said, looking to break the tension and succeeding. I offered her my upturned hand. She smiled and took it.

My memory of what she actually said while examining my extremity is virtually extinct. The exact words? I have no idea. But I'll never forget the epiphany I had as she spoke. After a minute or two it dawned on my why this ancient practice, so obviously ripe for charlatanism, had lasted all these years.

She held my hand and said nice things about me.

Who wouldn't like that? Who wouldn't, when feeling a little sad or lonely, pay a few bucks for that?

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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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Is it Time for a Libertarian-Green Alliance?

by Akim Reinhardt

Third_PartiesIn the recent Virginia gubernatorial election, Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis received over 6% the vote. If he had not run, much of his support would likely have gone to Republican Ken Cuccinelli rather than Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who won by a narrow 2.5% margin. Last year's U.S. Senate race in Montana also saw a Libertarian candidate siphon off 6.5% of the vote, which was well above Democrat Jon Tester's margin of victory. And of course many Democrats are still apoplectic about Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader raking in nearly 5% of the national vote in 2000, most of which would probably have otherwise gone to Democrat Al Gore. As is, Nader's candidacy created an opening for Republican George W. Bush to win . . . the controversial Supreme Court case that in turn awarded him Florida, and with it the White House.

For many Democrats and Republicans, Green and Libertarian candidates respectively are far more than a thorn in the side. They are both a source and target of intense rage.

How dare these minor party candidates, who have no actual chance of winning the election, muck things up by “stealing” votes that would have otherwise gone to us!

Indeed, there is no hatred quite so fierce like that which is reserved for apostates or kissin’ cousins.

But for committed Greens and Libertarians, the response is simple. Our votes are our own. You don’t own them. If you want them, you have to earn them instead of taking them for granted. And if you want to get self-righteously angry at someone because the other major party won the election, then go talk to the people who actually voted for the other major party. After all, they’re the ones who put that person in office, not us. Instead of looking for an easy scapegoat, go tell the people who voted for the candidate you hate why they’re so wrong. That is, if you’ve got the courage to actually engage someone from “the other” party. It’s really not that hard. As Greens and Libertarians, we have civil conversations with people from other parties pretty much everyday of our lives. You should try it some time.

But aside from the presumptuousness, arrogance, and cowardice framing the attacks typically launched at us by supporters of the major parties, what really galls Libertarians and Greens about the above statement is not the false claim we “stole” your election. It's that we “have no actual chance of winning the election.”

And just why is that?

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