Vegas Street Art, Volume 4


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IMG_20160604_083252So, it occurs to me that I’ve actually got quite a backlog of street art pics from Vegas. I’ve been collecting them for a couple years now without really doing a specific blog post on the topic. I’ve posted street art from Vegas before; here, here, here, and here. Oh, and here (a ways down the post)! I also included some murals in my original posts on the Erotic Heritage Center. but I notice some of those murals are covered now. In any event, I think it’s well past time for an update.

If there is any difference between this stuff and the murals I posted a couple years ago, I would say that I am seeing more large projects done by some well known artists these days. I’m still a fan of the lesser-known words tucked away in corners here and there, but it’s interesting to see the paintings moving closer to downtown and onto bigger buildings.

Anyway, here tis!

(Click to embiggen!)

A little Sea Ice


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SeagullI’ve been back in the arctic for a little over a week now. I didn’t really expect to see ice along the coast at this time of the year. I’ve seen it before, but it’s a little surprising. Still, the coast has been littered with the remnants of the melting ice pack the entire time I’ve been here. Thought I’d share a few pics.

It’s odd, I suppose. Over the years, I find myself taking fewer pictures of Barrow. I keep thinking things like ‘that’s old’ and ‘my friends have already seen that’, but I suppose that’s the same thinking that left me with so few images to show for a decade in northern Arizona. Anyway, that’s one thing I like about about getting away. You come back home and remember what’s cool about it.

…in this case literally.

(Click to embiggen!)

A Tyrant On Either Side of the Gun Sights


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Budding Young Amo-sexual (Embarrassing, I know)

I was about 15 or 16 when my father cancelled our membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA). Money was tight back then, but Dad said that wasn’t entirely the issue. He was also fed up with their politics.

I was mortified.

The old “If guns are outlawed” sticker was then sitting on the bumper of my first car (which wasn’t yet running), and a stack of hunting and shooting magazines rested on a shelf in my bedroom. My private arsenal had already outgrown the gun-case. At the time, there just wasn’t much about the NRA that I didn’t like. Oh sure I’d noticed a myopic one-sidedness to some of the articles in those magazines, but for the most part, I was down for the main agenda. Dad never did explain to me what had bothered him about the NRA back then (the early 80s). I reckon he was just hoping I would grow a dose of moderation at some point. This was hardly the only obsession that could have given him cause for such concerns.

I guess Dad got his way on this one at least. My views on guns and gun control are complex. ‘Ambivalent’ may be a better word. My take on the legal issues doesn’t map well onto either the left or the right on the actual issue of gun ownership. I’m open to gun control, but skeptical of its impact (at least one any scale that’s practically possible in the present political climate). It hasn’t escaped my notice that I live in a region where firearms can be damned useful. (By way of illustration, one of my students took a job collecting plant samples this summer. Part of her training including a day or so learning how to handle a firearm. In the land of polar bears, a gun can be an essential part of scientific research.) I’ve also got a lot of friends and neighbors who feed themselves by use of firearms, and I’m not in the habit of turning down a good bowl of tutu (caribou) stew. The bottom line is that I won’t be campaigning for full disarmament anytime soon. Few do, really, but if complete disarmament is your bandwagon, then I am definitely not on board.

There is one other bandwagon I’m not climbing aboard any time soon, and that is the one run by the NRA. Any latent interest I might have had in that organization slipped away during the Clinton administration. The television ads from that era telling us that every honest gun owner ought to be a member didn’t exactly inspire me to get out my checkbook. Hearing countless people spouting their fears about ‘thuh guvment’ was enough to send shivers up my spine and put a large dose of queazy in the pit of my stomach. I recall “Impeach Clinton” bumper stickers within the first few months of his first administration. In time his critics would find reasons. In the interim, suddenly Bill Clinton was the source of the New World Order, notwithstanding Bush Senior’s use the the phrase to sell Desert Storm. Within the space of a single election, Clinton became the source of all that was wrong with the world. Seeing the same people who had supported centralization of power throughout the Reagan and Bush administrations suddenly play underdog against government authority was more than a little disconcerting.

It got a lot more disconcerting after the Oklahoma City bombing.

You can’t run a direct line of reasoning from Charlton Heston’s “take my gun from my cold dead hands” speech to that bombing, no, but these two notes fit in the same damned tune. The right wing now sings a constant chorus of ‘don’t tread on me’ messages, and most of them serve simultaneously to valorize the weekend warrior games of countless over-gown boys and to demonize the best efforts of anyone involved in pretty much any kind public service. Hating the government is a popular sport in what passes for ‘conservative’ circles these days. The problem is you can’t shoot at the government and you can’t bomb the government. Hell, you can’t even shout at the government. You can only do these things to real people, people who work for the government, and the trouble with demonizing that government is its a damned effective way to demonize real people. It’s a damned effective way to justify hurting real people. An awful lot of people died in Oklahoma City because someone decided to strike a blow against the government, and his ideas about that government had an awful lot in common with those pushed by the NRA for a couple decades now. Is the one the cause of the other? Maybe not, but it’s a damned reckless message just the same.

What I specifically object to is the scorched earth tactics that the NRA keeps producing. Talking of Second Amendment solutions and other confrontations with the government may sound like the words of brave people put-upon by dark forces and powerful institutions, but they are also clear and obvious efforts to intimidate the rest of us. While other interest groups go to the voting booths, hire lawyers to plead their case, or sometimes take to the streets with a sign or three, elements of the gun rights crowd keep threatening to use their guns under some unspecified conditions. It’s easy enough to imagine the scenario without its details. They will fight back against tyranny, of course; that’s what these people keep telling us. The problem of course is that tyranny may very well be a few unwelcome regulations and the tyrant may well be (as it was in Oklahoma City) ordinary people just trying to do their damned jobs.

Don’t get me wrong. For better or for worse, the Second Amendment is part of American government. There are certainly arguments to be made about its proper scope, and still other arguments to be made about the effectiveness of various gun control measures, but there is no excuse for the constant litany of violent fantasies surrounding firearms ownership. An awful lot of people keep telling us they and their guns are the best protection from government overreach, and every time I see or hear this message I find myself hoping for protection from precisely the folks producing it. I realize echos of this message come to us from the days of America’s founding fathers, but those echos have been twisted by ideology, augmented by fraudulent representations, and generally milked for everything they could possibly be worth. In the end, it isn’t America’s founders that keep this threat of violence alive in America’s politics today. It is the words and deeds of shameless people.

…which of course brings us to the latest twist in Donald Trump’s campaign. These are his words on the subject:

Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the second amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks, although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.

To say these remarks have sparked outrage is putting it mildly, but let’s be clear. This is not an obvious call for gun owners to assassinate Hillary Clinton. It isn’t even a clear call for armed rebellion in the case that Hillary wins the election. There isn’t really anything clear about this message at all, but then again there wouldn’t be.

It’s Trump, remember?

He and clarity have never really been on speaking terms.

What this rhetoric ALSO isn’t is a responsible case for the Second Amendment. To begin with, the claim that Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment is hardly supported by the evidence. She favors a variety of gun control measures, yes. This does not mean she wishes to abolish the Second Amendment after all. It’s a straw Hillary that Trump is talking about, not the real one.

It’s really not clear how the straw Hillary who wants to abolish the Second Amendment altogether would even go about it, but it actually is clear that she couldn’t do it just by appointing a few judges. That move is neither sufficient nor necessary to do away with the Second Amendment (in principle or practice).

Hillary may well support gun control measures that many gun owners wouldn’t want to see passed. She may even advocate measures that ought not to be passed by any objective measure of their merits. Gun control measures, perfectly sound or bat-shit crazy, do NOT add up to the abolition of the Second Amendment. And let’s be clear, even Scalia, in the infamous Heller decision suggested that some regulations could be consistent with the existence of the Second Amendment, a Second Amendment he construed explicitly (and quite controversially as an individual right).

Simply put, regulations are on the table with or without Hillary as POTUS. Also the Second Amendment remains on the table with or without Hillary as POTUS. Far from the dooms-day scenario Trump trots out in this speech, another Presidential Clinton is at best/worst just another twist in the long case history of the Aecond Amendment. It’s not the end of the Second Amendment or civilization itself. So, yes, Trump is exaggerating, which is putting it mildly.

That exaggeration is not simply a mistake. Realizing just how badly Trump is exaggerating the prospect of a Presidential Hillary helps us understand how to take the comment that Second Amendment people might be able to do something about her after all. These Second Amendment people would be acting in a fantasy world in which a President, and a President alone is enough to render the legal landscape hopeless. If Trump is really suggesting something as mild as voting or rallying to his cause, then there is no need to raise the specter of a gun-grabbing apocalypse in preparation for it. His wording is ambiguous of course, but it’s the ambiguity of plausible deniability. And when speaking to millions, some of whom are clearly quite excitable, Trump’s message will take on many meanings. He knows that. The man is not THAT stupid. Many, perhaps most will take his words to mean something as radical as it takes to say something really rude to a cotton-picking liberal, but some will take them far worse. Some folks are quite prepared to kick their John Wayne fantasies into high gear. A responsible candidate knows this, and a responsible candidate doesn’t rouse his support base, or any subsection of it to the brink of violence.

Trump does.

He has been doing this throughout his campaign. I know of no other candidate in recent memory who has deliberately provoked violence at his own rallies, always falling short of directly calling for it, but often coming as close as one might without explicitly endorsing it.

During the primary season, the actual violence at campaign rallies clearly worked in Trump’s favor. What began as a series of news stories about Trump’s own supporters beating various protestors transitioned seamlessly into a series of stories about protestors engaged in all manner of violence against Trump’s own supporters.

Trump’s fighting words couldn’t help but fall on angry ears for his critics. Many of us have responded with such radical actions as a contemptuous tweet or a few minutes of outraged gripetude, but some took it further. Some engaged in genuine violence. The pay-off for Trump was obvious enough as he and his supporters played the victim and cast his critics as those with no respect for civil society.

What better context for Trump to present himself as the law-and order candidate!?!

A responsible candidate would have asked his supporters to step back and let security handle matters. If Trump said such things on some occasions, on others he talked about how those beaten deserved it, suggested he would pay for the lawyers of those beating protesters, and otherwise said a number of things encouraging the violence in his own supporters. and to provoke violence against his opponents.

Simply put, violence has worked well for Trump. He provoked it to his benefit in the primaries, and it should come as no surprise that he continues to do so in the present general election cycle. He started the general election by fantasizing about hitting his critics at the Democratic National Convention. You can see it in this passage. It isn’t until the very end that we come to realize he is talking about something other than outright violence, and you come to that only after indulging in a long violent fantasy.

The things that were said about me, I mean, should I go through some of the names? I, You know what I wanted to, I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard, I would have hit them, no-no, I was gonna hit them so, I was all set, and then I got a call from a highly respected governor, ‘how’s it going Donald?’ I said; “well it’s going good, but they are really saying bad things about me. I’m gonna hit them so hard, I was gonna hit one guy in particular, a very little guy, I was gonna hit this guy so hard his head would spin, he wouldn’t know what the Hell happened, and, he came out of nowhere, he came out of nowhere; they made deals with me, ‘would you help me this; would you make this deal and solve the problem.?’ I solved the problem. I do a great job. I was going to hit a number of those speakers so hard their heads would spin. They’d never recover. And that’s what I did with a a lot of, that’s why I still don’t have certain people endorsing me. They still haven’t recovered.

It could be an accident of course. And elves could bake chocolate cookies under a full moon. This is a conscious effort on Trump’s part. Just as above, this is a message calculated to stimulate violence. It is ambiguous enough to evade responsibility for that violence, but it’s evocative enough to encourage it just the same.

And so here we are, at a new low point in American politics, at least in my own memory, a Presidential candidate stirring up violence in the service of his own campaign. It says a lot about Trump’s character that he is willing to do this to get the position. It says a lot about how he plans to run the country, and what it says about those plans is damned frightening. We can add his penchant for promoting violence to Trump’s sustained and very deliberate courtship of white nationalists throughout his campaign. This man has already done irreparable harm to the nation, and it’s hard to imagine what good things he could possibly do as President to overcome the harm he is clearly willing to do in the service of becoming President. More likely, he will just go on hurting people and encouraging his supporters to do the same.

Today’s message is distinctive insofar as it’s a clear and definitive marriage of two trends within the current GOP. On the one hand, we have Trump’s general efforts to wind up the nation to state of hysteria, to create the sense that America rests on the brink of social breakdown. On the other we have the long-standing right-wing message of violent opposition to government authority, one rooted in a myopic devotion to a single civil right. It’s marriage made in Hell, or at least a cheesy overpriced hotel equivalent thereof. Donald Trump is a huckster. That much should be clear to pretty much anyone this side of a mental ward. But he’s a huckster with a heart full of bile.

Let Us Not Praise the Prosperity Gospel With Faint Damn: It’s Worse than its Theology!


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2016-08-05 (3)“Joel Osteen’s Fake, Heretical ‘Christianity’ Isn’t Any Better Than Atheism.”

That’s the title of an article from blogger Matt Walsh published yesterday on The Blaze. If Matt Walsh ever does have a thought worthy of publication, he will no mistake it for a bad cold, and there is certainly no chance The Blaze would publish anything that challenges the grade-school level reading skills of its founder, Glenn Beck. Still, sometimes even soft-heads and soft-targets merit a response of some kind.

I can think of all kinds of criticisms that Joel Osteen deserves, but this is a case of praising with faint damn. No better than atheists? It’s amusing to be the on the as end of a justazzy equation for a change, but one could do worse than to do no better than an atheism. The problem here is of course that Osteen certainly does worse than we generally do in at least one very significant respect. Just as every other televangelist I can think of, Osteen rakes in millions off the gullibility of his followers. There is no telling how many elderly couples are going right now without basic comforts or even important medication because they choose to contribute to Osteen’s cause or those like it. I know of no comparable movement within atheism, certainly none with anywhere near the impact of the many financial empires sailing under the banner of Christianity. So, it’s damned odd to find out that what’s really wrong with this Huxter is that his message is just like ours, which it simply isn’t. We have our faults, to be sure, but this doesn’t seem like one of them. Hell, it’s not even close.

But let’s be clear. I would find his message would be no less disturbing if Walsh’s title didn’t involve a swipe at people like me. Once again, people like Osteen consistently make their money off the backs of people who cannot afford it. But Walsh’s problem with Osteen isn’t the exploitation of people of others in the name of God; it’s his theology. Ironically enough, what Walsh takes issue with is Osteen’s advocacy of something called “the Prosperity Gospel.” Loosely speaking, this is the notion that God may convey blessings in the form of material wealth on his faithful. So, you can see that questions about the relationship between money and spirituality are at the heart of Osteen’s ministry, but Walsh’s never seems to address just how serious these questions really are.

Walsh  is concerned that Prosperity Gospel  is teaching people to value wealth in this life too much. Indeed, Walsh suggests people would be better off hungry if that’s what it took to get them to the right message of Christianity. What Walsh misses is the fact that doctrines like the Prosperity Gospel can get people to hungry status just as effectively as any doctrine he imagines to be more scripturally sound. Osteen’s message of wealth is lost in one very important sense on Osteen’s own followers, they aren’t going to get wealthy  off his message. Indeed, a good number of them are going to lose a portion of whatever they do have buy pouring it into his empire. Far from being ‘no better than atheism’, this is a problem that resides almost entirely within the halls of big business evangelism.

Walsh begins his criticisms by pressing Osteen’s ambiguous use of language. He thinks Osteen’s blend of self-help nonsense if largely meaningless. Walsh likens it to a kind of ‘verbal smoothie’ filled with meaningless cliches. Fair enough on that account (I do not disagree in the slightest) but what would make things better? Walsh wants to hear more about Jesus:

But there are some words that never seem to make it into the smoothie. If you listen closely to all the self-help mumbo jumbo spewed by these heretics, you may notice the glaring absence of certain crucial terms; terms that any pastor ought to be shouting proudly and with great regularity. For one thing, you won’t hear ”Christ.” Neither will you hear “sin.” Or redemption, sacrifice, atonement, repentance, Bible, etc. Prosperity preachers are notoriously hesitant to share the spotlight with Jesus. They’d rather keep all the attention centered on the self — their own selves, specifically – and some vague “god” character, who, according to their mythology, is a genie-like figure who shows up to grant wishes before returning to his magic lamp.

This is really fascinating, actually. The Prosperity Gospel is a message calculated to present donations to the church as a means to financial success. It enables preachers to imply a quid pro quo without stating it outright, and that makes it a highly effective tool for con artists. One con-artist after anotherhas used it to separate people from their money, even from their life-savings. With all that could be said about this particular message, what Walsh thinks is bad about this is that they don’t mention Jesus enough.

But what if they did?

More importantly, what about when they actually do?

The Prosperity Gospel was all over the ministries of Jan and Paul Crouch, and it never crowded the name of Jesus out of their conniving mouths. There is a good deal of Prosperity Gospel in the messages of Pat Robertson as well, and that doesn’t stop him from invoking Jesus. Jim and Tammy Fae Baker never had any trouble mixing Jesus into their own version of the Prosperity Gospel. I could go on of course, but the point is obvious enough. The name of ‘Jesus’ is all over the Prosperity Gospel. In fact, the connection between devotion to Jesus and hopes for material blessings are at least as old as the Puritans. Contemporary New Age spokesmen and countless motivational speakers (even some secular ones) are merely a minor variation on this old theme, but few have had more success with that theme than those who kept Jesus front and center in the message. The Prosperity Gospel is a message that flourished in Christian churches long before it ever escaped the pews for more ambiguous theological settings.

Walsh has his own scriptures, to be sure, scriptures he thinks will refute the interest in wealth, but of course the Prosperity crowd has their own. They can go back and forth all they like, but neither will resolve anything to anyone except themselves. And here is where atheism may well matter after all in this equation, because I for one don’t give a damn what the scriptures have to say about it. What I see when I look at someone like Osteen is a con artist depriving countless people of essential financial resources so that he can enjoy wealth they can only imagine. That the Prosperity Gospel uses the image of wealth to part people from what little they have is the problem with people like Osteen. I have known many Christians who could see that problem. There is little evidence that Walsh does.

Simply put,the problem with the Prosperity Gospel is NOT one of theology; it is one of economics. I’ve known many community pastors and priests worthy of respect, but I’d be hard pressed to think of a televangelist who struck me as anything else but a thief. The former deal with real people and their problems, some wonderfully and some disastrously. Televangelists provide the face of money-making machines. These people are in business, and unfortunately they are in business with the full benefits of non-profit status. It simply should not be an option to sell false hope, and we ought not as a nation to sit idly by as people like Osteen and countless other huxters make themselves filthy rich off the waning judgement of people heading into retirement.

It is the cover of spirituality that makes Osteen’s con possible. His message may no better than atheism to the likes of Walsh, but it is not atheism that empowers his exploitation of others. To find the source of that empowerment, we have only to look at those who quibble over matters of theology while saying little to nothing about the outright larceny that is modern televangelism.


A Cheating Post


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unlv2In high school, I could hardly be bothered to cheat, mostly because I could hardly be bothered at all. The freshman class president once offered to do all my English assignments for me. All I had to do was turn them in. It just irritated her that I wouldn’t do anything at all in class. It irritated her more that I turned down the offer.

A year later, I did find it amusing to hand my finished weekly vocabulary assignment to the student behind me. After she’d copied them, she’d hand them to the guy behind her and so on. My goal was to have two full rows copy off me before the end of the period. I never quite made it, but I was damned close on several occasions. As this was the only homework I ever did in that class, I didn’t get much of a grade out of it, but it was fun to see how many could cheat off my paper.

Ah well!


In college I was pleasantly surprised to find myself actually giving a damn. This led to an awkward moment in my first semester as I suddenly found myself unable to answer a question in psychology, on a test I actually wanted to pass. I found my eyes drifting slowly to the scantron sheet of a student two rows down. It was more a kind of wishful thinking than a decision to cheat. I hadn’t yet focused enough to read what he’d put down, but I wanted so desperately to find the answer somewhere. The thought did occur to me that I had no reason to believe he would know the answer anymore than I did, and then I felt guilty, and then I thought maybe I could get just a few answers from him, and then I thought about the cute girl nearby…

and then I looked up to find the teaching assistant staring at me.

Nothing came of it except a decision not to play the rest of my college years straight, so to speak


The prospect of cheating didn’t enter my head again until one summer in my senior year. I retook the introduction to political science. By then I knew a fair bit of the material, but that didn’t change the C- I’d received one semester when I blew the class off out of disinterest. Getting rid of that lowlier would help my GPA substantially, so there I sat in an intro class on a topic I knew pretty well at that point and feeling really out of place. When a test came down for a chapter on the Judicial Branch of the U.S. Government, I suddenly felt especially stressed. I ought to know that subject damned well, I thought. Still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t quite prepared, not like I should have been. So, I sat there, wanting desperately to cheat off the incoming freshman girl sitting beside me. Once again, I had no reason to believe her paper would be better than my own production, but once again, I wanted a magic solution. The sudden desire to look at her paper was overwhelming, and that alone felt damned disconcerting. I kept my eyes to my own paper, of course, but doing so took a surprising amount of effort. I got a ‘A’ on the test, but to this day I shudder at the feeling of uncertainty I felt staring down at the test that day and thinking I didn’t really know the answers.


Oh wait a minute! There was one other time I wanted to cheat. In logical theory, the professor used to walk out of the class, wait a few minutes, then burst through the doorway looking around to see if he could catch us cheating. I learned a lot from that guy, but sitting there killing the written portion of that test, I couldn’t help but think it might be nice to cheat somehow just to spite him.


I had another professor who used to hand out the tests and go to his office. Oddly enough, I don’t think any of us cheated on his exams. Our classmates would have handled it.


As a graduate student I began to see cheating from the other side. I recall once watching a student sit motionless for half an hour of a test before making himself one of the first students to hand it in. Half the exam had been multiple choice using a scantron sheet and half had been written. I was damned surprised to see the essay portion of his exam completed in full, especially since it was in black ink and he had filled out the front of the booklet in blue. Not to mention, he hadn’t written anything while I was watching. W

What surprised me most about this case was that we didn’t flunk him. Instead the department chair advised me to grade the assignment as though it were a graduate-level essay.

Oddly enough, that always seemed kind of unfair to me.


I was once one of four teaching assistants (TAs) in a large class on German history. Each of us ran our study groups once a week. At some point, I recall hearing that one or two of the other TAs were going over the questions for up-coming exams in their study groups. This was definitely contrary to our instructions from the professor. I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe it until a students approached me before the final exam to ask about the specific answer to a specific multiple choice question he knew would be on the test.

Yeah, that was just a little frustrating.


One of the most amusing examples of cheating I ever encountered began one day in an advanced course on constitutional history. We received take-home essay questions a week before coming in for an in-class exam. So, I walked into the last class session before the in-class exam to find a guy who’d been gone all semester. He offered to pay $50.00 to see my take-home essays. What bothered me most about this was the offer of money. It also bothered me that I didn’t know him. Taken together, these were not a good sign.

Had the guy been an active student, and had I known him, I wouldn’t have hesitated to share my essays with him. I did that with many friends on take-home assignments. We learned from each others’ work and wrote our own responses. But this was an unknown entity offering me money. I figured the $50.00 wasn’t for a casual look at my work; he would certainly be handing in those very essays. Before I could even reply, the man added insult to idiocy, commenting that the two girls sitting in class at that moment wouldn’t do it. Listening to him emphasize the word ‘girls’ I think I actually laughed a little. Obviously, I thought, as a man, I must be obligated to do the good buddy thing and help a bro out. So, I guess it was kind of a gender-bender moment when I turned him down.

I have to admit, it felt kinda good when the teacher caught him cheating on the in-class portion of the essay.


A friend of mine once told me he was taking his English teacher out to dinner in exchange for a passing grade. Another neighbor of mine once told me about a beautiful young woman who received an ‘A’ in his sociology class. I reckon, that’s the pay-off to cheating from the other side. For myself, I figure any pay-off I get would have to be worth the risk of losing an entire career. So, I always tell my students I can be bought, but they can’t afford the price.  If pressed, I clarify, that the pay-off would need to be sufficient to fund my retirement.

I’m almost certainly joking about that.


Since becoming a teacher, I’ve run into my share of efforts at cheating.

I once had a student tell me she was leaving town, so she asked if she could take the exam early. Her two friends turned in the same answers she did, which might have helped them had she given me the right answers to begin with. All tree received failing grades on that assignment, and for a time I began assigning the same penalty to exams taken early as I did to those taken late. I generally announce my essay topics ahead of time, so students have often tried to sneak pre-written essays into the classroom. This lead to a brief period in which I handed out colored paper with every exam. Like a lot of people, I think, I now ask students to hand their research papers in in stages, so that I can see the progress they make on them. A few students have been disappointed when producing a completed paper on a completely new topic earned them a choice between a zero and little extra time to redo the whole project.

I have yet to burst into class looking around in hopes of catching someone cheating.


I once had a married couple turn in virtually identical take-home essays. I gave them a do-over. When they turned in a second pair of essays with barely a few lines different between them, I sent in a couple Fs to the registrar.


Not surprisingly, the internet has proven itself to be my biggest cheat-hazard. I am continually surprised at the number of students who have copied Wikipedia entries and handed them in after making a few minor changes. I’m a little more surprised to see how often they will then cite Wikipedia as if naming the source resolved any questions about turning in a paper that was nearly identical to that source. Perhaps, the biggest surprise for me came when a high school teacher with a master’s degree did that very thing. I offered him a chance to rewrite the paper, which I thought a damned generous move on my part. So, I was REALLY surprised to find the fellow arguing over the matter with me. When he asked to speak to my supervisor, I recall giving him the contact information for the Dean, adding something along the lines of; “but let’s be clear about this. We are talking about plagiarism.” Ten minutes later, I received an email telling me he would send in a new paper that evening.

I really don’t can’t imagine what he was thinking.


What strikes me most about the cheating I’ve seen since making the transition from student to teacher is just how often cheating proves unhelpful, even from the standpoint of a grade. Simply put, the same student who needs to cheat is rarely a student capable of cheating the subject effectively. That may vary between different disciplines and pedagogical techniques, but as a general rule, when I catch someone cheating,  I generally catch them cheating badly. Of course, I have no doubt that a few have gotten past me. Perhaps, that blank spot in the data set contains all the information necessary to refute my little observation here.

If so, I reckon the refutation will one day make an appearance in a wiki entry somewhere.

I’ll learn it from a partially rewritten essay.

Route 66 Under the Tires and on the Screen


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Cars_2006So my girlfriend has this theory that the Pixar movie, Cars, did a lot to help revive the tourist trade along Route 66. I don’t know how serious she is about this theory, but it’s as good an excuse to talk about Route 66 as any, and about Cars, so here goes…

What has Monica talking about Cars? We’ve taken a couple trips along I-40 this summer and last. This year, we’ve taken a few of the detours off I-40 to see what we can find along Route 66. It’s nostalgia for me. I’ve driven large parts of the southwestern route enough to get to know quite a few of the stops quite well. Having someone unfamiliar with it all is interesting though, because I get to see these old sites through her new eyes.

Also she gave me an assignment.

…to watch Cars.

I’ve certainly done worse duty. The movie is cute, perhaps a little too cute. I should probably gruff it off, but I actually enjoyed it. Funny though, I spent the first half of the movie thinking the judge-car (Doc Hudson) sounded an awful lot like Paul Newman. Couldn’t figure out who else it could have been until I mentioned it. Turns out the voice for the car is Paul Newman, and the film turned out to be a little older than I thought.

It’s fitting that Newman would appear in Cars, because I think The Hustler is pretty much the prototype for sports movies. I know, straight pool is a bit of a stretch for a sport, and perhaps a cartoon race-car is an odd subject for a sports film, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one. It’s a story of a prodigy in a competitive field, one who needs to get his priorities straight. That’s almost every sports movie I can think of, and the voice of Fast Eddie Felson (Newman’s character in The Hustler) haunts them all as far as I’m concerned. In this case Fast Eddie’s voice sounds a bit aged, but it’s literally there. And this is certainly a film about a prodigy that needs to get his priorities straight.

…which is an interesting theme through which to explore the relationship between I-40 and Route 66.


…er spoilers!

There are no people in this movie; just cars, cars that seem a lot like people. The film’s main character is a race car named Lightning McQueen. Lightning is a talented race-car who is tearing up the tracks during his rookie year on the circuit. He is one of three contenders for the annual Piston Cup award, which would effectively make him the biggest champion of the year. Unfortunately, Lightning’s ego alienates his pit crew and so they leave him just before the final show-down, a race against two great rivals to be held in California. Lightning plans to win the race all by himself, but first he must get to California. For reasons best watched for yourself, Lightning ends up stranded in the tiny southwestern town of Radiator Springs. Having accidentally destroyed the towns main road (a section of Route 66), McQueen finds himself sentenced to repair it before he can go.

Radiator Springs is very much in decline. It had its heyday in the fabled days when Route 66 was alive. The creation of Interstate 40 effectively rerouted the traffic just a few miles off the old route, and in this case, that few miles proved enough to be the undoing of the town. Its inhabitants can only hope to catch the attention of an occasional tourist, but it gets precious few of those.

…even before Lightning comes disastrously to town.

Pressed for time, Lightning struggles first to escape and then to finish the repairs in time to make his final race. In the interim, he must contend with a small cast of character-cars (most of whom were based on actual people living along route 66), including a love interest (a lovely little Porche). He wants out badly, of course, but in time Lightning grows to appreciate the town and its four-wheeled denizens. Having finally grown to appreciate the human side of things, …or at least the personified motor-car variant thereof, Lightning finds himself both a better race-car and a better person car for it. In the end, he doesn’t merely repair the damaged road and make a good showing the race (I’m not going to tell you who won, ha!). Lightning also revitalizes the town, establishing it as a thriving tourist trap with a promising future.


So, what does this movie have to say about Route 66? Well, I think one of the best lines about that topic comes from Sally (Lightning’s love interest). She tells Lightning that people moved through the landscape differently when it was Route 66. Asked how, she says:

Well, the road didn’t cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn’t drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.

So there it is, the claim this movie makes about Route 66. It represents the rich experience that travel can be in direct opposition to a modern strictly utilitarian form of transportation.  The question is which matters more? The experience of traveling across the landscape or simply getting there? This theme smacks of nostalgia, of course, and I can’t help but begin to imagine counter-examples (great road-trips on I-40 or the near certainty that at least some people must have taken to Route 66 for the specific purpose of getting somewhere fast). If there is a concrete difference between the actual roads, it also lies in way the old route goes through small towns while the new one goes around them. Which approach is more welcome may depend a lot on why one is behind the wheel, and how much time one has to get where they mean to go. Still I-40 does nudge things a bit in the direction of getting from point B to point A with a bit more efficiency, and that does come at the cost of seeing a stretch of small-town America.

This nostalgic moment has its own creative force. Many of the small towns along Route 66 have indeed made precisely the transformation depicted in Cars, turning themselves into tourist-traps in the hopes of diverting people off the main highway. As far as I can remember, references to Route 66 have always lured tourists off the main highway along the route, but I can’t help thinking the scale of Route 66 marketing has gone up a notch in the last decade or so. Perhaps Moni is right. Maybe that’s a post-hoc fallacy sweetened with a dose of confirmation bias on my part, but I was rather surprised to see just how much draw some of these towns seem to be getting out of the subject. Whether or not people used to drive Route 66 to have a great time, many do seem to be pulling off onto the small detours now for precisely that reason. No doubt, such traffic brings a few smiles to the faces of locals to match those of those taking in the sites.

Moni and I couldn’t help but notice at least one person who wasn’t so happy about all the traffic. Sitting in gridlock traffic in the middle of downtown Williams, Arizona, neither of us could quite tell what the woman a few cars ahead had been ranting about. The words; “Oh my god, Get out of my fucking way!” clarified things a bit. We watched as a tourist slowly decided to take advice from a green light and the exasperated local finally got around him and made a little headway along main-street. A few minutes later, I heard the same woman shouting “One way street” as she walked along behind a vehicle making a rapid and quite unplanned side-turn.

Yep, there are definitely definite down-sides to tourism.

Didn’t stop Moni and I from taking pictures.

(Click to embiggen; it’s what Fast Eddie Felson would want you to do.)


* Pictures marked with a star came from Moni’s camera. She also helped me find a source or two, and of course it was Moni’s request that we take some of these detours that led to this post in the first place. She also reminded me to give a fuck to a certain quote, so to speak. Moni is solely responsible for the good parts of this post. I of course am the devil messing up the details.

Rural Murals


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Look closely

Just drove north of Flagstaff along Highway 89 up to Kanab. I used to commute from Flagstaff up to Tuba City for work, so a stretch of this was very familiar to me. I was pleasantly surprised to see one new element along the road, a certain amount of street art.

The subject matter is rather distinctive, but I can’t help thinking one of the best things about this material is the background.

An elderly Navajo working one of the craft stands told me there were a couple different people in the area putting these up. I don’t know much more.

Thought I’d share.

(Click to embiggen!)



P.S. My girlfriend tells me I’m not supposed to include the pictures of the child and a goat on account of she accidentally picked up a black ant taking pictures of those herself. We ejected the hitchhiker on the outskirts of Page. A little Hydrocortisol and a couple Advil had us on our way. The cycle of pain may continue once she realizes what I did here.  I’m not a praying man, but your kind thoughts would be appreciated.

Thanks Fido, It Was a Rhetorical Question


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This was many years back, and it may be too much information, but I still think it’s a funny story. Sad to say, it’s not fiction



The Culprit

How low can you sink in life?

That was my question, sitting there on the toilet seat, staring at the roll of toilet paper standing upright on the floor in front of me, my last roll of toilet paper.

…and realizing it was damned near out.

My cats were there to help me of course, as they always are when I head to the bathroom, but neither Fido nor Junkmail had any special skill in toilet-paper assessment. They flittered about my feet a little while before sliding one by one out the door and leaving me to ponder this new dilemma all by myself.

Would it be enough?

And might I need more before the day was out?

I knew I was also out of napkins, because I had used a bit of toilet paper for a napkin the night before. Presumably, I didn’t have any paper towels either. I would certainly have used one of those at dinner, if it’d been available.

So much for the store bought stuff!

I wondered if a few extra napkins from a fast food joint might be tucked away in a coat pocket somewhere, or perhaps stuffed into a space near the computer. Could I have set one to the side while downing a burger?


But of course, getting through the crisis of the moment was one thing; living through the next couple days was another. I really didn’t want to spend the five dollars remaining in my wallet on a package of toilet paper. So, this was a tough call.

I thought perhaps I could walk over to the mall and use their toilet, but wow! That’s desperation. When you can’t afford your own toiletries, you know life hasn’t turned out the way you planned.

I supposed I could get a single roll at the store for a little over a dollar if I remembered the prices correctly. That would leave me with about 4 dollars for other things. I preferred to buy in bulk, but that was no longer an option, much less a preference. In toiletries too, the inefficiencies of poverty prevail, even for those of us with no valid excuses for being poor. I had long since lost count of the stupid mistakes that had put me in this situation.


There was nothing feigned about that little moment of self-contempt. I was pretty pissed at myself. How much worse can things get, I wondered, as I reached for the roll? How much more pathetic?

In a blaze of black and cream-colored fur, Fido flew into the room, tackled the roll and tumbled into the far corner of the bathroom, just out a little beyond the reach of my hand, His claws and teeth whirled furiously about for a second or two before he darted out the door just as quickly as he’d entered it.

And there I sat, my hand still extended, staring at the pile of shreds that had formerly been my last roll of toilet paper.


Southern Paiutes As Portrayed in Las Vegas Area Museums.


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Clark County Museum

One of the dominant themes in Vegas area museums would have to be the struggle with nature. By ‘nature’ I of course mean the desert. It’s kind of fascinating to me as parallel themes dominate literature and cinema dealing with the arctic. It’s a pretty straight-forward notion in either event. Extreme environments help to frame a basic man-against-nature story-line, which is a common enough theme in fiction as well as some historical narratives, even a good number of anthropological works.

Where the arctic narratives focus on cold and the lack of food, Vegas area narratives focus on heat and lack of food & water. Both themes definitely have a little space reserved for the indigenous peoples of the region. “How did THEY survive?” would seem to be a common question, one which segways easily into stories about how WE survive now. The part about how WE survive typically morphs into a larger narrative about thriving civilization. Okay, so the North Slope of Alaska may be a little soft on the civilization theme, not that that’s ever stopped a runaway narrative, but more to the point, in Vegas that narrative steams full bore ahead to land us in a world of casinos, mobsters, and showgirls.

…but those narratives often start with Paiutes.

Okay, so sometimes these narratives start with older Puebloan societies or even Paleo-Indians, but even then the stories quicken with the arrival of Paiutes into the area. These were the indigenous community of Las Vegas when Europeans arrived, so they figure more prominently in plot-lines anticipating those casinos and showgirls. Not surprisingly, the Vegas area museums often use the presence of Paiutes in the valley to frame general questions about survival in the desert, questions that will then play well into later developments in the area. Their own modest use of the area sets the stage in these stories for the mega-resorts of today. And if that seems an odd contrast, that is precisely the point. A miracle in the desert, so to speak. It’s all the more miraculous if we catch a glimpse of its modest beginnings.


A Convenience Store (Not

Of course, American stories of progress often treat Native Americans as just one more feature of nature standing in the way of progress, but I honestly think most of these museums try to handle things a little better than that. Still, there is a bit of slippage here and there. Anyway, the topic is worth a little time on my keyboard, so let’s just get on with it, shall we?


What first got me interested in this was a visit to the Mormon Fort, a state park commemorating the first Anglo-American settlement in the Vegas Valley. It contains a number of exhibits, one of which enables you to watch a video recounting the history of Vegas from the creation of the fort itself up through to the development boom of the 1980s (about the time my own family moved into the area). It’s the story of a city built in the midst of a hot desert, and that story begins with the discovery of two springs by European explorers.

As with other such discoveries, it turns out someone was already there. According to one of my old anthropology professors, Martha C. Knack, the Vegas Valley was already home to about a 150 Paiutes with a variety of related communities nearby. It was at these Springs, a kind of Oasis in the middle of the hot desert, that the story of Las Vegas begins.

This story takes off when Brigham Young sends a small group of missionaries to build at Fort at the Springs to serve as a weigh station on the way to Southern California. According to the video, local Paiutes had used the Springs for irrigation projects, so there is little doubt as to a native presence at the Springs. Still, when those first missionaries up and leave, the video suggests that their major accomplishment was to prove that people could make a permanent settlement in the area.

…which of course leaves me wondering what about the Paiute? Hadn’t they already proved that?

This may not be as egregious as it sounds. I could well see white folks at the time thinking of it in that light, biased as it is, so I could see the point of calling attention to this perspective. Still, the commentary in the video is as invested in the bias as any Anglo-American might have been at the time the missionaries left, and so the resulting narrative does seem to erase the Paiute. There is enough information about the local Paiute around the rest of Mormon Fort and even in the video itself to contradict that kind of thinking, but the story-line has its own impact.

Could be worse, could be better.

Mostly, it could be better.


That said, the Mormon Fort is a great place in its own right. If you’re in the area, and have a little pocket change left, I would definitely go check it out.


I found a couple of interesting origin-narratives for the local Paiute, one at the Clark County Museum and one at the Springs Preserve. Each of these are Coyote stories, so it goes without saying that something is going to go terribly  wrong in them. That’s how trickster narratives work. Each presents the choice of a Paiute homeland as something of an accident. At the Springs Preserve, this accident seems to suggest that Paiute ended up in the wrong place. Coyote opened the basket early (somewhere between Las Vegas and Moapa). The Clark County variant suggests that people had already been escaping and heading in different directions, and Coyote closed the sack before carrying it a ways further and pouring out those who would become Paiute. Whether this means they ended up where they were supposed to go or not, I can’t tell from the source at the museum.

I’ve presented both of these stories directly below (a video and a picture). Of course this kind of presentation strips a lot of the context out of each narrative, but I think a bit of the flavor in such stories does come through. I find myself thinking of the accident in terms of the arid setting, as if it were meant to explain how Paiute ended up in such a dry location with its sparse resources. Still, I’m not sure how much of that would have been the point of the Paiute story and how much of that may be the rest of the presentations in which they occur. With so much of each exhibit devoted to explaining how these people survived in the local desert, it seems easy to think of this as the point of the accident, that Paiute weren’t really meant to be here, but perhaps just me. Either way, I can’t help thinking it’s an interesting way of thinking about how one’s people ended up where they are. Mistakes happen. Sometimes a mistake mean you ruin lunch, put up a video with bad sound quality, or end up with a low grade on a test.

…and sometimes a mistake create a world to live in.



Now the Springs Preserve is interesting in itself. This place is huge, and after four visits, I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen everything. It contains the Nevada State Museum and the Origin Museum as well as a number of outdoor exhibits (one of which is the Paiute village where I recorded the origin story above). That story is one of several narratives relating to Paiutes that you can find in the Springs Preserve. The Origin Museum contains a couple more videos. One appears to be a straight-foreword history of Las Vegas beginning with the arrival of Native Americans in the area. It further mentions the brief history of interaction (including conflict) between whites and natives. A second, more dramatic video (set up in a stand of artificial tulies) appears to depict a Paiute elder greeting us (the visitors) as if she were meeting non-natives for the first time. She is friendly, of course, and explains a thing or two about her people’s survival strategies, but the video ends on a dark turn. She sees change coming, and it seems to fair to suggest this is an allusion to the hazards of contact and colonization.

Neither of these videos goes into much detail about the troubled relations between Paiute and non-natives, but each mentions them. Where the first is dry and a little up-beat, the second is cryptic and disturbing.

A quick listen to the Coyote narrative always seems to put things in perspective for me. Odd, I know to want to follow modern history with an origin narrative, but I doubt Coyote would object.

Oh, the videos!




The Springs Preserve also contains a history of Las Vegas as portrayed in paintings by the artist Roy Purcell. The only explicit mention of natives I recall seeing in this exhibit is a reference to Spanish raids on local Indians. That’s pretty much it. It’s an interesting history. I at least would have found it a bit more interesting if it had a place for the indigenous population. His website suggests that Purcell is working on Native American subjects now. This sounds promising.

No pictures are allowed in the Purcell exhibit, so I haven’t anything to show for that part of the Springs Preserve.


The Nevada State Museum (also in the Springs Preserve) doesn’t seem as focused on questions of subsistence, but it does have a few interesting pieces on indigenous peoples of the area. A life-size photo of Sarah Winnemucca had me wondering if she wasn’t a bit south of her usual residence. My personal fussiness aside, she certainly deserves a place in the Nevada STATE Museum. The museum also includes a video presentation in which a modern actress interprets some of her words for visitors at the Museum. Similar videos provide a glimpse of Wovoka’s prophesies, and a woman whose name translates to Little Willow teaches us a bit about basket-making. Please accept my apologies for the poor quality of the audios. To get the full experience, you’ll just have to go to the Museum.





CnNS4cNUMAELRKRThere is one other thing I really must say about the Nevada State Museum, and that it that it seems to contain the White Tree of Gondor. Oh, they call it a Great Basin Bristle Cone Pine, but I know the White Tree of Gondor when I see it. You can’t fool me!

I know, this has nothing to do with Paiutes, but seriously, I think the White Tree of Gondor deserves at least a mention. Don’t you?


I’ve written about the Atomic Testing Museum before, and I don’t have a lot to add here, except to note that the museum does reference the indigenous populations of the testing zones. It’s a smallish display by comparison, focusing primarily on cultural preservation. By some accounts Newe Segobia is the most bombed nation in the world, but that story falls a bit North of this post. It’s worth noting though, the general tenor of the Museum’s approach to Native Americans. They want us to know they are trying to do the right thing, but their treatment of the issue doesn’t really escape the largely pro-testing narratives of the museum as a whole.

Let me conclude with a smattering of selected photos from the museums. As always, you may click to embiggen.

The Eagles of Metlakatla


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IMG_20160702_101108So, I spent most of June on the Metlakatla Indian Reserve on in Southeast Alaska. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Its eagles were one of the first things I noticed about the place. It seems to have a lot of them. Locals seemed amused to see me clicking away at the local equivalent of pigeons, but to me they were damned beautiful pigeons, and so I clicked on. These are lazy eagles, or so one my students told me. They don’t hunt as much as eagles out and away from the harbor. These guys obviously get a lot of easy meals off the boats, I’m sure. And still, that doesn’t make them any less majestic looking. So, again, I clicked away.

When an eagle looks back at you, it’s hard to escape the notion that one is being judged. Yeah, judge me if you like dude; I got your picture, so there! It’s really hard  to get a decent picture of these guys in flight. I tried hard and almost managed it a time or two. I definitely prefer it when they perch in a tree and pose for me. They can judge all they like, just so long as they give me time to zoom in.

So, I figure, what could be more fitting for an Independence Day post than a bunch of eagle pics? Anyway, have a look!

(You may of course click to embiggen.)


Metlakatla is the only Indian reservation in Alaska. It began when William Duncan, an Anglican missionary separated with his church and brought a portion of his Tsimshian congregation from old Metlakatla to Annette Island, thus founding the community of New Metlakatla. It is still predominantly a Tsimshian community, though Tlingit and Haida, and a whole host of other peoples live there as well. Father Duncan’s faith isn’t the only one here anymore, but with half a dozen churches in a town of 1300, it is still very much a Christian community.

The town has a casino, but that didn’t get a lot of action while I was there, or at least I didn’t notice it. They also have a tourist ship, which seems to get a little business. (At least they did from me.) They also have a cannery, and this meant lots of outsiders showed up as the fishing season started. …Suddenly Russian could be heard all over the place. All in all, it was an interesting place.

(Click to embiggen. You know you wanna!)

I recall talking to someone before I went about activities on the island. She said, there were plenty of good hiking places. I asked if it was dangerous, and was told in reply that there were no bears on the island. So, I hiked a good 5 miles or so away from town out on the beach. Later someone told me they do have wolves.

…good to know.

Funny thing about beaches. It’s no real surprise that refuse washes up on shore and sometimes people leave stuff. They should know better, yes, but they do. What’s not so obvious is just why so much of it gets hung up or stuck on a tree branch.

(Don’t click to embiggen this stuff! Seriously, just don’t!)

One day, I had the oddest exchange. It went like this:

Stranger: Sorry to bother you, I had to check on my log.

Me: Your log?

Stranger: My log.

The mystery was somewhat resolved when a boat came to haul it away. The skipper told me it was going to be a totem.


For most of the time I stayed on the island, local fisherman used drift nets, but the very morning I left, they shifted to seine netting which was a bit more interesting cause you can see the floats.

(Click to embiggen!)

The eagles certainly found these nets rather interesting. They were very interested in seeing the results.


Happy July 4th everybody!