180 Days: Day 132–The Hero’s Son

Luke Zamperini came to visit our sophomores today. Luke is the son of Olympian and WW2 Japanese POW Survivor Louis Zamperini, our hometown hero. Since our entire sophomore class read Laura Hillenbrand’s painstakingly researched biography of Louie, our students were stoked to get to meet the son of the man who fought sharks and forgave his brutal captors.

Mr. Zamperini first showed a segment from a documentary about his dad that summarized the events of the famous biography, Unbroken. He then spoke for about 10 minutes before opening the floor to questions from the 450+ sophomores.

He spoke about the Louis Zamperini Foundation and the power of redemption and forgiveness in his dad’s life.


Mr. Zamperini stayed afterward for at least another 30 minutes to speak individually with any student who wanted. He was kind, attentive, and more than willing to share his father’s story and the lessons he learned from his father’s life.

I shared with Mr. Zamperini how much my own son has been inspired by his father, Louis. My son first met Louis when he was in elementary school attending an airshow at the local Zamperini Airfield. My son met him, got Louis’s autograph on his first book about his life, Devil at My Heels, and was able to take pictures with the local icon. My son even marched in our town’s Armed Forces Day Parade as both a scout and a JROTC cadet with the hometown hero. My son found his story remarkable–and he connected to Louis being that his own grandfather was a WW2 vet.

I’m thankful that my students had the opportunity to see a more human side to a “character” we had read about, that they could see in person the result the and the influence of the man’s hard work and remarkable life. Few students get these kind of enrichment opportunities.So it was an hour well-spent.


“Miracles” by Coldplay (from the motion picture Unbroken)



180 Days: Day 93–Kids Listen When the Fat King Sings

King Henry VIII is pure poetry to the ears of 16-year-old kids who love drama. So I share the famous Tudor king’s dramatic life in painting a picture for my students of Shakespeare’s world order as we start our unit on The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. If I started the class with The Great Chain of Being, their eyes would glaze over. So I start with eye-popping intrigues like marrying your brother’s widow, forming your own church to divorce her to marry your pregnant mistress and all the other juicy details. Kids love it! And it makes introducing a simplistic version of the Great Chain a far simpler task. By the time we get to Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth, the kids are peppering me with questions and eager to know more about Shakespeare’s world. Little do they know that later in the unit they will be looking up a lot of what we touch upon today with more detail. But hey, if turning history into a “stranger than fiction” telenovela of sorts grabs their attention, then that’s what I will do. Luckily, with the Tudors, it’s not a stretch to do so.


“I’m Henry the Eighth I Am” by Herman’s Hermits


180 Days: Day 88–A Crisis of Adequacy

I spent half of today at the District office in a meeting with stakeholder groups and representatives from our state assemblyman. This meeting was to discuss legislation sponsored by our district and other members of our state’s education coalition to add to base funding for all schools under our state’s fledgling Local Control Funding Formula, a formula built primarily on equity and not the adequacy of funding.

The need for such a meeting speaks to the crisis that public education finds itself in across the nation. Decades of attacks from those who wish to privatize education have born fruit. Enrollment in teacher education courses is down nationwide. Many of our best and brightest students do not consider teaching a viable occupation–there’s too little incentive to join the profession in the current climate of teacher bashing, steep budget and job cuts, increased data collection and workload, and decreased pay, benefits, prestige, autonomy, and academic freedom.

My adoptive state (I moved here 20 years ago) currently ranks near the bottom in per pupil funding, so the assemblyman’s upcoming bill to attempt to bring us closer to the middle of the pack is welcome news. I know that I will be working with him and his office to pass this key piece of funding legislation this spring. And we are a state that is considered friendly to public education, so that should be a signal as to the dire state of public education funding in our nation.

I can only hope that the discussion on the need to adequately fund public education can work its way back to the forefront of our national dialogue. I’m not hopeful with anti-public school folks like Betsy De Vos at the helm in the Department of Education, but I do have hope for statehouses across the country to address the issue. My home state of Oklahoma has been especially hard hit with funding and teacher shortages due to years of trickle-down policies coupled with austerity budgets. Last year’s state teacher of the year famously left the state for better pay. Oklahoma, one of the reddest and most poverty stricken states in the union, has a long way to go to address their funding issues that leave many districts with four-day school weeks and high teacher turnover. But the revolution of teachers running for public office and forcing the dialogue will hopefully bear fruit in the long run even if it hasn’t worked in the short run.

Thomas Jefferson supported the notion of locally controlled public education in its infancy. He and his fellow intellectuals from the Enlightenment believed that knowledge was essential to maintaining a free society. He even founded the University of Virginia on a parcel of land owned by President James Monroe (along with help from President James Madison and a few others) to develop the “illimitable freedom of the human mind.” It’s time we started living up to the lofty ideals of our founding fathers.

“Be True to Your School” by The Beach Boys


180 Days: Day 58–Travel Day, Only Costs You Steps

My classroom is a quarter of a mile from the school office. The school library is right next to the school office. And each of my classes made a trip to the library today to trade books. So while I got my steps in today, my sophomores turned in Unbroken and checked out Lord of the Flies and my seniors turned in Hamlet and are back to using their Perrine’s Sound and Sense textbook for a quick look at neoclassicism. So in one grade, we traded Japanese POW camps for Hobbesian hell on an island. In the other grade, we traded Danish indecision for Augustan superficiality.

So after the not-so-power-walk back from the library (because what students are ever in a hurry when walking in the halls?) my sophomores spent time comparing Hobbes to John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau before delving into Golding’s dissection of the nature of evil. My seniors delved into the time period of these philosophers by examining the elements of neoclassical literature.

But in our 40 minute Tuesday class periods, it’s all we can do to complete anything. So the plethora of steps–6 trips to the front of the school and back to my room– and the discussion of man’s wickedness all day was luckily shortlived. Tuesdays always feel like the longest short days ever, but the kids stayed on target today making my life a lot easier. Tomorrow we start reading lit in earnest and it gets harder.

“Champagne Supernova” by Oasis from What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

“Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball…”


180 Days: Day 33–Hell, pt. 2

I’m really hoping that tomorrow is not Hell, pt. 3. I really hope that the heat will break as it has been forecast to do. The second straight day of 90+ temperatures in my classroom has been miserable.

But my kids were troopers. They stayed focused for the most part–though I did have to keep nudging them to keep their heads up off the tables (yes, I have tables instead of desks in my classroom) in a heat-induced lackadaisical stupor. Part of why my sophomores could stay interested is because we were reading Laura Hillenbrand’s account of the Japanese attack on the US Navy at Pearl Habor and US Military fuel depot and airstrip on the Wake Atoll in chapter 6 of Unbroken.  We looked up maps and pictures of the atoll (as well as the definition of atoll). We discussed why Wake Atoll was in a key location (thank you Google Maps). We talked about Hillenbrand’s interesting word choice: “In one day of breathtaking violence, a new Japanese onslaught had begun.” We discussed why the author might choose the word “violence” instead of “power.” We discussed the positive versus the negative connotations of the words and how they might be foreshadowing what we will see later in the book. We discussed how the perspective of this text is very American in that the Japanese are portrayed with words of negative connotation–even if they are accurate words denotatively–and is it okay to portray one side in a positive light and the other in a negative light or should a book showing history be more neutral. Some of the arguments defending Hillenbrand’s choice is that she is not writing a history book, she is writing a biography of a man who was brutalized by the Japanese. Overall, it was a productive day.

My seniors didn’t get very far into Hamlet Act I, scene 2 today. But they did start to make sense of some of scene 1’s passages. We analyzed two passages that featured allusion and symbolism particularly. Then we divine right of kings, primogeniture, and marrying for treaties as opposed to love. My goal was to set the class up to be able to explore the motivations of the characters in the play as it proceeds. I’m okay with moving slowly to start, so long as we can speed up as we move forward.The kids don’t know it yet, but they will have assigned reading tomorrow night so that they can watch and match the text with the adaptation more quickly.  I really want to start highlighting Branaugh’s choices/interpretations as the director as we are still in the early acts of the play.

Yes, we moaned and groaned in the heat, but we still got a lot done today considering.

“In the Heat of the Moment” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds


180 Days: Day 13–That Other Racism

What a way to start a Monday–sophomores asking questions!! Woo Hoo!! Except these questions were very uncomfortable questions–but I was okay with that. Sometimes we have to be uncomfortable to stretch and learn and think differently about the world around us. Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for the word of the day: solipsistic (the theory that only the self exists; egotistical self-absorption).


In the quest of helping my students to not be solipsistic, we read “Indian Education” by Sherman Alexie, from his book of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I read the first half to the class modeling a variety of reading strategies with them (we are practicing good reading fundamentals right now). The students were assigned to complete the reading on their own and annotate the text and be ready for discussion tomorrow in class. The students were stunned by how brutish the missionary second-grade teacher was to the protagonist, Victor “Junior” Polatkin.  They were shocked by the narrator’s nonchalant use of racial terms for whites and Native Americans. They had no clue about life on reservations or in Indian HUD housing. They were also quite surprised at the glue-sniffing fifth grader. So we had a conversation about what corporal punishment looked like in schools when I was a kid. I also had to explain to them what rubber cement and horn-rimmed glasses were. I shared stories about my hometown in Oklahoma having “Indian Housing” and that Native Americans were the largest non-white racial/ethnic group in my school. Thank goodness for google images and my own personal experiences as the historical context is the difference between understanding this story or staring off into space wishing to be anywhere but the English classroom reading some old story (written in the 90s about the 70s).

So far, in 13 days we have read four stories and written two pieces–a vignette and a letter. Our stories have featured a young lady from the depression afraid to step out of the traditional female role and follow her dream, an immigrant war refugee from Greece, a first-generation Mexican American fifth grader in south Texas, and a Native American on a reservation in Washington state. I want students to build a tapestry of knowledge and backgrounds as rich as the messages of these authors (Richard Brautigan, Nicholas Gage, Sandra Cisneros, and Sherman Alexie). I want them to ask the hard questions that these authors prompt us and cajole us into asking.

We will see how the discussion goes tomorrow–as on deck is the great Maya Angelou…

“Question” by The Moody Blues


“Question” by The Moody Blues
Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war?
‘Cause when we stop and look around us
There is nothing that we need
In a world of persecution
That is burning in its greed
Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door?
Because the truth is hard to swallow
That’s what the war of love is for
It’s not the way that you say it
When you do those things to me
It’s more the way that you mean it
When you tell me what will be
And when you stop and think about it
You won’t believe it’s true
That all the love you’ve been giving
Has all been meant for you
I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the love I knew
Could safely lead me through
Between the silence of the mountains
And the crashing of the sea
There lies a land I once lived in
And she’s waiting there for me
But in the grey of the morning
My mind becomes confused
Between the dead and the sleeping
And the road that I must choose
I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the love I knew
Could safely lead me to
The land that I once knew
To learn as we grow old
The secrets of our soul
It’s not the way that you say it when you do those things to me
It’s more the way you really mean it when you tell me what will be
Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war?
When we stop and look around us
There is nothing that we need
In a world of persecution
That is burning in its greed
Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door?
Songwriter: Justin Hayward


180 Days: Day 9–A Normal School Day, A Not So Normal World Day

Today was our second PLC Late Start Day of the school year. Teachers meet from 7:45 a.m. until 8:35 and students start class at 8:50–a full 50 minutes later than the other four days of the week. Last week, on our first PLC Late Start, 183 of 1813 students (yes, 10%), showed up late to their first-period class. I almost cringe to see today’s numbers in the morning when I print the report because even if it is a better number, it’s not by much. Mercifully, classes are shorter on Tuesdays because we teachers are freaking exhausted at the end of every Tuesday. We are running hard all day long. So in that regard, it was a normal day. I put my nose to the grindstone and enjoyed my time with my students. My sophomores wrote vignettes and my seniors analyzed apocalyptic symbolism in Yeat’s “The Second Coming.” The poem, part of which is used as an epigraph and the title of Chinua Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart, compares the turmoil in our world to the End of Times with imagery of the Anti-Christ/the Beast. So it was a typical school day–except the themes of today’s work resounded on the world stage today.

POTUS gave a bellicose speech to the United Nations in which he threatened to destroy the entirety of North Korea and its 25 million people and continued his childish name calling tradition by mocking its leader, Kim Jong Un, with the title of “Rocket Man” in an official speech on the world stage. I’m too stunned and fear-filled by DJT’s warmongering to be embarrassed by him anymore. Frankly, Red America, you broke it, you bought it. And we just might face a calamity the likes we’ve never seen. And that says a lot with the 20th Century’s horrific war record in our rearview mirror. Yet, our congressional majority party leaders do nothing to check DJT’s ugly cataclysmic rhetoric. The lessons of history stare us in the face only to be ignored in favor of a short-term power grab and the umpteenth chance to strip health coverage from millions of hardworking Americans. In the end, it’s hard to let a dead man eat cake, even that fancy Mar-a-Lago chocolate kind.

Meanwhile, the Caribbean is hunkered down in misery under the thumb of yet another Category 5 hurricane. Lady Maria has been just as merciless as Harvey and Irma before her. To make matters worse, Mexico suffered a second catastrophic earthquake in as many weeks earlier today–an 8.1 hit the nation on September 8th, but today’s 7.1 hit the heart of the nation’s capital and the death toll has topped 149 with the latest reports.

Today felt like Yeat’s poem outside the classroom. Let’s hope that Things Do Not Fall Apart in our world. And let’s hope our pugnacious POTUS doesn’t spawn WW3 by taunting an isolated, defiant, trigger-happy North Korean leader while our people and our neighbors are consumed by the widening gyre of natural and political disasters.

“The Second Coming”
by W.B. Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Kasabian’s song “Where Did All the Love Go?” somehow seems appropriate in all this Trumpian chaos as well.


“Where Did All the Love Go” by Kasabian, from their 2009 album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Never took a punch in the ribcage, sonny
Never met a soul who had no shrine
Keep this all in your mind and get it inside my window
What do we become trying to kill each other?
You’re faking it son, gonna get you tonight
I suck another breath to the hearts of the revolution
Because you still ain’t right
Where did all the love go?
I don’t know, I don’t know
(I bet you can’t see it)
Where did all the love go?
I don’t know, I don’t know
(I bet you can’t see it)
Can’t see the signs of a real change a-comin’?
Take another sip from your hobo’s wine
Get yourself a million miles from the concrete jungle
This is a time full of fear, full of anger
A hero’s exchange for a telephone line
Whatever happened to the youth of this generation
Because it still ain’t right
Where did all the love go?
I don’t know, I don’t know
(I bet you can’t see it)
Where did all the love go?
Now I don’t know why, oh why
The rivers of the pavement are flowing now with blood
The children of the future are drowning in the flood
Where did all the love go?
Now I don’t know why, oh why
In this social chaos, there’s violence in the air
Gotta keep your wits about you, be careful not to stare
Where did all the love go?
I don’t know, I don’t know
(I bet you can’t see it)
Where did all the love go?
Now I don’t know why, oh why
(I bet you can’t see it)
Lyrics by Sergio Pizzorno


180 Days: Day 5–A Trip to the 30s

Tonight my sophomores are assigned to read “Greyhound Tragedy” by Richard Brautigan. The story was published in the 1970s but takes place in the 1930s. So we spent most of today researching movies and movie stars of the 1930s. These are kids in which 9/11 is someone else’s history, so the 1930s is completely alien. So we talked a bit about what films looked like in the ’30s, who the movie stars were, what key world events occurred that might influence what movies would be about. So we looked at the Great Depression, the election of FDR, the rise of Hitler, Jesse Owens, Amelia Earheart, the Hindenburg disaster, etc. The goal was to provide some context for a group of 15-16 year-olds who idolize celebrities of their own, to help them empathize with the protagonist of Brautigan’s very short, minimalist story. I enjoyed teaching this story last year because it offered so many opportunities to discuss writer’s craft and elements of a story–what does a piece of writing have to have in order to be a story? For such a compact piece of writing, it’s a powerful example of how literary devices (such as metaphor and allusion) can add rich subtext and provide meaning.

When my colleague brought the story in last year, I immediately fell in love with it because I connected with the protagonist so strongly. My mother always watched old movies on the lone TV on Saturday afternoons while I was growing up in the ’70s. She filled our bookshelf with saucy books about the Golden Age of Hollywood that I voraciously devoured and eventually read with more adult eyes (a juicy favorite was Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon). Hollywood was a bright shiny dream for small town Oklahoma girls like my mom and me, so I fully empathized with the protagonist. I shopped at Penney’s as a youth. I loved Clark Gable movies (Teacher’s Pet is a favorite–Gable in a rom com!). And I understood the allusion to Harlow and Valentino in the final sentence–and how the reference to them adds another layer to the tragedy of the title. I will see just how many students can explore the subtext enough to understand what the titular tragedy of the story is–if they bother to read their homework at all tonight.

One can hope.

A clip from the 1958 Clark Gable/Doris Day film Teacher’s Pet (Gable’s Gannon character blurting out in protest of writing 2,000 words sounds just like my students. lol):


180 Days: Day 3–“I Don’t Know Anything About It”

Remembering 9/11 has grown more and more intriguing and challenging in the past couple of years as most of my students were infants or very small toddlers when the event that changed everyday life for all Americans happened. I asked for students to explore what they did know about the events of that gut-wrenching day 16 years ago. Many knew there were four airplanes. None new there were 19 hijackers or that they were mostly Saudis. They knew Osama bin Laden was behind it, but few could name his terrorist network, al Qaeda. But all were shocked by the images of “The Falling Man,” a series of photos by Richard Drew of one of the Twin Towers victims leaping to death.

Tom Junod wrote an amazing piece for Esquire about the famous images last year.


I asked students to tell The Falling Man’s story. I just wanted to see what they knew of storytelling techniques. Most struggles to get the first line down, but some wrote feverishly for the 5-7 minutes allotted to them. Many opted to write from the point of view of the man in the photo. A few opted to write in third person omniscient. Some chose to tackle the image head on and start in the middle, while others chose to start at breakfast that morning and try to work up to the terrifying climax. Most students understood the basics of good storytelling. And this picture spoke volumes to them. Even the kid who proclaimed that he had a hard time starting because “I don’t know anything about it” admitted that the image spoke the proverbial thousand words.

Before segueing away from our 9/11 remembrance exercise to launch us into a unit on storytelling/narrative writing, I shared an emotional piece of slam poetry with the kids. Most of the kids left class today understanding that while they didn’t live the event, even though they had no working memory of the event–they understood the emotion of the event. They opened their eyes and their ears to the stories of others who did live and remember the event. The impassioned poem by Mike Rosen prompted silence. Then gulps as students fought back tears. They got it.

Mike Rosen “When God Happens”


Before the towers collapsed into a white noise
of bodies and strewn paper,
there were people in the windows. They clutched family photos
and they jumped, became human tombstones
falling into the shrapnel of a city covered
in the ash of its own citizens,
a city shapeless and somewhere else, writhing as it fell.
That night, I feared everything but darkness,
so I slept on the floor at the foot of my father’s bed —
it’s a place where monsters and planes are made easy work of.
That morning, I went to the window, I wiped my hand along the sill,
I watched my fingers turn grey and I thought: “bodies.”
But I didn’t want to wash them, I wanted to go to the roof, I did.
I saw the smoke crawling into a postcard, the smell was everywhere.
I wondered if they would change the postcards now,
put smoke where once were towers, and then address them to our relatives
in Texas and Carolina where they were rearing to go to war
and say I wish, I wish you were here.
I wish you could see these clouds forming under the clouds
I wish you could touch this smell with your nostrils every time you breathe
I wish you could run your hand along your window and wonder
how the bodies got through the door
and see what it’s like to live in the most Beverly Hills version of awar zonee
and realize what war might just look like, feel like,
taste like, in your breakfast cereal,
when you realize you’re sitting there digging Cheerios out of a bowl
when they’re digging bodies out of the ground.
That day was not about your god or their god
because when God happens, no one is right.
These were times when we lied to our children.
When you lie to children, no one is right.
I can’t make this any clearer to you. That day had no black or white,
‘cause under that rubble everyone was grey.
Under that rubble was no red, whites, or blue.
Under that rubble was just grey.
Now I know New Yorkers, we talk a lot — sorry!
But I’m taking this one back for my home
because under that rubble was not your country,
under that rubble was our city, our town,
our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters.
That day, no one in New York grabbed rifles,
we grabbed bandanas and shovels and we started digging
because our lives were underneath that rubble
and the firemen were looking for the bodies.
It has been ten years, and my friend is still looking for her father’s body
Your war is not helping her find him.
Your war has done nothing but add to the list of little boys like me,
who wish to sleep at the feet of their father’s beds.
My father worked nowhere near the Trade Center, but I didn’t know that then.
What I knew was that the phone lines were down
and that until I heard his voice, so was he.
Your war has done nothing but add to the list of boys
in New York, in Iraq, in Afghanistan
The list of boys who are still waiting
for their fathers to come home.


Hell in a Handbasket: Charlottesville Proves We Haven’t Learned History’s Lessons

I grew up in a state that many consider part of the Midwest, but most of my neighbors would argue that we are a Southern state. The US Census Bureau agrees only because Oklahoma, the reddest state in the union, is south of Mason-Dixon Line. But Indian Territory, as Oklahoma was known in the 1860s, wasn’t legally open to white settlers until 1889. Oklahoma Territory didn’t become the 46th state until 1907. Nevertheless, many Confederates settled in Oklahoma in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Some of those Confederates were my ancestors–moving from North Carolina through to Arkansas and on to Oklahoma. I’m not proud of this fact, but it is a fact with which I have to live and face. This knowledge is the context of my childhood.

With Confederates on both sides of my family and a paternal grandfather that openly used the “n” word while I was growing up in the Sooner State, I’ve long been amazed that I turned out as I did–a politically active progressive liberal who believes in social justice and fights for equity for minorities, for women, for all. I remember all the racist, sexist, ethnic “truly tasteless jokes” (that were eventually collected into a series of books in 1982) that we all told as grade schoolers as we giggled thinking we were getting one past the grown-ups around us. So much of what I grew up with in the 1970s would not pass in today’s society–rightly so or wrongly so, we have lost our ability as a nation to laugh at the expense of any group, much less ourselves. In many ways, this is indeed progress, but in other ways, we have become a nation at war with itself because we are constantly offended with each other. I have been searching my experiences in my mind trying to trace the path from growing up with tasteless jokes to being trolled by acquaintances and strangers alike in social media for being an intolerant snowflake libtard (among other names).

I considered the humor of Mel Brooks, for example. I can remember laughing at early scenes from Blazing Saddles as a youngster in the back seat of the car at the drive-in theater as my parents tried to enjoy a date night of sorts. My younger brother and I both hee-hawed at the bean farting scene. Then we started arguing over who got the red and blue M&Ms, ate some popcorn, and fell asleep (I was 5 1/2; my brother was 4) before the new sheriff came to town. But as adolescents, we were re-introduced to the entire film. And we both loved the brilliant satire. We still do. I often quote “Mongo only pawn in game of life” when people look to me to solve their problems for them (I’m a firm believer in the Alinsky’s Iron Rule of Organizing–Never do for others what they can do for themselves). Mel Brooks knew that even back in 1974 he was broaching taboo racial, ethnic, and sexist subjects as he parodied Hollywood Westerns, but he did so deftly and with such satiric skill and wit that the classic film still works today.

The closest a film has come to this level of line-crossing satiric genius in the past decade would have to be Ben Stiller’s 2008  Tropic Thunder, which also put Hollywood in the crosshairs while using taboo racist, ethnic, and sexist humor to fantastic effect just like his predecessor Brooks. Tropic Thunder opened the month before my 40th birthday, but I remember thinking as I sat virtually alone at a weekday matinee of the film that it was a brilliant piece of satire that actually pulled off the unthinkable in the post-millennial world–having an Academy Award nominee in blackface for virtually the entire film. I have to wonder if Stiller would have been able to get the green light for the film today, in a post-Trayvon Martin/Michael Brown/Eric Garner/Philando Castile/et al world. Part of me hopes yes, but another part of me hesitates to think so. We are a society that is hurting and not healing. The wounds of our Civil War and its resulting segregation are festering and poisoning the body of our nation. And our national “leaders” do not lead with the courage to do what is right, but instead look for expediency and to curry favor with a chosen few.


Today’s horrifying spectacle of the President of the United States openly defending alt-right protestors who were yelling Nazi chants at this last weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally, of him openly defending Confederate General Robert E. Lee by falsely equating him to President George Washington and President Thomas Jefferson (neither of whom betrayed this country to raise arms against it) while denouncing the alt-left as violent offenders was stunning to watch (here’s a guide to the terms). The simmering hatred against America’s first black president, Barack Obama, has in short order boiled over in a very public defiance and a rage egged on by DJT/45 (I still refuse to type his name). The alt-right men and women who descended upon Charlottesville this last weekend were open and proud to wear their White Nationalist symbols. Gone were the KKK face-hiding hoods. The brazen marchers knew the terrifying history behind carrying torches and marching at night–KKK rallies and lynch mobs. They knew that this action steeped in the traditions of the White Supremacists and Segregationists would bring these actions symbolic of the violent old into the now and the future. They also knew that counter protesters would show up–that those in opposition to their extremist views would not stand in fear in the shadows like in days past. America’s wounds are splitting open and bleeding for the world to see.

And all my acquaintances and friends in my birth state of Oklahoma can talk about is how libtards like me are writing a revisionist history erasing their heritage. That is what saddens me the most. How did we arrive at this point in time where extremism is ruling the day and the majority stands by acquiescing? Did we learn nothing from our fathers and grandfathers who fought in WW2? Did we learn nothing from Hitler’s Final Solution and Master Race rhetoric? I can’t help but think of Mark Antony’s stirring the Roman people: “O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,/ And men have lost their reason.”