Why The ‘Christian Case for Trump’ is Hogwash

Donald Trump’s nomination by the Republican Party has caused a great twisting up in conservative circles, and particularly within Christian circles. As a result I have noticed an increasing circulation in material designed to persuade Christians that Donald Trump is the right choice for Christians.

I find this bothersome on two levels:

  • It is bothersome to see Christianity (or any religion) used to manipulate decisions with no direct application to the individual or the church. The idea that something somebody is selling is the right choice for Christians is, in my view, a dangerous one guaranteed to result in charlatanism.
  • A vote is a political act, not a religious one, and what some Christians may prescribe for their own lives or churches need not necessarily be part of their political agendas.

The particular material that prompted this response, however, was a post called, “To the ‘Never Trumper’ – A Biblical Case for Trump,” by an anonymous writer at a blog called Last Chance America. I found the language to be glib and condescending, and I found the argument to be short-sighted and poorly supported. The writer’s priority is to stop Hillary Clinton at what seems to be any cost, suggesting in the 18th paragraph that the only thing standing between us and the total destruction of the United States is Donald Trump.

I disagree.

My purpose here is not to make a case against Donald Trump. It is only to make the case that there is no Christian imperative to support him. Further, I think the author of “To the ‘Never Trumper'” does not understand the depth of the personal and moral compromise she is asking Never Trumpers to make.

In specific: I think Trump poses a more immediate and severe danger to the republic than Hillary Clinton or any other serious presidential candidate of my lifetime. The purpose of this response is not to convince anyone to agree with me, but I do want to make clear that if you’re telling me I have a Christian imperative to vote for Donald Trump, you need to understand that you’re telling me it’s my Christian responsibility to vote for someone I think is capable of becoming one of history’s greatest monsters. This is not a matter of simply wishing Marco Rubio (or whoever) had won the primary.

Although I understand why some Republicans feel they have no choice but to vote for Trump, I did not come away from this piece having read a convincing argument that voting for him is the best thing for Christians to do. Instead, I found what I considered a sloppy slamming together of Bible verses and Trump campaign logic that failed to address the #NeverTrump movement’s biggest concerns about Donald Trump.

I’ve addressed the most bothersome passages here:

I am simply stating that in this specific office, as President, he has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that he will protect and champion the rights of the American evangelical if he were to be elected, even if he does not personally embrace those values.

This is a mistake of gravely shallow thinking. Trump has repeatedly shown himself to be outwardly and explicitly hostile to the open practice of religion. If Trump can ban Muslims, pushing their faith into the underground, then he can also do so with Jews or Baptists or religion altogether. Even if, as the writer supposes, Trump would never attempt to ban Christians, he will have made it easier for someone who would. The right to freely practice one’s religion has to be categorical, or it has no meaning. Trump has announced his intent to use the might of the government to restrict the open expression of faith in the United States. Throwing support behind that idea has consequences that reach beyond a couple presidential terms.

PLEASE stop saying that failing to vote for Trump is not a vote for Hillary…it is. I am truly not trying to insult your intelligence here. I simply fear you may be over thinking things. No matter how much you attempt to pad your argument with mathematical or philosophical meanderings, the simple truth is that a third party NEVER has and CANNOT win the presidency, at least not in this election cycle’s 2 party system, broken as it may be.

In addition to being objectively untrue, this thinking is, again, short-sighted. I believe you have under-thought it. If we are considering only the election this November, then it is true that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will win and every vote tips the balance in one of those two directions. But that is not all that is at stake.

Each vote for Donald Trump tells the Republican party, “we want more of that.” Each vote is a choice about the sort of person you think is fit for office, the sort of person you trust, and the sort of person you want to be associated with, and the direction in which you want to move the country.

Let’s set aside the considerable questions about Trump’s competence for a minute and focus on his character. Many people – many of them Christians – view Donald Trump as dishonest, undignified, unkind and selfish. If you say you value honesty, dignity, kindness and selflessness, and you cast a vote for someone you think possesses none of those qualities, then you have sold out those values. In this case, you will have sold out those values just to stop one particular woman.

If, on the other hand, a significant number of Christian voters jump out of the Republican party and cast their vote elsewhere, it will be a signal to the Republican party that their nominee and his platform were unacceptable to one of the largest voting blocs in American politics.

And although I think a vote should be looked at from both a practical and philosophical perspective, I’ll engage with your pure practicality and place you in a state where the race is not close, like New York or Oklahoma. In this scenario, your vote has the most power if it is used to illustrate growing support for candidates or ideas that are outside the mainstream. It is true that third parties never win U.S. elections, but often the ideas that propel those third parties get absorbed by the mainstream.

This piece is written with red-hot focus on stopping Hillary Clinton. As much as I wish she was not in the position she’s in, Donald Trump doesn’t represent me or my values, either, so I can’t support him. It’s that simple.

As I have already demonstrated above, by not voting for one “evil” you ARE, like it or not, casting your vote for the other. 

You have demonstrated no such thing. You have only said it.

We can be CERTAIN, however, that Hillary will do her best to destroy what little sense of decency we have left.

How can we be certain? And given your support for Trump, I’m wondering what you mean by “decency.”

I am simply asking that you examine your motives. 

I’ll ask the same of you.

This isn’t about your personal likes or dislikes. This is about the future of your children. 

That’s exactly what I’m saying.

You will have lost the right to act as a martyr when she comes after your right to speak freely about issues such as homosexuality and the exclusivity of the Gospel because you had your chance to do something about it and you did NOTHING.

Again, of the two candidates, Trump is the only one who has been outwardly hostile to the free practice of religion.

This situation reminds of the fable of the drowning man who turned down three rescue attempts with the rationale that, “God would come and save him.” When he drowned, he questioned God about why He would allow him to die. God responded with, “I sent you three boats!”

Whether we like it or not, America is drowning and the Trump boat, though less than desirable, is the only viable option for rescue we have to keep us afloat for the time being.

I think you are trying to make your narrative about America sound true to Christians by comparing it to a Biblical story. But there is no specific relationship between those two scenarios. A Hillary supporter could make it Hillary’s boat instead of Trump’s and it would be just as meaningful a comparison.

You have a premise: “America is drowning.”

What do we mean by “drowning,” and how do we know when it’s happening? I don’t think America is drowning, but for the sake of this argument I’ll assume your premise that America is doomed.

Then you have a conclusion: The Trump boat is the only viable rescue option.

Well, I don’t think America is doomed, and even if I did, I wouldn’t consider Donald Trump part of the solution. So which of us is right? Just saying something doesn’t make it true, and it doesn’t get any truer just because it vaguely reminds you of a story in the Bible.

In Cruz’s address to the Republican convention, he repeatedly acknowledged the fact that this may be America’s last chance to save herself. I beg you to consider the words of your own hero …

I don’t know where you got the idea Ted Cruz was my hero, but he isn’t.

If we do not vote for Trump and therefore vote for Hillary, we will have lost our right to complain about the escalating murders of third trimester, unborn lives in America and the increasing span of The Parental Rights Organization, because we had our chance to do something and we did nothing. 

Consider this your daily reminder that Donald Trump was a Hillary supporter until like 10 minutes ago. I submit to you that you are being played.

If we do not vote for Trump and therefore vote for Hillary, we will have lost your right to complain about future, liberal Supreme Court Rulings, because we had our chance to do something and we did nothing.

You don’t know who Donald Trump would put on the Supreme Court.

If we do not vote for Trump and therefore vote for Hillary, we will have lost our right to complain when our pastors are imprisoned for hate speech crimes, because we had our chance to do something and we did nothing. 

If you vote for Donald Trump, you will have voted for the only person in the race who has proposed using the might of the government to restrict religious freedom in the United States.

“You are doomed and only I can save you” is Trump’s entire campaign. It is a messianic pitch. But Donald Trump is not the Messiah. He’s a crude game show host, and nobody owes him their vote.

What Is The Goal?

The media business is a crass goblin and if you stay in it more than a couple years you’re likely to develop a thriving case of Stockholm Syndrome. The mechanics of it are disorienting for journalists who came to believe, long ago at some tender age, that the key to a long and satisfying career in journalism was to be a good journalist who reported thoroughly, fairly, accurately, and with at least a little charm.

Gary Bedore is such a journalist, and the bastards ran him off anyway. After what must have been 30-some years of loyal service to the Lawrence Journal-World, an old man sold the farm and that farm’s new ownership group, Ogden Publications, has gone in cluelessly to draw red lines through some numbers on the balance sheet, and that’s that. Somebody else’ll cover the Jays now.

I’m sure the job done will be totally adequate.

We in the journalism business are deeply familiar with this sort of thing. If you worked at a newspaper during The Great Bloodbath (roughly 2007-11), a wage cut was a bullet dodged. They kept telling us about the debt, the debt, the debt. Lotta bad debt taken on during the fat years in the 80s and 90s. Gonna have to dump some salary, outsource the printing, turn the furnace up just a little, but once we get through the bankruptcy proceedings …

What everybody knew, though, was that every newspaper had certain franchise beats. The Kansas City Star was never going to can the Chiefs writer. The Topeka Capital-Journal would always cover the statehouse. And the Lawrence Journal-World would have Gary Bedore covering Kansas basketball til death did they part.

If you know Gary, you know that I am underselling it when I say nobody cared more about getting Kansas basketball information to his readers than Gary did. Nobody took more precautions to avoid getting scooped. Nobody was more diligent about asking questions or more sure that everything there was to know made it into the paper. These are the goals of a daily newspaper, but not necessarily the goals of every newspaper reporter. A lot of us think we’re going to be Tom Wolfe. Gary never took a day off, even when he was on vacation. As a beat writer who competed with him for four years, this is easily his most aggravating and admirable quality.

Yet he did this — he pushed and pushed and asked and asked and asked — without any loss of humanity, his or the people he covered. On Twitter last night former Kansas basketball players expressed shock and sadness at the news he’d been let go.

This is partially because Gary was omnipresent so far as Kansas basketball is concerned, but I think more because he treated them all fairly. Gary has a direct and amusing way of asking questions. It takes some players a while to get used to it, but what they all eventually understand is that he isn’t coming at them with an angle, he’s just asking, and when they answer him, they know they won’t later find their quotes advancing a narrative they knew nothing about. He is a reporter, reporting.

Several years back we were all gathering quotage the day before a KU exhibition game in Allen Fieldhouse. Nobody ever knows what to say about those games, so usually reporters will come up with some dumb little angle to advance the game — MARIO LITTLE LOOKING FOR MORE MINUTES IN THE POST — and we were all working whatever our dumb advances were.

So we’re all sort of poking around at Cole Aldrich about this dumb game when Gary goes, “What is the goal?”

The question made me laugh then and a thousand times since then, and it knocked Aldrich off his balance. It observed the absurdity of trying to tell a meaningful story about an exhibition game while simultaneously asking a universal and interesting question. What are we trying to accomplish here?

And so if you’re buying yourself an American newspaper, and you’re dumping that newspaper’s most loyal and dedicated reporter, it really makes you wonder.

What is the goal?

To merely exist?


‘Smart’ Guy Writes Dumb Thing About Bill Self


Everybody knows three is greater than two, but if you are the kind of person who mistakes being pedantic with being thoughtful, and you’re into sports, you may be inclined to explain that to a college basketball coach as if you just invented the jumpshot.

Such is the argument of Matt Giles, in a post for the metrics-focused FiveThirtyEight. Rather, that is what remains of his argument once you strip away the false premises, strawmen, and irrelevant supporting evidence of a post entitled, “Bill Self Is Finally Warming Up To The Three-Pointer.”

Giles grounds this piece on the premise that Bill Self doesn’t “like” three-pointers.

Self does not like 3-pointers. He has continually waved the anti-threes banner, defending the bygone era when a 21-foot shot was a long 2 and the only recorded three-point plays were and-1s.

This is an attempt at mythmaking, a straw-man argument the likes of which are presumed to be anathema to writers whose work revolves around what we call advanced metrics. There is, of course, no actual evidence that Bill Self doesn’t like three-pointers, because the notion is absurd. All baseball coaches like doubles more than singles, all football coaches like fourth-down conversions more than punts, and all basketball coaches like 3-pointers more than 2-pointers.

What can be demonstrated by both statistics and Self’s own words is that Self thinks: (1) basketball games are generally won and lost based on easy baskets and, (2) his teams have typically been better off when about 30 percent of their field goals were 3-pointers.

There are theoretical arguments to be made against this approach, but those arguments are always a little like telling a struggling typewriter salesman to just raise the prices of the typewriter.

But in practicality, Bill Self isn’t struggling.

For Self’s entire Kansas career, his teams have been awesome at scoring. Playing through a revolving door of lottery picks in the front court, his teams score a lot of points, and do it efficiently. This is knowable by watching or by calculating, whichever gives you comfort.

But Bill Self has won too many conference championships in a row and boredom has set in among observers of the program. It is en vogue now to assert that Kansas doesn’t shoot enough three-pointers, the reasoning being that three is more than two, so you should always go for that.

Well, that won’t get you a Ken Pomeroy retweet so you gotta hang a bunch of other hooey on it. To fulfill the promise of a headline like “Bill Self is Finally Warming Up To The Three-Pointer,” you’re going to need some fallacies and rhetorical inconsistencies.

These are Giles’:

  1. Everyone Else is Doing It

It is presented as significant to Self’s ideology that college basketball teams generally shoot more 3-pointers than they used to. Why this should matter to Self, whose teams are better than almost all of those other teams, every year, is not addressed.

  1. “Players notice.”

Players notice. Conner Frankamp was a talented shooter who, after playing one season at Kansas, abruptly chose to transfer to Wichita State. Mitchell Ballock, one of the best long-range marksmen in the 2017 class, recently spurned a Kansas offer and committed to Creighton, saying, “At the end of the day, I was looking for the best situation for me that would let me excel as a player. I just really believe Creighton gives me the best opportunity to do that.”

Here, we are presented the idea that Self’s reluctance to rely more heavily on the 3-point shot will cost him players. As evidence, we’re given two Missouri Valley players. One of them would be the eighth-best 3-point shooter on Kansas’ roster this year. The other is still in high school.

  1. “This season, though, Self’s hand has been forced. His team is just too good from beyond the arc to do anything but fire off threes.”

So is he warming up to it, or has his hand been forced?

  1.  Fans would like Kansas to resemble the Sooners, to lighten the rigidity of the offense and give the players more freedom.

Of note: Kansas beat Oklahoma twice, and leads it by two games in the Big 12 standings. It is true, however, that Buddy Hield is “a delight to watch.”

Kansas this year has just one frontcourt player who is a consistent threat to score. Conversely, it has more good 3-point shooters in its rotation than maybe ever before in the Self era.

Self, we might reasonably conclude, is playing to the strengths of his roster.

That is, unless you’ve got a myth to build.




Teen Wolf II: Can Bill Simmons Do It Again?

15-bill-simmons.w529.h352.2xI stopped reading Bill Simmons years ago, but there was a time I wanted to be Bill Simmons. Tried to write like him, even told my editor that Simmonshood was my dream. In the sent folder of my old Hotmail account there are embarrassing Simmons ripoffs I sent to my friends in 2003 and 2004.  I even wrote a paper about him in a journalism class at college.

That paper advanced the popular narrative about Simmons, which is that he rose to fame by writing like a fan (as opposed to writing like a sportswriter), which meant instead of concealing or destroying his biases, he celebrated them, and instead of trying to be William Faulkner, he loaded his copy with pop culture references and dirty jokes. He called himself The Sports Guy, which had been the self-selected title of every school-newspaper sports columnist since Gutenberg. He was the Everyman, but he was also new.

Every so often somebody will come along and pick apart that narrative. And, no, Simmons did not invent the pop culture reference and, no, he was not the first writer to write like a fan and, no, a guy with a multi-million-dollar contract with Disney could hardly be considered an Everyman and, no, Red Bull doesn’t actually give you wings. Ok?

So why do you think every 18-35 sports fan was printing out his columns to read on the toilet.?

Behind Simmons came a entire generation of Simmonses who spun the Simmons ethos of, “Write about sports the way fans talk about sports” into their own cotton-candy shapes. That’s Deadspin, it’s SB Nation, it’s Clay Travis. Without Simmons, there is no Drew Magary.

Simmons’ style is extraordinarily easy to imitate. So as it became clear that well, hell, anybody can do this, and as Simmons grew into something more like a magnate than a columnist — he is responsible for Grantland and 30 for 30, both of which are excellent and popular — his writing became stale. Simmons was always a lazy self-editor; he has never written anything that wasn’t twice as long as it needed to be. But he could sell that schwag when he was the only dealer in town.

Simmons’ petulance was always going to be his undoing at ESPN, and he was finally undid on Friday, when ESPN made clear the decision not to renew his contract was a firing and not a failed negotiation.

Some other media property will pay Simmons a lot of money to come over and be Bill Simmons. Most people seem to think he’ll carry on just as he always has, but I’m not so sure. His column, once essential reading, has long been just another box on the shelf. ESPN owns Grantland and 30 for 30, and Teen Wolf turns 30 this year.



Rick Barnes Must Be Relieved


Since 2003, the only thing separating Rick Barnes from universal Big 12 ridicule has been Scott Drew, the Joel Osteen of college basketball coaches.

Were it not for Drew and his Baylor-Gonna-Baylor oeuvre, the generally likable Barnes may not have made it to year 17, after which he was run off with a .691 winning percentage, three conference championships and a Final Four appearance.

It is a resume anybody this side of Bill Self would happily frame on the wall of their den. I suspect Barnes (rightfully) considers himself a great success.

He was undone by the “coach that does the least with the most” tag. That is not a happy thing to be, but does seem to come with a longer shelf-life than the “good coach, can’t recruit” stamp that returns the likes of Doc Sadler to clipboard duty with swift and enthusiastic abandon. Recruiting equals hope. The next Kevin Durant is always just around the corner.

Oh yes, Durant. The Durant Team, 2007. You can’t toss a guy who just got done having the best college basketball player since … Bias? Laettner? But that season, the Durant Season, was the beginning of the end. With Kevin Durant, plus Damion James and … oh, who cares … Texas finished third in the Big 12 and finished the season with a blowout loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Until then, things looked pretty good. UT had won the Big 12 and gone to the Elite Eight the year before, had been to the Final Four three years before that, and had made the tournament eight years in a row. The Texas basketball program, which in the 90s had been … not the Texas football program … was building a reputation. It was That Which Could Take Down Kansas, and three times it did (sort of). Barnes won the conference outright in 1999 and shared it with the Jayhawks in 2006 and 2008. Barnes posted Top 10 recruiting classes in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011, forever rebooting this-is-the-year anticipations.

But something spooky was happening at Texas during those years. Some nebulous malaise that infected everything, including the football team, whose head coach got stuck with the same can’t-coach-’em-up tag Barnes did, and who settled for the same dignified exit — a “resignation” with a press conference and thank-yous and the whole shoo-bang.

There must be some relief in it for Barnes. Five or so years ago he had started looking sickly and gaunt, but more recently the color returned to his face, his cheeks filled back in a little. Two years ago, having rid himself of a roster full of AAU superstars, he spoke excitedly about being able to coach defense again, presumably because it was that roster’s only hope.But it didn’t work. That team finished with a losing record, the football coach resigned nine months later, and you could see Texas running out the clock on Barnes.

Sunday, the AD thanked him for his services and Barnes thanked his players, coaches and staff.

“I leave this job with no regrets,” he said.

KD daily oklahoman_1398966368767_4320806_ver1.0_640_480

Kevin Durant Figured Out The Media Are Not His Friends


A curious phenomenon about the media is that, in a moment of media controversy, members of the media will reflexively talk about the media as if they are not part of it.

This is happening right now, today, because Kevin Durant is angry with the press and angry that speaking to it is among the requirements of his job. This disposition is en vogue. The Seattle Seahawks running back, Marshawn Lynch, has turned this disposition into a personal brand that, in conjunction with his excellent play, has made him an effective pitch man in an economy increasingly sustained by content marketing.

“You guys really don’t know shit,” Durant said Saturday. “To be honest, man, I’m only here talking to y’all because I have to. So I really don’t care. Y’all not my friends. You’re going to write what you want to write. You’re going to love us one day and hate us the next. That’s a part of it. So I just learn how to deal with y’all.”

Durant, the sitting NBA MVP, has enjoyed a lifetime of fawning media coverage, beginning with the verbal confetti of the recruiting web sites, then to the coverage of his dazzling one-year collegiate career, and into the NBA, where he has been broadly depicted as The Boy Next Door (Who Can Really Fill It Up). But last season, his seventh in NBA, Durant began to take some shots from the press. Some cheaper than others. KD daily oklahoman_1398966368767_4320806_ver1.0_640_480

Since 2010, Durant has won four scoring titles and his team has won four division championships. The Thunder are 1-2 in the conference finals and 0-1 in the NBA Finals, that loss coming in five games to the Miami Heat in 2012. If you are a bored and lazy storyteller looking for a narrative, that’s just enough to make Durant The Boy Next Door (Who Can’t Win The Big One). That’s still pretty thin, but with enough mud you can make that sod shack stand upright.

And so that’s what has happened to Durant. He has been cast as the tragi-hero in a play  he didn’t even know was showing. Well somebody has to play Michael Bluth, don’t they? And Charles Barkley retired and Peyton Manning won him a ring and you can’t get this stuff to stick to a baseball player like it will on a quarterback or a scoring champion.  Kevin Durant: You’re up, pal.

Whether or not this is fair is beside the point. Kevin Durant, the man, can be understandably irritated by the chore of talking to people whose use for him extends only as far as his utility as a narrative device. But Kevin Durant, NBA MVP, exists inside an edifice that gives his plight artificial meaning. At their best, sports are a only metaphor for real life. The value of Durant’s immense basketball skill derives directly from its capacity to sell advertising. Durant’s jump shot has roughly the same value as Kim Kardashian’s ass, and for the same reason — it gets people to look at their glowing boxes.

For this to work, we all have to be in on it. We have to nod and go along with the idea that the NBA championship is a thing that matters. If we don’t, then what we’re watching amounts to a carnival act. An amusing and sometimes thrilling distraction that means nothing and vaporizes. But we do not want that. We give the team a name, and we say it represents a city or a school or a country, and we allow that team’s characteristics to inform our own identity. In some cases, it’s the other way around.

8142844806_2c787f7853_zThe sports media — known pejoratively as the “toy department” by the smugger news-siders — cooperates with all this, because there’s a buck in it. If a news agency covered sports from the ivoriest Fourth Estate tower, the game coverage would focus on the parking situation, the demographics of the fans, the number of tickets sold, the activities of the police and, somewhere past the end of the reporter’s nose, the final score. 

And that wouldn’t be very much fun.

So the way it really works is, sports and entertainment agencies provide access to the entertainers in exchange for publicity. The internet has disrupted the symbiotic balance of this relationship, but so far not so much that any entertainment product I can think of has stopped requiring its performers to engage with the press. In the movies, this usually means hitting the late-night talk circuit. In comedy, it’s a lot of morning radio. In sports, it means talking to a lot of beat writers and TV anchors.

LuckInterviewLockerroom The nature of these interactions is typically ridiculous. I am told there was once an era when these communications resembled natural human behavior, and you can still catch a moment like there here and there, but in any case the usual locker-room interview nowadays is more of an extraction than a conversation. Reporters complain about scared or #branded athletes telling boring lies, athletes complain about dimwitted or antagonistic reporters asking irrelevant questions, and nobody is wrong. But the general public doesn’t seem to know the difference, or care about it. Despite what you’ve heard, people still read this stuff. They read the hell out of it.

Because sports have meaning. In other words, a narrative arc. They are a medium on which people can project their own identities and stories. When they are at their best, when they actually are important, is when that narrative syncs up with reality, and distills it to its essence. When Jackie Robinson gets the call-up. When Ali fights Frazier. When the Celtics play the Lakers. When Boobie Miles blows out his knee. When the U.S. plays the USSR. When Milan wins state.

Durant has enjoyed a lot of sugary projections over the years. He plays in a small city in a rural state, for the Mike Huckabee of NBA teams, a brand so infused with projections of Heartland Values that every church lady from Ada to Sioux City remembers the NBA season is going on just in time to root for the Thunder to take out that fancyboy Lebron James. Durant himself has been a media favorite, his apparent humility and self-awareness having made him a sweet antidote to all the salty hooey people have tried to project onto James.

This was a collaborative effort between Durant and The Media, that nebulous, villainous collective which can be blamed for anything and everything because its members keister their credentials every time there’s a knock at the door. No media in here, officer. Think I saw one down the street, though. 

Kevin Durant doesn’t want to play anymore, which is understandable, but not an option. The only way out is to retire, to step outside the big metaphor altogether, and there’s no reason to do that when there’s still money to make and stories to tell.

At 26, he figured it out.

“Y’all not my friends,” he said.

No, but not his enemy either.

All ye who care about the Constitution, direct your eyes to Ferguson, Missouri


The fiasco in Ferguson, Missouri this week began with the shooting death of a teenager named Mike Brown, at the hands of a police officer. Because brown was black and the officer was white (we assume, although so far he has escaped identification), there will be a predictable Red Herring tossed into the discussion by members of a particular sect of the political right. They’ll probably dig up a photo of Michael Brown in some “thuggish” pose. If he ever smoked pot or got sent to the principal’s office, they’ll throw that out there too. The implication being, what, that he just deserved to die on general principle? I don’t know.

Members of a particular sect of the left will focus on the racial dynamics. They’ll say that if Brown had been white, he would not have been shot. This may or may not be true in this specific instance (though it seems likely, we’ll never know for sure), but the history of police violence and harassment of black Americans is overwhelming and continuing. 

However, the goings on in Ferguson, Missouri since Saturday, when Brown was killed, have transcended his character or his race. The municipal government in Ferguson, Missouri has launched a wide-scale armored offensive against its own citizens and, by close and immediate association, the Constitution of the United States. The as-yet empty and timid response by the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, and the president of the United States, Barack Obama, can be taken as a quiet endorsement of a fascist police state, and an open invitation to police nationwide to attack their own citizens and suppress dissent with the threat of deadly force.

In short, the municipal, state and federal governments seem to be daring the people of Ferguson, Missouri to use the Second Amendment of the Constitution to defend their rights to the First and Sixth.

Let’s go chronologically, beginning with what happened Saturday afternoon.

1. The United States Constitution, Amendment Six: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

Michael Brown enjoyed none of these.

Brown was executed in the street by an agent of the State of Missouri without having been arrested or charged with a crime. The police account of the story and the eyewitness account of the story differ in only one way — the police say Brown shoved the officer inside the police cruiser and went for his service weapon, whereas eyewitnesses say that isn’t true. Either way, what happened next was that the officer drew his weapon, Brown fled and the officer shot him. Brown — who was unarmed — was wounded and raising his arms in surrender when the officer shot him dead in the street. Nobody disputes this. 

Insofar as the Constitution is concerned, it doesn’t matter what illegal activity Brown may have been suspected of doing, but for the record, the officer initiated the confrontation because Brown and his friend were walking in the street as opposed to the sidewalk. 

The law allows officers to use deadly force to save their own lives, but that is plainly not what happened in this instance. Brown submitted himself for peaceful arrest, at which point he could have been charged with whatever (Jaywalking? Resisting arrest?) and enjoyed his Constitutionally guaranteed right to a trial. 

Instead, a single Ferguson police officer detained, charged, convicted and executed an unarmed teenager and has not yet even been identified. 

2. The United States Constitution, Amendment One: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Wednesday, police in Ferguson arrested two journalists, one from the Washington Post and the other from the Huffington Post. Officers said they were under arrest for trespassing at an open McDonald’s, at which they were customers. And that’s just the employed reporters.

It doesn’t begin to describe the First Amendment abuses by police in Ferguson. They have pointed rifles in people’s faces and demanded they shut off their camera phones. They have thrown tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters and onto private property. They have shot innocent people with rubber bullets. They have thrown tear gas at television news crews and dismantled their equipment. 

They have done so much of this that individual instances of it are hardly even worth detailing. It is obvious this is the municipal government’s intentional, tactical response to protest in Ferguson, Missouri. 

On Monday, police were protecting people and local businesses from a riot. That was Monday. Since then, the overwhelming majority of aggression and violence has been committed by police, who for the last two days have arrived on the scene of peaceful protests in full armor, pointed automatic weapons at protesters and attacked them with non-lethal weapons. 

The message from the government in Ferguson, Missouri is clear: You do not have the right to speak freely, to publish, to assemble or to criticize your government here. 

Mike Brown’s death was unnecessary and tragic and the officer who shot him, if there is any justice, will be arrested, informed that he is being charged with murder, and confronted with the witnesses against him in a speedy and public trial. 

May the legacy of Mike Brown be that his death was the flashpoint that began a reversal of what had been a slowly and silently expanding fascism in the United States of America.

TRANSLATED: Rick Perry’s Q&A with Texas Monthly

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For its July edition, the magazine Texas Monthly did an interview with Texas governor Rick Perry.

It was, as the best interviews are, a rhetorical boxing match. Perry is a popular Republican governor of a growing red state with a robust economy. This makes him a comfortable man.

He was interviewed by Brian D. Sweany, who is the editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly, a nationally respected magazine that I like very much.

You can read the original interview here. Consider this an artistic interpretation of how that interview went:

BRIAN D. SWEANY: Governor Perry, you got this job through a slick backdoor cheat and don’t even deserve to have it. You’ll also notice that I have a middle initial in my byline, whereas your name only contains three syllables. Whaddya think about that?

RICK PERRY: Well, if you want to just ignore my entire political career, then yeah, I guess you’re right. But, look, I’ve been in this game since 1985, Ok? And I’ve done the hard jobs. I’ve done the hard jobs and I’ve done the dirty jobs, but I came out clean, didn’t I? Yes I did. The thing is, I’m a bit of an outsider. I’m always nosing around at the edges of politics, trying to figure out how it works. I guess I’m technically a politician, but I’m not very good at politics. I’m not a smart man, Brian, but I know how to turn every knob in this cockpit.

BDS: You pretended to be a liberal to get popular, and once you did you turned conservative to get the money. You’re a hypocrite and a phony.

RP: I was raised by hillbillies. I have the soul of a hillbilly. Liberal? Conservative? Like I said, I’m a bit of an outsider, poking around at the edges. I’m still trying to figure out what both of those terms mean.

BDS: What were your biggest screw-ups?

RP: You know, I wouldn’t say I’ve ever actually screwed up. What I would say is that there have been a couple times where people thought my reasoning didn’t make sense. By the way, I read a book, and I want to tell you about it. There’s this book about how you can become an expert on anything by doing it 10,000 times, and I would say that I’ve done politics way more than 10,000 times, wouldn’t you? But I guess if I had to name one thing, I’d say it was that thing with the HPV vaccines. I still think I did the right thing, but people did seem to think it was stupid, so I guess I’d go with that, if I had to name a slip-up.

BDS: Good boy. Now you’re gonna sit here and take it while I drill into you about this. To me? Looked pretty clear you were just tossing your buddy some business and you made it worse by being all obnoxious.

RP: I’m pretty sure I did the right thing, but because people couldn’t understand my reasoning I learned a new thing about politics. It was probably like my 12,000th politics thing or something like that. I’m a sensitive guy. I was just trying to help women.

BDS: All right, fine. Then what good stuff do you think you’ve done because I can’t think of anything.

RP: Well, I did pass that tort reform thing. That was huge.

BDS: From 2003? Dude, you were pandering!

RP: Look at my stats after that, though! We’ve got, like, tons more doctors now. There’s a doctor near almost everybody. People are haters, man. But even my haters know I’m right. They have to attack me for something. But you just look at my stats, look at my record after that, and tell me things aren’t better. Job got done, didn’t it?

BDS: I’ve got a couple bullets to fire at you. They’re not much, but they’re all I’ve got on this. Ready? Here goes. Bullet one: Like 13 or 14 years ago, you went against a couple of medical programs, even though you now say health care is numero uno. Bullet two: Texas has the fewest insured people of any state. Knock these down and we can move on to a real question.

RP: Having nearby doctors and having health insurance are not the same thing, bro. One is part of your environment, and one is a consumer decision made by you. Even your hero, Obama, says Medicaid is broke, so why would I put money into a broke thing?

BDS: Why do you seem to be the most hard-assed of the Republicans? I mean even Arkansas seems more chill than you. Arkansas.

RP: Yeah, but Arkansas isn’t all that Republican.

BDS: (Audible sigh). All I’m saying is, I want us to fit in with everybody else. I want Texas to be one of the popular kids that wears the latest fashions and listens to the coolest music, and you’re just making us like a bunch of jocks in dirty cowboy boots.

RP: Look, those other states? They’re fine, they’re good, they do a good job. But they’re dorks! They’re desperate dorks huddling around the pretty girl, sniffling and pushing their glasses back up their noses and spitting dork lines to the prom queen, which is Obama. And they’re doomed! They’re totally doomed to get their hearts broken. They’ve made it impossible for guys like me, because now the President won’t let us do anything.

BDS: But, dude, some of this stuff happened under Bush, so are you saying this is a problem of pencil pushing? Of clerical tedium? I sincerely hope that’s not what you’re saying, because that will have made this line of questioning a complete waste of time.

RP: Haha. That is what I’m saying.

BDS: Says here I have to ask you about Ronald Reagan. So: Ronald Reagan … GO!

RP: Like Reagan, I’m a big capitalism guy. And my state is makin’ it rain right now. I would say there’s a lot of Reagan in me, but I’d never go full Reagan.

BDS: We heard you got in a fight with Tom Craddick and David Dewhurst.

RP: Fight? With Craddy and Dewbaby? Nawl, those are my friends. Look, we’re smart guys and we’re passionate guys and we’re big strapping guys, and when you get smart, passionate, big strapping guys in a hot room, sometimes it gets a little raw and the bodies collide and I don’t think any of us need to be held accountable for what may or may not go on in there.

BDS: Remember when you vetoed all those bills in ’01? What was up with that?

RP: Well, I fought the speaker of the house. Laney. Laney and I fought.

BDS: Oh, bullshit.

RP: Here’s how I’d put it: We were all feeling each other out.

BDS: Let’s test your Texas history, shall we?

RP: Big fan of Sam Houston.

BDS: Yeah, he was good. He was pretty against Texas secession, which is funny, because you seem to like bringing up secession every now and then.

RP: Yeah. I really like him. I have a ring just like his, that’s how big of a Sam Houston fan I am. I also was studying up for this question on Wikipedia and I read about this guy named Dolph Briscoe, who was the governor of Texas. He built the roads from the farms to the towns and that was a pretty big deal. So I’d say I’m a big Dolph Briscoe fan too.

BDS: How come we’re still praising the jocks and cheerleaders all the time? I mean, still? In 2014? We give all our money to football coaches and practically no money to poets! That just doesn’t seem right, does it?

RP: You want me to hire some poets?

BDS: Not you, per se, but, I dunno, somebody. Doesn’t anybody have a love for poetry anymore in this state?

RP: I don’t follow. What would you want me to do about it?

BDS: I don’t know, I just get very emotional about poetry. Forget I brought it up.

RP: Aw, don’t go getting all … It’s Ok. I mean, things are getting better for nerds like you. You have to admit that. Our schools in Texas are pretty good, really, and the UT football team stinks. You have to feel good about that.

BDS: I do, thanks. With my next three questions, I’m going to try to get you to ramble about a given topic and see if you make a gaffe, OK? Topic one: tuition deregulation.

RP: I’d buff some stuff here, polish some stuff there.

BDS: Topic two: death penalty. And, you know, try to ramble a bit more.

RP: For it.

BDS: Topic three: seriously?

RP: Yeah.

BDS: Insult Bush, man. Come on, just do it. You know you want to.

RP: I do, but I’m not going to. Look, George Bush and I are not the same guy and this is not the year 2000. He’s good at some stuff, bad at some stuff. I’m good at some stuff, bad at some stuff. I would just tell you to look at my advanced stats and not worry about comparisons. I’ve got a BPS+ of over .600.

BDS: What?

RP: I don’t know.

BDS: So, how conservative are you, really? Are you, like, “I drove a Cadillac in the 80s” conservative or are you “confederate flag mud flaps” conservative? Are you a country boy with a shave or are you a city slicker in a hat?

RP: I mean, I don’t think we should impeach Obama, if that gives you some idea where I’m at. I think if we do that’ll just make people vote for Democrats. The other thing I wanted to say was, I don’t get why Hispanics aren’t Republicans. They should totally be Republicans right?

BDS: What are you gonna do after this?

RP: Probably hit up Whataburger.

BDS: I mean after your term as governor is over.

RP: I’ll be a little bit happy and a little bit sad. It would be kinda like when you taste something that’s sorta strong and then sort of … egh – you know what I’m trying to say? A taste that’s kinda icky?

BDS: You mean “bitter?”

RP: That’s it. It would be like if you had some of that, and then combined it with something sugary.

BDS: Bittersweet?

RP: Bittersweet, that’s exactly right.

BDS: How do you think you did, like, overall?

RP: Pretty good.

BDS: You wanna give me the scoop that you’re running for president?

RP: Nope.

BDS: Come on. I was nice, wasn’t I?

RP: (Blank smile).

BDS: You screwed it up pretty badly last time, you know. You’re not gonna do that again are ya?

RP: The last time, honestly, I just didn’t have time to be the governor and run for president. The sun got in my eyes, coach. I don’t have that problem anymore.

So long, cupcakes/rights


It appears that cupcakes — the small, cup-shaped versions of the popular dessert, “cake” — are over.

Not over, over. They’re still technically “legal.” It’s just that your right to eat artfully prepared single-serving cake-based treats is now being infringed upon by that no longer being a profitable enterprise. The stores are closing.

We get this grim news from the Old Gray-Bearded Lady, The New York Times, which reports the venerable New York cake hustlers Mia and Jason Bauer have closed Crumbs Bake Shop (NASDAQ: CRMB), thereby denying the rights of New Yorkers to Crumbs’ delicious celebrity-themed cake treats, which come in three sizes and flavors such as apple cobbler covered in streusel crumbs. Crumbs also sold a gigantic cupcake (a cake?) for like $25.

Crumbs’ 820 employees are now cast on the street, victims of a free-enterprise economic ecosystem that no longer supports $4 cupcakes. How could they have ever seen this coming?

How could any of us?

After all, who doesn’t love cake? And what’s more: Cake tastes even better when it’s your own special cake that can fit in the palm of your hand and nobody else gets to touch. Cake is best when it’s all for you.

This seemed like the perfect business model: Sell people tiny cakes. Why didn’t I think of that? I mean, sure, you’re going to have to find people with outrageous amounts of expendable income. The only people who can justify spending $4 on a miniature cake are the wealthiest people on earth. So slang your cakes in the nice part of town and make it feel obnoxiously trendy in there. The vibe you want to create is that your cupcake boutique was opened, like, just now by a 26-year-old artist/baker who looks exactly like Jennifer Lawrence and drives a white BMW. And don’t put one on the menu called “wedding cake” — turns out eating a tiny wedding cake alone in a strip mall is a bit of a sour feeling for most people.

Crumbs opened in 2003, starting a craze that reached the Great Plains in about 2009.

“Yeah, they’re cupcakes,” people would tell you. “But they’re, seriously, the best cupcakes ever. They have, like, a margarita one.”

Well this was too much. A margarita cupcake?! Oh, 2009, you are being good to me. This space must be explored immediately. Everyone went. Everyone went and then asked their friends if they’d been. And if they hadn’t it would be like, “Well, they are just cupcakes, but they’re not like any cupcakes you’ve ever had.”

Everybody went once. Half of everybody went twice. Seven people went all the time, and here we are.

Thrown out on the street, cupcakeless.







M’uncles, Muscle and Merica: Why cars aren’t just cars



That’s the house where we did it, right there. It’s an old Kansas farmhouse, boxed in on three sides by crops and on the fourth by a stretch of US-50 three miles east of Burrton, Kansas. My dad grew up in that house. He’d take my mom on motorcycle rides out to there.




That house has always been the gravitational center of Corcoranism as I know it. In 90 or 91 a tornado took the roof off it, Grammy moved into town and my uncle Shaun took over the farm, which made sense. Of all my dad’s brothers, m’uncle Shaun is the one that most evokes the memory of my grandfather, George, who died before I was old enough to know him. When Grammy died my family moved into her in-town house. That’s the house of my high school years. I waxed my old 67 Dodge at that house and took it to prom. My parents still live there.

The car had been sitting in their garage for 15 years. My dad bought it for me for $1,250 when I was 15, and it needed a lot of work. Engine, transmission, paint, interior. This was a project car. We bought it from some stupid rednecks at this dusty salvage yard where these morons would do things like take body panels off a Pontiac and fit them to an El Camino. On the car I bought they had the fuel line running into a Dr. Pepper bottle. That allowed them to start it just long enough to prove the motor wasn’t seized up.

We towed it home using a truck and trailer we borrowed from muncle Kim’s metal fabrication business. My dad has worked for him in Burrton for about 23 years now. On the way, Dad wanted to keep my expectations reasonable.

“Don’t expect it to be done the first day of school,” he said.

Well we started in on it right away. Dad and I re-did the brakes and cleaned out the gas tank and put a brand new set of tires on it – fatter ones on the back.

I cleaned the interior a few times those first few months. I didn’t have any money, but I was too excited to just let it sit there without getting fiddled with. This was my thing. I knew just how I wanted my car to look and sound. I had pages in the parts catalog earmarked. It was going to be those wheels and these valve covers and that intake manifold. What I did all day as a 10-year-old boy was look at hot rod magazines and parts catalogs. I can’t claim that part of my interest in these magazines and the culture at large was totally unconnected to the bikini babes that turned up in these magazines. Consciously, my interest in cars was about the cars, but as I examine it now it seems impossible to remove a sense of sexuality from American car culture without changing that culture in a fundamental way. You often hear rock musicians say the reason they picked up a guitar in the first place was that chicks seemed to dig guys who played guitars. American men have a similar association with cars that sometimes manifests itself in hamfisted ways.


Dad worked with a guy who subscribed to Car Craft and Hot Rod and a bunch of other magazines like that. When he was done with them he’d send Dad home with a box of old magazines for me. Well, to me a box of hot rod magazines was a year’s worth of entertainment and a precious source of information. I kept them all in a trunk that filled up in chunks, like a suburb. When I came across an article I thought would help me in the future – painting tips, horsepower helpers, brake jobs – I would clip it out like a recipe and put it in a file labeled “car ideas.”

That was data storage, baby. This was way before the Internet arrived at the Corcoran household.We lived in a 90-year-old transplanted farm house with no air conditioning. It had been built without accommodations for running water, so the bathroom was an aftermarket job. It was a long time before we even got an answering machine. We made do, is how you’d put it.

I owe a good deal of my interest in old cars to my cousins, Torey and Tyler, who lived in Burrton. As kids, an unfair world denied us driver’s licenses, so we souped up bicycles instead. We learned how just by trial and error. You could change the way your BMX performed by changing the sprocket ratio or lengthening the stroke on the pedals. The principles of locomotion reduced to their core. Torey was the oldest, and when he got to be about 12, he started mowing lawns. With that money and a loan from his parents, he bought a brand-new riding lawnmower, which as far as I can remember he used mainly as a loophole in the driver’s licensing laws.


Burrton is a zero-stoplight town, so it wasn’t scandalous for three pre-teen boys to hook up a little wooden flat-bed trailer to that lawnmower, toss our bikes on it and go joyriding around town looking for dirt piles to ramp off. Bigger the better. Sometimes we’d drive it up to Phil Hoskinson’s service station and buy a candy bar and a pop. That would cost 75 cents. Phil always jollied with us about what we were up to. Once he told me about the time way back when that he outran the cops in his 55 Chevy. The trick was a switch that would allow you to turn off your taillights while the headlights stayed on. Then you take him down a dirt road.

I’m sure we talked about girls — Tyler and I spent one afternoon chasing some, though I’m not sure what we would have done if we had caught them — and I know we talked about sports and whatever else little boys talk about, but what I remember most is talking about cars. That conversation always starts, for little boys, with their fathers, and what cars they had. Torey and Tyler knew all about their father, Marvin, and his Plymouth Fury. I knew about my dad’s 54 Ford pickup and 64 Plymouth Belvedere. We were MoPar kids, Ford kids in a pinch, but definitely not Chevy kids. Those are the kinds of allegiances you form at age 8. Other than a sports team, it was the first social group I had ever joined.

Muncle Marvin — muncle, by the way, is Corcoran for “m’uncle” or “my uncle,” I think, although I can’t remember the etymology ever coming up in conversation — had an old four-wheel-drive International truck he’d take us to the lake in. One night Uncle Marvin heard the sound of his truck rapping out in the driveway and found Tyler in the driver’s seat revving the engine. He was probably 8, already known for fearlessness, and he was just desperate for that sensation. Tyler grew up to be a soldier. Torey joined the Air Force.


Their neighbor was a kid named Andy, and I can remember going to Andy’s house and seeing these meticulously crafted Lego creations in his room. They were huge and perfect, that perfectionism no-doubt inspired by his father, Bart, who built race cars. When it came time to build the motor and fix the mechanical flaws, that’s who I called.

They were always Chevy people, and they kidded me about bringing them a Ford. Couldn’t help themselves, either. They fitted my car with a Chevy alternator.

At that time, the 90s, our family car was a 1967 Dodge Coronet that got handed down to me in high school. It’s what we took to church, it’s how I got to baseball practice, and every other week my mom and me and my two little sisters would take it to Wichita to buy groceries at ALDI.  At the time it was the nearest one, and the savings justified the trip. Plus, the knockoff Captain Crunch tasted almost like the real thing. One time the water pump went out on that trip, and Dad left work, drove over and changed it in the parking lot. I can remember fishing dimes and nickels out of the seat cushions in that car so she could buys us some cinnamon rolls at Burger King.

I’d imagine this is part of the reason I took an interest in old cars as opposed to new ones. To me, buying a new car was something done by the sort of people who ate name-brand breakfast cereal. My parents have bought brand spankin’ new cars since then, but I never have.

That spirit roots in American history.

American car culture really started in two places: The South during Prohibition and California after World War II. These guys out there in California – you could call them artists, but that’s not what they called themselves – would take these old boats their parents used to drive and start cutting and bending and painting. Shaping metal into these graceful shapes we now all identify with that era. The lines on the Las Vegas sign, the Fender Stratocaster and the 57 Chevy all have something similar about them, don’t you think?





Well that came from these cats out in California. Poor kids, mostly, who figured out how to make old stuff look cooler and go faster than the new stuff. That tradition is still alive in California.




Then there were the liquor bandits in the South. They wanted the cars to look stock but dust a police cruiser. Most of this was done thanks to the cocktail of Scotch and Irish geneology. There is a peculiar blend of bravery and stupidity in that bloodline. People of Scots-Irish decent are highly over-represented among Purple Heart recipients and Navy test pilots. They’re the people took the cops on high-speed chases through wooded areas and invented stock-car racing.

Bootlegger Bootlegger2

So those two ideas started to mix, and these hot rods became such a sensation that Detroit noticed and pretty soon all the cars started coming out of the factory with these California lines and West Virginia motors. It was the space race, too, and that showed up a lot in the cars — taillights that looked like jet engines, fins, interiors shaped like cockpits. People were captivated, inspired — proud.


“But why, some say, the moon?,” John F. Kennedy said at Rice Stadium in Houston in 1963. “Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, Why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

A year later, at a Ford plant in St. Louis, some union guys assembled a Ford Galaxie 500 XL, painted it “prairie tan” and sent it on its 34-year, 78,000-mile journey to a 15-year-old boy who towed it down the same dirt driveway where he had learned to pitch by practicing curveballs to his mom.

The Galaxie 500 was Ford’s full-sized car, and the XL meant it was a two-door fastback with bucket seats and the good trim. The lines were round and swooping and there was chrome everywhere. That part wasn’t new. American cars had been that way since the War. But then they put a big block motor in it, and that changed everything.

This was the beginning of the Muscle Car Era. This is not to say the Galaxie was the first muscle car, but just that all American car companies seemed to get the same idea at the same time. Execution varied slightly, but almost all the cars were powerful and almost all the cars looked cool (or tried hard to).

Because of World War II the economy and babies were booming. Gasoline was relatively inexpensive (about $2.25 a gallon in today’s money). Rock-n-roll was a new thing and more doctors smoked Camels than any other cigarette.

And we beat those Commies to the moon! Stabbed that big blue hunk of cheese with Old Glory.


In a span of about 30 years the United States had defeated:

  • Hitler
  • Japan
  • Prohibition
  • The Great Depression
  • Enforced racial segregation
  • Russia
  • Outer space

Now it was time to spike the ball in the end zone.

And, hey, the United States had its problems in the 60s, but nobody could look at the 60s in this country and say people weren’t inspired. Americans thought they could change the world in the 1960s.


I can’t do the 60s justice here, mainly because I didn’t experience them for myself. But there has to be a reason that the music from that era still resonates today, that something about George Harrison’s guitar solo in “Good Morning Good Morning” makes a kid who was born in 1983 feel like someone is saying with a guitar what he wishes he could say with words. There is some reason that when you drive a muscle car 600 miles across the country everybody from the high school girl working the register at the barbecue joint in Oklahoma to the bum on the street corner in Dallas to the Mexican guy in the expensive truck in Conroe wants to talk to you about it. There’s something in there Americans intuitively understand. To me it feels deeper than a preference. It’s more like DNA.

And you know what people want to tell you? They want to tell you what cars they have, or had, or want to have. And they never tell you about their Camry, because they know a Camry and a Corvette are as similar as an iPod and an electric guitar. There is something in there about individuality, expression, adventure.

“When Americans tell stories about themselves, they set those stories in the West. The American heroes are Western heroes. When you begin to think of the quintessential American characters, they’re always someplace over the horizon. There is always someplace in the West where something wonderful is about to happen. It’s not what has happened, it’s something wonderful is about to happen. And even when we turn that around, even when we say something has been lost, what’s lost is always in the West.”

— Historian Richard White, Ken Burns: The West, 1996.


The Europeans who settled the American West exhibited the best and worst of humanity. Heroism and cowardice. The story of that settlement haunts as often as it inspires, but it is the American story, and it is America’s story to tell. It’s about moving, usually West, for a fresh start.

People came West from Europe, and they settled and they moved West again, to the mountains, and then through the mountains and West some more. Some in search of fortune, some survival, some because they wore out their welcome elsewhere. Keeping going, westward ho, whether dysentery or typhoid fever. Whether following the Oregon Trail or looking for California gold or Kansas soil, there’s a sense that if you just keep going, you’ll make it. Sometimes the American Dream gets misconstrued as the American Guarantee. It isn’t that, and was never supposed to be, but to me it seems there is something in the blood of an American, for better or worse, that tells him he’s got The Right Stuff, if everyone would just get out of his way.

There are plenty of people who say they hate the internal combustion engine, but most of those people drive gas-burning cars. There are other options, but those options just aren’t as good. They drive their car because their car takes them where they want to go. It takes them quickly and anonymously. No ticket to buy, no driver to talk to, nobody across from you on the train.

Nobody to spoil your alibi.

In Houston, we live next to an elderly couple. The man has lost his sharpness, but his white-haired wife still has hers. Every so often the doorbell will ring and I’ll answer and her little body will be standing there holding a plate of cookies. Just being neighborly, like I suppose she was to the people who lived here before us and the people before that. Our house was built in the 60s.

She has this Louisiana accent I recognize as the city accent from New Orleans — it has the funkiest Bronx quality to it. As I was washing my car she walked over and wanted to look at it and talk about it, have the conversation people always have when they’re standing around a car.

“I awl-ways wonted a red sports car, a convuh-tibul,” she said. “I nevuh got one.”


Early in the morning, last June, I started the Galaxie to drive it to muncle Shaun’s house, The Farm, where in 1956 George and Louise Corcoran settled down to raise their seven kids. I had learned to fire a gun and ride a motorcycle at that farm. That was where the Corcorans would usually gather on the Fourth of July. Shaun would always have the tractors, four-wheelers and dirt bikes all gassed up for us kids, and we’d tear off into the fields on small adventures that felt big. We were free and unwatched, out on the prairie, finding whatever we were going to find, learning a little bit about ourselves and our limits along the way.


When I turned east onto a dirt road, the sun was rising, stretching its dusty yellow and citrus orange across the fruited plain. The air was cool as my left arm cut through it, cool in a way it never is on the Gulf Coast. It reminded me of driving that Dodge into Hutchinson for morning football practice, and then that reminded me of my mom, who drove us kids around in that same 30-year-old, $2,600 car bought from muncle Shaun without ever a hint she was embarrassed by it. The night before I drove out to The Farm, Mom stayed up with me until 2, helping me install the carpet in the Galaxie. A few hours later she got up for work. In front of me on that road was my dad, who used to watch fuzzy Chiefs games with me on our 13-inch TV, take me to junior college basketball games and always made sure I got to play on the traveling baseball team and my sisters got to take gymnastics lessons. I always had a nice glove, a nice bat, and a decent pair of cleats.

When I was starting high school and learning to drive, my dad and I drove all over south-central Kansas looking at old project cars. He knew that’s what I wanted. Most of the cars in our price range were too far gone, of course. One night we were driving back from having looked at a 71 Charger. It was shot-out past the point we could realistically restore it, but it’s difficult for a 14-year-old boy to see it that way. He must have sensed my frustration with the search. “If I could afford it, I’d buy you the nicest car you could find,” he told me, and I knew that was true.

But really I didn’t want to be bought some $25,000 trailer queen. I’m not saying I would have turned it down, but it would have felt like someone else’s car and someone else’s life. The day we finally dragged that crusty old Galaxie home, I guarantee you I was the happiest boy in all of Kansas. I told my parents they could just buy me car parts for every birthday and Christmas, and I meant it.

Well I chipped away at it — a camshaft here, a set of pistons there. Machine work. I had the motor halfway rebuilt in my basement when I left for college, and that’s how things stood for about 10 years.

After high school I worked at a service station in Hutchinson for two years while going to the juco. Tire repairs, alternators, brake jobs, pumping gas for old ladies. The owner had a friend named Bill, who as I understand it had been the coolest man on the face of the earth for most of his life, the kind of guy who flew airplanes and drove Corvettes and made risky bets on the stock market. But he had gone blind from a car accident and as a result began spending his days at that service station. He took an interest in me, and pushed me. He wanted me to be a really good pump jockey, to see the big picture of what I was doing. The business of it. When he found out I wanted to be a sports writer, he had me bring him some things I had written and he sent them to his nephew, Kurt, who was the sports editor at the Topeka paper.

Kurt thought I was good enough to take volleyball scores over the phone, so when I moved to Lawrence for school, I had a job waiting for me in Topeka.

I have, in so many ways, moved on from the kid I was when we bought that car. I lived in a liberal college town for eight years, and Kurt eventually hired me to do a job that took me all over the country. New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and half the college towns in between. That job led to a book project on another small-town Kansas kid, a project that got me the hunk of cash I needed to finish the Galaxie. Now I live in a big city and I do big city things and, on the whole, I’d have to say it’s all about as exciting as 15-year-old me would have expected it to be.

But nobody ever looks happy behind the wheel here.

When I got to The Farm, muncle Shaun was drinking coffee on that old porch my dad had surely jumped off, the way kids do, on the way to grade school. Shaun’s dog, a stray he found at a landfill, came out to make sure I wasn’t an intruder. A little while later muncle Marvin came out. He was out there every day, helping, just because he wanted to. When we needed to cut off the bumper, we called a guy named Mark Danner, who built race cars. He brought out his plasma cutter, and we tried to pay him for the trouble but all he’d accept was breakfast.

So for five days we sanded and filled, sanded and filled, sanded and filled, morning to night, ending with primer and paint. It’s achy-body work for me, and I had only just turned 30. We did in five days what should have taken five weeks. One night, right as we were finishing up for the day, a storm came in. One of those good, strong Kansas thunderstorms that makes you close all the doors and run inside. So I stayed out at the farm while it passed, my uncle and I drinking tomato beers and playing guitars as the rain pounded the windows and the wind knocked down branches. He showed me a new way to play an A-chord on a Fender Mustang he got long ago in a trade for a car.


Muncle told me he was selling the farm. The buyer was going to be tearing the house down to make room for more farmland. He’d be moving into Burrton, and his business, Southwest Wheels, would be moving to Newton. A new beginning. I’ve since learned he needed that. “No more ghosts,” Marvin said.

What do I owe you, I asked when we were finished. “Not a bloody thing,” he said. “That’s what M’Uncles are for.”


So I bumped the key and that old car with the new beginning answered loud, like a dog barking at a train. And I started driving south. No radio, no cell phone charger, no GPS. Just a little Kansas kid and his car, pushing across America toward the coast and a life that has gone better than I expected, carrying with me a piece of everybody who has helped make it that way.

I had to baby it for 500 miles to break in the motor. When I got south of Dallas, and I knew she was ready, I punched the pedal, and the engine took a deep breath and shot me into the galaxy, and I never felt more at home.