Trump and Snoop Doggy Dog: “Bang” and the Second Amendment

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A recent video made by Snoop Doggy Dog includes an image of a gun being pointed at a figure with a Donald Trump mask: the word “Bang” comes out of the gun.

As an initial comment, there is little else to say than this video is completely unacceptable, as it currently stands, and deserves denunciation by anyone who wants to preserve a constitutional civility in this nation. Snoop Doggy Dog needs to have a serious talk with a lawyer about what is protected free speech.

On the other hand, if Snoop Doggy Dog had pointed the gun and had the words “Second Amendment” pop out of the barrel, we might have a very interesting artistic statement. For one thing, it would serve to remind us that Donald Trump himself has used a citation of the Second Amendment to indulge in a nod-and-wink comment that amounted to an assassination threat against Hillary Clinton. If Trump could toy with the Second Amendment to threaten the life of his opponent without any reprisal or public legal rebuke, why would a similar usage by Snoop Doggy Dog cause him to be treated any differently? Unfortunately, the video is already out.

Regardless of how Snoop Doggy Dog made his video, Trump’s threat remains a far more serious and permanent stain on the current discourse. Let there be no mistake about it. When Donald Trump casually dropped a suggestion, at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, in August, 2016, that the “Second Amendment people” could stop Hillary Clinton, anyone who understood the rhetoric of crude implication did not have to think very hard as to what Trump intended to underline with his body language: he meant that people could take the law into their own hands and assassinate her. Nor did his implications stop there. Was it not also implicitly a threat against the life of anyone supporting her? Why would anyone inspired by Trump’s alleged sense of humor stop with just HRC? Remember Ted Nugent’s call to action in 2012 to “chop their heads off in November”? Trump knew very well what he was saying and to whom he was speaking, and he needs to be reminded that he will continue to be held accountable for the “bang” that his words deliver.

And while we’re on the subject, let us remember that Trump’s dictatorial disdain for those who opposed him extended to Obama, too. As I pointed out last October 30 (and I reprint that post below), the entire nation saw a widely circulated image of President Obama with a lynch rope around his neck. Trump’s silence about that image equalled approval, and his refusal to denounce in no uncertain terms his extremist followers continues to be one of his few consistent traits. This has surfaced in particular in his reticence in speaking out against the numerous bomb threats against Jewish community centers in this country.

I’ll say it again because it cannot be said often enough: “Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but every racist voted for Trump.” (Thank you, Michael Lally.) However, a video such as the one made by Snoop Doggy Dog is not going to transform the hearts and minds of those who voted for him. Of course, I doubt that what I have just written in today’s blog post will illuminate them, either.

What, then, is to be done?

* * * * *

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Darkness at the Center of Wisconsin

The story is that the fan was asked to remove the “offensive components” costume.

That’s all?

Why was the fan not immediately investigated for making a death threat against the President?

This is not a “costume,” but a death threat, and the specificity of advocating the execution of the President is made all the more clear by the fact that it is not the person wearing the costume whose hand is holding up the noose, but the arm of a person standing alongside the depiction of President Obama. In the photograph, an arm wearing a red sleeve juts into the air at an angle that can only mean that the white fist jerking the noose upwards belongs to another person. It is a blunt portrayal of a racist execution.

This is not an issue of free speech, which would include the right to wear a prison outfit with a mask of Obama, just as free speech includes the right to chant “Lock her up,” as Trump’s partisans do whenever Hillary Clinton’s name in mentioned. One may not like a message, but free speech allows messengers safe passage. Provocative and outrageous speech is protected by our Constitution. However, in depicting the execution of President Obama, the individuals at a football stadium in Wisconsin flagrantly transgressed the boundary of free speech.

Death threats are not free speech, especially in an image meant invoke the heyday of the KKK. Within the context of a newspaper associated with the KKK all but giving its straightforward endorsement to Donald Trump, this so-called costume represents crude propaganda at its most harrowing level.

If there is not at least a brief detention and interrogation of the fan and his “prop assistant” for making a death threat against President Obama, then it is fair to say that this costume represents the values of a cadre within the Secret Service; in this instance, the person in charge of the Secret Service has the obligation to act in a manner that proves otherwise.

I would note that a report that Secret Service conducted an investigation in an instance that involved a far less public venue.

Playing with Fire and an Obama Effigy

Why should this incident in Wisconsin be treated with any less seriousness?

The failure of University of Wisconsin officials to understand the gravity of the image is quite remarkable. Simply asking a person to remove the “offensive parts” of the costume represents a lack of courage in standing up to a bully. In making a statement that was nothing short of a death threat against the President, the person wearing the costume and his assistant forfeited their right to remain at the game and should have been removed from the stadium.

The University was probably afraid of being accused of censorship. There is an easy answer. The people were removed from the stadium in order to have their identities firmly established by police officials so that the Secret Service could begin their investigation.

Finally, we should all take note: the desire expressed by these two people in the football stands in Wisconsin is not limited to President Obama. First him, then his supporters. If anyone is so naïve to think that the two people who concocted this outfit will be satisfied with President Obama’s death, then they need to review 20th century history. As the poet Don Gordon said, “We are only on leave from Auschwitz.”

As a postscript that occurred to me a couple hours after posting this, I think it is fair to say that those who doubted the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate would most likely be the ones inclined to defend this person’s advocacy of a Presidential death certificate as free speech. “If attacking one end of a life spectrum doesn’t work, then try the other extreme,” would seem to be their preference.

I do look forward to the conclusion of the current general election, and the chance to concentrate on books of poetry again. To neglect the havoc generated by a fascist with international ambitions would be an unforgivable omission on my part, however.

CORRECTION: The original post for this commentary mistakenly stated that the football game took place in Nebraska, whereas the University of Nebraska was playing a road game in Wisconsin.

Greg Kosmicki: “Whenever I Peel an Orange”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Greg Kosmicki: Whenever I Peel an Orange”

Greg Kosmicki sent me a link to a video made of his poem “Whenever I Peel an Orange.” In watching it, I noticed how certain images lingered in my imagination even as the words of the poem moved on in a quiet pas de deux the visual layering on the screen.
Kosmicki’s poem is a meditation on mortality in the midst of the collaborative community of a shared workplace. It is a “portrait” poem, both a compassionate tribute to and acknowledgement of a deceased co-worker for whom there was no retirement party. His last day on the job is no different than any other; his evanescence is a set of phone calls from his spouse, in which tests for a lesion swirl lead incrementally to more and more serious medical interventions, all of which prove futile. The poem makes the peeling of an orange a kind of cenotaph in remembrance of this man, whose revelation of his son’s problem proves to be the kind of resistance that conservative people are prone to and yet that makes complete sense upon reflection. One of the ways Kosmicki’s poems has the tart juice its central symbol suggests is in the implication of this story within a story. The co-worker’s son keeps getting his car towed because he won’t get a parking sticker for the complex he lives at. That his son resists the change of the bureaucratic demand to secure permission to park at a place that he is already paying for makes sense to those of us who have to endure the impediments of tasks imposed simply to keep our lives busy. The father, too, the poem recounts, resisted changes on the job, and the spiral of the orange peel comes to stand for the DNA helix of contumacious integrity. The poem was originally published in Rattle magazine.

The lingering of the images as I read the poem reminded me of my recent visit to a book I had looked at a couple of years ago, Imagination by Mary Warnock. Although Warnock at one point suggests that the co-habitation of images is something that happens without any particular strain (one drives a car, for instance, in her example, and thinks of other images while absorbing and reacting to the images arriving through the windows of the car), in any encounter requiring the full circumference of the imagination, a kind of smudging must take place. If I imagine Kosmicki’s co-worker pinning the spiral of his orange peel to the side of his work cubicle, it has the underlayer of the image of the skinned fur of a hunted animal nailed to a barn wall. And I continue to meditate on this image as the video swirls off into other images, all of which I am coiled within as the poem peels itself. I don’t peel the poem. The poem peels me.

John Harris, In Memoriam

Friday, March 10, 2017

John Harris, Poet and Owner of Papa Bach Bookstore

I first met John Harris back in the early 1970s when he was the co-leader of the Wednesday night workshop. By the fall of 1973, he had been appointed the new poetry editor of Bachy magazine. I was moving on from that position to start my own magazine, and the owner of the bookstore fortunately accepted my nomination of John as my successor. John went on to purchase the store in the mid-1970s, and he continued to subsidize the magazine for many years, as well as publish several fine books by L.A. poets such as William Pillin and Bert Meyers.

It is also important to note how much John Harris’s faith in Leland Hickman as an editor of Bachy magazine had consequences no one could have foreseen. The Language poets often point to Hickman’s Temblor magazine in the late 1980s as one of the crucial magazines that enabled their poetry to gain academic acceptance. Temblor would never have happened if John had not chosen and supported Lee’s first initial editorial work on Bachy’s final ten issues. Lee learned how to navigate the sometimes treacherous playing field of contemporary poetry under John’s aegis, and the experience Lee gained gave him a confidence that he did not always find easy to access in other parts of his life. It can be said without any exaggeration whatsoever that John indirectly had a profound impact on the course of American avant-garde poetry. All in all, it was quite a special time for LA poetry, and John was one of the poets who made it so memorable.

He loved Richard Hugo’s verse. I remember being up in the loft at the rear of the store one afternoon, and John pulled out one of Hugo’s books and read one of the poems to me with as much vigor and devotion as if he had written the words himself. John was a fine poet himself, but he cared even more for the art itself than for any personal acclaim. I think his last public reading would have been at the German Center for Culture in the Pacific Palisades. I remember that he read several poems that were not among his best known. He brought all the passion of a young poet to that reading, which must have been about seven or eight years ago. It was not long after that reading that I heard he had become ill. Truly, John, rest in peace.

The Surprise Guests of the Vacant Storefront Reading (Long Beach, 2012)

March 3, 2017

Greg Kosmicki and Greg Kuzma: The Surprise Guests of the Vacant Storefront Reading

Greg Kosmicki, the editor and publisher of Backwaters Press, contacted me the other day to forward a half-dozen photographs of a reading that took place in Long Beach back in 2012. Nicole Street, who was then a MFA student at CSULB, had located a vacant storefront that was willing to open its premises for a one-day festival of painters and poets. The poets who read included Greg Kuzma, Laurel Ann Bogen, Gerry Locklin, and myself, as well as Greg Kosmicki. Visual artists included Kelsey Livingston, Walter Gajewski, and Linda Fry.

It was a memorable pleasure to meet and read with Greg Kosmicki and Greg Kuzma. I had first heard of Kuzma back in the early 1970s. His magazine, Pebble, was one of my favorites of that period, and it was hard not to be impressed by his early success in getting his poems published. His commitment to writing and editing seemed so palpable to me that I was baffled in the early 1980s as to what had become of him. I didn’t hear of him anymore, but the stillness didn’t seem explicable. It turned out that his brother had been killed in an automobile accident in 1977, and that this horrendous intervention had deflected his literary production for quite some time. But all I knew back then was that he seemed to have disappeared as an active poet and I just assumed by the late 1980s and early 1990s that I would never meet him. To end up reading with him in Long Beach, California did not seem to be worth taking even a 1,000 to 1 bet on.

Of course, there are more than a few people a half-century ago who would have given similar odds on me still writing as I approach the age of 70. Just to get to this age and still be devoted to the art seems like a minor triumph. And trust me that the devotion is all that keeps me going. There are no publishing houses in this country interested in my poetry other than ones that require the poet to put up some of the financing for the book; and the other usual rejections keep piling up: this past week I received a notification from the administrative portion of CSULB that made it very clear how little I am appreciated there. Unlike the Academy Awards, there was no flub involved in that message. If it weren’t for a publisher in Mexico, I would indeed have little to show for my efforts the past ten years.

Vacant Storefront - 6It is at a moment such as this one that the arrival of a photograph depicting the unexpected is most appreciated. (From left to right: G. Murray Thomas; Linda Delmont; Bill Mohr; Nicole Street; Gerald Locklin; Greg Kuzma; Greg Kosmicki.)

Twitter Democracy: An Alternative Public Sphere

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On the day after I posted my comment on the “Twinkie Cabinet,” Ron Silliman posted a list of twitter accounts that will enable you to stay abreast with others who are engaged in resisting the rise of a nationalistic, xenophobic, racist, autocratic government. If you have a Twitter account, then I recommend going to “” and availing yourself of these resources for information, which you can then circulate to your friends and provide them with the succor of your insight.

A friend wrote me the other day: “It’s not that Trump is not my president; it’s that I CAN’T BELIEVE he’s my president.”

The disbelief is understandable. The monster in the closet that children are told is just imaginary has transmogrified into the master of the house.

Believe it, and refuse to accept its ethical legitimacy.

President Trump’s Twinkie Cabinet

February 19, 2017

President Trump’s Twinkie Cabinet

There are two ways to take the title of today’s post. The first is obvious. If there is anyone who can possibly vet their diet, please be vigilant: under no circumstances whatsoever should anyone serving in Trump’s cabinet be allowed to consume Twinkies. The individuals appointed to Trump’s cabinet possess rapacious impulses that are already out of control, and the slightest increase in their consumption of such confections might well result in the entire world being treated as if it were the reincarnation of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.

On a more quotidian economic level, of course, the Twinkie Cabinet is a reference to the financiers who exploited the workers of the Hostess Company. If Trump found himself the beneficiary of a miniscule margin of victory in just enough states to tip the Electoral College in his favor, it was in large part because of the displaced anger of workers at companies such as Hostess, whose executives walked away with their portfolios intact during the bankruptcy proceedings earlier this decade.

The problem confronting these workers, when they had to make a choice in the 2016 election, was that no major party offered any remedy for their plight. If you were an employee of Hostess, age 53 years old, and you faced the loss of everything you had worked for, what was your choice during the spring primaries of 2016? If you had been such a worker, the question you should have asked yourself was “What would have turned out different if any of these candidates had been president between 2011 and 2013?”

We absolutely know that nothing different would have happened if one of the GOP candidates had been President, but would there have been a different outcome if Hillary Clinton had been President? Or Bernie Sanders?


It’s not that I would be sad if Clinton or Sanders had been president then, or now for that matter. But let’s be blunt about it: Would Apollo Global Management and Dean Metropoulos have operated any differently five years ago, if Bernie Sanders had been president then?


The laws under which capitalism eviscerates the lives of those whose work generates wealth would have been no different under Sanders, when Hostess declared bankruptcy, than under Obama, just as they were no different under Bill Clinton than under George W. Bush.

“Betrayal without remedy” is the phrase that appears in “The Great Twinkie Caper – how U.S. Workers Get Flipped” by Lawrence J. Hanley.

Justifiable rage blinded workers into settling for vague promises of how America could be made “great again,” as a result of which one of the great political tragedies of this epoch is unfolding in front of our unbelieving eyes.

I wonder how many months will go by before these workers realize that they have been duped. What they deserve is a future retirement with some sense of dignity that includes decent shelter, excellent health care, and nutritious food to eat. This is the minimum that any person who has worked all of her or his life deserves. I would hope that a candidate would emerge in 2020 who will bluntly campaign on this kind of platform.

Until then, let us hope that another complete meltdown of the economy will not happen again. The risk of that kind of collapse is accelerating. Laws are being expeditiously revised right now to make the U.S. economy vulnerable to the same set of plundering usurers who drove this nation to the precipice ten years ago. The current Money Mob will make certain that the same laws invoked in the last crisis remain on the books to save them from prosecution, too.
It is indeed “betrayal without remedy.”

Well, not quite. There is one remedy, and it is radical beyond anything ever witnessed in this nation. Something much more radical than anything called for by Bernie Sanders is needed. It begins with changes in our diet, both physical and intellectual. Hard as it is to break old habits, we must do so if the pursuit of human dignity is to prove itself worthy of that ideal. And it ends with the complete abolition of the death penalty, for above all, we must confront the fact that as long as nuclear weapons exist, we have all been judged and sentenced to death. This is an unacceptable horror, and must be utterly reversed.

In between those two points, much will have to change in the hierarchies of privilege and power, and it will be an unfamiliar discomfort for those presently ensconced at the highest levels of administrative turpitude.

Let us start with a good night’s sleep, having faith that this can be accomplished.

Post-Script: I woke up to find an article in the Los Angeles Times giving an account of a speech at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 18. When I posted this blog entry, I had no idea that he was in town asking his audience to identify with the workers who have been traumatized by massive shifts in the global economy.

Tom Lux’s Audience

Saturday, February 18, 2017

As many poets born between 1940 and 1955 have noticed, the number of people writing poetry in the United States has increased enormously since they first started publishing their writing. In the late 1960s, the protests against the Vietnam War included poetry as a popular part of the counter-culture’s resistance. Only a small proportion of those young poets, however, were still writing in the late 1970s. In contrast, there are perhaps as many as 40,000 people who currently regard poetry as their primary means of creative cultural work; and while it is frequently claimed that the only people who read poetry are those who write it, that simply is not the case. Tom Lux, for instance, was a poet who actually collected royalties from his book sales, and no poet reaches that point of popularity without attracting the attention of serious readers.

For poets who were born after 1960 or 1985, however, the abundance of poets in the United States has a drawback, in that what might be regarded as a surplus of talent makes the crescent edge of older poets harder to detect and calibrate. Compounding this diffusion, I find this pair of generations all too often ends up depending too much on a narrow cluster of initial friends within the poetry world to guide their reading. Or at least that’s the only explanation I can come up with when I consider what I have found in the wake of learning about Tom Lux’s death. Karina Borowicz, for instance, has a blog entry (dated September 23, 2015) in which she describes a reading by Lux when he was on tour promoting his most recent collection, To the Left of Time. Borowiz leads off her commentary by saying that “I went to see Thomas Lux read the other night at Smith College. I haven’t read much Lux before and I don’t know much about him, so I didn’t know what to expect.” Her appreciative commentary after the reading sums up fairly well the effect that Tom Lux’s poetry had on thousands of people, and I would assume that she has passed on her discovery of Lux’s vital imagination to her friends.

It does seem odd to me that a mid-life poet whose poetics fall within a fairly familiar terrain would not have read much Lux. It seems as odd, in fact, as it would be if I ran into a mainstream musician who said she or he didn’t know much about Ry Cooder. I would give that person a quizzical look. “Surely, you’re joking?”

Nevertheless, Borowicz herself is a poet worth paying attention to. In the process of getting her poems published in over three dozen well known poetry magazines, she has won several distinctive prizes and citations. You can find her poem “September Tomatoes” at the Poetry Foundation website as well as other work at

Her blog entry on Tom Lux’s reading is at:

Thomas Lux (1946 – 2017)

TOM LUX (December 10, 1946 – February 5, 2017)

Larry Goldstein was in town this past week, and we had lunch together at the Long Beach Museum of Art, where the upstairs gallery currently features some superb photographs of the Long Beach port. On our way to the museum, as I drove on Seventh Street, Larry mentioned that the Cortland Review was dedicating its next issue to the late Thomas Lux. I hadn’t heard that Tom had died, and I was as grateful for the slow traffic, as for the street’s familiarity. To have been told the same news on the 90 freeway last Friday night, as rain sliced down, might have had a different outcome, for the 90’s lane markers at night are very faint to begin with, and I struggled to detect exactly which lane I was traversing.

I first met Tom back in the early 1990s, when he was on a Southern California reading tour. He started at the Chateau Marmont on a weekend, headed over to Loyola Marymount at the start of the school week, and ended up at California State University Long Beach, by which time we ended up playing pool in the Student Union after his reading. I remember how surprised Tom was when I showed up at the second reading with a copy of Tarantulas on a Lifebuoy. He probably thought at that point that he had met everyone who had a copy of that early book. Not quite, I told him. Contrary to popular allegations from an individual he used to know in New York City, there were more than a handful of astute readers in Los Angeles.

Tom was a superb reader, and his poems fit perfectly into the Stand Up school that Charles Harper Webb was beginning to promote. Indeed, he unquestionably deserved his place in the second edition. He returned to the Los Angeles area in the late 1990s; along with Naomi Shihab Nye, he was the first poet-in-residence at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival. Idyllwild was the last place I saw him, in large part because my life as a scholar has diverted my creative energies outside of the contemporary poetry nexus. It was over a decade ago that we last wrote each other. His poems have been a constant presence in my teaching, though.

Thomas Lux radiated a multi-dimensional love of poetry that went beyond anything I have ever encountered in all but a few other people. If it seems that he is present now in my memory’s eye as a living presence, reciting lines of poetry by Hart Crane or Theodore Roethke to illustrate his point, then it is a measure of how much his invisible companionship has meant to me the past dozen years.

This sense of personal loss extends to Charles Harper Webb, one of my fellow poets at CSULB. I asked if he would be willing to contribute to this blog post about Tom Lux’s writing and presence in our lives and he immediately sent the following eulogy:

“I was beyond bummed to hear of the death of Tom Lux, one of the truly good guys in American poetry. Just last December, I sent him my new book of essays on poetry, and he promised to send me a copy of the collection of Bill Knott’s poems which he’d just finished editing. It never crossed my mind that I’d never see, or even e-mail him again. Since we lived on opposite sides of the country, I didn’t see him much; but he was my friend, and a world-class ally in the fight for clear, entertaining poetry. I love Tom’s poems. I wish I’d written them. Every virtue that I praise in my essays, his poetry exemplifies. Wit, passion, impropriety, brilliance of metaphor and conception—he gave it all to the world in clear, concise language that sounds like no one else. Because there was no one else like him. It’s our good fortune that, although his body’s gone, his voice still sings out of his books, loud and quirky, brave and clear.”

The Collected Poems of Tom Lux will be a book worth waiting for, and the second half of Charles’s assessment would be a spot on blurb for that book. In that kind of volume, it is a common practice to include an index of titles as well as first lines. I would recommend including an index of last lines, too, in that book as a way of giving young poets one more axis of inspiration. I have seen many determined and talented young poets emerging in the past twenty years, but few have the gift of Tom Lux’s quirky, encompassing, comic sense of poignant elucidation.

If I were to take part in a memorial reading, I would be hard pressed to choose which one of his poems to read. “Refrigerator, 1957” would probably be my choice, though given its popularity, someone else would probably have read it by the time I got to the podium. It is certainly one of the best poems to have first appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

And for a view of that poem “across the pond,” go to:

One of the better articles I’ve found on his poetry can be found at:
Issue 77 / Winter 1998-99 – Stuart Dischell

Tom Raworth’s “Jazz Attitude”

TOM RAWORTH (July 29, 1938 – February 8, 2017)

Since the announcement of Tom Raworth’s death, the obituary news has also added Al Jarreau’s name to the roll-call. Jarreau’s own definition of his “jazz attitude” was quoted in one obituary as “the idea of being open to each and every moment as a chance to create something different.” That aspect of a musical poetics would suggest a strong imaginative kinship between Jarreau and Tom Raworth, whom I heard read only once, at UCSD, and for which I remain grateful; the full-throated rendition of his differences lingers as an encouraging whisper in my daily life of writing and not writing. His blog ends with the notation that “Bits of it all have been fun and it’s been a decent run.” I would describe it as an exemplary broadcast from the self’s anothering.

Tom Raworth, 1938–2017

Tom Raworth (1938-2017)

Tom Raworth (1938-2017)

Racism and Standing Rock

Sunday, February 12, 2017

RACISM AND STANDING ROCK: Bismarck, North Dakota and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

“Race is the modality by which class is lived.”

In the case of the Indigenous Peoples of North, Central, and South America, Stuart Hall’s observation should have the word “class” replaced by “subordination.”

Racism is the permeating logic inhabiting the praxis by which the Other, who has already been dispossessed, is further subjected to a quality of life inferior to that which you believe is appropriate for those who resemble you.

On Twitter recently, John Upton retweeted @relombardo3:
“Reminder that DAPL was
re-routed through
Standing Rock because
Bismarck’s residents
feared it could poison
their drinking water.

The Sioux are literally
being forced at gunpoint
to accept ecological risks
that North Dakota’s
white residents refused.”

North Dakota’s residents overwhelmingly voted for Trump; their decision to subject the Sioux to one more degradation recalls a comment made by Michael Lally, “Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but every racist voted for Trump.”

Now I’m sure more than a few people might say, “Well, it’s easy for you in live in Long Beach, California, Bill, and look down on the people of North Dakota.” Actually, it’s not that easy, since I’m talking about a state in which I have had family by marriage, and I like those people. Along with my first wife, Cathay, I remember visiting Bismarck in the summer of 1985, then driving east to Dickinson, and north all the way across the border to Winnipeg in Canada. We had gone to Bismarck to visit her father, brother and nephews, and we took a vacation trip afterwards. The drive north to Winnipeg was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever experienced. The land formations were far different than I expected, and the sky that day had an ensemble of clouds worthy of a master choreographer. I remember how much we enjoyed visiting the museum in Winnipeg. We headed south to Duluth, and then visited Cathay’s sister in Minneapolis. My father-in-law and brother-in-law are dead now, but the time I spent with them has lingered in my affections.

I liked the people I met in North Dakota, and it didn’t surprise me that they would be judicious enough to elect someone like Kent Conrad to the U.S. Senate. That the people I met were all congruent to my wife’s family is the crucial qualifier, though. The color line, as DuBois pointed out over a century over, is firmly drawn in segregating Native Americans from the mainstream of civic, social and political life in North Dakota. The memorials we visited were concerned with preserving the tragedy of dispossession and subordination, and not just commemorating it.

Even given that fracture, however, my hunch is that things have changed there, and in part this is due to the wealth that poured into North Dakota due to the oil boom earlier this decade. Sudden wealth can distort one’s values, and it doesn’t take much wealth to undermine the inclinations toward compassion and community.

Perhaps resistance to the oil pipeline will give a few of those who have hardened their hearts a chance to reconsider, but I doubt it. I admire those who are resisting. It takes more courage than I have at the moment. May they survive, buffeted but unscathed.