Category Archives: RagBlog

Lamar W. Hankins :
Nineteen fifty-four: A fable

Bobby raised his hand and asked his teacher, Mrs. Miller, ‘Is God the same as the sun?’

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | October 10, 2017

It was an unusual year, 1954. The U.S. Supreme Court held that separate schooling for blacks and whites was unequal for blacks, mostly because the quality of segregated education seriously disadvantaged black children. Sen. Joseph McCarthy was censured by the United States Senate for his Communist witch hunts. French colonialism in Vietnam was defeated in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Elvis Presley cut his first commercial record.

But none of these things made much impact on 10-year old Bobby LeFlore Lewis, if he even heard about them. What did affect him was a small action by Congress that seemed just strange to him. Bobby’s teacher told his class that now there were two new words that he had to recite when saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Congress had added the words “under God” to the Pledge, placed between “one nation” and “indivisible.”
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Steve Russell :
Making peace between Rocket Man
and the Dotard

Solving the North Korea problem requires our best understanding of everybody’s needs.

Rocket Man. Graphic art by DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy /
Creative Commons.

By Steve Russell | The Rag Blog | September 27, 2017

Two grown men are publicly calling each other names, a childish spat that rises from annoying to alarming because both Kim Jong Un and Donald J. Trump have nuclear weapons.

When I watch the news lately, I only have to close my eyes and I’m back in rural Oklahoma about the time the Korean War ended, fussing with my cousins.

My grandmother yells: You kids settle down!

She is met by a collective whine: He started it!
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Maxine Phillips :
BOOKS | ‘Johnny Appleseed: Green Spirit of the Frontier’

Paul Buhle and Noah Van Sciver’s graphic history tells a tale very relevant to our time.

By Maxine Phillips | The Rag Blog | September 25, 2017

[Johnny Appleseed: Green Spirit of the Frontier, a graphic history written by Paul Buhle and illustrated by Noah Van Sciver (September 5, 2017: Fantagraphics Books); Hardcover; 112 pp; $19.99.]

Before there was organic farming, there was… organic farming. Before Rachel Carson, Bill McKibbon, or Michael Pollan, there was… Johnny Appleseed.

Appleseed, as he is known in myth, was born John Chapman in Leominster, Massachusetts, on September 26, 1774, and of all the figures of the U.S. frontier, real or imagined, from Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone (real) to John Henry and Paul Bunyan (imagined), he is perhaps the most suited to our climate-imperiled times.
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Jonah Raskin :
Marijuana madness: From Harry Anslinger to Jeff Sessions

Marijuana has been a heated political issue in the United States for more than 100 years.

Gustin Reichbach in the ’60s. Judge Reichbach, who died in 2012, was a proponent of medical marijuana. Image from Gustin L. Reichbach Papers / University at Buffalo Libraries.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | September 21, 2017

Three months before he died of pancreatic cancer in July 2012, Judge Gustin L. Reichbach published an op-ed piece in The New York Times in which he said that “marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep.” He added, “friends have chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance.”

What Reichbach did not say in his op-ed piece, but that almost all of his friends and family members knew, was that he had smoked marijuana for decades, before he was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, and that he enjoyed getting “high” and getting “stoned,” to borrow the vernacular.
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Alice Embree :
Sex and socialism

Is it time to consider what socialism can mean in the bedrooms as well as in the body politic?

Soviet Women’s Day Poster, 1960s.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | September 20, 2017

Is sex better under socialism? Apparently, according to an August 12, 2017 New York Times opinion piece. Did women from the United States find fulfillment in revolutionary Russia? Julia Mickenberg’s American Girls in Red Russia makes that case. As socialism continues to gain traction with millennials, it may be time to consider what that can mean in the bedrooms as well as in the body politic.

“Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll” was a theme of the ’60s rebellion. After all, the Baby Boomers came of age when birth control pills did. Then women’s liberation added an entirely new spin to sexual liberation.
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Jonah Raskin :
BOOKS | Blowing themselves up: Revisiting the Weather Underground

‘Swords in the Hands of Children’ is Jonathan Lerner’s passionate tale of his adventures as a young, gay insurgent.

Jonathan Lerner gives a press conference for the Weathermen during the “Days of Rage,” October 9, 1969. Photo by Barbara Leckie. Image courtesy of OR Books.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | September 14, 2017

Jonathan Lerner, author of Swords in the Hands of Children, is Thorne Dreyer‘s guest on Rag Radio, Friday, Sept. 15, 2-3 p.m. (CT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin and streamed live here.

[Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary by Jonathan Lerner (December 5, 2017: OR Books); Hardcover; 224 pp.]

Not that long ago, homegrown American bombers set off explosives in offices, schools, and ROTC buildings and then watched the fallout gleefully. Warren Hinckle published an entire issue of his short-lived magazine, Scanlan’s Monthly, on that very subject. Indeed, TNT or dynamite was then all the rage along with LSD. “Blasting caps for the Capricorns,” one bomber exclaimed. Another proclaimed, “Light ‘em and run.” She was referring to fuses.

That time in the 1970s now looks like the culmination of Sixties radicalism and also its death knell. Novelist Jonathan Lerner, now on the cusp of 70 and an environmentalist living near the Hudson River with his husband, Peter Frank, looks back at that era with fear and loathing and a sense of nostalgia, too. What a strange political and personal trip it has been.
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Allen Young :
BOOKS | Jonathan Lerner’s ‘Swords in the Hands of Children’

Lerner, a closeted gay man active with the Weather Underground, tells a gripping story and reveals his authentic remorse.

By Allen Young | The Rag Blog | September 13, 2015

Jonathan Lerner, author of Swords in the Hands of Children, is Thorne Dreyer‘s guest on Rag Radio, Friday, Sept. 15, 2-3 p.m. (CT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin and streamed live here.

[Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary by Jonathan Lerner (December 5, 2017: OR Books); Hardcover; 224 pp.]

The words “fear” and “frightened” pepper gay writer Jonathan Lerner’s intriguing account of how he, a young idealist with sincere interest in the 1960s political movements for civil rights and peace, became a committed member of the violence-prone Weather Underground Organization.

With an interest during his late teenage years in a possible career as an actor, and already aware of his homosexual desire, the closeted Lerner held back, noting “the ubiquitous and openness of gay people in theater frightened me.” A few pages later, recounting his experience at a major anti-war march on the Pentagon in October of 1968 where there was confrontation between demonstrators and police in riot gear, he mentions his “fear of… those swinging truncheons.” Once immersed himself as a soldier in the Weather Underground, whose leaders and their politics turned autocratic and cruel, Lerner becomes fearful of his comrades.
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James Retherford :
IMAGE | The New American Eagle

The New American Eagle. Digital image by James Retherford /
The Rag Blog.

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Steve Rossignol :
How close are we to doomsday?

Some models predict a global firestorm apocalyptic-level event.

“Clouds of Doomsday” by Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería / Flickr.

By Steve Rossignol | The Rag Blog | August 29, 2017

Well, we appear to have survived the historic solar eclipse.

And it also appears that the potential nuclear crisis with North Korea may have abated for now. Donald Trump’s and Kim Jong-Un’s saber-rattling and sword fight over who has the largest, ah, missile seems to have come to a draw.

And we are weathering Hurricane Harvey.
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Alan Waldman :
TELEVISION | ‘Deep Water’ is a gripping four-part Aussie police drama

Yael Stone is excellent as a police detective cracking a string of 80 brutal gay killings.

By Alan Waldman | The Rag Blog | August 27, 2017

[In his Rag Blog column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD, Netflix and/or Netflix Instant Streaming, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

In Orange is the New Black, Yael Stone was very convincing as whiny-voiced, Italian-American prison van-driving inmate Lorna Morello, but in the outstanding 2016 Australian police drama Deep Water, it is shocking to hear her return to her normal accent from Down Under. Stone is actually an Aussie, the granddaughter of Czech Jewish holocaust survivors.
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David McReynolds :
Afghanistan: Trump was right the first time

During the campaign he pledged to get out. Now the killing will continue.

This Afghan farmer boy was murdered in 2010 by a group of U.S. Army soldiers called the Kill Team. Photo originally appeared in Der Spiegel. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

By David McReynolds | The Rag Blog | August 21, 2017

I’ve just finished listening to Trump’s speech on Afghanistan. While generally I have been hostile to Trump’s policies, this is one time when I think he was right the first time — when, during the campaign, he pledged to get out of Afghanistan.

In his speech he took ownership of the Afghan War — the longest in U.S. history, and one of the most tragically pointless. He pledged to take the bonds off the military — to let the war be fought without limits. What that means, when translated, is that civilian casualties will increase (as has already happened) as the military feels fewer restraints. And what that also means is that one of the things which produces terrorists — the killing of civilians — is back in play.
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David P. Hamilton :
To Russia with love

Russia consistently reaches out to the U.S. for improved relations, and the U.S. consistently rejects those gestures.

Vladimir Putin. Caricature by DonkeyHotey.

By David P. Hamilton | The Rag Blog | August 21, 2017

In his recent opinion piece in Bloomberg, a publication dedicated to inculcating the pro-capitalist mentality, Jonathan Bernstein blandly asserts that Russia is “a nation basically hostile to the United States.” Here he is stating a cornerstone foundational concept of the American imperialist narrative, a concept which stands reality on its head.

One must ask, do these belligerent and hostile Russians ring our borders with guided missiles? Do they station their troops among our neighbors and promote self-serving subversion of their governments? Do they patrol our shores with naval battle groups? Do they form alliances against us? And did Russia subvert our 1996 presidential election to get an alcoholic pawn of Russian financiers in office?
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