Dear Trump . . . What’s Your Game?

Dear Trump:

What is your game?

No, seriously. I don’t get it, and I’m not the only one.You don’t want to be President. You’ve never shown the slightest indication – before last September, anyway – that you gave a damn one way or the other about America. Even if America fell tomorrow to ISIS, you would survive, cockroach-like, because that’s the only thing you care about:  yourself. You’d probably start building a series of poorly-made mosques, in fact.

You remind me of Sam Adams and John Hancock, and not in a good way. Like you, they were rabble-rousers. Too rich and too dandy to get their hands dirty, they helped create the Sons of Liberty. They inflamed the populace with rhetoric designed to turn them against the British Parliament and, eventually, King George III. Why? Because it suited them and their business interests to do so. They were smugglers. Businessmen, like yourself (except they didn’t go around screwing people by declaring bankruptcies on debt that they were perfectly capable of paying off). And so to protect those interests, they incited riots. Created propaganda. Encouraged their followers – the uneducated, illiterate, blue-collar workers of Boston and the area – to set fire to British customs houses, attack British soldiers, and tar and feather anyone who stood in their way.

In short, they were terrorist leaders. Only we won, so we call them patriots.

You terrify me, because you are everything that is WRONG with America. You can’t be President if you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about – and YOU DON’T. Here’s some examples:

The Mexican Wall. Let’s see. You want to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and make Mexico pay for it – which, by the way, the Mexican President has already said ‘fuck no’ to doing. Literally. Tell me:  how do you plan to make Mexico pay for it? There’s not one legal thing you can do to force them into it. You want to wage war against Mexico? Fine. Let’s spend billions of dollars and kill thousands more American soldiers to force Mexico to pay for a wall. That’s brilliant.

(And by the way, you might want to Google a dude called “El Chapo.” Walls mean nothing.)

ISIS and terrorism. As far as I’m aware, you have one plan:  carpet bomb ISIS. Again:  HOW? It would be like saying, “I’m going to kill all the Baptists in Kansas City by carpet-bombing them.” It doesn’t work that way, and if you knew the first damn thing about ISIS, you’d know it. There are approximately 35,000 ISIS members in the world. They embed themselves in cities like Aleppo and Baghdad, among the civilians. You can’t bomb them without killing civilians. Thousands of civilians. Civilians who hate ISIS as much as we do. Which will accomplish – let me think. Oh, yes. Not a damn thing that’s good for us. It’ll piss off the civilians. It’ll piss off the governments of the countries we’re bombing. It’ll piss off our allies. ISIS will use it as a recruiting tool. And how many ISIS members will we kill by carpet-bombing these cities? Hardly any. Certainly not enough to make the fallout worthwhile. How many people will flock to ISIS, though? Thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Good luck with that plan.

Prejudice Against Muslims. Here’s a fact:  no one ever called you personally, or your offices, on September 11 to report that Muslims in New Jersey were cheering as the Twin Towers fell. Know how I know that? Because why the hell would they call you to report such a thing? The fact is, most Muslims hate ISIS. They hate everything it stands for. They hate how it twists the Q’ran and the hadiths, putting words where they don’t exist, trying to justify their takeover of the Middle East by making up their ‘religion’ as they go. And again, if you knew anything about Islam or ISIS, you’d know that. But that doesn’t further your agenda, does it, to educate yourself? Where’s the fun in that?

White Supremacy. Maybe you’re unaware of this little fact, but America has a long history with race problems. It started when we bought and kidnapped close to 12 million Africans, put them in chains, and forced them to come ‘work for us’ in America (to paraphrase a Texas textbook). And even after we abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment, it didn’t change things:  every single southern state passed Jim Crow laws that kept blacks segregated, kept them from voting, and kept them from exercising their legal rights – like protesting things they didn’t like.

I don’t care who you are or how bad your earpiece is:  when someone uses the words ‘white supremacy group’ in a sentence, you don’t equivocate by saying “I know nothing about white supremacists.” There’s no hair to split there. It’s a very – sorry to use this term – black and white issue.

Unless you truly do support white supremacy, that is.

And when I watch your rallies on TV, what do I see, time and time again, but your white supporters beating up black protesters. You claim to denounce David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, but here’s the fact:  you are courting white supremacists. You are courting them the way Hancock and Adams courted those who hated the British. It suits your purposes, just as it suited theirs. You can claim to disavow them all you want. I can disavow any number of  things, like peanut butter. Doesn’t mean a damn thing. Because I still like peanut butter.

You don’t want to be President; you don’t want to work that hard. You don’t want to think that much. But you’re sure as hell having a grand time dividing this nation, stirring up old prejudices and hatreds that most of us thought were long gone – or at least, on their way out.

So again.

What’s your game?


“The most dangerous debt:” Student Loans

One of the things I wanted to do with this blog, when I started it, was write posts that would help out college students. I haven’t really done that. But today, I thought maybe I could give you some thoughts on student debt.

$1.5 trillion. That’s the current amount of total student debt owed by Americans. This is one the reasons why you hear Bernie Sanders and others advocating for the total forgiveness of all student loans – because when we’re drowning in debt, how can we buy houses, or other things that would boost the economy? Some people are making payments of over $1,000 a month on their student loans.

Right now, many high school students are looking at acceptance letters, and community college students are looking at transfer schools, and undergrads are considering graduate schools. One thing you HAVE to worry about, if you are one of these students is student loan debt.

Now. If you are – and there’s no other way to say this – stupid enough to attend a for-profit school like University of Phoenix, you’re going to hear something like this:  “You WILL make enough with this degree to pay back this loan in just a few years! Interest rates are so low – it’s like free money! And it can be forgiven in just a little while – just 25 short years!” They will sell you on financial aid. What they don’t tell you is this:  to afford a for-profit school, you will have to take out two different kinds of loans:  federal and private.

Now. If you are planning to attend a non-profit college (as you should be), then depending on the tuition rates, you may have to do this as well. And I hate that. Know why?

1.) Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Unlike any other kind of debt, you are going to be stuck with these forever.

2.) Private student loans are often at a higher interest rate – and that interest rate is often variable. What that means is this:  after a period of time, usually a few years, the interest rates on these loans will go up. And up. And up. But the interest rate you get on your federal loan is locked in.

3.) If you have to take out that much debt, you are probably attending the wrong school. We all want to go to the Ivy League school. And that’s pricey as hell. The general rule of thumb has always been:  never take out more in student loans than you can expect to make in your first year out of school. In all honesty, I don’t think that’s a very good rule to follow anymore. You’re not guaranteed a job after your graduate! Yes, the economy is getting better, but there is so much competition for jobs out there. And yes, I know, you get that six-month grace period before you have to start making student loans, etc., etc. — but that goes by WAY faster than you think it will. And if you don’t have a job by that time, you’ll have to put your loans in deferral. When you do this, interest accumulates. It is NOT a get out of jail free card! You will have to pay that interest.

4.) Tuition rates are rising almost every year at most schools. What you pay this year is NOT what you will pay next year. I did AmeriCorps, and earned two years’ of education stipends. When I started at WSU as a junior, I ran the numbers and knew that even with my double major, I would have enough money to graduate with my Masters’ degree and only ever need that education stipend. Fast forward four years. I had to take out student loans just to finish my grad school. That’s because, on average, tuition at WSU rose 13% annually. This is not an uncommon rate!

5.) Do not take out more student loans than you absolutely need. Trust me. Please. If I had taken out ONLY what I needed, I would be almost out of debt by now. And I only took out the max on Stafford loans! I can only imagine if I had any private loans. Let me say it again:  take out only what you need. Do not take out more and say “I’ll get a car,” or “I can pay rent,” or whatever. Take out only what you need for your tuition and books and fees. No more. 

6.) Do not listen to anyone, at any school, who encourages you to take out more than you need. They are lying, and if they are at a for-profit school, they are lining their own pockets. In fact, when they give you the hard sell, you need to RUN. A true financial aid adviser will never do this to you.

7.) Do not – under any circumstances – cosign for a student loan with anyone. Remember, you cannot discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy! So let’s say you and your boyfriend are in luuuuv and plan to get married and you decide, because you luuuv him, that you’ll cosign his student loan. Then, two years later, you break up. Guess what? YOUR NAME IS STILL ON THAT LOAN, AND IF HE STOPS MAKING PAYMENTS, THEY CAN AND WILL COME AFTER YOU. Do not do it. Parents, this goes for you as well! If your child cannot get enough loans to attend their dream school, then they need to attend a cheaper school.

8.) Community colleges are excellent choices. Today, with the world turned upside down, more and more students are going to find themselves wondering if moving across the state or country is a wise idea. Trust me, we will return to online learning sometime this fall. So why not go ahead and attend your local community college? For one thing, the tuition is much cheaper:  for the 2018/19 school year, tuition at Wichita State University was $8,270, while tuition for Cowley College (my community college), was $3300. It’s easier to get scholarships and tuition assistance at community colleges in many cases, and there are other benefits as well, including the chance to explore majors, save money, and maybe do things you’d never ever do at a four-year university, like volunteer, or join the theatre group. By the time you get to attend that four-year university, you’ll have a solid GPA, a handle on your major, and you’ll be entering with the junior class – which means smaller class sizes, more one-on-one time with your professors, and two more years’ of personal growth. And, money saved!

Last year, I taught a First Year Experience course for my college. This is for freshmen, and it covers stuff like ‘where is the cafeteria located?’ and ‘how do I drop a class?’ and study habits. It also covers financial literacy, which I think a lot of our freshmen lack in spades. When we talked about student loans, they were pretty sure they were all going to take out student loans (some, not qualifying for either Pell Grants or scholarships, already had). Since I’d just made my payment that month, I showed them my statement.

I took out two subsidized federal loans to finish my graduate degree:  one for $8500 (2008), the other for $17,607 (2009). That was my first problem – I took out too much in loans. I didn’t need the full amount, and I should NOT have taken it. That gave me a grand total of $26, 107 in student loans.

I’ve been paying on these loans since 2010. I will pay off the $8500 loan next month – July. That means it took me 10 years to pay off $8500. The other loan, the one for $17,000? That is only 34% paid off.

I have paid $11,085 in interest on those loans since 2010. 

And these are subsidized federal loans, that do not have variable interest rates. My interest rate is 6.5%.

So I’m begging you, students:  if you must take out student loans, figure out only what you need! And take only that. No more. Don’t listen to your adviser or your financial aid person. They are there to sell you on loans. Listen to me and Suze Orman! Take out only what you need, and plan to pay it off as quickly as you can. The more you can pay on your loans, the faster you can pay them off, and the less interest you’ll pay. Make extra payments when you can. Pay extra every month, even if it’s only $20. The faster you can pay off your loans (and this goes for all loans), the less interest you’ll pay. 

All of this is why student loans are often called ‘the most dangerous debt’ you can take out. They cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. If you have private loans, those interest rates can be variable. And with Betsy de Vos at the helm, for-profit colleges are getting away with screwing over students more than ever. Please, please, if you’re going to college this year, really investigate how much you need to take out in student loans, or if you need to do so at all.

For an in-depth look at why for-profit colleges are the worst idea EVER, watch this 2010 Frontline special from PBS:

And to prove to you that this isn’t just me being silly, here’s the greatest financial genius of the 20th century, Suze Orman, to tell you all about student loans:

And Suze Orman on student loans in May 2019:

The Destruction of Our History – ISIS and Nimrud

This week marks the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the day when civil rights activists tried to march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for their right to vote – and were met with violence on the other side of the Edmond Pettus Bridge by armed police.

But I’m not writing about that. Because something much more important happened this week. ISIS decided, for the world, that we should no longer have the historic site of Nimrud. A Biblical Assyrian city, capital of the Assyrian Empire for a time, Nimrud is – was – a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Fat lot of good THAT did.

The city of Nimrud was discovered bIraq;_Nimrud_-_Assyria,_Lamassu's_Guarding_Palace_Entrancey Austin Henry Layard in the 1840s. The story of its discovery was one of the things that propelled me towards history and archaeology. I loved the idea of finding a city covered by desert, of learning to read the ancient Assyrian texts, the statues and reliefs that told story after story of conquest and expansion. But more importantly, I loved the Assyrian libraries – the fact that even though they loved to conquer others, they loved saving history more. It’s in Assyrian libraries that we find ancient Sumerian texts. It’s in Assyrian libraries that we find documents we can find nowhere else.

Will ISIS someday do the same? Not libraries, obviously, but put their ‘victories’ up on stone walls for all the world to see? For enemies to see, and be terrified by, as they pass through the gates of whatever city ISIS allows to survive to become their capital?

What is the purpose of any of it? What is the purpose of UNESCO, of nations ‘condemning’ the bulldozing and wanton destruction, if they bloody aren’t going to do a damn thing to stop it???

Enough already. How much more do we have to lose? People come and go. We get 50, 70, 100 years if we’re lucky, and then we’re gone. But these sites? These artifacts? They belong to no one. They belong to all of us. They belong to the world. They don’t belong to Iraq or Iran, or Afghanistan. They don’t belong to the Taliban, or to ISIS, or to any other terrorist organizations. Are we going to sit idly by and let these worthless pieces of crap dictate to us what we can and cannot have?

I spend my life trying to make history relevant to students. It’s bloody hard work. I have to fight against prejudice (“History is boring!” “I’ll never need this!”), and previous bad teachers, and the stigma that history is nothing more than names and dates. And nothing could be further from the truth. I take pride in the fact that most of my students are engaged, they care, and I’ve even turned a few into history majors, with a passion for doing for other students what I was able to do for them – make history interesting and most of all, to make it relevant.

So the things ISIS is destroying, they’re just statues, you say? The cities of dead kings? Stone buildings that no one cares about? Bullshit. This is our history. Mesopotamia is where human civilization began. The ancient Sumerians gave way to the Akkadians, the Assyrians, the Hittites, the Hebrews, the Babylonians, and the Persians, and a half-dozen other cultures in between. They traded with Egypt, with the Greeks, and even later with the Romans (before, of course, falling to the Romans). They gave us laws and legal codes. They gave us the first written language. They gave us metallurgy. Stone arches (take that, Romans!). The wheel. Irrigation. The first banks. Long-distance trade. Professional armies that didn’t also have to be farmers or something else. Art. The first work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which details the Sumerian’s idea of the afterlife. The first poetry known to us. And on.

Without the ancient cultures of the Middle East, we would not have what we do today.

I’m so heartbroken and disgusted by the world’s response. Condemn the destruction? Why aren’t we protecting these sites? Why aren’t we working with the Iraqi government to get the artifacts out of the country, into safe hands? Why did the Baghdad Museum just reopen this week? Are we this stupid? Are we this naive?

I can hear some of you now:  how is this worse than what Hitler did in the 1930s? Trust me, it’s worse. Hitler looted museums, yes, but most of the stolen works were either put into private hands, or sold at auction. Some were destroyed, yes, but not this wholesale destruction we see from ISIS. Hitler wanted many pieces for his own personal museum, which he planned to build after he’d dominated Europe. We are still finding artwork that we thought was lost. It happens all the time.

But if ISIS has their way, there will be no lost artwork to find. It will all simply be in tiny bits and shards. A giant historical jigsaw puzzle that we may – or may not – be able to put together.

When a (historian’s) dream comes true

For six years, I’ve been obsessed with a story that I first stumbled across in my local paper. We have a “100 Years Ago Today” segment, as many papers do, and I started to read about this particular case that had occurred. In 1898, a man named George Kimmel had disappeared without a trace. Eight years later, a prisoner in New York suddenly told the wardens that he was Kimmel . . .

Reading the little 2- and 3-sentence tidbits in the paper made me curious, and I started going to the library and giving myself migraines with the microfilm. (Seriously, people. Microfilm sucks. Give me 100-year-old newspapers any day.) Curiosity moved swiftly into obsession. Was the guy in New York really Kimmel? And if not . . . what had happened to him?

As I said, the case went to trial numerous times. Here’s a tip:  doing research on cases that are not part of the online Archives database is HARD. Particularly if some things are held in one place, and some things are in another . . . I nearly gave up several times because even though I had the case file numbers and names, I couldn’t locate the files. Honestly, I started to think that they’d been lost or destroyed long ago.

But then . . . I found them.

And I spent yesterday at the National Archives in Kansas City, laying eyes and fingers – for the first time ever – on a set of papers I’ve searched for for two years. Seeing them sitting there in their archival boxes, so neat and tidy — it was a surreal moment for me. They gave me the rules — only one box and one folder on the table at a time, no gloves (not for paper documents), no pens, no feeding the documents after midnight — and left me to it.

All the names I’ve become familiar with for the past six years were there. Bacon, the lawyer. Edna, the sister. Denton, the local bank teller. Swinney, who threw a monkey wrench into the entire thing. Subpoenas. Depositions. My God, the depositions! Entire books of depositions. I was trying very, very hard not to cry sometimes because really, crying in an archive and getting their papers wet is not a good thing. But then I pulled out one last deposition — and actually had to turn around, because I was afraid I would cry.

As a historian, there’s a moment where, when you’re researching someone, it becomes real. They become real. When I researched David Rice Atchison a few years ago, that moment was when I was looking at his diaries on microfilm and there, at the top of one page, in his elegant scrawl, was My daughter Molly has gone away to college today . . . This big man, who had been a Senator, who had led the Border Ruffians against Kansas, who had fought in the Civil War, who had owned slaves, suddenly became real to me in that one sentence. His heartbreak and his pride were clear, even across the distance of more than a hundred years.

So even though I’ve been working with this particular case for 6+ years, there was always a veil between me and these people. I’d been reading about them mostly in the old newspapers, and truthfully, I’d begun to think that it was all made up. A story fabricated – and then syndicated – by someone who needed to make a buck or two.

But then I picked up that last deposition and saw the handwritten notation on the front. “Deposition of Geo. Kimmel, taken at Auburn State Prison, 1908.” That’s the moment, for me, that it became real. That I could finally lay to rest the fears that this was fiction, that I would never find the truth because none of it was true. Kimmel’s the central figure in this incredible story, and whether he really gave that deposition in 1908, or whether it was someone just claiming to be him, is part of what I have to discover.

So in the next two weeks, I get to go back at least twice — I’m guessing three times, so please, little Saturn, make the trip! — and photograph and catalogue the entire thing. Yeah. All three boxes, and 2,500 +/- pages. I don’t know yet what will be important and what won’t.

This story has haunted me for so long. But finally, I’m going to know the truth.

Forgotten . . . But Not Gone

There’s so much here in Kansas and Oklahoma that’s almost gone — and usually forgotten by almost everyone. Wandering around the pastures near my house, driving down random dirt roads, seeking out the remnants of history . . . these are a handful of the images I’ve captured this year.

plymouth dash 2Old Plymouth sedan, in a pasture near my house.

frieze 3Part of a frieze that has broken away from the Ponca City Depot, Ponca City, OK.

bridge 4Abandoned bridge north of Newkirk, OK.

History’s Orphans — those items I can’t let go

I’m a historian. I teach history for three local colleges, and while I started out as a medievalist, and still love that, I’ve gotten much more into American history since I started teaching eight years ago. There’s something about it – we learn one thing in elementary school, mostly propaganda (at least, that’s how it was when I was in elementary school!), and then you don’t learn anything else unless you really start to get into it and study it more.

All the little stories. All the hidden history. All the things you never knew, or took for granted. (For example: did you know that the KKK of the 1920s was far more likely to attack Catholics or bootleggers, than African-Americans? It’s true!)

I also collect historical items – vintage items, to be more precise. Some, I sell through my store on Etsy. But sometimes, I find those things that I can’t quite let go. That 1930s passport. Research for a book. A wood cheese box that I store Post-It notes in. More than a hundred snapshots and World War II letters, left behind. To some, they’d be things to throw away. To me, they’re orphans. Not perfect; sometimes I can’t even put them in my shop because they don’t meet my own standards. But I keep them nonetheless, because I think everything has a story behind it. My shop’s motto is “Finding homes for history.” Sometimes, that home is with me.

For example: I collect vintage dresses. This week, I found a 1920s silk flapper dress at an estate sale. It’s fragile, but beautiful; a golden yellow with purple edging. Flowers dancing down the skirt. This is my third flapper dress. I showed it to a friend, and then I told her about one of my other dresses. One that I know has a story behind it.

I found it in a trash bin at an antiques shop – it was wadded up in a box of stuff to be thrown away. It’s gorgeous: white silk, sleeveless, with a blue and red striped skirt with heavy glass beads, in red and blue, all down it. So heavy, in fact, that the dress can’t be on a hanger; it has to lay flat. But all that would just be interesting if not for the fact that the dress is also covered in blood stains. I definitely understand why the shop decided to toss it – but I couldn’t let that happen. What tragedy did this dress see? What happened on a summer night in the 1920s? Why were the stains never washed out?

So many stories. So much imagination. I’ve no idea. Yes, I know I’m strange; a normal person would not bring that dress home. But I’m not normal. I’m a historian. And more – I’m a writer. This orphaned dress needed a home. I am slowly working on cleaning it, but the fact is, I’m not sure I want to. Every time I touch it, my mind wonders what the girl who wore it was like. What happened to her – or more likely, to the person she held, as there are no holes in the dress itself. Clearly, it was never taken as evidence. Was it an illicit relationship gone wrong? Where did the tragedy take place? And why?

These are the questions that haunt me sometimes, when I pick up objects, as I decide whether or not to bring them home. Photographs do this to me the most – so many times, the photos I collect have no names attached to them. They are strangers to me, but their stories are still there, somehow, in the paper and ink. But then there are those “orphan” items, like the christening gown I picked up at an auction a month or so ago, clearly tossed in a box and forgotten for generations. I intended to put it in the shop, but . . . I spent so much time cleaning it, I fell in love. 🙂

And that’s why I haunt estate sales and rummage sales. It’s true that sometimes, one man’s trash is just another man’s trash. But it’s also true that sometimes, there’s an item that doesn’t belong in the trash. That deserves better. Those are the items – those orphans – that come home with me.

Going . . . and now Gone

History is lost — and found — all the time. Just a few years ago, a Benjamin Franklin letter was discovered, filed in the wrong place, at the British Museum. People find things at rummage sales and thrift shops. Diaries, letters, paintings. vine and window 3

But it’s just as easily lost. And this week, I lost a piece of history that has a lot of meaning to me.

door looking out 1As far as I can tell, this set of buildings once belonged to a stone company that tried to have a quarry where there just wasn’t a place to have one. They were then allowed to fall into ruin — along with the old Plymouth — and they quickly became one of my favorite places to run away to, and photograph. So quiet and peaceful.

When I started writing my young adult novel last fall, I knew that Nicky’s partner in crime needed an out-of-the-way place for his moonshine operation. This set of buildings came immediately to mind. And so whatever else they were in real life, to me, they became Simon’s home and still. A small place, but his. Hidden away. Peaceful. And maybe more importantly for a black man in the 1920s, his. And so this place became inextricably intertwined with my novel, and with Nicky’s story. old house snow 2

I haven’t been able to get out and run as much as normal lately, but when I did get out this week, I saw that I could no longer see the buildings. Or the car. I think they are now gone. I knew it would happen, but . . . something in me died that morning, standing with one foot balanced on the barbed-wire fence, trying to see over the grass and down the hill to the spot where the walls should be visible. Knowing that now, the only place they exist is in my memory and in these photos.

window in snowAnother piece of history lost. Forever.old house snow 4