A Big Muddy Meander With a Beat You Can Dance To

There’s an interview segment in The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s epic film of The Band’s farewell concert, when he asks Levon Helm to talk about how the rural Southland that raised him up shaped American music. Helm, the good old boy Arkansas polymath-singer-drummer extraordinaire, drawls: “That’s kind of the middle of the country, you know, back there…

Riding The Natchez Trace

The Nachez Trace Parkway is a miracle. So is finding it with your phone’s GPS. Since the Trace doesn’t have a route number, Siri sent me to and fro, to this side and that side of Nashville. Finally, after two hours of tracing and retracing interstates to the east, west and south, I got off the highway and asked an old farmer how to get there.

You Can’t Go Home Again (And Why Would You?)

With the exception of Pittsburgh, where inter-generational families cling to each other like refugees in a lifeboat, a preponderance of Americans, particularly the college-educated, eventually leave their hometowns behind. You can find no end of sociological studies (and lamentations) online about the decline of the geographically proximate extended family.

What’s at Stake in the Pennsylvania Special Election

When I moved a bit farther out into Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs just ahead of the 2016 election, a fair number of my new neighbors’ yards sported Trump/Pence signs, with one lonely Clinton/Kaine sign holding down the corner. Eighteen months later, as the special House election between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone looms, campaign signs have sprouted in many more yards and Lamb is definitely leading in my very unscientific sign poll.

Big Data is watching you!

I grew up in a different era than my students, in a time when the adventures described by wanderers like Hemingway or Kerouac still seemed plausible; like, okay, the world has changed quite a bit since then, and there are more channels on television, but leaving the world of what you know and getting lost in the elsewhere is still possible.

Terrorists’ ghastly photo op

The photo op is an example of what historian Daniel Boorstin called a “pseudo-event,” an event that takes place solely for the purpose of being covered by the press. Closely related is the staged photo, supplied by institutions of all stripes to project an idealized and in essence persuasive image via the credible medium of the press.

Walking in Paris…with my father

France has seen many upheavals, defeats and resurrections since its bloody Revolution. World War II was likely the most severe test of its survival and its principles. My father played a role – a small role, a soldier’s role — in restoring to France its freedom and culture, which myself and my students now enjoy and marvel at in our wanderings through Paris.

In Zagreb, we live for today, for tomorrow the cannonball may strike us!

Long ago, the mayor of Zagreb was beside himself because the church bells that signaled noon and dinner rang at wildly different times. So, he installed a cannon high in a tower that overlooks the Old Town. Twice a day it would be fired and then the churches were to all ring their bells at once.