Tis the Season (of da Siccness)

The other day I turned down the opportunity to live out my teenage dream.

The offer came to share a stage with my musical idol, a rapper I held up almost as a holy man, the shaman of my adolescence – Brotha Lynch Hung.


It wasn’t an easy decision. At first I even accepted the offer.  For artists, getting the chance to be associated with those who inspired us is one of the sweetest tasting fruits of our labor.

As a teenage fanboy in 1997, Getting the offer would have felt like I’d just hit the lottery, flown to the sun and touched it, been granted a wish from a magical genie.

But now I’m 35 and have adulting to do.  A son to raise.  A job to keep.  Several long strips of cement to clear whenever it snows.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still wreck the stage on a microphone.  Opening for Blackalicious last year at The Waiting Room (thanks Surreal) was one of the best nights I’ve had as an adult emcee with real life shit to handle the next day.



The issue is not with performing hip hop music in itself, but the content of the music I associate with.

Lynch kills and eats people, including babies, in his music.  Anyone with a chip on their shoulder or a desire to take me down professionally could potentially do so by linking me with that sort of art.

So I turned it down.

Instead, I’ll go to the show and hang out backstage, meet the man, and hand him a copy of my 2006 CD where I shouted him out on a track and defended his legacy.  I also feel the need to revisit Lynch from where I’m at now in life, by writing about him here.


Lynch grew up Kevin Mann in the Meadowview neighborhood of Sacramento California, same neighborhood where Levar Burton and Cornell West hail from.  As an adolescent, Lynch used to encounter another local emcee who would later become Gift of Gab, the lyrical mastermind behind Sacramento hip hop group Blackalicious, pictured above.

Sacramento and Omaha have been connected ever since the Transcontinental railroad, and I was blasting Sac Town hip hop in Omaha not long after it first started making national waves.  I surfed over the rhymes of Gift of Gab and Brotha Lynch, studying them in great detail as their loyal student.

But the two emcees couldn’t have gone in more opposite directions, which accounts for the opposite responses I had at the chance to warm up a crowd for them.

Both emcees are top tier lyricists, but only one makes music that might cause Tipper Gore to have a nervous breakdown.  Gift of Gab became famous for rhyming the alphabet, Brotha Lynch for rhyming about eating nuts and guts and slabs of human meat, motherfucker.

So I have to eat the fact I live in a conservative state where a lot of the white baby boomer gatekeepers of society probably think Run DMC is pretty edgy stuff.  Opening for Lynch wouldn’t be a good look to them.

Even though they probably grew up insisting to their parents The Beatles weren’t actually satanic forces from the pits of hell, this is hardcore rap music we’re talking about, not the British invasion, and Lynch is a rather odd looking Black man from Sacramento talking about cannibalism, not cutesy, mop-headed blokes from Liverpool telling a generation of screaming girls he wanted to hold their hand.

So maybe Paul and Ringo would get a pass for their own dalliance in disturbing baby imagery from the very people who would abhor Lynch’s work.  Hypocrisy abounds.


Far from the shores of the United Kingdom, the mean streets of Sacramento in the 1980s and 1990s were staging grounds for turf wars between rival gangs, including the Garden Blocc Crips, who claim Lynch as one of their own.

Through centuries of trauma and oppression, deindustrialization and waning career opportunities through the 1970s and 1980s, Black people in urban centers faced a bleak world with little hope for improved life conditions.  When crack entered the fray, all hell was unleashed as rival gangs fought each other to death in endless cycles of retaliatory shootings, competing for economic territory.

I’ve always viewed this sort of thing as a microcosm of what governments of nations do, fighting wars  in competition for territory and resources.  The only difference is the scale of the fighting and the fact that when you slap an official national endorsement onto the killing, it becomes legal and even heroic.

Any brief study of what the Reagan administration was doing in Nicaragua in the 80s will show how closely aligned the actions of the federal government were with Crips and Bloods in the drug game.  Substitute Crips and Bloods with capitalists and communists, put the turf warfare on a global stage, and you’ve got the same thing.


The realities of these turf wars run through Lynch’s early music consistently, with frequent references to his set and his familial connections with loved ones within that set, including his mysterious cousin, Q Ball, to whom he dedicated his 1995 classic, Season of da Siccness.

In the skit intro to the brilliant track ‘Liquor Sicc,’ Lynch swigs a 40 ounce while talking to his dead cousin at the grave.  He begs Q Ball to give him guidance, as Lynch feels there is no choice but to retaliate and that if he does, he will likely kill himself afterwards rather than spend his life locked up.

It’s a cinematic moment on an album I listened to thousand of times as a youth, one that gave this white kid in Omaha a glimpse into the side of gang warfare we don’t get from the news – the love gang members have for each other, which is exactly the type of brotherhood those in the armed forces describe feeling for their comrades in arms.  Band of Brothers, Crip style.

At the end of the day, Meadowview Bloods killed Q Ball of Garden Blocc, and the only retaliation came in the form of shots fired into the air by another legendary rapper from the area, C Bo.  Lynch felt confusion and frustration as to why this was the case, but didn’t know if he should escalate and risk losing or ruining his life.

At the end of the song, Lynch sings, more than raps, with almost trance-like calm, repeatedly, “there ain’t no fucking way… My cousins gonna lay up in a casket with no retaliation.” Genuine feelings from someone whose family was just killed, as any soldier who has lost a loved one in combat over foreign oil supplies can attest to.

In 1995, just before the age of the internet, the only image we had of Q Ball was a photo on the bottom of the inside CD sleeve.hqdefault


But it’s possible we also saw Q Ball before and never even knew it.  It’s possible we had seen him threatened with death in our own living rooms, as we snacked on Doritos and sipped on our Crystal Clear Pepsi.

He was on Cops, the TV show.

In the segment, a smallish white woman officer suspects him of something or other and pulls up behind him as he parks in the driveway of a house.  As she searches him, he suddenly busts away, so the camera person takes us on a Chase, Grand Theft Auto style, through residential South Sacramento.

At gunpoint, the officer threatens to shoot him in the head if he doesn’t follow her orders, then calls for backup in order to make the arrest.  She obviously didn’t feel comfortable doing it on her own.  Then she proceeds to barrage him with gaslighting techniques, including telling him to stand up on his own while his hands are cuffed behind his back, and telling him he needs to get into better shape, as she pants incessantly like she’s grasping for her life to catch her breath.

Looking back in the post Trayvon Martin era, this clip is absolutely bonkers.  The man posed no threat, and this officer threatened to shoot him in the head execution style over the positioning of his body on the ground he already lay on, in submission to her deadly weapon.

The shit is ludicrous, yet it played out casually in the homes of millions of American viewers, a further dehumanization of Black men who see no other way to get ahead in life than to hustle and gangbang, the way all the men on their block with money did.  Such was the mood as the war on drugs escalated under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton eras.

It is perhaps worth noting that even with the disturbing power dynamics displayed in the interaction between Q Ball and the officer who threatened to murder him, I think he ultimately played her.  He probably only ran in order to ditch whatever stash he had in his pockets at the moment she pulled up on him.  She missed that part.

By all accounts, Lynch never ended up killing anyone in real life.  The Garden Blocc Crips didn’t mind him throwing their name out even if he strayed away from that life as his music took off.  They viewed it as a win win situation – he stays alive, out of prison, and making music, while they gain worldwide notoriety.

Along with the gangbanging themes in Lynch’s music is an omnipresent ultraviolence, cannibalistic serial killer tales woven as a tapestry though his song narratives.  Lynch holds a mirror to the human species and shows the worst elements of ourselves, as he commits acts of full scale brutality, including the killing and eating of babies.

Before you pass judgement on Mr. Lynch, please remember that infanticide is ordered by God in the Bible.  Lady Macbeth fantasizes about killing her baby in the Scottish play.  Hansel and Gretel is a children’s story all about a woman trying to eat children, who then kill the woman by burning her alive, and it’s *told to children.*FTF-20151023-01

Lynch plays a villain in much the same way an actor plays one.  But because he’s Black and a rapper, society fears that his violent art will cause violence in real life.

Nobody blamed Wagner for the Holocaust, even though his music and anti-Semitic ass was right in the thick of the Nazi movement.

And yet, even a psychologically disturbed man on crystal meth was used as a vessel to blame Brotha Lynch’s music for a 1996 murder suicide:


The article goes on to explain that Gallegos was in the care of local youth minister Bryant, and that he had been hit in the neck by a sniper during hostage negotiations, and pronounced dead a half hour later:


Not Beaver Cleaver indeed.

So where are the news articles with people blaming Shakespeare or the Abrahamic God for murder?  Where are the articles blaming Wagner for the Holocaust?  You won’t find them, because mainstream society is selective in which violent art is deemed a threat and which belongs in the highest echelons of sophisticated human expression.

When Lady Macbeth speaks of smashing baby brains, it’s tragic art.  When Brotha Lynch speaks of the same thing, he’s Charles Manson in the flesh.  It might be said a decapitated head in Shakespeare is art imitating life, but with gangsta rap music, the reverse is said to be the case.   South Chicago violence is caused by Chief Keef, not 500 years of economic oppression.  World War II is caused by the great depression, not Wagnerian opera.

Gustave Moreau Orpheus 1865

So here I am faced with an opportunity to live out something I used to dream of doing and the cold hard reality that rap music isn’t given a fair shake in a society like ours, built on anti-Blackness and narratives about Black male pathology.

As a history teacher, I’m expected to inspire kids to be engaged citizens, and I took great pride in seeing three of my young Black male students perform a diss track they made against President Trump on the most bourgeoisie stage in the city, in front of the mayor no less.  A local newspaper even covered the story, which has put wind into the sails of these boys who don’t necessarily have many sources of moving air steering them forward in life.   Many of my colleagues have expressed their support for that project.

At the same time, I feel the potential for another narrative to rise from my identity as a history teacher who also deals in hip hop.   Imagine one of the boys who performed that Trump diss ended up in a gang.  Or getting caught bringing narcotics or weapons to school.  Or robbing a store.  Or killing someone.

In this scenario, nobody would look to see if he’d been studying Macbeth in English class, or any other literature with violent themes for that matter.  But imagine if I had slipped them a copy of the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Now imagine I’d given them an N.W.A. CD.

A Brotha Lynch CD.

Lynch pushes the boundaries of what rap can be, and therefore what art can be, by exploring the limits of human depravity in shockingly gruesome detail.  But it’s all work of fiction, unlike Trump’s pussy grabbing or Obama’s drone strikes or Clinton’s three strike rule.

Far from being a mere shock factor novelty, Lynch finesses language with the best of them, with intricate wordplay and captivating song narratives.  He surely inspired another technically gifted emcee who went on to bring horrorcore to the masses, under the Ted Bundy guise of a handsome, charismatic white guy.



Of course I would never give my students a copy of anything Lynch ever made, but any association I might have with the man could potentially be used as leverage in a case against me as a teacher.  Because I teach from a Howard Zinnian approach to history, I’m already likely putting targets on my forehead from reactionary forces who listen to Donald Trump Jr. when he tells them public school teachers are losers trying to indoctrinate kids into socialism.


Give them a recording of me teaching students the United States is chock full of racist/imperialist fuckery and they could have it on Breitbart the next day.  I don’t mince words when I teach the history of race and racism.  Because of that, I must be wise in the way I present myself outside of class, especially with hip hop music.

I already erased my SoundCloud after some of my students found it and started spreading it around.  At age 22, I wasn’t writing the most school appropriate lyrics, and I love my job too much to risk anything.

I’ll continue making hip hop music, but I’m too aware of the double standards in society to closely associate myself with horrorcore rap music.  A hundred years ago, it was jazz.  Then Rock and Roll.  Now it’s hip hop music that’s terrorizing our society, and I have to navigate the waters as they come, not as I wish they could be.

In 50 years, rich white folks will be hanging out in art galleries, drinking wine and eating cheese, with Wu Tang playing in the background.

For now, I’ll have to sacrifice one dream in order to continue living another, which is to teach history the right way and plant seeds of critical thinking that hopefully sprout in ways that will benefit society in the future.

I must always be wary of the fact that others might not see these seeds for what they are, and might even view them as poison, and we all know what Socrates was made to do for corrupting the youth of Athens by teaching them the truth.   I seek no hemlock at this stage in life, thank you very much.


Walk Well Through the Fire

Swastika Competency


Swastika Chart

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” is one of the most dangerous, destructive ideas in all of human history.

Words are symbols, as are flags, songs, and gestures. And I’d be willing to bet 99% of the people who still preach the gospel “words can never hurt” are the same folks who get in their feelings over quarterbacks standing or kneeling before the flag or the cross.


Words, images, and gestures can and do hurt people.  All of us.  This fact is so obvious we can hold it to be self evident, an axiomatic truth not worth a second of breath more, and yet somehow we still desperately need to have this discussion as a society:

Everyone can be hurt by symbols.

But since symbols are more subjective than, say, the much more conspicuous and universally recognized pain that comes from a broken bone, it becomes all too easy to scoff at people who tell you which symbols are hurting them when those same symbols don’t hurt you, and this is the sort of problem that can lead to unnecessary human suffering all the way to full on genocide.

Humans need to teach and learn empathy.

People with congenital analgesia, who can’t feel physical pain, can still take it on the advice of others that a flame to the skin feels astonishingly painful.  If we tell them knives stuck into our backs hurt us and cause harm, we can expect them to believe us.


Similarly, we can take other people’s word for it when they tell us things are hurting them, even when those things don’t hurt us the same way.

Even the act of silence, a lack of words, perhaps the most stealthy symbol of all, can be experienced as a jolt of physical pain.  Anyone who has ever been ignored by a person or group of people you wanted to be close to knows the feeling.  Even the most popular people have experienced some sort of social rejection in their lives.

Ostracism, the social kiss of death, is experienced like a kick to the gut at the physical level.  That’s because as hunter gatherers, which homosapiens evolved into over millions of years, ostracism from the tribe meant you literally are being left to die.  In the woods.  Or the tundra.  Or the savanna.  Left to die.  Alone.

That sort of silence can send shocks of real pain through the nervous system – the silent treatment, as we euphemistically say.  This reaction is hardwired into our brains, a vestigial operating system that we can’t shake no matter how hard we try.  As social creatures, even those of us introverts who choose to live solitary lives still experience the need to be invited to the party we didn’t want to go to in the first place.

Silence and ostracism are the stealthiest of painful symbols because it’s not about what’s said, but rather what’s left unsaid, that hurts so badly.


Which leads us to the least stealthy, most notoriously hurtful symbol in modern history – the swastika.  No other symbol seems to wield the same power to invoke negative feelings, ranging from mild discomfort to full on panic attack (or, if you’re a piece of shit, blue balls from a fascistic hard on).

You know what a swastika is and what it means to you, in the space and time you inhabit.  However, being an ancient symbol that existed thousands of years before Heinrich Himmler was a glare in his father’s eyes, its meaning can be subjective, dependant upon who you ask, and when and where you ask them.

If you asked a Boy Scout at the first ever national jamboree, held in 1937 Washington D.C. and attended by FDR himself, what the swastika on his tent meant, he would likely tell you it was an ancient symbol that symbolized well being and good fortune.  He wouldn’t have been wrong, although if you tried to explain the concept of cultural appropriation to him, he likely would have called the cops on you.  The swastika was, after all, official Scout shit.








Imagine seeing that logo slapped onto the packaging of thin mint Girl Scout cookies.

The reason it was used so loosely is because it’s been used in ancient cultures around the world for thousands of years, and the general meaning was universally positive.

In Asia, it was part of several religious traditions dating back to antiquity, including  Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism.  The word itself derives from Sanskrit स्वस्तिक, which translates to ‘conducive to well-being.’





Nobody knows precisely where and when it was originally created, but what is absolutely certain is that it spread across the globe and has been unearthed in archeological sites around the world, including in the Americas.

In the 19th century, white settler colonialists in Ohio plowed over and permanently destroyed one of the most significant archeological sites in North America, the Hopewell Mound near present day Columbus.  They also unearthed copper swastikas under them dating back roughly two thousand years.  The people who created them had vast trade networks all the way down to the Yucatan, where they traded for highly prized obsidian blades.  Further west on the continent, the swastika appeared in Hopi legends and on Navajo rugs.



There are many theories about how the swastika originally came into use, ranging from the ludicrous idea that it represented Atlantis survivors breaking up and spreading to the four corners of the earth, to the much more plausible idea that it represents the sun and four seasons, or Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) circling Polaris (the North Star).

If we traveled to an early Mesopotamian city and asked a Shaman what the swastika means, he would probably tell us something about the stars and the sacred cycles of life, although this is merely educated speculation.


Despite being ubiquitous, the swastika’s meanings and origins seem to have been been largely lost on Western culture for quite some time.

In 1907, popular writer and white supremacist Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel prize for literature.  Having grown up in India, he used the swastika as a sort of branding for all his books.  Surely people saw the symbols, but likely had no idea what they were.


Also in 1907, Mary Ogden Vaughan wrote a piece for the San Francisco Caller titled The ‘Swastika: The Most Widely Diffused Symbol in the World,’ in which she stated:

“In view of the widespread interest shown during the last few years in that oldest of all known symbols, the swastika, it is somewhat astonishing to learn that its very name was so comparatively unknown a little over a decade ago that it did not appear in Webster’s or Worcester’s dictionaries, in the Encyclopedia Britannica or in a dozen other standard works of reference by English and American authors.

Neither was it in works on art, archaeology, mythology, folklore and antiquities, where the student might naturally expect to find allusions to it.

And yet the symbol itself is found wherever the foot of man has trod, throughout the civilized and uncivilized world. Generally speaking, there is no nation and no tribe in the world around which has not made use of the swastika at some period of its history since the recorded beginnings of time–be those records in stone or clay, in base or precious metals, in pigment, papyrus or parchment, woven in tapestries or wrought in basketry.

The swastika is at the same time the oldest and the most widely diffused symbol in the world, and an interest in it once awakened one need never lack a fascinating object of study and pursuit. As a hobby one may ride it to the ends of the earth and back again without exhausting it, and a catalogue of the places visited on the way would be a geography of the earth’s surface.”


Ogden Vaughan’s words read cryptically today, like foreshadowing in a grisly true crime novel.

Near the end of the article, she writes:

“A few years ago I mentioned the swastika to an American dealer in oriental wares–a student and a man of education–and, to my greatest surprise, he confessed that he had never heard the word and did not know the sign. In a few moments I had pointed it out to him on a dozen different articles on his shelves, and thus there was opened to him a new field for research: a field in which he tells me he has since delved with the greatest zest.”

Implied in her framework is the notion that something acted as a catalyst for this new awareness of and appreciation for the swastika.

Enter Heinrich Schliemann, German con man and archeologist who successfully sold himself as the man who had finally uncovered the legendary city Troy, of Homer’s Iliad fame.  Although the guy was a real piece of shit, I’ll refrain from unloading a fuselage of bullets into his character here, for the purpose of brevity.  What’s important is that in 1872 he found what he claimed was Troy, people believed him, and under that top layer of earth in a remote spot in Greece, he found ancient terracotta swastikas.




Schliemann’s Discovery found its way into the hearts and minds of white folks across the globe, giving us an origin story as ancient as the Hindus, the Zoroastrians, and to some, connected to them as well.

Certain European thinkers began linking modern Germany to ancient India, with ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome as the middlemen, and thus was born the concept of an ancient Aryan race.  Because there are linguistic connections between ancient Sanskrit and modern European languages, the swastikas found buried in Greece gave these thinkers a symbolic representation of this connection.  They took it and ran with it.

Proto-Nazis in the 19th century German ‘volkisch movement’ used the swastika in their pagan festivals, which gave way to full blown Nazis in the 20th century, who used the swastika as their calling card, the symbol of all symbols, which to them stood for the very future of humanity and civilization itself.

If you took the boyscout in 1937 Washington D.C. and sat him next to a German Youth that same year, they would disagree about the meaning of the same symbol.  The Nazi boy would argue the swastika symbolizes the great Aryan race, the master race, which stretches through recorded history going back through ancient Rome and Greece, all the way back to the Aryans of ancient India, each group carrying the torch of  civilization itself.

He’d say the Nazis were simply carrying the ancient torch into a new and better future, and if that meant they needed ‘lebensraum’ (living space) in the Studentenland, then who was the little American boy to tell him otherwise?  He was, after all, living on space his white ancestors had taken from Indigenous people at gunpoint.  The entire concept of lebensraum was largely conceived from Hitler’s study of American history.

The American scout would have had little ground on which to stand, morally.





The Nazis put a lot of money and energy into their racist pseudoscience

They sent so-called scientists into the field to study humans beings and separate them into separate racial categories, similar to how we separate species of animals.

When Dr. Eva Justin was working on her thesis for her PHD, she was able to keep some Romani children from being deported while she studied them. She made sure to measure their skulls and their teeth and all that good scientific stuff, and when she was done with her research they were shipped off to Auschwitz where Dr. Mengle had his way with them.

Part of the methodology involved making plaster casts of human heads and teaching ‘racial hygiene’ in schools, precursors with direct links to the horrors of the Holocaust.







The Nazi machine even sent representatives to Tibet on a pseudoscientific expedition to find links to the Aryan race in the mountains.

Tibetexpedition, Empfang für Würdenträger

And of course, they needed more measurements.

Tibetexpediton, Anthropometrische Untersuchungen

If you asked these doctors what the swastika meant to them, they might have said knowledge, efficiency, the glory of career exploits that further our knowledge of the world we inhabit.

These people were true believers, and the same cold, bureaucratic approach they took with their line of work here was amplified exponentially through the millions of Europeans who bought what the fascists were selling, loyal customers of the Nazi brand, whose logo was the swastika.

Nazi popaganda


And we all know how this brand did its business.


If we asked the Nazi company CEO what the swastika symbolized, he would have likely said the same things as the Hitler Youth.  Nationalistic drivel for the media to spit back into the frothing fascist masses.

But in practice, the swastika symbolized Hitler himself wherever he couldn’t be in the Third Reich.  The ubermensch savior of all things holy to the Aryan race, the first heart throb, before Elvis, The Beatles, Justin Bieber, the man who could step onto a stage at any given moment and mesmerize the crowd into rabid, raving superfans, the CEO and rockstar and god of the future of civilization.  Omnipotent.  Omnipresent.





What does the swastika mean to a Jewish person in the year 1900?  In 1940?  In 2020?

What does it mean to a Romani person, or a Slavic person, or an autistic person, or for that matter anyone with any sort of special needs in any of those three years? The symbol presided over mass murder and genocide of not only Jewish people, but any group or individual not approved of by the machine.

We now know Hans Asperger, even as he championed the cause of high functioning autistic people, also signed off on sending more severely autistic people to be exterminated.

The horrors wrought under the swastika escape the confines of language.

How could any of us who didn’t live through it ever understand what it meant to those who did?



Which leads is back to the original point about symbols.

The swastika did not physically jump off the page and commit genocide, any more than a green light physically put pressure on the gas of your Ford Taurus.

But Henry Ford did use symbols to promote anti-Semitism by physically printing copies of his racist newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, during the 1920s.  And he sure did push anti-Semitic conspiracy theories through that paper, which reached almost a million people every issue, because he made Ford dealers sell it and meet quotas for promotion within the company.  And Hitler sure did get inspired by Ford, so much so that he had a picture (read: symbol) of him at his work desk, and ultimately took the assembly line concept and applied it to the goal of genocide.

And the Nazis sure did give him their most prestigious award, the grand cross of the German eagle, and that cross sure is surrounded by swastikas.



None of these symbols literally killed people.

All of them contributed directly to the killing of people.

Charles Manson used his vocal chords to make sounds that other people heard and processed to mean specific ideas, and then they acted on those ideas.  Did he not murder anyone?  Is he not responsible for the murder of anyone?

It has been said there’s no evidence of Hitler ordering the specific murders of anyone, and this will be the first line the neo-Nazi speaks into the ear of the impressionable youths he seeks to recruit.  “Can you show me where he ordered anyone to murder a single Jew?? If you can, I’ll give you my car and my savings account,” or some such bullshit.

And this is precisely where the asshole needs to be chopped down:

If symbols don’t cause human actions, then why are you using them right now to try to get this kid to become a Nazi?

He won’t have an answer, of course.

Which brings us to the final point…

Like all symbols, the swastika means different things to different people, in different places and times.  So what *should* the swastika mean to us, today?

If you’re in Asia today and you see an ancient swastika, it means what it’s meant there for thousand of years. If  you’re in Germany today and you see one, it is likely evidence of a crime.  After the war, the German nation decided the symbol is so powerful that they outlawed it.

During the 1930s and 1940s, various groups in the United States and elsewhere decided to stop making new materials with swastikas on them, out of respect for the millions who were being persecuted and slaughtered.

The Boy and Girl Scouts of America discontinued its use.  Rudyard Kipling stopped printing them on his books – white supremacist though he was, he didn’t stoop to the level of genocidal maniac.

Even the Navajo stopped making blankets with the symbol on it, which they didn’t even call a swastika – they called it a whirling log.


With that said, should Native Americans have censored their art to this degree?

As a white person it’s not my place to say.

I will add that art can be powerful swinging in good and bad directions, and it is possible to use the swastika against itself.


Swastikas made for the purpose of promoting Nazism are immoral to create and use.  Swastikas made for jokes at the expense of anyone other than Nazis and other white supremacists are immoral.  The swastika is not a toy to play with.

Swastikas made during the Nazi era were made and used immorally, but they should not be destroyed.  To the contrary, they ought to be preserved with care, and kept in museums where they can be used as a case study in how low human behavior can go, so we can hopefully avoid a repeat of that history.

We must recognize that words, images, ideas, can and do hurt, even if we don’t experience the pain others tell us they feel from these symbols.  If people don’t want to look at Nazi swastikas, they shouldn’t have to.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a photo of something I have mixed feelings about.  It’s an advertisement in a New York Subway for the television series ‘The Man in the High Castle’ which portrays a United States controlled by fascists in an alternate reality where the Nazis won the war.  The series is decidedly not pro-Nazi.

The advertisement utilizes Nazi iconography but avoids the swastika.

People spoke against it.

It was pulled.

Did this advertisement go too far?  A cheap marketing gimmick to get people talking about the show, at the expense of people who might not feel comfortable surrounded by it?


There are few clear answers with these things.  But hopefully after reading this little piece, you have more symbols about this symbol within your range of vision.

Walk Well Through the Fire

On Walking Well


At the suggestion of some friends, I’m starting a blog.  It will be my first foray into this sort of venture.

The goal here isn’t to flex my grand writing skills or become a prolific star of the blogosphere, but only to share my thoughts with anyone who might find them worthwhile.  So thank you in advance for taking the time from your day to read them.

The overall approach will be to make concise, satisfying historical prose about random topics that I find interesting.  I’ll do my best to cut out all the filler and stick to real shit as much as possible.  And by real shit I mean the bizarre, the ironic, the wicked, the moving, the devastatingly poetic narratives found in the human experience.

People seeking only positive, uplifting content will be disappointed here.

History should be told for the purpose of absolute illumination, and if what we see is hideous and monstrous, then all the better in order to more fully understand, appreciate, and grapple with the realities we inhabit.

In my view, the more discomfort we experience looking at the terrible extremes of the human condition, the better equipped we become for dealing with life as it comes to us. Because the universe is indifferent to our suffering, we must prepare for it to close in on us at any moment.

Trash compactor makes 10-foot “logs”

Analyzing the worst parts of ourselves and our world is painful, sure, but so is lifting weights.  Nobody takes issue with the fact that muscles must break in order to grow back bigger, stronger, better.

Dissecting and analyzing human fuckery in great detail is like heavy weight lifting for the brain, which behaves like a muscle in its own right.  Brains are malleable, so one must break old pathways in order to build newer and better ones, which we can then use as tools for navigating the world around and within us.

All around us is suffering of the most horrendous kind and we expect justice, but there is ultimately only a blank void looking back at us from the cosmos.  How many humans are being trafficked as slaves right now as you read this?  Who or what will save them from their depraved captors?  Who or what will save them from that sort of trauma, even if they do get lucky enough to escape their misery?  That’s merely one example of many we could point to.

To quote the late, great East Coast emcee Guru, “there’s no justice, it’s just us.”


Our universe is indifferent, and yet everything is connected. The gush of oxytocin we get from falling in love is connected to the maggots crawling in the dead carcass of the family pet on the side of the road.  The fart you accidentally blasted next to the girl you crushed on in 7th grade is connected to the supernova explosion that occurred in the Andromeda Galaxy 4 billion years ago (which is expected to collide with the Milky Way 4 billion years from now to merge into a new massive elliptical galaxy), which is all connected to the K-pop group Girl’s Generation, who released their hit song ‘Galaxy Supernova’ on September 18th, 2013, making it damn near impossible for anyone living in Korea at the time to avoid hearing at least a few dozen times.


With that said, the first story I’ll share is an autobiographical one about a fire in Korea. I promise this page will be dedicated to topics other than my own life, but I feel the need to make an introductory post that tells a brief narrative to help define the worldview to come out through future historical posts.


In 2013 my wife Riki and I moved to Seoul, Korea, with our three year old son Mani and our boston terrier, Goya.  We stayed in a small apartment below my brother in law Draper, who had been living in the city for a decade already.  He made the move easier by placing us in the immigrant (or expat if you wanna make it sound like something it’s not) section of the city, an area called Haebangchon.    We used to walk around and get lost in the maze of hilly streets.  It was a fun little adventure for us, and I taught English in the posh area you might have heard of, called Gangnam.


For the first couple months in Seoul we lived with Draper.  After Mani went to sleep, we would watch Game of Thrones together, as the movement and energy of the menacingly vast city buzzed around us.

Looking back, it was a magical time, full of uncertainty and exploration of a new culture, new ideas, and this wild show that blended good and bad, hero and villain, so thoroughly that it felt more authentic to real life than any other series before it, and it was still fantasy.

The show simply blew us away, as it did so many others.


When Facebook advertised a build-your-own GOT sigil, I created one for our family.  The logo I chose featured an elephant, my wife’s favorite animal, and the caption ‘Walk Well Through the Fire,’ which was a paraphrased version of a Charles Bukowski line: “what matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

(The Bukowski line had stuck with me, especially after I became friends with an aging woman who lived in the apartment below us in Long Beach.  She told me war stories about how she and her feminist group had held public debates against him and his misogynistic art, just over the bridge in San Pedro, during the 1970s.  He actually showed up and debated face to face with these women.  She said he was a true asshole.  “A good writer though,” she admitted.  She passed away shortly before we departed to Seoul.)

I made the sigil and used it as my profile picture for a while.


A few months and too many makgeollis later, I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed smoke coming through the bottom of our bedroom door.  Upon opening the door, I bore witness to a raging inferno enveloping our tiny abode, with a pathway towards our son’s room that was closing rapidly.

Because both bedroom doors were closed and the door to the living room was open, the smoke was all filling into an area where there were no humans for it to asphyxiate.  The flip side to this is that it kept our rooms relatively smoke free long enough for the flames to make thorough work of our kitchen and dining room area, and to threaten the only path to the only door leading out of the apartment, which was fortified with cement walls to keep fires inside their apartments of origin.

In other words, the fire was moving quickly.

Adrenaline-boosted and suddenly alert, I woke Riki up and grabbed Mani to get them outside the door.  Knowing I only had time for one shot at it, I darted back inside for the canine companion, holding my breath and squinting my eyes as the smoke fought its way into my pupils.  There were only two places the dog ever slept, and I made my pick.

As my hand made a few sweeps over the top of the dirty laundry pile and felt only cotton, I knew then Goya would die.


The next instinctual move was to ring every doorbell in every apartment on every floor above us to tell them, “FIRE!!!” I’ll never forget their reactions.  Even if they didn’t know the meaning of the English word, they knew the look of terror on my face, and that it was real.

Then we were outside the apartment complex, covered in soot, people surrounding us.  A little girl handed me a pair of unused Detroit Lions flip flops.  Police and firefighters, lights flashing, intense interrogative tones from the officers assigned to this case in this neighborhood known for frequent late night shenanigans from intoxicated foreigners.

The next day, we took our son to the toy store and told him he could have any toy he wanted.  Within seconds he walked over and picked up a big red fire truck.

I asked if he was sure it was the toy he wanted.  His head moved up and down emphatically. The three year old kid we didn’t yet know was autistic picked up on more than we could realize at the time.

As this post shows, we were shaken up but grateful to still have each other.


We spent the next couple months moving around from place to place, sleeping on couches if we had to, and wearing donated clothing.  On September 11th, 11 days after the fire, I took Mani to the imposing yet calm, meditative Korean War Memorial down the street, where we could spend the day relaxing and processing what we were going through.

Creation and destruction, life and death, the fleeting nature of life and brutal indifference of the universe, all sang in my head like cicadas, and Mani looked at me with concern.

Heres’ my post from that day:


The point here is not that my son is some sort of prodigy talent for making art out of day to day life (although he most certainly is).  The layers of meaning in the scene at the war memorial presented themselves at random and Mani simply channeled them, acting as a conduit, while I bore witness.  The beauty is in the connections themselves, and in the fact that humans have the abilities to act as conduits and witnesses to them.  There is something sacred there, even to this atheist.

Also, it’s clear to those who look that creation and destruction are intimately connected.

The Hindus got it right with the Shiva Nataraja who does the cosmic dance of creation and destruction, breathing all things into existence and then snuffing them all out into oblivion, over and over again.  Almost like inhaling and exhaling all creation repeatedly for all time.

Isn’t it true the universe is expanding?  Will it then contract in a ‘big crunch,’ until all matter is less than a fraction of the tip of a needle again, before another big bang exhales all of it back out again?  Is that what Shiva’s dance looks like on the macro scale?


Only time will tell, but by then the earth will be long gone.  The sun’s outer envelope will expand, scorching the earth to the point where our planet will turn into a giant lava ocean, with continents of metals and icebergs of refractory materials floating around.  Then our little planet will either be swallowed by the sun as it expands into a red giant or shot off into outer space after the sun collapses into itself as a white dwarf.

While all of this might sound violent, it’s important to note that violence is a human construct.  The universe has no need for such petty terms.  What is violent and terrifying and catastrophic to us is routine to the timeless expanse surrounding us.

The universe doesn’t even bother to glance up from its quiet reading of the book of time, no matter how loud we scream at it to stop what it’s doing.  It reads on, expressionless, turning pages mechanically, beautifully, with the calm of a glass Canadian lake and the force of a billion atom bombs.


So with the destruction of our apartment, and along with it our dreams of hopping around Asia together as a young family, came the creation of a new life in Omaha, Nebraska, where Riki and I had both grown up.  Apparently after a near death experience, one instinct people might feel is to just… go home.

The serendipitous part of the whole thing is that only after we came back to the States did we get Mani tested and found out he’s on the autism spectrum.  So a massive city like Seoul would have never been ideal for him, and hopping around Asia isn’t exactly what parents of autistic kids should go for anyways.  They need routine.

While Mani was definitely affected by the loss of his best friend Goya and the couple months we spent living from place to place out of our suitcases (we counted eight separate places we lived in two months time), we are here now.  Roots down.  Stable.  Safe.  Mani is thriving.

Out of the ashes, rising as the Phoenix from the flame, Mani creates new from the destruction of the old.

He has walked well through the fire.


Since arriving back in Omaha I’ve started teaching U.S. and World History for a living. While nobody is required to hold ‘official’ credentials to write about things they want to write about, I’ll add that I’m trained academically in history, sociology, critical theory, and education.

I also spit rhymes sometimes, but there will be time for that at a later date.

I’m starting this blog at the suggestion of friends who insist they enjoy the brief historical narratives I post on social media, so I might as well put these out there for anyone to see if they so desire.  Thanks again for taking the time to read what I have to share.

I’ll end here with one last photo.  Only a few of my belongings survived the fire, including my college degrees, an authentic Minnesota Timberwolves Kevin Garnett jersey (it still smells like smoke), a box of cds from back in my hardcore emceeing days, and the book my brother in law loaned me upon our arrival in Seoul all these years ago now.

The Book of Time is the Book of Change, and the book of Change is the Book of Time.


Walk Well Through the Fire