Monday, December 6, 2010

A Fishy Love Story, Part 2

Aircraft Charter Service flight from Oregon to Alaska in 1937: $50

Making your boyfriend’s day: Priceless

This continues the story from Part 1 about the Great Depression Era lovebirds R.W.M. (most likely Ralph Marlyn), working in Southeast Alaska, and Marjorie “Midge” Miller, vacationing Hood River, Oregon. Unlike Ralph’s first letter that has four handwritten sides of paper, his second has two one-sided typed pages on new business stationary. It was dated July 18, 1937, stamped by the Ketchikan post office at 2 PM the following day, and mailed to Route 3, Hood River, Oregon. Ralph’s greeting might have been a private joke, another mystery needing to be solved:

Dearest, darling Midge, & G.O.T. Jury

After updating her on his father (a nail two inches into his foot!) and the weather (raining and windy), Ralph apologizes for not carrying out her orders regarding cherries she sent for friends in a timely manner. He talks about being lonesome for her, continuing with the kind of teasing sentiment found in the first letter, but it’s possible that he was just plain bored, feeling trapped on the island.

A week before, Ralph had expressed remorse about not being able to explore and go mountain climbing as friends had done, but he finally got a break from the cannery. This letter mentions fishing on “Ward’s Lake creek” (most likely Wards Lake, Ketchikan) with someone named Dick Borch, during which he successfully caught “at least a dozen steelheads [rainbow trout] and had the thrill of my fishing career.”

There are two little hints about the economic climate before the storm: The purpose of Ralph’s typed letter on business paper was to show off his logo designs for “The Marlyn Fish Company, Inc.” and the “Berg Packing Company.” J.E. Berg was manager of Ralph’s father’s company, which had branches in Tacoma, Washington and Petersburg, Juneau, and Sitka, Alaska. As the United States heads into the 1937 Recession, Ralph believes that his father is optimistic about future business, evident by him printing enough stationary “to last us a dozen years.”

Sensing a lost opportunity to make money, Ralph regrets not purchasing a boat that spring:

[M]y share of the boats [sic] earnings would by now have been about half the cost of the boat, and the chances of earning a lot through the cannery season are considerable.

As we shall see later from Ralph’s letters, making such a purchase in expectation of a good salmon season would’ve been disastrous. These love letters hold a bit of cultural and economic information that I hope may prove to be valuable to historical researchers someday.

A Picture’s Worth

Awhile back, I visited The Annenberg Space for Photography. Its current exhibit, Extreme Exposure, had just opened, and I’d driven a little out of my way to take a look at five photographers’ work captured during their routine, but wild, adventures.

Although born out of pain, I found Clyde Butcher’s work to be romantic, probably because black-and-white prints and bulky equipment will always raise a touch of nostalgia. His pictures were absolutely breathtaking, especially when viewed in the large-screened theater. There’s a stillness that almost seems out of place since nature is supposed to be active. The effect was like that of a landscape oil or watercolor painting and a bit eerie.

Michael Nichols and Paul Nicklen are two National Geographic photographers who capture a lot of wildlife in action. The outcomes of their daring adventures were amazing and even humorous at times, but also extremely preachy. Reading one caption after another about endangered animal populations or climate change, I sensed that these photographers, including Butcher to a lesser extent, felt an apparent need to justify doing what they loved. They weren’t artists for art’s sake but activists who’d found a successful medium for advertisement. It’s sad because this tended to cheapen their prints, making them appear no different from any random lower-quality animal shot combined with the same automated conservation message.

Finally, there were volcanic eruptions captured by the globe-trotting couple Stephen and Donna O’Meara, founders of Volcano Watch International. Their portion of the exhibit included photographs of the recent Eyjafjallajökull eruption and volcano-exploring equipment. The color palates captured in many of their shots were beautiful. Who knew that smoke, molten lava, and ash could come in such a variety of colors?

The common theme uniting these photographers was their willingness to “push the limits,” so to speak, to get amazing shots. Learning the stories behind their work made me realize how accustomed I am to seeing “extreme” photography. Having seen the Space’s exhibit, I hope the next time I view such pictures I’ll appreciate the hard work and risk taking that went behind the camera lens.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Parmesan-Bacon-Spinach Salad

Yesterday, my littlest sister and I conducted an archaeological excavation of the darkest depths of my parents’ pantry and discovered a long-forgotten bottle of Greek Mama’s Parmesan Dipping Oil. Although I’m thinking it would work really well for pasta, it looked like a good way to quickly spruce up a simple salad. So, for lunch today, I divided a bag of organic spinach leaves and crumbed some cooked bacon on top before drizzling the oil as a dressing on top. Since the cheese really wasn’t visible, the taste was a bit surprising for a few family members, but it worked pretty well overall.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Elizabeth Esther's December Saturday Evening Blog Post

This evening I decided to participate in fellow Californian Elizabeth Esther’s blog list for The Saturday Evening Blog Post. Please take a moment to check out the others.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I decided to commemorate 4:59 AM on Thursday, December 2, 2010 with the story of my life. But how to organize it? Guess dictatorial regimes will work.

The Royal House of Carter
Location: Los Angeles County. This was not even two months of my life. Even I can’t remember it.

The Royal House of Reagan
Location: Los Angeles County and Orange County. Life was easy – except for learning how to read. And dealing with bullying racist – black, white, and Hispanic – kids. But most of the time I was popular, smart, and pretty. Life was good. As long as I wasn’t caught with Mom’s nail polish. I was going to be a mommy. I have no clue what happened to my preschool crush J.J.

The Royal House of Bush I
Location: Orange County. I broke my arm and had all the pre-teen girl experiences, like slumber parties and going bra shopping. Cooking without Mom’s chaperoning became the norm. I was going to be an author, singer, actress, teacher, princess, and world-famous adventurer. Boys were out of the equation. I wasn’t sure why God even made them. They can’t even get pregnant.

The Royal House of Clinton
Location: Orange County. I was twelve. I’m glad I’ll never be that age again. I also learned how to drive, and my parents have lived to tell about it. I mastered anti-social-ness like a true homeschooler. Reading was pretty much the only thing I ever did. Schoolwork was easy. Piano was easy. So I complained about being bored constantly. I was going to be an astronomer or interior designer. Boys were immature…especially those in my college classes.

The Royal House of Bush II
Location: Orange County, Riverside County, and Los Angeles County. I took up a second instrument. I got two masters degrees. I got my second case of the chicken pox. I lost my second grandparent. I had two beachside summer jobs. And I had two experiences with out-of-state snow (Minnesota and Washington, DC). I didn’t want to be anything when I grew up. I was using graduate school to avoid the real world. I fell in love twice, and had my heart broken twice. Men were jerks.

The Royal House of Obama
Location: Orange County. I advanced to candidacy. I hope to graduate…eventually. When I grow up, I want to be a blogger. My most recent date talked about retirement. No, I’m not seeing him again.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christian Carnival II – December 1, 2010

Time for the Christian Carnival II Blog Carnival again. Thanks to everyone who contributed and waited patiently for my Pacific Time Zone posting. Here is this week’s blog list in a not-so-randomly generated order:

“There's No God? How Boring!”
Atheists might think the Intelligent Design movement is a big snore, but conversantlife argues the opposite.

“Guitar Playing as Guitar Praying”
String Love Guitar Lessons gives a lesson on making learning the guitar a religious experience.

“Do You Prefer Wealth or Appearances?”
Free Money Finance talks about flaunting money you don’t have.

“The Worries of This World: A Call to Prayer”
Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength encourages us to give our concerns to God.

“Jesus the Bread of Life”
INSPIKS discusses God’s provision through manna from heaven and Jesus from heaven.

“God Wrestles with Our Strengths”
The Disciple’s Journal talks about relying on our own strength versus surrendering to God. Interesting post, although I’m not sure what sort of example Jacob is since he won.

“No Strings Attached”
W2W Soul discusses how easy it is to be suspicious of others’ intentions rather than gratefully receive from them.

“On This Day in Christian History”
Beyond Belief reviews Robert J. Morgan’s On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs and Heroes.

Ridge’s Blog talks about pursuing our goals, even the big ones.

“Surviving Rough Relationship Issues”
The Art of Creative Relationship encourages readers to work through problems. I really liked this statement: “Human beings are complex, and when you put two human beings together, you get exponential complexity.”

“Worried About Money? The Bible Says…”
Christian Personal Finance discusses the negative side of stress.

“Men and Temptations”
Who Me Be A Leader? talks about the responsibility to be self-disciplined.

“Who Else Wants a Comfortable Place of Worship for their Family and Special Needs Child?”
Help! S-O-S for Parents lists resource links to help families have a better worship experience.

“Will We Have Blood on Our Hands?”
Other Food: Daily Devos reminds us of our responsibility to unbelievers around us.

“Basic Knowledge for the Educated”
The Chisholm Source talks about the problems explaining evolutionary processes through genetic mutations. I’m puzzled as to the point of the title and final sentence since they would incorrectly imply that the “educated” are all on one side of the debate over Darwinism.

“Nothing but the truth...”
Angela talks about... our relationship with God through prose and pictures.

“No Child Left Behind?”
Thinking in Christ compares state-mandated drugging of children with “sorcery” discussed in the Bible.

“Do You Know How To Receive Gifts?”
Personal Finance By The Book discusses being willing to accept from God and others. Reading it brought to mind Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages since receiving gifts isn’t really one of mine.

“To Treat One Another As Humans”
Thinking Christian responds to critics over gay rights.

“Moral Difficulties in the Bible: The Concessionary Morality Response”Lastly, head over to mike austin’s blog to read more on the discussion about genocide in the Old Testament.

Hwyl fawr.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Emperor’s New Movie

When drafting my WWII Political Leaders Opinion Survey, I thought a lot about Hirohito, Emperor Shōwa of Japan. Unlike the rest of the list, he stayed in power well into my childhood. However, his personality cult never really got developed here in the States, so many of us American kids don’t even think about him personally when it comes to remembering World War II history. Maybe the Japanese were viewed as a collective enemy with a faceless leader. Or maybe the ACLU’s presence made the press fearful about turning him into a caricature. At any rate, more and more voices are now speaking about Hirohito’s legacy, his crimes against humanity.

If I had to choose the best documentary ever made, I’m sure that Nanking (site, imdb, netflix) would make it to the final round. Many reviewers use “disturbing” for art as a positive accolade, which I generally find disturbing. However, it’s probably the best word available in this case. Based on Iris Chang’s whistle-blowing book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, this film made me wonder how these events could’ve remained silenced for so long.

Recently, there’s appeared another film about Japanese involvement in World War II. Independent filmmaker Akiko Izumitani decided to research the war on Chinese civilians and other little-known incidences for her documentary Silent Shame (site, imdb). She even managed to get some veterans to share their stories, something that probably took an immense amount of courage on their part since they risked shaming their families and comrades. When one mentioned that his mother had told him that the emperor was God, I decided my history textbook wasn’t completely lacking in information. The dictator's assumed divinity was about all its authors thought was worth mentioning.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reality Hits Hard…Like a Rock

There’s a serious risk of contracting AIDS via blood transfusions. That’s the message of the independent film Silent Shame (site, imdb), a bilingual drama about pointing fingers. The husband, a closet homosexual who hits the bars at night instead of going home, puts his wife at risk of disease. The wife, emotionally married to a high school sweetheart, attracts suspicion about the real parentage of her son and, perhaps also, the disease. Although the movie is about innocent suffering, there’s seems to be a stronger underlying message: Cultural and religious pressures to conform – at least within the Roman Catholic Hispanic community – make for disaster as young people struggle to meet their parents’ expectations.

I didn’t like the movie (an understatement), but there was a strong element with which I could identify. Virginia, the movie’s protagonist, starts out as an “everything but” kind of virgin, intent on doing everything in the “correct” order. Her parents directly tie her marriage prospects to her virginity. Her refusal to sleep with a boyfriend who does want her results in him cheating on her to satisfy his sexual cravings. She then ends up with a new boyfriend who doesn’t pressure her for sex, not because he’s virtuous or respects her, but because she’s just a cover for his big secret. When her world begins to fall apart after she’s diagnosed with AIDS, she asks a pointed question (my paraphrase): What was the point of saving herself for marriage if life doesn’t go as her parents promised?

Well, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that things rarely go as planned. To what extent that’s the planner’s or planners’ fault varies. However, it should be no surprise when resentment surfaces from those whose lives have been prearranged and rearranged to fit the expectations of others. As James 4:13-15 teaches, we can’t predict the future, so we should be aware that expected benefits might very well never materialize. There’s no simple equation that says that a certain set of inputs (e.g., owning a small business, staying out of debt, not dating, not having sex before marriage) will guarantee a desired result (e.g., having financial success, having a godly marriage).

Unfortunately, there are many people who like to pretend, even in the face of obviously conflicting evidence. Those who dare voice opinion that the real world has a lot of variables unaccounted for are dismissed as pessimists, cop-outs, or worse. Early on, those who try preparing for Plan B are told they’re wasting their time. Later on, those who want to bail are told that they’re sabotaging themselves and that everything hoped for will happen “in God’s time.” It’s like the Great Depression. It is a great depression because that’s often how many of the faithful end up – depressed.

I’m generally an optimistic person. (That’s why I don’t think that Muslims will take over the world or that nuclear warfare is eminent.) However, part of my optimism rests on my belief that people are good at inventing practical solutions to problems at hand. Blind optimism is the sort that leads people to continuously insist to young women that their dreams will come true. Good optimism, in contrast, acknowledges real-life disappointments and encourages an ever-evolving process of updating new dreams in light of the latest information. When things don’t go as planned, it’s time to admit that there were flaws in the plan and move on. The quicker it’s done, the more time there is to put Plan B into action.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Marketing Jesus

Recently, someone in an old, beaten-up sedan committed an appalling number of traffic sins in about one minute: he cut me off, crawled along at a snail’s pace, weaved back and forth between lanes, and then (once I’d thought I was rid of him) suddenly swerved back in front of me once he realized he was in a turn-only lane. As I’d predicted as my eyes traveled down to his license plate, he was a foreigner; hence, I’m obligated to conclude that he was lost or can’t drive. But what caught my attention were the big words “In God We Trust” that he must have paid the State of Indiana a pretty sum for.

Every day, I see cars with Christianese bumper-stickers and license plate frames that the drivers found witty. When those drivers are rude or not alert, it’s disheartening if not offensive. But in this case, I was puzzled. Here was Indiana’s DMV making money by marketing Jesus to Christian customers. Yes, it’s our country’s official motto. However, who would buy that vanity plate but an enthusiastic believer? I really doubt that Indianan atheists drive around with them.

Christians are a huge consumer market, and many businesses cater to them. But seeing a government agency do the same rubbed me the wrong way. They took advantage of a loophole in their “separation of church and state” doctrine to target Christians with a product that worked on at least one. The Christian driver probably thought he was witnessing for Christ. Instead, he looked like a victim of a mass marketing scheme.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Homeschooler as Academic

Rarely do I hear about homeschool graduates tackling Ph.D. programs. In thirty years, I believe I’ve only had personal contact with eight candidates (or at least eight who were out of the closet), and I’m sure I’ve only heard of about a dozen at most. So when the online magazine Generation Impact reviewed Bright Against the Storm I was rather surprised to read that its author Ari Heinze was an astronomy professor. His dissertation research involved using adaptive optics imaging to test the accuracy of statistical predictions of the masses and orbits of planets lying beyond our solar system.* What distinguishes Heinze from most is that he’s successfully completed his graduate studies and continuing to work in academia. I know of only one other, a recent Ph.D. also with a visiting faculty position, who’s managed to get that far.** A flood might occur only after the larger homeschooling generations finish college.

For some reason, academia is often perceived as being anti-homeschooler, but my experiences with professors were actually positive. You see: If there’s anything university faculty despise it’s the public school system. They complain about state standards. They complain about unqualified teachers feeding students inaccurate information. And they complain about students spending too much time in Advanced Placement courses, learning college-level material, when they should be mastering basic reading, writing, and mathematics.

In some ways, college is a great equalizer. Professors generally don’t care whether or not you attended private, public, or charter school. They don’t want to hear about your high school GPA, your AP exams, or your SAT scores. It’s irrelevant whether or not you attended a community college or were homeschooled. What essentially matters is whether or not you do the work. Everything else only matters when they’re looking for an excuse as to why you’re not performing well in class.

The stereotyped homeschooler is the creative independent thinker. What better fit for Ph.D. candidacy is there? Sure homeschoolers have a lot of traits that repel them from graduate programs – procrastination, ideological conflicts with core curricula, the desire to live a normal life – but so does the rest of the world. It would be nice to see more homeschoolers climbing the academic ladder and making significant contributions to their disciplines. I suspect that the social impact would be much greater than what the modern homeschooling movement has achieved so far.

*This is my rough interpretation based on the abstract and introduction. The author was not available for comment.
**He’s one who’d immediately burst out of the closet, but for social reasons has been banging on the door begging to be let back in for years now. That’s why I’m not commenting on his research here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Jonah Syndrome

If someone asked me to name the worst Christian doomsday prophets and naysayers, Gary North would be at the top of my list. He riled up people during the 1980s, preaching about how Reaganomics would destroy America, and then he went into retirement (only to come out again like so many others) because his crazy economic models predicted that 2000 would be the end of the world (the postmillennialism’s definition, of course). I was reminded of all this because someone brought the recent rants of David Bahnsen son-of-Greg to my attention. Following in the footsteps of North, Bahnsen seems to want to see California go to hell in a hand basket.

I've dubbed this the “Jonah Syndrome.” Primary symptoms include praying for immediate divine judgment on one’s enemies and not planning to do anything productive in society until God puts the right people in charge. I believe there’s an important lesson to be learned from Jeremiah 29:4-9 (ESV):

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.”

Notice a few things: The people of Jerusalem were told to be productive in the Babylonian society and pray for its prosperity. Their place and time put them in an unsatisfying situation, but they were told to make the best of it. What great advice to Christians today! We should be living productive lives, not sitting around complaining. We should be trying to improve our communities as a whole and the lives of those around us, not wish for their economic downfall, let alone their eternal damnation. Whatever happened to “Love your neighbor?”

Is California hopeless? No, but Christians should realize that their old plans of action aren’t working and need to be replaced. It only seems hopeless because pessimistic Christians love self-fulfilling prophecies and are actively trying to destroy this state.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The First Big Question

Thanks to everyone who has participated in my Men and Makeovers Survey – Part 1 so far. Here’s the first of a few questions received from men:

“What do girls think of a guy who wears a pink shirt on occasion?”

If you think you have an answer, please submit it to Men and Makeovers Survey – Part 2. Contributions from both sexes are welcome.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Thousand and One Nights of Economics

After a few months of preparation, I’ve finally moved forward with The Economics of Arabian Nights blog. The plan is to post one commentary every week. Hopefully, there will be some good response from my students and others who read it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Politics: Entertainment for the Rich

I feel like writing about politics now that the election is past.

Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Damon Dunn had one important thing in common: They didn’t care about our political system. People who care register to vote and vote…not register in time to run for office. People who care look for positions that fit their experience level and qualifications and plan to work their way up later…not sign up to run for the highest positions in the land now. These candidates for governor, US senator, and secretary of the state didn’t care about our political system. They were just bored millionaires who didn’t mind wasting millions of dollars and the present value of whatever expected benefits California Republicans had on their latest form of entertainment.

The sad truth is that primaries have become popularity contests. That’s why Arnold “Do Nothing” Schwarzenegger won the recall election. He was popular. Although non-Californians might not understand this, George Murphy and his son Ronald Reagan won their campaigns because they actually had experience that, in the public’s eye, transferred well to the offices they sought. Note that Murphy’s adopted daughter, Shirley Temple Black, didn’t win her primary. Many people didn’t think she qualified. Politics was taken seriously even when movie stars were involved.

This time around, we didn’t have celebrities, so corporate leaders filled in. After a presidential election centered around the inexperience of Barak Obama and Sarah Palin, Whitman, Fiorina, and Dunn made their own laughable bids...probably just for the thrill. And more than the election was lost.

This shouldn’t happen to any political party, much less to a major party with millions of members. Too bad no one thought to restrict it. I wouldn’t recommend anything of this sort for a small party like the American Independent Party or the Libertarian Party, and it might be pointless since we have new primary legislation. However, it makes sense for a major party like the Republican Party to prevent this from happening again.

How? By instituting a rule about who gets to run under the party name and steal support away from other party candidates. The Citizens Redistricting Commission had an interesting requirement for selection: political participation. An applicant had to have the same political party affiliation for the previous five consecutive years. He or she also had to have voted in the previous three major elections (meaning presidential and gubernatorial). This requirement makes a lot of sense. Why hand over so much power to someone as your party representative when that person is completely irrelevant to the political process?

I hope something is done to prevent the unqualified and politically-detached from throwing another election. If the rich need their thrills, they should take a clue from Paris Hilton and start their own reality television shows. They’re more likely to make a positive impression on society.

Religion in Art

Sometimes religion and morality in art can be inspiring. It’s like another testimony, and one that’s accessible to even the illiterate. However, other times the images can be stomach-churning and ruin morale. The Norton Simon Museum, like other art museums, has collections filled with artwork depicting biblical, mythological, and historical scenes, conveying various the spiritual and moral lessons. Below I discuss two that left me with quite a different impression that the ones I suspect the artists wanted viewers to have.

Resurrection (c. 1455) by Dieric Bouts

Every time I look at this painting or its photograph, I see something new: The use of color to relate Jesus to the heavenly being and to the mortals. The placement of Christ’s head with a halo resembling sunlight peaking over the horizon. One thing I’d like to know more about is whether or not the guards are supposed to be representing different cultures. Their uniforms are very different although united by color, and their beard and hairstyles also seem to indicate different fashions. It’s a very creatively constructed piece.

However, what does it convey from a religious perspective? I’ve heard comments about this painting being “powerful” and about Jesus’ commanding presence, but I don’t see any of that. The only thing that comes to mind is Craig Hazen’s lecture for the Defending the Faith series sponsored by BIOLA University’s Christian Apologetics Program. While discussing alternative theories for Jesus sightings after His death, he describes a hypothetical situation in which Jesus straggles to meet His disciples after waking from a swoon. As Hazen points out, Jesus would’ve been in such terrible shape from the torture and crucifixion that no one would’ve interpreted Him still being alive as a glorious resurrection.

Well, unfortunately, Bouts’ painting to me looks really depressing. Although Hollywood is often accused of “sexing up” history, I still think that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has the most accurate resurrection scene: Jesus looks healthy and determined to tackle His next task. Bouts’ Christ looks like He ought to lie back down again until His normal color returns.

The Triumph of Virtue and Nobility Over Ignorance (c. 1740-1750) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

This ceiling canvas made me laugh. The haughty look on the face of Virtue brought to mind how easy it is for many Christians to become proud of their virginity, celibacy, refusal to date, or whatever and to never let the sinners of the world forget it. (I know because I was a repeat offender.) Rather than the sweet piety of the Virgin Marys or the carefree innocence of the Dianas found in hundreds of other artworks, this is a depiction of Virtue at her worst. Although Ignorance herself is cast down from heaven, she has made a lasting impression on another who continues to reside there.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Retracing Footsteps

Opening today at the mission was Lewis & Clark Expedition Across America. This children’s exhibit focuses on the explorers’ experience: befriending American Indians, tracking wild animals, and enduring a transcontinental journey. I can imaging school kids next week playing with the period costumes and teepee, building with Lincoln Logs, smelling the plants, and being grossed out by the animal remains…although the prairie dog pelt was kind of cute. There’s even a “Wheel of Misery” (or at least that’s what I think it’s called) that told me I survived falling from a bluff. Nasty!

Two of my sisters and I spent this afternoon checking out the new addition and amusing ourselves with the Thomas Jefferson quotations. (Being voting season, anything said by a politician gets responded to by a smirk!) For adults, the California Exhibition Resources Alliance has sponsored Lewis and Clark Revisited: A Trail in Modern Day. Photographer Greg MacGregor retraced the path forged by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s expedition. He documents not untouched nature but modern reality, yet his black and white pictures still convey a wild and historical feel. If you take a look at the photos online or in his book, Lewis and Clark Revisited: A Photographer's Trail, you’ll see what I mean. Mission San Juan Capistrano’s a small organization not really known for hosting major traveling museum exhibits, but this photo one was a good choice.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Of Men and Makeovers

About a week ago, I attended “Fit to Flatter,” this month’s free styling event hosted by Style 2020, a fashion consultation firm here in Orange County. What first impressed me was that this was not just some hour-long sales pitch. The stylists were actually interested in educating the guests on how to improve their look. But what I really appreciated was that the first half of the presentation was entirely devoted to men, arguably an underserviced demographic when it comes to teaching about appropriate dress. Too bad the male sex only made up probably 1% of the audience.

Most women will agree that most men need serious help in the fashion department. Most men, I think also agree. But unfortunately very little gets done about it. It’s not that men never ask for advice. I’ve been called upon by friends numerous times to make suggestions, but rarely have I seen a significant effort made to follow through on any of them. Men will admit they have problems, but then refuse to do anything about it. Looking good is a low priority.

There are a number of reasons for this. Men have been indoctrinated with the false notion that looks don’t matter to women. They realize they could use a makeover, but they don’t think of it as a necessity. Whether in the dating market or the job market, men expect to be valued by everything but that related to dress and grooming. Then they’re hurt and offended when they’re judged by their appearances. No, nice clothes and a fit body aren’t mere proxies for money and power. Women like good-looking men. So do employers and clients. It’s a well-proven fact.

I remember once having an otherwise good-looking student who seemed to be unsuccessful hitting on the girls in the class. I really wanted to inform him that his standard wear – disheveled and unwashed hair, tank-top-like undershirts with armpit and chest hair peaking out, worn flip-flops, and too-thin swim trunks – was probably a major turnoff. But he apparently put more trust in his smarts and winning personality. Hopefully, a job search has changed things. (It did for me!) But I know many more like him. You, dear reader, probably do too.

Unfortunately, some men just aren’t motivated to change even when they recognize much can be gained by the process. It’s more fun to criticize women’s dress: too immodest, too old-fashioned, too frumpy, too revealing, too whatever. All the while, men ignore the logs in their own eyes. Case in point: A friend of mine has been very supportive of people creating new books, magazines, and websites devoted to beauty and fashion for Christian women. However, when I once suggested creating a resource for Christian men (soon after Men’s Vogue met its tragic end), he shot that idea down in a flash. Why? He didn’t think it was needed! Hello? I can spend a whole day in LA without spotting a guy wearing a shirt or suit jacket that actually fits well. Yet men think women need another magazine to tell them what to wear?

Many women are low class when it comes to fashion, but it’s the men who are below the poverty level. Who really should get the charity? Many Christian and secular resources are out there telling women “what men want.” Men probably live in fear of retaliation. We don’t see the Harris boys doing a Modesty Survey about what guys wear that disgusts and embarrasses girls! Would giving up sagging pants and “bicep seams”* really be too much of a sacrifice? Maybe it’s true that men can “dish it out” when it comes to criticizing women’s figures and swimsuits but can’t “take it” themselves?

I sincerely believe that, despite the lack of resources, men can learn to dress appropriately. Admit that baggy clothes don’t hide thin frames or belly fat. As one Style 2020 consultant pointed out, clothes are supposed to touch your body. And we need to strike “metrosexual” from the English language. It’s become a catch-all negative label for “anything I don’t usually wear.” And, by all means, men should take solicited advice seriously. It wasn’t provided for them to pick and choose what sounds like the least amount of work.

Now, there are a few brave souls who ask for advice, but they usually doubt its validity and usefulness. Men seem to require at least two female witnesses before accepting that showing off their backsides is disgusting. I’m not saying that all women are fashion geniuses. (After all, I was the one attending a style event!) But there needs to be more resources offering help to men, especially Christian men.

So here’s my idea: the Men and Makeovers Survey – Part I. Women, this is your opportunity to provide your Christian brothers with constructive criticism about men’s fashion, grooming, and modesty (or lack of it). And men can participate too, by submitting questions that women can answer in Part II. The survey’s anonymous on both ends, so there’s no reason to not to participate. Mean comments will be edited. I expect that few men will participate or read the results, but at least there will be a platform for discussion. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts and sharing them in the future.

*That was a Style 2020 consultant’s term for the shoulder seam on a shirt that’s definitely too large for the wearer!

Christians: Artistic and Entertaining

The 7th Annual Evening of Arts & Entertainment certainly offered a unique experience. I first heard about Arts & Entertainment Ministries back in the summer of 2006 when Joel Pelsue spoke at one of David Bahnsen’s Southern California Center for Christian Studies conferences here in Orange County. But as schedules go, I didn’t have a chance to attend the organization’s annual event until this year, meaning earlier this month. It was definitely a lot smaller and more intimate than I expected. But it was nice to have the opportunity to leisurely browse the gallery art and actually have conversations with many of the featured artists.

When it comes to art, many Christians focus on how Scripture inspired them. William Butler, Jennifer Kimbrough, and Glen LaMar were three such artists, using paint to convey poetic messages about God’s power and care for His people. Think of soothing lines and abstract work.

By the exit, however, was a very different approach. Kevin Rolly showed highly controversial paintings on not-so-pleasant Bible stories such as Jephthah’s sacrifice and Judah’s affair with his daughter-in-law. He spoke about the importance of depicting evil in art and offering something relevant to the suffering world around us. Although his pieces aren’t what most middle-class Americans would envision in their livingrooms, I felt that they were the most powerful ones exhibited in the gallery.

Last was Kengsen Chong, a Malaysian preacher who enjoys incorporating ancient Chinese characters into his paintings that add very subtle theological meaning. His work might be thought of as “Sir Edward Elgar meets Pablo Picasso.” Although restricted by the Muslim government, this artist apparently has managed to touch his community through his work and arts programs.

For the performance part of the evening, the sanctuary of Vineyard Christian Fellowship-West turned into a theater. First up was Yolanda Tolentino, singing two numbers from her musical Spirals, Boxes, and Clocks with the AEM House Band. I hope the musical eventually gets performed; I’d like to know the story behind “Back to Holding” and “Still Sadness.”

Another vocalist, Kelda, sang “Puzzling” and “I Hear You Now” from her Free album. She had a sweet voice, so I really enjoyed listening to her. In contrast, hiphop artist Jahmal Holland (aka “One Truth”) showed the music video Cannot Close My Eyes, telling a story about the plight of teens (but I wasn’t sure about what exactly). His “He Brings Change,” in my opinion a better song, was performed live along with a shorter work where he rapped about men taking responsibility (from what I could make out). (Next time I’ll have to bring along a baby sister or brother to translate!)

The evening wouldn’t have been complete without spoken word. Kristin Weber, a homeschool graduate who opens for Christian comedians, talked about moving to Los Angeles and informed the audience that she, age 26, was actually 90 in single-homeschool-girl years. (Guess that makes me a centenarian!) Later, poet Aaron Belz read excerpts from Lovely, Raspberry, adding more laughter to the night’s program.

Two films made the cut: The documentary In a Still Small Voice (site) by Steven Holloway featured interviews of Christian artists talking about their work and what being an artist meant to them. Closing the program was Jeffrey Travis’ animated film Flatland (site, imdb). It’s been more than ten years since I’ve read E.A. Abbott’s “romance,” but I remembered enough details to both appreciate and dislike Travis’ modern retelling. I was pleased that the overall point of the story remained intact.

Far cry from a church talent show, this event showcased professionals and their serious work. Not all of it was “Christian” in the sense we might generally use the term, but it was “Christian” in the sense that Christians were doing what they loved and glorifying God in the process. AEM is a small organization, so the evening wasn’t exactly a smooth run. Patrons had a disadvantage since seating was dividing into three categories: reserved for artists and performers, reserved for volunteers, and saved-two-hours-before-curtain-by-family-and-friends. However, I’d still encourage everyone in the Southland to try to make a future show if possible. You probably won’t like everything featured – I sure didn’t! – but it’s worth one trip to see what’s going on with Christians in the secular world of arts and entertainment.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trail-Mix Ice Cream

Awhile back, I wrote out this recipe for a contest, which needless to say I didn’t win, probably because it wasn’t original enough. I’ve never requested this from Cold Stone Creamery, but it’s very similar to the way they create their strange mixes. At any rate, here is the revised version without exact measurements (how I do most of my cooking) for your consumption, it you care to try it.

Scoop a desired amount of pre-softened vanilla ice cream on to a pre-frozen piece of stoneware. Thoroughly mix in whatever amounts of Milk Chocolate M&Ms Chocolate Candies, raisins, roasted unsalted peanuts, and roasted unsalted almonds that look appetizing to you. Then let the ice cream refreeze in a mixing bowl for a few minutes. After dishing it out evenly into serving-size bowls, drizzle some chocolate syrup and caramel sauce on top. Then let me know what you think of it.

The Marriage Market

Early last week, I was teaching my students about the unemployment rate and suddenly it hit me just how similar the marriage market is to the labor market. So here are some redefined terms not found in any legitimate textbook that you can use to impress (or depress) your friends at your next singles party:

Adult Civilian Population: Economists usually define this as those age 16 and older. We know better. Parents may pretend that their daughters are too young to start dating, but girls as young as three start practicing their man-hunting techniques.

Out of the Labor Force: These are women who, when pressed, will say they don’t want a relationship right now. They’re officially not in the marriage market. They cite careers, education, and lifelong singlehood as the reasons. But we know most fit the bill of the “discouraged single,” corresponding to the economist’s “discouraged worker,” who’s given up looking because “There just aren’t any men available.”

In the Labor Force: These are the employed (women who have men) and the unemployed (those willing to fess up about wanting them).

Employed: These are the attached (steady girlfriends) and married (wives) living in relationship bliss. Well, maybe not. Some economists theorize that there exists the “underemployed,” who have unfulfilling jobs with bad hours, poor working conditions, lousy pay, and irritable bosses. So we suspect that the “under-attached” also exist. Even though they appear to be out of the marriage market, they continue to give the unattached a lot of competition because they’re always on the lookout for a chance to move up.

Unemployed: These are the unattached (never married, widowed, and divorced) singles looking for Mr. Right. They spend millions on improving their human capital. (The beauty industry owe a lot to them.) They spend more time with matchmaking services than at their college career centers. They put more effort into constructing online dating profiles than they do revising their resumes. And many leave the marriage market still single, fed up with it all.

Homework Assignment:
  1. Calculate the unemployment (unattachment) rate.
  2. Some economists argue that singles are single because they refuse to underbid their competition (offer more for less) or settle for a less-desirable mate. Others argue that society owes single women husbands commensurate with what they believe they can offer in a marriage. Which view do you prefer?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Duke..Mussolini, not John Wayne

Over the past few months, while soliciting participants for my WWII Political Leaders Opinion Survey, I’ve been blogging about times when my path through life has inadvertently crossed these guys. I suddenly realized that not only did I know very little about Il Duce Benito Mussolini of Italy; but unlike Churchill, Hitler, Roosevelt, and Stalin, his legacy has been pretty much zilch. My life has virtually been untouched by this man. I decided some movie-watching was in order. So far I’ve watched one: Vincere (site, imdb).*

This historical drama is about Ida Dalser and her fight against the man she worshipped who literally took her for a ride. She spends the rest of her life fighting back and loses. It’s dark. It’s sad. It’s depressing. And if I were cold-hearted I’d ask, “Why does she bother?” But hormones definitely can do that to women. That was what the NWNW movement was all about. Some men are perfectly happy to take a woman’s virginity and money and run, leaving her with a kid and a difficult legal situation. At least from what I’ve been able to find, Ida Dalser was actually able to get a marriage out of him (unlike what the movie portrays). However, that didn’t do her any good when her husband was Number One Fascist and eager to avoid a bigamy charge. (Where’s the Italian Inquisition when you need it?)

Now the details: The acting was fairly convincing, even if the leading actor looked nothing like the real deal. I also really liked the use of historical footage and silent film interspersed throughout the movie. But did I enjoy the movie? Sort of. It’s not American “family friendly” by any means, so I’m not recommending it. But for me, it painted a more personal view of the dictator’s life than I’d gotten from any history textbook. He was Number One Cad.

*Netflix has this film on instant viewing, but not the documentaries. Shows you where their priorities lie.

The Search for the African Christian Tradition

A few weeks back I finished reading Thomas Oden’s How African Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity. The author claims to be presenting a case for an ancient African Christianity to encourage the growing African Christian population. Just by reading that last sentence, you’ve probably spotted the problem, as I did somewhere near the beginning of the first chapter. What does he mean by “African”?

Ancient North Africa produced many theologians (e.g., Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian), church traditions (Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox), and Christians of many different ethnicities (Berber/Numidian, Coptic/Egyptian, Ethiopian, Nubian, etc.). It’s a no-brainer that Christians today of any heritage should be studying the contributions and lives (especially the martyrdoms) of this region. However, Oden, playing with terminology, argues that this heritage is of particular importance to what might be called black Africa, the “Negro,” “Niger-Congo,” or “Sub-Saharan African” world. To him racial divide and social isolation don’t matter, but the modern scientific definition of “continental plate” does. Any “Africa” is “Africa” in his book, but he remains as unconvincing as if he were telling Queen Elizabeth to study her Basque heritage. Even discussing the need to translate the ancient writings into completely unrelated languages (e.g., Zulu and Swahili) should tell Oden that something’s amiss. The chronology provided in the back of the book is another clue: No members of the Niger-Congo family to be found, and I looked really, really hard.

Oden has a legitimate concern about the future of African Christianity. Islam is promoted falsely as an indigenous language compared to Christianity, which has been cast as the religion of conquest. Everything from legitimate historical research to silly works of fiction like Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family reiterate a Muslim legacy. An old Christian tradition has been a source of comfort for the persecuted Assyrians and Coptics, but unfortunately not everyone has the ability to draw from such a long history. However, Christianity is about tearing down walls between nations. We can take comfort from the lives of people who shared our faith and yet were of a different background, culture, ethnicity, language group, race, or social class.

What I admire are Oden’s aspirations for reviving the works of ancient “African” Christians. Sub-Saharan Africans should be able to read Augustine and Origen in their own languages just as we now have English translations widely available. I’m looking forward to seeing what The Center for Early African Christianity accomplishes over the next decades in that regard. However, we just can’t expect children in Botswana to connect with these teachings any more than children in China. It’s equally their Christian heritage. (And likely equally boring.)

Also, Oden is focusing on the past to the detriment of the present. It’s not as if there is no local Christian tradition from which Sub-Saharan Africans can draw. There’s at least two centuries if not more of converts, cultural transition, schools, and churches to discuss. Read anything written by the old Anglican bishops. Listen to the Nigerian composers of both high church and gospel music. Keep up with the controversies in Kenya and Uganda over homosexuality. And I’m speaking to the Americans here. We should be promoting the Sub-Saharan African Christian tradition that really exists instead of telling our brothers and sisters in Christ to confirm their identity in the ancient Mediterranean world. We don’t like it when the historical revisionists claim Socrates was “black.” We don’t need to be doing the same for the Early Church Fathers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Campaign, intr. v. To avoid work

This morning my mother was trying to reschedule her flight lesson. Why? Because Mr. President was at USC, campaigning for Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer. So LAX, the Republican movie stars,* and all the little puddle-jumper runways in the Southland were shut down for his arrival. Now, it’s not as if I think Senator Boxer shouldn’t have her celebrity endorsements. After all, the Hewlett-Packard lady Carly Fiorina has the McCain-Palin vote. But on a general level, it bothers me that campaigning has become the number one item in every politician’s job description.

Instead of doing important things like learning how to appropriately greet foreign dignitaries, President Barack Obama is in the worst part of LA trying to convince college students not to do what they do best: avoid the voting booths. At the same time we have Congressional representatives running around saying “Vote for me again!” after proving how incompetent they are by leaving Washington before passing a budget. Really, normal people would be fired for not showing up for work. Why not them?

*For non-Southern Californian readers: I mean the John Wayne (Orange County) and Bob Hope (Burbank) airports.

Blame the Woman

Flashback to Sunday School. The Bible lesson is straight forward. There’s a story with “good guys” and “bad guys.” Afterwards, there’s a verse to help us remember the good deeds the “good guys” did and encourage us to do likewise. Simple. Too simple. When are we ready for the heavy stuff (1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3)?

Recently, I read Max Lucado’s Outlive Your Life, a sixteen-point study of The Book of Acts, motivating Christians to live a more active faith. Although the lessons provided much food for thought, the author’s reliance on stories – his, his acquaintances’, and Bible characters’ – was more than a little disturbing. Of course, I spent much of my early teens listening to Bill Gothard creating a whole theology around personal testimonies, so perhaps I’m oversensitive to this approach. However, we can’t construct sound orthopraxy out of people’s behavior. Lucado doesn’t provide biblical support for the action he advocates, and it’s not as if it doesn’t exist. Even if most of his readers are “baby Christians,” I still think he could’ve provided more meat for consumption.

There’s an additional problem with the storytelling approach. Lucado, like many authors, reverts to modern retellings for emphasis. I’m of the opinion that this is an effective technique. Often the biblical culture is so far removed from ours today that the severity of a situation goes completely unnoticed. In addition, a lesson’s general applicability is missed if Christians don’t immediately recognize a modern analogous situation.

That said, modern retellings can be dangerous. It’s so easy for a misleading interpretation to creep up, especially when the author believes that it’s okay to sacrifice little details for the sake of a gripping story. Take Lucado’s version of Acts 5:1-11. Luke is obviously stressing the fact that Sapphira knew what her husband did just to rest assure the reader that she indeed deserved death too. But Lucado decides to make it her idea (p. 89). Instead of the moral of the story being “Don’t lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:9), he has inadvertently turned it into “You shouldn’t have listened to your wife,” a lesson for a different time and place (Genesis 3:17). Some might say he’s just being creative, but I think preachers least of all people should appeal to artistic license.

*This book was provided for review by BookSneeze.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Great Healer or God?

My church has been recently doing a study on the life of Jesus Christ. A few weeks ago, the text was on some healings early in His ministry, recorded in Luke 5:12-26. Confronted by a paralytic, Jesus responds by declaring that the man’s sins are forgiven (v.20). Immediately the religious leaders denounce Him as a blasphemer since God is the only one with the power to forgive sins (v.21). Before healing the man, Jesus replies to His critics, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (v. 23). Although the claim to forgive sins is greater than the claim to heal the suffering, He seems to have made a good point: that someone’s ability or inability to forgive sins is not easily proven or refuted whereas the powers to heal are more so. In short, it is easier to falsely claim to be God than to actually substantiate that claim with miracles. Yet, as Jesus’ opponents knew, the former false claim would be a serious affront to our Heavenly Father, hence their reaction in this story.

Thinking more about this made me realize how often attention is paid to those whose claims are like the ability to heal rather than like the claim of being a deity. For example, many Christians are eager to dismiss faith healers and modern-day miracle workers as quacks. Those charlatans, especially if they were on television decades ago, are a favorite conversation topic, especially among those who regret being duped once. Yet, what is the claim of God-given healing powers compared to the claim to being God? The likes of Marjoe Gortner* are more likely to come up in conversation than the Shakers’ Ann Lee, the NOI’s Wallace Fard, or members of “I’m a goddess” movements. It’s almost as if Christians ignore false claims of divinity, despite the vast numbers who are often led astray. Are we just not taking them seriously? Or is it just more fun to speculate the one-hundred-and-one ways a mega-church preacher might be faking miracles?

*By the way, language and adult subjects notwithstanding, I really enjoyed watching Marjoe, a documentary available on Netflix that was recommended awhile ago by a friend.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

We’re All Americans Now!

This was the last term paper I ever wrote. I enjoyed writing it, although I never got the impression that my professor was impressed. Last week, World War I came up in my lecture quite unexpectedly, when an off-the-cuff example popped into my head, and earlier today I was brainstorming ideas for a spring term course on America’s diversity. So, with a few edits and reorganization, here’s my perspective of wartime popular music. The selections were chosen from among my sheet music collection.

We’re All Americans Now!
Ethnic Unity in American Popular Song during the Great War

Intro and Vamp

During the Great War, Americanism was in, and “hyphenated Americanism” was out. People of various minority races and ethnic groups were pressured to give up overseas ties and pledge sole allegiance to American. However, many individuals found ways to show their loyalty to the United States while still expressing hints of minority identity. This essay analyzes the lyrics of popular songs that indicate this.


World War I sprung out of a broader era of nativism, racism, Jim Crow segregation, and newly established anti-immigration legislation. Racial and ethnic groups were struggling to complete in the white society for an improved existence while still maintaining their cultural identity.1 With the United States’ entry into the war, these groups suddenly found their loyalty questioned precisely because of foreign or at least different affiliations.

The most popular statement made against “ethnicity” at the time was former President Theodore Roosevelt’s words addressed to the Knights of Columbus, a “fraternal benefit society” for Roman Catholic men,2 in 1915: “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism…[A] hyphenated American is not an American at all…Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance…” Roosevelt condemned sentiment for European countries of origin as the cause of America’s inevitable “ruin” if “hyphenization” were permitted to continue.3

Anti-war, anti-assimilation, and pro-German song, although popular early in the war, soon came under direct attack.4 A new pro-war song tradition took form, promoting the unification of Americans against the German enemy.5 Propaganda of all types were seen as key to military success and convincing – even intimidating – a populace into support.6 Sheet music, heard and sung by citizens, became a part of this campaign.

As is shown below, one aspect of this musical tradition promoted unification among racial and ethnic groups in terms of particular group culture. In other words, in the midst of nativist scares, popular wartime lyrics often took an approach of “cultural pluralism” to unification.7 Rather than erasing heritage and identity in a “melting pot,” those elements became interwoven into the framework for promoting an unassimilated Americanism. The people were called to identify with America’s mission through their own racial and ethnic heritages.

The main assumption here is that the lyrics can reveal something fundamental about popular music. Simon Frith critiques the old style academic analysis that placed too much emphasis on literary content.8 He argues this on two points: First, “[s]ongs…are not mostly general statements of sociological or psychological truth…[as they are]…examples of personal rhetoric.”9 Rather that confronting this argument, it would do well to just accept it. The musical examples discussed here could be viewed easily as individual rather than community responses to wartime. Individuals were concerned about proving their loyalty to the United States, and individuals composed and performed songs. However, that would not diminish the fact that they do recognize a grand social truth: accusations of treason were a genuine fear at that time.

Second, Frith argues, it is a mistake to assume that “the ‘content’ (or ‘meaning’) of songs as revealed by the analyst is the same as their content (or meaning) for other listeners.” He argues that “[t]here is…no firm empirical evidence that song words determine or form listeners‟ beliefs and values.”10 Surely, it is possible for analysts to credit the lyrics with greater influence over the consumers than what it really possessed. However, the argument here is not about whether or not these songs successfully promoted these messages of racial and ethnic unification but about how they seemed to have done so. It would be advantageous to do an analysis of how listeners responded to Great War musical propaganda; however, that is beyond the scope of this essay.11

Here I examine of the role of popular song in American popular culture during the “Great War.” Using a small sample of sheet music, I analyze each song’s content and discuss what it reflects about American identity at that time. Central to the discussion are perceptions of American unity against hostile European powers that cross racial, ethnic, and religious boundaries. Secondary sources are used to discuss general theories about identity in popular culture, conceptions of ethnicity during the height of immigration leading up to the war, and conceptions of American culture.


At the time of the Great War, the United States population was divided by regional, racial, ethnic, and religious ties.12 The call for a unified America created what Glenn Watkins calls an “imagined idea of nationhood,” where these categories blurred to accommodate an all-encompassing pro-war rhetoric.13 Historical regional tensions had pitted North against South, East against West, and urban against rural. A successful fight against European tyranny required citizens to put an end to these divisions. “Good-Bye My Girl” is an example of the call for unification:

Our country’s call has rung out too all,
‘Tis no time to loaf or lag.
We’ve a foe to face,
Each must take his place,
As we rally ‘round the flag.
From the east and west,
We will march a-breast,
From the south and from the north,
Our battle cry Is “Win or Die”
As we go marching forth.14

This was also the message of “Where It’s Peach-Jam Makin‟ Time,” a song about “Yankee”15 comrades from Maine, the West, and the South talking about their homes.16 Although the Civil War had created a persistent riff between Northerner and Southerners, the experience of the Spanish-American War and the Great War provided a common enemy to divert attention.17 Songs such as “Forward, March! Mississippi Volunteers”18 and “The Dixie Volunteers,”19 praising the sons of “Dixie,” encouraged soldiers to fight as Americans but also as Southerners, proud of their heritage. The line “It’s a Long, Long Way to Dixie” was followed by “and the good old U.S.A.,” broadening the context of missing home.20

Particularly, “When the Boys from Dixie Eat the Melon on the Rhine” makes for an interesting study.21 Its text praises the expected victory of Southern Americans in Europe, making connections to their perceived ante-bellum heritage. What is also interesting is the cover, featuring black children eating giant watermelons. It raises questions about just who are the “boys” who will do the eating when the war is over. Although an argument could be made for the glorification of whites in the song, it could also be in part mocking the Germans, making the implication that poor little black boys will share in the victory over them.22

The “Afro-American” or “Negro” community, as did many immigrant groups, had become the target of military intelligence operations, seeking to uncover anti-American sentiment. In response, and also in hopes of gaining more respect and privileges in the white American society, many blacks joined the call to arms against Germany.23 Songs such as “When the Good Lord Makes a Record of a Hero’s Deed, He Draws No Color Line” also drew on perceptions of historical and spiritual heritage to invoke a sense of duty:

Your Granddad did his duty in the Civil war
He fell by his master’s side.
Your daddy bravely did his bit at San Juan Hill,
You know that’s where he died.
So I know that you will do your duty too,
And remember, son of mine,
When the good Lord makes a record of a hero’s deed,
He draws no color line.24

Foreigners, of course, were primary suspects of disloyalty, due to their threatening alliance with European countries. When Russian-born Irving Berlin and two cowriters quickly joined the budding the pro-war movement, they wrote a song a la Roosevelt called “Let’s All Be Americans Now”25:

It’s up to you!
What will you do?
England or France may have your sympathy,
Or Germany, But you’ll agree
That, now is the time,
To fall in line,
You swore that you would so be true to your vow,
Let’s all be Americans now.26

In this chorus, as in Roosevelt’s speech, loyalties even to allied countries were a perceived threat. However, that does not imply that non-mainstream ethnic and religious identities were excluded from participating.27

Roman Catholicism, a prime target for nativist sentiments, runs ramped in pro-war song, often as a reassuring balm to sooth wounded soldiers. Two extremely popular songs from that era, “A Soldier’s Rosary”28 and “There’s an Angel Missing from Heaven (She’ll Be Found Somewhere Over There),”29 create a universalistic representation of the Rosary.

Jewish identity is not very evident. However, it is noteworthy to mention that many of the writers, such as the famed Irving Berlin, were Jewish and promoted unification through music, hence some ethnic participation. One slight clue of ethnic promotion, however, is in the extremely popular song “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?).” The use of the Jewish name “Reuben,” although it might be meaningless, does hint at the Jewish community’s contribution to the war.30

Not to be left out of the discussion are the American Indians. Songs actually written by members of this group were not available for this study. However, the mention of them in popular songs for white audiences does indicate an assumption on the part of the creators that Indians should play a part in the war against Germany. “Indianola,” arguably a racist portrayal of these people, promotes the idea that traditional Indian terror, once aimed at whites, should be redirected towards the Kaiser.31 In contrast, the lighthearted “Green River” appeals to “rich-man, poor-man, beggar-man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief” to support Prohibition as an anti-German campaign.32 Even as an object of ridicule and the supreme image of non-assimilation, the American Indian is portrayed as a participant in this amalgamation.33


The racial and ethnic unification was short-lived, if it could be said to have ever truly existed at all. The post-war years of 1919 and 1920 brought numerous race riots, as friction between blacks and whites increased. Nativist sentiment culminated with the successful passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, establishing quotas to restrict the arrival of undesired Eastern and Southern Europeans. However, in a sense, the musical propaganda of the Great War was not created to bring to an end conflicts that arose in the previous century. Its goal was to foster a united front for the war effort, and for that reason alone it might be labeled a success.

End Notes

1 See Eleanor Alexander, “The Courtship Season: Love Race, and Elite African American Women at the Turn of the Twentieth Century” OAH Magazine of History 18, no. 4 (July 2004): 17-19; Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks & What That Says About Race in America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002); Iris Chang, The Chinese in America: A Narrative History (New York: Penguin Books, 2003); Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno, eds. Are Italians White? How Race is Made in America (New York: Routledge, 2003); and Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1996).
Knights of Columbus, accessed June 13, 2008.
3 Theodore Roosevelt,
Address to the Knights of Columbus in New York City (October 12, 1915), accessed June 12, 2008.
4 Glenn Watkins, Proof through the Night: Music and the Great War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 245-251.
5 Watkins, 251-255.
6 Regina M. Sweeney, Singing Our Way to Victory (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 2-4. There exists additional literature on home-front pessimism and military moral not consulted at this time.
7 Of course, this idea would not hold for all Great War song, but it is the argument for the small sample discussed here. Horace Kallen initially promoted this concept of “cultural pluralism.” See Josh Kun, Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 41-47, and David R. Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York: Basic Books, 2006).
8 Simon Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 159.
9 Frith, 163.
10 Frith, 164.
11 Further research might delve into sales and performance records and other sources of information that would indicate popularity. Frith’s discussion about “ideas” (lyrical content) versus “expression” (performance style) is also beyond this essay, but also would be relevant.
12 Political division is obvious and not of interest here. See Watkins for a discussion of conflicting anti-war and pro-war sentiments.
13 Watkins, 282. This idea is similar to the concept of “imagined communities,” in which members create a national identity through identifying as a group. See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, New Edition (New York: Verso, 2006).
14 “Good-Bye My Girl,” words by Captain Paul Allister, music by Margarey McKinney (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1918).
15 Note the universal application of an originally limited identity.
16 “Where It’s Peach-Jam Makin’ Time,” by Kendis & Brockman and Nat Vincent (New York: Kendis-Brockman Music Co. Inc., 1918).
17 Watkins, 283.
18 “Forward, March! Mississippi Volunteers,” words by Robert Levenson, music by George L. Cobb (Boston: Walter Jacobs, 1917).
“The Dixie Volunteers,” by Edgar Leslie and Harry Ruby (New York: Waterson, Berlin, & Snyder Co., 1917).
20 “It’s a Long, Long way to Dixie,” words by Tell Taylor, music by Earl K. Smith (Chicago: Music Pub. Inc., 1917).
21 “When the Boys from Dixie Eat the Melon on the Rhine,” words by Alfred Bryan, music by Ernest Breuer, (New York: Maurice Richmond Music Co. Inc., 1918).
22 That seems to be reading too much into the purpose of the artwork, but mockery is a fundamental element of musical propaganda.
23 Wray R. Johnson, “Black American Radicalism and the First World War: The Secret Files of the Military Intelligence Division,” Armed Forces and Society 26, no. 1 (1990): 27-56.
24 “When the Good Lord Makes a Record of a Hero’s Deed, He Draws No Color Line,” words by Val Trainor, music by Harry De Costa (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1918).
25 Watkins, 251.
“Let’s All Be Americans Now,” by Irving Berlin, Edgar Leslie, and Geo. W. Meyer (New York: Waterson, Berlin, & Snyder Co., 1917).
27 Of those easily available for analysis in this essay, Irish-American popular songs, although there were plenty in existence in this time period, did not deal directly with the issue of war. So, unfortunately, they, as a subgroup, had to be left out of the present discussion.
28 “A Soldier’s Rosary,” lyric by J. E. Dempsey, music by Joseph A. Burke (New York: A. J. Stasny Music Co., 1918).
29 “There’s an Angel Missing from Heaven (She’ll Be Found Somewhere Over There),” lyric by Paul B. Armstrong, music by Robert Speroy (New York: Frank K. Root & Co., 1918).
30 “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?),” words by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young, music by Walter Donaldson (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1919). Further research might lend itself to better examples.
“Indianola,” English lyric by Frank H. Warren, French lyric by C. Hélène Barker, music by S. R. Henry and D. Onivas (New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co., 1918).
32 “Green River,” words by Eddie Cantor, music by Van and Schenck, arranged by Jean Walz (Chicago: Schoenhofen Co., 1920).
33 In the most optimistic sense, this could be interpreted as an early attempt at “cultural interaction.” See Peter La Chapelle, Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics, County Music, and Migration to Southern California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 44.