Matching blue suits: failing the test of presidential leadership.

clintonwarrenbluesuits

Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, Cincinnati, Ohio, June 27, 2016.

Commentators everywhere were amazed by the fact that Hillary Clinton and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wore similar shades of blue at a campaign event last week in Cincinnati.  (Actually, I’d say Clinton’s suit was periwinkle, and it’s obvious that Warren is wearing only a blue jacket, not a suit.)

Nevertheless, we should consider the role of fashion choices in this election season.  After all, the choices our candidates make now are an indication of the looks we’ll have to see for the next four to eight years after the election.  My expertise in American history, women’s history, and the history of clothing makes me the perfect analyst of this important political question, It’s my patriotic duty this glorious Independence Day to share with you the results of my years of long study and reflection, plus 5 minutes of using Google images to look up photos of the presidents and vice-presidents of the last 5 administrations.

Prepare to be amazed, friends, by the results: Continue reading

No, I’m quite sure you have the wrong number: technology and boundaries

Pull up a chair and have a cuppa joe with me, willya?

Pull up a chair and have a cuppa joe with me, willya?

I’ve been up since the wee hours thinking about both communication and technology in our modern world, and how and in what contexts we encounter strangers.  I seem to get more calls from people who have the wrong number than I get from people who want to reach me, specifically.  It’s getting exhausting, especially this morning as I’ll explain below.

One of the first, and most terrifying, text messages I ever got was more than a decade ago when I first got a mobile phone. It was just a photograph–but some kind of awful bondage porn! (Thank goodness it was just a flip phone with a 1.5 square inch screen, so I couldn’t see all the details. Bleh!)

When I’d get friendly, innocuous texts from people clearly trying to make plans with a friend, I used to text them back and let them know that they had the wrong number.  Weirdly, some would try to argue with me:  “It’s Chelsea!!!”  Sorry, but I’m not expecting any visitors–I’m a college professor with a family.  But eventually the wrong numbers got so numerous I stopped arguing.

lotus

NOT my car.

Recently, I’ve been getting even more and crazier text messages: “Hey, it’s Rick! Sorry for the late notice, but are you free for poker tonight?” Or “Is the 2005 yellow Lotus still available?” (After a few of these, I figured out that this is a car. I got a lot of voicemails about the yellow Lotus, too. I am the last person in the world ever to buy or drive a yellow Lotus!  Lord.) I used to get long text messages that alluded to recent family illnesses and sadness–he seemed to be making care arrangements for someone.  I think these were from a man whose daughter we knew when she was in preschool. I finally texted him (anonymously) and suggested that he probably had the wrong number.

Early this morning, the wrong numbers took a turn from the virtual into real life.  I was awakened about 3:30 a.m. by the distinctive sound of someone trying to open my locked front door.  This is a sound I’m very familiar with–my kid never remembers to take her key with her, and because I spent the 1990s living in big cities, I am a habitual door-locker even in the daytime, even in the green country town in which we live.  It’s one thing to hear that sound in daylight while I’m working away in the office next to the front door, which is usually followed rapidly with pounding on the door and a “Mom, let me in!”  It’s quite another to hear that sound in the dead of night. Continue reading

“I am an investigative journalist, please take me seriously.”

We love your brave and adventurous journalism, Suki Kim!

We love your brave and adventurous journalism, Suki Kim!

Click away from this blog immediately and go read Suki Kim’s angry and disturbing article “The Reluctant Memoirist” about the marketing and reception of her book Without You There Is No Us:  My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite.  It’s a fascinating exploration about the intersection of journalism, marketing, race, and sex.

Some of you may remember hearing about her book, which recounts her daring and adventurous mission to penetrate and report on North Korea by working as an ESL teacher at an evangelical Christian university that catered to the DPRK’s elite young men.   In her article for The New Republic, where she serves as a contributing editor, she recounts the potential danger she faced in the service of reporting on the world’s most locked-down and closed off dictatorship, or “virtual prison state,” as Kim calls it: Continue reading

“Pocahontas”: an insult, or an inspiring diplomat and politician?

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

I’ve been meaning to write for weeks about Donald Trump’s nickname for Elizabeth Warren.  As a historian who has written a few books that include some Algonquian (Eastern woodlands Indian) history, and a lot of women’s history, it’s been on my mind.

But first, a little background:  last month, Trump started calling her Pocahontas, intending to smear her for once checking a box on an employment form claiming Native American ancestry:  Continue reading

Brexit for dinner tonight in the U.S.

UPDATED below

EU-flagHere in the U.S. the slowness and lateness of the results of the British exit vote on the European Union, or “Brexit,” is crazy-making. It’s 8 p.m. Mountain time in the U.S.–doesn’t that make it 2024 already in Greenwich Mean Time?  How do you people in Britain take this molasses-like pace of election returns?  (If that were on the ballot, I’d definitely recommend a revolution.  Or at least several strong mugs of flip while you wait.)

I didn’t have strong opinions about the Brexit, although leaving the E.U. seemed like an astonishingly stupid idea from a U.S. perspective:  “Go ahead:  pull out of the E.U.!  There’s always Ireland when we need to move our European bases of operation to another English-speaking country .”  Also:  “Get used to standing in the slow line when you’re traveling in Europe, with the rest of us who don’t have E.U. passports.”

But then all of the pro-exit voters and leaders I’ve heard and seen interviewed in the U.S. media sounded like Donald Trump, plus the fact that both David Cameron and John Oliver have been urging a NO vote on this Brexit business.  I heard an interview on NPR yesterday in which a British retiree in Spain said he hoped that the U.K. would vote NO on the Brexit today, but admitted that if he were back home, he’d probably vote to leave the E.U.  Why? Continue reading

The Great Silence: apologies, and my return to blogging.

Ursuline chapel and convent, Quebec City, 2015

Ursuline chapel and convent, Quebec City, 2015

I know I’ve been very quiet lately.  I’ve been traveling for nearly three weeks, mostly tending to family affairs and doing a little research along the way.  I’ve also had the chance to spend valuable time in conversation with friends in Michigan and New England, a rare pleasure all the more precious because of current events, which utterly bristle with hostility and violence now.  I feel very sheltered and cared for by all of you, in comparison to so much of the rest of the world.

Although I’ve blogged extensively about the peculiar ferocity and gendered nature of gun violence in the United States over the past 8-1/2 years, I must admit to being completely hollowed out by the horrors of the mass murders in Orlando 10 days ago.  What does it matter what I or any of us write here, with that kind of nihilism plus access to semi-automatic weaponry living among us?  Unsurprisingly, the killer was a 100% homegrown American man, and like so many other American men, he was deranged by anger, misogyny, and his own sexual desires.

I may have more to say about this, especially the fact that the murderer targeted a largely LGBT and Latinx crowd, something that’s been lost in the panic about his supposed motivation to join ISIS/ISIL.  I’ve been happier living in my imagination in some of the more peaceful corners of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the past few weeks.  We all must consider how we can take the best of the past and make it a living tradition, and leave behind the worst:  injustice, brutality, corruption.  Historians struggle with these issues more than most people, I suppose.

A few weeks ago, I was invited by Edward Carson (@ProfCarson44) of the Christian Century to write something for their history blog, Then & Now.  Here’s an excerpt from “What future is there for religious women in the west?” Continue reading

Hillary I?

clinton2016portraitNow that Hillary Clinton has become the *official presumptive nominee* for president of the Democratic party and first woman standard bearer for a major U.S. party, it’s worth revisiting a post I wrote a few months ago about women’s paths to political power in historical perspective.  I also have some questions about the widespread tendency to call Clinton “Hillary” instead of following the political and journalistic convention of calling her by her surname.

As most of us know, Clinton’s rise to political prominence is singular in the U.S. not because of her kin connections (through a husband), but because of her sex: Continue reading