American Rambler Podcast, Season 7, Episode 6: Chris Graham and “Faith, Race, and the Lost Cause”

Chris Graham returns to the podcast to talk about his new (and first) book, Faith, Race, and the Lost Cause: Confessions of a Southern Church. His book looks at the history of St. Paul’s in Richmond. The church became famous for being where two prominent Confederates–Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis–worshipped during the Civil War. In the latter years of the 19th century, the church became a centerpiece of the Lost Cause in Richmond. 

Before the civil rights movement swept the South in the post-WWII era, St. Paul’s was a conservative place that believed–as did most of the South–in paternalism and the wisdom of Jim Crow society. Even more progressive movements, like the Social Gospel of the 1920s, failed to make a dent in the church’s racial attitudes.

By the late-60s, though, Richmond’s politics and racial demographics had changed significantly. St. Paul’s finally began to break down barriers between the races, though the struggle continues to this day. Dr. Graham’s book is a result of the church reckoning with its past, and Faith, Race, and the Lost Cause is a timely book that addresses issues made only more important in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and the removal of Civil War monuments in Richmond.

Listen here for free:

Buy Chris’s book here:


American Rambler Podcast Season 7, Episode 5: John C. Rodrigue and “Freedom’s Crescent”

John C. Rodrigue returns!

John is a professor of history at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, where he has been since 2007. He was one of Colin’s professors at LSU when they were both in Baton Rouge in the early 2000s. John’s new book is Freedom’s Crescent: The Civil War and the Destruction of Slavery in the Lower Mississippi Valley (Cambridge University Press). It’s John’s third book.

Influenced by everything from Eugene Genovese to Timothy Snyder’s book on Eastern Europe, Bloodlands, Freedom’s Crescent looks at the process whereby the Union went from freeing (some) slaves via the Emancipation Proclamation to the eradication of slavery through the 13th Amendment. As John makes clear, it was a complicated and frustrating process.

Building on work of Armstead Robinson, James Oakes, and Michael Vorenberg, John provides a detailed look at how Union commanders and politicians grappled with thorny military, political, and constitutional issues in the western theater of operations. Historians have written many books about slaves fleeing to Union lines and thus “emancipating themselves.” But what happened when the Union army came to them, and how did this affect the North’s ability to maintain the loyalty of former slaveholders?

Colin and John also talk about the state of the history profession generally, wondering whether it makes sense for undergraduates to pursue a Ph.D. in history these days. 

Listen for free, here:

Buy John’s book here!

Why Isn’t Dwight Evans in the Hall of Fame?

Dewey with his Hall of Fame-worthy mustache, ca. 1981/1982.

I’m not the first person to make the case for Dwight Evans being in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for Dewey, he hasn’t even come close to making it. A strong argument, nevertheless, can be made for his induction. People need to keep making it until he’s in.

California native Dwight Evans was one of my favorite players growing up. He was a big part of the 1980s Red Sox. Along with Clemens, Boggs, Rice, and others, the Sox came tantalizingly close to winning its first championship since 1918.

Dewey even helped me remember my junior high locker combo “10-24-28” (Rich Gedman’s number/Dewey’s number/Todd Benzinger’s number).

Rice and Boggs and Clemens were so good that they overshadowed Evans. Dewey did his job well, but he did it quietly.  

Fortunately, evaluating Evans’s worthiness for the HOF benefits from modern advances in statistical analysis (known as Sabermetrics). One can also evaluate him through simple comparisons to others who are in the Hall already.

Dewey’s lifetime hitting and fielding stats are strong. Over the course of 20 seasons, Evans hit 385 homeruns (putting him 66th all-time), drove in 1,384 runners (ranked 82nd), smacked 483 doubles (81st), and batted .272. He also won an impressive 8 Gold Gloves. Only 16 other players in the AL have had 8 or more.

Oh, and Dewey made the All-Star team 3 times and won two Silver Sluggers.

Not bad, right? But let’s look closer at those stats. Evans had a lifetime WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 67.2. We won’t get into the details of how WAR is compiled, but the higher your WAR, the better you are. Few players have been as good as Dwight Evans.

To put his value in perspective: Evans is 128th all-time in WAR. WAR applies to pitchers as well as hitters. So, not only is Evans better than most players, there are fewer than 100 everyday position players who have a better lifetime WAR. And that means every player since major league baseball began. Many players with a high WAR were playing in the days before cars, helmets, antibiotics, and African American MLB athletes. Many of them you’ve never heard of. Isn’t it supposed to be a Hall of Fame?

As of 2020, there are 236 players in the HOF. If he were in the Hall, Dwight Evans would be better than most of the guys in there.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Dwight Evans, ca. 1981/1982.

Let’s compare Evans to Hall of Famers of similar caliber. We’ll start with Barry Larkin.

Larkin has a lifetime WAR of 70.5, higher than Evans’s. He also won an MVP award, which Evans never did. But even when Larkin did win an MVP (1995), he failed to lead the league in a single hitting category. In fact, he never led the NL in a hitting category in his entire career.

Larkin has far more steals than Dewey and has a higher lifetime batting average. But he had fewer hits and doubles, and his OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) is .815, lower than Evans’s (.840). Larkin probably scored higher HOF points for being a shortstop, but he had only 3 GGs to Evans’s 8.

Nearly everyone else who has a higher WAR than Dewey is either in the HOF already, will be inducted, or probably never will because of personal scandals (i.e., gambling, cheating, or the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs).

Gaylord Perry is in the HOF despite being a confessed cheater who threw spitballs for most of his career. Don Drysdale, another spitball thrower, is also in the Hall. Drysdale didn’t even come close to having 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts. Had Dewey played one more full season, he would have finished his career with 400+ homeruns and 500+ doubles, which would have greatly helped his HOF resume.

Only eight of those players with a higher WAR than Dewey are still active. Another 14 are retired but have not been inducted, and four of them were dopers. Only three “clean,” long-retired players who are not in the HOF are ahead of him in WAR (Bobby Grich, Kevin Brown, and Graig Nettles).

If we look at OPS, Evans ranks 237th All-Time, with a .840 OPS. That’s almost as high as teammates—and HOFer—Jim Rice (.854) and Wade Boggs (.858). But neither Rice nor Boggs played as long as Dewey did. And neither won a single GG in the course of their career. If you look at Rice’s and Dewey’s hits, HRs and RBI, they are quite similar in terms of productivity.

Among hitters who played 20 seasons or more and who are not in the HOF, only four have a higher OPS. One is active, Miguel Cabrera. He will be a first ballot inductee. The others in the 20+ seasons, higher-OPS-than-Dewey club are Gary Sheffield, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jason Giambi—all of them dopers who will probably never make it in.

Dewey never won an MVP, but he probably should have—in 1981 and 1984 to be specific. In 1981, he led the league in HRs, ABs, BBs, OPS, and TB. He also won a GG and Silver Slugger. Who won the MVP that year, you ask? Rollie fucking Fingers! I’m all for a reliever winning the Cy Young. But the MVP too? C’mon!  

Rollie Fingers. Dewey’s main competitor for the MVP in 1981 and in the mustache sweepstakes.

Evans had another MVP caliber season in 1984, where he led the league in games played, plate appearances, runs, and OPS. He also hit 32 HRs and drove in 104 runs. He batted .295, with 37 doubles and drew 115 walks. He won another GG, but he finished only 11th in the MVP voting. Yet again, the award went to a goddamn relief pitcher (Willie Hernandez).

And I haven’t even talked about 1987, Dewey’s best season. Or the fact that 1981 was shortened by a players strike that cut about 50 games from the schedule in the summer months.

One final comparison. Let’s look at how Dewey stacks up against Ozzie Smith. Ozzie made the HOF because of his defense. He won 13 Gold Gloves. That’s cool. He also had a cool nickname—the “Wizard of Oz” and could do cool flips between pitches. Ozzie had speed, and he played for a World Series winning Cardinals team in 1982.

But Ozzie Smith couldn’t hit for shit. He had only 28 HRs in his entire career. His OPS is a pitiful, pitcher-level .666. Yes, he stole more than 500 bases, and he was a great fielding shortstop. He has a higher lifetime WAR (76.9) than Dewey. But Ozzie Smith finished in the top ten in MVP voting only once. Evans? 4 times.

If you were  manager and got to choose between Ozzie and Dewey, who would you pick? And if you’re not sure, doesn’t that suggest BOTH should be in the Hall of Fame?

The stats are pretty clear: Dwight Evans deserves to be in the Hall. I don’t mean to pick on Ozzie Smith. You could make many comparisons between Dewey and other HOFers, too (I’m looking at you, Tony Perez!). The point is not that these other players don’t deserve to be in the Hall. The point is that Dewey does.

Dewey was the whole package. He had a cool mustache. He had a cool batting stance. He hit for power, had a great arm, and he got on base a lot. In 1986, he hit the first pitch of the season for a homerun. During Roger Clemens’s historic 20 strikeout game, it was Dewey who provided the Sox with the 3-run homer that won them the game.

Dewey, ca. 1986. In 1986, Evans was one of the main reasons why the Sox came within one strike of winning the World Series.

Had the Red Sox won the 1986 World Series, Dewey—who hit 2 homeruns and drove in 9 and hit .308 with four walks—would’ve been the MVP. And from a personality point of view, I never remember hearing a bad thing said about Dwight Evans. That’s no mean accomplishment in a sports town as vicious as Boston.

Evans was a star slugger in the era before doping became rampant. He was a remarkably consistent player, hitting 10 or more homeruns in 18 of his 20 seasons. Dewey, in short, could do it all.          

So, sportswriters, do the right hitting. Let’s put Dwight Evans in the Hall of Fame.

Podcast: Greg Wells of Records and Relics

Greg Wells is a hustler. The owner of Records and Relics in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, he’s been buying and selling vinyl for a long time. As he tells Colin, he sold sold records at antique stores, vinyl shows, and on Ebay before he decided to get his own place.

Greg has been in Richmond for over 25 years, and he’s seen the city change quite a bit. But he’s always been devoted to vinyl. Now he’s the owner of a thriving business in a neighborhood humming with coffee shops, bars, and restaurants.

An in-store podcast, Greg walks Colin through the process of setting up a small business, dealing with Covid, and not becoming a “record store guy” cliche. 

So, stop by the shop! Records and Relics is open Friday-Sunday, 12-5. Used vinyl only, but Greg is open to buying and trades. You can follow the store here:

Listen to the podcast here:

Podcast: David Vaught on Pitcher Gaylord Perry

A professor at Texas A & M since the late-90s, David Vaught is a longtime baseball fan. A native of the Bay Area, he visited ever-chilly Candlestick Park as a kid and remembered seeing Perry pitch. But while he has loved the Giants, Spitter: Baseball’s Notorious Gaylord Perry, grew out of a previous book on baseball. 

San Francisco was just one of many teams Perry played for, including the Indians, Rangers, Yankees, Braves, Royals, and Mariners. As David shows in his terrific biography, Gaylord Perry wasn’t just notorious for his use of the spitter, he was also a fierce competitor and often difficult. Perry was a terror to batters as well as the men in the field behind him, management, and owners. Much of his competitive fire was rooted in his hard upbringing in rural eastern North Carolina, where he was the son of tobacco sharecroppers. He was also the younger brother of Jim Perry, who excelled as a major league pitcher.

What are we to make of Perry? Did he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? A known cheater who lied about his cheating, Perry nevertheless compiled impressive career stats, including more than 300 wins, two Cy Youngs (one in each league), and more than 3,500 strikeouts. He was admired for hiding his “hard slider” from the prying eyes of umpires for many years. But how do we evaluate him in the context of baseball ethics, where rules are often abused and ever changing? Perry was controversial, but should we condemn him? Whatever we make of Perry, David Vaught has written a compelling and well researched book.

Listen here:

Buy David’s book here:

Ten Reasons Americans Love Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous literary characters of all time. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, he is as British as the royal family or taking high tea. But Holmes wouldn’t be as popular as he is without a devoted American following.

It took over a hundred years, but in 2009, an American—Robert Downey, Jr.— played Holmes on the big screen. In a movie critic Roger Ebert called “cheerfully revisionist,” Downey played Holmes as an action star. The Holmes stories have plenty of thrills—the boat chase in The Sign of the Four comes to mind—but they never had the kind of over-the-top action one finds in a 21st century popcorn movie. Still, the Downey movies showed how enduring Holmes is, especially for Americans.

Here are ten reasons why Americans have always loved Sherlock.

He’s a loner

Americans love rugged individuals, whether it’s Jake Gittes taking on corruption in Chinatown or Indiana Jones battling the Nazis almost single-handedly. Holmes liked to say he was the only world’s “unofficial consulting detective.” That meant he was his own man. He was self-employed, operating a one-man detective agency. His office was his comfy rooms at 221B Baker Street.

While he often had his trusted Watson by his side, Holmes was at his best working the streets of London by himself. If Holmes were interested in case, he’d soon dash out the door, collecting evidence and following leads. He was the ultimate bachelor—never married, certainly no kids, and he had a disdain for matters of the flesh. “I have never loved,” Homes tells Watson in “The Devils’ Foot.” While Americans love a good romance, Holmes took his individualism to an extreme: other people got in the way, especially women.

He has the perfect sidekick

When he wasn’t working alone, his trusted Watson was often with him. Dr. John H. Watson is the original sidekick. The Robin to Holmes’s Batman. The two are the original crime-fighting duo. Later, there’d be the Green Hornet and Cato, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Han and Chewey. It can all be traced back to Victorian London.

Watson was not only a good friend and sometime bodyguard, he was Holmes’s biographer and chronicler. Holmes himself only narrated one of his stories (“The Lion’s Mane”), but almost every other time, it was Watson who told the tale. Holmes complained that Watson tinged his stories with “romanticism.” Sherlock preferred a cold, analytical approach to detection. But Watson defended his work by saying he had made Homes a household word.

Depicted unfairly as a goofy bumbler and comic relief in early films, the original stories show Watson was no dummy (he was a doctor after all). He also was a lady’s man who could hold his own in a fight. Watson had served in the military in Afghanistan before he met Holmes and was wounded during his service. Like Holmes, he was tough and loved a good adventure. And Holmes knew it. “I am lost without my Boswell,” Holmes tells Watson in one of the earliest stories, “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

He’s self-taught

Americans love a DIY hero. Holmes was a brilliant detective, but he didn’t graduate college. Instead, he dropped out after two miserable years. This was Victorian England, when most people didn’t go to college. Holmes likely was bored by the students and faculty alike. We don’t know much about Holmes’ early life. He was never on the police force. Did he have a mentor? We don’t know. It seems doubtful. Holmes seemed to emerge from the womb ready to solve mysteries.

In the original Sidney Paget illustrations, Holmes looks like a slightly annoyed college professor with a high forehead and thinning hair. One can imagine—as depicted in the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes—Holmes causing trouble in school. We can only assume he learned everything—from chemistry to playing the violin—on his own. It made him a brilliant detective, but also left him with a chip on his shoulder.   

He has problems with authority

Holmes’s (deservedly) high opinion of himself made him contemptuous of authority—for him, that meant the local police. He knew he was smarter than anyone in Scotland Yard, especially the incompetent Inspector Lestrade. And what was more—he was far more energetic. Holmes could go without sleep or food for long periods. Occasionally, he would get a big payday, but usually the thrill of the hunt was his real reward.

He was so contemptuous of authority that he didn’t even seem to care whether he or the police got the credit for solving a case. It didn’t matter, though, because he knew he was the real brains behind the investigation. And regardless of whomever came into his study, Holmes treated clients with the same aloof condescension.

In one story, Holmes declines a knighthood from the queen. He was a patriot to be sure, doing whatever he could to rid the world of crime and murderous monsters. But he had no use for titles and badges. Like a Wild West gunslinger, he was the law unto himself.     

He’s not afraid to use a gun

Americans love their guns, and Holmes wasn’t above using one. While the English are far less obsessed with firearms than we are, Holmes sometimes packed heat. To be sure, Holmes preferred a game of wits to a shootout. But he was a crack shot, even going so far as to take target practice in his rooms at Baker Street. Holmes might have been a terrible flatmate at times, but Watson put up with his eccentricities.

In one of the earlier novels The Sign of the Four, Watson and Holmes shoot a villain dead after a thrilling boat chase. Usually in the stories, though, the threat of violence was enough. Sherlock often made Watson carry a pistol rather than use one himself. Regardless, Holmes dealt with violent criminals all the time. The Holmes stories are bloody, dark, and disturbing. People are murdered with everything from poisonous snakes, darts, and powders to silent long range “air guns” and harpoons. It was the era of Jack the Ripper, and the foggy (re: smoggy) streets of London, where all sorts of degenerates lurked about. Holmes had no illusions about how dangerous his job was. And he had no qualms about putting a gun to someone else’s head if need be.        

He’s a workaholic

Americans put in long hours, and Holmes would fit right in with our strong coffee and staying late work culture. He didn’t keep regular working days, but that didn’t stop him for clocking longer hours than most people. He might be on a case for days without sleep, and he hated being bored. While his intelligence was without parallel, Holmes was also far more energetic than anyone around him. He was a hustler. Holmes acknowledged that his older brother (by seven years) Mycroft had even better powers of observation and deduction than he did, but Mycroft lacked the energy that kept Holmes on a case until it was solved.

Watson was amazed by Holmes’s commitment to his work. In “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” he tells us that Holmes was a man “who when he had an unsolved problem upon his mind would go for days, and even for a week, without rest.” And Holmes solves the mystery in that story after pulling an all-nighter. In a later story, “The Dying Detective,” Holmes fasts for three days and applies ghastly makeup to his face to trick a criminal into thinking he was on his death bed. Holmes wasn’t just a great detective, he was something of a method actor.

The adrenaline rush from an interesting case could give Holmes a long-lasting high. But the crash could be ugly. “I get in the dumps,” Holmes tells Watson at their first meeting,” and don’t open my mouth for days on end.” And he wasn’t kidding. Like the workaholics of Mad Men, there’s a price to be paid for toiling long hours.     

He has “issues”

As a workaholic, Holmes needed to decompress. To alleviate his ennui, he would use cocaine—a 7 ½ percent solution, in fact. The injections stimulated his mind for a while as he hoped to crack a case. As a medical man, Dr. Watson disapproved. Early on in the stories, we see Sherlock shooting up. While cocaine wasn’t nearly as well-known as it would be later, Watson feared Holmes’s dependence would ruin his health. Holmes was flawed man to be sure, and Conan Doyle established a trope we’d see in countless detective movies later. Hardboiled L.A. detectives would have trouble with booze and women. In The French Connection II, Popeye Doyle starts taking heroin. The brilliant advertising executive Don Draper of Mad Men can’t put down the bottle. Genius carries a price, and we see that in Sherlock Holmes.    

He’s authentic

Holmes might’ve been arrogant and condescending at times, but he was the real deal. The word “authenticity” gets thrown around a lot. Everything from Mexican food to Johnny Cash might be labeled “authentic.” And while it is not easy to talk about authenticity in a fictional character, what is clear is that Holmes shunned artifice. He could deflate pomposity through snide comments and sarcasm. He didn’t want riches and fame. He made enough money to maintain his London lifestyle. He was a purist, living for the thrill of the case. You could call him an artist, really.

Holmes lived in a no BS zone. He had no patience for the police or others who might waste his time. He was blunt, always ready to tell someone where they stood. Whether he was playing his violin or shooting cocaine, whatever he did was out in the open. His honesty made him a popular detective. People could trust him. Whether it was a governess with no money or the highest-ranking people in British society, Holmes treated them the same way.     

He has style

Just about anyone could spot a caricature of Sherlock Holmes: the tall man with the curled pipe (technically a Calabash Meerschaum), deer stalker cap, and plaid cloak. His outfit is as iconic as those of Dracula or Santa Claus. In lesser film adaptations of the stories, you might see Holmes in his full get-up for much of the movie. In fact, original Holmes illustrator Sidney Paget only drew Homes with the iconic cap a few times. Holmes rarely wears it in the Jeremy Brett BBC Holmes series (still the most faithful to the original stories).

Rather than wearing the same outfit over and over, Holmes was a chameleon, who could match the aristocratic dress of high London society one day, then don the rags of the London poor the next. Whatever he was up to, though, Holmes had style. Sam Spade had his trench coat and fedora. Poirot had his waxed mustache. Magnum PI solved cases in a Hawaiian shirt and Tigers cap. The more colorful detectives clearly owe a debt to Sherlock Holmes.    

He’s the first superhero

The Holmes “look” is a costume. And really, Holmes is the first superhero. He’s most like Batman, a man with no actual superpowers (he can’t fly, time travel, or lift trucks), but who nevertheless uses his intelligence and resources for the greater good. He solves problems with ease. He doesn’t need to worry about money. His life in enviable in many ways, but he carries the burden of his own genius. Like Batman, he’s a dark character. And what is his famous cloak but a type of cape? Holmes is really just a Victorian version of the Dark Knight.

Like any great superhero, Holmes seems indestructible. He has an arch enemy, the wolf-like Professor Moriarty, whom he kills after a literal cliffhanger. In “The Final Problem” (December 1893) Holmes and Moriarty fight to the death at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Conan Doyle tried to kill off Holmes, but people wanted him back. After more than decade, Holmes returned. The character was too popular to die. In 1927, Conan Doyle published the last of the Holmes stories. But Holmes’s legacy—and Americans’ love for him—lives on.       

How I Got Out of Credit Card Debt

The End of an Era

Earlier this fall, I realized that for the first time in 20 years, I had eliminated my credit card debt. I had been carrying CC debt for so long, it seemed unreal that it would ever end. It felt great to kill it off.

I’m not sure when exactly my credit card debt became burdensome, but it was certainly in graduate school. While the student debt crisis in this country is real and oppressive, you don’t often hear about all the other debts people accrue while getting a degree.

I was in college for twelve years, and I couldn’t have done it without student loans. As an undergraduate, I accumulated about $20,000 in debt over four years. Not too bad, considering how expensive my school was. After eight years of graduate school, I added another $20,000 to my burden. And that had nothing to do with my credit card debt.

To obtain a Ph.D., I ran up $40,000 in student loan debt, and I am still paying that off. But, credit card debt has been far more of a burden and hassle. Thus, it had to go first.

Here is some advice on how to get out of your credit card debt. Unlike many articles on the internet that claim not buying avocado toast or $4 lattes will put you on the road to financial freedom, this is non bullshit advice.

The Situation: Grad School

Despite what the Mitch McConnells of the world believe, my debt did not come from “living it up.” Sure, I put a lot of plane tickets on my credit cards, but they were almost always for trips home to see my family. I lived in Baton Rouge for grad school. My family was in Massachusetts. Flying was cheaper twenty years ago, but it still cost $250-$300 per ticket. That adds up if you are flying home 2 or 3 times a year.

Baton Rouge wasn’t exactly an expensive place to live, but when you get paid very little for your work (teaching assistants received $8,500 per academic year when I was at LSU, with about half of that going to fees), it was easy to fall into debt.

I entered grad school with no real savings. I paid for almost everything myself over those eight years and worked as a librarian ($4.50/hr., I think, was the minimum wage then), teaching assistant, and as a bookseller at the campus Barnes and Noble. I always had a job and sometimes two. I lived pretty simply. I almost never left Baton Rouge. I didn’t even have a car in grad school.  

Debt happens with $30 here, $50 there. Groceries. Dinner or drinks with friends. Christmas presents. And before you know it, you have $3,000 on a credit card. At least one of my $8,000 loans in grad school was not for school, per se, but to pay down credit card debt.

The Reality: A Big Stack of Bills

By the time I graduated, I had several credit cards with thousands of dollars on them with 20% interest rates. The problem became worse once I started working. I’ve never been able to land a good paying job as an archivist/historian. The debt kept piling up. How bad did it get?

Long after grad school ended for me, the CC debt was high. I was shocked recently to see in my files a debt spreadsheet from 2016 that had my (and my wife’s) credit card debt at $34,232.

How did I get out of this hole?   

For years, I played the balance transfer game. Get a new card and transfer your balance and you will get a 0% APR for a year or two. Problem is, these transfers come with fees usually adding up to at least $100 per transaction. And if you are only able to pay off the monthly minimum on your CC bills , you will never get ahead.

Some Tips

Okay. So, what helped? Tell me!

Number 1. Get married. My wife and I didn’t make a lot of money when we got married, but being a two-income household definitely helped with paying bills. You can only get so far with austerity, especially once you have kids. Conservatives love to talk about belt tightening. But that’s usually just a rationale for punishing certain people. The truth is: you have to bring in more cash to pay your mounting debts. Getting married helped, though not much at first. Eventually, though, my wife got a huge raise and bonuses that eased our financial burden.

Number 2. Divide and conquer. Rather than worry about what card has the highest interest rate, I attacked the cards with smaller balances first. Maybe it’s a card with $500 or $1,000 balance. Once that is paid off, you can focus on the ones with bigger balances. Kill them off, one by one. Don’t worry about the one that will take five years to pay off. In the meantime, you need to make some progress, if only for your own sanity: get rid of those small balances.

Number 3. Make big payments when you can. Got a big tax rebate? Got a small inheritance? Wife got a bonus from work? Use that money to pay down debt. Luckily, during the first year or so of Covid, my wife and I were fully employed, and my job had good benefits. I used our government stimulus checks (at times, $5,000 each) to pay off credit cards.

Number 4. Stay on top of your bills. PAY THEM EVERY MONTH AND ON TIME. Late fees can pile up and increase your interest rate. Sign up for automatic payments, so you will never miss one. If you can, always pay (way) more than the monthly minimum. Do the math. A $1,000 credit card bill with 20% interest and a $20 bill per month will take you ten years to pay off if you only pay the monthly minimum.

Number 5. Keep good records. Make a list of all your cards, the interest rates, and what you are paying each month. Sometimes, I had so many credit cards, it was difficult to keep track of them. But if you know how big a problem each is, you can deal with it calmly. Look at your bills, go online and check your balances. Stay on top of it. Don’t hide from it. Don’t be scared.

Number 6. Dig into your savings. Having savings is great, but the money isn’t really yours if you have debt. Use whatever you have to pay down the credit cards. One of the best things my wife and I did was use our 401Ks (which are an unconscionable scam) to pay off a huge chunk of credit card debt. And by that, I mean an entire high balance credit card of around $5,000 for each of us. It made a huge difference. Yes, the 401Ks took a major hit. But they weren’t really going to do much for us in retirement anyway. Unfortunately, the government taxes the hell out of early 401K draws (to the tune of 50%), but it was worth it.

Number 7. Call your credit card company if you screw up. One piece of garbage advice you will hear is that you should call your credit card company to “negotiate” a lower interest rate. I have never had luck doing this. What I have done, however, is call my CC company and ask that they waive a late fee if I honestly screwed up. They have usually been willing to do this as a one-time courtesy, provided I could pay them over the phone that day. Legally, a CC company is not obligated to lower an interest rate, ever. But I have threatened to take my business elsewhere if they don’t forgive a fee. This tactic will work, believe me.

Number 8. Consolidate. Try to get your payments down to as few as possible. Eliminate balances on a few cards by paying them off with another when they offer you a low APR rate for a year or two (by the way, always sign up for the APR with the longer low-interest terms). Eventually, however, you will have to stop transferring balances. Once you don’t feel you need to do this, you have made great progress.

Number 9. Go with a credit union. One of the best things I ever did was put all my banking in the hands of a credit union. Unfortunately, rural areas don’t have them as much. But when I was in Little Rock, I banked with a local credit union. Once I moved back to Richmond, I opened an account with Virginia Credit Union. It’s been great. They don’t have the punitive fees schedule of commercial banks. They gave me low-interest loans, using my car as collateral. They also extended me a line of credit of $2,500 and a whopping $14,000 credit card limit (good for consolidating with manageable interest rates). The monthly payments have sometimes been high ($150-$175 minimum for the CC), but that’s actually helped me pay down the debt more quickly.                      

Number 10. Get rid of cards you aren’t using. Eventually, a CC company will close your account due to no activity. It’s a good feeling when they do this. I’ve heard that it’s bad for your credit rating to have a CC closed due to inactivity, but even if it’s true, I don’t care. After a while, I’d start cutting up all the credit cards I was not using that had a zero balance. Now, I only have a couple active credit cards in my wallet. I keep them in case of an emergency or if my debit card gets declined for some reason at a store or online.

Number 10. Pay it all off every month. If you can afford to pay off your balance every month, do it. Don’t let the debt cycle repeat itself.

Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to freeing yourself of credit card debt. It will likely take years and a good amount of discipline and organization on your part. But with luck you can do it, and without really changing your lifestyle that much. And feel free to get the occasional $4 latte or avocado toast.  

Why I’m Off Twitter

Photo by Brett Jordan on

I always had a love-hate relationship with Twitter. I was on, then I was off. Then I was on again. Now I’m off again. It’s never been an easy place to exist, and I’m sick of it. Now, it’s run by an egomaniac who is one part Bond villain, one part Gavin Belson from Silicon Valley. Twitter has once again shown how some people need to be taxed back to the stone age so as to prevent this kind of impulsive recklessness from happening.

Twitter has always been a minefield. Step wrong, and you could be blown to smithereens. I can say I was “cancelled” at least once, and it was not fun. Talk to me sometime about the perils of “woke” culture.

Over time, though, I learned to navigate the site better. Blocking obnoxious celebrities or otherwise verified accounts became more of a habit. Even people who I followed were often muted. Rich or poor, white or black, male or female or non-binary, Twitter is a magnet for assholes. You have to protect yourself from the unrelenting assault of bad takes.

Once Elon Musk took over, things became worse. I was not convinced he would destroy Twitter, though he is doing a good job of that so far. Nor was I worried a bunch of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers would soon find their way onto my feed.

But reading posts by those in a constant state of fear became exhausting. I was losing followers, too. I only ever had about 1,500-1,600 of them. Most of them were people with whom I never interacted on the site. Nevertheless, as Elon Musk stumbled around and smashed things up, I saw a slow bleed of my followers. What was the point of staying if I couldn’t raise my profile on this hellsite?

For a while I had a code: Trumps’ return meant I would depart. Not long after Musk took over, he let Trump back on, not to mention other Republican scum and high priests of disinformation.

Trump had been banned since the January 6 insurrection. Apparently, he has not Tweeted since his ban was lifted. For me, though, it was the principle of the thing: Trump is a traitor and mass murder. He needs to be in jail, not back on Twitter. With the announcement of Trumps’ return, it was time for me to go.

Actor Matt Ross, aka Gavin Belson of HBO’s Silicon Valley

I had reached a point where I was rooting for Twitter’s demise anyway. Really, Trump should’ve been banned long before January 6, 2021. Yet I stayed on, pleased that Twitter stood up to the most dangerous man in America. Twitter’s problems, however, aren’t just a result of Elon Musk’s narcissism, mismanagement, and incompetence. Twitter has always been a dumpster fire. But it can be informative, funny, and entertaining. At times, addictive. I connected with people I would never otherwise have encountered. Some have been really cool.

On the whole, though, what annoys me about Twitter is the compulsion not just to see what is going on in the world and comment on it endlessly. No, it’s the fact that we’ve been led into the delusion of the efficacy of self-promotion.

Why are we on Twitter, really, other than to be a bunch of mini-Trumps, typing whatever brilliant (or more likely) banal thought comes into our head? Don’t we ever get sick of listening to ourselves whine, scold, and act superior?

Unfortunately, like so many things in America–whether the justice system, our government, or education and business structures–Twitter gives the illusion of democracy. Really, there are two groups in America: the rich and famous and everyone else. If you are a nobody, Twitter isn’t going to raise your profile much.

I’m the author of two books, so I felt I at least needed to be on Twitter to promote my work. I certainly made connections and hyped myself in ways impossible without social media. But how much of a difference does it make? Not much. For every person with a significant Twitter following there are equally famous counterparts who avoid social media altogether.

If you are famous, Twitter will keep you famous. If you aren’t, forget about making much of an impact. Even Instagram seems a better place to become famous for doing nothing (yes, I’m talking about all the influencers out there). America is not a meritocracy and neither is Twitter. Dumb Tweets go viral while funny and insightful posts get ignored. Complete idiots have hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers. And unlike you, they are not accessible.

Twitter’s demise might signal the demise of social media generally. How many platforms are left? I haven’t been on Facebook for years. Instagram is okay, but it’s kind of dull. I have no interest in Tick Tock or any of the other platforms that some people are fleeing to.         

Even if you have learned how to navigate Twitter without injuring yourself, you will find yourself spending way too much time on it. Since leaving, I’ve done more on Instagram, but I’ve also had more energies for other things, like reading or this blog post.

Let’s face it, Twitter is not good for your brain. We weren’t made to take in so much information from so many sources in such a short span of time. What’s real, what’s not? Does this person know what he/she is talking about? What’s really happening? On Twitter, nothing ever really gets resolved.

Everyone has a voice now, and often those voices are bitter and insane. The anger of Americans—living in the wealthiest and most powerful nation in history—is visceral, constant, and unpleasant. If you are thinking of leaving Twitter, maybe you should. On Twitter, not mention social media generally, there are no real answers.

When will we learn? You were on MySpace, then you went to Facebook. Then you left FB for Twitter, Instargam, or Tick Tock. Maybe you started a blog, then stopped doing that so you could do a podcast. Then that became a part-time job and a hassle. But Twitter was always there for you, right? But like all relationships, it one day comes to an end.

Yes, you can flee to another site. But there will be people there. And people are the problem. Social media may change, but human nature is a constant.   

American Rambler Podcast, Season 7 Episode 2: Bob Beatty

Play All Night!: Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East is Bob Beatty’s most recent book. Bob, however, has been an Allman Brothers fan for a long time. Like the Allmans, Bob has Florida roots. He now lives and works in Tennessee, where he got his Ph.D. and is a history and museum consultant.

Bob’s fast-reading book looks at the breakout album for the Allmans. Released in 1971, Live at Fillmore East is one of the best live albums ever, and it brought the band to a mass audience. It features the classic Allmans lineup, with Duane Allman and Dickey Betts on guitar, Gregg Allman on vocals and organ, Berry Oakley on bass, and Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson on drums.

Unfortunately, though Duane started the Allman Brothers Band, his time with the group was relatively brief. He died in a motorcycle accident only a few months after At Fillmore East came out. Duane was just 24, and there seemed no limit to what he could do as a guitarist.

As Bob makes clear, with Duane at the helm, the Allmans were closer to blues and acid rock than the more laid back band they became later. The radio friendly mid-70s sound of the ABB was the result of Dickey Betts writing more country-flavored tunes. Nothing wrong with that. But the Duane period has a tougher quality. 

Bob and Colin talk about how the Allmans formed, why the Fillmore album took off with listeners, and how the band continued to evolve amid lineup changes and inner-tensions.

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American Rambler Podcast Season 7, Episode 1: John A. Kirk

John Kirk is English, but he has lived in Arkansas for more than ten years. Raised in the Manchester area, his fascination with the US began as a graduate student, where he studied the civil rights movement. He is the author and editor of ten books, and his newest is on soldier, philanthropist, and governor Winthrop Rockefeller (yes, that Rockefeller family). It is the first ful-lscale scholarly treatment of WR’s early life.

In Arkansas, the legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller is a palpable one. Elected in 1966, WR was the first Republican Arkansas governor since Reconstruction. The fact that it took 90 years for that to happen says a lot about the political culture in which he lived. His journey from New York City to Little Rock may seem odd for someone of his stature, but in many ways it was an old American story of someone starting fresh by going west.

WR was a reformer, but as John shows, the governor was always progressive when it came to civil rights. A flawed man, to be sure, WR nevertheless used his money and family name for good. While he struggled as a student at Yale, he felt comfortable in the oil fields of the 1930s and as an officer during World War II, where he was wounded in the Pacific during a kamikaze attack.

John’s book stops in 1956 when WR arrives in Arkansas. The book provides a detailed and penetrating look at Rockefeller, and it sets the stage for what will no doubt be an engaging and well-researched second volume.

Listen here for free: